A blog for Christian men "going their own way."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Childbirth Movement and Logic

In light of a recent discussion at Boundless, I got to thinking about the Childbirth Movement (which overlaps with the Marriage Mandate Movement) and the arguments some use to insist that married people must have children. As a Christian that tries to respect the scruples of other believers, I will not stand in the way of a couple who thinks that God is leading them to have children. I may disagree with their convictions, but I accord to them the charity that Christian unity demands (Romans 14).

Sadly, however, I don't think this charity is often reciprocated by the anti-contraceptive/childbirth advocates. Many of them equate their position with obedience to Christ. If they really believe their convictions are a reflection of a clear mandate in the Bible that is universally binding, then I suggest that they make their case in a reasonable manner. In particular, I ask those in the Childbirth Movement to stop using emotionalism, sloppy reasoning, bad argumentation, and fallacious logic. Here are some of the logical fallacies they need to steer clear of ...

1. Argumentum ad Homimem

Don't tell me what a bad Christian I am if I don't want to have children. Don't me I'm "worldly," "am selfish," etc. Don't point to some unfavorable trait about me as a person. You are not proving anything except maybe your dislike of people who happen to disagree with you.

2. Negative Inference Fallacy (a phrase coined by D. A. Carson)

You tell me that the Bible says children are blessing. So? It does not logically follow that not having children is not a blessing. Having children may be a blessing, but being childless may also be a blessing (How do we explain the commendation of singleness in the Bible if this were not the case, or do single people need to have children, too?).

3. Argumentum ad Consequentiam and Slippery Slope Fallacy

Don't tell me how acceptance of contraception and the refusal to have children will lead to abortions, some terrible economic crises, or the extinction of the human race.

4. Argumentum ad Naturam

Don't tell me that because having children is natural, we must therefore embrace childbearing.

5. Argumentum ad Populum, Argumentum ad Verecundiam, Argumentum ad Antiquitatem

I don't care how many "respected" "scholars" from your faith tradition believe something now or have believed something in the past. Present the arguments and let them stand or fall on their own merit. Also, don't tell me about how many times in the Bible we find people having children or exulting them. Polygamy and circumcision were pretty popular, too. Then there is foot-washing and greeting one another with a "holy kiss." Customs do not necessarily rise to the level of a Biblical mandate.

6. Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

Don't tell me, "There is no example of saints in the Bible refusing to have children." An argument from silence is inconclusive in and of itself.

7. Loaded Language

Don't talk to me about the "Christian worldview" until you prove that your views indeed reflect it. Don't talk about "selfish lusts" when discussing those who don't want to have children. What do you mean by the word "selfish" and "lust", anyway? That couples having sex for the sheer enjoyment of it or for expressing love are sinning? Please make your case from the Bible. Cut the emotion-laden buzzwords and give me just the facts, ma'am.

8. Argumentum ad Misericordiam (Appeal to Pity)

Don't ask me if I like children. Left-wing politicians "think of the children" when they proffer their interventionist, big-government programs. That, of course, does not make you a bleeding-heart liberal, but you do share the illogic of one if you employ the same sort of emotionalism in your line of reasoning.

9. Ignoratio Elenchi

Don't tell me that Lord "opens and closes wombs." It's true, but it's irrelevant to your case. The Bible says that the Lord "kills and makes alive" (1 Sam. 2:6), but I don't see a lot of Christians giving up their firearms as a gesture of trusting in the Lord.

10. Guilt By Association

Don't tell me how the big, bad, secular humanists take my position. Who cares? What if they have a bigger clue than you (Luke 16:8b)?

11. Suppressed Evidence

Don't keep repeating Gen. 1:28 like a Fisher-Price See-N-Say toy unless you are willing to deal with the counterarguments against your exegesis (e.g., the use of heterosis in the Hebrew language which changes the meaning of an imperative verb).

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. I am certain there are some other forms of bad argumentation that the Childbirth Movement adherents need to avoid. The point of my post is not, however, to say that these people are wrong. My point is that these people have their feelings invested in the debate; now is the time for them to invest their brains.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The 40k Challenge

Evangelical leaders have devoted a considerable amount of attention to the institution of marriage, often heralding it as the solution to many of our personal and societal ills. It's not surprising, therefore, that Christian singles have been egged on and admonished to embrace matrimony as their likely fate. Some writers have even gone so far to suggest that single Christians be invited into the homes of married people to help them appreciate the blessings of marriage.

Well, I think it is time for those who have such an elevated view of marriage to, pardon the pun, put their money where their mouth is. There is an old proverb about a sermon lived being better than a thousand preached. I hereby issue the 4ok Challenge. What is it? Simple. I want those who hold to the "normative expectation of marriage" for believers to provide me with some success stories of marriages that meet the following criteria:

1. A couple must have 2 or more children (because we hear so much about how couples need to embrace parenting and how a "quiverfull" is a blessing, etc.).

2. A couple must ideally depend on one income. Let's give the traditionalists the benefit of the doubt and put the financial burden on the man.

3. A couple must have been married more than 7 years (because we need time for the honeymoon to wear off and for reality to set in).

4. A couple must be happy and feel blessed by their union. They should have no second thoughts about their marriage. They should be able to draw from their own experiences in recommending marriage to single people.

Okay, we've got a slew of examples lined up, right? Well, hold on, because I'm not done ...

5. The household income of a couple must be $40,o00 a year or less. It must be for a family living in the United States. After all, not many of us can emigrate to other parts of the globe where the cost of living is lower. I think my 40k figure is reasonable. It's close to the median personal income of all men 25 years or older (the target group of the marriage pundits).

I want to see beautiful, glossy photographs of these people. I want to see their testimonials in the family bookstore aisles. Do we have any takers? Seriously, I'm am open to an attitude adjustment on this matter. The religious relationship experts out there surely have something to say about this. Click the e-mail icon at the foot of this blog post and send a message to them! Let them respond! In a society characterized by consumerism, income disparities, a high cost of living, and a lack of social support for families, I suspect that happy marriages are fast becoming a luxury reserved for yuppies and the such like. But, go ahead ... prove me wrong, dear readers.

Edit: The 40k figure must be what a couple is currently taking in as a household. I am not interested in how a couple lived when bell-bottoms and Shaun Cassidy were in style.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Problem with Boundless.org

Recently, Ted Slater posted a flippant piece on Boundless' blog about the Obama family and some lodging accommodations they were seeking prior to the presidential inauguration:
To my knowledge, no politician since Truman has stayed 15 consecutive days at the Blair House. Doing so would be highly unusual. And so we shouldn't be surprised when such an unprecedented request is denied. Certainly we shouldn't be outraged.

The fervor over this situation makes me wonder how long will it be before someone makes the correlation between it and that experienced by the Messiah, whose family was also told that there was no room in the inn for them.
One reader wrote the following in response to Ted's comments ...
Ted, what does this have to do with anything this blog is supposed to be about? This is a political post that does not have a clear connection to church, family, young people, or marriage. I read Boundless for biblical-based viewpoints, not Republican-party-based rants against the liberal media.

I'm surprised you chose this controversy to comment on rather than the controversy over Rick Warren's invitation to pray at the inauguration. I'm not asking you to add to the uproar over who's praying where, but it would be more in line with your mission statement, as I understand it, if you had chosen a topic like the Warren issue.
This reader's observation got me thinking about what Boundless is supposed to be. For the last couple of years, the Boundless website has been a target-rich environment for my criticism. Somebody might assume that I have a personal ax to grind against its staff members. I really don't, however. The folks at Boundless are not the only the ones who have been the subject of my criticisms. Moreover, Boundless has indeed presented some material that I can heartily agree with as a Christian. So, what is the problem?

