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The Dis-Integrating of Reality

A reader posts a link to an interview with the influential feminist theorist Judith Butler [1], in which she reflects on transgenderism. Excerpts:

Cristan Williams: You spoke about [2] the surgical intervention many trans people undergo as a “very brave transformation.” Can you talk about that?

Judith Butler: It is always brave to insist on undergoing transformations that feel necessary and right even when there are so many obstructions to doing so, including people and institutions who seek to pathologize or criminalize such important acts of self-definition. I know that for some feels less brave than necessary, but we all have to defend those necessities  that allow us to live and breathe in the way that feels right to us.  Surgical intervention can be precisely what a trans person needs – it is also not always what a trans person needs.  Either way, one should be free to determine the course of one’s gendered life.


JB: I agree completely that nothing is more important for transgender people than to have access to excellent health care in trans-affirmative environments, to have the legal and institutional freedom to pursue their own lives as they wish, and to have their freedom and desire affirmed by the rest of the world. This will happen only when transphobia is overcome at the level of individual attitudes and prejudices and in larger institutions of education, law, health care, and kinship.

One more:

CW: Some (such as Milton Diamond [3]) assert that there seems to be a genetic issue that can lead to transsexualism. What are your thoughts about such assertions?

JB: In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality. Even if a gene structure could be found, it would only establish a possible development, but would in no way determine that development causally. Genetics might be yet another way of getting to that sense of being “hard-wired” for a particular sex or gender. My sense is that we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender. We do not have to agree upon the “origins” of that sense of self to agree that it is ethically obligatory to support and recognize sexed and gendered modes of being that are crucial to a person’s well-being.


Butler goes on to say of course men may have vaginas and women may have penises, and that “we should all have greater freedoms to define and pursue our lives without pathologization, de-realization, harassment, threats of violence, violence, and criminalization. I join in the struggle to realize such a world.”

The reader said that within this interview lies many of the assumptions of those (straight and gay) who are pushing for the normalization of the LGBT experience. I think he’s right. The key idea here is that when it comes to sex, gender, and identity, there is nothing fixed, that everything depends on the will of the individual self. There is no reality, only “reality.”

I was talking recently with a Catholic priest friend who works as a campus minister. He was telling me that the No. 1 problem the college students he works with face is pornography. Nothing else is remotely close. He says it affects the kids profoundly, in particular their ability to form normal, healthy relationships with the opposite sex. The sexual instinct is so powerful in the human person, especially in males, that once it attaches itself to pornographic images, the bondage is extremely strong. This is particularly true within a culture in which any kind of restraint on sexual fantasy and activity is rapidly dissolving — indeed, in a culture in which sexual desire is considered at the core of one’s identity as a person.

I mentioned to the priest the observation by sociologist Philip Rieff that sexual restraint is at the core of the Christian worldview — a worldview whose collapse is indicated by the collapse of sexual restraint as an ideal in Western culture. Just now, I found the complete passage [4], from his 1967 classic The Triumph of the Therapeutic. It goes like this:

In the classical Christian culture of commitment, one renunciatory mode of control referred to the sexual opportunism of individuals. Contemporary churchmen may twist and turn it while they try to make themselves heard in a culture that renders preaching superfluous: the fact remains that renunciatory controls of sexual opportunity were placed in the Christian culture very near the center of the symbolic that has not held. Current apologetic efforts by religious professionals, in pretending that renunciation as the general mode of control was never dominant in the system, reflect the strange mixture of cowardice and courage with which they are participating in the dissolution of their cultural functions. Older Christian scholarship has known better than new Christian apologetics.

At bottom, only a single point was dealt with, abstinence from sexual relationships; everything else was secondary: for he who had renounced these found nothing hard. Renunciation of the servile yoke of sin (servile peccati iugum discutere) was the watchword of Christians, and an extraordinary unanimity prevailed as to the meaning of this watchword, whether we turn to the Coptic porter, or the learned Greek teacher, to the Bishop of Hippo, or Jerome the Roman presbyter, or the biographer of Saint Martin. Virginity was the specifically Christian virtue, and the essence of all virtues; in this conviction the meaning of the evangelical law was summed up.

Historically, the rejection of sexual individualism (which divorces pleasure and procreation) was the consensual matrix of Christian culture. It was never the last line drawn. On the contrary, beyond that first restriction there were drawn others, establishing the Christian corporate identity within which the individual was to organize the range of his experience. Individuality was hedged round by the discipline of sexuality, challenging those rapidly fluctuating imperatives established in Rome’s remissive culture, from which a new order of deprivations was intended to release the faithful Christian believer. Every controlling symbolic contains such remissive functions. What is revolutionary in modern culture refers to releases from inherited doctrines of therapeutic deprivation; from a predicate of renunciatory control, enjoining releases from impulse need, our culture has shifted toward a predicate of impulse release, projecting controls unsteadily based upon an infinite variety of wants raised to the status of needs. Difficult as the modern cultural condition may be, I doubt that Western men can be persuaded again to the Greek opinion that the secret of happiness is to have as few needs as possible. The philosophers of therapeutic deprivation are disposed to eat well when they are not preaching. It is hard to take Schopenhauer at his ascetic word when we know what splendid dinners he had put on, day after day, at the Hotel Schwan in Frankfort.

The central Christian symbolic was not ascetic in a crude renunciatory mode which would destroy any culture. Max Scheler described that culture accurately, I think, when he concluded that “Christian asceticism—at least so far as it was not influenced by decadent Hellenistic philosophy—had as its purpose not the suppression or even extirpation of natural drives, but rather their control and complete spiritualization. It is positive, not negative, asceticism—aimed fundamentally at a liberation of the highest powers of personality from blockage by the automatism of the lower drives.” That renunciatory mode, in which the highest powers of personality are precisely those which subserve rather than subvert culture, appears no longer systematically efficient. The spiritualizers have had their day; nowadays, the best among them appear engaged in a desperate strategy of acceptance, in the hope that by embracing doctrinal expressions of therapeutic aims they will be embraced by the therapeutics; a false hope—the therapeutics need no doctrines, only opportunities. But the spiritualizers persist in trying to maintain cultural contact with constituencies already deconverted in all but name.

