Friday, January 30, 2015

I Came To Your Bible Study

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I came to your bible study, and I want to know if you can accept me.

You taught us, and directed us to flip back and forth in our bibles; you supported each idea with a reference to scripture. And if I view it as "this is one particular interpretation" then I find what you said very interesting. Some ideas I hadn't heard before. But if this is supposed to be THE meaning that God had in mind when God brought the bible together, then I have some major arguments with it.

I came to your bible study, and you called me "Sister Wan." That's great; you see all Christians as brothers and sisters. Everyone at the bible study was friendly. But I wonder if you could really accept me, if I tell you what sort of Christian I am.

I came to your bible study, and you talked about Jesus, and I felt so lonely. Do I just nod along in agreement, or do I mention that I disagree with some parts? It's okay with me that we disagree; the important thing is we are both Christians and we love God. But I need to know if it's okay with you.

I mentioned that I view it differently, and you flipped forward to Acts, to give an explanation supporting your point of view. But really, I don't need you to teach me. I already understand what you said. I just need to know if you can accept that I believe differently.

I came to your bible study, and I saw the way your little bible is marked and worn and highlighted. I know you've studied a lot, and I respect that; I've studied the bible a lot too. Every idea you gave, you supported with a reference, even when we ended up talking about topics you hadn't planned. You knew the references on the fly, and to be honest, I can play that game too, but I didn't. I can cite a verse to support every opinion I have too, but I didn't want this to turn into a debate, because that's not the point. Really, I just want to know if you can accept my existence as a Christian who disagrees with you.

I came to your bible study, and I finally told you the reason I was uncomfortable with your focus on figuring out the meaning of everything in the bible. I spoke Chinese and explained what I've seen in American Christian culture, how Christians judge each other and declare "you are not a real Christian, you are a false teacher" if they disagree. I guess you didn't mean it that way, but that's why I was uncomfortable with what you said about false teachers.

You reassured me, of course no one at the bible study is going to tell me "you're not a real Christian." And actually, I already knew that, I knew no one would say it so directly, to my face.

I want to know if you can believe that I am a Christian, even if I disagree with you on some topics. But more than that, I want to know if you can believe that the reason I hold those beliefs- the reason I don't believe in hell, the reason I said love is more important than reading the bible- is because I am a Christian, is because I love God, is because I have studied the bible.

Can you believe I am a Christian, but not a Christian who is innocently confused about these topics and needs someone to teach her the correct Christian view? Can you believe that at the points where we disagree, my opinions are rooted in my own study of the bible and my own deep love for God? I believe that about you, would you believe it about me?

Maybe it's a new concept for you, and I get that. I get that you may need time before you can accept it.

I came to your bible study, and I worried about whether or not I could be honest, whether or not you can really accept who I really am. And I wish it wasn't this hard. I wish going to a bible study group automatically meant people would support and love me. I wish it could be a place for me to rest and feel safe and accepted, instead of having to defend myself.

I came to your bible study, and everyone was so friendly and nice. I hope I have the energy to come again next week.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Seduction is the default."

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One particular section from Libby Anne's post, Men Rape and Women Seduce: John Piper’s Deleted Tweet, stood out to me because it is so insightful:
In other words, within John Piper’s circles, seduction is something a woman must actively work to avoid. In a sense, seduction is the default—and existing while female is to be a seductress. This is why there are rules—don’t wear this, don’t wear that, stand like this, sit like that, and for goodness sake don’t let a guy see you looking at him, he’ll think it’s an invitation! We see this in mainstream culture too, where it is somehow acceptable to ask what rape victims were wearing—as though that is even relevant.
"Seduction is the default." Yes. This is EXACTLY the problem with evangelical teachings on modesty.

In modesty land, it's common to hear language about "causing men to stumble", "dressing provocatively", "dressing to get attention from guys", etc. It's assumed that women always think about men's reactions when they choose what to wear. (The idea that women's appearance should be interpreted from a straight man's point of view is called "the male gaze" and modesty culture is ALL ABOUT the male gaze.)

However, women in modesty land all know that we are not trying to seduce anyone (or "cause them to stumble" or whatever). Quite often, when girls are taught that they need to be "modest," it's framed like this: "Girls, you can't really understand how guys feel, but I have to tell you that when you wear item XYZ, it's hurting guys, so wear something else." Isn't that so helpful, pointing out how women may have accidentally hurt guys by not considering them when choosing what to wear.

So sometimes, "immodesty" is seen as a blatant, purposeful attack on men, and sometimes it's seen as an accidental attack. It often blurs together, and we end up in a state where "seduction is the default." By just being a woman existing in public, you are attacking men with your sexiness, unless you very carefully follow the modesty rules.

As a woman, if I totally am not thinking about men at all when I put on clothes, I'm sinning, according to modesty culture. "Seduction is the default." In order to not sin, I need to imagine how a straight man might view me (even though one of the foundational teachings of modesty culture is "women just can't understand"), and we're back to the male gaze again.

Modesty is all about dressing for men. It's all about the male gaze.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Speak the truth." As if.

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What should I do if my friend gets engaged?

How about telling her congratulations? Maybe ask her how the proposal happened. Just generally be happy for her. It's not really a hard concept.

No no no I mean my friend, who's a Christian, just got engaged to a guy who's not a Christian. What should I do?

Umm... see my previous advice? Rejoice with those who rejoice.

-------

But actually, this is a legitimate question that a lot of evangelical Christians would ask. And I listened to the people at Boundless discussing this. What to do, what to do?

Because, you see, The Rules For What Christians Are Supposed To Do clearly say that Christians are not allowed to marry non-Christians. Actually, many Christians confuse the bible with The Rules For What Christians Are Supposed To Do; in fact, each of The Rules has some kind of basis in something that the bible says, but they are in no way the only interpretation. In no way are they agreed-upon by all Christians.

The Rules say that Christians should not marry non-Christians. So, understandably, when one's Christian friend gets engaged to a non-Christian, one would be very concerned about that friend. She seems so happy, but she's making a terrible mistake- and the reason we know it's a terrible mistake is because The Rules say so.

(Does the relationship seems healthy or unhealthy? Do the two of them truly love and care about each other? Has the relationship harmed her? We don't know. In the discussion at that link, we know nothing about the relationship itself, other than the fact that the woman is a Christian and the man is not. And, because we know The Rules, that is enough information to know that it's wrong.)

Only one piece of information. And yet, as the Boundless team discusses this, they continually use language about "speaking the truth about this situation." Over and over, the word "truth." Hopefully you'll get an opportunity to tell your friend "the truth."

Does anyone else think it's a little strange that random people on the internet who know none of the actual facts believe they are qualified to identify the truth in this situation?

Ah, but The Rules. The Rules For What Christians Are Supposed To Do tell us that a Christian marrying a non-Christian is always bad. That's the only truth that's really relevant to the situation.

Really?

How about some other truths?

Truth: There are a lot of Christians married to non-Christians, who have healthy marriages.

Truth: Different Christians have different interpretations of the "unequally yoked" passage.

Truth: My boyfriend is not a Christian, and he loves and accepts me like no one else does. Meanwhile I feel nervous about going to church because I fear Christians won't accept me. (Wow, I wonder why I would feel that way, could it be related to this Christian culture where people believe they should butt into other people's relationships and make judgments?)

(Aha! Perfect Number just admitted her boyfriend is not a Christian! She's biased! Therefore we can disregard everything she said in this entire post. Because the less you know about a situation, the more qualified you are to "speak the truth" about it, apparently.)

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It's not just this issue. There are so many cases where Christians feel they should confront someone and "speak the truth" because, though we don't know much about the situation, we do know that it is against The Rules and therefore this person needs someone to help them by pointing that out.

We need to "speak the truth about homosexuality", apparently. We need to "speak the truth" and warn people that they are going to hell. "Speak the truth" about how other religions are all wrong and useless and bad. And "speak the truth" about how abortion is always bad.

We may not know much about your life or the reasons why you make the choices you make, we just know that it's wrong and clearly you need someone to tell you that.

In the evangelical culture I come from, Christians believe that they know your life better than you do. They know your needs better than you know yourself.

THIS IS NOT LOVE.

Christians, if you want to go "speak the truth" to someone, how about you just shut up first and recognize that acting like you're an expert on another person's life IS NOT LOVE. And I think Jesus said something about loving each other.

This is not love.

And, this is not truth. If you really listened, if you really believed people when they talked about their own personal lives, you would find many of those "truths" from The Rules For What Christians Are Supposed To Do are bullshit.

And you may find that the gospel truly is good news.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Premarital Sex Is Not a Sin. Go Read This.

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Samantha Field has written a series of 3 posts presenting a sex-positive biblically-supported sexual ethic. It's pretty much the same as my current view on sex, except she says it better than I could. Seriously, go read it.

is it possible to be a sex-positive Christian? [part one]
In this system, in a society where women are either the property of their fathers, husbands, the government, or religion, we could be damaged. If we “lost” our virginity, we were quite literally worth less, and, as such, had been harmed. The fathers who owned us were also harmed because they’d lost their ability to sell us for an ‘unsullied’ price. Because of this, it’s easy to see why the NT seems to so roundly condemn extra-marital sex. When a woman’s value is directly attached to whether or not she’s had sex with or been raped by a man, having sex with her is harmful, and should not be done.

However, that’s not where we are today. Today, women aren’t property. Marriage isn’t about a sale. We don’t care about things like dowries and ensuring the existence of legal heirs. The context has changed, although the basic question (“would having sex be harmful?”) hasn’t.
is it possible to be a sex-positive Christian? [part two]
Other examples in the Bible are stories like David and Bathsheba– I believe that David was punished for rape, not for adultery. Bathsheba could not refuse someone so much more powerful than her, and therefore could not give meaningful consent. When the prophet Nathan confronts David about raping Bathsheba, he tells the story of a beloved sheep: one man loved his sheep; the other man used his power to steal her away and then ate her. He wasn’t interested in keeping and cherishing her, but in consuming and destroying her.

I think what the New Testament is addressing when it talks about porneia is similar.
is it possible to be a sex-positive Christian? [part three]
There’s a lot of overblown “information” about sex and the effects it can have thanks to purity culture, and that needs to be hashed out, too. Nothing about you can be altered by having sex anymore than eating chocolate cake for the first time changes you as a person. It’s one more experience that makes up who you are, and that’s really it. You’re not guaranteed to be forever in love, it can’t affect your value and worth, and it probably won’t change the course of history, either.
Preach it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Blogaround

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1. The Beauty of Bodies: Russell Wilson’s Inelegant Theology and the Joy of Incarnation (posted January 19) "I don’t have the energy to hammer someone for their feelings of gratitude anymore."

2. The Secret Weapon the Church Never Planned On – Passionate Parents of LGBT Children (posted January 20) "They look at their children and do not see 'abominations' and 'broken' people, they see the child they have known and loved."

3. Why you should still bring canned goods to food drives (posted January 20) "A visible, tangible reminder of the need of others."

4. Shanghai fires 4 top district officials blamed in the New Year's Eve stampede that killed 36 (posted January 20)

5. The boy who didn't come back from heaven: inside a bestseller's 'deception' (posted January 21) "'You’re right, this whole story is fabricated,' Johnson recalled Beth Malarkey telling him. '[But] because the book was a bestseller, no one in the evangelical publishing industry wanted to kill it.'"

6. snopes.com: Super Bowl Prostitution "No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl."

7. The Subversion of the Creator God (posted January 21) "What I'm suggesting is that the worship of the Creator introduced into the religion of Israel a subversive element that began to slowly unwind the smug, insular, exclusive and violent imagination of Israel."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Bible's Contradictions Matter, And It's Not a Logic Problem

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Well you guys, I read chapter 3 of The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It and it was mind-blowing. (See also my thoughts on chapter 1 and chapter 2.)

In this chapter, Enns tells us that there are 4 stories of Jesus in the bible, and 2 stories of the Israel. On the surface, this is obvious. In the New Testament, we find 4 gospels, each giving the story of Jesus' life, written by different writers. Each comes from a different perspective, and indeed, I've heard this discussed in church/bible studies before, how Matthew emphasizes Old Testament prophecies, Luke was written for a Gentile audience, John only includes 7 miracles, etc.

