Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Christian stereotypes

As we all know, atheists often get criticized and stereotyped as angry and militant.  This precipitates some fairly complex back-and-forth among atheists as to the value of anger.

Christians often get criticized and stereotyped as sex-negative.  What does that lead to?

According to Coyote,
I’ve seen a lot of Christians overemphasizing the greatness of sex as a way to distance themselves from the prudish stereotype, clearly nursing a wound without realizing how it got there.


When Christians talk about sex — not about sexual purity or sexual immorality, but about sex itself — many of them talk as if to desperately reassure themselves and everyone listening that sex is not always sinful, which usually (always) ends up with them glorifying and sanctifying it and calling it a “gift from God” [...]
This narrative was also supported by a church e-mail project, wherein Coyote e-mailed a bunch of churches to ask how they felt about asexuality, celibacy, and nonsexual marriages.

I don't know what I can say about this, since it was not my personal experience.  Though I was Catholic, I was mostly brought up with a secular sense of morality.  I was not particularly aware of sex-negative stereotypes of Catholicism.

But I think this is important, from an atheist perspective.  When we criticize religion, we hope to change society for the better.  But we don't spend much time observing how Christians really react to our criticisms.  We watch people how leave Christianity, and we listen to Christian rebuttals, but we don't pay attention to how it affects Christian cultures.

To me, it feels slightly uncomfortable to know that by criticizing Christianity, we are generating or contributing to stereotypes.  I am used to opposing stereotypes.

On the other hand, it's not as if our criticisms of Christianity are insincere or invalid.  Many varieties of Christianity have truly hurt people by making them feel ashamed of their sexual behavior.  While Coyote interacted with churches which proclaimed the glory of sex, the same churches often only approved of cisgender heterosexual vanilla marital sex.  These critiques may cause discomfort to Christians, but that is in the nature of social criticism!  It is impossible to effect social change without making some people feel uncomfortable.  It is impossible to effect social change without anger, without mockery, without disruption.

Likewise, when people criticize atheists for being too angry or arrogant, they are also being sincere.  I do not think people are wrong to criticize just because their criticisms generate atheist stereotypes.  I think people are wrong to criticize because the substance of those critiques is lacking.

Nonetheless, it would be helpful if atheist critiques were more responsive to actual Christian views on sex.

It's worth noting that "sex-positive" is sort of like "pro-life", in that there is no one who is "anti-life" and no one who is "sex-negative" (not including feminist reclamations of the term).  "Sex-negative" is a pejorative term used by sex-positive people for positions they disagree with.  People who we call sex-negative do not actually think sex is negative.

One possible view is that Christians think sex is too special.  Having sex with just anyone subtracts from its specialness.  It's so special, it must be a gift from God.  And since it's a gift from God, that implies that it must be exercised in ways that are to God's liking.  And any sexual diversity must be an aberration, because why would God give different gifts to different people, or in some cases give no gifts at all? 

1 comment:

miller said...

Response from Coyote: