Belief Matters as Much as Action

Do beliefs matter that much?

I have had some trouble in the past few years seeing beliefs affecting action. For example, does belief in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity affect daily life that much?

Building off of this, I entertained that beliefs don’t matter so much as one’s actions. This is a very America idea. Maybe even Marxist.

But then I read something interesting this week for class on the American Revolution and on ideas concerning women at the time.

Source: Florida State University Religious Studies
Source: Florida State University Religious Studies

According to Amanda Porterfield, it was common to see women as naturally the intellectual inferiors of men.

Aaron Burr (vice president to Thomas Jefferson) took a different approach. He gave his daughter Theodosia the opportunity to learn. Broadly. By age 10, she read French and Latin. At 12 she took up Greek. By 18, she had obtained Italian in addition to competence in the piano, dance, geography, and history.

Theodosia proved what Burr already assumed: women aren’t dumb.¹

Source: University of Chicago Press
Source: University of Chicago Press

This got me to thinking what beliefs can accomplish in the world. In this case, a belief had inhibited the vast potential of women. If people saw women as naturally the intellectual inferiors of men, why attempt to change that? It was natural, right?

The beliefs that matter most—in the sense that they have the most impact due to their presumption—are those we attribute to some natural, unchangeable, “real,” stable essence. What goes unquestioned? What is off limits to probe?

Beliefs matter. When left unquestioned and unprovoked, they foster a stupor that can be potentially dangerous.


Consider the relatively recent movement #blacklivesmatter. There has been a conservative backlash to it called #alllivesmatter. What gets lost on #alllivesmatter is that it superficially focuses on the phrase #blacklivesmatter without taking time to attend to the movement’s interests.

#blacklivesmatter already assumes that all lives matter: their point is black lives haven’t mattered historically (while technically it could be #blacklivesmattertoo, that gets too long to be catchy). In this case, black bodies have taken the brunt of the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and increased surveillance.

What’s the point of connecting #blacklivesmatter to women’s education in the late 1700s? Both are responses to naturalized beliefs that inhibit groups.

Women’s education was a response to women’s inferiority. #blacklivesmatter is a response to latent (and sometimes extremely overt) white supremacy that just wants black people to shut up, throw away their identity, stop complaining, and be like white people.

#alllivesmatter promotes inaction to change the killing of black lives by ignoring the actions already happening against black lives.

Beliefs matter. Probe them.

¹Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012), 42-44.


The United States Wasn’t Founded as a Christian Nation

Hatch- DemocratizationThe United States was not founded as a Christian nation either politically or demographically.

The Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment makes this clear on the political side, but what about the people? Weren’t the people of the United States mostly, if not all, Christians?

Nathan Hatch in his work The Democratization of American Christianity highlights that the Christianization of America didn’t really occur until after the Revolution. We have the Second Great Awakening to thank for that.

Furthermore, while the United States was primarily Protestant for quite a while, no group really commanded a national hegemony. In other words, this Christianization was not a unified group of Christians; it was a plurality.

In the 19th century, the Methodists and Baptists commanded a majority of religionists, but they (especially the Baptists) did not have a centralized structure until a decade or two before the Civil War. In fact, according to scholars like Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, this very centralization and move away from massive evangelistic campaigns led to decline in the Methodist Church. They see this same phenomenon in churches that don’t evangelize, particularly liberal ones.

Hatch’s work also showed how the religious market in the States allowed by the Establishment Clause prevented one group from ever imposing its will on the country because there was too much competition. The freedom to exercise any religion allowed for explosive growth but not one established Church.

What would a Christian nation look like anyway? Is that dependent on sheer numbers or numbers of devoted followers? If the latter, how would you even quantify that?

On the sheer numbers side, church attendance has been steadily decreasing in nearly every church for around a decade. Denominations like the Assemblies of God have seen increased attendance, but this is primarily due to immigration.

