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Monday, July 25, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Definitely Not Complementarian

Two water molecules, with + and - signs indicating electric charge. Image source.
Chapter 9 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Beware When Opposites Attract." And wow, you guys. From beginning to end, this chapter screams "we are NOT complementarian", though it doesn't mention complementarianism or gender roles at all. Let's start at the beginning:

So, it's about the phenomenon of "opposites attract" in romantic relationships. In other words, if you lack certain strengths or abilities, you might be attracted to someone who has them. The writers, Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend, say this can often be a good thing. People who have different abilities can work together and help each other, and they're better off than if they tried to do everything on their own. But it can also become unhealthy:
We should use and appreciate the abilities of those who have what we don't. However, the danger occurs when we make opposing styles or abilities a basis for relationship.
At this point, all the complementarian readers gasped and dropped their books.

[For those who haven't heard of complementarianism: it's the belief that men and women are "different, but equal." God has created men to be strong and lead and protect their families, and women to be kind and nurturing and take care of children. So women should be limited to roles where they don't "have authority over men." I was taught that this is what "the bible says", so Christians are required to believe it. Many bloggers, including me, have pointed out that this is really messed-up and is NOT EQUAL AT ALL.]

Or, hmm. Actually, maybe all the complementarians didn't gasp and drop their books. If I had read that sentence- "the danger occurs when we make opposing styles or abilities a basis for relationship"- back when I believed in complementarianism, I wouldn't have read it as challenging complementarianism at all. I had never heard of Christians who didn't believe in complementarianism, and this is a Christian book, so OBVIOUSLY the authors aren't talking about "opposing styles or abilities" related to how the husband has to be the spiritual leader and the wife has to submit. I mean, OBVIOUSLY they're Christians, so they believe that. They must be talking about other opposite characteristics in relationships.

(It's also possible to totally misread the bible in this way. You're totally sure about "the biblical view" on topic XYZ, and then you read a bible verse that contradicts that "biblical view", but you never even realize it's a contradiction. Because you know of course the biblical writer believed "the biblical view" that you learned in church, so clearly they didn't mean to contradict it. They must have been talking about something else when they wrote that.)

But, for real. These writers are NOT complementarian. They are not. If they say they are, they're lying. Every single thing in this chapter goes against the very foundation of complementarianism. (And, to be clear, I agree with them and I very much believe complementarianism is evil.)

Anyway. "Boundaries in Dating" says it's a problem when "opposing styles or abilities" become "a basis for relationship." I submit [heh] to you that this describes complementarian ideology perfectly. Complementarians teach that in order for a romantic relationship to be good and healthy, the man must act in a certain "masculine" way and the woman must act in a certain "feminine" way. Complementarians differ in how they define those "masculine" and "feminine" roles- some say women MUST stay home and take care of their kids, while some say that it would be wrong ("legalistic") to define specific jobs or tasks that a woman MUST do or a man MUST do, but that whatever they are doing, a man must go about it with a more "masculine" attitude and a woman must take a more "feminine" approach. They teach that these differences in personality types and "roles" are absolutely essential. (And in this ideology, same-sex marriage makes no sense. Also, the existence of non-binary people.)

Let me tell you about one of the examples that "Boundaries in Dating" gives, showing that "opposites attract" can cause relationship problems. Lindsey didn't like confrontation or conflict, so she generally just let people walk all over her. Her boyfriend, Alex, was the opposite- he was assertive and able to stand up for himself. So, when she had a problem with someone, Lindsey would ask Alex to go talk to them for her. He talked to her landlord, her boss, her mechanic, and her mom, and was always able to solve Lindsey's problem. But eventually, Alex was unhappy that he always had to do this for Lindsey- they talked about it and realized that Lindsey really needed to learn how to stand up for herself. She was depending on Alex instead of developing her own character.

Then there's this veryyyyyyyyy interesting bit:
Lindsey's issue with Alex was fear-based. She was not an irresponsible person, but she had come from a family in which being polite, nice, and compliant were seen as virtues, while honesty, confrontation, and limit-setting were seen as selfish sins. She had grown up believing that telling the truth was hurtful, and she hated conflict. So she was terrified of dealing with problems with people.
Oh my goodness- they just came SO CLOSE to talking about the problem of "limit-setting" being seen as a "selfish sin." But nope, that's all they say about it. As I've said before, in the Christianity I learned, boundaries are DEFINITELY bad. You should always do more, give more, help people more. Love your enemeies. Put others first. It's wrong to care about yourself. And I'm frustrated with the fact that "Boundaries in Dating" does nothing to address that line of thinking. This book is FULL of healthy advice, but no good godly evangelical would be able to believe any of it. And in that bit I just quoted, where Lindsey had been raised to believe that having boundaries was sinful- I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR MORE ABOUT THIS. I would like to hear a detailed argument on why it's not true that Christians should always put others first and not care about their own mental health.

Because, yes, I now believe the boundaries are good and healthy. You shouldn't keep giving and giving and being nice to people who hurt you emotionally. You matter and your emotions matter, and God wants you to be emotionally healthy. But do you have any idea how much "Christian morality" I had to unlearn in order to get to this belief? "Boundaries in Dating" offers no help in unlearning that. It assumes that, by giving examples of how boundaries benefit you, and how a lack of boundaries hurts you, it is making a convincing argument that "you need to have boundaries." But for good evangelicals, no- all of that is meaningless. It doesn't matter if something benefits or hurts yourself. All that matters is putting God first. Dying to self. Submitting to God. Giving up your rights.

Ugh. Yeah. This book is full of really really good, healthy advice that everyone should know. But it would all be meaningless to someone who is reading this from deep within evangelical culture.

Okay. Let's move on. There's another example in this chapter I want to tell you about, because IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO LEARN ABOUT WHAT'S HEALTHY AND UNHEALTHY IN A RELATIONSHIP. It's about Kim and Pete. Kim had a hard time being social and making friends, but Pete was just the opposite. So when they were dating, they would go to social events together, and Kim found that she was much more comfortable making friends when Pete was there. Soon, she began to depend on him- she felt that she couldn't go to social events alone, she had to always follow Pete around. Then they both started to resent each other- Pete didn't like how he always had to manage her social life, and Kim didn't like her loss of freedom. Pete began treating her worse, because he figured she'd have to stick around anyway- she needed him. Kim put more and more energy into keeping Pete happy. It was like a parent-child relationship, which isn't healthy in a dating situation. Pete had more control- he knew she would have to go to the events he wanted, because she wasn't willing to go out alone. They were both unhappy. Eventually, Kim started to work on making friends on her own, and as she got more confident, she decided she didn't have to put up with the way Pete was treating her, and they broke up. This story shows the sort of problems that come from depending on your partner for something you really should be able to do yourself,

"Boundaries in Dating" goes on to talk about how dependency isn't necessarily a bad thing- but it's bad when we use another person's strength as an excuse not to develop ourselves. Which is interesting, because in complementarianism, they teach that there are certain skills or personality traits that women just can't have, or men just can't have. That's completely opposite from the teaching given by "Boundaries in Dating", which says that you shouldn't make excuses like that and rely on your partner instead of developing yourself.

And this makes me think about me and Hendrix. I'm really glad I'm reading this book, because I never really thought about relationships in these terms before- like there could be actual general patterns to know about what's healthy and unhealthy. Actually, thinking about dependency in our relationship, yeah there are times when we need to contact the landlord about some problem and suddenly I "can't speak Chinese very well" so I ask Hendrix to do it. Hmm. And Hendrix pays my cell phone bill online- I actually don't know how to do it myself. I could definitely figure it out though- I used to, back before we lived together. Maybe I'm too dependent on him in some ways (mostly related to our household responsibilities and paying bills- and maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing?). Usually, though, when I have a problem with people, I ask him for advice and we talk about it together and decide what I should say or do, and then I go do it. He doesn't do those things for me- instead, he gives me advice to help me learn how to do it myself. Which is really good.

