- Rev-Wendy Wolf on Women need respect, men need love (1)
- Rev-Wendy Wolf on Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
- Rev-Wendy Wolf on Women need respect, men need love (2): Women need respect!
- Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex… | Brambonius' blog in english on On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
- Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex… | Brambonius' blog in english on Women need respect, men need love (2): Women need respect!
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I am happy to announce the new Bram Cools album ‘We are civilised!?’, a collection of new folksongs, weird rattling rock-ballads, abstract electronic instrumentals, a few notes of crappy grunge-lofi and a completely misguided attempt at folk-electro that almost ended up like disco-pop. Maybe there are even a few seconds in which I do sound poppy.
For more background: In an impulsive moment I decided to take the RPM challenge this year, which means to record a complete album of at least 10 songs or 35 minutes of music within the month of February. I’ve did this once before, in 2007 when I recorded a weird liturgical concept album in more styles than I knew I could play, based partly on old Christian liturgical texts in different styles. The electronic ‘Kyrie’ that features on various collections including ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ originates there for example.
So now there’s ‘We are civilised!?’, a brandnew collection of music that was born in exactly one month. This year I had no real concept to start with, and thus not that much coherence. But I started with some instrumental tracks (both guitar-based and electronic) and wrote a lot of lyrics, and I’ve put them together. I also added a few older songs that I never managed to finish and record before. (Note that without them I would already have 35 min and 10 minutes) And then the bad luck kicked in when my recording console died so some instrumentals never received their lyrics, and some songs that were written on guitar never got recorded before the end of the month. (They might resurface later though)
That’s all for now.
Peace and love to all of you!
This is the third part in my ‘Women need respect, men need love’ series (part 2 here), where I try to look at the male side of the whole ‘women need love, men need respect’ mess, which will alo be the longest of the three. (After all, the only perspective I can write from is from that of a straight married man.) And I must say that I’m appalled by how men are described in this kind of discourse, as if we are oversexed animals driven only by a few primitive needs, with no selfcontrol and not really a need for love even.See also for example my post On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism? from 5 years ago already. Porn and a certain kind of sexist fundamentalism are creepily close actually, and the same dehumanising ideology under porn and hook-up ideology is also present in this kind of funamentalism. The only main difference I can make out is that one side gives in to the animalistic sexuality they see as default, while the other more or less tries to tame it in marriages. But apart from that they’re rather the same, n
matter how much pretence of being ‘biblical’.
It would be an understatement I felt quite insulted as a man and as a Christian when I read Sheila Gregoires overview of the ‘love and respect’ view of what men want sexually and how they should be ‘respected’ I still feel the same way every time I reread it. Let’s add a shortened version here to refresh:
She honors her husband’s authority in the marriage, allowing him to make the decisions. She does not speak up when she disagrees with him, even if he is being selfish and seriously burdening her.(…)This is true even in cases where he is a workaholic; drinking too much; or having an affair. (…) No matter what, in all of these cases, she regularly gives him sexual release, without any regard for her own feelings, understanding that this is a need that he has, and that he cannot show her love without it. (source)
There’s a lot of toxic things in here, but at this moment there ‘s 3 very dangerous things jumping out for me:(1) erasing communication in a relationship will never do any good, and can only make it worse for both partners (2) the idea that a man feels respected when he’s tread as a despotic narcissist is just beyond alien to me. How you can have an intimate relationship without communication?
But the ultimate creepiness, and the ultimate degradation of the male side in the equation is like I already said (3); the idea that mere ‘sex as release’ is the driving need for men.
And then to say that those views are based on a verse from Paul that says that men need to love their wives as themselves is too much cognitive dissonance for me to handle. Note that Paul uses the verse to correct an asymmetry in gender patterns in his world, not at all to express pop-psychological needs, let alone express an absolute need for men and a desire for women that’s less important as the ‘love and respect’ doctrine seems to teach. I would assume it would be the other way around anyway: Love your wife as yourself is the most important command here, and there’s no way explaining it away if you really strive to be ‘biblical’. But alas; I have given up believing that US fundamentalists care one inch about being biblical though, so I’m not surprised anymore by this butchering of scripture, although it saddens me a lot to see how this kind of thinking can vaccinate couples against deep intimacy. Which is a very hideous thing!
