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Friday, December 2, 2016

Covenants. Because Future-You May Need Punishment.

Signing a contract. Image source.
Captain Cassidy, from the blog Roll to Disbelieve, has been writing about "church discipline" and "church covenants." I recommend reading this post: Church Discipline: Covenants and Contracts.

I want to talk about the reasoning behind "church covenants" and why they end up having such abusive results. I've never been in a church that used this type of "church covenant" or "church discipline," so I don't have any practical experience, but it IS 100% consistent with the Christianity I was taught. If leaders in the churches I've attended were asked "why doesn't our church do this 'church covenant' thing?" they would probably say it's "too extreme," but they wouldn't be able to give an actual reason consistent with all the other things they teach. Because, in reality, "church discipline" is bad and abusive because people have the right to make their own choices about their own lives, if they want advice from the church then that's fine, but otherwise it's none of the church's damn business. And that is VERY MUCH OPPOSITE to what I was taught in church.

(And I just laugh when people who used to tell me I should be "crazy for Jesus" say that "too extreme" is a reason that something is bad. Yeah. And even in other contexts, there is absolutely no reason that something that's "extreme" is intrinsically bad. But that's a rant for another time.)

Captain Cassidy's article is about "church covenants." Here is how she describes them:
In making a covenant, a church’s congregation signs over formal control of their lives to their pastor and ministry team (which can include small group leaders and other laypeople), who then consider themselves authorized to oversee the congregants’ private lives and to punish them when necessary. Many churches now require members to agree to these covenants as a condition of becoming full members of the church–and some even require members to re-up their agreement to their covenants every year.
...
A covenant is like a contract–except nowhere near as fair. The main difference is their one-sided nature; even if one side breaks their end of a covenant, the other side isn’t released from their own obligations. Covenants don’t expire and cannot be broken–usually and in theory at least.
She then shows a lot of examples of the vagueness of the "covenent" and how it allows church leaders to basically do whatever they want with essentially no limitations. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Also relevant: "covenant marriages." I first heard about this in Sunday school class at the church I was going to in college. Somebody mentioned the concept, and said it means you're not allowed to divorce unless you go to counseling for a certain amount of time first, and some other requirements like that. He ended by saying, "I think all Christian marriages should be covenant marriages," and I nodded along because it was totally consistent with everything the church taught about marriage and divorce- how divorce is the Worst Thing Ever and people who decide to get a divorce don't really value marriage and they are making a bad decision and must be stopped (with maybe a few exceptions, if their spouse did something REALLY bad- but even then, if you can forgive and reconcile, that's still better).

But no, the concept of "covenant marriage" is pretty scary. Libby Anne gives some more details in her post here. The entire point is that you are getting into an agreement and purposely making it really hard for yourself to get out, if you ever decide you don't want to be married to this person. That's a good thing in evangelical-land; that's a selling point. In the real world, though, people aren't just getting divorces willy-nilly for no good reason because they "don't respect marriage." It's a very serious, life-changing decision; it's a situation that you hope you never find yourself in, but sometimes divorce really is the best option. And yes, I agree that people should try counseling before choosing to divorce, but if either party needs to be literally forced into counseling by a "covenant" they signed years earlier- if they're not willing to go just because they care about their marriage- then I think you're way past the point where you can still save the marriage. And if one partner is abusing the other, the "covenant" is a tool they can use to make it even harder for the abused person to get out.

In other words, I really don't think you can make a marriage good and healthy by forcing people to stay married when they don't want to. (I remember many years ago, reading Focus on the Family's bullshit propaganda about "the homosexual agenda," and every now and then they mentioned how "no-fault divorce" is ruining everything, and I really did not get it. Back in the day, you had to prove something like adultery or abuse in order to be allowed to divorce? Like how would that even work? I think I'm too young for that particular culture war to make any sense to me.)

(Side note: I'm getting married next year, and I strongly believe that means I have to think about what exactly my vows mean and under what circumstances I would choose to get a divorce. I'll write a post on that at some point.)

Both "covenant marriage" and "church covenants" have the same basic idea: In the future, I may do something really bad, and if I do, I want to be stopped and/or punished. Don't let me do it- I am saying right now that that's not the kind of person I want to be, even if Future Me wants to.

That's the whole point. It's all about people consenting to being required, in the future, to keep doing something they freely choose to do now- regardless of whether their future self would still freely choose it. If their future self doesn't want to do it, then they should be forced to do it.

But of course. Of course it's about potentially forcing people to do things they don't want to do. If they would choose to do it anyway without being forced, then there's no need for a "covenant."

This is 100% consistent with evangelical teaching on people's "sin nature." We're just so completely sinful, we can't trust ourselves to make good decisions, we need rules to keep us in line, we'll come up with all kinds of shady excuses for why we don't have to obey God's clear commands- so we can't even trust our own minds. We all have the potential to do horrifically evil things- if you feel like "no, I'm pretty confident I would never do that", well, pride comes before a fall. Just a little bit of temptation and you might end up doing something shocking and "out of character"- except, we know it's not truly "out of character" because you've always been a disgusting sinner on the inside.

In this view, things like divorce or breaking church rules are clearly bad decisions we might make while under the influence of temptation. If we ever go against what the church says, it's because we're too sinful to think clearly, and what we really need is punishment so we'll snap out of it and go back to being good Christians who follow the rules. There's no room for "Before, I could never have imagined that I would do XYZ, but now, because I have more life experience, I'm choosing to do this and I'm confident it's a good decision for me." Nope. The church already knows all the right answers and rules. If you get more life experience that helps you realize that your previous views were too simplistic and need to be changed- well, that's temptation. That's "being led astray by your emotions" instead of holding to God's "absolute truth." You have to be very very clear about all the rules and your total commitment to them before you ever get into a situation which might give you practical experience with those rules. Because of course you can't be trusted to make a good decision on your own, in the face of "temptation." You're way too sinful for that.

