Regarding the Nashville Statement

abominable snowmen

Abominable Snowmen

[Recently, a who’s who of wealthy Evangelical assholes decided to publish a statement reaffirming Christian patriarchal, heteronormativity and it has been making some rounds online.  Not surprisingly, it has provoked a renewed intensity within the back-and-forth war of words and exegesis that goes on endlessly between Liberal and Conservative Christians.  I am not a Christian but I once was and since a number of my friends and people whom I try to serve at my work are queer (or Christian or both) I thought I would offer the following theses.]

In Deut 5, the Bible stipulates that if two brothers reside together (this could mean the same region rather than the same home) and one of them dies with no son, the living brother is to marry the dead brother’s wife, so that he can have sex with her in hopes of producing a son who will bear the name of his brother.  If the living brother refuses to do this, the local elders are to try to convince him to do it and, if he still refuses, the dead brother’s wife has full permission to remove his sandal (denoting possibly her liberation from him or his shame or both or neither?), spit in his face, and then diss his whole household.  Granted, this applies specifically to the Levites but since Protestants believe in the priesthood of all believers, well, it seems it should apply to them in the new covenant.

Or, you know, we might want to conclude that, hmmmm, we’re not really comfortable boning down with our brother- or sister-in-laws after the death of a sibling or spouse and decide, yeah, let’s give this law a pass even though it is nowhere refuted in the New Testament.  Furthermore, the passage immediately after this one is about the punishment for a woman who saves her man from a fight by grabbing his opponent by the balls (“you shall cut off her hand; show her no pity”), so it’s probably a safe bet to say, yeah, those were different times.  Really different times.  I’m cool with not doing that now even if the good ol’ Word of God doesn’t tell me I have permission to not do that anymore.

Thesis One: There’s some really weird shit in the Bible and it’s okay to just ignore it and not take it seriously as a guide for contemporary sexual ethics.

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“Desire full stop is always the desire of the Other”: Reflecting on Representations of Female Sexual Desire in Belle de Jour, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Under the Skin

[The following contains triggers due to its explicit discussion of sexual violence as represented in various texts.]
[Belle de Jour] is possibly the best-known erotic film of modern times, perhaps the best.  That’s because it understands eroticism from the inside-out – understands how it exists not in sweat and skin but in imagination. ~ Roger Ebert
[I was] very exposed physically… I felt they showed more of me than they’d said they were going to… There were moments when I felt totally used.  I was very unhappy. ~ Catherine Deneuve, Séverine in Belle de Jour
This is wrong, but holy hell is it erotic. ~ Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Introduction: Engaging Representations
In the following reflection, I want to try to carefully think about female sexual desire as it is represented in two remarkably similar texts: Luis Buñuel’s award-winning 1967 film, Belle de Jour (BDJ), and E. L. James’ best-selling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey (FSG).  I hope to be clear from the outset that what I am trying to think about are these representations of female sexual desire and not female sexual desire as it is experienced by any specific person. Consequently, the comments that follow are not at all intended to try and police female sexual desire as such – I do not think there is any basis whatsoever for me, a cis-gendered person who has gotten by just fine performing maleness, to say what it is or is not permissible for women (or others) to desire in sexual fantasies.  The topic I am considering here are these representations of female sexual desire, how they were communicated, and how they have been received.
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Calling Violence Love: Again on Evangelicals and Sexuality

