Thursday, October 30, 2014

Privilege and "Putting God First"

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Back when I was in college, I was super-involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Large group meetings, small group bible studies, church on Sundays, prayer meetings, leadership meetings, etc.

And that stuff was really good for me. But I totally judged other Christians who claimed they "didn't have time" for it.

Like, come on! God should be the most important thing in your life! Surrender all to Jesus! Everything else- your grades, your academic goals, your life plans- it's all garbage compared to knowing Christ. I'd give it up in an instant.

Which was really easy for me to say, and really easy for me to believe, because I'd never imagined the possibility that I wouldn't have a college education and everything that comes with it.

My parents went to college, and they were saving money in a college fund for me from the day I was born. There was never any question in my mind- of course I would go to college. Everyone goes to college. That's how it works, right? You graduate high school- that's easy- and then you go to college.

And it was easy for me, because my family always encouraged me to do my best in school. And when I wanted more science and math than public school could offer me, my parents bought me books and science kits and everything. (And I'm smart and not a perfectionist, so I think I finished my homework a lot faster than other people.)

I always knew I'd go to college, any college I wanted, because I was smart. Money would be a big factor but not a deal-breaker. We'd find one that would be great for me.

Yeah, so that's what I did. I went to a nerdy engineering school and double-majored in math and engineering. Paid for it with a big scholarship plus my parents' money. No student loans.

And then I declared that I didn't care about anything in life except Jesus. And that I would give up everything for him. And that people who "didn't have time" to come to bible study were making an idol out of their education.

Maybe the truth was that they knew the value of something I had always taken for granted. Maybe their parents hadn't gone to college, and getting a degree was this big seemingly-impossible dream, and they worked hard for years and years to get into such a well-ranked school. And they are here for one primary reason: to do their best and get that degree and all the opportunities that come with it. And maybe they have dreams of going on to grad school or med school and getting Phd's and all that.

The truth is, all of us were there for one main reason: to get an education. Some people were more honest about that than others. In my case, I believed I was there because, you know, everyone goes to college. Everyone goes to a college that's totally great for them.

I just saw it as the situation I happened to be in at the time, and, you know, in every situation ya gotta put God first. So church comes before homework.

What if, for other people, homework HAD TO BE the most important thing, because if it wasn't the most important thing, they wouldn't have even come to this college in the first place?

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So that's what privilege is. It means that, because of my background, stuff was easier for me than it is for other people, and it's easy for me not to even realize that.

It doesn't mean I didn't work hard. Of course I worked hard in school. And my parents worked really hard too, and they always encouraged me. So I never had to wrestle with the question "will I go to college or not? how?"

And that's a really good thing for me. Privilege is not automatically bad. Of course I'm really happy that I come from a background where everyone valued education. Yeah. Privilege doesn't mean I'm a bad person for having opportunities that other people didn't have.

It only becomes a bad thing if it makes me blind toward other people's reality. If it makes me judge my classmates for spending so much time on their homework, for *gasp* making their grades more important than God.

For me, it would have been pretty much impossible to not go to college. Other people aren't so lucky. And I need to actually care about that, instead of criticizing them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Always Gotta Check the List of Approved Stances

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Fred Clark's post Evangelicals notice predatory lending, agree it’s Bad contains this insight on white American evangelical culture:
The NAE is an umbrella group representing dozens of small Protestant denominations and more than 45,000 churches. These are white evangelical folk, so they tend to be very politically conservative. Or, rather, they tend to define their faith in terms that are politically conservative — their religious identity is both political and conservative. What that often means in practice is that they double-check their impulses and instincts to ensure they’re not getting out of line with orthodox conservative politics.

As I often note here, most of these folks are Very Nice People — far more like Ned Flanders than like James Dobson (even though, inexplicably, they mostly like Dobson). And like most Very Nice People, when they begin to understand the facts of predatory lending — to see the outrageous interest rates and cascading fees forced upon the poor and defenseless — they think it seems wrong. As in, there ought to be a law against it wrong.

Yet when they double-check to see if this is an acceptable reaction, they find that this view has been framed as dangerously liberal. It’s something championed by Satanic baby-killers like Elizabeth Warren and Eric Holder, and agreeing with people like that can get you in a lot of trouble in the white evangelical world.

This is TOTALLY EXACTLY how it works.

