Random Post on God, Goodness, and Nature

So, here’s the deal: Tess is extremely busy this week and I forgot to send the schedule to everyone else (this has since been remedied) and I’m exhausted and have a hundred other things on my mind. So, while I apologize that this may not have anything to do with writing, today you will get some of the random things that have been on my mind today. First, Alayna had her first serious ‘I might be in labor’ moment today. She wasn’t, but the doctor did say that it will probably happen fairly soon. Also, in the Euthyphro Plato raises the question of whether the gods are good because they do what they know to be good, or whether good is good because the gods do it. While the question was originally phrased in this way by Plato, it has become one of the major questions in Christian moral theology: does God do what he knows to be ontologically good by some outside definition, or is what God does good because God does it? Four major positions have been presented as a response to this:

  1. God does what he knows to be good. In Euthyphro Plato argues that the gods do what is good because they know it to be good. In both this text and in The Republic Plato argues for a conception of the good as an ultimate form of reality that the gods know better than men because they have greater access to knowledge of it. Thus, the good is good ontologically speaking regardless of what the gods say or do and the gods are then beholden to follow this ontological definition of good if they are to be deemed good gods (though in The Laws Plato retreated from this view and argued that for the good to have a meaningful ontological existence it must be founded in a divine mind). Many Christian thinkers have adopted a similar idea, arguing that God does what is good ontologically speaking and that this good is good regardless of who does it or who does not do it. Thus, on this conception God could do evil and be judged for it, but he chooses not to. However, this seems to impose an outside restriction upon God. If God does not decide what is good then who does? Where did the good as an ontological reality come from if it did not come from God? Who has the power and authority to tell God what he must do to be considered good?
  2. Whatever God says or does is good because he is God. Several Christian thinkers have adopted a volitional idea of goodness. God is sovereign and has all authority and thus whatever he says or does is the definition of what is good. Thus, God’s word defines what is good for reality and for men simply because it is God’s word. This idea sufficiently accepts God as sovereign and argues that the world must simply submit to his will. However, it also seems to argue that God could declare anything to be good. Thus, if God suddenly decided that rape, theft, or the sacrifice of children in the worship of Moloch are good then they would actually and ontologically be good. This makes ‘good’ entirely subjective and arbitrary, which seems to reject the actual notion of an ontological reality. If the ‘real’ good can be arbitrarily changed then it is subjective, not objective or fundamentally real.
  3.  God’s nature defines the good and his word and will reflect this nature. Many Christian thinkers have argued for an understanding of the relationship between God and good that weaves a thread between the above two views. This argument goes that God’s ontological and unchanging nature defines what is good and evil: that which corresponds with God’s nature is thus good and that which does not correspond with God’s nature is evil. Thus, it cannot be argued that good is simply subjective or that it an be arbitrarily altered by God’s command. It is God’s nature, his essential and unchanging being, that defines what is good, not God’s word or action. However, this also defends a strong conception of God’s sovereignty: there is no outside ontological standard of goodness to which God is beholden and no one can be said to have imposed a standard of goodness upon God. It is God’s own nature that imposes the standard of goodness that his words and actions then reflect.
  4. However, this has led to a conception that God’s words and actions necessarily follow his nature: that is that God cannot do evil in the sense that he is ontologically incapable of doing evil. This seems to limit God’s omnipotence. While we may certainly argue that God has not, would not, and will not ever rape someone, it seems to limiting to say that God is ontologically incapable of rape. Proponents of this view have argued that it can fit within an understanding of omnipotence if we understand omnipotence as the ability to do anything that is within one’s nature to do, but this seems to be a deficient understanding of omnipotence. If, for instance, I am a perfect human that cannot fly or create stars I could, under this definition, be called omnipotent because I can do everything that it is within my nature to do. However, if a human can be omnipotent on his own then it seems to be of little value to say that God is omnipotent.
  5. A solution to this problem is a strong distinction between ontological capability and volitional capability. That is to say that it is correct to say that God cannot do evil. However, saying that God cannot do evil is not to say that God is ontologically incapable of doing evil, as if some greater power were restraining him, but to say that he is volitionally incapable of doing evil. God cannot do evil because he will not do anything that violates his own nature. This is something that cannot be said of humans: we violate our own nature on a regular basis. Even those who give a very loose definition or conception of human nature must accept that the average human experience existential and psychological crises because they violate that which they perceive to be their own nature. On a stronger definition of human nature it is necessary to accept that humans consistently violate those purposes for which they were created and thus violate their own nature. However, God does not violate his own nature, and thus because he is volitionally capable of perfectly living out his divine nature he is volitionally incapable of doing evil, which is that which is against his nature. Thus, God can do evil in an ontological sense (which provides a strong concept of omnipotence), but he perfectly refuses to do evil in a volitional sense (which provides a strong conception of his omnibenevolence that protects his sovereignty).

Just a few thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of days. I hope that you enjoy them and that, in some way, they benefit your writing.

Writing ethically about warfare and violence in science fiction and fantasy: Part 1

Hello, internet!

I’ve been thinking a lot about violence recently.

