Jim Wallis and Believe Out Loud, Part 2

When I worked for Evangelicals for Social Action — a progressive evangelical group in the same general orbit as Sojourners — one of our big supporters liked to tell the story of his first encounter with Ron Sider and Sider’s book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

He was furious. He read just enough of the book to grasp Sider’s main theme, that the Bible commands believers to share what we have with the poor. This is, Sider notes, a massive, pervasive and central theme of the Bible. The supporter, who was not yet a supporter, thought this was outrageous.

This man was an evangelical Christian, which meant that the Bible was immensely important to him. He tried to shape his whole life according to what it taught. He had read the Bible cover to cover many times. He had read it devotionally every day for years and years. He had, for all those many years, heard the Bible preached and expounded upon every Sunday morning and Sunday evening and had faithfully and attentively participated in his church’s Wednesday night Bible studies. He knew his Bible thoroughly and intimately. He had large chunks of it memorized. And all of that long study had been conducted with the urgency of someone who believed that he was reading the most important thing in the world.

So how dare this Mennonite upstart suggest that all that time in all that study he had somehow been missing one of that Bible’s most central themes? Full of determined anger, he set out to disprove that nonsense.

And suddenly he found himself reading a brand new Bible. he found himself encountering a book he had somehow never read before. The book had been transformed or he had been transformed. Or both. And now he was encountering the Word of God with eyes that began to see there what they had somehow never seen before. The scales had fallen from his eyes.

The project of reading the Bible to prove Sider wrong was replaced with a new project, an even more urgent one. He had found in the Bible a new priority and it was becoming a priority for him and for his life, because he was an evangelical Christian and he must obey what the Bible says. The way he tells the story, it was for him like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning — a thrilling and reckless headlong leap into a newfound generosity and what became for him a lifelong passion for the needs of others.

Some of his friends thought he had gone “liberal” on them, but that had not happened at all. Not yet, anyway. He was still very much a conservative American evangelical — a “Bible-believing,” Bible-thumping proponent of “the authority of scripture” according to a largely unchanged conservative American evangelical hermeneutic that imagined it was based on a “literal” and “common sense” reading of the text at face value. He did not immediately cease to be the same man who had earlier advocated a more genital-centric politics premised on that same approach to this same text, he had simply discovered that the authority of scripture also entailed a great deal about wealth, poverty, possessions, justice and generosity.

He was, at that point in his story — I haven’t seen him in years and so I don’t know what’s happened in the recent chapters — a theologically conservative person whose conservative reading of the Bible led him to what we tend to think of as a progressive position on economic justice.

This is not uncommon. It’s the situation Tony Jones describes in his discussion of the recent controversy between Jim Wallis and Believe Out Loud:

Can someone who is theologically thoughtful and progressive on other biblical and social issues remain conservative on issues of human sexuality? Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne and others have, to this point, answered yes to that question. I have my doubts about whether that position is tenable in the long run.

This category is much larger than just Wallis and Claiborne (and Ron Sider and Tony Campolo). The good folks at Jesus People USA, for example, are also radically committed to economic and racial justice, but even more than Jim and Shane, they tend to be very conservative when it comes to sexuality. That reflects their roots in the Gospel Mission movement, which has a long history of being staunchly, sometimes radically, on the side of the poor while at the same time advocating a moralistic piety little different from what one might find in the kinds of fundamentalist churches that wouldn’t go anywhere near Skid Row. Or think of the Salvation Army’s long history of tireless work for the poor and its early, longstanding insistence on the full equality of women — and think of how it yokes that work and history inextricably with a fundamentalist piety that seems like William Booth’s Victorian mores preserved in amber.

Or consider the more conservative Anabaptist and Mennonite traditions. In both doctrine and practice, those good people are far more progressive and far more impressive than, say, me, when it comes to economic justice and peacemaking. Yet when it comes to gender equality they tend to be reactionary. Catherine Booth would never have stood for their ideas about the role of women.

Or look to some of the prominent black evangelical groups who are at the forefront of efforts for economic justice while also taking the point on the backlash against marriage equality.

(Alas, I have just realized that here is another important point to contend with, one that will I suppose require a Part 3. Is it desirable, or even possible, to cooperate with such partial allies on the vitally important matters on which we agree given the equally vital importance — for all sides — of the matters on which we do not and cannot agree? If that were a simple question with a simple answer then we could deal with it quickly here. Since it’s not, I’m afraid we’ll have to bookmark that point for now and return to it in all of its unwieldy detail in a Part 3.)

The point here is that there are many, many people besides Jim Wallis who inhabit the terrain that Tony Jones describes as “conservative on issues of human sexuality” while “theologically thoughtful and progressive on other biblical and social issues.” I think that Tony is right that such a position is, in the long run, untenable.

That doesn’t mean, however, that all of the occupants of that terrain will come to realize that their position is untenable, even in the long run. If there’s one thing we humans are good at, it’s living comfortably in untenable constructs.

But I do think that these folks, including Jim Wallis, ought to come to realize that their position is untenable, and thus that it ought to be changed. And I think that there are ways we can try to help them realize this. I want to touch on two of those ways here.

The first is something that Tony Jones suggests in a comment to his own post and that Chad Holtz follows up on. Tony writes that a “progressive hermeneutic is necessary to argue for racial equality and gender equality from scripture.” Holtz — whose name you may remember due to his getting fired as a pastor for writing a blog post titled “What I Lost Losing Hell” — responds by telling the story of his change of mind on women’s ordination while writing a research paper that wound up being titled “Let Women Preach”:

I said to my feminist theology professor after turning it in, “I am convinced this is what the gospel insists upon — women pastors. But how do I continue to insist on my interpretation of homosexuality? The same mechanics are at work in both arguments.”

She just winked and smiled.

What he’s getting at there is the matter of how one approaches what Jay Bakker calls “clobber verses,” the handful of biblical passages wielded like ammunition for their actual or apparent clarity — when standing alone, apart from context, and read in English translation using a common-sense, literal, face-value non-hermeneutic hermeneutic — as a defense of whatever it is that the clobberer wants to defend against the clobber-ee.

Anyone advocating the full equality of women in the church has to contend with the presence and use of the usual clobber verses wielded by those who oppose such equality. The prooftexters swinging such clobber verses will always loudly proclaim that anyone failing to submit to their clear teaching is “denying the authority of scripture,” but the fact is that such authority is meaningless unless one rightly determines what the scripture actually means. Determining that requires much more than prooftexting and arrogantly assuring oneself that one’s supposedly common-sense, face-value reading of an English translation needs no further confirmation.

Every believer in gender equality in the church — from William Booth to Jim Wallis — has, in some way, contended with those clobber verses and come to believe that they do not require what the clobberers claim they require one to believe. Whatever approach or combination of approaches they take to this conclusion — a greater appreciation for textual or cultural context, a greater openness to scholarship, the decision that Paul’s teaching that love trumps all actually means that love trumps all — reaching it entails a change in category. It means that one is no longer the sort of Bible-reader who is subject to the reign of clobber verses. And once those clobber verses — or, rather, the particular interpretations of those verses promoted by authority figures pretending they’re not engaged in interpretation — cease to be the unassailable final word on the word, then one is liberated from the need to submit to the pronouncements of those clobbering authority figures.

Or, as Holtz put it, one is free to begin to apply “the same mechanics” to other topics, including the full equality within and without the church of GLBT persons.

So my first advice for or plea to Jim Wallis et. al. would be for them to begin to see where this takes them. If you have come to see the “mechanics” of the argument against gender equality in the church as unconvincing, look again at the mechanics of the argument against GLBT identity and equality and see if they are actually any more convincing.

I don’t think they are. Which is to say that for me, as for Tony Jones and Chad Holtz and an increasingly large number of so-called “post-evangelical” believers, that full equality is something I have come to believe because of, not in spite of, “the authority of the scriptures.” Taste and see. Test everything, hold on to the good. Give it a try.

My second approach goes back to that story above about that good man who set out to disprove Ron Sider and instead encountered an epiphany and the discovery of a whole new Bible he had never seen before. It was, as I said, as though “the scales fell off his eyes.”

That’s an allusion to the story of the conversion of Saul in the biblical book of Acts. After his blinding epiphany on the road to Damascus, Saul is taken to the home of a Syrian believer who tends to him “and immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.”

But what were those “scales” that had previously blinded the eyes of that devout evangelical man in the story above? Their lifelong effect and effectiveness was really a remarkable thing, if you think about it. This man wasn’t just some pick-and-choose student of the Bible who followed the selective path of a Tim LaHaye or some other leader who would steer him through the biblical minefield of demands for economic justice. He wasn’t some young-earth creationist who only ever read Genesis 1, or some prophecy enthusiast who never read anything but Revelation and the stranger parts of Daniel. He had read Leviticus, Amos, Isaiah, the Gospels, Acts and Paul and he had read them over and over again. And all that time, through all of that reading, he had completely missed their anvilicious and unambiguous message of economic justice.

That’s really pretty amazing. I’d have said it was impossible except, of course, that the same thing had happened to me and to many tens of thousands of other American Christians. We had all been afflicted by such scales on the eyes. We had all learned, or been taught, to read the Bible in such a way that — despite our best intentions or our best desire for the best of intentions — we were simply blind to a great deal of what it said. We were unable to look in its pages and see what was actually there or to understand what it might actually mean.

Now, as I said above, the realization that this is the case does not always mean, at first, that one begins to abandon that conservative non-hermeneutic of common-sense, face-value, “literalism.” But it ought at least to convince us that such a reading cannot be trusted. Or, more pointedly, that we cannot be trusted with such a reading. We cannot be relied upon to read the Word of God with the eyes of God, only with our own, fallible, errant, scaly eyes.

One of the things I am grateful to Jim Wallis and Sojourners for is helping me to understand this unreliable scaliness in my own approach to the Bible. Sojourners introduced me, for example, to Robert McAfee Brown’s book Unexpected News: Reading the Bible With Third World Eyes — an argument that caught me at just the right time and so caught hold of me.

Wallis is very insightful on this point — on the perils and pitfalls of trusting ourselves to go to and come away from the Bible without forcing into it and drawing back out of it our own privileges and biases, ideologies and preconceptions. He has, over the years, helped me to do a somewhat better job of avoiding that.

So I’d like to return the favor and encourage him, in turn, to try to read the Bible with someone else’s eyes and see what previously unseen unexpected good news he might find there with regard to the message that groups like Believe Out Loud are proclaiming.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I have tried three times to write about how I think people really have more of a grab bag of social views than they let on, rather than dividing neatly into two groups, but I am having a hard time saying what I mean.

  • Amaryllis

    I came across an argument recently – probably on the aptly-named “Out Of Our Minds” blog by a couple of conservative Presbyterian/Calvinist ministers–  that allowing women’s ordination is that same thing as denying the doctrine of the Trinity.

    If I recall correctly, the logic goes something like: allowing a woman to lead a church denies the subordination of women in society. Denying the subordination of women is the same thing as denying the subordination of the Son to the Father. Denying the subordination of the Son is denying the basic nature of the Trinity. Thus, heresy and apostasy.

    I mean… how do you even answer something like that?

    I don’t claim to understand the concept of the Trinity. But to say that
    its most important aspect of the relationship between Father and Son and
    Spirit is not Love but Authority…no. Just no.

    There’s a thread over on Making Light– which I saw but didn’t actually have time to read– discussing the tendency of fundamentalists of all stripes to be the most fundamentalist about gender roles. What bothers them the most about gay couples is not what they may be doing in bed; it’s much more about “who wears the pants” when both wear pants. Or skirts and heels.

    Because, in their view, the entire basis of social relationships, from the most private to the nation as a whole, is based on Authority. And trying to ignore the “natural” or “God-given” hierarchy is just asking for trouble, for individuals and for society as whole.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    That may be one of those “spaghetti to the wall” arguments: throw it and see if it sticks. I’ve seen people make two kinds of arguments: the kind that persuaded them and the kind that they think maybe will persuade a target audience. I doubt that when the bloggers were little lads worried about catching “girl cooties” they specualted too much about the relationship among the members of the Holy Trinity.

  • Reverend Ref

    If I recall correctly, the logic goes something like: allowing a woman
    to lead a church denies the subordination of women in society. Denying
    the subordination of women is the same thing as denying the
    subordination of the Son to the Father. Denying the subordination of the
    Son is denying the basic nature of the Trinity. Thus, heresy and
    apostasy.

    I mean… how do you even answer something like that?

    When in doubt, go back to the beginning.  In the first story of creation (the six days and all that), God created man and woman on Day Six.

    “God blessed them, saying to them: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’ ” (Gen. 1:28).

    And in the second story of creation (Adam and Eve), God created Adam (technically a non-gendered human), placed him in the Garden and told him to take care of the place.  But no suitable partner was there — until the arrival of Eve; and then, together, they were to care for the Garden.

    So, from the MOMENT OF CREATION, God intended man and woman to live as equals in God’s ideal society.  There was no “subordination of women in society” until we screwed up the system.  It was only then that males dominated and subordinated women.  The subordination of women in society may be a societal fact from eons ago, but it’s a flawed premise since God did in fact design men and women as equals.  By maintaining their hold on a male-dominated society and male-dominated church, they are placing the desires of men over the desires and original plan of God.

    And then, of course, there’s that whole post-resurrection thing with Mary Magdalene where Jesus commissions her as the first apostle to spread the Good News of the resurrection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlotte-Griffin/100000268700809 Charlotte Griffin

    “There’s a thread over on Making Light– which I saw but didn’t actually have time to read– discussing the tendency of fundamentalists of all stripes to be the most fundamentalist about gender roles. What bothers them the most about gay couples is not what they may be doing in bed; it’s much more about “who wears the pants” when both wear pants. Or skirts and heels. ”

    Interesting, that. And it would tie in with their concerns about the gradual shift from complementary to symmetrical relationship among straight folks.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a thread over on Making Light– which I saw but didn’t actually
    have time to read– discussing the tendency of fundamentalists of all
    stripes to be the most fundamentalist about gender roles. What
    bothers them the most about gay couples is not what they may be doing in
    bed; it’s much more about “who wears the pants” when both wear pants. Or skirts and heels.

    I’ve been making a similar point for a long time.  In a way, gay marriage does threaten the traditional marriage that patriarchal types want.  What they tend to not say out loud is that traditional marriage is absolutely NOT about an equal partnership between one man and one woman.  To them, traditional marriage is an arrangement between a man and a woman where they both get squished into very specific roles, and even though it’s often not so fantastic for the husbands, it’s certainly even worse for the wives.  And they convince women to put up with that arrangement because they insist that it’s the only way for things to work out well.  So if two men get married and their kids turn out ok, or if two women get married and they are happy for a lifetime, the secret will be let out of the bag.  Somewhere in those marriages a man scrubbed a toilet* or a woman repaired a car, and the world didn’t end.  So maybe the repressed women will realize that strict gender roles aren’t actually necessary for a successful marriage, and they will be less likely to put up with it.  I actually heard one ultra-fundie blogger insist that even hetero marriages where the woman isn’t submissive to the man are basically gay marriages.

    I guess my point is that misogyny is a root of homophobia, and I’m glad that the message is spreading.

    *It seems sort of petty to reduce roles to such tasks as scrubbing toilets and changing tires, but I have seen homophobes do exactly that.  There was a long comment on a different blog that literally said gay marriage should be legal because “who would mow the lawn and who would cook the food?  Who would clean the house and who would change the oil in the cars?  Who would work and who would stay home with the kids?”  And this commenter thought this would be a persuasive argument against marriage equality.

  • hapax

    It seems sort of petty to reduce roles to such tasks as scrubbing
    toilets and changing tires, but I have seen homophobes do exactly that.

    My father-in-law told my spouse that he shouldn’t vacuum in front of our (infant) son, because “we don’t want the boy turning out ‘funny’.”

    Yes.

    In so many words.

    Ladies and gentlemen, stop your research.  Seeing Daddy vacuum is what causes (male) homosexuality.

  • Josh

    A similar but less amusing homophobic non sequitur: a friend’s student, very musically talented, was told by his parents (in rural PA) that he could not study to become a classical pianist because that would be gay.

  • Anonymous

    Amaryllis, I followed up this comment in my current post at Obsidian Wings — the sequel to the post about fundamentalists and gender roles I think you were talking about.

    For once, I disagree with Fred (!!!) — I think the hermaneutics is secondary, the sexism primary.

  • Lori

     

     I think the hermaneutics is secondary, the sexism primary. 

     

    FWIW I agree with you. IME when people read the Bible they see what they believe rather than believing what they see. 

  • Amaryllis

    Thank you!

    *bookmarked*

    Oh wait, did I say Making Light when I meant ObWi?!

    Arrggh and apologies, thank you again for providing the correct links.

    (I don’t often– maybe never? — comment over there, but it’s always interesting reading.)

  • Patricksauncy

    Wow. I remember haing a phone conversation with my Evangelical mom during the most recent presidential campaign, shortly after she (and I!) had found out I was an atheist. I wasn’t sure a about which candidate to support, but I was playing devil’s advocate to her party line McCainism. One of her main arguments was that Obama was pro-gay marriage. This was demonstrably false (the candidates had expressed the same disapproval for that institution, cagily preferring seperate-but-equal civil unions). But, humoring that misconception, I heard her out. She told me about how, in last week’s Bible study, they had learned that heterosexual marriage is the (not a, but the) foundation of America. That the hierarchy and authority found there is the basis for your society. That Rome had fallen due (not partially due, but due) to their increasingly liberal views on sexuality. And that Obama would have the same effect on our republic.

    I was flabbergasted. But it was just like what you said about fundamentalism’s view of social roles.

  • Anonymous

    Fred, you’re a far better man than I.

    I made a rather flippant comment in the previous thread about Wallis, but I really had a hard time understanding why people were so upset about Sojo’s rejection of the Believe Out Loud ad. It’s not like it’s a big surprise; Wallis’s views on homosexuality are well known.

    That said, I hope he’ll take up your invitation to revisit the Word with new eyes.

    OT: I’m a member of a high-falutin’ liturgical church, and the minister in the ad was wearing a purple stole. If it’s supposed to be Mother’s Day, dude was wearing the wrong color. Even this year’s really late Lent didn’t extend into May. Just seems kinda tone-deaf. 

  • chris the cynic

    I’d like to say something about gender equality, something hopeful about peoples ability to learn.  Something that actually applies to the post at hand, in other words.  I’ve got nothing.

    I did want to say that I wrote an editorial in my local paper but I was really hoping that I could tack that onto a post that was somehow meaningful in its own right.

    Unfortunately I’ve got nothing.  I wish more Christians would read the Bible as Fred does, but that is in part because it’s how I’d like to think I’d read it if I were a Christian, which seems to me to be sort of arrogant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kimberlyAknight Kimberly Knight

     Great piece, thoughtful and thorough  – thank you for your continued commitment to exploring scripture with faith, love and clarity.

    I am not an Issue :)
    http://seekingsophia.com/?p=566

  • Susan Phillips

    Hi Fred, you and I don’t know one another yet, and I hope one day we will.  I appreciate your thoughtfulness and gentleness here.  So, I feel compelled to make an observation:  Your article on LGBT inclusion and its corollary, women’s equality, mentions 15 contemporary-ish folks by name plus 5 biblical characters.  By my count, 18 of them are men, one is a named woman and one woman is unnamed.  All the contemporary folk (that I recognize) are white and (to my knowledge) are straight.  I know white, straight guys have ideas and conversations about these topics, but there is deep wisdom that has preceded and extends beyond these 18.

    Blessings,
    Susan

  • Anonymous

    It’s a shame this post isn’t included in the Patheos front page “Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism” section. It would add a much needed perspective to what is currently a very one-sided discussion.

    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/For-Life-and-Family-Faith-and-the-Future-of-Social-Conservatism-05-11-2011.html
     

  • cyllan

    I know white, straight guys have ideas and conversations about these
    topics, but there is deep wisdom that has preceded and extends beyond
    these 18.

    Could you provide some names and links that would be appropriate for reading?

  • cyllan

    (And that’s not meant to sound nearly as snarky as I think it comes across.  I’d really like a few examples.

    Also, hate disqus.

  • http://profiles.google.com/maguyton Morgan Guyton

    The way I’ve come to understand the “clobber verses” particularly in Leviticus is that there was a point in human history when having a patriarchal society was necessary and even compassionate for the safety of the gender that could be raped and impregnated. In the transition from tribal culture to city-states in which unrelated people were living in close proximity to one another, being able to lay down a law code where you can’t sleep with another man’s wife or daughter created a social order that dealt effectively with the danger of the gang rape that you find in Sodom and Gomorrah and Judges 19. In a patriarchal social order, “lying with another man as you would with a woman” would cause the whole thing to fall like like a house of cards. If a man can be raped like a woman, then the women under his house cease to be protected by his manhood and become “fair game” for other men to gang rape.

    If you look at the Biblical stories of rape, the lines between consensual and non-consensual were nonexistent. When Jacob’s daughter Dinah gets raped by the Canaanite Shechem in Genesis 34, after he’s done, his “soul is drawn to her” and he starts “speaking tenderly to her” so he asks his dad to let him marry her. We have no idea what Dinah’s opinion was; she might not have been opposed. What causes her sex to be defined as “rape” is that Shechem didn’t ask her father’s permission and marry her first. It has nothing to do with Dinah’s consent. When David’s daughter Tamar gets raped by her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13, she asks him to take her as his wife to save face after he’s done. It’s when he throws her out like a whore that she becomes despondent and lives like a widow for the rest of her life. Rape was seen as socially inappropriate sex. A woman’s consent was not part of the equation. It really sucks that that’s the way it was, but because of that reality, the patriarchal order was the way of protecting women from getting impregnated haphazardly and brutalized in the street. The patriarchal order depended on the premise that men could not be penetrated by men and women of one man’s household could not be penetrated by another man. Because of our different context today, the same social rules that were intended to keep people safe in a different time become tools of oppression and sexual violence today.

    But I don’t think today’s fundamentalist obsession with sexual propriety is an innocent matter of their application of a “literalist” hermeneutic. There’s an agenda beneath the hermeneutic whether it’s self-aware or not. My friend Seth Dowland wrote a dissertation that traces the origins of the “family values” movement to the remains of the segregationist movement in the early 70’s. The same people who got steamrolled when it came to racial relations
    were able to resurrect themselves politically by attacking progressives
    in their weak spot — the hedonism of the hippies, which meant replacing
    the debate about race with gender and sexuality. It was a way of changing the subject that has worked brilliantly in American political discourse because it appeals to middle-class values like no other issue can. Sexual propriety is the ultimate self-validating cause to fight for when you’re from a stable, bourgeois family with a father who works and a mom who stays at home to keep the boys away from her daughters.

    But the reason why “conservative” views of sexuality don’t have long-term viability for a Christian who’s serious about the Biblical perspective on poverty is because the primary function of sexual “conservativism” is to excuse middle-class Christians from being concerned about poverty since we can label it a moral failing of welfare mamas who need to learn how to close their legs. When sexual “conservativism” ceases to be a self-justifying obfuscation for disobeying our call to love our neighbors, it loses its fixation. Sexual promiscuity becomes something we evaluate in terms of the harm that it does to peoples’ self-image and the obstacles that unplanned pregnancies create for them to do what God has called them to do with their lives. But sex ceases to be a sin above all other sins when it ceases to be the means for me to assert my better-ness than other people.

    I myself am socially conservative when it comes to the commodification of sex in our culture. It’s awful how girls have been taught that they’re supposed to dress and act in order to be worth something. I’ve seen firsthand how the booty culture has destroyed young women’s lives by leaving them with babies that cause them to drop out of high school. I know quite a few teenage moms and I love them and I hope they make it but it’s an uphill battle they face. This is a huge problem but it’s perverse to turn the real danger of sexual promiscuity into the self-justification I need to rest easy and sit behind my stable middle-class white picket fence, unbothered by other peoples’ suffering because I’m chaste and they’re not. Sin is sin because it hurts people. When people abstract sin from this basic pragmatic definition, I start to wonder if there’s some kind of self-validation going on beneath the surface in how their thinking about other peoples’ sins. And I can’t see how having a same-gendered life-partner undermines your ability to love God and neighbor, though I can see how haphazardly sleeping around would.

  • Izzy

    I like most of this post, but as the Resident Happy Slut, I feel the need to address that last paragraph:

    I think saying that girls have to dress or act a certain way is a bad idea, whether that way is “sleep around and wear miniskirts” or “wear floor-length dresses and don’t touch a boy until you’re married.” Girls, like boys, should express their sexuality in the manner they want to, *because* they want to, as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and is responsible.

    That said? As someone who sleeps around–though not haphazardly, I think–I don’t think sexual promiscuity *is* a problem, or a danger, if people are aware of potential consequences and take appropriate measures to either prevent or deal with them. I’ve had multiple sexual partners since I was seventeen, I haven’t regretted it any time in the last ten years, I don’t think it’s hurt my ability to be a spiritual or empathic person, and I have yet to end up with a kid or a disease. Having good access to and education about safer sex methods helped a lot.

  • Anonymous

    Hello, fellow Happy Slut.  I would also like to add to your points that miniskirts aren’t synonymous with promiscuity.  There are plenty of promiscuous women who wear “normal” or even conservative clothing.  Wearing a lace bra isn’t what makes women pregnant, and even women who wear granny panties often still have a sex drive.

  • Izzy

    Oh, damn straight.

    In fact, the woman who wears a miniskirt one night can show up in jeans and flannel or a twinset and pearls the next day. We’re tricksy like that. ;)

  • Anonymous

    There was a commenter on a different blog who called out Candie’s for being a hypocritical company because they campaigned against teen pregnancy while continuing to sell lingerie to teenagers.  The way he framed it, you would think that lace is what causes pregnancy instead of sperm.  Of course his unstated premise is that sexy underwear causes teen girls to have more sex, and I had to challenge him on that.  From my experience in high school, every group had sex about the same amount, which wasn’t very much for anyone.  But a lot of progressive men are still uncomfortable with the idea of a woman expressing her sexuality, regardless of how much sex she actually has.  It’s really disappointing.

  • Izzy

     Yeah, pretty much.

    And also, “more sex” does not mean “more unprotected sex.” Campaigning against teen pregnancy doesn’t mean you’re campaigning *for* teen abstinence.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    I think saying that girls have to dress or act a certain way is a bad
    idea, whether that way is “sleep around and wear miniskirts” or “wear
    floor-length dresses and don’t touch a boy until you’re married.” Girls,
    like boys, should express their sexuality in the manner they want to,
    *because* they want to, as long as everyone involved is a consenting
    adult and is responsible.

    Hopefully, everyone is also honest about what they’re really after, both with themselves and their partner(s).  No telling the other person it’s true love if it’s really just a desire to have a roll in the hay.  Honestly, I’ve felt a lot better about my experiences with those guys who were honest enough to say they just wanted to have sex.  We had a good time.  Sure, I ultimately decided it’s not what I wanted and things ended.  But at least it ended on an honest note.  I prefer it to being told one thing and getting treated in a way that suggests something different.

    And of course, convincing yourself you’ve found “true love” in order to convince yourself that it’s okay to hop into bed with someone can be disastrous as well.  Again, my experience indicates that it’s actually better to just hop into bed and admit that it’s because that’s what you want to do.

    And that’s my problem with a lot of what gets passed around as sexual morality.  It never seems to address issues like honesty and respect.

  • Izzy

    Well, yeah. Intentionally deceiving your sexual partner is a bad thing. I think there’s a certain amount you can expect adults to get from context–“if you go home with someone from a party, you are not In A Relationship or automatically guaranteed to become so” should not need a PowerPoint presentation, good Lord–but leading someone on is no good. 

    Also, if you have a FWB thing going on, the F is as important as the B: like, if you can’t sleep with someone outside a relationship *and* be nice to them socially when you’re not getting it on, then you shouldn’t be having sex with your friends, and you probably need a kick in the head. If you want a relationship, date someone. If you want sex where you never talk to the person when you’re not both naked, the solution is Craigslist, not your social circle.

    Ahh, pet peeves. :)

  • Susan Phillips

     @cyllan:twitter  — cross-reference feminist, womanist, mujerista with LBGT, inclusion and biblical scholarship. The literature is 40 years broad and deep.  A quick run of names should include: Mary Daly (Beyond God the Father), Rosemary Radford Ruether, Katie Cannon, Kwok Pui-Lan, Rita Nakashima-Brock, Phyllis Trible, Jacquelyn Grant (White Woman’s Christ Black Women’s Jesus), Delores Williams, Stacey Floyd-Thomas, Carter Heyward, Sallie McFague, Robert Goss (Jesus acted up: A gay and lesbian manifesto (1993), Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz.  Behind much of this work is the liberation theology of Latin American sisters and brothers.  Here is a link for several study guides: http://allwomen.pcusa.org/primers.htmThis link in an online bibliography for Jewish and Christian Feminist Theologians: http://www.freewebs.com/femtheol/fembib.htmlAnd for anyone who is reading with “new eyes” I would definitely recommend: Newsom, Carol A. And Sharon H. Ringe (eds). The Women’s Bible Commentary Floyd-Thomas was a seminary schoolmate of mine.  Everyone else on the list were folks I read when I was in seminary (or college) 15 years ago.  These are classics now.  One other I highly commend is Nancy Eiesland’s remarkable book “The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability.”  Even folks who are well read on gender and equality, need to allow Nancy to open our eyes.blessings

  • bad Jim

    I had hoped for an explanation why sexuality itself is a shibboleth for evangelicals, particularly since it isn’t central to the gospels or even to the teachings of Paul. Why is the denial of sexual freedom such a core value? After all, in life as in the gospels, wealth and power have far more influence over our lives than sexual desire.

    Is what’s most threatening about our sexuality is that it’s to some extent out of our control? Arousal is often involuntary; if you’re striving to be pure in thought and deed, it might be frustrating to find yourself getting an erection, particularly if you deem the trigger inappropriate.

    More likely it’s that a focus on sexuality doesn’t threaten things that really matter, like wealth and power. Preaching that looks benignly upon getting and spending is more likely to prosper, and the ideal of self-control lends itself nicely to material pursuits. If a display of virtue and self-denial is required, what better than to condemn sins to which one is not attracted or of which one is incapable, which for most men would include homosexuality and abortion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    @77e598a89dbd773a56dc44e38a75b05a:disqus 

    If a display of virtue and self-denial is required, what better than to condemn sins to which one is not attracted or of which one is incapable, which for most men would include homosexuality and abortion.

    THIS.

  • http://twitter.com/STPictures James Treakle

    Hot damn.  That got it. 

  • Kevin Alexander

    “I had hoped for an explanation why sexuality itself is a shibboleth for evangelicals, particularly since it isn’t central to the gospels or even to the teachings of Paul. Why is the denial of sexual freedom such a core value? After all, in life as in the gospels, wealth and power have far more influence over our lives than sexual desire.”
    This phenomenon is not just in evangelicals, it is a feature of the conservative element in every society. It is part of the human condition.
    If you don’t mind a materialist take then evolutionary psychology explains it perfectly. In most social species the dominant individuals will control the sexuality of the others. In this way they monopolize the gene pool to their own benefit.
    The pastor who thunders against fornication on Sunday morning and gets caught in the motel in the afternoon is certainly a hypocrite but his actions are perfectly natural and in keeping with his evolved instincts.

  • arc

    It doesn’t explain it perfectly at all – you’re kind of glossing over a step in your explanation.    What you’re really doing is explaining the fact that some humans seek to  control the sexual behaviour of others by reference to an instinct that governs (or at least  prompts) such behaviour.   However, this explanation only works if there really is such an instinct.  But is there?  If everyone really did behave in this way, or felt impulses to behave in this way which they control through Iron Discipline and Acts of Will, then there might be something to this explanation, but actually many people, including I imagine most of the readers of this blog, don’t seek to control the sexuality of others in any big way, and I’m pretty sure most of them don’t feel any particular need to which they’re somehow repressing.

    Now, if there was such an instinct, then evolutionary psychology might explain the existence of it.  But then again, even if there was such an instinct, that still wouldn’t be an explanation for why it’s a core issue for evangelicals, and not for other people, and that’s what the real question is.  Any plausible explanation is going to have to strongly involve what one might broadly call cultural aspects, and it’s likely to be quite complex. 

  • Kevin Alexander

     Hi arc, Andrew,
    Sorry I took so long to get back. I still think we’re looking at an instinct here. We have no  fossil evidence because behaviour doesn’t fossilize. I was using the fact that the behaviour at present is universal but I didn’t claim that everyone does it. Fear of snakes seems to be instinctive but not everyone is afraid of snakes. Fear of heights is universal but people commonly get over it to get into airplanes.
    I was also offering as evidence the fact that people have such a strong emotional response to others sexuality. Not everyone sees a couple embracing in the street and thinks with disgust ‘get a room!’ but it is a common reaction. 
    Other evidence. Where does puritanism come from? Mencken defined it as that gnawing fear that somewhere someone was happy. Think about how instincts manifest themselves. It’s a straightforward stimulus response thing. See a snake, your blood pressure jumps. If the antisex (for want of a better name) instinct is true then it should not just be triggered by seeing sexual stimuli but also be triggered by things that have a similar appearance. Like people dancing, playing cards,laughing together, like happiness generally.
    I don’t think conservatives are puritan because they are religious, I think it’s the other way around. Without the religious justification they couldn’t justify trying to control others lives. Note that not only does almost every religious conservative quote his scripture to justify his puritanism, even the non religious such as the Chinese communists feel they have to cook up some justification for that exact behaviour.
    The problem with evolutionary psychology is the name. Like sociobiology it’s just a clinical name for an old idea, that of inherited instinct. Critics of the idea treat it as though we are slaves to our genes but that’s nonsense, it’s like saying that a sailor can only go in the direction that the wind blows. He can go where he wants, he just has to understand the wind. It seems to me that it just makes sense to understand our instincts rather than deny them. Otherwise we just get blown along by them.

