Monday, August 31, 2020

Ready or Knot?

Ready or knot? Scott Kedersha

I’ve been looking for a new book to replace our standard recommended reading for a couple who is newly engaged. Finally, I think I've found it.

Scott Kedersha has provided an excellent resource for couples considering marriage. He addresses 12 topics to think about and work through together, covering pretty much everything I want addressed (and that we do in our own marriage preparation with couples). These include: the purpose of marriage, communication, having faith as your foundation, personality differences, family of origin, sex, financial stewardship, friendship, biblical roles, children and church community. Each chapter finishes with questions for each individual, questions to discuss together, and a prayer to pray together as you continue to work through the issue.

Kedersha seems eminently qualified, having run a marriage ministry for 13 years in Texas and having helped thousands of couples prepare for marriage. Each chapter is founded on scripture, is clear and very relevant. Published last year it is also up to date, and addresses issues older books don’t deal with as well, such as challenges of technology and the potential impact of previous sexual experience and pornography on a marriage. Each chapter includes an extended illustration of one couple and how they have managed that issue in their marriage. This gave a personal voice to the content, and will help starry-eyed couples see what challenges they may face down the track. I appreciated that these weren’t sugar-coated, there were couples who had had affairs, struggled with anger and had hopes dashed. But all came to be confronted by the grace of God in their lives and were able to enact real change.

He flags that as couples work through things, they will need consider whether an issue is a green light (proceed to marriage), orange light (reconsider, postpone, work on things), or red light (time to walk away). One potential red light issue he flagged was a partner who never asks for forgiveness. Very insightful.

I have a mental list of topics I would like to see covered in pre-marriage books. Things like: how to manage technology use, couples who were already sleeping together, what physical boundaries to consider while engaged, what friendships with the other gender might look like once married, considerations over having children, and contraception. I was thrilled to see each of these and many more covered.

There were a few minor things that could have been better. There was one very poor biblical reference to Rev 2:4-5, where Jesus rebukes the church for forgetting their first love (him), which Kedersha uses to say you have to keep the fun activities you enjoyed early on and keep doing them later in marriage. I would have liked to see him raise the red light issue if you have concerns regarding your partner’s anger or any violence. And in the chapter on biblical roles, he did not address decision-making. We find the majority of couples think headship and submission comes down to decision-making and I would have liked to see him address this oversimplification. 

While I appreciated the breadth of topics he discussed, the real strength is the way he addressed them. All were designed to bring you back to Christ, and what it means to serve him in your marriage both biblically and practically. This book will assist many engaged couples thoughtfully assess how they want their marriage to honour God and each other.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Madness of Crowds

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, Douglas Murray 

You may recall I read some books on racism earlier in the year, White Tears / Brown Scars and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. Both prompted me to think through current issues and language, such as white privilege, white guilt, structural racism, intersectionality, etc.

I then turned to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, and at this point started to feel uneasy. I chose not to review her book here, but after some research realised it’s not just me who felt uncomfortable with it. She is a white woman who runs diversity seminars. Her premise is that all white people are racist, we live in a white supremacy world, with our white fragility and an unwillingness to face our racism. Her book keeps us all of us our place: we cannot learn or change, you have to live with your guilt, fragility and privilege.

I felt it was time to explore some other writing, so after enjoying Ben Elton’s fictional exploration into identity politics, I turned to Douglas Murray’s analysis in The Madness of Crowds.

I could give a very detailed review, as I wrote copious notes and highlighted many sections. Instead, I’ll give some overarching summary comments, including quotes, so you can decide whether or not you want to read it for yourself. I realise this is still quite long as is.

Personally, I highly recommend reading it.

He asserts there are four main tripwires now laid across culture, which he titles:
  • gay 
  • women 
  • race 
  • trans 
He addresses each in depth, starting from why they have come to the fore, but at the same time pointing out the illogical nature and antagonistic attitude behind much of today’s discourse.
“Among the things these issues all have in common is that they have started as legitimate human rights campaigns. That is why they have come so far. But at some point all went through the crash barrier. Not content with being equal they have started to settle on unsustainable positions such as ‘better’.”
He then notes, “each of these issues is infinitely more complex and unstable than our societies are currently willing to admit. Which is why, put together as the foundation blocks of a new morality and metaphysics, they form the basis for a general madness. Indeed a more unstable basis for social harmony could hardly be imagined.”

It’s a brave man who chooses to dip his toe in these muddy waters. But his analysis is timely, logical, helpful and does not hesitate to draw out the inconsistencies of positions that we are presented with.
“We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant. The daily news cycle is filled with the consequences. Yet while we see the symptoms everywhere, we do not see the causes.”
He believes the cause is because all our grand narratives have collapsed. Religion and politics no longer tell the story, and postmodernity suggested there wasn’t one.

So, people find meaning by engaging in “new battles, even fiercer campaigns and ever more niche demands. To find meaning by waging a constant war against anybody who seems to be on the wrong side of a question which may itself have just been reframed and the answer to which has only just been altered.”

He examines how the world is now interpreted through three lenses: social justice, identity group politics and intersectionalism, which he notes is “probably the most audacious and comprehensive effort since the end of the Cold War at creating a new ideology.”

Woven throughout the book are overarching comments and arguments, including:

1. The way we treat each other and impute motive:
“The manner in which people and movements behave at the point of victory can be the most revealing thing about them. Do you allow arguments that worked for you to work for others? Are reciprocity and tolerance principles or fig-leaves? Do those who have been censored go on to censor others when the ability in is their own hands?”

“Which leads to a question that everybody in genuinely diverse and pluralistic societies must at some point ask: ‘Do we take other people at face value, or do we try to read behind their words and action, claim to see into their hearts and the divine the true motives which their speech and actions have not yet revealed?”
2. Hardware vs software 

He returns to this distinction in each category, and how thinking has changed around it. For example, gender was always thought to be a hardware issue, you are born male or female. However, with the trans movement, someone can declare themselves to be a woman even while being biologically male, thus turning the perception of gender in a a software issue.

3. The politicisation of each position

Each section refers to the political nature of each issue, to the extent that if you aren’t on the ‘right’ side of the debate, you can be outed from that position. eg, a gay man who was told he could not be truly gay, because he supported Trump.
“…may be among the biggest issues of all. It is whether being gay means that you are attracted to members of your own sex, or whether it means that you are part of a grand political project.”
4. Claims of each have moved beyond equality, to that proponents of each are somehow now ‘better’ than others 
“just one of the contradictory settlements that we have landed on … the one that simultaneously insists that women are in every meaningful way exactly the same as men, possessing the same traits and competencies and able to challenge them on the same turf at any time. Yet simultaneously, magically, they are better than men. Or better in specific ways.”
5. Intersectionality 
“To say that intersectionality has not been thought through is an understatement. Together with its other faults it has not been put to the test in any meaningful way for any meaningful length of time. It has the most tenuous basis in philosophy and has no major work of though dedicated to it. … it would ordinarily be deemed presumptuous, not to say unwise, to try to roll out that concept across an entire society, including every educational institution and every profitable place of business.”
6. The impact of technology
“What all these waves have inadvertently demonstrated is the deranging effects that social media can have not just on a debate but on a movement.
He notes the power that Silicon Valley have to make the world think like they do:
“on each of the maddening issues of our time - sex, sexuality, race and trans - the Valley know what is right and is only encouraging everyone else to catch up”
7. Forgiveness

One final area which I thought was particularly insightful were his interlude comments on forgiveness. This echoes Tim Challies’ comments almost 10 years ago, noting the eternality of information online, “can a world that never forgets be a world that truly forgives”.

His comments on the loss of faith here are instructive:
“As one of the consequences of the death of God, Frederick Nietzsche foresaw that people could find themselves stuck in cycles of Christian theology with no way out. Specifically that people would inherit the concepts of guilt, sin and shame but would be without the means of redemption which the Christian religion also offered. Today we do seem to live in a world where actions can have consequences we could never have imagined, where guilt and shame are more at hand than ever, and where we have no means whatsoever of redemption. We do not know who could offer it, who could accept it, and whether it is a desirable quality compared to an endless cycle of fiery certainty and denunciation.”

These are some of the overarching thoughts across the four tripwires he discussed. For more detail on how he addresses each issue, I suggest you read the book. He uses a lot of anecdotes and stories to make his case, and of course the ones chosen illustrate his points perfectly. Stories from the other side would have helped balance some of his argument, for it is true that there are times when women, gay, trans and people of colour have been treated appallingly. However, he is not arguing they have not, but rather the pendulum has swung so far the other way.

His final chapter turns to some solutions, which is only the start of a way forward. His suggestions include inclining towards generosity, recognising where this all may be going and depoliticising our lives. Like many of these types of books, Murray has done an excellent job of identifying the issues, but struggles to propose a helpful, practical way forward for the average person. Perhaps that it because we are still in the middle of it all.

Or perhaps, that is because we do need a meta-narrative to hold our society together. One that values all people. One that considers we are all wonderfully made. One that knows that we all err and fail, yet mercy and true forgiveness can be found. One that calls us to love our God and love our neighbour as ourself. One that extends grace and generosity to one another with a desire to understand and be unified by our common humanity. That’s a meta-narrative worth exploring.