Persecuted persecutors?

Progressive Christian writer and missiologists Benjamin L. Corey wrote a very interesting post on the recent reactions of some Conservative Christians in America, to which I responded.

 

So Listen– It’s Not Religious Discrimination Just Because You Can’t Discriminate.

Earlier this week, the President signed an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. In a supposed civilized society with a separation of church and state, such a measure should be welcomed by all because anti-discrimination policies protect the rights of everyone.

For me, anti-discrimination laws transcend theology and personal opinion. I acknowledge that while I am a Christian, I am also a Christian who lives and who does commerce in a culture that is diverse– making certain rules for playing necessary. For starters, I don’t want a potential employer to be able to fire me simply because I am a Christian. Being a Christian is completely irrelevant to my ability to do a specific job and to be disqualified from employment on that basis, would be completely unfair. Anti-discrimination laws protect my right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by ensuring my religious orientation cannot be used as a way to shut me out from competing in the public sector.

Regardless of my theology on human sexuality, I see anti-discrimination policies for the LGBT community the same way I see them for myself– they too have a right to compete in the public sector and have the right to hold jobs they are qualified for without an aspect of their identity disqualify them from working. It’s a little something we call…. fair.

You can’t fire me because I’m an Anabaptist, and I can’t fire you because of the gender you’re attracted to.

Really simple stuff that we should all say “this is fair and good for society” regardless of our particular theology on any given subject.

However, the new anti-discrimination policy for government contractors isn’t exactly being celebrated in our Christian community. Instead, many are crying that the sky is falling, that our religious liberties are under attack– you know, more “help, help, I’m being oppressed!” Monty Python type stuff.

 Here’s what Michael Brown called the move by the White House:

“This was an outrageous act of discrimination against religion in the name of anti-discrimination—an act of bullying people of faith in the name of the prevention of bullying.”

So yeah, apparently we’re being “bullied” because in exchange for accepting government funds we have to agree not to fire people for being gay.

Poor us.

So listen– I think we as Christians need to set something straight before we go any further:

It’s not discrimination when we are prevented from doing the discriminating. It’s not persecution when we are prevented from doing the persecuting. It’s not bullying when we’re told that we can’t bully others.

It’s not any of those things.

In fact, we should actually be embarrassed that we even have to be told that it’s wrong to fire someone for these reasons. Your place of business is NOT the same thing as your church– if you want to accept government funds, you’ll have to play by a set of rules that keeps it fair for everyone. Both for you, and everyone else.

I’ve discussed the issue of the persecution complex here in the West, and nearly every time, some folks write to me and tell me how wrong I am– that yes, Christians are under attack and being persecuted. Whenever that happens and I ask for specific examples, I am almost always listed out examples of how we’re not allowed to persecute others.

But this isn’t persecution– it’s not even close.

I can’t help but think how self centered we’re going to look when we get to heaven and go through the awkward introductions in the persecuted section:

“Hi, my name is Peter. They crucified me on a cross upside down.”

“Hi, my name is Stephen. They smashed my head in with rocks.”

“Hi, my name is Polycarp. They tried to burn me at the stake but I didn’t catch on fire so they stabbed me to death”.

“Hi, my name is William Tyndale. They chocked me to death at the stake and then burned by body.”

“Hi, my name is Michael Brown. They told me that if I wanted my business to be able to accept government funds that I couldn’t fire people simply because of their sexual orientation.”

You see? It doesn’t actually line up with the experiences of the Christians who have come before us– Christians who actually were bullied and persecuted.

Let’s be honest: I think we’re going to look a little silly in eternity if we keep up this persecution and “I’m being bullied” stuff. For those of us poised to lead the next generation of Jesus followers into a better cultural expression of Christianity, one of the first things we need to do is to stop pretending we’re victims. It’s not attractive. It’s not helping. It’s not even true.

One doesn’t become the victim of bullying when they’re told that they can’t make others the victim of bullying. That doesn’t even make sense.

Instead, let us embrace the fact that we actually do live in a country where we are both free to practice our religion but also where there are certain rules in the public sector that keep things fair for everyone, and that these foundational rules are actually good and right.

Here was my answer.

 

This was really a great post Ben!

On my blog I’ve dealt a lot with the topic of homosexuality, arguing it is not sinful, illustrating that its rejection is utterly groundless and calling up Conservative Christians to apply the Golden Rule towards Gay people. .

You’re entirely right it’s utterly wrong and disgusting to feel discriminated because you no longer have the right to socially or economically discriminate people on grounds of their sexual orientation. Actually I think that all Continental European Conservatives who oppose Gay marriage wholeheartedly agree with that very principle (and most of them are not particularly religious).

BUT I think that the liberal (or political correct) lobby runs off the rails when it starts using propaganda and political pressure for changing the mind of people concerning homosexuality.

This is what the French government attempted to do and instead of increasing the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians, it raised resentment against them.

Some of my Conservative readers called my attention to the fact that people are being fired JUST because they are morally opposed to homosexuality, and I find that extremely misguided, wrong and egregious for many reasons I have outlined here.

People who fell victims of such punishment are likely to develop a real HATRED towards homosexuals which wasn’t there as they still had their livelihood.

When looking at the American culture war, I realize I am very often much closer to Liberal than to Conservative positions, but I can’t completely side with the formers because they often act in an unjust and unproductive manner.
I think the situation would be much better if BOTH liberals and conservatives were to let go of their deep-seated moral indignation and realize their opponents might be neither crazy, ignorant nor evil.

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

Advertisements

On hell and a psychopatic mindset

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randaul Rauser wrote a new amazing post about the problem of hell (understood as a never-ending torture).

BildI agree with anti-theist Richard Dawkins that terrorizing small kids with this is a form of child abuse and that this damnable doctrine ought to be jettisoned.

Bild

Randal wrote

 

In my recent interview with Robin Parry on universalism, Robin observed that Christians should want universalism to be true. Indeed, he put the point rather provocatively when he declared, “You’d have to be a psychopath not to want [universalism] to be true.”

Psychopath?! Them’s fightin’ words!

That might seem like a daring statement, but as Parry notes, even conservative Calvinist philosopher Paul Helm agrees that Christians should want universalism to be true. Indeed, J.I. Packer makes a similar point when he observes: ”If you want to see folk damned, there is something wrong with you!” (Revelations of the Cross (Hendrickson, 1998), 163).

So we are left with a situation in which proper Christian character requires that we hope universalism is true even as we are to believe it isn’t.

Next, Robin addresses the underlying tension between the doctrine of eternal conscious torment and Christian “moral character formation”. He explains:

“Someone said to me, ‘Oh, I believe that hell is tormenting people forever. I don’t have a problem with that. And I think, when you first come across this view, if you’re an ordinary human being, you would have a problem with that unless there’s something really wrong with you, something seriously in terms of your moral compass. So then you have a theological system where you have to try and desensitize yourself to this. And there is a real problem of a theological system that actually, rather than cultivating virtue in your attitudes and so on, cultivates attitudes that are actually vicious.”

As Parry points out here, eternal conscious torment presents a serious problem, for the Christian determined to move beyond the pained contortions of cognitive dissonance and to a real embrace of the doctrine is required to adopt attitudes toward some of God’s creatures that are, as Parry says, “actually vicious”. To be sure, the individual may not know who the reprobate are, but they do know that a subset of God’s creatures will be subject to eternal torments even as the elect experience maximal joy in a restored creation. Consequently, they should seek to inculcate in themselves attitudes that are in conformity with God’s, including a satisfaction in the horrifying future of the reprobate. It does indeed seem that the only alternatives at this point are extreme cognitive dissonance or vicious attitudes that are indeed inimical to the cultivation of true Christian character.

Parry is not suggesting that advocates of eternal conscious torment are vicious. But he is claiming that consistently embracing eternal conscious torment as the fate for the reprobate requires the cultivation of attitudes that are vicious. Think, by analogy, of the meat eater overcome with compassion when witnessing the horrors of the slaughterhouse. But rather than resolve not to eat meat, he resolves to harden his emotions against the terrible fate of industrial livestock. Likewise, the Christian overcome with compassion or immobilized in anguish for the eternally damned either lives in cognitive dissonance or seeks to inculcate vicious attitudes whilst cauterizing his compassion and embracing the divine plan of never-ending torment for the reprobate.

Is there a way to proceed in the interpretation of scripture and theological reflection which can help us avoid this impossible choice between cognitive dissonance and moral disassembly? Shouldn’t right doctrine seamlessly interweave with right character formation?

