Epidurals and Pains in Childbirth: Why Do Arguments Start and Stop Where They Do?

People often claim that they’re appealing to reason in argumentation, but the way they reason frequently reveals more about them than the truth.

Put another way, an argument often says more about your inward passions, sensibilities, and imaginative world than what’s actually going on in the external world (a.k.a “reality”).

Put yet another way, you think you’re Socrates when you’re actually Don Quixote tilting at contingent windmills. What you take to be your lithe and biting snake of reason is actually a rope of fantasy.

As the Hindus put it, you’ve mistaken a rope for a snake.

So reason, it might be argued, is more akin to poetry than a tool for getting at the truth of matters. It’s a framing gesture; a way of aspect seeing; a way of locating your tribe (those who agree with you). It’s not (usually) a device for actually getting at the objective truth of things–or at least, if it achieves this, it does so by chance or only intermittently.

The physicist Stephen Hawking thinks we’re doing pretty good if we can arrive at what he calls “model dependent realism.” In other words, where our models match what seems to be going on in the world around us, and they work for our purposes, that’s about as close to “the ultimate truth” as we’re ever likely to get.

So reason is a form of play.

In deconstructing a person’s claim to reason, therefore, it’s thought provoking to think about the actual play that is at work; to ask a simple question: Why did this or that person start her argument where she did and stop it where she did?

Let’s use the example of epidural injections into the spine: is it moral for a woman to get these sorts of injections to dodge pain in childbirth?

A liberal might start her reflection on this by eliminating some distinctions, which seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do: What’s the moral difference between using a condom during sex, using a sugar substitute while drinking coffee, and getting an epidural during childbirth? In each case, the body’s natural agendas and inclinations are being hijacked by technology to avoid an unwanted outcome (pregnancy, weight gain, pain).

This seems like a reasonable line of appeal–if you’re okay with the first two, you should be okay with the third–but it also leads to a liberal conclusion: epidurals are morally no worse than deploying sugar substitutes.

Convenient.

But how might a conservative argue?

Let’s take, for instance, the medieval religious conservative, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). How might he have reasoned about epidurals?

He probably would have started his reasoning with the Bible–and a rhetorical question: Do you suppose, after reading Genesis 3 (God’s curse on Eve and her female descendants after she ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is pain in childbirth), that God would approve of women avoiding His divine curse?

Seven hundred years after Aquinas’ death, I think he would have been shocked–shocked!–to learn of the subversion of God’s natural law by contemporary women–a natural law explicitly spelled out in Genesis as divine punishment. Women are supposed to suffer in childbirth–Aquinas would say. It’s natural. It’s just. They’re sinners. It reminds them of the consequences of sin.

In addition to the biblical argument, Aquinas might have also offered the following syllogism: If God had wanted women’s pelvises to be broader to let babies with big heads come out easier, he would have made them that way. God didn’t make them that way. Therefore, God wants women to experience pain in childbirth.

Again, perfectly logical. In a syllogism, if the two premises are true, the conclusion is certain.

And, again, how convenient. A conservative uses reason to reach (surprise!) a conservative conclusion.

So this is why I say that much of what passes for reason is desire. The desire to start and the desire to stop.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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55 Responses to Epidurals and Pains in Childbirth: Why Do Arguments Start and Stop Where They Do?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wait! I’ve seen this movie before!

    I think you can make it even funnier if you show Aquinas on the water slide at San Demos.

    http://www.imdb.com/video/demo_reel/vi2650119193

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Amusing clip, but if you don’t think Aquinas would oppose epidurals (had he known they would exist 700 years after his death), how would he get around Genesis 3?

      Didn’t he oppose the genders doing things contrary to God’s will or nature, and wouldn’t Aquinas see epidurals as a direct subversion of God’s punishment on Eve’s descendants?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh my gosh! You were being serious?

    What a strange notion.

    Please tell me why you think Christians of the Middle Ages opposed pain relief? Did you read that somewhere? Or are you making it up?

    Please give me a source.

    Aquinas lived in the age where the Catholic hospital system was taking off full steam to alleviate suffering. Maybe you should read this to understand that Christians strive to imitate Christ who after all was a healer.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_medicine_of_Western_Europe#Hospital_system

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Anonymous:

      That wasn’t the question I asked you. You dodged the direct question. I asked you to tell me why you think Aquinas would not see epidurals as a direct subversion of God’s punishment on Eve’s descendants (per Genesis 3)? In other words, why wouldn’t Aquinas see this specific form of pain relief as explicitly forbidden?

      Aquinas, after all, supported many things that would cause suffering in others in the name of higher religious goals (either related to God’s goals or how Aquinas surmised that God had made the world, and men and women). Relief of individual pain was not a consideration in many religious contexts. Thus he supported submissive roles for women in relation to men regardless of whether these roles would cause emotional suffering and frustrated longing for equality in at least some women who did not want to submit to them.

      And, of course, Aquinas supported the segregation of Jews from the Christian community even though this caused enormous difficulties for Jews (Aquinas notoriously recommended the wearing of the Jewish star whenever they were out and about in the community).

      And Aquinas supported the murdering of heretics for the sake of community cohesion toward a shared religious goal, though speech is also a good, and would have caused emotional pain to those deprived of it.

      And Aquinas didn’t care in the least that sexual desires of various sorts caused pain in being frustrated, for God, he believed, had forbidden them (homosexuality, masturbation, multiple partners, etc.).

      Also, surgery was, in the Middle Ages, problematic in that one could not lawfully experiment and explore techniques on cadavers–though this would have alleviated suffering and saved lives.

      Periodically since I’ve started blogging, I’ve gotten the occasional individual who comes into these threads apologizing for the dungeon that was the former Soviet Union.

      Are you quite sure the Middle Ages doesn’t constitute a similar dungeon? Imagine applying John Rawls to the Middle Ages. Setting the poverty aside, would you want to have been born a woman in the Middle Ages? A Jew? A gifted surgeon? A homosexual? A person given to doubt (an agnostic or atheist)?

      The Middle Ages was more sympatico with Hegel than Jefferson.

      So the fact that there were hospitals in the Middle Ages is understandable in light of the non-Ayn Randian notion supported by Jesus that self-sacrifice (altruism) is good.. But, of course, this was always a double-edged sword, impoverishing people and making them enslaved to the agendas of God, priests, and kings, not just the ill.

      It took the weakening of Christianity in Europe to discover lending at interest and Adam Smith’s capitalism, and global trade. These have been the engines that have actually been successful in alleviating suffering over the past several centuries.

      I’m not saying we don’t need a mix in life of self-interest and self-sacrifice. I’m saying that the Middle Ages are an example of a time when submission and self-sacrifice were idealized in ways that made for human imbalance.

      I’m glad I was born after the Enlightenment, not before it, aren’t you?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Actually I did answer you directly. Aquinas, as all Christians, saw the pain and suffering of all humanity as the outcome of Original Sin. If you read the article you will see that hospitals were an outgrowth of the work of the monasteries that saw it was their duty to imitate Christ’s work to heal the sick and comfort the suffering. So Aquinas as a Dominican monk would naturally support pain relief. So, the Catholic Church supports relief from human pain and suffering, monasteries provided relief for pain and suffering, Aquinas was a monk, so he would naturally have supported pain relief.

    You didn’t answer my question for a source saying the opposite. So once again, you just made something up and expect people to provide evidence to refute something you dreamed up. This just won’t do.

    You also make it impossible to respond by listing a litany of unrelated accusations. Maybe he saw nothing wrong with burning fossil fuel, but how does that support a claim that he opposed pain relief of women? And frankly, you have a habit of either not understanding or distorting what Aquinas actually wrote.

    I think it’s wonderful to be living in America at this time when medicine has advanced beyond what they knew in the Middle Ages. If I had been a priest in France during the “Enlightened” French Revolution, I don’t think I’d have liked it very much. Nor in any of the other countries that patterned themselves after the French.

    I’ll be offline for a week, so don’t be distressed if I don’t post for a while.

  4. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    Savonarola was also a Dominican friar. Was he also a supporter of pain relief? What do you make of Savonarola in relation to Aquinas? His early influence was Aquinas, he received a Thomistic education, and his writings are Thomistic in philosophy and theology.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m not really an expert on Savonarola. I’ve heard he was associated with “bonfire of the vanites” and was excommunicated but not much more.

    Thomas Aquinas wrote a great deal and all of his works are extant as far as I know. Where in his writings do you find that he opposed pain relief to women in childbirth? This is a direct question. Please answer it.

  6. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    I think Aquinas took it for granted that women were meant to suffer under the subservience of their husbands as part of their punishment for Eve’s disobedience. (Or do you not regard subservience as a form of pain?)

    I also think that Aquinas took it for granted that all normal human births entailed pain for the woman, and he thought that this was justly experienced pain, related to the Fall. It was also just as punishment for engaging in sexual intercourse–losing one’s virginity. Aquinas regarded the “mingling” of the sexes as a “stain.”

    So I don’t think he would have been okay with women going through childbirth absent pain. This would have put them in the status of the Virgin Mary (who supposedly gave birth without pain).

    He also wouldn’t have been okay with contemporary feminism relieving women’s pain by bringing them out from under the thumbs of their husbands.

    Thus the liberation of women, just as with epidurals, would have been seen by Aquinas as forms of rebellion against God’s just punishment of them as laid out in Genesis 3. Otherwise, the below section of the Summa (Third Part, question 35) makes little sense. I’ll quote it in full, and am curious as to your interpretation of it.

    ———

    Article 6. Whether Christ was born without His Mother suffering?

    Objection 1. It would seem that Christ was not born without His Mother suffering. For just as man’s death was a result of the sin of our first parents, according to Genesis 2:17: “In what day soever ye shall eat, ye shall [Vulgate: ‘thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt] die”; so were the pains of childbirth, according to Genesis 3:16: “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.” But Christ was willing to undergo death. Therefore for the same reason it seems that His birth should have been with pain.

    Objection 2. Further, the end is proportionate to the beginning. But Christ ended His life in pain, according to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely . . . He hath carried our sorrows.” Therefore it seems that His nativity was not without the pains of childbirth.

