Birth, Freedom and Identity in Michel Houellebecq’s Submission

We like to believe that we choose our own path, create our own destiny, and are the master of our fate, the captain of our soul, to paraphrase William Ernest Henley.  But is this really the case, or are we defined by the very place we live, or the time that we are born? For example, would you be you if you had been born 200 years ago in another part of the world? Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission suggests that who we are is largely contingent on where and when we live, not our innate genius, and in this, the book is very Foucauldian.

Let us briefly examine the contents of the book. The book is set in France in the very near future, 2022 to be specific. This France is identical in almost every way to the France of 2015, there are not massive technological leaps or systems of control akin to Orwell’s 1984. The main difference in this France is that a Muslim party and a Muslim candidate win the Presidential election. The book centers on a character named François, a literature professor whose best days are behind him. François has lived a life largely uncommitted to anything, having sex with women who drift out of his life, disconnected from his divorced, Baby Boomer parents, irreligious, uninterested in politics, and seemingly an alcoholic based on the massive amounts he drinks in nearly every scene of the novel.

François is something of a cipher, mirroring perfectly the emptiness of modern Western Europe. He is also almost a caricature of what we might imagine a middle-aged, unmarried college professor to be. He is generally intellectually disinterested, he uses his classes to hit on young female students, and he is lazy. He “…never felt the slightest vocation for teaching” (Houellebecq 9), and doesn’t “…like young people and never had” (Houellebecq 9). If this were a romantic work, we might expect François to be some sort of radical non-conformist who exists to foment revolution on the system, sleeping with women and corrupting the morals of the youth! But no, this is not the case. He has simply drifted into his lifestyle, not through any great thought or choice, but apparently because it is the water that he swims in as a French literature professor in the Twenty-First century. To use Foucault’s terminology, problematization has made him what he is. Gary Gutting summarizes what problematization means:

The fact that my existence is problematized in a specific way is no doubt determined by the social power relations in which I am embedded. But, given this problematization, I am able to respond to the issues it raises in my own way, or, more precisely, in a way by which I will define what I, as a self, am in my historical context (Gutting 103).

     To apply this concept to François, he is operating within a limited set of choices available to him. Had he been born in Japan, or in the France of 1200, his life would have been very different. His sexual appetites would have been unlikely to be the same given the social strictures upon him, and he would presumably have thought quite differently about god, society and his parents. The social forces impinging on him have divided him from family, community, religion and the political space and have turned him into another atomized individual who doesn’t care much for what goes on in the world.

     The book cleverly tracks the life of French author J.K. Huysmans, who François has devoted his academic life to studying. Huysmans converted to Christianity towards the end of his life, and the hollow life that François leads brings us to suspect that he too is on the same course. In fact, he visits the Ligugé Abbey, a monastery, “…where Huysmans had taken his monastic vows” (Houellebecq 170). But in this tale, Christianity has lost all of its force, at least for François, and his visit achieves nothing. The social power of the Christian faith is not strong enough in France to correct the identity of François, because there is a new player on the scene.

     The new power in France is of course Islam, about which François says, “To be honest, it wasn’t a religion I knew much about” (Houellebecq 199). This lack of knowledge for a professor of literature in the modern day is somewhat astonishing, but I believe it shows what a blank slate François is. His parents did not teach him religion, his society does not demand any belief of him, and so he has made it to middle age with limited knowledge of a faith whose numbers are exploding in Europe. Foucault teaches that, “A society without power relations can only be an abstraction” (Foucault). While the West has debated the merits of Capitalism, Socialism and many other systems of thought, Islam has continued in its ancient form as a system of pure power, uniting mosque and state. Houellebecq quotes the Ayatollah Khomeini, who says, “If Islam is not political, it is nothing” (Houellebecq 181).

     The France of Submission undergoes a total transformation when an Islamic party wins the Presidential election. Suddenly, education is controlled by an Islamic worldview, polygamy becomes legal and a fusion of Middle Eastern petro-states and Europe begins to occur. Women’s fashions move towards modesty outside the home, and the Welfare State is scrapped. Surely, this means that a sexual libertine such as François is doomed in this new system? To our surprise, he is not! The book can be scene as a three-part narrative, first with François declining along with modern France in indifference and solipsistic nihilism, second with him seeking the same path of conversion as his hero Huysmans and failing to achieve any transcendental meaning, and thirdly to a submission to Islam (which of course means ‘submission’) out of conformity to the new social reality and the demands of his libido.

