Thursday, May 26, 2011

after a bit of a hiatus Cinemagogue is back up with new stuff

This is a non-spoilery overview of Thor. I have enjoyed comparing notes with James and his wife Kathy about pop culture and high culture for getting close to a decade now.

If you want to see just how much of a nerd you are see how many of the Transformers behind him you can identify. :) I spot a couple of Optimus Primes and some Megatrons in there. Prowl is up top on the right above James' head. Unicron is behind him just to the left and may not be so easy to spot unless you know exactly what you're looking at. Last year I hung out with the Harlemans for a Resident Evil trilogy marathon (hey, don't judge me) so I can spot a few of them despite my bad eyesight because I have an unfair advantage. If nothing else I have the unfair advantage of having bought the old-school Megatron from him and knowing the guy who bought him Prowl as a birthday gift circa 2005. So, like I said, I've got an unfair advantage. Anyway, enjoy James' little talk about Thor.

a few non-random links

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So the latest Green Lantern trailer has come out

The first trailer was bad. The second trailer was better. This third trailer just eschews all pretense of trying to be hip or cool or funny and just goes for broke with magical greens and yellows. It's in this third trailer that I, as someone who admittedly is not the biggest Green Lantern fan, get the distinct impression that the Green Lantern oath reads/recites like an outtake track from a Moody Blues album, specifically Days of Future Passed. Don't misunderstand me, there are two really awesome songs on that album!

If there was a Hollywood production in which Uncanny Valley shouldn't be a problem this is it. Green energy constructs made from willpower just have no reason to look realistic. Fanboys better not complain about how stupid-looking the energy constructs are. As a Batman and Spiderman fan to Green Lantern fans, don't get pissy too soon. We Batman fans got Adam West Batman and Batman & Robin, after all. I have a soft spot for the Adam West Batman movie and I'm willing to admit that Julie Newmar as Catwoman was pretty cute. Everyone grants that Richard Donner's Superman movie has aged badly in a few spots and is kinda goofy. There's a certain amount of goofiness we can and should tolerate in a Green Lantern movie. That doesn't mean it couldn't also be fun.

Martin Campbell successfully rebooted James Bond twice with GoldenEye and Casino Royale. Ryan Reynolds may not seem like a promising choice but, as Batman fans have noted, Michael Keaton was considered all wrong for Bruce Wayne twenty odd years ago and now there are fanboys who bitterly complain that Keaton was the most awesomest Bruce Wayne ever and Christian Bale stinks. As for the other characters, I admit I can't speak to those. I can only repeat my amusement that an on-line poster said that if Carol Ferris' distinguishing feature is killer legs than Blake Lively brings it. Sadly virtually no superhero stories have ever had use for female characters who were more than weepy damsels in distress or glamorous arm candy for the hero to claim after the battle is over. Just ask Stan Lee. Meanwhile, time will tell how this Green Lantern movie turns out.

a subtext behind the mass of text

I'm getting myself in a writerly mode to dive headfirst into some stuff. It's challenging but now that I've realized how much stuff I've written through I've got a clearer sense of how I want to tackle some stuff--not stuff for this blog but for another one, if you understand my meaning.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

impromptu that was not so impromptu.(postlude)

You may have noticed that that thing about conservative Protestants, sex, and economics that I started off with was just the tip of the iceberg. I have actually been thinking about all of these issues for years but have been struggling to find a way to articulate these thoughts.

To get the whole effect, of course, you'll have to read everything from the start. A reverse-order reading just won't make as much sense. I wrote the thing in two stages, the initial post first, and then all subsequent 8 posts in one go with editorial adjustments in the final posting. It shows, particularly in the wonky layout but I've learned the hard way that sometimes trying to clean up the layout in Blogger isn't worth the trouble, even if you wrote everything up off-line.

Think of this whole series as my remarkably oblique commemoration of Bob Dylan's birthday.

We have the same ethics because we share the same idols

As C. S. Lewis put it half a century ago, ours is a society that elevates erotic love to heights never previously bothered with by most earlier societies. This manifests itself in conservative Christians wanting to have things both ways. We want the fireworks and twitterpation of mutual sexual attraction but we embrace outward restrictions such as courtship and no touching and so on. Sexual desire is lust unless it is directed to one's spouse but we live in a culture where no one has an arranged marriage and marriage is volitional and mutual sexual desire is considered a necessary precondition to even a conservative Protestant marriage. If we have the same sexual ethics in conservative Protestantism (and notice I haven't really said I think we do) as the world or the liberal churches, that would be because we have the same idols (and this, I think, actually can be said with the caveat that we display our idolatries in sometimes different ways).

In the neo-Calvinist world marrying at the age of 26 is considered a basis for some bloggers and pundits to talk about how the median age of marriage has risen from 22 circa 1960 all the way up to 26. Yeah, well, median age for males marrying in the 1600s was 26, too. Neglected to mention that detail didn't you, you marriage-happy pundits and theo-bloggers. Oh my gosh! Things are so bad in society that marriage is being delayed until about the same age bracket for marriages centuries ago! During the Elizabethan period even though it was legal to marry at fourteen many deferred marriage until the middle twenties. How curiously similar to what's been happening today in the era of the "epidemic of singleness". Why, during 2004 when Christians were fretting about singleness it turned out the median age for males marrying was one whole year higher than it was in 1890!

Never mind that marriage rates dropped during the Great Depression and rebounded after the Second World War. The weird thing is that Christians who worry about how long people take to marry aren't likely to tell you that it's been this way before. That which has been will be again but it's no good mobilizing the Christian soldiers to worry about irresponsible single people if you point out that this has happened before. Instead of conceding that in an economic downturn the likes of which we haven't seen in a while it's just better to tell singles to be responsible. Thanks to decades of fiscal policy, industry changes, and a mixture of grade inflation and degree inflation we should just tell people they need to go real jobs after we as a culture have told them to follow their bliss and follow their dream because they can be anything that they want to be.

