Sexual Difference, Liberal and Christian

The Theopolis Institute has just published an article of mine on the subject of sexual difference:

[I]n creating us male and female, God established an otherness whose specific form is given great significance. In our thinking about otherness, the form of otherness has often fallen by the wayside. ‘Difference’ is typically understood to be negative in its meaning—referring merely to the fact that we are not the same. What if we were to start thinking of difference as positive in its meaning, understanding it as naming the particular manner in which two entities are distinguished from each other within their relation?

If we were to do this I believe that a more ‘musical’ account of otherness would emerge. Sexuality exposes us to a world of musical difference, where, as we open ourselves up to otherness, we are caught up within the beauty and delight of a larger cosmic symphony (difference in relation is also characteristic of symbolism). As with musical notes the power and meaning of difference is located within relations, relations through which we belong to something greater than ourselves and which puncture our autonomy and detachment.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Culture, Ethics, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Sexual Difference, Liberal and Christian

  1. mnpetersen37 says:

    I think you know this, but it may be worth pointing out anyway, that Levinas was an Orthodox Jew, and thought of (part of?) his task as translating Hebrew into Greek. Thus, for Levinas, “otherness” is a way to respond to Kantian liberal autonomy: We are not autonomous, but heteronomous, radically captive to an other—thus, for instance, to Torah. Indeed, I don’t think it would be a much stretch to say that for his project is about the holiness of the neighbor, and can be read as a defense of Leviticus 19:18 *as command*—and since to love God is to keep His commands, Deuteronomy 6:4.

    Oddly—he was Holocaust survivor who knew the horrors of evil done more to a people, that to persons—the focus (probably especially of interpreters) has been to ignore that we are members of peoples, who, qua people, norm us. This probably is, as you suggest, because of a failure to focus on the specific forms of commands our neighbors articulate, and also because of a neglect to focus on time, and the radical otherness between *generations*.

    Anyway, that’s a rambly way of saying that I’ve found Levinas immensely helpful in articulating many problems with liberalism.

    • Indeed, Levinas is much better than many who appropriate his terminology. Levinas also suggests a fuller understanding of the particular character of the other at points. For instance, in presenting the brotherhood of man as a horizontal relationship that pertains on account of a prior relationship of paternity, he recognizes the way that otherness is given particular shape through the inherent structure of natural bonds.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        You may also find Derrida’s reading of Levinas regarding the female body as the location of hospitality helpful. (Derrida seems to have been returning to a form of Judaism as he aged, and his readings of Levinas, while not without problems, are excellent, and, indeed, offer very sympathetic and insightful readings of Scripture.)

        (This is from *Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas*, which contains Derrida’s address at Levinas’ funeral, and a day long lecture in honor of Levinas a year later.)

      • I think that these are issues that primarily appear within an Anglo-American context too. French feminism, for instance, has tended to have far richer accounts of sexual difference than Anglo-American feminism. It is also interesting to see just how much public resistance same-sex marriage faced in a very secular society in France, resistance that seemed to draw much of its strength from the recognition of the significance of difference.

  2. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Your article hit on a problem that I have seen in many discussions of sexuality: if a sexual relationship is really about learning to deal with “otherness,” then why don’t differences between individuals suffice for such tutelage?

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