Saturday, February 11, 2006


One of the most puzzling names I have run across is Chasity, a given name for girls. According to The Baby Name Wizard, it is unknown before the '60s, peaked in popularity in the early '80s at 344th, and has fallen off quite a bit lately.

Still, it was quite popular, ranking 872 out of 4275 for females of all ages in the 1990 U.S. Census. Since girls' names are much more diverse than boys' names, being in the top 1000 is pretty good.

My problem is – how to put this delicately – that the name seems to be based on a typographical error, compounded by ignorance. A Google search for the word yields hundreds of entries in which the writer clearly meant to write "chastity."

One baby name site politely described the name as a "simplified form of Chastity."

My wife has told me that fads in girls' names are often driven by soap opera characters. I have not been able to find a soap character, or other pop culture source, which might have made this name take off in the early '80s. The most famous real person that I can find with this name is Chasity Melvin, a player in the Women's National Basketball Association.

There was a notorious case in Kentucky involving a high-schooler who was not admitted to the National Honor Society because she had just had a kid without benefit of husband. Just to make the case perfect, her name was Chasity.

Does anyone have any insight into this name?

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Vice of Centrists

I recently offered my thoughts – succinct, I would say, though snarky might also be true – on the vices of conservatives and liberals. An anonymous respondent asked, quite reasonably, what the vice of centrists might be.

I have been puzzling over this. I don't think I have really nailed it, as I do about naming the vices of others. That may be the perennial problem of self-crit. Here is my first cut.

The vice of centrists is complacency.

Liberal and conservative activists seem to enjoy feeling righteously indignant so much that I think that is half the appeal of having an ideology in the first place. But to feel really righteous in our outrage, we have to grossly simplify the issues and options, to eliminate the middle positions and proclaim culture war.

However, sometimes a revolution really is called for. Very rarely, but sometimes. In my lifetime, legal racial exclusion was one such moment. The civil rights movement was the response, and for the most part it was conducted with great justice and forbearance. Centrists are inclined to be gradualists. But the culture of racism really needed to be removed root and branch.

So it is a good thing in the ecology of politics to have the wings as well as the great middle.

On the whole, though, it is best to have the center rule.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Conservatives and Liberals Did Right

Yesterday I criticized conservative and liberal vices. Today I want to praise their virtues.

What liberals did right was the Civil Rights Movement. Faced with a manifest evil, liberals pushed against it for decades until we all won. Most remarkable was the great forbearance that the leaders and ordinary activists showed in not responding to endless violent provocations with endless violence.

What conservatives did right was the Cold War. Faced with a manifest evil, conservatives pushed against if for decades until we all won. There was quite a bit of violence around the edges of the struggle, but the Cold War stayed a cold war at its heart.

Every virtue has its vice, and vice-versa. We become like the person with a hammer, for whom all problems are, therefore, nails.

The problem that liberals now face is that they tend to see all issues through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet the condition of women, handicapped people, homosexuals, and, next, polygamists, is not the same as that of African-Americans. The same response will not produce the same result.

The problem that conservatives now face is that they tend to see all issues through the lens of the Cold War. Yet the condition of Al Qaida, Iran, North Korea, and, next, Burma is not the same as that of Soviet Communism. The same response will not produce the same result.

Still, the self-restraint that liberals exercised in the Civil Rights Movement, and that conservatives exercised in the Cold War, is a valuable model in dealing with today's problems. We should notice and honor such self-restraint when we see it now. We argue about offensive cartoons – we don't riot, murder, and burn over them.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Family Class Blog

I am trying something new in my Introduction to Family Life class this year: a class blog. Members of the class will report on, and respond to, the syllabus for the class. They will post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, beginning next week. In May, they will be posting on topics of their own choosing in the family field. I am looking forward to the fruits of their labors.

If you have a chance, I think they would be thrilled if you would have a look and make a comment. I find that writing for the world, as I do each day, has helped make my thoughts and writing clearer (I think, so, anyway). I am hoping that blogging will have a similar effect on student writing.

I also believe that the blogosphere is the cutting edge of cultural criticism. There is, of course, a great deal of muck in blog world, but it is also the cultural arena in which new ideas are first tried out. I want to get students to become critical consumers of blogs, as well as contributors to the discussion.

The link to the Family Class Blog is now at the top of the links list for The Gruntled Center. You can find it here. Enjoy.

Monday, February 06, 2006

First Wave Feminism vs. Second Wave Feminism

Betty Friedan's death has got me thinking about the two kinds of feminism.

The feminism of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, and especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton was about recognizing the equal worth of the distinctive excellences of women. In particular, they did not want women as wives and mothers to be denigrated because they were wives and mothers. Of course, they fought against the discrimination that all women faced just because they were women. But their vision was of womanhood which was greater than simply being a person, of womanhood that was (at least) as excellent and necessary to society as manhood.

Now consider the most famous sentence from Betty Friedan's great book, The Feminine Mystique:

The problem that has no name — which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities — is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.

I read The Feminine Mystique while my wife was studying for the bar exam. While she was in a class of prospective lawyers that was about equally men and women in 1985, I sat outside and read about the restrictions on educated women in 1963. I appreciated how many doors had been opened to women in between, and how far as a society we had come. It was a moving experience that, as you can see, sticks with me to this moment.

In the years since then, though, I have come to appreciate the downside of Friedan's kind of feminism. Friedan's brand of egalitarian feminism thought that treating women as different from and complementary to men would be denigrating to women, making them less than people. It is right there, I think, in the famous sentence quoted above. It is not surprising that Betty Friedan was the kind of egalitarian who saw any difference as discrimination. She was trained, after all, as a communist. In recent years, though, this Marxist vision that every one is the same (and the state will give you your equal due) has not fared well in politics both global and domestic.

First wave feminism, though, had a different vision. They saw womanhood as better than mere personhood, just as manhood was better than mere personhood. This difference feminism lives on today, though academic feminists would be more likely to cite Carol Gilligan than Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a source for their ideas. Of course men and women should be equal before the law. Of course, men and women live together in the most richly intertwined ways. To say that men and women are complementary is not to put one above the other. To say that men and women are different is not to say they should live separately, or even that they can live separately.

First wave feminism was about women as women. Second wave feminism was about women as persons. Being a woman is not less than being a person; it is more.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Is Higher Criticism Useful?

A century ago the mainline churches had heresy trials about the Higher Criticism of Scripture, while the conservative Protestants laughed it to scorn. The idea that the Bible was the result of the redaction (editing together) of alternative oral traditions and documentary fragments from many communities over a long time – in both the Old Testament and the New Testament – has one of those weird ideas imported from European unbelievers.

Today, even evangelical seminaries teach the documentary hypothesis and contextual interpretation as the standard scholarly way of reading the Bible. Only hard-core fundamentalists hold to the view that the original autographs were written at one go by their reputed human authors under the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even some fundamentalist Bible scholars allow that there might have been oral tradition behind some texts, and mutual influence between some of them. Heck, they even expound historical context in interpretation sometimes. Even literalists don't always take their literalism literally.

When I was in college and divinity school two decades ago I studied, knew, and accepted the historical development of Scripture, and knew JEDP and the pseudo-Pauline letters. Over the years, though, my memory of which face is hidden in which tree has faded.

I still accept the Higher Criticism as true. I just don't find it useful.

My pastor and Sunday school teachers talk about how Corinthians was written before Romans (I think), and Hebrews isn't really by Paul, and first Isaiah and second Isaiah and third Isaiah are all from different times and were responding to different terrible things that had befallen the Hebrews. I don't dispute their historical analysis. But I cannot recall a time when historical criticism ever helped me understand what the text means to the church. As a scholar, I could be interested in whether Ezekiel is exilic or post-exilic. As a Christian, I don't see that it makes much difference.

I am for a learned clergy. I am a Presbyterian, and our pastors slog through Hebrew and Greek and lots of theology and biblical interpretation. I am glad that their sermons "smell of the study lamp" – to a point. I think it is more important, though to clearly convey the idea that the Bible tells one story that includes us today. For the faith of individuals and for the faith of the church as a whole, this narrative is more important to know than the historical order in which the pieces of that story were assembled.

If I were teaching graduate students the sociology of religion or the sociology of family life, I would have them read through the classical arguments to work up to a rich understanding of the field. I teach undergraduates, though. Few of them will be sociologists. Almost all of them will be spouses and parents and members of religious institutions. What they really need is the best wisdom that I can bring them about how to make a good marriage, how to raise good children, how to be a good member of the faith. We read lots of current studies, but we look mostly to their applications. They know, and I know, that there is scholarship and interpretative argument behind each claim that they make and that I make, but the lived story of the family and the faith matters the most.

So for my part, I say preach the one living story of Scripture. Save the higher criticism of the Bible for the study.

The Great Obfuscator Proposes

In this week when we celebrate the achievements of Alan Greenspan, we should note his success on the family front - that almost didn't happen.

Greenspan was known to speak in a convoluted way – the Great Obfuscator in contrast to his one-time boss Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator. Greenspan did eventually marry NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell. When asked whether Greenspan was ever so roundabout and ambiguous at home, his wife said:
"Occasionally. In fact, he claims he proposed three times before I was able to understand. He was so oblique."

[Note: This was first posted on Saturday, but blogger seems to have had the hiccups and dropped it later in the day. I repost it 'cause it is amusing.]