August 10, 2020

Losing The War Part III–Love In The Ruins (continued)


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All happy families are alike.  Every unhappy family is miserable in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy

Last week I spoke about the ruins.  This week I want to speak about the love.  Specifically, I want to speak about marriage and sex roles.  Please remember that I’m trying to share from something pretty close to my heart here, and that the difference between “prophetic honesty and vulnerability” and “pigheaded arrogance and culpable [even tortious] stupidity” is sometimes hard to discern, but very easy to cross.  After this, I will put sex and gender to bed for a while.  Believe it or not, I am anxious to get on to pneumatology, the filioque, Owen Barfield and final participation and leave this minefield about women and men.

“What is the role of men?” is still a vital discussion that Christians need to have, but these days it appears that you need to have a prior conversation about what a man is.  I don’t want to have either of those conversations right now.  I want to talk instead about marriage.  I have been following the podcasts of an Orthodox priest, Fr. John Strickland, who is issuing a series on what he calls “Paradise And Utopia”.  It is an interesting series that treats the rise and fall of Christendom beginning with the founding of the Church at Pentecost.

So far, the series has delineated the rise of what Fr. John calls Christendom under the Roman Empire and its first flowering under the Byzantine continuation of the Empire.   Fr. John’s definition of Christendom is that it is a social arrangement oriented towards fitting its component members for the Kingdom of Heaven.  The series is projected to be a set of 40 addresses, and Fr. John has already released about 23 tapes and has yet to reach the Great Schism.  Nevertheless, the good father’s series is extremely informative as it traces the Church’s manipulation of time, space, and the social order to make this world a signpost pointing to the World To Come.

I am going to put some words in the good Father’s mouth here, but I suspect that when Fr. John finishes with the “Paradise” portion of his series in these next couple of weeks, he will examine the decay of Christendom after the Schism as a declension from Paradise to Utopia, which is, of course, the Algorithm’s replacement for Paradise, as the Algorithm itself is the replacement for the Holy Ghost and its incarnation, the rational Cartesian judicial-corporate-financial State, the replacement for Christendom.

Now that I come to think about it, Fr. John’s comparison between Paradise and Utopia is very apt, and fits very well with my thinking about Christendom and the emerging ecumenical judicial-corporate-financial-surveillance State.  What the Church offered was marriage as a path to Paradise.  What the Algorithm pretends to offer is sexual Utopia.   I believe this started with the rejection of monasticism and ascesis in the Reformation, and many who reject Utopian thinking elsewhere embrace it here.

Fr. John invests three addresses investigating monasticism and marriage as contrasting means of attaining theosis.  There are poor monks and there are poor husbands.  Every time I daydream about what life may have been like if I had converted to Orthodoxy while still single and taken the alternative path, I console myself by thinking I would likely have been a much poorer monk than I am a husband, and I am no great shakes as a husband.

Father John, in his address concerning Christian marriage, contrasted it to marriage as practiced in pagan Roman society.  He spent some time dwelling on the role of the paterfamilias and the pagan marriage as a favorable environment for men and an unfavorable one for women.  As I listened through the address, Fr. John went on to outline three important characteristics of traditional Christian marriage: first, it was between a man and a woman, that is to say, it was heterosexual.   Fr. John did not dwell on this.

Second, traditional Christian marriage was to be lifelong.   The two partners were expected to dwell together until death took one or both of them.  Surprisingly, Fr. John did not dwell much on this either.

Finally, it was monogamous.  Husbands were expected to reserve themselves sexually for their wives and wives for their husbands.  As one priest told me, “I am allowed exactly one more woman than a monk.  You too.”

Father John’s address was remarkable in both a cataphatic and an apophatic sense.   Both what he did say and what he didn’t say made quite an impact on me.  What Father John did say was that Christian marriage was supposed to be a restoration of the paradisiacal state, where Adam and Eve dwelt before God, male and female as co-bearers of the image of God, and were naked before each other and unashamed.  That made marriage, in a sense, a terminus ad quo of theosis in contrast to the terminus ad quem of monasticism.

But the most radical thing Father John said was that the Orthodox Church does not marry a couple in order to effect a union between a man and a woman, but in order to bless a union that is already underway.   The difference is, like so many things about Orthodoxy, is ontological rather than judicial. There is a big difference between the service for an Orthodox marriage and any Western service.  I don’t know if you would see it if you weren’t looking for it.  I didn’t until Father John pointed it out –

The Orthodox service has no vows.  The emphasis is not on any covenant, but on the coinherence and perichoreisis of the man and the woman.

I think the West has always had some Judaizing tendencies.   Rome’s great gift to the world was the Law, but when she separated from the corrective influence of the rest of the Church, the Law lethally expanded to fill the entire forest like the Forest Spirit in Princess Mononoke when Eboshi cut off its head.

Now, what Father John did not mention in his address on marriage was the whole issue of male headship and female submission.  I was expecting some real pyrotechnics here.  I am Mr. Complementarian, the sworn defender of Binary Sex roles and the whole panoply, and suddenly it dawned on me that I have heard about as much about traditional sex roles and male headship in the Orthodox Church as I have about the Rapture.  I wonder if maybe, just maybe, my militant complementarianism might not be a residual neurosis carried over from my days as a Calvinista, when I had a head full of Doug Wilson’s Federal Husband teachings and considered Feminism as the Left Hand of the Algorithm or the woman upon the beast.  I might not be as Orthodox as I think I am.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had no hallelujah moment.  The words “mutual submission” still gives me facial tics.  The Orthodox Church is in not going to start vesting women as priests to serve the Holy Mysteries.  We just don’t move that fast.  As Met. Kallistos Ware said, “it’s better to find out why a beam is in a certain place in a cottage before you go pulling it out because you’ve smacked your head on it a couple of times.  It was obviously important to whoever built the cottage, but maybe not to you.  People have gotten taller over the years.  The original builders never bumped their heads on that beam.”

I am familiar enough with 19th century literature to know that traditional male headship was not always a banquet for women, and any man who insists on traditional male headship to run roughshod over his wife and get his own way in marriage is obviously an unskillful husband.  Unfortunately, the teaching of husbandly skills seems to be the province of the Quiverful movement or Moscow, Idaho.  Fortunately, I have the Greeks to help me out here.

The Evangelical church seems to me to be somewhat obsessed with men at the moment, and this in inverse relation to the number of men they are retaining.  You get this feeling that the Evangelical churches don’t know what to do with men, that there is a sense in which they are flawed women.  They are characterized either as carnal beasts with no spiritual yearnings, or they are eternal adolescents who need to “grow up” after a good hard scolding.  The default setting seems to be for men to have “something wrong” with them.  Not “something wrong” with them in their relationship to God, but “something wrong” with them in their relationship with women..  Women, though, seem to be fine, and don’t need to be fixed.   A member of Focus on the Family recently commented

…women left to themselves will develop into good women, more responsible women, just naturally, for various reasons and we could talk about that. But men have to be taught how to lead. They have to be encouraged how to lead. They have to be welcomed into leadership. And I don’t think we’re doing that today. We’re not taking young boys and saying, ‘OK, we need to make men out of you.’ And I think that’s the large reason for the man problem today, is that we have to be very intentional about man-making, man-creating. And I can hear all the women saying, ‘Absolutely!’ It doesn’t just naturally happen. It happens more naturally with women than it does with men.

“Women left to themselves will develop into good women, whereas men have to be taught.”  I wonder how Paul missed that.

There have arisen a lot of programs designed to maintain the interest of men in the Evangelical church.  I attended an Assemblies of God church during the heyday of the Promise Keepers’ movement, and took my son to one of their obligatory father-son gatherings.  I was creeped out.  My son told me he found the whole atmosphere disturbing, and to be honest, I accompanied him to the rest room during the whole rally.

It wasn’t long before our Assemblies of God church was bristling with manly-man, high-testosterone activities.  We had a “motorcycle ministry”, that quickly signed up so many ‘radical Christian bikers’ that it was kind of refreshing to run into a genuine outlaw biker from time to time.  We had “backyard barbecue evangelism”, the “swole brothers for Christ”, and of course, testimony after testimony where these big burly guys broke down into tears talking about missed opportunities with their dads.  As the “men’s movement” gained prominence, it seemed to me that more and more men melted away from the Evangelical church.

I know I did.  I became Orthodox.

In the Orthodox Church, we have men coming out our ears, including single men, but they aren’t as self-consciously butch as the guys on the Evangelical platforms.   I don’t exactly know why this is.  There is a Marine Corps feel about the Orthodox Church.  It hurts to be Orthodox.  The services are endless.  The fasts bite, and you’re not supposed to have marital relations during them either.  It’s as hierarchical as Rome and much less sympathetic to your concerns.   Certainly, it doesn’t exist to help you get in touch with your feelings.  However, the Orthodox Church has a refreshing manner of not dogmatizing everything under the sun.  In her wisdom, the Church sets some boundaries, and within those boundaries you are left to wander about pretty much as you please.  Without delving too deeply into St. Maximos’ anthropology of logos and tropos, I will say that most men want to lead in the marriage relationship, and enjoy becoming more capable at it, and that most women enjoy being led by an increasingly capable man.  If not, it is better to allow the couple to negotiate that territory themselves rather than attempt to implement an inquisitorial framework of ruling elders’ councils to root out all traces of female rebellion.

That really would suck.  Introduce the coercive element into the most intimate relationship of human life and there is no stopping until all of us are under the baleful eye of “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic”.   I read through the online blog of a young wife subjected to the “corrective ministry” of a council of elders in a Neo-Calvinist church in an attempt to cure her of her ‘rebellious, Jezebel spirit’ (I’m sorry I don’t have it here in my hot little hand, but it was some time ago).

The narrative was grueling to read, and included her being locked in a closet and other barbarities.  Two things popped into my mind as I read the story; first of all, that her husband never loved her.  There was no union germinating between them, and she or somebody who did love her should have picked up on that sooner rather than later.  No loving husband would ever subject his wife to that kind of treatment.  The second thing that popped into my mind is that abstractions can wield a terrible power over the minds of men.  I don’t know why this is so.  Women can and do heinous things, to each other, to men, to children, but their evil is almost never impersonal.  They don’t usually create systems of evil and use it to justify their misdeeds.

But there is a certain kind of Christian that seems to delight to add these sorts of burdens, and I don’t know why the burden always falls inordinately on women.  In the penumbra of the moderate Assemblies of God are the Holiness churches, who emphasize a code of dress that is particularly onerous for women (no makeup, no sleeveless dresses, no perfume, etc. etc.), but which allows men a considerable amount of self-expression.  Now I read that some Protestants have started a movement “restoring” head coverings for women.  Everything’s a “movement” with these guys.  Except for the obvious ones after the Greek Festival, we Orthodox don’t have movements.

Now, I don’t have a problem with Protestant women covering their heads in worship. Anything that makes Protestants more Orthodox is a cause for celebration. Head coverings are traditional among the Orthodox.  But even among the Orthodox it can get queer.  If you go to a mostly convert parish you have a lot of women competing to see who can look the most like a 17th century Russian peasant woman.  These are professional women, doctors, executives, and teachers.  Something doesn’t feel authentic.  It feels the same to me when non-Mennonite Protestant women do it.  The “Head Covering movement” claims to be “restoring a practice universal among Christian women until the twentieth century”, but there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly traditional about their adoption of the practice.  Once again, it’s something they’ve extracted from a text using the tools of positivistic hermeneutics rather than being inside the narrative that produced the text.  I was particularly struck by a comparison of a Protestant writer speculating on why St. Paul commanded women to use head coverings because “of the angels” with a female Orthodox convert’s engagement with the actual Tradition as it had been passed to her by faithful Christian women, especially it its teaching about “the angels”.

Protestants, and I was one, don’t do angels.  Oh, they believe in them, because the all-important text mentions them, but they don’t talk with them.   They don’t implore their protection.  They don’t have pictures of them in their wallets.  They don’t have relationships with them.  Every Orthodox church has at least two archangels on the great doors of the iconostasis, and sometimes the angelic presence can get so thick, like at Pascha or Theophany, you feel like you should bring some angel repellent to liturgy just so you can breathe.  Angels are there in our services.  St. John Chrysostom says so, and he says:

It “disturbs all things and betrays the gifts of God, and casts to the ground the honor bestowed…For to [the woman] it is the greatest of honor to preserve her own rank. To some who argue that a woman, by taking off her covering, mounts up to the glory of man,” [Chrysostom answers:] “She doth not mount up, but rather falls from her own proper honor…Since not to abide within our own limits and the laws of God, but to go beyond, is not an addition, but a diminution…” [Always emphasizing the equality between man and woman, Chrysostom admonishes the man]“not to dishonor her who governs next to thyself.”

The issue is order, not superiority or inferiority. At Matins for Orthodoxy Sunday, we sing, “Come and let us celebrate a day of joy: Now heaven makes glad! Earth with all the hosts of angels and the companies of mortal men, each in their varied order, keeps the feast.”

As another writer points out, and I’m sorry I don’t have the reference, only ordained men and male monastics are allowed to be in worship with their heads covered.  Women share this grace.  Lay men have to stand before the angels unprotected.  There is an idea common among Eastern Christians and Muslims that feminine power is concentrated in the hair, like Samson, and it because of women’s power, not their weakness, that their heads should be covered.  I like this explanation because, like my support for a single secular Palestinian state, it makes the right people furious.

Of course, the practice differs considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and even from parish to parish.  The Slavs are the most conservative, the Arabs the most liberal, and the Greeks and Cypriots somewhere between.  When you are coming from Protestantism into Orthodoxy, you have to fake it until you make it, until the Tradition becomes part of you.  I think what I am crying out for is a complementarianism with a human face.  Do I get a witness?

Recently, a fellow Orthodox, an “intersexed” individual, contacted me.  Apparently, he has both male and female genitalia, although he identifies as male.  Fortunately, he has a capable and seasoned confessor and spiritual father.  “Am I not human too?” he cries.  “Do I never get to feel the touch of a loving hand?  Are my genitals less than yours?”

His confessor is wise beyond hope.  “I have counseled my son to forgo sex for now.  In Orthodoxy, it isn’t just the soul that achieves salvation, but the body also.   This is the body my son has been given.  It is with this body, and only with this body, that he will attain the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is with this body he will be raised in the resurrection; therefore, we should all wait, and be patient, and walk the road with him.  As he partakes of Christ in faith in the Holy Mysteries, his true body will emerge, and we will discern it.  His struggle will be harder, but his redemption will be the more glorious.”

Please no rude remarks about Russians beating up gay people.  I won’t defend that either.  Pussy Riot?  The people they offended suffered for their faith under Communism.  The Russian Orthodox know all about the glories of Feminism and the dangers of one party rule.  The Pussys showed a real lack of sensitivity, but then, only troglodytes like Mule need reeducation to make them more sensitive.



  1. I was just discussing some of these topics at another blog tonight.

    All this male headship nonsense, all this gender complementarian nonsense, totally excludes, in some sense, unmarried adults. I am in my early 40s, female, never married, no kids.

    I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something very wrong with religious views of the genders when it’s defined or applied only to married couples. What of never married adults, where do we fit in? We’re seldom mentioned in these commentaries about gender.

    It almost seems as though married Christians think you can only be defined as a male if you have a wife, or defined as a woman if you have a husband (and you are popping out babies).

    Or, they think maleness can be only understood in the context of marriage or defined in marriage, same with femaleness. So, what to do with older singles?

