Category Archives: christlike love

Man as an automatic leader and/or utterly untrustworthy animal?


cavemanWhen I read certain Christian publications, especially from American sources, I get the weird notion (tell me if I’m making straw man arguments here, I’d be glad to hear that all of this is a criticism of something that does not exist) that man, as opposed to woman, is both ‘hardwired’ to be

A.) The natural leader, who should lead in the family and in society!
and
B.) An utterly weak creature, who cannot control himself, even the sight of a strange woman in bikini will make him stumble.

Maybe this sounds logical to some people, but I do fail see any logic in it myself, and I find both options completely incompatible with each other, and also forms of quite unhealthily exaggerating and generalizing. If man is such a weak creature as B says, don not in a million years let him lead, please! Or let him and the woman lead together. But sorry, to me this makes no sense at all.

Old-fashioned patriarchy in the highly praised classical cultures may not have been the best system to live in if you were a woman, a slave or a child (a Roman ‘Pater familias’ sometimes even had the right to kill all of those whenever he wanted!), at least there was some kind of internal logic, although based on false facts: The old Greek (and some of the Church fathers influenced by them) believed that man only was a rational being, who could exercise self-control and virtues, and for that reason man was seen as superior to woman, who was seen as irrational, weak, lustful and dangerous. So it was the man who was seen as strong and virtuous, and therefore the man was the leader.

(Note also that the Christian religion was looked down upon by Romans exactly because it was considered, as Celsus said, “a religion of women, children and slaves”! Never heard any of the ‘masculinity in the church’ preacher ever talk about that though… )

Now compare this to the supposed logic of modern fundamentalist neo-patriarcy: The woman is seen as almost asexual in a way (the man is always initiating, the woman follows) and having no sexual desire of herself sometimes except in bad cases, but just dangerous by being what she is. In talk about relationships it seems to be always the boy who wants to go to far and too fast and the girl that needs to be the one who slows down.
Okay, some women can be dangerous seductresses, but apart from that it’s mostly even ignored or denied that women have a sex drive and are actually a lot like men. And anyway, according to this idea, above all it is the man who is weak, without self-control, and ultimately powerless against temptation, even unwilled temptation from a woman who dresses too short, so no woman should show some skin to not tempt this poor weak creature. Nor would the Greek or Romans recognise this as a man of any sorts…

What a weak wimp of a creature this man is, and how pitiful such a weak-willed being is. I wouldn’t let such a being even babysit my pet mouse if the poor thing would still be alive. And yet it still is this man who is supposed to always be the leader according to those who hold such views, apparently.

One would ask why, if we men as ‘visual beings’ are not even in the possibility of seeing a ‘sexy’ woman without having lustful thoughts or even controlling our deeds. (Note that here we go into very dangerous territory, this way of thought could lead to rape apologies and other abominations) Should he even be allowed to walk out alone on the street, with billboards using half-naked female bodies to sell random product not related to female humans at all on every corner? Maybe men should be protected and kept at home, and kept away from all women, and all women who would enter a place where men are should cover up.

We’re just to weak people, sorry. Lock us up, it’s not the women’s fault, they just are what the are. But men are just weak, keep them away from civilized humanity, and please, don’t give them any power at all.

(A side note, I never understood how people stressing an ‘every human is completely evil and cannot be trusted’ form of the theology of ‘total depravity’ can believe in strong hierarchical structures where fallen human beings are given quite a lot of power and responsibility and no-one should question them. The more depraved man is supposed to be, the more we need a system in which no man has too much power. No man (and I use it in a gender-inclusive sense here) can be trusted if we really are completely depraved! Balancing, dividing and delegating power should be a first concern for anyone who takes total depravity serious!)

Now, as we all know, luckily both thought systems A and B are quite wrong on some points:

To start, men nor women are completely weak creatures who have no chance of ever exercising self-control. And yes, I do believe men can have more self-control than post-Freudian-synchretizing Christian fundamentalists make them out to be. Although this might be not the easiest thing in a world where men are indeed conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to react to images of women’s bodies with sexual interest. We will indeed become very visually and dominated by what’s called ‘the male gaze’, and those things might not be originally ‘hard-wired’ in our brains, but our habits and conditionings do have form us and even alter our brain!

Ah, neuroplasticity is such a great thing, isn’t it? We aren’t hard-wired as some believe at all, but our wiring system forms when we grow up, and could develop in a lot of different ways. And even if we’re adults we can make new patterns and brain connections (Yes, it’s better to learn to play music as a kid, but sometimes there are examples of people who get an instrument later in their lives and learn to play music and make amazing stuff, like blues singer T-model Ford) and re-wiring is possible, but not easy, and in some cases it will always be a weaker spot and a temptation. I once read somewhere that people might need half of the time they spent in a bad habit or a relationship to really get over it…

This also means that a man who’s ‘trained in virtue’, or for example a Kung Fu master, who has been working on self-control, is a wholly different being than us postmodern Western wimps who believe the lies that we cannot say no to temptation and only know a world in which people just ‘follow their instincts’, (Even that expression is nonsense, most of the time we have a lot of incompatible instincts telling us to do completely opposite things, and it’s still our reason or something else that chooses between them, not our instincts themselves that lead us!)