Eric Seibert believes so and he offers a way forward with a hermeneutical principle to guide theological reflection. (For more on Seibert see my audio podcast interview here and my print blog interview here). Seibert’s proposal has a decent lineage: St. Augustine. He begins by quoting the great Church Father:

“Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this two-fold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”

Seibert then fills out Augustine’s principle:

“Whenever we read and interpret the Bible, we should always be asking whether our interpretation increases our love for God and others.” (The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy (Fortress Press, 2012), 66-67).

The position offers at least the beginning of a resolution to the problem. Whenever we encounter a doctrine or a reading of a biblical passage, we must ask of it, does that doctrine or reading increase our love for God and neighbor? If one concludes that it does neither, and indeed does the opposite, we have a reason to reject it. Consequently, the extent to which one believes eternal conscious torment leaves one in the hinterland between cognitive dissonance and the inculcation of vicious attitudes, to that extent one has reasonable grounds to reject the doctrine.

 

Here was my response.

 

Hello Randal, thanks for this new amazing post of yours.

I find it amazing that even hardcore Calvinists such as Paul Helm grant the point that nobody should WANT eternal conscious torment to be true.
This logically entails that they are themselves morally superior to the god they profess to worship.

 

That said, I think that Robin Parry confronts us with a false dichotomy .

Either we believe that people are going to be tortured forever for sins they could not have avoided (having been cursed with a sinful nature).
Or we believe that all of them will inherit eternal bliss.

But there is another alternative, namely that:

1) God did NOT curse us with a sinful nature (the authors of Genesis agree with me on that one).

2) God will grant eternal life to everyone truly desiring Him and there will be lots of conversions beyond the grave (inclusivism).

3) Those not desiring God won’t suffer forever but they will be no more.

Given that, I don’t even feel a need to hope that universalism is true.
I don’t feel a need to hope that Hitler, Fred Phelps or Bin Laden won’t return to dust.

Interestingly enough, many secular European folks told me that if there were a good God, they would not be shocked at all if He were to act in the way I have just outlined.

 

Hell, callous indifference and embarassment

Jonny Scaramanga has written a fantastic post describing a discussion between a fundamentalist Christian and a secularist about hell.

Liz Weston hell

I must say that I really admire Jonny. He went through horrific experiences as a fundamentalist child which led him to reject Christianity altogether.

Yet, unlike the New Atheists (also called antitheists) who engage in vicious attacks against all believers, Jonny is an extremely loving and respectful person, even towards fundies.

I think that all people cherishing an open society (where freedom and tolerance are fostered) should join their forces against those threatening its very foundation.

This is what Jonny wrote:

Fundamentalists: you have not been trying very hard to save me. Either you do not really believe I am going to hell, or you do not care. Which is it?

I wasn’t going to post this until next week, but I needed to get it online while the relevant Big Questions episode is still on BBC iPlayer so you can see what I’m talking about.

Liz Weston is a member of Christ Church Southampton. She was on The Big Questions this week to defend fundamental Christianity against the charge that it is harmful to children.

Let me say this first: I like her. She got a lot of bile from Twitter atheists when the episode aired, but I chatted to her after the show and she was genuinely nice. I got the feeling that we could have spoken for a long time and found many areas of common ground. Liz was shocked by my experiences of fundamentalism and expressed genuine regret. She was also far more tolerant than I was in my fundamentalist days. I got the feeling that where we disagreed, we could have done so without it being a source of animosity.

So yes, I think Liz Weston is a good person, and that’s important to remember in light of what I’m about to say.

 

The crucial exchange came about 44 minutes into the programme.

“Nicky Campbell: So who’s going there [hell]?

Liz Weston: Anybody who hasn’t put their faith in Jesus and trusted in Him as their saviour, his death on the cross to pay for their sins… But you can go to heaven, and it’s your choice if you decide to reject Jesus.

Amanda Robinson: But I have, so I’m going to hell.

Liz: That’s fine! You’ve chosen to reject Jesus. That unfortunately is your choice and I’d love to convince you otherwise but, yeah…

Then she shrugged, and laughed.

She looked a person full in the face, told her she was going to hell…

And she laughed.

Let’s imagine an alternative scenario: instead of Liz Weston, God-botherer, and Amanda Robinson, criminologist, this was a confrontation between a qualified therapist and a person with a life-threatening addiction.

Let’s say Liz is the therapist, and Amanda Robinson is a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or has a chronic eating disorder. Liz has the only solution, and it will definitely solve Amanda’s problem. Without it, Amanda is inevitably going to destroy herself in the slowest, most agonising way. How would we expect Liz to act?

Liz would be distraught. She would implore Amanda, through tears and agonising pain, to accept her help before it’s too late. She would be doing everything in her power to get through to her. Nothing else would matter. Every other point of discussion would be put on hold. Amanda cannot see her own need for help, but Liz can save her. The frustration of the situation would put Liz on bended knee, begging Amanda to let her in. If this failed, Liz would be broken, defeated, shattered by her own impotence and inability to help.

She probably wouldn’t laugh.

The situation Liz claims to believe is much worse. In our hypothetical scenario, there would at least be an end to it: Amanda would eventually die, and the suffering would end. In the case of hell, Liz believes the suffering is eternal, without a moment’s respite. Yet Liz was able to look at Amanda and laugh when she told her about it.

Either Liz does not really believe this, or she does not care.

This is repugnant. It shows how the fundamentalist doctrine of hell can corrupt the moral compass of an otherwise good person.

If Liz does not care, then the Christian claim to moral superiority is in tatters. The claim that only Christians are capable of expressing true love, because of the Spirit of God within them becomes absurd. Her religion is evil, and her claim to morality is bankrupt.

If Liz does not really believe it, she shouldn’t say it.

So which is it?”

Afterword: For the record, I believe that the most charitable interpretation of these events is also the correct one. I think Liz laughed because she was embarrassed. She knew how awful it was to tell Amanda she was going to hell. Now I’m sure this is the source of considerable cognitive dissonance for Liz. I am not saying she is lying when she says she believes in hell, but I think this demonstrates she doesn’t actually believe it as wholeheartedly as she says.

Also, I don’t mean this to be a witch-hunt against Liz Weston specifically. As I said, I liked her. This is a specific example of a wider phenomenon I’ve observed – evangelical Christians acting like they don’t care (much) as they tell someone they are bound for hell. It’s just that this one, usefully, happened to be televised.

 

Interestingly enough, I pointed out similar things in my post entitled “On Hell and Cognitive Dissonance“.

Conservative Evangelicals are unable to live consistently with their belief that every person dying as a non-Christian will be eternally tormented owing to sins she could NOT have avoided, due to God having cursed her with a sinful nature she never asked for.

Deep inside, most of them realize that this doctrine (combined with the claim that God is perfectly loving and just) is an affront against reason and morality.

While I believe that the Bible often has contradictory voices about quite a few topics, I fail to see any verse teaching eternal torment.

When properly interpreted, I think that the authors believed in conditional immortality, meaning that those rejecting God won’t inherit eternal life and perish.

But what does “rejecting God” means?

I think that progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser gave us a nice example illustrating what it does NOT mean.

To quote myself :

I am an inclusivist but not an universalist because I consider it very likely that at least some people will reject God beyond the grave.

Conservative Evangelicals typically defend Exclusivism (only those dying as Christians will inherit eternal life) using the following reasoning:

1) The Bible is the full and unique revelation of God (which is the central pillar of Evangelicalism)
2) There is no Biblical evidence that people will have a chance to choose God after having passed away
3) Therefore only Christians will get to heaven

Yet as Randal Rauser pointed out, this is an extraordinarily offensive assertion.

“They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, ‘Boil there, you offspring of the devil!’”

Now against this backdrop turn to the encounter between a cacique (or tribal leader) and his Franciscan captors. In this encounter Hatuey, the cacique, has been told he will be executed (for no greater crime, it would seem, than not being Spanish), but that he can still save his soul before his body is slain:

“When tied to the stake, the cacique Hatuey was told by a Franciscan friar who was present, an artless rascal, something about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven. The cacique, who had never heard any of this before, and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian Faith, he would suffer eternal torment, asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to Heaven. When told that they did he said he would prefer to go to Hell.”

It is extremely blasphemous to state that Hatuey won’t have any chance to reach heaven.

