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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blogaround

A man sleeps in a recliner. 3 cats are laying on top of him. Because they are cats. Image source.
1. The Single Blogpost New Testament Commentary (posted March 22) "The real take-home point in all this, by the way, is that God’s standard for you is impossibly high, which further means you are in a lot of trouble because of all your filthy shenanigans. Denying this only makes you a Catholic." LOLOLOLOLOLOL

2. safe spaces and competing access needs (posted 2014) "If we pick one norm and stick to it (like 'people rejecting the oppressive environment they grew up in is a good thing, and that process can make them emotionally vulnerable and in need of a community, we should welcome that in our safe space!’ or 'criticizing other faith communities makes you a jerk, no doing that in our safe space!’) then we’re inevitably hurting one of them." YES. This is a really important post. Something I've thought a lot about is the idea of a "safe space" for people who have anti-LGBT beliefs but genuinely do desire to love LGBT people- where they can ask their possibly offensive questions and actually get educated about why they need to support LGBT rights. They're never going to learn if their questions are always treated like "holy crap, I can't believe you would say something so offensive, this is NOT OKAY." BUT obviously, LGBT people should have the right to live their lives without being subjected to other people's ignorant questions and misconceptions about them. (And having a safe space for LGBT people is far more important than having a safe space for educating anti-LGBT people.) But some spaces like that should exist.

3. There Is Nothing Accidental About School Segregation (posted April 12) "In the South it’s easy to picture how racism operated—colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. The system of Jim Crow segregation was so visible. It was still incredibly difficult to overturn that system, but it was easier to visualize. For Northern white citizens and white politicians, the way their schools and neighborhoods were structured was just normal, they didn’t know or chose not to understand that it wasn’t just a matter of white families choosing to live in white neighborhoods and black families in black neighborhoods. There was a whole history of mortgage redlining, zoning decisions, public housing discrimination, and real estate discrimination that created those separate neighborhoods. But the subtlety of that allowed white people to just see it as common sense, just how our neighborhood and schools should be."

4. surviving complementarianism (posted April 13) "Each of these books is, ultimately, an attempt to convince women that all men are inherently abusers." Tell me again about how feminists supposedly "hate men"?

5. People Who Are Not Disabled Need To Check Out #AbleismExists Right Now (posted April 22) "#ableismexists random folks come to me and say that Jesus will heal me in heaven. Hey man, if heaven ain't ADA compliant. I don't wanna go."

6. BBC pledges women will fill half of on-air roles by 2020 (posted April 22)

7. The National Weather Service decides to stop yelling at us (posted April 12) lol

8. It Sure Sounds Like Donald Trump Has Paid for an Abortion or Two in His Life (posted April 2)

9. Children’s Cowboy Chaps and Big Government (posted April 19) "We can walk into a grocery store confident that there is nothing for sale there that will cause us to sicken and die upon eating it because of the government."

10. panic at the dentist: on moral neutrality (posted April 22) "There wasn’t a single aspect of our lives that wasn’t evaluated for whether or not it was a “Christian” thing to do or be or think or say. Including, apparently, brushing your teeth."

11. The Historical Context of Cruz’s Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill Ad (posted April 22) "Cruz’s fear-mongering is aimed explicitly at men, despite the fact that it’s women’s safety he’s claiming is being threatened."

12. I Am Nonbinary and I Am So Frustrated When Masculinity is Considered the Default (posted March 14) "Every time in my life I’ve gotten a free t-shirt, from clubs in high school to my dorm in college to a work event, it has been a men’s shirt labeled as 'unisex.'"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Spock approves. Image source.
Everyone: if you grew up in purity culture and now you're trying to figure out how the hell relationships are supposed to work in regular-people-land, you MUST read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson.

In purity culture, the only sexual ethic is "no." You have to not do as much as you possibly can, until you get married. First of all, you can't have sex. I mean, OBVIOUSLY. Secondly, any kind of physical touching of a romantic nature can make you impure, so if possible, don't kiss before marriage, or hold hands, or hug, or let any skin cells or hair follicles of yours touch a member of the opposite sex. (Because in purity land, everyone is straight. ... Right.) And don't masturbate. And maybe don't learn too much information about your own genitals, or how sex works, because then you'll be tempted to try it. And you know what, it's also bad to be emotionally impure. So don't like your boyfriend "too much", don't get "emotionally attached"- you need to guard your heart. Don't fall in love. Really if you could just not have crushes or desires at all, that would be ideal.

If at any point, you end up experiencing something romantic or sexual (if you're not married) then you're not pure enough, you're not worthy, you'll never have a perfect marriage, you better hope your future spouse can forgive you. Note that it doesn't matter whether it was consensual or not. The definition of impurity is experience. You experienced it, doesn't matter if you chose it or not, you're still impure. (And really, wasn't there some point along the way where you didn't say "no" clearly enough, or didn't refuse to be in a possibly-impure situation? Well that calls this whole "it wasn't your fault" thing into question. Important note: NO. No- this line of thinking is rape culture and victim-blaming and it is MESSED UP. Anything nonconsensual that happens is NEVER THE VICTIM'S FAULT.)

It was all about infinities, about consequences so big we couldn't even understand them. Nobody ever said, "if you hold hands with your boyfriend, your future marriage won't be as good- but the effect on your future marriage isn't like, totally disastrous, so you can hold hands now if you're okay with those future consequences." Haha, no. Nothing like that. Every choice was either pure or impure, sinful or not, and you HAD TO pick the pure one or else your future would be ruined.

And they said that any other sexual ethic besides purity was just doing whatever you wanted, not caring about risks, not caring about people, not respecting yourself.

Well. It turns out that's not true. Thank you, Dianna Anderson, for introducing a sexual ethic based on being reasonable.

Damaged Goods covers a lot of different topics: consent, knowing yourself, the fact that you own your own body, individual rights, boundaries, respect, good reasons to choose abstinence, etc. (Maybe abstinence is a good choice for you. Maybe having sex is a good choice for you. You evaluate your situation and decide.) All important components of a sexual ethic firmly rooted in reasonableness.

It's about educating yourself, about knowing the potential risks and benefits of certain choices. Go read people's stories about "I did this and it was a good choice for me for the following reasons..." and "I did this and it was a bad choice for me for the following reasons..." Think about what you want and what's important to you. Be honest. Communicate. Understand your own body. There are risks associated with relationships and sex- how can you manage those risks? In your situation, are the risks great enough to outweigh the benefits, or not? And of course, as you learn about what you want and how to get it, you also have to allow other people to do that too- you have to respect everyone, and always ask for consent if you do something sexual with someone.

It's mind-blowing to me how simple this all is, and how freeing. In purity culture, I always worried. I was always afraid that I wouldn't be able to control myself, that if I was faced with the right combination of temptations, I would do something unthinkable, and wake up the next morning completely confused about how it had happened- but 100% sure it was my fault. So I kept building walls and more walls, to keep away from anything that seemed like it could maybe be a temptation.

You don't have to be afraid! You don't have to be afraid of your own desires and your own body. You don't have to be afraid of temptation. You don't have to be afraid of ruining your life. Just be realistic- learn about the risks and decide if you're okay with them or not.

Y'all have to go read this book. For real.

For me, the best part of this book was how it presented a sexual ethic based on being reasonable. (And yes, I will keep repeating that phrase FOREVER because that's exactly what it is.) But there's also a lot of other good stuff. Anderson gives an overview of the history of the purity movement. She writes about myths about what the bible says about sex- myth #1 is "sex makes people one flesh", which blew my mind because I thought "one flesh" was totally a euphemism for sex, and nothing more. She tells her own personal story about leaving purity culture and learning to make choices about sex. There is intersectionality- she shows how modesty culture is especially harmful to women who are not thin, white, and able-bodied. And throughout the whole thing, it's clear that her view on sexuality is thoroughly Christian- this isn't about "rejecting the bible" or whatever other accusations evangelicals make.

If you've been taught that you're unable to make choices about your own body and your own romantic and sexual relationships, and that your only hope is to follow the church's rules, well guess what, it's NOT TRUE. (And Jesus had some things to say about people who teach children harmful things...) You own your own body. Go and learn about stuff. Made educated choices. You can totally do it.

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posts I've written about Damaged Goods:

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Monday, April 25, 2016

Because Hell is Worse than Slavery

An old black-and-white photo of two black women reading. Image source.
Here's a really important post from Fred Clark (the Slacktivist): What if we learned about the Bible from the people who got it right? It's about black Christians' and white Christians' views on slavery, back in the day. Many white Christians were arguing that slavery was right, slavery was biblical. Some white Christians were arguing that it was wrong- but of course they were dismissed as just following their emotions rather than God's truth. It was a big controversial issue for the white church- and most got it VERY wrong.

However, virtually all black Christians interpreted the bible in such a way that it said slavery was wrong and sinful. And, Clark says, the important thing is that they were right. So why don't we learn about biblical hermeneutics from them, rather than the white theologians who lived during that time and believed God approved of slavery? Here's what he says:
But again, weirdly, we remain far more inclined to heed and to imitate the hermeneutics of those who were wrong than of those who were right. Cite Jonathan Edwards on the proper meaning and interpretation of scripture and everyone nods sagely because, yes, of course, Edwards was good and right and proper and orthodox — except for the minor point of being howlingly wrong about the central moral question of his day in a way that led him to promote, defend and participate in monstrous evil. But if you instead cite, say, Frederick Douglass about the proper meaning and interpretation of scripture, everyone will hem and haw about how Douglass wasn’t primarily a formal theologian and how he had a lot of uncomfortably heterodox ideas and so probably shouldn’t be treated as a reliable source — despite being impressively and utterly right about the central moral question of his day.
Why do white American evangelicals stick with that same failed hermeneutic? Well, because of hell.

Clark refers to slavery as "the central moral question of [their] day", which, IT WAS, but not in evangelical-land. Nope, far more important is the fact that all of us are in danger of going to hell. In the grand scheme of things, slavery doesn't matter. A lifetime of slavery is nothing compared to the suffering of hell. Centuries of systemic racism are nothing compared to hell. (Ahem. To be clear, I totally do not believe this anymore. Thank god.)

(Note: you could debate how much of this dismissing black theology is about the logic of hell and how much is about racism. For this post, I'm sticking to the logic of what evangelicalism teaches: hell is infinitely worse than slavery, Jonathan Edwards was wrong about slavery but that doesn't matter because he was right about hell.)

If people are going to be punished forever for not believing a particular set of facts about Jesus, then nothing else matters. We have to do everything in our power to coerce them into believing. In the bizarre universe where this hell exists, that kind of coercion is loving and moral- the most loving and moral thing you can do.

So white Christians believe that yes of course those pastors from long ago were wrong about slavery. But we still believe what they said about salvation and hell. That slavery stuff was just details- it has no eternal significance. And the black theologians who teach that Christians should fight for justice and equality now- well, they're missing the point. They're not warning people about eternal hell, which means they're WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL. (lololol a "gospel" that says we're not supposed to care about "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" sounds pretty "watered down" to me.)

It will never work to say we should throw out that hermeneutic because it was extremely, completely wrong about slavery, when the hermeneutic itself teaches us that slavery isn't an important issue at all- it's just a little negligible detail, compared to the risk of suffering forever in hell. (I guess that was the entire point of that hermeneutic. Hmm.)

Just another example of how hell completely ruins Christianity.

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Also: In his post, Clark promotes the book The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved, which looks really interesting and I totally want to read it. Readers, if you're interested in learning more about how black Christians read the bible back then, maybe you should read this book. ^_^

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Joseph and How Not to Read the Bible

Seven fat cows and seven skinny cows. Image source.
Children's bible storybooks and Sunday school lessons love the story of Joseph. I fully believe that the main criteria for choosing which bible stories to teach kids is the potential for cool illustrations, and the story of Joseph TOTALLY has that. A rainbow-colored coat. Wild dreams about the sun, moon, and stars bowing down, fat cows eaten by skinny cows.

But in Sunday school, I never heard about what happened after Joseph forgave his brothers and the whole family came to live in Egypt. You can read it here, but the main point is this: because of the famine, the people of Egypt had no choice but to buy food from Joseph [the second-most powerful person in the Egyptian government], and when their money ran out, he made them sell their land and even sell themselves to be his slaves. So then all the people of Egypt became slaves, and the government owned all their land. Except the priests, because they got an allowance from Pharoah and weren't forced to sell their land and themselves.

I had never heard about this until one day, probably when I was in high school, when I was doing my daily personal bible-reading. I was shocked and very confused- it sounds like a terrible thing that Joseph did! The people were desperate and starving and he took advantage of them! And wasn't the food in his storehouses collected from them in the first place, during the seven good years? How is this okay?

Notice that I asked the question "How is this okay?" rather than declaring "This is NOT okay." Because I knew that Joseph was one of the good guys in the bible. People always talked about how Joseph is such a good role model for forgiveness. And also hard work. No matter if you're a slave, or falsely accused and thrown into prison, or whatever, you just need to work hard and be responsible and you'll be promoted and everything will work out.

I read Genesis 47, and what Joseph did seemed to me like a monstrous evil, making victims of a famine into slaves- but that can't be right, can it? Joseph is a good guy. I had been taught to read the bible in terms of good guys and bad guys and simple morality lessons. This story confused me.

I'm thinking about all this because of this post from Fred Clark (the Slacktivist): A generation which knew not Joseph, where he talks about how Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich does not understand the story of Joseph. Joseph was a villian. His exploitation of the Egyptian people is horrifying.
The guy was simply a monster. And it’s baffling that we tend to treat him otherwise — as though he were an admirable, praiseworthy figure — just because his brothers treated him badly, and because he was a snazzy dresser.
The most important line in Clark's post is this:
Kasich, like many white Christians in America, has been taught to regard the story of Joseph as a sentimental devotional fable — Joseph’s brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
YES. American evangelicals teach their kids about the bible by distilling each story, with all its weirdness, into a simple virtue that we should try to follow. David and Jonathan is about friendship. Ruth is about loyalty. Esther is about courage. Abraham is about faith. And yes, Joseph is about forgiveness. As if the bible is straightforward and easy to understand, with obvious "good guys" and "bad guys."

So when I read about Joseph enslaving the Egyptians, I was confused. He was a "good guy", so was this a good thing? But how? Or, if it was a bad thing, why didn't the biblical writer make any comment on how evil it was? If this is an example of what not to do, shouldn't the bible point that out, you know, to teach us?

(As it turns out, the bible stories are not meant to beat us over the head with heavy-handed, impossible-to-miss moral lessons. Unlike "Christian movies.")

Here's another example: when I was a kid, one night I read the story of Hagar and Ishmael- specifically the part in Genesis 21, where there's drama between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac, so Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. I read this part:
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
... and I cried a little bit. But then I thought, no no no, I'm not supposed to feel sympathy for them- Hagar and Ishmael are bad guys. Clearly I must have been understanding the story wrong, if it made me want to cry when Hagar thought her son was going to die. (My emotions were making me interpret the bible wrong- where have we heard that before...)

(Don't worry, Hagar and Ishmael make it. Umm, spoiler warning, I guess.)

And yes, I'm aware that people in church don't believe the bible's "good guys" were perfect. I often heard about how "isn't it great how we see so many flawed and sinful people, and God can use all of them in his plan". But those were all stories where we see the character suffer the consequences of their sin- like how David raped Bathsheba and then the whole rest of his life, his family members were fighting and trying to kill each other. But what about the passages which describe things which seem very evil to me, but the bible makes no comment on whether it was good or bad, or any consequences that came as a result? It's not presented as a lesson in morality, it's just a thing that happened.

