Tag Archives: Religion

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The Good

Today, I finally finished reading “Out of a Far Country:  A Gay Son’s Journey to God.  A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope” by mother-son team Angela and Christopher Yuan.  It was an interesting read and I found it both enjoyable and problematic.  As such, I want to do a number of blog posts about it.  In this blog post, I am going to try to focus mainly on what I enjoyed abut the book.[1]

The book focuses on two stories (though I’m sad to say that the one story ultimately gets subsumed by by the other), the story of each of the two authors.  Christopher shares his journey of coming out, walking away from his biological family, making many bad decisions, facing the consequences of those decisions, and reclaiming his life and reuniting with his family.  It’s touching, moving, and raw.  As someone who loves both stories and seeking to understand the heroes of those stories, it made for an incredibly compelling read.

Intertwined throughout this was Angela’s own story and her journey through the initial shock of her son’s announcement that he was leaving[2], her conversion to the Christian faith, and her acceptance of and patience with her sons journey before finally being reunited with her.

In many ways, Angela’s story was far more interesting to me than Christopher’s, which is why I was sad at how her story seemed to become little more than a subplot in his journey rather than something in its own right.  In part, this was because while neither Angela nor Christopher use the word in the book, it seems pretty clear to me that Angela is codependent and her initial reactions to Christopher and his bad decisions epitomizes the controlling behavior that those of us who struggle with codependency are so prone to.  As such, I was able to relate to Angela’s journey of recognizing these behavior patterns in her life and changing them as much — perhaps more than — I could relate to Christopher’s story.  After all, Christopher’s journey and my own were quite different and we’ve arrived at different places.  As such, in many ways, I found myself drawn more to his mother.

I also admire the honesty and rawness with which both author’s described their experiences, thoughts, and feelings throughout their journeys as well.  It was easy to see and understand not only what they were going through, but how their experiences and responses to them transformed them.  As such, while there’s much about the book that bothered me (and I will get into that soon enough), I think it was well worth reading and would encourage interested people to give it a try.

I will note however, that it deals with many deep and potentially triggering topics (including homosexuality, family rejection, drug abuse, HIV, imprisonment, and religiously-based homophobia).  Anyone who does accept my recommendation needs to be ready to deal with heavy topics.

Notes:
[1] Sadly, what I found problematic about the book will likely take more than a single post.

[2] Though in fairness, Angela did lay down an ultimatum that contributed to Christopher’s decision.

How not to reach out to gay people.

Trigger Warnings:  Homophobia, suicidal thoughts, sexually violent dreams, frank sexual talk.  If you don’t feel you can handle reading this post, I completely understand.  Please feel free to ask Personal Failure to share one of her otters with you instead.

Confessions of a Former Conservative is one of my favorite blogs, as he critiques, challenges, and denounces some of the more spiteful things said by fundamentalist and other ultra-conservative Christians online.  One of the blogs he regularly critiques is written by a woman named Gerie.  He recently posted a critique on her condemnation of Christians who are pro-gay and reaffirmed her own certainty that being gay is a sin.  As she quoted the Romans 1 “clobber passage,” I offered the following commentary on Former Conservative’s post:
 

You know what? That particular passage pisses me off. You know why? Because it suggests that the cause of homosexuality is idolatry. Well, guess what? I grew up a good little Christian. i said the sinner’s prayer and meant it. I did everything I was supposed to. And I still turned out gay. I tried to convince myself it was a phase. I stayed gay. I prayed to God and begged with Him to turn me straight. I’m still gay.

So you know what? Fuck Romans 1 (or at least Gerie’s interpretation of it.) Because I did everything I was supposed to and I still ended up fucking gay. So obviously, either Romans 1 is bullshit or Gerie’s interpretation of it is.

And I’m not the only person who had that experience. There’s at least one website dedicated to people who did everything right and even tried to overcome their gayness and yet remained gay.

I understand that Gerie’s the type that will continue to believe her whacked-out interpretation over reality, but come on. She can at least acknowledge that she’s a reality-denier. It’d be the honest thing to do, and given how important the truth (supposedly) is to her…..

Apparently, Gerie read my statement, because it’s a fairly that her Monday post is a direct response to what I said.  As I read it, I was both amused and disgusted.  I was amused because I found many of the things Gerie said in response to my comment to be quite predictable.  I was disgusted for the same reasons.  Gerie’s response is a non-response.  A response actually engages with what was said and seeks dialogue.  Gerie’s lengthy missive makes no such attempt.  Instead, it is little more than a reiteration of her position and an attempt to make my own personal narrative fit into her preconceived ideas on the topic.

Gerie says the following of me and my comment in the introduction to her post:

But this heartfelt comment that I read, stood out from the others and I am sure, touched the heart of God. I know this because from the time I read it, the Lord had me on my knees, praying and interceding with many tears for this person. Who I don’t know personally and have never met, but for a little while, as I prayed for him, I could feel the pain in his heart, and the inner conflict and turmoil that sin has caused in his life.

To be frank, I find the above statements patronizing and sanctimonious.  Gerie claims that my post had her in tears and she had this great emotional experience over me.  However, note that her response is simply to pray and “know what I’m feeling.”  And yet she did not make any attempt to contact me.  She did not join the open conversation on Former Conservative’s blog.  She did not try to find my email address[1] in order to contact me directly.  Instead, she decided to write a blog post about me (she couldn’t even be bothered to address her comments to me) on a blog that doesn’t allow comments.

