Last week two doctors found themselves in the news. Both had been very successful and had excellent reputations. No one complained about their skills or their medical integrity. But, they have fallen foul of the ‘new inquisition’. Both have been dismissed. The new Inquisitors asked them questions about their adherence to the new cultural dogma. They gave scientific, medical answers. They lost their jobs.
One was an English doctor called David Mackereth. He had an unblemished 28-year career in A&E medicine. The other an American psychiatrist called Allan M Josephson. He was a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Louisville,Kentucky.
To Dr Mackereth first of all. He was training to work for the Government as a disability medical assessor for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). He was told that he had to refer, in his paperwork, to a person by their preferred gender pronoun, because gender could be fluid. Hedisagreed. His problem was that as a scientist, Christian and a doctor, he didn’t believe in gender, a cultural idea; only biological sex, a scientific concept, which derived from one particular set of genitals (or another) and chromosomes (XY or XX).
So the DWP consulted lawyers. They came back and insisted that any report or contact with clients should refer to them in their chosen sex otherwise it “could be considered to be harassment as defined by the 2010 Equality Act”.
A different group of Lawyers at Christian Concern took the opposite view of the notorious Equalities Act, and said that there had indeed been discrimination, but against Dr Mackereth. It is therefore the DWP that was in breach of the Equality Act, for compelling staff to use ‘transgender pronouns’ against their freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It’s going to a tribunal.
At the heart of this conflict lies the dogma of gender. It didn’t exist until the late 1950’s and was invented by a sexologist called John Money. He proposed the idea that gender was something you thought about yourself or felt, rather than a matter of biology. This is the origin of the so called alphabetic cornucopia of LGBTTTQQIAA…
How did this catch on? Early feminists liked Money’s ideas because they offered a way out of being confined by their own biology. Gender offered a new way of imagining social relationships and escaping what were seen as old and repressive power structures; particularly those centred on the nuclear or extended family.
It wouldn’t be too simplistic to say that this comes down to the model of family with a mother and father and children on one side, against ….any other sexual permutation we invent for ourselves and our children that we feel comfortable with, on the other.
We know from careful social analysis that children fare best in what we can call the traditional family. What we don’t know is what will happen to the mental health and prospects of increasing numbers of children born and raised outside those safety of those parameters.
And, as Dr Mackereth points out, forcing doctors to talk and act in ways that go against both their consciences and their science, could be storing up a great deal of trouble for ourselves in the future.
Do you want a doctor who will tell you the ‘factual’ truth medically speaking? Or a truth that gets shaped by what you think reality ought to be?
Dr Money’s reputation took a hit when his first transgendered patient, David Reimer, ending up committing suicide. Money claimed that the bad press that followed this was whipped up by right wing anti-feminists.
And the suicide of Reimer takes us to Professor Alan M.Josephson. As a psychiatrist he became increasingly worried about the way in which children suffering from gender dysphoria, weren’t properly evaluated.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that treating a child as if they were the opposite sex is a form of social psychological treatment, one that could lessen the likelihood that that child will psychologically realign with their body by the end of adolescence.
The lack of thorough evaluation is a huge problem…..There are now over 50 gender clinics in the United States. These were unheard of seven or eight years ago.”
The new Inquisition has taken Money’s ideas on gender and placed them at the heart of politics, law, education and now medicine.
This experiment with gender at the expense of biology may indeed offer a tool for those who identify with the feminist agenda. It does re-distribute power. If re-distributing power is what deepens the sanity and safety of our children that would indeed be an achievement.
But it may not be a coincidence that just as the effects of this cultural war begin to bed down, we have the greatest levels of mental distress amongst our children our society has ever known.
And any movement that attacks freedom of speech, medical conscience and uses our children as experimental political bargaining chips, may not be laying the best foundations for our future. It may have got the political, mental and social diagnoses wrong.
