Queer Theory for the Tea Party

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Let us abandon for a moment the idea of culture war, and shift the image over to a game or a sport. Many conservative believers think we are in a straightforward contest of strength, something like sumo wrestling, when we are actually in a chess game with a master who is consistently five moves ahead of us.

I bring this up because of this piece by Michael Hannon over at First Things, warning us off the false ideal of heterosexuality. And if you read that, I would then recommend this response over at Mere Orthodoxy. In this response of mine, I would want to go even farther than Matt Anderson did in registering concern. By “registering concern” I refer of course to the fact that I will be dancing in place, with my hair on fire, and waving my hands over the top of my head.

There are three problems that have each contributed to setting my head ablaze. Let me outline them for you, although concentration might be a problem.

The first problem with this essay is that it represents the triumph of nominalism run amok. Now I have a great deal of sympathy for a particular approach that Christian writers have taken in encouraging Christians struggling with same sex attraction. They do well in teaching these Christians that their identity should not be found in their temptations, but rather in Christ. Whatever our temptations are, of whatever kind, if we have trusted in Christ, we should not be defined by them. We are, all of us, commanded to turn to the form of new humanity in Jesus, and He is the one who sets our foundational identity.

But more than that is going on here. In many cases, the reluctance to give approval to statements like “I am heterosexual” or “I am homosexual” is actually a reluctance to approve of any abstractions whatever. Everything has to be this table or that one, and we must take care not to veer off into a refried Platonism by seeking to define what a table is in the abstract. But this is overly precious, incoherent, and impossible, all three of which failings are good reasons not to do it. If ever you find yourself teetering on the brink of queer theory in order to avoid Platonism, then you should conclude that Jesus must want you to become a Platonist. I am overstating this, of course, but not by much.

Scripture does not hesitate to use nouns to describe individuals who are classed in that group because of things they do. Presumably they do them because of an inclination to do them, and the apostle Paul does not worry about creating false identities outside of Christ through a simple use of collective nouns.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . .” (1 Cor. 6:9).

Paul doesn’t worry about it because He knows the power of Christ to change the categories — “such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). But in the meantime, this guy is a fornicator, that guy is an adulterer, and the other guy is a catamite.

So instead of puzzling over what to do about the chess move confronting us right now, we should first reflect on what happened to us five moves back. One of the things that happened was that we lost a particular philosophical battle, and so lost our ability to use collective nouns in making moral judgments. In order to be faithful now, we need to go back and recover that ability. I am heterosexual is a meaningful statement, and as long as I am making it within the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy, I should continue to make it.

The second is the retreat to commitment, where the ever-present refuge of “our faith community” beckons us if the public battle ever gets too hot for us. In his book of that name, William Bartley dissects the pretensions of the liberal mainliners a generation ago, showing how their intellectual “courage” was nothing less than a simple CYA move. Our intellectual evangelicals today remind me of Tallyrand’s observation about the Bourbons — “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” We are in the process of committing the same kind of intellectual suicide, and for all the same reasons, and with the same rationalizations. Hannon mentions that we believers should be fine with Foucault as a strange bedfellow, which I take as a strange suggestion. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of a corruptible queer theorist, one who incidentally had already been corrupted. He shouldn’t have been allowed in the house, much less the bedroom.

And the third problematic area is the growing distrust of nature and the natural order. This is actually what lies behind my insistence on the new birth. In order to be given a new nature, I must have an old nature to be delivered from. But that old nature is a fallen nature, not an anti-nature.

If we say, on philosophical grounds, that a person has no quintessential nature that can be transformed in the new birth, this has ramifications for the doctrine of regeneration. But it also has just as many ramifications for our ability to object to sex change operations, and for the same reasons. If a man asks a surgeon to change him from a boy to a girl, what is being violated? There is no express scriptural prohibition of it. It offends middle class sensibilities, but I have been reading First Things long enough to have rejected the idol of middle class sensibilities. The apostle Paul would say that such a move was “against nature,” but Foucault, this strange fellow here in bed with us now, is whispering retorts at a furious pace. Nature? Nature?!

Yes, nature. God made the world in a particular way, and has provided us with a manual for understanding in the Bible. But I have assembled enough products that were shipped to me in a box to be able to tell how the good ones work. Say I am assembling a book case. Not only do I have the manual, but I also discover that the intelligent people at the factory have labeled and marked the various parts. That is what nature is like. The world goes together the way God intends for it to go together.

If you want to make sense of it all, then make this resolution. Reject every form untethered nominalism. Confess that Jesus is Lord outside your faith community. And embrace the grace contained within natural revelation. And don’t try to run any workshops on queer theory at Tea Party rallies.

Now there are good Christian people who, for various reasons, are dabbling with one or more of these three problem areas — unhinged nominalism, a retreat to commitment, and a suspicion of natural theology. I do not regard them as evil or wicked, but I do regard them as hopelessly outmaneuvered.

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Ben Bowman
7 years ago

When Chesterton said that “we have not seen the dawn of free thought but it’s dusk” it is a great reminder that this sort of unhinging from God is something that has happened before (many times over). As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised that the world “hates him.” We also shouldn’t think that the enemy will ultimately win. Satan may be a few moves ahead but he’s only moving closer to that pit that’s awaiting him. We need to play to keep others from joining him. 

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

In theory, I don’t think it matters worth a hill of beans whether such things as “heterosexual persons” or “homosexual persons” exist.  In practice, it makes all the difference in the world.  So Hannon’s article (and Doug’s reaction to it) is only interesting if you’re a pragmatist who cares more about the mechanics of how things actually work than you do about the philosophical underpinnings of why they work.  If a member of your church were discovered to have had a homosexual experience, or even a series of them over an extended period of time, would you really care why?  How… Read more »

J
J
7 years ago

Doug, I’m hesitant to say this because I think you have a pretty good grasp on what is going on. So this comes as more of a humble question than it does a criticism. Do you really think that the homo stuff is “the” issue that deserves your attention seemingly more than anything else? I find your chess analogy true, but true as well for these kind of posts. I’m not saying this type of stuff should never be discussed but the overwhelming majority of thoughtful posts these days seem to be about it. I am perfectly happy to continue… Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
7 years ago

Eric, just so I understand you, were you making a declaration as to what the situation is according to your worldview or were you saying that, within the Christian worldview, the “why” doesn’t really matter?

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

Eric, if a 19 year old kid of my church was discovered sodomizing another 19 year old kid, then of course we would care.  I am sure there are some people, who self identify as “Christians,” who would simply want the inconvenient, embarrassing situation to go away.  Working through problems takes time.  People are busy.  Get rid of the distraction.  Any actual Christian should be concerned when any professing Christian habitually practices any unrepentant sin.  Christians have been set free from the power of sin in their lives.  We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we do not have to walk as… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

  Wesley, I’m saying that it’s a useless classification that gets treated with far more respect than it deserves.  We could classify people by what they eat for breakfast – oatmealists, and pancakeists and baconists – but we don’t bother because nothing useful would come of it.  Nobody really cares if people who eat oatmeal do so because it’s an intrinsic part of their nature.  And likewise, if a man has sex with another man, how exactly is it useful to determine if it’s an intrinsic part of his nature, or merely the mood he happened to be in today… Read more »

RMH
RMH
7 years ago

~ This is definitely one the of (many) battles Christians need to pay attention to.   However I think that Christians are pursuing the battle in the wrong way.  We are being reactive to the culture as it tries to define us, instead of allowing Christ to define us and thus becoming the salt and light to the world.            Very clearly the Bible states that “If ANY man, be in Christ, he is a new creature.”  2 Corinthians 5:19,21   Moreover, if you read to the right (2 Cor 6:  ), Christians are called; light, righteousness, Christ, believers, the temple of God.   And then… Read more »

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

Eric, excommunication is not a “one strike and you’re out” kind of thing.  The question is always, “Is this person repentant?”  If he is not repentant, then as far as we can tell, he is not a Christian.  If he is not a Christian, then we should not link arms with him and declare him to be what he is not.  Christians repent of their sins, non-Christians do not.  

Mr. Fosi
Mr. Fosi
7 years ago

Hi Eric. You said, “… Hannon’s article (and Doug’s reaction to it) is only interesting if you’re a pragmatist who cares more about the mechanics of how things actually work than you do about the philosophical underpinnings of why they work.”                                                                                                                        … Read more »

J
J
7 years ago

Doug, Thank you for your response. That makes sense to me. It may be that I am the one focusing more on the sexual stuff and thus creating a false ratio in my mind. Out of curiosity if you wouldn’t mind answering, what would be the other two of the top three issues? 

Genevieve
Genevieve
7 years ago

Mr. the Red: really, now. Do you know how excommunication works and why? I sort of agree with how you view the classification of homosexual sin. Our secular culture has pushed for classification pretty hard, to the point of making someone engaging in this habitual sin very one-dimensional. They are ‘GAY’. When actually they are sinful people (like us all) regularly engaged in sexual sin of the mind and/ or body.

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

Mr Fosi, the disconnect is between theoretical and applied; sometimes when you observe stuff in the field you get results you weren’t expecting, which is why theoretical science is of only limited value until it’s been confirmed experimentally.  It’s like the old saw about how in theory, bumblebees shouldn‘t be able to fly, only they do.  Likewise, the theoretical answer to the question, Is there such a thing as a heterosexual person (or  homosexual person) should be no; sexual orientation is largely a social construct.  Since it’s a social construct, it’s only as interesting and useful as society makes it. … Read more »

Wesley
Wesley
7 years ago

That’s an awful lot of assuming you’re doing there, Red.

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

No one is excommunicated for sinning, people are excommunicated for not repenting of their sins.  

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

If a Christian treats a repentant sodomite differently than he treats a repentant fornicator, and refuses to repent of his hypocrisy, he should be excommunicated as well.

Wesley
Wesley
7 years ago

Well, I’ll allow that I may have read too far into your comment, but if you meant that one would be considered less sinful than the other, you’re making an unfounded assumption–though you may not have been, so I apologize if that’s not what you meant. _ However, to say that heterosexual sin outside of marriage is equal to homosexual sin in any case…well…that would be wrong.  If not in the matter of degree, AT LEAST in the matter of category.  Now, I believe that identity is involved (in an existential fashion) too much, but that doesn’t do away with… Read more »

Reuben K.
Reuben K.
7 years ago

Alright, I have now read both linked articles and this post and here is my question: Is wanting to have sex wrong for those outside of a marriage covenant? Are the unmarried sinning simply by wanting to have sex? Are we allowed to want to have sex until we are married, and afterwards, is sexual attraction to anyone other than our spouse wrong?

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

Reuben K, we should not think of sex as a bad thing.  It is a wonderful gift.  Christians need to have a positive view of sex.  We should not simply be known for saying no to sodomy, fornication, bestiality, incest, pornography, and adultery.  We should be saying yes to sex in marriage.  If that is true, then we cannot say that a simple desire for sex for those outside a marriage covenant is an unequivocal evil.  For example, it is not wrong for a fifteen year old to desire a car.  His simple desire for something good can turn into… Read more »

RFB
RFB
7 years ago

Eric,
 
I would never want to be harshly critical of breakfast choices, so instead of being labeled as an oatmealist, and pancakeist and baconist, I would call myself a dinerist. And if you have never eaten in a real diner of the 50’s version, well,  you cannot even imagine the premise of eating ;)

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

RFB, nobody imposes morality on whether you prefer oatmeal to omelettes, or whether you prefer a 50s diner to a five-star $50 breakfast buffet.  (At least not per se; there can be secondary issues if your portion sizes lead to obesity and heart disease, or if you robbed a convenience store to get the money to go to the five star restaurant; but none of those issues is related to the food choice itself.)  Everybody understands that those are purely personal choices.  So that’s why those classifications don’t get made.  That’s not true of sexual preferences.  And frankly, I guess… Read more »

RFB
RFB
7 years ago

Eric, That was a joke.

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Eric the Red said: “Likewise, the theoretical answer to the question, Is there such a thing as a heterosexual person (or  homosexual person) should be no; sexual orientation is largely a social construct.”  I’m confused, because the gay activists and the media sympathizers are always telling us that gay people are “born” that way.  Yet you’re saying it’s largely a social construct.  So which is it?  Would you also say that there’s no such thing as a male person or a female person?  Or is that a social construct too? 

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

Dan, the reason sexual orientation is a social construct is the entirely arbitrary manner in which the line has been drawn.  A gay man with a foot fetish has more in common with a straight man with a foot fetish, than he does with other gay men who don’t find feet all that interesting.  A male pedophile attracted to pre-pubescent girls has far more in common with a male pedophile attracted to pre-pubescent boys, than he does with a straight man attracted to adult females.  In both of those examples, the gay/straight dichotomy isn’t really what defines them.  And in… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

And as for gay people being born that way, nobody really knows.  Current evidence suggests that same-sex attraction may stem from the chemicals that a fetus was exposed to in the womb, so if someone is gay, maybe it really is his mother’s fault.  :)  

Melody
Melody
7 years ago

J, Here’s why the homosexual issue is overwhelmingly important to the church at present: there are many powerful people within the evangelical church who are pushing a sinful homosexual agenda on the church and this is overt in a way no other sinful behavior has been propagated (with the possible exception of the ‘prosperity gospel’).  My own church is dealing with this issue right now and trust me, it ain’t pretty.  When we have high profile so-called Christians who are telling our young people that sexual orientation is not chosen and, in some cases, celebrating their own sons who have… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

And by the way, nobody really knows why anybody in particular is attracted to anything in particular.  If I asked you to tell me, objectively, why you find one person attractive but not another, the best you’d be able to do would boil down to you, personally, find certain things attractive.  And isn’t it amazing that Biblical injunctions against gay sex just happen to track majoritarian tastes and preferences that are, ultimately, subjective.

Reuben K.
Reuben K.
7 years ago

Eric the Red, your response to Dan regarding arbitrarily drawn lines is eloquently stated, thank you.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    Tim Mullet, thank you for your reply; I am in agreement with what you state but am searching for a more exact answer to my question. Another way to state my question might be: In Eden, how do you think sexuality worked? Pretend for the sake of illustration that Lilith dropped by to see Eve. How did Adam respond? Did his brain register Lilith as a sexual being? Or did Adam not even realize at even the most reflexive unconscious level the mechanical… Read more »

Reuben K.
Reuben K.
7 years ago

p.s., Eric the Red, regarding your last post before my last post, I think we are both aware that the Biblical laws for sexual behavior can hardly be said to track any majority sexual behavior/preference of the Natural Human Person As We Know Him Or Her From Nature. As a piece of friendly advice, don’t take cheap shots that logically undermine your better arguments. If we are trying to claim that the N.H.P.A.W.K.H.O.H.F.N. (see above) is sexually ambiguous, plastic, and individually sexually unique, then large groups of them would instate a majority standard of behaviour that would reflect this disposition,… Read more »

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Eric the Red, you said: “A gay man with a foot fetish has more in common with a straight man with a foot fetish, than he does with other gay men who don’t find feet all that interesting.”  That is utter nonsense, 100 percent.  I’m astonished at the statement, to be honest.  Here’s another false statement: “Plus, sexual orientation isn’t even a binary either/or; some people have varying degrees of attraction for both sexes.”  Really?  Perhaps for maybe 3 percent of the population, which renders “some people” a bit misleading.  Sorry Eric, but most people don’t have varying degrees of attraction for… Read more »

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Reuben, you said: “The sexual laws of the Bible really don’t favor any truly human majority sexual preference and we both know it.”  Seriously, what Bible are you reading?

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

ReubenK: that is a helpful elaboration. It is definitely difficult to talk about the subject due to the fact that there is so much to say: I think I’d start by saying that there is a fundamental difference between Eden and post-fall due to the fact sin enters the world and clothes are immediately necessary. I understand the instinct to ask what would it be like in Eden, but as far as we can tell there are only two people in Eden. Many people speculate that Eden did not last long because you have perfectly a prefectly fertile couple and… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

Reuben, I take your point about my comment on majoritarian preferences being legislated in the Bible.  Dan, you would be astounded at how much truth is counter-intuitive.  It’s counter-intuitive that heavy objects and light objects fall at the same speed, so people assumed that they didn’t until Galileo came along and actually tested it.  It’s counter-intuitive that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth; if you look up into the sky over the course of a day it sure looks like the sun is orbiting the earth.  So maybe my comments seem counter intuitive to you, but that’s what the… Read more »

Fake Herzog
7 years ago

If I didn’t know any better (and I do!), I’d almost think Pastor Wilson is some kind of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher.  And that’s a good thing!!! Here is the wonderful Richard Weaver on nominalism: “Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence… Read more »

Moor
Moor
7 years ago

So much good content in the responses is lost for lack of paragraph breaks — waaaah. (I’m just throwing a little tantrum here because it’s seriously difficult to wade through long and thoughtful responses without the benefit of breaks).  Now, back to regularly scheduled programming (and, yes, I’m aware there’s a work-around, but still…).

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Tim, good comments.  You said: “I think we have bought into a lie that says, men will be men, when in fact a man should be a man and respond as a protective Father, or respond in disgust to the sensuality of our culture.”  Yes, we need more men to respond this way and to mentor the younger men in the same mindset.  You also said: “However, we are responsible not simply for what we do, or think, but also for what we desire to do.”  I agree.  Which is why we should take every thought captive, lest we cultivate lustful thoughts… Read more »

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Eric the Red, you said: “Dan, you would be astounded at how much truth is counter-intuitive.  It’s counter-intuitive that heavy objects and light objects fall at the same speed…”  Okay, so a leaf falling from a 100 foot tree falls at the same speed as an acorn that falls from a 100 foot tree?  Thus, they’ll hit the ground at the same time?  Do I have that right?  Also, I’ll repeat your prior statement.  You said: “A gay man with a foot fetish has more in common with a straight man with a foot fetish, than he does with other gay… Read more »

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Eric the Red seems to have a fetish for red herrings.  Should he be diagnosed as to whether he was born that way, or it is an orientation that nature put into him, environmentally?  Once we have fully documented the described the origin of the fetish, does anything follow from that?  What if the sinfulness of a sin is relational and doesn’t depend on genetic fallacies?

