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Monday, April 24, 2017

Here's What We're Doing With Our Last Names

"Mrs" and "Mr" signs at a wedding. Image source.
Traditionally, when a man and woman get married, the woman changes her last name to match her husband's. But nowadays, at least among feminists, it's not always this way. There are lots of other options. I'd like to tell you what Hendrix and I decided to do.

When I was little, I always wanted to change my last name to my future husband's. I didn't know what patriarchy was, or realize that there was something extremely unfair in the idea that wives need to change their names and husbands do not. Instead, I was excited to switch to a cooler-sounding last name. Like, find a guy whose last name sounds like some kind of dinosaur or something. SO COOL, right? As a woman, I have a chance to upgrade to something better, whereas men don't (according to the tradition).

But now I'm engaged, and in a few months, Hendrix and I will get married. And we decided on this together: I'm going to change my Chinese last name, and he's going to change his English last name. See, we actually both have 2 names- a Chinese and an English one- and we use them in different situations. For me, my English name is my "real name," the name on all my IDs and paperwork, the name that most people call me, and I picked a Chinese name for convenience reasons when I'm in China, but it's not officially my name in any sort of legal sense or anything like that. For him, it's the opposite.

Please note that a Chinese name consists of Chinese characters, not letters. Let's use 李雷 (li lei) as an example. In Chinese, the last name goes first. 李 (li) is his last name. It's pronounced "li" (err, if you're not familiar with Chinese pronunciation, it's pronounced "lee"), and when you fill out paperwork in English, you write it as "Li" but his last name isn't actually Li, it's 李. In modern-day mainland China (which uses the pinyin system to write the pronunciation for Chinese characters), "李" gets written as "Li" when you need to change it into an English name, but Chinese-speakers in other places might write it as "Lee" instead. What I'm saying is, he uses "Li" as his last name when he's introducing himself in English, but it's not his real name (though the pronunciation is the same as his real name), and wouldn't it make more sense for him to just use my last name as his English last name?

If he had grown up in an English-speaking environment, things would be different. I am NOT saying that because "Li" comes from Chinese, it's not a "real" last name in English. That would be racist as hell. I'm NOT saying "my last name sounds more European so we're both going to use it as our English name" because, again, that would be racist as hell. Obviously there are people named Li who were born in the US, or spent a lot of time in grad school in the US, or whatever, and Li very much is their real name. (Or perhaps 李 and Li would BOTH be their real name. I'm not making rules about this- each person can decide for themself.) That's not the case for Hendrix and I. I just kind of made up a Chinese name for myself, and he just kind of made up an English name for himself, just to make it easier to communicate with people in both languages. We're both going to change our "made up" last names.

(I'm also not in the business of policing what is and isn't someone's "real name." This is about how Hendrix and I feel about our English and Chinese names and how they relate to our identity. Other people might feel differently about their name(s) and that's fine. You do you.)

So we're not making any changes that involve paperwork and legal stuff. As far as the government is concerned, nothing changes. And I'm glad about that, because in the future when I'm applying for Chinese visas and things, it might be a pain if I suddenly have a different name. (In China, people don't change their last name when they get married. And then kids get their father's last name.)

The last-name question worked out very well for us; we have a perfectly equal and symmetric solution. So there you go- the secret to feminism is marrying a partner who was raised in an environment that doesn't even use the alphabet we use in English. I'm kidding about that; I don't feel like "wow I am more feminist than other women who change their names." No, of course not. If a woman wants to change to her husband's last name, that's fine. There are perfectly valid reasons for doing that. We shouldn't judge other people's choices, but work toward a future where no one is forced to give up their name.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blogaround

A box with "(cat + cat^box)^box" written on the side, along with two cats arranged as stated. Image source.
1. Are You Demanding Time for Yourself in Your Marriage? Sharing this because I was struck by how there could easily be an article on a site like The Gospel Coalition with the exact same title, but completely opposite meaning. The link here is from the site A Practical Wedding, which has really useful, feminist advice on weddings, marriage, and being an adult, and it's an article about how it's important for everyone to have some time just for themselves but usually women are expected to do everything and they feel like they're not allowed to insist on "me-time." Very very interesting how the words "demanding" and "yourself" have completely different meanings in feminism vs conservative Christianity.

2. The Gaston Song Explained (posted April 11) "He must be spending a fortune on eggs, I mean that other lady can't even afford six. ... And are the six eggs just for her? I mean, I am personally content with three and I'm a pretty big guy. Does anyone in this town eat anything but eggs?"

3. 24 Seriously Annoying Things That Happen In Every Sex Scene (posted April 14) [NSFW] "The main sexual move appears to be rolling around together while seemingly not actually having sex."

