jasonbwatson

August 1, 2016

Unsustainable

In last week’s post Identifying Reality I cited a New York Times article pointing out that younger people, especially ages 18-24, are more comfortable with transgender identities at least in part as a result of a greater awareness of such a thing. Another incredibly frightening example of acceptance bred by familiarity can be found in the February 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan. That issue includes an article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner entitled “The Swing Set.” The article’s subtitle reads, “Monogamy is seen as the gold standard, but other relationship models–throuples, quads!–are emerging from the sidelines and shedding their stigma.” The four-page article is on the topic of polyamory, something I have warned about in at least three previous posts. Unfortunately, it is not going away. In fact, it is, if you can believe what you read is Cosmo, only becoming more prevalent–and I have no reason right now to think that it will not continue to do so.

The article begins with an introduction of Jane and Carlos. They love to have a good time, and if you are fond of a good time and you are “low drama” then “they might be interested in having sex with you. Or a relationship with you. Either way, they’re looking to add to what they have going on with each other. It could also be you and your boyfriend…or your girlfriend.” In other words, any combination is fine. Anything that is pleasurable is acceptable. The only condition Jane and Carlos have, apparently, is this: “[Y]ou’d better mean it, because they’re not really into one-night stands.”

Brodesser-Akner goes on to introduce others into the polyamory lifestyle. Lexi is only 18 years old, but says she loves and cares too much–too much for just one recipient, apparently. Accordingly, “she wants to spread that love over more than one person, maybe you and your boyfriend or you and your girlfriend.” She has one requirement, too: “I just want to be accepted for who I am.” After all, if we accept everyone for who they are, if we let everyone do whatever makes them happy, if we just all get along, then everything will be fine, right? We do not need to have all of these confining rules and boundaries that prevent people from doing whatever it is that makes them happy. If Lexi wants to sleep with multiple partners, males and females, what difference should that make to the rest of us so long as it is all consensual? Why should we tell Lexi that she should only have sex with one person, and that person should be a man and be within the confines of a marriage relationship?

Stephen has a girlfriend who already has a child and she has two other lovers. Since she has other lovers, Stephen may want to have others, too. Apparently he has stated as much in his profile on a website specifically designed to help “nonmonogamous people find one another.” Since I have zero interest in spreading awareness of this site I am not going to name it but it cannot come as any surprise that such a site exists. After all, there was another prominent site that was designed specifically to connect married individuals who wanted to have an affair–something no one seemed to balk at until the site was hacked and names were released. And it is not as if the site were operating under the radar; it had been prominently featured in national news outlets.

Brodesser-Akner raises a very interested point in the early paragraphs of her article. Specifically, she writes,

You can’t move forward into thinking about all the very new (and sometimes very old) alternatives to monogamy if you don’t first confront your own feelings on the topic. Like, why do you think your relationship should be just two people? Where in your brain and heart did you first start to find it startling that two people, once united, would ever want to stray from each other or include other people in their union? At what point did your upbringing–possibly Judeo-Christian and/or puritanical–dictate your ideals so absolutely?

I am, for the most part, going to ignore the implication that Judeo-Christian principles are puritanical. Brodesser-Akner’s use of the “and/or” leaves open the possibility that someone could have puritanical principles that were not rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs but I think her point is clear. Many people do feel that Judeo-Christian beliefs include a severe set of rules that are designed specifically to minimize pleasure. A professor of mine in college used to joke that a Puritan was someone who lived in constant fear that someone, somewhere was having fun. That was a bit of hyperbole, of course, but as is usually the case there was an element of truth. “Puritanical” means, by definition, “very strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so.” Excessively so means beyond what is reasonable. The suggestion, then, is that monogamy may well be unreasonable. There may be no good reason to suggest or believe that monogamy is the way to go other than subscribing to outlandish, over-the-top restrictions on personal freedom. Interestingly, by the way, polygamy was not uncommon in the ancient Judeo-Christian world….

Anyway, Brodesser-Akner’s question is a valid one. Where does the idea that relationships should be just two people come from? And if it came solely from strict upbringing based on puritanical ideas, then why not cast off such constraints? The “rules” of Judeo-Christianity state that a marriage is to be between one man and one woman and adultery is wrong. But why? What is monogamy gets boring? A comedian was once reading a list of humorous things kids say and included this one: “Marriage is between one man and one woman. This is called monotony.” Hahahaha, roared the audience. But deep down inside don’t we feel that way sometimes? Wouldn’t we like to know what else is out there? Wouldn’t we like to add some spice and excitement to our romantic relationships? That is Brodesser-Akner’s suggestion. She goes on to write that there are many ways to practice “consensual nonmonogamy” and the variety is precisely the point. “This is people making it up as they go along so that their relationships stay fulfilling,” she writes.

Despite any wish we may have to think this is a weird, fringe movement among a minute portion of society we cannot turn a blind eye to this. Cosmopolitan bills itself as a publication that “Targets contemporary women, featuring beauty, fashion, career and sex advice.” According to its own media kit, Cosmo is a force to be reckoned with. There are an average of 6.88 readers per issue of the magazine, and these include single (45.3%), married (38.1%) and divorced or separated women (16.6%). More than 52% of primary women readers who responded to a survey about popular women’s magazines indicated that Cosmo is one of their favorites and said they spend an average of 75 minutes with each issue–tops, by far, for both categories. College Store Executive, the industry magazine for college bookstores, reported in its 30th anniversary issue that Cosmopolitan has been the best-selling magazine in college bookstores for 25 years. It leads the way in just about every category for women readers, but is far and away the top magazine among women 18-34 years of age. That is significant because that is precisely the group of people who will become more comfortable with things like polyamory and will, at the same time they are becoming more comfortable with it, become more influential in politics and decision-making positions that will shape the future of our nation. Not only our nation, by the way; Cosmo is distributed in 110 countries and published in 64 international issues.

The concern is not just the potential influence of Cosmo, though. Brodesser-Akner’s article reports that a University of Michigan professor who is “a prominent researcher in the field of consensual nonmonogamy” has found that “up to 5% of people may be in some sort of nonmonogamous relationship.” If that is true, that is higher than the number of Americans who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; it was widely reported in 2015 that a Gallup survey found that fewer than 4% of Americans so identify.In July 2014 the Washington Post reported that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey found that 96.6% of U.S. adults identify as straight. That survey found only 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian and 0.7% as bisexual. But look at all of the changes in laws, in public accommodations, and more, than have stemmed from that tiny group of people. Last week’s post on transgender issues included a New York Times report than the transgender population of the U.S. was maybe 0.6% of the total–but look at the insanity surrounding that, from school district guidelines to athletic competition rules and so on. If 5% of the population really is involved in polyamory then we have to expect that there will soon be a movement to recognize the legitimacy of such relationships.The Cosmo article also reports that recent data indicates as may as 16% of U.S. men and 31% of men report an openness to trying a nonmonogamous relationship. And the website I referenced earlier that is designed to connect these people? It had 8,500 registered users in April 2015 and 152,000 by September of that year–with 75% of them “paying and active users.”

The reality, of course, is that, despite the happiness and contentment that many people in these kinds of relationships claim to experience, there are real risks. The Cosmo article mentions Sophie and Luke who have this rule for their relationship: “They’re allowed to hook up with whomever they want to, and they both prefer advance warning. They don’t like to go into too many details afterward.” I wonder that might be? No doubt it is because, whether we like it or not, we are “wired” to now that sleeping around is wrong. When we have a deeply intimate relationship with someone else and care deeply for that person, we are not really okay with that person going out at getting from someone else what they should be getting from us. I heard someone say jokingly one time that he married his wife because he was tired of shaking her hand. That was a lighthearted means of referring to the elements of a marriage relationship that have, traditionally, been recognized as only appropriate within a marriage–and which is only and always supposed to be monogamous.

Interestingly, Brodesser-Akner provides Oneida, New York as an example of polyamory having “been around for a while.” She writes that Oneida was “one of the first documented examples of polyamory in the U.S.” and that it existed from the 1840s to 1880, “rejecting monogamy in search of a utopian ideal.” That’s true. But if you know anything about the Oneida community–and I include it every year in the U.S. History class I teach–then you also know it was a failure. Believe it or not, Ellen Wayland-Smith, who is a Professor of Writing at the University of Southern California and received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University–and also a descendant of John Humphrey Noyes, who founded the Oneida community–published a book in May of this year on the Oneida community. In the opening chapter of the book she writes that brainchild of Noyes “would blend a utopian ethic of total selflessness, communism of property, and divinely sanctioned free love into one of the most baroque interpretations of Jesus ‘everlasting gospel’ ever attempted.” It would have been more accurate to say “broken interpretations.” Nevertheless, you can read the book for yourself, or just Google the Oneida community, and it will not take long for you to discover that the free love Noyes championed did not result in happiness for all. Indeed, quite the opposite is true, as it led to plenty of problems.

Equally interesting is that Brodesser-Akner goes on to say, after referencing Oneida, that Mormon and Muslim polygamists, when men marry multiple wives, are “not what we’re talking about here, since those choices are mired in religious belief and patriarchal ideology.” Clearly, though, Noyes’s ideas of free love were also “mired in religious belief.” And religion does not necessarily mean something pertaining to a belief about God, a god or any kind of divine being. Part of the dictionary.com definition of religion reads this way: “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” Just two days ago the Washington Post reported on the possible creation of After School Satan Clubs. According to the article, the Satanic Temple “rejects all forms of supernaturalism and is committed to the view that scientific rationality provides the best measure of reality.” The head of the Temple’s Utah chapter said, “We think it’s important for kids to be able to see multiple points of view, to reason things through, to have empathy and feelings of benevolence for their fellow human beings.” The co-founder and spokesman of the Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, said that the group will use the same arguments used by Liberty Counsel to allow Good News Clubs to meet with students after school. “We would like to thank the Liberty Counsel specifically for opening the doors to the After School Satan Clubs through their dedication to religious liberty.” In other words, a committed view to scientific rationality and the notion that empathy for all human beings is good is a religion.  Even Atheism is a religion. But all of this is a topic for another post.

Nonmonogamy does not work. Not really. Brodesser-Akner reports, “All the people I interviewed have sets of rules. So many rules that their rules have rules.” Yet, a woman named Kate that she spoke to was, by her own admission, “cheating on her nonmonogamous relationship” because she was doing things that broke the rules she and her husband had agreed upon, including sleeping regularly with the same guy (which broke a rule) and said guy was on their agreed-upon list of people she could not sleep with (because he was an ex-boyfriend). And why do they have such rules anyway? “To protect them from having anything more than a sexual relationship with the other person.” In other words, to be sure that they do not develop relationships with anyone else. This is all a result of the false notion that sex is nothing more than a physical act. But God designed it to be far more than that. Sex is a wonderful thing within a marriage because that is the way the Designer intended it to be enjoyed. Sex is not just a physical act; it is an intimate act that involves much more than physical interaction. There is a reason why multiple studies report that those with the greatest sex lives are those within monogamous marriages.

Brodesser-Akner ends her article quoting the research professor saying that “society has decided that monogamy is best, even though there are many monogamous couples who aren’t happy that way.” That’s actually disingenuous, as there are no doubt polyamorous couples who are not happy that way, either. Examples of people unhappy in a specific arrangement does not mean that the arrangement is wrong. That would be akin to suggesting that because David Ortiz floundered during his stint with the Minnesota Twins to the extent that he was cut by the team means that he was not a very good baseball player. Millions of Red Sox fans would disagree with that conclusion. You cannot argue for something based solely on examples of the anti-something not working. Brodesser-Akner’s own conclusion that the people in these polyamorous relationships are “willing to do anything possible…in order to find a sustainable way to love and be loved. In that regard, we are all the same.” The same in wanting to love and be loved, perhaps, but the use of the term “sustainable” is careless. Look throughout history and you will not find any sustainable polyamorous societies. Oneida is only one example of their failure. Regardless, we must be alert; now that homosexual marriage has been legalized, the push for legal recognition of polyamory is just around the corner.

October 15, 2015

Pretty Simple, Really

Joy Pullman, in the October 3, 2015 issue of WORLD, wrote a brief article entitled “A real head start.” In the article she addressed the fact that preschool and the federal Head Start program are not all that effective in equipping children for academic success. In fact, she quoted a study which found that watching Sesame Street was just as beneficial as Head Start on a child’s academic success. As much as you have to admire the long-running success of Big Bird and his buddies there is no way to justify the $8 billion annual price tag for Head Start if that is really all the difference it makes.

Pullman also referenced the efforts underway by the group Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), which is running ads in New Hampshire and Iowa in an effort to get presidential candidates to lend their support to the creation of government programs for children from birth to age 4. The organizations web site says that its purpose is “to mobilize all Americans in a commitment that cannot wait–investing in early childhood now.” If you follow the link to the “Secure Early Education” page you will read this:

Save the Children Action Network knows that investing in early childhood education is the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty. These investments lay the foundation for success in school, career and life. The type of environment and the quality of interaction to which children are exposed in the first five years of life greatly influence the outcomes of their adult lives.

Education may very well be one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty but it certainly is not the most effective way. And educating children in preschools and government programs for the first four years of their lives is not the answer. The Save the Children Action Network page lists the following under the headline “The Problem”: “From 2010 to 2012, more than 4 million 3-and 4-year-olds were not attending preschool, representing more than half (54%) of all children in that age group.” I have no reason to think those numbers are not accurate but I have every reason to believe that is not the problem. Nor is the goal of “high-quality early childhood education” the solution. The solution, according to the Save the Children Action Network is this: “A comprehensive, national early childhood education program would add $2 trillion to the annual GDP within a generation, according to the Brookings Institution. Evidence-based, high-quality early childhood education programs not only prepare children for school but also empower parents to influence their child’s academic success.”

It is interesting to me that the web site includes this nod to parents, since the effort to create a national early childhood education program is really an effort to take children away from their parents at an even earlier age in order to submit them to the influence of the state. It is not difficult to imagine how long it would take before such a program would become mandatory once it was created. Of course an incredibly important part of the problem–which SCAN and other organizations do not want to acknowledge–is the breakdown of the family. Even before the legalization of homosexual marriage we had an epidemic of broken families in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children born out of wedlock in the United States in 2013, the most recent year for which I can find numbers, was nearly 1.6 million, meaning that 40.6% of all births in the U.S. were to unmarried women. According to the ChildTrends Data Bank, only 64% of children in the U.S. lived with two married parents. (Notice that does not say those were necessarily the child’s biological parents, so this figure includes adoptions as well as blended families). This is huge because, also according to ChildTrends, “Single-parent families tend to have much lower incomes than do two-parent families, while cohabiting families fall in-between.” The site also states the following:

Both mothers and fathers play important roles in the growth and development of children. The number and the type of parents (e.g., biological, step) in the household, as well as the relationship between the parents, are consistently linked to a child’s well-being. (Nationally representative data on adoptive families are relatively new, and warrant a separate treatment.)

Among young children, for example, those living with no biological parents, or in single-parent households, are less likely than children with two biological parents to exhibit behavioral self-control, and more likely to be exposed to high levels of aggravated parenting, than are children living with two biological parents. Children living with two married adults (biological or adoptive parents) have, in general, better health, greater access to health care, and fewer emotional or behavioral problems than children living in other types of families.

Among children in two-parent families, those living with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage tend to do better on a host of outcomes than those living in step-parent families. Outcomes for children in step-parent families are in many cases similar to those for children growing up in single-parent families. Children whose parents are divorced also have lower academic performance, social achievement, and psychological adjustment than children with married parents.

Given this data, combined with that shared above about the effectiveness of Sesame Street equaling that of Head Start, it would seem that SCAN would be advocating for marriage-based two-parent families rather than more government early-education initiatives. I suspect we will not see SCAN take that route, though, or many other organizations or politicians since that would mean having to address the self-centered focus so prevalent in our culture, having to address the overthrow of traditional marriage and gender roles, the abandonment of commitment in marriage, saving sex for marriage and just about everything else that has been thrown out with the embrace of the attitude so prevalent in our nation today. When the focus is on what works for me right now the focus is solely on self; children are considered very little, if at all.

Pullman’s article highlights another very interesting finding by researchers: what is “most effective for tots’ long-term success is having a married biological mother and father. Other legs up include the number of books in a child’s home and eating meals together as a family.” It seems to me it’s pretty simple, really. Forget Head Start (and Sesame Street). If we want to give children a better chance to succeed, if we want to grow the annual GDP, and if we want to strengthen our nation, what we need to do is get back to the basics–the basic family unit. Father, mother, children. Marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage commitments, not no-fault divorces. Parents who actually read to and with their children, families that sit down at the table and eat together at least once a day–without the television on and without cell phones in everyone’s hands. That sounds like a real commitment that cannot wait. Let’s mobilize Americans to pursue that goal!

December 2, 2014

Scientific evidence

Business Insider recently posted an article by Emily Esfahani Smith that originally appeared in The Atlantic. The article was entitled, “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits.” Interestingly, the two basic traits the article highlighted were kindness and generosity. “There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. … [A]mong couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.”

It is always fascinating to me how science continues to affirm what the Bible teaches. Scripture makes it clear that we are to be kind to each other and to consider others above ourselves. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another” (ESV) and Philippians 2:3 says, “be humble and consider others more important than yourselves” (CEV). Those passages are referring to how believers are to behave generally–they are not specific to marriage. If, however, God has called us to that kind of behavior with anyone, how much more so must He expect it of spouses?

The article quotes Ty Tashiro, psychologist and author of The Science of Happily Ever After, as reporting that only three in every ten people who get married “remain in healthy, happy marriages.” As a result of the high divorce rate and the concerns about the impact that these divorces would have on children, psychologists began to study couples in an effort to “determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were.” John Gottman is one of those psychologists, and he has been studying couples for four decades. For a 1990 study he designed a lab at the University of Washington that resembles a bed and breakfast and set about inviting couples to spend the day at his lab so he could observe them. During that time, Gottman made what Smith calls “a critical discovery.”

His discovery was that as they interacted throughout the day the couples Gottman was observing would make what he calls “bids,” which are invitations for the spouse to engage. How the recipient of the bid responds goes a long way in determining how healthy the relationship will be. The example bid in the article is, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” Obviously no relationship is going to thrive or fail on the basis of a mutual interest in bird watching, or lack thereof. The reason the response to the bids is so important is that the response is really to the one offering the bid, not the actual subject of the bid. In other words, if my wife were to say something about a beautiful bird outside (an entirely plausible scenario, in my case), my response–good or bad–is really to my wife. The bird itself is tangential. Responding favorably, either by getting up to look at the bird or, at a minimum, asking her to tell me about it, indicates that what matters to her matters to me–which really indicates that she matters to me.

Gottman found that those couples who had divorced when he conducted a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” one one-third of the time, whereas the couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87% of the time! In other words, nearly nine times out of ten, the recipient of the bid had affirmed his or her spouse through the response to the bid. No wonder these couples were still together.

Smith’s article goes on to explore further what kindness is. Interestingly, she observes that there are two ways of looking at kindness: as a fixed trait or as a muscle. If you view kindness as a fixes trait, your position is that you (or anyone) either have kindness or you do not, and that’s just the way it is. If you view it as a muscle, however, you recognize that while some people may naturally have more of it than others, it is a trait that can be developed in and by anyone, and the more it is exercised the stronger it will become. Of those who see kindness as a muscle, Smith comments, “They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.” The article further examines the fact that kindness includes generosity–the generosity of actual gifts, sure, but more importantly a generosity towards your spouse’s intentions. Do I give my wife the benefit of the doubt, do I seek to understand her perspective or the circumstances surrounding whatever it is that happened–or do I simply get upset when things do not go the way I wanted them to go?

Smith also touches on the fact that while “being there” for your spouse when circumstances are difficult and when trials come, just as important, if not more so, is the reaction when your spouse shares good news. “How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship.” The article highlights four possible types of response, called passive destructive, passive constructive, active destructive and active constructive. The best response, of course, is the active constructive one, because it focuses attention on the spouse delivering the good news, celebrates the news and takes a genuine and active interest in it.

I could go on at length in examining biblical passages that are supported by all of this scientific evidence, but I suspect you are familiar with most of it anyway. Once again, science provides support–evidence, if you will–for exactly what God has said all along.

July 30, 2014

How do you feel?

Several posts ago, in an entry titled “The biggest obstacle”, I made several statements and assertions that I said I would come back to and elaborate on later. I will do that now. One of the statements I made in that post was that special rights based on gender identity is ridiculous. The reason that it is ridiculous is that there is no other area in life that I can think of where anyone is able to obtain any kind of rights based solely on how they identify themselves. The only possible exception that comes to mind would be religious affiliation, as there are sometimes rights that are associated with religious affiliation and practice. That is necessary, though, because there are no genetic connections to religion, to physical identifiers upon which anyone can be associated with a particular religion. That is because religion is necessarily a choice. That certain rights have been granted on the basis of religion is a testament to the importance that humankind as historically placed on religion and the very personal nature of religious belief. Gender is not that way, however–or at least never has been until now.

As I stated before, from the beginning of time it has been possible to determine the gender of a child within moments of birth. Indeed, for the past several decades it has been possible, thanks to advances in medical technology, to identify the gender of a child in utero. Can you imagine the way conversations may go in the future once all of this transgender mumbo jumbo takes hold? Someone will ask their pregnant acquaintance, “So are you having a boy or a girl?” “Well, the sonogram shows the baby’s sex will be female, so I am sure that is the gender that will be assigned on the birth certificate. But, of course, we will have a to wait a little while to see how she acts, what she prefers, and how she wants to identify herself before we will really know. After all, sex is purely biological but gender is really a choice.”

Since the transgender movement insists that gender is in fact the product of cultural influences and behaviors learned through human interaction the conversation above could even be more along these lines: “Well, the sonogram shows the baby’s sex will be female, so I am sure that is the gender that will be assigned on the birth certificate. But my husband and I really want a boy, so we are going to raise this child as a boy. We will give the baby a male name, decorate the room with a masculine theme, dress the baby in boy’s clothing and raise the baby to be a male. As soon as ‘he’ is old enough we will jump through all of the hoops to have ‘his’ real gender identified accordingly.”

The one opponent of the transgender movement that was actually given any print in Katy Steinmetz’s TIME article was Frank Schubert, a political organizer from California. Steinmetz quoted Schubert saying, “We introduce this concept called gender identity, and I don’t have any idea what that is. Can you claim a racial identity based on how you feel or the community that you’re growing up in? Can I claim to be African American if I feel African American?” That is a legitimate question, silly though it may sound. Just as gender has always been consist with one’s anatomy, so race has always been consist with one’s genetic make up (often visible through skin tone). If an individual wants to, for whatever reason, “identify” as a race other than that which he or she is how can we stop that from occurring if we are saying that gender is so fluid? If gender is the product of cultural influences and learned behaviors, could not race be, too?

Now, I know I am taking this to an extreme, but I think it is necessary in order to make a point. Once we begin allowing people to claim or identify anything based solely on feelings we are obliterating any possibility of maintaining boundaries of any kind based on facts. Just as the redefinition of marriage to include male-male and female-female unions necessarily flings open the door to allow any combination to be defined as marriage, so the allowance of gender to be based solely on feelings means that, necessarily, we will have to allow anyone who feels anything to claim that they are that thing. If someone feels rich can they take items they cannot really afford from the store by writing checks that will never clear because they “feel like” they have money? That’s ridiculous, you say. Whether or not someone has money is easy to determine, easily verifiable. Well, guess what? So is whether or not someone was born male or female.

This gets to the heart of what I was getting at when I wrote in “The biggest obstacle” that transgender individuals do not really want an equal place but instead want a special place based on their personal choices. Someone using the name “Eyeontheuniverse” was kind enough to comment on that post and ask me to provide an example of such a special place or unique and privileged treatment that I am asserting transgender individuals want. Sure; I’d be happy to. The right to compete on an athletic team based on one’s chosen gender, the right to use a restroom based on one’s chosen gender, or any other example of insisting on treatment based on how one feels or identifies rather than what one is is a pursuit of special and privileged treatment. If someone wants to engage in homosexual sex, that’s fine, that is his or her choice. Demanding that marriage be redefined to include homosexual unions is insisting on special and privileged treatment. If a male wants to dress and act like a female, even assume a female name or identity, then I suppose he can do that, that is his choice. But to insist that “she” be allowed to play sports based on that choice, or use a restroom based on that choice, or be referred to using pronouns based on that choice, is to demand special and privileged treatment. If transgender individuals can make up their own pronouns like “xyr” why cannot I make up my own pronouns? Henceforth, I do not wish to be referred to as “he” but rather as “ilb.” That is my choice, and I am demanding that everyone else refer to me accordingly. Those who do not shall be sued so that courts will order them to refer to me as such. And while I’m at it, I’m tired of the title “Mr.” too, so from now on it will be “Great.” Yes…instead of Mr. Watson, I shall be Great Watson. I like that much better…I think I will feel much better when addressed that way.

Pretty stupid, huh? My point exactly….

Whoever “Eyeontheuniverse” is, their comment on “The biggest obstacle” included this statement: “In all we are probably looking at 2-6% of the population who in some way have a conflict between some combination of genes, body and brain. There’s not very much you are going to do to alter this (at least historically) after a person is born. The goal is to make life for people who are outside the simple binary system as easy as possible.” Again, I do not know who this person is, but he or she apparently has greater knowledge of this situation that any other study I have been able to find, since all reports seem to indicate that 0.2% to 0.5% of the population fits into the transgender category. “Eyeontheuniverse” apparently believes it to be ten times that number. Notice the end of the comment, though. The goal is to make life for those individuals as easy as possible. Never mind the fact that in so doing we will be making life as uncomfortable and difficult as possible for the majority of the population!

Katy Steinmetz wrote in her article, “No matter their anatomy, transgender people want to live–and be identified–according to how they feel: to be able to dress and be treated like a woman or a man regardless of what their parents or delivering nurses may have assumed at birth.” This is really what is comes down to–demanding rights and treatment based solely on how one feels. I explained above what the problems are associated with that approach, but I do have to appreciate the candor of Steinmetz. At the end of the day, the homosexual movement, the transgender movement, and many other movements now in existence and yet to come, want all notions of right and wrong, black and white, left and right–in other words, any concept of absolute truth–to be eliminated and everything to be based on feelings.

Watch out anarchy…here we come.

June 25, 2014

“God’s foundation for the soul of every nation”

A couple of days ago I received a letter from Dennis Rainey, President of FamilyLife. In it he described his shock at seeing a billboard in Little Rock, Arkansas this past February for the web site AshleyMadison.com that included pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. The headline on the billboard read, “Who said cheaters never prosper?”

If you do not already know this, AshleyMadison is a company, based in Canada, that exists solely to encourage and facilitate adultery. The company operates a web site that functions much like most dating sites would, I assume, by allowing users to create profiles that other uses can then peruse in order to select possible matches. The twist, of course, is that many of the users of this site are married, setting out with the specific goal of having an affair. The company’s registered trademark tag line is this: “Life is short. Have an affair.” It touts itself as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” The company also operates its own “Infidelity Press Room” (“proudly powered by WordPress,” it says–the same platform that hosts this blog). At the bottom of the site’s homepage it claims, “Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair.” The site claims to have nearly 27 million members. It even offers an “affair guarantee package” through which the company guarantees users will find the perfect affair partner.

