Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been discussing HumanGate: Al Mohler’s awful post about motherhood (archive link here). See, he thinks that women who don’t have children are literally subhuman. Only motherhood elevates subhuman women into full humanity–nothing else can do the job. Today, we’ll look at the big gun he pulled out to try to sell his point: accusations of selfishness. He didn’t use the S-word itself, but dang, the concept runs all through his post. But then I’ll show you my way-bigger gun.
Al Mohler assumes that women reject motherhood because they simply aren’t mature and responsible enough to do the job. They don’t care if humanity goes extinct in only one generation! They don’t care about America! Or nurturing others! Or their communities!
But as we saw already, he’s wrong about why women choose motherhood in the first place. And working from false assumptions as he does, he gets the opposite wrong as well: why women opt out of motherhood.
Even as a fervent Christian, I never once encountered anybody who eagerly bore children as a means of helping future generations survive. The people who go out of their way to have children do so because they want to have kids for their own sake. Anybody who actually works to become a parent does it not to advance Team Humanity, but rather to enjoy the experiences that go with parenting.
And those who deliberately reject parenthood do so because they don’t want those experiences. Maturity level doesn’t play into it, which is why some really awful people become parents while some really wonderful people never become parents–for whatever reason.
All the things people say on either side of that deliberate-choice equation boil down to them either wanting or not wanting children and parenthood.
Go figure. Left to our own devices, people do what we think will bring ourselves the most happiness for the resources we can spend–regardless of our beliefs.
I can see why that truth would bother Al Mohler.
Here’s the Really Sick Part, Though.
All through my post today, indeed throughout this series, I’ve done something Al Mohler couldn’t do.
I’ve very carefully delineated willful non-parents from people who’d love to be parents but can’t, for whatever reason.
Al Mohler pretends that’s what he’s doing, but he betrays his real mindset in many ways in his essay. He desperately wants to sound like less of an asshole by exempting women who can’t be mothers but want to be. But he fails everywhere.
This excerpt clued me in first:
But the vast majority of votes that were indicated by unmarried women and women who were not parents went to the Democrat.
I see nothing there about voluntary/involuntary rejection of marriage and parenting. Then this:
But having children? By the time you get to the end of this three part list — that is patriotism, religion, and having children — you’re actually talking about not what will the coming generation believe, but actually will there be a coming generation?
Again, women who don’t breed will be the downfall of
Al Mohler’s world their communities, America itself, and the human race. He offers no distinction between them and women who don’t wanna breed. No exemptions here!
The Experience Is What Matters To Al Mohler. Not the “Planning.”
In Al Mohler’s little world, even someone who plans to have children but can’t have them will miss out on those experiences he considers essential for becoming human. Let’s offer a few more quotes to support that assertion. This one caught my eye:
Parents tend to be more patriotic than non-parents. They also tend to be more religious markedly so than non-parents.
Again, to Al Mohler planning and intention are irrelevant. The physical act of parenting, itself, confers the benefits he (mistakenly) perceives. A woman who plans and desires to become a mother but somehow doesn’t reach the final action stage doesn’t garner the benefits he sees as coming only to people who do get that far.
What are those benefits? Well, according to Al Mohler:
Parents are far more conservative than non-parents. . . It’s also interesting to note that at the same time, it has a big theological distinction. It turns out that parents tend to be far more religious than non-parents, especially when it comes to patterns of churchgoing. It also turns out that tied to that is the issue of patriotism. . . Parents must have a much longer horizon of meaning and concern than non-parents.
TAKE THAT, INFERTILE PEOPLE.
Don’t y’all just feel loved right now?
So much for the light burden and easy yoke.
Covering His Horse’s Rump:
At one point I raised a brow because it became painfully obvious that Mohler realized he was lumping unintentional, virtuous non-mothers in with evil, selfish, nasty intentional ones:
. . . actually there is a tie between having children, you might say also planning to have children, experiencing what it means to be a parent, and the other issues that show up here including religion and patriotism.
That “also planning to have children” is very obviously Mohler’s own interjection. In my headcanon, he realized exactly what he looked like without adding that bit. He’s drawing upon someone else’s work for this entire idea, but he added that phrase to it. It’s like he suddenly caught a look at himself in a moment of self-awareness. (Immediately afterward, of course, he tamped that realization down again. He’s like a broken record that way.)