Back when I was a "good Christian," I knew there were certain things you could not agree with if you were a "good Christian." There were certain words that immediately raised little red flags, indicating the person using such words is not a "real Christian."

If you notice that LGBT teenagers face bullying and you want to say, hey, bullying is WRONG, you better throw in a lot of disclaimers about "BUT I don't agree with the homosexual lifestyle."

If you are imagining a situation where a woman is pregnant and the fetus has so many health problems that it would only live for a few hours after birth, and you start to think, ya know, maybe abortion is a good decision in this case- well you better not say that out loud. "Good Christians" know abortion is always wrong, logic be damned.

Other red flags: world peace, "God wants people to be happy", feminism, caring about the environment, evolution, safe sex, not believing in hell, and talking too much about love.

Like, for example, if someone says, "God is love." Wow, what a bunch of wishy-washy crap. Probably not a real Christian, right?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


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1. For battered NFL wives, a message from the cops and the league: Keep quiet (posted October 17) "Token suspensions and resignations do nothing to solve the problem and may even worsen it, because players who are abusive... use the threat of punishment to keep their partners quiet, the wives say."

2. Risen Again: China’s Underground Churches (posted October 21) "But having survived the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, the faith is now flourishing: a 2010 study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated there are 23 million Christians in China. In 2011, Pew Research put the figure closer to 67 million, or 5% of the population."

3. What’s a Dad to Do When His Daughter Wants to Dress as Han Solo? (posted October 21) "...put on a Princess Leia costume, of course."

4. What the World Eats. Really sweet graphs here, and check this out: Americans get 37% of their daily calories from sugar and fat, Chinese get 11%. This is EXACTLY my problem. It is SO HARD to get decent desserts in China. Drives me crazy.

5. The Religious Right’s ‘Just Lie’ Strategy Is Finally Starting To Backfire (posted October 22) "When a conservative professor of theology in one paragraph uses the phrase 'radical and aggressive LGBT activists trying to advance their agenda against all morality,' and then several paragraphs later has to call bullshit on the very legal group opposing said 'radical and aggressive LGBT activists,' then the religious right has a big problem!" Yeah, every word that Focus on the Family and ADF ever said about LGBT issues was all BULLSHIT. And they claim they're fighting to protect "the family" and Christianity. If that's not taking the Lord's name in vain, I don't know what is.

6. Mark Zuckerberg speaking Chinese (posted October 23) Wow, nice! 真厉害! Keep practicing your pronunciation.

7. Public NYC Taxicab Database Lets You See How Celebrities Tip (posted October 23) This article is way more interesting than the title implies. About tons of data about taxis being processed.

8. Mike Brown’s shooting and Jim Crow lynchings have too much in common. It’s time for America to own up (posted August 25) "Images and stereotypes built into American culture have fed prevailing assumptions of black inferiority and wantonness since before the time of Jim Crow. Many of those stereotypes persist to this day and have mutated with the times. Last century’s beast and savage have become this century’s gangbanger and thug..."

9. I'm Angry (posted October 22) "I’m angry that defenders of the system want to talk in dry language about defending the reputation of Christ (as if they had even a tiny chance of doing such a thing), rather than having the compassion to show love to a victim of abuse."

10. Evangelicalism’s Poor Form (posted September 5) "There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, most of which is largely unauthorized by pastors or elders, a folk religion driven and populated by TV preachers, purity culture, uninformed theological speculations in democratic Bible studies, Chick tracts, evangelistic bumper stickers and T-shirts, Thomas Kinkade paintings, VeggieTales, Kirk Cameron movies, Amish romance novels, the Left Behind series, Focus on the Family literature, Christian bloggers, CCM, Christian dating guides, Answers in Genesis books, sappy mass-produced devotional literature, study Bibles for every conceivable niche market, and much else besides. Unsurprisingly, many presume that this all passed quality control and received the imprimatur of Evangelical Central Headquarters." Amen to that.

11. Rethinking the Stumbling Block: Christian Culture as a Barrier (posted 2009) "Second, even when the new believer or nonbeliever understands that to follow Christ he or she does not need to wear a Christian tee-shirt, think Fireproof was the best film of 2008, or enjoy Christian stand-up comedians, this person could still feel alienated if he or she is lead to believe that Christian community is Christian culture."

