Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Raised by Strangers"

It's a mantra that I've heard repeated many times, especially in Christian circles.  "A good mother stays home full-time.  Don't let your children be raised by strangers!"

"Raised by strangers."  What mom would want that for her kids?  So I believed, as a young Christian married woman, that of course God would provide a way for me to not work outside the home.  After all, staying home with my kids full-time was what I wanted as a young mother, right?  I mean, if I were really following God's will for my life, this was what I should want.  And this was obviously what was best both for me and for my children, right?  I mean, if God designed it that way, then that's how it should work best!

The problem was that the only way we could have given up my income while simultaneously incurring the costs of infant care was by going on welfare, which (we were taught) was also totally a no-no for good Christians.  We had to choose, it seemed, between being out of God's will one way, or being out of God's will another way.  What was being demanded of us was actually impossible.

So I went back to work after maternity leave-- as part-time as we could afford, but I did go back to work. And I thought God had let me down, because He was supposed to provide so that I wouldn't have to work outside the home.  I also felt guilty because I really liked my job as a legal assistant, which meant, apparently, that I didn't love my kids enough to really want to stay home with them full time.

But working part-time seemed like the best thing to do in our situation.  So that's what we did.

I increased my hours gradually as the children grew up. And I'm very grateful to my boss for being so family-friendly. A lot of women don't have the options he gave me.

It ended up working out just fine for our kids-- and for us, their parents.

I'm not going to cite a bunch of statistics here, or sociological studies or expert opinions on children being in daycare.  Frankly, when I researched this on the Internet, I found that the whole thing is very complicated.  For every study or expert supporting one position, there's another expert or study supporting the opposite.  Practically speaking, the outcomes for children depend not so much on whether or not they're in non-parental child care, but on the quality of the care, the income and education of the family, and the quality of the parenting the kids receive when they're not in day care.

There is one thing I am certain of, though.  There's such a thing as prejudicial language, which is defined as "loaded or emotive terms used to attach value or moral goodness [or badness] to believing the proposition."  And if ever a phrase constituted prejudicial language, "raised by strangers" is such a phrase.

My children weren't "raised by strangers."  I mean, let's look at this practically.  Even with both parents working full time (which wasn't true in our house anyway until the kids reached school age), a child still is at home a lot.  There was breakfast time, dinner time, chore time, playtime, bath time, bedtime. And weekends. And holidays.  And sick days, when the day cares said, "Not in here. You have to keep your kid home."  Some parents risk losing paid hours, or even their jobs, in that situation!  I could only be grateful my boss was supportive and that I had plenty of paid sick leave and vacation time.

Also, guess what-- once you meet a person who is going to take care of your children, you begin to develop a relationship based around the commonality of that child, and she isn't a stranger anymore! I found it was important to me that the children be in home-based day care rather than classroom-type day care, so that's what I picked (and I was privileged to have this option-- a lot of women don't, so we need to cut them some slack!)  What I didn't have was any relative, any grandmother or aunt, who lived in the area and could watch the kids.  But the children grew to love their caregivers as they would a grandmother or aunt.  Did the lack of blood ties really matter?  Both children were happy and secure in their daycare settings, looked forward to going, and enjoyed coming home to be with me as well.

So why are we as Christians putting such burdens and laying such guilt trips on parents who are doing the best they can?

The Bible, in fact, never addresses how much time a mother is supposed to be home with her children.  The Proverbs 31 woman, who is held up so often as the example Christian women should strive to follow, apparently spent quite a bit of time away from home and family, doing things like buying fields, planting vineyards, and selling linen garments to merchants.

It's also important to remember that today's nuclear family was simply not what Paul had in mind when he talked about parenting in the New Testament, because such a thing didn't exist. I mean, of course there was such a thing as a mother, father and children, but they generally were just part of a larger household, and the majority of people were actually slaves. Almost everyone lived in household units that also functioned as economic units, with one older patriarch as ruler of the family, his slaves, wife and children (adult sons, with their wives, and minor children) who were all expected to obey him. Most mothers didn't and couldn't take care of their children full time. The patriarch's wife would spend most of her time managing the household and the servants. Slave women worked in the fields or took care of their mistress's children, presumably leaving their own young children to be cared for by older family members who were past the age of harder work.

This idea that a child can only grow up healthy if her mom is there 24-7 is really a fairly modern invention-- and even now is an option only available to fairly well-off families.  Most women throughout history have not been able to be full-time mothers.  Most women today are not able to be full-time mothers.  In fact, many women (like myself, I discovered, when I was honest with myself) end up discovering they're not suited for or happy staying home full time.

What if God didn't design all women alike?  What if "raised by strangers" is really just rhetoric being used to shame women into staying in a traditional role?

What I say is, no two families are alike, and we all need to just do the best we can given who we are and our situations, and not place burdens on ourselves or each other that are too difficult to bear.





Saturday, November 15, 2014

Taxation is Theft?

The first time I came across this idea, I was reading Left, Right & Christ (Russell Media, 2011), in which a Christian Republican and a Christian Democrat each took chapters to address the pressing political issues of our time. The Christian Republican, D. C. Innes, stated on pages 75-76: “The Christian moral objection to the welfare state is . . . that it violates the eighth commandment [thou shalt not steal]. . . Thieves come in different forms. . . [T]he government’s power to secure property is also the power to take it away. When a mob uses government to pillage its more propertied neighbors, we call it progressive taxation, or redistribution of wealth. Sometimes we call it fairness. But it is theft all the same.”

Taxation as theft.  The government as robber, as thief-- as a criminal.  Strong language, to be sure. And apparently there are more and more Christians who think this way, who identify themselves as libertarian and claim that Christianity essentially teaches the same.  Notice how Innes' quote above identifies this mindset as "the Christian moral objection" to taxes.  Innes appears to limit his objection to taxes that support social programs and "the welfare state," but many proponents of this position appear to believe that any taxation whatsoever is a moral, even a criminal, wrong.

Here's the standard argument, quoted from Godfather Politics:
Taxation involves force. If you don’t pay up, you will be fined, have your assets levied, or imprisoned. If taxation means taking someone’s property and giving it to other people, how is this not a moral issue? The Eighth Commandment is quite clear: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). There is no “except by majority vote.”
According to this viewpoint, then, "theft" is to be defined in an all-inclusive sense: that there are virtually never any instances in which it is legitimate for a person to be required to give up some of his or her money.

I do wonder how far those who promote this idea are willing to take it. Is it "stealing" if the government forces a parent to pay child support for his or her child? Is a traffic fine "stealing"? What about charging a fee to reimburse a government agency for its costs in giving driving tests?