    Objection 3. Further, in the book on the birth of our Saviour [Protevangelium Jacobi xix, xx] it is related that midwives were present at Christ’s birth; and they would be wanted by reason of the mother’s suffering pain. Therefore it seems that the Blessed Virgin suffered pain in giving birth to her Child.

    On the contrary, Augustine says (Serm. de Nativ. [Supposititious), addressing himself to the Virgin-Mother: “In conceiving thou wast all pure, in giving birth thou wast without pain.”

    I answer that, The pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above (28, 2, Replies to objections), that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption; on the contrary, there was much joy therein for that God-Man “was born into the world,” according to Isaiah 35:1-2: “Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise.”

    Reply to Objection 1. The pains of childbirth in the woman follow from the mingling of the sexes. Wherefore (Genesis 3:16) after the words, “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children,” the following are added: “and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power.” But, as Augustine says (Serm. de Assumpt. B. Virg., [Supposititious), from this sentence we must exclude the Virgin-Mother of God; who, “because she conceived Christ without the defilement of sin, and without the stain of sexual mingling, therefore did she bring Him forth without pain, without violation of her virginal integrity, without detriment to the purity of her maidenhood.” Christ, indeed, suffered death, but through His own spontaneous desire, in order to atone for us, not as a necessary result of that sentence, for He was not a debtor unto death.

    Reply to Objection 2. As “by His death” Christ “destroyed our death” [Preface of the Mass in Paschal-time], so by His pains He freed us from our pains; and so He wished to die a painful death. But the mother’s pains in childbirth did not concern Christ, who came to atone for our sins. And therefore there was no need for His Mother to suffer in giving birth.

    Reply to Objection 3. We are told (Luke 2:7) that the Blessed Virgin herself “wrapped up in swaddling clothes” the Child whom she had brought forth, “and laid Him in a manger.” Consequently the narrative of this book, which is apocryphal, is untrue. Wherefore Jerome says (Adv. Helvid. iv): “No midwife was there, no officious women interfered. She was both mother and midwife. ‘With swaddling clothes,’ says he, ‘she wrapped up the child, and laid Him in a manger.'” These words prove the falseness of the apocryphal ravings.

    ——

    Why, Anonymous, would Aquinas be concerned to exclude Mary from suffering in birth, if not to separate her from the just punishments experienced by other women who have lost their virginity in the stain of intercourse? What distinctions are being made, but those related to sexual intercourse as sin, the Fall of Eve, and the subsequent “just” submission of women to their husbands? All three of these are related to women experiencing punishment. How is it that you are decoupling them?

    Let me put this another way (and you can tell me why I’m putting a wrong emphasis here, or misunderstanding Aquinas): God’s punishments on Eve’s descendants extended to BOTH physical and mental elements. Women were to suffer pain in childbirth, but the punishment didn’t stop there. They were also condemned to suffer the emotional pain of humble subjection to masters (their husbands). It wasn’t a natural thing for women to be in an attitude of humble subjection to their husbands, but a punishment thing. Nobody chooses that sort of relation. The master-slave relationship is a forced relation; one that is endured; is suffered through–exactly as pain in childbirth is suffered through. To argue for the removal of one is to argue for the removal of the other. Both are coupled in Genesis 3, and Aquinas (as evidenced above) takes both for granted.

  7. Anonymous says:

    You didn’t really read this did you?

    The question I asked was: “where did Aquinas oppose pain relief for women in labor?”.
    Objection 3 here mentions that:
    “it is related that midwives were present at Christ’s birth; and they would be wanted by reason of the mother’s suffering pain.”

    Aquinas does not say “it would be sinful for midwifes to lessen the mother’s suffering pain” does he? He merely says that in this case no midwives were present, acknowledging that pain relief was their purpose. He nowhere condemns midwives nor pain relief. So the writing you cite actually undercuts your assertion.

    Here are the premises:
    Pain and suffering are the result of Original sin.
    Babies leaving the womb cause pain.
    Babies are normally caused by sexual relations.

    It does not follow that sexual relations are sinful.

    Aquinas is arguing that Mary was without Original Sin (see Immaculate Conception), and also did not have sexual relations, so would not have experienced pain, nor the opening of the womb.

    Furthermore, it is hilarious for you to assert that Catholics think sex between husband and wife is sinful given that Catholics historically have had large families with the Church’s blessing. You know better than that. Why are you being dishonest?

    As a matter of fact, isn’t it feminists that argue that every act of hetero-sex is an act of rape? I think you have it exactly backwards.

    Your post accused Aquinas of holding that women should suffer in childbirth. When challenged you sputtered out another list of accusations. I can understand why you want to change the subject since this was a very lame accusation.

  8. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You’ve lost track of a number of things here. First, we’re dealing with a hypothetical (whether Aquinas, if he were living today, would think it permissible to remove all physical pain from childbirth). A midwife holding a hand and patting the brow with a rag, whispering encouragement, is not the same as removing all pain from childbirth, part of the curse of Eve.

    So your position–and this is my second point–would be more convincing if you had not decoupled pain in childbirth from the other half of Eve’s curse: subjection to her husband. You avoided that question completely, and that’s telling, for there’s good evidence that Aquinas took Eve’s inequality and limited role in existence (householder; an assistant to reproduction) for granted and literally. He believed woman qua woman is an incomplete man. If you can convincingly tell me why Aquinas would approve of the feminist movement, women’s equality in education, women in the workplace today, etc., that would go a long way toward making a strong case that Aquinas would support epidurals.

    Third, I think you’re presuming a bit too much concerning Thomas’s view of the state of one’s mind and body during sex. Was it to be focused on procreation? Is it a necessary evil after the Fall? For example, did Thomas think it’s okay to have sex with a woman during her period? What would make her “unclean,” and therefore perhaps off limits at this time? Did he affirm pleasure in sex, or were men supposed to think of something less explicitly carnal when in the midst of the act itself?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Let me respond in 3 parts.

    You realize now that he approved of the “state of the art” pain relief for women in labor that was available at his time (mid-wifery), but still ask us to believe that he would deny future “state of the art” pain relief. Really?
    I think you read this assertion somewhere, accepted it without investigation and now here you are.

    Here are the verses from Genesis where Adam is addressed:

    “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
    about which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
    cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
    thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
    By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
    until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
    you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

    Let me respond in 3 parts.

    You realize now that he approved of the “state of the art” pain relief for women in labor that was available at his time (mid-wifery), but still ask us to believe that he would deny future “state of the art” pain relief. Really?
    I think you read this assertion somewhere, accepted it without investigation and now here you are.

    Here are the verses from Genesis where Adam is addressed:

    “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
    about which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
    cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
    18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
    19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
    until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
    you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

    To apply your exegesis method consistently, then you must also believe that Aquinas taught that all men should be farmers, not remove weeds, and avoid all labor saving devices? Aquinas wasn’t a farmer. Did he consider himself a sinner because he was teacher?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Sorry about the double post.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Your third contention regards Thomas’s view regarding sexual relations. I think you agree with me that Edward Feser is more qualified to answer these questions than either of us. Please let me know if you still have questions”

  12. Anonymous says:

    Your second point is not what you wrote this post on.

    I understand that you realize you overreached in your original accusation and now want to change the topic. OK.

    I think your thesis is “Aquinas is a misogynist”. If I have that right, then I ask you to defend your thesis after reading this:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misogyny#Christianity

  13. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    I watched the Feser Ascombe lecture a while back, and it’s dreadful. I’ll talk about that another time.

    But you make a good point that Adam’s curse is a manual labor curse–and yet Aquinas didn’t think of himself, as an intellectual worker, in violation of Adam’s curse.

    But also recall the well-known quip: if men gave birth, contraception and abortion would be legal everywhere.

    I think you’ve got to take seriously the role that interpretation plays in the exercise of power over others. These interpretations are not happening in a vacuum.

    You should also take into account the fact that when the writer of Genesis 3 wrote (500 BCE), and when Aquinas read what the author of Genesis wrote (1270 CE), one could pretty much take the passage literally: 99% of all of humanity really did work by the labor of their brows in rural regions–and that very, very tiny minority of humanity that lived in “cities” (which were usually just towns of no more than 10,000 people) also lived by hard labor.

    Aquinas would certainly have thought of himself as evil had he no vocation, and intellectuals are notorious for thinking that what they do is far harder than what blue collar workers do. (See Yeats’ famous poem, “Adam’s Curse,” for an example. It’s readily found, as is everything else, via Google search.)

    Also think of the frog in the boiling pot phenomenon. You and I are akin to frogs already at a boil; we’ve been conditioned to think of the 21st century as virtually normal, but Neil deGrasse Tyson rightly notes that if we took our iPhones out of our pockets in 1692, people would have burned us in Salem.

    I just updated my iPhone this week, for example, and find that I can now get all of my Audible book library to my phone with just a tap, and any podcast in the world (BBC 4, Skepticality, Science Friday, etc.). Combine that with Spotify, and it seems like any subject–and any genre of music–is at my fingertips. It’s crazy. Too easy. Not a bit of labor to any of it.

    But even today, there are fundamentalists up in arms over an entertainment magician, Steven Frayne (a.k.a. “Dynamo”), who pretends to do some biblical miracles. They think he’s getting his powers straight from Satan.

    And also think of this. Aquinas, were he to get in a time machine and go to the year 1839, say, would step out and find a recognizable world, with Adam’s curse still in effect for 99% of humanity. But if he went forward just another 100 years, landing at the New York World’s Fair, he’d be in for a shock. (Imagine his horror at a screening of, say, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” after going to the Fair. Or of the New York skyline.) And if Aquinas jumped forward to 2015 (let alone, 2039), he’d be so disoriented, it might well be difficult for him to get his bearings at all.

    The degree of Prometheanism and feminism in the modern world is so divorced from traditional gender roles and rural and manual labor that we’re now starting to contemplate what it will be like for robots to do all labor. All of it.

    I’m not confident that Aquinas would really be okay with this degree of liberty from Adam and Eve’s curses, are you?