His parenthetical addition stands out like a sore thumb. It cries out like a pinched nerve. As hard as he tries, he can’t help revealing that he really is an awful human being.
Intentionality only carries women so far. To make the distance, to become even conditionally human in King Al Mohler’s eyes, women must actually reach the finish line by actually bearing an actual baby and then raising it.
A Slap in the Face.
I read Al Mohler’s essay with horror, knowing as I do many women who battle infertility–or who can’t find partners or afford children, or who lack enough social support to parent effectively. These women would love to be parents. The ones who can’t find partners or are blocked by biology somehow are the ones whose excuses Al Mohler would consider the most virtuous, but he still condemns them all the same.
That’s the problem with assigning moral value to something that is not totally under a person’s complete control. Culture warriors do it constantly. Every time, they run the risk of falsely accusing people they themselves claim to consider virtuous.
But judging others is so appealing to them, and so cherished a part of their authoritarian worldview, that that’s a risk they’re more than willing to take.
After all, if they’re wrong in insulting and smearing a woman who can’t help her situation, what’s the worst that’ll happen to her accusers? It’s not like they’re the ones who’ll suffer more than a half-second of embarrassment for having misjudged someone. They won’t go home and cry their eyes out over being judged yet again for something they can’t even help.
The Christians who make false accusations rarely face any repercussions for doing so. Their leaders have been incapable of stopping gossip since their religion was invented. (Seriously. The New Testament’s writers filled their work with exhortations to Christians to stop gossiping. See endnote: it’s still a problem!)
Thus, it turns out to be remarkably easy for Christians to risk someone else’s feelings and reputation.
Judgment Day: Any Given Sunday.
I’ve written before about the obstacles facing evangelical women in finding tribe-approved husbands.
Well, that goes double for parenthood.
If a woman hits her late 20s without finding a husband, that’s bad. But if she marries and somehow hits her 40s without having kids, people begin to judge her for it–and to condemn her for having failed somehow.
If she’s super-lucky, her churchmates might ask her (or gossip about her) to find out exactly why she’s failed.
They might be moved to pity if they consider her reasons virtuous enough for King Them. Then the problem is becoming worthy of getting divinely handed that prize on a silver platter. At that point, the ball’s back in her court! After all, if she prays hard enough and Jesus-es hard enough, he’ll reward her–and what better reward for a single, childless woman than a loving husband and adorable kids? So if she continues not to be married and have children, obviously she wasn’t a devoted enough Christian to get Jesus’ reward!
Or maybe she’ll flip the tables on them by saying Jesus told her to remain unmarried and childfree. That one’s harder, but some women try it (like I did). The tribe grumbles uneasily about the idea, though, and will remain positive that such a woman is mis-hearing Jesus somehow.
Regardless, once the tribe decides her reasons aren’t virtuous enough, they skip right along to the condemnation part of the farce.
After all, that’s where they really wanted to be anyway.
It’s so very strange, how we always end up here.
My Bigger Gun.
So Al Mohler thinks that women who opt out of motherhood are short-sighted, unrooted, immature, less patriotic, and not even human? That they go through life willy-nilly, without a care for the fact that somehow, the human race will die out if a smaller percentage of women miss parenthood today than did in the early 19th century?
He implies that we’re selfish for not taking one for Team
Dominance Boner Humanity? For not putting ourselves through a huge and monumental decades-long task we don’t want so he feels better? For not knocking ourselves out to struggle to lift ourselves to human status in his eyes? And that we should be intensely interested in earning the approval of King Him?
Why should anybody cater to him? Why should anybody work to gain his approval?
(I don’t mean why should anybody care what he thinks. Unfortunately, as long as his tribe wields political power, we have to care insofar as we work to peel back his tribe’s unwarranted power in the public sphere. I mean why should we care if we have his approval and love or not. His opinions about others’ lives are, and should be, completely irrelevant to anybody but himself.)
Sure, in his tribe accusations of selfishness matter. When I was Christian, I regularly saw women cowed by men’s accusations of selfishness. Women crumbled before the awesome power of male disapproval.
Christian men learned quickly that those accusations work grandly within the tribe. Consequently, they haul out that gun whenever it seems necessary to metaphorically slap women into line again.
Outside it, however, their accusations of selfishness collide against the awesome power of my CannotBeArsedtoCare filter.
The Power of Not GAFF.
Terrible people’s opinions of me don’t matter to me. They can accuse me of whatever they want and think whatever they like of me-and oh, trust me, they do exactly that. (It’s SO loving!)
Toxic Christians‘ opinion of me is irrelevant because I know they live on Bizarro World. There, the sky is solid red, up is down, black is white, good is evil, and hate is love. They admire horrible people and inflict cruelty on good people. No matter how decent a human being I might be, I have six zillion downvotes from them because I don’t buy into their mythology or their worldview. But these Christians won’t ever stop supporting horrible people as long as they buy into both.
Plus, I already know that the people of Al Mohler’s world absolutely hate the people of mine. If I’m not offering full capitulation, I’m never going to purchase their approval otherwise. In fact, I have no coin they would ever accept. Even if I did, their approval is as conditional and difficult to hang onto as their love has always been.
One big difference between Christian!Cas and ContentedNone!Cas is that now I don’t GAFF if I have Christians’ approval or their love.
It’s so funny to me that Christians overused judgmentalism and nastiness to the point where their efforts to wound and control me stopped working entirely and began to backfire.
Choosing parenthood represents an ultimately selfish act. And that is 100% okay.
So does choosing non-parenthood. And that’s also 100% okay.
People are a delightful mix of selflessness and selfishness. Overall, no matter our beliefs, goodhearted folks tend to navigate through life the same way: pursuing happiness in ways that won’t harm anybody else, putting aside our own desires for brief spells and for causes we care about, and expecting the other people involved in those situations to do the same for us one day if they can. We understand and cooperate with the rules of social capital.
In this way, we maximize our own happiness while minimizing any harm done to others.
(But see endnote for an exploration of the Bizarro World definition of harm.)
The only people who have a problem with that philosophy are people who stand to benefit somehow from us putting ourselves through misery for their sake and benefit.
The Only Winning Move.
I’ve concentrated on Al Mohler’s essay lately for a very simple reason. He’s laid out exactly what his game is. Usually, toxic Christians have better sense than that. They try hard to keep the game and its rules as vague as possible. But he’s flat-out handed us his game-board:
If you do this thing, then you will get that objective. People who don’t do play are XYZ, and people who do are ABC.
He set out ground rules that we know aren’t what he actually plays by, and defined players and non-players in ways we know don’t really describe them. Thus, his game doesn’t correspond to reality at all.
Of course, this isn’t the only game nobody can win in Christianity. Heck, Christians aren’t even the only people who set up unwinnable games, especially around parenting.
No matter who sets them up or what their focus is, these games operate the way their game-masters want them to.
This ain’t no accident. This isn’t a bug.
It’s a feature.
Flipping Tables: A Viable Option.
If you ever get into a situation where you feel like there is just no way to win, if you notice inconsistently-applied rules, and you perceive win conditions that can’t be met by following the group’s rules, then please: start looking very hard at the game itself.
Then feel free to walk away from the whole table, if you can. After all, such a game doesn’t exist for your benefit.
NEXT UP: Super Special! Then, we ask an important question that Christians tend to avoid answering. See you soon!
Inb4 Christian quibbles about what constitutes harm: I know Al Mohler and his pals would squirm away from that obvious no-brainer of human interaction by claiming that opting out of parenthood represents real and lasting harm to, well, someone.
I’ve been told exactly that in the past: that rejecting motherhood will harm me in various emotional ways, that it’ll harm future generations of humans by limiting the population, that it’ll harm their god’s divine plan, etc. Obviously our planet doesn’t need 7 billion people on it, making that threat hilariously off-base. Even if he were real, an omnipotent god’s plan can’t possibly be disrupted by someone refusing to breed. And I know myself better than any Christian rando ever could, so I know it would have damaged me in innumerable ways to have had children.
They’re not going to be able to point to real harm, however. Choosing the childfree life costs less money, not more. It won’t impact my health, and it takes nothing tangible away from anybody else because nobody is entitled to any product that comes out of my body. Not my bones or blood, nor my eggs or eyes or organs, and most especially not my labor in building and gestating fetuses for the Republic of Gilead’s would-be masters.
If all they’ve got is “I feel entitled to babies from you,” “my invisible friend will be upset,” and “but but but you might be sad later,” that’s their problem. Not mine. (Back to the post!)
Gossip in church: Remains endemic. I do see many demands for harsh punishment for those who gossip. It might actually happen occasionally. But if pastors eject gossips from their churches, they certainly don’t do it often. (Back to the post!)
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