Tag Archives: Religion

Meditation: The Web of Wyrd

I originally received this meditation as a working to do with my coven during our first year together.  I thought I’d share it on my blog.

Cosmic WebClose your eyes.  Breathe in slowly and deeply.  When you lungs are full, hold in the air for just a moment, then allow it to leave your body, exhaling fully.  Then pause and breathe in once again.  Continue this pattern, allowing any tension, negativity, and distraction to leave your mind and body with each breath expelled from your lungs.  Each time you breathe in, draw in light and life and divine blessings.  Allow your body to become filled with these things.

Become aware of fiery red and gold strands of energy that criss-cross all around you and touch you.  These are the strands of wyrd.  See how they support you and make up everything around you.  Appreciate the substance and energy of them.  Study these strands of energy as they flow away from you, connecting to other people in your life.  Family.  Friends.  Coworkers.  These strands are what hold the universe and connect all things together.

Notice how your actions, your choices, affect these strands.  Notice how each choice you make is woven into their web and change the energy that flows through them.  Consider how these changes affect everyone and everything else through their connections to you in this web.  Watch how their choices and changes to the web of wyrd likewise affect you.

After a few moments of studying the web of wyrd and appreciating how it connects you with the rest of the universe, allow the image of the web to fade from your mind’s eye, knowing that it is still there.  Allow yourself to become once again more aware of your body and your present circumstances.  Become more connected to your body as you return to regular consciousness, never forgetting your experience.

Musings on following life-affirming gods

All Your HeartOne of the things that I love about being a devotee of Freyja is that she is extremely life-affirming.  Her embrace of passion and raising the idea of a life lived fully and joyfully to the point of being sacred is something that says, hey this life is more than a mere training ground for the next life.  It’s not something that is to be endured as a test for worthiness.  It is something that is supposed to be celebrated and lived out for its own sake1.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Freyja promotes a purely selfish and narcissistic form of hedonism.  After all, one can enjoy the joys and pleasures of this life and still find a framework for morality — even one suggested by the desire to enjoy such things.  One of the things that I love about serving a goddess who delights in and encourages such celebration of life is that she also often offers advice on how to do so in a way that is good for everyone involved.

Of course, life still has it’s down sides.  Sometimes the tears come.   But one of the things I have also learned is that sometimes, the tears come because of the joys and show just how precious those joys have been.  In some ways, I think that if the loss of the good times don’t drive us to a certain amount of wailing, we should really wonder how good those times really were.

So today, I offer this toast to life.  May you live yours to the fullest and find it well worth living.


1I suppose this is why I tend to gravitate toward a view that reincarnation is a desirable outcome rather than something to be escaped, as I mentioned in another post earlier this week.

Morality, the Afterlife, and other disjointed thoughts.

A couple months ago, I sat through a religious service as part of my family obligations.  You know, one of those things I go to because the vast majority of my family is Christian and being part of the family sometimes involves participating in their observances to some level.  Fortunately, it’s not something that I have to do very often and I’m able to manage through with ample amounts of patience and graciousness.  This particular service was particularly difficult for me, however, as it included a sermon that was hypothetically geared toward evangelism1.

One of the stories that the minister told was about an exchange between a couple of people during a lunch break.  He talks about one person who says that it’s not possible to be “make up for all the wrong we’ve done,” only to have another person, a woman, respond with “Well, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.”  The minister told the story from the point of view that found the woman’s response mystifying.

I didn’t find the comment mystifying at all.  In fact, I found myself in total agreement with the woman’s sentiments — or at least what I perceived them to be.  I do believe in doing everything I can to make up for whatever wrong I have done.  This is because justice is a central theme of my understanding of morality for me.  If I have done something wrong, then I have hurt another person.  It is my duty to do what I can to if not completely undo that damage, at least mitigate it to the best of my ability.  That is the moral thing to do.

I also consider it my duty to do what I can to help mitigate and even undo the damage that other people have done.  That’s another part of justice.  I do this kind of justice and seek to act morally because I believe that by doing so, I am helping to make this world a better place a little bit at a time.  Quite frankly, I want to live in a better world than we currently have, so I do what I can.

