Certainly Effervescent

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Posts Tagged ‘confession

“Marry Him” and the Idea of Settling For A Spouse

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Few things have been as intriguing to me of late as the writing of and responses to Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough. Not because I empathize with the subject: Marry Him is a book for women of middling age who are in the market for marriage. Me? I’m a single guy in my midtwenties that has little interest in matrimony. So why am I so fascinated? My guess is that it’s just really refreshing to read honest discussion.

Before I write my own thoughts and opinions on the subjects of women, romance, marriage, dating, cultural norms, and any other topic: allow me to remind you that they are just that: my thoughts and opinions. I’m no expert in these matters, by any standard. There are plenty of women who found Marry Him wrong-minded and shrill, others who found it thought-provoking. Please keep in mind that they are out there, and that their opinions are to be remembered in all of this. In keeping with the internet ethic of “cover what you do best and link to the rest,” I’m going to write what I write best (views from a man whose faith and politics left him) and link to the rest (namely the writings of 1) women, 2) single women, and 3) married women).

Also: background on the book: Lori Gottlieb is a Stanford Medical School alum that made her name in writing confessional books of differing sorts. She’s been on all kinds of shows, from CNN to NPR to writing for the The Atlantic Monthly, and she’s a single mother through a sperm donor. In March 2008 Gottlieb wrote an essay for The Atlantic titled “Marry Him!” which prompted all kinds of letters, a book deal, and an option for a movie off the book. The essay talked about the problems she’s facing as a single mother and that:

A number of my single women friends admit (in hushed voices and after I swear I won’t use their real names here) that they’d readily settle now but wouldn’t have 10 years ago. They believe that part of the problem is that we grew up idealizing marriage—and that if we’d had a more realistic understanding of its cold, hard benefits, we might have done things differently.

The first element that I’d like to point out is the contradiction of Marry Him. The percentage of business that is the job of Provoking Unhappiness is debatable, it’s existence is not- one way to encourage sales is to present the greener grass, to make What You Already Own seem worse than What You Could Buy. Few industries are more defined by this than books and movies on romance, and particularly in the women’s market. Now an entire other post can be dedicated to discussing why this is: be it the rampant sexism that still pervades corporate leadership and marketing, be it the male-centric Western civilization norms that plague our society, be it the stubbornheaded pinko feminist college professors vainly trying to rewrite women’s genetic codes, I don’t care. What I find interesting is that Ms. Gottlieb, after surveying the field of self-help and advice books and finds most of them wanting, decides to…write a self-help and advice book. Considering that part of her critique is the idea that many women are misled into thinking that there’s “someone better out there” by a cottage industry, it is remarkable that Ms. Gottlieb seems to think her own contribution to said industry will help rather than hurt.

Secondly, while I find it amazing that the idea that There Isn’t Anyone Close To Your Ideal Person is so novel and revolutionary to the modern woman as to warrant a full book, I find it even more amazing that the writing of said book has created such squabbling. It’s a hoary tactic to “turn the tables”, but whatever small amount light might be shed from it should be worth it. If a man were to come out with a book suggesting the exact same “settle for Ms. Good-Enough” idea, there would be a limited few reactions:

  • The majority of men would probably say something along the lines of “No s***, Sherlock.” There would be few men who’d suggest otherwise. There’s a reason why traditional manners dictates you say “congratulations” to the groom and “best wishes” to the bride: dudes gotta lock down what they can and be happy about it. I’m sure there’s all kinds of evolutionary/sociological reasons for this, I have neither the expertise or energy to discuss them.
  • For all those who disagree with the above bullet, what would most likely be said is: “Not for me, man- maybe for you.” To each their own.

I think this second bullet is the more serious point. When it comes to the gender writ-large, there is no reason or urge for me and my friends to defend all men. One of my friends never gets married? As long as he’s happy with it, okay. Another gets married at 22? I wouldn’t do it, but hey, it’s his choice. I think this is partly why there are so few books and even fewer successful books targeted towards advice for men in relationships: there’s no consensus about what makes men happy. Perhaps it is because we don’t have a badly-placed arrogance to presume to speak for all men like we do for women. I don’t know. All I know is that the mere presence of this book speaks quite loudly to the chasm we see between women and men in relation to books, problems, and love.