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

Dan, because of its shape, a leaf will encounter air resistance that will slow it down, but that’s because of its shape, and not because of its weight.  If you take two objects that weigh the same and have the same shape, so there won’t be a difference in air resistance, then yes, they will fall at the same rate of speed.  I know that’s counter-intuitive, but it’s also Physics 101, and you can try the experiment yourself if you like.  Many other things that are true are counter-intuitive as well, which is why in discussions like these it’s important… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

Dan, most of the rest of your argument simply underlines how completely arbitrary it is to define people by whether they prefer sex with men or with women.  Why not define them by their love of stock car racing or baking pies?  The reason is that it would never occur to anybody to attach moral significance to whether someone likes to bake pies (or whether they prefer apple pies to cherry pies).  It’s only because your religion tells you to attach moral significance to my partner’s anatomy that it has become such a beloved yardstick for measuring people’s moral worth.

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

And to answer your actual question, yes, sub-orientations such as fetishes actually are more useful categories for defining sexual identity (if you insist on defining people by their sexual identity) than gay or straight are, because they tell us more about the psychology of the individual.  A foot fetishist is someone with a submissive streak, whether he prefers male feet or female feet, and that gives us more information about the person than the mere fact that he prefers men to women.  In other words, that someone has a submissive streak is more interesting than whom he prefers to submit… Read more »

Eric the Red
Eric the Red
7 years ago

Sorry, typo in my 4:11 response to Dan.  If you take two objects that do NOT weigh the same but have the same shape (i.e., a two-pound book and a ten-pound book) and drop them, say, 100 feet, they will both hit the ground at the same time.  You can try this experiment yourself if you want.

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

Dan, if those thoughts were helpful praise the LORD!

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

ReubenK let me try to attempt more direct answers now that I am at a computer.  You said:  In Eden, how do you think sexuality worked? I think the Ezekiel 16 passage provides us with about as good an answer as we can get.  However, things have fundamentally changed since the fall.  It is shameful to be naked post-fall, in a way that it was not shameful pre-fall.  Therefore, in some ways we shouldn’t strive for a pre-fall sexuality.  The rules have changed.  Nudist colonies are bad ideas.   Ezekiel 16:7-14   7 I made you flourish like a plant… Read more »

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Eric, you said: “It’s only because your religion tells you to attach moral significance to my partner’s anatomy that it has become such a beloved yardstick for measuring people’s moral worth.”  No one here is ascribing measurement to anyone’s “moral worth”.  I believe all human beings are created in the image of God, thus all human beings have inherent dignity and worth.  Also, no one here is attaching moral significance to anyone’s anatomy, but the “misuse” of their anatomy (and often encouraging others to do the same).  Clearly, the human anatomy was designed for men and woman to be together and to procreate.  Eric, do you really think… Read more »

Charles Williams
Charles Williams
7 years ago

While my appreciation for the First Things article is not without qualification, it seems like maybe you are kicking against the pricks.   “Rosenstock-Huessy argues that it is not only from the moment of birth that one is inducted via names—the names of one’s parents, their family, one’s birthplace, one’s own name— but our life is a continuous accrual of names as each person is shaped by his or her experiences, thus developing new qualities or characteristics. Through the course of a life each of us is enmeshed in an expanding cluster of titles that reflect one’s responses to the… Read more »

Moor
Moor
7 years ago

Ah…the ol’ “foot fetish” analogy made famous by the great classical French philosopher Marche DePied…I knew I recognized that rock-solid argumentation from somewhere.

Fake Herozg
7 years ago

Moor,
Sorry about the format of my first comment — next time I’ll use the block quotation feature (that was my first time commenting here, so I’m just getting used to the format).  That is a great quote from Weaver and it comes from his wonderful little book Ideas Have Consequences.
 
Your last comment was delightful — clearly you enjoy a good verbal barb like our host ;-)
 
 

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Uh oh.  Rosenstock-Huessy is one of those hyphenated names.  :)   Charles Williams wrote: “There is a huge, if subtle, difference between being called a ‘kleptomaniac’ and being called a ‘thief’.  Between being an ‘alcoholic’ and a ‘drunk’, a ‘nymphomaniac’ and a ‘whore’.  And what, after all, does it mean to be ‘bipolar’?   ‘Homosexual’ is an attempt to legitimize the ‘sodomite’.  It’s the sad attempt of an alienated person or like persons to reorient themselves, to legitimize and recast themselves with a new name.” This is an important trend in labeling ourselves with a diagnosis, whether genetic or environmental.  Not… Read more »