    The OP (Original Post/ Poster) said,
    You get this feeling that the Evangelical churches don’t know what to do with men, that there is a sense in which they are flawed women.

    Take it to another step: evangelical (and many other churches) do not know what to do with any never- married adult who is over 30 years of age, especially the ones, such as me, who are still virgins.

    Christians grasp fornicators easily and just peachy, and will give sermons and tips on what to do if you are a single who is sleeping around, or who has had an abortion, or if you are facing sexual temptation, but most churches have no clue what to make of celibate Christian adults, or just don’t care to minister to them, or to talk about their unique challenges in life, and to help them with those challenges.

    OP said, They [men] are characterized either as carnal beasts with no spiritual yearnings, or they are eternal adolescents who need to “grow up” after a good hard scolding

    That is also how older, never married Christian adults, male and female, are often represented in American Christianity. We’re either thought of as being carnal, assumed to be sleeping around every day, (or we are asexual or freaks who must not experience any sort of desire), or, we are supposedly immature and not as responsible as married people.

    I do agree with some of the observations by the OP about evangelicals/ conservative Christians and their weird preoccupation with manliness and manhood, and how it’s often defined as a man wanting to watch NASCAR, belch all the time, watch MMA (mixed marital arts), and crush beer cans in one hand.

    I don’t understand why so many Christian dudes feel so insecure about their own manhood that they have to go into this hyper parody drive, acting like a stereotypical manly man one might see in comedy movies.

    OP said, “and that most women enjoy being led by an increasingly capable man.”

    That is not a good thing. It’s the woman shirking her responsibility to let the man take charge and make all decisions. That is one reason a lot of women attract abusive men. They then have to go into therapy to learn how to stop doing it.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something very wrong
      > with religious views of the genders when it’s defined or applied only
      > to married couples. What of never married adults, where do we fit in?

      This doesn’t bother me; single people are free, in a way a married person can never be. It is sad that many singles ministries are focused on making them unsingle; but these days I look at things like “singles ministries” and just think “ick, why do we have to do that?”. The segregation of people into wierd little groups bounded by some arbitrary attribute – and then call them “ministries”. Are adults actually incapable of making their own friends?

      There is some overlap with married-people-no-kids [which is me], only I have no reached the stage of life where the married-or-divorced-people-with-kids will quietly say “You might have had the right idea” [the number of times that has happened in the last year surprises even me, who never doubted I had the right idea; them little buggers are time consuming, expensive, and natural genetic reproduction is russian roulette. Besides we’ve already got Billions of us].

      > most churches have no clue what to make of celibate Christian adults

      I dunno, certainly Evangelical churches. RCCs even have some formal roles for them. Or there is the long list of service opportunities that are simply unrealistic for the married or parents.

      > married adult who is over 30 years of age, especially the ones, such as me,
      > who are still virgins.

      Despite that St. Paul holds you up as the ideal. And you are proof that it is *possible*. So much of our culture drills into people that it is not possible to be celibate, let alone chaste, in the ‘modern world’ [I have no idea why modernety matters regarding basic human behavior].

      >That is also how older, never married Christian adults, male and female, are
      >often represented in American Christianity. We’re either thought of as being
      >carnal, assumed to be sleeping around every day, (or we are asexual or freaks
      >who must not experience any sort of desire), or, we are supposedly immature
      >and not as responsible as married people.

      This actually strikes me as a more mid-west cultural thing than a “church” thing [at least in the culture of professional middle-class whites]. But around me it is rapidly changing, if only here in an urban zone; soon, outside the Fungelical church, nobody will care.

      I’ve gotten wierd looks for wilfully not having children in plenty of places outside the church. As a modertately successful Aryan male there is some cultural subtext that I am obligated to breed.

      And the notion that I would love children if they were my own [really?]; but I don’t like children, seems a big gamble. I’ve met many parents that quite clearly do not like their own children, despite whatever their protestations to the contrary. These days I am just blunt about it – that seems to quickly steer the conversation towards something else – “yes, I had a vascectomy when I was 23, I do not like children”. If the person is excessively obnoxious I just add “nor, really, the human race for that matter” [that being factually true]. Shuts up even the most beligerant troll.

      >their weird preoccupation with manliness and manhood,

      No joke, I was a young adult during the rise of Promise Keepers. I dodged ever having to go to one. A friend, who I will lovingly describe as one of the least perceptive people I’ve known, came back and after a pause in the conversation said “I felt like I was being manipulated”. Says it all.

      I enjoy being a man, I’m not sure any of my hobbies are especially “manly”; I SCUBA dive, maintain and drive a 1919 Model-T Ford Deport Hack, and I’m an Open Source developer. There are increasing numbers of women in all three of these categories – the most recent [now deceased] president of the Model-T Association of America was a women, at meets there are several cars owned-and-operated by younger women. I’m unclear why this should cause me to have gender identity issues? If they know that the proper torque for an iron head is 50ft/lbs[*1] and 45ft/lbs for an aluminum Z head then I do not care what gender they are [ruining a good block by stripping the threads is a @&^$&*@&* crime!]. And the issue of proper marital relations just never seems to come up.

      But I’m not a jock, traditional sports never interested me at all. And I’ve always been rather ardently anti-military. Perhaps there are culutral enclaves of definite gender roles in those circles?

      Still, outside Fungelicalism, I have not encountered many people obsessed with gender roles. People may believe in them, I feel I’m on generally the same page as Mr. Mule, but nobody openly argues about them.

      [*1] Unless your block was made 1914 or earlier, some factories used a softer metal or inferior process; with a block of that vintage it is best to stay at 45ft/lbs even with an iron head.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        The point of my deliberately going somewhat off topic does not seem clear – – – how are their large populations of adults that seem to have nothing to talk about? [*1] That part of the fungelical and also some regions of the over-culture, are something I find disturbing. You have reached 30 or 40 years of age… and found nothing that you love? Nothing you can sit around and talk about the minutia of for hours? **So what else is there to do but gossip and meddle in other people’s affairs.** I see overlap of things like “gender roles” and busy-bodies [bored souls] [*2].

        How many of the cancerous souls infecting the church could be cured by a good hobby?

        I still remember being young. “Peer pressure” was much easier to manage when I’d think to myself “Be stupid with boring people and get drunk … or I could spend some time doing X. Oh, X is way better.” Adulthood seems to have its own version of that meme.

        [*1] C.S. Lewis’ essay of friendship is illustrative – even something bizarre or trivial, like an interest in white mice – is the seed of friendship].
        [*2] And I’m not meaning to imply AT ALL that these are not very legitimate issues about which to have honest and informed discussion. Just that the tactical, rather than, strategic issues involved may be more banal than theological.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        > most churches have no clue what to make of celibate Christian adults

        I dunno, certainly Evangelical churches. RCCs even have some formal roles for them. Or there is the long list of service opportunities that are simply unrealistic for the married or parents.

        Which according to comments when the subject has surfaced before, can slide into exploitation of the Singles as a free church labor pool so the Marrieds can stay home Focusing on their Families. (You get this in the workplace, too — “You’re Single! You don’t have any commitments! Nothing to interfere with forced Overtime!”)

      • Vega Magnus says

        “This doesn’t bother me; single people are free, in a way a married person can never be. ”

        Alright. Then riddle me this. Why would any woman get married if that is the case? If singles are not bound by gender roles, why would a woman give up that freedom to marry? That would be illogical.

        • You’re assuming that freedom is the greatest good. Most people don’t really think so, whatever they say.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says


            People surrender freedom for all kinds of reasons; it is only one valuable in an array of assets.

        • @ Vega…actually, you are touching on one of the reasons that women joined religious orders in the time span of roughly the 1200’s through early 1900’s….independence! Young women were the property of their fathers, and with marriage moved to being a possession of their husband. Either man could do with her as he willed, and she could not have money or property. Taking the veil was the only real route to freedom for women then….with self-governance and a “home of ones’ own”, without males in residence. I can certainly see why Holy Orders looked a LOT better than marriage, and it came with status!

