Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Slut-shaming" versus virgin-vilifying

Lots of people argue by slogan these days. There is a slogan now being used that way, "slut-shaming", and they say it like it's a bad thing for a "slut" to be ashamed. Granted, I wouldn't choose the word "slut" -- it's harsh and insulting and communicates nothing but contempt. So I wouldn't introduce such a word into the conversation myself, and will take this opportunity to say some words that are more accurate: foolish, irresponsible, using and being used, selling your future short. The feminists see this as an issue -- that men are not called to account for the exact same bad behavior -- then conclude that therefore women should behave just as badly.

Many feminists are genuinely trying to take a stand for fairness; but I wonder sometimes whether they realize that they're being played. Would it bother them to realize that "feminism" has become a tool by which the men play the women to get what they want? And the feminists are defining "success" in terms of "doing what men are doing" -- as if what men are doing is automatically smart or right or desirable. Why did that assumption pass unchallenged, especially among feminists? Does an "empowered woman" want to be a copycat of the men?

Women have traditionally been held to higher moral standards -- at least when it comes to sex -- because we're the ones who suffer the consequences of idiocy or short-sightedness. We're the ones who face the "choice" of aborting our children or raising them alone, often in hardship. The stakes of the game are far higher for us, so we were expected to play smarter.Why aren't men ashamed of lying their way into a woman's bedroom? Good question, but that doesn't make it smart for us to give them a free pass and condone it. And make no mistake, the men have played the feminist movement so that now they have women standing up for the "right" to play the game the way that men want them to.

Except conscience is a tricky thing. If, deep down, we know we have been irresponsible with our lives, our bodies, our hearts, our emotional well-being, possibly even our futures or our potential children's future -- our consciences demand that we notice. The "feminization of poverty" -- the fact that the poor are more and more likely to be women and children -- is directly because we have stopped playing smart, and started defining "success" as "imitating men at their worst". And we could be a little smarter. This is an age where people are security conscious. People wouldn't dream of giving out their ATM pin to someone they just met, or having their password that's something ridiculously easy to guess. I would suggest that most women need to change the password to their pants. "I love you" is just too easy to guess. It's a sure way to get lied to and played.

As for virgin-vilifying, it has become a recurring action in pop culture. In The Breakfast Club, there's a scene in which the most disreputable character continually insinuates that there is something wrong with anyone who isn't sleeping around. And in that conversation, it looks as though he's the only one who may be sleeping around -- but the others allow themselves to be treated as if their patience or self-control -- or waiting for the right moment -- is somehow shameful. On The Simpsons, there is an episode in which we learn that Principal Skinner is a virgin -- and the town reacts in shock and disgust as if something was badly wrong with waiting for the right person, the right moment, the right relationship, or even marriage. There have even been some feature-length movies that have as their premise that there is something wrong with you if you are past a certain age and still a virgin. It was entertaining to see this virgin-vilifying turned on its head in the movie Easy A, where the main character helped other peoples' reputations -- that is, helped the reputation of vilified virgins -- by claiming to have slept with them.

On this particular topic, the feminist movement reminds me of a scene from the play Guys and Dolls in which Adelaide sings, "Take Back Your Mink". The lyrics are all about how powerful she is and how she is taking a stand and won't be played by the men any longer -- but the actions are all about her undressing herself for men's entertainment in a strip club. When it comes to the topic of "slut-shaming", the feminist movement is taking the role of Adelaide, singing about how sleeping around is "empowerment" while the men hoot and applaud, and maybe not realizing that was exactly what the men wanted them to do, and that the men are quite firmly in control of that situation.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why it is sometimes necessary to refer to the Old Testament as "Old"

I've written before about the words we use to talk about the Old Testament. And currently there is something of a trend to call the Old Testament either the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible. I won't repeat the earlier post, but I did want to add: it is sometimes important for us as Christians to be able to affirm that the Old Testament is, in fact, old. We no longer look for a human priest to make animal sacrifices, or for animal blood to be thrown on an altar. We Christians can be thankful that we never again desire animal sacrifices: they are old, their day has gone, and we do not want their return. We no longer say that some food can make a person unclean -- because we affirm that what defiles a person is what comes from their heart. We no longer say, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" as did the Torah, and the code of Hammurabi before it.

There are times when we may prefer to call the Old Testament by the name Tanakh. But there are times when it is necessary to affirm that we see it as old: the days of blood sacrifice are gone, the days of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" are gone, the days of a nation being asked to eradicate its neighbors for their religious beliefs are gone. When we call it the "Old Testament" we proclaim our belief that those days are gone. The fact that those days are gone is part of the good news.

"If those things are part of your holy book, then how can you say they are not part of your religion?" Because they are old: the old has gone and the new has come.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Is human nature basically good or totally depraved?

It has been awhile since I posted on the "controversies" series. With this year's busy season at work beginning to wind down, I'm hoping that I might develop that series a little further this fall and winter. One question I did not include on my original list, but keeps coming up, is the question of human nature. In this post I don't mean to develop the whole argument, just to show the opposite ends of the spectrum of views and ask: Do any of you all have an opinion on the topic, and if so: what are the key things on which you build that view?

The "basically good" view

Here are some important questions posed by the "basically good" camp:

  • If God is creator, and God is good, how can he have created what is evil? 
  • If God proclaimed creation to be "very good in every way", how can we be evil? 
  • If God created us in his image, and he is good and holy, how can we (in his image) be evil? 

The "totally depraved" view

    Here are some important questions posed by the "totally depraved" camp at the opposite end of the spectrum: 

    • If we are basically good, then why do we need to be "born again" or take part in a new creation? 
    • If we are basically good, why have so many people done so many things that are not good? 
    • If we are basically good, then why does the Bible insist in a number of places that we have serious problems -- to say the least -- with sin, wickedness, and deceit?

    Finding the truth

    A wise man (my son Stephen) once said, "Truth does not equal the average of opinions." Just because there are opposite views, it does not necessarily follow that a reasonable person should hold a view that is the average of the two. Though it is typical to find that each side considers things important that the other side does not account for.

    So I find myself curious to hear more of the debate, and wondered: Do any of you all have an opinion on the topic? What are the key things on which you build that view? My current thoughts are based on the nature of good and evil (which would be a topic for some other post), but I'm keen to find out about other perspectives.

    Saturday, August 03, 2013

    A Lutheran visits Methodist services (Part 2)

    After my previous visit to a Methodist service, I decided that the guest preacher there might make a difference whether I had a real understanding of what was typical. So I came back for a second visit on the first week of the new minister's service. I won't repeat the notes on the sanctuary since it hadn't changed.

    Liturgy/Worship and Methodist particulars

    The second visit to this church gave me a clearer picture of what is normal at a Methodist service. Again, the passing of the peace began the service, and the Doxology continued in the same mid-service place as before. The minister did wear robes and a stole, so it may be that traditional vestments are still included by Methodists at times. (And again, I don't see this as being too large a matter, all things considered.)

    This time -- despite it being a communion service -- there was no creed at all. Recall that in my last visit the Apostle's Creed was labeled as an "Affirmation of Faith", bypassing the acknowledgement of its place in church history and the church universal that would be accomplished with its standard title. It seems that the Methodists do not hold it important to confess one or another of the historic Christian creeds, and skipping the creed entirely seems acceptable among Methodists. Again, there was only one Bible reading, and again it was from the Old Testament. So it seems that having only one Bible reading is nothing unusual at Methodist services, and again it is nothing unusual to skip reading from the New Testament entirely. I found myself wondering how many weeks they might go between times the New Testament was read and preached. I also wondered if the minister always picked Bible passages to suit his own thoughts, or whether there was any regular "read through the Bible / preach through the Bible" expectation like the lectionary.

    This time the service included communion. With communion there was time taken for confession and forgiveness -- and it was structured that way in the hymnal so that confession was part of the communion service. It seems that the Methodists consider confession and absolution to be a particular feature of a communion service, rather than a standard part of any service. The communion portion of the service was described as "service of word and table" in the bulletin, where my own church would have called the entire service "the service of word and sacrament" (referring to the whole service, not just the Lord's Supper). If that title is any indication, then Methodists do not view communion as a sacrament. I'm not sure whether Methodists have a category for "sacraments". I'm also not sure whether they were serving wine or grape juice for communion. I could see that they were using a loaf of leavened bread.

    There were some things that I had not recognized as regular features during my previous visit, but a second visit showed that these were standard things. One is that the congregation applauded the choir during the service. Another was an altar call at the end of the service. (I didn't notice anyone going forward either time. While we're on the topic, the one issuing the call didn't sound as though he seriously expected anyone to come forward.)

    The Prayers

    This service contained a little more prayer than the previous one, though the minister still didn't present individual prayer requests during the service.

    The Sermon

    The sermon this week was about how Christians should step forward in faith. The sermon text was God's call to Abram. Much to my relief, the whole self-congratulation theme of the previous sermon at this church was not part of this week's sermon. The "distance from other Christians" comment in the sermon was this time a mention of Calvinists: "I'm not a Calvinist, I don't believe that God has every moment of our lives scripted." It was fairly tame as far as the tone: it wasn't done in a disparaging way. Again, the main theme was about what we do; the main assurance of God's love was a promise of his presence when we move forward in faith.

    One thing in the sermon took me by surprise, which came up when the new minister asked people to define in their minds what Christianity is. He probably offered a half-dozen or more options rhetorically, and closed by saying it was all of those and so much more. But I don't think the words "grace" or "forgiveness" came up at any point during his list. (I was thinking along in my mind as he asked about how to define Christianity, and my thoughts at the moment were "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit". That is the foundation for where we start, and the present reality in which we live. And again the outreach we bring for the world and the future is "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit". At any rate that was the basic train of thought while listening to the rhetorical questions roll by.)

    The Congregation

    People seemed warmer this week, friendlier. I'm not sure if it's because a few people recognized me from before, or whether the congregation was in better spirits now that their new minister had arrived. Though, speaking of the new minister's first week, normally I'd expect a pastor's installation to be the matter of a special service, attended by whoever supervises pastors in the area, also attended by the pastors of the neighboring churches, and honored with a welcoming potluck. Here the minister introduced his family, himself and his credentials during the regular worship service, and I found no mention of a special service for the installation. I wasn't sure whether the congregation had any say in the selection of the minister, considering that his credentials were presented at his first service as if that might not have been known to them in advance.

    Back at my home service again

    The sermon was about not getting caught up in sins (self-righteousness, arrogance, harshness, etc) when we see someone else sin, following Paul's comments on correcting others with gentleness and respect, but instead how we should not become weary in doing good. The most Lutheran part of the sermon was the frank admission that sin is something that applies to us, temptation likewise, and so needs to be addressed. (I wonder whether the pastors think to themselves, "restore with gentleness and respect" about the sermons they preach when they address common temptations.) This sermon had some good tips for godly living, and about not getting caught up in the temptation to point fingers. In general there was a little too much assumption that "let us do good to all people" works out to "volunteering at the church or donating to the church". The sermon didn't have the focus I'd have expected from a Lutheran view of that passage, about Christ restoring us with gentleness and respect, how we thank him and praise him for that gentleness and respect, and how we pass along his grace to others with that same gentleness and respect. So with the almost exclusive focus on avoiding sin and doing good works (and the disappointing view of good works as equivalent to church activities), it was not a particularly Lutheran sermon, I suppose.