Thursday, August 22, 2019

Blogaround

4 sea lions sitting on the sand. Image source.
1. Jubilee always makes some people angry (posted July 24) "Yet the loudest voices of religious moralism in America flip that around, insisting that it’s a sin not to pay all of your debts, with interest, and with interest on the interest. And they’ll fight and oppose anything that looks like Jubilee as a threat to this 'morality.'"

2. Beyond ‘Thoughts and Prayers’: How the Christian Right’s Politics of Providentialism Keeps America from Addressing Gun Violence (posted August 7) "Yes, this assertion that children are not allowed to pray in American public schools is patently untrue, an example of something that we could file under the hashtag #ChristianAltFacts. It is, however, patently untrue in a way that is highly familiar to me as an ex-evangelical, and in a way that very much feels true to Patrick’s target audience."

3. Why We Need the New York Times’ 1619 Project (posted August 21) "The way U.S. history is taught today, black history is often relegated to its own separate courses, or treated as something that can be added to general U.S. history classes at specific moments and otherwise left out."

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Blogaround

A black cat looks up at us and meows. Image source.
1. ‘So heavenly minded you’re no earthly good’ (posted July 10) "Therefore, one of these groups, according to the Bible, knows God and abides in God. The other group, according to the Bible, consists of 'liars' who do not know God."

2. The Disney Renaissance Explained (posted August 6)

3. Dear Disgruntled White Plantation Visitors, Sit Down. (posted August 9) "I’m performing an act of devotion to my Ancestors. This is not about your comfort, it’s about honoring their story on it’s own terms in context."

4. On Republican outreach to black voters and the utter lack thereof (posted July 16) "And so what this exercise shows, I think, is that both of our hypothetical premises cannot be equally true."

5. Honest Trailers | Avengers: Endgame (posted August 7) [content note: spoilers for "Avengers: Endgame"] "The Hulk, who cut down on the run time by finishing his arc before the movie starts."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Renee Bach, who had no medical training, opened a clinic in Africa. Just like missionaries are supposed to.

Map of Uganda. Image source.
So I need to talk about Renee Bach, the white American woman who went to Uganda as a missionary and set up a health clinic even though she had no medical training, and now 105 Ugandan children have died under her care.

NPR has an article about it: American With No Medical Training Ran Center For Malnourished Ugandan Kids. 105 Died. I recommend reading this; it gives a good overview.

(And I also posted another link about it on my June 27 blogaround, with my comment: "Oh wow this is terrible. And the only thing I can think is 'God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called.'")

What strikes me about this story- the reason I feel, ahem, "called by God" to blog about it- is that what Bach did is EXACTLY what the romanticized missionary stories I heard my entire life in the evangelical church say to do.

To be clear, most missionaries don't do things as reckless and bad as what Bach did. Most missionaries are more grounded in reality and common sense. I find her story so striking because it sounds exactly like the idealized version of missions that is presented in American evangelical churches.

This is what happens when somebody actually "steps out in faith" and literally goes and does the things that, according to American Christians, perfect godly missionaries do. This is what happens when that naive romanticized ideal collides with reality. In this case, she claimed to be able to provide medical care for severely malnourished kids, and she actually just made things worse, and many died.

A bit of background about myself: So, I'm a white American Christian who's been living in China since 2013. I do not identify as a missionary. The first time I came to China was in 2010 on a short-term mission trip, when I was a college student. Back then, I was "on fire for God" and totally bought into radical Christian missions ideology. However, there were a lot of things I did NOT buy into- I did not believe God was "calling" me to go to China, and my motivation was NOT "we need to go help those pathetic Chinese people"- instead it was more along the lines of "the image of God lives in every person in every culture, and if I only know my own American culture, I'm missing out on so much of knowing God." That mission trip left me with an overwhelming, obsessive desire to move to China long-term, and I devoted myself to learning Mandarin Chinese- which I am now able to speak, read, and write. I researched a lot of different options for how to move to China- and many of them would have involved being a missionary. Personally, I didn't care that much about whether I came through a missions organization or just a normal secular job. I just wanted, needed, to be in China- and I believed "All Christians are missionaries wherever we are." Looking back on it now, I'm glad none of the missionary opportunities ended up working out. Back then, I was in the early stages of leaving evangelicalism, and I'm glad I didn't end up in an organization where I would have to constantly explain to my colleagues how I can be a Christian if I don't believe in "God called me" and all those other things I no longer believe in. Anyway I moved to China in 2013 and now it's 2019 and I'm still here.

So yeah, I have Some Things To Say about missions.

I want to touch on a bunch of aspects of Bach's story, and how they relate to the way white American evangelicals talk about missions:

Africa

So ... in my experience, white American Christians seem to think that countries where most people are not white are poor and unsafe and those people are so sad and need our help.

Before I came to China for the first time, I had never traveled to any non-Western countries. I didn't really have any idea about any specific country's characteristics; it was all just a vague mass of "exotic." I didn't choose China for any particular reason. It was just the mission trip opportunity I happened upon when I was like "I want to go on a mission trip this summer."

In particular, Africa is seen as a pathetic, needy land where everyone is poor, everyone lives in a dusty hut with no food, no water, no medical care. Where everyone just spends all their time being sad about how poor they are, I guess.

IN REALITY, Africa is a whole continent, with over 50 countries, all of which are unique. It's extremely diverse. Statistically, it is true that the poverty rate is way too high, and lots of people don't have access to clean water- but that doesn't tell the whole story. That doesn't mean everyone lives in the middle of nowhere with no resources. There are cities. There are universities. People are full people with full lives- not stereotypes.

(And I'll stop there because actually, I too know basically nothing about Africa...)

But white American Christians have this idea that these places are so poor, they have nothing, they don't know how to take care of themselves, and therefore if we just waltz in and improvise something, well even though we don't really know what we're doing, at least it's better than nothing.

This bit from the NPR article describes it very well:
"Just think of the arrogance," says Lawrence Gostin, who heads the Center on National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. "Who are you to assume that you can do better than they can? It's not your judgment call to make."