  • arc

    Kevin,

    I come back to the second point of my initial reply.  Even assuming that there is such an instinct to control the sexual behaviour of others, the existence of the instinct does not explain why it’s a core value for evangelicals in particular.  You’ve answered a different question – why is it a core value for everyone? Unless you think evangelicals represent some kind of a subspecies with different instincts to the rest of us, evolutionary psychology can’t on its own explain why evangelicals are particularly interested in controlling sexual behaviour to an extent that other people aren’t. 

    They way you’re approaching this issue seems to be the usual way people generate explanations when their main hammer in their explanatory tool-chest is evolutionary psychology.  Given a behaviour Y that a group S of real people exhibit that requires explaining, from the armchair work out some way of a putative ancestor Z gaining reproductive success from that behaviour, and propose the existence of instinct X on the basis of that.  Case closed, everyone go back to work.

    (Z is usually portrayed as a venal and selfish individual, but if that fails group dynamics can be considered.  S is often not the entire population, but a subset. Backup information to make the whole explanation more plausible can be picked from actual biology at will.)

    Normally science cannot be conducted from the armchair in this fashion, and it’s surprising (and worrying) that people who are clearly scientifically informed like yourself think it can be.  The best that you can get is a scientifically plausible story, but one should really couch this more tentatively as maybe a ‘possible explanation’ rather than something that ‘explains it perfectly’.   At the very least, as I have already suggested, you should think about how it explains the actual proportion of the real population who don’t exhibit the behaviour.  Maybe if the actual proportion is very small and randomly distributed you can hand-wave at genetic variability in the population, but not when it’s significant and clearly correlated with culture.  In addition, before it’s accepted as a proper scientific explanation, it needs as much empirical evidence that can be mustered in its support, for example concerning the status and existence of the putative instinct (I don’t think ‘something like it is present in most cultures’ is very strong evidence for a specific instinct governing this exact behaviour), and also, very importantly, a consideration of alternative hypotheses.  Could this behaviour arise as a result of more general human tendencies given certain kinds of environment and cultural history, for example?  I think in this case it could, and if you like I’ll jot down how such an explanation would go (such an explanation would also be nothing more than a scientifically plausible possible story if I don’t get out of my armchair, too, but it does show that the evolutionary psychological explanation isn’t the only game in town).

    Your final paragraph addressing critics of the idea is also a common move that fans of armchair evolutionary psychological explanation make: dismiss any criticism as being motivated by some deep-seated and irrational bias against evolutionary psychology.  Often it’s assumed that the critic is ‘religious’ (some kind of creationist, no doubt), or maybe  but assuming they fear the genetic determinism is also popular (another good one is assuming they’re somehow anti-science).  This is a fantastic manœuvre as you don’t have to seriously consider the counter-arguments, as they’re clearly irrational from the get-go, and lots of people use something similar to protect their own beliefs.

    Now, you may not have really been directing that remark at me or Andrew, and even if you were perhaps you didn’t intend to dismiss the arguments by it, but it’s worth reminding you that neither of us objected to your explanation on the grounds that it makes us the slaves of our genes.

    I have some more specific criticisms of your explanation, but these general points are more important.

  • Kevin Alexander

     ‘ Even assuming that there is such an instinct to control the sexual behaviour of others, the existence of the instinct does not explain why it’s a core value for evangelicals in particular. ‘
    Fair point. There have been experiments done with fear. An infant rhesus monkey is exposed to various things including a rubber snake to test whether fears are instinctive or learned. The baby shows little interest in most things but shows wariness of the snake even though it has never seen one before. If the baby is with another monkey who shows a strong fear reaction then the baby will copy that reaction and keep the fear of snakes. I think this might explain why different passions are either reinforced or relaxed in different cultures.
    ‘ one should really couch this more tentatively as maybe a ‘possible explanation’ rather than something that ‘explains it perfectly’.’ You are right here, I apologize
    ‘Your final paragraph addressing critics of the idea is also a common move that fans of armchair evolutionary psychological explanation make: dismiss any criticism as being motivated by some deep-seated and irrational bias against evolutionary psychology’ I reread my remark and I still can’t tell how you read that. I wasn’t aiming it at you or Andrew, it was just a wondering why so many are hostile to the idea of human nature. If you took it personally I apologize again. I accept responsibility for what I write but I can’t do so much for what is read.
    Anyway your criticisms are just. Thank you for your long and thoughtful reply.
    Let me try again. My hypothesis is that the most parsimonious explanation for the antipathy shown in varying degrees in various cultures toward sexual display is that it is rooted in instinct. There are of course other explanations but they are more complicated and can’t explain why nearly every culture is biased on the same side. Margaret Meade believed that sexual repression was a cultural artifact. She tried to prove it by looking for a counter example and her confirmation bias was so strong that she was made a fool of by a couple of Samoan girls.
    arc, you made another good point. The problem with evolutionary psychology is evolutionary psychologists like me. It is very easy to come up with ridiculous examples but I still don’t think I did that in this case. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    @2272c8403484620cd04ba32fa0fd12af:disqus 

    My hypothesis is that the most parsimonious explanation for the antipathy shown in varying degrees in various cultures toward sexual display is that it is rooted in instinct.

    Are you familiar with what ‘hypothesis’ means?  You have to test a hypothesis, you can’t just conclude things are so based on logic.

  • arc

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your considered and courteous reply. The world needs more people like you.

    Now that you’ve accepted the general gist of my criticism and become more cautious about what you are claiming, my objections are much reduced.  Your hypothesis isn’t ridiculous, and I think we all basically agree that so long as we’re not mistaking a plausible hypothesis as proven scientific fact, reasonable speculation is fine.

    As far as my comments about your speculations as to why people are hostile to evolutionary psychology go, I think I worded that a bit more strongly than I needed to.  I didn’t take it personally, and I didn’t necessarily think it was directed at me, hence my statement to that effect.  However, there were several people objecting to your general argument, and none of them objected to it on the basis of its name or it making us slaves to our genes.  Why would you be suddenly speculating about possible objections to other people not participating in the conversation? 

    (I’d have to admit I have had some tiresome arguments with people who were quite definitely directing similar remarks towards me. So maybe I’m a bit primed to see dismissal where there isn’t any)

    The shoe is to some extent on the other foot with you and some of your other interlocutors: you seem quite keen to deny the charges of genetic determinism and the naturalistic fallacy, but as I read the thread, no-one’s actually leveled those charges at you, they’ve only mentioned that ‘other people’ can and do hold these attitudes.

  • arc

     Kevin,

    Thanks for your considered and courteous reply.  The world needs more people like you.

    As you’ve accepted much of the general gist of my criticism, my objections are much reduced.  Your hypothesis isn’t ridiculous, and I think everyone’s in agreement that so long as we’re clear we’re talking about plausible accounts rather than scientific fact (or anything close to it), reasonable speculation is fine.

    As far as my remarks about dismissal goes, I probably didn’t quite use minimal force there. I didn’t take it personally and I wasn’t sure it was directed at me or anyone else in particular (hence my statement to that effect).  However, you’ve had a few critics (none of whom mentioned having problems with the name or being worried about being slaves to genes) and it’s natural to wonder whether you might be addressing them, rather than some other people ‘out there’ who aren’t participating in the conversation.

    (I’ll have to admit I have had a few tiresome arguments with people who certainly were directing comments like that at me)

    The shoe is to some extent on the other foot with your other interlocutors – you seem quite keen to absolve yourself of charges of genetic determinism and the naturalistic fallacy, but as far as I read the thread, no-one’s actually leveled such charges at you.  they’ve just noted that ‘other people’ do think those things…

    (I tried to post this earlier but the internets ate it.  Sorry if I end up with two similar posts)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    @2272c8403484620cd04ba32fa0fd12af:disqus 

    Sorry I took so long to get back. I still think we’re looking at an instinct here. We have no  fossil evidence because behaviour doesn’t fossilize. I was using the fact that the behaviour at present is universal but I didn’t claim that everyone does it. Fear of snakes seems to be instinctive but not everyone is afraid of snakes. Fear of heights is universal but people commonly get over it to get into airplanes.I was also offering as evidence the fact that people have such a strong emotional response to others sexuality. Not everyone sees a couple embracing in the street and thinks with disgust ‘get a room!’ but it is a common reaction. Other evidence. Where does puritanism come from? Mencken defined it as that gnawing fear that somewhere someone was happy. Think about how instincts manifest themselves. It’s a straightforward stimulus response thing. See a snake, your blood pressure jumps. If the antisex (for want of a better name) instinct is true then it should not just be triggered by seeing sexual stimuli but also be triggered by things that have a similar appearance. Like people dancing, playing cards,laughing together, like happiness generally.I don’t think conservatives are puritan because they are religious, I think it’s the other way around. Without the religious justification they couldn’t justify trying to control others lives. Note that not only does almost every religious conservative quote his scripture to justify his puritanism, even the non religious such as the Chinese communists feel they have to cook up some justification for that exact behaviour.The problem with evolutionary psychology is the name. Like sociobiology it’s just a clinical name for an old idea, that of inherited instinct. Critics of the idea treat it as though we are slaves to our genes but that’s nonsense, it’s like saying that a sailor can only go in the direction that the wind blows. He can go where he wants, he just has to understand the wind. It seems to me that it just makes sense to understand our instincts rather than deny them. Otherwise we just get blown along by them.

    If not everyone does it, then the behavior cannot be described as universal. More accurate terminology is needed. The studies I’ve read about fear of snakes indicate not that fear of snakes is instinctive, but rather it is easily learned, and studies of nonhuman primates support this, such as when a young chimpanzee who had never encountered a snake regarded one without fear, but after observing another chimpanzee reacting with fear to a snake, also reacted with fear from that point forward. This suggests that something much more interesting than just an instinctive fear of snakes is happening. It also demonstrates the need for actual experiment, not just assumption.

    Strong emotional response is not evidence at all for this to be instinctive. I and large number of other people have strong positive emotional responses to certain sexual activities that in the human environment of evolutionary adaptation would probably have been detrimental to survival. It is easy to produce strong emotional response through learned behavior. (Paging Dr Pavlov!) Commonality of the response is also not evidence in any way, because the null hypothesis in this case is that the response is learned socially, and nearly all human societies have certain taboos about open displays of sexuality and affection. The question would be if humans develop these reactions in the absence of that type of socialization.

    It should be noted that H. L. Mencken was a satirist. The ‘gnawing fear’ is not to be taken literally. In fact, I think it’s a desire for power, not an actual sense of fear, that motivates puritanical repression of enjoyable activities. There are puritanical atheists, puritanical marxists and maoists, puritanical hindus, puritanical pagans — it’s not specific to any religious group. But there are also freethinking members of all those groups, and also of evangelical christians.

