Tag Archive: Guest Post

Missing Out on Life, A Guest Post by Ian

guest post

I was listening to some songs from the late 1980s today. One song led to another, and I started looking at top 10 playlists from ‘88 and ‘89. As I was reminiscing about the songs, I got to thinking about how I used to have to sneak around to listen to these songs.

I loved secular pop music and would tape record hours of music at night, using my boom box, so I could listen in private over the next few days. I would also watch MTV when I babysat, or any other chance I got. During the 80s, there was a heavy emphasis on movie music, so movies and music became tied together in my mind. I missed out watching those movies, and didn’t have constant access to the music I liked, so I was always frustrated because I couldn’t get any fulfillment.

I realized, today, that what makes me melancholy about some music videos and movies is there are huge gaps in my experience with “the world.” There were things I loved or wanted to experience so badly, but they were just out of reach; almost like a mirage in the desert. I liked the styles of clothing people wore. They seemed happy, the boy always had a girl, things just seemed right. Even then, I knew that it was just a video, but I always wanted to have these experiences for myself. An example of this is one of my favorite songs, “How Can I Fall?” by Breathe. It features a very stylized game of stickball on the streets of New York, along with two beautiful girls. I first saw that video and thought it would be so cool to experience something like that, knowing that I would never be allowed to hang out on a street corner and would be in trouble if I was caught with a girl. Neither of those things stopped me from wanting the experience, though.

Video Link

I feel cheated because I was not allowed to have the experiences most other teens had. Even the kids in the churches I attended were given way more freedom than I had. They watched movies (on a VCR, because that was so much different from going to the movies), hung out at the mall, wore stylish clothes, and had friends of the opposite sex. Even those church teens had a more normal life than I did. That was what I wanted, too.

I was told that missing out on those things kept me from trouble. Probably so, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. All of the adults, my parents included, lived through the 50s and 60s and enjoyed the normal freedoms children were allowed to have. The restrictions that were placed on me, and all of the Evangelical/IFB teens, from the 70s until now, are rules created by old white men who were pushing back against what they perceived was wrong with society. The rules were set up and enforced so they could keep their power. Those men are no different from the Pharisees that Jesus condemned in the Bible. Outwardly, they seemed holy; inwardly they hated minorities, were whoremongers, adulterers, pedophiles, drunks, and everything else they preached against.

So, now when I listen to the songs from the 80s and early 90s, it is always with a bit of sadness, realizing they represent a time in life when I missed out on many of the things “worldly” youths experienced. And I understand, now, that I missed out because of fearful men who hated anything new.

 

Living Life Through a Lens of Godliness, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

godliness

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I learned that we are supposed to assess everything through the lens of godliness. That means we should discern whether our thoughts, actions, movies or television shows we watch, songs we listen to, articles of clothing we wear, relationships we have, and articles or books we read glorify God or detract from godliness. This is a large task that requires a lot of attention.

Many Christians I knew at my Southern Baptist church or at my Evangelical school went through the motions of religious practice without taking it to extremes, but some people took it quite seriously. I always found it overwhelming to pay the necessary attention to every single aspect of life to determine whether it met the standards of godliness. My grandmother, who had her own library of Christian concordances, history books, and books by Christian apologists, as well as Christian novels, spent large amounts of time trying to live up to what she considered her God’s standards for godliness. Everything was intently scrutinized to determine whether each was godly enough.

Our family loved watching “The Sound of Music” when it was broadcast on TV each year. We could sing along with all the songs, and we all cheered when the naughty nuns stole car parts from the Nazis’ cars so they could not pursue the Von Trapp family as they fled through the mountains to neutral Switzerland. However, one year, my grandmother determined that one of the songs, “Something Good,” taught an ungodly doctrine. This song was sung by Maria and Captain von Trapp after they declared their love for each other. Here are the main lyrics:

“Something Good” by Richard Rodgers

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

First, my grandmother said good things in our lives come through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything we do ourselves. Yes, our actions have consequences, but all good things come from Heaven above. The second issue she had with the song was with the line “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.” In her mind, God created the heavens and earth and all therein from nothing, so therefore everything came from nothing and God made nothing into something. And technically there wasn’t “nothing” because there was God (yeah, I don’t get it either). I must admit, I thought she was nit-picking a fun, wholesome, uplifting movie, but I don’t think she watched it again until she started suffering from dementia.

Grandma believed that God developed hierarchies for us to follow. She believed that wives were under their husbands’ authority; that children were under their parents’ authority; that everyone is under God’s authority. She ran the household this way too, but in a loving way. At one point, we were a four-generation household, with my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my mom, and me. Eventually, my mom married again and moved out, but Grandma adhered to her hierarchy. Grandpa was head of household, so he could do whatever he wanted and was to be catered to at all times. Grandma’s mother was next, as children are commanded to honor their parents, and my great-grandmother’s whims were catered to as well. Technically, I was lowest on the totem pole, but Grandma considered herself God’s servant and put herself in the lowest position, eventually to the detriment of her health.

The hierarchy was amusing with regard to television. My great-grandmother was barely mobile, so using her walker, she would go from her bedroom to the table for breakfast, then to her chair where she watched television all day. (My grandma served my great-grandmother’s meals at her chair on a TV tray.) In the morning was news; then “preaching shows” (typically Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker whom I thought looked like a clown with all the makeup); then “The Price is Right,” followed by noon news and an afternoon of her soap operas; then evening news and a full slate of prime time shows and/or a movie. My great-grandmother controlled what we watched. Grandpa bought another television so he could watch sports or movies in another room. Grandma didn’t approve of a lot of the programming on television, but because she considered herself submissive to Grandpa and to her mother, she rarely said anything. I loved being able to watch movies and shows with the word “damn” or “oh my god” (which Grandma considered blasphemous). Grandpa’s favorite movie was “Patton” with George C. Scott in the lead, and even the edited-for-TV version was unacceptable by Grandma’s standards. The only time Grandma intervened was one day on my great-grandmother’s soap opera there was a male stripper and my great-grandma got a little too excited about it. Grandma said, “That’s it, I’m not having that filth in my house anymore,” whereupon my great-grandmother had a tantrum, hauled herself out of her chair, and took five minutes to go twenty feet down the hall with her walker to her bedroom where she sequestered herself and sulked the rest of the day. About a week later she was allowed to watch television again. Grandma herself didn’t watch much television outside of the news and Billy Graham Crusades, and she only listened to Christian radio talk shows like “The Christian Jew Hour” or shows by pastors such as James Dobson.

Grandma did not believe we should play games with regular playing cards because they were a “tool of gambling.”  She would play Rook because those were not playing cards. She did allow me to play solitaire with a deck of cards, but only because I was not playing with another player and gambling, and because her beloved father had enjoyed solitaire so much when he was alive. We weren’t allowed to play rummy in her house — I had to play it at my mom and stepdad’s house. Grandma wouldn’t allow me to play with dice either, because they were also tools of gambling — so games like Yahtzee and Monopoly were forbidden as well. Grandma never understood that literally ANYTHING could become a tool for gambling.

