Erwin Schrödinger was one of the pioneers of quantum theory in the early 20th century, and Schrödinger’s Cat was a thought experiment designed to explain the paradoxical principle of ‘quantum superposition’ in one particular theory of quantum physics. This theory suggested that sub-atomic particles could be thought to be in two contradictory states at the same time, but the thought experiment links the state of such a particle to the release of poison to kill a cat in a sealed box—and if the particle can be in two states, we would have to think of the cat as both alive and dead at the same time. We can only know which is the reality when we open the box and see what has happened. (The idea has been used to suggest that contradictory things can co-exist, but in fact Schrödinger’s point was that the cat cannot be both alive and dead, which suggests that the theory itself is incoherent.)
But the illustration has seeped into popular culture, and a great example of this comes in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory. Penny has been asked by Leonard, and she cannot work out whether this is a good thing or not—whether the fact that Leonard (who is short and nerdy) is so different from her previous boyfriends (large, athletic and unfaithful) means the relationship will actually work out or not. Sheldon comes to her rescue with the illustration of Schrödinger’s cat.
Just like Schrödinger’s cat, your potential relationship with Leonard can be thought of as both good and bad. It is only by opening the box that you will find out which it is.
In this case, living with a contradiction helps Penny to resolve her dilemma—but such contradictions do not always have such positive outcomes, as I was reminded when I heard about the establishment of the Ozanne Foundation by Jayne Ozanne, well known as a campaigner for LGBT+ rights and a lobbyist for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage. The stated aim of the Foundation is:
We therefore work with religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender in order to embrace and celebrate the equality and diversity of all.
But there are several groups whose diversity will not be celebrated. The most often forgotten group comprises gay Christians who accept the historic mainstream Christian understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, and so see sexual relationships outside this context as sinful. One of the trustees of the Foundation is Steve Chalke, who told me over dinner that by holding the historic position I was ‘hateful to gay people’. He presumably thinks that gay Christians who hold the same view are likewise ‘hateful’, so it is hard to see how the Foundation is going to be celebrating the diversity of their presence within the Church. This is particularly disturbing given this group are constantly marginalised and ignored in debates which directly affect them and their commitment to faithful witness. Rejection of this group is also significant in the light of patristic interest in the subject of virginity, which was seen as theologically important not simply because it was counter-cultural—even incomprehensible to surrounding culture—but because of its relation to the incarnation (Jesus was single and celibate), the apostolic witness (so was Paul) and Christian eschatological hope (in the resurrection we will be ‘like the angels’ (Mark 12.25 = Matt 22.30 = Luke 20.36). Like Schrödinger’s cat, the Ozanne Foundation is both diverse and equal, and narrow and unequal at the same time.
Something similar can be seen in Jayne’s own exposition of her role in a recent post on her Via Media blog.
Do you believe in Spiritual Blindness? I must admit, I do. I define it as something spiritual that happens to people, often because of something that has happened to them in their past, which then stops them seeing what everyone else can see plainly. Sadly, you can’t rationalise with people when they are like this, it’s almost as if they’re wilfully blind to the truth.
It is really striking to see, in someone claiming to be interested in ‘good disagreement’ and ‘celebrating diversity’ such a sharp polarisation of the world into good and evil, as sharp as anything I have read in any Reformed Calvinist commentator. Jayne is the one who sees, whose view belongs to the majority who all agree with her, who is rational and open to debate and discussion. She alone is courageous in her commitment to honestly facing reality. I do, in fact, agree with Jayne in some of her assessment. I don’t think there is much doubting her personal courage and commitment (I likewise personally admire Peter Tatchell for his extraordinary personal courage in pursuing the cause he believes in) and I think Jayne has been through some horrendous experiences born out of pastoral ineptitude and flawed theology. But Jayne then couples that with classifying those who disagree with her as blind, irrational, incapable of reasonable debate, and wilfully resisting the will of God. Once again, we meet Schrödinger’s cat: Jayne is both inclusive and exclusive, both interested in and oblivious to the idea of ‘good disagreement’.
It is also incredibly unfortunate that Jayne uses a physical disability to demonise those with whom she disagrees, identifying without any qualification blindness with wilful sin. Not surprisingly, this was deeply offensive to disabled Christians, as Katie Tupling challenged Jayne on Twitter:
By "spiritual blindness" do you mean people who through no fault of their own genuinely can't see spiritual things?
Or are you using a medical condition (being visually impaired/blind) as analogy for sin?
If the latter – please don't.
