The open mic thread is where you have the floor and can raise or discuss issues of your choice. There is no such thing as off-topic here. The comments of this thread are free for you to:
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Over to you!
Earlier open mic threads: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.
Today seems to be the day for feminist reflections on sexual ethics:
Women Need to Talk, Men Need to Ejaculate?
Christian, or Feminist?
Thoughts on either of the above?
The pendulum seems to be swinging from purity being super important to being ‘meh’ or redefined to the point of meaninglessness – this is in reference to the first article which I just quickly skimmed. While unhealthy obsession with anything, including purity, is bad, I really think sexual ethics are getting the short shrift lately.
Very much agreed.
A lot of so-called purity culture is weird, creepy and un-Christian. But, then again, compared to what?
I find that a lot of these conversations lack a solid and thorough understanding of what marriage is even supposed to be. I guess part of the blame is the purity-cult that has a poor understanding of sacraments and how sex, as a part of the many things in marriage, is a mysterious reflection of Christ the King and His people.
One sorely missing factor is any discussion of fidelity. In the Torah, if a man has sex with a woman out of wedlock, he is bound to marry her. This isn’t about purity, but responsibility. Men can’t just be with women without owning up to the fact that he ought to provide. There is little discussion about the intent of commitment, loyalty, provision etc. in any of these discourses.
Then of course, there’s the dichotomy of public-private that foolish individualism relishes in. Reality speaks differently. Whether Christian, Pagan, Atheist, or Muslim, anyone who breaks off a relationship effects her social circle. It’s not ‘religious guilt’ that makes people wary of sex with friends or sex with co-workers. It’s not a ‘purity-cult’ that breaks friendships because of relationships gone bad.
Anderson, and others in good American fashion, say, ‘oh well, that’s how life goes’. Living communally, we can’t be so high handed and flippant. The Gospel’s proclamation of forgiveness is more far-reaching and offensive to a connected people.
Where is any of this in the conversation? I’m tired of hearing (forgive the insensitivity) stupid personal testimonies of moving from darkness to darkness. There is no Jesus the Conqueror of Death confessed, all we see is buddy, be nice to people, Jesus that is cut right out of Dogma.
Well said, Cal. It seems to me that one of the most basic problems with the sort of revisionist sexual ethic propounded by Anderson and others is that it depends upon a society for which sex has been cut loose from procreation.
Excellent rant, Cal.
Thoughts on first article:
There are some really crude stereotypes about sex differences in the church. However, there are significant (sometimes massive) statistical differences between the sexes and even the most crude stereotypes usually have some reality that they point to.
Yes, the stereotypes are often highly recognizable because, like caricatures, they exaggerate distinctive features. Also, most of the critics of gender difference fail to take seriously the fact that we may enjoy accentuating marginal differences and even creating arbitrary new ones. In most human societies gender difference and gender roles are regarded as good things to be enjoyed, celebrated, laughed about, and wondered at. There is a sort of playful movement beyond the rigid demands of nature, as natural sexual difference is affirmed, welcomed, enriched, and elevated in the personal and cultural expression of gender. We know that the notion that men eat bacon and women eat muesli is ridiculous, for instance. It was never intended to function as a law, but as a means of entering into the playful spirit of the gift. This is just part of the humour and delight with which we greet the mystery of God’s making us male and female.
Where would stand up comedy be without sex differences?
As for the second article, my favourite Dianna Anderson moment was when she recommended the work of Jackie Friedman as an authority for Christians on sexuality. Friedman is known for extolling the virtues of picking up guys for casual sex on Craigslist.
Lol! Where did she do that?
Rachel Held Evans’ asked a bunch of bloggers to recommend books/writings on sex. If I recall, Matthew Lee Anderson recommended JPII and Roger Scruton in the same post.
Just to be clear, Dianna Anderson herself has never recommended picking people up on Craigslist.
Sorry, Jaclyn Friedman.
RHE post here.
I believe I may have introduced Ms. Anderson to Hauerwas in that very comment thread.
Interesting. I’m not seeing the link, though.
Last comment: I thought the Atlantic piece was pretty good. Anderson got to have her say, but the piece was appropriately skeptical.
Yes, it definitely has that in its favour.
Re: RHE link: I’m glad she included Matt Anderson.
I like Dan Allendar’s book.
I don’t recognize other titles, but this is hardly surprising, because I haven’t read many books on this subject.
I’m one of those boring people who thinks that what happens in intimate sexual relations is best kept private!
Having said that, I think it’s fine to discuss sexual ethics.
Re: the first article: all men?!
I’m one of those boring people who thinks that what happens in intimate sexual relations is best kept private!
Having said that, I think it’s fine to discuss sexual ethics.
I wrote ‘all men?!’ because I was trying to be subtle!
So here’s my un-subtle version – that must be one of the most gross over-generalizations I’ve come across for a while!
I just read Robin A. Perry’s book The Biblical Cosmos. There is nothing terribly new here to people who are familiar with Biblical scholarship, but it is really nice to have it all layed out in one place. The book is worthy of comparison with C.S. Lewis’ book on medieval cosmology, The Discarded Image.
Peter Leithart comments here.
Also read a very interesting book on aesthetics which takes Celine Dion as its starting point. Quite relevant to anyone interested in liturgy, one might think.
Re comments above about stereotypes, I am intrigued by the (sometimes unkind) ‘jokes’ about people who don’t fit the stereotypes, such as ‘hen-pecked husbands’ and women who ‘wear the trousers’. If there were no gender differences naturally and culturally, such ‘jokes’ would have no mileage!
