Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Elliot Rodger: It's not Just About the Sex, Christians

Elliot Rodger is kinda a jerk. Putting aside the horrendous actions he committed, he is also a product of a very pervasive cultural lie. He bought into a very radical logical conclusion of something we tell all boys and men. The premise: if you don't have sex, you're not a man. And as a good man, you deserve sex.

Several good friends have posted some great articles about the topic. Here's one about the backlash to the backlash to the backlash: #YesAllWomen. Here's a great one about how nerd culture reinforces this: Your Princess is in Another Castle. (thanks Sabreen). Or another piece targeting the fundamental issue of hyper-masculinity in our culture: Elliot Rodger and the Price of Toxic Masculinity.

However, there's another response that cropped up recently. "If masculinity is defined by sexual immorality then it is a warped definition of masculinity." The allusion is that the way of sexual purity is the answer and correct definition of masculinity. Specifically the Christian one (disclaimer: cis-hetero middle-class Christian virgin male checking in).

I would argue that no, Christian Purity Culture is not the One True Answer for all the woes laid here.

Why? Because here are some of the lines of reasoning that have been taught in churches. I won't cover them in depth, just mention them. And let me be the first to say I still fall into some of these traps.

  • If you aren't married, then you aren't a real mature man yet, and therefore shouldn't be given real ministry responsibilities.
  • If you have pre-maritial sex, you are broken and polluted and used goods.
  • Sex is AMAZING so you should want it. Masturbation is bad. Thus, the only gateway to sex is marriage, so if you want to have sex, better get married ASAP (Ring by Spring is a thing).
  • Since God is taking care of His People, and marriage is good, if you aren't married by your mid-20s -- or, gasp, 30s -- something must be wrong with you.

And, of course, if I followed The Plan, I am a good Christian, and therefore deserve a hot smokin' wife and we will bang our way to Paradise. For serious.

See, it's not the problem that we aren't all sexually pure beings that is ruining things. The real root of what is going on, in this case, is Entitlement.

Elliot Rodgers explicitly mentions that he deserves sex. Since women are the gatekeepers of sex, and have denied him sex, they are the enemy and must be punished. They have emasculated him. And thus his only manly recourse is through violence. See the logic? That as a stand-up gentleman he has suffered the lowly status of not-banging-all-the-hot-chicks and his outburst of violence was punishment and righteous retribution for them denying his mandated birthright as a MAN.


There are many things I feel the individual is mandated as a basic right. Chance to work, good education, basic safety net via either social or governmental means. Sex ain't one of them.

Nerds, just because you've been outcast doesn't mean you are deserved your comeuppance and bang the hot girl who suddenly realizes she's been wrong all along to spurn your advances.

Even in the Bible, God never promises you're going to marry and get steamy times between the covers. Heck, Paul in his letters even mentions his ideal is we all remain celibate (that topic deserves its own post to unpack, but let me leave this here).

And above all, by being denied it, you are NOT required to reassert your masculinity through other means. Especially through violence.

Because sex is not a checkbox. It is not a status symbol to have or lose your virginity. It is a mutual act of submission and intimacy between two fully realized, self-actualizing, empowered individuals. Each with their own agency. Each with their own intricate desires and needs and dreams. It is not something you do on someone. It is not tied to your masculine identity.

Secular or religious, you are NOT entitled to sex. And we should stop tying masculinity to men's sexual prowess. Or, if you're Christian, lack of sexual exploits. Same difference.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Authenticity" versus "Holiness"

The Gospel coalition has an article today about the rise of 'Authenticity' in the church.

In general I agree with the overall sentiment. Right now there is a groundswell of people exalting "authentic" and sharing about our "brokenness." Which, overall, is a good thing. Casting Crowns even had a lovely song of critique that Church is just a Stained Glass Masquerade where too often we act like we have it all. So the fact people are finally opening up about their hurts and getting healing from an open community is good.

But at the same time, as this article notes, there's a sweet spot. Share something too small ("I struggle with lying about my age!") and people ignore you. Share too far and too heavy and people buckle ("I have a crack addiction and murder people every night!"). So once again we are playing a social game. Finding the just-right point. People with the biggest hurts or those who "have their life together" get marginalized. It's counter to the whole movement of inclusive community.

On top of that is the downward cyclical cycle it can create. Everyone starts sharing and saying how low they are, and how we are stuck as the scum of the earth, and soon that's your identity. Being scum becomes your identity. We fall into the trap of just co-ruminating about our faults and take on being broken as our identity, just making us depressed and continuing the cycle. [bonus reference, footnote #10 from here] Plus, TGC deftly provides this snippet to illustrate:
"While we think self-deprecation causes us to be more relatable and empathetic to non-Christians, it's ultimately communicating a sense of disappointment, disillusionment, and discontentment," Stephen Mattson wrote for Red Letter Christians. "It thrives on negativity and kills our sense of hope."

TGC claims the answer is to instead pursue "Holiness." Elevate the pursuit of the perfect. Yes, provide room for the broken aspects, but don't stop there. Keep moving towards Holiness.

TGC further claims that true Authenticity is the process of sanctification. The growth towards Holiness. The question is rhetorically posed, "could it be that the most authentic thing any of us can do is faithfully pursue holiness and obediently follow after Christ?"

As I said at the start, overall I agree and it is a good message. It also helps point out some of the traps and flaws I see rising up around me as people single-mindedly pursue "Authenticity" in the church. Airing all your problems. People co-opting the movement to grandstand about their problems and use them for attention. Being stuck just complaining and never doing anything. All great points that people should keep in mind!

But I also perceive that we aren't far enough to have concern. The "Authentic" movement is still relatively young. And it still hasn't addressed some of the more serious underlying problems plaguing people. I previously mentioned that even in "Authentic" circles you aren't allowed to go too far with your sharing. There is the unspoken rule that you don't derail the group with your giant baggage load. That is still something for "behind closed doors." And that is just born from common sense and social contract. But at the same time too many people leave because they feel like there's no way for them to share. We don't have the "behind closed doors" spaces fully open and available. So people who are hurt and marginalized by their sins and past instead turn elsewhere.

What is especially painful is TGC's claim that "We've become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it's how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn't we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?" Perhaps. That's quite a laudable goal. But at the same time the human condition is defined by being broken. We all struggle with sin and I find the strongest characteristic about the Church is accepting people who have struggles and walking alongside them. That means that sometimes the best people are those who are broken in the same way! When you are struggling with a secret sin and then find out that someone else struggles or has struggled with it, you have an instant connection. A massive load is released. You realize this person gets you in a way others do not. Ignoring this aspect of the human condition, our ability to have empathy especially with those who have the same wounds as us, would be foolish.

Lastly, what is wrong with an image of a community of broken but struggling individuals? The veneer of happy smiling families with 2.5 children, a dog, and a white picket fence isn't what wins people into the Church. Holier-than-thou and look-what-I-have doesn't bridge the gaps. To me, being vulnerable and being there for people in their hurt does. Saying "I am just like you, but I am empowered to be better" is a much better testimony than "God has blessed me with a perfect life." Because, let's be honest, you don't have a perfect life.

Oh, and the reason there is a sentiment of discontent and disillusionment? It's because we pretended we were perfect and had all the answers too long. It's because we live in a multi-religious Post-christian plurality. It's because the Church mortgaged away people's trust. It's because they decided it was time to die on a hill for things outside their jurisdiction too many times. It's the economy. It's wars. It's the whole broken bloody world. But that's another whole rant.

So my point is yes I have seen these problems. And I agree that just staying in the comforting and accepting rut isn't healthy. And definitely there are some places where this is a seductive niche hole and people should fix it. But I personally don't feel like the church at large is fully servicing the range of brokenness in the community and providing safe places for people to share and receive care yet. So we should focus on doing more of that instead of clucking our tongues. "Authenticity" hasn't supplanted "Holiness." And that's actually a bit of a problem.