In the hours that I spend online, here’s something I see too much of:
People regularly having heated arguments that tread the same ground and add nothing new. People keep clashing with the ideologies and paradigms that they know they already disagree with. And through pre-established filters, labels and prejudice, they become increasingly angry, hostile, and dismissive.
So I’m going to say something that seems paradoxical, and something that can easily be taken too far:
* We don’t need to listen to people who we have determined are wrong talk about how right they are.
* We don’t need to listen to someone who we have discerned is arrogant talk about humility.
* We don’t need to allow ourselves to be labelled by someone eager to make labels out of people.
I don’t mean that we must surround our convictions in three layers of self-protective bubble-wrap. I also don’t mean we should retreat into a safe enclave of “us” where we can lick our wounds and grumble about the “them” we’re angry with.
I simply mean that returning again and again to where our rage gets fed doesn’t do ourselves or anyone else any favours.
Let’s not re-tread old arguments where both sides are entrenched in their right/wrong dichotomy.
There is enough anger in the world. There is also enough jealousy and complaining. We don’t need to add to it. We need to take care of our own emotional health, something that isn’t accomplished by joining the perpetual cycle of seeking allies and fighting battles. In fact, I’ve watched a lot of people damage their credibility by getting involved in petty “keyboard commando” shoot-outs.
These are driven by fear.
The temptation is strong. The internet brings obvious folly and obvious affirmation right into the palm of our hand. But we need perspective on what we can do, and even more on what we should do, keeping sight of our larger purpose. If we are trying to be increasingly trusting, generous and hopeful, then we cannot afford to actively feed the opposite of those choices.
And when we become less angry, less hostile and less dismissive, by some strange miracle, we will have better conversations. I know because I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it.
Does God cause pain? If God does not cause it, but rather merely allows it, does that make a sovereign God any less culpable? Philosophers and theologians have been tearing their hair out over this stuff for a very long time.
The bald-faced reality is that we don’t know. It’s high time we started to admit that. We don’t know whether any pain existed in the garden of Eden, and we don’t know if it will exist in the new Heaven and/or the new Earth. Therefore, everything that we think about pain in an absolute sense, especially in what it is intended to mean, is entirely speculative.
On one hand, it’s fine to speculate: the mind craves meaning, and will make an imaginative narrative out of any assortment of events or experiences. On the other hand, though, we need to be clear about when we’re speculating, and make sure that others know this as well.
While growing wisdom means we’re getting closer to understanding reality, our best imaginative narratives are still just a guess.
What is clear is that the church in history is guilty of perpetrating horrible abuses in God’s name, to the point that people were believed to be justified or purified through pain. (Apparently this is the problematic reasoning behind why, for example, heretics were burned-at-the-stake.) It happens in more subtle ways now, but it’s still happening.
We blithely cause pain in the way that we:
- recklessly treat each other
- clumsily console each other by stirring in some supposed God-purpose
- are emboldened in our errors by taking other people’s forgiveness for granted.
I hope you agree: inflicting pain on other people in God’s name is starkly against the incarnation of Christ.
This isn’t to say that inflicting pain is always wrong, necessarily — just that stirring God into the mix is. This is no different than swearing by God or Heaven. The reason why that’s forbidden is that as mortals, we have no right, no access, to that realm. (Which also means you can legitimately deny it if someone else tries.)
Unfortunately, there are many passages in the Old Testament that frankly don’t help us with this stuff. A lot of the OT seems pretty flippant in declaring God’s will in events that transpired. Particularly troubling is the casual way that horrible things are attributed to God’s intention. A few thousand years after the fact, it’s hard not to see some of these things as patently superstitious, jingoistic and xenophobic. When we think that the Scriptures relate directly to our time and place, we easily miss how primitive people were in their understandings of creation, and how small their collective worldview was. (Were people celebrating David killing his 10,000s thinking of those people as image-bearers of God?)
When people trivially say things that have a weighty theological import, they clearly haven’t thought through the implications. Leaving aside the ugly accusation of sin, still leaves things like:
- God causes pain to teach us a lesson (esp. humility).