Having said that, I do like some gentle humour about gender differences – for instance the indulgently expressed ‘complaint’ of some female friends about their ‘other halves’ : ‘When I moan, he thinks he has to something about it, but all I want to do is moan! I just want him to say, “Oh, that’s awful.” ‘ 🙂
Also, should mention that I just reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
A few thoughts:
1. The book’s regime seems sociologically underdetermined. A lot of the rather harsh restrictions on women in pre-modern societies make some sort of sense in context, but Atwood doesn’t seem to be aware of any of this. Limits on female movement in a place like Afghanistan make a whole lot more sense, for example, when you realize that basic social reality there, from time immemorial, has been unceasing war and banditry. Female acquiescence in such circumstances suddenly becomes more than understandable. The result is that the modern and pre-modern elements of the regime don’t seem to fit to terribly well.
2. Where are the siblings and extended family? Social isolation
3. Various statements in the book point to a highly Cartesian view of the body. Everyone in the book, including the feminists, view their body as a machine. There are disputes about who should control the machine, but the fundamental degradation has already taken place well before the theocrats show up, and is never challenged by anybody.
4. Though the novel is supposedly about the dangers of religious fundamentalism, it is shocking to note that there are no persuasively religious people in the book. None. Connections to Haidt and the WEIRD paper are obvious. See also my point number 3.
5. The theology of the regime seems cobbled together with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Compared to this Mormon interpretation of the Bible seems like plain reading. The backing of Southern Baptists (and maybe conservative Catholics) would seem to be necessary for any theocratic regime to come to power in America, yet it is hard to see them evolving towards anything like that portrayed in the book.
6. Nonetheless, as dubious as some of Atwood’s notions are, she fully commits to her fictional world. In the long term, the book may come to be seen more as bizarre Kafkaesque fantasy than realist social commentary. But that does nothing to diminish the book’s imaginative power.
Very helpful reflections, thanks!
Have you read it?
Yes, but not since high school.
Some excellent videos where she comments on religion here and here.
As a follow up to the Atlantic article, I read some excerpts from Diana Anderson’s book on Amazon, and what stands out is her extremely strident defense of liberal individualism. A lot of progressive Evangelicals and ex-Evangelicals tend to be rather reticent about their individualist tendencies (not surprisingly as their foil is the “conservative” Republican/Conservative tending modern Evangelical) and so they often talk quite a bit about community. Not Anderson.
A little of that comes out in the Atlantic article.
You also have to read her attack on Stanley Hauerwas, in which she dismisses his collectivist vision of Christianity as only the expression of his white, middle class male-ness, to believe it.
It takes considerable chutzpah to appropriate the black (or any other ethnic minority) experience in defense of a liberal individualism that denies any binding claims of the collective! Black people (like other minorities) don’t think of their people as a random collection of individuals who happen to be classified as black, and they certainly don’t think of their collective existence as some temporary and expedient vehicle for fighting white oppression. If I were a black person, I would be insulted at such gross disrespect for my heritage.
But then a white middle class liberal using minorities for their own purposes is hardly unique. It’s like she’ll say anything no matter how grossly contradictory, to get her way. Behold, the Will to Power.
Do these people have no shame?
At points like this, it seems to me that we are witnessing a conflict between the contemporary liberal focus upon ‘identity’ politics, which focuses upon individuals who have some particular trait in common, and the politics of civil rights, which focused upon the rights and historic and continuing oppression of a community of people.
It’s also interesting that she is just flat out in favour of pre-marital sex.
I really want to leave a comment explore what an articulation of such radical individualism says regarding Judaism, and circumcision in particular, but I restrain myself.
The more I think about it the angrier I get about this. Most (all?) non-white cultures are not individualist. You really need to at least minimally inform yourself about these cultures before you start speaking in their name.
I’ve been following these posts and whilst I think that taking a telescopic view of these matters is important, I also think a microscopic view matters, too. Individual people matter – I am coming out in sympathy with ‘the liberals’!Life is full of surprises!
I agree that the person is extremely important. One of my objections (or perhaps the ground of all my objections) is that keeping the individual free from demands made by the people, in fact, greatly improvises the individual. We do not know our selves fully, and only come to know our selves and our own desires as they are revealed to us by a group. (This is why the conversation about unity, which I dropped–sorry–is important to me.) And though it may, in some sense, be possible for an individual to derive at least some moral norms from an impersonal principle, rather than from a personal address, to insist that we do so is to cut us off from our neighbor–literally, to excommunicate us, or to circumcise away not our own flesh, but our neighbor–and so is lethal also to the person, who only lives in response to the command of love to God and neighbor.
It is in the command “Love”, and the given name, that we awake to ourselves, and are capable of responding to our lover. Without that command, we are enisled in the sea of life, with echoing straights between us thrown, mortal millions living alone. And as Arnold knew (who I’m quoting) Donne was once correct: Once no man was an island. Once every man was a piece of a continent. Now, because we seek to eliminate the demands of the collective, and the other, there is the unplumb’d, salt, estranging see between us all.
To put that another way, the person is important in all the stages of life, including when we are too young to will, and so to shape, and thus only capable of response to a command. And we are important even now in our listening and in our responding to a command and summons, in our being named. Indeed, to insist that they be able to choose is to cut our children off from that community, to make myself a God and throw the estranging see between them and me, and them and them, and them and their God.
The problematic nature of the position is perhaps best seen from the position of Judaism. If Judaism is correct (and on this point Christians agree with Jews), to receive the Commandment is, precisely, freedom. The Exodus was an Exodus to freedom, precisely in that it was an Exodus to Sinai, where freedom was on the tablets of stone. (And if St. Paul says it was bondage, it seems, this is not because of the commandment, but because of a lack of true hearing.) Integral to this freedom for the individual person is the circumcision: The growing up into the Torah. To refuse to shape the child with a command–to refuse to mar his body before can choose–is to cut him off from Torah, and so to return him to Egypt.
(And indeed, the more sinister nature of her position is also visible here: If we should be free to control our own body, free from external demands and from the demands of the community, then surely male infants have a natural right to protection from circumcision. That is, were her position consistently followed, Judaism must be outlawed. Fortunately, most adherents of that position are far better people than their position would suggest, and listening to the claim the Jewish community makes on the rest of us, would not attempt a forced conversion of the Jews to liberalism.)
