I recently came across a fascinating piece of propaganda called “Men as Providers.”
It was an article published on the Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW)’s blog several years back. Their stated mission is to “set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women.”
So far so good.
But as I delved into the article I realized that the advice given, as noble as it sounded, was precisely the line of thinking that almost shipwrecked my marriage a few years back.
Since this rhetoric is so pervasive in conservative church culture, I thought it’d be worth a quick analysis here.
The article opens with the claim “Christian men are called to provide for their families.”
Hard to disagree with that.
Then 1 Timothy 5:8 is used as authoritative backing of that claim:
“But if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
There are two red flags here.
One is that shameful rhetoric is entirely unnecessary. You should always be suspicious of an argument that opens with shame.
Shame is a fear trigger. Being shamed means you are rejected by the group. And when your mind is in a state of fear, it cannot think rationally. And the elimination of rational thought is the necessary condition for making people receptive to false ideas.
Shaming can be used for good, of course. That’s what Paul does. But that brings us to the second red flag:
The author is using Paul’s words in an entirely different context!
If you look up Paul’s argument in context, it goes something like this:
Do not scold your elders.
Honor (true) widows:
- A widow’s children or grandchildren should learn to reciprocate love by providing for their own mother/grandmother (i.e. the church should not intervene)
- A true widow is a woman who has no family to provide for her
- A woman who squanders her resources is as good as dead
- A man who refuses to provide for his own [widowed relatives], and especially his family [mother, grandmother] is worse than an unbeliever.
Qualifications for a true widow:
- Not under 60 years old
- Remained married to her husband
- Known for good works
So we see that the point of Paul’s rhetoric was to shame men who refused to provide for their poor old mothers.
But this context is not even hinted at in the article. Instead, the rhetoric is re-purposed for something entirely different:
One of the most God-glorifying pictures of the gospel is when a man puts his childhood dreams to the side, steps up to the plate, gets a job, and valiantly cares for his family.
Now we see the true intention of this article: to motivate men to give up on their dreams and settle for a job that is less desirable to them.
The author says that “this is a man dying to self and living for another.”
Finally, the author concludes with this:
Our hearts break when we see a man who selfishly refuses a job because it does not align with his dreams while his wife and kids suffer. We are not alone in condemning this man. Scripture condemns him too. He is worse than an unbeliever.
By “suffering”, I’m assuming the author means having a smaller kitchen than her friends, having to shop at a thrift store, and not being able to travel. 21st century life is difficult.
Kill the Dream, Kill the Marriage
The irony of this advice is this is the exact line of reasoning that got my marriage in trouble in the first place.
I married my wife while in college. During my junior year I realized I was wasting my time and wanted to drop out and go into business.
But my wife didn’t want me to because she valued college degrees and the economic security it represented. So I stuck with it and got my degree.
When I graduated college, I had no marketable skills. And these supposed jobs that hire anyone with a college degree didn’t exist.
But I realized one thing about myself: I was an entrepreneur at heart. I knew that, with the right skills and perseverance, I could make money on my own.
But it took longer than expected. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
So my wife begged me to get a regular job with a steady paycheck. So I found a writing job that paid $12/hour.
I absolutely hated that job. The company was dishonest and constantly took on clients that we couldn’t help. I was instructed to lie to get writing opportunities and had to write about topics I had no real-world qualifications to write about.
I wanted to quit the job. But my wife wanted the steady paycheck.
I told myself I was doing the right thing by gritting my teeth and “providing for my family.”
I felt like a trapped and emasculated man. I began to despise both myself and my wife.
I began to vent my frustrations on her. Our sex life dried up. I started making stupid financial decisions out of desperation to escape my hated situation.
It wasn’t until I quit that job and reclaimed pursuing my mission that our marriage got back on track.
Don’t buy into the shameful rhetoric.
A must do what he was created to do.
One of my favorite bloggers to follow is Vox Day.
I follow him not necessarily because I care what he is talking about. I follow him to learn how to analyze anything.
In my reckoning, the most valuable video/post Vox ever produced is called “7 Signs of an Intellectual Charlatan.” The video is well worth watching in its entirety.
Identifying charlatans is a skill that is woefully lacking among the Body of Christ today. And I am indebted to Vox for pointing out the core patterns of charlatanry. In retrospect, it seems obvious. But until it was pointed out to me, I didn’t quite know how to tell whether I was being duped or not.
So with the aim of equipping fellow believers to avoid the craftiness of false teachers, I’d like to share some observations on how Vox’s Charlatan framework applies specifically to deception in the church.
The 7 Signs of a Religious Charlatan
1. Uses imprecise biblical terms – Under the teaching of a charlatan, the Scripture loses it’s precision. For example, “sexual immorality” is made out to be anything from seeing a nude woman, touching yourself, or “pressuring” your wife to have sex. This gives religious authorities great leverage for guilt manipulation over men. But a quick check in a Greek lexicon shows that the word was simply used to describe prostitution and other forms of promiscuous sex.
2. Does not accurately quote the Scriptures – There’s a reason that Satan deceived Eve through the spoken word. It was easier to misquote God while still sounding correct. Always check what the Scripture in question actually says before believing a teacher. You’d be surprised how often it’s blatantly misquoted.
3. Uses theological jargon to answer simple questions – there are many things in the Bible that appear to contradict church doctrine. For example, the Bible teaches that God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), yet church doctrine teaches that, at least so far, most people have gone to hell. So a simple question is, does this mean God is not able to bring about what he desires? An honest person will admit he doesn’t know yet or will have a straight answer. A charlatan will provide a long-winded theological explanation that leaves you scratching your head.
4. Uses systematic theology and catechisms to justify his answers – Religious Charlatans utilize the coherence theory of truth (do the ideas logically fit together?) rather than the correspondence theory of truth (does the idea accurately describe what I can observe?). Systematic theologies and catechisms are the most effective way to make blatant errors acceptable. The Apostle Paul warns us that immature believers are “being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception.” (Eph 4:14, Concordant Literal Version)
5. Quotes Bible teachers and theologians rather than the Scriptures – There’s nothing wrong with quoting other teachers to reinforce a biblical truth. But it should be an immediate red flag if the opinion of a famous teacher or theologian is used as the basis for an argument. Powerful rhetoric does not equal biblical truth.
6. Ignores the context – There is a world of difference between quoting what the Bible says and understanding what it means in context. Just because the Bible says something that can support an argument doesn’t mean that’s what the author meant or that what was said is even relevant to us. As Paul instructed Timothy: “Endeavor to present yourself to God qualified, an unashamed worker, correctly cutting the word of truth.” It’s the correct “cutting” of the word that matters. God does not give bonus points for creative uses of His Word.
7. Talks about the value of “theological training” instead of knowing the Scriptures – “Theological training” is code word for indoctrination. The more a mind can be trained to follow the pleasant grooves of a perfectly coherent system, the less he will question the underlying assumptions of the system. And the longer he is trained, the more he believes he is correct and the more passionately he will defend his inherited doctrines when they are criticized. Thus is error propagated into the church.
If you wish to build your own religious empire, the formula for success can be found right in the Bible:
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 3:6-7)
The key to religious power is guilt manipulation. The formula is simple:
Perpetual Guilt + Long Education Program = Captive Convert
If you run out of actual sins, you can invent your own! There’s no limit to the amount of guilt that can be manufactured if you only apply your imagination.
Women are particularly susceptible to guilt manipulation and will enthusiastically join any program with a vague promise to help them find relief.
Now, as for the men, they are a bit more difficult…
You see, men have this obnoxious thing called “testosterone” and it makes them quite difficult to control.
Men, in their natural state, do not want to stay still. They will not submit easily to authority. Rather than accepting their external circumstances, they will bend reality to their will. There is virtually no limit to what a man can accomplish through sheer willpower. To make matters worse, men have an innate ability to set aside their differences and join forces when they are threatened or wish to accomplish a task.
The male naturally judges others in terms of their utility to his mission. The male has no problem severing connections with anything or anyone that hinders his pursuit. He is not susceptible to guilt manipulation like the woman. He evaluates everything in terms of his mission. He will even shun loved ones if necessary.
