Category Archive: Ethics

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January 24, 2007


Category: Ethics,Politics :: Link :: Print

No one, I think, welcomes the intervention of federal power in the affairs of a state, except as a last resort.  That seems the crudest of solutions.  It is not a moral solution at all.  In being forced to do what is right, men lose the dignity of being right.  The right itself is debased as an aim and incentive — Wendell Berry, “The Landscaping of Hell: Strip-Mine Morality in East Kentucky,” The Long-Legged House, p. 22.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:28 pm | Discuss (0)
September 11, 2006

Erotic Imagination

Category: Ethics,Theology :: Link :: Print

Rich Bledsoe writes about the need to develop a biblical erotic imagination.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:12 am | Discuss (2)
August 19, 2006

Good Gossip?

Category: Ethics,Miscellaneous :: Link :: Print

Robert Putnam on the social benefits of close-knit communities and their gossip: “Dense social ties facilitate gossip and other valuable ways of cultivating reputation — an essential foundation for trust in a complex society” (Bowling Alone, p. 21).

Given that some gossip is clearly destructive and sinful (e.g., talk aimed at tearing down someone else’s reputation) or at least not upbuilding, is there a place for other sorts of gossip?  I suspect so.

After all, there should be some mechanism in society for people to know, for instance, that you don’t want to have their daughter babysit your children but you can rely on her to be there anytime you need her or that if you buy a car from him you won’t likely get your money’s worth and so forth.  You wouldn’t want to ask some girl to babysit, have a catastrophe because of her incompetence, and then find out that all your friends knew it wouldn’t work out but didn’t tell you because “We don’t gossip.”

Perhaps instead of condemning “gossip” outright, it would be better to say that there are certain kinds of talk about other people that should be forbidden but other kinds of talk that are sometimes necessary and helpful to build trust and establish people’s reputations in society.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:45 pm | Discuss (2)
July 13, 2006

Divorce Culture

Category: Ethics :: Link :: Print

The other day, I mentioned that Anthony Bradley had talked at the Reform & Resurge conference about how divorce affects far more people than just the couple divorcing. Wendy Shalit agrees:

I think the significance of divorce for my generation has been underestimated. Those who write about the ill effects of divorce usually write about the children of divorce — on their drug habits, or on the likelihood that they will get divorced too. Most critiques of divorce focus on this or that side effect, and only on the children of the rupture, as if divorce were an unpleasant consideration confined to its most immediate victims. But most of my friends whose parents are not divorced have essentially the same anxieties as children of divorced parents. What’s rarely talked about is what it’s like to grow up in a divorce culture even when your parents are not divorced. For even when they’re happy, they always could get divorced; indeed, statistics say it’s more likely that they will get divorced than stay together (A Return to Modesty, p. 210).

Posted by John Barach @ 4:02 pm | Discuss (0)
July 12, 2006

Plantinga on Shalit

Category: Ethics :: Link :: Print

In “Difference, Modesty, and Sexuality,” Theodore Plantinga interacts with Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty and points out the connection between modesty and heterosexuality: “I maintain that a society that discourages modesty in the hope of somehow being ‘open’ and ‘liberated’ also — perhaps unconsciously — undermines heterosexuality.”

Posted by John Barach @ 3:41 pm | Discuss (0)

A Return to Modesty

Category: Ethics :: Link :: Print

Last night, I finished reading Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. Moriah had read it last year and recommended it to me. I started it before the move down here but didn’t pick it up again until recently. I’m glad I did.

Shalit provides not only a defense of modesty in general and a summons for people (and girls, in particular) to return to modesty, but also many helpful analyses of what happened in western culture to move people away from modesty and what happens when such a shift takes place.

When so many voices in our culture are urging us to overcome inhibitions and all sense of shame or embarrassment, it’s refreshing to hear Shalit say, “Embarrassment is actually a wonderful thing, signaling that something very strange or very significant is going on, that some boundary is being threatened — either by you or by others” (p. 22).

I also appreciated her defense of hard feelings:

All those bad feelings we are too enlightened to feel nowadays — such as resentment, jealousy, betrayal — also signify the capacity to lose yourself in the first place, to fall in love with someone other than yourself. They presuppose that there is a soul to protect, that there are hopes to be shattered, a lost love to guard, even if now only mentally and futilely. No hard feelings? I’m advocating a return to precisely that: hard feelings. At least then you know you’re a person, that you have a heart (p. 34).

Her comments on the social effects of immodesty are also important. When most girls aren’t sleeping around, then a girl who feels pressured to do so will have a stronger sense of what she ought and ought not to do. She’ll have support to fall back on. But if most girls are sleeping around, then a girl who wants to be accepted — not least by a guy — will feel much more pressure to lower her standards and will have less of a support network to depend upon. In fact, girls who don’t sleep around feel pressured to act, talk, and dress as if they do in order not to stand out or be thought weird.

As she says,

To the extent premarital sex is accepted, to that extent is the idea of the necessity of marriage undermined….  To the extent that premarital sex is practiced and encouraged, to that extent will women who want to wait until marriage find it harder to meet men who will marry them without “trying them out” first, to have patience with someone with “hang-ups” — which is to say, hopes…. 

One of my professors who didn’t think modesty was a serious subject of inquiry memorably asked me why I couldn’t “just be modest and shut up about it!” The answer is that modesty simply cannot be “just” a private virtue — a “personal choice” — in a culture where there is such a high survival value placed on immodesty. The choices some women make restrict the choices open to other women. Perhaps this is where liberalism failed, because it claimed society could be simply neutral about individuals’ choices, and it never can. The direction of social pressure cannot be discounted (p. 228).

The Amazon reviewer (“Homeschooling Single Mom”) who complained that “Shalit makes wild sweeping historical generalizations without ever providing any sort of support for these claims aside from anecdotal stories and soundbites from women’s magazines” has a point. She does seem to paint a rosy picture of the past. For instance:

It is today’s male who is thought manly by “scoring.” In a different time he proved his manhood by being honorable. Success with women used to mean being faithful to one of them (p. 147). 

That sounds great, and it’s a good definition of true success with women, but is it historically accurate? Weren’t there always guys in the past, including in 19th century England to which she’s referring here, who boasted of their sexual conquests?

Still, I think Shalit is correct in implying that there has usually been a general stigma against immodesty on the part of women. That, it seems to me, is what is changing: not whether men boast about their sexual conquests and not whether they can find women to conquer but how society views loose women. Now “looseness” is the norm and that norm is, in many circles, being pushed on women who would rather not be loose.

So in spite of the flaws which Shalit’s account has, it is still valuable reading — for girls but also for young men who need to understand how to behave toward women and why, for parents seeking to raise children to love and to honor modesty, and for pastors whose congregations need to model before the world a new and different way of living, talking, and dressing.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:28 pm | Discuss (0)

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