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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Blogaround

A photo of a cat and a mountain lion staring at each other through a glass door. The cat is thinking, "This mirror makes me look ripped." Image source.
1. Yes, you hate me: Christians and homophobia (posted June 15) "They’re just so very confused when they look at me and say 'I disagree with your very existence because of my pet biblical interpretation, but that clearly can’t be hate.'"

2. The 'Trump Effect' in Schools: How Trump's Hate Speech Is Traumatizing America's Children (posted April 14) "Another educator from a Tennessee school says a Latino kindergartener was told by his peers that he will be deported and barricaded behind a wall. “Is the wall here yet?” he asks daily."

3. A Renegade Kitten Survived A Cross-Country Road Trip By Clinging To A Car (posted June 15) YOU GUYS this kitten is adorable.

4. Baylor University’s culture of sexual assault is real and it doesn’t surprise me. (posted May 27) "But cultivating a culture in which consensual sex is a punishable offense and students who do have sex are too ashamed to talk makes it extremely difficult to simultaneously cultivate a culture that exposes and punishes sexual abuses."

5. 'Star Trek' actor Anton Yelchin dies in freak car accident (posted June 20) NOOOOOOOO

6. We’ve gotten better at mourning. That’s a sick form of ‘progress’ (posted June 14) [content note: anti-LGBT violence] "And knowing the role they have played, it’s a wonder that all of these steadfastly anti-gay church leaders didn’t choke on their own words as they all, in turn, offered their lovely, duplicitous statements of grief and sorrow."

7. These Social Media Posts Offer an Important Reminder (posted June 15) "I crossed two streets, by myself, while cars rushed by, and I didn’t panic."

8. Needed: A New Conversation on LGBT in the Church (posted June 22) "This is why we have to have a different conversation about gay people in the Church. Because even the ones who are there–who are doing their best to live faithfully to the scriptures as your church understands them–don’t feel welcome, loved, or safe in your community."

9. Terrorist Attack, Mass Shooting, or Anti-Gay Hate Crime? How We Talk about Orlando Is Important (posted June 16)

10. You Are Better Than Fred Phelps (and that’s why he was so dangerous) (posted 2014) "I’ve heard people insist on using the word “homosexual” to refer to all LGBTQ people, because calling gays and lesbians “gays and lesbians” allows them to normalize their perverted lifestyle, and because bi and transgender people don’t really exist anyway. But they would never say “God hates fags.”"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Rubbish"

Batman and Alfred. Image source.
When I first started studying Chinese, I was in college in the US. I made friends with lots of international students from China, and practiced Chinese with them. I really admired the international students- they were so awesome and courageous, moving to a whole new country, a whole new culture, having to learn how things work in the US. I wanted to be like them.

Their English was very good, but I noticed they had weird words for things like trash cans and bathrooms. Bizarre, creative terms like "dust bin" or "wash room." I'm sure the first time someone said to me, "Can I take the rubbish?" I had NO IDEA what they were saying- both because of their accent and because who even uses the word "rubbish"?

As it turns out, the answer is British people. British people use the word "rubbish." Apparently, it just means trash. (I moved to China and taught English for 2 years, and I learned more British English in that time than I had in my entire life before. Chinese students all walking around saying cookies are "biscuits"- it's just madness over here.)

All this talk of "rubbish" reminds me of a sermon I heard many years ago, on Philippians 3:7-11.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(The above excerpt comes from the ESV. The current NIV version uses the term "garbage" rather than "rubbish" in verse 8 there, but the one I read growing up, the 1984 NIV, said "I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." And I'm pretty sure that was the version used in this sermon.)

The speaker- an American, giving a sermon to an American audience, in the United States- pointed out that word, "rubbish." She said, wow, such a unique word, we rarely use it. When you think of "rubbish" you think of a British butler with his nose turned up, holding a trash bag at arm's length, like he's so high-class and these things are so beneath him.

Her point was, the apostle Paul felt such disdain for his "gains" in his life before Christ, that he needed to choose a special word to properly convey that feeling. The apostle Paul wanted the Philippians to know that his feeling was the same as that of a proper British butler.

And like, when I phrase it that way, the anachronism is pretty obvious- like obviously Paul didn't hold stereotypes about what British butlers are like. Actually, the speaker was just trying to tell us that the word "rubbish" has a different feel than "garbage", like it's a term reserved for especially awful garbage. And that's true, in American English, but only because of American culture's idea of British butlers. It's still an anachronism.

If you're a British person reading "I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ," there's no shockingly unique word that stands out and demands us to question why it was chosen. It's just the same thing as if an American read "I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ."

(And I won't even go into how, if you look at the actual Greek word that Paul used, it should probably be translated more like "shit" or "crap.")

That sermon is a good example of how Christians of the "bible is inerrant" persuasion put so much emphasis on every individual word in the bible, and they find meaning that isn't even there. It's a translation of an ancient book- you can't take the individual English words too seriously. I often have to write English translations of Chinese documents for my job, and, you guys, translation is hard. For some reason, four sentences' worth of stuff somehow becomes all one sentence in Chinese. I have to decide where to break it up. And sometimes there's a word or concept that doesn't translate directly into English, because you'd have to understand some Chinese culture in order to get it. I have to decide whether to preserve individual words or just write a completely new sentence that gets the same point across and sounds much more natural to an American reader. And there's no "right" way to do it.

When you read an English version of the bible, you can be pretty sure the English translation matches the general idea of what the passage said, but oh my, DO NOT get stuck on individual words. (Maybe the best way to avoid this problem is to read several different translations- if a specific word gets translated in a few different ways, maybe don't put too much emphasis on that exact word and how it feels to you, a native speaker of American English [or whatever your language background is]). Really, it's kind of deceptive how the bibles we read are full of English words we understand and sentences that make sense to us. It hides how completely foreign the bible truly is.

Here's another way that Christians get stuck on individual words in the bible: I've often heard people say things like "This bible verse has the word 'trust' in it, so I looked up 'trust' in the dictionary, and one definition was [definition that isn't the one being used in this verse], and wow, isn't it amazing to think [whatever the conclusion would be if that was the definition that the writer meant, rather than the definition that's more likely based on the context]."

So bizarre. The translator just chose the word "trust" because it was the English word with the closest meaning to what the writer was saying. That doesn't mean every possible definition of "trust" in Webster's dictionary applies to that verse.

Or there's this: "The word that's translated as [whatever English word] comes from the same Greek word they used for [some interesting imagery about farm animals or whatever]. So really, the writer meant that we [do whatever thing] in the same way that [a donkey pulls a cart or whatever]."

Uh, not really. (This is really the same mistake as the "I looked it up in an English dictionary" thing, except you used a dictionary from the original language instead.) Just because the same word is used in multiple circumstances doesn't mean that, when we use it in one context, we're always thinking about how this situation is similar to another context where that word would also be used. It would be like if someone read "we were kicked out" and started teaching that "this word 'kick' is the same word they used in their sports games, so the original audience would have imagined big, strong athletes when reading this." Yes, in some cases it's true that a word has a certain special "feel" because of the other ways it can be used, and that affects its meaning- but sometimes it totally doesn't. (This is especially true in Chinese, where more complicated words are often made of smaller, simpler words, but nobody is thinking of the meaning of those smaller words when they say them. Like "小心 [xiǎo xīn]" means "be careful"- but "小 [xiǎo]" means "little" and "心 [xīn]" means "heart." Why on earth do they mean "be careful" when you put them together? Who knows? But when you tell someone to be careful in Chinese, you don't involuntarily think of little hearts.) You really have to have a deep understanding of the language and culture to know when those other situations would affect the meaning or "feel" of a word, and when they wouldn't.