There were a couple of extremely pious girls who attended my church and school. They could, and often did, judge other people’s words and actions “in love,” “correcting” their peers in their testimony to others. During the 1980s, certain television shows such as “Magnum PI” and “The A-Team” were popular. Mr. T was known for saying, “I pity the fool….” A lot of us kids would quote Mr. T, and the word “fool” became a part of our vocabulary. Of course, one day on the school bus, I said “fool” and one of these lovely girls took it upon herself to let me know that it was ungodly to say “fool” because of this verse:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

What I didn’t consider at the time is that it may have been Wednesday. On Wednesdays, one of the pious girls was required by her family to fast at lunchtime and to give the money her lunch would have cost to charity. So she may have just been hungry.

The pious girls determined that the only music they would listen to included “Beach Boys” songs, classical music, and any music played at our church and school. They were suspicious about the music played on the Christian radio station. It was too “worldly” or “liberal” because drums and electrical instruments were used in some of the songs. Their exclamatory word of choice was “fudge.” My Grandma used to say “I’ll Swanee” as her exclamatory word until one day (who knows how) she determined that saying “I’ll Swanee” was ungodly, as it was a replacement swear word. Thereafter, she stifled any response other than “Oh.” Grandma allowed me to listen to classical music or to gospel music and anything by the Bill Gaither Trio, but all other music was considered ungodly. (Please read Christian Swear Words.)

This level of discernment made me anxious and took up a lot of energy while growing up. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with it all. A lot of it was confusing, and I longed to be free to enjoy life without worrying about every single word, action, or situation being godly enough. When I stayed at my mom and stepdad’s house, there was a lot more freedom of speech and action, but I would have to switch back into high-vigilance mode at my grandparents’ house and at school. It was a relief to let it all go as I moved further away from Evangelical Christianity. Interestingly, as my grandmother succumbed to dementia and no longer remembered all the religious strictures, she became a lot happier, childlike, and fun. There was a lot I missed about her intellectually, but as she became more forgetful, she enjoyed a lot of things again like movies and baseball (we never knew she was an Atlanta Braves fan until she suffered dementia, and I have no idea when or why baseball became ungodly). Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother was a very loving and caring person who did a lot of things to help others (as anonymously as possible), and I loved her dearly, but some of her standards were a lot to handle.

Did the home you grow up in have a code of godliness or what Baptists call “standards”? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Dear Mrs. C, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

prayer in schools

Cartoon by David Horsey

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Mrs. C: Recently, you posted on social media a statement to which I really wanted to respond, but I chose to refrain. Why? Because I know that social media is a poor place to debate political, religious, or social issues, so I remained silent. Your post is as follows: “How to fix America….put Jesus back in all the places you asked Him to leave: Home, School, Government, Church and Your Heart.”

For four years, you were my high school math teacher at a K-12 fundamentalist Christian school. Starting my senior year, you had just retired, yet when your replacement — a former student with a master’s degree in math — could not handle five preparatory classes and quit after six weeks, you came back to finish the school year. In fact, I heard that you continued to teach for fifteen years after your originally planned retirement date. You were committed to teaching students, and I’m sure you could have told us a lot about your religious beliefs had women been allowed to speak in chapel services at school. As it was, all teachers were required to be Christian and to follow certain rules of conduct even outside school (like not going to movie theaters), so there was no doubt that the “witness” of the teachers for Jesus was apparent to students both inside and outside campus boundaries.

With regard to your post, I’m sure that the sentiment makes complete sense to you, living in a suburb of Nashville where the majority of your neighbors identify as some sort of Christian – specifically Evangelical Christian. Sure, you may disagree on finer points of doctrine such as whether musical instruments should be used in worship service, or whether women should wear skirts/dresses to worship services, but I suspect that the vast majority of your neighbors would agree (or at least state that they agree) that Jesus should be present in all aspects of private and public life, and that America is going to hell in a handbasket because the Evangelical God is not a mandatory part of public life.

I would like you to think about other areas of the country, areas which are more diverse in population. For example, I live in a town in New Jersey, just 20 minutes from Manhattan. Our town was settled by mostly Italian Catholic families. As time went on, more and more residents moved in with names like Torres, Patel, Silverstein, and Qureshi. Today, about thirty percent of the town is populated by families with names like Kim, Takahashi, and Chang. While the majority of residents are still Catholic, there is a large demographic of protestant Asians, a smaller demographic of Jewish residents, and a handful of Hindus and Muslims, as well as a few non-religious or atheists like my family. Our elementary school used to start teaching Italian to students beginning in third grade, but parents petitioned the school to begin teaching the arguably more useful Spanish instead. Our school district is made up of seven towns with demographics similar to our town, and we have a large enough Jewish population that the school district is closed on Jewish holidays.

Mrs. C, you speak of bringing Jesus back to the schools, and I assume you mean you would like to see mandatory prayer in the schools. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that mandatory prayers would occur during homeroom, and the prayers are supposed to be prayed to generic “God” and not specifically to Jesus. Under this scenario, Mrs. Shapiro or Mr. Elqariani could lead prayers to a generic “God” and not necessarily feel offended. However, I’m not sure to whom Ms. Patel would pray as Hindus have many gods. Would she just pray to a generic “God” even though her gods have many names? Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe just a generic prayer over the loudspeaker system each morning would suffice. But, I’m not sure that solves your issue of putting Jesus specifically back into schools.

Definitely, I AM overthinking this. Since I’ve been out of Evangelical Christianity for twenty-five years, I almost forgot the number one rule of Fundamentalist l Christianity: that it is imperative to proselytize anyone who doesn’t believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That is, no matter how devout or moral people of another religion or no religion might be, if they have not made a confession of sin and profession of faith in the life, substitutionary atonement of Jesus and his resurrection three days later, they are lost and require evangelistic intervention from believers. Without Jesus, they are destined for eternal torment in hell. I was going through different scenarios where prayers could be given in public schools, thinking of allowing Muslim students to pray to Allah, allowing Buddhist students to offer prayers as they wish, and for Hindu students to pray as their belief allows. But that isn’t what you want, is it, Mrs. C? When you say that Jesus should be put back into schools, that is LITERALLY what you mean. Not that students of other religions should be mandated to pray, either in general or to the deity of their choosing. Not that volunteer imams or priests or rabbis should visit the school and offer prayers. No, those clerics are unsaved or apostates. You believe that the number one priority of Evangelical Christians is to witness to the “lost.” And while you may grudgingly permit those of other faiths to pray in an occasional gesture of ecumenicism, what you really want is your version of Christianity to be the one faith to which everyone is exposed. Most of all, you want public school students to hear prayers to YOUR deity –the Evangelical Christian God.

How about we look at a different scenario, Mrs. C? Let’s say your grandson goes to my district’s high school. He plays soccer and really wants to make the varsity team. He goes to tryouts and notices before practice that most of the boys who were on the team last year are kneeling on prayer rugs and praying to Allah with Mr. Assad, the coach. Your grandson notices this happens every day. He and the other boys really want to be favorably noticed by Mr. Assad in order to secure a spot on the team, so your grandson goes home and asks his parents to buy him a prayer rug. I suspect, Mrs. C, that you would have a fit.

Maybe these questions are part of the reason why judges saw the merit in upholding the establishment clause in our Constitution. Why don’t we leave Jesus where he belongs — in the privacy of your home, heart, and church — and let our public spaces be free of religion.

A Relationship Gone Bad

burning house

A guest post by Ian

Music plays a large part in my life. It is something that evokes my strongest memories and feeling. This morning, I had the song Funhouse, by Pink, running through my head.

