Esprit

Engaging the spirit, challenging the mind.

Category: Food for Thought

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments–Faith Edition

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” -Richard Feynman

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I happened upon an interesting little book by Ali Almossawi called An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments which is exactly that.  It takes the reader through a series of informal (and one formal) logical fallacies, explains what is wrong with the reasoning used (or lack thereof) and provides a nice little cartoon to go along with each one.  As one would expect from an author so devoted to logical reasoning, it’s fairly clever.  And in the spirit of service to the public good, it’s also free, and can be read online here:  An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

While reading, I was often aware of the tension that is posited between faith and reason.  To be more precise (which good reasoning requires), I often thought of the attacks upon religious belief lobbied at the devout mainly by those who consider themselves to be secularists or more scientific in their thinking.  I must admit that I could definitely think of fallacies that apply to reasoning by Christians; the “No True Scotsman Argument” very much reminded me of the knots reformed Christians tie themselves in (when apparent believers sin egregiously) due to their belief in eternal security.  It was also implied that political conservatives often use reasoning beset by an Appeal to Fear (for example: “Be aware–if gay people get married, it will completely destroy the institution of marriage”) and an Argument from Consequences (for example: “Implementing additional environmental regulations will make doing business more expensive and inhibit job growth; we maintain that climate change is natural, not man-made.”).  Any of those conclusions could be true, but the argument used does not support the conclusion because relevant evidence is not given to support it.

I found the book at an apropos time, as I had been thinking a lot about a seeming rise in the assumption that religious faith is fundamentally opposed to logical reasoning.  That is not really anything new (though Western society is becoming more secular) but it is sticking out to me more and more because I notice that liberal secularism in the culture is often less logically rigorous in the formation of its ideological beliefs than that of religious doctrine.  (Full disclosure–what I just did there could be considered an informal fallacy because I made a generalization that is not supported by any concrete evidence.  However, I am not asking you to draw any conclusions based on that observation; rather it provides context for understanding where I’m coming from.  You can decide whether my observations match yours.)

The main issue I see with die-hard skeptics is a failure to recognize the difference between logic and epistemology.  Logic is a process that enables one to move from a premise to a valid conclusion.    Epistemology is the study of knowledge, how we know what we know, and perhaps even what evidence is sufficient to induce belief.  Logic deals with conclusions, epistemology with premises.  One can reason logically about a premise that is entirely fabricated.  But a valid reasoning process does not make an untrue premise true; nor can a valid reasoning process assure you that your premise is true.  If you happen to have a false premise, then however airtight your arguments, your conclusion will be logically valid but nevertheless untrue.  When it comes to believing that one’s premise is true, there comes a point at which the nature and amount of evidence sufficient to induce belief is highly subjective.  There are some doubting Thomas’ who cannot believe something they have not physically touched or seen or heard even if plenty of others have said they have touched and seen and heard it.  There are others who have had experiences that they cannot fully or accurately communicate to others.  I know a bible scholar who converted to Christianity from athiesm.  He mentioned during a lecture that many skeptics dismiss personal experience as evidence for religious belief.  But personal experience is empirical.  It is an observation of a phenomenon and it does count as evidence, even if it is not evidence that is sufficient to induce someone who has not had the experience to believe.

Thomas AquinasThe Christian tradition in particular has generally evinced a stringent reasoning process through the Catholic Church.  It would be difficult to read Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and find it anything but doggedly logical.  For every doctrine formulated, every question answered, one can generally find hundreds of pages in tome after tome of explanations, reasoning, history, etc for any given issue or concept.  In Christendom more generally, there remains a highly active intellectual tradition that has been and continues to be populated by brilliant minds.  But for all its reasoning, the Church recognizes that there is an uncaused cause, a premise underpinning its structure of belief that one simply either accepts or rejects.  The athiest’s view that the Big Bang is the uncaused cause (not whether it happened, but whether it is the only beginning) is not something that has been or can be proven, but is essentially an ideological choice.  And from that chosen premise, they reason in a manner that excludes any religious influence.