Don't take individual words in the bible so seriously. It's just a translation, and maybe they picked the best English word but that doesn't mean it has the exact same meaning as the original Hebrew or Greek. Translation is hard.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Without using the word "idol"

An illustration of a golden calf. Image source.

Chapter 4 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is about when people get into bad relationships just because they are lonely. This fear of being alone is a problem that must be addressed first, before you'll be able to find a healthy dating relationship. The book says this:
If you must be dating or married in order to be happy, you are dependent, and you will never be happy with whatever person you find. The dependency will keep you from being selective enough to find the kind of person who will be good for you, or will keep you from being able to fully realize a relationship with a healthy person.
I like this chapter. It's really interesting how purity culture also talks about this problem, but in a very different way. "You must get to a place where you are happy with your life apart from a dating relationship in order to be happy with one." That's a line from page 76 of "Boundaries in Dating," but that exact same sentence could appear in a purity-culture book.

But it wouldn't mean the same thing. Not even close.

This section of "Boundaries in Dating" is all about loneliness and our need to connect with other people who can support us, and how it's not healthy to try to meet that need solely through dating relationships. In contrast, purity culture says it's a need for God- your relationship with God must come first, and any other thing in your life that you "put before God" is a idol.

Take a look at this bit from "Boundaries in Dating":
How do you cure your aloneness without a dating relationship?

First, strengthen your relationship with God. Make him your first priority so that you are not trying to get God needs met by a relationship with a person.
Yep, so far this is pretty standard Christian advice. Heard it a million times.
Second, strengthen your relationships with safe, healthy Christians. Make sure that you are not trying to get your people needs met by a dating relationship, or by God. Yes, you need God. But you also need people.
WHAT? What? Christian book say what? There are needs that can't be met by God? WHAT IS THIS BLASPHEMYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Okay but actually I agree with them. Well, actually I would word it differently- I agree that you need to have connections with people, and you can't get this need met just by sitting alone and reading the bible and doing those individual activities that evangelicals refer to when they talk about "working on your relationship with God." BUT we don't find God only in those personal, individual things. God is everywhere, the source of everything good. I fully believe that God's love is like sound waves- it can't exist in a vacuum. It needs a medium to travel through. You don't just believe some abstract doctrine about God's love- that's not enough. You experience God's love through the good things in life. Through friends. Through cats. Through pleasure. Through living with your awesome boyfriend.

So in a practical sense, I completely agree with the authors of "Boundaries in Dating" in this section here. (The difference seems to be only in how we define "getting needs met through God.") But I would never say we have other needs besides God, because that is a surefire way to guarantee that no evangelical will take seriously anything you say, ever again.

"Boundaries in Dating" talks about this feeling of "needing" a relationship in purely psychological terms. In church, I've always heard it discussed in purely spiritual terms. This is a huge difference- and the psychological approach is MUCH better.

In spiritual terms, the logic goes like this: Everyone has a need for God. God must be first. If there's something else in your life that's massively important to you- more important than God- then that's an idol and you're sinning.

But what exactly does it mean to believe that God is more important than ANYTHING else, ALL the time? Doesn't it mean that, if at any point you believe "I need this thing", then at that moment, that thing is more important to you than God? So that thing is an idol.

And really, this extends to any desire. You want something, you think "if I had this, my life would be so much better." Oh, so you're not perfectly content now, you think you need something else in order to have a better life? You can't just be content with God? Wow, that's an idol.

Because this line of reasoning is based on something so abstract and intangible- "you have to love God more than anything else"- there's nothing reality-based to anchor it so it doesn't go into that extreme where all desires are "idols."

Back in my most "devoted to God" days, I really believed that it was always wrong to imagine "if only I had this thing, then my life would be so much better." I thought in all circumstances, you have equal access to your "personal relationship with God", and nothing else matters. So you should always be 100% content. God is all you need.

Obviously, that's not true. Some life changes really do make everything way better. Getting a new job, moving to a new home, starting a relationship, getting out of a bad relationship, etc- all of these things can cause massive improvements in one's quality of life.

The problem with "if only I had this thing, then my life would be so much better" is when your expectations are unrealistic. If you find a really great romantic partner, you can start a relationship where you love and support each other, and that's wonderful and it will improve your happiness level. But that doesn't mean they can meet all your needs, you don't need to have friends, you should spend all your time with your romantic partner, you're never going to fight, etc.

The problem isn't having a desire, it's when you believe that thing is going to totally change your life in ways that, really, it won't. In that case, you probably have some other psychological issues to work out, but it's easier to just tell yourself that you can get this one thing to solve all your problems, rather than honestly face your issues.

But nobody ever talks about that in church. It's always "if you think that getting what you desire will finally make your life better, then that's wrong, that's an idol, nothing can meet that need except God."

Furthermore, this whole "if you think you need something besides God, that's an idol" makes it really easy for people who already have all their needs/desires met to judge those who don't. I've blogged before about how I always took it for granted that I would get a college education, and I judged my classmates who worked so hard doing homework and not coming to Christian events- they were making education an idol. And this can turn into ableism very fast. Oh, you need to take medication for chronic illness/ depression/ etc? You "need" it in order to live? Well if you were a better Christian, you would believe God is all you need.

But, surprisingly, "Boundaries in Dating" takes a completely different approach- a healthy approach. It's about the need to connect with people. This book does NOT say that if you think you need ANYTHING, then that's an idol and you're sinning. No, nothing like that at all. The word "idol" does not appear once in this chapter. Instead it says if you think you NEED a dating relationship, then it's probably because you're lonely, so you should focus more on your friendships and doing things you love, so you're more emotionally healthy and better able to evaluate potential romantic partners.

This is wonderful. And, of course, shocking.

Here's another interesting difference between "Boundaries in Dating" and purity culture. Check out this paragraph:
Have a full life of spiritual growth, personal growth, vocational growth, altruistic service, hobbies, intellectual growth, and the like. The active, growing life does not have time or inclination to be dependent on a date. The more you have a full life of relationship with God, service to others, and interesting stimulating activities, the less you will feel like you need a relationship in order to be whole.
This exact paragraph could appear in a purity culture book. But it would be about how, before God brings your predestined spouse into your life, you have to wait, and you should spend that time becoming a better person for your future spouse. You know, the whole "don't focus on finding the right person, focus on being the right person." Oh and also, here's how you should use your time as a single person to serve God. The point of having a full, active life while single is to serve God and your future spouse.

But in "Boundaries in Dating", that's not the point at all. It's about your own emotional health- helping you to have a happy life and not be lonely. So you won't be desperate for a relationship, and make bad decisions because of that desperation. The point is to help YOU.

So, mostly, this chapter is pretty great. Totally shocking to me, of course, and I'm still baffled about how this passes as a "Christian book." But this stuff about loneliness and the need for human connection makes a lot more sense than anything anyone's ever said about "idols."

-------------------

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

Previous post: In which I roll my eyes so much

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blogaround

"Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside." Lin-Manuel Miranda at the Tony Awards. LGBTQIA and allies have been preaching the gospel all week.
1. Bible Verses Where “Behold” Has Been Replaced With “Look, Buddy” (posted June 6) "Listen, buddy, you shall conceive and bear a son."