No, I can’t make everything perfect.  Some scars I’ve created will always be there, even if I help make them fainter than they originally were.  And being a fallible human, I’m still going to screw up from time to time and cause more wounds.  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying, just like that woman in the minister’s story.  If I stop just because I can never get it perfectly right, then I have “made perfection the enemy of good.”  And neither my sense of justice nor my sense of morality will allow me to do that.

The reason the minister found the woman’s statement mystifying and confusing is that he was looking at the statement in a different context.  He heard the original statement as “we can never make up for all the wrong we’ve done well enough so that we can go to heaven.”  He assumed the woman’s statement was her way of saying she was going to try to do enough good to cancel out the bad she’s done so she can earn her way into heaven.  Now, I don’t know if the woman meant it that way or was more thinking along the same lines I was when I heard her statement.  I’m not sure the minister really knows.  The point here, though, is that the minister — and at least some of the “unsaved” people he doesn’t understand — are coming from completely different contexts and understandings and that the minister doesn’t even seem to realize that.

For me at least — and I suspect for many others — acting morally and making up for those times our actions hurt others have nothing to do with trying to “earn” their way into an afterlife.  My understanding of the afterlife doesn’t work that way.  Morality is about the here an now.  Justice is about the here and now, not some future judgement with pie for the moral (and/or pardoned) people and whippings galore for the immoral people2.  While I believe in an afterlife, I do not believe its nature is determined by how moral or immoral I was in this life3.

In effect, the minister’s story looked completely different to me than it did to him.  And his failure to understand how and why it looked differently to me is the reason it didn’t have the “desired” effect on me.


1I say “hypothetically” because (1) I find it hard to imagine that anyone attending the service beside myself actually needed to be “evangelized4” and (2) as part of the alleged “target audience” of the sermon, I found it hard to believe that the arguments had actually been successfully tried out on anyone who either wasn’t already “saved” or at least highly sympathetic to evangelical thinking and theology anyway.

2One of the things I’ve noticed about many — though not all — evangelicals is that their idea of justice differs in mine int hat they seem focused almost solely on a system of justice in which the righteous (and/or pardoned) are rewarded and the unrighteous are punished.  To me, justice is about restoring dignity and well-being for all.  I don’t care that they person hurt someone else is punished.  I care that the person who got hurt is restored and the person that hurt them is prevent from hurting them again.

3In fairness, I tend to think we’re reincarnated and that this reincarnation is a desirable outcome, not something to be escaped.  I will also admit that one of the reasons I believe in making the world a better place is so that it’s a much more enjoyable place to celebrate the cycle of life in my future incarnations.

4Well, barring that whole thing that a lot of evangelical churches and ministers tend to think that half the people in their pews aren’t really “saved” and are just “going through the motions” of being a Christian.

About that Tim Keller quote (Part 2)

Yesterday, I blogged about the following statement by Tim Keller:

If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,’ . . . you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.

In that post, I talked about the quote from the perspective of seeing the fear that seemed to motivate and permeate it.  Today, I want to talk about it from the perspective of seeing the privilege that seems to motivate and permeate it.  Because if I may be honest — and I’ll try to do so as graciously as I know how — I find something deeply ironic about an evangelical minister objecting to the fact that other people might be asking him to change the way he thinks or even “kick his faith out the door.”

Dear readers, that’s exactly what every single evangelical Christian is asking of every single person who follows a different religion or no religion at all:  “Give up your faith and what you believe and believe what I think is right instead.”  So effectively, Tim Keller is objecting to other people (allegedly) asking him to do exactly what he calls upon every Jew, Wiccan, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Santerian[1] to do without giving it a second thought.  That’s boilerplate unexamined privilege right there.