     It should not surprise us that a man with as little conviction about anything as François is should buckle under and convert to Islam. François is subjected to new powers from on high, powers that are favorable to him if only he will make the concession of converting to Islam. He can then take up to four wives, or perhaps three based on his salary. This will provide his cooking for him and satisfy his sexual urges with a younger bride, probably the result of an arranged marriage. He can take up his teaching post again, and indeed is recruited into doing so by someone who needs intellectual credibility at his university. Other than professing his faith in Allah and Muhammad as his prophet, very little in his day to day life needs to change. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this book is how little actually has to change in France when Islam comes to power! People still shop, take the train and read the news. Sexual power is now more in the favor of men, but when you analyze the previous “hook-up” culture that demanded no commitment from men, perhaps not too much has changed. Life goes on and the exhausted Western culture that has given up on its heritage goes quietly into the night as Islam comes into power. François adopts to this new power by becoming a Muslim, putting up no resistance whatsoever against a faith that should be utterly alien to him.

     Who are we? Submission is an almost picture-perfect illustration of Foucault’s theories of identity, centered around being constituted as subjects. A modern man in France converts to Islam because the society around him has changed completely. If we were born in a different country or a different time, would we still be who we are now? If Islam took political power in the United States, would we still think and behave as we do? Submission suggest that our self is constituted by when we are born, where we are born, and the social forces at play in our society.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “The subject and power | Michel Foucault Info.” Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Michel Foucault Info, 4 Jan. 2014. 29 Oct. 2015. <http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.power.en.html>.

Gutting, Gary. Foucault: A Very Short Introduction (very Short Introductions). 1st ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, USA, 22 Apr. 2005.

Houellebecq, Michel. Submission. United States: Farrar Straus Giroux, 20 Oct. 2015.

Another case of sexual misconduct in ACNA

Antonio Castañeda

While talking to Bart Gingerich about sexual misconduct cases in ACNA he mentioned another case from the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. A priest named Jesus Antonio Castañeda-Serna was accused of sexual misconduct and arrested on February 24th 2019. The Fresno chief of police said:

…the victims…would seek out Serna for counseling and healing from heartbreak to drug addiction. An arrest warrant says Serna would tell them they were cursed, and needed a healing massage and prayer with a special oil. Dyer said he would have the men disrobe and then carried out sexual acts.

The Diocese put out a statement that said:

Castañeda (commonly known as Father Antonio Castañeda) joined the diocese in 2008 as the vicar of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Fresno, California. On the evening of October 29, 2017, Bishop Eric Menees received credible accusations that Castañeda had committed sexual misconduct against adults in the diocese. The following morning, Bishop Menees suspended Castañeda from all pastoral and priestly ministry and reported the accusations to the police.
The Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin hired an independent third party to conduct an internal investigation. Pursuant to diocesan policy, Castañeda was notified of his right to representation at an ecclesiastical trial convened to hear the accusations. On November 24, 2017, Castañeda informed the bishop he would not contest the accusations, and he consented to be deposed from priestly ministry in the Anglican Church. Castañeda was then stripped of all priestly roles, privileges, and standing, and Bishop Menees began lending day-to-day pastoral care and oversight to Castañeda’s former congregation.

Disturbingly, Castañeda had previously withdrawn from the Roman Catholic priesthood before coming to the Diocese of San Joaquin and apparently the diocese was warned about his sexual misconduct with an adult and yet took him in! Donald W. Meyers wrote in the Yakima Herald:

Serna was a priest in the Yakima Diocese in 1997, but was suspended in 2005 amid allegations that he had revealed information he received in the confessional, said Monsignor Robert Siler, spokesman for the diocese.

While the diocese was investigating that and seeking direction from the Vatican, Castañeda Serna asked to withdraw from the priesthood, Siler said — a request granted in 2007. The diocese notified regional parishes that Castañeda Serna might attempt to pass himself off as a priest, Siler said.

A year later, the diocese attempted to look into an allegation that Castañeda Serna had engaged in sexual misconduct with an adult while a priest, but Siler said Serna did not cooperate with the diocese’s investigator. That allegation was passed on to Castañeda Serna’s Anglican diocese, Siler said. Siler said the Yakima Diocese has put Fresno investigators in touch with the man who made the allegation.

