noblethemes

Love Given, None Believe … I Grieve

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I’m walking this street,
I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Nothing to give, I offered my nothing for the something you gave to be given.
Forged in the fiery furnace of creation, creating creativity to create and enliven;
Not to be horded and hidden, guarded in greed, ensconced in my darkened soul,
But as gifted gift, to be gifted, like the lighted flame not concealed under bowl.

And I’m walking this street,
And I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

And I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Filled with love from heaven above, given in pain my heart to stain,
Suffering load to bear in train; no one to take for this soul’s sake
One kiss of affection, love in perfection, life with direction;
Bound by loneliness, she’s not to be found; my sufferings abound.

But I’m walking this street,
And I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

And I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Everything you have given me, then, I give back to you, all for nothing more.
Consumed in the fiery furnace of oblivion, to walk through death’s dark door,
Crushed and crucified on this blood-soaked cross I lifted up and chose to carry,
And yet does your voice drift in on the wind, “What I give you I do not bury.”

But I’m walking this street,
And I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of every one I meet.

And I’m seeing this hand,
And the wandering band
Of empty souls with no demand.

Gift offered, none to receive,
Love given, none believe
And so tired and weary, I grieve.

Yeah, I’m hearing the beat
Of the hearts of everyone I meet,
But love I offer, no one receives,
And I’m at my end … I grieve.

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Written by noblethemes

May 24, 2015 at 7:56 PM

Spent and Crushed, I Groan

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lonely-manI am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
~ Of Dawud, From the Psalter of Judeo-Christianity

Continuing into the doldrums of deep depression, I am now again in the pitch black room, sealed on every side, groping in the oppressive darkness; crying to be heard, reaching to touch the strong Beauty born of my desire, fantastical, so unreal. No one answers; no one reaches; no one touches.

The world is filled “with sound and fury signifying nothing,” as the master playwrite spoke so long ago, and I am imprisoned in the tumultuous cacophony of futility, looking for my Redeemer upon whose bosom I might rest my head, to feel her strong arms wrapped round me, her succulent breasts of life-giving milk. And is she incarnate now, and will she come?

In this dark world, few can see. Like birds that free themselves from the net, only a few find their way to heaven. Swans fly on the path of the sun by their wonderful power; the wise rise above the world, after conquering Mara and his train.

Who will give me wings so to fly? And must I learn alone? Mara has conquered thus far; he relishes in his spoil, but there is still the path of the sun I cannot see, but know, as others have told. Shall I be free? Come thou Liberator to liberate! Come thou Creatrix to re-create! Come thou Shepherdess to guide me into fair pastures of verdure! Ah but…

Out of silent subtle mystery emerge images. These images coalesce into forms. Within each form is contained the seed and essence of life. Thus do all things emerge and expand out of darkness and emptiness.

And so shall I be born again out of this darkness and emptiness? One came from heaven to give life, abundant and everlasting. What is this life, though, when the life is lived alone ~ for it is not good for man to be alone ~ and where is the angel to whom I would render obeisance? Whom I would love and serve, uphold and praise, for only the recompense of being loved and led, comforted and caressed, claimed and cherished? Is there such an angelic one, so mighty and wise and altogether beautiful?

Ah, but I circle my dark cell, blindly groping the walls to find my freedom door, pining for the light and hope in the wondrous amazement of an ongoing creation not complete, wondering if this is the end of a life never really lived in holy communion promised by the Everlasting One, who is Communion. My God, my God! The splendor of your love and magnificence, how is it known but in the bonds of impassioned love of two become one ~ the icon of your heavenly splendor? And is purgatorial fire more fierce than the denial of this boon?

But I am alone and lonely, weak and weary. I cannot go on … Shall I here die in this prison, then?

Lamentation of the Soul

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JDN2I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my coach with my weeping; my eyes waste away because of grief…

I feel somewhat like Quoheleth of old, to wit, that everything is vanity – empty, vacuous, without rhyme or reason, ultimately meaningless – in my own life, at least. Degrees seem like nothing more than worthless pieces of paper, writings best sacrificed to the flames, work both past and present inconsequential … and loneliness shrouds me like a woolen garment in mid-summer. I am lost in an inhospitable wilderness, no longer searching for the illusive Promised Land, but only for water to satiate my terrible thirst. No oasis appears on the horizon, and only dæmonic voices can be heard beneath the searing sun, while screeching wraiths dance round my dying frame in the midnight hour, salivating over my damned soul. This is how I feel.

What cause? Walking this earth an intolerable lifetime alone and lonely, unloved because unlovable, untouched and unburied, repugnant and without life; merely existing, one wasted man in this wasted world. No eyes look upon with compassion, no tears are shed; no kindly smiles are offered, no arms reach to embrace; no cool clothe to wipe my fevered brow, no sweet kiss and gentle caress.

It’s a cheap trick, boy, more than a soul pin-prick;
Dicey to play the game; it always ends the same
Walking down this lonely road on a starlit night
With dust on your shoes … and love –
Love out of sight.

Into the deep quagmire of depression I descend once again, but only to question again if this is not another epiphany, an uncovered, naked realization of truth. For all the kindly words spoken, courtesies extended, services happily rendered, compliments paid, gifts given, prayers prayed and screams in the night; there is still no one. I’ve been given no guardian angel, yet I dare not complain. The divine mandate is issued without any recourse to flights of human fancy and desires born of primordial urges. I would serve as the servant of all servants, yet even God gives me breathe only to fill space that, in the mystery of life, cannot be left vacant. How should I then expect anyone else to want me?

With each passing day the grave looks more the kindly home than my own wrecked heart could ever be, this dark and haunted domicile of my soul. Let me go, Governor; let me go! Mine eyes have seen your glory and the glory of your salvation; the liberation of people called your own, your children, and the One who was born to be Liberator. Now let me depart in peace. There is nothing more; for me, there has been nothing, to be received nor to offer, or if offered no one to receive nor who cares to receive. Why continue in futility? Have you consigned me to the Purgatorial fires here in this world? But to what avail, when I’ll surely descend again into the purifying flames? Free me, for the sake of your mercy, for there is no one here for me, no one to whom I can turn, no bosom upon which to lay my head. My life is rot, my work refuse, and should I meet the one of whom I’ve dreamed and for whom I’ve longed, she could not long look to me, repugnant, and I have not the strength to make appeal.  No, wedding chimes are heard at the tomb. I’ll give myself completely to the ground, make love to the earth, and celebrate in the netherworld.

Born in darkness unbidden, you left me forlorn;
And deaf to my cries, forever hidden your face…

And where now my heart, no soul but shade,
But eternally imprisoned in the land of oblivion?
This child of yours, this creature you made,
Begging your favor! God, arouse and awaken!

And all my hopes and dreams and aspirations lie once again, shattered on the ground of reality.

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Written by noblethemes

May 22, 2015 at 3:59 PM

Lay Psychological Thoughts on Authority, Decision-Making and Thought-Action Trajectories

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By no means am I a psychologist, hence the title of this article, but I would like to offer some thoughts inspired lately by considering the subject of men, women, gender traits, and traditional roles. Specifically, I’d like to focus on authority and leadership, especially given the fact that, though women are still far behind men in leadership positions, the trend is definitely upward and will likely continue, as former U. S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and now Harvard professor Joseph Nye notes:

In the past, when women fought their way to the top of organisations, they often had to adopt a “masculine style”, violating the broader social norm of female “niceness”. Now, however, with the information revolution and democratisation demanding more participatory leadership, the “feminine style” is becoming a path to more effective leadership… That is a trend, not (yet) a fact.[1]

He is commenting more about high-level leadership positions in society, which is quite interesting, of course, but here I’m more concerned with the intimate personal-companional level. At this level, as well as the “higher” and, perhaps, more visible levels, it’s always been (mostly) “a man’s world.” This is stating the obvious, but I have to believe that traditional stereotypes and expectations are changing – being given the liberty to change – and that what is occurring, however slowly, at very visible, higher-level leadership positions is also occurring in the home. Is this good? First, is it understandable? To answer this question, I’d like to first present a scenario to introduce a couple of new (to myself, anyway) ideas, then move on to answer the former question.