Yes, no one can deny that in a way men need respect (as all people do), but I’ve already there is no actual respect in being treated as an entitled narcissist. Gender is irrelevant even, all people need basic respect, and all relationships need mutuality in that, especially if we’re speaking about an intimate relationship. Let’s also remark again that there is absolutely no respect in not being communicated to.
Now let’s take this overview of what the ‘love and respect’ doctrine teaches about men and their ‘need for sex’:
Men need physical release. They experience this as respect. If you don’t give it to them, they will be tempted to have affairs or to ogle other women.
Sheila Gregoire summarising ‘love and respect’
This kind of thinking might come from a man who wants to excuse his own weaknesses, but still is extremely denigrating and dehumanising to men. Why does the worst misandry always come from men who claim to defend their own gender? Yes, men desire sexual release among other things, but we are humans, not animal slaves to our bodies, and we certainly will survive without ‘getting release’. Men can and should have selfcontrol. That’s what the bible tells us too. That’s what I was told as a teenager as one of the reasons why having no premarital sex is a good idea: it’s a training in selfcontrol, and even within marriage there will be times that there is no sex. And a man is able to survive that, and love his wife. And still have other forms of intimacy with her.
It’s also nonsense to say that mere ‘physical release’ is the reason of most affairs. Most men are looking for something that’s missing in their relationship. Often even love and being understood and stuff like that.
The ‘men just need sex’ trope, combined with the myth of the absence of male selfcontrol is not just insulting, but it’s also very destructive for men as well as for their relationships when they start to believe that crap, making them aim for much less than they could and should be. Which isn’t only bad for them, but also for their lovers to, who deserve much better.
But we probably shouldn’t be surprised that some people think this way: it’s the underpinnings of the modern Western porn industry, basic individualistic consumerism, and our human psychology often works with self-fulfilling prophecies: strong beliefs of not being able to do something will very often manifest themselves and be affirmed. It’s bad enough that certain corners of the non-Christian world sell us this nonsense to get people hooked in their web of consumerist screwed-upness, but I expect more from Christians than a complete disbelief in male selfcontrol, and a higher view of what men expect from sex and relationships too.
Both men and women deserve better.
But yes, the male body desires sexual release. (Just as women have a sex drive too by the way) And yet that doesn’t mean that every sexual release as such will actually satisfy or fulfil us in any way. Or that a man always needs to get everything a body asks for. We’re not simple bodily animals. My body also wants sleep at moments that I can’t get it, and more food than is good for me. Not listening to your bodies needs is what makes us human. And just treating sex as mere release is just masturbation, and adding a human partner will not make much difference for that in a way. Except that we use another human being, that we are commanded to love as ourselves according to the bible verse behind the ‘love and respect’ logic to get that physical release.
It makes me feel sad and lonely that this is what people think of sex, even within marriage. Or of sex at all. If that would be all there was to it I would choose a life of celibacy, and pray to God to make me asexual. Or become one of those people who think sex is indeed by definition dirty, and always a sin and a weakness.
I’d even say that the mere idea that anyone would feel respected by getting sex-as-mere-release from a partner that doesn’t even want it without any actual emotional connection is beyond creepy. It’s a recipe for marital rape even, which I suppose to be punishable by law in any civilised modern country. Any man who’s content with that has no clue what intimacy is.
If that is really what a Christian book about marriage teaches, something is beyond wrong, antichrist even.
But it’s also no wonder that a man who has such a low view of sex, which is affirmed by his experience, might have no qualms with exchanging the source of the ‘relief’ with another one, be it porn, or maybe an affair in which more than this approach to sex is explored or the humanity that the marriage is vaccinated to by this destructive doctrine is sought back.
