THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST
May 30, 2008
image: Humility (cc) ToniVC
NOTE: This post is a bit of a stream of consciousness. Not in a high school English babble sort of way, but rather it's a progression of thoughts that lead from one to the next, albeit in a rather disjointed fashion. This is, in fact, a pretty good reflection of how my mind processes ideas, but I typically separate the ideas into their own blog posts. For some reason, I'm compelled to throw the whole thing together on this one. I'm not sure why.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were watching some television show in the evening, and the show happened to include a scene that involved two men kissing and embracing one another. I'll be honest - my initial reaction was that of aversion. My wife also reacted in disgust, and noting her reaction, I figured that we should have a conversation about our reaction and try to pin down the source of that aversion.
The easy way out is to simply say that we were disgusted because homosexuality is wrong. It's biblically defined as sinful, and as Christians, we should be disgusted by anything that is sinful. I say that it's the easy way out because it allows us to apply a moral justification for our reaction, and because it allows us to stop thinking about the issue -- the moral status of homosexuality is reason enough to be disgusted, end of discussion. The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that there are plenty of biblically-defined sinful behaviors that do not incite a feeling of disgust. I've been enjoying watching ABC's Lost, and throughout the life of the show, the protagonists have been involved in adultery, theft, murder, etc., and I've never once felt a sense of disgust at it. So to pin my reaction to a male-male kissing scene on biblical grounds is rather hypocritical, or at the least, inconsistent. The feeling of aversion to the scene is much more likely to be a product of culturization, where I've been conditioned to find the idea distasteful. Additionally, I don't think that Christians should be disgusted by displays of sinful behavior, considering Jesus' reaction to the woman caught in adultery. Disgust is not an emotion that stems from faith.
I've actually heard an argument about this situation I previously described. It's the notion of boiling a frog; you just slowly turn up the heat on a frog in a pan of cold water, and the frog never notices the heat rising. The idea is that people used to be offended at the idea of adultery, theft, and murder on television, but as the mainstream media has continued to push the envelope on cultural norms, we've become desensitized to the effects of it. At some point, I think the argument is meant to suggest that we'll be boiled alive by sinful television shows.
Incidentally, the biblical story of Cain and Abel discredits the validity of this argument. Cain had no problem murdering his brother without the aid of network television. Sin is an internal plague; we are quite capable of the worst wickedness without needing to have the heat turned up on us.
This idea of a cultural boiling got me to thinking about the often-heard notion that there's some kind of "homosexual agenda" that's a threat to the "American way of life." I get the feeling that there are people actually concerned that there's an agenda out there to desensitize people to homosexuality, in order to... in order to what? I can't even get my brain around what the threat could possibly be. Are they going to turn heterosexual people into homosexual people? Are they going to persecute heterosexual people for their sexual orientation and attraction? Does this sound even remotely realistic?
I wonder about this "American way of life," sometimes. I don't think I really know what it means. I tend to liken it to the notion of high school football, where it's all "go team!" and other such group-identity mentality that's put in place by the government. Oh yes - if there's an agenda, it's in the school systems; I think that the reason sports are pushed so heavily is to help create that nationalism and group identity. It's no coincidence that the American flag is flown and the anthem is sung at every game.
I think that in the past, when the United States was involved in a couple of world wars, the idea of a national identity made some sense; people really felt like they could rally around a cause of global importance. But I have to wonder how much of that feeling of national pride was naturally internalized by American culture, or if it was force-fed to the public via propaganda. And then of course, Japanese internment camps during World War 2 may have caused some problems with trying to make the Japanese feel at home in the United States...
In any event, this fear of the dismantling of the "American way of life" says a lot about the way people view America. Phrases like "the greatest nation on God's green earth" are meant to rally people around national pride, and people buy it up. But is America... better? I can't help but think that people, everywhere, are simply people. By claiming that our own culture is somehow superior to other cultures is akin to confronting an individual and claiming to be superior to that individual. It just doesn't make any sense.
Scripturally speaking, God seems much more focused on the humblest of nations anyway. Bethlehem. Nazareth. Neither could dream of claiming to be the greatest of nations, but to them were given the honor of raising up the son of God. And we see this pattern in the scriptures over and over -- that God uses the weak and the humble in place of the powerful and the prideful.
Somehow, this idea of God using the humble and the weak bled over into some thoughts I had about gender equality, and the notion of the Christian patriarchy. The New Testament teaches that the man is the "head" (which needs some careful interpretation by itself), and for generations, men have felt that God works through them either exclusively or at least on the majority, and have used passages in the text that instruct women to not speak in church and for women to not teach men as a way to perpetuate the imbalance of power between the sexes. I happen to think that those passages are mind-numbingly misinterpreted and misapplied. In fact, the relationship between man and wife is explained as being patterned in the relationship between Jesus and the church -- Jesus sacrificed everything for the sake of his betrothed, and asked nothing of her in return. He died so she could have perfect freedom. He places her first in everything. In that regard, the Christian text is meant for her.
Perhaps we, who feel that we are in the highest place, should take note that God humbled the proud, and that Christ, when questioned about who would receive the highest honor in heaven, told His disciples that "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first."