Pages

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blogaround

A man sleeps in a recliner. 3 cats are laying on top of him. Because they are cats. Image source.
1. The Single Blogpost New Testament Commentary (posted March 22) "The real take-home point in all this, by the way, is that God’s standard for you is impossibly high, which further means you are in a lot of trouble because of all your filthy shenanigans. Denying this only makes you a Catholic." LOLOLOLOLOLOL

2. safe spaces and competing access needs (posted 2014) "If we pick one norm and stick to it (like 'people rejecting the oppressive environment they grew up in is a good thing, and that process can make them emotionally vulnerable and in need of a community, we should welcome that in our safe space!’ or 'criticizing other faith communities makes you a jerk, no doing that in our safe space!’) then we’re inevitably hurting one of them." YES. This is a really important post. Something I've thought a lot about is the idea of a "safe space" for people who have anti-LGBT beliefs but genuinely do desire to love LGBT people- where they can ask their possibly offensive questions and actually get educated about why they need to support LGBT rights. They're never going to learn if their questions are always treated like "holy crap, I can't believe you would say something so offensive, this is NOT OKAY." BUT obviously, LGBT people should have the right to live their lives without being subjected to other people's ignorant questions and misconceptions about them. (And having a safe space for LGBT people is far more important than having a safe space for educating anti-LGBT people.) But some spaces like that should exist.

3. There Is Nothing Accidental About School Segregation (posted April 12) "In the South it’s easy to picture how racism operated—colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. The system of Jim Crow segregation was so visible. It was still incredibly difficult to overturn that system, but it was easier to visualize. For Northern white citizens and white politicians, the way their schools and neighborhoods were structured was just normal, they didn’t know or chose not to understand that it wasn’t just a matter of white families choosing to live in white neighborhoods and black families in black neighborhoods. There was a whole history of mortgage redlining, zoning decisions, public housing discrimination, and real estate discrimination that created those separate neighborhoods. But the subtlety of that allowed white people to just see it as common sense, just how our neighborhood and schools should be."

4. surviving complementarianism (posted April 13) "Each of these books is, ultimately, an attempt to convince women that all men are inherently abusers." Tell me again about how feminists supposedly "hate men"?

5. People Who Are Not Disabled Need To Check Out #AbleismExists Right Now (posted April 22) "#ableismexists random folks come to me and say that Jesus will heal me in heaven. Hey man, if heaven ain't ADA compliant. I don't wanna go."

6. BBC pledges women will fill half of on-air roles by 2020 (posted April 22)

7. The National Weather Service decides to stop yelling at us (posted April 12) lol

8. It Sure Sounds Like Donald Trump Has Paid for an Abortion or Two in His Life (posted April 2)

9. Children’s Cowboy Chaps and Big Government (posted April 19) "We can walk into a grocery store confident that there is nothing for sale there that will cause us to sicken and die upon eating it because of the government."

10. panic at the dentist: on moral neutrality (posted April 22) "There wasn’t a single aspect of our lives that wasn’t evaluated for whether or not it was a “Christian” thing to do or be or think or say. Including, apparently, brushing your teeth."

11. The Historical Context of Cruz’s Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill Ad (posted April 22) "Cruz’s fear-mongering is aimed explicitly at men, despite the fact that it’s women’s safety he’s claiming is being threatened."

12. I Am Nonbinary and I Am So Frustrated When Masculinity is Considered the Default (posted March 14) "Every time in my life I’ve gotten a free t-shirt, from clubs in high school to my dorm in college to a work event, it has been a men’s shirt labeled as 'unisex.'"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Spock approves. Image source.
Everyone: if you grew up in purity culture and now you're trying to figure out how the hell relationships are supposed to work in regular-people-land, you MUST read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson.

In purity culture, the only sexual ethic is "no." You have to not do as much as you possibly can, until you get married. First of all, you can't have sex. I mean, OBVIOUSLY. Secondly, any kind of physical touching of a romantic nature can make you impure, so if possible, don't kiss before marriage, or hold hands, or hug, or let any skin cells or hair follicles of yours touch a member of the opposite sex. (Because in purity land, everyone is straight. ... Right.) And don't masturbate. And maybe don't learn too much information about your own genitals, or how sex works, because then you'll be tempted to try it. And you know what, it's also bad to be emotionally impure. So don't like your boyfriend "too much", don't get "emotionally attached"- you need to guard your heart. Don't fall in love. Really if you could just not have crushes or desires at all, that would be ideal.

If at any point, you end up experiencing something romantic or sexual (if you're not married) then you're not pure enough, you're not worthy, you'll never have a perfect marriage, you better hope your future spouse can forgive you. Note that it doesn't matter whether it was consensual or not. The definition of impurity is experience. You experienced it, doesn't matter if you chose it or not, you're still impure. (And really, wasn't there some point along the way where you didn't say "no" clearly enough, or didn't refuse to be in a possibly-impure situation? Well that calls this whole "it wasn't your fault" thing into question. Important note: NO. No- this line of thinking is rape culture and victim-blaming and it is MESSED UP. Anything nonconsensual that happens is NEVER THE VICTIM'S FAULT.)

It was all about infinities, about consequences so big we couldn't even understand them. Nobody ever said, "if you hold hands with your boyfriend, your future marriage won't be as good- but the effect on your future marriage isn't like, totally disastrous, so you can hold hands now if you're okay with those future consequences." Haha, no. Nothing like that. Every choice was either pure or impure, sinful or not, and you HAD TO pick the pure one or else your future would be ruined.

And they said that any other sexual ethic besides purity was just doing whatever you wanted, not caring about risks, not caring about people, not respecting yourself.

Well. It turns out that's not true. Thank you, Dianna Anderson, for introducing a sexual ethic based on being reasonable.

Damaged Goods covers a lot of different topics: consent, knowing yourself, the fact that you own your own body, individual rights, boundaries, respect, good reasons to choose abstinence, etc. (Maybe abstinence is a good choice for you. Maybe having sex is a good choice for you. You evaluate your situation and decide.) All important components of a sexual ethic firmly rooted in reasonableness.

It's about educating yourself, about knowing the potential risks and benefits of certain choices. Go read people's stories about "I did this and it was a good choice for me for the following reasons..." and "I did this and it was a bad choice for me for the following reasons..." Think about what you want and what's important to you. Be honest. Communicate. Understand your own body. There are risks associated with relationships and sex- how can you manage those risks? In your situation, are the risks great enough to outweigh the benefits, or not? And of course, as you learn about what you want and how to get it, you also have to allow other people to do that too- you have to respect everyone, and always ask for consent if you do something sexual with someone.

It's mind-blowing to me how simple this all is, and how freeing. In purity culture, I always worried. I was always afraid that I wouldn't be able to control myself, that if I was faced with the right combination of temptations, I would do something unthinkable, and wake up the next morning completely confused about how it had happened- but 100% sure it was my fault. So I kept building walls and more walls, to keep away from anything that seemed like it could maybe be a temptation.

You don't have to be afraid! You don't have to be afraid of your own desires and your own body. You don't have to be afraid of temptation. You don't have to be afraid of ruining your life. Just be realistic- learn about the risks and decide if you're okay with them or not.

Y'all have to go read this book. For real.

For me, the best part of this book was how it presented a sexual ethic based on being reasonable. (And yes, I will keep repeating that phrase FOREVER because that's exactly what it is.) But there's also a lot of other good stuff. Anderson gives an overview of the history of the purity movement. She writes about myths about what the bible says about sex- myth #1 is "sex makes people one flesh", which blew my mind because I thought "one flesh" was totally a euphemism for sex, and nothing more. She tells her own personal story about leaving purity culture and learning to make choices about sex. There is intersectionality- she shows how modesty culture is especially harmful to women who are not thin, white, and able-bodied. And throughout the whole thing, it's clear that her view on sexuality is thoroughly Christian- this isn't about "rejecting the bible" or whatever other accusations evangelicals make.