And indeed, feeling attraction in itself might be unavoidable sometimes, but we can choose how it develops and what we do. If all patterns we have made are to just ‘go with the flow’ it might seem irresistible, but that’s because we’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy that might even have been written onto the hardware our internal system. Which makes it not that easy to fight, but still that doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility…;

Also, as a Christian, it’s nonsense to say that we are to love everybody, be good to everyone, and then make an exception for those whom we find attractive in the wrong situation. Aren’t we supposed to be mature enough anyway to cope with such things without running away from such a thing? No, they are human beings made in Gods image just like us, and we have to learn to see that, and respect them just like every other person. Attraction should not trump anything, au contraire, love, and respect, and friendship should trump whatever wrong intentions we might have when we feel misplaced attraction.

After all, attraction without love should not be acted upon because it dehumanizes. And if we are led by love and respect, we will see more interesting things in a person than that misplaced attraction alone.

So, man is not a creature to give absolute responsibility, but neither is he the untrustworthy animal some make him out to be. And a man in Christ, and even a virtuous man in any tradition who has formed the right habits, is not going to be led by the first impulse or instinct that comes up, and can do some quite impressive things sometimes. But it’s the same with a woman.

(And if you noticed that I didn’t say much about  A, I find the ‘every man is a leader’ idea so ridiculous that I didn’t even put much energy in it; and that  even apart from the ‘every woman is a follower’ bit that’s equally stupid. Let’s just note that the idea of a leader becomes quite devalued when 50% of the population is said to be one. Especially when there’ a lot of women leaders too… And a lot of men who should never in their lives be ‘leaders’ of anything at all)

And in the end it depends on our personality, our character and our calling whether we are to be a leader or not. Some men and women are good leaders, some are not, and will have other callings. Which is not something lower at all. The body needs both the eyes and the kidneys, and the nostrils and the pancreas…

Let’s all take up the responsibility we’ve been given, and do it together, and not be fooled by fundamentalism of pop-Freudianism that paralyses us and says we can’t do it, nor by any false ideology that says we shouldn’t be working together in this. Together is how it goes, as brothers and sisters! And whatever we do, let’s do it in love for the other, respecting the full humanity of each other. (Even the ones we don’t agree with that have despicable ideas!)

And let us not forget as Christians what the fruits of the Spirit are:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Are those not one of the basic characteristics of both men and women that profess to follow Christ? (Among other things as loving neigbors and enemies, and caring for the least, and not wanting to be leaders but servants?)

(And let us not mock nor belittle nor disbelieve in them, blaspheming the Spirit is a serious thing!)

Peace

Bram

On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?


I read this excellent bvenus_de_milo1logpost by Sarah Schwartz, and American Christian blogger, in which she apologises for the damaging way men are often viewed in her (sub)culture. A quite horrible view of men, that’s preached not just by women, but by men too. The way she expresses it goes probably a lot further than what I know from local Christian circles, but I do recognise it nonetheless. What’s more troubling is that I recognise it not mainly from Christian circles but much more strongly from other places, and it’s something I’ve always been sensitive towards because I found it quite painful.

I posted the post above on my facebook-wall with a quote from her and a short introduction:

Quite sexist to reduce men to this, not? I hope she exaggerates, but I do recognise some of it…
“You are nothing but a slave to your desires. You are a sex hungry, uncontrollable, animal-like creature with no capacity for empathy or self-control. It is laughable to think that you could possibly prize relationships over sex, people over sex, vows over sex. You are sub-human, and no one expects anything different from you.”

The first person on facebook who reacted, Simon, has no connection at all to American Christian fundamentalism at all, but did surely recognise it as a very real problem, even on facebook:

Too bad the capitalist consumerist greedy types never cease trying to rewire our brains… For example: as a male I am constantly bombarded with sex ads on facebook (to a point where it’s disgusting me), even after I ‘told’ facebook I’m in a relationship. It’s a never ending onslaught and I think it’s degrading for men as well as for women. We are more than sex hungry creatures who can’t control ourselves. We are more. People are more. Even most animals are more. But ‘they’ don’t want us to be more. They want to control us, divide us, make us manageable to be able to make lots of profit doing the least amount of effort possible.

And yes, it’s true, if Sarah’s quote above is the description of how men are seen in American Christian fundamentalism and likewise-minded circles, it does not differ much at all of how the media and the advertisement industry in our Western system of consumer capitalism is constantly abusing us, just for profit.
The only big and very substantial difference here is that fundamentalism wants to stop this, to keep men down and to draws walls around them and puts us in boxes imprisoned by guilt, and that consumer capitalism abuses it, that it wants to make money out of it, reducing both men and women to less than humans for the sake of Mammon, which is very, very, very, low.

What’s very painful is that I’ve met enough men (and women) who just go along the lines and follow the flow, who let themselves dehumanise, and act like it could not be differently. As if we are indeed hard-wired for this as modern ideologies as fundamentalism and pop-Freudianism claim, and that we can’t function otherwise. We buy into the lie, and buy the crap the want to sell us, and let it destroy potential relationships and friendships and trust and intimacy, and…
And I refuse to believe the lie, and I refuse to accept that the lie is being spread, that people are indoctrinated and re-wired to fit the “man=animal, woman=prey” stuff. I refuse this as a Christian, as a humanist, as a human being, as the human being that I am, as a friend of both men and women, as a lover, and as a father of 2 little girls.

Problem here, if we speak about ‘wiring’, is neuro-plasticity which results in the possibility of strong conditioning by making connections in our brains. Like Pavlov’s dogs we can be conditioned in a lot of ways, and also reprogrammed later in other ways. If I compare men to Pavlov’s dogs here it’s not to reduce them to animals, but because that’s how it works biologically for both Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris.
On the other hand, conditioning can be changed if we change our habits. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. We are not hardwired, and we can be rewired. We should work on this re-wiring if it hinders us from being human! This leads us to the old-fashioned idea of virtue, in which we follow a certain path of life that forms us.