12. The Chinese like capitalism more than Americans (posted October 14) Yep.

13. Dobby is a free elf! (posted October 26) A little doggie's adorable Halloween costume.

14. Just take everything down to Highway 61: Obedience is always about epistemology (posted October 23) "I’ve got it backwards, they say. The story isn’t about Satan pretending to be God. It’s a story about God pretending to be Satan. I don’t think that helps." The BEST post I have read this week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The "God-Shaped Hole" Sounds Like Depression To Me

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The "God-shaped hole" is an extremely important belief in evangelical Christianity. Basically, the idea is that "everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart." Everyone has a need for God. And people feel this need and try to fill the hole with other things- money, success, pleasure, relationships, etc- but at the end of the day, it doesn't work. They lie awake at night, wondering "Is there more to life? Even though I have everything I wanted, why don't I feel satisfied?"

And the answer is because they need God. Or rather, they need to become a certain kind of Christian who agrees with all the correct things that "good Christians" are supposed to believe. Otherwise, they can never be truly happy.

And, apparently, this is true about everyone. Everyone has a "God-shaped hole." Everyone who is not a Real Christian is, on a very deep level, living a sad and unsatisfying life.

And for those who believe that everyone except for Real Christians is going to hell, the belief in a God-shaped hole is absolutely necessary. Because how could God send people to hell for not believing in him, if they didn't even know that's what they were supposed to do? Ah, but they did know. They felt that emptiness and knew they needed God, but tried to fill the hole in other ways instead.

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Let's talk about depression now. Depression is when someone feels sad for a long time, and in a way that's out of proportion to what's actually going on in their life. Their mind focuses on the bad things in life, and it's hard to have any hope. They lose interest in doing things. (And my definition is probably not complete, but I do know what I'm talking about, I have had depression before/ kind of wonder if I should get back on the anti-depression drugs now.)

Sometimes depression is caused by hard things going on in one's life, and sometimes it has no obvious cause. Maybe they wonder, "I have so many good things- money, family, success- so why do I feel so bad?"

Do you see what I'm getting at here? Having a "God-shaped hole in your heart" sounds suspiciously similar to depression.

Depression is an actual sickness. It is a real thing. It's not something that one can just "get over." Sometimes the best way to treat it is with medication- because it's an actual physical problem in one's brain, and the drugs can correct that.

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There are a lot of people who push for more awareness about mental illnesses like depression. Because IT'S A REAL THING, and there are a lot of really bad ways that the general public responds to it.

I also see some of that push coming from Christians. Which is great, because, like I said, depression is A REAL THING, and the more we can get get people educated about that the better. But I can't help but wonder whether said Christians, who write about the reality of mental illness and how taking drugs for it is actually a really good thing that a lot of people need, believe in the God-shaped hole.

Because if you believe that taking drugs to treat depression is a legitimate thing, then you can't believe that "everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart." You can't believe that everyone has a need for God, which they should be able to feel in their own hearts. You can't believe in a God who is justified in sending people to hell because they KNEW they needed him but still didn't choose to follow him.

If everyone has a God-shaped hole, then depression is not a sickness that affects one's health, but an indication of a deep and timeless truth: life is incomplete without God. (And by "God" I mean "believing in all the correct things that good Christians are apparently supposed to believe in.") (Oh, and for Christians who have depression, it must be because they're not trusting God enough. Or something.)

And that's how I thought about it, in the past. I thought that taking drugs for depression was harmful because it might actually work- the person would then feel better/ be able to manage their depression, and then they would just keep going through life happily, ignoring their need for God, and then go to hell.

Everyone has a God-shaped hole, and some people try to fill it with depression medication.


Follow-up post: Let me tell you about my "God-shaped hole"


If you are dealing with depression, get help for it. It's a real thing.

Monday, October 20, 2014


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1. Police Pleasantly Surprised To Learn Man They Shot Was Armed (posted October 14) "Officers said they were further relieved after discovering the man had a petty theft charge on his record, ensuring they were 100 percent off the hook."

2. I would fail Abraham’s test (and I bet you would too) (posted October 14) "If love can look like abuse, if it can look like genocide, if it can look like rape, if it can look like eternal conscious torture—well, everything is relativized!"

3. BBC's website is being blocked across China (posted October 15)

4. ‘Spiritual bondage to the powers of death’: Why Screwtape should’ve read some James Cone and ‘You have to keep scooping out of the boat’: More on progressive Christianity and sin (posted October 15) "There’s a hole in white evangelicalism’s understanding of sin, death, evil and spiritual bondage. It’s a gaping chasm wider than the one in the Navigator’s bridge illustration. It’s the blind spot that allowed America’s first great theologian to write 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' before sitting down to a meal cooked by his slaves."

5. ordinary monsters (posted October 17) "These people do not spend all of their time hiding in alleys."

6. Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor (posted October 13) "We want to support a ministry with a used iPhone. If you have an old one you can donate, please let us know."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How long will you wait for your experience to match up with the bible?

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Did God really say...?


Three interesting and sort-of related posts I've read recently:

Facing the Music with Jennifer Knapp, by Trevin Wax. Wax reviews Knapp's memoir about "her painful childhood, her passion for music, her career in CCM, and her journey 'coming out' as gay." Though Wax has a lot of appreciation for Knapp's music and the themes she expresses, one big point of criticism is that, apparently for Knapp, "experience trumps everything else." Wax writes:
What becomes clearer and clearer as the narrative progresses is that Jennifer Knapp was never comfortable with the teachings of Scripture that counter contemporary sensibilities. For example, she never believed Jesus is the only way to salvation. Although she expresses gratitude for the compassion she has experienced through Christ, she never ceases to see Him as merely a way to the divine. Her personal faith journey is not a story of repentance and adherence to Christian truth but of quelling her own inner turmoil, learning to be at peace with God and with herself, no longer humiliated by imperfections and hounded by pressure to conform.
The beautiful emphasis on personal experience with God runs into the rocks of orthodox beliefs about who this God is. Many evangelicals would like to hold onto both, but when experiential faith and doctrinal belief come into conflict, experience often wins. Within this framework, reading Scripture is simply another means to a personal goal, and experience becomes the arbiter of truth. The Bible is no longer the authoritative interpreter of our experiences; our experiences are the authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

(I have my doubts on whether Knapp would agree with this description of her perspective on Scripture.)

The second blog post is Is God arbitrary? (my point of contention with conservative evangelicals) by Morgan Guyton. Guyton claims that conservative evangelical Christians have a view which requires God to be "arbitrary" in some sense- to give commands for seemingly no reason, and if we question the purpose of those commands, we are being rebellious and "humanist" and thinking that we know more than God. Guyton totally disagrees with this view- he says "Because I believe that God is perfectly benevolent, I presume that everything God asks us to do is for our own good, whether collectively or individually."

In particular, Guyton criticizes the way that conservative Christians approach issues like sexuality and gender roles. They hold to a traditional view because they believe that's what God said, and it cannot be changed when people point out the harm that those beliefs do to actual human beings. Guyton says, "What makes me so angry about this is the way that the sovereignty of God is effectively being worked out on the backs of queer people."

The third post is “Because I said so”: Epistemic Access, Our Current Moral Debates, and a Trustworthy God by Derek Rishmawy. Rishmawy argues that, as human beings, we are in no position to claim that God allows suffering with no purpose, because our understanding of the world is negligible compared to God's. (Pretty much what God said in Job 38-41.) He uses the analogy of a toddler's parents setting rules which the toddler cannot understand. "This is not an act of arbitrary enforcement of an irrational will, but the reasonable response to the limits of their child’s reason. It is an appeal to something that the child ought to know and can trust: that loving character of the parent. It is 'because I said so and you know enough to know me.'"

In other words, we can know enough about God's character and trustworthiness to accept that there is a good reason for God's commands or actions, even though we are not able to understand the reason.


So, to tie all this together: Conservative/evangelical Christians hold a view of God/ the bible which basically says, "God said this and did this, and that's the way it is, he is right, we just gotta trust him and obey what he said, even if it looks like it doesn't make sense."

For example, God wouldn't create a person gay. So if you pray and follow God enough, God will fix you and make you straight.

And we all know God's not okay with gay marriage. We have to fight to keep it illegal.

And God wants men to be the leaders in romantic relationships. So, women, don't ask guys out, just wait and God will send you the right guy.

Also, girls, you have to dress modest. Hide your beauty. That's what God says. You'll be rewarded with a perfect marriage.

Be pure. Guard your heart. Don't allow yourself to love. See, God sees you, God knows how devoted you are to God, and God will reward you.

Also, we all know that all people need God, so if an atheist tells you that they have a perfectly happy life, well we know deep down that it's not true.

And even though bad things happen in the world, just pray and trust God and God will protect you.

And if some kind of awful tragedy does befall you, well God has a plan. It's okay.

