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Sunday, March 25, 2018

March for our Lives: Poets, Prophets, and Silence; some disorganized thoughts

Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Mark 4:13-20 

Photo NBC NEWS

I got to attend the March for our Lives in DC yesterday. To say that it was a powerful time would be an understatement. There are many wise and insightful reflections on the march which have already been published. I would like to particularly highlight this piece by Megan Garber at the Atlantic and this photo reflection by my friend Benjamin. My thoughts this weekend have been circling around the ideas of poetry, prophecy, and silence.

Today is Palm Sunday and that seems, to me, relevant. On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. It is, in Christian tradition, one of the more mysterious of our celebrations. The celebration comes just days before Good Friday, when Jesus is killed by sinful humanity acting through a violent colonial empire. The celebration itself is understood to have been indelibly marked by plans to murder the very king it celebrated. The religious establishment and the secular government shook with fear and fury as children celebrated the Prince of Peace, the God-man who chose to ride to his final confrontation on the back of a mule rather than on a war horse. On Palm Sunday, Christians celebrate the one who defeated death by embracing his own pain and death.

I hope that the parallels are obvious.

Children, students, should never have had to lead the movement against gun violence. Children should never have had to lead the celebration of the one who delivers humanity from death. Children should never have had to, but children did have to. They had to because of the silence of those to whom the task was given. Two thousand years ago, in the face of adult silence, children sang. Yesterday, in the face of adult silence, children sang.

I don't know all of the reasons for our silence, and I don't know all of the reasons for their song. Some of us have been silent because we have given up hope—their hope is not exhausted and they share it with us. Some of us believe that the message of peace is too good to be true, we have chosen to accept the inevitability of violence—they still believe that peace is stronger. Some of us do not want peace, some of us have never wanted peace, our power comes from violence—they have chosen peace. Some of us want a King who will kill our enemies for us—they have embraced peace. Some of us were just too tired—they could not keep silent.
Alex King and D'Angelo McDade photo The Star

They could not keep silent.

They could not keep silent.

They could not keep silent.

But neither were they afraid of our silence. Christians believe that, in dying, Jesus overcame death—that Jesus turned the agent of his destruction and of ours against itself. In the words of John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so...
Death, thou shalt die. 
Yesterday I saw the students who, a month ago, looked at death, at a man whose ability to kill had been preserved by our silence, and turned silence against itself. Yes, they called out our silence about gun violence; they called out a nation's weary quiet—the deadly stillness that invariably returned weeks, months, or years after Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, and Pulse. But more than calling out our silence, they used silence against itself. I saw it in two ways yesterday.

Yesterday, teenagers were given the attention of a nation. They took that attention, they waited till we were all listening to them, and they told us to listen to someone else. Their own pain had driven them to hear the voices of communities of color, the voices that we have ignored, and they reminded us that those voices have been shouting the whole time. They stood back and silenced themselves so that we would be forced to hear from D.C. and Chicago ("see, the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone"). One of the most powerful voices of the day was the voice of eleven year old Naomi Wadler who condemned us with:
I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news, I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.

 They gave time on the stage to students from Newtown and they reminded us of Columbine.

And then there was Emma González. She has become, with good reason, a particular celebrity among the Parkland students who are speaking out on this subject. Her speech just days after the shooting was powerful and impassioned. One politician has already had to drop out of his race after he attacked her on twitter. When he went after her he was running unopposed, within days he had an opponent, and shortly thereafter he suspended his campaign. She owns her identity as a bisexual Cuban-American woman with pride and grace and has already learned the strength of what others might call her vulnerabilities. Yesterday, we all wanted to hear Emma González speak. We all wanted to hear the sort of impassioned power which has been so central to all that is happening. We showed marched yesterday because we care, we marched because this matters, we marched because we are learning to listen again, but I know that a part of me marched yesterday because I wanted a show. I wanted to see what would happen, I wanted all of these students and especially this student to perform for my encouragement and I know that I was not alone. The world was watching and asking her for a show.

González rebuked us with a poem and with silence. 

The woman everyone wanted to hear, read a poem about others and then stood in silence—weeping, defiant, and powerful—and forced us to listen to the silence of 17 graves. 


And if the task of prophecy is to empower people to engage in history, then it means evoking cries that expect answers, learning to address them where they will be taken seriously, and ceasing to look to the numbed and dull empire that never intended to answer in the first place.
-Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination




Monday, March 12, 2018

Do We Need to Pretend it's a Game?



I have been reading and enjoying Dan Heck's According to Folly (here is my review) a Socratic exploration of contemporary American approaches to Christianity, recently (really enjoying it and I plan to review it as soon as I am done). In the book, the narrator witnesses a series of conversations between a Socratic interlocutor (the titular "fool") and three different "types" of contemporary Western folk. In the book, the Socratic fool identifies the different conversations he has with each of the types as a "game". Now I realize that this isn't original to Heck, but running into it the context of our current culture and the national moment has me reflecting on our methods of discourse in a particular way.



A few months back I put together a list of ten guidelines for arguing about theology on the internet. One of those guidelines has been haunting me so let me quote it at length here:

Remember that humans are complex

Everything I have been talking about has assumed the culture of debate and philosophy which was built by and for educated white men (and also some Greeks and North African men, and a lot of scholars who predate the whole concept of whiteness but whose work formed the foundation on which the men who came to think of themselves as white ultimately built their own power structures - some women also contributed but fewer than we should wish thanks to millennia of patriarchy). As such, while I (a white man) do think that theses guidelines really will be helpful in having productive and healthy arguments about theology, I would be utterly remiss if I neglected to recognize that the list is built on a presumption of the luxury of "doing" theology in relative security. Yes, white men have been martyred for their theology but the vast majority of western white, male theologians have been able to operate from a place of relative security. I don't think that I have heard this explained more powerfully than by Broderick Greer 
I descend from enslaved people. From lynched people. From racialized people. From people who took the Jesus their white enslavers introduced them to - a white Jesus happy to watch them suffer in order to maintain the proper social and economic order - and understood him not as enslaver, but as emancipator. I descend from people who created liturgical music not in grand cathedrals or impressive basilicas but on labor camps from Texas to Virginia. 
Folk who cried out, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen // Nobody knows but Jesus” and “Tell old Pharaoh // Let my people go”. Folk who sang, “ And before I’d be a slave // I’ll be buried in my grave”. Folk who did not dream of a pie-in-the-sky-when-they-die, who awaited a heavenly home free from the troubles of this life. No. They expected their God to act decisively, in history, to free them from the ravages of white domestic terror. 
These were people for whom theology was more than an intellectual exercise. They did not have the comfort of ivory towers or lengthy sabbaticals. They just had each other: families and communities forged during the evil institution of African enslavement. And that’s what “powerless” people have to do: theology on the go, without books, seminary, theology on the streets, in the face of people wearing white sheets. Theology after we’ve been kicked to the corner for a perfectly holy and wholesome sexual orientation and gender expression, from the text of our very lives.Excerpt from Theology as Survival 

It would be (and far too often is) catastrophic to mistake a person who is doing theology as survival—for their basic dignity, for their inclusion in sacred communities, for their ability to exercise the gifts and calling God has given them—for a person who is doing theology for simple (yet still valuable) edification. To demand that someone doing theology of survival operate in the mode of someone doing theology "from the ivory tower"—or keyboard, would be like asking someone on fire to not to speak too loudly; "too loudly" has a very different definition when you are on fire than it does when you are arguing around the kitchen table in the bloom of health.
It is, therefore, critical to remember (if you are a straight, white, male) that when you have a theological argument, you have the privilege of having it in a space designed to your optimal specifications. It is like the old joke:
Q: "Who would win in a fight, Kevin from Home Alone or Superman?"
A: "How much time does Kevin have to prepare?"When you are engaging on terrain that was built on the assumption that your culture, educational history, and gender are the definition of "normal" you should not expect people whose experience has been a different terrain with it's own "rules" and expectations to engage in the way you are accustomed to.
What I find myself wondering today is all to do with the power, risk, and essential value of discourse. I am a massive fan of Socratic dialectic as a way of discovering truth. The greatest educational experience of my life was my time at St. John's College where the teach the great books program and classes take place as discussions of texts around a table. The so called "great conversation" my abiding passion. In short, I am deeply committed to the proposition that rich, meaningful, robust, rigorous, and honest conversation is at the heart of human progress and understanding.

