Tag Archives: sexism

The sexist umbrella that makes no sense at all


The subtitle of this blog is ‘My book of the damned’, because I sometimes touch on subjects that are completely off the radar for most people, even though they might be rather interesting or important.

Today we have the opposite, instead of saving something from the realm of damned and shining light on something interesting that is ignored by the mainstream I’ll shine some light on something that should be banished to far beyond the realm of the damned because it’s both harmful and stupid.

I’m speaking of the so-called ‘umbrella of protection’ diagram here, which seems to be used in certain ‘Christian” environments to explain how the order of the family is supposed to be. According to someone in my facebook list it’s even used in Flemish churches, although I’ve never encountered it myself luckily.

Just look at it for some seconds. Think about how umbrellas work. This is not how umbrellas work. Not even my little ponyland or Utopia are there laws of physics and logic that could be bended to make an umbrella work like this. No matter how you twist the whole thing, all umbrellas except the biggest one will always be redundant.

Now I know that a bad metaphor does not necessarily make an idea invalid,  and neither does a bad explanation of it.  So I know that I have to say something about the ideas behind the whole thing. But I can be rather short.

If the idea that the man is the mediator of God for the wife, and the wife is the mediator of God (through the man?) for the children, then the basics of Christianity are denied here. And the basics of protestantism too (the priesthood of all believers. Making the man a priest for all of his household members has some very weird theological implications outside of Christianity (like nullifying the idea that Christ brings is the one who connects us to God for women and children). And it’s as nonsensical as the ‘all men are leaders, all women are followers’ trope. No, most men are not leaders (and some women are). If everyone is a leader the word doesn’t even have any meaning anymore. And even though they are a minority, the bible certainly has a lot of women leaders and a lot of men who are not leaders.

If this is solely about protection then even psalm 23 doesn’t make sense in this worldview, and is only for me. Women should pray ‘my man is my shepherd, mediating the Lord for me’, while children should say ‘my mother is my shepherd, mediating my father who is mediating the Lord for me’. This is pure nonsense. God will protect anyone, and needs no authority over us to do so.

Hagar in the Desert

Think for example of Abraham, one of the most notorious figures in the history of religion, and certainly a man of God even though not always the best example in family relationships. When his wife Sarah kicks out his pregnant second wife Hagar the angels protect her, even though she just lost her ‘male umbrella’ according to this umbrella paradigm. Later the same thing happens with her son Ishmael when he’s 13. (Picture Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1870, Romania, I doubt angels actually look like that though)  God can protect any of us well enough without having any ‘umbrella’ of any authority over us. And for sure, we should protect the ones we love, but the whole hierarchy chain of the umbrella theory is very cramped and weird.

Where does it come from? It appears that this scheme comes from some bloke called Bill Gothard, who’s also leader of a homeschool movement and seems to be a rather weird cult leader (A FB-friend of me has been hurt and traumatised severely by his influence when growing up). His institute has even turned the theory and other rather weird authoritarian things in very cute but rather brainwashing songs for children and as you see from that link and the comments, more people have been very much hurt, damaged and traumatised by his approach.That alone should be enough to just discard the whole thing, and watch out for his influence in Evangelicalism. Here’s a good introduction to the story of Gothard (although not a super readable website) for those who want to dig deeper, and the afore-linked homeschool anonymous site has interesting stuff too.

To add a layer of irony, this whole Authoritarianism-gone-wrong stuff thwatchmanat is so pervasive in American Christianity is partly a Chinese import. Like the creepy extreme shepherding movement, Gothard is influenced by Watchman Nees ‘Authority and submission’ paradigm, which puts extreme emphasis on absolute submission.  (sample chapter from Nee here) Watchman Nee as a Chinese Christian was influenced by his culture -as anyone is- and imported a bit of Confucius here when it comes to the role of authority and hierarchy, which was taken to an unbalanced extreme.  For those who like to check for themselves: Here’s the whole reasoning behind the theory of ‘umbrella protection’ which is very clearly influenced by Nee if you’re familiar with his way of thinking.

But let’s go back to the diagram and look at it as it is drawn.  if we just open our eyes, the diagram itself cannot hide the truth that all of this is plain nonsense and the truth is still plain and open for anyone with eyes to see. The only ‘umbrella’ we need is the protection of God Himself. No other umbrella under it would ever do anything at all and they are all useless and unneeded…

Yes, we all are a blessing to each other, and we all help each other, but we’re all under the same umbrella together. It’s a basic Christian truth God is available to all of us through Christ.

peace

Bram

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The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?


