Can a culture warrior love his ‘enemies’?

I had a rather unpleasant exchange with “Crude”, a far-right Catholic blogger from America who used to comment on my own blog.

American culture war.
American Culture War.

I am all too aware that both liberals and conservatives are unlikely to like this post as it was written by someone who sorts of stands in the middle and doesn’t adhere to the dogmas of either side.

 

Marc (me)

Are liberal Christians all the same?
Are conservative Christians all the same?

Crude

No, and I sing the praises of some. A short list, admittedly. And I intensely dislike some ‘conservative’ Christians.

However, if I described the key aspects of liberal Christians that I firmly regard as being essentially anti-Christian, I suspect you’ll find quite the overlap of the Venn diagrams.

By the way, Marc. I recall years ago over at your blog was some snarky little German atheist who used to talk about how the irreligious Germans didn’t really have much of a ‘racism’ problem (compared to the more religious US). I warned at the time that there was quite a lot of people ready and willing to immigrate to Europe, given half a chance, and that the perceived lack of problems wasn’t going to last forever. I recall being laughed at and being told how the only problems were the Turks, and that’s under control.

If ever the opportunity arises, let ’em know that I am laughing my ass off whenever I think of that conversation now.

Marc

I recognise at your tone you feel extremely frustrated and angry.
I don’t think this is doing you any good and I honestly don’t believe that this state of mind honours Christ.
I know only few things about your background, life experiences and what you went through.
But I think you’d be better off praying to God that He shows you if certain things you consider to be right might be wrong.
And I shall certainly do the same.

I haven’t got any news from Andy for a long time.
I do believe that we, as Christians, have a duty to welcome and shelter anyone whose live is really threatened.
But Angela’s Merkel decision to accept more than two MILLIONS of migrants was crazy. Many of them are pseudo-refugees. Many of then have no willingness to integrate themselves into the German society.

I am critical of “Black Lives matter” and I just published this blog post.

My opposition to this movement has caused many progressives to call me a “racist” and “white supremacist”.

I am now convinced that liberal cultural warriors aren’t any better than conservative culture warriors.

But I always try to be gracious and respectful towards respectful opponents.

Best wishes and blessings.

https://drmarkpbarry.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/polarization.jpg

Crude

Credit where it’s due, Marc. You’re unusual.

That said, I really do what I think is right. Do keep this in mind: you’re coming around to show some sympathy with a point of view that I’ve long occupied. I used to be more moderate. I tried to have a ‘At least we’re all Christian’ attitude with leftist Christians.

Then I started to notice that the leftists didn’t care about God at all. The resurrection? A side-belief at best. No, what was really of interest was motivating the Church to subscribe to whatever the important secular social issues of the day were, with a bit of God-language thrown on them.

I notice, from afar, that the principal opponents to Merkel’s insanity tend to be people holding crosses and having a far more traditional view of Church and State. It’s the liberal Christians and (especially) atheists urging her on.

Crude

(Quoting me)

Besides, the appalling rise of Donald Trump makes it abundantly clear that there are still many Americans of Europeans descent who hate, resent or disdain Afro-Americans.

Hahahaha.

Why do I even bother?

And just like that, I’m reminded yet again of why I disown the Christian Left. Enjoy your Muslims, Marc. May the liberal parts of Europe give way to sultans, and may the rest be blessed by God.

 

malcolmthecynic

If black people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop all of that rioting and extreme violence.

It would also help me resent them less if there were less black gang-bangers and if they actually made some sort of attempt to form families instead of breeding like rodents.

But what do I know. I’m just a racist.

 

Marc

Hi Malcolm.

If black people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop all of that rioting and extreme violence.

What disturbs me about that sentence is that it involves one hell of an over-generalisation.

“Black” people aren’t a monolithic group. There are as many differences between blacks as there are between “whites”.
Many blacks are appalled by the violence of “Black Lives Matters” and do not feel they represent them.

I agree with you that such acts are indefensible and also completely counter-productive.

But I think you should have written:

If proponents of Black Live Matters don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop supporting all that rioting and extreme violence.

If an Afro-American wrote:

If white people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop discriminating and hating us.”

I would disagree with him for the same reason.

Crude: I don’t expect you to become a liberal Christian.
I don’t expect you to start believing that gay marriage is a good thing.
I don’t expect you to support abortion, all the more so since I believe it should be avoided if the health of the woman isn’t threatened.

But I think that if you call yourself a Christian (and are aware of the Sermon on the Mount), you ought to make a conscious effort to respectfully treat respectful opponents regardless of their ideas.

I’ve always tried to be kind towards you, even when you wrote things I totally disagree with and even when you were insulting towards other commentators on my blog.

Enjoy your Muslims, Marc. May the liberal parts of Europe give way to sultans, and may the rest be blessed by God.”

You are being quite nasty here. Apart from lumping together all Muslims as raping terrorists, you are assuming that I am happy about the current situation, even though I told you that a (small) part of the migrants are violent pseudo-refugees (who are a threat to Westerners, liberal Muslims, homosexuals, and Arab Christians alike).

By the way, Germany and France didn’t invade Iraq. Without American imperialism, there wouldn’t have been such atrocious destructions in Syria and in the Middle East.
So, I do believe that it is the US who should have welcomed the large majority of them.

Let us not forget that most of them aren’t criminals but people who have lost everything because of us Westerners.

https://www.allmystery.de/i/t2277e9_Syrien.jpg
I know this picture is shocking. But let us not forget what Syrian people are fleeing from.

malcolmthecynic

What disturbs me about that sentence is that it involves one hell of an over-generalisation.

What disturbs me about that is that you don’t realize that I’m generalizing.

I’m tired of people pretending they don’t understand that that’s what I’m doing. They do. So I’m not going to apologize for it.

Crude

I agree with Malcolm. The need to constantly self-police and forever parse one’s words to exactitude is nonsensical. Especially when Marc himself will talk about how Trump’s rise obviously shows how wickedly horrible and racist towards black the country is.

That said, the black culture is – for a number of reasons – rife with single moms, who are increasingly copping an attitude of ‘I didn’t do nothing wrong!’ and ‘Oh my God for some reason my kids turned out rotten, it’s not my fault’. White culture has its own mass of problems, but I believe in addressing them, and being clear about their racial realities.

As for Marc, well, that warrants a post of its own.

malcolmthecynic

Yeah. When you realize that the one group you actually made an effort to play nice with is ALSO not, and never going to be, willing to give you a fair hearing, you stop caring about what they think of you at all.

Marc

Crude, I want to be clear about one thing.
I wouldn’t have commented on your blog if you were just a nasty conservative to me. I think you have been being consumed by anger and hatred for too long. And I really believe this is doing you no good at all.

Malcolm, while some folks might understand it this way, many others will feel insulted.

Whenever liberal culture warriors write: “White men cannot bear the idea of a female leading the mightiest country in the world” I feel really offended and angry.

This is why I think *all* such over-generalisations should be avoided.
This is a straightforward application of the Golden Rule you probably know.

Best wishes, Marc.

Crude

Marc,

“I think you have been being consumed by anger and hatred for too long. And I really believe this is doing you no good at all.”

‘Consumed by anger and hatred’ cashing out to… what? Snarky comments? Openly saying I have no patience for a segment of Christianity which was marking me and people like me as a monstrous hateful person even when I was noticeably more delicate and forever trying to be appeasingly careful with my words?

I express contempt for people who despise me or collude with those who do, and I am ‘consumed by anger and hatred’. You buddy up with people who think the failure to service a same-sex wedding is a criminal act, worthy of firing, fining and jailing, but what, you’re better because in direct conversation you’re civil? No, that’s not even in the realm of sensible.

As for ‘many others will feel insulted’ – they’ve turned feelings of insult into a policing weapon. And when we feel insulted or angry, we’re told – and have been told – to shut up and deal with it, because freedom. We offend, innocently or not, and the rules change; our offense is ‘hate’, which freedom is incompatible with.

You should understand why so many people have decided that the politeness game is no longer one they wish to play.

malcolmthecynic

“Malcolm, while some folks might understand it this way, many others will feel insulted.”

You used an example of people of other races making similar generalizations about whites, and you’re quite correct: When that becomes taboo to say, I’ll stop generalizing about blacks.

***************************************

I decided not to further engage them as the confrontation was starting to wear me down.

It goes without saying I completely reject their assertion that it is permissible to be nasty towards a respectful opponent because other people holding similar ideas have bullied you.

Nor do I believe that liberals making racist over-generalisations against whites can justify you making racist over-generalisations against blacks. For this is a form of collective punishment.

(I am using this widespread definition of racism).

As a side note, if anyone is interested in learning the reasons why I don’t think that Black Lives Matter is the right way to tackle the undeniable reality of anti-black racism in America, I am certainly willing to talk about that.

