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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Blogaround

Four big dogs laying on top of each other. Image source.
1. Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters (posted March 18) "As an ethnic minority, Jesus didn’t simply care about people who were victims of Rome-sanctioned violence, he was a victim of Rome-sanctioned violence. Jesus didn’t simply care about refugees, Jesus was a refugee. Jesus didn’t simply care about the poor, he was poor."

2. Writing a love letter instead of a police report: why victims contact sex attackers (posted February 13) [content note: rape] I don't see anything contradictory about this at all. It seems very normal to me to initially give someone the benefit of the doubt when they attack or abuse you- because you like them and you want the relationship to work out. Only later would you realize, you know what, this isn't right, this is abuse and I'm done.

3. Nearly 4 Million Syrian Children Born Into War Risk Becoming ‘Lost Generation’: UNICEF (posted March 14)

4. Stephen Explains "Star Wars" To China (posted December 19) "Star Wars is a story of a simple farm boy who buys two robots. One looks like a garbage can. The other is programmed to be scared all the time for some reason."

5. Autism—It's Different in Girls (posted March 1) Yep. All of this. Pretty much everything in this article feels SO TRUE to me, but if I had to pick one quote, it would be: "Even many highly intelligent girls on the spectrum have difficulties with washing their hair, wearing deodorant and dressing appropriately, Jamison says. Some of this behavior is linked to sensory issues; other aspects of the problem are related to difficulty following the appropriate sequence of behavior when doing something you think is unimportant."

6. Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs (April 2016 issue) "The government’s own data, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shatters the myth of “instantly addictive” drugs. ... Only tiny percentages of people who have sampled one of the Big Four — heroin, cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine — have used that drug in the past month. (For heroin, the number is 8 percent; for cocaine, 4 percent; for crack, 3 percent; for meth, 4 percent.) It isn’t even clear that using a drug once a month amounts to having a drug problem."

7. Heels (posted March 24) "Or, to use the rhetorical flourish favored by “bathroom-bill” advocates, Gov. McCrory wants to look in your young daughter’s pants and in the pants of every one of her elementary school classmates." And also: "How Is The Government Supposed To Figure Out A Person's Biological Sex?"

8. Jimmy Kimmel “mansplaining” to Hillary Clinton was a perfect sendup of campaign trail sexism (posted March 25) Lol.

9. NRA: A Lesson on evangelism (posted March 28) "This iteration of the guilt-driven pep-talk may eventually succeed in motivating them to get back out there and make their hard-sell even harder than before. That will, in turn, leave them feeling even guiltier about their pushier, but even more counter-productive attempts at evangelism, after which they can be lectured yet again about why they should feel even guiltier about feeling even guiltier." OH MY GOODNESS he describes evangelism perfectly.

10. Secret Service: We’re not allowing firearms at the Republican National Convention (posted March 28)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When you get "the bible" confused with "rules my parents had when I was 13"

Hand holding a bible. Image text: "What the Bible says about..." Image source.
Here's a bizarre article about evangelical Christians who sell and promote medical marijuana. Bizarre because the point is basically "yeah I know as Christians we're supposed to think marijuana is thoroughly and irredeemably evil, but, like... no, we don't believe that anymore because medical marijuana is so useful and here's a bible verse about how we should help the sick."

Here are a few quotes, to help you see what I mean:
As the successes mounted, Stanley said, “it was a transformation for me, and I was angry that I had been told marijuana was evil and of no medical benefit. At that point, it was very easy for me to reconcile marijuana with my Christian faith.”
And this:
Jackson, who said her Christian faith is everything to her (it’s “the pie, not a piece of pie,” she said), talked to her minister as she wrestled with the morality of marijuana. “I’m a byproduct of the 1980s and ‘Just Say No,’ so I grew up thinking this was evil,” she said.

Stacey Mobley, minister of the church of Christ of Colorado Springs, an independent, Bible-based congregation, said members support Jackson’s work.

“God made the plant, and said in Genesis 1:31 that everything he made was very good,” said Mobley, who opposes recreational marijuana. “We are firsthand witnesses of its benefits in the providential healing of Zaki, and I believe Heather is driven by obligation because she is a Christian to do good to all.”
First of all, I love how they both used the word "evil"- because it shows how the teaching they had received about marijuana was more about fear mongering than actual information. When those kinds of scare tactics are used to control kids' behavior, it leaves them with a vague sense that the thing in question is very very bad, but unable to explain exactly why- and too afraid to try. (I'm looking at you, abstinence-only education.)

It's so baffling to me that they're starting from a position of "I know as Christians we're supposed to think this is evil, but..." Like, why on earth would there be a connection between being a Christian and believing marijuana has absolutely no potential benefits? (Does the bible say that somewhere? Maybe in 2 Hesitations?) I mean, I see how you can make a biblical case that we shouldn't use drugs that are harmful to our health, but this is isn't about that. This is believing that any possible use of a marijuana plant is bad- like I said, scare tactics will do this. They were taught to feel a hazy and not-well-defined fear hovering around the concept of marijuana, so yes, that included both medical and recreational uses. But what on earth that has to do with being a Christian, I have no idea.

Looks like a case where "Christianity" was confused with "the rules you have to follow to be a good kid." Where "the bible" was confused with "American values." These are very much not the same thing. Their Christian parents and teachers said they had to believe and do certain things in order to be upstanding members of society, and they thought it meant they had to do those things to be good Christians.

And, now that I think about it, there are a lot of issues where American Christians believe they are supposed to hold a certain view, "the Christian view", but the bible says no such thing.

First of all: communism. Christians are supposed to believe communism is evil, right? And that God definitely likes capitalism. Wait, why? Does the bible say that? Nope.

R-rated movies. Christians aren't supposed to watch R-rated movies, that's immoral! Remember when "The Passion of the Christ" came out, and people were all like "well surely we can make an exception for this one, it's about Jesus."

How about taking care of the environment? Christians are supposed to be suspicious of any talk of environmentalism, right? Really? Does the bible say that? No.

Living with one's boyfriend or girlfriend. Oh, this is a horrible sin! Wait, where in the bible does it say that? Nowhere, you guys.

How about being transgender? Yeah, there's nothing in the bible that says there's anything wrong with being transgender. What's that you say? Genesis 1:27? Umm, I'm pretty sure it says "male and female he created them" not "everybody with a penis is a man." (You could use this verse to make an argument that everybody fits into the gender binary. I wouldn't agree with you, but at least it's possible to make a biblical argument for that.)

Christians are supposed to read the bible every day. Really? Where does that idea come from?

Life begins at conception. Or rather, Christians are supposed to believe that every embryo has just as much of a right to life as any other human. Umm? Does the bible say that? No.

Yeah, for all of these, I know there are bible verses people pull out to support their opinions. But none of those bible verses actually explicitly says the thing they're trying to make them say.

And it's so bizarre when somebody says "I'm a Christian, so I believe [thing that literally has no relevance to Christianity]."

Readers: Do you have any other examples?

Monday, March 28, 2016

I Don't Really Believe in "Putting God First"

Cartoon showing two cavemen. One says to the other, "Hunting, gathering... it's so hard to prioritize!" Image source.
Here's an interesting post from Neil Carter: Does Everyone Worship Something, Even Atheists? (I really like his blog, Godless in Dixie. He writes a lot about common arguments and cliches that evangelicals use, and why they don't make sense.)

