The theology of assholes: More on ‘the insolent and sicklily squeamish mind’ of The Gospel Coalition

Everybody has one. I have one. So do you. So’s your mother.

Jesus had one. Adam and Eve both had them, even before the Fall.

God made them. And “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

So if you’re skeeved out by the existence of assholes — if you wish you didn’t have one, or if you wish that other people didn’t have them or didn’t use them — then you’ve wandered into the realm of Bad Theology.

Thabiti Anyabwile hasn’t just wandered into the realm of Bad Theology, he’s buying property there.

Anyabwile’s theology cannot accept incarnation — Christ’s, or his own, or anyone else’s. That leads him into heresy, but it also leads him to behave hatefully toward other people. As Richard Beck correctly says, Anyabwile “attempts, unapologetically, to elicit and then direct feelings of revulsion and disgust toward gay persons.”

His inability to accept his own body or the bodies of others will inevitably distort Anyabwile’s Christology, and his doctrine of creation, and his doctrines of sin, redemption and resurrection. That ought to be troubling for him and his friends at “The Gospel Coalition,” which fancies itself as a kind of guardian of correct doctrine. I don’t think perfectly correct doctrine and perfectly accurate understanding of God is possible, so the heresies deriving from Anyabwile’s revulsion at the physical world doesn’t worry me as much as the way that revulsion causes him to violate the Golden Rule and to treat other people abominably.

Even worse, Anyabwile is trying to use his position as a “spiritual” leader to convince his followers to treat other people abominably.

That’s despicable behavior on his part, and it raises the chicken-and-egg question about the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Is Anyabwile’s rejection of a Christian understanding of incarnation causing him to treat others hatefully? Or is treating others hatefully causing Anyabwile to reject the Christian understanding of incarnation?

In other words, does he lack a theology of assholes because he’s acting like one? Or does his acting like one cause him not to have such a theology?

A bit of both, probably.

I hesitated at first to use the above title for this post, but eventually realized it was necessary and unavoidable. In defending the use of the term, let me defer to D.H. Lawrence.

Lawrence’s words here also serve, I think, as a good rejoinder to Anyabwile:

The word arse is clean enough. Even the part of the body it refers to is just as much me as my hand and my brain are me. It is not for me to quarrel with my own natural make-up. If I am, I am all that I am. But the impudent and dirty mind won’t have it. It hates certain parts of the body, and makes the words representing these parts scapegoats. It pelts them out of the consciousness with filth, and there they hover, never dying, never dead, slipping into the consciousness again unawares, and pelted out again with filth, haunting the margins of the consciousness like jackals or hyenas. And they refer to parts of our own living bodies, and to our most essential acts. So that man turns himself into a thing of shame and horror. And his consciousness shudders with horrors that he has made for himself.

That sort of thing has got to stop. We can’t have the consciousness haunted any longer by repulsive spectres which are no more than poor simple scapegoat words representing parts of man himself; words that the cowardly and unclean mind has driven out into the limbo of the unconscious, whence they return upon us looming and magnified out of all proportion, frightening us beyond all reason. We must put an end to that. It is the self divided against itself most dangerously. The simple and natural “obscene” words must be cleaned up of all their depraved fear-associations, and readmitted into the consciousness to take their natural place. Now they are magnified out of all proportion, so is the mental fear they represent. We must accept the word arse as we accept the word face, since arses we have and always shall have. We can’t start cutting off the buttocks of unfortunate mankind, like the ladies in the Voltaire story, just to fit the mental expulsion of the word.

This scapegoat business does the mind itself so much damage. There is a poem of Swift’s which should make us pause. It is written to Celia, his Celia — and every verse ends with the mad, maddened refrain: “But — Celia, Celia, Celia shits!” Now that, stated baldly, is so ridiculous it is almost funny. But when one remembers the gnashing insanity to which the great mind of Swift was reduced by that and similar thoughts, the joke dies away. Such thoughts poisoned him, like some terrible constipation. They poisoned his mind. And why, in heaven’s name? The fact cannot have troubled him, since it applied to himself and to all of us. It was not the fact that Celia shits which so deranged him, it was the thought. His mind couldn’t bear the thought. Great wit as he was, he could not see how ridiculous his revulsions were. His arrogant mind overbore him. He couldn’t even see how much worse it would be if Celia didn’t shit. His physical sympathies were too weak, his guts were too cold to sympathize with poor Celia in her natural functions. His insolent and sicklily squeamish mind just turned her into a thing of horror, because she was merely natural and went to the WC. It is monstrous! One feels like going back across all the years to poor Celia, to say to her: It’s all right, don’t you take any notice of that mental lunatic.

And Swift’s form of madness is very common today. Men with cold guts and over-squeamish minds are always thinking those things and squirming. Wretched man is the victim of his own little revulsions, which he magnifies into great horrors and terrifying taboos. …

(From “Introduction to Pansies,” 1929, in D.H. Lawrence: Selected Critical Writings.)

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  • Thomas Stone

    Funny, Lawrence badly misremembered the Swift poem ( which is actually making fun of a character (Strephon) driven to madness by the knowledge that a beautiful woman is actually made of the same weird smells and little hairs and so forth that everyone else is-and recommends that one simply avoid thinking about such things.

  • ShifterCat

    I’m afraid your link targets the wrong poem.

  • Randy Owens

    It’s Disqus’ automatic linking that screwed it up, not Thomas Stone. The link is but Disqus included his closing parenthesis as part of the URL.

  • Daniel

    Well Orwell must have misunderstood it too, because he wrote a fantastic essay taking it apart and arguing that Swift hated people- he also cites Gulliver’s Travels to back that up.
    *edit- chiefly Gulliver, but Celia gets a mention too*

  • Vermic

    Wasn’t that the gag with the Brobdignagians? They had a utopian society, but Gulliver was just so grossed out by them physically (them being so huge, he could see their pores and nose hairs and stuff) that he couldn’t be happy there.

  • Daniel

    That and the Laputan’s use of impractical reason and love of learning – Orwell argues that Swift hates all that makes us human, not just the squishy, smelly, leaky, weepy, pus producing bits but also the brain and the desire to learn.

    “there is no sign — indeed, all through the book there are many signs to the contrary — that ‘pure’ science would have struck Swift as a worth-while activity.”

    “The Houyhnhnms, Swift’s ideal beings, are backward even in a mechanical sense. They are unacquainted with
    metals, have never heard of boats, do not, properly speaking, practise agriculture (we are told that the oats which they live upon ‘grow naturally’), and appear not to have invented wheels(1). They have no alphabet, and evidently have not much curiosity about the physical world.”

    “If one adds together Swift’s pessimism, his reverence for the past, his incuriosity and his horror of the human body, one arrives at an attitude common among religious reactionaries — that is, people who defend an unjust order of Society by claiming that this world cannot be
    substantially improved and only the ‘next world’ matters.”

    Which, along with his revulsion of the body, puts Swift as a precursor (albeit an infinitely more talented, and actually funny, one) to Timkins and that whole crowd.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Yeah. The people of Brobdingnag were supposed to be wise, loving, etc, etc etc in the same degree as the people of Lillput were petty, venal, small-minded, etc etc etc.

  • badJim

    If Strephon would but stop his nose
    (Who now so impiously blasphemes
    Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,
    Her washes, slops, and every clout,
    With which he makes so foul a rout)
    He soon would learn to think like me,
    And bless his ravished sight to see
    Such order from confusion sprung,
    Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

  • cossacksare

    BadJim, you beat me to it. Thanks! I wish Fred (and Lawrence!) had done his homework a little better and skewered Strephon, not Swift.

