moral grammar

Robert Manne wrote a volume of essays in 1996, including a review of the Demidenko literary situation and its aftermath, which led him to construct the invaluable phrase “moral grammar”.

I would like to use it to shed light on recent events, including last night’s ABC Q&A panel which allowed Fred Nile to repeat his oft repeated and poisonous commentary on gay relationships, gay love and marriage, and (to him) the horrendous prospect of two men raising a child. Any younger person, especially someone in the LGBTIQ community, listening to Nile’s  bible-based comments, would be struck by the lack of intelligence they convey and the repetition, the grinding repetition of stupid comments. Dennis Altmann, another panelist, put it well when he said that Nile questioning gay relationships and another religious person, posing a question from the audience to the M-F trans-sexual person on the panel, both seemed to speak as if they had a direct and exclusive line to the authority upstairs. “Telephone to glory, oh what joy divine” was the relevant song from my youth.

Altmann also made a gracious statement as to why he was unwilling to judge the choices made by trans-sexuals; I would offer the volume Biological Exuberance by Michael Bagemihl, which contains many examples of functioning and accepted trans-sexuality in the wild. If animals can tolerate the behaviour, surely we should be able to do likewise.

But I want to go further: even the lesbian religious person on the panel, Julie McCrossin seemed to want constantly to place the act of sexual enjoyment within relationships as expressions of love, validated within religious systems. It has to be said that more people are atheistic these days; others practise religions which are more or less tolerant of different sexual practices and gender identity. These systems have been so long happy to overlook or even affirm my lesser status in this society; why should I now take their opinions seriously as to the expression of my instincts and feelings?

But going further: as a person raised in the catholic system, and coming to the attention of a pedophile priest, with all the duplicity and hypocrisy that entailed, I have had to struggle for years with, as Hollywood put it recently, “the whole good/bad thing”. Science has analysed a percentage of the male population as sociopathic and another percentage of women likewise; I don’t want to depress myself researching the proportion of the population that is actually psychopathic. I have no confidence in the christian tradition; however, going further back in time To the Greeks and Hindus and Chinese, these traditions had a moral reversibility, expressed as yin/yang by the Chinese, whereby each of us have an element of both, 90% good +10% bad for instance.

However, what I take from all of this, from Robert Manne’s phrase the “moral grammar” is that physical expression of sexuality, accompanied with goodwill, mutual consent and so forth are innately good; no system has the authority to pronounce judgement on such behaviour nor to attempt to restrict it within certain relationship parameters.


About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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2 Responses to moral grammar

  1. Steadfast says:

    Altman’s soft comment to the two you mention who seemed to ‘know’ what that ‘authority upstairs’ intended – or determined was very kind. I thought, again, how humans, through history, constructed him ‘upstairs’ (mostly a male persona), and sometimes him ‘downstairs’. Gradually from the bronze through to the beginnings of the iron age the various people (?) upstairs and down stairs melded into one up and a shadowy one down stairs.

    But then the Christians in the 3rd and 4th century got themselves lost in the curlicues of philosophy and religion and split the one upstairs into three bits and then, for good measure, stuck the mother of one of those bits up there as a female god. I have come to think that that period of time in the East and West Roman civilisation was a time when the god(s) were on the move from what gods had been in the past to an incipient conflict between reason and rational explanation of things. It was, perhaps, a time when there was a chance of letting go of god as an explanation for things in the real world. It might have too if the last of the Constantinian Emperors, Julian, had survived for longer and ended the use of religion by the Emperors to maintain their power. Instead, the Emperors go back on top of Christianity and tried to control the state by controlling the Bishops as they flopped about in Christology with one lot justifying death to others under the rubric of heresy.

    All this happened 1800 years ago, it is strange that there are still people like Fred Nile and the other chap in the audience still claiming that they ‘know’ the ‘intended’ order of things revealed to them by some imagined bronze age god.

    Mind you, I was, like you Anton, raised Catholic of the Roman/Irish type. It has taken me almost a lifetime of reading, study and experience to work out that it is a load of codswallop and why, in the history of humankind, humans invented gods and why they have moved on … and also, why they might move back to them as an explanation. It is true of we humans that we imbibe in our nursery years the likes and passions of our parents and neighbours – be that for theologies or football codes and teams – and we hold those as sacred truths and kill for them – as religious adherents have done for millennia and even do today. It is difficult to impossible to move from that state. I think that it takes time and peace to examine the ‘sacred truths’ we absorb as children and to find their falsity. But some, like Fred Nile and Ms Macrossan, in the process of review, are confirmed of their truth and/or purpose.

    • anton veenstra says:

      Don’t forget: the system has a lot of inbuilt mechanisms to compel us to stay onboard; this is surely a first, compared to more ancient systems whose gods/goddesses were as earnest but hardly as vindictive, the rulers of christianity required fanatical adherence.

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