Thanks to being in church settings where, as my brother-in-law put it, the sexual desperation has been so thick you'd need two chainsaws to cut through it, just saying "hi" or saying you'd like to get to know a person better leads them to disappear. I've heard of guys who had bullet-pointed resumes for why they hoped a girl would date them. I've seen women use their fathers as ways to snub men they weren't interested in and then snubbed their dads once Mr. Right showed up. I've seen men befriend dads just to get closer to their daughters and even convince themselves they held to values they didn't hold to in the hopes that "there might be something there." Women have told me that it feels weird to walk into church and instantly feel as though you're being assessed like some kind of slab of meat on the market.

Some men who think they are good Christian guys instantly converse with women only in categories of "wife candidate" or "not wife candidate" and conduct themselves very differently according to how they assess women. Women lament that "no guys ask me out" but neglect to mention the men they shut down who they didn't find attractive or interesting enough to date. I've heard a Christian guy say "I don't care if they're real as long as they're of a certain size" and then somehow still manage to be upset at how "shallow" women were because after a decade he hadn't managed to find too many Christian women he thought were attractive who would consider him as a possible boyfriend. I've met women who want a guy who gives her emotional space but will never let her cry, scarcely realizing that these criteria are mutually exclusive.

These individuals are fractals of a larger pattern. These were the people who, so far as I can tell, desperately want to get married (and get laid) because that's what they are sure they are called to because, well, they want it. I myself have heard the platitude that God wouldn't make you want something you can't ever have. I don't subscribe to that because I take being born into a world and a race marred by sin seriously. The same little babies who we can say are born innately preferring helpers are also born with an innate preference for their own racial group. If empathy could be said to be inborn so can racism and ethnocentrism can be said to have a biological basis. The more research gets done the less "beauty" seems culturally conditioned and the more it seems to have some transcultural aspects. And cross times and spaces when people find each other hot they don't restrain themselves much in expressing to each other "you're hot" in ways conservative Christians want to happen ... but not quite.

I've already written about how I think a lot of the popularity of the neo-Reformed world is because people like the idea that there's a conservative Christian scene in which it's okay to want to drink, smoke, and get laid. What I haven't written about so directly is how I have come to believe that a lot of what we do is convince ourselves in conservative Protestant land that we are not as worldly as the world when we often seem MORE worldly. It's not because we are more worldly in conduct but we are more worldly by telling ourselves we stand for things we don't do.

The surveys are in. Abstinence only programs tend to delay fornication but don't ultimately prevent it. Our alternating solutions as conservative Protestants is to warn against lust while urging people to get married FASTER and hold forth mutual sexual attraction and butterflies as a precondition to (though not a constant necessity within) married life. We do this by claiming we stand for different praxis when, really, we don't. We still hold to values of social and economic viability but imagine that we do so in a way that is better than the world. But most of all we can still proclaim in so many cultural ways, subliminal ways, that salvation is through a regular, committed sexual relationship as though that wasn't what the rest of America has been saying for at least a century.

There are plenty of times where I find myself thinking, "It would be nice to be married." I wanted to be married for a few years but gave up on the idea of it being possible about halfway through college. A fellow once told me that if you don't manage to get married by the time you're out of college it basically just won't happen. I don't know if marriage is in my future. Sometimes I want to be married but most of the time I don't see any wisdom in pursuing marriage. On the other hand, nearly everywhere I've been in conservative Christian circles I've seen and heard it said louder than almost anything, if you love Jesus you'll do this. As Lutherans might put it, there's a big old slab of "Law" about this with just about no "Gospel".

A friend told me that he met a man who went to a church and heard about this idea that men are called to get jobs, get wives, make babies and do this out of love for Jesus. Guy was totally on board with that and said to himself, "I can do this." A few years later after the wife and baby came along the guy confided to my friend, "This is really, really tough." In the Orthodox tradition it is said that marriage is a form of living martyrdom. I don't see conservative Protestants selling marriage like that! In fact if anything romantic love is sold as a way to mirror the love of the Trinity! Marriage is presented as Christ loving the Church. Marriage is shown as the Father (husband) is lovingly in authority of the Son (wife?) I trust I don't have to explain it too much. Consider how many ways in which conservative Protestants, and most of all complementarians, can find ways to work their views of marriage back into the very nature of the Trinity itself. It can begin to look suspiciously like the Trinity is not informing our conservative Protestant views of marriage and gender roles so much as our committments to marriage and gender roles are read backwards on to biblical texts.

And we wonder why so many of our fellow conservative Protestants are busy fornicating. We wonder how we can challenge people to embrace the calling of celibacy after we've spent decades annihilating Paul's eschatological as well as situational arguments for the advantages of celibacy. We have also paid lip service to the idea that sexual desire is great and awesome and sex should be enjoyed while forgetting that Paul also said that it's something that is not necessary for a full Christian life or Christian ethics. We have claimed we have not made an idol of marriage and erotic love when we have actually made it the measure of functional adulthood and castigated the Christians who, for whatever reason, have not become real men and women yet. We propose that the merest tingle of sexual desire is prima facie evidence that one isn't called to celibacy in the straight person while telling gays that they need to have a complete reorientation because their sexual desires are wrong while thinking virtually nothing about whether or not our own sexual impulses don't need redeeming.

And why not? In a lot of ways when I hear a pastor talk about how there's nothing like the love and support of a wife who truly loves you I find myself thinking, "I'd like that." When marriage is presented as a way to fulfill both your emotional and physical need for affection as well as being God's ordained design for you (if you're straight) it's pretty easy to be won over by the romance of it all, especially when it's billed as the divine romance.