    Also recall that the Catholic Church, to this day, regards a threat to the life of the mother as not a good reason to abort a fetus. Nor is the reduction of the spread of AIDS by condom use a good enough reason to use condoms. The Church also let a lot of children suffer to protect pedophile priests from civil authorities. Protecting the reputation of the Church was considered of more importance than the suffering of those children. So I don’t think you have very good reasons for thinking that the alleviation of suffering alone would be sufficient for Aquinas, were he living today, to think that the complete overthrowing of the curses on Adam and Eve would be a good thing.

    I’m inclined to think that Aquinas, had he gotten in a time capsule to the 20th or 21st centuries, it would have made him an atheist or agnostic. Once he absorbed it all–what we’ve discovered, what we’ve become, the fact that Jesus never returned–he couldn’t keep believing comfortably and unironically. The past two centuries, after all, have made almost all people as smart as him atheists or agnostics. Why wouldn’t it have the same effect on Aquinas?

  14. Anonymous says:

    “I think you’ve got to take seriously the role that interpretation plays in the exercise of power over others. These interpretations are not happening in a vacuum.”

    You have chosen to interpret these passages in a particular way to attempt denigrate and ridicule Catholicism. I think it is because you have read this interpretation somewhere. Will you tell me where? It is this poor interpretation you are attempting to put into Thomas’s mouth and then trying to hold him accountable your interpretation. So yes, I agree that your interpretation is not happening in a vacuum. It is from the environment of good old anti-Catholic bigotry.

    Let’s recap. You accuse Aquinas of desiring women to suffer in childbirth. The only evidence you bring forth is his section from the Summa Theologica regarding the Virgin Birth. It is pointed out to you that one of the objections Thomas himself brings forth and answers is that midwives, if present, would have relieved Mary’s pain. If his position was that women were cursed and were not to be shown mercy, then the objection would be pointless…especially in light of the corresponding statements in Genesis regarding Adam’s “curse” and Thomas’s lack of discussion on technological advancements in farming. I picture you thinking that Thomas was sneaking around pinching women in labor just to make sure they had the right amount of pain when he wasn’t sneaking around with a ruler to smack gardners’ hands if he caught them weeding their garden. I think even your evil Thomas would pray for pain relief of the poor passages that you’ve tortured to get them to say what you want.

    If Bill and Ted and Santi dropped in on Thomas and brought him to today, I think he would still see people that loved, hated, showed mercy, were cruel, were greedy, were charitable, were sinners, were saints, thought rationally and thought irrationally. His brothers tried to keep him from becoming a monk by confining him with a “lady of ill repute”, so it’s not like everyone he knew was a saint back then either. But he would also find his Church teaching pretty much just as he left it. I’m also pretty sure he could figure out how an iPhone worked.

    On the other hand, if Albert Camus had lived till today, he would certainly be a Christian. He asked to be baptized shortly before his death. Seems he was seeking what Thomas had already found.

  15. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You wrote: “You accuse Aquinas of desiring women to suffer in childbirth. The only evidence you bring forth is his section from the Summa Theologica regarding the Virgin Birth.”

    Of course, I put forth many reasons to think Aquinas would be ambivalent about eliminating all pain from childbirth–and the chief reason is the one you continue to fail to address: the curse of Eve in Genesis 3 is twofold: pain in childbirth AND subjection to men and husbands (“they shall rule over you”). It’s clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Aquinas took the subjection and slavery of women to men as a given. It was the natural authoritarian hierarchy God had established. That it caused suffering for those in the subject position was a matter of indifference in the grand scheme of things (hardly something to rebel against, as 19th and 20th century feminists did). Why then wouldn’t Aquinas have taken women’s suffering in childbirth as also a general given–the lot of woman qua woman?

    So whereas labor can be intellectual or manual, and exceptions can thus be made to the general curse on Adam, that’s not true of subjection. Subjection is simply subjection. There is no obvious way to get around this aspect of the curse of Eve–though it causes obvious pain to women. Men can be benevolent tyrants in relation to women, but they can’t resign their positions of authority to women.

    If you disagree, could you offer an instance in which you think Aquinas would regard it as okay for the subjection of a woman to a man in marriage to be reversed?

    How about for role reversals of any sort? For women priests? For women in the public sphere (let alone in leadership roles)? There are exceptions to the agricultural labor of men, but what about for women? This is where interpretation comes in. Whose ox is being gored here? Who has power to declare the authority of these interpretations in an all male hierarchy that excludes women from the get-go?

    As for trying to put the branding on me of being an anti-Catholic outsider, I was raised by a Catholic father, so that really doesn’t work. I suppose you’d then think of me as a self-hating Catholic (as some atheist Jews who criticize Israel are accused of being self-hating Jews). By my Italian name you can surmise that I grew up around a lot of practicing Catholics. I attended Catholic Church from an early age–and knew numerous Catholics who were extremely antisemitic (shockingly so). I know a lot about reflexive antisemitic attitudes among Catholics. I’ve seen plenty of it firsthand.

    The lead priest in my perish was Father Alvarez–an incredibly authoritarian and harsh man. Very old school. Not sure I ever saw him smile. Ever. And when my Protestant mother died of leukemia when I was age five, it was me, as a child, who dragged my dad to mass on Sundays. (My dad is now a member of the Knights of Columbus and a lay minister–more religious now than when he was younger.)

    It’s not like I was raised by a Protestant with Chick tracts lying on the kitchen table equating the Catholic Church with the whore that rides the Beast in Revelation 13.

    So my interest in Catholic intellectual apologetics is complicated, but can also be put rather straightforwardly: I have a temperamental inclination to look for the best arguments against my own views as an agnostic and liberal. I’ve always been like this. When I was a theist in my teens, I behaved the same way. I went to the library and deliberately looked for what atheists and experts said about what I believed. And I made my fellow religionists nuts because I would bring hard questions to them–questions they didn’t like looking into too deeply. I love critical thinking. I like to subvert my own confirmation biases, challenging them as harshly as I can–and seeing what still stands. This means I can, in turn, appear harsh on the other side as well. I want to test the soundness of the opposition. Catholics generally argue better than Protestants–and Feser likes to pick Internet fights and bait atheists, gays, and liberals. He’s a theist version of Jerry Coyne, posing as a confidence man of the religious right. For a liberal, because Feser is smart and writes well, he’s a great foil for thinking.

  16. Anonymous says:

    “Of course, I put forth many reasons to think Aquinas would be ambivalent about eliminating all pain from childbirth”

    I asked for evidence from Thomas’s work to support your contention. You offered one set of passages from the Summa wherein he himself raised the objection that midwives if they had been present, would have relieved the pain. Thus acknowledging that relieving pain was the function of midwives and it was a common practice. Do you want me to show you where he compares midwives to doctors and explains the distinction?

    “and the chief reason is the one you continue to fail to address: the curse of Eve in Genesis 3 is twofold: pain in childbirth AND subjection to men and husbands (“they shall rule over you”). “
    Once again I ask, please, where did you get this particular exegesis? I ask, because you don’t seem to be particularly interested in Biblical exegesis.
    Regarding role reversals, how does this sound to you?:
    “You never answered me as to why as someone who supports feminism and knows that all hetero-sexual encounters involve women being subservient to men you can then go ahead and marry and therefore subjugate your wife to slavery!”

    Now, let’s examine Genesis 3:16

    16 To the woman he said,
    “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
    yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

    Wait! It seems there are 3 parts to the curse rather than just 2.
    Also, it seems part of the curse is “your desire shall be for your husband”. What could be more horrible than that?

    One really has to ask why you don’t do your homework before posting inflammatory remark especially since you claim to be looking for the best arguments:

    I have a temperamental inclination to look for the best arguments against my own views as an agnostic and liberal
    Here is a typical example:
    “It’s clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Aquinas took the subjection and slavery of women to men as a given.”

    First, to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither “use authority overman,” and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet.
    This is an easy search on Google. Is this beyond the reach of “an agnostic and liberal”?

    Finally, I understand that you fell away from the Catholic Church. I know I can’t argue back to the Catholic Church. That’s beyond my pay grade. I will pray for you. That’s not beyond my pay grade.
    God Bless You.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think a few definitions are in order:

      Description of Straw Man
      The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.

      You attribute a position to Aquinas that he did not hold. Your argument should be added to this definition as a perfect example of the Straw Man.

      Bigotry
      In British English it refers to a state of mind where a person is obstinately, irrationally, or unfairly intolerant of ideas, opinions, or beliefs that differ from their own, and intolerant of the people who hold them.

      Anti -Catholic Bigotry
      Historians have studied the motivations for anti-Catholicism. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. characterized prejudice against the Catholics as “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” Conservative writer Peter Viereck once commented that (in 1960) “Catholic baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals.” Historian John Higham described anti-Catholicism as “the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history”.

      It won’t do to claim “I used to be a Catholic” as license to be a bigot. You may be Italian, but certainly not a Catholic.

      “I have a temperamental inclination to look for the best arguments against my own views as an agnostic and liberal.”
      “And I made my fellow religionists nuts because I would bring hard questions to them–questions they didn’t like looking into too deeply”

      But I don’t see you writing any posts asking hard questions of agnostics and liberals. But you still seem obsessed to find “hard questions” for religionists…even if you have to make up straw man arguments.

  17. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    It’s my own reading of Genesis 3; I didn’t see it anywhere else.

    You wrote, “[I]t seems part of the curse [on women] is ‘your desire shall be for your husband’. What could be more horrible than that?”

    Easy. The presence of that heterosexual desire wherever it is accompanied by an unsatisfying power arrangement, as in “…and he shall rule over you.”

    That’s the Stockholm syndrome: you’re going to get both love and abuse; some of your needs as well as the frustration of some of your other needs, from the same source. Not good.

    Such a marriage mirrors the submissive relationship of the believer to God (you’re getting love and threats of violence directed at you from the same source).

    So the ameliorating factor in Eve’s curse is not a grant of sexual desire for the ruling husband that is uncomplicated. It’s more of a sadistic knot or dilemma than a blessing. You have needs, and those needs can only be met by someone with power over you.

    So let’s look at the Genesis declaration in context: To the woman God says, You’ll have pain in childbirth, BUT you won’t feel like you’ve been raped each time you get pregnant, for your desire will be for your husband. ON THE OTHER HAND, your husband will be your master.

