Comments on the Phil Robertson Controversy

I’d like to offer my brief comments on the Phil Robertson controversy.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here and here.

I don’t think that Phil Robertson is a bad guy.  He prayed for a woman with cancer after learning that he had been suspended from his hit A&E TV show, Duck Dynasty (see here)He has affirmed continually that his faith teaches him to love and respect all people.

Yet, I can understand why people find his comments to be offensive and hurtful.  There are many homosexuals who see their same-sex relationship as special, beautiful, and loving, and they do not appreciate someone coming along and putting it in the same category as bestiality and terrorism.  There are African-Americans who are aware of the oppression and discrimination that existed in the Jim Crow South, and they do not care for Robertson’s implication that things weren’t that bad for African-Americans under that system.

I was reading an article yesterday that suggested ways that Phil Robertson can recover his image: he can apologize, or he can appear on a talk show spouting some mea culpas.  But, for one, I do not expect for Phil Robertson to retract his sincerely-held religious beliefs.  In his eyes, the Bible is against homosexual relationships, and he is committed to that standard.  And, secondly, even if he were to retract his religious beliefs and offer a public apology, that would only be a band-aid solution.  He’d simply be appeasing his critics, without necessarily learning and growing from this experience.

In my opinion, this should be a learning experience—-not a “gotcha” experience (for Robertson’s critics), and not a “we have to stand by Phil Robertson in these end times” experience (for many of Robertson’s supporters).  I hope that Robertson learns why people found his comments offensive, and that he can somehow come to empathize with them, even if he chooses not to change his religious beliefs about homosexuality.  And I hope that other people besides Robertson can learn from this: that, for example, white people can learn that racism does exist, even if they do not see it.

Polarization can start this sort of discussion.  For example, had GLAAD and the NAACP not complained about Robertson’s comments, we would not be talking about why they are so offensive and hurtful.  But polarization and an us vs. them mindset, if it is continued, can obstruct learning, discussion, and growth.

Bullies (an Episode of The Newsroom)

I’ve been watching the first season of The Newsroom.  It is on HBO, and it was created and is largely written by Aaron Sorkin, who gave us The West WingThe Newsroom is about a news program, which is anchored by Will McAvoy, who (along with his producer, an ex-flame) has decided to shift his program from its less-than-serious nature to one that gives the “facts” and asks guests the hard questions.

I like the program because it is inspirational and funny, and McAvoy, while he is clearly an arrogant jerk, is still somehow loveable (as were all of the jerks on The West Wing).  My problem with the show has been that it has presented conservatives as mindless dunces.  When McAvoy has had conservative guests on his show, they usually had this deer-in-the-headlights look.  In my opinion, that is not only unrealistic, but it also does not make for good entertainment.  You may think that conservatives are not particularly bright and that their policies are damaging to the country, but I’ve seen and read plenty of conservatives who are well-read, who are able to convey an argument, and who do not have that deer-in-the-headlights look whenever they’re challenged.  Moreover, it would be more entertaining to me to see McAvoy actually have to engage in rhetorical combat with formidable opponents rather than mowing his guests down on a regular basis.

I saw an exception to the rule in an episode that I watched last night, entitled “Bullies.”  McAvoy has on his program an African-American homosexual professor who (surprise!) is an adviser to Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum.  In the style of Lawrence O’Donnell, McAvoy ties to mow the professor down with the same questions over and over: How can the professor defend Rick Santorum’s comments regarding homosexuality?  The professor meekly replies that Santorum has treated him with the utmost respect over the years, and that he does not agree with everything Santorum has said.  As the professor is continually harangued by McAvoy, however, the professor eventually loses his cool.  The professor fights back, saying that he is not defined by his race, his sexual orientation, or even by McAvoy, who in his narrow-mindedness presumes to know what someone like the professor should believe and do.  The professor says that he does not need McAvoy’s help, and that he is supporting Rick Santorum because he believes that Santorum is the best candidate in the race when it comes to protecting the lives of the unborn.

To his credit, McAvoy is silent as he is taken to the woodshed by the professor, but, as is often the case in Sorkin’s political dramas, the left gets the last word.  McAvoy then asks the professor if Santorum believes that the professor is fit to teach, and the professor quietly and solemnly responds, “no.”

When McAvoy is seeing a therapist, McAvoy eventually acknowledges that he was being a bully in that interview.  McAvoy also remarks that he managed to upset the religious right, African-Americans, and gays in one interview, and I got a laugh out of that!  In any case, I hope that there are more episodes of The Newsroom in which intelligent conservatives fight back—-and both sides (if we can truly reduce people to “sides,” which is doubtful) end up learning something in the process.

To watch the scene, see here.

Thoughts on Exodus International, Reparative Therapy, etc.

