(Christians Are Not) The Designated Adult.

(CN: Domestic violence, abuse, gaslighting.)

Hi and welcome back! We’re cruising right into the weekend, aren’t we? Last time we talked, I touched briefly on the way that Christians often insist on adjudicating and judging people’s lives and personal decisions. In response to a blogger who wrote that Christians’ hypocrisy was no excuse for not joining his religion, I said: “Citation needed, because I certainly think that’s more than enough of a reason.” But the guy’s audacity stuck in my head because the way he talked made me think he was trying to make himself into a Designated Adult for society.

English: An Engine key of Ferrari car 日本語: フェラ...

English: An Engine key of Ferrari car Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever heard that phrase, “Designated Adult?” I don’t remember exactly where I heard it the first time, but the moment I did, it just ricocheted all through me. A lot of things suddenly made sense both in my own relationships and in what I saw happening in society as a whole. And it explains a lot about what’s wrong with modern evangelical Christianity in particular and why it is failing.

A Designated Adult is a bit like a Designated Driver. The Designated Adult is the parent-like figure in a relationship, while the other person becomes a childlike one in turn. On a very few occasions you’ll see (mostly kinky) couples that knowingly and willingly choose this sort of dynamic–and more power to them if that’s what they both prefer, but most of the time it’s a done to an unwilling, non-consensual partner. One day a victim of this control tactic wakes up and realize it’s been ages since he or she got to make any personal decisions–or on the flip side, since he or she went a whole day without emotionally burping someone.

I talk about this concept in the context of control because that is what it is: an expression of control. Whoever makes the choice of who gets what role is the controller; the roles themselves are almost incidental. I’ve been in relationships where I landed on each end of that equation. In one relationship I was gradually made into a child dependent on my abusive partner for absolutely everything; in the very next, wherein I sought a man who was the polar opposite of that first jerk, I ended up as the Designated Adult and got controlled anyway by a man-child who needed a surrogate mommy to love and hate. Someone who presents him- or herself as terribly submissive or passive can still be awfully controlling. Kinksters call this “topping from the bottom” (NSFW).

And this behavior is not love. Love is not about control. Love is not even compatible with control–because control is about fear, not love. Someone who is trying to control another person isn’t expressing love but acting out of fear or getting a high out of the power they get through controlling others. Such a person desperately needs to be in complete power over all situations and at all times. Uncertainty is scary and threatening. Who knows what could happen? A meteor could hit the planet or something if people don’t listen to the controller! Controllers need to know exactly where all the pieces in the game are and be able to move any of them at any time. They need to be able to predict and account for any eventuality. Worse, other people moving pieces means a loss of dominance. Any threat to their total control of all the game-pieces must be eradicated immediately by any means fair or foul. Otherwise controllers just don’t feel comfortable or happy; they mistake a lack of control over other people as a sign of genuine helplessness in themselves.

And nothing drives controllers more crazy than someone refusing to be controlled. They’ll go to weirder and more extreme lengths as time goes by to get the power they desperately need over the person or people they’ve targeted as victims; in my personal life, my very controlling Christian husband even eventually resorted to threats of domestic violence to try to get me back under his thumb. It never even occurred to him that what he was doing could and would backfire by waking me up to just how dangerous he was. To the contrary: one day, he was sure, this would all just be a merry family story to tell to our many merry grandchildren, who he could already see swarming ’round his knees to ask him to tell, again, the hilarious story of how he threatened repeatedly to hack Grandma up with a butcher knife if she kept refusing to reconvert and return home. And he wanted me to see his campaign of terror as proof that he truly loved me and knew what was best for me, like he was my daddy and I was just a recalcitrant little girl. It’s just mind-blowing to look back at it all now and think that once I bought into the lie of control being an expression of love.

Love, by stark contrast, is not about control but rather about acceptance and grace. It’s about taking people’s hands where they stand and loving them in their entirety, not just in the controlled, sterilized, and sanitized form that controllers need them in. It’s about letting people live their lives and do what they think is best for themselves without interfering and meddling with them. It’s about showing respect for other people’s rights and autonomy. It’s about understanding that all people are equal, with no ands, ifs, or buts, and worthy of decent treatment and consideration. It’s about listening instead of assuming; it’s about affirming instead of dictating someone else’s opinions and experience. It’s about letting go instead of grabbing and treating adults like, well, adults and not children. Controllers can’t do a single bit of that. But with love all things are possible, I read somewhere once.

In short, love asks permission, while control can’t even ask forgiveness.

Some ex-Christian friends of mine and I have been talking about love lately. It’s not surprising that we would; leaving religion brings many of us to thoughts of what to keep and what to burn of our old lives. Many of us have to figure out what love even is so we can recover and get healthy again. And so much of what we learned and absorbed in Christianity is not loving at all. It can be really confusing when Christians say they’re being loving when we can clearly tell they aren’t. Relabeling hateful behavior as loving is part of an abuse technique called gaslighting; it’s meant to make victims second-guess their own judgment and accept an abuser’s self-serving redefinition of reality. So you can guess we’ve had a lot to unpack and figure out regarding love.

Setting boundaries is another place where ex-Christians can lose our footing. For many of us, we got taught that love is about fixing and improving each other. We almost never got taught that it’s not okay to try to fix or improve someone who hasn’t asked for that help. Consent isn’t something that pings Christianity’s radar much. It’s just assumed that of course the other person wants help, and if not, then Christians should force their help on even unwilling people because they know best. The victims of this help might object at first, but they’ll thank their Christian helpers once they’ve been repaired. On the other side of that equation, if someone is forcing help on us, then we should allow them to do so because it’s for our own good. This abuse gets dressed up in Christianese like “submission” and “accountability.” It takes a long time to unlearn that kind of programming and learn how to trust ourselves again.

In light of those twin pitfalls, gaslighting and boundary-setting, it’s not hard to see why ex-Christians have to be really careful navigating the trap of the Designated Adult. Usually in our case it’s the Christian who is trying to “parent” us. Most of us have relatives or friends going that route so they can get us back under control and into the fold again; sometimes this control is subtle, like passive-aggressive tricks: “hey, can you read this apologetics book and tell me why it’s wrong?” Sometimes it’s quite overt: “if you don’t start going to church again I’m taking away your college fund.” They do these things for our own good, they say. They’re damned proud of assuming the role of Designated Adult over us–implicitly declaring that we in turn are children in need of their sublime guidance. They seem confused, angry, or hurt-sounding when we reject their attempts to parent and fix us. They’re “just trying to help.”

This behavior is abusive, and we are right to call it for what it is and to refuse to play along with it.

But this form of abuse doesn’t just happen on the personal scale. It’s happening on the national scale as well.

For a long time Christians have been moving themselves into position as the Designated Adults of society itself. If you need illustrations of that claim, all you need to do is look at movies like Left Behind or study other Christian conceptualizations of the Rapture; a great many Christians seriously believe that when (ANY DAY NOW™) they get bodily taken up to Heaven in the blink of an eye by their magic invisible daddy, society will self-destruct and descend into madness, chaos, crime, and unbelievable, unthinkable perversions. All that holds the rest of us back from that fate is the presence of holy, pious, sanctimonious–er, sanctified Christian culture warriors who are trying their best to rein us all in and protect us from ourselves by running our lives, so when they leave, the rest of us are screwed. DAMN IT, why won’t people listen to them? Shut up and let Daddy drive!

After the Rapture, of course, once the good Christians have been taken away, they will not care anymore at all what happens to us because magic-reasons. And if we naughty children don’t behave and do as we’re told, one day we will get an eternal spanking from their Galactic Sky Daddy once we all die miserably in the Tribulation.

But until that joyous day they will do their best to save us all from our own idiocy by forcing us to behave by hook or by (ever-more-frequently) crook, even if we absolutely hate being forced to obey. Children never want to listen and they often don’t understand why they’re being controlled by their parents. If you saw a child walking into traffic/drinking poison/playing with fire, you’d have to do something! We’ll thank our Christian parents for their efforts one day. We’ll see. Or we’ll get what is coming to us–forever.

I know that sounds awful, but yes, that really is the mindset: Christians like that believe that they are superior to non-believers in every way, and thus morally justified in “parenting” others.

As doctrines go, the Rapture is already one of the very worst in the whole history of a religion famous for awful doctrines. But second only to that has to be this very mistaken idea that Christians have that they are the morality-keepers of the world and that without them everything would just go to pieces–just like how parents know what happens if they let their toddlers go very long without supervision. Some Christians are so terrified of the idea of an uncontrolled “worldly” society that they’re starting to stock guns and sacks of beans for what they genuinely believe is a looming apocalypse caused by giving too many people civil rights and insisting that schoolchildren be taught only true things in public schools. (So much for perfect love casting out fear!) The only thing that soothes their terror somewhat is taking control over other people.

And the first steps of control are usually pretty subtle–such as demanding the right to judge the validity of another person’s personal decisions.

Just knowing that someone else has made a different personal decision about something is enough to drive a controlling person’s blood pressure skyward. That’s a challenge to the validity of their own decision, so obviously they have to force that other person into lockstep with themselves. So when I saw that Christian blogger whining that hypocrisy was no excuse for not joining his religion, that was a red flag for me. Who died and made him king? Because I sure don’t remember giving him the right to decide how valid another person’s decisions are. The real irony is that he was condemning people for using the “excuse” of hypocrisy to justify not joining his religion, all while blithely and supremely unaware that he was at that very moment practicing hypocrisy in being judgmental.

I’m not surprised he didn’t notice. Hypocrisy is deeply embedded in church culture. When the Barna Group undertook a study of how people both in and out of the religion view Christianity, they figured that outsiders wouldn’t be very pleased with their religion, but they had no idea just how negative these perceptions were or how grounded they were in actual experience rather than what they thought would be childish petulance:

When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.

Indeed, they discovered that a shocking 85% of outsiders saw Christians as hypocritical–and that even half of young Christians saw their own religion that way. And whether Daddy thinks hypocrisy is a valid reason to avoid a religion or not, I think that it is. Given that no religion makes objectively-true supernatural claims, a religion’s validity all comes down to how good it is for its people and its surrounding society. Hypocrites are proving that even when taken metaphorically this religion doesn’t work well and isn’t relevant to even its own people’s lives. I’d expect a few bad apples in any large group, but when “hypocrisy” is one of the defining features of that group, that’s a good indication that even its own adherents aren’t taking its promises and threats seriously–so I see no reason why I should. Instead of fixing the problem, these Christians are instead attacking my right to view their hypocrisy as a problem at all.

This rush to judge others would be baffling if I thought that Christians as a group cared much about what their Savior told them to do. Indeed, they’re told quite explicitly not to judge other people, but that’s just another rule they contort to get out of having to obey. They’ve got tons of reasons why sometimes a Christian’s just gotta judge others anyway, just like they’ve got tons of reasons why a Christian should TOTALLY pray in public or behave hatefully toward other people, as shown in the depressing comments on this and any other blog post that dares take Christians to task for, well, not being loving. And any time a Christian steps out of line with the hate-filled, controlling, judgmental square dance, you can bet that other Christians will be right along to beat the dissenter back into line.

It shouldn’t take a casual observer long to realize that Christians don’t really want to obey these commandments in the first place. There’s simply no charitable read I can make for why they’d choose to disobey these very plain and simple commands from what they truly believe is no less than their Messiah. But there are plenty of uncharitable ones.

The primary conclusion I draw from my observations is that Christians are in no position whatsoever to consider themselves the moral powerhouses of the world. There is no reason whatsoever to grant them parental rights over me or anybody else.

In order for Christians to be the Designated Adults, first they have to be, as a group, worthy of holding that authority. As we just covered, they are not. Their magical friend is certainly not inducing them to behave morally. No magical processes make them superior to anybody. Even the threat of literally eternal, punitive, unending, excruciating torture isn’t enough to make them obey their very own rules. Meanwhile, I don’t lie, steal, hurt anybody, or cheat, and I don’t even have that gruesome threat looming over my head to force me into good behavior–so thanks, but I’ll captain my own ship; I think I know this patch of coastline better than they do anyway.

Whether Christians think my reasons for doing things are valid or not, it’s not up to them to approve or disapprove. It doesn’t matter if they’re comfortable or not with what I do. And more of us need to question why Christians want to grab the right to control us. Once we grant them even a small amount of unwarranted power, then they will grab for more and more of it. Abuse always escalates. Controllers aren’t ever content with what they have; when they realize they are not soothed by the control they already have, they’ll grab for more in the hopes that the next crossed boundary will soothe their anxieties. But the next seizing of power doesn’t do the trick either. There will always be more power demanded, until we find ourselves totally boxed in. That’s why we have to speak up when we see a Christian trying to take more power than he or she should have over others.

If you’re wondering why the religion seems to be staggering and faltering like it is, well, I think that’s why. The rest of us gave them way too much benefit of the doubt before, but not a day passes without us seeing some fresh new scandal erupting out of the Christosphere like a volcano rumbling into life. As more and more of these stories come into the light, the rest of us realize more and more that we shouldn’t let a group be our culture’s parent-figures when the people in that group don’t even know how to handle themselves. In two thousand years, they still haven’t managed to figure out how to live by their own rules.

But it’s a lot easier for Christians to try to control others than it is for them to confront their own shortcomings.

Hey, don’t look at me that way. Not everything in the Bible’s false.

Speaking of control, we’re going to talk next about what some Christian leaders are doing in their panic about their young people leaving the religion in such great numbers. I hope you’ll join me. Until then, have a good weekend!

Posted in Biography, Feminism, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Most Misunderstood Word (Isn’t Kingdom, Sorry).

I saw this interview on Religion News Service with Scot McKnight, who argues that Christians talk a big game about this idea of “kingdom,” but don’t really understand what it means in the Bible or how it should play out in their everyday lives.

English: "Cenote de los Sacrificios"...

English: “Cenote de los Sacrificios” at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. A karst lake, reflecting the karst’s water table. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Looks like the bottom fell out of here, too.

I admit, I was a little floored. Though I do agree with him entirely about the word “kingdom” being misunderstood (in that I certainly don’t know what he’s talking about; I deconverted before that became a trendy idea), I’d frankly disagree hugely with his assessment that it is the most misunderstood word in the Christian lexicon right now. That’d be the last word I’d ever have picked, speaking as someone who stands almost every day on the receiving end of a far greater misunderstanding.

I’d say that the most misunderstood word in the Bible today is “love.”

A year or so ago I talked about how Christians have been redefining the word ‘love’ for many years now.

I don’t see why “kingdom” matters if Christians can’t even figure out how to truly show love. Jesus didn’t tell his followers that “they will know you by how awesomely you live the KINGDOM,” but rather by how they love others.

A pity the most ardent, fervent followers of the Lord of Love haven’t got the faintest idea how to do that.

It is simply astonishing to me to witness just how many contortions Christians make in order to get out of doing exactly what their own Savior specifically and explicitly told them to do. When I run across Christians behaving hatefully, I helpfully mention to them that they are, and immediately get back reams of protests about how no no, they are totally being loving, and I’m just totally wrong–as if they’re the ones who get to define whether or not their deeds are loving rather than the recipient–or should I say “victim”–of their behavior.

Since writing that original post about how love gets redefined by so many Christians, I’ve come to understand that these same Christians tend to value intentions over reality. Just as feeling lust is exactly the same as committing adultery, just as wishing really hard for help to arrive at someone’s door is the same as actually doing something to help that person, wanting to behave lovingly is exactly the same as showing love toward others. Heck, it might even be superior.

And, too, if Christians reserve for themselves alone the self-serving right to be the sole arbiters of whether or not their behavior is loving, why then, that frees them of having to deal with the bloody inconvenience of being actually loving, or face any fallout from being called hateful instead. There’s a certain beauty in the logic here, and I’ll walk you through it:

1. A Christian is commanded by no less than Jesus Christ himself to be loving toward one’s neighbors.

2. Being loving is however very difficult for a variety of reasons.

3. Let’s just redefine what love means, so it now encompasses being very un-loving (controlling, bigoted, discriminatory), which will make it much easier to obey, since that’s how we wanted to behave in the first place;

4. We’ll need to totally ignore or shout down anybody who criticizes this new definition and deny to the very skies any denunciation or pushback of what we’re doing.

5. Hooray! We’re loving our neighbors! (And possibly being “persecuted” by people who don’t use our same definition of “love”–BONUS!)

6. Now we can celebrate being totally in the right because people are being critical of our behavior, which obviously they would never be otherwise. Obviously Jesus is totally happy with us now!

7. Who shall we “love” next?

See what I mean? They’ve removed every single mechanism for recognizing their wrongdoing and along with it every single means of correcting themselves. They’ve elevated this false definition to the status of an idol and worship at its stinking feet–because it lets them behave in shockingly controlling and nasty ways to people around them and, they think, get away with it. It really reminds me of people who can’t cook at all who use packaged turkey gravy mixes and are convinced these are as good as making a proper turkey gravy from scratch, and lick their lips and ask for more of it at Thanksgiving. And that’s okay, I ain’t going to judge busy people for doing what they think is best to do to get a big dinner on the table, and gravy does have a few tricks to making it, but barring the most disastrous kitchen misadventures a package mix for it not as good as the real thing is. Alas, by now a lot of people have never had from-scratch turkey gravy so they don’t even know what they’re comparing the mix to. In the same manner, a great many Christians don’t seem to have the faintest idea what love is, and I’ve got to wonder if the reason they’re acting this way is maybe because they’ve never really seen it themselves, so they don’t really know how to show or share it–so they think that their inferior substitute is just as good as the real thing.

Christians have built entire websites around trying to explain away and spin-doctor this glaring shortcoming in their people. One has the audacity to declare that “The non-believer cannot be excused from believing just because it is possible to point to those who simply pretend to be what they are not.” (Citation needed, because I certainly think that’s more than enough of a reason.) Another site goes the route of nit-picking what the term “hypocrite” actually means to excuse away this signal failure in Christian believers as a group, reiterating that just because the religion is filled with hypocrites, that’s no excuse; the author of the page throws in a No True Scotsman about his peers just for good measure. (Did he become psychic, one must wonder? Isn’t that against the rules?) I find this sort of distancing act to be laughable–considering these same Christians genuinely believe that their god makes Christians better or more moral people, except when he doesn’t or if the Christians in question are just pretending.

But they’re not really getting away with this redefinition any more than they’re getting away with being unloving.

The problem (for them) is, more and more non-Christians are aware of these mindgames, and more and more Christians themselves are waking up to the reality of what their religion is doing to people. One of this blog’s dearest friends is a now-ex-Christian who found, as this other religion blogger did, that when it comes to sheer hatefulness, spit-flecked spite, and roiling nastiness, nothing, nothing, NOTHING beats a Christian with a keyboard. Indeed, as FaithStreet’s author discovered, once he began a blog about religion that wasn’t toeing the party line of fake “love” he got deluged with the nastiest, foulest, most horrifying and shocking threats you can possibly imagine from “loving” Christians determined to terrorize him into compliance. But there were some unexpected (to him at least) observations to be made:

Interestingly, the only other people I have gotten hate mail from are atheists. Atheist hate mail is usually of a more intellectual persuasion, and they have never been violent, but they are extremely contemptuous, insulting, and condescending. I once wrote about a barrage of hate mail I got from atheists and received dozens of apologies from other atheists. I have never gotten any personal hate mail from a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a pagan, an agnostic, or a humanist.

He’s a little confused about why so many Christians feel the need to shriek violent threats and hate-filled rhetoric at anybody who dissents. But I’m not.

The type of Christians who behave hatefully are tribal Christians who are part of the religion because they think it gives them a leg up over other people. It’s part of their identity as a dominant class. When anybody tries to point out their flaws and mistakes, even if that person technically is part of the “tribe,” that person becomes a threat to their dominance. And threats to dominance must be negated and destroyed as quickly as possible.

So we see with Christians’ current big targets: women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Standing on the correct side of these culture-war issues is now more important to most Christian groups than showing love to one’s neighbor, as Godless in Dixie has noted. Both of these issues, once they filter their way through the system, will have profound impacts on Christian dominance; to some extent they already are. So obviously the holders of dissenting opinions on these topics are threats and must be vanquished.

Jesus might be the most powerful being in the universe to his followers, but he’s obviously not strong enough to withstand the threat these two forces present to his church. His followers have to help him out. And they do, by doing their best to squash those threats for him. And they call their efforts “love” even though nobody outside the choirloft is fooled and even though their behavior is as unloving as anything could ever be, and think this is how they advance their god’s “kingdom,” which brings us back around to Scot McKnight.

The word “kingdom” is just the latest soapy goopy feel-good word Christians like to make up. It’s one of those words that doesn’t really mean or quantify anything but which gets invested with huge-but-metaphorical importance, and because of that it’s a very easy word to pick fights over. It gives Christian leaders something else to nitpick over how Christians are doing everything wrong today; it lets them speculate as well about the growing numbers of almost-entirely-uninvolved Christians drifting into “None” status, as Scot McKnight even says in his interview: he blames this supposed misunderstanding about the word “kingdom” for–and I kid you not here–lower rates of involvement with local churches. Back in my day the word that fulfilled those exact same functions was “discipleship,” if you’re wondering, coming in from the retiring heavyweight “submission”; the terminology might change over time although the usage really doesn’t.

But this word is not even going to ping anybody’s radar in a decade or two any more than the other ones did. Christians can concentrate on it or not or pick another one entirely, as they like, and their choice won’t impact their religion’s health a single bit in the long run. But you know what will? How well they love–truly love, not the shitty substitute they’ve created for themselves and think is just as good as the real thing. By concentrating on this other word and fighting and squabbling over what it means and how Christians should live it, they’re ignoring the real problem.

By concentrating on correcting people’s misuse of the word “kingdom,” Scot McKnight is missing the elephant in the room: the abusive redefinition of love that so many of his peers are operating under. That’s the error that will destroy the Christian church if not seen and corrected, not the one around “kingdom.” He’s certainly allowed to care about whatever he wants to care about, and certainly there is room in Christianity for lots of concerns (hell, there really should be a lot more than there are). But the article about him characterizes this word as the most misunderstood one in the Bible–and while Mr. McKnight is certainly entitled to his own opinion, it’s a bit startling that he’d pick this word as the one to launch an education campaign around. I’d figure that if Christians could figure out what love really is, then this “kingdom” kerfluffle would likely figure itself out, and by the same token if they can’t figure out what “love” even is, then certainly secondary concepts like “kingdom” will remain elusive. Part of me wonders if so few of them are tackling “love” because doing so would alienate their core fanbase of fanatics and zealots, much like how I think the Republican Party can’t afford to change course on its various awful platforms or risk losing the one bloc they actually know for sure they have at this point.

