Archive for November 2008

Sex Evangelism

November 24, 2008

There is a really amusing article in the NY Times this week about a Dallas-area mega-pastor, Ed Young, and his crusade to get his married parishioners to have more sex.

Probably not a bad idea, but I have to point out this quote:

“If you’ve said, ‘I do,’ do it,” he said. As for single people, “I don’t know, try eating chocolate cake,” he said.”

Mr Young and his ilk might find they have less problems with married sex if they articulated a richer sexual ethic for single people. I’ll give Young the benefit of the doubt and assume his “Seven Days of Sex” are not merely about personal emotional fulfilment, but about strengthening the covenant which exists between the couple and God. If that’s the case, then he ought to be able to spell out how single peoples’ sexuality also has covenental dimensions. I realize the “chocolate cake” comment is meant to be facetious–but much of the time, at least in the church, singles’ sexuality is treated precisely in those terms: as a sugary treat with no substance. For many evangelicals like Young, singles are simply supposed to refuse sexuality, as if it were optional–like dessert–and not an intrinsic part of human being-in-the-world. No wonder Young’s congregation (and scores of others like it) have trouble with married sex: eating cake as one of your main courses tends to make you sick.

A Phenomenology of Nothing

November 24, 2008

I’m presenting a paper at a conference on “Adam Smith as a Theologian” in early January, here in Edinburgh. The conference is a response to the overemphasis on Smith’s economics at the expense of his moral theology. Everyone knows about the “invisible hand”–a phrase which actually occurs twice in all of Smith’s writings–and the free market vision proposed in Wealth of Nations. But few know that Smith actually got famous for his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (first pub. 1759). In that book, first published while he was a prof over at Glasgow Uni, he provides kind of a phenomenology of “sympathy,” that “universal” and “natural” trait by which we all are able to put ourselves in another’s shoes and feel what they feel. I haven’t read very much of the book yet, but it looks like he’s going to say, somehow, that this natural sympathy is the basis of morality, and therefore we can (and sometimes do) make institutions which are morally just.

Again, I’ve yet to finish the book, but it seems like Smith’s view of a natural morality will share all the problems inherent in any such “natural theology.” But I’m more interested right now in the book as a case study in pre-sociological speculative philosophy. (I deal with the natural theology stuff in my paper.) Smith is basically just spouting off a fairly coherent phenomenology of sympathy, without really giving any concrete examples. Sure, he’ll often times give a general picture of what he means, such as to say something like “you know when you see someone really angry, and it’s hard not to be initially put off by their anger rather than share it.” All the examples are of this vague “you know when…” type.

Anyway, that’s all to say thank God for Wittgenstein, Austin and the others who forced philosophers to answer the question “show me what you mean.” It may be laudable to ground philosophy in common experience, however vague, but it’s not hard to turn on what is assumed to be “common” and find it only to be common for professors and other elites. This problem is not limited to Smith, but to those who actually paraded under the name “phenomenologist” before Bourdieu (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Gadamer, etc.). Obviously, this is a far too easy, anachronistic assessment in the wake of 20th-century historicism.

Back when it was published Smith’s book was hailed as being informative and entertaining. In this day and age, it’s hard not to write it off as merely entertaining. Some rich guy even hired Smith to travel around Europe with his son. How bored must people have been back in 1759 to consider this kind of thing entertaining? Well, how bored are you to have read this far?

An unceremony

November 24, 2008

Given that Wess just linked to this blog in a post, it seems like a good a time as any to restart. So, for the two of you who still have this in your RSS feed (you know who you are), here goes nothing.