Pooh’s Think

… with comments

Al Mohler Is Getting Serious About Gender

See Al Mohler’s commentary here.
HT. Mrs. Chancey

Mohler writes:

Denying the Creator, the secular worldview understands gender to be nothing more than the accidental byproduct of blind evolutionary process. Therefore, gender is reducible to nothing more than biology and, as the feminists famously argued, biology is not destiny……If gender is nothing more than a biological accident, and if human beings are therefore not morally bound to take gender as meaningful, then the radical gender theorists and homosexual rights advocates are correct after all. For, if gender is merely incidental to our basic humanity, then we must be free to make whatever adjustments, alterations, or transformations in gender relationships any generation might desire or demand.

I think this is wrong. In case some of you will not just believe this because I said it I’ll explain further—what a laborious world we live in! Here we have the standard anti-evolution fallacy; if the world we live in is the result of natural selection then our “accidental” and “blind” origins make our world something far different than we thought it was. What is different about it? Well, it is just what it is; it is just what it feels like and looks like. It is our bodies, hopes, goals, and aesthetic wonder. Human affairs are just only right and wrong, good and evil, beautiful and ugly and nothing really further. The mind just is our brain and bodies; we are our biology and not extra-biological in some amazing sense. All we have is our basic humanity—humans are just humans—and gender is only “incidental to that”? Wait! What’s wrong with this last statement?

Just how could “gender” be “incidental” to biology, to just being human? I suspect there are all sorts of odd Cartesian conceptions responsible for this idea, as well as your run of the mill, traditional fuzzy and incorrect thinking—something else basic to our humanity. Mohler goes on to reject postmodern ideas about our “construction” of our identities and social nature. However, it seems to me that he assumes just this sort of connection between our “mere” biology and social, aesthetic, and moral evaluation. Mohler and the postmodernists are both wrong. Our social, aesthetic, and moral embodied experience precedes our ability to propositionally assert anything about morality and the social world. And this embodied experience is a matter of flesh, bones, and neurons. The idea that something like gender would be looming free above the stuff of the world is remarkable given how directly rooted it is in bodily function, such as pregnancy, nursing, and sex. Recall what Wollstonecraft thought of the natural fulfillment of biological duty when a woman nurses a child; this is “the refreshing green everywhere scattered by nature.” In fact, without the sex hormones it is not clear what human culture would look like! It seems to me that Mohler is rejecting what would be the best line of argumentative defense for the conservative.

But this is a double edged sword; again, Mohler apparently doesn’t deny that gender is just socially constructed, but he does think there is a clear authoritative declaration of which social construction is the right one:

[E]ither the Bible is affirmed as the inerrant and infallible Word of God, and thus presents a comprehensive vision of true humanity in both unity and diversity, or we must claim that the Bible is, to one extent or another, compromised and warped by a patriarchal and male-dominated bias that must be overcome in the name of humanity.

But just what is the comprehensive biblical vision of “gender”? Mohler doesn’t tell us, but rather repeats the conclusion that we do in fact have unity and diversity. But what feminist denies we have unity and diversity? Is the unity and diversity of the world going to go away as soon as we hold the belief that God didn’t create it? Think about it. What is the difference between our world qua created by God and our world qua natural selection? In many respects: Nothing. Either way, we got what we got. However, it is true that human cultures do vary a good deal in the way their narratives of identity go. And it is true that gender can be a flexible thing, as can be seen in the rise of Sparta. However, it is not clear at all that the Bible gives some clear, static guidelines that support Patriarchy—as I’ve argued elsewhere. By the typical conservative line of reasoning, we could make a case for the permanent establishment of slavery. This becomes particularly interesting given Paul’s very important words that there is no longer male/female or slave/free; Paul after all always put the institutions of marriage, slavery, and the Roman State side by side while addressing the glory of Christian humility and submission.

What we need is human flourishing and beauty; since we are not Cartesian souls looming above creation, constructing ourselves and our world, we are going to be inclined to value some things and not others when flourishing and when given the ability to delight in beauty. But static law is not typically all that beautiful. The story of Pride and Prejudice and the story of the bride and the Bridegroom is. In fact, we see the universal narrative of romantic tragic-comedy as asymmetric masculine pursuit trans-culturally and trans-historically.* And this universal narrative is grounded in the teleological end of gendered happiness, in our emotions; and these emotions are grounded in our organs, muscles, neurons, and veins.

As for the traditional American family, the battered Wollstonecraft finds refuge in imagining what it would be like to have one: “My heart has loitered in the midst of the group, and has even throbbed with sympathetic emotion.” Reminds me of Sandra Bullock’s “While You Were Sleeping.”

*I am borrowing from Patrick Hogan here (2003).


January 2, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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