Towards a Theology of Gender

This essay explores the relationship between my Christian theology, strongly influenced by the insights of Rene Girard  into human imitative behaviour and desire, and the thinking of Judith Butler. I am currently working my way through their seminal work, Gender Trouble. The essay is purposely over-wordy, with long quotations from other authors and from other work of my own. This is because I am both seeking to lay out the basis of my thinking so that the reader who has not read the scholars on whom I depend, will get some understanding of where I am coming from. It is also the case that I am creating long-form notes for my own future thinking.

I have included multiple references to Wikipedia, which would not be acceptable in a formal university essay, not least because Wikipedia entries are sometimes frequently updated. There are also problems with ideological bias in some areas of Wikipedia, although some of the most strident critiques in this respect come from folk also very committed to an ideology 😊. The main problem is that a Wikipedia article can never do justice to Judith Butler or anyone else. It is always a summary, and serious research will want to be done closer to the source. However, I am also aware how difficult and expensive it is to access and afford theological and philosophical libraries and their paywalls. Sometimes, judicious use of Wikipedia and other online resources is an act of justice.

Finally, I write this as a non-binary person who looks "male" but often feels much closer to what we often call "female."  In another world...?      Seeking to understand myself energises this essay.

Towards a theology of gender.

The long road to Booborowie

"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?"[1] Later, the same letter to Galatia, Paul will say "you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters,"[2] but his letter is warning them that this is a freedom they can lose. They can—perhaps they already are—be enslaved[3] again.

Concerning freedom, Paul makes the following statement:

in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

"In Christ Jesus" means when we are living within and according to the culture of God; that is, when we are being church at its very best. It is here that freedom is found.

Paul has made a three-fold statement. Because he has spoken of Jew or Greek, and of slave or free, we instinctively expect a third statement. And we expect it to be in the form of "there is no longer x or y." Indeed, there is a third statement, but it is in the form of "no longer male and female."

His listeners[4] and readers not only notice the difference, but understand what it is saying.  He has altered the threefold pattern to point them unmistakably towards a foundational statement of Jewish faith in Genesis 1:27:

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind-adam[5] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
27 So God created adam[6] in his image,
   in the image of God he created him;[7]
   male and female he created them.

Paul seems to be saying that in Christ there is no male and female. He is contradicting one of the foundational statements of Hebrew cosmology and anthropology in the story of creation. Martyn suggests this reference to Genesis 1:27 implicitly means that being "in Christ" means being part of a new creation.[8] That new creation, the new freedom, no longer has male and female as a part of its structure and organisation. I emphasise here that although this essay is primarily concerned with exploring the meaning of gender, the phrase "no longer male and female" profoundly undercuts prejudices against any LGBTIQ+ folk.

Paul has not discerned his statement in Galatians 3:28 "out of nowhere." It is an insight gestated over centuries. And it remains an insight which we Homo sapiens barely grasp, and often actively seek to suppress.[9] Current discussions within the church about gender are a part of this long gestation; they are not ad hoc claims made up for the moment.

A brief history here not only helps us avoid more or less consciously suppressing Paul's insights, but also allows us to see the developing understanding of our aspirations to humanity of which Paul was a part.

Reading the Bible with Girard and Becker

Ernest Becker: Humans are terrified of death. Culture is constructed by the crowd of us to make an end run, as it were, around death. Culture enables us to say that despite death we have amounted to something. Culture is an expression of heroism in the face of death. This is why stories of heroism are so frequent, "heroism is first and foremost a reflex of the terror of death." [10]  Culture is the creation of meaning in the face of death.

But how is that culture created?

Rene Girard: We, the crowd of us, function by imitation. We learn to be by imitating how others are. Inevitably this leads to rivalry: If I could have that thing, I could be like him. I could become him. I would mean something. Others teach us what we desire. Desire arises through imitation.[11] Or, as Alison says, "We always learn to see through the eyes of another. The desire of another directs our seeing and makes available to us what is to be seen."[12] This happens from the very early days of Homo sapiens' existence.

 James Alison:  "The potentially catastrophic consequence of having turned into especially imitative apes" is that we have lost the instincts which restrain violence in other species. In a dog fight, one dog eventually exposes its belly and the fight is over; "humans" too often seize that moment to inflict a death blow.

[We are] no longer constrained in our rivalry by instinct or the dominance patterns we see in our nearest simian relatives... What structures our existence as culture is the way in which a group’s all-against-all, rivalrous imitation run amok, sometimes found itself able to be resolved into an all-against-one, when the group joined together in fury against a particular member, treated as having caused the problem in the first place. When the frenzy is not so resolved, the rivalrous group destroys itself. When it is so resolved, the group survives at the expense of an excluded other to whom it mistakenly attributes responsibility for both the frenzy and the peace that follows the unanimous expulsion.[13]

Culture exists and develops because we have been able to focus our violence upon a few carefully (if unconsciously) chosen scapegoats[14], and constructed a series of prohibitions, rituals, and myths[15] which limit violence.

A symbolic system begins to emerge in which all the cultural binaries – not us/us, out/in, bad/good, dead/living... [emerge.] There also emerge, again over millennia, transcendence, the notion of ambivalent gods, doubles, monsters and the full panoply of figures familiar to us from the survivals of archaic cultures.[16]

Society maintains its peace and safety by following the rules, rules which arise from what Alison called the "cultural binaries." Flouting the rules is destabilising and terrifying. I use the word terrifying because at the back of the anger and outrage we witness around issues of gender is one simple thing: fear. Becker's work is important here.  His seminal work was titled The Denial of Death. A denial always knows at some level that what is denied is true.  We live under a double adversity, for we do not "simply" live with the knowledge of our impending death. Kierkegaard said

For it seems indeed as if, in order to be themselves, a person must first be expertly informed about what the others are, and thereby learn to know what they themselves are--in order then to be that. However, if they walk into the snare of this optical illusion, they never reach the point of being themselves... For from "the others," naturally, one properly only learns to know what the others are—it is in this way the world would beguile a person from being themselves. "The others" in turn do not know at all what they themselves are, but only what the others are.[17] (I have modified the original to be gender inclusive.)

Many of us know or suspect this at some level, and live with a nagging sense of pointlessness. And we also know, or suspect, or fear, that our end run around death is a failure. We understand Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.  ( Percy Shelley, "Ozymandias", 1819 edition)

At some instinctual level, we understand that when Paul, or others, disturb our ideas about sexuality and gender, he threatens us with the wreckage of all we thought we had built. If we do not glimpse freedom in the toppling of our idols, then terror is our only response because all that remains is death. We may disguise it as outrage, as calls for orthodoxy, as the need to be faithful to the bible, or as violent hatred. But at the back of all of that is the fear of death.

Is "at the back of all that is the fear of death" an overstatement? I noted this morning that Butler asks,

To what extent is “identity” a normative ideal rather than a descriptive feature of experience? And how do the regulatory practices that govern gender also govern culturally intelligible notions of identity? In other words, the “coherence” and “continuity” of “the person” are not logical or analytic features of personhood, but, rather, socially instituted and maintained norms of intelligibility.  Inasmuch as “identity” is assured through the stabilizing concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality, the very notion of “the person” is called into question by the cultural emergence of those “incoherent” or “discontinuous” gendered beings who appear to be persons but who fail to conform to the gendered norms of cultural intelligibility by which persons are defined.

“Intelligible” genders are those which in some sense institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire.  In other words, the spectres of discontinuity and incoherence, themselves thinkable only in relation to existing norms of continuity and coherence, are constantly prohibited and produced by the very laws that seek to establish causal or expressive lines of connection among biological sex, culturally constituted genders, and the “expression” or “effect” of both in the manifestation of sexual desire through sexual practice. (Gender Trouble pp2)

If we are not troubled by "the very notion of “the person” ... called into question," are we awake!?  (added... 21/11/2023)

Applying Girard to the Bible.
James Alison is one of Girard's key theological interpreters, and the quick history which follows is my reading of his sense that (among many other things) scripture records our growing freedom as we become aware of the scapegoat mechanism which underpins so much of our culture.

A quick history
Although the traditions of Israel are many centuries older than the period 587-538[18] BCE, this period is significant because the leadership of Israel's society was deported from Jerusalem to Babylon following the conquest of the city, and the destruction of the temple. Deportation of the elites is a strategy conquering empires used[19] to destroy cultural cohesion and resistance among conquered peoples.  Deportation reinforced the message that a peoples' gods and culture were inferior to the gods of the conquerors. But this period became one of the great triumphs of Israel's history, for through visions such as that reported in Ezekiel chapter one, its apprehension of Yahweh seems to have been deepened rather than destroyed!

... and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. (Ezekiel 1:26)

Walter Wink said of Ezekiel chapter one:

This is one of the most understated visionary reports ever recounted. Against all tendencies toward exaggeration, Ezekiel goes out of his way, redundantly, to stress that he is doing the best he can to describe the indescribable. Yet he knows that his words are not enough, that he cannot do the vision justice. His descriptions bend and break while the experience races ahead of language. A fictionalized account would have been full of certainty and precision; Ezekiel qualifies virtually every word of his report.