    • Catholics tend to look at life as three different vocations: single, married and religious. Both single and religious vocations are celibate. All three are important, one does not trump the next.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        That’s a nice way of explaining it. It is important to recognize that enumerating categories does not necessarily imply *ranking* of the categories.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I do agree with some of the observations by the OP about evangelicals/ conservative Christians and their weird preoccupation with manliness and manhood, and how it’s often defined as a man wanting to watch NASCAR, belch all the time, watch MMA (mixed marital arts), and crush beer cans in one hand.

      You forgot Dominating their submissive widdle woman like a Draka.
      I CAN BEAT YOU UP!!!”

  2. Ach, my links didn’t make it.

    As far as concerns the war in Syria, please, please please go to Notes On Arab Orthodoxy for Samn!’s point of view as well as all these Americans.

  3. We have all the life questions but not all the answers.

  4. Mule,
    Excuse my ignorance here, but what does cataphatic and apophatic mean? Also, I enjoy learning about Orthodoxy, what sources or books would you recommend to learn more?

    • Very roughly:

      Cataphatic is a way of speaking about something by describing what you know about it, knowing it by what it is – the couch is brown. Apophatic is hard for me to define as shortly, but comes down to describing something on the basis of what you don’t know about it, or indicating something about it with the obvious knowledge that your knowledge is very incomplete. Imagine a blind-from-birth guy talking about the same couch, he could speak cataphatically of the things he can experience about it, how it feels, if it is long enough to lie on. But if asked exactly what it looks like, he would have to admit it’s color exists but is beyond his imagination.

      • I’m replying to myself because I thought of a better example of apophatic couch color description. Remember this in reality relates to how we try to describe and think about God, and God is so big he doesn’t fit in our categories. It as if the couch is a color that has never been named, a color that can be seen nowhere else. We can go through a list of known and named colors and say the couch is not turquoise, maroon, azure, etc. We can tell someone all the colors the couch isn’t, while asserting it has a color, just not one describable in limited human thought and language.

        It is hard to do in western thought because our temptation is to finish the equation. If the couch is not those colors, it must be the only existent color in our knowledge base that hasn’t been excluded yet. If it isn’t options A-Y, we feel it must be Z. If we don’t know what Z is, it is just a matter of finding and defining it.

        In eastern thought, that isn’t how it works. If it isn’t A-Y, it isn’t Z either necessarily, it just doesn’t fit into things describable by the available letters.

        • Thanks Tokah. I actually had a philosophy professor who was an Eastern Orthodox convert tell me that the Orthodox often describing God by what he is not, so I get what your saying. He just didn’t use the word apophatic. Thanks for the explanations. And word on good sources for learning more about Eastern Orthodoxy?

          • Jon A — Speaking as someone outside the Orthodox church, I’ve found Metropolitan Kallistos Ware to be easy to understand and helpful. I also love a little book by Met. Anthony Bloom called “Beginning to Pray.” Alexander Schemann’s “For the Life of the World” is a challenging but rewarding look at a Christian world view very different from the evangelical. Frederica Matthews-Green is a popular, less scholarly writer, but she does a good job of depicting an American’s reaction to Orthodoxy. (Sorry to horn in, Tokah — I’m sure you’ve got many more good suggestions.)

          • If you’re the kind of person who enjoys an academic approach, I’d start with The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way by Timothy/Kallistos Ware. He walks you through the history to present, and then what that means in practice.

            If you prefer a more doctrine by doctrine exploration that focuses as much on the hymns and art of the Church as the history, The Living God is pretty amazing. New copies cost more than the older editions used, but get the older ones if you have the dough – the icons are in full color, and it makes a big difference in following along in a few sections.

            And finally, if you want a window into a whole new way of looking at the christian church year, fasts and feasts both, Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann. It really explores what the point of all that asceticism really is.

          • The christian mystics, both east and west write in either an apothatic or cataphatic style.

  5. “Except for the obvious ones after the Greek Festival, we Orthodox don’t have movements.” Funny, Mule!

    “There is an idea common among Eastern Christians and Muslims that feminine power is concentrated in the hair, like Samson, and it because of women’s power, not their weakness, that their heads should be covered.” That’s interesting, Mule.

    • Joanie,

      The same thing caught my attention because not long ago Richard Beck posted a two part discussion relative to the headcovering passage of I Cor. 11;

      Head Coverings in Worship: Why Female Hair Is a Testicle

      • Went there. That was very interesting.

        There are some heavy hitters over there. The Reformed guy who waded in on the discussion of “icky” homosexual behavior is my new hero. He hit the ball so far out of the park that I had to zip up all his responses on my hard drive. It was wonderful to see how all the loving, caring, sensitive St. Francis-style Christians reacted to a good stout dose of St. Jerome.

        • Mule,

          Guest left his comments there after I came and went… And I wish I had gone back to read them before now. I too zipped them into my hard drive.

          Guest may be Reformed, but he is a British Anglican, and engaged people with respect and good Christian thought, without any proof-texting whatsoever (!). All of that is, to me, a very long way from the type of “Reformed” of D. Wilson and Moscow, Idaho. I know good people find value in the latter (trying to give you and others the benefit of the doubt)… and that whole scene arouses fear and horror in me, to the point of physical reaction. My opinion and hope for you as a fellow Orthodox: that Orthodox worship, time (especially time married and as a parent, and please forgive me for my very limited understanding and charity regarding your own particular burdens), good doses of patristic writing, and paying attention to people like Fr John, that the bad residual from that scene will be washed away…

          I could not have have gone pounding on the doors of EO to be let in if I had any reason whatsoever to believe that, like Wilson & crew, men and women were viewed as essentially different species, with women as sub-human. That is where the logic of their view leads. Quite unlike St Gregory the Theologian, discussing the ability of women to undertake ascesis, and which I found to be the underlying consensus of all the fathers I have read, no matter what else they say: “…if there is a difference between the sexes, it is visible only in that men have a stronger, more vigorous body. As for the rest, the cultivation of virtue is the same; they march together on the road leading to life eternal, and in this no one has anything more than the other except the difference of his merit and his toil…” (Carminum Liber I sect II vs 64) I am female, and my journey to Orthodoxy was entirely theologically-driven (my husband wants no part of it, has never in +4 years even walked through the door of my church, did not attend when I was chrismated). I was not put off at all by the “Marine Corps” -ness of it – that made sense to me as a constituent of the whole. I was raised RC and knew it in my early years pre-Vatican II; I had the Our Father and other portions of the Mass in Latin memorized at age 7. And my daddy was a Marine… [It seems to me that it is mainly convert Orthodox who want to box up women (and men) into “roles”… I could be wrong…]

          [BTW, I love St Jerome not only because of his wonderful linguistic sensibilities but also because even with his crusty personality he had meaningful friendships with women. I attend an OCA church; about half of the women cover. Our priest’s mother does not, nor do the majority of the women “over a certain age”; I find that interesting. I do, but I wear a hat, as I don’t like how I look in the usual wrapped scarf thing. Yes, I am vain. If I ever go to church in Russia or Jerusalem, I will put off my vanity and put on a scarf.]

          “…it is better to allow the couple to negotiate that territory themselves…” I think this resonates with the the O. wedding ceremony prescribing the Epistle reading from Eph 5 but offering ***no commentary*** thereon. That negotiation is in fact mutual submission (sorry about the tics), and it’s where men and women who are as honest and loving as possible in any given moment actually live in a marriage where the telos is truly salvation/healing.

          You finally used a term I had to look up today, which is totally okay!


          • It seems to me that it is mainly convert Orthodox who want to box up women (and men) into “roles”…

            Yes – ditto for many converts to the RCC, various more fundy forms of Protestantism, etc.