Suddenly, the lyrics hit me, and I realized that they were appropriate for those of us who are ex-evangelicals — wherever we are at in the process.

She is singing about a relationship that has gone bad. Our relationship with evangelicalism has gone bad. Maybe not with God or the people we worship with, but with the thought process and constraints of those religious practices.

Now, we are breaking away from the abusive state we were in. We were told we were happy and all was good. Finally, we understand that all was not well.

Here’s the chorus:

This used to be a funhouse 

But now it’s full of evil clowns

It’s time to start the countdown

I’m gonna burn it down, down, down

I’m gonna burn it down

I can think of a lot of evil clowns that I have known through the years. I’ve been working on burning down those constraining walls for several years. I don’t know if they will ever be gone, but they are nowhere near what they used to be.

The song is worth a listen with the thought of getting away from poisonous religion in mind.

Video Link

Jesus’s Own Words Prove God Doesn’t Exist

jesus

A guest post by Neil Robinson. You can read more of Neil’s writing on the Rejecting Jesus blog.

I often feel I’ve run out of thing to say about Christianity, or rather, I think I’ve said all I want to say about it. It’s not much of a challenge to show how insubstantial, inconsistent and spurious religious faith is. None of it actually works, even though Christians, in the face of all the evidence, continue to insist it does.

On his Theological Rationalism blog,  James Bishop smugly tells his readers how he can ‘defeat atheism’ with three questions, chief of which is asking, ‘What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?”’ Although I’ve already responded directly on his blog, for me it would be if any of the promises Jesus made (or was made to make) actually came true in the ‘real world’.

Jesus said that Kingdom of God would descend on the Earth within the lifetime of his original followers, in Luke 21:27-28, 33-34; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34 and here in Matthew 16:27-28:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels… I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.

Did this come true when he said it would?

He claimed that the judgement of the nations and their peoples would immediately follow, with the righteous going on to populate the new Earth while the wicked were sent to eternal punishment:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25.31-46).

Did this?

He promised that whatever his followers pray for in his name, God would grant. No ifs and buts, he would do it. Matthew 17.21, Matthew 21.21-22, John 14.12-14 and here in Mark 11:24:

…if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’

Does this ever happen?

He said that with enough faith, believers would literally be able to move mountains. (Matthew 17.20).

They literally don’t.

He guaranteed that his followers would be able to drink poison and handle serpents with impunity (Mark 16:18).

Those who are stupid enough to take him at his word find they can’t.

He said ‘very truly’ that believers would be able to do even greater miracles than he himself did:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14.12).

Where’s the evidence of this?

The fulfillment of any of these promises would be enough to convince atheists – well, me anyway – that Jesus’ God exists. If those about the Kingdom and judgement had come to pass when Jesus said they would, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. I could still be convinced, however, if his guarantees of miracles and answered prayers regularly came about in the spectacular ways he said they would. The fact is, they never have done and they don’t; the world would be a very different place if they did.

All that the ridiculous claims Jesus makes for his God convince me of is that Jesus himself was, at best, deluded, and at worst, an utter fraud – a traveling salesman who promised the Earth and delivered absolutely nothing. His unfulfilled, empty promises are evidence enough that his God, like all the others, does not exist.

An Unlikely Feminist

guest post

A guest post by ObstacleChick

My grandparents were members of what has been termed “the Greatest Generation”; that generation of people who came of age during World War II. My grandfather was a combat war veteran in the Pacific theater — drafted into the US Army/Air Corps as an 18 year-old. He was newly married to his 16-year-old sweetheart, and their baby was born while he was in boot camp. Because he assaulted his superior officer after his drunken father called saying his baby was going blind (untrue), grandpa was demoted from corporal to private. He was required to serve an extra tour of duty, and was sent overseas early with another unit. His previous unit’s ship was sunk by the Japanese when they were finally deployed, so his bad behavior saved his life.

After the war, grandpa took advantage of the GI Bill, studying electrical and refrigeration in night school. He had only completed 6th grade (he lied and told us all that he completed 8th grade but his Army records stated 6th). Army testing proved that he was intelligent, and he was put into the emerging signal corps with much more educated men. After the war, my grandparents and mother lived in government housing, and they eventually had another child, my uncle. They bought a house, then later bought a bigger house in the suburbs of Nashville.

My grandparents were Southern Baptists, with my grandfather serving as a deacon and my grandmother serving as a Sunday school teacher and Women’s Missionary Union leader. I was never sure how much my grandfather bought into all the religious stuff, though he did implore me to “get saved” when I was about 12 years old. He stated what I later learned as Pascal’s wager when questioned about the existence of heaven and hell. He prayed the blessing over meals and at church, but he never really talked about having a personal relationship with God, and I never saw him reading the Bible. He always found a way to be busy at church during Sunday School, so he rarely sat through a class, but he was generally present for most of the Sunday church service in his deacon capacity. My grandmother, on the other hand, was consumed with studying the Bible and Christianity. She had her own personal library of Bible concordances, study guides, commentaries, Bible history, Bible geography, and Bible archaeology, as well as books by authors like James Dobson, Hal Lindsey, Billy Graham and Christian biographies about Johnny Cash, Corrie Ten Boom, and many others. Living near Nashville, she would travel to the Baptist Book Store to pick up whatever books she needed. Every day, she devoted 2 hours in the afternoon to studying and making lesson plans for women’s Sunday school and Women’s Missionary Union classes. I suspect that her lessons were way beyond the understanding of many of the women she taught due to the thoroughness in her research and planning. I always thought she would have made a great university professor. Although she dropped out of high school in 10th grade due to severe anemia, she earned her GED as an adult (I asked her why she bothered, and she said it was because she wanted to earn her high school degree).

My mother was twice divorced and thrice married. She was a National Merit Semi-Finalist in high school, tied for second in her graduating class of over 300 (she and the other student were required to take a test to determine salutatorian, and because my mom was painfully shy and did not want to make a speech, she threw the test). Her high school counselor suggested she should apply to college. No one in our family had attended college, and she had no idea what to pursue as a career. She always figured she would be a wife and mother like her mother. But she applied to a local university, got a scholarship, and went to college like a good student who always did what was expected of her. Not knowing what she wanted to do, she majored in education. Most young women in 1961 majored in education or nursing — she cared for neither — but given a choice she thought education would be a better option. Without a passion for pursuing a career, she dropped out of college after the first semester of her junior year and got married. She was divorced a year later. Her excellent verbal skills helped her procure a job as a secretary. She married my father who ended up being a selfish and abusive man. When I was 3 years old, my mom left my dad because he threatened her, and we moved in with  my mom’s parents and my great-grandmother. My mom suffered from depression, anxiety, and loneliness for many years. When I was 11, she married my stepdad, and my brother was born a year later. I chose to live with my grandparents, but eventually my mom and stepdad built a house across the street, so I spent time in both houses. I considered my grandparents more like my parents, with my mom and stepdad more like older siblings.

My grandfather’s biggest regret in life was that he did not convince my mother to stay in college, earn her degree, and pursue a career. In his mind, if she had gotten her degree and pursued a career, she would not have ended up a single mom struggling financially. Even in her 3rd marriage, they struggled financially, especially after my stepdad became disabled and could no longer work. Despite his severe pain, though, that man worked hard doing most of the cooking, cleaning, home repair, and yard work. If he couldn’t stand, he would sit on a stool. He worked relentlessly until the day he died.