This clearly means a lot to you. If anything I say here shows a misunderstanding of what you have said, I do apologise, and I hope you will put me right!
Firstly, I think I’d better clarify what I meant by ‘individual people’ in the post above, which I wrote when I was feeling tired! I was thinking of individual differences which are beyond our control, but which make us exceptions to a ‘rule’ in some way. For instance I can think of one example concerning the digestive system! On one occasion, when all five members of my family were living at home, I was violently sick. Our GP said it was food poisoning – but we’d all eaten the same food, and no one else was sick! I queried what the GP said and asked if it could be a bug. He insisted on the food poisoning diagnosis and said my ‘chemistry’ was different from that of other members of the family.(I wasn’t pregnant or on medication). I recovered, and no one else became ill. Supposing someone had decided that, according to some criteria, we were all the same – and had then suggested that I’d secretly eaten something that no one else had eaten? No one suggested that, but it made me wary of any broad generalizations about family groups, gender, race, social class and so on, and the criteria by which such groups are sometimes judged. There are so many individual differences.
I was not, when I wrote the above post, thinking of the individualism which rejects, for instance, the vital link between sexuality and procreation.
After that long explanation – I do tend to over-explain (sorry) – I am interested in your comments about Judaism and I wonder if this is part of your background? I have a friend who is a Messianic Christian and have learnt a small amount from her about modern Judaism , but I am generally not well-informed about it. Please fill me in!
‘…surely male infants have a natural right to protection from circumcision?’: I must say it makes me cringe to think of male infants being subjected to this, and I think young children and unborn children must be among the most disenfranchised human beings of all.
I may have more time to respond tomorrow (or perhaps later today), but quickly, I’m not at all bothered by your response, and didn’t at all intend to criticize your comment. 😀
I agree with your intuition, and was attempting to show that it’s extremely important for me too.
Thank you, Matt 🙂 I look forward to your next post!
I read the article on Anderson. The article itself is so vague as to be unhelpful in really articulating her position, but I’ve read enough of her blog to know what it is in substance. One question I would ask her is what, if anything, differentiates her feminist sexual ethic from secular feminist sexual ethics. This is one area where Christianity has perennially been at odds with the world, over different facets at different points in history. Removing all the biblical aspects of sexuality so as to make them “culturally bound” (whatever that ambiguous phrase is taken to mean) and “no longer applicable” leaves us with something that, frankly, most people wouldn’t recognize as Christian.
I’d be very interested to hear how she would address some of the issues that you raise.
I’ve started Leithart’s Deep Exegesis. I won’t comment too much on a book I haven’t read, but I did want to say how helpful the typological reading have been. Given that many passages in the OT taken as referring to Christ also refer to immediate events, it makes a lot more sense to think of them (or at least many of them) as prefigurings rather than straightforward predictions.
Should be “. . . how helpful the typological reading method has been.”
Postcolonial biblical studies -yay,may, qualifies may/yay, nonsense?
But I do have a query about one of your tweets: what does ‘gtfo’ mean? [ I wondered if it might be a bit rude 😉 ]
Its a strongly worded way of saying, get the heck out
Let’s just say that it wouldn’t be the first well from which I would seek to draw water.
I have relatively little time for contextual theologies. Largely because they typically tend to serve ideologies that are brought to the text more than they seek to understand the text itself. They can be worthwhile interlocutors at their best, but much of the contextual theology that I encounter does wilful violence to the text and I would prefer to spend my wasted time catching up on good TV.
I’ve engaged at length with very little contextual theology directly – but I’ve read an interesting book which reads the exilic texts thru a postcolonial/refugee studies lens, and I’ve found that approach fruitful for thought (less so for concrete theological ideas). I generally share your concern, tho – these approaches seem to not so much seen to address contemporary concerns from the biblical text (which is good) but rather make the biblical text fit into whatever give ideology, like you said.
See if Jon Levenson has anything on it. He wrote on Liberation Theology, so may have something here.
Just a comment and a question re: contextual theologies:
When I first became a Christian I was asked, in a home group, to read from Leviticus 21 about priests and defects. I struggled with reading it, because we were in an interregnum and due to advertise for a new rector – I started imagining the list of defects being included in the job description for the new rector! I find it difficult not to relate such passages in the scriptures to our current cultural context. At the same time, I want to understand the meanings of the passages in their scriptural contexts. I also want to reflect on what I think of as their ‘eternal meanings.’
What I want to ask you, please, is if you could give an example of a current ‘contextual theology’?
By ‘contextual theologies’ I am referring to forms of theology that take their starting point from contemporary contexts and identities. Examples would be things such as womanist theology, south-east Asian theologies, theologies written out of LGBT contexts and experiences, etc. These sorts of theologies have their place but they tend to be given much more importance in many quarters than they merit.
Thank you. – I’m having some pretty sobering thoughts about it.
Since I linked to the RHE post where people recommended the best books and authors on sexuality, I thought people might recommend some of the best books and authors they thought best on this topic.
I’ll throw out Oliver O’Donovan, JPII, Roger Scruton, J. Budziszewski and Robert P. George. Budziszewski is probably the best place to start.
Edward Feser recommends John C. Ford and Gerald Kelly (who wrote together), but I haven’t read.
Has anyone read anything that shows how the behaviour of ovaries/ova can be reflected in the behaviour of women, and how the behaviour of sperms can be reflected in the behaviour of men? I did read an article once, but I didn’t save it. It focussed on the acquiescent character of ova and the competitive, ‘out-going’ character of sperms.