The problem is that even though a stopped clock is right twice a day, it's still a stopped clock. The problem is that in North America, there is some confusion about what the word "Christian" conveys. For people such as myself, "Christian" conveys an adherence to God's will as revealed in his inspired word (we might call this "Biblical Christianity"). To others, the connotation is arguably more political or social in nature (we might call "cultural Christianity"). The concept of "a Christian nation" comes to mind as something indicative of "cultural Christianity" (though the idea is unbiblical, at best). In bringing up this matter, I am reminded of what Os Guinness (along with John Yates) wrote about the Episcopal church:
The "sola scriptura" ("by the scriptures alone") doctrine of the Reformation church has been abandoned for the "sola cultura" (by the culture alone) way of the modern church. No longer under authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion -- which is to say it has no authority.
Truer words have never been spoken about the religious left. Now, let me ask some questions. Do we really believe that social conservatives are any less immune to the all-too-human temptation to refashion spiritual truths according to their taste? Is there a conservative analog to the "sola cultura" of the left that is just as spiritually suspect? If not, how do we, for instance, explain the shameful legacy of overt racism among socially conservative faith traditions? If there is a "sola cultura" that can be found among conservatives, does it become legitimate simply on the basis of passing lip service given to Biblical authority (Mark 7:6-7)?

This gets me back to Boundless. Boundless' stated goals are as follows ...
The mission of Boundless is to build strong foundations for marriage, parenting and Christian service by providing young adults with a Biblical vision for the single years rooted in sexual purity, Christian community, and stewardship of gifts and talents.
Yet what have readers actually encountered? Extra-biblical, legalistic, reactionary ideas about dating, sexuality, marriage, childbirth, gender roles, etc. That in addition to the following ...
  • reflexive anti-environmentalism (such as panning green bibles, while giving a free pass to other topical bibles - women's bibles, bibles for military personal, etc.)
  • pro-Israel sentimentality
  • support of neocon interventionism (the war in Iraq)
  • unapologetic support for the concept of one-issue voting (contrary to James 2:10; Rom. 3:8)
  • .... and the "such like," being hallmark traits of right-wing religiosity.
Granted, I personally of know Christians that embrace some or all of these attitudes. Let me say, however, that it's one thing to parade these attitudes on a personal blog or a blog that is focused on social and political issues. It's quite another to do it under the auspices of a "ministry" to young adults. In the latter case, I believe the spiritually responsible thing to do would be to avoid polarizing, divisive themes that have nothing to do with one's stated pastoral objectives.

I submit that "ministries" such as Boundless have no real value except for a segment of Christendom that has grown up in a certain sociocultural context. Others who come to Christ from a different background and who have little or no use for the Southern-fried, Americanized, suburbanized Churchianity that passes for Christianity in the Anglosphere are not going to have much use for Boundless or similar outfits. To be blunt, the heavily politicized modus operandi of Boundless and its parent organization, Focus on the Family, could easily be underwritten by a conservative think tank in Washington (such as the American Enterprise Institute). Discerning believers who eschew the intellectual sinkhole of modern conservatism would do well to look to other alternatives for spiritual advice for their daily living. Really, if I wanted to hear the rantings of misguided Republicans, I could read the Weekly Standard or National Review Online, not a website supposedly targeted towards single Christians.

Now that the economy is in the doldrums, the bread-and-circus crowd must worry about their next paycheck and not so much about blowing up "dem Ayrabs." All the palace prophets that enjoyed their strut across the public stage for the last eight years or so have been sidelined to a considerable degree. People may have voted for marriage (Proposition 8), but they didn't vote for Dr. Dobson's handpicked neocon (and no, dear readers, I didn't vote for any race horse in the corrupt two-party system).