What follows contains some references to sexual violence and may trigger some readers, who may not want to read any further because of that.  I understand.  That said, this is gonna be a bit long and a bit of a rant so buckle up.]
I spend very little time engaging with Conservative Evangelical voices or blogs these days.  Mostly, I find the folks in that community are closed to open conversation and self-reflection and all too often seem to actually enjoy reveling in stupidity (sadly, this is just as true of many of their “intellectuals” as it is of the lay people, as evidenced by skimming through the material presented here or here).  Frequently, they remind me of the blind dwarfs that C.S. Lewis writes about in The Last Battle — no matter what you do or say, they will remain convinced that the mud they are eating is the most wonderful food they have ever devoured.  When that’s the case, it’s best to just leave them be.
The problem is that a good many of the things that they believe actually end up causing harm to other people.  It’s one thing when they choose to sit in the dark eating mud by themselves — it’s another thing when they try to imprison another person in the dark with them and force feed mud to that person.  All too often, it is the children of Evangelicals who experience the brunt of this violence firsthand.
Over the years, one of the ways in which I have seen that violence enacted by Evangelicals towards their own children is the way in which Evangelicals have responded to children who identified with a form of sexuality that falls outside of the boundaries established by heteronormativity (for ease of reference, I will use the umbrella term “queer” to refer to this group, as that seems to be more of a norm within scholarship and is less unwieldy than acronyms like LGBTTIQQ2S).  All too often, in my work with homeless and street-involved young adults and teens, I have discovered that the primary reason why the individual before me was homeless was because he or she was kicked out by his or her good Christian parents because he or she identified as queer.  Often this “kicking out” was also accompanied with physical violence (and sometimes sexual violence).
Anyway, all that to say that one of the few Evangelical blogs that I do read on a semi-regular basis recently posted a link to a post by somebody named Stephen Altrogge.  This post is called: “What I Would Do If My Daughter Told Me She Was Gay” [NB: since I first began working on this draft, my computer now tells me that Altrogge’s blog is a virus risk so you may not want to follow the link — I quote the entire post in what follows below].
I think Stephen is trying to distance himself from the gay-bashing violence that we’ve all seen Evangelicals practice, so he does not say that he would beat or rape or disown his daughter and throw her into the gutter if she came out to him.  That’s good.  Instead, he takes time to try and appear sensitive and loving.  Unfortunately for Stephen, this is also the way in which fathers who beat or rape or disown their queer children like to appear in public — and when you’re dealing with kids all too often it’s the parents who are able to manipulate and control the ways in which other view and understand the situation.  Be that as it may, I’m willing to give Stephen the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s assume he is more loving than a lot of Evangelicals and let’s assume he won’t beat or rape or disown his daughter… that doesn’t discount the possibility that he is a terrible father.  As C. S. Lewis wrote in God in the Dock:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Let’s keep that in mind as we turn to a more detailed analysis of what Altrogge wrote.
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Who is the True Neigbour? Discussing Sexuality with Evangelicals

In all my time within the GLBTQ community, I have never once felt rejected or discriminated against because of my (hetero)sexual orientation or my (Christian) religious beliefs.  Even though most members of the GLBTQ community have had extremely negative, oppressive, or hurtful encounters with people who are (most often) straight, male Christians, I have never felt judged or discriminated against because of how others who look like me have acted.  Far from it — I have always felt welcomed by members of the GLBTQ community, and have always felt as though I was respected for believing what I do.
Perhaps this was most evident during the time when I was volunteering at a drop-in centre for male and transgendered sex workers.  In the ten year history of this centre, I was the only straight male volunteer and the only Christian volunteer as well.  This was not because the centre discrimated against straight males or against Christians — far from it, many of the sex workers who came to the drop-in were both straight and Christian, and I was embraced with open arms by the other volunteers — rather, I suspect that this was because Christians tend to keep the hell away from the GLBTQ community in general, and from male and transgendered prostitutes in particular (because, you know, helping female prostitutes lets Christian men feel like macho/noble knights in shining armour and all that, whereas male prostitutes are just a bunch of ‘faggots’ or something like that).
In sum, even though I have my origins in an oppressive group that has deeply and personally wounded many people within the GLBTQ community, I have still been treated with respect, greeted with openness, and welcomed with love.
In contrast, when I have spoken of my respect for members of the GLBTQ community, and of my faith that these expressions of human sexuality are a part of God’s wonderful and ongoing creative activity within the world, I have been treated very differently by many who claim to be followers of Jesus.  Far from being treated with any respect, I have had my words twisted beyond recognition, I have been called everything from a ‘heretic’ and a ‘schismatic’ to a ‘bully’ and a ‘dog’, and I have listened as those who have stated these things have compared my gay friends to pedophiles, murderers, rapists, and people who have sex with animals.  There has been little to no respect shown here.  No openness.  No embrace.  No love.
In all of this, recalling Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, it has become pretty obvious to me as to which group in my life has acted as a true neighbour to me.  Members of the GLBTQ community are those who have acted as the ‘Good Samaritan’ — a person from an oppressed minority who shows Christlike love, even for a member of the oppressive majority.  Unfortunately, members of Conservative Evangelicalism have acted, at best, like the Priest and Levite who pass by the wounded and, at worst, like the robbers who beat others and leave them for dead.

