Consent, Rape, Slavery

Sweden just passed a law stating that sex without positive consent is rape. In a facebook group I participate in, there was a discussion about this law, and some (both women and men) expressed consternation about the unintended consequences of this law. Julian Assange’s alleged sexual misconduct was brought up as an example. One participant said that his alleged behavior was “not rape by any definition I understand it. Yes it was nonconsensual – but there was no force, coercion, or restraint involved.” Another said that the woman stopped consenting because she discovered he wasn’t wearing a condom (implying that this weakened her right to not consent).

I found myself getting madder and madder. This was a group focused on psychological and spiritual growth. I was so angry that I knew a rapid reply would likely be hurtful, and would certainly be unhelpful. So I slept on it — and woke up at 4am, and stewed, staring at the ceiling. I’m still angry, but hopefully I can clearly articulate why this bothers me, and why I believe Sweden got it right.

Remember the movie “50 First Dates,” with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore? She has a brain injury which wipes out any long-term memory, so she “resets” every morning when she wakes up. He starts dating her. They go out on several dates, but for her every date is a first date (hence the title). At one ponit, he tries touching her breast, and she objects. He mansplains to her that they’ve gone on a dozen dates, so — and I quote — “I’m entitled to unlimited boob access.”

The operative word, of course, is “entitled.”

The notion of a woman’s (or man’s) right to withdraw consent at any time certainly has perils. If used capriciously or cruelly, it would be toxic to any meaningful relationship. And, even if not used capriciously or cruelly, the partner would likely feel frustrated and rejected, and possibly hurt or humiliated.

But what if there was a “point of no return?” What if, after a man reaches a certain level of arousal, a woman were obliged to continue sexual behaviors, even if she didn’t want to? Is it truly my right, as a man, to ejaculate every time I get an erection? Is a woman compelled to let me finish? What about oral sex? Does she have to finish every blowjob she starts? If she lets me touch her breast, do I also get to touch her vagina? If she kisses me, am I entitled to unlimited tongue access?

The belief that men have a right to use women’s bodies sexually has a long, ugly history. We try to pretty it up with romantic notions, but it’s fundamentally ugly.

Sex without consent is, and has always been, rape. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any (or no) reason. Yes, this could be frustrating, confusing, humiliating, hurtful to the man. He might not get his sexual needs met.

Tough shit.

If we allow men to have this power over women, then women are not free.

Think about that. Our society says, in myriad ways, that a woman does not have control of her own body. She is not free to say no. Men get a veto.

There’s a word to describe one person having control over another person’s body. No, the word isn’t rape.

It’s slavery.

Of course, in any healthy relationship, there is give and take, compromise, putting the other’s needs and wants first sometimes. Of course sexual satisfaction is a crucial part of a healthy romantic relationship. Of course sex should be fun, and ideally¬†everyone should get to climax.

But the discomfort of men suffering from withdrawn consent is NOT morally equivalent to the damage inflicted by nonconsensual sex. If it’s nonconsensual, there is always force, restraint or coercion involved.

Always.

Dismantling unhealthy beliefs and changing one’s world view necessarily involves discomfort, especially for those giving up perks inherent in power inequalities. Cognitive dissonance makes you squirm. You don’t know how to be in the world, you’re unsure of how to act. You don’t feel comfortable in your own skin.

Get over it.

 

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Consent, Rape, Slavery

Humility

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It’s traditional to give up things for lent, to fast. I decided to give up casual web browsing, television and reading fiction. I had grandiose notions of all the time I would spend in meditation and prayer, and how holy and cleansed I would be after the six weeks of Lent.
An hour later, I was surfing the web, followed by binge-watching videos.
I guess the spiritual lesson I’ll be learning this Lent is humility. There’s a part of me that’s terrified of silence, of emptiness. Terrified of just being with myself, I guess. I’ve been grappling with my addiction to overeating, but it seems there are other ways I’ve been trying to fill that hole.
There are times when I am able, even eager, to face that emptiness inside of me. But the notion of six weeks of unadulterated emptiness? Nope. No way. Can’t handle that.
So I’ll be exploring that fear instead. Embracing my weakness, and letting go of the image of myself as bad-ass inner explorer of the noosphere. I don’t love myself quite as much as I thought, so I guess my struggle is to be okay with who I am today, flaws, fears and all. To nurture and embrace that scared little boy in me. To be okay with being weak. After all, even Jesus wept in Gesthemane, and begged to not drink from that cup.
The cornerstone of my theology is embracing brokenness, in myself and others. But, lurking under that fine ideal, a sneaky egotism was lurking, believing secretly that I was better.
Well, I’m not. I’m scared, and I’m lonely, and I’m weak. And that’s the me that God loves. Can I love myself, too? Just as I am today?

Humility

Refuge

I take refuge in the Buddha,
in the sacred heart of Christ,
in the deep unknowable Godhead,
in the boundless ocean of Chi,
in the divine dancing awareness
that penetrates and participates in every part of me
and everyone and everything.
I take refuge in the mystery of Love.

I take refuge in the Dharma,
in the Logos,
in the Tao,
in sacred Sophia, the feminine face of God,
in the deep truth of my impermanence and my interconnectedness,
in the certain faith of being cradled in the divine embrace,
in the root reality of the Void,
the emptiness and fullness
into which I die and from which I am reborn
in every moment.
I take refuge in the mystery of Love.

I take refuge in the Sangha,
in the mystical body of Christ,
true fellowship, the communion of souls,
the deep tribe of sinners, seekers and saints
who die to their small selves
and are reborn into the light
to join together holistically
and resonate to the Song of Songs.
I take refuge in the mystery of Love.

Refuge

Sarx and the ego

I recently got a copy of Adventures in Soulmaking by Troy Caldwell. I got a free review copy from speakeasy.net (no one paid me for this review). It’s a book that tries to reconcile Christian spirituality and depth psychology. So I really wanted to like this book.

It was a mess.

Dr. Caldwell’s flavor of Christianity is evangelical, literalist Protestantism, which does not mix well with Jungian depth psychology. Dr. Caldwell developed a really elaborate system, wherein he tries to connect the notions of sarx and nous to the unconscious mind. For those unfamiliar with these terms, nous is the spirit, the higher, “holier” part of us, whereas sarx is “the flesh,” the lower, “sinful” part of ourselves. Dr. Caldwell equates nous to the “higher unconscious” as he terms it (the collective unconscious, where the archetypes live), and sarx to the personal unconscious, where (he so asserts) all the nasty, sinful bits of us live. He then offers several tools “to clear out the sarx/Shadow debris” (p 218).

Now, the tools he offers are mostly pretty useful, particularly his approach to working with dream material. This is pretty much straight-up Jungian depth psychology, though he brings his faith into the center of this process. He also acknowledges a wide variety of tools, such as centering prayer, lectio divina, etc., and talks about the purgative, illuminative and unitive approaches to spirituality.

But his whole system is deeply flawed, resting on a profound error. This is a fairly common error, especially among evengelical Protestants, and many people make the same error. To Dr. Caldwell, the personal unconscious and the Shadow are identified with sarx — with the sinful, naughty bits of us that need to be overcome, fixed, purged. But that’s not what sarx is at all.

Sarx is the ego.

It is the ego that represses, hides and denies our sexuality, our violence, our brokenness. Any spiritual path that is predicated on such denial and repression is doomed to failure. Because it’s the ego that pushes away the “bad” stuff, the Shadow that contains the bits of us that we don’t want to acknowledge. But acknowledging our shadow, accepting and embracing all the unwanted bits of ourselves, is the only true path to healing and growth.

I realize that there are many approaches to, and definitions of, Christianity — or any religion, for that matter. For me, what makes Christianity appealing is that God doesn’t need me to be perfect. God loves me just as I am, in my brokenness, with all my nasty bits included. Opening up to God allows me to embrace my nasty bits, to heal them, to accept them and integrate them. Pushing them away just leads to enemy formation, to projecting what I don’t like in myself on the “other” — the black, the female, the gay, the Muslim, the Republican, whatever.

Dr. Caldwell’s approach is about justification, glorification, sanctification. It is doomed to failure, because we can’t be justified. We can’t be sanctified.

