I am afraid that the next chapter of Beyond Authority and Submission is bad enough to make your front teeth ache. It is something of a global embarrassment. It makes you want to press your temples with your forefingers while echoing the words of that Shunammite boy in the Old Testament, the one who said, “My head, my head” (2 Kings 4:19). It is a small mound of burning tires on an overcast day in a seedy neighborhood. I think about the editorial meeting at Presbyterian & Reformed where this argument got cleared for takeoff, and one’s forehead gets red and hot on their behalf.
The Argument, Such as It Is
One of the things that is repeated a number of times in this chapter is how the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that women were fundamentally not up to scratch when it came to providing potential material for real education. If I were to take up the task—as I would most certainly want to do—of proving these sexist Greeks and Romans entirely wrong, this is not a chapter that I would choose to show them as any part of my refutation.
The argument of this chapter, in a nutshell, goes like this. The pagan Greeks and Romans had an appallingly low view of women and their abilities. True enough, and Miller’s examples do make the point. Pagans did do that kind of thing way back in the day.
But then we, readers and author alike, like Peter Rabbit, go hippity hippity hop over an intervening millennium and a half, down to a later time in history when the Victorians supposedly reintroduced all these ancient misogynistic assumptions. The Victorian era, the culprit in this piece—and incidentally also the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement and the home of the Married Women’s Property Act (1882), supposedly resurrected the old-timey pagan prejudices, which we conservative and complementarian Christians then got from them, the Victorians. Got it? If you haven’t laughed out loud yet, you didn’t get it.
“Hundreds of years later, the Victorians revived these pagan beliefs and attempted to baptize them as Christian.”
Watching this argument unfold is like watching your great grandmother put on some roller blades so that she might attempt to carry a priceless china tea service down to the basement on the end of a broomstick. A certain trepidation arises. Concerns present themselves, one after another. You find yourself saying gram, gram under your breath.
The Historical Jim Jams
There is history as it actually happened to people, and there is also the task of the classical historian, which is to state, as accurately as he can, the significant events of that past that actually happened to those people. But then comes the partisan hack, the teller-of-whoppers, the one who would cast the events of the past in a way so as to confirm or reinforce a preferred narrative, useful to somebody in the present. This is the kind of history we see at the service of identity politics, the kind of thing that should give all of us the historical jim jams.
In our case here, the group identity being served is made up of women of an evangelical background who want to be post-complementarian, but who might face some backlash if they went full feminist too quickly, and who therefore need some temporary cover that will enable them to say something like “complementarianism is not really biblical, you know, and we all want to be really biblical. These assumptions about women were actually pagan in origin and were reintroduced into Western culture as recently as the Victorian era. A recent book—from a conservative publisher, mind—has demonstrated this.”
A recent book has demonstrated nothing of the kind. A recent book has actually beclowned itself, its publisher, and everyone who blurbed it. And we can tell how allergic these people are to things that have a pagan origin, and their deep desire to be really biblical, by how many daily decisions they make on the basis of their Enneagram analysis.
All of this is nothing more than identitarian history, and this means that the only thing that matters to its consumers is that its soothing tones be soothing. All that matters for those who want its reassurances is that the claims made can be enlisted in the cause of such reassurance. And they will in fact reassure because the “right answer” for the “right identity group” is certainly asserted in this book, and asserted with aplomb, panache, and a serene unawareness of how lame the argument is.
Rachel Miller is writing for women here, and this means that the success or failure of her book is going to be measured, not by whether her argument makes any sense, but by whether or not she makes an emotional connection with the kind of women who are her desired readers. Lest some jump to the conclusion that I am quietly trying to insinuate that women are more emotional than men, let me just say outright that women are more emotional than men. Men have their own unique temptations as well. This is not our destiny, but it does determine our predilections and temptations. And because guarding against a particular predilection that women might have is stereotyping at near-criminal levels, the Left has seen a grand opportunity in this and, as Paul Maxwell has pointed out, the publishers of the evangelical world have seen their business model (i.e. publishing for women) drag them to the left. Those who are more emotional are more susceptible to emotional manipulations disguised as pleas for the kind of justice that has an adjective in front of it—which is therefore, of necessity, not justice at all.
Because it is not yet November, let me make my qualification here. My point is not that women are irrational. My point is that irrational women are irrational, and that the longer we go on mocking and insulting the traditional norms that protected men and women from their respective temptations, the more of this kind of thing we are going to get.
And neither am I saying that Rachel Miller is irrational. She is, however, manifestly unqualified for the task she is attempting, if that task is the presentation of a sound historical argument. If her task is different, however, and she is attempting to manipulate women who don’t want to be treated like a china doll, and who don’t care about sound historical arguments, but who hate it when they are not treated like a china doll whenever they present a lame historical argument, then it would appear that she is highly qualified.
