Category Archives: sexuality

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Bram

On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace

Bram

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

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

Why racism against white people is still racism…


Edit: I see that this post is still read regularly, and I’ve been thinking and discussing this subject since writing this and come to the conclusion that the use of the word ‘white’ by Americans is still a complete  mystery to me. So I want to make clear before you read this that I use the expression ‘white people’ just for the plain meaning of “light-skinned specimens of Homo sapiens” (as we native Europeans are), and the word ‘race’ for a group of humans with the same biological characteristics  like skin color, eye form, etc…’ I actually have no concept for the ‘race as a social construct’ idea the way some Americans use it, coming from a continent of native white people myself, where white people have been killing, hating, oppressing, enslaving, and so on for the last thousand years for differences like culture, language, tradition, religion, place of birth or clan-ancestry, and where ‘whiteness’ is not the defining and most relevant issue unlike in our former colonies where it is very important.

North-America has (very simplified) the situation in which 3 groups of white colonists/former slave masters, conquered natives and former slaves are each ‘racially’ very distinct from each other, just as the Mexican immigrants, so the connection of those groups with ‘race’ and using the color as name of the group is relevant over there, but not always in other contexts, like on the native continent of white people where a lot of groups exist that are racially the same and have a lot of other differences that matter much more.

Also, I do not believe (from all the racists and racism I’ve seen here in Belgium) in the relevance any meaningful concept of specifically ‘white privilege’ over here, as Americans use the term. There is no real ‘we-group’ of ‘white people’ against the rest here for most people, the ‘we’-group is much smaller and more specific, and ‘race’ in itself (in any meaningful definition of that word) is not the defining factor. People of other colors can be much more ‘in’ the we-group (example: an adopted black person with Flemish name) than white people that are very unlike us(example: East-European poor immigrant not knowing the language and cultural customs)
We just sometimes have a dicriminating system based ‘native privilege’: This is our country, our language, our culture: the more ‘like us’ you are, the more privilege you get, the more you are different and behave different, the more you will be ‘out’. (In a way, many things called racism over here are more some sort of pseudo-racism which is equally bad: discrimination on being culturally different. I would like to reserve the word ‘racism’ itself for discriminating people because of racial (biologically) difference, discrimination of muslims (who can be of all races) for example is a big problem and injustuce, but not real racism. Using the term too sloppily might make it problematic to confront real racism where it exists and still is a life-destroying problem!)

I’ll blog more about this later.

(Okay, This is where the original post begins:)

 
…and you become a monster, so the monster will not break you…

(U2, channeling an idea that might come from Nietzsche)

(Note: I am not American nor a real Academic, and I do refuse to take the views of American or other academics, feminist or otherwise, normative for all of the planet. I will listen to you, but if my experience or what I’ve seen completely disagrees with your theory don’t push your worldview onto me please. I also don’t even give one single atom of Hydrogen about political correctness and using the right shibboleths for any side as you will see… Also, this was inspired by several different conversations happening lately, and was not written to attack any person or text specifically. )

Let’s start with saying racistit flat-out loudly: I’m tired of people who decry sexism and racism and then go bashing white males all the time. No matter what excuse you use, it still is sexist and racist and self-defeating anything you want to accomplish to this outsider of your liberationist tradition!

Yes, I know some of you will say now that racism and sexism come from privilege and that you cannot discriminate against the privileged and bla-bla-bla. But sorry, that won’t convince me, and all those redefinitions will bring us is only a semantic quicksand and more misunderstanding, and maybe even more discrimination.

Firstly, the whole idea of tying ‘racism’ completely to the idea of privilege is a semantic shift that has only happened in certain academic circles, and not one I had ever heard of before entering the blogosphere or discussing about such subject with a certain type of academics. For other people the word ‘racism’ just means negative prejudices based on race (skin color and similar traits) or the hatred and discrimination built on it. And all this bashing of ‘white people’ does definitely fall under the ‘classical’ definition of racism.

Secondly, the idea that racism cannot exist against whites sounds quite dangerous to me actually. It only reminds me of an attempted ‘animal farm revolution’. And completely outside of reality as far as I can say too. Living in a European city with a lot of different people from very different backgrounds I’ve seen racism coming from a lot of sides towards a lot of sides. Including racism (and sexism) against native white Belgians, especially white women even. And most problems here were not really just ‘privilege’, but some are more symptoms a very serious cultural clash. When I lived in a street full of immigrants, my (then) fiancée was afraid to go outside after 8 because a certain kind of men made her uncomfortable because they behaved like just because she was walking outside as a non-veiled white women, which was less than nothing in their eyes, or more some public property they could prey on with their eyes and words (luckily in her case nothing more, but not every woman has been that lucky). I’ve never seen a more severe case of what feminists call ‘rape culture’ in my life actually.

