13 September 2013

Challenge the Givens!

I’ve always been empirical, seeking out facts on which to formulate opinions. I didn’t realise it until a couple of years ago; I called a writer out for what I thought were a couple of infelicities. Not only did she put me right, but she diagnosed me as ‘empirical’. Anyhow, the story involves ‘flatware’, and this isn’t the place for it.

As important as being empirical is the ability to question the assumptions, even to recognise the assumptions for what they are. It’s a common trick today to start an article with a proposition which seems reasonable, but which  actually has no factual foundation; and from this to construct an argument which happily and conveniently concurs with the author’s previously held convictions. It’s difficult to disagree unless you can see the falsehood upon which this is all based.

It’s said that Andrew Carnegie had this motto in his library, though the original may be older:

He that can not think is a fool,
He that will not think is a bigot,
He that dare not think is a slave

So, remember: challenge the givens!

When it comes to the ‘givens’ in law in the western world, what is and what is not a crime, much has developed from ‘Christian’ morality. I have ‘Christian’ in quotes because the morality is based on the ideas of the early doctors of the church rather than from Jesus. Of course, there are some crimes that are self-evidently crimes in most circumstances; murder and theft, for example; but we can all think of exceptions to these. And then there are crimes against ‘morality’, often crimes involving sexuality. Homosexuality used to be illegal; adultery used to be illegal, and people were tried, convicted and hanged for them. Prostitution is illegal in the US, that self-designated fount of democracy and civilisation; and the (direct) purchase of sexual services is illegal in Sweden, somewhere we used to think of as a very liberal country. Whether you agree with these positions is not relevant here; but you should be informed about their origins. The ’Swedish model’ is based on a form of feminism which wants women to have total control of their bodies, a not unreasonable position you might think, and which seems to include access to contraception and abortion, but which excludes activities which the feminist cannot approve of. If it was originated as an ‘anti-trafficking’, you might well approve, for the trafficking that you and I conceive of is no more than slavery. And if it’s been hailed by it’s founders as a success, you might, reluctantly, admit that it was a ‘good thing’. However, there is a basic problem with the data which show reductions in such slavery; there are no comparable statistics for the time before the ’Swedish model’ was introduced. For it’s propagandists, this is no more than a minor technical detail.

Anyway, this is a diversion; I’d like to bring to your attention some of the thoughts of the doctors of the church which influenced, and still influence, policy today. Curiously, you aren’t going to find many people who agree with these sentiments actually crediting the sources. And not just the early church doctors; Martin Luther doesn’t seem to think much of women.

Musonius Rufus
(Thought) “sex in marriage was just about permissible for the purposes of procreation; sex for pleasure, and especially extramarital sex, were anathema”

Philo of Alexandria
(Thought) “all the ills of civilization stemmed from the indulgence of sensual pleasure, and had nothing whatsoever to do with greed, slavery, tyranny or greed”

St Paul
(Thought) “celibacy as the ideal state for ‘mankind’”
(Thought) “women as ‘naturally’ inferior beings; they were a kind of afterthought”
[Saw man alone as] the image and glory of God
[Woman is but] the glory of the man
Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not allow any woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain silent.
The man is not of the woman, but the woman is of the man

(As an aside, you should search on-line for Thekla or Thecla, and discover her relationship to St Paul; and then wonder why so many people have difficulties with female bishops.)

Tertullian of Carthage

Dripping breasts, stinking wombs, and crying babies
Woman is a temple over a sewer
[Women should wear perpetual mourning to atone for] the ignominy and odium of having being the cause of the fall of the human race

Clement of Alexandria
Every woman ought to be filled with shame as the thought that she is a woman
Amongst all the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman

St Jerome
Regard everything as poison which bears within it the seeds of sensual pleasure

St Augustine
I know nothing which brings the manly mind down from the heights more than a woman’s caresses and that joining of bodies without which one cannot have a wife
Suppress prostitution, and capricious lusts will overthrow society

Do not hearken to a wicked woman; for through the lips of a harlot are like the drops from a honeycomb, which for a while is smooth in thy throat, yet afterwards thou will find her more bitter than gall, and sharper than a two-edged sword

Martin Luther
And if a woman grows weary and at last dies from child-bearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it
(Thought) [sex was] unclean

Jean Calvin
(After Deuteronomy) If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, they shall both of them die

Vincent Nichols (Catholic Archbishop of Westminster)
The moral teaching of the church is that ‘proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life’.

Some more modern quotations, not from doctors of the church:

William Blake
Prisons are built with stones of law, brothels with the bricks of religion.

A sewer is a cynic. It tells all.
(Vide supra)

Bertrand Russell
Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young: the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.

DH Lawrence
If a woman hasn’t got a tiny streak of a harlot in her, she’s a dry stick.

GJ Nathan
Like hatred, sex must [be] articulated or, like hatred, it will produce a disturbing internal malaise.

Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance.

RB Sheridan
Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.

Are you still so certain of your views? Are you still so convinced that what's you've been brought up to accept has a real basis in life?

Now, go and think; challenge the givens!

(This is a modified and expanded piece, first published a few months ago; it’s a response to Maggie McNeill’s call for support.)