Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tiger, King David, and God

Someone else is always controlling the clicker when the TV goes weird on me. Here I was, minding my own business when two women came on the screen - one claiming to be a psychologist - carrying on with haughty disapproval about Tiger Woods’ sex life.

“Listen,” I found myself shouting back at the TV, “unless you have a dick, you need to stay out of this conversation!”

In a similar fashion, I believe those with no ovaries (or a history thereof) have no business speaking out against abortion. And while we’re off the topic, if you’re against gay marriage, then don’t have one and shut the hell up.

I swear I wasn’t going to write about this, but there was something about these idiots that got me going. Okay, I’m not approving Tiger’s behavior, but let’s restore a bit of perspective to the conversation:

The Bible tells us Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. His more monkish father David, by contrast, made do with a mere eight wives that we know of and 10 concubines. God apparently had no problem with quantity, as we hear through the prophet Nathan: “ ... and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things."

We don’t need several branches of science to know what men are built for, but we have them anyway, and the ancient Hebrews had a practical insight into this. But there were limits, and a large part of what makes the Bible so fascinating is the constant tug of war between the way we are made and the way we need to behave. To return to David:

God apparently thought it was okay that David exercise his alpha male prerogatives. What upset the Lord was that David, not content with what he had, had to go pluck a forbidden fruit, Bathsheba (temptation deluxe, pictured here), wife of Uriah the Hittite. After that, David’s life was never the same.

“I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house,” said God through Nathan.

Back to Tiger. Being the best golfer in the world sounds decidedly un-Biblical, but today’s highly successful athlete (or media star or politician or business person) would have been yesterday’s warrior. And as we know from the Bible, success in battle was catnip to the opposite sex:

“When David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing ...”

I have no insight into this. Had I lived in ancient Israel, I’m sure I would have settled into a routine of predictable domesticity. Which translates into no singing and dancing women every time I went into town to pick up a loaf of bread. Lord knows, in my modern existence I am not exactly fending off tall blonde women trying to hop into my 1992 Tercel.

“I can resist anything but temptation,” said Oscar Wilde. The fact that temptation rarely presents itself to me does not make me a moral person. Once in a blue moon during my marriages and relationships I have had occasion to choose smart over stupid. But the difference between my world and Tiger’s is the difference between politely turning away a Jehovah’s Witness at the door and fending off wave after wave of Kamikaze pilots. I’m trying to imagine all those tall blondes hanging out by my Tercel. Sorry, God. No chance in hell.

Tiger is currently in a Mississippi clinic, reportedly being treated for sex addiction. My guess is therapy would be helpful for Tiger, but for sex addiction? On which side of the equation does abnormal truly belong?

As the Bible says: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”


Anonymous said...

Wow. So you think women can't relate to sexual attraction or temptation and therefore don't have valid opinions about those topics? And are you suggesting we use literal interpretations of the bible to make decisions about sexual behavior and gender roles? And did you consider the deception involved in Tiger's infidelity? Fine, have a bunch of sex partners. Who cares? Well, probably the person you're lying to/putting at risk of STDs. And are you really implying that YOUR post doesn't carry a judgement. Give me a break. I really liked your blog, too.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. You can still like my blog without agreeing with everything I write. Obviously, it would be a foolish endeavour for me to try to please all the people all the time. You will note that I explicitly said that I wasn't approving of Tiger's behavior.

And obviously the zillion complexities from deceit to STD transmission enters into my thinking, but rarely do we ever get clear answers.

And obviously I am neither literally interpreting the Bible to my own ends nor selectively plucking out passages to serve my own ends. The operative phrase in my piece was:

"A large part of what makes the Bible so fascinating is the constant tug of war between the way we are made and the way we need to behave."

It is in the exploration of ambiguity that we learn, which is why I am judgmental - against people who presume to make judgments.

Anyway, I'm looking for a conversation rather than a shouting match. Consider this piece as a conversational ice-breaker.

Willa Goodfellow said...

Well, shucks -- I was ready to get all huffy at your presentation of Bathsheba as temptress, when it's not so clear that she had any choice in that matter. And David wouldn't have seen her at all, except he didn't go out with the troops like all the rest of the kings did -- the veiled criticism that begins the story. But for the second and third paragraphs, I thought I'd give it a pass.

To speak as one who studies this Bible stuff professionally, and used to get paid for it, which I don't for my study of the brain stuff, what intrigues me about the Bible is the *conversation* that it contains, about all sorts of matters. Different books seem to have been written or included because they present an argument counter to other books, Ruth to counter Ezra, Psalms to counter Psalms, Job to counter Proverbs. I think the effort to harmonize misses the point. Like Jacob, like Israel, like the generations of rabbis, we are meant to struggle with these questions and with God.