What should alarm us most is its willingness to punish and silence those who disagree with it. People have become afraid to disagree and speak out. We are choosing comfort rather than courage. It won’t end well.
A week in a tent on the hard ground with a leaking air bed has reminded me to be grateful for my more usual bed and good mattress. I am revisiting old haunts this week. For twenty five years during my university teaching years, I brought some of my students to a French Monastery for a week in the summer.
We pitched our tents and threw ourselves into singing and praying with the 100 monks in the Taizé community in Burgundy several times a day. About three thousand young people came every week from all around the world to take part in this astonishing community. When we weren’t praying we were meeting each other in groups asking questions about managing our lives, and why the world was the way it was.
I have come back after a long gap. The first night my air mattress sprung a leak. On the up-slide, it gave me more time to think.
I’m doing my best to ignore the news this week, but I couldn’t filter it all out, so I found myself mulling over the C of E’s latest advice about living well on twitter. The C of E COMMS office gave us Ten Commandments for tweeting.
As always, some nice people have had some nice ideas which they want to use to make the world a nicer place.
“Together we can make change and help bring about a kinder world” tweeted a former Times Religious Affairs correspondent in a wave of well meant enthusiasm.
This monastery I am at in Burgundy was born out the experience that making the world a kinder place was rather more problematic. Nice doesn’t fix the capacity for seriously destructive.
In 1935, six ex-theological students had made a small community to live in together in Burgundy , sharing their goods and punctuating the day with prayer. They didn’t know it, but they had settled in a place that was to straddle the fault lines of the deepest conflict.
It was situated right on the line between Vichy France on one side and the German occupied France on the other. After the war started the monks began to give refuge to allied airmen shot down. They were denounced to the Gestapo, and fled before just being arrested, tortured and shot.
When they returned after the war to rebuild their community they took in German prisoners of war who needed feeding and protecting. One day, a group of French women from the village walked up the hill, grabbed some farm tools and killed one of the German ex-prisoners. It was a visceral act of revenge for their husbands and sons and daughters who had been tortured by the Gestapo. Nice it wasn’t
The fault lines of hatred went very deep. In the local village neighbours who had sheltered the Resistance lived alongside people who had shopped them to the Gestapo, who then executed their family members. More widely, the tensions grew out of the place straddling the border between the collaborating Vichy French and their occupied northern neighbours. The monastic community initially began with both Germans and French men, as well as including both Protestants and Catholics. Crossing such divides was unique.
The monks set out to create a place where people who had good reasons to hate and take revenge on each other found a fresh vision for mending their lives and communities. The key was the recognition of the existence and reality of evil; and forgiveness.
Recognising the existence of evil doesn’t sit well with our present cultural mood. We prefer the idea that anyone can be made a better person just by telling them not to misbehave, or be racist or sexist, and ‘re-educating’ them. So convinced are we by the power of education and the innate goodness of every person, that evil has more or less been written out of our social script; (excepting the occasional horror movies that some people turn to to give a dull evening a bit of frissance.)Instead we have undermined our sensitivity to moral issues, by insisting that right and wrong is a matter of personal preference (unless its racism, sexism or homophobia) and that otherwise everyone is really quite nice, if sometimes misunderstood.
We have given up any sense that there is some ultimate truth by which actions can be judged in assuming that no one view is better than any other.
The monks thought that the old Christian view told more truth about the situation. They believed that otherwise good people could become corrupted by something morally toxic, and find themselves twisted out of shape by hatred, anger and revenge.
Experience of the twitter sphere makes it look that the that the monks might be right. Twitter can be a place of real good or real hatred. It can be a place og great resource where lucid truth can be told, and virtual friendships made. It can also be a place where the furies of vituperation and rage are unleashed in a wave of electronic mob violence and hatred.
