Do what feels good

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“If it feels good, do it” ranked among the top most blasphemous phrases of my homeschooled youth. You were not supposed to do what felt good. Because obviously, what felt good was probably a sin. Like drugs. Or fornication. Or maybe just smiling to yourself about how you were really, really excellent at math.

“If it feels good, do it,” was supposedly a catchphrase then, how everyone out there lived their lives. At the same time, it became apparent that even out there in carnal society, women were fighting against what felt good in order to look good: short-term pain, long-term gain; feel the burn; don’t eat that cake. They were pitting themselves against their bodies, caving for a guilty indulgence of half a pie, then punishing themselves on the treadmill for their trespasses. The cult of self-flagellation, the deity of looking svelte in spandex.

When I moved to France to study abroad and live with a woman who spoke no English, I had sworn off cheese because I was convinced it was making me fat. I said I didn’t like it, which was only semi-true. Thankfully, that didn’t last. I was plunged headlong into the tradition of French dinner, French food, French cheese, bread, wine, duck, beef, l’apéretif, l’entrée, le plat principal. I ate the best food I’d ever tasted, regularly. I did not get fatter.

I watched French commercials for food, all about le plaisir: the idea that pleasure is your birthright, that food and life are made for enjoyment. Pleasure was practically a dirty word in English, fraught with images of forbidden horrors, cocaine-fueled orgies in rivers of whipped cream and lobster tail. But it was intrinsically part of the language in France. You couldn’t even say please without referring to it. S’il vous plaît, if it gives you pleasure. And nobody blushed.

The verb to pleasure is a raunchy-sounding euphemism in English. It’s sexual, overtly and gratuitously. The corresponding verb plaire has none of these connotations; il me plaît, he pleases me, meaning I enjoy him as a person. But enjoy isn’t quite right, because joy is different than pleasure. Pleasure is pure sensation, pure response. The taste of food, the feel of the wind, the flutter of what is good down into your fingertips. There is not even a shred of intellectualism or higher calling in pleasure, the way there is in joy. Joy is considered a virtue in nouveau puritan circles and the homeschooling community: you deliberately are joyful because that is what is required of you. JOY, some of us were told, stood for Jesus first, Others second, and You last. Joy, therefore, as self-denial and self-sacrifice, was the antithesis of pleasure. Joy was also the only truly acceptable state of emotionality there was.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-4-30-35-pmProbably, if you were miserable, you were on the right track. As long as you were miserable and dealing with it well. Being miserable meant bearing your cross daily, learning sanctification like a true Protestant, with all the Calvinist hatred of indulgence.

That first time in France, none of this really sank in. I decided I liked French food a lot, but that was about it. The second time I moved to France, I rediscovered what I’d been missing in the intervening years — time around the table with shared rituals and the shared understanding of an entire country intent on eating the best food possible. France’s relationship with food got into my psyche a little more, and I didn’t feel all that guilty when I marched across town and got pain au chocolate on the left side of the river, and then my favorite flan on the right side. Not that guilty, but maybe overdone on sugar.

When you pit yourself against your body, you learn to ignore signals like “this is too much glucose” or “your tendon does not appreciate this.” Also, to some extent, “this pious guy is lying to you” and “you will regret this tomorrow.”

When I started doing what felt good, I ate less sugar, fewer processed carbs. Not because I wanted to deny myself, but because I had the luxury of not eating what would make me feel foggy and hyper. It was a nice luxury. It wasn’t “short term pain, long term gain,” it was “I can do whatever I want, so why would I do that?”

Also “it’s Ok to spend money on things that make me feel good long-term instead of buying the cheapest, quickest option, or gorging myself on these free cookies.”

In general, the crowd that preaches against the temptations of pleasure decry hedonism, excess. They guard against sin. They assume that if you can do whatever you want, you’ll do the worst things, and thus destroy yourself.

But being able to do whatever you want often means the opposite. It means you’re careful with your choices, and intentional about them. If you truly believe you can eat whatever you want, and you’re not hung over from years of not believing this, then you choose wisely. You have a limited stomach, after all. Limited time. Limited insulin. Of course you choose wisely if you want the best.

So the next time you spiral into I-want-this-but-I-can’t-have-it, consider that you can do whatever you want. It’s not a shift that happens overnight. It requires that you listen carefully to your body, treat it like a friend, like an ally who is there to protect you and keep you safe. Your body is made for the best life has to offer. It knows things you may not know intellectually.

It knows what the best thing is; it contains conscience, intuition, sensitivity. It has its own wisdom, its own story to tell. Don’t be afraid of it.

Her body in marriage

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I’ve been in the process of moving, which means downsizing, sorting through old boxes, and (in what I considered a stroke of genius) setting up a roomful of stuff to give away and hosting a party to minimize what I haul to Goodwill. If I give my friends enough wine, undoubtedly they will be persuaded to appreciate my junk.

It was in unpacking a box of books that has sat around for years that I came across my old copy of Her Hand in Marriage by Doug Wilson. I remember reading it maybe a decade ago or more and not being totally repulsed by it, in spite of the fact that I quietly disagreed with statements like “Sons are trained for independence, whereas daughters are trained to pass from one state of dependence to another.”

Actually, I remember being heartened by a couple of passages. So I skimmed through the book to find them, and there they were. Doug’s assertion that according to Mosaic law, the price of immorality falls on the man rather than the woman. I remember thinking ten years ago, huh, that’s an interesting take on things.

But the context of this assertion is appalling on closer reading, and something clicked. It all made sense. Many people have asked the question, as I have: why does Doug keep harping on the supposed (and fictional) “secret courtship” in the Jamin Wight abuse case? Why does he consider this relevant to modern law on consent? Why does he put so much emphasis on, you know, forgiving the poor sinning bastard and making sure that he isn’t punished too much?

The answer: because, first of all, he’s basing his teachings on modern courtship on laws in which women are stoned on their father’s doorsteps for not being virgins. The burden of maintaining the woman’s virginity lay on the father, says Doug. And it still does.

Because, second of all, Doug is teaching sexual mores from an ancient law requiring women to marry their rapists. Because Doug is somehow claiming that this law means “in a biblical society, the price of immorality was high, on fell on the man.”

On page 54 of the book, Doug quotes Deut. 22:28-29, the law saying that raped women have to marry their rapists, and that the rapists need to pay for them like they’re virgins. Doug doesn’t interpret this passage inaccurately and try to argue away the rape: he says in cases of “seduction and rape, such a bride-price is mandatory.” He points out that a woman’s virginity was valuable, monetarily speaking, and that if a virgin got raped in Old Testament times, then her rapist had to pay her bride-price, and a pretty good one at that. In fact, maybe a higher one than he would have had to pay in other circumstances! This is what Doug Wilson is referring to when he says that the burden of “immorality” is on men. There are two wildly bizarre twists of logic in this statement. First, that rape = “immorality,” (a word used to describe consensual fornication) and second, that paying a generous dowry (with or without marrying the woman you rape) is somehow a higher price than, you know, being raped and then being forced to marry your rapist.

Why would Doug largely ignore modern laws on consent when he talks about Jamin Wight’s abuse? Why would he write a letter to the judge blaming Natalie’s parents for not somehow preventing this? Why would he talk as if seducing/raping a 14-year-old is akin to a romantic relationship? It’s all in his book on courtship. In Mosaic law, which is what Doug’s book on courtship focuses on, consent didn’t factor in to sex-related punishments except in one case: if the girl was betrothed or married and someone heard her scream for help and then made this known, then she didn’t get executed for adultery.

