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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Finally... (the last installment in the Hauerwas speech)

The Male Issue

When addressing abortion, one of the crucial questions that we must engage is the question of the relationship between men and women, and thus sexual ethics. One of the things that the church has tried to do--and this is typical of the liberal social order in which we live--is to isolate the issue of abortion from the issue of sexual ethics. You cannot do that.

As this evening's sermon suggests, the legalization of abortion can be seen as the further abandonment of women by men. one of the cruelest things that has happened over the last few years is convincing women that Yes is as good as No. That gives great power to men, especially in societies (like ours) where men continue domination. Women's greatest power is the power of the No. This simply has to be understood. The church has to make it clear that we understand that sexual relations are relations of power.

Unfortunately, one of the worst things that Christians have done is to underwrite romantic presuppositions about marriage. Even Christians now think that we ought to marry people simply because they are "in love." Wrong, wrong, wrong! What could being in love possibly mean? The romantic view underwrites the presumption that, because people are in love, it is therefore legitimate for them to have sexual intercourse, whether they are married or not. Contrary to this is the church's view of marriage. To the church, marriage is the public declaration that two people have pledged to live together faithfully for a lifetime.

One of the good things about the church's understanding of marriage is that it helps us to get a handle on making men take responsibility for their progeny. It is a great challenge for any society to get its men to take up this responsibility. As far as today's church is concerned, we must start condemning male promiscuity. The church will not have a valid voice on abortion until she attacks male promiscuity with the ferocity it deserves. And we have got to get over being afraid of appearing prudish. Male promiscuity is nothing but the exercise of reckless power. It is injustice. And by God we have to go after it. There is no compromise on this. Men must pay their dues. There is absolutely no backing off from that.

Christians must challenge the romanticization of sex in our society. It ends up with high school kids having sexual intercourse because they think they love one another. Often we must say that that is rape. Let us be clear about it. No fourteen-year-old, unattractive women--who is not part of the social clique of a high school, who is suddenly dated by some male, who falls all over herself with the need for approval, and who ends up in bed with him--can be said to have had anything other than rape happen to her. Let the church speak honestly about these matters and quit pussyfooting around. Until we speak clearly on male promiscuity, we will simply continue to make the problems of teen-age pregnancy and abortion female problems. Males have to be put in their place. There is no way we as a church can have an authentic voice without this clear witness.

The "Wanted Child" Syndrome

There is one other issue that I think is worth highlighting. It concerns how abortion in our society has dramatically affected the practice of having children. In discussions about abortion, one often hears that no "unwanted child" ought to be born. But I can think of no greater burden than having to be a wanted child.

When I taught the marriage course at Notre Dame, the parents of my students wanted me to teach their kids what the parents did not want them to do. The kids, on the other hand, approached the course from the perspective of whether or not they should feel guilty for what they had already done. Not wanting to privilege either approach, I started the course with the question, What reason would you give for you or someone else wanting to have a child?" And you would get answers like, "Well, children are fun." In that case I would ask them to think about their brothers and/or sisters. Another answer was, Children are a hedge against loneliness Then I recommended getting a dog. Also I would note that if they really wanted to feel lonely, they should think about someone they raised turning out to be a stranger. Another student reply was, Kids are a manifestation of our love." "Well," I responded, "what happens when your love changes and you are still stuck with them" I would get all kinds of answers like these from my students. But, in effect, these answers show that people today do not know why they are having children.

It happened three or four times that someone in the class, usually a young woman, would raise her hand and say, "I do not want to talk about this anymore." What this means is that they know that they are going to have children, and yet they do not have the slightest idea why. And they do not want it examined. You can talk in your classes about whether God exists all semester and no one cares, because it does not seem to make any difference. But having children makes a difference, and the students are frightened that they do not know about these matters.

Then they would come up with that one big answer that sounds good. They would say, "We want to have children in order to make the world a better place." And by that, they think that they ought to have a perfect child. And then you get into the notion that you can have a child only if you have everything set--that is, if you are in a good "relationship," if you have your finances in good shape, the house, and so on. As a result, of course, we absolutely destroy our children, so to speak, because we do not know how to appreciate their differences.

Now who knows what we could possibly want when we "want a child"? The idea of want in that context is about as silly as the idea that we can marry the right person. That just does not happen. Wanting a child is particularly troubling as it finally results in a deep distrust of mentally and physically handicapped children. The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die.

Too often we assume compassion means preventing suffering and think that we ought to prevent suffering even if it means eliminating the sufferer. In the abortion debate, the church's fundamental challenge is to challenge this ethics of compassion. There is no more fundamental issue than that. People who defend abortion defend it in the name of compassion. "We do not want any unwanted children born into the world," they say. But Christians are people who believe that any compassion that is not formed by the truthful worship of the true God cannot help but be accursed. That is the fundamental challenge that Christians must make to this world. It is not going to be easy.

18 Comments:

Blogger Sandi said...

Wow. Tell us how you really feel ... :)

Two comments: first, his discussion of sexuality is deeply troubling because it assumes that women cannot be agents and are always subjects. It is a very bold statement to make that a 14-year-old girl who has sex is by definition a rape victim. Now, sometimes this is the case. But if the person she's having sex with is a 14-year-old skinny pimply-faced boy, the situation looks very different than if she's having sex with a 19-year-old guy afflicted with machismo. I just don't think you can make the categorical statement he is making here. I understand where he's coming from, I really do. In our teens, we're all trying to figure out who we are and by and large we want to fit in with our peers. Most of us are not yet really comfortable with ourselves and therefore act in ways that we might be embarrassed about later in life. And, because of all this, we are susceptible to peer pressure at this time in ways that we won't be later in life. But there is still real affection between teenagers, puppy love and so forth. And, teenage boys are often just as insecure as teenage girls. We're all vulnerable at that age. So I don't think you can paint all teenage boys as exercising power over girls by having sex with them. That whole "power of the No" thing ... come on. Haven't we moved past the idea of women as temptresses and teases and men as sex-crazed satyrs who can think of nothing else? This is a caricature, not reality.

Second thing: regarding "wanted children." Again, I understand where he's coming from. Most people don't know why they want children. Personally, I haven't been able to think of one unselfish or altruistic reason to have them. I have started to doubt that any such thing exists. But ... what is the alternative he is suggesting to the system we have now? That we all just get pregnant and have babies whenever, no matter how unprepared we are emotionally or financially to do so? That just seems absurd to me. It seems clear that children who are wanted -- despite the negative spin he puts on this -- will tend to have better outcomes. Being unwanted, as I mentioned in a comment on my earlier post, is a huge risk factor. Maybe that's not the way it should be, but that's the way it is. Being a parent is a huge responsibility and a major time investment. People who don't want to make that commitment, shouldn't, period. Because it's hard enough to be good at it when you signed up for it!

So, my final assessment of Hauerwas is that he is fairly sexist in the paternalistic sense, with this perpetual notion of women as victims, and that he is too utopian in his vision of how society should be for his ideas about abortion to be of much practical use.

P.S. What is his position on contraception?

7:19 AM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

I would guess he has no opinion on contraception outside of marriage, and from what I've read, he doesn't subscribe to the Roman Catholic blanket aversion to its use within marriage.

IOW, I think he would say that sex is intended solely for a married couple (for a different tack, check out Juvenal's articulation of this subject on a different comment thread), but that contraception is a viable option within marriage.

8:21 AM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

And, teenage boys are often just as insecure as teenage girls. We're all vulnerable at that age. So I don't think you can paint all teenage boys as exercising power over girls by having sex with them.

Indeed, I would argue he has things just exactly backwards. IME, it is adolescent girls who generally have the upper hand.