The Ten Commandments for tweeting might have been truer to the church’s founding principles if they had also urged the twitterati to ask for forgiveness for their own shortcomings and then offer that same forgiveness to those who had offended them. But that would be hard core. As Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
One of the experiences that many of us share, is having our hearts melted by the way that dogs look at us. Of the different news stories this week, dogs have provided some of the most colourful. Or at least the look on dogs faces that melts our hearts. That, ‘are you going to love me’ look. or even ‘I love you very much will you love me back?” It could, of course, be something more basic and needy like an ‘are you going to feed me’ look?
Dog–people love their dogs for that look of mutuality. It’s wordless, of course, but it speaks volumes and touches our hearts.
Except that according to Juliane Kaminski of Portsmouth University, it doesn’t. The look is not communicating love, need, mutuality and vulnerability. “Instead you are being manipulated by thousands of years of canine evolution, which has changed the facial structure of dogs, so that they can inveigle their way into your affections.”
It seems that creating the look is down to an evolutionary and rather cunning muscle that creates this raised eyebrow. We like it. We respond by thinking that when a dog raises its eyebrows it does it for similar reasons that we do. Wolves haven’t developed it, so we don’t like them. Domestic dogs have, so we love them.
Why does this matter? Because it exposes two very different ways of looking at world, and even two ways of looking at or being unable to see, love.
I have always liked the computing acronym GIGO; garbage in, garbage out, because I think it works to reminder us that if you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer; or perhaps more accurately, the kind of question you ask will affect the kind of answer you get.
The great chasm between science and religion has always been that scientists ask ‘how’ questions’ and the religious or spiritual, ask ‘why’ questions.
We usually get trouble when the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ get mixed up. The trouble with the dog research is that seems to ask a ‘why’ question but wraps it in a ‘how’ process. This becomes the proposal that because evolution tells us ‘how’ the capacity of a dog to look meaningfully developed, the answer to ‘why’ is it looking at me so meaningfully can’t be love, it must be about the survival of the fittest.
The same approach has been applied by scientists to Near Death Experiences. When I was teaching psychology at university this was one area I found particularly interesting. It was fascinating to look at some of the explanations that a more hard-nosed experimental psychology was offering. I had some personal reasons for this interest. I had experienced one myself, aged 19. I had drunk a litre of vodka in a rapid binge. One effect this has is to impair the respiratory reflexes.It’s very likely that my breathing was at theg very least, seriously impaired for some hours.
And in those hours I thought I saw myself leaving my body, floating upwards and ending up in the presence of the courts of heaven, facing some form of tribunal, to be judged. It seemed to me at the time that the Light, (God?) was so intensely pure and so terrifyingly just, that there was a very real chance of my being sent away from his presence into hell.I remember thinking ‘if that happens at least I wilI have the satisfaction of knowing that there was justice in the universe ’
So it came to me as a surprise to find the tribunal ending withmy being declared forgiven and being sent back. What was just as much of a surprise was to find that instead of being ill and sick for days after a serious bout of alcohol poisoning, I came to, feeling extraordinarily well, both physically and psychologically. Even if I had imagined the Light, could I have imagined the good health?
Some of the more interesting research work in the world of psychology suggested that what people who had these experiences were encountering was not God, as they thought, but their own nervous system. The classic dark tunnels and bright light associated by so many who have these experiences were not taking place out there, but were instead an experience of the hard wiring of our own nervous infrastructure. ‘How’ in this more biological script blocks out what we would otherwise approach as a ‘why’.
The moral seems to be that if you assume that everything that happens to us
can be reduced to either biology or evolution, then forgiveness is only a offshoot of electrical synapses we have misread; and a dog’s loving look is only a very particular evolved muscle that changes the shape of a dog’s eye to ensure that a human being is sufficiently hoodwinked to feed him.
Is the dog man’s best friend or man’s most effective parasite? Does the look mean ‘this will make you feed me’ or something more reciprocal? Science v religion may not come down so much as to ‘how’ versus ‘why’, or even empiricism versus faith.
It may also come down to the difference between a world that recognises and prefers the experience of love to the assumption of manipulation.