Linking Up

David Hart, pub Arthur Jones, June 1997 11.99 pounds in the U.K.

Reviewed by David Paterson from the UK SOF, in SOF NZ Newsletter #22, July 1997

As an author, David is very much in the literary tradition of European philosophy. He reads a lot, he knows a lot of authors by their books and -- if they are still alive -- personally as well. His ability to draw on these authors is considerable, and he takes his readers on a wide-ranging tour of the past and present literary and philosophic tradition.

Sometimes, perhaps, we regret the shortage of stories drawn from first-hand experience; and some- times we notice how rarely he assesses or criticises the people he quotes. We get some idea of what we might be missing when, in the middle of chapter 3, he sets up Mary Daly and Daphne Hampson as critics of each other's approach. It gets quite exciting!

But David's strength is in drawing, on a broad canvas, many different styles, offering an overall view rather than a reasoned argument. The over-all structure, loose though it is, makes its own sense.

On this broad canvas are juxtaposed:

Sex and sexuality -- the changing insights, rules, norms, hang-ups and blindness of Christian history; a plea for greater understanding that sexual encounters are of many different kinds.

A complex argument about the relationship between male and female aspects of human nature: An extensive exploration of various feminist positions.

A closely argued plea for the acceptance of homosexuality as having its own value and integrity: "The fact that they are gay is a significant part of the ministry of of homosexual Christians".

Foucault's philosophical approach to the theology and spirituality of gay relationships, conjoined to Cupitt's Solar Ethics

Mythological and mystic traditions, in which the erotic and union with the divine are metaphors of each other.

The theme uniting the whole canvas is that of linking. What links people together -- in harmonious societies, in deep personal relationships, in the love of God?

Following Don Cupitt (see especially The Long-Legged Fly) David Hart seems to favour a one-dimensional view of the world. In this book there is little emotion or inwardness, except insofar as it is demonstrated on the surface of things, in actions, in philosophies, in theories or pronouncements. The book is still very much in the Western male, philosophical tradition.

Linking Up is an important and valuable contribution to the task of influencing public opinion and religious leaders away from rigid assumptions about what is natural and moral in sexuality, and towards a more flexible approach. If we are to find a fertility in our sexuality which is not just about genital penetration and procreation, then we must acknowledge many different levels of encounter and styles of sexual expression, and we must seek to assure people that such an abundance is OK.

But I felt I wanted the book to go further. There is a structure to love-making, a ritual which deepens the encounter with the other, which values the respectful approach and savours the feedback, which fosters mutuality and awe, and which takes delight in the deferment of climax.

Such love-making is deeply personal and profoundly private. Don Cupitt's image of "living expressively, outing ourselves ... all communication" seems to me to collude with the emotional inhibitions of the Western philosophical male and with a culture that seems either to fear sex or to be obsessed by it, and often both.