4. The Bible and Mental Illness (posted April 9) "What I perceived as a spiritual attack or some sort of separation from God was a medical issue."

5. The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI (posted April 11) I work in robotics, and deep learning is really not as scary as this article makes it sound. Still a good article worth reading, facts are correct but it's a little over-the-top with the whole "oh noes we don't know why the computer made this decision oh the horror" stuff.

6. We tested bots like Siri and Alexa to see who would stand up to sexual harassment (posted February 22) I'm all for programming female robots to not take this crap from anyone.

7. Holy Saturday (posted April 15)

8. The Greatest Story Never Told (posted 2015) "In all my years in church I don’t recall ever once hearing a preacher acknowledge from the pulpit that a bunch of people were raised from the dead and appeared to many on Easter weekend. Have you ever heard one talk about this?"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A victim who's made mistakes is still a victim

A raccoon that says, "Yes~ yes~ my evil plan has been set in motion." Image source.
[content note: this is a story about getting coerced into spending a lot of money. And what that experience taught me about victims in other scenarios too, like abuse or rape]

A few years ago, I somehow ended up spending a lot of money at this beauty place that does face-wash stuff and spa-type stuff. Well, not really "somehow"- it was because the sales people coerced me into it. They were deceptive from the very start- I was told "we're having a special event today and doing a face treatment for free!" Yeah, it turned out not to be free. "It will only take 10 minutes!" Yeah, I was there for 2 hours.

They were so nice, and friendly, and polite, that I couldn't see that they just wanted my money and didn't care about me. And I told them, over and over, that I wasn't interested in buying anything, but they refused to accept that answer. And I was operating under the rules of politeness, which say that I'm not allowed to just refuse- I have to give a reason why, and then when they argue that that reason is invalid, I have to respond to that argument. I can't just say "I already said no, seriously what is wrong with you? Leave me alone, okay?" No, that would be "rude." I was following the rules of politeness rather than actual morality.

The rules of politeness say that my money is not actually mine, that my choices are not actually mine. It's all up for public debate. I'm only allowed to refuse to buy something I don't want or need if I can give an answer that satisfies the sales person. They were all so nice and friendly to me, I shouldn't be "rude" to them. I either have to keep playing the game and arguing about why no, I actually don't need to buy this, or give up and just give them the money. Or be "rude" and refuse to play.

(And here's a sign that we live in a rape culture: if your partner wants to do something you're uncomfortable with- come to your home, kiss, spend the night, have sex, whatever- you're expected to provide a reason why you don't want to. Your body is not your own- you're only allowed to make your own choices if you can offer a well-reasoned and convincing argument to support those choices. Yeah, not cool. Your body belongs to you. Maybe in some situations you're willing to hear your partner out, so a little bit of pushback is okay I guess, but if they expect you to issue rebuttals to all of their counterarguments about why you're wrong to feel a certain way, that is NOT OKAY. Your body, your choice, and you don't owe anybody an explanation.)

I kept saying no, and they kept putting more and more pressure on me, and I was so uncomfortable and they seemed so nice, I didn't want to be in conflict with them. The tension was too much, I couldn't stand it, finally I said yes. I thought that would get them to quit badgering me.

And it worked for a few minutes, they swiped my credit card and they were so happy and told me what a good deal I was getting, how lucky I was. And then they brought out another thing I didn't want or need and the whole thing started over.

In the end, I spent a lot of money and got a year-long membership. And they were all like, can't wait to see you again next week, we're friends now! And I felt really excited and happy. Also a little guilty and ashamed for spending so much money- but I decided to look on the bright side and make the best of the year-long membership.

I went back again, a week or two later, and one of them- a very friendly and nice woman- did the face-washing service for me, which was very nice. And then a few others came in and told me I totally needed to buy another product, and I said no, and they refused to accept that. On and on and on about all the reasons I needed this product, and how all my reasons for not wanting it were wrong, and I needed to justify myself.

And again, the next week. Got the face treatment, because I'd already paid for that, and I refused to spend money on anything else. But the sales people kept trying. And I had to keep explaining myself, I had to keep thinking of new reasons to refuse, because we were just having a polite and friendly conversation and I couldn't just tell them to STOP IT. And they would say ANYTHING. They completely made up so much bs, and the rules of politeness said I couldn't just point out how much bs it all was. ("I don't need that, I already have one at home." "No, there's no way you have one at home! Our product is completely different from all the other companies'. It's way better! You definitely don't already have this." Seriously?) It was exhausting. (And entirely in Chinese.)

