Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Daniel Radosh: Rapture Ready! Adventures in the parallel universe of Christian pop culture

Daniel Radosh, Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture (New York: Scribner, 2008), 310 pp. (review copy courtesy of Scribner)

Now here’s a fun bit of weekend reading. Daniel Radosh, a liberal New York Jew (who blogs here), sets out to discover what Christian pop culture is all about. Americans spent more than $7 billion on Christian products in 2006. This is big business, and, as Radosh soon learns, there’s an entire parallel world out there, a vast alternative to mainstream pop culture, “like a mirror universe from a science fiction tale” (p. 2).

The book does not attempt a systematic analysis of evangelical pop culture. Instead, it unfolds as a series of quirky “adventures.” Radosh wanders across the landscape of American Christianity, describing numerous colourful characters and events along the way. Although he begins his journey with considerable cynicism, he remains an open and inquisitive adventurer.

Indeed, the book’s real charm lies in Radosh’s capacity for surprise – he frequently revises his view of Christian pop culture; he is easily impressed by the good in people (even when they’re a little crazy); and he’s quick to offer a generous interpretation wherever possible. The result, then, is a good-humoured and surprisingly sympathetic sketch of this strange parallel universe.

Of course, Radosh has no sympathy for some aspects of Christian pop culture. He has nothing good to say about the absurdly sincere born-again actor, Stephen Baldwin (he satirises Baldwin in a hilarious staged interview, one of the cruellest and funniest parts of the book). And when he visits a Christian wrestling match, he can finally only shake his head: “I decided that maybe some forms of pop culture really can’t be made authentically Christian” (p. 248). Let’s hope he’s right.

Similarly, Radosh has nothing but contempt for the phenomenally popular Left Behind series – a series of books whose theological inanity and ethical debasement are matched only by their abysmal literary quality. Commenting on the rampant religious violence of the novels (he quotes the final novel, where Jesus returns in glory: “Men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor…”), Radosh offers the wry conclusion: “Gloria in excelsis Deo, motherfucker” (p. 78).

Radosh is also rightly critical of the dehumanising effects of the evangelical abstinence movement, with its gender essentialism (men are aggressive by nature, women submissive), its “virginity fetish,” and its depiction of women’s bodies “as objects to be managed by men: first by fathers then by husbands” (p. 253). Following in the wake of the abstinence movement comes the Christian sex advice movement, with its belated attempt to help evangelicals overcome their deeply ingrained sexual inhibitions. Although Radosh is sympathetic with the aims of this movement, he is discomfited by its simplistic biblicism. It might be amusing to hear a sex manual using the Song of Songs to provide a clinical explanation of the mysteries of oral sex and genital fondling. But Radosh wonders whether the Bible is really “a universal instruction manual” of this kind; whether something important is lost when the Bible is turned into a mere self-help manual for married couples. “Paradoxically, by trying to read the Bible as all-encompassing, pop Christianity actually diminishes it” (p. 275).

There is, then, a close relationship between the various Christian chastity/sex movements and the otherwise very different phenomenon of evangelical creationism. In one of his most unsettling adventures, Radosh encounters Ken Ham (who frightens him, and strikes him as a “borderline sociopathic” character), together with other leading creationists. In a visit to the Creation Museum, Radosh is confronted by the chilling portrayal of an entire alternative universe in which the history of the cosmos is constructed through a quasi-scientific reading of Genesis. Again, the Bible is diminished – and, frankly, rendered incoherent and ridiculous – through such an all-encompassing application to contemporary questions.

Although Radosh rightly critiques (and occasionally ridicules) these diverse aspects of Christian pop culture, his overall impressions remain hopeful and positive. In most of his adventures he is surprised by what he encounters. For instance, he is expecting the worst when he meets spiritual warfare novelist Frank Peretti, since Peretti’s novels rail venomously against liberals and leftists. But Peretti offers a surprising and touching confession. Discussing his novels from the 90s, he grows suddenly sad, and then admits: “I was very angry when I wrote that…. I lashed out a lot at people” (p. 116).

Again, Radosh is charmed by a prominent Christian supplier who talks with candid regret about the poor quality of much Christian merchandise – referring to some Christian paintings, for instance, the supplier remarks: “You had to love Jesus in order to hang this on your wall, because it was almost a sacrifice” (p. 102). And when Radosh explores the strange world of Christian comedy, he is led to wonder whether “our culture war could be eased just a bit if the public face of evangelicalism was a good-natured, tolerant, funny ordinary guy instead of James Dobson” (p. 233).

Above all, Radosh’s adventures are marked by a glowing portrait of Jay Bakker – a progressive New York pastor, and son of disgraced fundamentalist preacher Jimmy Bakker – who emerges as the book’s real hero. In Radosh’s eyes, Jay Bakker represents the future of American evangelicalism, and his growing friendship with Bakker seems largely responsible for his hopeful evaluation of the future of Christian culture.

Most of all, however, Radosh’s hopeful outlook arises from his confidence in consumerism itself. Concluding the book, he suggests that the problems in evangelical pop culture – its tendency towards intolerance, for example – will be resolved as Christian pop culture is more fully assimilated into the mainstream market. The weirdness and bigotry that characterises some aspects of evangelical culture will thus eventually be smoothed out – not so much through dialogue, discussion and reflection, but merely through the levelling operation of market forces. The result will be a more liberal and more tolerant Christian culture – in short, a more precise mirror of the values of mainstream culture.

By and large, this analysis is probably correct: in the setting of late capitalism, the creation of a vibrant and distinctive niche market goes hand in hand with the emergence of mass homogeneity. But I’m not so sure this is a comforting prospect. Instead, it ought to raise some disturbing questions about the nature of evangelical culture. It seems to me that the only flaw in Radosh’s analysis is his assumption that evangelical consumerism can be neatly distinguished from evangelical identity – as though the modification of evangelicalism’s consumer culture would not also be a modification of its religious identity.

The issues involved here are, to my mind, far more urgent than Radosh’s concerns about helping evangelicals to become nicer and more tolerant. We should perhaps ask what it means for religious believers to identify themselves by the merchandise they consume; what it means when we allow ourselves to become not a community, but a sub-culture, and thus one more market niche alongside others.

As Slavoj Žižek has observed, the logic of late capitalism presses towards the commodification of a niche identity for its own sake; the Christian merchandise I buy is not itself the desired commodity, but it is merely an ephemeral signifier of the real commodity, which is my identity as a particular sort of Christian. In this case, the product I am really purchasing is radically non-material, wholly spiritual; I am purchasing religious meaning and belonging, religious “community” (since the merchandise allows me to participate in a specific market niche). Here, any neat separation between my “faith” and my “consumer culture” is simply fictitious. To change the latter simply is to change the former.

So what we need today, I believe, is a sustained theological critique of this commodification of Christian identity, and a recognition that the spiritual identity provided by a consumer sub-culture is a seductive simulacrum, an obstacle to the risky venture of Christian faith. If we are to find authentic Christian identity, it will arise not from the benevolent operations of the market, but in a community which creates a new economic space within the world, with its own practices and its own ways of belonging. (More on this to follow soon in my review of William Cavanaugh’s excellent new book, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.)

In conclusion, I think Daniel Radosh provides valuable insight into the workings of American evangelical pop culture. The book is a real page-turner, littered with surprising discoveries, zany characters, humorous observations and wise insights (it also has an excellent companion website). In the end, though, I just can’t share Radosh’s optimism about the future of Christian pop culture. Instead, my hope would be for the demise of this pop culture, and for the appearance instead of a church that knows its own identity – not an identity that can be bought and secured, but one that comes freely and without guarantees, only because it is sheer gift.

37 Comments:

halden said...

“Gloria in excelsis Deo, motherfucker.”

That may have been the best thing ever.

d. w. horstkoetter said...

Yeah, merely on that line alone I'm wanting to read it.

Teresita said...

Instead, my hope would be for the demise of this pop culture, and for the appearance instead of a church that knows its own identity – not an identity that can be bought and secured, but one that comes freely and without guarantees, only because it is sheer gift.