Some of my own thoughts:
-ova yield to the monthly cycle created by God, a cycle that, until the menopause, repeats itself if no fertilization takes place
– ova do not compete with other
– ova do not leave a woman’s body in search of sperm
…and, only half in jest, ova do not feel sorry for themselves because they are alone in a dark place 🙂
I would be very wary of seeking a parallel in such a manner. If we did, we should at least give strong reasons for the correlation. It seems to me that the significant thing is not such a parallel, but the way in which the functioning of male and female parts in the human reproductive system establish each sex in a particular relationship to the other sex, to their offspring, and to their own bodies. This shows that there is a relationship between the behaviour of sperm and ovaries and the behaviour of male and females. However, the important thing is identifying some pattern of causation, rather than just speculative correlation.
For men, the sexual act is of short duration, occurs outside of our bodies, and the gestation of human infants occurs apart from us. Our bodies are primarily oriented outward, towards another body. By contrast, for women, sexual relations occur within the body and can lead to the conception and gestation of another human life—a human life that is also the child of another, a physical and personal expression of a physical and personal union—in the woman’s body. The woman’s body also expresses natural patterns of fertility in pronounced ways, alerting her to the meaning of her body as a site of life. The child is also fed from the woman’s body after its birth.
On account of these things, men and women relate to their own bodies and, consequently, identities differently. We naturally perceive a meaning in women’s bodies—and, hence, women—that we don’t see in men’s, and vice versa. Women’s bodies—and, hence, women as persons—are related to the bodies—and, hence, persons—of other human beings in ways that men cannot be. Mothers and fathers have different sorts of relationships to their children for this reason.
Thank you for your full and thoughtful response, and I am sorry I am so late getting back to you – I have just returned from visiting my daughter, her husband and their children.What you have described is what I believe to be God’s plan for marriage, procreation and families.
But when these patterns and natural rhythms are changed by artificial means, I think relationships between men and women, parents and children, also change. More significantly, I think our relationship with our Maker also changes.* I think you are probably aware of all the ‘artificial means’ I have in mind, and maybe also some I have not yet heard about.
*Or maybe it’s the other way round – maybe a rebellious attitude to our Maker spurs us to resort to ‘artificial means’?
P.S. My parents told me I always had ‘an enquiring mind’ and at times like this I just want my mind to go off duty for a while.
I haven’t found the article I mentioned, but I have found others about the ‘passive egg’ and the ‘aggressive egg’ and it seems to be a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ topic.
By going back to basics and musing about the ‘character’ of ova, I suppose I was just trying to take ‘nurture’ out of the picture for a while and focus on ‘nature’ as fundamentally as I could.
Then I moved on to thoughts about unnatural innovations such as ‘high-tech’ babies…so far removed from Psalm 139…
Correction: ova do not compete with other ova
Alastair, you do come up with some great links – I can’t keep up with it all but I’m enjoying the ones I’ve read 🙂
Re: your ‘That’s your opinion’ link: I just saw on my timeline another comment about fact and opinion.
Yes, it’s Year 8 stuff and I spent many hours with kids, newspapers and highlighter pens as we sorted out facts and. opinions.
Regarding moral values, I think we have to let them go as ‘opinions’.
Personally, I believe so deeply in Jesus Christ , the Son of God, that I feel that I know it as a truth and also as a fact – but it’s not a fact that I could prove to anyone else, so from the point of view of non-believers, it is an opinion.
With moral values we have evidence that, for instance, theft is a criminal offence, but we don’t have evidence that it is immoral – just lots of evidence that lots of people think it’s immoral!
One of my favourite examples of some of the most blatant opinions ( especially in *’red-top’ newspapers) is: ‘He drove like a bat out of hell!’. I am still bemused that such statements are sometimes counted as evidence in court!
* ‘red-tops’ were the only newspapers some of my pupils ever saw!
If it is the case that everyone is going to come before the judgment seat of Christ on the last day, isn’t it misleading to say that, if we can’t prove this to an unbeliever, then from their point of view, it is an opinion?
I think you mean mere opinion, as in, not fact. Of course, if you just mean they don’t believe it, that’s clear enough. But it is, nevertheless, a fact that will have momentous impact on them, whether they acknowledge it or not.
Is it a fact or an opinion that human activity is causing global warming that will be extremely detrimental to ourselves and the planet if we do not take significant steps to curtail our emission of greenhouse gasses? Well, there are certainly people who hold different opinions on whether or not that is true. And it can’t be strictly proven one way or the other: the climate is very complex system not perfectly understood. Still, (1) it might be that one opinion is more reasonable than the other, and (2) the truth is whatever it is independent of what people think, and what the truth is will make a difference to believers and unbelievers alike.
Exactly the same thing holds for religious truths, if there are any religious truths. Although I can’t strictly disprove the theory that the natural human tendency to believe in the divine (in some sense or other) is entirely delusional, I can say with some confidence that that’s less reasonable than the alternative. And among the wide variety of religions, the monotheistic traditions are the most reasonable, and between Islam and the Judeo-Christian tradition, the latter is more reasonable, etc.
None of this is to deny that there are plenty of occasions where it would be impolite and counterproductive to flatly assert that these are facts, when you know that others present do not believe them. (The same is true of global warming, the age of the earth, etc.)
As for moral values, the fact that nearly everyone thinks that theft is wrong is itself evidence that theft is wrong — because it is evidence that this belief is not accidental but natural to humanity. To be sure, I’m making the assumption that human belief in morality is not fundamentally a delusion. Similarly, in order to prove paradigm “facts” I need the assumption that the senses are generally reliable, that scientists are not involved in a massive conspiracy of misinformation, etc. But these assumptions are eminently reasonable. So much so that to reject them is wholly unreasonable, both in the case of well known empirical facts and well-known moral facts.
Thank you for your response.
I wrote a reply to you, but then lost the connection on my PC, so a brief reply for now.
In my post about opinions and facts I was referring to a post which mentioned the teaching about facts and opinions to schoolchildren.
I wish children could be given a third option for instance:
Is the statement ‘Theft is immoral.’
a) An opinion
or c) A fact?
Thank you for all the conversations here 🙂
God works in mysterious ways. I remain puzzled about many things but I have discovered answers to questions I hadn’t even thought of.
I now know why, in my brief study of Descartes years ago, I preferred the comment ‘I’m pink, therefore I’m spam’ to the fampis ‘I think, therefore I am.’
I now know why, when I was advised to take HRT, it felt ‘all wrong’ to me, and why I was so relieved when my neurologist advised against it. [ Robert Wilson, ‘Forever Feminine’, has been debunked. The menopause is a condition, not a ‘disease’ to be ‘cured’.]
For everything there is a season, and I can think of no good reason for not yielding to those seasons and rhythms.
This looks interesting!
Correction: …’famous ‘I think, therefore I am.’ !
I like “fampis”: It sounds like an mispronunciation designed to lightly mock.
Tres gentil, monsieur 🙂
I think the “Regarding Life” article articulates why I think it’s important to say that the bodily unity of, for instance, choral singing and silence is a more fundamental purpose of marriage than the physiological unity of sexual intercourse. Marriage, as distinct from sexual intercourse, IMO, exists so that when newones are born, they emerge out of a body of an other, into a bodily united community, a community whose bodily unity precedes the newone’s first bodily emergence inside the body of the mother, and indeed, the mother’s body is located in a bodily united community prior to, and throughout the child’s emergence. (At least, that’s the goal: We all achieve and fail to achieve this goal to various degrees.)
Characterizing the sexual act as bodily, to the exclusion of communal forms of bodily unity, it seems, reduces the body to physiology, therefore, reduces the body to some form of matter in motion, and plays into either the dialogical or the contractual models of personal interaction. That is, it cuts against the sort phenomenological account of the newone’s emergance, and continuation through life, articulated in the article, that I believe is very important.
(Though, on twitter, that sort of subtlety may be impossible.)
I think that you are failing to make some exceedingly important distinctions here and equivocating in a very dangerous manner.
For instance, there is a distinction between union of embodied persons achieved through and within the mediation of bodies and an actual union of bodies in themselves. It seems to me that, perhaps in an attempt to guard against a disembodied notion of general human relations or a notion of detached individualism—notions which both I and The Man Who Was very strongly resist—you are unwittingly eliding some distinctions that are of very great significance, especially in the current context.
One doesn’t have to be an extreme individualist or hold a liberal anthropology to recognize that, although permeable and porous in certain respects, our physical bodies are for the most part discrete entities. This is not a denial of the fact that the body is the great site of joining: where ‘inside’ connects with ‘outside’, ‘self’ connects with ‘world’, ‘subject’ with ‘object’. Nor is it a denial of the fact that our bodies are not blank slates, but bear the meanings of nature, culture, and tradition. Still further, it is not a denial of the fact that embodied human beings can be coordinated in united bodily action in song or in dance, for instance.
Rather, the point is that sexual union between a man and a woman is bodily union in a sense quite beyond any other sort of union that might claim that name. Marriage cannot be consummated in a conjugal sing-song. In singing I can use my body to enter into the union of song with other persons, a union which I experience as an embodied person. However, although this act may overcome my isolation, make me a part of something larger than myself with others, and cause my body to resonate with theirs, our bodies remain discrete throughout. By contrast, in the union of man and wife two halves of a single human reproductive system are joined together. Such a union exceeds the discreteness of the human body in a manner that merits the terms ‘one flesh‘ and ‘bodily union’. Even though the body is used to achieve and experience it, choral union is not bodily union.
Sexual union is not established by the shared intimacy of sexual acts (although that should be associated with it). It is not just the degree of intimacy that sets apart sexual relations from other actions within which we enjoy unity with others. Rather, it is the qualitative character of the act itself and the manner in which the very bodily roots of our personhood are involved.
Marriage is, of course, has sexual relations at its heart. Whatever we may believe about the dynamics of the newly married couple’s relationship with each other (I may never know if they engage in choral singing together), the most natural thing to believe is that they are having or will have sexual relations. This one particular form of bodily union lies at the heart of the rich tapestry of interwoven lives that the couple go on to develop. Marriage joins two people at the bodily root of their being so that out of their union a new community might arise, a community that expresses personal union in ever fuller ways. Sexual union alone would be like a stump, but without sexual—bodily—union what community exists isn’t deeply rooted.
The being of the child and the family arises out of this. Out of the private bodily union of man and wife the child can be conceived. The child is a physical expression of the fact of bodily union between its parents. The child also arises from a very unique form of bodily relation: the co-inherent relationship of the child with its mother. Mumford’s point (I’ve read the book in question) is not that we emerge from and into some generic ‘bodily united community’, but that we emerge from the very specific bodies of our mothers (and into the community of the family that has arisen from the bodily unity of our father and mother). It is the very specific—and intensely physical—form of bodily unity represented in pregnancy that Mumford uses to challenge liberal assumptions about the person. This is not because pregnancy is just one odd example among others of some prodigally applied phenomenon of ‘bodily unity’, but because the very relation that is fundamental to our constitution and emergence as persons cuts directly against the individualism of liberal anthropology.
And all of this is incredibly crucial, which is why we make such a point of it. In the present context the sui generis forms of bodily union between a man and a wife and between a mother and a child are under direct assault, by those who would present these as no more significant than any other forms (for instance, what is the difference between the ‘union’ involved in relations between a man and a woman and in relations between two men in your understanding?). It seems to me that in your understandable concern to affirm the embodied character of human existence and relations and the way that we are inter-dividuals more than we are individuals you are eliding distinctions of immense significance and depriving us of a vocabulary to express the uniqueness and especial significance of the forms of union that are most fundamental to the constitution of our natural relations and our emergence as persons.
Perhaps the issue is somewhat one of emphasis. I’m concerned with the numerous fixes and strategies for improvement (in education, in Churches, in life, in pregnancy, in society) that overlook that we are primarily embodied persons, throughout our lives, that dialogue and exchange, and programs, and science, and indeed, all of life grows from embodied roots—throughout our lives—and is directed toward embodied community and embodied dwelling in unity our brothers—be they brother Juniper or Brother Wind—a unity which is not “planned” or “built” or “made” but cultivated and enacted in song and silence and meal—forms of union of great importance, but often neglected in favor of made “unities”, and which all allow us, in some sense to “be touched” by our neighbor, for instance when his voice resonates my body and physically causes our singing to be one singing (not just separate actors singing the same pitch, but each singing through and because of the other).
Alastair and Matt- excuse me for chipping in!
When I read your most recent post, Matt, I thought: ‘Not only, but also’ – more about that later.
I may have got the wrong end of the stick completely about what you are saying, but you seem to be talking about brotherly unity via bodily experience. You have mentioned hearing and touch – being ‘in touch ‘ with our neighbours. In another post you mentioned eating together (taste, nourishment). I thought of other senses – seeing, smelling. I think there can be a sense of brotherly unity in contemplating together (for instance, a beautiful landscape/ seascape/ sunset and so on) and also in enjoying the perfume of flowers and plants together, perhaps on a group walk. These can all be shared experiences via bodily senses.
But they are no substitute for heterosexual relations in marriage, which is unique in that it can result in procreation. It’s possible to have conjugal ‘bodily unity’ with a spouse and also to have the kind of brotherly relations you have described – both with a spouse and also with other people in the Christian community.
I don’t think it’s an either/or matter – more ‘Not only, but also.’
I think I agree. I think that the physical union a new born has with his mother (and to a lesser degree, his father) is directed toward the sort of physical union that exists (among other places) in a monastery. A child’s capacity to form unions matures, and correspondingly, the unions also mature, and differentiate. But they’re all built on that foundation, and are developments of it, not departures from it. (Or perhaps more accurately, the union of a mother and of a father with their child is the same sort of union at the pinnacle of adult life—though we often substitute distractions—but in little.)
One of the points that I want emphasize is though thought and cognition are a part of adult life, they are not its foundation. We are physical, re-sonating, touching, listening beings, before we are thinkers. (How I can resonate—re-sound—someone else’s sound, how his sound can resonate in me and mine in him, together in unison with him, and not be united bodily with him confuses me. Our bodies are united in the action of sounding: Of singing.) The modern vision of homo cogitans is only a small part of the life of man, and not the most important. We are the sort of people that enter the world as newones bodily dependent on another’s body, and we remain that sort of person—one who forms relations that are, at root, physical, include passivity, and bodily dwelling together in unity, like oil on Aaron’s beard: That is, like our Spiritual life in the age to come—throughout our lives.
Yes, I also agree they aren’t a substitute for sexual relations. All the various activities, at the right time, are necessary for the full life of man.
I can see how in some contexts—at some times—it may be important to emphasize the physical unity in one of those, to the exclusion of another (for instance, I can see counseling a unwed couple or a quarrelous couple that sex without a common life together is not really bodily unity: It’s just consuming the pleasures the other provides, but that since the human body is animate, for their bodies to be in union, they must be animated in concert.) What I don’t understand is restricting “bodily union” not just in specific contexts, but in all contexts, to sexual unions and the union of pregnancy (and perhaps nursing).
Certainly a child’s relationship with a mother is a primary relationship and it begins as a physical one, with touch coming before thinking, and listening coming before speaking. But I think of this primary relationship as ‘bonding’, not ‘bodily union’ or ‘bodily unity’.It is a formative relationship and it does influence other relationships as we mature – I think adult friendships are also about bonding. But sexual relations in marriage are centred on the dimension of mature adult sexuality – a dimension that is not present in an infant’s ‘bonding’ with a mother.
I also believe that, in the process of maturing, we can, for various reasons, get ‘stuck’ at different developmental stages, and that this can result in difficulties and confusions in adulthood.
Freud is by no means my favourite psychologist, but I think there is some truth in what he wrote about ‘the oral stage’ ( breast-feeding) and I think that some people get ‘stuck’ at that stage and that this probably helps to keep some newspapers* and magazines in business …and maybe also cigarette manufacturers![ Mea culpa… I am an ex-smoker]
On this subject, one of my favourite books is ‘Healing the Eight Stages of Life’ by Sheila Fabricant and Dennis & Matthew Linn.(Christian writers)
But much though I love this book, for me it certainly doesn’t top the Bible and it certainly doesn’t top prayer 🙂
*’The Sun’ had a good run for its money with Page 3, didn’t it?!
One more thought – I think Alastair’s ‘Marriage cannot be consummated in a conjugal sing-song’ contains the quintessence of the difference between ‘bonding’ and becoming ‘one flesh’.
I think that even if we decide to say that the unity created in our various corporate realities is not bodily, it is still very much unity. “Bonding” is a bit to weak a term to express unity.
(Aside from that, I suspect that part of the difficulty may be different definitions of body.)
matt – I rest my case 🙂
Hi Alastair, you have addressed this to Matt but I have read it and I say Amen to most of what you have written, but…
I have not read the book but I have read the article. It seems to me that Mumford has differentiated between the individual identities of a pregnant woman and her unborn child in his argument in favour of abortion in some circumstances – something I see as a harmful rationalisation and an apparent contradiction of his condemning attitude to ‘liberal individualism’. I speak from the experience of five pregnancies ( two of which ended in spontaneous abortions) .Though I was aware of my unborn babies as separate persons within me*, I also felt so ‘united’ with them that losing two of them was deeply painful and I could not have entertained the thought of actively killing one of them via abortion. Maybe Mumford supports abortion only in extreme circumstances. Even so, I find his apparent lack of sorrow about such decisions chilling.
* As was my husband, who was disturbed at night by the babies kicking during the advanced stage of my pregnancies.