It also underlines to me the biggest problem with unexamined privilege:  It’s often the enemy of empathy.[2]  Here’s an opportunity for Tim Keller to consider how (feeling like he’s) being asked to give up something so important to him feels to him and try to imagine how those he evangelizes to might often feel the same way.  And yet, because I suspect he doesn’t even make that connection (or avoids it by insisting it’s somehow different), he’s missing out on an opportunity to (1) empathize with those he’s trying to evangelize to and (2) think about how that empathy might influence how he handles his attempts to do so.

I don’t necessarily want Tim Keller or others like him to quit sharing his beliefs or inviting others to join his faith.  However, now that he and those like him have experienced being on “the other side” of the conversation, I’d like them to let that experience and their capacity for empathy to inform their mission.

Also, it would also be nice if their empathy would help them to understand that yes, if they really want others to be open to their message, they’re almost certainly going to have to be likewise open to others’ messages.  Otherwise, they’re expecting something from others that they are unwilling to offer up to others.  And one thing I that think is near-universal if not truly universal among humans is that we tend not to like double standards.

Note:
[1] Not an exhaustive list, I assure you.  But hopefully I’ve named enough religions and non-religious people to make the point that it’s a lot of people he’s asking this of.

[2] Or maybe the lack of empathy contributes to one’s failure to examine privilege.  Personally, I suspect it may be a bit of both, not to mention a self-reinforcing cycle.

About that Tim Keller quote (Part 1)

During her Saturday morning address, Wendy drew attention to the following statement made recently by evangelical minister Tim Keller:

If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,’ . . . you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.

One of the thing I noticed about this quote was the fear involved.  Some evangelical Christians fear that if they allow themselves to question their views on same sex sexual relationships — any one of a host of other issues — they might end up losing their faith altogether.  In a lot of ways, I get that fear.  I experienced it once upon myself at times, too.

And I get it because, in some ways, I represent the realization of those fears.  I started out as a devout Christian.  When I allowed myself to rethink my views on homosexuality, it also gave me the freedom to grapple with a number of other questions.  The end result of that process, which only started with my struggle with my sexual orientation, was that I eventually chose to follow an entirely different path altogether and serve other gods.

It’s easy for someone like Tim Keller to point to me and others like me and say, “See, this is what happens when you start down that path!”  And I can understand their tendency to do that, at least to some degree.

The problem is, people like Tim Keller think that what happened to me is inevitable for anyone who starts asking those questions.  I don’t think it is.  I sat in a room with roughly fifty other people this weekend, most of whom serve as living evidence that a journey that begins by asking the tough questions and reconsidering what they’ve been taught doesn’t have to lead one down the path I took.  It’s just as likely that one could change their mind about same sex sexual relationships — or any other single topic — and go no further.  It’s just as likely that after one does all the thinking and reconsidering, one ends up back at the same conclusions they held before then.  So people like Tim Keller are fearing something that’s not inevitable.

I would like to suggest that the fear people like Tim Keller are feeling is the exact reason I think they need to rethink something about the way they do faith.  Because right now, the way they’re doing it causes them fear, and I don’t think that’s healthy for them.  So I’d personally like to see them to start asking some hard questions — and maybe not even questions about human sexuality — in an attempt to restructure and firm up their faith so they don’t have to worry about it unraveling on them so much.  In short, I’d like to see them develop a faith — and a way of doing and having faith — in which they can actually have more faith.

Soon, I’ll be Canada-bound

Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be headed to a Christian retreat center in Canada.  There, I will spend the weekend hanging out with other people at the Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat.  Here’s a brief description of the retreat:

A safe place to be
authentic, to share, to worship, to learn and to grow! All are welcome
to enter this experience of Christian community with generous hearts, a
listening and humble posture, to experience God’s outrageous love and
grace!

The retreat is being organized by New Direction Ministries of Canada.  I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons, including the fact that attending means I finally get to meet Wendy Gritter, with whom I have conversed online for two (three? four?  I’ve lost track!) years now.  Wendy is one of the driving forces behind the concept of Generous Spaciousness and has done a great deal of blogging about it.  Her thoughts on the topic are great.  I’m not sure if this particular description was written by her, but I think it accurately reflects her vision of Generous Spaciousness:

What is Generous Spaciousness? GS is a relational posture
that acknowledges the reality of diverse perspectives on the question
of faithful discipleship for same-sex oriented people. These differences
have polarized the church, hindered our public witness as the Body of
Christ, and alienated LGBT people from the church.