Because of my mother’s circumstances, my grandfather made it his mission to instill in me that pursuing education and preparing for a career was my number one priority in life. He told me, “Never be dependent on a man.” From the time I was 11 years old, I remember him saying repeatedly that my education came first and that NOTHING should come in the way of that. He did everything he could to facilitate my ability to obtain what he believed was a good education by paying for my private school tuition and piano lessons. While I might argue now that the fundamentalist evangelical Christian school might not have been the best choice, I was admitted to a top secular university despite my lack of knowledge on evolution (the school taught young earth creationism).

His teaching that I should never be dependent on a man was contrary to the teachings of his church. In the 1980s, our church started teaching complementarianism (see previous post: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), offering courses to men and women in the church. My grandmother and mom took the married women’s course, and I took the single women’s course. My grandmother, ever striving to be the most obedient Christian — following her God’s dictates — took on the role of the submissive “helpmeet” wife. My grandfather had no interest in that. He valued my grandmother’s intellect and spirit. My grandmother struggled against what she considered her rebellious nature, but she tried as hard as she could to be a submissive wife. My mom took the course too, but when I asked her why she was not submissive, she said, “We all know that I am smarter than your stepdad so we agreed that I make the decisions.” And that was the end of that.

The concept of complementarianism was one of the major reasons I began my exit from evangelical fundamentalist Christianity. I have never taken well to the notion that women are somehow lesser. As I studied biology and psychology, I found that gender and sexuality are present on a spectrum, not strictly binary. We learn in grade school about XX and XY chromosomes, but in fact, there are X0, XXY, XXX, XYY possibilities as well.

My grandfather lived to see me graduate from college, but died a couple of months later. I think he would be proud of the fact that I married someone who is my partner, and as it so happened I am the primary bread-winner in the family (both of us work).

My grandfather wasn’t someone we would call a feminist by today’s standards, and he might roll over in his grave if he heard me call him a feminist. Indeed, his feminism was situational, based on personal experience. I never asked him if he thought ALL women should never be dependent on men. He still believed women should not serve in combat because (a) he didn’t think most were physically strong enough and (b) he was concerned that female combat troops could be captured by the enemy and raped by their captors. And he wasn’t too keen on homosexuality, but I’m not sure if it was because of his religion or if he just personally didn’t like it. I do know that my grandfather’s brother disowned his son (my grandfather’s nephew) for being gay, but my grandfather would invite his nephew to our house to visit and to provide a place for his sister-in-law to visit her son, as the nephew was not allowed in his parents’ house. But compared to most men of his religion and generation, he was more progressive than his peers. Therefore, oddly enough, I consider my grandfather instrumental in sending me on the path toward feminism.

Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

complementarianism

Cartoon by David Hayward

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Growing up in Evangelical Christianity, both in the Southern Baptist church and at a Christian school, I had a lot of things to learn about what it means to be a good, obedient Christian. We were taught that if we were saved and followed X, Y, and Z rules — God’s plan for our lives — then we would be living the best lives possible. Rebellion against God’s plan for our lives would lead to misery, suffering, and not living up to the potential for which God created us. Most of what I learned between church and school matched up, but what did not exactly match up was the concept of Biblical gender roles.

Looking back, I believe that the administration at the Christian school were careful not to dwell too much on gender roles because their role as a school was to provide students with a good education based on Biblical values and teachings. So other than gender-based dress code and the understanding that only men were called to preach the Word, we were not taught too much about differences between men and women or their approved roles. However, at church it was a different story.

During the 1980s, some of the leadership within our church started to teach Biblical manhood and womanhood seminars. Originally designed for married people to attend, there was a small class for us older teen girls that was taught by my friend’s mother who wanted her daughter to learn proper Biblical roles. My mom and grandma took the Biblical womanhood courses taught for married women. I do not recall if my stepfather and grandpa took the courses (most likely not as neither particularly liked sitting in classes or seminars). I do not even know how much my mom and grandma knew about the courses before they started taking them. Had she known, I’m fairly certain that my mom would have discouraged me from taking the course.

In any case, every Saturday morning, six teenage girls from my church and school sat in my friend’s living room while her mother taught us what it meant to be a Biblical woman. First, we learned that God designed men and women differently outside the obvious physical differences. Men were designed to be analytical thinkers, to rely on data, to desire to solve problems, and to be nearly devoid of emotion (or at least to be able to control emotion — which reminded me of the description of the Vulcans on Star Trek). Men were driven to arousal entirely by visual cues — if they saw an attractive woman, they would desire to touch her. Women, on the other hand, were highly emotionally driven and relied on feelings rather than data or intellect. Women were designed to be nurturers and to desire to bear and take care of children. Whereas men were visually aroused, women were only aroused by physical touch. Therefore, it was important for women not to do anything to draw undue or unnecessary attention to their physical appearances in order to prevent men from wanting to touch them.

From there, we moved into all the Bible verses that supported the notion that children are supposed to be submissive to all adults; that wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands; that husbands are supposed to be submissive to the church; and that the church is supposed to be submissive to Jesus. This hierarchy is God’s perfect and holy plan for humans, given to them so that they may live fulfilling and happy lives in service to him. We were taught that rebellion to God’s plan would lead to an unhappy home life, full of strife and displeasing to God. And husbands who did not live in perfect submission to the church would be putting their families in jeopardy by not providing the God-approved spiritual leadership that they were required to provide. While wives were required to submit their will to that of their husbands, it was only suggested to men that they could listen to their wives and love them if they so chose.

We young women were taught that feelings of rebellion against this perfect plan from God was a sign of sin in our lives, and that we should pray and read the Bible in order to purge these wicked thoughts from our lives. It was reiterated that the only way we could be happy in life was to submit our will to that of our husbands because we were not designed to be able to make big decisions for our families. Only our husbands were designed to make decisions because they thought logically and analytically and weren’t swayed by emotion or hysteria. (Our silly little women’s brains were flooded with pesky hormones and emotions, drowning out any analytical or logic-based skills we may have had, though it was doubtful that we had any).

I literally felt nauseous hearing all this. Rebellion rose up within me like bile, a sign that I was not right with God, a sign that Satan was drawing me away from God’s perfect plan. Obviously, there was something seriously wrong with me because I excelled at mathematics and science, I was drawn to maps and navigation, and I rarely exhibited emotions. I suppose it was possible that all the boys in my grade were underperforming and not living up to God’s standards, but facts showed that I was the top math and science student in my grade (the top student in every subject, in fact). Knowing that there was something wrong with me (it’s sad that my first thought was that there was something wrong with me, not that the religious concept was wrong), I swore at age 18 as a senior in high school that I would never marry. I knew I would never be able to submit my will to that of another, regardless of how intelligent or godly or anything else he was.

My grandma, always striving to follow her deity’s will to the best of her ability, implemented this complementarian doctrine into her marriage. My grandpa wanted nothing to do with it, and occasionally I would hear grandma say, “well, I have to submit to my husband” when we all knew she wanted to speak up but withheld her opinion. Grandpa had to start going to great lengths to encourage Grandma to give her honest opinion. He was drawn to her for her intellect and spirit, so I think it was difficult to see her suddenly struggling to turn off those traits about her that he loved. I don’t know how they eventually worked it out as I moved away to college soon after, but they seemed to find a way to manage so that she could still serve her deity and he could still have the woman he fell in love with. (I’ll write about my grandfather’s feminist tendencies another time).