Because yes, as is very evident, men still need love. We’re as human as women and children are, and don’t differ much from them. Only the worst psychopath who tragically doesn’t have all of his humanity together might not. And while our body might desire sexual release, that is only a small part of the story, and probably one of our desires that is easiest put aside, or transformed into something else.
As Shane Claiborne says:
If we are able to have a healthier understanding of sexuality and to celebrate singleness as well as marriage and family, then we can transcend some of this. One of my mentors is a celibate monk, and he says we can live without sex but we can’t live without love. And there are a lot of people who have a lot of sex and never experience love, and people who never have sex [but] have deep experiences of intimacy and love. (the irresistible revolution)
Everybody needs love.
It’s much more basic than needing sex. And more destructive if we don’t get it.
The big problem is this whole ‘all we need is sex’ stuff. It can never satisfy. It empties sex of meaning and make sex itself more unsatisfying, which is quite ironic when you have put all your hope for fulfilment in sex.
You won’t get any fulfilment, but you will be told that’s all there is.
And this mess is supposed to be male chauvinism… It’s a good recipe for men making themselves worse than they could be, more sinful, and having terrible loveless sex-lives.
If that isn’t beyond sad?
what do you think?
I think on our best days maybe for even just a few seconds or minutes we all have, saintly actions and so for me saying, this project’s good saint Nathanael, I’m aspiring to have more of those, good moments where I treat my, my fellow man really well, and less like time where it’s just focused about me. (album trailer)
(Nederlandse versie hier) I haven’t been following new music lately as much as I did when I was younger, but sometimes there still is new music that I’m rather exited about. And today I’m very happy to announce the release of ‘Hide No Truth’ by Good Saint Nathanael, of which the burned CD hasn’t left my CD-player this week I think. (I was lucky to have a preview copy for this review!) It’s a remarkable and intriguing album with very quiet folk-based music but not at all easy listening nonetheless. I’m sometimes reminded of what an acoustic-based beck or the eels could record when they forget a rhythm section, or maybe a bit of Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy who plays the later dark Johnny Cash repertoire, with even echoes of a more inspired Daniel Johnston or a completely deconstructed mewithoutyou. But maybe all the name-dropping is just silly. In a just world this would become a reference album in the near future for this kind of music. And if you want to make sense of those descriptions, it’s better to just check out the singles Lightning, Everything that’s lost and better.
So who is this guy? Good Saint Nathanael is the new project of Nate Allen, who is probably mostly known from ‘Destroy Nate Allen’, a fun folkband with DIY punk energy that discovered on myspace ages ago, in another world that was a lot simpler and full of wondrous new unknown and exiting obscure music. While I still feel the spirit of that world in the music of Good Saint Nathanael-something I often miss in todays musical landscape-, both projects are quite different in output, with Good Saint Nathanael being a lot more mature and introspective, as well as very subtle and deep both musically and lyrically.
Basically the album consists of nine dark and rather minimalistic folksongs based on a skeleton of vocals and folk guitar, arranged with varying instruments (ranging from ‘broken tape noise’ to a harp) that create very interesting atmospheric soundscapes in the background. Nate Allen disarms the listener with the brutal honesty of his haunting voice, and most of the songs succeed fully in their ambitions without anything even remotely sounding like a rhythm section anywhere on the same continent. That alone can probably be seen as quite an accomplishment in 2019.
Content-wise the whole album is one of spiritual struggle, traumas resulting from religious abuse, and hope and faith in spite of all the darkness, all mingled into each other and often described very poetically but with a brutal honesty that might blow some sensitive souls off their socks. While others would probably have made a break-up album about their faith this is certainly not a deconversion album like Derek Webb’s fingers crossed (see my review for that one here). So instead of an escapist and self-destructive “women and whiskey are persuasive at making me forget you” this one always returns to hope and light, no matter how frail, ending with the open-ended certainty that
Yes I think we can do better, a whole lot better, a whole lot better than this
Yes I think we can do better, treat the whole world better than this (better)
Which is something much-needed in these days. Hope, and a journey of falling and standing up again with some mildness for when we fall is one the things this world might need the most even right now! And when it’s packaged in such beautiful music it’s even better…
Outside it’s freezing when I write this, although the promised snow hasn’t fallen yet. I’m working on my laptop while listening to ‘hide no truth and for a moment everything fits perfectly: a good Belgian trappist beer, the quietness of the winter night, and music, honest and vulnerable. This is how enjoying music should happen!