Alas, there’s not a lot of time left in which these folks can monkey around and tinker with things. Growing numbers of people already know or are learning that Christianity hasn’t got a monopoly on the showing of love, and as the religion gets more and more polarized around its pet mission-drifts, they’re going to lose more and more people who don’t want to be part of a movement like the one their leaders are building. Indeed, one Christian polling group found like six ways of wording this exact same problem when they looked at why hordes of young people are leaving their religion. Either Christians will figure out what they’re doing wrong and why it’s so disastrously impacting their religion, or they’ll drill down on hate-as-love train and ride it all the way to irrelevance, which is nowhere near as fun as Space Mountain.

I figure that either which way this thing goes, humanity wins.

English: Space Mountain at Disneyland

English: Space Mountain at Disneyland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted in Guides, Hypocrisy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Why I Support Brittany Maynard’s Right to Die.

(CN: The right to die; death with dignity; my mother’s death of cancer. This is going to be heavy. Also, fuck cancer.)

You could guess I do support the right to die, right? But not everybody does. Death with dignity is one of the causes that Christians tend to oppose bitterly. In fact I’m hard-pressed to find secular groups or movements that oppose it. The Secular Global Institute explicitly says that “Much of the opposition to the Right to Die and Death with Dignity movements arises out of religious beliefs, particularly those rooted in the tenet of the sanctity of life.” The American Humanist Organization specifically includes “death with dignity” in its Humanist Manifesto. Dying with Dignity Canada notes as well this tendency and adds that it doesn’t think religion’s going to win this fight because, frankly, it’s a monstrous fight done purely to please a god that “fewer & fewer people cleave to in educated, free thinking society.” There are some secular arguments against death with dignity, but overall you’re going to find that it’s religious groups out in the open opposing it and trying to work against it–while one in five doctors gets a request for this assistance at least once in their careers (according to one study in that link there, but that was in the 90s–I’m betting that number’s grown since).

Right now in the news there is a young woman named Brittany Maynard who is facing her own looming death from cancer. She’s thankfully going to have the ability to choose her own date of death and method of passage from this life, but the heated opposition rallying against her decision is just mystifying to me. I’m donotlinking to just one of these opposing people because I find these Christian attempts at concern-trolling and crocodile tears simply revolting, foul, repulsive, and disgusting. In this one, its writer preys upon a dying person’s fears and hopes to try to convert her through an open letter published on a Christian site to convince her in the chirpiest language possible to stick with her disease till it naturally kills her, and incidentally threatening her with Hell if she doesn’t comply. Yes, you heard me. Another very big conservative site is flat-out calling her a coward. Jesus fucking christ, these people sicken me. SICKEN me. I cannot find strong enough words to express my disgust. Their tactics all run about like that: dictating her lived experience to her, negating her, threatening her, cajoling her, tempting her. The less we say about them and their vile, rotted spewing, the better.

But I know a little about what this young woman is going through. I watched my mother die of cancer, and it’s about the most gruesome way possible to die.

—————–

Hypnotically Pink for the Cure (1488505615)

Hypnotically Pink for the Cure (1488505615) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Set the Wayback Machine for about ten years ago. I’m standing in a hospital–oh, how I hate hospitals–and my mother is in her bed. A few minutes ago, we just had the last coherent conversation we’ll ever have. A sudden wet throbbing lash of pain has just now stolen everything from her; she is screaming that she’s scared and that everything hurts. (Yes, of course it does; every organ in her body has just given out, but we don’t know that quite yet.) A flock of nurses can’t hold her down. One of them frantically rang a bell a second ago.

I’m arguing with the doctor who just arrived in response to the bell, rushing into the room. I’ve never seen him; he’s just the doctor on night rotation, I think. He’s an East Indian chap, youngish, thin, charismatic, probably about my age at the time (30s), wearing a crisp white coat. I’m telling him that there must be something he can do to ease my mother through this crisis of agony. No, he says, there is not. He can’t give her more morphine, which is what she’s been dining on for the last couple of days, because–get this–if he does, she might be at risk of developing an opiate addiction, and you see, there are rules–

I am simply stunned. An opiate addiction. He is worried about–about–

I still remember my upper lip curling up above my canines as I snarl and turn on him. If he hadn’t retreated until his back was pressed against the foyer’s wall, I’d have shoved him against it. In a very low voice I inform him that my mother–that lady, that one over there, the one screaming and thrashing and crying–is in horrific amounts of pain, and everybody here is well aware of the fact that an opiate addiction is the very last thing she’ll ever have to worry about. Our eyes lock. I point at him. “You will help her and you will do it right now,” I tell him, “or so help me God.” Somewhere in the back of my mind my thoughts whirl in shock: Did I seriously just threaten to hurt a doctor? Yes. Yes, I did. It’s the only time I’ve ever said anything threatening to anybody. But the prickles of sweat blossoming along my bare arms in the chilly room make me realize I’m serious.

The doctor doesn’t seem frightened, but he still studies me–an angry, hissing little kitchen beetle–for a long moment, gauging me somehow. Then he suddenly, finally nods and steps past me to my mother’s bedside. He does some dialing-things with her IV and then some other fiddly things, and suddenly my mother gasps and falls quiet, her labored breathing echoing in the room before becoming soft, rhythmic, and peaceful. That near-silence is the most beautiful symphony I’ve ever heard in my life. After looking me up and down once more, the doctor leaves. I don’t ever see him again.

I spend the night beside my mother’s bed. I can’t even really touch her because the medications she’s on, which I’ve been told make her swollen skin very tender, but I rest one of my hands underneath one of hers, underneath the waxy, jaundiced hand that has held and touched and hugged and helped me my entire life. I hope beyond all hope that this very faint contact at least is comforting rather than excruciating, and I sit like that all night.

My mother never regains consciousness.

The next morning she dies with a rattle and a long sigh of what sounds for all the world like relief.

Her body is so battered and destroyed and consumed that the hospital people can’t even use her corneas.

Her last words were about how much pain she was in and how terrified she was. The last time she directed the movement of her own body was to flail and thrash to escape that pain. I had to almost assault a doctor to get her some kind of relief.

Fuck cancer.

Let’s take a break for a minute.

———————————-

Everybody back? You can probably imagine that the preceding paragraphs have not been easy to write. I’m still a little fucked-up about my mother’s death and there’s still stuff I’m unpacking about it. I was of two minds about detailing this event. The last thing I want to do is take a spotlight away from someone else who needs it, or to act like what happened to my mom is somehow unique. I have been sitting on this story for days as I mull over the right way to approach this subject.

But in the end it came down to this: I want you to understand what a specific person’s death from cancer was like.

I want you to see the very human face of cancer and understand what dying of it can actually look like and what it’s like to see it happen. And I want you to comprehend what Christians are demanding when they want someone to suffer from cancer in the way they think correct and best. When all the chirping is done, when all the cajoling is past, when the name-calling fades, this barbaric scene is what actually happens. That kind of death is what they are wishing on the people they want to control. That experience is what they are inflicting on someone they don’t even know and will never even learn about, all so they can feel smugly satisfied that nobody, anywhere in this world, is doing something they don’t feel comfortable with or fully approve of.

That kind of death is what they think is okay to force someone to endure, all in the name of narrative.

A narrative is a storyline, a way that an event should unfold. Myths are narratives, as are fairy tales and advertisements on television. Christians tend to have this strong affection for them, and I don’t think they cope very well with people stepping outside the bounds of their favored narratives. Love must look like this; death must look like that. There’s only one way to conduct a marriage, and only one way to conduct the having of a terminal illness. Children have to act like this; elderly people must act like that. Women are meant to do this, men are meant to do that, and there aren’t any other genders or ways of expressing anything. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are always like this, atheists are like that, and ex-Christians, well, they’re just deluded if they think they were ever real Christians in the first place.

It’s not true that humanity only has one certain best way to do everything, and demanding people act along with these imposed storylines is not only a form of negation of those other people’s experiences and needs but also an attempt at controlling them. It’s disrespectful and cruel, especially when one considers that this life might be all we’ll ever get.

If you’ve ever seen those “inspirational” memes about brave cancer sufferers, you’ll know now why I dislike those memes. I’m really glad that the people in them are doing well. But my fear is that people will see those memes and think all cancer sufferers act like that, and think less of people who don’t have cancer the correct way. My mom was sick for the whole last three years of her life and ate nothing but won-ton soup and Gummi bears and played video games for the last few months of it because that’s all she could handle. She was not going dancing in South America or fulfilling a bucket list. And I constantly had to defend her choices to her worried friends, who all had suggestions and admonitions for her.

I saw then that when someone suffering from cancer doesn’t follow the right narrative, people whose entire worldviews depend on the idea of universality for their narratives seem like they get really threatened. People like my mother remind them that the real world doesn’t work like they think it does, and their response to this bit of dissonance is to either cajole or force people into stepping into the story and roleplaying it “correctly.”

My mother’s passing was not some Steve Jobs-like romp, no metaphysical journey-to-the-next-level. It was not some Victorian romantic event with a sorrowful lady expiring peacefully amid a room full of lilies. Her death was gruesome. Ghastly. Grisly. Terrifying. Undignified. Traumatically painful. Every organ in her body was corrupted and blown at the end, and her last conscious hour of life was wracked with the sheerest agony, fear, and discomfort.

Though she was a lifelong fervent Catholic, her god certainly didn’t step in to help. (Maybe she just hadn’t racked up enough social-media upvotes…?) But I’m not surprised. Cancer is one of those places where dogma and ideology bump up against reality in an especially sticky and uncomfortable way. All the singing and praying and clapping and believing in the world won’t change a thing. It’s no accident that it was my pastor’s death from brain cancer years before that began my journey right out of Christendom. People’s most desperate and wild hopes collide with simple, torturous reality, and unless someone’s in that very situation, it’s impossible to tell anybody how to live or die with this disease. For some folks it goes like it did for Steve Jobs. For others it goes like it did for my mother. And you can’t really tell who’ll go what direction till they’re going down that road.

Now Brittany Maynard finds herself on that road.

I think what drives Christians spare is that she’s beautiful, young, so-very-alive, and yet facing death. Nothing about it seems right. And this bright, lovely young woman is being harangued by people who are trying to convince her to stick with this cancer she’s got till the end “just in case, you never know,” their god might just do a miracle. But if he did, it’d be the first one he ever performed, and certainly he has time to perform this first miracle before she leaves this world; he doesn’t have to wait till the last second like in movies! I find the idea grotesque to offer out as a hope to someone who is dying. I find it even more ghoulish that someone might suggest that she stick with it because of some nebulous spiritual benefit or heroism it will confer on her for having done so. Believe me, there is nothing glamorous or heroic about dying of cancer and there was no fulfillment or great meaning my mother found in that kind of death.

At heart, this issue–the right to choose one’s death–is a matter of consent and bodily ownership, just like abortion is. Nobody gets a veto to use on another person’s body. If she chooses to leave this life and doesn’t want to stay, then it’s barbaric to force her to stay and endure pain, fear, and discomfort. There’s no right way or wrong way to deal with cancer, either, much less a moral way or an immoral way. Every one of us deserves the right to decide how we individually will deal with our own bodies and our own medical decisions. Every one of us has the right to deal with our own impending mortality the way we think best, too, and that includes the use of coping methods that other people might not like.

I know it makes Christians very uncomfortable that Brittany Maynard is making this choice, but their comfort isn’t really important, and neither is their approval. They’re not the ones dying and facing that fear and pain. She is. When it’s their own fear and pain, they are welcome to handle it however they like, and if they choose to endure it to the very end of the line, then I will support them just like I support Ms. Maynard. But this is her fear and pain, not theirs, and she–not anybody else–owns her body and can handle that fear and pain as she sees fit. She doesn’t have to justify her decision to anybody or prove she’s doing the right thing to Glenn Fuckin’ Beck to somehow earn the right to direct her own fate free of his name-calling and plucking and meddling. (If he and his venomous ilk can’t show real compassion to someone in great need of it, then the rest of us will show it double.)

I find it ghoulish and repulsive that the people who say they care most about “life” care so very little about individual people’s particular lives. I suspect such folks are using her as a pawn to advance their own agenda of control and power over others. And I’m glad she is refusing to allow them to seize control of her life and body. I say often that this may be the only life we ever get and that we must use our finite lifetimes as best we can. That idea applies double to someone dying of a dreadful, horrible disease.

If I were in Ms. Maynard’s position, knowing what I know about what a death from cancer looks like, I don’t think I’d be doing anything differently. And I’d have done anything, given anything for my mother to have had a similar option. I don’t know if she’d have taken that way out if she’d had it; as I mentioned, she was very Catholic, and her religion is run by joyless, evil, soulless, vile, heartless bastards who don’t care that their ivory-tower policies and dictates increase suffering exponentially in the real world. But I really wish she’d at least had the option.

I can’t give that option to my mother anymore, but you’re damned right I support Ms. Maynard in whatever she needs to do. I hope her efforts to raise awareness result in greater understanding of the right to die with dignity. And may her remaining days on this earth be spent exactly the way she wants them to be spent–with those she loves, doing what she thinks is right. May her passing be as dignified and as stress-free and pain-free as possible. If at the last moment she decides not to take advantage of the option she’s now chosen, then that’s her choice too. Whatever she decides, I support her–as I support every other cancer sufferer’s right to direct his or her own fate.

Also, fuck cancer.

Posted in Biography, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Unequally Yoked Club: The Real Threat.

Last time we talked about how church leaders and teachers have been pushing the false idea for years that marriages must be “based on Jesus” or else terrible things will happen to the couples involved. Today we’ll talk about some of those terrible things, and then we’ll talk about the real reason that these leaders and teachers fear mixed-faith marriages.

Wedding-chantelois-gomez

Wedding-chantelois-gomez (Photo credit: Wikipedia). I’m using this photo because it made me tear up. Congratulations to them! But what you won’t see here is any sort of threat to anybody else’s marriage.

First let’s recap a few things. A mixed-faith marriage is what we have when the people involved have different beliefs about religion–and that includes people who have no beliefs at all in any religion as well as people who don’t care to label whatever they feel. Today we’re specifically talking about a marriage that began with both folks being Christian, but then one of them left the religion, or deconverted. Now one person is Christian and one person is an ex-Christian (which includes atheism, agnosticism, “none”-ness, or even joining a different religion altogether). And a lot of times, the couple is really scared now–what does this deconversion mean? What will happen? Does it mean the end of the marriage? (I’ll spoil this shiznit for you now: “as much as the couple takes it to mean,” “a lot of things will change about external activities, but the really important things won’t change at all,” and “oh dear god, absolutely not.”)

Though Christians get taught from infancy that this sort of marriage is very bad and impossible to maintain, the simple truth is that more and more of them are happening as time goes on. Christians tend to marry young, especially the really fervent ones, and that’s when people tend to deconvert the most often. That fact alone would explain why there seem to be so many unequally-yoked marriages happening–and why so many of those marriages seem like they’re failing. Age at marriage is also the strongest predictor of divorce there is, so we can consider young marriages to be rather conflict-prone, and the rather pagan belief in “soulmates” is another source of problems for young partners. Of course, none of this stops completely irresponsible Christian leaders from pushing the idea of early marriage onto their overly-trusting flocks (donotlinks provided), because obviously Jesus will bless people who do that and keep them from divorce–except when he doesn’t.

But people still fall in love, and as more and more folks identify as non-Christian we’re going to see more and more couples dipping their toes in that water. Sometimes it’s just simple demographics; here’s a Christian writer who’s discovered that with the serious gender imbalance in Christianity, which skews in that writer’s estimation as 3:2 from men to women (honestly I’d say it’s even more skewed than that), women in the religion have some very tough choices ahead regarding just how much they want to be married (a topic which disgraced now-ex-pastor Mark Driscoll addressed in his typically misogynist fashion a while ago). And as more and more folks deconvert, couples that once thought they were going to live their whole lives together as Christians suddenly discover that the river has taken a very new and different turn. Mixed-faith marriages are a thing, and they’re not going to slow down just because Christian leaders denounce them and stomp their little feet about them. As Christians do with most commandments, they mold what they’re taught around what they really want to do anyway (not that I view this trait as a bad thing necessarily!), and marriage is certainly not going to be where most of them suddenly get super-obedient. Reality trumps dogma for quite a few religious people, as well it should; I suspect that deep down, the Christians getting into and staying in these mixed-faith marriages kinda know what’s really important.

The marriage (detail of bride and ladies)

The marriage (detail of bride and ladies) (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Incidentally, when you go hunting for statistics around mixed-faith marriages, one thing you’ll notice right off the bat is that a lot of the statistics you’ll encounter deal with Jewish mixed-faith marriages. Judaism has very good reason to fear this sort of marriage; at this point about half of all married Jewish people have non-Jewish partners, resulting in a serious shortage of Jewish children to continue the culture once their elders have passed on. According to that link, some Jewish leaders are calling this whole mixed-marriage thing a “silent Holocaust” because of the impact they see such marriages having on their religion. Some even think that such marriages may well spell the very end of the religion in the next century. I look at those statistics and cries of doom and I can’t help but think about Christianity–how about you?

Statistics about Christian mixed-faith marriages are still coming in, with initial surveys indicating some hard facts about them: the older the couple is at marriage, the more likely they’ll be mixed-faith; mixed-faith marriages tend to have more conflict in them than same-faith marriages; and evangelicals married to non-evangelicals have the highest divorce rate of all. (So much for following the Bible, huh? The only moral divorce is their divorce, I suppose.) Meanwhile, Christian leaders pull numbers right out of their goddamned asses to support their contention that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ simply never divorce, making mixed-faith marriages all the more scary and unpalatable and unthinkable to their flocks.

So what exactly is the threat here? What exactly is the problem that Christian leaders see and teach regarding mixed-faith marriages?

If you remember that blog post we looked at a bit ago, the writer of it very foolishly lists exactly what he views as the big threats to a mixed-faith marriage. We’re going to look at his post again because it’s one of the few to explicitly spell out the dangers that Christian teachers generally threaten their flocks with. What he’s talking about here is nothing I didn’t learn in church, and if you listen to Christian leaders talking, you’ll hear surprising allusions to this stuff in their teachings.

First, he sees a mixed-faith marriage as being disobedient to what he thinks is his god’s demand for hierarchy. We’ve seen this bizarre fixation on hierarchical relationships and societies before out of Christians–here’s the lowdown on the basic idea, and it’s damned good–and it’s simply not true that a couple needs to focus on this hierarchy to survive. Egalitarian marriages–where couples equally share duties and don’t conform to rigid gender roles imposed upon them by authority figures–do as well as hierarchy-based marriages, and among older folks (like me) they may even be much happier and more stable. So that’s one myth shot down.

The post’s author talks a big game as well about conflict resolution, making the rather remarkable claim that non-Christians just can’t figure out a way to maturely resolve disagreements:

Knowing that sin seeks to cause strife does not mean that you can avoid conflict. When you distinguish indwelling sin from the person, however, you can more positively reconcile arguments because you focus on identifying sin’s lies rather than attacking one another. A second important aspect of resolving conflict is allowing Jesus Christ to live His love through you. Allowing Him to meet your need for security and significance diminishes your motivation to attack or manipulate someone else.

And now we need a nice CITATION NEEDED label for these claims. First he’s claiming that because Christians know what sin is and can “hate the sin but love the sinner,” when conflicts come up such Christians focus only on stamping out sin. Show of hands, ex-Christians? How many times, when you were Christians, did fights with your Christian spouse revolve around identifying sins and repenting of them and then, having figured out what sin caused the conflict, everything was totally fine again?

Cuz I can’t remember a single time a fight of mine with Biff involved anything resembling that process, and of all the fights I saw Christian friends having, I don’t remember anybody talking about sin and piously, sanctimoniously trying to stamp it out. If sin got brought up at all, it was usually done by Biff as part of repeated efforts to try to strong-arm me into doing whatever he wanted me to do by trying to “convict” me into obedience to his awful “leadership.” An emphasis on sin certainly benefits the privileged. But it’s not going to resolve a conflict, because in the real world, in the real, lived experience of a couple’s life, conflicts don’t arise from sin but rather from personality conflicts, misunderstandings, and even from misdeeds committed against each other. And a prayer meeting won’t fix those problems.

See, Jesus no more tells people how to resolve conflicts nowadays than he told anybody about Germ Theory in the Gospels. Becoming Christian, even a longtime Christian, doesn’t magically confer any special powers to anybody that help resolve conflicts. Some of the oldest Christians I’ve ever known were shockingly childish toward their mates and scarily, eerily incapable of behaving like grown-ups when challenged or frustrated. And some of the youngest atheists I’ve ever known were shockingly mature and capable of handling all of that. It’s almost as if a god isn’t needed for any of it, isn’t it?

What really will surprise this guy, then, as well as surprising many mixed-faith couples taught this sort of nonsense from their earliest years, is the fact that non-Christians are perfectly capable of resolving conflicts. In fact, I’d say they’re better at it because they’re not trying to shoe-horn religious dogma and rigid roleplaying into their conflicts.

Unburdened by reality, the blog post writer goes on to say in his second claim that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are sooooo holy and pious that they won’t even feel the need to get into fights or manipulate their spouses, and that actually made me just hoot in laughter. If that’s how he’s defining TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, then 99.9999999999999999999yougettheidea% of Christians aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™, because every single ex-Christian alive (and more than a few honest Christians, for that matter) knows of a time when a supposedly TRUE CHRISTIAN™ did exactly that to them. And if he’s claiming that his imaginary friend can do more to meet someone’s real need for “security and significance” than a loving partner ever could, then his god’s got a lot of explaining to do to all the ex-Christians who cried out to that god, wept, begged, pleaded, screamed, and groaned for some kind of touch, some kind of affirmation, some kind of god damned attention here… and got nothing at all, just silence. Maintaining the act of religiosity works for a while, but not for forever. Eventually reality has to catch up. And if it doesn’t, then that’s about where many of us begin wondering why this totally-for-realsies god doesn’t seem to meet our needs the way his religion’s teachers say he does.

