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Against the Test Drive Approach to Spousal Love

Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth, wrote about why everyone should have premarital sex on Feministing yesterday.

Let’s face it – if you’re going to commit yourself to someone for (presumably) the rest of your life, it’s probably best if you know that you’re sexually compatible. I don’t think this is particularly radical thing to say; in fact, it seems quite logical to me. But somehow, if you suggest that pre-marital sex is a good and maybe even necessary thing (especially if you say those things while being a feminist) you are an evil, evil whoremaker.

Do I think that people can have perfectly wonderful satisfying relationships without having had sex before making a commitment? Sure, I’m positive that happens often. But considering what a huge role sexuality plays in our lives and relationships…well, I’d rather be super duper positive.

What a tragically narrow vision of sexuality! Sexuality is reduced to an action. It’s not just Valenti. Films become rated R: “contains sexuality.” The example that will always stick out in my mind is Nick Carter asking in Backstreet’s Back, “am I sexual?” (Yes, Nick, you are a sexual being.) As wonderful as sex (the act) is, sex (-uality) is so much more than that. It’s especially ironic considering Valenti is trying to reclaim a more nuanced vision of sexuality from “the virgin/whore binary,” yet her nuanced vision remains so narrow. Sexuality isn’t just having sex. It’s about being created male and female, about our entire being, not just our genitals.

More importantly, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the “test-drive” approach to love. Yes, of course you want to get to know your partner before you make a longterm commitment, but suggesting that means you ought to take their body for a test drive is a bad, bad way to approach that commitment.

It sets up the spousal model all wrong.

I’ve come to refer to this as the “pleasure and duty” ethic. If people consent mutually to the use of their bodies for pleasure, what’s the problem? Look at the model: Pleasure is the end goal, and consenting to the “use” of your body parts is the means of attaining it. Fluffy feelings of bonding might be a nice side-effect. Orgasm is the intent. The other person becomes a means of achieving your orgasm, and you become a means of theirs. This is objectification by definition, even if it’s mutual and consenting. On top that, pleasure is the metric of success. That is, a successful sex act is one that brings about pleasure. The act of sex becomes, at least in part, an economic transaction where you trade access to your body in exchange for pleasure. And that’s not always going to be a fair trade — and you may evaluate the quality and the fairness of the deal. After all, we test drive cars. And we also sell and replace them when they no longer serve their purpose.

I have a crazy idea: What if the goal of sex is self-giving rather than pleasure? What if the idea was to come into ultimate union with another human being, and the means of attaining that was complete and total self-giving and affirmation of the other as other? I have a feeling that the pleasure factors in as a side-effect, without “driving” the entire experience.

I don’t feel the need to take my future spouse for a test drive. I’m not marrying a car.

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Electronic Arts Stages Protest of Dante’s Inferno at E3

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

At the E3 Expo a few weeks ago, Electronic Arts showcased an upcoming game, Dante’s Inferno, to awkward protests from a group of concerned Christians going under the name, “Salvationists Against Virtual and Eternal Damnation.” They had signs like “Trade in your PlayStation for a PrayStation,” “Cheat codes won’t save your soul,” and “Hell is not a game,” as well as a 1996-esque website complete with animated GIFs and multi-colored all-caps text. The protest was covered by the LA Times, the San Jose Mercury News and many gaming blogs. That sort of controversy might make the game more appealing to some… except, EA admitted that the protest was entirely staged by the viral marketing firm that they hired (though, it didn’t fool everyone).

As the popular gaming blog Joystiq puts it, there’s got to be a better way to promote the game. A faux controversy might seem like a clever idea, until people realize it’s just a publicity stunt. Plus, it doesn’t seem very smart to alienate Christians when you could be selling them the game instead (as Thomas Peters from AmericanPapist.com writes, “getting to play Dante as he slashes his way through hell? It sure beats Tetris.”). Electronic Arts recently landed in some hot water for another clever viral marketing idea, which involved shipping brass knuckles with the Godfather II press kit, despite mere possession being a first-degree misdemeanor in some states to which they were shipped. They get points for creativity, but they might want to think twice before acting on some of these ideas…

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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Life — Imagine the Potential

This post originally appeared on the UofT Students for Life blog.

I’m not usually a fan of any pro-life arguments that focus on potentiality, because it tends to obscure the fact that from the moment of conception we’re dealing with actual life (and just potential growth)… but that caveat aside, this new ad from CatholicVote.org is amazing (via AmP):

This is the second ad they’ve produced (here’s the first). Can’t wait to see what else they come up with.

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Engaged

The chamber strings pops concert was an amazing success. During my set, I played a new song I wrote for Heather as a surprise and proposed to her during the bridge.

