Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things April 10, 2013

Sandra M. Schneiders, in Women and the Word

Jesus’ parable about the father actually constitutes a radical challenge to patriarchy. The divine father, who had been understood as the ultimate justification of human patriarchy, is revealed as one who refuses to own us, demand our submission, or punish our rebellion. Rather, God is one who respects our freedom, mourns our alienation, waits patiently for our return, and accepts our love as pure gift. In the parable God tries to educate the older brother, and through him all disciples who prefer the security of law to the adventure of grace, to the true nature of the God who is love. Not only does Jesus say plainly that God is not a patriarch but he definitely subverts any attempt to base human patriarchy on an appeal to divine institution. The power God refuses to assume over us is surely not given by God to any human being. Since the revelation of God to Jesus the claim of divine sanction for human patriarch is blasphemy.

Hillary Clinton: “Helping Women Isn’t Just a Nice Thing to Do”

Too many otherwise thoughtful people continue to see the fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large. They nod, they smile and then relegate these issues once again to the sidelines. I have seen it over and over again, I have been kidded about it I have been ribbed, I have been challenged in board rooms and official offices across the world.

But fighting to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t a nice thing to do. It isn’t some luxury that we get to when we have time on our hands to spend doing that. This is a core imperative for every human being and every society. If we do not complete a campaign for women’s rights and opportunities the world we want to live in the country we all love and cherish will not be what it should be.

Benjamin Franklin on taxes, letter to Robert Morris, 1783

All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.

David Badash: “Surprise! Rand Paul Is Just as Uninformed on Same-Sex Marriage as He Is on Everything Else”

The problem with the libertarian mindset is it starts with the “get off my lawn” old man and elevates his hermit-ness into a political philosophy. While it might, in certain circumstances, be nice to have the local, state, and federal governments  — get out of our business — that position requires that the other actors, say, your neighbors, or the oil companies, or North Korea, all act with the same largess and all come from humanitarian positions.

But then the real world shows up and you’re left with the BP Oil “spill” or fraud or other bad actions and you’re left undefended.

Russell Brand: “I always felt sorry for her children”

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn’t sad for anyone else. … What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neo-liberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn ceremonial funeral, are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.

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  • stardreamer42

    The take-away I always got from that story is, “Irresponsible behavior pays off handsomely in the end, and doing the right thing just gets you screwed over”. I rejected that conclusion and decided that the father was just a complete jerk, but it seems that many people took it to heart and have spent their lives making sure it comes true.

  • stardreamer42

    My public high school (early 70s) didn’t teach Bible stories. That was considered to be the role of the church.

  • stardreamer42

    In fact, it sounds a lot like the mirror universe from Star Trek, where the only way to get a promotion is by assassinating your superior officer.

  • hamletta

    Wow! I guess Lutheran hermeneutics really are different! The Prodigal Son just came up in the lectionary on March 17, and the sermon was about the generosity of God’s Love and how we’re supposed to emulate it.

  • stardreamer42

    Yes, this. “You have free will, but if you don’t do what I want I’ll make you regret it” isn’t free will at all.

  • It was more of a philosophy class for me, but since the high school didn’t have philosophy it was literature-history (two classes fused into one such that it had two teachers and met twice as often as normal) either of which would have gotten the job done on it’s own because when you start at the allegory of the cave and work your way up to apartheid you’re going to trip over it in the middle.

  • stardreamer42

    I agree with this, but I also think that the real meat of the article is summed up in the sentence, “If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t.” And that has much wider application than just to Thatcher.

    Also, I feel sorry for the children of a lot of male Republican politicians — especially for their daughters. Which kind of ties back into the prodigal-son discussion; what must it be like to know that just because you were born without the Magic Dongle, your father will never value you as a real person?

  • The_L1985

    It doesn’t seem to imply that the father is going to kill fatted calves for the younger son on a regular basis, or even that the father sees the older son as in any way less important or less obedient.

    To me, the older son’s complaint sounds more like “I’m the good kid; why aren’t you doing anything fancy and special for me” in a ploy for attention from someone who (as the older) is so used to being the Favored Son that the celebration comes out of left field to him.

    Further, the younger son has already spent his inheritance, leaving only th eolder son’s share in the family. As the father points out “everything I have is yours.” I don’t think the father’s showing favoritism–he’s just happy that he has his lost son back, as he says to the older one.

  • stardreamer42

    Still doesn’t make it “high-school level common knowledge”. I never even heard that interpretation in church Bible-study groups. It may be a sound theological interpretation, but I don’t think it’s going to be one that many people hear of before college. You’re an outlier.

  • No Longer Quivering and similar blogs often offer insight into that question…

    Myself, I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for Freud’s daughters.

  • Lori

    That’s how it sounds to you. That’s how it sounds to most people. That’s not how it sounds to everyone, including a lot of people who have been the dutiful, taken for granted sibling of an irresponsible favorite child.

  • To which presumably the reply would be “I couldn’t have, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable to give it to me!”

    You should really read the dialog if you haven’t.

  • Lori

    So the elder son didn’t need to be given a goat. The younger son didn’t need to be given his inheritance. The father clearly wasn’t working strictly on the basis of what needed to occur.

  • Lori

    The idea what that the patriarch keeps his sons too weak to strike against him and if he’s too weak to do that he doesn’t deserve to be in charge.

    It was basically the same thing for women. They were to be kept too powerless, even within their own homes, to kill their husband and get away with it. The system had the effect of incentivizing women to marry old men in hopes that they’d shuffle off the mortal coil while their wives were still young enough to enjoy the pleasures of widowhood.

  • You’re an outlier.

    For learning that the Roman Empire and Christianity existed? I somehow doubt it. You can’t study Shakespeare without at least a passing knowledge of Christianity, you can’t meaningfully study the founding of America without at least a passing knowledge of the the Roman Empire given the influences the latter had on those responsible for the former.

    If I’m an outlier for remembering, on the other hand, there I agree with you. Sort of. My guess is that someone who did remember without outside help would be an outlier. It is a small bit of trivia with no apparent use in the wider world after all. (Like learning that George Washington’s teeth weren’t wooden, when will you use that?) I am not such a person though.

    I forgot, as with many elements of high-school level common knowledge. In fact, I’d venture that most high school level common knowledge has been forgotten by me at this point, and will not be remembered unless someone reminds me. (At which point I’ll have an, “Oh, yeah… I learned that back in [whatever class/grade]” moment.)

    On this particular topic I was reminded of that particular bit of high school level knowledge in the comments of this blog, then located at typepad, about two and a half years ago.

  • LoneWolf343

    No, but their reading would not be valid if they are projecting their own biases which a text does not possess.

    If you have trouble seeing the elder brother as being in the wrong, try updating the language to something like. “Poor people shouldn’t get any special consideration because they didn’t earn it.”

  • Kirala

    I think the crucial point is that the elder son didn’t ask.

    I could imagine the story today: my little sister demands that my parents liquidate their retirement to fund her partying, then comes back contrite and my parents decide to blow the money they’d been saving for an anniversary in Europe on a welcome-back party. And then I start whining that they never sold their old car for me, even though I’d never said a single thing, even though I had all the status and attention as the person whom everyone but my parents obeyed.

    The parents aren’t working with what needs to occur, but they are working with what they are asked. And no parent is likely to give an unreasonable expectation unasked.

    And while as an elder sister of often-favored, often-spoiled younger sisters I once had a certain empathy for the older brother, increasingly I started seeing him a self-righteous martyr who would rather sulk outside than tell his father he’s angry, or resent his younger brother in silence than ask for equal treatment. Or a 1-percenter angry that the government wants to take their money to help the poor without even checking whether the poor are morally worthy first, or giving government resources for their benefit…

    I do think that everyone is entitled to see the story in their own way; heaven knows I have plenty of stories that I interpret radically differently from anyone else. But increasingly I think that the vast majority of the original audience would have been horrified at the behavior of all the actors in the story and sympathetic with none. In that culture, the elder brother is giving a lot of signs of being not the long-suffering good son, but a different version of the caustic, entitled, self-centered brat. The kind who follows the rules not from selflessness, but from selfishness.

  • I’ve never understood how the phrase “prodigal son” has come to mean “someone who leaves and then comes back” when the word prodigal means “wasteful.” The phrase “prodigal son” would mean to mean “the idiot child who doesn’t deserve his inheritance.”

  • Lori

    No, but their reading would not be valid if they are projecting their own biases which a text does not possess.

    As is the case with all the parables there is a great deal that the text does not include. As a result, everyone projects their biases onto them. It’s just that when one’s biases line up with the generally approved reading (and supposed authorial intent), one tends not to notice or be called on those biases. As I said elsewhere, getting the approved take on this story depends a great deal on having the approved view of God. (And as we’ve discussed many times, the approved view of God is not the only one supported by the text.)

    If you have trouble seeing the elder brother as being in the wrong, try
    updating the language to something like. “Poor people shouldn’t get any
    special consideration because they didn’t earn it.”

    This is not germane because as I said the issue is not the treatment of the younger brother. It’s the father’s relationship with his older son that’s at issue.