2. How Stories Told Of Brilliant Scientists Affect Kids' Interest In The Field (posted June 7) "Growing up in China, David, she told me that she learned about scientists but mostly about how hard people work to make discoveries. When she came to the United States, she found that people tend to think of scientists as being naturally brilliant."

3. 5 Things Trans Allies Say That Mean Well But Miss The Point (posted June 9)

4. The Truth About: A Bugs Life & ANTZ (posted June 9) This video will probably only be interesting to those who, like me, are obsessed with animated movies from the 90's.

5. things not even tolerated by the world: Christians and hypocrisy (posted June 8) [content note: covering up rape and abuse] "at this point I’d be shocked if there’s any conservative Christian university that hasn’t spent decades retaliating against rape victims."

6. 'Three black teenagers' Google search sparks outrage (posted June 9) Hmm. This article kind of comes across like "Google's algorithm is racist, they need to change it" but that's not really the point- it's a sign of the racism that exists in US society, which goes way deeper than Google's search algorithm. We could talk about what Google could or should do about this, but the problem is much bigger than just Google.

7. Untold millions are still untold (posted June 4) "Was this person simply shopping there in paint themselves, or did they imagine that paint was where the sinners were likeliest to be shopping?"

8. 'Nonbinary' is now a legal gender, Oregon court rules (posted June 10) Great!

9. It’s This Drowning Dog’s Lucky Day When a Sikh Samaritan Disobeys His Religion (posted June 7) Great! Actually, some of the comments say that the Sikh religion totally says its followers can break the rule about turbans if there's a good reason- so it's not necessarily true that he was "disobeying his religion."

About the Orlando shooting:

1. How to Fight Hellfire (posted June 13) "And yet even still, there are some whose consciences are so seared that they cannot express grief for the victims without the caveat that they 'disagree with their lifestyle.'"

2. Why Does Dr. James Dobson Pretend He’s Sad About Dead LGBTQ Folks? (posted June 13) "I’ve already seen several false, hypocritical expressions of sympathy from people who wanted LGBTQ folks dead merely days ago."

3. China's LGBTIQ Organizations Issue Joint Statement on Orlando Gay Nightclub Attack (posted June 14) Scroll down for English. And that massive list at the bottom of the Chinese section is a list of Chinese LGBT organizations expressing their support for the victims.

4. You'll Need to Come Through Me (posted June 13) "ISIS isn’t the ones boycotting companies that advocate for policies of equality."

5. Orlando Shooter Was Reportedly a Regular at Pulse and Had a Profile on Gay Dating App (posted June 13) Whoa.

6. A Statement On Donald Trump’s Statement (posted June 13) "If Donald Trump, after this attack, still cannot say the words “I am using a terrible tragedy to incite ethnic and religious hatred for personal gain,” he should get out of the race for the presidency."

7. The Orlando Massacre Is About LGBT People No Matter What the Media Says (posted June 13) "Parts of the British media are struggling with how to report this atrocity and the extent to which it deserves coverage at all."

8. Trump's Tweets After Tragedy Often Strike Self-Congratulatory Notes (posted June 13)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Vigil and a (Very Wrong) Bible Verse

A rainbow heart above the word "Orlando." Image source.
[content note: anti-LGBT violence, anti-LGBT theology]

So. I mean, what can we even say about the Orlando shooting? It's just... it's not okay. I have so many feelings. We all have to live in a world where this is a real thing that happened, and that world is not okay, but we have no choice. What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to feel? I don't know, you guys.

I guess I'll tell a story. Two stories, actually. From back when I was in college.

This one time, there was a candlelight vigil for LGBT people who had been murdered. I don't remember the details- I don't think it was in response to a specific event or anyone personally connected to the college, it was just like "anti-LGBT hate crimes are a thing that exists in the US, let's have a vigil and remember the victims from this year."

So I decided to go. That was back when I was trying my best to "hate the sin and love the sinner." I hated how Christians were always accused of hating LGBT people, and I wanted to learn how to show love, in order to disprove that stereotype. (I pretty much wanted to be like Andrew Marin.) More than anything, I was motivated by evangelism- nobody's going to choose to become a Christian if they think Christians hate them.

I told the leader of my bible study group about the vigil, and she decided our whole group would go. So we did. And we did not say one word about "it's a sin" the whole time we were there. We were very well-behaved, wanting to express love more than anything else. (Or... well, like I said, I was motivated by evangelism. It wasn't actually about "I want to show love", it was about making Christianity look good. Err, actually, I believed "love" meant doing everything I could to get people to become Christians so they wouldn't go to hell. So in that sense, I was motivated by love.)

It was about making Christianity look good- that meant I couldn't say anything about "I disagree with that lifestyle." I was playing the long game. Gotta prove to people that I love them before I reveal that I "disagree with their lifestyle." Otherwise it'll never work.

And also, I wanted to learn. I knew that I knew nothing about LGBT issues. I knew I wasn't in a position to preach about it. I would need to listen and learn much much more before I could be a missionary to them, right? There's no way I would be able to convince anyone they were wrong if it was obvious that I knew nothing about their culture.

I'm glad I went to the vigil, and sort of tried to open my heart a little, and learn more about love- even though I believed in a horribly unloving theology. Trying to take seriously the "love" part of "hate the sin, love the sinner" was the start of my journey to accepting LGBT people, with no caveats, with no "but." Praise God.

Here's the second story: Back in college, I had two friends, who we will call Joshua and Caleb. There were "on fire for God" just as much as I was, but their methods were different. They were more along the lines of in-your-face, not-ashamed-of-the-gospel, we-don't-care-what-people-think. They were that type of Christians who think the rules don't apply to them, because their allegiance is to God, and they're following God's rules, which are way superior to any earthly rules. They were confrontational in their evangelism. They said and did harsh things to other people and called it "being bold for Christ."

In contrast, I did care what people thought. Because, like I said, my highest goal was evangelism. I wanted to present Christianity in such a way that it would be convincing to people and they would believe it. Joshua and Caleb kind of freaked me out sometimes, the way they were so... uh, bold, for lack of a better word. I thought sneakier, nicer-sounding evangelism was more likely to "work". Please understand, it's not because I believed treating people with respect is an intrinsically good thing. Nope. My reasoning was 100% practical. I wanted people to get closer to Christianity, not be freaked out and pushed away.

But I never expressed any disagreement with Joshua and Caleb, because I very much believed they were real Christians acting out of whole-hearted devotion to God, and how could I argue with that? Maybe it's good for different Christians to have different methods. They were more like Old Testament prophets, and that's fine, there's a place in the body of Christ for that, I figured. They were boldly speaking the truth- I couldn't articulate why I was uncomfortable with it.

Anyway, there was this wall outside the student center, that campus groups used to paint to advertise their events. One time, Joshua and Caleb painted this on the wall:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 6:23
(And they also painted their email addresses on it. I guess because it's kind of cowardly to just anonymously paint such a ... mean bible verse in such a prominent place on campus.)

Now, you have to understand, I believed that Romans 6:23 was the essence of what Christianity is. We deserve death because we are sinners, but Jesus can get us out of it. (I no longer believe this is the gospel- mainly because it's not good news.) But I was uncomfortable with just painting it up there and letting people read it themselves, with no context, no carefully-constructed friendship that could make them more likely to trust.

Anyway, you know how it goes with walls for advertisements, after a day or two another group comes and paints theirs over yours. So Romans 6:23 was painted over. (And I would not be one bit surprised if it was painted over by people who weren't even advertising something, they just wanted to cover that up and replace it with a message of love instead.)

A few days later, it rained, and part of Romans 6:23 was visible again. A Christian acquaintance emailed me and asked me to tell everybody to pray for rain so that the whole verse would be uncovered. I never replied to her email. I did not pray for rain. I wanted it to be covered. I didn't like that method of evangelism. You have to gain people's trust and make them think of you as a loving friend before you spring that on them. For practical reasons.

But I never told anyone that I didn't like Joshua and Caleb painting bible verses on that wall. Because for them, it was about how "unashamed of the gospel" they were, and how could I argue with that?

Well. So there are my two stories. The vigil and the bible verse. But, in a very very unfortunate coincidence, these two stories happened at the same time.

Yes. Joshua and Caleb painted that bible verse, and then 1 or 2 days later, while it was still there, the vigil was held. The wall with the bible verse was on one side of the student center, and the vigil was on the grass on the other side. Same time, same place. Remembering LGBT murder victims just around the corner from a massive wall that says "For the wages of sin is death."

I truly believe this was just a coincidence. They weren't trying to say anything about LGBT people specifically deserving death- they were just sharing the gospel with the campus. They were saying that EVERYBODY deserved death (that's the gospel). They didn't know or care about the LGBT hate crime vigil when they decided to paint the wall.

I used to talk to Joshua a lot about Christianity, so I can tell you pretty confidently, I believe his views were the same as mine. (Only his methods were different.) And it never made sense to me when people asked "are gay people going to hell?" because aren't we all going to hell? Being gay has absolutely nothing to do with it. You go to hell because all humans are sinners. Yes, "acting on homosexual desires" is a sin (I believed), but it doesn't affect your status as a sinner who deserves hell- because, you already are, just by being human.

The Christian groups I attended all preached that LGBT people aren't worse sinners than we are. You know, the whole "you can't accuse me of judging you unfairly, because I admit I am a sinner too! For example, sometimes I am selfish. Now let's get back to talking about how your entire identity and deepest loving relationship are sins."

In a theoretical sense, we believed it was wrong to make such a big deal about LGBT people while being silent on other sins. But make a big deal we did.

Anyway, because I was coming from that perspective, the "we have to warn them about their sin" perspective, it wasn't really possible for me to understand the existence of hate crimes against LGBT people. We saw LGBT rights as an issue where society was abandoning its good Christian morals, and we were the ones bravely taking a stand. When you believe that, it's very hard to also believe that society is cruel to LGBT people- cruel enough to kill.

And it's impossible to take a stand against anti-LGBT bullying and anti-LGBT violence when you're already sure you know what LGBT people need, and it's not protection from violence. No- they need God and they need to quit their "homosexual lifestyle." They don't need marriage rights. They don't need anti-discrimination laws. They don't need anti-bullying programs. More than anything else, they need to obey me when I tell them "God's" rules for sexuality.

And when that's your worldview, how can you really *get* the fact that anti-LGBT hate crimes exist?

I didn't get it. I really didn't get it back then.

I knew Joshua and Caleb had painted Romans 6:23 on the wall. And I attended the vigil. It never occurred to me to think that those two things might be related, until I heard some other students talking about it a few days later. They thought the "for the wages of sin is death" was a direct reference to the LGBT murder victims we were honoring. You guys, I truly believe this was just a very bad coincidence. Joshua and Caleb (and me) believed EVERYONE deserves to die and go to hell. Not just LGBT people. They were "spreading the gospel"- they weren't trying to say "ha, serves them right."

Anyway, when I heard that some students thought it was related, I was very surprised. And actually, my opinion was that it revealed more about the consciences of the people who were complaining than it did about Joshua and Caleb. The complainers were the ones who connected the ideas of sin and death with LGBT issues. Hmm, maybe subconsciously, they know "the homosexual lifestyle" is a sin. Ugh, yeah I didn't get it back then. (And I did not yet know about "intent is not magic.")

And maybe I had heard so many times about how we all deserve death and hell that it just sounded like Christian-y jargon to me. Like, ho hum, the wages of sin is death, yeah, I know, what else is new. Ever since I was a child and adults told me I deserve to die because of my sin, but it's okay because Jesus. I didn't get what I was actually saying when I "shared the gospel", how it must have sounded to others. I didn't understand that it really is a shocking and offensive statement, to say someone deserves death.

I didn't get it, and I couldn't get it, not with that theology. We believed that "loving" LGBT people meant trying to get them to stop being LGBT. I never heard a church preach that loving LGBT people means doing whatever we can to stop hate crimes. I never heard a church preach that love meant we don't want them to be murdered. I never heard a church preach that love meant caring that LGBT people have a much higher risk of suicide.

If you believe that a certain action is a hate crime, doesn't that also mean that taking a stand against that hate crime is an act of love? But no, that's not what my theology said love was. Sure, if we were asked directly, we would say of course murder is wrong and terrible. But our theology said it wasn't important. So unless someone asked us directly, we didn't really care.

I didn't get it. I couldn't get it back then. And I'm sorry.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: In which I roll my eyes so much

Two cows in love. Image source.
Chapter 3 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Take God on a Date," and it's about how Christians shouldn't date non-Christians. So, obviously, I'm not a fan of that. A lot of eye-rolling when I read this chapter.
If we don't feel some sort of conflict or loss because our date isn't on the same spiritual wavelength, there is a problem in our own religious life. Something is broken.
*rolls eyes*
At the same time, having no lasting Christian friendships could mean problems. ... Or it could mean that she is not a Christian, but rather a religious person who has never received Christ as her Savior.
Oh COME ON. This book's gonna participate in that "a lot of people go to church but they're not REAL Christians" nonsense?

So far this book has had a lot of really good common-sense advice that makes sense, but this part, no. Why would it be the case that, because I'm a Christian, I can't connect on deep level with a partner who's not a Christian? Christian concepts like resurrection, love, and "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" are central to who I am and what's important to me. You know what's not central to who I am? Believing those things are exclusively Christian concepts which NEED to be described using Christian language.

If you're treating people with love and advocating for justice and equality, then I believe you are bringing God's kingdom to the world, and that's fantastic. It doesn't matter if you call it "God's kingdom" or not, it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not.

So much reasonable and healthy advice in "Boundaries in Dating," and then there's this completely arbitrary guideline that says Christians are only compatible with people who refer to the source of all love and goodness as "Jesus."

Yes, there are definitely certain types of Christians who would not be able to deeply connect with a non-Christian partner. It's the ones who believe in Christian supremacy- believe that everyone else needs to become a Christian, believe that non-Christians secretly believe in God but they just love their sin so much they refuse to admit it, believe that non-Christians' lives all suck because they're being destroyed by their sin and they have a God-shaped hole. Yeah, if you believe a lot of nasty things like that about non-Christians, then you definitely won't be able to love a non-Christian partner. (And this book uses the term "the lost" so yeah, that's Christian supremacy.)

(Question: Is there some kind of middle ground- Christians who have a close "personal relationship with God" and work so hard on it that a non-Christian partner just wouldn't be able to truly understand it and give them the support they need, but also believe that it's perfectly fine for people to not be Christians? I don't see how this could work out and be logically consistent. Back when I had a personal relationship with God, I worked so so so hard fighting against sin and temptation, and I believed if I failed even a little, I would be overcome by sin and my life would suck. I don't see how you can live that kind of lifestyle and yet believe that it's perfectly fine for your non-Christian partner to not do all those things, and their life doesn't suck.)

It's interesting that, when "Boundaries in Dating" talks about whether a very-committed Christian and a less-committed Christian should date, it says not to base your evaluation of someone's commitment to God on external things- maybe they have a deeper relationship with God that's just different from yours. And just because someone knows the bible better doesn't mean they're a more mature Christian. Yeah, okay, why don't we take it a step farther and say those "external things" could include whether or not they use the term "Christianity" to describe their belief system?

Also this:
We don't believe you can only find people to date at church. ...

Unfortunately, this may mean you may not know much about a person's faith as you evaluate whether or not you want to pursue dating him. You can tell a lot about character by how a person operates in the world, but character maturity is not always derived from Christian belief. There are caring and responsible people who aren't believers. So it is important to address issues of faith pretty soon.
Ahhh, so close. Instead of "non-Christians can be great people with good character, so it doesn't make sense to make a rule that you shouldn't date them" it's "non-Christians can be great people with good character, because Christian belief isn't always something that you can tell from a person's actions, but we're still totally set on the idea that it's a deal-breaker, so better ask your date explicitly whether they would use the name 'Jesus' when talking about the foundation of good morals and good character."

*rolls eyes*

But. You guys. There was one surprising bit in this chapter, which may actually redeem the entire thing:
Avoid the tendency to take the role of spiritual responsibility for your date. Don't set up the relationship so that she is performing and growing under your tutelage. Why? Because children have one main job, and that is to leave their parents. If you are the daddy, she must grow up and leave you in order to fulfill God's purpose of becoming an adult.

A friend of mine made this mistake. He fell in love with a woman whom he then began to disciple. He took her through various Bible studies, gave her assignments, and had her reading books. He was so excited about this until the day she left him for another guy, stating that she felt too controlled. It was a devastating experience for him. However, he learned from it. He told me, "Next time, I'll leave the discipling to someone else."
[please hold while Perfect Number picks her jaw up off the floor]

I... WHAT?

They're saying "It's not healthy if one partner takes on the role of being the other partner's spiritual leader." In other words, "It's not true that 'the man has to be the spiritual leader.'"

I mean, yes OF COURSE I agree, it's NOT true that "the man has to be the spiritual leader", that's a bunch of sexist crap that has no place in the kingdom of God. But wow, have you ever heard a Christian book say that? I mean, a Christian book that's recommended by church people, not like, a Christian feminist let-me-tell-you-everything-wrong-with-purity-culture-and-complementarianism book.

(But seriously, Christian feminist let-me-tell-you-everything-wrong-with-purity-culture-and-complementarianism is my favorite genre.)

And this anti-complementarian statement is just tucked away with some common-sense ideas about the role that dating partners can play in each other's spiritual lives. Just all nonchalantly, like "You can encourage them and challenge them spiritually. But it's not good to be their spiritual leader. Here's an example. Well yep that's pretty much all there is to say about that. Moving on..."

I'm just... wow. I'm back to last week's question: what kind of book IS this? Do the authors not know about complementarianism? Do they not realize that every single Christian of the biblical-gender-roles persuasion- every last one of them- is going to read this and gasp at how anti-Christian it is?

Who is the intended audience for this? Who could possibly read this "don't be your partner's spiritual leader" bit and not have a TON of questions? They'd have to be a Christian who had never heard of complementarianism [and probably western and English-speaking, if they're reading this book]. Do those even exist?

All right, yeah, that's all for this chapter. All the eye-rolling from me over the whole "don't date a non-Christian" thing, which is a big change from the very practical and realtistic advice in the previous chapters. And then suddenly a tiny little subsection that basically says "oh we are DEFINITELY not complementarian", gives no explanation, and leaves the reader like "wtf just happened?"

Honestly though, it is kind of amazing to actually read that, just dropped in there like it's no big deal.

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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: What Kind of Book IS This?!

Next post: Without using the word "idol"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

#BrockTurner Link Round-Up

Picard and Riker both facepalm. Image text: "Double facepalm. When one facepalm is just not enough." Image source.
[trigger warning: rape, rape culture, etc]

Ugh, you guys. All over the internet, people have been talking about Brock Turner and the fact that he's a rapist who's not being punished enough for his crime, and all the feminists are angry about it. Including me. I don't really have anything profound to say, the whole situation is so awful it's hard to even think about it.

I guess I'll just say this: It shows that [a scary large proportion of] society doesn't really think rape is bad. Sure, he shouldn't have done it, but oh that boy has so much potential and such a bright future, is there really any good reason to take that away from him? Wouldn't that be so sad?

Or people think rape is bad for the wrong reasons. Maybe they see it as stealing a woman's "purity." If you're a virgin and a good girl who follows the rules and doesn't go to parties or drink, and you get raped, you've gone from good and pure to totally dirty- so the rape is an awful crime. But if you weren't a good girl, then you were already impure and dirty, so rape isn't as much of a big deal.

OKAY BUT FOR REAL: The reason rape is bad is because it's someone taking control over another person's body, telling them that their emotions don't matter, what they want doesn't matter, that their body and their choices aren't their own. But society doesn't really *get* that this is the reason rape is bad, because we already tell people that their feelings and choices don't matter and they don't have the right to say no, in a thousand little ways. That part seems normal; that's just the way the world works. Ugh.

Anyway here are a bunch of links you should read about #BrockTurner:

Judge goes easy on college rapist to avoid 'severe impact on him.' So, yeah.

Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker. Oh my god this is hard to read. But powerful. People need to read this.

‘A steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action’: Dad defends Stanford sex offender. So his father is also a terrible person.

Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case

Joe Biden Writes An Open Letter To Stanford Survivor

Brock Turner's Sentence Has Already Been Shortened by 2 Months

Missing Mugshot? Brock Turner's Stanford Yearbook Pic In Lieu Of Booking Photo Causes Outrage

Stanford Rapist Brock Turner Has Been Banned from USA Swimming For Life

Why the Stanford attacker's smiling photo is far more telling than any mugshot

Wealthy Teen Nearly Experiences Consequence (I was surprised to see that this article was from 2008, because it's pretty much ABOUT THIS SITUATION EXACTLY)

Brock Turner case fallout: Prospective jurors refuse to serve under judge

Despite all the outrage over bathrooms, America still doesn’t care about sexual assault

Friday, June 10, 2016

Blogaround

1. How to Love the Sinner & Hate the Sin: 5 Easy Steps by Emily Joy (posted June 1) [content note: suicide is mentioned] "Structure your entire relationship around opportunities to ask them to change."



2. How I convinced the world you can be raped by your date (posted June 2) [trigger warning: rape, victim-blaming, etc] "On talk shows I was always asked why I didn't try to fight him off, why I couldn't do something better. It was never, 'Why did he presume that he could have sex with you?'"

3. The Heartfelt Letters That Reveal How the Original Roots Haunted America (posted June 1) "It’s the first time the Middle Passage was represented on TV, and it’s the first time slavery was represented with that kind of brutality on television."