What I've never heard before is that actually the writers embellished the story, added stuff, moved sections to other places in the story, and basically "shaped" it in order to communicate a certain view to their audience. Yeah of course I knew that each gospel comes from a different perspective and emphasizes different aspects of Jesus' life, but the idea that they wrote stuff that didn't really happen is shocking to me.

But wait right there. The phrase "stuff that didn't really happen" isn't really right. Enns explains that in ancient times, the goal of the writers was not to produce an accurate historical account of what happened. If I describe parts of the bible as "stuff that didn't really happen," it's technically a correct description, but it misses the point.

I guess. I mean, I can believe that ancient writers had different goals and methods than we modern readers expect, I just have no idea what I'm supposed to do with that.

But anyway, this perspective, where we read each gospel separately and just take it for what it is, rather than trying to force all 4 to fit together, is for me a mind-blowing new way to read the bible. Particularly in the parts where the 4 gospels differ.

As an example, Enns talks about the different accounts of Jesus' birth. First of all, it's only mentioned in Matthew and Luke. Mark and John totally skipped the Christmas story. Hmm why is that?

"AHA, THAT'S NOT A CONTRADICTION! It happened, they just didn't put it in! Next!"

Yeah that was the voice of Perfect-Number-5-years-ago if she were to discuss the accuracy of the bible with a skeptical friend. I was so good at defending the bible from all doubts, but I never actually asked why the different accounts are different. Why did Matthew and Luke talk about Jesus' birth, while Mark and John didn't? Could this tell us something about their different perspectives or reasons for writing?

Nope, I never thought about that. All I felt was thankful that this supposed "contradiction" was easy to explain, and we could move on.

All right, what about the accounts actually given in Matthew and Luke? Why are they so different? Enns even says, "Even though Matthew and Luke both include and birth story, their versions are so different you couldn't blame an innocent reader for concluding they are talking about two different births." [p 83] And, wow, yes, he's right, and how in the world have I never thought that before?

Matthew talks about the wise men and the escape to Egypt. Luke talks about the angels and shepherds and the baby lying in a manger. Both have Mary, Joseph, the virgin birth, and happen in Bethlehem. But why wouldn't Luke include the parts that Matthew did, and vice versa?

"AHA! That's not--" no, stop right there. Yes, yes, the apologetics hero is here to tell us clearly all of them happened, the part in Luke happened first, and then the wise men part in Matthew, maybe when Jesus was 2 years old. It's not a contradiction. Fine.

I know the apologetics answer. But I never thought about what it would be like to just read Matthew and engage with the story he is telling, without trying to shove in the other "facts" that we "know" from reading Luke. (Because maybe some of that stuff was actually made up to suit the story each writer was trying to tell. It makes no sense to pull it out with no context and drop it into a completely different story.)

According to Enns' book, Matthew is making Jesus look like Moses. He escaped an order to kill all the male babies. He was later brought out of Egypt. The wise men followed a star *cough pillar of fire cough cough*.

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Similarly, there are 2 stories of the history of Israel: one told in 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, and the other in 1-2 Chronicles. I knew there were a few differences- Chronicles only talks about the kingdom of Judah, and generally takes a more positive view. I had no idea that the writer of Chronicles actually changed some parts of the story to make it that way.

And the example given in the book is just mind-blowing. Remember how I said everything in this chapter was mind-blowing? Yeah.

2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 both give an account of the prophet Nathan giving a promise from God to David. However, in 2 Samuel, it goes like this: "Your house and your king will endure forever before me. Your throne will be established forever." 1 Chronicles says it like this: "I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever." [p 93]

So how come in Samuel it's "your" and in Chronicles it's "my"?

"Are you for real? This is your example of a 'bible contradiction'? Come on, it's just one word! Same thing! It doesn't matter."

That's our friend Perfect-Number-5-years-ago again, helpfully explaining to us how the bible has no contradictions, or at least, no contradictions other than an unimportant word here or there.

But no, Enns says. It is important.

Samuel was written during the time of the kings of Judah. "Your throne will be established forever" meant that there would always be a descendant of David ruling over Judah. But Chronicles was written after the exile. The line of kings was gone. The writer reinterprets God's promise; now the account has God saying "my house and my king." In other words, even though we don't have an actual king right now, God is still in control. Have hope.

Which, I'm fine with the writer trying to communicate that message, but dang, if that's not what the prophet Nathan actually said to David, you can't pretend it is. But apparently in the culture at that time, you could.

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I learned how to read the bible through my love of logic puzzles. An example:

George and Wilma are lying dead on the floor. There are pieces of broken glass around them, and a puddle of water. They are in the living room, which also has an open window. How did they die?

And if you would like a hint:

Hint: They died of suffocation.

Okay, think it over, and then read the answer.

Answer: George and Wilma are goldfish. The wind knocked down their fish tank and it broke, so they died of suffocation, unable to breathe when exposed to the air.

Logic puzzles (or lateral thinking puzzles) like this are challenging because the initial impression you get from reading the story is wrong, and you need to go back and check what was actually explicitly (literally) said, rather than what the writer seemed to be saying. In the end, what was being described turns out to be totally different than what the story said when taken at face value.

Here's another logic problem:

During the creation of the world, on the third day, God said, "Let the earth bring forth plants" and it was so. All kind of trees and vegetation grew.

On the fifth day, the animals that live in the air and seas were created. On the sixth day, land animals were created first, then people. Male and female God created them.

Now no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, when the Lord formed a man from the dust. The Lord formed the animals, and brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and if a suitable helper for the man could be found. However, no suitable helper was found, so the Lord formed a woman from a rib taken from the man.

So, in what order were the plants, animals, and humans really created? (Turn to page 71 for the answer.)

Answer: Of course, Perfect-Number-5-years-ago is read to supply us with the apologetics answer. You see, Genesis 1 is more general, covering how everything in the world was created, and Genesis 2 is just the specifics of what happened on day 6. (Yes Adam totally named all the animals in one afternoon. He was a busy bee.) When it says in Genesis 2 that no plants had grown when God created the man, it just means in that particular area. Of course there were plants elsewhere in the world, but this part is just referring to the Garden of Eden, which God specifically planted just for Adam and Eve.

So, just as in the case with the dead goldfish, we see that our first impression upon reading Genesis 2 is actually not what the writer was trying to say.

That's how "defending the bible" works, and I now see that it misses the point entirely. The reality is, there are 2 creation stories, and we should let each of them stand on its own. They're not talking about things that "really happened" so there's no need to try to reconcile the stories so they occur in the same universe.

How many other bible stories have I completely changed in order to smooth out the contradictions? Well, not "completely changed"- all the literal words are still there- but they're totally reinterpreted so the end result looks nothing like the story that the writer seemed to be telling when we first read it.

And that's what we (evangelical Christians) mean when we say we respect the bible. We treat it like a logic problem, looking for little ways the writer was being tricky and saying things that actually meant something completely different than what you would think.

We should be examining the contradictions and odd bits as a way to help understand what messages the different writers were trying to communicate. Not ignoring them. Not treating them as battles and attacks from atheists.

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Anyway, all these ideas about ancient writing practices seem to make sense and make me feel a lot better about the bible, but I have to ask: If the stories in the bible didn't really happen, then what is my religion based on?

I thought that the bible was recording things that happened, things that God did, and from those accounts we can draw conclusions about spiritual and moral topics. But apparently, the writers started with their ideas about what God is like and who we are, and embellished history (or made stuff up) so that their ideas could be seen in the stories.

Rather than being a collection of spiritual teachings with facts and evidence to back them up, the bible apparently starts with the writers' opinions and goals, and builds a world based on them.

The writers' opinions. So who were these writers? Just some people living in the Middle East a few thousand years ago. Umm, so why would I care about their opinions? What makes their writing unique and worth reading? How is this different/more special than any other ancient religion? What's the point?

Maybe I'm going too far. A lot of the bible stories actually did happen, or at least are based on real things that happened. But how do we separate out which are real and which are made up? (Actually, I bet Enns would argue that trying to separate them like this totally misses the point. And that the term "made up" is not really a good descriptor here.)

What the heck is my religion? Just something I feel should be true about God? Just a story that resonates with me and gives me hope, but doesn't come with any proof or any way to show obvious superiority over other religions?

I thought the bible was the evidence, but apparently that's not what the writers intended it to be. I'm not sure what to do with that.

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Discussion questions:

Have you ever explained away a supposed "bible contradiction" in a way that totally missed the point of the story?

The bible is the best-selling book of all time. Is that because there truly is something unique about it that sets it apart from other books? Would it still have that uniqueness if the stories aren't true?

How much "making stuff up" can you tolerate before the whole religion is baseless? Personally, I agree with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, when he said, "If Christ has not been raised, we're all screwed." [slight paraphrase] For everything else (the most important being Jesus' miracles), it better be true or somebody better give me a really good explanation of why it was okay to write stuff that didn't really happen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blogaround

"for any of you having an awful day, here's a kitty adorably failing to look vicious." Image source.
1. In China, a church-state showdown of biblical proportions (posted January 11) "Many Chinese no longer accept the idea that being Christian means forfeiting a Chinese identity."

2. On Purity Pledges: I Ate Cheesecake, And I Liked It (posted December 7) "Kids are being asked to make decisions about their bodies, their sexuality, and their relationships, long before they have even the faintest notion of what it’s like to be even want to date someone, let alone develop a relationship with them and want to have sex with them."

3. The Astronomically Correct “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” Is Fun and Factual (posted January 9) "Lightyears out from here to there / your light's distorted by the air."

4. One Tweet Shows the Hypocrisy of America's Reaction to White People Rioting at Ohio State (posted January 13) "If this had been a black majority, can we honestly say the rampant fires, stadium break-in and goal post destruction would be have been treated as celebratory revelry?"

5. "Jesus loves me" in Mandarin Chinese:



6. 10 Questions About Why Ableist Language Matters, Answered (posted November 2014) "You see something wrong? Compare it to a disabled body or mind. Paralyzed. Lame. Crippled. Schizophrenic. Diseased. Sick."

7. A Better Way to Talk About Adoption (posted January 14) "I feel that if I allow myself to think of anything else beyond what has happened, such as being adopted into another family or even staying in China, that that could not have been God’s best for me. That somehow my birth parents had no value in God’s eyes because God didn’t provide them the means or ability to keep me, since I was 'meant' to be in the family I am in now."

8. "I think we should 'eat somewhere else'..." Image source.


9. LGBTQ Christians: Hope for the Unseen (posted January 16) "People like you don’t exist."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So Who's Biased?

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In this post, Bob Jones University’s Reported Attitude Toward Assault Reflects Fundamentalist Theology, Dianna Anderson presents the idea that shame is a foundational component of purity culture (and of evangelical Christianity in general). She writes:
Ingrained in its evangelical DNA is a belief in shame as an essentially positive thing, which manifests in its reportedly condemnatory attitude toward survivors of sexual abuse and violence as well as those who engage in consensual sex.

...

Engaging in sexuality in unapproved-of ways—as in, anything but heterosexual intercourse within a marriage—is considered a descent into sin. And so, after such a failure, shame is regarded by proponents of purity as good: It is God “convicting” us of our sin, and in turn, God prompting us through negative feelings to turn back toward God’s love and grace.
And that is why I did not recognize that crying whenever I'm alone and constantly feeling like I'm a bad person is not a normal and reasonable thing. Like, of course I feel like I'm a bad person- I am a bad person. I do impure things with my boyfriend.

I felt awful, which meant my conscience was working as it should. Right?

But, as I said in the previous post, Let me tell you about my "God-shaped hole", I eventually realized that no, this is not normal and right and good, this is depression and let's get treatment for that. For the past several months, I've been talking to a therapist, which is really helping.

Or, Perfect Number went to find a doctor who would tell her it's okay to have sex. So she could deaden her conscience.

Right?

From my doctor's perspective, there's nothing wrong with anything I'm doing with my boyfriend. Statistics show that most Americans start having sex way younger than I am now. (Though this isn't even about sex, it's about all the other things that are definitely dirty and impure but not past that line. And actually it's not even about that, it's about the fact that I don't trust myself to be able to make my own decisions.) So he wants me to think about why I feel shame, and why I believe the things I do about sex/dating, and is there actually any evidence for it. And I'm getting better. I'm not depressed anymore.

But according to purity culture, that's not the right approach at all. Clearly, the problem here is my sin. And the fact that I have a background in purity culture and I know very clearly that this definitely IS a sin makes it that much worse. This is willful defiance against God.

Obviously, from the perspective of purity culture, there is one clear solution to my depression. Repent of my sin, and go back to God. Quit living with my sweetheart, maybe even break up with him. Obviously, the problem here is that I've broken my relationship with God, and the only solution is to repent. All of this "going to therapy" stuff is just a distraction; at best, it will delay my returning to God and experiencing true healing, at worst, the therapy will work so well that I'll come to actually believe there is nothing wrong with having sex outside of marriage, and of course everything in my life will go to hell as a result.

How dangerous for me to be trusting a worldly doctor who is so biased, right?

And that's the problem. We have here 2 completely opposite ideologies- how can we determine which one is reasonable and which is biased? Each looks unbelievably extreme and dangerous from the other's perspective.

How can we know?

How about from seeing the actual real-world effects of these competing ideologies?

The fact is, in modern American culture, most people have sex outside of marriage. That's normal. And it seems that clinging to a belief that premarital sex is absolutely infinitely bad (that's what "sin" means, yes?) causes things like shame, fear, and depression for a lot of women.

It looks like believing in purity culture adds to one's problems, rather than solving them.

Let's suppose we do a lot of research and find this conclusion is true. Still, supporters of purity culture could argue that the problems caused by purity culture were actually a result of understanding it incorrectly. (This is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.) No no, if you were following it right, you wouldn't have that shame and fear. Yeah. Okay. Sure.

Or they may argue that deep in their hearts, those who have "lost" their "purity" have such dark and wide-reaching problems that they don't even realize people weren't meant to live that way. So it wouldn't have shown up in the survey results.

If all else fails, they could claim that those who don't follow purity culture are on their way to hell. Sure, you think your life is fine, but you've chosen sex over God. Maybe you live your whole life thinking this is normal, and then you go to hell. Conveniently, this is impossible to prove or disprove.

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So which side is "biased"? It's impossible to prove, so maybe I'll always have this little bit of doubt- "maybe by rejecting purity culture and rejecting abstinence, I actually am rejecting God." Overall though, it seems to me that "yeah sex is normal" is a much more reasonable view that's grounded in reality.

To believe otherwise is to say that shame is good and my depression is a blessing from God.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Let me tell you about my "God-shaped hole"

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I wrote this in October 2014. I'm ready to publish it now.

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Sometimes, when she's alone, she wants to run away.

This life, the person she's become, how is it possible?

To get up in the morning and go to work is a battle. On the bus, she wants to cry. And why? Because all she can think about is how she's become such a bad person. A bad person. So bad.

Perfect Number and her boyfriend are living together. And that reality, that label, over and over it hits her and beats her down. Living with one's boyfriend is bad. It's so bad.

Because, everyone knows, people who are living together are having sex. Except, she's never had sex with him. She's still terrified. She's done sexy things, but hasn't actually had actual sex. But who lives with who is a totally acceptable topic for small talk, and every time someone asks, "So are you here in China alone?" she wants to justify herself, she wants to explain in detail which sexual things she does or does not do with him, because saying "I live with my boyfriend" is the same as announcing to the world that she is having sex with him and is therefore a bad Christian and dirty person- but no, no, trying to clarify would just make it worse.

And here she is, in this perpetually sinful state of being- "living in sin." And she likes it. She loves him. But she feels that God can't love her any more.

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Yeah, you guys. That's what's going on. That's me.

And from a purity-culture perspective, it makes perfect sense. I disobeyed God. I did impure things. I'm unrepentant. Now I have so much guilt and I feel like I'm a bad person. Well of course.

According to purity culture, my feeling this way is right.

But when I wrote The God-Shaped Hole Sounds Like Depression To Me, it changed my mind. This is depression, and this is NOT the way it should be. I need to get treatment.

I always write about purity culture and how it's bullshit and I don't believe it anymore. But the problem is, I still do kind of believe it. I still believe I'm a bad person because of all the lines I've crossed with my boyfriend.

I'm dirty, and if I ever break up with him, my life will be ruined.

According to purity culture, this is a correct assessment of the situation. Yes, Perfect Number, you are dirty. Yes, you have done unspeakably sinful things. You feel terrible. Of course you feel terrible.

But I chose to go to the doctor and get treatment for depression instead.

I reject purity culture.

And this is me saying NO, it is not right and normal for me to feel like I'm a terrible person. NO, this is not because of a "God-shaped hole." NO, this is not the obvious result of living a sinful life.

I started going to a doctor that specializes in psychology (and was trained in the US). We talk about my problems every week. I will get better.

There is no "God-shaped hole."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blogaround

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1. The Parents (posted January 5) "We cannot condemn parents for not supporting their LGBT children without first asking them why they feel like they can’t, without first hearing the story of the father who told me, 'I felt like Abraham. I believed I was being tested to see if I was willing to sacrifice my son in obedience to God.'"

2. Jesus on the water board: a Christian responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report (posted December 12) "If you don’t see Jesus on the water boarding table; if you don’t get that it’s Jesus standing for hours in a dark room on a broken leg; if you don’t realize that it’s Jesus dying of hypothermia on a cold, urine-soaked floor, and if you don’t understand the ultimate target of the anal probe, you don’t grasp what happened on Good Friday and, just as significantly, you haven’t reckoned with our complicity in the extra judicial crucifixions outlined in the Senate Committee’s report."

3. Leelah Alcorn and Evangelical Storytelling (posted January 4) "Many evangelicals aware of Leelah’s suicide will likely believe that it was telling Leelah Alcorn that being transgender was natural and okay that was the problem—and that what Leelah needed was Jesus, Christian counseling, and fellowship with believers."

And a follow-up post: Putting the Chicken before the Egg: Evangelical Perspectives on LGBTQ Suicide (posted January 6) "These evangelicals place the blame for higher suicide rates and other negative outcomes on being gay (or transgender) rather than on bullying, discrimination, or lack of societal acceptance. And as a result, they also place blame on LGBTQ activists and support groups, as they 'promote' and 'encourage' that 'lifestyle.'"

4. Leelah Alcorn and What It Means to be Pro-Life (posted January 1) "The isolation, disregard, or flat-out rejection of LGBTQ people by Christians is in direct opposition to Jesus’ commandment to love one another, full stop."

5. Being a cop showed me just how racist and violent the police are. There’s only one fix. (posted December 6) "Cops routinely called anyone of color a 'thug,' whether they were the victim or just a bystander."

6. The new rules for black people in America (posted December 3) "Black people are supposed to fight to make it so that if we are strangled to death or our 12-year-olds are shot while unarmed in front of millions of viewers, it should be considered a violation of the law."

7. As families grieve, China manages public emotions (posted January 6) "She said many relatives believe their phones are being monitored and that they have come under pressure to cooperate with authorities."

8. 3 {other} things to say when the “R-word” comes to mind (posted January 6)

9. Please forgive me for the actions of extremists I have never met who commit acts of violence that I have never advocated (posted January 7) "My failure to promptly condemn Patrick Gray Sharp for specific actions I have previously condemned more generally cannot be excused just because the lawn needed mowing."

10. FBI looking for man regarding explosion near Colorado Springs NAACP office (posted January 7)

11. The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward, shy guys end up hating feminism (posted January 10) "Scott’s story is about things that happened inside his brain. Amy’s story is about actual things that were done to her by other people against her will, without her control."

12. It's not about the danger or difficulty of police work, it's about Respecting My Authority (posted January 3) "People don't talk about 'garbage collectors, risking their lives for us every day' -- even though it's true."

13. Stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism. It's bigoted and Islamophobic. (posted January 8) "The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise."
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