Perhaps it's ok with these Christians to require payment in these circumstances.  After all, libertarians do believe people should be held responsible for their own actions and should pay for what they get, right?

But the problem I'm having is this.  Other than direct fees for specific services, taxes are how governments function.  To make a blanket statement that all taxation is theft is essentially to render all government illegitimate: it's saying government really ought not to exist at all.

And that means that police officers, fire fighters, judges, lawmakers, all would have to be for-profit, private organizations.*  If the police came to your house to catch a thief, they'd have to charge you a fee.  If you couldn't pay, they wouldn't come to your house next time.  Maybe some people, out of the goodness of their hearts, would choose to help others by paying more than just what it costs to protect their own property-- but would it be enough to protect everyone?

And what about roads and bridges? We all benefit from them. Even those without driver's licenses go to the grocery store and buy food delivered across those roads and bridges. If we made road maintenance taxes voluntary, what would happen?  Would all the roads continue to be maintained, or only those with enough traffic that private owners could make a profit charging tolls?  What would happen if you couldn't afford to pay someone to maintain the road to your own house?

Is a world with no government really what we want?  And since this is the implication of the "taxation is theft" mindset, what is it that makes this anti-government stance so very Christian?

The New Testament never treats taxation as theft, but as the legitimate "due" of government:
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is duecustom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:6-7, NASB, emphasis added.)
In Matthew 7:24-27, tax collectors ask Peter whether Jesus pays the temple tax.  When Peter asks Jesus, Jesus acknowledges that the "kings of the earth" collect taxes, and says nothing whatsoever to contradict their right to do so.  He only indicates that, since this tax is for the Temple, he (as the Son of the God whose Temple it is, presumably) should be exempt--but then he agrees to pay it anyway.

In my three-part blog post on "The Bible and Human Authority," (which can be read herehere and here, I note that the Bible in general treats human governments as necessary, and that God's plan for the earth includes them.  Though many passages appear to support limitation of human governmental power, the attitude that government should not exist at all, or that taxation in and of itself, absent any abuses, is evil or criminal, is simply absent from the Scriptures.

As I said earlier, some versions of this viewpoint don't consider taxation itself to be theft, but only taxation which redistributes resources from the haves to the have-nots.  In Left, Right and Christ, D.C. Innes declares that the Bible limits the role of government to one thing: “The task of government is simple and limited: punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. . . God appoints government for our benefit, but it is not to provide every good. It is only to prevent bad conduct with creditable threat and punish it. . . .” (pages 58-60).  However, as I explained in an earlier post, the verses Innes uses to support this claim were never intended to give a comprehensive theory of government; they do not, expressly or implicitly, limit government to only the functions those passages highlight.

Certain passages instead seem actually to support required redistribution of wealth as a form of equitable justice. As I said in the same post:
[W]e can glean certain basic principles from the Law regarding how a civil society should govern the treatment of one another. God, working with the people of that time and place, simply did not promote economy liberty over basic equity and fair-dealing. In economic dealings, as in other areas of life, the Law restrained the people from fully exercising their liberty, recognizing that the natural human bent towards selfishness and greed needed to be curbed.
The gleaning law in Leviticus 23:22 amounted to a tax on all landowners of a portion of their income, for the benefit of the poor. The Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:13 amounted to a redistribution of wealth every 50 years, so that each family could return to its own land and possessions—and so that the concentration of all the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few could never take place. One of the most foundational principles of the Bible is that all of humanity is sinful, and therefore cannot be trusted to simply do the right thing as long as you leave it alone. The Law included certain regulatory provisions to make sure that everyone in the society did the duty of the society to the poor among them. Though free-will giving was encouraged, it was not left up to free will alone.
One argument I recently heard raised against this was that it was ok for God to take people's money away from them, because He's God and it all belongs to Him anyway-- but it's wrong for human governments to do any such thing!  However, these passages are not about God requiring money to be given to Him, but to be given to the poor or to those who had lost their ancestral land through financial hardships.  These passages really don't say, "I'm God and all your resources came from Me, so I want you to give some of it back to Me."  There are passages in the Law pertaining to religious offerings that do exactly that-- but that's not what these passages are about.  These passages are about achieving a more equitable society through required redistribution of wealth.

Of course, in our various modern Western societies, most taxation is not even something imposed by "the kings of the earth" upon us as helpless subjects.  Democratic representative government means that our elected officials are sent by us to create tax codes on our behalf, and if we don't like what they're doing, we can protest, we can write or call them, or we can vote against them. Representative government means the government is us, not a monarch or an emperor.  If we through our elected representatives decide on certain taxes, then the requirement to pay is our own requirement, imposed on ourselves as a people.  Taxation with representation has always been an underlying principle of American concepts of freedom. Taxation with representation is not stealing, but a decision by the people, for the people, to pool our money and use it for the common good.

It's true that there will always be those who don't agree with laws passed by our elected officials, but we don't expect to be released from other laws just because we don't agree with them or didn't vote for the representative who helped pass them.  We don't equate other laws with criminal activity just because we are required to obey them.  We don't say, "the officials who installed that stop sign are thugs, forcing me to stop when I don't want to."

Steve Kangas, a Christian liberal, is living proof that "taxation is theft" is certainly not the Christian position on this issue.  He says:
Taxes are part of a social contract, an agreement between voters and government to exchange money for the government's goods and services. . . Arguments like "taxation is theft" are . . . the equivalent of saying "Everything I make is by my own effort" -- a patently false statement in an interdependent, specialized economy where the free market is supported by public goods and services.
Kangas also points out:
No one truly makes 100 percent of his money by himself. Individuals depend on a wide array of government services to support the very free market in which they earn their money. Without these supports, there would be no free market in the first place.
He then gives a long list of social supports and physical infrastructure provided by government that enables citizens to prosper and make wealth.   It hardly seems to me to be a definitively Christian viewpoint that looks on each individual as a sort of island, independent of the community structures that are largely responsible for our financial well-being.