What Rieff is saying here, sometimes amid thick jargon, is that what was distinctive about Christianity from the beginning is a spirit of asceticism, especially sexual asceticism. As Rieff makes clear, Christianity did not prescribe “crude” sexual renunciation (i.e., total denial of the sexual instinct), but rather controlling it, reining it in to make it serve higher spiritual purposes. If you can master your sex drive, the theory went, then you can master any other passions that, unreined, will destroy you and the possibility of community.

Rieff’s prophetic point is that Western culture has renounced renunciation, has cast off the ascetic spirit, and therefore has deconverted from Christianity whether it knows it or not. In bringing this up with my priest friend, I asked him why he thought sex was at the center of the Christian symbolic that has not held.

“It goes back to Genesis 1 [5],” he said. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then he told them to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ We see right there in the beginning the revelation that male and female, that complementarity, symbolizes the Holy Trinity, and in their fertility they carry out the life of the Trinity.”

In other words, from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible, gender complementarity and fertility are built into the nature of ultimate reality, which is God. Our role as human beings is to strive to harmonize our own lives with that reality, because in so doing we dwell in harmony with God.

“Do you know what the word ‘symbol’ means in the original Greek?” he asked. I said I did not.

“It means ‘to bring together,'” he said.

“To integrate,” I replied.

“Yes. Now, do you know what the antonym for symbol is?”


“It is diabolos, which means to tear apart, to separate, to throw something through another thing.”

“So when something is diabolic, it means it is a disintegrating force?”

“You could say that, yes,” he said. “All the time I’m dealing with the fallout from divorce and families breaking up. Kids who don’t know their fathers. You should hear these confessions. It’s a huge deal. You can see the loss of the sense of what family is for, and why it’s important.”

He said that the students he works with are so confused, needy, and broken. Many of them have never seen what a functional, healthy family looks like, and have grown up in a culture that devalues the fundamental moral, metaphysical, and spiritual principles that make stable and healthy family formation possible — especially the belief that the generative powers of sex, within male-female complementarity, is intimately related to the divine nature, and the ongoing life of the Trinity. Nobody has ever explained it to them, he says. If they’ve heard anything from the Church, it’s something like, “Don’t do this because the Bible says not to” — which is not enough in this time and place. And many of them have never, or have rarely, seen it modeled for them by the adults in their lives.

The Judith Butler essay brought that conversation to mind this morning, and reflection on the symbol/diabol distinction sent me online looking for more. Lo, the Google results give me this entry from a dating website [6], in which the author quotes from a bestselling 2004 book The Art of Seduction, by Robert Greene. From the website:

In the book, Greene talks about the importance of language in seducing someone. Seduction, as you know, is a matter of how and what you communicate to your target, and is thus, extremely important in your interactions.

Greene makes the distinction between two types of languages — symbolic and diabolic language. To quote him here:

“Most people employ symbolic language—their words stand for something real, the feelings, ideas, and beliefs they really have. Or they stand for concrete things in the real world. (The origin of the word “symbolic” lies in a Greek word meaning “to bring things together”—in this case, a word and something real.)
“As a seducer you are using the opposite: diabolic language. Your words do not stand for anything real; their sound, and the feelings they evoke, are more important than what they are supposed to stand for. (The word “diabolic” ultimately means to separate, to throw things apart—here, words and reality.) The more you make people focus on your sweet-sounding language, and on the illusions and fantasies it conjures, the more you diminish their contact with reality. You lead them into the clouds, where it is hard to distinguish truth from untruth, real from unreal.”

As an indirect seducer, you must focus on using diabolic rather than symbolic language. Your goal is to stimulate your target’s imagination, enveloping her into your spirit. Do this, and she will not be able to resist you.

There you have it. If nothing is real, then there is nothing but lies — that is to say, the manipulation of reality — and the pursuit of power. A worldview that believes in nothing real, only the will to power (expressed, for example, in deciding that your gender is what you say it is, and nothing more), is intrinsically diabolical. It scatters, it disintegrates, and makes the song of the world into senseless cacaphony.

This is our world today. The Russian Orthodox philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, in his 1923 book The End of Our Time [7], wrote:

The middle ages safeguarded human powers and prepared the way for the splendour of the Renaissance. Man came to this flowering with mediaeval experience, mediaeval preparation, and all that was authentically great in the Renaissance had a bond with the Christian middle ages. Today man is going towards an unknown future with the experience of modern history and what led to it behind him; he is not full of creative enthusiasm, as at the beginning of the Renaissance, but exhausted, weak, without faith empty. All that gives us something to think about.

At the dawn of the Renaissance, says Berdyaev:

Man’s creative activity was then at its fullest in Catholicism, and the whole of the great European civilization, Latin above all, was grounded on the culture of Catholic Christianity, it had its roots in the Christian religion. This itself was already soaked in antiquity — to what an extent it had taken over the ancient culture is now recognized. That culture still lived in mediaeval Catholicism and by it was carried on into modern times. It was because of this that a renaissance in our history was possible. The Renaissance was not, as the Reformation was, against Catholicism. A tremendous human activity was afoot in the Church, it showed itself in the papal sovereignty, the domination of the world by the Church, the making of a vast mediaeval culture. In this, Catholicism is to be distinguished from Eastern Orthodoxy. Catholicism not only showed men the way to Heaven, it also fostered beauty and splendour upon earth. Therein is its great secret. By seeking first for Heaven and life everlasting there, it adds beauty and power to mortal life on earth. The asceticism of that Catholic world was an excellent training for work; it safeguarded and concentrated man’s creative powers. Mediaeval ascesis was a most effective school: it tempered the human spirit superbly, and throughout all modern history European man has lived on what he gained in that schooling. No other way os spirituality could have so tested and trained him. Europe is spending her strength extravagantly, she is exhausted; and she keeps some spiritual life only because of the Christian foundation of her soul. Christianity has gone on living in man in a secularized form, and it is she who has kept him from disintegrating completely.

He wrote that almost 100 years ago. Now there is virtually nothing standing in the way of that disintegration. Berdyaev once more:

The subsistence of human personality is impossible without the life-making stream of religious asceticism, which differentiates, which separates out, which puts first things first. And yet modern history has been built upon the illusion that personality can spread its wings without the help of these ascetic influences.