But here is the thing: In order to work, Socratic dialectic requires the conceit that all participants may engage freely without fear of existential threat or coercion. This is, technically, not a logical requirement but I am convinced that it is an almost entirely unyielding psychological requirement. I am not trying to say that the conceit is inaccessible to any particular class of persons, I am trying to point out instead that the conceit is a) often false, and b) easier for some people in some situations than for other people in other situations. When a straight Christian debates the meaning of the Bible on LGBTQ+ issues with a queer Christian, the consequences of the debate are significantly and unavoidably different for the two of them; this needs to be recognized by anyone who values dialectic as a tool for discovering the truth—it shapes the meaning, import, and weight of the arguments advanced by the two interlocutors.

It might be tempting to conclude from this that the less interested party, the party to who the conceit comes more easily, is more trustworthy in a spectators analysis of a given conversation. It might be tempting  but it would also be wrong. The more interested party is often more invested in the outcome of the conversation precisely because she is better, and more holistically acquainted with the total truth of the matter. Yes, she does have a clear psychological investment in the outcome (provided she is arguing for the conclusion which would benefit her) but that does not preclude the possibility of her being correct. It was C.S. Lewis who identified the Bulverism, a combination of the ad hominem and genetic fallacies, demonstrating that a person's interest in the outcome of an argument does not ipso facto invalidate that argument.

The idea (itself a conceit) that disinterest strengthens the validity of an argument is quintessentially modernist in that it emerges from the attempt to reduce all knowledge to scientific and mathematical rubrics of knowing. While it would be a mere re appropriation of the bulverism to suggest that the conceit of disinterest as strength in an argument is wrong only because it serves the interests of those whose power is already well established (relatively wealthy cis, straight, white men) and that it was first forwarded by that same class of people; the genesis of the idea is certainly relevant to the discussion. So, again, I am not claiming that the conceit of disinterest as strength in an argument is wrong merely because it was developed and preserved by those people best situated to benefit from it. I am arguing instead that this may explain some of the idea's longevity—it is useful to those with power and that is generally a solid predictor of a things longevity in society. I think the idea is wrong because it fails to allow for the fact that knowledge can be acquired in ways that are not "scientific" and because it fails to allow for the simple fact that those most impacted by a proposition are often ipso facto those who are best acquainted with the strengths, weaknesses, and consequences of the idea.

That dude who thinks he can mansplain feminism because "he doesn't need it"


It was, again, Lewis in his essay Meditation in a Toolshed who clarified the difference between looking at something (that is to privilege what can be described in a disinterested manner) , and looking along it (that is to know a thing from the "inside").
When you have got into the habit of making this distinction you will find examples of it all day long. The mathematician sits thinking, and to him it seems that he is contemplating timeless and spaceless truths about quantity. But the cerebral physiologist, if he could look inside the mathematician's head, would find nothing timeless and spaceless there—only tiny movements in the grey matter. ... The girl cries over her broken doll and feels that she has lost a real friend; the psychologist says that her nascent maternal instinct has been temporarily lavished on a bit of shaped and coloured wax.
As soon as you have grasped this simple distinction. it raises a question. You get one experience of a thing when you look along it and another when you look at it. which is the "true" or "valid" experience? Which tells you most about the thing? And you can hardly ask that question without noticing that for the last fifty years or so everyone has been taking the answer for granted. It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people but to anthropologists; that if you what the true account of sexual love you must go, not to lovers, but to psychologists; that if you want to understand some "ideology" (such as medieval chivalry or the nineteenth-century idea of a "gentleman"), you must listen not to those who lived inside it, but to sociologists.
The people who look at things have had it all their own way; the people who look along things have simply been brow-beaten. It has even come to be taken for granted that the external account of a thing somehow refutes or "debunks" the account given from inside. 
I want to retain Socratic dialogue, healthy argumentation, and rigorous debate. But I think we need to learn to do it in a more fully formed way. We need to understand that the arguments of those who do theology, philosophy, politics, or ethics "for survival" may well be doing a better, or at least a differently informed and equally valid job of it than those engage in a more superficially disinterested way. Certainly we need to begin calling out the false claims of those who flippantly boast that they are "just interested in the truth" and "don't have a horse in this race". I still believe that the game is a useful—even a vital—one, but its rules are far more complex than we often want to admit.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why I am a Pacifist. A Response to C.S. Lewis


This post is a response to C.S. Lewis' 1940 essay Why I am not a Pacifist reprinted in the collection The Weight of Glory.

I was recently involved in an online discussion over the subject of guns and gun restrictions. In the course of the discussion, someone recommended C.S. Lewis' essay Why I am not a Pacifist, as a strong argument against the pacifist position. Now C.S. Lewis would likely have been one of the first to tell you that he could not be absolutely certain of the reasons that he was not a pacifist, but in the essay he does lay out his moral and rational warrant for rejecting the pacifist position. The essay is an excellent example of may of my reasons for loving Lewis as a thinker and a writer: the elegance of his reason, the conviviality of his style, his nearly supernatural capacity to be direct and  hard hitting without stooping to insult(1) or being dismissive.

I am, generally, a huge Lewis fan but this is one subject over which I part ways with him as I am a pacifist. Specifically, I am a pacifist of the non-lethality sort. That is to say that while I do not reject all forms of violent coercion (say for instance yanking a child out of the street, or locking a psychologically deranged person away from people whom he might hurt and implements with which he might do harm) I do reject as ultimately wrong all purposeful taking of human life—I think it is wrong to kill people.


Lewis begins the essay by neatly breaking the process of moral reasoning (he calls it an act of the conscience) down into four specific parts which, he argues, operate in both the general process of reasoning and in moral reasoning itself:
Now all three elements are found also in conscience. The facts, as before, come from experience and authority. I do not mean "moral facts" but those facts about actions without holding which we could not raise moral questions at all—for we should not even be discussing Pacifism if we did not know what war and killing meant, nor Chastity, if we had not yet learned what schoolmasters used to call "the facts of life." Secondly, there are the pure intuitions of utterly simple good an devil as such. third there is the process of argument by which you arrange the intuitions so as to convince a man that a particular act is wrong or right. And finally there is authority as a substitute for argument, telling a man of some wrong or right which he would not otherwise have discovered, and rightly accepted if the man has a good reason to believe the authority wiser and better than himself. 
He goes on to claim that the significant difference between reasoning generally and moral reasoning is that our immediate sense of goodness and evil is somewhat more corrupted and corruptible than our our immediate perception of truth and falsehood (on which the operation of general reason relies). I am not totally convinced of this but as it plays no further role in the argument than to encourage the reader to a more rigorous self reflection—a very wise and proper suggestion—I am not inclined to quibble with it here.

All of this is classic Lewis, identifying the process by which the question is to be addressed and then breaking that process into discreet operations, each of which is then addressed in turn. So far I am very much on board.

After pointing out that there is no more utility in arguing about basic moral intuitions than there is about basic perceptions since the person who claims to "just know" that pacifism or non-pacifism is good has provided no grounds for disagreement, Lewis launches into his moral analysis of pacifism as an examination of the facts, intuition, reasoning, and authority which he sees behind pacifism.