The bible is the authoritative voice on reality. If your experiences don't seem to match what the bible says, it's because you're not seeing the bigger picture. You have to wait, and eventually it will work out. God keeps God's promises, ya know.

But how long are you willing to wait for your experience to match up with the bible? (Or rather, with one particular interpretation of the bible?)

How many years of loneliness and self-hate before a person gives up on trying to become "ex-gay"? How many suicides before we stop preaching that people have to change who they are in order to be acceptable to God?

How many stories about healthy relationships between same-sex couples can one hear and still cling to the idea that every single one of them is living a lie?

How long should a "pure" woman wait before she decides no, God's not bringing me some perfect "future husband"? How many years of trusting God, despite the circumstances, before she says it's all a lie?

How long can a girl hide her body before she begins to hate it, hate the way God made her? How long will the church continue to teach modesty, while tons of women speak out about how damaging those teachings are?

How many times can she watch friends and random acquaintances get married, and still hold to the idea that she needs to shut down all her romantic attractions until God gives the signal? How long can she keep believing that yes, it is God's plan for her to be single now? When will she present her case to God- look how pure and obedient I've been! Where is the husband I've waited for?

How many people will you argue with because you don't believe what they said about their own personal life? How long before it becomes too hard to believe that you know EVERYONE better than they know themselves?

And how far will you rationalize and blame the victim in order to hold on to your idea that God always protects God's children?

How bad would things have to get in your own life before you decide you're done with all that "this is God's plan" stuff?

"By their fruit you will know them." Image source.

Reality does not match with what "the bible says," if you believe in an interpretation of the bible which puts specific rules and doctrines above Jesus' command to love your neighbor. Go ahead and live that way, with inflexible rules, and insist that this is what God says and he knows what he's doing, and in the long run, on a big-picture level, this is actually a good thing, even though a lot people find it very hurtful.

But Jesus may tell you, "I never knew you."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Seriously, stop accusing us of "how close can we get to the line"

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Julie Rodgers was recently interviewed in Rachel Held Evans's post, Ask a (Celibate) Gay Christian, and had a lot of very important things to say, particularly about being single, dealing with loneliness, and how the church needs to support single people.

Though she believes that God does not allow same-sex sexual relationships, Rodgers says people need intimacy:
Regardless, I do not believe He wants me to be alone. We’re wired for intimacy, and while we can live without sex, we cannot live without intimacy. The more we celebrate sustained, non-sexual, sacrificial relationships in our society, the less people will feel like the only way to experience love and intimacy is in the context of a marriage or a sexual relationship. It would also be helpful if Christians would resist the urge to hit the “panic” button whenever gay people experience deep affection for those of the same sex. As a young person, I was so concerned about the “risk” of relationships turning sexual that I erred on the side of suppression and isolation (which leads to destructive explosions). It was so life-giving to exhale and move away from a fear-based approach, choosing instead to be more concerned about the risks of isolation. That has enabled me to actually remain chaste for years because my needs for intimacy are met through rich relationships with both men and women, which didn’t happen when I was disconnected out of fear. We were made for relationships, and we can work out what it means to be healthy, whole, Christ-honoring men and women in the context of relationship.
I also recommend reading the post she linked in that paragraph, The Freedom to Love.

This view strikes me as so surprising, and also really healthy and practical.

She's so right about Christian culture's fear of relationships turning sexual. I've experienced the fear and warnings because of purity culture, and LGBT Christians probably experience it to an even greater degree.

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Once I was at a Christian conference where LGBT issues were discussed, and I thought they handled it pretty well, talking about the different bible passages, how there are different interpretations and it's not so clear, and hearing real stories from real LGBT people, emphasizing how badly the church has handled this issue and how we need to focus on LOVING people. It was all really great until near the end, when we came back to one particular bible passage and one of the leaders explained actually because of this or that Greek word, Paul meant that all gay marriage is off-limits. It was presented as "some of these passages aren't so clear, maybe they have multiple interpretations, but here's the RIGHT ANSWER." And after that, the whole tone of the session changed. Everyone (not really everyone, I know there were people there who didn't agree) participated in the discussions with the assumption that the bible says gay marriage is wrong. I think the problem was so many evangelical Christians just want to know "the right answer" rather than respect the fact that different people have different opinions and that's okay.

But anyway, at this conference, at one point there was a panel taking questions from the audience. One question was, okay, so gay people can't have sex, but what about having a close friendship- maybe even at the level of a "covenant"- and not having sex? And the leaders on the panel answered, "eh, no, it's sounds too much like 'let's find out exactly where the line is so we can get as close to it as possible.'"

You know "the line"?

The line. A highly important concept in purity culture. Okay, so we can't have sex. But what exactly can one do with one's boyfriend or girlfriend? Can we kiss? Hold hands? And every time you ask this question in your youth group, the leaders will answer, "Whoa, hold on, hold on. This sounds like a case of trying to find exactly where the line is so you can get as close to it as possible without sinning. No no. Don't try to find the line, just work on following Jesus."

Which of course annoyed me to no end because dang, I just want a straight answer. This is a very practical question! And I've heard all kinds of mixed messages- you've got people who advocate "saving your first kiss" for marriage/engagement, you've got warnings that ANY AND ALL physical contact with a member of the opposite sex (oh btw everyone is straight) can lead to sex, but on the other hand I see couples at church holding hands, or giving each other a quick kiss... so what's the deal? (Are they just so overwhelmed by temptation that they've "compromised" and decided that little romantic gestures are okay?)

No one ever said, yes, it is okay and normal for couples to do X, Y, and Z.

(And I'm straight. This must be even more ridiculously confusing for Christians who are not.)

We're not trying to be as bad as possible without hitting "the line." We're trying to actually understand what the rules are, and what freedom God gives us. And when that question gets answered with "no no no, you shouldn't be trying to FIND the line," the message it sends is "probably everything you think of as romantically or sexually pleasurable is NOT OKAY." And also, if you go too close to "the line" then there will be all kinds of temptation and you'll end up crossing "the line" anyway.

It's all very hazy, but you should probably feel really guilty about it.

My experiences with "the line" are that of a straight teenager/ college student. For adult gay or lesbian Christians who believe they must be celibate, it's a very different thing. Let's get back to what Julie Rodgers said: "As a young person, I was so concerned about the 'risk' of relationships turning sexual that I erred on the side of suppression and isolation (which leads to destructive explosions). It was so life-giving to exhale and move away from a fear-based approach, choosing instead to be more concerned about the risks of isolation."

You see that? "The risks of isolation." Staying as far away from "the line" as possible is ACTUALLY A BAD AND UNHEALTHY THING.

Is there a rooftop I can shout this from?

She's so right. Especially for single adults. People need love, friendship, and intimacy from other people. Those are needs, not locations on the slippery slope toward having sex. God-given blessings, not harmful influences that will push us too close to "the line."

From now on, if you believe in the existence of "the line" but don't believe people should try to find it, kindly shut up about it. You've turned "the line" into a big blur of fear and guilt, and that is not the freedom God wants God's children to live in.

Monday, October 13, 2014


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1. If You Want to See Inequality in the U.S. at Its Worst, Visit an Impound Lot (posted August 26) "A woman on a pay phone wept as she begged whomever was on the line to find money so she could get her car back–she said she needed $875. 'I’m gonna lose my job if I’m not there at 5.'"

2. Building Better Prisons: Can an Architect Change the Way People Think About Incarceration? (posted September 24) "Psychologists agree that even just a few days in solitary can lead to an array of health and psychological problems, but America’s prisons, under the guise of security and safety concerns, continue to isolate and punish people in ways that much of the rest of the world considers barbaric."

3. Social Justice for Single People (posted September 30) "It seems that so many of us (myself included) have bought into the lie that deep, mutually supportive relationships are God’s gift to married people alone."

4. Yes, the World Is Getting Better (posted October 6) "My entire life was built on the premise that the best the world could be was some place in the past, and my goal as a Christian was to collect facts about some bygone era and work hard to revive the lost expression of the faith of my forefathers."

5. NRA: Prayer chain (posted September 30) "God intervenes to compel Loretta to pray for God to intervene to save Buck. Was someone else praying for God to compel Loretta to pray?"

6. 7 LGBT Issues That Matter More Than Marriage (posted 2013)

7. Girl Talk: What Losing My Virginity Taught Me About Faith (posted September 9) "Losing my virginity wasn’t the end result of falling away from my faith – it was the beginning of a renewal, of learning to love God and my neighbors more deeply and fully than ever before."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Can Christianity exist without "less than"?

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Samantha Field, who writes the blog Defeating the Dragons, again said something that blew my mind. (Seriously, her blog is great. Y’all should be reading it.) In a critique of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book “Real Marriage,” Field writes:

Interestingly enough, this first assumption– that true friendships are about “edification”– leads to another problem I have with this chapter: Christian elitism.

Only when marriage and family exist for God’s glory– and not to serve as replacement idols– are we able to to truly love and be loved. (28)

It is through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives that we are able to love our spouses. (30)

We are convinced that the couples who pray … together stay together. (36)

The more his need for her and her need to help him are celebrated as gracious gifts from God, the faster oneness and friendship blossom in the marriage. (38)

That last one is also just icky– because they say that a wife needs to “celebrate being helpful as a gracious gift from God.” Whee. Complementarianism isn’t demeaning or chauvinistic at all. Not even a little bit. But the biggest problem I have (for the moment) with these statements is that they frame non-Christian marriages as less than. They probably wouldn’t go so far as to say that non-Christian marriages are doomed to unhappiness and divorce, but by making the claim that we need to place “glorifying God” as the center purpose of our marriage in order to truly love, what they are saying is that people who don’t think of “glorifying God” as a goal cannot truly love. They can love, sure, but not truly love. Any happiness a non-Christian experiences in their marriage is because of luck, probably. Because they couldn’t possibly be building a healthy marriage filled with trust and love and respect and kindness and acceptance– not without God, at least. Not really.

Christian elitism comes out in a lot of ways in Christian culture, and they’re usually wrapped up in sentiments like this one– and it frustrates me no end because of how baldly false it is. I’m friends with a lot of atheists and agnostics, and my friendships with them have been richer and more meaningful and more challenging than most of the friendships I’ve ever had with Christians– and the relationships that I have now with Christians don’t have anything “more” than my relationships with atheists. In fact, most of the friendships I’ve had with Christians have been profoundly negative and have ended horrifically because they felt more entitled to judge and condemn me than to love me.

Christian elitism. How have I never realized that before?

Christians say stuff like this ALL THE TIME. In order to [fill in the blank], you need to focus on God before anything else. In order to have a good marriage. To be a good father. To have hope/happiness/contentment in your life. To truly love others.

That’s one of THE most important components of Christianity, or at least, the Christianity I was taught. We NEED God; we can’t be functional human beings without God.

And Field calls it what it is: Christian elitism. By saying these things, we’re saying that non-Christians’ lives/marriages/friendships/etc as less than. And my first thought was, yeah of course. That’s not some kind of unfortunate and unforeseen logical implication- no, that is the exact content of this teaching. (It's a feature, not a bug.)

Yeah, of course, ya know, people need God, and all non-Christians are, on some level, deeply unsatisfied with their lives. That is exactly what I used to believe, and it is a hugely important part of that religion.

But it’s false.

I found out it was false when I started listening to non-Christians talk about their lives and experiences, mostly on blogs. They said, “yeah I’m fine, I have a good life, there’s nothing missing.” Of course, a “good Christian” wouldn’t believe someone who said that. “Good Christians” know other people’s lives and needs better than they know themselves. Hey, random stranger on the internet who says you’re happy with your life, well I KNOW YOU’RE REALLY NOT

And when that’s your argument, it’s time to take a step back and ask what the hell you’re doing.

Jesus said to love others. And “love” means (among other things) believing them when they talk about their own lives.

Image source.

So, we have to get rid of Christian elitism, because it’s not true and it’s not loving. But how can Christianity exist without it?

Back when I was a “good Christian,” one of the foundations of my religion was that people NEED God. By which I meant, they need to believe in the correct version of God, or else their life will be a failure. (Now that my beliefs have changed, I would argue that “people need God” in the sense that God is the source of everything good in the world, everything that we need, but people don’t have to actually believe the correct information about God in order to enjoy those good things.)

Maybe a better question is, would anyone be a Christian if they didn’t have to?

If people can have a happy life without believing in God- which, they can- if hell isn’t real- which, I don’t believe it is anymore- then... why be a Christian?

The reason I’m a Christian has always been “everyone needs to be a Christian.” But if that’s not true, then what?

To be honest, now the reason I’m a Christian is that the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the most amazing thing ever. If I’m going to believe in a God, it’s going to be a God who loves us. And I can’t imagine any better way to show that love than to make Godself vulnerable, to bring Godself down to our level, to live in our world, to show God is not sitting up in heaven going, “dang, I’m SO glad I’m not there.” That’s love.

And top it off with the resurrection and how God will raise us all in the future, and, just, wow. It’s the greatest story there could ever be. If there is a God, then that’s gotta be who God is.

But if you don’t believe that, it’s fine. Just take it as good news, that Perfect Number believes God loves you, or just ignore it, whatever.

That’s my attempt at a Christianity without Christian elitism. Actually, that’s what I’ve believed for a while, but never thought of it in terms of how I’m rejecting Christian elitism. So thank you, Samantha.

Discussion questions: 

Do you believe that people “need” God? If so, what do you mean by that?

In your experience, to what extent has Christian elitism been an indispensable part of Christianity?

I’m a bit worried that if we build a Christianity without elitism, it won’t be strong enough or meaningful enough to actually do anything. For example, would people become pastors or put in a lot of time volunteering at church if, actually, Christianity isn’t something that we NEED to spread to EVERYONE? Any thoughts on this?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Image source.

[content note: anti-LGBT comments]

“Tammy, can you give us an example of something that’s ‘hilarious’?” I asked a student in one of my classes. I was asking for a bunch of examples to check if the students understood the adjectives we were covering in that lesson.

“I was riding the bus and I saw two men sitting across from me... they were falling in love. I saw two gays on the bus and it was hilarious!”

Ohhhhhhhhhkay then. Crap. As a teacher, what the heck am I supposed to do with that?

As other students in the class started to snicker. Great.

I said, “Ah, yeah I see. Some people would think it’s hilarious. I think it’s normal!” and then moved on to the next adjective.

As offensive as it was, she definitely understood what “hilarious” means. So, I gotta affirm that and also throw out the idea that yeah, other people won’t agree with that description.

Ai yo.

Whenever I’m talking with students (adult students in China), and the idea of people being gay comes up, everyone laughs like it’s a huge joke. Like the idea of being gay is a really really funny thing.

I don’t know what it’s like for actual LBGT Chinese people. But from what I’ve seen, Chinese culture is less accepting than American culture. People my age laugh about it, and jokingly tell their straight guy friends who spend a lot of time together, “you guys must be gay.” On top of that, you’ve got the one-child policy, which means the vast majority of Chinese in my generation are their parents’ only hope for grandchildren. Lots of pressure to get married and have kids.

That’s the extent of my knowledge on the subject. I’d like to find some actual LGBT Chinese people and hear what they have to say.


Unrelated to the topic of how LGBT people are viewed in China, but interesting for my American readers: In Chinese culture, what’s considered “normal” masculinity and femininity is way different than in the US. I’ve seen male security guards wearing pink Hello Kitty mittens. (Straight) Chinese girls who are best friends hold hands in public. And sometimes you see a boyfriend and girlfriend wearing identical outfits. Like, wearing the exact same t-shirt, one in a women's cut and one in a man's cut. It’s normal here.

Really common to see couples walking around like this in public. Image source.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Sorry I haven't published anything in the past week or two. Between being sick and traveling during the Chinese national holiday, I've had no time to write. Anyway, I'll get on that soon, and please enjoy these posts:

1. More Thoughts on Teaching Consent to Young Children (posted September 30) "He followed her around the dance floor grabbing her hands and trying to make her dance with him. The adults on the dance floor and at tables nearby beamed at Bobby, remarking on 'how cute' he was being."

2. When white friends don’t believe what blacks go through, they’re not friends (posted September 9) "When they deny my life experience, I know the friendship has its boundaries."

3. why no one should talk about “emotional adultery” ever again (posted September 23) "They say things like 'be careful not to become close friends with a lady, guys,' as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and every time I hear it I want to cry because what they’re saying is: Samantha, you cannot have any friends."

4. Atheism and Me (posted October 2) "When I walked away from theism I also walked away from my previous unquestioned self-confidence that I am Right and everyone else is Wrong and it’s my job to set them straight."

5. Liberating Liturgies: Blessed Be (posted October 1) "Blessed be the unwashed bag lady, shopping cart stacked with tainted treasure / for she will have her basic needs met."

6. Has Your Bible Become A Quran? (posted October 1) "The Bible is not the Christian Holy Book."

7. This Buddhist Monk Has Devoted His Life To Ending Suffering In North Korea (posted October 6) "At first, I was crying all the time because I had no choice but to be impacted by what I saw."