On Complementarianism

Today I’m writing about something that has been on my mind for the last couple of years. It is the concept of male leadership in marriage, and, in general, the idea of complementarian marriage. For many of you, this seems like a silly idea. That people would espouse such an idea is, I admit, surprising. The fact that I am taking time to write about it is probably even more surprising. But the fact of the matter for me is that until about a year and a half ago, I was a complementarian, and I believed in male leadership in the home. Now, my views on this were fairly mild and really had more to do with hanging on to the way I was raised than anything else. I would like to have seen any man, at any point in my life, try to put his foot down with me. It would not have gone well for him. But, I still held to some sort of symbolic concept of male leadership. I wanted a man who would lead. It was something my friends and I talked about. Something we looked for in guys. Something we felt was necessary for a healthy and godly marriage. I don’t hold to this idea at all these days, thankfully. I have come to see the whole idea as incredibly unhealthy and damaging, and I’m lucky enough to be with a guy who completely agrees with me, and recognizes my perfect equality with him as a person. We don’t have “different roles” on the basis of gender, figuratively or practically. We do play different roles in our relationship from time to time, but it has everything to do with our relative strengths and weaknesses, and nothing to do with our genitalia. We often even laugh about how there are ways in which I take the “man’s role” in our relationship and he fulfills more “female roles”. That’s not to say I’m manly or he’s girly–not that that would be bad, or that that really even means anything–but it’s simply to say that our identities aren’t wrapped up in how we fit a prescribed role for ourselves in our relationship. We just let each other be, and feed off each other’s strength, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another in weaknesses, regardless of whether or not those strengths and weaknesses fit predetermined gender norms.

However, not only am I writing this to air some of my own thoughts and grievances about an ideology that I used to hold near and dear (and for that part of this post, I will admit that this is really a type of catharsis for me), but I’m also writing it because I know many, many, many, young men and women who still hold to these ideas. I have had conversation after conversation with men I love and respect who still feel that women should not be permitted to be pastors or to make the final household decisions. I’ve known many, many women who feel that they must marry a man who leads them and acts as somewhat of an authority figure in their relationship. Some of these women even express frustration at the fact that their significant others are not doing this sufficiently. So, I wanted to share my thoughts on why I do not feel that male headship and complementarianism make for healthy relationships, and why I believe couples should abandon it and choose instead to have relationships that are tailored to their unique needs and personalities.

Firstly, I would like to deal with the biblical side of things. Consider, if you will, the vast cultural differences between the Old Testament and the New. Consider the fact that laws changed over time as the culture shifted, and that oftentimes, as Jesus himself pointed out (Matt 19:7-8), rules reflected the need to control people’s violations of God’s ultimate plans–not God’s ultimate plans themselves. Complementarians like to point to the opening of Genesis to show that God designed women to be under the authority of man. There is man, and then there is his “helpmeet”, woman. See, she isn’t in charge, she is the “helper” of the one in charge. To interpret the Hebrew here in Genesis as promoting a male over female hierarchy is to completely butcher the original text and imply things it simply does not imply. In English, the idea of a “helper” is thought of as an underling. There is no such implication in the Hebrew word ezer, which we translate as “helper” or “helpmeet”. The word actually implies the idea of an individual of greater strength lending aid or succor to an individual of lesser strength. It appears repeatedly in describing God’s relationship to Israel. God is called Israel’s “helpmeet”. God is Israel’s ezer. However, the text doesn’t stop there, lest we now think that the opening of Genesis implies that women are superior to men. The context of this passage clearly implies equality. Adam was looking for a suitable partner. There were none. Then appears Eve. She is not better than, and she is not less than. She is not his “helper” or assistant, she is his partner. Everything about the text here implies equality. It isn’t until “the curse” that we see the implication of oppression for the woman, and even then, it has nothing to do with a deficit on her part, or some kind of prescription for the way things should be, it is describing what will now be wrong with the world. Why Evangelicals persist in quoting and upholding what God thought would now be wrong with reality as a prescription for how things should be is beyond me. You would think that since they believe Jesus came to set us free from the curse they would now be all about equality.

So, I have dealt a little bit with Genesis to set the stage, if you will. Of course, most people who espouse complementarianism will argue that there are many verses in the New Testament which further support their views. I would just like to say a few things.

1) You, or your wife/significant other don’t wear a head covering while praying or prophesying, so I don’t care about your exegesis of I Corinthians 11, since you are obviously picking and choosing.

2) You pick and choose all of the other ones as well. 1 Timothy 2:12 tells you that you don’t allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man. Setting aside the fact that we don’t even know who wrote this (probably not Paul), so we don’t know why what they say matters, what perspective they were likely coming from, and a host of other textual issues, there is the simple fact that this is a very, very far-reaching statement that everyone interprets on the basis of what feels comfortable to him or her, or what they have already been taught to believe about it. Most of you are ok with women teaching men as long as she has a male authority figure over her (a senior pastor, or her husband, for example), but that is clearly forbidden by the text. Why don’t you follow through?

3) At the end of the day, the marriages at this time bear almost no resemblance to modern marriage, and the society from which they arose was so hopelessly patriarchal that many of the passages that complementarians quote now to defend male leadership would have sounded (and were probably supposed to sound) downright egalitarian to its original hearers. The bottom line is this: today, women have property rights, voting rights, educational rights, financial opportunities, and the ability to support themselves. This was true of probably less than 1 percent of all women at the time that these “proof texts” were written. It makes perfect sense that women should, in general, submit to their husbands and respect them when these “women” were likely 14-16 years old girls who were uneducated and had no practical knowledge of the world outside of their kitchens, while their husbands were 10-30 years their seniors with business experience and, in the Jewish community, a religious education (which was forbidden women). I think the principle here is if you are forced to marry someone by your culture and family (both of which would be inescapable for you), then there are some basic principles for making that marriage work, one of which is to have respect for the person who just simply knows more than you and has more life experience. The flip-side of these scriptures, the male side, also makes perfect sense in the light of this cultural perspective. If your wife is uneducated, and if your culture teaches you to regard women as property (we’re talking about the intersection of three of the most misogynistic cultures in history, after all), then telling you to love your wife as yourself and care for her as you care for your own body will not sound like the establishment of a hierarchy to you, but probably more like the opposite. The fact of the matter is, most of these scriptures meant, culturally speaking, the opposite for them back then as they would for us today. They are definitely subject to cultural and social analysis, and, if I may be so bold, are completely culturally irrelevant today. If Paul were giving marriage advice today it would probably be about balancing work schedules, respecting each other, and how to choose a spouse on the basis of shared interests, and since all of those things would have been out of the picture back when he was actually writing, we can’t consider the absence of his comments on such things as the condemnation of mutuality in a relationship. Mutuality would have simply been viewed as relatively ridiculous and largely irrelevant/impossible.

4) Jesus. That’s it. Just Jesus. Jesus had absolutely nothing to say regarding the hierarchy of men over women, and he went out of his way to elevate women to equal status. I think that says it all. After all, it’s Christianity, not Paulianity, or Anonymous-epistle-writerianity.

Ok, so, whether or not you liked my handling of scripture, I think if you delve deeply enough into the other side, you will find that the ideas about gender roles in scriptures are not as easy to defend as you may think, and probably have more to do with what you have been taught/traditional church culture than anything else. But, I would like to move on. There are some points I would like to make about this marriage/relationship model on the basis of practical considerations and reason.

What this model gets right about relationships is that selflessness is central to building happy, healthy ones. What it gets wrong is that it then prescribes a narrow space in which people may act “selflessly” based on their biology. It is true that a marriage/relationship is about sacrificing for the other. It’s about giving your all and learning to let go of your own needs and preferences from time to time so that your spouse can thrive. If your spouse is doing the same thing for you, you will have a healthy marriage that will stand the test of time. If it’s one-sided…let’s not even go there. That’s my nightmare. If neither of you are doing it, I can almost promise your relationship won’t last. Relationships are supposed to be based on empathy and seeking the good of the other. We can all agree on that. Where complementarians get it wrong is that they try to create a mold in which this mutual empathy and sacrifice is supposed to happen. The whole point of being selfless and loving someone is that you are putting them first, and that will look completely and utterly different for different couples. Some couples will look like a typical complementarian couple. The wife may be more happy with domestic life. She might not like being in charge. She might like it when her husband is in charge of big decisions, and allows her the time and space to do things that matter more to her, like have lots of babies and baking bread, and whatever else she likes to do. There is nothing wrong with this, provided that both parties are listening to one another, that they have agreed in advance that they accept one another for their personal differences and are willing to build a life together that makes the most of their varying strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, however, there is nothing wrong with a wife who works full time and makes all the financial decisions because her husband feels he is better suited to nurturing children and making meals and organizing play dates. Some dads love that, and some moms could think of nothing worse. There is nothing wrong with organizing a marriage to fit their respective personality differences and create a home that plays to everyone’s strengths!

Then, there are couples like Sam and me. I definitely have a strong personality, I like things a certain way, I’m generally pretty good at voicing my opinion, etc. Sam, as anyone who knows him will tell you, is neither authoritarian nor a pushover. He is very laid back, but he is not passive. I don’t like people doing what I say or letting me run the show anymore than I like other people trying it with me! We are both “alpha” people and we are both “beta” people. That is, in different ways we each take charge and in different ways we sit back and let the other lead. We aren’t vying for control of the relationship (as some complementarians would lead you to believe will happen in a relationship without explicit male headship). We work together, make compromises, and try to sacrifice for the other. Sometimes I get to make the final decision, sometimes it’s Sam. The point is, we don’t make the decision on the basis of who has a penis. Which brings me to another thing

Complementarianism is not about equality. What does it mean for something to be unjustly inequitable? Arguably, it means people are not allowed to do something on the basis of something that they had no choice in (usually something about their biological identity such as skin color, gender, hair color, ethnicity, you name it), and are still equally equipped to do. There has yet to be offered a reasonable argument that shows women to be somehow less equipped than men for anything when it comes to leadership both publicly and relationally. Nobody will deny that men and women have biological differences, but you cannot marshal biological differences in the service of proving non-biological differences. For example, people say, “Hey! I’m a man, I can’t have a baby, so there things I can’t do that a woman can, and I’m not complaining about inequality” as an argument for why women being barred from leadership, or being placed under hierarchy does not lead to inequality (yes, I have heard this argument). Obviously, that is ridiculous. They are comparing specifically biological differences that neither party has control over with very specifically social roles that both parties are totally equal to. Then there is the whole idea that men just think differently, are more aggressive, take more risks, and blah blah blah, and that all of those things somehow make them uniquely equipped to be placed over women in a leadership functions. Ignoring the glaringly obvious fact that those characteristics are largely socially constructed symptoms of patriarchy–not some essential “maleness” dictated to all males from time immemorial–there is the simple fact that none of those characteristics are, of necessity, leadership characteristics. Some leaders lead that way, others take a completely different approach. How many of us have known really aggressive, rationalistic, risk-taking female leaders, and really gentle, nurturing, and supportive male leaders (you can’t see it but I’m raising my hands up really high). And there is nothing necessarily wrong with either style, as long as both parties are listening to those around them and are capable of acting with selflessness and empathy.

In the end, here is my spiel: Stop organizing your marriage on the basis of what others tell you it should be organized according to. Your vagina no more determines your personality than does your weight, or your eye color, or your skin color. It is a fact of your biology. You may be affected by it, but it isn’t who you are. If you are a woman, you don’t automatically have to subscribe to a submissive wife role. If you are a man, you don’t automatically have to subscribe the “leadership” position. You can both figure out for yourselves who you are and then find a partner who fits that. Build a beautiful relationship together building up each other’s strengths and carrying one another through each other’s weaknesses. Complementarianism leads to strife, pain, and frustration in relationships that don’t fit the mold it offers because both parties are either trying to change themselves or one another, and spending enormous amounts of energy in doing so that they could just be spending on getting to know and love one another in a healthy and functional way. There is nothing “wrong” with being a strong woman, and there is nothing “wrong” with being a mild man. Just find the person who likes you for you and learn how to coexist lovingly, empathetically, and self-sacrificially with one another and you won’t need the rest. I was frustrated for years, worrying about finding a man who would “lead” me when it seemed I wasn’t very “leadable”. Now I’m not frustrated. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. But I do want someone’s love, council, and patience. I can humbly submit myself to someone like that, as long as they are okay with likewise humbly submitting themselves to me. Relationships are complicated enough. We don’t need to add the prescribed gender norms of John Piper or Mark Driscoll to the mix. I’m not saying don’t take marriage advice. I’m saying don’t let people you don’t even know tell you or your spouse what’s right or wrong with your marriage when they aren’t even willing to acknowledge what makes you both unique and different–viz., your personalities and giftings, not your genitalia.

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On Body Shame: an Honest and Very Personal Essay

It’s Tuesday night, it’s been a great day despite the heat in my non-air-conditioned apartment. Sam is over and we’ve been watching movies. For the most part today, I haven’t been thinking about the thing I shouldn’t be thinking about anyways, my body weight, but for some inexplicable and seemingly unstoppable reason, I start taking a good hard look at my flesh. I examine the new girth of my belly, the ripples in my thighs that weren’t there even just six months ago, the chunkiness that has called my hips and waistline it’s new home. I begin to really get upset. I knew that this would happen if I started to look too closely, but I did it anyways. Sometimes I’m good at not looking, other times I just can’t help it. I’m fascinated by my new body, and not necessarily in a positive way.

A little under two years ago I had achieved my lowest body weight since junior high: 108 pounds. My stomach was flat, but then, of course, so was my butt. I could wear the skinniest skinny jeans that had been hiding in the recesses of my closet, and I loved it. The problem was the road to getting that thin was not a healthy one. I didn’t have a full-blown eating disorder, but I did fail to eat for large chunks of the day and sometimes engaged in binging and purging. The result was that I liked my body, but knew in the back of my mind that I was quickly heading no where good. The feeling of being so in control of my thinness was intoxicating, but the knowledge that I was losing that control to something much more insidious was not. Thanks to some concerned comments from friends, including one who had recovered from bulimia, I finally realized that I was on the verge of, if not already knee deep in, a real problem.

Incidentally, the height of my skinniness came at the same time that Sam and I finally started dating. I knew he couldn’t care less how thin I was, at least I thought I did, but somewhere deep down I believed that he would only really be happy with me if I stayed as hot as possible. If you know Sam, you know how ridiculous this thought is. And I knew it too at the time. But the thing about being a woman in today’s day and age is that you’re told from the age you start watching TV commercials (2? 3? 4? years old?) until the day you die that you only deserve love if you’re attractive, thin, and sexy. In my mind, there was just no way someone would actually love me and continue to find me attractive when I just wasn’t attractive anymore by media standards.

I had initially stopped eating as much because I had social anxiety and I didn’t want to eat before anything public (class, going to the store, work, you name it). Which meant sometimes I would go up to half the day without eating anything. Eventually though, what was an innocent, but unhealthy, result of innocent, but unhealthy, practices turned into a para-eating disorder, as I started to relish in the unexpected loss of body mass. I also began to binge and purge, partly because my stomach had shrunk and I felt horrible after normal sized meals, but also partly as an emotional outlet or a form of self-punishment. As a result of these practices, however, my anxiety increased, as well as a host of other symptoms. In the end, I realized I was having major problems with my blood sugar as a result of my eating problems. I was ready to make changes at this point, and I began the hypoglycemic diet. It worked wonders and I went back to eating like normal.

At first, I put on a normal amount of weight. Just 7-10 pounds which kept me hovering around 115-118. I was a little bummed, but mostly ok with that because I knew it was healthy for me and it was my pre-problem weight to begin with. But when I returned home from a six month missionary training program complete with 2 months of missions in Mexico, things changed. I became horribly depressed and anxious during my time in training and in the field, and when I returned home my eating habits took a turn for the worse. Emotional eating, emotional drinking, more emotional eating. This became the norm for the first couple of months. Eventually I got a job that I loved and that helped a lot. But I also entered counseling, which, while good for me, brought on more emotional eating. I can remember leaving sessions in tears, stopping at Taco Mayo on the way home, and then retreating to my room to nosh on loaded nachos for the next hour. Eventually, though, I started running a little bit again and eating better. I was hoping that the weight would come off at this point, but it didn’t, probably because at the same time my doctor put me on anti-depressants, effectively preventing what would have been normal weight loss.

The truth is that I only gained another 10-12 pounds during this time. So that puts me at around 130, 22 pounds heavier than I was at my lowest weight. While that doesn’t sound like a lot (since I was underweight to begin with), my rather petite frame showed the weight well. What I think is telling about this, though, is that it shows how shameful women view weight gain to be. I can go from a size zero to a size 4 (a normal size), and I feel fat. I can also look at other women I know and love who are my size and larger and not care one wit that they aren’t a size zero, it’s only me whose worth seems to hang in the balance of the bathroom scale. We have bought into a lie, and the end result of that lie is that fat is allowed to isolate us and tell us things about ourselves that we don’t let it tell us about others.

Flash back to Tuesday night, to me poking and grabbing at my belly fat, tears starting to well in eyes, making slight comments to my boyfriend here and there. He gives me validation “no you don’t look fat” “you are beautiful” “you’re totally hot, stop it”. But really, I’m looking for commiseration. I don’t know this body anymore, and that’s upsetting to me. Who am I now that I’m not thin anymore? I start thinking things I shouldn’t: “I should start counting calories”, “maybe tomorrow I will go walking for two hours and do an hour of yoga”, “I should buy a scale and chart my weight until I loose ten pounds”, and so on. Finally I realize that this isn’t healthy, and I need to stop. I turn to Sam and I tell him straight up “look, this isn’t good, here’s what I’m thinking, it’s really hard.” Sam asks me, “why do you think you’re too heavy?” I respond that I just “feel like I look gross”. “Who says?” he asks. “Who said that you look bad and why does what they say matter? How come what I say doesn’t matter?”. Now the tears are really coming, and I’m not sure I really know why. But they are stubbornly making their way down my cheeks, despite my commands for them to retreat. “I don’t know”, I continue to flatly mumble.

I start searching my Pinterest for a picture that I pinned a while ago of a woman who had my “ideal body”, it was my “thinsperation” photo. She wasn’t too thin, but she was definitely spending more time on her body than I will probably ever have to spend. In the course of searching, I came across a picture of a normally shaped naked woman, smiling beautifully at the camera with a quote across the top that said “Body confidence does not come from trying to achieve the ‘perfect body’ it comes from embracing the one you’ve already got”. I ignored it and hoped Sam didn’t see it, but he immediately said “wait! go back”. I did, and I stared at the screen for a full ten second before I could turn to face him because I knew the exact look he had on his face. It was the look you give someone when you know that they know that you’re right (I searched the internet long and hard for an example, but there is just no re-creating that look, so you’ll have to just use your imagination). Then he said “what’s wrong with that woman?”. “Nothing” I replied. “Do you think she’s fat? or needs to count calories? or that her husband cares at all about it?”. “No”, I weakly replied.

It’s times like this that I am confronted with just how hard it can be to be a woman. You are made to feel that your very existence is only welcome if you are beautiful, thin, sexy, and desirable. It may sound extreme to men to hear that, but it’s completely true. As our bodies change, we feel guilty that we are still taking up space in the world, as if we abdicated our right to that space once we stopped being as hot as we once were. We think we are now unwanted, and even ashamed and embarrassed that we don’t provide others with a better view. We are sent subtle and not so subtle messages everyday that what matters the most about us is how we look. Once we start gaining weight, we aren’t what we are supposed to be anymore and our very purpose for living is seen subconsciously as questionable. We have to fight every day to remember that we deserve love, respect, and space in the world regardless of how we look or what we weigh. The fact of the matter is, we know in our heads that this makes perfect sense. We don’t rationally question these assertions. But there is a difference between knowing something factually and believing it internally, and I am coming to realize that the things that I really believe about myself don’t correspond to reality. They correspond to Axe commercials, to Michael Bay films, to cosmopolitan and playboy, to a world overrun by patriarchy and archaic notions about femininity. Everyday I wake up, I have to consciously choose to filter my thinking and to choose truth over the social indoctrination of our society that tells us that women are just bodies and body parts, that women are ornamental, that even successful women are “bossy” or “masculine” if they are unattractive and/or noncompliant with patriarchy. The fact of the matter, simply put, is that I have to fight every single day that I wake up to this beautiful, screwed up world I live in to believe deep down that I am a person, and that there are no special requirements placed on my existence simply in virtue of the fact that I am a woman rather than a man.

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On Dehumanizing and Categorizing “The Other”

            Today’s post is largely a sermon I am preaching to myself. It is the outflow of what I have been in the process of learning as I ponder my place in the world and my response to others who are different than I and their responses to me. I currently live among a fairly motley assortment of friends and family members. My family is primarily made up of evangelical Christians who range from mildly liberal to exceptionally conservative. I live in Bible Belt, Oklahoma and got my degree from a university in Bible Belt, Texas. I know lots of Baptists, but my tightest knit group of friends, mentors, and influences is comprised of a Catholic (Hi, Crystal! We affectionately call her “The Catholic”), religious naturalists/atheists/new atheists/agnostics (you know who you are), Anabaptist/Messianic Jewish hybrids (Em, I didn’t really know how to categorize you, and I figured if I asked you would just avoid being categorized so this was the best I could do), Pentecostals, emergent church goers, and hardcore missionaries of the hippie and social justice variety. I am close to people who support gay marriage and people who think it’s probably the fastest ticket to hell imaginable. I hold as near and dear those who believe in speaking in tongues, miracles, faith healing, and prosperity gospel, as well as those who reject all of the above. I embrace the capitalists, socialists, and anarchists in my life with equal love. In short, the lives of those around me are a melting pot of ideas and lifestyles, and they all think the other ones are crazy!

           Being a people pleaser (as I am, and am currently learning not to be) means that chiseling out my own worldview when surrounded by such diversity of opinions has been incredibly difficult. I have only just begun to really look at my personal hodgepodge of beliefs critically enough to start chucking some and introducing new ones that are more honestly my own. It has been a difficult, painful, and freeing process that has already begun to change my life. But as I have started to sift through my thoughts and ideas, I have noticed what I take to be one of the biggest threats to human compassion and unity we face today in our melting pot world of window-shopping for beliefs. We are at war over new inductees to our respective clubs, because all of us want to believe we are right, and none of us want to carve out an identity for ourselves that doesn’t include the belief in our rightness about the world.

            Human beings are herd animals. The romantic notion of the lone man in nature needing no one and existing for no one besides himself is completely spurious. The Hobbesian war of all against all has been shown by evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, and sociologists to be unfounded. We did not come together to form social contracts to protect our property out of egoism; rather we evolved into groups as a form of social preservation. We have evolved to have a social conscience, rather than an individual one. This isn’t to devalue the individual, but rather to place the individual where she belongs: within a social context. It is impossible for us to remove ourselves from this context. Our health and well being as individuals depends upon our social situation. Loneliness is bad not because it means we are easy pickings for predators, but because we have evolved to be hard-wired to connect with others and understand our own identities in relation to theirs. This is called the theory of inter-subjectivity (for a more detailed glance at this theory, read here). Explained very briefly, it argues that the “self” cannot come to self-realization of itself as an “I” unless it recognizes the “I” or the “self” in another. To become fully human, we need each other. To understand myself as a subject, I need to recognize you as a subject, and you must recognize me, and I must recognize you, ad infinitum. It is a beautiful idea, and I believe that it accurately represents the human condition and our dependency on each other to understand our own existence.

           The problem, however, is that we often like to recognize ourselves in the eyes of others similar to ourselves. We come to identify our beliefs and lifestyles alongside those around us, and we form tight knit groups that have tight knit beliefs, or we already find ourselves in these groups, and we conform accordingly so that we can maintain our social environment. This means when we encounter someone who thinks differently, we have two choices: we can reformulate our “self” in response to the other “self” (meaning not that we change our beliefs, necessarily, but rather that we readjust our worldview to at least include the other in the human experience) or we reject them as wholly “other” and refuse to fully recognize them as another “self” akin to ourselves. This is where we get things like racism, religious hatred and fanaticism, political hatred and fanaticism, sexism, and a host of other social ills. The bottom line is that rather than expand our concepts of ourselves to fit the others into our world, we would rather exclude them entirely and paint them as somehow “less than”.

            This seems relatively elementary, I realize, but what sneaks past most of us is that we all do this. We may not think we are racist or sexist or hate poor people, but we do participate in this active segmenting of the world into “us” and “them”. We think we are ok because the “them” is democrats, or Catholics, or abortionists rather than black people or women (though we do this a lot more than we would like to admit as well), but it isn’t.

            I think a fairly poignant example of this is exemplified in the increasingly reactionary and hostile tones that Christian media is now taking. Take the new Christian blockbuster, “God’s not dead”, for instance. Unfortunately, my boyfriend and I decided to attend this film. We weren’t really interested in seeing it, but, as we are beginning graduate school in the fall as students of philosophy, we were curious as to how it painted the academy and addressed the societal divide between evangelicals and secular, university culture. I can safely say that I went into this movie with an open mind, and I was happy that the first 30-45 minutes weren’t too bad, but by the end of the movie I was shocked and disheartened by the message it peddled and the attitude it and the audience I was surrounded by seemed to think was acceptable, not to mention Christ-like and pious. Suffice it to say, it is my (unprofessional) opinion that the film was absolute reactionary trash. I found it uninspiring, fear mongering, hateful, and ignorant. The fact that the acting was modest and the quality of the filmmaking sub-par (things I could have cared less about had its message been worth a damn) only served to make the attitudes aired with completely unbridled ressentiment more unpalatable.

            Without taking out an inordinate chunk of time reviewing the film in this post, I will just skip to why I think it illustrates the problem I am highlighting in this post. Yes, student Josh Wheaton’s apologetic arguments were tired and less-than convincing, but I wasn’t really offended by this (I expected it, and I realized it would be geared to a general audience, not to students of philosophy who had already learned with nauseating minutia about the teleological argument and other basic Thomistic arguments for the existence of God). No, what really got my goat was the villain (or should I say, villains) of the story, the atheists. Ok, look, I realize that there are plenty of atheists out there who are total and complete jerks (For example, I am often equally disturbed by the attitudes present in the New Atheist movement), but disagreeing with a group of people doesn’t make them all hateful, mean-spirited, or evil. I know that it’s hard to believe that your neighbor votes Republican and simultaneously is a decent human being, but it’s true. As much as conservative evangelicals would like to believe that hardcore atheist professors torture kittens in their spare time (and like it), it’s just simply not the case. Also, while it is true that there are embittered, discriminatory atheist professors who try to persecute religious students (not just Christians, by the way) in the class room, just ask any non-religious or even non-Christian student who ever had a particularly evangelical teacher or professor, and you will realize that the Christian experience in the secular classroom is not anywhere close to unique or special. Douche bags are everywhere, and douche baggery seems to be no respecter of religious or non-religious affiliation. But if that is the case, then it also means that there are genuinely kind-hearted, compassionate people with deep moral convictions on both sides of the religion debate. And that is a fact that, by shamelessly caricaturing, this movie completely failed to note.

            At the end of the movie (spoiler alert) one of the big, mean atheists gets hit by a car and scared into heaven. Another atheist (a sassy pants vegan, leftist journalist) gets cancer. HA! Atheist. That’s what happens when you don’t believe in God! He gives you cancer. But it’s ok, because she also gets scared into heaven (thanks to the Newsboys) by the fact that she doesn’t have anything to live for without God (because it is apparently inconceivable to the film makers that atheists can live with meaning, let alone die with meaning. It’s almost like they don’t know any atheists, or have willfully ignored the atheists who didn’t fit into their stereotyping of atheism). Then, the show ends with all the happy Christians being happy at a concert, dancing to happy God music because they know God and God takes care of their enemies (with speeding cars and cancer, apparently). The only non-religious person who isn’t a jerk is the Chinese kid who just doesn’t know any better and becomes a Christian by the end. So the moral of this story is pretty blatant: Christians=good, atheists=bad/just unconverted Christians who will be good once they agree with us.