If you've been taught that you're unable to make choices about your own body and your own romantic and sexual relationships, and that your only hope is to follow the church's rules, well guess what, it's NOT TRUE. (And Jesus had some things to say about people who teach children harmful things...) You own your own body. Go and learn about stuff. Made educated choices. You can totally do it.

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

posts I've written about Damaged Goods:

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Monday, April 25, 2016

Because Hell is Worse than Slavery

An old black-and-white photo of two black women reading. Image source.
Here's a really important post from Fred Clark (the Slacktivist): What if we learned about the Bible from the people who got it right? It's about black Christians' and white Christians' views on slavery, back in the day. Many white Christians were arguing that slavery was right, slavery was biblical. Some white Christians were arguing that it was wrong- but of course they were dismissed as just following their emotions rather than God's truth. It was a big controversial issue for the white church- and most got it VERY wrong.

However, virtually all black Christians interpreted the bible in such a way that it said slavery was wrong and sinful. And, Clark says, the important thing is that they were right. So why don't we learn about biblical hermeneutics from them, rather than the white theologians who lived during that time and believed God approved of slavery? Here's what he says:
But again, weirdly, we remain far more inclined to heed and to imitate the hermeneutics of those who were wrong than of those who were right. Cite Jonathan Edwards on the proper meaning and interpretation of scripture and everyone nods sagely because, yes, of course, Edwards was good and right and proper and orthodox — except for the minor point of being howlingly wrong about the central moral question of his day in a way that led him to promote, defend and participate in monstrous evil. But if you instead cite, say, Frederick Douglass about the proper meaning and interpretation of scripture, everyone will hem and haw about how Douglass wasn’t primarily a formal theologian and how he had a lot of uncomfortably heterodox ideas and so probably shouldn’t be treated as a reliable source — despite being impressively and utterly right about the central moral question of his day.
Why do white American evangelicals stick with that same failed hermeneutic? Well, because of hell.

Clark refers to slavery as "the central moral question of [their] day", which, IT WAS, but not in evangelical-land. Nope, far more important is the fact that all of us are in danger of going to hell. In the grand scheme of things, slavery doesn't matter. A lifetime of slavery is nothing compared to the suffering of hell. Centuries of systemic racism are nothing compared to hell. (Ahem. To be clear, I totally do not believe this anymore. Thank god.)

(Note: you could debate how much of this dismissing black theology is about the logic of hell and how much is about racism. For this post, I'm sticking to the logic of what evangelicalism teaches: hell is infinitely worse than slavery, Jonathan Edwards was wrong about slavery but that doesn't matter because he was right about hell.)

If people are going to be punished forever for not believing a particular set of facts about Jesus, then nothing else matters. We have to do everything in our power to coerce them into believing. In the bizarre universe where this hell exists, that kind of coercion is loving and moral- the most loving and moral thing you can do.

So white Christians believe that yes of course those pastors from long ago were wrong about slavery. But we still believe what they said about salvation and hell. That slavery stuff was just details- it has no eternal significance. And the black theologians who teach that Christians should fight for justice and equality now- well, they're missing the point. They're not warning people about eternal hell, which means they're WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL. (lololol a "gospel" that says we're not supposed to care about "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" sounds pretty "watered down" to me.)

It will never work to say we should throw out that hermeneutic because it was extremely, completely wrong about slavery, when the hermeneutic itself teaches us that slavery isn't an important issue at all- it's just a little negligible detail, compared to the risk of suffering forever in hell. (I guess that was the entire point of that hermeneutic. Hmm.)

Just another example of how hell completely ruins Christianity.

--------

Also: In his post, Clark promotes the book The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved, which looks really interesting and I totally want to read it. Readers, if you're interested in learning more about how black Christians read the bible back then, maybe you should read this book. ^_^

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Joseph and How Not to Read the Bible

Seven fat cows and seven skinny cows. Image source.
Children's bible storybooks and Sunday school lessons love the story of Joseph. I fully believe that the main criteria for choosing which bible stories to teach kids is the potential for cool illustrations, and the story of Joseph TOTALLY has that. A rainbow-colored coat. Wild dreams about the sun, moon, and stars bowing down, fat cows eaten by skinny cows.

But in Sunday school, I never heard about what happened after Joseph forgave his brothers and the whole family came to live in Egypt. You can read it here, but the main point is this: because of the famine, the people of Egypt had no choice but to buy food from Joseph [the second-most powerful person in the Egyptian government], and when their money ran out, he made them sell their land and even sell themselves to be his slaves. So then all the people of Egypt became slaves, and the government owned all their land. Except the priests, because they got an allowance from Pharoah and weren't forced to sell their land and themselves.

I had never heard about this until one day, probably when I was in high school, when I was doing my daily personal bible-reading. I was shocked and very confused- it sounds like a terrible thing that Joseph did! The people were desperate and starving and he took advantage of them! And wasn't the food in his storehouses collected from them in the first place, during the seven good years? How is this okay?

Notice that I asked the question "How is this okay?" rather than declaring "This is NOT okay." Because I knew that Joseph was one of the good guys in the bible. People always talked about how Joseph is such a good role model for forgiveness. And also hard work. No matter if you're a slave, or falsely accused and thrown into prison, or whatever, you just need to work hard and be responsible and you'll be promoted and everything will work out.

I read Genesis 47, and what Joseph did seemed to me like a monstrous evil, making victims of a famine into slaves- but that can't be right, can it? Joseph is a good guy. I had been taught to read the bible in terms of good guys and bad guys and simple morality lessons. This story confused me.

I'm thinking about all this because of this post from Fred Clark (the Slacktivist): A generation which knew not Joseph, where he talks about how Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich does not understand the story of Joseph. Joseph was a villian. His exploitation of the Egyptian people is horrifying.
The guy was simply a monster. And it’s baffling that we tend to treat him otherwise — as though he were an admirable, praiseworthy figure — just because his brothers treated him badly, and because he was a snazzy dresser.
The most important line in Clark's post is this:
Kasich, like many white Christians in America, has been taught to regard the story of Joseph as a sentimental devotional fable — Joseph’s brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
YES. American evangelicals teach their kids about the bible by distilling each story, with all its weirdness, into a simple virtue that we should try to follow. David and Jonathan is about friendship. Ruth is about loyalty. Esther is about courage. Abraham is about faith. And yes, Joseph is about forgiveness. As if the bible is straightforward and easy to understand, with obvious "good guys" and "bad guys."

So when I read about Joseph enslaving the Egyptians, I was confused. He was a "good guy", so was this a good thing? But how? Or, if it was a bad thing, why didn't the biblical writer make any comment on how evil it was? If this is an example of what not to do, shouldn't the bible point that out, you know, to teach us?

(As it turns out, the bible stories are not meant to beat us over the head with heavy-handed, impossible-to-miss moral lessons. Unlike "Christian movies.")

Here's another example: when I was a kid, one night I read the story of Hagar and Ishmael- specifically the part in Genesis 21, where there's drama between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac, so Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. I read this part:
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
... and I cried a little bit. But then I thought, no no no, I'm not supposed to feel sympathy for them- Hagar and Ishmael are bad guys. Clearly I must have been understanding the story wrong, if it made me want to cry when Hagar thought her son was going to die. (My emotions were making me interpret the bible wrong- where have we heard that before...)

(Don't worry, Hagar and Ishmael make it. Umm, spoiler warning, I guess.)

And yes, I'm aware that people in church don't believe the bible's "good guys" were perfect. I often heard about how "isn't it great how we see so many flawed and sinful people, and God can use all of them in his plan". But those were all stories where we see the character suffer the consequences of their sin- like how David raped Bathsheba and then the whole rest of his life, his family members were fighting and trying to kill each other. But what about the passages which describe things which seem very evil to me, but the bible makes no comment on whether it was good or bad, or any consequences that came as a result? It's not presented as a lesson in morality, it's just a thing that happened.