Freddy Kreuger
Muaahahahaha

I promise that it’s not as creepy as it sounds.

I’m endeavoring to write a book series that features – among other things – a goodly amount of shooting, stabbing, explosions, death, and organised warfare. Characters engage in battle, participate in acts of bloody violence, and deprive each other quite liberally of life and limb. I am trying to write about war at its ugliest, but I am trying to depict it thoughtfully, and in a way that doesn’t disguise my opinion that there’s no such thing as a good or necessary war.

Some of you might be thinking “great, pass the popcorn.” But if you’re anything like me, and you have a propensity for overthinking things, you might be wondering why I’d choose to write about something so violent in the first place – especially if I don’t believe in the idea of a necessary war. I’ve been wondering the same thing.

Fantasy, of course, has its origins in violence. The earliest fantastic stories are of the warrior fighting the beast: Beowulf and Grendel, St. George and the dragon, or Rostam and the White Demon. Here we have three examples of human heroes who embody all of the heroic masculine virtues of the cultures who created them, pitted against supernatural creatures of unknown origin which are depicted as vile, murderous and often entirely unsympathetic. We do not, generally, want the monsters to win…although we might briefly come around to the monster’s side in the moments where classical heroes throw tantrums about treasure or honour or shouting their name at cyclopeses that they’ve recently blinded. Despite their occasional idiocy, we still support the hero, and we still cheer when the monster is brought to ruin.

Dragon Slayed
Hurraaay!

This has its problems, as I’ll discuss below. Stories of organised warfare have also featured in folklore and fantasy since the earliest oral storytellers, the earliest example I can think of being Homer’s Illiad. The Illiad actually does a decent job of depicting neither side in the Trojan War as being ultimately evil, which is more than can be said for a lot of fantasy that has been written in the centuries since. I’m going to start this series on violence and warfare by taking a few shots at a relatively easy, low-hanging target: the Tolkien legendarium.

Tolkien offers us a fairly clear-cut, simplistic idea of good and evil. When Tolkien’s audience is presented with a choice between the desperate armies of men and the dark hordes of Mordor, few of us would suggest that the Fellowship of the Ring were unjustified in lopping off all of those greasy orc limbs or blithely counting off their kills atop the walls of Helm’s Deep. Anyone who’s seen the movies will remember Frodo’s vision of what the future would look like under the reign of Sauron: the Shire despoiled and the Hobbits impressed into slavery.

Visit New Zealand!
Visit New Zealand!

Faced with such a foe, the fellowship never seem to doubt the morality of their crusade against the orcs, and neither do we as the audience.

And therein lies the problem.

Warfare in the real world is never as clear-cut as it is in the War of the Ring, and I think fantasy authors are under a very important moral obligation to avoid depicting violence or warfare in ways that simplify war into a battle between good and evil. I’d hope that this is obvious to many writers, and it is true that very few contemporary fantasy authors are guilty of writing about war in these terms. Even if they did, publishers would be unlikely to take them on, and politically engaged modern readers would probably be very critical of their books. But it can happen, and it’s worth remaining vigilant against it and analysing why it’s a bad thing when it does happen.

The problem with creating a race like the orcs – or a villain like Sauron – is that it encourages attitudes deep in the western cultural subconscious that are leftover from the time of colonialism, or from earlier medieval attitudes towards the Islamic world, which probably have their basis in the rivalry between prehistoric tribes. The attitude of ‘otherness,’ which morphed into Orientalism during the 18th and 19th centuries, has been written about at length by cultural historians like Edward Said. It is essentially a racist attitude which allows negative characteristics to be ascribed to groups who aren’t “us,” vindicating ourselves in the process and making us feel as though “we” are somehow morally superior, and ultimately strengthening the divide between “us” and “them,” whoever us and them happen to be. Encouraging the idea of the racial “other” as different, physically repulsive, and morally inferior is a strategy that has been used for centuries to make westerners feel morally justified in engaging in various kinds of colonial exploitation and domestic warfare.

Destroy this mad brute
An example of “otherness” mobilised to encourage British men to enlist as soldiers during the First World War

We can see ghosts of this divisive kind of “otherness” when we see the way that the orcs are depicted in the Lord of the Rings film adaptations – they are physically repulsive, greasy and black-skinned, and they seem to be universally morally bankrupt, delighting in violence, theft, cannibalism, and tormenting their captives. They are literally birthed from holes in the ground, which is a stereotype that used to be applied to people of Asian ethnicity during the European middle ages. We don’t see any sympathetic orc characters throughout the entire trilogy, and so, at the end of The Return of the King, we cheer when we see the surviving orcs being swallowed up by the ground outside the gates of Mordor. In short, the idea of a genocide against orcs seems entirely justified.

Whenever fiction leads us to believe that a genocide of any race, even a fictional one, seems entirely justified, I think we have to take a step back and ask some serious questions about the fiction we’re reading, or watching on the screen.

The greatest risk is that our attitude towards orcs bleeds over into our attitudes towards other nationalities or ethnic groups in the real world, allowing us to ascribe negative characteristics to them and make sweeping generalisations about them in the same way that we felt comfortable making sweeping generalisations about the orcs. Even on a very small scale, orcs can be used as a way of insulting subcultures that we don’t like. In the UK, I’ve heard fans of Manchester United Football Club refer to fans of Liverpool FC, and people from Liverpool generally, as ‘orcs’. If humans can draw those kinds of comparisons with the supporters of rival football teams, it stands to reason that we can draw similar comparisons with disadvantaged ethnic minorities, or members of other cultures.

Peter Jackon’s casting decisions for the orcs and Uruk-Hai in the Lord of the Rings films stray uncomfortably far into this territory. Amazingly, orcs were the only speaking parts given to actors of colour in the entire trilogy. If you don’t believe me you can watch this fairly depressing video by Dylan Marron on Youtube:

We should be very worried that Peter Jackson didn’t see fit to cast any black actors as hobbits, Rohirrim, or soldiers of Gondor – especially when people of colour were very much present in all of their real-world analogues, such as the Anglo-Saxon and Viking armies of the late first millennium. What was it that subconsciously led to black actors only being cast as orcs? What was it that made Peter Jackson think, “If I need actors to play characters who look disgusting, act immorally, make guttural chanting noises, and terrify my main characters, I should definitely hire some black actors”?

There are also the Haradrim and Easterlings, who are mute throughout the films – but if anything, they represent an even bigger example of divisive orientalism. Within the universe of Middle Earth, we’re forced to wonder why any humans would realistically ally themselves with Sauron, who appears to be a manifestation of pure evil. The disturbing implication is that the men of the east somehow have more in common with the orcs than they do with the men of the west.

I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I doubt that Tobias would thank me for turning this post into a 5,000 word essay. I’ll talk more about this topic in future posts. Until then, think hard about how you’re presenting the bad guys in your own writing. And write well!

Why Study Fiction?

Hello, friends of the writing world! Today has been a very exciting day for me. That’s because today was my first official day as a teacher. Not a teaching assistant or a student teacher as I’ve been for the past two and a half years, but an actual teacher, a goal I’ve had to some extent or another for nearly ten years.

I haven’t blogged about it much yet because I’ve been pretty busy for the last few weeks (and because I don’t currently have internet at home), but I’ll say a little bit about how I got to this point. After finishing my Master’s degree in May, I spent most of the summer looking for jobs teaching secondary English and driving to interviews all around. In mid/late July, I got offered a job teaching 9th and 11th grade English at Grace Christian Academy, a small private school in southern Maryland. Of course, mid/late July is a time frame dangerously close to the beginning of the school year, so I’ve spent the last month or so frantically looking for a place to live and trying desperately to prepare. I moved from Lynchburg to Maryland only about a week and a half ago (hence me not having internet set up in my new place yet), started teacher orientation about a week ago, and had my official first day of school today (Wednesday)! It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a ride, but I’m loving it so far.Welcome to English Class

Unfortunately, since I’ve been so frantic with relocating and then lesson planning and a million other things, I haven’t had a whole lot of big creative writing opportunities lately. However, the whole process of preparing to teach literature has been a good reminder to me of why writing is so important. And as a teacher, I’m going to need to find creative ways to convey that importance to my students as well (especially the ones who don’t really like to read or write so far).

Originally, I was asked by my new boss to teach a creative writing elective along with my English classes. Sadly, that class didn’t make it this time around due to low interest and low enrollment (although I did have at least a few students today who said they liked writing, so there’s always hope for next year). Still, I’m probably going to give each class a writing prompt as a warm-up each day. Some days the prompts will be more literature-related and will be used as starting points for class discussions, but I may be able to do some creative prompts at times too (so if you have any good suggestions for creative writing prompts for high school students, please feel free to let me know!).

For the next class, though, I plan to ask my students something along these lines, and hopefully have a good discussion based on their responses:

  • Why is it important to study grammar and writing?
  • Why is it important to study literature?
  • What makes literature good?

I know, I know. These are tough, big questions. I hope they’ll be helpful for establishing a rationale for some of the things we read and do in the class, but I don’t expect 9th and 11th graders to have the perfect, ultimate answers to these questions. Heck, I took a whole graduate class specifically devoted to the question of “what makes literature good?” and I still don’t fully know the answer in every situation. Probably no individual scholar ever will in this lifetime.

But when I was decorating my classroom this past weekend, I tried to find some good literary quotes (amidst lots of memes and cartoons) to stick on bulletin boards. And I came across a couple quotes–from a couple of my favorite authors–that I had probably heard before but that struck me especially this time around. Here are two of the ones I hung up:

  • “That is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Image taken from Wikipedia. Public domain.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Literature adds to reality. It does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” -C.S. Lewis

    C.S. Lewis
    C.S. Lewis

Thankfully, even in my new location, I have a couple of friends nearby who I knew from college–and who were also English majors. Last Friday night, I went to a twenty-somethings fellowship group in the area with one such English-y friend. He warned me that there was typically some good-natured joshing between himself, an English major, and the other group members, who all studied and worked in the maths and sciences. Sure enough, the group leader shook his head in mock-disgust upon learning that I had gotten not one, but two English degrees, and he even said at one point (again, with no intended malice) that he didn’t know why anyone would get a liberal arts degree.

And yet, most of the group members there could also be considered “nerds” just like myself and the friend I went with. They talked long and deeply about their favorite movies and games, and we played a board game that night which required us to roleplay as a specific character while killing zombies. In reference to one movie, I even heard one person there use the phrase “the book was better.” I didn’t say this at the time, but I wanted to ask, “So you’re telling me that you like all these movies and games, and yet you can’t see the value in studying creative works of the human imagination?”

In short, literature matters. Writing matters. If you read, study, or create writing or literature, then that matters. Among other things, fiction adds beauty and creativity to our lives and lets us connect with each other on a profound and poignant level. So if you’re a reader or a creative writer, then keep reading and writing, no matter what you might feel or what others may say. It may be more important than you know.

The Lessons We Learn (And Then Promptly Forget)

I've always thought this was a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, but the Internet cites at least to other people who "coined" the phrase. Interesting...
Quote courtesy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. (Illustration courtesy of Chris Piascik).

This past week, I’ve had to come to terms with a lesson I thought I’d already learned years ago: sometimes the best thing you can do for a piece of work you’re writing is to cut it to pieces.

I’ve probably mentioned this fact in some of my other posts, but I’m currently in the process of writing a thesis for my English M.A., and up until last week, it was going…not so well. The thesis proposal I’d sent out to my committee over the summer term was returned with a startling amount of red marks and puzzled comments—enough to make me seriously question whether I should even be attempting to write a thesis.

This book has a lot of helpful tips on creative writing. If you haven't checked it out (or any of Eddings' creative works), you really should. Like right now.
This book has a lot of helpful tips on creative writing. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. Like right now.

But my committee members apparently were not ready to give up on it. They sent me encouraging emails, met with me in person, and helped narrow and fine-tune my argument. Through their support, I was able to realize (again) that just because something needs work doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth the effort.

Somehow, I had forgotten a similar lesson that I’d learned during my creative writing class in undergrad.

I’d been working on this one story for years (still working on it, actually) and had almost given up on ever finishing, but on a whim I decided to completely rewrite the first chapter of the novel in first person. The results were amazing. I was able to gain a depth of insight into the main character that had been sorely missing in my first draft.

As fantasy writer David Eddings argues in the introduction of The Rivan Codex, sometimes it’s better to scratch everything you’ve written than to continue with a story that doesn’t quite work:

If something doesn’t work, dump it—even if it means that you have to rip up several hundred pages and a half-year’s work. More stories are ruined by the writer’s stubborn attachment to his own overwrought prose than by almost anything else. Let your stuff cool off for a month and then read it critically. Forget that you wrote it, and read it as if you didn’t really like the guy who put it down in the first place. Then take a meat-axe to it. Let it cool down some more, and then read it again. If it still doesn’t work, get rid of it. Revision is the soul of good writing. It’s the story that counts, not your fondness for your own gushy prose. Accept your losses and move on.

Moral of this post (no matter how many times I may be forced to learn it): the need for major revision is not an indication of failure, it’s “the soul of good writing.”

John Stubbs and Memorial Day

Please bear with me on this little history lesson. We’re going on a somber trip, a reminder of what writers had to deal with even in the civilized corners of the globe.

Blessed Memorial Day. I know we’re international, but in America, today is a day we remember those who died for our freedom. So thank you to those fighting for it, and especially thank you to those who died and will never know how grateful I am.

http://desktopbackgroundshq.com/flag-backgrounds/american-flag-wallpaper
http://desktopbackgroundshq.com/flag-backgrounds/american-flag-wallpaper

Freedom of speech is not perfect throughout the world, and sometimes it’s not even existent. But we have incredible freedom of speech, especially in the Western world. We are able to say things online that are horrible, uplifting, destructive, and empowering. We can air our opinions, and there are more than enough people who will come back and brow beat those opinions with their own. Something we may not fully appreciate.

When taking an English literature class there was a man who stood out to me and reminded me how amazing it is that we truly have freedom of speech, that the government does not get involved and take it into their own hands.

It was during the 1500s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. England was protestant, and the protestants were allowing a good amount of freedom of speech, where the Catholic church was very staunch in their reaction to people who spoke out. To give you an idea, Galileo not only lost his sight from staring at the sun to chart it, he was also detained by the inquisition for claiming the earth revolved around the sun.

At the time, France was still Catholic, and Elizabeth wished to marry a French duke, who was the son of the king of France. It was Stubbs’ opinion. It may have been a little overreacting. Stubbs stated that first, Elizabeth didn’t need to get married since she couldn’t have kids. Second, and more important to him, was that if a French man was allowed to marry the Queen of England, it could destroy the freedom of speech England was enjoying under Protestantism.

Ironically, for making a comment on how he didn’t want to lose the current freedom of speech enjoyed in England, he, his printer, and his publisher would be convicted of sedition. The punishment from Queen Elizabeth was to cut off their right hand, so they could never write something seditious ever again.

