Saturday, April 04, 2020

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Mark Driscoll 2.0 but for the progressive Christian American


Strip away the confessional specifics of popular Christian self-help literature and large stretches of it can begin to seem as indebted to the work of Joseph Campbell as to any biblical text or theological tradition.  What was Joseph Campbell’s signal message from the twentieth century?  He’s best-known for formulating what has been called the monomyth or The Hero’s Journey but this is to misunderstand what his stated aims were and what his overarching intent turned out to be.  The Hero With a Thousand Faces turns out, if you actually read it, to be a kind of self-help book.   

Originally published a bit more than sixty years ago, Joseph Campbell’s book asserted that all of mythology the world over spoke a special truth that the ossification of rigid dogmatism obscured. What was this message?  We can hardly do better than to quote Campbell at length:

THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES
JOSEPH CAMPBELL
NEW WORLD LIBRARY
original edition copyright (c) 1949 by Bollingen Foundation and published by Pantheon Books
ISBN 978-1-57731-593-3
ISBN 978-1-57731-593-3

pages 30-31
The cosmogonic cycle is presented with astonishing consistency in the sacred writings of all the continents, and it gives the adventure of the hero a new and interesting turn; for now it appears that the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not discovery, but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time. He is "the king's son" who has come to know who he is and therewith has entered into the exercise of his proper power--"God's son," who has learned to know how much that title means. From this point of view the hero is symbolical of that divine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only waiting to be known and rendered into life.

page 135
The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children. Such comparatively trivial matters as the remaining details of the credo, the techniques of worship, and devices of episcopal organization (which have so absorbed the interest of Occidental theologians that they are today seriously discussed as the principle questions of religion), are merely pedantic snares, unless kept ancillary to the major teaching.

Did Campbell say “hidden within us all, only waiting to be known and rendered into life”?  Well, Campbell may have used “all” in a kind of Calvinist soteriological way where all can’t literally mean “all” because elsewhere in his famous book Campbell wrote that

page 196
Not everyone has a destiny; only the hero who has plunged to touch it, and has come up again--with a ring.

So, not everyone has a destiny, for all that, only the hero.  Had Campbell spelled more explicitly the “you” who may ever have read his book who is not “the hero” the book might not have become as popular or influential as it has since it was first published.  The hero (or heroine, even if that aspect of the monomyth tends to get ignored by those who try to defend Campbell from those who would try to have The Hero’s Journey be a Heroine’s Journey), has to be someone special:

page 275
Jesus, for example can be regarded as a man who by dint of austerities and meditation attained wisdom; or on the other hand, one may believe that a god descended and took upon himself the enactment of a human career. The first view would lead one to imitate the master literally, in order to break through, in the same way as he, to the transcendent, redemptive experience. But the second states that the hero is rather a symbol to be contemplated than an example to be literally followed. The divine being is a revelation of the omnipotent Self, which dwells within us all. The contemplation of the life thus should be undertaken as a meditation on one's own immanent divinity, not as a prelude to a precise imitation, the lesson being, not "Do thus and be good," but "Know this and be God."

page 315
The mighty hero of extraordinary powers--able to life Mount Govardhan on a finger, and to fill himself with the terrible glory of the universe--is each of us: not the physical self visible in the mirror, but the king within.

Campbell slightly backed away from his theorizing about the extraordinary hero a bit to highlight what he regarded as the problem of his era and by implication ours.  Self-actualization of a post-Maslowian kind that emerges only from the individual tended, in Campbell’s estimation, to lead to egoism and egotism.

page 334
The problem of mankind today, therefore, is precisely the opposite to that of men in the comparatively stable periods of those great co-ordinating mythologies which now are known as lies. Then all meaning was in the group, in the great anonymous forms, none in the self-expressive individual; today no meaning is in the group--none in the world: all is in the individual. But there the meaning is absolutely unconscious. One does not know toward what one moves. One does not know by what one is propelled. The lines of communication between the conscious and the unconscious zones of the human psyche have all been cut, and we have been split in two.

page 335
Nor can the great world religions, as at present understood, meet the requirement. For they have become associated with the causes of the factions, as instruments of propaganda and self-congratulation. (Even Buddhism has lately suffered this degradation, in reaction to the lessons of the West.) The universal triumph of the secular state has thrown all religious organizations into such a definitely secondary, and finally ineffectual, position that religious pantomime is hardly more today than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, whereas business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week.  Such a monkey-holiness is not what the functioning world requires; rather, a transmutation of the whole social order is necessary, so that through every detail and act of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is actually immanent and effective in all of us may be somehow made known to consciousness. 

Campbell, by his own account, was grappling with how to find a solution to identity predicated on social connection and cohesion in an era that he regarded as having fragmented into individualism and individuation that left individuals adrift.

If in the hands of a Joseph Campbell the self-help manual could take on a distinctly panentheistic Pelagian cast, in popular level Christian self-help confessional standards are still expected.  What is also frequently expected is that the discovery of the self is still expected to be found in the metaphorical and literal embrace of the other.  In conservative American Protestant settings God is “imaged” and the Trinity is “imaged” in many an inspirational account by the love between husband and wife. 

But it would be a serious mistake to imagine that this idea of a sacramental revelation of the divine in the sexual relationship isn’t found across the spectrums of red and blue, conservative and liberal, orthodox or mystical.  What has made the reception of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s self-help manual on marriage and sex, Shameless, curious, is the extent to which those who reviewed the book almost solely in terms of its niche market.  The plaudits heaped upon the book by those who endorsed it read as though what Nadia Bolz-Weber did was different and revolutionary.  Having documented the peak and demise of the former Mars Hill Church in Puget Sound what stands out about Nadia Bolz-Weber’s public persona in general and her book Shameless in particular is how much this cussing pastor with a history of stand-up delivery resembles Mark Driscoll, a celebrity pastor with a history of cussing who “got real” about sex decades ago.

This is not to say that Mark Driscoll and Nadia Bolz-Weber would agree on anything much more than that Jesus rose from the dead.  But the similarities are nevertheless striking.  Take a feature in The New Yorker that described how humble the beginnings were of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s church.


The Lutheran Pastor Calling for a Sexual Reformation
By Eliza Griswold
February 8, 2019
...

In 2007, Bolz-Weber started her church with eight people in her living room, and it has since grown to include six hundred members. Last July, Bolz-Weber left the organization. She wanted to avoid “founder’s syndrome,” she told me, so that the church could flourish without her. “It’s awful,” she said. She misses her church, especially on Sundays, when she feels rootless. Yet she also wanted to pursue life as a public theologian. Last May, she put out a video of a mini-sermon about forgiveness that has been viewed nearly forty million times, and she often shares stages with figures like Lance Armstrong, whom she interviewed at a conference on Nantucket, in 2018. “I see from my notes you took drugs you weren’t supposed to and then you lied about it,” she recalled starting her interview with Armstrong. “Oh, my God, I did that shit so many times.”

A nationally famous church started by a pastor in a living room that has since grown to include six hundred members.  Well, that’s six hundred instead of six-thousand or fourteen-thousand but the parallel to Mark Driscoll starting his church in his living room seems obvious enough.  Perhaps to Bolz-Weber’s fans her use of profanity is not a sign of worldiness but of a special kind of honest spirituality, the kind honest enough to use the swear words to reveal a lack of fakeness.  This was, for those who witnessed the rise and peak and fall of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll’s place in that scene, nothing especially unique.  Mark Driscoll decades ago preached that if anyone told you there was salvation apart from faith in Christ that person was preaching a God-damned lie, the kind of cussing pastor moment that got the attention of Donald Miller.

Bolz-Weber’s blue-state bona fides ensure that on paper she is opposed to almost everything Mark claims Jesus taught, but what’s all the more striking if you read both her work and his and listen to them both talk for cameras, is that the cussing hipster aesthetic permeates them both.  If Mark Driscoll saw fit to crash The Strange Fire conference to distribute copies of his 2013 book A Call to Resurgence, Bolz-Weber opened Shameless with her own story of how she decided to do something public, a form of protest, to address what she regarded as an injustice.


SHAMELESS: A SEXUAL REFORMATION
Nadia Bolz-Weber
Copyright (c) 2019 by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Published in the United States by Convergent Book, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC

ISBN 978-1-60142-758-8
ebook ISBN 978-1-60142-760-1

pages 1-2

The week Prince died, I was flying to Charlotte, North Carolina, to speak to a group of Methodists. That same week, the state legislature of North Carolina voted in the so-called bathroom bill, which stated that people must use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their driver's license. As I stuffed my carry-on bag beneath the seat in front of me, I thought of this hideous bill and the little plan I had concocted to protest it. My bag contained a roll of Scotch tape and half a dozen sheets of paper, all which bore--in huge purple print--the androgynous symbol for Prince's name.

The plane took off, and I looked out the window. We were traveling over the dry plains of eastern Colorado, thirty thousand feet above a dot matrix of green and brown circles that revealed the geometry of industrial agriculture. As a city girl who doesn't know a thing about farming, I've always found those green circles puzzling. Why would farmers plant circles of crops in lots that are square? 

When I looked into it later, I discovered that in 1940, just twenty-nine miles from the spot where my plane made its way into the crisp Colorado sky, a man named Frank Zybach invented the center-pivot irrigation system, essentially revolutionizing farming in America. In his system, the watering equipment turns on a pivot, allowing sprinklers to water crops in a circular pattern. The crops aren't planted in circles; they're just watered that way. The water never gets to the crops in the corners.

When I arrived at the Charlotte airport, I went about my project of taping the purple Prince symbols over bathroom signs that read "Men" and "Women." Then I went to church.

In contrast to Mark Driscoll’s publicity stunt of crashing The Strange Fire conference to distribute copies of his book, Bolz-Weber’s political protest was of a sort where if she did it quickly and discreetly nobody would catch her doing it and she could share it in her book as though it were actually a significant form of protest.  The kind of stunt that fourteen-year olds might do just for the transgressive fun of it is, in Bolz-Weber’s account, a principled political protest of what she regards as an unjust law.  Setting off to the side that matter of that law, her form of protest was of the kind where her telling us about it at the start of her book sends us a warning, a warning that a whole lot of the content of Shameless is inextricably mediated through Nadia Bolz-Weber. 

Now, maybe, we’re all entitled as Americans to view ourselves as the central protagonists of our own lives but I have met pastors, for instances, who have taught that through Christ we recognize that we are not the protagonists in the story of the cosmos.  Read a couple of books by Bolz-Weber and a couple of books by Mark Driscoll and you may find that what they have in common is that they have a relentless capacity to present what they see as the Gospel of Jesus Christ that doesn’t just so happen to fit a Jesus they have reverse-engineered into being for the things they are for.

Let me give an example of Bolz-Weber’s pastrix meets comic shtick routine:

page 23
I grew up in a religious tradition that eschewed all alcohol consumption--a practice that is called "teetotaling," which I always took to mean that tea was the totality of what we were allowed to drink. ...

As preacher jokes go this is about on par with Mark Driscoll’s old joke about wanting to put the fun back into fundamentalism. They both have enough sense as comedians to not laugh at their own jokes but they do us the disservice of thinking they’re being witty. To this one had best reply, “Yes, doubtless you are the people and all wisdom will die with you but I am not inferior to you.”  Figures like Bolz-Weber and Driscoll, whether they admit it or not, sell their books on the premise that there are things they have figured out that their target audiences have not.

In Mark Driscoll’s case, he insisted, twenty years ago, that Song of Songs was translated by “cowards”.  Let’s revisit something published at Wenatchee The Hatchet a few years back, the raw text of William Wallace II (aka Mark Driscoll’s) thread conversation called “Using Your Penis”:

Author  Topic:   Using your penis 
 William Wallace II
 Member   posted 01-08-2001 10:59 PM             
 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may seem, it is not your penis. Ultimately, God created you and it is His penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while.

 While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wandering the streets looking for a house to live in. Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home.

 Therefore, if you are single you must remember that your penis is homeless and needs a home. But, though you may believe your hand is shaped like a home, it is not. And, though women other than your wife may look like a home, to rest there would be breaking into another mans home. And, if you look at a man it is quite obvious that what a homeless man does not need is another man without a home. Paul tells us that your penis actually belongs to your wife, and once you are married she will trade you it for her home (I Corinthians 7:4), and every man knows this is a very good trade for him to make.

With his penis, the man is supposed to please his wife and learn how to be patient, self-controlled and be educated on how to keep his home happy and joyous (I Corinthians 7:3). The man should be aroused by his new home, and his wife should rejoice at seeing his penis rise to greet her (Song of Songs 5:14b).

...

William Wallace II
 Member   posted 01-09-2001 09:20 AM             
 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 That verse in the Song of Songs was translated by some cowards. She likens her husbands penis to hard white ivory. In your NIV the footnote at the botton says it's the "lapis lazuli" which is the penis. The Bible translators are so skiddish they couldn't actually say what the author said. They do the same thing with the woman's body in Song of Songs 7:2 where they say that her belly button is round, red, and moist with a sweet taste. Guess what, it's not her belly button. Very sad, I'd have to say that if you can't just say what the Bible says but need to make it G-rated then you've got a low view of Scripture.  [emphasis added]
 IP: Logged

William Wallace II
 Member   posted 01-18-2001 11:13 AM             
 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Christian pornography. Christian phone sex. Christian cyber-sex. Christian lap dances.
 Someone recently asked me about these issues. And, they are quite valid.

 The problem with many unfaithful unmanly unmen is that they have heads filled with desires and dreams, but they marry a Christian women raised on a steady diet of gnosticism (so she hates her body) psychology (so she thinks too much before she climbs into bed) and guilt ridden don't have sex because it's a dirty nasty thing that God hates and makes you a slut youth group propaganda from hell/Family Books.

 So the poor guy is like a starving man who is told he can only eat once ever couple weeks and his restaurant only has one crummy unspiced bland item on the menu and he either eats it or starves to death.

 Bummer for that guy.

 What the guy wants is to see a stripper, a porno, and have some phone and cyber sex. What the guy needs is a good Christian woman. The kind of woman who knows that men like unclothed and sexually aggressive women. Why? Because they are breathing. As long as a man is alive he is ready for sex every minute of every day.

 Ladies, listen closely. The guy will never get the big dreams out of his head. He can either explore them with his wife, become bitter and sexually repressed, or sneak off to Deja Vu or log on to the net and escape in a moment of adventure. Birds fly, ducks float, dogs bark, and men think about sex every minute of every day because they have a magical ability to continually think of two things at one time, one of which is always sex. Any man who denies this is a liar or has broken plumbing.

 So it would behoove a good godly woman to learn how to strip for her husband. Some nice music, a couple of drinks, candlight and a wife who has thrown her youth group devotionals to the wind would be nice. Most women do not do this because they are uncomfortable with their bodies. Know that for a man there are two variables with a woman's body. One, what does she have to work with? Two, how does she use it? Now I will tell you a secret, number two is the most important.

 How about a Christian guy who wants to watch porno? Maybe his wife should get a Polaroid and snap a few shots of her in various states of marital undress and bliss and sneak them into his Bible so that when the guy sits down to eat his lunch at work and read some Scripture he has reasons to praise God. Or, maybe if the lady would plug in a camcorder and secretly film herself showering, undressing, making love to her husband etc. she could give it to him when he's on the road for weeks at a time, or maybe just so the poor guy can see his wife as some undressed passionate goddess. I have yet to find a wife take me up on this be rebuked by her husband. [emphasis added]

 And what guy breaking his stones on the job every day wouldn't like a hot phone call from his wife now and then telling him in great detail what awaits him when he gets home. Or how about the occasional instant explicit message from his wife rolling across his screen giving him some reasons to expect that dessert will precede dinner that night.

 Do you know why the adult entertainment industry is raking in billions of dollars? Because people like to have sex and have fun. Does it lead to sin? Yes. Can it lead to worship. Of course. If you resist this message, please stay single until you get your head straightened out. If you are married and fully constipated, bummer for you and your upcoming divorce.

When Nadia Bolz-Weber, for her part, tells us on pages 170-171 of Shameless that “Sheila” was a sexually liberated woman whose poetry was credited to King Solomon her basic stance is that Song of Songs is Hebrew erotica that the Church fathers got squeamish about.  That far, there’s literally nothing in her position on Song of Songs to distinguish it from Mark Driscoll’s views quoted at length above. 

Bolz-Weber lets us know in Shameless that Augustine of Hippo had hang-ups, big hang-ups, about sex.


page 42

Augustine was a North African bishop and theologian from the fourth century whose writings have deeply influenced Christian thinking to this day. The world around him was changing, and he himself was changing, so like many of us, he looked to scripture for guidance. His own version fo the Garden of Eden story goes like this: God created paradise for humans to live in, but Eve messed it up for everyone by eating a piece of fruit that God told her not to eat, and this caused a fall from grace. So now all of humanity is cursed, and this so-called original sin of Eve's became sort of, I don't know .... a sexually transmitted disease. According to Augustine, every person born after Eve inherited her original sin, and so it is essential that men should be dominant--controling women so they don't screw over humanity any more than they already have.

pages 42-43

It is important to know, as we consider the origin of the church's beliefs about sex and bodies and gender, that Augustine's theology and interpretation of the Bible stories were rooted in his own shame. Augustine felt shame about his own sexual proclivities and regret about his licentious behavior before converting to Christianity. 

Augustine's shame reportedly took root when, as an adolescent, he got an erection while at a Roman bath.  Embarrassing, yes. But Augustine was so consumed with the shame of not being able to control his erections that he spent a decade writing a theological treatise. In the treatise, he set out to prove that the main condition of paradise before the fall was that Adam could control his erections with his own will. Then Eve messed everything up. 

I feel for him. Augustine, like all of us, had [i]issues[i].  And it was more than fine for him to take his own concerns into the creative project of biblical interpretation.  He is allowed, just like we all are.

But we must stop confusing his baggage and our baggage and our pastors' baggage and our parents' baggage with God's will.  Because while many of Augustine's teachings have been revered for generations, when it came to his ideas around sex and gender, he basically took a dump and the church encased it in amber.  But instead of realizing this was one guy's personal shit, we assumed it was straight from God.  We ignored the harmful impact these teachings have had on actual people ... .

Let’s compare Bolz-Weber’s take on Augustin in 2019’s Shameless and compare it to the take Mark (and Grace) Driscoll had on Augustine in Real Marriage from 2012. 

Real Marriage: the truth about sex, friendship and life together
Mark and Grace Driscoll
copyright 2012 by On Mission, LLC
ISBN 978-1-4041-8352-0

Augustine (AD 354-430) was sexually active before his conversion and later decided that sex within marriage was not sinful, though the lust and the passion associated with it was sinful. Because of this, he often commended married couples for not engaging in sex and referred to it as a form of animalistic lust.  (page 115)

This was back when Mark Driscoll was claiming to be a Calvinist so he moved along in a few pages on page 118 of Real Marriage to praise the Puritans (i.e. Calvinists, or even super-Calvinists) for having healthier views of sexuality than Augustine had.  Bolz-Weber used more four-letter words in her version but the basic take that “Wow, Augustine was messed up about sex and I’m so glad I don’t have his baggage about it!” is more or less the same. 

How about Origen, one of the fish that swim in the barrel of historically influential figures in early Christianity that contemporary authors like to shoot at once in a while for his take on sex?  Bolz-Weber can’t resist:

from Shameless:
page 170

Origen had a few lifelong hang-ups himself.  (Surprise, surprise) He was so tortured by his own sexual desires that he took matters into his own hands, literally.  Origen took seriously the Platonic notion (often repeated in some of Paul's writings) that the spirit is of a higher plane than the flesh, that the body is the enemy of the soul.  So rather than be plagued by sinful sexual desires, he castrated himself.  That's committment. 

Self-castration for the purpose of avoiding temptation seems so extreme, and yet it differs only in degree from insisting that women hide their bodies so that they do not tempt men, telling hormone-soaked boys that they have to avoid even thinking about sex ,and describing sex as sinful and dangerous and toxic outside of heterosexual marriage.  All of it smacks of the bullshit Cindy's pastor barked about "transcending our sinful bodies." 

By 2012, with his megachurch rep secured, Driscoll put it more tersely in Real Marriage on page 115, “Origen (AD 185-254) was so convinced of the evils of sexual pleasure that he not only allegorized the Song of Songs but also took a knife and castrated himself.”  For Driscoll, perhaps, the terror of a man castrating himself might be enough to speak for itself.  Bolz-Weber felt obliged to linger, so to speak, over the blood stains on the floor.  Mark was like that … twenty years ago but we’ll get to that in a while. 

For the moment it’s worth noting that there are very basic points in the sexual prosperity gospel of Nadia Bolz-Weber that are fundamentally the same as those expressed by Mark Driscoll.  They would appear to be on opposite sides of a lot of issue that they are, really, on opposite sides about, but look past the “what” they disagree on to “how” they sell what they do believe in and it becomes easier to see that Mark Driscoll pioneered the gimmicks that have defined Nadia Bolz-Weber’s public persona.

Even on the matter that Song of Songs should be understood chiefly as Hebrew erotica that should not be interpreted as having any typological reference to the love of God for the people of God. Bolz-Weber can’t even lay any claim to having a racy or new take on Song of Songs.  Her shtick depends on the assumption that even mainlines aren’t comfortable with racy content yet Mark Driscoll took his Song of Songs as erotica theme to the pulpit as far back as 1999. If you don’t believe me go listen to all seven of these sermons Mark Driscoll preached on Song of Songs called Sacred Romance.

Those sermons are some of the earliest that Mark Driscoll clearly thought were good enough to preserve by way of recording and since his take on Song of Songs has been one of “the” touchstones of his entire public ministry career it makes sense.  For instance, let’s take a sermon Mark Driscoll preached in 2007, the year that Eliza Griswold reported was the year that Nadia Bolz-Weber started her church.  As we saw from his writing on the Mars Hill php forum Midrash in 2000 Mark Driscoll was extolling the basic viability of the concept of “Christian porno” in the “Using Your Penis” thread.  By 2007 the Driscoll brand of selling sex was more developed:

about 23:05 (content warning as this is the notorious 2007 Edinburgh, Scotland sermon

"Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest," she says, "is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste." What is she talking about? Oral sex on her husband. That as he stands, she likes to be beneath him and his taste is sweet. It is a euphemism for oral sex, in your Bible. The Jews wouldn‘t even let men read this until they were married or thirty. Now you know why. You‘ve got Jewish boys under the blankets at night with a candle. [Laughter from audience.] Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical. Amen? [Minimal response from audience.] No, you can do better than that. [Laughter from audience] The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God‘s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It‘s biblical. Right here. We have a verse. The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath

24:17
I'll tell you a story if you don't tell anyone else of a man who started attending our church because of oral sex. Right? So many women go to church. In your country it's sixty or seventy percent. "My husband won't come to church. He doesn't have any interest in the things of God. He doesn't understand why church would apply to him." We had a woman like that in our church. She became a Christian. Her husband was not a Christian. He hated the church, wanted nothing to do with the church. She kept browbeating him about Jesus. "You need to get saved. You're gonna burn in hell."
He had no interest in that. 

And so, finally, I was teaching a class on sex and she said, "Oh, so oral sex on a husband is what a wife is supposed to do?" I said, "Yes." She said, "My husband's always wanted that but I've refused him." I went to 1 Peter 3. I said, "The Bible says that if your husband is not a Christian that you are to win him over with deeds of kindness." I said, "So go home and tell your husband that you were in a Bible study today and that God has convicted you of sin.  And repent and go perform oral sex on your husband and tell him that Jesus, Jesus Christ commands you to do so." The next week the man showed up at church. He came up to me, he said, "You know, this is a really good church." That handing out tracts on the street thing, there's a better way to see revival, I assure you of that.

28:29
--you say, "Won't that make me dirty?" No, it'll make you a good wife, and ladies, let me assure you of this, if you think you're being dirty he's pretty happy.


Nadia Bolz-Weber may have temporarily caused a stir by endorsing porn consumption as long as the porn is “ethically sourced” but as I’ve demonstrated from Mark Driscoll’s public statements, one could go so far as to say that sacred porno was inextricably part of Mark Driscoll’s message.  Jessica Johnson did not call her monograph on Mars Hill Biblical Porn for nothing.  Driscoll has repeatedly publicly repudiated pornography as a profession and yet to observe Mark Driscoll’s cumulative claims about what he was okay with, it’s hard to shake a sense that he thinks that pornography that is made as a strictly, er, mom and pop amateur industry in which the consumers are the producers is basically a good thing. 

Which is to say that even on what might seem to be the raciest and most daring aspect of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s public persona is an also-ran compared to her red-state forerunner Mark Driscoll.

That Bolz-Weber and Driscoll regard the sexual bond as something holy isn’t even really a point of difference in general, the differences come in what kinds of sexual relationships Bolz-Weber is willing to call holy that Mark Driscoll believes are still prohibited by the Bible.

from Shameless:
page 20
... But holiness is not something we earn, or create, or strive to become. It's not about self-improvement. It's just something we bump up against by happenstance, something that jars us into ourselves and out of ourselves at the same time. Holiness happens in those moments when we are blissfully free from our ego and yet totally connected to our self and something else.  It is in the smell of a newborn's head and the exhaustion of a laboring mother. The moment during a celebration when you are sharing a cake with those you love, and you take the first bite and every pleasure sensor is firing [i] holy holy holy[i]. Holiness is the thing I never saw coming that makes me catch my breath because I know the sacred has interrupted my isolation.

And--I insist on this--when two loving individuals, two bearer's of God's image, are unified in an erotic embrace, there is space for something holy. What was separate has come together. Two spirits, two bodies, two stories are drawn so close that they are something together that they cannot be alone. There is unity.

So if the bond between two loving individuals is a space for something holy that could seem like a variation of Jesus’ words about how “What God has joined together let no one separate”.

About that …

from Shameless:
pages 58-59

My husband of nearly twenty years and I didn't know how to connect. It wasn't his fault. He is a good man and a great father.  But there was a part of me that was shut down for a very long time. It was hell for both of us, but finally we were able to face reality and walk with our family through an amicable separation and divorce. 

When I started seeing my boyfriend, I felt connected to him and to my body and my desires and my erotic nature in a deep way.  It was like an exfoliation of my entire spirit. It softened me and opened my heart and cleared away the gunk in my head.  It was [i]good[i]. Not perfect. Good.  Good like bodies.  Good like chocolate cake.  Good like when God saw what God made, and God looked at it and said it was good.


Those of us who wondered, however briefly, why Nadia Bolz-Weber expressed no interest in discussing how Tony Jones dealt with his ex-wife, we might now have an explanation for why Bolz-Weber wasn’t the sort to speak up against pastors divorcing spouses.  She had gotten divorced herself.


In The New Yorker feature on her we read the following:

… Four years later, she began attending community college. By 2003, she had transferred to the University of Colorado, Boulder, and in 2005 she graduated and enrolled in a seminary. She had married a Lutheran pastor in 1996; in 2016, after two decades of trying at a marriage without much physical intimacy, she got up the courage to get a divorce. Six months later, she reconnected with an old boyfriend named Eric, and, from the start, the sex was amazing. “It was like an exfoliation,” she told me. Through better sex, her spirit softened, and she found herself closer to God, which led her to rethink the relationship between sex and religion. Bolz-Weber discusses these events in “Shameless,” which is both a theological text and a personal one. Until now, she’s never spoken about her abortion, but she believes that it’s time to begin a new conversation about abortion and religion. The story embodies her mode of preaching as taboo-breaking, which she calls “screw it, I’ll go first.” …

Two decades of marriage without much physical intimacy.  Kids happened.  Kids being born tends to suggest that some kind of sex happened, at least enough sex for actual human reproduction to happen.  That Bolz-Weber, however she worded it, conveyed that she sex wasn’t very frequent or very good is, once again, a reminder that whatever the blue state and red state differences, there’s something at the core of Nadia Bolz-Weber as a celebrity Christian and motivational speaker that resonates with Mark Driscoll’s gimmicks. 
Real Marriage
Mark and Grace Driscoll
Copyright (c) 2012 by On Mission, LLC
Thomas Nelson
ISBN 978-1-4002-0383-3
ISBN 978-1-4041-8352-0 (IE)

page 164

As with many things in marriage, communication is key. When I cam to the conclusion that the cure for a lot of my moodiness was having more frequent sex with my wife, I simply told her. Yes, it's that simple. [emphasis added] For years, when I would endure depression, I tried to talk to Grace about it. Her natural inclination was to want to have long talks about our feelings toward each other, and I know that connecting with her like this is important. But sometimes I was just too frustrated and ended up blowing up and hurting her feelings. The truth was I wanted to have more frequent sex with my life, and we needed to discuss how that could happen.

To make matters worse, seemingly every book I read by Christians on sex and marriage sounded unfair. Nearly every one said the husband had to work very hard to understand his wife, to relate to her, and when he did that to her satisfaction then, maybe, she would have sex with him as a sort of reward. After many years I finally told Grace that I needed more sex. I asked if we could have sex more days of the week and try a variety of positions. She'd be the one to decide exactly how we would be together. Grace said that helped her think about our intimacy throughout the course of the day, which helped prepare her mind and body. To our mutual delight, we discovered that both of us felt closer more loved and understood, and were more patient with each other if we were together regularly in some way. And whether my depression was testosterone-induced or not, I just generally felt happier.

So where Mark Driscoll resented his frigid wife for a decade but eventually came up with a theological and personal rationale for getting more sex from her that was anchored in sex being the cure for his moodiness and depression; Nadia Bolz-Weber decided to divorce her husband of twenty years, take up a boyfriend, and formulate a theology in which sexuality in Christianity needs a reformation that looks suspiciously like what Bolz-Weber wants for herself and others. 

from Shameless:
page 158

As I have talked with my friends and my spiritual community, I have realized that many of us need a space where we can grieve lost or twisted sexuality. Do you, too, need this?  If so, I invite you to let the unprocessed trauma that is stored in our bodies find its way out.  Maybe with a trusted friend.  Maybe alone.  Maybe in a church.  Let's tell the truth about those scares.  Not because they define us, but because we can define them. Let us grieve that we were not taught to love and respect the inherent dignity of our own human bodies. Grieve the decades we avoided sex when we could have been enjoying sex. Grieve the pain. Grieve the abuse. Grieve the loss. Grieve the harm done to us by the messages of the church. Grieve our own sins and mistakes. 

Our scars are part of our story, but they are not its conclusion. ... . 

If Bolz-Weber divorced because she wasn’t getting the frequency or quality of physical intimacy she wanted and she said so for the record to a reporter writing for The New Yorker it’s going to be impossible for Bolz-Weber to position herself as having a practically different perspective than Mark Driscoll’s.  Why?  Because both celebrity Christian motivational speakers seem to have reverse-engineered the kind of theology about sex they needed to be able to live with the decisions they made that other people now have to live with. Expressing my convictions as a lay person I can’t shake a sense that Bolz-Weber and Driscoll come across as people who have built entire theological systems that they alternately invite and require people to live by to get what they want from their sex lives.  They also both managed to parlay these processes of personal negotiation or ultimatum-giving into self-help books and in neither case have I come to the end of their books having any confidence that anyone should build any aspects of their lives on the advice of these two people.  Nadia Bolz-Weber and Mark Driscoll have written pop Christian self-help books targeted toward people who, whatever their real differences on what we would now call blue-state and red-state issues, nevertheless tend to be people who believe they have a God-given right to get laid that they aim to make congruent with Christian confession as they understand it.

Ultimately Bolz-Weber and Driscoll have far more in common in the “how” of their public personas than their fans would wish to realize.  They differ in the “what” that they affirm the Bible teaches, obviously, but that makes their underlying similarities both harder to detect for their already sold fan bases and easier to spot for those who read widely enough across liberal and conservative, secular and religious literature to see what’s going on.  These two celebrity Christian motivational speakers with careers as pastors who have sought out the role of “public theologian”, and they both have self-help books about sexuality, sex and (sometimes) marriage to sell.  In the decades since Joseph Campbell developed his one-size-fits-all Americanist approach to global myth and religious thought, self-help literature in the United States has been able to proliferate in ways that can transform every kind of story, if you have the courage to see that it’s about you, is about you.

What makes endorsements of Bolz-Weber seem staggering to me, watching as I have the way that Mars Hill Church rose and fell on the reputation of Mark Driscoll, is that Bolz-Weber’s publicity stunts, penchant for a cussing pastor shtick, and vague invocations of tales in which she’s the reasonable heroine of her story who is gobsmacked that people don’t see things the way she does is that this was Mark Driscoll’s shtick at Mars Hill for about twenty years.  What makes it all the more remarkable is that someone like the late Rachel Held Evans would writing a gushing endorsement blurb for Shameless. Was this the same Rachel Held Evans who once said that Mark Driscoll was a bully and that we should stand up to him?  Having read works by Driscoll and Bolz-Weber the similarities in persona are more striking than the real differences on political platform and doctrinal points regarding sex.  Why?  Because, to put it in the harshest way possible in the hopes that readers will have gotten this point already, the celebrity Christian self-help book can be the product of self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing people even when we factor in the good old red-state and blue-state differences.  As Adolf Schlatter put it in his commentary on Romans:

Romans: The Righteousness of God
Adolf Schlatter, Hendrickson Publisers (c) 1995
The individual is godless if he fabricates religion in his own interest, for the sake of his own happiness. God must be worshipped for the sake of God.

... Paul emphasizes the absurdity of idolatry. It is absurd to put the individual, under the law of death, in the place of God, because in doing so it is not even the human and the animal that are worshipped, but only their likeness. This likeness is no reproduction of living beings at all, it is merely able to copy the outline of the form, the lines shaping their figure.
page 40

... it is a lie arising from selfish covetousness, if the individual makes his image to be God's image and his lust to be God's will.
page 43 (ibid)

Bolz-Weber and Driscoll can both reverse-engineer the Jesus who will give them the sex lives they think they’ve deserved and, more crafty still, they’ve figured out that by seamlessly weaving their own personal stories into their assertions about pop Christian self-help theology, they can make it seem impossible to engage with the laziness of their theological enterprises by wrapping themselves in personal narrative that protects them from being pressed on the issue of why they are so convinced that what they think Jesus wants for them so often seems to be what they already seemed to want anyway.  Per Schlatter, if the individual celebrity Christian self-help merchant makes his or her own image to be God’s image and his or her own lust to be God’s will then that’s that.  God has spoken, and if anyone has any questions about selfish covetousness, well, then we get back to stuff about how you shouldn’t touch God’s anointed, especially not the self-annointed.

Where this good news goes all the way to the bank is where Bolz-Weber and Driscoll have sold sexual prosperity gospels in which they will assure you, dear reader, that the twenty to twenty-five dollars in U.S. currency you may have spent to get Shameless or Real Marriage will bring to you the author’s hard-won wisdom that it’s your God-given right to get laid and that this is one of the highest and holiest things you can do as a Christian.  Anyone who might tell you that in the real world there are responsibilities and disappointments to any path you choose in life, well, that must be from Satan and Satan is a liar.  The “good news” in books on sex by writers such as Bolz-Weber and Driscoll is only good news on the reader’s presumption of a divinely given right to have a sex life, albeit within some vague, generalized confines of what they consider Christian ethics.  But in some crucial ways,  I think, these kinds of self-help books from popular level Christian authors are variations on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, a Jesus formula that paradoxically authorizes the kind of egoism and egotism that Campbell thought he was writing to correct that he paradoxically amplified. 

To put the point more strongly still, the self-help genre in the twenty-first century United States may be an industry populated by narcissists writing for narcissists who have, through the alchemy of appropriating mythology, folklore, religious literature, natural science or social science (whatever the mark needs), figured out how to sell you what they have figured out you are already willing to buy.  Self-help can promise you a better life and if you don’t get that better life you at least bought the opportunity to vicariously live your best life now through the merchants of dreams whose book you were just sold.  

Bolz-Weber’s Shameless has the illusion of edginess that is ultimately someone else’s set of shopworn gimmicks and that someone else is Mark Driscoll.  Nadia Bolz-Weber is Mark Driscoll 2.0 for blue state residents who object to what Mark Driscoll thinks the Bible teaches, but will eagerly buy up the racy gimmickry he used if it’s used to sell the Jesus who has been reverse-engineered to rubber stamp the kinds of Americans they already happen to be. 

6 comments:

Joshua said...

"... through the alchemy of appropriating mythology, folklore, religious literature, natural science or social science (whatever the mark needs)..."

That made me think, hey, that's what Jordan Peterson does!

cal said...

I think it's quite fitting that NB-W picked the most tendentious readings of Augustine and Origen. There's so much evidence (and scholarly arguments) that the erection episode was not some traumatic, neurosis inducing, experience. But the thing I picked upon was something Campbell really got right:

"The universal triumph of the secular state has thrown all religious organizations into such a definitely secondary, and finally ineffectual, position that religious pantomime is hardly more today than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, whereas business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week. Such a monkey-holiness is not what the functioning world requires; rather, a transmutation of the whole social order is necessary, so that through every detail and act of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is actually immanent and effective in all of us may be somehow made known to consciousness. "

Sometimes I think you spend too much time on proving that the water is sewage than the thirst that leads people to drink it. I don't think the Romans commentary quote quite gets it (there are few places in the Bible that leads one to think one simply worships God as God, look at how often the language of reward, gift, etc. is used).

