Counter Culture

The website of moral theologian Christopher Klofft

Archive for the month “June, 2015”

Elijah, Prophecy, and the Supreme Court

ElijahI’m not surprised about the Supreme Court decision today.  Disappointed? Sure.  But not surprised.  Even if proponents for the rational definition of marriage had won the day today, this issue was not going to go away.  In a twisted sense, we can feel some release of tension as we now move on to the next stage of this battle for our culture.

And this next stage is probably going to last a very, very long time.  Consider the issue of abortion rights: there, we are dealing with an issue where many people can clearly see the evil involved in the legal murder of children, even people who might still support so-called “abortion rights,” lamenting it as a “necessary evil for hard circumstances.”  Yet despite the comparative clarity of that issue, 42 years later, we are still a long way away from seeing an end to abortion in this country.

Compare that now to the issue of “marriage equality,” an issue with which many people, including people who might be hesitant about defending it, have a hard time seeing anything at all wrong.  For many, this is not a “lamentable necessity” like abortion – this is a triumph of human rights.  We will need to see the social effects of this change before anyone will consider looking at the issue in another way, and that is likely to take a couple generations to occur.

These social changes will not come about because of same sex marriage directly.  They will come about through the continued disintegration of heterosexual marriage and family, through the diminishing of any meaningful responsibility in marriage beyond one’s affective commitment and/or sexual satisfaction.

I understand that many proponents of the rational definition of marriage may be a little depressed today.  Fortunately, we have a Scriptural model to guide us.  In 1 Kings, Elijah the prophet tries to get the people to commit to Yahweh instead of vacillating between Yahweh and Baal, the god of their king and queen, a god who demanded less than the covenant fidelity of Yahweh.  In a glorious and ultimately violent act (check it out in 1 Kgs 18), Elijah angers the political powers that be in defense of the truth.

Then in the next chapter, he runs away and hides.  He runs away to Mt. Horeb, the same mountain where God first revealed his Name to Moses and then later gave the people the Law.  And there, Elijah prays for death, because he is convinced that he is all alone, that his mission is a failure, and that he is going to be killed.  God doesn’t tolerate Elijah’s pity-party and instead chooses to make himself known, not in storm or earthquake or fire, but only in a whisper.  We’ll come back to this.

God asks the prophet a question: “Why are you here, Elijah?” Elijah fails to get God’s meaning in the question, which is much more like Mustafa’s vision to Simba in The Lion King: “Remember who you are.”  After Elijah bemoans his own depression, fears, and perceived failures, God reveals the future to Elijah, and the change that is coming to the political regime in power.  He concludes with an important point: “I will spare 7000 in Israel – every knee that has not bent to Baal” (1 Kgs 19:18).  Elijah not only must continue to be prophet, but importantly, he is not alone.

There are about 12.5 million people with same sex attraction in the United States.  When talking about this issue with my students, some of them point out that that’s a lot of people.  Well, as of today, there are about 100 million people in this country who support the rational definition of marriage in contrast to the Supreme Court ruling.  That’s also a lot of people.  Before today, only about 2/3 of states had laws allowing same sex marriage.  In the Supreme Court decision, the opposition won by a 5-4 vote.

My point here is that we are not “alone.”  We may no longer represent the majority point of view, but despite the inevitability of mainstream media from this point forward proclaiming that “everyone” supports marriage equality, it is simply not true.

But it could become true if we simply wail to God and pray for death.  Instead, we must trust in God and get back to work.  While the situations are not fully equivalent, there is much to learn from the recent ruling in Ireland: we have done a poor job of not only defending marriage, we have also done a poor job witnessing to the meaning of marriage.  We are baptized as prophets, and those who are married must prophesy to the truth of God’s love through our relationship with our spouse and especially through the domestic church formed with our children.  People should see us and know there is something different about us.

This contemporary moment has passed and we now have to prepare for the literally decades of work to come.  We must stop waiting for the storm and the earthquake and the fire.  Instead, let us be ever more attentive to that still, small voice and demonstrate that we stand for something better than what has been sold to us today.

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Real Men

1414505574_bruce-jenner-olympics-zoomSeveral people have asked me what I think about the Bruce Jenner situation.  “Situation” may seem like an odd word choice here, but that’s what it is: it is certainly more than just what he has chosen to do with the last portion of his life.  It is a situation; a moment in time in which we have an opportunity to see “what we’re made of” as a culture.  And what it reveals is interesting on a lot of levels.

I’m not going to comment directly on Bruce Jenner’s decision to take drastic steps to be like a woman.  This has been covered well in many places, no matter where you happen to find yourself in regard to his decision.  If you are looking for some good commentaries on it, I recommend Matt Fradd’s straightforward piece (for which critics decided to crash his website for a time) and Matt Walsh’s piece, especially as how this version of transgenderism should make all actual women sit up and take notice.

Actually, before I continue, I can’t resist just stating the objective truth: Bruce Jenner (or whatever name he chooses to call himself) is still a man, no matter what he has done in terms of dress, makeup, cosmetic surgery, hormonal adjustment, or even internal reconstructive surgery.  He remains a man biologically, and I assert that he also remains “male,” for those who want to insist on a (wholly made up) absolute divide between the categories of “sex” and “gender.”  There are elements of his presentation and attitude that are “female,” such as his manner of dress and behavior perhaps, and his hormones are now confused by pharmaceutical adjustment, but in no objective way beyond his own self-understanding is he female.  This is not just the case with Jenner; this is the case for all persons who take active steps towards “transition.”

Transgenderism is a complicated phenomenon, and even though I have no problem stating that human beings are born specifically men or women, the experiences of people who experience gender dysphoria are no doubt extraordinarily difficult.  It is important that we hear their stories, not in order to justify their incorrect assumptions about themselves, but so that we might share with them the love due to all human beings.  The pastoral challenge of transgenderism is to find the mean between the extremes of unconditional acceptance of their poor choices and erroneous perspectives on the one hand, and a mocking disdain or dismissal of their experiences on the other.

Aside from the specific instance of this “celebrity” undergoing this transformation (and showing it in an embarrassing display on a magazine cover), what is more interesting to me is what this says about our culture.  There is no question that we have profound misunderstandings about the meaning of sex in our culture and much more still needs to be said about this (and with the Synod this fall, there will be no shortage of commentary on it).  But the rise in our culture’s open acceptance of transgenderism speaks to me not only about a misunderstanding of the meaning and purpose of sex, not only about the logical consequences of radical illogical subjectivity, but also something more.

A number of different studies consistently reveal that the incidence of male-to-female (MTF) transgenderism outnumbers female-to-male (FTM) by anywhere from 2:1 to 4:1.  As some of this data is obtained from statistics regarding so-called “reassignment” surgery, and MTF surgery is easier, some conclude that this disparity is irrelevant.  But other studies reveal that this is the case even apart from reassignment.  Many reasons are offered to explain this, but I think there is one that is often overlooked: we are still experiencing a crisis of masculinity in our culture.

Back in the 1990s, there was a recognition that, with the rise of certain strands of feminism, the distinct experiences of men were being lost.  In response to woman being the forgotten “other” in contrast to man, a full 180 degree shift had occurred (at least in some quarters) in which men were understood as little more than “everything bad.”  This attitude is still around, even if it is not a fair representation of authentic feminism.  As a response, the men’s movement began, starting with Robert Bly’s Iron John and subsequently supported by a number of excellent writers.

iron_johnThe movement strove to find a distinctly masculine voice for the fears and challenges of being human.  Despite all the tough guy imagery and rhetoric of so much of modern Western culture, men learned to express their doubts and fears, especially their insecurities about their roles in their families and jobs.  Men learned to better express themselves not in opposition to women, but in an authentic, complementary masculine voice, for the betterment of relationships between men and women overall.

Like many good movements, it was not immune to parody and the image of a group of middle-aged men sitting shirtless around a fire in the woods, beating on a drum while they cry on each other’s shoulders became a common representation of the movement in sitcoms.  By the early 2000s, the movement lost its moment in the fast-paced pop culture spotlight and now, when it’s not the subject of a joke, it is forgotten.

The issues brought up by the men’s movement haven’t gone away.  I would argue that it is more difficult to ascertain an authentic masculinity now than it was 20 years ago.  And the reason for this difficulty can be laid squarely at the feet of our pop culture idols.  The image of the idiotic dad, the sexual predator, the emotionally dead power-player, and the violent gangster are all alive and well and often celebrated in our most successful TV shows and movies.  Many men find themselves confused about how they are “supposed” to act, especially in relation to women, and so many retreat to either acting as the testosterone-fueled idiots they are expected to be or timid and afraid to say the wrong thing at the risk of causing offense.

If men don’t know how to actually be men, real men, how can we expect for marriage to make sense? Why should we expect to see feminism actually bear meaningful fruit in our society?  And apropos to current events, why should we be surprised that a man who has endured seven years of televised nonsense surrounded by four of the most self-absorbed women the world has ever seen say finally, “Hi, I’m Caitlyn”?

Women’s issues are important to the future of the Church and the world.  But so are men’s issues.  And as long as we refuse to see that there are important, essential differences between the two that make us better when we recognize them, we can’t hope to see the Kingdom among us.

Towards this end, I invoke nothing less than the greatest man ever, Jesus of Nazareth, who conveniently also happens to be the God who spins planets off his fingertips, in communion with the whole Church Triumphant, the greatest collection of men and women the world has ever known, with the greatest woman at the head of the charge.  Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! Immacuate Heart of Mary, pray for us! All you holy men and women of God, pray for us!

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