Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"I'm Better Than You" Theology

Jesus told a parable in which he said that the kingdom of heaven was like a seed that grew into a tree, and the birds of heaven came and nested there.  And over the years, some awfully strange birds have made their home in the church.  From time to time I peruse various religious blogs just to remind myself of how many kooks there are babbling in the name of Jesus.

So today we take up the case of Tim Bayly, pastor of Clearnote Church in Indiana.  Tim writes a blog in which he says things that are so bizarre one sometimes wonders if they are actually very clever satire, because nobody could actually believe anything that crazy, right?  He has said, for example, that he feels closest to his daughter just after he's given her a spanking, apparently completely oblivious to just how creepy that sounds to everyone else.  Once, when someone told him about a 14 year old boy who had been kicked out of his house for being gay and ended up as a street hustler, he praised the parents for teaching their son that there are consequences to being a homosexual.  Sorry, Tim, but the utter moral depravity required to commend people for throwing a 14 year old kid to the wolves simply disqualifies you from being taken seriously about anything else.

And what is Tim fulminating about today?  Another evangelical leader, Michael Farris of the homeschooling movement, has gone soft on the patriarchy.  (Full disclosure:  I went to law school with Mike Farris and, while I haven't spoken to him in twenty years and doubt very much that he would remember me, I liked him and considered him a friend at the time.)

So to start, what does patriarchy mean to Tim Bayly?  From his own blog post on the subject (you can read the entire howler here:  http://baylyblog.com/blog/2014/09/michael-farris-misses-mark) he states that "women (should) show a certain deference to men" and "that not only husbands with wives, but men with women live in an understanding way since women are weaker vessels."  Further, "every man was to be a gentleman and every woman was to be a lady. And at the center of her ladiness was a certain deference to the sex God placed His Own Father-authority in: man."

To the extent that Farris disagrees with this bilge in toto, he is to be commended.  Unfortunately, Farris only disagrees with it in part, and, having read Farris's comments in their entirety (rather than the small snippet Bayly quotes) I think their difference is more about semantics than actual practice.  In any situation actually likely to arise in the real world, I think Farris and Bayly would mostly be on the same page almost all of the time.

OK, this is all very interesting, but what is the take-home message?  The take-home message is this:  "I'm better than you because I have a penis."  Which is the same theological narcissism that in an earlier era gave us "I'm better than you because I'm white" and "I'm better than you because I'm straight."  Bow before me, o lesser ones: I am the favored of God because I pee standing up, I have light skin, and my life partner has an indentation rather than a projection.  Isn't it obvious that this is the natural order of things?

As Judge Easterbrook once put it, "some people believe with great fervor preposterous things that just happen to coincide with their self-interest."  Coleman v. CIR, 791 F.2d 68 (7th Cir. 1986).  Is Bayly's position preposterous?  Of course.  Does it happen to coincide with his self-interest?  Yup.  Ever notice how those people who believe in one or another manifestation of the doctrine of the chosen ones also just happen to believe that they, themselves, happen to be the chosen ones?  Just as it was pure self-interest for white racists to believe that whites were superior to blacks, so it is pure self-interest for men to believe that women are inferior (or, if you prefer, the weaker vessel).  Which means that their philosophy, as with any other philosophy based on self-interest, should be greeted with the greatest of skepticism.

Fortunately, most people are no longer buying what Bayly and company are selling.  The First Amendment gives him the right to speak.  It also gives the rest of us the right to point and laugh.

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