            I can’t be the only one who wishes that Fr. Ernesto (of OrthoCuban, former “liturgical gangsta”) would post here again.

          • tag on my last: there’s also the very real fact that most of the Orthodox churches are strongly identified with one nationality/ethnic group or another, and that within those groups, there are (often, not always) very rigid social conventions regarding gender roles.

            Lots of it is cultural.

        • Yes, “Guest” did hit several homers.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          This the same St Jerome who was so pugnacious his bishop assigned him the task of translating the Bible into Vulgate Latin to keep him out of trouble?

  6. I’m assuming from the words beginnings (cata and apo) that they are Greek, but I don’t have a clue what they mean.

    • John –

      For the purposes of this blog, “cataphatic” refers to things that can be positively said about something. Wood is hard, water is wet, children, healthy ones at least, are noisy. “Apophatic” means to declare whatt a thing is not. It is easier to be cataphatic about things which are lower down on the ladder of being; minerals, and less so about plants and animals, finally humans, angels and God, about Whom it is best to be apophatic,

      Daisy –

      I feel your pain. I married at 38 and was in the unenviable position of being an uncoordinated but not unfit guy attracted to graceful, athletic women. I dated a lot, was rejected and rejected in my turn. As for the church not knowing what to do with older, unmarried singles, all I can say is that in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches it is the celibates who carry the rest of us. Maybe there are some parachurch ministries that “get” older singles better. I know Operation Mobilization, with whom I was affiliated for a couple of years, was able to use their gifts and abilities admirably, and didn’t treat them like 2nd class citizens.

      • Apophatic sounds very helpful. Perhaps this is one way to avoid resorting to theological deconstruction. I find myself thinking of God this way quite often already. Perhaps it’s like lessons from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards, where one learns to draw a subject by its shade and shadow rather than its outline. It makes me think how we throw around words like “omnipotent” or “sovereign” and pretend we have said something meaningful about God. Having spent a good portion of my life studying mathematics, I have learned that much of life is not about precise calculations and fixed numbers but approximations, limits, imaginary numbers, and interpolation. I don’t know how we can approach God thinking we can neatly fit him into a tiny theological box.

    • “cata” = “with” or “down”

      “apo” = “away”, “from”

      Wikipedia has a good article on Cataphatic theology and it’s corresponding Apophatic approach.

      • Apophatic theology also known as negative theology, via negativa or via negationis[1] (Latin for “negative way” or “by way of denial”)—is a theology that attempts to describe God, the Divine Good, by negation, to speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God.[2] It stands in contrast with cataphatic theology. Pseudo-Dionysis and Maximus Confessor

        Cataphatic theology is the expressing of God or the divine through positive terminology.

        A kataphatic way to express God would be that God is love. The apophatic way would be to state that God is not hate (although such description can be accused of the same dualism). Or to say that God is not love, as he transcends even our notion of love. Ultimately, one would come to remove even the notion of the Trinity, or of saying that God is one, because The Divine is above numberhood. That God is beyond all duality because God contains within Godself all things and that God is beyond all things. The apophatic way as taught by Saint Dionysus was to remove any conceptual understanding of God that could become all-encompassing, since in its limitedness that concept would begin to force the fallen understanding of mankind onto the absolute and divine.

        Above is wikipedia… as I learned it apo is via negativa and catho is via positiva…

  7. Two quick takeaways, then on to work:

    1) My brain hurts from thinking, but then I rarely use it, so this is not a complaint, it’s good to be sore.

    2)It’s getting increasingly harder to bash on IMONK for being a “Lutheran blog”. Some will have to find a different convenient boogeyman.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > It’s getting increasingly harder to bash on IMONK for being a “Lutheran blog”

      +1 +1

      Every post no longer descends into the tedious and pointless and useless Reformation squabble of grace-vs-law-i-am-more-grace-filled-than-than-hose-law-mongerers. I’d almost given up reading the BLOG, and then it really turned a corner. Mule is a nice introduction to the mix. And Ms. Dye as well. They both talk about reality rather than drumming down on the mouldering corpse of the poor dead horse upon which rode the Reformation.

  8. This is what I love about being associated with Internet Monk. Mule and I are miles apart when it comes to this subject — but not in the same way that I am miles apart from the Neo-Calvinists. Despite our disagreement, it is refreshing to hear about these matters from a different angle than the normal complementarian/egalitarian points of view. In both Catholicism and Orthodoxy there is a more sacramental and mysterious take on the difference between the sexes. Although I think neither takes seriously enough the full partnership described in Creation or the proclamations of the New Covenant, there is something to be said for recognizing depths in this subject that go beyond who brings home the bacon or “makes the final decision.” I wish that more who embrace partnership over patriarchy would recognize this and be willing to explore it. I should be able to say of my wife both that we share life together fully as equal partners and vive la difference!

  9. David Cornwell says

    Mule’s writing is heavy stuff, and it takes me more than one cup of coffee just to do a cursory reading. I love reading it, but not sure what to do with it after I am done. It will be interesting to see where he is heading.

    One thing popped out for quick comment:

    The Promise Keepers movement always seemed a little strange to me. Along with almost everything in Focus on the Family. I know a leader in another denomination, a very intelligent and hard working man. The thing is is seemed a little feminine at times, and I think he knew it. He tried to man-up through Promise Keepers. He is in a position of higher leadership now, but I think his makeover just made for a little strangeness. I think the admonition of the confessor “This is the body my son has been given. It is with this body, and only with this body, that he will attain the Kingdom of Heaven. It is with this body he will be raised in the resurrection” would have done him a world of good. For you see, there was nothing wrong with him from the start, other than the taint of sin that finds it’s mark in all of us. His supposed femininity was part of him, and no one cared but him.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      +1 on FotF

      The statement:
      “women left to themselves will develop into good women, more responsible women, just naturally”
      – I find reprehensible, unbiblical, and absurdly sexist. It is just part of a world view that revolves around Mommy, and not God. Rest assured women can be deceitful, cruel, vengeful, and tribal; perhaps in different ways then men [generally], but no less so.

      Can one even describe FotF as “fundamentalist” anymore? More and more they just seem “left field”.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It is just part of a world view that revolves around Mommy, and not God.

        Good line. Can you elaborate? (All these Christianese Real Men Focusing on their Families might be acting out Mommy issues?) Might be a subject for another guest post, all on its own.

        (Sounds like a Mother-Goddess cult sneaking its way in. Quick! Check everyone for unsmashed statues of St Mary!!!!)

  10. I attended a Promise Keepers event in the late 90’s (?) at the request of my brother-in-law who’s new wife’s born again father had asked him to attend (my brother-in-law was cultual Catholic at the time and want me to interpret for him). Lots of men bonding and singing and holding hands and hugging. Kept him from doing the alter call sacrament (although his father-in-law was applying the pressure from the other end).

    This type of movement even made its way into Catholic circles with Covenant Keepers and continues somewhat with the Conference of Catholic Men… my issues with these things is that it teaches men to be in touch with how they feel, sometimes at nauseum when all we want to do is swing a hammer. Complementarianism made its way into some of this stuff but since it was pretty foreign to us Catholics it didn’t really stick.

    I remember when women wore vails on their head in Church… now only the most tradtional strains in the Church fiollow this. But then back in the vail days older men were wearing fedoras….

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      I’ve been trying to bring back the derby/bowler in my circles. Hey, we’re Anglicans and what’s more English than a bowler (save for a good cup of Earl Grey)?

  11. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    We had a “motorcycle ministry”, that quickly signed up so many ‘radical Christian bikers’ that it was kind of refreshing to run into a genuine outlaw biker from time to time.

    This really made me laugh, because to my knowledge, I’ve almost never run into a genuine 1%-er Outlaw Biker, despite living in a big city where the Banditos are supposedly a factor. Instead, I’ve run into tons of “Lion of Judah” or similar Christian bikers who sport gear as if they’re 1%-ers!

  12. Final Anonymous says

    I remember Promise Keepers and such being a response to the increasing number of women who accepted roles of leadership and responsibility in the church once the societal gender limits fell away.

    “Men need training and prescribed leadership roles because it doesn’t come as naturally as it does for women” was just an appeal-to-their-egos sales pitch given to ambitious women to convince them to suppress their natural (God-given?) leadership instincts and go back to the nursery and kitchen, for the sake of the Kingdom, wink-wink-nod-nod to their male counterparts. I’d bet the house you can’t find a single FoF executive, from Dobson on down, who honestly thinks women have got it all over men.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      As ATW’s one-liner above put it, “It is just part of a world view that revolves around Mommy, and not God.”

      Or women as Mommies and only Mommies.

      Which I would like to see gone into further detail in a guest post.

      • Not only that – the madonna/whore thing that’s been a trope in European Catholicism (particularly in countries like Italy and Spain, where it comes through in popular films) for God alone knows how long.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          You know one of the real mysteries of the universe, Numo?

          I have one of the worst cases of Virgin/Whore Dichotomy this side of Saudi, and I was NEVER involved with Christianese Purity Culture. At all. I have no idea how I could have acquired/developed it, because I was raised by non-practicing parents in Fifties secular culture. My only explanation is some sort of perfect storm of very late bloomer, isolated kid genius (and accompanying social/emotional retardation) and a LOT of Fifties/First 1960s romance tropes absorbed while I was still emotionally a child. (Then getting blindsided/poleaxed by the sexual revolution — “Everybody’s Doing It!” — around puberty and subsequent continuous high pressure to pop my cherry like Normal(TM) people.)

          • I think that a *lot* of people around your age (and mine) got blindsided by many of the cultural changes in the 70s.

            for me, though, it was (mostly) freeing, but then, I was an art student (so hanging around with unconventional types anyway) and a young woman… who didn’t dive into the heavy-duty “sexual revolution” foray due to my beliefs. (And other things as well, but mainly beliefs.)

            it was a confusing, crazy, sometimes wonderful era.

  13. Joseph (the original) says

    RE: Promise Keeper’s experiences…

    I attended one event early in its evolution. And that one time was certainly enough…


    Went with a group of men from our small church that was located within easy commute distance. This event had some heavy-hitter speakers from all faith tradition expressions. It was well organized. There was significant cooperation patience within the local faith groups supporting the event. There was a lot of patience while waiting in lines going to, or leaving the stadium. But I did feel it was a Christianese sports event atmosphere that harped on the theme that we were to ‘man-up’ as REAL Christian men (insert individual idea of what that means in practice). Manipulation? Sure. Their version of 12-steps to do better? Sure. They had the answers to the so-called masculine moral morass all men were doomed to extricate themselves from. For all its visibility & attendance records & media coverage, the meteoric rise then became a fading starburst after a few years. Typical though. And something I could sense even in its earliest iteration. I was not ‘transformed’ by the experience. In fact, it soured me on most things that resembled a men’s retreat, etc. But then I am an introspective sort that was able to understand most of what was already wrong with me…

    Lord, have mercy…


  14. As always, Mule gives some good fodder for the Tiny Angry Feminist, the Insecure Conservative Evangelical, and the Wandering Post-Evangelical who all share space in my head. Lots of stuff to chew on.

    It’s nice to know that not all of Christendom has the gender role hand-wringing issues that is present in much of American Protestantism. My husband and I never fit in well with the Promise Keepers or their counterpart, the Women of Faith. We thought something was wrong with us back then: the Hub never had problems with ‘understanding the wife’ and didn’t get why he was forced to bond with other men under the auspices that Real Men All Enjoy Sports and Grunting; I on the other hand, simply found the WOF conferences frightening (I could really go into that, but won’t since it’s not on topic.) At this point, we realized that it wasn’t US that was the problem, and I don’t doubt that most of the other people herded into those events had similar misgivings that they did a better job at telling those Negative Thoughts that they don’t belong anywhere near their Je-UH-zus.

    It occurs to me that these denoms that lack the history and Traditions of older lines of Christianity find themselves constantly chasing the popular cultural issues since they have no other basis for behavior and roles for their adherents to cling to.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says


      > the Hub never had problems with ‘understanding the wife’

      As a ‘hub’ and a ‘dude’ I’ve never felt I had a problem understanding women. Mostly women are a lot like men: vanity, ego, fear, mixed intentions, confusion, nobility, et al. A man that cannot understand women probably doesn’t understand other men either.

      The cracks from the pulpit about understanding-the-other-gender-or-your-wife always irk me. Both false, and in extremely poor taste – and just not funny [a professionally trained public speaker seeking humor should be able to come up with something better than low-brow cliches].

      > I on the other hand, simply found the WOF conferences frightening

      My wife shares your sentiment; she always found the church’s events for women extremely off-putting. And the female version of Discipleship to be intolerable.

      > It occurs to me that these denoms that lack the history and Traditions of older lines of
      > Christianity find themselves constantly chasing the popular cultural issues since they
      > have no other basis for behavior and roles for their adherents to cling to.

      +1 Attempting to manufacture an identity and a culture out of thin air is no small undertaking.

      • My wife and I don’t fall into the complementarian roles either. She has her strengths and I have mine and we play into that. Once in a while when I fall into that cave-man mentality she simply sends me a reminder, like a pan upside the head to send me into reboot…kidding… I think….she is Italian after all….

      • “Mostly women are a lot like men: vanity, ego, fear, mixed intentions, confusion, nobility, et al. A man that cannot understand women probably doesn’t understand other men either.”

        I resemble that remark. Humor aside, I think a lot of men project their own behavior onto women and vice versa, and I think this causes a lot of misunderstanding. I was well into my 50s before I learned that just because my wife was talking to me about her problems didn’t necessarily mean that she was asking me to solve them.

        When I first started dating, I asked my mother why girls talked so much. She said boys and men talked to accomplish tasks together whereas girls and women talked to forge alliances. I have found this piece of information valuable and roughly true. She also recommended I date tomboys.

        • I don’t know about the alliance part. They talk because they want you to listen, part of feeling connected. And if there is conflict I know that my wife in particular has to talk it completely out… kind of like a purging, before she can move on. I am definitely the guy who wants to fix things.

          I could be with my wife all day, all week for that matter, but if we havn’t sat down and talked with eye contact, then she does not feel connected…. I admit that just may be her, …. and maybe not…

        • there are also plenty of Men Who Talk – and Women Who Don’t.


          but… I think that, to a certain degree, being a good coversationalist is a lost art.

    • David Cornwell says

      “It occurs to me that these denoms that lack the history and Traditions of older lines of Christianity find themselves constantly chasing the popular cultural issues since they have no other basis for behavior and roles for their adherents to cling to.”

      Something to think about; you are on to something.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When you have no past or institutional memory, you will find yourself reinventing the wheel over and over.

    • It occurs to me that these denoms that lack the history and Traditions of older lines of Christianity find themselves constantly chasing the popular cultural issues since they have no other basis for behavior and roles for their adherents to cling to.

      Arrrgh, thar be Wisdom.

  15. RE: Promise Keepers

    I have a lot of respect for and good memories of Promise Keepers and the events they sponsored. I attended
    several rallies over the years and found great cross-denominational fellowship, a strong emphasis on Jesus,
    great times of praise, and a renewed excitement about the faith among the men of our local church (including the formation of a men’s choir). Two extremely special times to me were going to a gathering with my father-in-law (now with the Lord) and my son, and going to Washington, D.C. for Stand In The Gap with my son and a large group from our geographic area. This was a needed ministry for its time and a great blessing to me and many others.

    • I attended one Promise Keepers as well and it was a positive time.

    • I think I went to 3 events–last one was in Memphis. Had much the same take-away as Ric for the first 2.