Capitalism and Homosexuality

In certain Left-leaning Christian circles, it is not uncommon to hear the claim that the current attention being given to homosexuality, is due to the ways in which capitalism impacts our self-perception. Capitalism, so this argument goes, leads us to treat our bodies as yet another commodity. Consequently, forms of sexuality that were previously considered immoral are now treated as amoral markets open for consumers. To quote Žižek once again (a frequent dialogue partner these days), the assertion is made that ‘capitalism tends to replace standard normative heterosexuality with a proliferation of unstable shifting identities and/or orientations’ (In Defense of Lost Causes, 435). Of course, the conclusion that is drawn by the Christians who make this sort of argument is that resisting homosexuality is part and parcel of our resistance to capitalism.
I would like to challenge this argument, for I believe that it is overly simplistic and, therefore, misconstrues the relationship between capitalism and homosexuality.
What is we need in order to understand the relationship between capitalism and homosexuality is a more complex understanding of capitalism itself. Specifically, we need to ensure that we retain the tensions inherent to capitalism that are posited by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
About a year ago, not knowing much about Deleuze and Guattari (except that they were quoted by some of my favourite contemporary theologians), I decided to sit down and work my way through Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus (in retrospect, this probably wasn’t the easiest way to become familiar with these authors, and I found a great deal of assistance in Brian Massumi’s ‘user’s guide’ to this series). As I fought to understand what Deleuze and Guattari were talking about, one of the things I struggled with the most was their understanding of capitalism. In some passages, they seemed to speak very highly of it, in other passages they seemed totally opposed to it. It was only after some time that I realised that this was because Deleuze and Guattari were expressing a view of capitalism that was more nuanced that a good many on the left (take Naomi Klein as an example) and a good many on the right (say Friedman and Fukuyama).
Thus, on the one hand, Deleuze and Guattari argue that capitalism is a positive development because it reveals that a good many things that were previously considered ‘natural’ were, in actuality, ideological constructs that were used (amongst other things) to sustain unequal distributions of power within society. Hence, capitalism demystifies a good many of the ‘norms’ we take for granted, and demonstrates that they are exploitative human constructs (what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as ‘overcodings’).
However, on the other hand, Deleuze and Guattari demonstrate the ways in which capitalism betrays itself, and functions as an hegemonic movement, which forcefully inscribes a monetary form of ‘overcoding’ into all aspects of life and transforms desire into a reactive, disciplined force (rather than allowing it to continue on as the productive and creative force that it truly is). Consequently, while noting the positive aspects of capitalism — which demonstrate, in a properly Marxist fashion, that the seeds for the destruction of capitalism are inherent to capitalism itself — Deleuze and Guattari are ultimately interested in moving beyond capitalism (for, as Deleuze once said in an interview on this topic: ‘Capital, or money, is at such a level of insanity that psychiatry has but one clinical equivalent: the terminal stage’).
Now, the significance of this more nuanced understanding of capitalism is that it prevents us from being able to simply relate something to capitalism, and then brush it off as negative, immoral, or perverse. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, many Left-leaning Christians do precisely this (this is especially evident amongst the new-ish Christian Left that is emerging from Evangelicalism). Stated simply, they argue: (1) contemporary homosexuality is connected to capitalism; (2) capitalism is bad; therefore, (3) homosexuality is bad.
However, the counter-argument could be made that homosexuality, and the heightened attention currently being given to this subject, is actually one of the positive outworkings of capitalism. Thus, rather than reading the heightened attention being given to homosexuality as a sign of the commodification of our bodies and the loss of a stable identity, the current attention being given to homosexuality can be read as a manifestation of the ways in which capitalism has revealed the artificial ideological aspect of prior ‘norms’ and judgements regarding that which is said to be ‘natural’. It reveals how prior standards of heterosexuality were simply an exploitative power-play rooted, not in nature, but in the desire to dominate others.
The lesson to be learned in all of this is that those of us who wish to resist capitalism must ensure that we have a properly nuanced understanding thereof, lest we end up rejecting that which we should be affirming, or affirming that which we should be rejecting.

A Supranatural Sexuality: Further Problems for Those Who Argue "from Nature"

In my recent comments on homosexuality, I attempted to demonstrate that arguments based upon the ‘naturalness’, or lack thereof, of homosexuality cannot be based upon Gen 1-2, when we take those texts at face value. Rather, those who read Gen 1-2 as a condemnation of gay unions, tend to filter the text at hand through the lens of a particular (and rather simplistic) reading of Ro 1. According to these exegetes, Ro 1 suggests that homosexuality is unnatural, and therefore immoral.
Now here is an interesting idea.
Paul’s comments about the ‘unnatural’ nature of homosexuality are based upon his experiences as an observant Jew, living within the diaspora, during the first century CE. From this perspective, I suspect that a case could be made that Paul’s comments about what is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ are based upon his observations of nature. That homosexuality would be considered ‘unnatural’ is just as obvious as, oh, the fact the men should have short hair and women should have long hair (1 Cor 11.14-15: “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?”).
This leads to two further ideas.
(1) Those who wish to cling to the ‘natural’ argument in Ro 1, need to demonstrate how this ‘natural’ argument is more significant, long-lasting, useful, or whatever, than the ‘natural’ argument Paul makes in 1 Cor 11. (Good luck with that!)
(2) Those who wish to cling to the ‘natural’ argument in Ro 1, now do so against what we have observed in nature. Now this is interesting because, if I am correct that Paul believed that the unnaturalness of homosexuality was actually easily observable in nature, then this position risks contradicting itself. You see, it is now clear that (for many people) homosexuality is not a choice, and homosexuality has also been well documented within nature, and within the actions of other species. In response to these observations, those who wish to assert that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’ simply assert that these things are signs of the truly pervasive nature of the fall. But note what then occurs: (a) that which is ‘natural’ is increasingly defined by that which exists outside of the realm of nature — and so talk of the ‘natural’ is increasingly supranatural (i.e. there is essentially no proof from nature — say the discovery of a ‘gay gene’ or whatever — which would then be convincing to those who hold this position); and (b) Paul’s method of argumentation is reversed and, seemingly, discounted. Paul makes an argument based upon his observations of what appears to be obvious in nature, and now some Christians wish to affirm Paul’s argument while simultaneously arguing that we should not make arguments based upon our observations of what appears to be obvious in nature!

Some (brief) Follow-Up Regarding the Blessing of Gay Unions

Well, I’ve been out of town for awhile, but hope to return to writing soon. Until then, I thought I should mention the extended discussion I’ve been having with a couple of Evangelical fellows on another blog, wherein one fellow wrote a response to the thoughts that I recently recorded about Gen 1-2.
Here’s the link:
Be warned — if you support gay unions, or are gay yourself, you might end up being rather offended but what some of these other fellows have to say, so read at your own risk. That said, feel free to jump into the trenches with me!

Gay Marriage — Why Arguments based upon the 'Order of Creation' in Gen 1-2 are Faulty

Some Christians argue that the first few chapters of Genesis offer conclusive proof against homosexual marriages. They suggest that the relationship of Adam and Eve, prior to the “Fall”, is the ideal model of an human sexual relationship and so, even though we now live in a fallen world, the relationship of Adam and Eve continues to set the standard for our sexuality. This, they argue, is the original, and good, ‘order of creation’, and this is the order that we must follow.
Boiled down into more polemical, popular discourse, this is the theological argument that underlies the assertion: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Duh!”
Granted, the popular rhetoric is a little more offensive (although, it should be noted, the original argument is also offensive to a good many people), but it does a good job of highlighting how facile this position might end up being.
So, to be clear, I don’t find this argument from Genesis and the ‘original order of creation’, to be at all convincing. Here’s why.
(1) What was created in the beginning was good; it was not perfect.
Christians do not look back on some primordial “golden age”. The garden was a good beginning, but it was only a beginning. There remains a trajectory to be followed, a story to be developed, a telos to be pursued. Or, stated more simply, the middle — the process wherein the good is transformed, expanded, and refined — and the end — wherein the good is consummated — have not yet occured.
[Furthermore, Gen 1-2 is not even the beginning that matters the most in Christian Scripture. The central beginning for the New Testament is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus (coupled with the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost), and the central beginning for the Old Testament is the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. These are the beginnings that are the most formative for the people of God (granted, the beginning related in Genesis is important, but even this bit of theological poetry is crafted by authors who have the exodus in mind).]
Thus, Christians hold to a linear, not cyclical view of history. We’re not simply going back to where we started, we’re moving on from there to something better.
(2) As the good pursues this trajectory, there is a great deal of room for creativity and innovation.
Yes, the order created in the garden was good, but there is a great deal of room for creativity, innovation, and additions — all of which can be equally good — to this order. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the way in which the garden of Genesis gives way to the city, the New Jerusalem, of Revelation. If we were simply clinging to the original ‘order of creation’, then we would be obliged to continually try to ‘get back to the garden.’ The city would have to be seen as a perverse addition to God’s good order, an addition that would have to be condemned and, ultimately, destroyed. However, despite the many critical things that Scripture has to say about cities, the city itself is caught up into God’s good order.
The same could be said of other innovations — music, architecture, even clothing, all of these things were absent in the garden but are incorporated into the biblical vision of the consummation of creation. In the end, we’re not going to be walking around nude — even though we were orginally nude, and even though our current justifications for clothing will have disappeared; clothing is an innovative, and good, addition to God’s order.
(3) There is nothing in Genesis 1-2 to prevent us from considering homosexuality as one of these creative and good innovations.
Here a few subpoints must be made:
(3a) By arguing that homosexuality can be considered a creative and good innovation, I am not arguing that homosexuality is a ‘choice’. Granted, sexuality is a notoriously difficult thing to figure out, but I am of the opinion that both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ effect us in this regard. For some people, I suspect that homosexuality is something of a choice, for other people, I know that it is not. Consequently, I would suggest that the fact that many are ‘born gay’ (i.e. are gay by nature) is simply a reflection of God’s ongoing and innovative creativity in the world.
After all, to call God, ‘Creator,’ is not simply to assert that God created all things ‘in the beginning.’ Rather it is to assert that God is continually creating us anew, continually sustaining his creation, continually giving birth to new life, continually offering us good gifts, and so on and so forth. God is the God of creation, and new creation, and Genesis 1-2 gives us no reason reject homosexuality — it could simply be a part of God’s creative activity that continues after Genesis 1-2. Indeed, it could be one of the good gifts that God has given us!
Thus, even those (the minority) who ‘choose’ homosexuality, have not done anything wrong. They too are simply engaging in an act of creative, and good, innovation — and are mirroring God’s actions by doing so.
(3b) Inevitably the question of children is raised at this point. Gay couples, it is argued, cannot procreate, and so homosexual relationships must be considered illicit (or at least subpar) because God intends marriage, and sex, to be a part of the process of reproduction, and of fulfilling the mandate to ‘fill the earth and subdue it.’
Now, let us recall that the creation mandate itself is one that is good, but not perfect. That is to say, it is not one that applies at all times, in all places, to all people. If this was the case then infertile people shold be prevented from marrying (or their marriages should be considered subpar), and the whole idea of sex as an expression of intimate love, and as an experience of pleasure, becomes problematical. Yes, marriage is a good place for sex to occur, but sex isn’t something we practice solely in order to have children (and those who would suggest otherwise had better take another look at Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7). Those who can’t have children, and those who are uninterested in having children, are still free to practice sex. Thus, I believe that gay marriages should be blessed by the Church. A creative, and good, innovation.
Furthermore, it should be noted that, at this stage of history, the earth is rather amply ‘filled.’ This was not the case when the events of Genesis occurred, nor was it the case at any other time in biblical history. When a people, and a community, is struggling for survival, having kids is pretty important (although, even in this situation, not having kids can be a good act of faith). When a people, and a community is well-established, things change. Thus, I think couples, be they hetero- or homosexual, are now free to not have kids.
Indeed, there are now so many kids who do not have families, that the creation mandate, when applied today, might be to adopt children rather than having our own. Why bring more children into the world when so many children are unloved today? Why not offer ourselves to these unwanted children? Isn’t the choice to have children, rather than adopt children, simply an expression of selfishness — of only wanting to love what is mine? It very well might be.
Of course, if this is how we approach the having and raising of children, it should quick be noted that homosexual couples, can offer a home that is just as healthy, and just as loving, as heterosexual couples. Thus, I believe that gay couples should be able to adopt children. Another creative, and good, innovation.
In conclusion, I end with one of Paul’s doxologies (for the recognition of God’s creative, and good, innovation should always lead us to worship). Romans 11.33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

An Aside on Race and Gender

In combatting racism, it is not enough to become “colour-blind.” Such an approach assumes that people of all races have an equal chance to “make it” in our society, thereby maintaining the fiction that society itself is neutral when it comes to matters of race. Thus, the “colour-blind” approach ignores the very real, and ongoing, structural evils that confront black people in the United States, Native people in Canada, and so on. In such a situation, one cannot become colour-blind. Rather, one must become aware of the ways in which the structures of our society are deeply rooted in racism. One must see colour, instead of ignoring it, if one is to truly offer an alternative. The solution to racism is not ignoring race, it is “Black Power” or “Native Pride” or whatever other movements embrace an awarenes of race, instead of side-lining race altogether.
Similarly, in combatting patriarchalism and sexism, it is not enough to espouse a “gender-neutral” approach (say in one’s writings). Once again, such an approach assumes that society, and its structures, have adopted a gender-neutral approach, and thus all that remains is for each individual to become gender-neutral. This is a lie. Society, and its structures, still perpetuate a consistent gender bias (to state it mildly; if you want a stronger proof of this, look up the statistics on the prevalence of sexual violence in Canada). Thus, the solution to patriarchalism and sexism is not gender-neutrality — after all, there can be no neutrality in such things, one is either for, or against, the oppressed. Rather, the solution is “Feminism” and other liberating movements that take gender seriously.
You see, when we try to take an enlightened approach to things and say, “oh, things like race and gender don’t mean anything to me — they don’t have any impact on how I view people,” we have actually become complicit with the oppressors and bought into the myth of “equal opportunity” that they have sold us. For as long as people are oppressed because of things like race and gender, then those things should matter very much to us. Otherwise, we run the risk of thinking we are “radical” or “loving” when, in actuality, we are perpetuating systemic evil.
Ultimately, I think that the key to all of this is not treating things like race and gender as primary ontological categories, but as ideological social constructs that are used and abused by those who seek to influence the formation of our life together. Hence, they are both relativized and, at the same time, taken with deathly seriousness. Yes, we are all God’s creatures; yes, we are all brothers and sisters and (by hopeful implication) child-heirs of God. Yes, in that light things like race and gender appear to be inconsequential… BUT in the very real socio-political and economic realm of our contemporary life together, things like race and gender are used in crucial, and often brutal and death-dealing, ways. Therefore, we need to also take these things seriously.
Thus, we once again discover that the proper way forward is revealed by maintaining the eschatological tension upheld by the New Testament.

Men and the "Naturalness" of Lust (a rant)

I recently spent a week visiting a friend who was house-sitting for a family from her church and I noticed a copy of Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation on one of the bookshelves. Given the popularity of the “Every Man’s Battle” movement in Evangelical circles I thought I’d take a look at it to see what all the fuss was about. So, over the course of the week, I skimmed my way through the whole book.
What a complete waste of time. Every Young Man’s Battle is absolute drivel that, at times, drifted into insanity (for example, as proof of the dangers of watching what basically amounted to anything other than a Disney Cartoon, the authors share a “testimony” from a fellow who gave into the temptation to look at more explicit things. This fellow ends up watching TV with his sister-in-law one night, and she falls asleep laying on the floor in front of the TV… wearing a pair of short shorts. So what does this guy, who has already “opened himself to temptation,” end up doing? He masturbates right then and there while looking at his sister-in-law’s ass! Let me be clear: this is not the result of watching movies that are rated PG-13, hell, it’s not even the result of flipping through a dirty magazine — this guy needs serious professional help, and cutting down on his TV and movies isn’t going to do the trick. The fact that the authors suggest that there is a natural progression from watching such movies to lusting uncontrollably after family members is nuts — and the fact that so many Evangelicals are probably nodding their heads as they read through this is just as nuts). How is it that so many awful books end up becoming so popular with Christians? Just look at the reviews that this book got at (and don’t get me started on things like The Prayer of Jabez or the Left Behind series!).
However, the thing that probably upset me the most from my skim through this book was found in the Section entitled “How We Got Here” in the Chapter entitled “Just By Being Male.” Basically this chapter argues that the reason why so many Christian men struggle with sexual issues is because it is natural for men to struggle with those things — it is a part of their maleness. Now, this argument is pretty common in Christian circles (even beyond Evangelical circles) and it’s about time we did away with it.
You see, struggling with sexual issues is not just part of being male. “Lust” is not an ontological issue, it is a cultural one — it is not related to our being, but to the way in which we are shaped and formed by our society. The truth is that there have been cultures where lust and sexually related crimes hardly existed at all. I think, for example, of the early encounters of Christian missionaries with some of the tribes in the South Pacific. Very little, if any, clothes were worn by the members of these tribes but people were not viewed as objects to be lusted after, and so things like sexual crimes were basically nonexistent. It was only after the missionaries began demanding that these people wear clothes — thereby imposing the idea that the female body is ever always an object of male lust — that sexual crimes came into being.
Indeed, there still are cultures today where lust is, by and large, not an issue. I think of the experiences of a woman I know who has spent several years living in the United Arab Emirates. One of the things that has most impressed her there is the fact that the men have never made her feel like they were seeing her, or treating her, as a sexual object. Far from it, she has feels like she has been treated with respect by all the men she has met there.
Therefore, we need to realise that the reason why lust seems so universal in men (Christian or otherwise) in our society is because we are culturally conditioned to view women as sexual objects — as objects that exist for the gratification of whatever desires men might have. This has nothing to do with the nature of masculinity, and a lot to do with patriarchy, advertising, and capitalism. Thus, to argue that such a “battle” is “natural,” is to simply reinforce the structures that perpetuate the sexual objectification of women. Basically, Christian men are fighting the wrong battle. Instead of learning how to deal with something that is said to be a part of who they are as men, they need to learn how to resist the Powers that have led them to believe that something so unnatural is natural.
Furthermore, when we learn that this is a cultural battle, we also realise that this popular way of thinking continues to be a veiled excuse for the way in which men sexually objectify women. When we deny the “naturalness” of this perspective, we set a necessarily higher standard for ourselves. One way leads us to say “This is just a part of who I am and so I’ve got to keep struggling with it” whereas the second way says, “This is not a part of who you are so you better get to a place where you don’t struggle with it.” (Of course, if Christian men are to get to a place where they don’t struggle with these things then the Church needs to learn to reform our desires in a way that overcomes the Powers of patriarchy, advertising, and capitalism.)
Finally, what also upsets me about this way of thinking is that it is so androcentric. It presents men as the casualties in this war — it is the purity of the male mind that is at stake. However, in reality, it is the wholeness of the female person that is most at stake, and it is usually the female body that pays the greatest, and most painful, price in all of this. Consequently, I have learned that encounters with women who have found the strength to share their stories — stories of the ways in which the have suffered because of the lust of men — are the most effective way of transforming the way in which Christian men relate to women. Unfortunately, for as long as we see our lust as “natural” we guarantee that such stories will not be shared with us. Such a way of thinking marks us as an unsafe audience — who wants to talk about being raped with a fellow who thinks that the desire to rape is a natural part of being a man? And so, even though one out of every three women in North America has been sexually assaulted, most Christian men don’t seem to know any who have been.