Gostin adds that while the circumstances of Bach's case may seem exceptional, he sees her actions as stemming from an attitude many Americans bring to developing countries.

"The American cultural narrative is that these countries are basket cases."

And so, says Gostin, Americans assume that whatever their qualifications, they're sure to be of help.

The result, Gostin says, is that everyone from college kids to credentialed doctors routinely parachute into poor countries for medical missions that completely disregard local laws and conditions.

"People think that they're doing good. And they have no idea how much harm they can cause."

And people back home in the U.S. are often complicit, says Gostin. Because when these volunteers write blogs or post videos to share their exploits, "They're celebrated."
Yes, reading Bach's story, I get the impression that she felt like, "I'm not qualified to help- but there is no other option, so I have to." Umm. Yeah, not true. There are real hospitals. There are real doctors. There are real laws about how you can't just go around trying to provide medical care if you're not qualified.

God's calling

Yep, Bach believes she was "called" by God to do this.
On her first trip, in 2007, she worked at a missionary-run orphanage — staying on for nine months.

Once back home in Virginia, Bach — now 19 years old — came to a life-changing conclusion: She should move to Jinja full time and set up her own charity.

In an interview with NPR, Bach says it felt like a calling from God.

"It was a very, very profound feeling and experience. It's kind of hard to even describe in words," she says. "Like there was something that I was supposed to do."
This kind of thing- the idea that an average American Christian suddenly gets "called by God" to go do some absurd unrealistic thing in a foreign country- is how missions is portrayed in the American evangelical church. Yes, back when I was a teenager, I totally 100% believed that I could be just minding my own business and then suddenly God might "call" me and then I would have to go live in a hut on the other side of the world and be a missionary. I assumed that's how people became missionaries. It was totally a real, believable possibility that could totally happen to any Christian.

Notice, also, that God apparently called Bach to "move to Jinja full time and set up her own charity." Yes, not just move to Uganda, but SET UP HER OWN CHARITY. See, the more daunting and unrealistic the task from God is, the better the story. Of course it sounds impossible! That's why we need God's help! And God will make it a success.

In my case, back in 2010 when I was considering going on the mission trip to China, I did not feel that God was "calling" me. I just really wanted to go- and it confused me so much. Am I allowed to go on a mission trip just because I really want to, or do I need a special invitation from God? I always imagined that God's calling would be commanding me to do something I didn't want to do.

And after that, when I came back from that mission trip with an obsessive desire to move to China long-term, that didn't feel like "God's calling." It wasn't some out-of-context command to do some weird thing I didn't want to do. It came from my own realization about how little I knew about the world, and how I hated that about myself. After being in China, I just COULD NOT STAND living in a culture where I'm the majority and I have privilege and I understand how society works. I felt like it tempted me to believe that I understand the whole world, when in reality I only know a tiny tiny fraction.

I spent so long praying about my decision to move to China. Because God didn't "call" me. And so I worried that I wasn't "allowed" to do it. At times, I attempted to redefine "calling" so that "I have a huge internal desire to do this thing, perhaps the desire was given to me by God" would count. I'm no longer interested in redefining the term "calling" so at this point I just say no, God didn't call me to move to China. I just did because I wanted to.

But yes, the way Bach talks about being "called" by God to go start a charity in Uganda is 100% a normal thing people in American churches would say.

Being unqualified

The article says this:
Except Bach was not a doctor. She was a 20-year-old high school graduate with no medical training. And not only was her center not a hospital — at the time it didn't employ a single doctor.
She was completely unqualified. She had no business opening up a medical center.

But in the missionary stories I always heard in church, being unqualified- by "worldly" standards- was seen as a good thing. Christians like to say, "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called."

It wasn't about your own abilities. It was about God doing this amazing, seemingly impossible thing, and giving you the opportunity to be part of it, if only you'll trust God and jump in way over your head.

The less qualified you are, the better the story. And so, even though in reality, most missionaries spend years training and studying the culture of their destination country, they emphasize their lack of qualifications when they tell their story to the supporters back home. This is not good.

Bach was so young- only 20- and she moved to Uganda and started a charity for starving children. Wow. Look at how impressive that sentence is! How young- only 20! How scary and foreign Uganda is! How huge the task- starting her own charity! And how poor and needy the targets were- starving children! Wow! Hard to imagine a missionary story better than this- according to the way missions are talked about in American churches.

In reality, though, when a thing looks like it's impossible and it's going to fail spectacularly, typically it ends up failing spectacularly. "God" doesn't "work a miracle" and make it a success against all odds. In reality, when you have no medical training and you let people think you're a doctor, and you attempt to treat their extremely vulnerable children ... in reality it's not good.

And here's the part that scares me even more: Was she "stepping out in faith" when she took risks with these children's health care? I didn't see anything about this specifically in the article, but I know how American evangelicals talk about things like that. What if, when Bach didn't know how to help a patient, she prayed about it, and got a "feeling" from God telling her what to do, and she went ahead and did that even though she had no actual medical knowledge indicating it was actually the right thing to do?

Because that's how the stories go, when they tell them in church. God sends you into some situation where you are horribly unqualified, you're in way over your head, you have no idea what you're doing. And then of course, you encounter problems and you need to make a decision about what action to take- but there's no way you have the ability to make a good decision. Not on your own, at least. But you pray, and you get a *feeling* about what God wants you to do. And then, even though you still have no idea what you're doing, even though you're terrified, you "step out in faith" and do the thing. That's how the very best role-model missionaries live.

Wow, that's horrifying, to imagine someone might use that method IN THE ACTUAL REAL WORLD when caring for a starving child in a medical setting.

And I want to be clear, nothing in the article said Bach actually did that. But it said she made medical decisions without any actual doctors present at the center. I personally believe it is extremely likely those decisions were based more on prayer than on actual medical knowledge.

The missionary blog

Oh, the missionary blog.

