Saturday, 21 July 2012

Context in a sound-bite culture

I have been reading the furore concerning Jared Wilson posting a quote by Doug Wilson (not related) about sexuality in marriage. Jared was attempting to explain the success of 50 shades of Grey and thought Doug's comment from Fidelity published in 1999. Doug writes:
A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.
The book Fidelity: What It Means to Be a One-Woman Man can be found here.

A lot of words have been said in the outrage, not all of them with comprehension. As common in our sound-bite culture, sentences and even isolated words do not need context, and everything written has the audience of the entire world in view.

As a result, offended people assume the worst and accuse the offender of all manner of wickedness. This is obvious of the blog posts condemning Doug Wilson, none of them have read the book in question, but more so, they do not appear to have read him otherwise.

Reading the book is important because it gives context. Perhaps Jared thought the phenomenon of 50 Shades of Grey gave enough context. Perhaps it does, perhaps not. Though the ability of people to isolate words and ignore sentences makes me concerned whether context is even helpful for some. The reason the second (reading the author) is important is you gain understanding of how a writer thinks. Much the same as you gain an understanding of you friends. If someone says something ambiguous a close friend may be able to clarify what he meant because he knows how he thinks, even if he does not agree with him. That why a friend might say, "No he would have meant this," or, "Yes, he can be obnoxious," or even, "He is being intentionally ambiguous."

Unlike many of the commentators I have read Wilson's book Fidelity, and several others, and his blog for some time. So when I read some of what is being written it doesn't read true as I know Doug (from his writing). Of course I know him imperfectly as he is not a friend and I only know him thru his writing. Nevertheless, his ideas are recognisable.

For example, some opposed to complementarianism disparage the idea that women should submit to men in the church; clearly they are not familiar with Doug's writing because he would deny a wife should submit to any man other than her husband.

Ironically we get those opposed to Doug saying that bondage like behaviour may be acceptable if both partners agree, and Doug saying that even with consent it is unacceptable because God forbids it.

One may retort that a reader may not be expected to know an author that well to read his works and, after all, words have meaning. Well yes, and no. It is all contextual. Words have meaning, and a semantic range. Sentences have meaning more meaning due to more context. A book has more context, and a writer even more context than a single book. It is possible for an author to be misunderstood by everyone, this is an authorial problem and maybe he should modify his construct. But when he is understood by some people and misunderstood by different people then there may be a readership issue.

Which brings us to intended audiences: some subjects are best left unspoken at different times and places; yet that a veteran disdains any reminder of his traumatic duty does not mean that war cannot be discussed by anyone else. On the contrary, war needs to be discussed by many people. It is false to think all our language has to be acceptable to all people at all times. I might curb myself for someone's weakness, but he doesn't get to let his weakness control all people. Related to this is the problem of finding offence in generics rather than specifics. I read a great deal of material, much of which I think is at least partially wrong. The errors are often significant, they represent wrong ways of thinking about the world and influence other readers toward the same errors. I find this frustrating, and damaging, but not insulting. It is not directed specifically at me. With published material we can read or not read a book as per our desire. Finding offence at material that is written generically seems unwise, insecure, and is generally a problem of the offended.

It is also important to distinguish between what someone advocates and what you think their ideology implies. It is important what we believe, and we are answerable for what we teach others; still claiming ideas are dangerous because you think they cause an effect is very different to claiming a man desires or advocates such an outcome. Objections to what your opponent says because you perceive it damaging is a long way from them advocating evil. Sure, false teaches should be rebuked, and sometimes rhetoric can be responded to with rhetoric; but when there is genuine debate, it is much easier to slander your opponent than delve into the issues.

Which brings us to the a fundamental difference in the debate which is egalitarianism and complementarianism in marriage and the church. The real opponent for many is complementarianism, and it seems to me in some ways the outrage is being used to bypass engaging the issue. The issue does need to be engaged. For all the discussion about sameness in the bed and lack of any personal perverse desire we are still left with the phenomenon of 50 Shades of Grey, written by a woman and purchased in the millions by women. Even if you think Doug's explanation is incorrect, you still need some explanation.


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4 comments:

  1. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/gospeldrivenchurch/2012/07/13/the-polluted-waters-of-50-shades-of-grey-etc/ link appears broken as I'm getting a page not found message.

    ReplyDelete
  2. He pulled it, his explanation here. Agrees with the original post, doesn't want to cause offence.

    Original post below, though I may pull it later.

    ReplyDelete
  3. [TRIGGER WARNING]: The content of this post (and resulting comments) contains language and imagery that may be sensitive or harmful to victims of sexual abuse or rape.

    Edit: This post has received a lot of attention. From a lot of people. I hope they will also read this follow-up, in which I attempt to clarify that neither I nor Douglas Wilson as I understand him are advocating any sort of violence, abuse, or manipulation of women. The charge is heavy and the thought is unconscionable. But it appears necessary to clarify, and so I have.


    This passage from Douglas Wilson’s book Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man was written 13 years ago, but I found it especially relevant in the wake of the success of 50 Shades of Grey and other modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission. It is found in the chapter in the book on Rape, and Wilson argues that this sort of sexual pathology is a perverted version of good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.

    A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

    When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

    But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

    True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

    – Douglas Wilson, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1999), 86-87.


    Update: Please read the follow-up to this post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Do you want the second post (which was also pulled)?

    ReplyDelete

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