Here is a podcast I helped put together with some of my friends. Check it out if you want. 🙂Read More
For this week’s Sunday Blasphemy, I’m going to step away from religion and go in an entirely different direction. This is something that has been on my mind for a while ever since I heard the news from Ferguson, MO in 2014. Then I started noticing all the other news stories about the shootings by cops of other unarmed black people.
Especially since the last presidential election I have gotten a burning desire to read more about the history of race and class in America and get some fucking context for what’s going on. I read “White Trash: A 400 Year Untold History of Class in America” and learned (among many other things) how after the Civil War policies were enacted to make sure that whiteness in and of itself was a badge of status. For a poor white person, it meant that even if you had nothing you were still considered better than a black person. I also found a book called “Life Behind a Veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, 1865-1930” while browsing the library stacks. In the first couple chapters (as far as I’ve read at this point) I’ve learned about things like how blacks migrating to Louisville in search for a better life were required to live in designated neighborhoods only, and actively denied the opportunities to live in middle and upper-class white neighborhoods because of legal housing discrimination. And it had nothing to do with ability to pay. Policies about racial were simply set up in a way to favor the idea that white were superior and that blacks would do well if they only did what white people told them.
These are all things that I never learned in history classes when I was in school, and things I never saw (or noticed) because they didn’t happen in my neighborhoods. I was always left to assume that the blacks in Louisville just chose to separate themselves into their own neighborhoods.
So, white supremacy is a real thing in America, and not just with skinheads who declare it without shame. It’s a lot for a white girl from Bullitt Co, Kentucky to wrap her head around. I’m still working out exactly how to deal with what I’m learning.Read More
I don’t know that these are applicable to Christians in general, but here are some questionable life lessons I learned as a kid that were reinforced by my family’s religious beliefs. I’m sure others from Evangelical Christian backgrounds in particular will recognize these. They are teachings of Christianity that I assumed would apply to other areas of life — before I learned about special pleading — because no one told me otherwise. I eventually figured out why they were questionable on my own through trial and error, observation, and reasoning.
Nothing in life is more important than your relationship with Jesus Christ. Family, relationships, school, career, reputation — all of these should be given up if one feels that is what Jesus wants. To a secular person it’s pretty clear what the problem is here. Even to Christians, the difficulty in really confirming if an idea is really from Jesus or from their own mind is vexing.
The most important thing about a person is their relationship with Jesus Christ. (I remember this one verbatim.) This is certain to lead to religious bigotry at worst and an irritating lack of full acceptance of non-Christians at the least.
Forgiveness from God
Guilt over actual wrongdoing can be resolved by asking God for forgiveness in prayer. No talking to an actual person is required. It’s very convenient but the effectiveness is questionable.
Praying counts as talking to a person — and downplays the need for real human contact. No worries if you don’t have a real person to confide in, because you always have God! :-/
Normal human mistakes and imperfections prove that you are unworthy of “God’s glory.” By default, being human makes you defective.
Right and Wrong
Right and wrong depends on what God says, especially in the Bible — not on consequences for people. A quick study of the horrible things people have done throughout history in the name of God shows the problems with this.
The biggest and most powerful being in the universe will listen to you at any time with no notice — though this is never true for human leaders and authority figures. God is just a bit too … imaginary.
Emotional Commitment Decisions
Huge, life-changing commitments (like committing your life to God at an altar at the front of a church after a religious service) can be made in moments of emotion. This is a very bad idea for making life-changing commitments in general. Fortunately the religious commitments are not really binding — presuming one lives in a society with religious freedom.
Learning new things that challenge your beliefs can be a very bad thing. The prime examples are the big bang theory of the universe and the biological theory evolution and how they challenge beliefs about God creating the universe and making human being special.
You must forgive anyone who wrong you — even when the offense has not been resolved and your psychological wounds have not healed. Otherwise they say God will not forgive you — and that is a very serious problem for a Christian.
Any other questionable life lessons from Christian upbring that I have not listed? What are you experiences?
