cjbanning: (The Bishop)
Ever since the creation of the world, the eternal power and divine nature of God, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made. (Romans 1:20)
My assumption always is that, while the Holy Scriptures do indeed contain all that is necessary for salvation, if "there is anything at all that is morally universal" (to paraphrase Brian MacArevey), then it can be determined independently of Scripture. (I'm sure there's a good quote of St. Thomas Aquinas' to invoke at this point, but I honestly can't be bothered to look it up.) Kantian deontological ethics (and other systems of secular moral philosophy) may have its flaws, but I don’t see that those flaws are any greater from a philosophical perspective than a meta-ethic of “Whatever the Bible says, is good.” Generally, speaking, liberals and post-liberals--whether their post/liberalism be theological, political, social, or some combination thereof–-are not relativists; indeed, their--our!--post/liberalism motivates and is motivated by some very strong normative claims about human dignity.

The continuing, ongoing, and Spirit-led dialectic between scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (which is, as I have often noted here, a reflection of the perichoretic dialectic which is the Triune God) will always be allowed to override any “newly universalized viewpoint.” This, I believe, is how the Spirit moves through history, as I have already discussed at length in my essay History and Christ.
cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
Last week, my parish priest, Father Nathan Ferrell, responded to the Pew Report on The Reversal of the College Marriage Gap:
There is a direct correlation of all of these factors: most non-college educated people live in urban areas (in my urban parish area, only 6% of adults have college degrees), most of these young adults are not married, many of them are having children out of wedlock, and most of them do not attend church or get involved in any civic organizations of any kind.

[. . .]

One can see the trends very clearly if you follow what has happened among the Christian churches in the USA. Until 50 years ago, all of the largest congregations were in urban areas. Today, all of the largest ones are in suburban areas.
I really don't think we can make any automatic connection between conformity to socially conservative mores (pro-marriage, pro-children, as if simply producing more people were a good in and of itself) and the role of Church. There may be a correlation between people who get married before having children and the churched, but there's no straightforward causation in either direction. So there's no reason to automatically assume the absence of a "need to attend church" just because people have had children out of wedlock, anymore than because they are LGBTQ, pro-choice, or believe in evolution.

A couple weeks before Fr. Nathan's blog post, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat responded, in a column and a couple of blog posts, to a similar, albeit socially conservatively-premised, study by the socially conservative National Marriage Project--The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America--looking at the so-called "marriage gap," only in terms of beliefs rather than behavior. Douthat writes:
On some questions (the morality of premarital sex, whether a divorce should become harder to obtain) well-educated and less-educated Americans seem to have converged over the last few decades. [. . . T]he convergence [. . .] is absent on the most hot-button issue of all — abortion. There, the country still divides pretty cleanly along educational lines, with high school dropouts strongly opposed to abortion-on-demand, college graduates tilting in its favor, and high school graduates somewhere in between. And surprisingly, that divide hasn’t really changed since the 1970s, despite the changes on other issues, and the shifting pattern of religious practice.
It seems natural, therefore, that immersion in a culture which opposes the reproductive freedoms of women would result in an the type of increase in children born out wedlock demonstrated by the Pew Report, while immersion in a culture which respects those freedoms would result in a corresponding decrease. Call it the Bristol Palin effect. And since those cultures continue to correspond with education/wealth, so too would the number of children out of wedlock, so that poorer and/or less educated people would be more likely to have children outside of wedlock--and births out of wedlock would correspond to lack of religiosity only insofar as education and religiosity correlate, as recent evidence indicates they now do in U.S.-ian culture. (I think that was the fundamental point Fr. Nathan was trying to make.)

Obviously, one of the primary things the Church needs to do in order to speak to those who do not easily fall into the social conservative's model of how the individual and/or family should be ordered is to abandon the type of legalism which proclaims that model as normative.

However, in the face of the failure of the social conservative model of reproductive futurism, the Church has failed to step into her prophetic role to articulate an alternate vision inclusive to both the married and unmarried (including those unmarried with children), to those called to be parents and to those who are not, to those who are straight, gay, and/or asexual, an understanding of sexual expression firmly rooted in the liberatory (queer!) nature of Jesus Christ. But as long the Church stands for nothing, no one will listen to what she has to say.
cjbanning: (Default)
Getting Off: Pornography and the End of MasculinityGetting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity by Robert Jensen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Jensen has written a wonderful 1970's-style second-wave feminist tract . . . in 2007. One might think some type of grappling with third-wave feminism (and I have to add my standard disclaimer whenever I use the wave metaphor that feminist theorizing and activism is a constant process that can't really be cut up into discreet waves as if nothing happened in between them) might be called for. Indeed, the back of the book even manages to promise something of the sort (and the same text appears on the Amazon page) when it notes that "Anti-pornography arguments are frequently dismissed as patently 'anti-sex'--and ultimately 'anti-feminist'." As someone who argues the anti-porn-->anti-sex-->anti-woman position, this intrigues me. But I don't think he's really interested in arguing with me, or any other feminist. (The things he doesn't seem to be interested in arguing about are legion, probably.) That's okay; the people who write book copy frequently miss the point. (Just look at the back of Heinlein's Time Enough for Love.) At the end of the day, people on both sides of that discussion can be united at being against bad porn.