We can only be loved.

I wrestle with this every day, not only with my own brokenness, but the brokenness of the sex offenders I treat. In my experience, the only healing, the only redemption, comes from embracing the brokenness. All bad human actions are unskillful attempts to accomplish some fundamentally healthy goal — to be safe, to be heard, to be connected, to be powerful, to feel relief. If we only try to punish bad behavior — in ourselves or others — we will only increase the bad behavior.

Love is the answer. The only answer. Jesus knew that.

To be fair, I think, on some level, Dr. Caldwell also knows that. But he appears to be struggling to integrate his own shadow material here. He recounts a dream where he approaches an island fortress, riding on a battleship. Then, suddenly, he’s sinking into the ocean in a downed PT boat. Then a giant squid from the depths is harnessed to propel the boat by a native boy. His conscious interpretation of this reinforces his “battleship” self, but what I see in this dream is that he only is able to access the power in his depths until he surrenders that power and sinks.

It’s a lesson I need to learn over and over again. I want to be in control. But surrender is the path.

Sarx and the ego

Killing for God

I just read Strange Glory, a biography of Dietrick Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and minister who was part of the German underground that attempted to kill Hitler. (I got a free review copy from speakeasy.net; I wasn’t paid for a review, blah blah blah.) Bonhoeffer was only peripherally involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and in fact advised a high-placed officer not to kill Hitler until they had a better plan for what happened afterward. Still, Bonhoeffer travelled a long way from his earlier pacificism.

It’s easy to hate Nazis. Nazis make moral complexities simple — they’re evil, kill them. But the history of people killing for God is a long and ugly one, and it’s still playing out today.

Strange Glory was uncritically supportive, not to say fawning, of Bonhoeffer’s moral choices. But the Nazis thought they were on God’s side, too — in fact, their belt buckles said “God With Us.” The bombers in Paris thought they were doing God’s work, as did the shooter at the Planned Parenthood clinic. Probably the people burning black churches (yes, this year, not the ancient Jim Crow past) thought they were doing God’s work.

And, of course, the Bible is full of stories about killing for God.

We like killing for God. It makes us feel good. Strong. Righteous. Smite the evildoers. Kick some butt. Bring ’em on!

But what, really, is the difference between righteous anger and cruelty? Both make us feel good about hurting others. Having enemies is such a seductive solution. Not only are all the problems located in them, but we get to vent our aggressions — and feel blessed for doing so. Because “they” — whoever they are — aren’t quite like us. Not quite human. Not quite real. They’re monsters, animals, devils.

But I have a monster in me, too. I have my very own predator, my own killer. I have enemies I’d like to see strung up on the White House lawn. (For me, they are the greedy corporate lords and their lackeys in Congress.) There’s a part of me that wants nothing more than to dance on their graves. Because they’re Just Plain Evil. No good in them. Not like me. Other. Different. Less.

But they aren’t. They’re people just like me. And so are the Paris bombers, and the church burners and ISIS, and the Nazis.

Is it ever right to kill our enemies? Is there such a thing as a just war? Are there enemies so evil that it’s a moral imperative to slaughter them?

This is a difficult and complex question. But our propensity to form enemies, scapegoats, and blame them for our problems is so pronounced, and so poorly checked, that I start from a place of assuming that we almost always commit some evil in our enemy formation process. We dehumanize, we glory in our cruelty, we blame others for what we’re unwilling to see in ourselves.

I am deeply troubled by the reversion to tribalism and enemy formation in world politics. Terrorism is a tool used by governments — including ours — as well as ISIS and “lone wolves.” This issue informs — poisons — every level of our culture, from police killing unarmed black men to Donald Trump wanting to block all Musims from entering our country.

It was only when Bonhoeffer was in prison, utterly powerless, that he was able to truly embrace the beauty of life. Power clouds the mind. So does privilege, and fear, and hate.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies. There is nothing in our enemies that isn’t already in us. When we hate, we hate ourselves. When we kill, we kill a piece of our own soul. It’s loving that is painful and difficult. But that’s where we grow. That’s how we heal.

