Thursday, November 29, 2012

The War on Men: A Digest

On Monday, Suzanne Venker published a brief article in which she argues:

I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.

Women aren’t women anymore.

...Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.

If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.

Unsurprisingly, the very women who Venker labels as "angry" and "defensive" were outraged by the suggestion and did not hesitate to express that outrage.

Meghan Casserly for Forbes, in one of the tamer articles, writes:

Women, do you hear Suzanne Venker? It’s all your fault. The women’s sexual revolution has left you too aggressive and too needy at the same time—two things “good men” absolutely abhor. But it’s not so much the changing that’s pissing mankind off, ladies. No, we’re pissing them off by expecting them to change along with us. To help us.

Venker writes that women have changed in recent decades and that men have stayed the same–as there hasn’t been a revolution that demanded it. But it seems that very revolution might be upon us. Modern men have two options: to change—or continue going the way of the buffalo.

Erin Gloria Ryan for Jezebel was predictably more outraged:

Venker's piece for Fox News, which extrapolated from changing attitudes about marriage that there's an entire subculture of men who don't want to get married, and that's because women are scaring them away by competing with them, was roundly mocked for being stupid, mindless garbage that paints women as testicle eating castrators and men as delicate babies upset that their feelings aren't being appropriately catered to. Women aren't letting men "win" in this ongoing battle of the sexes, and in response, men are taking their ball(s) and going home. Marital Lysistrata, if you will.

As was her counterpart, Jessica Wakeman, at Frisky:

2. I’ve … stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same. Women aren’t women anymore.

Also, Mommy makes his favorite Hamburger Helper whenever he asks and does not charge any rent for sleeping on that old couch in her basement. And she has no idea all that porn he’s downloaded is the reason why her computer is running so slow.

6. Now the men have nowhere to go.

Waaahhhhh. Fap fap fap fap fap.

Or the similarly lofty response of Kaili Joy Gray for Daily Kos:

Being a lady writer who writes about how ladies totally suck is such hard work.

It's especially hard work if you make your living telling other ladies they shouldn't make a living because of The ChildrenTM and also because it will make men feel bad about themselves. Keeping all the hatred and blame straight can really hurt your ladybrain and make you write things you totally didn't mean to write.

And Kristin Iversen of The L Magazine:

The opening shot [in the War on Men] was sounded today by Suzanne Venker when she posted an article on entitled "The war on men." [sic] What about the war on capitalization, Suzanne? What about that?

Apparently, capitalization of titles is just one of the casualties in this epic struggle. But no matter, we have more important things to focus on. Namely, why don't men like women anymore? What did women do to fuck up the sweet deal that they've had for centuries? You know. The one where women didn't have the right to vote until less than a hundred years ago. The one where women still don't make anything like equal pay for doing an equal amount of work. The one where women are expected to take on all of the household chores and childcare responsibilities and look the other way while men have as much freedom as they want. THAT SWEET DEAL.

Emma Gray for the Huffington Post quips:

Meanwhile, we women will quit our jobs, purchase aprons with our last paychecks and bake like it's 1955. A workforce reduced by nearly half? That's bound to get this society headed in the right direction.

Meagan Morris for Cosmopolitan chimes in:

We've come a long way as a gender since the birth of feminism and—gender pay gap, be damned—have the same rights and opportunities as our dude counterparts.

Oopsies, though: We silly women now have too much equality, according to Suzanne Venker. The Fox News columnist hypothesizes that the reason why so-called "marriageable men" don't want to get married is because today's women don't make them feel like the super manly men women of say, the 1800s, would have...

So, all of us single ladies are destined to be single forever—and its our own fault—because we want to have careers and fulfilling lives.

Then there was Hanna Rosin at Slate:

I knew that women had become more educated. I knew they were steadily earning more money. I knew they had gained a lot of power of late, and sometimes even more money and power than the men around them. But I did not realize they had become so powerful that they could mess with the men’s DNA. How did I miss that? How has J.J. Abrams not made a movie about it?

Unfortunately, Venker is somewhat enigmatic about how to reverse this problem, beyond a few vague clues. Women, she says, “have the power to turn everything around” (Duh, of course, we have ALL the power). “All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.” Surrender to my femininity. Surrender to my femininity. I get the general idea but what does it mean, like, in practice? Not wear pants so much? Let my hair grow. Ask my boss to pay me a little less? Open to ideas.

Are you noticing a trend here? No, it isn't the generally liberal or openly feminist bent of these publications. It isn't the condescending attitude that suggests that any challenge to prevailing notions about gender in public discourse is beneath serious reply. It isn't even the logically fallacious, but nevertheless ubiquitous, guilt-by-association with Phyllis Schlafly (which I did my best to edit out). It's the fact that all of these commentators are women.

Granted, I didn't lift up there skirts and check (as if any of them wear skirts...ha), though that surely would have been my prerogative in 1955 or the 1800s or whenever we're locating that fictionalized era when women were actively, systematically, and universally oppressed by men. Nevertheless, it seems clear that what we have here is a bunch of women sitting around in a closed off group trying to decide whether or not and how men are trying to oppress women and failing as men. Go figure.