    The problem with evolutionary psychology is not the name — it’s the propensity of its proponents to ignore basic scientific rigor and make statements about such-and-such behavior in the modern world as being tied to a completely hypothetical instinct that they insist the modern behavior is evidence for. Even in animals, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between learned behavior and instinct in many cases.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Thus indicating one of the many problems with ‘Evolutionary psychology’. There is absolutely no evidence that our ancestors lived in an environment where dominant individuals controlled the sexuality of others. Our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, have no particular control of their sexualities by the dominant individuals.

  • hapax

    There is plenty of evidence, in fact (especially in view of very small degree of sexual dimorphism in hominids) that our ancestors lived in groups where same-sex coalitions, significant female choice, and a high degree of pair bonding were the main features of our mating strategies.

  • Izzy

    From what I’ve read, both pair bonding and wider community bonding: if we’re “meant” to be anything, biologically speaking, it’s giant extended families and/or hippie communes.  

  • Anonymous

     Another great post. Examining whether what you have been told about the Bible matches what it actually says and means is increasingly necessary as we spend less time on it.

    Sorry to disappoint you, Fred, but I don’t, in fact, think the position of Wallis et al. is untenable in the long run; I think it is true. I don’t see the difference between the mechanics of, say, the orthodox position on sexuality, the half-and-half position on gender roles, and the progressive position on social justice: both strike me as being soundly based on a thoughtful and consistent reading of the Bible, not held together by a handful of “clobber verses” that disappear when faced with a more holistic approach. Basically, I don’t think a progressive hermeneutic is the right way to read scripture, although it does tend to produce the correct result fairly often.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is that people always are switching between two extremes.

    Especially with human sexuality: you have to be careful because it is something very fragile that can be used to hurt yourself or other people.

    But if you completely deny those feelings you end up twisted and unhealthy.

    Human sexuality is something can give great joy but also great suffering.

    So I think in the end you have to look at both the good and the bad and think for YOURSELF.
    Because in the end you have to understand what is good and what is bad and what makes the difference between those two.

  • nirrti

    I think the evangelical fundamentalist focus on gender roles and sex is simply about power and control. Until relatively a few decades ago, women had few rights under the law and were under the control of their fathers then husbands after they married. 

    Ever since the cultural shift that enabled women to make their own life choices and the invention of birth control allowed sex without getting pregnant, fundamentalists have been rabid about taking that power back.

  • Amaryllis

    Revernd Ref:

    When in doubt, go back to the beginning…from the MOMENT OF CREATION, God intended man and woman to live as equals in God’s ideal society.  There was no “subordination of women in society” until we screwed up the system.

    Works for me.

    I’ve never understood how fundamentalists justify the “subordinate role of women” as both part of God’s great design and the consequence of Eve’s “disobedience.” If women were created as lesser and secondary from the start*, why’d it matter what Eve said to Adam? And if women were intended to be equal from the start, if it was us who screwed it up, why can’t we “unscrew” it with God’s good will?

    *The Wikipedia article on the “Great Chain of Being” has this priceless sentence:
    “The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, demons
    (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, men, wild
    animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones,
    precious metals, and other minerals.”

    Yes, I know, wikipedia, not a trustworthy source, there are better explanations of the concept available. But still, reading that list one must ask, Are Women Human? Or do they come somewhere between Wild Animals and Domestic Animals?

    coleslaw:

    I doubt that when the bloggers were little lads worried about catching
    “girl cooties” they speculated too much about the relationship among the
    members of the Holy Trinity.

    Hee. It’d make for some highly unusual playground arguments, wouldn’t it?

  • P J Evans

    Amaryllis, for that matter, why does that ‘great chain of being’ put wild animals ahead of domesticated animals, and trees ahead of other plants?
    (I can see them maybe using ‘men’ in an inclusive sense, but it doesn’t make any more sense that way.)

  • Amaryllis

    @PJ:disqus Evans: I don’t know, maybe because wild animals aren’t under human control? And it’s all about  who gives orders to whom? Or who has to take orders?

    And trees are, um, tall? Taller is better?

    If “men” is all-inclusive, why doesn’t it also include “kings, princes and nobles?”

    But again, this is Wikipedia; I just thought that sentence was funny. From what I remember about the GCB, it divides creation into major categories, and within each category there are subcategories, according to which members of the category were nearer to “perfect”, or “purer in spirit.” Thus, orders of angels; kings, lords, common families, with all the infinite gradations of rank that people could invent; within families it’s men, women, children.

    Any philosopher or Renaissance scholars with actual knowledge are welcome to correct me.

  • Amaryllis

    Morgan Guyton:

    I myself am socially conservative when it comes to the commodification
    of sex in our culture. It’s awful how girls have been taught that
    they’re supposed to dress and act in order to be worth something. 

    Peggy Orenstein has an interesting if inconclusive book out, called Cinderella Ate My Daughter, about the marketing of looks and bling and pink to girls at younger and younger ages. And it’s true, when I was a little girl, gender roles were much stricter than they are now, and certainly girls and women were judged on their looks and their conduct as stricly as they are now, if maybe not quite in the same way. But I don’t remember little girls being surrounded by pink froth and glitter the way they are now. The Patriarchy striking back? Or the marketing department seizing the opportunity to create ever-narrower categories of who gets to do what, and therefore who has to buy what?

    By the end of the book, Orenstein’s daughter is starting to grow out of the “princess” phase, and to look down on all things pink or pretty. Which leads the author to wonder, are these the only choices being presented to our daughters these days? Either settle for a femininity that’s all about how you look and what you buy, or try to be “one of the guys”? Is this still all that we’ve managed to accomplish?

    Izzy:

    I think saying that girls have to dress or act a certain way is a bad
    idea, whether that way is “sleep around and wear miniskirts” or “wear
    floor-length dresses and don’t touch a boy until you’re married.” Girls, like boys, should express their sexuality in the manner they want to, *because* they want to, as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and is responsible.

    Oh, agreed. It just seems to me that the current culture wants to have it both ways when it comes to young girls: look “hot” but don’t act too hot. Only don’t be a prude or a tease, either. It’s a puzzlement.

    ETA: Disqus, I hate you.

  • P J Evans

    And it’s true, when I was a little girl, gender roles were much stricter
    than they are now, and certainly girls and women were judged on their
    looks and their conduct as stricly as they are now, if maybe not quite
    in the same way. But I don’t remember little girls being surrounded by
    pink froth and glitter the way they are now.

    I don’t remember it either – I can remember when Barbie dolls were new and ‘in’, and that was, maybe, the very beginning of it.
    What I remember of gender roles then was that girls were expected to take classes that would prepare them for working in a business as a clerk or a secretary, or for being a nurse or a teacher, or for being a housewife. (‘Future Homemakers’ was one of the school clubs, along with ‘Future Teachers’.) I was lucky enough to have a mother who didn’t believe those were the only options.

  • Lori

    My friends and I had Barbie dolls when we were growing up, but at least for me that was less about being girly girl than about rebelling against baby dolls. As retrograde and anti-feminist as Barbie was, she at least allowed for the possibility of something beyond the traditional housewifely duties. I had no interest in toys like baby dolls and cooking sets that basically couldn’t be used for any play other than cooking, cleaning and changing diapers*. I did covet my friend’s Easy Bake oven, but that was because you could use it to make actual food (for some values of “actual” and “food”). 

    When I was in high school I refused to learn to type beyond hunt & peck because I was terrified of ending up as “just a secretary”. I didn’t actually learn until college when computers become common and it become obvious that everyone needed to know how to type. Looking back I’m torn between feeling  bad for belittling the work done by admins and proud of myself for refusing to climb willingly into the box labeled “girl jobs”. 
    I think those experiences reflect a combination of natural non-conformity on my part (I’m just not a joiner in any way) and the fact that my formative years took place during the 70s and that was a deeply weird transitional decade. However, even with all of the weirdness and mix-ed messages of my childhood there was nothing even close to the princess pushers kids have now. I wasn’t into pink and twirly and that never made me stand out or seem odd. Some girls had a few princess-y things for playing dress up, but they didn’t cry over not being allowed to wear tutus and tiaras to school. Based on that I assume this is mostly a marketing driven fad and eventually it’ll burn itself out. *My childhood attitudes about toys have nothing to do with how I feel about SAHMs. I have nothing but respect for SAHMs and if that’s what someone wants to do, more power to her. She’ll never hear a negative word from me as long as it’s freely chosen and she’s not trying to force other people to make the same choice. 

  • Anonymous

    But I don’t remember little girls being surrounded by pink froth and
    glitter the way they are now. The Patriarchy striking back? Or the
    marketing department seizing the opportunity to create ever-narrower
    categories of who gets to do what, and therefore who has to buy what?

    I think some of the current pink froth and glitter trend is due to having cheap and readily available pink froth and glitter to market to the kids. (Hello, China!) When I was small, there were plastic high heels (all glittery) for little girls. They lasted until you tried to run in them. Also magic wands (glittery). Tutus (glittery and frothy). Princess crowns (glittery). This was in the 1950’s, and middle-class families had a bit more money to spend on stuff. Also, this was the post-WWII era, and there was a lot of propaganda about the importance of women being housewives–excuse me, homemakers–since there was a continuing effort during the decade and more following the war to move women out of the workforce to make jobs available for the men, especially those who had been in the war.

    I’d certainly ascribe some of it to the patriarchy striking back, but most of it to the marketing department marketing stuff. And to what has been, in my experience, a sad lack of imagination on the part of way too many of those who go into marketing. Of course the two things aren’t independent, by any means.

  • hapax

    I’m pretty sure it is specifically Disney-marketing-department driven, personally.  Even a little more than a decade ago, when my daughter was the “princess” age, there weren’t Disney stores in every mall, and the two Disney costumes she wanted for Halloween (Flora from “Sleeping Beauty” and Jasmine) I made myself — and her friends thought that it was pretty unique to be dressed up as a “Disney” character! 

    There was toy makeup and glittery pink shoes and tiaras, etc. available, but they weren’t any more prevalent in the “girl aisles” of toystores than stuffed animals or  rollerskates;  and while there were lots of Barbies, they had cool accessories like airplanes and spacesuits as well as ball gowns.

    But this all changed radically just a few years later, when (thank Heavens) she was too old for it, and wanted to be Mariel of Redwall or Alanna or Sango instead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zack-Adams/1608704219 Zack Adams

    Bad Jim: great comment.

    Fred, an insightful and thoughtful writing. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  • Ken

    Is it desirable, or even possible, to cooperate with such partial allies on the vitally important matters on which we agree given the equally vital importance — for all sides — of the matters on which we do not and cannot agree?

    The game Diplomacy teaches us that it is.  For example, it is essential for Russia and Austria-Hungary to cooperate if Turkey is to be destroyed; but at the same time, each is secretly planning to stab the other in the back the moment Smyrna falls.

    Of course one might hope that Christians would forgo the backstabbing, but it’s tricky.  Once you get in the habit of thinking of some group as your Turkey because their view of God and the Bible doesn’t quite conform to yours, it becomes easier to notice how your current ally also falls short of your standards.

