There’s a meme floating through the Evangelical church that wants to celebrate marriage, especially the physical and sexual. But the gift of bodily reality is easily seized by culture — in our sexualized culture, how could it not be? Mary De Muth explores some of the problems at Her•meneutics, “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife.”
In another day, this entire business about “Smokin’ Hot Wife”would be labeled worldliness. At its core lies a certain turn of thought, an understanding of sexuality as integral to personal well-being. As a married Christian I deserve good sex, so to speak; or, we were made for sex, etc. And it’s not that Calvinists have stood on the sidelines here. We pretty regularly think of sex as a creational good. But at least for Evangelicals, such a stance is a trap: once you start there, you have basically surrendered on young adult sexuality (think of Tim Keller’s warning), especially given the conflict of the times, on homosexuality. If sex is fundamental to human well-being than prohibitions of all sorts start collapsing.
But that shift in stances, of course, is only the start.
DeMuth herself notes in passing the basic male privilege of it all, the sort that only rubs salt into the psychic wounds of women who have been abused.
And finally, there is the problem of time. The understanding of humanity as sexual creates an artificial narrative of constant sexual availability throughout one’s life. But of course, our libido does ebb and flow, Viagra not withstanding.
In a Christian understanding, sexuality is less the content of the relationship than its context. This Age’s idolatry of the physical limits our freedom to be for others, and it certainly blinds us to the role (and acceptance) of time.
It’s probably because of the Oscar season, but John Fitzgerald grouses about the Evangelical approach to culture.
It’s foolish to imagine everything is equal when it comes to pop culture. But evangelicals have to stop stunting their intellectual and spiritual maturity by sheltering themselves from bad words, fake blood, and the tantalizing sight of skin.
It is perhaps unfair to park this solely at the feet of the evangelical, though, inviting targets that they sometimes can be. Christian practice through the ages has shown a fairly consistent theme of suspicion about popular entertainments, from the early church’s rejection of the circuses to the Puritan rejection of Christmas, to the very sober-mindedness of the 19th C Presbyterians and Methodists. This is not a new thing.
That said, Evangelicals today often have a more ambiguous relationship to pop or mass culture, generally a “cultural-lite” sort of approach. Like the easy embrace of pop culture, this approach still accepts the fundamentals of the cultural context. This is a kind of Constantinianism. What we could use more of is the nurturing of alternate viewpoints, coupled with the robust interrogation of culture in our theology and our practice.
Matthew Lee Anderson takes stock of the election,
What people want is not handwringing when things don’t go “our way,” but hope. And a sober and serious assessment of how things look along with something like a strategy to turn them around that stays true to our principles. Or maybe I speak too broadly. So let me narrow the scope: that is what I want from an evangelical leadership, not the sort of handwringing that we are currently experiencing.
Still, it’s not as if Evangelicals will abandon the Republican Party. The first reactions are less about policy than they are about disappointment and real grief. And in understanding that this still part of a grieving process, several points come to mind.
As political scientists will remind us, political identity is rather stable; culturally evangelicals will continue to be a part of the Republican coalition, particularly in the South. That cultural identity is a trap as to the real transformational goals of the faith community (and this is what I hear you struggling towards). In this light, Evangelicals face something of a choice whether to reinforce this cultural and political identity, that is to take part as a political community, or to take part in something akin to culture-making.
I would opt for the culture making approach.
Evangelicals in the last election voted more intensely GOP than in 2008. If there is an electoral failure, it is not for their not trying. What is missing is their ability to find allies in the center. Here, the deep cultural identity as a wing of the GOP played against them, particularly in the polarized electorate and an election framed as a cultural war, a war the Right lost (per Jonathan Chait).
To advance a transformational approach will it seem, call for different approaches than those previously advanced. At the least, as you suggest, it calls for something like a cheerful engagement. I would suggest that you especially pay attention to Peter Leithart’s concern for justice; a second place to turn would be the sober approach of Alan Jacobs’ thinking on information deficits and global warming.
And Leithart is right in this also: culture making can only take place in the context of a deep faith in the sovereign God who claims our lives at the Cross. Sovereignty and sacrifice walk together, indeed are the proper fuel for hope. But if such hope were easy, we would have it already, wouldn’t we?
[This is the second of two essay-notes on Greg Foster’s article at The Gospel Coalition}
Paul VanderKlay highlights the same paragraph noted in the previous post:
Capitalism has not flourished most where there was a spirit of greed. It has flourished most where there was a spirit of stewardship—a sense that we are responsible to make the world a better place. That—not greed—is what produces a capitalism that thrives.
As far as I can tell, Foster is actually arguing for something close to an “Optimal Capitalism”, a capitalism that works best. From his viewpoint, when capitalism has worked best it has done so by being grounded in a moral viewpoint. The utilitarianism that governs the transactional side (that is, the self-interest of the actors) rests on pre-existing moral assumptions. This is obviously not a stable relationship. Indeed, the historical difficulty is that the very nature of utilitarianism tends to erode this set of moral assumptions (religious or otherwise), as one can read in the hesitation of Christians throughout the 19th Century on the role of money and enterprise, Christians both leading enterprises and those in the Church.
But if the author is arguing for an Optimal Capitalism then he is likewise advancing a moral critique of current practices, assuming that present work is not especially optimal. Now an interesting question underway would be what determines this optimal outcome. What well-being are we striving for? Again, the business of utilitarianism and the “doctrinal” neutrality of business practices seems to recreate the conflict. Can moral precepts function as a boundary to capitalist endeavors? Is there some set of moral bright lines that ought not be crossed?
That is, if we assume the following, what then is our critique? How do we put boundaries on this behavior? What cultural or moral truths are evading?
Our political system has adopted many policies and practices that incentivize materialism, exploitation, and crony capitalism.
Lastly, I found that there was a certain drift to optimism that would be experientially unwarranted. The underlying notion of most market economies is that they are self regulating through competition. Yet at the same time we also find two sets of easily observed phenomena: the regular collusion among the actors led by their own self interest; and secondly the distribution of success along Pareto’s lines (the so-called 80-20 rule, where 20 percent do 80 percent of the business). Both limit the effective role of competition as self-regulation. Cooperation and co-option seem more the order of the day.
Alicia Pickett at the Evangelical Outpost what might be the best form of education. A certain sort of price sensibility captures her thinking.
Academic vs. vocational. Should we train high school and college students in history, philosophy, and biology or in industrial arts, computers, and accounting. I’m not the most practical person in the world (and proud of it). But, in this case, it’s a lot of money and policy invested in one direction or the other. I’ve got to go practical. No choice.
Which is why I recommend academic education over vocational.
Price sensitivity aside, in an era of great economic inequalities (and their justifications) other thoughts come to mind.
For one, I should think that part of the push on vocational education results from a certain class divide. Traditionally, the academic education is not about a job, but about (how shall we put this?) ruling. thus its overwhelming bias towards the professional career. I think this may further explain some of the recent thinking of Charles Murray on the same topic.
For the Christian things get a bit more awkward, since the notion of gift is deeply subversive of these social distinctions. In a deep way, we can then understand the notion of Christian education (primary through college) as a kind of protest against the vocational thrust. And just to be clear, it also raises the skeptical eye at the notion of the “classically educated” dearly beloved of the Academic (there’s an ideology at work there, too).