And now we come to the great George Gilder argy-bargy. And I have to admit, I did not see this one coming. I was prepared for the Christian Nationalism skull session that is proceeding apace. In past years, I have budgeted mental space for other controversies calling us racists, pedophiles, misogynists, and various barnyard animals, but what I didn’t have on my 2023 bingo card was the charge that the ministries of Moscow are going… liberal? And why? Because Canon Press is republishing the work of one of the great 20th century full-throated attacks on feminism, Men and Marriage by George Gilder. Just wait till everyone finds out that there’s a biographical documentary coming out as well from Canon, celebrating the life and work of… you guessed it, George Gilder.
As part of the roll-out of Men and Marriage, several quotations from early in the book have been highlighted in promotional ads and some concerned folks started sharing screenshots with highlights, to which I replied in one tweet “no lies detected.” But as the commotion heated up, Mr. Gilder and our ministries began getting tagged with such indecorous terms as “boomer” and accusing us of giving into the “longhouse” – a term coined to describe a sort of systemic leftism, and in particular, a militant feminism that has mocked, belittled, and often attempted to stamp out masculinity in modern culture. While I have mixed feelings about the pejorative use of boomer, I think I agree entirely with the problems of the longhouse. But from there, the taunts and mockery proceeded apace. Thus, in response to the heckling, I simply tweeted that I thought the “shrieks” and “freak-out” over the Gilder quotes and book was hilarious. And well, it is.
Some people thought my characterization of “shrieks” and “freak-out” was over the top or hyperbolic, but I don’t think so. One fellow on the internets said this is early “Russ Moore, etc,” saying he’s been warning about FLF/Canon, etc. for at least a year. Others have likened the publishing of this Gilder book to the LCMS “pedochism” scandal (their recent catechism and commentary introducing many woke/LGBT talking points), with the concern that we have begun the “groomer pattern.” And another commentator was trying to argue that I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor if I couldn’t see all the problems in Gilder, which included (apparently) Trinitarian heresy. So yeah, I’m pretty sure “shrieks” and “freak out” was not too strong.
Of course there were plenty of normal, ordinary people who simply had questions. And let me be clear: having questions or even initially wondering what Gilder could possibly mean by women being “sexually superior” to men is not a “freak out” or “shrieking.” But those with reasonable questions refrained from saying things like “this is gayer than AIDS,” which incidentally showed up somewhere in my replies. Asking questions, wanting to understand, or even thinking you disagree with the sentiment and hauling out arguments to defend said disagreement is not freaking out or shrieking either. I’m not sure if people have heard yet, but we are totally down with cheerful arguments, even sharp, incisive blows to the rhetorical jugular. We do that sort of thing around here. Punching welcome, just try to keep it above the belt, as they say. But to throw a rhetorical, intellectual punch, you have to, well, do more than shoot off rockets of panic, call names, or tell everyone that this is boomer longhouse heresy.
So what exactly does Gilder mean by claiming that women are sexually superior to men, and how exactly is that “the prime fact of life?” Well, naturally, I would go to Genesis 2. When God created the first woman and brought her to the first man, he said, “this is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh,” which is not only the first poem in recorded human history (and a love poem at that), it is also a Hebrew superlative. If you can reach back into your grammar past, you might remember that “better” and “best” are comparative and superlative forms of “good,” respectively. We also use the “-er” suffix and “-est” suffix, as in prettier or prettiest to make comparative or superlative forms in English. The most well-known superlative in the Hebrew Bible is Holy of Holies or as it is sometimes also rightly translated, “Most Holy Place.” The Song of Songs is also a Hebrew superlative, meaning “the best song” or “the most beautiful song.” When Adam sees his wife coming to him, he exclaims that this creature is like him, only better, or we could easily translate it, superior. Adam is saying that this new creature is Man 2.0, the upgraded version.
Adam further signifies that pronouncement by naming her “woman,” which is closely related to the word for “fire.” Whether Adam already knew the word for fire or whether he later named fire after his wife, men have been calling their wives “hot” and singing songs about their baby lighting their fire ever since. In fact, in the very same place, though our English translations do not reflect this, Adam gives himself a new name. Up until this point in Genesis 1-2, the Hebrew word for man is “adam” in every single instance, and it is translated either “man” or the proper name “Adam,” because he was taken out of the “adamah” (ground). But here in the naming of his wife, he says, “she shall be called woman [“eeshah”] because she was taken out of [“eesh”]. He is saying that his wife’s name is “glory-fire” because she was taken out of him, but her glory is so bright, so dazzling, it has lit him up. She has caused his face to shine. Or as one of your modern prophets has put it, “baby, you light up my world like nobody else.” And Paul picks up on all of this in 1 Cor. 11, insisting that the woman is the glory of man.
Now, some folks simply objected to the notion of “superiority,” but I don’t know how else to read this text and the notion of “glory.” The Bible teaches that women are superior to men in at least some respects, and it teaches that men are superior to women in some respects. In 1 Cor. 11, it says that the man was not created for the woman, but rather, the woman was created for the man. And it also says that the man comes from the woman, speaking especially of Jesus born of a woman, but also of all other men after Adam who are born of their mother. And so Paul insists on different glories, different superiorities, and yet a glorious mutual dependence and equality, ordered in various hierarchies in marriage, family, church, tribe, etc.
So then, in what ways are women superior to men? George Gilder has the gall to claim that woman are sexually superior. And what he has in mind here begins with her physical beauty, which gives her the initial upper hand sexually, since she is the one generally being pursued by men, who generally have far stronger sex drives, especially young men. The physical beauty of the woman the Bible also calls her glory, signified by her longer hair (1 Cor. 11). But she is also sexually superior in her power of childbearing, beginning with sexual union and conception but extending out through pregnancy and motherhood. One wise man has said that a woman’s sexual cycle begins with foreplay and climaxes when her children graduate college. This too is a woman’s glory: she will be saved in childbearing if she continues in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety (1 Tim. 2:15). Of course, apparently, to briefly allude to another controversy I saw skimming across my feeds over the last few days, we are not allowed to talk about anyone “saving” anyone except Jesus Christ. Men must not “save” women in any way, even though Ephesians 5 explicitly says that men are supposed to imitate Christ in His saving of His bride. And heavens forsooth, there be any sense in which a woman might “save” a man. I mean, that’s practically, “goddess worship.” Jeepers.
Generalizations & Wisdom
Wait, what? Well, our friend, Aaron Renn, who has done some profoundly good work in recent years on the problems in effeminate evangelicalism and ministering particularly to men, shared another quote from Men and Marriage on the same topic of women’s superiority, specifically, “Her faculty of greater natural restraint and selectivity makes the woman the sexual judge and executive, finally appraising the offerings of men, favoring one and rejecting another, and telling them what they must do to be saved or chosen.”
And Renn noted that this is a “whopper from George Gilder. She’s the source of salvation, she’s the one that makes you truly “chosen.” She selects which “offerings” are acceptable to her. This is goddess worship.” Now I’m happy to grant someone might take these statements and run in the opposite direction that Gilder meant them. But on the surface, a charitable reading offers several profoundly true points. Women are naturally more restrained sexually. This is a biological, sociological fact. The occasional “cougar” acknowledged, it is men who generally seek a woman, and it is the woman who either agrees to a man’s offer or declines. In that sense, she is the sexual judge and executive, favoring one and rejecting another. There is no hint here that Gilder means “saved or chosen” in some kind of crass literal way. But it’s an entirely legitimate expression given the way God made the world. It is not good for men to be alone, and if ordinarily it comes as a great gift to a man to find a woman who agrees to his proposal, then he does rejoice as one who has been chosen, who has been in that sense, “saved” from his solitude. Gilder does not mean that women save men salvifically, any more than a man can save his wife salvifically in his love for her, any more than childbearing literally “saves” a woman, any more than either party should rest their inherent value or dignity in any sort of desperation for a spouse.
This need not leave a man cowering before a woman either. A good woman has no attraction for such a man. The kind of man who is likely to win a good woman is a man who is strong, assertive, courageous, hard-working, productive, good humored, and virtuous. While a woman may be rightly said to be sexually superior in these aforementioned ways, a good man is superior in his physical strength, courage, and ability to focus on particular goals. As with all generalizations, there are exceptions, and as with truth, there are often other truths that must not be forgotten. But finite creatures cannot state all of the truths all of the time. Gilder is describing some profoundly true generalizations, but there are other true things that should be kept in mind.
Conclusion: Sin & Responsibility
Gilder’s opening chapter begins: “The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality.” And he continues, “Men lust, but they know not what for; they wander, and lose track of the goal; they fight and compete, but they forget the prize; they spread seed, but spurn the seasons of growth; they chase power and glory, but miss the meaning of life. In creating civilization, women transform male lust into love; channel male wanderlust unto jobs, homes, and families; link men to specific children; rear children into citizens; change hunters into fathers; divert male will to power into a drive to create. Women conceive the future men tend to flee; they feed that children that men ignore.”
What Gilder is summarizing here is manifest. These are the natural inclinations of men and women. While I think some of these inclinations reflect our natural goodness before the fall (women would have still been home-oriented, child-oriented and this would have still been a great help to a man to know what his strength was for), the Fall has twisted these tendencies, leaving men far more aimless, insecure, and rootless. Again, it is not good for man to be alone. Just reference contemporary crime and violence rates. And while women certainly can turn on their own natures, killing their own children and becoming predators, even in highly broken cultures, women still tend to bear and raise children and men tend to wander, abandon, turn violent, and flee. Despite the growing epidemic of women using pornography, this is the downstream effects of the shorter-term masculine sexuality twisted and metastasized. This is why I have often described porn as inherently gay. It is driven by the sexual impulses of men: men paying, cajoling, threatening women to act like men sexually. And this doesn’t absolve the women of all their greed, lust, immodesty, and bitterness in the same industry or elsewhere.
Civilization is built on the longer-term sexuality of women, and it is likewise built on the gracious dominance of men in most other areas. While the Bible clearly teaches the headship of men in marriage, and the submission of a wife to her husband in everything, the one place where the Bible explicitly gives a wife authority over her husband is over his body in the marriage bed (1 Cor. 7:4). In the same place, it says that the man has authority over his wife’s body, and this point really is crucial to understanding Gilder’s overall point.
Christian authority doesn’t displace responsibility, it establishes responsibility and therefore other forms of authority. We learn this fundamentally in the doctrines of grace where the Bible insists that God is sovereign over every last detail of history, and it is this authority that establishes the responsibility of human choices and secondary causes. The authority of a Christian husband establishes and reinforces the authority and responsibilities of his wife. The authority of pastors and elders does not displace the responsibility of congregants; exercised rightly, pastoral authority builds up the duties of the congregants, lifting them to greater authority in their various spheres.
Darwinism and every form of materialism assumes a world in which every form of power or authority displaces every other form, like billiard balls on a pool table, knocking into one another. If you read the rest of Gilder’s corpus, you will find that this is a central and dominant theme in all of his work. Gilder calls materialism the central superstition of the modern world. But Madonna was wrong, we don’t live in a merely material world. Now it’s true that you cannot have two people attempting to share the exact same responsibilities; that creates a two-head monster. Hierarchy is good, and knowing who answers to who helps everyone. But this does not mean that authority cannot overlap. It can and it does. A civil magistrate must submit to faithful pastoral authority in ecclesial matters, and a minister must submit to faithful civil authority in civil matters. Describing the superiority and necessity of a woman in some regards, need not displace a man’s superiority and necessity in many other ways. And by the same token, this does not displace true individual guilt. Assigning superiority to a woman’s general sexual instincts does not absolve her of all the ways she tends to sin sexually. Nor does it blame men for all sexual sin.