Suppose James is in an awful, debilitating depression and, consequently, practically unable to function. In such a depressive state, and unable to effectively make sound decisions, he might say, in so many words, to his life companion, Jessica, “Take over, please,” or “call it, if you will, because I’m not thinking clearly,” or “take the wheel, please, otherwise I’m going to wreck.” This handing over to another willing and able person, in this case Jessica, thus alleviates the cognitive-emotional pressure the subject, James, cannot bear – as in bearing the load, the weight of the load – and then, consequently, renders recovery a greater possibility. Hardly anyone with whom I’m acquainted would disagree that this is an obvious, very understandable request-decision for James.

Of course, the person being asked must be wholly trusted by the subject, especially in a state of suffering, and also capable and willing, even decided, to lead and make decisions. The subject must also invest this person with full authority at that point, in order to make the complete transference of the weight of decision-making, thus voluntarily and completely removing the burden being assumed by the other. At this point I’d like to answer the question of whether or not Jessica is capable of assuming authority and leading, while noting that each individual is different, naturally, but Jessica is an example for the purpose of this illustration only; therefore, I’ll assume she is and this time take my queue from Professor Ronald E. Riggio:

There is a growing body of research that has studied the leadership styles and leadership “potential” of men and women, typically men and women managers (but also women in non-managerial positions). For example, using the theory of transformational leadership as an indicator of successful leadership (transformational leaders are inspirational, positive role models, concerned about followers, empowering, and push followers to be creative and take chances), research shows that women, as a group, have more transformational qualities than men. In other words, and based on this research, women have more leadership potential and tend to lead more effectively than men.[2]

In this excerpt, we should note that the research to which Dr. Riggio points includes “women in non-managerial positions,” as well as “women managers;” consequently, the scope extends beyond the corporate world (and mentality, thank God!) into other areas of life and, yes, women are able to lead. To put it another way, there is nothing innate, or part of the woman’s constitutional nature rendering her, generally speaking as the female of the homo sapien species, unable to assume authority, make decisions, and actually lead. Point in fact, the archetypal woman may be more distinctively qualified to lead than the “typical” man. This is especially good for James, who has been debilitated, but not to the point of not being able to realize – in the sense of realization – one possible, viable solution to his painful conundrum (who will make the important decisions now, while I’m in this awful state?)

And, after all, in James’ case, this may have nothing to do with innate ability, or lack thereof, but rather the mind thinking along one particular trajectory, resulting in acting along same trajectory – one of sickness (depression) and recovery (healing.) One will usually think along some particular trajectory, such as, perhaps, the creative-deconstructive trajectory. If someone is thinking along the trajectory of creation – deconstruction, for example, then she might write a story or poetry, compose a song, paint an attractive landscape portrait, etc. (or, for that matter, on the deconstructive side of the coin, edit or revise or commit some work to the flames. By deconstructive, I mean in the sense of dismantling and/or “taking away from,” not that the process engaged in is not ultimately, in the end, constructive.)

There are any number of trajectories, I believe, such as:

  • Authority/Leadership – Consent/Compliance
  • Creation – Deconstruction
  • Preparation – Improvisation

Having made this observation, then, I’d like to offer two more examples, or hypothetical cases, if you will:

Let’s say James is an artist. He spends most of his time and energy in the thought-action trajectory of creation – deconstruction. Consequently, he has very little time or energy to expend in the thought-action trajectory of authority/leadership – consent /compliance (which might also be, in other contextual settings, better described as discipleship, mere obedience, etc.) Now Jessica happens to be an intelligent, discerning, confident woman, who cares deeply about James – she is compassionate with wisdom – and also is inspirational, and all-in-all provides an excellent, trustworthy role model. She possesses the capability as well as the willingness to think-act along the trajectory of authority/leadership – consent/compliance; ready, willing, and able to take on the mantle of shepherdess, priestess, and regent, so to speak. She will be the matrona capita, not feminam tyrannuas, though.

Let’s now look at another hypothetical case. Let’s say Jessica is a nurse practitioner with advanced degree in health and human services, to boot. She spends an awful lot of her time and energy along the trajectory of health/healing – sickness/disease. While she may not have much time to think-act in an authority/leadership – consent/compliance trajectory, if James is an artist, then it only stands to reason that where the health and welfare of their household is concerned, Jessica will naturally think-act along the authority/leadership – consent/compliance trajectory subsumed under the primary health/healing – sickness/disease trajectory, i.e. the one becomes the lesser, parallel trajectory of the other.

What the first hypothetical case shows is that there are situations in which one is quite unable to assume authority, make decisions, and lead … even, or perhaps especially, where it concerns the subject personally. The second hypothetical situation exemplifies, hypothetically, a situation in which the subject is, perhaps, capable enough yet simply not able to take authority and lead (for the most part) because he is largely thinking-acting along another trajectory; he is largely invested in an ongoing, demanding, time-consuming occupation that will not allow him to think-act effectively along the trajectory of authority/leadership – consent/compliance. And part of the reason for this, too, may very well be that his thought-action trajectory is not very compatible with the other. (Creative artists, writers, musicians, etc. often do not guide, direct, administrate well.) The third hypothetical case exemplifies the subject, this time Jessica, as one having specific skills and capabilities above and beyond her companion, such that in that life area she naturally assumes authority and leadership. She is simply better qualified, so it would be reckless for James to insist on making health and welfare decisions for their household (how many ever members it may include, although the presence of children makes this much more crucial.)

One can (hopefully) easily see that in different situations and circumstances, the woman might just as easily take the lead as the man, and sometimes far more successfully. One might also conclude that, as is fortunately the case at least some of the time, leadership on an intimate personal-companional level is not either the man or the woman, but both the woman and the man. Here now I’d like to factor in personality types as another possibly important consideration. I’m not going to delve into specific personality tests, but some say there are sixteen types. Using this as a benchmark, then I’d like us to suppose Jessica ranks high in nurturing, inspiring, and decision-making. On the other hand, James ranks high in aestheticism, thinking, and reflective idealism. Who would naturally be better qualified, given their dominant personality traits, to take authority, make decisions, and lead? James or Jessica? If James is more the thinking, reflective-idealistic artist, who spends the greater amount of his time and effort along the thought-action trajectory of creation – deconstruction, then might he actually appreciate Jessica, his nurturing and inspiring companion, who is fully capable of good, sound decision-making, picking up the responsibility of authority and leadership within their relationship and domestic life? Would he probably not be extremely grateful to allow her to be whom and what she is naturally, that is, in her constitutional make-up? And, for that matter, wouldn’t Jessica also be grateful? After all, there’s nothing like trying to turn an aesthetic into an administrator!

Back to our first two questions: Taking situations and circumstances, personality types, character traits, gifts, talents, abilities, desires and willingness, etc. all into account, then I believe we can see that women certainly can lead and, more often than many may want to admit, ought to lead. This is by no means an universal conclusion. As stated above, every individual is different; however, one proposition ought to be certain, and that is that the man in such a relationship as that of James and Jessica ought not to feel ashamed, or less than a “real” man, for deferring to his counterpart in an interdependent, healthy relationship of deep and mutual love, respect and trust.

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[1] Joseph S. Nye, “When Women Lead the World,” as published in Aljazeera on February 27, 2012, and accessed May 21, 2015

[2] Ronald E. Riggio, PhD, “Do Men and Women Lead Differently? Who’s Better?” as re-published by Psychology Today earlier published by Cutting Edge Leadership on March 23, 2010, accessed on May 21, 2015

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Written by noblethemes

May 21, 2015 at 4:34 PM

Recapitulation on the Question of Religious Fundamentalism

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When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun by nettles.
– Horace Walpole

My intellect would wish for a clear-cut universe with no dim corners, but there are all these cobwebs in the cosmos.
– Carl Jung

Often times I rush in “where angels fear to tread,” or speak (or write) before I’ve properly though through the subject upon which I’m commenting, and I’ve ended up unintentionally hurting people’s feelings or making them angry. While I don’t believe this is (or should be) the case with my latest post, “Sloughheart, My Self, and Silly Fundamentalism”, I would still like to recapitulate and make certain I’m being as clear and understandable as possible on this topic. Having said this, then, I’d like to proceed point-by-point, but I will also broaden the scope of fundamentalism to (hopefully) aid in the clarification of my thoughts.