    This sounds like a pretty shitty arrangement. It could have been worse. As part of Eve’s punishment, God could have cursed her with pain in childbirth AND subjected her to rape with each impregnation. Fortunately, God didn’t go that far.

    But Eve was still given, as I say, a pretty shitty deal.

    Here’s a better one. Let’s stop the pretend game that the reason women have pain in childbirth is because God was mad at Eve; that it’s part of God’s larger plan that this pain should be experienced; that God acts in history. Instead, let’s attribute pain in childbirth correctly (it’s a byproduct of the rapid evolution of large brains and the evolution of female hips unevenly keeping pace with that rapid development), and draw the right conclusion: there is no higher purpose to women’s suffering in childbirth. It’s not a personal thing; it’s not God working his will mysteriously. Instead, it’s an impersonal thing; a contingency thing.

    Once we’ve gotten the made-up etiological narrative–and the teleology and theodicy that accompanies it–out of the picture, we can then think with moral clarity about women again, returning to them their individual subjectivity; making their actual lives and equality on the ground important. We can stop trivializing, marginalizing, or making invisible the concerns of feminists.

    Put another way, if we substitute the traditional theological dilemmas of what the higher purpose of suffering is in God’s grand scheme of things, and get in contact with a straightforward moral emotion and a straightforward moral action, we can do the right things; we can find our moral compass.

    And what is that straightforward moral emotion and action? The moral emotion is imaginative empathy–and our empathy for the plight of women spurs us on to solidarity with women.

    We, as males, can become feminists, and enter into solidarity with feminists, because we can imagine that it wouldn’t be pleasant to be in pain in the ways that women often are, nor to be enslaved to another, unequal.

    No doctor or midwife needs the sanction of God, or an elaborate theodicy related to how women fit into God’s grand scheme of things, to relieve a woman’s suffering. Empathy and solidarity will do.

    And if somebody comes along with an ideological or theological screen that causes her (or him) not to see a woman’s pain (or the pain of homosexuals, etc.), and says, “God does not permit us to alleviate that sort of pain in that sort of way,” we can reply in the same manner as Jesus when his disciples were called-out by the Pharisees for picking grain on the Sabbath: “The law was made for people, not people for the law.”

    The law is love. The body of love made manifest–love made flesh–is imaginative empathy and active solidarity. That’s the kingdom of heaven in our midst, not out in the future, not in the abstract. You don’t have to be an intellectual to get there. You can be a little child. You can feel your way to this one; to empathy and solidarity. Now. Here.

    I don’t think the historical Jesus would disagree with me. Aquinas most certainly would.

    • Alan says:

      This ounce of insight (‘But Eve was still given, as I say, a pretty shitty deal … [as the pain of childbirth is] a byproduct of the rapid evolution of large brains’) puts the lie to your entire scree against Aquinas: Evolution, not religion, is the root of all evil and suffering.

    • Alan says:

      Many female insects eat their mates. Across the species’ of mammals, males beat up on females – Wolvews, chimps, bears what have you. Blame Darwin if you are going to be a bit honest given a current understanding of things.

  18. Santi Tafarella says:

    Alan,

    I actually agree with your analysis. All the forms of cosmic evolution (both material and biological), are entropically tumbling out of the big bang–and still tumbling as we speak. These constitute the IMPERSONAL factors for why we suffer–and they are central. It’s the Buddha’s Fire Sermon: “O bikkhus, the world is on fire!…”

    Religion blames gods or devils for why we suffer–or God on his way to some higher and mysterious purpose. Or God’s anger at us.

    We should abandon completely these teleological explanations for suffering. There’s no personal and good God nudging the meteor strikes of history toward us or away from us. The Holocaust killed that thesis, waking us from a longstanding human illusion. Or it ought to have. For most intellectual people, it certainly did.

    And once we’ve let go of the God-acting-in-history thesis, what’s left? Impersonal contingency (evolutionary, geological, etc.) and karmic responsibility (to the extent that you believe in free will, humans can cause other humans suffering by their choices and actions). These are the causes of human suffering.

    And we have tools for responding to them: empathy and solidarity. You can get pretty far morally with the big metaphysical explanations of suffering off the table. You don’t need religious theodicy to know who to be nice to. All you need to do is get in contact with your sense of empathy and solidarity. We’re all fellow sufferers in an bad situation (stranded on a lonely and insignificant planet together; beings unto death).

    So the one part of your analysis I don’t agree with is where you said, “Blame Darwin.” No, that’s shooting the messenger. Blame evolution. Yes, you’re right about that one. Evolution is not an aware being; it’s impersonal. Blame entropy tumbling out from the big bang. Blame a person’s individual actions. And if you’re going to still keep God in the picture, blame God for letting the cosmos tumble out as it does without interference. What one shouldn’t do, in my view, is say, “You’re suffering? That’s because God is angry with you, or you’re demon possessed, or your pain is necessary for God to reach a greater good.”

    God isn’t speaking historically or personally via pain. That’s how one ends up with antisemitic and homophobic superstitions like these: “God let Titus destroy Jerusalem in 70CE because the Jews killed God’s son forty years earlier,” and “God hates homosexuality, which is why God let Islamic hijackers fly planes into the Twin Towers. He dropped his protection over America.” That’s bullshit. It’s how ideology, metaphysics, and religious narratives, when we believe them, dull our senses of empathy and solidarity.

    • Alan says:

      Chimps attack and kill chimps from rival troops, wolves attack and kill wolves from rival packs. Both groups similarly use posturing and aggressive displays to intimidate rivals and draw their cohorts into a unified aggressive position. You are looking at behaviors that encompass many species and blaming it on religion. Total rubbish.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think Alan’s point is that taking your basic assumption for granted that evolution alone shapes animal’s behavior, since we are animals, then evolution shapes our behaviors. Any and all actions taken by a species is something that species “just do” as a consequence of non-moral evolutionary development.

        So ranting and raving at rivals, puffing up our chests and proclaiming our superiority is inherent to many species including man. It seems to be what you accuse your rivals of doing and exactly what you’re doing.

        It’s worth pointing out that it is hypocritical to accuse “the other” of the same behavior that one exhibits.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Alan,

      You are right that chimps attack chimps and wolves attack wolves–both heavily fanged animals–but do domesticated dogs run in packs attacking one another–and humans?

      Do domesticated dogs have fangs as large as wolves?

      Biologists tell us that domestication rapidly reduces average fang size in otherwise wild animals; that humans are a species that has not only domesticated dogs and other animals by adopting agricultural habits, but themselves. (It’s called “domestication syndrome.”)

      In the case of teeth, our social nature, having evolved over many eons, has resulted in the rounding out of our own canines.

      I’m not blaming religion for violence, I’m suggesting that domestication of a social species, accompanied by secular law, is sufficient to blunt the consequences of dropping religious threat (hell, a God of history that punishes, etc.) as we go forward as a species.

      Nietzsche would be right that Christian ethics would wane post-God IF we were sharks; IF we were wild hunter-gatherers with minimal contact with other groups. But we’re a rapidly domesticating social species. Indeed, sentimental kindness and vulnerability expressed as a virtue in religion (as in the Sermon on the Mount) is appealing to us precisely because we have undergone so much evolutionary pressure toward domestication.

      As a recent Discover magazine article on human domestication noted (“Born to Be Mild”): 100 chimps could never be coaxed into sitting in the same room together, through a two hour movie, without outbreaks of fucking and fighting. We can. We don’t need religion to behave well–just as our dogs don’t need religion to behave well. We just need domestication.

      http://discovermagazine.com/2015/july-aug/30-born-mild

      And:

      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/01/25/bonobos-the-self-domesticated-ape/#.Vap-dflViko

      • Alan says:

        The error in the Discover articles (as I have alluded to in other posts) is that dogs are genetically domesticated. The excesses in violence of the twentieth century should put to rest any delusions of humans being so domesticated. Humans are culturally domesticated – we are trained to behave and can easily break that training – as daily news from the Middle East attests.

  19. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You’re making an appeal to authority in offering up the following quotes: “Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. characterized prejudice against the Catholics as “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” Conservative writer Peter Viereck once commented that (in 1960) “Catholic baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals.” Historian John Higham described anti-Catholicism as “the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history”

    There are aspects of truth to these quotes, of course. The 1960 quote, for example, was made at the time Kennedy was running for president, and many bigoted Protestants obviously wouldn’t vote for him solely on learning he was Catholic. But the antisemitism part directed at liberals is confounding–and gratuitously provocative. Kennedy, after all, was running as the nominee of a liberal party, and was himself a liberal (and continues to be a hero of liberals).

    Liberals love Pope Francis right now. Environmentalists love St. Francis of Assisi. Secular liberals made solidarity with Catholics in fighting for the reduction of nuclear weapons between the superpowers during the Cold War. Liberals, most especially secular liberals, championed and kept the memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero of Central America alive–and he was recently given sainthood. It wasn’t conservatives who liked Romero–it was liberals who listen to Pacifica radio. To not be thrilled with Thomas Aquinas and right wing American versions of Catholicism is not the same as not liking Catholics or aspects of Catholicism.

    And you don’t own Jesus, just to be clear. He belongs to the whole of the Western cultural tradition, including atheists, gays, and liberals. He doesn’t just belong to religious traditionalists and fundamentalists. I won’t cede the ground that you perceive the tradition and history of Christianity accurately, and give it the right emphasis as to what it ultimately means, and grant to you the presumption that everyone else distorts it. I claim Jesus would be a feminist and support gay equality today. Terry Eagleton, an atheist, wrote a terrific and moving little book on Jesus, claiming Jesus to be in the tradition of liberals. You and your fellow religious conservatives don’t have a monopoly on Jesus.

    And I would say that the quotes you offer are oblivious to the actual group that has, in fact, had the most persistent and pervasive bigotry and violence directed at it. That group would be African Americans. Slavery is America’s original sin, not Protestant Chick tracts, however idiotic and bigoted, depicting the popes in cahoots with the Devil. That’s a John Birch thing, not a broadly American thing. Only a religious fundamentalist could think that way about Catholicism. Chick also put out an antisemitic tract, but antisemitism is not America’s original sin either.

