Tuesday, January 20, 2009

W@H: Appendix C

So I took another walk Around my neighborhood To get you off of my mind Like I knew that I ought to But when I saw a big black van Run down a bird I had to think about you Well no I'm not a quarterback I'm not a fireman Still I can have any girl in Japan 'Cuz I'm a healthy, Hundred and fifty-nine pound American boy --The Refreshments, "Broken Record" We come to one of my favorite aspects of evangelical Christianity: bad analogies and metaphors. Mau de Katt linked to this other blog entry, um, somewhere in the comments. It might take a minute to load. It's various excerpts from a Rick Warren speech. Mau de Katt's problem was with Warren's attempt to claim that Christians should be like the Hitler Youth. Ironically enough, my bigger problem is with the thing about claiming that the Communist Revolution came about in China simply because a bunch of people memorized Mao's Little Red Book. So I've got my buddy who left the church with me sitting next to me. He knows all the stuff I do. We're having the bad analogies talk. It's an important talk. The thing about the Hitler Youth is this: Hitler was tangible. Tell ten people you believe in god, he points out, and you'll get ten opinions. Tell ten people you believe in Hitler and they might disagree, but they'll agree that he existed. As time went on in the Third Reich, too, rejected Hitler there were real, palpable consequences. But, of course, the issue is that there had to be fervency before that point came. And here we get, once again, in to the history behind the movement. See, both the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the rise of the Communists in China addressed specific social issues. They were also addressed by their leaders in specific ways. The differences between, say, Rick Warren and Hitler/Mao are quite instructive. Hitler rose to power in Germany atop a wave of social discontent. After the First World War the infrastructure and society of Germany fell apart. The winners called for impossible levels of reparations from an impoverished German nation. Everyone wanted a reason why things were going to shit. Hitler gave them a convenient answer. And, for the record, it goes far beyond the Jews. The big thing Hitler claimed was that it was the fault of the people who took them in to the Great War and would not let them win (sound familiar?). Since it isn't convenient to constantly blame the previous generation (also sound familiar?), the Jews in specific and the non-Aryans in general came in to play. They were traitors to the state, non-Germans walking among the true people with all of their connections to an outside culture who didn't understand and didn't want to understand being a true German. The Communist Revolution in China, meanwhile, was a process that took decades. Mao was fighting Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-Shek for those who haven't taken history in a few years) for years before World War II. The celebrated Long March, which followed a period of failures that almost destroyed the Communist movement, took place in the 1930s. The Communists and Nationalists joined forces to combat the Japanese in World War II, but then split apart again once it was over. 1949 marked the official Communist overthrow of the Nationalists, meaning that the Communist Revolution took place over the course of approximately 20 years, with a nice six-year intermission in between. And yet Rick Warren would have you believe that the reason the Communists won was because a bunch of people memorized Mao's book. Something seems off here. You have to be able to understand how someone like Warren thinks in order to work through this logic. There is a great deal of belief that if people simply read the Bible enough, they'll understand, believe, and move accordingly. There is a reason that the Communists managed to keep their fervency and that the Christians can't, no matter what Warren wants to say. Communist fervency came at the end of the barrel of a gun. The Nationalists were going to drive them to the ends of the Earth and kill them. But the reason this situation came to be was that the Communists started from the position that the status quo was intolerable. Mao's manifesto was a concrete attack against this intolerable situation and an answer to the intolerable situation. The options for Mao and his followers were to force change or die trying. If they hadn't tried for force change, they believed, they would have died anyway, just more slowly and without any hope. There is no Christian Revolution, at least not for the sort of people who go to Saddleback or listen to Warren's masturbatory messages on YouTube. This is the reason that the church does well under persecution, too. Beliefs have a tendency to solidify when they're put to the test under the influence of the barrel of a gun. Moreover, the very nature of persecution has a tendency to, in a weird, inverse way, support the beliefs of the persecuted. "If this person cares enough to want to kill me for my beliefs," the reasoning goes, "My beliefs must be strong and worthwhile." This is not a good thing for Warren to admit. It's much easier to draw analogies using poorly-conceived metaphors in order to draw attention to the failures that each individual Christian feels within themself than to admit the inherent contradictions of the system. Out of one side of his mouth the fundamentalist pastor preaches Christ triumphant while out of the other side he preaches the ever-encroaching dominion of Satan. These two messages cannot be sustained in a single system, so the individual Christian must be told that he or she is the point of failure in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Bad analogies don't alway just involve inventing history whole cloth, however. Eldredge peppers Wild at Heart with terrible analogies and metaphors.
Men either overcompensate for their wound and become driven (violent men), or they shrink back and go passive (retreating men). Often it's an odd mixture of both. Witness the twin messages sported by young college-age men especially: a goatee, which says, "I'm kind of dangerous," and a baseball hat turned backward, which says, "But really I'm a little boy, don't require anything of me." Which is it? Are you strong, or are you weak?" --John Eldredge, Wild at Heart (74)
This is what I like to call John Eldredge making shit up when he doesn't have a clue. He makes an observation about the nature of facial hair and headgear and decides that his observation is useful and authoritative. For the record, I have a beard. There is a reason I have a beard. I think it defines my chin line. No, seriously. I don't want to be a lumberjack. I don't want anyone to think I'm a big, burly man. I think that my chin is better defined with a bit of hair marking the space. I also tend, when I'm wearing my White Sox hat I tend to wear it backwards. Back in May I got mocked at a Local H show by Scott Lucas, who seemed to think I was sending a message that I like Limp Bizket, so I was trying to look like Fred Durst. Scott Lucas was about as on point as John Eldredge is about my reasons for wearing my hat backwards. I, uh, I don't like having the brim up at the top of my field of vision. Side note: back when I was dismantling my religion I was talking to a certain member of the female gender. I told her I was thinking of going atheist. She claimed that I was just doing that to avoid taking responsibility (for what, I don't recall. I don't think she had anything, either). Um, never claim that I'm trying to avoid taking responsibility, whether you're John Eldredge or someone I'm trying to convince myself I'm in love with. Also, I hated this thought from the beginning. Of course, sometimes he stops being an asshole and just gets downright asinine.
A woman is a captivating thing. More captivating than anything else in all creation. "The naked woman's body is a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man." [He said without bothering to explain why his words are in quote] Femininity can arouse masculinity. Boy oh boy can it. My wife flashes me a little breast, a little thigh, and I'm ready for action. All systems alert. She tells me in a soft voice that I'm a man and I'll leap tall buildings for her. But femininity can never bestow masculinity. It's like asking a pearl to give you a buffalo. It's like asking a field of flowers to give you a '57 Chevy. They are different substances entirely. --John Eldredge, Wild at Heart (93) [emphasis his]
Um, I really don't know what to do with this. The similes are astoundingly bad. But the introduction seems to make a point that Eldredge doesn't actually know what the fuck he's talking about. My friend points out something I've never noticed. Eldredge makes sexual arousal a metaphor for masculinity. That's, um, that's a pretty lousy parallel to draw and a guy writing a book about masculinity should know better. I guess it's a good thing he makes lousy analogies. They tell us way more about what he actually thinks than he really wants to let on. So we've got that going for us.


