Friday, October 30, 2020

Racism or the Tao?

The following is a chapter-long excerpt from my new ebook, Letter to a "Racist" Nation: 


Chapter Four: The Tao of Right Living

"Black Lives Matter!"  Reads a sign in front of the pretty Methodist church a few blocks from my house, its white spire backdropped by a granite mountain made famous in the TV show Twin Peaks.    

I helped take the census in this town ten years ago, so have some idea of its demographics.  Occasionally I hear Chinese spoken at the main store in town, and I know there are a few other Asians here besides those in my family.  One of four restaurants in town is Mexican, and I interviewed other Hispanics scattered around.  There may be a few African-Americans in our community, but I have yet to enjoy the privilege of meeting them, except when I subbed in local schools.    

The value of black contributions to American society is heavily emphasized in those schools, and I have helped teach in every public school in this and a neighboring district.  I have never heard anyone in my town deny that in fact the lives of black citizens hold value.  

So what it the point of the sign?  

Does the pastor of that church think some black community member is being persecuted by the rest of us?  If such a thing were to happen, I would hope she would go to those responsible, and rebuke them as they deserve.  I would be willing to join her.  Anyway, the young people in our district hear this message constantly in local schools.  So why dominate your front yard with a sign preaching a message that we have all heard thousands of times before, with which we whole-heartedly agree, and that we can seldom apply to those we meet on a daily basis?   

Wouldn't "Thou shalt not commit adultery?" be more practical?   

A less-prominent banner hangs across the second floor of the church, offering a version of the Ten Commandments that seem to come half from the Bible, half from the Democratic Party platform: 

"Be the Church!"  

"Protect the Environment!" 

"Care for the poor!"  

"Forgive often!"  

"Reject racism!"  

"Fight for the powerless!"  

"Share earthly and spiritual resources!"  

"Embrace diversity!"  

"Love God!"  

"Enjoy this life!"  

This seems to reflect a richer set of values than posters at the average BLM demonstration, odd as it may be to see "Love God" ninth on a church's list of fundamental values.  But even thus fortified, the toolbelt of our soul seems poorly-equipped to construct a village. 

The Tao 

In Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis described what he called the "Tao," a transcendent set of moral truths of which he believed all humanity was aware. 

The term Tao or Da( has been used for thousands of years in China, Japan and Korea to mean "road" "path" or "way."  Long before the founding of Taoism by Lao Zi, it had evolved from its primary meaning of "route," then "to speak," to emerge as "the principal of reason," "all truth," or the "Way of Heaven," terms the great 19th Century translator James Legge used to translate passages in the pre-Confucian classics.  Confucius himself used the word to mean "the Way," "right principles," or "the proper course:" a model of life exemplified by divinely-appointed sages. 

Lewis described the Tao as a universally-recognized set of moral principles and truths flowing from some principle of ultimate meaning:

"It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself.  It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road.  It is the Way in which the universe goes on . . . It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and super-cosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar" (28).

In an appendix, Lewis gathered quotations from around the world to illustrate the Tao as recognized in many cultures.  He classified fundamental moral duties as general and specific beneficence ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), duties to parents, elders, ancestors, and children, the "Law of Justice," including honesty and sexual justice, good faith and veracity, mercy, and the "Law of Magnanimity" which for Lewis seemed to include courage ("Death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.")  His point was that like mathematics or logic, basic moral intuitions are truths outside our minds, not ideas cultures invent, but facts about right and wrong which we discover.  (Though different cultures may stress varying duties and form clearer or less clear ideas of these truths, just as some people work out mathematical laws in more detail.)  

"Do not be a racist" might be classified as one precept within the "Law of General Beneficence."  Lewis argued (quoting Confucius!) that a single law cannot stand alone, but derives validity from the whole.  

The fact that you obsess on one narrow statute, and forget the Tao from which it gains validity, reflects both moral progress and regress.  

Your concern about racism reflects progress, because the ancient Romans seldom recognized a duty to the poor and marginalized.  In his magisterial work Dominion, historian Tom Holland argues that our care for those on the margins of society comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition, in particular the teachings and life of Jesus.  I think one can find buds promising a similar blossoming on the stems of early Buddhism (the Dhammapada), the writings of Mozi, and to lesser degrees Confucius and Lao Zi, along with Greek and Roman Stoics.  (And the ethical nursery where Jesus no doubt picked up his own shoots before nurturing them to verdant blooms, the Hebrew prophets.)

