‘Sexual relationships’ are two words I seldom use without thinking...No, sorry, that’s an old Donovan song, isn’t it? ‘Sexual relationships’ are two words that helped form the motion for a debate I was involved in on Monday night at Queen’s University: ‘That belief in God brings order and discipline to sexual relationships’. It was run by the NI Humanist Society, who clearly have a vested interest in doing down God and all his works and pomps, which maybe explains why my team, proposing the motion, managed just two votes from an audience of some fifty people.
It was good fun, though. I haven’t been in a formal debate since I was about eighteen, so it was a challenge to squeeze what I had to say into five minutes. There were two points at which I got mildly irritated: one when an opposition speaker claimed I’d condoned child abuse, and one when another speaker declared that my use of the phrase ‘naughty bits’ indicated a fear of the grown-up words. (Not so. It was in fact a limp attempt at humour. I can say ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ to a band playing, if called upon).
The other thing that impressed me was the reluctance of people to address the motion. Instead we got heavy fire directed at Christian Churches, particularly the Catholic Church, along with gruesome examples of the subjugation of women by patriarchal institutions. Perhaps if I were in feminist shoes I’d whistle a different tune, but I’m increasingly struck by the degree to which feminism alienates those who should be its natural ally. If you’re a man and you hear little but what bastards men are, you get to a point where you begin to wonder if the people doing the condemning are so hot-shot perfect themselves. Likewise, if critics of the Catholic Church keep hammering on about clerical child abuse and the oppression of women within the Church as though these were the norms, while ignoring the 95% of decent priests and the thousands of women who find fulfillment in Church roles, it’s hardly surprising that Catholics like myself get a pain in their Catholic arses and start closing ranks against those who’d denounce their Church as a heaving heap of corruption.
And yet and yet. As I drove home (carefully), I found myself reflecting on a paradox that I find increasingly true: the people who are my opponents in terms of political or religious belief are often friendly, attractive people, while those with whom I’m in agreement on big issues can as often be, in personal terms, as attractive as a blocked toilet.