Speaking on behalf of the testicled among us, or at least as one male among many, you women are welcome to continue to ascend in the workforce. Most of my colleagues are already women, as are most of my immediate supervisors. Continue to dominate academics. Be ever more consciously aggressive, more coldly rational, more unreservedly sexual, more delightfully vulgar because, after all, men have gotten away with it for years and anything we can do, you can do better. Earn equal pay for equal work, and, for the sake of reparations, reverse the pay gap for a while just to teach us a lesson. You have my permission, which you neither need nor want and which is undoubtedly a mere vestige of a paternalistic cultural heritage passed unconsciously to me by my forefathers (<--term deliberately not gender inclusive). Meanwhile, all I ask for is the simple right to find those qualities unattractive. If the idea of my home becoming a staging ground for working out gender equality doesn't comport with the notions of domestic bliss that I developed when I was a little boy playing house and you were a little girl playing sister suffragette, I trust you won't think me too primitive. While you are off pursuing your dreams, I ask only that you don't count among your goals the wholesale destruction of my dream of enjoying a wife who makes me feel like a man, the sort of man Nick Charles was in the 1930s with his young, rich, opinionated, strong-willed wife who adored him. I have never, nor would I ever, force a woman to do anything, but you'll forgive me if I don't buy into the newest, shiniest model of woman just because you're telling me she's the wave of the future. The old model works just fine, the kind who recognizes that the quests for love and equity are sometimes adversarial.

So you can scoff if you want and hurl petty insults at Suzanne Venker, but--personally, anecdotally--there seems to be more than a little truth in the argument that men aren't interested in competing all day at work and coming home to find domestic competition hovering just beneath the surface. What do you care? You don't want men like me anyway, and the men you do want don't want women like Suzanne Venker or Phyllis Schafly anyway--you know, the publicly outspoken, well-educated, career women that feminists are trying to get rid of.

If we're lucky, men will go on blaming the demise of marital tranquility on women; women will persistently nag men to change with the times and lament the failures of the brutish sex when empowered women can't find husbands; and before it's all over, maybe the world won't collapse under the wait of its own mushrooming population.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hating Francis Asbury

I love the Methodists. During the wild, rebellious days of my collegiate youth, on any given Sunday you might find me in an early morning service rocking out to the praise band and defiantly not taking weekly communion. More to the point, I enjoy Methodist history. It functions as a powerful corrective when I am tempted to overstress the peculiarities of the Stone-Campbell Movement. The history of Methodism in America provides an important precursor and parallel to my work in the Churches of Christ in the South. I include that disclaimer only because when I vocalized the following criticisms to a colleague, he immediately assumed "Oh, you must not like the Methodists" (drawing on a comment I had previously made about abhorring Puritan history). That is not the case at all. When I first cracked the spine of John Wigger's American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists it was with joyful anticipation. When I finally retired the last page, I had nothing left but bitter disappointment.

Wigger's recent and expansive (not to mention expensive) critical biography of Francis Asbury, the patriarch of American Methodism, fills a void. Or so I hear. My experience, however, tells me that there are quite enough rambling, distracted, self-indulgent works in the broad field of history to satisfy even the most committed masochist. Wigger may treat a new subject, but it is in the same tried and true unreadable style. The work suffers from that most basic error of misplaced purpose, a fact which becomes abundantly clear even before the introduction is completed. The reader gets a vague sense that Wigger intends to rehabilitate Asbury from generations who have seen him as nothing more than a power-hungry autocrat. Yet even to understand this theoretically governing thesis requires wading through more than four hundred pages of largely unrelated travel accounts, and even so, I am not confident that this or any guiding purpose can be asserted with any force.

Wigger aims at a truly comprehensive biography, by which I mean everything imaginable short of the regularity of Asbury's bowel movements--a detail I fear was omitted because Wigger could not find adequate source material on the subject. Yet he does not stop there but complicates the narrative by inserting dozens of miniature biographies of every passing acquaintance in Asbury's life. Or in the lives of Asbury's passing acquaintances. Or...well you get the picture. To these are added tangents about the four kinds of malaria and other trivialities until the volume becomes bloated to the point of rupture. The final straw comes in the conclusion as part of a discussion of past biographies of Asbury. It is here that Wigger derisively comments, "One has to admire the audacity of an author who, when faced with a lull in his narrative, simply makes something up, the more outrageous the better." I would recommend to Wigger that, on page 416 of an unusually dry and meandering text, he not be so condescending about authors who care whether or not their audience is awake.

Still, Wigger's work is more than just undirected, unmanageable, and unreadable. Those are claims that could be made about countless "good" works of history. Wigger does further violence to his subject by pulling Asbury off his horse and forcing him onto the therapist's couch. In playing Freud, Wigger returns frequently and unconvincingly to the "significant" relationship between the distant Asbury and his supposedly overbearing mother. Never mind that Wigger never produces any evidence of such a relationship. He is not even bothered to cite directly contradictory evidence immediately after his claims. He is convinced that the relationship exists and is determinative, the evidence be damned. The psychoanalysis does not stop there, either. He speculates about Asbury's relationship to social elites in boyhood, about the sources of his father's drunkenness, and about the effect of the childhood death of his sister on Asbury's love life. The cumulative effect is to make the reader long for the days when the incompetent historian merely portrayed Asbury as an autocrat.

At the end, I was duly convinced that Asbury was no tyrant. I was more profoundly convinced that Wigger is an intellectual sadist. I realize, of course, that this is something distinct from the normally restrained reviews I prefer to offer here, and, moreover, that it runs contrary to the accolades of the proud few who make a living congratulating one another on the sheer volume of their publications. Nevertheless, I felt it my sacred duty to warn people that there is a menace on the loose, and he appears as an unassuming itinerant on a horse. But don't be deceived. Boredom can kill.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wisdom of Everett Colby

If you haven't heard of Everett Colby, you shouldn't feel bad. He's not important. Unless you happened to stumble across his comically brief Wikipedia entry or, as I did, a stray piece of folksy wisdom in the New York Times, there is no reason to remember the late New Jersey state senator. Nevertheless, I invite you to consider the simple profundity of the following from 1927:

Everett Colby sums up the weary lesson the world has been studying since 1914. Says he, "No one wins wars, so why not have peace?"