Sniffnoy said...

At first I didn't see why those final two analogies were so bad - aside from the nonsensicalness of asking something of an inanimate object, they seemed straightforward enough, i.e., it's like making an impossible request. Then I realized - oh wait, if the "field of flowers" actually represents the femininity, and similarly with the other three objects... yikes.

PersonalFailure said...

I call it persecution porn: the desire to describe any encounter not within your group as persecution so you can feel like a christian warrior defending your faith.

it makes me want to buy some lions just to prove a point.

why should a naked woman "bestow" masculinity? noone can bestow masculinity upon anyone. i do like how the writer takes such pains to point out that (a) his wife is a trophy and (b) he can get hardons with greater frequency than a 16 year old. uh-huh.

and, facial hair is makeup for men. i highly recommend growing it out to any man with a poorly defined jawline, weak chin, etc. facial hair doesn't say "dangerous" to anyone anymore.

Geds said...


Really, I was just including those as examples of horribly conceived analogies. I'm sure Eldredge thinks they're deep due to the completely unrelated nature of the things compared, but they are completely nonsensical to the point of absurdity.

See, one of the reasons people thought I would make a good pastor was because I could come up with a great analogy to pretty much anything on the spot. I learned some of that from my own pastors, yes, but I also watched a lot of sci-fi. Star Trek is a great analogy primer. You know the part where science guy is giving a solution to some sort of problem, like a buildup of phlogiston in the warp bubble that's eventually going to destroy the ship and his response is to create a subspace conduit to release the pressure and someone says, "Like poking a hole in a balloon to let out the excess air?" That's a good analogy.

Getting a pearl from a buffalo or a car from a field. It creates two separate, completely unrelated images in the mind. At least for me, that ends up creating an image of a '57 Chevy sitting in a field of flowers with no real narrative, so the field might as well have created the car.

And I get that the completely unrelated nature of the things is what he's going for. However, the fact that the preceding section makes no sense undermines the entire point, anyway. He's implying that women can bestow something like masculinity through the sex act and the entire thing breaks apart on impact.


re: facial hair.

Exactly. And you have to be stuck in the sci-fi of the '60s where goatee = evil parallel universe Enterprise crew to actually think that having a goatee says, "I'm trying to be dangerous.

Fiat Lex said...

Good point by everybody. The proposition that femininity is inanimate, the attempt to equate sexual arousal with masculinity, "persecution porn"--what a great phrase!--and sci-fi as a primer in metaphors that work. Poor use of metaphor and suspicion of sci-fi are both symptoms of the enmity of fundagelical thought against the human imagination.

The other thing that disturbs me about Eldredge's bad analogies is that he paints femininity and masculinity as totally separate things. On the one hand, it flies in the face of his "masculinity = heterosexual boners" implication. On the other, it indicates that virtue for men and virtue for women involve different, unrelated qualities. How can a difference in one out of forty-six chromosomes make for such a sharp distinction in moral character? Different organ development, different hormone balances, a slight difference in neuron connections which emphasize either linear or parallel cognitive processing, and Eldredge is willing to conclude that men and women have essential identities which have nothing whatsoever in common with one another.

Mega shallow!

DMD said...

The unknown quote about the naked woman's body is about the poet William Blake.

I've read both Eldredge's Wild at Heart and Desire. He does have this nasty habit of letting other, better, writers make his points for him. Like a 10th grader using block quotes.

jessa said...

I don't know what the importance of phlogiston is in Star Trek, but I'm a big fan of phlogiston generally. The old theory of heat that is, your know, because heat is a liquid that surrounds things and, by doing so, warms them. Maybe it is different in Star Trek than the history of chemistry. Anyway, phlogiston: it is good stuff.

hapax said...

Holy cow. When I wrote that analogy back on the atheism thread of Slacktivist a while ago, I didn't know that there were real live phlogistonistas about.

My apologies, Jessa.

Otherwise, wow. I've mentioned a number of times that for the Neo-Platonist, what we call "reality" is basically an analogy for The Real Thing, so we live and move and have our being amidst analogies.

In a very meaningful sense, I *worship* analogies.

Eldredge makes me feel like I've encountered the rankest, most juvenile blasphemy...

Geds said...

Wait, did I borrow that phlogiston thing from you, hapax?

Crap. I was just trying to come up with halfway decent way to explain the whole Star Trek analogy thing...

jessa said...

It isn't as though I actually believe in phlogiston, it's just that I am a fan of scientific theories that turn out to be wrong. (Aristotle said that men's veins pop out of their skin more frequently than women's because women are always losing blood in menstruation.) I am particularly fond of phlogiston because it has such a cool name.

hapax said...

Well, *I* stole it from Bugmaster (I think), so y'know, it's not like I have any claim to it.

Analogies are like God's love, y'know (or phlogiston): "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going..."

Btw, did you know that your blog doesn't come up at all under MSN livesearch? I don't normally use it, but I am having serious computer issues this week, and am kinda stuck with what I can get to.

tilts_at_windmills said...

Ditto DMD, the mystery quote in Eldredge is a mix up of two different Proverbs of Hell. Seeing Blake quoted approvingly in a fundagelical context blows my mind.