Anglican priest facing charges in California once served in Yakima Diocese

If the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin knew about the allegations against Castañeda in 2008 and did not remove him at that time, allowing him to assault more victims, that is a sickening failure. ACNA did not exist at this time so he would have come in under The Episcopal Church, which means it is more of a problem with San Joaquin than with the broader church. How on earth was he cleared to be a priest in TEC with his history? This is a clear failure and does show a problem in at least one ACNA diocese.

ACNA and sexual misconduct

Yesterday the ACNA posted this press release:

Earlier this year, the Board of Inquiry, a panel required by the Anglican Church in North America’s Constitution and Canons, found cause for ecclesiastical charges to be brought against The Right Reverend Ron Jackson. These charges were brought forward after private, earlier efforts by the Archbishop and fellow bishops to facilitate restoration proved unfruitful.

On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, Bishop Jackson admitted to the use of pornography over many years and pleaded guilty to the charges of sexual immorality (Canon IV.2(6)) and conduct giving just cause for scandal or offense (Canon IV.2(4)).

According to Canon IV.8(2) it is the responsibility of the College of Bishops to impose a sentence when a bishop is guilty of an ecclesiastical charge. Meeting on June 2, 2020, the College voted to impose the sentence of deposition from the sacred ministry on Bishop Jackson. His holy orders have been removed, and he is no longer permitted to engage in ordained ministry in the Anglican Church in North America.

In making this decision, the College of Bishops grieved the victimization of those caught up in the pornography industry and lamented the impact that moral failure in leadership has upon the whole Church and its witness. They also expressed their love and concern for Ron and Patty Jackson and their whole family, and assured them of the College’s unqualified desire to see Ron continue in the process of repentance and healing.

Please continue to pray for all those involved in or affected by this situation.

http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/2053

Although grievous, this is a good thing. It is good that the man was exposed and removed, although it was so late in life that it worries me to think that he was in the clergy and in leadership for many, many years while engaged in a massively sinful double-life.

I hope that ACNA and the various sub-jurisdictions are doing a good job of screening leaders and guarding the flock. I know some problems are hard to detect and that wolves are good at hiding, but the veneration that many lend to bishops and clergy can make ACNA a very dangerous place if there are sexual crimes or patterns of sin taking root.

On June 10, 2012 Bishop Julian Dobbs ordained the Rev. Kent Hinkson to the diaconate. Hinkson was a volunteer minister at All Saints Church in Durham and had been a pastor at Presbyterian churches in Texas, California and Florida before joining the ACNA. In 2014 Hinkson met a man named Matthew John Reed on a gay website. On August 4 2014 Hinkson left his home and told his family he was going to visit a pharmacy and make a deposit at a Durham bank. Instead he met Reed at a restaurant, then proceeded to the Eno River State Park where there was a sexual encounter. Reed then threatened to reveal the rendezvous and asked for hush money. He became angry and killed Hinkson.

In 2019 Father Eric Dudley of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee was found to have “…engaged in sexual misconduct against certain adult staff members and one other non-staff adult, abused his authority as an employer and priest and emotionally harmed those in his charge.”[1]https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/local/2019/11/25/st-peters-founder-eric-dudley-committed-sexual-misconduct-investigation-finds/4298058002/ This included things like:

With each of these reported victims, the relationships with Father Eric not only grew much more personal, but they eventually crossed physical boundaries. This usually occurred when the men were alone, and Father Eric engaged them in a personal conversation about previously known vulnerabilities. Almost inevitably, this resulted in someone crying and Father Eric engaging in some form of physical contact, such as putting his head in the reported victim’s lap, holding the reported victim’s hands, touching the reported victim’s feet, or otherwise caressing the reported victim. In many cases, the physical contact escalated to the point that Father Eric was arranging to sleep in the same bed as the reported victim; he even kissed a reported victim on the mouth. If the respective person expressed any uneasiness with the touching, Father Eric would either normalize the behavior (such as by explaining that he was just an affectionate person or talking about men holding hands or kissing in other cultures) or reassure the victim that he was not sexually attracted to men.

Eventually this escalated:

As the communications, meetings, and personal activities that Father Eric demanded from these young men grew in frequency and intensity, the reported victims and their spouses became increasingly annoyed and troubled. Attempts by the reported victims to reduce communications and contact with Father Eric, however, were often met with guilt trips, anger, and sometimes rage. Father Eric’s escalation of misconduct over time led each victim to disclose their experiences.

Were there clues in the past of these clergy that might have revealed the problems before they were brought into ACNA? How thorough is the vetting process for established clergy coming in from elsewhere? I know in AMiA before 2010 it was broken and allowed divorced priests in that should never have been allowed in.

ACNA had made a great deal of having a “startup culture” and has valued an “entrepreneurial” mindset in its clergy or aspiring clergy. I would say that we have been “hasty in the laying on of hands” and we are stuck with clergy who should not be ordained. I don’t mean those in sexual sin but unorthodox and unsound, spineless and clueless. But the case of Bishop Jackson shows that there may also be issues of sexual sin. Given the correct conduct of the Council of Bishops we can be grateful, but it is something that bears watching. Let’s hope that there isn’t fire where there is smoke and that we haven’t got a larger problem on our hands.

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/local/2019/11/25/st-peters-founder-eric-dudley-committed-sexual-misconduct-investigation-finds/4298058002/

LDS movement on Heavenly Mother

The LDS Church acknowledges that if there is a Father in Heaven, there must be a Mother too. Their official website says:

Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother. In this, they follow the pattern set by Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples to “always pray unto the Father in my name.” Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to Heavenly Father, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” Indeed, as Elder Rudger Clawson wrote, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.”

–Gospel Topics Essays: Mother in Heaven
The cover of a book by Caitlin Connolly.

A book receiving a lot of attention is called A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother which affirms this view which has a lot of traction among younger Saints in particular.

Latter-Day Saint apologist Jaxon Washburn has taken things much further, openly equating Heavenly Mother with Asherah in the Old Testament:

We believe in God, the Eternal Mother, and in Her Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.In ancient Israel, Her name was Asherah, meaning “happiness,” “blessedness,” or “holy place”.The Queen of Heaven, She is the Mother of our spirits.She possesses a glorified, physical, and tangible body of flesh and bone. Exalted, divine, immortal, perfected, standing fully equal with Her Husband.She holds all power, glory, and intelligence in perfect unity with Him.We sat and listened, before this world was, as both She and the Father presented the Great Plan of Happiness.She was there as the foundations of the earth were laid, the clouds above established, and the seas divided.Every one of us is made in Her likeness and image.Her work and Her glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of humanity.She hears our prayers, She loves Her children, and She readily pours out bounteous blessings upon them that turn to Her.Our theology begins with Heavenly Parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like Her and the Father.She can be found in the holy temple, in nature and the fullness of its creation, and near to our hearts whenever we need Her.The Son beckons to us all, “Behold thy Mother”. All things denote there is a Mother.#HappyMothersDayArtwork: J. Kirk Richards, “The Goddess Speaks” 2014

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

While I expect the LDS Church to shrink in the USA, I think it will grow for some time in Africa. I wonder if this doctrine will help or hinder that growth?

Posted in LDS

A prayer in the time of plague

IT had been the best for us, O most righteous Judge, and our most merciful father, that in our wealth and quietness, and in the midst of thy manifold benefits continually bestowed upon us most unworthy sinners, we had of love hearkened to thy voice, and turned unto thee our most loving and gracious father: For in so doing, we had done the parts of good and obedient loving children, It had also been well, if at thy dreadful threats out of thy holy word continually pronounced unto us by thy servants our preachers, we had of fear, as corrigible servants, turned from our wickedness. But alas we have shewed hitherto our selves towards thee, neither as loving children (O most merciful father) neither as tolerable servants, O Lord most mighty.
Wherefore now we feel thy heavy wrath, O most righteous Judge, justly punishing us with grievous and deadly sickness and plagues; we do now confess and acknowledge, and to our most just punishment do find indeed, that to be most true, which we have so often hard threatened to us out of thy holy scriptures, the word of thy eternal verity: that thou art the same unchangeable God, of the same justice that thou wilt, and of the same power that thou canst punish the like wickedness and obstinacy of us impenitent sinners in these days, as thou hast done in all ages heretofore. But the same thy holy Scriptures, the word of thy truth, do also testify, that thy strength is not shortened but that thou canst: neither thy goodness abated but that thou wilt, help those that in their distress do flee unto thy mercies, and that thou art the same God of all, rich in mercy towards all that call upon thy name, and that thou dost not intend to destroy us utterly, but fatherly to correct us; who hast pity upon us, even when thou dost scourge us, as by thy said holy word thy gracious promises, and the examples of thy saints in thy holy Scriptures expressed for our comfort, thou hast assured us.
Grant us, O most merciful father, that we fall not into the uttermost of all mischiefs, to become worse under thy scourge, but that this thy rod may by thy heavenly grace speedily work in us the fruit and effect of true repentance, unfeigned turning and converting unto thee, and perfect amendment of our whole lives, that, as we through our impenitence do now most worthily feel thy justice punishing us, so by this thy correction we may also feel the sweet comfort of thy mercies, graciously pardoning our sins, and pitifully releasing these grievous punishments and dreadful plagues. This we crave at thy hand, O most merciful father, for thy dear son our Savior Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

The Predestination Controversy

Stavanger Lutheran Church in Ossian Iowa.

Norwegian Lutheran immigrants to the United States created several different denominations over the years, but the most prominent during the 19th century was the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church known as The Norwegian Synod. The Synod was organized in 1853. In later decades the Synod was rocked by several theological controversies, including fights over absolution, justification, and eventually election/predestination.

    Reading literature from that time you quickly realize that the Predestination Controversy (naadevalgsstriden) was not confined to seminaries but divided entire Norwegian communities in the Midwest. Jon Gjerde puts it this way:

The controversy began among the clergy but quickly spread to the laity. Church members passionately discussed the theological questions, according to one participant, “on the streets and in the alleys, in stores and in saloons, and through a continuous flow of agitating articles [in newspapers and periodicals].” words occasionally led to fights. “They argued predestination in the saloons, with their tongues,” said one, “and settled it in the alley with their fists.” Although fisticuffs were rare, certain Norwegian congregations suffered wrenching internal strife. “The ties of old friendship broke,” remembered one man. “Neighbor did not speak to neighbor. The daughter who was married to a member of the other party became a stranger in her father’s house. Man and wife turned into dog and cat. Brothers and sisters were sundered from one  another.” (Gjerde 1997 page 118)

Bibliography

Gjerde, Jon. 1997. The Minds of the West Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes

I found this in an old issue of Notes and Queries and thought I would pass it along:

There is a curious tradition existing in Mansfield, Woodhouse, Bulwell, and several other villages near Sherwood Forest, as to the origin of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. The inhabitants of any of these villages will inform the questioner that when the Danes got to Linby all the Saxon men of the neighboring villages ran off into the Forest, and the Danes took the Saxon women to keep house for them. This happened just before Lent, and the Saxon women, encouraged by their fugitive lords, resolved to massacre their Danish masters on Ash Wednesday. Every woman who agreed to do this was to bake pancakes for their meal on Shrove Tuesday as a kind of pledge to fulfill her vow. This was done, and that the massacre of the Danes did take place on Ash Wednesday is a well-known historical fact.

Notes and Queries, June 4, 1859

Jeremy Taylor on Shrove Tuesday Repentance

In The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, he writes:

Every true penitential sorrow is rather natural than solemn; that is, it is the product of our internal apprehensions, rather than outward order and command. He that repents only by solemnity, at a certain period, by the expectation of tomorrow’s sun, may indeed act a sorrow, but cannot be sure that he shall then be sorrowful. Other acts of repentance may be done in their proper period, by order and command, upon set days, and indicted solemnities; such as is, fasting and prayer, and alms, and confession, and disciplines, and all the instances of humiliation: but sorrow is not to be reckoned in this account, unless it dwells there before. When there is a natural abiding sorrow for our sins, any public day of humiliation can bring it forth, and put it into activity; but when a sinner is gay and intemperately merry upon Shrove-tuesday, and resolves to mourn upon Ash-wednesday; his sorrow hath in it more of the theatre than the temple, and is not at all to be relied upon by him that resolves to take severe accounts of himself.

Section VI.X.89

Statist presumption

The common man is typically unnoticed in history, literature, and art. Reviewing James C. Scott’s book Against the Grain for the TLS, Crispin Sartwell writes:

If this picture is even roughly or partly true, mainline anthropology has been profoundly distorted by what we might call a statist presumption, by the equation, for example, of civilization with large-scale political authority. It lays open the question of who did the research, and for whom. The historical narrative, for many reasons, has been dominated by large states and empires that engaged, for example, in elaborate record-keeping and monumental architecture; what persists in time is inordinately the self-interpretation and self-presentation of political power.

TLS July 19 2019