Monday, October 24, 2016

Noah's Evangelism (part 2)

Noah speaks to a crowd of people. In the background we see the ark with pairs of animals getting inside. Image source.
(part 1)

A little girl with long, black hair ran up to Terah and Ham. "Daddy, the dog took my doll," she said.

"Oh! I'm sorry!" Ham stood up and went to get his dog. "Fluffy! Come!"

Fluffy came to him sheepishly and dropped the doll at his feet.

"Do you want to throw the ball for her?" Ham asked Terah's daughter. "She just wants to play."

The girl picked up Fluffy's ball. Fluffy turned her head and stared in anticipation. When the girl threw the ball, Fluffy jumped up and ran to retrieve it.

Ham sat down next to Terah again.

"Sophia's a really smart kid," Terah told him, proudly. "She's always asking us questions about how things work. Very curious. And she loves your dog."

"Yeah," said Ham, "Fluffy's really good with her."

"Hey, do you want to have dinner with us tonight? My wife said she's cooking lamb."

"Tonight... no I can't tonight," answered Ham. "I have a worship meeting with my family."

"A what?"

Wow, thought Ham, this is my chance to tell him about God. "So, every week we get together and sing songs about God, and talk about God's teaching."

"Oh, okay," said Terah.

There was a pause, as Ham wondered what to say next. He decided to go for it. "So, umm, what do you believe about God?"

"Me? Yeah, I believe in God."

"So... what do you think God wants us to do?"

"Well, pretty much everyone believes God wants us to be good, help people, you know, that stuff."

"But how will God judge us? How do you know if you're good enough? What's the standard?"

"Uh... most people are pretty good. I'm not worried about it."

"So... do you think God is personally involved in people's lives?"

Terah tilted his head. "I don't know. Maybe sometimes."

"Hmm," said Ham. "Would it be okay if I tell you what I believe?" His heart pounded.


"Well," Ham began. "God created us and wants to have a relationship with us. But he can't because of our sin- everyone sins, and it separates us from God- he's too perfect to be in the presence of sin. So... someday there will be a flood, to punish sin, and we all deserve to die. But God loves us too much to allow that, actually, so he sent an ark to save us from the flood. The ark takes the punishment for our sins so we can be with God. So... yeah and we don't earn our salvation- there's no good works we can do to make up for our sin and earn God's love- we just have to accept the free gift and get on the ark."

Maybe he had said it all too fast. Oh no, what would Terah's reaction be? And Ham felt a little embarrassed telling Terah we all deserved death.

"Ah..." said Terah. "But I don't think God would do that. How can he punish us with a flood for sinning- everyone makes mistakes. It's normal."

"Well, yeah, if you compare yourself with other people, it's easy to say 'I'm not as bad as them, I don't deserve to die.' But there has to be a standard. You can't compare to other people, you have to compare to God. And God is perfect."

But Terah didn't see it that way. Ham knew that he couldn't convince Terah in just one conversation. But he was glad he had the chance to share the gospel.

That night, after everyone else had gone to sleep, Ham prayed for Terah. "God, help him to see the reality of his sin and his need for you." He really really wanted Terah to be safe, to accept God and join him on the ark. And wasn't it great that God had given him an opportunity to share the gospel? God is so fantastic. "Your love never fails, your love never fails," Ham prayed.

Another time, Ham tried to convince Terah that everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart. Terah didn't agree. He said nobody's life is perfect, regardless of which god they follow.

Ham wasn't sure how to respond, so he asked his wife, Zedkat.

"Yeah, it's really sad... God loves us so much, and God wants the best for us, but so many people want to be in charge of their own life," said Zedkat. "You know, some people try to fill that void with work, or family, or pleasure, but none of those things can really satisfy us."

"I know," said Ham, "but I don't know how to convince him."

"Let's keep praying for him. And Ham, honey, I'm really proud of you, the way you share the gospel with the lost. You just have to keep following God's leading. It's not your job to change hearts, that's God's job." She gave him a hug. "And maybe you can ask Shem for advice, if Terah has harder questions."

Two days later, he found Shem and was eager to get his advice. "I've talked with Terah about God many times, but it doesn't seem like I'm making any progress. He believes in God, but he seems to think sin isn't a big deal- he doesn't think God will punish sin."

"Have you talked about the concept of holiness? God has to send a flood and punish sin because God is perfect and holy," Shem said.

"Well, yeah... I talked about how God is perfect, I didn't use the word 'holy' though..."

"And what did he say about that?"

"He doesn't get it- he just said God loves us and God wouldn't do that."

"Hmm. Okay, first of all, you should agree with him on the 'God loves us' bit. It's good to find common ground first. But you have to talk about how God's love coexists with God's holiness. And ask him about if he would be okay with it, if people could commit crimes and escape punishment because 'oh, we LOVE them.'"

"I don't know if that will work though," said Ham.

"Well, really it's not about what you say- it has to be God's spirit working to change him. Definitely make sure you keep praying for him. And let me know how it goes."

"I will. Thanks." And as Ham left, he prayed that God would open Terah's heart to the truth. Oh, if only Terah knew how much God loved him. "Your love never fails, your love never fails," Ham hummed to himself.

That's how it continued for a while. Ham kept praying for Terah. When God gave him an opportunity, he would try to mention something about the gospel. And when he couldn't do that, he worked hard to be a good friend to Terah. To show him God's love.

One night, Ham had a certain feeling, and he wondered if it was from God. He felt that he knew, somehow, that tomorrow would be the day that Terah's heart would finally be opened and he would know that he needed God, and he would feel the depth of God's love for him. Ham was nervous, but excited.

As Ham and Fluffy walked to Terah's house, Ham tried to relax and pray. He hoped he would know what to say. He hoped he could see God's power. Wow, it would be great. "Your love never fails, your love never fails."

He arrived and knocked on the door. Terah appeared, looking exhausted. "Oh," he said when he saw Ham. "Sophia's sick. She was awake all night. I've just managed to get her to go to sleep." Ham looked over to where the girl was sleeping. Terah sighed. "I don't have time today, sorry."