But putting “first things first,” Berdyaev means places the Logos as the ordering principle of all other things. All things can only be integrated because of God. This is the fundamental message of Dante’s Divine Comedy. 

This civilizational madness will have to run its course. We now have our leading scholars saying that women can have penises — and this is considered the highest wisdom. It is on the basis of this wisdom that our laws are being changed. It is diabolical, in the sense of being fundamentally about dis-integration. Depending on your point of view, it is diabolical in every sense of the word. You hear in Judith Butler the voice of the Seducer, the voice of the Diabolist. Hers is no longer a marginal voice, but rather one increasingly magnified by our mainstream media.

Signs of the times. The denial of Logos as an ordering principle, and asceticism as an ordering function, is leading to the disintegration of all things, including the family, and ultimately the human personality. The world accepts this. Even many in the church accepts this. If you are going to be part of the resistance, and one day far into the future, when the lies fail, a renaissance — then you had better make provision for surviving and thriving in the long defeat.

130 Comments (Open | Close)

130 Comments To "The Dis-Integrating of Reality"

#1 Comment By panda On May 29, 2015 @ 11:08 pm

“panda says

very smart, but utterly lacking in ability to talk to women.
From where I am standing, sheer self-contradiction.

Total Comfort around the other sex is the hallmark of smart. Besides, talking with chaps is dreary: soccer, beer, cars, and similar folderol unworthy of human consideration.”

I suspect that unless the persona heartright presents here is a complex prank, persons of the opposite sex feel absolute comfort next to him only if they are wielding a stick..

#2 Comment By AJ On May 30, 2015 @ 1:13 am

I was surprised to hear in JB the assertion that, “yes, it is a choice and we need to respect that.” If you didn’t catch that, it is a watershed moment that we have passed through. Now that they hold political power, they no longer see any need for the former duplicity.

#3 Comment By Gretchen On May 30, 2015 @ 2:52 am

Jason, I’d really like to know your evidence or explanation of why you think hypergamy is more prevalent now than in the past. I am old enough to remember women working being controversial, so a man’s earning power was a very important consideration. Now, women expect to work, so it’s less of a consideration. I have three daughters in the late 20s, early 30s, and hear the concerns of them and their friends while they go about choosing a life partner. My oldest is bright, ambitious, driven, and married a guy who is less of all those things, and supports her in everything she does. If they’re moving for career, it’s her career they’re moving for, because she probably makes twice what he does. He’s also a complete sweetie, and she loves him, as do I. My second daughter is also completely into her career, and can’t wait to see where it takes her. She’s very much in love with a sweet guy who is about to move to where she lives, because he hasn’t figured out what he wants to do, and she very much has. My third daughter is also pursuing a career, while it’s turned out to be less fulfilling than she hoped. She’s in love with a medical resident at an Ivy League university. He is, by the usual definition, a “catch”. We’re all hoping she’ll dump him, because, while his husband resume is stellar, he’s kind of a jerk to her. So, we have 3 guys who’ve found girls to love them, and two are underperformers career-wise, but over-performers personality-wise, and everyone who knows them thinks it’s a good deal all around, while we’re ready to be rid of the other asap.
I have a good friend, a brilliant woman, who was a stay-at-home mom. She has three daughters. One never married. One is a tenured professor at an Ivy-League college. One is a veterinarian. The two who married are married to guys who haven’t achieved much career-wise, but are good husbands who have flexible schedules so they’re always around to be with the children, and are ready to move when their wives get a great career opportunity, as when the professor got a year-long sabbatical in Italy. Mom feels like her daughters are rejecting her way. I feel that her daughters are acknowledging the importance of having a parent with the kids as much as possible, and the importance of using your intellect, so their choices are honoring her choices, while doing things a little differently.
I’ve always though of dating as operating on a point system. You get points for looks, smarts, social position, money, personality. You can trade out points: My mother-in-law was much better-looking than my father-in-law, but he was a high-income MD with a great personality who could buy her a nice life and worldwide travel. There are always old guys (low points for looks) who have beautiful young girlfriends, because they have high points for money, social position, and personality. But they’re not going to get fascinating, rich, beautiful, interesting girlfriends, because she has more options. But if you’re a 5 in all areas, you’re either going to have to match with a 5 in all areas, or maybe match with an 8 in income if you’re willing to go with a 3 in looks, or an 8 in looks who will spend all your money. You have to be honest about what you have to offer versus what you’re demanding, and, if you don’t have the points for what you want, figure out how to improve your standing.

#4 Comment By Gretchen On May 30, 2015 @ 3:16 am

I’ve had the point-system theory for some time, but never had the courage to apply it to my own life. Here goes: I’m a bit better-looking than my husband, and have always made a bit more money than he did, when I was working full-time, so, plus-2 points for me. But, while I hate to admit it, he’s got a lot more personality than I do, and that’s what attracted me to him – plus-2 points for him. He was, and is, hilarious, interesting, interested in everything, and knows all about odd things. 37 years in, and, while he’s annoyed the daylights out of me, he’s never been dull.

#5 Comment By Anne On May 30, 2015 @ 7:46 am

To note that Philo and the Gospel of John and first-century Judaism were all influenced by Greek philosophy doesn’t mean there aren’t obvious distinctions to be made as well. There are certainly Hellenized aspects of Jewish thought in the New Testament (hades, angels, e.g.), but the teachings of Jesus come out of a uniquely Judaic core, i.e.,the Law, the prophets, and the promise of a messianic kingdom. Christians, as I noted, were even more influenced by Greek thought as time went on, as the 4th gospel, wrtten somewhere around the turn of the second century, shows. To better understand any given teaching, it makes sense to discern the circumstances of its origin.

#6 Comment By JonF On May 30, 2015 @ 7:53 am

Re: Two halves of ONE whole.

Huh? This reminds me of Plato’s silly story (meant, I think, for humor) in the Symposium, where Socrates explains that we were originally four-legged, four armed two-headed beasts cloven in half by gods so we now run around seeking our other half still– hence, sexual passion.