4. Christian rock star comes out as gay. Here’s the letter he wrote to the world (posted May 31)

5. 5 Reasons Why More Christians Are Becoming LGBTQ Affirming (posted May 27) "It happened one night when a non-affirming friend asked me quite sincerely, “How can I hold a non-affirming stance in such a way that kids won’t want to go out and kill themselves?” I thought long and hard about the question... I realized that I didn’t have a single answer for him"

6. To Conservative Parents of Daughters: Don’t Raise a Victim (posted 2013) Linking to this because it talks about the book "Boundaries" by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend, and I'm reading "Boundaries in Dating" now. I totally relate to how this blogger (April) finds the entire concept of "boundaries" to be bizarre, foreign, and completely counter to everything the church taught her.

7. How We Marginalize Abuse Survivors: Valuing Forgiveness Over Protection (posted May 23) Wow, this is an interpretation of the biblical story of Joseph I've never heard before. Joseph was abused by his brothers, and he does not forgive them until he is in a position of power and has tested them to confirm that they are truly repentant.

8. ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Bible (posted May 30) "The suggestion that this text includes any simple errors and mistakes is an idea they find appalling, but they’re nearly as adamantly opposed to the suggestion that the Bible might also include deliberate inconsistencies, disagreements, or differences of perspective that should rightly be read as meaningful."

9. The Serious Problems With Using Ecclesiastes 3 To Justify Christian Support of War & Violence (posted May 19) "The act of rebutting Jesus using other passages of Scripture should be a major red flag in the mind of any believer." Not for the type of Christian who believes [ie claims to believe] every word in the bible is equally valid, and whichever side gathers the most bible verses wins.

10. This dog, who is setting a good example for safety in the science lab:

Image description: A science classroom with a sign that says "Proper 'lab' attire includes goggles" with a drawing of a dog in safety goggles. Next to the sign, there is a real live labrador wearing safety goggles and a vest.
11. Why The Anti-Trafficking Movement Ignores The Voices Of Sex Workers (posted June 3) "What is happening today in the anti-trafficking/anti-sex industry movement would be offensive in any other context. It’s a form of moral colonialism: 'Oh, hey– I’m here, I have moral objections to how you’re living, and I know exactly how your life needs to change without even listening to your story.'"

And another post from the same blog: Is Pornography What’s Fueling Human Trafficking? (posted May 26) "To be true, the facts would need to flow like this: If pornography is the causation behind sex trafficking, and if the wide-spread existence of pornography is relatively new in history, one would also find that the phenomenon of forced sexual labor is new as well."

12. Let the World Change You: A Commencement Address Do-Over (posted May 21) "I thought the world needed my answers, but as it turns out, I needed the world’s questions."

13. The kingdom of God is like John Oliver forgiving $15 million of medical debt.

14. The Gospel Coalition and how (not) to engage culture (posted June 6) "Basically, you have to be a conservative Calvinist protestant who holds particular views about gender roles, reads the Bible in a certain way, understands human sexuality like they do, etc. If you don’t agree to these positions, you’re out."

15. BuzzFeed Terminates Ad Deal With Republican Party Over Trump (posted June 6) "The Trump campaign is directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world and in some cases, such as his proposed ban on international travel for Muslims, would make it impossible for our employees to do their jobs."

16. How Bernie Sanders Exposed the Democrats’ Racial Rift (posted June 8)

17. Suicidal Ideation (posted June 9) [trigger warning, obviously]

18. Why Some People Are Hurt More by Break-Ups Than Others (posted January 28) Oooooh highly recommend this article to anyone who grew up in purity culture.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

John Piper Said "There Are No Innocent Children" and I am Not the Least Bit Surprised

[content note: abusive theology that leads to child abuse, the idea that killing children could be moral, victim-blaming, and other nasty things]

So. Another day, another WTF-tastic tweet from John Piper:
Here's a screenshot, in case it gets deleted:

Tweet from @JohnPiper: "God does not punish innocent children for the sins of guilty parents. There are no innocent children. (Deuteronomy 5:9, Ezekiel 18:20)"
So John Piper said "There are no innocent children", in a way which seems to be addressing the question of why children suffer. And I'm like, yeah, of course John Piper said that. I mean, it's AWFUL and no one should ever say such horrible things about people made in the image of God, but yeah, not really that surprising. Anyone who's familiar with Piper's beliefs knows that Piper thinks "there are no innocent children."

Some Twitter users who read Piper's tweet were shocked. I am not shocked. Well, maybe a little bit shocked that he said it so directly and so publicly, but not shocked that he believes that. I used to believe that. In the Christianity I was taught, one of the foundational doctrines was that all people deserve to go to hell. (And in the Christianity I believe now, one of the most important aspects is taking a stand against this belief in hell. That is my number one criteria for choosing a church to attend: If somebody at the church said "there are no innocent children" or "we all deserve to go to hell", what would the reaction be? Would it be "well, yeah, because God is holy"? Would it be "well I don't necessarily agree with that, but yeah some Christians believe that and it's fine"? Or would there be a massive reaction from the church members- "OH DEAR GOODNESS, how could you even SAY that???!!!!" I would attend that church. You guys, I would attend that church so hard. ... So I guess twitter is my church.)

I was taught that it was important to memorize a short summary of what Christianity is all about- a "gospel presentation"- so we could "share" it with other people easily and get them to become Christians. And the very first part of that gospel presentation was Romans 3:10, "There is no one righteous, not even one." Yes. That is the very first assumption you need to accept in order for the rest of this Christian worldview to make sense. The idea that the most important quality people have is their sinfulness.

This "gospel presentation" was all about how, in our natural state, all people are dirty sinners who deserve to go to hell. The only way to not go to hell was to "accept Jesus", so then Jesus' righteousness would cover us. That way, God would not judge us based on who we really were and what we really deserve- because of course, we deserve to go to hell. But if we "accept Jesus"- which means believing a specific set of statements about Jesus and "really meaning it"- that's the loophole that gets us out of hell.

The church taught me that this is the essence of what Christianity is. That "gospel presentation" is the more important thing there is to know. You deserve hell, but you can get out of it by believing in Jesus. Now, of course there are a lot of other important things in Christianity- like God's love, and "love your neighbor as yourself"- but nothing can ever match the severity of the get-out-of-hell instructions. Hell is infinite, eternal torture. If you just tell someone "God loves you" but they don't understand that they need to believe certain things or else they will suffer for all eternity, it's useless.

Christians always try to argue "no no no, it's not about getting out of hell, it's about sharing God's love" but there's no way to believe that and be logically consistent. Hell is infinitely bad- it outweighs any other concern, any other command. In this ideology, getting people out of hell is the definition of love. So whatever lying, manipulation, or disrespect you force on people is moral, if it works- if you succeed in getting someone "saved."

I've said it before, and I'll say it many more times: Hell ruins Christianity. Completely ruins anything good about Christianity. And I'm so glad I don't believe in hell anymore.

Anyway, because of this whole thing about hell and how everyone deserves to go there, the idea of being a "good person" was viewed with suspicion in the Christian culture I belonged to. A good person? But no one is righteous, remember Romans 3:10? If someone believes people can be "good", then they might believe that people can earn their way into heaven, and that would be a very bad thing to believe.

I remember one time, in a bible study group in college, someone made a comment about how "it's a common misconception that 'good people go to heaven.' Well, actually, technically its IS true. But there are no good people." That was the kind of thing we believed. People were basically bad, and anyone who says otherwise should be viewed with the highest suspicion, because they're probably trying to spread false teaching.

So let's see how this obviously-terrible teaching turns even worse when it comes to the question of suffering. Or rather, the question "why do bad things happen to good people?" Well, like I said, there are no "good people." Everyone deserves to go to hell, remember? So whatever terrible thing happened to you, you totally deserved it.

I don't believe that crap anymore, but even now, when I say things like "disasters happen in the world, and innocent people die- why doesn't God stop it?" I still feel a little ... weird about using the term "innocent people." Because I used to believe there are no innocent people. (Even though the bible often refers to people as "blameless" or "righteous.") We all deserve to go to hell. Now, when bad things happen to people, it's not because of any specific sin they committed, it's not because they're more guilty than other people- it's just because as a human, you deserve to have bad things happen to you. Those of us who aren't suffering should count ourselves lucky- we're not getting what we deserve. (Piper has made many horrifying and heartless statements like this in the aftermath of various horrible disasters.) That's literally what I believed, back then. When good things happen, it's a gift from God that you don't deserve. When bad things happen, it's justice.

I have heard the same idea expressed in this way: "God didn't have to wake you up this morning." This gets said in the context of thanking and praising God. In other words, if you had died in your sleep, that would have been totally fine and nobody would have a right to complain to God about it. Or, similarly, the idea that "God doesn't owe us anything" (which John Piper said in his video explaining why "it's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases").

So Piper takes this idea- that we all deserve to suffer and go to hell- and says it applies to children too. (Err... in this 2010 video, Piper says infants who die go to heaven. So... I'm guessing he believes they still deserve hell, but God lets them get out of it because there has to be some kind of loophole, just like those of us with more developed brains get the loophole of "accepting Jesus" even though we all deserve hell. Wow, isn't God nice?) Now, some Christians (who still get counted as "Real True Christians") believe that, until some "age of accountability," children are innocent, and if they die they will automatically go to heaven. In the church culture I grew up in, there wasn't a clear "stance" on the "age of accountability" thing. I understood that some Christians believed in it and some did not, and it wasn't one of those issues that would call someone's status as a "real Christian" into question. BUT ever since I was little, I was taught that I deserved to go to hell and that I NEEDED to believe in "the gospel." So... yeah in practice, no "age of accountability", I guess.

The bible does not say there is an "age of accountability." (Well, the bible doesn't say that people who die without having ever agreed with certain statements about Jesus go to hell... so of course it doesn't give any parameters about the time periods during their their life when they should agree with those statements...) The closest thing I've ever found is 1 Kings 14, where it is prophesied that King Jeroboam and his whole family will die, because Jeroboam didn't obey God. None of his family members will be buried, except for his child, because "in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel." If you want, you can pretend that this passage says that there is a certain "age of accountability" and if a child dies before that age, then they go to heaven automatically. In much the same way that Christians pretend Psalm 139:13 says, "life begins at conception and abortion is always wrong."

The Slacktivist has said this about the "age of accountability" belief:
Their doctrines of original sin and Hell require that every human person is damned unless they pray the prayer of salvation. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” ...

But that seems unfair to small children who are not yet capable of understanding death, and therefore are incapable of believing in their hearts that God hath raised Jesus from the dead. And it seems even more unfair to even younger children who have not yet learned to talk and who are, therefore, not yet able to confess with their mouths unto salvation. For God to condemn such small children to Hell for an eternity of conscious torment seems monstrously cruel. It’s required by their doctrine, but they refuse to accept it. The doctrine says it must be so, but if that’s what God is like then God doesn’t seem to deserve worship, love or obedience. The character of God is supposed to be revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and it seems impossible to imagine Jesus Christ tormenting an innocent baby too young to speak.

That line of argument leads them to believe in an age of accountability, beneath which young children are exempt from the automatic eternal damnation awaiting their parents and older siblings. That line of argument, followed a bit further, would also completely destroy their extra-biblical idea of Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment, but sadly these folks balk at that and refuse to follow the trajectory of their own argument any further.
And here's another problem with the "age of accountability": so, let's say the age is 12. That means that we should kill children before they reach the age of 12, in order to guarantee they go to heaven and are happy for all eternity. If they live past 12, then their eternal fate will depend on whether they "accepted Jesus" or not, and only a small minority of people make the cut (remember, it doesn't count if they "say" they're Christians- no, they have to be "real Christians"). Hell is eternal. If you kill a kid when they're 12, let's say at most you're taking away 90 years they could spend having a happy life on earth. But when you look at infinity, the math tells you that it is certainly worth it to take away those 90 years in order to guarantee an eternity of happiness. Right?

You just can't argue with the math. The ideology they've set up leads to the conclusion that it's moral to kill children. There's no way around it. [content note on this link: it's about children who were murdered] I mean, of course they'll say you shouldn't kill children because then you'll go to hell, but this does NOTHING to address the fact that, in their belief system, it IS better to be murdered as a child than to live a long, happy, non-Christian life. What if you love the child so much that you're willing to go to hell so they don't have to?

Ugh. That's just disgusting.

And it's sort of, uh, interesting how this relates to abortion. All the religious pro-life people I've ever encountered believe that "aborted babies" automatically go to heaven. So, in that case, isn't abortion the best thing that could happen to them? Why let them be born and take the risk that they'll never become the right type of Christian, and then go to hell?

But let's get back to the Christians who believe that there are no "innocent children." This thinking gives rise to a parenting philosophy that's based on parent and child fighting for control. (This is promoted by Christians like James Dobson and Michael Pearl. I guess we can give Dobson credit for being "less extreme"- he doesn't advocate regularly hitting infants with a stick, like Pearl does. But the underlying philosophy is the same.) When a small child misbehaves, it's seen as a deliberate rebellion against the parents. Children are born sinful, so of course they just want to be as bad as possible and see if their parents will let them get away with it. Parents are told they MUST punish children for every little "sin"- even for the "sin" of obeying in a way that's not "cheerful" enough. There are no excuses- children shouldn't get away with "sin" because they're tired/ hungry/ not developed enough to know how to communicate and handle their emotions.

This leads to child abuse, because OF COURSE IT DOES. Even parents who genuinely love their children and are trying to do what's best for them will hit their children, withhold food, emotionally abuse, etc, if they buy into this parenting ideology. Children have died as a direct result of Michael Pearl's teachings.

I also believe that this "no one is righteous" belief goes hand-in-hand with victim-blaming. If you believe that eternal torture in hell is a reasonable punishment for any little sin ever committed, it's pretty easy to believe that rape is a reasonable punishment for drinking too much, or wearing "immodest" clothes, or doing "impure" things like kissing. It's pretty easy to believe that an unarmed black man deserved to be shot by police because he was doing something illegal, or had smoked weed in the past, or wasn't respectful enough. Really, we all deserve to go to hell. We all deserve to be raped and shot. Really, these victims deserved worse. Nothing to see here folks, no injustice to address.

In short, believing that everyone deserves to go to hell completely warps one's understanding of justice. It means every possible terrible thing that happens to someone is deserved- if the universe were just, we would all be in hell right now, but thank God that we at least get a little time in our earthly lives to experience some happiness before justice kicks in. It means blaming victims rather than showing compassion and fighting for justice- in this case, I'm using the ACTUAL definition of justice, which includes helping victims. (The biblical definition of justice is "God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble, he has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." Please note that I'm using the term "the biblical definition of" to make fun of Christians who claim there is a "biblical definition of marriage." [I don't know if they've noticed, but the bible is not a dictionary...] There is no "biblical definition of justice" either- but that verse I quoted is from the bible and it matches my understanding of what justice is.)