But who in his (since I think we're assuming it'd be a he) right mind would be for bad porn? Okay, I'm probably being naive, but I find it hard to believe than any of those people are going to actually bother to read Jensen's book. So what's the point?

Part of the disconnect might be that Jensen and I simply hold different understandings of the relationship between theory and activism, and how (and even if) apologetics should be done. For Jensen, all the side roads of definitions and such are distractions from his main project of showing men the damage of pornography. But my mind doesn't work that way. I could engage in a theoretical debate with another femnist, for example exposing heteronormative assumptions in their work, because I know there's a set of shared assumptions. But to argue against Jensen's quintessential porn user? For me, that would require showing all one's work, not less of it. I know I'm not up to the task. (I've been wanting to make a post in my journal for years at this point on the "anti-sex is anti-woman" thing. There are objections I don't know how to answer.) The most I could possibly do right now (and probably ever) is try to sketch out my worldview with the hope that an interlocutor could at least understand if not adopt it: "this is what I believe, and why I believe it" but not "this is why you should believe this."

But at the end of the day, Jensen's book is only secondarily about porn or the porn industry. First and foremost, it's about masculinity, and I think recognizing that explains why he doesn't address some of the things he doesn't. If the fundamental question he is answering is, "How can a heterosexual man in a patriarchal culture mediate his sexual desires, experiences, and understandings through text and/or images?" then--well, I still don't think he's done a very good job of presenting a coherent vision, but he has at least put forth some do's and don't's, even if they're ones that might seem obvious to someone who is already a feminist, porn-positive or not.

I've seen a lot I like, too. His insistence that what is needed is an abolition of masculinity, and not just redefine it (144-145). (I'm not sure whether he thinks an end of masculinity would usher in an end to maleness, or not.) That men must join women in women-led causes as their primary mode of activism (147). And so forth.

I do think it's possible to step outside one'smaleness without stepping outside their heterosexuality--a project that, yes, I think would end up looking a lot like Jensen's. Indeed, it almost seems to me that any reconstruction of masculinity which starts on Dworkinist premises is going to end up in this trap, which is ironic because of course Dworkin was a lesbian, and her partner (and eventual husband) John Stoltenberg, who is someone I have read and is the main person I'm thinking of here other than Jensen, was a gay man. (And I see that Jensen's not a Kinsey zero either.) I'm not quite sure why I should even feel this should be so. Is it that they are just so deeply seeped in a 1970's second-wave aesthetic? Is it a result of positioning this reconceptualization as a primarily feminist move--which is to say making the moral criterion an essentially gynocentric one? Or is it even that any constructive project is by its nature opposed to the very project of critical, and thus queer, theory?

Now, as noted above, Jensen discusses the move to abolish masculinity versus the move to redefine it, arguing for, as would I, the former. This puts forward a possibility: any attempt to reconstruct masculinity is essentially an attempt to keep it intact, to re-inscribe separate gender roles, and since all sexism is ultimately heterosexist (and vice versa), this is heteronormative. I don't think this is the whole story, though--especially since the premise of my original question assumed the project was being (or at least, could be) heteronormative while still being feminist (which would presumably be to say, not sexist). It does raise the question, though: the two male feminists I know of who think that masculinity is something worthy of being discussed (instead of simply stipulating it as undesirable and then getting on with the feminist projects of radical critique and liberal activism) are both Dworkinists. Is this significant?

Similarly I think it is possible to step outside of one's heterosexuality without examining one's maleness. But these are probably unstable positions, and once one is used to the theoretical move of examining one's privilege, it does get easier with time.

One of the fundamental issues is whether (sexual) desire is, and/or has to be, transitive, with desirers and desireds--whether desire implies objectification--or whether an intransitive form can be hypothesized; if the former, then objectification would need to be in some way reclaimed and revalued, as giving up desire doesn't seem a viable option. I think the question needs to be asked whether specific instances of sexual objectification can be broken off from its support of gendered patterns of oppression. That at least some such instances can be such seems clear--it can be used to satirize, to deconstruct, or expose those patterns, for example. But writ large? Objectification would need to be something that people do to each other--like kiss or make love--but which (like kissing and making love) they don't do all the time, something which can be turned off instead of being embedded in a persistent gaze of one gender towards the other.

The best treatment I really know which is fair to both sides of this debate is Joanna Russ's Pornography and the Doubleness of Sex for Women, as linked in the on-line essay That Classic Combination: Sex and Violence, which I found helpful in its treatment of Russ' essay.


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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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