But if you believe there cannot possibly be any such reasons, I am probably not worth your while.

How so-called “leftists” react to heresies

Do you want to be bullied, ridiculed and dehumanised by a LIBERAL culture warrior?

 

Classical liberalism "I disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it". "Progressivism" I disapprove of what you say, and I will publicly shame you, lobby to have you censored and demand you be fired from your job.
Pseudo-progressivism in action.

 

Say to him or her any of the following things.

 

1) Systematic racism against afro-americans is alive and well in America in 2016. This shouldn’t be tolerated. But there are also innocent white kids who get bullied and battered just because of their skin colour. This should be called racial hatred and equally combated.

**********

2) Nowadays, there is still an intolerable level of homophobia and misogyny in the Western World. We must not deny this but eagerly fight it. However,in 2016 the oppression of gays and females is MUCH worse in Muslim countries. They (and liberal Muslims who defend them) are much more in need of our support than Western females and homosexuals.

No Trade with Saudi, killers of gays
A true progressive protest

 

3) Arabs/Muslims in France (especially after the terrorist attacks in Paris) suffer from a very strong discrimination and exclusion. This is awful and despicable and must be combated by all means.
However, young Arabs in French suburbs beating innocent white children to avenge themselves are guilty of racial hatred and should be condemned accordingly.

**********

4) A man whose life has been destroyed by a false rape accusation is as much in need of our help and compassion as a woman whose life has been destroyed by a true rape.

Despaired man.
False rape accusation. Truly, pain, sadness and depression know no gender. And no: statistical numbers comparing men and women do not feel anything at all. Only individuals do.

5) While assessing the existence of real discriminations in the here and now in a given society (say America), you shouldn’t directly compare the whole groups of non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, blacks and Asians  because these populations can be extremely different in terms of poverty, culture and many other factors.

Instead, while investigating academic success, unjustified police arrests, discriminations etc.,  you should compare homogeneous groups such as:

a) wealthy whites and wealthy blacks coming from wealthy neighbourhoods

b) poor whites and poor blacks coming from poor neighbourhoods

c) qualified men and qualified women applying for academic positions in philosophy or mechanical engineering.

**********
6) Anti-black racism isn’t only a Western phenomenon. There are awful cases of persecutions of black Africans in Arabic countries as well. This is something progressive Arabs clearly expose and fight. Curiously, this is something progressive Westerners choose to completely ignore because it destroys their most fundamental beliefs.

**********
7) Race-based affirmative action is unjust and inevitably upholds artificial divisions of humankind.
Instead, it should be replaced by a set of three measures

i) wealth-based affirmative action
ii) any enterprise must have the same amount of employees belonging to the ethnic minority as the amount of that ethnic minority among qualified candidates.
iii) public education in poor neighbourhoods must be extremely strengthened and improved through the intervention of the State. Much more money needs to be spent in these areas.

**********

8) Discriminating a person because he or she is obese, unattractive or behaves oddly due to a mental health condition isn’t any less immoral than discriminating him or her based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

*********
9) Stealing the wallet of a person swinging it around in the street is as immoral as stealing it from his or her closed pockets.
But given the bad mentality of a large number of people, it might not be wise to hold it in one’s hands while walking down certain streets.

 

Raping a sexily dressed and attractive woman is as wrong, egregious and wicked as raping a “modestly” dressed woman.
But given the bad mentality of a large number of men, it might not be wise to dress oneself provocatively under certain circumstances.

Slut walk: naked or clothed, respect is what I am owed.
The phenomenon of “slut-walks“: young women protesting for their right to dress attractively without getting harassed. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with the slogan this girl is wearing. Respect OUGHT to remain the same. But living in a world full of wicked men, it might be extremely UNWISE to walk at night dressed like that. I just fail to see how pointing this out makes you an evil sexist.

 

*************************************************

Liberalism, rationality and morality

 

I want to make it perfectly clear that what I wrote does NOT concern all liberals, but only the true “culture warriors” among them.

These people view themselves as the champions of truth, reason, decency and intelligence.
Actually, my numerous interactions with them have shown me they aren’t any different from nasty religious fundamentalists aggressively defending their cherished dogmas, without evidence and often even in the face of evidence.

I consider myself a progressive Christian because I believe that the Bible contains contradictions and errors and that we need to use our God-given conscience in order to figure out what is right and what is wrong in a complex world and to make moral progress.

I passionately oppose wild capitalism, the oppression of the poor, the exploitation of the third world, homophobia and anything I sincerely find unjust.

And this all too often leads me to think outside the box, as the content of this post proves.

Frankly, I am ready to give up any of the nine “heretical” beliefs I laid out if you give me compelling rational arguments against them.

Insulting and dehumanising me would be definitely most entertaining (to me) 🙂

Alas, it is unlikely to change my mind in the least.

It is particularly embarrassing that many of these self-righteous “leftists” are self-professed Christians.
By bullying their respectful opponents and treating them like the scum of the world, they are dishonouring Christ who taught us to even love our enemy.

Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Jewish woman: certainly he doesn't mean the Romans? Jewish man: I hope not.
Jesus preaching love towards our enemies. Has there been any progress during the last two thousand years in that respect?

 

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Suffering in the name of Christ or persecuting others?

There are currently countless American Conservative Christians believing that the end of their “divine” country is at hand.

Or believing that a terrible wave of anti-Christian persecutions is beginning.

All of us not living on another planet know what I’m talking about.

Gay marriage has been officially recognised as a legally valid (and hence also morally perfectly acceptable) sacred union between two human beings.

Gay marriage
Gay marriage

Of course, this drives all these fundamentalists nuts because recognising there is nothing wrong about two persons of the same sex committed to each other inevitably involves rejecting their crude notion of Biblical inerrancy (the alleged absence of errors in the Bible).

The ironic thing is that once we recognise that Biblical writers can speak with conflicting voices, we cannot fail to realise that the condemnation of homosexuality occupies an absolutely negligible space within both the Old and New Testaments in comparison to social justice issues .

For most Biblical writers, the real sin of Sodom was not to have allowed same-sex relationships but to have callously refused to care for the poor and the needy.

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49.
True sodomy.

While I strongly doubt that God’s wrath will fall upon America because John and James love each other and strive for a lifelong marriage, I do believe that neglecting the health care of poor kids in order to allow millionaires and billionaires to pay less taxes is a crime worthy of destruction.

I recently stumbled across a picture showing another aspect of the religious hypocrisy going on.

So Christianity is under attack? What if I told you that native cerenomies were considered crimes that were punishable by imprisonement until the Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978?
Anti-Christian persecution in America? What about native Americans?

I am myself a Germanic Frenchman coming from an ethnic minority in France which has been persecuted to such an extent that our language is now doomed to disappear.

Consequently, I feel a profound solidarity toward all people around the world whose culture and identity have been destroyed or devastated.

There is no doubt that the ordeals experienced by native Americans are worse, by many orders of magnitude, than those we went through.

Their men and women have been massively murdered, their languages and traditions have been forbidden and they have been treated as worthless foreigners on their own land.

And all those things were perpetrated by people calling themselves the worthy servitors of Christ.

Given that, it seems truly shameless to whine about having to “bear” homosexual couples being recognised in American society.

Now let me be clear about one thing. I respect other Christians believing that homosexuality is a sin, even if I believe they’re deeply wrong on that. I do appreciate there are many decent and loving people among them.

I also utterly reject the loveless and self-righteous liberal bigotry they’re often victim of.

I am, however, truly angry against inconsistent bigoted Christians who focus most of their God-given energy on combating homosexuality while refusing to address the injustices committed against native Americans and the atrocious suffering of poor children who are affected by diseases which can be easily treated in any developed country.

If a perfectly good God revealed Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, I am afraid that American fundamentalists are unwittingly bearing false witness against him.

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How to bear uniformed bigoted comments

I found an interesting post written by an American atheist reporting about her negative experiences with religiously conservative members of her family.

Atheism: a consoling delusion for people who can't handle the reality of God's existence.
The atheistic delusion? Is this a fair and intellectually responsible look at the situation?

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Musings on the Eve of a Family Reunion: Things not to say to your atheist relatives if you want them to continue to enjoy your company

This weekend, we’ll be traveling for my family reunion. Usually, it’s one of the highlights of my summer, but this year…feels different.

I don’t like conflict. It’s not enjoyable for me at all. It makes me feel shaky, to the point where sometimes, I will physically shake. My head will spin a bit. In bygone times, I sometimes backed down from it for just that reason–it felt insurmountable. Nowadays, I’m not so apt to back down, in part because I usually formulate my beliefs based on reasons that I can defend if I need to. That doesn’t mean that I want to, though.

