Come down off the cross, Her.meneutics, we could use the wood

At Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, Karen Swallow Prior isn’t going to let facts, reason, fairness, accuracy or biology interfere with her deep desire to indulge in the luxuriant pleasures of imagined martyrdom.

Martyr is her word, invoked in her over-the-top first paragraph, which sets the tone for the wild excesses of self-pleasuring that follow:

December 26 was a fitting day for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to refuse judicial relief to the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, whose Christian owners object to certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act. On the calendar of Western Christianity, December 26 is St. Stephen’s Day, the day that honors Christendom’s first martyr.

Yes, you see, a giant retail chain being legally required to provide health insurance even for lady parts is exactly like the death-by-stoning of St. Stephen.

And Karen Swallow Prior is, therefore, herself just as saintly as St. Stephen. He was persecuted because of his faith. She has faith, so therefore she must be suffering persecution. Or maybe the idea is that she’s suffering persecution, and therefore she must have faith.

It’s a bit hard to follow, really.

It’s almost as hard to follow as what Prior offers instead of an argument or what she offers instead of facts. Her entire post, like Hobby Lobby’s claim of persecution, is based on non-facts — attributing Satanic baby-killing properties to contraceptives that do not and cannot function as “abortifacients.” (Contraception does not work the way they imagine in part because conception does not work the way they imagine — as simultaneous with the instant of male orgasm.)

But facts and arguments aren’t the reason for posts like hers declaring Hobby Lobby a Christian martyr. That’s not the point. The point is just to feel that … oooooh, yeah … that sweet, sweet … ohhh, yes! … pleasure of imagining oneself to be such a martyr.

We’ll get back to Prior’s twisted argument, her at-best ignorant deployment of non-facts, and her reflexive siding with bosses against workers in a later post. Here let’s just focus on her shamelessly shameful invocation of St. Stephen.

Because Stephen? Really, folks? That takes a staggering level of chutzpah.

We first meet Stephen in Acts 6, when he is among those commissioned by the early proto-church to correct an injustice within the community:

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables.Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”

What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

That is who St. Stephen was. He wasn’t just the “first Christian martyr,” he was also the first Christian hired to carry out an affirmative mandate for the care of women who had previously been denied a fair share and a fair shake.

To invoke Stephen in the defense of some alleged Christian “right” to deny workers the health care they have earned is inexcusable. To presume you’re the heirs of Stephen because you’re fiercely defending the “religious liberty” to neglect the neglected isn’t just immoral, it’s biblically illiterate. It demonstrates a perversely stubborn refusal to understand the story of Stephen that parallels an equally perverse and stubborn refusal to understand how contraception, employee benefits and health insurance work.

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be. Christians are not supposed to take the side of wage-deniers against wage-earners. Christians are not supposed to take the side of slut-shamers against women. Christians are not supposed to take the side of ignorance against truth. Christians are not supposed to take the side of indulgent pride against love.



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  • I keep using this analogy – vegans often hold very strong ideals regarding the immorality of using animals for food, products, research and the like. So does the vegan business owner have the right to decree that their employees not use their paychecks to purchase animal products? Can they offer health insurance which doesn’t cover any medical treatment involving the use of animal products or animal research? I think any rational person would say no. The vegan can make their own choices and try to win others to their views. But they don’t have the right to dictate that others conform to their practices by reason of their  employment.

  • histrogeek

    What is it with these clowns? Hobby Lobby’s owners could just sell their business a la Lester Maddox (and how low do you have to sink to be lower than Lester F-ing Maddox). But now they like everything about being a martyr except for that whole sacrifice thing. Someone said something about only practicing piety for human consumption but can’t quite place it. Probably some unimportant liberal or something.
    To quote Gabriel in Dogma, “One of the disadvantages of being a martyr is that you actually have to die.” 

  • Loki100

    Someone made the interesting point that China forces women to have abortions, and Hobby Lobby has no problem with trade with China. Amazingly enough contraceptives for Americans is a horrible violation of religious liberty, but buying from the Chinese who force abortions on unwilling women is just good business.

  • LL

    Well, Fred said it better than I could have. 

    I continue to be disgusted by humanity. With the bonus that because Hobby Lobby is headquartered in Oklahoma City, I get to be – once again – ashamed of the idiots in Oklahoma, who don’t have enough sense to be ashamed themselves. 

  • Hobby Lobby owners holds stock in a company that makes birth control. That they do not want the insurance they provide to their employees to include birth control coverage is an indication to me that it has nothing to do with their religious views.