Haven't we moved past the idea of women as temptresses and teases and men as sex-crazed satyrs who can think of nothing else? This is a caricature, not reality.

It is? Boy, do I feel awkward about my teenage years, now.

All joking aside, my experience of adolescence was pretty much along the lines of the stereotype. The guys were in a constant testosterone fog, and the girls were perfectly willing to use that to their advantage.

I generally agree with your final assesment of Hauerwas, though, Sandi.

2:15 PM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

But Christians are people who believe that any compassion that is not formed by the truthful worship of the true God cannot help but be accursed.

I have no idea what that even means.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Joe Longhorn said...

Sandi said:
... he is too utopian in his vision of how society should be for his ideas about abortion to be of much practical use...

Wow... I amazed that someone other than me made a comment like this on the board. And from Sandi to boot!

3:35 PM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

You guys have no idea how much better I feel about my intellectual ability to hear you all wonder what Hauerwas means at times. I mean, often.

But I don't read him exactly like all of you seem to read him. That may be because I've just finished reading so much of him that I hear him talking behind the scenes, and you have received one speech in serial form (with the exception, I know, that Juvenal has read Hauerwas in the past).

First of all, I read his "sexual relations are relations of power" section differently it seems. His argument is that sex is not to be an act between people who simply "fall in love" with each other; instead, it should exist inside a marriage relationship where both sides are equally responsible for any children that are borne. Our contemporary situation is different, and this difference "gives great power to men" in that they can produce children and avoid responsibility for them. Christianity should provide an alternative way while (here's the most practical abortion advice I can imagine) welcoming all single moms & neglected children into its open arms at all times. Legalize whatever you want about sex, but Christians ought to be busy about these tasks.

Second, to the confusing sentence highlighted by Juvenal, this is underwritten by much of his writing on medical ethics - that "suffering" is not the great evil from a theological standpoint. We either abort or not abort because people shouldn't suffer, but Hauerwas sees this as misguided "compassion." Instead, he offers the theology that "loving the person" trumps "preventing suffering."

Finally, both Sandi and Joe agree that Hauerwas is too utopian on how society should be for any practical use. This is fine if you are willing to ignore Jesus who also offers utopican views of society that seem not to be of much use practically (love your enemies, turn the cheek, give to who demands of you, etc.). This is just the point. It is utopian. Christians should be used to utopian, impractical calls. Re-read the story of Noah's ark and Abraham sacrificing Isaac and Moses parting the Red Sea and Joshua vs. Jericho and Gideon's army and Elijah on Mt. Carmel. And Mary's baby, and God being executed. All impractical. But Christians are taught to believe that all things are possible with God - and to live accordingly. With faith.

So I gather from Hauerwas the following in regard to abortion:
* Christianity should offer an alternative view on this issue than succumbing to the debate of pro-life vs. pro-choice
* Christianity should promote within its ranks childbearing within marriage where both partners are equally responsible
* Christianity should then open its arms to every single mom and abandoned child in the world to care for and love on them
* The great scandal is not that there are "x" number of abortions as well as anything about "rights" on either side of the issue; the great scandal is that people claiming to follow Jesus don't care for abandoned women and children.

8:15 PM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

I could sign off on all of those points, Al, but without buying the rest of Hauerwas's system.

"suffering" is not the great evil from a theological standpoint

Well, I'm not quite sure what he means by "the great evil," but suffering certainly is right up there on the "Evils" list. Suffering is a result of things that have gone wrong in the world, and fixing those things is part of the rightwising activity of God, and Christians are supposed to be in on it.

(BTW, Joe, I have to say that is one good looking dog.)

8:42 PM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

I could sign off on all of those points, Al, but without buying the rest of Hauerwas's system.

As I think I've said before, I think he starts from some really good insights; he just goes a bit sideways from there. IMHO, that is.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

Sorry: "the great evil" were my words, not his. Not the best words, I'm sure.