This posture prioritizes nurturing a safe and encouraging environment for gender and sexual minorities to explore and grow in faith in Jesus Christ,
entrusting each individual to the leading of the Holy Spirit while
encouraging them to be a part of a Christ-centered community.


Generous Spaciousness seeks to build bridges, to find unity in our diversity, and to pursue peace.

I’ll admit that earlier this week, I was very skeptical about the concept of Generous Spaciousness, or at least whether it could ever be successfully applied.  To be honest, between reading material that called me and other LGBT people to tell our stories and educate Christians in spite of the fact that many Christians are poor listeners at best and actually hostile to the listening process at best and being faced with some Christians who are unwilling to let go of their overpowering need to “answer the morality question,” I found myself disillusioned.

But then I remembered that people like Wendy have demonstrated both an eagerness to listen and engage with LGBT people and have even been willing to set aside the “morality question” or at least accept it as a disputable matter which Christians can disagree on in good faith, allowing them to focus on hospitality and fellowship.  As I considered these things the past couple days, my hopes for finding Generous Spaciousness and the retreat to be something worthwhile have returned.

I’ll blog about how it went and my thoughts sometime after I get back.

I am not a theological problem to be solved

[Content Note:  Disappearing LGBT Humanity, Religious Supremacy.]

Earlier this week, I posted a few thoughts about a paper by Nigel Chapman about same-sex sexual relationships and evangelical Christianity.  Since then, Mr. Chapman and I have had a chance to discuss things.  (Our conversation starts at comment #5.)  I eventually summarized my central point thus:

The
insistence by heterosexual Christians that they must first answer
whether LGBT lives and relationships are moral before they engage in
acts of love toward and relationship with LGBT people is an aggressive
act of power against and privileging heterosexual Christians over LGBT
Christians. As long as heterosexual Christians insist on reserving that
power and privilege for themselves, they are actively causing harm
toward LGBT people. I call this sin and would ask that all evangelical
Christians who believe that harming LGBT people and exercising power
over them to be sinful to call all who engage in this particular act of
aggression and pride to repentance.

To me, Mr. Chapman’s paper feeds into the evangelical desire to privilege their sense of entitlement to be the moral arbiters of LGBT people’s lives over their duty to be good and loving neighbors to LGBT people.  After all, rather than saying — as I have called him to do — “Hey, the morality of what LGBT people do is not your primary concern.  The morality of how you treat them is,” he’s saying, “Okay, we can worry about how you treat LGBT people after we figure out whether what they do is moral.”

I also want to draw attention to is Mr. Chapman’s own description of his paper:

So my paper isn’t advocacy, and is only indirectly concerned with listening, rather, it’s theological problem-solving…

This is the other problem with playing into the idea that Christians need to answer the “morality question” about LGBT relationships first:  It’s a line of thinking that dehumanizes LGBT people and our lives into a theological problem to be solved.  Not humans first and foremost to be loved and related to.  An “issue” to talk about and work out.

The sad thing is, I get a clear sense that Mr. Chapman ultimately wants to help LGBT people, make things better for us, and make evangelical Christianity more welcoming of us.  But he’s so deeply entrenched in the systems of privilege and power that are still part and parcel of his religious subculture that he’s unable or unwilling to see that his methods of trying to help actually play into those systems and allow them to continue to other and marginalize the people he wants to help.  You cannot help LGBT people and still treat us as a theological problem to solve or even allow others to continue treating us as such.

I hope that Mr. Chapman comes to realize this some day.

A heterosexual evangelical Christian writes about LGBT matters and a friend (foolishly) asks for my thoughts.

I was going to write and publish another post containing my musings on Justin Lee’s book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate.”  However, blogging buddy Matt Stone dropped me a note on Facebook inviting me to offer a critique of Nigel Chapman’s paper, “Gay Sex for Evangelicals:  Why gay sex is biblically condemned, and how this understanding solves the Evangelical impasse over same-sex attraction.”  It’s basically a paper written by a heterosexual evangelical Christian to other heterosexual evangelical Christians (and possibly gay evangelical Christians who take a view that’s commonly called  Side B among gay Christians and those who interact with (or discuss) them.  He breaks the paper down into two parts:

  1. A section in which he describes the current state of affairs of how LGBT Christians generally experience life in their evangelical churches and explains why this should be a great concern for pastors and all evangelical Christians everywhere.
  2. A section in which he explores places where the Bible condemns same sex sexual activity in an attempt to understand why it does so and how that applies to same sex sexual activity in general and even sexual orientation.

Overall, I really don’t have much to say on the actual content of either of those sections or the arguments he makes.  I think they’re pretty spot on, and reflect what has already been said on the subject (I’ll come back to that statement in a bit).  However, I do have a few thoughts on the paper, it’s presentation, and the general culture which inspired it.  And I will share those thoughts roughly and as-is now.

  1. Oh look, another heterosexual man has decided that he has something to say about LGBT issues.  Am I really supposed to be excited by this?  I mean, heterosexual men’s voices aren’t exactly underrepresented in this conversation.
  2. The above thought is somewhat (but only somewhat) mitigated by the fact that Chapman encourages fellow heterosexual Christians to actually listen to LGBT people and even offers quotes from LGBT youth in the first part of his paper.  All the same, just once, I’d like one of these heterosexual men to do exactly that and then stop without adding his own commentary.
  3. All of his arguments in part two look great to me.  Then again, they looked great to me the dozens of other times I’ve read them when they were put forward by other people, often LGBT Christians who struggled with these questions for years.
  4. I’m deeply bothered by the fact that Chapman doesn’t seem to acknowledge that he’s covering new ground and that his arguments have long been put forth by others, namely LGBT Christians.  (See my first point in this list.)
  5. When those same arguments were put forward for years by LGBT people, they were summarily dismissed by many heterosexual evangelical Christians on the grounds that LGBT Christians were “just trying to rationalize their sin.”
  6. The fact that Chapman is presenting these arguments and claims that they are (now) “unassailable” is contemptible in my book as a result.  The fact that a heterosexual man is now presenting these arguments does not magically make them “objective” whereas they were biased back when LGBT Christians were presenting them.  The fact that Chapman doesn’t address this issue and charge his fellow Christians for dismissing “unassailable” arguments simply because they were originally offered up by LGBT Christians is something I believe he needs to repent of.
  7. I really wish he would have stopped after the first part.  Not because I disagree with his conclusions in the second part (in fact, I’m inclined to agree with them), but because it continues to play into the contemptible notion that it’s up to heterosexual evangelical Christians to determine the moral way for LGBT people to live their lives and that it’s the most important question to the whole “Christian theology about LGBT people and the issues they face.”  It would be nice if for once, heterosexual evangelical Christians would let LGBT people worry about what the most moral course for their lives would be and instead focus on things they are responsible for and can change:  Like the hate or lack of love (because let’s face it, there’s a lot of wiggle room between hating someone and being loving toward them) that LGBT people feel around them and in their churches.  That’s something that they should be able to answer without delving into questions about the morality of same-sex sexual activity.  And that’s a fact that gets ignored every time someone like Chapman insists on answering questions about the morality of same-sex sexual activity every time he talks about how Christians should treat LGBT people and the issues they face.

Musings on “Torn”: Christians showing grace

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I want to spend some time examining Justin’s advice for moving forward and away from the “culture war”[1] that he offers in chapter fifteen.  After all, most of the rest of the book consists of him telling his story or explaining his own take on Christian theology in regards to homosexuality and same sex relationships.  The former deserves no response beyond careful reading and the encouragement of others to also read it.  The latter holds little interest to me, as I don’t consider my life to be bound by Christian theology.

