Consider This Perspective – Tripp York

The first installment of our new weekly interview series, Consider This Perspective, is finally here! We chat a bit about sex and violence with theologian Tripp York.

Tripp York, PhD, is the author and editor of ten books including The Devil Wears Nada, A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, and A Faith that Embraces All Creatures. He teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach, VA. He also serves as a Keeper Aide at the Virginia Zoological Gardens in Norfolk, VA where he is routinely urinated on by numerous animals. He considers this to be quite natural as well as intentional (especially among the primates).

Tell us about the projects you are currently working on.

I’m trying to wrap up the third volume of The Peaceable Kingdom Series. I am also working on two manuscripts pertaining to sexual ethics, two graphic novels, and I’m constantly working on my comic, Anarcrow! It’s about a crow that is smarter than all of us because he refuses to buy into our obsession with ‘isms.’

That and I think he, secretly, adores Wittgenstein.

Your humor is one of your hallmarks. How can we approach such serious topics of sex and violence with humor? And why should/shouldn’t we?

I have a hallmark? I’ve always wanted one of those. So far, it’s gotten me nowhere.

Greg Graffin of Bad Religion sings, “I would rather laugh than cry.” When dealing with sex and violence, those seem like the most faithful options we have, so, for now anyway . . . let’s laugh. Otherwise, I fear my liver would not survive the whiskey-spike.

In The Devil Wears Nada you have some comments about homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom as a way of, in part, refuting the claim that gay sex is ‘unnatural’. Would you be willing to expand on this thought a bit?

Part of my doing that in The Devil Wears Nada was to simply show off my lay-obsession with ethology and anthrozoology. I’m narcissistic that way. But it was also an attempt to revel in the incredible diversity that takes place in the natural world–which is such a weird thing to say, isn’t it? The ‘natural world’. I mean, what are our options here? What is an ‘unnatural’ world? What does that look like? Basically, anything that can be done can be said to be ‘natural’. It’s not like we can walk on walls or breathe under water. Now, that would be unnatural.

We seem to be quite careless when employing the terms ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’, and I’m not sure how fruitful their use is in this sort of conversation anyway. I especially find it difficult to understand why, especially when Christians talk about living in a post-lapsarian world, how the term ‘natural’ is synonymous with ‘good’ and ‘unnatural’ (which, whatever that is, is impossible) is ‘evil’. Placing any kind of moral language on these abused terms is nothing more than people’s enactment of their own will-to-power.

Sorry about getting all Nietzschean on you. It happens on occasion.

How have you seen violence used in discussions on sex? How can we practice nonviolence on sexual topics?

I teach a course called Sex & Violence in Christianity as well as a course called, The Ethics of Intimacy. In both of these courses, my students often unwittingly betray subtle forms of violence by the manner in which they discuss practices such as same-sex relationships, heterosexual marriage or, to use an example here, even what constitutes consensual sex. Coming out of a long-winded patriarchal order, in which every single facet of human purpose (much less sexuality) has been dictated by those with the XY chromosome, it may be the case that Catherine MacKinnon is correct to argue (or, ‘more’ correct than we would like to imagine) that consensual sex is not possible. The very reasons we often give for knowing when it’s the ‘right time’ to have sex are so thoroughly embedded in misogynistic discourse that even when we try to resist it, it appears we collude with the object of our protest. The concern is that we have no other language (hence, world) for how to discuss something like consensual sex that has not been determined by those most anxious to get others to say ‘yes’.

This sort of thinking tends to permeate most of my classroom discussions, especially when I hear my male and female students attempting to discuss what is and is not legitimate modes of sex (and/or violence, for that matter).

Okay. Now, I feel like crying.

What do you think are some of the most prevalent contributions to our culture’s continuing desensitization of things related to sex and violence?

Purity balls, virginity oaths, and Mark Driscoll. Though, not necessarily in that order.

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