Moral Facts


Lewis begins with the fact that war is "very disagreeable" and suggests that Pacifists add to this a fact-claim that "wars always do more harm than good". I cannot speak for all pacifists, but this is not a claim I would make. I am willing to grant that there are wars which may well have led to less harm than likely would have occurred had the aggressor nation succeeded in its stated goals—WW2 being a somewhat obvious example (if one that Lewis was in no place to use in 1940). Lewis points out that the claim, if made, would be necessarily speculative and can therefor be treated as something of a null claim. This strikes me as something of a straw man representation of the Pacifist analysis of war, but is, finally, a strong approach as it does box out my suggested rejoinder, that there are possibilities other than either a) war or b) concession to the aggressive power; the claim that a third option might have had an even better outcome than either war or Nazi domination of Europe is, I think, possible but also admittedly speculative so I will not list it as a fact.  I do need to notice, though, that "war was the best possible outcome" is just as speculative as the rest.

And I think that note is important because Lewis goes on to claim (using WW1 as his example) that "If a Germanized Europe in 1914 would have been an evil, then the war which prevented that evil was, so far, justified". Lewis is saved here by his inclusion of "so far". The little phrase allows room for Lewis to grant (though I wish he would have done so explicitly) that an action is not justified by the mere fact of its being less bad than an alternative. If a murderous cannibal chooses to let a particular victims corpse alone, it is certainly better than his having eaten it but the original murder is not thereby justified. By including the "so far" Lewis seems to be claiming only that a war which is not as bad in its effects as total capitulation to an oppressor would have been is not thereby condemned by simple utilitarian calculation. I agree with him that it is not, and it will do as an explanation for why Lewis does not find speculation about outcomes particularly convincing. It does not explain why he should find the non-pacifist claim that "war is less bad than capitulation to an oppressor" to be a particular vindication of war as such. To do so would be to commit the false dilemma fallacy.

This turns out to be just about all Lewis wants to do with the facts, but before I follow his essay over to discussing moral intuition I want to suggest a further moral fact, that the loss of a life is always in itself to be viewed as an evil. I am confident that this claim could be argued on religious grounds (Romans 5:12 springs to mind) but I think it is just as well established as shared human opinion. Though we disagree about pacifism, we all generally do agree that life is to be preferred over death. Thus death does not enter the discussion with the presumption of innocence but with the presumption of guilt. If death is to be allowed as a moral good, the burden of proof is on the non-pacifists to demonstrate that there are circumstances under which it can be justified. I think that, so long as we are dealing strictly with the category of moral facts, we cannot conclude that death is always an evil as there may well be situations in which it could be turned for the good—that possibility must not be ruled out without examination which would involve a move from stating moral facts to moral reasoning.

Moral Reasoning


Lewis begins his analysis of the relevant moral reasoning by observing that any general principle of beneficence has to be particularized to be meaningful. In his words
You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must to this or that good to this or that man.
This fact, which I do not dispute, taken together with the fact of human limitations (no person can act in all ways at all times), and the general principle that some people have a greater claim on our beneficence than others (I have some provisos on this one but am basically willing to grant it), leads Lewis to the following move:
And this in fact most often means helping A at the expense of B, who drowns while you pull A on board, And sooner or later, it involves helping A by actually doing some degree of violence to B. but when B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing (which disobeys the intuition) or you must help one against the other. And certainly no one's conscience tells him to help B, the guilty. It remains, therefore, to help A. So far, I suppose, we all agree. If the argument is not to end in an anti-Pacifist conclusion, one or other of two stopping places must be selected. You must either say that violence to B is lawful only if it stops short of killing, or else that killing of individuals is indeed lawful but the mas killing of war is not.
Lewis here manages again, to his great credit, to avoid the false dilemma of painting Pacifists as advocates of passivity in the face of injustice. He recognizes the possibility that we might well say that something can and should be done to restrain, or frustrate the intentions of, "B" but that killing B is an option which should be taken off the table. Notably, however, Lewis does not actually discredit the active, non-lethal option. Instead he states, without arguing, that there are situations wherein killing B is the "only efficient method" for restraining B from running rampant and then argues briefly that capital punishment is a subject "on which good men may legitimately differ". Lewis seems, here, to be glossing over what is, for me, the whole issue. I am willing to grant that killing an aggressor is the most efficient way of preventing future aggression on his part. I can even move beyond "efficient" to "effective", and grant that there are plausible situations in which the only apparently effective way to deter an aggressor is to kill the aggressor, particularly since Lewis grants that there may not be any situations in which the death of "B" is necessary saying in the next paragraph "It is arguable that a criminal can always be satisfactorily dealt with without the death penalty". But the practical thing is not always the correct thing to do. Lewis would, I think, be one of the first to agree that there are some actions which, even when they are very likely to work to achieve a good end are nevertheless "out of court" on the grounds that they are intrinsically evil—I am reminded of Lewis' treatment of Jadis in The Magician's Nephew and her use of the deplorable word. This is not a minor point; Lewis was never a moral pragmatist and neither am I. The only conclusion I can see is that, so long as we want to read Lewis as consistent in his overall ethics, we have to say that his response to the suggestion that aggressors should be stopped but that only non-lethal methods are on the table for stopping them is that the truth of the claim ultimately rests on the question of whether or not there are situations under which killing an aggressor is ever justified. If killing people is going to be ruled moral in some situations then it will remain possible that killing people might be moral when it is the only efficient or effective method of stopping an aggressor. In the meantime the question of pacifism remains open.

Lewis next move is to claim that "It is certain that a whole nation cannot be prevented from taking what it wants except by war. It is almost equally certain that the absorption of certain societies by certain other societies is a great evil". While I cheerfully grant the latter claim, I am not entirely convinced of the former. It is, I think, relevant that Lewis wrote this essay before India was able to secure its independence from Britain through non-violent means, a decolonization which turned out to be the prelude to a wave of decolonization and independence movements which were often (though certainly not always) accomplished through strategic non-violence. Additionally Lewis did not have access to the recent work of Erica Chenoweth demonstrating that non-violent resistance has proved more effective than violent resistance in the modern era. I do not mean to suggest that any of this proves that aggressor nations can always (or ever) be stopped by non-violent means—this evidence is no where near sufficient to support such a claim, the time scale and types of conflict involved are far too limited—but I do think that it provides sufficient evidence to challenge Lewis' claim that "It is certain..." and suggest that today Lewis would have had to restrict himself to "It is likely..." or "It is probable...".

Ultimately, however, my response to this argument is roughly the same as my response to the previous. The validity of his argument here rests on two presuppositions: first that there are circumstances which make killing a person moral, and second that preventing the success of aggressor nations is one of those circumstances. Both of these presuppositions are clearly dubitable; It may well be that the immorality of, at least purposefully, killing a person is an absolute—and even if it is not, Lewis has no warrant to presume that it there are circumstances which justify at is such an assumption would constitute question begging—or even if there are circumstances where killing a person can be morally warranted he has not demonstrated that preventing the very evil eventuality of a despotic, tyrannical, and/or evil nations taking over another constitutes those circumstances—it may, but Lewis does not demonstrate it here. And so, again, I find that Lewis fails to make his point with this argument.

Lewis' next line of argumentation addresses a sort of pragmatic Pacifist position which, Lewis says, suggests that we should work to remove war as best we can and that the most pragmatic method is to advocate pacifism in the hope that there will eventually be enough pacifists in all nations that war will become untenable. I have not, myself, encountered any pacifists who take this view but I have no reason to doubt Lewis that they exist. Insofar as they do, I am with him in discounting their reasoning. I do not think that pacifism should be advocated unless it is, in fact, correct. In this section Lewis is at his very best when he opines
I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.
I am in full agreement.

Authority - Human


Having established, to his own satisfaction (if not to mine) his case that the case for Pacifism cannot
be made on the basis of moral facts and reasoning alone, Lewis goes on to consider the question of moral authority. Here Lewis breaks the question of moral authority into the familiar categories of special and general authority, either human or divine.

He first looks at special human (moral) authority and recognizes that, in his case, all of it—or at least the vast majority—goes against pacifism. He points out
If I am a Pacifist, I have Arthur and Aelfred, Elizabeth and Cromwell, Walpole and Burke, against me. I have my university, my school,and my parents against me. I have the literature of my country against me, and cannot even open my Beowulf, my Shakespeare, my Johnson, or my Wordsworth without being reproved.
and I think that he is, so far as this goes, correct in his assessment. My only addendum is that, as a US citizen living at the beginning of the 21st century I am in a slightly different place insofar as I also have William Penn, Jane Addams, Dorothy Day, and Dr. King to recon with if I want to dismiss the Pacifist position. The special human authority in this country and at this time is somewhat more varied than it was for C.S. Lewis in the U.K. in 1940. In any case, Lewis does not insist that the non-Pacifist witness of England should be deterministic, he wants only to note it and allow it a voice in the conversation. Let us now say that it is noted and allowed, and move on with him.

Lewis next move is to general human authority looking at the witness of human history as a whole. Here I believe he overstates his case somewhat. He accurately points out
To be a Pacifist, I must part company with Homer and Virgil, with Plato and Aristotle, with Zarathustra and the Bhagavad-Gita, with Cicero and Montaigne, with Icealnd and with Egypt. From this point of view, I am almost tempted to reply to the Pacifist as Johnson replied to Goldsmith, "Nay Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have no more to say."
Lewis goes on to some important comments about the weight that the "universal opinion of mankind" ought to have and the methods whereby people might elect to stray from it, but before I follow him there it is important to point out that, while Lewis would be correct in claiming that the majority opinion of mankind is against pacifism, he overplays his hand in claiming that the cry against Pacifism is universal. He has the Jains, a variety of Buddhists, possibly St. Francis, Laozi, Tolstoy, and the Anabaptist and Quaker traditions to recon with. All of these together constitute, at best, a minority report on the "opinion of mankind" but they are certainly sufficient to falsify Lewis' claim to the universality of non-Pacifism.

Having noted that Lewis overplays the univocality of the "opinion of mankind" in his assessment, it is worth taking a look at the weight he believes that opinion, univocal or not, ought to have. He identifies two potential ways a person might reasonably shrug off the non-Pacifist opinion of mankind. The first, essentially boils down to what he liked to call "chronological snobbery" (though he does not use that term in this essay) and a vague justification for it—essentially the idea that humanity is always improving such that opinions of the past have no real weight in the present. I don't think that this view is as common as Lewis makes it out to be (though it may well have been just that common in Lewis' own circles—I know Lewis himself claims to have been taken in by it until he was cured of the delusion by some talks with Owen Barfield). At any rate, I am not personally familiar with any pacifists who take this approach and I certainly do not(2). The second way Lewis sees that a person might shrug off the weight of historical tendency of mankind away from Pacifism is the directly religious, and particularly Christian, observation that mankind is morally imperfect and that as a result the opinion of mankind is no clue as to the good. Here again I think Lewis is overstating the case. The moral corruption of humanity would only totally undo the testimony of the great thinkers and leaders of human history if one were to hold to the strictest of Calvinist "total depravity" doctrines. Lewis did not hold to such a doctrine and neither do I. Yes, humanity is morally corrupt, but we are not utterly incapable of truth, goodness, and beauty—whether because of remnant goodness, universal redemption, or prevenient grace does not matter here—there is real wisdom to be found in the witness of mankind, though that witness remains imperfect.

Authority - Divine


The shift towards the religious leads Lewis into considering Divine Authority in, he notes, exclusively Christian terms(3). As I am, myself, a Christian Pacifist (in that I am a Pacifist for Christian reasons) this bit is, for me, the real meat of the essay. Lewis points out (quite accurately) that the Christian Pacifist conclusion is built, in large measure, on the teachings of Jesus Christ (as well as, I would add, His example) and that without these teachings it would be nearly impossible to get a pacifist reading of the Bible. He does, again, overstate the case against pacifism from the tradition of Christian interpretation on the subject. Citing Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian traditions (while ignoring the radical reformation and the Quakers) Lewis quotes Aquinas on just war theory and then cites Augustine as representative of the Patristics. Here, for the fist time and though it pains me, I am really tempted to accuse Lewis of arguing in bad faith.  While it is certainly true that Augustine will work as an early church father and an advocate of the non-pacifist interpretation, he is practically alone in that regard. Nearly every other church father, from Origen, to Justin Martyr, to Tertullian, who weighed in on the subject, did so on the side of non-violence. Lewis has to have known this so his cherry picking the (almost only) Patristic voice strikes me as less than fully honest to the argument. Again, Lewis has something of a point here since the majority of the Church's witness would support his non-Pacifist position, but he overplays his hand and undermines his total argument. The Christian Pacifist who looks to the tradition of the Church, and especially to the tradition of the early church fathers, to support Pacifism will not have difficulty finding it.

Finally (and, for most American Evangelicals, most substantially) Lewis moves on to a direct examination of the Bible. Having already pointed out most readings of the Old Testament (and, Lewis suggests, the Bible in its totality) do not recommend a Pacifist conclusion, Lewis zeroes in on something quite near to the actual exegetical argument I would make. He says
The whole Christian case for Pacifism rests, therefore, on certain Dominical utterances, such as "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." I am now to deal with the Christian who says this is to be taken without qualification. I need not point out—for it has doubtless be pointed out to you before—that such a Christian is obliged to take all the other hard saying of Our Lord in the same way. For the man who has done so, who has on every occasion given to all who ask him and has finally given all he has to the poor, no one will fail to feel respect. With such a man I must suppose myself to be arguing; for who would deem worth answering that inconsistent person who takes Our Lord's words a la rigueur when they dispense him from a possible obligation and takes them with latitude when they demand that he should become a pauper?
I have three objections so far. First, Lewis doesn't happen to have chosen the command on which I base my pacifism (though I don't particularly fault him for the one he did choose—it is certainly a relevant passage) and as a result, throughout the rest of the essay he ends up playing more around the edges of my position than addressing it directly. Second I disagree with his assertion that taking this command "without qualification" requires that all commands of Jesus be read in that way. As Lewis himself points out a littler further on in the essay "Any saying is to be taken in the sense it would naturally have borne in the time and place of utterance" context has an effect on the meaning of a statement and that is no less true of the commands of Christ than it is of any other bit of human language. Jesus does have quite a few "hard sayings" and each ought to be examined in the light of its own context and evaluated in that way. So while I don't find any fault in Lewis' method of interpretation, it seems to me that this particular point flies in the face of just that method. Third, if a rigorous application of Lewis' method does, in fact, lead to an application which is more convenient to the position of a Pacifist who does not take the path of total poverty, well, I should hardly have to remind Lewis of the dangers of a Bulverism.