Although she isn’t really a solid one, Rachel Miller does care about looking like a scholar. This is why she responds to criticisms with a forklift that deliver pallets of citations which don’t actually make her point. She is like the Irishman on trial for murder, with three witnesses who saw him do it, who in his defense produces ten witnesses who didn’t see him do it.
Not only does she produce voluminous beside-the-point refutations, she has also on occasion produced responses that actually sealed the validity of the criticism. For example, in this post I clearly show how she had misrepresented my position plainly and undeniably. What I did not mention in that place is that in her reaction to Mark Jones (who had made a similar point) she had added another post from me that demonstrated that she understood very well what I was saying (and not saying) about a man’s “vessel,” but she went ahead and misrepresented my position in her book anyway. And when called on it, she does not correct anything at all.
The Actual Issue
But the thing that really astonishes me most is that an actual historian like Carl Trueman would agree to have his name anywhere near this thing. He actually said this:
“It is therefore a pleasure to commend this book by Rachel Miller, which eschews the cheap extremism and bombastic rhetoric that characterize conservative Christian responses to feminism and plots not a middle way but a biblical way through the subjects of authority, submission, masculinity, and the like. She is not interested in making the Bible fit 1950s ideals of what men and women should be; rather, she wants to help the reader to think about what the Bible actually means in the present. This is a refreshingly sane read.”
Bombastic rhetoric, hey? Don’t tempt me.
A refreshingly sane read? What would Carl Trueman do with a paper from an undergraduate student who wrote something like “after the ill-fated attempt of Icarus, the inventors of the flight community were somewhat discouraged, and things remained quiet for a period of time. There were few developments. But when that time was over, the Wright brothers, inspired by Icarus, entered the picture . . .”
The history of flight does not jump from Icarus to Wilbur and Orville, and the history of relations between the sexes does not jump from Pericles and Augustus to Disraeli. I’m sorry, but that is kind of the way the history didn’t go.
I think the most revealing thing about Trueman’s blurb is this statement:
“She is not interested in making the Bible fit 1950s ideals of what men and women should be; rather, she wants to help the reader to think about what the Bible actually means in the present.”
It seems that the real agenda is here. The 1950s, as problematic as some of it was to thinking Christians, is our closest historical reminder of a modern industrialized nation living in basic accordance with the fixed norms that govern human nature—as those norms are set forth both in Scripture and in our bones. Consequently, the 1950s must be disparaged. We must sneer, and further, we must curl the lip at them.
But think for a moment, ye who look down on the 1950s with disdain . . . did their decade, in comparison with the enlightened decade you live in, the one up here, the one in which we dwell at such a lofty height, have legal battles over whether seven-year-old boys should transitioned into what we are pleased to call “a girl?” Did they give boatloads of taxpayer money to organizations that chop human babies up in order to sell the pieces? Did they look at the very image of God, male and female, that He placed upon the human race at the very beginning (Gen. 1:27), and replace it with multitudinous genders of their very own devising, an action somewhat akin to a troubled art fanatic with a can of orange spray paint deciding to “fix” a Rembrandt?
No, back in the 50s, their crime was to broadcast sitcoms with names like Father Knows Best. The kind of thing that today’s sophisticates prefer is perversion and raunch, propped up with a laugh track. Really? Our culture is neck deep in the blood of innocents, and is teetering on the lip of the abyss, to the background noise of numerous evangelical think-leaders who are still nervously clearing their throats, afraid to say anything that might hurt a stray feeling out there, and Carl Trueman wants to warn us against the perils of the 1950s.
Speaking of the sanity of the fifties, allow me to share a poem from the year I was born, 1953, reproduced as it was published in The New Yorker, of all places. It is by Phyllis McGinley, and is entitled “The Old Feminist.”
Snugly upon the equal height,
enthroned at last where she belongs,
She takes no pleasure in her Rights
who so enjoyed her Wrongs!
Unless you actually want a book that is doing the kind of work that Big Eva wants all such books to do, which is to keep us slumbering whilst the secularists ransack our house, this book is not for you. And in the free advice department, it would seem to me that the people who are managing this ungodly agenda, those promoting such books, should actually try to get a better caliber of writer for the next one. They really need to kick it up a notch or two.
I don’t want to be forced into the position of reviewing a book that argues that the American military historically excluded women from combat roles because of some religious custom that the Hittites had, a custom which was resurrected by evil authorities in the Vatican, the very same evil authorities who tried to suppress the publication of The Da Vinci Code.