I might need to clarify the word ‘misandry’ in the title for some of my readers, a words that means something as hatefullness towards man. It is a parallel to the word misogyny, which is actually the more visible part of the same problem here.
I don’t have a better word, but I am aware that it might a word that is rarely used (my spellchecker doesn’t know it) and that when it’s used, it is sometimes employed by people who come from a ‘war of the sexes’ worldview who say feminism should be fought in every possible way and want to turn the relationship between misogyny and misandry in a zero-sum game. I completely reject this line of thought, and want to be clear that I believe that sexism always has 2 sides, and that every system with heavy sexism against female human beings has another way of dehumanising male human beings, no matter how much power and privilege they have. Disconnect both sexes from each other and everybody gets dehumanised.
(I do think about Ursula Le Guins short stories about the planet Seggri here, with men having all the privilege, but women having all the rest, see my post on the sex-life of aliens and sexism on Earth) We need to treat both sexes (and all people who don’t fall into 2 binary genders) equally as humans. There is no other way. A zero-sum game approach to either women’s rights or men’s rights, or emmancipation of any minority group will always and invariably lead to some kind of ‘animal farm revolution’ which ends up with the same amount of oppression but differently distributed.

Women are human beings!
Men are human beings!
Everyone else who doesn’t fit in those 2 gender is a human being too.
And as a Christian I believe all human beings are made in Gods image.

There should be nothing radical about this !!!
It is more logical than our ABC or 2X2=3.

peace

Bram

More posts on similar subjects:
Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?
I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
the emerging Joneses and my anarchist marriage…
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…
A purity culture I don’t know…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…
Meditating on sexy models

Pope Francis as a universalist?


Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-1

Edit: Here is a catholic explanation. Doesn’t sound universalist at all if you ask me…

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, has already proven to be a controversial person from time to time in his career of only a few months. And luckily it has been in a surprisingly Christlike way, not in the way most modern liberal people expect popes to conservative and oldfashionedly irrelevant: The pope who denied the papal palace, shuns wealth, calls the church to focus on the poor,  washed the foot of women and Muslims instead of Catholic priests and criticised capitalism now stated that atheists are redeemed too and can do good works.

2 articles have been going round on facebook since yesterday, first one from the Vatican Radio and then one from the American Huffington post, which tried to interpret the words of the pope from an American perspective, but to me they seemed to miss the point and tried to make him answer questions he wasn’t addressing…

But let’s have a look at what our papal friend is saying:

“The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

(bold parts from the Vatican radio website)

Some people, like Paul from disoriented, reoriented, actually do think Francis’ words point to Christian universalism (the idea that through the saving work of Christ all will be saved in the end), and point to the old tradition of universalism within christianity that goed back to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, but I’m not so sure of that actually. I don’t have much problems with hopeful universalism or even praying for the salvation of Satan in the end (as Gregory of Nyssa did), but I believe in free will, and I am afraid that some will never be able to enjoy an eternity with God, it would be hell to them.  But it’s not my task to even speculate about those things, let alone proclaim that I know all the answers here.

It is clear that the pope is an inclusivist here, not in the the sense of salvation (which is not addressed) but when it comes to doing good, which is what is expected from all human beings. (I suppose Rahners idea of anonymous Christians or the older idea of virtuous pagans does fit in here somewhere.)

What we can be sure of though is that the pope here rejects 2 doctrines that are important to certain protestant traditions, especially those based on Calvinism: limited atonement (Jesus did only die for the chosen)  and total depravity (man is fallen in a comprehensive way, and can’t do good himself)

(My problem with total depravity lies in the people whom the NT calls good and just, like Zachary and Elisabeth who were Thora-abiding Jews, and Cornelius who was a God-fearing pagan. Apart from that I do believe very strongly in human depravity, and I see it all the time in the news, around me, and in myself!)

The pope acknowledges here simply that all people can do good, whether they’re atheists or catholics:

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

What’s interesting is that he roots the possibility of doing good works both in Creation (man being the image of God) and in being redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Note also that Pope Francis is speaking about good works and bringing peace here. he isn’t speaking about salvation per se, especially not in ‘going to heaven after you die’ kind.Francis in his view on Christianity seems to be focussed more on the ‘here and now’ aspect of the Kingdom of God, specifically for the ‘least of those’ than about the ‘pie in the sky’ dimension of salvation that some people prefer.

To be sure about how to interpret what the pope said I asked  a catholic, Rob Allaert who writes in Dutch on http://www.thuiskerk.be , and he responded with the next paragraph:

Redemption needs to be uderstood as gift and assignment. Become who you are in Christ. Or as Saint Paul would have it: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” So, there is an assignment attached to salvation which has in itself a universal scope.

(He also said my interpretation in this post ‘nailed it’.)

So, redemption is only the beginning point here, not the end point at all as ‘salvation’ is often seen in  evangelicalism. Salvation may be universal, but it gives us ‘an assignment’. I don’t think I can disagree with that actually. I even think we should say the same about predestination: if some are predestined by God, it is not just to be saved themselves, but to bring Christ, and salvation and redemption, to this broken world.