Now the vision breaks to the center, and the qualifications and hesitations stumble all over themselves: “And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form” (Ezek. 1:26).

                And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN.

 This is no anthropomorphism. Israel was thoroughly familiar with anthropomorphic language, and never confused it with reality. If you asked Jews if God was walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day because the heat was disagreeable (Gen. 3:8), they would have dismissed the question as impertinent:[20] Of course not, that is only a figure of speech.

 But Ezekiel is not beholding a figure of speech. This is really what God is: HUMAN. It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness—which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.[21]

The various cultures we have developed as Homo sapiens are all attempts to become Human.  Our humanity is more aspirational than actual. It is "human beings" among all the species who practise genocide.

The significance of the book Genesis, and therefore of that foundational verse about adam created male and female which Paul over-rules in Galatians chapter three, is that the traditions in Genesis were massively edited during, or in response to, the period of the Exile in Babylon[22]. Wink says the early chapters were

crafted as an answering rebuke to the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish. In the Babylonian myth, human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god in order to serve the gods. Genesis 1 asserts, to the contrary, that all creation is good, and that human beings are created in God’s image:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion.…” So God created humankind in the divine image; in the image of God God created them; male and female God created them. (Gen. 1:26–27)

And in this, women are specifically designated as being a part of humankind. Women are not an inferior species, or incubators. Women are fully human, fully adam, made in the image of God, something we also struggle to hear.

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Wink quotes Bill Wiley-Kellerman in a reference I cannot track down elsewhere. It's quoted in Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, [23]

Who in Babylon, not to mention virtually the whole of the ancient world, was the image of God? The King, of course, who stands in for [the Babylonian God] Marduk in the creation pageant, and whose authority is annually legitimated. Who, however, is in the liturgy of Israel? Humanity. Women and Men. Human Beings in community. This is a subversion and affront to every imperial authority. It’s practically anarchism. In this counter-story human beings are not created from the blood from a murdered god, created as slaves of the state. They are made for freedom and responsibility

It is often alleged that God does not create us in God's image, but that we have created God in our image. Certainly, as Anne Lamott says, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." The idea of God as some sort wish fulfilment or projection, goes back to Feuerbach and Freud, not as a smart and true insight like Lamott's, but as a critique of the whole notion of there being a God at all.

There is a truth here. The despot in Babylon does create God in his own image[24]. He justifies his own ascendancy, and his violence and domination, via the story of the violent, dominating Gods.

But in Genesis 1 something else is happening. It takes a moment to unpack Wiley-Kellerman's dense prose: He created them male and female means he created community, not hierarchy. He blessed them; they're not created for servitude. In all of this, God's act of creation is to give. God empowers, rather than over-powers. … "Power, the ability to dominate and subdue, is very frequently accompanied by exploitation, and mal‑evolence. Those in power typically project their own failings onto those without power." Genesis 1 is not a projection of this upon God![25]

Wink sums it up like this.

Genesis 1 does not read like Myth. It is too tidy, too honed and considered.

Gerhard von Rad suggests plausibly that Genesis 1 is directly prompted by the revelation God gave Ezekiel, [Ezekiel was a priest of the Exile to Babylon] and is the first elaboration of it. Scholars have long noted that Genesis 1 is too rational and abstract to really be a myth. It was a polemic made possible by the unprecedented breakthrough of Ezekiel’s vision.[26]

Genesis 1 is a rewrite, a calculated contradiction of the Babylonian mythology and its chaotic cosmology where violence is used to restrain violence so that the powerful might rule with some semblance of order, in order to preserve their own privilege and survival. Wink saw that this mythology still persists today. What he called the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the default ideology of Homo sapiens cultures. We restrain the violence of others to gain security for ourselves with a carefully curated system of violence. Order is maintained by those in power because they can, at base, kill us if we do not comply. In this myth is the foundation of Homo sapiens domination systems, which Girard and others would see as a product of our early evolution. We are not fully human.

I have quoted Wink at length, and now do so again, because to understand the myth of redemptive violence is to begin to understand both Christianity and gender. Without an understanding of violence informed by such as Wink or Girard, we are likely to fail to see how much our aspiration to a deeper humanity is compromised by violence. We can fail to notice, for example, how "cancelling" someone for dehumanising behaviour often involves us dehumanising them. We become little different to the perpetrator of violence.

Wink says

The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today... In the Babylonian myth... violence is no problem. It is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of this story commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, India, and China[27]... In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood... Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialised in the process of maturation. Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality. Its presence everywhere is not the result of a conspiracy of Babylonian priests secretly buying up the mass media with Iraqi oil money, but a function of values endlessly reinforced by the Domination System. By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives[28].  (The full article can be found at: and other places on the web, and along with Alison's[29] article on sacrifice making us, is one of the key articles to understanding what I am trying to communicate in this essay.)

All[30] our views on race and religion, on socio-economic issues, and about sex and gender, are formed within this mythology until we actively seek to live otherwise.

I believe the words below belong to Wink:

The domination system is organized around a hierarchy of control, status and privilege. Routinely rights and freedoms are extended to those on the top and denied to those on the bottom. Such rankings limit thinking to two dimensions: superior or inferior; dominating or dominated. Both sides live in fear of the other. Those on top fear loss of power and control while those on the bottom perpetually seek to gain it. [31]

A key social function of religions is to maintain the status quo of the domination system.  The text below is Moses' "last will and testament"[32] from Deuteronomy.

 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. [33]

A status quo reading of this text, a reading from a defensive paradigm[34], hears the clarion call: Do NOT change the current interpretation of the Law; that is, do not change the way things are done. Invisible beneath this exhortation is the question of who defines the commandments of the Lord, and who interprets what they mean. If these questions are suppressed there is little to prevent the Law of Moses, or any other religious text, becoming just another domination system. The status quo; that is, what is "in place" at the moment, is here as the result of the exercise of power. So, it is inherently socially conservative; it wants to preserve its place of power.  It represses change.

Nonetheless, within Israel there developed a counter understanding of how we should live, an understanding which led people to insights reaching towards that of Paul in Galatians 3.

In Hosea, we see God saying through the prophet

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
   the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.[35]

Sacrifice is societally sanctioned violence.[36] Although it is one of the rituals which we devise to limit violence, the killing of the animal is the disguised threat of death to us. In the end, the crowd of us will say with Caiaphas "it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed."[37] By contrast, mercy says, "I will not kill you." The word for mercy with which we are more familiar today is compassion. It means to feel with,[38] to place ourselves "in the shoes" of a person rather than demanding what we need of them to ensure our own safety.

Within Israel, and within Christianity, Hosea's statement and Moses' "last will and testament" tend to become diametrically opposed to each other. When we interpret Moses in a self-serving fashion, preserving our own power, we say "I will love you when you have kept the law." Hand in hand with this tends to be the assumption that misfortune is the fault of the victims: if they had not sinned, if they had kept Moses' Law, then this would not have happened. "Lord, who sinned, this [blind] man or his parents," ask the disciples.[39]

In that story, those in power, the keepers of the law, ask the one who had been blind

how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man[40] is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’

The one who had been blind resists them:

32"Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us"’ And they drove him out.

But Jesus interprets Moses through the lens of Hosea. In Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 he says

Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

When a woman is brought to him to be condemned—the man involved is nowhere to be seen—he refuses to condemn her. Despite the gathering mob, which puts his own life at risk,[41] Jesus does not accuse her.  Only when the mob has dispersed does he ask "Has no one condemned you?" And says "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." I will love you first, then look to what the law says, even at risk to my life. This is mercy.

The Culture of God
Jesus' first words in the Gospel of Mark (the first Gospel) are:

 The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.[42]

As his first words, their literary purpose is to describe his agenda in broad terms. He is speaking at a time when all people of his world lived in kingdoms, under Empire. Scripture sees the great empires as all of a piece. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome, are almost interchangeable. Indeed, Revelation uses Babylon as a code word for Rome. And in speaking of the kingdom of God (or, in Matthew, the kingdom of heaven,[43]) Jesus speaks of a new culture, a new way aspiring to become human. The culture of God (the kingdom) is founded in compassion, generosity, plenty, forgiveness, and love. The culture of Empire is based in violence and exploitation, assumes scarcity, is vengeful, and demands the preservation of its own life.

Empire always seeks to preserve its own life at the expense of others; the culture of God seeks to give life away to others. Empire lives under the slavery of death; those being formed by the culture of God are gaining freedom as they learn to give life away.[44]

Which brings us back to Paul[45], whose Galatian threefold statement is a re-annunciation of Jesus' claim that the kingdom, the culture of God, is at hand.


