Today we’re going to be talking about Christians who claim to know stuff they really don’t know. It happens a lot, so clearly there’s been some miscommunication on the subject of late.
It always blows my mind when Christians act like experts about stuff they are simply not experts about. I’m not even talking about that peculiar misguided “certainty” they express about the supernatural realm or their equally misguided feelings that any fool can be an “expert” on biology (and consequently can know more than the vast majority of actual biologists), though we will be talking a bit about that here. I’m talking specifically about Christians who act like experts at things like sex when their own experience with the subject is beyond abysmal and well into “nearly nonexistent.”
There’s a long tradition of hucksterism in mainstream Christianity, evangelicalism especially. A big part of hucksterism is a distrust of “book-learning” and a feeling that anybody who applies him- or herself can learn more than enough about any scientific or professional field without having to go through all that suspiciously-liberal edumacashun stuff or spend years getting trained in a professional field. Education is highly condemned by most apologists–it makes people question their religion, and most of the people in the more extreme forms of the religion bristle at the implication that their hard-won understanding of creationism and faux-biology is so drastically, humiliatingly, drastically wrong. It’s a lot easier to believe that thousands upon thousands of mean ol’ atheist scientists are wrong than that their pastors’ interpretation of the Bible might be (yes, yes, I know; we’re ignoring that a surprising number of scientists are not atheists and that many Christians understand and accept scientific findings).
A couple of hundred years ago, the same type of mentality gave us homeopathy (an “alternative medicine” involving a scam artist convincing folks that sugar pills and water drops are really medicine), but the idea of any fool being able to be his or her own family doctor is a long and illustrious one going all the way back to the Middle Ages, when books were in print constantly for households wishing to learn how to increase fertility or ward off the plague, and all the way forward to Lorenzo’s Oil (a concoction made by a pair of desperate parents that got its own movie and a lot of press but which turned out to be actually not that effective once someone got around to doing real tests on it) and, yes, the modern anti-vaxxer mental infection going around America and England. It all looks so confusing and weird to outsiders, but it isn’t, really. It’s a natural outgrowth of fundagelical thinking. Until someone really understands the fundagelical hatred of education and professional training, until someone really gets that fundagelicals genuinely believe that they can study really hard and become the equal of any scientist or professional historian, until they grasp that fundagelicals genuinely believe that strong faith substitutes for knowledge, there’s no way to really understand the sickness that infects so many right-wing Christians.
This brand of populist woo can have some real ramifications on the person making the mistake of indulging in it. For a real hoot, check out this stuff about a (frequently right-wing Christian) emerging bit of mumbo-jumbo called “freeman on the land” thinking, wherein some twit can declare that he is not bound by a country’s laws and thinks that actually legally exempts him from having to pay taxes or follow laws he doesn’t like. Now, obviously nobody has ever succeeded with one of these arguments in court, but that doesn’t stop the wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who buy into it from trying it (and losing, and often getting nailed with contempt-of-court charges). But the powerful draw of being just as good as those snooty professional lawyer types in suits is too powerful for some people to resist. When such people have next to no training in critical thinking, that draw becomes impossible to resist. “Freeman on the land” materials claiming to teach gullible victims how to win at court cases or not pay taxes ever again are very expensive, but there’s no indication that their purveyors are having trouble selling this stuff. There’s always a market for wishful thinking.
In the same manner, prosperity gospel preachers will tell their wishful listeners that if they send in money, their god will reward them lavishly. Now, it’d be easy to draw up a study to test whether this is true or not. But no prosperity gospel preacher seems to have done anything like that. They are experts on money and tithing, and are absolutely convinced of what they’re saying even though there is no actual backing for those ideas whatsoever. But their audiences don’t expect evidence nor respect or respond to any that does turn up to contradict the idea that sending tons of money to a minister leads to wealth for the obedient Christian.