So what can we take from this, except from a strong affirmation of the popes inclusivism and love for all people of all religions, and the call to everyone for peace and doing good? I hope there’s also the last thought included somewhere: Loving God and neighbor as the great commandment says (which will include living out that love, maybe even in radical ways) is not the way to salvation, it is part of salvation itself. The Christian idea of both heaven and the Kingdom of heaven on earth looks forward to a world in which all relationships have been restored, and everyone and everything lives in harmony with God, other humans, and all of Creation.

If that’s what the pope means, I agree with him…

what do you think

Bram

PS: The most creepy thing about a universalist pope, especially if he is the second pope after John Paul II, is that in the dispensationalist end-times plots I encountered as a kid (that the pentecostals for some had borrowed from dispensationalism) the endtimes-pope would be some kind of ‘all-religions-are equal’ universalist who would be very popular but open the door for the worship of the beast 666 by the people of all religions.
(Not that real Christian universalism in which it is Christ and Christ alone who saves all would apply here, let alone a pope who calls the Church back to following the gospel in simplicity as Francis does. But somewhere in me the idea still lingers sometimes, and it feels a bit creepy…)

Evangelicals don’t listen to Jesus enough?


jesus-really-follow-me-twitter-450x408

Sometimes when I read the gospels and then see myself and fellow Christians, I wonder about the difference between what I read and what is expected as ‘normative’ in contemporary Christianity.  As a non-American I do see a lot of weird Americanist synchronism hiding as ‘conservative Christianity’. Sometimes when I see the Christian subculture with all its distractions I really understand Ghandi who said ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ’

Today I read an article by what looks to me like a good oldfashioned American baptist preacher, that reminds me that evangelicals, that all christians who proclaim to be ‘followers of the bible’ can in no way be expected to sweep the words of Jesus under the mat. There is no alibi for that. Read 10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep conveniently forgetting by pastor Joe McKeever here.

I am quite sure we all need to be reminded of a lot of those, or even if you’d disagree with some of his conclusions, just take all his bible verses as a starting point, or start with the words of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) of the sermon on the plain in Luke 6 read every day and taken serious in all aspects of our lives are enough to shake and challenge a lot of our traditions and assumptions. And let’s not forget that both pieces of teaching  I’ve named are concluded by Jesus with :

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!

So would living according to the words of Christ maybe be a good idea for those who claim to follow Him? Is it not the only thing we should expect that anyone who claims to be a ‘bible-following Christian’ tries to do. Love our neighbour, love our enemies, bless those who persecute you (even rejoice when they persecute you for Christ’s sake!), take care for the poor and sick, etc…

And yes, I know I’m still nowhere with that either, but I wish we would see that as a real problem, more than a lot of problems we evangelicals like to see that might be quite irrelevant…

Bram

Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?


This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”. The list with the contributions , which I recommend you to read too, can  be found at the end of this post.

I am one of those calvin-and-susie-25895people whose mere existence can be a threat to some peoples worldview…

I really don’t get certain (sub)cultural taboos for example, and they actually are quite unnatural and illogical to me. One of them is the way American conservative people are offended by the word ‘shit’, but that might be for another time. Today it’s about the idea that ‘men and women can’t be friends’. This is something that seems to be a doctrine in certain Christian circles, but I’ve also encountered it in other places that were completely unchristlike, and actually have thought it  to be misogynist worldliness for a long time. And moreover, everything I know in my life points to the obvious fact that this is just nonsense…

If we skip the discussion about the segregation of the sexes that exists in certain Muslim context for example, and just look at the cultures I more or less align with, we still find enough examples. I remember as a teenager that I was watching a Flemish talkshow on the subject, and there were people for whom it was natural that such friendships were possible, but also some kind of weird loud working-class guy who said that it was impossible for men and women to be friend, with some reasoning about sex and gender roles and a lot of stuff I could not relate to. I think that was the first time I realised that some people had the idea that cross-gender friendships are impossible, or even harmful.

Maybe for some personality types it is harder, I don’t know, I suppose so. I also wonder if you’re used to watching women as lust objects it is harder to relate to them as friends… at least that was my explanation for the phenomenon that some people were unable to be friends with the other sex. I had noticed early enough (and seen it again and again) that the type of man who likes to boast about watching porn and make remarks about women passing by on the street was less likely to have ‘just’ friendships* with women (the sort of women they found attractive that is, they might be friends with the old lady behind the bar or so…)

The thing is that I was the kind of boy who always found it easier to make friends with girls than with boys. And there was no ‘hidden agenda’ for me, I’ve always tended to friend girls whose presence I liked, but to whom I did not have romantic attraction. (At that age I was too shy to friend girls I was in love with anyway, it made me uncomfortable and stuff. Poor me…) So anyone who ever tells me it’s impossible to have friends of the other sex is like someone telling a Martian that aliens don’t exist. Not in a million years it will ever be convincing unless you destroy my identity…

As a Christian teenager I  liked to hang out with girls more than with boys, and was friends with several of them, and never heard (or at least did not understand from what I heard) that it could be wrong. I heard a lot of stuff about relationships, but since I’ve been single until I was 21 or so, that stuff wasn’t relevant. what I did hear was that friendship was important in a relationship, and I never conceived that a friendship with a person of the other sex not leading to a romantic relationship or a marriage could ever be a problem…

Maybe I sometimes encountered stuff like stories of pastors who wouldn’t even be alone with a woman not their wife, or of the dangers of meeting other women alone if you had a relationship, but that did not apply to a single person who was not at all such an exotic thing as an American pastor… And to be honest, not much difference happened (except for a shift in priority) when I started a relationship, or even when I married.

