Friday, May 30, 2014

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

Source of book: I own this

This is the fifth book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia series. If you aren’t familiar with the author, I recommend you read my prior reviews.

After his first book became a hit, Bradley signed on for an additional five. I am informed that he has now committed to four more, for a total of ten. Since Bradley was already 71 when the first book was published in 2009, it remains to be seen how long he will continue to write. I am still impressed by his success in his second career. Apparently 70 is just a number for some. 

Although all of the Flavia books are enjoyable and well written - for murder mysteries - I think that this one is particularly good. It has plenty of creeping about in dark passageways at night, and continuing deepening of the characters and their relationships. We learn some of the sad past of the vicar and his eccentric wife, while Flavia and her oldest sister begin to relate on a more mature level, even as they continue to bicker.

My only quibble with the series is that there seems so much more that could be explored, if only the books were allowed to be longer. Alas, I may be one of the few that still loves books with 600 pages of small print, and the sprawling worlds that can be contained within them. Bradley does a great job with the space he has, making the words count. His plots are never as intricate as, say, Agatha Christie’s, but the words he might have used for plot twists instead flesh out the small village of Bishop’s Lacey and the familiar, yet more complex characters that inhabit it.

A couple of amusing lines stood out. When Flavia's oldest sister becomes engaged - but won't say to whom - Flavia imagines it might be to a young policeman. She images that evenings in the family might be filled with, "Guts, gore, and Tetley's Tea."

Another comes when she eschews false modesty, with the thought, "No point in wasting time with false vanity when you possess the real thing."

As with previous installments, both music and literature are woven into the fabric of the story. The music is all church organ music, as the hapless victim is the one-time church organist. Literary references abound. (Bradley won my heart early on with a particularly delicious reference to one of Anthony Trollope’s books.)

The title itself comes from a poem by Thomas Parnell, one of the so-called “Graveyard Poets,” pre-romantics who were fascinated with mortality and its symbolism. (The best known were William Cowper and Oliver Goldsmith.)

A Night-Piece on Death

By the blue taper's trembling light,
No more I waste the wakeful night,
Intent with endless view to pore
The schoolmen and the sages o'er:
Their books from wisdom widely stray,
Or point at best the longest way.
I'll seek a readier path, and go
Where wisdom's surely taught below.
  How deep yon azure dyes the sky,
Where orbs of gold unnumbered lie,
While through their ranks in silver pride
The nether crescent seems to glide.
The slumb'ring breeze forgets to breathe,
The lake is smooth and clear beneath,
Where once again the spangled show
Descends to meet our eyes below.
The grounds, which on the right aspire,
In dimness from the view retire:
The left presents a place of graves,
Whose wall the silent water laves.
That steeple guides thy doubtful sight
Among the livid gleams of night.
There pass, with melancholy state,
By all the solemn heaps of fate,
And think, as softly-sad you tread
Above the venerable dead,
"Time was, like thee they life possessed,
And time shall be, that thou shalt rest."
  Those graves, with bending osier bound,
That nameless heave the crumpled ground,
Quick to the glancing thought disclose
Where Toil and Poverty repose.
  The flat smooth stones that bear a name,
The chisel's slender help to fame
(Which ere our set of friends decay
Their frequent steps may wear away),
A middle race of mortals own,
Men, half ambitious, all unknown.
  The marble tombs that rise on high,
Whose dead in vaulted arches lie,
Whose pillars swell with sculptured stones,
Arms, angels, epitaphs and bones,
These (all the poor remains of state)
Adorn the rich, or praise the great;
Who, while on earth in fame they live,
Are senseless of the fame they give.
  Ha! while I gaze, pale Cynthia fades,
The bursting earth unveils the shades!
All slow and wan, and wrapped with shrouds,
They rise in visionary crowds,
And all with sober accent cry,
"Think, mortal, what it is to die."
  Now from yon black and fun'ral yew,
That bathes the charnel-house with dew,
Methinks I hear a voice begin
(Ye ravens, cease your croaking din,
Ye tolling clocks, no time resound
O'er the long lake and midnight ground);
It sends a peal of hollow groans,
Thus speaking from among the bones.
  "When men my scythe and darts supply,
How great a King of Fears am I!
They view me like the last of things:
They make, and then they dread, my stings.
Fools! if you less provoked your fears,
No more my spectre-form appears.
Death's but a path that must be trod,
If man would ever pass to God;
A port of calms, a state of ease
From the rough rage of swelling seas.
  "Why then thy flowing sable stoles,
Deep pendant cypress, mourning poles,
Loose scarfs to fall athwart thy weeds,
Long palls, drawn hearses, covered steeds,
And plumes of black, that, as they tread,
Nod o'er the scutcheons of the dead?
  "Nor can the parted body know,
Nor wants the soul, these forms of woe.
As men who long in prison dwell,
With lamps that glimmer round the cell,
Whene'er their suffering years are run,
Spring forth to greet the glitt'ring sun:
Such joy, though far transcending sense,
Have pious souls at parting hence.
On earth, and in the body placed,
A few, and evil, years they waste;
But when their chains are cast aside,
See the glad scene unfolding wide,
Clap the glad wing, and tow'r away,
And mingle with the blaze of day."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 4: The Concept of "Defrauding" and Rape Culture

