Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Classifying the Panda - a Parable for Gay Marriage

Lately on Facebook some of us have been discussing the controversy about the government's idea to create, or acknowledge, "gay marriage" - can a same sex couple actually be categorised as married? The Archbishop of York has waded in with a lot of twaddle about the importance of tradition, most of which would have left him, as an African in a slaving nation, planting other people's crops, rather than ideas. We have moved on. Society has moved on rather faster than the Church of England, to its shame. Founded by a woman in 1558, and led by a woman for its last 60 years (in five days' time), the C of E still hasn't managed to ordain one single woman as a bishop. It's not for want of candidates - apparently women don't make very good leaders. Women wearing men's clothes, that look like women's clothes, from centuries back down the evolutionary path? Maybe they are hard to classify? With marriage for gay people, we are even more behind the times, and behind the people we are meant to serve. So I thought of something.

When I was a boy I adored animals - still do - and I was very keen on the Giant Panda. I well-remember seeing the famous Chi-Chi in London Zoo a few weeks before her death in 1972. I wasn't in the Scouts, and I didn't like the novels my form teachers recommended, so I read scientific books about animals, and the Giant Panda was a particularly interesting case (George Schaller's was brilliant). For decades the argument had swung back and forth about their classification - were they bears, or raccoons? Of course, they look like bears. But many of their anatomical features are closer to the raccoons. The next idea was that they are actually in a special category all of their very own. But then someone said "what about the red panda, they have a lot in common with the giant ones?" So it became a genus of two. And then the boffins changed their minds again, and said that as they are the same size as bears, look like bears, behave quite like bears, and they definitely do that thing in the woods, perhaps they are bears after all. So that left the poor little red pandas all on their own again, without so much as a raccoon for company.

Scientifically, zoologically, anatomically, this was all very interesting, and bravo to the boffins who put so much work in. But those of us who loved the creatures more than the boxes our genius friends wanted to put them in, only really cared about three things: Giant Pandas are part of God's good creation; they are cute; and they are endangered, and we need to care for them.

Do you even really need to think about the moral of the story?

But do please spare a thought for those red pandas ....


  1. Mr Haggis, hello! I have found you, again! I know yr book 'O Taste and See' from authonomy, and have kept it on my shelf for aeons! I hope you don't mind but I have sent a link to your excellent book to my agent (hope not too presumptious). She is a lovely lady based in California - and a great anglo-phile. I have sent you a note on authonomy, but as you are rarely there, I sought you out! Hope ok mitt vous. All the very best, Carol Dance

  2. Well written, and very fair comment, even quite kind to the CofE, which according to the Arch Bishop of York should continue in the dark ages.

    As for Panda's, I, as you acknowledge their part in God's creation and their beauty - but they seem to have built in obsolescence due to their only eating on type of bamboo.

    What happens to them when we discover that bamboo furniture is the new fashion statement - and is a natural resource, will we be feeding them on garden furniture?