Well, no, each of us is already a whole, containing many worlds. Love is not about finding yourself in a mirror: it is about finding the Other and discovering yet, more worlds and multitudes beyond your own.
The great saints and ascetics can find that Other in everything and anything: God is in all things after all. Most people do not have that grace and so must content themselves with finding the Other in another human being. And note: I did not say “man” or “woman”, but human being. Each of us contains worlds.

Your reading of the passage in Genesis as containing anything normative on sexuality (as opposed to human unity and equality between the sexes) simply does not make sense to me. It contradicts lived and observed experience, and thus is to be rejected even as we reject the notion that Biblical passages involving “the four corners of the Earth” or “the sun standing still” prescribe a flat earth with a sun revolving around it.

#7 Comment By Anne On May 30, 2015 @ 8:56 am

Another thing about Greek influence and the Judaism of Jesus: Most biblical scholars believe Jesus was a Pharisee in that his teachings most closely resemble those of that Jewish sect (in acceptance of both oral Law and Torah, resurrection of the dead, etc.). Although some have suggested John the Baptist may have been an Essene, a smaller, monastic sect whose writings were famously discovered at the Dead Sea, his teachings have never allowed historians to include Jesus himself in this group. Most importantly, of the two major sects of the day, Sadducees and Pharisees, the Pharisees specifically rejected Hellenization.

#8 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 30, 2015 @ 9:46 am


Actually, people who use pornography also have more sex than people who don’t.

#9 Comment By SL On May 30, 2015 @ 10:43 am

“’It goes back to Genesis 1,” he said. ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then he told them to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ We see right there in the beginning the revelation that male and female, that complementarity, symbolizes the Holy Trinity, and in their fertility they carry out the life of the Trinity.’ In other words, from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible, gender complementarity and fertility are built into the nature of ultimate reality, which is God. Our role as human beings is to strive to harmonize our own lives with that reality, because in so doing we dwell in harmony with God.”

Rod, if the accepted scientific version of history is correct, then the universe is about 37 billion years old, earth itself is 4.6 billion years old, and the first living thing was a single cell that only appeared about 500-600 million years ago. In other words, earth didn’t even exist until 32.4 billion years after the creation of the universe, and it was another 4 billion years before anything appeared on earth that could be said to have “gender complementarity.” On that basis, to use Genesis to argue as Jesus did, that “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6, NIV), is to do extreme violence to the definition of the term “beginning of creation.”

One can argue that Genesis 1 is just symbolic, but I would say that a truer description would be diabolic, according to your definition in this post. Again, consider: besides the obvious conflict of four days before the appearance of life as opposed to 36.4 billion years, vegetation appears in Genesis before the creation of the stars, the sun and the moon. Birds appear before land-dwelling animals. Adam and Eve were given plants, not animals, to eat. Then there are the hundreds of years of life span of the first humans, as well as the catastrophic inundation of the earth by a worldwide flood. It’s not until Abraham that modern science catches up with Genesis.

You can’t harmonize Genesis with history as it is currently understood by the overwhelming majority of scientists without doing violence to the meaning of the words used in either one or the other of the two accounts, a truly diabolic enterprise. I would argue that your priest friend’s quotation of Genesis is useless in any discussion of why sex is at the center of the Christian symbolic. You’re certainly not going to convince a scientist with that rationale without either a massive dose of cognitive dissonance, or a rejection on their part of much of what they have been taught all their life.

You’ve said before, Rod, that your oldest son is interested in becoming a scientist. I would be very interested to know how you and he work together to reconcile the problem I’ve described, or if you even think one exists. I know that for many people, it truly is a problem.

[NFR: You are being gobsmackingly literalist. One does not have to believe that Genesis is a literal, factual account of Creation (I do not believe it). One has to believe, as a Christian, that God’s intent and action is behind Creation, however He brought it about in history. The creation of male and female as a way of reproducing life, and the Bible’s positing of this fact as the “image of God,” is foundational. If you are not a Christian, I can understand how you don’t believe this, but no Christian can believe otherwise without dissolving the fundament of Christian anthropology. — RD]

#10 Comment By KD On May 30, 2015 @ 11:55 am


The Truth is that we can only guess, and what comes to us is a quilt that has been passed down and mended over the course of centuries. We can only speculate, and perhaps identify strands of influence, provided we recognize that after Alexander, Judaism and Hellenism cannot be disentangled (ergo Christianity and Hellenism can never be honestly disentangled). If you look at the Gospels, there are a number of different influences, for example, John has no demons whereas the Synoptic Gospels have narratives on the exorcism of demons.

But the earliest manuscripts (if you believe our modern scholars) are the Epistles of Paul, and if we look at Galatians 2:19-21, we find Paul discussing his new life through mystical participation in Christ. At 1 Corinthians 7, Paul indicates he is celibate, and clearly that celibacy is superior to married life, but that marriage is necessary to avoid the weak falling into sin.

Moreover, zero evidence that Jesus or John the Baptist married, all evidence suggests they were homeless wanderers living lives based on severe asceticism (with some interesting parallels to the forest renunciates of ancient India). Perhaps Jesus and John were Indian yogis? I don’t believe that, but I hold it out as an example of how these historical speculations don’t reveal the nature of the historical subject so much as they reveal the image of the historian.

#11 Comment By KD On May 30, 2015 @ 12:08 pm


I don’t know how to say this without a visual metaphor.

We can start with Heaven, with rays of light falling down at various points on earth. We can say that those things on earth that the light falls upon have meaning or value. Further, we can say they only have meaning or value because they reflect the light of heaven.

At the same time, we can order points on earth based on where we find meaning in certain events. Different histories reflect different world views, and presuppose different understandings of heaven in this sense. If, for whatever reason, people forgot to look up, they might forget heaven, and believe that the things of the earth had this reflected light inherent in themselves (e.g. a blue object versus blue light). If we think of earth not as a location, but a 4 dimensional whole composed of interrelated parts, we could construct a chronology of events. Obviously, the more sophisticated our scientific knowledge, the more accurate our chronology, but what would be left out is the source of Heavenly light (as well as the origin of the Big Bang). Rather than look at Genesis as a chronology, I would recommend viewing it as a mytho-poetic revelation of the nature of Heaven and Earth, which can ultimately only be incompletely revealed in images, because its source is outside the container, and therefore, outside bivalent logic.