This…
HHCS Pops Concert Blaise

plus this…
The Ring

equals engaged:
Engaged

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Vatican Considering New Media Document

The Vatican is considering preparing a document on new media and how the Church’s communications strategy is affected (via @popebenedictxvi). In a seminar sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, bishops from 82 countries me to discuss “modern media and the new culture of communications that has arisen in recent years.”

The Church has been keen on embracing new communications technologies, grounded especially in “the Second Vatican Council’s 1963 decree “Inter Mirifica” on the instruments of social communications and on the pontifical council’s 1991 pastoral instruction, “Aetatis Novae” (“At the Dawn of a New Era”).” Just a few months ago, the Vatican launched a YouTube channel and last July in Sydney, the Pope was sending updates to pilgrims at World Youth Day via SMS. Last September, he sent a message to Catholics through the Xt3 social networking website launched at World Youth Day. Past documents from the Vatican, such as “Ethics in Internet,” have not only provided guidelines and encouragement, but have illuminated surprising sympathies with free software. Sister Judith Zoebelein, who runs the Vatican website, has given talks at tech conferences in the past.

That said, the Vatican’s website design could use a “refresh”, and — more importantly — it still hasn’t figured out many meaningful ways to enable the kind of two-way communication that the Internet enables.

But it appears that many bishops understand this.

“The church today cannot only give information — which is certainly useful, but we cannot limit ourselves to that,” Archbishop Celli said.

“I think the church needs to enter into a dialogue that is increasingly rich and proactive, a dialogue of life with people who are seeking, who are distant and who would like to find a message that is closer and more suitable to their path,” he said.

For that reason, he said, his council has been pushing bishops around the world not only to have their own Web sites, but also to make sure these sites are interactive.

Unfortunately, the Vatican doesn’t think it can do this itself.

Unfortunately, Archbishop Celli added, it’s been impractical for the Vatican to make its own Web presence interactive because it would be flooded by questions and comments from all over the world. It’s something more easily done on the local level, he said.

I agree that this should be encouraged on a local level, and there are some great examples of Catholics converging on various social networking sites (e.g. TweetCatholic) and creating their own (e.g. Xt3 and flockNote) as well, but I think there’s a different kind of interaction the Vatican could enable. I don’t doubt that the the YouTube channel would be overrun if they enabled comments, but there are still lots of other ways to experiment. For example, in October, someone suggested to Pope Benedict that he start a blog. Again, comments might be pretty unsustainable, but even if communication with the Vatican is tough using social media, there must be ways to experiment with enabling communication among Catholics on a global level. Though I can appreciate the challenges of scale, language, staff, etc…

Encouraging is great, but I hope they don’t shy away from experimenting more themselves.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ communications committee, did indicate that it’s important for the Vatican to have a presence where young people are (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc), and with their help.

Archbishop Niederauer said the change in new media was in some ways like the change from the horse to the car a century ago.

“Because 100 years ago, if an old man bought a car, who could fix it? His grandson or his son, because they learned the machinery. They headed straight for it; they didn’t look back,” he said.

In a similar way today, he said, young people have seized on the communications opportunities of new media, and the church should welcome their talents and expertise.

I’m more than happy to help. 🙂

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There’s Probably A God, Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life

The United Church just gained big points in my book for their response to the athiest bus campaign in Toronto. The ads read: “There’s Probably No God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The United Church responded by adding an alternative response and running their own ads as a poll (highlighting the false premise in the original that to believe in God is to be worried and not enjoy life).

Though, the Torontoist coverage is pretty funny, in and of itself:

While the ads have definitely garnered a fair bit of attention, it may not be the kind the Church was hoping for. The latest Wondercafe poll results show the atheist position bringing down the house, with 53 per cent of voters agreeing there’s probably not a God, compared to 47 per cent insisting there probably is a God.

Since when does a 53/47 split constitute “bringing down the house?”

But it doesn’t end there! The Freethought Association provides even more to chuckle about:

“It’s just kind of funny,” says Katie Kish, vice-president of the Freethought Association of Canada, the organization spearheading the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign. “They’ve put this huge ad in the Globe and Mail that links to Wondercafe. Then you go to their discussion and we’re winning, so that gives us more press and more people coming to find us.”

The Atheist Bus Campaign runs ads that generate a ton of talk and debate about God and religion in the public square, in places (like the Torontoist) that aren’t normally talking about God. And they think that getting attention from an ad campaign that’s purpose is to play off there’s is ironic? The efforts of the United Church aren’t to “win” in some poll on their website. It seems to me that the most ironic thing here is that athiests are getting people to talk about God.

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Problems with the New Translations of the Psalms…

I’ll be covering the real problems with the new translations in the new few weeks (hint: copyright) but, in the meantime, Ironic Catholic suggests that they aren’t all bad…

The Lord is King; thou shouldst not ever forget it;
     the Lord is King, and he can kick your ass.
[…]
He is truly smart and knows lots of things;
     that’s how he got to be God.
Mess not with the Lord, neither shall ye piss him off;
     screw around not with him, for his sense of humour has its limits.
Those who fear the Lord are counted as smart persons;
     but those who do not are as dumb as a box of rocks.
[…]
I shall offer such worthy treasures unto thee as long as I shall live,
     and not any mindless, trivial, banal pieces of crap that some would have us consider as valid music.
And if I should fail to keep this promise; thou mayest kick my ass, as referred to in verse one.

Read the whole thing

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If You Care About Fighting Inequality, Say No To Babies

Unless you’re one of those crazies who believes in creationism, guns, families, bibles and babies, you’re going to love this piece (via The Dawn Patrol) over at the Feministing community site by freethinkr (that’s not a typo — “er” is so Web 1.0). Conservatives and the religious right keep going on about “family values,” but… why hasn’t anyone dared to ask the obvious question?

Why family?

More importantly — why reproduce?

That’s right. Freethinkr suggests that we need to say no to reproduction if we really want to combat inequality in society. Freethinkr writes, “my understanding of reproduction is that it is the basis of the institutions of marriage and family, and those two provide the moorings to the structure of gender and sexual oppression.” Get it? We’ve all been busy trying to reinvent marriage and the family to counter oppression, but that’s just treating the symptoms, not the root of the problem — reproduction.

Yes, babies are what’s wrong with society.

Reproduction is really the root of inequality. As freethinkr points out, “families prevent… the flow of money from the rich to the poor: wealth accumulates in a few hands to be squandered on and bequeathed to the next generation, and that makes families as economic units selfishly pursue their own interests and become especially prone to consumerism.” Freethinkr must have aced logic class. This idea may seem radical to some, but ending babies is the only logical response to poverty and inequality. Families are just inherently selfish. We need to get rid of the family, to get rid of reproduction, if we want to truly be free. We’re conditioned by our biased, gendered, patriarchal, immoral upbringing to believe that reproduction is somehow “good”, that it’s a psychological or even a biological need. This is simply false. Freethinkr recommends “emotional conditioning” to counter this supposed need that we’ve been socialized with.

And guess who brought us up to believe that we “need” to reproduce? That’s right — our families.

We need rational thought to win out. Apparently, we need to free-think.

Another feeling came from growing up near the poor: married people become much less charitable when they had their children to ‘take care of’, which means expensive schools, football clubs, game consoles, etc., etc. Because of the social premium on marriage and family, the poor also have children, only their children have no future and can easily be exploited by the economic system. If families are for raising and ‘taking care of’ children, what about the poor and their children? With high incidence of domestic violence, child abuse and ‘juvenile delinquency’, there are little ‘family values’ that the underprivileged can realistically talk of.

Clearly, the poor would be better off without families. Family and, ultimately, the notion of procreation as some sort of good, are two of the most dangerous ideas in society. Family doesn’t solve problems, it causes them. Reproduction breeds inequality.

If the world is going to change, reproduction has to go.

We need to get rid of families.

Not only is the article a must read, but there’s quite a debate in the comments (yes, some people are actually trying to argue against this). Freethinkr’s been ripping into opponents. Take this golden line, for example:

Reproduction has a whole lot of cultural baggage right now and considering that nuclear families *is* how patriarchy replicates itself, we need people to stop glorifying baby-making and see the problems it comes with.

Is it really that hard for people to realize that babies just perpetuate patriarchy? If you want to stop patriarchy, you need to stop babies.

Are you ready to bring about real change? Stand in solidarity with freethinkr — make the commitment to be child-free! If enough people take a pledge, we can bring about real change by making sure we don’t bring about children.

Let’s make inequality history. Say no to patriarchy. Say no to babies!

Because that way we can ensure equality for… er, wait — who’s left to benefit from it? Hmm…

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Pope Benedict XVI Defends World Youth Day

Pope Benedict XVI defends World Youth Day, head on:

Benedict laid out the traditional critique of World Youth Day – one that he knows well a few of his own lieutenants are, at times, inclined to share.

“What, therefore, is the nature of what happens at World Youth Day?” the pope asked rhetorically. “What are the forces which run through it? Fashionable analyses tend to consider these days as a variant of modern youth culture, as a kind of rock festival with the pope as the star. With or without faith, these festivals would be more or less the same thing, and in this way the question of God can be taken off the table. There are also Catholic voices that cut in this direction, seeing the whole thing as a big show, perhaps attractive, but ultimately of little significance for the question of faith and the presence of the Gospel in our time. By that account, these would be moments of joyful ecstasy, but at the end of the day they leave everything as it was before, without influencing one’s life in a deep way.”

Benedict then proceeded to take the critique apart.

He also defends the Christian concern for the environment. [original article]

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Joshua James: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Stumbled upon a great version of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Joshua James.

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