Passion and Purity: “Freedom” and “Equality”

We’ve talked at length in the last two posts about Elliot’s fuzzy history and unrealistic claims that virginity is meant to be traded for commitment.  I want to focus now specifically on the way Elliot subtly re-defines the concepts of freedom and equality to make them seem threatening:

We can go to bed with those of the opposite sex or those of our own.  It doesn’t matter.  A mere question of taste, and we all have a “right” to our tastes.  Everybody’s equal.  Everybody’s free.  Nobody is hung up anymore or needs to deny himself anything.  In fact, nobody ought to deny himself anything he wants badly–it’s dangerous.  It’s unhealthy.  It’s sick.  

I remember being explicitly taught that some words don’t mean what the rest of the world says they mean.  For example, “human rights” aren’t actually rights, I was told, because we don’t have the right to anything–everything is a gift from God and we are but sinners; therefore it is prideful to claim that you or anyone else deserve something.  As soon as you start thinking in terms of rights, they said, you forget to be thankful for what you already have.  (Gratefulness, it seems, was more important than justice…but I digress.)

Whether the people who came up with this idea simply had poor logic skills or whether they were deliberately playing fast and loose with definitions in order to convince a bunch of 15-year-olds that the UN was an evil organization, I don’t know.  What I do know is that preaching something like “humans don’t have a right to human rights” requires an impressive combination of anti-intellectualism, vocabulary re-definition, and stubborn ignorance of context.  

However, if you’re one of those 15-year-olds who’s never been taught any other history or definition of human rights, how would you know how to spot the anti-intellectualism and propoganda?  I believe the technical term for this is poisoning the well.  

That’s just one example from my own experience.  There are plenty other examples of Christianese redefining words.  I think Elliot is tapping into this when she uses the words “right” and”free and “equal.”   

…we all have a “right” to our tastes.  Everybody’s equal.  Everybody’s free.  

To most of us, “freedom” means “being able to act, think, and speak as you like” and “equality” means “having the same status, rights, and opportunities as someone else.”  To most of us, those are good things.  In the Bible these are considered good things, so long as you are considerate of others and don’t act like a jerk.  In fact, Jesus said He came to make everyone equal and free.  

So here, Elliot is contrasting the post-sexual revolution world with her claim that sexual activity outside marriage (and with people of the same sex) is a sin. People who engage in this culture of wanton sexuality are therefore sinning. Sinning is the opposite of freedom: in fact, it’s bondage.  Jesus says so right here.  

So all those people out there, they might use the word freedom, but it’s not actual freedom they’re talking about.  What you’ve been told is equality is not actually equality.  And what they say is a right is not actually a right.  

This is disingenuous and it misrepresents feminism: our changing sexual and relationship mores are about more than “sleeping with whoever, wherever.”  It is also about equal (!) pay for equal (!!) work, the freedom (yes, freedom) to control one’s own finances, the desire for equal (!!!) treatment under the law, the freedom (there it is again!) to be a wife, mother, career professional, or none of the above. 

Moreover, most people understand that restraint is healthy, and most people understand that sex matters very much, which is why we talk about it all the time.  Most people understand that although you may have the freedom to do something, choosing to do so can have repercussions.  Most people do not live in a fantasyland where actions never have consequences.  Most people do not advocate doing whatever you want, whenever you want it.  That’s called sociopathy, not freedom.  

So it seems that Elliot has a bit of a vocabulary problem.  She’s defined “free” and “equal” in Christianese: that is, she’s working with a definition that’s particular to the subculture rather than giving her opponents (if that’s the right word) the benefit of the doubt that they, too, know what words mean.  She contrasts the Christianese definition with the “non-Christian” definition, which is a strawman.  

Her implication is that non-Christians are wrong because the sexual revolution has resulted not in true freedom and equality, but bondage and confusion. (I’ll give her some credit: it’s true that we can’t stop wringing our hands about the hook-up culture.)  She believes, I assume, that true freedom and equality can only come in and through Christ.*

Besides misrepresenting the goals of the feminist movement, this is beginning to sound awfully condescending: you might think this is freedom, but you don’t really know freedom when you see it.  Good thing I am here to tell you!

“But Christians do have different definitions of things!  Isn’t that the whole point?  Aren’t we to be in the world and not of it?”  Jesus was all about turning things upside down: the first shall be last and the last shall be first, etc.  But does that mean that every worldly definition is corrupt, every worldly value is sinful?  Obviously not, because that’s just silly.  There are plenty of “worldly” values that are also Christian values: patience, kindness, self-control, generosity, hospitality.  Christians use the same words as everyone else, and words mean things.

This is also puzzling because we know that Elliot is a complementarian: that is, she believes that in a relationship, the man should lead and the woman should submit.  Put another way, she believes that traditional gender roles are God-ordained:  

“I, being made in the image of God – a believer, a woman, and a wife, having equal worth in God’s sight and equal access to the Lord as my husband – choose not to grasp after a position of equal leadership with my husband which is not my God-given place. Rather, I choose by God’s grace to make myself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant which was the attitude of Jesus – desiring with all my heart to be humble like Him. I choose to be obedient to God’s command to submit to my husband and die to myself.” (From Secure in the Everlasting Arms)

We should be thankful that we have a subordinate position, because the buck stops with the men, not with you and me. All we have to do is submit and obey. (From an interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.)  

Now, there are many, many conversations going on around the internets trying to get to the bottom of the complementarian-egalitarian debate, so some may disagree with me when I say that what she’s advocating here is not equality. She might call it equality.  It might look an awful lot like equality.  But it is not equality.  

In high school once, a Bible teacher was explaining to us what male headship meant in practical terms.  It means, he said, that as the husband and father, I get 51% of the vote.  It’s a perfectly legitimate way to delegate family authority, but no matter how much you insist they are, women are not equals if they do not get an equal vote.

Elliot, then, is doing the same thing that she accuses the broader culture of doing: taking a word that means something and re-defining it to mean something else.  She says that the culture defines equality as “anyone can have whatever sex they want whenever they want it.”  Elliot herself defines it equality as, “equal in importance because of Christ, but some people are actually subordinate .”

If you’re the person aching for representation, the person fighting for opportunity, if you’ve gotten the short end of the stick simply because of your race or gender, if you’re on the wrong side of the double standard, I’ll bet that neither of those things is what you mean when you say you want equality.

*What she thinks “freedom in Christ” means vis-a-vis human sexuality, would be interesting.  Maybe later in the book?

One thought on “Passion and Purity: “Freedom” and “Equality”

  1. Pingback: Passion and Purity: Boredom in All of Life | Evangelical Expat

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