What about when Jacob lied to his father to steal the family blessing? I remember reading that in one of my "daily quiet times" and thinking, wait a minute, Jacob did a very bad thing here! And I was totally confused because I had heard this story many times before- of course they include it in the little-kid bibles because that whole thing about Jacob putting goat skin on his arms and Esau being super-hairy makes for good illustrations. Like... what exactly was the neat and tidy morality lesson that was being presented in Sunday school alongside the drawing of hairy Esau? I seriously have no idea. (Maybe "Jacob wasn't perfect, but God still chose him and did great things with him"? Which, I have some problems with that because it completely ignores Jacob's victims.)

I don't remember anyone ever saying what Jacob did was wrong. And I read the story for myself, and ... wow, what Jacob did was WRONG. But I was confused. Jacob was one of the good guys, right?

Here's another example, the most important example in the whole bible: God. God is supposed to be a good guy, right? So when God orders the Israelites to kill entire cities, we have to believe that it was right for God to do that. (And, oh my god, I just used google to find that bible reference there, and searching "god orders israelites to kill everyone" brings up a TON of apologetics articles happy to explain why it was right for God to order genocide. Disgusting.)

In this method of bible interpretation, not only are we required to see God as "a good guy", we are required to believe God is completely good and never does anything evil. So when we read in the bible about something very evil that God did, we have to come up with some way to convince ourselves that it was actually good. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.

This is what happens when we read the bible expecting to find simple morality lessons and spiritual wisdom we can apply to our lives. That's not what the bible is. The bible is ancient, foreign, and full of WTF. It's not always obvious that "this person did a good thing" or "this person did a bad thing", and us readers are free to explore the passages from all kinds of different angles, making up our own interpretations and writing fan fiction. (Yes, I write bible fan fiction. I love it.)

It's not supposed to be easy to understand. It's not supposed to be about good guys and bad guys and role models for various virtuous traits. The bible is so much more amazing and complex than that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Blogaround

A chinchilla. The Chinese word for chinchilla is 龙猫 [lóng māo] which literally translates to "dragon cat." I will be forever delighted by this. Image source.
1. Apocalyptic upbringing: how I recovered from my terrifying evangelical childhood (posted April 5) "In the evangelical Christian world of midwest America, it was normal for adults to tell children they would probably never grow old. The end could and would come any minute now."

2. Do we need to be saved like Saul of Tarsus was saved? (posted April 10) "Our sin + infinite debt = Jesus’ crucifixion OR our eternal torture in hell. None of the history matters. None of the nuances of language matter. All of the references to Jesus’ cross that don’t talk about it in terms of paying a sin debt can be cast aside and ignored."

3. The Disgusting Hypocrisy of the Anti-Trans Bathroom Movement (posted April 15) "However, when the issue becomes gun rights and not bathroom rights, this group switches sides dramatically."

4. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Lead (posted April 17)

5. What Everyone Is Missing about the Indiana Abortion Law (posted April 18) Oh god this is terrible.

6. Why I Hate Jesus (posted April 18) "Over the years, I have had a number of people write me about how the modern Jesus was ruining their marriage. In many instances, the married couple started out as believers, and somewhere along way, one of them stops believing. The still-believing spouse can’t or won’t understand why the other spouse no longer believes. They make it clear that Jesus is still very important to them and if forced to choose between their spouse and family, they would choose Jesus. Simply put, they love Jesus more than they love their families." Yeah I also hate this version of Jesus.

7. Boundary Setting vs Tone Policing (posted March 24) "There’s a difference between 'Please don’t speak to me that way' and 'You shouldn’t use that kind of angry language; nobody will listen to you that way.'" This is a really interesting article. I've always found tone-policing to be a tricky and complicated concept (and I'm not even sure I agree with feminists who call it out and talk about how tone-policing is bad)- definitely not as straightforward as feminists on the internet make it seem.

8. A Ritual for Renaming and Remembrance of Baptism (posted April 11) "Let's celebrate the changes in the lives of trans folks just like we celebrate new births, marriages, confirmations, graduations, retirement, and all other transitional moments!"

Have a good week, everyone!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Well that's the sinner's prayer in Chinese

Look at this fun little item that came in the mail:
A flier with a lot of Chinese text on it. Click image to view large version.
No idea where it came from, there's no contact information or anything, and my address isn't on here either so it must have been someone who just came around and stuffed them into everyone's mailboxes. (Hendrix was looking through the mail and said, "oh this is for you" because it's about Christianity. Lol.)

It's a "gospel presentation", and I actually find it very disturbing because it presents the exact same "gospel" that I learned in American evangelical churches. About how we sin, and so God sent Jesus to die for us, so we need to pray this prayer and accept him as Lord of our life. And I'll translate the last bit for y'all:
Dear Lord Jesus,

I thank you for being crucified for my sins. I repent of my sin (acknowledge sin and ask God to forgive). I now ask you to come into my heart and be my savior and lord of my life, and lead my steps for the rest of my life. In Jesus' name, amen.
Yeah.

You guys. The sinner's prayer is a very Protestant thing, a very American-evangelical thing. Here's what wikipedia says:
The Sinner's Prayer, as popularly known today, has roots in Protestant Christianity. Some affirm that it evolved, in some form or another, during the early days of the Protestant Reformation, as a reaction against the Roman Catholic dogma of justification by means of meritorious works and sacraments. Others believe it originated as late as the eighteenth century revival movement. However, Paul Harrison Chitwood, in his doctoral dissertation on the history of the Sinner's Prayer, provides strong evidence that the Sinner's Prayer originated in the early twentieth century.

Evangelists such as Billy Graham and evangelistic organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ brought the concept to prominence in the 20th century.
So it probably was first written in Europe or the US within the past 300 years, then made popular by Billy Graham. It is NOT essential to the core of what Christianity is- though yes, it is essential to the core of American evangelical Christianity. (The sinner's prayer appears nowhere in the bible- though Romans 10:9 is used to lend support to the idea that such a thing as a sinner's prayer might exist.) I'm very much not okay with how the exact words of this magical Western Protestant prayer ended up in my mailbox in freakin' simplified Chinese characters.

This isn't Chinese. Chinese Christianity should be Chinese. It shouldn't be a translation of what Western evangelicals think Christianity is.

Though actually, the beginning of this flier talks about, "We are in a new year now, 2016. Do you know why we count years from 'the common year' [year 1 or year 0 I guess, not sure how to translate this]?" And then about how that's when Jesus was born, so that's what we base our calendar on, and how back in the day, the years were based on Chinese emperors, and their era ended when they died, but Jesus' era seems to be going on forever- do you wonder why that is? [insert gospel presentation] That part is VERY Chinese. You're not going to see any evangelistic material in the US that starts by teaching its audience what "AD" means. Hendrix says maybe the average Chinese person doesn't know that our calendar system counts years based on when Jesus was supposedly born.

So it's not like the entire thing is just western Christian material translated into Chinese. But the actual "gospel" part is- it even has the phrase "Jesus' blood covers our sin" which is NOWHERE in the bible but is a very normal thing for American Christians to say. And "if you prayed this prayer, you are now part of God's family." Yeah.

So yeah. This is a thing that exists in China. All you US evangelicals can calm down, "the gospel" isn't being "watered down" or whatever.

I'm sure there must be other varieties of Chinese Christianity which are more Chinese and less "here is a translation of something Billy Graham said." My experience with Chinese churches and Christian groups is very limited, but I'm sure there must be a lot of diversity.

But seeing the sinner's prayer written in Chinese? A little creepy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A tract which seems to have been slightly edited to say, "What am I doing here? Does God have a flan for me?" Image source.
Any of y'all who grew up in purity culture: you MUST read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson. I'm planning to write several blog posts about it; today our topic will be individual rights.

Throughout the book, Anderson very much emphasizes this idea: your body belongs to YOU. You have the right to make choices about what you do with your body. You have the right to decide what to wear- you don't have to follow the modesty rules that require you to take horny men's opinions into account when you choose clothes. You have the right to decide what sex means for you, and in what circumstances you would like to have sex. You have the right to not have sex.