#12 Comment By KD On May 30, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

The contradiction of the atheist:

They reject God, and the Bible, but offer no similar opposition to the notion of a week being 7 days long, even though this supposition rests upon precisely the same authority as belief in God and the Bible.

#13 Comment By Mike Cosper On May 30, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

Reading this, I thought about Wendell Berry’s piece, “The Malaise of Anatomy” from a recent issue of Harper’s. In it, Berry argues that the Modern impulse is to anatomize – to perpetually break things into smaller and smaller component parts in order to study and understand them. The problem is that by doing this, we destroy our ability to comprehend things as wholes and (in your language here) as symbols. To integrate that with what you’ve said here, one might say that the Modern impulse is diabolical.

We break apart sex, gender, and the body into separate categories with no attachment to one another, and suddenly – as you say – “women have penises,” and anyone who objects is an idiot.

#14 Comment By SL On May 30, 2015 @ 12:55 pm

Rod, I would gently suggest that your reasoning could equally be used—and has in fact been used–to argue against the historical reality of the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and all the miracle accounts . To paraphrase your response:

“You are being gobsmackingly literalist. One does not have to believe that ‘the Gospels’ are a literal, factual account of ‘Jesus’ life’ (I do not believe it). One has to believe, as a Christian, that God’s intent and action is behind ‘Jesus,’ however He brought ‘Jesus’ about in history.”

A simple Google search is enough to pull up sites that use this line of argument to debunk a literal interpretation of the Gospel: [8], [9] . Also see the Wikipedia entry for “Historical Jesus:” [10]

As a geologist myself, I can tell you that if your son becomes a scientist, he will face arguments like this against his faith. For many people, it won’t matter that Genesis can’t be taken literally, but that the Gospels must be taken literally—they can balance that seemingly contradictory position in their mind. However, for many, myself included, it can be a serious stumbling block, and the fall-back position is some flavor of agnosticism along with skepticism about any historical claims of Christianity.

I came back to the Catholic faith of my childhood through a personal experience with God, and ended up reassessing everything I’d learned in college and grad school. While I eventually came to realize that there are serious problems with the current old-age/evolution model and became a young earth creationist, it was a very painful process.

I think Christian children(especially those interested in science) would be better served–and I’m doing this with my own children–to be taught to examine the strengths and weaknesses of both the old-age/evolution model and the young-earth/creation model from the viewpoints of faith and reason. After all, as Christians, we are required believe that God, by His very nature, is not constrained—He could have created the universe in any manner He so desired, whether by the currently accepted scientific model or by the method described literally in Genesis. The question is, what does the evidence show? It’s also important to be very clear about one’s assumptions and definitions, and about the difference between data and interpretation of data. Sadly, I feel those distinctions are lacking in much discussion of this issue.

I posted here because I thought your description of symbolic vs. diabolic usage of words is spot-on, and it gave me the language that I needed to further articulate the argument against taking Genesis solely as pure metaphor.

#15 Comment By heartright On May 30, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

panda says:
May 29, 2015 at 11:08 pm

I suspect that unless the persona heartright presents here is a complex prank, persons of the opposite sex feel absolute comfort next to him only if they are wielding a stick..
Oddly enoug,it is exactly thoee who prate about Consenting Adults who form the legion of rapists.

You did check out the Uncensored History link and the quotations, no?

As for women and comfort – it was you and not me who had the virginity problem.
Perhaps you have heard the Russian joke of Lieutenant Rezhevsky and Prince Bolkonsky talking about success with women?

Obviously, Rezhevsky was smarter than you, mon cher Kniaz panda. And his women did not require sticks either.

#16 Comment By heartright On May 30, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

JonF says:
May 30, 2015 at 7:53 am

The great saints and ascetics can find that Other in everything and anything: God is in all things after all. Most people do not have that grace and so must content themselves with finding the Other in another human being. And note: I did not say “man” or “woman”, but human being. Each of us contains worlds

Personally, I see a Trinity of God the Fsther, Holy Wisdom ( a female character ) and God the Son as connected to the quintessential Complete Human: Father, Mother,Child.

Nonetheless, you hermeneutic is well-developped and more wholesome than some others being bandied about: I express my approval without agreement.

#17 Comment By Jason On May 30, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

Thanks Gretchen for your nice response. Ill try to get back to you as soon as I can with a somewhat detailed answer (and ill then leave it at that).

#18 Comment By Anne On May 30, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

“The creation of male and female as a way of reproducing of life, and the Bible’s positing of this fact as the ‘image of God,’ is foundational.” — RD

Well, to be precise, the “image of God” concept may be called theologically foundational, but I’d say the simple narrative about male and female was little more than descriptive, just the teller’s way of noting there are men and women and that’s the way it’s been since God created the world.

In the Bible’s second creation myth, the description clearly implies equality in their humanity. And while there are those who would say the Adam and Eve story implies women are inferior (as has most of Christian tradition), many scholars say the rib story actually implies equality, and of an affectionate nature to boot (as Semitic males commonly refer to their best friends as their “rib”).

It’s not often I’ve seen the “image of God” applied to the corporate subject (male and female), much less as a specifically reproductive entity. In fact, through much of history, the concept was believed to refer only to males. I’m not sure doing so is either true to the original intent of the story teller or without some danger, as when the fact that Genesis described women’s pain in childbirth as a punishment for Eve’s sin was taken to mean anesthesia during labor would be against God’s will.

#19 Comment By Anne On May 30, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

Oops, I see where something I just wrote could be taken the wrong way.

Clarification: I’ve rarely seen “image of God” taken to refer to male and female as a corporate entity. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen it applied to both men and women (!). Just not the two together…as a pair or couple…and especially not as a reproductive entity. Maybe that’s not even what Rod meant. But that seemed to me to be what he was saying.

#20 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 30, 2015 @ 7:50 pm


The contradiction of the atheist:

They reject God, and the Bible, but offer no similar opposition to the notion of a week being 7 days long, even though this supposition rests upon precisely the same authority as belief in God and the Bible.

The 7-day week is a social convention. Weeks do not exist in nature; the “authority” for having 7-day weeks is people’s agreement to divide up their calendars that way, which they do because it’s convenient to mark time the way other people are marking it.

Now it happens that this convention has a Judeo-Christian pedigree, as does the numbering of the years from 1 CE. Non-Christian cultures have adopted these conventions too, not because they see “Biblical authority” behind them, but because, again, it’s just convenient to follow the world’s shared standard. Other calendrical conventions, however, do not come from Christianity. The alternating of 30-day and 31-day months was Roman, and the names of the days, in English and some other languages, come from Nordic folklore. But people don’t need to believe in Thor, or to consider Julius Caesar a god, to say “July Fourth falls on a Thursday this year.” It’s just convenience.

Likewise, the numbering of lines of longitude from the Prime Meridian is based on Greenwich, England, having been the home port of the British Royal Navy. The dividing up of time zones, and the drawing of lines between them, was agreed by international convention to facilitate railway and shipping schedules.

An atheist can accept all these conventions, just as can a Muslim, Buddhist, Japanese Emperor-worshipper or anyone else, simply for the sake of being conventional, not because of any belief in the Bible. So the contradiction you think you’ve found is imaginary.

#21 Comment By Gretchen On May 30, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

KD: Really? Your proof that God exists is that we use a seven day week, like in the Bible? Um, no. The Babylonians were the first to use a seven-day week with their lunar time-reckoning, and the Jews picked it up when they were captives in Babylonia.

#22 Comment By John On May 30, 2015 @ 11:33 pm


As KD said rather nicely, the Platonist vs. Jewish dichotomy is nonsense.

Even understanding Christ’s sermon as hyperbolic in parts doesn’t preclude going doing exactly as Jesus suggests. He frequently says, “You have heard it said…but I tell you….” This syntactical formulation, however rhetorical, doesn’t and shouldn’t preclude followers of Christ—whose object as disciples is to become more Christ-like, thus the appellation “Christian—from obeying that which was said by Christ.

Frankly, I don’t see obeying his word as puritanical in the least. The negative connotation of the word puritanical seems to refer to a kind of Puritanism twisted into something which it wasn’t meant to become. But there we get into the problem of intentions.

Which brings us back to the need for mastering our natural drives through the grace, truth, and word of Christ, that those drives might be transformed by Christ and put to right service by him for the renewal of the world that will be complete at the end of days, whenever that may be—speculating, I’m sure we both can agree is pointless.

The point, then, is not puritanical but on one level phenomenological and Aristotelian (I’m thinking of Stephen Dedalus here from “Scylla and Charybdis” if we even have to categorize it in Greek terminology at all) and attempting to be salt and light to the earth—to be set apart through an understanding of the innate fallenness of man and the possibility of redemption through grace and faith AND, since faith without works is dead (i.e. if faith is not embodied in some action, cf. acting out of faith and so on) AND and active reformation/repentance of one’s life.

I just don’t see how one can call attempting to follow Christ’s way of being-in-the-world (I actually find I’m quite content marrying Heidegger and Christian ethics/lifestyle/etc.) by attempting to master—and through mastering relying on grace for transformation of—the sinful side of our natural desires is anything but exactly what Christ was preaching by living his entire life in this way (from what we understand). In short, I don’t see the puritanical Puritanism (I also don’t see that sentence as tautological).

Perhaps I could have made it clearer in my comment that I don’t see ALL sexual desire as tainted with sin. However, I do believe, as C. S. Lewis does (cf “The Discarded Image”) that like the Medievals there is and should be “a place for everything and everything in its place”. Which is to say that there are both proper and improper sexual desires just as there are proper and improper kinds of patience/humility/kindness/etc. Any virtue can become a vice when carried to certain extremes.

This, in part, is why I said above that most of these comments seem to miss Dreher’s point: that we need a revival of a Christian asceticism, which is at times nothing more than a refraining from excess, from consumption and an inclination toward giving back that which would become excess or that which would be consumed (read “used-up entirely”).

This, in a nutshell, is one facet of the essence of conservatism, and by the way, one which Wendell Berry wonderfully expounds harmoniously throughout his entire oeuvre (my personal favorites are “Jayber Crow” and “Discipline and Hope”).

The lack of refraining and renouncing in our contemporary culture is, as you rightly pointed out, glaring. Yes, of course people don’t follow every facet of Christ’s teachings for any number of reasons. No, this doesn’t make them any less able to receive grace, but it doesn’t take a desert father or a Paul Tillich or a Saint Benedict to see how badly much of the Church—both Protestant and Catholic—have been, if not corrupted, then harmfully transformed by consumerism and partial politicization of so many religious issues (it’s smacking of gleichschaltuung, frankly).

So, this revival of renunciation, of saying no and rejecting a kind of Huxleyan Christianized hedonism in which sexual pleasure comes before and is placed distinctly above the procreative purposes of sex, is a way to be-in-the-world-but-not-of-it (I couldn’t resist the Heideggerian formulation).

It’s a proposed way of separating the Christian’s life from the prevailing ills of contemporary culture, helping him become more like Christ (who, as you pointed out, was and is without sin in part because he was able to master and transform—being God and being aided by God simultaneously—those desires to work toward the kingdom of bringing and reconciling all things to himself) and being the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

That’s not puritanical. That’s a Christian dedicating his life to live as Christ lived. Certainly, asceticism can BECOME puritanical just as humility can become a Nietzschean form of pride (and therefore actually a weakness of the slave morality if I’m not mistaken).

But that doesn’t mean it inherently is. Nor does that mean it will become that. That’s what the community is for (see the paragraph beginning with this sentence: “Historically, the rejection of sexual individualism (which divorces pleasure and procreation) was the consensual matrix of Christian culture. It was never the last line drawn.”)

It’s about reviving a Christian life of less, of renouncing that which is sin, mastering and transforming that which is our nature and allowing Christ’s grace to take away the old to bring in the new with the understanding that there was a way things were (Eden), is a way things are now (sin), and shall be a way things shall be (fulfillment of Christ’s sanctifying grace and redemptive work). I’m thinking of Romans 12 here. Conforming our lives to Christ rather than this world.

