Category Archives: marriage

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

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!

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

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

are babies evil?


My daughter Hazel-Lore Cools, picture by Jo Cools, She’s not an evil bundle of sin!

Sometimes I’m quite shocked to find out what people in other parts of the world consider to be normal Christian ideas. And at that moment I’m glad that I’ve grown up with not much influence of certain quite weird ideas that are endemic in for example certain strains of American fundamentalism. Sometimes ignorance is a bliss, and sometimes it’s better to learn about certain things when you’re old enough to look at them with discernment. (And I’m not talking about these things now) Yes, I am happy to bluntly restate that sometimes I’m really glad that I’m quite oblivious towards things certain things, that some have to battle with and unlearn all of their lives to retain what’s left of their sanity, and it’s actually a luxury that I don’t even understand some things I guess. (See also my post about not understanding complementarianism here)

So one of the things that is quite new and shocking to me, every time I encounter it, is fundamentalist ideas about parenting that are based on total depravity of babies and small children. When people insinuate that babies are evil creatures, the only reaction I feel is ‘what the bleeping hell?’. I try to understand, but as the father of a 20 months old toddler myself, I just don’t get it. And I don’t believe it would be healthy, neither for her nor for me, to try to get inside that way of thinking…

This post on the love, joy, feminism blog is a good example, as is the post on the latebloomer blog she quotes from. Let’s start with a quote from the first one:

I had been taught to see parenting as a contest, a contest in which I must defeat my child’s will. I was taught that my daughter when she was a babe in arms was “a little bundle of sin.”

I find this idea of a baby as a ‘little bundle of sin’ quite weird and inconeivable, an actually pretty offensive too. Even though my daughter has a very strong will, as was clear even before she was born, that’s not something evil. It’s something which needs to be guided, and sometimes blocked off, but not everything a baby wants is evil. Babies are helpless creatures that have a lot of needs (food, diapers, attention) and crying is their best way of getting attention and communicate that they need something. It’s very normal for them to need these things, and they cannot do anything by themselves.

Yes, a baby can be hard to deal with (especially if she kills your sleep) but I fail to even see how it is possible to interpret babies as evil. But it seems like there are whole traditions that completely disagree with me, like the one latebloomer came from.

If I believed that my child had a sin nature that predisposed him to evil, that would certainly predispose me to interpret his actions very negatively.

When he insists on exploring the world and touching everything, I could see it as stubbornness.  Instead, I am free to see it as healthy curiosity and a drive to discover the world.  …

When he fights sleep at bedtime, or wakes up multiple times during the night, I could see it as defiance.  Instead, I am free to assume that he has a real need.  …

When he takes toys from other children, I could see it as selfishness.  Instead, I am free to notice that he also spontaneously gives his toys to others. …

When he screeches for me to pick him up, I could see it as manipulation.  Instead, I am free to see that he is just learning to feel and communicate, and crying is one of his main tools of communication right now.  …

My child is not depraved.  He is a good person with a lot of potential.

The extending of the theory of total depravity to babies to me sounds quite problematic. I am more into ancestral sin than strict Augustinian original sin, and therefore inclined to believe that children learn evil from the broken world around them, than that they are evil in themselves.

I don’t think my daughter is totally depraved. She is a like everybody, a flawed person with very good tendencies nonetheless (she already shared stuff when she was a crawling baby, she even shares her pacifier with me sometimes!) and unhealthy egoistic tendencies too, that need to be restrained. But totally depraved and an evil bundle of sin? Can anyone look at a baby and really believe that???? I don’t get it, and I hope I never will.  Com’on, what evil nonsense is it? And it leads to quite violent ways of parenting too, as Elizabeth Esther, a post-fundamentalist woman, recalls in this very interesting post:

Sometimes I wonder what motivated such harsh discipline. Was part of it the rigorous meeting schedule that required all children to sit through 5 hours of meetings on Sundays? I mean, how else do you get a 2 year old to sit quietly through 5 hours of meeting? Lots of spankings, of course.

But I wonder if the other part, the part that gets to the deeper root of why there was so much harsh discipline was due to our deeply ingrained assumptions about who we were. We believed in the inherent evil of all humans.

