fidesquaerens: (Default)
 (This post is part of the August synchroblog.)

A few weeks ago Jared Wilson entered my world for the first and what I hope will be the last time with a sexist screed that rocked the blogosphere, or at least my corner of it. His original post has been deleted, and I don’t exactly want to give his words any more air-time than they already received by posting them again, plus they are rather trigger-ish for anyone with an exposure to rape or domestic violence, and to a lesser extent to women generally. So let me just summarize them briefly.


Warning: Triggerish for rape, DV, and general ickness )

The thing is, I’m not sure it’s that simple. Don’t mistake me, Mr. Wilson is 100%, outrageously wrong here. But to be fair here, he does have one Biblical land to stand on. To wit:

I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;

In pain you shall bring forth your children;

Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, NKJV)

The problem for folks like Mr. Wilson is they’re a few thousand years out of date:

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:24-27, NKJV)

I don’t want to turn this into testimonial or anything. If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d probably find lots to object to about this statement, like the implication that we need faith to know that that rape-triggerish junk is, if you’ll excuse my language, complete and utter crap. We don’t. All we need is to be decent humans.

But speaking as a Christian, within that tradition, there’s something that’s especially wrong with Mr. Wilson’s language. Not only is it wrong and insulting but it turns the whole of Holy Scripture – you know, the sola thing you evangelicals are so keyed into – on its head. Because curses like this that were clearly temporary and the results of sin are quite honestly the only Scriptural evidence I can find that one group gets to lord it over the other. I don’t particularly accept the idea that men and women are innately different, but I sure don’t accept the idea that this gives any other human the right to dominate, particularly in such a violent way. And if that was ever the case, the whole thing about being sons (and daughters) of God through faith pretty well proves it. Alike in dignity, alike in worth, and each of us precious and unique – whatever bits of anatomy we might have between our legs.

This summer session I read Bertrand Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship” with my ethics class, and we got into some interesting discussions on human dignity and autonomy and whether having God dictate right and wrong got in the way of all that. Russell writes,

A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurrying through the abysses of space, has brought forth at least a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother. In spite of death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticise, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the restless forces that control his outward life.

Russell’s point, as I understand it, is that there is a certain dignity and a moral worth in being the one to choose. This idea seems very Kantian to me: we are the moral legislator, the one that makes sense of the chaos, and to submit to someone else’s authority is a betrayal of self. Is this idea at least reconcilable with the Christian ideal of submission, of following? Obviously the rest of Russell’s essay is thoroughly atheistic, and I don’t want to Christianize him. But the idea expressed in the quote above is a naturally attractive one, and I see it in a lot of religious peoples’ attempts to live well through horrific consequences. How does submission come into all this?

Years ago, when my grandfather died after a long illness, I remember standing against a wall at the wake and being unable to cry. We weren’t all that close as he had been chair-bound for most of my life, and I thought that was it. So on top of feeling, well, as bad as one does at funerals, I was feeling royally guilty too, but strangely stoic at the same time. My cousin Lisa (who even then “got” me very well) saw what was going on and said that, just for that day, she would be my big sister. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and the oldest of three siblings, and I thought it was my job to be “strong” for them.  I was wrong, and only when someone showed me that could I start to cry like we all need to at those points.

Christianity glorifies submission and weakness but at the same time many Christians rely on human dignity to find worth in their lives, particularly in life’s dark allies. (This is what I think Paul is really getting at in 2 Corinthians 12 – not that humans are decrepit without God, but that we are strong enough to see even weakness in our strength, something greater than ourselves.) I think, particularly in the wake of tragedies like the Colorado shooting or the recent attack on the Sikh temple, we need what Russell pointed to: “to examine, to criticise, to know, and in imagination to create.” It’s also for me the beauty and salvific power of Tolkien’s mythic vision of a world where “the [story’s] cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands.” As humans, we need to stare into the void and find more than emptiness. And if there isn’t anything but vacuum, we need to fill it ourselves.

That requires a very different kind of submission, of following, than the one Mr. Wilson points to, and for reasons that go beyond the obvious ones. It isn’t about giving up our authority and dignity as rational beings, capable to act on something other than simple instinct. It’s about recognizing our limits and choosing to rest a bit, let someone else carry the load for a mile or two, so we can take it up again all the better.

That’s a kind of submission even this dyed-in-the-wool egalitarian can get behind.

(Originally posted at LJ.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
Many atheist friends of mine (I’m thinking of Dan Fincke in particular, but I’m sure I’ve heard the point other places as well) describe “faith” as being more sure of something than is warranted by the available evidence. It’s not a complement. The thought, as I understand it, is that we should only believe things we have good reason to think are true, and that there’s no good reason to believe God exists. So people who do believe God exists are either making a factual mistake (they think there’s evidence but there isn’t), or otherwise they’re wrong to think we don’t need that evidence. Either way, all theists are being irrational.

Obviously I don’t agree with this in every situation or I wouldn’t be a theist. on theology being 'true' )
on heaven, hell, and a rather messed-up kind of justice )
fidesquaerens: (Default)
  (Written for the March 2012 synchroblog; links TBA.)

I have a secret: for years now, I've wished I was eligible for the selective service.

In my country, at the age of eighteen all the guys have to register for the military draft. They don't actually have to serve, and chances are negligible that they'll be called up, since (for all our wars) America has been an all-volunteer army since I believe Vietnam. But ever since I've figured out how committed of a pacifist I am, I've wanted the ability to declare to God, country, and the world at large that there wasn't anyone representin me in this war, either.

I want to be clear about something: I respect what our veterans are trying to do. I nod at them out of respect when I see them on campus, and I've gotten in the habit of picking up pastries every week or two for my veteran neighbor, as a small token of gratitude. I also would gladly pay any tax asked of me to improve their safety while in service and their recovery once they leave. It's the generals and the contractors I have a beef with. I don't think our current wars are just, and given our track record of judicial process for people accused of war crimes and quasi-legal neverending wars, I think it will be a long time before I'd find an actual war I could support. And that's my point. I want the right to register as a conscientious objector to document this fact. Because I am not expected to fight, someone else "covers" me by default, so I get no say in the matter.

It's not just that theoretical point that bothers me, though. At the tender age of seventeen, I was a registered Republican and generally supported the idea of bringing democracy to the world, but I also wasn't sure now I felt about killing someone for that cause or any other, and so I asked my history teacher what were my options if I was morally opposed to war. He told me that I wasn't required to register for the draft, and when I asked why he explained that "Uncle Sam" didn't want to take mothers away from their children, or put children in homes with a mum suffering from PTSD. I'm now a few months shy of thirty years old, still happily single and happily child-free, in a doctoral program that I hope will lead to a professorship. In the meantime I am happy with my hobbies, my volunteer work, my church, and my friends both online and offline. I am living the life of the mind in a truly vibrant city, and it's a good life - just not the one my high school teacher thought I was destined for.

I thought about all this when I heard someone use the phrase "war on women" for the umpteenth time in a newspaper editorial this morning. Again, let me be clear: I think preventive birth control is a good thing, and I think subsidized or insurance-covered birth control is an even bett thing because it vies lower-class women the same liberties I have to manage their sexuality and its consequences. But every time I hear that phrase I bristle just a little bit (and sometimes quite a lot), because it carries with it the suggestion that as a woman I am defined by the bits of anatomy between my legs. It also suggests that if I personally didn't think of fertility like a disease, I would not be included in the collective of womanhood that was under attack. I've been on the receiving end of people telling me what it means to be a real woman, to feel comfortable with that. 

Given that this is a SynchroBlog post, I feel a strong pull to somehow tie this back to my religion. I could cite the many different roles women serve throughout the Bible, from Miriam to Esther to Mary Magdalene, and those stories are relevant. The problem is, they're part of a fabric that stretches beyond any one religious or literary tradition. I could just as easily point to Eowyn and B'Elanna Torres and Brenda Leigh Johnson and all the other strong women of literature. They weren't all shieldmaidens, either. Often as not, womanhood is as varied as human nature (as well it should be!). Our battle-cries need to reflect that.

(Originally posted to LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (science)

(Written for the November 2011 synchroblog; other posts available here.)

Over the last few days I've been following an exchange of blog posts by my friend Dan and Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology at the University of Chicago. I call Dan by his first name because he recently finished his dissertation at the same school where I'm currently studying, and I always feel a bit odd using titles for people I know personally. But here I will give him the honorific, because he has earned it and because he's bringing his expertise to bear on an important topic. Drs. Coyne and Fincke (along with other academic bloggers) have been debating the value of a recent postdoc grant that was recently announced, to do with the problem of free will. Specifically, if some timeless being like God knows what you're going to do, are you still free to do it?

The appointee (Patrick Todd of UC-Riverside) will be looking at this in much more detail than I could talk about here, even were I so inclined. But I am familiar with the basic problem since I've taught it (via a textbook) to my freshmen, and it has always interested me. It goes something like this:

1.       God knows everything there is to know.

2.       Whatever God knows, is by definition true.

3.       God is timeless, so whatever God knows must also be timeless.

4.       So if something is true for God, it must always be true.

5.       So if God knows (for example) that I will have chicken for lunch, it must always be true that I will have chicken for lunch – even before I “decide” to order that.

The obvious problem is we tend to think we can choose how we’re going to act. That’s why we blame people for their actions: they could have chosen to do otherwise, they <i>should</i> have, but they didn’t. One common definition of freedom is the ability to have done otherwise, and if that is the definition we are working under, I have a hard time imagining how Ockham or anyone else would get around it. If God knows I will have chicken, then it is true that I’ll go for the broiled chicken at lunch today. On the other hand, if I have free choice, it seems that there’s a possibility that I won’t do this – but then it’s both for sure that I will and possible that I won’t. That makes my head spin a bit, but it’s also pretty clearly a contradiction!

I say all this without having read Ockham, by the way. He may have a thought-provoking approach (knowing Ockham on other topics, I suspect he does!). But the general problem is quite interesting and as it turns out really quite relevant to this month’s synchroblog. We’re supposed to be talking about prophecy, whether we think it still happens or ever happened and what role it plays. And I don’t really buy it. The Star Trek reboot put it quite well:

Spock: We must gather with the rest of Starfleet... to balance the terms of the next engagement.

James T. Kirk: There won't BE a next engagement! By the time we've gathered, it'll be too late! But you say he's from the future and knows what's gonna happen - then the logical thing is to be unpredictable!

Spock: You are assuming that Nero knows how events are predicted to unfold - the contrary. Nero's very presence has altered the flow of history, beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, culminating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Lt. Nyota Uhura: An alternate reality...

Spock: Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the time continuum was disrupted - our destinies have changed.

Knowing the future makes it quite likely that the future we knew won’t actually come to pass – we change how we act and react, so things unfold differently. And that may be the point, the proper way to interpret prophecy in the religious tradition. Perhaps rather than a sneak peek at future history, we could see it as a red light warning us to beware of future dangers, to change things, so we affirm free will and moral responsibility rather than deny it.

But the Harold Camping shtick, that the world’s going to end next week or next year and there’s nothing we can do about it? That’s a lot harder to swallow. In the fine tradition of prophecy as warning, I’ll believe it when I see it – and live like this planet has to last forever in the mean time.



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August 2012

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