The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So begins St. John’s gospel. Clear, concise, as good an opening sentence as you are likely to find anywhere. St. John lived rather closer to the beginning than we do, life was little more straightforward and words were less problematic. Today, apparently, the word is “gender” and while not exactly with God it was with at least one of His spokesmen, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Episcopate, whose remarks prompted group of Polish academics earlier this month to name “gender” as the word of the year for 2013. According to one academic the word gender “shot into the lexical repertoire of many Poles of various ages, backgrounds, milieus and regions,” although it’s not clear whether anybody actually noticed.

My first encounter with gender was at school when I discovered that the French had divided their nouns into genders – masculine and feminine – which seemed rather pointless at the time only to discover a year later that those daring Germans had gone one better and added the unnecessary complication neuter to the mix (as do the Poles). I have thought little more about it since but apparently I have been missing the development of a whole exciting new field of study – “gender studies” – which, I imagine, must have originated in the United States, probably amongst the sort of academics there who can explain why Winston Churchill’s writing would never have earned him a Ph. D (albeit it did the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953) or who can tell you what Oscar Wilde had for breakfast every day but miss the point of his humour. Be that as it may, it is the gender-studyists, amongst others, whom the Archbishop managed to upset in one of his sermons.

In Wroclaw cathedral in October the Archbishop, while condemning paedophilia as an evil not to be tolerated, had suggested that the reason for this evil had not been considered deeply enough and specifically mentioned pornography, divorce and what he described as the most aggressive Polish feminists who through their promotion of gender studies “scoff at the Church and years of traditional ethics, who promote abortion and struggle against the traditional model of the family and marital fidelity”. He was developing an argument from an earlier interview in which he had, perhaps rather clumsily, suggested that some victims of paedophilia may have been children “searching for love” which they did not find in their own broken families.

Needless to say his words were seized on by a feminist and single mother who sought redress for slander against the Archbishop in a Wroclaw court claiming that he was blaming broken families and feminists for paedophilia in Poland. Fortunately common sense, for once, prevailed and this week the judge concluded that a group of people must at least be temporarily joined together in an action and none was in this case. More importantly the judge said that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential pillars of a democratic society, and one of the conditions for its progress and development. “This freedom cannot be limited to information and ideas that are favourably received, or regarded as inoffensive or neutral.” Needless to say the coalition of the thin-skinned are seldom satisfied and the complainant said that she was going to gather together a group of people who felt offended by the archbishop’s statements and try again.

Whatever the rights and wrongs in individual cases and the great achievements of many parents bringing up children alone in difficult circumstances, the fact is that since the dawn of time civilizations have concluded that the best way of creating nurturing new life is with a man and a woman working together in a framework which gives children security; in a word marriage. When these relationships dissolve it is often the children who suffer most and one need only look to the UK for a depressing example of the damage done to the children – and since they are the future, to society as whole – by family breakdown, and children born in irregular relationships and the confusion, fear and lack of achievement to which many children are condemned when such relationships fail. Of course many children and their single parents do triumph over adversity but that is no reason not to try to ensure that as many children as possible do grow up in stable and secure families. At this point you may well argue that the Spartans did it differently. True, but there again, if you are going to face the whole might of the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae with only a few hundred soldiers you do need an unusual training regime. And besides, Spartan boys were not left confused and vulnerable.

Interestingly, a new cross-party group has been formed in the Polish parliament to counter the promotion of gender and feminist ideology in schools. During the first session of the group this week potential members were called on to sign a declaration confirming their opposition to policies including same sex civil partnerships and the adoption of children by homosexual couples. Poland’s transsexual MP Anna Grodzka, a member of the same liberal anti-clerical “Your Movement” party as the Wroclaw litigant, had hoped to engage with the group urging them not to turn the ideology of gender into a demon but since she was not prepared to sign the declaration, she was excluded from the meeting. As one member of parliament commented, you cannot be a member of a parliamentary group whose aim is to restrict the propagation of gender ideology, if you are a supporter of that ideology.

So there you have it: what price free speech. It is odd how those who claim to be the most liberal are the quickest to take offence and to prevent others from expressing an opinion. In my view, being offended from time to time is a small price to pay for freedom of expression all the time. In the beginning was the word but in the end was the confusion.

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