Growing up in the church, I heard so many times that "everyone worships something." Supposedly, that's just part of human nature. It never even occurred to me to question it. And here's what it means: all people are supposed to be Christians- to worship the Christian version of God. They have an innate need to do this. But, if they don't believe in the correct Christian version of God, then they must be using something else to fill that "worship" need where God is supposed to be. And that's just unhealthy and leads to bad things. And even Christians, if they're not "putting God first" properly, if they're too focused on something else, they end up worshiping it and that leads to all the bad things.

So when I did evangelism, I would try to determine what thing my non-Christian friends were worshiping. What is really important to them? What goals are they pursuing? What motivates them? Is is the desire to do well in school? Is it family? Friends? A romantic relationship? Their own pleasure? By the way, I believed all of these were actually good things, but they became unhealthy if you valued them more than God. And obviously, if you don't even believe in [the correct version of] God, then you are definitely in that unhealthy putting-something-else-before-God zone.

Anyway, go read Carter's post. He really gets it. And I'm going to address the "everyone worships something" question too, but from sort of a different angle. Carter is ex-evangelical and is now an atheist; I'm ex-evangelical and now a Christian who doesn't believe in "putting God first"- or rather, I believe in it when it's defined in a completely different way than good evangelicals define it.

The way I see it, the problem with the "everyone worships something" line of thinking is that it envisions God as separate from the other major things in our lives that we might possibly "worship". It has Christians asking questions like "am I putting my job before God?" a question which doesn't make any sense, because doing well at your job is a way that we love God and experience the good things that God created in this world. Working hard at your job is in no way contrary to following God.

Obviously, if you're doing shady immoral things in order to get ahead, or if you're working so hard that you don't have time to care about your family, then those are problems. They are bad because they hurt other people- you don't need to bring God into this to explain why that would be immoral. But if you do want to bring God into it, then yes, hurting people is very much contrary to loving God.

But that's not what Christians are warning about when they make each other feel bad for not "putting God first." They're not worried about the way that focusing too much on just one thing can cause you to treat other people badly- no, they're warning against liking something too much. Working too hard to reach your goals. Being very dedicated to something, and not using the word "God" when you explain that dedication, is a huge red flag to evangelicals.

(And can we just stop and appreciate the privilege involved here? If you come from a background where everyone assumes you're going to work hard and be successful and have a great future, it's easy to just live the life you're expected to live, take it for granted that you have access to opportunities and are able to achieve success, and pretend none of that matters to you because you only love God. And then judge other people when you see them putting so much work into overcoming the difficulties life threw at them, overcoming society's prejudices- you think "wow they work so hard because they're making worldly success into an idol, clearly I am more godly than they are.")

But perhaps an evangelical would respond to my reasoning by saying, "No no no, I don't see following God as separate from those other things- job, family, etc- I don't believe 'following God' only happens during explicitly religious activities like going to church and reading the bible. I believe that God is with us all the time, and everything we do should be for God's glory."

Yes, okay, good point- I would be misrepresenting the concept of "putting God first" if I didn't talk about this. Evangelicals believe that in all parts of our life we should "put God first." It's not about "I spend more time praying than watching TV" it's about "even when I watch TV, I still do it in a way that's motivated by devotion to God."

And they also warn about the dangers of making church itself into an "idol." I've heard a lot of stories like "I worked so hard volunteering at church for hours and hours several days a week, but then I realized, I wasn't actually doing it for God- I was doing it so that other people would see me as a good Christian." So yes, the concept of "putting God first" is not about doing outwardly religious activities, it's about your heart and your motivation for doing whatever it is you happen to be doing.

And as you may imagine, I still have a problem with that. Let's go back to the "am I putting my job before God?" question. In this line of thinking, you answer that question by analyzing how you feel about your job, and what your purpose is in doing it. If you're "putting God first" then your main purpose must be something along the lines of "I want to set a good example of being a Christian" or "I want to bring honor to God by doing quality work" or "I want to do evangelism to people at work" or "I want to make money to donate to Christian charities." It doesn't matter whether the action itself is obviously religious, but the words you use to describe your motivation must be religious.

In other words, Christians aren't allowed to be honest with themselves about how they feel and what they want. If at any point you discover that "the real reason" you did something was actually because you enjoyed the results, then you have to feel terrible about yourself and how you've made that thing into an idol.

Yeah, I don't believe that. I don't believe there's anything wrong with "selfish" reasons for doing something. You want to have money, you want to be famous, you want to be happy? That's great! God made this world with so many good things for us to experience. "Selfishness" is only wrong when we're so focused on what we want that we hurt other people.

And remember a few paragraphs ago I said "They're not worried about the way that focusing too much on just one thing can cause you to treat other people badly"? Focusing on God too much can also cause you to treat other people badly- if your concept of "God" is something separate from treating people with love, if you think that "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind" and "love your neighbor as yourself" are two different commands.

So does "everyone worship something" and that thing better be God or else we're doomed? No. Everyone has a complex life where they do various things for various reasons. If you think "for God" is a completely separate and superior reason than "because I like it" or "to help people that I care about", I find that much more morally questionable than "making an idol."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Scars

Jesus, after resurrecting. Image source.
At dawn, on the first day of the week. The angel said "he is risen," and it was true. Here he was. Jesus stood near the tomb, feeling more confident than ever. It was literally the most amazing thing that had ever happened, and he had done it. Death, where is your sting?

There was so much to do! Forty more days on earth- he would need to talk with all of his followers. And he suspected the first one would be Mary Magdalene.

And there she was. The first to visit the tomb. She stood with her head down, crying. With one hand she held the bag of spices she had prepared for his body.

He walked closer to her and said "hello."

She didn't look up. "Please sir. They've taken my Lord away... sir could you tell me... tell me where they've put him and I'll go get him."

"Mary."

"Rabboni!" she cried, and ran at him with outstretched arms.

OH NO NO NO, he thought. Oh geez no touching. He froze. He couldn't think. He tried to make words, to say something that would stop her. No touching. "Do not hold on to me!" he blurted out, and Mary backed away. Oh, thank goodness. Okay, try to play it off cool, say something profound. He looked at her and took a deep breath. "... for I have not yet returned to my father. Go to my disciples and tell them."

She wiped tears from her eyes. "Yes, Lord," she said.

"I have to go. You go tell them, okay?"

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

It was time to see the Twelve. Oh... oh, the eleven now. Oh. Try not to think about it. It's okay, everything's okay now, he told himself. I've conquered death. There's nothing to be afraid of now. Everything gets better from here.

But I'm not ready to see them, he thought. No no, you can do it. It's okay. It's really okay. I've resurrected. No one can hurt me anymore. They need me, really. They'll be really happy to see me. This is good. I have to do this for them.

He knew exactly where they'd be- upstairs in the house where they always ate. The door was locked, but Jesus found the spare key, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open. Try to stay calm, he thought to himself, and said to the disciples gathered inside, "Peace be with you!"

They all looked up, speechless. Finally someone said, "Oh my god, it's a ghost!"

Jesus smiled. Oh it was so good to be here again. "I'm not a ghost. Look at my hands." He pulled up his sleeves, and John and Philip came closer to look.

"Some of the girls said... but we didn't believe it... Lord, it's really you!" said Philip.

They were all so happy- well, shocked at first, but happy. Wow, this is great, resurrecting was such a good idea! Jesus had so much to tell them. Now everything was different- the whole world was different. Death is done. He started talking, explaining about the Holy Spirit, about the prophecies, about God's plan, about resurrection. Finally, it was so good to be able to talk about all this. The group of disciples listened, amazed. Definitely confused and overwhelmed, but who could blame them?

