So, Ted Haggard, eh? Some of you might remember him from his clash with Dawkins (video link) in The Root of all Evil?. He came across as a fairly typically fundie nutter, and ended up throwing Dawkins off his land; to be fair, Dawkins did start out by comparing a service at Haggard’s mega-church to a Nuremberg rally. However, it turns out that Haggard’s positions were slightly more nuanced than the TV programme might have lead you to believe: he was concerned for the welfare of immigrants in a way which brought him into conflict with the Republican regime, for example.

Readers who’ve been around in Cambridge for a while might remember the fuss when Roy Clements came out (or, it appears, was pre-emptively outed by his wife and some Christian friends). Clements was senior pastor at Eden Baptist Church, the other big student church in Cambridge. He was also an internationally renowned author and preacher, famous for his clarity and insight.

In the UK, evangelical Christianity can best be compared to a fandom, right down to the interestingly-dressed people at conventions and the perennial arguments about the canon. Like any fandom, evangelical Christianity has its leading lights. As a newcomer to evangelicalism at university, it wasn’t uncommon for me to offhandedly tell other Christians about someone I’d heard preach and be told that I was lucky, as that man was a Big Name Preacher: the sort of person you might see at a Christian conference, but which it would take a University Christian Union with CICCU’s undoubted clout to get hold of. Clements was a Big Name Preacher (John Stott and Don Carson are other examples of people who are famous-to-Christians, who I heard as an undergraduate). Eden Baptist is no mega-church, and evangelicals in this country thankfully do not have the political influence they do in the USA, but both Clements and Haggard were published authors and influential pastors of large and important churches.

When the story broke, Clements dropped out of view fairly quickly. This was partly his decision, I think, but also partly down to some frantic retconning by Christian publishers and bookshops, who, according to Clements, suddenly found that his teaching actually hadn’t been so great after all (the vicar at my old church continued to quote Clements in his sermons, for which one must respect his integrity).

But then, a few years later, Clements was back with a website and a theology attempting to combine conventional evangelicalism with the idea that God thinks committed gay relationships are OK after all. Contrast this with Haggard’s decision to take one for the team in his final letter to his former church. There’s nothing wrong with your theology, says Haggard, it is absolutely all my fault, and I must change.

Should we respect Haggard’s integrity in staying the doctrinal course, or is there no merit in continuing to believe something so wildly wrong, or in being part of a movement so dedicated to doing harm? As for Clements, one could say he’s done a little retconning of his own. The Bible says less about homosexuality than the evangelical obsession with it would lead you to believe, but, arguments about the importance of the issue aside, if you read it the evangelical way, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than the traditional one. To attempt to maintain an evangelical approach to scripture while denying this conclusion seems untenable, to this ex-evangelical at least. Better to give up these contorted attempts to salvage inerrancy (or even, perhaps, theism 😉 and just carry on doing what we know to be right anyway.

And with that, I’ll end on a song. Via Helmintholog, I give you a rollicking gospel number: Meth and man ass.

Boingboing linked to From the Ball-room to Hell, a polemic against ballroom dancing written in 1892 by a dancing teacher who has turned from the evil of ballroom to the Lord. It’s always fun to see the holy being somewhat excitable in their descriptions of depravity. Quotes from his work ought to form the basis of next term’s CDC advertising posters.

She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. Her head rests upon his shoulder, her face is upturned to his, her bare arm is almost around his neck, her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his, face to face they whirl on, his limbs interwoven with hers, his strong right arm around her yielding form, he presses her to him until every curve in the contour of her body thrills with the amorous contact. Her eyes look into his, but she sees nothing; the soft music fills the room, but she hears it not; he bends her body to and fro, but she knows it not; his hot breath, tainted with strong drink, is on her hair and cheek, his lips almost touch her forehead, yet she does not shrink; his eyes, gleaming with a fierce, intolerable lust, gloat over her, yet she does not quail. She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With a last low wail the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night.

The girl whose blood is hot from the exertion and whose every carnal sense is aroused and aflame by the repetition of such scenes as we have witnessed, is led to the ever-waiting carriage, where she sinks exhausted on the cushioned seat. Oh, if I could picture to you the fiendish look that comes into his eyes as he sees his helpless victim before him. Now is his golden opportunity. He must not miss it, and he does not, and that beautiful girl who entered the dancing school as pure and innocent as an angel three months ago returns to her home that night robbed of that most precious jewel of womanhood–virtue!

I’m not sure whether hardcore Christians still frown on ballroom. Nobody seemed to mind it when I was a Christian, but a more recent graduate told me that The Square Church regarded it as suspect. There are a lot of Christian dancers, so I assume that these days it’s the lesser of two evils when compared to going clubbing and pulling strangers.

I must report that the only time I have taken a lady from a dance to my waiting carriage, it was all her idea and I ended up refusing her very kind offer because at that time I was in thrall to CICCU. This, my friends, is why we must erase them from the face of the earth.