Nothing, it seems, stops an evangelical from pretending to be an expert when he or she really isn’t at all an expert. In the case of history or science, it is downright laughable to see ancient Sunday School teachers spouting off about the latest junk-biology findings of such august and reputable institutions as the Creation Institute, but then we remember that the children listening to these fake “experts” are going to have that much more trouble understanding real science when they get old enough to learn it. It’s equally harmful when a fundagelical tries to roll back women’s rights or gay people’s rights on the basis of such flawed junk science. And when we’re dealing with human psychology and sociology, the results can be downright tragic.
We’ve known for years about how ridiculous it is that celibate Catholic priests can dare to tell people how they ought to conduct their sex lives, but there’s an equally odious thing going on with Protestants: almost as inexperienced pastors and leaders are trying to tell Christians how they ought to handle their relationships. And just as it is wrong and lame for priests to do it, it is wrong and lame for pastors to do it too.
On that note, here we will examine Timothy Keller, a megachurch pastor who has by his own admission not exactly had a life filled with partners and a variety of sexual experiences, but who still feels perfectly qualified to come out against casual sex:
A lot of things people think have to be there as part of sex just aren’t there when you’re in your 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and yet it’s actually more powerful experience because you haven’t devalued the currency. . . Sex is another way of saying to another person, ‘I belong completely and exclusively and permanently to you,’ and that’s something you can only say inside marriage. And when you use sex to say that, it’s incredibly valuable and rich.
Let’s walk through this one together:
* Is he really sure that sex is always more “powerful” after a couple’s been together a long time? What about all those Christian couples experiencing serious sexual dysfunction? What about all those people who’ve gotten divorced (many of them Christian, actually)? What about the people who meet rather late in life and don’t have time to be together for decades before they separate? Are divorcées and old people who meet late just doomed to “non-powerful” sex? I wonder how many people he’s actually talked to in order to form this rather biased and unsupportable opinion.
* Is he really sure that this is what sex is saying to another person? What about that fun kind of sex you just have as an impulse with someone you might not ever see again? What about people who are polyamorous (meaning they thrive on having many partners, often at the same time)? What about people who love hooking up? What about people who don’t want to belong to anybody? And is he really sure that this sentiment–which he hasn’t demonstrated to begin with–can “only” be said during marriage? What about people who, I don’t know, just say that without marriage? What about asexual people who can form intense connections without sexual desire being part of their relationship? Sex is such an amazing thing–it can be expressed in so many ways and mean so many things, unless of course one is a Christian. Then it can only be expressed in one way with one person. Again, reality just doesn’t fit the Mayberry “true love in the dark” fantasy outlined in this statement.
Mr. Keller is describing a very particular worldview here, and he’s preaching to a choir that won’t even question his conclusions or his premises. Of course casual sex devalues people. Of course people can be totally ruined by having multiple partners. Of course everybody is happiest when paired in a marriage relationship–and by the way, though this article doesn’t talk about it, that marriage partner will be of the opposite gender because of course Mr. Keller opposes equal marriage. I cringe to imagine the damage that Mr. Keller and his choir undoubtedly do with these backward, oppressive views about women and relationships.
Now, is it okay for people like Mr. Keller to say that “in my direct experience, this is what I think is best for me”? Sure, that’s fine. If he’s happiest in a monogamous different-sex marriage, that’s fine with me. But by demanding that every other single person in the world step into the mold he’s poured, he is doing humanity a grave disservice. He is lucky enough to fit into that mold already, but for those who do not fit it, like me and a bunch of other folks, struggling and fighting to fit into that mold brings a lot of grief. But will he step back and realize that not everybody fits into the mold? I doubt it. He needs that mold to be one-size-fits-all. If someone doesn’t fit, he can blame the person, and indeed he must because he thinks the mold is perfect, so if someone doesn’t fit, obviously the problem is with that person and not the mold.
It’s probably a good idea for any Christian who is about to say something about modern sexuality to shut up and ask questions instead, and listen very sincerely to the answers received. Anybody could have set Mr. Keller straight on his dangerous, inept delusions about human sexuality. Anybody could have answered his questions and helped him learn a little. It’s not like people don’t like talking about sex and sharing their general experiences with it. It’s that Mr. Keller and other Christians are not listening.