He'd never felt so alive. Yes, this was why he had come to the earth. He'd done it. He had won. After he had finished his teaching, somebody suggested they eat dinner, and the group's attention turned toward getting the food out.

THUD!

OHHHH my goodness, the pounding, the nails the nails the nails. Jesus jumped backwards, pulling his arms close to his body. One hand rubbed the wound on his opposite wrist. His resurrected heart beat so fast.

Oh, it was just the sound of someone pushing a table. It's okay. It's okay.

"Teacher, are you all right? You just about jumped out of your skin," said Andrew.

"...yeah... I'm okay," he lied.

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

One morning a week later, Jesus went out to the shore, where he knew they would be fishing. They weren't going to catch anything though, not without his help. He smiled to himself, imagining the looks on their faces when their nets would fill with fish.

He started a little fire, and sat down on the beach to wait. The boat was pretty far out there; he'd have to wait a bit. Oh, it would be so great to see them again. And eat together, just like everything was back to normal.

The resurrection was so great, he thought. But it had been hard. So hard. Did anyone understand? It seemed like the disciples just wanted to move on and forget what had happened ... but ... but ... he couldn't.

The boat came closer. He stood up and called to them, "Friends, haven't you caught any fish?"

The answer came back over the water, "no."

"Throw your nets on the other side." He would never get tired of this trick.

He watched the figures on the boat pull their nets in and then toss them off the other side. Immediately the boat lurched from the weight of the fish filling the nets. Nice. Just like old times. Everything is okay.

And then- what the heck- someone jumped into the water and splashed toward the shore, where Jesus was. Ohhhhhhh it's Peter. Ohhhh of course it's Peter.

No no no no no no no he couldn't deal with this. Geez, why, why did it still hurt? He had defeated death. There was no danger anymore. But as Peter, soaking wet, half-ran and half-splashed closer and closer, Jesus felt trapped. Like the whole world was closing in on him again. He froze. What to do?

Jesus pointed at the boat and shouted, maybe a little too nervously, "Bring the fish! Bring the fish!"

Peter stopped, turned back to look at the other disciples in the boat, and waded in their direction. Oh thank goodness. Only then did Jesus realize how fast he was breathing. His body felt shaky.

The group of seven disciples came and sat down, and they all ate fish together. He felt better. People talked and laughed- it was like normal again.

But... but. No, something was still bothering him. Every time he looked at Peter, he had to stop himself from thinking... from remembering what had happened... Peter was a good guy, right? He's not going to do it again, right? Jesus knew that, but still, it wasn't enough...

"Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter looked up. "Yes! Yes Lord! You know I love you!"

Jesus heard him say it, but somehow it didn't help. How could he know he could trust Peter in the future? Would Peter be able to be a good leader? "Feed my lambs," Jesus told him.

Jesus looked at the sand. He didn't feel better at all. Maybe a little worse, because Peter had said exactly what he wanted, but it didn't help.

"Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter blinked. "Yes Lord, you know that I love you."

Yeah okay. But was it enough? "Take care of my sheep," said Jesus. Peter nodded.

One more time. "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter looked distressed. "Lord... you know everything. You know I love you."

Yeah... this wasn't fair to Peter. There really was nothing he could say right now that Jesus would actually find reassuring. This would take time.

He had shown them his wrists and his side. But the scars that ran deepest, they could never see.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Blogaround

Two adorable yellow labs, running in from the water together, both holding on to the same fetch toy. Image source.
1. If Jesus Had To Die Before We Could Be Forgiven, I Have A Few More Questions (posted March 14) "Why did God prevent Herod from killing baby Jesus?"

And also this one: If God Needed A Blood Sacrifice For Sin, God Is Not Holy. Wow.

2. Examples of Evolution Right on Our Own Bodies (posted March 18) Cool!

3. They have always been here. If you didn’t know that before, it’s because you couldn’t be trusted to know. (posted March 15) "That’s also how white evangelical gatekeepers have always responded to decades of polling that consistently shows that a solid third of white evangelicals are pro-choice. That confounds them. They find it baffling — impossible, inconceivable. No white evangelical preacher has ever advocated such a thing. No white evangelical publication has ever permitted such thoughts to be printed."

4. Bernie Sanders can still lead a political revolution — even if he loses (posted March 15) "He showed that there's a coalition ready to support and finance candidates that embrace a more democratic style of politics than mainstream Democrats thought possible."

5. Pixar Theory: How The Incredibles Got Their Powers. "Mrs. Incredible is able to expertly pilot a jet, perform evasive manuevers, use proper military jargon on the radio, and then after they crash, recognize the signs of short-range land-based missiles. ... That is all the result of high-level training."

6. The rise of Donald Trump may disprove the possibility of time travel (posted March 17) "But note what we haven’t yet seen — the sudden appearance of dozens of time-traveling visitors from the future desperately scrambling to prevent that from happening. That’s surprising."

7. An ‘old Cherokee story’ and other lies from the pulpit (posted March 19) "It’s a slippery slope, you know. It starts with questioning the historicity of the gorilla being overcharged for a beer and it ends with a denial of the resurrection, the death of God, nihilism and despair."

8. Transgender and Christian: Heaven and Hell (posted March 16) "And if we can say that, that we are assured of a place in God's kingdom, then we are assured of a place in God's family today too, and every day of our lives." Preach.

9. Witty Church Sign Sparks Revival (posted March 23) Lololol.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Accepting Myself (or, I'm Great, and It Doesn't Matter What God Thinks)

Beyonce is seen here, being awesome. Image source.
So here’s what’s happened: I’ve come to the realization that I’m FREAKING AWESOME and my worth and identity are not dependent on anybody else’s opinion. Including God’s.

Last year, when I was going to therapy, my doctor told me many times, “You have to accept yourself first. You can’t depend on other people to tell you that you have value.” And I couldn’t put into words how completely wrong this idea is, from a “Real True Christian” perspective. I still don’t know how to express it. But I’ll try:

“You accept yourself” sounds like something those wishy-washy liberals would say. (And in evangelical land, “liberal” means “evil.” I literally had no idea what the actual meaning of “liberal” was until I was in college.) Sounds like some relativistic nonsense just based on emotions. (And in evangelical land, “based on emotions” means it’s meaningless and has no connection to reality and “absolute truth.”)

How many of you have heard this before: “Our culture has lost sight of our need for God. We think we can choose our own beliefs and we can define ourselves. That’s a form of idolatry. No, it doesn’t matter how we feel or what we think- all that matters is God’s truth.”

Because, no, we can’t be good by ourselves- according to “the gospel” I learned. We’re worthless- that’s the truth, and if we don’t see it, if we don’t recognize how crappy and awful we are and how badly we need God, well that’s how people go to hell.

If people start “accepting themselves” they’ll believe the lie that they don’t need God. “Accepting yourself” is the opposite of Christianity. [Ahem. By “Christianity” I mean the version of Christianity I was taught and I dedicated my life to, back in the day.]

I believed I was a terrible sinner, unworthy of love. By myself I was nothing, but God made the illogical choice to love me. And that’s what gave me value. God approved of me- and God approved of me because I was fully devoted to him. Oh sure, people always said God loves us no matter what, even if we’re not doing the right things, but it was a “hate the sin, love the sinner” type of love. It was a “okay I’ll wait here patiently until you realize how wrong you are, you prodigal son.”

And now that I’m part of the world of ex-evangelical blogs, I hear a lot about how teaching kids that they’re worthless is, you know, kind of terrible, and leads to depression and all kinds of problems like that. But back then, when I believed that, I was really happy. Because, I believed I was worthless by myself, but it didn’t matter, because my identity was completely hidden in Christ. I was totally confident that I was doing the right thing and God approved of my devotion and my actions. Oh I totally had those “oh goodness I had a selfish thought, I’m realizing anew the horrible depths of my sin, oh I am so unworthy, God forgive me” moments. But as long as I repented immediately and believed all the correct things, I was good. Remember how I said God loves us no matter what we do?

Everything was great as long as I held all the correct beliefs which agreed with the beliefs of that version of God.

Yeah. And then, I didn’t.

I discovered that a lot of my beliefs were based in ignorant stereotypes perpetuated by the evangelical church. So, I quit believing them. But what about God? God was still the same- God still believed all those harmful stereotypes.

And that meant my beliefs didn’t match God’s anymore.

And that meant God didn’t approve of me.

(I mean, of course God still “loved” me, but in that “hate the sin, love the sinner” way. God believed my change was motivated by sin, and he was lovingly willing to wait for me to repent and restore our relationship to what it had been.)

And that meant I was back to my “worthless without God” state.

Yeah, I didn’t believe in that version of God anymore. But… on some level, I kind of did. It was hard to imagine a God who could… who could approve of the type of Christian I had become.

(Hmm so it looks like the practical effect of this whole “you’re worthless without God” thing is to make people feel terrible about themselves the moment they step outside the zone of church-approved beliefs.)

And my doctor told me I have to accept myself. And my boyfriend told me that too. And so did various other people.

And it’s hard to put into words how completely wrong that idea is, from an evangelical perspective, and yet how much that’s exactly what I needed to hear.

And finally, somehow, I came to this realization: I’m a totally fantastic person, no matter what anyone- including God- thinks. And I am a Christian. I don’t need anyone else to tell me whether I’m a Christian or not, or to tell me whether I’m worthy of love, or anything like that.

It’s something that a person has to realize on their own. You can’t just tell them “you need to accept yourself” and expect the problem to be solved- no, they need to figure it out themselves.

And, even though it’s about “I accept myself, I define my own identity”, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. This has a lot to do with my blog’s wonderful readers/commenters, and getting engaged, and experiencing love and support from various people.

And remember that church group I was going to last year? Well, now that I’ve discovered that I don’t need anyone else to tell me I’m a Christian, there’s literally no reason to keep going to that group. I would get so nervous and angry every week- it really hurt my mental health, but I believed it was worth it, because I had hope I might be able to find someone who could fill that need, who could tell me that yes, I am totally a Christian. Now I don’t have that need anymore. So why would I keep subjecting myself to something that causes me so much pain? No, of course I’m not doing that anymore.

Basing my worth on God isn’t gonna work. It would be totally dependent on my current levels of confidence in the existence of a God who would approve of me. (And somewhat ironically, being unable to accept and define myself would make it pretty hard to have any confidence in my choice to believe in the version of God that accepts me.) I don’t need that. I’m awesome on my own. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me. And it doesn’t matter what God thinks of me.

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

Here are two other posts I’ve written, which reflect this whole “I’m great and I don’t need anyone else to tell me if I have worth” thing:

I Deserve God's Love

I'm dating a nonchristian and I want to marry him. Here's why I believe that's not a problem.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Zootopia, an Adorable Disney Cartoon about Systemic Racism

A scene from Zootopia. Rabbits and a tiger riding the subway together. Image source.
First of all, if you're a feminist, you must go see Zootopia.

And from this point on, there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

[spoiler warning. spoilers. all the Zootopia spoilers here.]

The first time I watched Zootopia, I was totally fascinated by all the stereotypes and microaggressions that different species had to deal with throughout the movie. But I thought, there are a few big differences between the culture of Zootopia and modern US culture.

For one thing, in the movie, there were stereotypes flying in all directions. It seemed that all types of animals had a more or less equal amount of societal expectations to deal with. I couldn't identify any species which faced more discrimination than others. Some examples:
  • everybody who said a bunny can't be a cop
  • "she's an elephant, so she remembers everything"
  • Judy (rabbit) tells Nick (fox), "you're very articulate"
  • touching a sheep's wool without asking permission
  • "the mayor just chose me as his running mate so he would get the sheep vote"
  • "a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it, it's not really okay"
  • Nick says to Judy, "you're probably from some podunk town of carrot farmers"
  • "did you really think we would trust a fox without a muzzle?"
  • "you think just because they're sloths, they can't be fast?"
And second, in real life, racism isn't caused by just one evil person, who can then be caught and then all is well.

But then, I went and saw it a second time. (And it's totally worth watching a second time!) And, wow, it turns out I was wrong on both counts. It turns out that there is a theme running through the entire movie of prey animals fearing predators. This fear existed long before Bellwether's evil plan began. (In the city of Zootopia, predator animals don't eat meat, and all kinds of mammals live together as equals- or rather, that's the idea, but we see that they are not actually equal. Bellwether, a sheep, is the assistant mayor of Zootopia, who masterminds a plan to shoot predators with a drug that makes them attack others, so that prey animals [90% of Zootopia's populaton] will fear predators, and she will use that fear to gain political power for herself. At which point my fiance leaned over and said to me, "Is she Donald Trump?")

I didn't see this fear at first because I didn't know what to look for. You know, you go watch a movie with talking animals, usually they all basically get along and don't talk about the stereotypes and expectations that society puts on them. So I couldn't identify if there was a particular group that had privilege over another.

And, after watching it once, I came away with the impression that all the fear of predators only started when the public found out about the predators that "went savage." But nope- there are little signs here and there that the stereotype of predators being natually more violent was there all along. In fact, without that idea already in animals' minds, the news of some animals "going savage" would not have caused such society-wide fear and prejudice towards predators.

Why did Judy's parents give her anti-fox spray, a fox taser, and other self-defense tools specifically for fighting off foxes? They believed foxes are more dangerous than other animals. And Nick told her that yes, the first time they met he noticed the anti-fox spray she carried on her belt. He noticed. He's used to people being a little scared of him just because he's a fox.

And then when Judy told Police Chief Bogo about the jaguar who had "gone savage" and tried to kill her, he said, "Animals don't 'go savage'- maybe to you rabbits, all large predators look 'savage.'" He knows that stereotype already exists, and that predators get unfairly profiled as more likely to be violent.

Also, we learn from Nick's backstory that other animals often expected him to be dangerous (because he's a predator) and dishonest (because he's a fox). Intersectionality!

And why is it that the public accepted the explanation that predators can go savage because of their DNA, because they're reverting back to the way they lived thousands of years ago? Did anyone notice that the behavior of the animals who went savage is not at all like the behavior of wild animals? (Err, "wild animals" in our world, "primitive animals" in the movie world.) In the movie, the animals who went savage would just suddenly attack anyone they saw. Wild animals don't do that- they don't just go start fights. They're more sneaky. They only choose prey which is less able to fight back- otherwise the predator could be hurt. Have you been to a zoo with tigers? Did they constantly jump at you through the glass? No, they don't do that because they know it won't work. And why would an otter attack a larger animal?