The fact B-W and Driscoll receive such following means more than them doing a cheap-trick of salesmanship. I think they really are touching a nerve, but it's sad that the juvenile antics you list (whether posters or message board shitposting) are all that things amount to. Campbell's approach to is pretty juvenile and reflects an Americanizing of Jung, but both (and Freud) were responding to a real crisis of religion. They were looking to save "the West" from bourgeois phillistinism, which seemed perched upon the precipice of barbarism. It's also why some social-gospel reformers took the plunge and identified the Christianity of the future with socialism.

While it's easy to repudiate the cultist mindsend, the alternative of retreating to some alienated individualism, skeptical and alone, is not only going to kill you but it's untrue (usually you become a normie). Just because we're not the hero of our own stories doesn't mean we can't stop thinking about destiny.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I agree that there's a thirst for human connection that people like B-W and Driscoll tap into. What I've been trying to get at over the years is that it's not just with figures like Bolz-Weber or Driscoll. Dan Savage has had the same basic gimmick for twenty years or so, too. Whether it's NBW or MD or DS their good news is a good news for those who can get laid because that is the apotheosis of human connection for them.

Campbell was trying to head off egoism at the pass, perhaps, but what he paradoxically did was create a monomyth that became the universal cheat code for what Adorno damned as the illusions of freedom and belonging sold by what he called "the culture industry", and the monomyth became the template for appealing to Adorno's definition of the philistine, someone only able to "connect" to art of any kind by being able to read themselves on to it. The problem in pop culture isn't superhero movies at all, it's the Campbellian monomyth flattening out every narrative. Even a film like Spotlight or The Post is basically a superhero movie in disguise. What Bryan Singer pulled off in X2 was revealing that the superhero story and the coming out story can be superimposed perfectly in Venn diagram terms. But because people are liable to assume the surface details mean differences in substance the pervasiveness of the Campbellian monomyth tends to only get noticed in the pulpier genres.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...


I've touched on this issue in the past, like back in 2011 when I was chronically jobless and still connected to the scene at Mars Hill more directly. That Driscoll's good news is about Jesus on paper but for those who get laid in reality was something I noticed while I was there and although there's been talk about how women's voices were disregarded within MHC (which certainly did happen) it was interesting to hear over and over the axiom that single guys didn't know anything but, lo, married guys by dint of being married gained insight into all mysteries.

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2011/07/roy-baumeister-disposability-of-men-and.html

I've seen some of the guys who were single at MHC still single years later and Mark's variation of good news has never been good news for them, much like it's not good news for the women who can't be lined up into the wifely roles.

Now that I've had time to see some of those Mars Hill marriages go up in flames it can seem as though the men and women who never managed to get married while they were at Mars Hill were probably better off, even if they were not quite so secretly seen in some ways as the losers. Reading a story about a MHC couple that was afraid to have children and had children out of peer pressure only to discover it was suddenly their lack of faithfulness that they found they couldn't afford to take care of the kids that was the reason they were afraid to have kids to begin with has stuck with me--it reveals the double bind in gospels of sexual market value. Sex is a liberation and salvation until you literally have to live with the consequences and children have been born in the wake of this kind of message. It's not that marriage is bad, it's that NBW and MD have made, it seems, careers out of ignoring Paul's advice that those who marry do well and those who don't marry do better. Or as I put it in an earlier post, the gospel is going to be good news for eunuchs, too, something that at least one commenting NBW fan seemed determined not to get here at the blog.

More recently, I've compared the shticks of Driscoll and Dan Savage, because the gospel of sexual market value certainly doesn't have to be religious at all.

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-dan-savage-age-of-mark-driscolls.html

Which is not to say there aren't people offering ways for people to meaningfully connect and have social identity. Now that we're in pandemic lockdown mode in Washington state it's not just people in churches who are going to have to figure out how to stay connected, disabled people (present) who are reliant on reduced public transit are already stuck. The need for connection doesn't go away but pop level self-help gurus like Bolz-Weber and Driscoll and Savage may tap into real needs but they do so in what seem to be very exploitive ways, and with these three in particular their base-line of what form of social connection they seem to think most "saves" you is easily defined. They promise human connection and then roll out more product is what I'd say I find so pernicious about them.

cal said...

That's why these three are so sad (and would fall under Campbell's ban): they've reduced glory and questions of human destiny to a "love and be loved" human connectivity that is reduced to good sex. But it seems like the generational tide is turning against the warmed-over Boomer ideology that Gen X was bathed in. Gen Y and Z are, statistically, less interested in sex than prior generations. But this hedonistic "find me somebody to love" is dead in the water and churning up the scummy bottom of the dwindling puddle that is the American ethos. Hence why Peterson (like Joshua noted) had a certain success branching out to a more mythic, liminal, hodgepodge of signs and symbols that exceeded whether you get laid or beyond the marriage market.

The fact that pastors were amazed with Peterson's success was a sign of how, basically, Campbell's point was prescient: this is monkey-holiness, fake and fabricated, with no little tangible meaning. I've seen a good case that this is precisely behind the rage of the e-trads about churches closing. This performative element of religion is all that keeps them distinct from their secular peers. Dress-up a day (or 2 or 3) a week for an hour or so is what keeps the tides of darkness back. It's incredibly shallow and weak.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

btw, added note, it was reading Julia Duin's piece at Get Religion that sparked my thinking more extensively on the parallels between Bolz-Weber and Driscoll, so hat-tip to Julia Duin for a thought provoking piece on N B-W.

https://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2019/2/27/covering-nadia-bolz-weber-its-time-to-cut-out-the-pr