Later when I was in my late twenties I saw some signs that it was actually a taboo, especially for married people, to have cross-gender friends. But I was actually married by that time, and both me and my wife still had good friends of the other sex, so I just found it weird, and couldn’t relate to the idea. Upon investigating the subject it turned out a lot of people would find my life and friendships unnatural and dangerous, or just not possible. (Americans seem to like to quote some movie about Harry and Sally on the subject, but I’ve never seen it, and I don believe in the cannonisation of Hollywood movies at all… I also find it quite nonsensical from the viewpoint that a lot of people are bisexual. Should they have no friends?)

But it became a subject that held my interest. I learned a lot about the subject from the blog of Dan Brennan, (and his excellent book sacresacredd unions, sacred passions) who did come from a point of view where he had to defend his positive views about cross-gender friendships all the time, which was not always as relevant to me, but he also laid out a beautiful history of cross-gender friendships, and a quite interesting positive theology of cross-gender friendships in the already-and-not-yet Kingdom of God.  He only confirmed my conviction that friendships are part of the command to love one another, and that this does not exclude people of the other gender.
(Something that’s quite obvious in the way Jesus relates to women in the gospels, sometimes completely contrary to the culture he lived in!)

So, what’s my conclusion: cross-gender friendships should be natural to those who followed Him who called us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is part of the already and not yet of the inbreaking Kingdom of God in our world. I also think that learning to develop friendship-love towards the other sex is a very good antidote to the toxic tendency to  objectify women (and men!) in our society as sex-objects. My life and my faith would be poorer without them, and even my marriage would never have been what it is without what I’ve learned through cross-gender friendships.

shalom

Bram

The other synchroblog participants:
Chris Jefferies – Best of both
Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible
Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age
Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
Alise Wright - What I get from my cross-gender friend
Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church
Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships
Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers
Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women
Maria Kettleson Anderson- Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships
Bram Cools - Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?
Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women
Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul
Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship
Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion - Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians
Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship



See also on this blog:

Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
On cross-gender friendships and Christians…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
christians and cross-gender friendships
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
sacred unions, sacred passions (musical prelude)
sacred unions, sacred passions I: beyond the romantic myth
Sacred unions, sacred passions II: Freud and the irresistible sex drive
on sexy porn models and human dignity

* There is no such thing as ‘just’ friendship. A real friendship is a very valuable relationship that is not at all less valuable than a romantic relationship or a marriage. This expression just shows that our culture has a too low view of friendship!

Loose thoughts on Zwingli in purgatory…


And now for something completely different, before I go back to the problem of fallible language and our modern pretence of being able to know everything, which is also the basis for a lot of evangelical theology.

Roger Olson, quite interesting bible scholar who (unlike me) proudly wears the label of ‘Arminian’, makes a very interesting remark in a blog post, that is very interesting as a standalone paragraph, and quite unrelated to the book about Emperor Constantine that he’s criticising, and that raises some interesting poinst for me.

To what extent should we let historical figures off the hook just because of the cultural context and the times in which they lived—especially when they claimed to be Christians and had their Bibles and read them? Should we excuse Zwingli for having the Zurich city council torture Hubmaier? By all accounts Zwingli stood in the torture chamber and demanded that Hubmaier, who had come to Zurich at Zwingli’s invitation for a debate assuming protection, recant his Anabaptist views. And, of course, Zwingli fully supported the drowning of Anabaptist men and women. Shall we say “Well, those were harsh times?” I don’t think so. Either Zwingli is in hell or he had to go through a purgatory-like process before entering heaven. If you don’t believe in anything like purgatory (even C. S. Lewis’ highly Protestantized version), I don’t see how you can avoid putting Zwingli in hell.

The first one is Zwingli himself, one of the big names among the protestant reformers who has been almost a footnote in my church history lessons. I’ve always felt that I disliked his very low view on sacraments, and wondered if tendencies towards a very low and reduced view of the sacrament of bread and wine among evangelicals and pentecostal can be traced back to him, but I’ve never known much about the guy… The story of the tortured Anabaptists is completely new to me, and quite disgusting, and it reminds me of the story of Calvin and Servetus. Which is also a horrible story, as there are too much of them in the history of Christianity, while Christ taught us other things… The question of whether those people are in hell is not one I have to answer, but just letting such people go directly to heaven, people who did great deeds of evil while being a Christian without repenting for them, would be a big problem.

Heaven (whatever that is, I would think the resurrection on the New Earth is the most biblical view) would cease to be heaven in any meaningful with such guests as residents… So the question becomes not what we would do in our theology with those historical figures, but how would an unrepentant killer of heretics ever be part of something that’s even remotely heaven?

So that brings us to Olson’s note about purgatory. He’s been writing about the topic more (see here for example if you want to know more about what he calls ‘C.S. Lewis’ highly protestantized version’) and he clarifies in the comments with “My idea of purgatory is that, if it exists, it would be educative and corrective, not punitive.” I don’t know much about the afterlife, but I do know that most people who die, even if they have not been killing fellow believers or other stuff like that, are not perfect, and not fit for heaven. so I suppose there needs to be some ‘correction’ (which might be over time or in a moment) but the correction is needed in any way. Even if Christians might be forgiven, but they are still tainted by sin and they do horrible things. We need the good thing that has begun in us to be perfected, to just be able to be with God forever…