These are not the actions of someone who wants dialogue.  I will go so far as to say that this is not someone who even cares, despite her claims to the contrary.  A person who cares about someone seeks to engage in conversation with that other person.  Gerie is simply having another self-aggrandizing moment of (faux) piety.

 I also find it curious that based on a single, 225-word (not counting the quoted passage) comment , Gerie is sure that she knows exactly what I am feeling[2] and why.  If Gerie thinks that such a short message can give her a complete insight into my numerous and complex feelings on the topic of my sexual, romantic, and emotional feelings and the fact that I was brought up to think those things made me evil (a position I have since long rejected both with good reason and for the better), she is sorely mistaken.  And there’s certainly no inner conflict.  I’ve long made peace with my feelings and the Divine.  So any “inner conflict” Gerie is sensing is an invention of her own imagination.

Gerie takes a pause in her discussion to offer the following aside to parents, which I find very telling:

Parents, take the time to talk to your children and pay attention to what’s going on inside of their hearts. I am learning that Satan attacks our children mercilessly simply because he can get away with it and he is never suspected.

I bolded the part that I find most interesting in a most disturbing way.  Reread that and let it sink in.  According to Gerie, Satan is allowed to attack children.  By whom?  Well, by Gerie’s god, of course!  Again, take a moment for that to really sink in.  Gerie’s god allows Satan to attack children.  He does nothing to stop it.  What’s worse, if Satan’s attacks on children works, Gerie’s god sends those children to eternal torment as a punishment for not standing up to those attacks.

Am I the only one that thinks that makes Gerie’s god a complete fucking bastard?

I’ll also note that ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy “experts” have spewed all this “parents be careful or your children could go stray” stuff before.  Some of the family members of former ex-gays will gladly tell you that it places an unbearable sense of guilt on them.  Mom and Dad don’t need any more shaming over my sexual, romantic, and emotional feelings than I do.

Gerie continues:

For instance whether a child accepts the belief that they are gay or not, and believing they were made that way or were born that way, because the feelings were there as far back as they can remember.

People don’t believe they’re gay.  People believe that there’s a god who hears their prayers.  People believe that humans are basically good.  People believe that buying lotto tickets from the middle of the row increases their chances of winning.  These are all intellectual ideas with a great deal of doubt, uncertainty, and unverifiability.

Romantic and sexual attractions are too concrete and too visceral to be considered mere belief.  The boy who is left feeling cold at the thought of kissing Judy or Lilly,[3] but whose heart flutters at the thought of kissing Ken or Roger has more than a “belief” that he is guy.  The young girl who wakes up from her fifth dream about making out with a girl all sweaty and aroused has more than a “belief” that she is gay.

Sexual orientation is about feelings and attractions.  These things are inherently involuntary.  People don’t plan to feel a certain way, and emotions tend to happen on their own.  If those feelings tend to be towards members of the same sex and of a romantic and sexual nature, that person is gay.  There’s no “belief” involved.

The belief that a person is born gay is correctly identified as a belief.  However, it is a belief that is based in a great deal of evidence and common sense.  There has been a great deal of research that has demonstrated a high level of certainty that sexual orientation is biologically determined and most likely a matter of genetics combined with pre-natal conditions.  Of course, this brings me to the next statement made by Gerie:

Common sense tells us
that if God will judge homosexuality as sin that He would never
intentionally plant those desires in our hearts, but that the source of
those feeling had to originate from somewhere else.

Gerie is correct about what common sense tells us.  However, I will argue that her conclusion is counter-intuitive and completely works the reasoning in the wrong direction.

You see, all the research and the experiences of actual gay people suggests very strongly — to those who value empirical data above blindly following dogma — that all those feelings and desires are inborn.  As such, the reasonable conclusion is that no loving god would “make” us gay and then condemn us, so no loving god would be condemn those who are gay.

Instead, Gerie chooses to assume — based on nothing other than a dogmatic acceptance of a “literal interpretation” of certain clobber passages that theologians have challenged repeatedly — that God hates homosexuality.  So instead of relying on scientific research and the experiences of countless gay people, she decides there must be another explanation for gayness.  As I said in my original comment, Gerie is engaging in reality-denial here.

Of course, Gerie’s explanation is still problematic.  Her solution is to say that Satan gave people those feelings, even at a very young age.  But as I noted earlier, Gerie’s god still had to allow Satan to do this.  I do not accept that a loving god would condemn people to eternal damnation for choosing to cope with the feelings He allowed Satan to give them the best way they know how any more than he’d condemn them if He had given those same people those same feelings Himself.

Gerie’s god simply makes no sense to me unless that I accept that He stands for some things I consider morally abhorrent.  If I accept that, then I have no desire to have anything to do with such a god.

After going on about Satan’s evil ways of getting people to believe various things and God’s abusive ways of sending people to eternal torment for falling for Satan’s tricks, Gerie hits upon a rather ironic statement about the hard questions:

Never go to your Pastor or any man with the hard questions that he couldn’t possibly know the answer to, go to God.

I find this ironic because Gerie has effectively condemned herself.  If you read through the post I’m critiquing and the rest of your blog, you will find that Gerie makes a regular practice of “answering the hard questions” herself.  Does this mean that secretly, Gerie believes that she is God?  It would certainly explain a number of things.

I’m sure that Gerie would defend herself by saying that she’s going to the Bible and giving not her own answers, but God’s answers.  The problem with this claim, however, is that this is the same claim that just about every pastor I know would make (except that many pastors I know would honestly add that it’s their understanding of God’s answers “as it stands now” and that it may be inaccurate).  There’s nothing that actually demonstrates that Gerie has any more authority to make that claim than they do.

At any rate, Gerie suggests that the correct thing to do is to ultimately go to God with the hard questions:

So we should always try
to understand things from Gods perspective. Get on your knees and go to
God and ask for wisdom and understanding. Be persistent and never give
up.
We want everything to happen overnight and can I tell you that it just doesn’t work that way. Not with the things that matter.

This is sound advice, except that it assumes that people like me — or people who disagree with Gerie’s understanding of a wrathful god hell-bent on doing horrible things to people He disapproves of for reasons he has a hand in — haven’t done this already.  If Gerie doesn’t think I and tohers sought god earnestly and painfully, then her understanding of me is fatally flawed.  To be blunt, she has no understanding of me.  As I mentioned before, she is merely making assumptions about me and those like me to make our narratives fit her preconceived notions.  Gerie is engaging in more reality-denial.

As for the comment that God doesn’t answer questions over night, I will simply comment that I waited on God for eight years for an answer and only came to the answer I did when it nearly destroyed me.  Between accepting that I’m gay and slitting my wrists — something I seriously considered for over thirty minutes and in such detail that I can still picture the curve of the blade, the grain of the wood, and the exact color of the brass rivets of the knife I was going to use — I decided that any truly Divine being would rather see me accept my feelings.

If Gerie and her god doesn’t understand that…well I’d say my opinion of them would go down, but I’m not sure that’s possible at this point.

Next, Gerie moves into one of her favorite subjects: how it’s important to fear her god.  Now quite frankly, considering all the horrible things Gerie’s god allegedly does, I’d be apt to fear him if I believed in him at all, too.  That’s a god who should be feared, not loved.

To support her position, Gerie quotes Luke 12:5:

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has
killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

So there you have it.  Even Jesus says we should fear god.  But maybe we should see what Jesus had to say in the verses that bracket that one.

4 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!  6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?[a] And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

So basically, Jesus isn’t saying “fear God” so much as he’s saying “if you’re going to fear anyone, it should be God, but you shouldn’t even fear him.”  This actually goes along with what the apostle John said about love casting out fear.

I’m going to jump over the section where Gerie goes on at length about how for heaven to work, God has to have perfect obedience in order.  That in itself would make a great blog post.  However, for now, I’m simply going to suggest that reading this part of Gerie’s post about how God needs to be a tyrant for everybody’s own good with Bob Altemyer’s book “The Authoritarians” in mind.

The thing I will note, however, is that Gerie makes a switch in her argument about morality at this point.  Up to this point, she has been calling for blind obedience to God’s commands (or Gerie’s interpretation of them) simply because He’s God and if you don’t, He’ll torment you forever and ever.  Now she’s trying to claim that God only does this because it’s the only way to keep things going smoothly, as if suddenly keeping things going smoothly is now the real reason for morality rather than avoiding God’s wrath.  Of course, she offers no proof that (her interpretation of) God’s commands will actually make things go smoothly, so this comes off more like an abusive father who is claiming that beating his child until limbs break or a lung gets punctured is “for their own good.”  Both arguments are just as unsubstantiated.

Of course, it also implies a real flaw with Gerie’s god.  If the only way that God can make things to work is to give commands from on high and torment those who disobey, he’s a terrible God.  Hell, he’s worse than some of the worst human leaders to have ever walked.  If Gerie’s god has no way of motivating people to follow him,[4] then he needs to go back to god/management school.

Gerie eventually gets back to me and my comment, offering this rather condescending analysis:

The comment that I read, said that he did everything right, and he is still gay. He said the sinners prayer and begged God to take away his gay tendencies. What we have to understand is that saying the “sinners prayer” won’t save anybody, despite what we have been taught by church people. And understand that all of your sinful desires don’t go away automatically once you are saved.

You know, I’m always amused by the number of conservative Christians who claim to know my heart.  In this case, Gerie doubts the sincerity of my prayer of repentance.  Other people simply think I didn’t pray hard enough, have enough faith in God, or didn’t give God enough time.  I’d like to know what Divine Power these people think they possess to know what I did, where my heart was, or what I was really thinking for my childhood, teenage years, and even my early twenties.

I could give a lengthy story about my life, my choices, and my pains.  I could talk about the horror the first time I woke up from a wet dream, horrified that the dream had involved not a girl, but a male classmate[5].  I can talk about the nights I laid in bed for several minutes to an hour praying for forgiveness over every little perceived sin — and things I wasn’t sure really was a sin but asked for forgiveness for “just in case.”  I could talk about the time I spent in church praying, worshiping, and leading others in the same.  I could talk about the time I spent in high school and college being just as obnoxiously “righteous” as Gerie.

But I won’t, because I don’t have to explain myself to Gerie.  I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.  And i certainly won’t bother trying to explain myself to someone who doesn’t have the decency to ask me rather than just go off making whatever assumptions about me will prop up her preconceived notions.  I deserve more respect than that and I have more respect for myself than that.

Gerie goes on to say the following:

What saves us is that
after we turn to Jesus with a sorrow for the condition we have allowed
ourselves to get into, that we firmly determine in our heart that we
will never commit another sin.

The problem with this is that Gerie is now trying to blame the person for being gay.  However, Gerie has already conceded that someone else — she believes it’s Satan — has planted these feelings in gay people.  So basically, Gerie’s trying to say that it’s both not gay people’s fault for being gay and is their fault.  Gerie has just contradicted herself at this point, and it becomes apparent to me that Gerie will say whatever she has to in order to defend her position, even if it means contradicting herself.  Logic, consistency, and reality be damned.

Gerie goes on to tell me (oh, it appears she does address me in the second person after all — after a huge wall of text) that while my feelings may really, they are a lie.  You know, while I understand that feelings are not always an accurate depiction of reality — like I how I occasionally feel that no one loves me despite the fact that there are dozens of people who love me — this idea of “feelings as a lie” as Gerie presents it makes no sense.

Being gay is all about feelings.  If you have certain feelings towards members of the same sex and only members of the same sex, you are gay.  That’s the very definition of the word gay.  So to acknowledge that I really have those exist and yet deny that I’m gay is a contradictions — or an attempt to redefine what it means to be gay.  I’m afraid Gerie will lose that battle every time.

Next, Gerie goes on to demonstrate her complete lack of comprehension of homosexuality:

Stop right now, believing in your heart that you are gay, its a lie! You are caught in a trap by believing the lie. As a man thinketh in his heart so is he. Look at yourself. You are a MAN!  You are not a woman. God Himself created you and He made you a man!

In my thirty-seven years of life, I have never doubted I am a man.  I have never thought of myself as a woman.[6]  Gerie seems to be conflating being trans* with being gay or bi.  They are not the same thing.  It is perfectly possible to see oneself as a man[7] and still prefer the romantic and sexual companionship of another man.

Again, Gerie’s inability to understand what it actually means to be gay and her willingness to uphold her incorrect assumptions about what it means to be gay rather than learning from the narratives of actual gay people shows a callousness and lack of caring in her that is inexcusable.  Someone who will not even listen to what I have to say and consider my narrative as it is rather than what they want it to be is not someone who deserves my ear or my respect.

I’m going to end my commentary here, as I believe I’ve said everything that needs to be said.  The rest of Gerie’s post is a combination of exhortations to fight (displaying assumptions about what I have and haven’t done and why I changed my point of view), making faulty analogies between other (alleged) sins that fail for reasons I can’t be bothered to go into right now (hey, I’m allowed to get tired, and I’ve been working on this post for over two hours now), and threatening me with hell if I don’t.  That last makes her closing comment about hoping that she’ll meet me some day (but making no real effort to enter into real dialogue or relationship with me at the present) all the more ludicrous.

Notes:
[1]  If you click my linked name next to the note on FC’s blog, it takes you to my main site.  On that page is a link to send me an email address.  Apparently, clicking through two links to find my email address is too much effort for Gerie.

[2]  I suspect she’d claim that God let her feel my pain, as I get the impression that Gerie is a Pentecostal/charismatic Christian as well.  However, as I’ll demonstrate as I continue through her post, she’s either wrong or God sent her a “distorted picture.”

[3]  I cannot say whether this is universal or even common, but personally, I was almost more disturbed by my lack of attraction to girls as I was the presence of feelings for boys.  I vividly remember laying in bed realizing that the thought of kissing a particular girl (one I had convinced myself I had feelings for) left me feeling cold and uncomfortable, and wondering, “What the hell is wrong with me????”

[4] And now we’re back to one of my points in Monday’s post.

[5]  What’s really messed up is that I was more disturbed that the sexual activity (non-penetrative, by the way) in the dream was with another man rather than the fact that it was non-consensual on my part.

[6]  Granted, I have occasionally wondered what it would be like to be a woman.  However, that is not the same as thinking that I am a woman or want to be one.

[7]  Though I grant you that my understanding of what it means to be a man is far more fluid and far less riddled with stereotypes than Gerie’s.

Morality: Divine Dictates and Reason

The Former Conservative recently offered a critique of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry’s homophobic “Questions for Homosexuals” a while back, to which CARM leader Matthew Slick replied.  The Former Conservative offered a second response, and I encourage anyone who has not followed the exchange to go read it in its entirety.

One of the things that came up in the protracted discussion was CARM’s strange beliefs about morality.  It seems that CARM understands that there can only be three sources for morality (and only the first one is valid in CARM’s mind):

  1. A Supreme Being offering inviolable declarations of what is right and what is wrong.
  2. A societal system that offers near-inviolable declarations of what is right and what is wrong.
  3. Individuals who decide for themselves what is right or wrong based on what feels right.

This list demonstrates that the folks at CARM might want to invest a bit more into the “Research” part of their organization’s name.  There are a multitude of diverse bases for developing a moral framework, as evidenced by the number of philosophers, both ancient and modern, who have explored the topic of morality and offered many different methods for determining morality.

As a devotee o the Norse gods, I would actually suggest that my morality is loosely based on more nuanced versions of all three above points.  For example, my gods have a lot of advice to offer as to what actions and what virtues and actions are considered noble and moral.  However, these are offered as advice rather than inviolable commandments.[1]  Instead, they offer advice, suggestions, and reasons why certain courses of action are preferable and more worthy of praise.

This offers something for individual reason and reflection to work with.  This does make morality somewhat individualistic.  This is appropriate as morality is itself individualistic.  I am responsible to make sure that I act in a manner that is moral.  I am not responsible for anyone else’s morality or lack thereof.  So I need to reason through what right action is based on the understanding of my situations, the virtues that I and my gods deem noble and valuable.

This sort of individual consideration of morality is not the narcissistic “do what I want” attitude that the folks at CARM or like-minded people consider it to be.  It is possible to use one’s own reason and thought processes, yet start with some sort of basis that leads you to a rugged moral framework from which to act in an appropriate manner.

In reality, CARM’s knee-jerk rejection of the application of personal reason and reflection on matters of reality suggests an anti-reason bias in their approach to the world.  Of the three above versions of morality that they perceive, I suspect the last is the one they trust least, as it affirms the individual’s need for an external absolute authority to dictate right and wrong to them.  They simply believe that human beings are incapable of such moral reasoning on their own.

That suggestion is almost as insulting as it is frightening.

Notes:
[1]  To put it bluntly, a bumper sticker that said “Freyja said it, I believe it, that settles it,” would not be a highly marketable product.

(It’s) Nothing Like a Good Parody

Tonight, while reading Confessions of a Former Conservative, I ran across a blog called The Emotions of hdn666.  This blog is apparently a young Christian’s attempt to parody liberals, atheists, and apparently anyone else who isn’t just like him.  I’ve read a few posts and I have to say that I’m giggling a little bit.  What can I say, I love a good parody.

Except, I’m not laughing because it’s a good parody.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to imagine what a worse parody would look like.  The author of this site has created such strawman arguments and caricatures of real liberals, atheists, and just abut everybody else that they bear almost (and I’m being fairly generous by adding the “almost”) no resemblance to real live people.  To give you an example of what I mean, let us take a look at one of his posts, Atheism is Truth.

See, the Bible is full of holes. Evolution, well science, is truth. It is absolute.

This statement is somewhat accurate to many atheists’ views.  Hell, it’s somewhat accurate to my views, and I’m not even an atheist.  The problem is, the author doesn’t understand what atheists and others (like me) mean when we say something like this.  This becomes clear as his straw-man representation of atheists’ views continues.

People who believe the Bible are stupid morons.

I’ve known a few atheists who have said this very thing.  To the best of my knowledge, none of them were above the age of majority.  They acted their age in many ways, including calling other people stupid morons.  Interestingly enough, there were a number of adult atheists around that found these immature atheists as annoying as we theists did.

Adult atheists do find it hard to understand why someone would believe the Bible (especially “literally”).  However, this is not the same as thinking that such people are stupid morons.  Atheists are perfectly capable of understanding that people can be intelligent and rational while still holding views that they (the atheists) don’t “get.”

They are believing stories that have come down the line from person to person and have changed very little or none since their first telling.

I don’t fully get this statement.  The atheists I know actually challenge the idea that Biblical texts have been passed down unchanged over the centuries.  (And indeed, there are manuscripts that differ.  It’s why certain passages are carefully footnoted in translations like the NRSV to indicate that said passage was not found in “earlier manuscripts.”)  So I’m not entirely sure why the author through that bit in.

I can speculate, however.  I suspect that the author behind the parody is the one who believes that these stories have never changed.  In other words, this is one of those cases where the author interrupts the narrator to come out and say “isn’t this totally stupid?”  In my opinion, it disrupts the parody.

Of course, I’ll also note that the unchanging nature of “Biblical truth” is one of the points championed by conservative Christians.  In fact, it’s often used as proof of Biblical truth’s “superiority” over science, as the latter “is constantly changing.”

What they author and most other conservative Christians fail to understand is that science’s ability to change based on new evidence is a strength rather than a weakness.  A method of inquiry which can accept new data and revise its premises to accommodate the new data as necessary allows us to enrich, enhance, and even correct our understanding of reality.  It allows us to engage in an honest search for truth rather than insisting we already know it and pray to God we’re right.

Compare this to conservative Christianity, which seems to maintain that if one little thing changes, the entire religion will shatter into a million shards.  This strikes me as a weak faith, a house of cards that will topple when enough new data which cannot easily be bent to support the presupposed and unquestionable beliefs of the religion accumulates.  I would think that the parody’s author would do well to learn the strength in flexible systems of understanding.

Christians are believing in a God that they have never seen from people that they have never met.

This needs an “objectively” inserted in it.  Atheists are perfectly willing to accept that Christians and other theists of experienced something that they interpret to be God or some sort of Divine presence.  However, they argue that Christians and other theists cannot objectively demonstrate that their interpretation of their experiences are true.

As a theist, I have no problem admitting that the atheists are right about that.  I also think that any theist who is being honest would be hard pressed to disagree with that position.

But see, I’m an intelligent Atheist. I get my facts from real sources. You get your information from a book and I…well, actually I get mine from books too. Huh…well now I’m stumped.

Actually, atheists get their facts from several sources.  Among them are personal experience, their own ability to reason, the experiences and reasoning of others, and yes, even books.  Lots of books.

The thing is, atheists don’t have to take any particular book (or set of books) as 100% factual.  What’s more, they don’t have to take a particular narrow interpretation of what a given book means and accept it 100% at face value.  They can critically examine the books they get their facts from.  They can cross-check those facts from the claims made in other books as well as their own personal observations and reasoning.  In the end, the atheist has quite an arsenal for gathering, examining, and refining the facts at their disposal.

The fact that our strawman atheist is stumped reveals his nature as a strawman.

Well, I know for a fact that the earth is millions and millions of years old! Trying to say otherwise is idiotic. What proof is there? Scientists say so. And we all know that scientists never lie.

Laying aside the ludicrous question of whether or not scientists ever lie, let’s consider that our author (and his strawman atheist by extension) don’t understand how science works here.  We know for a fact that the earth is millions of years old because everything we know about numerous and diverse fields of scientific inquiry point to that fact.  If the earth isn’t millions of years old, just about everything we know about how the world works is completely wrong.  And considering the amount of time we’ve spent verifying, challenging, and reaffirming what we know about the way the world works is right, that’s a pretty hard sell.

After all, they are all-knowing, right?

I know of no scientist who claims to be all-knowing.  In fact, I’m pretty sure most of them admit that there’s a lot they still don’t know.  If they knew everything, they wouldn’t have a job to do anymore.  Our author is just making wild accusations.

Bible believers are taking someone else’s word for what they believe and I…well actually, I’m doing the same thing.

And again, here’s where the author doesn’t get it.  Yes, we take scientists’ word on certain things.  But we don’t actually have to.  Assuming I had an infinite amount of time and resources at my disposal, I could go get a degree in microbiology and rerun all the experiments that every single microbiologist has ever done to confirm or further explain the mechanisms of evolution.  I could then do the same for biochemistry, the various geological sciences, and every other field of scientific inquiry.  Those scientists have even helped me out if I want to do this by recording their experiments, the procedures and materials they used, their results, and their conclusions.

I’m not going to do all that, even though I could.  I simply don’t have the time.  But here’s the thing:  scientists double-check other scientists’ work all the time.  It’s actually an important part of the scientific method.

So I’m not just “taking other people’s word for it.”  I’m taking the word of people who showed how they came to their conclusions, “showed their work,” and had other people double-check, verify, and build upon that work.

In the end, an attempt to parody something that one does not understand will fail miserably.  Apparently, the author of The Emotions of hdn666 has yet to learn that lesson.


C.S. Friedman and Religion

Last night, I finished reading C.S. Friedman’s final book in her Magister Trilogy, Legacy of Kings.  It was a compelling and captivating end to a fantastic (pun not intended) series of books.  In many ways, I feel sad leaving behind the world of Souleaters and Magisters and the people (and creatures) that inhabit those worlds.

However, as I think of the series as a whole and her equally excellent Coldfire Trilogy, what really gets my notice is the skill, criticality, and sensitivity with which she writes about religion.  In both series, she writes about characters who follow diverse religions and yet work together.  And in both series, she describes one religion (though unique to each series) that is monotheistic in nature and, in my opinion anyway, bears numerous similarities to Christianity (or at least certain expressions of Christianity).  Whether it is the authoritarian church created by Prophet-turned-traitor Gerald Tarrant to tame the chaotic and deadly fae or the Penitent Church of King Salvator that believes the soul-devouring ikati are the punishment of the Destroyer for mankind’s sins, the monumental religion in question takes on trapping that are reminiscent of the dominant monotheistic faith in our own society.

What I find interesting about Friendman’s treatment of these religions is that she offers a thoughtful and critical — yet not damning — analysis of these monotheistic religions, and Christianity by analogy.  She seeks to explore what she clearly believes are both strengths and weaknesses of the faiths of her creation, offering a commentary that is neither too harsh more too fawning.

One of the methods she accomplishes this is through the stories characters who practice these faiths.  She explores how their faith influences their actions and how the trials they face challenge, strengthen, and occasionally alter their faith.  In effect, she creates deep characters of substance to occupy and portray these religions rather than strawmen to prop them up or tear them down.  Damien Vryce, Gerald Tarrant[1], and King Salvatore are all (relatively, in Gerald’s case) sympathetic characters who put humanity to faith.

Of course, their actions and portrayal of the monotheistic faiths are strengthened by their interactions with people of the other religions in these two worlds, the polytheistic, pagan idol-worshippers[2].  The monotheists sincerely struggle with how to interact with the other people who make up their world, even when confronted with things that are forbidden by their own faith.  In turn, the polytheists are given voice by Friedman to express, explore, and revise their opinions of the monotheistic religions and how those religions affect those followers.

In effect, Friedman writes a beautiful yet realistic world in which the realities of pluralism are negotiated and dealt with.  If only we could do so well here in the real world.

[1] Granted, one might argue whether Tarrant can still rightfully be called a follower of the Church he founded.  But I seem to recall that he arrogantly claimed at one point in the Coldfire trilogy that he still served the Church in his own way, and I’m inclined to grant him that conceit.


[2] Interestingly, neither Friedman nor her characters seem to use this term in a derogatory manner, but in a more technical manner.  And while I might nit-pick whether people actually worship their idols in the technical sense, I applaud Friedman’s apparent lack of denigration.


Raised Right: Chapter 1

humanity. love. respect.

Image by B.S. Wise via Flickr

Chapter 1 of Harris’s book, Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith From Politics, bears the title “Flesh and Blood.”  I assume it was chosen for the chapters attempt to show the need to see not issues, but people.  Harris starts the chapter by describing a scene where she, her parents, and her younger siblings picketed an abortion clinic together.  After describing that scene, she speaks of her past, offering the following insight:

I had been picketing since before I could walk.
Understanding that statement and its significance reveals a great deal about those of us who were raised as conservative Christians.  In a sense, I think it makes it easier to understand us — whether speaking of those of us whose politics and/or faith have changed or those who remain a part of the movement — as flesh and blood people.  Our understanding of the religio-political views we were meant to adhere to was formed very early in our lives.
As I mentioned when I announced I’d be reviewing this book, I was not raised with the direct activism as Harris.  I never picketed before I could walk, or even after.  However, the messages about what I was supposed to believe started when I was young.  Perhaps nothing about the political topics that seem to make up most of the Religious Right’s platform, but there were still those subtle messages that set the stage for me to understand what “good people” believed and did versus what “bad people” said and did.
Subtle is a key-word here.  While Harris’s own childhood experiences were direct and explicit, my own (and I suspect others’) was more subtle.  Things got implied more than said.  Or certain things were said and I inferred.  To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the evils of homosexuality.  I’m not even sure where I first learned that homosexuality was supposed to be wrong, or even that there was such a thing as homosexuality.[1]  But I certainly picked that message up from somewhere.
When we read Old Testament passages like the story of Rahab and I asked my mom what a prostitute was, she said, “Women that men paid to act like their wives,” which conjured confusing pictures of paid cooks and housekeepers.  When I asked how the single mom in our church had a baby without a husband, she said the mom “acted like she was married.”  Apparently, I was too young to know how people made babies, but not too young to know how they killed them.
Harris’s statement above is something I can totally appreciate.  Sex was something that simply was not discussed.  I remember spending the night with one (male) cousin and sharing a bed and wondering if it was okay, because that’s something only a husband and wife do.  I did not understand there was more to being a husband and wife (or lovers) than merely sharing a bed for actual sleep.
I don’t think my own parents meant to keep me naive about sex.  Looking back, I think that if I had asked about it, either of them would have answered me honestly.  They simply weren’t going to volunteer the information.
However “sinful sex” or the consequences of it did tend to get a bit more attention, from other sources if not directly from my parents.  And that strikes me as quite common in conservative circles.  In many ways, the discussion of sexual sin[2] seems to be the only discussion of sex that goes on in many such environments.  This tends to lead to a rather grim view of sex in general.  I know I tended to think of it as a mostly dirty thing, despite my eighth grade science teacher’s occasional declaration to the contrary — a declaration he made the few times the subject came up in his classroom at all.
Harris goes on to describe a protest held in front of New York Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office which she covered as a journalist.  This protest took place when the state’s same sex marriage legislation was waiting to be approved by the State Senate.  Harris describes the shouting, the anger, the jeering, and the rebukes offered up during the protest.
As the crowd yelled, I would at times forget that these were supposed to be prayers until I would catch an “Almighty God!” or “Lord we pray!”
I have seen these kinds of public “prayers” before.  In fact, I recall participating in a few of them during my college years.  The ones I was involved in were not as heated, aggressive, or condemning as the ones that Harris describes in her book, but they were surely sham prayers meant for public piety and acts of showing others our (my) own superiority.  They were the same in spirit, even if not the same in degree or volume.  I think Harris remarks upon this practice when she writes:
I couldn’t help but think of the kind of ostentatious prayers Jesus chided:  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”  He must have meant, Pray to Me and not to the cameras.  When you pray, talk to Me.
Harris describes talking about the importance of love and her own struggle with the idea that these protestors would insist that they “loved” the homosexuals and that they merely wanted to help them “out of their sin.”  She thought of how they would compare themselves to a parent correcting a child.  Harris then goes on to share her own revelation in response to that claim:
Then I realized why these efforts at love sounded hollow — because this love was not the way I experienced love every day.  Even setting aside the arrogance suggested by viewing all other sinners as children and saved sinners as the world’s in loco parentis, I know my parents love me because they sacrificed to feed and clothe me every day.  In the end that burden of labor and sacrifice is what gives them any right to be heard or believed when they say “I love you” after they say “you’re wrong.”
I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone express this as eloquently as Harris did here:  If you want to correct people out of “love,” then you first need to show those same people love in other, tangible and edifying ways.  That may mean meeting other needs they might have — which might actually mean learning what those needs are in the first place.  That’s something that many conservative Christians are not good at.  I know I wasn’t.
Unfortunately, my former self and many conservative Christians come to “sinners” with pre-conceived notions about what they are like and what their needs are.  And they act on those pre-conceived notions, never questioning their accuracy or relevance.  This often leads to offering help that is unneeded, unhelpful, and even insulting.  And then the “helpful” person wonders why they get such a negative response.  Their premise for action is completely wrong.
The problem is, learning people’s real needs and responding to them can get messy.  There are rarely prepackaged slogans, ready-made signs, or “witnessing tools” that covers those needs.  And that can be scary.  But I think that’s exactly what Harris is calling for in this chapter:
Unless you are smuggling soup to the Jews in your attic, I think a political act can’t be an act of love.  It can be a good act, even noble and heroic, but love is not something that takes place behind a barricade;  it happens in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups.  Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity, but to love your neighbor.
May God bless her for it.
[1] I do, however, remember when I first learned what it meant for two guys to “screw.”  It was during my ninth grade English class, and a classmate explained it to me in a tone of complete and obvious disgust.
[2] Let’s face it, too:  The two biggest issues in conservative Christian politics are still homosexuality and abortion, meaning it’s mostly — or even all — about sex.
Other posts in the Raised Right series:

Introducing a book review

Funny Religious Sticker

Image by Amarand Agasi via Flickr

Last Thursday, Fred Clark of Slacktivist fame wrote a fantastic review of Raised Right:  How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, a book by Alisa Harris[1] that was released today.  I was fascinated enough by Fred’s review and the quotes from the book he selected that I decided to purchase the Kindle edition of the book.  I started reading it tonight and decided I’d start blogging about it.