I find all of that to be pretty pathetic…and pretty sad…but not terribly surprising (other than perhaps the “affair guarantee”). The billboard Rainey was referring to, of course, was highlighting three well-known philanderers who were also presidents of the United States. The headline clearly suggested that cheating on your spouse need not be an obstacle to professional success. And therein lies the problem — the implication is that if you can commit adultery and still enjoy professional success, what difference does it make? Whether or not the behavior interferes with ones success becomes the only barometer for determining whether or not something is worth it. There is no mention of right and wrong. But then that is because there is no longer any recognition of right and wrong. Nothing is “wrong” if someone feels it is right. Everything is relative and situational…nothing is absolute. This billboard and this company are perfect evidence of the moral state of our nation.

Rainey’s point was that “the attacks on marriage and the family in America are growing bolder by the day.” I could not agree more. Rainey went on, though, to highlight why this attack is so persistent and prevalent: Satan wants to destroy the family as God designed it. We see it with the push to redefine marriage (which God designed to be between a man and a woman) and we see it with the push to destroy the boundaries of marriage (which God designed to include sexual activity between a husband and wife only). “The family is God’s foundation for the soul of every nation. Destroy it, and nations topple,” Rainey writes.

The AshleyMadison.com concept is perhaps more aggressive and in-your-face about promoting and encouraging adultery but the idea is nothing new. The internet can do wonderful things (it’s enabling you to read this blog after all!) but it can also facilitate evil. Those of us who believe in God’s design for marriage and the family must be willing to stand strong for God’s Truth. We must speak out in defense of marriage and fidelity. We must recognize Satan’s attacks for what they are and understand that we are absolutely engaged in a spiritual war each and every day. Thankfully, God has also provided His children with spiritual armor to stand against the fiery darts of the devil.

Stand firm!

June 24, 2014

Ruining the Beauty of God’s Creation

One of the beautiful realities about truth is that it is timeless. Sure, some truths are circumstantial and those will change as circumstances change. For example, last year it was true that my daughter was in fifth grade. Next year that will not be true. Those are circumstantial truths. Absolute truth, though, is unchanging (hence the use of “absolute”). God’s truth is absolute and therefore anyone writing or speaking about God’s truth is also presenting timeless truth–truth that will be just as true, just as accurate and just as relevant days, years, decades and even centuries after it was written or spoken.

More than ten years ago Ravi Zacharias wrote a book entitled Recapture the Wonder. On page 36 of the hardcover version of that book Zacharias wrote, “Anyone who thinks he or she can place the boundaries arbitrarily will either destroy the enchantment of life or else wear him- or herself into exhaustion. God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around. Implementing that truth in our lives keeps us from losing the wonder.”

Because Zacharias was writing about absolute truth that statement is still accurate today. Yet, we live in a world that wholeheartedly embraces the idea of placing boundaries arbitrarily–moving them whenever convenient or desirable, or even eliminating them altogether. We see this perhaps most clearly in the area of sexual behavior. There is an ongoing effort to shift or erase all God-given boundaries of sexual behavior, including God’s design for marriage (between one man and one woman), God’s design for sex (between a married man and woman) and God’s design for gender (male or female, as He created each individual). Much as they may claim to be thrilled with their behavioral choices I believe that many of those individuals who champion this boundary realignment, and/or who live their lives based on the realignment, have in fact destroyed the enchantment of life and are working themselves into exhaustion. They put so much effort into trying to convince the world that their redefinition of what God created is normal and acceptable that they cannot possibly be enchanted by life any longer.

When anyone can, with a few clicks of the mouse, see any manner of sexual activity and perversion imaginable it is nearly impossible for there to be any wonder left about sex as God designed it. When the world embraces the idea of doing whatever feels good or desirable at the moment there can be no sense of enchantment remaining.

The inside flap of Zacharias’ book includes this statement: “Our sense of wonder is a blessing from God, given so that we would be continually amazed at His beauty and creation. But for many of us, our wonder has diminished through the years, and we doubt that we’ll ever be able to experience the overwhelming sense of awe we once had as children.” I would suggest that no small part of the reason for that is that, unlike children who are discovering the world for the first time and are enchanted with each new discovery, we adults are, collectively, seeking to eliminate anything that might be undiscovered or secret or private.

Imagine, for example, if the most beautiful sunrise, or sunset, you have ever seen was available every day, any time you want to see it–and to anyone in the world, not just you. The beauty of that sunrise or sunset would begin to fade. It would gradually become less special, less awe-inspiring, less desirable. It could easily become commonplace, ho-hum or boring. That is what the world is doing, or attempting to do, to God’s design for mankind. This effort to eliminate the special, the private–the sacred, even–is painfully obvious when it comes to sex but is evident in many other areas as well.

What we need to do is return to the truth that the boundaries, “God’s commands,” have been given to us “to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around.” If the human body and sexual behavior was supposed to be open and available for anyone to see God never would have created clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned. If sex was supposed to be whenever, wherever and with whomever, God never would have given instruction that the man and the woman were to cleave to one another and enjoy sex within the boundaries of their marriage. If sex between men or between women was perfectly acceptable God never would have called it an abomination or referred to it as abandoning the “natural” relationship between men and women. We have allowed Satan to delude us into thinking that by throwing back the curtain and openly celebrating and flaunting any and all varieties of behavior we are in fact celebrating and enjoying life. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are we destroying the wonder and enchantment we are in fact ruining the beauty of God’s creation.

March 26, 2014

“It just happened this way”

On the heels of a post about women attempting to become human Barbie dolls I suppose it should not surprise me–or you–that as I was reading more about those two women I also encountered a story about yet another woman attempting to auction off her virginity. I have to confess I sometimes forget what I have and have not addressed in this space before but it seems to me that this very subject has been the target of my commentary in the past.

I think what may have caught my attention about this particular situation, and prompted me to address it, is that this young woman claims that money is not really a motivating factor.

The woman in question is a 27-year-old medical student in the United States who is using the name Elizabeth Raine. I have no idea if that is her real name or not. She says she is a student at one of the country’s top medical schools and in order to circumvent prostitution laws in the United States she is using an agent in Australia.

Raine told EliteDaily.com, “Money is my motivation, but by no means do I need the money. I’m pretty safe and secure financially.” Why is she doing it then? “Many women are raised believing that they should hold on to their virginity and that it’s something that’s important for their marriage, for their relationship. It is a measure of how good they are as a person. I never believed that and I never even intentionally tried to stay a virgin. It just really happened this way.” In other words, Raine wants to confront the value of virginity, which she seems to think she can do simply by selling hers.

According to Raine the winning bidder will receive “a sensual 12-hour date” that will take her “from virgin to literal whore.” Oh, and she will donate 35% of her winnings to a charity that provides education from women in developing countries. That could be a considerable amount of money, I suppose, since Raine seems to have her sights set on a winning bid of at least $400,000.

Yesterday’s post brought more questions than answers as I–and we–wrestle with the idea of what beauty is, and is not, and what bizarre attempts people will make to achieve whatever they believe beauty to be. I think that discussion may be more fluid than this one. Raine says that many women are raised to hold on to their virginity because it is important to their marriage and is a measure of who they are as a person. At the risk of this being taken the wrong way, I do not think that virginity itself is what is so important to the marriage. What is important is the recognition that one’s virginity can only be given one time and the act of saving it for one’s spouse is an act of love, of respect and of commitment to the person one will ultimately give herself or himself to. I do not think I would go so far as to say that it is a measure of who anyone is as a person; I have no doubt that there are people who did not save themselves for marriage who are “better people” (whatever that means) than some people who did. Again, it is not the virginity itself that is the issue; it is but the evidence of a deeper conviction, the result of choices made after, hopefully, careful consideration. Of course sometimes one’s virginity is stolen, not given, and there is no diminishing of one’s value as a result of being a victim of such a crime.

On the contrary, I think that Raine’s choice reveals much more about herself than it does about anyone’s ideas about the value of virginity or the meaningfulness of it. She thinks that virginity is not something to be valued and yet she has quite literally put a value on it; apparently $400,000 is her idea of a fair market value. She thinks that virginity is not worth preserving for just the right person yet she “just happened” to preserve hers until her late twenties. Regardless of Raine’s flippant explanation of how she maintained her virginity until age 27 that does not “just happen.” According to the National Center for Health Statistics 85% of Americans have had sex by age 21 and only 11% of unmarried adults are virgins. So I don’t think Raine’s virginity “just happened.”

A far more realistic commentary on virginity came from Olympic athlete Lolo Jones several years ago. “It’s just something, a gift that I want to give to my husband. But please understand this journey has been hard. If there’s virgins out there, I just want to let them know, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Harder than training for the Olympics, harder than graduating from college, has been to stay a virgin before marriage.” That is the reality. In a culture that glorifies sexuality and celebrates sexual experimentation and encourages “exploration” one does not “happen” to maintain virginity to age 27…certainly not when one is attractive, intelligent and successful, as both Raine and Jones appear to be.

Raine suggests that virginity is seen as a measure of how good someone is as a person. What then does selling one’s virginity say about a person? There’s an old, oft-repeated story about a man who asked a woman if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She considered briefly and said yes. “Would you sleep with me for $10?” he asked. “What do you think I am?” she asked, aghast. “We’ve already established what you are,” came his reply, “now we’re just haggling over price.”

What Ms. Raine seems not to recognize is that there is nothing commendable about auctioning her virginity on the internet. Not even if she does give tens of thousands of dollars of the proceeds to support education for women in developing countries. After all, Raine’s own actions make clear that education doesn’t necessarily make someone smart.

March 4, 2014

The beauty and wonder of marriage

In light of all of the attention the push for homosexual marriage has been getting of late it is not a bad idea to focus a bit on “traditional” marriage–marriage between a man and a woman, as God designed it. A month or so ago Joel Belz wrote about this in his regular WORLD Magazine column. After attending a wedding at the start of the year he realized that as important as taking a stand against homosexual marriage may be, even more important is taking a stand for marriage. “With all the media and political emphasis on legalizing homosexual marriages, it’s way too easy to get diverted by that grisly debate and to forget that the top challenge for Christians is to nurture and then display the wonders of marriage the way God made it to be.”

Yesterday I learned that a colleague of mine was engaged over the weekend. She was excited to tell everyone, to show off her ring…to announce to the world that she has found the one person she wants to spend the rest of her life with. This fascination, excitement and wonder is what the God-designed marriage relationship is all about; this is the attitude we should demonstrate when we get engaged, when we celebrate a year of marriage and when we celebrate fifty years of marriage.

Belz’s point is an excellent reminder–because I suspect most of us do not often consciously think about encouraging and exhibiting a godly marriage as being a Christian responsibility. Sure, we hear it preached and when we do attend weddings we no doubt think about the future and our hopes for the new couple, but like Belz I suspect that most of us think more about opposing gay marriage than modeling godly marriage.

Belz writes that he offered some advice to the newlyweds whose ceremony prompted him thinking. He says he told them that “conventional wisdom” of the past generations has taught that while “marriage is OK” it has also taught that no would should “expect too much from it.” That’s sad but true. The culture in which we live in the United States has bred a certain amount of casualness toward marriage. On the one hand its fine to enjoy what used to be reserved for marriage–living together, sexual relations, even having children together–without getting married. On the other hand, if you do get married and later find it just doesn’t work, just get a divorce. Marriage doesn’t need to be a drudgery and it doesn’t need to be difficult. If the going gets tough just go your separate ways and get going.

The reality, of course, is that marriage is tough. There are times when things do not go as planned. There are conflicts that emerge when two people spend most of their time together and interweave every aspect of their lives. There are physical changes that were not envisioned, there are interests and hobbies that change, there are extended family issues, there are money problems…I could go on and on. None of that “on and on” however is reason to not get married and none of it is reason to get “unmarried.”

“Sometimes…there’s so much emphasis on the grim side of things,” Belz writes, “that we’ve lost seeing marriage in the glorious context God intended it. … In our grown-up desire to ‘get real,’ we’ve let Satan so disfigure and discolor our ideal picture of marriage that we’ve come to settle for way too little.” Marriage was ordained by God. He designed it beautifully and it is a beautiful relationship. So beautiful is it, in fact, that the Bible uses the marriage of a man and woman as an illustration of the relationship between God and the church. In other words, when God wanted to communicate to human beings how much He loves them and the kind of relationship He desires to have with believers and the Church, there was no better example He could give than the marriage relationship as He designed it.

If we take to heart this idea of marriage it will fundamentally transform our approach to marriage. It will change the way married individuals relate to each other, it will change the way other people view our marriages, it will restore the wonder of marriage that little children experience when attending marriages in their childhood. In other words, it will restore the idea that marriage is a truly magnificent relationship designed by God as a gift for His most significant creation, His only creation created in His own image.

Marriage is not easy–not by any means. Indeed, Belz writes, marriage is “an expression of the gospel itself, where both partners constantly and willingly die for each other.” A marriage as God designed it “involves daily dying to ourselves so that we can live generously toward our mate.” These are not concepts embraced by the culture in which we live. The world teaches living for self, doing whatever makes you happy. The Bible doesn’t teach that. Die to self is as opposite from “just do it” as you can get. The fact that marriage is not easy, though, makes it all the more beautiful. After all, the growing and daily-dying process of a godly marriage “enhances intimacy” Belz says, and indeed it does.

Like Belz, I want to adopt the “word and deed approach to teaching the art of marriage,” both “modeling and explaining” how beautiful marriage is and how it works. If enough of us are willing to adopt this approach we just might succeed in presenting a concept of marriage that the world might actually aspire to, in restoring the wonder and beauty of marriage as God designed it.

October 26, 2012

Selling What’s Priceless

WARNING: This post contains content that may be offensive to some readers. Discretion is advised.

You may have seen the story on the news this week: A 20-year old woman from Brazil, sold her virginity via online auction. The final price: $780,000, to a buyer from Japan. The highest bidder beat out five others who bid above $600,000 for “chance to bed the virgin,” as the Toronto Sun put it.

There are all kinds of stipulations and particulars attached to the auction. For example, Migliorini must be examined by a gynecologist and provide the winner with medical proof of her virginity. The winning bidder must submit to a medical exam and criminal background check, and cannot be intoxicated at the time of the “meeting.” There is absolutely no kissing permitted. Migliorini and the winning bidder will agree to the length of their rendezvous, though the rules for the auction clearly stated that “the minimum consummation time is one hour.”

There was, by the way, a young man who also auctioned his virginity. His was sold to a buyer from Brazil for $3,000.

Now, Migliorini says she intends to use the proceeds to start an organization that will serve the poor in Santa Catarina where she was born. In fact, she has pledged that at least 90% of the money will be used for that purpose.

She also says of what she did that she does not think of it as prostitution. That is interesting, since the definition of prostitution, according to dictionary.com, is “the act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money.” It would seem that what Migliorini has done is exactly prostitution.

From a purely ethical and philosophical standpoint this topic could generate a very interesting debate. After all, I can imagine passionate and vehement arguments being made on all sides of the question of when, if ever, it is acceptable to sell oneself or one’s virginity. The fact that Migliorini purports to have noble intentions for the money makes the question all the more ripe for debate. Of course, the concept of buying and selling sex is not a new one; prostitution has been called the oldest profession. Big-budget movies starring major Hollywood players have addressed the topic of a one-time sexual rendezvous for a huge sum of money (Indecent Proposal).

The problem is, ones virginity is, short of life itself, perhaps the most valuable thing anyone possesses. Doesn’t it cheapen it to sell it, to surrender one’s most intimate moment to a complete stranger…for money? I would say yes, of course it does. But I would also suggest that we live in a world that has created the environment for this to occur. After all, sex has been devalued through a constant cultural shift. First sex was no longer something to be reserved for marriage. Then it wasn’t even important that sex be reserved for two people who were going to get married. After all, the argument went (and still goes) it is important to experiment and try it out before making (what is supposed to be) a lifelong commitment. It was not long before we moved into a “hook up culture,” with media of all kinds glamorizing the lifestyle of sleeping around and engaging in sex with lots of people, even complete strangers. Within that context, how can we fault Migliorini for at least putting a price on what our world has argued so long we should not treat as so valuable? Put another way, it is quite fascinating to ponder how she could cheapen something that so many give away every day for “free” by selling it for three-quarters of a million dollars.

This is what happens when we treat carelessly what God has designed to be special and beautiful and priceless.

I believe it was that great philosopher Yogi Berra who said, “Be careful. If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up there.” When it comes to the “sexual revolution” that has been going on around the world, I don’t think Yogi could have been much closer to the truth: No one stopped to consider where we were going, and now, here we are.

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