So I think that the above reasoning can be turned on its head:

1) As perfectly loving God must give a post-mortem chance to many of those who have died without Christ
2) There is no Biblical evidence that people will have a chance to choose God after having passed away
3) Therefore the Bible cannot be the full and unique revelation of God
4) Therefore Evangelicalism is wrong

(Of course many people would contest 2), thereby invalidating the conclusion).

Finally Greg pointed out that the parable of the foolish and wise virgins has to be taken at face value, thereby showing that people not having chosen Christ during this life won’t be given a second chance.

A huge problem is that as a conservative Protestant, there are quite a few things in the Bible that Greg cannot interpret literally.

The parable of the sheep and the goats illustrates that very well.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Taking this parable at face value would lead one to believe that works play an important role in salvation, a doctrine Evangelicals passionately detest.

More importantly perhaps, this parable teaches that people having never heard of Christ were serving Him while doing good deeds and will usher into His holy presence.”

So I am confident that many people having died as atheists will inherit eternal life because the god they rejected was nothing more than a hideous idol they were taught to worship.

It is worth noting that Jesus never threatened prostitutes, tax collectors and homosexuals with a destroying fire but only self-righteous bigots.

I consider it very likely that while many loving atheists will joyfully accept God/Christ/forgiveness on the other side of the grave, Fred Phelps (the God hates fags pastor) will be judged and lose his life forever.

I fail to see why this is immoral, and many secular Continental Europeans I know agree that (if there is a God) such a fate would be a just reward for the life he spent spreading hatred, thereby developing a heinous personality making him unworthy of everlasting bliss.

 

Leaving fundamentalism: an interview with Jonny Scaramanga

 

 

In a previous post I pointed out the harmfulness of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), an international fundamentalist “educational” system aiming at producing “godly” children.

Bild

Here I had the immense opportunity to interview Jonny Scaramanga who is campaigning against this abusive and harmful system.

Bild

Accelerated Christian Education in a nutshell

Lotharson: Hello Jonny, thank you very much for being with us!
Could you please tell a bit about your background for the benefit of my readers?
Jonny Scaramanga: Sure.
I was born into a family that was majorly into the Charismatic Movement and also the Word of Faith “prosperity gospel” of preachers like Kenneth Copeland.
I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I didn’t believe in God. The truth of the Biblical creation story was just one of the facts of my childhood, as true as the colour of the sky.
I was praying in tongues by the time I was 6 or 7.
I went to a creationist pre-school when I was 3, which used the ACE system, because some of my parents’ friends had started an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school.
My parents decided to send me to an ordinary primary school, though, so I got a proper education until I was 11.
Then part way through my final year of junior school, I went back to the ACE school, and was there until just before I turned 15.
Is that enough background?

That’s a good beginning, thanks 🙂 What happened next in the ACE you attended?

Well, I loved it to begin with. It’s completely unlike any other school you’ve ever seen.
Each student has their own desk, and it’s separated from the other desks by two dividers, so you can’t see or interact with your classmates during work time.
That suited me fine. I hated teamwork anyway.
So I really enjoyed having a private desk with my own possessions and just getting on with my work. The room didn’t have a teacher – the staff member was called a supervisor. If we needed help, we raised a flag to get her attention, but otherwise we were teaching ourselves from these books…
Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs)
which incorporate Bible lessons into every subject.
And I thought this was heaven. I felt so lucky to be surrounded only by good Christians, away from the evil and the temptations of the world. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘lucky’ at the time, because I was taught ‘luck’ came from the root word ‘Lucifer’, as in Satan.
There was quiet music playing in the background, and I was where God wanted me to be. Everyone was so polite and so friendly. I find it sinister now, because I think it was unreal, but it seemed wonderful to me then. And I felt so lucky to be learning the truth about Creation…
…because everyone else in the world was being taught these ridiculous lies about evolution, and I was one of a fortunate few who was hearing the truth about how God made the world.

It seems that many people really appreciate the absence of peer pressure and other positive aspects so that they don’t immediately realize all the crappy things being taught.

Well, there was peer pressure. I just thought of it as positive peer pressure. It was pressure to be the right kind of Christian, not to be worldly.

How did this “godly” peer pressure play out?

Well, for me it was a big thing to be the first to the door at break times so I could hold the door for everyone on the way out…
… to show what a good servant I was.
In the last year I was there, we had morning prayer meetings for the older students, and because the church was very Charismatic (even though ACE isn’t at all), it was a big thing to show how spiritual I was by praying in tongues ecstatically and delivering prophecies.
I was very judgemental of a girl in the school who was curious about the occult. She was just doing typical teenage stuff, reading Interview with the Vampire and trying to learn how to read minds, and I told her she was in league with Satan.
On days where we didn’t have to wear uniform to school, some of the girls came in wearing very short skirts, and by break time the staff had made them change into tracksuits, so there was a lot of shaming of girls, shaming of women’s bodies.
I was conflicted because I liked seeing girls in short skirts but I also judged them for being ungodly.
So I was misogynistic from both angles!

 

Sexism and creationism

Some fundamentalists such as Calvinist preacher John McArthur go as far as teaching that it is a sin for a woman to have a professional job.
Can we find the same kind of extreme sexism within ACE?

Compared to some fundamentalists, ACE is relatively progressive about women. I mean, they have a female president, although that only happened because the founder’s wife divorced him, and she had obviously been planning this for a long time, because she managed to gain majority control of the company, and then divorce and fire her husband.
Some of the Social Studies PACEs have a picture on the cover of what appears to be a woman working as a vet! Amazing – an actual woman doing an actual job!
So by fundamentalist standards, that’s quite progressive. By my standards now, I consider it very misogynistic.
There are cartoons emphasising how girls have to be ‘pure’ by not exposing skin when they dress, and in the PACEs about career choices, there’s a massive section on being a ‘homemaker’, and that’s the only time in the whole curriculum they use ‘her’ and ‘she’ to refer to a nonspecific person. The rest of the time it’s always ‘he’.
In Norway, the gender equality ombudsman found ACE to be in violation of the Gender Equality Act
because the students were having to underline the correct verb in sentences like “A wife will be happy when (he, she, it) obeys the husband.”
Among other things.
The sexism is a big problem. I haven’t written enough about it. It’s next on my agenda.
Is creation science taught there a bigger issue?
The creation science permeates everything. People don’t think about this. It doesn’t just affect biology. It’s in chemistry and physics too, because they reject the findings of cosmologists, and they have their own creationist interpretation of the laws of thermodynamics.
It affects history, because they take the Bible as literally true, and because they believe humans didn’t exist 7,000 years ago…
So 200,000 years of early human history has to be compressed into a few years before and after Noah’s Flood.
They talk about the Flood in Geography and History. Their English literature course has anti-evolution books on it, and their general English course includes learning about William Jennings Bryan’s speech, which I think is called “Evolution vs God”.

Could you please give us the sentences you find the most laughable?

Ha! Good one. OK, bear with me on this. We might need to keep talking about some other stuff while I think.

 

Escape from hell

 

How did you escape this crazy “school”?
Well, I told you I loved it at first, but about 18 months into my stay there, that flipped and I began to hate it.
I felt that I had no friends in the world, and going to this tiny school (at its biggest there were 70 students, aged 3-18) where I mostly worked in silence was limiting my social opportunities.
I felt that there was such a thing as a good education, and although I had no idea what that was, I knew that this wasn’t it.
Bear in mind at this point I was still a creationist and a right-wing Christian, so my complaints had nothing to do with that.
I just thought the system was academically awful. I was reading books with titles like “When Science Fails” instead of real literature, and everything was fill-in-the-blank. The form of Christianity was making me miserable, but I had no words to articulate that because the language in the PACEs was so loaded I had no way to express those thoughts.
I just had this vague sense that everything was terrible.
I spent a summer locked in my room feeling suicidal.
When I went back to school that September, I snapped one day. I had this major freakout, and I couldn’t see for a couple of seconds. Next thing I knew I was shouting at everyone in the room.
So at that point my parents thought it best to remove me, and I was free!

It must have been an extremely liberating experience, a feeling almost indescribable by words.

For a week or two I was euphoric. I went to a normal school and started studying Shakespeare, and getting to use science labs instead of just reading about science in a (mostly incorrect) book, and we studied history by looking at primary and secondary sources and learning to evaluate them,
so it was a total revolution. But soon I was depressed again. I really struggled to make friends because I had no idea how to relate to anyone who wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian.
I didn’t have the cultural reference points. I didn’t watch the same TV or listen to the same music. I refused to swear, and I was a total prude. Since all teenage boys ever think about is sex, this was a massive problem. They all had posters of glamour models on their desks, and I was trying to find anywhere else to look, because I thought it was a sin for me to see pictures of women… not even naked women. Just women being sexy.
Then I told them they were going to hell, which didn’t help.
OK, I’ve found the most laughable section of a PACE.
I’m trying to figure out how to condense it down to a couple of sentences for you.
You kind of need to see the whole thing.

I’ll do 🙂

They’re trying to show that all modern people are descended from Noah’s three sons…
and the way they’re doing it is to find very old people (possibly legendary) with similar-sounding names
and go “YOU SEE! THAT’S NOAH’S SON!”
So, for example:
“Japheth and his seven sons may clearly be seen as the progenitors of the Indo- European limb of the human tree. Japheth himself may be identified with 1) lapetos (the legendary forebear of the Greek tribes) and (2) lyapeti (supposed ancestor of the Aryans of India).
End quote

But this is truly an amazing coincidence! This proves God’s Word beyond any reasonable doubt! 🙂

There’s loads of this. It goes on for PAGES.
And now they have an entire book called After the Flood, which you can find on line…
It’s by Bill Cooper BA (hons).
He’s very keen that you include the BA (hons) part.
He wants everyone to know he managed to get an undergraduate degree.
Anyway, it makes the same argument, but over a whole book. And it also claims that stories of dragons (including Beowulf) are real, and that’s proof that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, which proves the Bible is true.

There is a mighty creationist INDUSTRY feeding such books and teaching materials.

It’s mind-blowing.
People ask me now if I’m angry, but I’ve never really felt angry about being taught creationism for myself, because I discovered it was bullshit very gradually, over a period of years, and it didn’t seem to matter. It makes me angry that they’re teaching it to kids now though, because most of them won’t get as lucky as me, and escape to a good education.
The thing about creationism is that it tells you evolution is *impossible* and that science *proves* the creation account true. And that means that when you’re in a situation like I was, where your faith is making you miserable, you don’t have any options.
Because if creationism is true, according to their dogma, which I didn’t have the critical thinking skills to reject, then all of it is true. And if it’s true, you can’t leave, because you’ll be rejecting God and, like it or not, walking into Satan’s arms.

 

Eternal torments and child abuse

You know, I take folks such as Dawkins et al. to task for asserting that ALL religious educations are child abuses, because there are clear examples of progressive and liberal religious movements where it is not the case.
However I consider it as extremely abusive to teach to small children that all people dying as non-Christians will be eternally tortured.
I think that the harm inflicted on young minds is far greater than that stemming from creationist non-senses.
Would you agree?

I find it hard to separate the two, in this instance. It’s all part of Biblical Inerrancy (which is really MY DOGMA IS INERRANT) and that’s a club used to beat people with.
As well as also endorsing beating children with clubs, by coincidence.
And the thing about creationism is that it is built entirely on logical fallacies, so to teach creationism, you have to teach people AT BEST not to think critically in this particular area. In ACE’s case, it wasn’t compartmentalised like that. There was no critical thinking anywhere.
And that meant I didn’t have the tools to think about the harmful stuff. I was indoctrinated into believing in hell, and not given the mental skills to question that.
How did you finally leave fundamentalism?
I think it was because of listening to secular music. Some girls came to the ACE school who had attended a secular secondary school for a year or two previously, and they brought a tiny bit of that culture with them.
I mean, they were still hardcore Christians by most standards. But to me they seemed very worldly.
And I think partly because of them and partly because of an older boy who listened to the radio, secular songs started to impinge on my consciousness, and I began listening to the radio.
Then one day the supervisor gave a massive lecture to the whole school. She said singing secular songs was the same as rubbing dog dirt on your friends’ faces.
She used that specific phrase. “Dog dirt”.
And that was so ridiculous that I think I listened to the radio MORE after that.
Also, a Christian band called Sixpence None the Richer had a big hit with a song called “Kiss Me”. So I was listening to the radio to hear their song, and of course hearing all the other devil’s music at the same time.
And enjoying it.
Eventually I figured if it was OK to listen to it on the radio, it was OK to buy it. So I started buying secular CDs. And I discovered a few things.
One was that this music was a *lot* better than Christian rock.

Yes 🙂

And a lot of Christian rock was blatantly plagiarised from secular songs.
So there went my theory that the bands were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I also discovered that this music made me feel AWESOME. I felt incredible listening to these secular bands, full of joy. It was like the ecstatic worship services I’d experienced, but better.
I’d always been taught that secular music was inferior because it was the devil’s counterfeit…
but here, clearly, was not just something that was a counterfeit. It was the real thing.

Or maybe Evangelical rock itself is the devil’s counterfeit 🙂

Ha! That sounds about right.
And finally, I think it was listening to secular music that opened the door to reading secular books. When I was 17 I began reading philosophy.
I would never have done that just a few years before.
I would have thought even considering those ideas was exposing myself to the devil.
Now I think that after I’d been listening to Steven Tyler for a few years, I realised that there was no danger in considering other ideas. They weren’t going to control me. I could still decide what to accept and what to reject.
I figured that the truth would stand up for itself.
That was it, ultimately.
The reason I was angry at ACE was that they wouldn’t let me consider alternative ideas or beliefs.
I still agreed with them about religion, politics, and “science” at that point.
But I thought that if something was true, it would stand up to scrutiny. So I thought they should have given me an education where I got a chance to decide for myself.
And they had done the opposite.
So secular music was the wedge that allowed me to consider other ideas.
That and eventually making friends with my non-Christian schoolmates
and discovering that non-Christians weren’t demon possessed drug taking gangbangers.

Yeah 🙂 And how did your worldview evolve after that?

Deconversion and atheism

Well, I read philosophy books and – oh, I’d forgotten this, I didn’t intend to read philosophy of religion. I intended to read philosophy of mind, but the religion section came first in the book I bought, and I felt duty bound to read it in order.
So the devil tricked me!

Or God 🙂

And I found the arguments against religion uncomfortably persuasive. A lot of people don’t like Dawkins’ essay “Viruses of the Mind”, but it is a very effective description of fundamentalist religion, if not all religion.
It applied exactly to my beliefs.
That scared me. So I read the pro-religion essays to try to comfort myself, and I found myself inwardly arguing against them.

I think that all hateful and irrational ideologies can be viewed as “virus of the mind”. This concept has a huge explanatory power.

Right, exactly.
So I couldn’t handle it at all, I just buried those thoughts and started living as… I guess a functional atheist.
I tried not to think about it.
Occasionally I felt guilty and wondered if I was going to hell.
Sometimes I’d feel an urge to pray, but I felt that I couldn’t because I would need to repent first, and I didn’t want to repent.
This dragged on over a period of years. I’m writing a book about it.
I bought the God Delusion when it came out. I was like “Well, Dawkins started all my doubts, maybe he can finish them!” But I found the God Delusion put me on the defensive. I found myself sticking up for God as I read it.
I haven’t read it since. I don’t know what I’d think now.
At this point, my beliefs were essentially superstition. I was just terrified that God might exist. I was persuaded by Dawkins’ argument that the God of the Old Testament was evil, but not by his argument that this God didn’t exist.
So I’m just wondering around afraid of what’s going to happen when I die.
And I think that’s all pretty clearly a product of just poor thinking skills on my part.
Which I relate partly to an education and upbringing which discouraged thinking.

My memory’s a bit blurry after that. I’m not exactly sure how I got from there to atheism, which is where I am now.

A fundamentalist universe is an absurd and gruesome farce, given that billions of humans are going to suffer forever.
Would you say you feel rather convinced that the ultimate reality (whatever it is) is impersonal?

I don’t really think about that; I don’t find it a useful concept. I would say I have little grounds for speculation about the ultimate reality.

Historically, you would have been called an agnostic in France and Germany
where most people hold such a view
Einstein said that our human mind is so small than we cannot fathom the ultimate mystery beyond the universe

The harmfulness of Biblical inerrancy

Yeah. I didn’t mean to turn this into a conversation about atheism!
But here’s one thing I think your Christian readers can get on board with:
I never really considered other forms of Christianity, because I’d just been brought up to think they were absurd.
I was always told my options were fundamentalism or atheism.
Looking back, in my late teens and early 20s, they were the only paths I considered.
I’ve considered other things since then, but at the time it was all or nothing.
I was told you have to believe every word of the Bible or none of it.
And that’s a recipe for producing atheists.