(This is pretty much the WHOLE ENTIRE PREMISE of purity culture- especially all those "where is the line" discussions. If we just emphasize MORE AND MORE AND MORE how sinful sex is, when kids are too young to even know what sex is or why anyone would do it, that's how you stop them from having sex. Note: This doesn't stop people from having sex, but it does make them feel a lot of shame.)

The whole entire point is that people can't be trusted to make their own decisions- they're not safe unless they have some kind of authority over them to punish them if they stray from the correct rules. And people internalize this- I know I did. I was so afraid of my "sinful nature"; I was totally sure that there existed certain sets of circumstances in which I would do unspeakably awful things (for example, have sex), where my behavior would shock everyone, including me. I believed I needed layers and layers of walls and protections, so that I couldn't get anywhere near "temptation", because who knows what could happen?

Scared of myself, scared of my own mind, my own heart, my own body. Of course I was- how could I not be, when I believed "sinful nature" was the correct label for what kind of person I was? Even though I've never been in a church environment that used "covenants," it makes perfect sense to me. It fits EXACTLY with all the teaching on "sin" I received as an evangelical for all those years.

Things like "covenant marriage" and "church covenants" are based on the idea that right now we know all the correct rules, and any changes we make to our beliefs are BAD. Don't be surprised when you see examples of churches using their "covenants" to trample people's rights and force them to obey rules. That's exactly what they're for.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Blogaround

Black-and-white kitty on a coffee table. Image source.
1. "Second Cousins," "Once Removed", and More Explained in Chart Form (posted November 22) So useful!

2. ‘Please, I am out of options’: inside the murky world of DIY abortions (posted November 21)

3. Harry Potter Theory: Ariana Dumbledore Was An Obscurial (posted November 24) [content note: spoilers for "Fantastic Beasts"]

4. African elephants are being born without tusks due to poaching, researchers say (posted November 27)

5. These Jarring Cards Combine Scenes of Middle East Conflict with the Christmas Story (posted November 29)

6. Texas Tea Party Lawmaker Pushes for Schools to Out Their Students to Parents (posted November 20) This is bad. Outing LGBT children could put them in serious danger. (And if anyone supports this bill and claims to be "pro-life", well, THEY'RE NOT.)

7. Study finds millions of China's 'missing girls' actually exist (posted December 1) A lot of misogny built in.

8. Press Release: Has Evangelist Ravi Zacharias Misrepresented His Academic Credentials? (posted 2015) (via) Wow. Back in the day, I really respected Ravi Zacharius and his ministry.

[content note: links below are all about he-who-must-not-be-named and the election]

1. NY Times: Proof Emerges That Vladimir Putin HEAVILY Altered 2016 Election (DETAILS) (posted November 21) This is not normal.

2. "We're His Problem Now" Calling Sheet. Here's a ton of information on how to call your Congresspeople.

3. White People Problems (posted November 21) "The next president of the United States has made it clear that he primarily views those of us who look like the Hamilton cast — that "diverse America" Dixon spoke of — as a threat."

4. The Trans People Who Are Detransitioning To Stay Safe In Trump’s America (posted November 20)

5. What If Trump Wanted More Illegal Immigration? Wait, He's On It! (posted November 22) "Let’s rebuild our roads, bridges and power grids, and put up some new infrastructure as well, including perhaps an unfinished border wall. That will require a lot of labor, and Mexican labor, including that of the illegal variety, is common in the construction business."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Honest Advent: The Bible Never Claims to be the Word of God

Image shows a silhouette of a stable and manger, with the text "The Word Became Flesh." Image source.
Today and tomorrow's Advent readings are both from John 1, so I'm combining them. John 1:1-9:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
I really love this passage. The Word became flesh. (That bit comes later, in verse 14 actually.) "The Word" is Jesus (or at least, that's the only interpretation I've ever heard, but it doesn't necessarily say so explicitly- I'd be interested to know if there are Christians who believe "the Word" is something else), he is God's wisdom and God's light born into a real human person who lived among us. God with us. That's amazing.

Also, for the "through him all things were made" part, I take that to mean that Jesus is alive in so many things in this world. Jesus is everywhere, all around us. Jesus lives in us and in all the good things we experience. And yeah, I said I was doing "Honest Advent" because I don't believe in those big, abstract, feel-good spiritual ideas that don't necessarily make real-world sense- but this one I really do believe. God with us, God in everything good. I believe in incarnation. I do not believe in a God who actively does things in the world, but I believe in a God who is always with us, who sees everything and cares about everyone, and feels all the feelings at the same time we feel them. God is with us, and God is empathy.

But here's something that's a bit weird: Why does it say about John the Baptist "he himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light"? I believe God lives in everyone- yes, including John the Baptist. As it says here, "through him all things were made" and "that life was the light of men." So, in my view, is there really a distinction to make between a person- created in God's image, having God living inside- and the abstract idea of God's "light"? Yes, I definitely believe Jesus was unique- Jesus actually IS God, whereas the rest of us just have God living in us. But still. It's not like people are a completely separate thing from "the light."

I'm just saying, it feels a little weird to say so specifically that John the Baptist was NOT "the light." Maybe this is countering some widespread misconception that was floating around in that culture back then.

Here's the big takeaway from this passage though: Jesus is the word of God. The bible never says that the bible is the word of God.

Yeah. Think about that for a minute.

When modern Christians use the phrase "the word of God," they're always referring to the bible. But that's completely unbiblical. When the bible uses the phrase "the word of God" or "God's word", it is never referring to the bible. It may be referring to a specific quote from the bible- as in passages that are like "the word of the Lord came to so-and-so" and then the next quoted bit is "the word of the Lord." But the idea that "the word of God" means "the bible as we know it today" is just absurd. (And if I had a lot more spare time, it would be really interesting to take a concordance and find every single time the bible mentions "the word of God" and try to come up with a definition.)

As an aside, can we talk about 2 Timothy 3:16? "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." Christians quote this verse as if it's saying "the entirety of the bible as we know it today is God-breathed", and if you spend one second thinking about it, you'll realize that's totally NOT what it's saying. What would the term "Scripture" have meant to the writer and original audience? It DEFINITELY COULD NOT have meant "the collection of 66 books that we now call 'the bible.'" Even if we know nothing about the history of how the bible was put together, logically we can say that the closest thing that the writer could have possibly meant is our modern bibles minus the book of 2 Timothy.

My guess is that the use of the word "scripture" there in 2 Timothy refers to the Pentateuch. But we can let the bible scholars answer that question.

And seriously, if you think about it, it's impossible that there could be a verse in the bible claiming something about the entirety of the bible. Because the writers didn't know what books would end up in the final version of the bible. Yeah, if you find a verse that's like "and all the other books that end up getting included with this one I am writing and printed as one whole big book, yeah all those books, even though I don't know which ones they are, they are TOTALLY God-breathed" then come talk to me.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Honest Advent: Am I Above the Bible?

Image text: "Why we believe the Bible." Yeah, acting as if "believe the bible" is a well-defined statement is a HUGE red flag. Image source.

Today's Honest Advent reading is Mark 13:33-37:
"Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back— whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
All right. Well the context here is Jesus is talking about the end of the world or the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (take your pick). SO MUCH SIDE-EYE from me for whoever decided to include this in a list of "Advent readings." Like we're supposed to read it and think it's about how Jesus is coming, as in, Christmas will be soon, but it's not about that at all.

Unless- wait. Are there some Christians who draw some kind of connection between Advent and "the second coming"? Like, both are about "waiting for Jesus to come." Wow I have never thought of that before.

And this bit about "keeping watch"- yeah, I don't buy that. I don't expect "the second coming" to happen in my lifetime, so I'm not going to modify my behavior based on it. If we should be kind to people, well there are way better reasons to be kind to people besides "what if Jesus suddenly appears when you are being mean?" Really not a fan of fear-based obedience.

(And I don't necessarily believe in "the second coming" anyway. I believe in resurrection- someday the whole world will be resurrected, but I don't really have any specific beliefs about the details. ["Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."] But no, it won't be like the Left Behind books.)

All right. So overall I feel kind of "meh" about this Mark 13 passage. But here's what I really want to talk about today: For Honest Advent I'm reading the bible and just saying what I think. I'm not forcing myself to feel certain things ("close to God", inspired, spiritually deep) or feeling like I'm a failure as a Christian when I don't feel them. Because- I mean for real, why on earth would anyone expect they can spend 10 minutes reading a few sentences from a 2000-year-old book translated from an ancient language and come away with some cute little positive life lesson for the day? Like why do I feel like I'm a bad Christian because I can't manufacture those feelings? I'm not the one who's weird- the weird ones are those who expect each bible verse to be a sentimental little Hallmark card. (But that's really how I read the bible when I was an evangelical. Read a chapter, certain that I can understand it and find some way that God is speaking to me and it totally applies to my life now. What a bizarre thing to expect.)

So I'm just reading it and telling you what I honestly think. Some parts I like, some parts I don't. Some parts I agree with, some parts I don't.

It's like the bible is a thing which I judge and criticize. Like I'm the one who's in control, and I get to decide which parts are good and which are bad. That feels so weird and heretical. Back when I was an evangelical, I very strongly believed that the bible was an authority that I had to submit to. Everything in the bible is right and good, and if there's something I don't like, well that's my problem, I need to learn to accept it and believe that yes, it is right and good.

I thought the bible was an authority over my life- as if the bible was able to say things on its own. I now believe that no, the bible doesn't just say anything "clearly"; it's always people interpreting it. And before, when I believed I was submitting to God because I forced myself to accept what the bible said even when I didn't like it, I wasn't submitting to God or the bible- I was submitting to one particular version of God and one particular interpretation of the bible, the one created by 21st-century white American evangelical culture. Created by people.

And since it's created by people, it's not above questioning. They created a way to interpret the bible and told me it wasn't an interpretation, that it was just what the bible plainly said. That was a lie. And then I found Christian feminists who have a different interpretation, and that interpretation makes way more sense. (But here's the key: I say it "makes way more sense" because it fits with the worldview I already have, and my intuitive sense of what words like "morality", "justice", and "love" mean. For someone with a different worldview, maybe a different interpretation of the bible would "feel" more "obviously true." Everyone can create their own version of Christianity- not the other way around.)

Anyway, so about the bible. All Christians choose which parts are the most important and which parts we don't need to worry about. All Christians do this. Even the evangelicals/fundamentalists who boast "I believe the bible"- do they wear clothes with different kinds of material? Do they only own one shirt? Now you're going to say "well of course we don't have to follow those commands- they don't apply to us today." And I'm saying, yes, that's my point exactly, you've decided that these particular verses can pretty much be ignored, but the Romans road is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN ALL OF CHRISTIANITY, so yeah, just like I said, all Christians pick which parts of the bible are more important than others. And that picking is done solely based on people's opinions. There's nothing in the bible that says "HEY this verse is the most important verse in the bible, and then these ones here are only for the people in this culture." No. People decide that.