He didn’t pick up the phone or tap out a question on a Facebook chat, clearly, or he wouldn’t have said such ridiculously ignorant things. I wonder why? Is his delusion more important than understanding what reality is like? What would happen if he understood the truth–that people have a lot of different types of sex, that having sex does not devalue a human being or sex itself in any way to anybody who matters, that not everybody wants to get married or should get married, that sex is a perfectly normal part of the human experience, that some people have lots of sex with lots of partners and do just fine while others, like him clearly, just want one partner forever and that’s fine too.
His entire worldview absolutely depends upon this fiction of his being true: that not only is his view of relationships the right view, but that all other views are not only wrong but hugely damaging and harmful. Once he learns the truth, the entire worldview would collapse. I can see why he can’t engage with the truth at all, considering his paycheck quite literally depends upon pushing Rape Culture at people who really want to believe the same way and don’t want to hear something nuanced, gentle, loving, and true.
To Christians, I would say this: Almost everything you think about modern culture is wrong, and the more closely you hew to the right-wing end of evangelicalism, the more likely what you think is wrong and the dead opposite of how things really work. I personally consider the deep-seated Christian delusion about relationships to be one of the main black marks against the religion, and I know I’m not the only person who sees this vein of control and misogyny running all through such declarations as what Mr. Keller has made in the quotes I’ve given. It’s very important to Mr. Keller that his delusion be true. It’s not true, but he needs it to be true so badly that he’s willing to ignore every single bit of evidence and all the people living the reality of the real truth to keep thinking it’s true.
If his faith were valid, he wouldn’t need to push everybody into a mold they don’t fit, and he wouldn’t have to say such ridiculously untrue things. His faith would be able to accommodate truth and reality. And it would not be pushing Rape Culture or hurting women by saying they can be devalued by choosing to have sex (as always, apologists for Rape Culture don’t realize they are also devaluing rape victims as well as the “sluts” they fear and hate so much). Pushing lies and devaluing human beings for engaging in consensual private acts doesn’t exactly strike me as being loving.
I’m also repulsed by the idea of his that sex is a “currency.” That is so far past revolting and disgusting that I’m just not going to deal with it now except to say that anybody who thinks sex is a “currency” that can be “devalued” is not anybody who deserves to have sex ever again. Sex is not a coin you use to buy things you want. You can’t spend it all. It’s always there, ready and waiting for the next sweaty Cowboy Olympics you want to have. Have as much of it as you want: it’ll never devalue. Having sex can’t devalue the precious nature of sex. Only the sick minds of some people can do that. There’s not some magic countdown marker for people that starts ticking when they lose their v-cards and slowly marks down the “value” of sex. That’s sickening–and not even true. I mean it’s objectively false. But for Mr. Keller, this sick notion is how he looks at sex, and it leads to all his other weird conclusions about men and women and relationships.
For the rest of us, sex is a renewable resource and something both men and women want, something men and women both find pleasing and delightful, something both genders–in whatever configuration they please–find solace and joy in doing. Men give and receive. Women give and receive. Everybody has fun and tries to make sure the other folks have fun too. Men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus: we’re all from Earth. And there are as many great ways to have sex as there are people having it. But Mr. Keller wouldn’t know that, because he’s only really had one kind of sex and clearly hasn’t educated himself on those other sorts of sex. He still feels free to tell his flocks how they ought to feel about sex, though, and he is absolutely convinced that he is right even though not only is he wrong, but it’d be so stupidly simple to find out the truth.
I reckon that sometimes it’s easier for a religious mind to cling to a cherished illusion than it is to break that illusion and move forward.
Wouldn’t it be an amazing world if Christians like Mr. Keller actually managed to be truthful and loving? If they concentrated on their savior rather than worrying so much about other people’s sex lives? The real agenda is clear for me to see: he wants control, and if you can control someone’s sex life, you’ve got pretty much everything else. Hopefully the people locked in the illusion he’s casting will break free of it, because they’re wasting precious years thinking of sex in such a primitive, limited way.
Thanks again for joining me. See you next time. We’ll be talking about pies.