God Given Rights

Sunday 4th February 2018
The Second Sunday before Lent
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
BCP Evensong
Genesis 2.4-25
Luke 8.22-35

One of the critical problems for the current generation of self-styled "Evangelical" Biblical literalists is the conflict between the two accounts of human creation at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. The conflict between both of these accounts and our understanding of our geological and progenital history is severe enough in its way, leading to a strangely unworldly creationist theory but the conflict between the two accounts has become important because of the rise of feminism which we should celebrate in this year, the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of female suffrage in Britain.

People who are apt to see The Book of Genesis as a wonderful creation myth - or, rather, myths - can get away with the idea that it's all rather misty, the main point being the amplitude, beauty and diversity of God's creation but this fluffiness really isn't open to literalists who have to answer a crucial question for society: were women created simultaneously with men, as described in Genesis 1.26-28 or sequentially, as in our Reading from Chapter 2 of Genesis? To be fair, you could argue that the second account is an elaboration of the first but as they were written by different people at different times, and as the difference between simultaneity and sequentialism is so marked, this is stretching a point rather too far. Naturally, inheriting a tradition of male domination over females, Christianity has almost exclusively opted for the second account which we have just heard, making women inferior to men, but feminists have rightly opened the matter for debate.

Alongside this, there is the question of whether the Genesis stories are a collection of divine Directives about matters including the different status of men and women or whether they are etiological, explaining how things are at the times of the authors. It may seem just a little nit-picky - but, then, all Biblical scholarship which respects the precise meaning of the text is inevitably nit-picky - to point out that the account we have just heard is clearly etiological because it describes a state of marriage which could not have been possible until after Adam and Eve knew they were naked, when they knew about good and evil; in other words, the inequality between the sexes is not God-given at all but is the most comprehensive and offensive example of the distortion of human relationships through the use of power; and, what is more, the shift of power to men coincided with the inception of state organised warfare. Need I say more?

Our Gospel Reading is also about the use of power to warp relationships but in this case, we are dealing with the immensely complex issue of mental health. Even now, with such spectacular advances in our self-understanding through the human genome project, we are pretty well clueless in the domain of mental health. There are some conditions which are clearly driven by social conditions but there appear to be some which are congenital or in some way inherent; but even some of these conditions are uncannily in direct proportion to income and wealth.

But I think that we can safely say three things:

There is a rapid growth in the number of people suffering from mental illness, so let us list some of the causes:

And there isn't very much point in simply saying that we do our bit for the poor and the needy, the lonely and the unloved, when the way we generate mental illness and female degradation are common social problems that require common social solutions.

The Lectionary Designer who put these two readings together probably had in mind the beauty of creation, the power of Jesus to subdue it and the degradation to which it has sunk in the form of the madman among the tombstones but the question I keep asking about this most difficult of Gospel passages is: was he congenitally mad or driven mad and driven out? Either way he was driven out and most probably he was driven mad. Many aspects of social control have nothing to do with objective mental health considerations: think of the number of women confined to lunatic asylums a hundred years ago because they conceived out of wedlock and think of what happened to the impregnators. And then think of the generals who sent millions to the slaughter for little or no gain and the few hundreds of thousands who said that war was mad?

It seems to me that there are two underlying laws of humanity of which we should all become aware:

At the end of almost every Charles Dickens novel, iconic in Scrooge, a rich and powerful man - Ralph Nickleby, Paul Dombey, Uriah Heep, - repent whereas the unrepentant in others - Mrs. Clenham, Mr. Bumble, Fagin and Quilp - are destroyed; but these are simply moral cut-outs whereas the toiling, impoverished, down-trodden, degraded, expendable masses of the poor and disadvantaged lack the strength to claim their God-given rights in creation from the rich and powerful. Which are we, the down trodden or the treading?