  • Guest-again

    Well, to just wade into the waters of a decades old thought – we will all know that we are making something resembling progress in terms of sexual equality when there is a commonly accepted and positive expression for women (or a term that applies equally to any adult) that enjoy sex.

    And it certainly has been a depressing couple of decades since first realising what a major lack our language has in terms of describing a desirable social result (and ‘slut shaming’? – man, we can come up with a term to describe the opposite process without any problem, and then everyone uses it). We aren’t even close, and somehow, it feels like even the possibility of accepting the idea of such a term is receding.

       

  • Guest-again

    And to add – the term ‘slut shaming’ effortlessly embodies stereotypes (women only, basically – no attacking men), enforcement frameworks (like shame, generally based on religious beliefs), and manages to denigrate the aspect of enjoying sex in a quick two word package.

  • Anonymous

     In my experience, guest-again, people who engage in slut-shaming and people familiar with the term ‘slut-shaming’ are nonoverlapping groups.

  • Josh

    Usually. But I once mentioned to a class that there was a campus preacher (not a chaplain, just one of those guys who waves a Bible and harangues people on the quad) who was into slut-shaming, and one young woman got very enthusiastic and said she’d like to support him.

  • Anonymous

     Thanks for the blog-love!

    peace,
    Chad Holtz

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    Sometimes eg attitudes towards homosexuality are thought to be products of religion, but I wonder how much it’s just demagogery taking advantage of the common modern American male homophobia. Which as Amaryllis suggested might be due to a desire to be clear about social roles.

    Out here in the coastlands boys acting like girls is an always-funny, like farting. We have an annual high school girls flag football game; the girls play some pretty hardheaded ball while the boys put on coconut-shell tops and flounce. We cheer the girls and laugh at the boys.

    In the old desert tribal days when margins were thin, you can see it would helped the stability of the tribe to have a limited set of community roles and force people to stick to them. These days we’re trying to deal with a much more fluid or nuanced set of roles, which will be a good thing if it works. But the cost is that our local structures have lost a lot of stability, as any fool can plainly see. (Namely, me.) 

    We need some new structure, not based on laws of ritual observance such as have guided us in the past. I wonder what?

  • Anonymous

     If a display of virtue and self-denial is required, what better than to condemn sins to which one is not attracted or of which one is incapable, which for most men would include homosexuality and abortion.

    This reminds me of something C. S. Lewis said. He wrote that he would condemn anger and greed and everything else, but he would never condemn gambling or homosexuality, because those were the only two sins that never tempted him.  It’s interesting not only for its attitude, but for the way that Lewis talks about homosexuality- as about the same as gambling.  His attitude seems to be that we might see constant gambling as bad and sinful, but no one would claim that it would bar the gambler from heaven. In much the same way, homosexuality may be a sin, but it wouldn’t be the “do it and burn” attitude that modern religious types have. 

  • hapax

    Er.  Well, I think people — even fifty years ago — thought of gambling as a weakness and a disease, more than a sin.  So, yeah, it wouldn’t “bar one from Heaven”, but it’s still not very flattering category to put a perfectly normal sexual orientation in.

    I admire a great many things that Lewis said, but pretty much anything he said about sexuality or gender made me want to scream.

    It’s rather odd how he could simultaneously hold the notion that certain characteristics were gender essentialist, yet at the same time practically all sexual behaviors were totally a matter of free choice.

     

  • ako

    It’s rather odd how he could simultaneously hold the notion that
    certain characteristics were gender essentialist, yet at the same time
    practically all sexual behaviors were totally a matter of free choice.

    Most people I’ve heard from with strong gender essentialist attitudes seem to hold that belief.  The belief seems to be that everyone’s naturally inclined to follow a fundamentally and inherently gendered lifestyle (in which everyone’s heterosexual, cisgendered, and traditionally masculine or traditionally feminine), but free will means we always can choose to disobey our natural inclinations (so we can be blamed) and human decadence/sinfulness means that some of us will.  Generally, the people who claim this go on to claim that only the people who adhere firmly to traditionalism are truly happy and fulfilled, and all of the people who don’t choose to follow that particular idea (QUILTBAG people, feminists, career women, stay-at-home fathers, men who enjoy My Little Pony*, etc.) are all tormented by unhappiness.  If anyone who doesn’t adhere to the traditional patriarchal mode has problems, the assumption is that veering away from rigid gender roles causes is.  And the people who don’t have problems are all assumed to be secretly miserable and suppressing it.

    *Okay, I have not yet seen any patriarchal freak-outs about the whole Brony thing, but I figure it’s only a matter of time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Okay, I have not yet seen any patriarchal freak-outs about the whole Brony thing, but I figure it’s only a matter of time.

    They could be making the same assumption I was until relatively recently, which was that the affection for MLP from men and boys was entirely ironic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ouri-Maler/1017109188 Ouri Maler

     

    They could be making the same assumption I was until relatively recently, which was that the affection for MLP from men and boys was entirely ironic.

    I can assure anyone who still harbors doubts – there’s nothing ironic about it. We honestly just love this show.

  • Anonymous

    It certainly doesn’t have to be ironic.  Most kids, even the boys, love bright colors and shiny things.  Also, what’s cooler than flying horses?  You don’t have to be a girl to like MLP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

     Well, no, now that I’ve learned more about it I understand that it’s not the same as the old half-hour toy commercials with plot that the cartoons used to be.

  • Drew Martin

    The more I see of people, the more I think that either there is no such thing as a “normal sexual orientation,” or the definition is so ridiculously broad as to be meaningless.

    I’d say we still are very much suffering from a delusion that “paraphilias” are “mental diseases” rather than “sexual orientations we don’t like,” and then assigning moral evil to simply possessing them anyways (and those of the anti-gay crowd that know enough about psychology to know about the heading of paraphilia would almost certainly say that homosexuality should never have been removed from the list).

  • chris the cynic

    Yesterday my sister graduated from university and the speaker, Linda Greenlaw, told a story that went something like this:

    At a family get together when she was a child her aunt decided the children should do things to help, the boys were supposed to go in the woods and gather sticks for something (I don’t remember what so I’m going to randomly claim it was to roast marshmallows if anyone needs specifics to latch onto) and the girls were to stay behind to do more girly things (something involving … damn it, I don’t remember, place settings maybe?)

    Linda ran for the woods to collect sticks, she had her knife with her as always, she liked woods, she liked sticks and doubtless she would have done a good job.  At the edge of the wood her aunt ordered her back, and Linda ended up sitting by herself sobbing.  When her mother found her and asked what was wrong she asked, “Do I have to be a girl?” to which her mother replied, “You can be anything you want.”  Which has to be one of the best answers in the history of good answers.

    At least I thought it was awesome and felt like sharing.  It’s certainly better than, “We can’t let the boy see a man vacuum.”

    Hopefully I’ve retold the story correctly.  The key thing that stood out to me was that the mother’s response to, “Do I have to be a girl,” was not in any way, “Yes.”  For Linda being able to be anything she wanted eventually led her to be captain of a commercial fishing boat so something like, “Yes, but a girl can do anything a boy can do,” probably would have worked out just as well for her, but I still think her mother’s actual answer was much better.

  • P J Evans

    That’s about what I got told when I was young by my mother.
    (My mother was absolutely not kidding – she’d worked as a lab tech in an oilfield, where, even during the war, women were not the rule.)

  • Grant Paton-Simpson

    A friend of mine doubts that the person telling the story of how furious he was with “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” really exists. Here is what he said: “You know what. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there is a person
    like this. This is a FOAF [Friend Of A Friend] story. Maybe a conflation. Hyperbole. Drummed
    up. Make a good memorable story for good purposes. But it’s not
    literally true. That doesn’t make it wrong. But this unnamed “A man” 
    and “This man” doesn’t exist as a person. There was never an individual
    like that. Not as extreme.

    And if I’m wrong it would be easy to prove I am wrong. But I’m not.
    Burden of proof is not with me, of course. I’m not making the claim. I’m
    saying I don’t believe the claim.”.

    Well, Fred – is this a real person and is there any way of verifying it? Did this supporter make their story public? If so, is it OK to name them here?

    Sorry to press you on this but my friend’s comment is getting under my skin ;-)

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

     Ugh…. your friend does not appear to understand what the burden of proof is, or how to meet it. Let’s break down the claims being made, and proof therein.

    “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” is a real book. There’s a link to the book in Fred’s post, so we’ve met the burden of proof for that.

    The main theme of that book is that the Bible commands believers to share what they have with the poor. The evidence for that claim is in the book, as well in the many, easily located reviews of the book which summarize it’s arguments. So we’ve met the burden of proof for that.

    Many people read the book, and strongly disagree with it’s conclusions, citing scripture or religious beliefs. Again, there’s a link to the Amazon.com page, which includes some 1-star reviews: “Ron Sider is an unchristian liberal socialist who perverts the clear teaching of scripture…”
    (This isn’t an extraordinary claim, so the threshold for evidence is pretty low) We have evidence (in the form of reviews and rebuttals) showing that many people react this way, so I’d say the burden of proof has been met for that.

    Which leaves us with the final claim in the story: a person who disagreed with the author, upon engaging in further study and reflection, realizes their own beliefs were incorrect.
    In order to address the question of the burden of proof, we have to consider how extraordinary the claim really is. Have we heard of people reversing their views on other, Biblical subjects after reflection? Have people ever come to embrace a view that was previously apostacy after reading their Bible?

    We don’t need to know the “real person’s name” or address or details in order to evaluate the claims of the story. We just need to ask “is it believable that a person could change their position in this way, after reading their Bible with a pointed purpose?” Given that there is abundant evidence of this kind of behavior elsewhere (links above are a good starting place, or searching for more stories of people who became atheists after reading the Bible), the standard for evidence is pretty light. If your friend doesn’t believe that part of the story, feel free to point him towards Rob Bell, (“Love Wins”) another case of someone who believed Scripture said one thing, and discovered after researching, reading, and studying the text, found it said something else entirely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    Here I have been thinking that Quiltbag People referred to obnoxious rural ladies totting large satchels with sewing gear. (Possibly analogous to and derived from scumbag.) But I looked it up and now I know better. Personally I would rather be LGTB than Quiltbaggy, but people are entitled to be called what they want, I say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    A friend of mine doubts that the person telling the story of how furious he was with “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” really exists. Here is what he said: “You know what. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there is a person 
    like this. This is a FOAF [Friend Of A Friend] story. Maybe a conflation. Hyperbole. Drummed 
    up. Make a good memorable story for good purposes. But it’s not 
    literally true. That doesn’t make it wrong. But this unnamed “A man”  
    and “This man” doesn’t exist as a person. There was never an individual 
    like that. Not as extreme.

    I’m with your friend in thinking that that story is far too pat to sound probable as it stands, but I disagree with him that there is no such person. Maybe there isn’t, but I find it likely that there is big supporter who tells this story, and that the story contains some elements of what actually happened to him. There are conventions about how we sort out events in our lives and describe them. This is a conversion story. Nobody tells a conversion story by saying, “I used to believe one set of arguments and most of my friends did, too, but I started reading some books and listening to some new friends, and for a while I went back and forth because my old friends seemed convincing but so did my new friends, so I read some more books, and one day I realized my opinions had changed.” The way you tell the story is ultimately the way you remember the story.

