Saturday, June 26, 2010

[June 26 UPDATE:] Things I'm Working On

Sometime in the future, watch for posts on the following:

* Reading Johnson's Consider Jesus. Will be working on the appropriateness of labeling a Christology 'ascending,' and the proper place of feminist-theological thought and liberation-theological thought in Christianity. Almost done with this now.
* Reading an anthology of feminist essays called Yes Means Yes which a friend lent me. Judging from what I've read so far, I'll be thinking on the degree of conflict between the traditionally (and accurately) defined virtue of chastity, and feminist thought about sexuality. Definitely finished this and some posts have been made. Two to come, one on consent and one on sexuality and fatness.
* Finishing The Shack. It's not the best book ever written, but it is a book that's had an impact, particularly on my family, and so many people are decrying it as worse than it is. Finished it now. Two-sentence review: (1) If you're reading it naively and taking it theologically, you're reading it wrong. (2) Whether you're a foe or a fan, quit reading it wrong. Going to do an "NATT" on this.
* Reading Stuff Christians Like. Not sure if this one will get an "NATT" post, but either way I can say that I highly recommend this book. I actually don't know where my copy is or when it'll get done.
* Reading the documents of Vatican II. It seems clear to me that somewhere in wording, interpretation or implementation, something went wrong with this council. The question is "what, exactly?" I'm going to try and see if I can spot anything that may have gone wrong in that first part--in the way that the council documents were worded. I'm never going to be a Traditionalist, but the myriad objections of both Traditionalism and more mainstream Roman Catholic conservatism (especially with respect to implementation), as well as the way that persons on both sides of many political issues have taken upon themselves a right to dissent where the teaching strikes as much more essential than they want it to be...I'm smelling multiple rats, here.
* Finishing Deming's Paul on Marriage and Celibacy. It'll be interesting, mostly I think in terms of what the relationship of the idea of a celibate priesthood, especially in the early Church, might be to the Stoic-Cynic marriage debate.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Yes Means Yes: Comments, Etc.

So I've actually finished reading Yes Means Yes now. There'll be some more reaction-posts coming, but there are some comments that have been made that warrant a further reaction. If you want this post to make the maximum amount of sense you should probably go back and read the initial post on YMY and then the follow-up post where I discussed some of the questions/comments a friend had left on the first post. Please note that I am pulling comments from both threads; if you're wondering why nothing of Eric's comment on the first post is here, it's because the second post was intended to address that. I'm going to save some of Eric, Nick and CJ's commentary especially for another post, because I think their comments were helpful to me in probing what this "modern notion of consent" is that we dislike, as opposed to the general notion of consent that I would argue should be agreed upon by Christians. Still to come on the YMY front: I'm going to attempt to respond to a particular essay in the book that has yet to be mentioned on this blog. I'm also going to attempt a post about "modern notions of consent" that seem so controversial. If I have the energy and the development on this front I might also attempt some post about what a Christian model of sexuality might actually be, because I'm not satisfied with the feminists' model, as a Catholic, at least not the Yes Means Yes crowd's model. Commenters will be addressed in alphabetical order.

Commenters' words will be in bold.
My responses will be in normal text.


Stuff CJ said:

Dan, good reasons why women shouldn't initiate? If that's the way the cookie crumbles in the relationship, far be it from me to limit the way God's love works in people; however, while most of these radical feminists will probably scoff at my suggesting this, I have rarely met a woman who doesn't wish for the initiate from a real man (I think you know how I mean this) and not just these p[r?]etty boys we find in today's society. Physical archetypes would be the reason I would cite, but many people find the interpretation of physical realities woefully close-minded (though still living by the die-hard line of scientific method and empiricism).

Either by socialization or by biology, there's bound to be truth to what you're saying. Not sure if it's quite as scientific and empirical as you claim. The main trap I now consider it part of my project to avoid is considering female sexual desire as lower than male. (I don't think you're doing that.) Note that I don't necessarily consider either desire to be really, really important, but that I am simply saying they seem to be equal in importance if the persons are equal in dignity.

Plus, I'm still not sure how to apply such a concept in modern times.

I think you lost me a little. Which concept don't you know how to apply?

Yes, I know Dan, I really need to proof these things before I post them.

Yes. Yes you do.

Stuff Eric said:

Marriage does necessarrily include the physical. If two people "marry" with no desire to have sex (or to do so without children) they are entering into something of a sham marriage.

I do agree with you on this point (and, I should note, not just you but the Church) but I feel like we need to discuss this in such a way so as to leave room for, well, not calling the marriage of Mary and Joseph a sham. (For any non-Catholics who might be reading this, this is an issue that Catholics such as Eric and I have to deal with that you might not, because Catholic Tradition insists that Mary and Joseph's marriage had no physical intercourse.

What I said is that the physical union of the spouses is not the ultimate end, or the high point, of marriage, no matter how many spiritual analogies modern Catholic sex educators use.

Agreement. But then what is its ultimate end? I'm not tied down to one answer to that question.

Regardless of whether or not you happen to like the language of debt, it's clear that sex in Christian marriage is not necessarrily consentual in the modern sense, even if it should not for that reason be forced (though it does not mean one can use force or coercion, it is in fact a serious sin to deny one's spouse).

I agree that it's not consensual in the modern sense, but I should expand on that later. Regarding "serious sin:" Do you mean that anytime one's spouse asks, it would be a sin to deny? Or do you mean it would be a sin to deny for a significant period of time, unless one was doing so for some purpose considered legitimate? The Pauline passage--on my admittedly naive and un-scholarly reading--doesn't seem to force a reading that every request must be met on pain of sin. It seems, prima facie, at least as reasonable to read it simply as the admonition that all marriages have a healthy sex life. Nonetheless the Pauline passage does point to an irreconcilable difference between Christian views and the modern views of sexuality, which I'll get to in a later post.

Cho's scenario does not make sense in the context of marriage, because a spouse giving in to the other even though he/she doesn't really want it is not necessarrily a bad thing in marriage, whereas it is in the logic of modern sexuality. I don't say of course that it's an ideal in marriage, but it is something of a duty as far as I understand it.

Yes. I'll try and give some more nuanced thoughts on the subject later. I do think--and I don't know if I said this in my first post--but I do still think it's worthwhile for Christianity to speak to situations that aren't marital, if only to see if--as a temporary measure, not as a solution--we can help move them further from being screwed up. Many of the reasons Cho gives in her testimony for having said yes were pretty awful reasons, and might have been even worse in the context of marriage.

I don't think it helps anything to praise consentual fornication, simply because it does not pile on other sins.

I'll take progress where I can get it. I don't intend, however, to praise it as if progress automatically meant a lack of sin. In this case, 'those other sins' refers to one of the few things condemned by the Church as being never, ever, okay. I don't praise consensual fornication. But it's closer to Truth than rape.

In fact, it may in some way be worse because it stabilizes the sin. Someone who is able to maintain a reasonably stable sex life because they've embraced the rules of consent may be much further from seeing how damndable the whole situation is. In fact, it may in some way be worse because it stabilizes the sin. [...] It seems to me that people in this situation are only questionably better off morally, and in terms of the possibility of conversion may be much further off.

I do share your concern. In some ways it reminds me of Lewis's caution in The Four Loves that sometimes love is most dangerous when it most approximates the love of God, and yet is not that love. Certainly there is the danger that in trying to reach into an incredibly sinful situation we might accidentally simply decrease the sin and make the lesser amount of sin seem more acceptable than it is.

That said, I would prefer the situation of consent to the situation of rape because the latter seems not only worse in degree but also in kind--there is a perversion there of sinning not just against one's own body but also against the body of another, in a way not present in simple fornication. The question that must be immediately answered, for me, is not which situation we prefer--it is what we say and where we stand when someone says "no" to the proposition of sex--or even when they answer in a nonverbal "no."

I did not say feminism created this problem on its own, but that it helps to create the grey areas that make it possible. Obviously the wickedness of man's heart is reason enough for any sin, but we now have a social space in which this sin can be normalized and even embraced as a "lifestyle."

Eliminating those social spaces is tricky. I'm not sure any one culture has ever done it.

I don't necessarrily reject every possible idea which has ever been called "feminism" [...] by some liberal definitions of the word, I am a muslim. [...] I see no reason to constantly redefine the term in such a way that it becomes completely disconnected from the historical movement which gave it its name.

Hence my irritation with modern redefinitions of fundamentalist to include anyone who takes religion seriously.

I'm quite certain that we don't agree completely about what being "just Catholic" means, but I'm also quite certain that we don't disagree in any way so big as to make us opponents in any fundamental sense.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I take a slightly more minimal approach. But it is good to remember that we are together on the fundamentals.

Stuff Nick said:

From the "traditionalist" standpoint (hehe), there is a reason why Popes over the last few centuries have (repeatedly) spoken out against the idea of the State taking over Marriage (in order to confine it to the secular realm). The problem is that it strips Marriage of it's Sacramental character and thus cuts off it's ultimate ends, which are supernatural (Mat 22:30).


A secular marriage becomes ordered towards what currently benefits society, with it's ends limited only to the present - which is likewise "guided" by the ever changing wind of "popular opinion."

This would seem to flow logically.

But it seems like some of the societal ends do still matter, or at least, that the stability is--even if it is only an "in the meantime" solution--better than instability.

This is one of the core reasons why separation of Church and State is impossible for the Christian, and without this foundation any dialogue with "others" (e.g. feminists, Protestants, "Republican Party Catholics") is ultimately futile. Without that foundation, you're conceding 'home field advantage' to the lost, confused, or even downright evil 'opponent' - and at that point it's an up-hill and no-win game for you.

I am not at all married to our Constitution; I should much rather see a state reordered to human dignity and the law of God. However, it seems rather pessimistic to assume it is simply "an up-hill and no-win game" to venture out of one's "home field." Certainly it makes things more difficult, but I think the consistency of Catholic moral philosophy can serve as a witness even when we're not in the home-field, if we really say not only that "I agree with you about XYZ," but also "You're wrong about ABC, because really, this is the way things should be." (ABC doesn't mean artificial birth control here, but it could!) Of course, for this witness to really work, we've got to be living as a people with hope in the Resurrection, and living the philosophy we preach.

When the ultimate end is to assist their partner in attaining Heaven, things such as rape, grey area, even consent, 'drop out' of the equation because they inherently oppose that ultimate end. The modern notion of 'consent' is inherently wrong because it is not formed by Charity (Love), because it is based on selfishly consenting only when the person consenting sees them self in a position to gain ("take") and not as an unselfish fulfillment of duty. Consent formed by Charity is only possible in the Sacramental context, but at that point it resembles nothing of what the secular reader can make sense of.

There is truth to many of the nuances Dan is speaking of, but they need to be re-framed into the Christian framework and not left 'hanging' as if applicable to the secular view of marriage.

Yes. At the same time, being able to speak Catholic truth into situations that aren't immediately Catholic, and in a way which encourages conversion, would be a useful endeavor if we can manage it.

Stuff Shawn said:

As the only female commentor as of this moment, I will say that intimacy (which, from my angle, is the point of relationship in general, and marriage specifically) is certainly not limited to sex/intercourse (nor is intercourse a requirement for intimacy). Arrogance and entitlement are intimacy killers. Consent and desire will both be augmented by a move toward intimacy, which is fed by respect, self-sacrifice, and having your beloved's back...emotionally/physically/spiritually.

You, being a non-Catholic, are in an intellectual sense freer than I am to take union as being the end of marriage. I, being Catholic, am free to take it as being an end of marriage. I do however think intimacy is bad phraseology for anything that is supposed to be "the point" of marriage specifically. I assume when you say intimacy you mean intimacy that is found in a sense of marital union--otherwise, if you just wanted intimacy, why wouldn't you just go monastic? A faith community is plenty intimate. Something about marital intimacy must be different. So if you meant to say that intimacy itself was the point of marriage specifically, I would have to say I think you're wrong on that point.

From where I'm sitting, many of the less savory components of "feminism" are essentially self-defense or at worst reactionary.

To be honest, most of the things I dislike most aren't even the reactionary things, they're the things that comes from a worldview that's very much outside of Christianity.

The sad part is that women felt the only way to be as valuable as a man was to be like a man. This should make us all sad..."femininity" was sacrificed on the alter of not being second class. Tragic.

To a degree, I agree. I don't think most women have actually made that switch in its entirety (or if they have, our culture is doing a poor job of showing us this shift.)

Feminism has had some unfortunate fall out, but it was necessitated by oppression (generally at the hands of men, often those who used religion and "headship" as a cheap crutch).

From where I'm standing, with my admittedly naive readings of Paul, it looks like headship exists, and that it does seem to be the husband's. That seems to be a reality that we've all got to deal with if we're seeking to be historically Biblical Christians. The question is what it means. I lean more complementarian on that than you do, but I have no fully formed opinion on it except that it definitely includes a strong sacrificial component.

To sum up my thoughts, I'm tickled pink (yes, it's a girlie color, and I LIKE it!) to hear men (primarily, so far) having this conversation. It gives me hope for a better future, where we all embrace the unique ways we were designed.

I suppose my big question would be whether a belief in uniqueness of the sexes puts any serious limitation on straight-up egalitarianism.

In general, some of the assertions you made in comments about abortion and dogma are not necessarily Catholic positions; I feel that at least for the present conversation I've addressed those sufficiently here.

A Snippit of Conversation from About the Time I Decided to Convert

This is from mid-November of 2009. So that would've been about a month before I talked to Fr. Anthony about joining RCIA.

well part of the problem was the fact taht [sic] miracles were drawing me to the church
and keeping me drawn to Christianity in general
i still think that's a good thing, but i know that miracles aren't supposed to be the thing you put your faith in

but it is evidence

but a few days ago i made the distinction between putting your faith in miracles, and miracles putting you over the edge to putting your faith in Christ

if they weren't good God wouldn't have the,

precisely. and i've seen too much evidence now to go back to the...dare I say atheism that may have inhabited my mind for even a few days, or even a few hours, at a time
(in addition to Fatima I've also done some reading on the case of Padre Pio...i still need to do more on lourdes, i should pick up a book)

have one somewhere but that doesn't do you much good

heheh :p
the big difficulty is i sometimes have the problem making the connection to 'hey, i believe that, okay'
but then when i really think about it something scares my brain
because it doesn't feel rational--it's mysterious
and like lots of people, i hate mystery
but when i look at the history, look at the evidence
it seems that there are moments in human history that ARE that mysterious, that horrific, that incomprehensible
One of those sorts of events recurs several times a day in Catholic and Orthodox churches all around the world
and it's disgusting, disturbing, and True
it sounds weird, but a lot of that connection, that disconnect I feel between my abstract thought and what goes on in the world...if the gap's going to be bridged, it seems like the Eucharist is the thing that does it
not that Jesus himself doesn't play a factor, but on an ongoing, daily basis that seems to be the major way
and also, of course, Jesus is still playing a factor in the sense that the bread/wine is Jesus
...gah, i dunno if you got anything out of that, sorry if it was just a jumbled mess of gah

that is pure dan thought but I got most of it
just remember you can speak of the Eucharist and leave out Christ [Pat informs me that he meant to say "can't" here, but in the moment I had read "leave out Christ" as indicating simply "not mention Jesus explicitly"]
they are the same [from a Catholic perspective this is, at least for the purposes of this conversation, correct]

Thursday, June 17, 2010


It's here.

I'm sorry. I know it'll create a mild annoyance. I had thought about doing it for quite some time, because I'm sick of dealing with foreign-language spam ads masquerading as comments.

Some of you might be wondering what I'm talking about because you've never seen said comments. That's because I clean them up completely.

The other option here is comment moderation, but IMHO the CAPTCHA is preferable because (a) I don't have to deal with Japanese porn, or whatever the heck is being advertised, and (b) comments will show up when they are made, not later.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Quick Misuse of Paul

We've seen lots of awesome discussion on this blog recently. Some of it's been rather heavy. So to lighten the mood I'm going to purposefully and blatantly abuse a quotation from the Apostle Paul. Here's the famous passage where he told Christians to go get smashed (taken, minus verse numbering, from Biblegateway, NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (edit: actually it was chapter 5):
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us [...] get drunk at night.
In case that's not enough context for you, let's have a little more. At this point it becomes clear that Paul is only recommending drunkenness implicitly:
"So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep [...] For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night."
Okay, so maybe that's not enough context.
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
It should be clear that Paul is here recommending that at night we go out and get smashed with caffeinated liquor of some kind (for the alert-ness, and to help keep us from losing our moral reason.)

Of course at this point my abuse is blatantly obvious. Thanks for indulging me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some Questions/Comments on that First YMY Post

I'd said some thing about my initial impressions of the book Yes Means Yes over in this here post.

In the comments below my friend Eric had left some interestings which I felt merited a post in response. If anyone else wants to chime in they may feel free to do so either in the original thread, or here. Eric's comments will be in bold, my responses will be in normal text.

Full disclosure, I feel that I owe some of my thought to correspondence with the friend who lent me YMY, much to correspondence with other people and Eric (outside of the comment I am responding to), and a bit to correspondence with the Catholic philosopher Alexander Pruss.

The logic of "consentual sex" is in no way something which can be applied to consenting to marriage.

I am not sure what you mean--do you mean we can't apply it to each act within marriage, or that we can't apply it to the consent one gives to be married in the first place? I disagree either way--a consent, an "I will," is important. Coercion, even if it was not forceful, would certainly cheapen the strength of that will, if not pervert it. "I do" does not indicate an "I will" for all future instances; the question is when in the future "I won't" is acceptable. I don't think you're advocating coercion or force, but certainly within the context of a relationship built on Love, neither ought to be allowed. And if a construction of consent helps to enforce that ban, I'm all for it.

First of all, consenting to marriage is about a union of lives. While modern Christians seem to obsess over the sexual ethics, with some theology of the body people going so far as to suggest that sex is the ultimate realization of the union of marriage, really it's not the main point.

With few exceptions (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!) it's a pretty clear corollary of the Genesis definition of marriage, which seems to indicate a man and a woman becoming one flesh. A union of lives is certainly present but (again, rare exceptions) I'm not sure how that can not include the physical. I don't necessarily think you're trying to exclude the physical, but in terms of physical realizations, intercourse, aside from a man actually and literally laying down his life for his wife, does seem like it's pretty up there. There are of course other things.

Obsessing over sexual ethics obscures the reality of marriage, and applying the logic of "consentual sex" analogously to marriage adds fuel to the fire.

It's already been obscured. Everyone from Puritans and prudes to libertines and liberals have obscured it. Any husband who's ever beaten his wife or molested his children has obscured it. What the Catholic ethics people are attempting to do might add fuel to the fire. I don't care if it does. But if so their fire will be a cleansing fire, not a further obscurantist fire. I think the caution you've suggested already about not making sex the ultimate goal of marriage is a good one, especially given the counterexamples from the Church's Tradition. But for better or for worse, we live in a world where marriage has been obscured. If everything were clear, if everyone acted in the interest of Love, I think we could talk about an absorption of consent by Love in a similar vein to Wojtyla's talk of absorption of shame by Love--it's not that those things disappear or are not necessary, but that for a given relationship they no longer need to be discussed, at least not so directly, because both persons, acting in the interest of Love, will automatically practice them. If you in your marriage have reached that point, then I applaud that. Do I think some of the feminist movement and sexual ethicists have potential to do more damage in that area of obscuring, or even that they have? Yeah, but good Christian men who go home and do un-Christian things to their households have helped to create the reality that everyone has to wrestle with, which is that we're not yet at a point where Love can really be said to be absorbing anything.

Aside from the fact that agreeing to marriage is not the same thing as agreeing to use each other for pleasure, it should also be remembered that a married couple owes each other what's called the "marriage debt" which I'm sure would be horrifying to those who believe in "consentual sex" (though it should be remembered that men owe it to women as much as women to men).

I don't particularly like to use the language of debt with respect to sexuality. I do of course endorse the language of mutual ownership, but the fact remains the Love does not force. Paul's admonition on the subject--"do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for prayer and fasting" (not verbatim) seems to indicate that if there is that ideal, that if they're not setting aside a time for prayer and fasting, the marriage should indeed have a sex life. If a marriage has none, from a Catholic perspective, something is wrong. I agree; in that case something would be at the least seriously wrong. However, I don't think this justifies the use of coercion

You quote Cho as saying she has several times said yes to sex she actually didn't want to have.

For the record, I don't think that anyone, including Cho, really considers those instances of rape. When I read her testimony, I considered them to be instances of having sex for reasons that were at least less than ideal, if not actually wrong (either on her part and/or someone else's), and would have been less than ideal even if she'd been married.

Maybe by developing a more rigorous language of consent this could be somewhat limited, but if people are being asked to make this sort of decision on the spot the grey area is never going to go away.

A small emotional gray area (perhaps a small doubt of whether one wants to) can be taken along with an explicit willing for something to happen, as safely constituting consent in my book. The larger gray area is if coercion--verbal or alcoholic--is in any way present. So yeah, I'll agree that a small emotional gray is likely to be eliminated.

In fact, it is the sexual revolution that has created this grey area. When sex is restricted to marriage, there is no such "did she really want it... really?" type grey area.

I think we could easily imagine a scenario like Cho's more violent experience happening in a marital context. Doesn't mean it necessarily happens often, but it definitely doesn't close the question of whether a wife perpetually wants it, or perpetually wills it. It just might mean she's decided, oddly enough, to will something else, because it's less effort than going through with the deeper will, which is just "not tonight." And I think we could pretty easily imagine such a scenario having happened anytime in the middle ages just like it might happen today.

This will not go away unless sex outside of marriage on the whole is condemned. "Consentual sex" cannot solve this problem.

Agreed! But it's a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition. And in the meantime, until we have a cultural conversion with respect to sexuality, we're going to want to be able, if we can, to speak as Christians to less-than-Christian conditions. I definitely agree that until everyone is really asking themselves what Love requires--and until everyone has the proper understanding of what, at its basic level, that Love is--our problems, our sad necessity to even talk about what consent means (again, recall, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need to construct a meaning for it, because said need would be absorbed by person who relate to each other in Love)...Until we convert, until we are in a sort of societal sense, resurrected, it's not going to go away. I do condemn sex outside of marriage. But that doesn't mean I desire to see that sin compounded by other sins which are either qualitatively or quantitatively worse. It would be great if the old culture were be baptized and transformed into the new creation. But that's going to take time, and in the meantime, that old culture is going to need bandages.

It is in fact feminism and the sexual revolution which have in the first place made "date rape" and other such difficult middle grounds between consent and violent rape possible,

Great, but feminism didn't do that on its own. Coercion and un-Loving pressure are middle grounds that, while they don't necessarily constitute rape, were definitely there before. The question of date rape is a slightly different one to me, but I'm willing to bet that a number of other movements besides Feminism helped make it happen. Aside from whatever faulty teaching members of the Church--as opposed to the Church's teaching office--may have passed down, again we have the Puritans who, rightly or wrongly, are known for having overestimated the value of sexual shame, and the Libertines who are known for having done pretty much the opposite. I don't necessarily discount the idea that the feminist movement may have exacerbated some of the problems of society, or that said problems include complications relating to our idea of consent, of what it means to 'will' a sex act to happen.

and they will only go away when we reject feminism and the sexual revolution.

I am not ready to agree to this for all definitions of 'feminism,' but for all historically reasonable (that is, not deliberately redeemed by some Christian youth movement) meanings of 'sexual revolution' I would call this a necessary but not sufficient condition. We must invite God, to paraphrase an older Graham Kendrick tune: "Search [us], try [us], consume all our darkness." It's possible that somewhere along the line the Christian tradition began contributing to the confusion; certainly many of us in action, even if not in theory. That's part of the reason I think theory is important, why it's important to build a model of human sexuality that cautions us against coercion, even if it means re-phrasing (not re-interpreting, or mis-construing) our old ideas about what the Pauline injunction to regular physical unity actually means. I prefer to use less abusable language, language prone to--if anything--persuasion as opposed to coercion. I suspect the exact boundaries and lines that each couple must adhere to in order to respond to Love's demands will vary by the context of relationship, but as a general guideline I am more comfortable with the language of "should" than with the language of debt, and it is my belief that while either might be strictly compatible, one is much more likely to lead to bad practice--to moral untruth--than the other. I don't dispute that many couples take the phrasing of 'marriage debt' seriously and interpret it in a way which is not, in the context of their relationship, subject to abuse. And even a "should"--even a "debt," for that matter, has limits on proper method. At the risk of being overly subjective, something about a husband or a wife using the notion of a "debt" (or even a "should," but "should" seems less subject to this problem) doesn't strike me as a very resurrected situation for a marriage to be in. Neither does the notion of a celibate marriage, with few exceptions. It seems like the "should" might be more properly applied to what the two persons will in the first place, so that their wills in the matter move further and further in line with one another and so that neither ever tries--at least not badgeringly--to convince the other on the matter.* Let me be clear: I don't want to or will to excise the Pauline injunction from the Tradition. It can't be done. But I do not consider myself or any other Christian to be bound to the phrasing of "marriage debt," particularly, but not exclusively, due to the baggage it carries today and the abuse it has had over the years as a tool for abuse.

If we are Catholic, why should we draw or understanding of the proper ordering of gender within society from a bunch of largely atheist revolutionaries who have sought to destroy the norms of marriage, when the saints have already taught on the subject?

I'm not sure who precisely you're concerned about. My concern is to figure out where this movement might highlight moral truths that aren't--for whatever reason--talked about as much within the church. I have no desire to rewrite our narratives to match their goals. I do have a desire to see what the truth is in their results, and allow that truth to give further nuance to how I as a Christian construct my response to things, in particular my response to sexuality. But I guarantee you, I have no interest in rewriting the essential Christian narrative of sexuality and/or gender to include perspectives which aren't Christian. I have an interest in moral truth, no matter what its immediate source, and in seeing what the interaction is between that Truth, and our starting points. I have no interest in drawing my ultimate understanding of those things from anything other than an understanding of ourselves as creatures of God in light of the Resurrection.

And do the Saints discuss the subject of marital rape? Of childhood abuse? If so, those aren't exactly the popular or discussed passages. And if nobody's really putting it out there that the Saints have talked about this, and nobody's talking about what they've said, then (as far as me hearing what they've said goes) it doesn't do much to just say "the Saints have talked about this." This isn't just about gender and the basic meanings and contemplations of humans as sexual beings who are creatures of God. This is about how, building on that understanding, our specific conceptualizations of what a right relationship looks like influences our understanding of everything else. I guarantee you, in my mind, the feminist movement comes out substantially less than Good in the eyes of God. But that doesn't mean they haven't walked in shoes we've never walked in (female shoes, to start with) or experienced things we've never experienced (speaking only for myself without intending to imply anything about anyone else who gets involved in this conversation, I have never been abused)...and it doesn't mean--that feminists--even if they may have furthered the obfuscation of sexuality--have nothing valuable to say that can help us get out of the hole of obfuscation of sex that we've gotten into. Just like everyone else has nuances to contribute. Ultimately I do believe the constructions lending themselves most to proper service of Truth will come from the Catholic fold, and that the proper starting points are parts of the Catholic Truth that Christ preached and left to the early Church. That, by the way, goes for every area of life, including but not limited to human sexuality.

I see no reason, unless we are trying to impress the world by saying "don't worry, I'm not so crazy. I can be a feminist too." But why should we be trying to impress the world?

Hopefully, if we're trying to impress the world at all, it's by letting our light shine before it, so that it might see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. Don't get me wrong; I have problems with trying to be agreeable, and that's personal stuff that I need to work on for the sake of my relationship with God. It goes, by the way, with whoever I'm talking with, "conservative" or "liberal." But allow me to be very clear about this, lest anyone think otherwise:

I would gladly cast off any label other than Christian, and even that, if I felt it stood in the way of my commitment to Christ and to the Truth.

That said, nobody has yet applied the feminist label to me, and they're not likely to do so. I confess to erring on the side of dialog here (as I usually do), if I am indeed erring. Erring on the other side, however, might result in ignoring legitimate concerns of their movement, and that won't profit myself, the Church, or Christ at all, however, and it might do just the opposite; it might give credence to the view that Christianity that doesn't listen to those who are downtrodden and left-out. Some people are going to view us that way anyway, and that's their problem. But I'm going to do whatever is in my power to strip them of the stupid excuses they feel that 'religion' has given the to ignore it. Sometimes that duty will require me to speak up and correct, to declare what I believe is the wrongness of the world. Sometimes that duty requires me to listen.

My explicit statement in this matter of modern feminist thought, and in all others, is to claim a Catholic--not pre, post or simply modern, not Thomist or personalist, or anything else--Catholicism, in which I am hungry for the Eucharist, for Love, and for Truth and Justice, and with that as my banner and guide, spiritual home and philosophical home-base, to brave the postmodern wilderness and--if God can make me holy enough--help to convert that wilderness into something that looks more like the Kingdom of God.

* I see nothing prima facie wrong with the idea of persuasion on the part of either partner. The exact question of where coercion comes in is a good one, and I'm not sure a single line can be drawn that will be applicable to every individual marriage, because--as with many things--even the two persons and who they are will create a different context of relationship.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Yes Means Yes: Initial Impressions

Yes Means Yes is a book of essays written by feminists which attempts to provide a remedy to some of the underlying assumptions and models of sexuality and persons that can provide cultural sanction for the practice of rape, especially in the united states. The essays aren't necessarily confined strictly to that objective, but everything discussed is at least of tangential relevance to that critique. All citations here are from the 2008 edition (for a visual description, the one with the red, black and yellow cover,) and will be given in the format of ("Essay," Section writer, page number), thereafter (Last name, page number).

This is the first of what will hopefully be many blog posts in which I am giving my theological and personal reactions, from where I come from as a Christian, to the issues and ideas raised by this book. This post just has some initial impressions.

Hopefully I can present a charitable enough picture of what this book has to say that whoever reads this will be able to make a good decision about whether or not to read it for yourselves. I don't necessarily recommend that every Christian I know read this book; many conservatives and even a few liberals would term it crass and crude in places, and rightly so; so I urge persons who are contemplating reading this book and think they might be offended to ask themselves first if being offended will help them grow, or just make them miss the point. And, among many other things, the book is quite obviously about sex. So use your discernment there.

That said, there's a lot of stuff I like in what I've read so far. Now I definitely don't share my religious framework with a lot of these writers, and (as a consequence) there are many things in the book that are problematic from a Catholic perspective. But many of the critiques of the culture, at their core, ring true, and (when I think about them) strike me as stupid just like they strike the secular feminist movement. One thing, right off, just in case there's any misconception at allI do not believe these women are man-haters, and neither should you. They are not. However, I believe that a number of the assumptions that they make and a few of the resulting assertions are problematic from a Christian and, especially, Catholic perspective.

So I'm going to start with my worst initial impression, then move on to the good ones, which have arisen from the book as well as from discussions with the friend who lent it to me.

The idea contained in the first proper essay gave me my worst impression of the book. It was the idea that "an improved response to rape requires a broad-based approach, and involves challenging the entire right-wing agenda: the wars on sex, on women's bodies, on the poor, on people of color." ("Offensive Feminism," Jill Filipovic, 25) The part of that sentence I object to is probably obvious. I think it's safely said that at the least the "[war] on women's bodies" includes attempts to restrict access to abortion; I'm not sure what exactly these people would think of people like me who willingly converted to a religious perspective which, to some degree, teaches activism not just against abortion but also contraception. Now my friend has pointed out that the emphasis on autonomy signified in this passage can be limited by a religious perspective. I believe this; my issue with Filipovic's assertion stands. I realize that my religious perspective means that, for the movement which spawned this book, whatever response I make is likely to be a lower and less-improved response.

There's one other big impression that I had reading this which should be mentioned, because it's going to show up again. Earlier in her opening essay, Filipovic sates that "feminism and anti-rape activism challenge the dominant narrative that women's bodies aren't their own, they insist that sex is about consent and enjoyment, not violence and harm, and they attack a power structure that sees women as victims and men as predators" (Filipovic, 20). I'll sign my name to this sentence, depending on how we interpret that first "and". Do we mean activism that is feminist and anti-rape, or just activism that is either feminist or anti-rape? I kind of hope she means and, not or. If she means or, Christian challenges to rape must by definition be excluded from anti-rape activism on the basis of belief in a Creatorship of God which extends to ownership (even if persons also own themselves), to say nothing of what Christianity teaches about the point of sex.

Let's assume I can sign my name to that sentence, though, and move on to the deeper issue brought up, which is a dichotomy that Filipovic makes between sex being "about consent and enjoyment, not violence and harm." No matter what the secular feminist response to sex is, the Christian response can't be either of those. Obviously we can't seriously advocate, as Christians, a sexual model that promotes violence and harm. But we also can't speak about it just as a thing about consent and enjoyment. For the Christian tradition consent is a necessary condition for the morality of such an act, but it is not sufficient. Enjoyment certainly is a good bonus of sex, but it's not the point; in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant sexual ethics it is subordinate to unity, in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ethics subordinate to unity and to procreation. Some of the older (and more disgustingly spread, even if somehow not disgusting) models of sex have massive potential to aid and abet violence and harm that can be done to women. So what model should we be working for in Christian theology?

But let's get back to the consent piece, because it brings me to the first thing I really like and one of the big themes I've come to embrace from this movement.

The introduction to the book is a testimonial of a woman (comedian Margaret Cho) whose first time having sex was with a man who didn't quite get a no from her. But he didn't get a yes, either. Cho's description of the event should appall we who call ourselves Christians: "Before I knew it, he was on top of me. Then he was inside me. No ceremony, no foreplay, no warning, no consent. It never came up" ("Foreword," Margaret Cho, 2). Cho goes on to describe the various times and reasons that she has had "sex I have said yes to, and sometimes even initiated--that I didn't want to have" (Cho, 3).

As a key part of their solution to these problems of female sexuality, rape, and pressures to have sex, the Yes Means Yes movement has, appropriately enough, suggested that "if we established a model of enthusiastic consent instead of just 'no means no,' it would be a lot harder for men to get away with rape. It would be a lot harder to argue that there's a 'gray area'" (Filipovic, 21). This is the idea that I'm pretty enthused about, the idea of establishing a model of consent that is more active than passive.

There are a host of other little observations that are made in this book that I agree with. One essay, "An Immodest Proposal," asks the question of what the world would look like if women took more initiative in a sexual sense. Obviously my stipulations about the proper and moral context of this initiative differ from that of secular feminism, but within a marital framework, if we truly consider the husband and wife equal in dignity, regardless of whether we're complementarians or egalitarians, is there any good reason not to treat the two as having an equal weight not only in consenting to their bodily union, which the serious thinkers on the subject in the Christian tradition has already taken seriously, but also in initiating it, in asking for that special bodily intimacy? (If anyone thinks they have one, they're free to tell me. I'll respond as best as I can.) Another essay, entitled "Beyond Yes or No," talks about an improvement of communication between partners about what they do and don't like and enjoy as far as sex goes. Again, I have reservations with endorsing the same contexts for such things as the author of that essay, and I definitely don't endorse everything that they do as legitimate sexual practice, consent or no consent. But, in such a degree as a given practice is actually in-line with our dignity as persons and Divine intentions for sexuality, I don't see anything wrong with a husband and wife actually discussing what they like and don't like. Even the most conservative Christians shouldn't balk at this--Karol Wojtyla devoted the entire last chapter of Love and Responsibility to biological discussion and talked of the desire to satisfy the other person in terms of pleasure--not as a replacement of unity, but as an outcome desired by Love in a marital context.

Those are a lot of initial impressions, I know. I hope to continue posting these things; in the future they're going to be on an essay-by-essay basis. Look for more on the themes of the Christian response to sexuality, the 'commodity' model of sexuality that the feminist movement much despises (and with good reason), and places where I think Christianity plays nice--or doesn't--with secular feminism. Pray for me in this endeavor!

[This post has been edited to fix a horrific typo I noticed just now, after several years.]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Unanswerable Question about Waiting Till Marriage

Is sex better if you wait 'till you're married?

My intuition says "no, at least not necessarily." And I've heard assertions of 'yes' and of 'no'--a little of both have come from Christians. But nobody really has the ability to say yes or no, because nobody is really capable of losing their virginity twice. Nobody has the capability of trying married sex both (a) having had sex before, and (b) not having had sex before. It's actually logically impossible to pull off.

A close second, hypothetically, would be this:
(1) Get some consenting volunteers to run an experiment.
(2) Have a way of inducing amnesia which is guaranteed to extend to past sexual experiences.
(3) Have lost whatever part of your conscience it is that would have prevented you from carrying out this experiment.

Now in seriousness, this question is, of course, largely irrelevant for Christians who take it seriously to be a command to wait--who cares if it's better or even worse in terms of pleasure, if it is commanded? But I still found it kind of a funny little thing that despite the bold assertions of yes and no, it is practically impossible to get a reliable answer.

Sacred Laws in a Secular World

While I'm on a roll tonight, I figured I would bring up another sore point that has been on my mind recently. I think that most Christians have this view of law and society that doesn't really work. A very notable case to me is the idea of pornography being legal.
This was brought up to me by a friend--he said that he was in church, and the pastor said he wished that pornography was illegal. My friend does not use pornography, but he told me that he is glad pornography is not illegal because it reflects the citizens having rights to free speech.
Where does a Christian realistically draw the line between trying to make laws that fit their desired moral structure and trying to make laws that really represent the opinion and the desires of the populace? It's easy to argue that fornication is not the best idea ever. However, is it right to stop members of society from fornicating if they don't prescribe to the same world view as I do?
Let's move into two larger issues here. Abortion is a huge topic today. Most Christians I know would agree with me: I hate it. It diminishes the value of birth, the value of the human construction, the sacred protection of a baby within the womb, and a lot of other things. But as we know, not enough people in this country have a problem with it for us to make it illegal. I have a huge issue with abortion because it also involves murder, so that makes this particular topic a little bit more straightforward for me.
Here's the second larger issue: gay marriage. I don't think it's right, but I am also, for the sake of society, willing to accept the possibility of it becoming legal. I have a couple of gay friends, and I love them--but I would never wish that they would get married. I feel that strongly about it. However, if I were in the position to pass law regarding it, I would probably end up making it legal because that is what represents the desires of the populace best.
It seems like as Christians, we have a couple of hard things to remember when it comes to our country. First off, it's not my country, nor is it your country, nor is it the gay couple's country, nor is it anyone else's country. It is, collectively, OUR country. That means that our own impressions of morality and ethics (which, through the Word, are often correct) cannot be forced upon members of society just because we think it's better for them. That sort of law only creates division, hatred, and more lawbreakers.
In addition, it means that if we want to actually do something about the country we share, we can't simply go around trying to get laws passed. It's worthless. You have to change the minds of the people using love and truth, hand-in-hand. It's a lot less simple, but it's the only way I could see going about it.

Christian Ethics vs. Marijuana

This post is prompted by some recent experiences I've had around marijuana. I whole-heartedly believe that the body is the temple of God and that it needs to be taken care of and respected. I also believe whole-heartedly in the enjoyment of alcohol. And on a third note, I believe whole-heartedly in the call to be sober. So, then, we know how alcohol falls into this place: don't have too much, but enjoy yourself. Too much is throwing up, losing your train of thought, headaches, all that jazz. Where does weed fall into this category?
I have heard some people argue that "there is no way to smoke weed and stay in moderation," but I have found that statement to be entirely untrue. So it is possible to stay within that parameter. In addition, it is possible to ingest the plant without any health risks associated (except maybe for the high-fructose corn syrup that the brownies are made of). So we are able to stay within the parameter of keeping your body healthy. Why is this such a hot topic?
I am not writing this post to provide a solution, but only to bring up the question. I think that for myself, abstention from marijuana makes sense because there are commands in the Word to obey your civil authorities. But what if I'm in Amsterdam? I have a feeling that if I were to go and peruse weed in Amsterdam, Christian friends would not be happy--even though it isn't illegal, isn't necessarily unhealthy depending on how you do it, and I wasn't necessarily high out of my mind. So what gives? Why is this different than alcohol? Thoughts are appreciated.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Worrying or Not Worrying

When I was a Free Methodist I did have a fairly constant worry along the lines of "what if the Calvinists are right about XYZ in Scripture?"

Now that I'm a Catholic it seems most of those worries are done away with with the simple reply, "Well, I guess I'll be a Thomist, then, not a Molinist."

One of the weird side-effects I didn't totally expect from going Catholic, is that while I'm still interested in what the proper formulation of the intersection of predestination, foreknowledge, sovereignty, universal salvific intent and free will is, it is also the case that in a good way, I no longer care. I no longer have to worry about the weight of Biblical evidence about whether some grace intrinsically justifies or doesn't, or whether election is conditional or unconditional. I have boundaries that shouldn't be transgressed; truths that must be respected, and perhaps held in tension, but as long as they are held I needn't worry about the details.


I think many of us in the Christian tradition have some working idea of what human dignity is. All of creation, humanity in a sense qualitatively different from the rest, is stamped with the imago dei, or the image of God. Thus each creature of God has intrinsic worth, and, because humanity bears the image of God in a unique way (perhaps more special for the Incarnation) each individual human life is treated as having that same human dignity. This is a fine notion of what dignity means.

But there is another notion of dignity that needs to die.

I mean this strange dignity that means people looking dignified, or looking proper. Somehow we wound up on this planet with two things: Very physical and animal characteristics, and souls that yearn for God. We are spiritual beings, but also material beings, and so we will, at some point, do some material things. And there's this weird idea that we can look dignified while we do it. Think about when people are told to be proper.

Take eating. Who really looks dignified eating? We can chew our food with our mouths closed, but we are chewing. We are still material things devouring other material things. And don't even try to think about how that food gets processed. I was no biology major, but it's not really a dignified process, for the food or for our bodies, wonderful machines they are.

Following that, is there really a dignified way to use the bathroom? I'm certain some people have tried using the bathroom in a dignified way, and I'm nearly as certain that all of those people failed. And-—even in the context of fully Christian marriage—-is there really anything dignified about sex? It's a union, sure, but it's an animal union as well as a God-ordered one. It can't possibly look dignified to anyone. What about death? Sure, we see pristine looking and well-preserved loved ones at casket viewings. But, to quote a one-time character from an episode of Samurai Champloo, "Death leaves no beautiful corpses." Death of course can leave corpses that have some beauty, but the same corpses serve as reminders, the nearly certain fact that we will all die, and that the person who was there has passed on. Neither the act of dying, nor the earthly remains it leaves behind, are dignified-looking things.

The pattern seems to be that all we're really doing is covering up the 'undignified' part. But by design or due to the intrusion of sin, any mere attempt at looking dignified is ultimately just an attempt to dress up us soulful animals so that we look less ridiculous than we are.

Peter Kreeft, in his Fundamentals of the Faith (1988 edition, p.67) and on this webpage, states that:
Death is a crass, crude, vulgar, and materialistic problem. It needs a crass, crude, vulgar, and materialistic solution, like the resurrection of the body. What set the ancient world on fire was not faith in faith, a psychology, a philosophy, or an ethic, but the astonishing news that God became man, died, and rose from death to save us from sin and death.
The Word of God stepped down to the level of the strange combination of soul and animal. He embraced all the indignities that come with being human. Historically Biblical Christian tradition teaches that this did not include sex, but the fact of eating and using a bathroom should be enough, to say nothing of the Crucifixion. There's nothing that looks dignified about Crucifixion. Actually, forget the Crucifixion--what's so dignified about the Resurrection? Even if the Risen Christ was literally aglow, Christ still had the holes in his hands. Would that really be an appropriate visual at the dinner table? I doubt it.

So if even God gave up looking dignified (and sometime during the Passion, this definitely happened) to help rescue and redeem us from Death, it seems like the societal notion of looking dignified, as a general principle, has no real hold on us. But what does?

Returning to what I said before:
Because humanity bears the image of God in a unique way (perhaps made even more special by the Incarnation?) each individual human life is treated as having that same human dignity.
What if we tried on the basis of our worth as creatures of God to set our standards for what actions should be hidden and which would not? Certainly this might make things a little messier, introduce a little bit more context, and force us to judge on more than mere appearances. On the other hand, if we start with the notion of each individual human life--that strange unique mixture of soul and animal, and consider the implications of its dignity and worth for how it ought to live, and how it ought to be treated, we might just start to get a picture of how to put to rest all unnecessary stifling of laughter, put in proportion all table manners, and excercise reverence for God and not sanctimony. If all we do is try to hide our indignities, we'll never be dignified. If we start by realizing our status as creatures of God, we actually have a shot.