No more boys and girls: they’re not good enough apparently.

symbol-male-and-female-mdOn the BBC recently there was a two-part programme entitled “No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?” (Still available on the iPlayer at the time of writing). I watched both parts, and the programme was both intriguing and annoying in about equal measure.

The basic premise of the programme is not a new one: we have long debated the most important factor in children’s development – nature or nurture. It’s not clear what is nature (i.e. inbuilt, genetic) and what is nurture (i.e. down to the way that you were brought up, environment etc.) Everyone agrees that both are factors, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly how important they are.

This programme took a fairly strong line on ‘nurture’: basically it took the view that men and women were essentially the same, except for a few basic biological differences. In particular, it claimed that male and female brains were the same. The only difference which exists between boys and girls is because they are socialised that way – i.e. they are brought up in different ways. For example, boys don’t have superior spatial skills because of genetics (nature) – they are just given Lego to play with (nurture) and it develops those skills.

The programme tested the hypothesis by trying to make a ‘gender neutral’ classroom, where boys and girls were treated in exactly the same way.

I don’t know where to start with all of this, to be honest.

The biggest question to my mind was simply this: what rationale was given for the whole experiment?

The surface reason was, of course, equality: boys and girls, men and women, should have equality. But no justification of this was given, except for a brief discussion with neuroscientist Gina Rippon about the difference (or lack thereof) between male and female brains. It just seemed to be assumed that girls doing stereotypically ‘girly’ things and boys doing stereotypical ‘boyish’ things was not good enough. If you believed the programme, both boys and girls should be doing the same things – biological sex should simply not count for anything. There was no discussion about equality and how that might work out in this situation.

We are now living in an age where ‘equality’ is paramount. Everything has to be equal – so much so that when same-sex marriage was described as ‘equal marriage’ I suspect it won many supporters. Who wants to be anti-equality, after all? But when the drive for equality overrides even the ability to process fairly common sense observations, it’s all got a bit silly.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of August, James Damore – senior software engineer at Google – was fired for writing an “anti-equality” memo (you can read it online here). James Damore is a smart guy – he has a PhD in biology – and although the memo was not perfect, the science was basically right (see the response of four scientists here, and a comprehensive review of the science here).

One of the best articles I read in response to the firing was by Ross Douthat. Douthat is a commentator who is often insightful and well worth reading, and this is no exception. He says this:

This growing difference seems to be a striking aspect of modern Western life. In societies where both sexes have greater freedom — and women have more educational and professional opportunities relative to men than in the past — the sexes’ academic interests tend to diverge relative to more traditional societies. And not only their interests but their personalities as well: The more officially egalitarian a society, a credible body of research suggests, the stronger the differences in stereotypically male and female personality traits.

Take a second to think about that: the more officially egalitarian a society, the stronger the differences between male and female interests and personality traits. The harder a society tries to be egalitarian, the less egalitarian it becomes. I find this fascinating, because it goes against pretty much everything that we instinctively believe about equality. I wonder if the problem is that the more ‘gender-neutral’ a society becomes, the more confused men and women are going to be and the more men and women are going to go to the extremes in order to feel secure (or, perhaps, the more people are going to identify as transgender. But that’s another story). When you eliminate traditional male and female roles, how are men and women going to express their identity as men and women?

Douthat goes on:

But since the usual way to reintegrate the sexes is to have them marry one another and raise kids, what Silicon Valley probably needs right now more than either workplace anti-microaggression training or an alt-right underground is a basic friendliness to family, pregnancy and child rearing.

I think he’s hit the nail on the head here. The elephant in the room when it comes to the difference between the sexes is reproduction – and it’s notable how often it is left out of these discussions. Many of those young boys and girls in the BBC show will go on to become fathers and mothers at some point in their lives. Is that of no significance? Is the traditional role of a mother – caring for and nurturing children – valueless now?

During one of our recent general elections (we’ve had so many…) my wife – currently a stay-at-home mum – said that she didn’t feel valued: there was so much  focus on everyone who is able going out to work, where was the commendation for mums (or dads, for that matter) who stay at home to look after the children? Where did any of the political parties come out and say “we value those who raise the next generation”?

One of the privileges of my job is being able to talk to a lot of different people about their lives. As it turns out I’ve spent quite a bit of time chatting to young mums – either through our toddler group or baptism preparation. What I find interesting is that there is a common theme: the mums, by and large, although they may have to work, generally do not want to – most of those I’ve spoken to say they would prefer to be with the children. I have yet to meet a dad who has told me that they would love to be with the kids all day except they have to be out at work.

Equality is a good thing, for sure. I think everyone should have the opportunity to do what they want to do. But, for that same reason, isn’t it wrong to basically be telling children that traditional male and female roles are not just unequal but wrong? Should we be telling them that the only value that society sets on them is as a worker, and the only achievements to be celebrated are academic ones?

I wonder whether creating a ‘gender-neutral’ classroom is actually going to hinder rather than help things. Personally I have found it very helpful in my own life to actually acknowledge differences between the sexes and to recognise the ways that men and women complement and relate to each other. It feels like I am now working with the grain of the universe, rather than against it.

As a Christian, I don’t think this is surprising: being created male and female is there at the beginning, it’s one of the most fundamental things you can say about us as embodied creatures. If you make a classroom ‘gender neutral’, you will not eliminate gender; and, in fact, I believe it will create far more problems as children struggle to work out their identity. This doesn’t mean that equality is not a laudable goal to have, rather that equality of opportunity needs to recognise that boys and girls, men and women might want slightly different things and that is OK. It’s not just OK, it’s good.

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Thoughts on ‘The Strange Death of Europe’

I’ve just finished reading strangedeathofeuropeThe Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray. It’s not an easy read – it deals with an issue which we as a Western society do not want to talk about (immigration) – but I think it’s important to deal with these issues.

If you want to listen to him talking about the book and its main ideas, you can find a few interviews on YouTube such as this one.

I don’t want to review the book as such – please read it for yourself – but off the back of it I wanted to mention a couple of thoughts I had while reading it.

The main thing is: what gives a society a sense of identity? I think this is a hugely important question which is often overlooked in the UK. You have a group of people living together in a town. How can they get on with each other? You could list a few things: common language, jobs, values, etc. Values are important – we have to value certain things in order to get on with each other.

The government recognised this when it created “British Values” (which are, for the record: democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for and tolerance of those of different faiths and those without faith). Those are all apparently British values which all children are being indoctrinated in – sorry – educated about at school.

The thing is, being taught about British Values at school doesn’t really give us a sense of identity, does it? It’s just “the way we do things round here” – without a coherent system of thought to back it up, they’re meaningless. This brings me to the question of religious identity.

In the past, this country has largely been held together by a broadly Christian worldview. It has permeated the monarchy, our government, our laws, our national institutions (such as the BBC), and of course an established church. Now this is all rapidly being demolished for a new secularist world where there is no place for religious belief. The best the government can come up with is some rather vague and not particularly convincing “British Values”.

Then Islam enters into the picture. The secular world simply has no idea how to respond to Islam. For most secularists, religious is an irrelevance. They seem to think most religions are more or less the same – they believe in a different ‘sky fairy’ but they’re pretty much the same (I talk about that more here). The problem is, religions are not all the same. British Values have nothing to say to someone who is a convinced Muslim.

Tom Holland did a documentary recently for Channel 4 called Isis: The Origins of Violence (at the time of writing you can still watch it on 4oD). In it he interviewed a Muslim (can’t remember who it was but it was someone important) who said that Western laws were not good because they did not come from God. He sincerely believed that Islamic laws were best because they were given by God and not man. (This is also the man who was somewhat evasive about condemning violence.)

How do you convince someone that our laws are good in those circumstances? 

It seems to me the only way is to actually demonstrate that our laws actually do come from God – from the Christian God, ‘the God who is there’ as Schaeffer put it. Secularism simply has no answer to orthodox Islam, it is impotent in the face of it.

What’s interesting about Douglas Murray’s book is that he identifies the problem (the decline of Christianity in the West) – but at the same time he believes that it is impossible to believe in Christianity now due to 19th century higher criticism (much of which has now been discredited).

I believe that the only ultimate solution to the problems we face – both personally and as a society – is the Christian faith. This is the social glue that helps to bind us together. This is the foundation of our society, the foundation of our morality and laws. This is the only way Western society can survive. My prayer is that God might send another revival as in the days of Wesley and Whitefield, or the Great Awakening in America. It has happened before, it can happened again. Lord, have mercy.

The Night Manager…

p03g1npqI’ve really been enjoying watching the BBC’s adaptation of The Night Manager by John Le Carré. Now it’s finished I will feel bereft on a Sunday night! I thought it was a brilliant, compelling piece of TV and I loved watching it.

That said, I do have a couple of questions – to do with the TV series, I haven’t read the book (although I probably should). Readers should note this will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it read on at your own risk.

1. Jonathan Pine is far too … nice. It just didn’t feel right to me. Hugh Laurie plays Richard Roper very well, I think – you feel that beneath the velvet glove there is an iron first. Roper is a dangerous man and I think that comes across perfectly. Tom Hiddleston just made Pine too much of a likeable, nice guy – the way he smiled and laughed, it just seemed such a contrast to the person he was supposed to be. I hope I wasn’t the only person to be thinking this!

2. Pine killed two people while he was on Roper’s team. He didn’t seem to have any compunction about killing. He also didn’t seem too bothered about dying – as he told Angela, “I was living a half life”. So – why didn’t he just kill Roper? Yes, it would have been likely suicidal – but I’m sure there would have been an opportunity to shoot him and run. Why chance it? Why put all that effort into a complicated plan which may or may not work when you could have just killed the guy?

I guess there is always the danger that the organisation would continue with someone else, but I think it would be pretty unlikely if the main guy was taken out. If you’re prepared to kill anyway, and you’re not too worried about dying, this just seems the most logical option to me.

Either way, this whole thing raised the issue of morality and at what point it’s right to do the wrong thing to prevent another wrong thing from happening – but that’s far too big an issue to deal with now!

3. I enjoyed the resolution in the last episode, but as I’ve thought about it the ending is less satisfactory. Halo wasn’t brought to justice, he got away with it, and the corruption in the government wasn’t dealt with. We don’t know exactly what happened to Roper but it looked to me like he was going to be killed by the shady types who were buying his weapons.

I just feel that the conclusion was a little less comfortable than I would have liked – not that this is a criticism as such, but it’s thought provoking.

All in all, a really good series and perhaps the book will shed light on some of these questions…

Review: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

tawdeI’ve just finished reading “The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist” by Andy Bannister. The book is subtitled “or the dreadful consequences of bad arguments”, and that’s a pretty good summary of the book: examining various arguments made by writers such as Richard Dawkins (who else?) and the like to see whether they stand up. The point of the book is not to demonstrate the truth of Christianity per se, just to demonstrate the issues contained within the arguments made by these atheist writers.

The thing which makes this book stand out for me compared to the multitude of other books which have been written in response to Richard Dawkins and the so-called ‘New Atheists’ (not that they’re particularly new any more, but still): the scope. What this book does is distil a number of arguments and try to deal with the precise objection in each case. In many cases, he presents arguments in a clear and concise way, and they are well illustrated: for example, each chapter starts with an imaginary (and usually humorously absurd) conversation to introduce the topic.

For me the real strength of the book is its analysis of the logical arguments: Bannister is able to boil an argument down to its precise form and then examine it to see whether it stands up. I’d go as far as to say that this is the best book I’ve read from that perspective (although I haven’t read very many, so that’s not really much of an accolade). But I think too often Christians simply leap to the defensive when someone comes up with questions, rather than saying: “Well, let’s take a step back and look at the question itself. How would that logic work in other situations? Are you being consistent?”

I would recommend this book to a Christian who wants to be strengthened in their understanding of apologetics, or to an atheist who wants to examine some Christian answers to their objections. I think it would be hard to find a book which examines so many arguments so comprehensively and clearly – it’s very understandable.

The only downside? The constant footnotes! There are plenty of humorous footnotes throughout the book, but personally I found them something of a distraction. It’s a matter of personal preference, though – you don’t have to read them.

(Although, my blog is footnoted in one of the footnotes – brownie points to anyone who can name which post. It’s not the reason I read the book though – I haven’t seen a penny of royalties. Not one…)

One of the problems with the so-called ‘New Atheists’ is that they are strong on rhetoric but weak on actual argument. I hope this book is widely read and helps to illuminate the problems for many people.

Christian Zionism vs Biblical Theology

These brothers of mineChristian Zionism isn’t something I’ve come across very much. I have a feeling it’s a bigger deal in the USA than it is here in the UK, and as such I don’t recall meeting anyone who was particularly big on it here. Because of this, I hadn’t really read or thought much about it before, and didn’t really know what it was about.

I’ve just finished reading a book which changed that: “These Brothers of Mine” by Rob Dalrymple. It’s subtitled, “A Biblical Theology of Land and Family and a Response to Christian Zionism”. Rob is formerly a Christian Zionist (if that’s the right way to describe it), and he has come to believe that position is wrong.