The punishment for a single girl having a roll in the hay with her boyfriend: her dad could require they get married and that the guy pay her bride-price.

The punishment for rape, if it’s a single girl getting raped: her dad could require they get married and that the guy pay her bride-price.

What’s at play here? The girl’s value, aka her virginity. Her being forced or not forced is not a factor in the punishment. This was pretty consistent with other bronze-age ideas about women, maintaining a clear line of progeny and so on, which is why other religious texts adopted similar laws that are still in effect.

Doug has the gall to assert that according to these bronze-age laws, men and women are treated equally: that men are expected to remain physically as pure as women are. However, this is not remotely true and Doug doesn’t even try to make a case for it. There’s no equivalent law to the one he cites where if a woman marries a man and thinks he’s not a virgin like he said he was, she gets to call his parents to task and demand that they prove he’d never had sex before. “Bring out the journals where you did a room check every night! Give me the sworn affidavits from all the village girls and the visiting prostitutes! Where’s the doctor’s note saying he’s free of VD?” And if they can’t prove this, that he gets stones hurled at him on his dad’s doorstep until he dies. Men’s virginity comes up as an issue in Mosaic law exactly never. It’s not even mentioned. Do men get capital punishment for adultery? Yes, if the adultery is that they’re sleeping with a married or betrothed woman (see Deut. 22: 22-24). Do men get killed for adultery if the woman is single and it’s the dude who’s married? It’s not even addressed, so no. Adultery for married-men-only didn’t exist, because in the event of extramarital sex with a single girl, the already-married man potentially got to marry again regardless of whether or not he forced her. Polygamy to the rescue.

So, again: what’s at play here? The girl’s value, based entirely on her virginity.

What’s at play in Doug’s hissy fits over the Greenfields “not protecting” Natalie? her value, based on her virginity. It had nothing to do with her trauma, since Doug has never acknowledged there was any. It used to be said in Christ Church circles back in the day that the Greenfields were a constellation of shining stars: all beautiful, statuesque, admired. There were a few families like that, and it was well-known who they were.

Having virtuous, beautiful women in his congregation is a major way Doug Wilson measures his pastoral acumen — you can tell by how often he mentions that submissive women under godly authority are beautiful, by how he brags about what the women in his congregation look like — and conversely, how ugly all the “small-breasted-biddies” and “lumberjack dykes” out there in non-Christian society are. You can tell by how he claims that non-Christ Church people favorably compare the women in his congregation to other women elsewhere.

When Jamin Wight abused Natalie, Natalie was whispered about in Christ Church — I know because I heard the whispers. She’d had sex. She was not a good girl. She was no longer a star in the Christ Church constellation. She was no longer a face and a body that Doug Wilson could comfortably pad his congregation with, could wallpaper the background with when visiting dignitaries paid him court.

Her value was in her virginity. Her consent or non-consent was of secondary, if any, importance. That’s why Doug responded the way he did to Jamin’s crimes. His theology of sexual ethics, drug straight from Deuteronomy 22 and explained over the course of 100 pages.

Doug asks his readers to consider the painful outcomes of not espousing the model he sets up in this book — presumably, divorce, maybe single motherhood or something like that. But let’s consider the painful price to the many, many people who have tried to follow his teachings and have gotten a raw deal instead. Even some of the ones who don’t think they have — I keep hearing about some women (though certainly not all of them) in his denomination who literally say of married sex, “women don’t like it, just lie there and pray for it to be over quickly.” I keep reading smothered evidence of abuse on CREC fronts that have yet to become public; I keep reading essays and comments from people who have been deeply wounded by Doug’s teachings.

Doug Wilson’s fruit is not how many beautiful, talented, chaste women he has sitting in the Logos Fieldhouse on any given Sunday. It’s what they say about him when they’re no longer bound by family, job, community or the threat of hell.

It’s what he does to the least of these.

 

 

 

 

The Shubin Report and the man behind the curtain

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Recently, there was a kerfluffle on Facebook in which one of the Christ Church deacons accused Natalie Greenfield of lying on multiple occasions. Despite repeated requests, he was unable to point out what he was referring to. Later commentary from another kirker mentioned the “parent-approved relationship” that Doug Wilson has consistently touted and which Natalie has denied. Keep in mind: this is the reason Wilson gave for blaming the Greenfields in personal letters and his letter to the judge over a decade ago; for downplaying Jamin’s crimes; for assuring the judge that Jamin is “not a predator.” This is the excuse he has given for his current treatment of Natalie and her family on his blog. This is the line he spun repeatedly at the heads of household meeting on the topic. This is the only thing he’s been able to get any sticking power with in his own congregation when he refers to her “lies.”

I’ve mentioned before that Wilson was relying on Jamin’s testimony when he made these claims, but this is made exactingly explicit in an exchange that has just been made public. Rachel Shubin put together a 499-page report (which she ended up giving to the CREC inquiry) into the topic, and e-mailed Doug with questions she had.

Doug Wilson has built his entire case for laying part of the blame for Natalie’s abuse on the Greenfields, from his letter to the judge onwards, on the word of a man he says he does not trust. Starting on page 45 of the report, there’s an email exchange between Shubin and Wilson that concretely lays out the fact that Wilson is relying on Jamin Wight’s testimony, and nothing else, when he claims that Natalie was in a “parent-approved” relationship:

RS: … From what I can tell and what you have said in the past, all of what Jamin did sexually with Natalie was beyond the knowledge of the parents, correct? Natalie has said that she was aware of no “parent-approved” relationship or secret courtship. So, three questions:

  1. How can Natalie have been part of a courtship she was unaware existed?
  2. Please define the particulars of what you understand the relationship to have been (What were the parameters? How long did the parent approved relationship/ secret courtship last?)
  3. Since you were not one of the primary parties involved in the relationship (those being Jamin, Natalie, and Gary and Pat), how did you find out about the courtship?

DW: Natalie could not have been in a relationship that she was unaware existed. But at least one of the parties (Jamin) says that she was very aware of it. This is why Natalie should open her journals up (if she wants the whole story told) and that would probably establish who is telling the truth at this point.

According to one source, the parameters were things like hand-holding, sitting together, etc. I am unsure how long the approved relationship existed.

I believe I found out about the courtship when the thing blew up, but do not know exactly.

RS: Have you read her journals? You’ve said that you have access to them.

DW: It is possible that I saw some back in the day, but don’t recall distinctly. I said that I had access to them because Jamin’s attorney has copies, and I thought the review committee might ask to see them. After I said that I discovered that the court seal applies not only to the copies at the courthouse, but also to any copies that Jamin’s attorney has (I presume because they were part of the plea arrangement). If we had had copies from back in the day, I don’t think the court seal would apply, but I don’t believe we do.

RS: Doug, what I really, really don’t understand with all of this is whyyyyyy do you believe the word of a man who abuses whatever women or adolescent females are naïve enough to let him get close for any length of time (as per court records pertaining to both Natalie and [redacted] and then lies to everyone he can during and afterwards all the way up to his own pastor (as per Leithart’s apology) and the court itself (perjury conviction)? And I’m not just talking about Natalie’s abuse. Jamin has a well-documented, years-long record of lying about huge things including when his own wedding was and whether or not he was drinking when he was legally bound not to do so. Please help me out here. I cannot figure out why you believe or count the testimony of any more than zero words that come out of his mouth.

DW: Simple. I don’t believe him. I don’t accept anything Jamin says as true unless it is independently confirmed. The same goes for Natalie. She has lied repeatedly also — but I can accept what she says if it is independently confirmed.

