Human Dignity Flutters Free, Again.

(Content note: Religious extremism and terrorism.)

English: Martin Place on rainy day

English: Martin Place on rainy day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was such an ugly, ugly story–and all the uglier for being so painfully familiar. A Muslim radical, newly arrived to Australia, took the most effective tool of communication he had–a gun–into a nice little coffee shop in Sydney and took hostages. He did some awful things there for a while before Australian forces moved in on him; he and a couple of other people died in the chaos, while others were injured.

It was weird to see this happening in Australia–one doesn’t imagine that to be a country filled with religious extremism and violence like we see elsewhere. Indeed, the fellow turned out (according to that BBC link up there) to be a Muslim who was in the country on an asylum offer, which must have been a welcome worn rather thin by the fateful day he strode into the cafe; he was out on bail awaiting trial on what the BBC cryptically called “a number of charges.” Crowds gathered on the street outside to watch the drama unfold; from time to time hostages would escape and run into the arms of the police outside. It finally ended with bloodshed and many tears and a lot of shock, and you can bet the families involved have my full sympathy and condolences, and my hopes that the survivors will get all the help they need to recover.

As you can quickly imagine, the Muslims in the area immediately denounced what happened at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe at busy, upscale-looking Martin Place. Leaders and scholars of the religion were quick to issue denunciations of the terrorist, denunciations that by now feel almost rote, they must happen so often: they are shocked and horrified, and very nervous indeed that people will think these terrorists represent Islam when, in one Muslim’s words, “yet again their faith has been dragged through the mud by a group of young individuals who represent no one but themselves.”

It’s got to be downright scary to be a peaceful Muslim every single time one of these violent extremists does something violent and extremist. I can only imagine the fear that these Muslims must feel when they walk down a street or go about their business in public. People who are Muslim aren’t always ethnically Middle Eastern, but their dress often makes them stand out in a crowd no matter what their skin color might be. They’ve been a target for a while; when 9/11 happened in America, I was attending an SCA event in the Deep South in a small town not long afterward–and everybody there got specific instructions not to step outside the campground wearing anything the locals might construe as Middle Eastern attire. Middle Eastern costume and historical studies were a fad at the time in that area, so this was a warning that was not only timely but necessary. The organizers were genuinely worried that some costumed SCAdians might get their asses shot just going into a 7/11 to buy sodas, even though everybody there was whiter than Christmas snow.

So one can’t really blame Muslims for being nervous about how they might get viewed after one of their own religious members committed a terrible act. It’s the same fear that black people have after a black person gets caught doing something terrible. People in dominant groups tend to focus on the membership in a marginalized group when stuff like that happens. That membership starts looking like it is to blame for whatever act got committed. It becomes a reason to blame the perpetrator–and to mistreat all the others in that group. When a white man commits an act of violence or terror, we don’t critically examine his “culture” in such a way, or hold all white men responsible for the acts of that one white man–unless he turns out to be a member of a very fringe group, like a hate group or out-there religion.

We’ve seen acts of solidarity before–in war-torn areas like Pakistan and Egypt, where Muslims held hands to form a chain of protection around Christian churches to protect those attending Mass, or Christians doing the same thing to protect Muslims kneeling in prayer. But that stuff happens in areas where life and death are on the line all the time; those photos come from places that are far away, places Westerners can’t even imagine most times.

Right after the Sydney siege, an Australian woman noticed another woman on public transportation removing a hijab–hiding it, and with it her Muslim identity out of fear of retaliation. It broke Tessa Kum’s heart, so she chased after the Muslim woman after they’d gotten off the vehicle. She asked the Muslim woman to put the hijab back on if she liked, and Ms. Kum would walk with her to give her protection against anybody who’d give her any crap for wearing it.

The Muslim woman “started to cry,” Ms. Kum tweeted later, “and hugged me for about a minute–then walked off alone.”

The tweet got attention, though, and suddenly Australians were tweeting #illridewithyou as offers of assurance, reassurance, and protection poured through the digital world in support of Muslims who were understandably afraid to display any visible signs of their religious affiliation. Take a look at that mic.com link up there–look at all the messages from Australians offering support and help for any Muslims who were nervous about going around in public. And take a look at the Twitter feed itself–it’s quite inspirational.

That terrorist wanted to make Australians afraid, to make them hate, to stoke the flames of war. But it looks to me from here like all he did was make people come together and transcend the division that religion causes so often. Even criticisms of the movement–and certainly there are some valid ones that could be made, though mostly I’m just seeing small-minded ideologues flapping their pieholes in the feed–have the potential to start a real dialogue about privilege and marginalization that clearly needed to happen.

This whole thing reminds me of some quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King about nonviolence:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958) . . . Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (1963)

Let’s face it. Extremism begets extremism; violence begets violence. It doesn’t end till one side’s destroyed. There’s really only one way to break that chain without bloodshed.

What confounds zealots the most is love. Real love, not the redefined abuse that many zealots mistake for love. Love accepts; love heals; love binds; love attracts. Love confuses people who rule through hatred, fear, and discord. They don’t have the faintest idea what to do with it. Love listens; love accepts; love offers a hand. Love doesn’t care about hierarchies; it has no interest in domination; it destroys walls and towers. Love makes roads where hate tries to make walls. Love builds bridges after hate has shattered them all. Love refreshes the weary and lifts up the hearts and gazes of the downtrodden. Love holds the line, resisting without breaking.

And damn it all, religious hate is wearisome if it is anything in the world. I think sometimes that zealots and extremists are the way they are because they think eventually they’ll just exhaust their victims into compliance. Make no mistake: if they can’t have solidarity in belief, they will happily take compliance. They understand active resistance; their entire worldview revolves around how to answer blow for blow. But they don’t understand what’s starting to flare up in small blooms of holy fire all across the world.

It doesn’t really matter what I, personally, think of the hijab or any other article of identifying clothing someone wears to signal affiliation. I mean, sure, it’d be nice if every Muslim woman in the world could be perfectly free to remove those veils and scarves if she wanted to do so. But it’s not up to me, nor should it be, and I think it’s wrong to compel someone to dress a certain way if there’s not a good reason to make that demand, like safety. It is not okay to make someone feel unsafe for any reason. It is not okay to make Muslim women especially feel so afraid that they must remove a garment many of them have been indoctrinated to feel is a shield against the world. If they’re going to take it off, let them do it because that’s what they really want to do. Until then, we must not allow ourselves to fall into the same extremism, judgment, and violence that that terrorist fell into in Sydney. If we’re to have any hope of moving forward, it will have to be for the right reasons or it isn’t going to happen.

This siege was awful, and I denounce violence like it in the strongest possible terms. I’m relieved that it’s over and mourn the lives lost. With that in mind, I want to say that I’m feeling a new sort of hope that the aftermath of the siege has been something this affirming and loving. I almost wish there were an afterlife, so the terrorist involved in this attack could see it from wherever he would be.

Yeah, #illridewithyou.

Posted in Religion, The Games We Play, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How the Purity Myth Destroys Lives.

(Content Note: Discussion of sex and pornography, and also some NSFW links.)

We’ve talked about the Purity Myth off and on here, and even knowing what I know about it I still get completely blindsided sometimes by the dramatic examples of lives that have been destroyed by it. Today we’re going to look at one of those lives–and talk about that person’s mistakes in perception.

A few days ago “An Open Letter to the Dad Looking at Porn” began slithering its way around social media. In it, a Christian woman of indeterminate-but-youngish age publicly takes her father to task for the sin of viewing pornography (like so much else in the Bible, Matthew 18:15 is an optional verse). Writing as if conducting an intervention, she discusses how she thinks pornography has destroyed her life by enslaving her father to its vile whims, and ends with how even as an adult she is still affected by her father’s choice.

I’m not convinced that the author of this bit of pandering is really a devastated young woman lecturing her father for ruining her entire adulthood by being a *GASP* viewer of pornography. She certainly hits all the right talking points here for the standard-issue fundagelical shaming and fearmongering, but enough is missing here that the account feels at best incomplete and at worst assembled. I like to assume that people are on the level and being up-front about who they say they are and what they say they’ve encountered, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that this post was actually written by a middle-aged male megapastor with a new book coming out about the evils of porn. So I’m not writing this to her, but instead to freethinkers as an example of how to look at something skeptically and weigh what it claims. If she really is sincere, then we lose nothing; if she’s not, then we’re not wasting emotional capital on another internet marketing stunt from yet another liar-for-Jesus.

The letter starts out with shots fired:

I want to let you know first of all that I love you and forgive you for what this has done in my life. I also wanted to let you know exactly what your porn use has done to my life.

Now, I know that non-fundagelicals will see that and be totally baffled because out here in the real world, people don’t blame others’ private, personal decisions for their own issues or graciously, generously, mighty-whitely pardon them for something that actually isn’t any of the person’s business at all. (We might also wonder about that loftily-declared “forgiveness.”) Christians really do imagine that someone else’s porn use is their business.

Porn is a hot-button topic in Christianity these days. It’s never been so accessible as it is now, thanks to the internet. In the past, things were a lot different. You had to get videotapes and watch awful productions on a television, or go to an ickie little theater, or read paper magazines to get access to porn. I think what drives Christians the craziest is that exact issue of control that they no longer have over the delivery medium. Even pastors and church staff could be using it and nobody’d know unless the user is extraordinarily careless. In the past, people could easily see tangible signs of porn usage–maybe the TV’s program would be seen through a window by a passerby, or the magazines could be spotted in someone’s bedroom or sticking out of a mailbox, or the staffer caught walking into a theater or buying an X-rated magazine at some gas station. But now hiding porn use is easier than it has ever been.

That’s going to fly in the face of Christian attempts to shame and police each other’s sexual expression. A big part of the religion is focused on making sure people only have approved sex. They’ve spent decades convincing themselves that porn is evil, that it affects people, that it’s some kind of “competition” for male attention that impacts women’s hold on their partners, and that a man’s use of porn means he doesn’t “really” love his partner as much. Meanwhile, the people trying to create a Satanic-Panic level of hysteria over porn use forget about the huge number of women who enjoy porn, the growing numbers of for-women porn companies and productions, and the number of couples who consume porn together as a spice for an already-active sex life.

Indeed, if porn use was common in the pre-internet days, it is all but ubiquitous now. Here’s a survey claiming that 3/4 of adult men–and 93% of teenaged boys–have viewed porn at some point, with women trailing far behind with 40% of adult women and 62% of teenaged girls viewing it. Those figures are, if anything, an underestimate. But right now, we’re only talking about how much business of this letter-writer’s it is that her dad uses porn, how much it’s really impacted her, and if the real problem is actually porn at all. (Spoiler: 1) None, 2) Not at all, and 3) No.)

As downright skeevy as it is to imagine a daughter thinks that any part of her life has been impacted by her father’s porn usage, it hits the right fundagelical talking points to say so. I don’t know what Christians like this writer would do if they couldn’t police, monitor, and control each other. And by now, they’ve worked themselves into such a dither over porn that this letter is going to make every one of them scrunch up their face in the Jesus-grimace and go OH THAT POOR LITTLE THING, OF COURSE SHE’S SAD.

She begins her tale of woe at twelve years old, when she discovered her dad’s porn stash on the family computer (notice that Dad is curiously inept and non-communicative):

I found your porn on the computer somewhere around the age of 12 or so, just when I was starting to become a young woman. First of all, it seemed very hypocritical to me that you were trying to teach me the value of what to let into my mind in terms of movies, yet here you were entertaining your mind with this junk on a regular basis. Your talks to me about being careful with what I watched meant virtually nothing. Because of pornography, I was aware that mom was not the only woman you were looking at. I became acutely aware of your wandering eye when we were out and about. This taught me that all men have a wandering eye and can’t be trusted. I learned to distrust and even dislike men for the way they perceived women in this way.

The “just when I was starting to become a young woman” sounds a little too talking-point, but let’s focus on the real issue here:

This dad is a sleazeball. He subscribes to the idea of the Purity Myth, which means that he’s fed his daughter a lot of distortions, untruths, and double standards about sexuality. He ogles other women when he’s out and about in front of his own daughter and makes her feel uncomfortable on a constant basis. His problem is not porn. It’s that he is an entitled, untrustworthy, misogynistic jackass with no respect for women.

That’s the real issue here.

Our letter-writer’s dad did nothing at all to teach her about consent, boundaries, and the many nuances of healthy human sexuality. And clearly she never asked him about his hypocrisy to discuss it like rational people would, or I’m sure we’d have heard about it.

What actually was this porn? Similarly, if it’d been out-there she’d have mentioned it. She sounds like the type of busybody Christian who would have blown right up if she’d found child pornography, or bestiality, or something fetish-related like bondage. She doesn’t mention worrying about what the women were doing or discuss fears that she couldn’t compete with their behaviors; she is worried only about their appearance and the illusion of their greater accessibility to men. So we’re assuming she found regular Penthouse-style porn of naked women with glossy come-hither smiles nakedly showing their naked bodies all nakedly and stuff, and she freaked out because of the Purity Myth she’d been indoctrinated into for her entire life.

The Purity Myth is the shorthand term for that whole raft of interconnected ideas in fundagelical Christianity regarding sex, women’s worth and value, and how men and women should behave and interact. It is an expression of patriarchy to the utmost degree. In a culture that buys into the Purity Myth, which I’ll just call Purity Culture here, men own women and are entitled to their bodies, attention, affection, and time. A woman’s sexual transgressions against this puritanical code are an offense against her owner more than anything else. Women are passed from owner to owner–from father to husband and back again–and kept carefully corralled and controlled because their bodies are dangerous and wild, causing untold chaos if allowed by foolish men to run around unchecked. Women can be significantly devalued by having unapproved sex; indeed, they are defined and given a price both by themselves and by their peer and authority figures by whether or not they’ve had sex of any kind and how many partners they’ve had. They are expected to dislike sex or at least to want it less than their partners do, and to dole it out sparingly in exchange for favors and concessions (like marriage or good treatment), which men will give them because that’s the only way they can possibly get sex. Despite their largely powerless status in that culture, even in their earliest childhood women are also held responsible for the lustful thoughts and reactions of the men around them, who are seen as rampaging, rape-spewing animals who cannot control their holy erections once aroused, which means that women must always be aware of how the men around them feel. Women spend their lives placating and soothing these petulant man-babies and trying not to cause a holy erection.

And I’m not exaggerating a whole lot here. That was my life as a Christian woman. What I’m describing is how my peers and I were all kept in line and controlled.

The Purity Myth incorrectly teaches people that they’re oh-so-above and evolved past the animal hunger of sexual need and that controlling sexuality means improving one’s spirituality, but this lie paradoxically leads its members–especially men–to obsess about sex. Consent barely even gets a glance from such obsessed folks–and why should it? The concern here is not that nonconsensual sex never happens, but that unapproved sex never happens. Women’s autonomy is terrifying enough for a Purity Culture–so women’s owners are certainly not going to start telling them that their consent matters when it comes to their bodies. If anything, that idea scares them more than the idea of men looking at porn. And its adherents have no idea what to do with women who fall outside their desired parameters for women: cisgender, heterosexual, barely-tolerating-sex, young, and highly-desirable.

But I don’t think our letter-writer knows any of this stuff, or cares. PORN IS EEEEEBIL! RRAWR!!! Like abortion-access opponents often do, she attacks the thing she thinks is the problem rather than addressing the underlying forces that bring about that thing she hates so much. She seems convinced that if she can just shame people enough about it or control their access to that thing enough, that that thing will magically go away.

Well, Christians have been squawking about porn for decades, and having about the same impact on porn usage as they do on abortion rates, which is to say their efforts may actually be backfiring. You might have seen this map of state-by-state porn use and search terms put out by the very popular porn site PornHub. Notice, please, that the most Christian-heavy states use the most pornography. And even more interestingly, the most Christian parts of the country spent the longest looking at porn per visit to PornHub.

Porn_Usage_States

Having spent a good part of my childhood in Christian-heavy states, I’m not surprised at all to see this graph. Sex is the worst, most shameful “gift” a loving god ever gave his slaves pets barbecue briquettes children, and as such sex is demonized and vilified every step of the way–except for the true-love-in-the-dark variety that only married people get to enjoy (only under the right circumstances). It’s no secret that the most harmful and toxic cults tend to seriously curtail and undermine their members’ sexual freedom; if you can gain control of what humans do with their genitals, you can usually control most of the rest of their behavior too. I’m not even surprised that “teen” comes up as a search term as often as it does in Christian-heavy states. Virginity becomes a fetish in a Purity Myth-driven culture, and men in such a culture tend to view extremely young women as more desirable for a variety of reasons (don’t you suddenly wonder if duck-plucking was the reason Yahweh demanded his Hebrews sexually enslave only the very young daughters of the Midianites he wanted slaughtered?).

So our letter-writer found her dad’s porn stash, and like a lot of fundagelical Christians do, completely misinterpreted its meaning by viewing it through the lens of the Purity Myth. She’s blaming the wrong stuff for why she turned out the way she did and why she has the problems she does. But it is simply unthinkable to blame the message (“PORN IS EEEEEBIL! RRAWR!!!”). The message is beyond questioning or reproach. Instead she fixates on one result of Purity Culture–high porn viewership–and just glosses over that men raised with the Purity Myth are obsessed with what they can’t have and display double standards about sexuality and women in general. And then she decides that the porn must be the issue here–when it’s just an inevitable outgrowth of terrible teachings. (I don’t think porn consumption is a bad thing, by the way, or that it’s some huge moral failing to use it. A lot depends on what kind of porn it is, how often it’s used, and the effects of its use, sort of like with drinking alcohol.)

This letter-writer’s dad apparently buys into that model of patriarchy and passed that thinking down to her, and she accepted it without questions. She continues:

As far as modesty goes, you tried to talk with me about how my dress affects those around me and how I should value myself for what I am on the inside. Your actions however told me that I would only ever truly be beautiful and accepted if I looked like the women on magazine covers or in porn.

That’s actually totally correct. That’s exactly what he was telling her, weirdly enough. It really was a total double standard. She knew instinctively that all the sunshine blown up her butt about “what you are on the inside” meant nothing in reality; she sensed early on exactly what was valued: her appearance and how well she conveys sexual availability. On one hand, his own daughter needed to be “pure” because she was responsible for how even the oldest adults around her–including himself–reacted to her hypersexualized, objectified body. Their reactions could sully her and devalue the only thing she possessed that mattered: her purity, measured by whether or not she conformed to the model of objectified femininity that Purity Culture preaches. (Does that totally creep y’all out? It should.)

But on the other hand, this hypocritical father was happy to participate in the sullying of other men’s daughters. I can’t blame her at all for wondering why he didn’t care about those other daughters, though she doesn’t realize that was a problem. She blames her anguish on feelings of competition with the women in the porn, which is like one slave getting mad at another slave for being the master’s favorite. She doesn’t realize that the women in porn are not the ones ruining her life. The Christian-taught illusion of the Happy Christian Marriage and Family is actually the problem here. The women in porn are not competition with this dad’s own daughter–that’s really sick, and I’m totally skeeved out by the idea of a young woman who thinks that way about her own father. The weird trend of fundagelical fathers posing romantically with their daughters in formal wear and going on dates to “purity balls” as if they’re boyfriend and girlfriend is one of the creepiest, pedophile-looking things ever to come out of that end of Christianity; we don’t know if the letter-writer had to do anything that excruciating, but she certainly buys into the mindset behind it.

She goes on to discuss her teen years:

As I grew older, I only had this message reinforced by the culture we live in. That beauty is something that can only be achieved if you look like “them”. I also learned to trust you less and less as what you told me didn’t line up with what you did. I wondered more and more if I would ever find a man who would accept me and love me for me and not just a pretty face. When I had friends over, I wondered how you perceived them. Did you see them as my friends, or did you see them as a pretty face in one of your fantasies? No girl should ever have to wonder that about the man who is supposed to be protecting her and other women in her life.

In the interest of fairness, this message was reinforced by the culture she lived in, and her dad did absolutely nothing to counteract it by teaching her that she deserved basic respect no matter what she chose to do with her body and private time–or to insist on the same respect from her regarding his own choices about his own body and private time. She got sucked into the sexual dynamic between her parents, and he let that happen. I can’t blame her in the least for wondering if he had a thing for her friends given the culture she was in. Given how many fundagelical men regularly get caught with their dicks in underaged girls and boys, she’s right to wonder. And let’s not forget that her dad ogles women when he’s out with his wife and daughter. I’m sure that has a lot more to do with her feelings of insecurity than porn does.

But instead of thinking about why her dad preached a double standard and what it meant, she instead reacts to that knowledge by viewing men’s sexual attention as a prize to seek and hold, and blamed herself and her own mother for not being competitive enough to be able to win that prize. She was taught to view her body as a commodity and a bargaining chip, and she is right to be angry about that. But she’s not blaming the right parties here for her anger.

I did meet a man. One of the first things I asked him about was his struggle with pornography. I’m thankful to God that it is something that hasn’t had a grip on his life. We still have had struggles because of the deep-rooted distrust in my heart for men. Yes, your porn watching has affected my relationship with my husband years later.

Okay, serious-time here: I truly hope that this letter-writer is actually the creation of some creepy male pastor somewhere, because if not, then this is what she needs to hear:

You need someone professional–and way outside the Purity Culture you’re embedded in to the tips of your ears–to talk to here because this is not normal or healthy behavior for adults in relationships.

This person is old enough to be married. That means she no longer gets to blame 100% of her emotional problems on Daddy. If she’s still this crippled by her traumatic experiences in childhood and still having trouble with relationships, then she really needs to get help. She needs someone professional to tell her how controlling, abusive, and beyond dysfunctional it is for her to try to control and dictate another person’s private decisions and what they will and won’t do with their body. It’s really not any of her business what her husband does in private, any more than it was her business what her dad did in private, and it isn’t any of their business what she does in private. But “MYOB” isn’t something Purity Culture does very well.

Between the lines of this letter, we see that its writer is frustrated that she can’t totally control her husband–and that she’s already worried about how she’s going to totally control her son later (because daughters never look at porn, right?). She breathes this huge sigh of relief that her husband doesn’t seem all that interested in porn–because what if he was? Or what if he’s lying about it and gets caught like her dad did? Or what if he develops an interest in it later? In Purity Culture, a man’s porn consumption is seen as the fault of the women around him–especially of his wife, who isn’t “good enough” or available enough to him to feed his sexual appetites. Does our letter-writer blame her mother for not effectively controlling her dad? Worse yet, does she blame herself for her dad’s private sexual actions?

Though women in Purity Culture get taught that through “modest” dress and behavior they can purify and control the men around them, in reality they are powerless to stop men from doing anything. This letter-writer can fight tooth and nail to control her family and set all the rules she wants for internet usage and install all the filters she likes, but ultimately if she lets her serenity and happiness depend on men’s sexuality in a Purity Culture, she’s setting herself up for a life of disappointment and drama.

She’ll never feel secure enough, and every step of the way she’s going to blame pornography for that lack of security.

In short:

Does she have to like porn herself? No.

Does she have to look at porn herself? No.

Does she need to learn what is and isn’t her damned business? Yes.

And she will never, ever, ever be able to control her husband or son(s) enough to feel safe and secure in the misogynistic culture she’s unfortunately a member of.

The only way to win that game is not to play at all. She needs to opt out before she does some real damage to the next generation. But questioning the Purity Myth would mean dismantling a lot of other cherished ideals about sexuality, relationships, masculinity, and femininity. I don’t think she’s going to be up for the task anytime soon.

In the end, it’s simply easier for her to scapegoat porn than to seriously examine the Purity Myth that’s done the actual damage to her. I sympathize with women who feel the way that she does, and I genuinely hope that women like her get real help for their hurt. But she’s not going to find that help from the people who taught her to believe in the Purity Myth.


Posted in Feminism, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

When Christianity Became About the Opposite of Social Justice.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Give till it hurts. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked and comfort the sick, imprisoned, and mourning. As you treat the least, you treat Jesus himself. Never fight back against persecution or resist the predations of those who mean you harm. If you’re hit in the face, turn the other cheek to your attacker’s hand. If you’re told to carry heavy stuff for a mile, carry it for two without complaint. If someone compels you to give them your coat, give them your shirt as well. Sell everything you own, if you’re convinced you’ve done everything else to keep the laws, and give the proceeds to the poor. Your King is a beggar, a stranger in his own land, who died the most humiliating death imaginable at the time, and a Prince of Peace rather than a Warlord, so following him all but guarantees that you will be led to the slaughter. When, not if, that happens, accept it with a smile. Don’t judge anybody. Oh, and all that stuff you think you know about the proper roles of men and women, slaves and free people, and Jews and Gentiles? That’s all wrong too.

–Stuff Modern Christians Have Decided Is Totally Boring

Interesting list, isn’t it? It’s unlikely that Christianity came up with all these ideas by itself–quite a bit of the stuff people think of as uniquely Christian was plagiarized from other sources at the time, like the writings of Philo of Alexandria that seem to undergird quite a bit of the religion’s earliest writings–but even so we can certainly appreciate how early Jews would have been simply scandalized that this man who growing numbers of people claimed was their Messiah was, rather than being a powerful war-chief who’d lead Israel to independence from the Roman Empire as they expected, in actuality a lowly pacifist who did not fulfill any of their requirements of a Messiah. Still, as religions go it was likely quite startling at the time to both Jews and Gentiles.

Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Dude looks like a hit at parties.

I don’t think it took long at all for Christianity to move away from those early ideals. In the modern time there’s almost nothing in the religion that actually looks like the Bible. Did you notice that “almost” I slipped into that previous sentence? There’s a reason for my use of that qualifier. You see, one thing that looks very much like the Bible’s depiction of the earliest form of the religion is its focus on the apocalypse that the religion’s earliest leaders and writers were convinced was coming Any Day Now™.

From the very beginning, Christianity was about the end of the world. In one of Jesus’ failed predictions, in Mark 9:1, Jesus tells his followers, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Mostly it’s just roleplaying games that take advantage of that verse to create undying wanderers of various sorts, while Christians–if they come face to face with the verse at all–have evolved a number of apologetics contortions to explain why the end of the world hasn’t come yet. These rationalizations range from the simplistic, as in that CARM answer, to the impressively convoluted.

The earliest Christians valued asceticism, eschewing sex, marriage, parenthood, and any other luxury because the end of the world was coming and Christians needed to be ready. But as time went on and the end of the world failed to occur, one must imagine that these early Christians got exhausted with being eternally on their guard. Nobody can be like that all the time. There’s only so long someone can be terrified–I can tell you that from my own personal experience. Eventually, if people brace themselves enough times for an explosion, they’re going to realize that nothing seems to be exploding.

If you’re wondering, this exact logic is in a nutshell why I think many Christians are so shamelessly, blatantly hypocritical. They’re like spoiled children who keep getting threatened with penalties for a misdeed, but when their parents don’t follow through, these brats start behaving worse and worse. They didn’t get punished last time, did they? Well, they probably won’t this time either–or the next, or the next. I find this idea quite a compelling one when I think about the sheer, outrageous hypocrisy we encounter in so many Christians. A pity no god magically makes them better or more moral people than anybody else! But unlike the bratty children, Christians keep insisting that the threatened penalty is still something to fear.

And still, through it all, generations march past and through time, each one dying and being replaced by the next, over and over again, and strangely the world does not seem to be going anywhere–at least not through supernatural means. But that doesn’t matter to Christians in the face of such huge threats. Just because it hasn’t happened up till now doesn’t mean it absolutely won’t ever.

I can easily see how a threat of looming, impending doom makes people more apt to pay attention to someone’s claims. But whatever gains those first doomsayers made were achieved at the expense of long-term loss. Here’s a good read about how that apocalyptic thinking is starting to negatively impact American society. Not that such apocalyptic thinking hasn’t always negatively impacted humanity, but lately this kind of thinking is becoming an increasing drag on human progress.

When someone is convinced that the end of the world is coming, that person isn’t exactly going to care what his or her credit rating looks like, so to speak. I personally knew people who didn’t want to take care of their own bodies because they were so sure that they’d just be Raptured before they got old or sick. I’ve met other ex-Christians who told me that their parents didn’t want to teach them to drive or take sex education because they were so sure that the end of the world would happen well before the kids became teens. I’ve seen “Rapture ready” type websites that actually advised readers to take out as much credit card debt as they possibly could in advance of apocalyptic predictions. And we’ve heard countless Republicans in the Jesus Party claim that the reason they fight against legislation meant to reverse climate change is that Jesus is coming back anyway, so why bother with it all when he’s just going to destroy the planet in the last battle?

One of the saddest things I can remember is all the very old folks in my various churches who were convinced that they would be Raptured long before they had to deal with their own inevitable decrepitude–and their own mortality. I wonder what went through their minds as they slipped away from this world–what their last thoughts were. I wonder if even to the very end of their own conscious awareness they thought for sure it’d happen now… and then fell to oblivion. Let me make clear: these old folks I’m talking about here were 100% convinced that they would never die and that the end of the world would happen within their lifetimes. And one by one, they died anyway.

I’d call it a cruel joke to play on someone vulnerable if I didn’t know how often it leads so many Christians to abuse others even harder in the name of the end of the world.

I’m not sure just how better one could illustrate the sheer narcissism of American Christianity than by this Pew Forum survey that found that about half of the country’s Christians think Jesus will “definitely” or “probably” return in the next 40 years–in other words, within their lifetimes. About 15% said they didn’t know either way; a third said they thought he “probably” wouldn’t be returning in the next 40 years, and only 10% correctly said he definitely wouldn’t.

This belief gives the Christians who hold it a sense of urgency that otherwise they simply wouldn’t have. In general, Christians believe that the main time limit people have is the moment of their deaths, at which point they find out if they’ve done all the right things, said all the right magic spells, and backed the right horses in the right races. But we generally know kind of when we’re going to die. Hopefully, anyway, we’ll die when we’re really old. If we’re not lucky, we might die of a disease whose progression we understand. Only very seldom is a life cut short in a totally unexpected way.

That’s just not urgent enough for some people. They’ve got to have an extra helping of urgency. So they cling to this other idea of the Rapture and the end of the world, because literally nobody knows when that will happen. Not even Jesus was willing to say exactly. When someone’s got no idea at all when something that big is going to happen, it can induce a certain amount of panic–and that’s the state that toxic Christians want people to be in.

Add to this urgency the fact that the threat in question is monstrous and huge, like the end of the entire world, and sprinkle in a pinch of false assurances that Christians can, if they just make the world into a theocracy and force everybody to behave according to their draconian rules, forestall that awful end somehow, and you’ve got the potent brew that is modern fundagelical Christianity.

That’s why they have to stop anything that even halfway looks like human progress or the dreaded specter of “liberalism.” They’re absolutely terrified of this thing they think of as a “one-world government” because it figures so prominently into their childish misinterpretations of the Book of Revelation. Even the Left Behind series’ writers are convinced that the United Nations is some kind of powerful Illuminati-type secret government. As Slacktivist hilariously puts it,

Carpathia [the Anti-Christ] is a rising star at the United Nations and, as every good John Birch Society member knows, the U.N. outranks all mere national governments. Why, the only thing keeping the U.N. at bay and preventing their day-to-day micromanagement of the lives of Americans is a strong American president who stands against the tide of globalist NWO/OWG tyranny. Take that president out of the picture and America would topple, becoming one more subservient fiefdom loyal to the global throne of the U.N. You know, just like Europe is now.

When I was a fundamentalist, I don’t think I even knew what the John Birch Society was, but I definitely thought the UN was nefarious somehow–because in my worldview, it was a precursor to the dreaded One World Government. And yes, a lot of folks in my church were terrified of bar codes when those began to be used, a conspiracy theory that hasn’t fallen out of fashion at all in the wingnut-o-sphere.

And that terror of the Mark of the Beast and the One World Government–and oh especially of a charismatic leader who isn’t specifically a fundamentalist, like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton–informs modern Christianity. It’s not about love. It’s not even about dominance at that level.

It’s about fear.