The problem with this being an existential fear of paradox, anxiety over uncertainty (how will I live if I reject culturally narratives and so forth), and I might suggest a la Tillich, a lack of courage to live the way of the cross.

Food for thought…

#23 Comment By John Spragge On May 31, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

When Judith Butler says there are women with penises and men with vaginas, she is simply stating a biological fact. There are men, meaning individuals with XY chromosomes, who have through entirely natural processes developed vaginas, and women, meaning individuals with XX chromosomes, who through the natural process of development have penises or something very like penises. Ambiguous sexual characteristics, or characteristics that do not match a person’s underlying biological gender occur in the population at a rate somewhat less than transgendered individuals. Creation may follow general patterns, but differences occur, and on that subject, Jesus of Nazareth has something to say. The disciples, observing that as a general rule G-d created people with the ability to see, ask (John 9:1) Jesus whether a man born blind had sinned, or was it his parents. Jesus answers neither; his blindness was to reveal the works of G-d. This contradicts pretty clearly the idea that individual adherence to creation patterns matters, those who differ from the pattern are ethically suspect, and that making a place for those who fall outside the meanings we read into creation somehow undermines the Logos. Instead, in the response of the church as he manifestation of G-d’s incarnated presence in the world to the outsiders, the different, the blind, the lame, the “least of these” we find the manifestation of G-d’s presence. In l’Arche, the communities that minister to the developmentally challenged, we see a true community of Love, and a real template for a Christian alternative to the culture of consumption that we live in. I believe that the affirmation we find for those who express cognition differently, we can also find for those who for whatever physical, genetic or developmental reasons experience gender differently.

In addition, let me just note once more that the judgements passed on those who do not conform to gender norms has no direct relevance to asceticism for most of us. For the 99.5% of us whose psychological and physical gender matches, the 99.9% whose genetic and physical genders match, or the 90%+ with a primary attraction to the opposites sex, celebrating what comfort we fell in our own skin may be good, but it doesn’t qualify in any sense as self denial.

[NFR: This is exactly what they said about SSM: something that affects only 3 to 5 percent of the US population will really not touch the rest of us. And now, we see — just as social conservatives said it would — that it’s going to affect the religious liberty of all dissenters, to some degree. As soon as trans gets turned into a civil rights category, the effect will be meaningful. Plus, the idea that trans is “normal” leads to the further disintegration of the meaning of the human person. — RD]

#24 Comment By JonF On May 31, 2015 @ 7:59 pm

Re: Now it happens that this convention has a Judeo-Christian pedigree,

It was also common to astrology in late antiquity (supposedly via Babylonian sources). Hence the fact that the days of the week have the names of the seven planetoi known to the ancients. (in English some of these were translated to Germanic equivalents). The Romans actually a seven day week before they became formally Christian.

#25 Comment By JonF On May 31, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

Heartright, I also find your view as expressed on this an interesting one: there was, anciently, some sentiment in favor of viewing the Holy Spirit as a feminine Person (hence Hagia Sophia). There are theological problems though with viewing the Spirit as the progenitor of the Son so I can not quite agree with this (if carried to its logical extreme) either.

#26 Comment By Jason On June 1, 2015 @ 4:46 pm

Gretchen, I think women are more hypergamous now than they were twenty (and thirty, forty, fifty) years ago simply because the bar has been raised higher concerning what they can achieve–or feel they can achieve–for themselves. Because sexual choice has greatly increased, women can fullfill their natural, normal hypergamous desire to land more (i.e. the most) desirable men. (The fact that they often crash and burn in this endeavor because of delayed and fewer marriages – which allows men to play the field much more easily, hence the player phenomenon – is besides the point.) Because of higher female participation in the work force, women assortively mate and expect their would-be husbands to bring more money (and vocational prestige) to the table, removing less lucrative men (who such women would have been satisfied with in the past because fewer of the latter and more of the former were earning high salaries) from the game. And because our modern culture ceaselessly promotes a certain ideal that many women feel they must achieve in a man, the qualities – dare I say superior traits? – males must have are greater than they were in the past.

Consider your typical Catholic university, to allude to my original post that generated comments from you and a few others. While not the very top instituions of higher learning in America, they’re usually high tier places where the many of the women who study there – consisting now of approximately half the colleges’ student body, balancing out the male half – can achieve lucrative careers upon graduating where they make as much as men while they’re actually working in their fields: dentistry, other branches of medicine, law, administration, to a lesser degree engineering. Generally speaking, for other Catholic men to mate with these women, they either have to have equivilent salaries (actually, probably higher salaries: women know they will have children down the road and that their earnings will decrease; yet they still want to maintain their lifestyle, so hubby better continiusly perform!) or “superior” traits (yes I do think women want to look up to their men; this – I suspect generally – produces the most flourishing and happy marriages when this happens. The cases of remaining happy marriages are probably mostly due to the superior moral character of the two spouses; needless to say, most couples are not that good). Indeed, if I were to chose just one of these I would bet on the guy having the superior qualities if he wants to get – and keep – the girl (probably half of divorces nowadays derive from the fact that men have lost their mojo, those qualities that attracted the girl in the first place; the purchasing power that men provide then becomes irrelevant, since after all man does not live on bread alone – hedonic adaptation, to use the trendy term, has its effect, especially today in the wealthy West).

Now throw into the mix severely declining morals and religious convictions (most students at Catholic universities are either not Catholocs or CINO or MTD-Catholics) which encourages sexual experimentation among both men and women, often with non-Catholics or young people outside of the university system (which can create huge problems down the road by the way, since future, presumably Catholic spouses will often not compare with previous lovers; because of gender differences, this affects women much more intently than men – a great case I’d say of famale hypergamy being exhibited in not the positive but rather pejorative sense), the complete cluelessness of say 20 percent of Catholic male university students-products often of weak or non-existent fathers – to incarnate the character and personality traits that women want (e.g. a sense of humor, which you mentioned as being important to the success of your own marriage), and again the almost stratospheric expectations that modernity often encourages, and you have – among other problems – a Darwinian, Houellebecqian -type universe where a significant minority of Catholic men and women (with all of the cognitive, religious, and financial advantages that they have!) are left out in the cold and which also in turn inevitably leads to the proliferation of pornography use that Mr. Dreher (and his priest friend) described. To which I myself would respond, incidentally: what else would one expect? To expect young Catholic men to resist such temptation in our contemporary world is not Chrstianity but angelism (not to mention ahistorical; the Internet pornography of today was the rife prostitution of Catholic societies that existed yesteryear, as the traditionalist Catholic Donal Graeme points out in his blog).