She also talks a lot about how the church often teaches that we do NOT have individual rights; that by becoming part of the body of Christ, we are all accountable to each other, and we have to listen to other Christians' opinions on what we should do with our bodies.

She is SO RIGHT about how Christian culture teaches that we don't have individual rights. And it is really really really good and meaningful and healing for me to read that I have the right to make my own choices about my body. This is SO EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR.

In a post from 2014, Are we better off if God controls people?, I touched on the topic of our rights vs God's plan. Here is the important bit:
A long time ago, when I loved God so much and constantly thought about God and prayed all the time and did everything I could to follow and obey God, sometimes I wanted God to control me. 

Why? Well, because I thought there was some specific “plan”, some one thing I was supposed to be doing, and if I was just connected to God enough, I would be able to know very clearly what it was.

...

I don’t believe that any more. I don’t think there’s one specific plan that each person is supposed to be doing. I don’t believe God wants God’s followers to be cogs in a machine- a machine which would run much more smoothly if the cogs would quit thinking for themselves. I don’t believe that the kingdom of God is compatible with individual people losing their freedom.

I believe we all have choices and skills and creativity, and there are a lot of directions we could go with it, and a lot of them are very good. And the freedom to make those choices is a core component of the world as God intended it to be.
We are really talking about two competing views of the role of choice in the kingdom of God. In the first view, the view I used to believe, God has a plan, and acting according to that plan will produce the best results in our lives. The closer our "relationship with God", the more clearly we can know God's plan. (For example, it's common for Christians to teach "the closer you are with God, the more you will know God's will, and you can pray for things according to God's will, and they will happen- your prayers will be powerful.")

In this view, we don't have the freedom to make big life decisions. We have to figure out what God wants, and then do that. And when you start with the assumption that Christians do not have freedom in this sense, you can extend it to any choices, really. Including what to wear. We can't choose for ourselves; we have to find out what God's rules are and obey them.

The second view of choice in the kingdom of God (the view I hold now) says that human freedom is a foundational component of the kingdom of God. Whereas in my previous worldview, I would have said the ideal case was to be godly enough to know with 100% certainty what you're "supposed to" do in every situation, I now believe the ideal world is one in which we are able to make our own decisions, and there is no "supposed to."

In the first view, the kingdom of God is one where we give up all our rights. In the second view, the kingdom of God is one where everybody's rights are fully protected.

Let's look at some examples of this whole "we need to give up our rights" thing, shall we?

When a woman says she wants to be a pastor and that it would be wrong for the church to bar her from certain leadership positions based on her gender alone, sometimes people will respond by telling her it is wrong for a Christian to advocate for her own rights. They don't respond to her actual argument about how the bible supports equality between men and women; instead, they tell her that she isn't even allowed to make an argument. How dare she be ambitious like that- Christians are supposed to give up their rights. Even if she is correct that God totally thinks women can be pastors, she cannot be the one to say it. It's selfish.

Another example: so, conservative Christians teach that women need to submit to their husbands, and husbands need to love their wives. However, suppose that the husband is not treating his wife in a loving way. Some people would say that, since the wife needs to submit, she is not allowed to take any actions which would hold her husband accountable for not loving her. Even though she is correct in her claim that her husband is sinning, she doesn't actually have the right to even make that claim. Her husband is in the wrong, but it would be wrong for her to do anything about it. (To be fair, this seems like a pretty extreme view, I'm not sure how common it is among the "wives need to submit" crowd. Sounds like something Debi Pearl would teach.)

And of course, modesty. Modesty culture be all like, "Yes, you have the right to wear whatever you want, if a man lusts, that's his own sin, it is not the woman's responsibility... BUT you should give up that right because of your Christian commitment to help your brothers."

(Hmm, kind of awkward how the only examples I can think of for the "you need to give up your rights" teaching are about how women need to give up their rights.)

This teaching is so wrong. The kingdom of God is a world where the rights of the most vulnerable people are protected, where we don't force victims to suffer because Christians aren't allowed to advocate for themselves. It is a world where people have choices- where you are in contol of your own body and your own personal decisions, and there isn't some specific "God's plan for you" that you're required to do. It's a world where being a member of the body of Christ doesn't allow you to police other members' personal decisions. (When I use the term "personal decisions" I am talking about choices that don't harm other people. If you're harming other people, you totally should be stopped.)

In the past, I believed the perfect Christian life was one in which I had no choices, where I would know God's will with 100% clarity and I would never think for myself. I now believe human creativity is an indispensable part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God did not create us to be mindless followers. God created us with the ability to innovate, to discover, to approach life in our own unique ways. We reflect God's image when we make our own choices rather than waiting for God to tell us what to do.

---------

note: So, I could have titled this blog post "Is There Freedom in the Kingdom of God?" but evangelical Christians use the word "freedom" in a sneaky, backwards way. For example, they say, "You're not allowed to have sex before marriage. So no, you don't have the freedom to do that. But when you follow this rule, you will be free from all the terrible consequences that come with the sin of premarital sex. If you sin by having sex, you will be a slave to it. You will not be free. So actually, by following God's rules, you are more free."

"Freedom" is something that Christians are very happy to claim Jesus gives us. "Choice", not so much.
--------------

posts I've written about Damaged Goods:

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blogaround

An adorable fluffy puppy. Image source.
1. Beijing bustle (posted April 16) "When the next train arrived, the doors opened and everyone raced to grab a seat, like an extremely aggressive game of musical chairs." Yes this is EXACTLY what it's like living in China.

2. To diagnose autism, we should be watching the eyes (posted April 2) Hmm. This is interesting and definitely worth researching further. But I'm pretty skeptical of the idea there could just be one simple test that diagnoses autism.

3. An Open Challenge To Ken Ham (posted April 8) This is an interesting idea, because it would force creationists to give a definitive list of all the "created kinds"- which means they believe all animals evolved from these "created kinds" that were on the ark in less than 6000 years. This forces young-earth creationists to admit that they do "believe in evolution" at this scale- and I bet if we look at the differences among animals in each group that supposedly evolved from the "created kinds" in 6000 years (oh wait, actually 4000 because the flood was some time around then, right?) we'll see that there are actually a lot of new, complex features that must have appeared after the flood. [Because even if the animals in each "kind" are all similar, they must have some big differences when you really look deeper into the biology.] If these kinds of features can appear (in only 4000 years! evolution never claimed to be THAT fast!) then that really calls into question the whole "microevolution can't ever really amount to anything" which is a fundamental tenet of creationism.

4. 6 Women on How the TRAP Laws Changed Their Lives (posted April 5)

5. 3 Ways To Tell If You’re Dating Mr. Right (Or Mr. Wrong) "Remember, if you miss God’s perfect will for your life, you fail at being a person."

6. Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age "Lines available to women who are over 40 years-old decrease substantially. For men, it’s the exact opposite: there’s more roles available to older actors."

7. So Long, Self: How Christianity Teaches You to Hate Yourself (posted April 3) "This is not good news. This is psychological abuse, sugar coated as it is with the vocabulary of love, and it’s made all the more sinister by its pretty packaging and by its inevitable marketing toward children before they are even old enough to say, 'Wait a second, these are awful things to say to a person!'"

8. After Staying a Virgin Until Marriage, I Couldn't Have Sex With My Husband (posted April 2) "I had worked so hard to remain a virgin for my husband, and now that I was married I was rewarded with nothing but stress and anxiety."

9. a story of becoming sick (posted April 6) "It’s so hard to fight against the message that being “healthy” means hurt yourself, that people who really care about their health can “push through the pain” and “feel the burn” and hold to the old adage of “no pain no gain.” That my attempts to avoid pain really just make me lazy. Selfish. Worthy of public ridicule."

10. What ‘white folks who teach in the hood’ get wrong about education (posted March 28) "I always say, if you’re coming into a place to save somebody then you’ve already lost because young people don’t need saving."