But what about the gospel? Ham wondered. Hadn't God said today would be the day? Maybe he had heard God wrong. Well, he would try to talk to Terah anyway and see if God gave him the chance. "Maybe I could sit and talk with you while you take care of her?"

"No... I don't want Fluffy in here, she'll wake her up," said Terah. The whole time, he had been blocking Fluffy from coming inside. She wagged her tail and pushed against him happily. "I have to cook something for Sophia, and I have to clean up."

"Okay... I hope she feels better soon," said Ham.

"Thanks. She'll be okay. I'll see you next week, probably."

Ham pulled Fluffy away from Terah and started to walk back home. Why hadn't it worked? Why didn't God give him a chance to show love and share the gospel?

He thought of Terah's face, with his overwhelmed and exhausted expression. Oh, Ham suddenly realized, he said he was up all night. Why didn't I care? And he was working so hard to help his daughter, and ... I didn't even think about that.

Ham walked home deep in thought, hardly paying attention to Fluffy, who was full of energy like she always was. What have I done, he thought. I wanted to show God's love, and I didn't even see the love that was right there, the way Terah loves his daughter. He's always like that, always so kind to his wife and daughter, and I never saw it because I thought everyone is sinful and deserves death. But Terah... he... (Ham couldn't believe he was about to say it) ... doesn't.

Ham's next thought truly scared him: Terah doesn't have a "God-shaped hole." He's fine. His family is fine. They're just normal people. Good people. They're fine without God.

Fluffy ran up to Ham and presented a stick. She looked at him expectantly. But Ham just stood there, staring into space. Why had he been trying this whole time to change Terah? There's nothing wrong with him.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 20, 2016


A tiny dog, wearing a tiny shirt, sitting in a big pile of money. Image source.
1. Forget This “Hillary Is Unlikable” Stuff. Hillary Is Downright Inspiring. (posted October 12) "I am saying she deserves credit for showing up and getting the job done while a psychopath invaded her personal space, lied repeatedly, attempted to degrade her in the basest and vilest terms, and threatened to jail her for the crime of being a successful woman in the public eye."

2. Christian Leaders Call on InterVarsity to Reverse Its Purge of LGBTQ-Affirming Staff (posted October 13) "In its entire history, InterVarsity has never included beliefs about marriage in its statement of faith, purpose statement, or core values."

3. The Evangelical Relationship With God, from an Anthropologist’s Point of View (posted October 12) "They construct God’s interactions out of these personal mental events, mapping the abstract concept ‘God’ out of their mental awareness into a being they imagine and reimagine in ways shaped by the Bible and encouraged by their church community. They learn to shift the way they scan their worlds, always searching for a mark of God’s presence, chastening the unruly mind if it stubbornly insists that there is nothing there." Ooooh this is interesting.

4. Why I Don’t Like Being Called A ‘Gender Neutral Parent’ (posted October 14) "Asking for trucks to be called trucks, not boys’ toys, or for all colors to be open to everyone, is just asking for fairness."

5. Ballroom dance that breaks gender roles "Even within the 'white straight couple only' paradigm: she can't be taller, he can't be shorter. She can't be bolder, he can't be gentler."

6. Donald Trump’s Islamophobic Fear Mongering Is Disgusting (posted October 18) [content note: gun violence, terrorism]

7. Inside InterVarsity's Purge: Trauma and Termination at the Premier Evangelical Student Org (posted October 18) "To staff workers like Vasquez, InterVarsity’s apologies are not sufficient. “You keep saying you’re lamenting our pain, but you won’t repent and acknowledge that you’re the one causing this pain.” Or, as one anonymous student put it, “They want to be able to discriminate but they don’t want to feel bad about it. It’s discrimination. It’s wrong.”"

[content note: the links below are all about Trump]

1. All of Donald Trump’s Accusers: A Timeline of Every Alleged Grope and Assault (posted October 13) [trigger warning] Oh god.

2. Team Because vs. Team Despite (posted October 12)

3. Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand: Reverence IS Objectification. (posted October 15) "They do respect women– just not the women who get assaulted and victimized by Donald Trump."

4. It’s Not Surprising That Evangelical James Dobson Is Still Supporting a Sex Offender for President (posted October 16) [content note: rape]

5. Physically Attacked by Donald Trump – a PEOPLE Writer’s Own Harrowing Story (posted October 12) [content note: description of sexual assault]

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

God is Not Holy

A drawing of two cliffs, with one cliff labelled "People" and the other "God", with a huge chasm between them. Image source.
Here's a fantastic post from Fred Clark, the Slacktivist: ‘To keep oneself unstained by the world’. It's about the Christians who see a contradiction in James 1:27. ("Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.") How can we keep ourselves pure and unstained by the world, Clark asks, if we are interacting with worldly orphans and widows, who could be dirty or dangerous?

(Skittles are mentioned later in the post. Really you should go read the whole thing.)

Here's the part that struck me:
Look, we’re called to be holy as God is holy. And how does God maintain God’s divine holiness? By avoiding the world — staying apart from it up there in Heaven and not rushing down here to risk getting stained and defiled by us filthy humans.
And that's when I realized, the God I believe in is not holy. Actually, maybe the biggest reason I am a Christian is that God is not holy.

Because, as I see it, the entire point of Christianity is that we have a God who does NOT stay "up there in Heaven and not rushing down here to risk getting stained and defiled by us filthy humans" [as described in Clark's satirical post]. God became a person. And when God did that, when God came to earth and lived among us, God got in so much trouble for associating with "sinners."

No, Jesus did NOT "keep himself unstained by the world." No, he did the exact opposite. Over and over, he reached out to people that society viewed as "dirty" or "sinful."

And more than that, when God came to earth, God suffered. Jesus experienced sadness, rejection, betrayal. He was beaten and killed. The world left scars on him. He was not "unstained by the world." He was not "holy."

That's why I am a Christian. Because the only kind of God that's worthy of worship is one who cares about people, cares about the suffering in the world. And not just caring in an abstract sense, from a distance, but a God who actually lived it, who felt pain, who continues to feel our pain all the time.

Now would be a good time to stop and ask, "wait, what does 'holy' even mean anyway?"

I talked about the word "holy" in a post from 2012 called Are other things awesome besides God?:
We already HAVE a word like that. Holy. What is the definition of "holy"? The standard Christian answer for this is "set apart." Well what does that mean? I guess "set apart" as in "special." Not "set apart" as in "the bags of dog poop have been set apart from the other trash so they don't stink up the trash can."

God is "set apart"? What does that mean? Err wait, does the "set apart" definition only apply to a context like "God wants his people to be holy", and not "God is holy"?

Okay Perfectnumber, you don't like the "set apart" definition, so how do you define "holy"?

Well, it's like... God is bigger than anything else, orders of magnitude more powerful... something like that...?

Or, it's like, God is perfect, he never does anything wrong, although, how do you really define right and wrong when you're talking about God... er... he's pure (what does that mean? homogeneous?), he can't tolerate sin, he can't look at sin... he's going to someday bring justice for everyone... is that what "holy" means?

Or maybe, for me it kind of has this majestic feel to it, like God is the king of everything, sovereign over everything, complete authority, no worries- is that what "holy" means?

I really don't know what "holy" means.
The "Sunday School answer" for the definition of "holy" is "set apart." But what the hell does that even mean? Reading Clark's post made me realize that one of God's most important qualities is that God is NOT "set apart." God is NOT far away from us. God does NOT avoid the bad or dirty things in the world.

God is NOT "too pure to look at sin." God is NOT "unable to be in the presence of sinners." God does NOT need Jesus to cover you up so God can be near you without realizing how dirty you are. God does NOT want to look at you and only see Jesus.

God does NOT think "every sin is an infinite offense against a holy God." Sin does NOT separate us from God- no, the bible is clear that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Basically, the God I believe in now does not have any of those traits which I've heard Christians describe in connection to "holiness." God is not holy.

In the gospel I was taught, God's holiness was in conflict with God's love. Holiness meant God can't let anybody into heaven, because we've all sinned at least once and therefore God can't stand to be near us. Love meant God didn't want to be separated from us like that. So God sent Jesus to take the punishment for all the sins of the world. And those of us who accept Jesus will be covered with him, he will hide how awful and dirty and sinful we are, so we can sneak through heaven's door without setting off the sin alarms.

If this is really what's going on between God's holiness and God's love, then holiness still has the upper hand. Holiness set the rule: only perfect people who have never sinned can be in God's presence. Love didn't actually challenge that rule. Love didn't defeat holiness. No, love never even tried to fight against the parameters that holiness set up. Instead, love tries to change us so that we pass the standard. Love agreed, yes, only perfect, sinless people can go to heaven- and then worked to make us perfect and sinless.

That's not the kind of love I believe in. And that's not the gospel I believe in.

I don't believe in a holy God. But I do believe in a just God, and a loving God. I don't believe in a God who thinks they're too perfect, too good for us; I believe in a God who is with us, who cares, who feels empathy, who works to help us, who will one day right all the wrongs and bring resurrection and justice to the world. (And when I say "justice" I mean the biblical definition of justice: "he has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble, he has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." Not the kind of "justice" as defined by the "gospel" I learned in church- when they said "justice," they meant "everyone goes to hell." And God's love fought against God's justice pretty much the same way love fights holiness.)

God is not holy. The reason I am a Christian is that God is not holy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Noah's Evangelism

A colorful, fun illustration of people building the ark. Image source.
"Your love never fails, your love never fails..."

From as far back as he could remember, Ham had loved that song. The family would gather around and Mom or Dad would lead the singing, then tell them stories about God. How God loves us. God loves us so much more than we can imagine.

But the most important thing they taught was about sin and salvation.

"For example, the times when you've lied. Or you've gotten into a fight with your brothers. God says we deserve death because of those sins."

"But why? I don't think I would deserve to die..."

"You have to remember, God is perfect. None of us are worthy of standing in his presence. We all sin, and even a small sin separates us from God," said Noah. "But God, in his mercy, has provided us with an ark, to bear the punishment for our sin."


"How small I am," Ham prayed, "and how great my sins are before you... oh God, I don't deserve it, but thank you for your love. I..." He didn't know what else to say. He felt as though God's love was all around him, overwhelming him. It was so good. "Anything, I'll do anything for you," he prayed. God cared about him- just one person in this whole big world, and God knew him and loved him, and sent an ark to save him.

The feeling was amazing. The love was amazing. "I'll do anything for you."And he couldn't help but sing, "Your love never fails, your love never fails."


"Most people believe that God looks at the good and bad things you've done, and if the good outweighs the bad, then God's okay with it," Noah was saying. "But that's not true. We are all sinners, there's nothing we can do to earn God's approval. Instead, it's a free gift. Isn't that so much better? It's not works-based. We are saved by just getting on the ark."

Yes, this was good news, Ham thought. God loves me no matter what. I can never be good enough, but it's okay.


In the future, there will be a flood. A judgment. And we all deserve to die, but God loves us, so he provided a way out. It's so easy! All you have to do is get on the ark. Just accept God and get on the ark, and you'll be saved.

Noah and Naamah taught their three sons the gospel, from the time they were just little boys. Shem, Ham, and Japheth even helped out with the construction of the ark- of course, this wasn't a way to earn their salvation, but it was definitely something God wanted them to do.


Noah taught them about evangelism too. "First, you have to give them the bad news. We all have sinned, so we all deserve to die in the flood. Now, maybe they'll ask you, why does God have to send an ark? Why can't he just forgive us automatically, and then cancel the flood? He is God, right?

"Now, would you like it if a judge just let some criminal go free, just because the judge was feeling merciful that day? No, you would say this is terrible, this judge is not just. When there is sin, there must be a punishment, because God is just.

"That's why there needs to be a flood. That's why God sent an ark. When he looks at us, he sees the ark, covering our sin."

Ham took it all in. Yes, it was all true, and he needed to tell people. He couldn't imagine life without God- his relationship with God had changed his life and given him purpose, freedom, hope, happiness, all that stuff. How sad to think that some people didn't have God in their lives. "Your love never fails, your love never fails"- his thoughts echoed the song he had sung since childhood.

He remembered another thing his father had said: everyone worships something. That's what people were designed to do. We were meant to worship God and obey him, and come to saving faith in the ark. But other people looked for satisfaction in other ways- money, family, their job, entertainment. So sad for them, thought Ham, because nothing else can truly bring us fulfillment.

He needed to tell people. He needed to help them get saved. He needed to show them the truth, that God loved them and wanted them to get on the ark, and it was the only way to be saved, the only way to live a life with meaning.

I need to tell people, thought Ham.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Three pugs strapped into cute box-shaped doggie seats in a convertible. Image source.
1. Don’t Limit Immigrant Women. Give Them Options. (posted October 3) "In other words, if you want to ensure that women only wear the veil out of their own free choice, and not because they’re coerced into doing so, you should do everything you can to accommodate women who wear the veil and to make them feel wanted and included."

2. The Bullying Anti-Asian Racism of Fox News's "Watters' World" (posted October 6) "In a stunning thirty-second clip, Watters asks a man if he knows karate (a Japanese style of martial arts) and then, confusingly enough, proceeds to attempt Tae Kwon Do (a Korean style of martial arts) with nunchucks (which originated in Japan)."

(I also saw articles, in Chinese, on Chinese social media about this. We see you, Fox News. Racism isn't funny.)

3. Black communities: overpoliced for petty crimes, ignored for major ones (posted 2015) "And then, if you can, imagine how you’d feel listening to the folks in the next town over watch the carnage and talk about how it’s all because you have a terrible family and weren’t raised right, and there’s dope so you’re all drug dealers and we all know drug dealers have to shoot each other, and shooting each other is just cultural for people like you, and you and all your friends are vicious, evil super-predators with no regard for human life."

4. This scrap of cloth is one of the saddest artifacts at new DC museum (posted September 23) "'Much of African-American history is not written down; it’s oral history. So the fact that this young girl in 1921 went through the trouble of embroidering the story – she wanted it written down,' Duell said."

5. The danger of ‘radically different’ (posted October 3) Yes. I've definitely had this problem. We were taught in Sunday School that as Christians, we were supposed to "let our light shine" and people would ask us why we are different than the world, why we don't participate in all the immoral stuff that all the other high-school kids were (supposedly) doing, and when they asked, we would be able to "witness to them." I spent a long time imagining that my honesty and kindness made me so different from non-Christians.

6. Aladdin Theory: Genie Owes Aladdin A Wish (posted October 4) "Despite all the stuff he owns, he's still not a prince. He's just a guy who looks like a prince."

[content note: all the links below are about Donald Trump]

1. Trump Is Now Slut-Shaming Alicia Machado on Twitter (posted September 30) "It’s about a man who has been married three times and has had sex with countless other women, a man who has appeared on the cover of Playboy and is accused of ordering waitresses fired for not being pretty enough, slut-shaming a woman and calling her “disgusting” for having a sex tape."

2. Trump Is Triggering Domestic Violence Survivors With Textbook Abusive Behavior (posted September 29) [content note: domestic violence, abuse]

3. Trump: ‘I Know That Was Pretty Bad, But Let’s Just Say You’re Going To Want To Save Your Energy’ (posted October 7) [content note: misogynistic slurs, Trump] From The Onion (parody news site).

4. Donald Trump, Groper in Chief (posted October 7) [content note: sexual assault] Oh this is bad.

5. Donald and Billy on the Bus (posted October 8) [content note: sexual assault, rape culture]

6. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: S03E25 (HBO) (posted October 9) [content note: sexual assault, Trump] 0:00 to 9:46 is about Trump's misogynistic comments from 2005. "You're going through such an elaborate six-degrees-of-separation exercise to arrive at someone with a Y chromosome that you can feel sorry for."

7. Sam Bee's Take On Pussygate Was Worth the Wait (posted October 11) Very NSFW.

8. The Daily Show - Fallout from Donald Trump's P***ygate Scandal (posted October 11)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The First Time I Heard About "Locker Room Talk" Was When the Church Taught Me About Modesty

Katy Perry, looking totally awesome and not one bit "modest," performing the song "Dark Horse." Image source.
[content note: rape culture]

A few days ago, a 2005 video surfaced of Trump bragging about how he likes to grope women and can get away with it because he's rich. During Monday night's debate, Trump repeatedly said that he's embarrassed by those things he said but also that "it's locker room talk." As if it's totally fine and normal for men in locker rooms to discuss raping women, and the problem was that Trump's words were recorded for a wider audience to hear- not that he had said (or even thought) those things in the first place. (Note: no, Trump was not in a locker room when he said them.)

The idea that men are secretly always thinking about raping women, and that's just the way it is- where have I heard this before? Oh, in all the churchy talks about "modesty."

They taught us girls that "men are visual." At first I didn't understand what that meant- but after enough time in modesty culture, I got it. It meant that if a man sees an attractive woman, he will think about her naked. The image will just pop into his head, he can't help it. And he will think about having sex with her. And nope, he won't think about whether she consents or not. It's about using her for what he wants- it's rape. That's what they taught us girls in church. Most of the time they didn't say it so explicitly. They just said "men are visual." And "that's how they're wired." (Modesty culture doesn't believe gay or asexual men exist.)

Back in college, at a leadership meeting for the Christian campus group I was in, one of the guys lamented how so many girls in our group didn't dress "modestly." He said, "If only they knew what was going on in a guy's mind when he sees that, how she's being devoured." And of course I believed him. Modesty culture had taught me that men are the authoritative voice on women's clothes and women's bodies. Women always have to take men's opinons and weaknesses into account when choosing what to wear. Otherwise we "cause our brothers to stumble."

Because yes, they taught me, it's totally normal for guys to imagine "devouring" women. Especially when a woman's clothes "draw attention to" her body.

Online, I found "The Modesty Survey." It's since been taken down from the internet, but you can read about the effect it had on me in this post: The Story of Me and Modesty. (Here's an article with more information about it.) It was a survey where men would answer questions about what types of women's clothing (or behaviors) were or were not "a stumbling block." (Some Christians have since criticized it for being "legalistic", but those same Christians then turn around and say yes, modesty is important, but it shouldn't be about rigid rules. Umm. No. That's logically inconsistent. If women need to "help" men by dressing "modestly," then OBVIOUSLY the logical thing to do is survey a group of men to try and define what exactly that means. The entire premise of modesty culture is that women just can't understand what men are going through.) Anyway, the survey participants were also able to leave comments on each question, and reading those comments terrified me. About how women's clothing invited them to imagine more and more. How clearly, when a girl leans on a couch in a certain way, she's enticing good Christian boys to come to bed with her. How they see "immodest" women as objects unworthy of respect. (Dianna Anderson has a post specifically about this.) Here's what I said about it, in "The Story of Me and Modesty" linked to above:
For every single question, there were a few [guys] that thought that the item in question was "immodest." And from reading some of the comments that explained their answers, I found out what that meant. As it turns out, no matter what I wear, some minority of guys out there is raping me in their heads.

No longer was I worried about "causing a brother to stumble." I was horrified at the idea that no matter what I wore, it was going to "cause" some guy to think about raping me. That is completely evil and offensive and 55 levels of NOT OKAY. No longer was I interested in modesty because I wanted to "help" the guys- no, I wanted to save my own dignity and not be thought of as a sex object.
I was horrified. But yes, that is the message of modesty culture: Men are always thinking about raping you. Especially if you dress "immodestly." (But the modesty survey showed me, there is literally NOTHING a girl can wear and have 100% of survey participants say it's "modest." Note: wearing "literally NOTHING" is ALSO "immodest." Just can't win.) Now, of course they shouldn't think about raping you, that's a sin, and that's totally their own fault. But really, they can't help it. That's just how men are. "That's how they're wired."

Donald Trump said it was "locker room talk" when he bragged about sexually assaulting women. He's saying it's not polite, it's not something that should be said in public, but that yes, it's totally normal for men to say things like that to other men. That's just the way it is.

Years and years ago, the church taught me the exact same thing.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Political Correctness and How I Learned Chinese People Don't "All Look the Same"

宁泽涛 Ning Zetao, Chinese Olympic swimmer. Image source.
Several years ago, one of my friends posted a family photo on Facebook, and another friend commented, "Wow, you look so much like your mom!"

I remember thinking that comment was sort of ... awkward. I would never say something like that, I thought to myself. Because the girl who posted the photo is Asian. To me, of course she looked like her mom because ... well I would never say it out loud, but don't Asian people pretty much all look the same?

So this post is about white people who really don't want to be racist, but have some ignorant beliefs like "Asian people all look the same" and think those beliefs are objectively true statements that we're not allowed to say out loud because of "political correctness." And I'm going to use the word "we" because I'm white and I'm guilty of some of these same biases.

Growing up, I pretty much only interacted with white people. In school we learned about segregation and the civil rights movement, how there was racism back then but fortunately Martin Luther King Jr. fixed it. Schools used to be segregated, which was horrible and unjust, and completely different from our school because there was one black girl in my social studies class.

I never thought of my school, church, etc as "all white" because it was easy to name a few people of color I would see there sometimes. I didn't realize that, if you can name offhand all the people of color, then yeah, it counts as "all white."

Anyway, when we come from that kind of environment, it makes sense that our brains aren't able to tell Asian people apart- it makes sense that we would think they "all look the same." But the important thing is, it's not actually true that "Asian people look the same." It only seems true because our experience is very very limited.

When we only have a few people of color in our lives, it's not really necessary for our brains to remember that much detail about what they look like. We just think "Jeff is a tall Asian guy" and that's perfectly adequate because we only know one tall Asian guy. Obviously when we look at him we are able to see all of his unique facial features, but it has just never been necessary for our brains to actually pay attention to those specific features and remember them. We're good at doing that for white people, but for other races, we have just never really had a need for that skill.

Because yes, it is a different skill. Recognizing white people's faces is a different skill than recognizing Asian people's faces. If we congratulate ourselves for how not-racist we are because we "don't see race," spend the vast majority of our lives interacting with only white people, then realize we have trouble telling Asian people apart, and conclude that Asian people just inherently look MUCH MORE similar to each other than white people do (but we're not racist or anything, some of our best friends are Asian guys named Jeff)... well we are being ridiculous. Just because our brains have never had to learn that skill doesn't mean it's actually a difficult skill.

I moved to China in 2013 and started working as an English teacher. My students were adults and they weren't given a fixed class schedule- they just signed up for whichever classes they had time for any given week. So I never knew which permutation of students would show up. And at the beginning of every class, I would go around and ask all the students their names. (English names.) And I did my best to remember. People like it when you remember their names.

Well after a while of doing that, Chinese people no longer "looked the same" to me. I'm serious. I don't mean "well yeah they look really similar but I am able to tell them apart"- I mean "these people look completely different- why on earth did I ever think Asian people looked the same?" There were times I would think to myself "everyone in this room is Asian" or "everyone here has black hair" [except me...] and it felt so WEIRD to think that, because part of my brain still interprets "everyone here is Asian" as "everyone here looks very similar and it's hard to tell them apart" but the reality that I see isn't like that- they don't look similar to me at all.

And there was one time I had two students, Summer and Sarah, who did look very similar. For a while I thought they were the same person- I thought there was one student and I could never remember if her name was Summer or Sarah. Then one day they both happened to be attending the same class, and I realized they were two different people. And the whole thing struck me as so weird- just a few years before, I would have responded to the problem "two Chinese women look similar and I have trouble remembering which is which" by thinking, well yeah, obviously, because Asian people look really similar. But it wasn't like that at all. They didn't look similar because Asian people all look the same. They look similar because they just happen to look similar. Asian people in general don't look similar at all.

Or the time I was doing an English activity for kids, and one of my colleagues said she would be bringing her daughter, whom I had never met before. So I get there and there's a few kids there already, and I see this one little girl, and I'm like, WOW yeah that is DEFINITELY her daughter. (And yes, she was.) And again, it surprised me because a few years before, I would not have been able to do that. A few years before, I thought Asian people pretty much all looked the same. I wouldn't have been able to identify which ones actually do look similar on account of being directly related to each other.

Anyway, the reason I'm talking about my experiences here is not so you can be like "wow isn't Perfect Number amazing, she moved to China and somehow overcame the incredibly difficult challenge of telling Asian people apart." No, white people don't deserve congratulations for being less racist than usual. I'm talking about this because I've realized that recognizing Asian people and telling them apart is actually not hard at all. I only thought it was hard because my own experience of the world was so limited- not because it actually is hard. Seriously, all it takes is interacting, day after day, with dozens of Asian people whose names you need to remember- after that, the idea that they "all look the same" is just blatantly absurd. They don't look the same at all.

Really, it's about training our brains to focus on particular features. Our brains have to learn which aspects of people's appearance are most useful to remember for purposes of identifying who someone is. And the set of features we learn to pay attention to if we only interact with white people is not the optimal set of features for identifying Asian people. For example, among white Americans, there is significant variation in hair color and curliness. Our brains learn that paying particular attention to someone's hair color and curliness is very very useful for the task of identifying people. (I remember in middle school gym class, when we all had to wear swim caps in the pool, and everybody's hair was covered up and it took me a second to figure out who everyone was- my brain wasn't used to identifying them by their face alone.)

But if we use that same strategy for Asian people, it won't work well. The vast majority of them have straight black hair. Our brains are storing that data about their hair color and curliness- which is pretty useless for identifying Asian people- at the expense of noticing features which actually are useful. I don't know exactly what features those are, because all of this is happening subconsciously. Give it enough time, enough experience, and our brains will figure it out automatically. It's not actually hard. It's only hard if our brains have never had to learn it before.

And maybe now is a good time to mention I work with vision systems for robots. (And yes, there have been times when this problem has literally happened to an AI system- the system trains on data where white people are better represented, and ends up outputting results that are pretty racist.) Pretty much my entire job is teaching a computer how to tell which visual data is important and which parts to ignore. The robot may have a camera or a 3D sensor, which returns hundreds and hundreds of numbers representing colors or coordinates in 3D space, and I have to teach it how to figure out what the hell it's looking at. Our brains work in a similar way. We get the raw data from our eyes, and we ignore most of it and just focus on the parts that are important. We have to ignore most of it because there's just too much. That's what's happening when we look at people's faces and decide if we recognize them or not. Our brains have learned which parts to pay attention to and which parts to ignore. The problem is, if we trained our brains on white people, we will suck at it when it's time to recognize Asian people. (Or any other race.)

But it's easy to think our experiences are "normal", to be completely unaware that the dataset we've used to train our brains to identify people was incredibly limited. We think we are able to see people clearly and in an unbiased way- we don't realize how much visual data we're constantly ignoring. (And we ignore it because it's not useful if all we need to do is interact with white people.) We think we are objective, and the fact that we have trouble recognizing Asian people means that, in an objective, absolute sense, Asian people basically all look the same.

And we don't want to be racist, but we believe that's just an indisputable fact, that Asian people look the same. And since we don't want to be racist, we never say it out loud in public. But sometimes we complain about political correctness- how it's so unreasonable that there are things that are just objectively true (like "Asian people all look the same") but we're not allowed to say them.

See, we white people have completely misunderstood "political correctness." We think it means "there are many things which are just OBVIOUS, they're COMMON SENSE, we all KNOW they're true, but we're not allowed to say them because some over-sensitive minorities are going to get all upset. We're not allowed to tell the truth because those people are so unreasonable and easily offended. So unfair."

It's not like that at all. When there are things we're "not allowed to say" because they're "not politically correct", it's not because "some unreasonable person is going to get offended", it's because those statements are actually not true and they promote ignorance and hatred of minorities, which does real-world damage.

It's understandable that we would believe those "politically incorrect" things. For example, it totally makes sense that, if we interact almost exclusively with white people, we will have difficulty with recognizing Asian people. Our limited experience of the world causes us to regard certain stereotypes as being reasonable and true. That's not our fault. It doesn't mean we're bad people.

But it becomes a problem when we don't realize we're not objective, when we think that we have the truth and the "easily-offended" people who enforce "political correctness" have it all wrong. It becomes a problem when we internalize the message that "these things are true, but we're not allowed to say them", when we don't want to be racist so we try to remember the list of statements which, for arbitrary, nonsensical reasons, we're not allowed to say out loud. It becomes a problem when nobody ever teaches us "the reason you shouldn't say this is because it's NOT TRUE, and you only think it's true because your experiences are so limited."

It becomes a problem when we believe it's literally true that, by some objective measure, there is less variation in Asian people's appearance than there is among white people. That's absurd. (How would you even measure "variation" anyway? What does that even mean? Sure there's less variation in the features that our brains have trained us to pay attention to, but so what? That's our own problem.) It becomes a problem when we look at someone's face and have no idea we're so biased, no idea that we concentrate more on certain features while completely ignoring others, no idea how much information our brains are just throwing away. (Again, we need to throw a lot of data away. There's just too much. And if we mostly interact with white people, the strategy we develop concerning which facial features to notice and which to ignore will work really well for identifying white people, but it will be awful when it comes to other races.)

It becomes a problem when we are too afraid to say anything about race at all, because we've seen how other white people have gotten in so much trouble for just making the most obvious, self-evident statements. They said things we agree with, things that "we all know" are true, and for some reason everyone got upset about it. So we make sure we never say those things, but we don't really understand why. Or we make apologies which boil down to "I should have known better than to say that out loud", when we should be saying "I actually believed this, but now I see how ignorant I was, I'm sorry."

White people: We're not unbiased. We're not "objective." Just because something seems like "common sense" doesn't mean it's true. It may mean we have far too little experience and we have no idea what we're talking about.


One more thing: In China, I've heard Chinese people say "white people look the same" or "black people look the same." It's the same idea- when your brain hasn't had enough experience interacting with a particular race and needing to identify individual people, it will be really hard for you.

Friday, October 7, 2016

InterVarsity just strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel.

Outside the Supreme Court, two men hug in celebration of the 2015 case legalizing same-sex marriage. Image source.
I'm shocked and saddened by the news that InterVarsity will be firing all staff who affirm same-sex marriage. I was in InterVarsity in college, and held several leadership roles related to evangelism. It was a huge part of my life back in my good-evangelical on-fire-for-God days. I can't believe they're doing this.

I see this all the time from conservative Christians and conservative Christian organizations: they state their opposition to LGBT rights and claim that they're following the bible and that anyone who disagrees with them is automatically wrong (because, the bible). They characterize LGBT and ally Christians as fake Christians who have abandoned God's word, who don't care about right and wrong, who don't care about the bible or God or sin. They pretend there is no such thing as a biblical argument in support of same-sex marriage. (Seriously, go read Matthew Vines's book. I understand if you disagree with him, but you can't pretend there's no biblical argument for same-sex marriage.)

It's triggering as hell when they use language like "the clear teaching of Scripture," because what that really means is "we already know God is on our side, so there's no point in listening to anything you actually have to say, we already know you're wrong and a fake Christian."

Conservative Christians do this all the time. But I never expected InterVarsity would do it.

I thought IV wasn't like that. Normally they don't get involved in "culture war" stuff, instead focusing on "love for God, God's word, and God's people of every ethnicity and culture." Yes, they're evangelical and they believe all the required evangelical beliefs, but not in a "focusing on the bible's rules about sex more than anything else" way like you see in the more conservative organizations. I totally felt comfortable with my "hate the sin, love the sinner" views when I was in IV, and we didn't treat LGBT people right. So yes, of course there are IV members whose beliefs and actions are very hateful toward LGBT people (even though they claim they're doing it out of love). Every Christian organization has that problem. But I didn't expect the national leadership would actually make a policy mandating that those nasty beliefs are OFFICIALLY what IV believes. Surely they recognize that among Christians, there are different views on this, right?

InterVarsity taught me about culture. There was training specifically about what to do when you encounter cultural differences, how you should be patient and accepting rather than immediately decide that other people are doing it wrong and they need you to correct them. I didn't know anything about that before.

InterVarsity taught me about race. I grew up in an all-white church and nobody ever talked about race. I didn't know it mattered. But racial reconciliation is one of the core beliefs that InterVarsity has. And there are InterVarsity chapters specifically for black students, or specifically for Asian American students, or specificially for international students. That matters.

InterVarsity taught me the four worlds gospel presentation. Before this, I thought the only correct way to "share the gospel" was by drawing the bridge diagram. But one day IV had an evangelism training where we learned the four worlds. Because there is no one "right way" to communicate the message of Christianity- different approaches work better for different cultures.

Yes, there are so many beliefs that were taught in my IV chapter that I now very much disagree with. (And going to any kind of evangelical church or Christian group is awful for my mental health now.) But they taught me about race and culture in a way that was completely new to me. I never would have thought there was any relation between Christianity and race or culture. My white church never said a word about it. (IV doesn't go far enough, but it was a really good start for me.)

In college, my best friends were people I met in InterVarsity. And it hurts to know that now, IV has an official policy that says I'm not welcome. Sure, nobody would ever actually stop me from attending an event; I know they would be all nice and welcoming- but that's all an act. (And I used to be really into evangelism- I know all about acting nice while believing the other person is horribly wrong and needs to be fixed.) When it comes down to it, IV's stance is "we already know you're wrong. We already know you don't believe the bible."

They say they want students to grow in "love for God's word." But this decision directly contradicts that. They're saying they're not okay with people studying the bible and following wherever it leads. They're not okay with biblical arguments in support of same-sex marriage. This isn't about "love for God's word"- it's love for one particular interpretation of the bible. Specifically, it's an interpretation that TONS of Christians now disagree with. InterVarsity believes those Christians are all automatically wrong. Those Christians aren't really following the bible. And yet IV has the gall to tweet, "we attempt to walk humbly in this conversation." "Humbly"? OH COME ON. Is there any part of "our interpretation is the obvious right one and anyone who disagrees can't work for us" that sounds "humble"?

They shut the kingdom of heaven in LGBT people's faces. Jesus had a few things to say about that.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


A very happy dog wearing a huge (toy) donut around its neck. Image source.
1. Trump Tax Records Obtained by The Times Reveal He Could Have Avoided Paying Taxes for Nearly Two Decades (posted October 1)

2. Scandals: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) (posted September 25) "No! That is not a blind trust! It's the opposite of one. Almost anything else [Trump] could have said would have been closer to a blind trust. 'Oh I'm gonna put my assets in an upside-down doghouse filled with pudding. Is that a blind trust?'"

3. The Idea That Women Use Guns For Self-Defense Against Men Is A Big Lie (posted September 20) [content note: domestic violence]

4. Why Trump Answered the Wrong Question on Race (posted September 29) "Many black communities are both over-policed and under-policed."

5. Twitter Reveals How God Created Animals "Give it a butt rope."

6. ‘To keep oneself unstained by the world’ (posted September 21) "Look, we’re called to be holy as God is holy. And how does God maintain God’s divine holiness? By avoiding the world — staying apart from it up there in Heaven and not rushing down here to risk getting stained and defiled by us filthy humans." Damn this is good.

7. Report: 50% Of Heaven’s Population Just Assholes Who Begged For Forgiveness At Last Second (posted October 3)

8. My homeschooled friend killed himself, and his family wouldn’t talk about it. (posted October 2) [content note: suicide] "Homeschool kids aren’t supposed to have problems. We were an experiment, a departure from the rest of society. We were meant to be child prodigies, a new species. Our parents raised us in a utopia to be better than everyone else."

9. Did Mark Invent the Sea of Galilee? (posted August 29) "The other canonical Gospels (including John, in my opinion) were based on Mark and had a tendency to correct perceived errors of geography and history in the material they used. How did they deal with Mark’s references to the Sea of Galilee?"

10. Unfounded. (posted September 8) [content note: rape, rapists getting away with it]

11. Making images accessible for people on Twitter. This is important. Let's all do this.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Don't Let Pence's Shady Use of Language Fool You. He is Anti-Life.

Tim Kaine (left) and Mike Pence (right) at the vice presidential debate. Image source.
In Tuesday night's vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine (Hillary Clinton's running mate) and Mike Pence (Donald Trump's running mate), Pence used the term "life" in an incredibly shady way. At the 1:55:56 in this video of the debate, he said the words "sanctity of life" and I made this observation on Twitter:
Later, from about 2:00:10 to 2:01:53 in the video [transcript available here], Pence says this about "life":
PENCE: But here’s — there is a choice, and it is a choice on life. I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with Donald Trump, who’s standing for the right to life. It’s a principle that — Senator Kaine — and I’m very gentle about this, because I really do respect you — it’s a principle that you embrace.

And I have appreciated the fact that you’ve supported the Hyde amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer funding for abortion, in the past, but that’s not Hillary Clinton’s view. People need to understand, we can come together as a nation. We can create a culture of life. More and more young people today are embracing life because we know we are — we’re better for it. We can — like Mother Teresa said at that famous national prayer breakfast…

KAINE: This is important —

PENCE: … bring the — let’s welcome the children into our world. There are so many families around the country who can’t have children. We could improve adoption…

KAINE: But, Governor…

PENCE: … so that families that can’t have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies.

KAINE: Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women? Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?

That’s what we ought to be doing in public life. Living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day…

PENCE: Because there are…

KAINE: … but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart. And I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with a pro-life candidate in Donald Trump.
First of all, I love Kaine here- "Why don't you trust women?" But also, holy crap, Pence is being shady as hell. Over and over again, he says the word "life." "Right to life." "Culture of life." "Embracing life." "Pro-life." But he's not actually talking about life. He's not talking about helping people have better lives. He's not talking about policies that improve health and safety and save people's lives. He's not talking about treating every person with respect, advocating for equality, believing that every person has value.

He's not talking about assistance for refugees whose lives are in danger. (Nope, Pence wants to block all Syrian refugees from coming to the US.) He's not talking about taking a stand against hatred and fear of Muslims, which leads to hate crimes where Muslims have been killed.

He's not talking about reducing gun violence by passing gun-control laws. (Pence has an "A" rating from the NRA. Scary.) He's not talking about #blacklivesmatter, about challenging a culture of white supremacy which is quick to blame innocent black victims for their own murders.

He's not talking about LGBT rights. He's not talking about passing anti-discrimination laws, banning reparative therapy, ensuring equal rights- which is literally a matter of life and death; the suicide rate for LGBT people is horrifyingly high. Nope, Pence has worked to oppose LGBT rights for years, even causing an HIV crisis in Indiana by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.

He's not talking about ensuring that all Americans have access to good health care. He's not talking about helping poor people by raising the minimum wage and protecting workers' rights.

He's not talking about comprehensive sex ed, about giving teenagers the information they need to protect their own health and make safe choices. He's not talking about helping Planned Parenthood provide low-cost contraception and health screenings to people who need it. He's not talking about respecting the bodily autonomy of pregnant people and trusting they know their own situation better than anyone else and they need to have the right to make decisions about abortion and pregnancy.

No, Pence is not talking about any of these issues where there are obvious things the government can do to improve quality of life and literally save lives. No, on all of these issues, Pence takes an anti-life stance.

Then what on earth is he talking about, when he uses the word "life" over and over?

Well I don't know if you can believe this or not, because it's pretty absurd, but when Pence (or any other conservative politician) says "life", what he actually means is he wants to ban abortion.

In other words, Pence is pro-life for fetuses. He is NOT pro-life for refugees. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for Muslims. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for victims of gun violence. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for black people. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for LGBT people. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for people who can't afford health insurance. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for poor working people. He is anti-life. He is NOT pro-life for pregnant people. He is anti-life. (He's certainly not pro-life for Purvi Patel.)

And yet, somehow the anti-abortion movement has so twisted the meaning of the word "life" that Pence feels confident getting on TV in front of millions of people and saying, "I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with Donald Trump, who’s standing for the right to life." WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? When we look at policies that are actually going to help people and save lives, it's clear that Trump and Pence are anti-life.

He even has the audacity to then say "a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable." If that's true ... Pence and Trump better watch out.

But the anti-abortion movement has convinced so many of its supporters that abortion is the only issue that matters. That abortion is the most horrific human-rights violation- it's murder! it's genocide!- that it would be unthinkable to vote for any politician who did not agree that anyone who tries to get an abortion is evil and must be stopped. We're expected to ignore all of Trump/Pence's awful anti-life stances because the other side thinks it's okay to- gasp!- murder babies. In that clip from the debate, Pence is talking as if he holds the moral high ground- he "embraces life" and Clinton's campaign does not. What a bunch of bullshit.

The anti-abortion movement defines "life" as the thing that a fetus has from conception to birth. That definition is shady as hell. Don't let them get away with it.


Related posts:
This is what abortion politics is for
‘If X is not wrong, then nothing is wrong’
If abortion is murder, then you shouldn’t be a single-issue voter against it
Why I Am Pro-Choice



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