Story doesn’t end there. Stubbs was up there, ready to lose his hand, to which he said to the crowd, “Pray for me now, my calamity is at hand.” Good sense of humor. After having his hand cut off, just before he passed out, he said, “God save the queen.” The crowd is supposed to respond, but they said nothing. Stubbs paid for his speech. He remained loyal to the queen and continued to write, doing great things for England.

People have had their tongues cut off, fingers mutilated, been hung, decapitated, and a dozen other punishments. There has been branding, torture, and so forth. All because someone said something, because they wrote something, because they had an opinion that was not agreeable by whoever was in charge, or whoever had the largest mob.

There are those who say horrible things about our soldiers, and they have the right to do that. But on Memorial Day, remember those soldiers in the ground, the ones training, the ones serving, they are the reason we have those freedoms. They are the reason people can disparage the president, no matter which side they’re on. It’s the reason we can even have multiple parties getting into power. We can decry corporations and pollution. We can do all of this because of a freedom Stubbs did not enjoy. A freedom many people have sacrificed years of their lives for. A freedom many people died for.

Blessed Memorial Day.

A Triumphant Return from the Mount of Academia

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for the past three months. This unfortunate and quite devastating (to all of you, I’m sure) absence has been due to a rather insane final semester of my Master’s program. Over the course of the past 12 weeks, I’ve written and successfully defended a nearly-hundred-page thesis on Doctor Who, met David Tennant and his glorious hair (and got him to autograph the aforementioned thesis), survived my last two graduate classes and all of the papers pertaining thereto, and taught two courses full of occasionally eager, but usually sleepy, Freshmen students. I’ve also made the decision to move; in two weeks, the day after I get to wear the long robes and the funny hat in another commencement ceremony, I will be leaving the East Coast and heading to Arizona. As a result, I’ve had to add packing to my long list of things to do (and I still haven’t finished quite yet…). As you can imagine, such a hectic schedule has prevented me from doing anything outside of academic writing. I haven’t written a single short story or a line of poetry since January. Now that (almost) all of that is over and done, however, I now have time to write creatively and to talk to all of y’all about writing and other such fun things. For my next post, you can look forward to me talking about my next monumental task: I’m finally attempting a novel. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with David Tennant, his hair, and the random banana we brought for him (David’s Scottish accent not pictured, but oh, is it brilliant)

me and david

 

On Gender Relations Post 1: Presuppositions

Introduction
Alayna, my girlfriend, and I have been discussing a wide variety of gender issues and often butting heads. So, we thought that it might be a good idea to work out our issues in writing and, hopefully, help the lot of you benefit from it. If you are not a Christian, or are strongly opposed to the complementarian viewpoint on Gender issues, then you may want to skip this article. While Alayna and I have our differences, we both generally agree with a broadly complementarian viewpoint on gender relations.

Creation and the Fall

Any position that claims to be truly Christian must begin with scripture and must be defined by scripture. As John Murray argued, marriage and gender relation both existed before the fall of Adam.* Genesis 1:26-27 makes it clear that men and women were created fully equal in worth and in Image Dei. However, Paul also points to the primacy of Adam as first created to argue for male headship and authority within the church (1 Corinthians 11, 1 Timothy 2). Thus, as the complimentarian position argues, we should interpret Genesis 1 and 2 to teach that while men and women are fully equal in worth and image, Adam was intended even before the fall to have authority over Eve, and the nature of this authority may be rightly compared to the relationship between Christ and the Father, in which Christ submits even though he is equal in divinity with the father. That is to say that the Pre-fall relationship between man and woman was intended to be a marital relationship, with the man in spiritual leadership, and the woman as a support and a guiding beacon.

Obviously, it is impossible to know if children would have been born apart from the fall, as no children were clearly in existence at the time of the fall. However, it is our belief that children born in a pre-fall state would have been under the authority of their parents (not just their fathers) until they reached maturity, at which time they would have entered into a marriage covenant with the appropriate partner. This describes a state of perfect unity between men and women in which every individual is either a child, or a member of a blissful marriage relationship (perfect world, remember). This also describes a state in which men love and lead their wives perfectly, women love and support their husbands perfectly, and all individuals exist in a state of perfect, sinless communion with God. This is what we believe the world would have been like had Adam and Eve not fallen into sin.

In the fall, we must further note, it is not Eve’s sin that causes the world to be cursed, but Adam’s. While Eve is initially deceived, and this is a part of Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2, and is cursed with a desire to usurp her husband’s authority and with pain in childbirth, it is Adam’s sin that engages the curse upon the world as a whole, and it is on Adam that the fault for the entrance of sin into the human lineage rests (Genesis 3, Exodus 34). Thus, the authority of the male is fallen and too easily prone to abuse, and the submission of the female is fallen and prone to usurp authority.** This fall also, we believe, created the state of rebelliousness in children, and the state of singleness in adults. As such, many attempts have been made to create unity between the sexes, and to establish both legitimate and illegitimate limits to male authority/requirements for female submission outside of marriage. These range from patriarchal authority, to specific gender roles, to egalitarian arguments for equality.