Anyway, here's one more anti-complementarian bit I really liked from this chapter:
My father, who has been married for fifty years to my mother, is very different from her. He likes playing jazz piano in the background for her while she sings. He still talks about how she can light up a room with her presence, while he enjoys being in the background. What he is actually says, I think, is that she lights up not only the room, but also his own heart. And that is how opposites truly can attract: not as a basis for a relationship, but as a wonderful complement and addition to an already loving connection.
(It's kind of hilarious how this chapter uses the word "complement" over and over, while making no mention at all of complementarianism, or gender roles, or differences between men and women, or how women need to find a man who can be their "spiritual leader" and they shouldn't develop their own leadership abilities because that would "emasculate" him. Not a single word on any of that.)

In summary, a lot of good advice. But I don't think they realize how completely heretical they sound to all the good "godly gender roles" Christians.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: Loneliness isn't bad

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Blogaround

A screenshot from Pokemon Go showing a 3D representation of an eevee next to an actual real similar-looking dog. Image source.
1. Why it’s impossible to calculate the percentage of police shootings that are legitimate (posted July 14) "In truth, the only gun in Ellis’ home was a pellet gun, and the crime lab couldn’t even get it to fire. Yet for the purposes of data collection, Lori Jean Ellis would be listed as an armed suspect who fired a gun at police."

2. This Isn't Funny Anymore. American Democracy Is at Stake. (posted July 14) "And damn all members of the media who treat this dangerous fluke of a campaign as being in any way business as usual. Any support for He, Trump is, at this point, an act of moral cowardice. Anyone who supports him, or runs with him, or enables his victory, or even speaks well of him, is a traitor to the American idea."

3. Women are calling Donald Trump’s campaign to report on their periods (posted July 15) "Are you bleeding out of your wherever? Let @realDonaldTrump know!"

4. Catholic Bishop’s Advice For Divorced, Remarried Catholics: Stop Having Sex (posted July 7) "In addition to reminding divorced and remarried couples to live chastely, Philadelphia’s archdiocese also made it clear that these Catholics shouldn’t hold positions of responsibility in a parish, to avoid 'giving scandal or implying that Christ’s teaching can be set aside.'" Wow. Reminds me of something I read somewhere about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

5. Here’s the Problem With ‘You Can’t Love Someone Else Until You Love Yourself’ (posted March 28) "To tell a depressed person that they're incapable of loving someone because of their illness is harmful."

6. Government drones spray prairie dogs with M&Ms to help ferrets (posted July 13) Cool!

7. Pokemon Go helps people with anxiety, stress, and more! (posted July 13) "3 years of agoraphobia and it turns out all i needed to get me to leave the house was pokemon"

8. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, revised (posted July 15) "There was once a young black man, traveling alone."

9. Is Josh Harris Actually Taking Responsibility? (posted July 14) "It’s become all the rage for would-be hip pastors like Harris to denounce formulas. They deride any attempt to add rules to the word of God—that is, until some young Christian blogger points out that the New Testament is way more hung up on greed than it is on sex before marriage, and that maybe we should be focusing more on love than on how people use their private parts. And then, suddenly, these hip pastors are a-okay with standing up and shouting “NO NO NO THE BIBLE IS VERY CLEAR ON THAT” as though they aren’t, in fact, adding to the Bible by doing so. They’re all about not using formulas, except for, you know, their own formulas."

10. First responders and guns (cont’d.) (posted July 16) "No one has ever called the police saying, 'My relative is having a mental health crisis, I want you to come here and shoot them dead.'"

Also this: Subsidiarity: ‘Policing was never meant to solve all those problems’

11. Pokémon Go Could Be A Death Sentence For A Black Man (posted July 9) "I spent the other 14 minutes being distracted from the game by thoughts of the countless Black Men who have had the police called on them because they looked “suspicious” or wondering what a second amendment exercising individual might do if I walked past their window a 3rd or 4th time in search of a Jigglypuff."

12. You Aren't a Different Person When You Drink (posted June) [content note: rape] "We all know that the work I and they do in keeping safe when we go out is something of a charade. But we also know that if something does happen, if someone decides to rape them, we need to be able to tell the police that we were taking “all the precautions,” because those questions will come up. If, by some chance, the incident makes the media, we’ll have to defend ourselves against all kinds of accusations and “advice” about what we should have done."

13. Why Hispanics Are “White” on Surveys (and Other Things) (posted July 19) "This act restricted annual immigration from any given country to 2% of the number of foreign-born individuals from that country who had been living in the U.S. in 1890. Why 1890? Because before 1890 most immigrants were from northern and western Europe while after 1890 most immigrants were from southern and eastern Europe, and southern and eastern European immigrants were viewed as inferior by many Americans."

14. Creationist Ken Ham Caught Misleading People About Ark Encounter’s Attendance on Opening Day (posted July 15)

15. WATCH: Emotional First Trailer For Adam Nimoy’s ‘Spock’ Documentary (posted July 19)

16. Rewriting evangelicals’ past to preserve our mistakes (posted July 18) So, Christianity Today said that refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than arguments made for segregation back in the day, because those were just about racism and nobody thought of it as a religious or moral issue. And then everybody who knows anything about history was like LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Loneliness isn't bad

A silhouette showing a person sitting, with an empty chair beside them. Image source.
Chapter 8 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Don't Ruin a Friendship Out of Loneliness", and honestly, I don't really get this chapter. It's about the danger of "romanticizing a friendship" but I don't really understand what the authors mean by "romanticizing a friendship." But there is a lot of really good advice about psychology and healthy relationships in this chapter. Hooray!

First of all: What is "romanticizing a frienship"? It's trying to have a romantic relationship with someone who you should really be "just friends" with. But what I don't understand is why. Would you try to start an unhealthy romantic relationship with a friend because you think "we're so good together, logically we should date" even though you aren't actually attracted to them? (This seems to be the definition implied by the first story in this chapter, about Ellen and Ted, who were really good friends, and everyone told them they should totally date, and they tried for a little bit but "the romantic part of the connection simply did not exist" so they went back to being friends. But the rest of the examples in the chapter seem to be about actually having romantic feelings, not just "we're so good together, we should as least try" and then it's just awkward.) If that's the definition of "romanticizing a friendship" that we're working with, I can't really relate to it- in purity culture, dating was something to avoid as much as possible- I would never "try it out" just because it seemed like it could be good. (Err... well, it's more complicated than that in purity culture, actually. Having romantic feelings isn't necessarily seen as a prerequisite to having a romantic relationship. Maybe God told you you're going to marry that person, and if you're not attracted to them, TOO BAD.)

Or would you develop romantic attraction to a friend just because you're lonely? If that's the definition of "romanticizing a friendship", then isn't this the exact same thing we talked about in chapter 4, which was called "Dating Won't Cure a Lonely Heart"? Why are we talking about it again? It's the same situation. I guess in this case it's not just "getting into bad dating relationships because you're desperate and lonely", but "getting into bad dating relationships with a friend because you're desperate and lonely"... but that seems like pretty much the same problem to me.

So a bit confused about this, and therefore I'm not able to really pull out an overarching theme for this chapter. But let's look at some of the details. Here's an interesting bit:
In a struggling relationship, one person can develop romantic feelings for the other out of his own neediness. This neediness becomes "romanticized," that is, it disguises its true nature in romance. The person feels alive, driven, and motivated to be with the other. Yet the need is generally caused by some emptiness inside.
The authors go on to say that loneliness isn't necessarily bad. Humans need to connect with other humans, and loneliness is how "God has designed us" to feel our need for that connection. But, since loneliness is painful, sometimes it's easier to deny it, in which case those emotions manifest in other ways:
As a result, lonely people may not feel like lonely people should, which is lonely. However, they may feel other things instead, such as irritation, depression, addictive drives, and romantic cravings. There are often far more acceptable and tolerable. The problem is, however, that acting on these "false" feelings does not meet the real needs for compassion, care, and comfort.
Hmm, now this has me wondering: could loneliness disguise itself as spiritual hunger? What if someone is lonely because they don't have close enough connections with other people, but they see their problem as "I need to get closer to God", and work on that in the way that evangelicals do, which is by being alone and praying, being alone and reading the bible, etc. (Which, I've said before, is pretty weird, because God is everywhere, right? God is impossible to avoid. Why do "spending time with God" and "getting closer to God" mean only those very specific, individual, religious acitivities?) Coming from a Christian culture where the answer to EVERY emotional problem is "you need to pray more", I can totally see how feeling a need for human connection could be misinterpreted as "needing God", which, as I said, means you need to spend more time alone doing spiritual-looking things. (I, however, believe that you can "get closer to God" by forming deep friendships with other people. People bear God's image. That's kind of how it works.)

Next, there's a section about "Often, those who romanticize their friends have a history of not being able to safely and deeply connect to the same sex." And I am very confused about what they're trying to say in this section. I know they're working from the assumption that everyone is straight, but... does that mean they're using "same sex" as shorthand for "the set of people where you find your closest, deepest platonic friends" and "opposite sex" as "the set of people where you find romantic partners"? Are they assuming that one's best platonic friends are supposed to be the same sex? But that assumption doesn't make sense- isn't this whole chapter about how you can have good, deep, healthy friendships with members of the opposite sex, with no romance involved? It doesn't seem like they could make that claim and then also believe that your best friends have to be the same sex as you. Maybe they're trying to say that if you don't have good, healthy friendships, then you're more likely to get into bad romantic relationships out of loneliness, which they've said previously in this book, and really makes sense and is something everyone should learn about. But I don't see how that relates to not connecting with the same sex. Even if we assume everyone is straight, I still don't get how it relates.

But the next part is really good:
Related to this is the problem of thinking that romance is the highest form of friendship. Many people who are "into" romance (watch out for anyone who tells you that!) feel that friendship is a grade lower than romance. Thus, they will attempt to develop romantic feelings with someone that they are friends with, believing they are taking the friendship to a better and deeper level. ...

Romantic relationships are not better than friendships. They are different and meet different needs. Do not get caught in the idea that you are missing out by keeping your friend as "only" your friend.
YES. YES. And also, go tell that to all the church people who think that married people are at a higher level (morally, spiritually, in terms of maturity, whatever) than single people.

Next, it talks about relationships where one person is the "rescuer" or "caretaker", and how this is romanticized. For example, "the man who has been wounded by so many women" and "the woman who believes that her love can repair that hurt man." "Boundaries in Dating" says this kind of relationship is not healthy, because if you're acting like a parent and child, well eventually that child needs to grow up.

I think it's really interesting that they talk about this, because yes definitely that is an unhealthy dynamic, and people need to know about it. But, isn't the parent-child romantic relationship sort of what complementarianism is about? The man is supposed to protect the woman, provide for her, earn most of the money, etc. Many bloggers have talked about how complementarianism "infantalizes" women. And yeah, as "Boundaries in Dating" says, that's not a good thing.

The last thing I'd like to show y'all is this table that compares "healthy romance" and "romanticized friendship." Like I said, I don't really get what "romanticized friendship" is supposed to mean, but the heading that would make sense on this table is "unhealthy romantic relationship driven by neediness."

Healthy RomanceRomanticized Friendship
Desire is based on first being rooted in love elsewhere. Desire is based on empty neediness for the other person.
Other's freedom is valued. Other's freedom is a problem.
Relationship draws in friends. Relationship shuts others out.
Conflicts work out okay. Conflicts threaten the relationship.
Mutual feelings. One person feels romantic, the other doesn't.
Friendship and romantic feelings coexist. All-friend or all-romantic feelings; can't be both at the same time.

Yes. This is really really important, and it's a way of conceptualizing relationships that I've never thought about before. Err, I guess I've heard people talk about how this or that dynamic is unhealthy, but I've never thought about how to generalize it and lay it out so clearly like this.

I wish I had learned this stuff about healthy and unhealthy relationships before. I don't know if it's because Asperger's makes me generally oblivious to the rules of social interaction, or if it's because our culture in general doesn't do a good job of teaching what's healthy and unhealthy. Maybe both. Oh yeah, and purity culture. In purity culture, if God told you to date this person, and you keep the purity rules, then your relationship is good and right. If not, then it's terrible. None of this stuff about dependence, and romantic feelings that come from loneliness, and needing to be able to connect with friends so you don't try to get those needs met in unhealthy ways.

I won't do my whole "but for real, how is this a Christian book?" rant this week. I'll just tell you the stats: This chapter is 12 pages long. The word "God" appears 8 times. There is 1 bible verse.

In summary: I'm still not sure about the overall theme of this chapter, but it does have a lot of really really healthy advice. I wish I knew this stuff about relationships and loneliness and dependency and friendship a long time ago.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: This psychology stuff is all new to me

Next post: Definitely Not Complementarian

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Blogaround

#AllLivesMatter in biblical times. Images shows Jesus preaching "Blessed are you who are poor..." and someone interrupts with "Blessed are we all, Jesus!" Image source.
1. More Second-Trimester Abortions Occurred Under Texas Law: Exclusive (posted July 6) "Texas passed its 2013 omnibus abortion bill in the name of protecting women's health — a rationale roundly rejected by the Supreme Court last month. Now, newly released data shows the law may have actually had the opposite effect, putting women at greater risk by increasing the number of later abortions."

2. What is Asexuality? This is a massive list of links for information about asexuality. My favorite are the "An Asexual's Guide To ..." posts because they actually like, explained SO MUCH about what sex is, instead of assuming we're all supposed to just naturally understand it. And those posts are so incredibly affirming of bodily autonomy- they talk about sex and masturbation like "here's how to do it, but you don't have to do it that way, some people like other ways, and if you don't like it at all then there's no reason you 'have to' do it."

3. thy word is a lamp unto my feet (posted July 6) "I still don’t know what other Christians experience when they say they hear God’s voice."

4. Dallas police used a robot to kill a gunman, a new tactic that raises ethical questions (posted July 8) I work in robotics, and yeah, there are ethical questions.

5. The Bahamas Just Issued A Travel Advisory For The U.S., Citing Police Violence (posted July 9)

6. The inspiring way hundreds of Asian Americans are teaching their families about Black Lives Matter (posted July 8) "It was a letter explaining why black lives mattered, too — drawing Asians to the side of another racial group whose decades-long struggle for rights and recognition has directly benefited people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese descent, along with many other ethnicities." Wow, this is amazing. English (US) version here. Chinese version here.

7. The Legacy of Diamond Reynolds’ Video (posted July 8) "What is new is that a story that might once have been easily ignored is now forcefully pushed onto the front page by the democratic power of video—and, in particular, live video."

8. Former Evangelical Pastor Rethinks His Approach To Courtship (posted July 10) Joshua Harris on NPR.

9. Scenes from Ark Encounter’s Opening Day (Inside the Ark) (posted July 7) Answers in Genesis has built a full-size ark. The Friendly Atheist blog takes you inside.

10. Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong. (posted 2015)

11. The Psalms and the word of God (posted July 11) "Or, rather, it would be a beautiful, moving, heartfelt hymn of praise if it hadn’t been the product of “plenary verbal inspiration.” But if we read that assuming that every word of it was chosen and determined by God — by the very same God who is the apparent subject of all that praise and adoration — then it just becomes something weird and kind of creepy."

12. Holocaust Museum to visitors: Please stop catching Pokemon here (posted July 12)

13. Log Cabin Republicans: Party passes ‘most anti-LGBT platform’ in GOP history (posted July 12) "Opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of “pray the gay away” — it’s all in there."

14. what does it take to be a Christian? (posted July 13) "To my childhood self– and to many others– the above paragraph is heresy. I’d toss it out, and the rest of this blog, wholesale on that paragraph alone."

15. What the Ark Encounter Reveals about Science, the Bible, and Entertainment (posted July 12) "In some sense, Ham approaches the pre-flood society with a sort of science fiction perspective—anything could have existed, and in some sense, everything did (think dinosaurs)."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What do you mean by "sexual immorality"?

Jasmine and her father. (From "Aladdin.") Image source.
Here's a really good post from Love, Joy, Feminism: Virginia Reforms Troglodyte Marriage Law. I'd like to point out one bit in particular:
We’ve discussed child marriage in this space before, usually in the context of the Christian homeschooling movement. When looking at legislation like Virginia’s, it’s perhaps worth remembering that there are some religious leaders and groups explicitly promoting early marriage as a way to guard against sexual immorality. [emphasis mine] While most of these marriages likely involve children who are 16 or 17, and not 13, 14, or 15, any marriages that involve children younger than 18 curtail young people’s ability to make their own decisions separate from their parents. These marriages can lock young people in to a specific life trajectory before they are old enough to legally leave home without parental permission.
Look at that term there, "sexual immorality." In this context, we are supposed to understand that it means "unmarried sex." (The writer of the blog post, Libby Anne, doesn't believe there's anything intrinsically immoral about having sex outside of marriage- and neither do I- she is just using the language that purity-culture Christians use.)

But seriously, think about this. Promoters of purity culture describe any and all sex outside of marriage as "sexual immorality." Do they believe that pressuring children into marriage is "sexual immorality"? Why, no, they don't.

To be clear, in reality most purity-culture advocates do NOT believe it's generally good for teenagers to get married- that's too young. But if you look at the logic of purity culture, it's hard to really make an argument against teenagers (who legally count as children before the age of 18) getting married. In purity land, THE most important thing is don't have sex if you're not married. This is the foundational doctrine of purity culture, the rationale behind everything else. Yes, people who live in reality have an intuitive sense that it's not really a good idea to enter into a legal arrangement which will affect you for the rest of your life if you're too young/inexperienced to really understand and make that decision. So you get a lot of people who, though they believe in purity culture, would say teenagers shouldn't get married. But there's nothing in purity culture to support that view.

And because purity culture believes that inexperience is the best way to guarantee a healthy and happy marriage (that's what "purity" means- being inexperienced in terms of sex and romantic relationships), the best case scenario is you marry the first person you ever have a crush on. Really.

Back when I was in purity culture, I remember every now and then there would be articles in Christian magazines about "hey, why DON'T we push kids to get married young?" And the biggest reason they gave was, of course, so they don't have sex outside of marriage. I would say that, though most people in purity culture don't agree with this, it's seen as an understandable position to hold.

In other words, pressuring children to make decisions about marriage is NOT seen as an example of "sexual immorality." And that should make you question the entire concept of "sexual immorality."

Look at that sentence again: "promoting early marriage as a way to guard against sexual immorality." How on earth does that make any sense? Why would it be "sexual immorality" for two teenagers to have consensual sex, but not "sexual immorality" for adults to teach teenagers that they need to make decisions about marriage before they can have sex?

Or, how is it not "sexual immorality" when promoters of purity culture tell children disgusting lies like "your virginity is the most precious gift you can give your husband" or "every time you have a crush, you lose part of your heart that you can never get back"? How is it not "sexual immorality" to teach kids that having sex outside of marriage is a horrible sin that will haunt you for the rest of your life, while not teaching them anything about the consequences of rushing into marriage with a partner who's not good for you? Why, in purity land, does "sexual immorality" mean "unmarried sex" rather than "doing something immoral, that relates to sex"?

And that's how they read the bible too. Ask them "does the bible say that premarital sex is a sin?" and they will pull out SO MANY bible verses that include the phrase "sexual immorality", expecting everyone to just accept that, by using that term, these verses are prohibiting all sex outside of one-man-one-woman marriage.

What a strange way to read the bible.

Let me show you another post from Libby Anne's blog, which answers these questions. A Tale of Two Boxes was written in 2012, and you must read it if you want to understand why conservative Christians and feminists have such a hard time communicating with each other about sexual ethics. Basically, the idea is that conservative Christians (which I also call purity-culture Christians) categorize sexual acts as sinful or not based on their understanding of what God allows and forbids, according to the bible. (Or rather, according to an interpretation of the bible very much influenced by patriarchy and treating women like objects, but we won't go into that right now.) They believe God told us which things are sinful and which are not, and God knows best- we don't necessarily need to know the reasons why, we just have to obey God. (Yes, you can make arguments about why God would allow or forbid something, about how those commands can benefit us, but that was never the point. Even if we don't see any good reason for following those commands, we still have to do it, because God said.)

In other words, premarital sex is in the "sinful" box, so that's why it's "sexual immorality." (Does the bible say it's a sin? Why of course, look at all these verses about "sexual immorality", they OBVIOUSLY meant premarital sex. Yeah, this is called a circular argument, folks.) How about teaching kids it would be a good idea to get married while they're super young and inexperienced? Well, let's check. Nope, it's not in the "sinful" box, and actually, it would prevent kids from having sex outside of marriage. (They're still having the same amount of sex, but if they have the correct legal paper, suddenly it's not sinful.) Therefore, pressuring kids into early marriage is totally not "sexual immorality."

Ugh. Yeah.

The point is, if you ever hear someone use the term "sexual immorality" to mean "people having consensual sex in ways that my version of God doesn't approve of", don't take seriously anything they have to say about sex or immorality. Because that is a very bizarre definition.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: This psychology stuff is all new to me

Riley's imaginary boyfriend, from "Inside Out." He says, "I would DIE for Riley!" Image source.
Chapter 7 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Don't Fall in Love with Someone You Wouldn't Be Friends With", and it's about the problem of being attracted to the wrong kind of people- people with bad character, people who are physically or romantically attractive but there's no deeper relationship. The authors say they have met so many people who claim there are "two types" of men (or women) in the world: the ones who are attractive but totally shallow and terrible, and the ones that are great friends but there's just no chemistry.

The authors talk about one time they were hosting a radio show, and a caller told them she had observed there were definitely "two types" of men in the world. They told her, "Maybe you are attracted to shallow or destructive guys for a reason. And maybe you block those feelings of attraction for the good ones?"

Wow. This is mind-blowing to me. I always thought that who you're attracted to is innate, beyond your control, and impossible to explain. From a short-term point of view, yes, if I'm attracted to someone, that comes from somewhere deep inside and I can't control that. (I'll just speak for myself here- I don't know if other people's experiences are the same.) But, according to "Boundaries in Dating", if you look at long-term patterns and the experiences that have shaped you emotionally, you will be able to figure out why you are drawn to bad people, and take steps to become more healthy so that you won't have that problem in the future.

And, now that I think about it, if I'm attracted to a guy, it's not just because of his appearance- sometimes a guy says or does things and I'm like "wow that's hot." Or a good-looking guy says or does something that's a really bad idea, and suddenly he's not at all attractive to me. So yeah, I guess it isn't just some unquantifiable "chemistry"- it's based on what sort of personality type I fantasize about. Even if my more rational side knows that that personality type would actually be bad in a relationship, that's still what I'm attracted to, on that deep impossible-to-control level.

(For the record, it feels weird writing about this, being engaged and all- I'm not looking for potential romantic partners, and it's been a long time since I've thought about what kind of person I'm attracted to.)

"Boundaries in Dating" goes on to discuss several possible reasons for being attracted to people who are bad for you. The first is "unresolved family-of-origin issues"- for example, a woman might get into unhealthy relationships that mirror the unhealthy relationship she had with her father. The next is "unintegrated parts of yourself", and I think this one is really interesting. Basically they're saying that, if you can't come to terms with a particular part of your personality, you might be drawn to a partner who possesses those qualities in the extreme. Like the "good girl" who falls in love with the "bad boy"- it's because she was never able to accept the parts of herself that weren't "good." On some level, she wishes she could be more "bad", so she's attracted to a person who is. "Boundaries in Dating" says, "The resolution for this is to become neither 'good' nor 'bad,' in a split way, but real, with both good and bad parts."

Like I said, wow. Wow. This stuff- I never knew about any of this psychology stuff before. I'm really glad I'm reading this book! It's amazing to think that there could be actual reasons for the way that people feel.

Yes, I have heard people talk about "I figured out the reason I think/feel/respond in this way is because of these specific past experiences and how they affected me emotionally" (sometimes in an evangelical giving-your-testimony setting). And I've come to similar realizations about my own psychology- like how one of my phobias is very much linked to the idea of not being able to trust people, and all the past experiences where a particular object was involved in a situation where I couldn't trust people, and that's the reason I'm so afraid of the object.

I've heard these types of stories before, but I thought they were unique, like we were pioneers of psychology, the first ones to find explanations in our pasts. I never imagined that it could just be true in general: unhealthy psychological patterns come from the emotional effects of previous experiences and relationships.

Wow. And I won't even blame the church for my cluelessness on this- American culture in general knows nothing about psychology.

However, the church did teach me there are a few situations where one's past experiences affect them psychologically FOREVER. Here they are:
  1. If you're gay/lesbian/bisexual, it must be because you didn't have a close relationship with your same-gender parent when you were growing up.
  2. Girls always end up with a man who's similar to their father. You guys, I remember a long time ago, I read a blog post where the writer was unhappy with a post she'd seen on facebook, about how girls with good fathers have high standards because they know what it's like to have a man treat them well- this blogger was very much NOT OKAY with the idea that a woman is fated to have either good or bad romantic relationships based on her father. And I was SO CONFUSED when I read that post, because I thought it was just a true statement: Women end up in relationships with men who are like their fathers. That's just the way it is. It was baffling to me that anyone would argue that a basic rule of the universe was sexist. (LOL that was back when I had just become a feminist- I have since learned that many things presented as "a basic rule of the universe" are actually misogynist crap.)
  3. If a girl has sex, then she'll believe she's worthless, so she'll end up having sex with anyone and everyone because she'll think it doesn't matter.
But there's an important difference between the "you feel this way because of your past" in the above church teachings and in this chapter of "Boundaries in Dating." The ones I was taught in church were much more, umm, ominous. Like you've been affected by the way you grew up, or mistakes you made about sex, and you're doomed. You'll never be healed. But in "Boundaries in Dating", these writers are psychologists. Their job is to help people get better. They believe, if you really want to overcome these issues, it's totally possible. You can do it! There is hope! (And once again, nothing in this chapter about praying and God helping you overcome these problems. What the hell kind of Christian book is this?)

AND OKAY we just gotta say something about reparative therapy here. The whole "you can work on it and change what kind of people you're attracted to", plus the fact that I just mentioned the whole "parents, you ruined your kid by not hugging them enough, now they're gay"- yeah, can't not mention reparative therapy here. So. That's not what this chapter is about, at all. It's about how to get out of a pattern where you're drawn to unhealthy relationships- but there's nothing intrinsically unhealthy about having a same-sex relationship. Reparative therapy, which tries to make people straight, is abusive, causes psychological trauma, and doesn't work. (This is all coming from Perfect Number- the book "Boundaries in Dating" is 100% heteronormative, unfortunately. But it doesn't say a word about reparative therapy in this chapter, that's not what it's talking about when it tells you how to change the type of person you're attracted to.)

Just a couple more things I'd like to point out about chapter 7 here. Check out this part:
If you spend a lot of time with a growing relationship and never feel any passion or sexual attraction, then either something is wrong or this person really is someone that you should keep in the "friend" category.
Hmm. Hmmmmmm. So you should feel sexually attracted to someone, if you're becoming more committed and maybe heading toward marriage. (Note: if people want to be in a committed/marriage relationship but not have sex, for whatever reason, like maybe they're asexual, that's okay too- though "Boundaries in Dating" says it's not.) When I was in purity culture, I heard advice like this, but it was hard to know what to do with it. Lust was a sin- and any "sexual thoughts" were lust- but at the same time, we were advised that something was terribly wrong if we were planning to marry someone we weren't sexually attracted to. Soooo... how's that supposed to work? I'm interested to know if the "Boundaries in Dating" writers have a view of sexuality where this advice actually makes sense. (Well, we already know it doesn't include asexual people- but other than that, maybe it makes sense?)

Also, this: in one story in this chapter about a woman who falls for the wrong guys, the woman says, "Well, there is a lot of romance and that kind of thing. Not that we are sleeping together, but a lot of physicality in the relationship. And I have a lot of 'falling in love' feelings. But there is not a lot more than that when I really look at it." Hmm. I really think that "not that we are sleeping together" bit was put in there so that the good Christians reading this book wouldn't be nervous. Don't worry, it's okay, they're not- gasp!- having sex. But I don't know what "physicality" is supposed to mean, then. In purity culture, any skin-to-skin contact with a romantic partner is a big huge deal, "a lot of physicality", which must be prayed about extensively, and have clear rules set before it happens. I'm curious about where the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" draw "the line."

Because, they don't comment at all on the "physicality" here. It's just used as an example of what it looks like to fall for someone who's not good for you. It's just here to emphasize the unbalanced nature of the relationship, how it's actually very shallow but the woman has a lot of romantic feelings. There is NOT ONE SINGLE WORD of judgment about how, if you get into that kind of relationship, you're ruining your purity, and you should feel bad for how you're hurting God and your future husband.

Seemingly, the writers of "Boundaries in Dating" don't have any problem with "physicality" in a relationship, as long as you're not having sex- even if that relationship is a shallow one that won't last. They believe it's an unhealthy situation because the woman is attracted to a man who is not good for her, NOT because she's losing her purity. This is... wow. The "physicality" stuff is not commented on at all. All they care about is her emotional health, and trying to help her recognize the pattern so she can work to change it and not make the same mistakes again. No shame, no "now you're not good enough for a godly husband."

That's so healthy. I'm shocked.

And one more interesting bit:
Whatever the issue, there are countless people who have denied parts of themselves and are drawn to problematic situations as an attempt to work out those issues. As Proverbs 4:23 says: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Whatever is in your heart is what you are going to find yourself dealing with, in one way or another. Guard your heart and make it healthy so you will not be attracted to the wrong kinds of people.
WHAT.

What. WUT.

HOLY CRAP, an interpretation of Proverbs 4:23 that's not "don't let any boys in, don't let yourself have feelings of attraction." Because, yeah, in purity culture, that's what it meant. "Guard your heart" means "you should be really really worried whenever you have a crush, because if you get too emotionally attached, you will lose a piece of your heart and you can never get it back." "Guard your heart" was all about NOT feeling your emotions, NOT being honest about who you are and how you feel, shutting down all parts of you that are related to sexual or romantic desire. It's astonishing to read that "Boundaries in Dating" interprets this verse in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT way. Apparently, in this book, "guard your heart" means you should examine how you feel, you should be honest with yourself, be a healthy person who's not denying any part of their identity.

I'm shocked, I'm just totally shocked. It's like... do these writers not know what "guard your heart" means to all the good girls who grew up in purity culture? They think their interpretation is fairly obvious and straightforward, requiring only 3 sentences of explanation? I mean, yeah obviously they don't know, right? They don't know how completely revolutionary this all sounds to me- and how completely unintelligible it would read to someone who is currently in purity culture.

Wow.

All right that's basically everything I have to say about what's in this chapter. Now let's talk about what's not in this chapter.

Nothing about praying. Nothing about asking God to help you change. Nothing about it being sinful to get into unhealthy relationships. Nothing about purity. Nothing about future consquences that will haunt you, even if you do eventually find a good partner and get married; instead, the concern is for people's present- right now you are drawn to unhealthy relationships, and that's bad for you right now, but in the future you can change and be totally over it.

All of the (incredibly good and healthy) advice in this chapter comes from the writers' psychology expertise. It's not based in Christianity. They threw in a couple bible verses, but just as an "oh by the way, the bible also says the same advice we're giving here, look at this verse, which we will pretend says the exact same thing we just said." Like, why does this have to be a Christian book? Honestly, it's really not. They should just remove all the bible verses, all the Christianese words like "discipleship." They would not have to change anything else- the book doesn't rely on those things at all (with the exception of chapter 3[]). I can't understand why this is a "Christian book." It's just good, solid relationship advice, with a couple bible verses thrown on top, unnecessarily.

Is it because Christians are suspicious of psychology, so they're purposely dressing it up with bible verses to give it more cred with a churchy audience? But if you're the type of Christian who's suspicious of psychology, you're also the type of Christian who will see right through the whole "this is totally a Christian book, see, it has BIBLE VERSES" thing.

Ugh. I don't know what to even do with this book. I'm really glad I'm reading it- like I said, the stuff in this chapter about how there are reasons for the way we feel is really eye-opening to me. I want to learn more about psychology. But, like I've said so many times in this book review series, I really have no idea what sort of Christianity this is supposed to be.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: Preferences and Red Flags

Next post: Loneliness isn't bad

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Blogaround

An adorable fluffy white kitten stares at you. Image source.
1. Praying Through The Saints (posted July 1) "For a long time I thought this was true; that Catholics prayed to the saints, but it’s not true."

2. Conservatives Suddenly Discover a Right to Privacy (posted July 1) "For more than 50 years now, the right wing has raged against the idea that there is any such thing as a right to privacy in the Constitution."

3. A note on The Toast (posted July 1) Hillary Clinton wrote a post for The Toast. Cool!

4. Who Blames the Victim? (posted June 24) "Proponents of individualizing values tend to see a dyad of victim and perpetrator (a victim is hurt, a perpetrator does the hurting). Proponents of binding values, however, may see behaviors as immoral even when there is no obvious victim — for example, the “impure” act of premarital sex or the “disloyal” act of flag burning — and may even feel that doing the right thing sometimes requires hurting others (as with honor killings, to pick an extreme example)."

5. This tweet:

6. The Anti-Abortion Movement’s Fetal Imaginings (posted June 30) "But we’re all clear that people don’t just go out and have third trimester abortions, right?"

7. This is why we have women-only spaces, and why I don't want to hear your complaints (posted May 24) "Despite being force-fed the narrative of danger that, for example, warns us against speaking to strange men lest we somehow give them the 'wrong impression', women are also demonised whenever we express concern or caution about being alone with men we don't know. To do so is to express the most violent of misandries against the innocent, unassuming gentlemen who would never, not in a million years, how dare you even suggest it you vile she-beast, ever do anything to harm a woman."

8. Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 87 (posted July 2)

9. Why Everyone In Aladdin Is Awful - Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder (posted June 27) "When Aladdin shows up at the palace in disguise, unannounced, uninvited, from a country that no one has ever heard of, the sultan, unlike just about any other dad on the planet, opens his home in the hopes that this stranger will hook up with his daughter."

10. After Settlement, Gay Users Will Finally Be Able to Use ChristianMingle.com (posted July 2)

11. Do Progressives Hate American History? (posted July 4) "Now yes, I’d known about slavery, and I’d known it was evil, but I hadn’t realized how deeply it was defended, or how little the Union soldiers and Northern whites I’d been taught to revere as liberators and heroes actually cared about slaves’ wellbeing. I hadn’t realized that our country was literally built on slavery, that the prosperity I’d been taught to admire in our early nation came fundamentally at the price of slaves’ sweat and tears."

12. WATCH: Sir Ian McKellen delivers an inspiring message to ShanghaiPRIDE (posted June 20) Hooray!

13. Everything Wrong With Fox’s ‘X-Men’ Billboard And The Media’s Response To It (posted June 6) "Those unfamiliar with the comics (read: most viewers driving or walking by the posters) didn’t see the culmination of a hard-fought battle between formidable Marvel mutants. They’d be unlikely to wonder if Mystique might give Apocalypse a run for his money before this image, or if she kicks his ass in some subsequent scene. Instead, they just saw a hulking, powerful male figure easily dominating a smaller, strangled female figure—with the reinforcing tagline, “Only the strong will survive.” And in a country where every day three or more women are murdered by their husbands and boyfriends, such copy strongly implies that she’s a goner."

14. 105 Trans Women On American TV: A History and Analysis (posted April 28)

15. The worst ISIS attack in days is the one the world probably cares least about (posted July 4) "For years now, we have become almost numb to the violence in Baghdad: Deadly car bombings there conjure up no hashtags, no Facebook profile pictures with the Iraqi flag, and no Western newspaper front pages of the victims' names and life stories, and they attract only muted global sympathy."

16. Video Shows Grisly Aftermath of Fatal Shooting of Black Man in Minnesota (posted July 7) Oh my god. #BlackLivesMatter

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bible Quizzing: Pretty Weird, But I'm Glad I Did It

Here's what bible quizzing looks like. Image source.
Back when I was in middle school and high school, I was on my church's bible quizzing team, and, you guys, I was awesome at it.

So what is bible quizzing, you ask. Well here's how it works: Every year, a different book [or group of books] of the bible is selected, and the quizzers (students in grades 6-12) study that. For example, one year we did the book of John. One year we did both Romans and James. Once a month there's a tournament, with many rounds of competition. Each round has 6 quizzers- either two teams of 3, or 6 people competing individually. The quizmaster is the adult who reads the questions and decides if the quizzers' answers are right or wrong. All the quizzers sit on electronic pads which are connected to a box with LEDs. The quizmaster reads the question, and then the quizzers all jump. The LEDs indicate who jumped first, and that person answers the question. If they get it wrong, the 2nd person gets a chance, etc.

There were several types of quiz seats- they all had the same function (sensing who jumped and in what order), but the technology might be different. The oldest ones were these huge, puffy, square pads we all hated. When I was a quizzer 10 years ago, the newest quiz seats were tiny little pads that allowed you to feel the *click* of the sensor under your butt, and stay completely motionless at exactly that position, right on the edge of triggering the sensor, until the moment you jumped. Those ones were niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice. Probably nowadays they have even better technology.

But what kind of questions would be asked in a quiz competition? Well that's where it starts getting a little weird. They were questions that were made directly from individual sentences in the bible. To get the question right, you just had to recite whatever that verse said- just memorize and parrot it back, you don't have to actually understand anything. For example, the beginning of the book of Hebrews says this: "In that past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe." So one possible question in a quiz tournament could be "How did God speak to our forefathers in the past?" and the answer would be "through the prophets, at many times and in various ways."

It's not really about actually answering the question- wow, imagine if you were trying to give a real answer to "How did God speak to our forefathers in the past?" The bible is full of answers to that question, and you'd have to sort of sum it up somehow, and different Christians would have different views on how to sum it up. But no, that's not what we do in quizzing. It's not about actually understanding and giving well-thought-out answers. It's about googling your brain to find where the exact phrase "in the past God spoke to our forefathers" appears, and then spitting out the rest of the sentence. (Lol, one time a pastor told me how it was so amazing we were studying Hebrews for bible quizzing, because it's such a hard book to understand, and I didn't get it- what's hard to understand? Jesus is our high priest. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. Just remember it and parrot it back. Nothing hard about that.)

Every question came directly from a specific verse- to write the questions and answers, all you would need is an understanding of how English grammar works when converting a statement to a question. And every single verse was equally important, equally likely to come up in the competition. Well, except the quote verses, which were more important. See, in addition to the regular questions (the ones I just explained) there were "quote questions" which required the quizzer to quote a verse, word-for-word, and give the reference for it. Every year, there were about 40 quotes that were selected out of the material we were studying. Verses like John 3:16, you know, the typical cross-stitch-it-on-a-pillow verses that Christians really like. (A quote might be one verse or two together.) For the quote questions, if you got a single word wrong, it was wrong. For regular questions, it was okay to have a few words wrong, but you at least had to have the basic idea. The quizmaster would judge if it was close enough.

It's pretty weird that, to do well in quizzing, you didn't have to actually understand anything (beyond a basic grasp of English grammar) or care what the bible passages meant. It's the kind of thing that a computer would be REALLY GOOD AT. Just find a specific word or phrase, in the whole book of Matthew or whatever, and recite the other half of the sentence it came from.

But really, if you're going to make the bible into a competition, it has to be this way. It has to be based on something that can immediately be judged as right or wrong. If you bring interpretation into it, how would that work? There are many different interpretations. How can you judge if they deserve points or not? So that's the way it worked: just the exact words of the bible, no interpretation, and all verses are equally important.

Maybe this was good, because it forced us to really learn what the bible actually said, and keep that separate from what Christian culture believes the bible says. (Though nobody really questioned the typical conservative Christian interpretations- we were aware that the bible didn't explicitly say that, but OBVIOUSLY that's what it meant.)

I guess this whole concept fits in well with certain evangelical assumptions about the bible. The bible is a magic book. Getting kids to read it is always a good thing. Memorizing the exact words is an intrinsically good thing. Every single word is valuable. Even if you don't totally understand them, God will somehow use them for good in your life. And also, the bible is a book of answers. It's not a book that raises tough questions that nobody has answers for.

(To be clear, though, the leaders of bible quizzing would VERY MUCH deny the idea that it's good to just recite the bible without understanding it. But that's how the competition was structured, so that's what we focused on the most in bible quizzing. Nobody wins trophies for grappling with deep concepts like atonement.)

And sometimes it was worse...

One year we studied 1-2 Corinthians, including that "women should be silent in church" passage, and we just memorized it and spit it back out when a quiz question came up about it. I remember my mom told me that it doesn't apply to us, it was just about their culture back then, but other than that, I don't remember any of the adults- the coaches or quizmasters- addressing it. There were times when a woman quizmaster read out a question on that verse, and a girl quizzer was the first to jump, and she quoted the verse- about how women must be silent in church- was awarded points, and then we all moved on to the next question. AND ALL OUR COMPETITIONS TOOK PLACE AT LOCAL CHURCHES, BY THE WAY.

In quizzing, there were no restrictions based on gender. The top quizzers who were amazing at it and won awards included both boys and girls. The coaches and quizmasters included both men and women. Obviously, the leaders of the entire bible quiz program didn't believe that women should be silent in church. But there it was, right there in 1 Corinthians 14, and we recited it when we were prompted, got the points for it, and nobody really said much about it.

Personally, I didn't see anything in that passage that suggested it was "just for their culture and doesn't apply to us." I kind of got the impression that, maybe someday when I was a stronger Christian, I would obey God and never speak in church. (And also cover my head, because 1 Corinthians 11.)

Or the time we were studying 1 Peter 4, so I asked my mom, "What are orgies? What is debauchery?" and she told me the basic definitions, and I was pretty freaked out so I just tried not to think about it, just remember how those words are pronounced and not really think about the meaning. When the question came up at a quiz tournament, I recited the verse, didn't understand it, got the points, and moved on. ... Seriously, is that passage appropriate for children?

And there were a lot of bizarre passages like that. We studied the whole thing- we didn't just pick out the nice parts like they do in Sunday school. So we were memorizing verses directly, without anyone really explaining how to read the bible or what to do with the WTF bits.

Sure, we had "devotional time" at our weekly practices, where we would talk about what the passage meant, and at our monthly tournaments someone would give a little talk in the morning, before the competiton started, but it wasn't enough to really address all the weirdness of the verses we were expected to just remember and then recite on cue. The majority of our energy went into just memorizing them and practicing answering sample questions. Figuring out what it all meant was an afterthought- and definitely not necessary for winning.

And I don't really blame the adults- most of the coaches and quizmasters were just parents of quizzers. Except for the occasional youth pastor, all of them were volunteers. They can't really be expected to know what every single weird bible verse means.

And let's talk about the competitive aspect. Some quizzers, like me, were super-competitive. We would get into long arguments about how "my answer is right because I know for a fact that the word 'instead' only appears one time in that chapter." One time, my team was quizzing against a team from another church, and the score was tied and it was time for the last question. The quizmaster read it, and we all jumped- and both me and a girl from the other team knew it was an easy question, we knew that both of us knew the answer. I was probably in 7th grade, and this other girl was older than me, taller than me. I had jumped first, so she got in my face and told me "SIT DOWN!" I did not. I got the answer right and my team won.

We talked strategy. We discussed which quizmasters were more strict, and which would let you get away with breaking the rules a little bit. There were long rants about how this guy on the other team had totally said the wrong word but the quizmaster gave him the points and it was so unfair.

If you think it's a little weird to get in fights over the specific words in the bible, let me tell you, what's even weirder is how we had to pretend we didn't really care about winning. People would talk about the "reasons" for participating in quizzing. Obviously, the best reason was getting closer to God. You know, we just love God so much so we totally want to study the bible. That whole thing. That was the correct motivation that a bible quizzer should have. Reason number 2 was to make friends. And yeah, the fun, social part was really important for a lot of the kids. We were goofy, we had fun, we helped each other study. We traveled to lots of different churches- big churches we could run around and explore ("DID YOU SEE THE PAINTING IN THE NURSERY? Oh my goodness you have to go see it, it is ridiculous!"), and small churches which didn't really have enough rooms, so some quizmasters had to conduct their rounds in large closets or tiny pastor's offices. Reason number 3 was winning. We weren't supposed to *really* be interested in winning. There was talk of people who did quizzing "for the wrong reasons"- which meant they cared more about winning than about getting closer to God.

But. You guys. If your primary motivation is getting closer to God (as understood by evangelicals), you won't put your time and energy into studying in the way that will help you win more. The whole "for the wrong reasons" thing makes it sound like a quizzer who just wanted to win and a quizzer who just loved God so much would do the same actions, only their motivations would be different. As if the first-place winner just loves the bible so much, they just happened to know all the answers without really meaning to. But that's so not true.

If you want to win, if you're really competitive, you start studying things like where the word "natural" appears in the book of John. You make a big deal over whether a quote verse included the words "Jesus answered" or "Jesus replied" or "he answered"- man it was tough to keep those all straight. You memorize the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1. All those names. Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel. If you know that, and the question comes up, you will get those points, because ain't nobody else going to know it. But I don't see any way it helps you "get closer to God" (in the evangelical sense of that term).

Furthermore, we intentionally avoided reading things that might "screw us up"- if we thought we might confuse them with the material we were studying for quizzing. If we were studying Matthew, the most serious quizzers WOULD NOT READ the similar passages in Luke. Because what if we accidentally remembered something from Luke, which was different from the way Matthew wrote it, and we said the Luke version in a quiz competition, and got the answer wrong? Also, Matthew has 28 chapters, but only 24 of them were used for quizzing that year- they picked 4 chapters to omit because Matthew is just too long. I DID NOT READ those 4 chapters until after that year of quizzing was officially over. Because what if I remembered something from those chapters, and used it as an answer during a quiz? It would be the wrong answer. I couldn't take that risk. (I also avoided the footnotes.)

And how about reading the same passage in a different version of the bible, in order to understand it better? Ha. You're joking, right? That's the WORST thing you can read, as a quizzer.

The things you focus on if your primary goal is winning are very different from the things you focus on if your primary goal is "getting closer to God."

But in my case, my first goal was winning. And I remember, on at least a few occasions, I was honest with myself about that. I was like, I'm doing quizzing for "the wrong reasons", and I'm okay with that.

To be sure, I was also a good little church girl who wanted to obey God with all her heart. But like I said, if your main goal is loving God, you don't really study in the way that people study if they WANT TO WIN. You don't really put a ton of energy into memorizing the list of churches that 1 Peter is addressed to.

I wanted to win. And win I did.

I loved the feeling of getting questions right, of beating everyone else. The trophies, the applause. I loved jumping faster than the other kids. I loved quoting several verses when answering a question that really only required a few words. Showing off. I loved those few times I made it to semi-finals at a national level- it was held in an auditorium, with a real audience and a microphone we had to use. I loved talking strategy- giving advice to my teammates. I loved how kids from other churches all knew who I was, and they were intimidated. There were rumors going around that I have a photographic memory. (I don't.) Pastors told me it was so amazing how I worked so hard to memorize the bible.

But. In the Christian culture I come from, ambition is essentially a sin. I couldn't really be honest about wanting to win- sometimes I couldn't even be honest with myself. (That previous paragraph there? SCANDALOUS. If I had ever said that stuff out loud, there would have been SO MUCH gossip about how I was just greedy and using the bible for my own glory, not because I loved God.) Maybe that was the biggest contradiction in bible quizzing- we were so competitive, but at the same time we had to pretend winning didn't really matter.

There were times when I didn't win, and I was sad. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I wanted to cry. But I had to hide it. We weren't allowed to be "sore losers." We weren't allowed to care about the competition so much that we had feelings when we didn't do well. Occasionally, a quizzer would be so angry upon losing, they would storm out the room- and the adults openly criticized them for it. We all understood that that behavior was bad. But what were we supposed to do with those feelings? The adults never taught us. Those feelings shouldn't exist in the first place- after all, we're really just here because we love the bible so much, and winning is just an incidental side perk, right? We weren't supposed to really care about winning. We weren't supposed to want fame and glory and applause. We weren't supposed to show anger or sadness when we lost. We weren't supposed to cry.

And like I said, it was so contradictory, because the way we studied was SO driven by wanting to win. For those of us who were the best quizzers, who studied the most, who won the most, our study methods were VERY MUCH tailored to the specific style of questions we would encounter in bible quizzing. It's not the way you read the bible if you're only motivated by "loving God." We made detailed lists of all mentions of "Pharisees", "teachers of the law", "elders", and "scribes", so that we could remember which term was used in which passage, and say the right one and get the question right. All the while, we never asked if those different terms actually referred to different groups. We didn't care what the actual meaning was, we just needed to say the right one when it was time to score points. Tell me, is that how you study the bible if winning doesn't really matter to you, if all that matters is "getting closer to God"?

I remember being very confused by the concept of pride. If I'm good at something, am I allowed to say "I'm good at this", or what that be sinful pride? (It's just honesty, right?) And there were times we thought we should have won but the quizmaster made a bad call- and I always got the impression that the adults didn't want us to talk about that and have feelings about it- we were being "sore losers."

There was the time I told myself, "oh I'm not that good, I probably didn't place in the top 5" and then I didn't place in the top 5, and I was sad and I wanted to cry... I didn't know how to handle it. It didn't make sense. We weren't supposed to really care about winning and trophies, so I couldn't be honest with myself about how I did want those things, and why I wanted them. We were supposed to just pretend it was all fine- really it's all about studying the bible and getting closer to God, right? Who needs trophies?

Overall, though, I'm really glad I did quizzing. Because I was so good at it. Because, if there are trophies to be won for being a huge bible nerd, well I'm the one who should be winning them. (Uh, you can see I'm not worried about that whole "is pride a sin?" thing anymore.) I no longer think there's anyting intrinsically valuable about memorizing the bible- but it feels good to win, to be successful, to be admired by other people, and that's an experience I'm glad I had. At the time, I thought I was morally superior to the kids who won trophies for sports- oooh, my trophies were for the bible. I don't believe that anymore- I don't think that having a talent for memorizing the bible is any better or worse than other talents people have.

Earlier I said that studying the bible in a way that helps you win at quizzing isn't how you would study if your goal was "getting closer to God" in the evangelical sense. However, I now have a very different understanding of the concept of "getting closer to God", and yes, it can include winning at quizzing. It feels good to work hard and have a sense of accomplishment. It feels good to know that you did your best. It feels good to be recognized and rewarded. And I now believe that God wants people to experience pleasure like that. We are made in God's image, and so we have abilities and creativity and freedom and, yes, ambition- and we should use them. So in that sense, being really good at anything can be a way of "getting closer to God."

When I was a quizzer, I memorized entire books of the bible. Memorized. As in, can recite the entire thing without prompting. (At the national competition, people would talk about how fast certain star quizzers could recite the entire book. They would talk so fast that you couldn't even understand what they were saying, unless you also had your bible open to that exact passage and could read along.) I memorized Hebrews. 24 chapters of Matthew. And a few others- I mean, it's been 10 years, I don't remember which ones I memorized and which ones I just knew really well without necessarily being able to quote them straight from beginning to end.

Even now, I don't have them memorized anymore, but I can quote pretty big chunks, and I'm usually able to at least come up with a chapter number when somebody asks "where is that one verse about [whatever topic]?"

Now I use my bible quizzing experience to argue with evangelicals. People say "the bible says" this or that, well I can build a counter argument and find 3 verses to support it. You wanna have a bible verse arms race? BRING IT ON. I WILL PWN YOU. But I don't really think knowing the bible is a good thing in and of itself.

I'm not a good evangelical anymore, but I will always be a bible nerd. Nobody can take that away from me.

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