I only ever spent money that first time I went. I was determined that I wouldn't buy anything else from them, I would only make use of the service I had already paid for. Sometimes when I went there, I would leave my credit card at home, so that no matter how much pressure I was under, and how hard it was to keep saying no, I could feel secure in the knowledge that it was literally impossible for me to buy whatever it was they wanted me to buy. Which pretty much shows just how nasty and unhealthy the whole thing was- I knew I was going into a situation where people would try to coerce me into making bad choices, and yet I chose to go there anyway. (At the time though, I thought it was hilarious. "LOLOLOLOL joke's on them, I didn't even bring my credit card!" I never told this to them, of course.)

After each appointment, I had to fill out a card and check a box that said I was "extremely satisfied" and sign my name. And of course I did it. The face-wash service itself was totally fine, and people were so friendly and I wanted them to like me. I didn't like how they tried to sell me stuff, but that was just small talk and politeness and feelings, not something that actually mattered, right?

I didn't know how to care about my own emotions, to be aware of my emotional health. I didn't realize how much stress it was for me- they were all so friendly and happy to see me, and there were a lot of things I liked. It was fun at the beginning! My attitude was like, wow I'm in China, having all these strange new experiences, how exciting! I got a lot of good practice speaking Chinese, and I learned words to describe how great one's boobs would supposedly look if one were to buy this bra.

There were parts that were fun. It was always funny hearing what kind of total bs they would make up to explain why I needed to buy something. And one time, for some reason, they thought they could convince me to buy a bra by cutting out a piece of padding from the bra, and burning the piece of padding. Yes. WTF? Yes. This is a thing that really happened. It was hilarious. And also kind of horrifying. (I think they were trying to demonstrate some chemical property it had? You'll be shocked to learn that it was total bs rather than real science.) And no, I did not buy anything.

But as the weeks went on, I felt worse and worse about going there. It got to the point where I hated it and was only going because I'd already paid for the service. And then I decided it was causing me so much emotional trauma that it would be better to not go. And they were so dishonest about everything, I figured they weren't the kind of people who would give me a refund if I asked, so I just stopped. Blocked their phone calls, cut them out of my life. Never going back.

And then I got really angry.

Once I had given up on the whole "look on the bright side and tell myself this wasn't a huge mistake", I started to realize how much they had lied. All the time, about everything. Constantly. How manipulative they were, how they had been able to bend reality in such a way that it felt like it was a good idea to spend a ton of money on something I didn't really want. How they had never cared about me- they just wanted my money. They were a bunch of vampires. And what the hell was that comment about how if I don't buy their bra, my boobs won't look good and my boyfriend will leave me because "men are like that"?

So angry. And so embarrassed. I didn't want to think about it, I didn't want anyone to know. I felt so bad that I had spent money on that, that I had made such a bad decision with such a huge amount of money.

And I'm blogging about this now because I've come to the realization that I was a victim, and they are the ones who did a bad thing. I don't need to feel bad about this- instead, the focus should be on how wrong it is for them to prey on people and coerce them into spending money.

I made mistakes. But what they did was actually evil.

In feminism, we talk a lot about how victim-blaming is not okay. How when somebody gets raped or abused, there will always be people who want to analyze the victim's choices and judge whether they did something wrong and are "partly to blame." And feminists say "no, if this happened to you, it's not your fault."

But they go too far when they say, "if this happened to you, it's not your fault. There was nothing you could have done differently to prevent it" because that might not be true, and it doesn't matter because the victim's actions are NOT THE POINT. In my case, I see places where I made mistakes. Like when I said something was too expensive, and they asked me what price I think it should be, and badgered me into saying a number- and then once I had said a number, that was the starting point of the bargaining, and the rules of politeness said I had agreed to pay whatever price we come to at the end of the bargaining. I shouldn't have said a number; that was a mistake. I should have known about how to recognize suspicious and dishonest sales techniques. I should have been more aware about how my behavior was being illogically constrained by the rules of politeness. I should have paid attention to my emotions; I should have known that my emotional health matters and it's not okay for people to treat me that way.

I see a lot of places where I made mistakes or I "should have known better." But none of that changes the fact that I was a victim and they took advantage of me. Nobody should be talking about sub-optimal choices a victim made, when another person consciously made a choice to hurt and manipulate someone.

When people talk about abuse, they ask questions like "but why didn't the victim leave?" or "but why didn't you report the rape immediately?" Really? I can think of SO MANY reasons why. My situation was just about money, not anything as serious as rape or abuse- but you could ask why I kept choosing to go back there. So many reasons. My own optimism. I didn't want to believe I had made a bad decision. I didn't want to believe that they were the kind of people who would claim to be my friends but really just want money. I thought maybe someday I would win an argument with them and they'd have to treat me better. I thought I could get them to respect my right to receive the service I had already paid for, without constant harassment. I didn't even realize how badly it was affecting me because I didn't know my feelings mattered- I didn't know that it could be so hurtful and unhealthy to just have a "friendly and polite conversation."

And I totally believe victims when they say at first they didn't realize it was rape or abuse. It took me a long time to realize just how much stress and emotional trauma those manipulative sales people were causing. I was actually happy at the beginning. I always checked the box that said "extremely satisfied"- if, hypothetically, I tried to get my money back, they could use that as evidence. But there were reasons I checked "extremely satisfied." I thought I was. I thought I was happy, but I really wasn't- like I said, I didn't know how to be aware of my own emotions, I didn't know that it mattered that they made me feel so bad. I was trying to make the best of the situation and be kind to them. It wasn't until much later that I realized how badly they had treated me. Then I saw the warning signs that had been there, so obvious, all along. (We're taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, to not jump to conclusions and get all confrontational when somebody treats you in a way you don't like- and then this is used as evidence against abuse victims. If at any point you acted like you were fine or you liked it, then it couldn't have been abuse, could it?)

An essential part of manipulation/ coercion/ abuse is making the victim believe that they actually like it, that they chose it, that it's not manipulation/ coercion/ abuse. So OF COURSE you're going to have victims that don't realize they're victims until much later. I totally believe you if you say that's what happened.

Anyway, I blocked their phone calls, they don't know where I live, I'm pretty sure I never even told them my real (English) name. They will never do anything to me again. All that's left is my own anger and embarrassment about this, figuring out how I feel and why.

The stuff I've learned from feminism about "don't blame the victim" is really helpful for me. I see that I made mistakes, but that's not the point. The point is that they did an evil thing to me. They treated me as nothing more than an obstacle in the way of getting money. I didn't realize it, and maybe I should have realized it, but that doesn't mean it's somehow my fault. It doesn't make what they did any less wrong.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The "Groom's Cake" Tradition is So Sexist

Enterprise cake. (Star Trek.) Image source.
From the moment I heard about the "groom's cake" tradition, I hated it.

Basically here's how the tradition goes: At the wedding, there's a second wedding cake, called a "groom's cake." They are often decorated according to the groom's interests and hobbies- go ahead and look on Google Images for some examples. Common themes include sports teams, video games, and Batman.

Yeah, not cool.

Because if the second cake is a "groom's cake", then what's the regular wedding cake? The bride's cake? This plays right into the cultural expectation that women have tons and tons of detailed opinions about EXACTLY how their wedding should be, and women are good at planning weddings, and men don't really care and don't have a responsibility to be involved. As if the wedding belongs to the bride, and the groom just kind of goes along with it.

I hate that stereotype. A wedding is for a couple. The wedding belongs to both the bride and groom, and the wedding cake belongs to both the bride and groom. (Note: I'm specifically talking about a wedding between opposite-sex partners, but don't forget that same-sex weddings exist too! And non-binary people exist!) Hendrix and I have talked about the cake design we want, and agreed on it. It's not "my" cake, it's our cake.

But here's the thing I hate the most about the "groom's cake" tradition: The "groom's cake" gets to be AWESOME. Like, seriously, look at those images on google. Cakes shaped like all sorts of colorful, fun, nerdy things. I love that! But if you call it a "groom's cake," you're saying I'm not allowed to have a cake like that, because I'm a woman.

If the regular wedding cake is the "bride's cake," that means that, if you're a woman, you're only allowed to have a cake that looks like what society expects a wedding cake to look like. White, layers, frosting piped like lace or flowers. You'll probably have people criticizing you if you have a cake that doesn't look wedding-y enough, or even claiming that it's just not allowed to have your wedding cake be Batman-themed, with no white, layered cake anywhere to be found at your wedding. I can easily imagine parents or relatives being like "well that's a nice idea, but not for a wedding cake."

As a nerd girl, this "groom's cake" nonsense is particularly hurtful to me, because I've had to spend so much effort purposely avoiding "feminine" interests, out of concern that people will see me as some kind of girly stereotype, and won't think I'm a nerd. The "groom's cake" tradition says that only grooms are interested in nerdy things; that brides certainly aren't nerdy enough to want a Star Trek cake instead of a white cake. This is not okay.