  • Anonymous

     @fa009241bbd15ee840d21056d1306fb2:disqus : Oh, but of course- I wasn’t trying to say it was a good thing. But that given a choice between having Christians who thought that being gay was the BIGGEST DEAL EVER YOU’LL BUUUURN FOREVER and someone who views it like gambling, or swearing, or a bad temper-well, the ones who view it as just another bad thing that people do are probably most easily swayed. 

    Its like cursing. If you think “chucklesucker” is a bad word like “damn” or “hell,” you can easily be convinced that its not a curse word at all. If you think its worse than the C, N, and P words put together, you’ll never listen to anything anyone has to say about it, and continue thinking its the most evil-y evil of them all.Actually, this has got me thinking about Fred Phelps, and how he may be helping his cause, unwittingly.

    Essentially, everyone, on the left and the right, condemns Phelps, and rightly so. However, if you’ll notice, the left gets pissed about the hate, as well as the protesting soldiers funerals. On the right, all the anger is directed at the anti-soldier parts of the protest, allowing the anti-gay part to just stay there, unquestioned. The message there is that the gay-hating part of their message is perfectly ok, just not the anti-US/soldier bits. And so that hatred gets ground just a little further into the zeitgeist. I don’t think Phelps is doing it on purpose, I think its just a nasty demonstrator of how much conservatives hate gay people that they don’t even think to question Phelps anti-gay rhetoric. 

  • http://attitudevicissitude.wordpress.com/ Andrew

    For a long time I hoped that what Fred argues here – namely, that when we learn to read the Bible with a particular kind of care, evangelical Christians who are holding on to a “conservative sexual morality” (in particular, of course, the concern here is how the church can or cannot welcome LGBT folks, and what it would or could mean to be a queer Christian) will be able to learn a better way – is true.  As I went further in my reading (Richard Hays and Robert Gagnon were influential, e.g.), my hopes receded.  While I have seen many keen and persuasive analyses of why so many evangelicals are LT (“like that”), I would argue that the simplest explanation, namely, a careful reading of the Bible supports a “conservative sexual morality,” is also the most true.

  • Parisienne

    On the day of the royal wedding recently, the BBC did a piece (on Radio 4) about the development of the princess fantasy for little girls. They claimed it can be directly linked to Disney’s marketing machine and their “princesses” line which is now worth $4bn a year worldwide.

    I think part of it is also due to the influx of Cheap Crap from China™; when I was a child (in the 80s) I think we (those of us in kind of average income families, where it wasn’t uncommon for only one parent (the father) to be working) just had a lot less stuff. Barbie dolls we had, but only one or (if you were *really* lucky) two each, and you knew you had to wait for Christmas or your birthday to get one. I feel like there’s huge pressure these days on parents to be showering kids with stuff all the time, which wasn’t the case in the past. One practical upshot of this was that in the past there was far more expectation that clothes, especially, would be shared/handed on to younger siblings. If the sweater is later going to be handed on to a younger brother (or has been inherited from an older one), then it’s much less likely to be a pink princessy affair.

    I think fluffy and pink is also a function of the fact that children’s clothes these days are cheaper, poorer quality and more disposable than they were in the past.

    (Now watch disqus eat my paragraph breaks :os)  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

     (Now watch disqus eat my paragraph breaks :os)

    It turns out that the “like” key turns into “edit” for posts you’ve authored, and you can fix things up. At least it works for me.

  • Mike Timonin

    First up, thanks Susan Phillips for your excellent 101.

    Second, as I sit here with a baby not sleeping on my arm and a wife away at her big important job; as I think about the laundry which needs to go in the dryer and the dishes which need washing and the lunch that needs making, well. If that makes both my daughters into high achieving lesbians*, I have no problem with that, as long as they’re happy.

    *which it won’t, because it doesn’t work that way.

  • Anonymous

    “Is it desirable, or even possible, to cooperate with such partial allies
    on the vitally important matters on which we agree given the equally
    vital importance — for all sides — of the matters on which we do not and
    cannot agree?”

    For the specific areas of agreement and disagreement present here, this one’s a no-brainer. 

    The world is going our way with respect to gender equality and LGBT rights, and it’s hard to see how that’s going to change.  Ultimately, those who hold onto a worldview that denies equality to women and gays will make backwaters of themselves. 

    OTOH, we’re getting killed these days on economic justice issues. 

    On that account, when we ally with people like Jim Wallis on issues of economic justice who disagree with us on issues of gay equality, or who believe that women shouldn’t preach, it’s pretty much win-win for us.  More allies might help us change the balance on economic justice matters, and either way, our children will grow up in a world that takes women’s equality and gay equality pretty much for granted.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

     The problem is, I’m not sure that economic justice issues and gay/trans/female equality issues are entirely unrelated issues.

    The fact that a QUILTBAG individual can get fired simply for being a QUILTBAG individual strikes me as being quite relevant to economic justice issues, as do many aspects of women’s rights.  (Mysognistic comments about “welfare queens” made by those who oppose government assistance, anyone?)

    Then there’s the fact that those who wish to maintain their power and privilege will often do so by pitting one marginalized group against another.  Those who are unwilling to stand up for every marginalized group often play into that tendency.

    Can we work with such people in some fashion?  Perhaps.  But what we can do will always be limited, and it would be a mistake not to point out how they hurt their own good intentions by still endorsing or even ignoring the marginalization of certain groups.

  • Emcee, cubed

     Worrying about whether the man in the story is a real person or not is like asking if there was a real Good Samaritan. The answer (either one) doesn’t change the meaning of the story, and the question completely misses the point of the story.

  • Michael Cule

    “The fact that a QUILTBAG individual can get fired simply for being a QUILTBAG individual strikes me as being quite relevant to economic justice issues, as do many aspects of women’s rights.  (Mysognistic comments about “welfare queens” made by those who oppose government assistance, anyone?)”Intellectual honesty forces me to say that while hostility to the Odd Man or Woman Out may make employers willing to fire them more often, everybody in the US (well, I think one state is an exception and the public service may be another) is subject to laws that mean they can be fired for any reason or none. You can be fired because you looked at someone funny or because you’re just an inconvenience.

    You’re all screwed on this point, no matter what your sexuality, political views or religion, I’m afraid.

  • Anonymous

     Fine, Michael, YOU explain why the QUILTBAG individuals fired:QUILTBAG individuals employed ratio is so much higher than the individuals fired:individuals employed ratio.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    You’re all screwed on this point, no matter what your sexuality, political views or religion, I’m afraid.

    Well, yes, American labor policies are horrific and quasi-feudalistic at best. But they affect QUILTBAG persons much more severely than those who are in privileged groups, just as they affect persons of color and other minorities and the economically disadvantaged more severely. Working for improving overall worker rights, and working to improve the rights of minority groups specifically, are not opposing goals.

  • hf

    More allies might help us change the balance on economic justice
    matters, and either way, our children will grow up in a world that takes
    women’s equality and gay equality pretty much for granted.

    This seems like an interesting point. I tend to believe it would take a better quality of thinking about factual issues to (say) get me guaranteed health care. But Wallis made a lot of sensible remarks on the subject of health-care reform, so perhaps I’ve underestimated him. This certainly deserves consideration.

    On the third hand, Wallis does not seem to have definitively endorsed the public option and he did talk about how “the faith community” must ask about abortion.

    Can you give an example of Wallis taking part in a debate where he clearly helped instead of hurt us?

  • ako

    Critics of the idea treat it as though we are slaves to our genes but
    that’s nonsense, it’s like saying that a sailor can only go in the
    direction that the wind blows. He can go where he wants, he just has to
    understand the wind. It seems to me that it just makes sense to
    understand our instincts rather than deny them.

    It’s not just critics treating it that way – plenty of people who favor (their often dubious and unscientific interpretations of) evolutionary psychology treat it as a prescriptive mandate for male-female relationships.

    And when it comes to understanding our instincts instead of denying them, it seems like the first step is to check the evidence to verify whether or not it is an instinct, as it’s easy for people to unintentionally confuse their personal, socially biased “People are naturally like that” sense with inherent and genetically-programmed instincts.  Plus, it’s just good science to actually test a hypothesis, carefully and repeatedly, before declaring it true.

  • Kevin Alexander

     ‘It’s not just critics treating it that way – plenty of people who favor (their often dubious and unscientific interpretations of) evolutionary psychology treat it as a prescriptive mandate for male-female relationships.’ I agree. 
    ‘ it’s easy for people to unintentionally confuse their personal, socially biased “People are naturally like that” sense with inherent and genetically-programmed instincts.’ I think I’ve tried to point out that I don’t see us as ‘genetically programmed’ We obviously can think and learn and free will exists in a practical sense.
     As to the idea that the genetic tendencies are prescriptive, the whole is/ought debate is central here. Saying something is natural is not saying it’s right.
    It is good science to test an hypothesis. The only experiment I can think of would be an unethical one so I don’t know if you could. I mentioned in another post Margaret Meade who tried to test it by finding a counter example but she failed. Of course that only means that she failed to prove her hypothesis, it still doesn’t prove mine.

  • hf

    Not everyone sees a couple embracing in the street and thinks with disgust ‘get a room!’ but it is a common reaction.

    Well, about that. It may have developed with agriculture.

  • Anonymous

     Evolutionary Psychology manages to neatly combine the uncertainties inherent in studying evolution with the uncertainties inherent in studying psychology. As a comprehensive tool, its pretty much useful for obvious things like “why we’re freaked out by snakes.” 

  • hf

    My hypothesis is that the most parsimonious explanation for the
    antipathy shown in varying degrees in various cultures toward sexual
    display is that it is rooted in instinct.

    But which instinct? If we accept the link I posted in my last comment, jealousy seems like the obvious suspect.

    Even in biology, as you imply, we should try not to multiply causes unnecessarily.

  • ako

    It is good science to test an hypothesis. The only experiment I can
    think of would be an unethical one so I don’t know if you could.

    Which is the trouble with dragging science into it.  If it’s going to be treated as a scientific hypothesis, it should involve testable predictions, which are then tested.  If it’s “This is my idea of how things seem to work, and I’m not going to run it through the rigors of scientific scrutiny”, that’s fine, but in those cases it’s best not to invoke the impression of intellectual authority that scientific terminology can give.

    It should be noted that H. L. Mencken was a satirist. The
    ‘gnawing fear’ is not to be taken literally. In fact, I think it’s a
    desire for power, not an actual sense of fear, that motivates
    puritanical repression of enjoyable activities.

    The puritanical types I’ve heard from have always seemed mostly affronted by the prospect of someone else having illicit fun.  Like any behavior that doesn’t fit their worldview is a personal insult.

  • Kevin Alexander

     Thank you to everyone for helping me out on this. I always say that it’s better to lose an argument than to win one. The loser has gained knowledge and shed misconception while the winner is no better off.
    btw I do know what hypothesis is. It’s still properly called a hypothesis before it’s tested, it’s the test that supports or fails it so technically I was using the word improperly. I’ll stop until I can think of a way to test it. I’m working on one but you can be sure that I’ll consider it carefully before I embarrass myself by presenting it here.

