Monday, August 29, 2011

My guest post at Jana Riess's Flunking Sainthood!

Check out my guest post at Jana Riess’s Flunking Sainthood!

"Can Mormonism Make a Place for Same-Sex Marriage? Guest Blogger Brad Carmack Says Yes"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creation: the cooking, clothing, and crops of Eden

The Creation Myth.  Adam and Eve in the garden- there is no death, and Adam and Eve are naked.  Then, the First Family introduces sin.  In comes the Atoning One.  Foreshadowing his own sacrificial death, Jesus introduces death into the world, slaying animals to make coats of skins for Adam and Eve.  Never before had the Garden of Eden (or indeed the earth) seen death.  Sacrificial death makes possible the skin that covers sin, that covered Adam and Eve's nakedness- only it would be the Sacrificial Lamb, not the the sacrificial Eden animal, who would cover mankind spiritually.  As the skin of the animal Jehovah slew covered Adam and Eve physically after they discovered their nakedness, so Christ's "skin," made possible by his death, covers Adam and Eve's posterity after we discover our sin. 

The Creation Myth is rich with symbolic reference to much of what makes our species remarkably unique. What are some of these "hallmarks of human evolution" that make us unique?  May I suggest:

- Clothes.  Other creatures create "clothes" by eating: we are about the only species to do so without ingestion.
- Cooking. Heribert Watzke presented a compelling case that humans are the one species that evolved to cook their food.  He proposes, as have others, that we be categorized as coctivores (eat what is cooked) rather than omnivores (eats both plant and animal tissue).  Our teeth aren't strong/sharp enough to eat raw meat (not to mention our guts), and our molars aren't strong and broad enough for large quantities of rough plant matter.  Our weak-sauce guts and dentition needs mushy food- and cooking is what has enabled Homo sapiens (and related hominids) to move beyond fruit-filled jungles to get it. 
- Writing.  Though I'm a little fuzzy on the timing of Homo sapien speciation (e.g. some symbols were used by hominins before sapiens, but full-blown writing succeeded their emergence?), I bet that complex language and written communication are associated with our species's radiation. 
- Agriculture.  With the exception of ants and some other established gardening species, the breadth and reliance of humans on agriculture is a fourth hallmark.

Connections to the Creation Myth:
- Clothes: Adam and Eve had a coat of skins to start them out when they parted company with the Garden.  Adam and Eve were naked previously.
- Cooking: You can't convert seed grains into bread without cooking.  Presumably Adam and Eve subsisted on fruit before leaving the Garden.
- Writing: Adam and Eve had a Book of Remembrance.  There is no evidence of their writing before leaving, (though there was language).
- Agriculture: The First Family tilled the earth and ate bread by the sweat of their brows.  There's no evidence of crops before their exodus.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gender Roles

Males receive the priesthood.  Women do not.  Males go to Young Men, and females to Young Women.  Priesthood and Relief Society are sex-separate.  But why?

As I noted in my "Why Mormonism Can Abide Gay Marriage" presentation last week, the existence of intersex and transgendered persons casts doubt upon the utility and validity of both our theological beliefs about sex, and our cultural practices that rely on categorizing every individual as either male or female.  The session chair asked after my presentation about the broader impact of my analysis, including how my conclusion as to the inscrutability of spiritual sex applies to LDS beliefs about priesthood.  I had to admit that most beliefs and practices that rely on spiritual maleness vs. femaleness are indeed suspect.  Now, I'm a Mormon feminist on other grounds already.  However, the tension some perceive between feminism and transgender theory butts right up against both societal (even our restrooms demonstrate a fiercely gendered world) and church beliefs and practices on its own merits.  To illustrate:

Think about the Young Women values.

"Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue."

Now, think about the Scout Law.

"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

Is there any reason why even one of these attributes should be sex-specific?  What if we reversed the gender?  Young Men values: "Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue." Or, "A Young Woman is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."  The principles that make a person more Godlike know no sex, and are heedless of gender.  If they were not, we would demand a separate set of scriptures for women, who have no template for theosis since the scriptures teach of a male God using male protagonists, male role models, and male attributes.  Why, then, do we as Mormons affix so much import to these categories?  

US law has almost entirely eliminated any support of traditional gender roles (e.g. women can vote and own property now).  US society largely has as well (e.g. in employment and education).  I for one find these shifts to be positive, since the similarities between men and women eclipse differences.  Indeed, along any dimension of difference between male and female, one will find exceptional cases (picture two overlapping bell curves).  Genitals: some have a partial penis/partial clitoris (or no such structure).  Words spoken per day: some men use far more words than some women.  Gushy emotions: some women are more stoic than some men.

It makes sense for a fertile individual with ovaries and a uterus to take a birth control pill.  It doesn't make much sense for an individual with testicles and no uterus to take a birth control pill designed for a fertile person with a female-type reproductive system.  Outside these kinds of distinctions, however, there are precious few gender roles that withstand scrutiny.  Until we come to the point that we can discern between a male and a female either spiritually or physically, I question the rationality and utility of applying a sex-based theology (and that includes the sexist theology and practice extant in mainstream Mormonism).

Adam and Eve:

I've never bought the whole man/female disparity Eve-based justification.  Sure, it might make sense for a just God to have Eve look to Adam since she was the first to transgress, and because she influenced Adam to partake.  However, it is senseless to maintain that inequality in subsequent male-female partnerships, because Adam's daughter's and Eve's sons (I raised my eyebrows at phrases like "daughters of Eve."  Daughters are no more the child of the mother than they are of the father) are not complicit in the acts of their parents.  If my father wronged my mother before I was born, that act should have absolutely zero bearing on the equality of my relationship with my spouse. 

Gender perception:
I remember conversing with a person who was physically male but had a sex change and is now physically female.  I intentionally and vigorously tried to forge a perception category of "person" that had no gender element, but COULD NOT DO IT.  My efforts ran up against a quarter century of perceiving boys and girls, having never once "seen" a gender-irrelevant individual.  Though I'm not there yet, I hope to someday be able to "see" an individual, rather than a male or female. 

Reference: The Social Roles of Men and Women

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