But what all these pre-scientific thinkers held in common were well-stocked tool belts, not one sad hammer with which to pound like Bam Bam Rubble.      

The Tao encourages no narrow obsession.  Whether in Stoic, Buddhist, Confucian, or Christian forms, it provides a vastly richer and more positive worldview than either "Black Lives Matter" or even the New Ten Commandments hanging from my neighborhood church.   

Take Confucius for example.  A standard Chinese high school textbook accurately describes his philosophy as the "mainstream" of Chinese thought.  In True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, I argue that the staying power of Confucius, and his influence on East Asian culture, depended on virtue deriving from humility pointing in four directions: above (loyalty to parents, magistrates, and God), beneath (kindness to children, disciples, and other subordinates), within (humility), and outward (curiosity and the thirst for education that Confucius taught a quarter of the world, and allows East Asian cram centers to print money like the Mint to this day.) 

The Tao allowed for progress, Lewis insisted.  Where feet were bound or widows burnt, followers of Jesus brought it.  The Tao may be as universal as the sky, but like the universe itself, it creates space for seekers of truth to expand into.  

Even St. Paul's most pared-down tool belt of virtues is both oddly formidable, and remarkably useful:  

"Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  

Social scientists have come to recognize the civilization-building power of the final item on this list.  Max Weber's classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism linked such religious virtues to secular success.  The fruits of the spirit may include patience and self-control, but to apply those virtues in the workplace, will bring money in the bank.  Likewise, Mona Charen's Sex Matters, and Heather MacDonald's War on Cops, demonstrate that a lack of self-control and sexual faithfulness undermines one's power to express love, destroys peace and joy, and creates a ruthless subculture of predators and prey. 

It is for want of "fruit of the Spirit" that murder rates soar on the South Side of Chicago.  

Virtue is power.  It is the reliable child who is given the flag to direct traffic.  Sexual self-control creates families and gives them strength.  Scrooge's hard work and careful saving allows him to buy a Christmas turkey for the Cratchits.  (Dickens' own father lost his son’s esteem by wasting his earnings.)  

Am I boring you?   Would you rather drive a "Black Lives Matter" sign into the front lawn of your church, and gain cheap grace?   Do you fear that telling men and women to get married before sleeping together will sound "patronizing," "bigoted," or "racist," because those are the only tools left in your belt?  Or are you afraid you might have to follow Paul’s code yourself?  Restrained sexuality may build civilizations, but it frightens a Roe Vs. Wade generation.  

The concept of "racism" is a valuable tool.  Without it, some sudden gust of prejudice might blow the shingles off our roof and drench us all.  We must keep this hammer within easy reach, and be prepared to use it.  We do not want to return to the worst crimes of our past, which betrayed every "fruit of the spirit" on the deepest level.  

"That's just your pampered white reality!”  I hear a voice saying.  “Stop hiding your head in the sand!  Even if you don’t experience it in your suburban cocoon, listen to the news, and you'll know that acts of gross white-on-black racism occur in America every day!"  

I bet Pentheus wished he had hidden his head in the sand, before his mother tore it off his neck.

If America is really still a racist society (in the only sensible sense, a country that commonly and systematically mistreats people for their color), why have you fallen for every race-bating scam that has come down the pike in recent years?  

The word “racism” has become a powerful weapon to control Americans of all races, and keep them at one another’s throats.  This is why when you hear the word, you jump, like one of Pavlov's poor, reactionary hounds.   


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Prehistory of Sex: An Inventory

I doubt you could make a book called The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture boring, and Timothy Taylor does not.  Nor does he pretend to be entirely clinical when he describes (or reproduces photos of) the things dirty really old men painted on rocks and other surfaces.  His occasional voyeurism is narrated in a "pop science" tone: it's not pornographic or titillating in the slightest, but at times it's not always exactly not a pre-history of pornography, either.

Why is a Christian scholar like myself reading such a book?  Well, because I'm writing a book on "How Jesus Liberates Women."  And if you want to know what liberation is, you have to look at how things were before we (men, too) were liberated.

The story is interesting, too, though Taylor's worldview seems to be such that he gets some of the background facts wrong, and doesn't always highlight what he gets right purposefully.  But it is, as I said, a good read nonetheless, not merely for subject matter.

My purpose here is not to do a classical book review, but to take stock of some of the more interesting passages, and comment on a few, as part of my on-going research project.  I think visitors to my blog will find much of this interesting as well.

"Women lost their hair, (Darwin) believed, because men found hairlessness attractive, not because it was burdensome . . . "  (35)

This reminds me of a passage from a Hindu book which recommends that men seek mates who have neither too much nor too little body hair.

"Among the many curiosities about the monogamy theory, not least is the fact that the current level of monogamy globally is largely the result of the influence of Judeo-Christian values during the past five hundred years.  Although some of the largest population blocs have adopted monogamy, a majority of individual societies worldwide still practice some form of polygamy.  There is thus no evidence for monogamy ever having 'evolved' in any species-wide sense among humans." (40)

One of the most important, and solid, quotes in the book, in my opinion.

Monogamy was not preached in the Old Testament, but was encouraged in a number of ways, as I showed in earlier posts.  The New Testament became stricter, and changed the world much for the better, as I intend to show in detail.

"The first systematic sexual division of labor, with males hunting and females gathering, might also date to this time (1.8 million years ago)."  (43) 

"I believe that the invention of the baby-sling was the single most crucial step in the evolutionary development toward larger brains." (46)

The words "I believe" here capture the probative value of Spencer's speculations about how babies developed bigger brains pretty well. He tells a "just so" story which probably has little to do with what really happened, but is interesting nonetheless.

"Marx and Engels considered that 'the first division of labor is that between man and woman for child breeding,' and Engels went on to state that 'the first class antagonism which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male." (77)

This is the kind of crackpot theorizing that swept the world of "thought" in the 19th Century, and of which we have yet to be rid.  How did Engels know where "the first antagonism" appeared?   How could he not know that his circle of radicals had already proven that "free love" can be a lot more antagonistic, or predatory?  After all, he raised a young man as his "son" but reportedly later admitted the "son" had been sired by his friend Karl Marx on the housekeeper.

Of course, Marx and Engels were nothing if not geniuses at increasing the net pool of antagonism in the world.

"At Middle Stone Age sites in southern Africa dating from sometime after 300,000 B.P.  red ocher begins to be found. "  Some 200,000 years later, its use "becomes very widespread."  (99)

"The earliest firm evidence for formal burial of the dead comes from Skhul Cave in Israel, where nearly 100,000 years ago an archaic homo sapiens was laid out next to a boar's jaw." (109)

Taylor attempts to explain the "around 200 Ice Age statuettes of women" so far discovered in Europe. (116)  As he points out, even accounting for cultural differences, the women are seldom comely.  He denies that these depict a powerful matriarchy that existed at the time.  "Among archeologists this theory has very little support." (117)  The statuettes show women with no faces, and doing nothing, unlike "the vigorous goddesses of India." (119)  Nor are they pornographic: "Others feel that the Venus figurines are neither attractive nor erotic." (121) 23% are 15 years old or less (so one scholar analyzes them), mature pregnant women (17%), mature non-pregnant (38%), and women over 35 (22%).  Taylor suggests that they may have been marriage tokens, given with a woman in marriage.

"Marriage -- an institution that, however imprecisely defined, is present in all known communities." (125)

Here's a generalization that makes sense to me, and should be carefully considered for its implications for early Christian history:

"Contrary to popular belief, nonliterate societies are much more likely to do things in the same way, generation after generation, than literate societies.  The reason is that the nonliterate must commit detailed cultural knowledge to memory rather than relying on a written record.  It is entirely possible that some basic elements of meaning stayed fairly constant for over 15,000 years -- because there was no reason to change them." (135)

This might also explain awareness of God in numerous very primitive societies around the world, as described by Lang, Schmidt, Corduan, and others.

However, Columbia linguist John McWhorter argues persuasively that language is always changing, including grammar, but that writing can anchor those changes to some degree.  (As occurred with Chinese.)  

Yamana Yaghan men in Amazonia had a hut from which women were excluded, recalling a legend of a time when women "had sole power; they gave orders to the men who were obedient, just as today the women obey the men . . . " (137)

These sorts of huts and legends are apparently common in primitive societies.

"To forestall this, the men inaugurated a secret society of their own and banished forever the women's Lodge in which so many wicked plots had been hatched against them.  No woman was allowed to come near the Hain on penalty of death." (138)

Don Richardson describes such huts among the Yali in the mountains of New Guinea.

Taylor also mentions the Kayapo of central Brazil, "where the men's house is the scene of the ritualized gang rape of young girls."

He does not explain the context for this or its alleged extent.

Joan Bamberger argues:

"The myth of matriarchy is but a tool used to keep women bound to her place.  To free her, we need to destroy the myth." (139)

Taylor may be right that Ice Age figurines reflect a society in which women were faceless and powerless, though I find the evidence he offers, again, only partially compelling.  Women relied on men for their meat. He argues that Mesolithic communities are a bit more egalitarian: "obvious signs of gender inequality are fewer . . . " (146).

Civilization brought about a turn for the worse for women, he argues:

"The growing population of the Near East introduced yet another economic factor into the equation that was eventually to reforge women's economic inequality in bonds so durable that they persist into the present day: farming, and its concomitant rules of production and property." (146)

"Human beings, far from being cast out of the garden, turned themselves out of Eden."

"I believe that the first farmers in Europe had a fundamentally exploitative attitude towards everything including sex -- being violent, unbalanced people, whose idea of a good time was felling trees, erecting great stone phalluses, and sanctifying them with sacrificial victims, often women and children."

This news will disappoint those who conceive of "primitive man" in egalitarian terms.  

Mediterranean tribes knew 250 useful species of wild plants. (149)

Jericho was an early farming town, from 8500 BC, relying on a few crops, and quickly losing that wealth of botanical knowledge.

In Texas, farming increased the size of women.  In the Mississippi Valley, the opposite: "everyone got smaller, but women much more so." (152)

"Modern hunter-gatherers, even those who have been pushed into marginal environments (as most of them have been) appear to work much less in order to stay alive and well than do farmers." (164)

"The Mesolithic economy of postglacial Europe was a thriving one, yet it gave way, mile by mile, ineluctably, to a farming economy." (164)

This also sheds light on the various "falls" which the early books of the Bible describe, including the Israeli desire for a king, and the oppression which the prophet warns will follow.

"I do not believe that women built Stonehedge.  Perhaps they had a hand in it, and a woman was certainly sacrificed in one of its foundation ditches, but like guns and rockets, it is essentially a male monument." (167)

Well, come to that, most inventions are "male."  Let's not be snooty about it.

"In the long barrows, bones are placed like seeds in a womb of earth, as if waiting for the moment of rebirth.  Often, the ground beneath the barrows has been plowed." (184)

One suggestion is that the ground has been prepared for the planting of the dead.

At the winter Solstice, December 21, light "can enter the narrow opening and strike the back wall of the burial chamber." (187)

"The resurrection of the bodies of the dead is symbolically connected to the resurrection of the year itself - the point of exact midwinter, after which the sun must begin to come back or there will be no spring." (187)

Barrows were used until about 2500 BC.  (The scene in Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits are stuck in a barrow, also evokes such antiquity, though not perhaps quite as great.  And also resurrection.  Tolkien is also right to associate the barrows with evil, apparently.)

Woodhedge, a three year old girl's body was found, her head split with an axe. (189)

"John Barber, who has excavated many sites in Scotland, suggests that several infant burials around passage graves - ten at Quarterness, twenty-four at Isbister -- represent systematic infanticide of neonates.  At Stonehedge a woman and child were buried in the great ditch close to the entrance to the monument.  Attitudes towards (at least some) women seem to have been no better than toward some unfortunate children." (189)

And people wonder why God repented of creating this race.

Ian Kinnes, British Museum, "while there are not many bodies (at Neolithic sites), where there are they tend to be women . . . " (189)

Taylor thinks these monuments exemplify a "bigger is better" attitude of farmers, who make use of just a few resources.  This may be argued, but then he lets himself go into:

"Most profoundly, the idea of a basic dichotomy in the world, of a struggle between man (in the deliberately sex-specific sense) and nature, is what lies behind our continuing lunatic progress towards ever deeper ecological disaster." (192)

Here a bit of religious clap-trap evolves into political clap-trap.  In fact, the air and water has grown far cleaner in recent decades in advanced countries, and forests have been planted or allowed to reseed themselves in vast swatches of the planet.