  • arc

     Very Socratic of you, Kevin ;-]

    (and bother – both my posts did appear…)

    By the way, it seems to me you’ve changed the position you were defending.  Your initial post talked of ‘dominant individuals’ controlling the breeding options of people further down the pecking order.  What I thought you meant by that was some kind of alpha-male phenomenon, whereby dominance would trigger an instinct to start controlling lower-ranked individuals as far as their breeding goes.

    That’s far from impossible, and there is at least some evidence to support the notion that there is an alpha male phenomenon which is partly hormonal, and hormonal changes can trigger instincts, of course. But if it exists at all, it’s pretty weak compared with obvious examples of it (baboons, gorillas).  And the phenomenon you’d expect to result from that is to see dominant individuals everywhere start to control the sexual behaviour of those around them to a greater extent than others, but there’s plenty of dominant individuals who don’t care very signifcantly about it and plenty of non-dominant individuals who care very signifcantly about it.  So this seems very unlikely to me – the phenomenon it most readily accounts for doesn’t occur.

    What you now seem to be proposing is that we all have an instinct to control (or at least recoil from, when we’re not involved ourselves) the sexual behaviour of others, especially in public.  There we really do have the expected phenomenon, as this, as you say, is found in every culture (as far as i am aware) in some form or other, and while maybe there are individuals who don’t exhibit this to a significant extent, they are rare.  So this theory does at least account for what we observe, so it’s at least a starter.

    But I’ve got an alternative account, which while it doesn’t have any better empirical support than yours does, it explains the phenomenon just as well, and I think it has other advantages.  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to give you another promisory note as I’m needed elsewhere.

  • Kevin Alexander

     hi arc,
    I don’t think that I changed my position so much as badly state it at the outset. If a behaviour has genetic basis as I claim then everyone would have the gene. It would just get manifest more strongly in dominant individuals because they have the power to get away with it. As you point out, hormonal mixes which of course have a genetic basis vary from one individual to another depending on social rank. Robert Sapolski has some interesting things to say about this. Orangutans even exhibit dimorphism in males depending on rank. When the big guy dies or otherwise is out of the way, one of the erstwhile gracile males will bulk up to take his place.
    I also don’t think it’s just an alpha male thing, women seem to be much more disapproving of streetwalkers say but there are much more popular theories as to why this would be so.

  • arc

    But having the genetic basis[*] for a trait does not mean that the trait itself will appear: primate morphology is an excellent example of this, and was why I mentioned baboons. 

    Another, even better example are animals such as turtles, where sex differentiation is triggered by incubation temperatures.  In this case, every individual is either male or female, but every individual carries the genetic information for both sexes.

    Anyway, you think everyone (or almost everyone[†]) has both the genetics and the instinct. 

    [*] a better term than ‘gene’, in my opinion.  Given the current definition of ‘gene’ in genetics, it’s impossible for there to be a one-to-one mapping of traits to genes, so we shouldn’t make assumptions on how many genes may be involved.

    [†] we should allow for mutants and unusual developments in which the genes are not expressed.

  • arc

    But having the genetic basis[*] for a trait does not mean that the trait itself will appear: primate morphology is an excellent example of this, and was why I mentioned baboons. 

    Another, even better example are animals such as turtles, where sex differentiation is triggered by incubation temperatures.  In this case, every individual is either male or female, but every individual carries the genetic information for both sexes.

    Anyway, you think everyone (or almost everyone[†]) has both the genetics and the instinct. 

    [*] a better term than ‘gene’, in my opinion.  Given the current definition of ‘gene’ in genetics, it’s impossible for there to be a one-to-one mapping of traits to genes, so we shouldn’t make assumptions on how many genes may be involved.

    [†] we should allow for mutants and unusual developments in which the genes are not expressed.

  • arc

    Anyway, here’s my armchair theory, for what it’s worth:

    You make the comparison between sexual mores and instinctual fears, like heights and snakes.  Let’s put aside the question as to whether fear of heights or snakes is instinctual, and give you that one – we’ll assume they are.

    Paradigmatic examples of instinctual behaviour usually come from non-human animals, and include such things as foals being able to walk shortly after their birth, and (some) birds spontaneously producing the song of their species. 

    In these examples, the behaviour arises spontaneously without any chance to learn it, and it’s the same all the time.   The notion that it’s ‘programmed’ in seems pretty apt here.

    Sexual mores, on the other hand, just don’t seem like that at all.  They vary greatly from culture to culture[*], they’re very definitely trained (‘don’t do that, it’s dirty!’ – ‘put some clothes on before leave the house, you can’t go out like that!’), and they only manifest themselves in individuals when they’re old enough to learn these attitudes. 

    Put like that, it just really looks like it’s asking for a cultural explanation to me, going for an explanation in terms of instinct doesn’t look tempting at all.  

    The only empirical reason for going for an instinctual explanation is the fact that sexual mores are universal [†].  But actually, that’s no reason to go for an instinctual explanation over a cultural one.  If controlling sexual behaviour really does confer a survival advantage on those individuals and groups that practice it, then why assume the carrier for this information is the genes? Rather than having those with different genes die off, a similar selective story could be told about cultures and individuals who don’t have (or fail to pass on) the practice of this control.

    There’s an additional argument for why cultural practices can end up being universal – and that’s that human beings constantly find themselves in similar situations.  For instance, virtually every culture has some practice of food-preparation.  But I really doubt there’s some ingrained instinct that makes us want to sit down to peel the skin off things and cook them after we’ve found them – the reason all cultures do this is because all cultures are in environments where this is a good strategy, as it increases the available food resources.  Humans are smart enough to work this out as they go, and indeed they must have done so because different foods require different forms of preparation.  Humans in a situation where there is a variety of ready-to-eat foods at hand might not develop (or retain) food preparation practices, and I think we can see the beginnings of that in the emergence of groups of people who don’t really know how to cook, and just buy convenience food all the time.

    The situation I think humans are always faced with isn’t exactly a survival issue, though.  It’s a co-ordination of desires and activities.

    All (minus statistically negligible outliers) adult humans experience sexual desire, most of them want the non-sexual goods of pair-bonding, too, and usually they’re in situations where children are highly desirable.  I’m prepared to suppose that these desires have some kind of instinctual underpinnings, but I also want to stress that they’re highly culturally informed, too.  And partners and children are often needed for purely practical reasons – one needs someone to carry out their end of the local domestic economic arrangement. These are extremely important desires, too – right up there with food and avoiding getting yourself damaged somehow.

    But these needs are only met with the cooperation of others, and the only way of getting this to work so that everyone gets a go and fights don’t break out all the time is to lay down some rules so you know who to woo and when to, you know when (and maybe how) it’s OK to have sex with them, and you know when someone belongs to someone else, and, most importantly, you know what’s expected of you and what happens when people don’t meet those expectations.

    That explains why there’s always sexual mores – because behaviour of a group needs to be coordinated so that the universal desires and survival issues can be addressed.  It also explains why they can vary so drastically – because the coordination both can and has to take into account the group’s overall situation.  Small groups have to be more careful about inbreeding than large groups, for example, so they’ll often have norms to address that, and in regions where it’s warm enough not to wear clothes there are efficiency advantages in not bothering with them too much, if your males are off to fight the neighbours all the time you might need different domestic arrangements than otherwise, etc. etc.

    In this respect and in many others, I think it’s like lots of other systems of rules and norms we have, and I’ll go on in more detail about that in my next post.

    [*] I recall an anecdote of some high-falutin’ social event in India in the days of the Raj.  The English women were scadalized that those shameless subcontinental women exposed their midriffs.  The Indian women, on their part, were scandalized that those shameless european women exposed their cleavage.

    But really, the variation is huge.  Different body parts are OK to be displayed in different societies.  Attitudes to homosexual relationships vary widely.  Attitudes towards ‘teenage exploration’ vary widely.  What forms of sexual displays and courtship are OK varies… you get the idea.

    [†] armchair speculation about what might produce such
    behaviour by natural selection isn’t empirical evidence for anything

  • arc

     armchair cultural theory of sexual mores part II:

    So, rather than grouping sexual mores alongside instinctual fears and automatic behaviour like foals’ walking, I’d group it with patterns of behaviour that to me seem much more similar: norms to do with food and eating, excretion, purity rules, and things of that nature.  These are all universal: every culture has ideas about what not to eat, what to eat, how to prepare it, how to distribute it and how to eat it.  These norms are also held extremely strongly (try pooing in the kitchen sink at a friend’s house if you don’t believe me). But the exact content of those norms varies considerably from culture to culture, just as sexual mores do.

    Similar phenomena deserve similar treatment when possible.  Of course, we can explain these phenomena by means of instincts, as you have done with sexual mores.  But then we will need one instinct for sexual mores, one (or maybe several) for food preparation and eating, one for excreting, one for general purity, etc.  Each of these needs a genetic basis, presumably more or less distinct from one another.  Plus of course this doesn’t actually do away with the cultural story, as you still need to tell some kind of story as to how the various instincts are shaped by the culture anyway. 

    So it’s suddenly looking not so good on the parsimony front.

    My suggestion is that instead we have a general facility for learning important rules of our culture.   This seems pretty plausible, as really sexual mores and food norms and all the ones I’ve mentioned so far, while they tend to evoke strong responses, are a small subset of the more general rules of a society, like how to greet someone and how to complain, etc, so we probably need such a general facility even if we think sexual mores have their own more specific instinct. When we learn particular rules during our formative years that are strongly reinforced by other members of our culture, they become particularly engrained.  All cultures end up with broadly similar sets of rules governing a few very important aspects due to (a) some things that are more plausibly instinctual (sexual attraction, hunger, food smells good, poo smells bad…), and (b) because they’re answering similar important questions – how to feed, how to find a mate and have kids, how not to get disease, etc.

    That means I’ve got a general and quite plausible account of how all of these things come to be, which can also be extended to cover things like ritual purity, racism, and maybe even getting furious about grammar.  Parsimony and generality doesn’t get you truth, of course, but it does get you a theory that’s easier to reason about and allows the various phenomena to inform one another.  With my account, if you find out something about how food norms are established it can be expected to shed light on sexual mores, whereas there’s no reason to suppose that different instincts will work in similar ways.  Also, as I alluded to earlier, it seems to me that an instinctual account has to tell a similar story to the one I’ve told to show how the culturally-informed manifestations of the instincts come about, and also essentially the same story for anything not prompted by instincts.  So I think it complicates things unnecessarily and breaks the generality.

    Even if you still prefer the instinctual account, hopefully you can see that a cultural account can still be a strong contender, Margaret Meade notwithstanding.

  • Kevin Alexander

     You have obviously put a lot of thought into this and I’ve learned a lot here. I can’t really fault your reasoning. You’re right that the phenomenon can arise by purely cultural reasons. 
    But that still leaves one last puzzle, the one that I started with. If sexual repression is a feature of most but not all social mammals then the highest probability is that we or our precursors at least once had that feature. It could be that we never had it but if we did we would have to have lost it only to reinvent by purely cultural means. Or maybe I’m starting to see a synthesis here. We’re both looking at the same beast, you from the beautiful cultural face end and I from the uglier business end.
    Anyway my thinking is much expanded thank you, that’s why I keep coming back to this site.

  • arc

    I got a little distracted by evolutionary psychology just now, but I did want to note that I find the fact that someone can be very familiar with a text, and then one day read it and notice something completely new in it which fundamentally changes their understanding of it, absolutely fascinating.


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