11. Profiting From the Myths About Black Women’s Bodies (posted April 6)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chinese Cafeteria Food

Here are some photos of the food at the cafeteria at my job. To show you what cheap Chinese cafeteria food looks like. ^_^

Tofu strips and sweet sausage
Cucumber
Soup
Rice
So it turns out that typically in China, the soup is the drink. I did not realize this until recently. I have been out at restaurants many times with Chinese people, where they order a bunch of food and it totally seems like enough to me, and then they're like "let's order a soup!" and I don't see why we need a soup, and then the soup comes and I don't really drink any because it's bland and boring. And often when you get fast food, you get a bowl of soup for free with your meal. And it's really common for Chinese people not to buy a drink with their meal, and the drink options on menus are more limited than I would like. And finally, after living in China over 2 years, I put these facts together and realized: the soup is the drink. Oh. Wow. It all makes sense now.
Chicken wings
Curry potatoes
Soup
Rice

Some vegetable that's sort of like green onions
Radishes
Soup
Rice

Tofu
Eggplant
Yogurt fruit drink
Rice

Kung pao chicken
Tofu
Soup
Rice

Some vegetable that's kind of like green onions
Egg cooked into some kind of ground-pork burger-like thing
Soup
Rice

Curry chicken
Fried eggs and tomatoes
Egg and tomato soup
Rice

Dumplings that use egg as the wrapper
Eggplant
Egg and tomato soup
Rice

Pumpkin
Pork
Rice
Coconut milk

Green beans, maybe?
Curry potatoes
Soup
Rice

Eggs and spinach
Tofu
Soup
Rice

Eggs and cucumbers
Tofu with some meat and vegetables
Soup
Rice
It's probably not that healthy, so I don't eat it every day, but I just wanted to show y'all what's normal here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Spock and Kirk's alternate-universe counterparts. Image source.

Hi everyone! So I read Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, by Dianna Anderson, and, wow, you guys. It's a book about what sexual ethics are, and how to develop and live an actual sexual ethic, that actually makes sense and isn't just "no".

If you grew up in purity culture, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Like, I cannot recommend it enough. If you're like "well I know I'm rejecting purity culture, but then... but what am I supposed to do instead? What's 'normal'? What are 'the rules'?" yeah I was there for a while. READ THIS BOOK.

Anyway, I'm going to write a few blog posts about it. This is the first.

In the first chapter, "I Was a Teenage Virgin," Anderson talks about what happened when she told a guy (Ethan) that she liked him. Here's an excerpt from the book:
[Ethan] explained, "I sort of thought this was coming. But I don't think you want to be in a relationship with me. I have too much baggage."

...

He looked straight at me. "I'm not a virgin, Dianna. My ex and I had sex, and that's not what you want."

I was speechless. And not because he assumed I wasn't prepared for a relationship with a guy who was experienced. But because he was right- I wasn't. I instantly reshuffled his position in my life from "potential suitor" to "damaged goods- not marriage material ever." The look on my face gave my thoughts away, and he turned back toward campus, explaining, "I can tell by the look on your face that you're not ready for any of this. I need to deal with this sort of thing myself. I don't think I'm prepared to get into a relationship with someone who doesn't know these experiences and that's really all I can say about it."

My thoughts ran rampant: Did I even know him? Why couldn't he have waited? What other sins were people hiding from me?

And OH MY GOODNESS I can totally relate to that feeling of shock. Because, back when I was in purity culture, I understood sex as this abstract, faraway, other-worldly thing, not an actual thing that is often a normal part of people's lives.

For unmarried people, sex was  never a thing you would choose to do. No no no. It happened in the dark of night, when temptation dragged you away to an alternate dimension, where up was down and wrong was right, and people glued their hearts together and then ripped them apart again, and the next day you wonder, what in the world happened? It had been an out-of-body experience. And you know that you made those choices and so it's your fault- and yet, you have no idea how or why you made those choices. You couldn't control yourself, the temptation was too great. If only you had never let yourself be alone in a room with your boyfriend- yes, that was the last point where you had been in control, with the ability to win the fight against temptation. But you chose wrong, and whatever happened afterwards is your fault. (Ahem. This is rape culture.)

And the people who have had sex go on with their lives, with their torn-construction-paper hearts, in pain becaue they can never be whole again. Maybe they're happy sometimes, maybe they try to live a normal life, but a hopelessness hangs over everything they do, and at the end of the day, they wonder what's the point? (Ahem. "The consequences of sin" sound suspiciously like depression.)

On the other hand though, people who are married (and obeyed the purity rules before marriage) are having sex ALL THE TIME and it's AWESOME. They live their lives on a higher plane of existence, something us virgins can never know.

This is the story told by purity culture. For unmarried people, sex is an unimaginably terrible thing that we must fear. For married people, sex is an unimaginably awesome thing.

So unimaginable, in fact, that I never imagined what sex was like, in real terms.

And I'm trying to separate out what's because of purity culture and what's my own personality/desires/lack thereof. (I'm just talking about myself here- I kind of doubt this is normal for purity-culture girls. I don't know.)

To me, sex was just not a thing that people did. Yes, I knew the statistics- only a small percentage of girls who make a purity pledge would be successful in "saving themselves for marriage." Everybody said it was so hard to be pure. So I figured everybody tries really hard, but at some point they make a mistake and let their sinful nature break through, and they can't even believe what just happened, and they regret it. But this was also very abstract to me- I didn't understand how it could happen, how someone could end up accidentally choosing to have sex. But purity culture warned me so many times, that I believed it was a real risk, and I worked hard to stay away from situations where the first slippery step of the slippery slope might be present.

But the idea that sex is an event with a specific start and end, which takes place at an actual point on earth, at an actual date and time- yes, the same timeline in which my life takes place- and that it could be a normal part of life- nope, I never thought of it like that. Sex was just not a thing that people did.

All right let's tell some fun stories to illustrate this. From the achives of "Perfect Number Used To Be Really Naive And Not Have A Clue About Sex Or Anything."

Back in middle school, we read the book "The Outsiders." The main character is Ponyboy, and there's also his brother Soda, and Soda's girlfriend Sandy but she's a pretty minor character. Anyway, at some point we find out that Sandy is pregnant. (As I recall, this wasn't really stated super-obviously in the book- the class didn't get it and our teacher had to point it out to us.) My reaction: "Oh my goodness, that means she had sex with someone!" Later we find out that actually Soda is NOT the father. My reaction: "Wait, why would we have thought Soda was the father? Like, we know Soda, Soda is one of the good guys. Why would he have had sex with his girlfriend?"

Yeah. Totally did not get that there is a correlation between who's dating who and who's having sex with who. (Whom?) Sex is a very very bad sin- having sex with one's boyfriend is just as bad as having sex with someone else (while you have a boyfriend). (I mean really in both cases you're cheating on your future husband so, what's the difference? Also, how about we all agree that when somebody uses the phrase "cheating on your future husband" unironically, we laugh them out of the room. Because, I mean SERIOUSLY? "Cheating on your future husband"? LOLOLOLOL what does that even mean.) (It means purity culture doesn't understand the concept of time. That's what it means. Seriously though, laugh at these people because that is ridiculous.)

Here's another example: when I was a freshman in college, there was a student activities fair where campus groups gave out fliers and free stuff and tried to get new students to sign up for various clubs and activities. The campus health center was giving out small buckets of health stuff. I took one back to my dorm room without looking to see what was in it.

Well. A few days later, I looked in it. There was a flier about the health center, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a condom- OH MY A CONDOM?!!!!!

[note: on retelling this story, I'm a little confused on the question of how I even knew it was a condom. I'm sure at that point in my life I had no idea what condoms looked like. The word "condom" must have been printed on the packaging- that's the only way this story is believable.]

As you can imagine, I was horrified that I had unknowingly brought something so evil and disgusting into my room. I threw the condom in the trash. Then I looked through the rest of the stuff in the bucket and threw away most of it too, because in my mind the whole thing was contaminated.

Then I went and washed my hands.