The thing is, that church which rejects consumerism and pop culture is already out there, but there is very little evidence of it, because we don't spread the Word by sending guys out from city to city in one pair of sandals and one coat anymore. We write sober books about prayer, or Patristics, or the Holy Spirit, but end up getting our shelf space in Christian Supply gobbled up by nine-part books about godless liberals getting their comeuppance. Apologetics air time on TV gets displaced by the Blab It and Grab It prosperity gospel.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben

Great post... I agree with his assessment of the, "dehumanising effects of the evangelical abstinence movement, with its gender essentialism (men are aggressive by nature, women submissive), its “virginity fetish,” and its depiction of women’s bodies “as objects to be managed by men: first by fathers then by husbands” (p. 253). I have felt this in my own life as a single guy in his mid 20's who has developed ambivalence towards dating relationships because of their sexual dimension (even while being critical of this at a explicit reasoning level)

I think a problem is that it's easy to deconstruct the bad in this approach, without constructing much in the way of an alternative. Have you seen many helpful alternative treatments of the subject outside this legalistic and rule book approach to the bible... especially around the issue of sexual ethics that acknowledge the dehumanizing potential of the abstinence approach.

-Mike

Anonymous said...

Ben,

I too would love to see a series of posts on a theology of sexuality. How can the church avoid the pitfalls of the abstinence movement, which include idolizing a woman's virginity, and popular gnostic views of sex which pervade pop culture (sex is private, have sex when you feel it is ok, etc.)?

-Danny

patrick said...

Hey Ben,

Though this wasn't the topic of your post, I want to follow up on these last two comments. In your view, is it OK for a Christian to have premarital sex? Or not? Or what? If nothing else, maybe you can point to something somewhere that expresses your view. Thanks.

Geoff Smith said...

One of my co-workers read this book and regained his confidence in the gospel, he was looking for a funny book that bashed the subculture he hated as a Christian, and found a section about the band mewithoutYou with an interview with Aaron Weiss. Anyway, this book seems to have been useful to two people, I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

Who needs a separate Christian pop culture?

What’s needed is to identify those things within the mainstream pop culture that contain biblical truth.

Reverend John Stott, “Basic Christianity,” has said: “The great tragedy in the church today is that evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. We need faithfulness to the ancient word and sensitivity to the modern world.”

Anonymous said...

"Instead, my hope would be for the demise of this pop culture" - yes please, bring on the demise!

Anonymous said...

Now someone needs to make the movie! With a handycam like Cloverfield :)

Katchoo said...

Reverend John Stott, "Basic Christianity," has said: "The great tragedy in the church today is that evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. We need faithfulness to the ancient word and sensitivity to the modern world."

Evangelicals and liberals are both biblical, but evangelicals understand the bible to be dictated by God, with the authors little more than an office secretary, while liberals understand the bible to be a collaboration between God and the human authors.

steve martin said...

"In the end, though, I just can’t share Radosh’s optimism about the future of Christian pop culture. Instead, my hope would be for the demise of this pop culture, and for the appearance instead of a church that knows its own identity – not an identity that can be bought and secured, but one that comes freely and without guarantees, only because it is sheer gift."

Right on, Ben!

- Steve M.

Teresita said...

Anonymous: ...and popular gnostic views of sex which pervade pop culture (sex is private, have sex when you feel it is ok, etc.)?

If those are gnostic views, are we to take it, then, that in the orthodox view sex should be public, and we should have sex when we feel it is not okay?

kim fabricius said...

Hi Patrick,

You ask: "Is it OK for a Christian to have premarital sex." Only an idiot would rise to his bait. So here goes ...

At the risk of sounding pedantic, it really does depend on what you mean not only by marriage but also by sex.

On the latter - sex - I am not so much referring to the position (!) one takes on a scale ranging from French kissing to the Kama Sutra as, for example, to the significance of pronouncements from moral theologians from Jerome to John Paul II that sex even within marriage is sinful if too adently pursued. You may disagree, but their presumption is an important one: that sex is more (if not less!) than mechanics. Here I would refer readers to Rowan Williams' The Body's Grace (1989) on the theme of sex (an essay that is too often read solely as a tract on gender sexuality).

On the former - marriage - two points. First, no one should speak or advise on this subject who has not done some homework on the history and sociology of marriage. Church leaders who pontificate on what Jesus or Paul said about marriage - i.e. marriage in first century Judaism and Rome - as if the Bible speaks directly to marriage in 21st century America, Britain, Australia, or wherever are being theologically and pastorally irresponsible.