It’s quiet here, so let’s go back to controversy and write about some kind of weird subject like the pornification of images (moving or not) of human beings made in the Divine Image… (generally called ‘porn’ by most people) And let’s give it a long title full of complicated words so I won’t attract too many Beavis and Butthead-type of readers…

Yeah,  it’s been a while since I wrote a post about things related to sex and love and so (the last and only one since July or so being my little effort to raise some awareness of asexuals as the most ignored sexual minority) so why not….

So where to start? A while ago I read this article called 3 lies that kept me trapped by porn from a guest-blogger on Micah Murray’s redemption pictures. To clarify where I stand on these things I must probably start here with saying that, while it’s an understatement to say that I’m not a fan of porn at all, I’m generally not a big fan of most Christian anti-porn propaganda either… so I didn’t expect that much from the article, since most articles with a title like that are just more of the ‘every man’s battle’ stuff, an affirmation that it’s more or less expected for a man to be addicted to porn on one hand and a lot of guilt-creation that partly misses the point on important details on the other hand. I tend to not find that especially healthy. But, to my big surprise, this article turned out to be a completely different cup of tea that needs to be shared more. (if you still get my mixed metaphors here) .

The post was written David E. Martin, who has a Christian website for people who do have problems with porn called ‘My chains are gone’. His website and ministry have an approach to the problem of porn and its solution that is worth looking at, so I recommend you all to not just read his guestpost on redemption pictures but also his site if the subject is of any interest to you.  I might not agree with every line they write, but overall they have a lot of interesting things to say that I hadn’t heard before. It’s quite quite different from the standard stuff most Christian repeat all the time, as the 3 lies in the title already show:

1. The unclothed human body is primarily sexual in nature.
 Therefore, to see another body unclothed is a sexual event.

2. The automatic and natural response to the sight of an unclothed body is sexual arousal. Therefore, the best strategy against lust is to limit the opportunity to view the unclothed body.

3. To be drawn to the sight of nudity (beyond your spouse’s) is a perversion.
Therefore, we must make every effort to eradicate this “perversion” from our hearts.

He exposes these ideas as lies that hinder those trapped in an addiction pornography in breaking with those habits. Maybe a bit counter-intuitive but I do agree with him, and I would say that the de-pornification of the human body might be the most important thing in learning to look at human beings as made in Gods image and loving our fellow human who happens to be of the sex we’re sexually attracted to. His approach is connected to ideas I have been alluding to in some of my blogpostVenus of Willendorfs (See for example posts with titles as On sexy poorn models and human dignity; meditating on sexy models; on nudity in game of thrones and some American bloke again…; Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’; On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and comsumer capitalism) But it’s not at all something I’ve seen discussed that much by most of my co-religionists even though some of them like to talk about porn a lot…

It’s an easy subject to start discussions of sin and holiness and whatever, but I often feel like important things are missed.  Although I naturally completely agree with Jesus who says in the sermon on the mount that looking lustfully at a woman is to commit adultery in your head, there are some points in the standard blablah that I don’t find very helpful.

Some of these things have to do with what David writes about on his site. the standard approach is not helping in what I earlier called the depornification of the human body, and moreover  ‘Looking lustfully’ is not synonymous with looking at a nude. Also we do easily forget that porn as we know it in our current culture is not a universal thing but in the current incarnation something unique in world history and very specific to our culture. The way bodies are depicted in our porn would not be very sexy to a lot of people from other times and cultures….

Well it actually isn’t even to me. And I’m a 21st century Western male…

So let’s get to some more points that are often overlooked:

1.) Assuming porn addiction is just how men are wired: Normalizing problems of a certain part of the Western population in a very peculiar time and culture as ‘this is how men are wired. Get used to it.’ is not the way to go. Men are not wired into being addicted to what is called ‘porn’ in our time and culture and in the very myopic way a certain subculture frames our human sexuality in a very narrow and unhealthy way. Porn addiction means that persons (male or female) are conditioned to like it and neuroplastically deformed into it.

2.) Missing the core of the problem gives us some pretty bad solutions: The problem is not in the first place what we see, but it is what is in our hearts when we see it. Porn is very often in the eye of the beholder. If we really learn to love watching porn is impossible, since seeing someone as a human being is incompatible with pornificating them.  The deepest problem is not what we see, but how we watch it and why we’re watching it.

3.) Furthering dehumanization is part of what we should eliminate: Pornification is always a dehumanization of the depicted humans into mere sex objects. If we want to get beyond it we should not follow that line of thinking but reject it. Accepting that women are nothing but sexy temptation and then avoid them is equally dehumanising. The ‘rape culture victim-blaming’ stuff that when a man has sinful thoughts when he sees a woman it’s her fault is only perpetuating the deeper sin of dehumanization, and actually not solving even a molecule of the problem.