This book is a response to Christian Zionism, analysing it using the tools of Biblical Theology. “What is Biblical Theology?” I hear you ask. That’s a good question.

Biblical Theology is about understanding the Bible as a narrative running from Genesis to Revelation, seeing each book in the light of Scripture’s big picture. It’s about seeing Scripture in the context of redemptive history and seeing how it fits in within the key story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. We know that each part of Scripture speaks of Christ (e.g. Luke 24:27) – Biblical Theology is about finding out how the promises God makes in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ, and how they will ultimately be fulfilled in the new creation.

To give one example – which Rob expounds within the book – think of the land which God promises to Israel. Is it the physical Promised Land, or does it actually have a spiritual significance which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ? How are the promises God makes to Abraham fulfilled in Jesus, and what does that say about Israel as a nation? Rob sees the promise of land as being fulfilled in Jesus – although if you want to find out exactly how, you’ll have to read the book…

Before I went off to theological college, I did a few units of the Moore College correspondence course. Two of them (Introduction to the Bible and Promise to Fulfilment) introduced me to Biblical Theology – and they really transformed the way I understood the Bible. In fact, even now, looking back I think that first unit (Introduction to the Bible) was one of the single most useful things I ever did in terms of understanding the Bible.

Consequently, I would recommend this book not only for people who have an interest in Israel / Christian Zionism, but also for people who just want to read and understand the Bible better. This is a helpful looking at how Biblical Theology might apply to something like Christian Zionism. It’s not a light bedtime read, but it’s not technical either – well worth mulling over especially if you want to understand the Bible better and this kind of thing sounds new to you.

Taking God at His Word and reviews

Taking God at his WordEarlier this year, fellow blogger The Alethiophile suggested a sort of ‘book exchange’ – he would take book requests and review them, if readers would take a suggestion from him. He suggested ‘Benefit of the Doubt’ by Greg Boyd, which I reviewed a few months ago, and I suggested ‘Taking God at His Word’ by Kevin DeYoung for him to read.

Today, he published his review of the book. I started this blog post off as a comment, but it got a bit out of hand, so I publish it here and hope that others might find it helpful. You’ll almost certainly want to read his review before reading this, otherwise it won’t make much sense…


 

Hi there, as I was the one who recommended the book to you in the first place I feel a duty to respond 🙂 I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy the book, but – as I said on Twitter – I do feel that you have been unfair in this review, and I’ll try to explain why. By and large the problem is I feel that you are writing a review of a book I don’t recognise.

My suspicion is that DeYoung has got your back up with the comments you mention about wanting someone else to accept his interpretation. His tone is polemical at times – perhaps you felt like he was attacking you and your views – and I think you’ve reacted strongly to that, which has coloured how you’ve read and reviewed the book.

Anyway, I’ve divided this up into a few sections which examine the points you make; I hope this isn’t too much but I find it helps to keep things neat and tidy.

1. DeYoung’s interpretation?

You don’t actually quote DeYoung’s full comment about interpretation (and in fact you don’t quote much in the review at all. I would say it’s generally good form in a review to let the author speak for themselves where you can and summarise where you have to.) The full quote is: “I do claim that you need to accept my understanding, because it’s not my understanding. It’s the teaching of the New Testament and the affirmation of the orthodox Christian church throughout the centuries.”

So DeYoung is not claiming himself as the infallible interpreter of Scripture, but simply in line with the way the church has always understood these things. The idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ is a modern novelty: Athanasius or Augustine didn’t “agree to disagree” with the Arians, for example. This is why we have the ecumenical creeds. There is actually a kind of false humility in saying “I don’t claim that you need to accept my understanding” – because it gives the appearance of saying “I might be wrong” while actually putting your own particular belief beyond challenge or criticism. You don’t need to submit your views to scrutiny because you’re not saying other people need to accept that understanding.

If, for example, you claim to believe in the Bible but claim that Jesus is a created being, then I would say that you do need to change your opinion – not because I happen to believe something different, but because I believe the Bible says very differently and the church has always held this as an orthodox Christian belief.

It’s interesting that in this very review you say, “Yes, some things are really important historically. I would fully affirm the historicity of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; those twin events are not only the lynchpin of christianity, but are well attested and can be relied upon as historical events as strongly, if not more so, than many an event in the ancient world.” When you say “really important”, how important do you mean? Would you say that someone who didn’t take the resurrection account as historical is actually in error, and would you want them to accept your particular view?

