“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
I have concluded, after reading chapter 7, that A&E have what can only be deemed an excessive focus on the group at the expense of the individual. To some extent I already knew this, but in this chapter the full ramifications of their view are made all too clear. Beginning with this:
By self-denial, we mean something deeper than the usual meaning, “denying yourself things you want.” Rather, we mean “denying that you have a ‘self.’” 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 tells us that we do not belong to ourselves, but have been bought with a price. … We often hear people talking about “being true to yourself,” “finding yourself,” saying things like “That’s just not ‘me,’” “I need to follow my heart,” or “I’m special because I’m me.”
The natural “us” deserves to spend eternity in Hell. Being true to our natural selves and “following our hearts,” which “are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), condemns us to spiritual death. We have no “selves” that are worth being loyal to. Much of what makes up our natural personalities and the state of our hearts is dictated by our sin natures.
God does bless people, even in their sin, with gifts of natural abilities. Some people are naturally hard workers, some are generous, and so forth. One can be “true” only to the natural personality traits that are extolled in Scripture. So everything that makes us who we are – from things that seem like innocent personal preferences, to personality traits – must be examined and evaluated against Scripture.
If I may be perfectly frank, what a mess of self-contradictory nonsense. A&E cannot even keep their own story straight. In the first paragraph they want us to deny that we have a “self” altogether; by the second paragraph they’re hedging this with “we have no self worth being loyal to” (which is not the same as not having one at all); and by the third paragraph they’ve sold the store completely, admitted that we do have a self after all, and are telling us that sometimes not all of its tendencies are 100% bad all the time like they claimed a paragraph earlier.
On a logical level, of course, even the first paragraph alone made no sense. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” would be meaningless if we had no “self” – and notice A&E, as usual, never quite define what exactly they mean by “self.” (They do define “self-denial,” but they’ve twisted it to be something other than the normal definition.)
Things get even worse as A&E continue on this same theme:
“Self-confidence” and “self-esteem” are very popular terms right now. Our humanistic culture assures us that we are something special, something that we need to love, to indulge, to have confidence in, to be loyal to, to be easy on. These sentiments always follow hard on the heels of the idea that people are inherently good and have unlimited potential for progressive development. Humanists believe we can draw power from “ourselves” if we have faith in ourselves and believe in ourselves. But any ideas akin to “you can be anything you want to be” and “you can do anything you want if you believe in yourself” cut the sovereignty of God completely out of the picture.
Even though they admitted above that not all personality traits are automatically sinful, A&E nevertheless seem determined to portray the self as so thoroughly evil that there is nothing redeeming or positive about humanity at all, and we should thus reject any idea that portrays the self in any kind of positive light at all or implies that it has it any kind of value. This apparently extends even to phrases like “self-confidence,” and if I disagree with them I am apparently denying the sovereignty of God.
So, as you might imagine, I have some questions for A&E.
Let’s start with a relatively simple one, about “self-confidence.” This past weekend I performed in an organ recital put on by my local chapter of the American Guild of Organists. (This prelude and fugue attributed to Bach, in case anyone cares.) Now most everybody understands that a “recital” normally means getting up and playing or singing music by yourself. In front of other people. And, the most important part, in front of other people who can see and hear you make a mistake. Since that can be a bit nerve-wracking, one of the things you have to have to successfully perform in a recital is self-confidence. This could be as simple saying to yourself, “Yes, I can get up in front of this group of people and play this song.” (For non-musicians, substitute something like public speaking for the recital.)
A&E, however, are now telling me that this is actually a bad thing, because as a Christian I believe in the sovereignty of God, and that mankind needs saving because of sin. So my question is, exactly which part of the above scenario is sinful? Is this simply a matter of saying “God will make sure I play the right notes” instead of “I can play this piece”? Except the logical consequence of this should be skipping practice altogether. After all, wouldn’t practicing be an act of reliance on and confidence in self instead of God? Wouldn’t it show more “faith” to sit and down and publicly sight-read the piece every time? (Pro tip from a musician: never do this unless you are a) the reincarnation of Mozart or b) sitting a sight-reading exam.)
And how about this one: does a Christian belief in human sinfulness automatically negate all human ability to improve society? A&E seem to believe so, since they slam “progressive development.” But how then do they explain the many ways society has in fact improved over the years – many times due to Christian involvement? Take, for instance, slavery. There were many Christians involved in the effort to end slavery in America, and I think most people would agree that it was a definite improvement to American society to get rid of the institution. Would A&E have opposed these efforts had they been alive at the time? (I may not even need to ask, given what certain other patriocentrists believe.) It’s true that, from a Christian standpoint, “progressive development” may have limits. But A&E make it sound like it’s sin to even try.
Finally, I’m curious what A&E believe about human dignity in light of their extremely broad statements about the self being evil. Does the fact that humans are image-bearers of God, and that God loves humans, give humanity any value at all? Divine image-bearing is used twice in the Bible as the basis for rules about how we should treat others (Genesis 9:6 and James 3:8-10). As such, it’s usually a notable cornerstone of Christian ethics – especially the pro-life position A&E almost certainly hold. A&E, however, only seem to mention the image of God when they want to make a point about gender roles and sex differences. Would it be uncharitable to read this as communicating that gender roles are more important than issues of basic human dignity? Perhaps. But I’m still having trouble not seeing it.
