crucifix
Social Issues

the Crucifixion and #NeverTrump: what the Cross teaches us about politics

In case you’ve missed it, Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee for president after Cruz withdrew from the race yesterday. The news kept me up last night, mostly because my emotional state resembles something like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Handsome and I have been watching a WWII documentary recently, and the episodes describing the political movements that brought Hitler and Mussolini into power left us in dumbstruck horror. I know comparing Trump to Hitler at this point is basically passé, but it doesn’t change the fact that the comparison works for a reason.

While I’m relieved that the theocratic Dominionist-Reconstructionist fundamentalist is out of the race, I’m still terrified of a Trump candidacy and the possibility of his presidency. His campaign has already incited horrific violence against black and queer and female bodies, and I believe it’s only going to get worse. God forbid he’s elected.

As his candidacy has grown more and more successful, winning primaries by ever-wider margins, I’ve looked around at my fellow citizenry and despaired. I honestly thought we were better than him– that sure, maybe some of us were just that bigoted and racist– but certainly not enough of us to get him nominated. Watching this has been a brutal corrective and I’m far more cynical about America than I was back in September.

Aside from his hatred, lewdness, and blatant dishonesty, aside from the fact that he’s advocated for torture and war crimes and directed a miasmic bombardment at women, Trump is the representation of Empire made flesh. He is, quite literally, an anti-Christ in the sense that he stands in direct opposition to everything Jesus Christ taught us to do.

  • Trump tells us that we must fear and hate our enemies. Jesus tells us not only to love and forgive them, but to radically resist oppression through turning the other cheek, to carry the Roman conqueror’s pack not one mile, but two.
  • Trump tells us to ostracize or exile those who look different, to barricade them behind a wall. Jesus tells us that all people are our neighbors, and that our example is the Good Samaritan who sacrificially brought aid to a stranger.
  • Trump calls on us to enact abominations against women and children. Jesus says that anyone who hurts a child deserves to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck.

I understand what he’s appealing to. He is a tool of Empire– he is slavering and rapacious, greedy for power, for control, for prestige, for wealth, for domination. It doesn’t surprise me that when he says “Make America Great Again” he’s pulling on the fear and lust that dwells in all our hearts. We don’t want to feel threatened. We want to feel secure. And, worse than that, we are a nation built on the principle that white men deserve land ownership, deserve enfranchisement, deserve gainful employment– and these white men were quite willing for hundreds of years to enrich themselves off the fact that they literally owned women and didn’t even recognize black people as human beings fully endowed with the imago dei.

Trump is conjuring an image of America for white men where they can have all of that again– all that power, all that wealth, because they deserve it for no other reason than an accident of birth. If they serve Empire, they’ll be rewarded by the restoration of their power.

Jesus asks us to walk a different path than this.

He said that whoever wants to be his disciple must take up their cross and follow him (Mt 16:24, Lk 9:23, Mk. 8:34). It’s clear that he was speaking metaphorically, but I think that over time we’ve lost the bluntness, the absolute starkness, of the imagery he chose for this teaching. Today we think of “bearing our cross” as a form of drudgery– it carries similar cultural weight as putting your nose to the grindstone, and has a feeling of daily wear-and-tear. Our “cross” takes on various forms, usually none of them all that weighty. Fulfilling your obligations as a parent. Chronic illness. A narcissistic employer.

We’ve lost it partly because we abandoned public executions like the crucifixion; today, as despicable as it is that we still execute people, we tolerate it because we culturally accept the lie that lethal injection is somehow humane. We don’t have the absolute brutality of crucifixion as a part of our public consciousness– it’s not something we associate with our government as a daily reminder of their authority and what they will do to us if we try to subvert their power (at least, not if we’re white). We don’t have to move about our day with crucifixion as a constant threat.

The people Jesus was speaking to, though, they did. They knew that if they put one toe out of line, that’s where they could be– hanging on a Roman cross, enduring Roman humiliations, bearing Roman torture. Jesus’ call to discipleship demands that we face that risk, that we stand in the face of Empire and say No!–no, I would rather die a horrible, agonizing death than serve the Empire and Mammon.

Handsome and I were talking about the evangelical notion that the Cross is the pinnacle of God’s love for us– like how Joshua Harris said, that “God’s perfect love for a fallen world is more clearly seen in the death of His Son.” As I argued in response, under the penal substitutionary atonement theory, this doesn’t hold true– but in some theological positions, it could. Handsome argued how God loved us enough, wanted to be with us enough to become Emmanuel, to face what they knew was coming. He said that there was something important enough to teach us that they left heaven and put on a body and walked among us… even knowing that he’d be crucified.

I think that’s true, regardless of what Atonement Theory convinces you most. Setting aside the Atonement for the moment, I think it’s important to concentrate on the “pre-Easter Jesus,” as Marcus Borg puts it. Forgetting all the theological implications for the moment, what does the Cross mean? What does it mean that Jesus suffered this form of death: an execution by the state for treason and sedition?

Like all mythical stories (and, before you clutch your pearls, mythical doesn’t mean untrue), the story of the Cross has a multiplicity of meanings and Truths tied up in it. What it means can change, can flicker, and that is one of the glorious beauties of myth. Today, as Trump ascends to the throne of the Republican party, I think that one of the things that the Cross is meant to teach us is this: we are to resist Empire with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds. Empire is a siren’s song, luring us in with promises of security and wellness, but those are not our priorities as Christians. In fact, being a follower of Christ means that we’re willing to risk being hung on a tree right beside him because we refuse to bow to our oppressors. We will not give in to white supremacy, or misogyny, or the belief that we have the right to slaughter countless innocents because their communities oppose our nation– either through active war or passively refusing to take in the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

I believe that’s what it means for us today to take up our cross and follow him. Are we going to do it?

Photograph by Brian
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 59-86

“Looking up ‘Love’ in God’s Dictionary” &
“The Right Thing at the Wrong Time is the Wrong Thing”

This week we’re entering the second Part of IKDG: “The Heart of the Matter.” I was hoping this meant that we’d be digging into different ideas, but so far these two chapters were repetitive. There’s building your argument, and then there’s just restating yourself, and Joshua is going in circles at this point. However, it did make it clear that there are two realities that are affecting his judgment: 1) his utter lack of experience, and 2) the cynicism and suspicion he’s been taught to see The World through. These combine to form an inaccurate understanding of how The World actually works; a side-effect is that he’s far too sanguine about fellow Christians and their behavior.

For example, he cites Eric and Leslie Ludy (although he doesn’t use their last name, which seemed odd to me) as a model for how courtship should work and why it’s successful, contrasting it with a high school friend who lied to his parents in order to sleep with his girlfriend. However, he does nothing to address the fact that in the early days of their speaking tours, the Ludys talked about the fact that they didn’t consummate their marriage for over a year. Joshua presents them as the ideal: “You’d be hard pressed to find two more romantic people” (61), but he glosses over (or doesn’t know about) their lack of sex, which Joshua has argued is central to marriage.

In the next chapter he cites William Bennett, using a parable of Bennett’s creation about self-discipline and patience, concluding with Bennett’s line:

“Too often, people want what they want … right now. The irony of their impatience is that only by learning to wait, and by a willingness to accept the bad with the good, do we usually attain those things that are truly worthwhile. (76)

This statement serves as the chapter’s main thesis, except … Bennett had such a severe gambling problem that he lost millions of dollars in Vegas. But sure. It’s “The World” that has the problem with selfishness and impatience.