Lewis' own interpretation of Jesus command to turn the other cheek is reasonable and straight-forward though I maintain it is based on a somewhat inaccurate reading of history and of the text.
I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. Or to put the same thing in more logical language, I think the duty of non-resistance is here stated as regards injuries simpliciter, but without prejudice to anything we may have to allow later about injuries secundum quid. That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are and injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. ... Does anyone suppose that Our Lord's hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim? I at any rate think it impossible they could have so understood Him.
I would contend that Jesus did not leave room for the "obviously exceptional cases" Lewis mentions. Directly after the section of Matthew 5 which Lewis quotes is the passage which I find most compelling in my own pacifism. "You have heard it said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy', but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45a - NIV). Jesus follows the command to "turn the other cheek" with the active command to "love your enemies", (the order of the commands are reversed but still paired when we read them again in Luke 6:27-29) which when taken together with the additional command that we are to love our neighbor and Jesus response to the question "who is my neighbor" would seem to cover all people. My basic contention is, then, is that the command to non-lethality is universal precisely because killing a person is finally incommensurate with loving that same person. Inasmuch as it may have been true that Jesus' original audience would have heard obvious exceptions to the command to "turn the other cheek", Jesus follow on command to love their enemies would have closed those "loopholes".

It is particularly worth noting that the command to love in Matthew 5:44 takes a form of the Greek word "agape", a term Lewis himself wrote extensively about in The Four Loves. Agape is, Lewis well understood, the love that healthy people have for themselves, or better, it is the love that God has for us. As Lewis said in Studies in Words.
Charity [agape] means 'Love in the Christian sense'. But love, in the Christian sense does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will that we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.
The command to "agape" our enemies inevitably means that we must treat our enemies (regardless of how we feel about them) in a way which is finally oriented to their real good. I maintain that killing them must always be viewed by humans (who have no access to the internal states or eternal situations of one another) as antithetical to the good of others.

Lewis finally justifies his flawed exegesis of Matthew 5 with the fairly standard argument on the part of non-Pacifist Christians that a non-Pacifist interpretation of these commands of Jesus is easier to square with the rest of the Bible.
But I also think that, so taken, it harmonises better with St. John Baptist's words to the soldiers and with the fact that one of the few persons who Our Lord praised without reservation was a Roman Centurion. It also allows me to suppose that the New Testament is consistent with itself. St. Paul approves of the magistrate's use of the sword (Romans 13:4) and so does St. Peter (I Peter 2:14). If Our Lord's words are taken in the unqualified  sense which the Pacifist demands, we shall then be forced to the conclusion that Christ's true meaning, concealed from those who lived in the same time and spoke the same language, and whom He Himself chose to be His messengers  to the world, as well as from all their successors, has at last  been discovered in our own time."
And again, Lewis dips into misrepresenting the non-violent stance of the first few hundred years of the church.  The only salient objection I found here is the common and reasonable objection that interpreting Jesus commands to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 without exception(4) (obvious or otherwise) leads to apparent contradictions within the whole of the Biblical text. Quickly noting that Lewis has already marshaled almost all of the New Testament texts which might be problematized by a Pacifist interpretation of Jesus' sermons on the mount and plain (the other two are John 2 and Luke 22 and their parallels), I am willing to agree that there is indeed an apparent contradiction in the surface reading of the Bible. But this is hardly news. in fact, Lewis has already noticed the apparent contradiction in claiming that we ought to adopt a contextually modified interpretation of the sermon on the mount. Nobody is denying the apparent contradiction (and I am a little disappointed that Lewis doesn't grant this), the difference is in which surface readings we think required a deeper examination if we are to hold onto a harmony on this subject in Scripture. I contend that, as Jesus is the fullest image we have of God in the Bible, the proper approach (following the hermeneutic principle that the less clear should be interpreted in light of the more clear) is interpret those passages which would seem to support the non-Pacifist position in light of the clear and direct commands (as well as the self-sacrificing example) of Jesus. Where Lewis seems to want the Gospels interpreted in light of the rest of the Bible (but mostly the Old Testament), I want to interpret the rest of the Bible (and particularly the Old Testament) in light of the Gospels.

Psychological Pressure


After working through his thoughts on authority, Lewis takes a moment to reflect on the psychological pressures which might be influencing a continued preference for the Pacifist tradition. I am nearly always in favor of carefully examining one's own passions so I cheerfully accept his invitation here. I will even extend it right back to the non-Pacifists. His analysis of the reasons one might be tempted to accept Pacifism is gracious, honest, and so far as I can tell an accurate representation of the factors which would have been in play for his contemporaries at the outset of the second world war.
All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love. Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil—every evil except dishonour and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it. On the other side, though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing.
My only response in this case is that several of those factors are not in play for me as I have never realistically faced the threat of the draft or of having to serve as a soldier in wartime but that there are additional factors (the "wisdom of my age" the pressure of both major political streams) against me. Further I think it does need to be added that humans have a almost immediate propensity towards seeing violence as a solution. We are one of the most violent species on the planet as measured by our propensity towards killing members of our own species, and it is generally recognized violence is a typically human reaction to insecurity and threat; so there are significant and legitimate pressures beyond those Lewis identified in a person's desires to hold either the Pacifist or non-Pacifist positions. I do, however, think all Pacifists ought to read this section in particular and to sit diligently with it before declaring for Pacifism.

Conclusion


Lewis concludes the essay with a brief summary of his total argument
This, then, is why I am not a Pacifist. If I tried to become one, I should find a very doubtful factual basis, an obscure train of reasoning, a weight of authority both human and Divine against me, and strong grounds for suspecting that my wishes had directed my decision. As I have said, moral decisions do not admit of mathematical certainty. It may be, after all, that Pacifism is right. But it seems to me very long odds, longer odds than I would care to take with the voice of almost all humanity against me.
My response is that this, then, is why I am a Pacifist. If I tried to abandon the Pacifist position, I should find a doubtful factual basis, a convoluted train of reasoning, a slight but significant weight of human authority and an even more significant weight of Divine authority against me, and strong grounds for suspecting that my insecurities are influencing my decision to abandon Pacifism. I agree with Lewis that moral decisions do not admit of mathematical certainty. It may be, after all, that Pacifism is wrong. But is seems to be me very long odds, longer odds than I would care to take with the clear teaching of Jesus against me.

(1) Lewis does use the term "idiot" throughout the essay but that term had a different connotation and somewhat different denotation at that moment in history.
(2) I am, however, inclined to agree with Dr. King that "the moral arc of the universe is long but bends towards justice". However I do not imagine that the trajectory towards justice is at all linear.
(3) Lewis does briefly mention that there is a pacifist tradition in Buddhism here which would indicate that he must have known he was overstating his "universal opinion of mankind" claim at least a little.
(4) I hope that it is clear at this point that I do actually think that non-lethal intervention is a textually legitimate exception to the command not to resist and evil doer as this command should be read in the context of the broader commands to love both enemy and neighbor.

Some helpful Resources


A "Doodle" video of the essay (Part 1)


A "Doodle" video of the essay (Part 2)

Erica Chenoweth describing her research into non-violent resistance movements

Friday, February 16, 2018

Myth as Dream and Nightmare

“When they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was -- gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”                         - C.S. Lewis  Perelandra

I have been thinking about myth again recently. It is a particularly special kind of story, myth, neither history nor fiction, nor—quite—a mere combination of the two. Myths are not properly understood to be lies about history, nor are they fictional histories. Despite some of the rather bigoted and paternalist theories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it looks more and more as though the great tellers and recorders of myth never believed their stories to be historically true. But they did believe them to be true nonetheless. If you will excuse the circularity I think the answer to the question "what could be more true than facts" is "myth'.


It is, after all, the case that story is the instrument we use to access reality. Without story our experience of the world would be nothing more that incoherent data. It is story which turns the collection of shapes, colors, sounds, smells, and sensations into a child. Every thing with which we interact is its own story a story we write and are told. To spend much time thinking about this will open you to the twin shocks that the story of this life which you think you are writing is really one which you are being told and that the story you think you are being told is really a story that you are always writing—existence is a collaborative piece of art.


