Monday, December 16, 2013

"Widows and Orphans: On Evolution, Election and Love"

Here's something really wonderful, at Experimental Theology.   I've been saying for awhile now that in my view today's church has a sadly impoverished view of life and living; it seems to want to insist that all human beings fit into the "procreatively married with kids" mold - that there is really only one kind of person in the world, and only one valid way to live.

Which to me sadly denies the world that God actually created, is coercive, and is, in fact, completely contrary to Christian history besides, in which non-reproductive people have played such a central role, in its monasteries and convents and parish churches. To me, the medieval church had it much more together on this account, and was much more faithful; it took everybody in, and found a place for them.

One interesting thing about gay love, I think, is that it can be viewed as love for love's sake alone; it has no other end but love. So it does have iconic value just by itself - as does, of course, heterosexual love. As do parenthood, and adoption, and the love of the wider community; all say something about God.

Anyway, this is a fantastic article; here's a part of it:
Last week I wrote a post (and a follow-up post) where I argued that incarnational theology needs to attend to evolutionary science if it wants to truly embrace the notion of embodiment. You can't claim to speak about bodies, in any comprehensive or coherent manner, without attending to the forces that produced and shaped those bodies over millions of years.

And yet, the creates a suite of issues, particularly for those of us who want to include the bodies and sexualities outside of the heterosexual and cisgendered box, the bodies and sexualities of LGBTQ persons.

The reason for this is that biological evolution, for the most part, is focused on sexual reproduction. And for millions of years of human evolution that has involved the fertilization a woman's ovum by a man's sperm. Consequently, much of the discussion involving human evolution focuses on heterosexual activity.

And this can produce a couple of sloppy inferences.

First, the focus on biological reproduction in evolution can suggest to some that heterosexual activity is "natural" and that other sexualities are "unnatural." However, homosexual, bisexual, and autosexual activity is observed throughout the animal kingdom. Sexual diversity comfortably fits under the label "natural."

Second, a closely related assumption is that if something has evolved it's therefore natural and therefore good. But just because something is natural doesn't make it good. David Hume has a famous rule associated with his name: You can't get an ought from an is. You can't extrapolate ethics from facts. Again, just because something is "natural" doesn't make it good. In fact, more often than not, natural things are bad things. A lot of right, ethical action is about overcoming natural biases and inclinations.

I'm going into all this because in last week's post I focused on evolution and heterosexuality. That focus left a lot of sexualities out of the conversation leading to the implicit judgments I described above. So in this post I wanted to revisit evolution to create a different sort of perspective on heterosexuality.

Again, for better or worse, heterosexuality is the engine of evolution.

But there is more to be said about this.

A key observation to make is this: While heterosexuality is the main engine of evolution this is also what makes heterosexuality selfish and, thus, a very poor (or very limited) model of what God's love should look like.

Theologically, love is love because it is altruistic, it is self-giving and sacrificial. Love does not seek its own benefit. Love dies to give life to others.

Heterosexual sex in evolutionary models struggles to fit that definition. Reproductive success is inherently a selfish process. This is why Richard Dawkins entitled his seminal book The Selfish Gene. A lot of what passes for "loving" behavior is actually an expression of genetic selfishness. Love of family, for example, is an expression of kin selection. We make "sacrifices" for our children and family members and that looks like altruism. But from an evolutionary perspective that behavior isn't altruistic. It's selfish, genetically selfish. From a Darwinian perspective children and relatives carry our genetic material forward in time. In sacrificing for our children we are serving ourselves, specifically our own genetic representation in the next generation.

That's the shadow side of heterosexual activity from an evolutionary perspective. Our love is 1) directed inward toward our kin-group and 2) is genetically self-interested.

Thus I find it very interesting, from an evolutionary psychological perspective, that Jesus has such a dim view of biological relations. What benefit is there, Jesus says, if you greet only your brothers and sisters? Even the pagans do that. And why is that? Why do we greet only our brothers and sisters? Because it is the natural, the evolved thing to do.

Jesus wants Kingdom expressions of love to transcend our evolved, inward and natural focus on kinship bonds. Who, Jesus asks, are his brothers and sisters? Not his biological relations but those, he says, who do the will of his Father.

In evolutionary theory, altruism is described as costly actions which enhance the reproductive success of others at the expense of our own.

Which makes adoption, from an evolutionary perspective, the quintessential act of altruism.

So I think it's interesting to note here how the bible privileges the care oforphans and widows. As it says in James 1.27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress."

Isn't it interesting how the ultimate expressions of Christian love are poured into two evolutionary dead-ends? Infertile women and children from other unions. Any love or care poured into these two groups is a complete and utter waste in the eyes of evolution. Any sacrifice here is total and complete loss, genetically speaking.

Which is what makes it love. Which is what makes it grace. Which is why this sort of love is the best window we have into the heart of God.

Read the whole thing, though!  It's really great.

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