There must come a point at which we need to say that some beliefs are wrong. The church has always believed that Christ was “born of the virgin Mary” (to quote the Apostles Creed), and I don’t see how requiring someone to believe what the church has always believed when it comes to the virgin birth (or the rest of the creeds, for that matter) is setting oneself up as an infallible authority.

In particular, I think your statement: “this level of arrogance is sufficient reason to view DeYoung as an unsound, unhumble teacher whose work is not to be trusted” is completely unfounded.

2. The Bible – clear?

You say: “in his view the bible is wholly clear and can be readily understood. But if you read the chapter, there is no evidence of his appreciating the times, the cultures or the languages the bible was written in, nor to the various audiences to whom the books were written.” Actually I don’t think DeYoung says the Bible is ‘wholly clear’.  He quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith and says “Some portions of Scripture are clearer than others. Not every passage has a simple or obvious meaning” (which I think would cover your example of 1 Thess. 4:17).

But he does say “That which is necessary for our salvation can be understood even by the uneducated, provided that they make use of the ordinary means of studying and learning.” This is similar to other statements such as the Anglican 39 Articles, which says in Article VI: “HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

So I feel that you have misrepresented what DeYoung says and knocked down a straw man. Although study of culture and language may be beneficial in terms of nuance and background, the fundamentals of the gospel are understandable without them.

3. Quoting

You say: “Obviously, there are some scriptural references, though all too often they are piecemeal, stripped of context and have a strong odour of proof texting about them rather than the aroma of exegesis.”

When you quote 1 Corinthians 13:11 at the end of your review, is that ‘proof texting’?

I think DeYoung does a pretty good job of giving context in the book actually. Can you name any specific examples where he proof texts and takes things out of context?

I agree that DeYoung doesn’t quote from any liberal scholarship – but then, when I read Greg Boyd, I don’t recall him really engaging with any conservative scholarship. I’d say it was acceptable for a book written for a popular (not scholarly) audience not to engage with lots of different views – he’s trying to promote a particular view. Saying that he doesn’t quote from people who disagree is, I think, a little uncharitable. And doesn’t actually engage with any of his arguments.

In terms of the history, I think DeYoung would agree that literary genre is of course important (not sure what his position is on Genesis 1-2 with respect to evolution). But we do have to take seriously Jesus’ view of Scripture, and I think he presents a compelling case that Jesus had a truly high view of Scripture which we must reckon with. If our Lord and God thought certain things were historical, who are we to argue? (Incidentally, if you want an interesting read on historical criticism and evangelicalism have a read of this book.)

4. The fundamental disagreement

The fundamental disagreement I have with you is at the start of your post: “all too often he seems to treat it as though it were a single body of work with a single author.”

I think DeYoung presents good evidence that the writers of the Bible did indeed think it had a single author. I think this is precisely what e.g. 2 Tim 3:16 does claim for the Bible, or the book of Hebrews, or the apostles in Acts 4:25, and so on. The Bible’s words are God’s words. DeYoung is not elevating the Bible to the position of the Trinity, but if Scripture is the Word of God then it flows from Him and reflects His character, will, truth, etc.


 

Anyway, I’m sorry for writing a short essay in response to your review, but seeing as I suggested the book in the first placeI felt compelled to respond. There’s more that could be said but I think that covers the most important things!

Review: Benefit of the Doubt

Benefit of the Doubt by Greg BoydIs doubt a good thing when it comes to the Christian life? Doubt seems to be in vogue in certain circles these days – uncertainty about doctrine, uncertainty about the Bible, uncertainty about all sorts of things. It’s become deeply unfashionable to be certain about anything to do with the Christian faith (well, nearly anything … in my experience of such circles a belief such as the validity of women being priests/bishops/etc is often held with as much certainty as anything I’ve ever seen).

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to blog about this subject for a while but just haven’t quite had the right opportunity. However, back in January, fellow blogger The Alethiophile asked “What to read in 2015?” and suggested a sort of exchange – if you suggested a book for him to read, he would suggest one for you to read. I suggested to him “Taking God at his Word” by Kevin DeYoung, and he suggested to me “Benefit of the Doubt” by Greg Boyd. Well, I’ve just finished reading it, and it provides the ideal opportunity to talk about doubt!

The book is subtitled “Breaking the idol of certainty”, and – as you can imagine – his contention is that doubt is actually a good and healthy thing for the Christian. What I’m going to do in this post is to review the book itself, and then follow up in the near future with a blog post about faith and doubt. [I was going to do all of this in one post, but the review went on a bit. Sorry.]

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