But finding a way forward to living peaceful lives with the many Christians that share my workplace, my shopping centers, and the rest of the world with me, that’s something I can get on board with and discuss.  So in this post, I want to consider Justin’s first suggestion:

Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement.

In this section, Justin focuses on how Christians approach gay people.  He reminds us of his own exchange with a high school friend that he shared in the second chapter.   He focuses on the fact that his answer boiled down — as Sean pointed out — to the old adage that just about every gay person has heard:  love the sinner, but hate the sin.

In this part of chapter fifteen, Justin reflects on his own experience of people who loved him, but hated his “sin:”[2]

Yes, I know I’m a sinner, as we all are, but something about the phrase feels condescending and dehumanizing, as if I’m now the “sinner” rather than the person’s friend or neighbor, and “loving” me has become the new project they’ve taken on out of obligation to God rather than a genuine interest in my well-being.  For this, it seems I am supposed to feel grateful, as if this were a great imposition on someone who could easily have passed me by and left me in my sinful state.

In addition to the dehumanization of being turned into a “love project,” I’d also note that a lot of Christians who “love sinners but hate sin” have what I would consider some strange ideas of what it means to love other people they consider “sinners.”  You will often hear many Christians talk about “love” in these situations about needing to “lovingly correct the other person,” which often leads to constant streams of preaching about the sinfulness they hate so much.  Not only does this mean once again telling gay people the same things we’ve heard dozens of times before — a reality I noted elsewhere — this kind of preaching about the sinfulness prevents such Christians from getting to ways in which they relate to and show love in more recognizable — and dare I say more traditional — ways.

Love is not an abstract comment.  It’s something that is tangible and can only exist in a real relationship.  And I’d argue that Christians don’t need to just show grace, but need to learn to love in relationship better.  They need to start getting to know LGBT people and knowing what their individuals troubles, concerns, and needs are.  To make an allusion to a popular myth, they need to find out who is actually naked, who is actually starving, who is actually in prison, and act accordingly when dealing with each of those people.  Some needs are somewhat universal among all LGBT people, but can even manifest in different ways among individuals.  Others are more specific to individuals or subgroups within the larger community.  The only way Christians — both as individuals[3] and collectively — can respond to these needs is to become familiar with them first-hand and on an up-close, personal level.

Christians also need to be prepared that meeting LGBT people’s needs may cause them discomfort.  After all, part of loving someone means loving all of them and living with all of them.  That’s the problem with the “hate the sin” part.  Christians who want to “love the sinner while hating the sin” want to conditionally accept some parts of the “sinner” while ignoring the rest.  This does not make for a healthy or desirable relationship.

Over the years, I’ve had a few Christian friends who believe that same sex relationships were wrong.  They loved me — or at least tried their hardest.  We’d get together and talk.  We’d discuss our work, our families, theology (mostly when I was still a Christian), and just about every thing else in our lives.  Then on occasion, I’d fall into a false sense that I really could talk about anything and I’d talk about my love life (or my attempts to find love).

Suddenly, the conversation screeched to the halt at an awkward silence.  The other person would say something rather non-committal, then change the subject.  Just like that, I was reminded that there were just some aspects of my life that were “off limits” for conversation because they were things the other person would rather not think or wrestle with.  If I wanted that friendship to continue, I had to be willing to hide that part of my life — one that I considered (and still consider) extremely important to me.

Needless to say, those friendships faded away over time.  Christians would do will to remember that “love” offered with conditions or limits is not felt as love by those so limited.  That’s a hard truth, but experience teaches me that neither grace nor love are easy.

Notes:
[1]  I also want to note that in my experience only one “side” refers to it as the “culture war.”  To LGBT[4] people, it’s not a “culture war” so much as a struggle to be treated with the same basic human dignity and allowed to enjoy the same legal protections that heterosexual, cisgender people already enjoy without even having to think about it, let alone worry or struggle.  So I’d say that the way forward would go much greater if Christians would drop the phrase “culture war” and similar rhetoric altogether.

