Sunday, May 31, 2015

Josh Duggar's "Sin" Doesn't Matter Because Being Pure is Really Hard

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[content note: sexual abuse, rape culture]

Well the internet has blown up this past week over the news that Josh Duggar sexually abused at least 5 girls, including some of his younger sisters, back in 2002 when he was a teenager. (See last week's blogaround and this post by the Slacktivist for links to what other bloggers have written on this. The whole ex-evangelical/ex-fundamentalist/ex-purity-culture blogosphere has been writing about these kinds of problems for years and we have a lot to say.)

One thing that strikes me is how the Duggar parents are protecting Josh, talking about forgiveness as if this is all just in the past and everything is fine now. As if it doesn't matter. This is so odd, because the Duggar family is SO SO SO far to the extreme end of purity culture, whose entire premise is "anything sexual that happens before marriage will ALWAYS MATTER FOREVER."

So let's talk about what happens in purity culture when you don't live up to its impossible standards.

Purity culture teaches that all of your romantic and sexual experiences belong to your (future) husband or wife. (The assumption is that everyone is straight and gets married exactly one time.) Basically, you start out completely pure- emotionally and physically- and then every crush, every romantically-charged bit of physical contact with a member of the opposite sex, every dating (or courting) relationship erodes your purity a little. You go on your first date, and a chunk of your purity is gone. You have your first kiss- now an even bigger chunk is gone. You have sex- oh my dear goodness- ALL of your purity is gone.

(Or rather, your purity is gone, because purity is defined as lack of experience. But purity culture also talks about "pieces of your heart"- at first you start with an entire heart, and then each action that erodes your purity does so by transferring a piece of your heart to your romantic partner. You have to stay in the relationship or else those heart bits are lost forever.)

Back when I was in purity culture, the part I never understood was how to move from a state of being completely pure and knowing nothing about romantic relationships, to marriage. Really, you had to give up some of your purity in exchange for the information and experience you would need in order to know if someone would be a good marriage partner. The challenge was in how to carefully calculate each move so as to lose the least amount of purity, while maximizing the information that could be gained. How to get engaged without ever falling in love. 

Also, I believed that if I prayed a lot and was perfectly obedient to God, I would be able to successfully go through that whole process and get married without losing any pieces of my heart. Purity culture offers a guarantee of no heartbreak.

(The Duggars attempt to solve this problem through a courtship process, where everything the couple does must be approved by the parents. And of course, a lot of praying about it.)

Anyway, the point is that purity culture sets up this ideal "best-case scenario" where the first person you ever have a crush on is the person you marry. Furthermore, the less you have actually physically touched them before the wedding, the better. 

But realistically, they know that's not going to happen. Being pure is really hard, and people make "mistakes". Purity-culture Christians date and break up. (Though some use the term "court" instead of "date.") You hold hands with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes people even kiss. And- gasp- sometimes, because of too much temptation, a couple may have sex.

People who preach purity culture acknowledge that within the church, the vast majority of people end up having premarital sex. (In fact, purity culture uses this as motivation to advocate even harder for purity.) And even if you haven't had sex, essentially no one ends up "pure" for their wedding day. I guarantee you, right now, there are girls who have never been kissed, never been in a relationship, and they still feel so much shame over how impure they are.

So purity culture teaches that God gives us this impossible standard- have absolutely no romantic or sexual experience before your wedding (or at least, no romantic experience aside from the person you're about to marry)- and essentially no one can keep it. And we count our thoughts and actions as sin, we pray, we believe God forgives us, but still, we are impure.

Dear god this is creepy. Image source.

In purity land, the correct answer for anything sexual is NO. It's a sin to consent, so people explain Christians having premarital sex in terms of temptation and falling into sin. I mean, of course we WANT to follow God, we WANT to not have sex, in theory, but ... you know... sometimes a couple somehow ends up alone together and it "just happens." Then they use language like "we stumbled." When I was in purity culture, I believed that if the circumstances were just so, it would impossible to control myself. I would have sex by accident, and it would be my fault for putting myself into a situation with so much temptation.

There is no consent. If it were possible to give consent, that means you have the presence of mind to make a decision about whether or not to have sex, and of course, if you're able to think clearly like that, you would say no. (This also applies to using condoms and other protection- if you're able to go to the store and buy a condom, you're able to choose not to have sex. Using a condom is a greater sin, because it means you actually PLANNED to have sex.)

(This is rape culture. It completely blurs the distinction between consensual sex and rape.)

Basically, purity culture teaches that we're all animals (well, men more so than women), unable to control ourselves, and given the right combination of circumstances, our bodies will have sex and we'll be unable to stop ourselves. All we can do is be on guard against those such combinations of circumstances.

Purity-culture adherents who have premarital sex claim to have done so by accident. But they admit it's still their own fault- it's a sin- for foolishly putting themselves into a situation where it could happen.

So let's come back to Josh Duggar. Some people have sex with their girlfriend "by accident", because they "can't control themselves." Josh Duggar sexually abused his sisters because he couldn't control himself. So, what's the difference?

(To be clear, Josh Duggar did not say he "couldn't control himself" or anything like that. In his non-apology, he said "I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret." My point in this post is to show how purity-culture advocates would view these kinds of situations- even though they may not necessarily say their views so directly.)

In purity land, teenagers are always having sex by accident. As long as they feel appropriately guilty, there's no challenge to the purity ideology and everything keeps moving along like normal.

If you believe that a girlfriend and boyfriend can have sex completely without intending to, then the idea of a teenage boy sexually abusing his prepubescent sisters doesn't seem too out of the ordinary. I mean, of course someone would do that, if the circumstances are such that there's too much "temptation." And of course it's a sin and he should be held accountable for it- but the point at which he could have chosen differently was way back when he first became aware of the temptation present in the home. Not when he was, you know, actually sexually abusing them.

Purity culture sets up an impossible standard, and when its followers fail, they claim they were overwhelmed by temptation, unable to control what they bodies were doing. In this ideology, it's totally understandable that a boy would touch his sister, and it's the same as any other unmarried sexual contact. Of course he couldn't control himself- if he could, he wouldn't have done it, right? 

So of course he should be protected from legal consequences. "The world" is so far gone, they think consensual sex is okay- oh, the horror! No, we can't have them judging Josh Duggar. This is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could have happened to anyone.

In purity culture, rapists and abusers are not predators. They're just sinners who don't know their own weaknesses.

(And I'm so glad I no longer buy into any of that bullshit.)


See also:  
Josh Duggar and His Victims are "Damaged Goods"
Josh Duggar's Real Victim Was God (So It's Okay) 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Modesty is Causing Women to Stumble

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It's that time of year again. The weather is getting hot, people are showing more skin, and other people feel the need to condemn them for doing so.

Guys, I know you just like to be comfortable and tell everyone your opinions about women's clothing, but you need to show some compassion for your sisters in Christ.

First of all, you need to understand that women are visual. This means that we are always judged- by others and by ourselves- against cultural standards of what "beauty" is supposed to mean. We are constantly bombarded with photoshopped images and unrealistic expectations. No matter what kind of success a woman achieves, people criticize her if she's not "attractive" or "feminine" "enough". So women are taught to base their self-worth on whether or not they're meeting cultural beauty standards. That's how they're wired. By society.

It's a battle every day. We want to believe that we are loved and we are valuable just the way we are, but everywhere we turn, there's an advertisement about how we need to improve our appearance and then magically have a perfect life.

You'd think that in church, girls could at least have a break from this pressure. Nope. Summer comes around, and there are always pastors and well-meaning church people laying down more and more rules about how women are supposed to dress. If you don't follow the rules, apparently you are a bad person- prideful, insecure, selfish, manipulative, etc. Again, women are taught that their character and self-worth can be determined by their appearance, by the way they follow your standards of beauty.

How is the church so much like the world in this regard? Why isn't it a place where women can feel safe, where they are not judged on their appearance?

Of course, I'm not blaming the modesty police for women's thoughts. If you say something that causes a woman to stumble- to believe the lie that she's not good enough and she should feel shame because of her body- that's her own responsibility. Of course it's not your fault. Except that it totally is, and you have a responsibility to not contribute to a culture that heaps this kind of shame on your sisters in Christ.

So the next time you want to make a comment on what women should or shouldn't wear, stop and think first. Will my words cause someone to stumble? (Your opinions on what's sexy are good and God-given, but they are meant to be shared only with your spouse, not the general public.) When in doubt, you can ask your mother or sister for their advice.

I know it's a sacrifice to make- not being able to give your judgey opinion about somebody else's life- but didn't Jesus say we should put others first? Is it really worth it to feel like you're an expert on everyone else's clothing choices (and body type) and what it says about their character, if you're hurting your sisters in the process?

Let's show compassion for each other. Let people just be who they are without having to worry about their body being "good enough." And maybe pray that your sisters in Christ would know that God loves them no matter what they wear.


See also:
The Story of Me and Modesty
The Male Equivalent to Modesty

Monday, May 25, 2015


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1. Find Out What Your Name Would Be if You Were Born Today (posted May 13) This is fun.

2. Mattress Protest at Columbia University Continues Into Graduation Event (posted May 19) "Aided by four friends, and to the cheers of some of her classmates, the student who protested Columbia University’s handling of her sexual assault complaint by carrying a mattress around campus all year hoisted it for the last time on Tuesday as she crossed the stage at a graduation ceremony."

3. According To Science, This Is The Perfect And Best Road Trip You Can Possibly Take (posted in March?) Cool.

4. Government says four cancer charities are shams (posted May 19) Oh god.

5. These adorable penguins. I want one!

6. White America’s Waco insanity: The shocking realities it ignores about racism & violence (posted May 20) "It’s why street protestors in Baltimore are referred to as violent thugs for burning buildings, but murderers in Waco get called 'bikers.'"

7. Links about Josh Duggar: [trigger warning for sexual abuse]

First of all, you MUST read Libby Anne. She grew up in the Christian homeschooling culture which produced the Duggars, and she's been blogging about it for YEARS. She gets it. Here are her posts: What You Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police ReportWhat Did Josh Duggar’s Counseling Look Like?, and Anna Duggar and the Silencing Power of Forgiveness.

More posts from other bloggers:
how Josh Duggar is getting away with it
Josh Duggar says he’s sorry. So what?
In faith communities like the Duggars, abuse victims are encouraged to be filled with grace. It’s not that simple.
What Josh Duggar did 12 years ago still matters. Here’s why.
The Duggars’ dangerous cult of purity

And here's what I think: A lot of the reactions I saw on twitter seemed to be almost celebrating this news, celebrating Josh Duggar's downfall because we oppose the ideology that the Duggar family promotes. People on twitter were like "the Duggars said transgender people are child predators, and look at them now!"

That's not justice, that's a revenge fantasy. Josh Duggar sexually assaulted several children. This is bad. This is not something to be excited about, no matter how much you hate the Duggar brand. Don't forget, most of the victims are also members of the Duggar family.

Justice means, first and foremost, caring for the victims. What do they need? Are they safe? We don't really know- we don't have any statements from them, and we don't know their identities (which should be kept secret in order to protect them). According to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the victims totally forgave Josh and everything is fine. Really? I find that hard to believe.

Justice also means preventing this in the future. And, the way I see it, that means the destruction of purity culture.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Me

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Let me tell you about the time I stood up for what was right, even though nobody else would.

I was in middle school, and the rule was that we weren't allowed to switch tables in the cafeteria. Each table had 8 seats, and during the first week of the school year, you could make your choice about which table you'd sit at, and then you had to stick with it forever after.

Somehow, halfway through the school year, a few girls decided they were my friends, and they wanted me to come sit at their table. I legitimately have no idea how this happened- at that age, I pretty much knew nothing about how having friends was supposed to work. (I would like to take this opportunity to mention Asperger's- yeah, that'll help a lot of things in this story make more sense.) I guess I was really lucky that they pursued me. I wanted to have friends, but I didn't realize that meant I would have to, you know, make an effort to talk to the other students.

Anyway the point is, they wanted me to switch to their lunch table. And yeah, it made sense- I fit in better with them than with the girls at the table where I had been sitting. (I guess at this age, girls weren't willing to sit together with boys? All the students at the tables in question were girls.)

But. I told them no. The rule says we can't move from one table to another.

So things escalated. My new friends kept trying to persuade me to move. How long did this go on- days, weeks? I don't know.

Still, I wouldn't do it. We're not allowed to switch tables.

Then the girls at my original lunch table got in on it too. They said, yes, I should totally switch to the new lunch table. And yes, I was totally oblivious to whatever kind of social dynamics were going on. They said I should move- now as I write this, I'm wondering what sort of tone they had when saying this. Were they rejecting me? Were they trying to help me find the table where I would be happiest? Meanwhile the girls at the new table were offering friendship and acceptance, and I was oblivious to that too.

All I saw was temptation coming from both sides. Pressure to violate the law. I was the only one who stood for what was right. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Then the adult lunch monitors got in on it too. "Perfect Number, it's okay. You can move to the other table."

Nope. I refused. Even if an angel from heaven preaches to you a different gospel than the one I gave you, let him be cursed, am I right? Gotta stand up for what's right, even if the entire world is going against you.

We're not allowed to switch tables. End of story.

"Stand up for what is right, even if you stand alone." No no no this is awful advice for people with Asperger's. Image source.

Eventually, I did switch, you guys.

*GASP!* How? Why? What happened?

I realized that the rule "you can't switch to a different lunch table" was not a perfect rule, carved in stone by the hand of God. It was created by a person. Because people are not perfect, the rule is not perfect, and in some extreme cases, it may be okay to violate it.

I hadn't been standing up for the truth. I was standing up for an imperfect guideline, a tool intended to help the school keep order in the cafeteria. (To this day, I wonder what the purpose of that rule was. I guess so kids wouldn't be fighting over who sits where, or awkwardly left without a seat. I also wonder if it even was a rule in the first place- maybe it was just something a teacher mentioned offhand one day, and I took it as gospel. Why would you even need a rule like that? It's normal for people to just go sit in the exact same place every day- you don't need to tell them to.)

Rules handed down by God, which you are 100% certain about? Yes, worth defending, perhaps even to the point of death.

Something that your middle school lunch monitor said 4 months ago, unaware of your specific situation? Yeah, not so much.

All right, I could end the story there, and we could all have a laugh at how Little Perfect Number took everything literally and somehow ended up in the middle of this huge disagreement, even though she was pretty much the shyest student ever. But nope, we're not gonna do that. We're gonna talk about the bible now.

With regards to my lunch-table situation, many people would probably bring up the idea of "the letter of the law" vs "the spirit of the law." This means that we should not necessarily obey rules literally, but we should understand the purpose behind them, and strive to uphold that purpose- "the spirit of the law"- rather than seeing the literal wording of the command as an end unto itself.

But that's not how my brain works. Particularly when I was a child, my brain understood all rules as handed down by God, worthy of complete trust simply because they were rules. Wait, that's not exactly true- there were rules coming from different sources- parents, teachers, my own deeply held ideas about which compulsive behaviors were right- and sometimes those rules came into conflict with each other. Sometimes it would be obvious (umm, to me at least- other people thought I was being unreasonable) which rules superseded which, but sometimes it wasn't. So sometimes I had grand moral dilemmas.

Like when I read the story of John the Baptist being beheaded. Well, we all know the rule: when you make a promise, you have to keep your promise. I didn't see John's murder as a violation of any rule- you know, when you make a promise, no matter what the content of the promise is, the correct moral thing is to keep your promise. Of course John's death is a horrible sad thing which we really really really want to avoid, but I really didn't see any alternatives for Herod in that story.

(I'd be interested to hear what other people thought upon first reading the story of John the Baptist being beheaded. What should Herod have done?)

To function in the real world, we need to understand all rules as having this caveat: "unless this causes some kind of unreasonable situation" or "so-and-so, a wise but fallible human being, believes we should..." Letter of the law vs spirit of the law.

But. The bible.

All this "don't follow it literally- understand the reason behind the rules" stuff disappears when evangelical Christians talk about the bible. Apparently, there is no difference between "the letter of the law" and "the spirit of the law" when we're considering the bible. It was written by God, right? God makes no mistakes. When God says something, you do it. There is no need to consider the reasoning behind God's rules, because they are perfect. God did all the thinking for you.

This is what evangelicals teach, but in reality, it's bizarre which biblical rules they hold to literally and which they ignore. The bible says it's wrong to have two shirts while some people have none, but I don't see any churches trying to uphold this command. (And oh goodness, if you actually did try to obey that literally... wow. The guilt over not being able to save the world single-handedly, and then your friends and family would worry about you and try to intervene and convince you of the need to provide for yourself and your own needs, which would only add to the guilt, oh geez that's no way to live.)

Image source.

I realized that the rule "you can't change to a different table" was written by a person, and was therefore imperfect and not worth the sacrifices I made to uphold it. And recently, I've come to see the bible in a similar way. Yeah of course the bible is much more important, much more serious, much more valuable, much more sacred, but still, it was written by people. It came from somewhere. At some point in the past, writers made choices about what to write, and those writings later became the bible.

The bible's not perfect.

You have to use your brain to decide which rules would apply in which situations, and how important they are.

In normal life, we do this all the time. We follow the rules, but if some kind of unusual situation arises, we weigh the needs of the situation against the benefits the rule was intended to bring, and make a decision.

Not so for the bible (according to evangelicals). Apparently the bible contains clear rules that apply to all people for all time. Apparently God gave them to us, and apparently God knew all the "unusual situations" that could ever occur, and still chose to give us this rule. Therefore no "unusual situation" can ever be a valid exception to the rule. God knows what God's doing, right?

Actually, this line of reasoning is almost exclusively applied to the "biblical commands" about sex. For example, God said (uh we can debate if God actually said) that people should not have sex if they're not married. And according to purity culture Christians, what this means is: No one should have sex if they're not married. Ever. It is always bad, in every circumstance, 100% of the time, it is always a horrible sin. Because God said, and don't you think God knows what's best for you.

Of course people come up with all kind of reasons why it's better for us to not have sex, and yeah, there's truth to that. But they're not really "reasons"- the only reason you need (apparently) is God (apparently) said it (apparently). Purity culture isn't really teaching the reasons that we should follow this rule; instead, it's telling us the benefits of following it.

How do I know this? Because even if you can prove that every single one of the "reasons" does not apply to your situation, it's still not okay to break the rule. Even if the rule is causing more harm than good in your life, it's still not okay to break it. This rule was given by God, and we must follow it all the time, to the letter- the letter of the law. As for the spirit of the law, well we can only speculate about God's reasons, but it doesn't matter- because this law fell from the lips of God, following the letter of the law is identical to following the spirit of the law.

We know it is right to follow God's law. We don't know the reasons why. We stand strong against all opposition, against logic, against mounting evidence that this law is harmful to people, we will wait however long it takes, until someday it is revealed that we were right all along, and we receive our reward.

That's what faith is, right? Holding on so strongly to an unreasonable command, until God shows up and announces "hey everyone, she was right and all of you were wrong."

Christian culture places so much importance on "obeying God, even if it doesn't make sense" and this is a huge problem. If we're not supposed to use our brains to decide which parts of the bible give relevant commands for our lives, we're no different from Little Perfect Number refusing to change tables.

Image source.

One more thing: Let's come back to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I gotta tell you, I don't think they did the right thing.

Why didn't they just fake it? Why didn't they bow down, and the king would be satisfied- he probably wouldn't even notice, really. Why is it that Christians believe it's SO OBVIOUS that the RIGHT thing to do was remain standing?

There are a ton of issues you have to consider here. God gave them the rules about not bowing down to or worshiping other gods- why? Was it the specific action of bowing that was the problem? Doesn't God just look at the heart? What about how other people would have viewed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's actions- does that matter? What is the meaning and significance of outward expressions of religious devotion- especially in the context of living as minorities in exile? Doesn't everyone know that if you threaten people with death for not bowing, the bowing is just an empty gesture they perform for the sake of their own survival? Was this a case where the king's power to force people into a certain religion needed to be challenged? (And all of these questions need to be answered within the context of that ancient Middle-Eastern culture. In 21st-century America, the answers would be different.)

God saved them, but I don't see this as evidence that God agreed they made the right decision.

Earlier in this post, I said, "Rules handed down by God, which you are 100% certain about? Yes, worth defending, perhaps even to the point of death." But I'm having a hard time imagining a situation where you could have that much certainty. Even if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were certain they weren't allowed to worship other gods, you can debate what counts as "worship."

The only situation I can imagine where you should "stand up for what's right, no matter the cost" is if someone is asking you to hurt innocent people. (Ironically, we've circled back around to Herod and John the Baptist.) In other words, the only rule I currently consider to be absolute is the rule to love people. What "love" looks like in each particular situation is totally up for discussion (though sometimes it will be very obvious which actions are loving and which are horrible), and the way we prioritize people (because it's impossible to help everyone) is also up for discussion.

Absolute trust in a rule simply because it is a rule is a huge problem. Even if that rule is from God.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The System"

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This post, Faith in the system, or faith in Jesus?, by Chaplain Mike, brings up a very important point about American evangelical Christianity. Mike says that, as he was watching a documentary about creationism and evolution, he was struck by how the creationists seemed to see Christianity as a "system" where all the parts must be correct or else it's a slippery slope into the downfall of society.