NPR's article mentions Bach's missionary blog several times. When I went on my China mission trip in 2010, missionary blogs weren't really a big thing yet- THANK GOODNESS. Instead, I sent email updates only to my family and people who had given me money for the trip. I remember a few years later, seeing kids from my church posting links on Facebook to their own mission-trip blogs, and the concept felt very cringe-y to me.

Why? Because if you're going to some country where you've never been before, you're gonna have a ton of culture shock, you're gonna be so clueless about everything that is happening- do you really want your initial reactions to that to be there on the internet for everyone to see, forever? *cringe*

Like yeah, my first day in China I had a lot of opinions about things, a lot of wide-eyed "wow can you believe this is how they do things here????" and I now realize all of that was incredibly naive and I didn't have A CLUE what I was talking about. So good thing I didn't broadcast that to tons of people all over the internet.

If you go on a short-term mission trip, don't make a blog about it. Because that's the culture shock talking, and the more you learn about the place where you're traveling, the more you'll realize you knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING at the beginning and you don't want the whole world reading that. Yeah, sure, it makes sense to send emails to your family and people who gave you money, but don't post stuff more publicly than that.

(As for me personally, when I first started this blog I used to do more posts about "wow look at this interesting aspect of Chinese culture", but the longer I've lived here, the more I've realized I don't know and it's not really my place to be acting like an expert on China.)

Bach's blog wasn't a short-term-mission-trip-my-first-day-in-this-country blog; she had been to Uganda before. But still, in my opinion, the posts mentioned in NPR's article have that wide-eyed-cluelessness "I'm on a grand adventure from God where I am the main character" feel.

Yes, let's talk about that part. So, when you go on a mission trip, one of the main goals is getting the people you meet in the destination country to become Christians. And maybe offering them some kind of service (in Bach's case, food and medical care) because they are in need. And both of these aspects are things you don't actually want them to know. You don't tell your targets "my goal is to get you to become a Christian." You don't tell them "I came here to help you because you're so poor and deserve my pity, look at me being such a good person, a white savior who stoops down to help you." But when you talk to your supporters back home, you do say those things.

And so when people write a mission trip blog, the audience they have in mind is those supporters back home, and other people from their own American Christian culture, who hold the same beliefs about missions.

But. It's the internet. Everyone can read it.

And people in your destination country have smart phones.

So you get missionaries posting photos of those "poor, needy" people they met, sharing romanticized versions of these people's stories- all without their consent. Treating them as stereotypes, as objects in a grand adventure that God is directing. What happens if those people- who, in reality, are intelligent human beings with a whole life, just like you- find your blog?

It's not very likely ... because of language and cultural barriers, it's not likely that people in your destination country are browsing around the same areas of the internet that you are. Except ... except for Facebook. What if you post links to your mission-trip blog on Facebook, and then you find "wow, our new friends we met in X country have Facebook, this is great, we can keep in touch!"

What if they read what you really think about them? *cringe*

The things people write on mission-trip blogs- those are the things that we're not supposed to say out loud where our evangelism targets (and other non-Christians) can hear us. The internet connects people in ways that they maybe didn't realize they didn't want to be connected.

Here's an excerpt from the NPR article:
Ten years ago, Renee Bach left her home in Virginia to set up a charity to help children in Uganda. One of her first moves was to start a blog chronicling her experiences.

Among the most momentous: On a Sunday morning in October 2011, a couple from a village some distance away showed up at Bach's center carrying a small bundle.

"When I pulled the covering back my eyes widened," Bach wrote in the blog. "For under the blanket lay a small, but very, very swollen, pale baby girl. Her breaths were frighteningly slow. ... The baby's name is Patricia. She is 9 months old."
See what I mean? It reads like "wow, here I am on this amazing adventure that God has sent me on. I met this mind-blowingly sick baby- isn't it exciting?" Do you think the parents want this dramatized account of their child's life-threatening condition broadcast for American Christians to read?

But that's how Christians talk about the people they meet on their mission trips. That's how they've always talked, when they go back to their home churches and share their "mission moment" during the Sunday service. That's bad enough. But now, in the 21st century, when blogs allow them to share their ignorant stereotypes with a much wider audience than before, ooooh I cringe.

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Bach's story is exactly what would happen if someone literally did all the things that American Christians say missionaries do. Go to Africa, a land so backwards that they don't know how to do anything, a land where they're desperate for help from random unqualified Americans. Follow God's "call" and put yourself into an absurd, impossible situation so you can watch how amazing it is when God turns it into a success story. Go even though you have no qualifications and don't have a clue what you're doing- that gives God an even bigger opportunity to show off. And document it all on your missionary blog- all the one-dimensional people you meet, all the shocking situations you end up in because you had faith and obeyed God's call, all the excitement and fear of living this wild adventure that God allows you to be part of.

The most impressive missionary stories in the white American evangelical church have people doing exactly the things that Bach did. In reality, though, she did a very bad thing. She was reckless with children's lives, and many of them died.

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Related:

This whole thing reminds me of the news last year about John Allen Chau, another missionary who did all the things that a perfect role-model missionary should do. Here are my posts about him:
This Is Exactly the Martyr Fairy Tale We Aspired To
Evangelicals Agree With What Chau Did (And It Makes Me Angry): Here Are The Receipts

And another related post:
Runaway Radical: The Stories You Can't Tell In Church

Monday, August 12, 2019

If One Partner Doesn't Want to Fix the Relationship, Then It's Just Not Fixable

A man and woman sitting on opposite ends of a bench, ignoring each other. Image source.
So Focus on the Family is publishing a new book called "How God Used “the Other Woman”: Saving Your Marriage after Infidelity" by Tina Konkin. Sarahbeth Caplin has a blog post about this: A New Book from Focus on the Family Blames Women When Their Husbands Cheat. Yep, the book is about how, if your husband cheated on you, you can save the marriage by determining what your role was in causing him to cheat. Umm. Okay... that sounds unhealthy and victim-blame-y.

Caplin's post includes a quote from Sheila Wray Gregoire, a Christian blogger with a much healthier view on cheating. Here's the part that I want to talk about:
A marriage can only start healing if the cheating spouse first repents. That’s always the first step. Once that’s done, the hurting spouse can choose to extend grace, can go to counseling and look at how drift was caused, and try to rebuild. But unless there is total repentance from the cheater, you won’t get anywhere.
Yes, she is absolutely right. If the person who cheats isn't interested in fixing the marriage, then it doesn't matter what the non-cheater does- it's never going to work. In that situation, the marriage is just not fixable.

To put it more generally: If a relationship has some kind of huge problem, and one partner wants to work on solving the problem, and the other partner doesn't, then it is just not possible to solve the problem and make the relationship healthy again. It's just not.

This fact is SO IMPORTANT TO ME because I never heard anything like it in Christians' teachings about purity and dating and marriage.

In Christian purity culture- which is targeted toward unmarried people- breaking up is The Worst Thing Ever. And in Christian teaching about marriage, divorce is Always Bad. So all of the advice about what to do if you're in an unhealthy relationship is along the lines of "do these things to fix the relationship" instead of "here are the criteria you can use to decide if the relationship is fixable, or whether you'd be better off just leaving." Leaving is not an option, so I never heard any teaching about how to make a healthy decision about leaving.

Yes, the "how to fix your marriage" advice from Christians often included a disclaimer about "we're not talking about people in abusive relationships- if you're being abused then you should get out" and "okay in SOME cases divorce is okay, like if there's cheating or abuse." But those things were only mentioned to show that we aren't talking about them. They only gave "here is how to fix your marriage" advice- they did NOT give "here is how to recognize abuse" advice or "here is how to go about getting a divorce if there's cheating or abuse" advice.

And similarly, for the unmarried people, there was no teaching about how to break up in a healthy way. All of purity culture was about how to avoid ever experiencing a breakup, because if you have an ex that means you gave them part of your purity and you can never have a perfect marriage. Back then, I was terrified of breaking up. So terrified.

So no, I never knew that if one partner doesn't want to fix the relationship, then it's just not fixable. I never heard that before. I never knew that, in a situation like that, it's not possible to make the relationship healthy. If your partner really shows no signs that they'll ever be willing to work with you to solve the problem, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to break up. There's nothing good or virtuous about staying in a relationship like that.

Instead, all the advice goes like this: If your husband isn't treating you right, then here's what you need to do. You need to pray for him every day. You need to be a better wife. You need to submit to him more. You need to smile and not complain. You need to have sex with him more. And so on and so on. And if you do all these things, he will magically change and become a better person.

(Related: all the evangelism tactics we used to do, back when I was "on fire for God." We were trying to get people to change their personal religious beliefs. I didn't know about boundaries; I didn't know everyone's beliefs belong to them and I can't "make" them change. All the evangelism training was about how to try to coerce and manipulate people into changing. And how to pray for God to coerce and manipulate them into changing. I thought if I followed all the steps, then it would "work.")

No, it doesn't work that way. If someone doesn't want to change, you can't make them change, no matter what you do.

See, I now believe in boundaries morality. Boundaries means you can't "make" anybody do anything. You can't make someone treat you better. You can't make someone agree with you. You can't make someone become a better person. Everyone is in charge of their own self. You can't make someone treat you better, but you should set boundaries so that people who would mistreat you don't have access to you and therefore won't be able to mistreat you. And sometimes, when you set a boundary and somebody realizes they don't like being excluded from your life, it might inspire them to change their behavior and stop mistreating you. Maybe. It might. But it also might not. The goal isn't necessarily to make them change, it's to protect yourself from their bad behavior, whether they change or not.

A long time ago, I was dating a guy, let's call him Xin, and he was sometimes very nice and affectionate, and sometimes seemed to be acting like he didn't really want to have a girlfriend. And I loved him, and I cried a lot during the times he wasn't treating me right. I ... It never occurred to me that I would be better off breaking up with him. I was starting to get out of purity culture but I was still terrified of the very concept of breaking up; it wasn't something I considered as an actual option. Instead I tried everything I could possibly think of to manipulate him into being a better person. Occasionally he would treat me better, for 1 day, and I would be so happy and feel like it was all worth it and we could totally make this relationship work.

It felt like a big milestone when we hit the 6-month mark. Then the 1-year mark. I thought that being together for 1 year was something to celebrate- as if staying together is "success" and breaking up is "failure." No, that relationship was happy for just the first few months but then it should have ended. We all would have been better off. Staying in a relationship with a partner who doesn't treat me right isn't an accomplishment.

I knew the relationship wasn't happy, and so I feared that it would end. And by "it would end" I mean my boyfriend saying to me "we should break up." I never thought maybe I could be the one to say to him "we should break up."

I thought "loyalty" was a good thing. I thought it was godly how I was good and loving toward him while he was being heartless toward me. I thought "giving up" on the relationship was a bad thing. I thought I was supposed to selflessly love him and always do what would be best for him.

It turns out, in reality, "loyalty" isn't intrinsically good. It's only good to be loyal to someone who deserves your loyalty. Someone who loves you. Someone you can trust. And it's bad and unhealthy to be loyal to someone who doesn't treat you right. (And that's why I don't worship any god. I believe in God, but I don't worship them because I'm not willing to say they deserve my loyalty. Boundaries.)

And finally ... well ... I decided that me loving Xin and wanting what's best for him meant I should tell him "okay, we will take a break from our relationship." I didn't do it for myself; I did it because I decided he would be happier if I stopped trying to manipulate him into being a decent boyfriend. (Or at least, that's how I reasoned it out- maybe I also did it because of "selfish" reasons but I was a good Christian and therefore wasn't allowed to be honest with myself about that.) I still thought there was something wrong with making a decision to break up. I still thought that I should always put others first and never be motivated by caring about my own emotional needs- that would be "selfish." I didn't know about boundaries yet. In boundaries morality, you put yourself first. That's how it should be. But all my life, Christians had taught me the exact opposite.