It's a horrific ideology. It's not loving, it's not Christ-like, and it treats people- who bear the image of God- like they're worthless. The truth is, we don't deserve to go to hell just as a default consequence of being human. We deserve happiness and love and pleasure. We don't deserve tragedy. We don't deserve to die. We don't deserve abuse.

Jesus said, "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." John Piper's theology is about telling "the least of these" that they deserve to suffer and go to hell, and it leads to violence and abuse directed at "the least of these." Any God worthy of worship would be disgusted at that.

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Related: John Piper Said "Sex Belongs to Christians" and I am Not the Least Bit Surprised

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

We Need Rules Because We Can't Trust Ourselves [they said]

A goat climbs on rocks, behind a sign that says "Please do not climb on rocks." Nobody tells this goat what to do. Image source.
Samantha Field has been reviewing the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," and you should totally read her posts. Really, you should always read Samantha Field- she has a lot of insightful things to say about fundamentalist and evangelical culture.

Here's a bit from one recent post on "I Kissed Dating Goodbye":
3. Establish Clear Guidelines

I found one bit of this entertaining. He tells us to “establish guidelines … that are based on the wisdom of God’s Word” (116). Apparently God’s Word (which means the Bible, not Jesus) can tell us “what constitutes a romantic setting” in 21st century America.

However, the actual problem with this section is that Joshua disguises what is blatantly legalism:
There are not hard and fast rules. These are issues of wisdom and will differ based on your age and spiritual maturity …

So I’ve created a policy about this issue: I will not go to a girl’s home if no one else is there … I don’t have to weigh the situation or pray about it–I already know that I won’t accept the invitation. (116-17)
I grew up among Christians who did this sort of thing all of the time. It’s not truly legalism if it only applies to you, personally. If you are personally convicted about a particular thing. We don’t make rules for everyone, just ourselves. Personally. And, anyway, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

However, Joshua does make it clear what’s so attractive about legalism in the first place: you don’t have to think. Making determinations about individual situations with all their complexities and nuance is difficult, so just make a rule for yourself and voilà problem solved! Except … this is not very useful. In fact, my experience demonstrates that it’s damaging. Life doesn’t work this way, and being a person means tailoring your responses to the situation at hand. If you’re not allowed to do that, ever, then your emotional growth is being stunted.
I know exactly what she's talking about. In purity culture, we have to fear our own desires. We are taught that, given the right combination of circumstances, temptation will overtake us and we won't be able to control ourselves. And therefore, we have to make clear rules beforehand. Then when we're actually in a situation with "temptation", we have to just obey the rules, even if they seem unreasonable- of course we'll have a lot of reasons why we won't want to obey, of course we'll feel like the rules shouldn't really apply to that case, but that's because our minds are so thoroughly sinful. We're just trying to make excuses for our sin. We're listening to the lies that "temptation" tells us.

As an example, let's use the one Joshua Harris gave in that section of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" quoted in Field's post: "I will not go to a girl’s home if no one else is there." Now, the reason for this rule is, if he is alone with a girl, who knows what might happen? What if temptation overcomes the two of them, and they accidentally do something horribly impure? Like kissing. Or having sex. See, purity culture teaches that we can't control ourselves. There are certain circumstances where the "temptation" is just too great, and it's almost impossible to not have sex. "Almost impossible" because of course it's still your fault, of course afterward, when you're trying to make sense of what happened, you will remember that there were parts where you could have and should have chosen differently. But really, it's your fault because you made the choice to be in that situation, which you knew could have strong temptation. If you go to the home of a boy you like, and then, somehow, you two end up having sex, it's not rape. It's just what happens when you're not careful with "temptation." You should have known better. It's your fault.

Which, oh dear god, what a horrible thing to believe and to teach. If that's not rape culture, I don't know what is. IN REALITY, people don't have sex "accidentally." If you had sex without choosing it, without your partner checking if you wanted it or not, and giving you the option to say no, then it's rape. It doesn't matter what kind of "temptation" situation you "put yourself in." It doesn't matter what you wear, or where you are, or if you've been drinking, or if it's someone that you're sexually attracted to- everybody has the ability to ask for consent and to not have sex with a non-consenting partner.

But in purity land, nope. We weren't taught about consent- we were taught that our bodies would just do it, and we wouldn't be able to stop them. I was actually shocked when I first started reading feminist blogs, and came across the idea that, even if a girl and boy are making out, the boy is perfectly capable of STOPPING and NOT HAVING SEX if the girl says she doesn't want to go farther. Yes. Feminists taught me that. Feminists taught me that men are NOT mindless, sex-driven animals. Purity culture taught me the opposite. The question of which of these ideologies "hates men" will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Let's get back to that rule about not going to a girl's house. I suppose we could extend it to say that you shouldn't go to the home of a member of the opposite sex, if it'll just be the two of you. (Because purity culture thinks that everyone is straight.) Now let's imagine how this rule would play out, in a practical sense.

Maybe I need to borrow something from someone my family knows from church, and I want to go pick it up on Saturday afternoon. However, at that time, the only person at their home will be a boy who's my age. Now, maybe I don't know him at all. Maybe I'm just going over to his home because my parents know his parents, and I'm going over to get whatever it is we're borrowing, to help out my parents. The rule says I can't go on Saturday afternoon, because it will just be me alone with a boy. What to do?

Well, I could think to myself, I don't know this boy at all. I'm definitely not attracted to him. He's just some random guy who has a set of lawn chairs that my parents need. Surely, one would think, I can drive over there and get the stuff without anything "impure" happening.

It seems like a case where I don't have to follow the rule. But how do I know I'm able to think clearly about this? Am I really correct in my estimation that there is no purity risk in this situation? Or is that just temptation, lying to me, and it seems right because I'm so sinful? Isn't it a little suspicious that I made this rule for myself, and I was so confident about it, and now suddenly when it's actually time to obey the rule, I'm making excuses for why it shouldn't apply? What's the point of having a rule in the first place if I'm just going to reason my way out of it like this?

See, purity culture teaches that we can't trust ourselves to make good decisions when it's actually time to make those decisions. We're so weak and easily swayed by temptation. Of course the sinful option is going to appear attractive. So, we have to make strict rules for ourselves beforehand. Then, when a situation arises, we have to stick to those rules no matter what. You can't deviate from them because common sense tells you to- that might just be your sinful heart! (And it's not just purity culture- this is true of EVERYTHING if you believe that people are "totally depraved.")

So it's surprising to me that Field says having so many rules and not allowing yourself to make a decision that takes into account your specific circumstances is a sign of emotional immaturity. Wow. She's absolutely right, but wow. I never thought of it that way before. Back then, I thought it was a sign of self-control and humility- see, I recognized that I couldn't be trusted while under the influence of "temptation", so I obediently stuck to the rules. Obeying even when it didn't make sense was the definition of faith. We were trusting that God knew what was best. Leaning not on our own understanding and all that.

But for real. We are capable of thinking for ourselves. We can trust ourselves. When we actually encounter a tricky situation, getting real information and using that to make a decision is not a sign that we are "biased" by "temptation."

I believe that people bear the image of God. Therefore, we are capable of thinking for ourselves, and we are supposed to think for ourselves. We have the capacity for wisdom and creativity to make good decisions, and that's how God intended it.

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