(Which is why I don’t like theologies that seem to take sin as merely a legal problem, or an offence to God, and not something needs to be destroyed in our lives and all of Creation, not just forgiven afterwards. Sin is a real destructive problem,and just being forgiven without being changed does not make sense. Just being declared ‘innocent’ when we are changed in nothing but our legal status (which is only changed because God does not see us when he looks at us but Jesus, as some would say) sin has not been defeated, and our redemption is a lie unless the only problem is that God needs to put sinners in hell, making God more of a problem than sin…)

I know this is more of an unstructured rant, so if you have more input, please help me…
shalom

Bram

Some more on authority in sex, egalitarian pleasuring parties and rape fantasies…


[trigger warning: stuff perceived as weird misogyny and rape]

This is a elaboration of what I said in my last post (Read it to understand what I’m talking about…) because the more I think about it, the less sense some things seem to make, and the less I understand the conflicting message of the Gospel Coalition about ‘authority’ in marriage. So after the problems of language, definition and connotation, let’s go back to the real issue discussed here. Some things sound quite contradictory for me, specially when the idea the Gospel Coalition wants to promote is “I am a proponent of marriages that mutually edify, marital sex that is mutually submissive, and Christian relationships in general that “serve and protect” rather than “devour.”” What I read in the GC post Rachel quoted points in a totally different direction actually, at least it does to me as an outsider and non-initiated in the weird world of American ‘complementarianism’, even when I try to read it otherwise, and even if the post is supposed to be against the “50 Shades of Grey and other modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission.”…

There are much more things that shock me in the short post than the problematic assertion that “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.“, that Wilson himself supposes to be the main problem (which is quite problematic indeed, when we remember that colonizing and conquering left half of our planet in ruins after we Westerners got better weapons and more lnowledge in the last 500 years..).

He says that “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party.”, but I have no idea at all what he means with this cloudy sentence except that it’s though that he seems to be squeezing in the name of a perceived enemy (‘egalitarianism’) that he seems to associate with ‘modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission’, probably to assert their own identity against it and blame it for the evils of the ’50 shades’ stuff.

So exactly how is it that t’he sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasury party’? As far as I know it is evident that sex both partners are equally naked and vulnerable, and surely ‘the sexual act’ needs 2 different bodies doing different things, so it could be said that the two lovers ‘complement’ each other. But I don’t see how a healthy view of sex could not mean in those differences to still have a mutual giving and receiving at the same time. So as for ‘pleasuring’ the other in ‘the sexual act, isn’t it logical that man and woman in their different ways do give everything to give themselves to their partner? In that way the description ‘egalitarian pleasuring party’ is a very good one, and the other way to understand the phrase (2 people doing exact the same thing) is just impossible and nonsense.

But there is more, what I find even more disturbing is the following:

But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine.

Firstly, I am a man and I don’t have rape fantasies, I don’t even understand them, and I don’t want anyone to tell me that they would be normal for people that don’t subscribe to your views on what I can only read as dominion. I am as uninterested in all this authority stuff as I am in rape… As an egalitarian (vaguely, sometimes terms like this carry too much baggage in polarised discussions like this one) I could conclude that these ‘bondage and submission’ games and ’50 shades’ stuff are the unhealthy outcome of an unhealthy system in which endless power plays and dominion damage people… That may be as wrong as Wilson’s theorizing, but to me it seems quite plausible from my kind of view… And connecting this authority-in-sex-gone-wrong just does not make any sense. Sorry.

Btw, aAll this authority-stuff when emphasized all the time will just frustrate people. And especially with a theology that makes 50% of the population supposed to be ‘leaders’ (just because they possess XY chromosomes and a penis) you create a lot of frustration, since having 50% leaders makes most of those ‘leaders’ only leaders in name, with a completely insignificant ‘leadership’, so I can imagine them working that out on their spouses and families, the only place where they can pretend to be the leaders they are only in theory. But again, this is just theorizing in thin air, as much as Wilson is doing in the above quote.

Dominion and powerplay from both sides of the line are not something I enjoy, those things always take a lot of energy that could be used anywhere. It makes me quite frustrated when I encounter people who are too bent on both dominating or being dominated. I probably am a personally ‘naturally egalitarian’ person, and I don’t feel the need to express neither authority not submission towards other human beings; I like relationships as an equal person. (Yes, I will submit to someone if they know more about the job we’re doing, or lead if I am more qualified, but that is a question of role, not of person)

And what the next paragraph means in real life, I can only guess, I understand the words, but they don’t convey anything coherent to me, except when the authority and submission are mutual, which is (as far as I know) the egalitarian point of view that they don’t like :

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.”

Like I said earlier, the only healthy view of sex that I can understand (and that the Gospel coalition seems to want to affirm) is one of mutual self-giving and receiving, which would mean both mutual authority and mutual giving up all authority towards the other. And to be frank, I do not understand at all why anyone would have authority in sex at all, sex is playful, more like a game you do together… If there is any authority in a game, it’s or defining rules made by it’s Maker, or rules that both the players follow together. I just don’t see how ‘authority’ of the man over the woman would ever work without getting abusive. (And I would see it even less if I believed in Calvinist total depravity)

If you want to talk about authority in sex as a Christian, you should speak about mutual submission to the others authority, and to Gods laws (for example the law of doing everything in love and not abusing the other and pushing the partner to do something they don’t want)

Now, one thing that might be forgotten in this discussion is that the Gospel Coalition seems to have a completely different view of how  authority works than I have.  I would think all Christian authority is based in self-giving, in giving up yourself as Jesus did on the cross. All this talk about authority seems to propagate (to me as outsider) seems to be quite opposite to that, and (at least to me) seems like asserting the importance of dominion and control of certain people over others, and not at all self-giving in love. So I wonder if there’s a underlying problem in theological worldview and definitions… All this talk about submission and authority just gives me the impression of dominion and control, even if they say the whole time that they don’t mean it that way….

(And I always thought that ‘submission’ was the translation of  the word ‘Islam’, not of the the core of Christianity. Self-giving love, like Jesus showed on the cross, may be a better candidate here…)

Now to be short about the 50 shades stuff that the original post reacted to, I don’t know anything about it and I choose to remain unknowing about such things. And like I said already, I agree that rape fantasies and actually all forms of control in sex are sinful… But the problem here is that all this talk of authority and submission for an outsider like me does not promote anything but the idea of sexual control of men over women. If that is not what they mean, they need to use other words and explain what they mean differently… To me they are contradicting each other all the time…

what do you people think?

Shalom

Bram

‘Saint’ Constantine the not-so-great vs the sermon on the mount… (E. Stanley Jones)


Regular readers of this blog will know how much I appreciate certain other Christian traditions. Traditions that I love deeply are quite incompatible streams in Church history like for example the Orthodox tradition, Franciscanism, certain strands of anabaptism and the quakers… I guess I do have my disagreements with every tradition (including my own tribe) as they do among each other too, but I believe that we need all of them (probably even those whom I do not like and don’t feel much affinity with, like fundamentalism and Calvinism) to complete the Church of Christ. And I am very likely to be wrong myself on some things too…

I like for example  the Orthodox for their connection with the early Church and the church fathers, which makes them the keepers of a lot of treasures that we modern Western Christians have lost long ago but are needing right now. But on the other hand I could never agree with some other things, like their veneration of someone like emperor Constantine the Great as a saint, and some of the nationalism going on in some Orthodox churches… Which is why I (as a postmodern generic charismatic and more-or-less Wesleyan evangelical) do think we need the Anabaptist testimony too…

The next piece from E.Stanley Jones in my opinion shows why we need to recover the emphasis on the enemy-love and the rest of the sermon on the mount, and it offers -very daringly- a critique to the emphasis of the ancient creeds. (I do not say that the next piece describes all of the fathers, I have read a lot from them that would qualify for good Lovers in the path of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.)

Suppose we had written it in our creeds and had repeated each time with conviction:

“I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it” !

What would have happened? I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would have been different. With emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother-in-law Licinius ; sentenced to death his eleven-year-old nephew, killed his eldest son, Crispus; brought about the death of his second wife; took the nails that were supposed to come from the cross of Christ and tised one in his war helmet and another on the bridle of his war horse. Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church and his memory celebrated “as equal to the apostles.” He talked and presided at the opening of the Council of Nicea, which was called to frame a creed, and he was hailed as “a .bishop of bishops.” Could this have happened if the men who had gathered there had made the Sermon on the Mount an essential part of the Creed? It had no place in it, so Constantine could be at home. What had happened was that the Christian Church had been conquered by a pagan warrior. And the church allowed itself to be thus conquered, for this ideal of Christ did not have possession of its soul.

E. Stanley Jones, the Christ of the Mount

As someone who borders on paleo-orthodoxy this is something I wrestle with, but I indeed do miss in the creeds the emphasis on Jesus as the Way, and on Christians as followers of the Way, which is Christ. And where do we find a better description of the Way of Christ than in the sermon on the mount?

And there is something highly disturbing about Constantine in a lot of ways…

So what do you think?

shalom

Bram

The imago dei, or very very basic Christian humanism…


A Japanese orthodox Facebook friend posted something quite beautiful this morning, that fits perfectly with something that I’ve been contemplating lately:

Question: Do you know why Orthodox monastics bow to the ground when they meet someone?

Answer: Because they see all they encounter as Icons of God, and honor the image of God in every person by bowing to them.

I don’t think bowing for everyone would be very practical, but I love the idea behind it, and I think it points to something we should learn about more as Western Christians: honoring the image of God in every human being.

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

(Gen 1:27, NET-bible)

I would call this ‘basic Christian humanism’: the idea that every human being is of infinite worth, because he or she carries the image of God. This idea of the imago dei was behind the first wave of what was called humanism in the Renaissance time (think people like Erasmus). It’s only much later that humanism and Christianity were disconnected from each other, and that ‘humanism’ became associated with atheism.

Every human might be fallen and affected by sin, but it’s also true that every human bears the image of God. From the mightiest president and the noisiest rockstar to the poorest immigrant and the tiniest baby. All of them. And that makes all of them, even the ones we can’t help but dislike or hate, worthy of respect. Even enemies deserve our love, as Jesus taught us.

No human being is worthless,
no human being is disposable.
Treating any human like that is blaspheming Gods image!

God, open my eyes,
let me see Your Image,
in everyone,
let me see Your fingerprints
on all of Creation
let me honor all glimpses
of Truth and Beauty
they are all Yours,
everything good and perfect
comes from You
praise to Father, Son and Spirit,
Three-in-one,
Amen

what do you think?

shalom

Bram

Meditating on sexy models


Note: I write as a straight white male, and I do write from my own perspective. I do think a lot of what I say could be relevant to other readers that are not straight males, but for readability I don’t make everything gender-inclusive. If you are a person who is visually aroused in a sensual way by male bodies, or by both sexes, just read the sex you’re attracted to instead of female and your own gender instead of male.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some discussions I had on my facebook wall after I posted this next cartoon:

(Probably irrelevant note on this cartoon: I must confess that I do find sunglasses more unattractive than the Niqab the woman is wearing. I also find that sunglasses + bikini make it easier to turn a woman into something abstract than anything that shows the eyes)

I have the creepy idea that both our Western pornification and the Eastern way of hiding women are 2 sides of the same rotten coin, in which women (and more generally humans) get reduced to sexual objects that can be either pursued as such (in our heads or in real life) or should be avoided as a cause of sin, and this covered up and hidden from sight.