And then I started dating Hendrix, who from the very beginning has always acted like he is just the luckiest person in the world to have the privilege of being in a relationship with me. And every day he says and does little things that show he's in love with me. (Reader, I married him.)

But even if I hadn't met such a good partner after breaking up with Xin, breaking up still would have been a good decision. Being single would be better than being in a relationship like that- though I didn't have any way to believe that back then. I loved Xin, I was lonely, and my whole life I had heard so many warnings about losing my "purity"... if I have to start over and find a new partner, that means starting over with less purity than I had originally, and therefore I would be less valuable and less deserving of a good partner.

I wish I had been taught a whole comprehensive ideology about "yes, even though breaking up is sad because you love him, logically it is a good decision because of these reasons." Instead, my "whole comprehensive ideology" was purity culture with its beliefs about how breaking up is The Worst Thing Ever... And then occasionally an adult who didn't buy into that might tell me I deserve better and someday I'll find a way better partner, and in the meantime it's better to be single than to put up with that crap anyway... but I didn't have any way to actually fit that in to the rest of my worldview with regards to dating. So it felt like just some fleeting faraway possibility, not something I could actually trust.

No, the idea that I could tell him "we should break up" because I deserved better was never something I actually considered. There was no way I could, when I believed "loyalty" was good and "giving up" was bad, when I believed a relationship that ends is a "failure" but a relationship that keep racking up anniversaries is a "success." When I believed in "always put others first." When all the relationship advice I'd heard was about "here is how to fix your relationship" instead of "here is how to know if your relationship is worth fixing." When I had heard stories of women who suffered for years and years in bad marriages, who kept submitting and working hard to be a good wife, until finally God magically changed their husband into a good husband- and those women were role models, that was the "correct" thing to do in an unhappy marriage. When divorce was only mentioned in terms of "yes, divorce is allowed in some cases but we aren't talking about that," basically saying that if your husband cheats on you then technically it's not a sin to divorce him but it's still better to stay in the marriage. When Christians were always saying "marriage isn't about making you happy, it's about making you holy" and divorce is for those selfish losers that didn't realize "marriage is hard" so they bailed at the first sign of conflict.

I wish I had known about how to put myself first and how to make healthy decisions about breaking up. I wish I had known about boundaries, and no matter what I do, I can't "make" someone treat me right. I wish I had known that if one partner just won't do the work to fix the relationship, then it's just not fixable.

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Related:
"How Far Is Too Far?" My Story, And What I Wish I'd Known
From "Virtues Morality" To "Boundaries Morality" 
"Marriage Is Hard"

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Blogaround

Adult dolphin and baby dolphin. Image source.
1. Why We Shouldn’t Build the 30-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea (posted July) "Oh, the fourth reason why it was so good is because America 'owned' it, in that we invaded a sovereign kingdom, set up permanent military bases, created a coup, and annexed it against the will of the people 60 years prior, and then made it an official state a few years prior to the scientific 'discovery' of Mauna Kea."

2. 2 countries issued travel warnings about the United States after a weekend of mass shootings (posted August 6) Uruguay and Venezuela.

3. Iraqi man dies after Trump administration deports him (posted August 7)

4. Why Did Target Stop Selling a Popular “Humanist” Throw Pillow? (posted July 31) "You can’t buy it even if you want to hand them all your money. There’s no explanation — or even an acknowledgment that the product ever existed."

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Blogaround

Scar, from the 1994 Lion King cartoon. Image source.
1. Who Invented the Food Pyramid and Why You'd Be Crazy to Follow It (posted July 26) "Our recommendation of 3-4 daily servings of whole-grain breads and cereals was changed to a whopping 6-11 servings, forming the base of the Food Pyramid as a concession to the processed wheat and corn industries."

2. Making progress in Chinese in spite of praise (posted 2012) As a white person who can speak Chinese, I can confirm that this is very real.

3. James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism (posted June 28) "We love you. God loves you. But you can’t come into our country. Sorry."

4. The Lion King: Was It Worth It? | SCB Review (posted July 23) [content note: spoilers for "The Lion King"] "Here's the thing about the animated Scar, is that he's just perfect." Yep, I agree with pretty much their whole review.

5. Jury: Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ copied Christian rap song (posted July 30) Wow, this takes me back to like, 2011 when I was super-into Christian rap. (Wow I could write a WHOLE POST about that- any readers interested? Here's a sneak peak: Lecrae is like the rap version of John Piper.) And yes, back then I totally did notice that the beat running through the entire background of "Dark Horse" sounded a lot like "Joyful Noise."

6. One-Time Purity Culture Advocate Joshua Harris Now Says “I Am Not a Christian” (posted July 26) Wow. As far as I know, no details have come out about this besides his instagram post, and I am all curious and want to know more. BUT ALSO, remember just last week I said, and I quote, "right now he still has a lot to learn and he should work on learning that instead of continuing to tell everyone his half-baked opinions" so, yeah, it's okay that he hasn't shared details.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Bible and the Pixar Theory

Andy and Woody, from the "Toy Story" movies. Image source.
I watched Jon Carlin's video How Toy Story 4 Fits Into The Pixar Theory and so now I want to talk about the bible and the Pixar Theory. I stand by what I said in my 11/29/18 blogaround:
10. The COMPLETE Pixar Theory (posted October 30) Personally, I don't believe in the Pixar theory, but I LOVE it because this is EXACTLY how apologetics works. Take a bunch of different works, produced for different reasons over a long period of time, claim that all of them are happening in the same universe and telling one giant logically-consistent story, spend tons of time and energy making up convoluted explanations for the contradictions, absolutely refuse to abandon your theory no matter what new evidence comes out, and end up with a bizarre understanding of the material that the creators certainly never intended... all the while believing you understand it better than anyone else because you got there by treating every single tiny detail as irrefutable fact.
Yep.

(And on a related note, the Super Carlin Brothers' youtube channel is one of my favorites. Highly recommend if you like fan videos about Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.)

