Thursday, October 22, 2015

As the Angels in Heaven: A Theological Reflection on the Plight of Bruce Jenner


Long after his sordid story broke, we are still talking about Bruce Jenner.  His sad state fascinates us and brings many of our societal failures and follies to the surface.  Chief among them is our destructive devotion to the ultimacy of personal choice.  Devotion that borders on idolatry.
In this man's fractured life, we see the folly of making the subjective will ultimate. 

When a full-grown man says something like, "as far back as i can remember, i have felt like and identified as a woman," and we are unable to respond with anything but, "well, then you must really be a woman," we are in deep trouble.
Certain fundamental things precede memory.  Certain truths are objectively true about us - whether we prefer and identify with them or not.  Several of these objective truths of reality come by way of the body we're given. We receive our bodies, and therefore our genders, long before we possess anything like memory or feeling or a sense of identity or even any self awareness at all.
You show up at conception and there it is - already right there in your DNA from the first second of your life.  And centuries after you die, if archaeologists happen to dig up your bones, one of the first things they will determine by the most basic testing is whether you were male or female.

When we hear ourselves asking questions like - "Can you imagine being trapped in a body you don't belong in?" ... as if you could be switched at birth into a foreign body by accident or trickery... as if - because of its gender - your body were something you could be "trapped inside of" like an elevator in a blackout.

This attitude is nothing new in the world.  It is Gnostic in its outlook as a denial of bodily realities.  But our attitude about someone like Bruce Jenner is more than the old Gnosticism repackaged.  It is very modern in a certain way [postmodern technically].

Because it is not the rejection of the importance of the body on the basis of some philosophical rejection of material things in general.  Rather, we reject the given limits of our bodies on the basis that they conflict with our personal choices and subjective feelings.  

When my feelings are contrary to my gender, obviously my feelings are the absolute and my body is incidental.  
Think of it!  When comparing the two against each other - my feelings vs my body - my body is judged to be the incidental one!  In other words - if my feelings conflict with my body, which one ought to be altered to accomodate the other?

Our society lives within the fiction that we can deny reality and the limits of nature simply by choosing otherwise.  That nothing is true unless we allow it to be so by willing it into existence.  That nothing is a "given" to use a technical theological term - that given things can't be true and certainly can't be good unless we accept them as true and affirm them as good.

Yet that is precisely what God tells us in His Word and shows us in His creation.

Now it is possible to push all this too far.  We are certainly more than our gender.  Moreover, it seems that gender may be part of the old creation that is passing away.  In the Resurrection, Jesus seems to indicate, our bodies will not possess gender.  We will be as the angels in Heaven.  For now though, it is not so.  And we all know the dangers of immanentizing the eschaton and of grasping after fruit that God has - for the time being - withheld.

Much has been made of Jenner's bravery.  Like many, I have mixed feelings about this.   For one thing, the word "brave" is usually reserved for those whose cause is clearly virtuous.  We would not usually call a thief "brave" because he robbed a bank in broad daylight.  Nor would we call a child molester "brave" for going public about his innermost feelings.

But there probably is some bravery in what Jenner has done.  I'm sure he's been pressured by many to use his public status to promote the "transgender cause".  And I'm sure his 'outing' has bee affirmed by many with the claim that it has helped others who struggle in the same ways.  So despite his own inner motives, like many others, I'm sure he's been thrust forward into the place we find him today.

In all, I deeply pity him and encourage you too as well.  Not as someone who is beyond redemption or hope.  He certainly isn't.  But as he is today he is most pitiable.  Short of repentance in Christ [and what a beautiful picture and help that would ACTUALLY be for struggling people] his life will not be blessed with peace.  And he will not end his days passing serenely into the next world.  He is a deeply fragmented person and bearing the penalty of our societal folly in his body.


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