Alisa Childers on Glennon
Week of Aug 17th 2020
This week I’d like to cover Alisa Childers’ commentary on Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. Firstly, however, allow me to mention that Alisa produces some great content that addresses some of the most pressing questions in the theological space today and is well worth turning our attention towards. Her recent commentary on Untamed is of the same sort as it points out some very powerful and explicit examples of the rise of secular humanism in theology, codified as progressive Christianity, that at times seeks to do more than just muddle Christian theology but in this case also tampers with the feminine ego. How is this so? Well as Alisa covers, the book Untamed is a sort of memoir doubling as a female empowerment story as it is premised on the troubles Doyle faced when dealing with infidelity in her marriage. A central theme of the book is an anecdote in the opening of a caged cheetah which is used as a metaphor for how she has felt at points throughout her life and how she and others ought to liberate themselves. Imagery and metaphors of this sort are not uncommon and have for decades been the lifeblood of new-age humanisms. There are many troubling implications following notions of its kind though here are three which are most problematic.  The metaphoric and sentimental use of an oppression narrative embodied as a personal identity.  The idea of limitations as arbitrary.  The use of metaphoric reasoning to justify breaking or excusing limitations.
Without much reflection or strenuous efforts made to keep informed with populist movements or political uprisings, these ideas likely sound quite familiar to you as we have seen them proliferate through our culture for many decades now. Starting from this worldview, as Doyle starts with the cheetah anecdote, we all might be dealing with a form of oppression which is garnered most certainly by societal or theological conventions, and at times even by our own doing as we may impose far too many limitations upon ourselves. This kind of sentiment has not only been the premise for the modern self-help movement and new age humanisms but also seems to be quite appealing to people in general… but why? Why do people find the idea of being bound by and wanting to break free of limitations so compelling? Well in part because it's true. We all succumb to societal and personal limitations, though the more pressing question to ask is whether that is actually a negative thing. One of the biggest misnomers with sentiments of this kind is that it influences people to mistake or misuse practical limitations, either societal or personal, and rationalize them as negative when they might otherwise be very reasonable boundaries to maintain.
We see this with youthful subcultures very often where ideas like prudence are perceived as passe or warrantless though there is no area in life where it doesn’t pay to be conservative at times. It is also worth mentioning that limitations are not constructed in isolation, as many new age humanisms suggest, but are more often constructed in conjunction with some other natural property or variable which we deal with in life. For example, the use of traffic stops and speed limits is implemented to suppress our inclination towards disorderliness, aggression, and thrill-seeking. That covers our first two points of contention. As for the 3rd contention, the danger in using metaphor to justify breaking or excusing limitations, as Alisa states, puts the self in a position of an idol. But isn’t it quite odd for one to idealize oneself? Yes, but in this sense, I mean not for one to worship themselves but for one to let their appetite and desires dictate their choices.
Now, I am aware that Doyle does make some distinctions between fighting for trivial choices like having five different types of cream cheese for the kids and more personal ones like the ones she had faced in recent years, but who is to say where the line is drawn? This is another instance where this sort of thinking gets murky, for it is not obvious where the line gets pushed outside the realm of practicality. And even in the case of it being defined, who is ultimately commanded to respect it as a practical boundary and bypass the omnipotence of their free choice? After all, doing what fulfills you is what is most important. Everyone has a right to their own lifestyle choices though the issue is how we choose to justify them. A great misnomer with new-age humanisms is not its contents but its justifications. Especially in the case of trying to compound them with theology. The danger is not a person living outside of tradition, but what becomes dangerous is the stretching of terms and definitions, philosophies and theologies, in heed of giving grounds to some of our personal lifestyle choices that don’t inherently necessitate the validation of a theological framework or even fit within one.