Looking down the barrel of this weekend, I’m incredibly stressed at the prospect of interacting with my family as someone who’s “out and proud” as a nonbeliever. I am afraid of having to constantly defend myself–not because I can’t, but because I don’t want to. I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.

I work best when I can take these worries put them down somewhere outside of my own head, so here’s my list of things you should never say to your atheist relatives if you want them to enjoy your company and not dread having to interact with you. Enjoy.

1. This isn’t how you were raised.

2. You’re just going through a dark time.

3. You’re just rebelling.

4. You just want to be able to sin.

5. Can’t you see God all around you?

6. *any variation of “But Christians really believe this…” or “That person is not really a Christian…”*

7. What does your life mean?

8. What if you’re wrong?

9. How can there be morality without God?

10. Why do you hate something you don’t believe in?

11. You’re just mad at God.

12. You’ve just encountered bad Christians.

13. You really believe.

14. You do have faith. You have to have faith in (science/evolution/etc).

15. Don’t you want to believe? Just in case?

16. God doesn’t believe in atheists.

17. You can’t prove that there’s no god.

18. You’ll be back to God when you need him.

19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?

This is just a brief list, some of which is compiled from personal experience and some from wider stories and interactions online.

Basically, what I’d like to see in interactions with my family is the same lack of ulterior motives that was there before I left religion. I’d like to believe that all of our interactions are in good faith.

I have reason to believe that’s not the case–if there’s one thing our family does well, it’s gossip, and there’s definitely plenty of it circulating right now. I suppose my other wish would be, if I can’t have that lack of ulterior motives, to have brash, bald-faced honesty. I’d rather put it all out there, no half-truths or veiled questions.

If I can’t have no conflict at all, I’d rather just have it out and get it over with.

Instead, I’m stuck somewhere between the two, imagining conversations that might be, and hoping that they won’t be, and wishing that I didn’t have all of this knocking about in my brain. And fully realizing, of course, that it’s just as likely that I’ve blown all of this up in my head because I’m simply an anxious person.

No way to know at the outset. As the cliché goes, the only way out, is through, and so through I go.

Toodles. 🙂

****************

Here is my answer to her post where I draw on similar experiences.

Hello Kayla!

I’m an European progressive Christian and really love this post of yours:-)

“I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.”
I truly like that part. I can very well relate to this and hope that things will get better in your case.

As a Christian, I feel extremely disgusted by the anti-atheist bigotry which is commonplace among American fundamentalists.

I certainly think you should respectfully explain them the reasons why you’re an atheist and reassure them that you are still leading a moral life.

While I think that what you hear during such meetings is mostly offensive non-sense, I find that the following question is genuinely interesting:

“9. How can there be morality without God?”

It can be understood in two ways:

a) if you don’t believe in God, you’re gonna be very immoral
b) without God, objective moral values do not exist

The first interpretation is one more of these fundamentalist insults.

The second interpretation is a philosophical assertion which can lead to very legitimate questions, such as:

“Can objective moral values be meaningful in a completely material cosmos?

Many atheist philosophers would answer that no such thing is possible.

I also want to react to

“19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?”

I am all in favour of giving children a choice. I think that good enlightened Christian parents should always say something similar to that to their offspring:
“Look, we’re Christians, we think this is the best worldview and we believe that atheism is wrong and flawed. Yet, we do recognise there are reasonable and lovely people among other religious communities and atheists.
Therefore, we really encourage you, our beloved child, to make up your own mind.
If you sincerely conclude that atheism is true based, for example, on the problem of evil, then you should follow your conscience and Reason and give up your faith.
God will never punish a sincere person following his or her honestly acquired convictions.
Either way, stay always kind, loving and humble.”

Since your relatives would most likely never say that to their kids, they’re probably hypocrites ,

Now I wanna share my own experience.

I’m a Germanic Frenchman born in secular France and I often went through an ordeal similar to the one you’ve described.

In France, the reigning ideology is called Jacobinisme and it can be summarised as follows:
“French is the only language of the country. All dialects and other languages ought to disappear from the public sphere. Religion is a relic of the past which ought to disappear completely or at the very least become insignificant“.

I fell away from Jacobinisme by beginning to proudly speak and defend the declining German dialect of my region and becoming a Christian.

I then began to hear the following things from relatives and acquaintances:

1) You’re an old-fashioned fossil
2) You’re religious just because you’re “a weak animal”
3) (mocking my German accent)
4) You shouldn’t speak in dialect in the presence of French people
(after I had just whispered something to my father in our Germanic dialect)
5) What a religious brain-washing you underwent!
6) You speak German because you’re a Nazi!
(forgetting that my half-Jewish motherly grandfather could have perished in a Nazi death camp)

and so on and so forth.

As I documented elsewhere, anti-religious people can be as bullying and intolerant as their fundamentalist counterparts.

I usually also base my beliefs on reasons I can defend and a while ago I decided to react to these claims while trying to remain as kind and respectful as possible.
As a rule, I have no problem defeating their weak arguments and the discussions evolve in other directions 🙂

I wish you good luck with your relatives.

I hope we’ll have opportunities to interact with each other in the future.

Best wishes from Lorraine / Lothringen (my homeland).

fundies-anti-theists
Fundies and anti-theists fighting each others.

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On anti-theists and extreme overgeneralizations

I recently stumbled across a post written by a former Conservative Evangelical minister (who has turned into an anti-theist) where she exposes the alleged ways in which Religion (with a capital R) hijacks our inevitable human experience of pain.

"Of course I want religion to go away". I don't deny you your right to believe whatever you'd like, but I have the right to point out it's ignorant and dangerous for as long as your baseless superstitions keep killing people. Anti-theism: the conscientious objection to religion.
Anti-theism: religion is not an incredibly diverse phenomenon but an UNIFIED loathsome entity which ought to be obliterated as soon as possible.

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A Sure Knowledge of Suffering.

She had just learned of the death of her one true love. Pirates, she was told. Specifically, the Dread Pirate Roberts–who, as we all know, does not ever take prisoners. Upon hearing the news, she retreated to her bedroom in shock for quite some time, and her parents gave her plenty of space in which to process her staggering grief. When she finally emerged from her room, her parents were worried–but also astonished at the changes in their daughter:

In point of fact, [Buttercup] had never looked as well. She had entered her room as just an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.

She was eighteen. She was the most beautiful woman in a hundred years. She didn’t seem to care.

Cover of "The Princess Bride (20th Annive...

Cover via Amazon

Buttercup’s journey to her #1 position as Most Beautiful Woman in the Whole World happens at the same time her budding romance with the Farm Boy, Westley, blossoms into love (this is from the book version of the story, which goes into way more detail about the protagonists–and I had better not be spoiling any of this for you). When the lovebirds declare their feelings for each other, William Goldman writes in The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, she is “barely in the top twenty” of the most beautiful women in the world. After Westley leaves the farm to make his fortune, she starts to take better care of herself and leaps to fifteenth, and when a long letter from him arrives as he’s making his way to America, that letter alone sends her straight to eighth place from sheer joy. But that’s where she lingered until learning that he’d died.

A number of stories involve grief and loss as the forces that catapult an innocent, naive character into sudden adulthood. In The Princess Bride, when Buttercup faces suffering for the first time, she leaves her innocent youth behind and enters the full flower of adulthood–as well as a vast fraternity for which there is only one name:

Humanity.

Suffering is surely of the most uniquely human conditions there is. Our capacity for reflection and anticipation, our ability to both recognize the passage of time and to gaze ahead to the future, marks us as bound for pain. Merely to extend our affection to another being–be it a pet or a person–or to extend a great hope toward some goal means turning our ships down a fork in the river that leads to only one destination: the pain of loss.

Someone who has not suffered some great and staggering loss is somehow not complete quite yet. Those of us who are already members of the vast fraternity can admire that person’s youthful naivete–especially if there’s some glorious declaration of intent involved, which seems to come up often for some reason–but we know what’s coming and somehow wish we could both shield that person and make their passage through the frathouse doors a little easier. Until they are sitting in that house with an illicit beer in hand, we really don’t know exactly what to do with that person. We just know it’s coming, is all, even if we don’t know where from.

Suffering sometimes comes from our own misguided efforts or from deliberate unkindness on the part of others–or from the sheer inevitability of time–but often it seems like it’s just bad luck.

It is no surprise to me, therefore, that it seems like every religion tries to put human suffering into some kind of cosmic context (often, as those two links demonstrate, in total opposition to the explanations offered by other religions)–to explain what suffering is and what causes it, to tell people that there’s some purpose to it all, and to tell us how to stop it from coming to our door quite so often.