            To be fair, I’m not hating on this film because it is Christian. I would offer Bill Maher’s Religulous as a likewise corrupt, hateful, and belligerent film promoting a completely different message. The bottom line is that we like to treat people that we don’t agree with like ideas, and ideas aren’t human, so that means we treat people who don’t agree with us as if they are not human, at least not quite as human, as we are.

            The problem with this is that people aren’t ideas, and they can’t be categorized. I currently identify with most leftist political ideologies, for example, (no, I am not democrat. Further left than that. No, I am not Marxist either. See, you are trying to categorize me), but I embrace a lot of common ground with some conservatives. For example, I believe in consistent life ethics, which puts me with a lot of Catholics and pro-lifers. But I am also anti-death penalty, which puts me at odds with most pro-life Republicans. But you would never know these details if you just said, “Liz is a leftist, she must be a baby-killer!” You just can’t know that about me unless you take me to coffee (I’ll take a tall double shot, please; you are buying), and treat me like a person and not an idea. You can’t assume you know anything about me. Because I’m not an object in your predetermined reality of how things work; I am a subject, and neither of us know how things really work, so we may as well learn from each other.

            And this brings me to what is really the crux of how I see this problem. Humans are hard-wired to problem solve and to create social bonds. These are beautiful things, but it can lead us to being know-it-alls and exclusivists for the simple reason that we don’t like to not be able to solve problems, and we find our identities in our respective groups. In the case of the former, we want to know. Does God exist? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Why do bad things happen? etc. We can’t know the answer to any of these things. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating relativism. I believe there are answers, objective answers, to all of these questions. But I do not believe that we can objectively know the answers. We can’t. We can try and find the answers, and we should! We can try and eliminate false beliefs and exchange them for accurate beliefs about reality based on whatever system allows us to do this effectively (I think reason, instinct, experience, etc. are all viable ways to do this). But we can never create a worldview that is 100% comprised of true beliefs, which means that at any given moment, any belief we have can be proven wrong, even if it is one of our most fundamental ones, like a belief about God or the meaning of life. So why are we so bent on silencing people who don’t agree with us? I’m not saying we have to agree with them, or even that we have to seriously consider their beliefs (I will not take the worldview of Westboro Baptist Church seriously, for example) but it does mean that we have to add a healthy dose of humility to our debates, and stop coming up with apologies (in the sense of apologetics) for our beliefs instead of just honestly evaluating them. This means when someone doesn’t agree with us, we can make room for him or her. We can add them to the list of variables we are trying to sort out regarding the world and ourselves. By treating others as equally human as ourselves, we can maybe get closer to the truth, and we can stop the hatred and expand our herd. Our church isn’t our herd anymore, the academy isn’t our herd anymore, the atheist/republican/pro-life/ student alliance isn’t our herd. Humanity is our herd. The more we make room for everyone to be just as human as we are, not ideas, but humans, the closer we will get to eliminating hatred and bigotry, and the happier we will be with ourselves, because we will realize that we are not objects in our worldviews; we are people, not ideas.

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Breast feeding and Elliot Roger

I realize that the topic of this post is a bit of a departure from my norm. I also realize that I haven’t blogged in a very long time. Things have been crazy lately with the end of the semester coming and going and preparing to move across the country for graduate school. Also, I feel as if lately I have been in a position of learning rather than speaking. There are a lot of personal questions I have been trying to sift through, and over the last couple of months, I haven’t felt like I was ready to share my partially formed thoughts. That being said, with news breaking over the shooting in Isla Vista, and the twittersphere a flutter with controversy and activism, the feminist in me has been rather active lately in terms of the things I have been turning over in my head and attempting to make sense of. Combined with this, I have been confronted recently with some facebook discussions that have been going on among some of my friends who are advocates of motherhood and public breastfeeding, and somewhere in my mind I managed, totally unintentionally, to find a connection between the controversy surrounding Elliot Roger and male entitlement, and the breast feeding debate. So, I sent a friend my thoughts on the subject, and was encouraged by her and my wonderful, feminist boyfriend to publish them somewhere where more people can access them. So, here are my thoughts. 

It took me a while to understand why public breastfeeding is actually an issue for some people, and then I realized that when people talk about public breast feeding being controversial, they usually mean uncovered breast feeding, which I suppose means that there is a good possibility that someone will see part of your boob (the horror!). I still, however, couldn’t really understand what the big deal was. To me it is merely a practical issue. Babies have to eat and their mothers have a right to feed them whenever and however they want, right? I was admittedly confused over why a woman wouldn’t throw a cover-up on at least, but then I did some research and found out that a lot of mothers feel that this isn’t good for the child. It can get hot under that blanket and can also disrupt the mother/child bonding that makes breastfeeding so rewarding to those who choose to do it. So why do people have a problem with a mom feeding her infant when she is out and about? Maybe, I wondered, other people don’t want their kids, perhaps especially their young sons, to see a woman’s breast in person at a restaurant/store/church/etc., let alone their husbands. At first I thought I could (kind of) understand that. But then I realized that this rampant desire in our society to censure the image of a woman’s breast being used for what it is supposed to be used for, maternal nourishment, is indicative of a larger problem.

In the wake of Elliot Rogers, the media has talked a lot about male entitlement to the female body, and what embodies this entitlement more than the fear of seeing a woman using her breasts for anything other than a man’s pleasure? Your teenage son or daughter (or husband) can pick up a magazine in the isle at Walmart that features underage girls modeling bikini in hyper sexualized manners, and we think nothing of this. But catch a little bit of boob peaking out from under a T-shirt at Applebee’s while a woman is in the completely natural and beautiful process of feeding her child? Hell No! That is offensive. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing unhealthy about a young adolescent boy seeing women breastfeeding on a regular basis. It teaches him the very important lesson that a lot of our culture is utterly oblivious to (and seems to be actively combating): that women’s bodies have functions other than his own sexual gratification. It teaches him that breasts are there to nourish and protect the young, not to be possessed and objectified by him. It teaches him that the world, and especially the world of women, does anything but revolve around him. It is pure misogyny that fears relinquishing its monopoly images of female anatomy by allowing them to be seen as something other than sexual. Our bodies have many purposes, most of which are completely unrelated to male sexuality. The misogynist wants to keep breasts in every place he can enjoy them, and out of every place he can’t (like Sunday morning church services). He wants to construct his own reality where the only function breasts have is his own enjoyment. Public breast feeding is a threat to the misogynist’s world view, because it cracks the veneer of his perfect little narcistic universe.

So go ahead and whip it out whenever you want, and if some prudish parent complains, pointing out that they don’t want their son to see that, explain to them that in a world full of Elliot Rogers, your boob might be one the most important lessons on reality their son will get that day.

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Are We Being Persecuted?

It’s been a while since I have posted, things have been a little bit crazy with getting ready for and taking the GRE and preparing for graduate school, but now I have a little extra time on my hands, and I wanted to address the latest media feeding frenzy in light of how many conservative Christians are taking it, because I think it underscores a chronic problem in mainstream evangelical Christian thinking. I am speaking, of course, of Duck Dynasty’s superstar, Phil Robertson and his comments made in GQ magazine regarding sin and gay people. Robertson made comments regarding sin, who would not enter the Kingdom of God because of it, how he never saw unhappy black people in pre-civil rights era Louisiana, and how he doesn’t understand why gay men don’t like vagina, because it is so obviously preferable to male anus. 

While I’ve come to ignore stories like this because I see their content as the uneducated drivel of individuals whose claim to fame is the exact reason why they aren’t qualified to share their opinion on most things that matter in our world (I take this approach with essentially all reality television stars), the public response by many Christians warrants a comment or two. The chief complaint is being offered because A&E placed Robertson on a filming hiatus following the release of his statements, claiming that it does not support his views at all. In response to this, conservatives are crying fowl because they see the act as a curtailment of Robertson’s religious freedom and his freedom of speech. What I find interesting about this, is that if Robertson was a Marxist or pro-choice, and expressed Marxist or pro-choice sentiments in GQ magazine, the same people crying fowl now would be celebrating in the streets if A&E pulled the show for such remarks. So really, what they are complaining about is not that Robertson’s free speech and religious rights are being threatened, but that their own opinions are not being taken seriously in the media. 

I will say this once, this is not persecution. If you think persecution is someone saying “happy holidays” to you, or not allowing Phil Robertson to say moronic things in a national magazine, then you are a spoiled, Christian-privelege chump who needs a serious reality check. No one is putting Phil Robertson in jail for his comments. He had the right to make them, just like the studio that films his show and the people who read his comments have every right to ostracize him. In fact, social ostracism is a beneficial alternative to legal action in these cases. Free speech is there to ensure that people aren’t legally punished for what they think or believe or express about their thoughts or beliefs, and social ostracization is there to balance that out and make sure that fascists who have a voice don’t get taken seriously. And, once again, this whole debate isn’t about people getting angry because Robertson wasn’t allowed to say what he did (he obviously was, in fact, his words were PUBLISHED and spread all over the web. He had total freedom to do so) it’s about people getting pissed off because no one wants to take him serious, and people were offended so A&E punished him (again, A&E, not the government). Ask yourself seriously if his punishment would be an issue to you if it came at the end of him supporting something you hate or find extremely dangerous/offensive. Religious freedom and freedom of speech isn’t about getting to say whatever you want with no consequences. It’s just about getting to say whatever you want without having to worry about getting thrown in jail or the government coming after you. Phil Robertson did that, and last I checked, he is still a millionaire and has the right to say whatever he wants about anything he wants in any medium that will have him or that he chooses to produce with his own resources without any legal impediment whatsoever. So don’t call him persecuted, and stop acting like he is a martyr. He’s just another reality TV star who got in trouble with the public for saying something unpopular. There is no religious persecution going on here. 

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In Response to “What Bible is Pope Francis Reading?”

My wonderful boyfriend and his new post about a confused capitalist who tries to take on Pope Francis

Living the Greys

Just for kicks, I thought I would throw off the more serious, scholarly-ambitions tone of most of my blog entires to write a brief response to a truly asinine article I recently read entitled, “What Bible is Pope Francis Reading?” wherein the author argues that Jesus was a capitalist.  Putting aside that this is rather anachronistic (the type of Enlightenment individualism championed by capitalist economists didn’t really exist until, well, the Enlightenment) (I), and not wanting to introduce my own anachronism, I tend the think that Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, appears to have been pretty antiauthoritarian and pro-egalitarian (not to mention pro-altruism), which would put him at odds with the hierarchical, pro-greed, pro-inequality nature of modern capitalist economic theory.