Beyond that uncaused cause, for Christians, is the question of Jesus of Nazareth whose identity as bodily resurrected Lord and God is explicitly posited by Christianity as its defining belief.  Even though by the standards of historical documentation, it is perfectly reasonable to accept the manuscripts comprising the biblical canon as authentic (and not fabricated in some grand conspiratorial fashion), there are plenty who offer alternate theories of Jesus’ identity–not because they have more evidence to that effect, but because belief in an alternate explanation is easier to grasp psychologically or more neatly fits their ideological preferences.  Like Thomas, though having good reason to believe, they either cannot or will not.  But note, the ability to create a sound theory starting with certain premises and proceeding to a conclusion that flows logically is not proof that one’s premises are themselves true or encompassing enough.  This is where the potential for self-deception on the part of the skeptic and the believer runs high.

Also, Carlos Flores writes a really excellent response to those he calls the “new athiests” that is short, clear, and really worth reading.  It’s called “Strawmen and the God of the Athiestic Philistine.”  You may read it here.

As far as those who are not really skeptics, but more or less secularists or humanists (those who don’t mind religion so long as it doesn’t interfere with what people want to do), I offer the following bad argument examples:

Argument from Consequences & Circular Reasoning: “If we allow prayer in schools or public displays of Christian images, non-Christians will feel alienated; therefore the separation of church and state demands that such things be forbidden”  (Whether or not the concept of separation of church and state requires the prohibition of public prayer and displays of Christian images cannot be determined by how certain people feel about it.  Furthermore, there is an unstated premise in the conclusion that the separation of church and state is, one, a Constitutional concept, and two, forbids feelings of religious alienation.  Neither can be taken for granted.)

Straw Man:  “With all of their talk about morals, you know those Christian conservatives just want to set up a theocracy with the Bible in place of the Constitution!” (Having strong beliefs about what is right and what is wrong does not constitute advocating for a theocracy, and such claims are caricatured versions of certain political views.)

False Dilemma: “Christopher loved science and his Christian upbringing, but he knew deep down he had to choose between his reason and his faith.”  (This dilemma falsely assumes that faith and reason are mutually exclusive.)

Hasty Generalization:  “I’m done with Christians–what a bad lot.  The people I went to church with were so gossipy and mean; and the pastor ran off with the deacon’s wife!”  (An experience in one church or even a dozen does not provide sufficient evidence to make a judgment about all or even most churchgoers, as one has only encountered a very small fraction of the whole.)

Appeal to Ignorance/Argument from Personal Incredulity:  “It’s ridiculous to think that a man rose from the dead.  As what, a zombie?  Surely such a tale is mythical.” (One’s feeling of incredulity toward an assertion does not provide any evidence that that assertion is false.)

No True ScotsmanNo True Scotsman:  Friend 1: No well-educated, reasonable person could allow his life to be dictated by some ancient religious text.  Friend 2:  Hmm…Chris has gone to good schools, has always been smart and level-headed, and he’s very devout in his faith.  Friend 1:  Well obviously, Chris is not truly well-educated nor reasonable.  (In any other context, Friend 1 would have accepted that description of Chris as qualifying as well educated and reasonable.  But when Chris had attributes that didn’t support his assertion, he moved the goal post.  The fallacy of Equivocation is also implicated here.)

Genetic Fallacy:  “The view that masculinity and femininity are natural differences and not socially constructed comes from the same patriarchal belief system that prevented women from voting and having careers.  We need to leave the 19th century behind and become true 21st century women.” (The question of the nature of masculinity and femininity is independent from any belief system, patriarchal or otherwise.)

Guilt by Association:  “Look at the hateful antics of Westboro Baptist Church.  With all of these crazy fundamentalists out there, I really cannot take anything Christians say seriously.”  (Guilt cannot be Assigned to all Christians because of what a particular group of Christians have done (usually independently) and to do so is using faulty logic.)

Appeal to Hypocrisy:  “Christians say that they care about the institution of marriage?  Ha!  Why don’t we talk about all the divorces that happen in churches.”  (The nature or significance of marriage does not depend on whether Christians have upheld that standard.  Also, there is guilt by association being used here, as there are plenty of Christians who are faithful in their marriages, so they would not be being hypocritical to speak about it.)

Appeal to the Bandwagon:  “Legions of young people are leaving their churches and not looking back.  Why would you hold onto something that is so outmoded?”  (People leaving their churches does not provide support for one doing the same.)

I thought it important to share these examples because I think they constitute about 90% of the arguments I hear most often against Christianity and faith in general.  The fact that they are fallacies is telling, as it indicates that people are making judgments based on completely faulty thinking while at the same time often asserting that it is Christians who are anti-reason.  Strange times we live in, indeed.

A note on ad hominem arguments.  While attacking a person’s motives does not address their argument, I do think that discerning motives can be relevant for deciding whether to engage someone in discussion.  The entire point of discourse is to reach greater clarity and truth.  Someone who comes to the argument not interested in either, but who is only attempting to deconstruct, is probably not someone worth spending time debating with, as they will not be willing to admit when you’ve made a sound argument.  There were times in the Gospels when Jesus refused to answer the religious leaders directly because He knew they were only attempting to trap Him.  As I recently heard someone say, “Just because someone invites you to an [argument] doesn’t mean you have to go.”

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Remembering Maya Angelou

13214I was only about 9 years old when I first read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  It immediately became one of my favorite books, and I’ve often wondered what about it seemed so compelling to me at such a young age.  News of Angelou’s passing has made me think it over again.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiographical novel of Angelou’s youth and is a story filled with a lot of pain; and yet there is a core of strength throughout, perseverance, resilience…though I find that word a bit cliche.  I suppose if we look at the story from the perspective of who Angelou ultimately became, she “shouldn’t” have risen so high in esteem, she “shouldn’t” have had such joy and peace about her, she “shouldn’t” have been able to speak and carry herself with such beauty and grace.  And yet she did.  Angelou was a woman with an inner world full of life and beauty regardless of what she experienced and regardless of what the society in which she lived thought about her.  Through her writings and speaking and presence, she invited us into that inner space and painted pictures that enabled her audience to see more about themselves and others than they would otherwise see.

Angelou herself seemed to be very aware of all the “shouldn’ts” she was defying, seemed to be aware that her bearing and persona often presented an equation that some were unsure how to solve.  What was her missing variable?  Angelou addressed this theme in two of her most famous poems, “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman”.

Still I Rise

BY MAYA ANGELOU

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Phenomenal Woman

BY MAYA ANGELOU

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

An Easter Poem

Today we celebrate Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead–but more than that.  We celebrate all that He obtained for us through His death.  We could not obtain the good of new and everlasting life without death, as there is no Easter without Good Friday (and that is why we call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “Good”).  But often, we struggle to let the old things pass away that the new may live.  That is the hardest part–not clinging to what was or what we hoped would be.  If we cling to the old, we cannot have the new. All things, to grow and ascend, must die in some respect that something greater might be raised up from within.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24, ESV

And so, I’d like to share a reflection from Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing:

“On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdala meets the resurrected Jesus.  Initially she does not know who he is and she supposes him to be the gardener, but immediately upon recognizing him, she tries to throw her arms around him.  Jesus, for his part, tells her:  “Mary, do not cling to me!”  What lies behind Jesus’ reluctance to let Mary touch him?  Mary Magdala herself, had we ever found her gospel, would, I suspect, explain it this way:

I never suspected

 Resurrection

  and to be so painful

to leave me weeping

With joy

 to have met you, alive and smiling, outside an

  empty tomb

With regret

not because I’ve lost you

but because I’ve lost you in how I had you–

 in understandable, touchable, clingable

  flesh

 not as fully Lord, but as graspably human.

I want to cling, despite your protest

 cling to your body

cling to your, and my, clingable humanity

cling to what we had, our past.

But I know that…if I cling

you cannot ascend and

I will be left clinging to your former self

…unable to receive your present spirit.”

Have a blessed Easter.  Christ suffered, died, and rose again that you might have hope.

Global Morality & Economic Development

For a while now, something that has struck me is how similar standards of morality have been throughout human history, irrespective of a society’s dominant religious beliefs.  Religious doctrine provides an explanation, a narrative, of human existence on earth and how we might transcend the failings of human nature; and the world religions differ significantly on the details of that overarching narrative.  However, on matters of conscience, matters relating to our dealings with others and society on the whole, there has been much more agreement than disagreement between the Judeo-Christian faiths, Hinduim, Buddhism and others.  C.S. Lewis touched on this in Mere Christianity, “I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.  But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own.”  To a significant extent, the world religions possess a deep repository of human wisdom gleaned from millennia of reflections on life on this planet.  Given that the dynamics of human lives, families and communities are quite similar wherever one is born, it’s not surprising that sages within different religious traditions have come to similar conclusions about what is best for people and communities.

This observation is reflected in today’s release of the Pew Research Center’s “Global Views on Morality” report.  The Center polled individuals in dozens of countries around the globe, asking them to categorize a set of behaviors as unacceptable, acceptable, or not a moral issue.  The greatest moral differences are not between countries with different religious traditions.  The greatest moral differences are between countries at various levels of economic development.  It pans out pretty clearly that the Third World is the most morally strict and the First World is the most morally lax with Second World countries falling somewhere in between. (note: I use the “world” designations loosely–they essentially mean very developed, almost developed, and developing).

 

First World Representatives

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Second World Representatives

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Third World Representatives

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I find it quite interesting to note that the more economically developed a country is in terms of per capita wealth, the more likely they are to find that list of actions to be morally acceptable or to refuse to categorize them as moral issues at all.  Countries that are traditionally Protestant Christian, Catholic, officially secular, traditionally Orthodox Christian, traditionally Confucianist or Buddhist, and Hindu are all jumbled together in terms of their moral stances.  And not even public secularity makes a difference.  Rather, moral conservatism is inversely correlated with what the international community terms economic development.

My explanation for these findings is that, regardless of the Christian history of the West, it’s functional belief system is (and arguably has always been) nationalistic capitalism.  As a functional belief system, capitalism (as opposed to a free market in general) dictates that all human associations and interests be subjugated to the economic interests of the nation-state on the whole and personal economic advancement on the individual level.  It is a belief that the pursuit of self-interest will produce the best outcome.

The legal categories upon which our government operates are inherently individualistic in nature.   Because the law plays an important role in shaping the conscience of the citizenry, increasingly, many can see little rationale for moral norms which are not geared toward preventing the infringement of personal individual choice or advancement.  But whether the government should enforce those norms is a different question than whether those actions are, in fact, morally wrong.

The temptation of Westerners is to think that the economic prowess of the West is itself proof of its moral and cultural superiority.  It might be just the opposite.  The modern West succeeded so well in part because Western nations were willing early on to subvert moral norms for the sake of their nationalistic and individualistic advancement.  If masses of people are needed for labor to produce wealth for the nation, the capitalistic nation-state organizes and facilitates their kidnapping and generations of subjugation to serve its economic purposes.  If land is needed to grow the country, then the capitalistic nation-state forcibly removes peoples long living on those lands in order to make way for their settlers.  And if war must be waged to protect the availability of key natural resources, the capitalistic nation-state does so to protect its interests.  And a new morality is then crafted to buttress these actions which were taken purely to promote the economic interests of the nation on the whole.  Thus, nationalistic capitalism turns morality into the servant of its own self-interest.  This is what we see on an individual level as well.  Right and wrong become mere reflections of what one perceives to be in one’s own individual interest.  

For that reason, I don’t see Muslims as a threat, nor the Chinese, and not Putin’s Russia.  Pogo’s words hold true–We have met the enemy and he is us.

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Where Has the Coming of Age Tale Gone?–Updated

This post was originally published about two and a half years ago, but a post I read today reminded me of it and the fact that its message is still relevant.  Literature is such a powerful tool for growth in understanding, as it helps us to observe and place ourselves in situations that we may not encounter in real life.  But by standing in the characters’ shoes, we come to better understand life, people, the world, and ourselves through their experiences.  

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What do you get when you combine a young person, a hardship, grief, and a lesson?  A coming-of-age tale!  Such stories used to be popular, but what happened to them?

This is what happened to the coming-of-age tale:

I saw this section header in Barnes & Noble and found it so weird/funny/worrisome that I had to snap a pic.

Yes, Teen Paranormal Romance has it’s own section at Barnes & Noble.  It’s not just “Young Adult Literature” or even “Fantasy,”  or “Teen Romance,” it’s specifically “Teen Paranormal Romance”.  I have to admit that I’ve not read or watched anything belonging to this new and popular genre, not even the Twilight series.  So I have no specific critique about any book or series.  But I did find the contrast between the coming-of-age tale and teen paranormal romance to be striking.

When I was kid I read incessantly.  Favorite books were Madeline L’Engle’s Troubling a Star, Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Numbering the Stars, Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terebithia and even Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  None of these books is significant because I liked them, but they were all widely hailed as being great juvenile literature.  (Well, Angelou’s book wasn’t for young people in the least, but it is a worthwhile book nonetheless.)  They had a certain trait in common–they dealt with kids or teens encountering hardship of one sort of another, and being forced to become more mature because of it and deal with the world with a more adult outlook.  That might sound a little like a downer, but I don’t think it is.  The attraction of the story isn’t the hardship, but the triumph and the growth, and the fact that the reader can grow along with the character and himself be a little better for having read it.

If I were to make only one contrast between the coming-of-age tale and genres such as “teen paranormal romance” it would be this:  the coming of age tale uses life circumstances to take the character and the reader to a more mature outlook on life, to greater wisdom and character.  It forces the character away from his own wishes and desires to grapple with the world as it is.  Teen romance novels highlighting relationships between girls and vampires, warewolves, and the like play to a young woman’s fantasies about being highly desired and the temptation to give into an aggrandized sense of having an “impossible love”–the kind that seems significant if only because all the odds are against it.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with falling in love!  But I wonder if young women in particular are being encouraged to focus on their own fantasies and ideas about themselves and the world than on life as it truly is.  (Even though I haven’t read this kind of lit, my response is based on hearing the reactions of young women to the books and their reasons for liking it.)  It’s more gratifying to the emotions of a young woman to dwell on the idea that there’s an epic battle over her affections than to accept the fact that she may truly fall in love, get her heart broken and have to grow beyond it to become a better person through it.

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Man in the Moon, a classic coming of age tale involving young love, heartbreak, sibling loyalty and grief. Does it seem strange that I don’t consider it a sad movie?

I don’t know if many people want reality anymore.  I don’t mean the grittiest parts of human existence, I just mean real life.  It seems that we’re at a place where as much as possible we want to think about anything other how things truly are, anything other than our real lives.  Even “reality” television highlights the most extreme, scripted, and unlikely aspects of society.  People may say that they just want an escape, but I feel that the answer is not an escape from life, but rather a journey through life.  Life is the real adventure.  And true joy and victory is only experienced when you actually overcome.  So if you’re choosing to take on that adventure, a great coming-of-age story makes a good companion.

3/2014 Postscript:  I’m currently reading The Hunger Games and think that the trilogy is an example of good juvenile literature.  Though this post is a complaint about the current state of literature for young adults, I’m not so crumudeon-y to believe that nothing good is being written anymore or that nothing genuinely good can be so popular.  I may write about the books in future posts.

Just Dance!

Dance in the desert

Dance in the rain

Dance through the suffering,

Dance through the pain.

Lift up your head and look to the sky

Dance, my dear sisters–your redemption is nigh.

A little piece of doggerel; not worth anything as poetry, but it flowed out of my heart in meditation on so much hardship, heartbreak, and trials that some women go through in this life.  In the past when I’ve felt anxious about God’s provision; felt like I was in a drought, a famine, waiting with nothing on the horizon, the image of dancing in the desert came to mind–to break into dance as an expression of joy, thankfulness, and praise to God.  When hope seems hopeless, dance in witness to faith and in witness against despair.  Dance is also a witness to others of the joy that flows within.  Regardless of the circumstances, just dance.

Home is First in a Woman’s Heart: A Reflection on Sunshine Mary’s “Learning Domesticity in a Post-Feminist World”

Sunshine Mary has started a new series about learning the art of domesticity for the contemporary woman.  I say “for the contemporary woman” because, as she points out, many women today did not grow up seeing a model of domestic life. “Domestic life” is more than just having a house and a place to eat, sleep and store your possessions. Domestic life is about building a *home*, a place of harmonious relationships, peace, and nurture.

Two points in her post stood out to me: 1) The argument that women *like* housework in a way that men generally don’t, and 2) That even if men can do housework just as well as women, and women work outside of the home just as well as men, that neither would be as content as they would be if they switched roles. I think both points are golden, and both likely to draw the ire of many a woman who loves her job and hates household chores. As a woman who both enjoys her job quite a lot and also hates chores, I am nevertheless 100% in agreement with Sunshine Mary on these two points. Here’s why:

1) The significance of housework for men and women is not about the specific tasks themselves. Think about men being handy or taking care of the yardwork. My father, for instance, has spent years gradually improving his house. He takes great pains to ensure that everything is in proper working order and continually thinks of ways that it can be improved to be more functional. The house really has gotten better and better over the years. Even though the amount of attention he gives to the house might suggest to some that he likes handyman tasks, I’d argue that it’s not about the tasks themselves—it’s really about the pride that he takes in having a well-maintained, well-functioning house, which he views as a refleciton of himself. Many of us have probably had that one neighbor who is meticulous about his lawn—the seeding, fertilizing, weeding, edging, the landscaping. He seems to always be mowing the grass, planting a shrub, or building a retaining wall. Does this indicate that these men have an abiding love of horticulture? Perhaps they do, but likely they do not. Rather, they care for their lawns in such a way because they know that their houses are a reflection on them, and the outside of the house is the first thing people will see. They want it to look as good as possible and to make a positive impression. I wonder if it’s fair to say that a man who does not take pride in his house is not particularly invested in it (I would love comments about that).

Now, when it comes to women and other tasks such as laundry, cooking and cleaning, I would argue a similar point: It’s not necessarily that women like folding clothes or vacuuming carpets, and maybe not even cooking (though many find that enjoyable in itself). Rather, tackling those tasks with energy is a means to a deeper sense of satisfaction—the satisfaction that comes from having a warm, comfortable home where people feel cared for. No one feels comfortable and cared for when there’s nothing to eat in the kitchen, there’s hair in the bathtub, and they’ve run out of clean underwear. And notice that a warm and comfortable home is not necessarily a spotless home. Some people are so particular about things being just so that they actually make the living space uncomfortable for others. Such traits are about control, not caring. Homemaking is really about focusing on the things that meet the needs of household members.

2) I mentioned that I hated household chores and like my job. So how could I agree that even if men and women switched traditional roles successfully, that neither would be as content? When I say that I dislike chores, I mean that oftentimes, I resent the time it takes to tend to such things that are really so basic when I could be spending time on professional development, writing, reading, singing, at the gym, with friends, etc. I think that many women rationalize the same way. But regardless of how much I wish I could just snap my fingers and everything fall magically into place, I know it won’t; and I also know that if it’s left undone, I will never have peace of mind. I could be accomplishing great things for my employer, traveling to interesting places, and having a great time socializing. But more than anything else, the state of my home, the warmth, comfort, and beauty I’m able to find there has more of an impact on my sense of security and contentment in life than any of those other things. This is not about saying that either women like being at home or they like working outside the home; but rather it’s about order of importance. Home is first is a woman’s heart.

Moreover, studies show that even when men and women have embraced feminist ideas of sameness (under the guise of equality)—most notably when the wife works and the husband stays home with the children—it often adds stress that cannot simply be explained away by societal expectations. Just like I shared above, even when the women have careers, supportive husbands, and know that their children are being taken care of by a caring parent, they remain preoccupied with Home. Men who work and have stay at home wives don’t come home and continue to worry about whether things have been done right while they were gone; but women do. And not only do they remain preoccupied with how things are going at home while they’re away, they also secretly (or not so secretly) tend to see their husbands as less deserving of their respect since they are the breadwinners. But guess what? Men with stay at home wives don’t lose respect for them because of that fact, if they ever deeply respected them at all. If a woman has been fortunate enough and had the good sense to marry a man that is a provider, he will have greater respect for her dedication to their home. Many women who have chosen to stay at home have remarked how much less stressful home life is; but when the men stay at home—even willingly—stress increases. This article from the New York Magazine paints a pretty clear picture: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9495/

There will always be people who read perspectives like Sunshine Mary’s and begin to point out all the exceptions and special situations that they know of, complete with detailed anecdotes. But I would simply point out a helpful maxim—the exception proves the rule.

Peace.

The Problem With Political Ideals

Last night, President Barack Obama won another term as President of the United States.  Although the enthusiasm going into this election was decidedly lukewarm compared to 2008, measuring by the electoral college results, it was a landslide.  Many liberals are rejoicing and perhaps breathing a sigh of relief, only to be met with indignation and cynicism from disaffected conservatives who thought that Mitt Romney might represent the potential for a “turnaround” of values in the United States.  Though the beliefs of many politically conservative Christians were challenged by Romney’s Mormon faith, many considered things like “family values,” a pro-life ethic, and fiscal conservatism as being best represented by Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan.

 

By contrast, most liberals and many independents saw the Romney-Ryan team representing something else entirely:  instead of family values, they saw forced conformity; instead of a pro-life ethic, they saw an attempt to control women, coupled with ignorance about women’s reproductive systems; and instead of fiscal conservatism, they saw only cuts to valuable social programs coupled with breaks for the wealthiest and ramped-up defense spending.  Romney’s offhand remarks about 47% of Americans implied that he saw half of the population as lazy and entitled–which only further damaged his image with those who already felt he only truly cared about the wealthy.

But just as the perceived virtues of the Romney-Ryan team appeared garish when viewed through the lens of liberal analysis, so did the perceived virtues of the Obama-Biden team wither under the heat of conservative principles.  Where liberals praised Obama for “coming out” about his support for gay marriage, conservatives saw a degradation of the family.  Where Obama was seen as championing women by defending Sandra Fluke, conservatives saw tacit approval of sexual promiscuity.  And where liberals hailed Obama’s success in achieving comprehensive health care reform through the Affordable Care Act, most conservatives balked at the looming expansion of government resulting from it; which expansion represents less individual freedom.

The rhetoric on both sides centered on “values.”  For conservatives: belief in God, freedom from government, and “personal responsibility” are the main themes.  For liberals, “equality” and addressing systemic injustice are the main motivators.  And holding to these principles, the candidate that signals them the most draws those voters.  While I believe that principles are paramount, I think that often focusing on these broad ideals prevents us from thinking and reflecting well on the policies being advocated.

On the liberal side, I find the concept of “equality” to be problematic–if only because it remains undefined.  There’s a website I’ve come across that poses a pop-up quiz every time you visit.  One question: “Do you support equality for all?”  My question in response is “Equality of what?”  We live in a society that has many “inequalities”–our tax system is progressive, meaning that the some people pay a higher proportion of tax on their income than others.  There are inequalities in professional status, salary, discretionary income.  There are inequalities of status under the law based on one’s criminal record and even mental capacity.  Clearly to simply speak of “equality” is not enough.  What “inequalities” are people willing to accept and why?

On the conservative side, “patriotism” can be another principle that’s hard to pin down, particularly when it is so often closely tied to military endeavors.  Does love of country demand that we not question its actions?  Does love of country mean that we believe that our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren are more valuable than the lives of those in other countries?

My point is that broad appeals to lofty ideals are often used to  justify without qualification policies and actions that–on their own, we’d have good reason to question the goodness or merits of.   A good book on a similar theme is War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by journalist and war correspondent Chris Hedges.  The overarching theme of the book is that, through war, the noblest ideals are drummed up in society’s mind–and by emphasizing those ideals, actions are undertaken that can perpetuate injustice, destruction, immorality and the like.  But because the ideal has been invoked, all those things done in its name become acceptable.

During the election, the candidates drew supporters around them by appealing to the ideals that tug the heartstrings of those wanting to hear it.  But kinda like I wrote in the post “Don’t Convert Me!”, goodness is not ideological.  It transcends our ideals and they can only serve it.  We have to work for the best outcomes regardless of whether the policy needed to do so fits with our pre-formed ideas of how society is supposed to be.

Don’t Try to Convert Me!

I was having a lively conversation about society and politics with a couple of fellow boarders in our common space, and the conversation eventually turned to religion.  I was in and out of the conversation, so I forget how the conversation ended up there, but one got my attention when she exclaimed “Don’t try to convert me!”  She wasn’t speaking to us, but was saying that’s how she often felt when approached by people of faith.  She shared her experience of growing up in a hyper-religious community that might well be classified as a cult, and she said she’d had people trying to convert her all her life and she was really tired of it.  The other person in the conversation shared her sentiment, though without having had the same traumatic experience.
That exchange made me pause to reflect on the various motivations people of faith can have when spreading the Gospel.  The way they spoke of people trying to convert them sounded a lot more like people attempting to control them and conform them to a certain pattern of behavior than people attempting to share genuinely good news about Christ.  They had certainly encountered ideology, but it seemed like they hadn’t really encountered Christ’s love for them in those who professed His name.

For the Christian engaged in society, discerning the difference between ideology and love is paramount.  Ideology is an idea of how the world works and ought to be.  Ideologies motivate individuals to shape the world around them and impose a certain type of order upon it.  Ideologies come in many different forms, and may be religious, secular, conservative, liberal, or anything in between.

Because God is love, Christianity is not an ideological faith.  Christianity can be and has been made into an ideology, but ideological Christianity is not the Gospel. God’s love invalidates ideological Christianity because love gives for the benefit of the other, whereas ideology merely controls.  Even God’s commands are for our good, and enable us to share intimately in His life.

Love gives freedom to choose against the good; though love doesn’t remove negative consequences, nor does it sanction evil.  But love is the constant call upwards, the constant call into light and truth so that the other might be healed, might be blessed, might grasp hold of the abundant life made possible by Christ.  Love is always acting for the benefit of the other, and not for the satisfaction of our own minds about the way other people or the world around us ought to be–nor out of annoyance that people aren’t as we think they ought to be.  And love respects the individual enough to affirm the capacity of each to choose right and reap the benefits, or choose wrong and suffer the consequences.

People often shirk away from those attempting to speak about Christ because they sense–sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly–that the person sharing isn’t really concerned about their good but more about getting them to act a certain way or to affirm a set of beliefs that validate the other’s worldview.  People can often project negative motives onto others where they don’t exist, but too many times the perception is true.  Speaking the Gospel (or the truth more generally) in love isn’t so much about how something is said as much is it is about what is motivating the speaker.  It’s about a heart that is genuinely moved by concern and compassion for the other, moved by a deep desire to see the other blessed.  The truth–even when spoken in love–often offends those who don’t want to hear it; but even so, if we want to truly bear witness to Christ, then His heart must be our heart.  We can only give what we have; so to communicate His love for another, His love for them must first be in us.

Charge It to My Account

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.”  Philemon 1:18-19 ESV

Paul’s short letter to Philemon centers on the case of Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon.  Onesimus, like his former master, had become a believer in Christ and began to serve alongside the Apostle Paul.  Knowing both Onesimus’ background and Philemon’s faith, Paul sends Onesimus back, but pleads with Philemon to receive him “not as a slave, but as a brother.”  Paul goes even further to bridge the fissure between Philemon and Onesimus–he says that if Onesimus owes Philemon anything that Paul himself will repay it; he will take responsibility for making it right.

In so doing, Paul is a Christ-figure for Onesimus.  To mend the fissure between ourselves and God, God the Son gave Himself as a perfect sacrifice to please the Father on our behalf.  He took responsibility for giving what we did not and could not in order to bring reconciliation.  And so we see in Paul a picture of how Christ brings us back into relationship with God.

We also see in this letter a picture of how wrongs committed amongst believers can be made right by peacemakers such as Paul; and also by the Lord Himself.

If we ever feel wronged by a fellow believer, we can remember that Christ already died for their sins and lived the perfect life they have not lived.  If they have been embraced as God’s son or daughter, then the Lord Himself is their ransom and has taken responsibility for righting their wrongs.  Paul, like Christ, says, “Charge it to me.  I’ll take responsibility for whatever wrong they have done to you.  I’ll be the one to repay you.”

The biblical model of forgiveness is that when a brother (or sister) sins against us, that we go to that person and tell them of the wrong.  If they will not hear, then we ought to bring another believer in to hold them accountable.  And if they still will not hear, we are to treat them as a tax collector.  I wonder if Jesus was not perhaps being a little ironic in saying that, for He chose a tax collector (Matthew) to be one of His apostles, and picked a tax collector (Zaccheus) out of the crowd (a sycamore tree to be exact!) to have dinner with.  Of course, both Matthew and Zaccheus became disciples of His, but even so, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us to bless those who curse us and to do good to those to spitefully use us.  Whether someone acknowledges the way they have wronged us or not, we are always to bless them and to do good to them.

But many times, when people are called to forgive, they want to know how that’s fair–where’s the justice?  Why should the person who did the wrong receive a blessing when we have suffered because of them?  What would happen if, when we felt like someone owed us something, that rather than demanding every bit from them, we simply recognized that all of their sins have been charged to Christ’s account?   What if, instead of holding onto our estimation of what we’re due, we went to the Lord and said, “You have already taken responsibility for this person.  They belong to You, and they have wronged me.  I look to You to restore whatever I may lack because of them.”  I’m not suggesting that we demand anything of God, only that we recognize the work that the Lord has already done on their behalf.

Believers must forgive unbelievers as well, but I believe Paul’s letter to Philemon is more an example of what takes place when a person does know Christ, but may have done some things that hurt others.  Paul didn’t oblige himself for just any runaway slave–he did so for one who had become a disciple of Christ.  If the Father can accept Christ’s sacrifice to atone for sins against Him that we are not yet aware of, then certainly we can do the same.  If our Lord’s sacrifice is good enough for God, it should be good enough for us.