The Place of Roles

One of the means by which unity between the sexes has been attempted is the assigning of specific roles to each gender. Traditionally men are seen as the protectors and providers, and women as the homemakers and caretakers of family and children, with all that is included in each role. However, gender roles are specific to time and place. For instance, in Proverbs 31 the virtuous woman clearly both cares for children and works outside the home. Similarly, some women, such as Dorcas, Miriam, or Huldah held roles that might traditionally be considered ‘male.’ Dorcas was a business woman (as was Priscilla), Miriam was a prophetess and leader among the Israelites under Moses, and Huldah was a prophetess as well (2 Kings 22).
From these examples we must conclude that there is no room for an absolute concept of strict gender roles in a biblical conception of gender relations. Men are clearly not the only people allowed to work, serve in the military, etc, etc. However, we must in turn realize that men and women are each better suited to specific tasks (i.e. men tend to be stronger and better suited for military service, while women are obviously better suited to bear children). From the biblical evidence we may also conclude that all Christians are to be under some authority. This is made clear from Ephesians 5:21 and James 5:16 (Generally this is found in marital relationships, family relationships, close friendships with other believers, and within the church hierarchy). Further, we can conclude, from the creation account and from Paul’s messages to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11 and to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2, that the spiritual responsibility for leadership and sin was and is placed upon the male, and thus that church leadership should generally be male. This does not equate to a strict doctrine that women may never teach in a churches or Christian schools, hold secular positions of leadership, or exercise authority of any kind over men. Further, there is also the example of Deborah that shows us that when there is no man willing to take spiritual authority over a body (i.e. the failure of Barak in Judges 4) that a woman may be called upon to do so. However, it does require that the leadership of the church (especially the higher pastoral or eldership positions) and the leadership of the home be generally male.

Authority

This argument of course begs the question of what it means to be ‘under the authority.’ The term that Paul uses in Ephesians 5:21, that is then assumed in Ephesians 5:22, is hupostaso.*** However, this concept of authority does not denote an idea of blind obedience (which denotes a lack of responsible behavior on the part of the subject) or submission to abuse or neglect (both of which would negate legal authority in all of the above cases). Instead, it denotes a voluntary and helpful submission to a legitimate authority. The emphasis here must be 1) on the legitimate nature of the authority (which should also be a caring authority, though Christians are at times called to submit to non-caring authorities such as 1 Peter 3), and 2) on the willingness of the subject of authority to be of aid. Thus, this also does not mean that the subject of authority will not voice disagreement or concern, nor does it mean that the subject is bound to meet every whim the authority can imagine. While there are instances where choosing not to submit would be wrong, submission must always be a choice that is made out of free will. In relationships where women are forced into submission, neither gender gets to reap the benefits of loving leadership and cheerful submission, and instead experience a master/slave relationship (which is not what sane people normally desire). Also, being male is not enough to obtain respect and a position of leadership in the relationship, this is a very important point that we both agree on. In a fallen world male leadership must always be earned, it is not simply a given. The only instance where women are called to submit to men simply because they are men is found in the marital relationship. And even then, women can (or at least should be able to) choose their spouse which allows them to weed out men who are not exhibiting signs of loving leadership, and choose one who can. Again, this is a very important point. While there are arguments to support arranged marriage cultures, parents can choose bad mates just as single individuals can, and this deprives the individual of their freedom to choose.

The Nature of Justice

The Greek word dikiaosune (literally this word is translated ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’) used both in Scripture and in classical philosophy might be best interpreted as meaning ‘rightly ordered.’ In Plato’s Republic dikiaosune is explained to mean ‘the right ordering of soul and society in line with the form of the good.’ However, Plato’s ‘good’ is vague at best. However, dikiaosune in scripture provides us with a better understanding of what it means to be rightly ordered. In scripture to be dikiaosune is to be rightly ordered in line with God’s person, the principles he established at creation, and his revealed law. This is why scripture can simultaneously command men to righteousness (i.e. right ordering under the revealed law of God) and call men righteous, but simultaneously declare that there is no one righteous (i.e. right ordering in line with God’s person and creation principles) in Psalm 51, Ecclesiastes, and Romans 3. Thus, when we speak of justice or righteousness, we must always speak of it in light of this concept of being ‘rightly ordered under God.’

Rights or Responsibilities

Nowhere in scripture is a concept of human rights openly presented or taught. In fact, the conception of human rights and rights focused speech descends from Thomas Hobbes’ argument that society is built on a social contract that ensures individuals specific rights against the state and against one another under the law, and that without this concept of specific rights society cannot function. However, at least in this last part, Hobbes was blatantly wrong as society functioned fairly well for at least 2700 years before he wrote. Thus, the modern focus on rights centered thought and speech engenders a selfish inwardness rather than a neighborly outwardness. Rights centered speech is not found in loving relationships. It is generally found in either inherently defensive speech (i.e. legal terminology or ‘I have a right to free speech that is being threatened’) that assumes an attack or in inherently aggressive speech (i.e. entitlement demands or ‘I have a right to an A regardless of what I submit – I can’t tell you how often I hear this) that makes specific, unjustified demands of others. In both cases, rights speech implies a dysfunctional relationship that either demands the protection of the law for one of more parties, or assumes the self-interested primacy of one or more parties with no care for others.