Disclaimer: I was indeed given an electronic copy of this album for writing a review, but all the enthusiasm is purely my own.
In part 1 of this series I reacted against the slogan ‘women need love, men need respect’ that seems a US import slogan linked to bad marriage advice that is rather pervasive in certain evangelical circles, with some pop-psychological weirdness attached to it.
I am well aware that it should be more than obvious that all people, of all genders need both love and respect, in and out of marriage relationships. There should be no question about that. And actually, all that I’m saying here should just be common sense. I’m rather shocked that it isn’t for some people. But as my title indicates, I strongly feel that it might good to emphasise, in our time and culture, that women really need respect and men really need love too.
I’ve already touched upon in my last post that the original version of the saying has been abused and made into an ideology that has been destructive for vulnerable marriages. The series on Sheila Gregoires blog from last week had some very extreme examples of that. (Watch out, disturbing stories there)
Yes, it’s true that normal people with healthy relationship skills and enough love and respect probably would just take a message of ‘don’t be selfish’ from the book, as Sheila already said in her post, but there’s still a poison in the book, and it seems also in similar ‘Christian marriage books’ that focus on the supposed needs of the man which are much more important that those of the wife. Not everybody gets bitten when they meet an European adder, and because a healthy person usually won’t die when bitten, that we need to encourage all people to go play with adders, is it?
It’s quite clear if you actually read the verse that the whole theory is built on that ‘psychological needs’ are not what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5:33, and none of the abuse that the book brought haver happened if men would actually love their wife as they love themselves, as that verse also very clearly says. Which is a clear command, and not a hint about pop-psychological needs.
The poison is very clear if we follow Sheilas series (1 2 3 4), and damaging for both sexes: the advice of unconditional respect for the man can lead to bad relationships and ruined marriages.
Which by the way means that on the other side of each of these stories the teaching has turned a man into someone who isn’t even able to be in a healthy relationship, and -very ironically since we’re speaking about supposedly Christian teaching here-, a bigger sinner than he should and could have been, led astray from Christlikeness and turned into the likeness and image of a toxic ‘manliness’ that is in certain aspects the opposite of how Christ wants us to grow. Entitled narcissism is a good way to create hell here on Earth, both for yourself and the people closest to you. But we will not focus on the the male side here, which will be for a next post.
So let’s go back to the title: Women need respect!
Yes, I know: It’s very weird and discouraging that such a thing even needs to be said. Someone once said that feminism is the radical idea that women are human, and the sad thing is that we still need to hear that in Western society of the 21st century sometimes. Porn culture and male-dominated sexism are still pervasive in our world, turning the sexes against each other. And this often means that even the basic respect of treating the other like a person is lacking.
As a Christian we should never join this toxic tendency, for it is pure antichrist toxicity. Jesus Himself treated everyone as a person, and showed a lot of respect for all kinds of people who were often not treated as a full person in his own culture and society. Sadly this indeed included women too in his world, as it sometimes does today. But he didn’t bother with those societal patterns at all and broke all of the rules whenever they were in conflict with ‘love your neighbour’.
Think for example of the Samaritan woman in John 4, with whom a lot of barriers existed: Men didn’t talk to women, Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans, and so on. Jesus doesn’t bother at all with these things. Neither did he bother with those petty restrictions he when Mary of Bethany breaks all societal patterns in which only men could listen to a rabbi. Or when they bring the woman caught in adultery before him.
Jesus certainly didn’t find the idea that ‘women are human’ a radical idea, even though some of the people around him might have been shocked by his inclusion of women as much as with his inclusion of both the oppressed and outcasts like the Samaritans and chronically ill, as well as the oppressors -who also were outcasts- in the form of the Roman soldiers. But his friendships with women were very remarkable for his time and culture, especially the gospel of Luke was quite scandalous in that regard!
All of this is basic biblical knowledge. If we are to call ourselves Christians this means that any societal rule that prevents us from respecting others made in the Divine Image should be dismissed. I don’t even need to refer to my own adherence to Christianity though, since this is a very basic form of humanism that should be common sense to all of us moderns, even though it still might be revolutionary for some if I look around. The sad truth is still that in a lot of circumstances a lot of women (among other humans) do not get the basic respect they deserve as human beings even. This always is an injustice that should be countered!
Every human being, including every woman, needs to be seen as a fellow Image of God. None of them (regardless even of how they present themselves to us, not even a sexy model in an ad) should ever be treated as a mere sex object that is enjoyed and preyed on as such in porn culture, and seen as an evil temptation to be avoided in certain religious circles. Certainly both are two versions of the same evil, and and as I said before in other posts: one of the best remedies is simply friendship. Personally I have no idea how a marriage or sexual relationship in general would even be possible without friendship at all. But friendship should be our basic impulse towards every person of the other sex that we meet. If we would do that the respect I’m speaking of here would always be present!
And so it still needs to be said: Women need respect!
So how much more important is this in a monogamous partnership that is supposed to be based on love as our Western marriages are? It’s rather obvious that i f we don’t give someone the basic respect as a person that ‘love’ won’t even be an option, let alone loving someone as yourself as Paul says in the verse that the ‘love and respect’ stuff is based on.
If you can’t treat someone as a person you have no business being with them. You will only hurt them, and respect is something that is very easily naturally reciprocated in a healthy relationship but also often dies when it isn’t… I keep on saying things that should be entirely obvious, but any relationship needs respect from two sides, otherwise it can and should not go very deep. And a relationship that goes so deep as a marriage does cannot survive in a meaningful without mutual respect, and love is impossible without it.
It doesn’t matter what the gender of a person is, we all need to be treated as a person especially by our life partner. And the opposite of respect is one of the most destructive things in a relationship. Contempt is one of the most dangerous things that can be added to a relationship, and one of the most sure ways to kill either the love or the whole marriage.
And while I’m writing all of this I still have a nagging voice that says. ‘this is just too obvious to write down’. But when I read stuff like what I’ve read last week on Shelia Gregoire’s blog, or discussions in certain Facebook groups, or thinkabout certain relationships I’ve seen go to ruin in my live I fear that I’m naive.
It needs to be said again and again.
It needs to be shown to the world.
It needs to be shown to the church too I’m afraid!
It needs to be live out and be a light.
We need to be a friend who shows respect!
We need to crush all forms of dehumanisation!
Women need respect!
All people do!
So what do you think?
Women need respect, men need love!
Yes, some will recognise that title as an inversion of the American Christian slogan ‘women need love, men need respect’, which is also the title of some American book on marriage that would very probably wreck my marriage if I would ever try to read and follow it. For those who didn’t recognise it, no, I’m not even going to link to it, only to a deconstruction of that weird basic idea and the supposed biblical basis that it doesn’t have if you want to know more about it, and to some other articles critiquing it. There are more marriage books that are actually quite bad for your marriage around I’m afraid.
I have used the sentence “women need respect, men need love” as a tweet and facebook status before, accidentally with almost exactly 2 years in between, and it always seemed to get a lot of attention. Last week the status was prompted by reading some rather disturbing things about the original book the quote comes from. Sheila Gregiore of ‘to love, honor and vacuum’, – an American evangelical blogger and marriage counsellor- dedicated a whole week to the book. She seems to have had had the suspicion that a lot of the marriage problems she sees are caused by bad marriage advice, and ‘love and respect’ indeed proved to be a source of very destructive marriage advice.
To be honest, while it is true that the whole series was a critique of yet another bad evangelical hype the series gave me some hope for American evangelicalism again. It interesting and reassuring to see a (as far I can see) rather conservative and soft complementarian evangelical being true to the actual bible in these days of Trump, and to call out all of the manipulative lies and destructive nonsense that seems to be masquerading as ‘biblical teaching’ in certain corners of evangelicalism even though it’s opposite to anything remotely Christlike. A bit like all that nonsense on ‘biblical manliness’ that ends up glorifying men who are completely contrary to the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
I always expected evangelical Christians to at least follow the words of Christ and Paul on love and try to live in a matter that roughly corresponds with the law of loving fellow humans, but lately I’ve felt so often that I was naive. I’ve seen so much co-religionists who just seemed to want to have control, dominion, and who wanted to be right, and sometimes even worse. So I was glad to see a very clear counter-example.
I know that some people will say ‘Bram, surely you can’t mean that these kind of books mean that women need only love and men need only respect’, but it seems quite clear that for the writer men do need respect (and unquestioned submission even) in a rather entitled and almost narcissist way, while nothing is said about women needing respect. Such doctrines are nothing but a recipe for abuse and a marriage without any closeness.
This is how Sheila summarized the way the book described how men need respect. Note also that men absolutely need this respect according to the book, while the love women need is more added as a suggestion.
She honors her husband’s authority in the marriage, allowing him to make the decisions. She does not speak up when she disagrees with him, even if he is being selfish and seriously burdening her. When he is doing something really wrong that hurts the family and children, she remains quiet and speaks only briefly. She may mention what she is upset about once, but then she does not bring it up again for several weeks. This is true even in cases where he is a workaholic; drinking too much; or having an affair. If he is angry or abusive, she is respectful by not speaking up when he has angry outbursts, but instead by remaining quiet. No matter what, in all of these cases, she regularly gives him sexual release, without any regard for her own feelings, understanding that this is a need that he has, and that he cannot show her love without it. (source)
A lot of things can be said here that will be kept for a few later posts, if this is what is meant with ‘men need respect’, then the word ‘respect’ means something for the writer (a married man) that it doesn’t mean for most people, and it also is one-sided. I would also say that some of these things would mean the opposite of respect for me. But I think we can be frank here: It is impossible to have respect from both sexes towards each other if this is the definition of respect, because it will always be asymmetrical. But I hope that it’s also quite clear that this isn’t ‘respect’ at all. It’s just cultivating narcissist entitlement in men. Or as a meme says:
As a meme says “Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”, and ans sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person” (source unknown)
In a relationship no-one needs to be treated like an authority, especially not unconditionally as the ‘love and respect’ guy seems to propagate, but both people need to treat each other like a person. Without a basic respect there is no chance of having a meaningful relationship even. And evidently we’re all humans. It would be nonsense to deny that we all need both love and respect. I sincerely hope that no-one will disagree with me here. It’s very clear that gender shouldn’t be important here, although it seems it often is.
Still I do have my reasons to reverse the usual slogan and explicitly say women need respect, and men need love. But that is for the next post
What do you think?
2018 was by far the least productive year when it comes to me blogging here since I started blogging here. It was also a terrible year, for myself and for the world.
I hope 2019 will be better.
It has to.
And even if it isn’t, I will still need to find a new way to navigate Reality and our weird realities.
I do have some unfinished blogposts in my head and on my laptop that I hope to finish and post. Stuff about God, dating, Disney princesses and love, lobsters and the reversal of humanism, the great postmodern betrayal of the progressive follow-up to the emerging church, and more everyday stuff like that. There are lots of important things that I might need to say. Although I’m not that sure anymore that the internet is always the best place to share your thoughts. But I’ll see what I can do; and I’m certainly not going to abandon this blog!
What I do need is new directions though.
So I’ll try to reduce screentime and online time in this new year. I’ll try to read more physical books, and listen to CD’s again (burned CD’s from legally downloaded bandcamp mp3’s even, yes I’m oldfashioned) and LP’s. To play more music. I need to get out in nature more.
More creativity and less unneeded input like those draining social media feeds. Drawing, writing, music, maybe other things. But no more online-feed-trances that lead to nothing except being drained!