If you're a bride, your cake needs to look like what people think a wedding cake should look like. If you're a groom, your cake can be AWESOME. The whole "groom's cake" tradition says that women have to fit some feminine stereotype, and men get to be real people with unique interests. That's so sexist. We are NOT doing that.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Honest Lent: It's Okay Not to Read the Bible

Drawing of a man in front of Jesus' tomb saying, "As long as the tomb is closed, Jesus is both alive and dead!" Caption says, "Saint Schrodinger, the forgotten disciple." Image source.
Hi everyone, happy Easter! He is risen~ So I've been doing this series called Honest Lent, but for the past week I haven't posted anything about it, and that's fine. I've been busy, and also I wasn't really feeling inspired by any of the passages on the list. And that's totally okay.

I used to read the bible every day, just like good Christians are supposed to. In college, I set my alarm and got up early so I'd have about 40 minutes to an hour before classes, to read the bible and pray. I did it because I loved God, yes, but there was always this feeling like "if I miss a day, I'm being bad. God has done so much for me, the least I can do is set aside a little bit of time every day for him." If I missed a day, that meant I was ungrateful and I didn't value my relationship with God.

There was one day I slept through my alarm and didn't wake up til the afternoon. (Being a college student, I was constantly so incredibly sleep-deprived.) I had already missed several classes, but I decided to skip another one so I could read the bible. Because that was the most important thing. I trusted that if I put God first, God would make sure I didn't face any negative consequences for skipping class.

Years of living that way, putting all that guilt on myself if I missed a day, and the result is that now I can hardly read the bible at all. It causes so much stress- I feel like I have to read it, I have to spend time and focus, no distractions, I have to find some inspiring message, some positive truth that will help me as I go about my day, I have to like it, I have to pray, every day I have to treat the bible with the attention and respect it deserves. Or else I'm bad- I'm a bad Christian, I'm putting other things before God, God loves me so much and I can't even stop for half an hour and spend time with God, I'm so bad and ungrateful.

But Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath." Religious activities like reading the bible are meant to be good for us. They're not meant to be a huge burden that causes mental illness. And right now, the healthiest thing for me is to NOT read the bible, and to know that it doesn't make me a "bad Christian."

So when I decided to do Honest Lent, I was very clear about how it did NOT mean I would be reading the bible every day. I would only read the bible when I felt like it, and I would only write blog posts about it when I felt like it. And during Holy Week I didn't feel like it at all, and that's okay. I didn't "fail" at Honest Lent. There's nothing to feel bad about. I wrote a lot of good posts, I enjoyed writing them, and it was healthy and not stressful. Just because I didn't read the bible every day and I didn't write anything for Honest Lent during Holy Week doesn't mean I've done something wrong. The goal was never to read the bible every day- the goal was to read the bible in an amount that is healthy for me. And I did that.

Because I really do like the bible, and I want to read it more, but right now the only way I can do so is if I explicitly reassure myself that it's okay not to read the bible, and it's okay to not like certain passages, and it's okay to feel whatever feelings I feel- I don't have to be "inspired" and "fed" and learn some nice things about God or whatever.

The Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath.

Anyway, it's Easter, I'm not going to church and that's okay. I love Easter, and I believe in resurrection. Yes, I believe in The Resurrection, but more importantly, I believe in resurrection. Not just that it's a thing that happened one time 2000 years ago, but that the whole world looks forward to resurrection. Resurrection for everything and everyone.

Happy Easter, and remember, it's okay not to read the bible.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday is R-Rated

Scene from a church Easter play. Image source.
[content note: graphic violence, crucifixion]

[also, this has got to be the weirdest spoiler warning I've ever written, but: spoilers for "The Passion of the Christ"]


The movie "The Passion of the Christ" came out in 2004, when I was in high school. I remember reading the gushing reviews from Focus on the Family- they were like, "This movie is really great because it actually is a biblically-correct, Christian movie! Not like all those other times Hollywood tries to make a 'biblical' movie but embellishes the story all wrong, adding all kinds of false teaching. So everyone should go see 'The Passion of the Christ,' and see it on opening weekend so it will make a lot of money, and we'll show this secular society that a lot of people really do want to see good, biblical movies." (Because God forbid the directors and writers have some creativity and play with the story a little, and it strays from "correct" evangelical doctrine.)

So I was super-excited to see it. But then my parents and I read the reviews in the newspaper, that said it was extremely, shockingly violent. (Wikipedia says that one reviewer wrote, "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.") We started to wonder if maybe I shouldn't see it.

My parents went on opening weekend, and afterward said it wasn't that bad, it was fine for me to see it. So the next weekend I went with my mom and we saw it, and I was like "yeah that wasn't that violent, it was pretty much exactly what I expected."

We chalked it up to Christian persecution. "The media" didn't want people to see such a good, biblical movie, so they made a big huge deal out of the violence, when it really wasn't that bad.

From the time I was a little kid, growing up in church, I saw tons of images of Jesus being tortured. It was so normal. Books, movies, Easter musicals, all showing a man being beaten and tortured to death. Little kids see Jesus beaten, flogged, covered in blood and screaming in pain, and finally nailed to a cross. It feels so normal that Christians don't even realize how disturbing, how graphic, how horrifically violent it is.

There is artwork with Jesus "wearing" the crown of thorns. Holy crap. Long thorns being stabbed into his brain, and that's just a completely normal image to have in your church lobby, people walk by it every day and barely notice. There is so much artwork with Jesus bleeding out incredible, scary amounts of blood.

Furthermore, Christian culture makes a big deal about how it's so important that Jesus' death was so violent and painful. I've heard church people say things like, "Crucifixion was the most painful method of execution ever invented- that's why Jesus was born during the time of the Roman empire, because he needed to have the worst death possible." (Nevermind that he died pretty quickly after being nailed to the cross- the other 2 victims had their legs broken because they hadn't died yet. Seems like maybe they suffered worse than he did.) I've read articles which went on and on about how horribly painful it is to be nailed through the wrist. For some reason, a lot of Christians believe that it's absolutely necessary that Jesus' death be so tortuous and painful.

And there's guilt that comes along with that. Sunday school teachers tell kids that Jesus suffered all this pain for you and because of you. Your sin is so bad; you tortured and killed Jesus. And kids are taught that because Jesus suffered so much for you, you HAVE TO devote your life to him. Guilting them into it. This is spiritual abuse.

Church people seem to think that, if only people KNEW just how much Jesus suffered FOR THEM, then they would definitely become Christians. We wanted our Easter musical to look realistic. One time, a kid in my Sunday school class said, "If we could actually crucify someone, and people could see how bad it was, then they would believe. But probably we can't find anyone willing to be crucified, so, oh well." That's just the opinion of one naive kid, don't worry, none of the church leaders literally believed "it's too bad we can't actually kill the actor in our Easter musical." But it is consistent with the idea that "if only people could really see how much Jesus suffered for them, then they would believe."

So we grow up seeing, over and over, images of incredibly graphic violence, not suitable for children, and we get used to them, desensitized, and then pastors keep trying to come up with innovative new ways to describe just how horrifically painful Jesus' death was- to try to shock us and get us to commit our lives to Jesus even more. It's a pretty messed-up dynamic.

So when I went to see "The Passion of the Christ," it was pretty much exactly what I expected. I expected to see Jesus beaten and flogged, his entire body covered in blood. I expected to see him fall down and scream in pain during the flogging. I expected to see him collapse when they tried to get him to carry his cross- again, totally covered in blood. I expected that he would scream when they pounded nails into his wrists and feet. I expected a huge amount of blood to gush out when the soldier thrust the spear into Jesus' side.

It was the same thing I had seen over and over in books, movies, and church musicals that told the story. The only difference was "The Passion of the Christ" was the most realistic-looking.

Oh, wait. There was one bit I didn't expect. I didn't expect a bird to peck out the eyes of the thief who mocked Jesus. My mom told me to cover my eyes for that part. That was the only thing in the movie that we thought was "too scary." Because none of the other depictions I had seen of Jesus' death included it. (It's not from the bible.)

Christians become desensitized to the violence in the story of Good Friday. We don't even realize how graphic and disturbing it is. Like the time I posted the lyrics "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus" on facebook, and a non-Christian friend was like "HOLY CRAP what is this?" But Christians talk about being "covered in Jesus' blood", not realizing it sounds like something out of a horror movie.

So what's my point? What should we do differently? I have 4 suggestions:
  1. Content notes/ trigger warnings. It's fine to have images, movies, and musicals depicting graphic violence, but you should warn people first. Don't put a picture of Jesus all bloody on the cross somewhere that an unsuspecting passerby will suddenly see it with no warning- that is extremely graphic and it's understandable that people might not want to see it. If you post pictures on social media of Jesus on the cross, or being flogged, or with a crown of thorns, make sure to put a content note or trigger warning on it and post it in such a way that people can choose not to look at it.
  2. Let's reconsider how we tell this story to children. Is it really appropriate for kids to see images- even cartoon images- of Jesus covered in blood? Is it appropriate for kids to see an actor in your church play being (fake) nailed to a cross? That is scary and disturbing. I believe it really happened and it's important, but we need to seriously have a talk about how we tell this story, especially to children.
  3. The meaning of Jesus' death isn't in the sheer amount of suffering he endured. Within Christianity, there are many different perspectives on the meaning of Jesus' death. I was taught that "the gospel" was penal substitutionary atonement, which means that people deserve to be punished for our sin, but Jesus was punished instead. From this perspective, it makes sense to go on and on about just how bad the pain was for Jesus. It needed to be The Worst Suffering Ever in order to pay for all of humanity's sins. But I no longer believe in penal substitution, and I no longer think we need to focus on just how incredibly violent the crucifixion was in order to *get* the meaning of what Jesus did for us. Other factors like politics and systemic injustice are much more important than the sheer amount of pain. There's no value in trying to shock ourselves with more and more graphic and realistic descriptions of the pain Jesus suffered.
  4. Don't guilt people. The idea that "Jesus died because of your sin- you killed Jesus" is spiritual abuse which can do long-term damage to people's emotional and mental health. But in my experience in the evangelical church, this was a completely normal thing to say to children. And pastors and Sunday school teachers would go on and on about how because Jesus suffered so much for you, you owe him your life- you need to devote your life to Jesus or else you are being ungrateful and mean to him. This is extremely coercive and abusive. How about we stop teaching it in church?
The story of Jesus' death is extremely, horrifically graphic and violent. It's easy for Christians not to even notice that because we're so used to seeing extremely graphic images of Jesus' suffering. We need to reconsider how we tell this story.

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Credit goes to Morgan for some of the ideas in this post~ I first heard the idea of "people really need to have content notes if they talk about crucifixion" from them.

Also, funny story: When "The Passion of the Christ" came out, some church people were like "but isn't it a sin to see R-rated movies? so can we see it or not?" lololol as if the movie rating people have the power to decide what is and isn't "sin."

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Blogaround

1. 'How Am I Supposed To Explain This To My Kids?!' (Explained) (posted March 30) "Going a step further, there are likely many kids in your school who are openly, flamboyantly bigoted, themselves. It is imperative that you stay away from these people. Their hatred is not contagious like a disease, but if you surround yourself with enough of these people for a long enough time, you could be influenced into sharing their views. No child of mine is going to indulge in that immoral, sinful behavior. Not under my roof."

2. Sunday favorites (posted April 2) "Yes, you say, he is cheating and he is only pretending to be weak and trembling. What! Do you not fear that lightning from Heaven will fall on you for this word?"

3. Who is my neighbor? (posted April 4) "Two general rules about Jesus stories. No. 1: You don’t want to be the guy asking 'Who is my neighbor?'"

4. Being Intersex  —  More Than a Diagnosis (posted 2016) "I felt alone in my experiences, and almost never discussed what I had been through with anyone."

5. Dear Microsoft: absolutely not. (posted April 5) "Microsoft, where’s your ad campaign telling adult male scientists not to rape their colleagues in the field?"

6. I Abused Children For A Living (posted April 3) [content note: abusive therapy for autism] "Would you comply with demands if tortured enough? Probably. Does that make it effective?"

7. Every story I have read about Trump supporters in the past week (posted April 4) "Their waiter is David Mattress, a sentient robot who will be shut down if Trump’s budget is put into practice. He loves Trump, insofar as love is possible for him. When asked “Don’t you realize the contradiction of this position?” the other regulars leap up and shout at me because the last time this question was posed to him, David short-circuited and emitted large quantities of smoke."

8. America’s first female mayor was elected 130 years ago. Men nominated her as a cruel joke. (posted April 7)

9. Shame on You for Thinking Prayer Does Anything (posted April 7) "I’ve noticed that the more “mature” a person’s faith becomes, the more it evolves to fit the way life actually works (as opposed to the way the Bible claims it will)."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Jesus did NOT "have a bad weekend"

Peter denies Jesus. Image source.
[content note: violence, PTSD]

Here's something I've heard many times from atheists: It makes no sense to say "Jesus died for your sins" because (as the story goes) he resurrected a few days later- which is so incredibly different from dying and staying dead that it doesn't even make sense to use the word "die." You should say "Jesus had a bad weekend for your sins."

All right, I'm an ex-evangelical, I have a lot of criticism for the way the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is told in the white American evangelical church. Usually I find myself agreeing with atheists when they point out the parts that don't make sense. But not in this case.

This attempt to frame it as "Jesus had a bad weekend" claims that, in the story, Jesus "died" but then a few days later he was alive again and totally okay. Real death lasts forever, but Jesus' suffering only lasted for one weekend.

In other words, they're claiming that there are no long-term psychological effects from trauma and torture.

Seriously, think about it. Let's say you're arrested under shady circumstances, falsely accused, abandoned by all your friends, violently beaten and tortured- and yet somehow you manage to survive it. Just because you survive, does that mean you're okay and everything's back to normal? All the pain is in the past and you can just go on living your life?

Come on.