    Having said that, Catholicism itself does possess a broad original sin (shared by all the major monotheisms): patriarchy; the historic and ongoing marginalization and subjection of women to male authority. It has fundamentally distorted the history of religion and monotheism (even the designation of the deity is male; it’s prophets male; in Christianity, God made flesh is male; all the apostles, male).

    It’s why the very idea of Eve’s status–and consequently, women’s–is being discussed in this thread. Men–all men, often virgins (!)–metaphysically and theologically deciding women’s status and fate in the hierarchy of being.

    And, of course, Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, has a very specific original sin attached to it: historic antisemitism. To point this out, and to then be designated a bigot for doing so, is very near to antisemitism itself, for to deny the role Christianity has played in historic antisemitism is basically to downplay antisemitism itself, they’re so utterly intertwined historically. Neither Hitler’s antisemitism, nor Islamic antisemitism, could have achieved the momentum it did absent the millennia of propaganda and conditioning to antisemitism generated by Christians in Europe. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are the sorts of things Islamic antisemites make copies of and send around–and this is the product and culmination of a fevered and distinctively Orthodox religious imagination. And Hitler, for example, applauded the passion plays put on at Oberammergau.

    Is scholar James Shapiro an anti-Catholic bigot for writing the history of the passion plays at Oberammergau?

    https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/shapiro-oberammergau.html

  20. Anonymous says:

    Wikipedia thought it was appropriate to quote those 3 folks. I merely brought it up as evidence to prove that historically Catholics have been targets of bigotry in the US.

    That quote was immediately preceded in the article by this one:

    “Two types of anti-Catholic rhetoric existed in colonial society. The first, derived from the theological heritage of the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars of the sixteenth century, consisted of the Biblical “Anti-Christ” and the “Whore of Babylon” variety and dominated anti-Catholic thought until the late seventeenth century. The second type was a secular variety which focused on the alleged intrigues of Catholic states which were hostile to both Marxism and Classical Liberalism.[1]”

    Jack Chick falls into the first category, but it seems that the flavor you prefer is the second.
    But I’m starting to see the similarity. A blind hate of Catholicism and a wooden literal interpretation of scripture. It doesn’t matter what Catholics say they believe, it only matters what you say they believe.

    Bigots will always complain that their targets are deserving of their hate. What is particularly illuminating about your screed is the fact that section of Genesis you misread was long a part of the Torah before Catholicism existed. Your attack is really against what you believe the Jewish Holy Book and the Jews teach. This is probably not a very smart time for you to bring up the topic of antisemitism.

    Your post was not about pointing out Christian antisemitism and you were not accused of bigotry for that. You are being accused, because you falsely accused Aquinas (and implicitly the Catholic Church) of opposing pain relief for women in labor. Then instead of acknowledging the facts you persisted by ascribing your own fundamentalist bible interpretation to Aquinas. You’ve in effect asserted that faithful Catholic husbands must all abuse their wives. This sounds very anti-Catholic to me.

  21. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    You wrote: “The second type [of bigotry] was a secular variety which focused on the alleged intrigues of Catholic states which were hostile to both Marxism and Classical Liberalism.”

    Well, that doesn’t fit me. I promote no conspiracy theories.

    And Christianity, historically, has long been immune from conspiracy theories, right?

    Wrong.

    There’s an antisemitic conspiracy theory in the Gospel of Matthew itself (28:11), in which the author blatantly and noxiously claims, absent any evidence whatsoever, that the very leaders of Judaism at the time of Jesus were so evil that, even though they knew that Jesus had risen from the dead, they nevertheless conspired to spread around money–money!–to assist in the spread of a rumor that the disciples had removed Jesus’ body from the tomb.

    How does the author of Matthew know this? Where did he get this story? He doesn’t say. But this is how the author of Matthew retorts to a Jewish counter-theory about what happened to the body of Jesus–with a maliciously demonizing conspiracy theory–making Judaism, at the very top of its leadership, willfully resistant to the truth.

    Aquinas himself fanned this form of antisemitism by attributing to the Jews not just deicide, but WILLFUL deicide. Here’s Adam Kirsch reviewing Jeremy Cohen’s excellent book on Christian antisemitism:

    “For Thomas Aquinas, it was no longer credible that the Jews rejected Christ out of ignorance that he was God. Rather, “they beheld the blatant signs of his divinity, but they corrupted them out of hatred and jealousy of Christ.” This principle had dangerous implications for contemporary Jews. If they were not simply ignorant, but malicious — if they killed Jesus not because he was not God, but precisely because he was — then they themselves had to be uniquely evil. It is no coincidence, Mr. Cohen shows, that this theological evolution went hand in hand in with the emergence of the blood libel — the popular and durable accusation that Jews kill Christian children in order to drink their blood. After all, people who could murder God were capable of anything.”

    Here’s the link to that review: http://www.nysun.com/arts/legacy-of-slander/47714/

    And, of course, the most well-known conspiracy theory of historical significance over the past two centuries has sprung out of the fevered antisemitic imaginations of right-wing religious fundamentalists and traditionalists (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox). And it’s now been picked up by Muslims. It has to do with linking the Illuminati, Jewish bankers, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to a conspiracy of global takeover. And this conspiracy theory also gets slipped into the eschatology of fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics as “evidence” that we’re heading for the seven year tribulation of the Book of Revelation, Armageddon, and the return of Jesus (the End Times). I’d note that the Legend of Fatima, and the prophecies supposedly associated with it, fed this global conspiracy meme among Catholics throughout the 20th century, linking it to the spread of communism.

    So the problem here is that monotheism started out in competition with the national gods of other peoples. Everybody had an “awesome God” who looked after their nations, and any military defeats were attributed to the most powerful God entering history and vanquishing his foes (or of the most powerful God punishing his own people for bad behavior).

    So it’s when you generate a God of history–a God that intervenes in history–that you get the lavish interpretations of history as conspiracy (either God’s conspiracy to make things come out a certain way, or conspiracies of those aligned with the Devil).

    I say: rediscover contingency. Drop the God of history and you recover empathy and solidarity (and, in the contemporary moment, the liberation of gays and women). If you must keep a notion of God, make God a God who perhaps grounds Nature’s laws, but who doesn’t speak to any one, or favor any nation, or man over woman, or intervene in the processes of Nature. It’s the actual world we do live in (as evidenced by the Holocaust).

    Otherwise, we have to incorporate the Holocaust into theodicy–and continue to oppress women in the name of tradition.

    With regard to Catholic husbands (since you raised the issue), what’s been the Catholic position on marital rape? How long has it been recognized within Catholicism that rape can occur within marriage, and what has been said about this to parishioners? This seems to me a concept that came directly out of feminist consciousness, and I’m just wondering how seriously Catholicism has taken the concept.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad to find out that you’ve given up on your original accusation regarding Aquinas’ opinion on pain relief for women in labor.

    Please explain to me why the attack you mount on faithful Catholics with your warped reading of Genesis is not antisemitic also? Are faithful Jews all wife rapists as you now accuse Catholics of? Do you accuse me of raping my wife because I’m a faithful Catholic?

  23. Santi Tafarella says:

    That’s an odd response, Anonymous. I haven’t given up my position that Aquinas might well draw the conclusion, were he living today, that women ought not to COMPLETELY make childbirth pain-free (as that would subvert an aspect of the curse of Eve). Amelioration is quite different from outright elimination.

    You’ve given me no reason to think your prediction about what Aquinas would say about epidurals is superior to mine–especially since you’ve done nothing–nothing–to explain why Aquinas would decouple pain in childbirth from something Aquinas did accept unequivocally: women’s subjection to husbands and to men generally.

    I argue that the curse of Eve is a logical whole in three parts, something you’ve not disputed. Addressing Eve, God says: you will have pain in childbirth, BUT will nevertheless enjoy getting pregnant (it won’t feel like a rape to you). ON THE OTHER HAND, you must understand that your husband will be your master (he shall rule over you).

    Paul explicitly links “wives, obey your husbands” to his infamous “slaves, obey your masters”–so the master-slave relationship has long been at the foundation of patriarchy. Patriarchal monotheism has always been hierarchical and authoritarian (even in its gentlest manifestations), and you’ve provided no evidence that Thomas moderated either Genesis or Paul on the master-slave relation in Eve’s curse.

    And the concept of rape in marriage is something that might well have not even occurred to patriarchal traditionalists as being a logical possibility since a woman (by traditionalist reasoning), in consenting to marry in the first place, might be legitimately thought to have provided sexual consent for all time. Part of Paul’s admonition of “wives, submit to your husbands” could thus be read as including sexual submission, not just submission to other domestic orders. You might not want to sleep with your husband, you might not want the risk of more children, but withholding sex from him is disobedience. It is your duty to satisfy your master–and not use contraception.

    Your life is not your own.

  24. Anonymous says:

    But the only evidence you have provided to support your position from Thomas’s writings regarding pain in childbirth contradict your assertion. If you want to assert now that he insisted that at least some pain be inflicted, then you must provide his writings to prove this. Since you fail to do so I assumed you have given up. Please show us the citations.

    You keep asserting that Thomas thought wives should be treated like slaves, but you ignored this passage I quoted above regarding the allegorical creation of Eve from Adam’s rib. You ignored it. How come?

    “First, to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither “use authority overman,” and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet.”

    Summa: First Part, Question 92.

    And yes, that’s right, Jews and Catholics alike have historically regarded the Genesis story as largely allegorical. Augustine in the year 400 expressed exasperation at any of his fellow Christians that treated Genesis literally.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretations_of_Genesis

    If you read the article, you will see that wooden literal interpretations of the Bible started with the Reformation and the idea that everyone was equal at interpreting it. Just because you come up with an ill conceived and inconsistent exegesis of a passage doesn’t mean anyone else in history agrees with you.

    “especially since you’ve done nothing–nothing–to explain why Aquinas would decouple pain in childbirth from something Aquinas did accept unequivocally: women’s subjection to husbands and to men generally.”

    I’m waiting for you to provide something-something-from Thomas’s writings to show that he did couple pain in childbirth with anything. You made the assertion. You provide the evidence. When you do that we can have a discussion.