They weren't going back to a primitive state. They don't become hunters looking for meat, they become senselessly violent. (We also learn that a rabbit once "went savage" and bit another rabbit- which confirms the fact that it's not about ancestry at all.) But the animals in Zootopia already believe that predators' ancestry means they are more likely to be violent, so they totally accept the whole "they are going back to the way they lived thousands of years ago, because of their biology" explanation- even though it's not consistent with the facts. (And whenever one of the characters in the movie said the word "biology", it was a sure sign they were about to say something really racist.)

This movie is much deeper than "everything is great in Zootopia, until a group of sheep villains starts drugging predators to make them violent, and this makes prey animals afraid and divides the city, but then the bad guys get caught and everything is good again and they all go to a Shakira concert." Before the events of the movie, prey animals were already afraid of predators. After the end of the movie, that fear will still be there. That's something that runs deep in their culture, and it will take time to change it.

So really, the city of Zootopia hasn't changed, from the beginning of the movie to the end. Nick and Judy definitely went through some changes, as they had their assumptions challenged and learned a lot about the nature of society and interacting with others who are different. But the society as a whole? Nope, didn't change.

Also, I love how this movie showed what systemic bigotry is. In the real world, racism isn't a feeling. Racism isn't one person being mean to another because of their race. No, racism is a whole system, which perpetuates itself when well-meaning white people don't realize their own racism. (Same thing with other types of prejudice.)

So we see that, as Judy works hard to become a police officer, at every level she has people telling her she can't do it, or not taking her seriously. That's what "systemic" means- it's not "this one animal wasn't nice to me because I'm a rabbit", it's "throughout my entire life, I've had to deal with others not taking me seriously becasue I'm a rabbit, and every time I get rejected for a job that I think I deserve to have, I have to wonder if it's because I'm a rabbit." In contrast, we see that Mayor Lionheart doesn't respect Bellwether, and who knows, maybe it's because Lionheart has some prejudice toward sheep? But overall, we don't see that Zootopia culture has any larger patterns of prejudice toward sheep or prey animals. So Mayor Lionheart is just one jerk. His bigotry towards sheep is very much NOT THE SAME THING as Bellwether's bigotry towards predators, because Bellwether has the fears and prejudices of the entire city backing her up.

And there's so much more I could say about Zootopia. The world-building in this movie was excellent. And did anyone notice that, even though the city appears at first to be fully integrated, we don't see any cross-species families or cross-species romantic relationships? (To anyone who says "but that wouldn't work, biologically": please go read everything ever written about marriage equality.) And wait a minute, different kinds of animals have vastly different lifespans- how would things like education and career work? Elephants could be like "I have 10 years' experience in this job" but mice only live like, 2 years- so you're never going to have equal opportunites for them. Although Nick says "I've been doing this since I was 12" so maybe in Zootopia, all species have human-like lifespans?

Anyway, I loved this movie. Go watch it and learn what systemic injustice is.

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I also recommend reading The Mary Sue's review of Zootopia. (And also this one.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Blogaround

Four tiny kittens, looking at you. Image source.
1. Abortion Opponents Move the Goalposts (part 3) (posted March 9) "Did you know that people who have coronary bypass surgeries are more likely to die of heart trouble than people who don’t have coronary bypass surgery? Clearly, the next time someone comes in to have a coronary bypass surgery we’ll have to deny it, because people who never have a coronary bypass surgery are healthier than those who do!"

2. Christian Purity Site: Girls Who Dress Immodestly Reduce Their Own “Value and Respect” (posted March 11) This is my surprised face. Oh, nope, it's not.

3. Skirmishes erupt after Trump cancels Chicago rally over security concerns (posted March 11)

4. What Are Trump Fans Really ‘Afraid’ to Say? (posted March 11) "Once you say, “He says what I’m afraid to say,” and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you’ve said what you’re afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place?"

5. Recovery Room: The Bible as an Instrument of Self-Harm (posted March 10) OH MY GOODNESS I relate to this SO MUCH.

6. Bible Verses Where The Word “Forgiveness” Has Been Replaced With “Um, I Was Kidding. It’s A Joke“ (posted March 3) "and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, to apologize for making a joke I guess, sorry for trying to lighten the mood."

7. Where Are the Radical Politics of Modern Star Trek? (posted March 11) "The identities of the original Enterprise crew were incredibly radical ... in 1963. Today, a principle cast featuring mostly white men and token people of color in mostly secondary roles should not be considered diverse."

8. Credit scores and the Mark of the Beast (posted March 8) "So we’re looking for a three-digit number without which no one will be permitted to buy or sell. Credit scores, people, think about it."

9. PancakeBot Makes It Appropriate To Play With Your Food (posted March 11) Oh my goodness this is so cool.

10. The Parable of the Shower "The great and terrible laughter of the angel of the one true God makes thy knees tremble, but thou refusest to fall down upon them. For one thing, the shower in which thou showerest is slippery, and the LORD knows it is simple enough to break an ankle or a hip or an arm in the shower without the intervention of an angel of the LORD. Missus Van Metre down the hall suffered this very affliction five months past, and thou hadst to fetch and carry for her from the apartment to the hospital, bear pajamas and the daily mail, as thou art the most young and hale person upon the sixteenth floor and the cry would have been great against you if thou hadst not."

11. Donald Trump wavers on paying legal fees for violent supporters (posted March 15)

12. Black Lives Matter movement sees series of victories in midwest elections (posted March 16)

13. How Kasich’s Anti-Choice Policies Are Really Impacting Women In Ohio (posted March 15) "What the bill does not do, however, is prevent Planned Parenthood or any other organization from performing abortions. It just makes sure Planned Parenthood can't administer women's health programs in Ohio that they've been in charge of for years -- programs that provide services like HIV testing for minorities; check-ins with mothers to prevent infant mortality; and breast cancer screening for low-income women, to name a few." So I guess Kasich is one of the ones that's so pro-life he'll sacrifice women/babies' lives for it.

14. Tearing the Robe Twice: Christian Parenting and the Rape of Tamar (posted March 10) [content note: rape, child sexual abuse] "It is heartbreaking that Tamar’s first response to rape is not to run for help or seek justice. Her first response is realize she is no longer “worthy” of her beautiful robes, that she will now be considered less valuable. “The king’s virgin daughters wore robes like this” — but she will never wear such robes again."

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why Does the Kingdom of Heaven Belong to Children?

A Syrian refugee boy, carried by his parents. Image source.

Let’s read Matthew 19:13-15:
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
So here’s the question: why does Jesus say the kingdom of heaven belongs to “such as” those children?

The standard Christian answer is that children have really strong faith. If you teach them to believe in Jesus, then they REALLY REALLY REALLY believe in Jesus. And, yes, people have pointed out that kids question everything- they won’t just believe everything you tell them. That’s true, but. When I was little and I questioned everything, it usually wasn’t because I thought the things that I was taught were not true. No, I believed they were true, and I was trying to understand them better. Just because kids ask lots of questions doesn’t mean they’re not going to pretty much believe whatever is taught to them by adults they trust.

But I’m not really a fan of this whole understanding of faith. I don’t think it’s a good thing to have “simple” and “childlike” faith that’s na├»ve about the way things actually work in the world. And I don’t think that children are naturally Christian and it’s only if they’re taught wrong or they grow up and start becoming more skeptical that they end up believing in something other than Christianity. That is a Christian-supremacist belief. Besides being factually incorrect, it’s just mean to non-Christians. And therefore it’s not loving and has no place in the kingdom of God.