I’m not a fan of what I’ve just called the ‘Eastern’ view because I find it completely dehumanizing. I’ve read about ‘bleeding Pharisees’ who were alleged to be so afraid to see a woman that they did look away all the time when walking on the streaky and so bumped into everything that stood in their way in the street. [I hope that this is just a dumb religious urban legend] I also remember a conversation with a Muslim colleague in a former job, who explained to me that women had to be covered up because men just can’t control themselves when seeing one.

All of this is not just sexist towards women, I’m also quite infuriated by the low view of man that is espoused here, and I am afraid that men who are trained to think like this might indeed grow into the type of man that cannot watch a woman without having wrong sexual thoughts about her. As a Christ-follower I do try to take the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount serious:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

Yes, looking lustfully at a woman, using her as a sex-object in your head, is adultery of the heart. Auch; Note also: Jesus clearly speaks to the watching man as the responsible party, not about the woman. Our thoughts, and the way we look at women, are our responsibility. Jesus himself never practised the ‘run-away-from-everything-female-that-might-seduce-you’ tactics at all. He speaks with the woman at the well as an equal for example,  which goes against his culture. Even his followers are surprised by that. And in other places in the gospels we see that Jesus nowhere treats women as sex objects or dangerous sources of sexual sin, but as human beings.

anyway, let’s not blame just the oldschool guys and the Muslims faraway, and their Christian counterparts in certain more fundamentalist corners. We enlightened neoliberal capitalist Westerners are even worse. Billboards everywhere with sexy bodies on it, that are made to make us spend our money on completely unrelated crap. And I’m not even talking about porn here. The line of thought is scarily similar: men will not control their thoughts when seeing a sexy female body. Only we do not at all attempt to control it, we cultivate it, and some industries use it to make a lot of money. And I suppose the porn industry is making even more money than the advertisement industry that I’m criticizing right now.

Let’s go back to the billboards with half-naked women that I talked about. We are not able to avoid advertisements that are put there for everyone to see sometimes, and I do not believe at all that the ‘bleeding pharisees’ are a healthy model to copy at all…;We as Christians should exhibit a scandalous love towards all humans, including those abused sisters on those pictures!

The solution is not to always look away, we don’t do anything about the root problem then: women remain just something that makes us sin, instead of human beings made in the divine image. We have to learn HOW to look if we can’t avoid it.

Just running away solves nothing. Forming character is important. Which means sometimes that you actively have to form your habits, and that’s not always an easy task. But what I’ve been doing lately when I saw such female figures that I couldn’t avoid looking at was a small meditation, which did open my  eyes.

So here it is, as the title promised: a meditation on sexy models, to be performed while looking at a billboard of a sexy body that is used to sell something completely unrelated to the female human. And indeed, maybe it’s not very healthy to go looking for an occasion for such a thing, but when you’re already in the staring situation, this kind of meditation might be a good turnaround:

1.  first ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, for His eyes to look at people… Ask for forgiveness on any wrong dehumanizing thoughts (looking at her as either a sex object or a dirty slut!) if you have had any of those. Thoughts can not always be avoided, but they can be stopped. (The bible even speaks of ‘taking thoughts captive in Christ!)  And if the Spirit would say to look away, ignore this meditation. Your path might not be mine. But even then,

2. Look at her as a whole, as a person. Look for her eyes. Try to find the person behind it. (If possible) Maybe try to think about the photograph, how it was taken. About the fotoshoot, about how she was working and ‘acting’.

3. Think about her as a child, being with her grandparents. Or other very human situations. She is a person just like you, with friends and troubles, with hopes and dreams and little and big frustrations.

4. Remind yourself this: This is a human being, made in the image of God. Try to see it. She might be abused by a capitalist system, she might be abusing her body herself, but nothing of that will take away she still is a human being like you, incredably valuable since SHE IS CREATED IN THE DIVINE IMAGE, just like you are. Let that sink in. She should not be reduced to a sex object, but neither should she looked down upon as a ‘slut’ or whatever categories you have in your head for ‘sinful women’. She is your sister, and should be looked at this way.

5. Pray for her, for her life to be invaded by Gods kingdom.

6. Pray for God to help you look at every woman the way He does.

Remember that rewiring thought patterns is hard. But that does not mean that you cannot change and be modelled more and more to the mind of Christ.

This kind of exercises is also very good with other people that you tend to dehumanize in very different ways, like ‘your enemies’ (only if you love them and pray for them you will be ‘sons of god’ in Matthew 5:45-46)  those with, whom you disagree so much you don’t take them serious as a human being, those far away dying in wars on TV, etc… All of those are Human beings, created in Gods image, of immense worth! Even the worst criminal!

My question now: If those things are so important to Jesus in the gospel (loving our fellow humans, even loving our enemies) why aren’t these the things we train ourselves in as Christians, and train ourselves some more in it, and invite the Spirit to help us grow in it? Why isn’t this one of our top priorities?

so, what do you think? Am I crazy? Unrealistic? any other comments?

shalom

Bram