To begin, the author writes:

The misconception that Jesus’ message is anti-capitalist probably stems from the same confusion that pervades all leftist thinking: the inability to distinguish…

View original post 1,584 more words

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Jesus>Inerrancy

Lately I have been struggling deeply with the seemingly contradictory depictions of God in the Old Testament. It’s not, by any means, a new question, but it is a serious one. In the Old Testament, God often is shown to be merciful, loving, and just. The prophets are a great example of this. Time and time again God rebukes His/Her loved ones for terrible wrongs (oppressing the poor, needy, and aliens, and the slaughtering and horrific abuse of the innocent and helpless) followed by lovingly calling them back for healing and redemption. In many of the Old Testament laws it is demonstrated that God cares about the marginalized in society and makes provisions for their well-being and protection. However, we also see places in the Old Testament where God seems, quite frankly, to be a monster ordering the mass slaughter of innocent babies along with the guilty and ordering genocide several times. Furthermore, in the New testament we see the full revelation of the goodness and love of God in the person of Jesus Christ. He  opposed violence, oppression, and hatred in every form. How do we reconcile the Old Testaments’ seemingly contradictory pictures of God with the more unified picture of the divine Jesus, who appears to be utterly antithetical to the war-like God of the Old Testament? 

            As part of that journey, I found myself meandering through some of Greg Boyd’s old blog posts on this issue (see http://gregboyd.blogspot.com/2008/03/whats-at-stake-in-trying-to-explain.html). In doing so, I realized that my way of thinking regarding the interplay between belief in the inerrancy of scripture and one’s convictions about the character and goodness of God have changed in response to this topic. It isn’t that I have come to wholesale reject the concept of inerrancy, but rather that I have ceased to view it as “necessary” or “essential” and instead see it as something which is forever and always subordinate to the person of Christ. I would like to explain my tentative thoughts on why I submit this to be a necessary position to take when grappling with the question of the goodness of God in light of the Old Testament’s depictions of religious violence. 

            In the above-linked post, Boyd asserts: “I don’t believe in Jesus because the Bible says so. I believe in the Bible (mostly) because Jesus says so.” He then goes on to argue that he believes that Jesus was who he said he was based on the fact that he finds the New Testament accounts of Jesus to be historically reliable enough to grant that Jesus was probably who he said he was (reliable is the key word here, since it is true that one could come to the conclusion that the New Testament is historically reliable, and thus is evidence for Christ being the Son of God, without believing it to be infallible or even divinely inspired). Boyd also argues that he believes in Jesus because: “Second, I find that the over-all message of the New Testament, as well as the broader narrative of the Old Testament that forms its backdrop, harmonizes with my deepest intuitions about life.” Thus, Boyd offers a case for the idea that without adhering to the traditional belief in the inspiration or inerrancy of scripture, one can still have an honest belief in the deity and beneficence of Christ as the representation of God in our physical world. Essentially, I would say that I approve of this type of argument because it makes a great deal of sense to me that my belief in God more generally and Christ more specifically is based on relational, existential, and ethical grounds, not arbitrary canonical ones. This is a simplified version of this line of arguing, but it serves to briefly explain my main point that belief in the nature and character of God through the person of Jesus Christ precedes belief in the inspiration of scripture, and thus, scripture is subordinate to the revelation of Christ.  

            If God exists as the ultimate source of goodness and truth, then God obviously antedates and therefore justifies scripture, not vice versa. Therefore, inerrancy is not as important to me as is believing in a picture of God that is wholly worthy of worship and love. I would rather believe that God is perfectly good than believe that the Bible presents a perfect picture of God, notwithstanding what that picture may be. This isn’t to say that I firmly believe that the Bible does not present a picture of God that is wholly good, only that I am struggling towards a better understanding of how it may do so, without committing myself to the point of trying to “fit a square peg in a round hole”. I am inclined to defend the inerrancy of scripture, and thus suggest that we have either misunderstood the morally questionable passages of violence in the Old Testament or are missing some important piece of the puzzle (cultural or otherwise) that would justify them in light of the character of a good God, but I am not so committed to doing so that I would satisfy myself with bad arguments should I find none that are good. I am not interested anymore in maintaining the inerrancy of scripture at the expense of a unified and Christ-centered understanding of God. Either scripture presents a valid picture of God and is thus inerrant, or it presents a corrupted picture of God and is thus flawed, but perhaps still moderately reliable and worth careful study. 

            Some will undoubtedly argue that without the inerrancy of scripture, we cannot really know who God is. I will agree that rejecting the inerrancy of scripture (should it ever be found necessary, and I’m not saying that it is) would certainly muddy the waters of theology a bit. However, I would also argue that it may not really be the case that rejecting this doctrinal norm would render our relationship with God incomprehensible by any means. Scripture itself argues in Romans 1:20 that if our universe truly has a creator, the imprint and nature of that creator would be indelibly printed into the fabric of the world.  This is not to pronounce the old Christian trope that we can just look at nature to rid ourselves of doubt, for many people have complex questions about God that cannot be dealt with simply, but take much time, seeking, and contemplation. As someone who had experienced such doubts, I want to express that the use of this scripture is not to trivialize the seeker’s agony. Rather, I use it to support the idea that if we can come to know God because of a divinely implanted longing and an intuition of the transcendent, then scriptures are not our only means of communing with and gaining knowledge of God. Also, even if scriptures were not infallible, I would still argue that they present a somewhat unified account of humanities’ subjective experiences with God, and thus a discerning student can come to valid conclusions about God’s character through the study of scripture, regardless of whether it is inerrant or not. This fact combined with our careful study of God’s evident personality in the fabric of our universe could still provide us with a flourishing relationship with the person of Christ. 

            All of this, of course, is only a tentative argument pointing out why the inerrancy of scripture is not necessarily an “all-or-nothing” issue. As I stated above, I am still on a journey to reconcile certain scriptures with the picture of God as revealed in Christ, and it is not yet decided whether or not this task is impossible. I would venture to say that there are probably many ways of interpreting scripture which still render it justified in light of God’s goodness, and yet, not fallible in its original intended meaning. The point is that we cannot idolize scriptural inerrancy so much that we create an image of God which does not square with the image of Christ. 

            

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