“The prisoner holds onto something beyond the rational, the definable. Dignity sustains him.” ~ Carlos Liscano in El furgón de los locos (English title: Truck of Fools), his personal account of incarceration and torture in Uruguayan prisons in the 1970s and ’80s.
We get our words misogyny, misandry, and misanthropy from misos (the Greek word for “hatred”), used as a prefix to combine with an object of antipathy.
We’ve probably heard the term misogyny (literally, hatred of women – from the Greek gunē) the most. Far less frequently heard are the terms misandry (hatred of men – from the Greek anēr, man, and the genitive form andros) and misanthropy (hatred of people – Greek anthrōpos). But what do they really mean, in terms of how they actually affect people?
Over the years, I’ve concluded that all three of these forms of misos are much more prevalent than we might realize, and they have both personal and social dimensions to them. I also believe from life-long observations, that they can show up in very unexpected places, so you cannot accurately predict, then, who will inflict them.
The societal versions of hatred and mistrust are probably the most common for us to see, and so, a bit easier to recognize. It seems more understandable that men would deal with misogyny. They express their disdain and hatred for women by objectifying and ogling them, using them for their own lustful purposes, making horrifically disparaging comments about them and to them, treating them as if they are nothing. And there are women who do similar things to men, making cutting remarks about how all men are stoopid, treating them all as worthless and untrustworthy, picking at them as a joke. And we might even see racism and “class wars” as forms of misanthropy – unkind misuses of power by those in elite positions of control, and who focus on putting down specific kinds of people.
I think that sometimes these gender wars and group wars arise out of the parasitic wounds of entitlement and devaluation. It happens in a hierarchical social system. To elevate one group to the social penthouse, you have to banish another to the subcultural basement. Other times, it’s likely based in some injury that is far more personal, such as any form of bullying or abuse – physical violence, emotional manipulation, sexual violation, spiritual guilt-shame-fear, neglect. It’s understandable that such set-ups for anger or hatred can spill over from the kind of person who inflicted the wound to the entire category which that person theoretically represents.
But then, there are surprises that emerge as we shift from the societal versions to the personal forms of misos – such as in my own story. In the guest post I wrote about that at The Wartburg Watch, I hinted at the deep rejection I had toward my own gender, and the resulting sense of “gender limbo” and a retreat from masculinity into mere, non-gendered, “personhood.” I’ve known a few women who seemed to experience a similar hatred of their gender that was more than just SELF-loathing … it was loathing themselves as a WOMAN, just as I hated myself as a MAN.
And then I reflect on the life stories of a dozen or so friends and acquaintances who’ve dealt with forms of transgenderism, Is it truly possible that a misos hatred got personalized for them, only here it turned inward against their birth gender? I don’t know how else to interpret it when I seemed to see it at some level in all of them. They rejected their birth gender and – instead of floating along in gender limbo as I did – they attached to the opposite gender. Some of them underwent various degrees of physical transformation to feel more comfortable with the opposite gender which they identified with, anything from hiding their birth-gendered body underneath opposite a submergence of fashions and styles, to hormonal treatments, to partial surgeries, to complete “sex-reassignment surgery.”
Most of them underwent a significant gender-healing transformation as part of their journey toward Jesus. In fact, one friend was a female-to-male transsexual who, when she became a Christian after living as a man for over 10 years, discerned that she was “living a lie,” as she herself told me, and that realization was precisely what led her to Jesus at the same time, as the source of Truth. So, she chose to undergo what surgeries she could to revert the physical form of her birth gender, insofar as possible.
None of these men or women had anomalies of genetics or other intersexual conditions to contribute to gender confusion. But I’ve had still other friends who indeed live with the challenges of intersexual conditions. They’ve also typically ended up with various levels of issues related to physiology and gender: body image, sexual orientation, gender identity confusion.
And look, these are not “case studies” for freak analysis, these are friends whose stories I listened to. People who hurt. They are divided from themselves. They are usually misunderstood and marginalized. Yet, we invited each other in to reflect on our histories together and process things seriously with one another. And I find the deep-seated lack of trust, repulsion, and hatred of men, women, and/or self has proved devastating to them – but not unhealable. In fact, I believe many of us found faith practices that led toward a gradual restoration of what we understood as God’s original design for us in our birth gender.
Where does this kind of misos come from – whether in its societal or personal forms of hatred? What dynamics are there for wormwood digging its way into our heart, corroding our soul, and twisting our perspectives into bite and bile?
Years ago, I ran across a quote from C.S. Lewis that I think holds a key: “Hatred blurs all distinctions.” When we hate, we transfer our rage from the one who hurt us to the entire category of people like our victimizer. We generalize our angst and/or anger from the one to the many. We minimize and marginalize the many because of the one. We objectify the victimizer, and echo back with hatred.
In short, we do unto others what was done unto us – or even reenact in ourselves what was done unto us. That’s the nature of what I call the “Fools Golden Rule.” We engage in devastating practices that seemingly protect us, but actually just amplify our own pain and inflict it back on others. We live in what that well-known postmodern philosopher … okay, so it was Dana Carvey … said: “To label me, is to ignore me.” By blurring all distinctions, we negative-label everyone who shares a concrete characteristic of our victimizer, so we can ignore the individuals and spew ignominy on their people group. So misogyny and misandry are forms of revenge, and they’re signs of deep spiritual sickness.
The problem is, we become like the objects of our obsession. (A variety of theologians over the centuries have noted this, especially those more oriented to mysticism, it seems.) Even though the outer activities of misos toward men, women, or people look like repulsion and pushing back from them, inwardly there is an idolatry of overconnection.
Does that make sense as a way of looking at the dynamics of the source problem? Let me try to describe them with an analogy, too. It’s like those pearlized Buddhas, where a small piece of shell, carved into a Buddha, has been inserted into a pearl oyster. The oyster considers the intrusive object an invader. And so, like our own immune system fighting off invader germs, the oyster’s system isolates the Buddha by covering it with “nacre” … the iridescent source mineral in pearls that is the same material used by the oyster in forming its shell. So, the result of the invasion may or may not exactly look pretty, but it’s still an idol underneath.
And, bringing the metaphor back to humans, what if we were like those oysters? What happens when the pearl seed is not an intentionally cultivated object like a Buddha, but a real person who is an irritant – like a grain of sand or tiny parasite around which a real oyster normally forms a pearl? The victimizer may be trapped inside the layers of protection we generate, but let’s admit it – he or she is still stuck in our system …
Moving Toward Solutions
So – what can we do if we find we’ve harbored hatred in our heart toward an entire category of people because of hurtful actions toward us by one or more of its members, or because our society says that this particular group is less in value or importance than we are, so hurting and humiliating them is okay?
I think I found the key theological answer to that question, and it can have profound effects for emotional healing. It is wrapped up in the idea of “agents of damage and agents of healing.” In my understanding, the scriptural reality is that healing from relational wounds most deeply occurs when steps toward reconciliation are initiated by an agent of healing who parallels the kind of person who inflicted the damage.
For me, this provocative truth for transformation emerges from Romans 5:9-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49. These state that by one man (Greek: andros – MALE) – by the First Adam – sin entered the world and death came as a result of sin. The Second/Last Adam, Christ, resolved the issues of sin and death both by taking upon Himself the penalty for sin and by removing the separation caused by sin. Jesus Christ is a representative male agent of healing who brings relational restoration to those who were excluded because of another male, Adam.
How specifically does this work for transformation? In great part, I think it’s a paradox, a mystery of our faith. It’s kind of like the concept of “transference” in therapy. The psychological issues of the client are uncovered and put upon the therapist as a safe representative who can “take it” and not lash back. That may be one of the better analogies we can come up with for what it means to be meek – not weak. Likewise, Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who “takes it” for the whole world, and is also The Good Shepherd.
I think this helps explain the comments you’ll find every so often from Dee and Deb on The Wartburg Watch, expressing appreciation for men who are “safe” being part of the community there and commenting regularly on what it means to either be a survivor of spiritual abuse. For instance, Pastor Wade Burleson regularly comments on the blog, expressing the true value of those who have been devalued and denigrated by “malignant ministers.” The presence of these supportive men is crucial, because men have been the primary inflictors of spiritual abuse on others, and especially upon women. And women have been more victimized in spiritually abusive churches than men have. Much of this overlording by men has come through a perverted form of gender superiority known as patriarchalism, which I believe in its practices fails to value women on par with men, regardless of all the theological somersaults its adherents use to suggest otherwise.
So – when an “advocate” stands up for victims or stands in the place of victims, there is some kind of deeply spiritual transaction happening that changes the course of the future. (And there we go again, in the name Advocate finding a title also used of Jesus Christ.) Advocacy by an agent of healing brings personal presence that soothes and smooths the way in resolving the wound that implanted the anger that led to the labeling of an entire people group because of the sins of the few. Its the antidote to the damage. It dissolves the idol. It restores the route to wholeness.
This is hope personified. Without this advocacy from a parallel agent of healing, we wither in the damage like cut-off branches and we crumble, or we drown, seemingly permanently stuck in the muck of our particular misos. It counteracts death; it helps restore life.
I believe this is why churches and ministries must regularly evaluate how “safe” they are for anyone and everyone to find an environment that both welcomes them and challenges redemptively toward personal transformation. And unless we find personal transformation, we will never be able to demonstrate social transformation that manifests the Christlike character of His Kingdom. As Price Pritchett wisely suggests in The Ethics of Excellence, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” Restoration for personal transformation involves concrete actions that pave the way for demonstrating missional salt and light in a dark and decaying world.
Becoming a Resolution
I also believe this is why, as those who claim to be following Christ and wanting to become like Him, we need to consider how to be hospitable to all instead of hostile to any. This is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean we give up all our convictions or compromise God’s truth. In essence, to be truly “missional,” we must become the kind of “person of peace” that Jesus told his disciples to look for when he sent them out to proclaim the coming Kingdom.
But what is a person of peace? The better question is probably, WHO is a person of peace? From gleanings in the gospels, these are the individuals, couples, families who personify hospitality and listening. I’d suggest they are “hub people” who connect with just about anyone and everyone. They hold influence because of who they are because of beliefs and personal character, not because of a position or role that they hold. They are safe, without having to demand recognition by saying, “I’m safe!” They are trustworthy, earn credibility with others, and willingly stand with their convictions even against opposition. They aren’t elected, but they are still viewed anyway as sort of “the heads in the ‘hoods.”
This doesn’t mean they are mushy, and that they connect because “anything goes.” From what I’ve seen of contemporary people who seem to be people of peace, they also have a strong sense of justice that matches their sensitive conscience and sense of compassion. (Just as people of misogyny or misandry have an underlying lack of conscience and compassion, which are actually taken as signs of sociopathology and are often identified as the essence of spiritual manipulation and abuse.)
And actually, the more I study people of peace, the more of their characteristics I’ve discerned in my own parents. That is a huge story, but let me just illustrate by one simple illustrative act. My parents worked hard to get enough funds to build a three-bedroom house for our family, and when they did, they rented out the small two-bedroom place we used to live in. In about 1968, they rented that little house to an interracial couple. That may not exactly sound like such a big deal, but think about this: What’s reputed to be the first interracial kisses shown on American TV – Uhura and Kirk on Star Trek. So this was still during the unsettled era of the fight for civil rights. What my parents did could be seen as a somewhat stunning act of political dissidence.
But actually, when I asked my Mother about this a few years ago, her response was simply matter of fact: “Well, we just took people at face value. That’s what you do, and that’s why we rented to them.” To a person of peace, that kind of openness and advocacy are just part of their natural character. For the rest of us, at least it can become part of our supernaturally developed character as we become more like Jesus Christ.
Whether it’s because of growing up with the example of my parents to just take people at face value, or because of other things along my journey, I’ve found myself perceived as a “safe” person. Maybe because gender has been a hole in my soul, now it’s part of the journey back to wholeness and I’m more open to those whose story revolves around being hurt in their gender or because of their gender. It’s on my radar, so I’m not so frightened of it. Whatever the reasons, how many times over the years have I heard things like, “Wow! I haven’t told that to any guy before, but I knew I could trust you …” and “I haven’t talked about that in a long time – nobody wants to hear it … thanks.”
I also find that I end up including people who might typically be overlooked. It’s not because I am in a personal position of power, but I guess because I know what it is to be excluded and marginalized from participation. And I try as best I can to see all people with the eyes and heart of Jesus Christ, and support their journey toward all that it means to follow Him, while maintaining both my moral convictions and relational compassion. It seems to me that these kinds of things are the everyday practices of missional disciples who serve as agents of healing in the lives of others.
Being safe … listening … keeping confidentiality … holding to boundaries … reflecting back what we’ve heard … including others as people of value to God and to us – men, women, girls, boys … learning and applying knowledge of the truth. These are all activites that are accessible to us through the equipping of God’s Word, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, through the intercession and advocacy of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
How will we choose to develop as agents of healing? What can we do to live as peacemakers – welcoming all, excusing none, challenging everyone toward transformation? And who has idols of hate that we might be called on to help dissolve into pathways of peace?