Archive for the ‘Religion and Men’ Category

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Move over, Chuck Norris…

5 January 2014

In the field of New Testament studies, N.T. Wright is practically omnipresent. Somehow he seemed to take over every relevant theological conversation while baptizing babies and curing poverty and wisecracking on The Colbert Report. Accordingly, Url Scaramanga’s post on the new Chuck Norris cannot not be shared.

Here’s a teaser: “N. T. Wright doesn’t parse nouns. They decline themselves before him.”

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Manhood, Modesty, and Pandemics

28 July 2013

The World Health Organization has reported that the death rate of the new MERS virus is higher than SARS (50%) but slower-spreading. Only 90 cases have been reported since last September, most of them in Saudi Arabia. Oddly, 80% of the cases from the past year were men.

Dr. Christian Drosten from the University of Bonn was quoted in The Times of India saying it probably has less to do with manhood and more to do with standards for female modesty.

MERS also appears to be mainly affecting men; nearly 80 percent of the cases in the new study were men. Drosten said there might be a cultural explanation for that. “Women in the [Middle East] region tend to have their mouths covered with at least two layers of cloth,” he said, referring to the veils worn by women in Saudi Arabia. “If the coronavirus is being spread by droplets, [the veils] should give women some protection.”

modestyMERS

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Book Review: R. Todd Romero, Making War and Minting Christians

20 May 2013

R. Todd Romero, Making War and Minting Christians: Masculinity, Religion, and Colonialism in Early New England (Amherst: MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). 255pp.+xiii. $26.95.

The interaction of native tribes with early English settlers meant each culture had to change. That change included masculinity, argues R. Todd Romero in his attentive history of 17th century New England. Both natives and Puritan immigrants were concerned with manly ideals, ideals which would undergo significant changes through the Pequot War (1636-37) and King Philip’s War (1675-76). Sensitive to the underlying gender scripts, Romero’s book unspools a nuanced double-narrative.

In Part I of Making War and Minting Indians, Romero chronicles the cultural “counterpoint” between native and Anglo-American groups. A surprising similarity exists between the two. Each culture valued assertive, strong men with military skills. Each culture connected manhood to religious zeal. Nevertheless, Puritans and other Englishmen chose to highlight the differences. Manhood for them meant a carefully defined patriarchy, strenuous labor, educated western civility, and biblical, evangelistic zeal. The greatest commonality between the two worlds, it seemed, was martial culture. But the brewing of actual war between the parties made for a deep bifurcation.

In Part II Romero takes a deeper look at the colonizing efforts of Puritans with the Indian “praying towns.” Imposing western notions of manhood upon natives was a priority, even to the point of insisting (in the case of Thomas Shepard) that one must “make men” of Indians before “making Christians” of them. Puritans, especially at Massachusetts Bay Colony, struggled to get Indian men to abandon polygyny, as well as their lax posture of discipline that made children “sawcie, bold, and undutifull” (125). Assimilation efforts foundered after King Philip’s War destroyed remaining goodwill between Puritans, Christian natives, and traditional natives.

Part III of the book plays out the re-scripting of masculinities in and after the throes of war. Presented with annihilation through war or (especially) disease, some tribes sought to bargain with the Christian God. Other tribes felt a strong pull back to their traditional earth religion practices. Puritans, for their part, strenuously preached God’s providence in warfare – even as missionary efforts quickly devolved. While rhetoric between the groups transpired criticizing their inferior senses of manhood, Romero picks up on some unwitting crossovers. For instance, “The evolution of Anglo-American martial culture after the 1670s was especially ironic, given that successful colonial warriors often adapted the very Indian tactics they had formerly dismissed as dishonorable and unmanly” (191).

By necessity, Romero works from Anglo-American records. His deconstruction of their rhetoric smacks of ungraciousness at times, but he uses a hermeneutic of suspicion to render a better picture of actual native culture. Readers may find themselves frustrated that Romero does not choose to distill many conclusions from his study. A “cross-cultural” study through “gender counterpoint” does not yield larger anthropological or historical insights so much as make the reader feel the dialectical mutation between American societies. One might look to Ann M. Little’s Abraham in Arms to clarify a picture of the geopolitical legacy of New England.

Romero’s careful soundings of 17th century America amount to a genuine contribution to colonial studies. Researchers and local historians will benefit most from this sensitive narration of Anglo and Indian masculinities forged in a tumultuous era.

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Bootlegging in South Dakota, 1929

23 April 2013

In a study of South Dakota Congregationalist churches, Jesse Fenn Perrin tried to pinpoint, among other things, which social sins ministers thought presented the greatest threat. In Perrin’s survey there were ten listed: gambling, theft, corruption in public office, juvenile delinquency, sex misbehavior, public dance, vandalism, poverty, lax law enforcement, and bootlegging. The response?

