If You Really Wanted To Be Radical

If You Really Wanted To Be Radical February 23, 2020

This is a pretty interesting piece. Bit long and rather adoring. Probably came across my feed because of the David Brooks thing. This person, Sophie Lewis, apparently on the rise for having published a book last year, believes in something called Full Surrogacy, that is, the abolishment of the nuclear family:

When Lewis demands “full surrogacy now,” she isn’t talking about commercial surrogacy, or ”Surrogacy™,” as she puts it. Instead, she uses the surrogacy industry to build the argument that all gestation is work because of the immense physical and emotional labor it requires of those who do it. She often refers to pregnancy as an “extreme sport.”

If all forms of pregnancy count as work, we can take a clear-eyed look at our current working conditions: “It is a wonder we let fetuses inside us,” she says at the start of her book, citing the roughly 1,000 people in the United States who still die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth each year—mostly poor women and women of color. “This situation is social, not simply ‘natural.’ Things are like this for political and economic reasons: we made them this way.”

And so we can also make them different, Lewis argues. She imagines a future where the labor of making new human beings is shared among all of us, “mother” no longer being a natural category, but instead something we can choose.

How did this person arrive at this particular idea? She herself endured a wretched family. All the deep-seated needs she had as a child were not met by her own mother and father. Vice tells her story in a glowing kind of way. The word “utopia” is thrown around freely. But also, no one, either to the right or to the left, has been able to understand the brilliance of her ideas:

Lewis has found that when she talks about family abolition people respond as though she’s “not even speaking English anymore … like [I’m] not even making syntactical sense,” she said at the e-flux lecture. “Real brain explosion emoji to the max.”

Still, the author of the piece does her best. Nothing else is working, I suppose, so why not try it—however un-fleshed out it is, full of thoughts like this:

“Surrogates to the front!” Lewis exclaims toward the end of her book. “By surrogates I mean those comradely gestators, midwives, and other sundry interveners in the more slippery moments of social reproduction: repairing boats; swimming across borders; blockading lake-threatening pipelines; carrying; miscarrying.”

As I said, it’s rather long, and you should probably read it because this idea is rising, along with ones like this. To my ear, they both sound rather like the desperate father waiting for Jesus at the bottom of the mountain in the bit just after this morning’s gospel. You’d have to keep reading, after the book has been shut and the lector has turned to walk back up to the front, out of the midst of the people, which is where I always think the gospel should be read. The man’s child was possessed by a demon and he had tried everything, even imploring Jesus’ own disciples to help him—the same ones who had already gone out successfully to preach and to heal. These same ones tried again, and failed. And anyway, Jesus was up on a mountain, though it couldn’t have been that high an elevation, with Peter, James and John.

They had been up there, and Jesus has been transfigured before them, and Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—came and stood there with him, saying something that the three disciples couldn’t hear or understood. Peter, like everyone, sees that it is good, that some sort of transformative moment has taken place, and clutches at utopia.

I looked it up, especially since the word figured prominently in that Vice piece. It was made up by Thomas More, punning off of the Greek words for No Place and Good Place. We can imagine what it would be like if everything worked properly and everyone behaved as they should. Every age likes to make up a new kind of way to make that happen—a theory, a system that will solve the human problems of pain and badness.

Peter, riffing off the curious tabernacling theme running throughout the whole of scripture, thinks right up there on the mountain would be as good a time as any. Everyone’s here. This is the moment. Which thought Lewis had as well. 2019 would work well for everyone to take up the job of being everyone’s mother.

But Peter doesn’t really get any further than Sophie Lewis. While he is trying to explain how it should be, the voice of God cuts through, announcing who Jesus is. And then, when Peter, James, and John pick themselves up off the ground, the moment is gone, and Jesus is his usual self again. He hustles them back down the mountain, into the pressing crowd, telling them not to mention it to anyone until much later. This time Peter really does obey, describing the moment in his own epistle as great, but not as great as the testimony we ourselves have this very moment in church. The book, lifted up and read aloud, is sufficient. Jesus himself is enough.

And there is the poor man and his child at the base of the mountain, desperate for help. Which is always the trouble. No matter how we organize ourselves—family or no family—we can’t get up to the top of the mountain to build those tents and call down the light and the glory. There’s no way to get past the grief, the anxiety, the illnesses, the eventual death. Even Ms. Lewis had to cope with it, attending to her mother as she died as best she could, which meant skyping with her and singing some Taylor Swift in those final hours. As I said, read the whole thing.

What kind of mother can get you over the threshold of death into everlasting life? Go ahead, abolish the family. There’s no mother than can do that. Nor father. Nor political system. Nothing.

That was the other lection, this morning, if you were there. “I count it all as nothing” says Paul, “compared with knowing Christ.” He explains further, but this is the kicker, “…that by any means possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” It is possible. It is possible to go over that threshold, the threshold of death, and come out on the other side alive–forever. Only it does come at a high cost.

“Count” it nothing now, which is the most radical idea in the whole world. Ms. Lewis hasn’t even begun to see the true, radical nature of this way that actual works, the way of following Jesus, of walking all the way down the mountain and up to the cross and standing there, looking at the way things really are. That’s what it would take. Utopia doesn’t work because it has to tell so many lies. Ones like, ‘everyone can be everyone’s mother,’ and ‘I’m fine now,’ and ‘I can solve this problem of society by blowing it up.’ Sounds intriguing, but it won’t work. Nothing will work. Better to let it all fall away, out of your hand, so that, in your total poverty of spirit, the Person—not the system, not the idea—can make you his own tabernacle, the place where he lives.

Think of it as a radical new kind of family. He comes in where everyone else failed you, he gives you life, even as a mother would, in the crux of pain and death, he is your brother, your friend, he opens the way of life to the Father you never knew. All in one. Every human kind of family is only a pale forecasting of the immeasurable riches of knowing Christ. Indeed, that is one of the reasons human family is so precious. Though it fails, even in the pain, some transforming, transfixing light of Jesus can still fall into its darkness.

Go ahead, let it all fall away, go to church, Jesus is there.

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