How to Sneer

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to win an argument without actually having to make an argument? Arguments, after all, require a lot of work. They demand facts and logic. And to really argue well—in the style of Socrates or Aquinas, for instance—requires treating one’s interlocutor with charity.

Sneering, by comparison, is easy. There’s no need for carefully constructed syllogisms or verifiable facts. And a properly-wielded sneer can be more powerful than a sound argument. Rather than just silencing an opponent, it sends them whimpering for the nearest exit.

For practical lessons on sneering, look no further than a recent Baffler article by Jessa Crispin, entitled “Maiden America.” The target of Crispin’s sneering is evangelical “purity culture” in general, and “purity balls” in particular—those father/daughter events intended to celebrate and encourage sexual abstinence before marriage.

Crispin clearly disapproves of purity balls, and she wants you to disapprove of them too. Take a moment to see how she does it. You’ll learn the fine art of sneering in 4 easy lessons.

Lesson #1: Lean in to your disgust

To excel at this first lesson, you may find it helpful to emulate a schoolyard bully. Mock anything that seems strange. For example, note how Crispin describes a typical purity ball. “It’s hard to say which is stranger, that grown men have primped themselves up for a middle-school dance or that each couple is father and daughter, here to make ardent sexual declarations to one another.”

The abuse use of language is key here. These grown men didn’t just get dressed for the event. They “primped” themselves. And while it isn’t strange for children to be in the company of their parents, Crispin finds a way to make it sound disgusting. They are couples, making ardent sexual declarations to one another. Eww.

Lesson #2: Pathologize disagreement

The targets of your sneering aren’t just wrong. They are suffering from a disorder. For example: “Purity balls are the ritual high feasts . . . in which a whole nation of dads, including our presidents, obsess over the ins and outs of their daughters’ sexual organs.”

Did you catch that? They aren’t just concerned. They’re “obsessed.” There’s something deeply wrong with them. The phrase, “daughters’ sexual organs” is a nice touch. Sure, it’s baseless, but it further insinuates that these dads’ interest in their daughters is incestuous. And Crispin surely deserves bonus points for the lewdly suggestive “ins and outs.”

Get the hang of lesson #2 by practicing on unsuspecting townspeople:

  • Farmers are obsessed with the sex lives of barnyard animals.
  • Teachers are weirdly fixated on other people’s children.
  • Hospice nurses have some sort of fetish for the frail bodies of the dying.

Lesson #3: Confidence!

Now that you’ve decimated your targets with mockery and accusations of psychological disorder, it’s time to throw some facts at them. Unlike in traditional debate, these facts needn’t be true—but they just need to be delivered with a heavy dose of confidence. Otherwise, onlookers might suspect that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Again, Crispin provides a perfect example: “The idea of sexual purity was a relatively late addition to Christian doctrine.”

Just take a moment to admire that sentence. Imagine what confidence it must take, not just to say such a thing, but to print it in a national magazine! Crispin is on a roll!

Keep in mind that the people she’s writing about are Christians, whose religion is concerned with sexual purity. There’s a pretty good chance they’ll know that 1 Corinthians says to “flee from sexual immorality,” and that the “body is not meant for sexual immorality.” Or that Hebrews says to “let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Or that Jesus warned against even looking at a woman lustfully. Or that Galatians condemns sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Or that Colossians says to put sexual immorality to death. Or that 1 Thessalonians says to “abstain from sexual immorality.” Or that Proverbs says that “he who commits adultery lacks sense.” Or that Ephesians says that “sexual immorality and all impurity” shouldn’t even be named among Christians. Or that committing adultery violates one of the ten commandments. Or that maybe (just maybe) they’ve skimmed the book of Hosea.

Lesson #4: Logical sequences are for dopes

Sneering can help free you from outmoded forms of discourse. (Tip: the word “outmoded” is a valuable tool. It implies that being out of fashion is the same thing as being discredited.)

Crispin give us a solid example of what it looks like to embrace the non-sequitur. After making the outrageous claim that, “sexual purity was a relatively late addition to Christian doctrine,” she substantiates it by saying, “not even priests needed to be celibate until the twelfth century.”

See how that works? Sexual purity didn’t exist until the 12th century because until then priests were allowed to marry. True, the first thing is only tangentially related to the second thing. And if she had checked Wikipedia, she would have learned that clerical celibacy was firmly in place several centuries earlier. But since her targets are still reeling from being called incestuous child molesters, they are unlikely to notice.

So, next time you want to criticize something without the effort of making an argument, try sneering at it. It may prove difficult at first, but take heart. Over time your conscience will atrophy, and these once-outrageous methods will become settled habit.

Featured image: “Father Daughter Dance” by Elizabeth Pfaff (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mother of God: Two Guys Almost Lost Their Pet Human Child

We all need to feel sorry for two men who, as Buzzfeed reports, nearly lost custody of the male human child they had bought and paid for, through the unreasonable malice of a rogue judge.

The male human child was the byproduct of an otherwise unrelated instance of artificial reproduction in the form of in vitro fertilization, and thus he is actually the biological offspring of another couple, friends of these men, who didn’t want him. The two men already have custody of two other human persons of the female variety, whose biological origin is apparently unimportant other than that they too were brought into the world through surrogates. (These women are always referred to in this type of journalism as “surrogates” — what precisely they are a surrogate for it is unfashionable to mention — or “gestational carriers.”)

Buzzfeed is of course at pains to detail how unspeakably bourgeois and in fact even wealthy these two men are. One, we read, is quite fetchingly the president of a lobbying group, the National Association of Manufacturers, which may explain why he believed that manufacturing a child in the womb of a paid surrogate was a reasonable thing to do. This man is also referred to as “a conservative Christian” for reasons that are unclear. His partner was “a federal lobbyist for Capital One” until he quit to care for their growing family pursue the couple’s litigation efforts full-time. Such wonderful, human people.

The rest of the Buzzfeed article centers on the controversy about whether paid surrogacy ought to be legal, because it’s 2016, and why shouldn’t two rich white gay men have the best children money can buy?

I of course take the view of the benighted Wisconsin judge who tried to frustrate their plans. Two human bodies were bought and sold in this transaction: one the surrogate whose womb is effectively rented; the other of course being the child. (To be fair to the child’s new proprietors, they were not responsible for his genesis in a lab; we can blame his biological progenitors and their medical collaborators for that.)

I hope this child and his putative siblings have a lovely childhood, and that in experiencing the joys and challenges of parenting these unique human beings who, despite their unusual origins, are unique persons made in the image of God, their “dads” will become better people.

The worst thing about this story is Buzzfeed‘s relentless spin, which I am trying, perhaps recklessly, to un-spin. Buzzfeed weasels its way past all kinds of problematic moral situations with the words it uses to frame the story. Surrogates, for instance, are always “used,” as providers of gestation-as-a-service. They are rented bodies who seemingly do not relate as mothers to the children they carry.

While refusing to dignify the surrogate with even a transient motherhood, Buzzfeed refers to her two clients as “dads” and “fathers,” even as their biological fatherhood is specifically disclaimed. Buzzfeed calls the boy “their son” even before they attain legal custody of him. What exactly makes them his parents? Presumably fatherhood is something that can be purchased once one achieves the appropriate socioeconomic status.

As usual, the early Christian church was on this issue before today’s sophisticated surrogacy techniques were ever contemplated. One might ask: Could not the Virgin Mary be seen in the same light, as a “gestational carrier” for the Son of God, who inhabited her womb through no human agency?

No, said the church at the third ecumenical council in 431. Mary was to be honored, not as one who merely provided the material for his human life, but one who, having carried and given birth to the incarnate Son of God, remains forever His mother, and not the mother of his humanity only, but mother of his undivided person, rightly to be called Theotokos, the Mother of God.

May she also be a true mother to the motherless, through the merits of her blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Featured image: “Romulus & Remus” by CellarDoor85, CC BY-SA 3.0