Regarding Tiger Woods, I have to go to a song sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir -- "I don't have time for he said that she said thagt they said... "Cause it's all I can do to keep my own self in line." -- "Heaven on my mind," by Luther Barnes. I'm not condoning, either. I just wonder why it's worth so much air time. Does anybody ever ask, "What are they not telling us, while they are telling us all this stuff that's none of our business and makes no difference in our lives?"

John McManamy said...

Hey, Willa. By all means get huffy about my presentation of Bathsheba as a temptress. Clearly, she was just minding her own business and was almost certainly in no position to say No to a king.

The temptress label was my reference to the temptation theme of this post. Clearly, she was a temptation to David, but she wasn't exactly doing a private lap dance for him. If I had been aware of what you pointed out I wouldn't have used the label, but I will leave it as it stands so readers can make sense of your post.

Regarding your take on the conversational nature of the Bible - yes, absolutely. As you know, Israel means "wrestles with God," and the scriptures give us plenty to wrestle with. Competing and conflicting narratives come at us every which way. In the struggle to comprehend, we hopefully attain greater (and unexpected) insight. But definitive answers tend to elude us. So we keep wrestling. Which is why I love the Bible.

Re Tiger Woods - also agree. To me, it was a non-story till commentators started imposing their own moral judgments. I'm all for people taking moral stands, so if this sorry affair that is none of our business presents us with an opportunity for a conversation about human nature and how right and wrong fits into the picture, by all means let the discussion begin.

To readers, Willa is one of my favorite bloggers, one who who serves up penetrating insights into human nature through a deep appreciation of both science and scripture. You can check out her blog, Prozac Monologues, by clicking the link in the left column.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced by your comparison of homosexuality and abortion with Tiger Woods sexual behaviour.

Homosexuality is innate and abortion is a personal choice. Now it sounds like you are saying that men are just a bunch of horny characters who just can't help themselves when they meet a good-looking, willing person and that this too is innate, and that this is particularly true for alpha males. And outside of marriage, I really don't have a issue with whatever a man chooses to do sexually, as long as it is not coercive. But here's the thing - Woods likely had some kind of agreement/contract/whatever (whether implicit or explicit) with his wife about sexual behaviour outside of the marriage - and judging by her reaction, he violated that agreement and she saw it as a betrayal. And he betrayed her again by putting her health at risk. So I find myself a little inclined to judge, even though his life is truly none of my business.

Two other small points: How do you explain men who actually are faithful to their partners? And did you intend to dismiss female desire in comparison with that of men? Because that's what is sounded like, and this dickless person is here to tell you it ain't necessarily so.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. It is definitely a reasonable expectation that partners should remain faithful. I certainly would have regarded unfaithfulness as grounds to break off both my marriages. Any aggrieved partner is entitled to view unfaithfulness as a breach of trust and an act of betrayal, and Tiger's wife is no exception.

To answer your question, I can't speak for other men who are faithful. Let's just say that though I remained faithful in my marriages and relationships, I had the "advantage" of a perfect storm of mood, anxiety, and personality issues that did not exactly make me chick magnet material.

Even if I were catnip to women, I'm more of a homebody by natural inclination. So for me, temptation hardly presented itself. Thus, I honestly can't claim moral superiority over any man who has strayed.

I certainly don't dismiss female desire. But I think this issue would be better addressed in a future blog piece, and your contributions would be most welcome.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Anonymous from the first comment. I apologize for the hostile tone of my first post. However, I think you're still evading the original question. Can you clarify your opening point regarding women not being qualified to comment on the Tiger situation? As a woman I have certainly struggled with temptation and the choice between "smart and stupid." I'm afraid to say that without elaboration yoour point sounds like pure sexism. I'm sure that's not what you intended. Also, in general I would have found this post less problematic without the generalizations about women - and quoting generalizations in the Bible doesn't take you off the hook. So please, don't lump me in with all the dancing and singing women responding to catnip.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. No need to apologize. This is a topic that raises emotional issues even had I carefully guarded my language and hedged my bets, so I knew what I was getting into when I raised the "dick" comment.

I actually did use those words when I shouted back to the TV and there were two other people in the room who heard it who probably thought I was starting a conversation with them, which is true enough. But I probably still would have shouted back at the TV had I been the only one in the room.

Ironically, I didn't write about what was fully going on in my head, as these ruminations would have been purely speculative and amounted to a gratuitous cheap shot. But since you asked:

I couldn't help but think that the women so enthusiastically moralizing on TV about Tiger's failings at some time in their lives may have engaged in sexual misconduct. The public record is full of moralizers who are later revealed as philanderers. The technical term is Republicans, but that is the topic for another piece.

Back to the point, it would have been inappropriate to pursue this line of thinking in my piece. I include them here to illustrate that I recognize that women too struggle with the same issues men do.

Speaking in generalities, there are certainly key differences in the male and female behavior. We only have to observe kids on a playground. A lot of the brain science research these days is validating these playground observations. An article last year in one of the Scientific American spin off publications fully elaborated.

Thus, in learning to know thyself we need to explore these gender differences and how nature often appears to set us up to fail. According to conventional and scientific wisdom, twice as many women get depressed as men. Do they really? Similarly, men engage in more antisocial behavior. Really? Or are a lot of men actually manifesting their depressions in "male" ways?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. Anyway, I'm looking to continue the conversation in future blog pieces.

Willa Goodfellow said...

One reason I liked the "dick" comment was that I read into it something that maybe you didn't even intend. It IS time for men to start talking with each other about this issue of thinking with their dicks, and the consequences thereof. Just like it's time for men to start talking about rape. Just like it's time for white people to start talking about the institutional advantages that our race gives us. Just like it's time for... So, guys -- how about YOU comment on John's post? This woman would like to sit back and listen.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Willa. Re your second post - yes! After my marriage broke up three years ago, I did the Odd Couple thing and moved in with a male friend. What happened was very interesting male to male conversation. Some of our conversation is male frat boy stuff, but this is one end of a spectrum that includes very serious conversations about the "thinking with our dick" issues. We're both mental health advocates, so this kind of stuff comes up in the context of trying to figure out what makes us tick. I wish we could see more of this kind of conversation amongst males, but - alas! - males are notorious for not talking like females. :)

But it would be good for all of us. I believe that males are often wrongly diagnosed due to the fact that a lot of important issues are not part of the general conversation. I have alluded to some of them in passing in my pieces. For instance, males are more likely to get diagnosed with antisocial disorder (as their behavior tends to be aggressive) while females get the borderline label (which fits into the women as victims stereotype).

So, yes guys, please comment, but here's the rub, Willa: My guess is 3/4 of my readers are women. Another "guy" trait - we don't read about this stuff.

John McManamy said...

Margaret asked me to post this for her:

Your post on Tiger Woods is excellent.

In therapy for sex addiction =-O ???????? How could there ever be too much sex?????

I feel so sorry for him. He was/is just being human, with all the frailties we all have.

It always grates on my nerves, when a public figure is hung out to dry. If the world/news people knew of my frailties, they could publish the story. However, no one expects me to be perfect, and we shouldn't expect Tiger or anyone else to be perfect.

You are correct in saying we're not to judge other people, and we aren't even supposed to judge ourselves.

What happened to Tiger and Clinton and all the others, is really a family matter, not a national/world one. It is horrific that the media has ruined Tiger's reputation...


EB said...

To Margaret via JM -
"In therapy for sex addiction? How could there ever be too much sex?????"
I think the issue here is muddled. Between the same consenting adults, there might NOT be too much sex - but in Tiger's case, it seems more about the fact that he was having too much sex NOT with the person he was supposed to be having sex with.

"I feel so sorry for him. He was/is just being human, with all the frailties we all have."
I do NOT feel sorry for him. He has everything in the world that money could buy and an equal amount of that which it cannot: a happy childhood, an innate talent for one of the most mentally-challenging athletic games yet discovered by humankind, supportive parents, a loving family of his own, etc. And he has pissed it all away in a series of egregiously bone-headed decisions.

"It always grates on my nerves, when a public figure is hung out to dry. If the world/news people knew of my frailties, they could publish the story. However, no one expects me to be perfect, and we shouldn't expect Tiger or anyone else to be perfect."
No, we shouldn't, and it's frustrating to me that the media don't spend more time on stories in which we might affect change, rahter than on the ones illustrating the endgame. But I'd like to repeat my word from above: decisions. Decisions are not the same things as frailties, or weaknesses. I have a weakness for chocolate, but I don't decide to eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner. That would have dire consequences.

"What happened to Tiger and Clinton and all the others, is really a family matter, not a national/world one."
Certainly these are issues that families must deal with for their own healthy development...but whether the people involved are "nobodies" or media powerhouses, issues like this give very clear insight into character. Tiger knew exactly what he was doing - and exactly what he was risking. He just thought he'd get away with it.

"It is horrific that the media has ruined Tiger's reputation..."
The media did not ruin Tiger's reputation; Tiger ruined Tiger's reputation.

I honestly believe that one reason so many people seem or have been clinically diagnosed as depressed is because we - as humans, not just Westerners - are losing a common moral compass. And I'm not so sure the important word there is "moral"; it might in fact be "common." There isn't possibly a way for me to explain what I mean, but I believe in a collective consciousness, and right now, ours is in more pieces than an advanced jigsaw puzzle. Which can only mean that the big picture is being lost.