So I don’t want to interpret this “let the little children come to me” stuff to mean something about faith. Instead, let’s consider the position of children within society.

Here is an article from 2012, about children in the US who live in poverty. A relevant quote:
Determining the exact number of children living in poverty can depend on what Census calculation you go by. More than 16 million children, or roughly one in five, were living in poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure (pdf). That is higher than any other age group. Among 18- to 64-year-olds, the poverty rate was 13.7 percent, while among seniors the rate was 8.7 percent.

The Census Bureau’s official figures fail to paint a complete picture, though. The formula the government uses to calculate the poverty rate was designed in the 1960s, and does not account for expenses that are necessary to even hold a job — such as transportation costs and child care. Nor does the formula account for government programs for the needy, such as food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

When the Census Bureau factors in (pdf) those types of variables in a new experimental formula the number of children found to be living in poverty falls to 13.4 million.
That article also includes statistics about how children from single-parent homes and children of color are more vulnerable, more likely to be in poverty.

Furthermore, this article about from the UK gives statistics about the long-term effects of childhood poverty. It affects education, health, everything.

This article from the UN says that "Children constitute about 41 percent of the world’s refugees." This one from World Vision gives more information about the children among Syrian refugees:
How does the war in Syria affect children?

Read about how the war is affecting Syria's children in a special report from the World Vision magazine, "Syria Crisis and the Scars of War."

1. Children are susceptible to malnutrition and diseases brought on by poor sanitation, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. Cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

2. Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they labor in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay.

3. Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents — especially single mothers — may opt to arrange marriage for girls, some as young as 13.

4. Between 2 million and 3 million Syrian children are not attending school. The U.N. children’s agency says the war reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.
Here's a 2004 article from UNICEF about how, in places which lack access to clean water, children are the ones who suffer the most. Here's another article about deaths from diarrhoea, which says, "In 1998, diarrhoea was estimated to have killed 2.2 million people, most of whom were under 5 years of age (WHO, 2000)."

And here's a bunch of statistics about child abuse in the US. On average, 4 to 7 children die each day from abuse or neglect.

Because children's brains are still developing, experiencing a natural disaster can have a greater psychological impact on them.

And black children suffer because of systemic racism in the US. They are more likely to be suspended from school than white children. And here's an article called 7 Ways Racism Affects the Lives of Black Children. Yeah. It's not okay. Tamir Rice, who was only 12 years old, was shot and killed by police for playing with a fake gun.

And you can go look up more statistics if you want. For any large society-wide problem, children will be the ones to suffer the most from it.

Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” Children most certainly count as “the least of these.” On average, the world’s children are very vulnerable. They are the weakest members of society. In Matthew 25, Jesus identifies himself with those who are “least.” And in Matthew 19, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven belongs to children.

That’s pretty amazing. Children- who are dependent on others for their survival, who suffer the most when disaster strikes- the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

And I believe the kingdom of heaven is a real thing. Someday the kingdom of heaven will come to the earth, and until them, our job as Christians is to work to build the kingdom of heaven. This means creating a world where people are treated with respect and love, where there is equality, where no demographic is treated as “less than.” (*cough* feminism *cough*) This isn’t just “oh isn’t that nice, Jesus is saying a nice thing about children because usually they’re not treated very well”, no, this is a real thing. We must work toward creating a world where children are safe. That’s the kingdom of heaven. That is what Christians must fight for.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: It Doesn’t Actually Matter What Jesus Said About Divorce (Matthew 19:1-12)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, March 14, 2016

If you are a young-earth creationist, I am totally 100% okay with that. Well. Sort of.

A scene with primitive people and dinosaurs. Image source.
I used to be a young-earth creationist. I'm not anymore- now I trust that the majority of the world's scientists know their science better than I do, so, evolution it is.

[And here's a bit of advice for the non-creationists: if you're ever arguing with a young-earth creationist, you won't get anywhere by talking about how radioactive dating is very much a real thing and there's no way the earth is 6000 years old. The problem isn't the scientific facts- the problem is they've been taught that to follow God correctly, they need to believe in young-earth creationism. That's the point you want to attack. When I found Christians who "believed in" evolution, and got to know them enough to realize they were in no way "bad Christians" or "rejecting the bible" or anything like that, that's when I accepted the idea that as a Christian, I didn't need to be a young-earth creationist. At that point, I no longer had a dog in the fight, so to speak, so I quickly switched over to "yeah if scientists think it's evolution, then sure, whatever, I believe them."]

I'm not okay with how creationists are mocked. If you're a young-earth creationist, I don't think you're "stupid" or anything like that. I'm smart, and I was smart back then, when I was a creationist. I love science now, and I loved science back then. I did a ton of research- but only from creationist-approved sources. I was all about logic and science, and I could totally make all kinds of arguments about it (though I now believe that the creationist view on the nature of "science" is, uh, not really right).

So, maybe I disagree with you, but it's fine. I'm not too concerned with what people believe, I'm concerned with the effects of those beliefs on the real world. Do your beliefs lead you to do good or evil? That's the important thing, not the actual content of the beliefs. (And this is why I don't believe that faith in the correct set of facts about Jesus is what gets people into heaven.) It is unclear how believing that God created the world 6000 years ago would affect a person's actions. It's a pretty morally neutral belief, in my opinion. So I'm fine with it. (Not all beliefs are morally neutral- perhaps you believe a certain group of people is inferior. I'm not okay with that, because that WILL lead to you treating people badly.)

Perhaps, because you are a young-earth creationist, you believe that all people are created in God's image, and therefore you need to treat everyone with respect. This includes people who agree with you, and people who disagree with you. Everyone deserves love and respect. Including people who "believe in" evolution.

Great! I wholeheartedly approve of this approach to morality.

Or perhaps, because you are a young-earth creationist, you think that everybody who is not a young-earth creationist is willfully ignoring the evidence. The majority of scientists are dishonest- they are involved in a cover-up, to hide the truth from us. They KNOW that creationism is true, but they just don't want to follow God. They're selfish. They love sin. And it's not just scientists- it's everyone who accepts evolution. They're all a bunch of arrogant jerks who think they don't need God.

So then you go around spreading nasty lies on the internet about how "evolutionists" hate God, how they're teaching children that life is meaningless, etc. You hate. You confidently point out the character flaws of complete strangers.

Yeah, I have a problem with that.

And, ironically, Answers in Genesis claims to be taking the first approach, while channeling all their energy into the second approach. Go take a look at Ken Ham's twitter. I guarantee you will find a ton of tweets about how people who disagree with him are terrible people who are destroying society. And here's a fun article about how creationism leads to valuing people, and evolution leads to school shootings. Umm, hello? Do you not see that, by writing an article like this, which promotes stereotypes about atheists being immoral, you are NOT treating them as valuable image-bearers? This article's very existence literally disproves the point it's trying to make.

I care about the results of your beliefs. I care about how those beliefs influence your behavior toward other people. As Jesus said, by their fruit you will know them.

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One more thing: Okay, so I realize that, when I say beliefs should be judged on whether or not they lead to treating people well, my understanding of "treating people well" is based in my own beliefs, and that when someone treats other badly because of their beliefs, it is very possible that, in their belief system, they are actually treating people well.

For example: If you believe everyone who doesn't hold specific beliefs about Jesus goes to hell, and you want to help them, then logically you need to do everything in your power to coerce people into believing those things that will save them. In the past, I participated in this kind of evangelism, and I now believe it is unloving. But at the time, I did it because I really did love people and wanted to help them.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Blogaround

1. Americans Google 'How To Move To Canada' After Donald Trump Super Tuesday Wins (posted March 2)

2. How I’ve Learned (and Unlearned) Parenting (posted February 29)

3. Hendrix and I saw the movie “Zootopia.” YOU GUYS. It looks like a cute little Disney cartoon with talking animals, but it’s actually about racism and living in a multicultural society. Wow. This is really good movie.

Judy (bunny) and Nick (fox) from Disney's "Zootopia." Image source.
4. Mark Driscoll corrupted Mars Hill's mission with 'institutionalised racketeering', says lawsuit (posted March 1)

5. Watching a Demagogue Rise (posted March 3) “Trump got everyone wanting to make every Muslim walk the plank and you haven’t even had a single Muslim nation drone you.”

6. My Gen X Hillary problem: I know why we don’t “like” Clinton (posted March 3) “I’m supporting her because as a member of Generation X, I’ve lived through enough to understand that if Hillary were a man she’d be the front-runner hands-down. I haven’t suffered the overt sexism of earlier generations, but in its place has come a more oblique, more insidious variant. It’s the kind that makes you question whether the fault might lie with you and your abilities. It gives rise to questions about why people aren’t enthusiastic about you, why they didn’t like it when you took a strident tone with them and then, when you adjusted course, complained that you weren’t aggressive enough, or why there’s something about you that just feels wrong. In politics people call this likability.”

7. The Other Side: Samuel’s Story (Evangel University) (posted March 4) “I was to tell people that I was just a man ‘struggling with homosexuality.’”

8. Black students ejected from Trump rally in Ga. (posted March 1)

9. A Look at Yesterday’s Supreme Court Abortion Hearings (posted March 3) “That’s—that’s odd that you point to the New Mexico facility. New Mexico doesn’t have any surgical—ASC requirement, and it doesn’t have any admitting requirement. So if your argument is right, then New Mexico is not an available way out for Texas because Texas says to protect our women, we need these things. But send them off to Mexico—New Mexico—New Mexico where they don’t get it either, no admitting privileges, no ASC. And that’s perfectly all right. Well, if that’s all right for the—the women in the El Paso area, why isn’t it right for the rest of the women in Texas?” Y’all. I hope you all realize that none of the people who are advocating “we need to put more restrictions on abortion clinics in order to protect women’s health” are actually trying to protect women’s health. None. None of them. Not a single one. (Wow, it just occurred to me that some onlooker might innocently assume that these people actually are motivated by protecting women’s health, and then become super confused. Oh, poor thing.) The only purpose of these laws is to make it harder to get an abortion. They want to “protect women’s health” in the sense that “we know that abortion is ALWAYS the wrong choice and we are protecting you from making that choice.”

10. Christian, It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (posted 2015) “Like many Christians, I found myself within a spiritual community that while extremely loving, seemed at the end of the day highly conditional. I received acceptance and inclusion of course, but it always felt as if these things were most predicated on me believing what I was supposed to believe.”

11. Peanut allergy theory backed up by new research (posted March 5) Great!

12. The young adult heroine you never knew was a real woman (posted February 24)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

It Doesn’t Actually Matter What Jesus Said About Divorce

Jesus teaching. Image source.

In Matthew 19:1-12, the Pharisees come and ask Jesus a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus answers, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then when they ask why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus says, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Then some stuff about eunuchs, but you can go read that yourselves, I just want to focus on this part. The eunuch part is really strange though, I totally recommend reading it so you never forget just how thoroughly WTF-tastic the bible is.)

So basically, based on this passage, we have a subset of Christians that believes that divorce is always wrong, except if there’s adultery. (And John Piper says not even then.) At the extreme, you hear stories about pastors that advise women to stay with abusive husbands and “submit” to them. Which is disgusting and wrong. This advice kills women. I’m serious. This is effing deadly.

And then you have another group of Christians who take this passage and interpret it in a different way. They bring in information about the context, the laws about divorce during that time, the different ideas presented by popular Jewish teachers the Pharisees followed, the fact that women had hardly any rights and divorcing one’s wife pretty much guaranteed she’d live in poverty. And therefore, this passage is NOT saying that in our culture, in modern American culture, it is only okay to get a divorce if somebody cheats on somebody.

(And then you also have the Christians who cite this passage when they talk about “the biblical definition of marriage” and how Jesus totally opposes same-sex marriage. Which, first of all, if anyone ever uses the term “the biblical definition of marriage” unironically, you should just laugh at them because no such thing exists and it’s so silly how some people talk about this completely imaginary “biblical definition of marriage” in such a serious way. LOLOLOLOLOL. And secondly, that’s obviously NOT what Jesus was talking about here. He was talking about divorce, not which genders are allowed to get married. So laugh at them for that reason too if you want.)

I guess you could say I agree with the second group, the “no this passage is not saying that’s the only acceptable reason to get divorced.” Sort of. I agree with their conclusion, but not the reasoning behind it. See it seems to me that the reasoning goes like this:
  1. In Matthew 19, Jesus says you can’t get divorced unless there’s adultery.
  2. But what about other situations? What about abuse? Can you imagine being in a situation like that and not having any way out? Can you imagine how terrible it would be for a pastor to tell a woman that she has to stay in an abusive marriage- that God requires it? Oh goodness, no. No.
  3. We have so much compassion for these abused women in our thought experiment*, but what can we do? Jesus said divorce is only okay if there’s adultery.
  4. Let’s do a ton of research on the setting in which Jesus said these things.
  5. Oh, thank goodness, looks like this passage actually DOESN’T mean God wants you to stay with a partner who’s really bad to you.

So here’s the problem: It’s like, they want to be compassionate, but they can’t unless they find a biblical basis for it. Like, we really want to be kind to women in bad marriages, and we want them to have options, so let’s study the bible really hard and see if we can find a justification for that.

Y’all. This is a really weird way to read the bible.

And on the one hand, some Christians would criticize this way of reading the bible because “you’re following your emotions instead of Scripture.” Or because it starts with a certain belief (rooted in human compassion) and then searches for a way to make the bible support that belief, rather than reading the bible in an “unbiased” [whatever that means] way.

I don’t like it for exactly the opposite reason. The conservative Christians say “you’re putting too much weight on your emotions, rather than just following the bible.” I say “you’re putting too much weight on the bible, rather than just following love.” Because we have a conscience, and we know that the loving thing to do is to HELP someone who is in a bad marriage, not place more rules on them. It doesn’t matter what the bible says. We don’t need to waste time studying a translation of a two-thousand-year-old book in order to find out if we’re allowed to treat people decently or not. (Note: I don’t think studying the bible is a waste of time. The bible is really interesting! But it’s not necessary to study the bible to get an answer to the question “should people in abusive marriages be forced to stay with their abuser, or not?”)

The problem with reading the bible in this “I want to be compassionate but I can only do that if I can find a verse that gives permission” way is that sometimes, you may not be able to find such an interpretation. You may actually be stuck with some horribly unloving position you feel you must believe. Like in the case of Matthew 19, what if they didn’t know about the situation of divorce and women’s rights in Jesus’ time? Then they would be stuck believing divorce is always wrong except in the case of adultery, even though that seems horrible.

It seems like a very bad position to be in, when your capacity for showing compassion to fellow humans made in the image of God is limited by your knowledge of the ancient near east.

You know what else? Let’s imagine that, instead of what is recorded here, Jesus instead had said, “You can only get a divorce if there’s adultery. And I mean that literally. And those are the rules for ALL OF TIME. Hey you guys 2000 years from now, don’t be thinking I’m just talking about this here culture I’m in, where women have no rights. No, I’m serious. No matter what situation you’re in, even if it’s harmful to everyone involved, they should still be forced to stay married. …Oh and also I’d like to present the biblical definition of marriage…”

Even if the bible said that, I wouldn’t care. My position will always be that we should help people and pursue whatever course of action is most loving and beneficial to all the people involved. I don’t care what the bible says. And I believe that, in this regard, I am like Jesus.

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*Ahem. This is the point where you should realize “if this is just a thought experiment for me, then I don’t get to make the rules, I don’t get to tell people who are actually in that situation what to do.”

And speaking of me not making the rules: So I mentioned abuse a lot in this blog post as a reason for divorce, but I totally believe there are other valid reasons, and I’m not going to make a list of them or anything, because for me it’s just a thought experiment and I can’t judge other people.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: The Parable of the Ungrateful Servant is NOT COOL (Matthew 18:21-35)

Next post: Why Does the Kingdom of Heaven Belong to Children? (Matthew 19:13-15)


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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In Purity Land, a First Date is a Bigger Decision Than Marriage

Look at this adorable couple! (It is not us, sorry.) Image source.
Ever since Hendrix and I got engaged, I've been realizing more and more how much of a BIG DEAL it is to get married.

Like, we're committing our ENTIRE LIVES to each other. Like, the whole rest of my life. Wow. That is such a huge decision. How is it even possible to make a decision like that? There is so much unknown.

And this is surprising to me because in purity culture, getting married is NOT a huge decision.

No, in purity culture, getting married is right for everyone. God is going to set you up with someone who's perfect for you, if you follow the rules. Marriage is something that happens to pretty much everyone in their 20's, unless God's plan is for you to be single. Or to meet that special person later in life.

Right now, it's very very important to me that I chose him. It's not just like, oh God has led us down this path and here we are at the point where the plan says we get married. No, this is a decision. And that really matters to me.

In purity land, OF COURSE you're going to get married. OF COURSE that's God's plan for you. (I mean, except in rare cases where God's plan is to be single.) I never thought about how being committed to one person for life is a HUGE THING and maybe it's not right for everyone. Maybe it's really serious and you should think about if it's actually something you want to do.

Well, I mean, you're only allowed to have sex if you get married. So yeah you pretty much have to. (See this post: Which is a Bigger Deal: Marriage or Sex?)

Let's say you're a good purity-culture follower, and you're dating someone. After you date for one or two years, the next thing is to get married. That's what you're supposed to do. That's how it works. Sure, it's a decision that people pray about, but really, what's the alternative? Breaking up? Gasp, no, breaking up is the most horrible thing ever.

I remember a few years ago, a lot of Christians on facebook were sharing a video about a couple who were dating, and the one of them was seriously injured and became permanently disabled, requiring a lot of assistance to do daily activities. And the couple decided they still want to marry each other. And the video was all about how it's such a good example of sacrificial Christ-like love, how the one partner was committing to the other, even though they'd have this huge responsibility for taking care of them. And Christians on facebook totally loved it.

And I was like, "............... I don't get it. They're already dating, what's the alternative? Break up just because one of them is disabled? Dude, if I was dating a guy... a long as he has a freakin' pulse, a relationship can exist, and I don't have to face the life-ruining horror that is a break-up."

(So, this is an example of how adult Christians don't actually believe what purity culture teaches- they have a much more realistic view of the huge commitment that marriage is. BUT they never actually present a view of romance that's an alternative to purity culture. At best, they say "that's too extreme.")

Back when I was in purity culture, it was unimaginable that I would choose to break up with someone. I was so confused about why, if somebody cheats on somebody, everyone just assumes they're going to break up. I didn't really understand how cheating would affect the relationship- but I was SURE that it couldn't be worse than- gasp- a breakup.

So no, in purity culture, getting married isn't a huge decision. It's just what happens after you've been dating for a while.

In purity culture, it's the first date that's the huge decision. Other bloggers have said [though I can't seem to find a quote right now] that asking someone out is basically like getting engaged. Back when I was in purity culture, whenever I had a big crush, I would pray and pray and pray and pray, and analyze the guy, and think about whether or not we could get married. Because breaking up is THE WORST THING EVER, you really should decide if you want to marry someone before you ever have a first dateIn some forms of purity culture, the parents have to approve the relationship before the couple is even allowed to have a first date.

I believed that I would have to get an okay from God before taking any kind of small step toward initiating a relationship. So I tried as hard as I possibly could to figure out God's opinion on whether or not I could marry the guy. I thought about the guy's personality, his plans for the future, whether I could submit to him. It was all theoretical- based on if we seemed like we could be a good match.

But now Hendrix and I are engaged, and I'm thinking about why we want to get married. How could we possibly make such a huge decision? How do we know it's a good idea? I'm not saying I'm having doubts because of problems or red flags in the relationship- no, I've confused as to how ANYONE can ever make such a huge important decision.

We don't know what's going to happen in the future. We don't know if maybe I could leave him and meet someone better. We don't know.

Maybe people who get married are supposed to have this magic feeling, like "I know this is THE PERSON for me, I need them, I could never find anyone else" but I don't really believe in that kind of romantic fate stuff. I believe there are many people in the world that I could potentially marry. I don't think Hendrix is literally the best one.

But. Actually, he is literally the best one. Not in a sense of checking boxes about everybody's personality types and goals, but because we already have a relationship with each other. We've spent so much time together, we've gotten to know each other so well- we have made ourselves into the best partner in the world for each other. I don't know about the future, but I know that we've spent 2 years together, 2 years committed to each other, 2 years loving and supporting each other.

2 years loving fully and not holding back. 2 years being honest with each other. 2 years not guarding our hearts.

It's funny that the things that make me sure I want to marry Hendrix are the things that purity culture wants us to avoid at all costs. No, I don't mean anything along the lines of "how far is too far", I mean the "guard your heart" stuff. I mean loving each other and being committed to each other.

In purity culture, it's all about the initial conditions. It's all about choosing the right person. It's about what kind of person they are, before the relationship starts. It's about having no experience, and just imagining if they seem like they could be a good partner. But of course. It has to be this way. Experience is the opposite of purity.

Not for me and Hendrix. Our experience together is what makes me so sure I want to marry him. I don't think "on paper, he seems like the kind of person who could love me", no, I KNOW he loves me. He has proven it, day after day.

Without this experience, I don't think I would be able to make the decision. Because getting married is a HUGE DEAL.

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Note: Okay so I said marriage isn't a huge decision in purity culture, but in a practical sense, I think the purity-culture people in God-approved relationships at the point of getting engaged do think about how much of a big deal it is to get married. I think if you are actually in that situation, you will be overwhelmed by how much of a big deal it is. But my experience in purity culture was that of a single girl who has never been in a God-approved relationship. I put a lot of work into learning the theory of purity culture and all the rules, and those rules never said "think carefully about whether marriage is even something you want, because it's a HUGE commitment." No. (But there was a lot of "marriage is HARD" which is a completely separate thing. Hmm, maybe I'll blog about that sometime.) Making the transition from single to dating (or "courting") was the big deal. When you take that step, you lose a good chunk of your purity, so you better be really really sure that guy is worth it.

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