    If you have trouble seeing why someone might have problems with that try updating the language to something like:

    “Why are you upset about me never showing any appreciation for your years of hard work? I’m helping the poor here. How can you be so selfish? After all, you have money.”

  • Lori

    This assumes that the exchange is entirely a surface one, that the party is the point and that the elder son’s expectations were unreasonable. If that’s the case then the elder son is being a whiner.

    If the exchange is about appreciation then the situation is different. If you have to ask for that then you’re not getting it and expecting a bit is not necessarily unreasonable.

  • Kirala

    Absolutely agreed, but the text says nothing about appreciation, whether it was given or asked. It contains an expectation that outside that family context was ludicrously unreasonable and inside the family context only questionably unreasonable. Given Chris’s contribution, I’m also starting to worry about the fact that the elder brother complains that he was never given the resources to have a party without his father, rather than complain that his father never threw a party in his honor. The elder brother wants a thanks that excludes his father. That strikes me as less a search for appreciation than a search for reward.

  • Lori

    No, the text says nothing about it. The text also doesn’t preclude it. It’s a very short story. People are going to read things into it.

    My point is not that you’re wrong. My point is that neither are the people who see it differently.

  • stardreamer42

    For learning that the Roman Empire and Christianity existed?

    That’s a pretty amazing jump from “for having been taught one particular interpretation of one particular Bible story in a public high school”.

    My disagreement is with you characterizing this as “high-school level common knowledge”, as though you were talking about learning that there are 9 planets* in the solar system. Your SCHOOL was an outlier, which is probably how I should have phrased it to begin with.

    * Or 8, depending on just when you were in high school.

  • The Cricket

    Would you rather be loved unconditionally for yourself or loved because u forced somebody to. Spirituality has been stripped from Christianity it seems I don’t believe theBible is a rule book but more of a guideline. And very FEW things it does make a have to are really simple common courtesy. Also the bible was dictated it was wrote by Man. As for being punished when not followed do we not ground children or put them on time out? To God we are children we are not adults who are his level. I think people make to big of a deal about the “rules” and forget to just feel. To just let your own heart and conscious find the way. And also how hard is it really to just ask for forgiveness?

  • The Cricket

    To me those people are morons I mean things only power if you give it to them whether good or bad. Fearing and worrying about Satan is silly he was literally a whinny spoiled brat on a power trip. My opinion (not necessarily fact) is that those people are to afraid of their own inadequacy so they blame the big scary devil. Because its easier than looking at themselves to find the problem.

  • From what I can tell, a lot of fundamentalists seem to have this very odd concept of free will, in which love and adoration for God is pre-programmed into all humans and is the natural state of things, so anyone who claims to disbelieve in God or not love God is just being spitefully defiant. They do not “really” disbelieve, according to the fundamentalist, they are just being misguided or rebellious.

    Perhaps I should say, they think that free will is not “free”.

  • LoneWolf343

    Right, and I interpret the older brother as being unusually needy, perhaps pathologically so.

    Of course, it is possible that we are overextending a metaphor involving caricatures and not real people.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I would prefer to be loved for who I am, yes. But I am not an all knowing, all powerful being. God knew that giving man free will would inevitably make them “bad.” And God chose to do so anyway, instead of coming up with a way to work around sin, the need for redemption and other such wrenches in the machine. If God was all powerful, surely he could have come up with something that didn’t result in such an onus being placed on the beings he “loves” so much, yes? Again, especially if you believe in some sort of eternal punishment. It just smacks of God being selfish, or not thinking things all the way through, and then shrugging and saying “Oh, well. I don’t have to deal with the consequences.”

    I admit that I’m not sure where your comment on courtesy comes from. If I came across as attacking you, then I apologize. That was not at all how I meant that little ramble to sound. This is an issue that still bothers me after being out of Christianity for ~10 years, and sometimes the urge to just rant about it gets in the way of careful wording.

    I reject your premise that we’re kids that need punished and forgiven. We punish children for making the deliberate choice to do something wrong, say choosing to hit a sibling in a fight when they know better. Humanity never had that choice. We were given free will by God; we never had the opportunity to not sin. If we’re born sinners, and there’s literally no way at all for us to not fail to live up to God’s standards *because God created us in a way that makes that impossible,* then the guilt is not ours. We aren’t the criminals here, we’re the victims. Why should we have to apologize to God for acting the way he created us to act?

    God should have planned better. The fact that he knowingly created us to fail while demanding that we not fail is a Catch 22. There’s no winning for us. He is the one that should be apologizing. To turn around and demand that we apologize for what he made us do is less akin to punishing a child for smacking their sister than it is an abuser who says “You made me hit you; now apologize for making me hurt my hand.”

    I have no issues asking for forgiveness when I actually do something that warrants it. I’ve done no such thing here. I made no choice to actively go against God’s plan. And apologizing for doing exactly what God created me to do is little more than ass kissing. Ass kissing is not love. It’s something done out of fear, or a desire for power, or other similar generally not good motivations.

  • Geoffrey Kransdorf

    Re: The Hilary Comments:

    We have had three female Secretaries of State, there are more women than men in college right now and there are female CEOs and leaders in every field. Hilary herself is a female success story. So why is she pressing this issue? Is she under the misconception that it’s still 1973, and women are struggling for equality in every sphere? Many people think that men are actually at a disadvantage in the present day academic and workplace environment.

    And don’t give me the old chestnut about women making 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. Given equal employment and experience, studies show that women earn equal incomes. But women *choose* to have children and work fewer hours or put off promotions. You can complain that basic biology is unfair to women in this respect, but I don’t see how any Government intervention is going to restructure how humans reproduce.

    What she is nakedly doing is saying “Look ladies, I’m on your side, so vote for me in 2016”. That’s perfectly expected and may even be a “Smart Thing” in some ideological sense, but it seems like nothing more than open pandering and political posturing to me.

    Regarding the Badash piece:

    He disparages intelligent Libertarian arguments with a reducto ad absurdum. Want the government not to micromanage your life? Than give up an Army, foreign policy, response to disasters and any other *reasonable* role that the government might have. Up through Wilson and FDR, the US had an Army and State Department, yet managed not to attempt to control every aspects of its citizen’s lives. (Think this is an exaggeration?–read the Supreme Court case where an FDR-era farmer was told he couldn’t grow wheat on his own farm for his own use because of federal quotas). There’s a big gap between “shutting down the government” and “banning sodas that are too big”. Pretending that we can’t stop the 2nd without doing the first is simply ridiculous.

    In fairness, I think that Rand Paul’s argument–that the government shouldn’t be defining marriage at all–is hopeless, given the number of things in society (taxes, insurance, inheritance, etc.) that rely on it. And there is a good argument to be made that the Federal government needs a uniform standard of marriage for legal purposes (e.g. Federal income taxes, etc.) which is why the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in the first place. That having been said, I think that we are repeating the abortion mistake here, where gradually changing public attitudes were short-circuited by well-meaning, but short-sighted judges. The result was vast resentment and a hardening of battle lines that persist to this day. If gay people have the patience to wait out the democratic process, they will probably achieve what they want in a few years. Or they can choose to force the decision on an unwilling public and thereby create a an issue that rankles and never gets resolved. The democratic route is much to be preferred.

  • Geoffrey Kransdorf

    Incidentally, I note that Hilary managed to condemn the oppression of women globally without mentioning the single biggest cause of this oppression–Islam. Condemning Islam is both taboo and dangerous, but it’s the elephant in the room in this discussion, especially when talking about countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or even India.

    Does Hilary intend to lead the charge against this 14th century abomination of an ideology? I sincerely doubt it…

  • Wednesday

    Eh, I’m not sure it incentivized women to marry old men in hopes they’d be able to enjoy single widowhood; OT laws definitely are addressing a polygamous society. And generally speaking, polygamous societies are able to maintain polygamy despite the gender ratio within any age group being roughly equal because men marry old, while women marry young for the _first_ time, and remarry when they’re older and the first husband has died. That allows for two marriage-elligable women for every marriage-elligable man, and _that’s_ before you take into account any deaths of younger men in violent conflict.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Given equal employment and experience, studies show that women earn equal incomes.

    Citation needed.

    But women *choose* to have children and work fewer hours or put off promotions.

    By which, though you may not know this, you of course mean that women are expected to have children and women with children are expected to work fewer hours and put off promotions, and men are not so expected. Which contributes to the pay gap.

  • Lori

    We have some idea how Anna felt about it. I don’t recall reading anything that she wrote about it directly, but I recall there being a fair bit of “read between the lines” in her work. It struck me that she both loved and admired him and found him a little appalling, but had a lot of trouble admitting that she found him a little appalling.

  • Lori

    I think pathologically needy is at least as much of a stretch as wanting a reasonable amount of appreciation and/or sick of dad’s favoritism. The point being that you’re bringing something to the story and other people bring other things. That’s how it is with parable.

  • Carstonio

    But women *choose* to have children and work fewer hours or put off promotions. You can complain that basic biology is unfair to women in this respect, but I don’t see how any Government intervention is going to restructure how humans reproduce.

    Basic biology has nothing to do with it. Raising children isn’t inherently women’s work. Parents of both sexes juggle work and home responsibilities, yet the assumption is that this is a problem only for women.

    Force a decision on same-sex marriage on an unwilling public? That makes as much sense as demanding that celebrity couples should marry or divorce based on public opinion. Rights for minorities shouldn’t be decided by majority vote. None of us has any business telling others which gender they should choose for their prospective spouses. The only same-sex marriage that anyone gets to vote on is his or her own.

  • I’d like to know where you went to high school if an intimate understanding of the symbolism behind 1st Century Jewish feasting customs is “high school level common knowledge.”

  • I admit that I probably bring personal baggage to the story. In addition to my own upbringing, I have recently had to provide moral support to a friend who had been totally screwed over by her “prodigal sister.” One of the most brilliant young women I have ever known, she had to abandon plans to go to Johns Hopkins Medical School because, unbeknownst to her, her mother — “in the interests of fairness” — took out a bunch of student loans in her name and gave the money to her younger sister, who was not academically gifted enough to win scholarships for herself (as my friend did) and who, in fact, blew most of the money living the carefree life of an LSU sorority girl while flunking out of the Art program. And to add insult to injury, the mom lost her job, stopped paying the student loans, and just ignored the issue until my friend had to have a credit check down and was shocked to discover she owed $50k in student loans, some of which were in default. My friend declined my own personal recommendation of having her mother arrested for identity theft and, as a result, will be spending the next ten years or so trying to put her credit back together. So yeah, I find it hard to avoid approaching The Prodigal Son with the idea that the young son was a spoiled brat, dad was an overindulgent idiot, and the older son would have been better off to have been shut of the lot of them. Obviously, YMMV.

  • Wednesday

    “Given equal employment and experience, studies show that women earn equal incomes [to men].”

    Citation really fucking needed. Every study I have seen shows a gender-based pay gap persists in the US after controlling for education and job experience.

    Example #1: One year after college graduation, after controlling for key factors (such as hours worked), women make about 9% less than men.

    “[In 2009], women one year out of college who were working full time were paid, on average, just 82 percent of what their male peers were paid. After we control for hours, occupation, college major, employment sector, and other factors associated with pay, the pay gap shrinks but does not disappear. About one-third of the gap cannot be explained by any of the factors commonly understood to affect earnings,”

    Example #2: In _academia_, after controlling for field, experience, rank, and having children, there is still a gender pay gap of 6%-8%.

    Source: A summary of the study can be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education, sometime in Fall 2011.

    Example #3
    Other studies have found that men get a pay boost for having kids compared to men without; this suggests more than just “women taking time off for kids” is at work.


  • EllieMurasaki

    Even if the pay gap were solely due to women working fewer hours and taking time off for babies, that’d be sexist and wrong–because women shouldn’t have the sole or primary burden of childraising. Paternity leave should be a thing, and childraising should be equally divided between men and women.

  • Lori

    Je-sus. Your friend obviously has to make her own decision about how to handle her mother’s appalling violation and her spoiled sister’s apparently total lack of give a shit, but I suspect she’ll eventually regret taking this on rather than getting the law involved. I hope that’s not the case, but student loan default really screws up your life. It’s bad enough when they’re at least your loans.

  • Wednesday

    Oh, definitely agreed. But (a) the persisting pay gaps are real things that we need to be aware of, because they tell us there’s still a lot of unconscious sexism unrelated to baby-having, and (b) in my experience it’s easier to get people to start thinking about the problem of gender- and race-based pay disparity when you give them something they can’t explain away as socially acceptable manifestations of sexism and racism. Once they’re able to recognize that sexism and racism still exist even after controlling for things they don’t recognize as a result of *ism, it’s easier to help them see how the socially acceptable manifestations of the *isms are, in fact, problematic.

    Also, (c), in academia, a lot of people think that if you just let women pause the tenure clock when they have kids, that magically fixes all problems.

  • AnonaMiss

    No, no, that’s the common interpretation among most Christians. Citizen Alan only brought his interpretation up because it’s radically different from the common interpretation.

  • Bashing war/ drone/ Patriot Act opponent Rand Paul while extolling the virtues of the belligerent Hillary. Those are some values.

  • Bashing war/ drone/ Patriot Act opponentsexual harassment apologist / institutionalized islamophobia advocate Rand Paul while extolling the
    virtues of the belligerent Hillary. Those are some values.


  • P J Evans

    I can cite at least one case where ‘equal employment and experience’ did *not* result in equal pay. (Trans person, male to female.)

  • P J Evans

    Evidence needed. Because Islam is about as monolithic as Christianity and Judaism.