Hopefully you can see how this is problematic.
But, in recent times, our Social Experimentation team has discovered a way to control men. It was found that if young boys are educated in the same manner as girls, they will grow up to be, as far as our purpose is concerned, functionally like women. Namely, you can condition a young boy to think of his “maleness” as “toxic” by punishing early expressions of his male instincts.
The fruit of this operant conditioning will be in full effect by time the boy reaches young adulthood. You now have a relatively docile male who is burdened with guilt over his male instincts. The doctrine of “lust” is particularly effective towards controlling the male as he has already been trained to feel guilty over “objectifying women.”
It’s best that the male does not learn to study the Scriptures on his own, for then he would discover our sleight-of-hand maneuvers that were necessary to formulate our doctrines. Best to lead him to believe that he is “unqualified” to handle the Scriptures and that it is “dangerous” to reach conclusions on his own without the aid of an “expert.”. This is relatively easy to do as the young man’s self-confidence is all but non-existent as a result of his earlier education. He has been trained to study, memorize, and restate answers that have been taught to him rather than to think for himself.
Nevertheless the man still retains some remnants of his instincts. He does not wish to be blatantly controlled so it is best to loosen his leash a little. Let him feel like he is being a “spiritual leader” to his family. We provide a wide range of programs for that, including:
- Sunday morning sermons
- Wednesday night Bible studies
- New member classes
- Radio programs
- Bible colleges
- Daily Bible reading plans
- Bible seminaries
- Sunday night sermons
- Daily devotions
- Bible conferences
- Training programs
- Bible Institutes
It is ideal that the male join or follow these programs at the request of his wife. By this time, he is already persuaded he is guilty of objectifying women, so appeasing his wife’s requests by stepping up to be a “spiritual leader” is an excellent way to help him feel a brief sense of relief from his guilt.
Furthermore, men also have an instinct to provide for and protect their offspring. So we offer a variety of programs to satisfy that need as well:
- Sunday School
- Children’s churches
- Summer Bible camps
- Christian schools
- Vacation Bible School
Don’t get too hung up on the format of the learning. That’s not what matters. The program will be effective so long as it meets two criteria:
- Provides the illusion of progress while remaining ambiguous enough to leave the student confused
- Engages enough of the student’s time and energy so he is sufficiently distracted from examining the Scriptures
With a group of guilt-ridden men and women, you’d be pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to control. So long as you never fully relieve the student of his or her guilt, they will always assume the problem is with themselves rather than the system.
It’s elegant self-reinforcing system: the guilt prompts them to join a program and the resulting confusion from the teaching causes them to feel more inadequate, prompting them to seek out more programs to remedy the problem.
Isn’t religion great? There’s no other industry like it.
On a serious note, if you find that you’ve been learning about the Bible for years and still get confused when you read it, you are NOT the problem. You’re operating in the wrong system.
Here’s one clue that has shed a lot of light on the Scriptures for me recently:
Start with 2 Timothy. This is the most logical place to start.
Think of it like visiting a blog.
When you visit a blog, you skim some of the articles to get an idea what it’s about. Then you check the “About” page.
On this particular “About page” you learn that the author is Paul, a messenger of good news to the Gentiles.
“Perfect!” you think to yourself. “I’m a Gentile. And I could use some good news right now.”
So you’re ready to start reading. Where do you start?
The most recent post, of course! The one on the top. That’s the one with the most relative and up-to-date information.
This most recent post is titled, “All of Asia Has Abandoned Me…”
Uh-oh. Something just went wrong. What’s going on?
Let’s start reading and find out…
(If you want a good commentary on 2 Timothy to aid your study, I recommend “The Church in Ruins” by Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr. I think he occasionally reads too much into the text, but he provides a lot of solid observations. Plus, it’s a short read.)
Call me a heretic if you will, but I think any Christian would do well do adopt the mindset of A.E. Knoch:
The adherents of creeds and confessions are satisfied that they have “the truth” and that all else is false. They exalt human deductions from the Bible above the Scriptures themselves and denounce all who do not bow down to their dictum. Oh, that the saints would awaken to the deceptive nature of the present day delusion!