The cases in question are rape pregnancy and serious endangerment of the life of the mother. In both cases the unborn child represents a clear violation of or a threat to the mother’s bodily integrity. Mumford makes clear that in neither case is the child personally an aggressor. He also makes very clear that these are extreme and exceptional cases and quite different from the norm. Our approach to such cases cannot therefore be allowed to determine our more general stance on the question of abortion.
I disagree with Mumford’s treatment of such exceptions, but I do agree with him that they are exceptional cases and that they shouldn’t be treated as the straightforward litmus test of a person’s stance on abortion that some would want them to be.
One more thought:
The morality of abortion is the focus in this article and I accept the need for intellectual rigour in discussions about it. However, the choice to abort when the unborn child is the result of rape or when the mother has cancer is a tragic choice and I regret the absence of the language of lament in the passage in this article which includes ‘Mumford believes that “homicidal self-defense” is morally justified.’ Moral justification is by no means the only factor for a Christian woman who decides to abort in such circumstances*. Maybe the language of lament is more evident in the book, which I haven’t read.
* and some have chosen not to abort
…and I admire and respect your intellectual rigour, Alastair 🙂
No, these cases shouldn’t be treated as a litmus test. My stance on abortion might appear to be ‘sitting on the fence’ because I support neither Pro-Life nor Pro-Choice groups. Abortion is anathema to me, because it is the destruction of the life of an unborn child. However, I would not argue against abortion in the extreme cases you cited, though my reasons are ‘compassionate grounds.’
On a different part of this post -I welcome Mumford’s reference to Buber’s ‘I-thou’ relationships. ‘I – it’ does such an injustice to the mother’s relationship with her unborn child.
Interesting post by Richard Beck. I’ve always considered religious progressives the worst of the worst. Your average liberal is actually pretty corrupt, and mostly just want to drink and have fun. Too much PC tends to get on their nerves at times as well. So, it isn’t too hard to get along with these folks. But add a little religion/purity to the mix and watch out.
Dianna Anderson dissents and embraces eternal war in the comments. Why am I not surprised?
Everything is problematic, there is much evil in the world, but everything is also fundamentally good. The history of the world is not primarily a history of evil and oppression.
I’m struck by the way all people in this debate seem to be genuine in their search for understanding.
I am concerned about keeping a balance between what a friend once described as ‘looking in and looking out’.
One of my daily prayers is centred on Psalm 51:
‘Create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me…’
and an earlier passage in Psalm 51:
‘Behold, You desire truth in the hidden parts and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.’
Having ‘looked in’ I then ‘look out’ at my family, friends and ‘the world’, at believers and non-believers, and I am often troubled by what I see. This becomes a focus for further prayer. I am also thankful for much of what I see and that is also a focus for further prayer.
Then there’s the question of what to say and do in relation to others….more prayer.
Whatever I say or do can be met with affirmation, correction, rejection…so it goes.
‘Everything is problematic’? It seems to me that ‘everything’ could be less problematic than it is if we keep a balance between ‘looking in’ and ;looking out.’
I linked this earlier. Another piece of evidence for why Richard Beck is my favourite progressive Christian: I may strongly disagree with him, but he is fair-minded, non-reactive, and able to recognize many of the flaws in his own ‘side’.
There are several points that I would add to Beck’s analysis. One of the things that I would point out is that the emphasis upon ideological purity seems to serve the sociological purpose of community definition more than it actually serves an explicitly ideological purpose. From my vantage point upon these debates, the demonstration of ideological purity is less driven by the importance of engaging appropriately with reality than by the need of signalling membership of the in-group to others and policing the borders with the out-group.
Oh, I totally agree. Beck is by far the best progressive Christian writer out there. His main flaw is to sometimes use research to pathologize the orthodox.
Right. Liberal purity isn’t really about purity.
You recently reviewed G.K. Beale and M. Kim’s book ‘God Dwells Among Us’ at TGC. In it you said “Kings are the builders of temples, according to the plans provided by prophets; the temple is the royal palace of God, the prophet is the member of his council, the priest is his household servant, and the king is his vice-regent.” There’s a lot of theology packed into this compact little statement. Have you ever unpacked this anywhere on your blog? And do you know of any book/article that compares the respective roles of prophets, priests and kings that you’d like to recommend? If so, it would be great if you could share the links.
Rob Betts at CreationToNewCreation.com
I can’t recall unpacking this in any detail. The best treatments of this can be found in various places in the biblical theological writings of James Jordan and Peter Leithart (this piece on the role of the priest is a good starting point). Although I can’t recall any single extended and direct treatment they provide of the contrasting roles and offices, it frequently comes up in their work.
The priest-king-prophet distinction also relates to biblical literature and the progression of God’s purpose. Note the way that priests are associated with law and the sanctuary, kings with wisdom and the land, prophets with prophecy and the wider empire.
Many thanks for your reply and the link to Peter Leithart’s article, very helpful for thinking this through.
What was really problematic about the “Everything is Problematic” essay was her advice to treat improving society as an engineering problem. Is society a machine? Are people machines?
In response to David and Solomon as temple builders – what is the role of kings under the new covenant with respect to the new temple, the Church? For instance, Constantine clearly had a ‘temple-building’ role at the council of Nicaea, bringing the Bishops together to settle the Arian controversy.
Obviously we want to say that Jesus is the ultimate king who establishes the Church, but on earth, is this reflected in any way by human rules (albeit in a lesser way than under the old covenant)? If so, to what extent?
The Old Testament analogy to modern day rulers is probably to be found more in characters such as Cyrus or Hiram, who sponsored and supported temple building, without being members of the covenant people, or ‘kings’ in the sense of the true king of God’s people.
Christine asked me a thread back whether
The answer is no, but I had trouble articulating why then.
