Thursday, July 19, 2012

Doug Wilson's Disturbing Views of Sex & Slavery


I'm not going to add much commentary to this since, well, the horror of these statements should be plain to persons with any sense of reason, understanding of history, and respect for others.  But I'm also not going to mince words here: Doug Wilson is a misogynistic apologist for southern racism.  I say this as a progressive Christian who is disgusted by the most conservative wing of my tradition today (which unfortunately gets most of the attention in the media, thus making Christianity as a whole look bad).  For me at least, to not speak out against such dangerous words would be irresponsible.  He is a prominent example of how the Bible can far too easily be used to support oppressive ideologies.  Even today, Wilson continues to defend the content of these two quotes that were written some years ago.  If you missed it somehow, there has been quite a backlash against the quote about marital sex, but little has been mentioned about his truly despicable defense of slavery in the south (I recommend reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States for a more honest account of southern racism and slavery that does not make excuses for the sins of white America).  I decided to juxtapose Wilson's quotes from two different books he wrote in a single post.  These are the sad and disturbing words of a white man obsessed with justifying power and privilege over women and non-white persons by attempting to speak on their behalf and white-wash/sugar-coat their histories of oppression:
Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based on mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. … Slave life was to [the slaves] a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care.” (Southern Slavery As It Was, 23-25)
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.  (Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man, 86)
For critical responses to the latter quote:

Sexual Conquering is Rape by JRD Kirk
The Gospel Coalition, sex, and subordination by Rachel Held Evans

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Christianity Must Be Secularized - and Liberated

That is the provocative thesis of a recent book by John Cobb, Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action.  What does this mean?  Secularizing (a dynamic term) is contrasted with secularism on the one side and religion on the other (both of which are more static sounding terms).

Religion or religiousness tends to be supernaturalist and otherworldy to the point that it lessens concern for this world.  On the whole, it refuses to secularize its tradition.  It tends to be overly cautious about innovation and stubbornly, even unreasonably committed to the past (tradition, creeds, texts, historical individuals).  Innovation is something to be feared more than embraced.  It is constituted by an "us" vs. "them" way of thinking: we have it, they don't - we're in, they're out - we get it, they don't.

Secularism is concerned almost exclusively with contemporary experience and understanding, especially through the sciences, philosophy, higher education, and economism.  It is concerned to define and categorize based on presently available information.  As such, it accumulates vast amounts of information but is "barren of wisdom" through the critical appropriation of a traditional body of knowledge.  Unlike secularizers, secularists are open to other Ways but committed to none of them.

Secularizers are those who are primarily concerned about making the world a better place for everyone to live in, but they do so with the knowledge resources of the past and present in dynamic interaction.  They are fully open to the influence of other Ways, other wisdom traditions, even as they commit to their own.  They affirm their tradition even as they understand that tradition itself to make a secularizing imperative: critical, reasonable appropriation and transformation rather than fearful, unreasonable, and stubborn commitment to past modes of thought, wisdom, and action. They embrace innovation in conversation with their own heritage.

The great secularizers (who Cobb makes a short list of that includes Plato, Aristotle, the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus, and Paul) agree that "It is possible to recover, refine, and reappropriate the wisdom of the past and clarify its relevance to the present...it does not discard the past, but it [does] not take any one past formulation as beyond further critical discussion.  On the contrary, thinkers critically examine the inherited ideas, clarify their valid meaning and use for life in the real world, and organize the resulting thoughts so as to ensure their mutual coherence."  As an example, Cobb points out that the true prophets (as opposed to the false prophets) were those who did not accept past formulations or the present culture on face value but "were the most critical of society and of the economy of the time and particularly of its religiousness."  Jesus was similarly extremely critical of the political-economic situation of his time, as well as the religious status quo.  He proclaimed and created alternative communities of nonviolent resistance against the Roman empire.  The way of Jesus drastically differed from the violent way of the Zealots as well as the way of other Jewish sects who avoided innovation in favor of reverent obedience to the past, even at the expense of human well-being in the present.

But secularizers, especially those from the First World, from the West, must also be committed to the revolutionary Pauline experience of radical conversion, rebirth, the absolute paradigm shift.  Why? Because they also recognize the possibility that many aspects of their heritage may be so profoundly mistaken and aligned with those in power rather than 'the least of these', the poor (who are consistently given a preferential option in the Bible while the rich on the other hand will not even be a part of the kingdom without giving up their possessions and exploitative way of life) that it might need to be trashed rather than merely fixed, so to speak.  A revolution comes from below rather than from above - a point that cannot be missed in any talk of 'revolution.'  Christian secularizers attempt to recognize their privileged positions and to respond accordingly to the voices of the oppressed, the colonized, the marginalized.  Especially in today's globalized economy - which is merely another disastrous stage in a long colonial project - those of us who are secularizing Christians must recognize the need for more radical revolutions than reformist projects, a more complete conversion in solidarity with the subaltern.  This is what it means, I believe, to be a disciple of Jesus today: a commitment to both secularizing and liberation.  We critically appropriate the wisdom of our tradition for the sake of the common good.  But we also live in the humble and even uneasy awareness that perhaps our vision of the 'common' good must be radically challenged from the perspective of those upon whose backs we have built our Western identities, our economic and national projects, and - dare I say it - even our religious tradition as received from Christendom to the present.