Bootlegging is the most serious problem according to the ministers. Seven report that in their community it is very serious. Twenty-six report it as a serious problem. Nine say that it is a minor problem and only six report that it is not a problem with them. The public dance is the second most serious problem in the South Dakota towns. Public dances usually nowadays carry with them a crowd that are strong patronizers of the bootleggers and the whole situation at the dance hall becomes very unwholesome.

(Jesse Fenn Perrin, “Preaching in South Dakota Congregational Churches,” B.D. Dissertation, The Chicago Theological Seminary, June 1929, 34).

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Abraham, Sodom and the Gospel of Jack Black

15 July 2011

“liberalism,” def.: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, disapproves of your sexual proclivities.

It was no minor miracle.  Last night I persuaded my wife to watch Year One, a comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera.  In it two primitive tribesmen leave their village only to find themselves in the midst of biblical salvation history.   The poop jokes abounding throughout the film were, predictably, hilarious.  My wife’s reaction to the humor was, predictably, cool.  What the two of us could agree on in any case was Year One‘s utter disregard for the Genesis narrative.

In the movie the two protagonists run into Abraham, who is in the process of sacrificing Isaac.  Isaac is a mouthy, sex-crazed profligate, so it’s understandable why the father of all nations wants to slay the youngster.  When Black and Cera break up the would-be sacrifice, Abraham believes it to be divine intervention, and the two men are taken into the Hebrew clan.  Of course, the people of Abraham practice all manner of deviant behavior: his daughter is a lesbian, another son practices buggery.  A few scenes later Abraham gets it in his mind that he must circumcise every male among him, not so much for covenantal purposes as for a quasi-religious way to address sexual lust.  Throughout the visit to the proto-Israelite camp, Black and Cera endure Abraham’s diatribes against the people of Sodom.  The sexually depraved Sodomites are a people hideous to the prudish Abraham, and loathing for them drips from his mouth.

Casting the biblical patriarch as a sexually repressed sadist makes sense only in the gospel of Jack Black.  Denial of any personal liberty represents sin.  Numerous freaks lie along the path to wholeness, but the real problem are the puritanical.   Deliverance comes in the form of antiauthoritarian expression and the genuine friendship of those who condone one’s animalistic passions (which turns out to be the overtly didactic conclusion of Year One). 

The flick got me thinking about Abraham’s masculine identity, in any case.  If he didn’t establish his gendered self-identity as a pathologically aggressive killjoy, then how did he?  Of course, there is something to be said about his slippery personality when it came to interacting with pharoahs (Gen 12) and kings (Gen 20), not to mention his passive but self-serving attentiveness to his own wife (Gen 16).  More positively, he lives into his calling to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:2-3).  In stark contradition to Year One, Abraham is wholly on the side of Sodom.  He saves their people from wholesale defeat and slavery (Gen 14).  When the LORD intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, it is Abraham who comes to their rescue, interceding on their behalf (Gen 18).  That is to say, Abraham’s posture is not one of self-righteous condescension at all, but one of deep and abiding hospitality.

In the end, Abraham does far better than tolerate the Sodomites.  He intervenes for them who are so remote from the divine covenant.  That is a form of friendship quite impossible for Year One, caught in its haze of blasphemy and methane, to comprehend.

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The Ultimate Men’s Summit, June 10-19

6 June 2011

Later this month we’ll witness the most ambitious attempt so far to recapture the glory years of the mythopoetic men’s movement.  The Ultimate Men’s Summit, happening online from the 10th to the 19th, will showcase over 75 presenters and field questions via telecom.  The line-up is a veritable who’s who in men’s work: Sam Keen, Warren Farrell, Bert Hoff, Bill Kauth, Herb Goldberg and (“Leader of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement”) Robert Bly.   I encourage you to sign up for the conference HERE.  Registration is free.

I’m looking forward to the event, though the limitations are quite apparent in my mind.  The cast is dominated by psychologists and self-help gurus.  While a couple of men’s rights people should shake things up, the therapeutic feel of the conference won’t invite too many critical questions.  The conference is being pulled together by Shift Network, an organization devoted to an “evolution of consciousness” that includes “open exchange,” “restorative cycles,” and “global spiritual pluralism.”  Therefore I can all but assure attendees that the New Age ethic of the organizers will make room for a wide array of perspectives, sexualities and social groups, though they will leave prowling on the perimeter the usual suspects: liberal feminists, conservative pundits and orthodox Christians.

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Anonymous Editor Commenting on the Rev. John Wesley (1827)

23 February 2011

His style was nervous, clear, and manly; his preaching was pathetic and persuasive; his Journals are artless and interesting; and his compositions and compilations to promote knowledge and piety, were almost innumerable.