Religions do this because grief and loss are so universal and so constant in humans’ lives that we want some kind of control over it all. Explaining something implies understanding of it; understanding implies control. There’s a reason why bargaining is one of the significant stages in the processing of grief, after all. What religions are doing is simply trying to do the bargaining at a remove for us, and often before the grief event has even taken place.

But what are we to do when a Buddhist tells us that suffering happens because people get too stressed out by change and that there is no real self at all, and a Christian tells us that suffering happens because oh why yes we totally have selves and those selves are sinful little beasts without the cleansing of “Jesus”? They can’t both be right; those explanations (and many more besides) are diametrically opposed. They could, however, all be wrong.

When we mistakenly believe that our suffering has some supernatural purpose and cause, we start thinking we can influence the events that lead to our suffering.

As one example, let’s look at one of the most pernicious “bargains” Christianity offers. If we don’t tithe, we will suffer hugely, Christian leaders hint to us, and if we do then we’ll have so much fortune that our storehouses won’t be able to hold it all. Years out of Christianity, this kind of promise sounds to me like that nursery rhyme, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” especially after meeting all sorts of people who do and don’t tithe and noticing that there doesn’t seem to remarkable fortune happening to those who do, or misfortune happening to those who don’t. But I’ve noticed that Christians who stop tithing often feel really frightened at the thought that now they’re inviting suffering to their doors by their disobedience. They’ve been taught for years that they can control misfortune by tithing. They might know at some level that tithing has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding or inviting misfortune, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re daring a god to strike them down by disobeying all these pastors’ directives about tithing.

That’s only one deal Christians get offered, though. I was taught a great number of ways to control the whole universe. Many of those ways centered around conforming to my onetime religion’s teachings about how women should act, dress, and speak. Stepping outside those bounds would invite all sorts of disasters. I’d meet terrible men; I’d be at much greater risk for abuse and assault; I’d ruin my entire life. If I conformed, by contrast, I’d meet “godly” men who’d treat me well and I’d be protected by angels from assault. And I dared not even consider non-Christian men as husbands–dear me, no! They’d drag down my faith and who even knows what disasters would hit my life for such glaring disobedience?

Christian rituals were also sold to me as ways to control fortune. I’m betting most ex-Christians have been through this scenario:

I slide behind the wheel of my ancient Cutlass, buckle in, and start the car. I’m down the driveway when I realize I forgot to pray! I panic–and I pause the car at the first opportunity so I can recite the magic spell: Jesus, please let me get to my destination safely and unharmed. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen. Soothed and feeling much safer, I continue on my way.

Even after leaving Christianity, I ended up in spiritual traditions that tried similarly to control suffering and misfortune. That was a really hard mindset to break. It was really hard to let go of the idea that our lives were orchestrated by some big planner and that everything that happened to us did so for a reason. I know that the intent of some of these religions and philosophies is to help reconcile adherents to suffering, but the implicit promise they made was that there were rules to the universe–and if I could only figure out what those rules were, I could get a free pass that other people didn’t get.

There’s another, more sinister reason why prosperity gospel is so popular in the United States–and seemingly only more popular during this period of financial crisis. It’s the same reason why Christians cling so hard to promises around tithing and “modesty.” Someone who is suffering gets seen in Christian culture as someone being spanked by “God” for some indiscretion or misdeed, while someone who is clearly healthy, wealthy, and flourishing gets seen as someone “blessed” by that same deity–with the implication that this “blessing” comes from obedience to the arcane rituals and demands of the religion. Some preachers even make that connection explicitly. It’s not hard at all for me–having come out of a religion that stresses this link between prosperity and one’s choices to obey or disobey religious demands–to see exactly why Christians nowadays tend to belong to the political party that is quickly becoming famous for hatred for and demonization of poor people. Obviously if someone isn’t “blessed” then it’s all that person’s fault. Somehow.

If someone suffers and there’s no reason at all for it–and even worse, nothing that person did or could have done to avoid it, or worst of all if that person was set up to fail by obviously non-supernatural forces–then the entire paradigm gets up-ended. Some people really need to see the world as ultimately fair and just. If one person faces suffering that couldn’t be avoided, then nothing stops anybody else from facing similar suffering.

I’d have saved myself a lot of time and trouble and energy if I’d known that some of our suffering can be understood and controlled, yes, but some of it simply cannot be. Some of it’s really random, and some isn’t stuff I can actually influence. And I think I kind of knew that to some extent. After all, in addition to praying whenever I got behind a steering wheel, I also made sure to drive responsibly and to keep my car maintenance up-to-date. But later I’d meet friends in other religions who used rituals instead of doing those things–and they wondered why they kept getting into accidents and having car breakdowns. Sometimes people didn’t have the money to maintain their vehicles and rituals were the only thing they could afford to do. Sometimes people were deluding themselves into thinking that rituals could take the place of careful driving. And in the case of misfortune that really couldn’t be controlled–or even predicted–these rituals were quite literally all that held out even the vague promise of help.

When I saw those friends making these mistakes in other religions, I couldn’t help but remember all the similar rituals I’d done as a Christian believing that they’d afford me protection from life’s bumps and dips: the tithing meant to invite financial prosperity and stave off economic disaster; the “modesty” dress meant to attract a “godly” husband and keep me safe; the house exorcisms meant to keep demons from entering my family home to cause strife; all the weird little rote prayers I recited to prevent car accidents and the like. One might say to some of these rituals, What’s the harm? But in most cases, these rituals took the place of more constructive efforts–and often cost a great deal of money or time that I could have used elsewhere. Indeed, the only folks who really profit from those rituals are the ones receiving the money and attention from all the frightened sheep falling for those scams, even after their peddlers have been debunked six ways from Sunday.

It’s a scary thing to imagine, though, isn’t it? That there isn’t some great plan nor a great planner in control of it all. That sometimes stuff just happens and we can’t understand why or stop it, and neither can anybody else. That sometimes it’s not some flaw in someone that caused a great misfortune, and nothing that person did to merit that suffering.

Suffering is part of being human. Every single one of us, if we extend ourselves at all, is going to suffer at some point. We’re going to lose a loved one, or face a natural disaster, or get really sick or injured, or become the victim of a random crime, or get caught up in some huge financial catastrophe. Part of our journey, as human beings, is figuring out how much of that we can influence and how much we can’t, and figuring out how to lessen the impact of as much of the random, unstoppable suffering as we can.

We’re not going to do any of that by repeating canned prayers or performing magic rituals, though. Those rituals might soothe us in the short term, but ultimately will not actually help us in a material way–unless we start selling books about it to trick the unwary into buying into false promises of safety, health, wealth, and fulfillment, anyway! As long as we believe that we have some magical way of propitiating whoever we (mistakenly) think is orchestrating the universe, we won’t be just wasting our time and money; we’ll be trying to remain children. I’m not saying we should adore feeling grief or pain (that’d be kind of weird), but rather that we should recognize that that suffering is part of the cycle of humanity, and ignoring the reality of suffering cuts us off from the full range of the human experience. Children think that someone bigger than them controls everything and can fix it all; adults know that even after preparation and planning, shit happens.

That is what Buttercup discovers, alone in her room with her grief: sometimes even the best plans go hideously, totally wrong and there really isn’t any way to understand it, predict it, or control it. Sometimes all you can do is accept the misfortune and move forward–and when you do, you find yourself entering that fraternity at last, and then you find yourself surrounded by a lot of other people who are also trying to move forward from their own suffering. You start thinking it was kind of silly to think you had this magic way of avoiding the suffering everybody else has to face, and you start thinking a lot more seriously about the very real ways that people can avoid trouble and repair the damage of inevitable misfortune. And then we can make the choice to extend ourselves anyway–to take the risk, to love, to try–having done everything we can to prepare and knowing that even so, the risk is worth the taking even if it ends disastrously.

If it does, too, then we won’t blame our lack of adherence to rituals but rather honestly examine if we made or missed some material mistake, and try to do better next time. But we can’t really learn until we can look honestly at just how the misfortune happened; we’ll only blame ourselves for having done something wrong and seek ever-grander rituals and shows of compliance with which to propitiate whoever we think is in charge.

That’s why you need to beware of anyone who tries to tell you that suffering can be avoided through the purchase of snake oil. These rituals and prayers and demands for compliance are just theological snake oil that is peddled to those who don’t know any better and will reach for any straw in desperation. As Westley later tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Indeed.

I’m very glad to be out of a religion that tried to keep me a child endlessly trying to curry favor with a  being who didn’t even exist in order to protect myself from inevitable misfortune and suffering–protection I never got even at my most obedient and compliant. I’ve discovered the sure knowledge of suffering, and while that discovery didn’t make me more beautiful, it did at least make me an adult and a full participant in the human experience, which I’d rather have anyway.

We’re going to talk this week about some more facets of suffering and protection, control and understanding, and you’re most certainly invited to be here for it. See y’all Wednesday!