So, to recap: Wilson has “one source,” Jamin, who says one thing. Wilson appears to staunchly believes this one thing, or he would not have told everyone that it was true. The only other potential proof Wilson can offer is documentation that Wilson cannot recall ever having read and has no access to. And Wilson doesn’t know if this documentation would actually offer proof or not; he suggests Natalie publish her journals, which the court sealed, on the off chance that there’s something to substantiate his claims (that is, Jamin’s claims) in them. Natalie actually published excerpts, as it turns out, and there’s nothing there to suggest that Wilson’s line of reasoning has any basis.

So, let’s apply this same reasoning to Wilson. I’m going to hypothetically accuse Doug Wilson of lying to me about the fact that he had an affair with a woman who has hypothetically committed perjury. She’s hypothetically told me that Wilson did all kinds of untoward things to her. All I’ve got to prove it is her word on the matter. And Doug Wilson’s journals, maybe, although obviously I’ve never read them (or maybe I have… I can’t remember). I guess if Doug opens up his journals, we will know who is actually telling the truth here. Until he does, I’ll tell everyone who will listen to me that Doug is an adulterer and a liar, and that the reason he’s not publishing his journals like I’m asking him to is because he’s an adulterer and is obviously afraid of the truth coming out.

See, I do think Doug is a liar, or at least highly inconsistent in his own mind (so maybe psychologically unbalanced; he probably does mental gymnastics with himself so his contradictory realities exist in separate spheres that never touch). But even so, it would be absurd to insist that he committed adultery based on such tenuous “evidence.”

Just like it’s absurd to tell his congregation that Natalie is lying about a parent-approved relationship because Jamin Wight claimed that there was one.

Devil’s Dictionary: CREC edition

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Abortion: the reason nothing else should be considered morally wrong, including racism, slavery, the mass murder of adults, the sexual abuse of minors, and stealing other people’s ideas.

Community: the kindness of the church-goers for one another is paramount, because it presents a helpful distraction if anyone raises an objection about the way the church hierarchy functions.

Post-traumatic stress: a sign of rebellion against God’s plan for your life.

Depression: also a sign of rebellion. Don’t be depressed. If hearing that doesn’t cure you, you’re a sinner.

Pantywaist: a term used to describe a perceived lack of masculinity, which allows the user to employ the slightly naughty word “panty.”

Robust: a code word meaning strong, hard and/or persistent.

Insist: a strong, masculine verb used to describe an opinion voiced in one-sided internet arguments. Most often used in blog posts and sermons to cover for the author’s failure to prove his point with evidence and logic.

Full throated: intended to mean hale and hearty; actually means obnoxious, strident and abusive. As in “we employ a full-throated defense of the gospel.” Meant to connote the idea that straw-man stereotyping and name calling are all in good taste and for a good cause, whereas they are actually fallacious misrepresentation.

Conventional marriage: when a robust man takes possession of a physically mature yet emotionally stunted woman from her father, and then colonizes her garden.

Garden: polite euphemism; using the medical term is a sign of serious sin. Having your garden colonized may not be a very pleasant experience for you, but remember: flowers have no say in how they’re fertilized. Their duty is to bring joy to their gardener. The gardener’s skills in the flowerbed is obviously completely immaterial to the garden’s lack of enjoyment. Ladies: just shut your eyes and pray for it to be over quickly.

Feminine: concerned with being deferential to those in authority over her; also probably dressed in modest but tasteful attire attuned to her gardener’s needs. Absolutely no tattoos or outlandish piercings.

Feminist: a woman with small breasts who eats lentils and screams about how much she hates the patriarchy. Actually desires to be a man, which is the only reason she has any carnal desire for men, because sex drives are entirely masculine. Also known as a “small-breasted biddy” and/or as a “lumberjack dyke.”

Tattoo: the outward declaration that you belong to a tribe that is not our tribe. In our tribe, we all look like Edith Schaeffer, the face of 1950s-era Christian wholesomeness.  

Classical education: a term used to describe the process of enculturating youth into a dead culture, specifically that of 1950s-era Christian wholesomeness.

Biblical education: see classical education. Inculcating children with highly specific political and theological viewpoints backed up with tenuous Bible verses (“How are you today?” “Better than we deserve”). Includes shouting these viewpoints en masse, in unison, during assembly.

Shepherding students: includes but is not limited to spanking sessions doled out by the male principal to particularly beautiful, sassy young girls. Also includes eavesdropping on private conversations and critiquing hairstyles as moral failures.

Culture: building an army of loyal, full-throated, robust men and feminine women using the methods above.

Loyalty: the most important trait a human can have, unless you’re Doug Wilson and are striking out on your own.

Plagiarism: a common mistake that most people make when they write books, and not important to consider when choosing which biblical education text to purchase.

Student plagiarism at New Saint Andrews: reason for expulsion, no matter what the excuse.

Co-author: someone available to take the fall should it be discovered that the more prominent author is part of yet another plagiarism scandal.

Editor: check collector; this position requires no actual work, other than sending a mass email to CREC friends asking for contributions, and then running their contributions through spellcheck (but definitely not a plagiarism check, because nobody cares and everyone does it).

Dean: the person you complain to if a girl in your NSA class excludes you from a study group in a way that you’re just positive is on purpose, even if she says she was just having a few friends over and it was not on purpose at all.

Parental authority: what the dean appeals to when he calls you into his office to ask why you excluded someone from your study group.

Sermon: a good way to admonish “fictional” girls who exclude others from NSA study groups.

Generosity: the act of giving many thousands of dollars to the pastor so he can go on vacation and purchase good scotch. The church’s financial generosity should only be extended to people and causes the church deems appropriate, and definitely should not be used to feed and clothe degenerate widows and orphans.

Spot on: any idea thought of by any Wilson*.

*or published by without citation; may not actually be original.

Kicking the devil in the teeth: phrase celebrating how the gospel is like Game of Thrones; meaning the most vicious, bloodthirsty people win.

Persecution: opposition.

Bitterness: what you display if you are upset at being abused and wish to stop others from being abused by the same person or people. Bitterness must be confessed and repented of.

Iron sharpening iron: the notion that people within the church are actually quite different because they have complex debates about very minor theological and cultural differences.

Elder: a church officer chosen on the merits of loyalty, whose chief responsibility is to present a united leadership front and agreement with the pastor. Encouraged to believe he thinks independently because of iron sharpening iron.

Belief: you don’t believe what you say you believe, you believe what we say you believe. For example, if you say that you believe child abusers should be jailed for public safety, we know that actually means you don’t believe in the gospel. If you say you believe the elders made mistakes, we know that actually means you believe the elders are evil. Since the elders are not evil, and since the gospel is real, what you believe is a lie.

Strawman: only a logical fallacy when our enemies do it. See also: every other logical fallacy there is. Logical fallacies are actually great for debate, because they sidetrack the conversation and hence we win.

Letter of censure: a means by which elders and pastors can insist on the veracity of their own authority by kicking congregants in the nether regions as they flee out the door.

Slander: to tell an inconvenient truth. Any criticism of our leaders that doesn’t have a bulletproof, court-ready set of evidence and proofs to back it up. And even the ones that have that proof and evidence, because God, Gospel, Church Authority and Obviously.

Divisiveness: the act of pointing anyone to publicly available documents in support of critique, since critique by itself is dismissed as slander. If you are a peon and the other person is a pastor, you are guilty of divisiveness regardless of the facts.

Orc: anyone causing divisiveness.

The internet: a ridiculous place where people who do not agree with the church slander publicly and with impunity. Not a reliable place to get information, unless you are Doug Wilson; are writing textbooks edited by him; or are reading Mablog or any offshoot Wilson/CREC blogs.

Wikipedia: discouraged as a source for Logos papers, but an excellent place to copy and paste from without citation if you’re writing textbooks.

Scurrilous: any criticism of the leaders that isn’t couched in mountains of fawning and deferential language, or that offers a critique of any substance with or without the fawning language.

Ax to grind: phrase used to indicate a person whose specific assertions can be safely disregarded because they are known to criticize the leaders. Anyone who does that more than once is scurrilous, and hates God and therefore must not be listened to.

Fellowship of the Grievance (FOG): anyone who dislikes Doug Wilson’s teaching and who is friends with anyone else known to dislike Doug’s teaching is automatically part of the FOG. The only possible reason they could be friends is because they love being scurrilous together. Anything else they share is a lie.

Bedfellow: word to describe what a person becomes when they criticize the leaders, as some other reprobates have before them; namely, they get into a metaphorical bed with the rest of the scurrilous and thereby prove they have an ax to grind by joining the FOG.

By Katie Botkin, with St. Tara

Doug Wilson plagiarism Bingo

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Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.06.05 PMTo play: shuffle excuses, print them out, distribute to friends. Obviously, this is more Bing than Bingo, but it should provide for some entertainment while we wait to see how many of these regurgitated excuses we’ll hear from Doug Wilson before the dust settles. We’ve heard many of them from him before.

Thanks in no small part to Rachel Miller’s academic skills, we know that Doug Wilson has his name on the cover of at least four works (nine volumes in total, given that all six volumes of the Omnibus have his name on the cover) that contain plagiarism. In this latest instance, he is featured as an author and, perhaps more importantly, as an editor. Named editors are (in theory if not in practice) responsible for overseeing the compilation of text into a workable volume, and checking all the text for potential plagiarism. This includes sidebars and captions — in some cases, involves writing or directing the sidebars or captions, where applicable. “Editor” in this sense does not mean copyeditor, although it should involve some measure of that also — it means quality control overseer; editors are hired for their domain expertise and ability to get the best. And to do this, they should (in theory, if not in practice) oversee the final work and OK it for publication. As the managing editor for my magazine, I sign off on individual pages for publication. And I also oversee running corrections if we make a mistake, which we’ve been known to do.

So far, Doug Wilson’s response has shown a profound lack of awareness of his responsibility as an editor. Which means there are two options: either he has no idea what editors of academic volumes actually do, and has no business being one — or that he does have an idea, and is unwilling to take responsibility for his failings, which means he has no business being an editor or a pastor.

As to one of the points he raised about using open-source information in the copied Omnibus text: It is true that it is not uncommon to use open-source information to create glossaries, captions and so on. The problem is not using open-source information; it lies in acting as if this open-source information is proprietary; your own intellectual property. This is true even if you went to a lot of trouble to format and combine the information. For example: our magazine publishes a localization-industry glossary compiled with the help of any number of crowdsourced and open-source sites — and individual contributors. However, 1. we note that we used other sources, 2. nobody is listed as an author, and 3. we don’t sell it. It’s free online to everyone.

People create free, open-source information so it can be shared by everyone, not profited from by a few. Taking open-source data and changing a couple of lines, and then selling it, would be a little like stealing from the collection plate for personal use. Which, come to think of it, Doug Wilson doesn’t seem to have a problem with either.

 

 

Serving Tash

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If anyone says he does what is right, remember that the test of this is not how loudly he claims it, or how many followers he has; how much praise, but his ability to do good transparently and consistently, even to his enemies.

I was recently reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote from The Last Battle, where Aslan, speaking to Emeth, says “because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him [Tash, the demon-god]. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted… For all find what they truly seek.”

I read this as a paraphrase of something Jesus said, specifically that the measure of a Christian is someone who loves God and loves his neighbor as himself. The two are alike, and in this lies all the laws and the prophets. The Bible can be, and has been, used as excuse to commit heinous acts such as the Spanish Inquisition and mass genocide, so backing up an action with a glib “the Bible says this” does not make the action good or even Christian (according to Jesus, anyway: “you have heard it said, an eye for an eye, but I say unto you…” and “If anyone says he loves God, but hates his brother…” and “I was naked and you did not clothe me”)

So with this in mind, let’s look at a few things Doug Wilson wrote about how to “pray” for enemies (remember, those people Jesus specifically said to bless?) and notice that Doug wants even the children of his “enemies” to be blotted out, orphaned and shown no mercy (how very pro-life of him). And then consider if Doug perhaps would act to his “enemies” in accordance with his own prayers, by committing extortion against them, by blotting out their children. For all find what they truly seek.

And keep in mind, the “enemies” Doug prays these things about may be former congregants (such as my ex-husband). In fact, I’m guessing that Doug has prayed these things about me, given that I’ve publicly critiqued him. If not me, most likely others who have recently critiqued him, such as Natalie and other former congregants of his. Doug’s imprecatory prayers are not limited to official church prayers either, as I discovered many years ago during a private Christ Church Bible study.

Here, for your consideration, the window into Doug’s prayer life: “Let Satan be continually at their right hand, accusing them… When they cry out to You, let their prayers be reckoned as sinful. When they pray to You, let the ceiling above them remain silent. Cut short their days.”

“Add iniquity to their iniquity; make a great heap of their sins. Do not let them enter into Your righteousness. Blot them out of the book of the living. Do not record their names alongside the names of the righteous.”

“Let their children be orphaned, cut off without a father. Let their wives be widows, and we pray that their children would be desolate, having to beg their bread in empty places. We pray that the extortioner would come back at them, catching them in their plots, and taking all that they have. May strangers and aliens pillage them and leave them with nothing. We pray that when this happens, and Your hand is evident, that no one would show mercy, and that no kindness would be extended to his fatherless children. Cut off his posterity; may his name and his line come to nothing. Recall how sinful his father was, and call up again the sins of his mother. May their sins come before Your throne continually so that their name may be blotted out, and remembered on the earth no more.”

When I consider that these words, or similar ones, may be directed at me and my family through Doug, I have to conclude that the deity Doug is invoking with these words is a malevolent one, created in Doug’s own image. And as such, I do not believe his prayers will be answered. When you toy with malevolent deities, you bring destruction upon yourself, draw your power from the sickening rot of anguish. And this, more than anything, makes me very sad for the man.

Translating Beowulf

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I have a day job, which I occasionally reference here — I work for MultiLingual magazine, managing the content for the translation industry’s most global magazine — we ship to 80-plus countries and cover translation and localization topics from around the world. As such, I occasionally get asked to write for other industry publications, appear at industry events and so on. A couple of days ago, I did an interview which theoretically will appear on the website of the European Parliament’s Directorate-General for Translation. It sounds important, but it’s for a side project.

All of this to say, I’m somewhat versed in the practices of the translation industry.

So I can say with pretty clear certainty that Doug Wilson’s “translation” of Beowulf looks to most translation experts like a kid rearranging Shakespeare quotes on refrigerator magnets and claiming he’s written a new piece of poetry. Because that’s essentially what the translation is. Doug even admits it. He rearranged “about five different translations” into his “new” translation, and occasionally, he said, consulted the original and changed some words here and there. On Amazon, he calls this a “new verse rendering.” Elsewhere around the web, the book is heralded as a “new translation from Doug Wilson,” which is exactly what it is not.

This would be like me taking two translations of Les Miserables and copy-and-pasting them into one document, then claiming that me glancing at the original and switching out some poetic words from a thesaurus somehow made this an academic achievement.

If you think this comparison is too hard on Doug, let me just say, I actually speak French, and am capable of translating it from scratch. Whereas Doug’s grasp of Anglo-Saxon is about as good as mine — which is to say, not very. We took the same Anglo-Saxon class together, and I was highly amused to see him, with an introduction written from what could have been regurgitated notes from the first few days of class, put himself forward as some kind of Anglo-Saxon expert.

His goal, he claims, is to give people the feel of the original by using alliteration. Only he fails. To my ear, after reading the original aloud, his version is more clunky and less like the original than, it seems, any of the actual translations he borrowed from. So, essentially, he steals a thing and makes it worse.

Now, somehow, and I have no idea how, Doug appears to have gotten signs-offs from a few academics (although, please note, no Old English experts) and plastered them everywhere. After comparing their enthusiastic descriptions with the actual product, I was flabbergasted. And now I’m wondering if Doug paid them for their time, indisposing them to glowing reviews.

Let’s take a look. One of the translations Doug pulled from is a side-by-side edition from Howell D. Chickering, Jr. Chickering’s translation runs close to the original in content, and has the five opening lines thus:

Listen! We have heard    of the glory of the Spear-Danes

in the old days,    the kings of tribes —

how noble princes      showed great courage!

Often Scyld Scefing     seized mead-benches

from enemy troops,     from many a clan

Seamus Heaney, whom Doug also admits to borrowing from, has it thus:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by

And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,

A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes

So, if I take these two translations to guide me, consult the original to see the rhythm of the piece, add in some linguistic twists to make it flow better for a modern audience, here’s my stab, just for the sake of amusement:

Hark and hear,      how in days gone by,

 the kingly spear-danes     came to glory

and noble chieftains     charged with courage.

Oft Shield Sheafson,    scourge of tribes,

would mangle mead-benches,     seized from foes

Then I look at Doug’s version, where he claims he’s done something similar:

Hear the song of spear-danes from sunken years

Kings had courage then, the kings of all tribes

We have heard their heroics, we hold them in memory.

Shield Sheafson was one, scourge of all tribes

took a maul to the mead-benches, mangled his enemies

… is it just me, or does Doug not know how to write with the Anglo-Saxon ethos in mind? Take “we hold them in memory.” Not only is this nowhere in the original, it’s a Romance-based (and therefore anti-Anglo-Saxon) phrase. Doug appears to have interpreted a translation akin to “We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns” (a far more rhythmic and potent line) into a limp-sounding phrase about “memory.” He adds that Sheafson “mangled his enemies,” although the passage does not say this. Again, Doug seems to be interpreting a translation he doesn’t understand. Also, Doug’s verses do not flow grammatically.

So, there you have it. One more example of Doug’s scholastic work in action. As a linguist, I would never dream of publishing “my version” of Beowulf unless I could be pretty sure it was adding something that other translations hadn’t. Doug’s version adds muddiness, and completely misses the point. Instead of piercing, throaty, blood-burning verse, we get floppy, gratuitous violence masquerading as the real thing.

Which is not at all surprising, given Doug’s track record with accuracy, and his apparently limited knowledge of the original text.

 

 

 

The Man Who Would be King

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Readers of my blog have been asking for a recap of the recent Doug Wilson controversies. I’ve written one below, with new and highly relevant information included towards the end. I’ve also included a number of footnotes for those interested in checking out some (non-anonymous) sources.  

Silencing dissent for “peace and purity”

By Katie Botkin, with St. Tara (special thanks to anonymous research assistants)

Moscow, Idaho’s Doug Wilson has spent much of his pastoral career sparking controversy and feeding off the backlash. In a recent documentary put out by congregant Darren Doane of Razzie infamy and also featuring Ted Cruz,[1] Wilson gets the dubious honor of being labeled “the most hated preacher” in America.[2]

Wilson is perhaps best known — or least liked — for co-writing Southern Slavery As it Was, a partially-plagiarized pamphlet stating that southern slavery was a mutually beneficial arrangement for both of the races in question.[3] But this is hardly a solitary incident — wherever Wilson goes, controversy is sure to follow, and from that controversy Wilson milks growing web traffic and name recognition. Making the rounds on Twitter most recently is Wilson’s claim that “women who genuinely insist on ‘no masculine protection’ are really women who tacitly agree on the propriety of rape.”[4] Wilson, a self-described advocate of patriarchy, has a large following in Moscow and has fans spread across the United States — fans who routinely insist that Wilson is misunderstood and, moreover, has really helped them personally.

With a little help from friends, Wilson founded his own denomination, the CREC, complete with a seminary located in Moscow. He also started a K-12 classical Christian school in Moscow, started a college in Moscow that now heavily features his own family members as faculty and dean, and started his own publishing house, Canon Press, which has similarly featured numerous books he and his family members have written. Although Wilson has gained a bevy of disgruntled ex-congregants and is considered a cult leader by many members of the Moscow community, he plays every new scandal off as persecution by liberals and “intoleristas,” a term he coined to describe his detractors.

Controversy is key to his goals, as is his own brand of empire-building — he finds it in his best interest to insert himself in the legal and business affairs of his congregants. Locals question his motives for doing this, often referring back to a 2003 sermon where he addressed the state of the church. In the sermon, Wilson discusses the “strategic and feasible” move of taking over a small college town like Moscow: “When it came to spiritual activity and energy, in the mid-seventies Moscow and Pullman were typical and sleepy Northwest towns, with no conservative Reformed presence at all. Today it is the home of an international association of classical and Christian schools, a Christian school with an international reputation, a thriving Christian liberal arts college, a remarkable publishing house… and hot controversy surrounding virtually all of it. What happened? Not only are all these things happening, but the influence they are having is disproportionate to the actual numbers… [the] idea of warfare is necessary in order to understand a central part of what is happening here.”[5]

Controversy is key to gaining “influence” because, as Wilson has noted on his blog, he gets more traffic when people are outraged. Wilson frequently mentions his blog hits, and updates readers every so often on how many thousands or millions of views he’s gotten. His top post of 2015 included the question “Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?” to which Wilson’s response was “Yes, far more serious.”

In fact, nearly all of Wilson’s top posts of 2015 included something inflammatory on the subject of the “homosex rebellion,” as Wilson put it. Another other top post, entitled “On Why Christian Women are Prettier,”[6] focused on explaining that submitting to Christian doctrines and male headship makes women more attractive, and included the assertion that “Unbelieving [non-Christian] women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of ‘easy lay,’ or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes.”

When it comes to Wilson’s brand of evangelism, just about any press is good press — and Wilson often responds to questioning with his patent-pending “serrated edge” style, wherein he insults those who disagree with him, either in general, as with non-Christian women, or specifically. Jesus, Wilson says, did this to the Pharisees, and it turned out to be a great rhetorical tactic.

Wilson’s most frequent insult is that his detractors need reading comprehension lessons, as he didn’t exactly say what they’re saying he said — and, indeed, he relies heavily on any textual ambiguity to back away and mock those who attempt to state his position.

Getting legal with it

Central to Wilson’s ideas of “influence” is being able to direct both personal and legal matters. In his book Fidelty, Wilson writes, “The decision to inform the civil magistrate is a decision which is made by the church and not by the magistrate. A worthy pastor would defy any subpoena which tried to force information from him.”[7]

In the now-defunct Justice Primer, co-written with fellow CREC pastor Randy Booth and also pulled for plagiarism, Wilson expands on this idea: “We reserve the full right (and moral responsibility) to call the cops, depending on the circumstances. But it is important to note that ministerial authority means that whether or not we are going to do this is a decision that rests within the church… The district attorney routinely makes judgment calls regarding which crimes to prosecute or not. Likewise, church leaders make judgment calls regarding which sins rise to the level of crimes.”[8]

In other words, Wilson does not believe he should adhere to mandatory reporting laws for sex crimes, for example. And he, not the court, should be deciding the seriousness of crimes.

This has played out in a couple of sex scandals within his church, where Wilson wrote letters to the court asking for sentencing leniency. He maintained this was a fine idea even after one of the abusers, Jamin Wight, went on to commit felony strangulation of his wife, and the other, Steven Sitler, was investigated for additional pedophilia charges resulting from contact with his own son. Wilson performed Sitler’s wedding ceremony, though Wilson knew the man had molested a large number of children and Sitler had gone on record as saying he intended to have children himself. Wilson has stated recently that he would gladly perform the wedding again.

The Sitler story was in the local news, but the Wight story began to get more attention last fall after a letter, which Wilson wrote over a decade ago to the investigating officer of the sexual abuse case, was published. The letter, dated August 22, 2005, was essentially written on behalf of Wight. Wight, as a 24-year-old, unbeknownst to anyone but the victim in question, had molested 14-year-old Natalie Greenfield repeatedly over the course of 2001 through 2003 when Wight was boarding at the Greenfield house and attending Wilson’s church’s seminary. Natalie posted the letter on her blog along with several critiques of how Wilson handled her case. Wilson, on his part, has denied that he did anything wrong. An internal church investigation is currently being held to determine if the church should take any action on this front.

Nearly all of Wilson’s commentary on this situation glosses over the fact that one of his seminary’s stated goals is that ministerial students have personal spiritual oversight as well as religious training. Wilson’s letter essentially stated that of course Wight deserved some kind of slap on the wrist for what he’d done, but the Greenfields and specifically Gary Greenfield were at fault for not protecting Natalie. Wight, Wilson claimed, was “not a predator.”[9] Wilson insisted after this letter became public that Wight did not groom Natalie for sexual abuse[10] and that instead, Wight and Natalie participated in a “foolish parent-approved relationship.”[11] Natalie and her parents have maintained that no such relationship existed, though one was briefly discussed (and subsequently dismissed) with the understanding that it would have to take place years down the road. Wilson has admitted that he can’t prove Natalie knew about any “courtship” that happened in concert with the abuse, but insists it took place, and insists that this is completely relevant to discussions about her abuse.[12]

Wilson’s years-long obsession with pinning a large part of the blame on Natalie’s parents, particularly her father, and going so far as to insist that Gary was “abusive” and that what he did was just as bad as what Wight did,[13] can potentially be traced back to a longstanding business-related grudge.

The recorded business meeting

On December 15, 2004, mere months before the Greenfield family erupted with the knowledge of Wight’s abuse, Wilson interrogated then-congregant Gary about his loyalty to the church, which apparently had recently come into question. In a recorded conversation, Wilson asks if Gary has spoken to disgruntled congregants and if Gary’s counsels to those with concerns about the church “involve making them come to talk to us.” Wilson notes, “we know for a fact that some of the unhappy people in the church who have talked, have misrepresented, lied about us, sometimes in dramatic ways,” and wants to know, “when you hear something have you been careful to discount anything like that? You’ve not talked to them about particulars?” and further specifies, “so you are careful to be quiet?” He continues this line of questioning in spite of Gary’s assurances that he loves his church and the people in it. When Gary says he might need to discuss such things to see if they have merit, Wilson responds, “if you don’t have two or three witnesses where you bring it to me or to the elders or to someone who can do something about it, it warrants a rebuke to everyone who discussed it.”

One particular line of inquiry will be eerily familiar to those who have heard from Wilson before — specifically the insistence that those who are unhappy with the church are only telling one side of the story: “Have you been careful to not talk to people about any concerns, grievances, complaints, whatever they might be, until you know the whole story?” Wilson asks. Supposedly, the whole story, or at least the truly relevant part of it, comes from Wilson.

After a fairly exhaustive series of questions in this vein, Wilson launches into a mini-sermon on “sphere sovereignty” and business dealings, specifying that he and the elders have jurisdiction over Gary’s business. Moreover, Wilson states that if Gary breaks with the church, his business will suffer: “if there were some sort of rupture between you and the elders or you and the church … there are all sorts of scenarios that I can imagine that would, that would affect your business dramatically.” Wilson then suggests Gary sell his coffeeshop, Bucers, to someone presumably more loyal to the church. Gary declines. Wilson indicates that he wants Bucers to be financially and culturally successful. Specifically, more successful than the non-Christian coffeeshop in town, stating “You have a very important position in Christ Church because of Bucers, because of how the students congregate there, the students from our church congregate there… the pagans are starting a competition head to head with you.” The meeting also heavily featured Wilson taking Gary to task for not entering into a written agreement with follow congregant and would-be businessman Mark Beauchamp, whose business was backed by Wilson’s son Nate. Gary has said since then that he was leery of the written agreement Beauchamp proposed because it gave the church elders legal authority to settle business disagreements between him and Beauchamp.

Soon after this meeting, Wilson published a 178-word story about a man who “would not write anything down,” which was “a significant problem in his extensive business dealings.” The story concludes: “One day, while crossing the street at an intersection, he objected to a written message that, when summarized, read something like, ‘Don’t Walk,’ and he was struck and killed by a UPS truck.”[14]

Gary has maintained that this story was supposed to be about him, and explains what happened after he refused to sell: “Doug realized that I wasn’t going to mindlessly subject myself to his corrupt authority. Since he determined that I was an independent thinker, he felt the only way to deal with me was to buy me out and get ride of me. He wanted to destroy me and my family as retaliation for not submitting to his authority. He wanted revenge and he got it.”

It is perhaps important to note that Wilson — apparently without remembering that this conversation had been recorded — denied any and all of this. Asked via email “Did you ever ask Gary Greenfield, prior to his leaving your church, to remain quiet about his concerns and/or to encourage other church members to remain quiet about their concerns?” Wilson replied “No.” To the question “Did you ever indicate to Gary that if Gary left the church, it would affect his business at Bucers?” Wilson again replied “No.” He elaborates that these answers “interact with the text of your questions at face value. I can’t really interact with background assumptions or definitions.”[15]

Peace and purity

As can be seen in this recording, Wilson courts controversy outside his church, but will not tolerate it within the church, whatever he says to the contrary. One of the phrases Wilson used when urging Gary not to discuss things with disgruntled congregants was “the peace and purity” of the church. This phrase, and this idea, has cropped up repeatedly in other situations where critique of Wilson or the church was involved. You can see it in an oath of fealty Wilson required here.

Wilson and his allies are well-known among former congregants and critics for meddling behind the scenes, most often in the form of silencing congregants and former congregants who link to Natalie’s blog posts on Facebook. CREC pastors, elders and their family members have contacted current and former CREC members all over the United States to rebuke them for posting links to posts and stories critical of Wilson. This is not merely a case of one friend calling up another friend and saying “hey, I’m wondering why you posted this”; often, the elders or pastors in question are not friends with the person they’re contacting, and in some cases have never even met them. Sometimes, this line of inquiry occurred even when the subversive action was limited to clicking “like” on someone else’s posted link. All of 21 households confirmed that this has happened to them — some single individuals, some larger families. In the case of families, the husband or another male relative is typically contacted, even if another person — most often a female — was the only one to post something to social media. Additional people who have seemed sympathetic to those speaking against Wilson say they received sudden interest from CREC elders in the form of Facebook friend requests — and again, they’d never met those making the requests.

