Monday, October 5, 2015

For Evangelicals, Evil is Spelled S-E-X (Part 1)

Matthew Vines: Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?

Douglas Wilson: Yes, far more serious.


This two-part post is written in part as a follow-up to my review of Steven Pinker’s excellent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. 

The book raised (again) some questions regarding the Evangelical worldview. I had also discussed this with a fellow blogger (in comments on our respective blogs), and I have been thinking on the issue since then. 

The crux of the issue is this: In just about every measurable way, the world has gotten far better over the history of the world - including the last 100 years, 50 years, and 20 years. In particular, violence is on a long term and short term decline - and it’s not even close. (I recommend Pinker’s book for a detailed examination of the evidence.) Likewise, slavery has been abolished in most of the world, and that which still exists is (except for a few places like North Korea) not sanctioned by government power. In the Western world, at least, we no longer slaughter people for political and religious differences. We disapprove of torture - rather than promoted it. We no longer support lynching. War now must be justified by a greater good, rather than glory and plunder. Domestic violence used to be considered acceptable.  Now it is punished by our laws, and is also on the decline. Ditto for child abuse.

And yet, Evangelicals insist that the world just keeps getting more and more evil.

Why is that?

That really is the question.

I’ve thought about it, and discussed it, and broke down the categories of “evidence” that the world is getting worse, and have come to the following conclusion:

For Evangelicals, “Evil” is spelled S-E-X.


When asked exactly how the world is getting more evil, the responses break down as follows:

  1. Instances where perception doesn’t match reality.

Violence certainly falls into this category. Lots of people say, “the world is getting more and more violent.” But this is perception, rather than reality. In our modern world, with universally available media coverage, violence can seem to be everywhere. Back in the “good old days,” one would have little knowledge of events in a town more than a few days travel, to say nothing of events across the world. But now we do.

Other instances include domestic violence, where there is certainly a perception that it is increasing. What is really happening, though, if you look at the statistics, is that we are becoming more aware of the problem, and reporting abuse has lost its stigma.

You can also apply this to other areas, such as political corruption, general honesty, drunkenness, or whatever vice you choose. In most cases, things are about the same as they have always been. Or perhaps better. But not worse than ever before.

Why this perception? Well, the belief in the “good old days” and the decadence of the present age is pretty much a human universal. You can find it as far back as human writing can be found. It’s just how we humans perceive things.

Another contributing factor is the way we teach and learn history. History has often been a hagiography written by the winners, shall we say, and this requires a glorification of the heroes of the past. Thus, for example, Martin Luther is remembered (by Protestants) for his criticism of “Indulgences” but not for his violent anti-Semitism.  England’s Henry VIII is remembered for making England Protestant, gets a chuckle for having all those wives (and whacking a few), but isn’t remembered for the fact that he had at least 56,000 of his subjects executed for political and religious dissent. 

In other words, Mark Antony had it backwards: The good that men do lives after them. The bad is oft interred with their bones.

So, in summary, many of the “reasons” given for why the world is getting worse turn out, on close examination, to be perceptions that conflict with reality.

    2. Cultural changes

This also relates back to the universal human tendency to denigrate the “young people” and their culture.

(From Bye, Bye, Birdie)

[Alas, I can’t find a video of the original stage version, which I think is better. Here are the original lyrics.]

Any time there is a cultural change, the pearls are clutched, and this goes for everything from music to clothing to politics. What’s old is good, and what’s new is bad. And don’t even get me started on the way that the Millennials are called horrid things like “lazy” because they have high unemployment rates. I’m just sick of it.

In any case, a significant portion of the “evidence” that the world is getting worse turns out to be a realization that the world is changing. Some changes are considered to be “bad” by the Boomers but are considered “good” by Millennials. This is more of a generation gap than a true turn toward evil, but it nonetheless is used as evidence of decadence. Essentially, the decline of a certain American, Republican, white, middle class culture of the past is viewed as the rise of evil. I won’t get into all of these things due to length considerations, but many of these are political in nature, or involve urban versus small town values, or racial/cultural issues. Seriously. Dig down and find the root.

I’ll discuss the other factor more later, but a lot of the cultural factors cited as proving the increase of evil also relate to the big one: sex. The fact that sexually based swear words are no longer taboo, sex and sexuality can be talked about, and other cultural changes have caused many to be disconcerted. The cultural change isn’t that these things suddenly exist. After all, prostitution is hardly new or more prevalent than in the past. But they are out in the open, rather than something the boys talked about without women around.

    3. Decline in religiosity

This one makes more sense. For the members of any religion that believes itself to be true - and thus more true than other religions or no religion at all - any decline will be worrying. So I’ll grant this one as having some intellectual justification behind it. It does, however, suffer from a question of perspective. After all, if each group believes it has the truth, then some people will always believe evil is on the rise, because every group experiences declines at some time or another.

The question, though, needs to go deeper. Is religiosity by itself a good, and its lack, evil? I would pose that the question needs to be about deeds more than belief. I would imagine that for the vast majority of us moderns, the Inquisition would be considered to be an evil, not a good. On the other hand, most of us moderns would consider the abolition of slavery to be a good, not an evil.

When measuring good and evil, therefore, one cannot simply look at belief, but what that belief does. Or, as the founder of my own religion once said, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” If the fruit is indeed getting better in many ways, what does that say about the tree?

How about this, put another way?

"It is very hard to see into the minds of men," said the Bishop; "but we can see the results of their minds' work. I think that men on the whole do live better lives than they did a hundred years ago. There is a wider spirit of justice abroad, more of mercy from one to another, a more lively charity, and if less of religious enthusiasm, less also of superstition. Men will hardly go to heaven, Mr. Carbury, by following forms only because their fathers followed the same forms before them."

Could this have been written today? Sure. But it was actually written by one of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope, in The Way We Live Now, back in 1875. If anything, it is even more true today than in Victorian England. It is indeed difficult to see into the hearts of men, but if the fruit shows the heart, then we do indeed show more of the virtues mentioned by the bishop than we used to.

    4. Fundamentalist Islam (and Communism)

This one too makes sense. I am as concerned about the rise of a militarized and totalitarian cult as anyone.

And I agree that persecution of Christians (and others) by Islamic Fundamentalists and Communist Fundamentalists is an evil we should fight.

But history here too makes for some perspective. It isn’t like fundamentalist Islam is all that different from any number of totalitarian and fanatical movements of the past. And, for that matter, they aren’t nearly as effective in slaughtering and enslaving as past ones. The Roman Emperors, the Inquisitors, and Genghis Khan would laugh themselves silly at the incompetence. So evil? Yes. More evil? Questionable at best.

    5. S-E-X

Yup. This is the one that actually fits the facts. When you dig down, this one is very often at the bottom of things. And generally, the “evidence” fits two categories:

  1. Young women are such sluts these days.
  2. Gays are out of the closet.

I lack the space in this post to delve fully into these two fully in this post, unfortunately. However, I will note that an honest study of history reveals that male sexual behavior hasn’t changed much at all. Prostitution used to be widespread, polygamy was widely accepted, and women couldn’t even divorce a man for his infidelity or physical abuse. The phrases “boys will be boys” and “sowing his wild oats” have existed in some form since the dawn of human history, and amply illustrate the cavalier attitude toward male promiscuity. On the other hand, in the past, there was a clear line between “good girls” and “sluts.” 

In analyzing this, I have given weight not to what Evangelicals say about their theology, but to what they actually do. How they act towards others, who finds themselves comfortable in those circles, and what they are willing to do to prevent sex all demonstrate true belief far better than doctrinal statements. If you want to know what god someone worships, check to see where that person directs their sacrifices...


Doug Wilson says what everyone else is thinking

Let me return to that Doug Wilson quote.  He states that supporting same-sex marriage isn’t just worse, but “far worse” than supporting slavery.

And it isn’t just him. Blogger R. L. Stoller collects some names that are pretty big in Evangelical circles that agree with Wilson. And the evidence is clear: these aren't unsourced quotes - these are actual screenshots. 

Leaving aside the fact that so many are willing to associate with someone who has defended slavery, denied that AIDS is a real disease, compared marital sexuality to “conquering and colonizing,” and who married a convicted pedophile to a woman knowing they intended to have children ; what the h-e-l-l are they thinking? Have we really gotten to the point where the deaths of 11 million people in the slave trade, the routine beatings, the rapes, the 50% infant mortality rate among slaves, and for pete’s sake, the ownership of humans somehow is a minor infraction compared to what consenting adults do with their genitals? Really?

Now, anyone who reads my blog knows that I loathe Doug Wilson. But I also enjoy the fact that he is usually an easy target. And I also enjoy the fact that he is willing to say out loud what far more Evangelicals really believe, but are afraid to say.

Evangelicals really do - by and large - believe that sex is “far worse” than other sins.

Doug Wilson is merely willing to say that out loud. 


Everything about how Evangelicals talk about the world, from politics on down, is tainted by the belief that sex is the worst of all possible sins.

Just a few examples:

  1. How we talk about abortion.

I’ve noted before that I am personally opposed to abortion. So don’t assume that I am trying to defend the practice. But I do need to note that how we talk about it reveals a lot about what we think the actual “sin” is.

Let’s start with this: James Dobson said this a few months ago. 

America has killed over 55 million babies, 55 million. You know, the Holocaust involved 6 million Jews, we’re talking 55 million babies. There’s a Planned Parenthood about two blocks from my house and I drive past it every day and I see these cars out there and I fear for the women who are making, I think, the biggest mistake of their lives and certainly the implications for their babies. We need, as a nation, to repent of the immorality, what we see on television and in the movies and how young people are being led into immoral behavior, there’s just so much.

I want you to notice the sharp hairpin turn the statement takes. From killing babies to...wait for it...wait for it…

“We need, as a nation to repent of the violence…”

Oh wait. That isn’t what he said.

“We need, as a nation to repent of the immorality…”

[For those of you who didn’t grow up in Evangelicalism, “immorality” is code for “sex outside of marriage.”]

See, the underlying “sin” isn’t the abortion. It isn’t murder, violence, and so on.

It is sex.

Now seriously. I guess if you live in a certain bubble, you can believe that all abortions are caused by out-of-wedlock pregnancy. But that is hardly the case. Plenty of married people have unplanned pregnancies too, and some of them get abortions.

Is this really a Freudian slip, perhaps? A Kinsley Gaffe?

Because what seems to be Dobson’s real concern is that people are having sex.

Here’s another example: in the recent debate over the Affordable Care Act and its provision that contraceptives should be part of basic health care, the leaders of the pro-life movement appear to have thrown in their lot with the Quiverfullers. And the consistent opposition to scientifically accurate reproductive education, despite the proof that it tends to reduce unplanned pregnancies and therefore abortions. Basically, they believe that contraception (which actually reduces abortions) is worse than more abortions. Their actions testify to the belief.

Even the recent Planned Parenthood hearings are an example of this belief. Witness the questions by the (largely Religious Right) Republicans asking the PP director why the organization doesn’t spend more time on mammograms (which benefit Baby Boomers) rather than wasting time on providing affordable contraception and STI testing and treatment. (Which benefit younger people who may or may not follow the sexual rules.) Never mind that contraception reduces abortions, and that STI testing and treatment reduces death and sickness.

In fact, it really seems that anytime the pro-life leadership has the chance to reduce the number of abortions, but at the same time would have to accept that people might have sex without the consequence of pregnancy, it rejects the reduction in abortions.

It isn’t hard to see why, is it?

The real “sin” isn’t abortion. It’s sex. It is more important to stop the sex than it is to stop the abortions.

    2. How we talk about poverty

I won’t discuss this one at length here, but the religious right has essentially concluded that poverty is the result of the wrong people (poor people and minorities) having babies they can’t afford. Poverty surely isn’t the result of structural inequalities, systemic racism, or other factors. No, poverty is the natural consequence of the one sin that matters: sex. If poor people would just stop having sex, then their problems would go away. Thus, we can justify making life worse for the poor as simply providing "incentive" for them to stop sinning so much.  

On a related note, we can spend billions of dollars fighting the effects of gluttony. We can glorify greed and the positive results of that sin. We can work to exclude immigrants, terminate health care for children, and all kinds of other stuff that Christ and the prophets condemned. But we can comfort ourselves that at least we didn’t have sex we "couldn’t afford."

    3. Our political emphasis

The religious right has focused their political clout on two primary issues: abortion (see above) and gay marriage. This is to the exclusion of many other issues that should be considered moral issues This whole political season seems to be proof that one can violate nearly any teaching of Christ and be considered orthodox, so long as one toes the line on sex. 

4. The harmful teachings we tolerate in order to prevent sex.

I’m thinking here particularly of the Courtship/Betrothal movement, which is expressly aimed at preventing sex. Keep the young people apart physically (and emotionally) and they’ll remain virgins until marriage.

Or how about Modesty Culture. I wrote a whole series on this one.  Again, the aim is to prevent sex by (supposedly) eliminating sexual temptation.

Or how about all those “illustrations” we have all heard about a girl being like a piece of chewing gum. Once she is “used,” nobody will want her.  We never say “a boy who has been greedy will never be wanted.” Now do we?

Likewise - at least for females - “virtue” is defined sexually. I have heard, multiple times in multiple churches - to say nothing of books such as Passion and Purity - that “The greatest gift you can give your husband is your virginity.” Not any other virtue. Not any of the Fruit of the Spirit. Virginity. (By the way, the corresponding “virtue” for males is spelled m-o-n-e-y. That may be the subject of a future post.)

As I pointed out in my Modesty series, we don’t do this for any other sin. We don’t do “greed purity” pledges or “humility balls” or warn people about how the country is going to hell because we call brown skinned people rapists. Because these things aren't really important to us. 

On a related note, I am convinced that most Evangelical parents - if they are honest - would rather have their child die than turn out to be gay or lesbian. I can't think of any other sins that are considered "worse than death." Certainly not greed, or pride, or wrath, or any of the other "deadly sins." In fact, if science ever develops a prenatal test that reliably predicts whether a fetus will be gay, you will see Evangelicals embrace abortion in practice. Sadly, this makes a twisted sort of theological sense. Since most gays will be unable to attain lifetime celibacy, it would be more merciful to kill them before the "age of responsibility" rather than lose them to an eternal hell. 

On a lower scale, but still high on the fear list is the child who makes a baby out of wedlock - particularly during the teen years. Not that this is a good thing, of course, but it is treated as a far worse sin than anything else - except homosexuality. So there is a strong fear factor about sex among Evangelicals. This fear is a powerful motivator.  

 And that leads me to…

    4. Predators and Cult Leaders like Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, and Doug Wilson will continue to bedevil Evangelicalism as long as we are obsessed with sex.

These guys - and their former poster children, the Duggars - are selling something. And it isn’t really a mystery what it is. They are selling sex. And fear of sex. The two go together. The fetishization of virginity (in girls), and the fear of despoliation.

After fanning the flames of fear about the kids having sex, these charlatans then promise a “cure.” A formula that, if followed correctly, will guarantee that the girls will get to the altar as good little virgins, and the boys will avoid fathering a child before they get through college. Everything will just turn out fine if the formula is followed.