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Is right-wing Conservative Evangelicalism the whole Christendom?

I understand that the author has gravely suffered from Christian fundamentalism. I can certainly empathize.
I am dumbstruck, however, by the huge number of over-generalizations one can find in her text (quoted in italics).
“But what are we to do when a Buddhist tells us that suffering happens because people get too stressed out by change and that there is no real self at all, and a Christian tells us that suffering happens because oh why yes we totally have selves and those selves are sinful little beasts without the cleansing of “Jesus”?”
I can’t speak for Buddhists, but I know countless Christians who categorically reject this concept.
(See, for instance, my own take on the problem of pain and this post which argues that the concept of sinful nature can’t be found in the very text of Genesis).
“As one example, let’s look at one of the most pernicious “bargains” Christianity offers. If we don’t tithe, we will suffer hugely, Christian leaders hint to us, and if we do then we’ll have so much fortune that our storehouses won’t be able to hold it all.”
I personally don’t know any Christians I’ve met in the real world who teach such a thing.
“Someone who is suffering gets seen in Christian culture as someone being spanked by “God” for some indiscretion or misdeed, while someone who is clearly healthy, wealthy, and flourishing gets seen as someone “blessed” by that same deity–with the implication that this “blessing” comes from obedience to the arcane rituals and demands of the religion.”
You aren’t going to experience that among left-wing Christians. At least not in that universe, as far as I know.
“It’s not hard at all for me–having come out of a religion that stresses this link between prosperity and one’s choices to obey or disobey religious demands–to see exactly why Christians nowadays tend to belong to the political party that is quickly becoming famous for hatred for and demonization of poor people.”
Conservative Evangelical healthcare: "Please pray for my health insurance coverage too, father!"
Conservative Evangelical Healthcare.
As far as American Conservative Evangelicals are concerned, that’s certainly true.
There’s a HIDEOUS logical connection between their specific religious beliefs and the screwing of the poor.
Nevertheless, it can be easily demonstrated that many other Christian traditions (especially in Europe) are horrified by this state of affairs.
To conclude, I’d say it’s perfectly fair for atheists to criticize religions (in the same way it is fair for religious people to criticize atheism) but it is vital to realize that both Atheism and Religion (along many other ideologies and worldviews) are incredibly DIVERSE.
Care should be taken to verify that one’s criticism applies to all members of the species.
Otherwise, one can all too easily end up preaching to the choir.
As a progressive believer, I don’t feel challenged at all by such kinds of posts. This just makes me laugh.

Gay marriage and the fall of American civilization?

I recently stumbled across a short article of prominent Evangelical philosopher, theologian and apologist William Lane Craig where he laments the inexorable progression of same-sex marriage into the heart of America.

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Something very significant happened over this past weekend that we need to be alert to. As you probably know, several weeks ago the Supreme Court refused to hear a case concerning a federal district court’s decision to strike down all of the pro-marriage laws that have been passed by various states – Idaho, Oklahoma, and others out west. These were regarded as unconstitutional because they declared marriage to be between a man and a woman, or in other words, they prohibited same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court refused to hear the decision, thereby in effect ratifying same-sex marriage in the United States by judicial fiat.

When this happened, I just felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. I struck me that the whole American culture had just shifted. Yet there was no outcry; there was no great protest. This event passed almost silently, it seemed. It is astonishing the degree to which people’s thinking about marriage has changed so rapidly. It made me wonder: where is the United States heading morally? The institution of marriage lies at the very foundations of culture. Have we passed a kind of tipping point, now that marriage is no longer between a man and a woman, and is our culture just going to continue to decline from here? It is very disturbing when you think about this sort of trend on into the rest of the century and the next century.

But then I was absolutely stunned to read in the newspaper last Saturday morning that a different federal district court has upheld the ban on same-sex marriage in Michigan and Ohio and certain other mid-Western states. This virtually guarantees that the Supreme Court is going to have to take the case now because you have got two federal district courts at least (actually there are more) that are in contradiction with each other on the question whether or not the states have the right to pass laws saying that marriage is between a man and a woman only.

So this is probably going to go to the Supreme Court. According the paper it will probably be heard around next April or so. For me, at least, this is a call for renewed and intense prayer about this Supreme Court case. I have personally decided to covenant with the Lord to pray every day about this decision until the Supreme Court renders it – to keep the Supreme Court in prayer that these justices will make the right decision, or that if God so wills he might remove one of these justices and replace him or her with a different justice who would make a right decision.

This is entirely within God’s power to do. The Lord hasn’t seen fit in the past to save us from our own folly in this way, but I don’t think that is a reason not to pray. I would encourage you to think about this in your own life, too – whether or not this might be a matter about which you would covenant to pray. For this case truly represents a huge cultural watershed for the United States.

I appreciate that Christians differ on the question of whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed. I think a lot of younger Christians especially have a sort of inclusivist attitude, thinking: how does it affect heterosexual marriages if you also allow marriage between same-sex partners? It doesn’t make any difference. It is just wider and broader, but it doesn’t affect anything, so it is all right. This attitude is very naïve. Since marriage is not a private institution but a civic institution – a public institution –, it carries with it certain civil rights that must be respected in the public square. What this means is that those who continue to regard marriage as exclusively heterosexual in nature are going to have their civil rights infringed or trampled upon. This is already happening. There was a court case in Massachusetts where a wedding photographer declined to film a same-sex wedding ceremony because he didn’t believe in same sex marriage. He was taken to court and had to pay $6,000 for not doing this. There is a wedding chapel in Idaho that is now under threat of being closed because the owners don’t want to perform same-sex marriages in their chapel. Their decision is regarded as civil discrimination.

So the idea that there can be a sort of peaceful co-existence of two concepts of marriage is just naïve; it is not true. When I’ve talked to homosexual activists at academic conferences, they acknowledge this themselves. They say the peaceful co-existence view is a naïve view. If same-sex marriage goes through, it is going to change things. That is exactly the activists’ intention. One of them said to me, “Really, same-sex marriage is old hat. That is not really what this is all about. We don’t think that marriage is an institution that should be recognized by the government at all. It is discriminatory for the government to give special privileges and benefits to people because they are married.”

So the same sex marriage issue is really just a thin-entering wedge to deconstruct marriage altogether. How does one do it? By denying that marriage has an essence or nature. Marriage is not essentially between a man and a woman. Rather, on such a postmodernist view, marriage is a social convention akin to driving on the right-hand or left-hand side of the road. There is no objective truth about it. So you can define it any way you want. If we go that route – if we deny that marriage has an essence and is just a social convention – then, of course, it is completely malleable and can be turned into anything. So the drive for same sex marriage is actually an attempt to deconstruct marriage under the mask of obtaining equal rights, marriage equality, and so forth. But that is not the real issue.

I feel free to speak about this issue because I think it is not merely political. It seems to me that this issue is deeply spiritual and moral and, frankly, does represent a kind of watershed moment in American culture. The institution of marriage itself is under assault. So I hope that some of you will join with me in praying for our Supreme Court as we approach this decision.

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My response follows.
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Dear professor Craig,

I thank you so much for allowing comments on your blog. Even if I don’t expect any answer from you, given your overloaded schedule, I want to let you know my own response to what you just wrote.

It is fair to say we’ve very different starting points. You hold fast to Biblical inerrancy (as defined by the Chicago statement) whereas I’m a progressive Christian believing that the different Biblical authors might speak with conflicting voices on some topics.

Nevertheless, both of us are sincerely trying to follow the Risen Christ and we both agree that the entire Christian ethics can be traced back to Love (for God and, which is equivalent, for one’s neighbor).

And this is why I am NOT opposed to Gay marriage.
God made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath. It stands to reason that a perfectly good God would not forbid us things arbitrarily , that is to say according to his good pleasure.
Therefore, if something is wrong and forbidden, it must be harmful either for the individual or for society (I don’t limit “harm” to physical pain but also include anything hindering us from becoming better persons and growing in Love).

Therefore, if homosexuality is wrong, it must be detrimental in some ways. But all available evidence shows us that lifelong committed gay couples are not being harmed or impaired in their cultivation of love when compared to heterosexual couples.

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Since I reject the idea that a morally perfect being could issue arbitrary laws, I reject the idea that God prohibits Gay marriage.

You wrote that you “just felt as if you had been kicked in the stomach”.

Are you feeling the same way towards poor children not receiving any decent healthcare even if they suffer from life-threatening conditions?
Are you grieving about this Christian psychotic man who is going to be put to death in Texas for murders stemming from his sick and irresponsible mind?
Are you saddened by the prison industry which (by using the war on drugs) puts countless black and other socially disadvantaged people into jails, thereby ruining their whole lives?