What interests me most about the books is that in many ways, Harris and I come from very similar backgrounds.  I was raised in a conservative evangelical community, was raised to believe that homosexuality was an abomination[2], abortion was murder, and good Christians voted Republican.

Where my upbringing differs from that of Harris is that while I was raised to believe all the same things, my family was not very politically active and did not consider it our duty to be so.  Certainly, my parents voted — and always for candidates who promised to stand “on the right side” of various issues.  They considered (and to the best of my knowledge, still do) both their civic duty as well as a part of their service to God.  But they were not people to carry picket signs, write letters to elected officials, or even give to various political organization.  In fact, if my parents gave to anything other than their church, I suspect it would be the Family Life Network, which runs a number of radio stations whose coverage includes the county my parents live in.

I think this is in part because my parents understood there is more to Christian life than the political machinations that Harris writes about.  My parents are far more community-oriented and understand that Christian life is about building and serving community as much as — maybe even more than — it is about stopping “the gay agenda” or shouting down doctors who perform abortions or women who seek out their services.  In some ways, I consider it an advantage to having grown up in a very rural area.

I think growing up in that rural area is another part of the reason for why activism didn’t play such a big part in my childhood, though.  Where my parents live, all that “political stuff” happens somewhere else, places like New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.  Sure, there were gay people and women who had abortions around, but it was — or at least appeared to be — something extremely rare.  People in our community were “good people” whose exposure to such things was minimal and possibly even nonexistent.  So picketing is something that would have involved long drives.  And with Boy Scouts for me (until I quit when I was about 14) and twirling baton in parades for my sister who had time for all that traveling to exotic and dubious places?

On the flip side, I suppose this makes my family and me typical members of the religious conservatives’ “target audience.”  I was someone who knew nothing about what gay people were like, who knew nothing of the issues of abortion, or anything else the religious activists beat their drums about.  I had no way of evaluating what they told me for accuracy or honesty — or at least I had no idea how to go about doing so.

So I come to Harris’s book as something of a kindred spirit, yet as someone who’s experience is slightly different.  We have come to similar places — though she retained her Christian faith while I moved on — but by slightly different routes.  And that is what I would like to explore as I go through the book, hopefully chapter by chapter.

[1] To the best of my knowledge, the author and I are not related.

Worship, community, and a few related bits

Wiccans gather for a handfasting ceremony at A...

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A few years ago, I participated in a discussion about Wiccan devotions on an email list that focused on British Traditional Wicca.  One of the elders (I forget which tradition) commented that just about any act can become an act of devotion simply by keeping in mind the Wiccan Mysteries.  It’s something that’s stuck with me, and I tend to see things the same way, understanding that an act of devotion is about perception as much as it’s about carrying out any particular activity or procedure.  And in many ways, I tend to see worship (which I’m not sure I see as entirely distinct from devotion anyway) in much the same way.  After all, I’m constantly reminded of my paragraph from The Charge of the Goddess:

Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices,
for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.
Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion,
honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

So to me, anything which brings to mind beauty, compassion, reverence, or any of the other virtues mentioned is an act of worship.  Any situation that brings about rejoicing and good cheer is an act of worship in my mind.  And if I meet another person and as a result we share these virtues and that rejoicing with each other, that is a moment where we have joined together in worship.

I’ve been thinking of this due to a conversation a couple of us had over on Matt’s post about “going to church.”  As part of the discussion, I suggested that if a small group of believers ran into each other at the grocery story, that might be considered “church happening.”  Scott disagreed:

I get
what Jared is saying, and I appreciate the intent, but this is not
church. Three people randomly meeting at a grocery store are not
gathered to communal bear witness to the risen Jesus through worship
and service.

Personally, I offered my own disagreement with Scott:

Why
not? Can’t service and worship happen anywhere and spontaneously? Isn’t
the act of just meeting and showing each other Christian love an act of
worship? After all, didn’t Christ himself say that people would know
his followers by how they loved one another? And once those people meet
so “randomly,” what opportunities for service might they find in that
“random” moment? Perhaps they can help the elderly woman who’s trying
to make her way through the crowded produce aisle. Perhaps they can
help the overly-tired mother with three very active children do her
shopping.

And therein lies my point. I think it’s important to see ANY
gathering of believers — no matter how random or unplanned — as
church simply because ANY such situation can lead to communal service
and worship. And I’ll be so bold as to suggest that not recognizing
each such moment as such simply blinds one to the opportunities such a
moment might actually offer.

Maybe my point is moot.  Maybe Christian theology simply doesn’t support my basic assumptions.  (Christians will have to decide (a) if that’s the case and (b) whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing if it’s not.)  However, from my perspective, it only makes sense.  Where more than one person meet, see the sacredness in each other and in the sharing of lives, loves, joys, and sorrows, worship can and will take place.

And I’d like to think that, as I mentioned, such a mentality does offer a chance for service.  Going through each moment of life with this attitude tends to make one more aware of opportunities to help others and touch lives.  Certainly, they might be small ways to do so.  But who says you have to do something big for it to count?

As I mentioned in the discussion in Matt’s blog, anything less than this mentality suggests to me a compartmentalization of sacred experience and sacred living.  Community — even religious community — doesn’t happen at special events.  It’s heartbeat lives in every moment lived, at least to those of us who take the time to listen for it.

To do otherwise would strike me as, well, irreligious.

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