My mom and stepdad never followed the complementarian roles. My mom was by far my stepdad’s intellectual superior, and they had determined that they would discuss big decisions, but in the end, my mom would make the decisions.

Science shows us gender and sexuality are on a spectrum, not strictly binary. While most people carry XX or XY chromosomes, there are people who are XO, XXX, XXY, or XYY. I can only surmise that Evangelical Christians would say that these people should adopt the gender shown by their external sex organs and that they must only practice married sex with someone with the opposite external sex organs. And if the union does not bless them with children, then that is due to the problem of sin in the world. Perhaps their sect allows adoption; in any case, they should pray and seek God’s will in the situation.

During college, I moved further from Evangelical Christianity and was able to expand my world view. In the end, I found a man who was looking for a partner, not a submissive wife, and we have a good relationship. We are both analytical and logical thinkers, and oddly enough, he is more emotional than I am. Whenever we watch a sad movie, the joke from our kids is “how many times did Dad cry?” I had put a lot of this complementarian drivel out of my mind for many years, but it started coming up again with Josh Duggar scandal, Roy Moore, and people from my past posting complementarian ideas on social media. Recently, I told my husband about my experience learning these Biblical manhood and womanhood roles. He was uncharacteristically silent for a moment and looked at me like I had two heads, then in his true sarcastic fashion, he said, “Well, then, woman, submit and go make me a sandwich and bring me a beer!” I told him where he could shove the sandwich and beer.

Clinging to Hope

jesus knocking on the doorA guest post by ObstacleChick

Humans can have great capacity for hope. The noun definition of hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.” The verb definition is to “want something to happen or be the case.” It is normal for people to desire better outcomes if things are not going well in their lives. Often people will go to extreme measures “hoping” for something good to happen. They may donate money to a religion or charity hoping that their deity will look kindly upon them and act in their favor (a modern-day version of offering a sacrifice). Some people with diseases may resort to alternative medicine, some of which may help and some of which may not help and perhaps may cause harm. People living in poverty can fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes, or they may squander money on lottery tickets hoping to hit the jackpot.

My mother was an extremely intelligent woman, born right before women started fighting for equal rights. My mom thought she had to become a homemaker, even though she was not really suited for that. As she was a National Merit Semi-Finalist in high school and 3rd in her high school graduating class, her guidance counselor suggested she should go to college. Being the passive, obedient girl that she was, she applied to a local university and attended for 5 semesters before dropping out to get married. Her marriage lasted a year, and she found herself with no degree and no real marketable skills. She could type well, was intelligent, and had good grammar, so she became a secretary. My mom then married an abusive man who did not want children, had a child (me), and was divorced not long after. With a dependent and no child support (as my father disappeared), my mom and I moved into her parents’ house. My mom was severely depressed but knew she needed to work to support us, so she went back to being a secretary. When I was 11 years old, she married my stepfather, who was also divorced. A year later, they had a child, and the rest of their lives they struggled financially.

After my mother’s second divorce, she started attending church at her parents’ Southern Baptist church. I suppose she was searching for several things – for friends, for comfort after a difficult divorce, for direction in where her life should go next, for meaning, for hope. My mom was at the time the only unattached divorced person attending our church regularly, and it was only when she married again several years later and brought her new husband to church that she was embraced more fully in the church community. Divorced women are often looked at as a threat by married religious women, as if the “depraved” divorced woman is so desperate for male attention that she is going to prey on all the good and decent Christian husbands.

My grandparents were firmly entrenched in the church – my grandfather as a deacon (at one point, chairman of the deacons) and my grandmother as a Sunday school teacher and Women’s Missionary Union teacher. My mom tried teaching children’s Sunday School one year, but she wasn’t really suited for that task. After she remarried, she brought my nominally Lutheran-raised stepfather to church.  After he was baptized (because apparently Lutheran baptism isn’t good enough), it didn’t take long for the church leadership to recruit him as an usher (because as a divorced man he could not serve as a deacon). My stepdad was a mild, quiet, and sweet man who was well-liked.

My mom and stepdad moved to a different community in the early 1990s and away from the Southern Baptist church they had attended. My grandfather had passed away, and my grandmother was no longer attending that church after she got “fired” from teaching Sunday school (that’s a story for another day). So they shopped around for another church. After trying out a couple of different churches, they finally settled on a small Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. When I visited them for the holidays and attended their church, I asked my mom, “What are you doing attending an Independent Baptist church with all its legalism?” She said they liked the people, and I couldn’t really argue with her. Most of the people in the church were uneducated farmers, nice folks who loved Jesus and took to heart what the preacher said. It made me sad to see my mom and stepdad fall further down the hole into bigoted teachings, but there was nothing I could do. They had found the hope and community they craved. After a few arguments about homosexuals, in which my mom and I were on opposite sides of the fence, we decided not to discuss much in the way of religion anymore. I also tried to avoid political conversations as she believed that God only approved of Republican pro-life candidates and that while Democrats may be “saved,” they were for sure misguided. My husband and I attended a progressive Christian church for a while before giving up religion altogether and becoming agnostic atheists. Living over 1,000 miles from me, my mom wasn’t sure if we were participating in religion or not, but I think she suspected that we weren’t.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and went through radiation and surgery. She was cancer-free until 2009 when she was diagnosed with a recurrence just weeks before her own mother passed away from Alzheimer’s. After Grandma passed, my mom had a mastectomy, lymphadenectomy and chemotherapy treatment. My mom suffered from lymphadema in her left arm as a result of the lymphadenectomy, and she wasn’t consistent with her physical therapy — it was a nuisance and she didn’t want to be bothered. A couple of years later the cancer came back at her scar site, so doctors ramped up her chemotherapy. She got sicker and sicker with more and more side effects from the chemotherapy. But to her credit, she did continue to participate in the hobbies of jewelry-making and crocheting until just a few months before she died. She also sank deeper and deeper into religion, focusing on eschatology and study of what I can only describe as “Holy Land” Christianity. She became obsessed with what was going on in the Middle East, particularly surrounding Israel, and she watched a lot of Bible prophecy preachers. Like many other Christians, she was convinced that we were living in the “last days” before the coming of Christ. I guess that gave her some hope that she might be raptured away before succumbing to cancer.

My mom and I used to email a lot, which worked well for us because I could skip over the religious topics and respond to the actual events that were happening in her life. This particular entry below annoyed me though — it was written in January and she passed away in mid-November:

January 27, 2014: An odd thing happened today.  I was watching a Perry Stone program this afternoon.  He is a Bible scholar, writes books, has a TV program, and a large ministry in Cleveland, TN.  One or both of his parents were part Cherokee.  His father was a minister.  I have been watching Perry on and off and reading his books and watching videos by him for many years.  I just happened to cut his program on TV while he was teaching.  He broke into his program and said he had a message for someone.  He said this is something he rarely ever does (I’ve never seen him do that before).  He said there was a grandparent with cancer who wanted to live long enough to have some time to spend with their grandchildren and their daughter was pregnant.  He said that the health of that grandparent would get better and they would live longer.  I think he said the cancer would be healed, but I’m not sure about that.  Well, for several years I have prayed that I would keep living for awhile because I wanted to have time to be a good grandparent to my grandchildren.  I’ve been too sick to do much for them lately.  I wonder if, and hope that, he was talking about me.  One never knows.  God works in unusual ways sometimes.  I’ve been thinking lately about all 4 of my grandchildren.  I hope that each of them will be saved before I pass away. _______ [my brother]  was about 7, _______ [me] was 9, I think, and I [my mother]  was around 11 when each of us made some decision about Jesus.  We may not have much time left to make this decision.  Many people, both Christians and Jews, believe our time is short and the Messiah will come soon.  If one has done any studying about this and has been paying attention to world events, it is easy to come to that conclusion.