Even many libertarians object to the "taxation is theft" mantra.  Washington DC writer and policy analyst Julian Sanchez, who is himself a libertarian, says:
[A]lmost nobody residing in any actually-existing state can justify their present holdings by reference to an appropriately untainted provenance running back to the State of Nature. 
Serious theorists tend to acknowledge this at least in passing, but it’s one of those elephants in the room. . . If there’s a libertarian theorist who’s grappled with this at the length it merits, I haven’t seen it. I would love to be able to point to a few serious book-length efforts, but the Year Zero approach that just takes current holdings as given and proposes Entitlement Theory Starting Tomorrow have always struck me as the sort of ad hoccery that makes caricatures of libertarianism as an elaborate rationalization for privilege more plausible than they ought to be. So an independent reason to shy away from “taxation is theft” as a slogan is that it can be interpreted as an unreflective endorsement of distributional patterns riddled with profound historical injustices.
As a middle-class white American, the assets I came into the world having (because my parents had them and used them to support me) had a lot to do with exclusionary practices that kept other, non-white, non-middle class people from being able to acquire what I took for granted.  My father went to college on the GI Bill, but if he had had black skin, the GI Bill would not have helped him no matter how long he served in the military.  He also bought land and built a house using a Veterans Housing loan that a person of color could not obtain.

My own ability to earn wealth, similarly, only partially came from my own merit or my own efforts-- a lot of it came from opportunities afforded me due to my social and economic status.  Other opportunities have eluded me at least partly because I am female in a society where women still bear the greatest burden of the care of the young, and where jobs traditionally held by women pay less than jobs traditionally held by men.

So when those who benefit most from these inequitable systems claim some absolute moral right to hold onto what they have, they are ignoring the fact that some people were to all intents and purposes denied a chance to even try for those things.  This article from By Their Strange Fruit details some of the built-in advantages of being white that we did not earn, that have resulted in our simply having more to call our own.  In what sense is this just?

The active undoing of unfairly weighted systems is not injustice, even if it may seem for a time to be "unjust" to the group in power. But when something starts off out of balance, you have to balance it by throwing weight on the other side.  Taxation for programs to help right old wrongs is hardly theft. What it amounts to instead is restitution.
Another libertarian, Loren Lomasky, protests the "taxation is theft" mantra in terms of the radical nature of its criminalizing language:
[I]f it is then taken in its straightforward sense, that pronouncement denies the legitimacy of the social order and announces that I regard myself as authorized unilaterally to override its dictates as I would the depredations of a thief. It says to my neighbors that I regard them as, if not themselves thieves, then confederates or willing accomplices to thievery. Is it pusillanimous to suggest that declaring war, even cold war, against the other 99 percent of the population is imprudent? [Emphasis added.]
Words like "taxation is theft," as Lomasky points out, are "fightin' words."  To say this is to set yourself against the social order, to declare yourself a rebel against the system.  As Christians, is this what we should be fighting against?  To declare our governments illegitimate and criminal-- to fight to hold onto our own stuff against all comers-- neither of these seem like particularly worthy Christian endeavors to my mind.

Taxation is not theft.  And we're not helping anybody when we say it is.


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*I don't mention the armed forces because most of the time Christians concede to them, at least, as being an exception.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

About Halloween. . . .

I'll always remember the Halloweens when I was a kid.  Mom decorated the house with cutout witches and bats made with stencils and black or orange construction paper.  We would start planning our costumes, and what faces to put on our pumpkins, weeks in advance.

We lived high in the Rocky Mountains, and the houses in our little community were few and far between.  Every year one of the mothers would volunteer to drive all the kids (there were around ten of us) around to all the houses (about 20 of them). Usually it would be very cold, and often it would be snowing.  Everyone knew everyone else, and at every house we'd be invited in and asked to take off our coats to show off our costumes.  At some houses we'd be offered cocoa.  Often the treats would be homemade popcorn balls or caramel apples.

When I was a little older there was a scare about some people putting razor blades in Halloween treats.  We knew no one in our own neighborhood would do that, but it was a weird thought. According to Snopes there have been a few documented cases of this actually happening, but it's always been very rare.  We didn't worry too much about it.

The real problem with Halloween arose when I became a Christian in the early 1980s.  Committed Christians, I learned, didn't celebrate Halloween-- not if they were truly serious about Christ.  Halloween was an evil, Satanic holiday, a glorification of the occult.  The Christian group I was with in college generally had a prayer meeting on Halloween. With locked doors and lights low to discourage trick-or-treaters, we prayed fervently for God to prevent the devil and his demons from doing any real harm that night. Gullible people, we were told, by celebrating Halloween had "opened a door" in the spiritual realms for demonic forces to dominate during the holiday.  So we did "spiritual warfare" by praying against the powers of darkness, and drew a sigh of relief each year when it was all over.

By the time I had kids (the mid-1990s), attitudes were loosening up a little in our Christian circle. It was conceded that ordinary people who celebrated Halloween were not demonically influenced. The best thing to do was to either use the opportunity to spread the gospel to trick-or-treaters, or to hold our own alternative celebrations. These, instead of focusing on scary things, were designed to thank God for the harvest.  Harvest parties were organized at county fairgrounds and other locations, where church volunteers would lead a variety of games for youngsters.  The kids were even allowed to wear costumes-- as long as they didn't dress up as ghosts, witches, devils, vampires or other occult creatures.

It was nice that things had changed so that our kids didn't have to feel they were missing out. Harvest parties were certainly more entertaining than prayer meetings! I was glad we no longer had to hide in darkened rooms while our neighbors were out enjoying themselves. But I had to admit what the kids suspected-- that the harvest parties just weren't as fun as trick-or-treating.

The year our younger child was two, we gave up on harvest parties and went back to really celebrating Halloween.  It was a pleasure and a relief.  The new church we had recently begun attending, though it helped sponsor the local Christian harvest party every year, believed in letting its members make their own decisions about these things.  This was in fact one of the main reasons we had begun attending!

So the kids began trick-or-treating, both downtown at the local businesses during the afternoon and around the neighborhood in the evening.  They came home with a lot of candy, and we dumped it all out on the carpet and sorted and counted it with them.  We passed out candy to the trick-or-treaters who came to our door and didn't give them any religious tracts.  We relaxed and enjoyed the fun of creepy things, of scary things that never caused real fear because they weren't real.  And I began, finally, to begin to understand Halloween.

Not that my earlier Christian view of Halloween has died out. Sites like Born Again Christian Info still promote the idea that this is an evil, occult celebration that no real Christian would have anything to do with:
It is plain from its roots that Halloween has nothing to do with Christianity, but is simply Satan worship, derived from Babylonian practices. Christians should only ever get involved for one reason: to denounce, expose and destroy it by proclaiming Christ's Victory over all the works of the Devil. . . those who dare to indulge in the occult will not go to heaven. . . You may not be serious, but Satan is. You are being deceived and sucked down a slippery slope. . .  Ignore these warnings and you will lose your children to Satan.
The website cites a number of scriptures against witchcraft and divination.  It cites the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain as a form of sun-worship similar to ancient Babylonian practices, and traces Halloween back to these early pagan rituals.