I’m also worried about Joshua’s view of sex. He has consistently portrayed sex as something that happens primarily because of selfishness, because a person is consumed about their own gratification– and has applied this definition to his own view of sex. This worries me because what you believe about the nature of sex doesn’t change simply because you signed a piece of paper. If he thinks that sex outside of marriage can only be selfish (65), what miracle happens to suddenly transform selfishness into benevolence when a couple signs on the dotted line?

His lack of experience shines through here: he doesn’t believe it is possible for sex outside of marriage to be anything except selfishly motivated. And sure, it frequently can be. However, that’s not an intrinsic part of pre-marital sex, but a problem with the individual person. In my experience, pre-marital sex was one of the most affirming, life-giving, healing, and beneficial experiences of my life. With Handsome’s help, I was able to overcome some elements of my PTSD. If we’d waited until we were married to start exploring this area of our relationship, I am 100% positive that it would have been disastrous for us. In our case, it was the least selfish thing we could do for each other.

He’s being overly cynical about what sex outside of marriage can look like for people. It’s probable he’s only ever heard horror stories used to bolster the abstinence-only position. If someone ever came into his church’s pulpit and said “we had sex before we got married and everything was fine” I’ll eat my hat. Except, for a lot of people, that is the reality of their experience– everything was fine.

One of his points is that “Love must be sincere,” following Romans 12:9. He uses this to denounce the “fact” that dating comes with a “an angle, a hidden agenda” (70). He describes a conversation he once heard between young men where they talked about negging (although he doesn’t use that term) and other manipulative PUA-style tactics. So while I agree with him that love is sincere and honest, and he’s right to condemn horrible things like negging, he’s holding up betas and PUAs like they’re the standard form of secular dating. Hint: they’re not.

He also condemns the type of boyfriend who says “If you really loved me, you’d do it” (65) but infuriatingly ignores the ubiquitousness of “if you don’t sleep with your husband, you don’t love him (and you’re responsible if he cheats on you!)” in his complementarian culture.

***

In the next chapter he breaks down what he views as cultural problems that affect romantic relationships, like how The World is supposedly all about impatience– and the more impatient our culture becomes, it affects how we treat sex, such as having it at increasingly early ages. Spoiler alert: the trend at the time Joshua wrote IKDG was actually the opposite of this. The rate of girls ages 15-19 who’d had sex fell by 8% from 1988 to 1995, and that trend continued past the original publishing of IKDG. Today, the average age for a woman to have sex for the first time is 17, and the number of high-schoolers who say they’ve had sex has dropped below 50%.

But, little things like facts and research shouldn’t stand in the way of a perfectly good pearl-clutching moment.

The latter half of this chapter is dedicated to the concept that you have to trust God and their perfect timing, which is one of the primary messages of purity culture. If you try to rush things, you’ll inevitably be losing out on “God’s best.” Wait for the person God has for you. God knows best. God knows better than you ever could. You can’t be allowed to make your own decisions because you will screw it up.

This is all based in a view of God that is primarily punitive:

God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.” God always defines love by pointing to His Son. This was the only way our sins could be forgiven. The innocent One took the place of the guilty–He offered himself up to death so that we could have eternal life. God’s perfect love for a fallen world is more clearly seen in the death of His Son. (67)

My marginalia for this section is “UGH.” Because that specific understanding of the Atonement is supposed to be viewed by us as the pinnacle of love. God points at the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, the beating, the misery, and says “that’s what love looks like“? It looks like violence and terror? It looks like an execution performed by the state? Just … this articulation always makes me want to beat my head into the wall. I also find it disturbing that, according to penal substitionary atonement theory, it is impossible for God to be merciful and forgiving. They must exact vengeance, a price. Sin must be paid for, or we will all burn in hell.

That’s not love. That’s not forgiveness. That’s not mercy.

Jesus paints such a different portrait of God. In his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus portrays God as a king who forgives his servant of an enormous debt– a number that would look something like $10 million dollars when you make $30,000 a year. He forgives the debt for no other reason than that his servant begs him to be merciful, and he is. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus says. A king who forgives incomprehensible debt for no reason besides mercy.

But if your view of God is the opposite of this, then of course it makes sense to see our human relationships as being extremely precarious. There’s no room for grace or second chances, of making mistakes and learning from them, if this is who you think God is.

goddess
Feminism

it’s not about you: feminism and men

One of the workshops I attended at the Gay Christian Network Conference was led by Emmy Kegler (who is a solidly good human being and I adore her). During the “workshop” bit of her presentation, she asked us to split into groups and identify characters from the Bible who were marginalized in some way, and then pick one to share with everyone. I loved the conversation I had with my group, and we decided on Veronica, the Woman with the Issue of Blood– as y’all could probably have guessed, if I had anything to do with the decision.

The first person to share his group’s character started by saying “at first, the only people we listed were women until one of us asked but what about the men? There are plenty of marginalized men, why don’t we talk about them?” and he went on to share a list of different oppressed and marginalized men.

I was up next, and as you can probably imagine was feeling just a teensy bit bellicose: “Well, the only people my group talked about were women, but I’m a feminist so I don’t have a problem with that,” and then attempted to talk about Veronica.

Oh, but that wasn’t going to happen so easily. The man who’d spoken before me shouted “hey, I’m a feminist!”

Right, buddy. Sure you are. Because shouting at a woman and interrupting her presentation is totally what a feminist man does. Unfortunately (and imagine me saying this infused with as much exhaustion as is possible), this is exactly what “feminist” men usually do. After my post on complementarianism as a form of sexual coercion went up, I spent over half an hour arguing with a “feminist ally” about a conjunction I’d used in the post. A conjunction, my hand to God. Eventually, after I asked him to stop talking to me, his response was, and I quote: “Block all dissenting views. Create the perfect echo chamber. Do what you feel you need to do. I’ve got no qualms.” Hilariously, he’s since blocked me. Shocker.

But what about the men?

I used to take that question seriously. I’ve spent hours upon hours responding to e-mails and comments– on my blog and elsewhere. Using every fact and every shred of research at my disposal, I’ve constructed responses that were full-blown essays personalized to the individual man with his individual questions. Over time I realized how incredibly fruitless those efforts almost always were, so I ended up turning to pieces other people had already put together, like these:

There are even entire books dedicated to this! I’ve got The Macho Paradox, Angry White Men, and Man Enough sitting on my bookshelf. However, as even more time has passed, when I get the “but what about teh menz?!” question I realize a) it’s a derailing tactic and b) I cannot be called upon to give any more fucks.

Behold! The field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shall see that it is barren.

I do not care about men (especially cis, straight men) in my feminism.

Oh, I care about men generally and especially in specific instances, like friends and partners and family. I care when you’re hurting, when you’ve been shamed, when you’ve been victimized. I care about your lives. It matters to me if I’ve done something to harm you, if other people have stomped on you, if random events occur that makes things stressful or disappointing or horrific. I care about you as people, and I will do my best to be kind.

However, the question of whether or not, or how, the patriarchy affects men no longer matters to me. Sure, it “affects” men … just like it’s illegal for both rich people and poor people to beg. Technically, rich people and poor people are equal in the eyes of the law and society when it comes to whether or not we approve of panhandling. However, we all know exactly how laughable it is for rich people to be legally prevented from panhandling. They wouldn’t do it anyway (this, obviously, does not include all the other ways rich people and corporations can legally obtain funds that really amount to nothing more than highbrow begging).

The same thing applies to cis, straight men (and trans men and gay/bi men, in limited ways).

With vanishingly few exceptions, all the ways that men are “hurt” by patriarchy are not directed at men. Men are not the targets, even when they’re being affected. Women are the only target of patriarchy, and sometimes there’s the occasional splash over onto men. In all those “__ Ways Patriarchy Hurts Men” pieces, the “ways” are driven by misogyny and femmephobia.

For example, recently a young man was sent home from school because the principal said his hair was too long. That was certainly not a good thing to have happen to him, and the principal was obviously wrong for doing that. However, this was not “sexism against men,” as one Facebook commenter put it. He was being sent home because he was perceived by his principal as womanly. The principal was so offended by the idea of any man appearing “feminine” that he banned this young man from his sight. That’s how big of an insult femininity is to men. Our womanly existence with all its trappings and constructs is, by its nature, offensive to men.

Should this man have been sent away from school? Of course not. However, he can chop his hair off and come back. I will never be able to chop off my womanhood. I will never escape my female body. There is no way I can do my hair that isn’t “wrong” to somebody, somewhere. If its short and easy to maintain, I’m clearly damaged and insane (and no, I’m not linking to the “articles” that say so). If it’s long and styled the way I like, I’m clearly just trying to be a sex kitten, so I’m a slut and men can say/do anything they want to, including following me all over the metro or saying I “look like a woman who has a lot of sex” behind my back.

There are no clothes I can wear that can be perceived as neutral. If I wear jeans an oversized hoodie, like I am today, then I’m dowdy and lazy (forget that it’s cold and rainy outside and I just want to be comfortable). If I wear a short skirt with a sweater, tights, boots, and accessories then I’m obviously gunning for attention. If I wear a blousy, floral shirt with a big chunky cardigan on top of my flair jeans, then gawd I’m a pothead hippie. Skinny jeans and chucks? What are you, some sort of fucking hipster? (And yes, that last has been said to my face.) A boxy suit, with plain black shoes and hose? Well, would you look at that bitchy businesswoman. A stylish pantsuit? You’re not being serious enough.

But my partner can wear dress pants with an Oxford, and as long as it’s clean and relatively unrumpled, no one ever thinks anything about him besides the fact that’s he’s a complicated human being who probably has an office job. He overslept and didn’t trim his beard this morning? Would anyone even freaking notice? However, if I walk outside without any makeup or doing something with my hair, then people will frown at me at the check-out counter and wonder why I’m “letting myself go.”

And all those other things that “hurt men” in the patriarchy, like having your claims of woman-on-man sexual assault or domestic violence dismissed? It’s horrible that happens, but it happens because it’s just not possible for a mere, pathetic, weak and insipid woman to have hurt a man. Any woman, any man. If a man has been victimized, then he’s been womanized, and that’s the problem with that scenario. Not that his bodily autonomy has been violated, his agency violently discarded– it’s that he’s allowed himself to be treated like a man treats a woman.

Feminism can’t get anywhere if we center men. Helping men is a side effect of feminism, not its goal.

Photo by Rosa y Dani
Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones
Feminism

Jaime Lannister is a rapist, and let’s not forget it

[This is an edited and slightly updated version of the post I wrote after Game of Thrones’ “Breaker of Chains” aired.]

[content note for sexual violence]

I’ve read G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which are now airing as the HBO series Game of Thrones. I enjoyed them, although I caution people to engage with Martin’s world critically. He’s been hailed by a lot of people as a “feminist” writer, but I am extremely hesitant to think of him in those terms (read Sady Doyle’s piece there– it’s both hysterically funny and insightful).

Since the beginning, I have appreciated both Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister as characters. Cersei, up until Storm of Swords, was a relatable character for me– she was forced into a difficult position by the expectations of her father, of her culture, and of her husband, but she did what she could to find happiness in the midst of an abusive marriage and constant rape. There isn’t a lot about her that I would describe as noble, or perhaps even likable– but she felt realistic to me, and I found myself grudgingly admiring her.

And then Storm of Swords happened, and Martin makes it blatantly obvious that we’re all supposed to hate her now because she’s ridiculously incompetent. She’s completely robbed of all sense because, well, the only explanation he offers for this drastic departure is lady-hormones. I don’t follow Game of Thrones as a show, but I’m a part of online nerd/geek communities, so I have a passing familiarity with what the show is like.

Last year, everything in that part of my internet circles exploded because of the rape scene, which a lot of people insisted diverges from the books. I find that accusation amusing because Robb Stark doesn’t even marry the same woman in the show, but this scene seems to matter to people. I wouldn’t be bothered by the scene diverging from the book, since as television it is a completely different medium, and the artists — the writers, the directors, the actors, the editors– are already telling an entirely different story than the one Martin originally penned. In many ways I think the direction they’ve taken is intriguing.

However, in this one scene they stayed true to the book.

Jaime does, in fact, rape Cersei in the sept next to Joffrey’s dead body.

She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue.

“No,”

she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath.

She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods.

He never heard her.

He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

That is rape. There is no other word for this scene. Jaime raped Cersei, full stop.

And, honestly, by this point in the books a rape scene would cause me to think yawn, well of course a woman got raped it’s Martin writing this for heaven’s sake what did I think would happen? There are various things to be said about how often people are raped in Martin’s fantasy world, but I’m not really here to critique the existence of rape in his books. It’s what he does with it, and this scene in particular, that deeply, deeply troubles me, because of what happens next:

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.”

This, I have a problem with– because this is a rape myth. It actually gets a fucking number on the Women Against Violence’s list of “Rape Myths”– it’s #17:

“When a woman says no, she really means maybe or yes.”

It’s the idea that women secretly all want it, they just have to be persuadedHorrifically, “with my dick” can finish that sentence without the person immediately retching at the utterly revolting idea just expressed.

In Martin’s world, hysterical shrew-bitch women like Cersei Lannister do not get to have their “no” listened to (and we get to say “no” for whatever the HELL reason we want), and strong, handsome, virile, maiden-of-Tarth-defending men like Jaime get to fuck them anyway because actually, she really does want it and I just know because . . . well, no reason– and look, see, she’s getting off on my awesome manly ravishing of her!

But, horrifyingly, this isn’t a rape scene to a disturbing number of people. Chris Ostendorf described it as “complicated consensual sex.” To a lot of people, that she’s saying no to the circumstances somehow makes it not real rape. She would have had sex with him, if it wasn’t for his hand, or where they were, or the septons, or their father somehow finding out, etc.

I have a gigantic– no, colossal— rage-inducing problem with this for the simple reason that when I told my rapist “no,” this is exactly what I sounded like. I couldn’t physically stop someone almost twice my weight, and so I did everything within my power to persuade him to stop. I told him it hurt– he did not stop. I told him “no,” he did not stop. I told him “please, not now,” he did not stop. I said “what if your parents come home?” but he did not stop. I told him I didn’t think it was right (ie, “wrath of the gods,”) and he did not stop.

Finally, I gave up and tried not to let him see me cry because I knew he would hurt me even more if he did. When he assaulted me again, and again, and again, and again, and Again, and AGAIN, I learned that it would all just be over if he got what he wanted. He would eventually leave me alone and go and play Halo if I didn’t fight him. He didn’t care about how much he hurt me, or about how often I vomited after because what forced me do to him disgusted me.

So, for all of you people who argued that Jaime didn’t rape Cersei:

FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU TO FUCKING HELL.

To George R. R. Martin, the twisted fuck who wrote this scene and is perpetuating the exact rape myth that has caused me unending agony: fuck you. To Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays Jaime), who thinks because “it wasn’t just [rape]” it’s somehow justifiable: fuck you. To Sonia Saraiya who thinks there’s “wiggle room” in whether or not we think Cersei “enthusiastically consented”: fuck you. To Chris Ostendorf, who given the chance would describe my rape as “complicated consensual sex”– fuck you, too. Fuck you all.

***

I want to be crystal clear that my problem with this scene in the book (for this post, at least) isn’t that Martin has written yet another rape scene. It’s that what he’s written is a rape myth— a chauvinistic fantasy about male-centric sex that ignores or denies women the ability to consent. Cersei told Jaime no seven different ways, but then suddenly starts begging for it– literally. This is an extremely dominant myth about the difference between rape and consensual sex. In order for something to be considered “legitimate” rape, the victim has to fight tooth and nail until the bitter end. In order for it to be real rape, the victim could never– not once not ever— have consented to sex. If they consented to sex once, well, they’re only saying no for inconsequential reasons and they should just get over it, it’s not that bad.

Martin believes that this is not rape because of the rape myth he believes in– that our culture believes in. Cersei’s apparent enjoyment of her rape (and remember, this scene is written from the rapist’s point of view, not the victim’s, and most rapists think that their behavior is acceptable and normal) in the real world of modern America could be a survival mechanism for an abuse victim– and usually is. Sometimes victims freeze up. Sometimes they, like me, try to resist but then give up because it’s useless and we just want it to fucking end.

Martin does not think that Jaime raped Cersei here, because he believes that women can be manipulative whores who say no in order to be “hard to get,” but in reality really just need to be sexually assaulted into silence and then fucked into realizing what the rapist knew all along– that she actually wanted it.

This is one of the most grievous lies of rape culture– and the actors, the directors, and the writers all used it.

Keep that in mind as you enjoy the season premier tomorrow.

teeth x ray
Theology

panic at the dentist: on moral neutrality

“I have a lot of hangups” would be a most profound understatement.

I was thinking that again on my way to the dentist this morning. To explain why dentist = hangup, you’ll need some context. My family never misses seeing the dentist, and I mean never. Dental hygiene was a monumental deal– one of the most memorable spankings I received was the one night I tried to lie about brushing my teeth (the spanking was mostly for lying, but also a little bit for not brushing my teeth). Hygiene in general was important, but somehow I got the message that having clean teeth equated with being a morally good and responsible person.

So, you can imagine how incredibly proud I was of the fact that I’d never had a cavity. Every time the dentist would joke “if everyone had teeth like yours I’d be out of business!” and I’d say something about drinking three glasses of milk every day. That record lasted until a) not seeing a dentist for two years in graduate school, b) while I was drinking buckets of coffee every day, c) had an diagnosed vitamin-D deficiency and d) was not regularly flossing. The first time I saw a dentist after I got married, I had ten cavities. Ten. Flash forward two years later and one of them needed a crown.

Needless to say, I now dread going to the dentist.

This morning’s appointment was the first one I’d had in a while since I’d had to cancel my last appointment unexpectedly (as in: I was standing in the waiting room obviously about to throw up and they sent me home because they are nice, considerate, lovely people and I was being a little silly). All week I have had nightmares because I was utterly convinced that they were going to find cavities in all my teeth and I was going to need at least six root canals. At least. I was actually up until 3 am Wednesday night because I couldn’t stop feeling anxious about my dentist appointment that wasn’t for another two whole bloody days. I also kept having intrusive thoughts about the hygienist somehow picking all my fillings out (it’s happened before, with a filling that didn’t set properly).

Turns out I was freaking out for literally no reason (something I already sort of knew, but this is how JerkBrain works). The cleaning went fine, none of my fillings fell out, and they didn’t find any new cavities. I was in an out in twenty minutes, and I even got a compliment for having practically no tartar buildup.

***

I’m obviously having trouble deconstructing the idea that developing a cavity is a moral failing. If I were a good person, I’d floss twice a day and use mouthwash every night. Instead, I rarely use mouthwash and I floss maybe once or twice a week, which means that I’m a bad person. Bad people let all their teeth rot of their head, which is clearly what I’m doing when I don’t floss every single day.

However, this isn’t just about dental hygiene. Growing up, there was absolutely nothing that didn’t have a weighty, moral significance. Everything we did, saw, ate, read, or went all had eternal import. I heard a few verses tossed around to support this concept, notably one from Philippians:

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel …

That word “conversation” is politeuomai, and it basically means “living as a citizen.” In the context of this verse, our entire lives, all of our affairs, our conduct, were supposed to be lived as a citizen under “the gospel of Christ”– and in such a way that you’d have a reputation for living that way. There wasn’t a single aspect of our lives that wasn’t evaluated for whether or not it was a “Christian” thing to do or be or think or say.

Including, apparently, brushing your teeth.

I was talking to a friend recently and, in trying to be encouraging, I stumbled into something that I think could be helpful for a lot of us:

Not everything is meant to be received as a comment on your character.

Some things just … are. They just exist. You do them or not, you say them or not, you read them or not, you eat them or not, and none of it says anything about who you are as a person. A doughnut is just a doughnut, regardless of how your body is perceived by our culture. Curse words are just curse words, and saying them doesn’t actually mean you have a shallow vocabulary. Cavities … are just cavities, no matter how much your dentist might tsk at you about flossing.

Last night my small group met, and we got to this passage in our Bible study:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable … “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Aside from the hilarity of hearing Jesus say (roughly) “you eat then you shit,” this passage has a place in my heart because it’s the exact opposite of what Christian culture generally communicates. Don’t watch R-rated movies. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t listen to “bad” music. The implicit idea is these things are capable of defiling you … except Jesus says they can’t, that it’s only defiling actions that matter, and he lists some pretty obvious ones.

I especially loved this passage last night, the night before my dentist appointment, because Jesus is responding to the Pharisees freaking out about him not washing his hands. Jesus is saying “look, y’all, whether or not I wash my hands has nothing to do with whether or not I’m a good person. The only thing that matters is whether or not I do good, loving things.”

Whether or not I have a cavity can’t say anything about my character. Whether or not you exercise, or clean, or diet, or whatever,  doesn’t say anything about yours.

judith slaying holofornes 3
Feminism

complementarians need to read their Bible

In case you missed it, Nathan Alberson at Warhorn Media wrote an open letter to any “empowered fictional female warrior type,” specifically referencing Rey in the title of his piece. In case you haven’t read it and would like to, here it is. If you don’t want to read it, his essential argument is that female action stars give us the “wrong” impression of what women are actually capable of, because we’re weaker then men. This is especially bad because it robs men of their dignity if we’re not damseled in every movie we appear in.

My eyes rolled so far back into my head it hurt. It took me a few days to get through the whole thing because of how ludicrous and misogynistic his argument was– but mostly because it was badly written. I’m finding myself more easily annoyed by bad writing these days.

Others have already responded to Nathan’s article (and this video of Daisy Ridley deadlifting 176 lbs blows his argument all to hell), but I wanted to talk about one thing he said in particular:

I could quote more scriptures about women being vulnerable in ways that men aren’t. About women being designed by God to be wives and mothers. About Eve being made as Adam’s helpmate. I’m not going to bother doing that because you ladies are all capable of reading your Bibles.

He’s right. This lady is certainly capable of reading my Bible. Certainly more capable than Nathan is.

In the opening to his article he cites some of the great action characters: Leia, Wonder Woman, Sara Connor, Trinity, Furiosa, Beatrix, Natasha, Katniss, River, Gamora, and Tauriel (although he couldn’t seem to remember Tauriel’s name and didn’t bother looking it up). I’m sure we could all name more, but he most definitely left some out.

Miriam, who alongside her brother led her people out of slavery.

Candace, queen and ruler of one of the wealthiest lands in the world and equal to King Solomon.

Deborah, a judge so mighty that a battle-hardened general asked her to ride beside him.

Huldah, the prophetess who restored the Tanakh to the people.

Phoebe, the woman Paul trusted to face dangers and trials to teach and guide the church in Rome.

Ruth, who abandoned everything she’d ever known in order to be with the woman she loved.

Junia, one of the greatest apostles.

Jehosheba, the princess who rescued the future king from a massacre.

Jael, the woman who slayed a ferocious and ruthless general with warm milk and a tent spike.

Puah and Shiphrah, the midwives who saved countless lives from Pharoh’s edict.

Joanna and Mary Magdalene, risking execution, remained faithful to Christ beyond the grave.

Veronica, by tempting fate, sought healing and whom Jesus called “daughter.”

Lydia, the earliest known gentile convert to Christianity after the Resurrection.

Mary, mother of God, who fled Herod and death and found shelter in Egypt.

Esther, through shrewdness and cunning, saved her people from genocide.

Rahab, who gathered her family before an impending invasion without exposing her plan.

Tamar, bravely facing death, enacted a brilliant plot to save her family and entered the lineage of Christ.

***

I’ve been fiddling with the idea of doing a “women of the Bible” series, and Nathan’s post finally gave me the last push I needed to decide. We could use something a little lighter around here on occasion, so I’m going to do a “All the Badass Women of the Bible” post series that I think I’ll eventually collect into a book. Someday, when it’s finished. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to do them since I think they might take some research, but my plan is to do a narrative telling of their stories, only with a healthy heaping of sarcasm and sacrilege.

They might be slightly reminiscent of Liz Curtis Higgs’ Bad Girls of the Bible, only a lot more feminist and a lot more celebratory of womanhood. I grew up knowing that there were women in the Bible, but they barely appeared as people to me, let alone fully embodied characters with motivations and emotions and humanity. In today’s culture, they’re easy to ignore and forget. We’ve spent thousands of years lifting up the examples of domesticity and compliance that how incredibly competent and powerful some of these women were has been obscured.

Their stories have been made to serve patriarchy and oppression. I’m going to do my best to change that.

Art by Artemisia Gentileschi, from the Uffizi Gallery‘s contribution to the Google Cultural Institute.
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 49-56

“Counterculture Romance”

What I’ve been trying to keep in front of me as I’ve been reading is that Joshua was 23, and on top of being really young he grew up in the same homeschooling culture I did– and at this point in his life was being inducted into the cult-like atmosphere of C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries. If you’re wondering why SGM is ringing a bell, it’s because they’re the folks that spent a lot of time and energy covering up the fact that children were being raped and molested in their churches in order to protect the abusers.

That’s where Joshua was at this point in his life. He was being instructed by Mahaney, a man whose leadership is utterly void of any form of Christian love or compassion. So, I have a lot of empathy for what he was going through … but he was still disastrously wrong in writing IKDG.

The first thing I want to highlight is in the differences Joshua and I have toward the Bible– and it’s more than just our differences on inspiration. He opens chapter four by referencing Ephesians 4, where Paul encourages us to “throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through … instead there must be a spiritual renewal” (49).

When people like Joshua read these passages, it’s in the context of individualism and the sorts of “evil” that conservative evangelicals point to … like rebellion in children or watching R-rated films. However, I don’t think a word like phtheirō which means utterly corrupted, destroyed, ruined— is an appropriate term to describe two teenagers fooling around in a parked car (53). However, phteirō is properly rendered in something that destroys as many human lives as misogyny or white supremacy have. I do believe in “throwing off your old evil nature.” But, because conservative evangelicals like Joshua are trapped in seeing sin as individual and not communal, they’re inevitably going to arrive at interpretations of Ephesians 4 that apply it to ordinary human behavior.

But, let’s move into the steps Joshua lays out for how Christians can “renew” their dating life:

1. Every relationship is an opportunity to model Christ’s love.

Yes, of course. Joshua even harkens back to Jesus’ proclamation they shall know you by how you love one another— a standard Christians don’t have the reputation of living up to. But, that’s not what I want to talk about:

Unfortunately, much of her interaction with guys is fake–it focuses on attracting attention to herself … (50)

And now contrast that with:

He still operates from the old dating mindset that he’s incomplete without a girlfriend. (51)

We could also contrast this statement about a young woman with how he described his own motivations for dating “selfishly” in the first chapter– according to him, he was seeking emotional gratification and avoiding loneliness. But the young woman he describes isn’t dating around for a sympathetic reason, no, she’s doing it to get attention. Because of course that’s all women really want, right? We’re not motivated by anything less vapid or shallow like “loneliness” or “cultural pressure.”

I’m positive this was unintentional. Joshua doesn’t strike me as an active misogynist; he’s not deliberately trying to make women look horrible. It just happened because, unfortunately, he was brought up to believe sexist things about women, like that we’re attention-seeking fake liars. He’s hardly alone.

2. My unmarried years are a gift from God.

He’s recycling the familiar message that you can get more done when you’re single:

As a single you have the freedom right now to explore, study, and tackle the world. No other time in your life will offer these chances. (51)

Granted, I’ve only been married for three years and I don’t have kids (which is still more experience than him) but so far the opposite of this has been true. Having Handsome as a partner has enabled me to do so much more than I was capable of producing by myself. I have his support and encouragement backing me up, I have him to bounce ideas and arguments around with, I have him to be inspired by. I also think it’s possible to experience these sorts of thing with people you don’t ultimately marry, too. Any good relationship should leave you feeling stronger and braver, I think.

It’s important to note that buried under the assumption that married people don’t have “freedom” is the belief that married people always have children. This is most definitely not true, but the expectation is still there.

3. I don’t need to pursue a romantic relationship before I’m ready for marriage.

Two things to highlight:

Both [Jenny and her boyfriend] have specific things to accomplish for God before they can take that step [toward marriage]. (51)

These things they’re supposed to “accomplish for God” are almost always described in classist, sexist terms. Complete a college education, have a 9-to-5 job, own a home, be able to support a middle-class suburban lifestyle … take your pick, the whole “white picket fence with 2.5 kids” is what you’re supposed to be able to “accomplish” in Joshua’s world. Maybe not to Joshua, personally, he doesn’t really say, but every preacher in our common backgrounds cited “able to attain a middle class life” as the only thing you really needed to be able to do before you get married.

Highlight Number Two:

If you’re not ready to consider marriage or you’re not truly interested in marrying a specific person, it’s selfish and potentially very harmful to encourage that person to need you, or ask him or her to gratify you emotionally or physically. (52)

See, Joshua, this sort of thing is why a bunch of the people who read IKDG walked away with the notion that they could only date people they already knew they wanted to marry, which ended up making “hey would you like to grab coffee sometimes” basically an offer of marriage.

4. I cannot “own” someone outside of marriage.

Ai yi yi. You cannot “own” someone inside of marriage, either. Marriage is not slavery. Marriage should be an equal partnership of people. It can challenge us, it can ask us to sacrifice sometimes, but it should never make us slaves to our spouses.

It honestly makes me ill that Joshua was taught to believe that getting married entitled him to own a woman. He says how bad it is for us to seriously date someone without marrying them because we “would have made unwarranted claims,” but he doesn’t challenge the idea that supposedly marriage is a “warranted claim” to another human being. That’s disturbing.

But we also get this:

Even though they hadn’t had sex, they constantly struggle with going too far. (53)

“Too far,” of course, is “penetrative intercourse.” This definition prioritizes men and the male orgasm; it also completely erases non-heteronormative sex. Even cisgender heterosexual couples are capable of having a completely satisfactory sexual experience, orgasms and all, mutual pleasure and all, without anyone’s penis going into anyone’s vagina.

5. I will avoid situations that could compromise the purity of my body or mind.

This chapter is where we get our first incidence of rape culture peeking through:

She thinks it’s very romantic, and it gives her a feeling of control over her boyfriend, who, to be quite honest, will go as far in their physical relationship as Jessica will allow. (53)

Firstly, men are not sex-craved beasts. If men exist in the default state of “going as far as their girlfriends allow,” that makes male rape impossible. Except, men aren’t permanently consenting to any and all sex acts available to them. This statement is also steeped in rape culture because it contains the dangerous idea that women are the “sexual gatekeepers.” We’re not– and treating us like we are makes rape our fault. We “allowed” it to happen … through kissing him, or being alone with him, or “leading him on” in a thousand indefinable ways that are constantly shifting.

But now I have a question for purity culture advocates: why is “purity” always about what you do (or want to do) with your genitals? Why couldn’t it be a call for us to abstain from greed? Greed can cause far more devastation– on people, on our planet, on our society– than having sex ever could, so why are we so obsessed with fornication rather than avarice?

Making the Trade

This is his conclusion to the chapter, and it asks us to think about giving God our best, instead of being “plagued by the question ‘Has God given me His best?'” It’s a Christian rendition of ask not what your country can do for you. This is the core of his argument:

You and I will never experience God’s best … until we give God our all. (55)

In my opinion, this makes God incredibly petty. Traditionally, they created us as inferior creatures. We’re not as wise or as powerful as themself, so why is an all-powerful and utterly sovereign deity dependent on us to “give our all” before they’ll allow us to experience their “best”? That just seems capricious and juvenile.

***

Joshua does seem like a genuinely sweet and sincere person, but I have a feeling that the implicit sexism, the subtle jabs at women, and the appearances of rape culture are going to be a continual problem.

balanced rocks
Social Issues

I’m bisexual and still just as objective as you

If you’re a living person in Christian culture, then you’ve run into the following sentiment:

I can agree with much of what she's written and I definitely think that the church has lost its way. But as much as she speaks to the motivations of the authors of the Bible you have to ask how much she's motivated by being "an out bisexual feminist"? When people live opposed to what the Bible calls sin then they will often be opposed to the Bible itself for their own reasons.

The argument goes that because we’re LGBT (or, in this particular case, also a woman who believes in equality), we have “skin the game” of biblical interpretation. Obviously we’re predisposed toward a particular outcome, so our judgment can’t be trusted. We can’t possibly read the Bible “objectively,” so any argument that a queer person makes about Romans 1 not necessarily being about sexual orientation is intrinsically untrustworthy.

Unlike straight people, who are clearly impartial and unaffected by this issue, so they can read the Bible without being influenced by their feelings. They can come to a clear-headed and open-minded conclusion on whether or not having sex with a similar-gender person is a sin, but a queer person can’t. In short, straights are telling the LGBT community that they definitely have our best interests at heart, and they can totally be trusted not to be wrong about this.

Aside from how incredibly patronizing this attitude is, we also have some fairly definitive proof that straights do not have the best interests of the LGBT community in mind. I know that in their head, they do– I know that they’re probably aware of how their “support” looks to us. They also don’t really care. To them, all that matters is that we’re saved from our sinful lifestyles; if they have to support legislation that will harm trans people, or force destructive conversion therapy on LGB youth, or encourage parents to physically beat their children into being straight, or call for us to be stoned to death … then they will. They have to hold us accountable for our sin, and if they kill us (or encourage other people to kills us) in the process, then no matter.

And even after countless decades of the Christian right condemning our very existence as sin, like this fellow:

Your website says you are bisexual, is it true? Is it not a sin according to God's word?

… we’re just supposed to accept that straights don’t have any possible motivation that could affect their judgment. They don’t have feelings about us that could make it difficult to be impartial. No ounce of hatred, no sliver of fear. No revulsion or disgust whatsoever. They approach LGBT rights and the Bible as a blank slate, with no predispositions of any kind.

Oh, except that’s completely wrong. In fact, people like Thabiti Anyabwile have explicitly argued in favor of Christians depending on their disgust (which is, needless to say, an emotional reaction) to drive their morals and biblical interpretation. Listen to Kevin Swanson and his ilk bloviate for more than two seconds and their hatred of us comes searing through.

Sure, maybe I’m being affected by my desire for love and acceptance when I read Romans 1 … just like any straight person can be affected by their disgust or hatred or fear when they read Romans 1.

The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to the Bible, no one is objective.

I came to the Bible a few years ago, doing my best to be open and honest about what I would find. To be blunt, my thinking at the time was that if I discovered that the Bible does speak on sexual orientations and condemned similar-gender relationships, then I was going to walk away from it all and leave Christianity behind. I knew I was bisexual, and if the Bible was going to tell me that was wrong, then I was done. Obviously, I’m still here, so I must’ve discovered something different. In my opinion there isn’t enough evidence one way or the other to be absolutely conclusive, so I err on the side of loving others and doing no harm. My hermenuetic looks a bit like St. Augstine’s, actually:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

This argument that only straight people can be trusted to interpret Scripture correctly and appropriately– because queer folk don’t want to be told we’re sinning– doesn’t make any sense. If it were true, then no one would ever be able to agree about any sin. Except we know that it’s possible for greedy people to know they’re greedy and that the Bible vociferously condemns it. Or how about the two sins that almost always get brought up in these conversations: pride and gluttony. I’ve known many people over the years that confessed to gluttony and acknowledged their belief that the Bible says that gluttony is a sin– and the same thing goes for proud people.

If straights are right about the LGBT’s supposed inability to “properly” read the Bible, then how in the world is it possible for anyone to read the Bible and feel challenged by it? Our personal experience tells us that it is not just possible, it happens all of the time. I still experience feeling “convicted,” to use the evangelical parlance, and I don’t even think the Bible is inspired or inerrant anymore.

We all bring our baggage to the Bible. That’s part of what makes our collective experience of it so beautiful. It’s a text we share communally and individually, publicly and privately. We talk, we share, and together we try to build an understanding that enriches our lives, brings us comfort, and helps us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

LGBT people shouldn’t be shut out of this conversation anymore. We bring a different set of experiences, a different way of being, a different way of seeing. When you silence anyone who isn’t white, or isn’t straight, or isn’t nuerotypical, you’re shutting yourself up into an ivory tower. It’s impossible to cut off the parts of us that make us human and still do good and loving theological work.

In my life, being bisexual puts me at a certain distance from the Bible because I’m not deliberately included in it. Because of that, my relationship with the Bible has to be more interrogative than it would otherwise be, because it’s a story we’re supposed to find ourselves in. When it’s not obvious where I fit, I have to do more digging. I’m open to discovering things that aren’t sitting on the surface. In a sense, I can benefit from the fact that I’m not the primary audience– often, I’m an outsider looking in. I can help broaden some of the narratives, bring stories into new lights and next contexts.

I can look a story that we’ve all heard a thousand times and ask questions like is it possible that Ruth is bisexual? When she abandons Moab and aligns with Noami in a speech that is often used in our wedding ceremonies; when she lives with Naomi, comforts her, listens to her, and raises a son with her … do we have to view her character as straight? Why do we assume she’s straight?

Because I don’t have the dominant experience of heterosexuality, I’m better equipped to get at the bottom of some of our assumptions. It’s my first impulse to ask why of concepts that seem long settled.

I lack objectivity. So do you. And that’s a good thing.

Photo by Murray Barnes
shadow puppet
Feminism

surviving complementarianism

Over the past few days, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood held their annual conference, which was titled “The Beauty of Complementarity” this year. I knew it was happening sometime soon, and yesterday some of the people I follow on Twitter started using the #CBMW16 hashtag, or responding to people who were. If you’d like to read some excellent commentary, I highly suggest looking up @miheekimkort and @BroderickGreer. Yesterday, inspired by others using the #CBMW16 tag, I took the opportunity to voice a concept that I’ll probably be shouting about until complementarianism is dead and buried:

Complementarianism is abusive. Removing a woman’s right to self-determination is abuse.

I am currently writing a book that lays out my comprehensive argument on why I’m convinced that complementarianism is an abusive theological model for relationships, but something that I probably won’t cover in too much detail in the book is a pattern I’ve picked up on. If you’ve been with me for the past few years, you’ve seen me do extended reviews on Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, and Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

As I’ve read each of these books, all of which purportedly give women advice on how to be a proper woman and/or wife, I’ve realized they all argue for the same basic relationship “style.” Helen Andelin is the most direct about it, but the same principles exist in each of these books– and I suspect they’d be present in any book on marriage written from a complementarian perspective.

In short, their advice can be summed up in this: wives are supposed to be cautious.

At some point in all of the books I’ve reviewed, Helen, Stasi, Grace, and Nancy tell women that they are not permitted to have open, honest, and direct communication with their husband. Instead, each of them deliberately tell us to be passive-agressive or manipulative. The words they’ve used for this have been “alluring” or “cunning”– there’s this understanding that we have to “handle” our husbands.

Their explanation for why we can’t just come straight out with our problems and concerns is based on how men will (supposedly) inevitably react to being confronted by a mere woman. Helen repeats all through Fascinating Womanhood that a wife should expect “rage” and “violence” if she were to ever contradict her husband or question his decision-making abilities. Stasi emphasizes how men can’t be forthrightly challenged because that would be “emasculating.” In fact, she blames a woman for her physically abusive marriage because she supposedly “emasculated” her husband by trying to communicate with him. Mark and Grace Driscoll blame Molly Wesley for John making her “black and blue” because she confronted him over what she felt were emotional affairs.

These are some of the biggest names in complementarianism and “Christian living” books. These are men and women talking about how they themselves think the typical complementarian marriage can– and should– function, and it’s plainly abusive. The advice they are giving to complementarian women are survival tactics for abusive marriages.

One of the biggest reasons why a person stays in an abusive relationship is that they’re not really aware of why their relationship is abusive. They think– because their abuser has spent a long time convincing them to think– that the abuse is their fault somehow. If only they could do what they were supposed to. If only they could figure out a way to avoid making their partner angry. If only they were more helpful, or less lazy. If only they understood their partner better, then they could understand how to stop the abuse.

Helen, Stasi, Grace, and Nancy agree with abusers. They think that a healthy marriage is attainable if only the victim could avoid making her husband angry. So they write an endless list of books and articles and blog posts, and host their annual conferences, and preach their sermons, all telling women how to try to survive their abuser. Be more submissive. Be more compliant. Be more obedient. Be more sympathetic to his needs. Be more gentle. Be more quiet. Be more accepting. Be the perfect homemaker. Be a flawless mother.

Blame yourself for the abuse.

Each of these books is, ultimately, an attempt to convince women that all men are inherently abusers. They are trying to convince us that at the core of manhood is violence and rage and a bloodthirsty need for dominance and control. If only we women can recognize that an abusive marriage is unavoidable, then we can get on with the business of shouldering the responsibility for the emotional or physical violence all of our husbands will inflict on us. But not if we do what they say. Not if we’re gentle and lovely and submissive. Not if we give up on our own thoughts and wants and dreams and sense of self.

These are all things that people in abusive relationships try to do. When I was engaged to my abuser and rapist, I did all of these things. I read books like Me, Obey Him? and Lies Women Believe and I ate it all up because it reflected what I was experiencing. He was emotionally abusing me, he was coercive, he was sexually abusing me, raping me, and over and over again he would tell me that it I was to blame, that everything he ever did was all my fault. For years I believed him, and these books all told me the same thing he did: if I did what he (and they) said, then he wouldn’t hurt me anymore. The abuse would end. Ultimately I believed I failed, because when he broke our engagement he told me it was because I “hadn’t been submissive enough.”

All marriage-advice books written from a complementarian perspective tell wives the same exact things that abusers do: the abuse is your fault, and if only you abided by my ever-moving goal posts, it would stop.

Photo by Saorise Alesandro
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 25-48

“The Little Relationship Principle” &
“The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating”

In a nutshell, I think the main concept of I Kissed Dating Goodbye is “Joshua Harris doesn’t think immature people should date.” That concept comes out in a variety of ways, and the illustration he uses to open “The Little Relationship Principle” illuminates one of those ways for us:

Deepening intimacy without defining a level of commitment is dangerous … many people experience deep hurt when they open themselves up emotionally and physically only to be abandoned by someone who proclaims he’s not ready for a “serious commitment.” (27-28)

He spends the rest of the chapter arguing that intimacy should be reserved for “committed” relationships. I think it’s possible Joshua feared intimacy in general when he wrote this (utterly unsurprising, considering his background. Manly Masculine Men having intimate and vulnerable relationships? What?), but it definitely comes out regarding romantic relationships here.

I think many of us would question the premise that intimacy can be dangerous. Yes, break-ups can suck. I casually dated a guy who all of a sudden disappeared, only to pop up at a party a month later obviously attached-at-the-hip to another woman. That stung for a second, and we’d only really “hung out” and obviously weren’t anything even broaching serious. I’ve watched friends in more serious relationships break up, too, and sat with them and hugged them and made them tea and bought them ice cream.

But just because the outcome of a relationship might be negative isn’t a reason to avoid relationships. I’ve had friendships bust apart– some violently. Sometimes friendships faded away. Losing those people sucks. I still think about many of them, and when I do I feel the pangs of loss. For some, I feel regret. For others, I feel anger and resentment.

It’s probably obvious that these results are a natural part of life. Relationships can be fraught, but they’re still worth having. Dating relationships, just like other relationships, can be viewed as informative and helpful. Breakups, because they’re unpleasant, help teach us how to manage loss and grief– and, importantly, how to be our own person so the next time we’re disappointed in a relationship– any relationship– we know how to handle it appropriately.

To Joshua, though, feeling those feelings is inherently dangerous in the way falling off the side of a cliff is dangerous (28). He prioritizes avoiding unpleasant experiences over learning the lessons they can offer. He doesn’t seem to take into account that personal development is a possibility either, but here’s another way that “immature people shouldn’t date” comes out:

Instead of being selfless, [intimacy without commitment] is selfish; instead of being patient, it’s impatient; instead of looking out for the ongoing good of the other person, it’s focused on the needs of the moment. (32)

Question: why are “the needs of the moment” in opposition to “the good of other people”? They don’t have to be– but they can be, when the people involved are selfish and immature. A mature person looks at the needs or desires of the moment and weighs them against the good of other people– but a mature person knows that all decisions carry risk. Every moment sees every person practicing an intuitive version of risk assessment, based on our situation and relative experience. To Joshua, “heartbreak” is an extremely threatening hazard, but that isn’t always the case with every person. For many of us, our experience shows that heartbreak is eminently survivable. Maybe for an individual person it’s not– maybe for Joshua it’s really not. But I think Joshua is projecting a lot of his fears and hangups onto other people and calling that projection “godly.”

One of my biggest problems with IKDG is that he doesn’t examine the consequences of purity culture. In chapter three he talks about a couple who experienced “trauma and guilt over past memories” because they’d slept together (37). When you tell a woman that her value and worth as a human being is totally summed up in her virginity, that penetrative intercourse makes her a “half-eaten candybar” or a “cup full of split” or a “used toothbrush,” or when you tell a man that he’s a “wolf,” then yeah– trauma is the logical reaction to sex. But is the problem having PIV sex, or is the problem the unnecessary mountains of shame that purity culture heaps on people?

To Joshua, it’s obviously because they’d had PIV sex. To me, it’s obviously because they had ongoing problems with the shame and humiliation their culture inculcated in them. Without the shame built into purity culture, you could experience some regret, sure. But to describe your experience as traumatic years later at a high school reunion? That’s not a healthy or normal reaction.

But, let’s dig into the “Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating.”

1. Dating tends to skip the friendship stage of a relationship.

With immature people, sure. However, dating can be one avenue– among many– for friendship to blossom. I dated Handsome, and now he’s my best friend. We continued dating because we discovered common values, common interests, and we fell in love on top of that. Joshua says that “A relationship based solely on physical attraction and romantic feelings will only last as long as the feelings last” (39), which is patently obvious– but to that I say but now you know.

2. Dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love.

Yes, it can. So what? Now you know.

3. Dating often isolates a couple from other vital relationships.

Again– with immature people it definitely can. However, as I’ve aged, 100% of my friends have all expressed something like “I used to lose touch with my friends when I dated, but I’ve learned that my friendships are more important to me than a possibly temporary partner.”

I also want to add that unhealthy relationships are isolating. Abusers do it deliberately in order to make sure their victims can’t escape, but toxic and co-dependent relationships can also cut people off as a symptom of the problem. Does Joshua mention this, though? Take a guess.

4. Dating can distract young adults from their primary responsibility of preparing for the future.

I found this argument boggling. In what possible way is dating different from marriage in its level of “distraction”? Also, one of the primary conservative arguments for marriage is that being in a relationship helps you “grow” as a person because of the work involved– how is that any different from “maintaining a relationship tak[ing] a lot of time and energy” (43)?

He also says that dating someone means you can be “distracted” from “serving in their local church,” and I want to sit on that for a moment. I wasn’t a part of evangelical culture for very long as  single person, but I’ve heard from multiple single people– some in their late 30s– who feel like their local church treats them like slaves. “Well, you’re not married, so you’re free, right?” seems to be a common refrain single people hear from their church leaders– as if single people exist for no other reason than to serve their church. That’s not at all ok, and shame on you Joshua for encouraging that mentality.

But, skipping 5 (“don’t be discontent with God’s gift of singleness,” which is a rehash of 4) and moving on to 6:

6. Dating can create an artificial environment for evaluating another person’s character.

This one I straight-up disagree with. People create artificial environments when they’re dishonest or insincere. That isn’t a problem with dating. In fact, as an adult, the “environment” of dating is exactly the same as how I make friends. I met a woman online– after we’d chatted for a bit and decided we liked each other, I arranged to meet her for lunch one day. I got dressed up, so did she, and we made “getting to know you” conversation for an hour. Now we’re fast friends. Another woman I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party; I announced that I liked her and why don’t we meet up for coffee sometime? After a few coffee dates, I invited her and her partner over for dinner. I cleaned my home, made my fanciest cake, and was all sorts of nervous beforehand.

I don’t think Joshua is aware of what this is like, though, because if his early adulthood was anything like my life, 100% of his social interactions evolved from his church. Getting to know someone in the context of church potlucks and Sunday school and atrium donuts is really different from what it’s like outside of church. Outside of church (and college), striking up friendships doesn’t always happen as organically. Sometimes you sort of have to force it in the beginning and hope it works. Sometimes you forge a connection, sometimes you don’t.

Mature, self-confident people know that hiding who you are is a guaranteed way of hanging out with people you don’t like. Eventually you learn to quit it and just be yourself, but that’s a natural part of human development. A nervous teenager that lacks confidence and emotional security, whose brain is hardwired to feel social embarrassment more painfully than an adult … yeah, you’ll feel less inclined to “be yourself” on a date. You get older, though, and you tend to get over that. Doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with the times you weren’t 100% confident.

7. Dating often becomes an end in itself.

This is essentially nothing more than a restatement of “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” So. Not going to waste your time, or mine, on that one.

***

I had a conversation with a friend last weekend where she said that learning about child development helped her reject the abusive child rearing methods we all grew up believing in, like spanking or “blanket training.” I think that Joshua doesn’t just understand child development, and he also doesn’t seem to be aware that who you are as a teenager isn’t who’ll you be in your late twenties. I’m going to forgive him that, since he was 23, but I think our culture in general could do with learning some things about progress and self-acceptance.

Yes, teenagers can be immature– but expecting them to be anything else is ridiculous, and acting like immaturity is wrong, like IKDG does, is awful.