He says:
The evangelical Christianity that this documentary displays, and I might add, the evangelical Christianity that I spent most of my adult life studying and teaching, is not, in the final analysis about Jesus, except insofar as Jesus is a part of the system. It is faith in the Bible that is more fundamental. It is believing in the system that is crucial. They are not just making a claim that reading the Bible aright leads to Jesus, it’s more than that. It is that the Bible is a divinely given systematic presentation of an entire worldview that must be believed in its entirety for one to be a faithful Christian (along with having “accepted” Jesus, of course). Indeed, beyond that, if we allow one crack in the wall of this system, society itself will become subject to moral decay, chaos, and ultimately destruction.
And THAT'S the problem. If you just believe in Jesus, that's not good enough. It's the whole entire "Christian worldview." Evangelicals insist that if one part is rejected, then, logically, you'll eventually end up rejecting everything.

According to evangelical Christianity, this entire system is connected with ironclad logic. You believe in Jesus, therefore you believe the bible, therefore you believe that evolution is false, abortion is always wrong, gay is wrong, women are lower than men, etc. Supposedly, the logical connections between all these topics are so completely airtight, that if you stop believing in one of them, they all must necessarily fall.

You see this all the time in creationist arguments. Someone asks "Why is this so important? Why does it matter if Christians believe in evolution or not?" and the answer is "The bible SAYS God created the world in 6 days- if you don't believe that part of the bible, what's to stop you from rejecting other parts too? If you don't believe Adam was a real person, then what about the passages in Romans where Adam and Christ are compared? If you don't believe Adam was real, then logically, you can't believe the resurrection was real. Oh you may say you can, but eventually you'll be doubting that too."

There's an appeal to logic at every step. A, therefore B, therefore C, therefore D. Where "A" means Jesus, and all the other letters are whatever political issues and culture wars are popular in American Christianity at the moment.

And actually in some sense it is all connected. This is why you get people genuinely baffled over the question "if we stop believing in hell, then what's the point of being a Christian anyway?" That's why I say I've actually changed to a different religion- because I rejected one part of that interconnected web, and eventually it did all fall.

But you know what didn't fall? Jesus. Love. Resurrection.

Christianity is about Jesus. Full stop. If you want to follow Jesus, then you are a Christian. As for all that other stuff, you can argue about it, you can interpret the bible in one way or another, you can make a strong case, but the logic is not airtight. There is no "A, therefore B, therefore C." In reality, it's "A, therefore you can argue based on this set of facts that B should probably be true." But if B turns out to be false, it's okay. We still have Jesus.

When you believe in the "system", you have to live in fear of new information. You always have to "defend the faith" when you encounter a new idea- because the system explains everything, so anything outside the system must be wrong. You can't honestly examine an idea on its own merits- no, you already know you can't believe in it, you already know it must be wrong.

(If only we had been given a spirit that does not make us a slave again to fear...)

But Christianity is supposed to be about Jesus. Just Jesus.

Jesus is bigger than one culture's interpretation of him. And Jesus' love, salvation, and justice are strong enough and real enough to reach everyone, whether or not they believe the "right" things.

Where is your faith- in Jesus, or in your own interpretation of what a "Christian worldview" is supposed to look like?

Monday, May 18, 2015


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1. The Prophecy of Amos, Revised (posted May 8) "You go to church wearing clothes made by sweat shop workers / And drink coffee grown and picked by enslaved children."

2. John Oliver Slams America’s Mother’s Day Hypocrisy: Not Providing Paid Leave for New Moms (posted May 11) "You can’t go on and on about how much you support mothers and then fail to support legislation that makes life easier for them."

3. Black Magic! Phono-Semantic Chinese Characters (posted February 3) Chinese is easier than one might expect. ^_^ (But I totally don't buy the claim that this applies to "90-95%" of Chinese characters.)

4. Every Part Of The Trinity Is “She Who Is:” Resisting Roger Olson’s Boxes For God (posted May 11) "Though the Bible is fine with addressing God as “Our Rock” and “Our Strong Tower,” addressing the first person of the Trinity as “Mother” is apparently taking it too far. Inanimate objects are appropriate. Feminine names? Not so much."

5. Art As Protest? Rihanna's "American Oxygen" (posted May 11) Worth watching.

6. 11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.” (posted May 11) "Literalism is a hermeneutical decision (even if implicit) as much as any other approach, and so needs to be defended as much as any other. Literalism is not the default godly way to read the Bible that preserves biblical authority. It is not the “normal” way of reading the Bible that gets a free pass while all others must face the bar of judgment."

7. Star Trek Fan Turns Basement Into The Starship Enterprise ! (posted May 14) Cool!

8. Reading the Bible with a Red Pen (posted May 15) "I swore then that I would never ever be a part of anything—not a religion, not a culture, not a club—that would teach, even accidentally, that certain kinds of people were people that God would want to punish."

9. Jason Chu on Asian Privilege and Freddie Gray (posted May 15) "A new spoken word music video, "THEY WON'T SHOOT ME (I am not #FreddieGray)," by Los Angeles-based Asian American hip-hop artist Jason Chu about the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody highlights the educational and economic privilege of some Asian Americans and calls on Asian Americans to choose to use that privilege to build solidarity with other less privileged communities."

10. The God of the Lesser Things: Denny Burk is Wrong About "The Least of These" (posted May 15) "It is interesting that the least of those to whom we are supposed to lend our hand are those refusing to extend their hands to others. It is even more interesting that the position creating a false dichotomy between LGBT people and the church has somehow become 'gospel.'"

11. Tsarnaev Sentenced to Death in Boston Bombing Trial (posted May 15)

12. teaching virginity is anti-Christian (posted May 15) "You start out “clean,” and either you make it to marriage or you’re sullied."

13. Harriet Tubman stole from the rich and gave to the poor (posted May 13) "Putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is appealing because it addresses four different problems at the same time: 1) Andrew Jackson was a murderous jerk who contemptuously violated his oath to defend the Constitution and he shouldn’t be honored with a place on our currency; 2) no American bills have women on them; 3) no American bills have people of color on them; and 4) Harriet Tubman was just incredibly awesome and we can’t say that often enough."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

This is so normal. We just don't usually say it in front of other people.

The Friendly Atheist has a post about a Christian who posted "the most dickish prayer you'll ever hear" on Twitter after the Nepal earthquake in April:

"Praying 4 the lost souls in Nepal. Praying not a single destroyed pagan temple will b rebuilt & the people will repent/receive Christ."

You may read this and think it's awful. But actually, within American evangelical Christianity, this is SO NORMAL. I can totally imagine this being said from the pulpit of the church I went to in college.

But. We- evangelicals- have to be careful. We know it comes across as ridiculously offensive and hateful, but we don't want people to think of us that way. This is what I believed, but I would never have said it to anyone so directly.

(I'm specifically critiquing the "Praying not a single destroyed pagan temple will b rebuilt" bit. Describing people as "lost souls" and saying they should "repent/receive Christ" are such overused cliches that they've lost all meaning to me. But to explicitly state that you hope for the destruction of someone's religion- well that's a bold statement. As in, yeah that's totally what we teach, but we don't say it so directly.)

Here's the thing about other religions (according to evangelical Christianity): They're wrong. And there's really nothing good to be said about them at all. People are SUPPOSED to be Christians. They are NOT supposed to follow other religions. If you believe in Jesus (like, really really believe for real) then you go to heaven. If not, you go to hell. This is one of the foundational principles of evangelical Christianity, and as I've said before, it ruins everything.

(Also, the temples destroyed in the earthquake were Buddhist and Hindu, not pagan. This guy just uses "pagan" to mean "weird religions that I don't like." They will know we are Christians by our love, yes?)

According to this belief system, if someone is not a Christian, this is a problem. What they really need is to become a Christian. Oh, you are a member of a diverse and beautiful religion, with a rich history, and it's very meaningful for you? TOO BAD. It's the wrong religion, so it's all garbage.

You might think this really unkind and unloving (and yes, I would agree). But for evangelical Christians, who start with the premise "all non-Christians automatically go to hell" and then want to love their neighbors, there's no alternative. You guys, I believe the vast majority of evangelical Christians truly do love others and want to help them. (I believe that about humanity in general- we are made in the image of God.) The problem is, believing in hell perverts and twists that love so it comes out as hate.

If someone tells me about their deeply-held beliefs, beliefs they have come to after a lifetime of careful thought and questioning, and I tell them nope, all of that is wrong and worthless and you need to believe what I tell you- wow, they'll conclude that I don't care about them at all, right? It comes out as hate. But it's because I believe that anything other than Jesus is putting them in danger of eternal torture, and people need to be saved from that... you see, I'm trying to love. (note: nope I totally don't believe that anymore)

Belief in hell screws up EVERYTHING.

Let's get back around to "the most dickish prayer" in the tweet at the beginning of this post. So, after thousands of people died in this massive earthquake, this person on twitter prays that the temples will not be rebuilt. In other words, the earthquake was awful, but also kind of good in a way because it destroyed those bad things that were offering hope and meaning without Jesus and therefore leading people to hell.

To any normal person, this is awful! How can you say something like that, after people- our fellow human beings, made in the image of God- have suffered such a huge tragedy?

But. But. The cold, hard logic is there. If all non-Christians go to hell, then there's no other conclusion. Other religions are bad. The destruction of other religions is good.

And most of us know that's too awful to actually say out loud where non-Christians can hear us. We believe it- I believed it- but actually telling people directly will only push them away from Christianity and closer to hell.

(If you don't want to tell people what you really believe because it's not good news at all, then what you believe is not the gospel.)

But the cold, hard logic is there. And the God of evangelical Christianity is a false god who asks us to believe this is what "justice" means, and silence our hearts when they tell us "no, this is awful."

Monday, May 11, 2015


Image source.

1. Watch the Duo 2CELLOS Cover Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ (posted May 4) Nice.

2. Tamir Rice's Body Still Isn't Buried Because the Criminal Investigation Keeps Dragging On (posted May 4) Oh God.

3. ‘Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us’ (posted May 4) "How a group of black social-media activists built the nation’s first 21st-century civil rights movement."

4. Empathy Cards for Atheists (posted May 5) "Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason."

5. An Anti-Theist Wrestles With “Spirituality” (posted May 10) "I don’t see that as something anyone should necessarily have to worship or anything. It would just be a simple fact of life, like anything else. How we would make decisions in light of that simple fact would be based on our own goals and desires, not those of a disembodied principle outside ourselves."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How would we even know 'Fifty Shades' isn't normal?

Image source.
[trigger warning: abuse]

Well. You guys. I watched "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Remember a few months ago, when that movie came out, and there was a whole flurry of blog posts? Good Christians were all like "PLEASE I BEG OF YOU. DO NOT go see 50 Shades. It will RUIN your marriage!" (Seriously. There were actual real blog posts about that.) And about how it was evil because it showed extramarital sex scenes. And all the feminists were like "This movie is awful because it's about an abusive relationship! (Plus that's not even what BDSM is like in real life.)"

(I fall on the feminist side of that- I don't think sex is sinful; I think abusing/hurting people is sinful.)

So yeah, I knew the relationship between Anastasia and Christian wasn't going to be a healthy one we should emulate. But, I thought, I really want to watch this movie, because in purity culture we're TOTALLY not allowed to watch anything like that, and now I have freedom! I can watch whatever I want, just, you know, remember to think critically about the messages in the media. Watching something isn't going to ruin your life. We're stronger than that.

YOU GUYS. That was like, the most horrible 2 hours of my life.

Oh my goodness, this movie. This guy, Christian Grey- creepy as hell. (I'm pretty sure this is the first time in my life I've used the term "creepy as hell." That's how creepy he was.)

Basically, Christian is trying to control Ana's life. He pretends he's giving her a choice, he uses language about "consent" and "you're free to leave at any time", and when she says the word "no" he backs off. But then in the next scene he's buying her some huge expensive gift to manipulate her back into the relationship, or randomly showing up at her apartment (how did he even know where she lives?).

I mean, I guess if you think the dude is hot, this could be some kind of awesome fantasy. I get how it can be really sexy when a guy is confident and knows exactly what he wants, and of course, in your own personal fantasy, what he wants also happens to be exactly what you want and what's best for you. (This is sort of along the same lines as the "your husband should be your spiritual leader" fantasy.)

So your mileage may vary on this. I totally wasn't attracted to this actor, so for me, all of it was creepy.

Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. Meh. Image source.
Maybe if they had cast, say, Jay Chou, things would have been different.

周杰伦 (Jay Chou) Image source.
OKAY BUT ANYWAY. If you enjoyed the movie, while recognizing that it's just fiction and if it happened in real life it would be SO ABUSIVE AND HORRIBLE, I don't have a problem with that.

The real point I would like to make is this: I don't see any way that a woman who grew up in purity culture would be able to protect herself from Christian Grey.

At the beginning of the movie, Ana has never had sex. She has no sexual experience at all. When he finds out, Christian treats this like a horrible problem (oh my goodness what a jerk) and starts taking off her clothes to "rectify the situation" oh gross this guy is so creepy.

So they have sex, and then he presents her with a super-long contract to sign, to enter into a formal BDSM relationship. He tells her to research everything and decide for herself what she's comfortable with, and they can negotiate about it.

And through the whole montage of Ana doing her research online and asking Christian questions and editing the contract, I was struck by how incredibly naive Ana was, and how LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE it was for her, at that point, to even know what she would and wouldn't be comfortable with.

What if you grew up in purity culture, and you've always been taught that the only right answer is "no" and that even having knowledge about sex or your own body is a dangerous temptation? And then you decide you're going to start saying "yes" instead- maybe just "yes" to some small, possibly-not-sinful things like dating and holding hands, or maybe you reject purity culture entirely, or maybe you get married so now suddenly everything has to be "yes" instead of "no." How on earth would you even know what is normal and what's not? How on earth would you know that this relationship is abusive and unhealthy?

What if you meet a guy who's totally hot and wants you to do all these things you're SO NOT READY FOR, but you think you're ready because you read about them on the internet, and you want to be with this guy so much, and you've already had sex with him so there's no going back now...

(Yes, I seriously thought that during the movie. "Well... they already had sex so how can she leave now... wait what the hell? Perfect Number, we don't believe that purity culture bullshit anymore. When people leave an abusive relationship, it's the right decision and things get BETTER." You guys, in purity culture it's unclear whether it's better to stay in a horrible abusive relationship, or leave and try to somehow make something of your permanently broken heart and used/worthless body.)

What Ana really needs is a partner who actually CARES about her and her needs. Who knows that she's still figuring herself out, and that's okay. Who doesn't just say "here's what I want, take it or leave it" and then act like she's making some kind of huge unreasonable request when she says what she wants.

I mean, how would a purity culture graduate even know that's not normal? We were taught men are animals who need sex. We were taught the man is supposed to be the leader. Christian was definitely the leader in their relationship. And he would tell Ana about how he can't control himself because he's so attracted to her- like it's her fault he's stalking her. Creepy as hell. (Also total bullshit.)

Purity culture says we should have no knowledge about sex or how relationships are supposed to work (besides "pray a lot" and "don't have sex/kiss/do anything that crosses some kind of hazily-defined 'line' but we are TOTALLY not being legalistic you guys") and then you're expected to go out and have a healthy marriage. Like, how on earth would that work?

How? Just... how?

Christian Grey is an abusive predator, and purity culture offers literally NOTHING to protect a woman from him- besides more and more warnings to just say "no" (but if you say "yes" one time then it's all your fault and your life is ruined). That's terrifying.


Please go read all of Samantha Field's blog to find out more about the connection between purity culture and abuse.

Monday, May 4, 2015


Out-of-body experience. Image source.
1. What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Been Hurt By Church (posted April 27) "The other day I heard someone put it this way: 'Religion will molest you, then accuse you of being bitter about it.'"

2. You’re (Not) Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone? (posted April 27) "Does that really work? If so, then why can’t the same principle apply to soothing this sadness by considering that you won’t feel a thing once you’re in heaven?"

3. Why is it only violence when windows get smashed? (posted April 28) "The protests in Baltimore, Ferguson, and other places have brought into focus for me the difference between law and order and justice."

4. My Bikini Has Nothing to Do with You (posted April 27) "Someone else will write another sanctimonious piece about how she’s totally not judging women who wear bikinis, but she refuses to wear them because she’s better than those bikini-wearing harlots."

5. The Most Honest 15 Minutes Of Obama’s Presidency (posted April 28) "But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant, and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids and we think they’re important and they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence."

6. Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations (posted April 20) "There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards a worker. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits a different worker. The different worker is actually the first worker ten minutes from now."

7. Bruce Jenner is Not Your Sermon Illustration (posted April 27) "I fear Bruce Jenner’s appearance in Sunday sermons because I know these recollections will not make an effort to demonstrate Jenner as a human being who has lived with this their entire life. Their life will be boiled down and reduced to their “sin” and how Christians can respond to that sin."

8. Baltimore Residents Urged To Stay Indoors Until Social Progress Naturally Takes Its Course Over Next Century (posted April 29)

9. How Western media would cover Baltimore if it happened elsewhere (posted April 30) "Britain has always maintained a keen interest in America, a former colony."

10. Freddie Gray never had a chance (posted May 1) "The assumption that police officers made from the beginning was that Gray must be guilty of something. He was standing on a street corner – not a crime. He made eye contact with one of the officers who approached him – also not a crime. He ran away – still not a crime."

Friday, May 1, 2015

Evangelism and Deception

Image source.

Take a look at this blog post from a few weeks ago: An Atheist Dad Left His Kids with a Relative... Who Used the Opportunity to Proselytize. What Should He Do? Basically, this man's sister-in-law took his two daughters to "get ice cream" which, turns out, meant "meet up with my pastor and hear about Jesus." (According to his post, the pastor told them "they needed to accept Jesus as their master, and maybe if they prayed hard enough god would change their dad's mind and he wouldn't burn in hell." I suspect those weren't the exact words used- Christians usually word it to sound a little more polite... but yes, I can totally believe that was the message.) The dad was not too happy about this.

We could talk about the question "To what extent do parents have the right to control which ideas their children are exposed to?" but I don't have an answer for that. I don't have kids; I don't have any experience in that area.

What I do have experience with is the link between evangelism and deception.

I read the above blog post, and I could totally imagine how it could be spun the other way. I can just see the prayer newsletter emails and the circle of churchgoers listening as one of them- totally on fire for God- tells nervously about her heroic attempts to evangelize to these kids. I can hear the gasps as she tells that their dad is an atheist and is raising the kids without religion. Oh, so sad! Can you imagine! And to top it off, she tells them that in the end, the girls did tell their dad, and he was angry- in other words, she faced persecution, but she knew she did the right thing. And the other good Christians encourage her and pray for the girls (and their dad too, of course) to become Christians.

She had to lie to their father. She had to go against him. She had to use deception, to try to save his two daughters.

When heaven and hell are at stake, there's no time for respect. There's no time for honesty. All that matters is what will or will not push someone closer to "accepting Jesus." And in this case, it meant she had to treat the girls' father like an enemy.

Being an evangelical Christian means you have to live in a world that's separate from the known, observable world of reality. You believe in heaven and hell, even though there's no way to prove it, and you believe everyone is in incredible danger of going to hell, even though there's no way to prove it. When you believe this, you have to live in a way that looks incredibly wrong and messed-up to people who base their lives on the real world. They think you're being a jerk. You think you're taking bold steps of faith and God will reward you.

If you really believe your friends and family are in danger of going to hell, you have to lie. You have to do everything in your power to make them believe in Jesus. Pretend you really care, but you're just trying to gain their trust so they'll believe you when you "share the gospel." Trick them into coming to church. Push people into uncomfortable conversations you know they don't want to have.

As I've said before, evangelical Christians do these things out of genuine feelings of love. That's exactly why I did evangelism. But it's love that's filtered through the "all non-Christians automatically go to hell" belief, and it comes out as something grotesque.

We paid lip service to the idea of "respect." When we did the "go up and talk to random people" variety of evangelism, we were trained to ask them first, "would you mind if I ask you a few questions about your religious beliefs" and if they said they don't want to, then they don't want to. You gotta respect that. Don't bother them anymore. But man, if they said "okay" just to be polite, and then you ended up "directing the conversation" in such a way that you were able to force it into a "gospel presentation", wow, extra points for you! Praise God for giving you boldness and an opportunity to share the gospel!

(Now I believe "the gospel" is not words. It's not an explanation of a certain belief system. I believe "the gospel" is love. And for those of you keeping score at home, all of this dishonesty crap is NOT love.)

We were also very aware of the pitfalls of the "bait and switch" tactic that Christians are known to use. You know, the "come to our church roller skating event" that ends up including a sermon and altar call. "Bait and switch" was bad, we believed (bad because it didn't work, not because it was dishonest), so whenever we (the Christian group I was with in college) planned an event, we stated clearly on the fliers that we are a Christian group, that there would be a gospel presentation, etc.

We claimed to care about respect and honesty. But really, how can you genuinely care about those things if you believe everyone around you is destined for hell? We tried to be nice. We thought we were respecting people. But logically, it just doesn't work. If pushing people into your church is what saves them from eternal torture, well... how can you justify not pushing?

(Did I mention I'm SO GLAD I don't believe in hell anymore? I don't have to do any of that now. Now I can just treat people with love. Like, actual love, not "I know that what you really need is to believe in Jesus and that will solve all your problems" love.)

When you see the world as a battleground between heaven and hell, with everyone's eternal soul at stake, you can't afford to treat people with respect and honesty. You have to lie to your relative and bring his children to hear "the gospel."

But a "gospel" that's wrapped in deception isn't good news at all.