Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye Review: 137-164

Before we begin, I want to offer my love to all my LGBT+ and Latinx readers. We are grieving for all those precious, beautiful lives, and we are living with yet another ghastly reminder of the hatred that so many bear toward us. Today is the day after, where we have to try to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep breathing. Just keep breathing, beloved. We’re here, we’re queer, and love is love is love is love is love.

***

“Guard Your Heart” & “Redeeming the Time”

Joshua opens Chapter 11 with a few pages on how your feelings can get the better of you– if you let them. There’s a long story about “Emily” going away to college and interacting with decent Christian young men for the first time ever, and how that upends everything she “believed” about dating. He uses Emily’s experience to highlight “how easily [our heart] can be swayed in the wrong direction,” and then he launches into this:

First, picture guarding your heart as if your heart were a criminal tied in a chair who would like to break free and knock you over the head. (141)

Again, he’s chosen incredibly violent imagery to communicate his point. From falling off cliffs, to tightrope-walking over “gaping chasms,” and now physical assault and battery … everything is bent on convincing us how dangerous it is not to “guard your heart.”

What that can look like is basically girls nursing crushes on boys and boys lusting after girls. Interestingly, he uses the same term for both of these experiences– “infatuation”– but they look dramatically different based on his perception of gender. He’s certainly never walked in my shoes– my “crushes” (using his definition) have been few and far apart, but the times where I’ve been sexually attracted to a person in the way he describes that men experience “infatuation” are numerous and abundant.

He bases most of this chapter on a passage from 1 John: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world … For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world,” which Joshua reduces down to three categories: sinful cravings, lust, and prideful comparisons with others. To him, this translates into our romantic lives as infatuation, lust, and self-pity (143).

Which … just.. that’s a leap. This passage from 1 John is lifted out of a passionate argument to love our neighbors, deny antichrists, and how we “must live as Jesus did,” but he’s trying to make it be about avoiding romance and sexual attraction. First of all, his interpretation doesn’t really line up with traditional ones, and he’s also going out of his way to ignore the meanings behind ἐπιθυμία, σάρξ, ἀλαζονεία, and ὀφθαλμός– the words behind lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. He defines epithymia ophthalmos as “to crave something sexually that God has forbidden” (146), and that’s just not accurate. I’m not a Greek scholar, but a brief look over the lexicons seems to indicate lust of the eyes  doesn’t really have much to do with sexual objectification.

Also, how a word that essentially means “braggart” got turned into “self-pity” absolutely boggles me. It’s eternally frustrating when ten minutes of surface-level research completely upends an argument made by someone who claims to take the Bible seriously. No, Joshua, you really don’t, since you’re quite happy to make it say whatever you want. I’m a hippy-dippy liberal who doesn’t even think the Bible is inspired, and I’m not going to try to magically transform braggart into self-pity.

I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with Joshua’s particular tendency to conflate sexual attraction with sexual objectification here, so I don’t want to dig into that too much, other than to point out that sexual attraction is normal, healthy, and largely unpreventable, but sexual objectification is a problem.

This chapter is the first time I became truly angry with him, though (content note for homophobic bigotry):

This time, I could in no way mistake their intent or the reason I’d felt strange–these guys were homosexuals and were checking me out. They whistled, winked, and laughed at my bafflement. Finally they sped away, leaving me to fume.

I’ll never forget the anger and disgust I felt at that moment. I was outraged to have served as the object of their lust, to have their eyes crawling over me. It was so wrong, so filthy. I remember turning to God in self-righteous anger and hissing through my clenched teeth, “Those people are so sick!” (146)

Which brings to mind this definition of homophobia: “the fear that another man will treat you like you treat women.” Joshua does take an incredibly brief moment to compare the two, but it never seems to dawn on him that his reaction was spurred by femmephobia, homophobia, and misogyny. He says that his “heterosexual lust” is just as disgusting to God (147), but it’s clear that he’s comparing his sexual objectification to homosexuality in general.

Disgusting. Sick. Those are the exact ideas that Omar Mateen used to justify a massacre yesterday. And Joshua had the incomprehensible audacity to tweet “Praying for all those touched by this wicked act” yesterday when his feelings about my queer family were shared by that murderer. Joshua’s never killed anyone, but the blood is on his hands. He clearly said that disgust and repugnance are the God-sanctioned feelings that Christians should espouse toward LGBT people.

I’m beyond done. I’m furious.

***

The next chapter is a short treatise on everything single people should do before they find that “special someone,” including a 21-year-old’s wisdom about: child care, communication, budgeting, and home maintenance. I don’t really disagree with much in this chapter … although the fact that he’s a fundiegelical Christian trickles out in places, like the assumption that it’s unhealthy for teenagers to shut themselves up in their rooms (158) and that boys should merely observe how older men discipline their kids while girls should “apprentice” themselves to church ladies and do their cooking, laundry, and cleaning (161).

So, annoying, but when it comes right down to the brass tacks, not horribly hurtful. Learning about how to clean out a bathtub drain or to stay within a budget aren’t exactly bad skills to acquire.

However, something stood out to me today when he told the story of Rebekah watering Eliezar’s camels:

For Rebekah, the trip to the well that particular evening was nothing special. She made that trip every night. And she’d probably watered more than a few camels. Yet though her task was mundane, she had a quickness to her step and a ready willingness to serve others. These qualities put her in the right place at the right time with the right attitude when God intended to match her with Isaac. (157)

Joshua comments that “she’d probably watered more than a few camels,” which makes me curious about what he’d learned concerning this story. Growing up I always heard this story with the factoid that Rebekah would have had to draw around 400 gallons in order to water ten camels … an exhausting and back-breaking amount of work that, according to the story, Rebekah seemed to have done cheerfully.

This story reminds me a lot of similar folk tales, like the Cinderella archetype, or virtually any other story about a young woman doing everyday labor, being kind to a stranger, and then being rewarded for it. There was one from my childhood about a girl who gave an odd little man something to eat or drink– in return he said she could harvest golden apples from his tree, but she’s the only one who can do it. If anyone else tries to pluck those apples, they would turn into rocks. One thing leads to another (mostly her family being terrible and greedy) and she ends up marrying the prince/Isaac-figure.

We know from various academic disciplines that the biblical narrative of Israel’s founding is largely mythical, and it seems even more obvious when you set “Rebekah And the Ten Camels” alongside other similar folklore traditions. It’s impossible to ignore that, in that context, this story is a woman’s story. It was likely created by grandmothers, re-told by mothers, and preserved by their daughters. In it, an ordinary woman through an act of extraordinary kindness (involving water, a powerful symbol for a desert culture) becomes one of Judaism’s greatest figures.

All of that mythic potential in this story– the symbology of water, the exaltation of womanhood, the meaning of beauty– is ultimately discarded by Joshua’s application. To him, the main thing to draw out of it is “Rebekah was able to meet God’s divine appointment for her life because she was faithfully carrying out her obligations” (157).

The English major in me died a little.

The Bible, as a collected oral tradition containing a milennia’s worth of folklore, is rich and its tales are full of meaning. But not if we ignore what those stories are, and how they were meant to function.

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  • Anny

    I can totally relate to the anger and disgust Joshua felt because I’m a woman who’s been catcalled by men. The catcalling is the problem, not the gayness.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I agree with you that a literary bent opens up the bible in new ways. I taught Wuthering Heights last school year, and I talked about the theme of brothers competition for the father’s favor, and what an incredibly old story that is in our culture. Genesis is one of the oldest texts in the Western canon, and if you look at it as a whole, the theme of competing brothers and favorite-son-picking fathers stands out. The jealousy of brothers repeats generation after generation, and culminates in all of Jacobs sons ending up in Egypt.
    I don’t think we’ve even begun to mine what that means for us as a culture, what it has to say about how we see ourselves, and who we are. I think that it is a story about how humans are prone to compete and jostle, and generally fight and do violence over the top spot, while Jesus’ teaching upends the paradigm and says that the lowest spot is really the top spot.

  • Jewelfox

    I see Joshua was about as specific in this tweet as he was in the one where he “renounced” IKDG. 😛

    That’s the kind of thing passive-aggressive Mormon me would have said, when I REALLY thought that the “wicked act” in question was going to a gay bar. There’s like a mythology about how if you don’t “stand in holy places” you’ll be punished for it, and being in a mass shooting falls neatly in like with that messed-up belief.

  • Great. 20th century B.C. slut shaming.

    “Hey, you guys see that girl? She’s watered her share of camels, if you know what I mean.”

  • KellyLynne

    I wish Joshua could distinguish between attraction and objectification, because maybe—just maybe— he could parse out the difference between being creeped out by people leering and whistling and being entertained by your discomfort (which is totally understandable) and being disgusted that they’re gay (which is f’d up). The way those guys acted toward him is the kind of gross objectification that women deal with all the time from straight guys. But there have probably been way more gay people who happened to notice and be attracted to him, and *not* act like assholes about it, that never even made it onto his radar, because their *attraction* is not what’s actually harmful.

    And that had to be a really hard thing for you to read today of all days. (I’m also getting sick of the “thoughts and prayers” from the likes of Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio. Pretending they care, while not even being willing to say that it was LGBT people who were targeted, deliberately and specifically.) I wish I had something helpful to say.

    • Sheila Warner

      I share your sickness at the hypocrisy of the conservatives in the GOP. They contributed to this madness.

  • Sheila Warner

    One of your finest posts! Thank you. This one must have been really hard to write. Hugs!

  • Jeff

    “We know from various academic disciplines that the biblical narrative of Israel’s founding is largely mythical”
    For a (pretty thorough) maximalist take, you might have a look at On the Reliability of the Old Testament, by Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen.

  • First of all, his interpretation doesn’t really line up with traditional ones, and he’s also going out of his way to ignore the meanings behind ἐπιθυμία, σάρξ, ἀλαζονεία, and ὀφθαλμός– the words behind lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. He defines epithymia ophthalmos
    as “to crave something sexually that God has forbidden” (146), and
    that’s just not accurate. I’m not a Greek scholar, but a brief look over
    the lexicons seems to indicate lust of the eyes doesn’t really have much to do with sexual objectification.

    This is puzzling to me. You make reference to ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν as though it does not mean the lust of the eyes, and you further reference brief looks at the lexicons, but the lexicon you link only goes to ὀφθαλμῶν (eyes), whereas a brief look at ἐπιθυμία reveals a clear meaning of lust or passion. If you were to take a moment further to investigate Liddell & Scott, you would find numerous other uses of this word to refer to lust or bodily desire, such as Plato (Phaedo 82c <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:abo:tlg,0059,004:82c&lang=original&gt;), again, among many other ancient references. Your citation specifically to “lexicons” merely references a Matthew Henry commentary. For what it is worth, my own Orthodox Study Bible, which I can most briefly look to myself, notes these very words to refer to passions, which in Orthodox parlance include lust.

    It has, I will readily confess, been many years since I read Mr. Harris’s book, so I am just going on what you have quoted and discussed here in your blog post, but surely his use of the well-established translation of lust of the eyes is not so far off as you imagine. Surely too it takes more than a brief look at this lexicon or that to grasp what the ancient language conveyed or what has been passed down for many centuries. When you say his work does not line up with “traditional” interpretations and then describe his work as you have, as an Orthodox Christian whose tradition is quite in agreement with his phrasing as you give it, I must wonder.

    To be sure, I could remark on some of your further commentary attempting to link this to the atrocious evil done in Orlando, but, and with some hesitation (forgive me, I have grown a bit shy about disagreeing on contentious matters in the blogosphere), I shall merely leave it there. I think that, if you have to any degree wished to criticize an entire literary tradition and in particular with respect to the meanings of ancient words, you may have done not quite as rigorous or historically accurate job as the task required.

    • All of that would apply much better to the phrase that’s translated in the King James as “lust of the flesh,” and in the translation Joshua is using as “the cravings of sinful man,” which does seem to be an accurate rendering.

      The word that’s translated “lust” *can* include a sexual component, but it doesn’t automatically. Lust, even in English, even though it has a sensual tone to it, isn’t limited to sex. You can have a lust for wealth, or a lust for treasure, or a lust for knowledge. That last one actually seems to line up with “lust of the eyes” a bit better, since “opthalmos” can reference learning/information/wisdom etc, with “eyes” being a common ancient symbol for all of those ideas.

      If Joshua had picked “lust of the flesh” or “cravings of sinful man” as the part of the verse he was arguing meant “to crave something sexually that God has forbidden” he would seem to have a much stronger leg to stand on, but he leaves that one simply as “sinful cravings,” which encompasses the sweeping nature that epithymia sarx seems to imply.

      Again, I’m not a Greek scholar.

      • Thank you for your reply here and for your words over on the Twitter. I was content to leave it with your answer here, but your words over on the other platform moved me to look at Mr. Harris’s book. As I mentioned, I read it a long time ago, probably just shortly after he published it some twenty years ago. If you don’t mind, let me quote the four tweets you sent me on Twitter and reply here:

        I think it’s fair for me to criticize a translation done by someone who knows even less than me about Greek. I could be wrong, and I’d be fine with being proven wrong, but Joshua’s argument was that the phrase *must* mean sexual lust and I don’t think that was a credible argument based on what epithymia (sp?) opthalmos could possibly mean. but I’ll be taking Greek for seminary sometime soon and I guess I’ll fond out more then 🙂

        I just had a quick look-see at the part of his book that we’re talking about here, and the first thing that struck me was that, it seems, he actually makes no mention of Greek at all. He just quotes the three phrases from John’s epistle and interprets them, it seems, wholly from the English. It seems too that his whole interpretation of St. John’s writing is one of sexuality, and I cannot disagree that that interpretation is unfortunate. A more honest reading of the Greek, rather than dividing the passions the Apostle John speaks of into three variants of the pitfalls of inordinate romantic or sexual yearning, should read them as the sins of flesh, sins of envy or possession, and sins of ambition or pride. (Odd enough, he might have something in his self-pity remarks on this last one, but I am not, forgive me, bothering to re-read Mr. Harris’s text too closely on this point.)

        What’s really odd to me just upon glancing again after twenty years at his three headings for these three phrases is that he seems to place ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκός (the lust of the flesh) under the heading of Infatuation, even though it would seem to have more to do with his second heading of straight-up sexual desire, which he simply entitles Lust, whereas the lust of the eyes would lean a bit more towards broader or more infatuated passions (which, to be sure, would include the base and sexual, but not exclusively so, as you have noted in your reply to me). I myself make no claim to be a Greek scholar, and I’m not a Protestant either, and I didn’t think highly of Mr. Harris’s book when I read it a long time ago, but in any case I am the son of Greek mother, and I’ve heard the New Testament chanted in Greek since I was a baby, so your criticism, as I said, was puzzling to me. But as it turns out, I must grant that you are more correct than Mr. Harris in this commentary on lust of the eyes, and I am sorry that I had not looked again at his book to see precisely how he had written this and indeed also to notice that he had made no actual reference to Greek and was just, let us say, winging it from the English.

        It seems one of the oddities of some portions of Evangelical Protestantism is to turn every last passion that is proscribed in Holy Scripture into one of strict sexual desire. That oddity has numerous unfortunate consequences.

        Anyway, thank you again for the words here and on Twitter. It was worth the time to consider the Scriptures a bit more deeply and think a bit in Greek, which is always a welcome thing.