Paul's letter to the Galatians is not a systematic theological treatise. It is part of an ongoing conversation/argument between Paul, the church in Galatia, and an unidentified group who opposed his understanding of the gospel. These people were clearly traditionalists who objected to Paul not requiring Christian converts to be circumcised before being baptised, if not also other things. The first Christians were Jews, and many of them felt that to become Christian and be baptised meant first of all to become Jewish, which required circumcision.[46]

Circumcision and the observation of food laws were perhaps the key defining issues of what it meant to be Jewish.[47] So it would be tempting to think that the issues prompting Paul's letter to Galatia were food laws, and circumcision. That would let us consider the issue finished, for we do not now consider circumcision has anything to do with Christian faith. Few of us think of food as an issue, either. But food and circumcision were not the issue. They were signifiers of a deeper issue. Circumcision was one of the concrete things people did to live out their faith in God. The root issue was something else.

It was not that [the Galatians had] reverted to their pre-conversion beliefs. It was rather that they had been swept off their feet by a new set of preachers who were much more like fundamentalists than Paul. These newcomers upheld scripture to the letter and so insisted that the Galatians must be circumcised, as Genesis 17 requires.[48] They saw Paul's mission which excused Gentiles from circumcision as a sell-out of the truth. Paul was making faith easy. No wonder he was successful - all those God-fearers sitting up the back of the synagogue holding out against being circumcised could all jump down and join. It was a coup for Paul's mission, but they saw it as a betrayal both of scripture and of Israel. To Paul their approach is anathema - a real curse, as it still is in Christianity today, though we are generally more polite[49]...

There was much more at stake than Paul's ego (though that must have played a role). It was a matter of what lay at the heart of faith. Was it grace with freedom to remove barriers, including biblical ones if need be, or was it law enshrined in an attitude towards the bible (theirs at the time) which is so familiar to us from today's fundamentalisms?[50]

Do we enshrine our faith within a set of laws? Are we saying there are certain things which must be done, must be adhered to, to be loved by God? How free is our grace?[51]

Paul's argument with the new-comers centres around the words of Galatians 3:27-28, which we have already seen. There are two observations made here by J. Louis Martyn:

Based on the vocabulary, scholars think the words "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus…" are an early Christian liturgy which Paul is reminding Galatia about, and reinterpreting. (Galatians Martyn pp374) They are probably part of a baptismal liturgy.

The implications of these words, combined with Paul's interpretation of them, are simply stunning. Paul is undercutting the foundation of the whole world...

Martyn notes a common philosophical understanding in the time of Paul (which, of course, is inherently religious).

Both at their baptism and now in hearing the liturgy again, the Galatians will have noted that in form the text presents what numerous thinkers of their day termed a table in which certain pairs of opposites were named and identified as the elements that the gave the cosmos its dependable structure. To pronounce the non existence of these opposites is to announce nothing less than the end of the cosmos. (Galatians Martyn p376) [52]

What Martyn speaks of here with the word cosmos/world is not merely the physical earth or universe, but the world system, which includes us and our cultures. "In some contexts, the world is simply the place where people live, in other contexts (especially in John), the world is a system opposed to God." [53]

In Galatians 3 Paul says

My point is this: …. we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the cosmos=world.  8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. 9Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? 10You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.  (Galatians 4:1,3, 8-10)

When we hold special days and seasons, they also have a hold on us. Any system we live within acts in this way. In the article I have been loosely quoting, I conclude:

Following Walter Wink's understanding of the principalities and powers (eg Eph 6:12) being embedded and manifested in our institutions and systems, I think it is fair to say that our observable enslavement to polar opposites and dualities[—what we might also call binary structures and thinking—], and our reluctance—even inability—to work and relate in complementary fashion is an example of enslavement to elemental spirits.[54]

In his formulaic pronouncement which begins "28There is no longer Jew or Greek..." and which sounds so much like liturgy, Paul is radically non-binary. He is repudiating the either/or, in/out, right/wrong binaries which are almost culturally universal.

I note here that:

One of the ancient Greek philosophers had "the habit of thanking God for three things: 'that I was born a human and not a beast; a man and not a woman; a Greek and not a Barbarian.'"

There is a Jewish prayer which says "Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile... for not having made me a slave... and for not having made me a woman."

These words sound a lot like the reverse of an ancient baptismal liturgy that Paul quotes in his letter to the Galatians.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 

Some scholars think the liturgy was partly a response to that Jewish prayer... Other scholars think a Jewish rabbi wrote the Jewish prayer as a reaction to Paul.[55]

As Paul moves towards his concluding chapter he says

1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery...  6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love....  14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.[56]

We cannot live by the three oppositions of Galatians 3 and be Christian. 

Martyn says Paul is really only interested in the first pair of the three oppositions, the erasure of the distinction between Jew and non-Jew,[57] and indeed, circumcision, the visible sign of that distinction, is one of his key concerns in the letter. Do we assume, however, that the liturgy was simply a refutational response to a Jewish prayer? Or do we credit the liturgy he is quoting with having a much wider insight into society; liturgy springs from our situation. In reality, slavery and economic hierarchies are an issue across all cultures.[58] Clearly, this is true of gender as well. So, although Paul's current interest is with circumcision, "no longer Jew or Greek," I suspect Galatians 3:28 is a cascading rhetorical statement moving from specific cultural binaries to more general ones underlying them.  One can, for example, agree with there being "no longer Jew or Greek," and yet also adhere to the subjugation of women.  (The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney is, for example, of Sri Lankan descent.) But "no longer male and female" is a foundational statement.  It precedes the covenant with Abraham, and it precedes the Fall which leads to domination and slavery. If we accept this foundational claim that freedom (aka being in Christ Jesus) is non-binary, then in the end, all the other binaries of culture are suspect.

A Binary World: Violence, Sex, and Gender
I have said that all our ideas of culture are formed out of violence. Whatever we say about sex and gender is formed out of violence. But what exactly is gender?


The word gender was first of all about language.[59] "The term gender had been associated with grammar for most of [European?] history and only started to move towards being a malleable cultural construct in the 1950s and 1960s."[60] This meant that by 1955, John Money[61] could write

By the term, gender role, we mean all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively.

I was born in 1955. I found that there was no choice in the things we said or did to disclose our gender. Boys did what boys did, or faced the consequences. There was a certain latitude for girls to be "tom-boys," although I think in was an indulgence, by some families, which assumed they would later get married and have children. Spinsters and childless women were of lower status. We also assumed what is now called essentialism;[62] the idea that gender differences were founded in nature and biology. Therefore, our futures were determined in large part by our biological sex. Those who did not fit the expected roles were marginalised, isolated, and often subject to violence.

In feminist thought a division was made between sex and gender to get around the essentialist idea that sex is destiny.  It was argued that there is a biological sex, and that gender is a cultural overlay of that. The classic summation of this is probably Simone de Beauvoir's statement, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman."[63]

My first understanding of the cultural basis of gender began in a First Nations community during the late 1970's where the young men often walked arm in arm, or holding hands. An anglo visitor to our community was quite shocked: "Are they all homosexuals!?"  A colleague not known for his cultural sensitivity replied, "Of course not. It's how you show your friendship here. It's culture, mate!"[64]

But is sex itself already a product of culture rather than a scientific designation? Why do we divide people, or classify them and grant them dignity or power, according to sex? Why not height, attached or detached earlobes, hair colour, or even... wisdom, or compassion?

There are lots of ways of distinguishing among human bodies; the male/female distinction is just one of those many distinctions. To take this to be a distinction is both natural and reasonable; to take it to be the only distinction that matters is neither inevitable nor even correct. It is, in fact, a dangerous piece of ideology, and one that has been absolutely crucial to the process whereby the physical distinction male/female has normally been deployed to rationalise the political distinction masculine/feminine.

According to the ideology of gender that still dominates our world today, biology itself vindicates the idea of a world that is and must be authoritatively and definitively binarily divided between the masculine and the feminine.[65] But biology itself does no such thing. Biology certainly recognises a distinction between the male and the female bodies, but biology also recognises distinctions between rhesus-positive and rhesus-negative bodies, left-handed and right-handed bodies, tall bodies and short bodies, and so on as above. Which of these distinctions between body-types we choose to foreground, and which we choose to pass over as less important or not important at all, is not a biological decision; it is a political one...[66]

as is the decision about which body-types will be regarded as the norm and allowed to be the holders of power.

It can feel completely counter-intuitive to say that biology is not an obvious and basic human division by which to organise ourselves, so let me reinforce Chappell's words by looking more closely at us Homo sapiens: 

Besides your genitalia, you also have your chromosomes, your gonads, like ovaries or testicles. You have your internal sex organs, your hormone production, your hormone response and your secondary sex characteristics, like breast development, body hair, etc. Those seven areas of biological sex all have so much variation, yet we only get two options: male or female. Which is kind of absurd to me, because I can't think of a single other human trait that there's only two options for: skin color, hair, height, eyes...

If there are infinite ways for our bodies to look, our minds to think, personalities to act, wouldn't it make sense that there's that much variety in biological sex, too? Did you know that besides XX or XY chromosomes, you could have XX and XY chromosomes? Or you could have an extra X -- XXY. Or two extra -- XXXY.[67]

 We call these variations intersex. In fact, there are more than 30 different intersex variations affecting around 1.7 per cent of the population.[68] The word intersex, by its very construction, shows our binary fixation and addiction. Inter-Sex means between the sexes. This tendency to binarise shows up in standard government information sites, despite their good intentions: Intersex people

have genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics that sit outside what is usually expected for female or male bodies. This condition may also be called a ‘disorder of sex development’ (DSD)[69]

You see here, already, the point I am making in the phrase "what is usually expected": the typical becomes an expectation of "normal." As Emily Quinn says, "Genitals don't actually tell you anything. Yet, we define ourselves by them."[70]  We attach moral value to "normal." And the non-typical, also known as the less frequent, becomes a disorder, despite the fact that the same Australian Government Health Direct article states unambiguously that

Most people with intersex variations are healthy and lead happy, successful lives. Being intersex is not a health issue and is considered a normal biological event."[71]

The point that follows from here—this is my own thinking here—is that to be human, to be a biological species, demands and requires that we have variation from the typical. Typical cannot be reduced to a binary essential. If that were the case, we would not be here. We would never have evolved. Biological existence demands the atypical.

We are only Homo sapiens because of changes from previous norms.  Baju[72] people have enlarged spleens which appear to be a genetic adaption. Given the current climate crisis, our species survival in future may turn out to be linked to other genetic variations which tolerate higher temperatures.  To designate a genetic variation as an abnormality, or disorder, or as inferior, may be more about politics than science.

What I am suggesting is not only that the reduction of our biology to two sexes is bad science, but also that sociologically it serves a purpose. Going back to Girard and Bekker,

Humans are terrified of death. Culture is constructed by the crowd of us to make an end run around death. It enables us to say that despite death we have amounted to something. Culture is an expression of heroism in the face of death. This is why stories of heroism are so frequent, "heroism is first and foremost a reflex of the terror of death."

The crowd of us tend to all-out violence, which terrifies us, because it ends in death. We deal with this by focussing our violence upon a few carefully (if unconsciously) chosen scapegoats, and the construction of a series of prohibitions, rituals, and myths.  Society maintains its peace and safety by following the rules. Flouting the rules is destabilising.

At times when our status quo is under threat, as now, the rules become more important.  We all of us have key rules, we call them stereotypes, which are a quick guide to spotting the rule breakers who are disturbing the peace.[73] As men find themselves lost in the failure of the provider myth, as people face daily massacre in Ukraine and the USA, as we try to deny the juggernaut of climate change, our world begins to fall apart. To maintain order, to stem our existential panic, we attack the scapegoats; the refugees, the old, the unemployed, the sexually divergent. Words like illegal, subversive, immoral, all begin to be used. Our solidarity against the scapegoat provides us with a faux bulwark against the chaos.

This all means certain details of biological sex are ignored in favour of definitions which favour keynote-marker or stereotype use.  The category of biological sex is blended with the concept of gender... and used as a weapon in attempts to wrest control of our social narrative. If we control the narrative, or are on the side of those who seem to control it, we feel safer. This is exactly what was happening in the former Prime Minister's disgraceful and completely unchristian attack upon transgender people....[74]

A society which manages its fear of death by the violence of scapegoating and the myths of redemptive violence, demands a binary because of its enslavement to the fear of death. It needs a vector through which the crowd of us can gain solidarity by focussing our fear and our rivalries on an "other."[75] 

So, in summary, sex is already a culturally formed idea. Our biological sex is perceived, talked about, responded to, even surgically "corrected," within a culture and through the eyes of a culture, where masculine heterosexuality is the norm and the ideal. "Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person's legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female."[76]

Sex and gender are both politically formed. Everything is politics... but politics is not everything, says the truism.

Paul's threefold declamation of race, socioeconomics, and gender as foundations for culture is a political claim.  And, when he contradicts Genesis 1:27, attacking a given, or an essential feature about Homo sapiens, he is opposing, and transcending, an already political statement.  Genesis 1:27 itself was a political resistance to empire, claiming a dignity for human beings which was denied them by the cosmology; that is, by the political power of Babylon. To read Genesis 1:27 and the other creative narratives and claim that women are the complementary sex, or outright inferior, is not to make "a plain reading" of the text. It is, like all readings, to make an interpretation based on political and cultural ideas which are already held.

And, in her review of Butler's Undoing Gender, Erin Gray[77] says, "Moving beyond a binary frame in which gender is assumed to signify an essential self, Butler exposes the categories of sex, desire and gender as effects of specific power structures." 

Judith Butler

Sex, Gender and Anatomy
One of the things Judith Butler has done for me, is enable me to clarify some working definitions around terms such as sex, female, male, feminine, masculine, gender, and so on.

Anatomically and genetically, I appear to be male. I have "the male bits" as one of my friends puts it, and don't appear to have the female bits. But, as we have seen, it is entirely possible that I have a chromosomal makeup that is not the common XY. So, I am happy to say I appear to be anatomically male.

But with respect to sex and gender, society decides who we are. Dr. Whitehouse told my mum, "It's a little stinker," which was his famous way of introducing mothers to a new male baby, and his unwittingly introduction of the child to their future. That early decision about sex then determines which barrage of information which will tell us who we are and how we are to behave. Blue for boys, pink for girls, boys don't cry... and it all goes on from there.  At this point sex and gender are not a choice.  And it may well be that "corrective" surgery will be performed long before a newborn has any opportunity to venture an opinion about their identity. As the quotation a little further below notes, Butler reminds us that one does not author one’s gender, for its terms are always negotiated within collective social contexts.

I am beginning to think that sex is an unhelpful noun to use in making distinctions about anatomy or genetic makeup. It is too easy to forget that it is already a gendered term. So, I try to talk about gender and our apparent anatomy.

Butler understands gender as performative. They see that we become male or female. We learn how to be.

Performativity first of all challenges an “essentialist” understanding of gender; that is, the idea that : "masculinity and femininity are naturally or biologically given, that masculinity should be performed by male bodies and femininity by female bodies..."[78]

This essentialism gives us permission to see who we are, and limits what we are able to see about ourselves. So as a small child, terrified of male behaviour, longing to be with the women, immediately happy and safe in the few moments when it was possible to be with the little girls, I had no language to even begin to perceive what was different about me.

There is dimension to Butler's use of "performativity" that goes beyond our popular use of the word.

The term “performativity” does not simply mean performance. We can think of it in terms of the linguist J.L. Austin’s concept of the “performative utterance”, which refers to a statement that brings about that which it states. The classic example is “I now pronounce you man and wife”. Spoken by a person socially approved to do so, these words create a married couple.

Butler argues that gender works in this way: when we name a child as “girl” or “boy”, we participate in creating them as that very thing. By speaking of people (or ourselves) as “man” or “woman”, we are in the process creating and defining those categories.[79]

There is a subtlety here which is hugely important.  Szorenyi, whom I have just quoted, notes that people may think that this is all a language game, "gender is entirely caused by language and has nothing to do with bodies, or that we can simply decide what gender to be when we wake up in the morning."[80] Rather,

we reproduce gender not only through repeated ways of speaking, but also of doing. We dress in certain ways, do certain exercises at the gym, use particular body language, visit particular kinds of medical specialists, and so on. Through such repetitions, gender is reinforced, layer by layer, until it seems inescapable.

However, this work of creating and redefining gender is never finished[81] – for gender norms to hold, they must be constantly repeated. This means in the longer term, gender norms are intrinsically open to change. We can never get them exactly “right”, and if we stop doing them, or do them differently, we participate in changing their meaning. This opens up possibilities for gender to change.[82]

Also, "Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time." I become. I seek. I perform.

In my own life there have been moments when I was confronted by my gender ambiguity. Because I could see no way to act of that, and because I had no idea I could act on that, I remained uncomfortably male, not fitting, but with nowhere else to go. And then the insights would be lost. As one of my friends said, "I forgot."  And continued to act as male, doing the exact masculine things that distressed me. The moment we cease to be deliberate about being who we understand ourselves to be, society will tell us and shape us.

I note here that performativity might be a useful term in thinking about Christian discipleship. Being Christian, and identifying as Christion, is not about believing a set of propositions. It is about living ("faithing") in a particular way and being formed and shaped by that.

Butler talks about living in a paradox. I think this is crucial to understand. All our notions of autonomy and identity are to some extent culturally mediated and culturally dependent. As Alison says, "We always learn to see through the eyes of another. The desire of another directs our seeing and makes available to us what is to be seen."[83]

The paradox, not to mention the complexity of our identities is apparent in this quotation from my post "More Exploring Being Me."

To simply say I am female would be to remain subject to the already imposed binary, for "female" is not only defined by heterosexual maleness[84], but proves to be a surprisingly arbitrary[85] concept. To put this in simple language: If I were to express my sense of being in some way female by wearing a dress, would I merely be fitting into the male defined norms of what it means to be female? How do I cherish and take seriously the feeling of being "not male" rather than simply stepping from one imposed category to another?[86]

Erin Gray on living in the paradox:

Gender is defined in Undoing Gender as a “practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint,” one that is always within a social context, and never outside of ideology. In her introduction, Butler writes that Undoing Gender offers an understanding of how “restrictively normative conceptions of sexual and gendered life” might be undone. Butler stresses throughout the book that this process of undoing is not necessarily negative or positive, but is instead caught up in the paradoxical tension between societal-mediated survival and individual agency. Butler reminds us that one does not author one’s gender, for its terms are always negotiated within collective social contexts.[87]

A brutal example of this can be seen in the tensions involved in the diagnosis of gender-identify disorder. Funding for corrective surgery is (in at least some jurisdictions) dependent on a medical diagnosis which through its very name is " is inherently pathologizing in its conflation of transsex with disorder." Gray[88] notes

Butler points out that the diagnosis, necessary under capitalism for economic access to surgery, exacerbates the tension between autonomy and community, as transsexuals must submit to discourse in order to gain autonomy at the level of the body. We are never, Butler reminds us, able to remove ourselves from ideology, and we must work with the dominant ideology’s tools in order to subvert its material effects.

[Note that "in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5), the term ‘gender dysphoria’ has replaced gender identity disorder. This change in terminology removes the ‘pathology’ from being transgender, which is not a mental health condition."[89] Even so, 'gender dysphoria' is not a value free term. Someone has decided what it means. If I use the label of myself then, to some extent, I accede to their definition of me.]

To be clear:

It would be wrong to think that the discussion of “identity” ought to proceed prior to a discussion of gender identity for the simple reason that “persons” only become intelligible through becoming gendered in conformity with recognizable standards of gender intelligibility.[90]

What does it mean to be human?
What we are circling around here, is the question of what it means to be human. Butler says "it is through the experience of recognition[91] that people are constituted as social beings.[92]" (The italics are mine.) She said in Gender Trouble

What continues to concern me most is the following kinds of questions: what will and will not constitute an intelligible life, and how do presumptions about normative gender and sexuality determine in advance what will qualify as the “human” and the “livable”? In other words, how do normative gender presumptions work to delimit the very field of description that we have for the human? What is the means by which we come to see this delimiting power, and what are the means by which we transform it?[93]


not only does one need the social world to be a certain way in order to lay claim to what is one’s own, but it turns out that what is one’s own is always from the start dependent upon what is not one’s own, the social conditions by which autonomy is, strangely, dispossessed and undone.[94]

In other words, our humanity is dependent on recognition by the very society which, in Girardian terms, violently organises itself around a chosen group of people who are perceived as less than human, who are chosen to be scapegoats. In this context, recognition means that our humanity is "tribal." We are recognised as members of the same tribe, the same in-group, and therefore, as human.

But a non-binary recognition of our humanity is dependent upon mercy; that is, compassion. It depends upon the wider society choosing to recognise us as human. It depends upon society, or those in power in society, not demanding our very lives as a currency to pay for its own comfort.  Mercy/compassion depends upon society being courageous enough to "feel with" those who are "different," the scapegoats, and endure what they endure. This is to choose vulnerability.[95]

The Problem of Power and Coercion
When we try to understand ourselves as a society, we strive for general statements and universal definitions. We want to be able to speak and act in ways that make sense in as many situations as possible.  We look for the big picture. The church aims to speak to our reality at a fundamental and all-encompassing level, for example, so we are especially into big picture claims.

One wide ranging idea or concept is phallogocentrism. It is the idea that we have privileged the masculine in the construction of meaning.[96]   It's clear that this, if true, is an exercise of coercive power. But what happens when we work against that power? In a critique of the scholar Luce Irigaray, Butler shows us our dilemma when we seek to think about or resist coercive power. The language is dense but the insight is crucial, showing us how deeply power and coercion infiltrate our societal structures.

Although Irigaray clearly broadens the scope of feminist critique by exposing the epistemological, ontological, and logical structures of a masculinist signifying economy, the power of her analysis is undercut precisely by its globalizing reach.  Is it possible to identify a monolithic as well as a monologic masculinist economy that traverses the array of cultural and historical contexts in which sexual difference takes place? Is the failure to acknowledge the specific cultural operations of gender oppression itself a kind of epistemological imperialism, one which is not ameliorated by the simple elaboration of cultural differences as “examples” of the selfsame phallogocentrism? The effort to include “Other” cultures as variegated amplifications of a global phallogocentrism constitutes an appropriative act that risks a repetition of the self-aggrandizing gesture of phallogocentrism, colonizing under the sign of the same those differences that might otherwise call that totalizing concept into question.

The globalising reach of theology gives us its power, but as with a feminist critique, theology can become colonising, which of course ultimately means coercive. Butler continues

Feminist critique ought to explore the totalizing claims of a masculinist signifying economy, but also remain self-critical with respect to the totalizing gestures of feminism. The effort to identify the enemy as singular in form is a reverse-discourse that uncritically mimics the strategy of the oppressor instead of offering a different set of terms.  That the tactic can operate in feminist and antifeminist contexts alike suggests that the colonizing gesture is not primarily or irreducibly masculinist.  It can operate to effect other relations of racial, class, and heterosexist subordination, to name but a few.[97] 

I suspect the colonising gesture is very widespread across the various cultures of our species Homo sapiens, and there's the rub.  How do I, intuiting this from my big picture thinking, avoid doing what Butler sees as the danger of Irigaray's approach. In a footnote to this section, Butler says

Gayatri Spivak most pointedly elaborates this particular kind of binary explanation as a colonizing act of marginalization.  .... she locates politics in the production of knowledge that creates and censors the margins that constitute, through exclusion, the contingent intelligibility of that subject’s given knowledge-regime: “I call ‘politics as such’ the prohibition of marginality that is implicit in the production of any explanation.  From that point of view, the choice of particular binary oppositions . . .  is no mere intellectual strategy.  It is, in each case, the condition of the possibility for centralization (with appropriate apologies) and, correspondingly, marginalization” (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Explanation and Culture: Marginalia,” in In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics [New York: Routledge, 1987], p.  113).

Marginalisation is another word for scapegoating. That is, "the marginalised" provide us with a ready-made group of people largely like us, but disempowered enough for us to pour our violence upon them. They provide us a with a group onto whom we can tip our hatred and build a coalition of unity (which means extending our own power) founded in our action of marginalising. This is exactly the strategy former Prime Minister Scott Morrison used in attempting to hold onto power when he backed Senator Chandler's anti-trans private member's bill which discriminated against transgender people in February 2022.[98]

But what about my response to Morrison?

What this means is that when the PM seeks to scapegoat the trans kids to feather his own financial nest, and keep a job, he is not being Christian. And when the ra-ra crowd of so called Christians cheer him on, they are not being Christian. They are being the antithesis of Christian. They are aligning themselves with, and actively partaking of, and actively evangelising for, the oldest, least Christian religion, of human development. They are the ur-heretics of our time, who by their actions comprehensively reject the Christ who comes to them.[99]

How do I speak truth to power without seeking to marginalise Morrison and others? How do I, and we, do that across cultures, and in this multi-cultural country, in a way which does not colonise or patronise? How do we, using Butler's language, form coalitions[100] rather than speak from "on high," which already begins to marginalise others? For if we do not, we remain circumscribed by the violence from which we came, and remain a culture founded in violence.

I come back to the Christian notion of mercy and compassion. This is about giving up power and "sitting with."  There is an innate humility in mercy. It does not insist on its own survival, but makes room for others. It can tolerate uncertainty. The humble person does not locate their worth in the domination of others.

There is much of this humility evident already in the portion of Butler's Gender Trouble which I have read so far.

Firstly, she speaks of "foundationalist fictions."[101] We don't stand on a foundation of irrefutable truths, rather we live with knowledge "established by the interlocking strength of its components, like a puzzle solved without prior certainty that each small region was solved correctly."[102] To live by faith is to live with this level of uncertainty. Seeking to guarantee grace[103] is, in the end, fundamentalism, not Christianity.

Second, she avoids what I take to be the idol of unity.

Despite the clearly democratizing impulse that motivates coalition building, the coalitional theorist can inadvertently reinsert herself as sovereign of the process by trying to assert an ideal form for coalitional structures in advance, one that will effectively guarantee unity as the outcome... Perhaps a coalition needs to acknowledge its contradictions and take action with those contradictions intact.  Perhaps also part of what dialogic understanding entails is the acceptance of divergence, breakage, splinter, and fragmentation as part of the often tortuous process of democratization.  The very notion of “dialogue” is culturally specific and historically bound, and while one speaker may feel secure that a conversation is happening, another may be sure it is not.  The power relations that condition and limit dialogic possibilities need first to be interrogated.  Otherwise, the model of dialogue risks relapsing into a liberal model that assumes that speaking agents occupy equal positions of power and speak with the same presuppositions about what constitutes “agreement” and “unity” and, indeed, that those are the goals to be sought.  It would be wrong to assume in advance that there is a category of “women” that simply needs to be filled in with various components of race, class, age, ethnicity, and sexuality in order to become complete. The assumption of its essential incompleteness permits that category to serve as a permanently available site of contested meanings. The definitional incompleteness of the category might then serve as a normative ideal relieved of coercive force. [104]

Church which insists upon unity becomes coercive and marginalising, which is to split the church in reality if not in a visible division of people.  One of the great achievements of the Uniting Church in Australia, in my opinion, is that we have maintained a coalition of "divergence, breakage, splinter, and fragmentation as part of the often tortuous" navigation of issues of sexuality. It would be far easier to simply eject one group of people. It takes humility on all sides to prioritise the body as a whole over doctrinal purity and correctness.

Third, she eschews binary gender norms.

Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time. An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative telos of definitional closure.[105]

Paul said gender was irrelevant to life within the culture of God.  So, in church, how can we grow the recognition of the humanity of gender diverse people with the generosity of Butler's vision of an open coalition?

Fourth: I have already said that I think Paul's three "no longers" are a cascading movement from specific cultural binaries to more general ones underlying them.   His underlying binary is the division we make around sexuality. My reading of Butler reinforces this.

In summary, her "open coalition" if it could be achieved, sounds a lot like church at its best. How do we avoid our colonising instincts and desire to control such a coalition, which stem from our fear of death?

I find some answers in the last parable in the Gospel of Matthew.

Here are some of the presuppositions I bring to reading the Gospels. They are somewhat circular. It's not that the authors are philosophically naïve, but that they are writing a document designed for contemplation. Each of them end with the narrative of Christ's death and resurrection. This is the earliest tradition. Essentially, they say, if you want to understand this central narrative, the events that mean we call him Messiah and Saviour, read the (long) introduction which is the rest of the Gospel preceding the Passion narrative. But inevitably, if you want to understand the introduction, the chapters leading up to the Passion narrative, then read the story of his death and resurrection. The circular re-reading inducts us into an understanding. If we think we have understood a parable on the first reading, we can know we have barely begun to hear it. And we must remain, always, cognisant that the text comes from a culture very different to our own.

In this, we note that Matthew 25:31-46 is the last parable in that Gospel. It's a bit like the "last will and testament" in Deuteronomy. It's saying, by its placement, if you want to understand this gospel introduction, and if you want to understand the Passion narrative which begins "over the page" then, above all, learn to understand this parable.

A first reading of the parable should offend us.  The king in this parable says to some people, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." I say to people in church, "Don't be embarrassed by this. Be glad that the gospel has done enough work on you that you see how barbaric this is!"  "But the words are still there," they reply, "and apparently Jesus said them!" I will address this serious issue below.

Here is how I think parables often work, particularly this one. Let's first of all read it.

The Judgement of the Nations[106]
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

What I have realised is that I had always read this as Jesus giving people information about how the end of the world would pan out—as though he were teaching them something new. "This is what will happen. Now that you know this, people, you better pay attention and repent," etc. Except, no.

Everyone already knew what would happen at the end of the world, or had some ideas about that. Just as my generation, especially if the minister wasn't listening, forgot what the bible said and thought about nuclear holocaust. So, as he begins this parable, Jesus is telling them what they already know, and they nod with recognition.

Everyone also knew that at the judgement there would be a division of the people. And folk were already fairly certain about who would go where.  There were those who were confident that by their diligent keeping of the Law (their interpretation of Moses), and by the mercy of God, they would be justified and would be included among the elect at the king's right hand.  And there were those who knew they didn't have a prayer, and had probably been told this, more than once, by some of their more self-righteous neighbours.

But then the spin on Jesus' delivery bites, and the whole story goes off at a new angle, because the people at the king's right have nothing said about their keeping of the law and the making of correct sacrifices. Nothing at all. Only: "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

Which means someone, in their circular reading of the gospels imagined that among the sheep on the king's right were Mary and Fred. And Mary said, "Didn't expect to see you here!" Fred replies, "Nor me you! Now shut up and keep quiet before he realises he's made a mistake." But Mary's curiosity and honesty wins out: "'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?' I've never seen you before!!" And note that in saying that, Mary begins repetition number two of the list of things the blessed had done, and the other folk hadn't. The list is itemised four times which is a graphic narrative way of saying that it is hugely important. There is still nothing about sacrifice and all the other law-keeping things... (although we might notice a certain affinity with Hosea 9 and 12.) Instead, the king replied "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” which is even more unexpected.

Then someone who is shocked and outraged to find themselves among the goats asks, politely of course, "'Lord, when was it that I saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' I've never seen you before." And the answer, nothing to do with sacrifice, " Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me."

Ah! So... the thing to do to stay in good with God, is lots of charity! Otherwise, you'll go to hell."

No. We are not yet half way through reading this parable. 

First of all, the text primes us to identify this king with Jesus.  It says, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world..." The words I have italicised point to Jesus. 

It's a short, yet momentous, step to realise that we see and we meet Jesus in those people who down and out when we show them mercy/compassion.

In fact, Matthew underlines this unexpected revelation of Jesus' identity when, in his reply to our imagined Mary, the king says, "... just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family." Members of my family is the NRSV translation, which seeks to be inclusive of women and others.  Literally, the Greek text says, "these my brothers," which heightens the shock: The king identifies with the down and out, calling them family, even equals!!

Why are these people down and out? Why are they hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and in prison?  The conventional wisdom was that they were in that situation because they had not kept the law. Ill fortune was a caused by not keeping the Law. Remember Moses?

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deuteronomy 30)

We meet Jesus among the marginalised of society. We meet him among those whom society does not recognise; you understand I am using recognise to recall Butler's statement above that "it is through the experience of recognition[107] that people are constituted as social beings." We dehumanise the marginalised. That's why we can use them as scapegoats with a clear conscious. They deserve it. They are not quite human in the way we are.  Indeed, amongst his list of the down and out, Matthew included the strangers. These are the aliens in the land, the immigrants and refugees, the ones who don't fit, the ones we Australians love to hate despite the fact that the Law of Moses emphasises our responsibility to the alien in the land, as well as the widows and orphans.[108]

The parable says not only that we meet Jesus in the dispossessed and down and out, but that they are family to him. His family are those the privileged have assumed do not belong and are not worthy. They still include the poor and the sick, but they include LGBTIQ+ people. They include Muslims, or Jews or Palestinians, or whoever are our scapegoat de jour.

What about the eternal fire?
If we read the parable as a statement of how things really are and will be, then we have a problem. But if Jesus is "spinning" a well-known trope to startle people into new insights, one of the insights will inevitably be that eternal fire is problematic. It is inconsistent with the Humanity of the God who is family to the widow and orphan and stranger. What we see in the drama of this parable, when we look at how it disconcerted some people, is a subversion of violence.  Certainly, some who listened to, or read the parable, miss the point.  But slowly, with all the limitation of our perceptions by the myth of redemptive violence, Jesus' parables subvert the violence. Jesus, and the Bible generally, is involved in a long-term subversion of violence.

Starting with the murder of Abel by Cain, James Alison says of the Bible that we see

little by little dis-covery [and] un-covering of the victim... Little by little God is distinguished from the violence of the gods, and is perceived to be on the side of the victims.  In the Old Testament we never reach a full revelation of the innocence of the victim, nor a full separation of God from involvement in the "sacred,"[109] which is to say in [the] self-deceiving violence [of the scapegoat process.] That fullness of revelation occurs only in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The New Testament is exactly the same story as all the myths of our planet: a time of crisis, an attempt to save the situation by producing the unanimous expulsion of a victim, and then the semi-legalised lynching of that victim. The structure is identical to that of the very many myths and stories of foundation which we could examine. There is one single difference: exactly the same story is being told from the inverse perspective. It is the story from the perspective of the victim. The victim is proclaimed innocent. We are told that it was envy that led his death. He fulfilled a prophecy that he would be hated without cause, that he would be counted among sinners, unjustly. His lynch-death would not produce a new piece and social order as his executing had hoped, with their magnificent motto

It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not. (John 11:50)

The murderous lie is exposed in its entirety.

Not only that, but it is apparent that the victim was not "canonized," so to speak, after his death full: "He had been a bad influence, but came to be perceived as a good influence afterward." Rather it came to be see it came to be perceived that he had been good from the beginning and that he had known and understood exactly the mechanism which would lead to his death.[110]

The uncomfortable truth here is the proximity of death. The gospel traditions are clear that Jesus knew his ministry would lead to his death.  And he says

If anyone would come after me, let them deny themself and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a person if they gain the whole world and forfeits their soul? Or what shall a person give in return for their soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)

Discipleship means to risk death, especially the little deaths of marginalisation and exclusion. But always "the life of grace must dodge between the powers."[111] The parable says that to be among the sheep means to go into Jerusalem with Jesus, and risk the same result as the passion narrative which follows. 

Power without coercion

Because it is free[112] to risk death, the culture of God (aka the Kingdom of God/Heaven) steps outside of violence. This is where the power of the cross lies, and only here.

Here we approach the terrifying paradox central to Christianity... On the one hand, Christians are called to be ideological.  There are ways to read and interpret the traditions of the church and of the Messiah which are far closer to his sensibilities about the nature of humanity, and there are ways to read him which are simply racist and nationalistic rationalisations of his life which we adopt for our own benefit. These are a perversion of the Christian faith.

And we are called to think globally, imagining the biggest picture possible, with all the risks of imposing our understanding upon others in a coercive manner.

Yet on the other hand we, of all people, are called to be anti-ideologues and of all people, the least tribal. Our living is to be without violence. The love which Paul the apostle speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 requires that we act to give all people the same opportunity, safety, and value, in life.  This love is witness that God loves and values all people just the same, for there is no hierarchy of human worth. As the Messiah's followers, we follow his example; we do not impose or force behaviour upon people, for that is a violence. We can only exemplify the love of the Messiah to all people, even to the point of death.

What all this means is that we do not win. We do not strategise to defeat others for the sake of the Christ. It means not only that we will advocate for the vulnerable of society, but that we will be the vulnerable, and the losers. This is the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:18).[113]

Living with GenderIn all this, gender is our underpinning. It is a basic level of our being, that suspect identity assigned to us and shaped, in my context, to suit heterosexual white masculinity and its hold on power.

We were in Tennessee. During the motorcade, [Lyndon B. Johnson] spotted some ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs. Late that night in the hotel, when the local dignitaries had finished the last bottles of bourbon and branch water and departed, he started talking about those signs. "I'll tell you what's at the bottom of it," he said. "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."[114] (Bill Moyers)

If we don't pay attention to gender and to where it is trying to steer us, we remain at the mercy of the phallogocentrism that Johnson understood. We remain at the mercy of violence. The who that we are needs to be free of the constraints of predetermined ideas of male and female. We are not our gender. There is no male and female. There is only us.

Many of my congregations have worked diligently to pay attention to issues of race and religion: there is no longer Jew or Greek. And they have been committed to living beyond the socio-economic prejudices of our society: there is no longer slave or free. But confronting gender has been much harder, and the prejudices there, have often remained. In the first two steps of Paul's cascade, people performed no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, and it changed them and created them and their congregations. The last step has been harder, and it seemed that as much as we failed at that, just so much were our other efforts to live the culture of God compromised. And where we succeeded living beyond the traditional impositions of sex and gender, the effects were startling.

Andrea Prior (November 2023)


[1] Galatians 3:1

[2] Galatians 5:13

[3] in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

[4] Many of the first recipients of the letter would hear it being read. Their ear was attuned to notice such differences as the one I am highlighting. It's a kind of aural punctuation, or what we call a rhetorical device. Eg See

[5] The Hebrew word here is adam. Whilst the text later calls one of the first couple Adam, the word here is a pun. Adam is formed of dust from the ground  which is the Hebrew  adamah)  The name is a play on words which reminds us that we are intimately, intrinsically, and inescapably, of the earth.

[6] Ibid

[7] The Hebrew is him, NRSV translates them. Note though, that the them in the next line (male and female he created them) is definitely plural.

[8] J Louis Martyn, Galatians pp377

[9]  Complimentarianism is a heresey in which "some Christians interpret the Bible as prescribing ... gender-specific roles that preclude women from specific functions of ministry within the community. Though women may be precluded from certain roles and ministries, they are [allegedly] held to be equal in moral value and of equal status. The phrase used to describe this is "ontologically equal, functionally different." ( .

[10] Becker pp1. The key author here is Earnest Becker and his book The Denial of Death, which is lyrical in its deep understanding of our predicament, even despite it's sexism, and its even worse homophobia. Skip what he says about homosexual people; he had no idea.

[11] The key work of Rene Girard was to understand the relationship between desire and imitation.

[12] James Alison On Being Liked (DLT) pp1

[13] James Alison "We didn't invent sacrifice, See also “Concilium” 2013(4)

[14] The key scholar here is Rene Girard. Some brief introduction can be found in James Alison's "We didn't invent sacrifice, See also “Concilium” 2013(4) A book which explores Girard's concepts and their implications for the violence of substitutionary atonement is Mark S Heim's Saved from Sacrifice

[15] There is a good summary at  I am using the Wayback Machine here, as the site seems to be inactive in Feb 2023.

[16] James Alison "We didn't invent sacrifice, See also “Concilium” 2013(4)

[17] Christian Discourses. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton: Princeton University Press . pp42,42, quoted by Bellinger, here:

[18] dates and other details.

[19] Eg: In the ancient world "Forced deportation and subsequent resettlement were used as tools of political domination and subjugation to maintain control over conquered people groups."

[20] He is using the word in its less common meaning; that is,  not pertinent.

[21] Wink, Walter Just Jesus, My Struggle to Become Human

[22] Wikipedia: This leaves the question of when these works were created. Scholars in the first half of the 20th century concluded that the Yahwist source was a product of the monarchic period, specifically at the court of Solomon, 10th century BC, and the Priestly work a product of the middle of the 5th century BC (with claims that the author was Ezra). However, more recent thinking is that the Yahwist source dates to from either just before or during the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC, and that the Priestly final edition was made late in the Exilic period or soon after. The almost complete absence of all the characters and incidents mentioned in primeval history [Genesis 1-11] from the rest of the Hebrew Bible has led a sizeable minority of scholars to conclude that these chapters were composed much later than those that follow, possibly in the 3rd century BC.

[23] Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, Walter Wink pp104

[24] This long quotation is from other work of my own.  The footnote at this point in that post said: " In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.

Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society. (Wink)"

[25] One Man's Web

[26] Ibid

[27] I point out later in this essay the problem Judith Butler sees with global statements about human cultures, and Wink is certainly making some global claims here. It certainly is a wide spread list of cultures!



[30] I am aware that this is a statement made from within one cultural perspective. And that my observations that such a "blanket statement" seems to align with much said by friends and colleagues from other cultures are made in a time and place where my culture is the ruling culture, and are therefore equally suspect. 

[31] Walter Wink,  Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 64.

[32] The term "last will and testament" describes the summing up of a teacher near the end of a literary work.

[33] Deuteronomy 30:15-20

[34] All of us construct a mental picture of how the world works. That is our paradigm. All paradigms have a defensive aspect; we need a paradigm so that we are not lost in the terror of the world.  But we can construct a predominately defensive paradigm, or we can construct a paradigm which is much more explorative. Our way of seeing will affect all that we see.

[35] Hosea 6:6. Jesus later quotes this verse in argument with some Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7

[36] The sacred is ... a culture built upon murder and exclusion. Rather than us inventing sacrifice to placate the gods, James Alison says, sacrifice created us! We have been able to survive by using systematised and limited violence to channel and partly control the violence which would otherwise destroy us. We have been able to build empires, but they are always built upon victims: the murdered, the enslaved, the poor. Today's neoliberal economy, for example, depends on there being unemployed people. 

Alison says "Eventually, the group is able to move from repeating the violence of the all-against-all where the one is randomly designated in the midst of violence, to a more deliberate choosing of a substitute for that one before the violence becomes too dangerous. It is this second substitution, according to Girard, which marks the beginning of sacrifice: when we have become sufficiently adept at imitating our own imitative resolution of our own imitative violence, we are also able to ritualize it by substituting what we might now call a victim, whether human, or later, animal....

Over time, the three pillars of archaic culture formed us: ritual gave us peaceful space for repetition, learning, and thus technology and development. Prohibitions marked out as dangerous the hyper-imitative behaviours which put the group at risk of another all-against-all. And eventually, as language developed from the ritualized sounds and gestures flowing from the emerging symbol, myths began to tell the story of the group's wonderful beginnings and survival in the midst of the bizarre deaths of trickster gods." ( See also “Concilium” 2013(4)) [This text is taken from my as yet unpublished introduction to reading the Gospel of Mark.)

[37] John 11:50


[39] John 9:2

[40] ie Jesus

[41] "When Jesus is questioned about the adulterous woman, instead of confronting the crowd directly, he bends down and starts drawing or writing on the sand. Jesus did not bend down in order to write, I believe, but he writes because he has bent down. Why has he bent down? In order not to look back at those people who look intently at him.Jesus’ goal is to save the woman threatened with death, and he does his best to avoid even the slightest hint of visual provocation. If Jesus returned their looks, these people would probably read in his own eyes, as in a mirror, the anger which is really theirs but which they would project against him. The stoning of the woman would become more difficult to avoid." Rene Girard, "Casting the First Stone."

[42] Mark 1:15

[43] Matthew follows the Jewish convention of not naming G*d by using heaven as a euphemism

[44] See, for example, The Slavery of Death, Richard Beck, (Cascade Books 2014)

[45] The use of Paul in thinking about gender can seem ironic, if not ridiculous, given his reputation for being anti-woman.  It is important to note, firstly, that general scholarly consensus is that only 7 of the letters ascribed to Paul were written by him. The other six are pseudepigraphic; that is, not written by Paul. (See, ) Secondly, having an insight does not mean that Paul or anyone else is necessarily able to follow  its implications through to our current understandings.

[46] Saying all that, we read Galatians rather like a person who can hear one side of a telephone conversation, understanding that it is a situational response from Paul, not a systematic theological treatise.

[47] Which is why Paul says: "11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’" (Galatians 2)

[48] Paul clearly saw this wider implication of the incomers' "gospel": Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. 4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. (Galatians 5:2)

[49] The Jerusalem Bible translates Galatians 5:12 as "tell them I hope the knife slips," which gives a much less stilted sense of Paul's outrage than many other translations.

[50] Bill Loader

[51] The previous paragraphs are lightly edited from this post:

[52] These paragraphs come from

[53] This is close to what Paul is talking about here in Galatians, especially with respect to "Flesh."


[55] quoting

[56] Galatians 5.

[57] Martyn pp376


[59] David Haig (April 2004). "The Inexorable Rise of Gender and the Decline of Sex: Social Change in Academic Titles, 1945–2001" (PDF). Archives of Sexual Behavior. 33 (2): 87–96. See also Wikipedia


[61] The reference is: Money, John; Hampson, Joan G; Hampson, John (October 1955). "An Examination of Some Basic Sexual Concepts: The Evidence of Human Hermaphroditism". Bull. Johns Hopkins Hosp. 97 (4): 301–19. This is given in the article. Wikipedia also notes that " Money advocated for the surgical "normalization" of the genitalia of intersex infants," Money is well known for his involvement in the life of David Reimer


[63] Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex.

[64] I love this story because it beautifully illustrates how, despite the complexities of gender theory, we can, in practise, learn quite sophisticated understandings of how we function. My colleague would have been mystified by de Beauvoir and Butler, yet simply "got" what was going on.

[65] that is, essentialism.

[66] Sophie Chappell, "Is Consciousness Gendered?"

[67] For more information see:





[72] The Bajau have lived a nomadic lifestyle of marine hunting and gathering for over 1,000 years. The traits that enable hypoxia tolerance in this population appear to be an evolutionary adaptation to this lifestyle. Therefore, this is an example of a recent population-level adaptation that evolved in response to a cultural practice, rather than in response to a largely unavoidable environmental feature such as high altitude or disease risk.

[73] As Chappell says, we profile other humans to see if they fit, or not. Chappell, Ibid.

[74] See and

[75] This is an extended quotation from text which never made it into my post at


[77] Erin Gray, "Undoing Gender" (A review of Butler's book of the same title.)

[78] Anna Szorenyi " Judith Butler: their philosophy of gender explained

[79] Anna Szorenyi, Ibid

[80] ibid

[81] Also: "Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time." Butler, Gender Trouble, pp22. I become. I seek. I perform

[82] Ibid

[83] James Alison On Being Liked (DLT) pp1

[84] The category of sex is the political category that founds society as heterosexual. Monique Wittig, as quoted by Judith Butler 

[85] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble "If one “is” a woman, that is surely not all one is; the term fails to be exhaustive, not because a pregendered “person” transcends the specific paraphernalia of its gender, but because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts, and because gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities. As a result, it becomes impossible to separate out “gender” from the political and cultural intersections in which it is invariably produced and maintained."

[86] Andrea Prior:

[87] Gray Ibid

[88] Gray Ibid


[90] Butler, Gender Trouble, pp22

[91] Gray notes the influence of Hegel here. " The term ‘recognition’ has several distinct meanings: (1) an act of intellectual apprehension, such as when we ‘recognise’ we have made a mistake or we ‘recognise’ the influence of religion on American politics; (2) a form of identification, such as when we ‘recognise’ a friend in the street; and (3) the act of acknowledging or respecting another being, such as when we ‘recognise’ someone’s status, achievements or rights ... The philosophical and political notion of recognition predominantly refers to (3), and is often taken to mean that not only is recognition an important means of valuing or respecting another person, it is also fundamental to understanding ourselves." Social and Political Recognition

[92] Gray Ibid. 

[93] Butler, Gender Trouble ppxxiii

[94] Quoted in Gray, Ibid

[95] Being Human, is what Paul calls freedom, or being set free from this evil age. See Galatians 1: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."  The grace, the mercy, and the recognition of us (Butler) is Jesus being vulnerable for us";  ie, giving himself..

[96] The phallogocentric argument is premised on the claim that modern Western culture has been, and continues to be, both culturally and intellectually subjugated by "logocentrism" and "phallocentrism". Logocentrism is the term Derrida uses to refer to the philosophy of determinateness, while phallocentrism is the term he uses to describe the way logocentrism itself has been genderized by a "masculinist (phallic)" and "patriarchal" agenda. Hence, Derrida intentionally merges the two terms phallocentrism and logocentrism as "phallogocentrism". Where I am heading in this essay is here: If we have a phallogocentric society, what we have is coercion. We see it at the blunt end of life with domestic violence etc, but if the masculine is the ideal form of being human, then coercion starts right there. If people are "in Christ"; that is, if aspirational humanity has no male and female, no Jew or Greek, no slave and free, then the normative ideal of "humanity" is relieved of those coercive forces.

[97] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, pp18  As I will begin to lay out below, the Church seeks to move around this problem by refusing worldly power and by welcoming the outcast. Paul seeks to move around it by refusing the binaries. He is not setting himself against someone so much as refusing/removing/living-outside the binary. Church at its best is also multicultural. It seeks to avoid the centralisation of power, and to avoid the privileging one particular understanding of social reality above all others.

[98] Anna Brown, chief executive of the LGBTQ+ rights group Equality Australia, said Senator Chandler’s bill was “not just unnecessary, it’s cruel and divisive”.

“In offering his public support for this Bill, the Prime Minister is once again making the lives of trans and gender diverse kids the subject of political and media debate”, Ms Brown said “This is completely unacceptable, particularly when this group of people already experience disproportionate levels of discrimination, marginalisation and social isolation.”

Ms Brown said the Sex Discrimination Act already allows for discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender identity or intersex status by excluding people from competing in sport where strength, stamina and physique are relevant.

[99] Andrea Prior:

[100] Butler Gender Trouble pp20

[101] Gender Trouble pp4


[103] Not only have we been searching for grace, but underlying our cyclical Uniting Church arguments has been an attempt to guarantee grace. Our struggles with each other have been a search for the power and authority to know objectively— to know for sure— that "we are saved." We preach that "by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God," (Eph 2:8) but our human frailty can never quite believe this, much less live with the reality that a gift does not have guarantees, but is… a grace we must trust! Grace flickers in and out of focus. We glimpse grace, and then fear that we will lose sight of it in all the noise and contradiction of the world. We glimpse grace and then fear God will withdraw it from us. Andrea Prior:

[104] Butler Gender Trouble pp20

[105] Butler Gender Trouble pp22. A fuller quotation from this section is: " This antifoundationalist approach to coalitional politics assumes neither that “identity” is a premise nor that the shape or meaning of a coalitional assemblage can be known prior to its achievement.  Because the articulation of an identity within available cultural terms instates a definition that forecloses in advance the emergence of new identity concepts in and through politically engaged actions, the foundationalist tactic cannot take the transformation or expansion of existing identity concepts as a normative goal.  Moreover, when agreed-upon identities or agreed-upon dialogic structures, through which already established identities are communicated, no longer constitute the theme or subject of politics, then identities can come into being and dissolve depending on the concrete practices that constitute them.  Certain political practices institute identities on a contingent basis in order to accomplish whatever aims are in view.  Coalitional politics requires neither an expanded category of “women” nor an internally multiplicitous self that offers its complexity at once.

Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time. An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative telos of definitional closure."

[106] This heading is not in the text. That's an editorial summary which reflects someone's theological opinion.

[107] Gray notes the influence of Hegel here. " The term ‘recognition’ has several distinct meanings: (1) an act of intellectual apprehension, such as when we ‘recognise’ we have made a mistake or we ‘recognise’ the influence of religion on American politics; (2) a form of identification, such as when we ‘recognise’ a friend in the street; and (3) the act of acknowledging or respecting another being, such as when we ‘recognise’ someone’s status, achievements or rights ... The philosophical and political notion of recognition predominantly refers to (3), and is often taken to mean that not only is recognition an important means of valuing or respecting another person, it is also fundamental to understanding ourselves." Social and Political Recognition

[108] For example, Deuteronomy 24:17-22:   17 You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. 19 When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. 

[109] The "sacred" is the religious structures we have formed to control violence, primarily the scapegoat mechanism.

[110] James Alison, Raising Abel, pp23-24 Pages 18-30 give an excellent, as he says,  birds eye view of mimetic theory and how he applies it to theology.

[111] Bill Loader.

[112] "The one who fears death is a slave and subjects themselves to everything in order to avoid dying...[But] the one who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil. For indeed 'man would give skin for skin, and all things for [the sake of] his life,' [Job 2.4] and if a person should decide to disregard this, whose slave are they then? They fear no one, are in terror of no one, are higher than everyone, and are freer than everyone. For the one who disregards their own life disregards more so all other things. And when the devil finds such a soul, it can accomplish in it none of its works. Tell me, though, what can it threaten? The loss of money or honor? Or exile from one's country? For these are small things to those 'who counteth not even their life dear,' says blessed Paul [Acts 20.24].  Do you see that in casting out the tyranny of death, He has dissolved the strength of the devil?" (Quoted in Richard Beck The Slavery of Death, Cascade Books 2014 pp 14 I have removed some of the gender specific language)

[113] Andrea Prior:

[114] Snopes:


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