The first episode in a new series on theological and philosophical analysis of films looks at Sin City (2005)–the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic series–and discusses its portrayal of redemptive violence, patriarchy, power, and self-sacrificial love.
I recently discovered an article by David Konstan entitled “Enacting Eros” (http://www.stoa.org/hopper/text.jsp?doc=Stoa:text:2002.01.0004). What interested me most about this article was its discussion of sex and sexuality in the ancient world as primarily a power game. Konstan cites David Halperin as pointing out that in classical Athens the superordinate group was a minority of adult male citizens. Everyone else (women, children, foreigners, and slaves) composed the subordinate group. Not coincidentally, this dividing line also separates the dominant party in sexual acts from the submissive party: “‘sexual penetration was thematized as domination: the relation between the insertive and the receptive sexual partner was taken to be the same kind of relation as that obtaining between social superior and social inferior.'” Konstan explains: “The desire characteristic of women and boys was correspondingly imagined to be different in kind from that of adult males. Women were typically represented as yielding to sex rather than commanding it, and feminine desire, like that of boys, was expressed as a willingness to be penetrated rather than as an urge to penetrate. This polarity did not necessarily coincide with the distinction between genders, but depended rather on differences of power.” What interests me is how Christianity turned this distinction on its head. Early Christianity was characterized, as the pagan critic Celsus tells us, as a religion of “slaves, and women, and children” (Origen, Contra Celsus, Bk 3, Ch 49)– precisely those people that male citizens sought to subjugate through sexual power games. The agnostic New Testament scholar and historian Bart Ehrman, in his recent book How Jesus Became God, even argues that the early church was incredibly egalitarian for its time and place, so much so that women would have been entrusted to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. This tendency for the early church to value those that the powerful desired to subjugate is rooted in the message of Christ. When Jesus speaks of being a leader, he describes this one as the one who serves, not the one that subjugates– that is what pagan gentiles do (Luke 22:25-26). Paul applies this to the marital context, noting that the husband has a leadership role in marriage, but describing this role as primarily one of nurturing and service (Ephesians 5:25-33). When Christian men use their marital position as a means to subjugate, they are behaving like pagans. This is one area where Christian ethics and much of feminist philosophy have some significant agreement. Feminism’s speaking against sexual domination in western society is in many ways a righteous chastisement of Christian men who behave like pagans, and we ought to listen to this criticism and repent.