Second, even when this homework has been done, one must observe a fundamental distinction more honoured in the breach than the observance, viz. that between a wedding and a marriage. "A wedding," Barth wrote, "is only the regulative confirmation and legitimation of a marriage before and by society. It does not constitute marriage." What people usually mean by premarital sex is pre-ceremonial sex, but the two are not identical. One should remember, for example, though it is often unrecognised, that the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church remains that consent alone is sufficient to constitute the marital bond (hence the granting of annulments based on the demonstration of defective consent).

I'm sorry, Patrick, if you were looking for a one-word answer about premarital sex. To that I "Just Say No!" Personally, having been married for twenty-five years, I am more interested in the question of postmarital sex.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but feel that Teresita is misunderstanding on purpose.

I think that the commenter was suggesting that such "gnostic" views were misguided or insufficient, not the exact opposite of the orthodox view.

Ben Myers said...

Many thanks to Kim for this wonderful comment in response to Patrick's query regarding premarital sex. Kim has summed up this whole problematic much better than I could. But in case it's helpful, Patrick, I'll just add one specific example:

There are de facto couples who have a true marriage, even though they've never had a wedding ceremony; and there are wedded couples who nevertheless have no true marriage. According to Christian teaching, sexual intercourse ought to be celebrated in the former, but prohibited in the latter.

Doug Chaplin said...

Ben, you've made my day with this:

Gloria in excelsis Deo, motherfucker

And you've also made me want to read the book. However, on a more serious note, I'm unpersuaded that "pop culture' really exists, except a a subset of traits of a more mixed contemporary culture. I;m also unconvinced it's inherently worse than any other culture within which the gospel has been expressed, and which it has to some extent transformed. It seems to me that the biggest issue the church faces is that Christianity has been embedded in, and often indistinguishable from, the culture that has been / is being variously rejected or superseded, and this makes it much harder to discern what an appropriate Christian inculturation today should look like.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Doug: yes, I think I see where you're coming from. Personally, I have very little animosity towards "pop culture" in general (assuming that there is such a thing) – my own life would be infinitely poorer without The Simpsons and Seinfeld and cinemas and CDs.

But to my mind, the problem here is the existence of a "Christian pop culture" – the creation of a Christian subculture (i.e. of Christian identity) through the production and consumption of niche merchandise.

Shane said...

Is premarital sex necessarily bad?

Kim tried the Canterbury Dodge,* but I think he missed the plié.

Sure, the consent of love is sufficent for matrimony--but, what's that tell us about pre-marital sex? It tells us that marriage, love and sex and all mutually intwined things. Good marriages, healthy love and good sex all require the same thing: respect for your partner, care for his or her well-being and a promise of fidelity to him or her.(Further, the code of canon law makes clear that consent is properly speaking a gift of grace, not merely a human decision.)

Now, for each and every sexual act (whether within or without marriage) one either has this consent or one does not. If one has the consent to marry as a supernatural gift, then presumably this act is not an act of premarital sex at all--it's the act consummating the marriage, in point of fact, provided the other party is also consenting. But what if I do not have engage in this particular sexual act with the consent to marry? Then presumably the thought process goes something like this:

"Ooh baby, I love you so much. I want to spend the rest of the next two to three weeks of my life seeing you occasionally and fucking like rabbits. Then, I'll decide that I can't really handle a relationship right now and refuse to take your calls. Later, when my friends ask what happened, I'll just say you were 'crazy' and kept calling me all the time."

What's the bottom line? When you have sex with someone, the act either has the character of a promise of love and fidelity and permanence or it does not. No sexual act is an island--it occurs within a framework of a relationship (or the lack of that framework). In my view it is the framework that gives the grace to the act. If that framework is lacking, the act is wrong. If the framework is there--what the hell are you waiting for? Go ahead and get married!

So, if a young person asks me, "Mr. Shane, ought I have sex with my girlfriend." My answer to him is: "Not until you are married, because only then will you be having sex in the right way at the right time and for the right reasons." There are a couple exceptions to this general rule, but that does not mean this isn't still pretty good advice that will work for pretty much everybody.

So, there really is a good short answer to Patrick's question. The answer is Yes, premarital sex is bad.


*What's the Canterbury Dodge? "Well. . . uh. . . hmm . . . it's terribly hard to say after all . ."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. This has just gone to the top of my must-read list.