The simple fact that this particular fear is based on old, outdated ideas, shockingly juvenile junk theology, right-wing pandering, debunked false “facts,” and outright pseudoscience doesn’t change much about its impact on gullible minds that aren’t trained (or really actually even encouraged) to evaluate claims or threats with a critical eye. The extremely convoluted nature of Endtimes theology works to make it sound even more impressive and convincing to such minds, and it makes the Christians convinced of it that much more wary of anything that even vaguely kind of sounds like it’s so much as glancing toward those hated, feared ideas.

That’s why they meddle in others’ lives like they do. That’s why they resist the government doing any of the stuff they think churches and individuals should be doing, even though those churches and individuals are categorically nowhere near addressing the vast need in both our country and our world. That’s why they keep trying to control women’s bodies and lives and why they refuse to concede that LGBTQ people deserve equal rights and protections under the law. That’s why they try to sneak their religious indoctrination into schools and keep trying to control our government at all levels. It’s all about stopping the Antichrist from taking over and destroying the world.

I think the author of this American Apocalypse book, Matthew Avery Sutton, is spot-on when he says that really, fundagelicals never really stopped trying to meddle in politics and in people’s private lives. Ever since they began linking progress to “Communism,” those strains have been present to be heard by those with ears to hear. Heck, in 1960 the Undersecretary of Labor in the US, James O’Connel, declared:

When a woman comes to be viewed first as a source of manpower, second as a mother, then I think we are losing much that supposedly separates us from the Communist world.

And as the book Something from the Oven points out, he said this at a time when 1/3 of all married women worked outside the home, and 2/3 of those working wives had kids. He wasn’t thinking about those women, because in the dominant-majority view of the time, most of the wives who worked did so because they “had” to out of economic necessity. Even then we saw this mindset where certain forces–like feminism–had to be opposed and demolished for one and only one reason: because they were associated with godless Communism.

In the same exact way, we see Christians today opposing certain ideas purely because they think those ideas are too cozy with that One World Order they fear so much. That’s why, even as the idea of a one-world government sounds more laughable by the day, a big-name pastor insisted just a few days ago at a large circlejerk sermon that this one-world order is on its way to reality. And because America is just so sinful, Greg Laurie goes on to say with breathtaking arrogance, it will either completely merge with whatever government the Antichrist is cooking up or be defeated somehow. Because a major world superpower can just vanish that way in just a few short years. But the fairy-tale demise he “prefers the most,” he says, is that “we would have the rapture and so many Americans would be taken to heaven that that would be the explanation for our demise as a nation.”

While he’s at it, he’d also like a pony and a plastic rocket.

I’ve got no words for how ludicrous any of that twaddle is, but it’s taken totally for granted by the gullible Christians who buy into this Rapture nonsense, who use the invoked threat of the one-world government as a springboard from which to launch opposition to socialized healthcare, marriage equality, women’s rights, and a host of other progressive ideas.

And despite all their efforts, our generation will pass away and the next will replace us, and so on and so forth, and Christians will scramble yet again to explain why it is that their prophecies simply did not come to pass. But the damage done by frantic, panicked Christian zealots who are absolutely convinced that the world will end will have to be answered for one of these days.

Isn’t it a pity we can’t tally up the damage they’re doing and send them a bill?

I really don’t know if Christianity actually enacted its own ideals for very long when the religion first got rolling. I don’t think it did based on the squabbles I’ve learned sprouted almost immediately among those first adherents. I’m not even sure the stuff I listed at this post’s beginning is really good stuff for people to do all the time. But I do know that what I see today as I survey the wreckage that is Christianity looks absolutely, positively nothing like those ideals, ever. The religion’s zealots have gotten so blindsided by their terror and panic that they’ve forgotten to do the stuff that their Savior apparently told them specifically to do.

But that stuff is boring and doesn’t make anybody feel important enough, and it certainly doesn’t allow someone a good justification for controlling and hurting others. And that very clearly is the priority here.

Posted in Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Socratic Theatrics.

Not long ago, one of our lovely commenters, ratamacue0, asked me a very good question with regard to the homeschooling post: namely, why I took exception to the weird, twisted form of “Socratic questioning” used in a video made by one of these religious-zealot homeschooling outfits.

English: Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum

English: Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Doesn’t he look downright jolly?

This type of questioning, called the Socratic method, involves an instructor who–instead of simply telling a student the answer to a question–leads the student through careful questioning so the student can arrive at the answer for him- or herself. We call the method “Socratic” because we’re most familiar with it through the works of Plato, who recorded a number of these question-and-answer sessions he’d seen or had with his mentor Socrates. Socrates used this method of teaching in situations where the answers weren’t always observable or cut-and-dried–like in discussions of morality and human qualities like courage.

This teaching method caught on as a great way to teach lawyers, so law schools all over the United States use it. Here’s the basic idea: Students read casebooks and other materials at length so they’re very familiar with it all. The teacher either asks a question for a volunteer to answer or else picks a student at random, and then conducts the questions with that student. After the line of questioning is done, then the teacher starts the process over again.

The central idea of this sort of questioning is elenchus, which sort of means “cross-examination,” if you’re wondering why the legal profession is so in love with it. It’s about asking an opponent to create an argument which the instructor can then refute and show to be incorrect, maybe through showing that the student’s argument is self-contradictory or that it rests upon false or fallacious premises. The idea is that the student will learn from this exchange to construct an argument that is airtight.

Are you seeing the big problem here yet? Exactly where in this mess is someone supposed to learn scientific facts, which don’t care what kind of argument someone’s got? Where is someone supposed to learn world history or the quadratic equation, which don’t rest even a little on fancy wordplay?

Regardless of the technique’s limitations, Accelerated Christian Education is very proud of how it uses the “Socratic” method. In my post about it, I wrote:

ACE uses that bizarre-ass twisted version of Socratic questioning that’s becoming the trendy way for fundagelicals to interact with non-believers–where someone with the information refuses to just get to the point, but instead dances around it with the person who requests information.

Instead, this is how “Socratic questioning” is done in ACE (paraphrased from the video):

Student: “I have a question.”
Supervisor: “WELL did you read the MATERIALS and the OTHER MATERIALS?”
Student: “Yes, I totally did.”
Supervisor: “WELL then let’s read it again together!”

Not only is what I saw in that video not a proper example of the Socratic method, it isn’t even an adequate example of a way to teach a child to think for him- or herself. It’s just being snarky, asking a question of a question.

Indeed, even in law schools this form of questioning is increasingly getting seen as needlessly convoluted and torturous, a way for teachers to feel smug and clever at the expense of their floundering students. It isn’t hard to find criticisms of the method, most of those criticisms coming from the students who are growing unpersuaded of its value and complaining about how little it actually teaches anybody about the law. But if one considers that Socrates himself wasn’t using it to teach concrete concepts like “is it illegal to shave someone else’s pet gibbon naked?” but rather stuff like “is it actually virtuous to be stupidly brave?”, then this criticism swims into sharp focus and starts making a lot of sense.

The Socratic method has some distinct sexism problems associated with it as well, one that makes ACE’s decision to emphasize its use all the more puzzling. Here’s a Harvard article outlining studies about not only how ineffective this method is in teaching law students but citing a study that found that female law students were way more negatively impacted by the method than their male peers. Even a woman who gets into law school may find being put on the spot and grilled to be quite an intimidating proposition–and the cultural expectation that women be quiet and never voice an overly-robust opinion comes into play even in these august environments. One can hardly imagine that homeschooled Christian girls are more assertive than law students are.

Remember how we talk sometimes about how toxic Christians’ tactics don’t often match their stated goals? This may be another one of those times.

ACE uses Socratic questioning because its creators say this method helps kids think for themselves. But we already know that the primary criticism of ACE is that it does anything but that. Its program emphasizes rote memorization, fill-in-the-blanks worksheets, and lockstep indoctrination. It ridicules real science and encourages kids to learn denialist and revisionist talking points, not actual facts. This type of questioning teaches kids how to deploy fancy arguments and refuse to give clear answers to questions, not to think for themselves. And those kids grow up to become adults who then invade forums parroting the nonsense they’ve learned.

In refusing to give clear answers to simple questions, ACE shows that what it really wants is for kids to learn not to ask questions–and not to expect straightforward answers. I can’t imagine a way to better destroy a child’s curiosity than to demand that child justify all the self-directed efforts he or she has made so far to uncover the answer already. Just imagining the hassle that’d result from even the simplest question doesn’t seem like it’d encourage a lot of questions. The burden for answers is put on the narrow, thin little shoulders of the party in the room least able to bear that burden, while the adults who should be teaching them push on them again and again demanding they take more of that burden. As a former law professor so eloquently says of the method itself,

[I]t’s sort of like blindfolding your students, handing them legos dipped in goo, and asking them to construct a railroad depot, with the added caveat that you do not, in fact, want a railroad depot; you really want a museum of trains, something that only looks like a railroad depot from a distance. The fact that some students manage to produce the appropriate museum is no reason to pat ourselves on the backs.

Now, let’s remember he’s talking about law school and not 8th-grade frickin’ math class here, which makes ACE look even more soul-crushing to children.

The kind of ersatz “Socratic method” used by ACE teaches kids to be lawyers, not scientists, at a time when they really need to be scientists and not lawyers. It teaches them to evaluate concepts based on arguments rather than on objective facts. It teaches them to distrust observation and the scientific method. It teaches them to view with disdain anybody who can’t keep up with their rhetoric. And yes: it teaches them never to expect a straight answer to anything, or to give one.

These kids are then sent off all shiny and bright-eyed into the world, where they fully expect their hard-won lawyer expertise to win them converts and world dominance–not knowing that the real world knows that trial questioning is not how we arrive at knowing what’s true and false.

For a few years I wondered why there seems to be such a proliferation lately of lawyer-like Christian apologists flooding forums and social media. I don’t wonder anymore. I’m certain that a big part of their inflating numbers is the rise of ACE-style homeschooling materials. Even if a Christian isn’t put through that meat-grinder personally, he or she gets exposed to the technique by friends, peers, and apologetics media (like the videos put out by the increasingly-laughable Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, who use obviously faked question-and-answer sessions to sell their ideas). And chances are that anybody who hangs around spots where the salt water of apologists mixes with the sweet water of skepticism has been exposed to a Christian who thinks he or she is a lawyer.

I want to show you what this lawyer act looks like in the wild, how to tell it’s happening, and how to stop that train from leaving the station.

And I’m going to accomplish that task by introducing y’all to Rosa Rubicondior, if you haven’t had the distinct pleasure already.

If you’re not reading that blog, then you really should be. Its anonymous author has a mind like a steel trap and no tolerance whatsoever for apologetics shenanigans. She updates fairly frequently and always has fascinating things to say about religion, politics, science, and the like.