Should these egregious and tragic states of affairs not be “a call for renewed and intense prayer”?
It seems to me that the priorities of American Conservative Evangelicals aren’t really the same as those of the Biblical writers.

Finally, let me say that I respect Conservative Christians disagreeing with me on homosexuality.

I do NOT approve of resorting to propaganda and judicial power to silence political opponents.

I radically oppose bullying opponents to Gay marriage.

I can’t fully sympathize with the Gay lobby due to all their excesses and lovelessness.

I agree that a part of the movement wants to abolish marriage and promote any lifestyle causing no direct and immediate harm. This is something I am strongly opposed to and I think that any form of relationship not fostering the growth of selfless love, commitment, humility and kindness should be rejected.
This is why I don’t approve of One Night Stands and of polygamy, even if for many Biblical writers, God had no problem whatsoever with the latter.

I am deeply convinced that your belief that combating Gay marriage should be one of the main priorities of modern Christians is profoundly misguided and dangerous for the Church.

To my mind, the greatest wickedness of the American society consists of caring more for the rights of a small wealthy minority while failing to meet the basic needs of the poorest part of the population.

This is objectively wrong and egregious. And this is something which should lead any Perfect Being to disapprove of (or even “curse” if you prefer) a culture.

Sincerely and fraternally yours.

Culture war: On loving one’s enemy and winning an argument

If you had the choice between both options, which outcome would you favor?

Keeping a friendly and respectful tone during the whole discussion, even if this might give to outsiders the impression that your cherished ideas aren’t quite airtight?

Or demolishing your adversaries with your words so that most people would perceive your rhetorical victory as the superiority of your beliefs?

Sadly, countless folks at the left and right side of the Culture War are passionately committed to option 2) and almost never wonder if their attitude might cause serious emotional harm to their opponents.

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This happens all the time for hot topics such as abortion or homosexuality where kind and respectful persons are constantly being bashed, insulted, humiliated and bullied on the ground of certain beliefs they hold sincerely.

I was really delighted as I found this refreshing post arguing for Gay marriage but in a spirit of love.

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God Does NOT Define Marriage as a Man and a Woman

marriage2

“I am sorry if gay marriage attacks the sanctity of your fourth marriage.”

Does God define marriage as only for one man and one woman? You would think so by how often it’s claimed. But the answer is ‘no’ and I am reclaiming that truth today.

As marriage equality becomes the law of the land, pastors are seeking real answers for how to respond. As I said last week, there are people sitting in pews and pastors standing behind pulpits whose hearts are being changed by God. More than you can imagine.

Perry Noble, a pastor in South Carolina said this is one of his most frequently asked questions. He wrote about it on his blog, and I appreciated his loving tone and his focus on Christ. But I differed on his view of marriage equality and thought it worthy of a response, not just on directly to him, but for others working through this issue in their congregations. (Here is a link to his post.)

Here is my response.

Perry,

I appreciate your message about same-sex marriage, your heart of love, and not wanting to legislate morality – that you want to point people, with love, to Jesus. That is the call of a Christ-follower!

But I differed with you when you said, “And as far as we’re concerned, God clearly defined marriage as a relationship between a male and a female in Scripture.”

Biblical marriageIt’s simply not true.

We see various configurations of marriage (multiple wives, multiple wives plus concubines, marrying your dead brother’s widow, etc.) that are NOT condemned. They served a compassionate purpose in a period of time.

I’m not saying this to be a burr in your saddle, but to point out that your conclusion is not foregone. Pastors and scholars who have studied this disagree. I thank you for encouraging your people to love, not moralize. I want to encourage you that love is enough! Being the love of Christ is enough!

Jesus tells us to let the Holy Spirit lead in all truth, not to try it ourselves. We are not to be trusted with correcting. We have a poor track record at it!

Only a little legalism empowers people to take matters in their own hands, and soon you have bullies enforcing those views in the classroom and workplace, and parents kicking kids out of their homes.

I thank you for your kind heart. I implore you to make sure your people get the main message: love, love, more love, when they’re tiring of loving let Jesus love through them, and leave all the correcting and directing to Jesus.

Otherwise, they’re in danger of hurting someone Jesus loves dearly.

Marriage is not about religion. Atheists get married.
Marriage is not about reproduction. The infertile get married.
Marriage is about love. That’s it.

And that’s beautiful.

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My response fellows.

I’m myself a progressive Christian having coined a very simple argument showing that Gay marriage is NOT against the will of God .

I believe that no law of God is arbitrary and that the whole Christian ethics can be entirely summed up by Love and its consequences, which is the central message of Jesus.

Even during my non-Christian youth, I believed (owing to prejudices) that homosexuality was a harmful and deviant lifestyle. But after having done thorough researches and read the testimonies of real people, I realized it is not a condition one chooses and that committed homosexual relationships are as harmless as heterosexual bonds.

I loudly affirm that two persons of the same sex can be married while fulfilling their God-given commission which is to grow in Love .

I’m bitterly grieved by the fact so many Conservative Evangelicals focus so much on homosexuality while ignoring real and devastating sins.

But I also know that numerous Conservative Christians opposed to gay marriage do NOT hate queer people and that they sincerely try to separate what they view as a sin from the “sinner”.

Therefore I disapprove of John Shore’s strategy (Even if John might be a wonderful person in other areas) and think we should keep harsh words for those truly deserving them, i.e. self-righteous bigots.

Thus your correspondence with Perry was really lovely and I wish all actors of the Culture War would treat their respectful “enemies” in this manner.

As for marriage, I think it is clear that the Bible speaks with conflicting voices on many topics .

It is a culturally-conditioned text which contains both an awesome beauty and a utter darkness. Like our own soul.

Thus I think that enlightened Christians ought to understand it as people reporting their experiences with the Almighty and reflecting on them, in the same way C.S. Lewis and many others did.

Trying to follow an inerrant Bible is not only logically impossible (due its inconsistency) but also  very dangerous since it leads many people to pick and choose evil verses for building up their doctrines.

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The day America will become a true civilization

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I shall add that universal healthcare should be viewed as a no-brainer as well.

In a modern technological and wealthy civilization worthy of that name, birth contingencies should play no role whatsoever in the way a sick child receives the appropriate treatment.

In that respect, the USA are really akin to primitive, reactionary and callous states having not yet reached enlightenment.

To my mind, this egregious injustice is far more preoccupying than the prevalence of Young Earth Creationism there.

That many Christians summon the name of Christ to justify these ignoble barbarisms is truly beyond me.

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Persecuted anti-theists?

I recently came across a well-argued post calling out American Christians to stop viewing atheists as immoral fools.

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Why Christians Should Stand Up for Atheists

Freedom3I have just spent several hours talking with atheists on one of the blogs here at Patheos. This wasn’t my first time talking with atheists, but this conversation was particularly illuminating and, for the most part, respectful. Several members of this community welcomed me, despite the fact that they disagree profoundly with me. I am grateful for this. This community shared experiences and raised some very thought-provoking questions.

I came away from this conversation challenged that I need to do more to stand up for the rights of atheists (and those of other religions) here in the United States. Not because I agree with them on God and theology, but because they are human beings who deserve respect. Because when we stand up for someone else’s rights, we are appropriately loving our neighbor and treating them as we would want to be treated.

One thing that atheists (and those of other religions) rightly criticize in America is that there is a profound Christian religious privilege that is present here. If you are a Christian, this might not seem like a problem. Or you may be so steeped in religious privilege that you think the predominant mood of America toward Christians is one of persecution. You may even view attempts to level the playing field as being such persecution.

I don’t mind that there are a lot of Christians here in America. If they act like Christians, I think it’s great! In fact, I wish everybody was a Christian. But what I do object to is the wielding of power and dominance over others. I object to the confusion of the two kingdoms–the kingdoms of God’s left and right hand. I object to the idea that we can force everybody out there to conform to our beliefs.

I have argued previously that the Christian worldview as taught by the New Testament is not built on power, but on servanthood. While Christians are free to seek political power in order to serve their neighbor, they are not to seek it to benefit and serve themselves. Not only are attempts to wield power and dominance over others fundamentally unlike the Christ we serve, but they are also a terrible stumbling block to those who are not Christians. Do we want to witness to the saving power of Christ who is strong in our weakness? Then why have we bought into a model that claims earthly power a la James and John (Mark 10)? Why have we begun to believe the lie that our struggle is against flesh and blood, after all (see Ephesians 6)?

And why do we make atheists and those of other religions actually afraid for their lives when they ask for the same freedoms we want for ourselves and our families? I am told that the joke in the atheist community when they challenge our bastions of Christian political power and privilege is, “Cue the death threats.” Now, I understand that most Christians would not make death threats against atheists, but do we enable those who do by failing to call them out? Do we contribute to a hostile, snide, unloving atmosphere of discourse in our country when we tell them their issues with us are merely their perception of Christians rather than acknowledging that we have some serious problems in our community? Do we value those loud, obnoxious voices who are more interested in “sticking it to” somebody they disagree with than treating them with love and respect (I’m looking at you, Matt Walsh, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter)? Are we willing to listen and learn?

I feel blessed to have met these atheists. I don’t agree with them on faith, but I agree with them on the need to treat each other with respect. I agree with them that we need to make room for people who believe differently. Those differences in belief are crucial and important. I’m not about to give up my wish (and even prayer) that everybody come to faith in Jesus. But I am totally willing to give up my “right” to force everybody to be or act like a Christian.

So, how can we stand up for our atheist friends?

We can defend the child who is serious enough about his beliefs that he won’t “fake it” and stand up for the part of the Pledge of Allegiance that says “one nation under God.” We can stand against any instance when the government tries to establish some form of state religion. We can decry death threats against those who are speaking their beliefs, loving them enough to defend them even if we disagree profoundly with them. We can do this by considering that certain governmental expressions of religious faith may not be the greatest idea.

For example, why is it necessary that children in a secular school pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God”? Why is it necessary that schoolchildren have a time of prayer led by the teacher? If we would be willing to listen to the concerns of non-theists and those of other religions about such matters, perhaps we would find that such practices are not necessary after all and that they hinder freedom of religion for everyone–ourselves included. Perhaps we would have to acknowledge that atheists are actually persecuted in this country.

And perhaps we would discover that Christian witness is not best served by a dead, forced recitation, but by allowing freedom to flourish. Perhaps we would discover that authentic Christianity thrives when its focus is not on dominance but on service to neighbor. Maybe, every once in a while, someone who believes differently than we do would actually stop to listen to our perspective because we were willing to listen to theirs.

But even if they don’t, I ask you, which model better serves our humble Lord who emptied Himself for us (Philippians 2): political dominance or service? And isn’t faithfulness to Him more important than “results” or seeing our “agenda” achieved?

American Christianity is at a crossroads these days. We can either continue with our pursuit of power at all cost, or we can release the idolatry of control, surrender ourselves into the hands of God, and humbly serve our neighbor. Doing so will certainly mean that we share our faith with our neighbor (yes, even in words!), but it will not mean that we force them into submission. Such tactics are as far from New Testament Christianity as East is from West.

EDIT on 11/8/14: Several commenters have brought up the point that it sounded like I was describing atheism as a “religion.” I addressed this a few times in the comments, but I understand not everyone has time to wade through the comments. I think a better term would be “belief system,” although I do understand that the basic belief is non-belief in the sense of “I do not believe there is evidence for the existence of God.” The intent of my statement was not to call atheism a religion, but to recognize that Christians in general sometimes have a hard time recognizing the rights of other belief or non-belief groups.

Hopefully, that is helpful.

****

Here is my response.

Dear Rebecca Florence, thank you so much for this marvelous post.

As a Continental European, it’s really hard for me to imagine how it must feel for someone to live along the Christian Right.
I’m really glad that most Christians and atheists discussing with each other on the Old Continent tend to be pretty respectful and can develop a friendly relationship despite some fundamental differences in their most basic beliefs.

I do believe one always ought to be respectful towards a respectful opponent ,no matter how repugnant one might find his or her ideas.

I think that we must constantly remain wary of deeply entrenched psychological mechanisms which lead all too easily to tribalism, an “us against them”-mentality and dehumanizing our adversaries.

I think that my main problem with your article consists of the fact you unwittingly tend to present “atheists” as a homogeneous group.

Of course, it’s really not the case. There are many different types of Christians, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, pantheists, deists and atheist out there.
A SMALL subpart of atheists are anti-theists, i.e. people who believe that all religions ought to disappear.

Having spent countless hours interacting with these folks and their writings, I can truly say they’re no better than nasty religious fundamentalists. (Interestingly enough, in an American context anti-theists often tend to be former fundies ).
They see the Bible in a perfectly binary manner like fundamentalists, and for some of them the presence of atrocities in one text justifies burning the whole book , i.e. also the writings of many completely unrelated authors.

The New Atheists (I use this phrase interchangeably with anti-theists) explicitely advocate the use of emotional bullying, ridicule and mockery against religious persons.

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They sometimes even have a cult-like thinking and keep falling prey to binary thinking.

A great number of people present on their forums and blogs are driven by the same kind of hatred which motivates European far right people.

Let me be clear about this. I do believe there are great and respectful atheists out there. ( Here is a good example).

I hate hearing Conservative Christians asserting that atheists (in general) are immoral fools and I if I have the opportunity, I step in against this kind of vicious and groundless attacks .

I do affirm that many atheists are good people, and I believe that many of them dying as unbelievers will accept God’s invitation on the other side of the grave.
I am yearning for a society full of compassionate and humble persons who manage to remain courteous and polite while not denying their convictions.
I congratulate you for being an excellent rule model in that respect.

But we cannot say,in general, that Christians in America are the oppressors whereas atheist are the victims.
No, this country of yours is going through a terrible culture war where one can find assholes and individuals of good will in the different camps.

I see a vicious circle of hatred going on which is very similar to racial tensions in modern France .
It’s vital for everyone to recognize that all atheists and theists are not the same, and that our just anger should be reserved for self-righteous bigots who are the powder keeping alive the fire of the culture war.

I do speak up for the right of anyone to loudly proclaim their metaphysical convictions without having to fear any kind of discrimination.
But I will never encourage groups of people who are driven by hatred and the self-righteous desire to feel superior to all the rest of us.

Lovely greetings in Christ.

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The ordeal of progressive Christianity in America

I recently had the immense privilege to interview the fantastic progressive Christian blogger Michelle Morr Krabill, author of the blog WordOfaWoman.

She confessed me she also has a chaotic mind so that our mutual dialog won’t necessarily be always well structured 🙂

********

Hi Michelle, thank you so much for having joined me! Could you please tell us more about your background?
Good afternoon! Thanks for inviting me. I have a long and interesting background but I will try to give you the shortened version. When I was a very young girl my family was involved in the Methodist church. However when I was about 5 my parents became involved with The Way International. After I got married, my husband and I left the Way and kind of were on our own, occasionally meeting with other people who had left that ministry. After a few years we began attending a non-denominational evangelical church. About 5 years ago we started our own community, Novitas Church.
There is really so much more to the story.
Did you start your journey with Conservative views regarding the Bible?

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Yes and no. The Way had very diverse views, on the one hand they believed in the inerrancy of the Scriptures and on the other they were non-trinitarian, believed in the gifts of the spirit, the concept of soul sleep and the law of believing. However, as an adult I became an evangelical and bought into most of the standard doctrines and practices of the evangelical church.
My views have definitely evolved over the years.
That is to say there was a time where you held fast to the Chicago statement on inerrancy, according to which everything a Biblical writer intended to convey is true, right?
Yes. I was definitely taught that the Bible in its original state was without error and was “the Word and Will of God”.
What called this conviction into question?
As with so many things it is a build up I think of many things over many years, but I think the turning point for me personally was a book called The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight.
What is this book about?
Blue Parakeet is a book about how we read and relate to the Bible. It talks about how the Bible is actually more of a library of books that contain the stories of how people throughout time have related to God.
But Scot himself holds fast on inerrancy, doesn’t he?
It suggests that we should flip the book over as it were and picture Jesus as the spine and read both the Old and New Testaments through the lens of Jesus’ life.
You know, I am not 100% sure where Scot stands on inerrancy.
I just know that for me, looking at the Scriptures in a new way, does not detract from them at all but rather it allows me to reinterpret them in light of the life of Jesus.
Where people related to God as judgmental and honestly a little genocidal in the old testament, we see through the life of Jesus, that that was simply the way the people of that time understood God.
Frank Schaeffer was just here with us last weekend and he puts it in a really great way…
He likes to say that Jesus came to edit our views about who God is. In fact the way Jesus dealt with the Torah (the only Scriptures he had access to) was to question it at every turn. He would often say, it says this but I say this in direct contradiction to the law.
My own journey has led me to view Scriptures as people reporting their own experience with God in the same way many of them did outside the Protestant Canon. I, for example, don’t view the author of Hebrews as necessarily more inspired than C.S. Lewis. But I do believe that both men have had terrific experiences with the Almighty.
Is it something you might be sympathetic to?
I wholeheartedly agree. I believe God spoke through the scriptures but he is still speaking today and I can learn just as much from you as I can from Paul. Blasphemy, I know. 🙂
(I return you the blasphemous compliment 🙂 )
I think that historical critical scholarship makes it extremely hard to maintain the notion that God speaks through a limited set of ancient books.
I do as well and I think that everyday life bears this out as well.
And, as I said before, I think Jesus himself proves this to be true.
He was decidedly not a “man of the book” in the sense that he was constantly running afoul of Levitical rules.
Touching the leper
Touching dead bodies
Letting a bleeding woman touch him
Calling the women out of the kitchen to come and talk to him
Talking to the Samaritan woman
Working on the Sabbath
Not picking up a stone to kill the woman caught in adultery.

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What is your response to Conservative Evangelicals saying that Jesus DID believe these laws to be inerrant BUT also temporarily limited?
So you say. Were you there to ask him?
How do you know?
We have no evidence, written or otherwise that would indicate that.
In my opinion they find that kind of freedom unnerving.
Yeah, but they might say we have no evidence either that he did not approve of these laws.
It is much harder to control people if my way is correct.
Actually we do, his own words and actions.
To my mind, it’s clear that Christ viewed these laws as a hindrance against charity.
Jesus had but one law. The law of love.
He said EVERYTHING depended on it
Precisely! This is the very basis of my argument for Gay marriage. All things forbidden are forbidden because they run against Love and are harmful.
Agreed.
But homosexuality isn’t harmful and doesn’t go against Love therefore Gay marriage should not be forbidden
I did a whole series on the so called “clobber passages” the verses used to condemn homosexuality.
Many of these verses are far more ambiguous than many people think, even if one accepts inerrancy.
People can find the series here.
Thanks!
I think people are often surprised when they learn how few verses actually talk about the subject in the scriptures and how misinterpreted they often are. The link is for the conclusion post but has links to all the previous posts in the series.
It is also stunning that “sodomy” can be better interpreted as gluttony and lack of charity according to several Biblical writers
Indeed!
Is it fair to say that caring for the poor is in the Bible (as far as the volume is concerned) 2000 more important than same-sex relationships?
Not sure how many times exactly, but for sure far far more verses on caring for the poor and yet most of the western Christians I know are more concerned with stopping gay marriage than they are with feeding the poor, especially if the government has anything to do about it. The gospel of Jesus is all too often replaced with the gospel of Ayn Rand and the Christian Coalition.
What is the Gospel of the Christian Coalition?


The Christian Coalition, is a group started by Pat Robertson to give Christians a voice in government. Their website says: The Coalition is a political organization, made up of pro-family Americans who care deeply about ensuring that government serves to strengthen and preserve, rather than threaten, our families and our values. To that end, we work continuously to identify, educate and mobilize Christians for effective political action.
You can find their agenda here.
It includes, defunding Obamacare, Defending the second amendment, defending traditional marriage, outlawing abortion, defending gun rights, standing with Israel, posing Liberal judicial nominees etc.
yada yada yada
And what about the poorest members of American society?
To hell with them. Sorry. I know that seems a little harsh, but for the most part when it comes to government programs to aid the poor there is little to no compassion to be found.
People often state they think taking care of the poor is the church’s job not the government’s.
But comparisons with Continental Europe aren’t very flattering, right?
The problem with that is if you do a little digging, most churches spend about 3% of their budget on benevolence.
No, in my opinion, they are not very flattering.
I did a piece on this a while back as well. It can be found here.
Is it STILL the case that, in highly modern America, poor children are receiving a terrible and inhumane healthcare?

Children await treatment at a free clinic as part of Operation Lone Star August 4, 2008 in Laredo, Texas. The two-week medical operation, run by the Texas military forces and the Human Services Commission, aims to treat more than 10,000 people along the Texas border with Mexico. Many of the patients are either uninsured or underinsured and cannot afford medical and dental care on their own. Healthcare has become an important issue in this year's U.S. presidential campaign.
It is! Obamacare has actually done a lot to mitigate the problem but there is still a long way to go.
For example, in states like mine (I live in Texas) Governor Perry has refuse to take much of the federal money available for helathcare.
Most Conservatives I know are no moral monsters. But they say that it’s not the job of the STATE to care for poor children, this should be the concern of their family, relatives, communities, Churches and so on.
I totally agree. Most conservatives I know are kind and loving people. But there is this huge disconnect when it comes to the government helping the poor.
What are the shortcomings of their solutions?
There just isn’t enough money in the church coffers to get the job done.
Even if we spent 100% of the money in the church budget.
I outline all of it in the article I posted.
Of course. But what about FREE donations of rich people?
There are a lot of numbers. You would be surprised.
I actually have a huge problem with the whole way we have the church structured. From the pastoral/priest system to the way we do church with big buildings and big congregations, to the seminary system. It seems set up to create Pharisees.
And often cults of personality.
Like that about Mark Driscoll?
Exactly like Mark Driscoll.
Mark is just a man like any other man and the system is set up to elevate men like him to a position they should never be expected to fill. It is set up to become a Machiavellian nightmare.
Make no mistake, he is responsible for his own actions, but they system is set up to feed it.
Could you sum up what you view as his worst sins?
People will go to a church with thousands and a huge light show and a rock climbing wall and a gym over a small church that meets in a bar. Often they choose a show over a community.
I don’t know that rehashing Mark’s sins by me is profitable at this point. He is a sinner in need of grace just like me. However I do think the need for repentance is real and as of yet that seems to be non-existent.
Oh yeah I completely agree we should never see ourselves as morally superior to our enemies but I do think we must sometimes talk about bad things they did…both for their victims and the health of their own soul.
I meant his bullying concerning Gays and women.
I think this needs to be clearly exposed for avoiding history to repeat itself.
Agreed.
Even if Mark might have been disfavored by a bad psychological background, so it’s not about judging ourselves as superior to him.
Mark’s bullying and misogyny are well documented and evil for sure.
Could you perhaps give examples of him or anyone else bullying people in this manner?
I think we begin to heal from this sort of thing when we recognize that often as people we want someone like Mark to tell us what to do. Many people gravitate to a person who will control them because it makes them feel safe. If you tell me what God wants from me and then I do it I can feel like I know that I am okay with God. In my opinion we should never allow anyone the voice or opportunity to decide for us who God is or who is “in” or “out”. When we give people that kind of power we should not be surprised that they abuse that power.
Amen!
The examples of Mark’s bullying and misogyny are all over the internet.
There is a great article about this by John Shore. As he says, you can’t allow people to pee in your pool. lol
There is a growing number of people in America who leave the Church and become resentful anti-theists.
What’s your take on this?
Here is a quote from the post which sums it up quite well for me:
“The idea of letting other people tell me, or in any way decide for me, who God is, or what the nature of God is, is … repelling to me. I mean, I get why eventually any sane person would just go, “Something’s wrong here. Christianity appears to be a solid FAIL. I gave it my all. But enough is enough. I’m out.”
But, for me, screw that. If people keep peeing in my pool, I don’t abandon the pool. I refresh the water, and then build a fence to keep people the freak out. I stop letting strangers in my … pool area. (Um … to be clear: I’m not advocating keeping people away from Christianity–as if anyone in this culture could, given that, you know, it’s everywhere. What I mean is that I have no interest in … letting, well, pee-ers—by which I mean toxic people whom I don’t know or don’t respect—to … sully my waters, pee in my pool, get into my yard, define for me my Christianity–which, for the record, is unimpeachably rational and militantly non-invasive.)”
My faith is my faith no one else’s. It is my responsibility to continuously choose love over judgment, to welcome everyone in the name of Jesus, to choose freedom over bondage.
Amen!
For me the day I trade my doubts and freedom for the certainty of three songs and one man who has “all the answers” is the day I begin to lose my soul.
The irony is, since I have begun to embrace my doubts and the paradox of life, I have never felt closer to God.
I feel delighted for you 🙂 But time is beginning to fly by. Could you, to conclude, talk about the World Vision catastrophe? You know, this Evangelical welfare organization who ended up stopping discriminating Gay people among their employees. Consequently, most Conservative supporters retracted their help. Could you please put this in a nut shell?
It was tragic. I thought their initial decision was good but then when everyone jumped ship and abandoned the kids which was so upsetting. I know they backpedaled because of that. In the end the children were the ones who got hurt. It was just awful. I find it appalling that people would abandon children over the issue of loving all people.
I entirely share your feelings. But in Europe, Conservative Evangelicals are much less focused on homosexuality than in the States. What could one do for fostering the evolution of mentalities in this country of yours?
I think it is currently evolving and at a rather quick pace. The millennials in particular are much more inclusive than previous generations.
But, I think that attunes are changing across all generations. We are in the process of becoming a much more inclusive people and that makes me very happy
As always I think it is a matter of empathy.
🙂 🙂
So I thank you very much for this interview. You’ve been truly wonderful.
Of course! It was my pleasure. I really enjoyed it.

 

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