  • aunursa

    If you follow the links you’ll reach Anyabwile’s post, in which he wrote…

    Deep down we all – Christian and non-Christian, heterosexual and homosexual – know [that homosexual acts are] wrong.

    Many atheists have told me that deep down, I know there is no god.
    Many Christians have told me that deep down, I know that Jesus is the Messiah.
    Some vegans have told me that deep down, I know that eating meat is wrong.
    Circumcision opponents have told me that deep down, I know that it’s wrong.

    I’ve seen many arguments in which at one point, one of the debaters declared to his opponent that deep down, she knows that he’s right.

    I consider that type of declaration to be one of the most vile things one can say in a debate — and an automatic forfeit.

  • Daniel

    “I consider that type of declaration to be one of the most vile things one can say in a debate — and an automatic forfeit.”
    Deep down we all know that.

  • William Watson Birch

    It’s the proverbial “burning in the bosom” syndrome. Oy!

  • Jenny Islander

    As somebody pointed out in the last thread on this man, the “homosexual acts” he describes are all physically possible for heterosexual monogamous married couples. One of them used to be considered the almost-sex-let’s-not-get-pregnant-okay act of choice for teenagers!

    That’s kind of sad.

  • Gabe Nichols

    I can’t resist. I apologize

  • LorenHaas

    Wow. How can I unsee that?

  • Two Pi Man

    Garfunkel & Oates cannot be resisted. :)

  • stardreamer42

    OMG, that is (if you’ll pardon the expression) fuckin’ brilliant!

  • Baby_Raptor

    “You know I’m right, you just don’t want to admit it” is the last bastion for someone who has no real arguments. It’s the same thing as a small child stomping their foot and screaming “YES HUH!” and it requires about as much intelligence.

  • John Alexander Harman

    I would agree, with the caveat that there’s another, entirely valid criticism I’ve often seen used by atheists against theists that may be mistaken for (or dishonestly conflated with) this worthless argument. That criticism goes more or less like this: “I observe that you do not act as I would expect a person who believed what you claim to believe to act, or as I would act if I believed what you claim to believe.” That disconnect between professed belief and observed behavior leads me to suspect that the person is indulging in belief in belief, rather than simply believing what they say they do.

  • Daniel

    I have to say it’s about time someone finally brought this logical fallacy out of mothballs. It serves my purposes very well. I would like to take soundings from any of the people on this site about the following:
    A group of people who look very like you or me, indistinguishable now because political correctness allows them to walk about without any distinguishing marks. People who walk like you, talk like you, too. These people have one vital and grotesque difference from the rest of us though, a difference we have been conditioned through decades of political correctness to pretend we are not grossed out by. But we are. I am, you are, everyone you know is- even people who do it themselves. We all know who I mean.
    People that can AND DO grab their own eyelids (occasionally even the eyelids of others) and turn them inside out. Admit it- your stomach is turning at the very thought. Isn’t it? I know mine is. And what makes it even worse, some of these people then touch the surface of their eye or eyes. Revolting.

    Society has got to such a point of depravity you can often find professionals advertising in towns and cities world wide- they work with our children, and our elderly, men and women, and they are PAID to probably touch other people’s eyes. Yet now ophthalmologists are allowed to marry.
    It makes you sick.
    I know it does, because it makes me sick.
    And you are exactly the same as me, deep down.

  • phranckeaufile

    I too am disgusted by those who turn their eyelids inside out, but the problem is not the eye touching. It is the exposure of the venous, slimy interior of the eyelid. That part of the body must forever remain concealed.
    Am I obliged to form a new sect?

  • Daniel

    Possibly. If you’d be willing to list in detail all the things you find revolting about the interior of the eyelid, in graphic detail, I can and will put together a Bull listing all the reasons the touching of the cornea is gross. Obviously we are agreed that contact lenses are deeply sinful, preventing God’s air from communing with the eye as He intended. If we aren’t then I’m afraid I call heresy on that, and I have kindling and will use it.
    If you’d like to discuss this further I have a holiday home in Trento where we could discuss our respective positions, before concluding that we’re both right and vowing to hate and pity each other in perpetuity.

    Eventually my followers will be found to have been touching eyes secretly for years, and those who espouse your view most fanatically will make a great deal of money before being found in cars with a large amount of meth, pulling down the eyelids of beautifully eyed young men hired for the purpose. And that’s when we’ll finally have some common ground and agree- it’s not OUR fault. It’s all the temptation of people walking around showing off their eyes all the time.
    So we’ll make sun glasses compulsory.
    Long live our pure society.

  • SkyknightXi

    {sweatdrop} All you had to do was use the scientific/biological term…

    Although, wasn’t there a verse in one of the Gospels where JESUS uses a somewhat coarse term for the same thing?

  • Baby_Raptor

    Why should he have used the scientific term when the term he used fit his idea better? Because some people see “ass” as a ‘bad’ word?

    I so wish society would get over the concept of “bad” words. No word is inherently bad. And the only reason swear words are considered bad is because society said so. It’s just yet another vehicle for judging people for not living up to your personal standards.

  • Daniel

    Personally I like to use the term “anus” as an insult. “Rectum” not so much.
    I’d have preferred he said “arsehole”- not just because I’m English but because you can get so much more contempt into it than “asshole”. However “asshat” is a great insult that doesn’t work Britishly.

  • NelC

    As Billy Connelly once pointed out, without an anus, we’d fill up with water every time we had a bath. So don’t be insulting anuses (anii?), a useful and hard-working body part, by comparing them to figurative arseholes.

  • ShifterCat

    First of all, he wouldn’t have been able to use the double meaning for “asshole”.

    Second, the post would have lacked the punch.

    Third, part of the point was… well, Lawrence puts it best.

  • Daniel

    I think that’s in Luke where he talks about the morning after a curry and describes it as being “like unto a Japanese flag”.
    I see it as my duty to lower the tone.

  • stardreamer42

    Dude, don’t be a dick.

  • William Watson Birch

    I want to see more people discussing how inconsistent these Calvinists are for chiding the evils of society, and ranting against LGBTQ rights, when their own theology demands that God has decreed every minutiae of our existence, and brings to pass whatsoever He has decreed. I mean, hello?

  • SkyknightXi

    Wait until you see the texts at The virtuous are supposed to excoriate the (allegedly) wicked simply because doing so helps magnify God’s glory. Why God incites wickedness? So he can show off his wrath to the elect without hurting them, and so they have something to righteously excoriate. (I might be mis-remembering after the last comma.)

  • William Watson Birch

    Whatever that is, it ain’t Christian.

  • SkyknightXi

    Not much surprise, when you consider that Calvinists regard God’s arch-principle, the one from which all his other principles and aspects are derived from, to be not love, but self-glorification. Creation is ultimately just a mirror for him to admire his reflection in.

  • VMtheCoyote

    Calvinism is basically fractally horrible.

  • auroramere

    The closer you look, the samer it is.

  • Jeff Dickey

    IOW, God as the ultimate narcissist, the supreme sociopath. That always said a lot more to me about the “believers” than about God Himself. I was very fortunate not to run into extreme disciples of that “philosophy” until I had thought through my own beliefs enough to see that “theology” as akin to a low-budget horror film: earnest, but so full of holes that any reasonable person would not be able to sufficiently suspend disbelief.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    David Hayward FTW:

    the gay gag relfex

    (now with working link)

  • Baby_Raptor

    Link no worky.

  • Jamoche

    Link’s got a %22 on the end; fixed version is

  • smrnda

    In addition to designing software, I also work with kids. I notice that when expressing food preferences, kids tend to make icky faces and call certain foods ‘gross!’ This is developmentally appropriate, as a good task for a young child to master is being able to state preferences.

    Adults tend to be a bit more diplomatic about matters of taste. I can dislike foods without having to go into paroxysms of disgust to demonstrate my revulsion, and like most grown ups, I realize that taste is subjective, and my feelings of disgust in no way make a food or drink *bad*. “Not nutritious” would perhaps be objective, but with food, it’s all about subjective taste.

    It seems like this guy is taking a step backwards intellectually, but this is probably a good sign. After failing to attack same sex unions on rational grounds, anti-GLBT people are falling back on the ‘don’t you think it’s gross’ Argument from Extreme Personal Distaste. They look like kids who haven’t acquired adult-level social etiquette.

  • Matri

    They don’t just “look like”.

    Their behavior suggests that they have never acquired adult-level social etiquette in the first place.

  • Eric

    Valentinus, the arch Gnostic and heretic, would recognize the direction of Anyabwile’s theology, it seems:

    “He was continent, enduring all things. Jesus digested divinity; he ate
    and drank in a special way, without excreting his solids. He had such a
    great capacity for continence that the nourishment within him was not
    corrupted, for he did not experience corruption.”

    –from Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.59.3:

  • Yuyu

    Well, a little bit of squickiness for certain bodily functions and outputs is OK, I think, purely for health and sanitation issues. I’m pretty sure that, say, sitting around in piles of your own excrement is unhealthy and should probably induce squeemishness, even though we all poop.

    But I agree: there’s a difference between “that’s gross!” and “that’s immoral!” Just because you personally find something disgusting doesn’t mean that this is a sign from the Holy Spirit to all humanity that said thing is wicked. Funny how the “gross!” reaction doesn’t happen for things like, say, “bearing false witness” or “theft,” but it does factor in to things like “pickled beets.” I recall God having stuff to say about the former and how you shouldn’t do it, but not the latter. (I think. Pickled beets are kosher, right?)

  • Lunch Meat

    If I allowed my emotional feelings of disgust to dictate my actions without evaluating them intellectually to see if they’re reasonable, then I would never change a tire or put oil in my car. I would never clean out the fridge of leftovers that have been there a bit too long and I would never put my hand in a sink full of lukewarm soapy water and slimy food scraps to get the last piece of silverware. I would never clean up after my (hypothetical) kid who’d thrown up or change a diaper or breastfeed, and I would certainly never, ever, ever give birth. That’s assuming I even managed to have sex and that I didn’t go out and get a hysterectomy to stop my periods.

  • gpike

    IDK, I think being disgusted/distressed by periods, sex and childbirth is a reasonable motivation to not do any of those things. >_>

  • litcrit

    In Swift’s defense, I’m reasonably sure that he thinks exactly the same thing, and his poem is poking fun at overly squeamish people (and the idealization of women that ignores their humanity). Never mix up a narrator and an author ;-)

  • cossacksare

    It’s not even the speaker of the poem who shows such disgust, but the person about whom the speaker is speaking! There is no ambiguity whatsoever. Either Lawrence had a bad memory, or he willfully misread the poem, or he was a dunce.

  • Persia

    Lawrence, of course, didn’t have the luxury of the Internet to check this stuff….

  • LL

    The asshole is really a very important and hard-working body part, so I almost feel bad using it as a pejorative. But it’s just so evocative, and also gender-neutral.

  • JustoneK

    It’s a dirty job, but not everybody needs to do it.

  • Grossssss

    (Ordinarily I’d refrain from saying anything this personal about anyone, but in this case…)

    Thabiti Anyabwile’s ideas are repulsive to me. Absolutely abhorrent.

    And after reading his essay, the idea of anyone having sex with Thabiti Anyabwile makes me gag.

    I guess that means Mr. Anyabwile having partnered sex must be a sin.

    I look forward to hearing that, in deference to my God-given delicate feelings in this matter, Mr. Anyabwile has decided to abide by Paul’s teachings, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” and remain celibate from now on.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Please go leave this as a comment. I want to see his outrage.