[2]  I don’t accept the idea that same sex relationships are inherently sinful, so I’m choosing to use quotes around the term.  Then again, I don’t buy into the whole theology of “sin” anyway, so there you have it.

[3]  As an aside, I think that an essential key to moving forward is for Christians to stop thinking in terms of “The Church” on an institutional level.  Institutions don’t have relationships.  People do.  It’s why Justin’s point says “Christians need to show grace” rather than “The Church needs to show grace.”  Until Christianity as a whole lays aside the power structures — those structures most vested in seeing things in term of a “culture war,” I suspect the way forward will be treacherous and possibly downright impassable.

[4]  I’m a bit divided on being inclusive in “LGBT people” in this blog post/series or just coming right out in saying “gay people.”  Truth be told, much of the book, while applicable to trans people, focuses on sexual orientation (and gay male sexuality at that) rather than trans issues.  This leaves me torn between wanting to acknowledge other sexual minorities and fearing that by including them in a rather nominal way, I’m belittling their importance and the importance of issues that affect trans people far more harshly than they do me.  Quite frankly, trans people get that kind of treatment enough and I’m still working out ways to do a better job of not contributing to it.

Exceptionalism, Religion, and Product Marketing

I’ve spent yesterday and today working at my employer’s booth at a trade show.  In the weeks leading up to the show, I was involved in many meetings where we established, reviewed, and refined the key messages we wanted to convey about our products and solutions during the show.  Largely, the conversations were centered around formulating answers to a single question:

What are the features and implications of our products and solutions that make us stand out from our competitors?

Focusing on that question made a lot of sense.  After all, we came to the show specifically to gain increased visibility of our products and solutions.  Highlighting our advantages and benefits over our competitors made good business sense.

What I found more troublesome was when I ran into a similar line of thinking while reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn,” during my breaks and other down-times at the trade show.  The topic came up most explicitly in chapter ten, “Faith Assassins,” when Justin started talking about more liberal Christians churches that tend to both be pro-gay and take the miraculous and supernatural accounts in the Bible less literally.  Of such churches, Justin offers the following opinion:

Bit by bit, they lose the things that set them apart as Christians.

There are a number of things I could speak to concerning that statement and that section of the book in general.  I could challenge Justin’s underlying assumption that there is a causal relationship between these churches’ choices to be gay affirming and their approach to understanding supernatural events in the Bible, or their approach to the Bible in general.  I could also question Justin’s suggestion that it is the existence of such supernatural events that makes Christianity distinctive from other religions.  Instead, however, I want to focus on the heavy focus on finding ways in which Christianity is distinct from other religions, and why I find this troublesome.

I’ll note that this is not something unique about Justin.  I’ve met many Christians — especially evangelical Christians — who wish to point out how Christianity (or their brand of it) is distinctive from all other religions.  Nor is this a phenomenon that exclusively appears among Christians.  And yet, it is something that seems to me to be quite common and even prevalent among Christians in general and evangelical Christians in particular.

But is it a wise thing to treat one’s religion like it’s a product?  Is it wise to view the process of sharing one’s religion like a marketing effort?  Personally, I don’t think so.  I think it cheapens everything and everyone in the process.  It turns one’s faith into a product rather than a rich source of life, inspiration, and understanding.  (And before anyone suggests that this is what they’re trying to “market,” let me remind them that advertising managers for cosmetics, diet fads, self help books, and many other products would say the same thing.)  It turns other religions and those who would promote them into competitors in the market.  It turns people you’re sharing with into potential customers and consumers.  It continues a model of sharing one’s faith in which the goal seems very much about “making the sale.”

This is not something I personally would want to do with my faith or the process of sharing my faith.  I would rather allow my faith to simply be and share it as it is rather than trying to come up with “eight key features that makes Vanic Witchcraft better than Christianity/Islam/Confucianism.”  And to be honest, anyone who thinks of sharing their faith in that light — even less explicitly — is liable to leave me feeling wary.