Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Modest Proposal

I think I'm going to start posting regular gender-related anecdotes from my life.  Heaven knows, I have a lot of them now that I'm back in good ol' Provo.

The other day in concert choir, our conductor suddenly insisted that all the men evacuate the rehearsal hall.  This is highly unusual; we never get out early.  She did not explain why she had decided to do this, or what we women were going to do once the boys were gone.  She shooed them out hurriedly and hollered at the few men who lingered.  It was clear that she did not want any man to be present for the unannounced proceedings.  Once she was sure there was no man within hearing distance, she proceeded to give us The Talk.  No, not that talk.  She informed us that a few men in concert choir had come to her and complained about the attire of the concert choir women.  They had claimed that they felt the need to avert their eyes at times to keep their thoughts clean.  Our conductor then laid down the law as to what manner of dress was appropriate and what was inappropriate; let's just say the words "cleavage" and "well endowed" were used frequently.  She assured us that she did not believe any of us were dressing immodestly on purpose; we just need to be sure that the clothes we choose will not shift and expose . . . things . . . as we progress through the day.  She insisted that the boys need us to dress modestly so they can fully contribute to concert choir.  She brought it home with a plea for us to remember that our musical messages can only be conveyed through the Spirit, and that immodest dressing can detract from that because the boys are less focused and less able to feel that Spirit.

At this point I raised my hand.  I said I don't like the idea that our motivation for dressing modestly should be to "help the men"; we all have agency, and the thought that I am the guilty party for another person's sins doesn't sit well in my brain.  I then gave my reason for dressing modestly: self-respect.  Our conductor agreed with me partly, but still stood by her assertion that the men need our cooperation.  I left the hall a bit disgruntled, uncomfortable, and hurt.  A strong, thoughtful, accomplished woman I admire had just committed a cardinal sin in my book.  She had aligned herself (whether consciously or unconsciously) with the phrase "boys will be boys".  That men have certain characteristics that cannot be helped.  Needless to say, I was rather disappointed.

The memory of this event festered in my mind all week.  The more I've thought about it, the more outraged I've become.  I'm not so much angry at our conductor, or even at the men who complained.  I'm angry at the prevalence of this misguided viewpoint.  It is not a woman's responsibility to keep the men around her from thinking bad thoughts.  I realized that when men gripe about the terrible women who don't dress modestly, they are admitting that they objectify the female body.  They are essentially saying that when certain physical lines are crossed, a woman inevitably becomes a sex object, and they then hold little responsibility for their unclean thoughts.  Herein lies the real problem: the human body is hyper-sexualized.  I once heard the tale of a particularly horrifying achievement days modesty activity. During this activity, adult leaders actually drew garment lines on pre-pubescent girls.  As if to say, "these are the magic lines that, when crossed, automatically turn you (a child) into an object of lust."  What does this tell young girls about their worth and purpose?  This also debases men, and robs them of their agency.

Living in Germany was enlightening.  The human body is viewed quite differently there.  They espouse the Freikörperkultur, or Free Body Culture (Husband and I wanted to participate, but sadly never had the opportunity).  Nudity is tolerated in many public places.  It is so different from America.  It is rare to see a clothed child at a waterfront venue, and many adult men and women also walk around in the buff.  The best part is that no one cares.  The ones who bare it all do not have "ideal" bodies (because the "ideal" does not exist), but they are not embarrassed.  No one is viewing them as sex objects.  The general consensus is "hey, we all have one".  The human body is fantastic and useful in a number of ways, but for some reason, we here in America focus heavily on only one of those numerous capabilities (even in children, which I believe feeds the pedophilia epidemic).

We in the church are not immune to this mindset.  When we insist that women dress a certain way so boys don't have inappropriate thoughts, we are treating the symptoms, but not the cause.  I view Zion as a place where every person dresses modestly out of self-respect and practicality, so that modesty need not have such concrete lines associated with it.  But more so, I see Zion as a place where respect and equality reign supreme; where, even when someone bares their body, it doesn't matter because no one sees that body as a tool to use for their own gratification.  I guess we don't live in Zion.  Is it impossible to teach ourselves not to objectify ourselves or others?  Are we so fallen that there is no hope of escaping the tendency to hyper-sexualize?  Can we not put off this aspect of the natural man?  I believe that if we teach modesty to both sexes from this point of view, we can begin to combat one of the wiliest tricks of the adversary and better appreciate our full worth as the children of God.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What About Evolution?

I recently watched a PBS documentary called What About God? for my evolutionary biology class.  It addresses how modern-day Evangelical Christian students reconcile the apparent conflict between the origin of man as taught in biology class and in Sunday school.  Several students and teachers in STEM fields of study, as well as some ecclesiastical leaders, were interviewed and asked about their viewpoints.  The responses were varied.  Some concluded that the theory of evolution of species is false; some expressed ambivalence and found it difficult to discuss their tentative ideas with their hard-core creationist friends and family.  Still others asserted that there is no conflict at all, or that both evolution and creationism are valid hypotheses that should be taught equally.  In the end we, the viewers, were left to make our own conclusions.

