(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.
But to summarize the bare minimum, Mr. Wilson was reacting to what he called the “polluted waters of Fifty Shades of Gray.” Men, he thought, were hard-wired to want to dominate, and women to submit. Egalitarianism (Christianese for the view that gender roles aren’t objectively real, and each couple should structure their lives however worked best for them) has fooled people into going against their nature, quoth he, but you can only shove yourself down for so long. He thought “liberated” women went in for those icky BDSM fantasies precisely because they weren’t able to submit in a healthy way; and men, well, this is why they rape so much. Isn’t it obvious?
The Christian blogosphere reacted to this just as violently as you might expect. Not just progressive Christians but even the more conservative factions. That includes complementarians (= Mr. Wilson’s basic view that men and women have different natures, but not all the repulsive thoughts about how that nature plays out) as well as egalitarians, fans of James Dobson as much as Jim Wallis and everyone in between. Nobody wanted this guy to speak for them, it seemed, and one point kept coming up from all quarters: not only is this guy crazy, but there wasn’t one word in the Bible that let him talk like this. Not that that matters from a human decency perspective, but from the perspective of saying the Bible isn’t as asinine as Mr. Wilson, it’s actually pretty significant.
The thing is, I’m not sure it’s that simple. Don’t mistake me, Mr. Wilson is 100%, outrageously wrong here. But the Bible does come close to endorsing a position very much like his at times. 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 Wilson is they’re a few thousand years out of date: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.