Knowing and not-knowing – apophatic gay activists and katophatic reasserters

What kind of faith do I have? I am labelled by conservatives as ‘revisionist’ because I don’t accept that the Bible proscribes loving same-sex relationships. I am certain they would also judge me for my core spiritual beliefs.

My life experience and my theology point to a God who is not and cannot ever be fully known in this life. My faith journey involves learning slowly and sometimes painfully that to become more like God I have to be prepared to give up parts of my belief systems about myself and God. To admit to and be open to the unknown, acknowledging even the finiteness of metaphors in scripture and in my human understanding.

I am drawn to an apophatic rather than a kataphatic life. I am drawn to images of life and faith as a journey, movement, change, growth, depth, rather than fixity and stasis. The latter qualities are what seem to be essential to those in our Communion who call themselves ‘reasserters’, ‘orthodox’, ‘traditional’.

Gregory of Nyssa writes:

“Let us change in such a way that we may constantly evolve towards what is better, being transformed from glory to glory, and thus always improving and ever becoming more perfect by daily growth, and never arriving at any limit of perfection. For perfection consists in our never stopping in our growth in good, never circumscribing our perfection by any limitation.”

Writing about apophasis and ambiguity in ‘Trans/Formations’, Susannah Cornwall says Gregory’s ideas about gender undercut and subvert common ideas about hetero- or homosexual normativity,. “They refuse any sense of ‘arrival’, rejecting a climactic picture of perfection in favour of a transformative one based on uncertainty and continual journeying. It is living in the tension, the often discomforting uncertainty, that transforms us and promotes our growth as human.”

The knowing-unknowing tension begins to point to questions about the extent to which human gender is a necessary category at all, she says, particularly for humans who recognise themselves as made in the image of God.

Uncertainty about gender or sexuality is of course anathema to and something deeply feared by conservative Christians. They are addicted to a binary model, to dualism, and to fixed, lifelong identities. Male and female God created us, and whatever subtleties and nuances may be found physically in a person’s genitalia or gender or sexual identity, they must be forcibly resolved to satisfy a god to whom narrowly defined identity categories are acceptable.

Changing Attitude totally disagrees with conservatives, with their theology, biblical interpretation and understanding of human identity.

The kataphatic tradition is clearly totally dominant for conservatives, both North American reasserters and Africans who believe in the Bible as the literal word of God. The kataphatic strand became so over-emphasised in later Western Christianity with the result that the schismatic movement in the Anglican Communion claims not only dominance but sole rights to determine who is a true Christian and how they are allowed to experience God and themselves. This is, of course, intolerable for those of us drawn to the apophatic path. Not only am I unable to live with a heterosexual identity, I would die spiritually if forced to live in the cognitive, kataphatic mould.

The apophatic tradition is uncomfortable. It has the potential to disrupt accepted discourses and ideas about sexuality and gender. It confronts “unproblematized, rigidly demarcated structures.” It confronts us with the challenge that God cannot be known as neatly as humans imagine and generally like to know. It is also as traditional and historic as any position adopted by the reasserters.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    One of your paragraphs only needs changing slightly to express the conservative view:
    "Uncertainty about gender or sexuality is of course anathema to and something deeply feared by revisionist Christians. They are addicted to a binary model, to dualism, and to fixed, lifelong identities. Homo and hetro God created us, and whatever subtleties and nuances may be found physically in a person’s genitalia or gender or sexual identity, they must be forcibly resolved to satisfy a god to whom narrowly defined identity categories are acceptable."

Join the discussion