Modesty Culture Part 4: The Concept of “Defrauding”and Rape Culture

Again, I will draw on my personal experience. Anyone who has attended a Gothard seminar will know EXACTLY what I am talking about. Once one understands the concept, one will find that it is present, either explicitly or implicitly, in nearly every discussion of "Modesty."

Here is how Gothard describes it:

To defraud another person is to stir up in them desires that cannot be righteously satisfied. A woman can defraud a man by the way that she dresses, talks, or acts. A man can defraud a woman by improper touching or by talking about a marital commitment that he is not able or intending to carry out. [Emphasis in the original.]

A woman who “causes” a man to be sexually attracted to her, “defrauds” him. In the Gothard universe, she has promised him something that she does not intend to fulfil. This is actually a great legal definition of defrauding. Fraud is committed when a person promises to do something knowing that they do not intend to do it.

If one borrows money and can’t pay it back, this is usually a mere breach of contract. Failure to do so constitutes a mere civil wrong. Something that is typically discharged in a bankruptcy case. One has messed up, but isn’t a criminal, merely an insolvent debtor. A person who doesn’t pay a debt typically intended to pay it back, but failed to despite intentions.

In contrast, a fraud is someone who never intended to pay the debt. One who lied to rip someone off.

So, in the Gothard universe, when a man is attracted to you (meaning a woman), you have promised to have sex with him. That’s right. Not merely a bad debt. You have intentionally made the promise to have sex with him because he was aroused. And note, a woman can do this by her clothes - and also by the way she talks and acts. Hey wait, maybe that explains all those questions about how a woman’s breasts bounce when she walks.

So now we can understand our case with the dentist can’t we? He, the older, richer, man, had desires (and an erection) he couldn’t control because a 32-year-old mother and wife was attractive to him, never mind that she didn’t desire him. Because he had the desire, she had promised to have sex with him, and thus an affair was inevitable.

She had promised to have sex with him because he had a desire when he saw her.

And we wonder why we conservative Christians are considered absolutely insane. Because even the pagans aren’t this “batshit ridiculous” about women’s bodies. (To paraphrase Saint Paul.)

So let me recap the Gothard position. “Modesty” is to be determined by what a man feels when he sees a woman. If a man is aroused or attracted, the woman has, for all intents and purposes promised to have sex with him. Thus, a woman ought to dress - and act - at all times so that no man ever could be aroused by her.

Modesty Culture and Rape Culture

There is actually a name in the “secular” (i.e. evil) culture for this. Rape Culture. 

Some of us would have names for a man who believed he was entitled to have sex with a woman merely because he was aroused at the sight of her.

Some of us would call him a “dick” or an “asshole.” These would be accurate descriptions.

But there is one more that fits: “Rapist.”

Let that one sink in for a moment. The one thing that is missing from this entire discussion is the woman’s consent. It doesn’t really matter what she wants, does it? Whether in the case of the dentist or the woman whose breasts bounce when she walks.

Does it?

The mere fact of a man’s arousal. His erection. His f-ing desire to have sex with her. That is really all that matters in this discussion.

The idea that a woman who was raped - or lusted after - “deserved it,” “asked for it,” and so on.

I began this series with a mention of the sexual assault scandals at several conservative Christian colleges. I also made a brief mention of the connection between Modesty Culture and Rape Culture.

At some point when my kids are older, I am going to make sure that they read up on Rape Culture, because it is a plague on our society - and really on most societies now and in the past. For some reason, (I can guess) it is generally dismissed on the conservative side of both religion and politics. Most recently, we saw this in action from political candidate Todd Akin, who claimed that in a “real rape,” the girl can’t get pregnant. Implying that if she does, it wasn’t a “real” rape. That is, it was her fault.

Rape Culture isn’t limited to conservative religious cultures, of course. It is a problem of a whole society. A recent manifestation would be the Steubenville rape case. 

(For the two of you who missed it, a high school girl was raped while unconscious by members of the football team. Who filmed it. Fortunately, they were convicted.)

After the video of the rape appeared on the internet, a bunch of people - including women and girls - commented that she was “asking to be raped” because of what she was wearing. Yes indeed. Rape culture is alive and well.

What is particularly disturbing about this case is that there was no lack of people to go after the girl with threats and questions about what she was wearing, and so on. One suspects that if there had not been actual video, no one would have been convicted.

