Vanity thought #1521. Female diksha guru, bending lower, and various odds and ends

There was one poignant question in that debate about merits of the Catholic Church that echoes our own, ISKCON discourse – female priesthood. There’s a short answer here and a longer, uncut version continues here. Since there was a little confusion about the question itself, here it is in the original form.

When the moderator relayed it to Anne Widdecombe she asked “Why not women priests in the Catholic Church?”. Widdecombe objected and reminded that the original question was, shortened for brevity: “Why is it wrong for a woman to become a priest but perfectly okay for her to become an MP?” Quite an important distinction even if the subject is still the same. Moderator stripped it of the comparison to an MP, a comparison which, in Widdecombe’s answer betrayed “vast ignorance”. There was an undecipherable reaction from the audience to the “vast ignorance” phrase but in a second it turned to laughter and even applause, they really wanted to hear Widdecombe explanation.

“A member of parliament, a male of female, does not stand in persona Christi at the point of consecration,” she said. In Vedic language in persona Christi means as God Himself, a bona fide guru, and consecration is dīkṣā, initiation. In Catholic doctrine God does not manifest Himself as a female for the purpose of consecration. Or, in our speak, Kṛṣṇa does not manifest Himself as a female for the purpose of dīkṣā.

Catholics have their own ways to explain it but, in general, that’s how the church conducted their consecrations throughout history. They have this straightforward instruction from Paul, for example: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” 1 Tim 2.12. One of the recent Popes said “I do not have the authority to consecrate women,” which was a clever way to nip the subject of women’s rights in the bud. Whatever the reasoning, the verdict is clear – women can’t stand in place of Christ for the purpose of consecration. As Widdecombe clarified it’s different from ministry, which is preaching or discussing Lord’s pastimes, I guess, she said that this rule is specific to the priesthood and people should know the theology of the priesthood to understand it. She finally said that it is no more possible for a woman to represent Christ at the point of consecration than for a man to be a Virgin Mary. Clear enough.

Why can’t we have the same clarity? I guess because guru is a principle for us and guru manifests himself in a variety of forms, including female. The question then becomes about peculiarity of dīkṣā. Catholics have a simple “can’t be a woman” rule that seems to be lacking in our tradition. We need to deduce it from statements on different subjects, like in the case with Dhruva and his mother. We also have historical precedents and the basic fact that our material genders have nothing to do with our spiritual identities at all.

Well, until very recently the question of female dīkṣā gurus didn’t exist and everyone was very clear on this, too. Catholics still stay clear but maybe one day somebody will challenge them just as people challenge GBC in ISKCON.

Next up was Fry’s rant about Church being likely to kick out Christ himself if he showed up at its door today. It was a good rant but it means nothing. If he is suggesting that the Church lacks any introspection and no one there ever thinks of how his actions would be perceived by JC then Fry is clearly wrong. Yes, it would have made for an appalling picture of the Church but it’s not the real life, it’s a caricature, and a rather pointless one for the purpose of the debate. It scored him easy points with the public, though, and was followed by a long applause. This rant was one of many misrepresentations of the Catholic Church and its doctrine, just see what follows.

The short continues with Fry’s rant about limbo and how it was legislated out of existence in the year 2000. This prompted Widdecombe to respond directly. She said she was raised a Catholic, went to Church, read the books, etc etc and she didn’t recognize the limbo he was talking about. Now, the actual Catholic version expressed in her own words isn’t much better but the main point is that a civilized debater, if he wants to explain the position of the other side, would always check that his representation is correct.

That’s what Prabhupāda always did when discussing other people’s philosophy. He didn’t just hammer his own visions of it, he asked people to explain it themselves first and if he volunteered his own version he’d always check that it was acceptable and not a wild distortion of it. Fry is simply no gentleman here, and Hitchens was guilty of the same behavior, too, even though it escapes me on what aspect of Christianity exactly. In this rant Fry declared that concept of “purgatory” is not in the Bible and Catholics simply invented it. He assumed the position of authority on Catholic doctrine and thought it was perfectly okay for him to teach Catholics proper Christianity, which is going lower and lower (limbo, get the reference?)

Atheists do this all the time, which is fine in their own circles but they should know better in public. We do this all the time, too, but anyone who thinks we can easily convince advaitins of the error of their ways because advaita looks so illogical and easy to refute in our own classes simply hasn’t tried. The fact is that for each and every argument they have long and convincing responses. Advaita was taught by Lord Śiva himself, after all, our intelligence in minuscule compared to his, we should remember that. I believe this is one of the reasons Lord Caitanya explicitly forbade us to hear advaita explanations of the scriptures – it’s too big for our little brains and we can’t defeat it by intellect alone, we should know our limits, just like with association with women – won’t work, lust will surely develop.

This is basically it, the short version of the debate is practically over. There are only a couple more points I wanted to discuss and I don’t want them to be short ones because they apply to us, too, and so we need to understand them thoroughly.

PS. I wish I had a simple, conclusive, and also comprehensive answer to female dīkṣā controversy. I don’t, there isn’t a way to easily put the matter to rest. Personally, I think it’s nonsense but there’s always a chance that there’s a qualified vaiṣṇavī out there who deserves the honor and I don’t want to get in the way of her service.