Please realize that the example that I offer here (of Catholic university students) is particular and involves generalizations, and that I may even be quite offbase. Also, i should say that families that have strong character, cognitive ability, and some wealth (basically the UMC-class, as they’re often referred to), as seems to be the case with you and your daughters, will have it much easier and have more leeway that, say, the working class (much less the underclass) does not have. Yet I wonder if even your daughters may not have some challenges down the road: will they, for instance, indefinitely tolerate a situation in which they’re (or at least two of them, if I read your message right) the major breadwinners, especially when the time comes to bring chidren into the world? What happens if the two sons-in-law lose their personality edge over time(i.e. not being “dull,” to refer to your 37-year marriage; congrats by the way)? I say this not to be snarky or to suggest that I’m even correct (my sense about the husband-stay-at-home phenomenon is that certain women are fine with it, but others may have a really hard time with it), but rather to posit the notion that there may be powerful and often unconscious gender differences that are painful to acknowledge and not easily amenable to cultural solutions (e.g. that your 3rd daughter is attracted to the M.D. jerk, a painfully common phenomenon due to the fact that many American men are weak, and given the choice between a nice and weak guy and a charismatic or high status jerky one women – and yes, even good women – will go for the latter almost every time, at least when they’re young).

#27 Comment By John Spragge On June 1, 2015 @ 5:00 pm

This is exactly what they said about SSM: something that affects only 3 to 5 percent of the US population will really not touch the rest of us. And now, we see — just as social conservatives said it would — that it’s going to affect the religious liberty of all dissenters, to some degree. As soon as trans gets turned into a civil rights category, the effect will be meaningful. Plus, the idea that trans is “normal” leads to the further disintegration of the meaning of the human person. — RD


I see I need to make myself clear.

When human persons deviate from the general creation pattern, the older Torah tradition views them as tainted by sin. Persons with certain disabilities are kept away from the alter by the old version of the holiness code. Jesus turns this upside down. He says that in His response to the lamed, the halt, the blind from birth (John 9), in those who deviate from the creation pattern is not sin but rather the working of G-d made manifest.

We understand this in the case of a person born blind. We understand it in the case of cognitively disabled persons. We understand it in the case of the blind and the lame. It makes no logical sense to suddenly apply a completely different standard to those reproductive physiology differs from their genetics, or those whose neuro-psychology differs from their physiological gender.

Also, my invocation of percentages has nothing to do with any promise that the rights of Gay men, Lesbians, or of intersexed or transgendered persons will not affect the rest of us. I used the percentages to make a completely different point: the moral value of asceticism lies in denial of the self, not in denial of others. The vast majority, 90%+, of us cannot make any claim of asceticism in our response to Gay, Lesbian, or transgendered persons.

#28 Comment By Teddy On June 2, 2015 @ 12:09 am

Rod or anyone: Given John Spragge’s thoughtful comments on the diversity of human biology and psychology AND the amount that I learn about religious beliefs on this blog, I really would like to hear how Christian theology does deal with the reality of intersexed people. I just don’t understand how we can ALL be “created male and female” when many throughout history have been of demonstrably ambiguous genetics and/or physiology. Is it that you believe each of these individuals actually are male or female, just not in a way humans can understand? Does God create people in a metaphysical sense while the fallen world creates our imperfect bodies? Does all this imply that the intersexed should remain celibate since they nor anyone else can know if their sex would be moral? Does the ability or inability to become pregnant become important here? I suspect not since sterile people of clearly female physiology and/or genetics are not dissuaded from having sex, but maybe that infertility coupled with the ambiguity changes what is proscribed. I won’t deny that I’m anticipating a wholly unsatisfying answer, but I bet the people here could provide me with the most cogent responses on all the internets.

#29 Comment By Gretchen On June 2, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

Jason, my fear for you is that you’re getting your information about what women are like and what they want from sites like Reddit, Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), and pick-up artists. The problem with this is, these angry men take these positions because they have trouble with women, are angry about it, and are trying to come up with rules to overcome their difficulties. They’re the worst possible sources of information about this subject, because they’re unsuccessful and trying to figure out why. What you want is to get to know some successful guys, and, most important, get to know some women as people, as friends, and not potential mates, to give you an idea of what real women want and are like, not some MRA charicature.
Your views are a bit confused. Regular guys can’t compete because women have the opportunity to be picky and date around, but hey also often miss the boat because they choose pick up artists and wait too long to marry? Catholic students have trouble because some sleep with non-Catholics? Like, once you sleep with a non-Catholic you realize the Catholics are lousy in bed? Assumes facts not in evidence.
Girls may say they want equality, but they have some deep-down hidden need for traditional gender roles and a dominant man? Again, assumes facts not in evidence and contrary to all the women I know.
Yes, marriages that start out well may have trouble later, and roles and plans need to be re-negotiated as things change, especially when children arrive and as they grow. That doesn’t mean that there’s one right way to start out. In fact, it argues for being flexible.
I think porn is a complete side-issue except for the few that let it take over their life. Men have always used porn, from the time they have had to draw it themselves. Young men who don’t have another sexual outlet use porn more, and decline as they pair off and get married. Most people still prefer real people to pictures, and the delivery method for the pictures doesn’t change that.
Step away from Reddit and get to know some real women. And good luck.

#30 Comment By James On June 2, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

AJ says: May 30, 2015 at 1:13 am

“I was surprised to hear in JB the assertion that, “yes, it is a choice and we need to respect that.” If you didn’t catch that, it is a watershed moment that we have passed through. Now that they hold political power, they no longer see any need for the former duplicity.”

–Very astute catch, that.