I’ve heard other Christians try to claim that a mixed-faith couple will have trouble because they won’t have “shared values” and will have a tougher time combining their lives because of that lack of common ground. But is religion really a “value?” I’d say not. Jesus can’t be a “value” in and of himself, and neither can “Christianity.” Being Christian doesn’t mean someone is honest, fair, brave, kind, or loving. Those values are not found solely in those Christians who actually show those traits, either. The values underlying one’s religion are the, well, values, not the religion itself. The religion is just the window-dressing, the label, put on those values. And it’s a wise couple that realizes this truth and focuses on that instead of on the fact that the window-dressing is different for each partner.

Look. The real threat to a mixed-faith marriage, for a Christian, is not that the couple won’t be observing proper rigid gender roles. The threat doesn’t come from them being incapable of resolving issues without chirping Christian platitudes at each other. It doesn’t even come from not having “shared values.”

The threat comes from simple familiarity.

Let’s take this Christian blogger who wrote that rock-ignorant post about how to have a good marriage. If he actually believes that someone has to be Christian to resolve conflicts, and he gets involved with someone who isn’t Christian (or who becomes ex-Christian) who still manages to resolve conflicts without resorting to religiosity and spiritual displays, that’s going to shake his beliefs up a little. If he discovers that his non-Christian spouse is also supportive, honest, loving, kind, and all those other things he thinks only Christians can be in a marriage, then he’s going to be shaken up even more. If he finds out that his conceptualization of marriage as a rigid hierarchy is actually bullshit that doesn’t work for way more people than it works for, too, that might make him reel a bit. He might even discover that his conceptualization of a Christian as spiritually superior to a non-Christian isn’t true at all, because of course he thinks that a Christian and a non-Christian are unequal, and sounds downright sad that he can’t “improve” a non-believing partner to bring her up to his level–seriously, how arrogant! (No wonder his first marriage, to a deconverted person, failed. I’m guessing that divorce had next to nothing to do with her beliefs changing, though he doesn’t seem to understand that point quite yet; self-awareness is not among the chiefest of Christian virtues.)

And if a Christian like him discovers that the religious observances and beliefs he thinks are rock-solid, necessary, vital, and totally essential to someone’s life are not any of those things at all, and that lots of people get along just fine without them, he’s going to realize that those observances and beliefs are superfluous. He might even get brave enough to question his indoctrination, the longer he hangs out with someone who doesn’t seem worried or frightened at all of the things he is worried and frightened about.

Worst of all, though (at least from the point of view of Christians like that), just getting to know non-Christians can make a Christian second-guess a lot of the dehumanization and demonization the religion does to people who aren’t in the tribe. And it can make a Christian seriously question really awful doctrines like the idea of Hell and the concept of Original Sin–because once you get to know and love someone, the last thing you’ll stand for is someone threatening that person or worse yet hurting him or her. The real barbarity and cruelty in Christianity can get highlighted in glaring relief as believers mingle with non-believers and discover just how decent and normal they are. I’m very fortunate in that I knew a lot of atheists in college, so before my church could really indoctrinate me into the “atheists = EEEEBUL” mindset, I already knew better when I heard them try–and their attempt fed into my eventual leaving of the religion. Indeed, I’ve heard from many Christians who had to revisit these doctrines they’d once believed after a spouse deconverted and they came face-to-face with those divine injustices.

It’s almost funny that Christians seem terrified that a non-believing spouse will somehow shatter someone’s beliefs. Nothing could ever be further from the truth. If something’s true and genuinely necessary, nothing can make someone leave it. When I had a boyfriend looking into Wicca, I wasn’t even halfway tempted to join that religion. I learned about it so I could support him better in his spiritual journey, but I wasn’t interested in joining him there. And he didn’t demand that I join him because he’s a grown-up who doesn’t need me to validate his life decisions. That’s the most extreme example I could list, but there are lots of others–like Mr. Captain still being vegetarian over ten years since his marriage to a lady from Texas who does love her some beef ribs barbecue. Differences make good sparks, as elf-chief Kahvi said once in Elfquest.

But if something’s false, then being around someone who isn’t paying lip service to it can be enough to make a zealot into a questioner. Really fervent Christianity just about requires a circling of the wagons; it just about demands a very insular, very cocooned way of living. If everybody is not totally on board and clapping for Tinker Bell, then she can’t survive. It’s not a matter of “dragging the believer down,” as the saying goes, but a matter of the believer seeing exactly how totally superfluous and unnecessary (and even how harmful) religion is in the conducting of a marriage. That’s why, if a couple can just hold it together for a little while after a deconversion (in my direct observation of friends in the UYC), the Christian in question usually calms down and starts focusing on reality instead of on the shared roleplaying experience they thought they were signing up for when they got married in the first place. Though I’ve heard of Christians staying with deconverted spouses for a year or two and then springing the D-word* on their astonished partners, it doesn’t seem like it happens that often. The lack of religious unity may well be a bit of a thorn for a long time, but that thorn becomes less and less worrisome as the couple moves past the event of the deconversion itself–as the Christian begins to see just how little has really changed.

And every single couple who successfully steps out into the water is another brick that gets torn out of the wall of toxic Christianity.

Of course, truly zealous Christians may well find that this challenge to their worldview simply cannot be brooked, and they well feel that the roleplaying experience they wanted matters so much to them that the person behind that other role can be switched out for someone else. There ain’t much that can be done at that point. But I’m hearing more and more often about Christians who are daring to question what they were taught–and who can’t imagine living without their beloved spouses even if it means living a totally different life from the one they thought they were signing up to lead.

So yes: Christian leaders have quite a lot to fear from all this love being expressed between believers and non-believers.

But they’re the ones who must fear, not the couples themselves.

Love’s one of the most potent forces in the entire world. And it will succeed where indoctrination and fearmongering cannot.

Mixed-faith marriages are more of a threat to the status quo of Christianity than they are to the people involved in those marriages. So we can expect Christian leaders to speak out against them more and more fervently as time goes on, though hopefully their flocks will have plenty of examples around themselves at that point to know that what is being taught to them is just so many buckets of horse-apples.

——-

* Divorce. Stop that giggling.

Posted in Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Unequally Yoked Club: Yes Yes, But What Does It Look Like?

I wanted to briefly discuss something I talked about last time, about couples “basing their marriage on Jesus.” I was talking about how Christians tend to have very unclear ideas of exactly what they’re basing their relationship on, namely:

The simple truth is that I don’t think even most Christians base their marriages on Jesus. At most, what they’re really doing is making Christian practices like prayer and church attendance a big part of their daily lives and saying they believe in the same thing. Given that Jesus has been playing it all coy these past couple thousand years, that’s about all Christian couples really can do.

The reason I want to talk a little more about this idea is that I appear to have accidentally tripped across another weird thing about Christian culture–namely, its adoration of esoteric, metaphysical word salad that doesn’t actually describe much in the physical world.

Today I was reading a friend’s post about the No True Scotsman and in it he was briefly talking about how Christians use religion’s very nebulous nature as metaphor to wiggle and twist within it to their best advantage. I think that what he’s discussing dovetails nicely with what I’ve been thinking lately about how hard it is to get concrete answers from Christians about much of anything.

When I get accused of never having been a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, if I ask the accuser what exactly that looks like and what one must to do be one, I almost never get a response back–and you and I both know why, right? Because the second someone tries to tell me “a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ does this and such and thus and so forth,” we all know I’m going to say “Okay, well, I did all that.” And oh dear me, no toxic Christian wants to hear that! That would wreck everything!

No, I have to be disqualified by any means possible, and the only real way that’s going to happen is by refusing to precisely define what a Christian is even supposed to do to qualify as fully Christian in these accusers’ eyes. (Which is why I think TRUE CHRISTIAN™ means, in each particular case of its use, “a Christian who believes about like I do, has about the same practices and moral values I have, hasn’t gotten caught doing anything really outrageously bad, and dies in the traces.” It’s supremely subjective, which is why it is deployed in the first place.)

If you’re wondering, the term “modesty” works exactly the same way, and there are other terms besides that toxic Christians use to their advantage. These vague words, poorly-defined and ever-shifting, are used to keep the accused guessing and hopping from foot to foot and defending. When one gets trotted out, the game’s pretty much over for any hope of real dialogue. The people making the accusation will never be satisfied that the person they’re accusing is actually totally innocent of the charge because they themselves might not even realize what it is they’re using the words to mean, and the people being accused will either defend themselves to their last breath that they’re innocent or else get pissed off and stomp away in a huff, flinging profanity over their shoulders the whole way.

Yes, yes, I know. You can feel the love just dripping off these Christians.

But the problem is that even when the Christian in question means well and isn’t just trying to zing a non-believer, the religion’s so filled with these poorly-defined terms and ideas that it’s almost impossible to build anything firm out of it.

An image from the necropolis under the Vatican...

An image from the necropolis under the Vatican in which Jesus = Mithras (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Dangit, we’re trying to say he’s unique here!

A long time ago, I was cruising around a LinkedIn pastor’s personal forum and ran across a fascinating conversation between a group of ministers, all men, all fairly old hands at their gigs. (I think I’ve mentioned this before but the real significance of what they were doing just hit me.) About ten of them were discussing the importance of living “in submission to Jesus.” But there was this one guy, this fly in the ointment, who kept asking “Yes, yes, of course it’s terribly important, we all agree that it is important and I’m certainly not going to say otherwise, but what does submission look like? How do you know, objectively, when you are in submission to Jesus and when you are not? What signs are present when you are, or absent when you are not?”

It was a very good question. And I could see his forum-mates getting more and more visibly alarmed that they had no answer to it. What ensued was a couple pages of total pyscho-babble; some of them chose to re-emphasize repeatedly how important “submission to Jesus” was; others chose to denounce those kids today who weren’t submitted enough; others chose to talk about gauzy notions of the joy to be found in submission. Seriously, it was like watching a pack of David Bowies try to mass-hump a doorknob, all limbs and flailing and nobody was sure what was going on.

Their apologetics routines weren’t working on this sharp cookie, who kept persisting through their word salad. “Yes yes, submission, we all want to be in submission and teach our flocks how to be in submission, but how do we know it when we see it?” In the end, he lamented that none of them appeared to have the faintest idea what “submission” looked like in actual practice or when to recognize its presence–much less its absence. He asked (plaintively, I like to think), “If we can’t even figure out what the real-world application of this word is, and we’re pastors and preachers, then how are we to expect our congregations to know what it is to live in submission to Jesus?”

Just between you and me, I give this dude about three years before he’s starting an ex-C blog of his own, because that’s exactly the kind of question that could lead an honest Christian minister to some very uncomfortable realizations.

I’m bringing this anecdote up now because I think that Christians–probably like all religious people, but I have the most familiarity with Christians doing it–tend to use terms that they don’t really understand to describe their ideology and practices, and “basing a marriage on Jesus” is one of those terms. It’s not just something their ickier brethren do to non-believers on internet comment threads; it’s something that permeates their entire religion.

So let’s ask the really hard question here: exactly what does “basing a marriage on Jesus” actually look like?

How do you know when a couple is “basing their marriage on Jesus” and when they aren’t?

What real-world, objective signs will you see or not see when you examine this question and apply it to a couple’s real, everyday life together?

People can say they’re “basing a marriage on Jesus” all they want. But that’s a metaphysical idea and a metaphor, not a real-world description of anything. When I look at Christian writings about marriage, they all parrot this phrase but they don’t appear to ever actually describe what it looks like in practice. They just take for granted that everybody else knows what it looks like.