- God causes pain to build character.
- God causes pain to create empathy.
- And, of course, the most horrendous breach of logic: God causes pain because he wants to protect us from pain.
Job is the man who single-handedly defies all of these assertions. There is simply no greater reason for Job to have suffered the way that he did. From a human perspective, this is grave injustice. Job was nothing more than a pawn in a supernatural chess game. There is a lot in his story that is profoundly troubling to a simplistic understanding of God. Indeed, I believe that was the whole point (even to the extent that the meta-narrative subverts the narrative’s assertion that this was all about a supernatural chess game!).
There is also a new crop of theologians asking if Jesus needed to go through his pain. Was this a mandate from God’s throne, or was this just the naturally violent consequence of interaction between mortality and immortality? Mightn’t there have been a way to answer prophecies without actual bloodshed? Fascinating questions.
We want God to be causally connected to the events in our lives because it’s reassuring. It’s a way of convincing ourselves that we understand God’s interaction with our reality, even (or perhaps especially) when we don’t like it. It is in this way that words like purpose, intent and meaning enter our lexicon, and get pointed at God. We’re comforted if we re-assert that God is in control, especially if we’re on his side. But, in a tragically ironic turn, precisely what God is controlling, or how, or especially why, is outside of our capacity to comprehend.
When we claim insight into God’s inner motivations, we are declaring an insight that we cannot possibly have!
Let’s face it: if we cannot even be certain about other human beings’ motivations, then how can we be certain about a being that transcends our whole concept of being? It’s time to admit that, on multiple levels, talking about God’s sovereignty as it relates to suffering is shallow comfort indeed.
It’s one thing to say that God works in the midst of pain, and walks through it with us. It’s another thing entirely to say that God instigates it. It makes God out to be lazy, uncreative, petty and — depending on the pain in question — even monstrous. There are some Christians who believe in a God like that, I guess. But when the Bible talks about the nature of God specifically, it opposes that caricature pretty thoroughly.
Being convinced, even just privately, of something that isn’t necessarily true is a big problem. In this case, it sets up a simplistic paradigm where all pain is assumed to be either instructive or punitive, and directly from God. From there, it’s no stretch at all to assume that bliss is God’s endorsement.
This is more problematic the more it’s externalised, when more people’s faith is misdirected and therefore inevitably jeopardised. It’s interesting to me that even those of us who are (over)sensitive to “prosperity gospel” overreaches are less aware of the simplistic ways that we turn God into a holy slot machine when it comes to things like purpose or meaning.
We would solve a lot of problems by embracing the limitations of our human condition and acknowledging that we simply do not know. Because in our inability to know, or to even guess well, we become fully present. And that’s when we live into the potential given to us as humans to empathise, and share abundant life.
I’m just so tired of the accusations.
I’ve had enough of my whole gender being blamed for atrocities perpetrated by individuals — I don’t make these kinds of generalisations about women. I don’t want it done to me.
I’m done with being told I’m complicit in systems and structures that I don’t believe in, or in any way support (ie “the Patriarchy”), simply because I’m a man.
I reject the insistence that I must apologise on behalf of someone else’s actions, or take responsibility for something that isn’t mine to own.
I’m horrified at the broadening allegations of “Rape Culture”, which are their own atrocities. They stir the very real horror of rape into all levels of human relationships, which, it seems to me, is the very thing they’re trying to avoid. The outcome is not greater trust of each other, but greater fear, on all sides. It is a flak-shield which hides the real issue, in the same way as feminists are telling us that Modesty Rules have been. And if that isn’t bad enough, the easier it gets to say, the more its effect is lost through desensitisation. I can’t even begin to express how much I detest the toxic overuse of “Rape Culture,” or how strongly I believe it to be disastrously counter-productive.
And, while I’m at it, I’m also fed up with staunch complementarians telling men that we’re abdicating our “God-given responsibility to lead” when we don’t “man up”. While at the same time telling us the reason we need women is because men are lousy at so-called feminine traits, like empathy.