(For the record, I was 12 when I “made a profession of faith” and was baptized. My family had been pestering me and pestering me to “get right with God,” and I’m a personality who does not respond well to being told what to do, so I dug in my heels and wouldn’t do it. I also didn’t see why it had to be a public matter – shouldn’t it be between you and God/Jesus/Holy Spirit? But finally I couldn’t take the pestering anymore so I chose a date and went down front during the altar call to get it over and done. It was a relief to be left alone about the subject.)

First, I see that she was still clinging to hope that maybe, just maybe, God would cure her of cancer or at least let her live longer. Second, she was clinging to hope that all of her grandchildren would be “saved,” ostensibly so she could see them again in heaven. And third, she was hopeful that the Messiah would come soon (perhaps sparing her from suffering from cancer any longer but still with the positive outcome that she and all her “saved” family would meet in heaven).

As for whether we were all saved, it depends on which brand of Christian you ask. I was raised Southern Baptist and my husband was raised nominally Catholic, meaning that he was baptized as a baby and went through first communion, but nothing else. So per Catholic standards, both he and I would be “saved” because he was baptized in Catholic Church and I was baptized in a Baptist church which is on the approved list of Catholic-approved Protestant baptisms. By most Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist standards, I was “saved” because of the “once saved always saved” rule but my husband was not. By no one’s standards are my children “saved” because they have never been baptized and do not believe in deities of any sort. My children are thankful not to have spent hours in religious education as many of their friends have, and they see religion as a waste of time. As my 15-year-old son says, when his friends ask about his religious proclivities, “we aren’t doing religion right now.”

My brother, his wife, and his 9- and 10-year-old sons fit into the “saved” category, having all made their “profession of faith” and being baptized (though my brother baptized his boys in the bathtub because he hasn’t found a church that he agrees with yet). I’m not sure if bathtub baptism by a layperson counts . . . but he’s comfortable with it, and as he is very into the angry Old Testament god, the grace of Jesus, first century Christianity (whatever he thinks that is), and eschatology, I guess he has done his research. He doesn’t know that we are atheists, and I’m afraid that knowledge would irreparably damage our relationship.

So how did I answer my mother’s query about our salvation? I merely answered that we were fine and that she shouldn’t worry about it. Really, all she wanted was the hope that she would see her grandchildren again in heaven one day.

What Evangelical Christianity Taught Me About Homosexuality

phil robertson aids

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Reading Bruce’s recent post titled Evangelicals Say They Love LGBTQ People, But do They Really? made me start thinking about my experiences as a former evangelical Christian as well as my conversations with people whom I know are still in that community.

Most of us probably know someone in the LGBTQ community. Even fundamentalist evangelicals probably know someone, perhaps at work or at school, or perhaps even someone in their church who is struggling with how to reconcile the teachings of their religion with their true sexual identity. Evangelicals pay a lot of attention to other people’s sex lives, and there are rules surrounding “proper” expression of sexual activity. Basically, here are the rules – sex is only to be practiced between a married man and woman (and some sects teach that it is only for the purpose of reproduction). Everything outside that narrow definition is a sin, a choice, and forbidden. (Please read, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?.)

Here are specific statements I learned while I was in evangelical Christianity.

Being gay is a result of a homosexual male molesting an underage boy. This was a common theme I heard, that boys were molested by homosexual men and then the boys would “turn gay” through learned behavior. The concept was that the boys would not have become gay on their own, but because they were forced to engage in homosexual acts with an adult male, then they started to like it or thought it was normal and continued engaging in homosexual activity throughout their lives.

This concept is wrong on so many levels. First, of course, is the concept that homosexual males are all pedophiles seeking out converts. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I remember the evangelical adults having quite an uproar over the group NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association). Evangelical adults believed that the existence and activity of NAMBLA proved that homosexual men were preying on people’s young sons in order to convert them to homosexuality. In fact, NAMBLA was a fringe homosexual group that was denounced by the majority of the homosexual community, and it later disbanded in the mid-1990s.

Another reason this concept is wrong is that it assumes that homosexuality is merely a learned behavior. There is no acknowledgement that people are born homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual or anywhere on the evangelical sexual spectrum.

Homosexuality is a choice. I heard a lot of evangelical people talking about homosexuality as a choice – that people choose whether they are going to be gay or straight. Their thought was that people were tempted to try sex with someone of the same gender, and that the sin clouded their vision of “God’s plan” for human sex. If someone were truly repentant of their sin of homosexuality and prayed for God’s forgiveness and guidance, then they could overcome the desire to have sex with someone of the same gender – in essence, “praying away the gay.”

Homosexuals should remain celibate for life. For the few evangelicals who might concede that maybe homosexuals were born that way (not because God made a mistake, but because something went wrong during gestation to cause someone to be born with gay tendencies), homosexuals should never have sex. I suppose this makes sense if your belief is that God only approves of sex between a married man and woman (for the purpose of reproduction); then all other sex is sin. This concept made it a little more palatable for Christians to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” As long as the person wasn’t having sex, then the Christians could pretend that he wasn’t really gay after all. And maybe God was curing homosexuals of their sinful, lustful desires.

(I had a huge argument with my mother about this one time. She became more involved in evangelical Christianity as she grew older, and she bought into the idea that homosexuality was a sin and an abomination. She believed, as her Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church taught, that homosexuals should remain celibate through life. She also had a problem with the idea that homosexuals were born that way. Our fight occurred when she said these things, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked her if she liked men or women, and she said, “you know I like men.” I asked her what if she was told that her liking men was a sin, that God ordained that she should like women. She said, “I would never like women.” I reaffirmed that in our hypothetical scenario liking men was a sin, so what was she supposed to do, as God ordained that she could only have God-approved sex with women, and she said, “Well, I don’t know.” I asked her if she thought it was right that because she liked men, and God did not approve of her having sex with men, if that meant that she MUST remain celibate for life? She got flustered and kept repeating that homosexuality is a sin. She did not like this argument, and she never brought up homosexuality again).

Lesbians were rarely, if ever, mentioned. I only heard evangelical Christians talking about homosexual men. I don’t know if it was just that they did not want to acknowledge that lesbians existed. Most white cisgendered heterosexual males I know find woman-on-woman sex tremendously arousing, so maybe these repressed evangelical Christian men secretly hoped to encounter women having sex with each other. Maybe they didn’t consider it “real sex” because a penis wasn’t involved. Maybe they just thought women didn’t have sex drives so therefore lesbian sex doesn’t actually happen except in pornography. Maybe evangelical Christian males only felt threatened by homosexual men because they feared being lusted after by homosexual men. I don’t have the answer to this question.

HIV and AIDS are God’s punishment for homosexual activity. While most people were careful not to necessarily utter this comment so succinctly, many evangelicals would dance around this idea. They would try to couch it in terms of “bad consequences can happen as a result of sin.” I heard many people say that they would not donate money towards HIV/AIDS research because they didn’t want to promote more homosexual activity. This is the same type of faulty reasoning in which parents do not want sexual education in schools because teaching kids about sex and sexual safety would promote kids having sex. But what can be expected from people who believe that all sex outside married sex between a man and woman (for the purpose of procreation) is sin? To them, participating in sex outside that strict parameter is sin, and sin has dire consequences (for the wages of sin is death – Romans 6:23). In their minds, it all makes sense: sin = death.

My experience is that people who aren’t bound by any religious exhortations about sexuality get to know people as individuals and are only concerned about the person’s sexuality if there is some sort of attraction between the parties involved. It seems that the people most concerned with other people’s sexual orientation are the ones bound by their religion’s rules. When I went to college and was shedding evangelical Christianity, I became friends with several homosexual men. One friend was the son of a Baptist minister, and his father cut him off until he “stopped being gay” (which of course never happened). Another friend came out during our friendship, and he said that he was afraid which friends were going to accept him and which were going to condemn him. Through the years, I have befriended many gay people, both male and female, and I work in the fragrance industry which draws a higher percentage of gay employees than some other industries do. People are just people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Everyone wants to be loved and to find someone to love.

One of my gay friends put it well. He said, “I would never have chosen to be gay, it’s just who I am. Growing up in an era in which gay people suffered discrimination, were called horrible names, told that we were making a choice or that we were automatic pedophiles, that we were thrusting our “lifestyle” on others, that we were breaking down the concept of the nuclear family or of moral society, why would I have ever chosen this?”

Christopher Hitchens, My Son and a Story

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Guest post by Logan.  You can read his blog at Life After 40: Reflections on Life and Faith After 40.

I heard today that Christopher Hitchens died on this date [December 16] back in 2011. I was technically still a Christian at that time. But today, I am very grateful for the impact that Hitchens made on me, my oldest son and the world. He is missed.

With this being an anniversary of sorts, I thought I’d share a little story that involves Christopher Hitchens, my son and the start of my journey.

The year was 2009. I discovered that my oldest son had bought and read Hitchens’ book entitled God is Not Great. As a Christian, I was offended. “What!? How dare this man write a book with such a title!” I also certainly didn’t like the notion that “religion poisons everything”.

After discovering the book in my son’s room, I lightly skimmed it but I was literally too scared to seriously read it. I feared for my soul and the potential influence of the book.

So what did I do?

Using a poor attempt at humor, I printed up a fake book cover entitled “Atheism, And the Morons who believe it” with a fictional author name of “I.B. Wright”. I put the fake cover over a Scott Adams’ book (probably a Dilbert book).*

I wrote something stupid on the back page cover too, a feeble attempt to support my revised book title. I left my creative work in my son’s room for him to admire.

So what happened?

My son took a picture of my handiwork and posted it to the atheism group on reddit.

atheism morons who believe it

His post got over 1000 points, which in the Reddit world, is quite a lot. I didn’t know about the Reddit posting for quite a while, but after discovering it and reading through the comments, I was skewered. Severely. And rightly so.

The text I put on my back cover said: “In Mr. Wright’s latest book, I.B. shows that God is truly good and that through His son, Jesus, the world was rocked by a mere three years of ministry that culminated in Christ rising from the dead, which skeptics have been unable to disprove or rationally dispute.”

I look back on all of this with embarrassment. Unfortunately, indoctrination shuts off critical thinking, and I was very indoctrinated during my early years. I’m just grateful now that my son didn’t hide his change in beliefs and that eventually, I broke the spell. And as Christopher Hitchens said so well, religion poisons everything.

Tonight I will raise a glass to the late Hitchens.

* It was ironic for me to use a Scott Adams book since Mr. Adams is an atheist (which I didn’t realize at the time).

Why Can’t the Clergy Keep Their Noses Out of Our Genitalia?

guest post

Guest post by Elliot George

Religious people often seem to be unhealthily fixated on sex and have a desire to interfere with how everybody else does it! This prompts lots of questions that need answering: Why is virginity so highly prized?

Why is celibacy considered to be ‘pure’?

Why is masturbation considered to be shameful?

Why is homosexuality abhorred?

Why are women treated like second-class citizens?

Why do we have marriage?

Why is infidelity (adultery) unacceptable?

Why is divorce considered to be unacceptable?

What has any of this got to do with ‘god’ and his Earthly agents?

This is going to take more than one article to analyze and there’s little real evidence available to help us answer these questions so, unusually for this blog, what follows will be mostly reasonable speculation. Let’s start with virginity…

There is a very good biological reason to prefer having sex with a virgin, it is this: minimal risk of infection by a sexually transmitted disease. The opposite of virginity, promiscuity, is great for spreading pathogens via the sexual fluids. Historically, the clients of prostitutes could be observed falling ill with the same symptoms, so this undeniable correspondence is likely to have given rise to, in the minds of those who knew nothing about microbial infection, the idea of ‘virginal purity’ or ‘cleanliness’. Similarly, celibacy also safeguards against venereal diseases and could be considered to be another way of achieving a ‘clean’ state, at the cost of not parenting. By corollary, sexual acts came to be thought of as ‘unclean’ and, because everyone was ignorant of the fact that these diseases have to be transmitted, that included masturbation; it became tarred with the ‘dirty’ brush even though you can’t catch a disease from yourself!

Sex coming to be regarded as shameful in this way was a gift for the assorted clergy because their modus operandi consists of first destroying the self-esteem of prospective followers and subsequently offering them forgiveness and salvation, in the form of an ‘afterlife’, in return for donations (payment). Of course, there is no evidence for the promised reward (or the threatened alternative of punishment in ‘hell’), but it was wonderful for preachers to have a ready-made guilt button to press any time they wanted to make their flock subservient! There’s a seemingly obvious connection from ‘clean’ sex to ‘godliness’ and virtue, and it gives a preacher a perennial topic to rant about.

One of the reasons for the decline of religiosity in Western countries over the last fifty years may be because the availability of condoms for preventing contagion and effective antibiotic cures for contracted STDs have taken this weapon away from the priests and pastors. With nothing to fear, the guilt goes away and the message of shame loses its teeth. One of the things that the clergy traditionally told us we needed saving from turned out to have been a paper tiger, so people came to reasonably wonder whether all the other pulpit monsters are fake too!

In the minds of dogmatic seekers of purity, homosexuality adds another level of disgust on top of heterosexual unions. Being a minority practice it’s an easy target for the self-righteous and we all love a scapegoat. Homosexuals have been held responsible for all the disasters of society including drought, war, plague, famine, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami and flood. How they are supposed to have caused those events is a question that is not even asked. Recently, a preacher in Phoenix, Arizona [IFB pastor Steven Anderson] laid the blame for AIDs at the feet of gay men and advocated that they should all be killed before Christmas! This is not fake news – there is video evidence, see here.

Yet, the most homophobic preachers are constantly being exposed in flagrante with young boys and the outbreak of priestly pedophilia has changed the face of, once fervently Catholic, Eire (S. Ireland) to such an extent they have elected an openly gay Prime Minister!

Is the sexual fixation of theists finally turning into their nemesis?

Does Praying for the Sick and Dying Make Any Difference?

Guest post by ObstacleChick

All the tremendous beauty that exists in the world is juxtaposed against the existence of suffering and pain. Most of us experience some degree of suffering and pain during our lifetime, whether it is illness, injustice, or the death of a loved one. But I believe most people would agree that the most horrific suffering is that endured by a child. Most of us desire to help someone whom we see as inherently innocent such as an infant or child, or an animal, or someone who suffers from mental or physical challenges. While we feel empathy for an older person who has cancer, we generally believe that an older person has had the opportunity to live a good life, to experience some of the beauty in the world, to have long relationships with loved ones. But when we hear of something terrible befalling someone quite young, most of us feel an innate desire to protect and to “fix” the situation affecting the young. Most likely this desire stems from an evolutionary construct to preserve our species by ensuring the survival of the young to reach reproductive viability. Most parents will do almost anything to save their young, even to the point of sacrificing themselves, and even those not directly connected to a child often will go out of their way to save a child in danger.

About 8 months ago, a 7-year-old girl in my town was on vacation with her family when she fell ill. After examination at a local medical facility, she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), which means that an aggressive, inoperable tumor was growing through her brain stem. Treatment can include radiation and chemotherapy, but surgery is generally impossible due to the invasive nature of the disease. The five-year survival rate is less than 1%, with most patients dying within months of diagnosis. Most patients diagnosed with this disease are children, and DIPG is one of the most devastating pediatric cancers.

People in our town and surrounding communities banded together to raise money for this little girl’s treatment. There were fundraisers conducted at local gyms and restaurants, and many local businesses and individuals donated money for treatment. Students at the local elementary school where she attended and at the middle school and high school where her siblings attended held their own fundraisers. Over $130,000 was raised for this family. Hardly a day would go by without someone posting on social media to pray for this family, to donate to the family, to help in some way. Even celebrities in politics, entertainment, and news media lent their names to support her cause. Yet sadly, eight months after her initial diagnosis, she passed away.

Our community is comprised primarily of people who attend the local Catholic church. Many of my kids’ friends attended CCD and went through their first communions and confirmations like good Catholic children do. Sports schedules in our community are designed around CCD times, and the local Catholic priest is often present at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. This little girl’s family were members of the local Catholic church so presumably the priest and congregants were diligent in their prayers for her cure. Yet she still passed away within months of her diagnosis.

Christians are taught to pray to God for help. “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7-8); “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” John 14:13-14. These verses, in addition to others, make it patently clear that God will grant the requests of those who ask for assistance in Jesus’ name. With all the prayers for this sweet, innocent little girl to be healed of her disease, how is it that she succumbed to the ravages of this terrible illness?

As an agnostic atheist, I believe that there is no god and that prayers will do nothing beyond making the one who is praying feel as if they are acting on behalf of the sick child. From a theoretical standpoint, though, if there is a god, what does it say about him/her that, even though many in the community were praying for this child, he/she allowed this innocent child to suffer and die? Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

God is a liar: as stated above, there are multiple verses stating that god will grant requests to those who ask in the name of Jesus. Assuming the supplicants are asking in the name of Jesus – and one would assume that at least the Catholic priest would know how to do that properly – then not healing this child shows that god does not grant requests and that his/her promises are empty at best.

God is uncaring: the vast majority of people feel a desire to ease the suffering of those in need, especially the suffering of children. “Heartbroken” is literally how most people feel when they hear of the plight of an innocent child. If even a fallible human (in Christian terms, that is) can feel heartbroken, how then can a supposedly loving, caring god not feel the same and want to take action?

God is not omnipotent: perhaps god is not a liar and is not uncaring, but perhaps he/she is not capable of healing a child from an aggressive disease. Then he/she is not the omnipotent god that Christians tout.

The Christian god is not the “correct” god: here we can postulate that perhaps Christians are praying to the wrong god and that the god does not want to answer prayers that are not directed to him/her correctly (which makes the god a real jerk if you ask me). What if the god is Zeus, and he wants to be recognized as Zeus? What if there are multiple gods and they are debating which, if any, should help the child? The Old Testament states that god is a jealous god, so perhaps whatever god exists really is a jealous god that wants to be addressed in the proper way and that Christians have not approached the real god correctly? Maybe people should pray to each individual god who has ever been recorded throughout history in order to hedge their bets. And perhaps they must pray to an additional god that is yet to be named, praying in proper supplication and repentance for not getting his/her name right and asking for insight. (Personally, this concept makes my head hurt – it would take hours of research to write down every god that has been recorded by humans and then additional hours praying to each individual god – but I suppose if one believes that someone’s life is on the line, that is a small price to pay in order to get it right).

There is sin in the hearts of those praying: some fundamentalist Christians would believe that of the hundreds of people ostensibly praying for this child that there is not even one whose prayers god can or will hear. This seems to go back to either “god is a liar” or “god is uncaring”.

God is just: we hear this a lot from evangelical Christians, but I am not sure how it applies in this situation. Perhaps because the child was born in original sin? But is a 7-year-old at the age of accountability? Perhaps the parents have not approached god correctly or asked for repentance of sins?

God wanted another “angel” in heaven with him: a few people posted this on social media in response to the girl’s death. To me, this just seems like a cop-out and sign of an uncaring god – that god is so selfish that he/she ends a promising life and causes pain and suffering to those who love her because he/she just has to have this particular person in heaven and can’t wait a few decades for nature to run its course.

God took her “home” to prevent something worse that he foresaw happening in the future: another cop-out speculation related to the one above. Bad things happen to people, and theoretically a caring, omniscient, omnipotent god could correct those situations.

God created the earth and all therein but stays hands-off thereafter: if this is the case, then all the Biblical stories of god directly intervening in the affairs of humans and of the earth just that – stories. If god is actually hands-off, then no sins of action, speech, or thought would be punished and people would be allowed to live as they wish.

Humans cannot understand the mysteries/plans/designs of god: given that we have a Bible that supposedly explains god in all his/her aspects, we should be able to understand god’s capabilities and desires most clearly. The fact that even the most learned pastors and scholars still cannot agree on these basic precepts shows that god is at best a bad communicator. The comment that humans can’t understand god always seemed like a cop-out answer.

There is no god: this seems the most plausible explanation to me. If indeed there existed a benevolent, caring, loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity, then it stands to reason that this deity would feel compelled as humans feel compelled to act on behalf of the weakest and most innocent among us. As such, the deity would step in to heal sick children, to protect children from abuse, to protect them from natural disasters. But this is not what happens. Every day we hear of children who are abused, sometimes to the point of death, children who suffer and die from terrible diseases, children who starve to death, children who are killed in disasters, and children who are murdered. Just read Bruce’s Black Collar Crime series for a myriad concrete examples.

But the majority of humans like to believe that there is a benevolent, caring, loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity who might possibly hear our prayers and act to change things in the world. They can feel like all their prayers actually may accomplish something. While I applaud those who do believe in a powerful deity and who roll up their own sleeves to help their fellow humans, it seems that most religious people would rather rely on their prayers to their deity in the hopes of solving the ills of the world. And that is sad. This girl’s family wrote in her obituary: “Our love and thoughts of you will forever light up our lives as we look forward to being joined with you again in eternity with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven.” While I do not believe this, who am I to divest others of their hope in an afterlife? May her family find peace in their memories of this beautiful little girl.