Sunday, July 31, 2016

Assorted Thoughts on Sex, Sexuality, Masculinity & Evangelicals

I posted these over at WenatcheeTheHatchet's blog, but I thought I'd put them down here as well:

-One interesting thing about the industrialized Western world is the complete vanishing of any sort of rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. While girls to womanhood is itself a reality, it is much less drastic and invasive. I think Leon Podles makes a good case about this, even if his hunch drives the argument more than any comprehensive data and conclusive evidence. These sorts of things are drying up everywhere in the wake of a globalist plastic culture. Now money becomes the real marker of adulthood, which means the only the wealthy and successful ever really mature, at least, according to the general cultural thrust. Thus, no wonder the military, militarized police forces, and gangs are swelling. Its an alternative for every other guy who doesn't want to be perpetually emasculated because he can't find a well paying job. I think this might go a ways to understand and explore the rise of male resentment in the West, particularly, but elsewhere also. Unfortunately, while people like Driscoll understood this, at some level, they embraced a similar approach to ISIS, embracing parodies and caricatures as models. Alastair has a good piece on "Lad culture" that I found helpful. I'm not sure what Christians can do, realistically. Perhaps there is hope in a revived sense of Confirmation that is imbued with a sense of "vocational" discernment (taking, perhaps, the best of the Jesuits). But this is only possible within a strong church tradition, and Evangelicalism has no backbone in this regard.

-Evangelicals rarely discuss sex maturely or deeply, at least that I've seen. You don't have to buy into Freud or Lacan to appreciate the additional layers of psychological depth that goes into sex, for both men and women. C.S. Lewis made a brief observation that if men lined up for a theater where they watched a piece of chicken rotate on stage, and drooled and paid hundreds of dollars for the chance, we wouldn't conclude that such is natural, but that there is something terribly wrong. So it is for sex, and we hardly consider the role of desire. Sex is never about sex, there are fantasies and wants in play. If we can't understand this, in order to properly understand ourselves, we will never be able to talk about sex rightly, and joy in celibacy becomes a contradiction. Of course, none of this thinking ever helps in the moment, but it seems that Evangelical sexuality is really confused and just revolving around the same constellation as everyone else post-Sexual Revolution. And Fouccault is right about the Sexual Revolution: it's not liberative, but trapped in the same paradigm as its Puritan forebearers. The Puritans were not anti-sex, per the propaganda, but just as hyper-sexed, more like today's evangelicals. We have not been liberated towards rightly ordered appetites, but merely different kinds of slaves on the plantation of Desire's Madness.

-Sadly, as per your other post on Evangelical appropriations of music, we are just behind the times, always lurching forward. At least the Mainline are, more or less, caught up with things as per their complete submersion within the Zeitgeist. If the Mainline acts mainly as a bizarre chaplaincy as for the current state of things, Evangelicals can behave more like a cult, with a persecution complex and all. I saw the documentary "Give me sex Jesus", which was disturbing as it was sobering. The liberative feeling that millenial Evangelicals have in finally sort of accepting the culture make them twice as blind, as even "secular" people realize all the contradictions, insanities, and disorders of the present sexual mores ethos. Why there's good work done in some of the high corners of some tradition (John Paul II's theology of the body and sexuality seems promising), it has trouble reaching people in a more concrete, teachable, form. I have hope for people like Jamie Smith to influence Evangelicals, but as it stands now, such influence is extremely limited. I don't expect a cultural revolution, but Christians have an obligation to help themselves and others to creatively interact with the times in a way that brings the gospel to bear on realities, and not idealities. Particularly, wedding culture, the meaning of sex and sexuality, and a proper theology of the body. But this sort of failure is not necessarily new, but novel in its 21st century instantiation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Closing the Gate of Hell

Carl Schmidt's most important contribution to political thinking was to understand how theological concepts, crucial for the construction of medieval society, translated into the modern world as secular ideologies. Schmidt called this 'political theology' and it undergirds, in its semi-Christian form, most political thinking of today. For example, any notion of "sovereignty" derives from the theological category which described God's authority and right over His creation.

One of Schmidt's categories was the medieval notion of the 'katachon'. This is the Greek word for the figure who restrained the spirit of Anti-Christ that St. Paul described in 1 Thessalonians. Medieval thinkers labeled certain people as 'katachon' in their bid to protect Europe. Certain kings were heralded as such when they turned back Muslim Arab or Turkish armies from invading Europe. Schmidt, as a heterodox Catholic, saw this as part of the role of the sovereign in European politics. Despite his ambivalence about the Nazis, Schmidt saw Hitler as a 'katachon' to hold back the apocalypse of Bolshevism, waiting to usher in anarchic chaos.

I think Schmidt's conceptualization of the 'katachon' is still important for understanding modern politics. Namely, I'm considering the presidential race this year. Donald Trump is a vicious and wicked man, but his openly stupid and rabid comments are not much worse, perhaps less subtle, than the establishment we already possess. Trump is not a pending doom as much a symptom of our own wanton and destructive life styles. He just possesses the crude honesty that offends our sensibilities. He is the American Way without a mask of pussy-footing and double-talk.

But, my point is that he is not much worse, for the health of Mankind, than what we have. But Hillary Clinton has positioned herself, even as blatantly corrupt and power-hungry as she is, as a kind of savior figure. Unlike Barack Obama, she does not herald herself as a kind of messianic figure, the one to usher in a new age of prosperity. Instead, she has angled herself as a 'katachon', and this strategy will either make or break her this election cycle.

Hillary as the 'katachon' means that she hopes to get elected as the guardian angel who will prevent the demon Trump from seizing the throne and ushering in doomsday. The American political landscape has taken on dark and disturbing dimensions through this apocalyptic rhetoric. Hillary claims to hold back the tides of darkness oozing out of the right-wing, a kind of last resort, the only knight left to fight the dragon. It's all myth and fairy-tale, but this might get her into the White House.

It's strange to see such theological, even biblical, concepts being implicitly deployed despite, so-called, avowed secularism pushed by "liberals". This is further proof that Americana, that nationalistic ideology, is just a heretical, blasphemous, form of Christianity. Corruptio Optimi Pessima.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Agony of Desire: Thoughts on Emotions

I like comics, but I particularly like Batman. The one thing that Batman has produced, despite bad instantiations, is a rogues' gallery that is strangely believable. No, I'm not talking materially. We don't have eco-terrorists who can control plants or men who must stay sub-zero in order to survive. But we certainly understand the idealistic zealot who is willing to sacrifice the means for the ends, or the man, driven by cruel fate and vengeance, doing whatever it takes to rescue his wife. These are the character bios of both Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, fantastical, but quite relateable. Hell, we've even had perverted killer-clown ala. John Wayne Gacy that fit the mold of a Joker.

What makes Batman a compelling hero, as I've said elsewhere, is his own self-understanding. He always treads the thin line between hero and villain. He is barely not the insane cast of criminals that he battles against. It's what makes him so capable in defeating them. Because they are so alike, Batman understands them, many times understanding them than they understand themselves. Many of the villains, perhaps barring the Joker, do not understand the neurotic insanity driving them. The Riddler doesn't realize his own sense of entitlement and inadequacy drives him. Scarecrow can't see how he's merely a bitter academic. The Mad Hatter can't see how he's a control freak who thinks the Human psyche is another thing to possess. Two-Face can't see his philosophy of chance as a thinly veiled justification for his own anger. And I could go on.

What all of this gets at is the fact that we readily understand these characters. Maybe we don't want to admit it. But the truth is that it reflects a fundamental fact of Human nature. Desire is a great fire, one that warms as often as it burns. It can be the greatest madness, the most blinding insanity, that can come upon man. We might scoff at the stupid man who has an affair, destroying his life for what seems like nothing. But then the desire comes upon us. Some describe love as a prolonged state of temporary insanity. While I wouldn't say that's "love", it's certainly valid.

However, we're assaulted with an older, perhaps Protestant, doctrine that asserts that emotions are merely imagination, an undisciplined branch of reason. We need to tighten our belts, whip ourselves into shape, and be proper. This has translated into the stupid liberalism of today, where we think things and actions are somehow value neutral. In terms of sex ethics, sex becomes a completely value neutral action, not leaving any effects what so ever, as long as the people are consenting. But this is patently insane, otherwise why common-sense work-based ethics or the accepted concept of power-abuse when relations between teachers-students or employer-employee exist?

This seems to be the general mood of today, where, despite protest, these retooled liberal Protestant ethics are merely the collapse of Humanity into the will. One might chart a particular trajectory from some Calvinist theologies that centered the essence of God into His will. Hence, the dark center of God, imperceptible, are His Decrees. Anthropology reflected that in the mixed-results world of Early Modern Europe where reformed was the command of the day. In the secularized theology of today, we maintain our individual bubbles and guide ourselves through life with our choices, located in our wants. But beneath the intellectual veneer of the will lies the grumblings of the belly, something modern society dare not countenance. It seems we'd rather live in a two-dimensional cardboard world than contemplating the dark spaces of the irrational.

However, rather than living as a bohemian and embracing the irrational in Dionysian sickness, we ought to tame our emotions. This is not denying they're irrational, collapsing them as "random" stirrings of our mind, but this is also not saying that they are unaccountable. Instead, the features of our inner world are complicated. Our rationality, our emotions, our will, and our love all play a complicated game of interaction. The reason for this is our fallen state where all our parts exist in a state of disharmony. Reason and emotion do not symphonically co-exist, distinctly but differently, but are many times confused and at war.

The difference between Batman and his villains is that Batman's reason interrogates his emotions. He keeps himself honest. Have you ever tried to do that? It's hard work and it's agonizing. But, chasing your desires heedlessly is also incredibly painful. The labor of self-discipline is one that is strenuous, but the only way to stay sane.

Thanks be to God that He has liberated for the task! The Light of Christ shining upon us has awoken a new love, poured out upon us as the Holy Spirit, to begin the healing of our souls. While this Light is supernatural, the healing revelation of God as Christ into our lives, the functional application is natural. That is to say, Humanity was made for right-ordering, and so the process towards restoration is also a natural process. So it makes sense that a comic book character can mimic such a process, fantastically, with any dose of realism.

Batman is perpetually plagued and lonely, and such is sometimes the cost of tangling with our wants and desires and subordinating them for the good. Life is a cross, and as Christians, we ought to take it upon ourselves to understand that it is both a kind of death, but also the promise and hope of life. Such is what life is like when we grapple to bring in our emotions. St. Basil allegorically compared this task to Man's vocation to tame all wild beasts, and it is fittingly so. It is our vocation as Humans to bring our emotions into contact with reason. This is not to suppress the irrational and the emotional, but to keep them accountable.

The price of sanity is itself a kind of righteous insanity, so we're caught between two agonies. May God give us the strength to persevere in order to be free.