I understand the religious devotion that gives rise to this viewpoint; after all, I once subscribed to it myself!  But I cannot sanction the practice of listing a set of proof-texts and claiming that they support the one and only clear Christian position on something like Halloween, implying that anyone who disagrees is simply being stupid and rebellious against God.  The modern celebration of Halloween really doesn't include any divination or witchcraft.  It has nothing to do with sun-worship; in fact, it's not about worship at all.

The LiveScience website offers a more objective and accurate overview of the origins of Halloween:
Because ancient records are sparse and fragmentary, the exact nature of Samhain is not fully understood, but it was an annual communal meeting at the end of the harvest year, a time to gather resources for the winter months and bring animals back from the pastures. . . 
[A]ccording to Nicholas Rogers, a history professor at York University in Toronto and author of "Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night" (Oxford University Press, 2003), "there is no hard evidence that Samhain was specifically devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship.

"According to the ancient sagas, Samhain was the time when tribal peoples paid tribute to their conquerors and when the sidh [ancient mounds] might reveal the magnificent palaces of the gods of the underworld," Rogers wrote. Samhain was less about death or evil than about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter, he said. . . 
Some evangelical Christians have expressed concern that Halloween is somehow satanic because of its roots in pagan ritual. However, ancient Celts did not worship anything resembling the Christian devil and had no concept of it. In fact, the Samhain festival had long since vanished by the time the Catholic Church began persecuting witches in its search for satanic cabals.
In any event, the rejection of Halloween by Christians is a fairly recent development.  This archived 2009 post by the late Michael Spencer, the "Internet Monk" laments the change which occurred in the late 1970s and early '80s:
From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for–all fundamentalist Baptists– were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974. 
We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards. 
The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it! . . .
It was fun. Simple, old-fashioned, fun. No one tried to fly a broom or talk to the dead. Everyone tried to have fun. Innocent play in the name of an American custom. 
And then, things changed. 
Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.  
Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms. 
Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.
Speaking of Mike Warnke, the website Swallowing the Camel, a fact-checking site similar to Snopes (if a bit snarkier), has archived research on the roots of the whole evangelical Halloween scare.  It's the story of Doreen Irvine, who published an autobiography in 1972:
She was the first of many born again Christians who claimed to be ex-witches and/or ex-Satanists, among them women who claimed to have been high priestesses in destructive Satanic cults, so her testimony provided a sort of blueprint.
Irvine's story of Satanism and Satanic ritual abuse was later determined to be false.  But by far the most popular of such claimants was Mike Warnke.  As a young Christian I listened to Warnke's record albums and read excerpts of his books in which, from his purported expertise as a Satanist high priest of the inner Illuminati, he denounced Halloween as the Satanist high holiday.  It turns out that he was actually capitalizing on Christian enthusiasm for stories like this in order to catapult himself to fame and fortune.

Quite frankly, the stories were lurid and shocking and utterly fascinating.  They showed us that we were not just ordinary people, but heroes in a larger-than-life romanticist saga of good and evil.  We wanted to believe these stories.  And so we did, until in the late 1980s Cornerstone Magazine launched an investigation into the claims of Warnke and others, and discovered that the known facts about their lives utterly contradicted their claims.  Warnke never was a Satanist high priest, but was an ordinary, clean-cut Christian college student during the years he was supposed to have been participating in Satanic ritual abuse.

Discovery of the falsehood of these stories put a real damper on evangelical enthusiasm for them, and probably contributed strongly to the loosening up of taboos that replaced those fearful prayer meetings with harvest festivals that were simply Halloween lite, complete with (friendly-faced) carved pumpkins, costumes and candy.  Evangelical thinktank Christian Research Institute's examination of the 1980's Satanism scare concludes:
There is still no substantial, compelling evidence that SRA [Satanic ritual abuse] stories and conspiracy theories are true. Alternate hypotheses more reasonably explain the social, professional, and personal dynamics reflected in this contemporary satanic panic. The tragedy of broken families, traumatized children, and emotionally incapacitated adults provoked by SRA charges is needless and destructive. Careful investigation of the stories, the alleged victims, and the proponents has given us every reason to reject the satanic conspiracy model in favor of an interpretation consistent with reason and truth.
So what is Halloween really about?

The LiveScience website cited above offers this insight, based on the research of folklorist John Santino:
Halloween provides a safe way to play with the concept of death. . . People dress up as the living dead, and fake gravestones adorn front lawns — activities that wouldn't be tolerated at other times of the year.
Facing our fears by laughing at them or playing with safe versions of them is a very human thing to do, and it seems to be a healthy coping mechanism.  Our English idiom "whistling in the dark" encapsulates the concept, which takes other forms such as jokes about death and dying. The 1970s dark comedic television series M.A.S.H., about a group of field doctors during the Korean War who use humor to deal with daily carnage and chaos, is another prime example.

John Santino was interviewed on the TheoFantastique blog in October 2007, and he shared these further insights:
The study of ritual, festival, and celebration offers concepts for understanding large public events such as Halloween. The idea that there are certain periods when the everyday rules are meant to be broken is one. Also, the idea that during times of transition (in the life cycle or seasonal), all bets are off–the dead can mingle with the living; children are allowed to demand treats from adults, people dress in special costumes; things are turned upside-down and inside-out. These ideas help us to see Halloween for its importance. It is a time when we face our taboos (death being a major one) and playfully accept them as part of life.
I understand people’s objection to Halloween insofar as they believe strongly in the existence of a literal Devil who is engaged in an effort to steal our souls. But I was raised in a religious atmosphere where that simply was not a problem with the celebration. I tend to view it as a healthy occasion for the parading and confronting of aspects of life — symbolically — that we usually pretend don’t exist. Also, Halloween is tied closely to harvest imagery, and I think the lesson is that, as the natural world faces death as a part of ongoing life, so must we. Halloween is many things. It allows us to mock our fears, and to celebrate life. There is room for parody and topical satire in the costumes and displays. But it also deals with deeply important issues involving life and death, nature and culture.
I would go one step further than Santino and say that even Christians who believe Satan is a real being, need not have a problem with this holiday.  Halloween is not about worshiping Satan, and it isn't about glorifying or celebrating evil.  Halloween is about facing our fears through the joint vehicles of pretend and partying.  It's about recognizing that while we live on this earth we are part of the cycles of this earth, and that "seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease (Gen. 8:22)."  To celebrate the harvest is also to accept the dying of the year. Halloween is about both. Christ has taken the sting of death; why not let Halloween help take some of its still-remaining fear?