Even though he resurrected, you really think Jesus was "fine"? After what had happened to him? After God and his disciples had all abandoned him? He showed the disciples the scars on his hands. He had physical scars; he had emotional scars too.

Yes, there are things you can criticize about the concept of "Jesus died for your sins." Even though I'm a Christian, I don't believe that- or rather, I don't believe "Jesus died for your sins" in the sense of "Because you sin, you have this big debt that you owe God, and Jesus died to pay that off for you." That's not good news.

But don't say "Jesus just had a bad weekend." If you really think the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is nothing more than "having a bad weekend," then you're saying mental health isn't real and PTSD isn't real. Go ahead and criticize Christianity if you want, but don't throw victims with long-term emotional trauma under the bus.

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Related post: The Scars

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Blogaround

Three doggies on a couch. Image source.
1. Moana Theory: Tamatoa's True Identity (posted March 28) Wow, now THAT is a fan theory.

2. Mike Pence May Be Extremely Close to His Wife Karen, but That Doesn’t Mean He Respects Women (posted March 29)

3. "Show me the receipts" (posted 2016) "That Jesus retains the scars of his crucifixion in his resurrected body tells us that God respects our traumas too much to forget them."

4. Mike Pence’s Dinner Rule Is Only the Beginning (posted April 3) "Evangelical concern about sexual impropriety goes so far that schools like PCC require men and women to use different stairwells to prevent any chance of private contact between members of the opposite gender."

5. Rayford Pence and ‘the Billy Graham rule’ (posted March 31) "Rules like this don’t address the real solution to their problem, which is that they need to learn not to be creepy. That necessary lesson becomes all the more difficult if you’re following a strict practice that trains you to regard every encounter with every woman as dangerously fraught with erotic potential."

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Honest Lent: Unclear Passages

Image text: "God is love." Image source.
For Honest Lent, let's look at 1 John 4:7-21.

Wow, I love this passage! It's about how love is the most important thing, how "knowing God" is equivalent to loving people. It doesn't matter what religion you are- if you love people, then you're connected to God. Yes, even if you don't believe in God. This passage says, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." This is probably THE MOST important belief in the Christianity I follow. What truly matters isn't the language you use to describe what "God" is or what gives your life purpose. What truly matters is how you treat people.

But here's something a bit odd about this passage: Verse 15 says "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God." Wait a minute, but verses 7 and 8 said that loving people is equivalent to knowing God. And then verse 15 here seems to be saying that agreeing with the statement "Jesus is the Son of God" is equivalent to knowing God. So, which is it? Those are very different things. One is about actions and one is about religious beliefs.

Well church people always say "use the clear passages of Scripture to interpret the unclear ones." However, what they really mean is this: "clear passages" means "things that fit with what I believe the bible teaches" and "unclear ones" means "things that just seem wrong to me." It's not actually about how "clear" or "unclear" the actual language of the passage itself is. "Unclear" means you read something and you think "no way, this can't be right." Like verses that clearly say women need to be silent in church- but you're like, no, that's ridiculous. You label it an "unclear passage" and then go find some "clear passages" about how God loves all genders equally, and decide that the one about how women can't speak in church can't possibly have really meant it.

Or you find a verse that says after death, people will be rewarded according to what they've done. But you say, no no, that can't be right, the evangelical church very clearly taught me that "the gospel" is you don't get to heaven based on what you've done, but based on whether you "got saved." So you call Matthew 16:27 an "unclear passage", even though it very clearly says "he will reward each person according to what they have done." And you go off and find a different verse, a "clear" one, which says we are saved through faith alone, and you decide Jesus didn't really mean we're saved by what we've done.

That's how this works, this "use the clear passages to interpret the unclear ones." "Clear passages" are the ones you can easily accept because they confirm what you already believe. "Unclear passages" are the ones you disagree with.

So if I was using that strategy here in 1 John 4, I would say the bit about love being equivalent to knowing God is a "clear passage" because, ya know, that just makes sense, right? Like, of course the most important thing is love, of course God would think that's what really matters, not the specific religious facts you believe. And then this bit about how you need to believe Jesus is the Son of God in order to have God living in you, well that's an "unclear passage" because hey, that doesn't make sense, then only Christians can know God, and obviously that can't be right, because God loves everyone, no matter what religion (or none at all) they follow. So the conclusion is that verse 15 didn't really mean what it said.

Yeah, you see how ridiculous this is, right?

This is why I don't really believe in "use the clear passages to interpret the unclear ones"- or at least, not the way I've seen it practiced in church groups. I have a conscience which says love is what really matters, not religion. I really don't care how many bible verses agree or disagree.

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