It's not actually possible to let the bible be an authority over your life. It's certainly possible to let an evangelical interpretation of the bible be an authority over your life- I used to live that way. But the bible itself doesn't really say anything about my life in an obvious way- no, it's people who determine how we should connect the bible to our modern lives. I feel like such a heretic for saying "I like this verse, I don't agree with that verse", but isn't that exactly what the evangelical church does, except they use more spiritual-sounding language? "Oh this one is a ceremonial law, so it's only for ancient Israel. Oh this one is about same-sex relationships, which we all know are disgusting, so obviously it's true for all of time." And even though the bible has A LOT TO SAY about foreskins, I don't think I've heard one single sermon on them.

The bible can't direct my life. I can either submit to someone else's interpretation of the bible, or make my own. Those are the only options. Submitting to the bible itself is not possible.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Honest Advent: Introduction

Advent wreath with candles. Image source.
So I want to do something for Advent. I miss the whole "daily devotional" thing I used to do when I was in a relationship with God. You know, the whole "sitting alone and reading the bible and feeling vague encouraging feelings." Feeling positive about big abstract concepts like hope or expectation or "God is with us" or "getting ready."

I miss those feelings. But I can't pretend they're real anymore. Like what does that even mean, "getting ready" and all that overspiritualized stuff, that relationship with God where I took English words on a page and treated them like they came straight from God to me and definitely had something important to say about my life today- when in reality, they were written thousands of years ago, in a different culture, in a different language, and the idea that I can spend 10 minutes and easily understand them and come away with some positive life lesson to carry me through the day is just completely laughable. So individualized, like I was creating my own little world where God talked to me and I couldn't necessarily tell other people about it because it sounded too weird. Those vague uplifting feelings and imaginings... there's no place for them in the Christianity I follow now, which is about justice and love as it plays out in the real world, in society, in the way people treat each other.

And I don't have a relationship with God anymore, mostly because it makes no sense to imagine that God communicates with me directly and intervenes in my life to help me, but allows structural inequality to exist in the world. It's appalling to imagine that a world in which God is constantly intervening to help people is a world where white men have more privilege and power than other groups (I'm talking about the US specifically here).

But I miss that, and I want to do something for Advent.

So here's the deal: I'm calling it Honest Advent. A few times per week, I'll read a bible passage and blog about it. I won't try to force myself to manufacture feelings of "oh this is so deep and inspirational"; no, I will be honest.

I got a list of Advent readings from this site. The one for today (Sunday, November 27) is Romans 13:11-14.
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
All right, first of all, it seems this passage was picked as an Advent reading because it's sort of about getting ready for some big "salvation" thing that's coming, and we're supposed to tie that in to how we're waiting and preparing for Jesus' birth. But that's not really what Romans 13 is talking about. The beginning of Romans 13 is about submitting to the government, and then there's this part which is one of my FAVORITE bible passages EVER:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
I LOVE this. This is basically my hermeneutic for reading the whole bible. I do NOT see bible interpretation as a complicated intellectual process of studying context and original language with the goal of compiling a list of which biblical commands "apply to us today" which we MUST cling to regardless of how arbitrary they seem, regardless of whether they help or harm people in the actual real world. (But that's how evangelicals view the bible.)

No- in my hermeneutic, the point is love. I no longer believe that God commands us to do things which may or may not seem nonsensical and arbitrary but we aren't qualified to say if they're right or wrong and we just have to obey God regardless. No. I believe that, as Jesus said, "by their fruit you will know them." I believe we are capable of saying "the bible commanded that, but it's horrible, so no, we're not going to obey it." We don't need to study ancient cultures to try to figure out what the original meaning was, to try to find some kind of biblical justification for why awful, anti-human commands from God don't "apply to us today." No. Love does no harm to its neighbor.

ANYWAY so that's what's going on in Romans 13, it's not about Christmas at all, so the choice to call this an "Advent reading" is getting a bit of side-eye from me.

Moving on. The passage says "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." I wonder what that means. Like, if you think this is an "Advent reading" (which I don't) then it sounds like it means Jesus will be born soon. If you subscribe to the "the bible just fell from heaven and is totally all about my current situation" philosophy (which I don't, but that's how evangelicals treat the bible, even though if asked directly, they would say of course that's not what the bible is) then it sounds like it means "the second coming" will happen soon- but I never bought into that "second coming" stuff.

I'm guessing "salvation" here means something completely different from what 21st-century evangelical Christians take it to mean. Maybe it means their real-world problems will get better, in the real world. Maybe Paul thought "the second coming" was soon, but he was wrong. Who knows. More research is needed.

Anyway it seems like the point of this passage is to encourage the readers to keep doing what they're doing, because good things are coming. And maybe the "good things are coming" is just baseless hope, like when people say "it'll be okay" when they actually have no evidence that "it'll be okay." Question: Is this "baseless hope" a bad thing? I think it's not necessarily a bad thing. What do you think?

And then there's a list of sinful things you shouldn't do: "not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." Blah blah blah, I'm not really a fan of how so many of these are related to sex, because too many evangelicals treat the bible like it's a book of rules for other people's sex lives. As if sex is the worst sin. Note: sex itself is NOT a sin. And for more on this, read my post about "sexual immorality" and this post about why I don't think premarital sex is a sin.

And that last bit, "do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh"- whoa, that raises HUGE red flags for me. Totally do not agree with that. Sounds like the Christianity that claims it's wrong for our bodies to be bodies, to have needs, to have desires, like we're supposed to just suppress that and pretend our bodies don't matter. And I'm not even just talking about sex- I used to believe it was wrong for me to desire any "selfish" thing really strongly. If I wanted it so much that not having it actually affected me emotionally, well then, that means I'm not "content in God" enough. Yeah. Really NOT OKAY with that verse. Not cool.