And I like how Santino points out the way this holiday upends our rules and usual patterns.  The kingdom of God is like that too: the child is the first to enter, the greatest shall be the servant, we save our lives by losing them.  Halloween is the day when we open our doors to whoever knocks and give of our substance to "the least of these" who is standing there with an open bag.  Isn't this a picture of the kingdom?  Why, then, shouldn't we let it teach us its simple lesson?

So this year we'll carve pumpkins again, and we'll pass out candy, and we may even watch a scary old movie about the Wolfman or Frankenstein.  And we will have fun.

I hope you will have some fun too.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Three Years of Blogging

I began this blog on September 27, 2011, with a post called Twelve Good Things I Learned from Being in a Coercive Religious Group.  I have tried to post consistently at least once a week since then (except at Christmas time), and this is my 169th post!

Here are a few things I've learned from my experience of blogging so far:

1.  It's really gratifying to have so many people read something I've written, without having to try to get a publisher!

2.  It's even more gratifying when I can feel that what I've written has helped someone in some way. I started this blog with the purpose of spreading comfort and good news to people (especially my fellow Christians) who have felt constrained, shamed or coerced by religious teachings which don't seem to be the "truth that sets free" that Jesus and Paul both talked about.  (And, incidentally, to just flap my metaphorical gums about whatever interests me, which I love to do too!)

3.  Blogging is like what I've read about newspaper writing:  the blog becomes a beast that has to be fed regularly.  Therefore you constantly surf the blogosphere to see who's talking about something interesting, and you rack your brains for ideas whenever you don't have anything in mind that you particularly want to say that week.

4.  After three years-- well, this starts to get burdensome.  You start a blog to express yourself, and it's fun, but then when your 169th Friday rolls around and you realize that you don't even want to write that week, you start to think about this not actually being a job . . . .

5.  And when you work full time and have kids, there's only so much time you get to take for yourself.  I discovered that writing a blog means I don't have time or energy for other kinds of writing.  And about a year ago, I found a way out of the corner I'd written myself into in the young-adult fantasy novel I'd been working on for years-- but I haven't been able to pick the thing back up again and finish it.

So this blog today is an explanation of why I'm not going to feed the beast every week anymore.  I plan instead to just write whenever I have something I really want to talk about.  This will probably be at least once a month (not counting Christmas time), so if you're subscribing to me, please don't unsubscribe!   And sometimes I'll probably simply post links to other people who are saying things I think are well worth reading.

I've built up a good body of work (see my Topic Index) about walking free of coercive, authoritarian and/or legalistic religious teachings.  I hope people will continue to find those helpful.

To my readers: thanks so much for subscribing, for reading, and for commenting!  You have been more valuable and helpful to me than you know.  Please do stick around; you'll be hearing from me soon!


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Forgotten Women in Church History: Antoinette Brown

Oberlin College Archives
Antoinette Brown (1825-1921) is best known as the first American woman ordained to the ministry (in 1853).  However, although some mainline Protestant denominations in the United States remember her (the United Church of Christ regularly honors outstanding women in ministry with the Antoinette Brown Awards), as an evangelical Christian I had never heard of her.* After all, churches that are opposed to women pastors are hardly likely to celebrate the first woman who became one!

Her story, though, like those of other women I have commemorated in this "Forgotten Women" series, shows a woman of great intelligence, leadership ability and devotion; and it's hard not to wonder, if God really never intended women to be pastors, why He made a woman like Antoinette Brown.

According to American National Biography Online, Brown was:
born in Henrietta, New York, the daughter of Joseph Brown, a farmer and justice of the peace, and Abigail Morse. Antoinette proved a precocious child, following her older siblings to school at the age of three. The preaching of evangelist Charles Grandison Finney in nearby Rochester during the Second Great Awakening deeply affected the family, and before she reached her ninth birthday, Antoinette Brown joined the Congregational church. The associated reform movements of the era--antislavery, temperance, and moral reform--also drew support from the Browns, who upheld the educational aspirations of both their sons and daughters. Antoinette attended local schools and the Monroe Academy before becoming a teacher in 1841.
Brown then enrolled in the only college at the time which would admit women: Oberlin College in Ohio.  It was there that she met Lucy Stone, the now-famous Abolitionist and Suffragette.  The two women became lifelong friends, and in time, sisters-in-law as well-- each marrying one of the Blackwell brothers whose sisters Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell became the first and second woman medical doctors in America.  Brown felt called into ministry and Stone desired a lecturing circuit-- but as women at the time were expected to stay out of the public sphere, the college refused to train them in rhetoric or debate.  Stone and Brown therefore formed their own women's debating society:
The young men had to hold debates as part of their work in rhetoric, and the young women were required to be present, for an hour and a half every week, in order to help form an audience for the boys, but were not allowed to take part. Lucy was intending to lecture and Antoinette [Brown Blackwell] to preach. Both wished for practice in public speaking. They asked Professor Thome, the head of that department, to let them debate. He was a man of liberal views -- a Southerner who had freed his slaves -- and he consented. Tradition says that the debate was exceptionally brilliant. More persons than usual came in to listen, attracted by curiosity. But the Ladies' Board immediately got busy, St. Paul was invoked, and the college authorities forbade any repetition of the experiment. 
A few of the young women, led by Lucy, organized the first debating society ever formed among college girls. At first they held their meetings secretly in the woods, with sentinels on the watch to give warming of intruders. When the weather grew colder, Lucy asked an old colored woman who owned a small house, the mother of one of her colored pupils, to let them have the use of her parlor.
Though Oberlin College was willing to give Brown the kind of education it thought suitable for a woman, its response to her desire to study theology was less accommodating.  As Distinguished Women of Past and Present puts it:
Oberlin was the first coeducational school to grant college degrees to women and to accept students of all races. Women, however, were expected to clean rooms, wash clothes and serve food for the male students. . .  In 1847 Brown finished the literary course taken by most women. She encountered serious objections from the faculty when she then decided to study theology. They did not think it an appropriate field of study for a woman. However, the school charter decreed that no student could be excluded on the basis of sex, so Brown prevailed and finished the theological course in 1850. The Oberlin College faculty, however, refused to award her a college degree and she did not receive a license to preach. The degree was eventually awarded to her twenty-eight years later.
After college Brown began to accept invitations to speak against slavery and on women's rights. Her work in support of women's rights and her attendance at the first National Women's Rights Convention caused her to lose a position she had obtained lecturing to raise funds for charitable work. She then became an independent lecturer, attracting the notice of Horace Greeley, the Abolitionist New York newspaper editor.  He offered to support Brown's preaching ministry in New York City, but instead she accepted an invitation from a Congregational church in rural New York state to become its licensed minister.  She was ordained on September 15, 1853.