I read an interesting article yesterday in Christianity Today about the demise of Exodus International, an evangelical group that tried to help homosexuals to overcome their homosexuality.  The authors had been involved in Exodus International.  One of the authors, Christopher Greco, said the following about his own experience:

“During the two years after I (Christopher) resigned from ministry as a broken 25-five-year old, I met this Jesus anew and realized some things about myself; I was free to make a choice, and I really didn’t want what being gay offered me. This was not even an option before encountering the testimonies of Exodus founder Frank Worthen and Desert Stream founder Andy Comiskey.

“I slowly began to experience the sobriety in thought and flesh I had been teaching others about. In the desert, I discovered my love for Dorothy and my desire to share my life, and body, with her—not because my mother wanted me to, not to please my pastor, not to fit in, and not because I was afraid I’d go to hell if I didn’t. After I relinquished control over my future and stopped trying to change, my desires did change. And there’s been no shadow of turning during our 22-year marriage.

“Though we realize that our story is not a prescriptive for all who have struggled with unwanted SSA, it is our story and—contrary to the very vocal naysayers—we are neither liars nor outliers. The voices of those who were wounded by Exodus International currently dominate the media. Their stories and their pain are legitimate and should not be dismissed. However, make no mistake, we believe there are equal numbers of us who have experienced unmistakeable transformation through the love and power of the resurrected Jesus revealed through Exodus and other such organizations.”

Here are a variety of thoughts:

1.  I find what Christopher says to be very humble and mature, and that contrasts with my own limited exposure to reparative therapy.  I am not gay, but I one time received a brochure advertising a reparative therapy group, perhaps because I subscribe to Christian conservative publications via the Internet and thus got on somebody’s mailing list.  This brochure featured a woman who was heartbroken because her son was gay, and thus she thought that she wouldn’t have grandchildren.  Apparently, this group was advertising itself as the solution to her problem.  I was utterly disgusted by this brochure.  What Christopher says is different from this brochure, however, because Christopher is saying that he didn’t change to please somebody else.  Rather, it seems that change came when he was not looking for it.

2.  I like how Christopher presents change as something personal.  I think that, a lot of times, conservative Christianity tries to pressure people to do things that they do not truly want to do, and people go through the motions to fit in, or to please others, or to appease some God who will supposedly throw them into hell if they don’t shape up.  I don’t see how that approach brings about genuine change.

3.  I want to stress, though, that I’m not saying that every homosexual can change if he or she truly wants to.  I’m against trying to make one person’s story into another person’s story.  Just because one homosexual Christian finds peace with celibacy or within a heterosexual marriage, that doesn’t mean that every homosexual who goes down this road will find peace.  There are plenty of people who will testify that such a road resulted in disaster, for them and for those who were in their lives.  Moreover, there are plenty of homosexuals who testify to the torment they experienced of continually asking God to deliver them from their homosexuality, with no results, but they finally found peace within a same-sex relationship.

4.  On the other hand, I don’t want to discount the experiences of people who believe that they have gotten some benefit from reparative therapy programs, or some system of support.  There are homosexuals who believe in conservative Christianity, and they are not convinced by those who argue that the Bible does not prohibit same-sex sexual activity.  They may be seeking some support system that can help them to keep from acting on their desires.  Who is anyone to say that this is wrong?  Consequently, even though I have no problem with anti-discrimination laws or with marriage equality, I have reservations about laws that would ban reparative therapy.  (Or it depends.  If the therapy is abusive, then perhaps it should be banned—-see here.)

5.  A lot of times, those who believe that homosexuality is an orientation from birth argue that some who claim to be cured of their homosexuality were not really gay to begin with.  This may be true.  But what this tells me is that there are people out there who may believe that they are homosexual, and they really are not.  Perhaps there are environmental factors that explain their same-sex attractions.  How could we make a blanket statement that reparative therapy does not work, when it may work for some people who were not born homosexual?  And yet, I acknowledge that this is a delicate situation, for there are probably many homosexuals who were born that way.  For them, reparative therapy is most likely a bad idea.

6.  I think that what’s important is that people don’t force their narratives onto others.  People have to make their own decisions, based on what they find to be true in their own lives.  Suppose there is a homosexual who is in a reparative therapy program, and what he is hearing does not resonate with his own experiences.  He had a good relationship with his parents, he was gay as long as he can remember, he was not abused, etc.  He should not be pressured to accept some narrative that does not coincide with his own experiences.  But suppose that the narrative resonates with someone else—-helping that person to gain clarity.  Maybe he would choose to pursue reparative therapy, and he might find it beneficial for him.

7.  I’ve never really cared for certain evangelical approaches to homosexuals or homosexuality.  Actually, I’ve loathed those approaches.  It makes me sick when some heterosexual conservative Christian gets on his high horse and says that homosexuals must be celibate for their entire lives, then he goes right home to his wife and kids.  That is disgusting and reprehensible, in my opinion.  But I have admired some of the homosexual Christians who have chosen celibacy.  I’m not saying that I believe every homosexual Christian should walk that path, but I appreciate what homosexual Christians who have chosen celibacy have to say.  They have a depth and a humility that contrasts with the shallow, pompous, know-it-all, smug, condescending arrogance of so much of American evangelicalism.

8.  I don’t particularly care if heterosexual conservative Christians read this post and take offense at what I wrote.  But I do care if homosexuals—-whether they be side A (those who think that one can be a Christian and in a same-sex relationship), side B (homosexual Christians who don’t believe that same-sex sexual activity is permitted by Scripture), or neither (a non-Christian, perhaps)—-are offended by this post.  I don’t want them to be offended by it.  These are just my reflections, and I am open to changing them with new understanding.  I may not have phrased everything delicately, but choosing words or phrases in writing is not an easy task for me.  Please feel free to comment, but I will not publish or interact with comments that are overly vituperative.  I’ve interacted with liberal trolls in the past, and that’s just not something that I want to do!

Psalm 119: Yod

For my weekly quiet time today, I will blog about Psalm 119: Yod.  I will post it in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.

73 JOD. Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.

The point here could be that the God who created the Psalmist is powerful enough to impart to the Psalmist spiritual understanding.  Do I believe that God changes people?  I recently got into a discussion with a Christian blogger, and she was saying that a number of Christians who are judgmental or prone to anger are that way because they have not asked the Holy Spirit to change them.  I initially took some exception to that claim, but I came to see her point a little better in the course of our conversation.  I agree with her that one way that people can overcome a character flaw is, first, to admit that they have a problem and, second, to ask God each day to help them to change, a task that allows them regularly to express their commitment to becoming better.  There are other Christians who say that Christians cannot change in solitude—-with just them and God—-but that they need a community to give them advice and encouragement and to keep them accountable.  I tend to be resistant to this claim, but I can still see some value in it: that it’s good to get an outsider’s perspective, since I myself do not have all of the answers.

I guess where I am skeptical is that I have a hard time believing that all issues can be prayed away.  There are a number of Christians with a homosexual orientation who have tried to pray away the gay, only to fail.  For a long time, I prayed that God might make me more of an extrovert, that he might help me to have more social skills and not to be as nervous in social situations.  In some respects, I have improved, but I’m still a very shy person.  Some people conclude that they should stop trying to change certain things about themselves, but rather should seek to be happy with themselves as they are, the way that God made them.  In my opinion, when to do that, and when to try to change, are things that should be decided by people on a case-by-case basis.

74 They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word.

Do we root for those who hope in God’s word?  In my case, it depends.  If a person is going through a hard financial or personal situation, and she is clinging for dear life to God’s faithfulness, then, yes, I am glad when things get better in that person’s life, and my faith in God grows.  If we’re dealing with a pastor who is in trouble for sexual misconduct, or spiritual abuse, or financial scandal, I would tend not to root for that pastor, even if he claims to be looking to God to vindicate him, and even if he actually is trusting in God.  That doesn’t mean that I should give in to hating the pastor, for I believe that I should desire his repentance.  If a politician is attacking gay marriage out of religious conviction and is getting criticized as a result, I have a hard time rooting for that politician in that case, for I believe that there is more to the story: that God cares for gay people who were born with an orientation that they did not ask for and who want to express their love through marriage, just like a number of heterosexual couples do.  Whether they’re right or wrong, that’s debated, but there should be more to the debate than people standing up for what they believe God wants: there should be empathy, as well.

75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.

I’ve wondered before on this blog what the definition of “judgments” is in Psalm 119.  Are they God’s statutes, a la how the word is used in the Book of Deuteronomy?  Or are they God’s ways of acting in the world?  In Psalm 119:75, it could go both ways.  The Psalmist could be saying that he now knows that God’s statutes are right, and that he appreciates that God in God’s faithfulness has afflicted him for not obeying them.  Or he could be saying that God’s affliction of him is an example of God’s judgments, God’s ways of doing things in the world, and that the Psalmist sees value in that.

76 Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.

Did God ever tell the Psalmist that God’s mercy would comfort him?  Perhaps.  If the Psalmist here is David, maybe the word that the Psalmist means is God’s word through Nathan that God has put away David’s sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah, such that David would not die (II Samuel 12:13).  That is God’s forgiveness of David.  Or could the servant who received God’s word be someone else, such as Moses?  In that case, there are passages in the Torah about God’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly to those who love God and seek to obey God’s commandments (Exodus 20:6//Deuteronomy 5:10; Exodus 34:7), and the Psalmist could be appealing to those.

77 Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.

I would like to think that God would be merciful to me, even if I do not obey God’s standards.  The thing is, though, as a number of Christians have noted, God’s grace only makes sense within the context of God’s law.  Why would we need forgiveness if what we are doing is perfectly acceptable?  But I struggle with certain commandments, such as the ones about being reconciled with others.  I don’t want to have anything to do with some people, let alone reconcile with them, to tell you the truth!  But there may be less absolutist ways to interpret that command: perhaps I can apologize to someone for anything I did wrong, without feeling that I have to be lifelong friends with that person.  Should I tell people about their sins against me in an attempt to foster some sort of reconciliation, a la Matthew 18, or Leviticus 19:17?  I’ve found that I don’t do this all that well.  Sometimes, for me, it’s a better policy just to let people be, and to go my separate way.

There are times when I ask God for forgiveness, but it’s when I sincerely feel that I did something wrong.  I’m through with fake repentance, in which I have to apologize for not being perfect, or for having sexual desire.  I should still be guided by a higher standard, however.  For example, I’m never going to be perfect, but is there a way for me to become better?  And, even if I have sexual desire, I should still try to avoid total objectification.

78 Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts.

The Psalmist may want for God to convict his enemies of sin such that they recognize the error of their ways, or for God to publicly humiliate them out of justice.  Either way, it must be horrible for people to be mistreated, when they feel that they have done nothing wrong to those who are mistreating them.  Is it escapism for the Psalmist to meditate on God’s precepts while this is going on?  Perhaps.  And yet, the Psalmist most likely believes that, by showing God that he is serious about obeying God’s precepts, God will intervene and vindicate him.  Moreover, perhaps the Psalmist does not want to lose his soul (if you will) amidst the assaults by his enemies.  He may not want to become tied down by anger or a desire for revenge, or to give up his pursuit of righteousness out of a belief that obedience to God does not matter because the world is simply amoral or unfair.  He seeks to remind himself of righteous principles, even when the world does not appear to be a moral place.  That’s something that I should do—-and I shouldn’t just write about doing it on my blog, but I should actually do it.

79 Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies.

This verse stood out to me.  Why would the Psalmist want for God-fearers to turn to him?  St. Augustine actually struggled with this verse, thinking that it would be pretty presumptuous on the part of the Psalmist to ask that people turn to him.  Augustine concluded that v 79 must be the words of Christ: of course, people who fear God should turn to Christ, Augustine thought!

But there have been other approaches to this verse.  The Targum says that those who fear God will turn to the Psalmist’s teaching.  That’s better than the Psalmist hoping that people will turn to him, as if he deserves adulation, for people turning to righteous teaching is a good thing.  Rashi, however, said that David here is asking that the righteous might embrace him again, since they had forsaken him after his misdeed concerning Bathsheba and Uriah.  I myself have another thought: Suppose that Psalm 119 is by or about David.  Could David be hoping that the righteous will see that he has the right intentions and fears God and thereby come to support him, in a time when he is endangered by Saul or Absalom?

I don’t think that it’s wrong for a person to desire that others will help him out, that religious people will practice the moral teachings of their creeds and go to bat for someone who has problems.  But I’m against people conflating their agendas with God’s agendas and thereby equating turning to God with turning to them.  The former could be the sentiment of this verse.

80 Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed.

In many respects, I believe that we can avoid shame by doing what is right while avoiding what is wrong.  This doesn’t always happen, for there are such things as false accusations.  But people should not shoot themselves in the foot.

Published in: on May 11, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Differences Between The Road Less Traveled and Further Along the Road Less Traveled

On pages 156-157 of Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth (copyright 1993), M. Scott Peck states:

“I became a Christian several years after The Road Less Traveled was published—-and remember, the very first sentence in that book is the great Buddhist truth ‘Life is difficult’—-although subconsciously I had been tending in that direction for quite some time, and The Road Less Traveled is full of Christian concepts.  An important man said to me, ‘Scotty, it was so clever of you the way you disguised your Christianity in The Road Less Traveled in order to get the Christian message across to people.’  And I replied honestly, ‘Well, I didn’t disguise my Christianity.  I wasn’t a Christian.’”

Indeed, my impression is that there are differences between The Road Less Traveled and Further Along the Road Less Traveled.  I’ll talk about three issues in which this appears to be the case, while in some cases wrestling with the question of whether or not it truly is the case.

First, in The Road Less Traveled, Peck talks about humans growing to become like God in terms of having power in a number of situations.  In Further Along the Road Less Traveled, however, Peck criticizes Theomania, which is “the delusion that we human beings can be God” (page 192).  Now, one can argue that Peck is not really contradicting himself but is talking about two separate issues.  When Peck talks about human beings becoming like God, he means that therapy can help us to grow and arrive at a state in which we can navigate our way through life (including life’s hardships) with a degree of poise and control.  When Peck criticizes Theomania, he’s saying that human beings should accept that life does not always turn out as they’d like.  Can both concepts co-exist?  I’d say that they can, in the form of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Overall, though, I’d say that Further Along the Road Less Traveled has more of a God-focus than The Road Less Traveled.

Second, in The Road Less Traveled, Peck speaks about homosexuality as if it’s a condition that needs to be cured.  In Further Along the Road Less Traveled, however, Peck acknowledges that homosexuality is complex, as some are homosexual due to nurture (i.e, dysfunctional families), some due to nature (genetics), and some due to a combination of the two.  Peck says on pages 104-105 that “when we regard homosexuality as just this or just that, we do violence to the subtlety and complexity of God’s creation.”  In response to the question of whether or not homosexuals should be ordained as priests, Peck says that “It depends on the homosexual” (page 105).

Third, Peck talks more about the afterlife in Further Along the Road Less Traveled.  He says that the Christian (or, in the case of purgatory, Catholic) belief in a post-mortem heaven, hell, and purgatory makes sense to him, but he’s drawn more to C.S. Lewis’ depiction of hell than he is to the notion that God will torment God’s own creation forever and ever, without possibility of redemption.  Peck refers to Lewis’ story about a professor who did not like heaven because there was no room there for him to advance above others, and so he chose hell.  Peck says on page 171: “My vision of Hell is distinctly like that of Lewis.  The gates of Hell are wide open.  People can walk right out of Hell, and the reason they are in Hell is that they choose not to.”

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Institutions Evolve!

I was watching ABC This Week (see the transcript for today’s program here).  I liked what Matthew Dowd said in response to Republican Congressman Peter King’s statement that “we have to look at the consequences of changing a 2,000 year institution”, namely, marriage.  Dowd said:

“But the argument to me that people say this is an institution that’s been a traditional institution for 2,000 or 3,000 years, ignores the fact that the institution that was — if you really want to go to a traditional marriage, it wasn’t monogamous, races couldn’t marry, women [were] property and they couldn’t give consent. That was the traditional view of marriage for 2,000 years.  [M]arriage has always evolved over the course of time and this is just another evolution.”

Published in: on March 31, 2013 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Best of Both Worlds?

I went to my church’s Maundy Thursday service last night.  We had a guest speaker, who was from another church, and she was preaching to us about Exodus 12.  She delivered her sermon in a rather mainline Protestant manner (since, well, she is mainline Protestant): demure, thoughtful, measured, etc.  But some of what she was saying sounded pretty evangelical, or at least conservative!  She was saying that we focus a lot on the grace of God, but we should also remember that God has rules that we should follow.  She also said that, if she were an Israelite living in the days of the Exodus, she wouldn’t want to test God: she would follow God’s instructions on how to preserve the lives of the Israelite firstborn while the death angel was killing the firstborn in Egypt.  She’d put blood on her door, blood that foreshadows the blood of Christ, which delivers people from God’s wrath.

She made God sound real, tough, like the sort of God whom Marshall Hogan wanted to hear about in Frank Peretti’s novel, This Present Darkness (which was why he was discontent with his liberal church).  What she was saying also reminded me of the evangelical cliche, “God is loving, but God is also JUST!”, or “God is loving, but God is also HOLY!”

I suppose that it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that a mainline Protestant would believe that there is a God who wants for us to live in a certain way.  As the pastor noted, the bad things that we do hurt ourselves and others.  It would be a wonderful thing if Jesus Christ came to earth to deliver us from the prison of sin.  I can use that!  I question whether I can truly be free from my imperfections—-or whether I should instead just cope with them and try to keep them from doing damage.  But I can see why people long for deliverance from sin, and why they would feel limited and thus look to a higher power to bring that deliverance about.

I did an Internet search on the pastor who spoke to us last night.  In our denomination’s conflicts over homosexuality, she appears to be on the side of allowing homosexuals to be pastors without demanding that they be celibate.  Moreover, she is a proponent of marriage equality.  Do I believe that this conflicts with her sermon?  Well, yeah, part of me does, and the reason is this: I myself believe that it’s unfair to demand that homosexuals live in celibacy for the rest of their natural lives, but I think that way despite the Bible, which I believe is pretty clear in its opposition to same-sex sexual activity.  Therefore, I have a hard time conceiving of a position that takes the Bible seriously, while also believing that homosexuals should be allowed to have a life partner of their own sex.  Are there people who do manage to arrive at a position that they think contains the best of both worlds?  Yes.  That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that the pastor who spoke to us last night can believe in a real God, have faith that Jesus Christ provides hope, and see the Bible as God’s word (though not necessarily as a fundamentalist might), while believing that God is okay with homosexuality.  I’m just saying that I haven’t arrived at a position that makes sense to me, that preserves the best of both worlds.  I myself am not gay, but I can somewhat empathize with those who are gay.

Published in: on March 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Common Sense and Absolutizing the Bible’s Commands

For my write-up today on The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, I’ll use as my starting-point something that M. Scott Peck says on page 148:

“There come many points on one’s journey of spiritual growth, whether one is alone or has a psychotherapist as guide, when one must take new and unfamiliar actions in consonance with one’s new world view.  The taking of such new action—-behaving differently from the way one has always behaved before—-may represent an extraordinary personal risk.  The passively homosexual young man for the first time summons the initiative to ask a girl for a date [;] the previously dependent housewife announces to her controlling husband that she is obtaining a job whether he likes it or not, that she has her own life to live; the fifty-year-old mama’s boy tells his mother to stop addressing him by his infantile nickname…”

Something else that I’d like to note is a story that Peck tells on pages 152-153 about a patient whose minister father failed to protect her or himself from her abusive, manipulative mother.  The father exhorted his daughter to turn the other cheek and to be respectful and submissive towards her mother.

One reason that the passage on page 148 stood out to me was that Peck was commending a hypothetical homosexual for asking a woman out on a date.  This may imply that, at least when this book was written, Peck thought that homosexuality was a condition that could be cured.  The copyright on my book is 1978, and it was in that year that the American Psychological Association reversed its classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder.  What is Peck’s stance on homosexuality today?  I do not know, but this article criticizes Peck by saying, “Peck also believes that homosexuality reflects God’s love for variety.”

But I don’t really want to focus on that subject in this post.  What I want to highlight is Peck’s notion that people should stand up for themselves.  He mentions a wife who stands up to her husband and goes against his wishes, a son who stands up to his mother, and a father and a daughter who should stand up to someone who’s abusive.

I was thinking about certain rules in the Bible and how a strict interpretation of them could land a person into trouble.  So we’re supposed to honor and obey our parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1).  A person who smites his father or mother is to be executed (Exodus 21:15).  A wife is to submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22) and imitate Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him lord (I Peter 3:6).  We are to turn the other cheek when somebody hits us (Matthew 5:39).

In a sense, and this is my opinion, there is a degree of rationality that underlies these rules.  There’s something to be said for respecting authority, honoring people, and accepting an insult rather than fighting back.  There has to be some respect for authority in our culture lest there be chaos.  And there are situations in which it’s preferable for us to swallow our pride and take an insult, rather than exasperating the situation by retaliating.  On the whole issue of wives submitting to their husbands, I’m somewhat of an egalitarian, myself.  But I appreciate that the author of Ephesians has as his goal the promotion of an orderly and loving home—-in which the wife submits to her husband, the husband loves his wife, and the two submit to one another—-even if I may have questions about or problems with his exhortation.

But, if these commands are absolutized, problems can occur.  Suppose the parents are abusive.  Should their children, in that case, obey everything that their parents command?  And does someone who strikes his father to protect himself or someone else (such as his mother or siblings) seriously deserve to be executed?  Should a woman obey everything that her husband tells her, when she has a mind of her own and is hurting herself when she suppresses her own identity?  And, if we turn the other cheek in certain situations, can we become a doormat?

I’m not saying that people should be selfish.  In a lot of relationships, people may find that they have to put their desires to the side, at least sometimes.  But I think that there should be give-and-take.  If there’s a marriage in which a husband forbids his wife to work, and the husband is not making any effort at all to understand his wife’s needs, then there’s a problem.  I agree with Peck that the wife should stand up for herself in that case.  There are Christians who may say that the wife should simply submit to her husband—-that, even if her husband is not loving her as Christ loves the church, she should do her part by obeying God’s command to her to submit, and, if that squelches her happiness and desire for fulfillment, she should seek her happiness and fulfillment in the Lord, through prayer, Bible study, and worship.  But I have my doubts that this would be the best approach for her to take.

What I like about Peck is that he’s a spiritual person, and yet he also has a common-sense approach to how to live life—-an approach that includes a recognition of one’s own needs, but also an appreciation for the needs of others.  I think that it’s a good idea to employ common-sense even when reading Scripture, rather than absolutizing certain biblical commands.  (Of course, there are commands that probably should be absolutized.)  But was our version of common-sense in the minds of the biblical authors?  In some cases, I’d say yes.  For example, David did not submit to Saul by allowing Saul to kill him, even though David probably felt that he was supposed to respect the king.  But I’m hesitant to project our version of common-sense onto the biblical authors, for they lived in a different culture.  I’m just talking about a way that one can read Scripture profitably and apply it to one’s own life—-one can allow Scripture to serve as a guideline and seek to gather whatever wisdom he or she can from it, seeking a reasonable rationale even behind commands that may rub him or her the wrong way.  But one can choose not to absolutize certain commands, and to use one’s own common-sense to determine what is appropriate for specific situations.

And what is common-sense?  Well, part of it is the wisdom of our culture about what is healthy and unhealthy, based on people’s experiences.  In my opinion, several things that M. Scott Peck encourages are examples of common-sense.  Would I absolutize our culture’s common-sense?  Well, no, for even our culture can be wrong, as past cultures have been wrong.  But common-sense can appropriately play a role in the dialogue of decision-making.

Be Not Conformed…

My church is still going through its twelve-session Bible study on the Book of Romans.  We’re using Romans: The Letter That Changed the World, with Mart De Haan and Jimmy DeYoung.  Last night, we did session 10.  I have three items.

1.  The DVD that we watched opened by saying that the Roman government regarded Christians as dangerous.  This was interesting to me, since I’ve been reading some about Notre Dame Professor Candida Moss’ recent book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom.   See here, here, here, and here for more information about this book.  The book intrigued me because I wondered if it responded to an argument that I’ve long heard from Christian apologists: that Jesus must have risen from the dead, because why else would the early Christians have been willing to die for him?  The question that usually floated around in my mind when I heard that argument was, “Well, how do we even know that some of Jesus’ disciples were martyred for their faith?”

Is Professor Moss’ book relevant to this Christian apologetic argument?  I’ve not read Professor Moss’ book yet, so I can only speculate on the basis of what I’ve read about her book.  She does seem to contend that Christian narratives about the martyrs were rather late and served an ideological purpose (i.e., to inspire Christians in their commitment to the faith, etc.), and she doubts that they are historically-accurate.  At the same time, she does not appear to dismiss that Christians were put to death in the days of the Roman empire.  But she does not think that the Romans were obsessed with the Christians and were specifically singling them out for persecution, or that the time of Christians’ martyrdom lasted all that long.  And yet, she does seem to acknowledge that the Christians were somewhat of an annoyance to the Romans, since the Christians were believed to hold subversive ideas.

I should probably read the book before I comment more.  I’d love to use this book to knock Christian apologists off of their arrogant high horse, but I can easily picture them coming back with, “But she doesn’t deny that Christians were martyred, right?”

2.  As I watched the DVD last night, I had to appreciate the contribution that Christianity made to the Roman empire.  The DVD was depicting Roman society as bloodthirsty and as cold, even if it upheld certain virtues.  Christianity, according to the DVD, was revolutionary because it claimed that God cared about each human being.  Moreover, Christianity was counter-cultural in that it emphasized love, peace, joy, and self-sacrifice, in a world of selfishness, greed, and power.

On my blog, I’ve questioned whether Christianity actually was a step up from paganism.  There are people who argue that there were progressive strains on gender and slavery within paganism, disagreeing with the notion that the Bible is superior (see here and here).  They’re probably on to something there, on some level.  And yet, I do believe that Christianity was a step up, in certain respects.  Christianity, for example, opposed infanticide.  Perhaps the DVD that we watched last night is on to something when it contends that Christianity emphasized love above and beyond what paganism did.

And yet, even if Christianity made positive contributions, it also (in my opinion) left some negative effects.  The rivalry between Christians and Jews since the first century led to medieval anti-Judaism, which set the stage for the Holocaust.  Blaming Eve for the problems of the world contributed to misogyny.  The Bible’s tolerance of slavery was used to justify slavery in the American South.  Biblical teachings about homosexual conduct have set the stage for homophobia, which psychologically (and often physically) damages people with a homosexual orientation.

3.  The DVD and the curriculum were saying (a la Romans 12:2) that we should not be conformed to this world, with its selfishness, greed, and desire for power, but we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We should see people as Jesus saw them, with love.  I heartily agree with this.  Can one do this without being a Christian?  Maybe.  I know of loving non-Christians.  But I’ve often wondered if Christianity, or at least some belief in the supernatural, can give one that extra boost to do good, since it holds that those who do good will be rewarded because a good God is in charge of the universe.

Someone in the group, whom I will call Jeff, was saying that there are churches that compromise with the world, and he noted his own denomination’s acceptance of gay marriage and promotion of the Palestinian cause.  I replied, “Yeah, and I think that many evangelicals are wrong to assume that Israel is always right because it’s ‘God’s country’, and so we shouldn’t care about the Palestinians.”  I’m not sure if my comment got internalized by others, though, for people there may have wondered what exactly I was blabbering about.  I was nodding my head when people in the group were talking about their own denomination’s struggle with the gay marriage issue, but that was because I was trying to be understanding, not because I agreed with their stance against it.  It takes a lot of courage to go against the grain.  A Christian jerk could say to me, “Well, that’s because deep-down you know that conservative Christians are right.  If you believed in the truth, you’d be unashamed to speak it!  But you’re ashamed to speak your liberal convictions because you know they are wrong.”  Not necessarily.  Going against the grain is difficult, whatever one’s stance is.

I liked the curriculum’s focus on how we should be loving in a world that has selfishness, greed, and a lust for power—-not because I’ve mastered love by any stretch of the imagination, but because I think that love is important.  I have a hard time equating sympathy for the plight of homosexuals or Palestinians with worldliness, for I see that as compassion.  Jeff was saying that there are denominations that don’t take what’s in the Bible seriously.  Well, I believe that there are evangelicals who don’t take people’s plight seriously, but rather seek to dismiss it with a couple of proof-texts!  On compromising with the world, heck, I’d say that Christians who assume that God is a right-wing Republican who backs the free market system are themselves compromising with the world!  Should I have said that?  I fantasize about saying that in the group!  But perhaps an “us vs. them” approach is not an appropriate way for me to get my message across.

I will say this, though: I do feel accepted in the group, even though I have expressed my ideological differences.  That contrasts with some of the previous religious settings I’ve been in, where people assume that shoving a particular belief down my throat makes me want to accept it.

Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician 19

In my write-up today on Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Ambrose says on page 564:

“When Eisenhower returned from his visit to Nixon’s bedside, he told Ann Whitman [who was Eisenhower's secretary] that ‘there was some lack of warmth.’  Whitman recorded in her diary, ‘He has mentioned again, as he has several times, the fact that the Vice-President has very few personal friends.’  Eisenhower confessed to his secretary that he could not understand how a man could live without friends.  Whitman wrote that in her opinion the difference between Eisenhower and Nixon ‘is obvious.  The President is a man of integrity and sincere in his every action….He radiates this, everybody knows it, everybody trusts and loves him.  But the Vice-President sometimes seems like a man who is acting like a nice man rather than being one.’”

The topic of Nixon’s relationships with people occurs often in Ambrose’s book.  On the one hand, Nixon was a loner who focused primarily on the tasks that he had to perform.  He did not care for small-talk, and (while Ambrose says that there were many women who considered him sexy) he was not particularly interested in women.  (Ambrose does not think that Nixon was a homosexual, however, and on page 585 Ambrose dismisses “patently absurd rumors about [Nixon's] relationship with [Nixon's friend] Bebe Rebozo.”)  In public, Nixon could also appear rather cold to his wife, Pat.  Nixon also did not keep in regular contact with people he knew from previous settings (i.e., school, the Navy, etc.).  On the other hand, when Nixon was in the Navy, he let his hair down a little bit more and was quite popular with his fellow Navy-men, and Ambrose speculates that this was because Nixon was not obsessing over his own advancement in that setting.  Nixon could also engage in horse-play with friends.  While Nixon was introverted, he was known as a good listener and as one who showed concern for people.  And Nixon was a loving father to his children (when he saw them).

Ambrose contrasts Nixon with Nixon’s opponent in the 1960 Presidential election, John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy was easy-going, laughed at himself, made jokes, enjoyed being around his political colleagues, and flirted with women.  Nixon took himself quite seriously, was only around his political colleagues because he had to be, and was awkward socially.  On the afternoon before their first debate, Kennedy worked on his tan, with the result that he looked good on television.  Nixon, by contrast, overworked himself, with the result that he looked rather haggard on TV.  Kennedy was from a wealthy background, whereas Nixon was from a family that struggled economically.  But Kennedy could form a better connection with a number of working-class people, whereas Nixon’s descriptions of his own economic problems when he was growing up came across as self-pity, even though Nixon was trying to convey to people that he understood their struggles.  

One could say that Nixon’s personality lost him the 1960 election, but, as Ambrose notes, Nixon did get almost half of the popular vote!  Nixon’s hard work helped him, even though it also exhausted him and led him to make blunders and to appear haggard.  Moreover, there was something to be said for Nixon’s intelligence and his ability as a public speaker.  Nixon, notwithstanding his social weaknesses, had assets on which he could capitalize, and they served him well over the years.

As someone who struggles socially, I feel that I can learn from both Nixon and Kennedy.  From Nixon, I can learn that I have assets on which I can capitalize—-I have written good things, I have given speeches that people have liked, and I can be a good listener.  From Kennedy, I can learn about laughing at myself without conveying self-pity, taking time to relax, and the value of enjoying the company of other people.

But back to the quote with which I opened this post: I think that often I, like Nixon, communicate to people that I am merely acting nice.  People may detect that they intimidate me, that I’m not particularly comfortable around them, and that my socializing is somewhat of an act.  And yet, I believe that, inside of me, there is a concern for and an interest in people.  A therapist I once saw pointed out that I enjoyed watching TV shows and becoming interested in the characters, to the point of empathizing with them and liking them, and he said that becoming interested in people is similar to that.  Perhaps there is within me at least some capacity to be like Eisenhower: authentic, rather than an actor.

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