Discover more from Hold That Thought by Sarah Haider
Do We "Need" Religion? / Why I Am Not a TERF
Plus, a job posting.
Two topics on my mind today:
Some thoughts on my discussion with Louise Perry about the “need” for religion.
Gripes about TERFs / feminism.
But first, a job posting for a WEB DESIGNER:
I need a personal website. I should have put one out ages ago, but now I’m doing it and am looking to hire someone to design it. I don’t want anything complicated, but a high degree of tastefulness is a must, as is the ability to design/create all the pages from scratch. I don’t know why all websites are starting to look as if they are all using the same template, but I just hate it. I would love something unfussy that is also…unexpected. “Subtly creative” might be the word.
If that sounds like something you could do, or if you have a good reference, please reach out by replying to this email, or here if you are on the app/website, with links to any portfolios.
Do We “Need” Religion?
Louise Perry (author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution) had me on her new podcast to discuss motherhood, religion, and (in the extended version of the podcast) courtship rituals and the therapeutic language infused in modern life.
She titled the episode “The Need for Religion”, which is not wrong...but a tad misleading. I don’t feel religion is “needed”, but I do think that in a more general sense, we need a sense of community and duty towards one another, and the shared values and shared understanding of the world that religion brings are a useful “glue” for in-group formation. (Obviously, I think religion brings a lot of garbage alongside those helpful communitarian impulses, and in many faiths, the costs are greater than the benefits.)
I also suspect that religion only functions well in this aspect if most in the faith community actually believe that it is the true word of god. In other words, the social benefits are dependent on the sacred beliefs, and if they are not held as true by a majority in some significant sense, they will not be sufficiently “sacred”, and the social benefits will fade away.
In this respect, even if there are “good” and “healthy” religious faiths that are preferable to secularism—is it possible to put the genie back into the bottle? Can young people with access to the internet ever be convinced to believe in the “truth” (not just the usefulness!) of a miraculous revelation?
Why I am not a TERF
As I’m finalizing the Unbeliever’s Manifesto, I’m feeling a bit nervous about the audience such a strong position is bound to attract.
I am fascinated by gender because I am interested in irrationalities and how social dynamics distort our thinking, and this topic is a goldmine where both are concerned. Additionally, I want to “speak out” because I believe this particular irrationality will hurt a lot of people.
However, not all who are on my side of the aisle have arrived through the same path, nor do we share the same commitments. Highly religious people, as one obvious example, undergird their anti-gender stance in their faith, which I obviously do not share. What I also don’t share, however, are some of the commitments of the feminists, who make up the other significant cohort.
To be clear, on the whole I give a lot of credit to gender-critical feminists, and find many of their most powerful voices both admirable and interesting.
But they also get on my nerves.
At least the conservatives can claim, justifiably, that they had no hand in fostering the gender movement. But feminists are not so intellectually distinct from the gender crowd, no matter how much at odds their movements might be today.
For instance, even in the radical/gender-critical camp, too many feminists are happy to deny biological sex when convenient. Yes, GC fems, we agree that men are (on average) more prone to sexual violence. Are we now willing to acknowledge that they might be more prone to other things too–even some that are valued by society? Men are (on average) the more criminal sex, sure. Can we acknowledge that they are (on average) the more courageous sex, too? (That, indeed, those are two manifestations of the same drives?)
I notice a second-order denialism, too. Feminists will blame John Money for pioneering the concept of gender, and I will agree that he shares some blame. They might also point to queer theorists like Judith Butler for laying the intellectual groundwork for gender ideology, and I will agree that they played an important role. But what about Shulamith Firestone? What about the decades of campaigns by feminists downplaying the role of biological sex differences, casting all apparent dimorphism as a result of “socialization”? Wasn’t this priming necessary to arrive where we are today? I could go on (and maybe I will eventually), but suffice to say that an honest appraisal would find that not only did the feminist movement play a part in paving the way for the gender movement, it was in many ways the most crucial stepping stone.
Beyond these ideological differences, it seems I look upon gender ideologists in a different light than do many feminists—a difference that became clear a few days ago when I made the mistake of showing some sympathy for the trans TikTok star, Dylan Mulvaney. I understand why many find Mulvaney terribly offensive–I share this feeling. I understand that Dylan is popularizing a trend that is bound to hurt many people. It is possible that this person1 is a cynical manipulator–many in “show business” are. Or perhaps, Mulvaney is simply a run-of-the-mill attention addict, desperate for any claim to fame.
But a more sympathetic interpretation is possible, too.
It is possible that many people who gravitate towards gender ideology are seeking a solution to some unformed distress, it is possible that they honestly believe what they say, it is possible that they are simply wrong, not “evil”.
It is not my instinct to automatically view my ideological opponents as my enemies–even if they are causing a great deal of harm. Insofar as they are honest about their convictions, I see them instead as the followers of a false god, victims as much as anyone else. Detransitioners will often characterize their transition as a form of self-harm–and indeed if the anti-gender camp is correct, then that may be true of many current transitioners, who are taking on enormous risks with their health.
It is possible that one’s opponents are doing something harmful mostly because they are bad, or that they are doing something harmful mostly because they are wrong, and don’t know that what they are doing is harmful.
I’m not naive, and don’t imagine that everyone at the table has fantastic intentions and is simply mistaken. I just think it is possible that, more often than not, the intentions of both sides run in the same direction–that most people do feel that what they are doing is good–and that the difference lies largely in how one understands what is good.
I realize that this is easy enough to say—many people struggle with managing their feelings in this arena, especially if they have been personally harmed. Anger and even hatred are not unwarranted emotions here, and I don’t shame anyone for having them. I won’t say the same about acting on them, however—anger (even when understandable and thus, rational) can easily mutate into irrationality and, then, injustice. So it seems to me that it is good/smart to work to temper such feelings, for the good of one’s own self-interest, if nothing else.
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Yes, I am going out of my way to not use pronouns. I have many thoughts on usage, but I am also aware that choosing one way or the other derails conversations too frequently, so this is a pragmatic choice that I am making for now.