Fundamentalism is destroying Christianity, this is why moderate Christians CANNOT stay indifferent
If people care about the future of Christianity, they’ve got to stop teaching children Biblical inerrancy is the only option.
Because Biblical inerrancy is completely untenable.

Absolutely 🙂

Legal actions against fundamentalist brain-washing

But now I have a more practical question
Many people tell that in an open society we ought to tolerate ACE
What is your response to such an assertion?

Well, I haven’t finished making up my mind about that yet. There’s an excellent book called Religious Schools vs Children’s Rights by James Dwyer, and I’m still thinking about his argument.
He thinks there is a case for state regulation in cases like ACE. I want to agree with him, but I’m still thinking over all the implication.
implications.
But I will say these things:
Even if we accept that ACE schools have the right to exist, we should still criticise them. I believe that racist groups and neo-Nazi political parties have the right to exist, but I will still oppose them in any way I can.

Second, even if ACE schools have the right to exist, school inspection bodies should take an uncompromising stand on pointing out where they are failing children from an educational point of view.

You know Jonny, I really admire your careful thinking and moderation. Giving your background it is truly fantastic 🙂

Thanks. You’re very kind.

What are the main evidence clearly showing that ACE is harmful for the well-being of kids?

Well, there isn’t any, really. That’s why I’m doing a PhD looking at ex-students, because no one’s ever undertaken that kind of research.
I can say, however, that ACE’s vision of education goes against everything that psychologists and educators currently think about what makes for effective schooling.
So it’s profoundly unlikely that it’s helpful.

Have you been accused of being too biased for carrying out such a research?

Yeah, of course. I think about that a lot. The truth is that nobody is neutral, though. And also, in some cases ACE schools have actually abused children very seriously.
And to be neutral in cases of abuse is a moral failure, in my view.
I would never want to be accused of being neutral about that.

Absolutely!

But still, I accept that it’s important to carry out research which is rigorous
So what I do is I always think “What would prove me wrong? What evidence would weaken my argument?”
Then I go looking for that evidence.

This is the scientific method at its very best 🙂

So in the case of ACE, I’m looking for people who say it has benefitted them. Most of them don’t want to speak to me, because I’ve campaigned against ACE so much, but I’m trying.
If I can’t speak to them, I still think I can make some useful points. I mean, I am in touch with more than 100 people who say they were abused by ACE. Now, even if those are the only 100 people in the world who feel that way (and I know they aren’t), those people still matter.
It makes me angry how dismissive ACE and the schools have been about the people who feel wronged by the system.
It’s so unchristian of them.

Precisely.

I am a teacher.
If someone came to me and told me they had been harmed by my teaching, I would bend over backwards to listen to them and try to put it right.
So when my old teachers won’t even agree to meet me or reply to my letters (and I’m thinking of one in particular here), that strikes me as cowardice.

Well said!
Do you believe that ACE can be improved in such a way that the harmful elements are removed? Or is it beyond any hope of redemption and should cease to exist altogether?

I see it as pretty much without redeeming features.
The individual study thing seems to work for some students, but I think even those students need a greater breadth of educational activities.
Under ACE, the majority of your academic life is spent studying alone, in silence, from books which contain all the answers.
I think students need to be trained to do more group activities, teamwork, and research.

I am very thankful for all the time you have accorded to us. What final thoughts would you like to convey to my progressive Christian readers?

Thanks for caring. Thanks for not preaching at me and the ex-ACE people who have heard enough sermons for two lifetimes. Please speak out against creationism. A lot of people won’t listen to me because I call myself an atheist. A lot of those same people won’t listen to progressive Christians either, because they say you’re not True Christians. But there’s a chance they’ll listen to you, and it’s a much bigger chance than I have.
I guess that’s it! Thank you for having me; I appreciate this opportunity.

It has been a true delight. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming book and PhD dissertation!
Thanks! I’ll try to finish them sometime this decade!
Have a good night 🙂
Thanks! And you.

Evangelical talibans

Christian patriarchy, misogyny, oppression and abuses  

Christian patriarchy is a radical Calvinist movement  which teaches that the state of affairs concerning the treatment of women in the Old Testament does not only reflect the culture of the ancient near east at that time but also represents God’s holy will for females living at all times.

Christian patriarchs like John McArthur teach that it is a sin for a woman to work, to vote and to choose herself her husband.

But even more moderate Conservative Evangelicals fosters a structure where abuses against women are much more likely to happen than in the secular world or in progressive Churches.

Timothy Swanson did an excellent job at exposing this madness in a post whose content I have reproduced here.

The post is very long but it is really worth being read entirely.

Mein Foto

On Domestic Violence: How Conservative Christianity has Chosen Patriarchal Gender Roles Over the Protection of Victims

 
“A woman, an ass, and a walnut tree, the more they’re beaten, the better still they be.” ~ European Proverb c. 1400 AD
“Take up a stick and beat her, not in rage, but out of charity and concern for her soul, so that the beating will rebound to your merit and her good.” ~ Friar Cherubino in Rules of Marriage on what a medieval husband should do if his wife does not obey his verbal correction
“Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.” ~ Noel Coward, from Private Lives
The men are placed in charge of the women, since God has endowed them with the necessary qualities and made them bread earners. The righteous women will accept this arrangement obediently, and will honor their husbands in their absence, in accordance with God’s commands. As for the women who show rebellion, you shall first enlighten them, then desert them in bed, and you may beat them as a last resort.
~ The Koran, Sura 4:34
“Yes, he pushed you around and hit you in the face and left bruises all over your kids, but he is still your husband.  Just go home, pray for him, turn the other cheek, have more sex with him, and look for better ways to keep your house cleaner and make your children obey immediately. A happy husband whose wife is loving him this way would never abuse her!” ~ The typical advice given in ultraconservative and Patriarchal Christianity to abused women (see below)
Since I was first admitted to the practice of law, I have represented victims of domestic violence, first as a staff attorney for the local Legal Aid organization, and both in my private practice and a volunteer on pro bono cases through the present time. Some of the cases involved violence against an aged parent, a few involved violence against men, and a few cases were same sex or sibling disputes. However, and unsurprisingly, most were violence by men against their intimate partners.
In that time, I have noticed a common thread among the victims. In the vast majority of the cases, the victims belonged to either a church or a culture that emphasized the submission of women to men – often both. The city and county in which I live and practice is home to many immigrants from all over the world, and most of them come from “traditional” cultures. Our county also tends to be conservative, and has a high rate of church attendance. We also have a relatively high rate of poverty, which is also associated with domestic violence. All of these contribute, of course.
Without a doubt, the biggest frustration for a lawyer in these cases is that, very often, the victim goes right back to the abuser and the cycle repeats itself.
The problem is, a lawyer, a judge, and a policeman can only do so much. We have a limited time in which to encourage a victim to protect herself and to continue to protect herself (and sometimes children as well) in the future. In my experience, the barrier to this is the culture, which usually works against the victim by telling her that she needs to submit more, obey more, express her opinion less, and then she won’t be beaten. Not only that, but she is expected to reconcile despite the abuse, and without proof of a genuine and long-term change by the abuser.
I wish I could say that the church is helping to change the culture, but that would be a lie.
The conservative church, in particular, has become focused on the idea of “feminism” as the enemy, and has thus decided that marital problems are caused because the woman isn’t submissive enough. I will detail more of this later, but first, a history of the laws related to the abuse of women will help to show the connection between power and abuse.
Pretty much as far back as any record of civilization can be found, men have been considered to be the superior sex, and women were expected to obey them. I could spend a lot of time and space putting citations for this fact, but it is readily apparent to anyone who has studied history.
In Hammurabi’s Code (c. 1772 BC – before the Old Testament was written) – best known for “an eye for an eye” – put women in the same class as children, slaves, and chattel. The husband (father, master, owner) was owed obedience, and could subject his wife to criminal prosecution if she failed to obey. (It was assumed he could use physical discipline as well, as long as he didn’t maim her. Although he could use deadly force for the worst offenses.)
Aristotle, who along with Plato provided much of the philosophical backbone of the Greek and Roman world of the New Testament, believed that females started out as males in the womb, but suffered a developmental defect that made them female. Thus, women, children, and slaves were all fair game to be punished and corrected with physical force, because they were congenitally inferior and in need of correction.
 
 
In ancient Rome, a man could strike, maim, or even kill in some circumstances, a wife who was not sufficiently submissive. Saint Augustine strongly advocated for women to be obedient in order to avoid beatings. It was just assumed to be the way of the world. (Again, I am not going to spend time finding the exact citations for these ideas, but they are not difficult to find. See the note at the end for a good starting place.)
Even as late as the late 1700s, William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England notes that “chastisement” was considered normal.
“The husband … by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his apprentices or children…for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer.” (From Chapter 15.)
Note: there are multiple references in writings of this period of the “rule of thumb.” The rule was that a husband could beat his wife with a stick, so long as it was no wider than his thumb – or longer than his forearm. (For me – a fairly small man – the stick would be ⅞” in diameter, and 17 ½” long. Any volunteers?) By the time this saying became popular, the law had already changed, so it is not certain that this was a true statement of the fine points of the law, but it is not disputed that “chastisement” of a wife was not actually outlawed until at least the late 1600s.
Throughout the history of literature, the abuse of women is treated as a source of humor, or taken for granted. In my blog, I have already noted a couple of these instances. In the Miracle Plays of the Middle Ages. In modern impoverished communities such as those described in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s in the culture.
And now, I will say something nice about the Puritans, who I am not generally very fond of, for a variety of theological and ethical reasons. However, they did get this one right. The 1641 Massachusetts Bodie of Liberties, while it did not grant freedom of religion or speech, did grant this important, and somewhat unprecedented freedom to wives:
To be “free from bodilie correction or stripes by her husband.”
Unfortunately, this right was all too often a right without a remedy, as it was poorly prosecuted, and inconsistently punished. In 1976, twelve battered wives filed suit against the New York City Police Department, alleging that battered wives were treated differently than victims of assault by strangers. They won. The court held that justice was indeed being denied to beaten wives. Bruno v. Codd, 407 N.Y.S. 2nd 165 (1978)
The sad thing about this is that this wasn’t the Middle Ages. This was the late 1970s: during my lifetime. While things have improved somewhat, there is still remaining inconsistency in prosecution.
Up until now, I have been discussing primarily the criminal justice available to beaten wives. But what about divorce? Couldn’t they leave? Actually, no. Not until the late 1800s in most parts of the United States. In England this happened in 1878. A woman could not divorce for violence, nor for her husband’s adultery. (A man could divorce for these reasons.) A woman would have to be “abandoned” in order to be granted a divorce. (There is a tedious, but informative story about this very thing in Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett, which I reviewed here.) So, as long as a man financially supported a woman, she was stuck. She could try to have him prosecuted, but she couldn’t leave.
 
The point of this history is in part to dispel the current fad in conservative Christian circles to believe that the past was a more moral, “godly” time. The second point is that an acceptance of violence against women has been the norm for most of history, in all times and places. It is only in the relatively recent past that this has changed. And obviously, it has changed only to a degree, and only in the attitudes of some. Thus, it is ludicrous to say that the cause of domestic violence is feminism. General acceptance of such violence predated even first-wave feminism by 3500 years. At least. Feminism was a reaction, in part, to this violence.
Furthermore, it follows that the key to changing the mindset that tolerates and encourages violence is not to attack “feminism” as the bogeyman, but to change the attitude that says that it is okay to force a woman to obey a man.
Caveat: Before I get going on this point, I do want to make some things clear. Domestic Violence is not just male to female, but the damage primarily occurs in this direction. Also, the power differential has historically been in favor of the man, as I have shown, so male to female violence reinforces this inequality in power.
Second caveat: I do want to be clear that a general belief in male rule is not the same thing as violence. Not all who believe the woman should obey the man are abusers. If I am reading the statistics correctly (see the links below for the source), 75% of those who believe in the “traditional” hierarchy will never abuse their wives. However, the point is that we need to stop the 25% from feeling encouraged by our culture and our religion.
I also want to make a distinction between “hard” Patriarchy and “soft” Patriarchy (whose proponents often prefer “Complementarianism”). Hard Patriarchy is represented by Douglas Phillips of Vision Forum (Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy), Bill Gothard (Institute in Basic Life Principles), Michael and Debbie Pearl, and a number of others. Hard Patriarchists advocate an absolute rule by men and fathers strikingly similar to Hammurabi’s code. (I have discussed the Patriarchists’ connection to Christian Reconstructionism and White Supremacy here. I have discussed the Patriarchists’ desire to return to the culture of the ancient world – such as Hammurabi – here.) The emphasis is on hierarchy and obedience.
In contrast, “soft” Patriarchists hold to a view of male rule within the home and church, but balance it with a corresponding duty by the man to love and serve his wife. This would describe most of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, who largely functioned in egalitarian manner, with mutual decision making, and an emphasis on love rather than hierarchy.
My concern is that over the last couple of decades, the focus in Complementarian circles has shifted away from the idea of mutual sacrifice and love toward the hard Patriarchal emphasis on womanly obedience and the supposed evils of “feminism.” (I use the quotes because the term is used as a bogeyman, and no distinction is made between the various waves of feminism or the different schools of feminist thought. Thus, Douglas Phillips can use the term to refer to everything from women’s suffrage to the present, while most probably are thinking of some sort of lesbian man-hater promoting abortion. That is a big difference. As I explained here, the Patriarchists are big fans of R. L. Dabney, the Confederate chaplain who claimed that women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery would destroy Christendom.) This is also why Doug Wilson can claim that those who disagree on “feminism” are heathens. Note the use of the code phrase “creation order of human sexuality,” which means male dominance. See below for more on this.
Why do I go to such lengths to explain this? Because the ancient lie that the cause of domestic violence is unsubmissive women and that the cure for violence is more submission is making a comeback in conservative Christian circles.
Let me start off with John Piper, who I once considered to be a reasonably mainstream preacher. (Before learning of statements like this, and others that are pretty far out there.)
I posted this link in my previous post on women in ancient cultures. Here, Piper clearly advises that a woman should stay and submit to abuse. Not leave and seek safety for her and her children. Not report a violent crime to the authorities. Stay and submit to abuse. 
Or how about this one, from a Saddleback Church pastor. (Not Rick Warren, the most famous of the bunch.) That’s right, just like it used to be legally, he says that morally, violence is not grounds for a divorce. Stay and submit to abuse. 
Or what about Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary? What does he say?
“I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.”  And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.”  And sure enough, he did.  She came to church one morning with both eyes black.  And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter.  And she said, “I hope you’re happy.”  And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.”  And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”
“And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came.  And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front.  And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.”  And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?”  And he’s a great husband today.  And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis.  And remember, when nobody else can help, God can.
And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.  Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.”
Well, bully for him that he came to church, but I see nothing about follow up to be sure that the abuse stopped permanently. Based on my experience, it probably returned as soon as the cycle continued on to the next phase.
 
