Thursday, September 28, 2006

Class update

OK, Connor requested a class update, so here it is.

We've spent the last three weeks talking about Genesis 1-3, and what it may or may not have to do with gender roles. I mean, we still haven't taken the five minutes we would need to define the terms "sex" and "gender", and consequently, people frequently say interesting things like, "Yes, I think Adam and Eve probably had sex ... um ... gender."

But moving on...

Like I said before, the class is tag-team-taught by Shane and another guy (Damon). After being in the class for several weeks, I can say that they've done a pretty good job of picking a direction and sticking with it. If I've understood their approach correctly, they're basically trying do apologetics for the creation narratives.

Shane has a sort of literary approach to the text, where you classify its genre and then you only listen to the messages you would expect to hear coming out of that genre. Damon has a sort of Rabbinical approach to the text, which means you try to tease out a lot of allegory and hidden meaning. But basically, both of them are doing a lot of work trying to get the students to interpret Genesis in a new way, and then, kind of parenthetically, following that up by arguing that Genesis talks about identity but not so much about gender roles.

I think this approach is pretty good. It makes the class of mostly college students stretch a little bit, and tweak their hermeneutic, and even reconsider their gender biases, but it doesn't require them to do anything terribly scary or off-putting. All in all, I think the students are going to come out of this class with a better way of reading the first 3 chapters of Genesis, and a little more play in their ideas about gender.

But I do think the teachers are a little reluctant to address certain issues, including

  • What modern psychology says about gender

  • What feminists say about gender

  • The church's sins against women

  • Why homosexuality is a gender issue

Maybe we'll get to these as we go along. At any rate, I'm hoping that before we get out of Genesis, we at least look at Jacob and Esau.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Gender and Creation Myths

OK, since a lot of you seem to be interested in gender and Genesis and all that, let's continue our discussion with a new post. There seem to be several questions that people are interested in answering, which I will summarize as follows:

  • Are there biologically-determined traits that occur more frequently in either sex? And if there are, can we distinguish them from other traits? And if we can, what should we do with this information?

  • Are there socially benefical roles for the sexes? That is, does a society gain significant benefits from encouraging women to behave a certain way and men a different way? And if so, are there also significant harms?

  • Are there divinely ordained roles for the sexes? That is, are there ways that God says women should be, and other ways that God says men should be? And if so, what are they, and how did we find out about them?

  • What should we expect to learn from the creation stories in Genesis?

OK, so the fourth one we haven't talked about much, and it really kind of folds into the third one, but hey, this is my post, so I can be as sloppy as I want!

My opinion:

When we read the creation stories in Genesis, we should not expect them to be literally true. Instead, we should expect them to provide a broad metaphor that will help us understand ourselves.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Missteps in Iraq

Well, this makes things a little clearer.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Extemporaneous gender

Gosh, I suck at public speaking.

We're having a class at church on Wednesday nights: "Gender and the Kingdom of God". Sounds promising, right? Except that nobody really knows what they mean by "gender".

For maybe 30 years, the word "gender" has been used to denote the socially constructed part of a person's sexual identity. But most folks in the church aren't quite caught up on the latest thinking about gender. So our class starts its discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 by trying to divide the imago dei into "masculine" traits and "feminine" traits. This riles me up a bit, so I try to push people into defining their terms. I ask, "Who says?" Who says "nurturing" is feminine, while "powerful" is masculine?

The answer I want to hear has something to do with society or culture, but that answer is not forthcoming. So, nervous and agitated, I try to explain how sex and gender are different, and why the distinction is important. But what actually comes out sounds like five minutes of:

Bla bla bla nurturing bla gay men bla bla.

Did I mention I suck at public speaking?

Anyhow, I think my points are both important and simple, so I'm going to try again, and I'm going to limit myself to three sentences.

Here goes.

People like what they like, whether it's football or knitting, and attaching gender stereotypes to these preferences muddies our vision when we're trying to tackle the world's big problems: things like hunger, global warming, domestic abuse, and even terrorism.

But what's worse than gender stereotyping is looking to the Bible for support for our stereotypes, implying that we're not just failing our society when we refuse the roles of warrior male or submissive female, we're also rebelling against God's Will for all men and women.

If we fail to recognize that gender is socially constructed, and if we then fail to condemn the gender stereotypes in Genesis 2 as the rhetorical posturing of a patriarchal society, we will be bound to repeat the sinful patterns of bigotry, violence and self-hatred that have marred the church for generations.


Does that make sense?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Blogger Beta

My blog is now part of the blogger beta. It looks a little different, and in the sidebar I've added a "News" section that contains interesting articles that are coming through my feed reader.

Let me know if anything's acting weird; I'll report it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Response: Hart's Comments on Theodicy

(I'm pulling these comments up into posts because I think the articles and issues mentioned deserve posts of their own.)

Crystal links us to an article on theodicy by David B. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian. It's an excellent article, and eloquently communicates the problems implicit in certain Christian responses to evil:

"these attempts can span almost the entire spectrum of religious sensibility: they can be cold with Stoical austerity, moist with lachrymose piety, wanly roseate with sickly metaphysical optimism."

But Hart's understanding of how the world works is apparently quite different from mine. He talks about creation's fallen state, but this is a problem for me: how can we accept evolutionary theory and also accept the idea that creation was once perfect and then became corrupted?

Similarly, his discussion of Aquinas makes it clear that he thinks there are spiritual beings pushing and pulling on the visible world, and as I've said earlier, this doesn't work for me.

The theodicy i'm hoping to end up with will probably rest some of its weight on the panentheistic idea that God is present in all creation, and so fully rejoices in the good, and fully suffers in the evil, but for one reason or another, doesn't personally act on the world. (Instead, God's agency seems to be expressed through people, and most perfectly in Jesus.)

But coming from the tradition I come from, first I have to deal with the Bible. The modern/premodern move is mostly an attempt to salvage the Biblical text by translating it into terms that I (and maybe a few other materialists) can accept; to understand what seem to be blatant falsehoods as mere differences in language.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

Response: That Samaritan woman

The quote at the end of my previous post comes from a story in John, wherein Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman and teaches her a little about the nature of God's spirit. In the course of the discussion about this story, Scoots said that when the Samaritan woman brings up a religious argument, she is attempting to "distract Jesus from prying into her sketchy personal life".

While Scoots seems to come to excellent conclusions about the point of the story, I disagree with his characterization of the Samaritan woman, and think it is worth providing an alternative reading.

First, notice that the woman's long list of husbands actually shows her not to be a promiscuous woman, but a victim. As far as I know, a woman couldn't divorce a man, so either she had been divorced by all these men, or they had died, or some of both. And as a result, the Samaritan woman was probably living in the next best arrangement she could manage, given her culture and history of husbands. Sure, she might be changing the subject out of shame, but it's just as likely she's changing the subject because dead or deadbeat husbands aren't particularly pleasant to talk about.

Second, it's worthwhile to observe that the discussion Jesus has with the woman parallels the conversation he has with the highly educated Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3. As Thomas Robinson, minister for the Manhattan Church of Christ, writes in "A Community Without Barriers":

Here, Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman in exactly the same manner as he spoke with Nicodemus. He showed the same degree of seriousness, the same concern to lead both to deeper insights, and the same perception as to where they each were in their own spiritual development ... to this Samaritan woman, Jesus chose to begin to reveal the reality of the Spirit, which even Jesus’ closest disciples did not fully understand until years later.

And furthermore,

In the Gospel of John, it is to this Samaritan woman that Jesus chose first to affirm his identity as Messiah. He found in her an openness and a level of understanding that suggested that such a revelation to her could be fruitful. She in turn led others of her town to listen to Jesus and to come to believe in him as the Christ. Thus, remarkably, the Gospel of John suggests that the first real community of believers in Jesus was among the Samaritans, led to their own personal faith (though they were reluctant to admit it) by this Samaritan woman (John 4:39-42)