Last week, ChristianityToday.com Weblog asked readers to best chronicle everything offensive about Neil Steinberg's Chicago Sun-Times column, "What's with Sex and Religion?"
Though Weblog received many responses, most respondents found the contest itself more reprehensible than Steinberg's column. Faced with so many delightful entries (OK, I admit it: it's a shameless attempt to lure our offended readers back to the site), ChristianityToday.com Weblog is awarding multiple accolades, both to those disagreeing with Steinberg and to those disagreeing with Weblog. Steinberg, by the way, published on Sunday a follow-up column, titled " Premarital Sex Myth Lures Clerics Off Beach."
And, for those of you offended that ChristianityToday.com Weblog is devoting all this space to Steinberg's column, don't worry. We'll get back to linking to other sites' news stories and commentaries tomorrow.
From The Persaud Family
If Steinberg is so smart, how come he misspelled "genealogy?"
Most in the spirit of the contest:
From Matthew Prins
Oh dear. It is unwise to take on a task this austere: tearing apart a column about sex and religion by a man who seems to have no experience with one and … well, perhaps I shouldn't hypothesize on the other. Still, I am in awe with how utterly wrong one person can be in fewer than 600 words--so wrong that it took me more than 900 words to respond. Oh bother.
1: Any possible reading of the disagreement between Ms. Stoffer and BYU cannot "[throw] a stark light" on why "fundamentalist Christians are so obsessed with sex," because of a teeny little problem: Mormons are not fundamentalist Christians. Some Christians believe Mormonism is a subset of Christianity; some disagree. None, I hope, would call Mormonism a subset of fundamentalist Christianity. Mr. Steinberg is not making an analogy between these two groups; he's calling the two groups one and the same, so any inferences he makes between the two groups are utterly baseless. If [Surviror's] Dirk gets thrown out of a fundamentalist university because he leered too much at Colleen, then we might be able to have this conversation.
2: Perhaps part of Mr. Steinberg's problem is he just doesn't grasp the literary concept of the analogy. Surely he wouldn't have written something as silly as, "What if … Stoffer … coveted her neighbor's ox," unless he didn't understand that God wasn't just talking about oxen. That or, uh, he was trying to make Christianity out to be a religion with no relevance to current society. But we should probably give Mr. Steinberg the benefit of the doubt and assume literary ignorance. After all, he did mistakenly end that question with a period.
3. On that same paragraph: I'm no Mormon, but I've known a few in my day, and based on what they've told me, I have a suspicion that BYU would be quite unhappy if Ms. Stoffer blatantly ignored the Sabbath or had too much interest in others' material goods. Sex is just the focal point because, as [Steinberg] correctly states later, that's the story the media is looking for.
4: Logical fallacy approaching: Mr. Steinberg says religious leaders should be focusing on God. Mr. Steinberg says the Bible – the word of God—talks about sex. Mr. Steinberg says religious leaders should not be talking about sex. Huh?
5: Mr. Steinberg writes, "I want to be clear—I'm genuinely curious. I'm not broaching this touchy subject as a sideways slap on the religious, particularly with all those Southern Baptists in town, saving souls. I like religious people. I admire their ability to focus on ritual and order in a chaotic world. At least they care about something." Mr. Steinberg must be unaware just how condescending that statement is. (Alternate theory: Mr. Steinberg is quite aware of how condescending that statement is; ergo, the statement is included in his column.) If he is confused why the statement is so offensive, perhaps a change of venue is required. "I want to be clear—I'm genuinely curious. I'm not broaching the touchy subject of race as a sideways slap on blacks and Hispanics, particularly with those NAACP members parading today on Michigan Avenue. I like blacks. I admire their ability to play basketball and football in a world where so many children are unathletic and obese. At least they care about something."
And finally, Mr. Steinberg's crème de la crème: his enlightening theories.
Theory 1—Prohibiting Sex is the Entire Point of Religion. Gosh, if prohibiting sex is the entire point of religion, religion's doing a pretty sad job. People at my church are almost certainly having sex—and lots of it. After all, studies show that married people have sex more often than single people, and the majority of people at my church are married, so woo hoo! And in my experience with the "sham," very few sermons or homilies have had anything to do with sex in its premarital, homosexual or incestual forms. But perhaps the sermons were too subliminally subversive for me to comprehend their underlying anti-sex dogma.
Theory 2—Obsessing about Sex Cuts the Tedium of Faith. Mr. Steinberg confuses me. I am imagining him imagining how much fun shutting down sexual activity must be. …
Theory 3—It's Not Them, It's Us
Congratulations are due. Given the rest of his column, I'd say Mr. Steinberg nailed this one.
From Charles Collins
Murder is the most heinous of sins. This is a simple statement, and obvious to all who hear it. Yet, I never hear it condemned much in Church! It was not discussed, I was never told to never commit murder, no guides were put out to help me from committing murder.
In fact, I never thought about this much until five years ago. Visiting my sister in New Orleans, I stopped into an inner-city Catholic Church for Mass. Surrounding me was the usual assortment of business people and housewives you see at a daily Mass, plus the additional assortment of characters who show up at Church in a big city because its the best place to keep out of the heat. With the regular communicants were the homeless, gang members, and kids who looked like they should have been in school at that hour. For the first time in my life, I heard a sermon against murder.
At the time, New Orleans was the murder capital of the country. The neighborhood I was in is where a large proportion of those murders took place. The priest, quite a young man, told us about the love of God, and how it could overcome everything, especially our anger. He spoke of the dignity of everyone human person, and the sacredness of human life. He told us to never kill anyone.
I had never been told that before. Then again, I don't think he was talking to me. I think he was talking to those young people who had come in to escape the heat, and find a little solace with God. They lived in a different world than me, a world in which murder is an everyday part of life, where young men with hot tempers have to be reminded of that Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill".
I, however, live in the same world as Neil Steinberg, who finds it strange that the Brigham Young University, an institution of the Mormon Church, would question a student on the sexual activity that went on when she appeared on MTV's "The Real World". They did not question her about the what murders went on, nor, as Mr. Steinberg points out, did they question her on whether or not she was coveting oxen: Being that MTV is a promoter of sex, and not murder and oxen-coveting, they asked her about sex.
Mr. Steinberg is troubled by this, and thinks that "fundamentalist Christians" are obsessed with sex. No, "fundamentalist Christians" (that he would use that to describe Mormons -- and I dare suspect Catholics -- shows his ignorance of the topic) are "obsessed" with holiness (i.e. doing God's will). To seek holiness, one has to properly order one's life. Among the things to be ordered is sexuality. The funny thing is, I don't think sex is wrong, and neither does the Mormon Church or other "fundamentalist Christians". We just think it belongs in its place, within marriage. Outside of marriage, it is unholy, and a concern of religious authorities who are concerned with the holiness of their members.
There are other things that go against holiness: murder, stealing, and injustice, just to name a few. However, "The Real World" is not a show that is promoting these things. It is promoting sex. That is the reason people are put in such surroundings: lots of alcohol, co-ed housing, attractive roommates. The producers always want cast members to "hook up". It increases ratings. The administration of BYU was concerned that one of their students was involved in such activity.
Are there other things that are promoted by "The Real World" that might concern BYU? Yes, of course. Not only is there excessive drinking and partying, but there is exhibited a general attitude towards homosexuality, feminism, religion, and God Himself which would greatly trouble BYU and other "fundamentalist Christians". Mr. Steinberg probably wonders why these issues were not brought up with the student - the question comes to mind, maybe they were, and he didn't ask.
In the end, Mr. Steinberg answers his own question. The Churches are "obsessed" with sex because society is obsessed with sex. Just as the Church in Roman times was "obsessed " with gladiatorial combats, slavery, and the abuse of women that plagued that society, and it was "obsessed" with slavery in our own history, it is the job of the Churches to be "obsessed" with whatever immorality is blinding the society it finds itself in. Mr. Steinberg should know that the Church will no longer be "obsessed" with sex when it is no longer easy to grab attention to his column by putting the word in the headline.
From Rikki Porter
While reading Steinberg's column, I really found nothing offensive in it. If you recall, he said in the article, "I like religious people. I admire their ability to focus on ritual and order in a chaotic world." I read the article with an open mind. Being a journalism major at Multnomah Bible College, I know the importance of a column and having a passion when you write one. I also know how important the right to voice that opinion is. What I found when I read the article was just some valid worldly views of organized religion.
Don't get me wrong, I am devoutly dedicated to my God and Savior (in fact, I'm listening to The Kry and Phil Keaggy while I'm writing this). But I found absolutely nothing offensive in Steinberg's article. His views of organized religion, in this case, Mormonism (which, as you probably noticed, he called "Christianity"), echo the views of the World—the set of ideas, morals and perceptions that the Enemy uses to drive people from God.
The World does think that we as Christians are obsessed with the lives of our brothers and sisters. The World does think that we're just a bunch of religious people who recite "the same prayers, the same songs, year after year, century after century." And people outside the Body believe that we say "thee" and "thou" because that's the image they get from the hypocrites in the Church, who, unfortunately, get all the press exposure. The World also thinks that all Christians are gunning for abortion doctors. I know—I've met people who have that opinion. Although, we are no longer of the World, God has chosen to keep us in the World. Therefore, we must be good students of the culture that God decided to put us in. We need to know how people think of the Church so we can better love and serve them—and prayerfully and eventually—lead them to Christ. We need to change perceptions before we can change lives. Therefore, I don't believe that a daily dose of Steinberg's column would be a bad thing.
Most critical of criticism by a criticized critic:
From Gil Alexander-Moegerle (author of James Dobson's War on America)
Weblog concluded incorrectly that its readers should consider Neil Steinberg's Sun-Times column on sex and religion offensive. Taking offense should be reserved for reacting to crimes and other evils, not to outsider criticism and honest questions about our faith and practice.
Steinberg's central thesis is that religious people frequently treat sexual transgressions as super-sins rather than routine religious misdemeanors. He is right. Let's be honest—for American evangelicals, there are sins and then there are sexual sins. Why would we take offense that an outsider stated the obvious?
The accuracy of Steinberg's central observation is only one of my concerns with Weblog's assumption of offense. Note that Steinberg declared "I'm genuinely curious" and said, "I'm not broaching this touchy subject as a sideways slap at the religious"; and added, "I like religious people." What additional disclaimers does Weblog require of non-religious people when they wish to comment on our perceived idiosyncrasies?
Granted, Steinberg's three spicy closing theories, if disconnected from his earlier confession that he actually admires us, read like offensive slaps across our collective face. But can't they be tolerated as a columnist simply doing his job? Remember, columnists are more than reporters; they are paid not simply to report facts, but to capture and hold an audience. So their opinion writing must have an edge to it and be colorful. Surely we are sufficiently thick-skinned to tolerate Steinberg's hyperbole and tongue-in-cheek literary stylings.
I work for a large corporation in media relations. Sometimes, when asked by a reporter for a comment about a disgruntled customer of ours, I respond "A customer complaint is a gift; it opens your eyes to service problems you might not otherwise notice." Our response to Steinberg should be "Thank you for this gift. Because of it, we evangelicals will try to balance our concern about sexual sins with our reaction to injustice, materialism, neglect of the environment, and other less interesting sins."
Most outraged (tie):
From Matthew Wilkins
1. Mr. Steinberg's sense of superiority oozes out of every word on the page. But perhaps it is justified. We mere mortals cannot hope to ever attain the level of wisdom that seems to have been endowed upon journalists such as he; he does warn, after all, that "readers invariably miss a thing or two."
2. While Mr. Steinberg's readers may be willing to overlook his singular obsession with superiority, it is much more difficult to come to grips with the liberal doses of factual error that seem to have been sprinkled throughout the article. The most interesting of these is his assertion that Mormons are "fundamentalist Christians." Ecumenism is certainly being embraced in today's religious climate more than ever before, but I must humbly admit ignorance of any breakthrough agreements between those two groups on issues of such trivial importance as, say, salvation.
3. Perhaps Mr. Steinberg used to be a professor of comparative religion? He certainly seems to be more informed than I about characteristics that are true of all religious people. Take this statement, for example: "I like religious people. I admire their ability to focus on ritual and order in a chaotic world." How relieved I am to learn that conservative Baptists cherish ritual (bring out the incense!) and that charismatic Christians thrive on order!
4. We can all thank Mr. Steinberg for citing his sources at least. Like his assertion that "lots of things are banned in the Bible." Unfortunately, many journalists and politicians love to tell us what the Bible says even though they've never read it themselves. Thankfully, it appears that the learned Mr. Steinberg has not fallen to this trap. I'm sure he's read Leviticus cover to cover.
5. "At least they care about something." Let's all break into a chorus of "Imagine" because all of us can be right on everything because it's all relative, right? Peace, dude.
6. "[Religion is] all an elaborate sham to keep people from fooling around." That sure explains God's commandment to "be fruitful and multiply."
7. "The same prayers, the same songs, year after year, century after century." Catholic traditionalists should be consoled by Brother Steinberg's pronouncement that nothing has changed since Vatican II.
Most offended (tie):
From Clay Anderson
I have to admit, I'm having a hard time determining what you find to be so horribly offensive about his column. Certainly, he doesn't understand Christian morality, but for the most part, his commentary is relatively harmless, and I think he actually asks a few questions that the church should be asking itself. I read things every week that are at least three times as offensive as his little piece.
However, I do find it offensive that [you] are running a contest that puts this guy in his place. It's not a Christian response, and it feels very childish to me. I guess we'll see what your readers think, but I don't believe you're encouraging intelligent dialogue with such a concept.
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