I hesitate to even dignify Michael or Debbie Pearl with a quote. They are best known for their book, To Train Up A Child, which advocates beating children with plumbing tubes. Several children have died as a result of their teachings. (See note below.)
In what surely must come as no surprise, the Pearls advocate women submitting to violence as well. 
“Has your husband reviled you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how you respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer.Just as we are to obey government in every ordinance, and servants are to obey their masters, even the ones who are abusive and surly, ‘likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands’…You can freely call your husband ‘lord’ when you know that you are addressing the one who put him in charge and asked you to suffer at your husband’s hands just as our Lord suffered at the hands of unjust authorities…When you endure evil and railing without returning it, you receive a blessing, not just as a martyr, but as one who worships God.”
That’s right. Better to be a martyr – that is dead – than to leave and protect yourself or go against the man in any way.
[Note: I do not personally know anyone who is a fan of the Pearls, but they are somewhat popular within the Christian Patriarchy movement, and the teachings are a slightly more extreme version of the beliefs regarding absolute obedience by children and women that are the hallmark of Patriarchy.]
One more example. This one is from Nancy DeMoss, in an interview (along with Mary Kassian, promoting their new series on “biblical” womanhood) on the once fairly mainstream Focus on the Family radio.
We need to be sensitive to the occasions where women have a background of abuse—but we can’t say that the solution for abuse is for women to “cling to their rights.” Christ laid down his rights . . . We are the most like Christ when we are serving, and when we’re not “the end thereof is the way of death.” Feminism is the “forbidden fruit,” and the world’s ways are attractive, but when we bit into it we get a mouthful of worms . . . When you lay down your “rights,” then you find God leads you to pleasant paths . . . We live in a broken world, no one has a perfect marriage . . . we have to wait for eternity to find happiness. 
That’s right! Once again, the “solution” to violence is for the woman to “lay down her rights.” You know, like the right to safety for her and her children.
I also can’t help but note the gratuitous reference to “feminism” as being the enemy. I’ll admit that the use of “feminism” to represent the idea of getting out of an abusive marriage makes me rather inclined to embrace that form of “feminism.” [I want to do a further post on this interview, because there are so many more poisonous things said that need to be addressed.]
I also wince at that line, “we have to wait for eternity to find happiness.” This is sometimes true – the world does not owe us happiness – but again, this is used in the context of explaining why women should endure abuse.
The great Victorian novelist, Wilkie Collins notes this attitude in No Name, when the passive Norah resigns herself to her fate. (See my more in-depth review of that book here.)
“The way to happiness is often very hard to find; harder, I almost think, for women than for men. But if we only try patiently, and try long enough, we reach it at last — in heaven, if not on earth.”
Or, as C-3PO puts it: “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.”
The basic worldview is that women’s happiness, women’s right to be free from violence, and indeed women’s right to life, are all secondary to the need to submit.
[Note: there is so much more awful stuff in that Kassian/DeMoss interview that I wish to address in a different post on the current obsession with gender roles in the conservative church. Stay tuned.]
Needless to say, I find this to be an appalling response to a serious problem. Furthermore, it demonstrates a tendency to side with the perpetrators against the victims – something totally contrary to the Christian ethic. In fact, I would say that one of the key themes of the Bible is to do justice to the oppressed. To oppose the oppressor, to defend the powerless, not those with power. (See Isaiah 58 for more.)
The problem is that for some reason, conservative Christianity has decided that the main if not sole cause of problems in marriages is that women are no longer “submissive.” That is, that “feminism” is the source of our problems, and that all we have to do to go back to whatever Utopian ideal of great “biblical” marriages is for women to reject feminism, give up their rights, and take whatever men give them.
This is a disgrace to our faith.
As a lawyer, I know there is a better way to address domestic violence. It isn’t a secret.
1. Call the police. Violence, even between spouses, is a crime in the civilized world. Treat it as such.
2. Zero tolerance. If you hit, the marriage is over. We do not risk the lives and safety of others, particularly children.
3. Since women – particularly poor women – are at financial risk in a split, be prepared to assist.
4. Before even considering putting the marriage back together, the abuser needs to demonstrate a change. Anger management, two years of a demonstrated change minimum. Preferably five years. (This is similar to drug or alcohol addiction – a long track record of sobriety is needed.)
Now, one of the things that is often raised in this case (and was raised by Patterson, above) is the idea that submission to abuse will result in the salvation of the perpetrator. I’m sure all of us who have spent time in conservative churches have heard that one. In fact, we probably heard a story similar to the one told by Patterson. Leaving aside the fact that I have deep suspicions of anecdotes told by pastors when they are a bit self serving, I have noticed that the stories circulating in churches have all the hallmarks of urban legends. It is always a friend of a friend. Somebody someone once knew. As I indicated above, I deeply doubt that Patterson’s case resulted in a complete transformation. If it did it would be rare. But all the rest are third hand stories. Urban legends.
Do you know what? Unlike those urban legends, I could easily demonstrate the more usual result when a woman goes back and submits. I dare you. Look through the archives of the newspaper of your city or town. Chances are, you will find a case involving a dead woman. Dead at the hands of a husband or partner. And, chances are, the story will mention that the police had previously been summoned to the residence due to violence. Perhaps she even filed for a restraining order. But she went back. And now she is a “martyr” as the Pearls would put it. Thirty percent of women who are are murder victims were killed by their intimate partner. (US Bureau of Justice statistics, 2000)  In fact, here is a recent case from my own hometown. I am happy to note that the wife survived her gunshot wounds. [Update 7-11-2013: She subsequently died from her wounds.] I am not happy to report that the shooter was an attorney. 
This is the usual result of returning and submitting. Not conversion of the violent man. Not some promised miracle. No. After the victim goes back and submits, the abuse continues, and probably escalates. In some cases, someone dies.
There is a solution to the cycle of violence, and it isn’t telling the victim to be nicer and more submissive. It is removing the violent person from the situation.
It is fitting that Eminem and Rihanna perform this song, as both have had their own experiences with domestic violence. Trigger warning. This song contains violence and language, and is highly disturbing. It also illustrates the cycle of violence far too well.
I have, in the course of my law practice, assisted in quite a few divorces involving Christians and also involving violence. I could write an extensive post on the problems in marriages, and may some day. I think that churches often take the wrong approach. However, it is particularly in the “women must submit” diagnosis that things go the most wrong. In the non-violent breakups, the woman generally believes she has been submissive. (I would note that in many of these cases, she has, but has been unloving – a totally different problem.) In all my cases, I have only had one in which the man complained of a lack of submission.
This particular case was also the most troubling divorce I have ever facilitated. (I represented the wife.)
The husband was (and is) a pastor. Also, one of the creepiest people I have ever met. He insisted upon having his way sexually with his wife in a way that she found degrading and painful. Things got so bad that she would lock herself in the guest room every night to avoid rape. It wasn’t until her adult children insisted she get counseling that things changed. The female counselor (provided by the denomination, actually, and a licensed professional) recognized the problem, and helped her end the marriage. It took some work by the counsellor and myself to break through the years of “submit” to get her to believe that she was not sinning by ending the marriage. (I am happy to report that she is doing well several years later. I am also happy to report that the denomination terminated him from his position – a very rare thing, in my experience. However, he quickly found another position in another state. Apparently real creeps never lack employment in ministry.)
Once again, not all or even most of those who espouse hierarchy in marriage are abusers. But the philosophy attracts abusers because it provides them with cover and justification. And, when we tell women that they must stay and take abuse, we become participants in that violence.
This is one of several areas that the American Church seems blissfully unaware of how non-Christians view it. I was told from my childhood that “unbelievers” rejected my religion because they wanted to sin. They viewed us as a bunch of prudes intent on ruining their fun. This isn’t completely untrue. We are viewed as prudes. Sometimes, we deserve it.
But what I have come to realize working in Family Court is that we are also viewed – for good reason – as immoral. Because we say things like this.
There is a great comment on John Piper’s video (linked above) by a person who goes by the handle of “butchkitties.”
“Richard Dawkins wishes he were as effective as this video at convincing people that Christianity is a morally bankrupt mess.”
When we decide that a belief in an ancient hierarchy of rule by men trumps the physical safety and lives of women, we are indeed morally bankrupt, and even an atheist can do better than that.
Note on SGM and child abuse:
Not only is this tendency to emphasise power structures over damage to people expressing itself in a failure to defend women from violence, it has also popped up in the recent lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries resulting from the cover-up of child molestation. (SGM is a church popular with The Gospel Coalition, one of the better known proponents of Complimentarianism, and also known for its authoritarian ways. John Piper is a prominent member of this group.)  (Since several of the perps have been convicted, it is safe to say that the abuse occurred. I think there is also good evidence that the church attempted to cover for the abusers.) Again, submission to the powerful (the church leaders) becomes more important than justice for the victims. Or even protection of the victims. In fact, the leadership apparently made the molested children formally “forgive” and “reconcile” with their molesters. For more on this, I recommend thewartburgwatch.com for their ongoing series on the abuse and coverup.
Again, the same prescription applies – as it should for the Catholic Church as well: Call the police. Prosecute the perpetrators. Support the victims in their recovery.
Note on the Pearls:
Here is a quote that gives an idea of the philosophy of child raising advocated by the Pearls:
Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.
Unsurprisingly, Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams died as a result of these teachings.
 
Note on Rape:
This is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but a related misconception, particularly in Patriarchal culture is that rape is caused by something the woman did or didn’t do.
I previously noted Douglas Wilson’s claim that rape is caused by women not submitting enough, and I reproduce it here:
A blogger and friend of Douglas Wilson re-posted the following excerpt from Wilson’s book, Fidelity: How to be a One Woman Man as a response to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel about kinky, violent sex. All excerpts can be viewed on Amazon.com using the search within the book feature.
Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.
But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.
True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours. (Page 88.)
It is beyond the scope of this post to explain why this is offensive, and I assume most of my readers will find that point to be completely obvious. It also fits neatly with the Christian Patriarchy view that women are in fact lesser beings, and therefore must always be under the protection (and control) of a man. In fact, Wilson makes this reasonably clear in the opening of the first chapter of the book:
This book was written for men and their sons. I suggest that wives read this only when their husbands give it to them, and not the other way around. The introduction mentioned the issue of “straight talk” – and this means, in part, a rejection of euphemism. Some of what is said here may be offensive to Christian women, but the point is certainly not to give offense. The point is to provide biblically specific and pointed help to Christian males. (On page 13.)
Although, again, this discussion is beyond the scope of this one post, I may have to explore the degree to which misogyny and the control of women are a core belief of the Christian Patriarchy movement.
Suffice it to say that, like many of Wilson’s ideas, this one is not only factually false, but obviously factually false. Those places in the world where women are most likely to be raped also happen to be those places which most adhere to the Patriarchal view of male-female relations. Even worse, many of those in these areas of the world that advocate patriarchy mutilate the genitals of their females, which ensures that the sex act is not an “egalitarian pleasure fest.” That, in fact, is the point.
If Wilson were really concerned about ending rape, he might note that women are the safest in those countries that have strong rape laws, a view of women as equals, and influential feminist movements.
[Subsequent note: in the same book, Wilson denies that the HIV virus causes AIDS, and advocates that women have unprotected sex with their HIV positive husbands. No, seriously. Search inside the book at Amazon.com. Page 169]
I would add as well that in the aftermath of the recent Steubenville rape case, there has been a renewed assertion of the lie that rape is about sexual desire. (This ties in nicely with the claim that “she was raped because she was wearing that.” Again, just like with domestic violence, the response is to blame the victim. Not submissive enough. Wearing the wrong thing. I really wish that more people would make an open-minded study of rape culture and the actual facts regarding rape before making such offensive and obviously factually false claims.
Here are a few good rebuttals: Gang Rape is about violence, not sex. 
Note on the duty of the woman to obey:
It is beyond the scope of this post to argue over the particular theological interpretation given to certain passages of the Bible by patriarchists. I may eventually compile some links by those who have a better knowledge of Greek language and history than I have in a future post.
For now, I want to focus on the implications of the supposed duty of a woman to obey her husband. (Patriarchists interpret the Bible to require absolute, unquestioning obedience.) As lawyers, we refer to such things as rights. The husband (in this hypothetical) has a right to his wife’s obedience. The question then would be, what is the remedy? How can the husband enforce the right to absolute obedience? If he can’t, then it isn’t worth much as a right.
As I have demonstrated, the historical patriarchal answer has been that a husband may take physical action to compel obedience. In Hammurabi’s time, that might extend to capital punishment. Later, this would be limited to reasonable beatings, however one might define that.
So, what to do if one cannot outright advocate committing a crime, eliminating beatings as a method of enforcement?
The ever-resourceful Douglas Wilson has a solution for you. (I swear, finding crazy stuff written by DW is almost too easy.)
Yes, that’s right! You can subject her to church discipline (the Protestant equivalent of excommunication) if she doesn’t do what you want. After all, to fail to obey one’s husband is sin. To do it after being warned is persistent sin – and thus warrants discipline until she decides to stop sinning by obeying her husband absolutely. So I guess threatening one’s wife with damnation is sort of better than beating her. I still find it abusive.
[I note that, after this post made a big stir on the internet, Wilson retracted it. However, it is very much in harmony with his views of the absolute duty of obedience, so I’ll admit to doubting that the retraction represents a true change in Wilson’s actual opinion.]
For a good rebuttal and discussion, see this post. 
One of my favorite exercises is to reverse the roles in a situation to expose how sexist (or racist) the “solution” is. In this case, note that the woman is told to go pray about it, but the man is allowed to seek a remedy. Try it backwards. Tell the man to go home and pray. “God, please make my wife do the dishes.” Or, “God, please make my wife have more sex with me.” I would be embarrassed to make that request. But instead, it’s, “God, please keep my husband from beating me.” Yeah, that makes sense.
Or how about this. “A man shouldn’t cling to his rights to have sex and a clean house. Christ’s example proves we should lay down our rights.” Why don’t we hear this? It actually makes more sense than “don’t cling to your right not to be abused.” Didn’t Saint Paul actually use Christ’s sacrifice to describe the way a husband should act. But instead, the woman is told to submit to abuse, while the man is advised on how to get his way. The man is never told that he will need to wait for the afterlife to have clean dishes.
The conclusion is inescapable. A man’s “right” to be obeyed trumps the woman’s right to personal safety.
But, it does fit with the worldview that men are active. Women are passive. They “receive, surrender, accept.” A man takes action to get what he wants. A woman must passively hope that God rescues her.
I will also admit that if I were the pastor and a parishioner came to me asking me to discipline his wife for not doing the dishes, I would be sorely tempted to tell him to get off his lazy ass and go wash them himself.  
Note on the Martyr Complex:
During my childhood years, our family attended John MacArthur’s megachurch in Los Angeles. While he is not nearly as extreme as the partriarchists I quoted above, he is not only a complementarian, but also does not believe abuse is grounds for divorce. At least he grants that a woman has a right to protect herself from physical harm. However, I note that he does not consider verbal and emotional abuse to be grounds for a split.
I believe that this has some serious moral and practical problems. Let me explain.
First, there are plenty of abusive spouses who stop just short of a hit. However, they create an environment of fear and intimidation that is far from healthy. Also, it is damaging to the children, who are typically emotionally abused as well. I can speak from the experience of my practice, my observation of friends and acquaintances, and an abusive situation within my extended family.
Here is the problem: the spouse (nearly always the woman) is able to feel self righteous because she stays and submits. She becomes a martyr. She can tell her friends at church (and her relatives) about how hard her life is, and she gets lots of sympathy. She is able to be the “good person,” the “godly person,” even as she allows her children to be verbally and emotionally abused. And the Church backs her up.
This is yet another reason why domestic violence – and its little sibling verbal and emotional abuse – should be treated seriously. By insisting that there is nothing noble about staying in a bad situation, the following could be accomplished. First, bullies would lose their enabling. If victims leave, they would be left with their own unpleasant selves. Second, all this complaining and the martyr complex would be met with a demand for action. Protect the children, and stop enabling bad behavior. 
 

Homosexuality, Polygamy and One Night Stands

Deutsche Version: Homosexualität, Polygamie und One Night Stands

ONS

Damien from the blog http://gaywest.wordpress.com/ has kindly accepted to comment my last post about homosexuality.
I pointed out that God’s commands are by no means arbitrary and always exist for the sake of the well being of man. That’s why we ought to reject every prohibition which doesn’t contribute to the protection of the person and society but leads to frustration and suffering.
I’ve realized this is the case for commited homosexual relationships and consequently, I am for the abolishment of every political, societal and psychological discrimination against homosexuality in and of itself.
Damien sees himself as a Christian and naturally agrees with me, but would himself extend this reasoning further: one ought also to accept One Night Stands (ONS) and polygamy (which is also called „Polyamory“ in New Speak) since those are not detrimental.
This raises interesting philosophical and theological questions.

What defines what is right and what is wrong?
According to Hedonism, something is good if it maximizes one’s own pleasure and minimizes one’s own pain.
According to Utilitarism, something is good if it maximizes the pleasure of the whole humankind and minimizes the pain of the greatest number of people.
These are undoubtedly two very popular ethical theories in the Western world. However even if one accepts one of them I doubt that ONS and polyamory are beneficial for such goals.

But I reject both theories and think that they lead in quite a few situations to acts which appear to each one of us as devious.
As a Christian, I think that one of the main purposes of life consists of growing in one’s ability to give and receive love. This is also the conviction of many non-theistic worldviews.

And if one accepts this principle, it is obvious that it is much better and healthier to have sex within the frame of a commited relationship than piling up many sexual partners one after the other (ONS).
Polygamy has been many times practiced in the human past and leads to jaleousy and inustices. I don’t doubt that in some cases it can lead to real bonds and affections between the partners but humanly speaking, it seems to be pretty difficult to simultaneously love several partners.

So these were my thoughts on this topic and now I’d be extremely glad to receive the opinion of people from many perspectives.

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Deutsche Version: Von der Sündigkeit der Homosexualität.

Image

I have a very simple reasoning on that topic.

  1. God did not make man for the law but the law for man
  2. hence there is no arbitrary command
  1. a committed lifelong homosexual relationship is neither harmful for the individual nor for society
  2. homosexuals who have to constantly repress their basic sexual feelings and regard them as sinful are suffering a horrific ordeal
  3. thus, lifelong gay marriage should be recognized by the Church as something not evil but normal


Of course, one of the implication might be to give up Biblical inerrancy.

But if someone disagrees with the conclusion, I’d be happy to know where he or she thinks I’m wrong.

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)