And while we’re on this subject, I’d just like to point out, yet again, how A&E have basically handed abusers a whole arsenal of weapons to use against their victims. You’re upset that I’ll only let you leave the house on Tuesdays and Fridays? You’re just being selfish, and your self is evil and sinful. You, as a woman, have strong opinions that differ from mine (as a man)? Women are supposed to be gentle and quiet, and you need to evaluate all aspects of your personality in light of Scripture. How would A&E correct someone who was using these ideas to control their spouse? Or, in light of this…
As strange as it may sound, to be able to “stand on your own” and not need anyone else, to be self-sufficient and independent, are not biblical virtues. In fact, they are unbiblical vices. Firstly, we must all have a dependence on God and lean entirely on him. Secondly, God did create us to be emotionally dependent on members of the body of Christ (the Church) and members of the families He put us in. The kingdom of God is depicted by relationships. It advances through relationships. Remember, it was not good for Adam to be alone. Thirdly, we are to be dependent on the guidance and leadership of the authorities God places over us. A rebellious, defiant personality is not cute. It’s abominable to God.
…perhaps it would be better to ask: would they correct that person?
I suspect the third point in this paragraph (submitting to authorities) is the real substance of A&E’s beef here, because the first two points are not actually contradictory to independence and self-sufficiency. A single man who lives alone and supports himself, but also prays daily and is close to others in his family and his church, is both independent and self-sufficient, and dependent on God and in relationship with others. A&E, however, seem to be painting a picture of “independence and self-sufficiency” that looks like (pre-conversion) Ebenezer Scrooge: a rejection of relationship and connection altogether, with maybe some misanthropy thrown in for good measure. In fact, it reminds me of this song.
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
You may have heard that song before. It’s depressing as hell, and it demonstrates that there is a grain of truth under A&E’s statements here. Humans do need love, relationship and connection. However, I Am a Rock is not what most people out in the normal average world mean by “independence and self-sufficiency.” They are usually thinking of something more like holding down a job, choosing a major at college, or getting your own apartment. All of those would, of course, be anathema to patriocentrists for various reasons (at least as regards daughters) – most of which relate to authority and hierarchy, which is why I said I suspect this is the real motivator here. Independence and self-sufficiency are “unbiblical vices” to A&E, not because they actually take you out of meaningful relationship to God and other people, but because they weaken the power of the “authorities” A&E believe must exist in your life (esp. if you are female).
Returning to the question I asked before – would A&E correct an abuser using their ideas about the self to control their spouse? – I personally suspect they would not. After all, the abuse victim’s self is evil, and if the abuser is her husband, then he is an authority in her life and she must be “dependent on [his] guidance and leadership.” Do A&E see any room in those statements for the exposure of abusive authorities? Or, to put it more bluntly: do they really believe that human authorities have evil selves too? Or do only the “rebellious and defiant” questioners at the bottom of the heap have those?
Unique like everyone else
This bit at the beginning of the chapter gets to the real meat of A&E’s privileging of the group over the individual:
A real woman is a woman who recognizes that she has been exquisitely and perfectly created by a loving God for a unique purpose. Out of genuine gratitude, awe, and a desire to please her Maker, a real woman joyfully embraces her femininity and submits every aspect of her identity – the attitudes and affections of her heart and mind, her appearance, her manners, her speech, her ambitions, and her beliefs – to God’s original and unique design for her as a woman. A real woman understands that God designed femininity because masculinity was not enough in itself to represent God’s image and glory. The differences between men and women glorify God, and downplaying these differences downplays God’s glory. A real woman wants to bring glory to God by being a woman.
I’d like to draw your attention to the first sentence here. Reading it, you might (correctly) assume that A&E were going to talk about life purpose. However, notice that nothing following that first sentence talks about God’s purpose for the “real woman” in question as an individual. It only talks about her purpose as a woman. In fact, it basically presents being feminine (whatever that is supposed to mean) as a woman’s highest calling in life. Thus, working only from this, I would have to conclude that A&E either don’t think women have individual purposes, or (more likely) that those individual purposes are subsumed into, or at least won’t contradict, their corporate or group purpose as women. In fact they appear to be using a similar structure to the one Doug Phillips promoted here (though even he bothered to at least mention individual purpose).
But here’s the problem: this basically erases individual gifting, which differs widely from person to person, altogether. (And not just for women, either; I assume men have a corporate purpose as men which they must adhere to as well.) Thus, any God-given gifting an individual has, must either be shoehorned into a pre-existing pink or blue box, and if it cannot be, apparently cannot be utilized. Though to be fair, I probably should have expected this, because I suspect A&E don’t actually believe that any given individual can be gifted with an ability that contradicts their predetermined gender role. This does, of course, ignore vast swaths of reality entirely. But if we take their words at face value, it appears to be what they actually think.
I’m also aware that there is loads of stuff in that quote up there about the image of God and hardwired gender roles. That, however, will have to wait until the next post. So for now, just remember:
Resistance is futile…you will be assimilated.