Killing Hitler didn’t help Bonhoeffer. Loving God, loving his enemies, did.

Killing for God

Counting

One for what I’ve done.
Two for what I plan to do.
Three for what I’ll be.
Four for what I was before.
Five ’cause I’m alive.
Six because there are no tricks.
Seven, sensing heaven.
Eight — can’t wait. I storm the gate.
Nine. I’m dying. I wail and whine.
Ten is when I’m zen.

But then, but then,
again, again, again…

Then comes little zero
with that hunger for the hero.
And from this hollow in my heart
I start.
I start.
I start.

 

Counting

Faith is not belief

What if Jesus didn’t die for our sins?

What if he didn’t rise from the dead? Performed no miracles, preached no beatitudes? No loaves and fishes, no water to wine, no last supper, no crucifixion, no virgin birth?

What if it was all just made up?

Would that block God from loving you? Would it block you from loving your neighbor? Do you have to believe in Jesus, in the literal truth of all four gospels (and studiously ignore how they contradict each other) to love?

Let’s flip the question over to the other side. What if it was all literally true — virgin birth, wine to water, loaves and fishes, betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, all of it. Suppose Jesus rises from the dead, goes to God and says “forgive them, for they know not what they do” — but God says “fuck that noise, they killed my boy, they’re gonna pay.”

And there’s no mercy for any of us.

God doesn’t love us because Jesus died for us. Jesus died for us because God loves us. And even if you don’t believe Jesus died for you, God still loves you anyway. And it still matters whether you love or not.

Too many people think that they need to believe certain doctrines, certain stories, and that’s all they need to do. Take the loyalty oath, put on the Team Jesus jersey, and you’re good to go. Then you get to hate the Muslims, the queers, the immigrants, the bankers, anyone who’s different from — less than — “us.” And they call that Christianity.

But that’s not what Jesus taught. He said that the most important commandment was to love God, and the one like it (isomorphic) was to love your neighbor as yourself. And when (trying to weasel out of this) one of the crowd said, “who is my neighbor?”, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan.

Now, over the years and centuries we’ve mostly lost the meaning ofthe word “Samaritan,” thinking it just means some goody-goody nice guy, but that wasn’t what Jesus’s contemporaries thought. The Samaritan was the unbeliever, the heathen, the immigrant with different religious practices and customs from the “godly” who followed the “in” religion. It was the “in” people — the priest and the judge — who left that poor schmuck bleeding in the gutter, and the despised outsider who helped him. He didn’t ask for a religious litmus test, he just saw someone suffering and was moved.

That’s what Jesus was talking about.

Jesus wasn’t talking about religion, he was talking about love. About deep personal transformation. About walking the talk. “By their fruits shall you know them.” (Also see Luke 13:22-29, where Jesus clearly says that people from all religions will get to heaven.)

It doesn’t matter whether you believe the story of who Jesus was, what he did and what he meant. Do you love? Or don’t you?

Now, there are many people who believe the story, and out of that belief, love. And that’s great. But believing, itself, isn’t faith.

Faith is knowing, deep in your marrow, that other people matter just as much as I do. That it matters how I treat people. That, whether or not anyone sees me, doing the right thing is worthwhile. That, when my life is at its darkest and no one seems to care, that there’s something, somewhere that keeps me from falling into despair.

Faith is being rooted in a deep source that makes life matter. Some people draw their faith from transient sources that will dry up — money, looks, sex, fame, politics, patriotism, religious affiliation, ethnic pride, jobs, hobbies, kids. And that’s okay. We all go from faith to faith, hopefully finding deeper, more substantial sources to stand on, to draw nourishment from. It’s hard and painful to love, and we need something to draw on to have the courage to do what’s needed. We need a taproot into meaning. All those things can nourish us — but only because, at their root, they connect us to other people and to the world around us. And, ultimately, to God. God is the aquifer of meaning that feeds all the brooks and wells. And as we grow in wisdom, humility and love, we grow to recognize that.

“Whenever two or three gather in my name,” Jesus said, “I’ll be there.” And he didn’t mean the Team Jesus jersey.

He meant love.

Faith is not belief