Let us rid ourselves of the idea that we are pure, that we have no error, and that we can apostatize only by departing from our present position. Almost all of the saints are stupefied by this fond delusion. It takes no reasoning power at all to show that the conflicting camps in Christendom cannot all be right.
Let us rather take every doctrine and subject it to the rigid scrutiny of the inspired text. Let us hold it subject to such modifications as the further study of the Scriptures may impose. In other words, let us hold to God’s Word and not cling to creeds.
We are well aware that our refusal to subscribe to man-made statements of doctrine may be made the basis of serious charges against us. Nevertheless, we wish to repeat that we absolutely refuse to sign any unscriptural or extra-scriptural creed or doctrine – even if we believe it. A statement which cannot be expressed in the words of divine inspiration is inspired by the enemy of truth, and has no claim on the man of God.
Creeds which conform to the truth of the Scriptures are useless; those which do not are dangerous. If we believe a truth of Scripture, let us express it in the language of Scripture. It is almost invariably the case that any change from the inspired form of sound words indicates a deviation from the full and perfect truth itself.
We desire to believe all that God has spoken, and to reject all that man has imported into it.
Unsearchable Riches, Volume 13 (1922)
Quoted from the Bible Student’s Notebook.
It’s no secret that most people (Christians) are stressed, anxious, and generally not enjoying life.
I think I’ve identified the root cause. It’s something I call the “Modern Life” vs. the “Abundant Life.”
The Modern Life Flow goes something like this:
- Sacrifice time and energy to acquire (and manage) money and possessions
- Invest minimal to no time or money learning new skills
- Use “to do” lists to direct one’s life
- Feel perpetually behind, tired and unable to handle any more “blessing”
I like to contrast that with what I call the Abundant Life Flow:
- Use time and money to learn new skills and create energy (i.e. rest, nourishment, strong body, mindset, vision & purpose, fellowship, gratitude)
- Use excess energy to labor for (just enough) money to replenish immediate needs
- Use new skills and knowledge to create systems and find investments that make money for you
- Create life and shine your light in the world
It doesn’t matter so much what you do or how far advanced you are in the “program”. What matters is what comes first. Most people put “mammon” first. Few people put life first. They are contradicting priorities.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
I don’t know how much truth is behind this recent sensational headline found on the Drudge Report, but it fits the larger pattern:
Priests found in bed together in Rome face being expelled…
I’m astonished that we still allow such perverts to authoritatively teach us what constitutes “good” sexual expression.
And it’s not just gay priests that are the problem. Every time I’ve encountered the sexual teachings of a teacher the church venerates as a “man of God” I’ve been disappointed to say the least. Here are just a couple examples (emphasis mine):
For intercourse of marriage for the sake of begetting has not fault; but for the satisfying of lust, but yet with husband or wife, by reason of the faith of the bed, it has venial fault: but adultery or fornication has deadly fault, and, through this, continence from all intercourse is indeed better even than the intercourse of marriage itself, which takes place for the sake of begetting.
But because that Continence is of larger desert, but to pay the due of marriage is no crime, but to demand it beyond the necessity of begetting is a venial fault, but to commit fornication or adultery is a crime to be punished…
At no point is a man’s depravity more manifest than in the procreative act. We know man is a sinner by what he says. We know man is a sinner by what he does… We can see on the outside sinful deeds. But how do we know man is a sinner at the base of his character? How do we know man is a sinner at the root of his existence? The answer: by what he creates. Whatever comes from the loins of man is wicked because man is wicked.
Nowhere then, in the anatomy of a man, or in the activity of a man, is depravity more manifest than in the procreative act. Because it is precisely at that point which he demonstrates the depth of his sinfulness because he produces a sinner…
I would remind you that Jesus Christ had no human father. Because there was no human father who could produce a perfect person. The Spirit of God had to plant a perfect seed in Mary and bypass a human father. The male organ, then, is the point at which human depravity is most demonstrated. You see, not the deeds of sin, but the nature of sin passed on to the next generation.
Why we continue to tolerate such sexually retarded teachings in the church is beyond me.