These are stories which are neither fact nor lie but are often deeply true. Because myth is the exploration of meaning, it can neither ential perfect correspondence to facts, or utter independence from them. The hard bitten empiricist reduces myth to lie (though that conclusion will never be found in their accumulated data) while others attempt to harden myth into brittle fact  thereby exposing it once more to the attacks of the empiricists. But myth will not submit to any enforced metamorphosis and, to my knowledge, only one myth has ever become fact, and that was of its own volition. This is all a rather round-about way of saying that our myths are our attempts to find the meaning behind our existence. Without them we would be beyond lost, we would be without meaning.


I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

Selection from Mythopoeia  by J.R.R. Tolkien


There are two myths which I have been particularly thinking about recently and I hope that by thinking about them together I might be able to shine a little light on a few of the healthy and dangerous uses of the art. Specifically I have been thinking about the recent musical The Greatest Showman and also the myth of America.


The Greatest Showman


The Greatest Showman is one of those wonderful movies which was panned by the critics and embraced by audiences. The movie does not represent the facts of the history on which it is based instead the movie is a myth about community, humanity, acceptance, diginity, ambition, and right relationship. It is a hero’s journey (actually it is several overlapping hero’s journeys) and it pierces right to the heart of the tension between and unjust society built for the comfort of the rich and powerful and a just and joyful society built by and for those marginalized by the rich and powerful. In Christians terms, it is a myth all about the difference between the Kingdom of God as described in the Beatitudes and the Kingdom of this world. The loud secret of The Greatest Showman is that the life of joy and dignity is to be found only when we celebrate the humanity and worth of not being safe, secure, and privileged. It is a well told, and beautiful version of the story all of our hearts desperately long to live and most of our hearts are too afraid to ever try. The quote, often attributed to Thoreau that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” represents a dark magic which The Greatest Showman works to unravel—story and myth are, after all, the good magic which sets us free from the dark lies we tell ourselves about this world, and The Greatest Showman is a story of singing the song in the face of the dark.


But the history is not the same as the myth. In real, factual history P.T. Barnum simply was not the man we see as the protagonist of the myth. In real, factual history his circus was not the full celebration of humanity in all of its glorious diversity that we see in the myth—actually there was some serious exploitation and racism going on there; Barnum was pretty terrible with his animals as well.

The man on whom the myth-story is based was a broken, messed up, guy. He was wildly imperfect and sometimes evil. That isn’t a problem for The Greatest Showman unless we make the myth for the facts, unless we try to replace history with myth. Because the history is also important. The real history of racism, bigotry, animal abuse, exploitation, and the other wretched sins Barnum committed matters. The facts matter. When we pretend that the myth is the history we turn good magic into bad magic. We have a term for doing that: “whitewashing”. The spell which could work to liberate us, becomes a curse binding us more tightly to the sins of our past. Because the facts of history will remain regardless of whether we remember them. And history always has its effects.


The world is the way it is because of its history. When we whitewash our history it is like trying to tell a good story but changing all of the unpleasant parts at the beginning—it won’t work. The prince cannot search the kingdom for the girl whose foot fits the glass slipper if Cinderella is never kept from the ball in the first place; there would be no fairy godmother and the story would end with her having a pleasant time at the ball. Once the darkness is erased from the story, the happy ending (what Tolkien called the “eucatastrophe”) becomes impossible. So to with the real story in which we live. If we do not know our own history any real improvement on our current situation will be impossible.


As C.S. Lewis is want to remind us, it is the highest angels who make the most terrible demons. Myth known as myth highlights meaning and draws us towards progress and joy; myth mistaken for history blinds us to the ability to ever improve.

The Myth of America

The myth of the United States of America is a beautiful thing as well. The myth of America is one of freedom for and the equality of all people. The myth of America is a story of a wild, empty land slowly tamed for the good of all people by the rugged determination, the blood sweat and tears of fiercely determined regular people. It is the story of tough people who struggled to overcome oppression and tyranny and succeeded by strength of their grit, faith, and families. The American myth is the myth of a people enriched by and ever enriching their land. It is the story of the downtrodden of many lands who find sanctuary, overcome, and rise up to protect the downtrodden of the world. The American myth is hard work, hard living, and the simply joy of well earned safety in a healthy home with a loving family. The American myth is not a perfect vision of human flourishing but it is an honest and joyful representation of that ineffable spirit which is the United States.


But the Myth of America is not the history of America.

The land was not empty

The history of the United States is much more complicated and far, far darker. The history of the United States is the history of slavery and oppression of the poor and those who were not “granted whiteness”. The history of America is the history of a land cleared of its inhabitants by disease and violent genocide for the sake of those who believed that land is a thing to be owned and exploited. The “wild empty land” of the myth was, in fact, the land of the Susquehannok, the Cherokee, the Lakota, the Iroquois, the Creek, the Seminole, the Comanche, the Chinook, and so many, many more. Some little of it they have kept, their blood stains the rest. The history of America is a history of liberty won and liberty denied. There has been progress, yes, but that progress has been always too slow. The history of America is a history of stolen wealth, of robber barons and a civil war fought to retain a “right” to keep others enslaved. There have been plenty of tough and hardworking people in America’s history and they have accomplished great and unprecedented things. But the system they used to build those things, the institutions which enabled them to do what they did, can not be separated from the genocide and slavery out of which they were born. There is no America without those sins.

Dred Scott

The history of America is a history of poisoning our land for money. The history of America  is the history ripping apart the atom in order to slaughter our enemies. The history of America is ending slavery with one amendment and recreating it as mass incarceration with the same amendment. The history of America the strong prey on weak and throw their bones to their brothers to buy their complicity. The history of America is one hand stretched out to immigrants while the other pens “Chinese exclusion acts, the US vs Baghat Singh Thind, executive order 9066, and a million other words of exclusion. The History of America is Wounded Knee and Jim Crow. The history of America is the history of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” and then treating one million flavors of “Christian” as the only religion that counts. The history of America is the history of not worrying about an epidemic which “only affects gays and Haitians.” The history of America is 200+ years of marriage and identity denied to those unlike “us”.

The United States has accomplished great things, but each great accomplishment has grown, in some degree, out of the corpses of those who were walled out of the myth.

Take a moment and stare the tragedy of America right in the eye. Don’t blink.

It is only in recognizing the nation’s darkness, in seeing it for what it is, that the US has any hope of moving towards what it might be. The great danger—the great temptation—is to substitute the myth for the history and thus to turn the angel into a demon. As I have said elsewhere, I have never encountered a more powerful vision of both the history and myth of America than in Langston Hughes’ Let America be America Again. This is the eyes-open view (it should not surprise us that it is a poet who is able to see both truth and fact with such clarity) which hears myth and fact in sterio and never confuses the one for the other. May we learn to do the same.





Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Debunking a long list of "anti-trans" verses.


I got into a conversation about the identities of trans people yesterday and continuing into today. It started as a conversation about whether or not the Bible has definitions for "male" and "female" but it inevitably got into the identities of trans people today. It got me musing and poking around at some of my old writing and I found the following exchange in the comments section of Part 4 of  my Christian Defense of the Identities of Trans Persons series. So far as I can tell it is the most comprehensive response I have ever written to verses which are used to deny the identities of trans folks, so I thought the back and forth might merit its own post. This is not edited and you can find all of the original context in the com-box for that post. 

Update: For the two most commonly cited passages check out my extended response in the aforementioned post. One final passage which I frequently see referenced in this conversation is Romans 1. While I have written on Romans 1 in my Christian defense of LGB relationships series, I elected not to include it here because it has no bearing on gender identity, and is not really even argued to by non-affirming theologians. Instead it is brought up by people who are unclear on the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity.

_________________________________________________________________


Wow Kris, thanks for the thorough and Biblically founded response. While I still disagree with you I hope you realize that with your list and attendant brief interpretation of each of the passages you cited, this blog post may now contain one of the most thoroughly defended (in terms of quantity of Scriptural references and attendant interpretation) defenses of your position in publication. Denny Burke may be close with the brief paper he submitted to the SBC when he got them to pass a position denouncing SRS, but I haven't been able to locate many others.
All of that said, I think my reaction to your list and exegesis can be distilled to a few points so I will group my responses where appropriate while responding to individual passages/interpretation where you are making distinct points. Before we get to a point-by-point response though, let me address your first objection, that “I have presented to you clearly from the Bible that God has given an objective method to determine Wanda's gender. It is quite simply that you have rejected this method.” It is not specifically your understanding of the Bible I am rejecting here - though I suspect we do have different methodological ideas about how it ought to be interpreted - rather I certainly do reject your conclusion that the Bible provides “an objective method to determine Wanda’s gender” that has been a large and unhidden part of my thesis from the get go. I believe that the Bible does not give warrant for a Christian to conclude that Wanda is wrong about her gender, nor do I believe that the Bible provides Christians with an objective method even for determining a particular person’s sex, much less the person’s gender. Let me remind you that this does not constitute a disagreement about the authority of the Bible but about your interpretation of what the Bible is and isn’t saying. The most obvious piece of evidence on this issue is the existence of those intersex persons who do not have unambiguously male or female genitalia. As the Bible does not give a rubric for determining the sex or gender of intersex persons, it cannot be true that the Bible provides some sort of universalizable method for the determination of particular genders. If you were to restrict yourself to the issue of Wanda, then the rubric “those born with typically male genitalia are, ipso facto, male in sex and gender and vice versa for female genitalia” might be able to apply but, as I will demonstrate below, I don’t think that rubric can be legitimately found in the Bible.
Kris: Genesis 1:27-28 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth'... " In order to be fruitful and multiply, one must have the proper equipment. God does not separate sex gender in the beginning.

Genesis 7:3 "male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth." ... same.
My Response: The command to be fruitful and multiply is one given to humanity but not to individual persons. If it were given to individual persons then Jesus would have to be classified as a sinner since He did not procreate. Thus, and more directly to your point, humanity does contain plenty of the “proper equipment” but that does not require that any one person have said “equipment” so the passage cannot be taken to indicate more (on this subject) than that God treats the male-female dichotomy as the means by which humanity is able to carry out this commission but does not imply that each and every human must be categorized according to this taxonomy, participate directly in the commission (indeed the mutual interdependence of the Church is fairly basic in Paul), or identify their genitals with their gender. The fact that God does not explicitly separate sex and gender in the beginning is fundamentally irrelevant, there are all sorts of things God doesn’t do in the beginning which are perfectly fine things. The distinction between sex and gender would not have been relevant to the “be fruitful and multiply” commission so there is no reason to expect that God would have addressed in in this context.
Kris: Genesis 17:12 "He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations" No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.

Exodus 1:17 "But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live." It does not say "those who identify as male." No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.

Leviticus 6:18 "Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the LORD's food offerings." Not, "Every child of Aaron who identifies as a male." No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.

Numbers 1:2-3 "Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3 From twenty years old and upward" It does not say, "Count the ones who identify as male and identify as older than 20." No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.

Numbers 26:62 "And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward." Same
My Response: Sure, sex and gender are not clearly distinguished in these passages, which makes sense given that the formal distinction is a fairly recent development, but I see no reason that they should be. What I think you are identifying here is the fact that there are commands and events in the Bible which are clearly sexed, gendered, or both. I cheerfully grant that (though I would point out in your Exodus example that the gendered command of which babies are to be killed is initiated by Pharaoh who is not representative of God’s view of things, particularly in this account). Then, if I am tracking your argument correctly, you want to suggest that such gendered and/or sexed language and commands in the Bible make no sense if we do not have access to a perfect, objective, and absolute method for determining a person’s gender or sex or both. It is this second point (which I must point out is an inference from the Biblical data not a direct data point itself) where I think you are wrong. In fact (and DeFranza has an excellent treatment of this so I recommend checking her book or some of her blog posts out for a scholarly, exegetical and historical treatment of this) OT Hebrews were actually critically aware of the fact that some passages contain gendered and/or sexed commands and were also aware that it is actually not always easy or possible to tell whether a those laws and commands do or don’t apply to a particular person. First it is clear that the commands work on the level of generalization (as nearly all laws do) so while the existence of unusual or non-typical cases does not invalidate generalized commands (as you seem to suggest they would) they do problematize attempts to demand a universalizable application of those generalized commands. Second, according to DeFranza, there is significant ancillary second temple Jewish evidence that ancient Hebrews worked to develop their own extra-biblical methods for determining which laws ought to apply to which people and in which ways.
So I would agree that folks with male-typical bodies were most likely treated as male in both sex and gender while folks with female-typical bodies were most likely treated as female in both sex and gender. That does not erase the possibility of a perfectly viable distinction between sex and gender, it only suggests that people were likely misgendered periodically due to a lack of awareness on the part of those applying the law. This might be problematic if it weren’t that humanity has a long history of misunderstanding ourselves and the universe and, for that reason, applying God’s law incorrectly. That God allows this is evident, why God allows this is profoundly difficult, touches on the problem of evil, and well beyond my scope. I think the Psalmnists, the author of Ecclesiastes, and Job are probably the place to start.
Kris: Deuteronomy 4:16 "beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female..." Makes no sense in your world.
My Response: This makes perfect sense to me. I am not clear what you think would baffle me. The passages says not to make carved images in the forms of any figure, male or female. While this is fairly clearly a command not to make idols and it provides an emphasis with reference to “male or female” which would have been the most common sort of idols of the day, the ancient near east also had a number of idols depicting intersex or hermpahroditic (including the eponymous Hermaphroditus). If you think the meaning of Deuteronomy 4:16 includes the prohibition of making such idols then it would be inconsistent to imply that the text reduces all gender and sex categories to the dimorphous pair.
Kris: Deuteronomy 22:5 "A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God." Even those women who ignore cultural norms are "an abomination." If Wanda dresses like a woman and is an abomination to God, how much more so if she changes her physical nature! No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.
My Response: I have already dealt with this in Part 3. Ignoring questions about the application of OT law in the present, the relevance of this passage to Wanda’s situation depends on the answer to the larger question of Wanda’s gender. To use it as an evidence against the possibility that Wanda is a woman would be circular as Wanda would only be violating this verse if she is, in fact, a man. And since that conclusion is what is being contested, the applicability of the verse must be bracketed till the conclusion is settled.
Kris: !!!!!!!!!!!!! Deuteronomy 23:1 "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.!!!!!!!!!!!!! MALE ORGAN... if you are male, you will have this organ. This says exactly the opposite of what you are arguing. Even when the organ is cut off, they are still male. No mate [sic] what Wanda does, he is still male. No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.
My Response: I find your conclusions here somewhat odd. The passage doesn’t (unless I am missing some nuance of Hebrew) even imply that “if you are male you will have this organ”. In fact, since even XY foetal humans don’t have male genitals until around the second trimester, you would seem to be requiring (in a way this passage certainly doesn’t) the conclusion that XY babies are not actually male until they acquire a penis and testicles. And you seem to contradict yourself here first saying that having a penis makes you male, then saying that someone whose penis has been cut off is still male. If you, perhaps see an equivalence between calling the penis or testicles a “male organ” and calling all penis-having people “male” that equivalence is false. Again you would be missing the way language actually works. The penis is called the male organs because having that organ is typical of male bodies, though there are men who do not have penises for a number of reasons. Language makes these associations based on general convergence (penis are strongly correlated with maleness) but does not establish a causal or necessary condition. Think about how a person might have a southerner’s taste for tea, without actually being a southerner.
Now I supposed I could see this passage being used to support the conclusion that a male to female transsexual individual who had been through sex reassignment surgery is thereby “cut off from the presence of the Lord” but that would be to ignore Isaiah 63:3-5 which promises a glorification of Eunuchs without making them procreation-capable male or female persons (they get a reward “better than sons or daughters”) and Act 8:36-39 where we see the Isaiah promise completed as, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Phillip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch thereby establishing in the Biblical witness that the eunuch is a part of the church.
Kris: Judges 21:11 "This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction." No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.


Old Testament Etc. Etc. The OT simply does not have the category you speak of.
My Response: My response to these last OT passages from you can probably also be read back onto my thoughts about several of the other passages you have listed. You seem to want to treat the phrase “male and female” as though it were put in the text to indicate that God has limited human sex expression to the two categories, or that a given person cannot transition from one category to the other. But neither of these conclusions hold, as I have said above, that simply isn’t how language works and in bringing that conclusion into your interpretation you are shifting from exegesis of what is necessarily in the text to an eisegetical “discovery” of anthropological theory hidden in mundane phrases. Even today we use the phrase “men and women” as a stand in for, or emphasis of, “everybody”. In the specific passage above the lack of a sex/gender separation is entirely unsurprising. What function would it serve? Frankly none.
Speaking more specifically to the claim that the OT doesn’t appear to make a distinction between sex and gender, as I have said above, I think that is likely (though I am not a Hebrew scholar). But it is also irrelevant. The absence of a thing in scripture is not a denial of the validity of that thing and all of the verses you have quoted retain meaning without having to make the distinction (though their application might have varied if the distinction had been realized at the time).
Kris: 1 Kings 16:11 "When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he struck down all the house of Baasha. He did not leave him a single male of his relatives or his friends." I don't believe he asked each person with male genitalia if they identified as a female or not. No separation of sex / gender. It would be illogical in light of this scripture.
My Response: I don’t imagine that they did ask. But the bible here is simply recording what did happen not commenting on gender/sex differentiation or the viability of transitioning. I would read this passage as saying that he killed everyone he took to be male, and that he succeeded in killing all of the male bodied persons. Again that doesn’t actually prove anything vis. sex/gender distinctions or transgender people.
Kris: Mark 10:6-8 "But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and they shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh." It is impossible for Wanda to function in any way as a female in the way Jesus is defining male and female above. Jesus is clearly defining male and female in relation to physical orientation. He does not separate the two.
My Response: No, Jesus is talking about how marriage works (as is evident from the context - a question about divorce and the permanence of marriage) and citing the fact that God created the diversity of the original marriage as evidence that in marriage, God brings two distinct and separate beings into an indissoluble one-flesh bond. Wanda is (in principle) just as able to become one flesh with another person as a sterile cisgender woman is. “Becoming one flesh” is (to the extent it is rooted in physical interaction at all - a dubious assumption given the fact that severely handicapped people who are incapable of sex will marry on occasion without the church calling the legitimacy of their marriage into question) rooted in intimacy not procreation. I’m not really sure what you mean by “physical orientation” so maybe you could clarify that if I am missing your point.
Kris: 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 "If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Wanda simply does not fit the definition of woman here in scripture.
My Response: What part of the definition of “woman” does Wanda not fit? Unless you see marriage and procreation as necessary for a person to be fully a woman (and Paul would probably take issue with that since he thinks it’s better for virgins not to marry). Wanda is just as much able to follow this passage as any other unmarried and sterile Christian woman.
Kris:Galatians 4:4 "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law," Could God have chosen a man who identified as a woman to bare the Christ? This seems like a nonsensical question, but so does the idea that Wanda claims he is a woman. I'm not saying Wanda has to bare children to be a woman. I'm saying the Bible doesn't speak of womanhood apart from physical nature.

1 Thessalonians 5:3 "While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." Same point. The Bible does not speak of womanhood apart from physical nature.
My Response: Your use of these two passages to suggest that “The Bible does not speak of womanhood apart from physical nature” strikes me as deeply problematic. Would you then argue that women who have died prior to the resurrection are no longer women? Also the Bible speaks of Mary and Martha, of Deborah and Jael, of Rahab and Ruth, of Priscilla and Junia, all without any apparent reference to their “physical nature”. The Bible refers to each of them as women but gives us little no information about their “physical nature”. At most we know that Rahab and Ruth had children (though in both cases we find that out well after we are first introduced to them), in the cases of Mary, Martha, Deborah, Jael, Priscilla, and Junia all we know is that they were women, we know nothing of their physicality beyond that. In terms of womanhood as a category, we certainly have less teaching but what we have is not at all always physical. Certainly the fact that women are physical (in the sense that they have bodies) is true but so are all persons, that does not seem to be relevant to Wanda who is also (in our hypothetical) possessed of a physical body.
Kris: 1 Peter 3:7 "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." She is a woman, which is determined by the "vessel" she is in. This is in direct contrast to what you are saying. You are saying Wanda is a woman based on her thinking. This verse says the opposite.
My Response: I actually haven’t rendered an opinion as to whether it is an immaterial soul, or a particular brain morphology (or both or neither) which makes Wanda a woman. Any of these is possible, but I don’t think that it is just “based on her thinking” that Wanda is a woman. Remember that Wanda does not (at the time of the hypothetical meeting with the hypothetical pastor) think that she has a typically female body, she knows that her bodily shape and chemistry is typically male. So it is important to remember that Wanda is not delusional (thinking her body has an appearance contrary to what it actually has) you can go back and check on the links in Part 2 for evidence of this. I am not saying that Wanda is a woman based on her thinking, I am saying that based on Wanda’s experience of herself (remember the trilemma from Part 2) we have reason to believe that Wanda’s account of herself as a woman is accurate since it is reasonable to believe that our maleness and femaleness is more than mere physicality (again per the arguments I laid out in Part 2) and God and then Wanda are the only persons with privileged information about the state of those parts of Wanda. I am neither a gnostic (believing the body is irrelevant) or a materialist (believing that we have no immaterial part). Wanda’s core femininity may rest in her brain structures or in her soul but in either case we have warrant to believe that it is real.
Kris: All this to say, you have yet to prove from scripture that Wanda's disillusioned mindset is in line with the way the Bible speaks of gender and sex. If you really are claiming that the Bible is your ultimate authority, you have to speak of gender and sex in light of that authority. Your argument, as it stands, rejects the Bible's authority by rejecting its clearly defined categories.
My Response: As I have stated a number of times, I am not trying to prove the positive validity of transgender identities from scripture, I don’t think scripture speaks to that directly. But I also don’t have to to conclude that transgender identities may well be valid and ought to be treated as such unless such a treatment can be demonstrated to contradict God’s revelation. You are forcing a false dichotomy between A: Scripture positively says that transgender identities are valid; and B: Scripture positively condemns the possibility of transgender identities. And have been treating my (fully admitted) inability to demonstrate A and an implicit validation of B where, in fact, I am claiming C: Scripture neither positively affirms transgender identities, nor positively condemns transgender identities, because the Bible never speaks directly to transgender identities but instead provides us with principles (love of neighbor being first among all principles when it comes to human interaction, but also principles indicating a diversity of physical/sexual types within the kingdom just to name a few) by which we can and ought to conclude that God does indeed affirm transgender identities.
What you are calling “[the Bible’s] clearly defined categories” I see as “the categories Kris has wrongly derived from a misinterpretation of Scripture." You are conflating the meaning of Scripture with your understanding of the meaning of Scripture. I am not questioning the authority of the Bible, but I am very much questioning the authority of your interpretation of the Bible.
If you want to really check out DeFranza's exegesis, she has a four part series on Transgender folk which starts with the link below: