Two Types of Rebellion, Part Two: Acceptable Disobedience and Unacceptable Obedience


It’s well known that you can gum up a bureaucracy by following all the rules perfectly, literally,  and inflexibly. It’s even been used as a tactic of protest. 

You can also push back against a social system by taking the expectations TOO literally, like actually openly choosing virginity, which is what the churches preach and the schools encourage,  but no one much expects teens to actually do. 

But real pushback against expectations comes with the near certainty of real abuse and ostracization. 

Taking the rules too seriously really didn’t cost me much: I’d been socially awkward since early childhood and had no popularity to hoard or squander. I had no game, and would probably have been just as virginal had I tried to “get some.” 

The few close friends I had were mostly on the same page and were geeks and nerds enough to bond together regardless of any differences we had.

And high schoolers never drink good alcohol. Skipping cheap beer and liquor (and the associated hangover) is no loss.

Waiting for good wine and single-malt scotch was surely worth it. You can read that as a metaphor for the other things I skipped in high school, if you’d like. 

But gay and transgender teens with much greater social skills than I have literally faced death just for admitting to who they are. And it still happens sometimes. 

Those who don’t face violence still often face rejection, even from family. They often face cruelty,  discrimination, misgendering,  and a cavalcade of ignorant, invasive questions from people who should know how to mind their own business. 

And they’re often not even intentionally rebelling. Their mere existence is an affront to the system. 

Often, as a nerd, I wondered how the system could tell us to do all these things:  get good grades, say no to drugs and alcohol, remain sexually abstinent, and then treat us so terribly.

I never understood the point of the rules, which is to enforce conformity and consumerism, nor how vital a role acceptable disobedience plays.

In short, I didn’t understand anything about the social structure,  and I certainly didn’t understand real resistance. 

And I had no idea what real outsiders faced. 

Book sense I had in spades … common sense, not so much.

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Two Types of Rebellion, Part One: Unwitting Servants

Reading Kester Brewin’s Mutiny and reflecting on rebels I have known in my life,  I’ve come to believe that there are two types of rebels, at least in recent American society: 

  • Those whose rebellion supports the social structure
  • Those whose rebellion actually threatens the established order 

We’ll talk about the first group,  the rebels whose actions prop up the culture they’re rebelling against, today.  The second group will have to wait. 

The first group of rebels skips class, drinks,  has lots of sex in high school, drives too fast, plays a little dirty in business deals, keeps a “woman on the side, ” etc.

They may be reckless, selfish, irreverent, even criminal,  but they do it in normal, understandable ways. 

They uphold the power structure, even as they outwardly flout it. 

Occasionally one of them has to be punished to keep up the illusion that their rebellion is unacceptable, but it’s usually a woman (Martha Stewart or the girl who gets pregnant in high school), or the punishment is usually nominal (most white collar criminals,  Brock Turner). 

They typically “sow their wild oats” and then “grow out of it,” or else “bend the rules” or “play the system.”

They’re a necessary part of the system, though few of them would admit it.

Their rebellions serve as a pressure valve in the social system, just as their occasional scapegoating punishment serves to pacify and sanctify the self-righteous anger of the common people who live by the rules and are upset to see the cheaters prosper. 

Their rebellious acts are safely within the respectable, heteronormative, generally white male dominated traditional culture. 

Some of these acts are so common they’re not even rebellious any more, but almost expected. An “out and proud virgin” is more transgressive than the typical “having sex and hiding the fact from their parents” high schooler. 

Of course,  neither is nearly as transgressive (or likely to receive abuse) as an out LGBT+ teen, but we’ll talk about actual challenges to the social order later. 

I think Rush sum up the frustrations of a nerdy, studious kid watching the almost Huxleyan acceptable deviations of high school perfectly in one music video:

Ruining My Childhood! Updating White Male “Franchises,” Part 3

Friday’s post about updating all-white, all-male franchises left one major, legitimate question unaddressed:

Why change existing franchises? Why not just make some new characters?

The answer is pretty simple:

These are the cornerstones of our popular culture, and right now they are all white or all male or both.

Think about it: Superman, The Avengers, James Bond, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and many others are white male territory. To be sure, there are exceptions, but they tend to either be niche products or come from the mind and estate of Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek, Andromeda, etc.).

Any new, diverse properties will be competing against these titans for a spot in the pop cultural pantheon.

And we’ve seen how that turns out for the “comic girls.” They’re seen as lesser, also-ran versions or sidekicks. As good as the new Supergirl tv series is, there’s no question that she’s a knock-off of Superman. And Batgirl is in many ways a sidekick character, at least in mass media (comics, alas, are no longer truly “mass” in the sense that tv and movies are).

And look at She-Hulk, as awesome a character as she is (civil rights lawyer, cosmopolitan fun-loving single woman, Avenger, Fantastic Four member, and fourth-wall breaker long before Deadpool was a twinkle in Deathstroke’s eye patch). She’s never seen on tv or movies, and on the rare occasion she ends up in so much as a cartoon, she gets demoted to a disgruntled “living greenscreen” stunt double.

But if the baton is passed in some way in a major mass media production, the popular culture is changed to better reflect the reality of the world it both represents and influences.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens added a new generation of leads: Rey, a woman, Poe, a Latino man, and Finn, a black man. It expanded the franchise, and certainly served as a refreshing counterpart to the tin-eared racism of the prequels.

For ensembles or teams like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers, this is easy. As the original (white, male) actors rotate off, bring a more diverse group of characters to the forefront. Marvel’s already starting to do this, with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies already in various stages of pre-production, and with the addition of Scarlet Witch and Black Panther to the cast of Captain America: Civil War.

James Bond replaces its lead actor every decade or so anyway. Give Idris Elba a turn and see how it goes. If you want someone younger, try  It can’t be worse than the last half of Pierce Brosnan’s run.

Doctor Who has the same situation, with the Doctor’s regenerations. It’s easy enough to cast a woman, and/or a person of color.It isn’t hard to do. Some franchises are already doing it. It just requires the will to make it happen. And maybe if enough of us ask, it will start to happen. It’s already starting. The momentum might be unstoppable. I surely hope it is.Or we could just watch another 10,000 shows about white male antiheroes. Blech.

The Log in Our Eye (Divorce and Gay Marriage, Part 2)

Photo by Tangopaso and Musaromana, Creative Commons

Photo by Tangopaso and Musaromana, Creative Commons

Depending on which study you look at, divorce rates among Evangelicals or Born-Again Christians are either equal to the national average or well below it. But they’re never under 25%. So one marriage out of four, at least, ends in divorce.

Whether this is better than the national average or not, it’s still very high. Much higher than you’d think, given Jesus’s strong words against divorce.

Why is this so? I don’t know, but I have a few observations.  I’ll work through them in more detail in subsequent posts, but today I’ll simply give an overview.

Idolatry of Family – we Evangelicals see the family as paramount. We ignore the Apostle Paul’s words about celibacy (1 Cor 7:8-9), and we push everyone to get married early.

The pressure is so subtle, we don’t even realize it’s there, but we’re soaking in it every day of our lives. We get married before we’re ready, and it sets too many of us on the path to divorce.

Purity Culture – alongside the pressure to marry young is the overwhelming pressure (at least on girls) to stay “pure” for marriage.

The ugly flip side of this is that girls who have sex before they are married (and something like 80% do), are often shamed, treated like damaged goods. Elizabeth Smart’s story is a chilling example of this. The emotional scars this shaming leaves can affect marriage for years down the line.

Purity Culture’s Empty Promises – If the stick wasn’t enough, purity culture has an equally damaging carrot. It’s implied, and sometimes even stated outright, that if you wait until your wedding night, everything will be awesome.

The truth is, virginity is no magic key to a perfect marriage. This should be obvious, and it’s a sign of how messed up things are that it isn’t.

Having mystically high expectations set up that reality can’t realistically meet? Not a good foundation for a marriage.

Game Face Churchianity – you’d think that at church, among your fellow believers, would be the place to share your struggles, to show vulnerability, to be true and authentic, even when it isn’t pretty.

Well, you’d think that unless you’d ever actually been to church.

Pray Away the Gay – I went to a Baptist college as an undergraduate. Several men I knew there got married right out of college, just like they were supposed to (see #1, above). Some even had kids, just like they were supposed to.

Then, down the line, they realized they were gay. Or they admitted to themselves that they were gay. Or they just couldn’t repress the fact that they were gay anymore.

Reparative therapy doesn’t work. That’s been proven to the point that the APA and AMA are both resolutely against it. Marrying a woman and hoping it will all work out certainly doesn’t work.

Dragging a woman (and even children) through that unnecessary hell is just plain inexcusable, but the greater guilt is on those who pressured the gay man to do it.

So What’s Left?

Maybe the answer isn’t found in Jesus’ words about divorce, but in his words about self-examination and self-righteousness in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?

5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

America: New Jerusalem or Nova Roma?

624px-Flag-of-USA

Which one is America? The shining city on the hill, or the iron-fisted empire?

From a secular perspective, it’s clear that America is an exceptional nation. In technology, medicine, and research of all kinds, we’re world-class. In military might, we are the clear world leader.

We’re wealthy, strong, dominant. Our culture and language penetrates far beyond our borders, and people want to live here so strongly they’re willing to sneak in and live as fugitives.

But what does that mean to those of us who are both Americans and Christians?

What does it mean for the genuine desire among so many American Christians to get back to when America was a Christian nation, a godly nation? What does it mean for the equally genuine belief that America was never a godly nation?

What does it mean for us as citizens of a democracy? What path do we choose? Where do our allegiances lie?

If you see America as a city on a hill, even one that is somewhat fallen, then you see it as a special nation. A nation favored by God and destined to bring the world closer to Christ. In this mindset, it is vital to fight to preserve traditional American values (because they are closer to that original city on the hill) and to fight to enshrine Christian values in the laws of America.

On the other hand, if you see America as more like Rome, a powerful empire that is both good and bad, prosperous and brutal, you feel a separation. It’s not that America isn’t a great nation. It’s that great nations serve the powerful, and sometimes leave destruction in their wake. Jesus didn’t call us to dominate, but to serve.

America was built on African slavery and the destruction and conquest of the Native Americans. But without America, Hitler may have conquered the world. Without America, democracy may never have spread to Europe and beyond.

Evil is wrapped around good, like wheat and chaff. It’s like this in every nation, but the powerful ones especially.

Those of us who are skeptical of the culture wars, the attempts to force America’s laws to conform to our ideas of Christianity, aren’t just lukewarm or wishy-washy. We aren’t all sellouts to popular culture.

We have serious problems hitching our wagons to an Empire as bloody as Rome ever was. We have serious problems fighting to restore America’s morality, because American morality isn’t Christian morality.

We know that people get hurt, our witness gets clouded, and our hearts grow harder when we speak in language of disgust, of enmity, of power.

And we know that power brokers and politicians lap it up. Dollar-sign men who never feared God will speak with the tongues of angels, praying down brimstone, to get our votes.

Worse, perhaps, are the politicians who believe it – uncritically, unquestioningly – that we are right, that God is on our side, that we are justified.  And that those who doubt, or defer, or question are weak and contemptible. And anyone who stands against us deserves whatever they get.

So, America, who are you?

The great empire?

The beast?

The city on the hill?

 

39 Million Reasons to Hate the Culture War

In the last ten years, various conservative and Christian political groups have spent tens of millions of dollars to fighting against the legalization of gay marriage.Over $39 million was given to promote just one initiative, California’s Proposition 8.

What does $39 million buy?

World Vision lists a deep well (which can provide clean water for an entire village, preventing cholera and other outbreaks that kill many infants and children every year) at $13,700, a home for orphaned children at $5,100, a school at $22,000, and a health clinic at $39,000.  You could have one of each for $79,800. So you could transform 488 towns in developing nations for $39 million, touching literally millions of lives over many generations.

With $39 million, you could set up a foundation and use the interest and dividends from the principal to help people. That would give you, conservatively, $429,000 million a year (anyone who can’t get 1.1% on $39 million needs to find a new financial advisor). That sum would sponsor over 1,000 children through World Vision, forever.

Instead, we spend our $39 million making sure two men and two women can’t get married in one state. And we spend more fighting it in the courts.

Even if we ignore the emotional costs to our gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual neighbors.

Even if we ignore the spiritual costs of getting in bed with a money-and-power driven government in order to continue pressing down an already subordinate class of people.

Even if this culture war can be justified in theory, its opportunity costs cannot be justified, because they are paid in the sickness, pain and death of others.

We pay for our traditional, 1950’s-inspired lifestyle in the blood of the world’s poor.

Tell me how this follows Jesus’s example?

Tell me how this fulfills the Greatest Commandment?

Tell me how this honors Christ’s name?

 

Four Types of Violence, Part Five: Some Parting Thoughts

Peace Sign made of garlic, photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

Good for the World, Good on Spaghetti
Photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

I’ve been talking about violence a lot lately, and I think it’s time to bring it to a close now.  Kurt Willems has a great series here outlining a powerful argument for total pacifism among Christians.  Needless to say, there are other interpretations.  MT at Biblical Self Defense  discusses several OT and NT passages that relate to self defense, including armed self-defense, as not just a necessary evil, but a positive good.

Though I have not yet been swayed to the point of actual pacifism, I have to say that Kurt Willems’ arguments have profoundly affected me. He’s helped me to reassess my overall attitude towards violence done in my name as an American, the violence in the media that I consume, and the violence in the culture that I create.

And let’s face it, our American culture is awash in violence. We glorify revenge at every turn. Even as Christians, if you look at the time we spend watching violent films and TV, we probably glorify “good guys killing bad guys” more than we glorify God.

So what is the answer? I’m afraid I don’t have the whole answer. I may never have it. But I’ll keep wrestling with it. I know this much for sure:

Even without being convinced of true pacifism, the kind that would not use force to resist a home invader who threatens my pregnant wife, the kind that would not use force to resist the Nazis in World War II – even without taking that (admittedly radical) step … I can commit to pursuing peace today, through:

  • Questioning the violent actions my government takes, whether declared wars or unilateral (even unmanned) actions
  • Questioning the level of violence used in our justice system, especially against peaceful protesters and nonviolent offenders
  • Questioning the violence that is allowed to happen by authorities turning a blind eye or simply being overwhelmed: bullying in schools, beatings and rape in prisons.
  • Turning the other cheek in personal disputes, refusing to use even verbal ‘violence’
  • Protesting verbal violence, especially misogynist and racist bullying
  • Valuing the lives of foreigners in distant nations as much as I do my own, especially if they are civilians
  • Examining the culture I consume and create, and expunging anything that glorifies violence as a positive good.