(And to go on in the politically incorrect direction: the thing is, from all nationalities or cultures present only representatives from a few were problematic in this way. Certain cultures and subcultures seem to tend more to xenofobia or woman-unfriendliness while other don’t seem to have such tendencies at all… Some people from elsewhere really seem to be completely denigrating towards Western non-veiled women. Also, a lot of muslim and African cultures are mostly hostile to anything not heterosexual in a way beyond what we Westerners -even ‘homophobic’ ones- can imagine. I once had a boy from an African country tell me how they lynched gays with burning tyres in his homeland as if it was the most logical thing ever. He couldn’t even understand I was surprised by that!)

Something else: The whole way ‘whites’ are described here is quite deterministic to me, and I do not see how it does anything else than keep the gap between ‘whites’ and ‘non-whites’ wide open. Maybe I don’t get what you want to say because I’m not part of certain academic circles and because I don’t read the right books, or am not American, I don’t know, but this repeated use in a blaming way of ‘whites’ only gives me the idea that whatever happens they will always be the fault for some people, most of which are white themselves by the way, but don’t have all of the other point of privilege that matter to their views on privilege (more on that later).

But anyway, ‘reverse’ racism is just as big a problem as racism. I’ve seen this with certain non-Belgians who were quite hateful against the native Belgian (and sometimes against all of Western civilization ) We’ve never had much slaves over here by the way (only genocidal kings with private African colonies in which they unleashed hell for the local people to get themselves and a few mega-industrials richer), so the biggest racism problem here is not really between ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ (dumb terms, there’s nothing white about me) but between Belgians and certain newcomers from mostly certain muslim countries, who are mostly brownish-skinned indeed, but the problem is not one of skin or appearance, but a serious clash of cultures from both sides.

I don’t think there’s much difference whether it is Belgians looking down on the brownish guys, or the brownish guys looking down on us white Western infidels, or the brownish guys on the black Africans, or… Racism is evil in every instance…

Yes, racism between non-Belgians is not that uncommon either I am afraid, it’s not only white people who are racist, and there can be really strong racism with no white people involved, even in a white European country. I once, while in a working-class job had a North-African co-worker who was as deeply racist against black Africans as a few of his not-so-friendly co-workers were against his people.

(Yes, it’s probably classist and again not very politically correct, but some specimens among those generally not very educated working class people I worked with were quite shocking to me because they were unashamedly racist, sexist and hating on anything homosexual in a way I thought did not exist in our enlightened modern society! It was only later when I heard certain stories from elsewhere -remember the tyres?- that I realised it could be even worse.)

So don’t tell me racism can only come from white people, and never be directed towards white people. That’s just plain nonsense to me, and if you dismiss what I’ve seen and experienced for an academic theory you should not expect me to listen…

Now to get to my point I wanted to bring across: Racism, as all form of hate and discrimination, tends to work according to the principle of the never-ending vicious circle of violence. It always comes back in a new way from the other side. Hate begets hate, violence begets violence, prejudices and racism beget prejudices and racism. That’s how it works. And the hate on the oppressed side is just as destructive as what comes from the oppressor. And even long before the stage of hate and violence the same principle is clear: misunderstanding breeds misunderstanding, prejudices breed more prejudices, etc… This will also work between 2 groups of ‘equal status’ btw. Never forget that racism can be fully operative without any real privilege-imbalance going on between the 2 groups that are racist towards each other.

And no, I have no problem in confronting privilege and opening peoples eyes for it. But please cease the racist-sounding lingo against the privileged. It will only make a lot of people who need the message close their ears. Look for others word or you will create confusion with anyone except for those who know the right lingo and subscribe to the latest academic theories… I must honestly again say that to me all of this calling out of privilege which in the end comes down to bashing white males to me sounds only like a weird attempt at an ‘animal farm revolution’ that does only make the distance and problems bigger and does not in any way bring reconciliation and not at all stop the spiral of racism actually.

The only revolution I can care for as a follower as Jesus is one that tries to free both the oppressor and the oppressed from the system that distorts the image of God in either of them.

Discrimination is a problem, cultural clashes and prejudices are a problem,and privilege is a problem, and these things are sins that should be fought against, made visible and repented of, but this way of framing it is going nowhere, sorry…

One more remark about the whole privilege thing: privilege is never absolute, and it actually can be completely contextual. As for myself, in one situation I have been completely privileged as a native Dutch-speaking male, in another I have been completely the lowest person in rank just for being an introvert, or not been taken seriously in any way just because I’m a religious person (I live in a secular country where being an evangelical gives you the opposite of privilege). Or because I’m a non-academic who does not use the right shibboleths…

Last remark: there are much more ways of institutional discrimination (also very depending on the context) than the usual suspects of sex and race: Introvertpobia (or extravertnormativity) for example can also be institutionalised in certain sectors for example (I’ve experienced that, and might even have been fired for such reasons once), and hippie profiling can also be a strong form of unjust institutional xenophobia. There’s a lot more going on than the few highlighted problems that are battled extensively, and a lot of people who need to be lifted out of the darkness and given a place on the table, and a voice on deciding what we’re going to do. And sometimes we will have to listen and try to understand things that go beyond what we can understand….

(Last politically incorrect parenthesis: don’t ask me what to do with a man in the street who hates all Westerners, sees all non-veiled women as lowly sex objects and wants gays to be executed, but God loves him and even wants us to love him, and if we don’t listen to him first, he will never ever attempt to listen to us. I actually refuse to believe that anyone is beyond redemption, and even he carries the cracked image of God. Which doesn’t mean I would let my wife ever talk to him…)

To close let us pray:

Let us be like Jesus
who loved the least
and went for the most lost ones first
He, who had the privilege
of being God Himself incarnate
and became a lowly baby…
Let us ask for His Spirit
to open our eyes,
and for the upside-down Kingdom
of the Father
to shatter all of this evil
that divides us and destroys us…
Let us love
let us fight hate
let us bring down barriers
and invisible walls

what do you think?

Bram

Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…


true love waits
and that’s okay
but you seem to spend your time waiting
ain’t that extremely frustrating?

(the irresistible 21st century virgin boy)

Last week I had a serious flu and I was quite sick, and not able to do much at all, not even reading or thinking, so I was lying on my bed listening to old CD’s with demo songs that I recorded years ago, when I still used the nick/artist name ‘the irresistible 21st century virgin boy’*. One of the old CD’s contained a song I kissed waiting goodbye that I thought was lost forever, one of my earlier attempts to do something with beats and guitars together in a real song. But it also  vocalised  some critique to a book I mentioned in a recent post (‘I kissed dating goodbye’ by Joshua Harris), and I suppose more broadly to the rhetoric of the people of ‘true love waits’ , who then haTLW2d a Flemish division here in Belgium that sent me a lot of news letters because I once had carelessly signed one of their pledge cards on some christian event. (It seems they’re out of the running now though , can’t find anything of them anymore lately…)

The song itself was dismissed later because I hated how I hadn’t been able to find a really fitting melody on the sometimes quite random chord progressions. Re-listening there’s something in it that I like, and some things that I hate (that really bad word flow of the ‘don’t concentrate’ part for example.) But is was a good try, even if it got forgotten without ever been played again…

[please listen to the song 'I kissed waiting goodbye' here https://soundcloud.com/bram-cools/i-kissed-waiting-goodbye (lyrics are there also) and tell me; does it suck completely, or is there still something interesting about it?]

The title ‘I kissed waiting goodbye’ does not mean that I (with my weird artist name) had any problem with the idea of sex as belonging into a marriage relationship (I still believe in that, even though I don’t think a state marriage has much to do necessarily with the definition of marriage) but the whole imported ‘purity culture’ had some exaggerations that I found quite weird. And the local people that preached it were quite peculiar specimens too btw… The emphasis on waiting and not doing stuff was what was getting on my nerves…

Like I said earlier in my recent post a purity culture I don’t know, some of the critiques to ‘evangelical purity culture’ I’ve seen lately are describing something I don’t recognise at all, but I did have my concerns with what I did see. If I would have encountered weirdos like the 2 creeps in Sarah Moons latest blogpost my concerns would’ve been a lot bigger. And it might be that I didn’t even register some of the things that didn’t make sense to me, I think that’s how I never picked up those gender roles in Harris’ book if they are there. my brain didn’t even notice them because they made no sense to me, and they got thrown with the ‘this is too American’** garbage bin.