Since the original publication of Charles Darwin’s* On the Origin of Species in 1859, the theory of evolution has been ruffling religious feathers.  Many fear that evolutionary theory contradicts scriptural accounts of the creation of the world and its inhabitants; they also claim that evolution “takes God out of the equation”.  The fundamental question stands: can a person be a Bible-loving Christian and espouse Darwinian evolution?  In my mind, the answer is—it depends.  It depends on one’s definition of Christianity, and on what kind of Christian one chooses to be.  Christianity is by no means a single religion with a single set of beliefs.  In fact, very few Christians of the exact same sect agree on every point of doctrine.  As such, some Christians may very well be evolutionary biologists, while others consider a belief in evolutionary theory a one-way ticket to hell.

If we assume that to be a Christian, one must interpret every word of the Bible literally, then the answer is no.  No, a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis is not reconcilable with Darwin’s theory of evolution.  One of evolutionary theory’s main points is that change happens gradually over long periods of time.  This means that the creation of Adam and Eve would have taken millions of years.  If an individual decides to believe that the creation occurred over a period of six Earth days, even that the creation of humans occurred in one twenty-four hour period (as is taught in Genesis), then, to that person, evolutionary theory must be considered absolutely false.  However, if there is any room for metaphorical interpretation of the Bible in Christianity, then evolution may be acceptable.  One may decide that the term “day” used in the Bible refers to stages of creation, rather than literal twenty-four hour periods.  One may even conclude that the Biblical creation story is highly metaphorical, and is simply meant to teach that God is behind all creation.  People who align themselves with this view of Christianity can then accept that God may have used evolution as the mechanism of creation, and that the theory of evolution reveals that God is much bigger and better than we could have imagined.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I consider myself a Christian, though many others do not because a number of my beliefs (heck, even a few Mormons think I don't belong).  I believe that the Bible is the word of God, but is not a scientific document, and does not describe the method of creation.  I believe that God has absolute knowledge of natural laws, and that hir** purposes are accomplished through these natural laws.  I believe that God is a man and a woman, that God has a body of flesh and bones, that God reveals things to us today.  I believe that God is more powerful, wise, and majestic than we can imagine; that all of us, to a degree, try to limit God by defining what God can and cannot do (as one creationist in the documentary ironically exclaimed, “man’s wisdom is foolishness before God”.  That logic cuts both ways, my friends).  I believe that humans are currently walking the evolutionary path from intelligences, to spirits, to mortal embodied beings, to immortal embodied beings, to gods.  And I believe in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Many say my beliefs are not concurrent with the definition of Christianity.  If that be the case, then perhaps Christianity is not compatible with evolutionary theory.  But in my opinion, I am a Christian (specifically a theistic evolutionist), and evolutionary theory enhances my Christian beliefs.  Religious convictions are very personal and are unique to every individual.  While several Christians in What About God? determined that the theory of evolution is in direct opposition to all religious beliefs, I side with the documentary’s overall theme: that every individual who calls hirself a Christian must assess hir own unique beliefs arrive at hir own conclusions.

*I'm thinking of naming a first-born son Charles Darwin Herrick in homage to the man who synthesized the unifying principle of biology.  Also one of my grandfathers is named Charles.  Can you imagine the reaction at that baby blessing?

**Hir=the gender-neutral pronoun.  I'm giving it a try.  It's growing on me, if only because writing "him or her" is cumbersome and going with "their" is grammatically incorrect.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Horrifying Historical Parallels

I just had a revelation.

As of late, I've been reading a lot about LDS patriarchy in the bloggernacle (here, here and here).  The typical line in church is that God ordained men to be patriarchs and preside over the family.  "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families."  As I was pondering this stance (and my own personal aversion to it), I realized that it sounds oddly familiar . . .

And then it hit me.

"Divine design" . . . Divine right!  Does the common wording that prescribes the "role of men" not hearken of that which poor leaders of the past used to justify their power?  I am floored.  How did I not see this before?  Historically, kings have rationalized their unrighteous dominion and assured their political legitimacy by asserting that God put them in that place of power, so they are obviously the best possible leaders.  This doctrine is known as the divine right of kings, which we all know went well for everyone (sarcasm).  Men in the LDS church (and others) use the same logic to justify the gender-defined lines of power and inequality.  Thus, my new mantra when it comes to the "divine design" of patriarchy shall be:

Divine Right=A Silly Idea

Patriarchy=Divine Right

Patriarchy=A Silly Idea

Therefore, by the mathematical law of transitive relation (if a=b, and b=c, then a=c), it is proved.  Amen.