Something seems fishy about the language and examples chosen for this recent Gospel Coalition piece called “A Hidden Epidemic God Hates.”
“A hidden epidemic” sounds eerily similar to the opening rhetoric of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique:
The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women.
Now let’s see what the Gospel Coalition is up to…
TGC: Tom micromanages his wife Sarah’s physical appearance to fit his personal tastes. He picks out her clothes, tells her how she can do her hair, and restricts her diet so she remains thin.
God: So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
TGC: Miranda is an overprotective mother. She homeschools her 17-year-old daughter, Kate, to prevent her from being exposed to rebellious teenagers. She won’t allow her to play sports, attend dances, or get her driver’s license.
God: He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
TGC: Bill forces his wife Angie to have sex against her will. He’s rough in bed and occasionally strikes her when they’re being intimate.
God: Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.
(I wouldn’t be surprised if many female readers suddenly started fantasizing about “Bill” after reading the article. That’s about as erotic as Christian writing gets for a woman.)
Evil rhetoric always starts by emphasizing the restriction and omitting the blessing. Rather than liberating people from their burdens, it manufactures burdens from thin air by re-framing the situation.
If it acts like a snake and talks like a snake…
- Empathize with the pain
- Show the consequences of the present path
- Show the bliss of the path of wisdom
- Provide sensible boundaries to protect the bliss
- Re-frame struggles into triumphs
- Draw attention to a restriction (manufacture pain)
- Deny the consequences of breaking the restriction
- Highlight the desirability of transgression
- Add restrictions and expand the definition of sin
- Preach the consequences of transgression
- Exhort people to try harder to do good
- Act shocked and appalled when the younger generation leaves the church and turns to evil
- Adapt the new evil into the church to be more “relevant”
Some more subtle anti-male rhetoric from Desiring God:
Most Christian guys nowadays have been so emasculated, I doubt they even possess the seduction skills or the sexual attractiveness required to even tempt an affair. But aside from that, DG gets this message wrong on two counts.
First, an “affair” is a cultural sin, not a biblical sin. The biblical sin is adultery, which occurs when one man has sex with another man’s wife. It’s a sin against the man that is analogous to property theft. An “affair”, on the other hand, is a sin against the woman. Same event, different meanings.
Secondly, men do not have affairs because they are searching for “true love.” They have affairs because they’re not getting any action at home and come across an opportunity to sleep with a younger, hotter woman.
I give Desiring God credit for waking me up to some important spiritual truths during my college years. But they have since proven themselves to be incapable of providing truthful commentary on either the Bible or sexuality. I suspect they have been converged by the Enemy. Some of the readers are noticing:
Ambiguity is the devil’s best friend.
The author at GodRules.net illustrates the heavy burden placed on Christians when precise teaching and thinking is replaced with “spiritual” ambiguity:
The Conservative Church has taken terms like “fornication” and “adultery” and made them mean everything. Everything is fornication. Seeing a nude woman is fornication. Even touching yourself is adultery. Do you see the error? Further, they neglect the precision of scripture and altogether cut out the offenses of idolatry that are connected to adultery, fornication and many of the sins mentioned in scripture…
This is not something that can be easily dismissed. It is almost like some Christians want to take the precision out of scripture. To take the power out of scripture as well. To Gnosticize the Bible into a war between your physical desire and your spirit. When, in reality, they have minimized the sins of the spirit.
This is why I’m skeptical of confessions and catechisms. They make no sense to me and lack the precision found in Scripture. The “conspiracy theorist” part of me suspects they are nothing more than an excuse to browbeat men into submission by expanding the definition of what it means to be a sinner.
I know many people use them with good intentions, and I can see the appeal of having a summary of the Scripture. But I tend to agree with Mark Twain’s assessment:
[Most Christians are] credulous people who venerate the Bible but do not examine it carefully, preferring to rely on what preachers or biblical commentators want them to believe… [M]ost Christians want little more than reinforcement for their sectarian indoctrination.
Tragically, Christians do this at the expense of both church unity and personal freedom. Living in a perpetual state of ambiguous guilt is a heavy burden to bear.