Friday, May 27, 2022

In Some Alternate Universe, I'm Writing a Post About Masks and "Causing to Stumble"

Sign that says "Please wear a face mask or face covering." Image source.

Well this post was in my drafts but I wasn't sure if I should post it because it's about American evangelicals and masks, and I'm in China and the culture around masks is totally different here. But I read the SBC report- the one about how the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention covered up sexual abuse for years, and it's so much worse than we thought- so yeah, now feels like a good time to say "it was all fake."


In some alternate universe, where I took a different path away from evangelicalism, some version of me is connecting the dots between not wearing a mask in the US during the pandemic, and the Christian teaching about "don't cause others to stumble."

This earnest, innocent version of me, who believes in loving God and loving your neighbor, who believes that if I take the things that I was taught in church, which I believed with all my heart and built my life on, and bring them and put them in front of Christians' faces, then it will mean something, she is writing things like this:

I was taught that, as a girl, I had to be careful about what I wore, so I didn't "cause a brother to stumble." Meaning, a boy might have a sinful thought about sexiness, and of course since all Christians are supposed to love others and put others before ourselves, I should do what I can to prevent that sinful thought from happening. That's what it means for a Christian girl to show love to Christian boys.

They said the same thing about alcohol. They said it's not a sin to drink a little bit, but it's a sin to get drunk- but regardless, you probably shouldn't let other people see you drinking, because what if it tempts them to drink too much? What if it's someone who gets drunk too much, but then they see you drinking, and they think that means their drunkenness is totally fine and not sinful?

So now here we are, in a pandemic. In the United States, many places are not requiring masks any more. But you should wear a mask in public anyway, because what if someone sees you without a mask and thinks you're doing it because you don't care about vulnerable people- people with health conditions that make covid particularly deadly to them, or children who are too little to be vaccinated? Or what if someone sees you without a mask, and it encourages them in their own sin of not caring for vulnerable people? 

Regardless of your actual reasons for not wearing a mask, someone who sees you might "stumble" by thinking you are committing the sin of not loving your neighbor, and it will encourage them to also commit that sin.

The logic is sound. If girls have to "cover up" for boys because that's just basic Christian love that of course all Christians should show to each other, and has nothing to do with misogyny... then yes, in the exact same way, all Christians should wear a mask in public so others don't "stumble" into the sin of thinking it's okay to not care about if people with "underlying health conditions" live or die.

In this universe, the one we actually live in, I am not writing that post. Because, how should I put this... It was all fake.

All that logic they laid out, when they explained the importance of modesty. About how boys have this problem, and of course if someone has a problem, the rest of us should care about them and try to help them. About how girls weren't allowed to just wear what we want; we have to be thinking about men first. Because all Christians should care for others first, and put your own preferences last. This is just what it means for Christians to care about each other, and there is nothing sexist about it. They said.

Yeah that was bullshit, it turns out.

But alternate-universe-Perfect-Number still thinks that's the logic behind Christian modesty teaching. She thinks it's simply about doing something that someone might interpret in a way that encourages them to think sinful thoughts. She thinks that's actually what Christians believe- because that is truly what she believed when she was evangelical. And so she thinks they will be convinced about the "wearing masks" thing when she explains how it follows the same "causing to stumble" logic.

She thinks she's making a really good point.

No, it was all fake. When did I realize it was all fake? I know for a lot of us American ex-evangelicals, it was during the 2016 election. Maybe that's the case for me too, or maybe it was earlier. We saw our Christian friends, our role models, supporting a man who basically matched every description I've seen Christians give of what "the antichrist" will be like. (That's why I call him "the orange antichrist.") We saw them choosing blatant racism over helping immigrants- he is just nakedly racist, more blatant than anything I'd ever seen from a presidential candidate, meanwhile the bible is clear, from beginning to end, over and over and over, it says you need to help immigrants. He has had affairs, he has been married multiple times, he bragged about sexually assaulting women, and many many women came forward and accused him of sexual assault- and yet he has the support of the people who call themselves the "family values" party, who claim they can't let queer people have rights because it's a threat to "the family" and "how will we explain this to the children?" It left us ex-evangelicals asking how we were supposed to explain the orange antichrist to our children. And on top of that, he can't name a single bible verse when asked- it's obvious he's just using evangelicals because it gets him political power, not because he actually believes it.

I remember seeing a tweet, some time around December 2016, in response to some conservatives talking about the "war on Christmas"... it went something like this: "Really? We're still doing this 'war on Christmas' stuff? Don't you know that we all see it was fake now?"

It was all fake. All that stuff about loving your neighbor. All that stuff about following what the bible says even if it's hard. All the stuff that I took to heart and I thought my Christian role models did too.

So let me tell you what modesty and "causing to stumble" was actually about. It goes like this: There are 2 types of women in this world. On the one side, you have good, modest Christian women, who follow the rules about not dressing sexy, and therefore these are the women who deserve to be respected. These are the women that men should protect. And on the other side, you have sluts. They are bad and sinful because they dress in a "revealing" or "provocative" way, and therefore we are right to judge them. They don't deserve respect. They put their body out there like that, of course they are giving up the right to consent about what sexual things are done to them. 

Christian "modesty" teaching is all about this: You need to be one of the good girls, not a slut.

That's it. Really, if you frame it that way, it makes a lot more sense.

Back when I was in college, I spent so long asking questions, trying to unravel what "modesty" was and what it meant for me as a woman. I truly believed it was about "helping the guys" and that of course all Christians have an equal responsibility to give up what they want in order to help others. I believed it wasn't sexist at all, it was just an unfortunate fact that men were so weak in terms of lust, and they needed women to do so much to help them.

But there was always one part that didn't make sense: If, say, I should wear a long dress because that's "more modest" than a short dress, then wouldn't it be even better if I wore an even longer and baggier dress that covered even more? Sure, the nice ladies at church told me that the long dress is fine, but "The Modesty Survey" (a survey for Christian boys about what does or does not "cause them to stumble") says some small percentage of guys is still going to lust even when I wear the "modest" long dress.

If it's really about "helping the guys" and I need to "put others first", then where does it end? Wouldn't it be even better to wear something big and ugly and completely unattractive? Wouldn't it be even better to wear something not feminine at all? If you take it to its logical conclusion, girls shouldn't go out in public at all, because no matter what you wear, some guy is going to have a sexual thought about you, there's nothing you can do about it.

(Or, actually, if you take it to it's logical conclusion, wouldn't the most "modest" women be the ones who dress in drag...?)

No matter what I wear, no matter what I do, some percentage of guys is going to have sexual thoughts about me. And the nice church ladies taught me that we have to "put others first" which means that preventing boys from having sexual thoughts is more important than ANYTHING I want.

So, I asked them, am I allowed to be beautiful? Why not dress even worse? If outfit A is more "modest" than outfit B, but outfit C is EVEN MORE MODEST, than why is it apparently okay to wear outfit A?

I asked, over and over, because I really believed it. I really believed in "helping the guys" and "putting others first", but something was wrong. Something was wrong, because the logical conclusion was that I shouldn't be beautiful or feminine, and surely that couldn't be right. Surely I was missing some other bit of logic. So I asked over and over to try to figure it out.

Well. Let's look at it a different way. If it's actually about "there are 2 types of women: good girls and sluts, Madonna/whore", then look, it makes so much more sense! All the times that I asked these questions, and the nice church ladies said, "But you don't need to worry about it! The way you dress is fine!" (And I said, "But WHY is it fine???? Wouldn't it be more modest and therefore better if I dressed less feminine?") See, it makes so much more sense if they are thinking of "modesty" in terms of "you need to look like a 'good girl' not like a 'whore'" rather than "you need to be really concerned about the possibility that any boy anywhere might have a sinful thought about your body, those poor boys, they need our help so bad."

It wasn't about "loving your neighbor"; it never was. It was about "it's okay to disrespect women who don't follow our rules- so make sure you're not one of them."

It was all fake.

(Oh, and if you're thinking, "hey, it wasn't all fake- it actually is true that boys have sexual thoughts when they see immodest women" well guess what, the part they taught the boys was all fake too. Yeah, the idea that having sexual thoughts is bad and means you are "sexually broken" and incapable of respecting women- fake fake fake.)

So then alternate-universe-Perfect-Number shows up with her hot take about "not wearing a mask could cause someone to stumble because they will think you don't care if people die of covid", and... I mean, it's incomprehensible, because those nice Christians who taught her about modesty never actually believed that.

She thinks people are going to be moved by a argument about "helping others" and "the bible says 'put others first', so that means you HAVE TO", because she was moved by them, back when she was a teenager. And she thought the adults in her church really believed that. But it was all fake.

It was- and I'm going to be brutally honest here- it was about preserving existing hierarchies. Yeah, sure in church they taught us about loving your neighbor and all those virtuous things. About "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." But when it came down to the things Christians really cared about, really fought for- the things they start culture wars over- no, it was about preserving the existing hierarchies in society.

So I'm not gonna waste my time writing that post.



Modesty is Causing Women to Stumble (yeah maybe when I wrote this post in 2015, I was alternate-universe-Perfect-Number. It has that exact "they have to listen to me because I am talking about the same biblical principles they said were so important" naive attitude I've described here.)

The Story of Me and Modesty

The Male Equivalent to Modesty 

The First Time I Heard About "Locker Room Talk" Was When the Church Taught Me About Modesty

Also this post by Libby Anne: Do Face Masks Violate Evangelical Anti-Modesty Standards for Men? 

And the "it was all fake" idea reminds me of this 2012 post by Libby Anne: How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement

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