I also need more prayer and meditation, more alignment with God and with Reality, because I’ve been sucked into fake realities and stories that aren’t mine way too much recently. More Truth, Beauty and Goodness. This world is starving for it but the media and online universe clearly can’t provide it, only vaccinate me against it.
Both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ on the internet (and in real life) have become extremely toxic sometimes. So I need to ground myself outside of the online thoughtfields, away from toxic group spirits and creepy fake normalities and destructive nonsense that’s been taken for granted as common sense while it makes no sense at all.
Truth, Beauty and Goodness
Light, Justice and Mercy
Faith, Love and Hope
but the greatest of all of these
Have a blessed 2019!!
Orcs are popular characters in a certain kind of fantasy story, and more recently also in the kind of games based on it. While I certainly love the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy and the guy who coined the term ‘orc’, there is something dark to the idea too with a lot of potential for evil abuse,which is the ‘problem of the orcs’ that I will try to explore in this essay.
Let’s start first with the beginning, and with the definition of our main term. Tolkiens orcs are humanoids, a kind of goblin. Most notably orcs are dangerous and ugly and live underground, use violence freely, usually don’t like sunlight, and even eat the meat of humans when they can. But the most characteristic thing about orcs in the middle-Earth universe is that they are pure evil. Not just a bit, but completely. Orcs are pure monsters that are thoroughly bad, so much that there is no chance at all of one of them ever being good.
Their evilness has something to do with their role and origin. They are used by the dark lord Sauron, created by the powers of evil, and might even be dependent upon him. So them being instruments of evil, the only thing anyone on the good side can do with them is destroy them. Unlike humans and most fantasy humanoids no matter how evil in Tolkiens books, there is no chance for redemption or reform for the orc. We can see the difference very clearly in the LOTR books. When the battle of helms deep is over, the surviving humans from the enemy, originally recruited by the fallen wizard Saruman get mercy. They are humans. Same with other beings including the repulsive and quite evil creature Gollum -technically more or less a mutated hobbit deformed by evil-, who does get the benefit of the doubt from Gandalf.
But no such thing ever happens for orcs.
Orcs are in a way flat characters. They are an archetype for something like the executive forces of evil. A personification of the forces of destruction, hate and decay in the form of a more or less humanoid sentient being which is a slave of the dark lord. And in a story of fight between good and evil there is only one thing that can be done with them: they need to be destroyed! All of them! Without mercy!
A good orc is a dead orc!
Now I do like Tolkien and his books. And I understand his use of beings that are pure evil as instruments of the evil dark lord. Such things might indeed exist in fictional worlds (or even our world!) They can also have a lot of symbolical meanings: the evils we have to fight in either our society or our own lives (what some Muslims call the greater Jihad) or even literal demons if you believe in those.
But still there is a big problem with the idea of the orc, although not in the idea itself but more in the possible abuse of the idea. The orc trope of a humanoid being that is purely evil and utterly beyond redemption, and ultimately just destined for destruction when good conquers evil is can easily go wrong.
This is probably one of the reasons Tolkien didn’t like his LOTR trilogy to be seen as allegorical and a symbolic retelling of WWI by the way. Even with all the forces of evil in the background all Germans are still humans, and not orcs and I am quite sure that Tolkien as a Catholic would never equate humans with orcs, even though they’re on the other side of a war.
The picture of an orc is powerful in propaganda techniques, and very dangerous. From the moment we turn any human being into an orc, we cross the line of dehumanisation. It’s a technique that is as old as human wars probably. And it’s wrong and evil, at least as dark as the heart of the worst orc of Mordor! But it often works. Humans like to think in ‘us and them’ dichotomies, and sometimes the ‘them’ side is seen as so ‘other’ and so dangerous that they evil and beyond redemption, and killing them is the only option. The enemy gets reduced to a kind of orcs.