For those of you who don't know what the Pixar Theory is: It's a fan theory that says all Pixar movies take place in the same universe. Yes, everything from "Toy Story" to "A Bug's Life" to "The Incredibles" to "The Good Dinosaur" to "Inside Out" to "Monsters Inc" to "Brave" to "Coco" to "Cars" and so on and so on. "Wow," you may be thinking, "that is quite a diverse group of movies, how on earth could they possibly all exist in the same universe? Like, in 'Cars' there are no people, there are just cars that act like people, which is completely different from, say, 'The Incredibles', which is basically normal modern society but with superheroes." WELL YOU SEE, all of these happened over a very long timespan, where humans were dominant for a while but eventually went extinct and sentient cars took over. Obviously.

Yep, you start from the very simple idea "all Pixar movies take place in the same universe" and then you develop more and more complicated explanations for how that would work.

Let's look at Jon Carlin's "Toy Story 4" video. Here's a part from about the 1:00 mark:
On that timeline though, all the "Toy Story" movies take place roughly during the year they actually came out to the public. Which would put them after "The Incredibles" but before "Up." During this time period, on the timeline, humans are at their peak, and BNL (the mega corporation run by machines and artificial intelligence) are on the rise after the invention of the Omnidroid. You can see Buzz's batteries in "Toy Story 3" are produced by BNL, and they're also the company responsible for evicting Carl in "Up."
Oh my god, this is FASCINATING. He's stating some of the doctrines held by people who follow the Pixar Theory, and backing them up with sort-of-loosely-related bits from the canon. Yes, for people who believe in the Pixar Theory, it's quite obvious that the Pixar movies tell a story of humans becoming more and more advanced, until artificial intelligence starts to develop and eventually takes over, I mean this is OBVIOUS because look, in "The Incredibles" we see super-powered humans fighting against the newly-invented Omnidroid, a machine which can learn. From there, the machines get more and more powerful until we see in "WALL-E" the AI made by BNL literally controls every part of people's lives and the earth is a trash dump. See, OBVIOUSLY what happened in between was that BNL got more and more powerful- indeed, look at these little Easter eggs alluding to BNL in "Toy Story 3" and "Up." The source material is clear.

(Oh, and later in the video, Jon Carlin talks about how, after humans left the earth, cars [as seen in the "Cars" movies] then came alive because of the memories from the people who once owned them.)

This is EXACTLY THE SAME THING as Christians who say "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. That's the biblical definition of marriage. See, look, in Matthew 19 Jesus says so. The bible is clear."

Or how about this: "Christians have to be pro-life because the bible says life begins at conception, see, look at Psalm 139:13 which says 'for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" and in verse 16 'your eyes saw my unformed body.'"

Or this: "The bible teaches that being a Christian means having a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. That's what it means to be saved and that's how you go to heaven."

And: "The bible teaches that non-Christians go to hell. See, look, here are a bunch of verses with the word 'hell' in them, therefore the bible is clear on this."

In every one of these cases, if you already believe in that ideology, then you look at the given references to the source material and you say "yep, that's what the source material teaches." But if you just let the canon stand on its own, just take it for what it is, if you consider the time period when it was produced, and the reasons, and the intended audience ... then wow it doesn't say that AT ALL.

Humans keep advancing, to the point where some of them are superheroes, but then AI starts to take over, and then eventually cars come alive because of human memories ... no, none of the Pixar movies say this. None. Not a one. Not a single one. If you just watched all the Pixar movies, knowing that they were created over a span of 20-some years and the creators didn't intend to make them fit together (but do enjoy putting in little Easter eggs that reference other Pixar movies), then no, you would NEVER come away with the idea that "Pixar is telling a story where human society reaches a superhero peak but then gets taken over by machines- like sentient cars."

It requires this weird artificial construct that you superimpose on top of the movies, in a way that the producers never intended. And then, after you do that, after you say "well they MUST be in the same universe" and you come up with a giant fan theory to make them fit- after you've spent a lot of time and energy on this, then you start to believe that it's "clear", that this actually *is* the story that Pixar is telling.

A weird artificial construct, where the books of the bible are infallible and essentially handed to us directly from God, rather than being products of the place and time they were each written, over a span of thousands of years, heavily influenced by the writers' and audiences' own political biases. A very weird construct that says this is God's love letter to us, that every part is valuable to our lives in the 21st century, and being a good Christian means you have to spend time every day reading it. If you superimpose that idea on top of the bible and try to make everything fit, then yes, you might end up with an ideology that says the most important thing is "getting saved" at an individual level, and society-wide injustice doesn't matter that much, and God is very concerned about everyone's sex lives, and God loves Americans the most. And you might think that's what the bible "clearly" teaches.

Ohh, the Pixar Theory is just ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTFUL. People go on and on making these videos hashing out the specific details of what this or that movie teaches us about the Pixar universe- as if there is such a thing as "the Pixar universe." And Christians go on and on about how "the bible says" this or "God says this" or "this is the biblical view" as if there is such a thing as "the biblical view." ... Yeah, the bible doesn't actually say any of those things, just like "Toy Story 4" doesn't tell us how the cars from "Cars" come to life (even though Jon Carlin's video is all about how "Toy Story 4" totally answers the question of how toys AND CARS come to life).

What a fun fan theory. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that's what the canon actually says. Then we would miss the entire point.

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Related:
The Bible Stories As I Read Them Were Never Actually In The Bible
This Star Wars Fan Theory Is EXACTLY How Apologetics Works

Friday, July 26, 2019

Blogaround

A cat reaches into a pond, trying to catch fish. Image source.
1. The Silence of Peggy Carter (posted May 6) [content note: spoilers for "Avengers: Endgame", "Captain America: The First Avenger", and other Captain America movies] "Would a photo of Peggy’s life progressing without Steve have forced him and the audience to remember that she is her own person, and not a prize for a job well done?"

2. Impurity Culture: Learning to Support Reproductive Rights When Your Religion Doesn't (posted July 18) "I felt angry and disillusioned, too, when I began to realize that what I had been told about abortion was a lie."

3. All fives (ready or not, here I come) (posted June 25) "This confuses customers. They’re usually accustomed to real math, and in real math, different numbers mean different things. In real math, 4 is higher than 1."

4. In High School I was the Victim of a Christian Anti-Masturbation Cult #ChurchToo [content note: I guess this counts as child sexual abuse] Umm so this is about an "accountability group" for high school boys... this is really creeping me out because in my experience in church it was seen as good to "confess" your very deep, personal, shameful "sins"... so what's described here sounds very normal and there's nothing that's a clear "red flag"... BUT WOW this is creepy and abusive.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

"Waiting On God" - But Like, Why Though?

A picture of a clock, with the text "God's timing is always perfect." Image source.
I came across this article on Desiring God: When We Want to Give Up Waiting. It's written by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, and it's about the concept of "waiting on God." I was inspired to blog about this because yes, back when I was a good evangelical I bought into the whole "waiting on God" thing, but now it just reads as ... odd.

Let's take a look:
I am an impatient person. I don’t like waiting. I get annoyed by slow drivers in fast lanes. I audibly sigh when I get into a long checkout line. I am quick to remind wait staff in restaurants that I’m waiting to be seated or served.
That seems ... fine? Like, it's totally reasonable to not like wasting one's time waiting. It would only become a problem if you treat other people rudely because of your impatience. Or if it's making you so angry/stressed that it's really taking a toll on your mental health. But in this article there's no indication that Risner's impatience is that bad, so... this doesn't seem like a problem at all to me.

Like, I would advise you to look at the whole situation. See that you are not the only person affected by a slow-moving line; everyone else is just trying to do the same thing you're trying to do, so you should treat them with the respect you would want them to show you. And especially be kind to the customer service employee, because they have to deal with annoyed customers all day. And pay attention to your own mental health and emotions- if you're getting disproportionately angry, then it's time to take a step back and figure out why that is, and how to handle it.
Those are trivial situations, yet I still find it hard to wait. There are bigger, much more important issues that I’ve waited for as well. I’ve waited an agonizingly long time for healing from my post-polio. For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith. For each, I have waited long past the time when I thought my requests should have been answered. For many serious requests, I’m still waiting.
Umm. Okay these examples are ... odd. "Healing from my post-polio"- well, how long did your doctor say it was supposed to take? (I'll admit I don't know anything about post-polio.) Maybe the doctor's estimate was wrong and it's actually taking longer than that- yeah that sucks. But I wouldn't really use the term "waiting" to describe that situation. I would call it, trying to figure out how to live a good life when your health isn't what you would want it to be. And the other examples- "For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith."- umm these strike me as extremely weird because there's not necessarily any reason to believe these things will actually happen. Doesn't the term "waiting" mean that you're sure the thing is going to happen, sometime in the future?

And also, "for a dear friend to return to faith" is extremely creepy. People are in charge of their own lives, and they're not going to "return to faith" just because *you* want them to. That's their own decision. Very very creepy to pray for God to force someone to change their personal religious beliefs.

Anyway, maybe Risner is "waiting" for these things because she prayed for them to happen and believes they are "in God's will" so God should do them sooner or later. I guess? Her article doesn't say. (Though later on she does mention that it's possible the things we "wait" for will never have "fulfillment on earth" ... so ... yeah I'm still confused. How is your "dear friend" going to "return to faith" in the afterlife? Isn't it too late by then? Or ... does "fulfillment" not necessarily mean that the thing will happen, but that you will stop feeling bad about the thing not happening?)

Okay moving right along. Risner presents the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael, to teach us about how we should "wait on God."
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And then there was silence. Nothing happened for eleven long years (imagine where you were eleven years ago). Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and well past her childbearing years.

After more than a decade of waiting, they both assumed that perhaps they needed to act on their own to fulfill the promise of God. So, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and had Ishmael. For a while, they thought the promises would now come true through Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, God told them Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. They had waited so long, neither of them believed God was going to do it now. Abraham was decidedly unenthusiastic at the proclamation. After he audibly laughed and inwardly doubted, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18).

Abraham had figured out a way to have heirs on his own. The thought of waiting, being wholly dependent on God, wasn’t part of his plan. He wanted God to bless what he had done, rather than wait for what only God could do.
Umm. Wait. So, it was bad for Abraham to impregnate Hagar, but why was it bad, exactly? Risner seems to be saying it was bad because that's not the way God wanted things to go.

Umm. Okay let's think about this though. First of all, Hagar was a slave. Kind of f***ed-up that Abraham owned slaves. Kind of f***ed-up that the biblical writer was totally fine with that. Kind of f***ed-up that, in my experience in the white American evangelical church, Christians don't seem to notice the slavery part of the story.

Oh, what's that you say? She wasn't a slave, she was a servant? Okay, sure, call it what you want, but the fact is, it's extremely f***ed-up that Abraham and Sarah believed they had the right to order her to have sex with Abraham and give birth to his child.

Yeah let's talk about the sex part. The biblical story gives no indication that anyone cared about asking Hagar for consent. (And neither does Risner's article... And what's more, throughout the article, she keeps using Ishmael as simply a symbol of doing things your own way instead of God's way- she doesn't treat Ishmael like a real person. Which would be fine if she believed this is a fictional story rather than a thing that really happened, but lololololol this is Desiring God we're talking about here.) Indeed, the power dynamics between a slave and master make it impossible that consent can actually exist at all. The correct term for this is rape. Abraham raped Hagar.

Oh and it's worse than that, actually. He forced her to get pregnant and give birth to a child. Abraham seemed to think he "owned" Hagar so completely that he had the right to use her body as a vessel for growing his child for 9 months. Eww. (How will I explain this to my children?)

So why was it wrong for Abraham to impregnate Hagar? In reality-land, the reason it was wrong was because of the slavery, rape, and forced pregnancy. But Risner doesn't mention any of that. She seems to think it was wrong because ... like ... it wasn't God's plan, or something?

Moving along...
That’s what I often do. I don’t like waiting. I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what’s going to happen. And then I want to move ahead. Abraham wanted God to bless Ishmael so he could have descendants through him. God had something different in mind, something that unfolded to Abraham over time — something impossible in the eyes of man.

Honestly, often I want Ishmael too. I want the thing I can figure out, that I have control over, that doesn’t require waiting and trusting.
Umm. What.

Okay, first she says "I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what's going to happen." That seems totally fine to me. Those are perfectly fine things to want. What's the problem?

I guess, in Risner's worldview, the problem is that it's WRONG to take action and find your own solution when God told you that's not how the plan is supposed to go. But in practical terms, how would you know that God told you that? Sure, in the story of Abraham, God speaks with a real voice, but that's not how things work in our lives. And what if actually God wants you to take action to accomplish the thing, and that's God's way of answering your prayers? I just can't see any scenario where one could actually be sure that "Option A is waiting and praying and not taking action, and that is what God wants me to do. Option B is taking things into my own hands to solve the problem, which is BAD because it's NOT what God wants me to do."

Unless, of course, option B is bad for other reasons. (For example, if it involves slavery, rape, or forced pregnancy.) But in that case, you shouldn't do option B because of those other reasons. The reason you shouldn't choose option B has nothing to do with "waiting on God."

So, if option B is bad for other reasons- like it's immoral or just a bad idea- then why introduce the concept of "waiting on God" at all? And if there's nothing inherently wrong with option B, then how can you be so sure God wouldn't want you to do it? Sure, maybe "God told you" that A is right and B is wrong- but a lot of us ex-evangelicals have testimonies about things that we were sure "God told us" that turned out to be really bad ideas. I know I do. (And from where I'm sitting, if God tells you "don't solve this problem using the obvious solution that's right in front of you; instead you should wait and do nothing and maybe the problem will magically solve itself at some unknown time in the future", that sure sounds like an example of a bad idea.)

However, in the examples Risner gave earlier in the article, I don't understand what the "option B" would be. About her health problems, or repairing a relationship, or creepily wanting someone to change their religious beliefs, umm how exactly would one go about taking matters into their own hands and finding a workaround that's not "God's way"? Like, does she mean getting really discouraged/angry and then letting those emotions come out in unhealthy ways? I can't really think of what else she might mean- what obvious solution is sitting there staring her in the face but she can't do it because she has to "wait on God"? I don't see any quick fix for those problems, so I guess maybe "taking it into your own hands" would mean giving up in frustration and handling those emotions badly, in terms of how you treat other people and your own mental health. I guess?

Which, as I said, would be a bad idea because it's inherently a bad idea. Not because of any nonsense about "waiting on God."

And the rest of her article pretty much goes along those same lines. About how we're supposed to "wait on God" so don't "settle for Ishmael" and so on. Without explaining how one could know that God wants you to do option A instead of option B, and without talking about option B being unhealthy or immoral anyway so that's why you shouldn't choose it. All in all, I'm left feeling quite confused about the whole concept of "waiting on God."

Like, why don't we just look at the reality of our situation, look at our options, evaluate each one, predict possible outcomes, and make a decision that way? Why do we need to add this extra layer of vagueness about "waiting on God" and pretend it's actually about that?

This is the problem I have with the stuff I learned in church about morality and how to make decisions. They didn't say "look at the actual reality of the situation and go from there"- instead it was about praying and listening to God, and we very much believed it was possible that God would tell you something that made no sense at all (ahem, Risner uses the term "impossible in the eyes of man"). And "faith" means you should obey and do that thing that makes no sense. Don't pay attention to reality. In this system, there's no way to say "no that is clearly a bad idea, so obviously I shouldn't do it." Lean not on your own understanding. Christians think Abraham was right to obey God's command to sacrifice Isaac. That Joshua was right to obey God's command to kill entire populations and take their land. If God tells you to do something that's clearly a terrible idea, well, just trust that God has a reason and actually it's somehow a good idea.

I've also talked about this a lot in my VeggieTales reviews. Instead of just teaching kids to look at the actual reality of the situation, understand the consequences of one's actions (particularly how they affect other people), and use that to inform their decision-making, VeggieTales introduces completely unnecessary concepts like thankfulness ("Madame Blueberry"), selfishness ("King George and the Ducky"), and temptation ("LarryBoy and the Bad Apple"), and teaches that we should strive to embody/avoid these abstract concepts. (And in "Josh and the Big Wall", they teach that you should always obey God, like Joshua did when he drove the inhabitants of Jericho out and stole their land, what a great role model.)

Yes, I also believe in abstract concepts. But mine are things that are directly tied to reality and the actual real-world results of one's choices. Boundaries. Mental and emotional health. Communication. Consent. Standing up for yourself. For example, instead of "selfishness is bad", I believe "it's good and healthy to put yourself first, but obviously we have compassion for other people- so 'selfishness' becomes a bad thing ONLY if it's causing you to mistreat other people."

And now "waiting on God" feels like such a bizarre, nonsensical idea to me. Why on earth would you "wait" instead of trying to solve your problem if you're able? And if the only potential solutions are actually really terrible ideas because they are immoral, make no sense, etc, then don't do them because they are immoral, make no sense, etc- not because they're not "waiting on God." The whole "waiting on God" idea is completely unnecessary.

Maybe it's just a Christianese way of saying "don't respond to uncertainty about the future by doing something that's a really bad idea"- okay, fine, then it's possible that you can hold that belief in a non-unhealthy way. But why? Why even introduce it? At best, it's a distraction. At worst, if people actually buy into it, if they think that God is actually telling them to do things that make no sense and that's what "faith" means, well that's harmful.

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Related:
From "Virtues Morality" To "Boundaries Morality"
Honest Lent: Abraham's Slaves
I Wish I Was This Angry About Slavery in the Bible
The Bible Lied About Lot's Daughters

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