What can we say to all of this? I can say that I find many of my fellow believers to be hopelessly insular and out of touch with what the Gospel is really about (I say this is as a soul that has come from a non-churched background and who has in many ways been on the outside looking in). What should we expect when the Gospel is politicized, perverted, and prostituted by people with a desire for political and cultural hegemony? I could tolerate the intellectual hypocrisy of the Religious Right a little bit better if they didn't try to pass off so much of their views as the "Biblical" or "Christian" way. I could tolerate them a little bit better if they didn't demonize their opponents as being "liberal," "secular" "unspiritual," etc.

There are souls out there such as myself who cannot be categorized as politically, culturally, or even theologically liberal who nonetheless have no use for the Mighty Wurlitzer of Red State values. People such as myself cannot be ignored any longer. We refuse the facile pigeonholing of the culture wars. The culture warriors tell us the fundamental issue is about "worldviews." They're right about that; I'm just not so certain theirs is all that Biblical.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Buzz Bomb #2

[For the first buzz bomb, click here.]

For those of you who think sexual tension, per se, is a sufficient reason for getting married (as per a popular reading of 1 Cor. 7:9), I ask the following: Do you think any religious man could admit this to his fiancée and keep a straight face? Or does that objectify women? If so, don't there have be other reasons for marrying a woman?

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Fear Factor

Last month, Boundless.org addressed a letter by a female reader who had the following to say about her boyfriend:
We met at a church in June, started hanging out more and more, and started dating in September, to cut the story short. He and I are both Christians, and definitely are on the same level when it comes to seriousness about loving, knowing and serving God. He's 31, to my 22, often garnering an "Oh!" from friends and acquaintances, but it isn't a concern inasmuch as I believe we're headed toward marriage, eventually ...

Recently we've talked about having children, and he's confessed that he doesn't think he wants any at all. Like I said, he loves kids, but he's scared of one, raising children in this world (all the mess, violence, trials they'll have to face), and then two, of raising kids that you love so much, only to see them not know Christ.
In response to this, Candice Watters replied, "I don't believe fear is ever a good reason to do anything, even less so for a follower of Christ. Scripture says repeatedly, 'Do not be afraid.'" Candice then quoted several scriptures dealing with fear (You can read them for yourself at the link provided above, if you like.).

I've seen this train of thought before. When men raise some concerns about matrimony or having children, they are occasionally accused of being fearful and then lectured about how Christians aren't supposed to be afraid. It's a rather tidy way of dismissing men without having to delve into any meaningful defense of the things one is expecting men to embrace. It's also a shaming tactic.

The verses that Candice quoted are, in my opinion, taken out of context. Let us take note, dear readers, that the Bible also says:
"A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil; But the fool beareth himself insolently, and is confident" (Prov. 14:16, ASV). Sometimes, fear is good. Or to put it another way: There is a difference between bravery and stupidity.

As it is, quoting Bible passages willy-nilly about "fear," per se, doesn't mean anything. Is Candice, as a woman, afraid of walking alone in a dark parking lot late at night? Will she adjure her fellow sisters sitting in the church pew to not give any thoughts to rapists, muggers and hoodlums in the shadows? What about women who push legalistic "courtship" rules because they are afraid of getting their feelings hurt? Will Candice shoot some verses at these women? I am not counting on it. Note what Candice has to say about the boyfriend mentioned in the correspondence above:
I do think you're right to be concerned about the seeming impasse with your boyfriend over having children. Were it not for this red flag, I'd spend my column cautioning you about your age difference posing a potential hurdle to clear on the way to marriage. (It's certainly not a given deal breaker, but it could cause trouble. As I mention in an upcoming podcast Q&A, I'd encourage you and anyone else dating someone that much older or younger than themselves to get the input and blessing of parents and trusted mentors before proceeding.)
I see. When it's a question of a man hesitating to have children, it's called "fear", but when it's a concern about a woman marrying a man who is nine years older than she is, it's called "caution." To me, this shows why the accusation of "fear" is often so meaningless, being a subjective use of terminology.

