I watched the first episode last night of “I am Cait.”
Caitlyn Jenner meets his mother for the first time after breaking the news of his gender change. The mother, struggling with all that was happening — on camera, no less — suddenly quoted the Bible. “What,” she said, “about in the Bible where it says a man shall not wear women’s clothing?”
The moment instantly raised for me three issues:
First, Cait’s mother seemed to be thinking that her “son” was wearing women’s clothing. The mother still hadn’t processed that her “son” wasn’t just wearing women’s clothing; her son was a woman! In that sense, according to the Bible, females are supposed to wear women’s clothing!
But the mother worried: what about men wearing women’s clothing (or women wearing men’s clothing). It’s from Deuteronomy 22:5.
That raised the second issue in my mind: What was Cait’s mother worried about? God would punish them?
The very idea of God punishing is a sign of immature faith — indeed, immature character.
I once had a dentist who told me that his young son didn’t like brushing his teeth. So, the youngster would simply hold the toothbrush under the spigot in the bathroom at night before going to bed. He figured his father would check his toothbrush to make sure he had brushed his teeth. If the toothbrush were wet, it would seem he had used it. The son believed he was outsmarting his father.
Okay, that’s a 9-year-old. The way he thinks, “I’d better do this, or I’ll get punished.” And “if I get away with not doing it, I won’t be punished.”
Now, let’s say when he’s 25, he is still thinking, “I’d better brush my teeth, or my father will yell at me.” And “if I don’t brush my teeth, I got away with something.”
At 25? That’s pretty sad.
But people think like this about God! “I’d better obey, or I’ll be punished.” The way they thought about God at the age of 9, they’re still thinking like that as adults!
The immaturity of this way of thinking is: A person does not recognize that wrongdoing or neglect carries within itself its own punishment. A person neglecting to brush one’s teeth is going to be “punished” — not by some God-figure but by the natural process of decay.
Neglect or wrongdoing carries within itself its own “punishment.”
If you have seen the three Godfather films, what’s interesting is that nobody ever gets arrested. Nobody ever appears before a judge. And yet their criminal behavior results in the Godfather losing his oldest son, his son Michael loses his daughter, kills his brother, gets divorced from his wife, the members of the mafia family turn on one another…
That’s worse than anything that would happen to them from a judge!
The wrongdoing carries within itself its own “punishment.” It’s just that in the Bible the punishing agent is God, because that is the way people of ancient times thought. They were in the “childhood” stage of theology.
Plus, when wrongdoing occurs, the punishment is immediate. In Acts, a person lies to Peter — the person drops dead instantly. In real life, it doesn’t happen that fast. But the writers of the Scriptures want to make the connection as clear as they can — that sin results in punishment. So, punishment happens instantly. And it’s done by an outside agent (God).
In real life, consequences don’t always hit that fast. But the consequences DO happen. Only an immature mind, however, believes, “I got away with something.”
Whenever a person becomes mature enough to recognize this truth about one’s conduct, they learn to fear not God but the wrongdoing itself. Others still need belief in punishment from an outside agent to keep in line.
The psychologist Rollo May has written that this is a sure sign of growth in character: when a person goes from needing an outside agent to keep one disciplined vs. being disciplined from within — being self-disciplined.
The way people think of God as punishing shows their stage of growth in understanding religion. Moving from being punished by an outside agent to being guided by an inner voice shows their stage of growth in character.
Cait’s mother worried that if “he” violated an obscure, ancient admonition from the Bible about a man wearing women’s clothing, God would punish.
It could also be that mother Jenner wasn’t really worried about God. I suspect she may have been worried about not God but people — her friends, her enemies, evangelicals…The judging of others may be what she was worried about.
The third issue I thought of instantly was: Why do people quote these ancient laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as though they are divine injunctions for all of us to obey?
Let’s be clear about what these laws are — about men wearing women’s clothing and women wearing mens’ clothing, about not eating pork, about not wearing two types of clothing (like cotton and wool), about keeping holy the Sabbath…
The background to all of these laws is: The Hebrew people faced danger. Their greatest need was — survival.
To survive, they needed to do two things:
One, procreate. Make babies. Therefore, every male was thought to be a potential baby-maker, and every female a potential vessel for delivery. Any behavior which diverted a male and a female from procreating (such as same-sex conduct) was thought to be harmful to the survival of the race. So, there are laws against any sexual conduct that does not result in babies.
A second thing the Hebrew people needed to do in order to survive was — distinguish themselves from other nationalities. Their identity as Hebrews needed to be protected. Thus, there are laws which set them apart from neighboring nationalities.
This is the reason for being told not to eat pork. Some apologists say it was God’s way of protecting the Hebrew people from a particular parasite that lived in pigs. But that interpretation is imposing modern knowledge on an ancient text. They wouldn’t have known about parasites in ancient times. Rather, the reason for not eating pork is simply that — other people DO.
It’d be like a Yankee moving to Alabama. If the Yankee wanted to keep one’s self “pure” from Southern influence, that person would avoid eating grits and fried chicken.
The dietary restrictions in the Old Testament are a way for the Hebrew people to distinguish themselves from other ethnic groups. “If others eat this & that, we won’t.”
There is nothing divinely ordered about not eating pork. Jews don’t; Muslims don’t. Their holy writings SAY it’s God’s orders, but the reality is, one group avoids eating certain foods because others do. It’s a way of setting one’s self apart, preserving one’s identity as a race.
All of the weird injunctions about not wearing two types of cloth (wool and cotton) and a man not wearing women’s clothing, a woman not wearing man’s clothing — these, too, are ways for the Hebrew people to set themselves apart from the other ethnic groups in their midst. The rules about one gender wearing the clothing of another gender most likely concerned religious rituals of some other nationalities.
Likewise, setting aside the Sabbath is a way for the Hebrew people to distinguish themselves from all other races.
All of these rules were written up as though God ordered them — with severe punishment for violations (indeed, death by stoning in most cases).
For people today — like mother Jenner — to quote a passage from the Old Testament, citing one of these ancient restrictions as though they are divine rules for us today in the 21st Century — and with attendant fear of punishment from God — simply shows how little is known about the Bible by so many people quoting it.
The first episode of “I am Cait” obviously was filmed before the acceptance speech at the ESPY Awards. Because by the time of the ESPY speech, mother Jenner did indeed adjust and accept her child’s gender change. Caitlyn heaped huge credit upon his mother for supporting him.
We can only hope she has also adjusted with regard to fearing God.