Category Archives: christian sexism

Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’


For this post we’ll go fXXXurther where I left off in my post about John Piper and nudity a while ago. There was one subject that we had to address there: the myth that ‘men are visual’.

Why do I speak of a ‘myth’ here? I in no way inted to use the word ‘myth’ pejorative, since I do think myths can be something very positive. I use it here as an explaining narrative that is believed in a certain culture. Think of Greg Boyds use of the word in his book title ‘the myth of a Christian nation. A myth doesn’t even just explain, it also forms identity.

What is meant with visual here? It is used for being aroused most by the things that we see. If we let go of the subject of sex here we see that different personality types do react more to different senses and different ways of data-input. Some people are better in learning stuff when they hear it, others when they read it, or when they experience it, etc… This differs from person to person, and has nothing at all to do with sex or gender.

So some people are visual. Their eyes are their main way of getting information and impulses through so that it connects. Visual people will get more from paintings and video’s (or written texts) more than spoken words or music or so. But it’s always a matter of degree, all people that are not visually handicapped are ‘visual’. But some are more auditive, or even tactile, or…

If we look at it this way, the question arises why all men would be mainly ‘visual’ when it comes to sex as our myth says, compared to women who seem to be not visual at all?

The first thing I can say is that I don’t believe that this is true. I am not that visual sexually myself, touch and closeness are much more important to me. And I’ve heard and read women who described being visual in a way that went far beyond anything I understand. I don’t get physically aroused that easily just from seeing a person of the other sex that is more or less attractive at all…

Recently I read a blogpost from an American ex-fundamentalist girl that now lives in Europe that often writes very interesting stuff. I quote it here not to expose here in any way, but as an example of a woman that clearly is ‘visual’ while I am a man that isn’t at all, if this is ‘being visual’. (I do disagree with her on something important, but we’ll get to that later)

When I see a man, dressed and all, I do not look at his impressive jaw or deep grey eyes or strong hands.

I look at your muscles, and your hips, and your nose (guess why). And if I can’t see them cause you’re wearing some fancy t-shirt, let me assure you: I can perfectly well imagine you naked. And even worse: I do it. all. the. time.

When I look at a man, I don’t stare at his eyes because they reflect some promise of love and tenderness. I look at your chest and imagine what it would look like in dim light. I wonder if you have a “V” and then I wonder if it would look good on you (it doesn’t on everyone).

(..)

I have all the imagination I need to picture you naked, even when you’re fully dressed. You cannot escape it, no matter how you behave or what you wear or say or do. I do not care about your positive character qualities. Not one – tiny – little – bit.

I’ll go back to this quote later, but let’s for now just say that it should be evident from my own experience, from what she describes, and from the people I met in my life some people (men and women) are visual when it comes to sex, and some are less visual (also men and women).

So our ‘men are visual (and women not)’ myth fails blatantly as a myth that tries to explain something, and to form identity. But on the other hand, our society is indeed oriented towards the exploitation of the male gaze and the female sexiness. A lot of money can be made of that in the advertisement industry if people can abuse sexy female to sell about just anything unrelated to female humans.
We just have to always remember, like I said before, this is in no way a question of ‘hard-wiring’ but of ‘programming’. The visual stimuli that arouse a person sexually aren’t even fixed. We Westerners seem to be obsessed with female breasts, but in some cultures men are used to seeing naked breasts without ever connecting those with sex. In other cultures even the sight of a bare ankle or arm might be very sexy and considered quite inappropriate. So what we’re talking about here is just a cultural thing, and a form of conditioning that is formed when we grow up.

So I a way it’s only ‘just’ a learned thing, in another way it is a programmation that might be hard or in some cases impossible to get rid of in this lifetime, especially if all you ever see is affirmations of it. But in no way it is a question of being ‘hard-wired’

We are no robots, remember?

So, some men and women are more visual than others when it comes to sex, but men are conditioned to be visual (because that can be abused commercially easily, although there will be other reasons too), and in some environments women are said that they are not at all visual. Which is a lie, some women are as visual as the most visual men, while others aren’t. this is quite damaging to women who are visual sexually. It’s part of a bigger ‘men want sex, women want love, so women just give sex to feel loved’ myth that is equally damaging and dehumanising to both sexes. I’m a man, but if I have to choose between a world without sex and a world without (romantic) love, I’ll choose to let go of sex, not love. Not in a million years

Another thing that should be noted is the logical fallacy of taking one step too far in the quoted blogpost, which seems to be very common. Like I said, being visual means that we get aroused though things we see. That’s all it means. It does not mean that there has to be a second step of reducing the person you see and find attractive to a sex object that you can use in your fantasy. Those things DO NOT have to follow from each other. Nakedness is just nakedness btw, we focus way too much on connecting nudity with sex. And no it’s not because I see a (clothed or naked) woman that I find visually arousing that I automatically have to make the step to fantasize about having sex with her.

Being visual (easily visually stimulated) and having sexual fantasies about strangers easily are not at all the same thing!

But we do probably have to come back to the conditioning problem here. If you’re used to making that step, it has formed a conditioned reflex, and it might be hard to unlearn it or imagine that people would not make that step. As hard as it is for me to imagine that anyone would be so perverted to automatically make that step… It must be very tiring if people really have a reflex every time the see an attractive person that’s their type to have fantasies about having sex with that person. I’m glad I’m not in that situation at all…

Ah, neuroplasticity

It’s also generally quite hard to communicate about these things because everybody has only their own experience (and the acummulated input of a lifetime) as a point of reference, and most people easily assume everybody (or everybody of their own sex/gender) is like them. What I’ve learned is that this way of thinking will always cause painful misunderstanding…

The other problem with the quoted blogpost, and with other expressions of the pseudo-feminist idea that women should master stereotypical but problematic macho maledom is that what is emulated here is an aberration of maleness, not at all how men should be, and actually not healthy for anyone, male, female or otherwise; It’s something we should unlearn because it only leads to dehumanisation of the gender one is attracted to.

(And to very bad TV shows like sex and the city and idiotic pop songs.)

One last thing is that it seems to me that the American ‘purity culture’ (that I still don’t understand at all) seems to be really fixated on this stuff. It’s every man’s battle to be visual and see women and want to have sex with them and watch porn all the time. This whole obsession might be more a form of projected belief that aligns all men including those who don’t have the problem into believing this stuff and becoming it.

(And it’s equally damaging to girls in other ways)

Isn’t that the opposite of what we need?

Shalom

Bram

See also

meditating on sexy models
Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Man as an automatic leader and/or utterly untrustworthy animal?
On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…
A purity culture I don’t know…
Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?
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

 

On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…


Yes, I know I had planned to not interact that much any more to whatever the American Christian blogosphere gets riled up about, but I’m going to break that rule for one time now, even though this post is probably a bad idea.  I do know the John Piper bloke is big in certain circles, but he does not concern me much personally. I have written about him in the context of sexism in North American evangelicalism earlier, but overall he’s not someone that has much impact on me nor does interest me that much generally, but I want to react to one of his recent writings.

(To not have too much controversy I will probably add one post with pictures of Antwerp before I go back to the occult. Oh and I did recieve a book called ‘a farewell to Mars’ that looks interesting even without featuring any Martians… Why can’t I just blog about more regular things?)

Some people in some facebook groups were reacting against one of his recent writings (a transcript of some king of talk more specifically) about nudity and the popular series ‘Game of thrones’.  Now I neither read the GoT books nor watched the series, and I don’t really intend to. This has several reasons, the first of which being that I have a reading and watching list that’s full enough already with much more interesting stuff. The second reason seems to be (if I understand people who like it well) that the background philosophy seems to be something like ‘there is no good and evil, only power, and those who are too weak to get it’. Yes, I actually I do quote professor Quirrel here from the first Harry Potter book. And I do note that Harry Potter rejects that way of thinking without even considering it. There’s enough of that stuff in world politics, and it’s not what I turn to fantasy for. The third reason why I’m not really interested would be that I hear that there’s a lot of sexual violence in it. I don’t enjoy stories with too much sexual violence AT ALL.

Since Piper most probably hasn’t seen any GoT himself, and I did read his article 12 questions to ask before you watch game of thrones, I do feel sort of qualified to comment on some things in the article (though not on GoT).

I must tolkienpipesay that he makes some interesting points here and there, and actually goes back and forth from saying stuff I agree with to things that make me think ‘Dude, what did you put in your pipe, is it an old Toby from the Shire or rather a fine Moroccan hashish? Some of his questions are interesting, some seem a bit besides the point, and others come with an explanation that I just disagree with or find completely irrelevant:

Am I Recrucifying Christ?
Does It Express or Advance My Holiness?
When Will I Tear Out My Eye, If Not Now?
Is It Not Satisfying to Think on What Is Honorable?
Am I Longing to See God?
Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?
Would I Be Glad If My Daughter Played This Role?
Am I Assuming Nudity Can Be Faked?
Am I Compromising the Beauty of Sex?
Am I Assuming Nudity Is Necessary for Good Art?
Am I Craving Acceptance?
Am I Free from Doubt?

Actually apart from the article and GoT a lot of these questions are worth meditating on in genera. But what I want to react to is his general reaction to nudity. I do believe as a Christian that pornography is wrong for several reasons. I can argue from the words of Jesus that adultery in your head is sill a sin, and I would add even whether the other person exists or not. (Which is probably quite extreme a teaching for some in this world, but I stand by it. Yes I can be pretty ‘conservative’ indeed…)
Also, the porn industry is quite exploitive towards women and human beings in general. All of which are made in Gods image. Not only is reducing people to sex objects with a camera dehumanising, making people of the other sex watch it and reduce themselves to such things is equally dehumanising.

The thing is that John Piper seems to assume that all nudity automatically works pornographic:

Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away (Matthew 5:28–29). Seeing naked women — or seeing naked men — causes a man or woman to sin with their minds and their desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent lust, how much more would he say: “Don’t watch it!”

I’ve seen this approach more, both from certain Christians of a more fundamentalist ilk and certain Muslims, but I don’t believe in it. I do not believe at all that men automatically have to sin when they see a naked female body, and can’t do anything about it, although I can’t rule out that some men are probably indeed conditioned that way. (I say conditioned, so I do not at all mean hardwired here, but programmed: In some culture women walk around with naked breasts all the time without anyone seeing it as sexual at all, while in other cultures seeing just the unscarfed loose hair is considered too sexy for a man to handle and keep his self-control…)

I’m sorry, no matter what some mega-selling books claim to be ‘every man’s battle’, I’m not free from flaws and sinful thoughts in the area of sexuality, but no, I do not just automatically want to have sex with a women when I see her without clothes in a movie. I don’t picture me and her having sex just because she’s unclad or scantily clad. Yikes. What an idea… Just as I do not want to have sex with a woman I see in real life just because I notice how attractive she is. (Actually clothes don’t have to make that much of a difference here anyway. The ‘lustful lecher’ type will be doing the same when they see people they find sexy even when fully clothed.)

Yes, sex scenes in movies are arousing and sometimes IT IS better to look away, I won’t argue with that. Completely agree. Watching people having sex or faking to have sex is maybe generally not always the best idea. (Although it is not so far-stretched to just want your OWN partner in such a moment, not the people pictured, I’d say.)
Assuming that people will automatically sin when they see a nude person of the sex they’re attracted to shows probably just too much faith in ‘total depravity’ for me. Moreover, if I were from a tribe that walks around naked with even caring about one breast more or less it would be one more case of telling Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk. Even to me this article already feels a bit like it.

And here we come to the problem that porn often lies in the eyes (and mind, and hormones) of the beholder, so this is a difficult discussion… I can’t argue with other peoples POV, but I would be very glad if they do not project their own experiences on the rest of the world either…

It’s probably true that nudity in GoT is used a lot for sex scenes or otherwise voyeuristic purposes, but apart from this, there is no reason at all to always see nudity as sexual. It’s in fact quite dehumanising (speaking as a heterosexual male here, substitute whatever gender applicable if your situation is different if you find this hard to read otherwise) to directly reduce the nude female body to something solely sexual. Censoring breastfeeding for example has very perverse ideas behind it for me, breasts are meant for breastfeeding and sexualising it is quite sick in my opinion.

100_1594Maybe it’s because I am the grandson of the late semi-famous painter Willie Cools, known for his abstract female nudes (that are not and have never been sexually arousing to me at all, no matter what other thing one could say about them) but I think it’s totally overblown to say ‘nudity = pornography, always’ I have seen a lot of classical paintings and sculptures with female nude in my life, and again, most of them are not that sexually arousing as far as I’m concerned.

Maybe it’s not that weird to not equate all nudity (or all female nudity, our society does seem quite asymmetrical here) with porn. I’d rather just think our culture’s attitude towards nudity is unhealthy. There is a lot of evidence that the first Christians practised nude baptism for all believers without anything like this discussion at all…

I thus assume we better reframe one of Pipers questions here, and not ask “Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?” but whether we are able to see the image of God in every person we might dehumanise. This might be the case with sexy models as I’ve written about earlier, and for said nudes here, but it applies far outside the category of ‘sexually tempting’ to any person we deem less than human, because they are in our eyes, too poor, too ugly, too different, whatever…

We need to have the eyes of Christ, who was a friend of prostitutes without looking down on them nor looking at them for their sexiness. We should indeed not look at people with lust and reduce them to sex objects in our head, but it’s much more healthy to be able to see some nudity every now and then when we stumble upon it without going completely crazy about it than assume that every time we see a female body we need to think about having sex with them and ‘can’t help it because we’re wired that way’. Such an approach will never be helpful at all.

Another thing that does concern me about the article is that the issue of sexual violence is not addressed. I hope it’s because Piper doesn’t know enough about GoT -I can’t imagine him watching/reading it at all-, and not because for some reason nudity seems much more of a problem than sexual violence (in which case the term ‘rape culture’ would be more than appropriate).

Also, one last thing is that I am more than a bit confused by the ‘violence can be faked and nudity not, so watching violence is OK and nudity isn’t’. Come on, what kind of an argument is that? Does that mean that pornographic manga or computer-generated realistic images of nudes are okay then? I disagree on both accounts: nudity isn’t automatically evil, nor is violence ‘not a problem’ when it is faked.

Some people will not be able to see nudity, whether real or not (or in certain cultures bare ankles or loose hair) without falling into ‘lust’. Just a a lot of people get very unhealthy and sinful kicks out of watching violence (even if fake). Killing humans (made in the imago of God, or representing humanity which is made in the image of God) is one of the most severe sins one can do, and portraying it should always done with a lot of consideration, whether it is fake or real isn’t even the issue. Just as with sexy manga the sinful reaction is present will be completely the same…

what do you people think?

Bram

on Ishtar, myopic Anglocentrism and sloppy ‘scepticism’…


Ishtar‪Like last year, there’s a meme going around about Easter being the feast of Ishtar. Some people seem to like to share it to make fun of Christianity, but it actually makes no historical sense at all (especially if English is not your first name) though it’s going viral. It is (according to wikipedia) thought to originate from the Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science. I’m quite disappointed by that actually, I would hope to be able to expect more from a ‘Foundation for Reason and Science’ than  an argument just based bad wordplay that only works in English, combined with an even more sloppy history lesson.
The weird part of all of this is, that if you want you can find enough pagan and other influences in a lot of Christian tradition, including Easter. Why people would make these kind of things up is just beyond me…

See here, here and here for some intelligent reactions to refute the claims of this meme, of which the last one contains some very good advice:

The general rule of infographics and similar fare is that the more deliciously it skewers people you don’t respect very much, the more likely it is to be a fake.  Always good to consider before you click that “share” button.

To be short and repeat some things from those sources (you better read them yourself before your read on here though): There is no known connection between Ishtar and Eostre, which lend her name to Easter. There is only one ancient source about that second goddess anyway:  Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work De temporum ratione, about the calculation of Easter in this quote (All other sources are 18th century -Grimm, the one of the fairy tales indeed- and even more recent, and include academic speculations and  neo-pagan reconstructionism with not much connection to pre-Christian times):

15.  The English Months
In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.  Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…
(source)

So what does the only ancient source say? the feast is named after a month, which is named after a goddess which seems to be faraway and whose rites are replaced by ‘the new rite’, which was imported from Rome and Byzantium and does not originate with the Germans at all anyway. No connection to the new rite and the old goddess is made, nor is there any connection anywhere closer to the middle East between Ishtar or other ANE fertility goddesses and Christian easter celebrations.
The Easter bunny (which is a hare in Dutch, ‘de paashaas’, rabbits are not originally native in N-Europe nor Britain btw.) is indeed a fertility symbol which might be from Germanic origin, and seems indeed associated with Eostre, but not with Ishtar at all. There are no ‘bunnies’ in the middle East anyway, just hares and hyraxes. And I don’t think any intelligent Christian has ever considered the Easter bunny to be a biblical Christian symbol anyway. Eggs are another matter, they are certainly a pagan symbol of new life, but also an old Orthodox symbol (the Orthodox tradition has eggs that are painted red…) It’s very logical to use such symbolism of new life in a feast of the resurrection. But the placement of the feast is still from the Jewish passover (Pesach/Pascha), from which it has borrowed the name in all non-English languages except for one…

If it was based on the feast of Ishtar, it would be very unlikely that all Christians (including the middle-East which should still have a connection to those older gods, and the Romans including the Constantine guy named in the meme) except for some Germanic barbarians who were later to the party of Christianisation anyway to use the Jewish name… Those people are not important for the history of Christianity or for defining it anyway in that time. (If English-spraking Christianity has a role in the history of religion, it will only be in the last centuries, before that it’s just a  local business  anyway…)

Now back to the meme and why it irritates me, it’s not just and extremely sloppy argument, that only makes sense for English- (and German-) speaking people anyway. All other people including those using other Germanic languages name the feast after Pascha/Pesach, after it’s Jewish roots. So this very discussion can even only exist in English (and German-)speaking places…

Which brings me to the problem of Anglocentrism. Some people seem to think that the English language is the key to understanding the world, and this meme is a good example for that. This puts the people who share this meme on the same page as for example those weird KJV-only Christians. It’s not because some things do work in the English language, that they are true. Some things do only work because of the English language anyway. I’ve argued before that certain forms of Christian sexism wouldn’t even exist without the peculiarities of the English language and some discussions can’t even exist in other languages (including the ones in which the bible is written..) Pushing those things unto other people is just a weird form of intellectual colonialism.

I know there’s a lot of Anglo-centrism in the world (we have mainly English music on the radio in Flanders) but such an argument from a bad wordplay the English language is just bogus. Sorry, I won’t even consider it…

Another thing: Even more worrying to me is that this kind of stuff is shared mostly not by neo-pagans, but by atheists and self-proclaimed sceptics like Mr. Dawkins, which prove here to be not sceptical after all, but just happily accepting anything that goes against the traditions they don’t like, whether it’s accurate or not. One could not go farther away from the meaning of ‘scepticism’ than that actually.
It’s not because one claims to be a potato knife that one is a potato knife, even if you say it a hundred times, and the same is true for being a ‘sceptic’ of a freethinker, no matter how much people agree with you … You need to be sceptical and think for your own, not accept all the dogmas of a tradition that calls itself ‘sceptical’ and ‘freethinking’… Such a thing will easily slide astray into Orwellian doublespeak…  (see also my post scepticism about the age of scepticism about this)

The world does need a lot of healthy scepticism (a questioning attitude against every status-quo, not a rusty tradition that kicks against other traditions while unquestioningly accepting nonsense like this as a weapon in that fight!) indeed, but this is exactly NOT what’s needed then. If you critique something, please be truthful. If not, you do a disservice not only to the tradition you attack, but you undermine your own credibility too!

So please, can we stop making and sharing sloppy memes in any camp? Can we all please try to stick to as much truth as we can find and not spread lies, sloppy memes and nonsensical slander?

Or do I ask for too much here?

peace

Bram

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 the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…


I like to read science-fiction stories sometimes, and I do like different examples of the genre for different reasons. I sometimes just like good stories, and I also like good use of our human fantasy like speculative descriptions of other worlds, complete with completely other plants and animals, or about people or non-human aliens with totally different traditions. And there is something very interesting too about stories about worlds that are very different from our world, where the people take things for granted that are literally totally alien for us. It’s a good way of expanding my world-view and it also helps me to question the world I live in, and the given things we all seem to take for granted sometimes.

We humans are generally nor less cruel, irrational nor less weird than aliens. We might for example think that we’re so great as modern people with our science and technology and human rights and stuff, but all the while human rights are more theory than real life for a lot of people here on Terra, and our science and technology have only helped us to further the destruction of the planet in a way that can in the end only lead to disaster, while we have in our societies a lot of things that are only logical if you’re born into them and have had them imprinted when you grew up.

This summer I’ve been reading read200px-TheBirthdayOfTheWorlding and rereading some works of Ursula Le Guin, including the  ‘the birthday of the world’, a collection of short stories. She’s a writer I do appreciate a lot with her fiction but who also can frustrate me a lot. The stories I’m reading can be classified  as anthropological science fiction, as much of her work. The alien species featured are humanoids quite like us, but still do differ a lot from us humans in the way their societies are ordered, as in their biology sometimes. To make clear what that means I will describe the aliens from the first 2 stories (I leave out the weird 4-person marriage system on O and the even more splintered segregation of all persons on Eleven-Soro in the next one, both societies of humans biologically like us):

The people from Gethen, a planet also featured in her well-known book the left hand of darkness are humans like us in everything, except for the small detail that they are not gendered, except for the few days in the month when they are fertile or ‘in kemmer’, and then they can take either sex, mostly depending on the pheromones of other persons in kemmer that are present. So it’s perfectly possible for the Gethenians to be a mother to one child and a father to another one. They do not have any concept of male/female duality nor do they have marriage like we have. The story of a sexual coming-of-age on Gethen, written in first-person from the POV of a Gethenian, is very weird to read, and not just because the sexually explicit which are a bit awkward to read, parts but just because they are  describing things that are perverse and actually, completely alien to us as if they were the most normal thing on eh, Earth… On Earth the everyone with everyone sex in the kemmerhouse, in which everyone can be of another gender next week just is strange…

The people on Seggri, a planet whose name probably is derived from the English word ‘segregation’ in Ursula’s mind, are on the other extreme: they are humans in a more or less late medieval society, but they have an enormous gender imbalance: only one in sixteen or of of them is male, and both sexes live in very different ways completely segregated from each other, with the males in castles having all the privilege, and the women living in a more normal society. The only encounter between the sexes is to have sex, and the women do pay the males for that, and they pay them even more afterwards if a child is conceived. Marriage does exist between women sometimes, even more than two, but it is not seen as something men are capable of. The story is made up of reports, fragments and short stories that show the evolution of gender relations over a longer time, and also when influence of aliens with less alien gender relations becomes more.

In the last fragment of the Seggri-section we see a young man, a man who has been to college even, like traditionally only a woman did on his world,  after the revolutionary moment when men could go outside of their castles and live in the normal world. He desires a thing unthinkable to anyone who has ever lived on the planet, a thing for which there is no word in his language: a marriage relationship with a woman as equals, or in his own language, t0 be ‘a wife’ and have a family. Something unthinkable for men, who are seen as only good for sex, not for any other kind of meaningful relationships with women. Even a man speaking with a woman is considered not done. (In the end he does break all logic and rules and everything people on Seggri have ever known, and indeed has an equal romantic relationship with a woman, even though it doesn’t last and he does move to the planet Hain afterwards.)

Like you can imagine these kind of stories are not the easiest to read. Trying to follow the thoughts of an alien whose ideas on sex and relationships are so different from our, for whom completely other things would be taboo and perverse as for any human, especially for a Christian who believes in lifelong monogamous marriage relationships. It can be quite a challenge to just take this stuff in…

Another thing, which is also one of my frustrations with Le Guin, is that her stories can be so hard and merciless for the people in certain of her societies. She invents new types of sexism and other forms of injustice and oppression that are really bad for the people living in it. The Gethenians don’t have any chance of sexism (except that they seem a bit discriminating towards the ‘perverts’, those who are always ‘in kemmer’, and thus are constantly male or female. The male alien observer in ‘the left hand of darkness’ does share in those prejudices) but I really wouldn’t want to be a man in Seggri who is only good for competing games and having sex with women, and does not have any chance to partake in ‘normal’ (female) society.

But alas, those aliens are not the only people who have weird forms of sexism that are completely illogical from any outsider… Some forms of patriachy and other gender-imbalanced system do sound as weird and unhealthy as those aliens to me, like this story about patriarchy among an Asian tribe from Lana Hope . The idea of sexual segregation alone in which friendship between men and women are taboo (as exists in some Muslim countries) is quite alien to me, as the bot who always tended to friend girls easier than boys.

I must say, my own society can be quite weird too, and other of our Western countries can be even weirder. The person that I am as a man would not be able to exist in American fundamentalism as described by this guest-poster on the ex-fundamentalist blog  broken daughters for example, just as I couldn’t live on Seggri.

If there’s anything I take away from stories like this is that we as homo sapiens are not better than Le Guins aliens, or that Western people are not better than anyone else. And that the simple idea of love for everyone apart from gender, and the idea of committed loving relationships  (as I know them and live it) which we commonly call marriage it in which a family is formed  can be quite alien, even for people in this world.

Let us be a witness of love and respect, in all aspects including our relationships whether they’re sexual or not,  to all people, even the aliens if they ever visit us…

peace

Bram

A purity culture I don’t know…


Seems like there’s a lot of critique of the ‘evangelical purity culture’ in the blogosphere lately.  I grew up here in Belgium as a pentecostal/evangelical Christian, and I always thought I’d seen a lot of talk about sexual purity and stuff in my life. But when I read critiques of the North-American version of ‘purity culture’ (Very interesting ones from the latest blog storm are Sarah Bessey, Elizabeth Esther for example, or find a bigger list in Scots challenging article at faith and food, and some more commentary from Richard Beck) and  I must conclude that I don’t seem to know much about it myself when I see some of the details mentioned. Seems like there are 2 possibilities:

A) I’ve never been paying attention and did get a slightly different message than what was communicated.

or

B) What I’ve been taught is not at all as toxic as what appears to be taught in certain corners of the Christian subculture in the good ole Us of A.

What I’ve never heard  in all of this was stuff like the following, all of which I would’ve disagreed with then as much as I would do now:

- female virginity is for some unclear reason much more important than male virginity.

- Men are supposed to take the initiative and always be the leaders, otherwise you have some kind of abomination going on.

- purity rings or rituals for girls involving the father.

- Non-virgins will by definition have a bad marriage.

- Never be alone with someone of the other sex that you’re not (yet) married to.

- if you’re single after a certain age something is wrong with you.

- You must give your first kiss on your wedding day, not earlier.

 (Okay, the last whole ‘first kiss on your wedding day’ idea  was something that some people might choose to do I suppose, but not at all something that anyone (except maybe for some teenagers who never had had a relationship but liked to talk about those rules a lot) would ever see as normative over here. It’s quite an exotic idea in our culture actually, not even recognisable as ‘conservative’… Maybe something for followers of Joshua Harris)

(And oh, the rule of never being alone with someone of the other sex might also be something I read in Joshua Harris, but which I rejected as otherworldly, as being someone who had all his life had female friends and had never had any problem hanging out with them alone at all the idea just didn’t have a chance with me…)

Even though I might disagree with  some details of what I’ve been taught and the way it was communicated, I never encountered most of what those people and others I’ve read are critiquing. What I picked up from sex-talk in church, on teenage camps, and even from the people of wareliefdewacht.be, with was the local true love waits* but does not seem to exist anymore, and from imported  wisdom from people like Rebecca st-James (the Christian rock-singer, who was very clear about both ‘true love waits and her intentional singleness at the moment) was something like:

- Sex is something important that you need to wait with until you’re married. Sex is beautiful in the right context and it is powerful, so it will do much good in the right context, and damage people in the bad context.

- Speak about boundaries in a relationship, which was mainly about the ‘how far will you go before marriage’, but the issue of consent and not being pushy was also communicated clearly…

- Virginity and sexual purity is  equally important for boys and for girls.

- Love and friendship are very important in romantic relationships and marriage.

- Singleness is something to be embraced, and does not have to be a problem. For most it will be a season in their life that they will learn from, for others it might be a calling.

- Sexual sin might be serious, but there is always forgiveness, whatever you have done. (The weird term  ‘recycle virgin’ was also used.)  Anyway there’s no need in shaming those who have made mistakes.

ongekust en

When I was in my early twenties that Joshua Harris’ ‘I kissed dating goodbye’ (a book of which the Dutch title can be translated back as ‘unkissed, but not a frog’) was making the rounds, and that most people I knew found it ‘too American’. I can’t remember much of it, actually, I just know I wasn’t impressed at all.

Now I don’t say I would agree with everything if I’d have to hear one of those sex-talks again that I heard as a teenager, but I do not recognise the big problematic things at all… And really, I do not understand the asymmetry in which rules for women would be different from those for men. That’s just nonsense… (especially in a heteronormative frame, where sex requires both a man and a woman…)

So, my question is; those things that I do not recognise, how common are they?

And how do we frame talk about love, sex and marriage? I do believe that sex belongs in a lifelong monogamous family-forming relationship (which is not necessarily the same as a state marriage, I would think the sacramental part and the reality -2 people form one life-unit- more important), but there seems to be so much ballast on the concept of marriage and on all this ‘no sex before marriage’ stuff…

Bram

* they have nothing to do with this beautiful radiohead song.

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!

you and your tradition cannot choose what words mean for others…


[trigger warning: quotes that could be percieved as more than  rather misogynistic]

Yes, I’m still alive. I’ve been in a quasi-internetless place with a lot of trees, bungalows, and a subtropical swimming paradise, in a French-speaking part of this little kingdom by the sea. (Well, internetless is exagerrated I can always go to the bar where they have free wifi, but I choose to be almost disconnected this week.) I will be back this weekend and there will be some blogposts lined up for the following week.

And now I’m here in the bar reading up some blogs that I’ve missed (backsliding into my regular addictions…) And I’m back in the fireline of a very frustrating discussion again again when I’m reading a Rachel Held Evans post reacting to the Gospel coalition, and a reaction from TGC that I find quite weird. The issue is (again) patriarchy and complementarianism perceived as pure misogyny.Still Wilson says:

Here’s a question for critics of the piece: You want these words not to mean a forceful, degrading domination of women, yes? And here is Wilson saying he does not mean them in that way. So why not accept that? Or, instead of insisting they mean the opposite of what he says he meant by them, why not just call him a liar? That’s a quicker line to draw.

And when I try to understand both sides, I’m afraid that no matter how your defending exegesis is, a sentence like this will be sexist, misogynist and quite problematic to most people I know:

however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

I does not in any way describe my views or experience with marriage nor sex, and it sounds not like anything biblical to me either. Maybe in certain neo-reformed or fundamentalist worldviews these words can be taken as non-sexist, as Wilson thinks he does. And I do know there are complementarians with good marriages…

But honestly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot read this kind of statements otherwise as sexism towards both sexes (yes, as a man I find this way of thinking degrading towards myself as much as to my wife!), and as the description of a mentality that would describe everything I know about loving male-female relationships. The only way I can interpret this is as pure one-sided dominion from the male side.

But I really try to understand how people could think otherwise, and I can’t. In the end we come to the same problem with words as with stories, like I noted in an earlier post. Whoever you are, you and your tradition cannot control how words will be perceived by others. You and your tradition cannot decide on what a word means, and what connotations it bears to others...

Which reminds me of a discussion about the world ‘tolerance’. Some see it as the most desired goal in society, and as a very positive mentality everyone should have, while others see it as unloving, merely tolerating everything because we have to. So, define your terms if you speak to someone with another worldview, but don’t expect that they read or hear something the way you do. And yet, no matter how you try, there’s a limit to understanding someone else worldview when views are opposing. And I’m in no way able to read that quote otherwise than sexist rapist-mentality. And I did try… It just conflicts with everything I know about love…

(And I’m not speaking as a feminist here, but merely as the lover and friend I am in my marriage, and as someone who tries to find a way to live out Christian self-giving love in every relationship… I just am not able to see how it would go together with what those complementarians describe…  )

what do you think

shalom

Bram

Not a post on sexism, but a post on the uncontrollable power of stories…


Don’t ask me what kind of narrative this picture communicates…

I’ve been following an online discussion between my feminist blogger friends Sarah and Dianne, and some guy called Cory Copeland, a Christian blogger that I don’t know much about. I basically agree with Cory that, whatever the story is, there is always redemption for the fallen sinner. And I agree with Sarah and Dianne that the described story is quite troubling, and full of abuse, and that the difference between consent and coercion is way too important to not be see here. I can even add from a masculist angle that I find it quite sexist to bring up the ‘boy as a dangerous sexual predator’ stereotype, and a flat character in the story. Is there any chance for redemption for him? (And I’m not even speaking of the weird ideas surrounding her virginity here)

But that’s not what I want to address here.  There is another problem, which is quite important, that comes up in the discussion under Cory’s post. Sarah comments on the part of the boy in the story, and I find Cory’s answer quite troubling:

The story wasn’t about the boy. It was about the girl and her struggles. That’s the story I chose to tell. Respect that.

The problem is that a story tells itself, and it can show things that even the narrator isn’t aware of. And the boy in the story is quite problematic:

This girl met a boy and that boy had a way about him. He scaled rooftops and smiled like the sun. He captured the good girl in his madness and she soon fell in the deepest of love. The girl held strong at first, tossing away her boy’s hands as they searched her body, seeking satisfaction. Again and again, she dissuaded him, turning a stone cold cheek and halting heavy breaths before they had pushed too far. But the boy was relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness. He bombarded her wits with fallacies of unrequited love and lacking attention. He had played this game before and he was good.

Soon, the good girl could take no more, so she stripped herself of the righteousness she held so close and took her boy into her bed. Now, she felt emptiness where love used to grow; loneliness where hope once flourished. (please read the whole story here)

You can say what you want, but this tells us a lot about the boy, even if he is just intended a flat character used as a plot device. It tells a lot about how boys are viewed, and (for an outsider) some very troubling things about American ‘purity’ culture. What is described here is a very problematic relationship. I would even say this story tells a lot of unintended things, because of all the unspoken stereotypes and expectancies that drive the 2 characters.

Stories are a powerful and even dangerous device of communication, because they’re not always tameable. If you tell a story, you have to listen yourself too. It might tell you things you didn’t know yourself. And people with other backgrounds might hear completely other things. Like with Jesus’ parables: we think we can pin all of their meaning down, and then someone from another culture sees a lot of details and makes conclusions you didn’t even know where there. And someone like Henri Nouwen has spent a whole life exploring Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, and even he could go deeper.

So, with every text we write, we should be aware with every story that we use to convey a moral, that we create an ‘entity’ that will stand on it’s own, and that will lead a life of its own. We cannot control what it will communicate to other people. The story will just tell its own story. And people will recognise the nuggets of Truth in it, but different people will see different things in it. And there is the possibility that people will see problems in it that are in a ‘blind spot’ of the authors worldview. But that does not mean that anyone outside of that worldview will not see them very clearly…

I do think telling stories is important, and a very powerful way of communicating in postmodern times. But we as Christians don’t have to repeat the same stories of the world over and over again. We need to reframe the stories in the light of Gods Kingdom. We need to tell new stories. We need to go beyond the blind spots of the cliches, and tell stories of salvation, of fallen people of both sexes who find not just forgiveness, but shine redemption in the darkest places of our world. It is darkness that dissappears where light shines! How strong is the light that we posses?

And we need to consider the implications of what we are exactly saying with every story that we tell. We do need to not further propagate the lies of  darkness that bind and destroy people, but dismantle them, and destroy light with darkness. So I applaud Cory for using story to communicate, it’s what Jesus did. But I’d ask him to be more cautious about how powerful stories can be…

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