Just as others shouldn't use sexuality =sin
— diddytup ? ?? (@KtTup) December 29, 2017
What was really sad is that, having been challenged, Jayne refused to apologise. Her justification was that ‘it is term that Jesus himself uses (Matt 15:14) as does St Paul (2 Cor 4:3-4) and one traditionally associated with people unable to see certain things that others can.’ Now, that would be a good justification for highlighting the gender binary of Gen 1 and 2 since Jesus cites that in Matt 19.4, as well as Lev 18.22 which Paul cites in 1 Cor 6.9. Somehow I doubt that Jayne will be quoting these quite so much. And it is striking that, when Jesus does use blindness as a metaphor for sin in John 9, he first detaches sin and disability (correcting his disciples sharply) at the start of the narrative, and then deconstructing the metaphor as applied to the Pharisees at the end: they are guilty because they can see but refuse to believe, a theme that recurs (inverted) near the end of the gospel. Katie Tupling’s conclusion from this exchange was another Schrödinger’s cat moment:
What I learned today:
Biblical language of gender/sexuality being binary & fixed = not ok now.
Biblical language of disability as sin metaphor = perfectly ok now.
— diddytup ? ?? (@KtTup) December 30, 2017
The clearer foundation to her position is articulated in one of the comments on the blog. In response to a ‘Mr Harris’ who points out that love and judgement (and so repentance for sin) are both prominent throughout Scripture, Kevin Scott responds:
Well Mr Harris, there is a well-respected and ancient view that God can only love. Yes, that flies in the face of a lot of Scripture, but it makes perfect sense and it is consistent. It is just possible that all the Divine vengefulness and righteousness we read about in Scripture has been projected onto God by writers who would rather like God to be that way (for other people).
Our Parish Church is dedicated to John the Baptist – the man who got it spectacularly wrong. He came preaching about God’s judgement and retribution which was about to be visited on earth by the Anointed One; he used words like fire and axe to describe the action of the One who was to come. And then, almost with irony, the Scripture says: ‘And then came Jesus …’
So it looks as though Jayne is both an ‘evangelical’ and a liberal, who both believes in and disagrees with what Scripture says about God.
To complete our clowder of cats, Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, has signed up as Chair of the Ozanne Foundation. Paul was one of the most vocal members of General Synod, and the most vocal bishop, in July debates, and committed himself to pursuing ‘radical Christian inclusion’ with the permitted limits of ‘the Christian Scriptures and church’s teaching’. Whilst Paul was clear on his own position, he was also clear that he would continue to uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage, and he confirmed this both in public and private. And yet he has now agreed to be Chair of a group which not only seeks to drive a celebratory coach and horses through this teaching, but believes it to be hateful, spiritually blind, and wilfully disregarding the command of God.
So the question is: Is Paul Bayes now working within the teaching of the Church, or outside it? Is he upholding the vow he made at his ordination as a bishop, to ‘teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?’ or the opposite? Given the divisive nature of this issue, and the evidence that it is already creating divisions in Liverpool Diocese as elsewhere, is Paul committed to ‘promote peace and reconciliation in the Church and in the world; and will you strive for the visible unity of Christ’s Church?’ or is he committed to split the Church because he believes this issue is more important than truth and unity? Or, like Schrödinger’s cat, is he seeking to be all these contradictory things at the same time? If so, then he diocese will be united and divided, and his clergy will be torn between loyalty to him and loyalty to the teaching of the Church of England—to which they themselves made a similar commitment at their ordination. I suspect they would all be grateful for some clarification from Paul about whether the cat is dead or alive—all it would take is to open the box and tell us where he stands.
The root of all these contradictions comes from the controlling term ‘radical Christian inclusive’, unhelpfully introduced by the Archbishops in a rush to respond to the February snub of the bishops’ report on the debate on sexuality. As Edward Dowler highlights with precision and a commendable lack of contradiction:
The ironic result is that the language of inclusivity itself comes to be used as a means of defining groups that are in and out. As one writer puts it, ‘Toleration despises bigots, inclusiveness shuts out excluders, and diversity insists that we all line up to support it.’ Once a directory is compiled of those parishes or other organizations who define themselves as ‘inclusive,’ then this automatically implies that those who are not featured on the list do not share this identity. The very term ‘inclusive’ thus comes to be used as an instrument of exclusion, effectively creating ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups.
As long as this term is deployed, then we will find Schrödinger’s cat everywhere we look—and in the end, the Church of England will both exist and cease to exist.
In case that thought is too depressing, let’s end on the entertaining note of Penny and Sheldon’s exploration of relationships.
Don’t forget to book your place at the the Festival of Theology on Jan 30th!
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