Jeff Sessions and the “Whisky bottle Bible”

Jeff Sessions and the “Whisky bottle Bible”

ON THE DANGER OF MISUSING SCRIPTURE IN PUBLIC

In the words of Miss Maudie, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: 

“Sometimes the Bible in hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of [another].” 

And after the statements yesterday by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders, we see why.

In response to the U.S.A.’s cruel and unnecessary practice of now separating even nursing babies from their undocumented mothers on the southern border, Sessions offered this gem of biblical interpretation:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.

Likewise, Sanders said:

I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.

She then claimed that any inability to grasp this “biblical truth” was due to rank stupidity: “I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess.”

Well, I don’t know if I’m stupid.

But here’s a short sentence: “You’re wrong.”

And I don’t say that as some Lefty shill who opposes all border security [see here]. In fact, my point holds even if you agree with the abhorrent practice of forcing moms and dads to listen to the screams of their young children for no reason other than a kind of psychological torture.

WHAT SCRIPTURE ACTUALLY TEACHES

This post is about the meaning of the passage Sessions cited.

In fact, I happen to teach an entire course on the book from which it comes (Paul’s letter to the Romans), just in case he wants to audit it this fall.

What Romans 13 actually commands is not an obedience to (much less an endorsement of) to all governmental laws.  Rather, its call is that we “be subject” to the ruling authorities by giving “what you owe them.”

If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor (vs. 7).

Yet as Paul’s life shows, what you “owe” Caesar is not carte blanche obedience. That’s idolatry. (Another short sentence.)

In fact, by the implied “Bible-logic” of Sessions and Sanders, Pharaoh’s daughter should have drowned young Moses in the Nile; Israelite exiles should have bowed to the idol of Nebuchadnezzar, and the apostles should have stopped preaching when commanded by the “ruling authorities.”

“Obey the ruling authorities…”

THE “WHISKY BIBLE”

With a nod to “Miss Maudie,” this is precisely the kind of nonsense that results when you start quoting from your “whisky bottle Bible”—i.e., a sacred text that is decontextualized and twisted to affirm a sinful, partisan agenda.

And Romans 13 has a long history of such abuse.

It was used by Hitler and the German Christians; and it was leveraged to justify laws on slavery and segregation.

It bears noting, however, that Paul himself was eventually killed by the government for his annoying refusal to stop proclaiming a greater King named Jesus.

So let me say this in summation of Jeff Sessions’ exegesis: His reading is on par with the claim that “Speed Limit” signs are meant to regulate one’s daily dose of amphetamines.

And it’s not just me who thinks so  – even Franklin Graham, one of the President’s biggest mascots amongst religious leaders, has condemned the policy, calling it “disgraceful” (here).

NOT JUST A TRUMPIST PROBLEM

In truth, however, use of the “whisky Bible” is not unique to one political party—just as the separation of illegal immigrant families seems not to be entirely unique to the current administration, even though the practice has been codified and universalized by it. (Recall the famous picture of undocumented children caged up like dogs during the Obama years.)

All partisans (or rather: all Christians) have a tendency to hijack Scripture to serve our preconceived agendas.

On the Left, this happens (say) when passages on love and inclusion are taken to mean that particular moral absolutes are exchanged for a gospel of warm fuzzies. Or, more likely, when some forget that unborn children don’t deserve to be literally “ripped” from their mothers either.

“Whisky Bibles” come in a variety of flavors. And the tendency is to just play one off against the other. Southern comfort versus, uh…, whatever they drink in California.

Some Christians even swap out their favorite “tipsy” proof-texts depending on who’s in power at the time.

For example, it’s fascinating to see that the same crowd who was just three years ago shouting “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5.29) now cites Romans 13 as a divine endorsement of all governmental policies.

Could any sober person miss the irony?

A CALL TO DEEPER FAITH

One solution to such “drunken” interpretations is for Christians to be more deeply formed by the text we claim to believe. We need more than prooftexts plus a CableNews subscription.

Yet unfortunately, even amongst so-called “evangelicals,” such deep formation by the word of God is actually somewhat rare.

As Alan Jacobs writes (here):

The lesson to be drawn here is this: the great majority of Christians in America who call themselves evangelical are simply not formed by Christian teaching or the Christian scriptures. They are, rather, formed by the media they consume — or, more precisely, by the media that consume them.

The Bible is just too difficult, and when it’s not difficult it is terrifying. So many Christians simply act tribally, and when challenged to offer a Christian justification for their positions typically grope for a Bible verse or two, with no regard for its context or even its explicit meaning.