Publicly, Wilson has vilified Natalie as a liar and, via his blog, linked to obscure nude performance art videos her husband did in grad school, claiming this proves what kind of person Natalie is — in brief, as he put it, a “daughter of Portlandia” who is not to be trusted when it comes to sexual ethics. He did this a couple of months after writing her a letter telling her that it was impossible to keep the “whole story” hidden, and if she kept talking about the abuse case, details she didn’t like would come crawling out into the light. He specifically mentioned having access “to the love letters/journals that you wrote that the court reviewed and then sealed” from the time she was abused, though he knows at least by now that to publish pages from it would be illegal given that it was sealed by the court.[16]

 

[1] Won Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay (2014).

[2] Quoted from Amazon.

[3] “There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” Read here.

[4] Her Hand in Marriage, page 13.

[5] Sermon found here.

[6] blog post here.

[7] Fidelity (Kindle Locations 1748-1757). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[8] Pages 278-279.

[9] Letter from Douglas Wilson to Officer Green, dated August 22, 2005.

[10] Recorded speaking at the Heads of Household meeting, October 27, 2015.

[11] Tweet written by Douglas Wilson, screen captured here.

[12] Recorded speaking at the Heads of Household meeting, October 27, 2015.

[13] “The elders were very distressed over the way Jamin took sinful advantage of your daughter, but we also have to say that we were just as distressed at your extremely poor judgment as a father and protector.” Letter dated September 1, 2005, from Douglas Wilson to Gary Greenfield.

“The way Gary treated his family was every bit as bad as the way Jamin treated [his ex-wife].” Doug Wilson speaking at a Head of Household meeting, October 27, 2015.

[14] Credenda issue here.

[15] Email from Douglas Wilson to Katie Botkin, January 28, 2016.

[16] Email from Douglas Wilson to Natalie Greenfield, September 28, 2015. “we have access to the love letters/journals that you wrote that the court reviewed and then sealed… The reason I have been so concerned about your public airing of your perspective on it is that it is not really possible to dig up just half the story. The rest of it is going to want to come up too.”

On being female

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IMG_7120Having come out of a subculture that was obsessed with modesty of both dress and speech, it took me many years to express interest in men I liked. Looking back, I can see clearly at least three instances where I was attracted to someone who liked me back, yet I refused to flirt, refused to show any interest beyond extremely subtle signs that apparently fell by the wayside. I thought showing restraint (and basically nothing but restraint) was the right thing to do. Two out of three of these men decided I wasn’t into them and married someone else within the year.

So thinking back over all this, it is unsurprising for me to realize that in traditional Christian culture, the two sides of being female are presented starkly as virgin/whore: Mary, the chaste, the untouched; and conversely, Mary Magdalene, the one used by men to her own detriment. As the whore, Mary is bad but somewhat ambiguous; she may be the seductress or she may be the abused; she is either wicked or having something wicked done to her — or perhaps both. She becomes Christian by reforming her ways and presumably acting like the Virgin Mary. The two extremes: virgin/whore; good/bad; which category do you fit into?

Although motherhood is often celebrated in the church, there is no divine imagery of the mother or motherhood in Christendom. Mary comes closest, but Protestants tend to downplay her and Catholics focus on her perpetual virginity. The Perfect Wife is described in Proverbs 31 with a wide variety of characteristics, but Protestants name her above all things virtuous, the Puritan Goodwife who presumably also puts out because it’s her duty. Catholics are bit less prudish about it: they translated the word as valiant: “For who can find a valiant woman? Her price is far above rubies.”

As for the woman who is strong and sure of herself, sure of her power apart from what anyone else says about her, the Bible gives us Jezebel, who was so wicked she ended up cast from a window, her blood eaten by dogs. A Christian friend of mine recently confessed to me that she really liked Jezebel, whose only crime, she says, was staying loyal to the religion she was raised in after being married off to a foreigner.

A few thousand years past the Bronze Age, there are many in this country who still aspire to Biblical gender roles. However, to get a good picture of the lives of Biblical-era females, look no farther than the headlines Orthodox Jewish males have made over their refusal to sit next to women on airplanes. Women weren’t even allowed in the synagogue in Biblical times; that was reserved for men; men alone read the Torah. Women were innately contaminating; they were kept off to the side in the Women’s Court and well out of sight while the Torah was read.

But in spite of this negative heritage, in spite of having the virgin/whore dichotomy stamped into my psyche in a variety of ways, I read what I choose and I go where I please. Now I am strong, sure of myself, apart what anyone says about me — or at least I aspire to be. I say what I mean directly, to the people I directly wish to address, a far more compassionate route to the males of my environs. This means that I say yes when I want to say yes as much as it means I say no when I want to say no. And vice versa. This has taken some practice, and will for a long time. Though screeching to get attention and reactionary dithering have no place in my vocabulary, shamefaced wallflowering doesn’t either.

Because of this, I am more self-assured than I have been before. Now I am strong with a dark ferocity, and I will protect myself and those I love. I am strong with laughter in the daylight, my body is strong through use, my mind is strong and demanding. I am feminine, I am slight, but my spirit is unflinching. Many have tried to push me into the mire and have failed. To them my best vengeance is to rise, to show them I have endured their humiliations more graciously than they themselves have. I am not invincible but my triumph is invincible.

I am woman. Hear me roar.

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It’s a basically-accepted fact that the most dangerous thing known to woman is man. There are two extreme temptations here: claim that the only antidote to this is more man, or that the only antidote is avoiding all men. Both, when examined, are patently ridiculous. Saudi Arabia hasn’t solved rape by insisting that women need to be chaperoned everywhere by honor-bound male relatives. And short of becoming a recluse, it’s impossible to actually avoid men altogether.

One News Years Eve several years ago, three friends and I decided to go watch the fireworks on the Champs Elysees. We were in Paris, and this seemed like the obvious choice. After midnight, however, this very quickly devolved into us finding ourselves in the middle of a crowd of maltov-cocktail throwing revelers whose first choice in entertainment appeared to be trying to grope females in the crowd. Namely, us. They appeared to think we were tacitly agreeing to this by being in their midst. We quickly came up with the plan of linking arms, all four of us, and marching down the street aggressively in search of a café. This did not deter the gropers, however, until I started hurling curse words at every man who came within two feet of us. Then, aggrieved, offended, they backed away, hands in the air. All shreds of tacit agreement dissolved into the chaos and the broken glass of midnight.

The great irony is that one of these women is related to Doug Wilson, who insists on male protection to avoid harassment. But he and his family, thousands of miles away, were impotent in this situation — so much for male protection. The protection we got came from our solidarity and my nasty, loud, female mouth. My knowledge of French curse words, French culture, French accent; I came across as a pissed-off local who would raise hell. Not a lost, easily-preyed upon American.

The first line of defense against rape is not men, particularly not the men who are statistically most likely to do the molesting — take note, statistically, rape victims are assaulted in their own homes by people they know more than any other single place or group of people.

So the first line of defense is you. It’s your voice. Your loudness. Your insistence that you will tell the truth. You screaming for attention instead of playing it safe and polite. It’s also your community, your female friends, your male friends — whoever stands with you against the crowd. Whoever comes along to link arms in the night. I tell this to my nieces, too, when they express concern about bad guys: your voice is a powerful weapon. If you are in danger, if you are afraid, use it. Call for help. Do not be quiet. If they say you must be quiet, they are lying.

In Paris, the four of us found a café, and then we sat on the banks of the Seine and made up songs about our evening. I still get texts from one of these friends, every New Year: bonne annee, the salutation of every man who tried to touch us. I can laugh about it, because I was loud. I was loud, and they retreated.