What about when Jacob lied to his father to steal the family blessing? I remember reading that in one of my "daily quiet times" and thinking, wait a minute, Jacob did a very bad thing here! And I was totally confused because I had heard this story many times before- of course they include it in the little-kid bibles because that whole thing about Jacob putting goat skin on his arms and Esau being super-hairy makes for good illustrations. Like... what exactly was the neat and tidy morality lesson that was being presented in Sunday school alongside the drawing of hairy Esau? I seriously have no idea. (Maybe "Jacob wasn't perfect, but God still chose him and did great things with him"? Which, I have some problems with that because it completely ignores Jacob's victims.)

I don't remember anyone ever saying what Jacob did was wrong. And I read the story for myself, and ... wow, what Jacob did was WRONG. But I was confused. Jacob was one of the good guys, right?

Here's another example, the most important example in the whole bible: God. God is supposed to be a good guy, right? So when God orders the Israelites to kill entire cities, we have to believe that it was right for God to do that. (And, oh my god, I just used google to find that bible reference there, and searching "god orders israelites to kill everyone" brings up a TON of apologetics articles happy to explain why it was right for God to order genocide. Disgusting.)

In this method of bible interpretation, not only are we required to see God as "a good guy", we are required to believe God is completely good and never does anything evil. So when we read in the bible about something very evil that God did, we have to come up with some way to convince ourselves that it was actually good. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.

This is what happens when we read the bible expecting to find simple morality lessons and spiritual wisdom we can apply to our lives. That's not what the bible is. The bible is ancient, foreign, and full of WTF. It's not always obvious that "this person did a good thing" or "this person did a bad thing", and us readers are free to explore the passages from all kinds of different angles, making up our own interpretations and writing fan fiction. (Yes, I write bible fan fiction. I love it.)

It's not supposed to be easy to understand. It's not supposed to be about good guys and bad guys and role models for various virtuous traits. The bible is so much more amazing and complex than that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Blogaround

A chinchilla. The Chinese word for chinchilla is 龙猫 [lóng māo] which literally translates to "dragon cat." I will be forever delighted by this. Image source.
1. Apocalyptic upbringing: how I recovered from my terrifying evangelical childhood (posted April 5) "In the evangelical Christian world of midwest America, it was normal for adults to tell children they would probably never grow old. The end could and would come any minute now."

2. Do we need to be saved like Saul of Tarsus was saved? (posted April 10) "Our sin + infinite debt = Jesus’ crucifixion OR our eternal torture in hell. None of the history matters. None of the nuances of language matter. All of the references to Jesus’ cross that don’t talk about it in terms of paying a sin debt can be cast aside and ignored."

3. The Disgusting Hypocrisy of the Anti-Trans Bathroom Movement (posted April 15) "However, when the issue becomes gun rights and not bathroom rights, this group switches sides dramatically."

4. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Lead (posted April 17)

5. What Everyone Is Missing about the Indiana Abortion Law (posted April 18) Oh god this is terrible.

6. Why I Hate Jesus (posted April 18) "Over the years, I have had a number of people write me about how the modern Jesus was ruining their marriage. In many instances, the married couple started out as believers, and somewhere along way, one of them stops believing. The still-believing spouse can’t or won’t understand why the other spouse no longer believes. They make it clear that Jesus is still very important to them and if forced to choose between their spouse and family, they would choose Jesus. Simply put, they love Jesus more than they love their families." Yeah I also hate this version of Jesus.

7. Boundary Setting vs Tone Policing (posted March 24) "There’s a difference between 'Please don’t speak to me that way' and 'You shouldn’t use that kind of angry language; nobody will listen to you that way.'" This is a really interesting article. I've always found tone-policing to be a tricky and complicated concept (and I'm not even sure I agree with feminists who call it out and talk about how tone-policing is bad)- definitely not as straightforward as feminists on the internet make it seem.

8. A Ritual for Renaming and Remembrance of Baptism (posted April 11) "Let's celebrate the changes in the lives of trans folks just like we celebrate new births, marriages, confirmations, graduations, retirement, and all other transitional moments!"

Have a good week, everyone!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Well that's the sinner's prayer in Chinese

Look at this fun little item that came in the mail:
A flier with a lot of Chinese text on it. Click image to view large version.
No idea where it came from, there's no contact information or anything, and my address isn't on here either so it must have been someone who just came around and stuffed them into everyone's mailboxes. (Hendrix was looking through the mail and said, "oh this is for you" because it's about Christianity. Lol.)

It's a "gospel presentation", and I actually find it very disturbing because it presents the exact same "gospel" that I learned in American evangelical churches. About how we sin, and so God sent Jesus to die for us, so we need to pray this prayer and accept him as Lord of our life. And I'll translate the last bit for y'all:
Dear Lord Jesus,

I thank you for being crucified for my sins. I repent of my sin (acknowledge sin and ask God to forgive). I now ask you to come into my heart and be my savior and lord of my life, and lead my steps for the rest of my life. In Jesus' name, amen.
Yeah.

You guys. The sinner's prayer is a very Protestant thing, a very American-evangelical thing. Here's what wikipedia says:
The Sinner's Prayer, as popularly known today, has roots in Protestant Christianity. Some affirm that it evolved, in some form or another, during the early days of the Protestant Reformation, as a reaction against the Roman Catholic dogma of justification by means of meritorious works and sacraments. Others believe it originated as late as the eighteenth century revival movement. However, Paul Harrison Chitwood, in his doctoral dissertation on the history of the Sinner's Prayer, provides strong evidence that the Sinner's Prayer originated in the early twentieth century.

Evangelists such as Billy Graham and evangelistic organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ brought the concept to prominence in the 20th century.
So it probably was first written in Europe or the US within the past 300 years, then made popular by Billy Graham. It is NOT essential to the core of what Christianity is- though yes, it is essential to the core of American evangelical Christianity. (The sinner's prayer appears nowhere in the bible- though Romans 10:9 is used to lend support to the idea that such a thing as a sinner's prayer might exist.) I'm very much not okay with how the exact words of this magical Western Protestant prayer ended up in my mailbox in freakin' simplified Chinese characters.

This isn't Chinese. Chinese Christianity should be Chinese. It shouldn't be a translation of what Western evangelicals think Christianity is.

Though actually, the beginning of this flier talks about, "We are in a new year now, 2016. Do you know why we count years from 'the common year' [year 1 or year 0 I guess, not sure how to translate this]?" And then about how that's when Jesus was born, so that's what we base our calendar on, and how back in the day, the years were based on Chinese emperors, and their era ended when they died, but Jesus' era seems to be going on forever- do you wonder why that is? [insert gospel presentation] That part is VERY Chinese. You're not going to see any evangelistic material in the US that starts by teaching its audience what "AD" means. Hendrix says maybe the average Chinese person doesn't know that our calendar system counts years based on when Jesus was supposedly born.

So it's not like the entire thing is just western Christian material translated into Chinese. But the actual "gospel" part is- it even has the phrase "Jesus' blood covers our sin" which is NOWHERE in the bible but is a very normal thing for American Christians to say. And "if you prayed this prayer, you are now part of God's family." Yeah.

So yeah. This is a thing that exists in China. All you US evangelicals can calm down, "the gospel" isn't being "watered down" or whatever.

I'm sure there must be other varieties of Chinese Christianity which are more Chinese and less "here is a translation of something Billy Graham said." My experience with Chinese churches and Christian groups is very limited, but I'm sure there must be a lot of diversity.

But seeing the sinner's prayer written in Chinese? A little creepy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A tract which seems to have been slightly edited to say, "What am I doing here? Does God have a flan for me?" Image source.
Any of y'all who grew up in purity culture: you MUST read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson. I'm planning to write several blog posts about it; today our topic will be individual rights.

Throughout the book, Anderson very much emphasizes this idea: your body belongs to YOU. You have the right to make choices about what you do with your body. You have the right to decide what to wear- you don't have to follow the modesty rules that require you to take horny men's opinions into account when you choose clothes. You have the right to decide what sex means for you, and in what circumstances you would like to have sex. You have the right to not have sex.

She also talks a lot about how the church often teaches that we do NOT have individual rights; that by becoming part of the body of Christ, we are all accountable to each other, and we have to listen to other Christians' opinions on what we should do with our bodies.

She is SO RIGHT about how Christian culture teaches that we don't have individual rights. And it is really really really good and meaningful and healing for me to read that I have the right to make my own choices about my body. This is SO EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR.

In a post from 2014, Are we better off if God controls people?, I touched on the topic of our rights vs God's plan. Here is the important bit:
A long time ago, when I loved God so much and constantly thought about God and prayed all the time and did everything I could to follow and obey God, sometimes I wanted God to control me. 

Why? Well, because I thought there was some specific “plan”, some one thing I was supposed to be doing, and if I was just connected to God enough, I would be able to know very clearly what it was.

...

I don’t believe that any more. I don’t think there’s one specific plan that each person is supposed to be doing. I don’t believe God wants God’s followers to be cogs in a machine- a machine which would run much more smoothly if the cogs would quit thinking for themselves. I don’t believe that the kingdom of God is compatible with individual people losing their freedom.

I believe we all have choices and skills and creativity, and there are a lot of directions we could go with it, and a lot of them are very good. And the freedom to make those choices is a core component of the world as God intended it to be.
We are really talking about two competing views of the role of choice in the kingdom of God. In the first view, the view I used to believe, God has a plan, and acting according to that plan will produce the best results in our lives. The closer our "relationship with God", the more clearly we can know God's plan. (For example, it's common for Christians to teach "the closer you are with God, the more you will know God's will, and you can pray for things according to God's will, and they will happen- your prayers will be powerful.")

In this view, we don't have the freedom to make big life decisions. We have to figure out what God wants, and then do that. And when you start with the assumption that Christians do not have freedom in this sense, you can extend it to any choices, really. Including what to wear. We can't choose for ourselves; we have to find out what God's rules are and obey them.

The second view of choice in the kingdom of God (the view I hold now) says that human freedom is a foundational component of the kingdom of God. Whereas in my previous worldview, I would have said the ideal case was to be godly enough to know with 100% certainty what you're "supposed to" do in every situation, I now believe the ideal world is one in which we are able to make our own decisions, and there is no "supposed to."

In the first view, the kingdom of God is one where we give up all our rights. In the second view, the kingdom of God is one where everybody's rights are fully protected.

Let's look at some examples of this whole "we need to give up our rights" thing, shall we?

When a woman says she wants to be a pastor and that it would be wrong for the church to bar her from certain leadership positions based on her gender alone, sometimes people will respond by telling her it is wrong for a Christian to advocate for her own rights. They don't respond to her actual argument about how the bible supports equality between men and women; instead, they tell her that she isn't even allowed to make an argument. How dare she be ambitious like that- Christians are supposed to give up their rights. Even if she is correct that God totally thinks women can be pastors, she cannot be the one to say it. It's selfish.

Another example: so, conservative Christians teach that women need to submit to their husbands, and husbands need to love their wives. However, suppose that the husband is not treating his wife in a loving way. Some people would say that, since the wife needs to submit, she is not allowed to take any actions which would hold her husband accountable for not loving her. Even though she is correct in her claim that her husband is sinning, she doesn't actually have the right to even make that claim. Her husband is in the wrong, but it would be wrong for her to do anything about it. (To be fair, this seems like a pretty extreme view, I'm not sure how common it is among the "wives need to submit" crowd. Sounds like something Debi Pearl would teach.)

And of course, modesty. Modesty culture be all like, "Yes, you have the right to wear whatever you want, if a man lusts, that's his own sin, it is not the woman's responsibility... BUT you should give up that right because of your Christian commitment to help your brothers."

(Hmm, kind of awkward how the only examples I can think of for the "you need to give up your rights" teaching are about how women need to give up their rights.)

This teaching is so wrong. The kingdom of God is a world where the rights of the most vulnerable people are protected, where we don't force victims to suffer because Christians aren't allowed to advocate for themselves. It is a world where people have choices- where you are in contol of your own body and your own personal decisions, and there isn't some specific "God's plan for you" that you're required to do. It's a world where being a member of the body of Christ doesn't allow you to police other members' personal decisions. (When I use the term "personal decisions" I am talking about choices that don't harm other people. If you're harming other people, you totally should be stopped.)

In the past, I believed the perfect Christian life was one in which I had no choices, where I would know God's will with 100% clarity and I would never think for myself. I now believe human creativity is an indispensable part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God did not create us to be mindless followers. God created us with the ability to innovate, to discover, to approach life in our own unique ways. We reflect God's image when we make our own choices rather than waiting for God to tell us what to do.

---------

note: So, I could have titled this blog post "Is There Freedom in the Kingdom of God?" but evangelical Christians use the word "freedom" in a sneaky, backwards way. For example, they say, "You're not allowed to have sex before marriage. So no, you don't have the freedom to do that. But when you follow this rule, you will be free from all the terrible consequences that come with the sin of premarital sex. If you sin by having sex, you will be a slave to it. You will not be free. So actually, by following God's rules, you are more free."

"Freedom" is something that Christians are very happy to claim Jesus gives us. "Choice", not so much.
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posts I've written about Damaged Goods:

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blogaround

An adorable fluffy puppy. Image source.
1. Beijing bustle (posted April 16) "When the next train arrived, the doors opened and everyone raced to grab a seat, like an extremely aggressive game of musical chairs." Yes this is EXACTLY what it's like living in China.

2. To diagnose autism, we should be watching the eyes (posted April 2) Hmm. This is interesting and definitely worth researching further. But I'm pretty skeptical of the idea there could just be one simple test that diagnoses autism.

3. An Open Challenge To Ken Ham (posted April 8) This is an interesting idea, because it would force creationists to give a definitive list of all the "created kinds"- which means they believe all animals evolved from these "created kinds" that were on the ark in less than 6000 years. This forces young-earth creationists to admit that they do "believe in evolution" at this scale- and I bet if we look at the differences among animals in each group that supposedly evolved from the "created kinds" in 6000 years (oh wait, actually 4000 because the flood was some time around then, right?) we'll see that there are actually a lot of new, complex features that must have appeared after the flood. [Because even if the animals in each "kind" are all similar, they must have some big differences when you really look deeper into the biology.] If these kinds of features can appear (in only 4000 years! evolution never claimed to be THAT fast!) then that really calls into question the whole "microevolution can't ever really amount to anything" which is a fundamental tenet of creationism.

4. 6 Women on How the TRAP Laws Changed Their Lives (posted April 5)

5. 3 Ways To Tell If You’re Dating Mr. Right (Or Mr. Wrong) "Remember, if you miss God’s perfect will for your life, you fail at being a person."

6. Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age "Lines available to women who are over 40 years-old decrease substantially. For men, it’s the exact opposite: there’s more roles available to older actors."

7. So Long, Self: How Christianity Teaches You to Hate Yourself (posted April 3) "This is not good news. This is psychological abuse, sugar coated as it is with the vocabulary of love, and it’s made all the more sinister by its pretty packaging and by its inevitable marketing toward children before they are even old enough to say, 'Wait a second, these are awful things to say to a person!'"

8. After Staying a Virgin Until Marriage, I Couldn't Have Sex With My Husband (posted April 2) "I had worked so hard to remain a virgin for my husband, and now that I was married I was rewarded with nothing but stress and anxiety."

9. a story of becoming sick (posted April 6) "It’s so hard to fight against the message that being “healthy” means hurt yourself, that people who really care about their health can “push through the pain” and “feel the burn” and hold to the old adage of “no pain no gain.” That my attempts to avoid pain really just make me lazy. Selfish. Worthy of public ridicule."

10. What ‘white folks who teach in the hood’ get wrong about education (posted March 28) "I always say, if you’re coming into a place to save somebody then you’ve already lost because young people don’t need saving."

11. Profiting From the Myths About Black Women’s Bodies (posted April 6)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chinese Cafeteria Food

Here are some photos of the food at the cafeteria at my job. To show you what cheap Chinese cafeteria food looks like. ^_^

Tofu strips and sweet sausage
Cucumber
Soup
Rice
So it turns out that typically in China, the soup is the drink. I did not realize this until recently. I have been out at restaurants many times with Chinese people, where they order a bunch of food and it totally seems like enough to me, and then they're like "let's order a soup!" and I don't see why we need a soup, and then the soup comes and I don't really drink any because it's bland and boring. And often when you get fast food, you get a bowl of soup for free with your meal. And it's really common for Chinese people not to buy a drink with their meal, and the drink options on menus are more limited than I would like. And finally, after living in China over 2 years, I put these facts together and realized: the soup is the drink. Oh. Wow. It all makes sense now.
Chicken wings
Curry potatoes
Soup
Rice

Some vegetable that's sort of like green onions
Radishes
Soup
Rice

Tofu
Eggplant
Yogurt fruit drink
Rice

Kung pao chicken
Tofu
Soup
Rice

Some vegetable that's kind of like green onions
Egg cooked into some kind of ground-pork burger-like thing
Soup
Rice

Curry chicken
Fried eggs and tomatoes
Egg and tomato soup
Rice

Dumplings that use egg as the wrapper
Eggplant
Egg and tomato soup
Rice

Pumpkin
Pork
Rice
Coconut milk

Green beans, maybe?
Curry potatoes
Soup
Rice

Eggs and spinach
Tofu
Soup
Rice

Eggs and cucumbers
Tofu with some meat and vegetables
Soup
Rice
It's probably not that healthy, so I don't eat it every day, but I just wanted to show y'all what's normal here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Spock and Kirk's alternate-universe counterparts. Image source.

Hi everyone! So I read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson, and, wow, you guys. It's a book about what sexual ethics are, and how to develop and live an actual sexual ethic, that actually makes sense and isn't just "no".

If you grew up in purity culture, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Like, I cannot recommend it enough. If you're like "well I know I'm rejecting purity culture, but then... but what am I supposed to do instead? What's 'normal'? What are 'the rules'?" yeah I was there for a while. READ THIS BOOK.

Anyway, I'm going to write a few blog posts about it. This is the first.

In the first chapter, "I Was a Teenage Virgin," Anderson talks about what happened when she told a guy (Ethan) that she liked him. Here's an excerpt from the book:
[Ethan] explained, "I sort of thought this was coming. But I don't think you want to be in a relationship with me. I have too much baggage."

...

He looked straight at me. "I'm not a virgin, Dianna. My ex and I had sex, and that's not what you want."

I was speechless. And not because he assumed I wasn't prepared for a relationship with a guy who was experienced. But because he was right- I wasn't. I instantly reshuffled his position in my life from "potential suitor" to "damaged goods- not marriage material ever." The look on my face gave my thoughts away, and he turned back toward campus, explaining, "I can tell by the look on your face that you're not ready for any of this. I need to deal with this sort of thing myself. I don't think I'm prepared to get into a relationship with someone who doesn't know these experiences and that's really all I can say about it."

My thoughts ran rampant: Did I even know him? Why couldn't he have waited? What other sins were people hiding from me?

And OH MY GOODNESS I can totally relate to that feeling of shock. Because, back when I was in purity culture, I understood sex as this abstract, faraway, other-worldly thing, not an actual thing that is often a normal part of people's lives.

For unmarried people, sex was  never a thing you would choose to do. No no no. It happened in the dark of night, when temptation dragged you away to an alternate dimension, where up was down and wrong was right, and people glued their hearts together and then ripped them apart again, and the next day you wonder, what in the world happened? It had been an out-of-body experience. And you know that you made those choices and so it's your fault- and yet, you have no idea how or why you made those choices. You couldn't control yourself, the temptation was too great. If only you had never let yourself be alone in a room with your boyfriend- yes, that was the last point where you had been in control, with the ability to win the fight against temptation. But you chose wrong, and whatever happened afterwards is your fault. (Ahem. This is rape culture.)

And the people who have had sex go on with their lives, with their torn-construction-paper hearts, in pain becaue they can never be whole again. Maybe they're happy sometimes, maybe they try to live a normal life, but a hopelessness hangs over everything they do, and at the end of the day, they wonder what's the point? (Ahem. "The consequences of sin" sound suspiciously like depression.)

On the other hand though, people who are married (and obeyed the purity rules before marriage) are having sex ALL THE TIME and it's AWESOME. They live their lives on a higher plane of existence, something us virgins can never know.

This is the story told by purity culture. For unmarried people, sex is an unimaginably terrible thing that we must fear. For married people, sex is an unimaginably awesome thing.

So unimaginable, in fact, that I never imagined what sex was like, in real terms.

And I'm trying to separate out what's because of purity culture and what's my own personality/desires/lack thereof. (I'm just talking about myself here- I kind of doubt this is normal for purity-culture girls. I don't know.)

To me, sex was just not a thing that people did. Yes, I knew the statistics- only a small percentage of girls who make a purity pledge would be successful in "saving themselves for marriage." Everybody said it was so hard to be pure. So I figured everybody tries really hard, but at some point they make a mistake and let their sinful nature break through, and they can't even believe what just happened, and they regret it. But this was also very abstract to me- I didn't understand how it could happen, how someone could end up accidentally choosing to have sex. But purity culture warned me so many times, that I believed it was a real risk, and I worked hard to stay away from situations where the first slippery step of the slippery slope might be present.

But the idea that sex is an event with a specific start and end, which takes place at an actual point on earth, at an actual date and time- yes, the same timeline in which my life takes place- and that it could be a normal part of life- nope, I never thought of it like that. Sex was just not a thing that people did.

All right let's tell some fun stories to illustrate this. From the achives of "Perfect Number Used To Be Really Naive And Not Have A Clue About Sex Or Anything."

Back in middle school, we read the book "The Outsiders." The main character is Ponyboy, and there's also his brother Soda, and Soda's girlfriend Sandy but she's a pretty minor character. Anyway, at some point we find out that Sandy is pregnant. (As I recall, this wasn't really stated super-obviously in the book- the class didn't get it and our teacher had to point it out to us.) My reaction: "Oh my goodness, that means she had sex with someone!" Later we find out that actually Soda is NOT the father. My reaction: "Wait, why would we have thought Soda was the father? Like, we know Soda, Soda is one of the good guys. Why would he have had sex with his girlfriend?"

Yeah. Totally did not get that there is a correlation between who's dating who and who's having sex with who. (Whom?) Sex is a very very bad sin- having sex with one's boyfriend is just as bad as having sex with someone else (while you have a boyfriend). (I mean really in both cases you're cheating on your future husband so, what's the difference? Also, how about we all agree that when somebody uses the phrase "cheating on your future husband" unironically, we laugh them out of the room. Because, I mean SERIOUSLY? "Cheating on your future husband"? LOLOLOLOL what does that even mean.) (It means purity culture doesn't understand the concept of time. That's what it means. Seriously though, laugh at these people because that is ridiculous.)

Here's another example: when I was a freshman in college, there was a student activities fair where campus groups gave out fliers and free stuff and tried to get new students to sign up for various clubs and activities. The campus health center was giving out small buckets of health stuff. I took one back to my dorm room without looking to see what was in it.

Well. A few days later, I looked in it. There was a flier about the health center, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a condom- OH MY A CONDOM?!!!!!

[note: on retelling this story, I'm a little confused on the question of how I even knew it was a condom. I'm sure at that point in my life I had no idea what condoms looked like. The word "condom" must have been printed on the packaging- that's the only way this story is believable.]

As you can imagine, I was horrified that I had unknowingly brought something so evil and disgusting into my room. I threw the condom in the trash. Then I looked through the rest of the stuff in the bucket and threw away most of it too, because in my mind the whole thing was contaminated.

Then I went and washed my hands.

I mean, can you imagine anything more gross than a completely new, sealed-in-packaging condom?

Sex was just this faraway, abstract, scary thing, and here was a tangible object which existed at a real position in three-dimensional space, which had volume and mass, and which a person could actually hold and (if they had received adequate sex ed) use properly.

Such a strange experience. You guys, I was terrified. And angry. Why would they give me a condom? What on earth did they think I was going to do with it?

Sex was just not a thing that people did.

One more fun story: so, the first guy I dated. I totally never ever had a desire to have sex with him. It never even occurred to me that it could be a thing we would decide to do or not do. I thought about sex only in the context of "I don't think I should sit on his bed because what if one thing leads to another and..." Not because "one thing leading to another" was something that actually seemed like it could happen, but because purity culture taught me I must never underestimate the depths of sinful desire that lived inside me.

Sex was something to fear, something that might come upon you and ruin your life if you weren't careful to avoid temptation. (And again, it would be YOUR FAULT for not avoiding temptation.) I never ever imagined it could be a normal part of life. I never ever imagined it could be a decision that people made based on an assessment of the risks and benefits.

And as for people who have had sex- well, I tried very hard to do the "not judging" and "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing. Of course I would 100% love them as friends (and yes, I did have friends who had sex) but I wouldn't want to be in a romantic relationship with them. Nope, that side of them was broken and dirty. (To be clear, I TOTALLY DO NOT believe that any more.)

So I very much relate to this line in Anderson's story: "Did I even know him? Why couldn't he have waited? What other sins were people hiding from me?" To find out that your crush has had sex- I mean, that completely changes the type of person they are, at a fundamental level. "What other sins were people hiding from me?" YES, I would have thought that too.

Sex was a fear that I expected to hang over me until my wedding day. Not a thing that people did.

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posts I've written about Damaged Goods:

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

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