Why Liberals Should Find Heteronormativity Defensible Even If They Think It Wrong

To many modern minds, including the minds of most people my age (thirties) in the Western world, it is practically inconceivable that there might be any legitimate rationale for inculcating a preference for heterosexual marriage over any other expression of sexuality, including homosexual marriage. This preference is the historical status quo, but it has been so dramatically rejected in the last 75 years (and especially the last 15) that, for many today, the whole business of disapproving sex for any reason other than nonconsent is wholly alien, bizarre, and even evil–a thing to be dismissed with a word: “Victorian,” “repressive,” “culturally insensitive,” etc. But can it be so easily dismissed? Where did the tradition of disapproving expressions of homosexuality come from?

Is it, as many moderns imagine, entirely irrational, evil, and indefensible? Continue reading

In Defense of the God of the Gaps

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Photo Credit: A Perspective On REALITY

Acts 17:27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us[.]

The “god of the gaps” is much maligned. He could also be called the “god of the not-yet-explained,” and his domain has been steadily shrinking as science explains more and more. People whose sympathies are both with science and against religion may use the label to express the view that religion is founded wholly on ignorance. We did not know why the sun rises in the east so we attributed it to Apollo. We did not know how the animals came to be so we attributed their creation to God. The god of the gaps is the god of uncharted territory—instead of “here there be dragons,” it is “here there be god.” Then astronomy and biology supply alternate explanations that are supported by empirical inquiry, and the god of the gaps has (supposedly) been ousted from the scene. But is religion now—or was it ever—fully explained as a “gap filler”? And when science explains something, is God thereby ousted? Continue reading

Nature of Scripture: Part 3: Scripture as Subversion

File:Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Leon Bonnat.jpg

Scripture as Subversion: A God To Wrestle With

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest of all subversive stories. It profoundly subverts the authority of the Jewish rulers and of the Roman yoke. It brings into question the justice of criminal law. It subverts reliance on the righteousness of Peter or the other apostles who abandoned their Lord to the mob. It even subverts reliance on any perceived right to feel close to God if one is doing his will, for Christ felt himself abandoned. It casts down the idols of man’s authority, justice, righteousness, and peace (among others), and sets in their place the image of the tortured God-man whose broken heart is still set on his Father’s will.

God is a creator. He laid the foundations of the earth. His work is constructive, not deconstructive. But he is so relentless in purpose and so faithful in his vision of what he wills that he will fiercely cast down all idols, even by torture (e.g., that of his Son). He is the God who took away the gift of language from the builders in Babel, who prophesied that because his people rejected the true foundation, the foundations of the temple and the walls of his city would be torn down until not one stone was left sitting on another.

Lamentations 2:4 He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.

God is not an antifoundationalist, but is the inveterate enemy of all false foundations that obstruct his building plans. There is therefore a strong streak of iconoclasm (“idol-breaking”) through the scriptures.

Every age has its idols. One of the purposes of scripture is to break them down. One of the chief idols that devours men’s souls in every age is gold, and to every age the scriptures teach that “ye cannot serve God and mammon.” To an age that glorified the warrior above all heroes, the scriptures taught that a king of conquest was not permitted to build the Lord’s house. To an age that idolized rationalism, the scriptures breathed a “peace that passeth understanding,” and taught that “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifyeth.” To a culture obsessed with the oral traditions that had accreted onto the law of Moses, the scriptures taught a higher law, summarized as radical love and forgiveness.

Our age has its idols too, as do each one of us who persist in sinning. (To sin is by definition to place something above God and his laws.)

Among the idols of our age are equality, tolerance, autonomy, and free expression. These ideals, properly understood and deployed, can accomplish good. But to the degree that any of them become an excuse for sinning or even for failing to reject sin, they are by definition idolatrous. And to our shame they are used in this manner constantly.

Insofar as each person and each age have their idols, the scriptures set themselves against us as an enemy. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, it is not without a long and painful struggle that we obtain the Lord’s blessing, and some part of us will be pulled out of joint. But the result will be that we become worthy inheritors of Israel’s name (“to struggle and prevail with God”).

The struggle is not one of servile submission—a wrestle would be a supremely inapt metaphor for such a struggle. There is give and take, as in a lengthy wrestling match. God has not given us reason and judgment just so that we can sacrifice them on the pagan alter of fundamentalism. This too is an idolatry that will lead a man to damnation if he will not repent of it. The wrestle with God afforded us in the scriptures is in large measure an effort of clear thinking and careful, whole-souled discernment. The wrestle enables us to interpret our lives, our age, and the sacred texts in a correct manner; and while we would do well to hold the text in higher regard than their own instincts or received wisdom, nothing is properly sacrosanct except Elohim (“the Gods”).

Announcing A Change In The Brothers Sabey Blog

The Brothers Sabey has always been and will remain a blog about “the issues”–and particularly about marriage and family, the culture wars, respectful dialogue, and our defense of what we believe to be valuable and right in the weakening traditions of our society. However, we have always written to a general audience and have tried never to assume that our readers shared our philosophical, political, or religious presuppositions. Our goal was to reach a diverse readership and not to alienate those who do not already share our views–the very people we would most wish to influence or at least have dialogue with. But as it turns out, as best we can tell, our readership is predominantly made up of like-minded people, and mostly fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Furthermore, to be hospitable, you have to occupy some place where you can host others. While we maintain our commitment to “courteous conversations” and hospitable dialogue across political and other differences, we also feel a need to acknowledge and explicitly speak from the particular place we occupy in American culture. In our minds, a fundamentally important part of that place is our membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obviously we do not speak for the Church, nor are our perspectives (political or theological) necessarily shared by other members, but we realize that whenever we offer hospitality to the Other, we do so in part as sincere believers and practicing members of this religion. That community of faith constitutes a large part of the ground on which we stand and from which we speak; we no longer want to abstract ourselves from it. We have never attempted to hide our membership in the Church or some of the religious associations of some of our views. But going forward we will be addressing, among other issues, those of particular concern to the Church or the Christian community generally, and may sometimes adopt an overtly religious or theological stance. We do not consider this a “Church blog” (or a “Mormon blog” as we would have said before the last general conference). And we will still hope for a diverse readership. We hope to benefit all of our readers by this change–our fellow-members by addressing issues of importance to them, and our other readers across all political and religious divides by a more complete revelation of our views and identities, always hoping that they will respond in kind, affording us all a mutual opportunity for courteous and hospitable dialogue.

 

 

The Inevitability and Potential Benefits of Gender Norms

The world turned upside down, by Israhel van Meckenem the Younger.

James Damore was fired from Google for saying that women are biologically less disposed towards engineering jobs than men. He then sued Google for discrimination against employees who were white, male, or conservative. Let’s take a moment to savor the craziness.

In a saner world, the layers of irony in the whole situation would prompt a serious discussion about gender norms across society. The question would be one of factual inquiry: are women in fact less predisposed to engineering jobs? If so, is the cause biological or something else?

Some (including the paid scientific experts) took the occasion to respectfully disagree with each other. But those phlegmatic conversations have been like the one remaining mobile home in the wake of a tornado. In general, the reactions were “hysterical” (CNN’s Kirsten Powers’ word). Various thoughtful persons across the spectrum deplored the ideological histrionics displayed by most the rest of us (see the excellent Wikipedia article).

A slight majority (55%) disagreed with Google’s decision to fire Damore, according to a Harvard-Harris poll. But that means that 45% did not disagree with it. Many in the 55% majority disagreed with Damore’s opinions about gender dynamics, but still felt he should not have been fired for expressing them at work. But to a full 45% of the polled population, the expression of such views is apparently so heinous that termination is the appropriate response.

Obviously, gender norms are rather unpopular nowadays. And not without reason. I admit that gender norms, mis-conceived or miscarried or related to in mal-adaptive ways, can and do injure people, whether because those people do not conform to the norm or because they do.

But I also submit that a society without gender norms is possible only in theory and that this theoretical society is not the one we should aspire to. Continue reading

Autonomy as Enslavement

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites . . . . It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

–Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly

I have written several essays critiquing contemporary liberal values such as equality, tolerance, and diversity. This adds to the number.

Autonomy too is a poor ideal to live by. It fails in roughly the same way as “equality,” which is incoherent if it means anything other than the semi-tautological and completely unhelpful proposition that we should “treat likes alike,” as I have argued elsewhere, though it is taken to mean much more, to the confusion of our political discourse. In the same way, there is a huge gap between the proper philosophical definition of “autonomy” and its popular meaning. “Autonomy” can mean mere unconstrainedness (lawless liberty, which is the popular meaning) or conscientiousness (following the law generated by one’s own conscience, the proper philosophical definition). Continue reading