The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
All right, readers – Hester’s finally finished banging her head against her desk. And I hope you’ve finished that cup of coffee, because you wouldn’t want to risk spraying hot beverage out your nose when you see what Vision Forum put on the cover of Sleeping Beauty and the Five Questions. Thankfully whoever designed the cover was kind enough to tell us the name of the painting they used, Edmund Blair Leighton’s The Accolade. Here’s the original.
Well isn’t that nice. What a lovely scene. Nothing snort-inducing here at all. The knight and the lady don’t appear to have been named by the painter, so for simplicity’s sake let’s assume they’re Guinevere and Lancelot.
Now here’s the cover of Sleeping Beauty. Notice anything different? I thought so. So what can we glean from this?
First, the folks at Vision Forum, for whatever reason, felt the need to eliminate the central act of The Accolade – a man kneeling before a woman. This does fit with their Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, which states that “it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion.” Queens would, I suppose, pose a problem to this system, as they obviously wield power over their subjects, many of whom are male. I’m hardly the first to have noticed the obvious revisionism here:
Sleeping Beauty and the Five Questions…exemplifies the movement’s conflicted relationship with history. … The cover features a doctored version of Edmund Leighton’s famous 1901 painting The Accolade (see Figures 1 and 2). Like many Vision Forum products, this CD exploits a double refraction of the Middle Ages, a paternally-empowered revision of its bowdlerized Victorian manifestations. Leighton’s Accolade has been modified to elevate the young man in the painting by raising him above the princess while subduing the young woman by positioning her beneath the man and removing the formidable sword from her hand. The face of a bearded man in Leighton’s background has also been brought into prominence, representing the father who oversees the woman’s obedient exchange to her prince.
Second, the back cover Sleeping Beauty told us the name of Leighton’s painting, its size, what it was made of, Leighton’s dates of birth and death, and that the original is in a private collection. It did not, however, tell us the painting had been photoshopped! Of course, The Accolade is well within the public domain (Leighton’s been dead for almost a hundred years), so Vision Forum is free to modify the painting. But why the need to hide the fact? Hymnals tell us when a text or tune has been altered, and we’ve all seen that notice at the beginning of every movie that says it’s been modified to fit our screen. So what’s Vision Forum so afraid of? Perhaps that their customers might notice how revealing this particular modification is?
Third, Vision Forum’s alteration of The Accolade has (unintentionally, I’m sure) transformed it from a clear-cut scene about knighthood into something…well, let’s just say, potentially embarrassing. To see why, look again at the cover of Sleeping Beauty. Then ask yourself, if Guinevere’s no longer holding a sword, what exactly is she doing with her hand?
Maybe the answer is a bit unclear to you. Then again, maybe it’s all too clear to you. Whatever she’s doing, it certainly doesn’t look family-friendly, let alone appropriate for the father-daughter relationships which are subject of the lecture. Cindy Kunsman came to a similar conclusion:
It’s sad because many people have commented to me that it looks as though Gwynnevere is either doing something improper to this young Lancelot or is circumcising him – if you’re familiar with the original painting, considering that she’s holding a sword. Like Job, the patriocentrists’ own worst fear seems to have come upon them? It’s also disturbing imagery because the subjects in the painting look more as though they are the same age, and the book concerns fathers and daughters. So the mental images that this suggests become all the more disturbing.
All is vanity
But The Accolade isn’t the only example of revisionism in Sleeping Beauty. As you may recall from the plot synopsis last week, when Phillips’ princess cannot get answers from her father the king, she wanders outside his kingdom and into the city of Vanity Fair, which appears to be beautiful and exciting but is actually a terrible place. The longer she stays in Vanity Fair, the drowsier she gets, until finally she is sleepwalking in and out of the city like a zombie. The princess is eventually spotted by one of her father’s messengers, who calls to her in an attempt to wake her but is unsuccessful.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering why the messenger didn’t simply rush to the princess and remove her from her dangerous and intoxicating situation. Well, Phillips has an explanation for that, which is that no true messenger of the king would ever set foot in the city of Vanity Fair. And it’s here that we discover yet another example of Phillips’ remarkable ability to miss the point.
Phillips derives the name of his city from John Bunyan’s famous allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that book, Vanity Fair is not a city but an actual fair, attached to the town of Vanity and placed on the road to the Celestial City expressly to tempt pilgrims:
Then I saw in my dream, when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity, Psa. 62:9; and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity; as is the saying of the wise, “All that cometh is vanity.” Eccl. 11:8; see also 1:2-14, 2:11-17; Isa. 40:17.
This fair is no new-erected business but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.
Almost five thousand years ago there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long.
This may sound like Phillips’ Vanity Fair on the surface, but as usual, the devil is in the details. And there’s a very important one lurking in the last paragraph: that the road to the Celestial City runs right through the heart of Vanity Fair. Bunyan himself expands upon this only a few paragraphs later:
Now as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town, where this lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the city, and yet not go through this town, “must needs go out of the world.” 1 Cor. 4:10. The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair-day too; yeah, and as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities, yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town. Yea, because he was such a person of honor, Beelzebub had him from street to street, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that he might, if possible, allure that blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities; but he had no mind to the merchandise, and therefore left the town, without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities. Matt. 4:8-9; Luke 4:5-7. This fair, therefore, is an ancient thing, of long standing, and a very great fair.
Here Bunyan makes his allegory clear. Vanity Fair represents temptation, which all Christians must face on their journey to heaven. The only way to avoid temptation is to be taken out of the world; even Jesus Himself faced temptation while He was here. Phillips, however, has retooled Vanity Fair (read: temptation) into something completely avoidable, and in fact outside the bounds of what he considers “proper” Christian experience (since the princess must leave her father’s house and go on a long journey to get there, and the messenger refuses to enter the city to avoid “dirtying” himself).
So is Phillips saying that daughters will not face temptation as long as they stay in their fathers’ houses? That “real” Christians never experience temptation? Or is he merely stealing a well-known name from someone else’s story and inserting it into his own, without thinking through the ramifications? None of these are good options. And frankly, with this kind of storytelling, it’s no wonder that Bunyan’s allegory has been a classic for over three centuries, while Phillips’ is known only to a tiny sect of American Protestants who already agree with him.
One of the more subtly peculiar aspects of Phillips’ lecture was his teaching on “eternal relationships.” These appear to be relationships which Phillips views as modeled on heavenly ones; thus, the marriage relationship is “eternal” because it is modeled on Christ and the Church, and the father-daughter relationship is “eternal” because it is modeled on God the Father’s relationship with God the Son. The only application of this Phillips made in the lecture was that fathers must teach and train their daughters as God the Father taught and trained His Son, but I think some lingering questions remain – the most important being, does Phillips views these relationships only as modeled on eternal ones, or are the relationships themselves eternal and thus carry over into the next life?
Phillips never asked this question, so unfortunately I can’t answer it. I can, however, comment on some similarities between his position and that of another group much more well-known that Vision Forum. But before I do that, I’d just like to point out that if Phillips does view these relationships as eternal in and of themselves, then he’s flatly contradicting the Bible:
Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matthew 22:29-30)
The marriage relationship, at least, does not continue into the next life – thus why the phrase “till death do us part” has become so closely associated with Christian marriage ceremonies. This is also part of why Paul allows widows and widowers to remarry (1 Cor. 7:8-9, 39, 1 Tim. 5:14).
Now take a look at the following:
Many people imagine that there is something sinful in marriage; there is an apostate tradition to that effect. This is a false and very harmful idea. To the contrary, God not only commends but He commands marriage. While man was yet immortal, before sin had entered the world, our Heavenly Father Himself performed the first marriage. He united our first parents in the bonds of holy matrimony and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. This command He has never changed, abrogated or annulled; but it has continued in force throughout all generations of mankind.
If you had to guess who wrote the above, what would your answer be? (And no cheating by clicking on the footnote!) The language is a little outdated, perhaps, but with only a slight update it could be put in the mouths of any number of well-known Quiverfull, Family-Integrated Church, or patriarchy advocates. So who’s the author? As it turns out, Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also wrote the following:
There is no higher authority in matters relating to the family organization, and especially when that organization is presided over by one holding the higher priesthood, than that of the father. The authority is time honored, and among the people of God in all dispensations it has been highly respected and often emphasized by the teachings of the prophets who were inspired of God. The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity.
Sounds like Joseph and Doug would agree on a lot, doesn’t it? I actually obtained this quote from a instructional page for young Mormon women, about how their family priest (i.e., their father) can bless them and their families. I strongly suggest reading the entire page to get an idea of some of the similarities in play here. For now, however, notice the reference at the end of the second quote above about patriarchy continuing into eternity. This is the perfect opportunity to examine the idea of “eternal relationships” and see how far off track this idea can go. We’ll be using excerpts from the official LDS publication Achieving a Celestial Marriage Student Manual (all excerpts sourced here).
First up, this quote from Bruce McConkie:
Eternal families have their beginning in celestial marriage here in mortality. Faithful members of them continue in the family unit in eternity, in the highest heaven of the celestial world, where they have eternal increase. Perfect peace and a full endowment of all good graces attend such eternal families. By obedience to the laws of the Gospel (which are celestial laws), Latter-Day Saint families begin here and now to enjoy much of that peace, joy, love, and charity which will be enjoyed in eternal fulness in the exalted family unit.
Reading further in the document, we learn that a “celestial marriage” or “marriage for eternity” is a marriage sealed in a Mormon temple, and that “eternal increase” seems to be defined as the ability of exalted humans to have “spirit children” in the next life. There even seems to be a form of “multigenerational faithfulness”:
Through the restoration of the priesthood held by Elijah, knowledge has been given to the Church that each family unit, where the parents have been married for time and for eternity, shall remain intact throughout all eternity. Moreover, each family unit is to be linked to the generation which went before, until all the faithful, who have proved their title to family membership through obedience to the gospel, shall be joined in one grand family from the beginning to the end of time, and shall find place in the celestial kingdom of God. In this way all who receive the exaltation become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ in the possession of eternal family relationships… (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:67-68)
And more from McConkie:
Celestial marriage is a holy and an eternal ordinance; as an order of the priesthood, it has the name the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Adam was the first one on this earth to enter into this type of union, and it has been the Lord’s order in all ages when the fulness of the gospel has been on earth. Its importance in the plan of salvation and exaltation cannot be overestimated. The most important things that any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ever does in this world are: 1. To marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority; and 2. To keep the covenant made in connection with this holy and perfect order of matrimony – thus assuring the obedient persons of an inheritance of exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
Now clearly there’s much in the above quotes that’s exclusively Mormon – for instance, I’m certain Phillips does not believe Christian couples can continue to have “spirit children” when they get to heaven, and obviously there are no temples involved in Phillips’ system. However, there’s an awful lot that’s frighteningly similar too. And remember, we never did get a straight answer from Phillips about what “eternal relationships” means in the first place. If he does believe that family relationships continue into eternity, what safeguards has he put in place to keep things from progressing in a more Mormon direction?
I’m sure Phillips’ supporters would say I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here, and that things could never go as theologically awry as they did in Mormonism. But all we have to do is ask a few simple questions to see how it could happen. If Christian couples are still considered husband and wife in eternity, what does that look like? Headship and submission? Little “households” in the New Jerusalem? Sex? Children? What does the parent-child relationship look like in heaven? What about grandparents?
There are a staggering number of implications left unexplored here, though I’m not sure Phillips has realized that yet. Hopefully this is not what he means, and honestly, all he would have to do to put my mind at ease is clarify that he does not, in fact, believe marriage relationships are “eternal” in that sense. Unfortunately he hasn’t done that, at least not that I’ve seen, and instead just keeps dropping the phrase “eternal relationships” as if all is right with the world.
Before we close, I’d like to make a personal observation on something that resonated with me in Sleeping Beauty. As I mentioned in both this post and last week’s, Phillips describes the city of Vanity Fair as a sort of mirage, which looks attractive but is actually a “rotting ash heap” (Phillips’ own words). The only way to see the true nature of Vanity Fair is to have your eyes opened – take off your rose-colored glasses, if you will.
Phillips, of course, intends Vanity Fair to represent the false promises of happiness offered by secular worldviews and the world’s pleasures. I, however, found it to be an almost perfect description of the Christian homeschool movement.
Much like the princess, an outsider looking in at the Christian homeschool movement sees many attractive things. They see well-behaved children, nuclear families, high test scores, and the valuation of fathers in the midst of a culture plagued by fatherless children. Meanwhile, those on the inside may also end up like the princess, as they seek to maintain the mirage of perfection in their own minds. Sure, there may be some legalism here and there, but aren’t there bad apples in every barrel? Those people are a tiny minority! Why would you want to put homeschooling at risk just to criticize one or two dysfunctional families who clearly misunderstood what major homeschooling leaders were telling them?
And the similiarities don’t end there. When the rose-colored glasses finally come off – when we finally see that all too often, the children are well-behaved because of abusive parenting methods, the seemingly perfect families are facades for abuse and neglect, the fathers are not just valued but idolized, and even the test scores are often based on suspect and badly-constructed research – we may well describe the Christian homeschool movement much like Phillips described Vanity Fair. I know I did. Not in his exact words, of course; mine were more evocative of a bombed-out post-apocalyptic dystopia. But at root the two images are largely the same.
Fortunately, unlike Vanity Fair, the Christian homeschool movement is not solely populated by these sorts of people. It’s also inhabited by hundreds, if not thousands, of excellent parents, bright, well-socialized children, and happy functional families. But – and this is a very large “but” – this should not stop us from pointing out that, like any large movement, Christian homeschooling has a dark, seedy and highly visible underbelly, and contrary to what many seem to think, exposure of this underbelly does not constitute criticism of homeschooling itself. In fact, homeschoolers should be the first to point out its existence and the quickest to renounce it. Thankfully many are doing just that – but many more appear to be turning a blind eye. And so I ask any skeptics in my audience: how can homeschooling be harmed by the marginalization of its worst and most misguided elements? Would you want the name of your movement tarred by such excesses?
But of course, if he were to read the above, I am 100% certain that Phillips and his ilk would try to turn my argument around on itself. I have been blinded by the world and secularism. I am the princess, wandering lost and alone in the wilderness. The only way for me to be saved from my blindness is to turn to the truth (and to my father) and recant my foolish, deluded opinions – and, of course, shut down my silly little blog.
Unfortunately for Phillips, I’m Lutheran, and we have a long tradition, much older than Vision Forum, of recanting only when convinced by Scripture and plain reason. I’ve repeatedly shown why Phillips’ Scriptural arguments fall flat (see the rest of this series). And as for plain reason…well, let’s just say I think this speaks for itself.