Thirdly, his video was put out in promotion with the book:

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Written by C.S. Stieber

February 15, 2010 at 11:22 pm

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Orwell on Gandhi: Food For Thought

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Apropos of that last post about humanity being “stuck with virtue”, I posted this to my Tumblr feed way back when I thought that that platform would work with long-ish text posts. The fact that you are reading this on a WordPress-themed blog should tell you that no, Tumblr doesn’t work for text-based blogging. For awesome photos and feeding my “Glee” obsession though, it’s top-notch.

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I’m going to get my thoughts out real quick, then get out of the way. First off, this is from George Orwell’s Reflections on Gandhi, which now might be my favorite thing he’s ever written. Just an amazing piece with lines that make you laugh and lines that make you cry and lines that make you think.

Secondly, having made a weirdish transition to a “post-Christian”, vegetarian, sorta HinduTaoistBuddhist approach to life (I know, I know, very Boulder of me)…this piece is devastating to several presuppositions. I’m keeping my thoughts short because stumbling upon this earlier today has led to serious contemplation. I’m going to (after the jump) excerpt the killing-est, devastating-est blurb from the essay, but the whole thing is worth reading.

Suffice it to say, there was a bit of idealism in my new theology, some form of an aspiring saint, but this part just slammed me in the stomach. It’s one of those paragraphs where I could italicize or bold any and each sentence for emphasis.

Close friendships, Gandhi says, are dangerous, because “friends react on one another” and through loyalty to a friend one can be led into wrong-doing. This is unquestionably true.  Moreover, if one is to love God, or to love humanity as a whole, one cannot give one’s preference to any individual person. This again is true, and it marks the point at which the humanistic and the religious attitude cease to be reconcilable.

To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others. The autobiography leaves it uncertain whether Gandhi behaved in an inconsiderate way to his wife and children, but at any rate it makes clear that on three occasions he was willing to let his wife or a child die rather than administer the animal food prescribed by the doctor. It is true that the threatened death never actually occurred, and also that Gandhi—with, one gathers, a good deal of moral pressure in the opposite direction—always gave the patient the choice of staying alive at the price of committing a sin: still, if the decision had been solely his own, he  would have forbidden the animal food, whatever the risks might be. There must, he says, be some limit to what we will do in order to remain alive, and the limit is well on this side of chicken broth.

This attitude is perhaps a noble one, but, in the sense which—I think—most people would give to the word, it is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. There is an obvious retort to this, but one should be wary about making it. In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that  “non-attachment” is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings. If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for “non-attachment” is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work. But it is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is “higher”. The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all “radicals” and “progressives”, from the mildest Liberal to the most extreme Anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.

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“Sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid” was powerful enough to put me in a contemplative funk for about a week.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 27, 2010 at 11:00 pm

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Christopher Hitchens Knows Christianity Better Than Some “Christians”

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Via Rod Dreher, we get this gem of an interview blurb:

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

The interviewer is Marilyn Sewell, a Unitarian Universalist. The interviewee? Christopher Hitchens, famous polemicist and atheist.

I think there’s a lot of people who, when hearing that I no longer identify as an evangelical Christian, presume I’m either an atheist or have found another religion (Catholicism, Orthodox, Islam, Zoroastrianism, whatever). Hardly.

To be honest, I don’t know what I am. I do know that the tradition I have the most experience with is evangelicalism, and that history will forever color my views. I do know that I’ve found evangelicalism hollow, and, I cannot stress this enough, the disappointment is not for lack of trying. I have bona fides like few people I know. Whether you want Vacation Bible School stories, Christian Rock concert stories, or Veggie Tales stories (to my eternal shame, I still own a Bob The Tomato doll that dances and sings when you squeeze the stem): I got loads of ’em. But I went through all that to end up in my mid-twenties feeling utterly bereft of comfort or love from that life. I still have deep affection for those of my friends and family who are still satisfied by their walks of faith, but I have lost all personal fulfillment from it.