Anonymous said...

I think I like this Shane fellow.

Katchoo said...

Shane: The answer is Yes, premarital sex is bad.

In the bible there is no punishment indicated for the act of premarital sex, there is only a law commanding monetary compensation to the father for his daughter's change in status from virgin to non-virgin.

The Hitchcocks said...

Teresita asks if sex should be public. Yes! Not in the sense that the act itself takes place in a public forum, but in the sense that the sexuality of Christians belongs to the community at large rather than simply to the individual. It is not something private and must not be treated as such because to do so denies the political nature of the church. For a great essay on this, read Stanley Hauerwas' "Sex in Public: How Adventurous Christians are Doing It." It's in his reader.

Teresita said...

The hitchcocks: Teresita asks if sex should be public. Yes! Not in the sense that the act itself takes place in a public forum, but in the sense that the sexuality of Christians belongs to the community at large rather than simply to the individual.

That community consists of yourself, your partner, and God. Sexuality was created by God to bind people together, spiritually as well as physically. And this bond is a sacrament of the fidelity between God and us.

It is not something private and must not be treated as such because to do so denies the political nature of the church.

Politics is about power. We must follow the example of Christ, who laid down infinite power to become the Suffering Servant for the redemption of the world.

The Hitchcocks said...

Biblically speaking, the community is the Church, not two individuals who enter into a sexual relationship. The goal and mission of the Church take precedence over the individual. That's not to say the individual is not important, but simply that as Christians, we have entered into a story and community that is larger than ourselves. Privatized living is not how things should be done any longer. So how we have sex (or don't have sex) as Christians is not just between me and some other consenting adult, it's between me, the other person, and the community as a whole, because what I do sexually (just as what I do with my money, or my spare time, or my job) has an impact on the Christian community, both inwardly and outwardly. That's why Christian sexuality is public, not private. That's why Christians get married publically, rather than just making private vows to each other. How we live sexually is of public importance in the Christian community. God has made this community one, and therefore what the hand does affects the foot.

By the "political nature" of the church, I simply refer to the fact that the church is a polis -- a community which has a common goal, mission and purpose. As such, the actions of each individual within the polis are of concern to the community as a whole. Do those actions aid in the polis' mission and purpose, detract from it, or remain neutral? Sexuality does not fall within the neutral range, therefore how Christians behave sexually either is in keeping with the mission of the church or detracts from it.

saint egregious said...

the hitchcocks: can you share how what I do with my lover in my bedroom affects the community/church? Especially if they do not know what I do and I am modest enough not to share it with any and all? Are you suggesting that the community has a right to know what goes on between the sheets?
If not, then I'm genuinely puzzled by what you mean when you say that 'what I do sexually' 'has an impact on the Christian community'.

The Hitchcocks said...

I'm not talking about specific sexual positions or anything like that -- this goes back to the abstinence question that was raised. How we live out our lives sexually affects the community. For example, the Christian community has long agreed that premarital sex of any kind is not appropriate, and that within marriage we must be faithful to our spouse. Adherence to this rather strict view of sexuality (at least from the world's perspective) affects life in the community. As the discussion of a week or so ago demonstrated, celibacy is not an easy thing (either for single heterosexuals or for homosexuals), but a commitment to that lifestyle trains us in the virtues that are central to the mission and life of the Church -- faithfulness, self-control, self-sacrifice, obedience, etc. The same is true of faithfulness within marriage.

However, the attitude that it's between me and my partner, or, maybe, me, my partner and God, trains us in an entirely different set of characteristics. This privatized attitude is a training ground for self-centeredness and individualism. These traits do not serve the Church or its mission very well. How we live sexually trains us for how we live within the community as a whole.

This is not simply true for our sexuality, it's true for every part of our lives, which is why I'm making the claim that the Christian life is essentially a public and political life -- a life lived in accountability to others within a community that exists for a specific purpose. How I spend my money also trains me to become a certain person -- either one who is self-gratifying, uncontrolled, covetous and envious, or one who is self-controlled, self-sacrificing, able to consider others first, etc. Obviously, I'm naming the extremes here, but only to make the point. What we do in the various instances of our life trains our character and either helps us become someone who furthers the purpose of the community or someone who hinders the purpose of the community. Therefore, the community has a say in how the individual behaves.

We also see this privatization of the Christian faith sneaking into the worship life of the Church. I've too often seen the sacraments (baptism and eucharist) treated in just this way -- "It's me and Jesus time." The sacraments are by their very nature communal, but if everything else in our Christian life is privatized (including our sexuality), then why is anyone surprised when we begin to privatize the sacraments as well?

It seems that Ben's original post and the comments in response to it indicate that we know that what one person does in the community affects the community as a whole. For example, how many of us can honestly say that the Left Behind series hasn't had any significant impact one way or the other on the Church's ability to live out its mission? My feeling from the discussion is that most of us feel that this particular series of books (as well as other aspects of Christian pop culture) makes the mission of the church more difficult for all of us. Otherwise, why are there so many comments calling for the end of Christian pop culture? If everything is just between the individual and God, what does it matter to the rest of us that Tim LaHaye wrote a book about his personal understanding of Revelation? Yet we feel free to say that these things have an affect on the community and its mission. I'm just saying the same thing about our sexuality. How we approach our sexuality trains us to be a certain kind of Christian. The character and life of the Christians within the Christian community inevitably affects the ability of said community to live out its mission. If we approach it as a private matter between me, my partner and God, then that's training us and others to approach the entire Christian life in that way. However, if we recognize that both God and the community he has created and placed us in have something to say about our sexuality and how it is lived out, that trains us to think and act "publically" and "politically" in other ways as well.

So what it comes down to is this: Is Christianity at it's core essentially communal, or is it essentially private?

saint egregious said...

But my question still stands. Does the church have a right to know (or even to ask) what happens in my bedroom? Let's say I'm a woman who lives with another woman. We are both active members in our church and are even elders who participate in serving communion on Sundays. And let's say we're seen out quite a bit. There's a rumour we've even been seen once holding hands in public.
Perhaps a fellow member of the church we attend has been over to visit and while we were in making tea for him, he sneaked a glance into the bedroom (he noted that there was only one!) and saw only one bed. Has he (representing the 'community/church') the right to ask us what happens in that bed? Shall he take it to the church pastor? Should there be a formal inquiry?
Are we duty bound to answer if we are asked whether our relationship is sexual? What if we say we are not? Are others in the parish also to be put under such scrutiny?
What do you think?

Shane said...

@St. E,

I think the question you're posing here is still a bit too vague.

Every reasonable person agrees there are some questions about one's bedroom behavior the general public (to say nothing of the church) has a right to know about. Marital rape happens in the bedroom.

There's a parallel case too. I have a civic right to medical privacy, but that doesn't mean that I have the right to shoot up heroin, even if I do it in my own home and don't hurt anybody.

In both of those cases the laws of the state supercede the right to privacy of the individual.

I think a similar situation obtains in the church. By becoming a member of the church you voluntarily accept its laws and teachings. If the church teaches that homosexuality is sinful and that you must repent of your sins before you can receive communion, then I think the church's laws supercede your personal right to privacy. And in the situation you have described, I think the church is entirely within its prerogatives to deny you communion until you repent.

I don't think we want a church-appointed holiness gestapo spying on the private lives of christians to make sure they are fit to receive communion. But, the church must be oriented towards holiness and that means that the church must be serious about church discipline. And THAT means that the church must care about who's sexing whom and how.

And of course, any reasonable person will agree that there's nothing special about sexual behavior that exempts it from the moral scrutiny of others. Suppose you were a priest and you knew one of the men in your congregation was having a string of affairs. Suppose you knew the choir director had a problem about exposing himself in the park after hours. Suppose you knew that the sunday school teacher had a predilection for altar boys. Suppose you know one of the men in your congregation beats his wife and rapes her and doesn't see anything wrong with that. What do you do? You warn them, then you discipline them.

Now, if you want to argue that there are no moral or theological grounds upon which to say that homosexual sex is wrong, that's a different argument, which we've already had. But I don't see any way to claim that its just none of anybody's business in principle whom you decide to have sex with.

saint egregious said...

Shane writes: "And in the situation you have described, I think the church is entirely within its prerogatives to deny you communion until you repent."

Precisely in the situation I have described, repent of what?

Shane said...

I'm sorry, I was unclear on your previous post. I thought you were saying that you were having sex with this woman and it was none of anybody else's damn business. Instead you seem to be just saying that it is none of anybody's damn business.

Nevertheless I think my point still stands that it might be somebody's damn business, namely your pastor's, whether you are sleeping with her or not.

But you're right that I don't know or particularly care whether you are sleeping with anybody.

Shane said...

Although, if I went to the apartment of a straight man and a straight woman and saw that they shared a single bed, I think I'd have a justified belief they were sleeping together. (Sharing a bed is a fairly reliable indicator.)

saint egregious said...

Sleeping together does not necessitate having sex! So I suppose the pastor will just have to bite the bullet and ask the question directly--what are you two doing in bed? (Unless you think 'fairly reliable indicators' like rumour, innuendo and prurient speculation are sufficient to excommunicate members.) If not, and you think pastors have the right to ask such questions-- which, I hate to say it, might have to take on rather pointed specificity to catch me and mine in the condemnable act so to speak: Is kissing cause for excommunication? Snuggling? You can see where this will end up! -now you've crossed the Rubicon. Pastors and the 'church' with free reign to start interrogating parishioners about their sex lives. Maybe this is a church you want to live in. Not me.

By the way, I am a priest and have had just such a situation present itself to me. You can guess how I chose to handle it!

saint egregious said...

To Ben: I promise this is my last word on this thread: I realize I am potentially de-railing a thread that had nothing do to with this topic per se. I apologize to you and to others who might feel, quite rightly I suppose, that enough is enough.

Ben Myers said...

No problem, Egregious! The tangential discussion hasn't annoyed me at all. (But you'd just better hope it hasn't annoyed Jesus: otherwise, he might "superheat your blood, causing it to burst through your veins and skin, etc". Man, I hate it when he does that.)

kim fabricius said...

I think the Hitchcocks are right about the essentially communal nature of Christianity. I also think Shane is right about the exercise of church discipline. The question, however, as St. Egregious pinpoints, is the actual practice of ecclesiastical policing, as well as the statutes that are policed.

Extreme cases make for bad law. We know how easily, for example, the condemnation of paedophilia slips irresponsibly into a discussion of same-sex relationships, about which surely there is sufficient moral ambiguity that one would be wise not to pontificate, and on which, I believe, we should defer to the church's traditional teaching about the absolute duty to obey one's conscience. Of course the church has a duty to educate conscience, but it also has a duty to acknowledge that it can err and teach badly.

The Hitchcocks also helpfully broaden the discussion beyond the chuch's obsession with sexual morality. Personally, I am more concerned about what we do with our money, about which Jesus says a lot, than how we deploy our genetalia, about which Jesus says virtually nothing. And I'll tell you something for nothing: if I had a member of my congregation overseeing the practices of waterboarding - i.e. torture - Matthew 18:15-17 for sure. And guns - you'd think Article II of the Bill of Rights (which the NRA reads as fundies read the Bible - uncontextually) was in the Sermon on the Mount - so another freebie: why isn't the bearing of arms a matter of church discipline?

Enough. But to end with a warning from church history: a church that erects security cameras within and patrols its borders without pretty quickly ceases to be the church of Jesus Christ, and becomes the panopticon of the Grand Inquisitor instead.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Ben thank you for the post. I was initially alarmed that the comment thread had degenerated into a spat on sexual ethics, but on reflection I suppose it's a propos.

Kim: a compliment, and then a criticism.

Loved your initial fools-rush-in response on premarital sex: exactly to the point. Your mate shane characterises it as a dodge, but I see no problem in challenging the question if you think the question unhelpfully posed. This is surely one topic on which the don't-wait-for-the-translation-answer-me-now approach must be resisted.

However your most recent reply flirts with the reductio ad Hitlerum.

Look, I don't like a shibboleths-at-twenty-paces argument on the-church-and-sex any more than you do. But is seeing it with a "about which Jesus says virtually nothing" slogan, and then raising it with a pacifist rallying cry, likely to improve the quality of discussion?

Disclaimer: I do not presume to advise you on tactics or strategy; since we disagree on the pacifism at least, it would be presumptuous of me to do so. My point is that the topics, and the "sides" that people take, are not intrinsically linked. For example, cultural fault-lines are different where I come from, and different again in other places.

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