<lj-cut text=”Dr Who (spoilers for that but not the trailer for next week)”>Cybermen and Daleks, oh my! There was some real sci-fi, what with the void ship and the ghosts. The Doctor was a bit too whimsical and mad on occasion, but also made me laugh. So much better than last week’s nonsense. More free advertising for Bluetooth headsets is always welcome, too.

In other news, Engerland lost on penalties and are out of the World Cup, it’s hot, and it’s Saturday night. So now we can all just sit back and wait for news of the first stabbings to come in.

If you need cheering up, though, I’d recommend Bill Maher on abstinence.

There’s been some interesting stuff out there on the Intarweb over the past week or so.

Andrew Rilstone writes about whether C. S. Lewis was against his character Susan becoming sexually mature, as is often alleged by Philip Pullman. I don’t quite agree with Rilstone, for the reasons that some other people mention in the comments to his posting: at the very least, Lewis choice of the particular obsession which keeps Susan from Heaven shows that he had some odd attitudes to women. Abigail Nussbaum (whose blog I’d recommend) has some more thoughts on Susan. Meanwhile, atreic once again examines the God Hates Hair question in the light of Screwtape’s odd statement that the Devil wants beards to be unfashionable.

Metafilter had a piece on Howard Bloom, speaking about Jesus, Yahweh, whether the phrase “Judeo-Christian” is meaningful. I’m still meaning to listen to and read the linked material.

There was a brief but interesting discussion on mr_ricarno‘s journal about Christians and courtship. He later clarifies the intent of the original posting.

<lj-cut text=”Cut for discussion of the recent posts about rape”>There’s been much discussion on LJ recently about the Welsh rape case and the recent Amnesty survey where many respondants said that, in some cases, women were partly responsible if a man raped them. Much of that discussion has been internecine warfare between people who have far more in common with each other than with rapists, or indeed with those people who think that women who wear short skirts are asking for it. Those people, by and large, aren’t the ones having carefully worded discussions on LJ and don’t care if they’re regarded as anti-feminist or as apologists. The people on my friendslist are oases of sanity in the middle of all this (that’s why they’re the ones on my friendslist, right?).

shreena talks about the muddling of cause and responsibility which makes it difficult to know quite what the opinions of those questioned were. livredor argues against the notion that women can and should deter rapists by doing certain things. The comments on livredor‘s entry also discuss the Welsh case, so if you want to know what I think, my comments are there.

Those two postings of theferrett‘s which I mentioned previously (you remember: this one and this later one) have produced uproar in the comments, with everyone accusing everyone else of being sexist and belittling rape. No doubt LJ Drama will be on the case soon. Anyway, in my previous posting, I said that theferret‘s opinion was probably a common male one without actually saying what my opinion of those articles was. So now I think I’ll stick my neck out…

This comment points out just what it is about theferrett‘s “I’d do ya” thing that doesn’t sit well with me: not that it is bad to admit that someone is sexually attractive, but that to be quite so blunt about it is unsubtle and reductionist (and, if that weren’t bad enough, unlikely to work). It’s common for people who don’t socialise well to wish that the whole business was less complicated, and even to say things like “why can’t everyone just be totally honest with each other from the outset?” (I’ve been there myself), but the indirection in courtship exists to allow both sides to negotiate without presuming more of the other person than they’re prepared to give. Even if you do just want sex, being totally blunt about it presumes too much.

As for dress, I think theferrett is right to say that a well-dressed woman shouldn’t be surprised if men look at her, but I’m not sure where to draw the line in what an admirer might do next: I’ve got very little history of hitting on total strangers, so as I said to lisekit in this thread, I don’t really know what the etiquette of it is. I reckon saying “nice arse” to a stranger is again assuming too much, on the other hand, I can’t see the harm in telling someone they look nice in a less blunt way. It may be that very popular women get tired of this happening to them all the time, but if we assume that both men and women want to get together, and that on the whole women still expect men to approach them, some unwanted attention is an inevitable side effect of this. But then, I’m not the one getting the unwelcome approaches, so I don’t know how common this is. I expect I’ll find out when I post this 🙂

Where I don’t agree with theferrett is when he says that he can’t blame men for repeated attempts in the face of total lack of interest from women. I’m not talking about getting to know someone and taking things slow here, and I don’t think he is either, but rather continual pestering of someone who’s said she’s not interested. His defence of this sort of behaviour is that there are some women on whom this pestering works. My response is that they’re not the sort of women you want to be anywhere near. Yes, those women should not behave in that way, since it encourages men not to accept that no means no, but neither should the men continue to chase after being told not to.

Finally, the people who seem to be LJ’s leading feminists (or at least, LJ’s most vocal feminists) do an appalling job of furthering their cause, even when they’re in the right. I’m assuming that they wish to bring other people to their cause, to evangelise, as it were, so that in time society will change. My experience with how Christians are taught to evangelise suggests that calling people names and refusing to discuss things with them except within carefully prescribed limits won’t win people to your side. If you want to change the world, you must unfortunately deal with large numbers of people you consider to be idiots without losing your temper.

From my Bloglines feeds, I give you a bunch of links I’ve been meaning to write about.

Where America is going, and the next generation of leaders who will take it there. Scared yet?

I also came across Private Warriors, a documentary on the use of mercenaries (excuse me, private military contractors) in Iraq. On PBS’s site, you can watch the documentary and also read background material.

theferret gets into an interesting discussion of the intentions behind the way women dress. Interesting for what I think is a common male perspective. I can see his point, but with the caveat that all this straightforwardness would be fine in an ideal world where all men are bright enough to realise when their attentions are not welcome (dealing with the non-ideal world in which we live is the subject of his followup article). This comment seemed a pretty sensible response from a woman.

And so to bed.

This is your brain.

This is your brain on evangelicalism.

Any questions?

Wired did an article on, a Christian organisation which has apparently decided that, what with the state of the world and so on, the best thing they can do is start a crusade against wanking.

I’ve been trying to work out whether XXX Church is a spoof. I just can’t tell. I should like to announce my own adaption of Clarke’s Law, namely that “any sufficiently Christian website is indistinguishable from Landover Baptist Church. I think I’ll call it “Wright’s Law”, unless that’s already the name of a TV cop show where I fight crime using ballroom dancing moves. But I think I’d remember that.

I have memories from my time “on the inside” of just how weird the attitudes to sex were. Being gay is right out, but being straight and doing everything-but is OK as long as you don’t ask and don’t tell. The leaders come out with statements like “no heavy petting” (a phrase which seems slightly 70s for some reason) and back them up with Bible verses about pornea (usually translated “sexual immorality”, which seems to be begging the question). Meanwhile, if you’re married it’s your positive duty to go at it like rabbits, but if you’re a teenager with hormones raging, you’re stuffed. Many of them marry young after very short courtships, an understandable reaction but not one I’m convinced leads to happy marriages.

I’ve been clean of the meme for over 2 years now. If I can do it, so can you. Just say no, kids.

(S notes that all good Internet memes have kittens in them).

The Song of Sidney made me laugh. You probably need to have read the original to get it.

I still get Christian sub-culture jokes, despite God’s absentee landlord behaviour and the serious diplomatic incident resulting from the misbehaviour of one of his ambassadors (why yes, I am watching a lot of Babylon 5 lately). If only there were a way to keep that sense of shared community and lose the obsession with blood, sex, sin and death which seemed so inseperable from it.

Dancing on Monday was rather man heavy but good fun, although I’m still not sure about the tango from the second lesson. CDC Needs Women! Better yet, ones who won’t sacrifice me to the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Middle Class (Heterosexual) Dating Club which is Her Body on Earth. But that’s just a weird personal preference of mine. I digress.

More Babylon 5 season 2 on Tuesday. They seem to be getting into their stride a bit now: the bit about Londo’s wives was actually funny, and the foreshadowing is coming along nicely. Bode bode bode…

terriem accompanied me to dinner last night. Thanks to Terrie’s educational skills, I now know the proper definitions of “passive-aggressive” and “perineum”, both of which will stand me in good stead in later life. The conversation turned to religion, and why religions generally regard sex as so significant, how religion is used to oppress women, and so on.

<lj-cut text=”Pens and feathers and all other instruments”> I reckoned that sex is seen as so significant because of the (at the time) almost unbreakable link between it and children. Today I got to thinking about societies where sex is viewed as much less significant, and whether I’d want to live in them. Because of disease and pregnancy, it’s usually science fiction where you’ll find them. (It’s possible some existed in isolation in the past before Europeans turned up with their guns, germs and steel, I suppose). I was thinking specifically of the Culture, the civilisation envisaged by Iain Banks. The Culture’s humans are genetically modified: they don’t get pregnant unless they want to, they can change sex, and they enjoy sex more (there was a great interview with Banks where he said that SF was too geeky and so hadn’t come up with some of the obvious things you could do with GM on humans). Sex isn’t meaningless in the Culture, but it doesn’t usually have the weight attached to it which remains, even today, in our culture.

There are hints in the later books that some parts of the Culture itself think that things are getting too easy for the Culture’s inhabitants (who are the mysterious entities who helped in the attempt to blow up the Orbital in Look to Windward?), but I’d like to disagree with Agent Smith and say that we don’t need suffering to give our lives meaning. If a lot of that significance is because of pregnancy and attendant considerations of disease, hunger, power and inheritance, then if it fades away as we progress away from those considerations, that’s all to the good.

That said, there’s some residual unease in me about such an idea. Remnants of evangelicalism, possibly. I’ll be interested to see where Banks takes the Culture in future books, anyway.

The news from Drogon land:

Please be aware that some people come from an oppressed background and culture and may not appreciate open and frank discussions on subjects such as sex in a public place in Drogon. But you can’t win, as even if you then took those conversations into private, some individuals would then whinge that they were being excluded. Life sucks.

I knew I shouldn’t have suggested Mild Green Fairy liquid as a hand lubricant.