There's no idol quite so terrible as the one you have convinced yourself God wants for you when there's no clear scriptural evidence that you will ever get what it is you crave just because you think you've baptised it in the name of Jesus. Oh, I can find ways to make sure the Bible "tells" me that what I want is what God wants for me. I can find people to encourage me that God's timing is perfect and I just need to wait on His perfect will. I can even tell myself that if I give up what I want to God that God will give it to me in the end because of my faithfulness. All of those are merely levels of deceit, for the heart is deceitful above all things.

"Though He kill me, yet I will hope in him" is not how most Christians I have known in conservative Protestant churches have really fielded the subject of whether or not there is a husband in the future. It's not even how I handle it most of the time. I haven't had a steady job in 20 months and have been poor. No, not "wealthy compared to people in Sudan". Poor. When you barely make it past four figures for income in more than a year then by American standards that's pretty well within the poverty line!

I am more awkwardly and painfully aware now than at any point in my life I don't want to be unmarried until I die but I am at no point in my life financially less fit to be married in terms of income. I am also at a point where I am not in a position to consider anyone a potential spouse anyway. I do not subscribe to the goofy idea that God will not let you have a desire that He will not fulfill. If that were true I would have had 20/20 fully binocular vision with a left eye that could read decades ago. If I were to try to suppose that maybe this was just a thorn in the flesh I have to live with I might get told that I shouldn't compare myself to Paul. Paul was boasting in suffering and weakness. I have lived at this point in a home because of the great kindness and compassion of others. I have made it this far because of the generosity of friends whom I love and who love me. I had made it this far because of the love and support of family. I have made it this far because of support from my church.

When I consider how discouraging things are and how long I have hunted for work to little avail I can get depressed, particularly when I have been part of the neo-Calvinist scene that goes on and on about the "epidemic of singleness". I have not only been discouraged at times by joblessness but by moments where I felt I had a dead-end job. There have been moments where I realied that 98% of the work I did for nine years constituted people throwing away what I helped create as so much junk. I can assure you that realization was often demoralizing.

Christ however, took the things that are considered nothing in this world and to them gave the good news of Himself. Through Christ God the Father has revealed that he has used that which was nothing in this world to make as nothing the things that are. I am not here merely to express discontent at how my fellow conservative Protestants claim to stand firm for biblical ethics they don't really stand for. I am here to remind myself that following Christ is about taking up a cross. I have not been very good about doing that but when I consider that the ways in which I believe I have failed are not so different from the failings of others I can remember that I am not tempted in any way except in what is common to others. This is true of others, too, even those who, like me, may suppose that "my" temptation really is unlike that of any other and so succumbing to whatever that temptation is therefore, if not okay, at least tolerable compared to the easier yoke others have to bear.

So when a preacher tells single people they need to not make marriage an idol while telling them that avoiding marriage is what makes them irresponsible, selfish, and not even truly adult what's happening here? I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the ways in which we conservative Protestants tell ourselves we are not worshipping an idol that we may worship more ardently than even the world does. I don't say that as someone who isn't part of that but as someone who has begun to realize that in my own way I am part of that problem.

"I don't have the gift of celibacy" yeah, I noticed when you talked about your hot wife

But what about this comment from Paul, "Not everyone has this gift?" Is he harkening back to Jesus' words, "Not everyone can accept this"? Some men make themselves eunuchs while others
are eunuchs from birth and others are made eunuchs. Who wants to field what eunuchs are, eh? Maybe we'll discuss that some other time. Generally what is discussed instead is whether or
not people have the gift Paul talks about. Some people say it is the gift of singleness. Now in Reformed circles this usually is eschewed in favor of "gift of celibacy". Awesome, what is
the gift of celibacy? At this point definitions are often by negation. I've met plenty of guys who say "Oh, I definitely don't have the gift of celibacy." Really? How do you know? The
answer no man wants to say but tacitly gives is, ever having an erection at any point in life. In the case of young, restless Reformed pastors (and the not so young, really) the announcement comes in the form of "husband of X, father of Y and Z" sometimes with a reference to hot smokin' hot the wife is.

Jesus taught that if anyone looks on another with a lustful heart adultery has been committed. Ergo, all erections outside of marriage are sinful. But more sinful would be a heart or mind set on sexual things, craving sexual contact. This has been taken to mean that if you have sexual desire for anyone other than your spouse you're toast. As Driscoll explained at some length in a few sermons, Christians have often taken this to mean that sex is shameful, dirty, and sinful and that means you should save it for the one you love. Of course he's not disposed to that view and believes it should be celebrated. He doesn't have the gift of celibacy, apparently.

The average straight conservative Protestant in America may well believe he is not called to celibacy because at any point in his life ever he continues to experience erections. The apostle Paul and the apostle Peter had erections, too, and we may surmise they handled them in different ways because Peter had a wife and Paul (excepting those who insist otherwise) said that he advised that the widows and unmarried remained as he was (very probably single). Younger widows, of course, he urged to remarry.

All of the above comes to this point, an unmarried person in a conservative Christian social circle sees that marriage is held up as the measure of real adulthood. Not married, not really
an adult. Not married? You're probably a selfish single. I have spent a decade hearing conservative Christians say that singles are the most selfish people around and that a person isn't really an adult until they get married. They think they are defending a biblical precept in saying this but what it sounds like, most of the time, is hardly different from a worldly axiom,
that unless you've had genital intercourse with someone you're not fully human. I'm not sure how many people in conservative Protestant circles pick up this general impression but I've
noticed it a lot over the last twenty years. A pastor I knew a little a few years ago once had a couple come to him for premarital counseling. He asked if they struggled with sexual
temptation. Nope, they replied breezily, that was never an issue for them.

The pastor advised that they not marry because if they WEREN'T struggling with the temptation to get into each other's pants they shouldn't get married. The porridge can't be too hot and
it can't be too cold, it has to be just right. For gays, well, they just need to repent and avoid ever having sex. If ever being sexually aroused is a sign that God's design for you is marriage so long as you're straight then perhaps Christians need to rethink that. Maybe sexual desire even in straight people is not proof of a need to marry or suitability for marriage. So on the one hand you better avoid lust but on the other hand if you don't struggle with sexual temptation you shouldn't marry. One fellow told me that the best policy to avoid lust and sexual temptation is to just keep yourself so busy you don't have time to be tempted. He says, as he finished his premarriage class he's been attending with his girlfriend whom he plans to propose to as soon as possible. :) Yeah, sure, that totally worked out. I've met some conservative Christian couples where the solution for them was to simply race through getting married so at to legitimize the offspring they had already spawned but not yet delivered.

Which is to say that the more I think about it the more I believe a lot of American conservative Protestants have a fundamentally incoherent way of discussing sexuality and sexual desire.
I don't want to jump ship and stop being a conservative Protestant but I am no longer particularly surprised that conservative Protestants aren't any different from "worldly" people in
sexual conduct. I think that we are troubled by cosmetic similarities and pride ourselves in cosmetic differences while we are blind to fundamental similarities in cultural assumptions
while thinking we see how our foundational assumptions are actually different. We are not only blind people who think we see but are eager to tell other people who blind they are in
contrast to our sight. We have painted the sexual relationship in marriage as both a form of salvation and as the measure of funtional adulthood while telling ourselves we don't idealise or
idolize sex the way the world does.

"Because of the present crisis" gets followed by "the time is short" people

Let's look at what Paul's arguments for the unmarried life actually are and they aren't based on persecution or famine. Paul says in favor of marriage that for those who do not have self-control regarding sexuality and risk sexual immorality that it is good that they marry. He warns that they will have many cares and be distracted from wholehearted devotion to the Lord (let's consider that, again, in connection to Timothy's stay at Ephesus and Paul's propensity to judge others pursuing worldly goods as loving worldly things). Marriage is not sinful but it is not preferable in Paul's estimation. Those who have self-control would do well to remain unmarried.

Paul grants that "because of the present crisis" it is good for people to remain as they are. This does not merely refer to being married or single but to status as a slave. It also refers to not divorcing an unbelieving wife or preventing an unbelieving spouse from leaving you. Paul urges the Christians in Corinth to remain the place in which they were called. He concedes that it is no sin to marry, though it would be preferable to avoid so as to not distract a person from following Christ.

Even those who are married should live as though they were not and those who had possessions as if they did not really posses them. Why? Because the appointed time is short. Now this could simply be a reference to the brevity of life but it can also be interpreted as an eschatological argument. Paul is not saying "avoid marriage unless you absolutely can't keep your pants on" because there was persecution. Even when his letter was received in Corinth no one would construe him as arguing that they should avoid marriage because of persecution. He'd just said they could if they wanted and it was advisable if they couldn't control themselves sexually.

But it WOULD make sense to urge them to not rush into marriage because life is short and the coming of the Lord is sooner than when we first believed (Romans 13:11-14 comes to mind). Urging that widows only remarry in the Lord and that Christians marry Christians is, arguably, not just a concession that marriage is fine but also a reminder that a marriage should not be a distraction from following the Lord. Certainly many, if not most, people benefit from marriage in seeking the Lord.

Of course in the age to come no one will be married at all but that manages to not be a major preaching point in the church circles I've been in. Most of the homiletic case leans on explaining away "because of the present crisis" and skipping entirely "the time is short". That way any argument Paul could be construed as making in favor of not marrying can be skipped over by conservative Protestant pastors who can make sure that they drive home the idea that everyone should be married, preferably as soon as possible. Now seeing as Harold Camping just had his miscalculation or Rapture time I can grant that it's preferable to assume Jesus will never come back in your lifetime and teach Christians to marry because most them should. But let's not skip past Paul's eschatological argument for why marriage is at most a temporary arrangement.

Why Paul had to be married so that conservative Protestants in America can avoid hiring virgins

There is a reason I said "most". Sometimes a Christian will propose that Paul was married. Now Paul said that it is better for widows and the unmarried to remain as he is and most people
have interpreted that to mean not married but some Christians propose that this was a reference not to marriage but to sexual self-control. Given that Paul clearly says that marriage is a
concession to those who do not have sexual self-control this seems like a stretch but I've seen the case made via Clement of Alexandria that Paul WAS married and simply did not bring his
spouse with him because it would be inconvenient to bring her. Well, the trouble with citing Clement of Alexandria as an authority on the marital life of Paul who was martyred decades
before he was born is that Clement's case can be construed as an incorrect inference from textual evidence available in 1 Corinthians.

What is more if Paul had self-control while arguing that the married should not abstain from sexual intercourse so as to avoid making themselves vulnerable to the temptations of the devil
how could he possibly live up to this counsel himself if he and his wife never "came together" more than once a year or so? Though some Christians propose this view seriously there are too
many problems with it to take it seriously both because Clement of Alexandria wasn't born until decades after Paul's martyrdom and because there seems to be no compelling evidence from
other patristic sources to say that Paul was, in fact, married. Perhaps even the whole issue itself might be a debate Paul would warn Timothy was a stupid one to get involved in.

Ironically, this rhetorical, textual, and historical move pulls a fast one on the whole point of Paul's statement to Corinthian Christians that self-control becomes the basis for not marrying. It also turns Paul's whole argument in 1 Cor 6-7 into yet another case of "Do as I say, not as I've been doing." Funny, that seems to make Paul look pretty much just like a lot of conservative Protestant pastors but in precisely the opposite direction--Paul gets presented as a married man who never had much sex with his wife who enjoined men and women to marry and not deprive
each other of sex because of the temptation to sexual immorality. Yet if it weren't considered so necessary to say Paul was married so he met the qualifications of his own checklist in 1
Timothy and thus enforce that in contemporary pastoral hiring practices in America this sort of argument might not even come up.

Getting back to Timothy, if Timothy wasn't married and the checklist is still all-important by what measure could Timothy have been considered qualified to be first bishop of Ephesus (if he
was)? Well, two epistles from Paul would seem to have sufficed for evidence of Timothy's character. People who advocate that bishops/pastors/elders must be married are functionally saying that sexual purity, chastity, and celibacy are so utterly impossible that they refuse to believe the Spirit imparts these gifts to ANYONE and that therefore it is best to work on the
assumption that only married people are fit to be pastors.

Somewhere after the fact comes the argument that unmarried pastors won't have the experience or wisdom to counsel married couples or unmarried women or the rest of the practical issues single men are considered imcompetent to learn anything about. I have heard a fellow single guy say in all seriousness that unmarried guys don't know anything about relationships around the same time I helped him negotiate a long-running tension with one of his roommates. If wisdom is conferred by social class, social standing, and being properly "plugged in" there is perhaps no greater delineation between the married and the non-married than the "plugged in" aspect of marriage.

As I have written before, it seems as though there is a firm belief that the unmarried man knows nothing about "relationships" but as soon as he has said the magic words and waved his magic wand he can pontificate about everything once he's married. Timothy was not commended as a man fit to serve in ministry for his marriage or lack of marriage but for his character, his love for the Lord, and his knowledge of the scriptures. He apparently needed some encouragement to not let people look down on him for his youthfulness and was advised to treat younger women in purity. He was advised to drink some wine for his stomach, and he was also advised to flee youthful lusts and avoid getting mired in stupid controversies. Timothy was eminently qualified for the work he was assigned to but he was also a work in progress.

He also probably would not have been onsidered a suitable pastor in today's American conservative Protestant scene if he didn't have a nice little wife in tow. Instead he'd arrive on a scene in which Christians would write about the "epidemic of singleness" in America. He would arrive at a place where even pastors were talking about ways to have a great sex life from the pulpit. He would arrive at a place where the unmarried man is considered uniquely unqualified for being a minister of the Gospel. He would find that many Christians would say there is no gift of singleness but a gift of celibacy and they would be curiously silent about what that would look like. The one thing everyone assumes is that nobody could possibly be a virgin and the ones who say they are may well be least worthy to get hired as pastors because they just can't understand how to counsel married people or parents.

In fact what we see are people who take 1 Cor 6-7 and make a case that none of it applies as an argument that it is preferable to remain unmarried. After all, Paul wrote to a church that
was experiencing persecution and hard times. Unless you're smuggling Bibles to China or risking your life in evangelizing colored people you better not resist your God-ordained design for
your life, which is to get married. Notice the sarcasm there? Good.

"Hi, we're a conservative Protestant church hiring board. Please make sure you're NOT a virgin when you apply."

Gotcha with that title, maybe?

I have seen a person argue that the checklist in 1 Timothy is paramount. The points are non-negotiable. So elders must be married. All right, what about having children? That's in there, too. If a pastor must be a married man he must also have children who are well spoken for and properly disciplined. He must also manage his household well. This could suggest that the man is finacially competent to run his own family and business and not just that he's married. He must not be too new a believer.

He also must be well regarded even by unbelievers in the community. It's interesting how few conservative Protestants care about that particular point. The main thing is that the guy ought to be married. Paul's list can't be a case of having fourteen points as firm but the fifteenth point as optional. The truth is that in many cases most Christians don't give a crap if their pastor is well-regarded by unbelievers so long as they like him, he's married, and his kids and wife are well-behaved and pitch into the church effort. Even those who claim the checklist is inviolate don't wait for many pastoral candidates to have kids. Just the wife will do, thank you.

In fact a case could be made that those people who want a rigid checklist get a scriptural beat-down showing that their approach to the criteria isn't practical. Le us consider something, namely that there's this epistle called 2 Timothy. Paul took care to make a list, that's right, and he also urged Timothy to not appoint anyone too quickly. Don't lay hands on anyone too quickly and so participate in their sins, Paul warned near the end of 1 Timothy. So in 2 Timothy Paul is still urging Tim to get `er done and appoint those men suitable to teach.

What was going on? Why couldn't Tim just get the job done? Paul also talked about how no soldier got entangled in civilian affairs and that Timothy would understand what this meant. Paul had urged Tim in the last letter to consider younger women as sisters, in all purity. Paul ALSO said in 2 Timothy, "Come to me soon and get my coat and books." So what was the "civilian" stuff Timothy was admonished to avoid? Was it youthful lusts? Well, that's often referred to as some kind of sexual temptation in most sermons and yet this youthful lust is immediately followed by a warning against arguing about stupid controversies. Now of all the lusts young men have in the Christian blogosphere a lust for debating stupid theological points is probably near the top of the list.

Between letters 1 and 2 to Timothy may not have been long but the question arises as to why Timothy was being told in the second letter to hurry up and finish what he was appointed to do in the first letter? The ancient world was not so fast-paced as our so for there to have been a second letter at all suggests that Timothy was not having the easiest time finding and appointing men he considered qualified to teach sound doctrine in Ephesus. It can't have been because so few men in Ephesus were married, can it? Despite the fact that polygamy was not exactly forbidden in Greco-Roman culture the number of people who would have had multiple wives can't have been that high among the early church as found in Ephesus, could it?

Church tradition has held that Timothy himself was recognized as the first bishop at Ephesus and we are not told whether or not Timothy himself was married. Paul hoped Timothy would hurry up and head over to him and bring his stuff but we don't know that this happened. We know that a missionary trip to Romans never materialized for Paul, though he told the church in Rome he hoped to visit them. We are never told how the collection for Jerusalem worked out. To suggest that it doesn't matter if Timothy was married or not if he was first bishop of Rome is to claim that anything the scriptures do not directly speak to doesn't matter and might as well not exist, even though our debates about how to apply the scriptures depend a great deal on
understanding the history of the early church. For instance, we have to consider 1 & 2 Timothy as unified correspondence if we hold to Pauline authorship. Only someone who believes Paul wrote one or neither of these epistles can dodge the huge question of why Timothy hadn't appointed men to teach and gotten back in touch with Paul between epistles 1 & 2.

And what was the "civilian affair" that could have kept Timothy from returning to Paul? At the risk of indulging in some levity, what reason usually comes up for a single guy to stop hanging out with his friends and coworkers and getting work done? If Driscoll can propose that Abishag was SOlomon's first love and first wife I have some freedom to propose that Paul was urging Timothy to not settle down with an Ephesian wife so that he could return to missions work and get his cloak and parchments back to him.

My speculation has the advantage of being drawn from just the Timothy correspondence rather than patching together passages from Kings and Song of Songs. Perhaps Timothy had trouble finding any married men qualified to teach and Paul was concerned that Timothy might settle down in Ephesus. Paul was willing to declare of fellow Christians who did not continue with him in ministry projects as people who have "loved this world." Paul could be strikingly harsh and dismissive of people who wanted to stay in certain cities rather than rejoin him.

Now a person could propose that scripture does not speak to this issue and therefore it doesn't matter. Actually, it matters a great deal because if you insist on saying that the checklist is non-negotiable than if Timothy was first bishop of Ephesus he doesn't seem to have fit all the traits in the checklist. We never hear from early church tradition that he had a spouse. If the checklist criteria that says a man MUST be married to be a bishop and this was so non-negotiable and so indisputable why weren't spouses mentioned? Well, maybe because women weren't important in that society in terms of public roles. But this doesn't seem likely since women played vital and important roles in the church. Even the less than entirely persuasive claim that Lydia was Paul's wife grants her substantial role in the early church. So if women played such important roles AND marriage was a prerequisite for pastoral appointment why have the scriptures been so uninformative?

It Timothy was married and marriage was such a vital and non-negotiable part of the checklist in 1 Timothy we should not have ever heard of unmarried bishops in the life of the early church in the post-apostolic era. For that matter if it was necessary for bishops to be married why not apostles? Yet most Christians have held that Paul himself was unmarried per 1 Cor 6-7. Notice I said "most". There are reasons for that.

the problem of the godly horndog in conservative Christian circles

While in days past a person who abstained from sexual intercourse would be considered fit to be a bishop, today things are different. Augustine famously prayed, "Lord, grant me chastity but not yet." Even though many a pastor may have prayed that the new position seems to be that anyone who actually is chaste is suspected of not being chaste and anyone who isn't married could be told he isn't fit to be a pastor. Earlier this year the Christian blogosphere had some debates about whether or not unmarried men were even fit to be pastors. 1 Timothy was, of
course,trotted out to show that Paul had this checklist and the various points of the checklist were non-negotiable. This means a pastor must be married, and married to one woman.

Well, maybe, but as Douglas Wilson put it, the "one woman man" criteria could also have been to differentiate between men who by virtue of being married to one woman were suitable for pastoral ministry and polygamists who, though practicing believers, were not. David, we all accept, was a believer, and he had many wives (and probably one or two envious Torgos, to indulge in an absurdly obscure inside joke). In fact David's propensity to form marriages as military and political alliances is something conservative Protestants disapprove of. Usually we're told David was an adulterer and a murderer just on the basis of Bathsheba. Well,maybe this was because polygamy was not the same as adultery in that time and place.

Now it happens that I've seen arguments that the Torah forbade polygamy and that laws pertaining to inheritance and treatment of second wives were, well, concessions. Yet I am not sure that the case is clear that the Torah actually forbade polygamy and rabbinic interpretation contended that, strictly speaking, a man couldn't commit adultery with an unbetrothed woman if he made her a second wife. Now that a strong inferential case against polygamy can be made from scripture is easily established but an explicit prohibition of polygamy in the Torah itself? I wonder about that.

David was a man after God's own heart despite having numerous wives. Not only this he was king and considered a prophet of the Lord. So how exactly do conservative Protestants square this incontestable facts from scripture with David's conduct, which today would bar him from even having a minor, volunteer role in a Sunday service? How could we discern that this wasn't a case of delusions of grandeur? When Saul was annointed king some men in Israel grumbled, "Can this man deliver us from our enemies?" They were considered to have the wrong attitude even
though Israel as a whole was sinful in asking for a king to deliver them from enemy kingdoms.

As for David, there were people who saw him as unfit to lead Israel because he was considered guilty of bloodshed. In a contemporary church setting David would probably be told he couldn't serve in the church unless he repented of his polygamy and joined an accountabiliity group and had an accountability partner and only had sex with one of his wives. Oh, and killing all those foreigners wouldn't necessarily be a problem because we have just war theory and all that. It would be better, though, if he went back to Michal and tried to make that marriage work because God hates divorce (and He does, but I don't know if He doesn't also hate marriages pursued for military and political convenience, too).

One reason I suspect American Protestants may find dispensationalism appealing is that it helps to establish a firm line of demarcation as to why a king and prophet of the Lord could be a murderous, philandering polygamist and neglectful father but still keep any of his divinely appointed jobs. Liberals just assume the books were cooked to make David seem better than he was, though considering how bad David is made to look I wonder about that explanation, too. It would seem that one of the constants throughout generations is that there are people who genuinely love the Lord who completely chunk this aspect of their lives. David's heart was toward the Lord even though he arguably had much bigger character flaws than Saul.

If you looked at Saul's ethics on marriage and family he was the better candidate than David. Saul seems to have been a one woman man who managed his household well and was well regarded by people. Of course there are tell-tale signs he had no real faith or trust in the Lord and he was particularly guilty of attempting to consolidate kingly and priestly roles. It's useful to bear in mind that Samuel apprenticed with a priest and grew into the priestly role. While it is certainly true Saul sinned by not heeding the words of Samuel as prophet it was also in arrogating to himself a priestly role that Saul was also guilty. David was guilty of a lot of things but he was not guilty of shirking the commands he was given with respect to the role of the king. He also did not attempt to claim for himself any priestly role (if memory serves). But I digress. These days instead of arguing whether or not the man who claimed to be divinely appointed by God ought to have four or five wives we have debates about why a person who wants to serve in a pastoral capacity has to actually be married before he's qualified. To that I shall turn presently.

"Do as I say the Bible says, not as I did."

Since he made a point of preaching through the book in 1999 and did a big rerun in 2008 Mark Driscoll's preaching and approach to Song of Songs raises the question of what even an ostensibly conservative reading of the book entails. As Michael Spenser asked years ago, what, exactly, is a "conservative" Christian reading of Song of Songs? It is, in some sense, emblematic of the tensions and difficulties in contemporary American conservative Protestantism. I'm in Seattle and he's the biggest conservative Protestant preacher in town so he's a useful local example but I want to move quickly from his example to how conservative Protestants address (or don't address) salient issues in Christian sexual conduct from time to time.

Conservative Protestants who have taken issue with Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs reveal that even among conservative Protestants there is not a consensus as to what a "conservative" reading of the text is. Michael Spenser was right to ask what a "conservative" interpretation of Song of Songs was in a contemporary American evangelical setting. It was not without some cause I proposed that in Driscoll's hands Song of Songs became "adventures in Christian porn with Mark Driscoll". With God as my witness, before I heard Driscoll insisting that Song of Songs chapter 2 refers to a woman enjoying oral sex with her man I couldn't even conceive of the text having that meaning. Now it's the only interpretation lodged in my mind by dint of only hearing that application of the text preached. Whether or not that's the best reading of the text it is impossible to infer that Driscoll and his wife have not practiced that practical application of the text. After all, if he preached the same application enthusiastically in sermons as far apart as 1999, 2002, and 2008 nearly a decade's difference would have highlighted any change in his approach to the biblical text.

I heard all the 1999 sermons and excused myself from the 2008 series. There's little by way of edification a never married man will gain from a four month long series extolling the wonders of wifely stripteases and oral sex. Just go look at the promotional materials for Peasant Princess and ask if it wasn't going out of its way to be cutesy and a big sales pitch. As for the 1999 time, Driscoll mentioned in his Reformission Rev book from 2006, he got into the book because he was frustrated by how little sex he was getting and by other problems in his marriage. I'm glad things, uh, got worked out for him and his wife. Given the sheer number of times he's said from the pulpit that Song of Songs 2 extolls the wonder of oral sex between husband and wife I cannot wonder whether he has applied the text in this way numerous times. I heard him clearly the first time so I excused myself from getting four months of reruns of a two month sermon series from nine years prior.

I stand by my observation that when Driscoll explicitly rejects typological interpretation in Song of Songs he presents himself with a conundrum--if all scripture properly interpreted points to Christ (since Jesus said so in gospels written by Luke and John) then why is it that Song of Songs does not have any chance of referring to Christ as the bridegroom and His people as the bride? Why is Song of Songs chiefly about wifely stripteases and oral sex? What is the actual basis for claiming Solomon's first love was Abishag when Kings tells us his first wife
was an Egyptian, a foreboding warning that Solomon's reign was off to a dangerous start? Why would we be explicitly told Solomon's married an Egyptian if it was known that he married Abishag? I won't contest that Solomon and Abishag sittin' in a tree sounds more cute and romantic than Solomon marrying an Egyptian and forming a political alliance but which, given that his father was David, seems more likely? Did David marry for love? Well, in any case, whether it's Driscoll's Peasant Princess or Ed Young's sermons on sex, sex sells, even if you're a conservative Protestant.

But at the end of the day Driscoll and many other conservative Protestant pastors must boil their sermons down to "Do as I say, not as my wife and I actually did." I've known a handful of conservative Protestant pastors in my time and I can't think of the number of them who didn't do things before marriage they have regretted since marriage. Even the conservative Protestant preachers are fornicators, so what practical advice do they have for the unmarried? Then there are the married pastors who didn't fornicate but are married. Traditionally it is understood that Jesus said that if you look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery with her in your heart. So it's good not to lust but what, precisely, is the dividing line between sexual desire and lust? In traditional Christian teaching there appears to be no division. Generally what happens at a practical level is conservative Protestants hope to baptise sexual desire between straight consenting adults as fast as possible in the form of marriage.

Link: CBR interview with Stephan Pastis of "Pearls Before Swine"

I have other fish to fry momentarily but I can't help but link to this in the process of frying those fish. In some way anthropomorphic talking animals might be a theme to play with in this other fish I'm frying.

conservative Protestants on economics and sex, going with just what the Bible says unless it says ... ?

Something I have noticed over the last twenty years is that we conservative Protestants can be very selective about what we claim traditional Christian teaching covers. We are, famously, very conservative in discussing what Christian teaching and theology say concerning sex. We are, as famously, apt to say that when C. S. Lewis said that lending money at interest was considered a sub-Christian ethic and even anti-Christian in its view about money and property with respect to Jewish and Christian teaching the reply has been, to a man, "Oh,well, C. S. Lewis didn't understand anything about how economics really works."

Ah, well, see that's not the way to broach anything in sexual ethics for a conservative Protestant, is it? The idea that Lewis can be ignored on economics because he just didn't get how modern ecoomics really works basically says that because of what we know NOW about economics and how capitalism is the best economic system we can finesse statements that lending money at interest is wrong (unless we're lending to people not in our group, which is how Jews realized they could make lives for themselves in medieval Europe precisely because they were being barred from trade guilds but were permitted to lend money at interest, which led to the quixotic habit of Christians blaming Jews as money-grubbing fiends because they were bankers).

Well, if Lewis' observation that contemporary economies are founded on lending money at interest and that this defies Christian ethical teaching can be dismissed by saying "Lewis didn't understand economics" haven't the liberal Protestants done the same thing with respect to Lewis' invocation of traditional Christian teaching on sexual ethics? "Lewis didn't understand how sexuality and sexual orientation work" a liberal Protestant can reply.

If we can invoke our scientific understanding of how something works to dismiss millenia of Christian ethical teaching then why do conservative Protestants take precisely this move with respect to economics while refusing to do it with sexual ethics? It's more common to see a conservative American Protestant question fiat currency than lending money at interest even though, scripturally speaking, there are more obvious prohibitions against lending money at interest than fiat currency. Now God's warning that two measures of weights should not be used can and does imply that it is wrong to use conflicting currencies.

I'm not proposing that there are no scriptural principles at all against using different measures in making financial transactions. In fact the prohibition against different weights could be construed broadly as a prohibition against fiat currency. :) You do not get to say that a dollar is worth more to you than it is to your neighbor when it benefits you, just as you don't get to say the dollar is worth less to you than it is to your neighbor just to rig things in your favor. But it would appear that scriptural ethics about money are against both a flexibly altered currency in the market AND lending at interest. The overall prohibition in principle seems to be against deceit but I won't profess to be a particularly brilliant biblical scholar on Old Testament texts.

What's curious about a conservative Christian's preference for defending current economics is that economics is not exactly the most directly scientific endeavor. The "scientific" foundation for economics is not as clear as the "scientific" foundation for discussing how sexuality functions at a biological level. Unbelievers, of course, propose that Christians are simply stupid people on both subjects but I'm not going to go in that direction of rambling for what I take to be obvious reasons.

But having observed how conservative Protestants have fielded both economics and sex in America over the last twenty years it does strike me as though there is a disconnect in how much we propose, as a giant demographic, how it is vital to defend our cultural heritage with respect to economic practice but even more vital to defend what we consider traditional Christian ethical teaching even though in the sphere of economics we have spilled a great deal of ink arguing that what appear to be the plain meanings of biblical teaching about lending money at interest don't matter. The plain teaching of scripture on sexual conduct must not be ignored but the plain teaching of lending money at interest not only must be ignored but explained away.

The most popular way of doing this is to say that whomever critiques contemporary economic practice just doesn' t understand the contemporary economic practice (per dismissal of Lewis). The question that does not usually come up is whether Lewis' problem was that he didn't understand what the Bible taught. There are biblical scholars who can field that subject. The principle and methodology by which a conservative Protestant proposes that the ancient teaching on economics doesn't count is the same basic method through which a conservative Protestant "could" also claim that the ancient teaching on sexual ethics doesn't count--now that we've got better science and analytical methods we know that the old approach to sexuality leaves people poor, hungry, and sick.

No, of course that's now how we conservative Protestants invoke scientific studies on that subject! We point out that departing from Christ's teaching on sexual ethics is more likely to leave a person poor, hungry and sick. Proverbs spells out the case for why departing from the straight and narrow (forgive the pun there) leads to death in sexual ethics. We may as a culture often fail to follow that wisdom but we as Christians can still see the viability and value of keeping that teaching on the table.

But at the same time it appears that each society in which Christians find themselves have things which Christians are willing to condone for the sake of financial interest while defending it as biblically sanctioned. Famously Christians in the American South did this with slavery. Famously the divine right of kings got defended. Famously, the curse of Noah was used as a theological rationalization for why blacks were considered inherently inferior to whites by European theologians set on laying out a rational for both colonial expansion and subjugation of blacks and other non-white races.

Most famously of all Christians, whose salvation is, as Jesus Himself said, is from the Jews, have found all sorts of ways to justify anti-Semitic conduct and attitudes on theological grounds. If at some point conservative Protestants wonder why Bonhoeffer gets a pass despite having sold out to liberalism the historical answer is simply that when a majority of solidly conservative Protestants in Germany seemed to be letting National Socialism have its way Bonhoeffer didn't do the same thing. This does not necessarily prove that Bonhoeffer's stance against National Socialism was heroic because he was a liberal as liberals want to employ the term now. His writing regarding abortion alone would make it impossible for him to be considered a liberal Protestant in the modern American sense of that term. Saying that abortion is so morally wrong that preventing pregnancy is the more ethical alternative is not something a modern liberal American Protestant would be caught dead saying.

For as many fellow conservative Protestants like to say that taxation is theft I'm not sure that the scriptures SAY taxation is theft on the part of the government. On the other hand, the scriptures seem pretty clear that lending money at interest is evil and that using different weights in the balance is evil. I'm just wondering if in respects to economics and sexuality if we conservative Protestants can't be found guilty of wanting to have our cake and eat it, too, with respect to simultaneously ignoring and affirming what is considered "historic" Christian ethical teaching.

But since I'm neither officially a biblical scholar nor an economist I suppose that could just mean that nothing I've written about here matters. After all, what may it matter that scriptural teaching about sexual and economic ethics if I don't have statistics to back me up?