Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Please enjoy Ray Comfort on The Atheist Experience for now! Be warned that the playback is extremely loud. It's quite hilarious, though.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
"When Jesus said, 'I am the way,' He meant that to have a true relationship with God, you must practice His way. In the Acts of the Apostles, the early Christians always spoke of their faith as 'the Way.' To me, 'I am the way' is a better statement than 'I know the way.' The way is not an asphalt road. But we must distinguish between the 'I' spoken by Jesus and the 'I' that people usually think of. The 'I' in His statement is life itself, His life, which is the way. If you do not really look at His life, you cannot see the way. If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving, and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus himself and not just some idea of Him. A true teaching is not static. it is not mere words but the reality of life. many who have neither the way nor the life try to impose on others what they believe to be the way. but these are only words that have connection with real life or a real way. When we understand and practice deeply the life and teachings of Buddha or the life and teachings of Jesus, we penetrate the door and enter the abode of the livind Buddha and living Christ, and life eternal presents itself to us."-Thich Nhat Hanh
Living Buddha, Living Christ
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Fred Clark has been doing a wonderful series on the doctrine of hell, where it came from, how it slithered its way into christian culture, and why it's a particularly nasty worldview. In order:
- Team Hell Gets Loud
- The epistemology of Team Hell
- Should I not be concerned?
- Rob Bell vs. Team Hell (cont'd)
- The Paradox of Pitchforks, a devilish problem
- That chair doesn’t belong in this play
- The Missiological Case for Hell
If you're a christian and you've been grappling with the fear that people you care about might endure an eternity of suffering at the hands of the god you believe to be the embodiment of love, take heart. Let it go. Live in love.
If you're not christian, but you've got loved ones who've been urging you (whether out of concern or malice) that your wicked ways will mean that you burn forever let them know that it's ok. They can stop worrying. God loved the Ninevites just as much as god loved anyone else. If you love each other, things will be ok.
To anyone who identifies as christian, as I do, you can stop hoping for pain and suffering. You can stop delighting in torment. You can stop fearing separation and loneliness. We can feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked and visit the sick.
We can let go of hell and hold on to love.
Friday, March 18, 2011
She means well, though, and I'm thankful she's supportive.
Whenever our son stays with my mother and her husband, he goes to church with them. He's only eight months old, so that just means he crawls around a brightly colored room with a bunch of other babies and toddlers, chewing on stuffed veggie tales toys. I'm more worried about germs than indoctrination. She keeps checking to make sure this is ok, for some reason. This happened again earlier this week, when I met her to pick my son up. It went a bit like this:
Mom: "[Your husband] doesn't mind us taking [your son] to church with us, does he? I mean, I know he's anti-religion."
Me: "He's not anti-religion, mom, he just doesn't practice."
Mom: "Well, remember that time he said he hates all the conflict and stuff like that? I just don't want him to be upset."
Me: "He's Israeli, mom. I'd probably be sick of religious conflict, too."
Mom: "Well, I don't know what that means."
Me: "It means he's not anti-religion, he's anti-douchebag. He just doesn't like it when people are jerks to each other."
Mom: "I just don't want him to get mad if we bring [your son] to church. It's important that he learns about both. I mean, it's just daycare, anyway, but later."
Me: "Well, later it's not [my husband] you need to worry about, it's me. I don't want him going to youth groups. You can take him with you to church, but he can't join the youth group ministry there."
This sparked a half hour long discussion in the parking lot of a BBQ joint in New Braunfels, Tx--a tiny town nearly halfway between San Antonio (where my mom lives) and Austin (my hippy-dippy-wonderful-city). Her husband just sort of stood there quietly, and patiently, shuffling his feet every few minutes and waiting for me to remember to open my trunk so he could move the stroller from their car to mine.
My mother and I have had very different experiences with christianity. This is, I'm convinced, in no small part due to her conversion later in life. Most religions have a sort of "get 'em while their young" mentality. What my mother has learned from and about christianity is mostly of the love your neighbor variety. She believes in being kind, and charitable. It's really quite lovely, and I hope that she exposes my son to that worldview. I have every confidence that she's going to be a positive influence on his life, and I know that her faith will be a large part of that.
What worries me is that she's got an alarming blind spot when it comes to all of the other stuff christian churches tend to teach. I realized after our discussion that, aside from her general predisposition towards naivete, this is because she wasn't actually raised in the church.
My parents became "born again" when I was probably 6 or 7. My childhood was a strange amalgam of the movies Saved! and Jesus Camp, if you're looking for a frame of reference. If you've seen the former film, I started out as a Hilary Faye sort of person and by the time I was in Junior High I was a cross between Chad Faust and Mary Cummings. If the movie had focused on Chad trying to reconcile his faith and his homosexuality rather than Mary and her pregnancy (and, you know, if Chad had been a girl), that probably would've been my high school experience.
We moved from Texas to California and back again, and changed churches with relatively frequency before settling on one for most of my high school years. I've been to mega-churches and tiny churches and churches that were tiny and quickly became mega. They were all "non-denominational" which means evangelical if you're in Texas.
One was charismatic, but we didn't figure that out until someone fell on me while "caught up in the spirit." I was at a youth group meeting, which is where I spent all of my Wednesday nights, standing among the dented folding chairs and singing along with the band as quietly as I could when suddenly, the girl next to me began to convulse mid-hymn. One minute she's singing, and the next she's clucking and hissing and having what I thought was a seizure. She slammed into me and we both landed, sprawling, in the middle of the aisle with her pinning me down, still having spasms and making unintelligible noises. I was pulled out from under her, and the adults all started circling her and praising Jesus. Another teen could tell I was completely dumbfounded and helpfully explained that the girl wasn't sick, but was rather speaking in tongues because she had been touched by the spirit.
We soon switched churches, thankfully.
Most youth groups I joined weren't nearly that exciting, but were quite a bit more insidious.
When you're a young child and you're attending (christian) church you just learn some heavily edited bible stories. Mostly they're from the Old Testament, so it's a lot of Noah and his Ark, Jonah and the Whale, David and Goliath, Joshua at Jerocho, Joseph and his Dream-Coat. They're taken utterly out of context, and taught from a christian perspective which makes them seem surreal looking back on what I was told they meant then, and what I understand them to mean now. Sometimes you might venture into Jesus and the Loaves and Fishes, although it focuses on the miracle of feeding thousands and not the actual Sermon on the Mount, which is a shame. There's also a lot of singing. You sing about god, and Jesus, and pharisees and sadducees ("cause the sadducees were sad, you seeeee" - it didn't make much sense, but we were 6, so we didn't know - shut up).
When you're an adult in a (christian mega) church, you're probably hearing a lot about how to deal with stress--usually related to money, work or family. You still sing a lot, but it's more generic god is awesome, Jesus died for me type stuff. In the better churches you learn a lot about the gospels, although they still inexplicably skip over the sermon on the mount more often than not. In the not-so-great churches they talk about the book of Revelations a lot.
In the terrible churches they only ever talk about homosexuality and abortion. You still sing, though.
You sing a lot, if you're in the Bible Belt. Lots and lots of singing, and very little dancing. You learn a few Hebrew words for the songs, pronounced horribly, and used in entirely the wrong context. El Shaddai gets thrown around in reference to Jesus, which doesn't make a lick of sense. I blame Amy Grant.
If I ever took my husband into an evangelical church I think we'd be asked to leave just because he wouldn't be able to stop laughing at me.
In any case, aside from the terrible churches it's all pretty benign if you're an adult or a very young kid. Your mega-church could be funding all kinds of nasty political nonsense or engaging in sex-scandals and you'd never really know it if you just show up on Sundays.
As you start to head towards adolescence, though, that's when they really try to get their hooks in. That's when all of the really twisted, anti-science, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-kindness, anti-christian stuff gets introduced because that's when you're impressionable enough to believe it and emotionally vulnerable enough start being desensitized to the idea of victimizing others or being a victim.
This is a really crucial juncture for Bizarro Christianity.
Kids are starting to question things as they get closer to middle school or junior high. They're beginning to wonder if maybe the adults don't' actually have everything figured out. They're starting to care more about what their friends think than their parents. Girls are starting to wonder if it's ok to be brave and curious and adventurous. Boys are starting to wonder if it's really ok to be affectionate, compassionate, and emotional. They've learned the basics of the scientific method, and perhaps taken earth or physical science. They're about to take biology, which means an introduction to evolution. They're probably starting to notice some of the contradictions present in the things they're learning in church, if they're clever. They may even be starting to wonder about some basic philosophical paradoxes, like why does god let bad things happen?
They're starting to realize they don't quite know what all the fuss is about that sex stuff, but it may just be sort of interesting. Perhaps they're starting to notice who they're noticing, and hoping that those people are noticing them, or perhaps hoping the people they're noticing aren't noticing they're noticing them. It's all very confusing and hormonal.
If Bizarro Christianity is going to supplant all of the stories of kindness, love and sharing children learned up until that point, youth ministries have to work quickly and decisively.
The story of how that process manifested in the youth ministries I was part of, in my life, and from my perspective, is understandably a bit long. As such, I'll continue with the next part of the story on Monday.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
In his own words.
Video of part of the speech on the anniversary of the 1959 peaceful Tibetan uprising.
The guardian has some clarifications on the situation, especially for those unfamiliar with the history of it.
USA today coverage that includes the typical (and annoying) "But how will this affect America!" trope.
The Guardian explains a bit on why this situation is so complex for Tibet, and particularly for the Tibetan exiles who exist in a sort of limbo in India.
An introduction to Buddhism:
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The point of a good story is the journey on which it takes you, not the destination at which you arrive. That's why I don't really mind spoilers, in most cases. If a story (movie, book, television series, whathaveyou) is worth being bothered with then knowing what happens ahead of time rarely diminishes that experience.
Bizarro Christians, however, love twist endings.
They're utterly obsessed with only two parts of the New Testament: the death and resurrection of Jesus, and their extremely distorted "interpretation" of the book of revelations. Honestly, how much more twisty-ending can you get? Their version of the gospels goes:
"This guy Jesus died. The devil won. Everybody was pretty upset about it. BUT! It turns out he was totally god and he comes back to life! We win! The end!"
Revelation goes similarly. Rather than reading it as a piece of literary, historical, or allegorical writing they latched onto the 19th century rise of dispensationalism and view it as some sort of outline for the apocalypse*.
To them, the book of Revelation goes: "Jesus shows up, fights off the devil and his sidekick the anti-christ, tortures everybody we don't like, boots them all into hell, and WE WIN! Again!"
It's honestly the doctrinal equivalent of "My dad can beat up your dad. Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah" except instead of their dad beating up our dad, their dad beats up us which doesn't seem altogether fair. It's a weird thing to wish on other people, but there it is.
So those are the two topsy-turny-twisty endings that make up about 90% of the evangelical doctrine, in the U.S.
I suppose those endings are very comforting, for some people. The message of both is "We win! You lose! Ha!" which would obviously be attractive to a lot of folks. It disappears thousands of years of christianity, and more appallingly the entirety of Jesus' three year ministry. Jesus had a lot to say, and the folks who wrote the gospels had a lot to say about the things he said, and the folks who've been writing about the gospels ever since have yet more lots to say about the things those other people said.
But those stories don't have compelling enough endings, I guess. Most holy books, religious writings, or philosophical texts are designed to indicate how we should interact with the people we come in contact with, navigate the experience of being human, or commune with the divine in some way. They're intended to enrich, teach, or enlighten. At their most basic, they're designed to form a structure to live by, with stories, histories, rules, explanations and mythologies to illustrate a richness of experience for us to draw from as we grapple with who we are and where we're going - individually and together.
Whether you find inspiration and guidance from the Bhagavad Gītā, Tanakh, Qur'an, New Testament, Buddhavacana or from Dandelion Wine, the point is what it teaches you and how it touches you. The point is not to race to the end to justify the rightness of your position over all others.
In summary, I defer to Messrs Lennon/McCartney:
*This reading of the book of Revelation is, of course, not at all biblical. How and why it's such a perverse view of biblical teaching, and christianity in general, has and is being explained over at Slacktivist with an eloquence I could never hope to achieve.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
"When you hammer a nail into a board and accidentally strike your finger, you take care of the injury immediately. The right hand never says to the left hand, "I am doing charitable work for you." It just does whatever it can to help--giving first aid, compassion and concern. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the practice of dana, generosity, is lik this. We do whatever we can to benefit others without seeing ourselves as helpers and the others as the helped. This is the spirit of non-self."-Thich Nhat Hanh
Living Buddha, Living Christ
Monday, March 14, 2011
It's not often I speak about my beliefs and I know a lot of people don't agree with me but..
Mother nature is a force to be reckoned with. She is the one thing that no human being can control. You can only abuse and beat her so much before she will retaliate. Earth quakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, etc. She's one pissed off mama and anyone knows you do not piss off a mama.
Lest there be any confusion - the above is pure, unmitigated horseshit.
File this away under "the-other-side-has-anti-science-garbage-too." It's rare, but it happens. much like the anti-vaccers, the folks who spout this nonsense are callous idiots.
It was an earthquake. It was not malicious, or intentional, or brought about by supernatural forces to punish anybody you don't happen to like for doing things you think they ought not be doing. It was naturally occurring, and we know how and why it happened. We have an explanation, and any speculation on "why" it happened that does not include phrases like "thrust faulting" or "subduction zone interface plate boundary" are unnecessary and cruel. We know why earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, lightening, floods, avalanches, volcanoes, blizzards, seasons, rain, snow and sunshine happen. They're amazing, and they inspire awe, but they aren't mysterious.
But let us assume for a moment that there is some supernatural force driving these events. Let's deconstruct the quote above based on that premise.
I can only assume if nature, or the Earth, is a "mother" that her "children" are the organisms living on her. This quote bestows on her not only sentience but also intent. Based on that, what sort of mother slaughters some of her children as retaliation for anything? The very notion means that you believe in a being that is not only aware of its actions but is also psychotic. And apparently you do so willingly and happily.
And these aren't the days of pantheons full of gods and goddesses who were intentionally depicted as horrifically twisted and cruel. Whether you believe in a god who casts swaths of his metaphorical children into hell to be tortured for eternity or an Earth Mother who slaughters literal children for actions they have no say in or control over (drilling, deforestation, over population, etc) your focus of worship is awful and sociopathic. And yet that isn't the framing it's given. The framing is that it does those terrible things and it loves you and you love it.
I guess it just doesn't love any of those other people who're suffering. So, by extension, why should you?
If the thing you believe, whatever it is, means that when you see suffering your inclination is not to mourn and seek ways to help assuage pain, but rather to point out that perhaps those in agony may deserve it somehow or brought it on themselves in any way, then something is very wrong with your worldview.
Your beliefs have eaten a hole in your brain where empathy should be.
In case anyone was worried, the Bizarro Christians and
ETA: Glen Beck has gotten in on it as well. Of course, being an insufferable tool is kind of his modus operandi.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Google peoplefinder tool. They also have crisis response information up.
Things to consider as you donate. It breaks down what's best, when, how to tell who's reputable, and where to report sites that pop up asking for donations that seem to be fraudulent.
Yes, Japan is asking for aid - the Gizmodo article about texting the redcross was updated.
Shelterbox: people are going to need shelter more than just about anything else.
Redcross: that page allows you to specify where you want your donation to go. You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone.
Doctors without borders: they're generally some of the first folks on the scene at disasters such as this, and they always need help and donations
Save The Children has set up a fund specifically for earthquake/tsunami relief.
International medical Corps: you can also text MED to 80888 from any mobile phone to give $10.
Huffpo has a roundup of other aid links.
CNN: video round up and live blog.
Shakesville: roundup and open thread.
Streaming video. (Japanese)
NOAA: Modeling of the earthquake and tsunami. There's a larger version of the video at Gizmodo.
BBC: What happened at Fukushima Daiichi.
Big think has more information on the nuclear plant incident, including a video
EERI: history of Japan's recorded earthquakes
USGS: how earthquakes work (for kids) - also information for adults.
More information on what causes tsunamis.
Friday, March 11, 2011
He was murdered just before midnight December 8th, 1980, and I was born early December 9th, 1980. I still have the newspapers from that day. Something profoundly wonderful was leaving this world as I was coming into it, and that's always been strange for me.
I have a bit of an obsession with The Beatles, and with Lennon in particular. I even enjoy his solo albums and his collaborations with his wife, Yoko Ono. I identify with them and their work quite a bit.
Contrary to his most widely known solo work, however, I can't imagine no religion and I honestly have no desire to.
That isn't to say I don't imagine a world without religious persecution, oppression, violence, dogma or control.
A world without religion is as desirable to me as a world without history, literature, or art. These stories are significant to our development as a species. The ways in which humans have attempted to contemplate or explain the world around them provides insight into our nature. We tell stories, sing, paint, dance, think, write, build, design, explore, and tell more stories. Some of those stories become songs. Some of them are molded into sculpture or expressed through brushes and watercolor. Some of them are choreographed into ballets. Some become novels or comics or movies.
And some of them are passed along, scooped up, bound together and they become a religion.
The culture of the time influences it, and it influences the people and places where it's taught and practiced. Like any good form of expression it grows and adapts, twisting in on itself and back out again. Religion influences and is influenced by art, philosophy, and every other aspect of the human experience.
I never think "What if religion didn't exist?" What I imagine is a world in which we treat the traditions, philosophies, stories, cultural contexts, parables, poems, rules, psalms, doctrines, and silly hats with the same sort of reverence that we treat art. As it stands, religion is the extension of hierarchical power when it should be an extension of self-expression.
One/The Body's Grace - Ballet Austin
Photography by Hannah Neal, Amitava Sarkar, Tony Spielberg, Farid Zarrinabadi, Manda Levy
The ballet world has a history that's both exciting and provocative to anyone who's a gigantic nerd like me. The undercurrent of precision behind the softness of the Russian ballet contrasts with the velvety elegance of French ballet, the sleekness of neo-classical, or the freedom of contemporary. The forms pull from each other, with the more modern techniques relying heavily on a foundation laid out by the traditional schools. The rules and parameters of each are distinct, with strict lines and impeccable standards to which one must adhere. The various schools drew heavily from the culture in which they were embedded, and in turn helped shape the community around itself. Russian ballet, in particular, has been an integral part of the cultural framework of its country of origin for the entirety of its existence. Adherents to a particular technique are savagely loyal, and alteration is slow and intentional. Thousands have devoted their lives to the study, practice, development, and critique of their particular school of ballet and relations between the students or masters of respective forms can be strained or even incendiary.
And yet, no wars have been waged in the name of dance. Students of the Vaganova method have never executed artists at The Royal Ballet. Dancers often experience their art as the highest emotional expression possible, yet that passion doesn't manifest itself as violence.
I hope this doesn't come across as an attempt to diminish someone's faith by way of a comparison to dance. Honestly, I think there's no higher compliment to afford something than to call it art. I think religious and artistic expression are both core to our existence as humans. I also think that it's possible to divorce the emotional, social, and spiritual benefits of religion from its nasty role as a form of cultural despotism. In fact, I think that it's likely the only way to end religious violence. When religion is a form of self-expression that allows us to explore our relationship to the universe in a way that can be shared but is also profoundly personal then there's nothing to live or die for. It's a form of communication meant to help us relate our experiences to one another, not separate ourselves from anyone who doesn't conform to our ideals.
That's what I think, in any case. And I don't think I'm the only one.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Most Americans are vaguely familiar with the comment John Lennon made saying that The Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" however, not many have ever read the actual quote:
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me"
The context was an interview by a close friend of The Beatles, Maureen Cleave. The quote and containing article were met with no controversy in the UK when it was published as the question of declining church membership was a relatively benign topic of discussion in their country at that time.
Five months later, however, Texas and Alabama radio stations picked up the story from the cover of a teenybopper magazine called Datebook. This was 1966, and the American South was already a powder keg. A Beatle Boycott went into effect, meaning of course that stations talked about them and the quote incessantly. Records were smashed or burned. Most people are vaguely aware of that part of the story, as well.
One of the things most Americans today are unaware of is the fact that the Klu Klux Klan was heavily involved in this protest.
Part three has an interview with the klan's imperial wizard at the time. 10 points to Gryffendor for noticing him disparaging British Socialism*, and warning that it will naturally lead to cooooooooooommmunism!
Ooga booga, as it were.
If you only have time for one video, watch number three. Two and three have the bits of the controversy most forgotten:
*The United States has very poor long term memory. All of the cries of socialism infiltrating the current political discussion have a direct link back to opposition to the civil rights movement. The fact that it's reaching a fever pitch during the first term of a PotUS who happens to be a person of color is no coincidence.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Her: "My friend who lives across the street is Australian."
Her: "Well, she's not really my friend anymore. She was, but, you know. I'm friendly, I like everybody, but you don't mess with my kids."
That seemed a reasonable position. Being a new mother I've not yet had the experience first hand, but most of my friends with children have retreated from a relationship due to the disregard of some kid-related boundary. The woman to whom I was speaking seems to be very kind from what I know of her. She's quite pleasant about everyone and everything, usually upbeat, and I don't think I've ever heard her genuinely complain about anything. The story she told wasn't at all what I was expecting. She continued:
"Well, my kid would go over there sometimes, and once he was playing a video game with some guy who had on a 'Jesus Rocks' t-shirt. My neighbor starts saying..."
At this point I must note that she broke into a pretty fair fake Aussie accent. I was impressed
"...Ohhhhh, I don't believe in Jeeeeesus like that. I just think he was like Elvis or whatever."
I stared at her blankly for a moment, waiting to hear the rest of the story. I think she noticed my confusion, because she began to elaborate.
"I don't care what people believe, or whatever, but my kids were raised to believe Jesus is Our Lord, and we may not go to church, really, but that's how they were raised and what they believe. My son was very disturbed and came home asking me 'Mom, why would she say that about The Lord?'"
From there she explained that she spoke to her neighbor and requested that such things not be said in front of her son anymore. The neighbor apparently launched into a tirade about how her kid is a giant brat - which isn't really a mature response and seems to be how those kinds of parental interactions go all too often. In reality, it sounds like the friendship ended because the neighbor went on the defensive rather than respecting this woman's boundaries. The boundary she was attempting to establish perplexes me, though.
Being a parent is difficult, and trying to navigate how to introduce the world to your kid can be intimidating. I can understand wanting to limit your child's exposure to things that may upset or disturb them. I plan on limiting my son's exposure to violent imagery, for instance, until he's old enough to process it. The bit that has me flummoxed is the notion that people having different beliefs is somehow disturbing or upsetting. This, to me, seems like a missed opportunity to have a discussion about diversity of belief. There are people in this world who don't believe anything about Jesus at all. A lot of them, in fact. This kid will eventually encounter them, and I'm not entirely sure how this mother will expect him to react when he does.
I'm certainly not advocating this as an opportunity to proselytize either direction as the circumstance was likely inappropriate. From what little information I was given it sounded like the neighbor merely mentioned her point of view in passing. Additionally, my understanding is that the boy is currently in or very close to middle school. I'm not sure how he was even able to avoid the existence of non-christians before this point.
The tendency Bizarro Christians have to want to avoid acknowledging the existence of things they disagree with is, frankly, disrespectful to everyone involved. They home school their children, or send them to private religious schools. They shelter them as much as possible, and then just sort of release them into the world completely unequipped to deal with all of the new and exciting adventures on which they’ll embark. This transition is never a graceful one, and usually results in the sheltered child being traumatized and lashing out at whatever or whomever they encounter that they don’t understand.
This is one of the many reasons young christians give most people the impression that they’re giant douchebags.
This also manifests itself in a much more sinister way. The Bizarro Christian legislators want to simply erase or even violently destroy anything they’re uncomfortable with. Their sights are currently set on – in no particular order - science, women, GLBTQs, Muslims, immigrants (or anyone sort of brownish or who speaks Spanish), the poor, and the sick. They also have their sights set on teachers and unions, but I find that to be an extension of their distaste for science, women, poor people and people of color.
I wish the GLBTQ community could unionize, just to give republicans an aneurysm.
The notion of being “in the world but not of the world” is quite popular among American evangelicals. When I was a teenager, this essentially meant eschewing rock music for incredibly insipid christian facsimiles. What it appears to have become is a desire to separate out everything in the world that could possibly threaten or contradict Bizarro Christianity as a paradigm and then dismiss, ignore or destroy those things.
As much damage as they do, Bizarro Christians cannot destroy the rest of the world – at least, not anytime soon. Hiding from or smashing anything that makes you consider your faith on a more sophisticated level weakens it. This soap-bubble faith that must be protected from the rest of the world at all costs simply won’t survive in the long term. Unfortunately, it’ll do quite a bit of damage in the interim.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
"Are we bringing the service of the Sangha and the church to those who suffer, to those who are discriminated against politically, racially, and economically?
The Buddha accepted women into his Sangha and they became teachers, transmitters of precepts, playing the same roles as the monks. Jesus also taught women freely. The first person Jesus revealed Himself to after His resurrection was a woman. Are we allowing women to be ordained priests and teachers?"-Thich Nhat Hanh
Living Buddha, Living Christ
Friday, March 4, 2011
What really intrigues me starts at about 9:10.
If you do go back and watch the entire video, and you're anything like me, the gum chewer will make your teeth itch with his overwhelmingly snotty attitude. For 9 minutes (excluding cuts to a woman who seems a little more well-meaning, if equally clueless and presumptuous) he condescends to PZ Myers as if he was speaking to a very small child. The irony would be hilarious if this sort of thing weren't so common.
Gum-chewer is an idiot. And he revels in it. He finds his ignorance delicious, and he wraps it around him like a grand cloak, strutting and pontificating for people he obviously perceives to be his lessers. He grows more and more haughty as he throws all of his stock arguments out, hoping desperately one will stick. When none do, he falls back on the "we're not going to convince each other" line. Myers won't allow an easy retreat, however, and calls him out.
"There's a good reason for that, and that's because you're an ignorant fool and I'm an educated scientist."Gum-chewer's waning confidence soars. You can see the "gotcha" moment flash in his eyes as his smirk returns. He's won on the merits of civility. None of his "arguments" worked, but at least he's the better person because he was courteous, polite, civil, and kind. If your opponent stoops to attacks, while you remain calm, you're obviously superior as is your position by extension of your inherent goodness in the face of their boorishness.
And here we are again on planet Bizarro Christian.
It is not courteous to arrive at a gathering to which you've not been invited to protest the very existence of those in attendance. It is not polite to waste people's time by interrupting their day with a display intended to make oneself feel superior. It is not civil to engage, distract, or in some cases attempt to harass people going about their business in order to attempt to derail their lives completely. It is not kind to distribute books containing information stolen from its author, twisted, edited, misrepresented, all to serve an agenda that attacks the original content by presenting a false and warped version of it.
Likewise, what PZ Myers said was not discourteous in the least. Gum-chewer was profoundly ignorant. He was ignorant of the identity of the person with whom he was speaking. He was obviously ignorant of the nature of evolution and its basic precepts. He was ignorant of the most basic concepts foundational to biology. He was ignorant of the ridiculously flimsy nature of the claims he was making. If he was anything other than a fool, those aspects of his personality were not immediately apparent.
What Myers said was simply fact. Gum-chewer was attempting to engage in a conversation he was woefully unprepared for. This man has completely sheltered himself from any of the information necessary to meaningful discussion on the subject he was trying to broach. These protesters inserted themselves into the space of another group of people, demanded attention, and did not even bother to do any preparation in the realm of the subject they want to engage people on.
How is that civility? It is audacity.
And armed with this presumptuousness, these types of protesters go even further and demand that they are listened to with rapt attention, and never challenged. They want to derail people's conversations, daily lives, with the ultimately goal of derailing their very existence, and any resistance is considered rude.
This example is merely a microcosm of something that happens on a much larger scale particularly in the U.S.* As the country attempts to have a discussion about where we should be headed, Bizarro Christians jump up and demand their positions be heard. They then proceed to bring nothing of substance to the table, instead relying on attacks, verbal slight of hand or outright lies to get them through the conversation. When called out for such behavior they hide behind of veil of religious belief as untouchable. You can't have it both ways. Either you're part of the debate and the views you present are open to critical examination, or they're protected from such challenges because they're personal and therefore private - and as such should be removed from the conversation.
I would argue that having ones faith challenged is a good thing for the cultivation of said faith, in any case, but that's a post in its own right.
When my family got together for holiday meals, we generally had a table for the adults, and a table for the children. Often, the kids wanted to sit at the grown up table (until they discovered it was incredibly boring, in any case). This was permitted so long as the child behaved appropriately in that environment. If one of the children sat with the adults and began demanding attention, getting loud, derailing or distracting the conversation the adults were having, or otherwise trying to change the mood at the table from adult-centric to kid-centric, they were promptly removed and placed at the appropriate table. Their behavior wasn't necessarily bad, it was simply inappropriate for that context. They had an environment in which they could act that way, and the grown up table wasn't it.
This is how we should treat Bizarro Christians. They have their kid's table. They can talk about whatever absurd thing they want, bicker, steal from each other's plates, cry about who got more of what, break each other's toys, or even just enjoy each other's company and play quietly amongst themselves. It's up to them, really. But they have their mega-churches, and their radio shows, and their websites, and television stations, and publishing houses, and record companies, and on and on and on. It's not as if their table is small. They take up a lot of space in this country, and they have a lot of room to do whatever is it they want to do. We have no motivation to let them take the skeptic's conventions, science classrooms, and floor of the senate and house as well.
But we let them. Why?
I have no problem with faith informing what people do in their day to day lives. You can't really compartmentalize such a huge part of yourself away. My faith informs the fact that I value rational discourse. It is partially my faith that makes me want to keep explorations of religion out of the political discourse and especially out of the realm of science. Attempting to equate the two disrespects them both.
It is not discourteous to tell a petulant brat that they are being obnoxious, and must behave appropriately if they wish to stay.
*I can't speak to anywhere outside of North America, as I've only visited Australia and Israel, and wasn't either place long enough to get a good bead on the political or religious discourse from anything but an outsider's perspective.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
My brother sent me this image, today. He and I are both huge fans of Ray Bradbury; we both spent a great deal of our childhood buried in his books and short stories.
As an aside, my brother is actually the inspiration for the name of this blog. He currently has several dozen hours worth of tattoos on his person - including an octopus at the lower end of a half sleeve, and a squid on his neck. I often ask him how his cephalopods are doing, and he typically informs me that they're doing wonderfully. He wants to add a nautilus to his collection, and I hold out hope that a cuttlefish will eventually join them.
Cephalopods are neat.
But back to Ray Bradbury and his letter.
When I was young I was enamored with science fiction. The first television shows I remember seeing are the old Adam West Batman series, and the original Star Trek - both in syndication at the time. A few months before my 7th birthday, Star Trek: The Next Generation began to air.
I also read voraciously. I consumed any book I could get my hands on, and before I was out of grade school Nancy Drew and The Babysitters club had already been replaced by 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Sherlock Holmes. Other girls my age read a never ending parade of stories about horses and crushes on boys and hairstyles while I sat quietly in my room reading about aliens, time travel, robots, and super heroes. As my parents became increasingly religious (they were "born again" when I was a few years old) the media I had access to became increasingly limited. Any sort of secular books were replaced with religious stories that were, frankly, completely insipid even if they weren't all about god. No matter the book, the story was: "Good-christian-child has a bible lesson. Good-christian-child does something bratty or obnoxious in a situation that somehow mirrors the previously studied lesson. Something unpleasant happens, like good-christian-child is picked last for something, or the friend they were bratty and obnoxious to stops talking to them, or they just don't get everything they've ever wanted handed to them. Good-christian-child asks adult why bad or unpleasant thing happened. Adult repeats initial bible lesson. Good-christian-child Learns Something, I guess, and does whatever the verse originally said they should. Good-christian-child then gets everything they want." Every childrens/tween/teen book that has ever been released by a christian publishing house is like an episode of Full House if you replace Uncle Jesse and Joey with Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
I could always get away with science fiction, though. I would imagine this was because my dad was a fan - particularly of Star trek. That made me love it all the more. Fantasy began to become more and more closed off to me, as a genre. Magic was satanic, you see.
But science had not yet come under fire (and never really did) in my household. Science became my magic. Daydreams of fairies and unicorns were replaced by aliens and DeLoreans. While other kids were watching he-man and she-ra, my brother and I were often (and inconsistently) limited to things like 3-2-1 Contact, Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard.
All the while the armageddon-rapture-torture-fantasy was gaining momentum in the churches we attended.
While church was telling me we had no future, only misery, destruction, and revenge, science and its strange and wonderful cousin science fiction were telling me that the future would be wondrous.
I'm actually a bit sad that so much of what's popular in science fiction, right now, is dystopian in nature. I honestly long for sci-fi that doesn't take itself quite so seriously, and aims to show us the best side of humanity rather than posing the question who's really the monster, here. The Stargate franchise has grown increasingly dark to keep up with series' such as Battlestar Galactica. You keep your Walking Dead, and I'll enjoy my Doctor Who from the safety of behind-my-couch, thankyouverymuch.
I'd probably feel better about the whole thing if Douglas Adams were still alive.
Back to the point, Bizzaro Christianity has a morbid fascination with despair. Don't live in the now, because the now isn't as important as where you're going, and this is all transitory because the real you isn't this you at all. The future so many of them currently look to, however, will bring horrific suffering and torture for anybody they happen to not like. Wherever they look, it's agonizing or meaningless.
I don't abide it. The you is who you are, and that's a wonderful gift that should never be minimized. Science and progress move us inevitably onward, no matter how much fundamentalists drag their heels and protest. The future will come, and if humanity gets to be there, it will be fantastic. We'll understand so much more than we do now, and we'll have found so many new mysteries to explore.
Fall in Love with the Future.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
As always, this should be uncontroversial.
What I don't really understand - or perhaps more accurately don't agree with - is religious folks' fear of atheism.
When I was younger, probably sometime after high school or perhaps early college, I visited church on an Easter Sunday with my family. Our pastor was of the Veggie Tales Christianity variety, so I quite enjoyed going. Additionally, he was a huge proponent of delving into the context of the passages he covered, and of seeking out alternative sources so help supplement or augment biblical study.
The youth groups at that church were another matter entirely, but those are stories for another day.
It was a sunrise service, which is quite popular in the south where going out before dawn in early April won't result in being frozen to death. I had come down from university for the holiday, and felt terribly groggy. The sermon started with our pastor in somber, almost mournful tones--something very strange for him in general, and for an Easter sermon in specific. He announced news that evidence had been discovered proving the new testament was fabricated. Christ never existed, and there was irrefutable evidence that the gospels were simply made up.
He was really convincing, and I was really tired.
I sat there for a moment, falling for what he was saying. He said it with profound conviction, and I could tell the people around me were starting to get uncomfortable. I'd been learning quite a bit from an Old Testament professor at my university about a lot of the historical context and facts behind the scriptures, so I was already in the mindset to believe that everything was simply made up. I don't remember what metaphor he was trying to construct, or what the lesson might have been. I do remember sitting there, quietly, simply reacting to the information.
The bible wasn't true. It wasn't historical or scientific fact. So what now? What changes, for me?
By this point I'd completely lost track of anything being said in the sermon. I looked down at my bible, stuffed full of old sermon notes, the spine cracked, the cover warped and bent – and with some unidentifiable stain I really can’t place the origin of to this day. I looked around at the well cared for bibles around me. The men typically carried theirs in leather bound cases with zippers, while then women favored soft floral prints. Their copies certainly looked as though they were treated the way a holy book ought to be treated. Mine looked like a textbook the week before finals. I sat in this new reality, and thought “what now?”
And I realized – nothing. Nothing really changed.
I don't mean that I decided to simply ignore any and all evidence. Quite the contrary, I was in a frame of mind that made me accept this new reality as fact almost immediately. So I sat there, and I pondered the implications of this news while the people around me shifted in their seats, fidgeting in their dresses and slacks. The bible is made up, certainly not divinely inspired or infallible. Jesus wasn't the christ and isn't god.
And yet, again, nothing changed.
I shouldn't say nothing changed. Quite a bit changed, on an internal, spiritual level – but that’s a bit private for now. I suppose what I mean is, how would my behavior change? Would I reject the lessons I'd learned from my studies? No, not if they were independently valuable.
And there it is. If what you believe stands up on its own as Good and Truthful, then what threat does atheism pose? Your worldview, the structure by which you live your life, can only be undermined by change if it was vulnerable to begin with. New information should augment the foundation of your perspective, not destroy it or flip it on its head utterly. If reason and evidence cause you to question what you know, this is wonderful. Lashing out at reality only inches you closer to that breaking point in which you’ve distorted it so far beyond recognition that it shatters, and you’re left to try to assemble the pieces. Or, you know, they give you a television show on a certain right wing news network. It depends on whether your twisted reality is marketable, I suppose.
People of faith, I think, need this moment. Whether it leads them to a purely secular worldview, causes them to "convert" to another religion, augments what they believe to basic theism or agnosticism, it's a significant moment. Strip away the authority and look critically at what's left. Take away the strange, inward twisting undercurrent of "it says because it says." What remains valuable based on your experience in the world? What's still standing on the foundation of love, generosity, kindness, acceptance, curiosity, and joy? Hold onto that, whatever it is. Abandon the rest, as it's created a wall between you and whatever relationship with the divine - or lack thereof - connects you to the universe.