Attending the 1853 World's Temperance Convention, Brown became what American National Biography Online calls "the center of controversy" because of being an ordained minister.  She was shouted off the speaking platform by her fellow delegates.  About a year later she cited theological differences with the Congregationalists (mostly over eternal damnation and predestination) and left her pulpit, eventually becoming a Unitarian.

Back in New York City, Brown began ministering in the slums and prisons, contributing pieces to Horace Greeley's New York Tribune on the plight of the poor, and also writing her first book.  In 1856 she married Samuel Blackwell.  While raising five daughters, she continued her writing career, publishing on a variety of different topics, including egalitarian marriage (a very novel concept!).

According to the German website "FemBio":
The couple consciously tried to live out a model of equality within their marriage: “We will be governed very much by circumstances and what seems best as the years go by, but I think, Sam we can be self sovereigns, we can bend everything within and without to our wills, and our wills to our intellects.” A businessman, Samuel shared household chores and childcare, and Antoinette continued to lecture after having given birth to seven children. The couple raised five daughters to adulthood, two of whom became medical doctors, another an artist.
After her husband's death in 1901, Brown returned to ministry, this time as a Unitarian in New Jersey, where she remained until her death at the age of 96.

I believe Antoinette Brown Blackwell should be an inspiration to all women who seek ordination and/or pastoral ministry, or who believe in full equality in Christian marriage.**  Even though 150 years ago it was much harder than it still is today, she showed that a woman in church leadership and in egalitarian marriage could succeed in both her church and her home.

The then-rampant opposition to a woman simply learning theology or speaking in public would be disagreed with now even by most complementarians.  It's important to question whether, if those issues ultimately were judged as being without scriptural support, how much of the opposition to women as pastors or as full partners in their homes, is based on tradition more than on careful reading of scripture.

I might also point out that attempts to prevent  Antoinette Brown from becoming a minister ultimately failed.  The words of Rabbi Gamaliel about the new Christian sect in Acts 5:38-39 should perhaps be taken note of here:
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
Or, in this case, "leave these women alone."   Perhaps its time for the church to stop fighting against women's equality, and leave it in God's hands.

As Gamaliel said, if it is of human origin, it will fail.

But if not. . . .




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*I never heard of her, that is, until reading Daughters of the Church by Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld.  Her story appears on pages 279-281.

**Some might claim that Antoinette Brown Blackwell's move into Unitarianism, reflecting as it does a departure from Christian orthodoxy, disqualifies her as an example for Christian women or as evidence for women's ordination or egalitarian marriage.  However, no one would ever claim that a man becoming a Unitarian proves that men should not be ministers or leaders in their homes.  And in the early 1900s Unitarians were still a Christian sect, if an unorthodox one.  We don't have to agree with everything Brown came to believe, to honor her integrity and her contributions to American religion.  As she herself said“One thing is certain. I am not afraid to act as my conscience dictates, no matter what the world may think ….”

Saturday, October 4, 2014

But Is It Science?

This week someone close to me brought to my attention an article in the online New York Times called God, Darwin and My College Biology Class, by Professor David P. Barash.

Not surprisingly, Barash refutes the literalist view of the Genesis creation narratives (which I, coming at the issue from the literary rather than the scientific side, actually agree with).  But Dr. Barash goes much further in his claims for evolutionary science; in fact, he stops just short of claiming that it renders belief in God impossible.  Barash takes exception to the view put forth by Steven Jay Gould that science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria".  A "magisterium" is an authoritative source of knowledge, and "non-overlapping" means that religion and science as sources of knowledge are not actually in conflict, because they deal with entirely separate spheres of human experience.  Gould's view of science and religion in terms of non-overlapping magisteria is called "NOMA" for short.

Barash's article explains how every year he gives his new biology students "The Talk," in which he presents evolutionary science as progressively removing any place left in human thought for the existence of God.  As he puts it:
These magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish. As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God. The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity. . . Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon. . .

Next to go is the illusion of centrality. Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. . .

Adding to religion’s current intellectual instability is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the scholarly effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering. . . The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.
All this sounds fairly damaging to religion, and Barash concludes his article by pretty much giving God a pat on the head and saying He hasn't necessarily struck out yet-- but it's clear that in Barash's mind it's the bottom of the ninth and evolution has been pitching a no-hitter.  But what it looks like to me is not that science's magisterium overlaps to the point of overwhelming religion's magisterium-- rather, it's that Barash does not seem to understand the real difference between the two.

Barash conflates the functions of science and religion, treating religion as if it were just another way (a failed way) to answer the questions addressed by science, and treating science as if it were fundamentally capable of answering the questions addressed by religion or philosophy.  Joe Hinman on Metacrock's Blog: The Ideology of Scientism (Part 1) defines this common misconception of the nature of religion as follows:
God is evoked where knowledge runs out. That is a wrong concept because it imposes the wrong view of religion, that religion is failed primitive science. . .The problem with it is that it seems to imply that religion only takes over where we have no facts, thus implying that religion [like science] is also about understanding the workings of the world but it just doesn’t proceed by collecting facts.
But the primary purpose of religion has never been to answer questions about how the physical world works. It's true that humans have at times used religion to answer such questions, but those questions have always been a side issue for religion. The real purpose of religion is to address issues of transcendent value, meaning and purpose, and to mediate spiritual experience.

Science, on the other hand, is defined by the online Webster's Dictionary as:
knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method; such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena.
"Scientific method," of course, refers to the hypothesis-experiment process of collecting information about the world through data.  Webster's again:
principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
So if science is ultimately concerned with the way the physical world works, why is it treated as if it were the arbiter of all reality, capable of shrinking any possible role religion might have played until it pushes religion out entirely?

Hinman's article explains the problem:
Modern thought tells us science is pure objective observation of facts and direct proof of all that is reality. . . [But] when we examine the nature of modern science, especially in so far as it is used in opposition to belief in God, we find that there is no pure objective science, unsullied by the ideological impulse to impose a truth regime upon reality. . . 
Of course science is about a deeper understanding “of the world.” What does that mean? Is it about understanding the world of metaphysics? Or is it about understanding the world of politics, or the world of meta ethics? What kind of understanding? Is that quotation limited to the “natural” world? Does it mean all “worlds” of our conceptualizing? The more varied the definition the looser they become. We see the definitions drifting away form [sic] the concept of systematic understandings of the workings of the physical world and nothing more. It’s in those “stretches” of definition that are probably designed to allow flexible field of study that we see creeping in various agendas such as the ruination of religion. This is strictly speaking not a goal of science, not even part of science’s business.
However, if we look closely at the kind of claims that Barash's NY Times article is making for evolutionary science, he is actually addressing issues of philosophy or religion.

Any statement about what might or might not exist outside/above or in addition to the physical world is a metaphysical statement.  Even to say that there is nothing except the physical world involves making metaphysical assumptions that cannot be supported by physical evidence.  It cannot be proven scientifically that everything that exists can be proven scientifically.  This is because science by its very nature can only find physical phenomena-- either past or present.  To say science can prove that nothing except the physical world exists, is like saying there is no such thing as air pressure because you can't measure it with a ruler.  Anything non-physical, while it may cause physical traces or "footprints" in the natural world, cannot itself be directly tested or proven by science.  But that doesn't mean it cannot exist.

Science also cannot say that because there is suffering, there are therefore only natural, amoral processes. Barash has set up certain parameters for what kind of world he thinks God would create, and then eliminates God because this isn't that kind of world. But Barash's conclusions are not science, nor do they come from science. The questions, "Is this a good world? or "Is there any meaning in suffering?" are questions of philosophy. Not science.

To claim there is no God because humans are not apparently divinely central to the universe, is the same sort of thing.  Barash says that evolution somehow shows that there is no divine spark in humanity.  But any divine spark in humanity is exactly the sort of thing that science would be unable to find, because divinity is not part of physicality. And to claim there is no God because humans don't appear to be physically distinct from the rest of creation is to make an assumption about what God would be likely to do if God existed.  But "If there were a God, what would God be likely to do?" is a theological question.  Also not science.

Further, the point of religion is not to say something like, "The world is complex because God."  That kind of religion is a straw man that hides fearfully in the ever-shrinking gaps of what we still can't explain about how the physical world works. But religion, though it can be, and has been, used to explain the physical world, is not really about such explanations.  These things are completely peripheral to religion in terms of human religious culture and experience.

So what Dr. Barash has done is claim that religion is losing out to science because religion is meant to do the same things science does, but just doesn't do them very well.  Also that science is defeating religion because its methods alone (and not the philosophical conclusions of people like himself in interpreting its data) are succeeding in answering the questions of transcendent value, meaning and purpose with "no such things," and in mediating spiritual experience by denying it.

Bararsh is committing the error called "scientism."  Scientism is defined in Webster's as:
an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).
Science can help us in matters of morality by informing us, for example, whether a particular thing is healthier for humans than another, upon which "do unto others" would kick in to instruct us to seek the healthier thing. But science cannot decide whether "do unto others" itself is morally good or not. That takes humans making philosophical or religious judgments.  Scientists make those kinds of judgments just as much as anyone else-- but what underlies them is not science.*

Barash would object to a religious preacher using the Creation narratives of Genesis to teach on matters of science. But I find it just as objectionable for a science professor to use evolutionary science to teach on matters of religion. Science professors should teach science.

Just because a person is a scientist or science professor, does not qualify them as an expert in religion or philosophy. In fact, a man like Dr. Barash, who is in a position of authority, lecturing to students whose grades are dependent on his favor, needs to be very careful on how he uses that authority. Barash's "Talk" is designed to undermine religious belief.  Sure, at the end he kindly gives his students permission to hold onto their religious beliefs-- if they can.  But Barash is a professor, and they are only college kids.  Barash speaks as an expert, while they sit in the position of learners. And these students, especially the young ones just out of high school, probably have not acquired enough understanding to see the flaws in Barash's assertions.

The power differential is completely in the professor's favor.  So I think he should be asking himself, "Is it right for me to attack the religious beliefs of young people who have neither the background nor the authority to be able to rebut me?"

One thing is for certain.  Whatever answer he gives to that question, it will not be science.



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*In fact, from a naturalistic point of view which strives to be objective, it's debatable whether humans thriving is a good thing or not.  It's good for humans, certainly, but has historically been very bad for the thriving of many other species.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Thus, Male Headship" - Christianity and Gender Essentialism

My last two posts have involved the use of sociological studies by Christians, in support of the doctrine of male headship, known in its harsher and gentler forms, respectively, as "Christian patriarchy" or "complementarianism."  Using science as a support for our premises is very characteristic of the culture of Western thought in which most of us have been steeped since birth. And of course, rebutting or debunking the science or scientific methodology behind premises we disagree with, comes from the same basic mindset.

The problem, as I mentioned in my last post, is when we pounce on evidence that seems to support our own position, while simultaneously ignoring evidence that seems to point the other direction. This is called "confirmation bias," which is defined in Science Daily as "a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions."  In addressing the science presented by male headship proponents, then, I'm attempting to avoid this bias myself.  Thus far, though, I have not seen any evidence that compellingly supports their position.

In this post I want to look a little deeper at underlying assumptions.  Why are these sociological studies being used to support male headship?  What is it that they are supposed to prove, that can then be used to say, "thus, male headship?"  The answer, I think, is this:

The studies examined in my last two posts, as used by male-headship proponents, are supposed to show that certain fundamental human traits are specific either to men or to women.  And these fundamental differences are then supposed to prove that men are meant to be in authority, while women are meant to be under authority.

This idea of specific, fundamental traits belonging to either one sex or the other, is called "gender essentialism."  Gender essentialism goes beyond biological differences between the sexes* to personality traits, fundamental desires and leanings, and so on.

This article at Ignitum Today illustrates Christian gender essentialism very clearly:
I am sorry to be the one to raise this issue but I am going to put it straight out there so there is no confusion: men and women are not equal. For two things to be perfectly equal they would need to be the same and it should be self-evident that a man and a woman are not the same. . . 
This is where society is getting it wrong; a false notion of equality. It begins at a subliminal level where the message is diffused that one’s gender is a social construction, meaning that a woman is a woman because she was dressed in a skirt and given dolls as a child, and a man is a man because he was dressed in trousers and given toy trucks. . . 
When a society fails to understand the nature of men and women it is true that everything can look unfair but we set rather arbitrary standards of where fairness lies. Men dominate senior positions in the largest global companies, most likely because they have particular natural abilities to do those tasks well. Women dominate the raising of the next generation of humanity and professions which nurture and educate, most likely because they have particular natural abilities to do those tasks well. 
Gender essentialists tend to resist the distinction between one's "sex," which is biological, and one's "gender," which is sociological.  They believe to be a man and to be masculine, or to be a woman and to be feminine are (or should be) the same thing.  They often do make a sort of disclaimer that not all men fit the pattern, nor do all women; as the article above goes on to say:
Of course there will always be men and women who have certain talents which mean they are better in tasks that are not as common for their sex and that is fine also.
However, when it comes right down to it, this deviation from the gender-essential norm usually isn't "just fine" after all.  The studies I examined in my last two posts show that there is always a percentage of the study group that goes against the trend-- but that doesn't stop male-headship proponents from confidently saying that the studies show the way "men" are and the way "women" are-- not "some" or even "most" men or women, but simply "men" and "women."  And thus, male headship.

My real problem is that the Christian assertion of gender essentialism is fundamentally unfalsifiable. That is, the way it is presented keeps it above the possibility of disproof, so Christians who believe in it never have to question it.  The argument is usually that if a man is presenting masculine traits, or a woman feminine traits, it is evidence of God's gender-essential design-- but if they fail to present those traits, or present opposite ones, it is because of human sinfulness.

Therefore, though deviation from the norm is acceptable in theory, in practice it's not, and many men and women who simply don't fit the norms are treated as if they were in sin.  As the Touchstone Magazine article I quoted two posts ago puts it, men who have been "feminized" by the Church of England's theological training become
wet, spineless, feeble-minded, or compromised. . . malleable creatures of the institution, unburdened by authenticity or conviction and incapable of leading and challenging. Men, in short, who would not stand up in a draft.
To not be "masculine" (which these gender-essentialists apparently define, fairly typically, as authoritative, independently minded and leadership-oriented) is to be weak and sinful. Similarly, the True Woman  website teaches that embracing the submissive, responsive, nurturing "Divine design of His female creation" will save us from the sinful, unfeminine pattern of unsubmissive, worldly womanhood:
Whether they realize it or not, the vast majority of Christian women have bought into this “new” way of thinking. In the home, the church, and the marketplace, they have adopted the values and belief system of the world around them. The world promises freedom and fulfillment to those who embrace its philosophy. But sadly, millions of women who have done so have ended up disillusioned, wounded, and in terrible bondage.
Thus, it becomes impossible to refute gender essentialism using the evidence of real women's experience. If a woman is quiet, gentle and submissive-- it's because it's natural for women to be that way. If a woman is assertive, extroverted, and leadership-oriented-- it's because of her sin nature that is fighting against her true nature. For real Christian women just trying to be themselves, it's a shaming and muffling experience. One kind of personality is honored and the other rejected and silenced, because God is limited by their interpretation of the Bible, as to what kind of woman He is allowed to make.

The percentages of deviation from the gender norms in the sociology cited by male headship proponents, therefore, might as well not exist.  Those who deviate are not being "real" men or "true" women, but are merely capitulating to wordliness or to sinful rebellion against their own natures. The sociology then becomes an unequivocable support for what male headship proponents believe the Bible teaches about the divine creation of the sexes.

But does the Bible actually teach that there are separate and distinct personality traits which God designed for one sex and not the other?  And even if it did so teach, would that lead irrevocably to "thus, male headship"?  Interestingly, Marc Cortez at Everyday Theology, who appears to be a complementarian, would answer "no" to both questions:
[T]he main problem lies in thinking that these two are logically connected such that complementarianism requires gender essentialism to work. So egalitarians invest considerable effort in defeating gender essentialism, and complementarians conversely go out of their way to defend it. As interesting as that conversation might be, though, both sides need to realize that complementarianism does not require gender essentialism. . . .
There does not need to be any essential difference between men and women for God to decide, for example, that only men can be elders. He can decide this for any reason he wants. He is, after all, God. 
People might worry that eliminating step 2 would render God’s decision somehow arbitrary, as though he simply flipped a coin to determine how the gender qualification would work. But that doesn’t follow either. The fact that God’s decision does not necessarily rest on some essential difference in human persons does not make his decision arbitrary; it just means that his decision rests on something else, possibly even something he hasn’t told us about.  [Emphasis in original.]
I don't think Cortez escapes the charge of arbitrariness simply by saying God, being God, must have some mysterious reason for denying and limiting women in church roles (the article doesn't discuss male headship in marriage).  If, as I have contended, denying and limiting women based purely on the fact that they are women is against "do unto others" and "love your neighbor," there seems very little justification for God to thus negate what He taught through His own Son, that "this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12.

But Cortez is quite correct that this is a viable alternative to believing that God designed men and women according to gender essentials, such that men are designed for authority and women for submission to that authority.  As he says:
[T]he simple fact is that even if complementarianism is true, it’s hard to find the Bible giving any clear reason why certain roles/offices are limited to men. Some might point to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, a notoriously difficult passage. But whatever Paul intends by his explanation there, he doesn’t point to any essential differences between men and women. However you understand the reference to Adam being created first, that’s not an essential difference. My brother was born before me, but that doesn’t make his humanity essentially different than mine. And my parents may well give him greater authority in the family because he came before me, but that’s not an essential difference either. The same holds true for Adam and Eve. Adam’s being created first doesn’t present some kind of essential difference between men on women on the basis of which God decrees male headship. If the order of creation is significant for understanding gender roles in the church, a question for another time, it would only be because God decided to do it that way for reasons that he has not ever explained to us, not because mere temporal order establishes some kind of essential difference between the two genders. 
Again, I’m not going to walk through all the relevant passages. . . But for now I’ll leave it with saying that I don’t think there are any biblical passages that even complementarians should read as grounding ministry roles in some kind of gender essentialism. [Emphasis in original.]
Many times the Scripture passages that are used to support male headship are read in terms of gender essentialism: words like "head" are understood as showing God's design for men to be natural leaders and women to be natural followers.  But taking account of literary and cultural contexts results in grounding male authority firmly in the culture in which the writer was writing, and not as a divine mandate.  And when real, devoted Christian men and women just don't fit the norm, it doesn't make sense to simply write them off as being sinful or worldly.

There are plenty of other Bible passages that we don't interpret in the teeth of the evidence, insisting on face-value readings no matter what-- the passages on slavery, for instance.  We don't commandeer all the evidence we can find to prove that slavery is good and God-given (though we used to do just that), while we ignore all evidence to the contrary.

So isn't it time to give up on "thus, male headship"?



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*This whole argument by Christians also tends to ignore completely the existence of transgender people or others who don't fit into the binary boxes of male/masculine and female/feminine.  It's not my intention to ignore them or their struggles here, but in examining gender essentialism as used to support male headship, it's easier to stick with the categories used by male-headship proponents.  Let me here promote the voice of a Christian sister who is not cisgender, to show that there are more sides to this story.