I WAS reading the 2004 book Western Culture: Today and Tomorrow by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) when I learned of his death. I was deeply saddened by the loss of this great theologian and deep thinker. His words of warning about the jettisoning of Christian values seem immensely prescient, as does his reminder that the civilisational project we have named the ‘West’ is a cultural achievement providing the foundation for human rights and dignity. We need to return to the values fostered by the three pillars of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome if our civilisation is not to crumble.
In the news this week was another vicar of Christ with a wholly different outlook.
Bingo Allison is a newly ordained priest in the Church of England who claims to be the C of E’s only non-binary, gender queer priest. Allison, who is married and has fathered three children, now uses plural pronouns, wears smeared eye make-up and irreverently states that ‘Jesus loves sparkly eye-shadow’. This is clown world, surely.
The priest acknowledges: ‘It was difficult for my wife to begin with, obviously you marry what you think is a straight guy and suddenly things are more complicated than that.’
The contrast between the two could hardly be starker. Where Benedict’s deep engagement with scripture demonstrates a sincere intent to discover, discern truth and reach outwards to others, Bingo Allison’s interpretation of Genesis is startling in its self-centredness. As a man he apparently had an epiphany whilst reading Genesis, claiming ‘the language originally used in Genesis 1:27 spoke about “from maleness to femaleness” as opposed to men and women’.
As something of a Biblical scholar, this was puzzling to me.
The Everett Fox translation aims to get as close as possible to the rhythm and rhyme of the original Hebrew, if that is the ‘original language’ to which Bingo Allison refers.
So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God did he create it,
Male and female he created them.
The pronoun ‘it’ here refers to the noun ‘humankind’. Robert Alter draws attention to the pronoun, usually rendered as ‘him’, stating that it is grammatically male but not ‘anatomically masculine’. It is down to Fox to use the correct gender-neutral singular pronoun, ‘it’, which the non-binary priest in question declines to use, preferring the jarring ‘they’. It is such pulverising of grammar that risks distortion of meaning to the point of breakage. I wonder if that is the point.
The only text I can find that comes closest to blurring the biological sexual boundaries is a rabbinic midrash (commentary) that conceives of the newly formed ha’adam (the man, or human) as comprising two halves which are then separated.
This interpretation clearly moves in the reverse direction to Allison’s, with its understanding that God’s plan is to separate the two sexes. Nahum Sarna’s commentary further notes that in Genesis, animals are not differentiated sexually whereas humanity is, due to its being a wholly different order from beasts. Humanity needs both male and female for its proper articulation. There is no ‘non-binary’.
However, Bingo Allison has dismissed eminent scholarship declaring: ‘The history of biblical interpretation is littered with the opinions of rich, white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical men assuming that everyone in the passages that they read thought like them and perceived the world like them.’
It occurs to me that Bingo Allison understands the adoption of a queer identity as the epitome of being made in the image of God, thus blurring the distinctions between husband and (his) wife, and male and female generally. As with so much of the ‘trans’ discourse, it is the female that is ultimately sidelined. Moreover, it is a reversal of the order from chaos theme articulated in Genesis.
Bingo Allison’s curious name along with the made-up appearance will conjure for some the idea of a clown. However, Bingo the Clown exists as a dark 1998 animation about someone who comes to adopt the clown identity through bullying and overpowering media manipulation within a circus-like arena. This is of course, an astute depiction of the now familiar terrain of ‘clown world’.
Those who would castigate Benedict XVI for failing to tackle clerical sexual abuse might like to consider that in ‘clown world’ one only has to declare one’s ‘own truth’ as truth for it to be so. If Benedict had been like Bingo, he need only have claimed that there was no abuse for it to be so. Given the powerful cliques within seminaries and the politics of the Vatican as described by Lifesite News USA, it is no wonder that in his first Mass as Pope, Benedict’s homily included the words: ‘Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.’
His legacy will be that of the quiet, shy scholarly priest who engaged generously with a wide range of scholars beyond merely those of his own faith; a man who devoted his life to the church, to a life affirming faith and a sincere grasp of the truth that can be so difficult to bear at times. If you do not agree with his theology, you can at least share his values.
By contrast, Bingo Allison places his own image at the heart of scriptural interpretation. Selfie after selfie, there is no attempt to learn from the scriptures but to manipulate them to fit woke desires. Bingo is one of the many priests of woke whose doctrine shows no mercy and compels others to bow down before its fantasies on pain of ‘cancellation’.
As we bid farewell to Benedict, we can reflect upon his many positive gifts. The valuing of tradition, eschewing of publicity, yet with the ability to reach many across the world with his insightful and, at times, radical engagement with scripture.
May his memory be for a blessing, and may he rest in peace.