Saturday, May 27, 2017

That Hep C attempt at satire at Mere O is a reminder of the power of Poe's law, and that in other contexts Mere O is so earnest in its sweeping jeremiads that when it tries for satire it can clunk into self-parody.

For the most part Mere Orthodoxy is at its least entertaining when it attempts to run with satire.  The hits are more notable, by dint of their rarity, than the misses.  But sometimes a miss highlights a special opportunity.  Evangelicalism of a socially conservative stripe has a long history of alarmism as it is but this particular attempt at satire is special.


There is an urgent soul-cry from the culture. From our neighbors. This cry has been silenced by the church and ignored by the media.

Hepatitis C.

Oh, so would this be a Christian concerned about a literal epidemic of sickness rather than a metaphorical epidemic of otherwise marriageable age males not having sex?  Tell me more. 

The satire goes along.


I’ve never heard anyone talk about Hepatitis C in church. Have you? The silence is deafening. The stigma and shame are terrible. The people affected by Hepatitis C are not the people we’re trying to “attract” to our “cool” churches: Drug addicts, old people, and people who share the same dollar bill to snort cocaine. We’d only want people who have their own individual dollar bills to snort cocaine out of clapping along with us in the pew.

This is a gospel issue.

Maybe it's because one of the recent sermons at church was about Jesus' willingness to touch and heal lepers but I have my doubts about the effectiveness of writing a satire about Hep C.  A few decades ago the assumption that only the sorts of sinners already under God's judgment were getting AIDs led some American Christians to figure it's "not my problem".

Still, it's as someone who was once at Mars Hill and read some of the screeching from the Doug Wilson fanbase about epidemics of singleness that comes to mind. 

Not so far from the attempt at satire Mere Orthodoxy can feature fairly predictable laments about the dreadful incremental increase in the age of first marriage.


As reconstituted by Dewey and his disciples, schools have become more like a social laboratory than a location where individuals are equipped with the skills needed for self-reliant living. Because schools have replaced parents as our culture’s primary organ of child development, we have a culture of diploma-holding twenty-somethings who haven’t actually become adults in any meaningful way.

Sasse names eight markers of becoming an adult: moving out, finishing school (for good), holding a full-time job, becoming economically independent, losing one’s virginity, marrying, having children, and forming an independent household. On nearly every measure, the emerging adults that America has produced in the twenty-first century are doing less of these things and doing them later.

Ah, if only that ship of state education had not sailed centuries ago in the United States, right?  How powerfully Dabney's warnings have been vindicated.  If those kids had just been dumped into the labor market rather than kept in public school in accordance with some dumb old laws they could have already become married, functional adults at fifteen, right?

Of course, Mere Orthodoxy contributors have taken umbrage at the direct correlation between what's now known as the alt-right and racism with the Religious Right.

Now there's reason to argue that Ballmer's history of the Religious Right is skewed.

But the skew is more or less the same skew that the other side traffics in.  Whites on the American religious left have an incentive to scapegoat the religious right as the sole owners of a racist legacy.  When Mark Driscoll sold his spiel on how he was once a Malthusian he got into how the Malthusian approach could be really racist.

When Driscoll shared reasons to not marry someone who is pro-abortion he talked about how he once held to ideas associated with Malthus.

There's a version of this link available here:
She came from an evangelical home. I came from a Catholic home. Both of our homes were pro-life. But I was not only pro-choice, I was pro-abortion. I agreed with the underlying principles of Thomas Robert Malthus, which greatly influenced Nazi Germany, and Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood. I read up on the issue quite a bit, and won debates in high school and my freshman year of college defending population control and abortion.

We looked at this earlier but arguments in favor of population control in the West go back roughly a thousand years.

A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages
Walter Ullman
Penguin Books
first published 1965
 ISBN-10: 0140207783
ISBN-13: 978-0140207781

The continuator of his commentaries on the Politics, his [Thomas Aquinas'] pupil at Paris and later Bishop of Claremont, Peter of Auvergne, struck up quite radical naturalist chords, particularly in connexion with social and economic questions and problems connected with marriage. For instance, he held that, since the State had to be self-sufficient, it was imperative to limit the number of citizens, otherwise poverty would follow. Hence he advocated limitations in the size of families. Aristotle's suggestion of abortion was not endorsed, but in order to avoid over-population he suggested restrictions of procreation between the ages of 37 and 55 with men and 18 to 37 with women, because then fewer children would be born. Beyond these age groups there should not be sexual intercourse with a view to procreation, but simply for the sake of health or some other valid reason.

Ah, but of course population control agendas can only be secular/Darwinin/left things and not come from Anglican or Catholic clerics.

At this point we don't need to expect a Mark Driscoll to bring up any Robert L Dabney examples of white guys having lower views of blacks without resorting to evolutionary theorems.

So Driscoll would have it that there was a weirdly direct line from an Anglican cleric who warned that if the underclasses bred too much they would exacerbate poverty to the Nazis.  When Warren Throckmorton blogged on Driscoll's claims of a Malthusian past he stressed that racist views do not evolve from evolutionary views.

But perhaps the thing that gets overlooked on the part of white guys making points about the racism-or-not of other white guys is that what we're seeing in the Ballmer narrative and the Driscoll narrative are attempts to scapegoat the history of racism on the part of whites against blacks for specific political ideologies in the present.  Red wants to blame blue and blue wants to blame red but neither side wants to concede that racism might be a thing right now for "our" team. 

There might be a benefit to a childhood in which it wasn't even possible to have a literally or figuratively purely white or black experience of American history. When I was a kid I asked some American Indian relatives about the Civil War and the answer I got was, minus a few salty words, that the white racist jerks in the North fought the white racist jerks in the South over how to treat black people and once that issues was temporarily settled (not that blacks got treated any better, really) whites could get back together to form a united front to kill Indians.  Unlike blacks, who whites tended to own as property to do work that were forced to breed, whites had this history of just wanting to massacre American Indians.  That said, plenty of American Indian tribes had slavery and some rigid caste systems so Dances with Wolves still has to be taken as white myth-making. When you grow up hearing that kind of account of the American Civil War it can be difficult to accept at face value that there were any "good" teams in the conflict, yet that is more or less what people try to do when they talk about the American Civil War or the war or northern aggression.  Whites who have already made up their minds that they were on the righteous side aren't interested in the possibility that they were all ultimately evil together on this matter of race. 

The degree to which contributors to Mere Orthodoxy take umbrage at the Religious Right being associated with the alt right or with a racist past makes it just a little bit tougher to take them seriously when they try for a satire about how the church doesn't speak out about Hep C as a satire of how people blame the church. Given the extent to which the guy who hasn't moved out of his parents' basement and gotten a real job and inserted himself into a woman because he's too busy playing video games or looking at porn is taken as emblematic of the wholesale collapse of Western civilization the satire that attempts to make fun of people blaming the church for Hep C falls flat.  A paranoid blanket indictment of an entire group of people as being symbolically responsible for the failure of contemporary society basically "is" American evangelical cultural polemic and often the scapegoat is the single guy who hasn't manned up and manfully gone out and given a girl a ring and started banging her to the glory of God.  I was at Mars Hill about a decade so it's not like I never, ever in my life heard a sermon whose applicational punchline went something like that.

Which lets us get back to the mention of Sasse and those eight checklist points of adulthood. Could Sasse or one of Sasse's readers point out where anyone in the Bible embodied the eight points?  Did Isaac "move out" of Abraham's home before he took a wife?  Part of the reason a Hep C satire falls flat is because it attempts to be funny when this other sort of thing is presented with such po-faced seriousness:
Sasse names eight markers of becoming an adult: moving out, finishing school (for good), holding a full-time job, becoming economically independent, losing one’s virginity, marrying, having children, and forming an independent household. On nearly every measure, the emerging adults that America has produced in the twenty-first century are doing less of these things and doing them later.

Ah, so losing one's virginity and getting married are presented as actually distinct?  So if fifteen year old guys and gals just lose their virginity they've already taken one of eight steps to becoming an adult?  Who wouldn't want to rush out and take that step as soon as possible!  How many decades did Jacob work for uncle Laban before he became economically independent enough to part ways? How old was Isaac when he married Rebekah?  Was it forty years old?  How dreadful it is to note that one of the patriarchs of the faith didn't pass the threshold of adulthood on marriage until he was forty! I mean, sure there were things like drought and famine but Isaac should not have dallied about and drug his feet on this becoming an adult thing.

There's been a fair amount written on the indicators of functional adulthood and the observation that in the span of human history a lot of these American evangelical benchmarks of adulthood are tethered to post-war prosperity that no longer holds is plentiful.
Over the course of his research on this, Jensen Arnett has zeroed in on what he calls “the Big Three” criteria for becoming an adult, the things people rank as what they most need to be a grown-up: taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. [emphasis added] These three criteria have been ranked highly not just in the U.S., but in many other countries as well, including China, Greece, Israel, India, and Argentina. But some cultures add their own values to the list. In China, for example, people highly valued being able to financially support their parents, and in India people valued the ability to keep their family physically safe.

Of the Big Three, two are internal, subjective markers. You can measure financial independence, but are you otherwise independent and responsible? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. When the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson outlined his influential stages of psychosocial development, each had its own central question to be (hopefully) answered during that time period. In adolescence, the question is one of identity—discovering the true self and where it fits into the world. In young adulthood, Erikson says, attention turns to intimacy and the development of friendships and romantic relationships.
Havighurst developed his theory during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and in his selection of these tasks, he was truly a product of his time. The economic boom that came after World War II made Leave It to Beaver adulthood more attainable than it had ever been. Even for very young adults. There were enough jobs available for young men, Mintz writes, that they sometimes didn’t need a high-school diploma to get a job that could support a family. And social mores of the time strongly favored marriage over unmarried cohabitation hence: job, spouse, house, kids.

But this was a historical anomaly. “Except for the brief period following World War II, it was unusual for the young to achieve the markers of full adult status before their mid- or late twenties,” Mintz writes. [emphasis added]

One of the striking times in which marriage rates dropped in America was the Great Depression.  For those who may have forgotten that 2008 was a bad financial crash, I used to work with this old guy who was born a few days after the 1929 stock market crash.  In his line of work he said he had not seen economic times so rough for people in 2008 since he was a kid during the Depression.  Take it or leave it, but the proposal here is that evangelical white guys tend to presume that the only reasons people don't get married is because they just don't want to. 

Well, perhaps Poe's law doesn't quite apply here, perhaps the Hep C attempt at satire merely lands with the thud of self-parody because the American Christian blame piece is so endemic to the Christian left and right in Anglo-American Christian blogging that you can't even really satirize it these days.

No comments: