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Misgendering Jesus

Academic nonsense blinds us to realities of sex and faith

Conversion could be described as a lesson in humility, and my experience has brought many such moments. One of the most recent was a recommendation to read a simplified version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, akin to the one handed to primary-age children. It might seem like a bruise to the ego of someone who has used Vatican documents for research essays, but reading it lifted me out of the micro-level detail to see the Catholic church’s doctrine as a holistic entity. The first question: Who made me? Answer: God. It is a simple answer, yet it is one which seems easily forgotten by some members of the faithful. 

Joshua Heath’s now notorious “vagina-wound” sermon is a prime example of this. Heath’s sermon was delivered at an evensong service at Trinity College, Cambridge, much to the distaste of the congregation. Reading the transcript, I could briefly summarise Heath’s sermon as follows. Firstly, the French artist Henri Maccheroni has taken photographs of women’s vaginas and made artistic drawings called Christs. Secondly, here is Jean Maloulel’s Pietà, a 600 year old painting which depicts Christ wounded at the side. If according to Heath, you were to isolate the wound from the painting and to “rotate it 90 degrees” you can apparently see a vagina. Thus he argues it is possible to view Christ as both sexes. 

Removing theology from this, the comparison of a wound to a vagina is just plainly offensive to women, religious and non-religious alike. An intricate organ built integrally into the bodies of women is reduced to a wound. Heath further contends that wounds on Christ (and beyond) have an erotic dimension, something to be erotically penetrated. This is a plainly speculative argumentation, drawn out entirely by his subjective interpretation, with no substantive theological basis. He merely happens to be interested in a dead perverted French artist obsessed with women’s genitalia, who made a work called “Christs” This is, somehow, an example of “Christian inheritance” of 15th century paintings such as Pietà depicting Christ. 

Postmodernism relies on a praxis of manipulating language

Alas, it was not just merely about showing an abstracted wound as a vagina for the sake of it. He had another message to deliver, that because of Christ’s supposed wound vagina, Christ is in effect transgender. He went on to take this as a symbolic support for trans rights. The wound as vagina, is then not actually a vagina proper but a neo-vagina. The vaginal shape for Heath actually remains a shape. Herein lies a couple of questions: is it possible to think that artists intended a deliberate vaginal wound? Certainly scholarship has dedicated thought to it. The truth is that we do not know. The second question then is does such artistic symbolism have any bearing on Christian doctrine? The answer here is certainly not

Heath’s sermon is heretical primarily because “Jesus Christ is God the Son, made man for us”. As the creed states clearly, Christ is “begotten not made”, born a son of the Virgin Mary. It is as plain a truth as that. How did we get to the point where academics started considering Christ as a “vagina-haver”? A recent and wonderful book by Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, offers us a crisp insight. Through first-hand experience Favale identifies the pervading postmodernism and its subsequent offspring of a “gender paradigm” in academia. 

Ironically postmodernism takes as a foundational premise that there is no “meta-narrative”. Favale aptly describes it as a collection of narratives, rather than formulating part of an overarching system. For the avoidance of doubt then, the universal Church by its definition is offering one of those pesky meta-narratives. God’s creation ex nihilo implies an order, or telos, to life. Theology ought, in its most fundamental sense, to be foundational. Heresy exists because of the need to maintain orthodoxy. Transgender ideology (and I emphasise, ideology — not trans-identified persons) is a contradiction or heresy because it rejects the simple theological truth that God created you and did so in his image. 

Postmodernism by contrast is less stuffy and gives space to “self-create”. Favale understood the appeal: “I could reject or accept any established doctrine at will. I saw Christianity as a narrative, created by human beings and therefore open to revision by other human beings, like myself”. Eventually she reneged, realising that “the work I was doing was not connected to any kind of genuine knowledge”. Does this not describe with accuracy this supposed research that comprises Heath’s wound-as-vagina thesis? 

The shock-tactics and boundary-pushing deployed by Heath is very much part of postmodernism’s modus operandi. As Favale explains, postmodernism has a weak metaphysics and relies on a praxis of manipulating language, so shouting that Jesus has a vagina is then an “effort to enforce a new social truth-script”. Indeed. We only have to look to how “trans women are women” has now led to non-ironic discussion of “who is a woman?”

The comparison of a wound to a vagina is hardly dignified

This manipulation of nature with regards to gender is, as Favale understands, related to a particular technological advancement: contraception. It is of no surprise that Heath’s artist of choice, Maccheroni, happened to be friendly with revered postmodernist Jean-Francois Lyotard. Lyotard was one of the signatories to the infamous letter to French newspaper Liberation calling for the abolition of the age of consent. It contains the rather eerie line, “if a girl of thirteen is entitled to the pill: What is it for?” Bearing such interference with the natural bodily function in mind, it becomes clearer how one abstracts the vagina (and the interconnected organs) from its natural telos to a fetish.

This takes me to the sleight of hand directed towards women. Heath regards Maccheroni as a feminist. By reinterpreting what is very obviously a wound, he is creating what he thinks is an empowering narrative for women, no longer “Adam’s helper” as he stated. We know this is duplicitous reasoning as he empties all telos and connection of it from women to advance the cause of transgender ideology, which is seeking to eclipse the material sexed realities of women’s bodies. Further, considering the ever-increasing number of young women seeking help for difficulties with their gender identity, the comparison of a wound to a vagina is hardly a dignified one. 

What is most striking about Genesis of Gender, beyond all the layers of complex layers of postmodern theory and discourse, is how Favale exhorts us to return to creation. In Genesis 1, God creates the world ex nihilo. There is a pronouncement of his goodness, that there is purpose and order. Therefore, there is no need for us to manipulate language in order to ascribe dignity to all of humanity’s existence — it is universal and spoken by God. In Genesis 2 God creates Adam, but recognises his need for company so creates Eve, who is both alike and different. Like Favale says, sexual difference is made deliberate in God’s design: it is not one of subjugation but of complementarity and cooperation. 

Myths, and the art that accompanies them, are important to Christians. They are neither fictions nor narratives of power to wield for temporal causes — rather, they tell us fundamental truths about ourselves. If some of the faithful cannot accept those as foundational truths, the worship may remain, but what of the faith does?

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