Certainly this is an irrational impulse, and from any rational Christian or humanist POV this purely is an abomination. Every human being is made in Gods image, and no human is beyond redemption. But strangely enough Christians sometimes use similar techniques, especially when influenced by certain endtimes-stories. Johan Klein Haneveld in a recent essay about Christian fantasy and endtimes-stories (in Dutch, sorry) notes how in the ‘Left behind’ series the non-believers are reduced to something that in the terminology of this post can be seen as an equivalent as an orc. In fact the whole dispensationalist endtimes scenario in which the unbelievers are part of the ‘forces of evil’ makes it hard for certain Christians to see the other as human.
Talking about a friend who believed in an update of the dispensational endtimes story which saw a union of Muslim countries as the final oppressors (instead of the EU or UN in earlier versions) of the endtimes, Johan remarks:
If you portray people as an enemy, you’ll treat them likewise. My friend admitted that it was hard for him to love Muslims, since he believed in this view of the future. He needed to do his best to see them as individuals, and not take them responsible for the tribulation that would follow in the endtimes.
Likewise the ‘Left Behind’ series didn’t help Christians to love their enemies. (…) No, instead they stimulated ‘us-them’ thinking and aroused a fear for the evil outer world, in which everyone could turn out to be an evil oppressor of Christians. (…)
And the reader of the books was taught to see democrats, liberals and dissenters as one-dimensional characters that deserved to go to hell.
These “one-dimensional characters that deserve to go to hell” are certainly very close to orcs I would say. They are not loved, they are not mourned, and God will destroy them anyway so who bothers, good riddance! (And in this most of the words of Christ are swept under the mat, along with the most radical parts of the bible) And the potential for abuse of this discourse goes far beyond this kind of ‘Christianity’. Later in the essay Johan quotes from a New York Times article about Racist Science Fiction in the US.
‘Ward Kendall’s 2001 “Hold Back This Day,” imagines a future in which the evil all-powerful “World Gov” has forcibly united the population of Earth under one religion and, by way of enforced race-mixing, one uniformly brown-skinned population. Jeff Huxton … slowly learns to cherish his white skin and joins a terrorist group called “Nayra” (“Aryan” spelled backwards!). They hijack a spaceship and travel to Avalon, a secret all-white colony on Mars, which has been transformed into a paradisiacal homeland.’
Johan then adds that “he has seen that plot before, and well in ‘Left behind'”. Here we see all ‘non-white’ people reduced to some kind of orcs. Something that has happened before in real life by the way, and is certainly quite evil. How those people can claim a ‘Christian’ identity is beyond me. (Jesus wasn’t even ‘white’, whatever that word even means, and he came for people of all kinds.)
Let’s not forget that all humans are of our species, and made in Gods image.
Seeing the other as an orc of any is always a dangerous lie. All lives matter! (Even non-human lives do have their importance too evidently. But that would be another post.) This is also true even if they’re on the other side of a war or conflict. Even if they’re very different. Human lives are important!
In the end the actual enemy is not the human being on the other side in the other trench who is feeling the same fear as us and wants to stay alive like us, but the forces that make us enemies. Lies, systems, powers, whatever…
No human is ever beyond a chance of redemption (even though the evil they commit remains very real) I believe that as a Christian. Even the most evil person has a capacity of repentance! The question of evil humans is an interesting one though. Maybe there indeed is a point of no return after which a certain human being is completely evil. But who are we to judge that even with the worst criminal? Half of the new testament was written by a man who tried to erase Christianity with violence before his conversion, and approved of killing Christians! Maybe there are points that for the protection of the innocent a human has to be killed in defence. That’s all possible.
But no human is an orc.
Even worse is using a form of ‘identity politics’ in which certain groups of people (the enemy, other races, one of the sexes, people of a certain persuasion or religion, the oppressed or the oppressors, fans of nickleback, whatever…) are orcs beyond redemption. This is a very grave form of dehumanisation that will make us less human, and closer to being an orc ourselves… A human is always more than a member of a certain identity group.
And so for a Christian there is no fellow human that we should see as beyond redemption. No enemy that can be turned into an orc that should be slain without mercy.
We’re all human!
what do you think?