Thus, we should stand with scripture in pursuing a responsibility focused conception of life. Instead of basing arguments on the rights of one party to avoid injury or inconvenience, we must focus on the responsibilities of all men to show philedelphia (brotherly love, kindness, and affection) and of Christians especially to show agape (unconditional Love) to one another.

Conclusion

Both Alayna and I have contributed heavily to this position, and trust me, it took a while to get on the same page. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of people out there who disagree with our fundamental positions (i.e. belief in God, belief in a literal Adam and Eve, belief in a literal fall, belief in male leadership, etc, etc, etc). However, this exercise was largely to actually get us on the same page in the first place and only secondarily intended to be of benefit to any readers that might appreciate it. While we welcome comments on our position, please keep any points of disagreement civil and any criticisms constructive.

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*While I approach this position from a Traducianist point of view and assume the Seminal Headship of Adam, Alayna isn’t sold on either of these theories. She holds to the same general view, but does not take a firm view on the origin of the soul or the manner in which natural sin is inherited/imputed to man.

**This presents one result of the fall, but certainly not the only or the most significant result.

***Literally to obey or be subject to. This word refers to submitting oneself to another party that has a legal authority over you. It is used of Christians in submission to government, of Christians in submission to one another and to Christ, or slaves and servants in submission to masters, and of wives in submission to husbands.

Sunday Reading List

So, I’ve been saying that I’m going to post my reading list from this semester, and the semester is just about over. So, here is the list of works that I read this semester. This includes all of the assigned books from my classes, the fiction I read, some other books I read, and some (but not all) of the works I read for research. All in all, and this is admittedly a guess because I haven’t had time to actually calculate everything out, I think I’ve done somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand pages of reading in the past few months. I was quite a hall… now to do it all over again next semester. I swear, I’m not a masochist.

Terry Irwin, Plato’s Ethics
David O. Brink, Moral Realism and The Foundations of Ethics
Daniel A. Putnam, Human Excellence: Dialogues in Virtue Theory
Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
Richard Cavandish, The Tarot (Partial)
Benjamin Farley, In Praise of Virtue
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
Karl Barth, God in Action
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Bryan Van Norden, Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Oleg Benesch, Bushido in the Meiji Dynasty
C.S. Lewis, “On Ethics”
Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel
Leon Gautier, Chivalry
James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, The Blood Gospel
James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, Innocent Blood
Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics
Chuck Hogan, The Strain
Ed. Xiusheng Liu and Philip Ivanhoe, Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Mengzi
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis, A Pilgram’s Regress
Philip J. Ivanhoe, Ethics in the Confucian Tradition
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Andrew Downing, “Sin and It’s Relevance to Human Nature in the Summa Theologicae”
John Haldane, “Philosophy, the Restless Heart and the Meaning of Theism”
Matthew Elliot, “The Emotional Core of Love: The Centrality of Emotion in Christian Psychology and Ethics”
Dolores Puterbaugh, “The Screwtape Letters: Sophistication and Self-Absorption”
Lowell Garetner, “It’s not WEIRD it’s WRONG: When Researchers Overlook uNderlying Genotypes they will Not Detect Universal Processes”
Edmund Pincoffs, Quandries and Virtues: Against Reductivism in Ethics
Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem
Susan K. Allard-Nelson, An Aristotelian Approach to Ethics: The Norms of Virtue
John Murray, Principles of Conduct
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Partial)
Cornelius Van Til, In Defense of the Faith Volume 3: Christian Theistic Ethics
Kwong-Loi Shun and David Wong, Confucian Ethics: A Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy, and Community
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
C.S. Lewis, “The Psalms”
Tom Nelson, Work Matters
John M. Rist, Plato’s Moral Realism
Carl F.H. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics
Stephen Angle and Michael Slote, Virtue Ethics and Confucianism
Norman Vance, Sinews of the Spirit: The Ideal of Christian Manliness in Victorian Literature and Religious Thought
J. Daryl Charles, Virtue Amidst Vice: The Catalog of Virtues in 2 Peter 1
Yiu Sing Lucas Chan, The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Biblical Studies and Ethics for Real Life
Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value (Partial)
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Partial)
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Partial)
Chuck Hogan, The Night Eternal

Separating Fiction from Academia: Word Choice and Tone

200474875-001It’s November, which means that I am in the midst of approximately 50000 papers and my thesis. My desk is strewn with research, hefty literary tomes, and my MLA handbook. In other words, my brain is in full-blown academic writing mode. I think in complex syntax and $500 dollar words, and analyze everything I see and hear. Everything I write, even a Facebook post, sounds like a term paper in my head. Unfortunately, this also carries over into my creative writing. I try to write dialogue, but every character sounds like they’re writing research papers, submitting articles for publication in The Modern Language Review, or reading Dostoevsky. The tone of every story is also ridiculously pretentious and stuffy…it all sounds like something Ann Radcliffe would have written. My current struggle is figuring out how to switch between modes so that I can work on my creative writing even during my busy research weeks. The only way I’ve discovered so far is completely shutting off the academic side of my brain by watching some ridiculous TV show (Gossip Girl, anyone?), and then I can switch into my creative mode. The only problem is that I often have difficulty getting back into the mood to write my thesis or other major literary type things…it can take hours to return to the right mindset, which is very frustrating. Still, it scratches an itch for now. Any suggestions? Anyone else have this issue?

Staying in Practice with Short(er) Prose

“You’re doing NaNoWriMo, right?” people keep asking me.

“Uh, no,” I reply. “Not this time. Sorry. I’ve got too much else going on right now.”

“Come on! You should do it!”

“I mean, maybe I’ll try a little bit. But, realistically, I just don’t see it happening this time.”

“Lame!” they chide me.

And I almost wonder if they’re right. NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar) is designed to help you actually write something even in the midst of your busy schedule by setting reasonable goals for each day and having many people all writing at once to help keep each other accountable. And I know I’ve been the one on the other side of the spectrum at times, encouraging and/or pressuring my friends to be as gung ho about creative writing as I am. So what does it say about me that I’m not willing or able to put forth the effort this time around?

I did participate in and successfully complete NaNoWriMo three years in a row, but that was back when I was still an undergrad. Now that I’ve moved up in my education and taken on more commitments, this is my third year in a row not doing NaNo, and I do kind of miss it. I even have a plot outline in my brain that I’ve been wanting to get out on paper for some time now. But it’s looking again like this November is not going to be that time.

The good thing, though, is that even though I’m too busy to do NaNoWriMo, it doesn’t mean that I’m not writing. It doesn’t even mean that I’m not writing for fun. As I touched on in another post, while it’s been a while since I’ve tackled any larger works of fiction, I’ve shifted my attention in recent years toward shorter prose of various different styles. In addition to writing for this blog, I write articles for an ezine, I’ve dabbled or tried my hand at other online magazines and forums, I recently put out a few posts full of lighthearted anecdotes on my personal blog, and have of course been writing academic papers for my grad classes too. While part of me looks forward to the day when I can work on my novel(s) again, I dare say that I’m not exactly being slack in my writing right now.

Image taken from studentleadercollective.org
Image taken from studentleadercollective.org

Maybe you’re like me, and you want to stay in practice with your writing, but the thought of a huge, lofty project seems daunting or unrealistic right now. If that’s the case, then you may benefit from hearing what I’ve been doing to try to stay in practice even in the busy times of life:

  • Be disciplined. We’ve probably all heard before that good writing requires discipline and dedication. I don’t really have anything new or profound to add to that conversation, except that I’ve been finding that it really is true. While it’s not a novel, working on short prose and academic writing like I’ve been can be plenty daunting on its own, especially if you’ve taken on several different projects like I have. This week I put out two posts on my personal blog, because they had been in my head for a while and I wanted to get them out into the world, but I also had this blog post due and the next article for the ezine, along with at least five pages of a rough draft for a grad paper. How do I do it all in the same week? The only answer I can really give is discipline and making writing a priority. Lately, after all my other homework and reading is done, I’ve usually been using the last hour or so (sometimes more) of my day before bedtime to write, instead of to watch TV or whatever. It’s a good time for me to get a lot of thoughts out in a relaxed manner (as long as I go back and edit later when I’m less tired). Of course, each person’s schedules and habits are different, but I’m willing to bet that you have time to write in your day if you just work a little bit and prioritize to find it.
  • Be flexible. Being flexible can incorporate a few different things. For me, working on several short pieces at once, it means that I have to be able to go back and forth easily; sometimes I’ll work on two or three or four different pieces in the same day or night, and I have to be able to focus on each one without letting the mental shift feel too jarring. But flexibility also means writing what you can when you can. If you’re not sure what to write in the absence of one grand, overarching project, then just take whatever smaller opportunities come your way, or start a journal or blog about your own personal experiences. If you don’t have a huge block of free time in your day that you can devote to writing, then use the smaller times you do have, and cram it into five or ten minute slots wherever you can. Since there’s no one definite formula for good or consistent writing, you need to find whatever works for you and be willing to do it, even if what works for you is drastically different from one day to the next.

    Image taken from busywriting.net
    Image taken from busywriting.net
  • Be creative. If you’re used to writing creative fiction, then the idea of shorter prose may not appeal to you as much at first. But writing blogs, articles, and other short works doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative and let your own unique voice shine through. There’s not room in this post to delve thoroughly into what constitutes the genre of creative nonfiction, but it’s basically telling a story the same way you would in fiction–except that the story just happens to be true. You can still give things your own interpretation and your own personal spin and narration. Just because you’re writing something short and (arguably) more serious doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself and have fun with it, too.

I realize I haven’t said anything particularly profound and new here, but this is what has been working for me recently. Still, if anyone has any good tips on how to balance writing short projects with everything else in life and also work on a novel somewhere in there too, I’d be glad to hear them! 😛 But whatever you’re writing this month, keep at it and be consistent! You never know how it might help you stay “in shape” as a writer and improve your craft for the future.