Isn’t it easier to repeatedly spank your child when you believe she’s inherently evil? In our group, parents started spanking their babies when they were around 6 months old because this was when babies started trying to “manipulate” their parents by exerting their “rebellious will.”

Apparently there’s a very popular method or parenting, based on a book called ‘to train up a child’ by Mike and Debi Pearl, a method that even cost lives of children! (Find more posts by Elizabeth Esther on the subject here) If we are to judge the tree by its fruits, then I would say that this method is a very good candidate of the words ‘total depravity’, actually…

So I restate I’m glad that I’ve never encountered this kind of stuff. Really glad. It is really destructive. I think I grew up with a vague idee of the ‘age of accountability’ theory, which probably isn’t without its own problems. But at least it affirms that babies are not evil ‘bundles of sin’. They are imperfect and flawed, like we all. But I would agree with love, joy, feminism, that there’s a very big blind spot in it:

The Pearls explain how to exact immediate obedience from your children. And you know what? Immediate obedience sounds really nice. The Pearls promise that if I follow their spanking method my daughter will do whatever I want when I want it. If I followed the Pearls, my daughter would never embarrass me in public. I would never have to wait on my daughter while she tries the stairs one more time. Instead, it would be whatever I said, the moment I said it. That’s very appealing, but you know what? If that’s not pure selfishness, I don’t know what is.

I’ve used this experience as a reminder to better listen to my daughter and her needs. I’ve also used it as a reminder of my own selfishness. My daughter and I aren’t enemies or opponents, we’re just two flawed humans stuck together by blood and deep affection. We’re a team, and we need to treat each other with mutual respect and make sure to consider each other’s needs and feelings. And sometimes I guess I need a reminder of that

That last paragraph could be from my wife, and sums up quite good how I see parenting… But I suppose that that’s another sign that neither of us is even capable of thinking hierarchically in the way some people do… Yes, a child cannot do much by herself, and needs to be guided, restricted, led in the right direction, and disciplined sometimes. But the goal is to initiate her in life as a human being, not to train her up like a dog, or program her like a computer.

What do you think?

shalom

Bram

I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’


I am quite busy this week, and I didn’t plan on contributing to Rachel Held evans’ mutuality week. But eventually this rant had to be written somehow. I hope someone can make sense of it. And even if you disagree with me, take me as an example of someone for whom a lot of traditions seem to be just impossible. Even if I go to far in some directions, from a partial outside blind spots can be seen that insiders will never even would think of…

Warning beforehand: I’m probably naïve, I probably grew up on the wrong planet, and even my own Flemish culture can be alien to me sometimes. So don’t expect me to take American sensitivities and unspoken laws for granted. Being a sometimes rootless postmodern does have a lot of disadvantages, but for a follower of Socrates (Who questioned everything, something which parallels Jewish thought) it has the dubious advantage to easily look through some things that others won’t ever question.

‘Complementarianism’ seems to be a loaded word, if I can rely on what I find when I browse the contemporary Anglo-Saxon Christian blogosphere. If I would not be aware what is meant with it, I would probably heartily wear it as a label: I do happen to believe that not just people in a relationship or marriage, but even most people in most situations, do need to complement each other when they’re doing things together. I don’t think it could ever be otherwise if I’m honest…

But that’s apparently not how people use the word. Christians (mostly of an American evangelical variety) seem to use to word to prescribe role models in marriage that to me are quite alien, and I honestly don’t believe they’d be less alien to a first-century Jew as they are to me. Something that to me looks like old-fashioned Flemish farmers mentality with a bit of lower working-class sexism thrown in. (Accuse me of classism, but when I was working within certain circles I was quite shocked about the sexism and homophobia going on there.) Most descriptions of gender roles that I encountered in this school of thought have not that much to do with the bible, regardless of how much bible verses they use, but more with going back to a historical situation somewhere between the industrial revolution and the 1950’s.

I myself might be lucky. I grew up in a secular country with a liberal Catholicism on the brink of disappearing in atheism. Whatever patriarchal traditions there might be in older communities, I’ve never encountered them as something religious, more like something backwards and primitive. My parents were in the leadership of a pentecostal church (later moved on to the vineyard) and they raised me quite egalitarian, even if I never heard that word. Later I heard that some saw my father as the most woman-friendly preacher of Flemish evangelicalism, but I must say I’ve never seen that much of the ‘woman-unfriendliness’ when I was younger. I always was aware that some Christians teach that women should be obedient to men, or that they should not hold any position in a church or preach. But the pentecostals that I met did allow women to preach as far as I can remember. I can remember having women preacher on all youth camps, and also seeing those women preach .

(I seem to be the lucky man here, and that’s not only due to me being naieve and oblivious. Even my wife has encountered things that I would not believe existed in pentecostal circles, and the last years I’ve seen -thanks to the internet- that the discussion about women in church and their position, one I wasn’t aware of that still existed here is still alive, even among young people.)

I never realised it was that special to hear a woman preach. I don’t know much women preachers, but I’ve also haven’t met any women who aspired to preach. I’ve always had women preacher on the pentecostal events that I attended when I was younger, and never thought anything about it. And I must say that right now in our vineyard church in Antwerp, a lot of people (including me) get to preach, regardless of gender and age, in the spirit of John Wimbers ‘everybody gets to play’ philosophy… So my direct environment only makes it more natural to not see that much differences between the sexes in role.

It is quite logical that different people have different gifts. I know women who are good at speaking, and men who are good at cooking (like me), and this has influence on both roles in a church or enterprise, but also in a relationship. Actually the differences between 2 people of the same sex can be much bigger than between a man and a woman. Generalisations about ‘women are X’, or ‘men are Y’ have never worked for me and always made me feel somewhere uncomfortable and abnormal. Neither the Christian ‘wild at heart’ variety nor the secular ‘Venus and Mars’ ever made much sense for me, my wife, or our relationship. Every person is different, every combination of persons will be different too, and as someone who consistently fails to conform to the lowest denominator I always fail too at this kind of prescribed roles. And I could say the same for my wife, and trying to conform our marriage to some Driscollian theory would just completely destroy our relationship, that has always been very good.

Also, Silencing women is making half of the church passive, which sounds more like the work of Satan to me than like the work of God. I’ve been blessed too much by women who were ‘above me’ in church contexts to ever think it ‘wrong’.

In the end, I can only share what I know. If I am honest, I see no way at all in which the idea of ‘hierarchy in a marriage’ would even work. (I don’t see it working in the trinity either, like Roger Olson says here, pt 2 and pt 3, it’s not just heresy, but plain nonsense) I am a natural mutual person. Yes, there always is hierarchy in certain contexts: if I’m at work I have to listen to my boss, and I have to listen to a police man in a uniform. But I don’t have to listen to my boss outside my working hours, or to a policeman outside his time. Likewise there are moments when one person takes the lead in a marriage, depending on what person is closer to the job that needs to be done. So sometimes I will submit to my wife when things need to be done, sometimes it’s the other way around. But even then, most important decisions could never be made by one of us, but only together after some talking.

To conclude: I do not understand at all what hierarchy-obsessed ‘complementarism’ advocates, it goes counter to all I believe and what I see in the bible, and all that works in my life, and everything where I’ve seen the Spirit at work. I’ve seen it hurt women, and pushed unto me it would hurt me to. I’m not a top-leader, I’m a democratic person. I believe in carrying responsibility together in love.

That’s what I know. And that’s how I see it work. That’s how I see the spirit works. And I don’t want to need to defend myself against some backwards and to me utterly arbitrary and incoherent framework that cannot be mine but wants to push itself unto others as being ‘the biblical way’.

I just want to share that I love my marriage, in which we share our responsibilities in love. I want to testify about all the women who taught me in my life as a believer. Just like the first person to ever preach the resurrection was a woman (Mary of Magdala), who is therefor dubbed ‘apostle to the apostles’ by the church fathers and orthodox church, women are needed in the church as half of the imago dei, and I would not be what I am without them.

Shalom

Bram