I’m fed up with taking shots from all sides.
I’m so totally done with gender-essentialism.
Which is why I don’t truck with sexism.
And it’s time to get clear on this: sexism is sexism. This includes violent, sexist language like “mansplaining”. Or telling a man he has no right to express his opinion because the topic at hand is not “his issue”.
I’ve simply had it with the tacit feminist presumption that women are the only legitimate victims of sexism — the belief that sexism against men isn’t systemic, significant or even serious is a double-standard.
Actually, all the problems I have with feminism boil down to double-standards.
I believe there is a better way.
I believe that we are equal. Not ought to be. Not would be in a perfect world.
How I listen, how I speak, and how I act are informed with that belief.
I believe that we all have power, which is both wonderful and scary.
I believe that anyone can take nearly any kind of leadership initiative, which is also wonderful and scary.
I believe that men and women are interdependent, and that we affect each other in unpredictable, sometimes mysterious ways. Every attempt to systematise or codify these interactions shows how complicated and inadequate the exercise is. We simply cannot see into each other’s heads, and I’d prefer if we’d stop making it sound like we can — as if we have each others’ motives all figured out.
Rather than trying to impose new patterns of behaviour on each other, I believe that the path to progress is dialogue focused on needs.
I believe that the anger, guilt, shame and depression that surround gender issues come from unmet needs. But even though I believe that, when these needs are projected as overreaching, system-based, gender-wide accusations, it is nearly impossible for me to see the truth behind them any more.
I’m not a feminist for the exact same reason that I would never call myself a “masculinist”. It’s a label that is intrinsically and inextricably imbued with loaded, gender-based overtones. Viewing everything through the lens of gender focusses attention and energy on the divide itself, which reinforces it, rather than seeking ways to obliterate it. To me, it’s the saddest, most frustrating kind of irony.
So as we let go of the old ways of systems, rules and sanctions, can we together learn these new freedoms, and also shoulder these new responsibilities?
Can we initiate the tricky conversation revealing the ways that we’ve blown it with each other — as real people with deep wounds, and tear-streaked grace?
Can we figure out how we can meet each others’ needs better going forward?
Could we please find better ways to talk about this stuff with our kids than what we got — ways that champion their trust, prolong their precious innocence and that won’t lead them into unnecessary fear, and terrible shame?
If you believe we can, then let’s really begin that complicated, vulnerable, messy conversation. At eye-level. As equals.
Let’s kill the prejudice.
Let’s stop filtering our experiences through a hierarchy of labels. Yes, even the self-labels.
Let’s give each other — and ourselves — back our humanity, our dignity and our individuality.
Let’s let go of our default cynicism, and start to engage this with for-real optimism. I hope in this post, I’m taking the first step, because I truly believe that there are ways forward that will result in a more beautiful, integrated, healthy foundation of social relationships.
But, if after reading this, you would you rather just stay angry and hurl overly-broad, gender-based accusations around, then please do that somewhere else.
To use feminism’s own life-affirming, powerful language: I won’t let you hurt me any more.
Thanks for understanding.
My name is Brad, and I'm a recovering mortal.
That's my whole bio on twitter. It doesn't tell people that I'm a husband, a father, tell what kind of job I do, what kind of computer I use to do it, what kind of car I drive to get there or give any other identifiers.
I'm just sharing the most important thing.
I'm addicted to the temporal, but I'm in recovery. I don't even know exactly what that means or what it looks like. But I won't let that stop me.
- Duane Arnold on So What’s True Christianity, Anyway?
- bradj on So What’s True Christianity, Anyway?
- Duane Arnold on So What’s True Christianity, Anyway?
- bradj on Is it Possible to Grieve Strategically?
- Dan on Is it Possible to Grieve Strategically?
- Able Baker on 21 Reasons Why List Posts are Lame
- bradj on Something’s Gone Ridiculously Wrong with Education
- Alyssa on Something’s Gone Ridiculously Wrong with Education
- bradj on Lights! Camera! Pause…