So I put this forth: a marriage “based on Jesus” is a marriage in which participants are both actively engaged in Christian practices (though precisely what practices varies wildly by the couple; some couples are three-times-a-week church attendees while others don’t go at all) and both actively and fervently hold Christian beliefs (though again, exactly what beliefs are held varies quite a bit as well). That’s it. As far as their metaphorical blatherings go, this one’s actually not that hard. You know a marriage is “based on Jesus” because you see those two things present: Christian practices and shared belief in Christianity. A marriage that is not “based on Jesus” lacks one or both of those elements as defined by one or both of the people involved.

I don’t view either one of those elements as “Jesus,” though. A belief is not Jesus. Going to church is not Jesus. Praying isn’t even Jesus. These things are expressions of Christian beliefs and practices, not the actual person of Jesus Christ (whatever that might be!). Given how silent Jesus has been since, well, always, it’s not actually possible to base a marriage on him. What Christian couples do instead is base their marriages on their shared practice of the religion based around him. And that’s okay. It’s still okay to do that if that’s what works for them.

But when it doesn’t, that’s when the you-know-what hits the fan. I think that if couples facing a deconversion have any hope of crawling out of the pit their leaders have painstakingly created for them, they have to ask those tough questions about just what they’ve absorbed and internalized–and look seriously at the glurge phrases they’ve thoughtlessly internalized over many years like “basing a marriage on Jesus.” Basing a marriage on a metaphor isn’t a very solid foundation at all for it.

And look, I don’t want to offend Christians who think they’re “basing their marriages on Jesus” or who even just want to do that. I’m trying to set real-world parameters around this phrase, not invalidate anybody’s beliefs or whatever. I’m especially not trying to trivialize someone’s beliefs; the sort of Christians who’d dump a spouse for deconverting obviously take their beliefs very seriously. When such Christians feel like someone is trivializing his or her beliefs, they tend to react defensively–and I’m not sure I could blame them, especially when their leaders are also teaching them to be especially touchy about any criticism of their way of doing things. The last person who’d ever want to insult them or demean them is the person who loves them most, too. Trust me, an ex-Christian married to a Christian is usually the very soul of courtesy and carefulness when it comes to stepping around the still-believing spouse’s boundaries.

Rather, I’m trying to bring this phrase back to the ground and relate it to people’s lived experience because I think that many Christians so elevate this concept that when their partner deconverts it’s that much harder for them to accept the change and absorb it. I think the idea really has reached “idolatry” levels of adoration by Christians and is, itself, becoming more important than their own practice of and belief in Christianity. The concept is becoming more important to Christians than their marriages themselves. And I think the rest of us are allowed to challenge that idolatry when it touches and threatens our relationships and even our society. It is a harmful belief, and the fact that most of the people holding it don’t have the faintest idea how it plays out in real life just makes it all the more toxic to a marriage facing a deconversion.

People who don’t deal well with ambiguity and uncertainty have evolved a whole raft of strategies for dealing with them. In the case of fervent Christians, they’ve evolved the use of untestable claims and language that is so vague and metaphorical that it’s all but impossible to engage them in conversation. It reminds me of a scene in Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently and the Holistic Detective Agency wherein the Electric Monk has a moment of sudden clarity after a short crisis early on.

He believed in a door. He must find that door. The door was the way to… to… The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn’t have a good answer to.

And so is metaphysical word salad. We need to be asking, “What does this look like in practice?” more often when it comes to religious claims and terminology. I think that practice will be helpful in many more situations than just a mixed-faith marriage and defeating the Scotsman accusation, too. For example, often we hear Christian preachers and zealots claiming that equal marriage will destroy society. We need to be asking exactly how that will happen–what testable, observable evidence will we have that it will hurt society? And so on and so forth. Once we have a testable claim, we can, well, test it. But as long as Christians resist giving us a testable claim, they can keep hiding behind the subjective, metaphorical wispiness of their accusations.

Once we’ve brought the term “a marriage based on Jesus” to the ground again, we can look at exactly why a couple would want to do that, and what happens if a couple does not do that. What testable, observable things happen if a couple does share beliefs and practices? Or if they don’t? Because let me tell you: Christian leaders teach that not doing this thing is very harmful and produces big threats to a marriage and to a Christian’s very faith. That’s why I needed to nail down this idea now before we move on, because we’re going to talk next about what the imaginary threat is, and what the real one is to a mixed-faith marriage.

Also, I just realized: that LinkedIn pastor, the fly in the ointment, has actually helped a total non-believer (me) figure some stuff out. Thanks, LinkedIn pastor-dude, wherever you are. Good luck, man. Good luck.

Posted in Guides, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

The Unequally Yoked Club: The Most Important Thing.

Hi y’all! We’ve been talking lately about how quite a few Christians base their marriages on a shared belief in their religion, making the whole marriage quake when one partner loses that belief. I made the point that it really doesn’t have to be that way. Today we’re going to talk a little more about this idea because I think it’s really important, and we’ll be talking about a blog post I found that pretty much encapsulates everything I think is wrong with Christian teachings about marriage, so this ought to be fun.

Mariage du Duc de Bourgogne, Louis de France (...

Mariage du Duc de Bourgogne, Louis de France (1682-1712). (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Not shown: Unity candles, braided ribbons, love offerings. Heathens.

The simple truth is that I don’t think even most Christians base their marriages on Jesus. At most, what they’re really doing is making Christian practices like prayer and church attendance a big part of their daily lives and saying they believe in the same thing. Given that Jesus has been playing it all coy these past couple thousand years, that’s about all Christian couples really can do. But couples have been getting taught for years that “basing their marriage on Jesus” is the most important thing they can possibly do to have a good marriage. This teaching permeates Christian culture at this point, infecting and rotting everything it touches. Strong language? Yes. But necessary.

Go to any Christian website you want and look at their suggestions for picking a good mate, and every single one of ‘em will say at the top, just as “Questions to Consider Before You Get Engaged” does, that a potential mate must first and foremost be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. That’s a donotlink, so feel free to marvel at the sheer horrible-ness of the advice offered to a Christian for why it’s a bad idea to try to date or marry a non-Christian or even a brand-new convert:

1. A Christian cannot overpower a non-Christian’s free will and force him or her to accept Christ.
2. An unbeliever might fake a conversion simply to gain your acceptance.
3. New Christians do not automatically have character or spiritual maturity.
4. A non-Christian cannot meet your need for love or security.

Did you catch that last one? “A non-Christian cannot meet your need for love or security!” Talk about a truly irresponsible and nasty thing to say–and patently ridiculous, along with the others. Let’s take these one at a time briefly:

1. Is it just me or does the person who wrote that actually seem sad that it isn’t possible to force someone to convert? What if it were possible? Would he still advise what he does?
2. Sure, I guess so. Because obviously Christians never, ever, ever fake anything to get someone’s acceptance. Like, ya know, pretending to be totes fine with never having kids, like my preacher ex Biff pretended he was to help convince me to marry him.
3. Neither do longtime Christians. Or anybody else, really, from any group. But it’s weird to see a Christian admit that Jesus doesn’t magically change anybody with magic, considering that point is pretty central to their entire “Amazing Grace” routine. It’s like they’re happy to pretend he does, except sometimes he doesn’t. But you don’t get to have it both ways.
4. HORSESHIT. And insulting horseshit at that.

The same writer goes on to gush, “Only through your faith can Christ help you resolve your issues,” because obviously Christians always resolve their issues and non-Christians simply can’t. Oh wait. No, actually, that’s totally wrong, and besides is going to be huge news to the legions of non-Christians I know who are more than capable of resolving issues. It’s almost like a slap in the face when this same writer grudgingly concedes that “some non-Christians exhibit just as much honesty and sensitivity as some Christians do,” but oh, he’d certainly never, ever suggest someone actually get into a marriage with one. Or let his daughter date one, I suppose. We’ll talk about this conceptualization of belief as a conflict-resolution tool soon, but for now let’s just say: No. Being a faithful Christian doesn’t grant a believer any personal skills that non-Christians can’t access.

I picked this link at random because it’s not saying anything I wasn’t taught and certainly nothing that’s unusual or startling to any fundagelical Christians reading it. It’s Jesus-glurge at its worst. Not only is this concept of a Jesus-centered marriage completely endemic to Christian culture at this point, but churches also teach alongside that idea that non-Christians are dangerous and can’t possibly have a good marriage with Christians. The threat is always implied if not stated outright: either the Christian will end up falling away from the faith, or else the marriage will break up because the couple isn’t properly yoked together. There’s this equally-implied promise that if couples will base their entire relationship around their shared belief, that they will go the distance and be very happy together and have way fewer problems than couples who aren’t as engaged with Christianity.

Unfortunately, neither the threat nor the promise are really true.

First, let’s look at some hard facts about deconversion. The fastest-growing religious group in the country is the so-called “Nones,” made up of people who aren’t affiliated with any particular religion, and the younger someone is, the more likely that person is to be unaffiliated. The Barna Group, a religious polling organization, discovered some years ago in 2006 that about 60% of young Christians pulled away from their religious faith in their 20s, a process called “disengagement,” and also found that only about 20% of young Christians maintained the same level of fervor in their 20s that they’d had in their childhoods (thank goodness).

That was almost ten years ago, and if you’re wondering, yes: the numbers only got bleaker over time. A later study from 2011 discovered that only three out of ten young Christians kept their faith and engagement with Christianity through their 20s. Think about that next time you see a big group photo of smiling young Christian teens going kookoo for Jesus. Statistically, only about a third of ‘em will still be fervent Christians in a few short years. Those are the sorts of numbers that give pastors ulcers, I’m sure.

Second, Christians generally feel that their god is hand-picking someone to be their lifelong mate in marriage. This always seemed a lot like how the secular world talked about “soulmates,” this idea that there’s one utterly perfect person in the world for each and every other person. Unsurprisingly, Christians already primed for the idea through prosperity gospel jumped on the soulmate bandwagon almost immediately; even by the 80s, when I became a fundamentalist, I–along with every single one of my peers–believed in the idea. I doubt most Christians even realize it wasn’t actually a Christian concept in the first place but rather an outgrowth of hippie Age of Aquarius philosophy. Of course, a deconversion obviously means that such Christians were wrong about who their soulmate was, and they have to dump that soulmate to go find the one who is really the right soulmate. (I’ve noticed that Christian spouses of ex-Christians don’t generally realize that maybe if their god really did hand-pick their mate, maybe they were meant to be the husband or wife of an ex-Christian.) As you can imagine, people who believe in this idea of a hand-picked partner tend to divorce more often–to the tune of, I kid you not, 150% more likely.

And last, ever since the 1970s there’s been a big push to Jesus-juke absolutely everything in a Christian’s life. Music must be Christian music; movies and books must have a decided and specific Christian emphasis. Clothes have to be Christian swag. Conversation must center on religious topics or at least be elevated by constant religious zingers. I mean for chrissakes, there are dozens of diet plans that center on religiosity. It’s not enough to just believe and be saved; mentions of Jesus and Christianity must be everywhere and reminders of one’s faith must be present in absolutely everything. I strongly suspect that this move toward Jesus-fying everything has more to do with shrewd marketers realizing how much disposable income Christians have than it does with genuinely increasing the fervor of a Christian’s religious life or in increasing a Christian’s dedication in any way.