I believe this fear was a significant factor in why my family and my wife’s family got involved in the Christian Patriarchy movement. Both of these occurred around the time the oldest female child hit puberty. In my family’s case, a significant part of the appeal was the concentration of “wholesome” young people, dressed in professional attire, or in the clothing of the past. Particularly the girls, who weren’t “sluts” (my word, not my parents’) like the others in the world or even in the church. Such “innocence,” even though that was probably mostly an illusion.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that ATI was overwhelmingly white, middle class, and from Red State America. In other words, it was a throwback in large part to a mythical past. A segregated and pre-feminist past. The appeal was to a time of (mythical) sexual innocence, before the corruptions of modern life.

In my wife’s case, her father expressly stated that he felt he needed to isolate his daughters (in the convent with the 12 foot walls, as Amanda put it) after the 14-year-old son of a colleague impregnated a girl.

Sex may sell, but fear of sex will outsell everything else.

And, for these charlatans, they do an excellent job of social signaling, promising the formation of a group of people who all believe the “right” things about sex and gender and culture.

They will never lack for followers, as long as Evangelicals continue to believe that sex is the true evil. The fear and the false promise will continue to attract adherents and the dollars they spend.

6. Every teaching of the Bible is subject to nuance - or may be disregarded outright - except those on sex.

It is startling, for example, how easy Christ’s teachings on how we use our money or how we respond to violence can be just disregarded as “He didn’t really mean it that way.” This whole election cycle has been discouraging to me, I will admit. With the exception of the usual suspects (abortion and gay marriage), the entire religious right’s political agenda seems to be based on xenophobia and cuts to social programs. And that’s even before you get to the strange embrace of those who make their lives about greed, arrogance, and disdain for others. (Hello, Donald Trump, whose supporters come primarily from white members of the Religious Right.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that there is nuance in the world, and that a blindly literalist approach to the Bible is not conducive to a good society. So I understand being careful. Nobody should start plucking their eyes out to combat lust. If anything, I’ve spent quite a bit of time arguing against the theonomic approach to scripture, and the tendency toward proof-texting and out-of-context development of doctrine.

But isn’t it interesting that everything else about how Christians should behave seems to involve nuance and grey areas? Everything else has context, and exceptions, and ways of bending the text to fit the needs - and desires - of modern (white, middle class) American life. Except one thing. Sex is completely black and white. No nuance, exceptions, or grey areas. Depart from the official script, and you are essentially accused of denying the authority of the Bible. Evangelicals are sure that we know exactly what is permitted and what isn’t, and that is the end of the discussion. Period. It’s a black and white, bright line issue - like no other moral issue in Christianity. On a related note

7. Nothing will get you “church discipline” faster than departure from the script on sex.

Just as an obvious example, you can own a private jet, live a lavish lifestyle, abuse your congregation (hello, Mark Driscoll), protect predators (hello, Doug Wilson and C. J. Mahaney), advocate that women stay in violent marriages (hello, John Piper) and American Christians will still send you money.

But have an affair, and you probably will lose your pulpit. At least for a while. And a woman who committed sexual misconduct would certainly lose her career. Heck, poor Tammy Baker became a byword because her husband slept around.

Let me add in a true story here, one that concerns my own family. My great-grandparents got a little ahead of things, and conceived my grandfather out of wedlock. They had a shotgun marriage, and stayed together until he died decades later. By the accounts I have heard, they were basically decent - if ornery and otherwise human - people. However, he was a pastor. And he ended up losing a pulpit when the congregation computed the anniversary date versus the birth date of their first kid. (I am relying on the stories told by my grandfather and his siblings. Alas, most of them have passed on, and I can’t go back and confirm the exact details.) How they lived and ministered didn’t really matter to the elder board, did it? Not compared to what they did with their genitals before they married.

Moving to a more modern instance, I wrote a post on what will get you “farewelled” from Evangelicalism. And I was absolutely right.

Recently, people I know and love have gotten grief from other Christians - and the threat of going to the pastor for discipline - because of doing the “rainbow facebook picture” thing.

You know what? I have also seen plenty of Christians I know post about how Donald Trump is right about immigrants. How many of those have suffered any blowback? [crickets]

Or how about this morally appalling sentiment, posted by someone I know to be a very devout Christian:

Now, this isn’t a universal Evangelical sentiment. I know others who have generously offered their homes to refugees. But the fact is that this sentiment got ZERO blowback, even though it would seem to be xenophobic, uncompassionate, and contrary to what the founder of our faith advised us to do. I’m not suggesting that this calls for church discipline. But it does disturb me that this sort of thing is uncontroversial - that people who think this way are comfortable in a place where we allegedly try to follow Christ - while deviation from the script on sexuality is a reason for discipline and people leaving the church when discipline isn’t imposed. 

We are just freaking fine with fellowshipping with those who say, “God bless you, be at peace…” and send victims of terror and civil war packing. 

But we apparently cannot fellowship with anyone who comes to a different conclusion about God’s opinion about sexuality.

Because, you see, the thing that matters is the one sin God really cares about: Sex.

More and more, I have come to realize that, for most Evangelicals, their god doesn’t really care what you do with your money. He doesn’t really care about what you do with most of your body. (Unless you drink or smoke or use drugs.) He doesn’t care about violence now or in the past. He didn’t care about the genocide of the Native Americans. He didn’t care about the slave trade or slavery. Lynchings and the Inquisition didn’t really matter that much.

All that stuff is secondary.

Because, when it comes right down to it, what God really, really, really cares about more than anything else - His true measure of good and evil - is measured by what we do with our genitals.


I decided to break this up into two parts due to length.

In the second installment, [stay tuned] I want to look at the way that stories from the Old Testament which are about violence have been twisted by many Evangelicals to actually be about sex.


Before you comment, please read my Comment Policy.

I understand that this will be a controversial post. While I welcome thoughtful discussion, there are some things that I do not feel are worth allowing.

In this instance, I am not interested in hearing (again) why God supposedly supports right wing politics. I am not interested in hearing arguments about abortion on either side, unless you are actively working to help people plan their pregnancies and lessen the burden they bear for carrying children to term, rather than just lecturing them about not having sex. I am also going to delete any comments that go off quoting scripture about why I am all wrong about sex. Been there, done that, have the scars. 


  1. Looking forward to the rest of this post. I grew up in a church that encouraged honest conversations about sex, but attended a very anti-sex Christian high school. Since graduating, I haven't thought about it much, but I find your observations helpful in crystalizing and clarifying my own attitudes. Thank you for taking the time to write them down.

  2. Wonderfully written post. Looking forward to the rest of it

  3. Remember when Screwtape is discussing gluttony, and points out that very few people will be seduced by what you might call "classic" gluttony--eating enormous amounts of food, what Screwtape calls the "gluttony of excess". He then talks about the old woman who is deep into the "gluttony of delicacy", where she is insistent on and ruthless in getting her cup of tea and "teeny-weeny slice of really crisp toast" just right, regardless of what else she is served at someone's house or a restaurant. Screwtape notes that the joke is so good because the old lady doesn't even suspect she is indulging in gluttony--that is, being uncharitable and idolatrous toward food--because what she wants is smaller and less expensive than the item she is rejecting.

    In the same book Lewis has Screwtape note that the business of hell is to send humanity "to the side of the boat that is already nearly under", fighting the vices that aren't really a threat in that particular generation and ignoring the ones that are. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if sex and the American Evangelical church isn't this sort of situation.

    I am studying Colossians at the moment, where Paul says to "have nothing to do with sexual immorality, lust, and impurity" and I can't help but wonder if there isn't a "sexual immorality of delicacy", to coin an awkward phrase. We allow sex--ours or what someone else is having-- to make us uncharitable, harsh, liars, and angry (all other sins warned against in Colossians), and we stink at not objectifying our fellow humans (lust). We are certainly given to impurity in the way we make EVERYTHING about sex, even things that are clearly not sexual situations--little kids in swimsuits, for example, or young men wanting to wear long hair/tight jeans/whatever, or commercials where a pair of women hug each other and may or may not be lesbians (boycott!). How, apart from lack of bodily engagement, is this substantially different from a "sexual immorality of excess"?

    Furthermore, is the sexual immorality of excess REALLY the vice that our generation needs to worry the most about? The Millennials are, by all accounts I can find, less sexually active than either the Boomers or Gen X. Maybe "everyone's having so much sex these days" is more a reflection of the perceptions of the generation (the Boomers) that was possibly the most promiscuous generation to ever be recorded. (I am not judging the Boomers, just stating fact---maybe they see sex everywhere because, well, they HAD sex everywhere and are judging everyone by themselves.)

    The problems I DO see? Greed. A breathtaking amount of callousness about "grinding the face of the poor" (I am also reading Jeremiah lately), and ignoring the needs of widows, orphans, and foreigners. A startling tolerance for the sins of anger and rage--I would almost say they are admired, actually--and an idolatry of political power.(Part 2 in next comment)

    1. On the issue of gluttony, I did some research in preparation for a themed dinner we had with some friends. (We each took a deadly sin, and cooked dishes inspired by that. I got gluttony. Poor me :))

      It turns out that Aquinas listed six forms of gluttony:

      1. Eating too soon
      2. Eating too expensively
      3. Eating too much
      4. Eating too eagerly
      5. Eating too daintily
      6. Eating wildly

      Please don't even get me started about the modern (sacred and secular) manifestations of these forms of gluttony...

    2. When Aquinas was hot, he was hot.

      The pastor in our old home town used to point out, quite accurately, that the fastest ways to feel physically good are eating something and sex. I would argue those are also the fastest ways to feel superior to other people (witness the grocery cart shaming that happens---especially the grocery cart shaming of poor mothers with WIC cards).

    3. Good point. "The fastest ways to feel superior to other people." Preach it!

    4. What's sad is that I'm scared to see what would happen if today's evangelicals got ahold of Aquinas' list there, because I already know exactly what they would do with it. For example:

      Eating too soon: meals are stringently scheduled and you may never eat or drink in between them for any reason whatsoever. For best effect, claim that the liturgical hours practiced by medieval monasteries were legalistic and controlling, because this equally legalistic and controlling meal schedule is totes different.

      Eating too expensively: God has an exact specific percentage of your income that can go to food (kind of like tithing rules), and if you spend any more than that you're in sin. Also subconsciously compete with other families to see who can be the most "frugal" even if your kids are eating poor quality food and/or going hungry for no good reason.

      Eating too much: God has a specific (low) calorie amount He wants you to eat every day and you're in sin if you ever eat any more than that. Said calorie amount changes regularly based on the latest pop diet fads but is totes derived from the inerrant Scripture.

      Eating too eagerly: deliberately eat things you hate because God likes self-denial.

      I'm not sure what they would do with "eating wildly," and I can't picture them buying into "daintily" at all because, well, they're already doing that (gluten-free, organic, etc. to the exclusion of eating with other people). But evangelicals actually discovering gluttony with the same fervor they discovered sexual immorality makes me really, really nervous. I've actually been considering writing a post on this after I saw some people propose church discipline for obesity, apparently without any thought about how they would enforce that and what measure(s) they would use.

    5. I think this has already happened in some circles. Gothard, certainly had these all in place.

      Think, for example, of the Ezzos and all the rest, with their insistence that babies eat on a rigid schedule, and you should let them scream rather than give in and feed them early. I can also testify from my own observation that at the IBLP training centers, they were *very* hostile to anyone who needed more frequent meals for medical reasons, or who didn't do well with the mandatory Sunday fasts.

      Likewise, there was an emphasis on homemade whole wheat bread, both for health and frugality reasons.

      Body shape was definitely a "moral" issue, and many didn't measure up due to genetics.

      And don't get me started on how everything that was pleasurable for one had to be given up so as not to distract you from God.

      Then, there is our culture's growing obsession with "clean" food. Basically food that grants a secular version of "godliness."

      If you haven't read Chesterton's The Flying Inn, you should. He does a marvelous take down of dietary godliness that seems even more on point now than it did 90 years ago.

    6. I read your review of that book, and yeah, the gluttony topic also reminds me of that.

      I think the scheduled meals have a pretty long history. IIRC, didn't Susannah Wesley also ban her children from eating and drinking between meals? I know she's held up as the ultimate Christian parent by a lot of people, but I remember last time I looked at her famous rules I was less than impressed.

      If this comment comes through as Anonymous, this is still scarletlettersblog but the combox is being stupid.

    7. My experience with a legalistic take on "gluttony" was in the 90s or early 2000s, "Weigh Down Workshop", a rather mainstream offering from a lady called Gwen Shamblin who more or less taught that if you weren't thin, you were in sin. She taught methods of "only eating when you're hungry" that were wrapped in church-speak but that now, looking back as a person trained to spot eating disorders, are straight-up anorectic. (For instance, "only eat half of what you want, then examine yourself to see if you're still hungry"--and for Shamblin, "hungry" means "starving"--and if you aren't, you can't eat the rest of lunch or dinner. "Never eat if you aren't hungry. You can wait until the next meal." Always choose one food on your plate that is the most pleasurable and eat that one first--but then if you fail the "am I still starving" test at the end of that, you can't have the rest of your meal. There were lots of other weird rules and rituals, all backed up dubiously with verses from Exodus. Her teaching videos all included a skit that portrayed anybody who ate food instead of denying it as disgusting, selfish, and wicked.)

      Everybody loved Gwen Shamblin until she turned out to deny the deity of Christ. Oops.


  4. I do not in any way believe America can appropriate the promises made to the Old Testament nation of Israel, but I notice that those who DO believe that don't pay attention to the reasons which God lays out, over and over again, about why He judged Israel and sent them into exile---it is, over and over again, about greed and exploitation, and manipulation of religion to oppress others with false teaching, and THAT lifestyle is personified and compared to a lusty camel or a donkey in heat. (I will note that the personified Israel is also consistently portrayed as miffed that anyone would even QUESTION her holiness and dedication.) Sexual immorality of delicacy, maybe? (Maybe not. I am still developing this idea and am open to correction, as always.)

    I think we waste a lot of the time entrusted to us by a holy God on petty crap that will not matter in twelve months, let alone in eternity. I think we are perilously deep in actual heresy in many cases (the concept that "God loved us while we were still sinners" applies to everyone *except* the LGBT community--I have seen this taught and it is heretical). Basically, we seem to prefer to stand on the gunwales-under side of the boat.

    1. I love that you too picked up on the fact that sex is used as a metaphor for greed and oppression - and violence - in the Prophets. I'll be discussing that a bit in the second half of this post.

      I do find it interesting that most preachers don't spend much time teaching on the Prophets, and if they do, they focus on the parts that foreshadow Christ. Nothing wrong with those passages, clearly, but there is SO much more - and it truly speaks to what is wrong with the American Church. I discovered Isaiah in particular during my teens, and it has remained a favorite book.

  5. I'm surprised your grandfather wasn't "premature" unless the shotgun wedding was on the late side. Looking forward to part two!

    Breanna, I've also read statistics about how the baby boomers had a lot more sex than other generations. Age of first sex has been increasing while number of partners has been decreasing- Baby Boomers were the peak of wild. It's almost ironic.

    1. I suspect they waited a little too long to get married. I wish I had been old enough to really ask questions while my grandparent's generation was still around - although I suspect they may have been reluctant to talk about it.

      You are right that a lot of these children were simply called "premature," in a winking sort of way. Winston Churchill was a "premie," which is hard to believe because he was a fairly large baby. I think everyone knew what really happened, but at least there was a way to save face.

      I suspect too that this particular church may have been a bit too eager to discover sexual sin in others.

  6. The increasing antipathy toward birth control scares and confuses me. As you stated, it's probably the most effective preventer of abortion, but they reject it anyway. The line that many pro-lifers aren't really pro-life, they're just pro-birth is really beginning to resonate with me. And honestly, I WANT to be pro-life and I don't think I could personally ever abort a child. But so much of pro-life rhetoric is just flat-out lies (abortion never saves a woman's life, birth control is ineffective, children aren't expensive, etc.) that I just can't bring myself to apply the label and I'm always automatically suspicious of everything pro-lifers say.

    I do have to comment on another interesting, contradictory dynamic here. They selectively apply the "old is good, new is bad" line. I know from (far too much) personal experience that when you like traditional church music and liturgy and classical music, there are many, MANY evangelicals who will mistreat you and even run you out of a church for advocating traditional music, hymns, etc. in the service, because the party line is that contemporary Christian music / rock band church is the "correct" music that we "need" to evangelize the young folk. This goes against everything else they say about modern culture, of course, but somehow this is the exception where modern culture is suddenly good. And when you're like me (a 20-something who doesn't like contemporary services), they get extremely confused.

    (I'm not anti-contemporary music, though I don't enjoy most contemporary Christian music because it seems to mostly be shallow and simplistic. I also find it tends to go along with the authoritarian bent and/or lead to it somehow, so I won't attend any church that has only that kind of service. Thankfully my actual job is as a church organist so I don't have to explain this in depth to most people.)

    They like to pretend that sexual ethics are a bright clear line but they aren't. Mostly the line I've heard is that we can't possibly disagree about something as morally momentous as homosexuality. Except we can't actually agree on the definition of adultery either (which is so momentous it's in the Ten Commandments) because we can't agree on what constitutes valid grounds for divorce and remarriage. I.e., I believe in divorce and remarriage for abuse, Piper doesn't think there are any grounds for divorce at all. I see Piper keeping people in bondage, he sees me advocating for "adultery." You see the problem. So yeah, we can probably survive a disagreement about homosexuality.

    1. As always, great comment.

      I lost any respect for the Pro-Life movement when they came out against birth control. Out of all my Pro-Life friends, only one - ONE - actually changed his/her position after seeing the newer evidence that hormonal birth control (and the morning after pill) do not cause abortions. The rest doubled down. And that's even before you get to IUDs, which have never been suspected of causing abortions. I'm with you on the allergy to actual truthfullness.

      As I pointed out, I think the real problem is that the sex bothers them more than the abortion itself. That's why for many (not all), the rape and incest exception remains. Because, on an emotional level, they feel bad "punishing" a woman for non-consensual sex. It's also why female-controlled birth control seems to be the problem for them.

      I also found your bit on music interesting. I guess since I was part of Gothardism, and my mother in particular loathes rock and jazz, I didn't see the contradiction. I don't fit into any particular category on music - other than maybe "weird." I am a classical violinist, so I have a lot of love for the great sacred works. I was raised on hymns, and many are still meaningful to me. But I also like rock and jazz and blues and funk - and like to make those kinds of music too. I think there are plenty of modern songs with good lyrics, but like any era, there are dreadful ones too. (Time weeds out the duds. Isaac Watts wrote about 750 songs. Most didn't make the cut...)

      On the adultery question, I don't think many modern Christians agree with Moses, actually. Back when the 10 Commandments were written (and up until about 150 years ago...), adultery was between a man and a married woman. A married man who slept with an unmarried woman or a prostitute wasn't an adulterer. It is our modern conception of marriage as a mutual covenant, rather than male ownership of a woman or women that has changed. Obviously, I think this is a good change, but it is nevertheless a change. To pretend that "Christian" sexual ethics haven't changed along with our knowledge is pretty ludicrous. Most of these changes have been for the better, in my opinion.

    2. I can sympathize with being a young-ish person who cannot. stand. most contemporary worship music. This is even when it's not vocally weird for me to sing (I'm a mezzo-soprano or an alto depending on the day) or containing vapid lyrics. I don't talk much about it because I don't think it's super-helpful to the people putting together the songs on Sunday morning to hear about how what they pick grates on my preferences--it's not fair, and I've been on the receiving end of that kind of talk. It is a weird place to be, though, to be the only one at the ladies' Bible study who studiously avoids listening to Christian radio.

      Nobody's ever accused me of being musically narrow, so I'm at a loss to explain it, except perhaps that my personality type isn't terribly drawn toward mysticism a la St. Teresa of Avila, and that seems to be a theme in the worship music of the last decade. Still, there's plenty of mysticism in the old stuff too, so maybe I'm just a grump. Who knows.

    3. I've been accused of being musically narrow, but it was by someone who 1) barely knew me and 2) claimed I was "afraid" because I wanted to sing Thomas Tallis instead of a cheesy mass produced choir anthem that literally had the words "doo wop" in it or something similar. (None of that was exaggerated, BTW. That really happened to me.) For obvious reasons, I don't believe that person. The other accusations have included "you're spiritually immature because you like liturgy," "traditional music doesn't have the Holy Spirit" and similar things.

      I probably came off as narrower than I actually am in the original comment, but really the only thing I object to is mass-produced CCM - basically the Christian radio you described. Except that's pretty much the entire Bible church scene right now. I actually listen to a lot of recent songs, but they're all secular. That kind of music in church never really did anything for me in the first place. Now that I associate it with authoritarianism I actively avoid it.

    4. Music is (in my opinion) a definite matter of taste - and of past associations. I will always associate certain hymns (and secular songs) with where I first heard them, regardless of their merit in certain cases. The A Beka video course I took in high school had a bible class that started off 9 times out of 10 with "The Bible Stands." After a year of that, I will never wish to sing it again. On the other hand, some songs that I don't find intellectually that good will forever be associated with a great youth group experience in junior high - and with certain worship leaders that helped make me who I am.

      I would, however, sign Thomas Tallis in a heartbeat. One of the highlights of my life was hearing Evensong in Salisbury Cathedral back in 1999. I remember they did a Vaughn Williams song (I forget which one), and a few others from various eras. Just magnificent, but we (my siblings and I) were nearly the only people there to hear it. I wonder if we were the only ones there to worship and not just listen.

      I'll be playing Mozart's Requiem (for the 4th time?) next month.

      Agnus Dei, qui tollis
      peccata mundi,
      dona eis requiem.
      Agnus Dei, qui tollis
      peccata mundi,
      dona eis requiem.
      Agnus Dei, qui tollis
      peccata mundi,
      dona eis requiem sempiternam.

      It never gets old.

    5. I should clarify, scarletlettersblog, I wasn't saying at ALL that you were wrong to talk about your musical preferences. On the contrary--I applaud your honesty. (And "you're spiritually immature because you like liturgy"? Do they realize all the heroes of the faith they just insulted?) Anyway, I was just copping to my own grumpiness as a person in the congregation who's not in charge of making musical decisions. ;)

    6. @scarletlettersblog:

      Let me preface my comment by stating that I am pro-life and oppose birth control/abortion for religious reasons. That being said, I can tell you from my own personal experience that what you see touted as the pro-life movement is a lie. What may have started out with good intentions following the Supreme Court's decision on Roe vs. Wade became co-opted by the Republican Party, which has used the movement to push their own vile agenda. My big break with the pro-life movement came when I began asking, in addition to saving babies, why weren't we supporting a more comprehensive social safety net which could address the reasons why women would want to seek abortions (poverty, abuse, etc) or opposing euthanasia and the death penalty? When all I got in response were the Tea Party/Republican Party's talking points, I knew it was time to get out, and this is coming from someone who had been involved with the pro life movement for four years at that point.

      I'm happy to do March For Life with my church as I have done for four years now, but never again will I put in the effort and time with the pro-life movement that I did before. It's nothing more than a front that takes in people with good intentions and turns them into fanatics.

    7. For what it's worth, I will be including another link in Part 2, which should post later today, on how virulently "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" oppose other groups handing out birth control on "their" turf. The commitment that the "Pro-Life" movement has made to opposing any measures that would reduce demand for abortions is bizarre, unless you understand it primarily as a desire to see the "sluts" punished for having sex while poor (or while brown skinned.)

    8. scarletlettersblog, if you want another lie to add to your list here's one that helped clarify things for me. My sister-in-law was a labor and delivery nurse for years. She told me that she discovered in one hospital that she worked in that all prematurely ended pregnancies were listed under the category "abortions". That means *miscarriages* were being counted as abortions because they are technically "voluntary abortions". When she saw that, she immediately realized that all those huge numbers that we're given as "proof" of how bad abortion is are simply inaccurate, to put in nicely. For the most part, she lost interest in the "pro-life movement" as a whole at that point, though she is still against abortion.

  7. The interest of older evangelical men in the sex habits of young women strikes me as prurient. There doesn't actually seem to be much evidence that millennials are having more sex than baby boomers did. I hypothesize that they just like *fantasizing* that young women are having lots of hot sex with many partners.

    It would be helpful if they could agree on a definition of slut.

    1. That's a good - and thoroughly creepy - point. Now I have a vision of the old guy on oxygen in the Go Daddy commercial...

      A few commenters have made the point that Millennials a) have first intercourse later than Boomers, b) have fewer sexual partners on an age adjusted basis, and c) are much better about using condoms or other birth control appropriately. That is (presumably) why teen pregnancy has dropped substantially in the last two generations - particularly in Blue states. But that is an inconvenient truth, isn't it?

  8. I haven't read Pinker's book yes (with such a backlog of books to read), so I wonder if he points out the thing that is obvious for people coming from scientific / engineering background like me: Any kind of statements like "the world is getting more / less violent / dangerous / ..." can be only STATISTICAL. That is, we can say that statistically the world as a whole is getting better (however we define it), but it does not mean that in some areas of life, or some geographical areas, it cannot be getting worse. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, with ISIS etc., would be one such area, and it does not mean that we need to throw out the whole conclusion that the world is getting better. Yes, overall it is getting better, bot at he some time it is getting worse, and if so, it is a good thing to pinpoint the areas where it is getting worse and try to do something about it. So. while I largely do not agree with the fundamentalist Christian ideas, I would like to point out that they can still be right that something, sometimes is indeed worse that it has been, even though things overall, statistically are better.

    Speaking of sex and of things getting worse, I wonder how you would comment on a thing that is indeed seemingly getting worse recently: a very big proliferation of erotic and pornographic content available to people, especially on the Internet. Wouldn't you say that Evangelicals are right in pointing out that this phenomenon means that something IS getting worse in our societies?

    1. One's opinion on internet erotica would naturally determine whether one thought this was "worse" or not. Evangelicals clearly believe the availability of porn is an evil. But that actually bolsters my point, which is that the *reason* that Evangelicals are convinced the world is getting worse is that they assign a significantly greater *weight* to sexual sin than to violence. So yes, if you believe that sex is the worst sin, then the world would (from that perspective) be getting worse.

      One thing to consider regarding porn: there has been a significant shift in the last 150 or so years in the *form* of male sexual misbehavior. If you look statistically at the past, you find a startlingly high percentage of women were involved in the sex industry. In the 1700s, for example, somewhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 women were prostitutes. The age of consent was 12, and prices were low enough that working class men who could not afford to marry were able to purchase sex. To put that in perspective, for modern day Los Angeles, the lower percentage would mean that there would be nearly 200,000 prostitutes in that city. Which there clearly aren't.

      So on the one hand, things are "worse." But on the other, for those women that no longer must prostitute themselves to survive, things are better.

      You are right that improvement is statistical, but that does not mean meaningless. I would imagine the lives of the victims of ISIS are worse than they were under Saddam Hussein, so for them, their own world is getting worse in many ways. But the Evangelical claim is most certainly NOT that a few things in the world are worse and we need to address them. The claim is that the world is becoming more EVIL, and that this is a steady progression. The corollary, sometimes stated and sometimes not, is that the world was far better in the "good old days," and that the prescription is therefore to return to the ideas, institutions, and prejudices of the past. (For example, we must defeat feminism, and get women out of the workplace.)

    2. Interesting observation about the distinction between "worse" and "evil". Those are indeed not the same things.

      I wonder if the ready availability of Internet and other forms of porn has any impact on prostitution, or are they unrelated phenomena? There are probably lots of factors which contribute tto the fact that there are no 200000 prostitutes in Los Angeles, including many cultural shifts as well as the mere fact that the prostitution is now illegal in US. Would be interesting to see if someone actually studied the impact of porn availability here. Because otherwise, I think that is has been already established that viewing lots of porn has negative consequences for the viewer.

      And again, the observation about decreasing number of prostitutes is again only statistical. For example, there are lots of underage prostitutes in Cuba these days, which there weren't 30 years ago when I first went there.

    3. When it comes to large-scale issues, statistics really are our best tool. If anything, people tend to make errors when they give anecdotes weight over statistical evidence. (Which is exactly what we do when it comes to violence.)

      So "only statistical" is a curious term to use. If indeed there are more child prostitutes in Cuba these days, that would be something statistics would show, right?

      Certainly causation is rarely simple, and many factors come into play. One thing, though, that I can't get around when it comes to prostitution: even if we legalized it tomorrow, there would be no way that Los Angeles would have 200,000 prostitutes. The demand would in no way support that level of supply. (If you want to see what the demand will support, look at Nevada, which is nowhere near the level of the cities of the past.) So legalization isn't really the likely primary cause. (I would argue that at least one would have to be the fact that women generally have better options for employment - a benefit of the last century and a half of feminist efforts.)

  9. I fell victim to these kinds of Gnostic teachings of sexuality and my walk with God was shipwrecked as a result, but He thankfully restored me to Himself seven years later. While God certainly doesn’t take pleasure in our suffering, I think He may allow us to go through trials to strengthen our faith and to offer fellowship to those in similar predicaments. I think that’s why the Holy Spirit may have moved upon Paul to call out the legalistic “dogs” in Philippians. Paul was the “Pharisee of Pharisees” and as such he knew the methodologies and motivations of people like them. He knew that many of them were about making their cogregants as afraid, jaded, and sexually repressed as they were, hence folks like Harris and Gothard.

    It took God a lot of time and patience to get me to stand still and take heed when He said, "Stop listening to what those Pharisees say I am and start listening to who I say I am."

    1. That is an interesting thought regarding Saint Paul, who sometimes seems skeptical of marriage and sexuality. (Although, his point about the present times making marriage and particularly parenthood difficult is telling.)

      If I were to have one wish regarding how the church addresses sexuality, it would be that they examine the hidden cultural baggage (primarily the ownership of female sexuality by males), and rebuild the sexual ethic based on the greatest commandment (as to human relationships.)

      I suspect, however, that a sexual ethic based on "love your neighbor as yourself" and "do unto others" would look vastly different than the vision of men ruling over women, and obsessing about female sexuality. Doug Wilson's rape-y view of marital sex might be viewed as more evil than teenagers making out, and that would require a true paradigm shift.

  10. I'll have to come back and comment later on this when I have the time to do a decent job of it, but I just wanted to thank you for another thought-provoking post that digs deeper than the run-of-the-mill. Lots of thoughts came up.

    One thought that came to mind was that passage in Revelation about the church at Thyatira which was rebuked for the antics of "Jezebel". The language is sexual, and I've heard that this was some kind of "sex cult", blah, blah. Maybe it was. Yet based on the reference to idolatry which is typified by sexual immorality in many Bible passages and the fact that Jezebel was not notorious in the O.T. for her sexuality but rather for her domination and idolatry, I'm inclined to think it was more about spiritual "fornication" and perhaps oppression of some sort. It was just a thought.

    1. Jezebel is an interesting case, isn't she? Yet another example of the way that "virtue" and "vice" in women has ended up being sexualized. (Another example that comes to mind is Mary Magdalene.)

      Thinking back on my numerous times reading the accounts in Kings of Ahab and Jezebel, I cannot think of ANY evidence of sexual misconduct on her part. In fact, it is entirely possible she married Ahab as a virgin (undoubtedly as the seal on a political alliance), and remained faithful to him until his untimely death in war. She certainly seemed loyal enough to him. Come to think of it, she made the "best" of a bad marriage. He was an insufferable and whiny wuss, both selfish and weak, and yet she stood by him. I would tend to think that, given what we know about her, she was firmly in control of her sexuality, and would (like Queen Elizabeth I) have scoffed at the notion of allowing her libido to interfere with her statecraft.

      In the way the secular world would measure it, she was actually a strong and successful "power behind the throne," until it came crashing down on her later. That she would have been a "better" ruler than Ahab seems obvious, if one is merely counting skill.

      The obvious problem with her is that she had a thing for idols. I can't find in the account any other explanation for why she was considered wicked. Sure, she was cruel, but so was every other ruler of the time - including (if we are honest) some of the "good" rulers of Israel and Judah. But she clearly worshiped the wrong god, and was willing to kill for her faith.

      So I think you have a great point that any reference to Jezebel in Revelation would naturally refer to some form of idolatry, not sex.

    2. Looking at what we're told about Jezebel is interesting. I'm not even sure I should say that she was a dominatrix. She looks more like a manipulator, perhaps an enabler (she stirred her husband up to the wickedness HE apparently chose to do- 1Ki. 21:25). She was a committed idolater willing to murder for her faith, as you said. She was cruel - witness the Naboth's vineyard incident, which wasn't much different than David having Uriah the Hittite killed for Bathsheba. Jehu accused her of "whoredoms and witchcraft", but that was a man's opinion, not what God actually said about her. She was eaten by dogs as her reward for killing the prophets of God. And, you're right, she did seem to make the best of a lousy marriage from a strictly human standpoint.

      As for her highly over-rated sexuality - it appears to come from the Revelation passage, and Jehu's comment combined with the fact that she painted her face and looked out a window at him when he showed up in town, and the ones on Jehu's side willing to throw her out the window were eunuchs. I've heard that last bit referred to specifically as meaning that she had "seduced" all the other men in the palace, and only the eunuchs could resist her. Never mind that in those times the house of the women would have eunuchs as male attendants for the purpose of discouraging any hanky-panky or molestation/rape. (Some of the modern royals, such as the late Queen Mother, seem to have used homosexuals for this purpose.) As for her face painting, since she was a heathen there is no way of knowing what this was. Many ancients also painted their faces as a form of aggression or threat of war. Her comment when she looked out the window, "Had Zimri peace, who slew his master?", hardly strikes me as a great "pick-up line". It sounds more threatening than seductive! I don't think there's any reference to her having any offspring personally, which is interesting if she was such a "shameless hussy". Ahab, on the other hand, should be an example of out-of-control libido since he had seventy sons, not to mention daughters.

      It's irritating to me that some of the Pariarchy types (and others) will accuse women of being "Jezebels" so carelessly. Actually, I think one of the wickedest women in the Bible was Athaliah. What kind of woman would try to kill all her own grandchildren to secure the throne for herself? I can rationalize (not like!) why some people think they need to kill in the name of religion in as much as they *think* they are doing their god a favor. But, a woman who will kill her own grandbabies for power? That's pretty evil!

      I think I need to write an article on this. I have too much to say about it. Ha.

    3. I meant an ordinary dominater - not a dominatrix. (Thanks, spellchecker. Another victory for artificial intelligence.)

  11. I'm rereading this post tonight, and intend to read part 2 also, because my dad saw a Ted talk online last week that inspired a vigorous family discussion last Sunday. The talk was about how an unlikely percentage of people from a large cross section have up-side-down intuition when it comes to perceptions of the world at large. In short, too many people tend to think things are getting worse, not better. If you want the info on the Ted talk I can try to get it for you. I only know the speaker was Swedish.

    For section one, point 1, I'm reminded of the verse in Ecclesiastes 7:10 - "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this." This verse was impressed upon me years ago and I've tried to remember it, though not as well as I should have. But, truly enough, if I'd lived 200 years ago in the "good old days" I'd probably have been dead long before my present age.

    Re: point 2 - I'd just like to point out that the decline of a single nation does not mean that everything is becoming more evil all over the world, or that it is *all* going to rot in the nation in decline. The U.S. does show typical signs of a nation in decline, but it doesn't automatically follow that evil in general is on the rise. At least, that is how it seems to me.

    It's kind of awkward when people claim "we weren't allowed to do that when we were kids" and then you read history and find out that they were. Or, you read the Bible and see that people have been doing that for thousands of years. "Well, hello, selective memory. So glad you could redefine the present for us."

    Re: point 3 - I'm for the decline of religiosity, personally. I'd like to see more people following the example of Jesus Christ and living that daily as opposed to religion expressed through rhetoric and verbosity.

    Agreed on No. 4. Who remembers that the Moors (Muslims) took the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) in 711 and ruled there until 1492? Should the present problems with Muslim Fundamentalists be addressed? Yes. Are they anything like the past? No. And aren't likely to be.

    Re: point 5 - "If you want to know what god someone worships, check to see where that person directs their sacrifices..." <-- That is a fantastic statement. I wish more people applied that test.

    1. Great points. I love the Ecclesiastes verse. Nothing new under the sun...

      One of the questions I have been pondering regarding the US is exactly what we mean by "decline." Like the question of whether the world is getting worse, it depends on what standard you are using.

      Political and military power? Will we probably cease to be the world's sole superpower? Probably. But prior to the fall of the Berlin wall, we were one of two, and before WWII, we were one of many. And in our "peak" in the 1800s, we weren't even on the radar as far as the world was concerned.

      Economic power? Yep, we probably will not be the only dominant economic power in the world in the future. The world changes, and no nation dominates forever. Just my opinion, but the world as a *whole* will be better off when it catches up to the West. Call it a decline, or call it parity.

      So I guess I distinguish between a decline in power (of whatever sort) and a decline in other ways. In a sense, the British Empire has "declined," but England is hardly a terrible place to live. In a number of measurable ways, it is a far better place than in the days of Dickens - and a more moral country than at the height of colonialism.

    2. I too would see the decline of a nation reflected in the decline of power - military, financial and/or political - but also influence and usually culture. But, even so, quality of life might remain pretty acceptable.

      Morality of nations seems somewhat indefinable to me. It depends so much on what an individual uses as their basic measure and how "morals" are defined. Added to that, it seems to me that there is often a fluid aspect to morals over the history of any given nation, or even region.

      It was my impression that the symptoms of the decline and fall of Rome are used as a measuring stick by historians. At the conclusion of his book "Alistair Cooke's America" (copyright 1973), Cooke made it pretty clear that he detected at least some of those signs in the U.S. How the decline would (is) play(ing) itself out here is a topic for some very interesting and lively conversation, to say the least.

      As you say, England isn't a terrible place to live even though it is past it's zenith. However, I can think of some better ones. Of course, I am "allergic" to chronic gray weather, so I may be a little biased on issues other than "morals", society and culture. :-)

  12. Re: Doug Wilson - I believe his thinking is from hell, and I don't mean that figuratively.

    On the section regarding sex: point 1 and 2 - As I mentioned in a previous comment, my sister-in-law discovered while working in labor and delivery that "voluntary abortions" (miscarriages) were being counted with the other kind in at least one hospital where she worked - meaning that the abortion numbers given by the "experts" are more than likely highly skewed.

    I still don't understand why contraception is worse than abortion. And...what would be the repercussions down the road if contraception was eliminated completely? Are people going to stop having sex? Not a chance. So...well, I don't know, but the direction that road leads look really, really scary from here, especially considering that a lot of white Christendom isn't really friendly toward anyone in poverty. I'm reminded of the ethnic purges of the past and that is a sickening thought!

    Re: point 3 - My husband and I have chosen not to vote for some time now. Partly, or perhaps mainly, this is because we don't see candidates that we feel we can support with a clear conscience before God. When a hyper-motivated pro-life friend of mine found this out she really pushed me hard to get me to feel guilty for not "caring about the unborn" and not "standing against murder" (not exact quotes necessarily). Really? As if there was only one issue (the last election). Funny thing is, we don't find any command in scripture to the Christian church to vote as a "duty" regardless of who the man (or woman) is. God didn't say much of anything about it, which generally means we make a situation by situation decision on it before Him. If another Christian decides differently, that's fine; it's their conscience not mine. But modern American Evangelicals can't stomach someone refusing to vote based on the over-all picture because their laser point focus requires that we **must** vote on abortion - and now same-sex marriage.

    Re: points 4 and 5 - I agree with what you're saying here. Just recently I heard a professing Christian say that he advised his brother not to go into business with another Christian because the man had "been unfaithful to his wife once, and those things follow you through life." WHY? Why should something like follow a Christian (especially) through life? Sometimes I just want to scream at them, "DO YOU BELIEVE THAT JESUS CHRIST FORGIVES SIN OR DON'T YOU?" (Sorry, I'll try to calm down.) It infuriates me because I feel like they are degrading the sacrifice of Jesus Christ by making some sin permanent, unforgivable. My own mom had two good friends when I was growing up - one had had a child out of wedlock and the other had had a child through adultery. It was never an issue in our home. They'd repented and moved on and it was under the blood. "Nothing to see here." I have a close friend and family member who had two children before she got married, and it's a wound in my heart that she still can't accept her forgiveness from God and live without guilt because of this very thing you speak of, despite the fact that she knows the truth.

    The formulaic attitude toward all this (and child rearing in general) is really disheartening and sad. But, as you say, fear sells. Boy, does it sell!

    Points 6 and 7 are uncomfortably true and disillusioning. :-/ And, since you brought in the military aspect, I will say this - that is another sacred cow of American Christianity. Try not "supporting the troops" vocally and see what happens. My family has a little different perspective on that because my dad's parents were Mennonites at one time. Both my dad and his dad served as non-combatants in the military, so it isn't that we're anti; we just don't see the point of so much that goes on with that these days.

    1. Boy, you're right about the military issue. My ancestors (4 generations ago) were Mennonites, and were evicted first from Germany, then from Russia, because they refused military service. So I have sympathy both with non-violence and with refugees. (One reason why I find the anti-immigration rhetoric on the right rather disturbing right now.)

      You are so right that there is a strong anti-impoverished-person streak, and the objection to contraception is one symptom. Another factor that I believe exists is a vindictiveness toward those who have sex. The priority isn't to help them, but to punish them as severely as possible, whether through pregnancy and childbirth (and the subsequent poverty, naturally), or through STDs. (I wrote a post last year about the HPV vaccine - you won't like it if you are anti-vaxx - but I think it is pretty clear from the hubbub that American Evangelicals have a real problem with anyone trying to cure or prevent STDs.) I've even had friends and acquaintances lean toward more stigma directed at bastard children if it would prevent premarital sex. (Compare the Mormon Church's recent decision to deny sacraments to children who live with same-sex parents.) When we are willing to sacrifice children for our sexual rules, I think we have a problem.

      Thanks for commenting! I always look forward to your thoughts.

  13. I should clarify or correct one thing in my above comment - I'm not mad at the man who laid that accusation on the other regarding his unfaithfulness to his wife. I realize that man was probably raised with that ideology and hasn't realized yet that it is not biblical or correct. My real contention and frustration is with the ideology itself and with the Pharisees (notable religious leaders) who teach such things and instill these wrong attitude in those who listen to them.

    Having said that, however, I have heard that Machiavelli said, "A deceiver will always find someone willing to be deceived." Sigh.

  14. My dad studied Mennonite history while he was at BIOLA and he has talked to us about that episode of those who moved from Germany to Russia and then fled Russia. In fact, there were people in his home church (somewhere in the L.A. area) who had come from Russia when the Communists took over and he has recounted at least one family's experience to us.

    May I use the graphic you posted re: homeless servicemen and refugees? I have been thinking of writing something along those lines and it would be a useful illustration.

    I did read most of the post on the HPV vaccine, I just didn't comment at the time. I'm not anti-vaccine and neither is my husband. Maybe it's because we were missionary's kids? You just can't go to some places - particularly Africa - without getting vaccinated. So, if it's "against scripture" (because we're supposed to take care of our bodies, as one person told me), then how would someone obey a call from God to go preach the gospel in those areas? Well, that complicates things. :-) And, yes, I did point that out to her and she did admit she would have to think about it. Anyway, I tend to be moderate on vaccines. I understand some people's concerns about them but I also see the benefits in other ways. I get my tetanus booster every ten years because I'm involved in activities where that's a risk.

    I don't know if I've run into anyone who expressed a view that people should be made to suffer more because of sexual sin, but I can sure see where some of them would have that attitude based on other things I've read. I also know a couple who might have really benefited if she had gotten an HPV vaccine, even though she grew up in a "good Christian home". They may pay a sad price for her few years of "wandering" before it's all over. :-( I can't agree with those who would say they deserve it. They are trying so hard to have a good home now.

    Speaking of the Mormon decision, here's an article by a lady raised in a same-sex relationship that you might find interesting:
    Although I'm against same-sex marriage for a couple reasons (this is one), I have to admit that I've wondered a little what Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are going to actually do with these people, and the children, down the road when they show up in our midst wanting help. All the vitriolic rhetoric about the "evil" doesn't lend itself to the compassion that Christ showed sinners. [Btw, notice that this lady who was raised by two mothers did not end up lesbian. I found that point of particular interest based on some claims I've heard.]

    1. You are free to use the meme. I figure once it makes it around Facebook, it is fair game :)

  15. The world's biggest fan of your blog here, which is the only one like it! Could you possibly consider writing the post on the corresponding virtue for men (m-o-n-e-y)!?