I mean, can you imagine anything more gross than a completely new, sealed-in-packaging condom?

Sex was just this faraway, abstract, scary thing, and here was a tangible object which existed at a real position in three-dimensional space, which had volume and mass, and which a person could actually hold and (if they had received adequate sex ed) use properly.

Such a strange experience. You guys, I was terrified. And angry. Why would they give me a condom? What on earth did they think I was going to do with it?

Sex was just not a thing that people did.

One more fun story: so, the first guy I dated. I totally never ever had a desire to have sex with him. It never even occurred to me that it could be a thing we would decide to do or not do. I thought about sex only in the context of "I don't think I should sit on his bed because what if one thing leads to another and..." Not because "one thing leading to another" was something that actually seemed like it could happen, but because purity culture taught me I must never underestimate the depths of sinful desire that lived inside me.

Sex was something to fear, something that might come upon you and ruin your life if you weren't careful to avoid temptation. (And again, it would be YOUR FAULT for not avoiding temptation.) I never ever imagined it could be a normal part of life. I never ever imagined it could be a decision that people made based on an assessment of the risks and benefits.

And as for people who have had sex- well, I tried very hard to do the "not judging" and "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing. Of course I would 100% love them as friends (and yes, I did have friends who had sex) but I wouldn't want to be in a romantic relationship with them. Nope, that side of them was broken and dirty. (To be clear, I TOTALLY DO NOT believe that any more.)

So I very much relate to this line in Anderson's story: "Did I even know him? Why couldn't he have waited? What other sins were people hiding from me?" To find out that your crush has had sex- I mean, that completely changes the type of person they are, at a fundamental level. "What other sins were people hiding from me?" YES, I would have thought that too.

Sex was a fear that I expected to hang over me until my wedding day. Not a thing that people did.

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

posts I've written about Damaged Goods:

Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did

Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?

A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blogaround

A gif showing a cat spinning around and around on the floor because its head and front legs are stuck in an empty fishbowl. A dog in the foreground stares at us, as if to say "why do we have a cat?" Image source.
1. March 31 was the Transgender Day of Visibility. Great!

2. Innocence Lost: Honeymoon from Hell (posted March 30) "Now, understand: we aren’t familiar with lube. We’ve never owned any. I’m 20 years old, she’s 21 — we’ve never touched the stuff."

3. Donald Trump’s Abortion Logic Is Totally 100% Right (posted March 31) "The argument that women would not or should not go to jail for abortion is absurd when one notes that there are women in the United States who have, in fact, gone to jail for abortion; some are sitting in jail right now."

And later in the article, this: "The plan, again, isn’t to make parenthood easier or to make motherhood safer. It’s to keep women constrained into a role conservative lawmakers have decided is better for them, against all the evidence provided by women themselves." Oh my goodness yes yes yes- this describes pro-life politics and absintence-only sex-ed PERFECTLY.

See also: Women Are Already Being Prosecuted for Having Abortions

4. Here's a review of "God's Not Dead 2." And yes, it's pretty much exactly as bad as you would expect.

See also: Persecute Me, Please: God’s Not Dead 2 and the Evangelical Lust for Victimhood (posted April 1)

5. purity culture and the wedding night (posted April 1) "I thought I’d be lucky not to marry a rapist." I have had similar thoughts. Because in purity culture, you definitely must have sex on the wedding night. Can't say no.

6. South Carolina GOP threatens evangelical churches (March 30) "It’s an open-ended threat meant to intimidate churches and other would-be sponsors into turning their backs on refugees."

7. Donald Trump did not know the Standard Answer on criminalizing abortion (posted March 31) "What this meant for me, as you know if you’ve read this site before, is that I came to realize I was incapable of defending the central dogma of the anti-abortion religion my people had adopted as the central pillar of our faith — that a fertilized egg is morally and legally indistinct from a human child or a human adult. If that claim were defensible, then I would have no reason not to want to see those women punished and no reason not to try to convince others that they also should want to see those women punished."

8. Every Christian Song from the ’90s, Basically (posted April 5) "Yes I Realize Scooby-Doo is a Great Dane and Can’t Technically Be Saved but What If"

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Christmas and Easter People

A parking lot with several cars in parking spaces, plus one car tilted up sideways so 2 of its wheels are resting on another car. Image text: "Parking at church on Easter." Image source.
Anyone who attends church regularly is familar with the phemonenom of "Christmas and Easter people." These are people who only show their faces at your church on Christmas and Easter. And oh how we judged them. We judged them so hard.

I mean, clearly, if you're only at church twice a year, then church isn't that important to you. Clearly, Christianity isn't that important to you. Clearly, you're a fake Christian and you're just at church because there's a cultural expectation that you're supposed to go to church on Christmas and Easter.

(This is the same Christian culture that produces all those blog posts about "5 stupid reasons for not going to church" which basically amount to "there is no acceptable excuse for not going to church regularly." Samantha Field has written a great post critiquing this: the not-so-ridiculous reasons people leave church.)

When I was in college, there was one year when Easter fell on the first Sunday of the month. Normally, the first Sunday was the Sunday we did communion, but on this month, they moved it to the second Sunday, so it wouldn't be on Easter. At the time, I understood the reasoning to be "on Easter, a lot of fake Christians will come to church, and it's a sin to eat communion if you're not a real Christian, so we want to avoid that." I think maybe something was said about Easter Sunday being more busy than usual, so logistically it was easier to not do communion that week- but I don't know if that was the real reason or if that was just a polite way to cover up "let's not let 'Christmas and Easter people' have the body and blood of Christ."

(And by the way: back then, communion was just this thing we did once a month, where you were supposed to remember Jesus' death and feel really really guilty for it. But now I've read about how Christians from various other denominations view communion [or Eucharist] and how it has so much more meaning and it's so important. And how, oh goodness, that's EXACTLY the kind of thing you want to be doing on Easter Sunday. And that's EXACTLY the kind of thing you want people to be able to experience, if this is the only time they're going to be at your church.)

We would joke about the "Christmas and Easter people", how funny it was that we would only see them in church twice a year. How their commitment to Jesus was such a hilarious joke.

And... yeah. Easter was last week, and I went to church, for the first time in a while. I've become a Christmas and Easter person.

If you think it's because I'm not committed to Christianity, you're wrong. I want so bad to go to church, and if I could find one that didn't cause me to have depression, you know I would be there every week. But I care SO MUCH about Easter, I care SO MUCH about resurrection, that I want to be with other Christians on that day. Even though I'm not going to fit in. Even though things will be said from the pulpit that make me feel I'm not really welcome. I'm willing to sit through that, as stressful as it is, 2 days a year, because I really really believe in resurrection and incarnation. And on Easter and Christmas, I know every church will also be celebrating resurrection and incarnation.

I hate the way I was taught to judge Christmas and Easter people. I hate the fact that, for people who live in that culture of joking about Christmas and Easter people, there's nothing I can say to convince them that I am just as much a Christian as any churchgoer.

I hate the way evangelicals are trained to be always on the lookout for "fake Christians."

But I still love resurrection.

Monday, April 4, 2016

As a former creationist, I'm super excited to re-learn evolution

Here's the book cover for  The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins.
I had never heard about young-earth creationism until high school, but I always knew that as a Christian, I wasn’t allowed to “believe in” evolution. (Hmm perhaps the story of how I became a young-earth creationist is the subject for another blog post.) And even though I’ve now “believed in” evolution (err, accepted that because I am not a scientist, I really don’t have the ability to claim that the majority of the world’s biologists are wrong) for several years, I’ve never actually studied the evidence.

Or, ha, not exactly. I “studied the evidence” a lot, back in my anti-evolution days. I knew all about how comparative anatomy showed a common designer rather than a common ancestor, how the peppered-moth thing was a hoax, vestigial organs are totally NOT evidence for evolution, amino acids in the primordial soup could never have combined to create life, and all the transitional fossils are missing.

I’d only ever “studied the evidence” from a creationist perspective, defensive and ready to argue with all of it.