4. We should also never forget the  formative danger in porn: We seem to ignore as a culture how porn shapes and deforms our view of the human body. It creates a new and perverted reality, in which sex is not that healthy at all and in which humans are less human than how God created them to be.  It is a fake ideal world that fills peoples head but that no living person will ever live up to. We might think that porn is just showing us how sex is and how sexy people look, but it’s actually completely fake on one hand, and transforming human sexuality to its own image and likeness on the other hand.

Yes, one of the exact dangers of porn is how it is making up it’s own very depraved standard of sexiness that isn’t real at all and then it tries to conform the real world to it. Which is especially dangerous for young people who don’t have their view of sexuality fully formed, like teenagers in puberty. Peoples brains are actually altered by watch porn by the way.  This brain-altering already happens with adults watching porn, but it’s extremely dangerous with young people whose view of porn isn’t even formed yet like I said.

5. Porn is not just ‘showing sex’ but  lying: The things depicted in our modern porn are not default human sexuality at all, let alone human sexuality as God meant it. It’s a very peculiar way of framing sex, a language that seems universal to many people.It’s actually a very artificial and unnatural mutation of human sex, not just a way of visually describing how humans have sex. The bodies are fake, the angles are very artificial and unrealistic.  Our modern ‘porn’ goes way beyond nudity in what it gives to stimulate our sexuality so a very big and abusive industry can make a lot of money.

Yup, the end goal of most porn is probably money for some shady types somewhere.

6. Watching modern porn is learned behaviour:
Looking at the beauty and sexiness of the sex one is attracted to is very natural, but modern porn goes a lot further than this and is much more niche… Consuming modern porn is learned behavior, like drinking wine or listening jazz.

It’s something I didn’t learn though. Except for simple nude pictures most porn when I accidentally see it doesn’t work for me, probably because it’s too far away from my own sexual experience (and lack thereof in my younger years).  Most times when I do see real ‘porn’ beyond playboy-level I’m actually repulsed, not aroused.

(Clarification: I do like female nude art a lot btw, maybe too much. But one of the things I like most about female nudes is some untouchable sacred innocence which is so real that any ‘wrong’ thought is misplaced.  Which is completely incompatible with porn and probably impossible to describe to people who don’t know what I mean. Think about Ransom and the green woman of Venus… It is because I love female nudity so much that I hate porn.)

I do think not getting it and being repulsed by what goes for porn nowadays is not a very abnormal reaction for a uninitiated person actually. Look at this description from a (female) guest-blogger at irrestistible Fish (and read the post too later after you’ve finished mine and see also her part II) about her surprise when she started to watch porn:

Porn was not exactly what I had expected.
I knew it would be graphic, but this, this was beyond graphic.
This was not like the sex scenes in a movie.
This sex wasn’t just sex.
Porn sex was different.
The bodies were ‘perfect’, the positions, acrobatic.
No one had a single hair follicle visible anywhere on their perfect bodies. And visible their bodies were. Microscopically so.
Everything was up close and zoomed in. Nothing left to the imagination.

There was no kissing, no intimacy, no love, just animalistic, self-gratifying acts of sex.

Only reading this paragraph makes me feel dirty and uninterested… Call me a romantic but I don’t even want to be able to fantasize sex without kissing, let alone intimacy or love.

What would even be the fun of that? Yuck….

This way of picturing the human body and sexuality is blasphemy against the Imago dei itself. Blasphemy against love.

(I’m actually very lucky to have formed my view of how female  bodies are not from porn but from biology books, more regular nude scenes, and more classical nude art or nude photography, and that the default for a female body in my head is mostly just my wife, not a forced ideal that doesn’t exist. )

So what is the most important thing here? I would say that what we should never forget is that porn is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what comes in through our eyes that makes us unclean, but our own heart and how we process those things. Sexually perverted people will look at every woman with lust and predatory thoughts, no matter how they are dressed. Being a woman is enough to be subject to pornification for some.

But one of the most important commandments for Christians is to love our fellow humans as ourselves, which very certainly does not include dehumanising them as sex objects.  Even the label ‘humanist’ to me would imply a higher standard than dehumanising other people in to sex object. And not unimportantly  here is that it doesn’t matter that much if we consume them with our eyes as porn or turn our eyes away… The second one might keep us from certain sins like the ‘looking lustfully’, it still makes us regard the person in question as less than human.

How can we ever learn to love fellow humans that we cannot look at because they are only sex objects for us? This approach will never make us love more even if it can help us by means of mere sin management. But in the end we need to learn to love the other. This is why I do think that for example Dan Brennans work on cross-gender friendship is very important (check out his groundbreaking book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘ on the subject) Pornification of the human body is completely incompatible with love and loving the other as ourselves., and we need to let go of it…

But this might requite a letting go of cultural conditioning and might  need some help from the Holy Spirit…

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Bram

On 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

Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shalom

Bram

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

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

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship



See also on this blog:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what do you people think?

Shalom

Bram