One can also point to fraternity culture as exemplified by Yale. Chants of “No means Yes, Yes means Anal.” 

The low water mark of this culture, legal speaking, is this case. In this infamous Italian case, the court ruled that a woman wearing tight jeans could not be legally raped because it would require her assistance to remove them.


If a man held a gun to her head and said, “Take off the jeans or I’ll kill you,” she would have to agree to be killed or it wasn’t really rape. Rather, if she decided to preserve her life by submitting, she wouldn’t be a rape victim, but a SLUT! Her virginity, after all, was FAR more important than her life. If a girl isn't a virgin, she might as well be dead. (Again, I need a whole blog post about the assumption that family honor rather than consent is the issue at stake. Good Lord!)

So, Rape Culture is by no means just a Christian problem. But the teachings of Gothard and others have so poisoned our thinking that we have been unable to recognize Rape Culture in our own theology. And thus, we have taken a vile part of our culture and given it the blessing of “godliness.”

If you haven’t already looked through the stories regarding the college scandals I linked in the introduction, I recommend it.

You might note a common theme: one of the first questions asked of the victims of sexual assault is...wait for it…

“What were you wearing?”

Well, what about that? Let’s approach sexual assault with a question about how it might be the woman’s fault!

In an amazing development, it appears that the sexual assault investigative procedure followed by these colleges seems to strongly resemble an approach set forth by a certain Bill Gothard. Almost word for word.

I sat through a good number of Bill Gothard’s seminars 20 years ago. He moves so fast through stuff that it is hard to catch everything, so there are many thing that probably exist somewhere in my memory that I cannot readily recall. One of those is his teaching on sexual assault. I suppose I kind of remembered it, but not really clearly.

Until now. Recovering Grace (a website of articles by Gothardism survivors) published an outstanding article on Gothard’s teaching regarding domestic violence and sexual assault. I had forgotten how bad it was. 
I recommend reading the entire post - because it shows that in Gothard’s world, there is no such thing as a victim. It’s always her fault. However, let me just show the most offensive page.

Can you believe that? Right at the outset, he is focusing on the “bitterness” and guilt of the victim. And then he asks what she was wearing.

There it is. Pretty clear.

If she “defrauded” the man, it’s her fault. If he was aroused by her, it was her fault. So really, is there any such thing as “real” rape in this worldview? I don’t think so.

Shall I make this even more clear? This is a teaching on Sexual Abuse. Not sexual sin. Abuse. In the context of how it was presented, if my memory serves, this was about victims of childhood molestation. Children. Yeah, they were at fault because their bodies aroused a pervert.

Of course, in light of Gothard’s longstanding perverted behavior toward young women, this makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s sure a nice way to blame the women for his own perversion.

I’m going to link one more thing. I had forgotten about this one too, but remembered it as soon as I saw the picture.

As background, this was the result of an investigation of an older boy in a family that molested younger siblings. (I also note the lack of law enforcement involvement. This is a continuing problem in sexual abuse cases within the church.)

Guess what? The victims are being blamed for their supposed lack of “modesty.” I kid you not. And what did they do? Well, they got their diapers changed.

So, these are very small children. Babies? Toddlers? Who needed their diapers changed. Later, they were young girls, who, like all really little girls, tend to be less than careful with their skirts. (I mean, there is a reason why “I see London, I see France…” became popular.)

But Gothard blames these babies and toddlers and littler girls for their own molestation. Because they weren’t “modest” enough.

I’ll say it again for the millionth time:

The standard for what is “modest” is determined by what a man feels when he looks at a woman.

And if that man happens to be a pervert who gets an erection when he changes a baby’s diaper, it is the baby’s fault.

Okay, perhaps Gothard thinks the parents are to blame. For what, though? Because a boy saw a baby’s vulva?

This is just getting silly. But I have to conclude that Modesty Culture proponents genuinely believe that they can prevent sexual problems by maintaining ignorance. If males never realized that girls have breasts and vulvas, they wouldn’t have to have sexual desire. Really? On what planet? 

In many cultures - and in our own culture's past - infants and small children ran around naked. Are we really prepared to sexualize infants? And what if the kid sees animals mating? Farm kids get their sex education early.

But no, it’s better to blame predatory behavior on those dangerous female bodies, the very sight of which contaminates males with sin.

It’s pretty sobering to look back on this and realize that somehow the teenaged me didn’t notice this at the time. It’s even more sobering to think of how many adults didn’t walk out at this point.

But it is positively terrifying that this belief appears to be represented as a near universal when we talk about sexual assault.

What was she wearing? How did she cause this?

Once you make the standard for “modesty” the arousal of men, there is no stopping point.

Some pervert will get aroused no matter what.

And all those young men who were told that ordinary sexual feelings are “lust” will find that they can’t win. They will feel things regardless of what they see. I would wager that a certain (very small) percentage of the population would be pedophiles regardless of the cultural attitude. These predators may well be attracted to places where they can get away with their crimes. Again, the article on GRACE is illuminating as to the vulnerability of churches to these people

But there are also others, that I suspect might not have engaged in assault but for the bad doctrine. (I am thinking of a few cases in my experience.) Faced with a culture that vilifies ordinary sexual desire, seeks to completely separate the genders, and exerts complete control over marriage, might a young man find some sort of an outlet? If he isn’t taught about consent, is used to hearing the girl blamed, and all he has available is a vulnerable young girl? Thinking it is the same as doing it? All the obsession about female bodies? I’m treading on thin ice here, I know. But I can’t help but wonder. If ordinary human sexuality is given no reasonable outlet, may it not take whatever escape valve is available? I have no answers, just questions, which I hope to explore in the next section.

Anyway, it should be pretty clear from all of this that there is a strong and inescapable connection between Rape Culture and Modesty Culture.

In the one, the woman is blamed for inciting the man to rape her. What she was wearing made him unable to control himself physically. In the other, the woman is blamed for a lesser crime. “Lust.” What she was wearing caused him to be unable to control himself mentally.

Po-TAY-to. Po-TAH-to. It is the same philosophy.

Notice the language is the same. A woman’s desire and opinion is unimportant. The important thing is the man’s desire. His f-ing erection. That is what determines what is rape and what isn’t. And, for Modesty Culture, what is “sin” and what isn’t.

And note, throughout the Rebelution “survey,” the only important thing is what men or young boys felt. Whether they were turned on by women or not.

And we wonder why Christians are considered immoral by the “heathen?” We can’t even subordinate our own sexual desires to the desires and personal integrity of women. Wow.

Why can’t we speak clearly about consent? Because we don't really believe it matters. 

In the next part, I want to discuss our mistaken definition of "lust," and how this feeds the fear of sexuality and contributes to the nuttiness of "Modesty Culture."

Posts in this series:

Think this doesn't apply to your views on "Modesty"? Think again.

While a surprising number of articles and internet posts in fact explicitly cite "defrauding," showing just how far Gothard's terminology and ideas dominate the debate, there is a less explicit version too. 

"Girls, think about the message you are sending the boys."

Um, what message would that be? Be honest. Isn't it something along the lines of "you're telling them you are available for sex"? Are you sure it isn't? I'm pretty sure, from my reading and my discussions with others on the subject that it sure as heck is what you mean. 

Do men really believe this? 

Just to be clear, the vast majority of men don't really buy into the defrauding thing - as it applies to them. So no, I never thought girls were agreeing to have sex with me - or even enticing me. I would say most men, even within the Patriarchy movement aren't this way either. (Actually, men who rape are a very small percentage of the population too - but they are given cover by these teachings and beliefs.) 

Rather, if pressed, most men (and women) wouldn't ever admit to feeling defrauded at all. Instead, they would deflect it by claiming that other men and boys would feel defrauded. 

Likewise, you will never see someone admit to lusting after a girl who dresses in a way they don't approve. It's never them. Because that would imply an need for them to repent and change, not the girl. So instead, it's always someone else who will lust. The most pernicious way this occurs is where a hypothetical (or even real) teen male is the one who is supposed to be at risk for lust.  I've even seen it applied to young boys, who probably still think girls have cooties. 

For some, this may simply be projection, but for others, I suspect it is simply the use of the teaching to give the force of "God's Law" to their personal preferences. 

Note on Gothard:

For those who hadn’t seen the news, both Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips - again, the main sources of the Modesty Culture trend - have resigned due to sexual scandals.

Okay, let me be more blunt: both have resigned due to allegations that, if true, constitute sexual assault.

We can speculate in a “chicken v. egg” manner about which came first, the theology or the tendency toward criminal assault. Gothard himself claimed that “morality determines theology.” I am not particularly convinced that this is a true or accurate statement of reality, but I will grant that morality and theology do interact and affect each other. We can reason away bad behavior (morality determines theology) but we can also decide to change to align our behavior with our beliefs (theology - or other belief - determines morality).

In Gothard’s case, did his tendency toward harassment and assault lead him to build a theology of “defrauding” in an attempt to prevent himself from sinning? That would be the charitable view. The less charitable would be that he developed the theology of “defrauding” in order to make his own perversion the woman’s fault. From the other direction, one might speculate as to whether his view that his perverted desires were the woman’s fault led him to take liberties that he would not have, had his theology been different.

For more on how Gothard has used “defrauding” as it relates to his own actions, see this summary on Recovering Grace

I also hope to address all of the sexist stereotypes in Gothard's definition of "defrauding" in a later post in this series.