Hauerwas writes a lot about a lot of things, including several essays on euthanasia, suicide, mental retardation, etc. It is in these conversations that he talks about suffering.

He doesn't argue "for" suffering or not making things right when we can, but he does argue that suffering can sometimes be positive and beneficial. Jesus chose to suffer and even asks followers to be willing to suffer. We "suffered" in Katrina, and I think we're better for it.

What I was trying to say is that making "preventing suffering" the top shelf idea can lead to euthanasia and suicide and aborting kids to be born with birth defects and the like. And in the popular abortion rhetoric, "preventing suffering" takes center stage on both sides of the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Hauerwas simply argues that suffering isn't always bad; thus, preventing it shouldn't always be the trump card.

8:56 PM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

he does argue that suffering can sometimes be positive and beneficial. Jesus chose to suffer and even asks followers to be willing to suffer.

I'll agree with that. Where I think it becomes more problematic is when we ask others (especially outsiders) to suffer; even more problematic when we benefit by their suffering. Choosing suffering for oneself is one thing; choosing it for others is another. I don't see a whole lot of room in Hauerwas's system for that distinction, probably because his system would rate it as too individualistic.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Joe Longhorn said...

Al said:
Finally, both Sandi and Joe agree that Hauerwas is too utopian on how society should be for any practical use. This is fine if you are willing to ignore Jesus who also offers utopican views of society that seem not to be of much use practically (love your enemies, turn the cheek, give to who demands of you, etc.).

Wait a tick, Al. I said nothing about Hauerwas being utopian. Just commenting that someone of the liberal/progressive persuasion would use that as a point in an argument.

You raise a good point, which we have discussed before, regarding Christianity and Utopian views. I've been formulating some thoughts on this. As a matter of fact, I feel an article coming on. Maybe I'll actually have something to post next Monday.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

Good point.

I might just be mixing myself in with Hauerwas here, but I don't "think" he advocates asking outsiders to suffer. Instead, he talks a lot about Christians becoming the people who know best how to "be with" people who suffer (with lessons a-plenty for folks in the medical profession who have this as a job), and that Christians should likewise be about the tasks of relieving suffering where possible while following the example of Christ.

So to apply to abortion - for the side that thinks abortion involves suffering on the part of the fetus, Christians are prepared to care (as well as to care for and support women who might suffer from "having" an abortion); and for those on the side that think women suffer by not being allowed to have an abortion, Christians are prepared to stand up for adequate child allowances, maternity leave, decent pay, etc. while also filling in these gaps when needed.

IOW, if there's suffering to be had, Christians should "be there" for the sufferer in whatever way, shape, or form needed. But to simply say we should eliminate suffering leaves us in many intractable debates (does the retarded child suffer in the first place? is euthanasia okay? should a child born with severe birth defects be killed? should suicide be supported at times?).

Bottom line: if there are sufferers, Christians should be there, but beginning arguments with the assumption that all suffering should be eliminated leads us to unproductive places.

I can't seem to stop talking here, but... Hauerwas expresses that we are all destined to live a life involving suffering, and that much of life involves learning to bear suffering, so the elimination of suffering is too "utopian" (to borrow that term) as an end-all goal... (or, at least Christians believe suffering is an unavoidable part of life). So... the abortion debate needs a better starting point than the elimination of suffering if we are to ever get anywhere.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

Simul-posting, Joe!

Sorry I misunderstood, but your comment sounded to me like you, too, thought Hauerwas was too utopian in his abortion speech.

Looking forward to your article!

10:47 AM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

Hauerwas expresses that we are all destined to live a life involving suffering, and that much of life involves learning to bear suffering, so the elimination of suffering is too "utopian" (to borrow that term) as an end-all goal.

Um, okay, but what happened to that whole community-that-believes-all-things-are-possible thingamabob?

Bottom line: if there are sufferers, Christians should be there, but beginning arguments with the assumption that all suffering should be eliminated leads us to unproductive places.

I would argue it is Hauerwas, in fact, who is being too utopian -- by thinking Christians can somehow avoid getting involved in issues we can find no clean solution to. If we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, it's going to be messy. We're going to get dirty and sometimes we're going to find ourselves in long, frustrating debates over seemingly irresolvable issues. Why? Because the world is fallen, and therefore our knowledge is partial and we have to work long and hard to find "productive" answers to our problems, just as Adam had to earn his harvest by the sweat of his brow.

Hauerwas seems to think Church provides a place for Christians to avoid that struggle.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

With you on the latter.

As to the former, you catch everything, you know that!!! :-)

Me thinks that the the "all things are possible" lessons in Scripture refer to the antecedent "with God." So if Jesus teaches to live a certain way, whether we think it will work out practically or not, he offers that we might ought to do it anyhow. If what Hauerwas suggests is from God, then... (hence, my original comment)

Now Jesus/Jehovah never said that suffering was avoidable, however. Quite the opposite. This is the difference from where I sit.

1:28 PM  
Blogger juvenal_urbino said...

He never said poverty was avoidable, either. Quite the opposite.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Sandi said...

I'm gone for one day ...

Maybe utopian was the wrong word to use to describe what I meant about Hauerwas. It's hackneyed, in any case. I guess what I meant is two things: first, since I approach abortion, as all other subjects, from a moral but also secular point of view, his ideas are not directed to me per se. And, looking from the outside in, it seems highly unlikely to me that "Christians" (whoever he is meaning to include in that group) are going to pony up in terms of money or time spent taking care of children without expecting something in return -- as I pointed out in a previous post. Maybe instead of utopian, I meant "optimistic." As a general matter, of course, I am not opposed to thinking about and talking about how people *should be* rather than how they are. (If that's what utopian is ...) Since he is not talking about legal issues, it's not a big deal that his vision of the should is vastly different from reality. When you're legislating the should, great care must be taken when you're imposing a value that differs greatly from what most people are ready to accept at the time. It's not always wrong to do that (i.e., slavery, civil rights), but you have to be ready for the consequences that will follow. I think abortion, to circle back around to the subject of the post, is now thought to be an example of this. The argument has been made that if the Supremes had stayed out of it and left the matter to the states, they would have come around in time and the enormous backlash that followed Roe could have been avoided. It's an interesting argument.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Al Sturgeon said...

Juvenal: "He never said poverty was avoidable, either. Quite the opposite."

Al: True.

Okay, let me try it this way: Is the Christian call more to "love people" or "eliminate a concept?" I go with the former.

Suffering is inevitable. Eliminate it when you can, but when you cannot, love the sufferer. Don't move on to more attacks on the concept of suffering.

Poverty is ever-present. Eliminate poverty where you can. If, for some reason, you cannot, stay and love the poor person. Share with him or her. Don't move on to more anti-poverty crusades and abandon the poor person in front of you.

Christians are eternal screw-ups. Fix the problems where you can. When you cannot fix the system, love those people in the system. Don't abandon them in search of the perfect church.

You talked about the fact that it gets messy & dirty dealing with the reality of problems. That's exactly the point. Having as the starting point that eliminating the mess & dirt takes precedence over climbing into the crap with real people is too utopian a view to be much help. Saying we don't want people to suffer sounds awfully good, but it is of little worth if we aren't willing to be with the sufferer.

So: something's practicality isn't the determinant of our actions according to Jehovah/Jesus. Period. But they also teach that poverty will persist and suffering will happen and humans will screw up. None of this has any bearing on our call to love and care for those very people.

Bottom line: what we see as impractical isn't a problem for God. Yet he teaches us that it is impractical for us to think that suffering is avoidable (or poverty able to be eliminated). In the face of this, he calls us to love anyway.

Don't get so caught up in the "cause" that you miss the people.

8:50 AM  

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