All right, that's all I got. No vague positive feelings, no sense that "God spoke to me." Just my opinions on these verses from Romans 13. (lolololol just realized I'm opening myself up to accusations that everything I have to say about the bible is automatically invalid because I'm not reading it "with the Holy Spirit." Chapter and verse. lol okay whatever. I know I'm a Christian, I don't need other people to approve of the way I read the bible.)

Happy Advent everyone!

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Blogaround

Billboard in China for the movie "Dr. Strange" (“奇异博士”)
1. How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective (posted October 28) "Every Native at Standing Rock -- every Native on this continent -- has survived the genocide of 100 million of our people."

2. A Survivor Of Gay Conversion Therapy Shares His Chilling Story (posted November 17) "The first step ― which usually lasted six months ― [is] where they “deconstruct us as a person.” Their tactics still haunt me. Aversion therapy, shock therapy, harassment and occasional physical abuse."

3. The GOP’s Anti-LGBT, Anti-Women ‘Religious Freedom’ Law on Steroids (posted November 17) Oh god this is bad.

4. 5 Self Care Tips for Activists — ‘Cause Being Woke Shouldn’t Mean Your Spirit’s Broke (posted in April)

5. Area Man Considers Self Ally To Women Unless They Threaten His Status In Literally Any Way (posted November 14) Ha.

6. An Ex-Muslim’s Peek Into the Mind of an Islamic Terrorist (posted November 22) "The most chilling aspect of all of this was that everything he was talking about was what I had been taught growing up as a child: this life is temporary, just a test, heaven is infinitely preferable to life here and lasts forever, and death is not the end, but a transition to the afterlife." The exact same thing is true for Christianity.

7. The Issue that Dare Not Speak Its Name (posted in May) "What is considered a legitimate religious viewpoint and what is considered obvious bigotry is a reflection of whose humanity you respect and whose is negotiable: and right now, in these interfaith settings, my humanity is negotiable."

[content note: the rest of the links are about, uh, he-who-must-not-be-named and related things]

1. Dear Trump Supporter Who Says They Love Me (posted November 17) "A man actively promised to dismantle and harm my family. To destabilize the security of my child. To harm relatives and friends and you still voted for him."

2. 'Hail Trump!': White Nationalists Salute the President Elect (posted November 21) HOLY SHIT THIS GUY IS RACIST. They are ACTUAL NAZIS.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Evangelical Ideology is Anti-Choice on Abortion Because it's Anti-Choice on Everything for Everyone

A mom and newborn baby sleeping. Image source.
Back when I was "pro-life," nothing about the pro-choice side made any sense to me at all. I don't mean I disagreed with it- I mean it would have been impossible for me to agree because I didn't even *get* it. Because the idea that people have the right to make choices about their own personal lives just does not exist in the Christianity I followed.

I was taught that I always needed to pray and ask God what to do if I had to make a big decision. I needed to read the bible and see if it had any advice about my situation. I needed to listen to Christian leaders and find out what the "right" decision was.

Choosing where to go to college? Pray about it. What to major in? Pray about it. Should I go to grad school? Should I accept this job offer or that one? Should I quit my job? Does God want me to become a missionary? Should I move to a different city? Should I buy a house? Should I buy a new car or not? Which apartment should I rent? Should I start dating this person? Should I get married? Should I have kids? Is God okay with divorce? What city should I raise my kids in? What kind of school should I send them to?

And on and on and on. All major life decisions must be prayed about. You have to listen to God. You have to figure out what God wants you to do- that's the "correct" answer. The idea that I could decide to do something just because I wanted to- without asking God's advice- was just unthinkable.

Of course, this causes a lot of anxiety. When you're making a big decision, you have to spend so much time agonizing over whether you're "hearing God." You believe there's a right answer and a wrong answer, and you can't figure out which is which just by using your own brain; no, it has to be God telling you. What if you choose the wrong one? What if you accidentally veer off "God's plan for your life"? Then you're just totally screwed.

So on the question of abortion, of course people can't make their own decisions about it, according to this ideology. Because no one can ever make their own decisions about anything. You have to do what God wants, and obviously God wants no one to have abortions ever, so... that's that. There's no reason personal choice would ever come into the picture.

Back when I was evangelical and "pro-life," I totally didn't get why the pro-choice side said "pro-life" ideology was sexist. From my point of view, there wasn't a double standard- no one is allowed to make major life decisions about anything, regardless of their gender. If I believed "yes, everyone totally has the right to control their own life and make their own decisions about what kind of life they want to have, EXCEPT for pregnant people," then yeah, I can understand why there would be accusations of sexism. But that's not what I believed. No one should make their own choices about anything- they should do what God wants. Why would pregnancy be any different?

(Even though in theory there's no double standard, in practice this whole "you aren't allowed to make your own choices" gets applied to women much more harshly than men.)

Evangelical ideology believes there's one "right" choice for any major decision, one "God's plan for your life," and it's your responsibility to determine- though prayer, through bible-reading, through getting advice from other Christians- which option is the "right" one. The pro-choice movement completely disagrees. We believe people are capable of making their own choices. They know their own situation. Yes, it's good for them to ask people for advice, to do research before making a decision, but the point of that isn't to figure out the "right" answer ordained by God; no, it's because we believe people are fully capable of weighing the information themselves and can be trusted to make their own decisions.

Sometimes you hear of a pro-choice activist who got pregnant and had a baby, and the "pro-life" people are SUPER CONFUSED. They're like "wait, but you're pro-abortion! Doesn't that mean you think pregnancy and babies are BAD?" Because in that ideology, it's all about figuring out what the "right" answer is, what people "should" do. (And conveniently, the answer is always the same: never have an abortion.) They don't understand that pro-choice people don't believe in a "should." Pro-choice people believe in CHOICE.

The "pro-life" movement is about making rules for other people's lives because they believe people aren't capable of making those decisions themselves. The pro-choice movement is about providing resources so that there are many possible options available and each person can choose the one that they feel is right for their situation. If they want to have an abortion, they can choose that. If they want to have a baby, they can choose that. There's no "should." There's no "the right answer." The "pro-life" movement is about coercing people into choosing what "pro-lifers" already know is the "right" answer. The pro-choice movement does not try to coerce or force people- of course not, that goes against the whole concept of choice. But evangelicals can't understand that because they never believed in choice in the first place.

Furthermore, evangelicals believe that all people are deeply sinful. If they're allowed to make their own choices, they'll choose evil things. They'd choose murder if they could get away with it. Of course they would. We're all so incredibly sinful, selfish, rebellious against God- we're all, on some level, the kind of people who would commit murder for "convenience" reasons. We can't be trusted to make our own decisions. We need God's laws or else we'll all do terrible, evil things.

So when pro-choicers say "trust women," it makes no sense to evangelical pro-lifers. How on earth could anyone be trusted with a life-and-death decision, without a clear "right" answer from God and a threat of punishment? That's completely unimaginable, in evangelical ideology.

The church never taught me I was able to make my own choices. No, they told me I always had to figure out what God wanted me to do. The idea that people are able to decide what's best for themselves was totally foreign to me. So of course I was anti-choice on abortion too.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Japanese Incarceration was an Appalling Human Rights Violation. Don't Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise

Photo of a Japanese-American family that was incarcerated in WWII. Image source.
During World War II, the United States forced 120,000 people of Japanese descent- most of whom were US citizens, to leave their homes and live in concentration camps. Yes, this is a real thing that happened. Innocent people, not accused of any kind of crime, rounded up solely because of their ethnicity. This was bad. This was really really bad.

Last week, Trump supporter Carl Higbie was interviewed by Fox News's Megyn Kelly, and Higbie mentioned Japanese incarceration while talking about why he believes there should be some kind of registry for Muslims in the US. We should all be horrified at this. What the United States did to Japanese people (both immigrants and US citizens) during WWII was REALLY REALLY BAD. It's shocking. The more I read about it, the more I'm like "how could this happen? Isn't the US supposed to be all about freedom and, you know, not imprisoning innocent people for extremely racist reasons?" (And also, "why didn't I learn about this in school?")

Anyway I've gathered a bunch of links here, because every American needs to know about this:

George Takei: They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.
I was just a child of 5 when we were forced at gunpoint from our home and sent first to live in a horse stable at a local race track, a family of five crammed into a single smelly stall. It was a devastating blow to my parents, who had worked so hard to buy a house and raise a family in Los Angeles. After several weeks, they sent us much farther away, 1,000 miles to the east by rail car, the blinds of our train cars pulled for our own protection, they said. We disembarked in the fetid swamps of Arkansas at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Really, it was a prison: Armed guards looked down upon us from sentry towers; their guns pointed inward at us; searchlights lit pathways at night. We understood. We were not to leave.
JACL Comments on Carl Higbie Statements
Higbie’s attempt to cite Japanese American incarceration as a precedent for this type of action is frightening and wrong. It’s a statement intended to lay a marker for a misguided belief that ignores the true lessons of Japanese American incarceration. This lesson was captured in the words of a federal commission that said, “…The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions (to incarcerate Japanese Americans) were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

JACL believes that some of these same conditions exist today, where Muslim Americans are being singled out and unfairly targeted, and where the voices of leadership that should be speaking out against unfair treatment are not.

We must not misinterpret our history by believing the Japanese American incarceration was justified as a precedent for similar actions today, and further, we must not use the wrongdoing perpetrated against Japanese Americans during World War II as a justification for the mistreatment of Muslim Americans.
Japanese-Americans Visit A WW2 Incarceration Camp

George Takei on the Japanese internment camps during WWII

Power of Words (thanks Kenji Kuramitsu for the link)

During WWII, the U.S. government used euphemistic language to control public perceptions about the forced removal of Japanese American citizens from their West Coast homes to desolate American concentration camps further inland. The public was told that Nisei and Issei (non-citizens) were being “evacuated” to “relocation centers” and “internment camps.” Terms like “evacuation” of people sounded like they were being rescued from some kind of disaster (like an earthquake). To obscure the unconstitutional nature of these forced removals, the government referred to the Nisei victims as ‘non-aliens’ instead of ‘citizens’, which might provoke public inquiries like: “Why is the U.S. imprisoning citizens’ without due process of law?” Once in camp, Nisei could earn back their citizenship by embracing their “right” to defend their country and to serve on the “same basis” as other Americans in the military (but in the segregated U.S. Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team) (Lyon, 2012).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug

John Piper. Image source.
[content note: abusive theology, miscarriage, John Piper]

Well here's a horrifying article: Did My Lust Cause Our Miscarriage? In it, Pastor John Piper responds to this question: "Pastor John, did God cause, or would God cause, my wife to miscarry our child because I have a struggle with lust and pornography? I have a lot of guilt right now, and I don’t know how to think about God’s discipline and punishment for my sin. I’m very confused, please help."

Wow. Ah man. Yeah miscarriage is awful, I'm so sorry for your loss, it just sucks. Or rather, that's what a decent human being would say. In contrast, Piper doesn't offer any words along those lines, nothing even acknowledging the question writer's pain and trying to comfort him. Nothing. Instead, the article is about sin and God's discipline and something he keeps calling "the gospel" but sure as hell ain't good news.

And also, a decent human being would say NO. Don't blame yourself. Porn does not cause miscarriages, and it is just heartbreaking to imagine someone actually seriously wondering that... wow, to live with that kind of guilt, that kind of uncertainty, oh my. No, don't blame yourself. That's just terrible. But nope, Piper doesn't say anything like that. He explains that yes, it is possible that God killed your child as punishment for your porn use. We don't know if that's the real reason or not, but sure, it could be. ... Geez, how can you do that to someone? How can you put that kind of guilt on someone? This is abuse. This is abuse.

Let's look at some quotes from this horrifyingly abusive article:
Whatever he means [by "struggling with porn"], I am glad he calls it sin, which he does, because Jesus takes this sin so seriously, he uses a horrible picture to describe the warfare against it — and the worst possible warning against failure in the war.

Here is what he says: “If your right eye causes you to sin” — so he is talking about lust — “tear it out and throw it away.” What? With a screwdriver? This is gross. This is horrible. What? Your fingernails? “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). So, tearing out the eyeball is the most horrible description of the nature of the warfare, and hell is the most horrible warning of failure in the warfare. So, I doubt that any of us has ever overestimated the danger of failing to fight lust. And I am glad that our anonymous questioner has called it sin and is feeling bad about it.
In other words, God would rather you tear out your own eye than lust. Yeah, the bible does say that. (Or... something like that, but it's definitely possible to interpret it in a less abusive way than what Piper is doing here.) So we have a God who hates our natural sexual desires SO MUCH that he would like us to damage our bodies in whatever way is necessary to get those desires to stop. HOLY CRAP this is abusive.

(Also, did you catch that bit at the end? Piper is "glad ... [he] is feeling bad about it." Yeah, that's exactly the way the Christianity I learned totally didn't care about anyone's mental or emotional health. You "sinned" so you should feel bad. This teaching is so incredibly abusive and destructive. This is literally the reason I had depression a few years ago.)
Or, we can add with trembling: He may see us in need of such protection from temptation that he takes our life. That is what it says in 1 Corinthians 11:29–30, “Anyone who eats and drinks [the Lord’s Supper] without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Fallen asleep means died. “But when we are judged by the Lord” — that is, put to death — “we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). That is breathtaking. In other words, death, the death of a saint, the death of one who is perfected, the death of one whom he loves, the death is the discipline of deliverance from condemnation. God takes him out so that he will not be taken out by the devil and by sin and go to hell. So yes, the Lord disciplines, and his ways are not to be trifled with or made little of.
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS. God sometimes kills people because he's sure they're going to fall victim to "temptation"- God would rather have you dead than let you sin. HOLY SHIT. This is... wow. This is abusive as hell. I spent 20+ years in the evangelical church and I never heard anything like this. I mean, yes, there it is in 1 Corinthians, I know, I've read that passage. But I never heard anyone at church say "sometimes God kills people so they don't sin." Yes, the church explicitly preached that everyone deserves to go to hell and suffer forever; I'm not shocked at all when I hear Christians say things like that- but I am shocked by what Piper is saying here. This is just a whole new level of DISTURBING.
May that discipline come in the form of harm, even death, to others that we love, as well as ourselves? And the answer is yes, it may. This was certainly the case with David’s sin of adultery [sic] and murder with Bathsheba and her husband. Nathan the prophet said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). And then the next thing, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord” — and surely that is what pornography is — “the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:14).

So, I would certainly say in my own life — now hear this carefully — I would certainly say in my own life the most painful and humbling disciplining from the Lord has regularly been though the pain and suffering and sometimes death of those I love, rather than through any blows against my own body. Oh, that we only suffered in our own body. This has been the way the deepest Christians have always thought about the losses through the death of those they love. Jonathan Edwards preached numerous sermons about the way the Lord disciplines a church by taking away a godly pastor in death. Edwards’s godly wife Sarah spoke about kissing the rod of God in the death of her 54-year-old husband — a rod of discipline that she felt more than anyone. She called it a rod of God on her back. And she kissed it.
So Piper is saying yes, God might kill your loved ones to punish you for your sin. Just like God killed David and Bathsheba's baby. (So... God is not very "pro-life," huh?) And we're supposed to accept it and "kiss it." HOLY SHIT THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH SWEAR WORDS AVAILABLE.
I don’t know whether our friend who wrote this question lost his child in miscarriage as a direct discipline from God because of his pornography. I do not know. He does not know.
Oh my god. How can you say this? How can you say this to someone who is grieving and blaming himself? "Yeah, actually it might be your fault, yes." Oh my god. I'm ... holy shit.

Piper treats this as purely an abstract theological question, as if he was asked, "In a conservative/Calvinist interpretation of the bible, does God ever kill people to punish sin?" It's like he doesn't even notice that this question writer is devastated and overwhelmed, and how incredibly damaging it is for him to wonder if maybe it's all his fault. Can you imagine what this man is going through, emotionally and psychologically? Piper doesn't even try to imagine. It's like he doesn't think about how his theology affects actual people. None of that matters to him. It's all about unshakeable loyalty to every single word in the bible.
So, what our friend must do in this confusion — he says, “I am confused.” Okay, so I am saying, what he must do in his confusion is stop fretting about whether his pornography was the direct cause of his miscarriage. He should stop fretting about that. He will never know for sure the answer to that question, short of some direct revelation. Whether he knew it was or wasn’t, the lesson remains the same. The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away. And God’s merciful design for our friend is that he worship. Blessed be the Lord (Job 1:21). Worship more deeply the way Job did.
In other words, yes, God did choose to "take away" this potential child. We don't know if the reason was to punish this guy for using porn, but Piper says yes, it was God's doing. And so you should worship God. You should love the God who kills your family members, who hates you and your sin so much that he wishes you were dead.

THIS IS ABUSIVE AS HELL. Oh god. Oh geez. I'm... I know what Piper believes, and this is totally consistent with all of it, but I'm still shocked. I never expected to hear anyone say something like this so explicitly. And it's not even an abstract hypothetical- this is a response to a real person who is really experiencing a lot of grief and guilt. This is the response: yeah maybe it is your fault. Yeah God decided to kill your child, and you need to respond by worshiping God.

Here's the thing: Piper cites bible verses- about Jesus telling his disciples to tear out their eyes, about Job, about David and Bathsheba, about the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians- and he's not wrong. The bible does say that. There are bible verses that say God killed someone's family members to punish their sin or make some kind of point, win a bet with satan, whatever. (See also my post about the worst bible story.)

Yes, the bible does say that. And Piper is so focused on the bible- or rather, on his interpretation of the bible- that he doesn't even realize how completely anti-human and evil this ideology is. His commitment to believing and valuing every single word of Scripture leads him to tell a grieving man "yes, God killed your child, and it's totally possible that it's your fault." How can you say that to someone?

Strangely, Piper doesn't mention that part in the bible where Job's "friends" told him God killed all his children to punish him for his sin and then God showed up and was like "SHUT UP ALL OF YOU, HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT" [slight paraphrase of Job 38-42]. Strangely, he doesn't mention that time when the disciples saw a blind man and asked Jesus "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" and Jesus was like "NOPE." Or when Jesus preached that victims of a disaster were not "more guilty" than others.

So yes, the bible contains a bunch of different perspectives on the reasons behind suffering. If the most important thing in your life is devotion to the exact words of the bible- if the bible is your idol- then yes, you would come to the conclusion that God may have caused a miscarriage to punish someone's sin, and they need to respond by worshiping God. But if you have at least one molecule of human compassion, you will see that any God who would kill a child to punish someone else's sin is not worthy of worship- and that a person grieving a miscarriage needs love and support, not a mountain of guilt baptized in religious bullshit.

What I'm saying is, "the authority of Scripture" is one hell of a drug. It causes people- who would otherwise be kind and loving- to respond to tragedy with the most shocking, despicable, abusive, anti-human crap, and then feel like they're doing a good thing, they're standing up for God, they're "speaking the truth in love."

I'm shocked. I really am shocked. Piper's words are literally spiritual abuse. And his God is a monster that no one should worship.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blogaround

A cute little doggy, looking slightly guilty because it stole a CD. Image source.
1. We Had Abortions, and Here’s What That ‘Jane the Virgin’ Story Line Meant to Us (posted November 7) "According to the Guttmacher Institute, Latinxs make up about 25 percent of people having abortions, and roughly two-thirds of people having abortions are already parents. And yet, very few story lines show either."

2. The Syrians Next Door (posted November 3) "The twins do not remember a time before the war. They recall the whooshing sound a bomb makes when it drops from a plane. They know that when the bomb lands nearby, the whole building shudders and solid walls can ripple like water. When the shelling started, the family often squeezed themselves into the cabinets under the kitchen counter. At night, all five of the kids would climb into their parents’ bed and hide under the blankets. 'You want to find a safe place to hide the children,' Abdul Fattah says. 'But there is no safe place.'"

3. Harry Potter Theory: The True Path Of The Elder Wand (posted November 8) Wow this is complicated.

4. Enough with the fear of fat (May 2016) "Throughout my career, I have learned that fat bodies are inherently political. And unapologetic fat bodies can blow people's minds."

5. 7 Ways To (Re) Come Out As Bisexual (posted November 12) "Bring some 16th century realness to your coming out by hiring a court announcer to introduce you before entering every room."

[content note: links below are about the election]

1. How Trump Conned America (posted November 11)

2. Over 200 Incidents of Hateful Harassment and Intimidation Since Election Day (posted November 11) HOLY SHIT.

3. Empathy for the Devil (posted November 4) "Christianity carries with it a mandate for universal empathy that can often prove utterly inconsistent with African-American survival, let alone advancement. Too many times, we're asked to understand those who have opposed or even terrorized us, while expecting no such consideration in return."

4. If Donald Trump wins, I will blame toxic Christianity and here’s why (posted November 3) "'Make America Great Again' is a slogan for people who believe that humanity is fallen; 'Better Together' is a slogan for people who believe that humanity is good."

5. Alarmism saved my family from Hitler: Why I won’t tell anyone to calm down about Trump (posted November 10) Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace.

6. Trump alone cannot overturn marriage equality, but that is not the point (posted November 12) "Ask yourself this – how many Kim Davises are there out there who will be emboldened to break the law when your gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender neighbors apply for their marriage license with a partner of the same gender? How quickly do you think a Trump administration will be to force them to obey the law?"

7. White evangelicalism is white nationalism. (posted November 9) "Yesterday, white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion."

8. The Cinemax Theory of Racism (posted November 10) "And others say to you, that’s fine, but you knew that to get the other parts, you had to sign on for the racism, too. And evidently you were okay with that."

9. I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America (posted November 10)

10. Are Progressives Crying Wolf? Not So Fast. (posted November 14) "During the primary, Trump banned news agencies from his press corps if they wrote too critically about him. He said that libel laws need to be opened up so that he can sue the press for reporting he feels isn’t accurate. This is unprecedented."

11. ‘N****rs’ slur defaces MLK Center in Spokane: ‘Do not pretend that these are isolated incidents’ (posted November 15) Holy shit.

12. On the Abortion Trump Card (posted November 12) "And to support Trump on pro-life grounds is effectively to say that her life, which is actually unfolding, which she is currently experiencing, which she had planned and dreamed and hoped for, is worth less than the purely biological life of someone who hasn’t even been born yet. Is this the moral high ground, or a sick parody of moral deliberation?"

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