I am a woman. I will raise my voice when the need arises.

 

Photos are of Madaleine Sorkin in Krabi, Thailand — far and away the best climber, male or female, I’ve ever met. 

Protection and propriety

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On this Valentine’s Day, I hope the single women do not feel like they are less than — particularly where safety is involved.

Over a decade ago, back when I worked at a college newspaper, all the editors had a meeting to discuss the way we were going to cover an alleged sexual assault case. The paper had initially reported it by naming the supposed rapist and leaving the supposed victim unnamed, as is standard procedure for sexual assault cases. However, there appeared to be some serious flaws in the story, and it was looking like a probable, though not absolute, false accusation. Honestly, I don’t remember the precise details of the case, but the question on the table was, in reporting these newest developments, if we named her or not. The guy writing the story really wanted to. He argued his case, and I could see his point: it wasn’t fair that he should be named as a possible rapist if she wasn’t getting named as a possible liar. We put it to a vote. The vote was tied. I was the last to vote, because, apparently, I was the most torn.

In the end, I voted against naming her. I couldn’t really explain why. At that point, I was fairly conservative (never kissed anyone, never been drunk, voted Republican) and would not have called myself a feminist.

I know why now. Because teaching her a lesson in public humiliation seemed far less important than preserving a code of ethics designed to keep victims of sexual assault safe.

In grad school, I joined up with a few people to start a writer’s group. One essay really stuck with me. A friend of mine was writing about how he had been falsely accused of touching his stepsister inappropriately, although apparently the accusations evaporated before things progressed too far. He wrote about his sexual paranoia following this, about how years afterwards he would repeatedly ask his girlfriend, to her great annoyance, “is this Ok, are you sure you want to do this?” He wrote about how another woman he knew had been raped, but didn’t want to report it because she was afraid. He wrote about his turmoil over this. How, he asked, do you make it safe enough for women to report rape in a culture where already a girl can ruin a boy’s life merely by saying “he touched me”?

This question bothered me because it did not seem to have a very good answer. Or, potentially, any answer.

This question took on new shape as my female friends began to tell me, in strange bare-souled moments, about things that had happened to them. One conservative girl told me about how, as a young teenager, she fell asleep in a friend’s den and awoke to find an older man on top of her, about how she tried to scream, about how much it hurt. About how she told no one, because she’d had one beer and thus thought it was her fault. About how her whole life changed for the worse after, and her frustrated parents assumed it was hormonal. Another conservative girl told me about an attempted rape she’d fought off, terrified and also silent. She didn’t accuse the guy either. Meanwhile, I was traveling the world, developing tactics to try to keep men like this at bay, dressing in ugly clothing, swearing like a sailor at them in a loud voice, physically pushing one man at a bus stop off of me. It worked, but none of them got in trouble, and the ugly dressing did not stop the ugly behavior. I considered myself lucky that nothing worse happened, and, indeed, the worst things were always done closer to home by people I knew and trusted — and they got away with it too.

At this point, extrapolating based on the stories of women I know and trust, I’d guess that maybe one in five women reports sexual assault to police. And that’s basically just the beginning of their journey towards justice. Obviously, my sample size is limited. But national statistics are only slightly better. In certain religious and cultural environments, those statistics can actually be much worse.

Women have a lot to lose by saying they were raped, even if it’s true and they can prove it — which in itself can be difficult, short of witnesses (which is unlikely) or DNA evidence, which needs to be gathered immediately and can be itself invasive and potentially traumatizing. Women similarly have a lot to lose by saying they were abused by domestic partners — even apart from the financial repercussions, it’s humiliating to admit that you married someone who mistreats you; it makes you look like a silly moron. It’s endlessly frustrating to try to convince people that a man who parades himself around like a saint is anything but. In domestic violence as well as rape cases, the victim is nearly always prodded by somebody about their bad choices, raked over the coals for this skirt or that turn of phrase. You provoked him. Of course we’re not excusing him, if in fact you are telling the truth, which you haven’t proven yet, but you really need to be focusing on your own sins.

Oftentimes, when a woman comes to her conservative community and says, “my husband is hurting me” or “this man coerced me into sex,” she’s told that, well, the leadership can’t pick sides, and if she was really telling the truth, she would have already done X, Y or Z differently. “Many women lie about this and play the victim,” say the leaders of these conservative communities sagely, “so we can’t just believe what you tell us.” So, feeling as if she’s been accused of lying and as if she has nowhere to turn, this woman will go home to her abusive husband, or back to her church-run school or workplace where her rapist hangs out. She’s reached out and gotten nothing. By refusing to pick sides, the leaders have picked sides. They’ve chosen not to believe her and not to take her concern seriously.

The other women who see this take note, and may not even take the first step of trying to get help.

Nowhere is this more evident than when someone like Doug Wilson says that women are tacitly agreeing on the propriety of rape by shrugging off male protection. Now, it is often this very “male protection” that does the damage — which Doug knows, as he is familiar with husbands and fathers in his congregation who have acted in physically or sexually violent ways (and not just the ones who have made it out into the news, clearly). Doug himself is not acting as a larger “male protector” and encouraging these women to leave their fathers/husbands for the protection of his home — not if the men are loyal to Doug.

Notice also that Doug discusses the “propriety of rape,” specifically, although nobody “tacitly” agrees on the “propriety” of being raped by doing or not doing anything. In retrospect, Doug has tried to paint this as a warning sign: if women go wandering around in dark alleys without a manly man around to protect them, they shouldn’t be surprised if someone jumps out and grabs them from behind. But this is not actually what the sentence he wrote means.

Statistically, if you attend Christ Church and particularly if you board Wilson’s seminary or college students, your children have a high-ish likelihood of being molested or otherwise preyed on by adult men in completely inappropriate ways. Wilson knows this is true, because, as he’s so fond of saying, he “covers sin up for a living.” But even given this statistical chance of molestation, it would not be true if I claimed “people who attend Christ Church tacitly agree on the propriety of having their children raped.” See the difference now? Nobody “tacitly” agrees on the “propriety” of being raped by failing to do something, whether you fail to leave a church hosting known rapists or you fail to walk around with a man on your arm at all times.

But making statements such as these leads to all sorts of problematic conclusions. If you honestly believe that a woman who fails to wear appropriate clothing or find an appropriate chaperone is “tacitly” asking to be raped, then you also believe it’s partly her fault if a man picks up on this “tacit” communication and acts accordingly.

Let’s put this another way. By mouthing off in public, Doug Wilson tacitly agrees on the propriety of him getting murdered. This is how I know:

  1. Doug has stated that women who aren’t protected by men are tacitly agreeing on the propriety of being raped. Thus, he believes doing or not doing something that contributes to X = agreeing, tacitly or otherwise, that X will or should occur.
  2. Doug lives in a world where guns are freely available and where many of his friends and detractors are sure to own them.
  3. Doug lives in a world where arguments often result in physical escalation and where people defend their honor by violent means.

Please note that I personally do not believe Doug deserves to be murdered for mouthing off in public. But obviously Doug is throwing caution to the wind here, and he’s a blind idjit if he refuses to see the danger. When you argue with the way the world is, you may just find yourself bleeding profusely from a head wound. One can’t win against God’s design, which is why God cautions people to season their words with salt, and for pastors to be known for their good reputations.

And, naturally, me stating this publicly is in no way an endorsement of those who might interpret Doug’s tacit agreement as an invitation to enact upon him what he’s tacitly agreeing to. Doug is being foolish by mouthing off, but it would also be foolish for anyone to act on his mouthing off.

I’m so glad we cleared all that up.