(Remember that an ‘American writer’ for me is as distant and exotic as an Italian cardinal, and Indian Sadhu  or an African Touareg songwriter…)

The whole movement always was a bit too obsessed with sex for my taste. (an obsession with having no sex all the time is just a weird form of sex-obsession.) It seemed like all they wanted to talk about was how to not have sex, and that was not what I was looking for, I was looking for how to actually grow in my relationship in all kinds of areas. All that talk about what not to do is not good for building a relationship. what people need is positive advice about to grow in love, and not just sexually!!!! there’s much more to a relationship than that, and focussing a relationship on that will make it unbalanced, be it a relationship focussed solely on sex or one focussed solely on avoiding sex …

One of the things I probably dismissed as otherworldy nonsense was the idea of ‘never being alone with someone of the other sex’, including the one you’re not yet married to but having a relationship with. As someone who had been always single with a lot of female friends some of which I saw alone regularly such things just didn’t make sense and didn’t get registered in my brain. It was not something that could convince me anymore than the idea that Belgium does not exist… (It would never haver worked with me and my wife either)

Another point that I found troubling was that I did not see how filling people with a ‘no sex’ message and conditioning them all the time to not touch and not be intimate would ever be reversed on a wedding night. I was too realistic to believe such a thing, whatever promises of ‘great sex lives for those who wait’ were gives. I just didn’t see that happen with such an obsessive attitude. And I later read a lot of articles that affirmed, sometimes from people who were completely blocked down sexually, so it wasn’t a false concern… I know it did work for other people, but I who was already blocked on sex and completely turned off by a world around me that seemed to sell sex on every corner but no love was more traumatised about sex on that moment. And in need of simple honest not overly sexual intimacy. It would actually take years of very slowly growing in intimacy before I would even be ready for sex and by that time I’d be ready to get married too.

By the way, there is something really problematic about all the weirdness this kind of movements does attach to the Christian ideas about sex and marriage. There is something dangerous about a good idea or a truth being hijacked by people who exaggerate in preaching it, and lump it together with nonsense and worse… It might work as a really good vaccination to ever believe it again. Those preached to who are first convinced but later see that the ballast is nonsense will most likely throw away the child with the bathwater… (an example of that here)
See also Ken Ham and his weird form of young earth creationism as litmus test for Christianity…

But let’s close with what I think is important about true love: it loves! And loving is not about not doing things, but about doing things. Apophatic theology (saying things about God by saying what He is not) can be an interesting way to communicate truth about God, but not doing certain things is not the essence of any form of love, and if it is you’re distracted from the real thing…

peace

Bram

* There was something sarcastic in that name, mainly the ‘irrestistible’ part… I’ve been single and eh, extremely celibate until I was 22 or so.

** Nothing racist about that. Other cultures always have things that are found to be nonsense and irrelevant by outsiders. But I do think I can indeed say that ‘too American’ is a valid reason for a lot of Europeans to  dismiss something…

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!

Lust is not about sex but power and control?


One of the most critically satisfying phrases in the modern era was the reductionist phrase “nothing but” as in “that’s nothing but a typical Freudian Electra complex at work” of “that’s nothing but a typical Marxist class struggle” [etc.] (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)

borat

If this picture of Borat makes anyone lust I’ll take it down…

I generally am a fan of the writings of christian feminist blogger Dianne Anderson, but sometimes feminist logic makes me scratch my head. I suppose because it’s a paradigm that I’m not that well versed in, even though I completely subscribe to the ‘radical notion that women are human’, and do find it quite weird that anyone would find such a thing radical…

One thing I cannot follow is the “Lust is not about sexuality, but about power and control” quote, to which Morgan Guyton (another blogger of which I tend to be a fan) wrote a response recently.

Let’s quote her in context (It’s best to read her post, and the post to which she refers:)

We’ve so perverted the definition of lust – narrowing it and broadening it at the same time – that we have created a paradigm under which no human being could function and come out as healthy. We’ve narrowed lust to be solely about sexual issues, ignoring that one can lust after a person’s car, a person’s position, or marriage. Lust is not about sexuality, but about power and control, as Maynard so eloquently points out.

Now I do get what she says, it could be backed up with the last of the ten commandments even, but I fail to see what this has to do with lust, or why lust would have to be defined as ‘power and control’ as it is framed in feminist theory. I do not think that this is what Jesus is warning about in Matthew 5:28 at all. There might be a factor too of ‘I want to own her and dominate her’, but I do not think at all that you can take the will to have sex with the wrong person out of the definition of sexual lust. There’s always much more involved than just one factor anyway… Like I wrote in the comments of Diannes blogpost:

There is more to sexual ethics than the liberal (as we’d call it in europe) idea of ‘consenting adults’ being what matters most, as the problem of adultery shows. I completely agree that sex without consent is a problem, but there’s much more to be said about it from a christian viewpoint… There’s also something about monogamous relationships and one-flesh covenants and stuf… Lingering in fantasies about consenting sex as equals with a woman that’s not my wife is just not right… Even if I’m not at all even interested in power and control when it comes to sex, adultery would still be bad when it’s flirty playful and without domination dynamics, and Jesus quote is just as relevant if we in our head create such a scenario as when we want to ‘take’ a woman in a more dominant way…

I would connect lust as christians have used the word through the ages more with an absence of self-control (not be able to tame ‘the passions’ as the church fathers would call it), which includes having sexual scenarios about other people in your fantasy, real or not that not our partner because our hormones like to be aroused. There is a big difference between noticing someone as attractive and wanting to have sex with that person and envisioning that in your head, or even acting upon that desire in the flesh. The first is a natural reaction, the second and third are what I would place under lust. As the saying goes ‘you can’t stop the bird from flying over, but you can stop it from nesting in your hair’. (which does not at all mean to close our eyes all the time so we see nothing, including birds, nor shaving of our hair or killing all birds)

[And let's not forget that we as men are indeed receiving Pavlovian conditioning in our Western civilisation to watch women like sexual objects, which is something that is very hard to unlearn.]

Lust might broader than something solely sexual, it can be other unhealthy desires too, including the lust for too much food (gluttony) or the lust for power and control,  but I don’t think framing it  as ‘power and control’ with the modern feminist lingo meaning of those words does define what Christians or the bible call ‘lust’. One can lust without harming or controlling anyone, or people can lust together in mutual consent as adults without power and control involved.

One a side note: like the McLaren quote above notes, there is a tendency in modern theorising to fall into ‘nothing but’ reductions. I think this is exactly one of these, just as the related feminist idea of’ ‘rape is not about sex but only about power and control’. Surely power and control are more important in rape than regular sexual ‘lust’ as the word is commonly used, like in both the recent incident in India as in the biblical Sodom story, and generally in what feminists call ‘rape culture’ but no one can deny that sex is a part of rape and plays a role in it, in some cases more than in others.
And the infamous ‘good guy’ who was confused if he was a rapist from the good man project article is more of an example where rape is fueled by an uncontroled sex drive and a lack of self-control. The guy is more a sexual imbecile who needs to be educated on things that are very basic and to seriously learn how to discipline himself than ‘the devil’ (as the title of Diannes pieces would indicate) being high on search for control and power.

I know that I’ve probably not have given an exhaustive definition of lust at all, but narrowing it down to feminist categories of power and control in a ‘nothing but’ way seems quite unhelpful and counterproductive, as well as closing our eyes to other problems lust gives unrelated to power and control issues, and likely to ostracise and ‘other’ more people than needed. Projecting theories on all people is never a good idea, every story is different… Human lust for power and control is a big problem that destructs lives and societies and all of the planet, and that can be extremely damaging in sexual relationships, but sexual lust is still  a problem and a sin without the slightest hint of  it!

The only real revolution worth fighting for releases both oppressor and oppressed from the evil system and the different ways in which it has harmed different people. Jesus came to set all free from sin. Not just the results of sin. But in the already and not yet that’s a whole process of re-orienting our fallen nature… And learning to love our sisters and brothers, recognise the Divine Image in everyone, and honor it…

shalom

Bram

Homosexuality on the Wartburg Watch with Justin Lee


The Wartburg watch blog has a very interesting series on Christians and homosexuality, with very challenging contributions from the inimitable Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, and Brad/futuristguy. It’s much more nuanced, interesting and intellectually honest than for example this chart that has been going around on facebook lately.

(I’m not a big fan of being judgmental and dismissive of those you find judgmental and dismissive. That’s only another version of exorcising the devil with Beelzebul..)

Here are the Wartburg Watch posts; Be sure to read all of them!

Lifelong Celibacy: Part One of The Great Debate on Gay Christianity

My Story About Gender, Sexuality, and Perspectives on “Successful” Transformation

Side A: Justin Lee Explains His View of The Bible and Gay Relationships

A Christian Teen Discovers He’s Gay and Traditional (?) Marriage

Final Thoughts on Gays and Christianity: We Can Do Better

I think the most important thing here is what Dee says in the preface to her last post about Justin:

He opened my eyes to many things that I have never considered. Justin made me realize that I am dealing with people, not a just a theological concept.

This should be our approach. Love people before theory.My eyes were opened to that by Andrew Marins book ‘love is an orientation’, but in all those discussions online it’s a good reminder. We’re dealing with people.

Carbon-based lifeforms who bear the image of God!

…on both sides…

Bram