That is all the article had to say about war or about Everett Colby, but in many respects that seems like all that needs to be said.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Resolution

It turns out, I couldn't help myself. I felt compelled to share some small, interesting quote. Here are the thoughts of the editor of the Chicago Daily Tribune for Thanksgiving, 1880:

So there should be abundant good cheer and joy to-day as the reunited families once more come together around the festive board, converging from distant points and for one day forgetting the cares and anxieties of the world int he renewal of old associations and the coming closer together by reason of those who may have dropped out of the circle. It makes better men and women of us all, for blood after all is thicker than water, and the influences of home are stronger and safer than those of the world. And if from the open door of the home some ray of light should stream out sufficiently to illuminate and cheer some other home less happy in its appointments and less fortunate in this world's goods, then would each one's Thanksgiving be crowned with a most grateful benediction.

It's a sweetly worded sentiment, encouraging in its broad contours, but I wonder how self-deceptive it is to assume that those less fortunate than yourself will be cheered simply by seeing how happy you are. Let me propose an alternative, perhaps in better keeping with the way we should interpret blessings from God. This Thanksgiving make an effort, however, small to not only be thankful for what you have received but to give someone else cause to be grateful to God for you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Eve

In the proud tradition of offering thoughtful historical quotes, the following--from the November 26, 1857 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune--is presented for your consideration:

No paper will be issued from this office tomorrow--Thanksgiving Day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Following is Rated M for Mature

Penile mutilation is chief among a collection of topics that I am not interested in discussing, hearing about, or reading about. (And lest a charge of sexism be leveled against me, the details of female circumcision are right there with it.) It certainly was not something I expected to find discussed at great length in Anthony Reid's Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce. Yet, right in the heart of this Braudelian examination of the "land below the winds," Reid managed to work in an extensive and graphic discussion of grotesque penis surgeries that were enough to make my...stomach turn. Reid sees these surgeries as evidence of the inverted sexual power dynamic between the sexes in Southeast Asia society, a point which is proved as soon as the reader asks, "Why else would a man do that to his genitals?" In the interest of keeping myself well within the bounds of fair use, I have omitted much of Reid's account and encourage you to read it (beginning on page 148) if you find your appetite whetted by the following description:

The most draconian surgery was the insertion of a metal pin, complemented by a variety of wheels, spurs, or studs, in the central and southern Philippines and parts of Borneo. Pigafetta was the first of the astonished Europeans to describe the practice:

"The males, large and small, have their penis pierced from one side to the other near the head with a gold or tin bolt as large as a goose quill. In both ends of the same bolt some have what resembles a spur, with points upon the ends; others are like the head of a cart nail. I very often asked many, both old and young, to see their penis, because I could not credit it. In the middle of the bolt is a hole, through which they urinate...They say their women wish it so, and that if they did otherwise they would not have communication with them. When the men wish to have communication with their women, the latter themselves take the penis not in the regular way and commence very gently to introduce it, with the spur on top first, and then the other part. When it is inside it takes the regular position; and thus the penis always stays inside until it gets soft, for otherwise they could not pull it out."

The same phenomenon is described by many others...who agree that its purpose was always explained as enhancing sexual pleasure, especially for women. Some peoples of northwest Borneo...continued this practice until modern times, and their oral tradition attributes its origins to a legendary woman who found sexual intercourse without such an aid less satisfying than masturbation.

The same result was obtained in other parts of Southeast Asia by the less painful but probably more delicate operation of inserting small balls or bells under the loose skin of the penis..."they open [the penis] up and insert a dozen tin beads inside the skin; they close it up and protect it with medicinal herbs...the beads look like a cluster of grapes...They make a tinkling sound, and this is regarded as beautiful."

So, gentleman, the next time your wives make some seemingly onerous request regarding their sexual satisfaction, comfort yourself in the knowledge that at least they aren't asking you to nail a spur into your penis or embed a cluster of grapes under the skin.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Amusing Notes from the Past

In doing some research recently on the contemporary reception of Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry, I stumbled upon an interesting recurring page in the New York Times called "Footnotes on Headlines." It's unfortunate, really, that I don't have a better grasp on the history of the period--I admit a principled disinterest in anything that happened between World War I and the 2011 Missoula Cow-a-bunga competition--because, if I did, I imagine the humorous snippets would be even funnier. Here are just a couple from 1927 that very little advanced historical knowledge is needed to enjoy:

Bert Acosta and Clarence Chamberlin demonstrate that they can stay up in the air about as long as any pair of filibustering Senators in these United States.

The Balkans again. Italy shrieks that Yugoslavia is starting a war against Albania. Yugoslavia shouts that Italy schemes to use Albania as a catspaw in seizing control of the Adriatic. France, England and Germany turn those hose on them all. It is felt in the world that the Balkans should be seen, not heard, for a change.

High-heeled shoes continue their health-wrecking course in the world, despite the wholesome warnings periodically broadcast by the medical professionals and this public-spirited department. The latest victim is General Primo de Rivera, who slipped on the polished floor of his palatial office and lit on his head. When will our dictators, military and otherwise, get a little sense about footwear, we ask in despondent tones.

In forty-two years of public service, Dr. William H. Guilfoy, Registrar of records in the Department of Health, has seen smallpox, cholera and typhus almost eliminated as causes of death in New York City, and the death rate from typhoid fever and diphtheria reduced to a small fraction of its old proportions. The automobile epidemic has, of course, come in to rage in our midst. There is always something.

There are countless others, of course, and assuredly more in years beyond 1927. Perhaps, time permitting, I may rummage through them and share some more.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Problem of Equality

In the introduction to a collection of his essays, political theorist George Kateb makes this jarring and insightful point about the notion of equality and how it really functions in societies (including the much vaunted American democracy):

The general point is that though equality may suit the imagination of an autocrat or an elite when the many are equal in subjection or slavery, the many themselves strive to become unequal. There is something unlovable about equality; so much so that it often feels like a condition accepted for want of a better one, and a consolation for those who cannot break out of it. If people cannot be better than those around them, they will lend themselves to the efforts of those who run their society to dominate other societies. And those who run society will always dream of plans to achieve a finer, more coherent or organic pattern of political relations elsewhere. One ingredient of imperialism is the desire of leaders to shake off the restraints imposed by democratic politics at home and treat other societies, especially non-democratic ones, as fit for the dictatorial imposition of democracy or some other rule. Imperialism provides the aesthetic intoxication of destroying and remaking customs and relations, rules and institutions. The leaders could not get started unless the many craved some of these same aesthetic gratifications and were willing to settle for vicarious triumph over others. Athens was democratic and imperialistic; America is the same.

I did not read the whole book, Patriotism and Other Mistakes, or even, with any vigor, the whole introduction, so I cannot really make a recommendation for the work as a whole. This point, however, seems to me to strike on two vital and related truths which are often ignored. First, the lower classes of society idolize and pursue equality only because inequality (i.e. dominance), while more desirable, is even farther outside their grasp. Second, even in societies where equality is enshrined as a theoretical ideal, the whole society, rather than merely the easily demonized master class, engages in imperialism as a way of grasping at the desired inequality which is inaccessible in an ostensibly democratic nation. Both combine to play with common notions of who the villains are in our narrative of injustice and whether or not even those who espouse the right ideology are fully aware of their motives.

There is, of course, substantial room for argument, but the approach and the conclusions in Kateb's quote demand engagement.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Ethics of Sport Hunting

Deer season is upon us, and to commemorate it, a Michigan news outlet has posed the question to a variety of clerics: in what context is hunting morally permissible? Four panelists offer responses.

The Jewish respondent concludes from a review of Genesis and the Law that the killing of animals required extraordinary justification but that God Himself has given such a justification. The only question that remains is how to treat those animals who will be killed. "It is acceptable to kill animals, but it is not acceptable to be callous toward animal life." The response is a laudable beginning, but it leaves so much of the heart of the question unexplored. What constitutes callousness? Killing for the sake of killing? Or is it only killing in an "inhumane" way? The rabbi gives no satisfactory answers.

The Muslim respondent provides a richer, fuller picture of his religion's ethical stance on hunting and on the slaughter of animals more generally. The result, somewhat unexpectedly, is a decidedly palatable set of rules governing both the ethical treatment of animals intended for slaughter and a strict utilitarian boundary for when such slaughter is appropriate. "Killing is not for sport but only for sustenance." Yet, even while his regulations for slaughter are better explained and (for my part) better received, his justification for killing to begin with leaves much to be desired. He states, rather matter-of-factly, that animals are going to die anyway, so it makes no difference whether they die of old age or by human hands. Curiously, the same premise could be applied to humanity, but even with Islam's decidedly different stance on justifiable violence relative to Christianity, sure no Muslim would want to argue that humans are going to die anyway so it doesn't matter whether we let them die of old age or kill them for utilitarian purposes. At least I hope not.

Next, a reverend gives the traditional and decidedly unsophisticated view of Christians throughout history. God said we could kill animals. Society says we can kill animals. What's the problem. I mean, in some cases, not killing animals is like disobeying Jesus. That's no good.'s a paraphrase and a parody, but it nevertheless represents the essential message. There is no consideration of the importance of the creation account or the Law in determining the ethical stance of Christians toward animals. Not even a mention of the eschatological place of the natural world in the Christian scheme. A personal inclination matched with a proof text remains the surest Christian hermeneutic.

The same, unfortunately, proved true for the equally unsatisfying response from the Christian vegetarian. He makes the highly dubious claim that God allows animals to be killed only because it is a necessity and that, since it is no longer a necessity, there is no justification for continuing to kill them even for food. Of course, he offers no support for the argument that the permission to use animals for food and clothing is need based nor does he demonstrate that something has fundamentally changed to remove that need. (Incidentally, he also makes the easily falsifiable claim that eating meat is more efficient.) Most importantly of all, however, he seems to be woefully ignorant of the historical fact that meat has only recently begun to play a significant role in the human diet. Precisely because it is such a painstaking and inefficient means of ingesting calories, meat has been a luxury in most cultures throughout human history. Slaughtering an animal and eating it was a significant event reserved for feasts and sacred occasions, a fact typified in the rituals of both Judaism and Islam. The notion that you can eat meat at every meal is a relatively modern, primarily American innovation.

Disappointingly, with the exception of the Muslim, none of the respondents deal directly with the question of the ethics of sport hunting. More disappointing still is the facile responses of both Christians--leading me to believe that some lazy journalist probably just found four clerics who had nothing better to do that day than answer the phone. No one gets to the root of what sport hunting is or why it might be ethically problematic. Hunting, neither out of necessity nor even with any intent to make reasonably full use of the kill, is violence for violence sake, a behavior which is difficult to justify from the viewpoint of any of the three major religions. It is the agonistic modern analog to the gladiatorial arena, only instead of the helpless slave being thrown to the lion for the amusement of the masses it is the helpless herbivore which is turned over to the heavily armed and merciless hunter to end its life for his amusement.

Hunters who love the taste of venison, who eat whatever they kill and kill only what they will eat, are on ethically safe ground. In more omnivorous days gone by, I have even gladly shared in their spoils. But the point at which hunting is undertaken exclusively or even primarily for the thrill of killing and pride in the trophy, it becomes the exclusive province of lovers of violence, about whom God is quite clear.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cow News

If you thought the story, previously shared, of cows producing lactose-free milk was astonishing, just wait until you see what these magnificent creatures are doing now:

Would protection against the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) make you willing to give up your vegan lifestyle? New research from Australia’s Melbourne University suggests that a type of treated cow’s milk could provide the world’s first HIV vaccine.

Working together with biotechnology company Immuron Ltd., the Australian research team vaccinated pregnant dairy cows with an HIV protein. This injection posed no risk to the cows, as they are unable to contract the disease, according to researchers. After giving birth, the first milk produced by the cows was found to contain HIV-disabling antibodies...

“We were able to harvest antibodies specific to the HIV surface protein from the milk,” said Dr. Marit Kramski, who is presenting her research as one of the winners of Fresh Science — a national program for early-career scientists. “We have tested these antibodies and found in our laboratory experiments that they bind to HIV and that this inhibits the virus from infecting and entering human cells,” she said.

Got milk?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Wisdom of George Sutherland

George Sutherland--a lapsed Mormon and the senator from Utah in 1907--uttered these words with regard to the controversial seating of Mormon apostle Reed Smoot in the Senate. They can, and should, be removed from this context, however, and applied more broadly. They express a truth which in our contentious times could stand to be remembered:

The melancholy fact runs through all history that nothing has been too absurd, nothing too cruel, to be believed and taught and done in the name of religion...You can not reason with a false religious belief any more than you can argue with a case of typhoid fever. It simply runs its course and mental health returns.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Other News

When I went to bed last night, Barack Obama was president, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, and Democrats controlled the Senate. When I woke up this morning, Barack Obama was president, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, and Democrats controlled the Senate. More than a year of persistent hue and cry, an anticlimax, and now, with any luck, a swift denouement. Meanwhile, to the disinterested surprise of Americans, the rest of the world has continued to turn while they beat their heads against a political brick wall.

Copts have just selected a new pope at one of the most critical junctures in modern Coptic history. The new leader, Pope Theodoros II, has rejected the political activism of his predecessor and is encouraging the church to follow his lead:

“The most important thing is for the church to go back and live consistently within the spiritual boundaries because this is its main work, spiritual work,” the bishop said, and he promised to begin a process of “rearranging the house from the inside” and “pushing new blood” after his installation later this month as Pope Tawadros II. Interviewed on Coptic television recently, he struck a new tone by including as his priorities “living with our brothers, the Muslims” and “the responsibility of preserving our shared life.”

“Integrating in the society is a fundamental scriptural Christian trait,” Bishop Tawadros said then. “This integration is a must — moderate constructive integration,” he added. “All of us, as Egyptians, have to participate.”

This seems to be fine by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood who have encouraged the new primate "to “support the Islamic Shariaa,” to “let go of the seculars”, and to “revoke the Church’s political role.”"

In other parts of the Muslim world, Christians are facing more direct challenges from the government. Christians in Malaysia are being "converted" to Islam without their consent on government roles simply because of their names.

Bumiputra Christians in Sabah continue to be “converted to Islam” by the National Registration Department (NRD) simply because they have “bin” and “binti” in their names. Sabah churches are seeking urgent solutions to the crisis but none seems to be in sight, Bob Teoh writes in My Sinchew.

The NRD has made it clear it would continue to list Bumiputera Christians in Sabah as Muslims as long as they are known by bin or binti. It would also not rectify past entry errors by way of changing the religion listing back to Christianity in the identity cards (MyKad) of those affected. The NRD would only act upon an order by a Syariah High Court to determine whether those Bumiputera Christians whom it had listed as Muslims are not Muslims indeed.

The implications of this are far ranging--not least because these "Muslims" are not legally allowed to marry the Christians in their own community--and the hurdles the government has thrown up to rectify the error are numerous. What makes this more serious than a minor bureaucratic foul-up, however, is that perennial problem of apostasy in Islam. There is no permissible way to cease to be a Muslim, a conundrum which has found itself institutionalized in the racial-religious identity cards of Malaysia.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sitting on the supposed burial site of Jesus, is the site of yet more controversy, this time over the more mundane matter of an unpaid water bill. The hub for Christian pilgrimage insists that it has never paid water bills as part of an unstated agreement with the utility company. Hagihon, the water company, is no longer content to receive nothing for something and has frozen the church's assests until the $2.3 million in back bills is paid.

"We trust God and hope that people will help us," [the General Secretary of the Patriarchate, Archbishop of Constantina Aristarchos] said, adding that the Patriarchate has sent letters to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tension in the Christian world comes home with still more revelations from the Orthodox Church in America. After much publicity and dutiful investigation, church officials have released their findings about the suspended bishop accused of sexual misconduct:

Text messages and emails sent by the bishop of the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of the Midwest did constitute sexual misconduct, according to a letter posted to the church’s website Sunday...

“I wish that I could convince all of you what I am certain of in my heart — that conscious motives behind my interaction with this woman were not impure,” [the accused bishop] Matthias wrote. “But, I know that only active, demonstrated repentance — confession of my sins, pursuit of the means of changing, and a resulting change in conduct — will be convincing.”

Unlike the Catholic stereotype of furtive reshuffling, the OCA has embraced a more public but no less Christian program of rehabilitation and penance. Matthias will ask forgiveness from the victim directly, be admitted to a residential therapeutic program, and submit to a “focused period of time under the guidance of a peer bishop to examine, articulate and provide concrete direction in managing the expectations and accompanying spiritual, emotional and interpersonal challenges of exercising the office of the bishop.”

And more besides. If only we had directed that one billion dollars to affecting actual change in the world. But, as always, where our treasure is indicates where our heart is. Money is always hard to find except when it comes to war and politics. If that doesn't indicate their affinity, perhaps nothing will.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Here’s an Idea, Don't Vote: Violence and Representative Democracy

There's an election today. Have you heard? This will come as a shock to no one who has ever visited this site, but I will not be voting this year. I also didn't vote four years ago. Or four years before that. get the drift. As a committed old, tried and true Christian anarchist, I have watched the campaign season very closely, the way I might watch a really interesting football game, or a Spike "world's most unbelievable car crashes" marathon. Politics--infinitely more than contact sports and traffic accidents--has proves itself again and again to be irredeemably violent. Beyond that basically standard pacifist complaint, however, I would like to offer three reasons why I, as a Christian, am not voting and, wait for it, why I encourage other Christians not to vote either. If you're not a Christian, you should vote; it'd be a shame if you didn't. (Not nearly as big a shame as it is that you're not a Christian, of course.) In any case...

With this final argument, I will most nearly approach the essential quarrel that Christian anarchism has with government generally and representative democracy specifically. To do this, however, requires an examination both of the nature of the state and the moral implications in our republican form of government. Though less concrete and more nuanced than other pleas to avoid participation in the democratic process, it still serves as the most compelling reason to see voting as immoral rather than merely unnecessary, ineffective, or unimportant.

David Lipscomb states succinctly what later theologians have agonized over with regard to man's original sin: "God would govern and guide man; man would govern the under-creation, and so the whole world would be held under the government of God, man immediately and the under-creation through man. But, man refused to be governed by God...The institution of human government was an act of rebellion and began among those in rebellion against God, with the purpose of superseding the Divine rule with the rule of man." The term en vogue now to discuss man's fall is "autonomy," but the notions are the same. The account of the first sin in Genesis boils down to the belief that humanity knew better than God how to manage its own affairs.

It is not a coincidence that the second sin is murder. Violence follows logically on the heels of rebellion. Eve having usurped the divine prerogative to rule, Cain usurps the divine prerogative to judge. Ignoring the divine approbation showered on Abel, Cain renders his own terminal judgment about his brother and summarily executes him.

It is equally understandable then that civil government should arise both as an attempt to curb the influences of these sins and as their supreme manifestation. On the one hand, civil government exists to give wrest the rights of authority and judgement from the hands of the individual, a transfer of power which is necessary in order for society to function. At the same time, however, civil government exists as the collaborative human expression of that primary impulse toward autonomy. God is no more lawgiver and judge now than in the days after the fall. Instead, humanity set up an alternative lawgiver and judge to stand in the place of God. The state is essentially and inescapably an idol to our own sense of superior self-determination.

It's a truth so inescapable, God Himself might as well have uttered it:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

Samuel obeys, and in his subsequent warning to the people he points out that the king will be the source of constant oppression for the people. "And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day." Samuel, to say nothing of the LORD, recognizes that human governments will always be tied inexorably to violence. Civil government, simply defined, is the ability--granted or assumed--to coerce others to behave in ways they would not otherwise. People pay their taxes because they fear the IRS, not because they have any confidence in the federal government to invest their money wisely. People drive the speed limit to avoid getting a ticket, not because they are opposed in principle to driving more than 25-mph in a school zone. A government which does not have coercive authority--which is a poor euphemism for violence--to enforce its laws instantly collapses.

But, as we've already seen, Christians have no investment in coercing non-Christians to mimic a Christian society. All our efforts to do so have in fact been counterproductive. It shouldn't surprise anyone. There is no government which can function on the principles of the Sermon on the Mount because civil government unavoidably implies violence. A foreign policy which extols "turn the other cheek" and "resist not evil" invites invasion. Imagine, moreover, a candidate running on the economic platform, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth." (Never mind that the recent rescue of Wall Street, the banks, and big business has proved the biblical adage "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.") Our judicial system would grind to an immediate halt if it were to embrace "Judge not, that you be not judged"--without moving over to talk about "he who is without sin." There's no reason to even discuss the golden rule. The fundamental incompatibility of Christianity and civil government should be obvious merely from a liberal exercise of human reason, but Paul does Christians the service of highlighting the dichotomy in Romans when he tells Christians that they must express love and peace and allow the government to be God's unwitting agent for vengeance.

Therein lies the special problem for representative democracy. For Paul, it was simple: Christians and governments were discrete ethical units. The same is not true in a representative democracy. It has been a while since most of us took a high school civics course, and, if yours was anything like mine, it was worthless to begin with. Here is the way our government works. Our nation is too large and unwieldy to have a direct democracy, wherein everyone actually exercises a specific voice in the construction of policy. Instead, through voting and other means of political activism, Americans elect a small representative group of people to construct policy on their behalf. For the non-Christian, the process is simple enough: choose whichever candidate is most likely to achieve the political ends most important to you.

Here is the problem for Christians. By choosing to elect a representative, we make ourselves complicit in everything that is done on our behalf. That's unpleasant to think about and easy to dismiss uncritically, but that is the nature of the American system of government. President Obama has your proxy to act in the executive branch. Maybe you didn't vote for him, and maybe that means you can sleep better at night know that your spotless Christian hands aren't stained with the blood of the people he assassinated by remote control. But unless you make a habit of losing, there is someone who is representing you in the American government, and it is necessary then to come to terms with the fact that government by its very nature behaves in ways forbidden to Christians.

War serves a legitimate function in statecraft, as does, arguably, capital punishment. But the Christ who told Peter to sheath his sword and stepped in front of the Jewish firing squad to save an adulteress models a different behavior, an ethical lifestyle that Christians are obligated to follow. Whoever you vote for, whoever is elected is employed only and entirely in the business of violence, that is in the business of coercing people to do what they would not do if given the choice. Whether it is taxes, speed limits, capital punishment, marriage rights, restrictions on abortion, or a war in Iran (because dying in the Middle East is the new American pastime) is irrelevant. Government is in the business of violence, and our government is in the business of doing violence with the consent of and on behalf of the voting public.

There is a solution, of course, for Christians. If to vote means to insinuate yourself ethically if not personally into the vile business of politics, then don't vote. It's not a matter of apathy or a recognition of futility. Instead, it is an affirmation that you belong to a different kingdom with a different King. Moreover--unlike America which continues to prove both its ambition and ineptitude on this front--our King will one day have everything put into subjection under his feet, without need of my vote or my campaign contributions. This is not a disengagement with the world. It is a proud boast that, in Christ, we have be granted a different mode of engagement with the world. One in which "when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat." Christians reject, loudly and audaciously, the governing assumption the state that order is born out of violence and community out of coercion. By not voting, we concede the work of evil to the working of evildoers and reserve for ourselves the practice of untainted righteousness.

Perhaps more importantly, when Christians refuse to vote, we protect ourselves from the errors of the Israelites. We forget neither that God is our King nor the deeds He has worked on our behalf. We heed the advice of Solomon to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." and sing with the psalmist, "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes." There is a stand to take this election more important than opposition to abortion. There is a gospel to preach truer than economic equality of opportunity. That message begins when Christians extricate themselves from the polls and resume their stance as critics from without, voices in the wilderness crying "Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

If the kingdom of heaven really is at hand, why are we so invested in the politics of the kingdoms of this world?

[Reason 1; Reason 2]

Monday, November 5, 2012

Here's an Idea, Don't Vote: Politics and Christian PR

There's an election tomorrow. Have you heard? This will come as a shock to no one who has ever visited this site, but I will not be voting this year. I also didn't vote four years ago. Or four years before that. get the drift. As a committed old, tried and true Christian anarchist, I have watched the campaign season very closely, the way I might watch a really interesting football game, or a Spike "world's most unbelievable car crashes" marathon. Politics--infinitely more than contact sports and traffic accidents--has proves itself again and again to be irredeemably violent. Beyond that basically standard pacifist complaint, however, I would like to offer three reasons why I, as a Christian, am not voting and, wait for it, why I encourage other Christians not to vote either. If you're not a Christian, you should vote; it'd be a shame if you didn't. (Not nearly as big a shame as it is that you're not a Christian, of course.) In any case...

The following argument will strike many as trivial, which is precisely why I have sandwiched it between what I believe are two more essential points. Nevertheless, having disposed of the notion that Christians are obligated to construct a moral society through legislation, it is important to look at the consequences of continuing to attempt to achieve such political ends. Admittedly there is a real sense in which Scripture acknowledges that that to be a Christian means to open yourself up to ridicule. Paul even accept that the world will always look down on the wisdom of God, ironically labeling it folly. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between opening ourselves up to be mocked and causing God to be mocked.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Jesus and Paul agree here on what ought to be a self-evident truth: people are watching Christians and what they see determines what they believe. Christians individually probably are not to keen on the notion that their lives are under a microscope, and why should they be? God is more than fully aware that we all still sin. Christ is the image of the perfect human, not me. Nevertheless, the corporate behavior of Christianity speaks volumes to the world, particularly given how loudly we shout about certain issues. Unfortunately, what we're shouting about isn't meekness, poverty, righteousness, purity, peace, and mercy as in the Beatitudes--which precede the first quote--nor are is the public face of Christianity brotherly love, quiet living, and industriousness as in the passage from 1 Thessalonians. What are the loudest messages about God instead?

And if that seems like an extreme example to you, there are certainly others. Look at the now infamous statements of Richard Mourdock: "Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen." Frankly, I don't find that sentiment all that appalling, not because I agree with it but because I know it represents a large and historic branch of Christian theology. The popular media and the vocal critics of Christianity are less philosophical about it. It is sentiments like these given voice only because they are attached to political power: constitutionally challenged and protected protests or theology spilling into public policy. Meanwhile, I could walk into work tomorrow morning and proudly declare that I believe therapeutic abortion (i.e. abortion to save the life of the mother) is wrong--and I do believe that--and no one would bat an eye. They know that I have no interest in launching Christian ethics into the public sphere and so derision is replaced with apathy.

Meanwhile, regardless of what I believe about abortion--which is made largely irrelevant by my theoretical lack of a uterus--I would hope that when people describe me it is in terms more personal and therefore more sympathetic than the way most people choose to describe Mourdock or the Westboro Baptists. Those groups exist only as their public faces, only insofar as their behavior has consequences on a political scale. Yet when people interacted with Jesus, he specifically rejected any reduction of himself into a political persona. He was a healer of the sick, a feeder of the hungry, and a forgiver of sinners--not to mention a man of indisputably impeccable character himself. Richard Mourdock may very well donate to food drives. He may volunteer at hospitals. He may forgive any and everyone, even rape victims who get abortions. It's irrelevant. He will always be that Christian who thinks God is a rapist and wants to write laws on the basis of that belief.

It is time for Christians to take a long, hard look at just how extensively our involvement in democratic politics has opened us and, much more importantly, God to ceaseless ridicule. By allowing the public presence of the Christian faith to be reduced to its political manifestation--either is moralistic bigotry or socialistic coerced charity--we have transformed God the Father, Son, and Spirit from persons to partisans. There is no rehabilitating Christianity's political image. It is not possible to offer to the world a kinder, gentler, truer Christianity that will make the faith politically palatable. God makes radical ethical demands of His followers, and libertines are never going to be okay with that. God makes radical social justice demands of his followers, and aristocrats are never going to be okay with that. As long as the faith is married to political agendas, it will never be anything more than a caricature of the truth which Jesus came to impart, a revolutionary practical, ethical truth. In the meantime, more people are likely to disassociate with Christianity in favor of some vague notion of "spirituality" because to be in church means to be Richard Mourdock, et. al.

[Reason 1; Reason 3]

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Here's an Idea, Don't Vote: Christianity and the Moral Society

There's an election in a few days. Have you heard? This will come as a shock to no one who has ever visited this site, but I will not be voting this year. I also didn't vote four years ago. Or four years before that. get the drift. As a committed old, tried and true Christian anarchist, I have watched the campaign season very closely, the way I might watch a really interesting football game, or a Spike "world's most unbelievable car crashes" marathon. Politics--infinitely more than contact sports and traffic accidents--has proves itself again and again to be irredeemably violent. Beyond that basically standard pacifist complaint, however, I would like to offer three reasons why I, as a Christian, am not voting and, wait for it, why I encourage other Christians not to vote either. If you're not a Christian, you should vote; it'd be a shame if you didn't. (Not nearly as big a shame as it is that you're not a Christian, of course.) In any case...

One of the most common arguments I hear in favor of the notion that Christians have a duty to vote is that by not voting we are allowing society to slip deeper and deeper into the quagmire of sin. By not casting my vote--typically in this scenario for the Republican candidate, but it can go either way--I become culpable for constructing a society in which school children can see a man kissing another man on a taxpayer funded field trip to an abortion clinic. (Or, if you prefer, I become culpable for constructing a society in which a misogynistic plutocrat can oppress the poor, shackle his wife to the kitchen--metaphorically or literally--and deny life-saving medical treatment to his cancer-ridden, home-schooled daughter because God told him to.) Setting aside entirely the philosophical issue of moral culpability in the absence of intention or action, there is a more obvious problem here with the way Christians have come to understand their role in constructing a moral society.

It is simple enough to begin this argument with the rather inoffensive statement that God is omnipotent. As a subset of this omnipotence, it also seems fairly obvious to indicate that it is within God's capability to prevent people from doing evil. For those of us committed to the notion of free will (and I'm sure I'll lose some of you here), that God choose is not to prevent people from doing evil is an expression of a moral truth no less crucial than God's omnipotence: compulsory goodness is no goodness at all. God, in structuring the world, has made it evident to humanity that agency is a prerequisite for morality. That is why Jesus went to such great length to convince people of the value of the ethical teachings he proclaimed. Had he wanted to, ♫ he could have called ten thousand angels ♫ and told the world, "Love one another, or else." But he didn't. Christ, the great king, unlike every government devised by man put morality in the hands of human agents and tried to persuade them to make the right decisions.

You can see where I'm going with this, and it sounds nice in theory. But you're a good, Bible-believing Christian. If only there were a verse that clearly stated that it wasn't Christians' job to police the morality of the world. Enter Paul:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

I give you the context there so you can understand where Paul is coming from. There is rampant immorality in the church in Corinth--quite unlike the pure, wholesome churches of America--but it would seem that the Corinthians still seem more interested in condemning those nasty pagans with their nasty habits. Paul will have none of it. The purity of the world is none of his concern. He understood then what so few seem to understand now: it is foolish to expect non-Christians to act like Christians. You might as well beat your head against a wall. It would certainly elicit more sympathy than trying to beat the gay out of people.

The responsibility for Christians to construct a moral society is simple. The church is holy, and it is our job as Christians to keep it holy. The world is not holy. It has been given over to the lusts of impure hearts, to dishonor, to self-destruction, and to folly. Christians can purify the church; God will purify the world--with fire, no less, but don't tell limp-wristed, left-wing, bleeding hearts like me that...we can't handle the imagery. God is not interested in forcing people to behave. You can choose to live as a Christian or you can choose to live as a pagan. According to Paul, the only thing the church needs to worry about is making sure that it is composed only of those who are choosing to behave like Christians.

As for the residents of the rest of society, they are going to keep having abortions. They are going to keep going keep stealing, embezzling, defrauding, and withholding while people literally die in the streets. They are going to keep debauching themselves in inventive ways, videotaping it, and distributing it for a small monthly fee on the Internet. They are going to keep getting drunk, stoned, and...well, I lack the appropriate drug vernacular to put together a good list, but you see where I'm going.

Society will continue to be the Roman society that existed in the days of the apostles. The only difference between Paul and Christians now is that democracy has led us into the delusion that, having failed to do the difficult work of convincing the world that God is good and sin is bad, we can just pass a law and make everyone righteous. It won't work. We shouldn't try. It's wrong.

[Reason 2; Reason 3]

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sating Our Lust for Human Sacrifice

Carrying on our theme of the press, here is an intriguing quote from Julia Budlong--early twentieth century California journalist--about the true role of our free and objective press in communicating with the public:

It seems that the great Moloch, the Public [demands] human sacrifice to appease its appetite for scandal. The newspapers are the priests who serve the altar.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Beware the News

Eighteenth century politics was remarkably like present politics, in ways more accessible than my oft repeated assertion that all politics is always and essentially mere violence. The Constitutional Convention which gave America the framework for its current form of government was arguably more contentious even than the present political climate. Unsurprisingly, the press entered the fray wholeheartedly and with a clear agenda. Noted patriot David Humphreys sent a letter to soon-to-be-president George Washington the day the Convention adjourned boasting that the press had done its part in preparing the people to accept the judgments of their leaders unquestioningly:

Judicious and well-timed publications have great efficacy in ripening the judgment of men in this quarter of the Continent.

It is crucial to remember, that "freedom of the press" in America never meant the freedom of the press to objectively report the news. It always simply meant freedom of the press to push an agenda different than the state's agenda. Then, as well as now, it is striking how often even this freedom is not exercised. Certainly beware of the somewhat obvious fallacy that "news" and "facts" are in any sense synonymous, but be even more wary of the "judicious and well-timed" stories that align too nearly with the interests of the government, whoever might be running it. In other words, good citizenship--from a secular standpoint--ought to involve having an unripened mind.