Not all of us love Christmas, and that’s perfectly all right

At Christmastime, it’s fashionable for secularists to say that actually, yes, they do love Christmas. A recent article by Jim Al-Khalili, ‘Why this atheist celebrates Christmas’, exemplifies the trend, as do the many online memes and comments arguing there’s nothing religious about gift-giving or decorated trees. “You don’t need to believe in Mithras to enjoy the tradition of celebrating the sun’s rebirth”, one of them reads, “and you don’t need to believe in Jesus Christ to enjoy the tradition of renaming this ancient holiday”.

With Eric Pickles and the right-wing press united in insistence that “militant secularisation” will “allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity”, it’s an understandable line of response to stress that godless people, too, love the festive season. Yet not all of us do. For some of us, Christmas is hard to enjoy – and yes, religion and the privilege it enjoys play a role in this.

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More sexist religion from my family’s bookshelves

Remember Leadership is Male, the book I posted about at the start of June? As Christmas Eve approaches, another gem has revealed itself on my relatives’ bookshelf.

What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible is a similar volume by John Piper, and like Leadership is Male has a foreword by Elisabeth Elliot. (Because, of course, nothing endorsed by a woman is misogynous.) Once again, I read the book cover to cover – and, so that you don’t have to, thought I’d share some highlights.

‘When my father came home he was clearly the head of the house. He led in pray at the table. He called the family together for devotions. He got us to Sunday School and worship. He drove the car. He guided the family to where we would sit. He made the decision to go to Howard Johnson’s for lunch. He led us to the table. He called for the waitress. He paid the check. He was the one we knew we would reckon with if we broke a family rule or were disrespectful to Mother. These were the happiest times for Mother. Oh, how she rejoiced to have Daddy home! She loved his leadership. Later I learned that the Bible calls this “submission”.

‘The tendency today is to stress the equality of men and women by minimizing the unique significance of our maleness or femaleness. But this depreciation of male and female personhood is a great loss. It is taking a tremendous toll on generations of young men and women who do not know what it means to be a man or a woman. Confusion over the meaning of sexual personhood today is epidemic. The consequence of this confusion is not a free and happy harmony among gender-free persons relating on the basis of abstract competencies. The consequence [.] is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.’

‘When the Bible teaches that men and women fulfil different roles in relation to each other, charging man with a unique leadership role, it bases this differentiation not on temporary cultural norms but on permanent facts of creation. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (especially vv. 8-9, 14); Ephesians 5:21-33 (especially vv. 31-32); and 1 Timothy 2:11-14 (especially vv. 13-14). In the Bible, differentiated roles for men and woman are never traced back to the fall of man and woman into sin. Rather, the foundation of this differentiation is traced back to the way things were in Eden before sin warped our relationships.’

‘AT THE HEART OF MATURE MASCULINITY IS A SENSE OF BENEVOLENT RESPONSIBILITY TO LEAD, PROVIDE FOR AN PROTECT WOMEN IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO A MAN’S DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS.

AT THE HEART OF MATURE FEMININITY IS A FREEING DISPOSITION TO AFFIRM, RECEIVE AND NURTURE STRENGTH AND LEADERSHIP FROM WORTHY MEN IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO A WOMAN’S DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS.’

‘A man might say, “I am a man and I do not feel this sense of responsibility that you say makes me masculine.” He may feel strong and sexually competent and forceful and rational. But we would say to him that if he does not feel this sense of benevolent responsibility toward women to lead, provide and protect, his masculinity is immature. It is incomplete and perhaps distorted.’

‘…a man may not be physically able to provide for or protect his family and yet be mature in his masculinity. He may be paralyzed. He may have a disabling disease. His wife may be the main breadwinner in such a circumstance. And she may be the one who must get up at night to investigate a frightening noise in the house. This is not easy for the man. But if he still has a sense of his own benevolent responsibility under God he will not lose his masculinity.’

‘Someone might ask: So is a woman masculine if she is a single parent and provides these same things for her children? Are these only for men to do? I would answer: A woman is not unduly masculine in performing these things for her children if she has the sense that this would be properly done by her husband if she had one, and she performs them with a uniquely feminine demeanour. However, if a woman undertakes to give this kind of leadership toward her husband she would not be acting in a properly feminine way’.

‘…the leadership pattern would be less than Biblical if the wife in general was having to take the initiative in prayer at mealtime, and get the family out of bed for worship on Sunday morning, and gather the family for devotions, and discuss what moral standards will be required of the children, and confer about financial priorities, and talk over some neighborhood ministry possibilities, etc. A wife may initiate the discussion and planning of any one of these, but if she becomes the one who senses the general responsibility for this pattern of initiative while her husband is passive, something contrary to Biblical masculinity and femininity is in the offing.’

‘…both husband and wife should agree on the principle that the husband’s decision should rightly hold sway if it does not involve sin … in a well-ordered Biblical marriage both husband and wife acknowledge in principle that, if necessary in some disagreement, the husband will accept the burden of making the final choice.’

‘Mature masculinity expresses its leadership in romantic sexual relations by communicating an aura of strong and tender pursuit. … It is the mingling of tenderness with strength that makes the unique masculine quality of leadership in sexual relations. There is an aura of masculine leadership which rises from the mingling of power and tenderness, forcefulness and affection, potency and sensitivity, virility and delicateness. It finds expression in the firmness of his grasp, the strength of taking her in his arms, the sustaining of verbal adoration, etc. And there are a hundred nuances of masculine pursuit that distinguish it from feminine pursuit.

The wife may initiate an interesting in romance and may keep on initiating different steps along the way. But there is a difference. A feminine initiation is in effect an invitation for the man to do his kind of initiating. In one sense then you could say that in those times the man is responding. But in fact the wife is inviting him to do lead in a way that only a man can, so that she can respond to him. It will not do to say that, since the woman can rightly initiate, therefore there is no special leadership that the man should fulfil. When a wife wants sexual relations with her husband she wants him to seek her and take her and bring her into his arms and up to the pleasures that his initiatives give her.

Consider what is lost when women attempt to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive. It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club. But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying. The image of a masculine musculature begets arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine needs.’

No woman should have to take the initiative to set a disobedient child right while her husband sits obliviously by, as though nothing were at stake.

‘Mature masculinity is sensitive to cultural expressions of masculinity and adapts to them (where no sin is involved) in order to communicate to a woman that a man would like to relate not in any aggressive or perverted way, but with maturity and dignity as a man. This would mean dressing in ways that are neither effeminate nor harsh and aggressive. It would mean learning manners and customs. Who speaks for the couple at the restaurant? Who seats the other? Who drives the car? Who opens the door? Who walks in front down the concert hall aisle? Who stands and who sits, and when? Who extends the hand at a greeting? Who walks on the street side? How do you handle a woman’s purse? Etc. Etc.’

‘…when there is no bread on the table it is the man who should feel the main pressure to do something to get it there. It does not mean his wife can’t help – side by side in a family enterprise or working in a different job. In fact, it is possible to imagine cases she may have to do it all – say, if he is sick or injured. But a man will feel his personhood compromised if he, through sloth or folly or lack of discipline, becomes dependent over the long haul … on his wife’s income.’

‘Suppose a man and a woman (it may be his wife or sister or friend or a total stranger) are walking along the street when an assailant threatens the two of them with a lead pipe. Mature masculinity senses a natural, God-given responsibility to step forward and put himself between the assailant and the woman.

…every wife knows that something is amiss in a man’s manhood if he suggests that she get out of bed 50% of the time to see what the strange noise is downstairs. It belongs to masculinity to accept danger to protect women. It may be that in any given instance of danger the woman will have the strength to strike the saving blow. It may be too that she will have the presence of mind to think of the best way of escape. It may be that she will fight with tooth and claw to save a crippled man and lay down her life for him if necessary. But this does not at all diminish the unique call of manhood when he and his female companion are confronted by a danger together. The dynamics of mature masculinity and femininity begin the drama with him in front and her at his back protected – however they may together overcome the foe or suffer courageously together in persecution. A mature man senses instinctively that as a man he is called to take the lead in guarding the woman he is with.’

‘If, in the course of the day, a woman in the law firm calls a meeting of the attorneys, and thus takes that kind of initiative, there are still ways that a man, coming to that meeting, can express his manhood through culturally appropriate courtesies shown to the women in the firm. He may open the door; he may offer his chair; he may speak in a voice that is gentler.’

‘…the Biblical reality of a wife’s submission would take different forms depending on the quality of a husband’s leadership. This can be seen best if we define submission not in terms of specific behaviors, but as a disposition to yield to the husband’s authority and an inclination to follow his leadership. This is important to do because no submission of one human being to another is absolute. The husband does not replace Christ as the woman’s supreme authority. She must never follow her husband’s leadership into sin. She will not steal with him or get drunk with him or savor pornography with him or develop deceptive schemes with him.’

‘Many today say, for example, that true freedom for a lesbian would be the liberty to act according to her sexual preference. But I would say that true freedom cannot ignore God’s judgment on homosexual activity and God’s will for men and women to be heterosexual in their sexual relations. Therefore true freedom is not giving in to our every impulse. It is the sometimes painful and exhilarating discovery of God’s power to fight free from the bondage of our sinful selves.’