CONCLUSION

We must do better.

But it will require, in Luther’s words, that our “conscience [be] held captive to the word of God,” rather than the “boozy” whims of ill-informed and partisan prooftexting.

 


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American Suicide

American Suicide

Several years ago, there was a mediocre movie made by M. Night Shyamalan, called The Happening.

It was a horror-thriller sort of film, involving hundreds of senseless murders.

Yet the twist in The Happening was that the linked-together killings were committed not by a psychopath or super villain.

They were suicides.

In the movie, some unseen force—in the air or in the water—was causing Americans to self-delete in catastrophic numbers.

And that’s precisely what is happening now–though less dramatically.

AMERICAN HAPPENING

We are in the midst of an American Happening.

And I don’t say that because of Anthony Bourdain (though I was a fan), Kate Spade, or the many other celebrities who have tragically claimed their lives in recent months.

It’s a cold, hard fact–and not just for famous people.

As the New York Times reports (here):

Between 1999 and 2016 [American suicides] increased 25 percent

And

In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides.

THE QUESTION THAT NEEDS ASKING

Why?

Depression, yes, but what else accounts for it?

To be honest, I don’t know.  I’m not trained to answer complicated questions on depression, mental health, and shifting trends in sociology.

But come on: 25 percent!?

With the caveat that my knowledge on this topic is very limited, the following are some very tentative thoughts—Not “13 Reasons Why” (though I have written on that previously), but something.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

  1. The dark side of “social” media.

It’s not hard to name the biggest social change between 1999 and 2016. It may be the biggest technological shift since electricity: the advent of the internet, and social media.

And despite all its vaunted benefits, for some young people especially, there is no doubt that the smartphone–complete with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat Apps–has become a suicide machine.  It is a way to compare “my life” to the filtered version of “theirs.” It is a way to get addicted to porn and drown silently in shame.  And for some young people especially, it is a way to bully, retaliate, and take so-called “mean girl” antics to a whole new level.

Is it any wonder, then, that suicides for girls aged 10 to 14 have tripled since 1999?

If there is a lesson here, it is to think carefully about how and when kids are allowed to utilize such “tools”—and about what boundaries we ourselves need (I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone).  

  1. Secularization and the sanctity of life.

In Christian history, the stigma surrounding suicide was massive (and not always helpful).

Given that, it bears reminding that self-murder was not always frowned upon by ancient Greeks or certain Eastern cultures.

In some ways, the shift to secularism is a reversion to pre-Christian ways of thinking. Here, the body (this “meat-suit” as it often [gnostically] referred to) may be done with as one pleases.  It seems unsurprising, then, that suicides would increase.

In the Latin phrase inscribed upon some pagan tombs: Non fui, non sum, non curo. “I was not; I am not; I care not.”

  1. Opioids and other addictions.

The time from 1999 to 2016 is also the period in which opioid addiction went from “problem” to “pandemic.”

And as with all addictions, I imagine feelings of shame and utter helpfulness can lead some to end their lives.  Consider how many of the recent celebrity suicides involved people battling addiction (Bourdain was very open about his past struggles with heroin).

It is all the more shocking then that such dangerous opioids—getting more powerful every year as drug companies rush to outdo one another–are so widely available. 

  1. The aftershocks of war.

For the USA, 1999 to 2016 was also a time of almost non-stop war, even if folks like me (like the vast majority of Americans) were allowed to go blissfully on as if little had changed except the added TSA security.

The soldiers weren’t so lucky.

And in terms of suicides, such conflicts have been decimating.

I spoke to a former Navy SEAL recently who told me he’d lost two friends in a week. “The enemy doesn’t kill us nearly as effectively as we do.”

There are probably many reasons for this: PTSD; traumatic brain injury; lack of brotherhood or sisterhood upon returning home; a public that hardly noticed they were fighting; the inability to win a war against an “idea.”

Whatever the case, we must do a better job of reaching out to veterans; and in thinking carefully before galloping off to wars without sufficient consideration for the human costs both on and off the battlefield.

  1. “Contagion” and crowd dynamics. 

In the words of one parent (here), after a year in which his child’s school endured an unbelievable six(!) teen suicides, there is an element of “contagion” at work with instances of self-harm. As he writes:

Suicide–even those of strangers–poisons the air my young sons breathe. You can’t quarantine it. Every episode of self-deletion compounds our sense of collective despair, making further episodes more likely. I’m watching it happen in my own community.

Malcolm Gladwell sees the same phenomenon at work in school shootings. A generation ago they never happened; yet with each ensuing occurrence the “threshold” lowers till the next becomes almost a foregone conclusion.  In short, it’s tough to close Pandora’s box; The Happening is not just science fiction.

  1. Erasing Hell.

Historically speaking, it is hardly disputable that one reason that some deeply hurting individuals said “No” to suicide was the fear that such an act would consign them to the fires of hell. (It was, for instance, a “mortal sin” in Catholic tradition.)

So while the Bible doesn’t teach this claim explicitly, there is no doubt that an “erasing” of the fear of Hell within modernity has also (for some people) erased a reason to keep living in extreme duress. (And I don’t say that as one who “uses” Hell as a cheap scare-tactic.)

7. Affluenza

One would think that wealth would make us happier and less-prone to suicide. Not so.  As Time Magazine noted (here) in 2012:

all else being equal, suicide risks are higher in wealthier neighborhoods, a morbid demonstration of the folly of trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

As one might expect, they are also high in times of unemployment, yet an additional

twist comes when you look at low income individuals who live in high income areas. According to the study, they face greater suicide risk than those living in low-income areas. The study’s authors call it a “behavioral response to unfavorable interpersonal income comparisons.”

  1. “The satan”

Even in Christian circles, to bring up the devil is something you don’t do at dinner parties.

“Old Scratch” is, as Walter Wink puts it: “a scandal” and “a bone in the throat of modernity” (See here for a prior post on the topic).

It bears noting, however, that the Hebrew word for Satan (ha satan) is not a name, but a title and a job description: “The accuser.”

“The satan” is the one who—often through a nagging inner voice—brings accusations:

“You’re worthless. Everyone would be better off if you weren’t here.”

And like every other factor on this numbered list, such “reasons” are ultimately bad ones—even while they can seem crushing.

So whether you believe in the devil or not, it’s imperative that you stop listening to him.

CONCLUSION 

In the end, I don’t know all the reasons for this American Happening. And many more could undoubtedly be listed.

But I do know this: we need you.

So if you’re struggling with depression or suicidal ideations, I hope you’ll tell someone (email me if nothing else), cause it’s time this mediocre movie got a whole lot better.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255


 

The title for this post was taken from Rod Dreher’s recent discussion of the topic (see here).

Jordan Peterson’s strange version of Christianity (part 2)

Jordan Peterson’s strange version of Christianity (part 2)

“A Jungian gnosticism that is essentially Pelagian at key points.”

That was my claim in “part one” of this series on the Christianity of the now-famous Jordan B. Peterson.

(If you missed part one, go back and read it (here) before continuing.)

I should begin, however, by admitting that I have already changed my mind about one aspect of my prior post.  I said there that Peterson’s version of Christianity is “strange”—and I even used that word within my title.

I now regret that word choice.

Because, in some ways, it is the lack of “strangeness” within Peterson’s theology that makes it different from my own.

Historic Christianity is, after all, quite odd by human standards.

We assert belief in an unseen, all-powerful, and all-loving God despite a world awash with evil.  We affirm the inspiration of Scripture despite the many oddities contained therein.  We believe in a “Trinity” and in a Christ who is fully human and fully divine.

Thus, most heresies can be seen as attempts to resolve the strangeness of the faith, so that it reconciles more easily with whatever form of human “reason” now in fashion.

But while I recant my “strange” word-choice—I maintain the part about the “Jungian gnosticism” with a dash of old Pelagius.

Now to explain those terms.

“JUNGIAN GNOSTICISM”

Unlike his mentor, Freud, who dismissed all religion as an “illusion” based on “wish-fulfillment” (I want a strong and loving dad, so: “Accio Heavenly Father!”)—Karl Jung took seriously the utility of religious “myths” and archetypes.

So too Peterson.

Yet an important point in both Jung and Peterson is how quickly they divorce the biblical material from history, even as they homogenize it with all other pagan myths.

Hence, when Peterson talks about Genesis (or Jesus in John 1), he ends up concluding that the Babylonian Enuma Elish tells us pretty much the same thing—and in more interesting fashion.

After all, the Babylonian account is way-more Quentin Tarantino.

For Peterson, Marduk seems as good as YHWH, who makes great wonders out of chaos.

There is some validity to the comparison, since every first-year OT student learns the similarities between the Enuma Elish and Genesis. (Even as they also learn the massive differences!)

The problem, however, is that neither Peterson nor Jung need their sacred texts to be historically rooted in any sense.  They merely need the “knowledge” (gnosis) to gleaned from a psychoanalyzed decoding of them.

Thank-you Marduk-YHWH!  

Having read your tale, I too will go into The Unknown and make great wonders out of chaos, like when people try to force me to use “Ze” and “Zur” as pronouns.

(While one may agree on the pronoun point, the way of reading Scripture is deeply flawed.)

In both Peterson and the gnostics, “salvation” comes not through a flesh-and-blood person, but by the knowledge to gained from an intellectual guru who alone can decipher Scripture’s hidden meanings.

As Irenaeus long ago argued (c. 180 AD), that’s a bunch of hooey.

Now for the link to old Pelagius.

“WITH A DASH OF OLD PELAGIUS” 

In its particulars, Peterson’s version Christianity is of course quite different from that of the 4th c. Pelagius (thus I don’t want to “lump” them incautiously). Even so, a commonality exists in the downplaying of the necessity for supernatural grace.

Such grace is, I must admit, a very strange thing—but one cannot have Christianity without it.

For Pelagius, Christ-given forgiveness was not required for salvation, since what humans really need is to “buck up” and live responsible lives as Scripture commands us.

In other words, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” (Rule 1); “Tell the truth” (Rule 8); “Set your house in perfect order… ” (Rule 6)—each from 12 Rules for Life.

None of this is bad advice, mind you. And if it prevents even one resentful young Incel from  shooting up a middle school, we will all be grateful.

Yet as Charlie Clark notes (here), Peterson’s whole self-improvement project is driven by a form of macho pride, and a conspicuous absence of the sine qua non of Christianity—“grace.”

So what does Peterson think you should do?

You should act like a dominant, alpha lobster and assert yourself: “Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others.” As a man, you’ve won the game of life when you present yourself as “a successful lobster, and the most desirable females line up and vie for your attention.”

While such testosterone-laden preaching may produce external changes, it also has a cost.

As Clark concludes:

Peterson is, in fact, precisely the character that [C. S.] Lewis describes in Mere Christianity, one of those teachers who,

“appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride.”

So:

Just as theological and social conservatives have too often compromised with sub-Christian political movements to prop up the illusion of a Christian nation, they would now put their hope in Peterson—at best, a good pagan—to teach their sons morals.

This is an enthusiasm born of desperation.

But to make his Pelagian error is to put our faith in ourselves rather than in Christ.

The righteousness that Jordan Peterson preaches is self-righteousness and it is not saving. The Pride it nurtures will prove spiritually fatal. The church owes young men better guidance than this.

CONCLUSION

My broader view of Peterson is more positive (See “part one“).

After all, we need not agree with someone entirely in order to learn from them. So let’s give our “sons” some credit for being able to separate the good from bad. Peterson has many noble points.

Still, at the end of the day, I must acknowledge that my brand of Christianity is far stranger than his. It holds that Scripture gives us not just disembodied ideas on how to “make order out of chaos” but a re-embodied Jew who is, himself, the hope of the world.

And it contends, quite strangely, that we require far more than Stoic admonitions on how to be good, “upright Lobsters.”

We need more than “good advice”; we need good news.

Jordan Peterson’s strange version of Christianity (part 1)

Jordan Peterson’s strange version of Christianity (part 1)

Sixty million.

That’s approximately how many views Professor Jordan B. Peterson now has on his official YouTube channel. Which, by my count, makes him the most famous professor since Albus Dumbledore.

Not that I’m jealous.

While few folks had heard of Peterson just three years ago, he has since sky-rocketed to international fame for his critique of political correctness run amok (see here), his thoughts on personal meaning and motivation, and his new bestseller: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (which, as best I can tell, is a kind of Purpose Driven Life for western, twenty-something males).

It may also have helped that Peterson’s voice, by his own bemused admission, sounds like a Canadian Kermit the Frog—that is, if the world’s foremost puppet-amphibian were to swap out every verbal “Hi-ho” for a “Dostoyevsky” or a “Solzhenitsyn.”

JP kermit

A CONTROVERSIAL (CHRISTIAN?) GURU

Peterson is also controversial.

He is loathed by certain Leftist groups.  His path to fame came by challenging the Canadian Government’s forced use of transgender pronouns.  And his very mention has become a kind of Shibboleth in a culture war that seems increasingly “terrorized by the fringes” (whether Right or Left).

But none of that is what I want to talk about.

This post (and however many that follow it) is on Peterson and Christianity.

Because while waffling on whether he calls himself a Christian (“It’s complicated,” he says), Peterson takes the Bible seriously, as evidenced by his mammoth YouTube walk through the Old Testament.

As he states:

The Bible is, for better or worse, the foundational document of western civilization … Its careful, respectful study can reveal things to us about what we believe and how we … should act that can be discovered in almost no other manner.

On human sin, he says:

Only man will inflict suffering for the sake of suffering. And with this realization we have … full legitimization of the idea … of original Sin.

And on one occasion, he even claimed to view Jesus as a member of the Trinity

So why the somewhat snarky title to my blog post?

SOME POSITIVES

To be clear, my claim is not that Peterson is toxic, or that the extreme claims against him are fair or accurate, at least based on my limited exposure to him (see here for a critique of those who fail to listen carefully to him).

I actually appreciate some of his emphases:

  • The crucial value of free speech
  • The danger of radical postmodernism
  • The abiding value of the Judeo-Christian narrative
  • The flaws in fundamentalism
  • The need to take “big questions” beyond the college lecture hall
  • And the necessity to reach the so-called “lost boys” of the west, before they are snatched up by dangerous ideologies like those of the “Incels” and the Alt-right.

I am not even claiming that Peterson is not a Christian.

My point is that he is simply wrong about what Christianity is.   

And I say that not as one of the many self-appointed internet heresy-hunters (shouting from a basement bunker beneath a pile of R.C. Sproul books), but as someone with a PhD in theology. Hence, this is quite literally the only aspect of Peterson’s program on which I am qualified to have a reasonably well-informed opinion.

This, then, is my thesis:

While Peterson talks often of the Bible and the need to “pick up your damn cross,” he also misconstrues some of the most basic claims of Christianity.

The result is kind of Jungian gnosticism that is essentially Pelagian at key points. And his approach to Scripture makes him something of a re-mythologizing “Joseph Campbell” for a tribal, YouTube culture.

(Rest assured, I will define these clunky terms more fully in “part 2”.)

For now, I’ll just get the ball rolling.

“AND THE GREATEST OF THESE IS ‘TRUTH’ (AND INDIVIDUALISM)”

Two quick examples:

In a recent interview with the atheist-neuroscientist, Sam Harris, Peterson argued (laudably) that the Judeo-Christian narrative ought not simply be discarded as a vestige of an intolerant and un-scientific past.  It has abiding value.

But when pressed on what that value is, Peterson’s Christianity gets strange.

His claim, from a biblical perspective, is that Christianity matters for at least two reasons:

  1. It “makes the group subordinate to the individual.”
  2. It posits truth-telling as “the highest moral virtue.”

In his words:

the truth speaks chaos into order in the most beneficial possible way. And that is the fundamental ethical duty.

Unfortunately, neither of these claims are accompanied by even the barest attempt at biblical support.  And at least one of them is flatly contradicted by the New Testament.

Let’s start with the second point: True speech as the highest “Christian” virtue.

RIGHTLY ORDERED LOVE > TRUE STATEMENTS

For both Jesus and Paul, it is not “truth-telling” but rightly-ordered “LOVE” that is the highest moral virtue (See Mk. 12.30 and 1 Cor. 13).

And while we ought not pretend that the two concepts are competing in a “hierarchy of dominance” (one of Peterson’s favorite phrases), it bears noting that one may actually speak true phrases in idolatrous and sinful ways.

To take just two examples: See Satan’s accurate quotations from the Bible when temping Christ (Mt. 4). Or secondly, the religious leaders’ turning of the Law into a “projectile” to be aimed at Jesus, with a woman’s life becoming little more than ammunition (Jn. 8).

So, no…, “the highest moral virtue” of Christianity is not truth-telling.

THE BIBLE AND THE INDIVIDUAL

Now for Peterson’s claim about the Bible making “the group” subordinate to “the individual.”

This too is rather odd.

To be honest, I can’t think of a single verse that would unambiguously support the claim–though there are a few that might be taken as such.  Jesus leaves the “ninety-nine” to find the “one” (e.g., Mt. 18.12); and he makes the individual’s allegiance to earthly groups subordinate to allegiance to him.  But this doesn’t seem like what Peterson is talking about.

For him, almost every conversation eventually returns to a critique of “Neo-Marxism.”

And while I dislike Marxism as much as the next guy, I get the sense that Peterson is a bit too liberal with his slinging of the label (In my view, adding slippery prefixes like “Neo-” and “Quasi-” is often a sign of lazy thinking).

As an ancient text, the Bible simply doesn’t buy into our Individualist vs. Collectivist dichotomy. That’s a modern thing. Scripture has a “participationist” ontology–and it’s better than both Individualist and Collectivist imbalances (See, for instance, the work of Colin Gunton in the published version of my PhD thesis ([here].)

This participation framework is rooted in the nature of the Triune God–who is neither a lonely individual, nor a faceless “collective.”  This God has space within himself for other “persons,” without obliterating their particularity.

Hence the New Testament speaks NEVER of “Individuals” on a lonely hero’s journey (as does Peterson), but of a knit-together family, called the body of Christ.

For such reasons, Peterson’s claims about these two distinctly Christian contributions turn out not even to be Christian. That doesn’t make him evil or “a heretic”–but it does make his version of the gospel somewhat strange.

(As for the clunky labels in my thesis, those will have to wait till next time.)

“Hi-ho.”

Beware the “lumpers”!

Beware the “lumpers”!

 

If there’s one thing we could use now in our current state of cultural cannibalism, it’s the ability to do a bit less “lumping.”

(And, no, that’s not a reference to your mashed potato preferences.)

The term derives from Darwin, yet while Darwin used it biologically, Alan Jacobs—Christian author and English Lit professor—uses it to write (here) about our current state of public discourse.

Hint: it’s bad.

We live now, says Jacobs, in the golden age of “lumpers”—as evidenced by our tendency to reduce all those with whom we disagree to a monolithic and dismissive hashtag.

#cuckservative

#whiteprivilege

#RINO

#snowflake

On the one hand, some labels are necessary for human communication, and we can’t escape the use of shorthand. But as Jacobs notes, when we lump and label indiscriminately, we fail to actually think (not to mention “see” and “hear” each other).

In the words of George Orwell, in his essay: “Politics and the English Language”

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases […] one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy.

And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved…

Thank God Orwell never lived to see the land of Twitter.

A CELEBRATION OF “SPLITTING”

But if lumping is a problem under certain circumstances, what is the alternative?

Jacobs calls it “splitting”—and he finds a beautiful example in a pioneer of women’s higher education: Dorothy Sayers (1893 – 1957).

Sayers was a committed Christian, one of the first women to graduate from Oxford, a brilliant writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and a friend of C.S. Lewis.

She was also a feminist, in the best sense of the word—desiring equality of opportunity for men and women.

In her view:

What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.

Her point is not that it is bad to belong to a particular group—be it gendered, racial, or religious.  Nor is she claiming that such differences are mere “social constructs.” (She was not a so-called postmodernist.)

On the contrary, our places of belonging are important, and we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist (Re: the ridiculous if well-intentioned: “I don’t see [skin] color.” Seriously; unless you have macular degeneration, don’t say that.)

It’s not wrong to recognize our differences and groupings.  But when we “lump” all members of a set together in dismissive ways, we often say things that erase one’s individual humanity.

Thus our Twitter and Facebook posts end up as some version of the following:

“God” (used either as curse-word or a prayer), “thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this [Liberal, Conservative, secular, fundamentalist, millennial, baby-boomer, Muslim, Trumpist, Social Justice Warrior].”

Depending on one’s in-group, the words within the brackets will vary, yet the commonality resides in a self-righteous “lumping” under dismissive labels that reduce the shared humanity of others.

Hence the title of Sayers’ provocative essay: “Are women human?” (here)

Now my favorite quote.

Drawing on her own experience as one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford, she writes:

When the pioneers of university training for women demanded that women should be admitted to the universities, the cry went up at once: “Why should women want to know about Aristotle?”

The answer is not that all women would be better for knowing about Aristotle […] but simply: “What women want as a class is irrelevant. I want to know about Aristotle. 

I, eccentric individual that I am […] and I submit that there is nothing in my shape or bodily functions which need prevent my knowing about him

As Jacobs’ notes, there is a kind of “blessed selfishness to this cry.”  It is a celebration of the “eccentric individual” who doesn’t give a rip whether Aristotle is perceived as useful for her “class”!

In the words of the Roman poet Terence: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

“I am human, and nothing human is alien to me.”

Here, here!

Or as Jacobs concludes: “Let a billion eccentric individuals flourish.”

Even lumpers.

 


 

See here for Alan Jacob’s fantastic book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds – from which much of this post was proudly stolen…