Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is the Pope a Sissy? A response to Doug Wilson

I'm not entirely convinced that a chest hair-counting contest is the best use of one's masculinity, but I could be wrong.

In a recent blog post, titled "Gay as a Pope tweet," Douglas Wilson laments the decline of masculinity and uses Pope Francis as his paradigm case for male effeminacy.

Now I don't disagree with Wilson on the issue of the decline of masculinity; in fact, I've made the same point quite a number of times. Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that I notice the word "sissy" is now commonly spelled in articles with asterisks, as if it were an obscene word: "s***y." Meanwhile, of course, words that really are obscene are used freely and without self-censorship.

I would go so far as to say that men who find it necessary to spell the word "sissy" with asterisks are, well, sissies.

I just remarked to my wife the other day, after having watched John Wayne's performance in True Grit (which I do as an act of masculine hygiene at least once every couple of years), that the kind of character John Wayne portrayed is virtually absent in modern movies in which male roles are made up largely of overgrown adolescent weenies.

Yes, I said "weenies." Without asterisks. And if you're a male who doesn't like it, then you're a sissy.

I officially attribute the modern problem with male effeminacy to the absurd gender ideology that has become so fashionable over the last ten years. The idea of this school of thought is to get beyond gender altogether. Of course there's really no way to do this.

Gender isn't something you can either invent or change. It's a given. It is something settled by nature and you can do little about it.

To think that you can somehow invent new gender categories is like thinking you can invent new primary colors. Problem is, there's blue, yellow, and red. Period. End of story. If you want to come up with another one, good luck. And if you suffer from the delusion that you are actually capable of doing this, then you need to be committed to whatever the colorific equivalent is of a mental hospital.

Similarly, when it comes to gender, there is male and female. And some of us like that just fine (a great benefit in a world in which you can do little about it anyway).

I know there are people who really think that just because Facebook now has 52 "gender identities" that there must really be, in fact, 52 gender identities. But all of these "gender identities" are ideological fictions manufactured by stitching together the pieces of masculinity and femininity they got by cutting up the originals.

There's a whole story to be written about how people ever got the idea that you could really do this in which postmodern thinkers like Jacques Derrida would play the major roles, what with their rejection of "binaries" and all that.

Of course as soon as you reject binaries, you create a new binary; namely, the binary of a world with binaries and a world without them. There are two kinds of people, Richard John Neuhaus once said: people say there are two kinds of people and people who don't say that.

The people who think you can transcend gender or invent new genders can only play off the two poles of male and female. They never get beyond that. They never really invent anything different that is not some knock off of the originals. There's no way to reboot nature. You've got to live with what it gives you.

So, then, I agree with Wilson on the problem. But his choice of examplars leaves something to be desired.

Pope Francis? A sissy? Really?

I have this underlying urge, being a Catholic (and a male), to throw down the gauntlet and demand satisfaction, but that would imply I wear gloves. And you know how that would go down with certain people.

To prove his point, Wilson cites several papal tweets which he thinks exemplify effeminacy. Here are the examples he uses:
“Advent begins a new journey. May Mary, our Mother, be our guide.”
“Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord never lets us down.”
“There is so much noise in the world! May we learn to be silent in our hearts and before God.”
Now I doubt if they chest bump in the Vatican after every tweet, but I'm trying to figure out what is effeminate about these expressions. Is there something less than masculine about the grammatical subjunctive? Is there something hairless about hope? Wilson does not elaborate. Instead, he pines for "days of the badass popes."

Maybe he could do a tweet: "There is a crisis of effeminate popes. May they be replaced with more masculine ones."

While I don't get a testosterone rush every time I read a Vatican tweet, maybe there is just something that gets lost for certain people when these expressions are translated from the more manly Latin in which, as I understand it, such things are written at the Vatican. And then, of course, there is the matter of the whole Twitter form of media, which doesn't exactly lend itself to any kind of meaningful expression in the first place.

Maybe if there was a way to adequately transcribe grunts and belches and other common masculine bodily sounds into the 140 character format of a tweet, there would be some hope of whipping the Twitter world into more masculine shape.

But, more to the point, I find it rather ironic that Francis--a man who forswore a car to take the bus to work when he was an Argentine bishop, who has taken on the lethargic bureaucracy of the Vatican, and who has been willing to pick fights where he thought it necessary to get the Church into a more evangelical shape--could be plausibly portrayed as effeminate. But it is probably easy to see it that way from the comfortable confines of a safe little Idaho town.

I'm trying to imagine the results of applying the criteria Wilson wants to apply to Pope Francis to--oh, I don't know--Jesus. Someone who goes around saying things like "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" would make an easy target for ancient Hebrew bloggers on the lookout for the weakly constituted.

I like Doug Wilson. He's one of our few great evangelical wits. Wait, let me check ... He may be the only one.

But he's wrong about the Pope.


Andrew said...

Hey Martin,

Do you know how you know Latin is masculine and French (Calvin's French, I mean) is effeminate. Say the number six.


Alex said...

Actually, people have invented new primary colors. The fact that there are three primary colors is not due to any law of physics or optics - it's because of biology. Normal humans have three types of cones in their eyes and the three primary colors represent the fact that different frequencies of lights excite those three types cones in particular ratios. We call this "trichromatic" vision.

Dichromatic vision is fairly common in humans: about one of of every twenty men have red-green color blindness, meaning that for them there are only two primary colors, which don't exactly map to the red/yellow/blue that trichromats perceive. Animals with higher numbers of cones are fairly common, and there are some humans with a mutation that gives them an extra set of cones and thus tetrachromatic vision. For such a person, red plus yellow might not equal orange - an extra set of cones sensitive in that region of the spectrum would allow them to differentiate between pure orange light and a mixture of red light and yellow light and their world is described by four primary colors.

So going back to your analogy of primary colors with human genders, you'll find that it's much the same. If you actually consult experts in the field of optical perception, you find that the number of primary colors is a matter of subjective experience, tied up in biological accidents of birth and that the number of people who experience an atypical number of primary colors is surprisingly large (around 1 in 20). Likewise, if you consult actual experts in the field of infant pediatrics, you'll find that the fraction of newborns who present with ambiguous gender is surprisingly high (around 1 in 1,500 births are sexually ambiguous enough to require examination and even surgery by specialists in sex differentiation).

Intersex conditions are a real, biological fact that just cannot be denied. There are people out there with XY chromosomes, external female genitalia, and internal testes. There are others who are genetic mosaics, with different parts of their body having XY and XX chromosomes. Still others are XXY, looking like boys while young, but then developing breasts at puberty. These people exist, no matter how easy it is for you to say that there are only two genders.

Hank Reynolds said...

Alex, the problem is that you are relying on biological facts that can be objectively observed. That is the exact opposite of what the gender arguments are about today. Today we are arguing about how people "self identify" in contradiction to any biological evidence. Boys are being allowed in girls' restrooms not because of chromosomal ambiguity, but rather based purely on their stated preference.

By the way, perhaps you can tell us whether there are biological instances of persons with no gender.

Anonymous said...

So. Martin, why do you so ignore Francis' accommodation to the Argentine military dictatorship? Now we find out that this Pope brokered the Cuba deal where the communist regime will receive an infusion of American dollars while Cubans are paid in worthless pesos?

Anonymous said...

Francis is a sissy name. Make it Pope Frank.

Anonymous said...

Pope Frank and the Cardinals. I like it. They even have that internal friction going on, kind of like The Eagles.

Anonymous said...

On this we can all agree...The birth of the Prince of Prince is a time for joyous celebration.

Anonymous said...

Make that Prince of Peace

Alex said...

Hank: "Alex, the problem is that you are relying on biological facts that can be objectively observed. That is the exact opposite of what the gender arguments are about today."

It's not the "exact opposite" of gender arguments today, since intersex people are often included in the arguments.

Anyway, we know for a fact that chromosomes and physiology don't always align neatly. If you believe in an immaterial soul that carries some markers of gender, then how can you be confident that the soul's gender and the body's gender always align in 100% of all cases? It seems to me that Christianity, rather than denying the phenomenon of the transgender, actually provides a mechanism by which transgenderism might manifest.

"By the way, perhaps you can tell us whether there are biological instances of persons with no gender."

Well, that depends on how you're defining "gender". There have certainly been cases of people who where physically gender-ambiguous, sexually sterile (producing neither eggs nor sperm), and asexual (i.e., not physically attracted to other people). How would you gender-classify such a person? Would you accept a self-classification from a person like this?

Anonymous said...

Next up Pope Francis will issue forth on climate change. Oy vey.

SarahS said...

Pope Francis was a bouncer before he was a priest. Wilson challenging his masculine cred is one of the funnier things I've heard in ever.

The problem with the term "sissy" used as a i really need to explain this? You are shaming a boy, usually, by comparing him to a girl. You are teaching him that his "boyness" is by definition better than "girlness" . Why not inspire instead with tales of both manly and *womanly* courage, strength, meekness, patience, and leadership. We have plenty of them, they're called the saints.

SarahS said...

Thank you! I was going to go there but you did the work.

SarahS said...

Also? Doug is neither a great evangelical nor a wit. He is a bully with abominable pastoral judgment and pope of his own miniscule Presbyterian Reformed denomination.