      At this point in life I’m much more trepidation about making promises. If there was for me a lasting benefit of PK it is that in myself is very little power to be a keeper of promises.

  16. Please delete, ignore, or otherwise pay no attention to this second post. I don’t know what happened.

    • I’m referring to a duplicate (which has now been deleted) of my post, not to Ken’s comment. I’m sorry for any confusion.

  17. I have never attended women’s events at church just because they were “for women”. There had to be another reason: spending time with certain friends, hearing good speakers, supporting friends who were presenters, and when my kids were very young, an opportunity to have some “adult face time” (usually in a nice location on Retreats).

    Re Promise Keepers: I think it was an expression in a particular swath of Christian culture of a kind of mourning on the part of Baby Boomer men over lack of connection with their own fathers, whether through abandonment, active neglect/abuse, or “absence when present”. Though this happened in previous generations, it was Baby Boomers who discovered that lack of connection was not a good thing. I see this also reflected in worship songs, composed mostly at the same time, that express a child’s connection with Father God. PK was a way to mourn, and an attempt to get to a place (quickly, and with a “biblical” program, like in a lot of Evangelicalism) where that absence, physical or functional, would not be passed down to the next generation. Not sure how successful the latter has been.


    • I was also thinking about how the PK movement was a Boomer thing. My dad (Born 1951) was really into the PK thing when it came out in the mid-90’s, and he, like much of his generation, has “my dad didn’t love me” issues. Which is not to say that there isn’t male abandonment issues amongst my age group (I’m an early millennial), but there just doesn’t seem to be the same need for navel-gazing as our dads had. Or at least, that’s what I’ve seen among my slice of society. In other words, the PK movement wasn’t “For Us” to begin with.

      Regarding “Women’s” stuff… I’ve always been one of those girls who doesn’t always fit in with the other girls so well, so I was happier in mixed company. From an early age I remember being bothered about how compartmentalized church was in regard to gender and age. But I can understand why other people don’t have problems with it.

      • @Umi….same here…..I was the little girl in ripped jeans, covered in mud, climbing trees and racing my horse all over God’s green earth without any caution or concern for my “image”. I became a new Army officer and college graduate before my 21st birthday, and was SURE I never wanted kids [the latter related to the fact that 100% of my older sibs were divorced with children. Seemed like no one in the family knew how to be married or parent very well…] I had my pick of boyfriends, and did not “act dumb” in class so that my straight “A” record didn’t intimidate boys. The idea of submitting to a husband did not cross my mind.

        Only when I married my closest friend did I understand that marriage did NOT have to be about artificial roles and clichés. I certainly do not have a perfect marriage, but we each lead with our strengths and talk out our conflicts. I remember reading a book about submission that a young married Evangelical friend had given me, and laughing outloud. I thought it was a parody…..

  18. I would like to talk a little more on apophatic. People always emphasize it as a way to describe God. There is a sense in which it is a way to negate our mimetic desire. A way to turn off the cultural influences around oneself. A way to give God room to work, not because God hasn’t, but because of blocks. There is so much more that need to be said about it. It’s important.

  19. Vega Magnus says

    I’m a guy with long hair. Do I have girly super hair powers too?

    My take on the whole complementarian/egalitarian deal is something like this. I personally do not have a dominant personality. I’m a pretty reserved introvert who does not actively seek out leadership roles unless the people in charge are not doing their jobs. I’m also very much a nerd, so I’m not a very traditionally masculine person either. Thus, I do not desire or feel that I would even be good at a complementarian relationship.

    • Vega, you don’t *have to be “good at it.”

      I know this is a huge cliche (and was when I was your age, too), but it’s also good advice – be yourself; don’t try to be someone or something that you are not.

      • +1 to what numo said.

        As I said below, God loves variety; that’s why you’re unique: it’s a gift from God.

        I, too, have very little interest in many typically (I wish I could say stereotypically, but alas, many men have bought into the stereotypes and live them like an identity) male things. Why would God give a hoot about that? God’s not one of the boys.

      • I get the feeling that the feminine power centered in the hair that these Eastern Christians and Muslims are so concerned to restrain is actually just a euphemistic rendering of that old bugaboo: women’s sexuality. That’s what they want to keep covered up; and you certainly can’t let that loose in a holy place, can you?


  20. I know that Leo Tolstoy did not know very much about happy families from his own personal experience, and I think he is wrong about all happy families being alike and each unhappy family being miserable in its own way; in fact, I think happiness is infinite in its variety and expression, like God, whereas misery is monochromatic and dull, like Hell.

    It’s misery that displays the same damn monotonous dead colors again and again; it’s misery, like damnation, that throttles the fecund multiplicity of being and robs reality of its distinctions and boundaries, that shuts each individual, or family, in a hell that actually bears remarkable similarity to all the other experiences of hell that other individuals and families are having, except that there is no communication between the multiple hells, and each thinks their own hell unique. This is a romantic conceit.

    Misery and miserable families are like seed that have died in the ground; it’s hard to tell one apart from the others when you dig them up and hold them in your hand.

    Happiness and happy families are like a forest of trees; yes, they’re all trees, but each bears unique and unreproducible form and character, each has its own beauty wrought in minute detail, with limbs and branches twisting and turning and leaves splayed against the sun. And the longer each tree grows, the more unique it becomes, the more unlike the others, even as it remains a tree.

    The longer each dead seed remains dead, the less distinct and the more featureless it becomes; so with miserable families: they stop growing, and then begin to decay; soon they do not bear the marks or characteristics of a family at all.

    I think Tolstoy got it wrong. Hell is not a place of differentiation or variety, and unhappy families are like hell.

    • God loves variety; the devil hates it.

    • + 1, Robert F – including the way in which Leo Tolstoy kept after his wife, Sofia, about kids 9they ahd 13), but refused to allow her to have any household help – !!!

      Their marriage was not, to put it mildly, a very happy one.

  21. I think a lot of blame can be put at the feet of poet Robert Bly for the men’s movement that developed in evangelical circles; he started it in a New Age format ten years before Promise Keepers formed, and evangelicals copycatted him in a very over the top way, as is the wont of the Evangelical Circus.

    • I was thinking of that connection too. I think I first heard of Promise Keepers a few months after a friend gave me a copy of Iron John. It seems that evangelicals (and I’m one) don’t really have their own movements. Their movements are pale copies of movements in our culture. I dread the wave of Christian vampire and zombie books that will hit the market soon.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        >I dread the wave of Christian vampire and zombie books that will hit the market soon.

        Oh man, that is going to be so so very awful it is going to be awesome! You’ve given me something to look forward to!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I dread the wave of Christian vampire and zombie books that will hit the market soon.

        Two years ago, my spies at the Lost Genre Guild attended a Christianese Fiction Publishing conference and brought back the news that “The Next Big Thing” in Christianese Fiction was Christian Paranormal Romance, i.e. “Just like Twilight, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

        And if you think Shekinah-Sparkling Vampires at the Altar Call are a facepalmer, just wait until “Just like 50 Shades of Grey, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

        I’m sticking with Ponyfics.

  22. On the other side of the spectrum are guys like me who do fit the “masculine” archetype – love the gym, drive a truck, closet full of guns – and yet, this whole rancid affair of gender roles and complementarianism has quite a negative effect on people like me. I do what I do because I like it. I’m not a cave man, or a boor, or a woman-beater. I’m not a he-man. I am quite well read and somewhat travelled, speak multiple languages (and read three), and have attended two undergraduate and three graduate institutions (which somehow ended in only two degrees, but that is a story for another time). More and more I find myself keeping my tastes to myself, because of the sometimes automatic judgment from those who have suffered under gender authoritarians and the whiff of formaldehyde creeping out of the complementarian camps.

    • Depends on where you live, too – where I am, hunting and fishing are norms (not just for men, but for a small but growing number of women); ditto for wildlife photography, camping in tents, serious hiking (not just day trip-type stuff) and the like.

      I don’t think I could pull the trigger myself *unless* doing so was a matter of survival, but have no problem with those who do hunt, so long as they are responsible and are willing to eat what they shoot. (The older men – now gone – in my family had this pov, which was passed on to me. It’s been far too long since I last venison for dinner, come to think of it…)

  23. “Women can and do heinous things, to each other, to men, to children, but their evil is almost never impersonal. They don’t usually create systems of evil and use it to justify their misdeeds.”

    That’s because they’ve been kept out of centers of governing power for almost all of recorded history and much of human pre-history, so they haven’t had the opportunity to create a track record of abuse the way men have; the more they come into those places of power, the more they will show themselves to be just as competent and systematic and impersonal at evil as men.

    The evidence is already starting to come in.

    • Sad but true….anyone who thinks women are more intrinsically moral has their head in the sand!! Just because women attack and injure their enemies in a manner that does not leave bruises or broken bones does NOT indicate that they do not attack. I would MUCH rather have a male dislike me than a female, as men are usually so direct about it. The faux-female-friendliness that hides a vicious and active hatred scares the daylights out of me.

  24. You should be ashamed of yourself, kicking Pussy Riot when they’re down; what kind of a complementarian-with-a-human face thing is that to do?

    Tolstoy would certainly have disagreed with you about the Pussy Riot episode; but then, he had no use for the Russian Orthodox Church or the Czarist government.

    Admittedly, he was not a huge success at relating to women, either; he was God’s older brother, after all.

    • Being sent to a gulag for a *protest* = serious injustice.

      Who would like to see themselves – or their family members – sent to one of the gulags? The idea is frightening to me, especially given Russia’s almost continuous history of harsh authoritarianism (from the tsars through the USSR ’til now).

  25. Mule, thank you for giving me this excuse
    “What did you do for your quiet time?”
    “I re watched Princess Mononoke to understand a theological point”

    Also – is “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic” a Lovecraft reference?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Also – is “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic” a Lovecraft reference?

      No, H.G.Wells. Introduction to War of the Worlds.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      >“intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic”

      is a line for War of the Worlds.

  26. Negative Lady says

    Dear Mule,

    Let me just preface with a simple statement: If we ever crossed paths you would most likely instantly dislike me. For starters, I am female and by your vitriol reaction to the opposite gender in the last post well I don’t believe that you would regard any female with respect. I’m sorry but, even if what you said here was in better form than the last post, I still regard you as a servile person. (I know a lot people who are like that, they instantly dispise me. So who cares?)

    Secondly, I am what you would you describe as “weak.” Allow me to explain, I have had the symptoms of clinical depression since about 6 years old. However, you would think I would have killed myself by now but I have not, I have handled it better than most would. By the description of your church, I am not one you would enjoy the company of. I think about emotions and “weak” things more than the average person because I have no choice BUT to do so. You would combust if you had my wiring.

    Thirdly, I do not want to become a mother or a submissive lil’ wifey. Fellow Christians get very irate when I say that. You sound like you would be doubly irate merely for the fact that I am a female who expresses desires of singleness. I would never enter a complementary marriage willingly. I perfectly capable of handling my needs without a male looking over my shoulder. You expressed that you want women dependent for survival on men in your last post so, I am too feminist for you it seems.

    Eh, different folks different strokes, right?

    Now, that I’ve established why you might dislike me with the passion of 500 suns, I feel I can comment without sounding extremely bitter. On to my point, you emphasize tradition, your point seems to be it is because it gives our christianity humanity, essentially. I will not dispute that tradition can be beneficial but, that does not mean the efforts of different groups does not make it less than your orthodox traditions. For example, the hymn “Will the Circle be Unbroken” is significantly younger than the Latin hymns I sing in choir but, it is certainly more meaningful and more “human” than the older hymns.

    It is not that I dispise tradition it is that it has less sentimental value to me. You say that the movement to reinstate head coverings is cause for celebration yet, it is false and lesser to your traditions. Could this head covering movement be harmful? Yes. Would it be any different than trapping people in your traditions? No. You cannot say with certainty that orthodoxy has made no mistakes and mistreats no one. You would be liar. You seem to me no different than a neo-Calavanist. Just different packaging.

    One last thing:

    “Please no rude remarks about Russians beating up gay people. I won’t defend that either.” But, you won’t condem them either, will you?
    “Pussy Riot? The people they offended suffered for their faith under Communism.”
    Yes, protesting with music is comparable to persecuting others that are different from yourself. I’m sorry but, did you really just try that? I wish people would stop pointing to others and act as if their log is bigger than another’s speck. I am not trying to be rude it is a legitement grievance against your ‘not-defense.’

    • My, aren’t you a little flippin’ ray of sunshine!

      Do you ALWAYS misunderstand others, club them harshly, and then complain that everyone around you bleeds on your boots?

      Frankly, I pity you. Clearly you have learned to reject the world before the world and its inhabitants can reject you. I pray that the grace of the Lord and the miracles of psychotrophic medications can heal your life….

      • Wow, Pattie, are you a Christian? If so, you’ve forgotten that you are recommended to make soft answers to turn away wrath rather than throw wrath against uncomfortable subject matter.

        Also there’s this thing about integrity in debate, which means choosing an element or two and debating with respect. And which also means also finding the good points in your opponent’s words before going into open debate.

        And it’s downright below-the-belt despicable act to turn a person’s vulnerable statement about bearing depression into a jab during a pseudo-blessing.


        • If I may jump in here, what did her depression have ANYTHING to do with Mule’s post?

          Actually, I fail to find anything in this comment that has much to do with the post beyond how Mule as a person (well, the Straw Mule she constructed at least) offends her.

  27. Since the last few comments are about Pussy Riot, I will add to them. Mule wrote: “The Pussys showed a real lack of sensitivity, but then, only troglodytes like Mule need reeducation to make them more sensitive.”

    Yet those women are in jail for their insensitivity while Mule roams free, keeping a job, raising children at home with a wife, and writing blogs. Poor suffering troglodyte!

    • + 1, Patrice.

      I wonder how any of us – very much including Mule – would fare if we were put into a gulag? They were protesting; their sentence is onerous and not at all deserved, any more than the imprisonment of Civil Rights Movement protesters here was deserved.

      also… I wonder how people would react if this post were directed at, say, jewish people? Because it would then read like antisemitism, plain and simple. I do not feel this series is doing anyone any good, and further think that Michael Spencer’s goals for this blog are being terribly undermined by posts like this one and its immediate predecessor. Misogyny is being cloaked in Orthodoxy; I do *not* believe this is a fair representation of Orthodox beliefs and practice and can only hope that there will be posts in the future by a writer who has an insider’s view of Orthodoxy and who has a more balanced perspective. (No slam on recent converts – to anything – intended;; it’s a common fault among most new converts to any set of religious or political beliefs.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says


      > “the Pussys showed a real lack of sensitivity”

      is the same as believing they should be imprisoned? Is there no place for nuance in this world view?

      Personally, I think they were insensitive, and juvenile; these kinds of protests are just antics and do nothing but raise the temperature on all sides. I do not support their incarceration for that.

      I believe the newspaper that published the famous and incendiary cartoons concerning the prophet of Islam was reckless, selfish, and foolish. They did nothing but stir up the waters; and if they didn’t bloody well know what the consequences would be [born mostly by other people] they are also astonishingly ignorant. It was also entirely withing their rights to do so. Doesn’t make it not reckless, selfish, and foolish.

      Why is there a need to issue a carte blanche endorsement of anyone who is persecuted? Persecuted people do lots of stupid and wrong-headed things. Acknowledging that is part of an honest conversation, it is emphatically not an endorsement of their persecution or their persecutors.

      Please lets avoid fallacy-of-the-disambiguated-middle; people are not on one side or the other, and it is a multidimensional ‘middle’ not a sliding scale.