At the close of this Christmas season and the start of the New Year, I want to make this point about belief and about what is real. Most of my readers are probably familiar with the “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” letter that was posted in the New York Sun in 1897, since it has worked its way into Christmas tradition.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Well, there’s one way to confuse a child about the difference between fantasy and reality. Virginia didn’t ask about enjoyment or love or generosity or beauty or joy or poetry. We actually have evidence for all of those things. She asked about Santa Claus and whether or not he is real. If you have to redefine what it means for something to be real so you can believe in it, then you might as well admit to yourself that it is not really real.
And of course it is the same for God as it is for Santa Claus. Better to be honest with oneself about what is real or not. The threats are empty. Joy and love and beauty — and even imagination — will not disappear. I promise.
I’ve always been a tester as long as I remember. When someone tells me something out of the ordinary … well, it’s not that I don’t trust your judgement or anything but I would like to know if there are facts to back that up. Even though I must admit that at first I would only look for confirming evidence (before I knew about confirmation bias), but if I could not find it I would get suspicious. Even if someone is honestly telling you what they believe, they can still be wrong. That’s how I’ve always felt about a family claim of Cherokee ancestry — especially since the details seemed lost to time. Not a name, not even a certain spot on the family tree. Grandpa’s grandma … or great grandma … or maybe great-great grandma? In search of evidence, I got a DNA test with one of the commercial providers which showed that there is negligible trace of Native American DNA in my genome, and even that is speculative.
It’s not just me being skeptical. I’ve always thought it was fun to tease out the details of a claim and see what I can find. Even finding out for sure something is not really true is a discovery. I forget sometimes that not everyone feels this way. I showed my results to some family members, and they seemed put out by the result — even digging in their heels. I felt a little bit guilty about that. I’d heard it so much from my family, not just my parents but from aunts and uncles too, that it feels a bit like I am smearing my family’s narrative about its history.
It reminds of the way that humans — ever since language was invented, apparently — have made up stories to not just entertain themselves but to bolster ideas like national identity and family claims. Even much of the things we are taught about our national histories fit into a narrative. What I learned as American history in school turned out to be not lies, really, but often selected truths and perspectives. The narrative supported by the powerful — what they wanted children to know. (This applied to both the public school and homeschool history.) Textbooks talked about Pilgrims and Indians getting along as equals, the overriding importance of religious freedom (though there seems to have been little of that early on), and about something called ‘manifest destiny’ in spreading across the continent. Today I have books on history that show different perspectives — perspectives of ordinary people, of workers, of the underclasses — and the idealistic narrative of American exceptionalism crumbles. I still respect the “Founding Fathers” but I no longer idolize them. They used elegant rhetoric about how “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” while still using slave labor to build America and ignoring the voice of anyone who was not a white male property owner. It was pretty rhetoric but it was never reality.
It’s not just the past, but current events too. Some news stations are known to slant towards a liberal or a conservative bias. I think what that really means is that they are both pushing their own particular narrative. Not outright lies (at least I HOPE not) but selected truths and assumed half-truths and never the whole story. That’s why I no longer trust the corporate-owned media. There is always someone behind the scenes determining what should be published or not based on reasons other than whether or not it is true and whether or not the public should know. There is an audience to cater to, and advertisers and shareholders to please. They tell the stories they want us to hear.
And, of course it makes me think of the myths of the Bible. Those old stories that were passed down by oral tradition over the generations before they were ever written down. The details of the actual events — if they happened at all — are lost to time never to be subject to fact-checking. They were ancient stories intended to bolster the national identity of Israel and to encourage devotion to a national god. In that context, claims that the Bible is ‘historical’ make sense — but as nationalistic mythmaking, not as an unbiased record of what happened.
People’s whole lives and realities are built around stories. It’s never really considered polite or patriotic to call nationalistic, family, or religious narratives into question. I think it’s important to question those stories to make sure they are true. Our questioning can at least help us bring our beliefs into better alignment with reality. On the national scale a willingness to listen to competing narratives could even stop wars.Read More