One rather sinister effect of this Jesus-fication, though, is that it makes Christians think that if something isn’t loaded to the gills with religiosity, then it’s inferior to something that is. Like I did long ago, they learn to weigh the value of a thing not by its actual merits but by how Jesus-stuffed it is. That’s why those who listen will hear about Christian wives telling their now-ex-Christian husbands that they’d rather these men be substance abusers or wife-beaters rather than ex-Christians; a drug-addicted, violent Christian husband is still superior in their eyes to a kind, loving, supportive non-Christian husband. And yes, they say that. A lot. It’s awful. (It’s also why you see Christians defending really crappy, objectively-inept movies like Left Behind to the skies.)

So combine a growing feeling among evangelical churches that their young people should get married earlier as the Southern Baptist Convention is irresponsibly teaching with that growing trend of disengagement and deconversion among young people, and a teaching that looks a lot like soulmate theology coupled with Jesus-fication of damned near everything in Christians’ everyday lives, and, and it really seems all but inevitable that at least one partner in the marriage is going to be pulling away from the religion fairly soon into the relationship and that this pulling-away will cause devastation in a once-fervent Christian couple’s relationship. Unfortunately, the age of a couple at marriage is still one of the biggest indicators of how long they will remain married, and that doesn’t change just because the couple is super-duper-ultra-licious Christian. (And though Christian sources themselves dispute this finding mightily for obvious reasons, the truth is that when peer-reviewed sources look at divorce rates, they tend to discover that evangelical Christians divorce more often than any other religious group–especially more often than couples lacking religious affiliation. It ain’t hard for me to see why.) When our culture finally wakes up to the sheer damage this perfect storm has done to people’s heads, these leaders will have a lot to answer for.

What I’m saying is this: at that point when they realize they have some differences in religious opinion, a couple’s got some hard figuring to do, and they’ll be doing that figuring largely in the total absence of really good teaching and advice from their church leaders, who have, one must say, quite a bit to lose if the couple discovers just how much they were taught is simply wrong. If the still-Christian partner decides that having a shared belief and shared practices is really the most important thing in a relationship, then that person will find some way to twist and contort the Bible’s very own teachings about mixed-faith marriages and jettison the relationship.

But I’d like to put this forward: the most important thing in a relationship isn’t a shared hobby or belief in something but rather how the people involved treat each other. Respect, courtesy, compassion, affection, caring and loving gestures, kind words, these things go a lot further toward making a marriage happy than talking to the ceiling together once a day and spending a few hours a week sitting side-by-side in a fancy building. A marriage can absolutely survive a deconversion, but it cannot survive selfishness, contempt, abuse, and disrespect. The people in the marriage can find some other things to enjoy together; they can construct other rituals and customs for their families–but only if they value the marriage more than they value their religious dogma.

Some people really do value religious dogma over the person they swore to love, honor, and cherish till death do them part. That seems to me to be an awfully cold bedmate, but it’s their beds, not mine. And it’s true, as well, that some people are really susceptible to the grief of the lost Happy Christian Marriage illusion–that facade of being a typical proper evangelical family. They expected a particular lifestyle when they got married, and when it turns out they can’t get that in this current relationship, they’ll want to jump ship to figure out who will actually give them that kind of life. They married not a person but a roleplaying partner. There’s not much I can say about such people other than it’s probably best to let ‘em go, because an ex-Christian can’t generally play that role anymore. And it’s these Christians’ choice to live that way. We all have our boundaries and dealbreakers, and some of them might sound terribly shallow-sounding, but that’s just how things are.

The really shocking thing is how seldom that worst-case scenario really happens, though.

You see, for the rest of us, the ones who love the person and not the role, the ones who really want to find some way to make it work through whatever comes our way, the first thing we’ve got to do is un-learn that nonsense blathering about the center of a marriage being Jesus. And the really wild part is that a lot of us do exactly that. Christian leaders probably don’t want their congregants to even know how many mixed-faith couples are doing just fine, thankyewverymuch. They–we–don’t tend to talk a whole lot about our relationships; we’re too busy, well, having relationships. Sometimes we had some really bumpy driving getting to our destinations, but we got there in the end. And we got there by trying to treat each other right while we found a new equilibrium, and by navigating our new realities with as much grace, humor, love, and compassion as we could.

Do you remember that old hag in The Princess Bride who screams at Buttercup during her dreadful nightmare after giving Westley up in the Fire Swamp to the Prince (p. 184 in the paperback)?

“You had love in your hands and you gave it up for gold!” She turned to the crowd. “It is true what I tell you–there was love alongside her in the Fire Swamp and she dropped it from her fingers like garbage, and that is what she is, the Queen of Garbage. . . She threw love away to be the Queen of Grime, the Queen of Muck–I am old and life means nothing to me, so I am the only person in all this crowd to dare to tell truth, and truth says bow to the Queen of Feculence if you want to, but not I.”

Just sends shivers down my spine to read it even today. And I think of that passage when I hear about a Christian dumping an ex-Christian partner. A lot of Christians have love in their hands and they give it up for religion; they have love alongside them in life and they let it drop from their fingers like garbage. Love–the real thing–that beautiful, glorious real thing, that stunning bright flash of lightning in the human heart–given up for–for what? Certainly not for “Jesus.” Surely no loving Savior would ever tell anybody to discard love and wedding vows alike for cold dogma and ideology.

Just think of all the human misery this bees-headed insistence on Jesus-fying a marriage has caused. Just think about it. I sometimes just feel staggered by how many people have abandoned a perfectly good relationship because their partners deconverted. Is it nice to have shared hobbies and activities? Yes, of course it is. But is it really that important?

As millions of mixed-faith couples are discovering, no, it isn’t.

To my dear friends in the UYC… hang in there. Next time I’ll be covering why I think mixed-faith marriages are so threatening to religious leaders–and I hope you’ll join me.

Posted in Biography, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Unequally Yoked Club: The One Pillar.

Welcome back, R2Ders! We’re heading into the Unequally Yoked Club today. One thing I was taught from my earliest years as a Christian–and see stressed even more nowadays–is this idea that Christian couples should base their relationship with each other on a shared faith in Jesus. So I want to talk about why that’s a terrible idea, using a recent court decision allowing equal marriage in two more states.

Same Sex Marriage

Same Sex Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But first: Hooray for Nevada and Idaho! The court system struck down those states’ bigoted, hateful anti-LGBTQ laws. Okay, so they’re a little late, but better late than never, I reckon. (I know some people who are actively betting on which state will be  *cough*Missouri*cough last.) As with all the other legal smackdowns, the court’s writeup of the case is really good reading and I heartily recommend it if you’re into legal smackdowns half as much as I am. Interestingly, the smackdown does touch on the reasons people get married, which ties into what I wanted to talk about today (see how smooth that was? I’m getting better at this).

The argument presented by the Christian bigots opposing equal marriage in this legal case is a sham and a pretense even to non-legally-trained ears, but it’s a familiar one by this time to us all. Sing along with the bouncing red dot: marriage’s explicit function is to get children born into this world and raised into good little taxpayers and drones, and marriage should be kept sooooper speshul for straight people so they’ll feel compelled to marry should any unexpected pregnancies result from their irresponsible and probably drunken bonking. Gay people can’t have unexpected pregnancies and never, ever have children ever, so obviously they don’t need to be forced into marriage because of that, so DUH. Also, children always do better with straight parents than with gay parents, and single parenthood and divorce will become less common if gay people are denied the right to marry. Also also, if gay people are allowed to marry then straight people will get all snotty and refuse to marry each other out of spite even after having irresponsible babies and fathers will totally abandon their children because LESBIANS. People’s rights are decided by lawmakers on the basis of what benefits those rights will confer to society, not on what the right thing is to do, and gay people marrying will cause mayhem and havoc in the streets and possibly meteor strikes so obviously that’s a serious problem for society which necessitates the denial of this right.

Every single sentence in that argument is either a hamfisted, baldfaced lie set forth by truly desperate lawyers throwing whatever they can at the wall to see what sticks, or an absolute mockery of the whole idea of human rights as set forth in the American Constitution (or, I ask in a little-girl voice with a little-girl shrug of my little-girl hands, “why not both?”). But this pile of horseshit is what they’re going with: that the ban on equal marriage needs to be maintained because they’re not really discriminating on the basis of gender or orientation, but rather on “procreative capacity” and “tradition” alone. The fact that it effectively bars same-sex couples from marriage is just a bug of the laws they’re defending, not its feature, like its proponents throw up their hands and giggle, “Whoopsie! I guess it totally does exclude same-sex couples from marriage! How’d that ever happen?” The folks writing the smackdown are just as dumbfounded as I am by this blatant hypocrisy and deception, if not more so.

But it’s important to note here what the excuse is for the bigotry. Idaho and Nevada are not really discriminating against same-sex couples, they say. They’re just declaring that marriage’s function, as dictated by long tradition, is 100% about procreation and parenthood. Oh, oh no, before you ask, these states don’t actually ask opposite-sex couples if they plan to procreate or test them for their “procreative capacity.” Bigots let opposite-sex couples marry no matter what. If a couple is too old to procreate or otherwise biologically incapable of doing so, or else both state categorically on public record that they have no intention of procreating, they still get to marry if they want and none but the very worst of bigots will even give them side-eye or shade for doing it much less ever accuse them of destroying the “sanctity” of marriage.

The real fear is that people might get married because they just love each other and want to commit to a lifetime together–not because they were forced into it with an unplanned pregnancy or because they were horny and wanted to bonk legally. The idea that people can marry out of love and stay together out of love seems entirely alien to them; it makes me wonder what their own marriages look like when they are this convinced that without strong-arming force that people just aren’t capable of staying together. Meanwhile, over in reality-land, most of the weddings I’ve ever heard of revolve around whether the couple truly loves each other. The smart ones at least try to figure out if they’re truly compatible before plunging into the theme park of marriage, but most of ‘em don’t even get that far and still muddle along about as well as anybody else who at least tried to figure that out beforehand.

It’s also worth noting that Idaho, whose governor seems the most terrified of a shift to a “consent-based, personal relationship model of marriage” (p. 21 of that smackdown, which we’ll be quoting more of at the end here because if the phrase QFT was ever devised for anything, it was for this), doesn’t even ask its marriage-license applicants if they plan to procreate, nor does it demand physical examinations to ensure that applicants are capable of procreation. It’s downright startling how few questions get asked. In fact, what I got asked when I eloped in Idaho was “Do you two know each other?” (because at the time there was a bit of a problem with sham green-card marriages in the area). Oh, and “do you want to recite your own vows or is this handout script going to work for you, and are you exchanging rings?” So I guess that’s two questions, three if you count my alarming overuse of compound sentences. They didn’t even want to know if our parents approved or if banns had been properly said around town. I mean really, what kind of hippie ashram is this place turning into? I want my country back! Grawr!

English: A man in black traditional Christian ...

English: A man in black traditional Christian garb stands on the steps of San Francisco city hall with a sign that reads “FRANCISCANS FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE”. Two women behind him smile, one holding another sign that reads “REJ☻ICE”. This was taken on June 17 2008, the first day same-sex couples were legally allowed to marry in California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Shown here: a hippie from an ashram. Grawr!

It may seem a little strange to tie this court case to the topic at hand today–Christ-centered marriage–but I see a great many similarities between the standard-issue fundagelical take on marriage and what the defendants in this court case were trying to say about marriage, namely that it has a genuine purpose and isn’t just some silly emotional relationship entered into out of love all willy-nilly by superficial, starry-eyed lovers. Certainly when I was Christian I felt the same fear of the idea of marriage without divine commands behind it. I married Biff because I thought it was a god’s handed-down purpose for me to be married to him, not because I was totally into the idea. I mean for real, people, I tried to dump him the night before the wedding, and he only talked me out of the idea by stressing that the that this marriage was “God’s will” for us. I walked by obedience and faith, and yeah, you know how well that worked out.

The idea of getting married just for love, just because the couple wants to marry, that’s dangerous. It’s almost as if one is plunging into the North Sea without even a life-jacket or a submarine nearby. There’s got to be some purpose to everything, even to where a Christian eats lunch–so a marriage obviously needs to have an even greater purpose behind it. And in a Christian marriage, that purpose is Jesus.

I’ve mentioned that teen dating seminar I attended as a bright-eyed Southern Baptist lass in the 1980s, “Love/Life Principles,” which devotes most of its runtime to dating, sex, and love. In this seminar I was taught the following, and I’m quoting from the binder my mother inexplicably saved all these years from that seminar (p. 33; bold emphases are the author’s own; underlines indicate words I wrote into the book at the presenter’s instruction, and oh wow my handwriting was SO GIRLIE):

The main purpose of dating is to unite two people spiritually. Because this is the main purpose of dating – God must be very much involved in your love life.

Later on, after informing attendees that we weren’t old enough to date till our parents said we were, the author goes on to tell us that “You are not old enough to date until you have read God’s standards in scripture for dating and will not compromise.”

I know a lot of Biblical scholars and Scripture buffs alike will wonder just where the Bible discusses modern American-style dating, but the author breathlessly tells attendees that “You can’t go wrong!” in trying their best to “give (their) sexual-social needs to Him.” It goes on to assure young people that “spiritual oneness must precede sexual attraction” (p. 35).

And this was the same sort of stuff I was taught in the Pentecostal church I later attended, which is why I’m quoting it. Nothing I’m saying here is very different from what most evangelical churches teach, with the exception of some of the hardcore fundie churches going into “courtship” cultism because they weren’t already hardcore and extremist enough about sex and sexism. This idea that relationships are based on Jesus is one that is so ingrained in church culture nowadays that even questioning it is unthinkable. Jesus is the glue that binds a couple and the foundation upon which the family is built. The exact mechanism for this centrality is not often discussed, but usually it centers on frequent family prayer and Bible study, adherence to Christian cultural mores, regular church attendance, and the participation in social functions with the congregation. A perceptive eye will note that none of these things is actually “Jesus,” but rather a drilling-down on standard-issue Christian practices, but forget it, they’re rolling.

In the dating seminar binder thingie, in the section about how to decide who to date, attendees wrote down the following as requirements in potential partners: “Interest in God, 2) Growing in God, 3) Not Critical of Christians, and 4) Sensitivity to a woman’s needs.” I know, I gagged a little too seeing that years later. Young women are told to seek partners who have “a heart for God” (p. 38). Somehow the author quotes 1 Timothy 5:2 (“Treat the older women as mothers, and young women as sisters, in all purity”) and decides that means that men always set the pace sexually in relationships, so women are told to let men do that–within the boundaries that the women have set, of course, because nothing says “letting men set the pace sexually” better than forcing men to adhere to women’s boundaries.

(Young men, if you’re wondering, are told to seek female partners who are “beautiful inside as well as outside” and who don’t flirt too damned much or dress all sexy-like, calling such women “a gold ring in a pig’s snout”–with a helpful illustration of the same to make the point. Men’s appearance inside or out, their dress, and their flirting aren’t mentioned at all to young women as red flags. Ain’t that some nice slut-shaming and double standards?)

The really terrible part about this insistence on a shared religious focus is that it just isn’t true that couples need to have one. Lots of relationships do just fine without going through that pretense. And a great many relationships withstand one partner’s deconversion just fine as well. After years of hearing from people in mixed-faith marriages/relationships, I’m forced to conclude that the only real reason churches teach such a patently untrue thing is that they really want it to be true–for marriage to have this huge cosmic purpose and reason and focus–and think that saying it over and over again makes that lie into the truth. The truth is, most folks marry because they fell in love, and Christians are no exception to that rule. They dress their desire to marry in fancy words like “God’s will,” but really they’re just in love with each other and wanted to marry the person they chose. Except for those courtship weirdos and the odd fervent fundagelical like I was, you don’t often hear a couple saying that they weren’t into the idea at all but decided that, based on their parents’ opinions or their own procreative capability, or even a studied examination of their deity’s desires, they should take one for the team and marry anyway and hope it all works out for the best. Most Christians know better than to take this drivel about “God’s will” as far as I did; though they’re happy to pay the idea lip service at least, when push comes to shove they prove themselves just as “worldly” as those nasty worldly couples they think marry for superficial reasons.

And I think it makes Christian leaders nervous as hell to imagine that they’re no longer the ones setting the tone for discussions about relationships. As that court case smackdown relates so beautifully, for many years marriage has already been about an individual couple’s love and desire to marry, not about economic or legal considerations, not about what the family wants or what churches approve. The fight over “traditional marriage” isn’t about truly traditional marriage at all–because truly traditional marriage would involve women having no legal rights whatsoever or a single bit of ownership over their own bodies. It would involve women being slaves in the truest sense of the word, with their bodies, their time, and their labor belonging wholly to their masters husbands. I seriously doubt any but the most toxic of Christians like that idea.

No, what they’re really arguing for here isn’t the archaic and truly horrific view of marriage that “tradition” actually would involve, but rather the idea of marriage having the significance and purpose that they want it to have. That’s why twits like Rick Santorum can whine and wring their little hands about how marriage has “devolved” into just “a romantic relationship between two people.” They want it to mean more than just love, which to them is nonessential in the abstract because Jesus said there wasn’t marriage in heaven. They want it to have a higher focus, some compelling force behind it, but more than that, they want it to have the focus and force that they themselves affix to it and enforce on society as a whole.

In the light of their true goals, I find this wide-eyed, innocent insistence on “procreative capability” and “traditional marriage” to be beyond deceptive. All they’re doing is using terminology that isn’t quite as offensive as the language they really want to use, much like how Creationists would dearly love for us all to use “intelligent design” to describe their nonsensical ideas. In the same way that Creationists are aware that they simply can’t use specific Christian words like “Creationism” and expect to get away with sneaking their ideas into public schools, anti-equality bigots are perfectly aware that stating their real purpose–trying to force America back to their own revisionist vision of 1950s America, when Christians dominated everything, LGBTQ people and minorities were marginalized to within an inch of their lives, and people were forced by law to observe rigid gender roles–would get them laughed right out of court, so they’re using terms that will at least get them a hearing in front of a judge. Even most Christians wouldn’t want to return to the days of truly traditional marriage when wives could be legally raped by their husbands and couldn’t own property in their own names, if they even know in the first place that that’s what traditional marriage even involved in the past. Nor would they actually want to make procreation the sole focus of who is and isn’t allowed to marry; that’d take the right to marry away from quite a few straight Christians! This nonsense they blather about procreation and tradition is just that: blather. Neither focus is their real focus and neither actually advances their real goal.

And we will briefly mention here that “procreative capability” is also Christian zealots’ dog-whistle term for their particular brand of sexism. In Christian thinking, one can find this idea of “complementarianism,” a gender-essentialist way of saying that men are all meant to behave and do certain things, while women are all meant to behave and do certain other things–all of which combine to form a glorious whole that operates smoothly and efficiently (as an old speech I read once went, the boys farm the wheat and then the girls bake it into pies). In that mindset, when men or women refuse to perform their proper roles, chaos results. Similarly, there’s just one successful blueprint for a marriage which involves men and women doing particular things and behaving in particular ways unique to their genders, and if people don’t adhere to that blueprint, then society itself will suffer in some huge way–though normally the specifics of this suffering are either not described at all or else are asserted as true without or even contrary to existing evidence.

This thinking totally ignores that there are as many successful blueprints for marriage as there are couples–but such heresy threatens the entire evangelical mindset in a lot of ways. That’s why this court case recounts their constant bleating about how marriage has become “genderless” and their terror of marriages that don’t revolve around the correct roles being performed the correct way. The whole mindset relies on a strict hierarchical vision of society where every individual member has a role and a part to play. If their sexism turns out to be wrong, if couples function just fine without adhering to the blueprint, then what other blueprints are they shoving onto society that will also turn out to be wrong? (Hint: all of them.) The very last thing Christian leaders want to see are happy relationships and low divorce rates resulting from a rejection of the mores and values they are trying to inject into marriage. They don’t care about what works to improve marriages and lower divorce rates; they just care about what advances–or at least maintains–Christianist dominance and privilege.

And Christian couples’ misery and divorces are the fallout and collateral damage from that goal. When they fail, they will think that the problem is that they misinterpreted their god’s will for their lives, not that building a marriage around a shared hobby or passion is a really bad idea. They will blame themselves or each other for not adhering to the correct gender roles instead of questioning the inherently unfair and sexist paradigm to which they subscribe, and they will go on to form new marriages that have similar flaws built right into its foundation. They’ll never even realize what happened to them.

So to sum up, this court case illustrates the big major reasons why I think Christians fear and tremble at the sight of equal marriage. First, equal marriage illustrates that marriage is about love and consent at its very core, not about gender roles, not about Jesus, and certainly not about bearing or raising children, and while Christians themselves are free to make it mean whatever else they themselves want it to mean and give it whatever additional baggage they want it to have among their own selves, they’re not allowed to try to force their view of it onto others. Second, this cultural development laughs in the face of Christian sexism and clearly rejects it.

The really scary part about the Unequally Yoked Club, for Christians, is just how truly non-essential Jesus is to a relationship. After the initial shock has passed, most couples discover that things work about the same way with a non-Christian spouse as they did with both spouses being Christian. Some of the superficial stuff changes, of course; how the couple spends their time is obviously one of the first changes the newly-unequally-yoked couple will weather. But after that, it’s almost a letdown realizing just how little really changes in day-to-day life; most of these couples figure out what’s really important and continue on their merry ways. And we’re seeing that same anti-climactic letdown happening in Christian culture with equal marriage; what’s really going to threaten Christian doomsayers the most is just how little will really change in their own marriages (and their own culture, most likely) as a result of people getting to marry same-sex spouses. All that’s happening is that we’re all figuring out what’s really important in marriage and what we really value most, and since both of those things run contrary to modern Christian mythology around marriage, of course Christians will feel threatened and challenged about where our culture is heading.

Their reaction is going to involve more-and-more outrageous, hilarious, and preposterous threats to Americans about what will happen if we continue in our destructive and dangerous course, but as time goes on we’ll soon see the lie of those threats (reminds me of that South Park episode about the kids’ parents hiring skeevy adults to pose as the kids-from-the-future to scare them out of doing weed because an honest dialogue won’t terrorize them enough into compliance). I think that’s what is worrying Christians the most: that we’ll see that their threats are empty and ridiculous.

And it damned well should worry them.

Speaking of laughing at Christianists’ empty and ridiculous threats (p. 21):

(Governor Butch Otter of Idaho) also states, in conclusory fashion, that allowing same-sex marriage will lead opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies. We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

Seriously, how can you read that and not want to high-five that judge? Chicken-dance and electric-slide along with me to our next post, wherein we’ll talk a little more about what’s really important.

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