What’s the point of saying the U.S. wasn’t founded as a Christian nation? I think it’s important to remember, because this phrase tends to be thrown around as a rhetorical device, particularly when a group sees its idea of Christianity being thwarted in the public arena. It can also be used to maintain the boundaries of a group that feels its ideals are in danger, not necessarily from outside forces.


Josh Duggar and Possibly Impossible Expectations

duggarJoshua Duggar released a statement saying that he had been unfaithful to his wife, Anna. This is the second sexual item that has come to public light. In the statement, he admitted to using pornography for years and being “unfaithful” to his wife, though a later statement omitted references to pornography. He also never admitted to using Ashley Madison, a site guaranteed to fix adulterous unions.

His Ashley Madison profile included his interests and turn-ons. His interests included experimentation with sex toys and “naughty girls,” and his turn-ons included spontaneity, professional, independent, confident women.

The CNN article that mentions this also included a biographical bit that the Duggars don’t believe in birth control and “follow strict courtship rules.”

Is it just me, or how much do his interests and turn-ons reflect his upbringing? It may seem obvious, but they seem to be the exact opposite. While his upbringing was structured and holy, he wanted a “spontaneous,” “naughty girl.” While his upbringing lauded the submissive wife, he seeks an “independent, confident woman.”

I wonder how much of these recent sexual revelations are a man trying to forge an identity that he was never afforded based on his very public upbringing. Did he get to experiment with things?

And I don’t necessarily mean sexual experimentation. The show “19 Kids and Counting” seemed to portray a highly structured, strongly religious household. I don’t find such households to be a bad thing in themselves. I didn’t get the impression, however, that there was much room for him to flourish as an individual. I do have a problem when the appearance of family values is valued over actual family values. I don’t think the cameras of the show, the expectations of the family’s ideology (Quiverfull), or the constant togetherness allowed this young man room to fail and face consequences.

How was Duggar’s use of pornography supposed to play out in a marriage with a wife raised in a similar household as he? Let’s just say porn actresses and young Quiverfull maidens are not the same thing. Pornography doesn’t capture the reality of the smells, the negotiations, the sounds, the occasional laughter, the accidental farts, the burp kisses, the spontaneous and unshowered times, the times when you don’t look your Sunday best or haven’t read the script, the years of commitment some couples have shared, the fears, stresses, anger, and other emotions waiting outside the bedroom, or the fact that couples don’t have a production company making them look unrealistically amazing. Sure, porn is titillating, but it sets you up for failure if you think it reflects reality at all.

This is not to say that fundamentalist Christians don’t engage in oral sex, “naughtiness,” use of sex toys, or other acts than the missionary position, but if Tim and Beverly LaHaye’s fundamentalist sex manual (The Act of Marriage) is any indication, there isn’t much room for these types of behaviors even in the marriage bed.

I came across a troubling bit of information on Vyckie Garrison’s blog at Patheos on Josh Duggar.  She noted that there was pressure from matriarch Duggar to always be available for your man, because his wife alone can give him the physical love he needs. This makes sense in a marital relationship that has chosen to be monogamous and consolidate all sexual release in that relationship. I can speak the following as a man: I sometimes want sex more than my wife.

The dangerous thing with this line of reasoning is that it carries a latent assumption that if a man cheats, his wife was not available enough to him.

If I cheat, does that mean my wife just wasn’t available enough for me? That would occlude my own agency. It treats me as if I had no control of hiding emails/texts, taking time out of my life to stoke an illicit fire, my feet taking me to a vehicle, pressing the gas, thinking about what I’m going to do with my tryst on the way to see her/him, ringing the doorbell, making sure no one is following me, doing sexy small talk, disrobing, finally doing the deed, then going back home and pretending I am an upstanding citizen. Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like a lot more activity on my part than if my wife didn’t want to have sex as often as me.

It’s just sad that the quest for this young man to find himself came at the expense of his wife, his children, his family, his organizational alliances, and future prospects. It didn’t have to.

I don’t think this would have happened had the young Duggar had a little more freedom growing up, experimented in his twenties, married a little later in life. Who’s to say? The way one is raised doesn’t determine outcomes. But there are trends.

Here’s a sad tale. Religion seems to have little influence on marital faithfulness. According to a survey by Ashley Madison on New York Daily News, over 2/3 of its users identified as Evangelical, Catholic, or Protestant, while only 2% identified as agnostic, 1.4% as atheist, and 1.4% as Jewish. I don’t know what to make of this other than that family values don’t seem to be very valuable these days. Family values can’t possibly happen if they don’t face the realities of relationships.


Gender: Who Has It?

20150809_211514What do you think of when you think of gender?

If you’re me, it’s something you don’t have but others do. That probably reflects my privilege as a man.

Whatever social marker it is–gender, race, class, ethnicity, age, etc.–I usually think of it as something others (Others?) have.

Let me expand on that a bit. It’s not that I don’t think I have a gender. It’s that when I think of “gender issues” I’m not usually thinking about myself, because I don’t have a glass ceiling to break through. Worries about rape are not on my mind when I walk down a street at night. Anorexia and bulimia are not problems I deal with (if you’ve seen me in person, you can tell pretty quickly I don’t have these problems). Do these affect some men? Maybe. They just don’t affect me, and I presume they don’t affect a lot of men.

This somewhat reflects the field of gender studies. When I started reading Ursula King’s edited work, Religion and Gender, she indicated that many times gender studies=women’s studies.

Now this isn’t the case across the board. There is a subfield in gender studies called men’s studies or men and masculinities, so there’s an exception to this rule.

And maybe this is just me and something I will need to look at, but when you think of a category like gender, race, class, etc., do you think about it in reference to yourself or others?

Perhaps it is also true that I don’t get out much. Chalk it up to being a father of two young children, working, and being a student.

I have started asking some close family and friends what they think of when they hear the topic of gender. When I was waiting for church to start this morning, I wrote the following in my journal:

All I know of the past (before my conscious memory) is mediated. What would I think of gender were I alive in the 1950s? If I try to image this, all of my imagination of the 1950s is already constrained by what various patriarchs and feminists have informed me about it: it was utopia or a nightmare.

My “knowledge” of the 50s comes from books, movies, shows, clips. This is not to say that if I interviewed someone who lived during that time period would be any less colored by their perspective. However, I wonder what I would catch in the conversation unedited.

In print and in video, a lot of editing goes on. Granted, if you’ve had some practice answering a question, there has been editing done there, too.

What am I saying? I have a lot of work to do. Much of my research (maybe I’ll just call them “thoughts” instead of research since I haven’t really tested them against other peoples’ thoughts) on gender comes from inside my head.

However, if I want to pursue knowledge about gender, I will have to incorporate more than just my thoughts. It will require questioning others about their experiences. It will require probing their answers, being aware of my responses, making those responses known to them to gauge how they react, probing how others think about the data I gather, and continuing this cycle over long periods of time.

Here is what I think of when I think of gender: it is an amalgam of one’s sex organs, hormones, appearance, social interactions, experiences, sexual orientation, and how each of these interact with each other over time.

With this in mind, there will be many  masculinities, femininities, or just general gendered expressions. To put it another way, gender looks different for a black lesbian, a poor Chinese man, or a young trans woman. Each social marker will affect how gender appears.


~2 Week Break, but Then We Will Talk About the Body


This is sad Monte. I will be gone from the blog for almost 2 weeks.

I will be celebrating 8 years of marriage to my beautiful bride, leaving my job of 8 years, and transitioning into my position as a grad assistant.

The topic I will be covering when I get back–August 15–is the effects of media on women’s body image. It will deal with Photoshop, self-harm, “femininity,” dieting, and body positivity.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you have anything you’d like me to cover in the post, send me a line at ilostmyprayerhanky AT gmail DOT com.