Thinking Christian Innocence: Reflecting on the Presbyterian Church of Ireland’s Undue Fascination with Not Being “Homophobic”

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I begin with a remark that I won’t substantiate, but hope you can accept as truth as an observation: Christians in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) have an undue fascination with not being considered “homophobic”. They really want you to know that while they can’t embrace queer people as such ontically or in policy, they do not have a deep, abiding fear of them—they’ll have queer people in the building, but not as they are, rather as the church wants them to be. (This thought comes not long after news that PCI will not send its moderator to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly next year, following the latter’s decision to allow ministers in same-sex relationships to work in the church.)

To be honest, I’m consistently fascinated by PCI’s preoccupation with “homophobia” as a category for legitimating or deligitimating its policy decisions. If, for example, one does not need to be a white supremacist to be racist or engage in racism, then nor does one need to be a “homophobe” to either discriminate heterosexually or engage in heterosexism—PCI can abduct feeling from reasoning as much as it likes, the effect is the same: it is systematically organising itself to:

  1. invalidate and disabuse queer people of the ways they have construed their identity,
  2. increasingly police church life—not without gestures toward national life, too—with a view to quelling difference and denying any conceivable right to or acceptance of queer people, unless it comes with the person’s capitulation to views that utterly contradict who they know themselves to be.

With these results, what does homophobia matter? A lack of intense affect—fear, hatred, or repulsion—is a barometer of nothing, when the practical effects are what they are. This is nihilism as Nietzsche knew it, ressentiment at a deeper level of order and cohesion. It is a denial of life and self with the emotions eviscerated, then repressed, repackaged, and redirected into a war that is named a “disagreement” (a hymn a thousand delegates and church leaders sang in worship as the General Assembly thought on these issues was ‘Who is on the Lord’s Side?”. Fighting words). A church against queer people, but not out of fear—because they are at war.

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Something, given the above, that I see no sense in having is a “dialogue” about the metaphysical, hermeneutical, or interpretive moves that PCI makes in this regard. Rhetorically, the church isn’t making any moves at all—the church “knows”. It’s really better to simply see the what is happening as a process of self-justification and observe how it works.

PCI’s epistemological and metalinguistic strategy aims to:

  1. set the parameters for what constitutes “knowledge”;
  2. read a book from which it “actually” gleans this “knowledge”; which, of course, takes place under the epistemological conditions it has set;
  3. use all of the above to semantically define out of existence one’s culpability in the most debased treatment of others.

It is a most amazing auto-referential closed loop of thought; a gesture that works to assert complete and total innocence, even letting one feel confident enough to play the victim at the end of it—which occurs because thought has been so ghettoised that it is impossible to shift perspective, to move beyond what one “knows”; at least not without breaking the epistemological structure that holds one as a subject together.

How does this thought think? What does it say to queer people? Something like this, perhaps:

We don’t fear you, we nothing you. We will reduce you to nothing, and then give you content, our content. Content we decide. You don’t exist, not to us; certainly not as you exist to yourself, but we will help you to—to exist like us. In a war you don’t know you’re fighting, that we’re fighting, we will kill you in order that you might live. It’s what Christ wanted, it’s what he did. He died so others might die to themselves, so they may live for him—and us in him, and you in us. We are right, and you will be made right. We don’t, please remember, do this because we fear you, we simply know what is right—and you are wrong. No hard feelings, don’t worry—there’s no feelings at all.

Of course this is nihilism, a total destruction of life, done in denial of itself; done as a refusal of the immanent contradiction life provides of a transcendental concept taken as axiomatic. We are beyond homophobia and into the realm of war, war without fear, war for the sake of war, war against life.

One thing we know, and we are to know it for sure, the Christians are not afraid.

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There’s nearly no way into this form of thought, and getting out is considerably harder. Debate shouldn’t be considered an option either—there won’t be one. All there is little left to do but balk, because, as Gil Anidjar has so aptly put it:

Christianity… is the difference between innocence and guilt as the basis of human society, the difference across humanity, between the old and guilty (humans) and the new and innocent (Christians). It is indeed the advent of a new humanity. From now on, may God protect the humanity of old.
What is the future of murder? … The future of murder is innocence… The distinction between law-instituting violence and law-preserving violence is transformed into law-abolishing violence, and then into violence-denying love. Instead of collective guilt, collective innocence. Such is the Christian dispensation… (Blood: A Critique of Christianity, 254)

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