Vanity thought #1518. Debate Animated

As I said, I’m not going to go through the debate about Catholic Church word by word but the organizers kindly provided a short animation summarizing the best arguments from Anne Widdecombe for Catholics and Stephen Fry for atheists, so let’s cover that.

The two other speakers, an African bishop and Christopher Hitchens, were excluded but it’s not a big loss. Perhaps I could say a few words about the priest but Hitchens’ facts I covered yesterday, I don’t want to watch the whole two hour affair again to check if he said anything else of note.

If you watch this short it might appear disjointed, jumping from topic to topic, and it should be expected from this video because it’s made of selected clips, but the rest of the debate was the same, everybody was making himself heard all the time and no one was obliged to follow up on questions. Even when the speakers were answering questions from the audience they were free to pick and choose what to answer and what to ignore.

This was the fault of the organizers, it put too much unnecessary pressure on the speakers, giving them too many questions to juggle and too little time to respond. Half the questions from the audience were not even questions but personal comments and gripes. There was one guy who said he just returned from a UN conference and there he submitted a list of five transgressions by the Catholic Church and the Church admitted it hasn’t done anything about them. It was a one sided piece of information, no one knew what he was talking about and whether it was factually correct.

The debate was organized more like a court proceedings, with time allocated to the prosecution and the defense to make their statements and the audience acting as a jury, but a lot of what was heard would not have been permissible in court, like that guy’s “testimony”. If he was allowed to speak as a witness the defense would have been given time to cross examine him and bring their own witnesses and experts. Otherwise he just made an emotional appeal that manipulated the hearts and that’s all.

Anyway, the animation, it starts with Widdecombe asking us to imagine the world without Catholic Church giving billions to charity. Very easy. In my world I do not see Catholic Church charities at all, they are not collecting them where I can see, and they are not distributing them where I can see. They are also not in the news, my world is already is as if Catholic charities didn’t exist. No big loss.

There’s also the mercantile dimension to this argument that doesn’t do anything good to Catholic Church’s image. I get it that they were trying to speak the language atheists can understand and measure – money, but when you treat people like that, if you appeal to their lower nature, don’t expect them to respond any differently and appreciate unspoken spiritual arguments in your favor. If you talk to them as if they don’t understand anything but money they’ll repay in kind.

Anyway, Catholic Church apparently contributes more than any nation. Sounds nice, but it’s a somewhat dishonest argument. Catholic Church is bigger than any other nation, save for China, and all these other nations have to invest in defense and what not so the comparison is inappropriate. Makes for a good soundbite, though.

Thankfully, Widdecombe quickly switched to the message of the Catholic Church, and that is of hope and salvation it gives to more than a billion of people. She used their lives as testimony that the Church is the force for good, but, as I said a few days ago, atheists usually discount cumulative affect of individual lives and go for doctrine instead, and not for Church’s actual doctrine but their interpretation of it. If they manage to twist something and make it sound bad it outweighs experiences of those billions of people. Reasonable? No, but it wins debates such as this.

Next came Stephen Fry, and he started (the animation started) by saying that he is going to take great pleasure in castigating the church, though he put it a lot more eloquently, earning himself applause from the audience. Where did the virtue of being dispassionate and logical go to? Why do the atheists applaud departure from rationality and diving into pleasure seeking rhetoric? What sort of debate is this where one side abandons its proclaimed strength and goes for emotional feel instead? It’s not a debate, it’s a propaganda exercise.

Fry then reminded everyone that Catholic Church IS a nation state, contrary to what Widdecombe stated earlier. Well, of course the Pope is the head of Vatican but Widdecombe and her fellow Catholics are not Vatican’s citizens, why did he not acknowledge that? He moved on to some UN conference where the then current Pope (it was 2009) issued a statement together with Muslim nations led by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the revealed religions of the world… Pure rhetoric – all the emotional triggers are there – head of state, joined with backward, repressive Muslims like Saudis, speaking for religions of the world. And what did he say? Unclear, something about blocking women’s sexual freedom. Doesn’t matter, the outrage was already planted in the audience.

What kind of sexual freedom did the Vatican block? Unclear. How many people would argue against sexual freedom for their own wives? Seven and a half billion, I guess, but it’s the Church who is the culprit. And what can Vatican ever block in the UN? It’s not even a member! Fry doesn’t have a coherent argument here at all, but with emotional triggers he got the audience by its heart strings.

“The Islamic world AND the Catholic church have never been anything other than implacably opposed to women’s choice in their own bodies and their destinies,” concluded Fry, and applause followed. As I said, most husbands would also oppose to their wives exercising absolute freedom with their bodies and destinies, too. Even in the modern world all such decisions are taken together, that’s what marriage is. It’s just Fry’s flowery words with no substance, but people loved it.

Once again, it was debate organizer’s duty to prevent such blatant abuse of the audience. You can’t stop people from reacting to emotional appeals but you can stop speakers from making them. Not by taking away their mike, of course, but by setting the appropriate atmosphere and elevating the level of discussion. Once again, the woman in charge thought that if it sounded good and felt good then it was okay. It wasn’t.., will continue tomorrow.