I suppose fear is unhealthy when it is based on something that is not true (viz., when it calls into question God's power and wisdom). But just making bald assertions that men have an unhealthy fear of something is unpersuasive. A case must be made if charges are going to be leveled. To Candice's credit, she tries to show why the fear of having children is unwarranted when she cites Genesis 1:28 and Malachi 2:15. The problem is that she is misapplying these scriptures (scriptures I have dealt with elsewhere). It would be nice, for a change, if people of Candice's persuasion would actually deal with the counterarguments that people such as myself raise (Jude 3). However, I wonder if these people have a "fear" of that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Having It All

Well, it seems that if Candice Watters was ever a woman who thought she could "have it all," she isn't now. I wonder how many other Gen X women will have a V-8 moment.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christian Men and MGTOW

Before last Christmas, two of my regular readers, Elusive Wapiti and Amir Larijani made some thought-provoking comments on my post, "So Sorry, But Not This Time, Amigo" with respect to the MGTOW movement. Amir wrote:
As for Christian men, I'm still skeptical as to how many of them proportionally are in the MGTOW/MRA camp. I'm not in that camp--although I can see the case for why one would want to be--and I don't personally know any who are.

I've seen a few of them in the blogosphere, but I've yet to see any stats on the MGTOW segment in the Church. I'd bet money that it is not a large one.
The question about how many religious men are in the MGTOW or MRA camp has been posed before. As a Christian man who has knowledge of the MGTOW movement, I thought I should shed some light on the issue. The question of who is "proportionally" in who's camp becomes tricky for the following reasons ...

1. The definition of the word "Christian." Do we mean someone with a casual belief in the Trinity? A traditional-minded man who infrequently attends Church (think of Joe Six-Pack south of the Mason-Dixon line). A devout adherent of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Evangelicalism, or some other branch of Christendom who deeply knows and practices the beliefs of his respective faith tradition? We might as well ask about the proportion of Christian men involved in the music industry or living on one's street corner.

2. I believe the MRA movement is small and I know the MGTOW movement is even smaller. The latter has only been around for about four years. Timewise, MGTOW is still in its diapers and it's hard to say what its future will be. With that in mind, we might as well ask about the proportion of any population of men in MGTOW. Also, there are men who espouse beliefs akin to the MGTOWers and yet don't label themselves as MGTOW. How do they fall into the equation?

So these are the problems of determining the proportionality of Christian men in the MGTOW/MRA movements. Let me note a few things about religious men:

1. Many of them, like their secular counterparts, are not aware of the MGTOW/MRA movements.

2. Some of them, like their secular counterparts, may have misunderstandings of what the MGTOW/MRA movements are about. This is especially the case with MGTOW. Some may falsely conclude that "Men Going Their Own Way" is inherently misogynistic or just a hedonistic, antinomian concept akin to what one finds in the Pick-Up Artist community. It's not true. MGTOW is a countermovement against feminism, statism, gynocentrism, and misandry.

3. Unfortunately, some religious men will reject MGTOW because they have a reactionary mindset and refuse to think critically about issues. Anti-intellectualism, authoritarianism, mindless conformity, and demagoguery continue to plague some people of faith.

4. I personally don't put too much stock in what the church crowd is doing, even in my own faith tradition. I endeavor to embrace what is true and what is right, regardless of what others believe. I answer to a higher authority than religious tradition (Mark 7:1-13; John 12:48; Acts 5:29). If a fellow Christian endeavors to challenge my beliefs, he will have to do it on the basis of God's Word, not because Pastor Billy Bob can't manage to rub two sticks of grey-matter together in his cranium. So, when many of my fellow Christians voted for McCain and his neocon platform, I voted for Chuck Baldwin. While many religious leaders push a trite, gynocentric, wage-slave understanding of "biblical manhood," I play a different tune. I subscribe to MGTOW because I believe MGTOW to be basically correct and morally justifiable, not because I want to be a part of the "winning team."

5. There is a story about a prophet who went about the city of Sodom, warning the citizens of their doom. In the story, a passerby exclaims to prophet, "Why are you wasting your time? You can't change these people." The prophet replied, "I prophecy not to change these people but to keep them from changing me." Or something like that. Anyway, I can't demand allegiance from any brother in Christ on my views on gender roles. I can only inform. If he wants to be a prisoner of his own device, that is his problem. At the very least, I write to encourage those men who already know something is wrong.

6. And, yes, there are religious men who know something is wrong. I've seen them on forums. They are receptive to thinking outside of the box. A groundswell at this point? Maybe not. But they are there. Consider this comment from a reader at MLV's blog:
Up here in Canada the megachurch pop christianity propaganda seems to be watered down somewhat but nevertheless these messages are insidious and increasingly pervasive. It's heartening to see that I am not the only male who is bewildered and more and more disgusted with the 'ideals' presented by the secular megachurch marriage propaganda. NOWHERE in the Bible does God lay down these rigid ideals for the genders.
Will this guy go MGTOW? Who knows. At least he is questioning what's going on. At any rate, EW said:
Also, I consider myself a Christian MGTOWer. Although my definition of MGTOW is probably a lot less bombastic than some. And it includes marriage, something that possibly a lot of other fellows do not, as they see marriage as something akin to slavery. Ironically not unlike the Second Wave femmarxists of auld.
Actually, MGTOW is not anti-marriage. I know of MGTOWers who are happily married even though a lot of other men have chosen bachelorhood. I recommend this link for anyone who wants to know what MGTOW is about. Let me also say this: There are descriptions of MGTOW but then there is the community of MGTOWers. I've interacted with these men long enough to know what the common beliefs are. They may have slightly different ideas about how to get from point A to point B, but the bottom line is that they are sick and tired of being doormats. What is my take on MGTOW? I believe MGTOW is premised on the radical notion that manhood is not a set of expectations, an outmoded concept, or a social problem--but the birthright of every male human being. There are good men. There are bad men. But all men are "real men," and no one has the right to strip away the components of their humanity.

As for marriage being slavery? Well, it has become that for a lot of men. I think the concerns that many men have about exploitation are legitimate. If a man finds a good wife, then I am happy for him. However, in the MGTOW vocabulary, there is no "must" or "ought" to question of getting married. Every man has the right to "go his own way" in that matter. If any religious leaders want to take issue with this, then they better have some good arguments to back their assertions beside the tiresome shaming tactics, traditionalism, sloppy exegesis, and logical fallacies that I have already dispensed with on this blog and elsewhere. Anyway, that my 2 cents worth on MGTOW, for now.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Good Media Presentation for the New Year

Well, I am back from vacationing at a certain designation and ready to kick off the new year. As my regular readers might infer from my past posts, I am not really a big fan of mainstream media (to put it mildly). However, I recently came across a 15-segment presentation at AOL.com entitled, "Habits of Highly Unattractive Women." I am surprised that the typical gynocentrism of the media has been laid aside for some simple common sense in this case. Christian women need to close the browser tab on whatever "relationship expert" site they are perusing and read the AOL piece instead. The segments on "neediness", "incessant insecurity", dropping one's "story", getting "a life", and being "take-me-home-now" gorgeous are not, in my opinion, major problems with women these days. But the other segments are dead on. I would just add to the list the Control Freak (i.e., a woman who doesn't allow a man some space, hobbies, input on things, etc.) and the Gender Role Chameleon (i.e., a woman who insists on chivalry, yet also demands all the perks and privileges of feminism--the high-status career women who thinks her husband should make more money than her comes to mind here).

Edit: The feedback from the female readers is hilarious (much of it being in the "How dare anyone suggest that *I* have to change for a mayyyyannnnn!!" mode).