  • Antigone10

    I commented a couple times at the Bad Catholic post on this topic last week ago.  I did not continue, mostly because it was clear that it was a waste of time, but I did find their take on it interesting:

    The main points of disagreement (between my, and I’m assuming most people on this blog, worldview, and his blog group) seem to be these:

    1) They are showing Christian love to people by not enabling, in any fashion, people to use birth control.  I think whatever feelings of love you have, you don’t get to dictate another’s actions short of unambiguous harm.
    2) They think that employers are BUYING birth control, as opposed to providing health care.  They have ideas about benefits and compensation that are bizarre to me.
    3) They are apparently unconcerned when it comes to medical privacy.4) They think the government should be in the business of adjudicating what is a “legitimate sin” as opposed to be in the business of adjudicating what a “reasonable religious accommodation”.5) Their definition of “health care” doesn’t include something that the vast majority of women need/ use.6)  They think that businesses have religious rights and freedoms, and religious beliefs (I’m curious if Hobby Lobby takes the Eucharist each week).And, I suppose somewhat sideways to the problem at hand (ie- not allowing women to get their health care needs met).
    5) They think birth control is a sin.I don’t see this being resolved anytime soon.  I get along with Christians like Fred better than others, because at the end of the day they keep talking about THIS world, the things HERE.  Justice, compassion, kindness are real, concrete things that need to be done here, and we have to show evidence that is what’s happening.  When other Christians, like Ms. Prior, talk about the “here” it’s all “You need to be a member of my tribe” not “how can I lift you out of bondage”.

  • Worth noting that the comment thread over there goes Full Godwin in the first comment.

  • MikeJ

    There’s a person in this that we haven’t heard from.  That person is Hobby Lobby itself.  Yes, I realise its employees and owners[1] have had their say about what religion *they* prefer, but we need to hear from the corporate entity itself. Until it speaks, we can’t assume that it holds any religious belief.

    [1]  And since a corporation is a person, how is it legal under the 13th for it to be owned?

  • [1]  And since a corporation is a person, how is it legal under the 13th for it to be owned?

    Nicely done all around.  But I now want to borrow this and use it as an actual argument.

  • vsm

    I wouldn’t trust its own word, either. Many of these so-called Christian companies don’t go to church at all, and some aren’t even baptised.

  • MikeJ

    I’m looking forward to “Hobby Lobby Unchained”.

  • MikeJ

     I suppose the owners could argue that their religious beliefs are those of the corporation, but at that point the obligations of the company should transfer to the owners.

  • Lliira

     I think if these people allowed themselves sexual (or creative or intellectual or etc., but sexual’s the easiest to come by for most of us) pleasure, they wouldn’t end up doing ridiculous stuff like this. Having only one source of pleasure in life is never healthy; when that source is religion, it’s not just unhealthy for you, but it turns you into a person who makes society less healthy for the rest of us.

  • [1]  And since a corporation is a person, how is it legal under the 13th for it to be owned?

    Now, to arrest someone on charges of being a slave-owner, you don’t need the actual slave to press charges, right?  I mean to arrest someone on charges of being a murderer you don’t need the dead person to press charges.  So could we just arrest these people on charges of holding slaves and get it over with, or is there some long legal process one has to go through first?

  • ProfWombat

    TS Eliot’s Thomas a Becket, in ‘Murder in The Cathedral’, easily bests the usual three tempters:  fame, fortune power.  Then, an unexpected fourth appears, who tempts him with perhaps the greatest of all temptations, that of martyrdom.

  • :?

    “The point is just to feel that … oooooh, yeah… that sweet, sweet … ohhh, yes! … pleasure of imagining oneself to be such a martyr.” 
    This seems a bit gratuitous. 

    It’s one thing to say something is “masturbatory”–that gets the point across. It’s another to mention it several times in several different phrasings–that establishes it as a motif. And it’s yet a third thing to, uh, go this far.

    Usually this blog’s go-to motif in this kind of situation is something like Dungeons & Dragons, so the question is why wasn’t that used here? 

  • Ben English

    Was sex/masturbation the first thing that came to your mind? Because honestly I was thinking “massage” “warm bath” or “chocolate”.

  • Antigone10

    I thought “drugs” personally.

  • I don’t really know why you are so down on masterbation. 

  • We Must Dissent

     I thought it was just general pleasure. Masturbation would be a very odd metaphor for martyrdom, as the latter requires at least two people. Actually, maybe that makes it a very good metaphor for this false martyrdom.

  • DorothyD

    This seems a bit gratuitous.

    You were expecting him to charge a fee? What kinda guy do you think he is?

  • WalterC

     Corporations are not people in the sense of natural humans. The entire notion of corporate personhood was established solely to make it possible for a corporation to hold property, sue, and be sued independently of its owners — the benefit of ‘limited liability’ to shareholders, to encourage people to invest in this manner. This principle was expanded in the 1800s by stating that the 14th Amendment protections applied to them, and over the intervening century they’ve accreted even more rights. (It’s actually interesting — the black former slaves that Radical Republicans were trying to help with the 3 Reconstruction Amendments arguably received less utility from 14 than corporations did!)

    The general consensus as of the last century or so is that corporations can assert any right that could be exercised by a group of people, which according to the Court includes speech.

    As far as the 13th Amendment goes, the reason why it doesn’t apply to corporations is that it only prohibits involuntary servitude and slavery. It doesn’t mention “owning” people, and it does not bar contractual relationships in which one person gives another money in exchange for equity securities. It’s definitely an interesting argument though but it’s not really a lawful one! :D

  • Tricksterson

    Well, maybe not die, but at the very least imprisonment, preferably with a side order of torture.

  • Tricksterson

    Corporations wear veils?  So they’re strict conservative Muslim women?

  • Tricksterson

    I pictured full bore, hardcore fucking myself.

  • Thrownaway

    Now that’s a sentence that has a different implication without a comma. :)

  • The thing is that what “any rational person” would say is more culturally dependent than we like to acknowledge. We live in a society where you can disagree on equal rights for QUILTBAG folks and still be considered a “rational person”, but not on equal rights for african americans. You can think that vaccines cause autism and still be counted “reasonable” but not that cancer is caused by an imbalance in the four humors. Where you can suggest “Maybe we should give assault weapons to schoolteachers” and still be considered competent to operate power tools, to say nothing of serve in congress.

    So, denying health coverage that involves Icky Girl Parts, that’s “reasonable”. But denying coverage for antibiotics because they deliberately kill living microorganisms? Well that’s just crazy-talk; no one would seriously believe that*. And you can reasonably believe that science is wrong and Plan B causes abortions, but denying coverage for medical procedures that involve blood transfusions because giving one person’s blood to another person could be considered a violation of the kosher rules against consuming blood? No Reasonable Person would believe that**.

    (*Because Jains do not exist)
    (** Because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not exist)

  • Thank you soo much for this Fred. During the whole Chick-fil-a mess i cant tell you how many of my friends referred to dan cathy as a martyr. Many of our friends in the faith never consider themselves “wrong” or “incorrect” or just a wee bit off, no, they are always either in the majority (“30 states so far have voted against gay marriage!”- tony perkins) or suffering persecution (“i worry that it will, in maybe just a few years, be illegal to disagree with the homosexual lifestyle”- john piper). To say this even has anything to do with protecting the faith or liberty is a joke, its about power.

    Obviously, different topic, but the strategy is eerily similar.

  • Kiba

    as simultaneous with the instant of male orgasm.

    And this, for some reason, made me think of a medieval illustration I saw once when I was a kid. It showed the man’s sperm to be actual little human beings (all little males if I remember right) that were deposited inside the woman to grow. The way these people carry on I, at times, feel that they still think this is true. 

  • SisterCoyote

    It’s interesting, how easy it is to ignore someone’s actual story for the point of it that we want to see. Who Stephen was, what he did, his life – that’s all less important than the fact that he died for his beliefs (which is just like a corporation not wanting to pay for preventative health care).

  • Turcano

    One interesting factoid about Hobby Lobby that I found out reading Wikipedia: apparently they believe that barcodes are the Mark of the Beast.  True, they don’t come out and say that, but the only other way that policy makes sense is if they have a crippling fear of efficiency.

  • Lliira

     Oh noes! Not sexual references! How very very…

    What? Why is it “gratuitous”? Sex is a part of life, it’s not some big huge dirty secret. And I think it needs to be pointed out, repeatedly, that these people hate and fear sex. Let’s not kid ourselves: they take immense pleasure in their lies, in oppressing others, in twisting the truth. If they masturbated without shame, they very likely would not be like this.

  • Do you have  links to articles with more information about this? I’d love to send them to my family members who are constantly posting on Facebook about how Hobby Lobby is so “persecuted”.

  • DorothyD

    You mean like this?

    Save the homunculi!

  • DorothyD

    Hmmm. My Wiki research tells me that the microscope was invented in 1590, and that Nicolaas Hartsoeker was the first to observe semen in 1674. I find this… difficult to believe. 

  • christopher_y

    But I now want to borrow this and use it as an actual argument.

    Somebody is trying this in California.

  • It’s essentially what was told to us as employees when I worked there ca. 2000-2005. Never in an official manner, but it was kind of a poorly kept secret. The Old Man who ran things was a serious PMD believer and thought that barcode scanners would be the tool used to scan for the Mark of the Beast, so he wouldn’t install them. There was hope at that time that he’d be dying soon, and maybe they could modernize a bit. To the best of my knowledge, still hasn’t happened. That company is insane.

  • Münchner Kindl

     Given how widespread both knowledge about and fear of the Mark of the Beast is in US culture, I agree with you.

    However, in and of itself, refusal of barcodes by a business can have other reasons: until the 1990s, ALDI, a very very cheap supermarket, didn’t use barcode scanners, either – at a time when all other supermarkets were. Their reasoning was that their cashiers knew the codes by heart (in their mind – they spent 3 months in training to memorize them; partly because ALDI only has between 900-1100 articles total plus twice a week special offers) and were much quicker in typing the codes than in using the scanners.

    They also – again unlike all other supermarkets – refused to accept debit cards (EC Cards) only cash, because it slowed down.

    They changed to accepting cards after they had several special offers with high prices like PCs and laptops (and people stormed them), and sometime around late 90s/ early 2000s, they also introduced scanners. (I don’t know whether they had trouble keeping and training the cashiers, whether the scanners got quicker or whether the advantages of the logistics connected with scanners came up, but surely it impacted the pay for their cashiers).

  • Albanaeon

    This is the sort of thing that always gets me about modern PMD’s.  Aside from the batshittedness of it, of course, but if they really truly believe that the Apocalypse According to Scoffield is going to happen, how they hell do they think that not putting in scanners is going to make a whit of difference anyway? It’s The Plan, afterall.

    And isn’t it a bit.. odd to go on about how this is all going to happen, and seriously, if it does they are expecting a free ride to the end and they are given the sweetest prize of having been right all along and gloat about it, why exactly are they the most likely to resist any of their imaginary signs of it about to happen?  I guess they would think it a sin to even indirectly support the AC and OWG, but at the same time resisting would be resisting God’s Plan, which would seem to be a big no no.

    I guess this is really why Ray-Ray and Bucky’s grand resistance is being disapproving.  What else can they do, logically?

  • Carstonio

    “What are you doing with that microscope slide?”
    (Jumps) “Uh, uh, just cleaning it.”
    “With your pants around your ankles?”

  • Kprior

    Wow. I wonder if you would speak to me this wagon person.

    Karen Swallow Prior

  • Karen Swallow Prior

    Wow. I wonder if you would speak to me this way in person.

    Karen Swallow Prior

  • Karen

    Wow. I wonder if you would speak to me this way in person.

    Karen Swallow Prior

  •  “What are you doing with that microscope slide?”
    (Jumps) “Uh, uh, just cleaning it.”
    “With your pants around your ankles?”

    And now for some reason I’m reminded of that scene in BSG where Gaius Baltar is shagging his imaginary Cylon and Starbuck walks in on him. XD

  • Carstonio

     Now I have to watch that show – I don’t have cable or satellite and I’ve only seen the original 1970s series. I don’t have to watch the new one to know that the original was far inferior in writing quality – half the plots were borrowed from old movies like The Dirty Dozen, High Noon, and the Poseidon Adventure.

  • That said, I’ve heard one thing that really did in Galactica was the silly time-travel motif of Galactica 1980. So, yeah, go watch the new BSG. Keep in mind there are several extended versions of the aired miniseries and episodes so be sure you watch what DVDs you decide to borrow from the local shop. :)

  • Perhaps he wouldn’t.
    Not knowing Fred in person, I wouldn’t presume to say.
    If he did, what would you say in response?

  • Carstonio

    I remember the spinoff as even more pathetic. The pilot had a dopey gag about the Apollo and Starbuck stand-ins (one supposedly a grown-up Boxey) misinterpreting the start of the 1950s hit Little Darlin’ as an attack, and blowing the jukebox to smithereens. Right up there with the tortured concept of “socialator,” where the original series couldn’t seem to make up its mind whether Cassiopeia was a courtesan or a prostitute, and then gave into viewer complaints and made her a medtech.

  • It’s some of the most compulsive TV viewing of the last couple decades. So, so, so good — my wife and I did the whole series in like, two and a half months. The last couple episodes, suck, but that’s about it.

  • Tricksterson

    What’s sadly funny is that you will find the same people making both assumptions, sometimes in the same speech/article.