So that’s why I read this book: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins. Because now I actually want to know the evidence. I actually want to learn evolution. Not learn how to argue against it.

(So, if you’re a little turned off because it’s a book by Dawkins- this book is all about biology and other areas of science, something Dawkins is an expert in. Yeah, I don’t like when he talks about religion- but he doesn’t talk about religion in this book. He does talk about “scientific” arguments made by creationists, which was helpful for me, because he addressed creationist arguments that I think most scientists never address because they see them as just too ridiculous to even answer.)

You guys, I loved this book. It was so interesting! Dawkins covers all sorts of different topics- from dog breeding to predators’ effect on the color of male guppies to embryology to the role of DNA to hominid fossils to plate tectonics to radioactive dating to predators and prey to turtles to bacteria to marsupials to insects that look like plants. It’s really cool! And he connects all these things to evolution, as the one theory that really brings everything together. (And yes, he also spends time telling us why “theory” doesn’t mean there’s doubt about whether it’s true.)

Like I said, this was my first time ever really learning about evolution. And, maybe this sounds kind of strange, but it feels a lot like learning about how the bible was written. Because, in the past, I viewed with the highest suspicion anything that suggested the bible was something other than a series of true statements given to us directly by God. I never allowed myself to learn about how some passages were written by combining two different and slightly contradictory oral accounts, or how there’s not really archaeological evidence for the exodus or conquest of Canaan… sure, I might have read about those claims, but I knew from the outset that I wasn’t allowed to believe them. I “learned” about them in a defensive way, searching for some small detail that I could declare was illogical and which would allow me to dismiss the entire thing. That’s how I “learned” evolution too.

One thing that really surprised me was the part about “clocks”, ie, methods to determine how old something is. First of all, tree rings. The book says that the thickness of rings is affected by the climate during the year the ring was made, so you can take a tree sample and match up the pattern of thinner and thicker rings with a sample whose age is known. Actually, you can take today’s trees and line the rings up with older ones, and older ones, and older ones, with wood from European houses built hundreds of years ago, with petrified forests, etc- this method actually gives us a calendar stretching back 11,500 years. Dawkins says, “It is nevertheless a tantalizing thought that, if only we could find enough petrified forests, we could date to the nearest year over a timespan of hundreds of millions of years.” (p 90)

First of all, holy crap that’s amazing. Second of all, yeah young-earth creationists are really NOT OKAY with that. They think the world is only 6000 years old, so this is a bit of a problem. (And I would like to present the young-earth creationist counter argument to this: Well, sometimes trees can grow two rings in one year, so you don’t really know if it’s accurate.) And as a former young-earth creationist, I was like, wait, is this true???!!! A little skeptical.

Well. It’s for real. Look at this searchable database of tree ring data. And here’s a result I found, just a mundane result from that very normal online search engine, which has data from trees that lived 12000 to 14000 years ago, like it’s no big deal.

(And here’s another site that says you can’t just count the rings, because it’s not always exactly one per year. So. Look, scientists already thought of that. Creationists, go make up a new argument.)

The part about radioactive dating was really mind-blowing too. Page 102 says, “Among all the elements that occur on earth are 150 stable isotopes and 158 unstable ones, making 308 in all. Of the 158 unstable ones, 121 are either extinct or exist only because they are constantly renewed, like carbon-14 (as we shall see). Now, if we consider the 37 that have not gone extinct, we notice something significant. Every single one of them has a half-life greater than 700 million years. And if we look at the 121 that have gone extinct, every single one of them has a half-life less than 200 million years. … Isotopes whose half-life is less than a tenth or so of the age of the Earth are, for practical purposes, extinct, and don’t exist except under special circumstances.” (I can’t find an online source that matches these numbers exactly, but this page about primordial nuclides more or less says it.)

Furthermore, different methods of radiometric dating produce the same result for the age of the earth (about 4.6 billion years). (And here’s a Wikipedia article which backs this up.) Dawkins says on page 106:
Now, a history-denier [young-earth creationist] could claim, say, that there is something wrong with the potassium argon clock. What if the present very slow rate of decay of potassium-40 has only been in operation since Noah’s flood? If, before that, the half-life of potassium-40 was radically different, only a few centuries, say, rather than 1.26 billion years? … The history-deniers would have to fiddle the half-lives of all the isotopes in their separate proportions, so that they all end up agreeing that the Earth began 6,000 years ago. Now that’s what I call special pleading! And I haven’t even mentioned various other dating methods which also produce the same result, for example ‘fission track dating’. Bear in mind the huge differences in timescales of the different clocks, and think of the amount of contrived and complicated fiddling with the laws of physics that would be needed in order to make all the clocks agree with each other, across the orders of magnitude, that the Earth is 6,000 years old and not 4.6 billion! Given that the sole motive for such fiddling is the desire to uphold the origin myth of a particular set of Bronze Age desert tribesmen, it is surprising, to say the least, that anyone is fooled by it.
First of all, wow yeah, that is what young-earth creationists argue- radioactive dating isn’t accurate because what if the decay rates have changed? We can’t assume they’ve always been constant. But… wow, how on earth could they ALL have changed in such a way that they ALL end up with the same wrong value of 4.6 billion years?

(Dawkins is very wrong about the “it is surprising” bit though. No. Your religion says you have to believe the earth is 6000 years old, you find a way to believe it. I did. Dawkins doesn’t understand religion if he thinks this is “surprising.”)

I’m also very glad that the issue of radioactive dating for fossils was brought up in this book. It says that radioactive dating of rocks will tell you how long it’s been since the rock cooled out of its molten state- and therefore it only works for igneous rocks. But we all learned in middle school science class that fossils are found in sedimentary rocks. I don’t remember ever hearing a creationist argument along the lines of “see you can’t even use radioactive dating on fossils because they’re in sedimentary rock- this whole thing is baseless!” but it strikes me as the kind of thing they would TOTALLY say. (See Kent Hovind’s take on plate tectonics: “If you remove the water from the oceans, there is dirt underneath.”) Yeah creationists are all about taking some easily-misunderstood point and claiming, “see? Obviously this makes no sense!” So I’m really glad Dawkins talked about this (page 98-101). Here’s how it works: You don’t actually use the radio carbon dating on the rock that contains the fossil. Instead, similar sedimentary rock layers are found all over the world, and they are given labels (Devonian, Jurassic, etc). You know that a Devonian layer is older than a Jurassic one (no matter where on earth you find them), but you don’t actually know how old it is. Until you find igneous rocks above or below one of the layers, and you can use radioactive dating on the igneous rocks- and apply the result to all rocks of that label all over the world. There you go.

The part about transitional fossils between apes and humans was also mind-blowing to me. Dawkins spends a whole chapter presenting example after example, discussing the characteristics of each specimen found and how anthropologists argue about which genus they belong in- Homo or Australopithecus? Homo is the genus which includes humans (Homo sapiens) as well as some other extinct human-like species, while Autralopithecus were more ape-like and eventually evolved to produce the Homo genus. The question is, where do you draw the line? You find a hominid fossil, you look at the brain size and how it walked, and based on that, you classify it as Homo or Autralopithecus. But other scientists come to a different conclusion and classify it differently.

I remember a line I used to use back when I argued against evolution: “We don’t have very many transitional fossils from apes to humans, and the ones we do have are controversial.” I am suddenly shocked to realize that “controversial” is EXACTLY WHAT THEY SHOULD BE if evolution did in fact occur. If people evolved from ape-like creatures, then there is no definite line between Australopithecus and Homo. We SHOULD find remains which incite huge debates about which genus they belong in.

The book also includes a bit from an interview Dawkins did with Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America (an anti-feminist group). In the interview, Wright kept saying over and over that transitional fossils do not exist, and Dawkins kept telling her Australopithecus exists, Homo habilis exists, Homo erectus exists. This interview excerpt illustrates how creationists are taught to say, over and over, there is no evidence, there are no fossils- but in reality, there are fossils, there are SO MANY fossils. And OH MY GOODNESS yes. Yes. When I was a creationist, I very much believed “there are no transitional fossils.” I mean, sure there was archaeopteryx, but just that one, and it totally didn’t count, because reasons.

And … wow. I’m … I need to research this more. If the fossil record is full of “transitions” everywhere, then … damn. Then brace yourselves for a whole bunch more blog posts on how creationism is all about lying and taking the Lord’s name in vain.

However, there was also a lot of evidence presented in this book which totally would not have challenged my creationism at all, back in the day. Specifically, I was one of those “we believe in microevolution but not macroevolution” creationists. Creationists define those terms in this way:

Microevolution: small changes. One animal evolves into another animal that’s pretty similar, so it’s totally believable. For example, dogs evolved (or rather, were domesticated) from wolves. Darwin’s finches are an example of microevolution because, come on, they’re all finches. Nothing new arose; a finch just evolved into a different finch.

Macroevolution: one animal evolves into another animal which is substantially different from it, so you go “what? no way.” For example, the claim that all animals share a common ancestor. Come on, really?

And actually, as I was reading the book, I started to wonder, “wait… is the distinction between ‘microevolution’ and ‘macroevolution’ something that ONLY creationists talk about? Do real scientists even use those words?

I found that, yes, these are real words, but they don’t mean what creationists say they mean. Here are the definitions from Wikipedia:

Microevolution is the change in allele frequencies that occurs over time within a population.”

Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools. Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution, which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population. Macroevolution and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.”

Hmm. So in regular-science-land, microevolution is about changes within a species, and macroevolution is about changes at or above the species level. Sort of. Seems like it’s hard to really draw the line, because they’re really the same thing- you accumulate a lot of microevolution and it becomes macroevolution. Yeah, that’s completely different from the creationist definition where “microevolution” is small changes which, though they might produce new species, don’t actually make any difference if you’re trying to evolve from, say, a fish to a human, and “macroevolution” is the one that involves changes big enough that we don’t buy it.

Everything Dawkins says about natural selection, artificial selection, sexual selection in this book is very “yeah so?” for the “microevolution but not macroevolution” creationist. I mean, natural selection just makes sense. Animals that can reproduce better end up having a bigger effect on the gene pool, causing the whole species to change in that direction. I have never encountered any type of creationism that claimed that it’s impossible for a species to adapt to its environment or for new species to arise.

(I have also never encountered the “God put fake fossils in the rocks to test us” flavor of creationism- I guess this is just a strawman, but… I also kind of wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some Christian group somewhere teaching it.)

Anyway, if you’re a creationist reading this book, you read all about dog breeding and say “oh that’s really interesting. It’s NOT evidence for evolution.” You read about how predators and prey force each other to evolve- predators evolve to be faster and more deadly, prey evolve better ways to run and hide- and how this results in all the animals putting so much energy into the “evolutionary arms race.” Why would an intelligent designer have made them this way? Whose side is the designer on, when lions are “designed” so well for hunting and killing, and antelope are “designed” so well for running away? Umm, hello, it wasn’t like that in the Garden of Eden. All the animals lived peacefully together, and the animals which were ancestors of today’s lions weren’t fierce at all. After the fall, microevolution took over to make predators more and more powerful and prey more and more able to escape.

Yeah. There were a lot of examples in this book, where Dawkins seems to be writing with a “how could creationists explain THIS?” view, and … it’s microevolution. No challenge at all for the creationist.

But there were so many things that were convincing. I’ve already mentioned a bunch, about the age of the earth, hominid fossils, etc. Here’s another one: marsupials are only found in Australia. A huge variety of very different species, but all sharing certain characteristics which are found nowhere else on earth. If you’re a young-earth creationist, you have two options for explaining this fact:

1. There were several different marsupials on Noah’s ark, and they all just happened to come to Australia.

2. There was only one marsupial pair on Noah’s ark, and they came to Australia, and then microevolution produced all the different marsupials we now have.

(If you’re an old-earth creationist that doesn’t believe in a world-wide flood, you have more options.)

Option 1 is pretty unbelievable. Really, they all came to Australia? (Actually, option 2 also requires you to believe that the pair on Noah’s ark came all the way to Australia without leaving any offspring anywhere along the way… so… that’s also pretty unbelievable…) If you choose option 2, you’re admitting that microevolution has the power to turn one common ancestor into everything from koalas to kangaroos to flying squirrels [in less than 6000 years? ugh this is not a path a creationist wants to be on], and this calls your whole “microevolution doesn’t really count for anything” into question.

And I suspect it’s not just Australia. I wonder if there are other examples of very diverse species which all share a few unique characteristics and are close geographically. Because, wow. That’s tough for young-earth creationism to explain.

Another very interesting section in the book was about “bad design.” (By “bad design” I mean examples where animals’ bodies are structured badly, so it doesn’t make sense to believe somebody intelligent actually designed them.) I remember hearing about the panda’s thumb back in my anti-evolution days, reading some creationist article about how the panda’s thumb is totally NOT an example of “bad design.” Didn’t hear any other arguments about “evolutionists think xyz is an example of ‘bad design.’”

But wow, you guys. There are SO MANY examples in this book. The eye (which is the poster child for the creationist concept of “irreducible complexity”, so I’m pretty surprised to hear the claim that it’s “badly designed”). The laryngeal nerve, which goes from the head to the chest and back, for no apparent reason (err, actually, because we evolved from fish). The vas deferens. The koala’s pouch opens downwards. Here is a quote from pages 370-371:
When we look at animals from the outside, we are overwhelmingly impressed by the elegant illusion of design. … When we look inside, the impression is opposite. Admittedly, an impression of elegant design is conveyed by simplified diagrams in textbooks, neatly laid out and colour-coded like an engineer’s blueprint. But the reality that hits you when you see an animal opened up on a dissecting table is very different. I think it would be an instructive exercise to ask an engineer to draw an improved version of, say, the arteries leaving the heart. I imagine the result would be something like the exhaust manifold of a car, with a neat line of pipes coming off in orderly array, instead of the haphazard mess that we actually see when we open a real chest.
(And creationists would respond by saying actually, it’s designed that way for a reason, and if it had a more simple layout, that would ruin everything. Or, alternatively, everything was perfect at the time of creation, and then sin entered the world and everything got worse and that’s why we see “bad design” now.)

Also, it turns out “convergent evolution” is totally different from what I thought it was. I thought, “So if two species have similar characteristics, evolutionists say they evolved from a common ancestor. And if they have similar characteristics but they’re not supposed to have a common ancestor which shared those characteristics, then it’s convergent evolution. So basically, no matter what, it’s evidence for evolution. Yeah real scientific guys.” Haha. Nope. It turns out, when you have convergent evolution, the animals look similar, but the internal structures and processes which create those outward similarities are very different. Being similar because of a common ancestor and being similar because of convergent evolution are very different things.

For example, whales look like fish. They’re well adapted for swimming and doing all kinds of fish-like things. But a whale is completely different from a fish. They breathe air. They move their tails up and down to swim, rather than side to side like a fish. Convergent evolution means that animals developed the same outward adaptations to the same environment, but the ways in which their bodies perform those adaptations are very different.

So… this blog post has become massively long but I am NOT SORRY AT ALL, because you guys, I love science and this was my first time actually learning evolution. Back when I was a creationist, I knew all about evolution and how to argue against it, but I never learned it, you know, the way you learn and marvel at how wonderful knowledge is, let yourself get lost in discovering new things. No, back then I “learned” with my defenses on. I had to make sure I didn’t believe any of it, so I never went beyond the surface.

If you’re an ex-creationist like me, I encourage you to go learn about evolution. I totally recommend this book, but if you don’t want to read a Dawkins book, I understand that. (This one is fine though, he doesn’t talk about religion. Or feminism.) But go learn. Learn about tree rings and how the turtle’s shell evolved and vertebrates’ skeletal structure. The world is amazing.

AddThis

ShareThis

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...