A few years ago she wrote a post called How Do You Know Satan Didn’t Write the Bible?. I want you to go take a look at it and then cruise on into the comments. I know, I know, but this time it’s for a good cause. “Matt” charges in (at the 10/20/2011 23:27 mark) with this:

Rosa I have a quick question in response. If you can answer this plainly and unequivocally, I will do the same:
How do you know 1 + 1 *isn’t* 3?
Parameters: Obviously you cannot appeal to math or logic or science because they presuppose each other.

And this, friends, is a Christian trying his best to start in on a lawyer routine.

The “quick question” can vary quite a bit, but here we see every single element of a Christian trying to set up a trial cross-examination:

* It’s phrased as “a quick question.”
* It’s posed to the person who is responding to the truth claim being made, asking that person in effect to justify why the truth claim isn’t compelling enough to believe–what philosophers in The Biz call “shifting the burden of truth.”
* The question posed is not actually related to the truth claim in any way.
* The “quick question” sets up a piss-poor analogy (in this case, comparing a basic math operation with a complicated series of nested premises regarding the supernatural).
* The Christian wants to set up parameters that would not exist in the real world so that the question can only be answered the way that Christian wants it answered.

In this instance we’re not going to talk about the question itself. Obviously it’s beyond idiotic, given that any fool with fingers, toes, or dried beans can arrive at the answer to his supposedly-deep question whereas nobody would ever come up with any Christine doctrines or ideas without being pre-loaded with Christian mythology. And we’re not going to talk about Rosa’s question itself here–that’s something for another day. All we’re going to do is look at this Christian’s response to her question. Instead of just answering her, he chose instead to try to set up a line of questioning, a sort of cattle run for her to dash down and through and over and around while he directs her to his desired end-run, which is obviously going to be a lawyer-like pointing of the finger and an “AHA! SEE, JESUS REALLY IS REAL! YOUR WITNESS, YOUR HONOR!”

His question has the taste of something he’s deployed many times, maybe only on his Christian peers but more likely on non-believers who weren’t aware of this dishonest apologetics trick.

I want you to take note of how Rosa short-circuits this guy at 10/21/2011, 00:37 mark:

I’m sorry about your sad dyscalculia but this isn’t the right place to look for help. The question here is how do you know Satan didn’t write the Bible. Would you like to have a go at answering it?

And no, you can imagine he did not. You can kind of tell when a Christian’s using an especially favored technique; it’s got a smarmy sort of polish. And the more favored the technique, the harder it is for that Christian to let go of it and actually start communicating honestly. So he tried a second time to set up his line of questioning, hoping that this time she’d take the bait and let him begin his routine. And then a third time. And then a fourth time. And a fifth. And on and on. Say what you want about this li’l bugger, he was tenacious!

His efforts came to naught, however. Rosa did not let him off the hook or engage in this side questioning. She’d quietly remind him that his question was not an answer, and ask him if he finally felt like actually answering her question or not. He’d try to rationalize why he was using a lawyer routine on her, she’d refuse to let him, and she’d keep asking the question. This back-and-forth went on for days until finally the Christian doing it understood that nobody was giving his routine the traction it needed to get going, and he left the discussion entirely rather than actually answer her question. And Rosa is right: it’s not hard to guess why he might have gone that route at the end.

This blog post and its comments are important because this exchange is probably one of the clearest examples in anti-apologetics of false Socratic reasoning. You’re never going to find a more clear-cut attempt to cross-examine a non-believer than you will right here.

Here’s the takeaway I want you to have:

If someone makes a truth claim, then that person is the one obligated to defend that truth claim. You are not required to defend your skepticism. If you ask for evidence for a claim and get in response a strange-sounding or irrelevant question, then you are very likely witnessing the beginnings of a Christian cross-examination attempt. Refuse to give in to that question. Demand evidence. The Christian you’re asking for evidence is not going to like that request at all and will go to truly absurd lengths to avoid clearly answering your question.

If you do accidentally let the Christian get rolling with their cross-examination, then be aware that your new “teacher” has a very set destination in mind where all his or her questions are going to lead you. Somewhere along the way you’re going to say something vaguely contradictory or fumbling–we can’t all be Christopher Hitchens, after all–and when you inevitably do so, the Christian will get to point at you, shout “AHA!” and declare victory, at which time you’ll be expected to kneel and recite the Sinner’s Prayer because you got beaten fair and square by the superior Romulan weaponry of the Christian’s keen wit and Jesus-fication.

Notice that nowhere in here is actual evidence produced or provided. You’re not supposed to wonder how the author of the entire universe has been reduced to such conversational chicanery and tricks to sound halfway plausible to the weak-minded. Indeed the blatant manipulation game represented by this technique probably worked wonderfully on the Christian doing it, who likely confused arguments for evidence just like he or she is hoping you will. Even if you flub in the first exchange, that doesn’t mean that the Christian’s argument is actually solid; an argument can be pretty tight and still be objectively wrong. And you’re not supposed to notice that either.

You can put the brakes to this entire game by simply refusing to play along.

Evidence doesn’t demand a verdict at all–the apologetics author who wrote that wants people to think that it does because he makes a lot of money on gullible Christians buying his books, but in reality evidence doesn’t make any demands or actually give a shit what our verdict about it is. Nor does it depend on fancy arguments to sell itself. If the person making a truth claim at you can’t give some good and clear reason for believing that truth claim, then you are under no obligation whatsoever to indulge that Christian’s private courtroom fantasy.

Rosa’s various shutdowns are good, and there are certainly others besides hers:
* “Questions aren’t evidence. What evidence do you have for your claim?”
* “I’m sorry–I don’t have time to play courtroom drama with you. Can you please get to the point?”
* “Please don’t try to shift the burden of proof like that. You made the claim. You need to defend it without my help.”

If you need additional incentives to refuse to buy into this game, it’s also just funny to pull the rug out from under a lawyer-Christian by refusing to dance with them. They really have no idea in the world what to do if someone won’t let them get their question train rolling. They’ve never learned any other way of demonstrating a claim, which makes their floundering doubly obvious. Hopefully they’ll wonder why nobody seems interested in having the big arguments their apologetics materials say works marvelously to convert people.

Christianity is failing because it’s breeding and training lawyers, not scientists. And we’re finally starting to notice. The real tragedy is that a couple generations of kids are getting raised thinking that this is a perfectly valid way to learn and interact with others. But when they’re ready, we’ll be right here to help them stumble free.

Posted in Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers’ Abuse–er, Love.

You’ll never, ever see the love of Jesus like you will when his most fervent adherents discover a dissenter in their ranks. They think they’ve been commanded by the author of the entire universe to love their neighbors, but ugh, who wants to do that when there’s all that abuse they’d rather be doing? Loving people is all hard and stuff and doesn’t come with either a mandate or a permission slip to abuse others, so their response is to redefine the word “love” to allow them to do the stuff they really wanted to do anyway.

Here are the two general ways toxic Christians react when they realize that someone nearby isn’t toeing the same line they are:

* Bullying.

Public schools in the Deep South are about the worst place to be an atheist in America; I’ve heard atheist high school students say that they hear snide, sing-song stage-whispers of “Jesus lurrrrrves you!” as they walk down halls and that their stuff is vandalized with religious slogans, because nothing tells us we should check out a religion than being made to feel unsafe and alone and to have our stuff destroyed by fanatical zealots.

English: A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Be...

English: A Bully Free Zone sign – School in Berea, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia). I wish it was this easy.

I’ve never once met someone who converted after facing such treatment, but I don’t seriously think that conversion is the goal anyway at this point. In the case of schoolchildren, these are Christian kids who have gotten the idea from their parents, spiritual leaders, peers, and media that what they’re doing is an acceptable way to treat other people. It’s disheartening to imagine that these kids are growing up believing that abusing people can be seen as a loving deed; not only will it lead directly to those kids abusing their peers in school, but will lead to many of those same kids being abused themselves by others even more predatory than they are.

And this sneaky, snide bullying isn’t limited to their peers by any stretch; atheist schoolteachers in zealot-heavy areas face the same snide stage-whispers and property destruction. It’s staggering to think that a religion based on a god who is claimed to make pillars of fire in the sky, who can rain gamebirds and bread down for his hungry followers, who can destroy cities by fire and turn people to pillars of salt and flood the whole world, is reduced to inducing his dear children to vandalize other people’s property and bully them in hallways. Is this seriously what Christianity is coming to? And none of them even wonder why their religion relies on such underhanded, abusive tactics? There’s so little evidence for this religion’s claims that all they’ve got is threats and bullying. Man, that has just got to suck.

Every single time one of these high-school kids taunts or threatens a non-believer or damages someone else’s property, that kid is telling the whole world that his or her religion is not a good, true, or valid religion. And we need to make sure those kids are aware that they are proving their religion false every time they abuse someone in the name of that religion.

Of course, they’re just using religion as an excuse to be extremely shitty to people. If it wasn’t religion, these bullies would be using something else to demonstrate their superiority and dominance over their victims. But they’ve been taught that religious orthodoxy is the fastest route to demonstrating their desired traits, so that’s what is being used now. And these same kids will go to church youth groups on Sunday and sing with tear-stained faces and Jesus smiles about how much they love everybody–then go to school on Monday and spray-paint slogans on a wall where an atheist will see it and (even better!) have to clean it up, because–seriously, I’m not kidding here–nothing tells non-believers to consider adopting a religion like being abused and bullied in the name of that religion.

On the plus side, though, remember that most Christian kids pull away from the religion by the end of college. A big part of this behavior is likely just simple acting-out. It seems very likely to me that many of them will look back at how they treated outsiders and feel embarrassed by what they did.

Of the ones who make it to adulthood still convinced that abusing people in the name of religion is awesome and fun, we proceed to the next tactic:

* Outright abuse, verbal violence, and threats.

There’s a story going around in the news right now that probably has a lot of folks–even Christians–scrambling to Google and Snopes to find out if someone actually said something so amazingly abusive, mean-spirited, evil, and foul. But it really did happen. A young “Bible-believing” pastor in New Zealand, Logan Robertson, wrote a shockingly hateful unsolicited message to a gay author advising him to commit suicide and referring to him as “a filthy child-molesting fag.” He openly refers to other gay people in the same way, refusing even to speak to gay journalists. His writings are filled with the worst sorts of slurs and stereotypes, advising threats and worse for anybody who doesn’t fit his personal definition of a worthy human being.

He’s got the proper squinched-up Jesus eyebrows and “trust me” Jesus smile we see on the most toxic and hypocritical of Christians as he carefully explains that why yes, his society should follow the Bible’s command and execute all gay people. In fact, if they do, then he has prophesied that the entire disease of AIDS will be eradicated by Christmas. Ain’t that a totally awesome thing for his god to promise through him?

There’s nothing new to see here; Christian zealots have certainly threatened people before. Like most of them seem to do, when he’s confronted about the threat he made to a marginalized, oppressed person, this pastor backpedaled immediately by saying Oh no, you see, he didn’t outright threaten the guy himself; he just prayed for the guy to commit suicide. I’m not sure what the goal was here; is he admitting prayer doesn’t really do anything so he shouldn’t be penalized in any way for praying for something terrible to happen? Or is he saying that begging an even bigger bully to hurt someone for him isn’t in any way contributing to that hurt? Either way, it’s hard to fathom how people like him ever get the idea that Christians are more moral people than non-Christians. And he didn’t just pray for this gay author to commit suicide anyway; he told the author that he was doing it, so this wasn’t a case of him being persecuted for being having a shitty opinion but rather for spreading hate speech.

When bullies get older, they realize that simple teasing and snide taunts aren’t quite satisfying anymore. There’s a reason why abusers don’t tend to improve in time but rather to escalate their behavior, meaning they get worse and worse as time goes on. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to run into someone who’d gone to school with disgraced pastor Mark Driscoll’s and who asserted that he’d been an incredible bully and asshat to anybody he didn’t consider part of his tribe. While the assertion wasn’t accompanied by support, it came from a source I consider credible and it fell very much into line with credible statements from others who’ve discussed his abusive behavior in the past.

Indeed, our country is finally realizing that Christian zealots can be very dangerous indeed. What’s astonishing is that the people who treat others in such shameful ways don’t even wonder why more people don’t want to be like them. That pastor from New Zealand seriously thinks that the reason he gets pushback is that people just don’t like hearing him tell “the truth.” I’ve heard other Christians use exactly that rationalization to justify mistreating people and I’ve heard it so many times it doesn’t even shock me anymore. Christians totally disavow any sense of responsibility for how they behave, counting on “the Spirit” (read: magic) to make outsiders want to convert despite what these die-hard followers of Jesus are doing.

My own then-husband, Biff (the preacher who abused and then stalked me after I fled from him), used to tell people, “Convert despite what I do, not because of what I do.” And it never ceased to dismay him that people considered his rampant hypocrisy as a valid reason to resist his proselytization. Jesus would still hold them responsible once they’d heard the message, after all! At least he’d done his duty at least by making sure they’d heard it. Since only a god could make someone want to convert anyway (are you hearing the first stirring strains of Calvinism in my words? I am now), it didn’t matter what he did one way or the other; if it was “God’s” will that these people convert, they would do so regardless of what he did. See how neatly this rationalization worked to help my then-husband abdicate all responsibility for himself?

When someone wants to abuse other people and assert dominance over them, then that person’s going to find whatever rationalizations are necessary to do that. It’s a real pity that Jesus’ ghostwriters didn’t also include him issuing a totally definitive command to love–oh wait, they did. Well, then it’s really sad that those ghostwriters didn’t give an unequivocal definition of “love” in the–oh wait, they did. Hm. Well, then it’s just too bad that those ghostwriters didn’t make clear just how important it is to treat other people right–oh. They did that too.

I wish I could still be surprised to learn that even though they have possession of a book that they think is a living god’s breathed word to a lucky world, toxic Christians bend over backwards to do every single thing they can think of to avoid reading it and doing what it flat-out tells them, repeatedly, to do.

The real surprise is that anybody converts into this religion. I can’t really imagine anybody sane or loving or healthy wanting to go to a Heaven populated by people like these Christian teen bullies and adult abusers, or wanting to worship a god who apparently not only condones but encourages that sort of behavior.

I’ve got to ask how these Christians know that they’re worshiping who they think they are. The other day I discovered that I wasn’t the only person who, when deconverting, spent an awful few days convinced that Satan had taken control of Christianity. But that was before I found out that Satan’s actually not a bad person in the Bible’s myths. No, we can’t lay the blame for Christian zealotry at the feet of a demon. This religion isn’t at all supernatural; it’s just the product of men who needed a way to dominate and exercise control over others.

And that is what it does best even today.

Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

There’s No Low Too Low: They’re Trying to Terrorize Parents Now.

Sometimes I find myself simply astonished by the lows to which some Christians will stoop. Every time I think I’ve found the new lowest-low, one of them shows up with a shovel and a pick to prove me wrong yet again.

Thankfully, I am a skeptic at heart, which means that I am always willing to amend my position when presented with conflicting but clear evidence.

Today we look at a blog post called “The horror of atheist indoctrination”, which I’m donotlinking to here because frankly I do not like the idea of rewarding someone who wrote something so obviously manipulative and mean-spirited. In it, the writer in question declares that atheist parents “indoctrinate” their kids just like Christians do, making those kids far less likely to become Christians later–which of course means those kids are at risk of Hell.

If you are an atheist parent, like Wally was, are you similarly indoctrinating your kids into disbelief? If so, are you OK with that? Think the horror of Hell isn’t bad enough? Imagine how your kids are going to feel when they find out it was the teaching of the people who were charged with caring for them, loving them, and looking out for them that got them there. Further imagine how they will feel when they learn you won’t be with them to share in their suffering… …that you’ve moved on without them.

It’s really sickening stuff, and honestly I never thought I’d see a Christian go there. But here we are. There really is no low too low. Now atheists who have kids are being psychologically manipulated and terrorized into considering Christianity so that their kids won’t get “indoctrinated” into atheism and thus miss out on Heaven, which would all be their parents’ fault.

Let’s talk about why this post is so evil and wrong-headed.

First: It does not offer any convincing support for Christianity’s claims.

Nowhere in this post does the author actually offer any good, compelling reason to believe in Christianity. He just tries to panic and scare parents into protecting their kids from a totally non-credible threat that he is making. If he wants atheist parents to fear Hell along with him, then he needs to actually give them a good reason to fear it. If a Hindu person were making exactly the same threats about the Hindu version of Hell, and advising parents not to “indoctrinate” their kids into not believing in Hinduism because later on those kids would be stuck in that Hell even while their parents live it up in the Hindu party van in Heaven, then American parents–who live in a country that is almost entirely dominated by a different religion with a different conceptualization of Hell–would quite rightly think that person was acting like an asshat. Parents regularly hear attempts to panic them about topics as varied as vaccination to schooling to clothing choices to the dangers of drugs, and if those attempts aren’t accompanied by evidence that the threat being made is credible, then they’re not going to buy into it unless they are primed to be gullible and accept those threats without question.

You know, like the author of this piece does.

It’s like he vaguely understands that atheist parents just don’t fear the same things he fears, but he just can’t figure out why, so he’s pulling out all the stops to make them as frightened as he is.

If I didn’t know exactly how toxic and nasty his brand of Christianity is, then I’d be quite puzzled about why, when one of that tribe senses that someone’s not responding to anything else, the threats of Hell come out. But I do, and so I am not. Remember: love can’t exist where there are threats, and neither can free will. Unverified, non-credible threats–especially of violence, especially of torture, especially of horrors that threaten people’s beloved children–get dragged out purely to terrorize, not to persuade.

We should be wondering why this blogger is seeking to terrorize rather than to persuade. We should be wondering why he thinks his most effective tool is fearmongering and not love or evidence. We should be wondering why terror is what he himself thinks is the most compelling reason to do what he says.

Second: It uses different definitions of the word “indoctrination” here and does so regarding atheist parenting in a way that most atheist parents would consider completely alien to their childrearing philosophy.

Christians pull this particular logical fallacy constantly. The fallacy is called equivocation and that link goes to a post our friend Neil wrote about it over at Godless in Dixie in which he discusses why it’s such a manipulative thing to do. If you can’t read the link right now, the important thing to remember is that in Christianity, these sorts of redefinitions are actually considered a good thing. They’re done constantly. If you’re not in the tribe, then you really can’t take for granted at any point that a Christian’s use of common English words actually matches your expectation of those words’ meanings. They’ll redefine those words smack in mid-sentence, from one use of the word to the next–and “indoctrination” is a prime example of this habit. Sometimes it’s done without that Christian even being aware that a subtle shift in meaning has occurred between their two uses of a word, but sometimes it is done quite on purpose–as I suspect it is here.

Christians are indoctrinated into their religion as children because their parents, church teachers, and authority figures basically present this information to them as a done deal that must be accepted without question. That’s what indoctrination actually means: to press upon someone information that may or may not be correct and to do so in a way that doesn’t allow for serious questions or challenges. And in Christianity, that is how children are “taught up the way they should go.” The (somewhat incorrect) idea is that the harder and more strenuously a child is indoctrinated, the less likely that child is to later question that indoctrination. That’s one reason that religious-homeschooling materials rely on rote memorization and fill-in-the-blanks worksheet completion the way they do. Kids are taught what to think, not how to think–or why it’s so important to think. They are taught to obey without question and to comply without hesitation. Ignorance is celebrated and considered superior to understanding, what with understanding’s risk of leading people astray from religious indoctrination. So this form of brainwashing is actually lauded and praised, and I don’t think Christians can actually conceive of someone teaching children any other way.

Because these Christians think everybody operates like they do, they assume that atheist parents “indoctrinate” their children just like they do into non-belief. Part of the problem is that most Christians don’t actually understand that atheism is not actually a belief but rather a conclusion, and the problem isn’t helped at all by the proliferation lately of Christians who claim they were once atheist but don’t actually understand in the very least what atheism means and are therefore using a definition of the word that most atheists wouldn’t agree is valid. This redefinition of atheism is itself another attempt at manipulation–this one called a straw man, wherein Christians create a false meaning for atheism and then attack that and demolish it rather than the real meaning, since the real meaning would be all but impossible to demolish.

I’ll disclaimer here that I’m not an atheist or an atheist parent, but I’ve got lots of friends who are–including Neil, incidentally, whose blog talks about his parenting philosophy often and at great length, and another friend of mine, Dale McGowan, who wrote an awesome book about mixed-faith marriages and has written in the past about parenting as well. It’s not hard to find parenting materials, websites, and support groups geared toward parenting from a place of non-belief. I’ve read enough of them and know enough atheist parents to know that if there’s one thing that atheist parents prize more than anything else, it’s the development of critical thinking skills in their children.

Atheists don’t want kids who are just indoctrinated to accept unquestioningly dogmatic statements of faith or in this case non-belief. They want kids who can apply rationality and logic to life’s situations and who can reason their way out of problems and dilemmas. They want kids who will make decisions based on informed, educated solid ground rather than–as this blogger prefers–blind panic, compulsion, and knee-jerk terror. So when these self-proclaimed “ex-atheists” talk about how they were “heavily indoctrinated” into atheism, I really wonder what that looks like. And I’m not at all surprised to hear that the same people who think of atheism as something that even can be “indoctrinated” so lacked critical thinking skills that they fell into religion as adults.

And you know what? A lot of Christian parents want their kids to grow up knowing how to think as well. They recoil from the idea of “indoctrinating” their kids into anything, even into their beloved religion. What I’m describing also could apply to people of any faith. Sanity prevails in pockets everywhere and is becoming more and more common as time goes on. Some religious parents who are like that end up raising atheist children–and they don’t try to terrorize anybody into coming back to the fold. They accept that those critical thinking skills will lead their kids to places that their parents might not always want, but that’s the risk they take by giving children those skills. They prize intelligence, compassion, and rationality above the child’s forced arrival at a predetermined headspace. They would be simply aghast at the idea of strong-arming and manipulating children into anything, including Christianity. They trust that if their religion is compelling, then their kids will be drawn to it. And indeed sometimes they are.

So the use of the word “indoctrination” here doesn’t make a lot of sense. What atheist parents do and what they prize is diametrically opposed to indoctrination’s goals and tactics. It is hugely dishonest that this blogger even uses the same word to describe both parenting techniques.

In short, if an atheist parent were to actually do anything to a child that could be called “indoctrination” in the sense of the word that Christians mean it, it’d be just as wrong as what those Christian parents do.

As an afterthought on this subject, in the comments the Christian who inspired the post actually admits that what he’s doing is redefining words to suit himself:

And I’m going to use a different word than “indoctrinate” since apparently that is evil LOL. I’m going to use the word “immerse.”

But there’s no indication whatsoever that he either thinks indoctrination is “evil,” nor that his new word–“immerse”–is going to look any different in practice than the previous one did. I find that beyond dishonest and I admit I’m downright shocked that a Christian would act this way–LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL. But then again, we’re dealing with people who think that brainwashing children is a fine and laudable thing to do. LOL! Isn’t that just the biggest hoot ever? HAHA Evil indoctrination! OH but not really LOL! HOOHAHA! Let’s find another word that maybe doesn’t carry quite the same connotations but keep doing the same shit that both words represent! L-O-FUCKING-L! Yeah, it’s all so hilare.

Is this sort of blatant, transparent dishonesty really what Jesus would have done? I ask not because I think he existed or is in some supernatural realm looking at people here on Earth, but because Christians at least ostensibly care what their imaginary friend thinks, and I have trouble imagining an omnibenevolent and righteous entity who’d condone this sort of behavior. Then again, I think an omnibenevolent and righteous god would have provided good reasons for believing in him and would never have created a cosmology based on blind faith and eternal punishment for noncompliance, so there we are, I reckon.

Third: The blogger’s conclusions are ludicrously nonsensical.

According to the comments on the original piece, apparently its author’s blogging buddy–the guy who inspired the initial post itself–was insulting Christianity and Christians by using demeaning terms for them and being a bit of a jackass about religion, which he and the original blogger blame for turning the kids against Christianity by making it so mock-worthy.

Seattle Pride Weekend 2009.

Seattle Pride Weekend 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here, as with the blithe redefinitions of words in mid-sentence, I think this blogger and his friend are judging atheists by their own examples. The same Christians who don’t understand what atheism is are the ones who think that people can be inoculated against true ideas by simply mocking those ideas. If an idea is true, then it really doesn’t matter how often someone mocks it; the truth comes out, and a genuinely inquisitive person who sets out to find out what is actually credible and what isn’t will find it. This Christian god must be terribly weak if a little mockery and sardonic poking from an atheist is enough to turn someone off of his truth forever. Oh hey, maybe they just need to pray more.

The reason I think that Christians have nothing to fear from some atheist parents making fun of their religion is the same reason that real science has nothing to fear from Creationists babbling about how dragons really existed and asking museum volunteers “were you there?” every three seconds. If they really had the truth, that kind of behavior wouldn’t stop their kids from embracing it if their kids were taught to value the truth rather than obedience, compliance, and blind, ignorant faith. Indeed as a result of kids being taught to value reality over fantasy, real science and rationality are winning very slowly. All we have to do is be patient, hang in there, keep refuting those who spout ignorance, and offer children the tools they need to figure this stuff out.

And I know this is shocking, but they will. They really will figure this stuff out. They’re pretty damned smart.

4. I don’t think this guy or his friend are thinking through–at all–what they’re really saying about their god.

Of course, this is such a common failing it should probably get its own internet law. His god is such a ratbastard, such a cruel and heartless sumbitch, that he’d torture (or allow to be tortured, same diff) sentient beings for even one second in an eternal, punitive, inescapable, vindictive place of pain and horror. This ancient despot rules by terror and demands blind compliance. He separates children from their mothers and fathers so he can hurt them. He tortures a parent’s children and doesn’t even care if that parent knows it’s happening. And then he takes the lucky winners up to Heaven, where they will party knowing that their families are being tortured forever. But they won’t be able to do anything about it.

Maybe he’ll make them forget about their loved ones, erasing the very memory of that love and who knows, maybe everything else that makes his pets human. Maybe he’ll just magically wipe away their tears so they become as soulless, heartless, and uncaring as he is. He’ll throw away the people he doesn’t care about and do nothing to help them as they suffer, just like toxic Christians do now. Heck, maybe he’ll even enjoy knowing they’re screaming in pain while his favored pets gorge themselves and walk streets of gold.

All humans can do to avoid that fate is appease this petulant, tyrannical, incompetent god as hard as they can and hope they did enough. And of course they are totally responsible for the fates of everyone they hold dear.

Exactly what about this DISGUSTING, GROTESQUE scenario inspires love and worship? Because gang, I’m not seeing it. The god they describe is pure evil. If this being existed, he would be the worst enemy of humankind that ever was. There’s no reason to think he exists, but we can all feel very fortunate that he does not–and one of the biggest reasons we have for feeling that way is that our children are safe from his evil grasp. That’s one reason that I keep my eyes open for credible reasons for his existence; if something like the Bible’s god turned out to be real, then we would need to know as soon as possible to mount some kind of defense against it.

And I do not believe for one second that if a loving parent discovered an entity like that threatening his or her children for any reason, that parent would simper and kowtow and offer up praise and worship to that entity, wholeheartedly follow and love that entity, and consider that entity a loving parent like themselves. I certainly would not. It’s obscene to think about someone acting that way–obscene on a level that simply stuns the imagination. I’d worship a person stalking and threatening to assault my child before I’d give one prayer of praise to a god who threatened to torture that child forever. But the Christians chirping purely malevolent evil like this don’t even consider what they sound like to people who aren’t in the bubble alongside them.

In conclusion, this guy’s blog post–and the post that inspired it–are nothing but simple fearmongering, a sort of Pascal’s Wager done two generations deep that is meant to terrorize parents into second-guessing their conclusions that there’s no reason to believe in Christianity. But he isn’t aiming for atheist parents. Like every other piece of apologetics, it is not meant to actually convert those who aren’t Christian but to keep Christians’ butts in pews and scare them out of reconsidering anything. It is simply not compelling in any way, but it is definitely manipulative.

I want to mention this too. Many of us ex-Christians suffer from a great deal of resentment regarding our own indoctrinations as children. It can take many years to crawl out of that kind of thinking and false education and learn those critical thinking skills that other kids get taught as a matter of course. I know I, for one, got indoctrinated very heavily when I was a kid, and it took till my 30s to learn how to have healthy relationships, set boundaries, and learn how to tell what was true and what wasn’t. I wouldn’t wish those struggles on my worst enemy. What this blogger is describing in that first blockquote I gave you at the beginning here is actually how a lot of us feel about our Christian indoctrination. And we don’t have to wait till we die to know how we got done wrong, unlike his fearmongering, pandering scenario where nobody knows if his terror campaign is true until after death. We know how that indoctrination worked out for us in this life.

Fallacious, nonsensical, dishonest, ludicrous manipulation attempts like this one are yet another reason I am glad to be out of Christianity, and yet another reason I know the religion isn’t true or good.

If this guy or his friend had any credible reason to believe in their malevolent religion, they’d have offered it up already and wouldn’t need to waste time trying to scare people. Indeed, the comments are a sideshow of them both dancing around the burden of proof, trying to shift it to the non-believers who keep politely asking them to provide even a shred of it, and contorting themselves to avoid admitting they don’t really have any. I’m glad that it sounds like some of their kids escaped their “immersion”–er, sorry, indoctrination, LOL.

If there really were a Heaven, I cannot even imagine wanting to go there if it meant people like these two guys were there. Their god is quite welcome to people who, not content with trying to terrorize others in general, now try to terrorize those people on behalf of their own children.

Hey, those means ain’t gonna justify themselves.

[H/t: Sirius Bizinus]

Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

The Curious Case of the Undesirable Virgin.

Quick, let’s play word-association. What comes to mind when I say this word?

VIRGIN.

Most likely you saw a woman of some sort, didn’t you? Did you see an old woman or a young one? A pretty woman or an ugly one? A fat woman or a thin one? A well-dressed woman or a frump? A smiling woman or a frowning one? What race is she? What religion is she? Is she straight or gay or bi? Cisgender or transgender? Go on, paint a picture for yourself.

c. 1437-1446

c. 1437-1446 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). A perfectly representative virgin.

I strongly suspect most people playing this game are seeing the following: a young, pretty, straight, cisgender, thin white Christian woman with a pretty face, a great smile, and wearing a dress that emphasizes her figure but doesn’t cut too low at the bust or hit too high across the legs. She is a desirable woman in every sense of the word–desirable by men, of course. This image was brought to us by Christian culture, which infects many people so deeply that even those of us who’ve escaped that religion can find ourselves falling prey to this sort of thinking.

Christian culture thinks about virginity in a very particular way, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Some time ago we talked about how the fundagelical Christian vision of marriage is only applicable to a very narrow range of people: to middle-to-upper-class folks who can afford to have lots of kids, homeschool them, and have the wife stay home to tend those kids and keep house. Well, in much the same way its vision of purity applies only to a narrow range of people. And that teaching is coming back to bite a lot of women–and men–on the ass at this point.

A virgin, in that ideology, is a beautiful young woman. She is highly sexualized and approachable, but doesn’t actually have sex or do anything sexual. She’s accessible but not accessed. She wears clothes that dance that super-narrow line between modest and immodest–just enough to show that she’s got all the right measurements, but not enough to outrage the Christian morality police. She does her hair and makeup but doesn’t spend more time at it than the arbitrary, ever-shifting number of minutes society thinks is appropriate. She inspires lust, certainly, but it’s the right kind of lust, whatever that might be. She is safely sanitized and contained, her dangerous sexuality reined in with rules and control; she is owned, and doesn’t object to being owned or to being held in trust for her next owner. She is like a flower waiting to be plucked, waiting for her One True Pairing (OTP) to show up to swoop her into his arms and propose to her, at which point she’ll get married and switch her virginity for properly-corralled sex in a flawless, seamless transition (nobody wants to admit that this transition is by no means a guarantee). After marriage, she is the proverbial lady in the streets but a freak in the sheets. In exchange for behaving herself according to all of these rules and breaking herself trying to fit into this mold, she is promised a happy, long marriage with a perfect Christian man who will love, adore, and value her for her entire life.