‘…mature femininity feels natural and glad to accept the strength and leadership of worthy men. A mature woman is glad when a respectful, caring, upright man offers sensitive strength and provides a pattern of appropriate initiatives for their relationship. She does not want to reverse these roles. She is glad then he is not passive. She feels herself enhanced and honored and freed by his caring strength and servant-leadership … She is to be his partner and assistant. She joins in the act of strength and shares in the process of leadership. She is, as Genesis 2:18 says, ‘a helper suitable for him.’

Prime Minister and her counsellors and advisors[;] principal and the teachers in her school[;] college teacher and her students[;] bus driver and her passengers[;] bookstore manager and her clerks and stock help[;] staff doctor and her interns[;] lawyer and her aides[;] judge and the court personnel[;] police officer and citizens in her precinct[;] legislator and her assistants[;] T.V. newscaster and her editors[;] counsellor and her clients[:] one or more of these roles might stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point.’

‘There are ways for a woman to interact even with a male subordinate that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a woman. I do not have in mind anything like sexual suggestiveness or innuendo. Rather, I have in mind culturally appropriate expressions of respect for his kind of strength, and glad acceptable of his gentlemanly courtesies. Her demeanor – the tone and style and disposition and discourse of her ranking position – can signal clearly her affirmation of the unique role that men should play in relationship to women owing to their sense of responsibility to protect and lead … But as I said earlier, there are roles that strain the personhood of man and woman too far to be appropriate, productive and healthy for the overall structure of home and society. Some roles would involve kinds of leadership and expectations of authority and forms of strength as to make it unfitting for a woman to fill the role.’

To the degree that a woman’s influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order. A woman may design the traffic pattern of a city’s streets and thus exert a kind of influence over all male drivers. But this influence will be non-personal and therefore not necessarily an offense against God’s order. Similarly, the drawings and specifications of a woman architect may guide the behavior of contractors and laborers, but it may be so non-personal that the feminine-masculine dynamic of the relationship is negligible. On the other hand, the relationship between husband and wife is very personal. All acts of influence lie on the continuum between personal and non-personal. The closer they get to the personal side, the more inappropriate it becomes for women to exert directive influence. But the second continuum may qualify the first. Some influence is very directive, some is non-directive. For example, a drill sergeant would epitomize directive influence. It would be hard to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant over men without violating their sense of masculinity and her sense of femininity.’

‘The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. … Some of the more obvious [examples] would be in military combat settings if women were positioned so as to deploy and command men; or in professional baseball if a woman is made the umpire to call balls and strikes and frequently to settle heated disputes among men. And I would stress that this is not necessarily owing to male egotism, but to a natural and good penchant given by God.’

‘…in the workplace it may not be nonsense in any given circumstance for a woman to provide a certain kind of direction for a man, but to do it in such a way that she signals her endorsement of his unique duty as a man to feel a responsibility of strength and protection and leadership toward her as a woman and toward women in general.’

‘If I were to put my finger on one devastating sin today, it would not be the so-called women’s movement, but the lack of spiritual leadership by men at home and in the church. Satan has achieved an amazing tactical victory by disseminating the notion that the summons for male leadership is born of pride and fallenness, when in fact pride is precisely what prevents spiritual leadership. The spiritual aimlessness and weakness and lethargy and loss of nerve among men is the major issue, not the upsurge of interesting in women’s ministries.’

‘When the Lord visits us from on high and creates a mighty army of deeply spiritual men committed to the Word of God and global mission, the vast majority of women will rejoice over the leadership of these men and enter into a joyful partnership that upholds and honors the beautiful Biblical pattern of mature manhood and mature womanhood.’

Gay marriage politics has its queer critics too

“Look,” said David Cameron last week, in a voice much like Tony Blair’s when grilled on Newsnight. “I’m in favour of gay marriage, because I’m a massive supporter of marriage, and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution.”

The comments were met with gushing praise from self-described progressives, and no doubt too with fountains of gay cash. In the 90 minutes following Barack Obama’s statement, “I think same sex couples should be able to get married”, a million pink dollars poured straight into his campaign for re-election. Cameron, ever the businessman, has clearly found a rhetoric which sells.

That’s not to say, of course, that his stance here is purely mercenary. “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative,” he told us in his conference speech last year, “I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.” If any sincere, well-meant critique of the project has been drowned out, it belongs to those of us on the queer left who see the idea as deeply engrained in regressive Cameroon politics.

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