Here’s why I think we can describe some actives as bodily acting as one: Our senses, particularly our sense of hearing and touch, and to a lesser degree sight, allow the outside to pass into our inside. When we listen or hear (like in Deuteronomy 6:4) we are transformed, internally. When we speak, we step outside ourselves, and transform others, on the inside. When we participate in activities of coordinated speaking, activities that depend on simultaneously speaking and listening–as in choral singing and in silence–these movement from outside to inside, and from inside to outside are united in a single activity so that our outward activity is not from us alone, but rather, the inside that it springs from is, in the very instant, shaped from outside–shaped by another. And likewise the inside that their outward oriented action springs from is shaped from outside–from us. This means that, in the action, while there are different bodies involved, they are not strictly distinct, but are unified.
(Silence is similar to choral singing in that we signify in concert, however, it is even more “natural”, since silence exists before we are born; and so it may be even more unifying than choral singing.)
The liturgical year is similar to this in that each of us creates the liturgical year by submitting to the enactment of it, and yet, enacts it publicly, and so show forth to our neighbors what it is to enact it. We are formed internally by our submission to it, and our enactment of it is in imitation to our neighbor’s public enactment of it. And in our enactment of it, we show others what it is to submit to it, forming them by it. Thus there is again, the same sort communal enactment action which exists through a movement between the internal and exterior of the participants, and is irreducible to either.
I think the same sort of thing exists in a meal, as we communally eat the same food, and respond to the food, and to the One who provides the food, in concert. (Though I’m drawing off Rosenzweig here, and need to review his argument.)
On the other hand Rosenzweig says that reception at the communion rail tends to individuate Christians. It may be that here he’s trying to show the superiority of the Jewish experience to the Christian experience (he is) and so is misreading the Christian experience. But this has also been my experience since moving from Pr. Leithart’s church to an Anglican church. At Pr. Leithart’s church we ate communion much more as one than we do here, and I think the physical actions surrounding reception are a large part of that. (Though there are other issues as well: The whole Church culture is different, and it’s hard to abstract one aspect of it.) We approach the communion rail from a line, we receive an individual address, we eat by ourselves, we kneel and stand on our own time, etc. All these enact that communion makes our sinful bodies clean by His body, and washes our souls in his precious blood; rather than one that makes our sinful body (singular) clean by his body–a usage perhaps more inline with Philippians 3:21, and Romans 12:5. One could say that this enactment of difference is something we do together, enacting our difference because our neighbor is, and so we are united in our difference. However, while that might be an interesting point sociologically, I think it’s usually more accurate in most contexts to say that we teach each other to be separate.
Crossing ourselves similarly is usually not undertaken in concert, like a military unit crossing itself, in step, and so, while there is an element of unity in it, it seems that unity only exists in, and as a part of, a larger life.
I have read your post a number of times and I can see that this is important to you and that you have devoted a great deal of time and thought to it. I just don’t know what to say for the best, other than that it sounds as though you may be in touch with the level suggested in ‘Deep calls to deep’ (Psalm 42:7)
I’m sorry – this really is outside my area of expertise.
Hi Matt, one more thought, and it’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s all I can think of: what is your very favourite hymn/Christian song? Maybe you could do a prayerful reflection on it?
Mine is .’Here is love’. I’ll tweet it, in case you want to take a listen. It’s sung first in Welsh [‘Dyma Gariad’ ] then in English, but I prefer this version, because I don’t think the other YouTube versions do it justice.
Hopefully I can reply here soon.
Hi Matt! I have a further thought in connection with what you posted earlier about bodily responses to music/sound. My sternum and heart don’t take kindly to the amplified sound (and vibrations) of some drums and bass guitars*. I recently excused myself from a service at a Mega Church** for this reason and returned 15 minutes later to listen to the sermon. In addition to this, such sounds are not aesthetically pleasing to me. I like the softer sound of hand-drums such as a djembe and a Bodhran, when they are used fittingly and sparingly as a backing to Christian songs.
I’d love to know what Father God thinks about what I have just written!
* I thought of this after I had some checks at the Health Centre today
** I go there occasionally as a guest with some family members and I love the fellowship and teaching
I and my father attended Redeemer in NYC tonight, at the Hunter College site.
1. Church is in a large college amphitheatre. It felt very megachurchy in that respect.
2. The praise band was very restrained for a praise band (a huge contrast with my visit to HTB), and contained a violinist. But it was definitely an Evangelical style service. The songs were all contemporary. This was an evening service that bills itself as contemporary, so I cannot say what the morning services that bill themselves as classical are like.
3. At least half of the church is Asian (in the North American sense). The two pastors, including the one who preached, were Asian, so perhaps that is what attracts that particular demographic. Not having attended other sites, I cannot say.
4. The sermon was a solid exposition of Psalm 91.
Just read Richard Beck’s Unclean. It’s got its problems, but overall it is well worth reading. While Beck clearly would like to take the book in a progressive “purity is bad, let’s include everybody” direction, his attempt to do so dies the death of a thousand qualifications. What we’re left with is the not terribly controversial thesis that purity psychology is potentially dangerous and can sometimes lead us to dehumanize others.
Beck has said some ridiculous to offensive things about conservatives and purity psychology on his blog, but the book is pretty restrained.
Have you commented on his recent posts on the subject?
I am banned from commenting there. I guess I got a bit too sarcastic a couple times.
He remarks in the book how moral outrage and empathy tend to function at cross-purposes. That applies to all groups.
I also wonder about how left/liberal groups tend to function. Without any clear lines around the group (no magisterium, scripture, or tradition to tell you what is expected), there has to be extreme anxiety about people taking advantage of the group. Hence the withdrawal into individualism or constant witch hunts and purges in a group setting.
Have you read Unclean? If not, you should.
No, I haven’t. Not yet.
I never called him Satan though. Unlike some of his progressive critics. (I don’t think they were being ironic.)
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The people who described him in that way could do with a good spiritual optician, by the sound of it!
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