Being a desirable young virgin is the necessary first step in the life script that Christianity has declared suitable for a woman’s life; if she misses that step, then she risks never having the rest of it happen to her. In that narrative someone finishes one task and gets handed another, over and over, till her very life is done. One task gets finished–“being a virgin”–at which time the next is handed to her–“get married”–after which she gets the next–“have beautiful children”–and so on and so forth. Christianity suffers not only from hierarchical thinking but also very linear thinking; something can’t happen out of its proper order. Almost every single modern Christian stars in a movie running in their own heads, and that movie has a certain storyline that must be followed without deviation.

And oh, the Christian marketing machine is in full swing trying to sell that narrative to parents and young people all through Christianity. Young men are taught to see their female peers as someone else’s wife; young women are taught to define their entire identities around their virginity and to feel responsible even in their early childhoods for men’s lustful reactions to them. Parents are taught to treat their daughters like possessions and to falsely inflate the importance of sexuality. They even very creepily celebrate that virginity, focusing on it to an extent that is genuinely disturbing and I dare even say reminiscent of pedophilia with how it focuses on the bodies and sexuality of little girls. Purity balls, modesty movements, courtship culture and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” covenant marriage, “true love waits” so-called purity rings and T-shirts (it reads “VIRGINITY ROCKS” on the front, and on the back “I’m loving my husband and I haven’t even met him;” the blurb selling it advises purchasers to wear it with humility and appreciation for being pure rather than “as far into the muck as our neighbors and our friends”–just amazingly sanctimonious and self-righteous, isn’t it?), it all perpetuates an image of virginity and carefully-controlled and curated sexuality that fits the storyline Christians want to impose on young people.

That marketing machine sells a false empowerment that ignores consent, healthy boundaries, and respect for others’ choices, but given how little real empowerment exists in Christianity, the young people affected don’t know any better that they’re being tricked and swindled into buying into a patently false and harmful ideology. Some won’t find out until something dreadful happens in their lives to make them question the life script.

What happens, though, when the virgin in question isn’t lucky enough to be conventionally desirable? What if she’s a boy? What if she’s not interested in boys? What if she–fetch the smelling salts!–gets old before she is found and claimed by her OTP?

Well, then that virgin has a problem. When I was a teenager, I noticed already that every time my church talked about virginity (and this applies to the Southern Baptists and Pentecostals alike; they both did it), they were talking about a very, very specific type of person. They weren’t talking about boys or for that matter men. They weren’t talking about middle-aged people of any gender. They weren’t talking about people whose sexual attention was something society deemed undesirable or superfluous. They definitely weren’t talking about anybody who fell outside the cis/het norms.

A middle-aged woman in my church who wasn’t married yet–and was therefore assumed to be a virgin–was something of an embarrassment. Divorcees and widows we kind of understood, but a never-married woman was a serious anomaly. She was a flaw in the divine plan we thought our god had for everybody, which was “get married young, have lots of kids, die of old age in our OTP’s arms.” She was a disturbance in the Force, a fly in the ointment, a visible and glaring injury to the body of Christ. What was wrong with her? Why hadn’t her husband found her yet? Surely it was “God’s” plan that she wait this long, though we could not fathom what it might be. Why, even Sarah had had Isaac in her advanced age, so who knew what would happen? Surely she was being compelled to wait this long to start the next phase of her life in order to advance the Kingdom in some dramatic way.

In The Blue Castle, Valancy laments as her 29th birthday looms that she has never been kissed. But worse than that, she realizes, is that nobody has ever actually wanted to kiss her. Her expiration date has arrived and she never once had a chance to misbehave, whether she would have wanted to misbehave or not. That’s what bothers her the most. It’s not that she made it to 29 as a virgin; it’s that she never really had a choice to be anything else but a virgin. Her virginity wasn’t valuable enough for someone to want to take it.

[Her family and hometown] had long since relegated Valancy to hopeless old maidenhood. But Valancy herself had never quite relinquished a certain pitiful, shamed, little hope that Romance would come her way yet–never, until this wet, horrible morning, when she wakened to the fact that she was twenty-nine and unsought by any man. Ay, there lay the sting. Valancy did not mind so much being an old maid. After all, she thought, being an old maid couldn’t possibly be as dreadful as being married to an Uncle Wellington or an Uncle Benjamin, or even an Uncle Herbert. What hurt her was that she had never had a chance to be anything but an old maid. No man had ever desired her.

Valancy had figured out the truth nobody wants to say in Christianity: if nobody wants to take something, then it has no value. Undesired virginity has no value. Virginity is a bargaining chip, a thing to exchange for goods and services, but its owner finds out very quickly that virginity in and of itself has a value that is highly dependent on the degree to which its owner fits into the correct narrative of idealized womanhood. Now, obviously I totally do not agree that virginity is a bargaining chip or that people should feel compelled to exchange their sexuality for goods and services; that’s just what I observe in Christian culture and it needs to change. This sense of virginity being a thing that’s owned and exchanged and handed over from one owner to another owner–something whose loss irrevocably devalues its onetime possessor–can’t really exist in a culture that prizes consent and personal liberty, which is why I think Christians cling as hard as they do to their idolization of it.

A lot of Christian men and women, crippled by shame and self-doubt, find themselves in that exact same boat with Valancy. As horrible evangelical relationship advice and Christian-inspired sexual shame wreaks its damage on American culture, growing numbers of older virgin men and women are seeking help to figure out what’s going on in their lives. Dating sites and advice columnists alike try to reassure their worried older virgins that they’re really okay after all and stop worrying so much.

But those links are from the secular world. Christians have a more complicated problem because single people aren’t supposed to be having sex with anybody but a spouse anyway. Non-marital sex is considered one of the worst sins someone can possibly commit, and avoiding that sin is a big part of Christian youth education. Men are taught that they’re rampaging monsters who will ruin any woman they touch, and women are taught that if they have sex before marriage that they are destroying their value, sullying their purity, and wrecking their future marriages before they’ve even begun.

So holding out until marriage is the rule. If that marriage takes place, then the virgin is expected to skip lightly from considering sex a ghastly horrible sullying, dirtying thing to a great and fulfilling act of love with her (yes, her) spouse. Alas, it doesn’t always work out so wonderfully.

And if that marriage doesn’t materialize at all–if that perfect square-jawed Christian husband never swoops in from nowhere to gather up his blushing virgin bride–then our virgin has a big problem.

Indeed, middle-aged and older unmarried Christian women complain that they feel ignored and irrelevant in their churches. It’s not really surprising that they would feel that way. Christian churches are filled with people, and those people live in a youth-glorifying society that is increasingly open-minded about sexuality. There’s no god making church people any different from anybody else. Of course they largely don’t want to think about non-young, non-beautiful women. And oh, they really do not want those women to be virgins or childless/childfree. Those women don’t fit the correct ideal at all. They are a reminder of just how hollow and false that ideal is and how hard most women must strive to come anywhere close to achieving it.

And they are savaged by people around them for not achieving it. While researching this topic, I found a post by a prominent misogynist blogger–a complete shitbag who ironically described himself as “fairly nice” while describing older never-married women as “vaginal fossils” and “hoebags” who “need to go away” and not offend the delicate sensitivities of princes like himself who think they are entitled to only look at pretty, young women in clubs and don’t even want to be reminded that any other type of women exist (note to any Nice Guys™ out there: you don’t get to call yourself “nice” if you talk about people like that). Of course, even younger women must conform to such misogynists’ expectations of sexual purity or else they’re not worth even talking to. But one need not go all the way to MRA-ville to find examples of older women being told to disappear, to vanish–that their sexuality is unneeded by society anymore, that this thing they’ve jealously guarded for so long is no longer valuable at all, that its worth–whatever that worth was–has evaporated into the clear blue sky without a single sign of its ever having existed.

Christians get told that they’re doing something wrong if they’re not married by some arbitrary age. Unmarried women are treated like social lepers who are out to seduce all the honorably-married men; these women are ostracized, ignored, turned away, even shunned socially. An unmarried man might get some of this as well (and of course they are blamed for the general lack of enthusiasm for marriage Christians think is happening in society, since men are seen as the initiators and leaders in relationships), but at least an unmarried man can still head into ministry in a lot of these churches. One of the most celebrated preachers in my entire denomination was a never-married man who I am absolutely positive now was gayer than a squirrel parade down Main Street (oh we were all so very impressed at the time with how “godly” he was, at how he never seemed sexually attracted to the legions of eager women who flocked around him at all times–no, really, we thought it was just that he was this totally godly man). An unmarried woman has no place in a home, no place in a church, and no place in active ministry. She just doesn’t belong anywhere in a marriage-mad church society. It must be hard not to wonder what on Earth she did wrong.

A bit late, churches are starting to wake up to the fact that they see unmarried people–especially women, and this applies as well to widows and divorcees–as “half a cookie”. One church calls the increasing numbers of single people “a time bomb for the church”, which must make single people feel just incredibly valued and loved. Isn’t it nice to be thought of as a time bomb? While leaders are wringing their hands over this “time bomb,” I saw one hilarious blog post from a Christian woman who even blamed churches for creating “fallen women” who were more likely to vote Democrat and become feminists and morph into “Jezebel spirits” out of a sheer desire to belong somewhere. Isn’t it sweet to imply that middle-aged unmarried women are stupid and gullible enough to get twisted around politically and socially if churches won’t lower themselves to be nicer to them? So I see Christians as at least recognizing the issue in a vague sort of way, even if their response to it is characteristically tone-deaf and laughably inept.

Christianity in general isn’t a really good deal for women, but I see a great deal of dysfunction and abusiveness in how it creates these narratives for both men and women and punishes anybody who doesn’t fall into line with those narratives. Even now, their response is not to question their entire dynamic or their entire conceptualization of that narrative. The narrative is obviously perfect. Their response as a group seems to be to find some way to patch unmarried people into their garment, some way to find some place for them, some way to be nicer to them so they don’t run off and sin or become Democrats. The narrative itself remains untouched and pure, just like the women Christians like to see.

But here as well as in a lot of other areas of Christian abuse and overreach, simple demographics is going to be the final determiner of this issue. Young people are leaving Christianity in droves. A lot of people just aren’t getting married. A sizeable percentage of women are never having kids (some by choice, some not). The life script that worked somewhat-okay in previous decades is looking increasingly quaint and outdated. Even Christians who pay lip service to that script can’t live up to it most of the time.

The solution’s going to look a lot like the de-fetishizing of virginity and the dismantling of the purity myth that inspires that fetishizing. Thus, we can count on Christians to ignore that option until the very last second.

The rest of us are already charging ahead on that front, so hopefully they’ll tag along on this next wave of human progress before they get left behind in the dirt.

Posted in Feminism, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments