The United States of Fear

I think I have the way to form a more perfect union in this place we call the USA. It is to recognize that all Americans share a sense of fear. Anxiety is what unites us in the U.S. Consider the following.

Andrew Sullivan writes respectfully about reactionary conservatism and even grants its plausibility:

Certain truths about human beings have never changed. We are tribal creatures in our very DNA; we have an instinctive preference for our own over others, for “in-groups” over “out-groups”; for hunter-gatherers, recognizing strangers as threats was a matter of life and death. We also invent myths and stories to give meaning to our common lives. Among those myths is the nation — stretching from the past into the future, providing meaning to our common lives in a way nothing else can. Strip those narratives away, or transform them too quickly, and humans will become disoriented. Most of us respond to radical changes in our lives, especially changes we haven’t chosen, with more fear than hope. We can numb the pain with legal cannabis or opioids, but it is pain nonetheless.

If we ignore these deeper facts about ourselves, we run the risk of fatal errors. It’s vital to remember that multicultural, multiracial, post-national societies are extremely new for the human species, and keeping them viable and stable is a massive challenge. Globally, social trust is highest in the homogeneous Nordic countries, and in America, Pew has found it higher in rural areas than cities. The political scientist Robert Putnam has found that “people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Not very encouraging about human nature — but something we can’t wish away, either. In fact, the American elite’s dismissal of these truths, its reduction of all resistance to cultural and demographic change as crude “racism” or “xenophobia,” only deepens the sense of siege many other Americans feel.

And is it any wonder that reactionaries are gaining strength? Within the space of 50 years, America has gone from segregation to dizzying multiculturalism; from traditional family structures to widespread divorce, cohabitation, and sexual liberty; from a few respected sources of information to an endless stream of peer-to-peer media; from careers in one company for life to an ever-accelerating need to retrain and regroup; from a patriarchy to (incomplete) gender equality; from homosexuality as a sin to homophobia as a taboo; from Christianity being the common culture to a secularism no society has ever sustained before ours.

Notice too that conservatives are not the only ones who are very, very afraid. It’s also feminist philosophers. But even they can’t claim privilege for their phobia:

I want to explore a much more general issue raised by this whole affair. This has to do with concept of harm, which keeps being raised. The main charge against Tuvel is that the very existence and availability of her paper causes harm to various groups, most specifically to members of the transgender community. This is a puzzling and contentious claim that deserves serious reflection.

The editorial board statement specifically refers to “the harm caused by the fact of the article’s publication.” As the concept of harm is standardly used in legal contexts, this would be a tough claim to defend. It is certainly possible for someone to suffer material or tangible loss, injury, or damage as a consequence of a 15-page article being published in an academic journal. The article might be libelous, for example. But there is no such charge here. The only individual mentioned by name besides Rachel Dolezal is Caitlyn Jenner, and it seems implausible to say that Tuvel has harmed Jenner by “deadnaming” her (i.e., using her birth name), given how public Jenner has been about her personal history.

The authors of the editorial board statement have nothing to say about how they understand harm. This already should give pause for thought. Philosophers, whatever their methodological orientation or training, usually pride themselves on sensitivity to how words and concepts are used. This makes it odd to see no attention being paid to how they are understanding this key concept of harm, which is central to many areas in legal and moral philosophy.

But the statement does clarify what the authors believe has caused the harm: “Perhaps most fundamentally, to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation.”

And here I thought we were supposed to be afraid of Trump. Imagine the harm a POTUS can do. But in the United States of Fear, an academic paper poses a threat capable of generating the kind of fear that many endure with our incautious and vicious president.

The question is whether those with fears can recognize fear as a basis for personal identity. Can we go from the specific to the general and recognize fear is something that every American experiences? If so, then we may finally have a common point of reference for a shared existence. We are united in fear.

Perspective on Tim’s Toxic Teaching

W-w will not help you sort this out. Carol Howard Merritt cannot tell the difference between Tim Keller and Tim Bayly:

I know that people are angry that Tim Keller doesn’t believe in women in the pastorate. But, my friends, this goes much, much deeper than women not being able to be ordained as Pastors, Elders, and Deacons. Complementarianism means married women have no choice over their lives at all.

So as Princeton Theological Seminary celebrates Tim Keller’s theology, I will be mourning. As he presents his lecture and receives his $10,000 award, I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that women’s genetalia is up for grabs by any man with power and influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear. Instead we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.

God, help us.

Meanwhile, Justin Taylor can’t tell the difference between Old Life and Carol Howard Merritt.

What help would confessional Presbyterianism give? It could provide a standard for teaching that cuts through male headship, or women’s liberation, or macho heterosexuality as the bright lines of Christian identity.

And notice this. Tim Keller was riding the wave of progressivism that swept through America post-Bush II. The world was getting better, conversations about race were ongoing, the economy was sluggish but improving, tolerance was increasing, cities were becoming more the sites of church life, and Christian apologists were gaining a hearing in the outlets of the mainstream media. Christians really could make a difference. A moderate, New School Presbyterianism with ties to Baptistic Calvinists could recover the cooperative endeavors that fueled Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, and Billy Graham. These sensible and extremes-avoiding Protestants could fill the vacuum created by the mainline.

Except that mainstream world, as Merritt indicates, has its own orthodoxy. You can be sensible, moderate, hip — heck, you can even like The Wire and channel Machen — and not measure up.

Maybe it turns out that Keller reached more Christians to think that the skeptics were really friendly rather than reaching the skeptics. Maybe it turns out that New School Presbyterians have more in common with Old School Presbyterians. What if they acted like it?

Social Justice Warriors Then

Mencken explains how to pursue social reform without eschatology or sanctity:

I do not hold, with the suffragettes, that the extension of the suffrage would bring the millennium, that the will to power would become the will to kiss, that sin would perish from the earth. Far from it. But I do hold that the dear girls could do no worse with the vote than men have done, that the present discrimination against them is unjust and absurd, that they ought to have their equal chance to inject their favorite antitoxins into the body politic and perform their pet mazurkas.

The common theory that women would not vote as intelligently as men is one that doesn’t appeal to me. I see no evidence in support of it. Women, in general, are certainly not less intelligent than men. On the contrary, they are probably more intelligent. That is to say, they keep in closer contact with reality, they are less romantic, they yield less to emotion. A woman’s eye is always upon the immediate certainty, not upon the remote possibility. She is not an idealist; she seldom dreams great dreams. But in the everyday, commonplace business of living she renders inestimable services to the human race. She keeps it upon the track; she sees that it gets three meals a day; she darns its socks and bathes its fevered brow; she assiduously counts its change.

In the great business of marriage, for example, the attitude of women is far less sentimental than that of men. A man usually marries romantically: he is full of magnificent visions of incredible bliss. Many men, indeed, are so romantic that they never marry at all—the true explanation of 90 per cent. of all masculine celibacy. But women marry with an eye to the main chance. They seldom allow romance to obliterate worldly prudence. In the whole history of England, I am told, no woman has ever actually refused a Duke. And here in free America it is not often, I venture, that a sane woman ever refuses a man who is her social equal and of good repute and able to support her. She may do it if she has a free choice between two such men, but such opportunities, it must be plain, are rare, and even when they occur there is commonly a Palpable difference between the two men, and so the woman’s choice is not free. She picks the better, not the worse. Her eye is on her number.

Such instinctive sagacity, I believe, would have a good influence upon politics. The woman voter would decide public questions, not from the idealistic standpoint, but from the standpoint of bread and butter. She would regard all political wizards and windjammers with distrust and aversion, just as she regards them now. She would bring to the business of government that salubrious cynicism which she now brings to the business of ensnaring and managing her husband. In brief, she would introduce a sharp common sense into political controversy and combat—a quality now almost wholly lacking.

But the suffragettes! The suffragettes! What of them? Isn’t it a fact that their present propaganda is utterly without sense, that their panaceas are all bosh, that their arguments and claims are romantic and nonsensical? Maybe it is. But don’t make the mistake, beloved, of confusing suffragettes with women in general. The suffragettes, by the irony of fate, are the worst of all imaginable specimens of their sex—not in the sense that they are evil, but in the sense that they are untypical. They no more represent the normal habits and mental processes of women than the fantastic Ibsenites of yesterday represented old Henrik, or than the S. P. C. A. of today represents that kindly and lovable creature, the Canis familiaris.

No; the suffragettes are not typical women, and so it would be absurd to charge their extravagances to the normal feminine character. On the contrary, they are untypical women, romantic women, women without womanly common sense. The thing that attracts thern to the suffrage cause is not the cause itself, but the excitement of the campaign. In brief, they are emotionalists—which is exactly what normal women are not. This explains their eager adoption of such ludicrous jehads as the vice crusade. This explains, too, their willing alliances with prima donna preachers, Chautauqua “sociologists,” Socialists, play censors and other such bogus “thinkers” and laryngeal bravos. And this explains, finally, the curious fact that many of them also belong to other windy lodges—of anti-vivisectionism, of anti-vaccinationists, of medical freedomists, of initiators and referendors, of deep breathers, of eugenists.

That’ll Work

How to have a happy marriage:

First, divide all the work of running your family – from job to shopping to doing the dishes to feeding the dog — into three categories: Paycheck Work; House Work; and Childrearing Work. With scrupulous honesty (men, this means you!), calculate how many hours per week each of you spends doing these things; then add the two totals together. For instance, if Husband’s numbers are 45 hrs + 5 hrs + 10 hrs = 60 hrs total, and Wife’s are 40 + 21 + 21 = 82, then the combined total family work hours = 142. Now divide your individual numbers by the total to get the percentage of total work that each of you does: in this case, 60/142 = 42% (He), and 82/142 = 58% (She). Finally, multiply your respective percentages by two. The resulting final percentage compares you with the theoretical full contributor. Think of it as the percentage person your family setup is requiring you to be — or allowing you to be. In my hypothetical case, for instance, the husband is 84% of a fully contributing person, while his wife is 116%.

Is this part of Roman Catholic social teaching?

Now More than Ever We Need Women to Shoot!

So imagine the following scenario:

You are at a holiday office party. Conversations are flowing as swimmingly as the beverages. You notice out of the corner of your eye a person who seems to be bulkier than usual. You look over and see this person taking off a back pack and removing from it an automatic hand gun. He starts to shoot. Your wife, who is registered for “open carry,” prefers to keep her Sig Sauer P220 in her purse. She proceeds to remove her handgun and shoots the gunman just as he fires his first two rounds. Her shot does not kill but it does incapacitate the assailant. You call the police. The party breaks up but no one dies.

Consider the scenario that Harry Reeder proposes so oddly close chronologically to the shootings in Southern California:

It’s late at night. I hear the glass in the door downstairs breaking, the door opening and then footsteps. I turn to my wife and say “Honey, someone is breaking into our home downstairs and since I know you are willing, why don’t you go downstairs and see if you can overpower him? By the way if he maims you or kills you don’t worry! I have two daughters who are brave enough to follow you and risk their life to protect our home while I remain here safe.”

Reeder uses this case to argue against women in the military:

The unbelievable reality is that the men of this nation now allow politically correct elected officials in general and a President in particular (along with the elite self-appointed culture-shapers pontificating while shielded in the media and the academy) to institute policies which send our wives and daughters, not into the military to use their unique skills and abilities to enhance our armed forces, but into combat units to protect our Home(land) while they (and we) remain safely tucked away in our rooms. Forget for the moment the obvious arguments of how ignoring gender differences will inevitably force the adoption of inadequate training regimens, lowered physical and combat readiness standards, the redefining of combat protocols, inevitable sexual mayhem and a loss of combat unit efficiency which will cost lives (documented by a Marine Corp. study- more on this in Pt.2). Yes, I am aware of the claim that combat zones are now defined differently. But hand to hand combat, dragging a 200+ lb. comrade to safety, carrying 85 lb. support equipment, etc. has not and will not change.

But why couldn’t the first scenario work to argue for women in the military? If women may carry weapons for self-defense, how far removed is that from defending the homeland? And if women can defend themselves and their kin here in the United States, why not overseas (one reason is that we should not have so many troops overseas, but that’s a different question)?

But arguably the biggest question of all, why do you bring up biblical arguments against women serving in the military now when many Americans feel threatened by terrorists?

Timing is everything.

This is not Your Father's Dallas Seminary

Another example of how conservatism does not come easily to evangelicals (even fundamentalists):

Because Protestants do not celebrate saints’ days, we miss out on learning about many great women in Christian history. One such example is Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, the 7th-century woman celebrated every November 17. She led a large community of men and women studying for God’s service, five of whom went on to become bishops. She brought the gospel to ordinary people, but kings and scholars also sought her counsel. A missionary, teacher, and educator, she led an abbey that became one of the great religious centers of North Eastern England.

Few writings by and about such women have survived from centuries prior to the printing press. Yet some do remain, including The City of Ladies by 14th-century author Christine de Pizan (c. 1365–1430). Later came defenses of women from one of Quakerism’s founders, Margaret Fell Fox (1614–1702); Tory pamphleteer, Mary Astell (1668–1731); abolitionist Hannah More (1745–1833); and the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797). Most of these writers acted out of a Christian impulse with the relatively unified objective of elevating women to their rightful place.

In the 18th century, the first Great Awakening brought a return to the earliest centuries’ involvement of lay people. Women’s involvement in missions sometimes included preaching, and on the frontier, Christian women experienced increased levels of autonomy. By the 19th century the pro-woman consciousness had a label: “the woman movement,” now called first-wave feminism. Male and female Bible-believers gathered at the Seneca Falls Convention, where the group drafted a declaration addressing the role of women in society.

In the half-century that followed, many believers joined the push for women’s suffrage, and dozens of foreign mission societies sent out women missionaries. The editor of The Message and Deaconess Advocate, Lucy Rider Meyer defended their role in her 1895 defense, saying, “In deaconess ranks to-day may be found physicians, editors, stenographers, teachers, nurses, book-keepers, superintendents of hospitals and orphanages… A bit of history shows that the ‘new woman’ is not an invention of the last decade but that, in the character of Hilda, Abbess of Whitby.”

This “new woman” is not an invention of second-wave feminism either. Betty Friedan did not start the “woman movement;” Christians did. Motivated by the belief that men and women were made in God’s image to “rule the earth” together, these pro-woman, pro-justice believers sought to right wrongs for those who had less social influence.

Who is this author? Does she teach at New Brunswick Theological Seminary? She is Sandra Glahn (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas), professor at Dallas Theological Seminary where she specializes in the topics of gender and women’s issues.

What Happened to Gender?

Carl Trueman has already raised questions about feminism but those thoughts returned while reading a variety of reactions to the George Zimmerman trial. You see a lot about race and class, but hear nothing about gender.

What does gender have to do with this? Well, both Martin and Zimmerman received their father’s surnames. That includes President Obama who gave a speech about the verdict on Friday (more below). What would the press and pundits have been saying about the case had Zimmerman been called George Mesa (his mother’s surname)? And what would those folks have said about race and ethnicity in the U.S. if Zimmerman were identified as a Hispanic-American with Afro-Peruvian blood (from his maternal grandfather)? And what about Zimmerman’s membership in the Democratic Party? The country has had a lot of debates for the last five years about illegal immigration or undocumented aliens (with Republicans trying to get out from under their white-only reputation), many of whom come to the U.S. from south of the border. Granted, Hispanic hardly does justice to Mexican-, Cuban-, or Peruvian-Americans, nor does Mexican do justice to the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in Mexico. But in the strange world of white/majority-non-white/minority relations in the U.S., George Zimmerman should qualify as a fellow as much on the minds of those who worry about race, class, and gender/transgender as they do about Sandra Fluke. In which case, the trial has an upside. A Hispanic-American, at a time when many Americans are skittish about immigrants from Central and South America, gained a welcome verdict in the nation’s white-dominated justice system. Obviously, that is no consolation to Trayvon Martin’s family. But since so much of the discussion of the trial and its aftermath has been about race, with the implication of how white Americans and their institutions mistreat non-whites, why doesn’t Zimmerman’s minority status provide some consolation to those sensitive to race and ethnicity?

Similar questions can be raised about President Obama. What if his name were Barack Dunham, and what if Americans perceived him as a white man instead of an African-American? (No one is really going to defend the idea that the slightest amount of African blood in a person makes them black, are they?) And what if the President himself thought more about being reared by a white mother and white grandparents before saying this:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Instead of the Trayvon Martin case showing how badly America treats blacks, the overwhelming reaction has been how much white America empathizes with blacks.

Does this mean that everything is fine in the U.S. and that we can all go back to work believing that this is a great land where the justice and economic systems work fairly? If you’ve seen The Wire (or read Wendell Berry), you never go to work thinking that. In fact, it is hard not to see a photo of Trayvon Martin and not think of Dukie Weems, or to have watched the series and not understand David Simon’s recent reaction:

In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all. And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a firearm. The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary.

At the same time, the inequities of the U.S. extend beyond white-black relations. Turning the George Zimmerman case into only a discussion of race and class will miss the larger canvass on which the tragic encounter between Martin and Zimmerman played out. I think I even learned about the complications of all social interactions from David Simon himself.