First, using the Oxford English Dictionary, I defined “fundamentalism” in my most recent blog as:

Fundamentalism – 1 a form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions; 2 the elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometime severely.

Since I have lately dived into the dark morass of epistemology, skirting the coastlines of the philosophy of language in the process, I’ve become far more sensitive to definitions and the proper use of language, so… Is this a good definition? I’d probably benefit from having an encyclopedist and/or linguist critique it, but I don’t personally know any such persons; we’ll simply proceed to “pick apart” this definition and thereby (hopefully) bring greater lucidity to both what I mean and what I don’t mean. There are two parts to my definition; let’s begin with the first:

  • A form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions

Upon further reflection, I believe I’d add “unreflectingly” before “upholds.” Fundamentalism is “a form of religion, which unreflectingly upholds belief in … etc.” There are people I know, and have known, who, for example, believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis (chapter one) account of creation. However, they are willing to say, while they hold the position of scientific creationism, that belief in intelligent design or theistic evolution does not damn one’s soul to hell. Point in fact, they have friends and family members who hold such views, and some of these people I know are willing to admit they may be wrong in their viewpoint. They’ve also spent some time openly and honestly exploring the subject; therefore, I would not label them as fundamentalist. After all, if we’re not careful here, we could end up labelling the vast majority of humanity as fundamentalists, which would then render the term almost vacuous, an otherwise empty word bereft of any substantive meaning … except, perhaps, that it would be indicative merely of someone who believes something more or less definitely.

No, the fundamentalist, by the above definition (first part) would be someone who unreflectingly holds to scientific creationism. In this sense, it’s worth mentioning that not a few atheistic evolutionists fit this description as well, and make no mistake, there are fundamentalist atheists. The man who unreflectingly subscribes to atheistic evolution may be just as guilty of anti-intellectualism, at this point at least, as the proponent of scientific creationism … no matter how good and valid the evidence for biological evolution is (or seems to be.) Along these same lines, let me mention a point C. S. Lewis made in one of his essays concerning the interpretation of scripture: While he admitted he was not, properly speaking, a Bible scholar, he was well-versed in literature and the proper methods of reading, understanding, and interpreting literature (particularly that of Medieval Europe.) He contended that one first has to know the type of literature one is reading before she can hope to properly interpret that literature, and he applies this to Scripture.[1] The fundamentalist would (and does) balk at this, saying in effect that “God says what he means and means what he says, and it’s all clear enough, unless you simply don’t want to believe it. Then you twist it and turn it until it suits you better.” This is the anti-intellectual, narrow-mindedness of fundamentalism. It is not an anomaly, either; one finds this present in Islam, Hinduism, atheism, communism, etc.

Concerning “inherited customs and/or religious traditions,” we might look at the restrictive face-covering niqāb worn by Muslim women in Islamist societies as a strictly enforced adherence to an otherwise outdated custom. The less-restrictive hijab has been worn by women for generations upon generations as a way of showing, or preserving, modesty.[2] One wonders, though, just to what extent the Muslim woman ought to show modesty, even by Quranic standards. Should it be, as Islamists evidently believe, as far as wearing the niqāb? (I’m not an expert of Islam, but I believe the question is valid nonetheless.) Also, one might ask why it is the woman is forced to show such an extent of modesty, but not the man, which all seems a bit misogynistic by contemporary Western standards, at least. However, is the wearing of a hijab wrong, in and of itself? It would be difficult to make such a case; after all, there may be plenty of Muslim women who want to wear the hijab while knowing full-well that it’s not absolutely necessary to modesty and decency.

What about these women? One could hardly contend they’re fundamentalist, at least without (again) broadening the definition of “fundamentalism” to the point that it no longer serves any practical purpose in communication. There are, we should remember, plenty of customs and traditions, religious and otherwise, to which people faithfully adhere. Are they all fundamentalists? Are the people who put on traditional Fourth of July parades in the United States, as well as those who faithfully attend, socio-political fundamentalists? Perhaps some of them are – and they would more properly be called “nationalists,” I believe – but traditional Fourth of July parades do not make them fundamentalists … and I say this as one who’s never really cared much for this type of celebration, not because I consider myself unpatriotic, but simply because I really don’t like parades very much at all. But if we label someone who’s faithful to the tradition, the custom, of such parades a fundamentalist, then it’s only fair to ask whether or not I’m an anti-patriotic fundamentalist for rather decidedly refusing to attend and join such celebrations. I trust the reader will see how, if we’re not careful, use of the term “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism” can quickly devolve into noxious absurdity.

Let’s now move on to the second part of my above definition:

  • The elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometimes severely

And I would like to divide this up into portions (a) and (b) so that we’ll talk about “the elevation of particular doctrines and practices … etc.” first, then “the observation and … failure to adhere to this (or these) standard(s) being punished, sometimes severely.” So, as an example of (a) we might look at a favorite among fundamentalist Protestants, an eschatological doctrine: Dispensational premillennialism. This is the belief that “the second coming of Christ, and subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom,” one thousand years of peaceful, paradisiacal life on earth, “is to be preceded by a seven-year … period known as” the Great Tribulation, “the earthly activity of the Antichrist, as well as the outpouring of God’s wrath on” sinful humanity. (Many, if not most, dispensationalists believe true Christians will be raptured off the earth before the Great Tribulation.) Dispensational premillennialism also “holds that the nation of Israel will be saved and restored to a place of preeminence” during the millennial reign of Christ on earth. “Thus, Israel will have a special function of service (during) the millennium that is different from that of the Church or saved Gentiles.”[3]

For some independent, fundamentalist churches, this is the linchpin of their theology; it is, by analogy, the hub of the wheel, and one cannot be a member of their church without subscribing to the doctrine of dispensational premillennialism (as well as other doctrines.) Examples of proponents of this doctrine are: Timothy LaHaye, John Hagee, Harold (Hal) L. Lindsey, Charles C. Ryrie, Robert (Bob) R. Jones III, Arlin and Beka Horton, and others known quite well within American Protestant circles – ones that agree with dispensationalism and one that vehemently disagree. If you’re unfamiliar with these names, or seem to be, then let me share a bit of information about them. Arlin and Beka Horton were the co-founders of Pensacola Christian College (PCC) in Pensacola, Florida. PCC is, perhaps, most notable for creating a curriculum, named after Beka Horton, widely used among Protestant Christian schools. PCC is also decidedly legalistic in its rules and regulations. Bob Jones III’s grandfather founded Bob Jones University in 1927 in Bay County, Florida. (The university is now located in Greenville, South Carolina.)

Timothy LaHaye, along with Jerry Jenkins, authored the infamous Left Behind series, which centers upon the apocalyptic end of the world after, of course, Christians have been raptured up to heaven. The series included 16 installments, all best sellers, and led to the production of several movies, video games, paraphernalia and whatnot – an abominable billion-dollar industry unto itself. Hal Lindsey authored the mega-best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, back in the early 1970s; it had sold approximately 28 million copies by 1990.[4] He went on to write such books as Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and There’s A New World Coming.[5]

On the obligation to adhere to certain practices – rigid rules, unyielding standards – with the failure to do so resulting in sometimes (oftentimes?) harsh punishment, there is no shortage of examples. The fundamentalist mentality is arrogant, concretized narrow-mindedness that demands conformity of its subordinates; thus, the legalistic fundamentalist (private Christian) school teacher beats a boy’s naked bottom for letting a “darn” slip through his lips, and his father (or mother) might very well reinforce this discipline at home by exacting the same punishment. This is certainly not unheard of; in fact, it might be all-too-common. Husbands demand silence and complete, abject obedience from their wives and children.

Pastors verbally pound their congregations two or three times each week for being wicked sinners in need of repentance, which is, frighteningly enough, one of the expected practices within typical independent, fundamentalist churches. Boys and men must have their hair cut short, above the ears and tapered in the back. Women must not cut their hair, beyond slightly trimming, perhaps; they must also avoid hair coloring and make-up. Jewelry is not allowed for males, of course, and often not allowed for women, either. Everyone is barred from listening to any contemporary music; sometimes everyone is discouraged from even listening to classical sacred music, i.e. they are limited to songs from the old hymn book and Gospel music. The list goes on and on, but the result is the same: There is some price to pay for failure to comply.

This is even more noticeable in Islamism; individuals can lose fingers and hands for stealing, or their very lives for what might be considered blasphemy, even if it is not so according to Qur’anic standards. The news around the world is packed full of horrendous stories of the extremities to which Islamists are going in order to enforce compliance to their exceedingly stringent, narrow version of Islam. People are being murdered, children are being ripped away from their parents, homes burned, sometimes entire villages destroyed. Adherents of other faith-religions are in constant danger… All of this militates against the mainstream history and heritage of Islam, which many in the West no longer know, as well as the basic attitude and perspective of Muslims round the world.[6] This is the ugly face of fundamentalism. It crops up, too, in Hinduism,[7] which seeks to recover “an original Hindu empire.”[8]

In Christianity, much of the problem with fundamentalism stems from an inappropriate interpretation and application of the scriptures, historical ignorance, and a gross under-appreciation for catholic (universal) growth and maturation. As stated before in previous blogs, I am no Bible scholar, but in the study of Scripture it seems to me an excellent approach would be as follows:

  1. Learn as much as possible the historical context of the passage, i.e. the social customs of ancient Israel, the Ancient Near East in general, Hellenization, the political situation, the early Roman Empire, concurrent religions, etc.
  2. Utilize basic study aids, such as: Dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias,[9] lexicons, concordances, etc. as well as at least three reputable translations[10]
  3. Consult commentaries, ancient and contemporary,[11] varied in theological perspective.[12]
  4. Take notes, discuss with others (intelligent and serious), meditate (prayerfully), etc.
  5. Consider what contemporary application – via (perhaps) appropriate re-contextualization[13] – the passage might offer, beneficially of course.

Fundamentalist rarely do this, or if they do, then it’s quite narrow. They might, for example, use the Scofield Study Bible, extremely popular among dispensationalists, or the Ryrie Study Bible; maybe Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the King James Version translation, and the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary published by Moody Press. They’ll rarely venture out in Bible study beyond the narrow confines of dispensational, fundamentalist theology, though, and so while they learn, they really never mature intellectually. Their vision remains tunneled, their understanding very myopic. And this is why, in my previous article, I said:

Fundamentalism wallows in shallow, anemic over-simplification, and when challenged, IBFs will (in the greater part of such instances) either try to out shout their opponent(s) with Bible verses and trite remarks, or withdraw into their fundamentalist fortress where they can privately deride their opponent(s) and relish the fantastical feeling of victory.

Now, again, for what and whom I do not mean to indict in all this: I do not mean by “fundamentalist” merely someone who is theologically conservative, or more traditional – after all, I consider myself to be for the most part a consensually orthodox-catholic Christian – and I do not mean someone who stands confidently upon what she believes. None of this is, properly speaking, fundamentalism. Hopefully, my above comments will clarify any misunderstanding arising from my last article, or the one before: “Masculinity According to an Evangelical Woman.” Although I really should have entitled that article, “Masculinity According to a Fundamentalist Woman,” but alas, I did not, so I will simply have to proffer an apology here for that mistake.

Any other points that may need clarification will have to wait for someone eager enough to ask, which is certainly welcome, of course. Otherwise, we venture forth into other subject matter!

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[1] I believe the essay is entitled, “Historicism,” and is found in Christian Reflections, 124-140. An interesting, and perhaps informative, essay on the topic of C. S. Lewis and proper interpretation of Scripture is offered by David Williams in “C. S. Lewis on Scripture: God’s Word in Human Words,” as accessed on May 20, 2015

[2]Women and Veiling: What is the Hijab and Why Do Women Wear It?” accessed on May 20, 2015; cf. Qur’an 24. 30-31; 33. 58-59

[3] “What is Dispensational Premillennialism/Premillennial Dispensationalism?” on GotQuestions?org, as accessed on May 20, 2015

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, MDiv, PhD. Historical Jesus. ‘Prophet of the New Millennium.’ The Teaching Company, 2000, Lecture 24.

[5] As an interesting aside, Lindsey evidently required help writing his first two books, Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. What makes this so interesting is the fact that at least the first was actually ghost-written by Carole C. Carlson, a woman! David Jeremiah has also used her talents in writing a good many books. Cf. “Carole C. Carlson, The Mother of Modern Prophecy,” accessed on May 20, 2015; also, the Wikipedia article for “The Late Great Planet Earth.”

[6] Some will disagree with me on this point; however, I am not proselytizing for Islam, nor am I making outlandish claims for Muslim faith and practice. Cf. Professor Huseyin Algul, faculty member specializing in Islamic History in the Department of Theology at Uludag University, Bursa, Turkey, “Islam is a Religion of Love and Peace,” accessed on May 20, 2015; also, perhaps,the Islam Is Peace (British) web site.

[7] An interesting article to read on the topic of Hindu fundamentalism, and how it ties in with Indian nationalism, is “Outlines of Hindu Fundamentalism” found on the University of Idaho web site by an anonymous author, accessed May 20, 2015

[8] See above reference

[9] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia published by Eerdmans and edited by Goeffrey Bromiley is an excellent choice.

[10] Fundamentalists are notorious for the practical veneration of the King James (Authorized) Version; however, although this is one of the most beautiful classics of the English language – certainly appropriate on one’s bookshelf – it is based upon the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, which is outdated now. Better English translations include, but are not limited to, the Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible (Revised Edition), English Standard Version, and (from what I’ve been told by those who should know) perhaps the New International Version.

[11] The Church’s Bible series published by Eerdmans offers an excellent source of Patristic understanding of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.

[12] Background commentaries are also very useful, and several publishing companies, such as IVP (mainline conservative), offer such.

[13] An example of re-contextualization can be found on the Defeating the Dragons blog, specifically the article, “The Prophecy of Amos, Revised.”

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Sloughheart, My Self, and Silly Fundamentalism

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My own background was socio-politically conservative; economically capitalistic; and broadly evangelical, Protestant-Christian. To make some necessary distinction, though, it was not libertarian or hyper-capitalistic, nor was my background religiously fundamentalist. Growing up, I was encouraged to read (and listen) widely, including of course other, differing perspectives. For example, my father handed me The Communist Manifesto to read when I was about 14-years-old (or so), and at some point gave me an interesting introduction to Catholicism entitled, Mr. Jackson Talks to Father Smith,[1] which was written (and presumably published) in Jackson, Mississippi to be distributed there to anyone interested in the Roman Catholic Church. He also introduced me to his friend, the Catholic priest in our town, back in the early 80s, allowed me to visit other churches (and he was a pastor), introduced me to foreign films, notably those of Federico Fellini, an Italian filmmaker “known for his distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque images with earthiness.”

No, not in any sense did I grow up in a legalistic, fundamentalist background. Of course, I was appropriately catechized in the Reformed tradition, even though we attended an independent Methodist church my father pastored, the rationale being that George Whitefield was also Methodist and he was Calvinistic. We were not exactly Calvinistic, but leaned heavily in that direction, so the Westminster Shorter Catechism did nicely for my doctrinal training. However, I was also exposed to the sermons of John Wesley; we did have a traditional, Methodist-type service at our little church; professors from Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi were invited to preach and/or teach, etc. I remember, too, my parents purchasing for me (at my request) a collection of essays by Marx and Friedrich Engels on religion. (It turned out to be a rather boring read, but…) My father wanted me to understand libertarianism, socialism, the New Deal, and the Great Society. My mother particularly encouraged me to read especially C. S. Lewis, but also Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. My father steered me in the direction of Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Victor Hugo and others.

The last of five children, with my closest sibling being eight years my senior, to a certain extent I felt like an only child; however, my (by then older than usual) parents and I had an awful lot of fun. We went camping, hiking, fishing; we loved to grill out and play games, indoors and out; we had pets (always at least one); we loved singing and laughing and watching television (and later movies) together. My parents were by no means fuddle-duds; they were serious when they needed to be serious, but otherwise … fun … and very lovable. Consequently, I don’t know that I have the background necessary to critique fundamentalism – as I did in my last essay, Masculinity According to an Evangelical Woman – yet I don’t know that I can quite apologize for going ahead and doing so, either. Thankfully, my background also included some exposure to fundamentalism early on, and my father was the one who began explaining to me the pitfalls of moral legalism, theological dispensationalism,[2] and the anti-intellectualism that seems to attend both.

I also attended two Independent Bible Fundamentalist (IBF) high-schools – where, let me be quick to say, I met some of the best folk in the world despite the environment – and so I tasted enough firsthand to legitimately say that, despite my upbringing, I do have some experiential knowledge of legalistic fundamentalism. This is the topic I’d like to address now. So far as other socio-political and economic perspectives are concerned, well … perhaps another time. (Suffice it to say here, I have moved to just “left of center” politically, and I also see some redeeming value in socialistic ideology. Hyper-capitalism is no better for people in general, or society in toto, than Marxist-Communism … in my humble opinion.) Why this seems to be such a burning issue for me, I may never know, but it is and it has been for years upon years. One can readily see (I believe) from what I’ve shared that I didn’t get clobbered with legalistic fundamentalism growing up; just the opposite, in fact. Let me go one step further and say with certainty that I would never have read as much and as widely, nor travelled as much, nor frequented art museums, etc. had it not been for my parents. Yes, I have grown up into my “own man,” so to speak, and I know full well they would disagree with me at several points … but I also know they anticipated this with me, as they did with all of their children.

My encounters with fundamentalism and what knowledge I do have of this peculiar life-perspective has significantly factored into what “my own man” is today, that is, the still-maturing individual I am now. For example, I never understood the passionate zeal for altar calls and divinely gratuitous salvation displayed in so many IBF churches on the one hand, and extreme moral legalism on the other. What is the necessity, according to this way of thinking (if I may use the term loosely) for moral legalism if salvation is completely an unearned gift? Gratitude, perhaps? I can’t help but say, though, from my observation, IBFs don’t ordinarily strike me as being very grateful; point in fact, to look at their lives, salvation seems quite burdensome rather than something for which to be thankful. Nevertheless, gratitude may very well be a reasonable answer to my query; however, this only seems to include moral legalism, not charity. Where charity – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – is concerned, this is all-too-often condemned as “works religion,” something Roman Catholics do; no genuine, Bible-believing Christian would ever engage in works-based religion. There is, of course, an entire breakdown in logic in this line of thinking: If one should show gratitude through abiding by some strict moral standard, then one should also give charitably in order to show gratitude. (After all, it’s certainly commanded in Scripture!) If, however, charity is “works-based religion,” i.e. trying to earn one’s way to heaven, and if this is wrong, then abiding by a strict moral code must also be “works-based religion,” and thereby be wrong as well. Both are of the same species, and what applies to one, so far as life-action is concerned,[3] applies to the other, too.

I’m also certainly capable of illogic, perhaps as much as the average Joe or Jane (maybe even more so), but I think the difference is, if someone points out to me the intenability of something I’ve said or written (argued, presented, etc.), then I believe I will usually respond by rethinking my original position (perspective or whatnot) and make whatever corrections need be made, if not change altogether. The legalistic fundamentalist doesn’t typically do this, which is something brought through, at least indirectly, in my Sloughheart Series. On the topic of men and women, masculinity and femininity – gender characteristics, or attributes, I suppose – there is also a definite militation against the legalistic, fundamentalist perspective in the narrative. The character of Joy Brighterday serves as the premier example of this: She is well-educated, cultured, intellectually astute, and well-spoken; she has an affable personality, complete with an excellent sense of humor and deep compassion; physically she is stunningly beautiful, strong, robust, lively, and healthy. One might say I’ve idealized this character, making her an almost demi-god, but that’s probably not quite accurate.

The character has been exaggerated, and purposely so, but Joy Brighterday also has her share of shortcomings, evidenced, for example, in her meetings (along with Effete) with the attorney, Justin Case. Also, she is introduced at the beginning of the whole series struggling in prayer at the altar of St. Gianna’s, where she is the rector (or pastor.) She is unmarried, and in the end this seems to come back to bite her; she is, at a deep level, virtually left alone while those she has helped so much go on with their healing and/or now-very happy lives… All in all, though, the character of Joy Brighterday presents a woman, who is not only physiologically female but very much “in tune” with herself; who is strong, resilient, caring as well as commanding; who possesses upstanding character and integrity, wisdom and discernment, but also some faults, failings and shortcomings, too. And why this character? In order to image an archetype female in both a specific role traditionally ascribed to men and within a general cultural-societal context where women have found it difficult to thrive (and still do).

Along the way, the attempt is made to provide justification for this in the face of condemnation by the character Fen Sloughheart, an independent, legalistic, fundamentalist preacher – the antihero of the story. One episode consists of Joy writing to a young woman considering entering the ministry. Early in her letter, Joy notes:

Yes, even now it’s still difficult for women, especially when you’ve grown up in a tradition, such as your own church, that (paradoxical as it may seem) both honors women and yet bars them from ordination. Have no fear on that point, though; I know you’re not ‘dissing’ your church, as you say! And I’m not going to either, but believe me, I fully understand.

It is still challenging, but not impossible or unbiblical. (Bishop N. T. Wright addresses this issue very beautifully and effectively in an essay entitled, “Women’s Service in the Church.”) This is something completely out-of-bounds for the fundamentalist, though: To completely reconsider long-held perspectives, even by means of utilizing careful exegesis of Scripture. (One could reasonably argue that if they did so, they would no longer be fundamentalists!) The fundamentalist would say, “Thus saith the Lord…” and that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will be in obedient, Bible-believing churches until Jesus comes back to rapture the faithful into heaven (leaving billions behind to suffer unthinkable atrocities … supposedly.) For some reason, this mentality is excruciatingly difficult for me to ignore; I suppose to some extent, at least, I take it personally, almost as if beloved family are being attacked. Of course, I know very well that the Ancient Near East was a patriarchal society, just as I know the ancient world as a whole was thought by its occupants to be shot through with the numinous, often to be overrun by the dæmonic, full of mysterium tremendum.[4] There are no illusions here, and perhaps this is part of the point.

My ancestors in the faith-religion of Judeo-Christianity may not measure up to contemporary, Western, socio-religious and ethical standards any more than my biological ancestors. There is no pretending otherwise, I suppose, but I’m still in many ways their progeny; consequently, I don’t really appreciate their lives being misrepresented or their teachings misconstrued … or sometimes horribly distorted. That convoluted interpretation of selected portions of Scripture is often used to justify all forms of abuse only makes legalistic fundamentalism all-the-more egregious. One simply cannot cherry-pick juicy bits of an ancient law code of nomadic peoples about to settle into an agrarian way of life and apply those decrees and guidelines – or forcefully impose them like diktats – within contemporary society, no matter how divinely inspired in origin. Besides, we have ample witness from the New Testament that much of the ancient law code would no longer be applicable to Christians – Jew or Gentile – and that was approximately two thousand years ago!

Fundamentalism wallows in shallow, anemic over-simplification, and when challenged, IBFs will (in the greater part of such instances) either try to out shout their opponent(s) with Bible verses and trite remarks, or withdraw into their fundamentalist fortress where they can privately deride their opponent(s) and relish the fantastical feeling of victory. In the meantime, the archetype of Joy Brighterday answers them on a number of fronts, including, for example, the ordination of women to the ministry:

You probably know, of course, some of the common objections to the ordination of women. The Apostle, St. Paul, instructed women to be silent in church, but then he also recommends women as “fellow workers” and even deacons, like Phoebe. Besides which, there were always female prophets, with whom Paul would have been familiar, like Miriam and the four daughters of Philip as well as the prophetess Anna, who openly spoke at the Temple. So, in my estimation, this particular argument is rather weak.

Of course, Paul also instructs women to veil their heads when they pray, yet how many opponents of female ordination actually push this practice? You see, as in so many other cases, there seems to be some inconsistency here, but I think Paul’s words ought to be contextualized anyway … at least, as best we can do that, and only then applied. But there are other arguments, too, like, ‘Christ was male, and so his priests should be male.’

My response to this has simply been the fact that there are any number of qualities we might lay down as restrictions. He was also Jewish, for example, but do we really want to prohibit non-Jewish people from serving in ordained ministry? For that matter, I suppose we could restrict ordained ministry not only to Jewish males, but to virgin-born Jewish males! You see, that sort of argument is not only weak, but it’s anything but helpful.

The question is, how much difference does gender really make in ministry now and why? And is the restriction of this vocation physiologically based? If so, why? Or is there another reason … perhaps psychological and/or spiritual? You see, one either quickly descends into a morass of confusion on this point, or ends up forwarding chauvinistic arguments, such as:

  1. The woman is physically weaker; therefore, she cannot command the respect, much less the following, of adult males
  2. The woman is generally less intelligent; therefore, she cannot reasonably be expected to teach adult men, who are, on average, more intelligent
  3. The woman is more emotional; therefore, she is psychically unstable and, thus, unable to “shepherd the flock”

And other distasteful, reprehensible contentions, all subsumed under the heretical assumption: God created woman to be subservient to the man.

This is not, of course, the only area in which the legalistic fundamentalist perspective is baneful. Another is the fundamentalist’s aversion to the Sacraments – which, naturally, they don’t recognize as Sacraments – thus, their infrequent celebration of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Simon Chan explains their excuse(s), then rebuts those reasons quite effectively:

Two reasons are commonly given for infrequent observance of the Eucharist. One is that if the Lord’s Supper were observed too frequently, it would lose its meaning. But according to a Reformed evangelical pastor, Leonard J. Vander Zee, this rationale betrays ‘the old gnostic tendency’ to exalt the ‘spiritual’ and denigrate the ‘material.’ Further, the rationale assumes the Lord’s Supper is another commemorative event, like a birthday or wedding anniversary. But if the Lord’s Supper is indeed a ‘feeding on Christ to eternal life,’ making us into what we eat, then there is no question about whether frequent Communion would cause a loss of significance. No one has ever yet complained that having three meals a day had eroded the significance of eating. (Some even insist on have more!) As Vander Zee puts it, ‘If God feeds and confirms our faith in the sacrament, then we deprive ourselves of the fullness of his grace when we sit around the table only once in awhile. We need every nourishment God provides, and to miss the meal not only snubs his gracious hospitality but creates spiritual anorexics.’

Second, it is sometimes argued that Word and sacrament are merely two ways of communicating the same gospel. If what the sacrament conveys is already conveyed, in fact in a better way, in preaching, then the sacrament is quite extraneous in the regular church service. Sacrament, according to this view, merely ‘portrays’ the gospel – and in a limited way at that – whereas preaching gives almost unlimited scope for the exposition of the gospel. But this is to misunderstand the very nature of Word and sacrament and their distinctive functions in the liturgy. Not only is the sacrament more than the visible form of the Word, but each is indispensable to the other. Sacrament brings the proclaimed Word to its fulfillment.

We come to know the Real Presence effected by the Spirit in the Lord’s Supper. Word without sacrament remains incomplete, and sacrament without Word becomes an empty sign. ‘If one cannot live by bread alone, neither can one live by word alone.’ For just as the Word is completed in the sacrament, so the sacrament derives its meaning from the Word. As Louis Bouyer states, ‘Every sacrament is a verbum visibile, a word made visible, and every sacrament also essentially implies verba sacramentalia, the sacred words which give to the sacred action itself not only meaning but also its own inner reality.’ Word and sacrament cannot be separated. The whole liturgy of Word and sacrament is both God’s Word and God’s action for the sake of the church. Worship becomes less than what it is when one is emphasized at the expense of the other.[5]

Chan states these two commonly given excuses for infrequent Communion quite graciously, wording them far more intelligently than one usually hears them in person. Still, he points out quite well the lack of spiritual depth and theological understanding one typically finds within the IBF world,[6] which reveals an ongoing spiritual abuse-by-neglect in these churches. Bereft of healthful, life-sustaining, divine nourishment, it’s little wonder, then, there is also abuse-by-action. It’s almost as if, being starved within sight of food and drink they cannot get to, they become frenzied and begin cannibalizing each other!

Fundamentalism is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, which upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” I think I would modify this definition to read, “1 a form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions; 2 the elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometime severely.” Robert J. Burrowes offers an apt analysis of the fundamentalist along the lines of this definition:

A fundamentalist is usually considered to be a person who adheres strictly to a doctrine, viewpoint or set of principles that are considered original and ‘pure'; this doctrine might be theological in nature. For the fundamentalist, many of their beliefs and the behaviors that arise from them will, at least in theory, be derivative of their fundamental doctrine. For the fundamentalist, there is no room to consider views that are at variance with their accepted doctrine and contrary views will usually either be dismissed out-of-hand or resisted with considerable vigor and, often, violence.[7]

Touché! Which makes me all-the-more grateful that I grew up in an environment of free enquiry and learning, wisdom and discernment, appreciation for the arts, literature and music, and so much more conducive to a healthy mind, body and soul. Pity the victims of legalistic fundamentalism!

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[1] Note: I believe this was the title, though I’m not completely certain. Also, I’m not absolutely sure of the place of publication.

[2] Dispensationalism is a Christian evangelical, futurist, Biblical interpretation that believes that God has related to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants in a series of “dispensations,” or periods in history.

[3] In other words, same context, i.e. one’s life; similar scriptural injunctions; same purpose, i.e. to show gratitude; etc.

[4] Rudolf Otto’s classic work, The Idea of the Holy, is an excellent read on the subject and where I got the expression of mysterium tremendum. On this note, I would venture to say we could use more mystery and greater awareness of the numinous in our day and age, if for no other reason than to counter-balance the all-too-often cold and impersonal sciences as well as what has come to be called the “corporate mentality.”

[5] Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community, 65-66

[6] Note: This is not to imply that IBFs are the only ones who partake of the Lord’s Supper infrequently. This, in fact, is Anabaptist in origin, yet no one would say Ulrich Zwingli was cognitively retarded. Also, many evangelical Protestant churches have fallen into infrequent celebration of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, yet this is not the Lutheran or Reformed heritage. Martin Luther celebrated Holy Communion weekly, if not more frequently, and promulgated the doctrine of consubstantiation. Calvin in Geneva celebrated the Lord’s Supper more often than four times per annum (quarterly,) and believed in the real pneumatic presence of Christ. Of course, the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches celebrate the Eucharist quite frequently and most reverently with a far deeper, richer understanding of Communion than one finds elsewhere.

[7] Robert J. Burrowes, “Fundamentalism: A Psychological Problem,” January 9, 2014, as accessed on May 19, 2015

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Masculinity According to an Evangelical Christian Woman: A Critical Appraisal

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An Updated, Expanded Version of Gender Traits and BS: What Does It Mean to be Masculine?

Troubled by nagging doubts of my own masculinity, fostered no doubt by my own not-so-unique enculturation, I thought I’d do a little online “research” into masculinity and what passes for masculine traits. What I found was, quite frankly, a lot of twaddle, like the nine “masculine traits” listed by an evangelical, Protestant Christian woman on her website. Why do I say it’s a bunch of hooey? Well, let’s take a look, shall we? I’ll list each trait in her words, then respond. So, here we go…

Confidence: Believe in yourself, not only that you can do what you set out to do, but that you already are what you need to be (even if on the outside it doesn’t yet show.)

O.k. So if this is a decidedly masculine trait, does that mean the corresponding “feminine trait” is lack of self-confidence, timidity and diffidence? If the “real man” is supposed to be confident, because confidence is definitely masculine, then should the woman be shy, hesitant and fearful? Was Jael timid; did she lack confidence when she drove a tent peg through the temple of Sisera? Was Artemis, the great and wild hunter-goddess, timid? Ooops, sorry! I almost forgot Greek mythology and polytheism are not allowed in such discussions … nevertheless, I’ll leave this statement as at least a curious point of reference to the divine feminine, which was, undoubtedly, one of the most widely venerated deities of the ancient world. (Note: the Roman equivalent is Diana; also, some scholars believe Artemis may actually pre-date Hellenistic culture.) Let us proceed, though, to the next vaulted quality of genuine masculinity, namely:

Courage: A masculine man is courageous (I’m not talking about being willing to do stupid stunts, either), willing to do what is necessary without showing weakness (even if he is scared to death.)  A man cannot be truly courageous and brave if he does not fear something.

Oh great! So courage is definitely masculine – that is, it pertains to or is characteristic of man, or men, which is the definition of masculine. Right? Wrong! This is nonsense! The Blessed Virgin Mary was just as, if not more, courageous than most any other character of history that comes to mind. And what about Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Boudicca, Ruth, Queen Esther… Need we add more names? Courage does not fall within the province of masculinity or femininity. It is a universal virtue that pays little heed to class, ethnicity, gender, creed or age. Period.

If this rather misogynistic woman is right – very doubtfully so, but… – perhaps Queen Esther was wrong to pray, “Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion!” (I can’t help it; I just have to note, too, that if there are no other gods, then there could be no “King of the gods.” Of course, there could also be no “putting other gods before” Yahweh, either, so anyway…) Strangely enough, though, Esther seemed to exhibit not only courage but a great sense of responsibility but, alas, this may be a masculine-defining quality as well…

Responsibility: Take responsibility for what happens in your life and stop being a victim.  Being a victim is exactly what society expects you to be.  Be who you really are intended to be – a leader and victor.  Make plans and carry them out.  Don’t fear failure.

Oh wow! Feminine women are not expected to be responsible? Femininity precludes accountability and dependability? Again, nonsense! Men and women, old and young, rich and poor ought to be “responsible.” This is another universal virtue arbitrarily made “masculine.” Unfortunately, this sort of thing has been done over and over and over again, down through the ages. Men, if they are “real men,” are confident, courageous, responsible, dependable … and disciplined. (See below)

On the “stop being a victim,” advice: How many men in our culture cry about being victims, anyway? Personally, it’s understandable why so many women go to counselling for being victimized and, consequently, I hear (or read) an awful lot of criticism of women “playing the victim game.” I believe this is largely unfair, but that’s not what this woman is saying. Remember, she’s delineating, however fallaciously, supposedly “masculine” qualities; consequently, the question, “‘how many men play the victim game?’”

As for “who you are intended to be,” are we to suppose women are only intended to be barefoot and pregnant chattel-slaves; household sex toys, dishwashers, and laundresses, so that there is no need to question what they are to be? Obviously, it would be out of the question, then, that any individual man, i.e. in his unique individuation, could possibly be the stay-at-home spouse, “help-mate,” dishwasher, launderer, et al.? (I have deeply desired to be this, but evidently this is grossly feminine; however, I can go one step further in my apparent heresy and say that I perceive no deficiency or inferiority on my part for having such desires.)

No, it cannot be otherwise than that he is intended to be the “leader and victor.” By the way, over whom or what is he supposed to be the victor? At any rate, all this surely requires a great deal of discipline.

Discipline: Take charge of your life and what goes on in it.  Carry out and complete your goals.  Do everything you say you will do.  Eat right and stay in shape, therefore you will also be able to think more clearly.

Of course, women are not expected to “take charge” of their lives; that’s for the man, i.e. to take charge of his life and her life, too, because as everyone knows, women are not capable of administering their own personal affairs (despite the fact that they commonly raise families and run households, but who’s being logical here??? And if some man simply does not possess leadership qualities, although he may very well have many other wonderful qualities, well … guess he’s just s**t out of luck! Right?) And so it stands to reason that the “masculine man” will keep his word, “eat right and stay in shape,” while the “feminine woman” will vacillate, gorge herself like a pig, and get fat…  Make sense?

Evidently, this woman has never really studied the 31st chapter of Proverbs, often horribly misunderstood and woefully underappreciated, in my humble opinion. This teaching is introduced as “the words of King Lemuel, an oracle his mother taught him.” This is almost assuredly not Solomon, and, come down to it, we really have no idea who Lemuel was; that Solomon did not author this oracle is almost certain, though. One point worthy of mention at the outset is the fact that this teaching comes directly from the woman, not the man. In an important sense, then, the originator is female, and what does she teach?

Skipping down to the so-called “Proverbs 31 woman,” she describes the capable wife as a virtuous woman of power and strength and intellectual acumen, thus she is invaluable. She is completely worthy of trust; she is dependable. She is marked by constancy and permanence, like a rock, i.e. like the divine rock of salvation. She is an economist, merchant, realtor, and manager. She is fit and resilient and healthy (as much as is reasonably possible, which would naturally differ with each individual.) This woman is productive, altruistic, and charitable; wise, magnanimous, and courageous; kind, honorable, and praiseworthy…

No, this teaching has never struck me as one positioning the woman cowering before her tyrannical husband, or even being “submissive” in the misogynistic sense so often believed to be “biblical;” just the opposite, in fact; the woman pictured here is one who is worthy to be reverenced (and for many of us, yes, followed.) This is not to say, as the scriptures certainly do not teach, that men are not to strive to exemplify these qualities in their lives. What strikes me is that this was, of course, written in the Ancient Near East from within a decidedly patriarchal society, and I don’t know that one can torture the whole of this teaching enough to make it misogynistic. This has always come across to me, in an individual-personal way, as an injunction to pray for and find this sort of woman (or for her to find me), with whom to enter into an interdependent (not co-dependent), mutually selfless relationship of love, joy, peace, and happiness … at least as the supreme ideal for which to strive. However that may be, we can be quite certain on some points:

  1. This teaching derives from the woman, not any man
  2. The qualities and characteristics mentioned here are enviable and laudable virtues, skills and endowments for anyone to possess, so…
  3. The woman herein described is in no manner being denigrated, but – the temporal and cultural context rightly understood – is being exalted and venerated

So, this teaching may not reverse the traditional husband-wife roles of antiquity; nevertheless, it does seem, at the very least, to alert Lemuel to the truth that the most desired qualities in the wife are not docile submissiveness, but upstanding character and integrity, strength and fortitude, etc. Someone may protest that submissiveness was not mentioned because it was so commonly held that, of course, the wife would be submissive. The answer to this is that this teaching would have served to reasonably temper this understanding. Look at verse 23: “Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.” Commenting on this passage, 19th century Methodist Bible scholar Adam Clarke remarks, “He is respected not only on account of the neatness and cleanliness of his person and dress, but because he is the husband of a woman who is justly held in universal esteem.” It would seem this is as much the truth of the case as the husband’s esteemed civil service as one of the elders/magistrates. The whole of the passage says as much, really.

We’ve spent enough time on this point, though, so let us move on…

Honesty, Integrity, and Kindness:  Be honest with yourself and others, holding yourself to the highest of standards.  Find the fine line between kindness and honesty when necessary.  Sometimes, one is more important than the other.  With some finesse, you will be able to be honest and kind at the same time.  Be kind and gentle toward women, children, and the elderly.

This is also “masculine.” Truth, upstanding character, and compassion all fall within the domain of that which pertains to or is characteristic of man, or men … evidently not women. These traits are definitely not feminine, right? So, what are the counterpart, feminine traits here? Deception, manipulation, corruption, cruelty, animosity, etc., and this is a woman writing this! Astounding to say the least … but how many women and men actually, subconsciously buy into this faulty line of thought? (Or, perhaps, even consciously.) Far too many, I’m afraid! But here comes one of the best…!

Treat Women Like Women:  Most of today’s men don’t seem to have a clue anymore (this is largely because of Feminism).  I take my kids to Judo practice and am saddened by what I experience there.  There are only a few chairs and they are always full of both men and women.  When I arrive, not one man ever offers me his chair – a masculine thing.  Real men honor women.  Real men treat others with respect and dignity.

Ah the boogeyman (or, should I say, bogeywoman?) of feminism! Damn the heresy! Women deserve to be treated like the shy, hesitant, fearful, irresponsible, fat, vacillating, corrupt, cruel, and manipulative creatures they are! Unless, of course, they’re some of those damn feminists who act like men, i.e. display “masculine traits” instead of being feminine like God created them! Horror! And shamefully, “most of today’s men don’t seem to have a clue anymore!” Yeah … I’m one of those men. By the way, I’d gladly give up my seat to any woman or man who needs it, or maybe even if they don’t need it, just because I’m that courteous. (Courtesy? Is that masculine or feminine?)

One question about the judo: Are her children all boys? Surely only boys ought to be trained in the martial arts! This dear woman effectively says as much below under the heading of “defend the weak.” But first, listen to the weak.

Listen:  We have two ears and one mouth for good reason – we are supposed to be doing twice as much listening as speaking. When a woman speaks, listen with your heart. Instead of thinking, “Oh great, here she goes again;” think, “She has a need. What is it? What can I do to help?” This goes against the nature of today’s men, it seems. They want to strike back and have forgotten who they are dealing with. When a woman lets you know she’s upset, what she is really doing is asking you to take charge and help her. It is a cry for help. Most of the time she will just need your love, understanding, and a listening ear. But under no circumstances are you to take abuse from her. Make that very clear. You must keep your cool. A woman will not respect a man who loses his cool.

Of course, listen to the woman with your heart, because trying to mentally process what she’s actually saying is a waste of time. Everyone knows women are not rational, so what they say is not worthy of the time-consuming and sometimes arduous process of thinking and cognitively comprehending. Conversely, the man has no need for someone, anyone to listen to him “with their heart.” Men don’t need the heart, right? After all, men are supposed to be confident, courageous, diligent, responsible, strong, honest … etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Oh! But don’t let that woman abuse you, because women are like that! Constantly abusing men! It’s an alarming problem in our society … actually, always has been, right? Women abusing men! Right? Yeah, right! She needs you to be strong and take charge. (And I will open up at this point and admit, honestly but embarrassingly, that I am a man who came out of an emotionally, psychologically abusive relationship; therefore, I know from personal experience that, yes, women can be abusive. I trust, however, that my readers will understand that this is not the point, or denial, I’m making here.) Her emotional diatribe, according to this evangelical Christian, is her way of crying for help as well as subjugation because the woman is, after all, weak. Which leads to the next important masculine trait:

Defend the Weak:  Protect and provide for your family and anyone who is being unfairly attacked.  Consider getting martial arts training; learn to use guns and keep them ready, etc.  Be prepared for disasters and have a plan.  Refuse to allow anyone to overstep their boundaries, but be smart about how you accomplish this.  Plan ahead.  Remember, you are a leader, so act like one.

“Defend the weak,” that is, women and children. Especially your woman; after all, that’s why she’s with you. She needs provision and protection. In return, you get good food and great sex! And laundry service, too, of course. Obviously, guns are necessary in order to properly protect your woman and family, and you’re the only one who needs to know how to properly use these weapons (as well as the only one who needs to know judo.) Women are not capable … or, at least, they shouldn’t be because effectively using weapons (and/or martial arts) is “masculine.” This is all part of masculinity and is, consequently, the responsibility of the man.

Also, the man is “a leader,” so he should “act like one.” How many men without any leadership qualities have been promoted into leadership positions over capable women just because they were men? Many, many times, of course, and in my own life I’ve been given the same … what? Order? (Coming from a woman, too, which is interesting in itself.) Yep… Stand up and act like a man. Be a leader. You’re in a leadership position now, so take your responsibilities seriously… There was never any consideration that I might have been able (in my own past profession) to teach, speak, write, plan and coordinate, etc. but not actually lead, at least administratively. No, no consideration whatsoever, and so guess what? I simply could not continue – and, no, I’m not whining – and had to transition into another profession.

Of course, there have been some irritating limitations here, too, such as: Not being considered for hire precisely because I am male and the job being applied for is a “woman’s job,” which is horrendously degrading to women. What? If they have to work outside the home, then they have to be in some service under men? I know this is changing quite significantly, yet the ways of the old world are still more current than many might think. Old ways die hard, even if they have no rooting in an ethos of light, life, love, peace and truth. At any rate, being “the leader” means there are follower, so the man is expected to…

Inspire submission: A masculine man in a relationship with a woman will always inspire and never force her submission. He will remain a gentleman at all times.

Yep, if you’re really a “real man,” then the woman will just naturally be your servant; after all, this is what God created the woman to be, right?  Submissive, docile, compliant, passive, subservient, obedient … along with being shy, hesitant, fearful, irresponsible, fat, vacillating, corrupt, cruel, and manipulative of course! Can’t forget these fundamentally feminine traits, can we? Maybe, though, submission in the sense of yielding and reasonable compliance can be inspired; I’m certainly willing to entertain this idea. However, one question comes to mind: Why can’t any woman inspire yielding, in areas where she is more qualified and capable, and reasonable compliance, as opposed to stubborn (and potentially harmful) resistance?

This is very much part of the problem within the evangelical/fundamentalist religionist world: All of these traits – except, perhaps, the sixth point, but even then we can turn that around to simply respecting each person – are admirable, universal virtues we should like to see in anyone and everyone.  Why does this conservatively religious woman list them as being “masculine,” that is, pertaining especially to men? They’re not exclusively “masculine,” not even especially masculine, and you know what? So far as the last one goes, as a man I’d happily “submit” to any woman displaying all of these traits… She would certainly be more than worthy of my love, allegiance, deference and respect!  Don’t you think??? But, then, maybe I’m being too feminine.

Then again, are there specifically masculine traits? Even in sacred scripture one does not find traits specified so much as positional responsibilities. The husband is presented as, say, the priest of the family, or rather more appropriately to the Ancient Near East, the patriarch of the familial clan assumed this role. Yes, this was a patriarchal society, but it’s worth mentioning that the patriarch was patriarch in this capacity. The Ancient Near East knew nothing of our “nuclear family.” This in itself changes the dynamics a bit. Some men, presumably, would live out their entire lives without ever assuming the priestly-patriarchal role. Add to this the fact that most people lived in an agrarian society, and one justly wonders just how much “telling to do” there was, practically speaking. Most people likely woke up each and every morning to perform work – excruciatingly hard labor – with which they were very familiar.

Men went to the fields; sometimes men and women went to the fields. Women worked in and around their living complex; men also performed labor in and around the domicile(s). Women would barter, trade; men would also trade, etc. What did it mean, then, in the Ancient Near East for the man to be “head of the household” in the biblical sense? To the exclusion of cruelty and abuse, which was never divinely intended, (if we can at all trust holy writ,) it would seem that, at least in a general sense, they performed the roles of prophet, priest, and king (more in the capacity of ductor, not tyrannus.) But, then, one might imagine (as not completely outside the realm of possibility, especially if Proverbs 31 is at all indicative of the ideal of marriage and family life in this temporal-cultural context) that the wife, or matriarch, assumed the role of prophetess, priestess, and queen.

I will leave this subject at this (for now) and reiterate my last point that certain admirable traits are not highlighted in Scripture as being exclusively masculine; if there is any separation, as is obvious in even a cursory reading, then the differentiation is that of role-performance. One must remember, this comes from out of a particular temporal-cultural context, though; how likely is it, even if more or less assigned roles were sensible and even beneficial then, that those same assignments are still beneficially applicable today? More on this later, perhaps … if there seems to be any interest. For now I will finish off by expressing my deep thankfulness that God is not constrained by gender at all, though S/he is most assuredly holy in every sense of the word, according to the Judeo-Christian faith-religion; this salient truth has had very deep and salvific implications in my own life.

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