    In the meantime, please answer this question you ducked.
    Please explain to me why the attack you mount on faithful Catholics with your warped reading of Genesis is not antisemitic also? Are faithful Jews all wife rapists as you now accuse Catholics of? Do you accuse me of raping my wife because I’m a faithful Catholic?

  25. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    With regard to Augustine, the article you link to quotes Augustine being rather ambivalent and inconsistent about how to proceed in interpreting Genesis. In The City of God, for instance, he insists on a 6,000 year old Earth.

    As for what you wrote, you said this: “If you want to assert now that he [Aquinas] insisted that at least some pain be inflicted [in childbirth], then you must provide his writings to prove this.”

    Well, you’ve set the bar impossibly high. Since we’re inferring about what Aquinas might say about epidurals were he alive today, I can’t prove anything (nor can you), and unfortunately, throughout history, women just weren’t high on the radar of virgin male monks to theorize about in a sustained manner. Where they do theorize about women, it’s invariably awful.

    The sad truth is that women have always been a marginal topic for theology.

    I would thus say that Aquinas, where he does not address an issue specifically, likely possessed attitudes about women in line with the classical and medieval Catholic tradition generally.

    And what is that attitude? That women are subject to men as slaves are subject to masters. Just as masters shouldn’t abuse slaves, husbands shouldn’t abuse wives. But the line of authority is unmistakable. The master is in charge, and is responsible to see to it that both master and subject benefit from the relationship.

    And on slavery, Aquinas did speak explicitly. He argued that the suffering of slavery could be ameliorated, benefiting the slave, and not just the master. But he did not favor the complete elimination of slavery BECAUSE OF ORIGINAL SIN.

    In a state prior to original sin, equality ought to prevail (thought Aquinas), but slavery after the Fall is in line with punishment for original sin.

    I argue that Aquinas would have argued, analogically, in the same manner regarding slavery, women’s subjection to men, and pain in childbirth. Ameliorate, yes. Eliminate these things utterly, no.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Translation: “I made up a whopper and got called on it. I’m increasingly looking bad as I try to move the goalposts. I’m only digging myself into a deeper hole as I am asked questions about the evidence my opponents brings forward. I better ignore the questions and try to change the topic again.”

    “Well, you’ve set the bar impossibly high.”

    It’s only impossibly high for you because the only evidence thought supported your position didn’t. Now you realize the only evidence is against your position.

    “And what is that attitude? That women are subject to men as slaves are subject to masters.”

    I remind you now for the third time that Thomas said:
    “nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave”

    There’s no excuse for you to ignore the fact.

    But I asked you a direct question. Please answer it.

    Please explain to me why the attack you mount on faithful Catholics with your warped reading of Genesis is not antisemitic also? Are faithful Jews all wife rapists as you now accuse Catholics of? Do you accuse me of raping my wife because I’m a faithful Catholic?

  27. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    I asked you if the Catholic Church (historically) recognized marital rape as a phenomenon–or whether this is something like “gay marriage,” where traditionalists put scare quotes around it (“marital rape”). I was curious about your take on marital rape as a historical and definitional issue within monotheism, and why it took the appearance of feminism on the scene for patriarchal society to finally pay marital rape any notice.

    Why isn’t rape in general, after all, in the ten commandments?

    And I didn’t say that you or anyone else in particular, within the confines of a private marriage, practiced marital rape. I don’t know the private lives of couples, I only know that marital rape is a real phenomenon, recognized by 21st century courts.

    But I do think, historically, that marital rape has been more pervasive in marriage than previously acknowledged, and that feminists have been responsible for bringing attention to the issue.

    As for antisemitism, you’re reaching–and actually trivializing antisemitism by not acknowledging religion’s role in promoting it. You do recognize the phenomenon of Christian antisemitism, and its deep historic roots going back to the gospels, yes? Or is this something traditionalists also put in scare quotes (“Christian antisemitism”)?

    Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on marital rape:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marital_rape

    As for Aquinas and epidurals, I’ll let anyone who stumbles upon our exchange determine who made the more sensible and plausible prediction.

  28. Anonymous says:

    “I asked you if the Catholic Church (historically) recognized marital rape as a phenomenon–or whether this is something like “gay marriage,” where traditionalists put scare quotes around it (“marital rape”). I was curious about your take on marital rape as a historical and definitional issue within monotheism, and why it took the appearance of feminism on the scene for patriarchal society to finally pay marital rape any notice.”

    Please, if you are accusing the Catholic Church of condoning marital rape, then provide evidence. Don’t give me a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question. Why don’t you read the Summa and tell us what Thomas has to say.

    “As for antisemitism, you’re reaching–and actually trivializing antisemitism by not acknowledging religion’s role in promoting it.”

    I’ll let the readers decide if your claim is antisemitic or not:
    You claim “The only way to interpret the Torah, Genesis 3 (and therefore what all believing Jews must believe), is that men should enslave women, force them to have sex and make them like it, and then to make double sure they have some pain. in childbirth.”

    “And I didn’t say that you or anyone else in particular, within the confines of a private marriage, practiced marital rape. I don’t know the private lives of couples, I only know that marital rape is a real phenomenon, recognized by 21st century courts.”

    But you claim that all faithful Jews and Catholics (if they are faithful) have to interpret Genesis just the way you do…..otherwise they would not be faithful. Therefore, when faithful Jews and Catholics marry, they must want to enslave women, force them to have sex (while making sure they smile) and then pinch them when they give birth (just in case the pain level isn’t high enough for them).

    Do you want to start another post about how Catholics have been antisemitic? Then you should be prepared to explain why the positions you hold are not, and why we should trust your judgement.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Anonymous:

      You put quotation marks around something that is a (ludicrously inaccurate) summary of my position (“The only way to interpret the Torah…”), as if I said anything of the sort. I didn’t, of course, so you’re setting up a straw man.

      Please notice that in the Sturm und Drang of your response, that you never said whether you recognize Christian antisemitism as a longstanding historical phenomenon going back to the gospels.

  29. Anonymous says:

    “So let’s look at the Genesis declaration in context: To the woman God says, You’ll have pain in childbirth, BUT you won’t feel like you’ve been raped each time you get pregnant, for your desire will be for your husband. ON THE OTHER HAND, your husband will be your master.”

    You’ve spent the entire thread defending this interpretation that you insist has to have been the historical orthodox interpretation of the Torah. I think I summarized your position accurately. What do you disagree with specifically?

    The object of your post was to ascribe to Thomas something that he did not teach regarding pain relief in childbirth. The only evidence you provided for support was the Torah, Genesis 3 and the assertion that everyone from 500BC to the time of Thomas must have interpreted it that way. The topic of Christian antisemitism is irrelevant to this present topic and as I warned you above, that by trying to change the subject to antisemitism, you have actually highlighted that what you are engaging in is antisemitism yourself by attacking the beliefs of faithful Jews.

    I don’t want to change the subject. I want to understand how you can claim your interpretation is what faithful Jews and Catholics have always believed, yet not think that all Jewish and Catholic husbands throughout history and even today have been/are sadist rapists.

  30. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anon:

    Now you have quoted me correctly, and of course I stand by that quote, which interprets the notorious Genesis passage as saying three things to Eve:

    (1) God says woman will have pain in childbirth.
    (2) The curse could be worse, for God could have made part of the curse the following: that women would be subjected to the sheer and overwhelming power of men (the fact that they are bigger and stronger than women on average), causing women to get impregnated unwillingly (raped each time a woman got pregnant). But fortunately, women will actually take pleasure in sex with men–specifically their husbands; their husbands won’t tend to force them into bed–so that’s not part of the curse. In other words, the norm is that they won’t tend to be raped in marriage, for they’ll want sex too, exactly as their husbands want sex: “Your desire shall be for your husband.”
    (3) HOWEVER, there is an additional aspect to the curse beyond pain in childbirth. Men shall rule over women. More specifically, the husband shall rule over the wife. That will be the decreed order, according to God, from henceforth.

    Now, what you object to is that I have exposed the shadow that lurks behind the term, “your desire shall be for your husband” in the context of the curse that God is pronouncing on Eve. The curse could have been worse. It could have included condoned rape (as it included pain in childbirth and condoned slavery). But it doesn’t.

    So you’re generating a smokescreen for avoiding an actual grappling with the real problem here: the problem that patriarchal monotheism is misogynistic. The very fact that you can’t explain WHY Aquinas arbitrarily unbuckles pain in childbirth (if he does) from the husband ruling over the woman exposes this: women’s lives and bodies hang on a very thin thread in patriarchal monotheism. Men–typically, celibate men–are doing the interpreting and enforcing of obscure sacred passages impacting women.

    Tell me that’s not true. Tell me all the theologians of history and writers of the sacred texts are not men–and tell me it is not men doing the interpreting of the often obscure texts.

    And tell me Aquinas never made statements about women and Jews that, by 21st century feminist and post-Holocaust standards, are not misogynistic and antisemitic.

    And I’m still waiting for you to say whether you agree that there is such a thing as Christian antisemitism that goes all the way back to the gospels. I’d note that you never said a word either in defense or outrage concerning Matthew 28:11-15–a grotesque and cartoonist caricature of Jews and the Jewish leadership of the first century. Is this because you believe Matthew 28:11-15 relates a real conspiracy theory that implicates the Jewish leadership of the time in willful deicide and an attempted cover-up of a resurrection they KNEW took place?

    If you imagine yourself a defender of Orthodox Jewish honor, at least share whether Matthew 28:11-15 is an insult on that honor–or true. How do you interpret Matthew 28:11-15?

  31. Anonymous says:

    “Now, what you object to is that I have exposed the shadow that lurks behind the term, “your desire shall be for your husband” in the context of the curse that God is pronouncing on Eve. The curse could have been worse. It could have included condoned rape (as it included pain in childbirth and condoned slavery). But it doesn’t.”

    What I did, was point out that your original complaint about Genesis 3 ignored that phrase along with the rest of the passage referring to Adam. My assessment is that your interpretation is incorrect. But that is not the relevant point is it? You go further and assign your (incorrect) interpretation to all who hold Genesis as scripture.

    I asked “What do you disagree with specifically with this summary of your position?”
    “The only way to interpret the Torah, Genesis 3 (and therefore what all believing Jews must believe), is that men should enslave women, force them to have sex and make them like it, and then to make double sure they have some pain in childbirth.”

    But I still don’t see what you are complaining about. You affirmed that to be a faithful Jew, one must hold that:
    a) a woman should have pain in childbirth
    b) “BUT you won’t feel like you’ve been raped each time you get pregnant”…. So are you implying that Jews think women like to get raped rather than men must make sure they like getting raped?
    c) It still seems you hold that Jews think women should be slaves.

    I asked you a direct question, one that is on topic:
    “I want to understand how you can claim your interpretation is what faithful Jews and Catholics have always believed, yet not think that all Jewish and Catholic husbands throughout history and even today have been/are sadistic rapists.”

    Will you answer?

  32. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anon:

    It’s the ALL in your claim, as in “ALL Jewish and Catholic husbands…”

    My argument goes to one train stop, and you take it to the last station, so you’re putting me in the same difficulty liberals have in debating Obamacare with the FOX News crowd. If you’re FOR Obamacare, does that lead, as a matter of logic, that one must be FOR Communism? If you use the government to shave one dollar off the income of every rich person in the United States to finance health care, does that mean you must, in principle, believe the government should confiscate 100% of the income of the rich in the name of social equality generally?

    If so, that’s obviously an easier position for the FOX News crowd to take down as absurd. No nuance is required. But what if the enthusiast for Obamacare (and, say, a fifteen dollar minimum wage), otherwise believes in free markets, and pretty much leaving the rich alone? Well, then you’ve got a more difficult and complicated position to defend if you’re going to say that Obamacare is bad.

    Likewise with Genesis three. My claim is that Genesis three has been bad for women; that it’s an open question what it might mean and how medievals like Aquinas, living today, would have interpreted it to contemporary situations. (Would Aquinas be appalled that women vote in the 21st century; that they teach men in universities? What sort of culture shock would Aquinas experience if he got in a time machine to 2015?)

    I argue that Genesis 3 promotes sexism and oppression of women in many ways, simply by having the status of scripture and treating women as non-equal to their husbands.

    And the passage has had historically malicious consequences. (Paul infamously deployed Genesis 3 to justify women’s silence in church, and to keep women out of having any authority–including teaching authority–over men, not just in marriage, but in social gatherings.)

    I think the passage also makes it very, very precarious for any woman who takes it seriously to say no to her husband’s sexual advances without feeling that she is somehow in violation of Paul’s admonition of wives to submit to their husbands, and to let them rule over you, as Genesis demands. I think this has, historically, come into the bedroom. It hasn’t just stayed in the kitchen and household generally. Has it come into ALL bedrooms? No. Some. You bet.

    Watch any film romance scene prior to the 1960s for how pervasive and taken for granted it was to expect male aggression in seizing a woman, accompanied by her resistance, and followed by her lilting submission. This was taken as the normal pattern of sexual interaction, culturally, especially as a first encounter. Think of the not-very-smart and sexually inexperienced men, going to the movies, and trying these moves on women saying no to them. Think of the women themselves wondering about whether they should conform to this form of role play. What if they meant no for real? What if they didn’t want the advance? There was, prior to 1960s feminism, a clear blurring of lines here between consent and unwanted sexual contact.

    And read Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which was meant to be sexy, and yet reads today like rape (men hunting women down for a submitted kiss, with the implied follow-through, etc.).

    I don’t think it follows that ALL women have suffered abuse because they conformed to Genesis and Paul’s notion of marriage, but I think it is undeniable that many, many women through history have.

    And I notice you’ve yet to explain why rape doesn’t make the Ten Commandments, and why rape is basically ignored as an issue (or taken for granted) in other biblical passages.

    And any survey of history written by a feminist scholar will rehearse for you the oppressive nature of marriage and social life for women in traditional societies, especially prior to the 20th century.

    It should also be recalled that women did not even have the right to vote in the United States until the 1920s. And a woman being a lawyer, philosopher, university professor, or theologian was almost utterly unheard of until very recently–and very nearly unthinkable because of the various religious passages and traditions you’re defending.

    Women were subject to the law, but not its authors or interpreters.

    So when you say my interpretation doesn’t count; that my interpretation is wrong–yet provide no evidence or argument in support of this–and that the traditional interpretations you endorse are correct simply because they say so, and are treated as authoritative by traditionalists–you are simply claiming ownership of these texts and traditions, not really defending them.

    You are, like the Republican who claims to own the flag, declaring the Bible and the western religious tradition for, well, traditionalist interpretation and ownership only. You’re pretending you’ve got a clubhouse and you alone have the secret password.

    You thus leave out, not just a secular person like myself, but all women, from ever influencing future interpretation and emphasis. If the texts and tradition can only mean what contemporary traditionalists say they mean (accompanied by much scrubbing and historical decontextualization of the texts and tradition to make them acceptable to contemporary ears), then what’s bad about them cannot be highlighted–or even seen.

    But you don’t own the religious texts and traditions in question. They constitute part of our collective patrimony, as people who have come of age in Western civilization. My argument is that what’s bad about them (for women, for Jews, for gays and lesbians, for seculars, for advocates of democracy and science) needs to be seen, not whitewashed.

    So it’s no coincidence that the discussion here has shifted from Genesis 3 to Matthew 28:11-15. Antisemitism and women’s equality touch upon the same basic issues. Do women, contemporary Jews, seculars, scientists etc. have a say in interpreting such passages or not? And what in them are patriarchal and monotheistic traditionalists, philosophers, and theologians prepared to admit are noxious, and what are they prepared to defend?

    That’s why I’ve asked you how you read Matthew 28:11-15 as well as Genesis 3. Both passages are fundamentally problematic. And, of course, how such passages have run through the broad Western religious tradition is also deeply problematic, as well as through Aquinas. Don’t you agree? I’d be especially curious as to your reading of Matthew 28:11-15.

  33. Anonymous says:

    “It’s the ALL in your claim, as in “ALL Jewish and Catholic husbands…””

    But the question I asked wasn’t about “ALL” Jewish and Catholic husbands. It was about religiously faithful Jews and Catholics.

    Since your only complaint was that you thought I was referring to “ALL” Jews, then it seems you agree with the following:

    “But I still don’t see what you are complaining about. You affirmed that to be a faithful Jew, one must hold that:
    a) a woman should have pain in childbirth
    b) “BUT you won’t feel like you’ve been raped each time you get pregnant”…. So are you implying that Jews think women like to get raped rather than men must make sure they like getting raped?
    c) It still seems you hold that Jews think women should be slaves.”

    Look friend, what I have been trying to do is show you from several different perspectives, your accusation doesn’t hold water and is actually bigoted.
    1) Thomas affirms pain relief in childbirth the norm in the only (only) writing you quote from him.
    2) You accuse him holding the same exegesis of Genesis 3 as you do, but provide no evidence although the man that wrote thousands of words. I’ve tried to exhort you to read him so you could see for yourself that you’re wrong. But perhaps you that is what you fear.
    3) You do not apply the same exegetical technique to the rest of Genesis. Applying your same method to Adam’s “curse” would mean that men would be forbidden to weed gardens, be vegetarians and only men would return to dust.
    4) You’ve aimed your bigoted exegesis against Catholicism (which you seem to think is acceptable) but the bigotry logically must also apply to Jews. It won’t do to attempt to change the subject to antisemitism in the midst of attacking Jews yourself.
    5) It is extremely offensive to make claims that traditional Jewish and Christian marriage is tantamount to rape. I wish you hadn’t gone there. I’m sure you recognize that also.

    It seems you have a lot of hate. Why don’t you use that energy and read the Summa and see what Thomas has to say about how husbands and wive should treat each other. He wrote plenty on the subject. There should be plenty of passages you can use to show me where I’m wrong.

    Hey, I disagree with you. I’m not “Fox News”, I’m not “the Republicans”. Because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I want to whitewash or hide anything. Instead, I want you to post the original writings of Thomas you disagree with and that you think support your position. Will you do that?

  34. Santi Tafarella says:

    Anonymous:

    My trouble with your line of argument here is that you simply presume that the faithful traditionalist–the person who is really attempting to follow his or her particular monotheistic tradition–hasn’t got a complicated relation to patriarchy, gender roles, sex, marriage, and the very tradition itself.

    You presume that the faithful traditionalist makes choices in a vacuum; that extraction from a bad situation is easy; that the traditionalist culture surrounding a woman doesn’t often function to box a woman in.

    A simple example: arranged marriages. All the monotheistic faith traditions have simply taken it for granted for millennia that, of course, the father controls the body of the daughter; that he can marry off the daughter or deny his consent to a daughter asking his permission to marry. With regard to marriage, one does as one is told, or one seeks permission.

    Put more directly: the father can force the daughter into a choice of lifelong (!) sexual partner (!!!) that is more to HIS liking. (And by force here, I mean that, even at minimum, he has a whole culture to back him.)

    And a traditionalist father will certainly insist, perhaps above all things, and for what he imagines is the good of the daughter, that she shall marry within the orthodox tradition she knows. No marriage to someone outside of the faith. (And don’t even think about marrying someone outside of the family’s race or class–and if you’re lesbian, tough shit.)

    In other words, no leaving the faith or marrying outside of the faith without losing the family itself. This loss occurs through shunning–or sometimes even worse (being hunted down and killed in some instances). And if the woman has been inculcated with belief in hell, she has to work through the emotional and psychological terror of accepting herself as a woman who (her faith tradition insists) has disobeyed one of the central commands of the tradition (honoring parents–one of the ten commandments–a ten commandments that does not include rape; that in no way empowers or even addresses or notices women except as property listed along with animals).

    Thus agency for the woman in such a situation extends only to her interpersonal sway over her father (or perhaps her mother, getting her mother to intercede on her behalf before the father). It is the father with all the power here. His word is law.

    Her only other opportunities for agency are drastic and risky: elopement or escape or fleeing by night the only home and environment she’s ever known, out of the range of the father.

    But this opens her up, as a woman in a traditionalist society, to stray men lurking about–and rape. She either has to find, quickly, a man to marry–or enter prostitution. If a traditionalist society (Christian, Islamic, etc.), after all, doesn’t give women work choices outside of the home, where is she going to go, on leaving the father’s household, but into the realm of another man’s protection and control (a husband or pimp).

    21st century women from traditionalist households have other options, obviously. They can go off to college to escape the father. They can actually survive out in the world without prostitution. They can try out live-in boyfriends or lesbian arrangements without permanently buying them. Options reduce their exposure to traditionalist forms of rape and body control.

    I notice, for instance, that a Guardian reporter in the below link had difficulty distinguishing rape from forced marriage in his translation of a quote he received from a Pakistani woman. And the whole article is a stark reminder of what the history of women’s actual experience has been with marriage prior to the 20th century (and not just in Islamic countries). Medieval monotheism and other forms of classical patriarchal arrangements have long served to box women in–including in the bedroom.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/11/british-asian-forced-marriages

    So would you say an arranged marriage is a form of rape for that woman not desirous of the man she has been married off to, and now has to lie down under? If not, what distinguishes them?

    • Alan says:

      Santi: Over the last three to ten thousand years arranged marriages appear to have been more common among the polytheists than monotheists. Look to classical Greece, Rome and today, India. Arranged marriages have probably been the civilized norm until modern Judaeo-Christian cultures.

      • Alan says:

        Quote: Until 1945 they were almost universal. They started to decline during the post war American occupation, but as late as 1960 it is estimated that 70 per cent of weddings were arranged.

    • Alan says:

      The basic rule of evolution is that life is competitive. Every cost that a society incurs gives its adversaries an advantage. Every rule, every law has a cost. There is a cost to implement and a cost to enforce. Every generation has individuals who challenge every rule, every law. Every society has procedures in place, both formal and informal, for mediating these challenges. Any society that becomes too static will fail to a more agile competitor. Any society that changes too quickly risks losing its ability to function effectively as a society. Evolution really does sort this all out.

      It is the height of nonsense to blame nearly universal practices on monotheism as you have been doing. It is similarly silly for condemning the bulk of humanity for not jumping to conform to some utopia of Santi. Evolution really does sort this all out.

    • Anonymous says:

      My line of argument is that you have not provided any evidence to support your assertions. The only instance where you attempted to provide evidence actually proved the opposite. In fact you’ve claimed he supported positions where he “explicitly” said the opposite.

      You have an informed opinion, but it is informed from a bigoted perspective.

      As Alan notes, if you did not live in a (perhaps post) Judaeo-Christian culture you would not realize there was anything wrong with slavery nor the caricature of marriage you wrongly assign Jews and Christians.

  35. Santi Tafarella says:

    Alan,

    What I’m hearing you say is that feminism is expensive. My argument is that patriarchy is expensive.

    The 21st century environment is not the same as it was in the 12th century. I’m sorry, but this, for example, is not posing a high cost to China (as a simple example):

    “No country has more self-­made female billionaires than China. The
    Communist party, under Mao Zedong, promoted gender equality, allowing
    women to flourish after capitalism started to take hold, according to Huang
    Yasheng, an expert in China’s entrepreneurial class and a professor of
    international management at M.I.T. And in a country with few established
    players, entrepreneurs like Ms. Zhou were able to quickly make their mark
    when they entered business in the 1990s as China’s economic engine was
    revving up.”

    That quote comes from the New York Times today, in a profile of a female billionaire.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/business/international/how-zhou-qunfei-a-chinese-billionaire-built-her-fortune.html?hpw&rref=technology&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well

    So I don’t see the veiling and boxing in of women in Islamic countries as benefiting those societies. I see this as a poor adaptation to the 21st century. And I doubt that homeschooling a female in the United States, isolating her from the broader secular culture, and raising her to traditionalist practices (housekeeping, cooking, not using birth control, etc.) is likely to make that female a well-adapted organism to the 21st century.

    I think there are, undeniably, highly conservative temperaments (male and female) that only thrive in highly traditionalist environments. Such conservatives find one another and make lots and lots of babies. Maybe they move far away from cities. Good for them. It’s just not a good model to impose on everyone in the 21st century.

    The future is urban (90% of humanity will live in cities by the end of this century, demographers tell us); the future is high education for both sexes.

    If I were a religious conservative, I would try to read up on how the Hasidic Jews in New York maintain their communities; I would look to buy up with other like-minded folks whole neighborhoods in cities and attempt to practice my faith with a large group of others. The proof is in the pudding. If my way of life is superior or at least preferable, that will begin to show by how well my community thrives in practice.

    But I wouldn’t attempt to force the outside culture to adopt my group’s broad norms. I think conservatives and traditionalists waste enormous amounts of energy trying to resist the direction of the broader secular culture. This energy would be better spent independently building strong local neighborhoods where everyone shares the same values voluntarily.

    And if anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-multi-cultural, hyper-religious and traditionalist monocultures functioned as excellent models for the 21st century, you wouldn’t see California thriving and Putin’s Russia floundering. There’s a reason the Ukraine wants into NATO and the European Union. There’s a reason virtually no Nobel Prize winners come out of Islamic countries (male or female).

    And setting aside the impact of its fundamentalist Hindu minority, Hindu India, with its general tolerance for multiculturalism, looks better positioned for increasing women’s equality and winning the future than, say, female oppressing, monotheistic Pakistan.

    • Alan says:

      Wow and Wow. So it’s Whoo Rah! Let’s put Stalin and Mayo in charge for some real progress!
      I cannot believe this idiocy!

      Santi: What I’m hearing you say is that feminism is expensive.

      Where? I said nothing of the sort. (Now, I do not disagree, I just never said anything about feminism.)

      Santi: My argument is that patriarchy is expensive.

      Where? You’ve said nothing of the sort (before this last response) that I have seen. You’ve addressed its abuses but you’ve ignored the consequences aside from personal. Your focus has been to demonize religion and traditional culture.

      I said rules were expensive. Both feminism and patriarchy require rules. Both involve that expense. What I neglected to say in that post (and you addressed in this latest comment) is the cost of missed opportunity. What is lost is much more than the cost of imposing the rules themselves, but the costs of missed opportunities. [I’ll say more on this in a bit.]

      Santi: I’m sorry, but this, for example, is not posing a high cost to China …

      Sorry, dude, but this response is way off the charts! Mayo’s murdering millions of Chinese has not been a cost to China? The infanticide and abortion of millions of Chinese females has not been costly and is somehow woman friendly? That seven decades of severe repression has not been costly to China? It is somehow preferable, Mayo forcing peasant women to marry his soldiers over parents arranging marriages for their children? A truly excellent example all nations should emulate!

      Santi: The 21st century environment is not the same as it was in the 12th century.

      While true, irrelevant to this discussion. The 21st century environment in the West is not the same as it is in the Middle East, and forcing cultural change as your earlier comments seem to be proposing requires Mayo like abuses.

      Santi: But I wouldn’t attempt to force the outside culture to adopt my group’s broad norms.

      This (and related comments in this latest response) represents a welcome change in tone from earlier posts.

      Santi: And if anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-multi-cultural, hyper-religious and traditionalist monocultures functioned as excellent models for the 21st century, you wouldn’t see California thriving and Putin’s Russia floundering. There’s a reason the Ukraine wants into NATO and the European Union. There’s a reason virtually no Nobel Prize winners come out of Islamic countries (male or female).

      Let me paraphrase this comment: Evolution really can sort this all out.

  36. Santi Tafarella says:

    Alan:

    You wrote: “The error in the Discover articles (as I have alluded to in other posts) is that dogs are genetically domesticated. The excesses in violence of the twentieth century should put to rest any delusions of humans being so domesticated.”

    I disagree because you have completely decontextualized that violence, and the fact that violence is in rapid plummet globally. Human beings are highly pro-social in contexts in which they perceive a person to be included in their circle of empathy. As that circle expands, human beings are becoming less violent. I except from this, of course, psychopaths, who clearly have a genetic proclivity to lack empathy and key emotional states (perhaps this particular trait in the human population IS connected to the evolution of war, and so persists).

    In any case, I’m not denying that war isn’t a part of our genetic evolutionary history, but I think it’s also quite clear that IMAGINATION and TRADE are our aces in the hole. We can IMAGINE what it’s like to walk in the shoes of others and we can imaginatively fashion new things with our tools (our technology), and the global culture rewards these forms of imagining. And we can expose ourselves to other cultures in trade and interaction, thereby increasing our circle of empathy.

    I think, for example, that the coming deal between Iran and the U.S. is an extension of imagination that, combined with trade and technological innovation, will likely generate less conflict between the two nations–and perhaps even future alliances.

    So evolution doesn’t just have dog-eat-dog (zero-sum games) in its quiver of strategies, but dog in cooperative packs with other dogs (non-zero sum games)–and, when it really gets cozy, “dog-on-dog”–to quote homophobe Rick Santorum! : )

    And, of course, it does matter that we’re in the 21st century, not the 12th. Evolution is always contextual. What works in one environment may not be rewarded in another. We fortunately live in the 21st century, which can be a propitious time for expanding peace, prosperity, and equality.

    Below are Steven Pinker and his wife rehearsing the evidence for the dramatic decline of violence over the centuries, and the hope for ongoing social progress. I agree with you that evolutionary selection will go on making determinations concerning Western civilization’s state of fitness, and thereby, in the future, either its survival or demise, but the evolutionary strategies you think are winning ones, I see as wrong for our times.

    I vote for full bonobo! Make love, not war.

    • Alan says:

      Santi, look at what you are saying: ‘… and the fact that violence is in rapid plummet globally. Human beings are highly pro-social in contexts in which they perceive a person to be included in their circle of empathy. As that circle expands, human beings are becoming less violent.’

      Genetic evolution is a slow process. This rapid plummet is caused (in your claim) by a change in thinking (where persons think of others as within their circle). That is not genetic change, that is knowledge change within the existing genetic makeup. Your argument supports my conclusion, not yours.

      Santi says: ‘… the evolutionary strategies you [Alan] think are winning ones, I see as wrong for our times.’

      I think you just do not understand what I am saying. And I am probably not explaining myself very well.

  37. trillia says:

    Wow. What a sick, twisted, perverse sack of shit this author is. I bet I can guess what he wacks off to!🙂

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