I go to all of those lengths to say: Hitchens is absolutely correct in his comment. While I no longer subscribe to that faith, I can still intellectually recognize that there are rules to Christianity, and that those hyper-liberal types like Unitarians are idiots. Rather than grapple with the messy facts of a religious code and how they meet our real-world experiences, Unitarians want to have a nice, neat, conflict-free bundle that they can buy to rid themselves of cognitive garble.

I’m no longer an evangelical, but that does not mean I’m no longer searching. It does not mean that I’m no longer wrestling with what I feel is truth. Liberal (and I mean that in a theological sense) Christians, rather than admitting what I just wrote, instead choose to spout irrational twaddle and crow that they’ve solved the puzzle.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 27, 2010 at 9:02 pm

The Interweb and Honesty: We Can Do This

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Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind.

From the New York Times profile of Charles Johnson of LGF fame. Totally agree, and I think it is beyond irritating and pedantic for people on both sides of the aisle to continue to play “gotcha” with the other side’s writings. This isn’t the 19th century- that something is “written” no longer carries the stamp of permanence or thoroughness. When people tweet or write Facebook updates or blog posts, they should give no other promise than truthfulness to that moment. There are people who criticize Andrew Sullivan for swinging wildly through his positions at The Daily Dish. That’s crap. I don’t ever take any of his posts for more than what they are: the thoughts and writings of a man working his way through life, making judgments based in the limited information he has, then revising them when presented with new facts.

I can’t remember where I read it, but a blogger once said that he would make no promises to his readers of comprehensiveness, fairness, or permanence. He would promise honesty and attempted clarity. I make the same promise. I will do my best to be honest. In that honesty, I must admit that I am biased, unfair, fickle, emotional, irrational, weird, and incomplete in my scope. And that’s on good days.

So I hope that this blog will stay on your bookmarks and RSS feeds because of the trust I’ll build between us. Don’t come here to find the quick and clever lines (though I will strive to provide those from time to time), don’t come here to find answers. Come here because you like reading someone who’s wrestling with the suck, who’s got thoughts but isn’t always certain they’re right. I’m writing because I like that life is vicissitudinous and how that makes me grow. And yes, as long as I have a blog, “vicsissitudinous” will be a word.

Happy weekend, y’all.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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Jokes and Complicity In Prison Rape: A Confession

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As I start seeing my hyper-evangelicalism moving further and further away in the rear view mirror, I see more and more mistakes. Many of them are my own, some are on other people. A specific one that I want to talk about is how I, in a small way, am complicit in prison rape.

Because I was so certain of the safety of the world for me, a white Christian Republican, I would not only turn away when I heard prison rape stories, telling myself “Well I’d never end up there”, I would even make jokes about it. The “don’t pick up the soap” joke is old, but I made many, many more than that.

It’s not a comfort, but I will say that I was hardly alone. You could make prison rape jokes in front of your friends’ parents. Some parents would join in. Looking back, it’s astounding how differently the conservative Christian class would treat the same act in two different circumstances: if a Christian man is raped by some pillaging non-Christian army- make a movie, slap a phrase on t-shirts and wristbands, and let’s all have a good cry in the auditorium at weekly chapel or youth group. American man raped in prison-make a joke!

So when I read this:

THE recent report on rape in juvenile facilities from the Bureau of Justice Statistics makes for horrific reading: 12% of juvenile prisoners report being sexually abused, more than 10% of them by staff (the surprising nugget within this subgroup is that 95%—95%!—of that 10% report having been victimised by female staff). Non-heterosexual inmates report a higher rate of abuse by another youth (12.5%) than their heterosexual counterparts (1.3%). Abuse is also not distributed evenly among facilities: at three of them—one each in Indiana, Pennsylvania and New Jersey—at least 33% of inmates report being abused, while 18% of facilities surveyed had no reported incidents of sexual abuse.

I become infuriated, but I feel more guilt and shame than anger. If more of us were to refuse to accept rape in prison as inevitable, perhaps something would change. I don’t really know, but I do know that making jokes about it is only encouraging these sick prison staff members to continually abuse children.

If you want to try to fix your past sins (like I do), take a look at prison reform groups. Just Detention International and Amnesty International come to mind.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

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