Posts tagged ‘Dualism’

Target, Transgenderism, and Bathroom Brouhahas

Target

Two weeks ago, when Target announced it would continue “to stand for inclusivity” by welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,”[1] fuel was added to the fire of what was already a raging debate.  “More than 700,000 pledge to boycott Target over transgender bathroom policy,” a headline in USA Today thundered.  The Daily Beast countered the boycott with its headline: “All the Things You Can No Longer Buy if You’re Really Boycotting Trans-Friendly Businesses.”

It’s a bathroom brouhaha.  So where does this big story leave Christians?

In one way, the fight over bathrooms only serves to mask larger questions about gender and identity.  The transgender movement as a whole seems locked into a form of Platonic dualism.  According to this philosophy, each physical form has a corresponding higher non-corporeal ideal.  So, for instance, a chair here on earth corresponds to a perfect non-corporeal chair in a higher realm.  Key to understanding Plato’s theory of correspondence between the physical and the non-corporeal is that the higher non-corporeal form is always determinative of and better than the lower physical form.  This is why Platonism’s final goal is for a person to escape this realm of lower physical forms and ascend to the realm of higher non-corporeal ideals.  Thus, in Platonism, the non-corporeal is always given preference over the corporeal, even as it pertains to our very bodies.  As Socrates, Plato’s mentor, put it:

The soul is immortal, and ‘tis not possession of thine own, but of Providence; and after the body is wasted away, like a swift horse freed from its traces, it lightly leaps forward and mingles itself with the light air, loathing the spell of harsh and painful servitude which it has endured.[2]

For Socrates, the body is a prison of “harsh and painful servitude” to be loathed.  Why?  Because it is physical.  The soul, however, is non-corporeal.  Therefore, the soul is to be preferred to and determinative of the body.

Many in the transgender movement seem to Platonically privilege non-corporeal inclinations over at least some of the clearer markers of physical biology.  People who come out as transgender are, in essence, declaring, “There is another form of me gender-wise than what my biological sex indicates.  My biological sex has subjected me to a ‘harsh and painful servitude,’ above which I intend to rise.” Jane Clark Scharl, in an article for the National Review, puts it well when she writes:

The … rhetoric used to be about liberating us from the moral and cultural limits on bodies, so that we could do whatever we wanted with them. Presumably that didn’t make us happy, because today, it’s about liberating us from our bodies altogether, by telling us that we can define ourselves however we want regardless of our biology.[3]

Being liberated from the body and its biology is a quintessentially Platonic – and, I would add, theologically problematic – notion.

I do understand that certain biological anomalies – anomalies in the sense that they are statistically rare – can occur in certain individuals.  I am also aware that there are questions over whether there are subtle differences in a transgender person’s brain.  But these questions do not negate the fact that gender dysphoria, the oft-cited trigger of transgenderism, is regularly presented and thought of as a conflict between a person’s physical biology and a person’s non-corporeal gender identity.  To quote the Oxford Dictionary: gender dysphoria is “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.”  Notice how, according to this definition, gender dysphoria is rooted in “one’s emotional and psychological identity” being in conflict with one’s biological sex.  In other words, barring a worldview that reduces emotions and psychology to nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain, there is a conflict between the non-corporeal part of a person and the physical part of person who experiences gender dysphoria.  To state the matter simply, there is a conflict between what may be referred to as a person’s soul and one’s body. And many people in the transgender movement assume the soul should win this conflict. But the Bible reminds us that even the non-corporeal parts of us are deeply flawed and should not be blindly trusted.  The prophet Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus notes, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder” (Mark 7:21).  Is it any wonder that the prophets, when addressing human corruption, say things like, “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13)?  For us to address any anxiety – whether it be in our gender, in our sexuality, or even in some medical ailment – we can’t just deal in the physical.  We must consider – and yes, even confront and be converted in – the non-corporeal.

It should be pointed out that it’s not just people in the transgender movement who assume a Platonic view of the physical.  Many Christians do too.  Ask the average Christian which part of a person is more important – the body or the soul – and he will more than likely respond, “The soul.”  But this is not the case, at least according to Scripture.  The fact that the bodies of those who are dead will be raised on the Last Day reminds us that both bodies and souls are important.  After all, both are created by God. The goal for the Christian, then, is never to somehow rise above the body or to let the non-corporeal determine the physical.  Rather, the hope of the Christian is to be eschatalogically redeemed in the body by the resurrection of all flesh.

It is important for Christians to defend and promote a telic view of the body – that the body is fundamental to who we are and is created with a purpose and point.  A person can either steward the body according to the purpose and point for which it was created or work against the purpose and point for which the body was created.  Working against the purpose and point of the body, however, comes with consequences.  Just ask those who suffer all sorts of health problems because they abuse their bodies with, let’s say, junk food rather than fueling their bodies with a balanced diet.  We should not despise our bodies.

This takes us back to Target’s restrooms.  One of the difficulties in demanding that a person use the restroom that matches his or her sex biologically is that there may be a person who identifies as and looks very much like a male going into a female restroom and person who identifies as and looks very much like a female going into a male restroom.  This is sure to make patrons uncomfortable.  On the other hand, stories have already surfaced of predators who are using policies like Target’s to take advantage of unknowing victims.  Depending on how common these horrifying incidents become, Target could find itself regularly grappling with basic issues of of customer safety.  In other words, no matter what restroom policy Target adopts and enforces, it will probably land the company in some kind of legal, cultural, and public relations battle.  Indeed, it seems like the only way to address the restroom needs of a culture where gender is increasingly presumed to be fluid may be to build banks of private unisex restrooms, which could prove terribly costly for businesses that currently offer larger public restrooms.

Though the debate over bathrooms is interesting, ultimately, as Christians, we are called to concern ourselves with how to love all our neighbors – including those who are transgender.  This is why our first questions in this bathroom battle should not be, “Is this policy good for me?”  Or, “How do I feel about transgender people being able to choose their bathroom?”  Instead, our first questions should be, “Is transgenderism good for people?”  And, “Is it good to deny a created physical order for the sake of what is perceived to be a higher non-corporeal understanding of one’s self?” If the answer to these questions is, “No,” we have more than just bathrooms to worry about.  We have people to worry about.

No matter what laws are enacted pertaining to who can use which bathrooms, there will be problems.  But if we devote ourselves to making a winsome, gentle, and truthful case for how God has lovingly, tenderly, and wisely created humanity as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) that leads people to rejoice in God’s ordering of sex and gender, that strikes me as a better outcome than any restroom regulations could ever offer.

____________________________

[1]Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity,” A Bullseye View (4.19.2016).

[2] Socrates in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2003), 75.

[3] Jane Clark Scharl, “The New Sexual Ideology Wins Another Skirmish,” National Review (4.22.2016).

May 2, 2016 at 5:15 am 4 comments

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux | Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”[1]

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Though the story is set during the French Revolution, its opening line strikes a universal tone. Life comes mixed with good and bad, wisdom and foolishness, faith and doubt, light and darkness, hope and despair. This is true even of Jesus’ life. For example, in Mark 7, Jesus heals a blind man:

Some people brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His hand on the man. After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:32-35)

On its surface, this story looks like one that should be marked only by joy. After all, a blind and mute man gets healed! But right before Jesus heals this man, He looks up to heaven and lets out “a deep sigh” (Mark 7:34). The Greek word for this sigh is stenazo, which denotes a groan of sorrow (e.g., Romans 8:23).  Why would Jesus groan in sorrow right as He is getting ready to do something as joyful as a healing?

Like Charles Dickens, Jesus knows that even when it’s the best of times, it’s also the worst of times. He knows that even as He is getting ready to do something great, evil is not far off. Indeed, Jesus knows that He will soon face the horror of the cross. And so He lets out a groan.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of a Messiah who would come and do many miraculous things, including that of making the deaf hear and the mute speak:

Your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Notice even in this prophecy that the best of times and worst of times are comingled. On the one hand, the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. This is good. On the other hand, the Messiah will come with “vengeance” and “divine retribution.” This sounds bad. But it also seems strange. Isaiah says, “With divine retribution [God] will come to save you.”  Just how does God intend to use His retribution for our salvation?  Isn’t His retribution supposed to lead to condemnation?

Timothy Keller notes that, when Jesus came, retribution and salvation were not so much in tension with each other as they were complimentary to each other, for Jesus “didn’t come to bring divine retribution; He came to bear it.”[2] On the cross, Jesus took the retribution our sins deserve so we could receive the salvation we could never earn. This is how divine retribution can lead to our salvation.

In A Tale of Two Cities, a kind of dualism runs through its opening salvo. There is good and bad, hopefulness and despair, and the reader does not know which one will ultimately prevail – or if either will prevail. In the case of Christ, though good and bad, hopefulness and despair are real and are in tension with each other, there is no doubt which will finally carry the day. Jesus may have groaned. But He still healed. And Jesus may bear divine retribution on a bloodied cross, but He still brings salvation out of an empty tomb. In Christ, the tension of Dickens is resolved. And that’s why we can have hope.

______________________________

[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), 1.

[2] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (New York: Dutton, 2011), 94

October 26, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Christ and Culture

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we wrapped up our series, “Unresolved,” looking at how we, as Christians, are called to relate to our world.  This question of how a Christian interacts with the world is a longstanding quandry, and was perhaps most famously addressed in 1951, by Yale theology professor H. Richard Niebuhr in what would become the defining work of his career, Christ and Culture.  In this seminal work, Niebuhr outlines five ways in which Christianity has responded to culture, or the world:

  • Christ against culture.  Niebuhr summarizes this response as one which “uncompromisingly affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and resolutely rejects culture’s claims to loyalty” (45).[1]  Thus, this response to culture eschews most encounters with culture.  For instance, “political life is to be shunned…Military service is to be avoided because it involves participation in pagan religious rites and the swearing of an oath to Caesar” (54).  This way of thinking, then, takes a stance of deep suspicion and antagonism toward things of the world.
  • The Christ of culture.  People who adhere to this system of theologizing “feel no great tension between church and world, the social laws and the gospel, the workings of divine grace and human effort, the ethics of salvation and the ethics of social conservation or progress.  On the one hand they interpret culture through Christ, regarding those elements in it as most important which are most accordant with His work and person; on the other hand they understand Christ through culture, electing from His teaching and action as well as from the Christian doctrine about Him such points as seem to agree with what is best in civilization” (83).  Thus, this response is liberal and affectionate to the zeitgeist of a culture.
  • Christ above culture.   This, historically, has been a majority position in the Church, and posits that “the ‘world’ as culture [cannot] be simply regarded as the realm of godlessness; since it is at least founded on the ‘world’ as nature, and cannot exist save as it is upheld by the Creator and Governor of nature” (117-118).  In other words, though Christ is not opposed to culture inherently because He in some sense created it, He nevertheless reigns above it and is certainly grieved by the sin that has crept into it.  As Niebuhr writes, “The fundamental issue does not lie between Christ and the world, important as that issue is, but between God and man” (117), for man is sinful.
  • Christ and culture in paradox.  Like the response of Christ above culture, this view sees the fundamental issue as one between God and man:  “The issue lies between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of self.  On the one side are we with all of our activities, our states and our churches, our pagan and our Christian works; on the other side is God in Christ and Christ in God…It is not a question about Christians and pagans, but a question about God and man” (150).  How does Christ deal with men who are against Him?  By means of His law and His gospel.  Niebuhr says this is the position of great theological luminaries such as Augustine and Luther.
  • Christ the transformer of culture.  This response “is most closely akin to dualism [i.e., Christ and culture in paradox], but…what distinguishes conversionists from dualists is their more positive and hopeful attitude toward culture…[Conversionists have] a view of history that holds that to God all things are possible in a history that is fundamentally not a course of merely human events but always a dramatic interaction between God and men” (190-191, 194).

Although Niebuhr never explicitly endorses any of these five views, he offers no criticism of the fifth view.  Many scholars, then, believe that this is the view to which Niebuhr gives his tacit approval.

So which view is correct?  On the one hand, save the second response, all of these views have something valuable to offer to orthodox Christians.  On the other hand, to simple accept each view as equally valid quickly degenerates into an anachronistic and individualistic pluralism.  That is, accepting each view indiscriminately enables each individual Christians to respond anachronistically to different situations in their lives using whichever model they arbitrarily deem best at the time.  This will not do.  The question we must ask, then, is, “Which of these five views is normative for the other four?”  The Lutheran response would be, “Christ and culture in paradox.”  Why?  Two reasons come to mind.  First, this view understands the root of our problem, which is not culture per se, but us.  The reason there is even any discussion concerning how Christ relates to culture is because the people of culture are sinful and depraved, hostile to God.  Second, because this view is realistic about human sinfulness, it does not fall into self-righteousness, for it understands that “all of us are in the same boat,” as it were, and therefore encourages us to love our neighbor and serve in our respective vocations, just as Christ commands.  Thus, we, as Christians, in our life’s stations, are called to proclaim the  “gospel of faith in Christ working by love in the world of culture” (179).  This understanding, in turn, frees us up to decry the evil not only of culture, but of ourselves, as does the view of Christ against culture. Yet, it does not fall into separatism.  It allows us to herald the transcendent gospel as the solution to this world’s problems as does the view of Christ above culture.  Yet, it does not fall into dualism or even a soft Deism.  And it allows us to serve in our vocations for the good of our neighbors, transforming culture, as does the view of Christ the transformer of culture.  Yet, it still realizes that we, as culture is transformed, are by no means able or responsible for creating a utopian society.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the view that Christ and culture are in paradox is simply this:  it acknowledges and allows the tension between Christ and culture.  And it admits that we can never remove this tension or relegate it to a non-issue.  This, in turn, empowers us, as Christians, to engage our world thoughtfully and humbly, for we, like the rest of the world, are sinners, but we are also joyfully and freely redeemed by Christ.

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[1] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York:  Harper & Row, 1951).

February 20, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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