Choices, Choices.

Oh, where would we be without entertaining stories of faux-persecution from American Christians? Today I noticed this story about a football player whining about having to miss religious services at his church (H/t: Friendly Atheist) because of scheduling conflicts with football practice, and I marveled anew at how absolutely incoherent Christianity can be.

English: Annapolis football player, United Sta...

English: Annapolis football player, United States Naval Academy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The young man, Vincent Johnson, belongs to a Christian church called the World Mission Society Church of God. This group is very gung-ho about attendance. Their website is absolutely huge, but like most church websites doesn’t tell you a damned thing that is useful about their group–like when exactly their services are scheduled in Mr. Johnson’s own church. But Wikipedia helpfully informs us that the group is a Saturday Sabbath church, similar to Seventh-Day Adventists, and additionally it believes that Saturday must be kept entirely free for religious observances and sometimes requiring members to attend three services on that day. So it’s not a case of him just picking a different church service that day; it’s not the time, it’s the whole day that is the issue here.

The original Fox News link somehow didn’t mention the Saturday Sabbath thing, which isn’t surprising given its right-wing evangelical Christian leanings, but when you deal with a church that goes in for this bit of weirdness, you can rest assured there’s some even weirder stuff going on under the surface. Churches that get caught up on Saturday Sabbath seem like the most legalistic and abuse-prone groups out there. Not that Fox News cares; a Christian isn’t being allowed to do whatever he wants, so that’s the story they’re going with. What they’ve left out should raise more eyebrows than what was left in, but their audience won’t even wonder.

Regardless, despite this requirement that he knew he had, Mr. Johnson decided to pursue membership in a football team at his university while attending there on a scholarship. I find it absolutely impossible to believe that he had no idea in the world that football teams frequently practice on the weekends or that he had no idea when those practices might occur.

At risk of stating the obvious, a football player often has to attend practices with his team, and this young man is no exception at all. When he missed too many practices due to his religious observances, his coach began to skip putting him into games. Mr. Johnson has decided that enduring the consequences of his actions means that he is being persecuted for being a Christian and moreover that he is being forced to make a dreadful choice:

“He asked me to choose between church and football. I said, ‘Coach, you can’t ask me to do that. It’s like asking me to choose between God and football.'”

If it seems hugely weird to you that a young person might feel this strongly about his religion yet select an extracurricular activity that directly conflicts with his religion’s requirements, you’re not alone. And if you’re making a shocked face right now at the idea of a Christian conflating church and deity like that, then you’re definitely not alone. And if you’re suspecting that the coach maybe didn’t actually “ask” such a question at all but rather made clear what was at stake, you’re thrice-times not alone.

Mr. Johnson has left absolutely nothing to chance here. Oh, sometimes a Christian might possibly leave a little wiggle room here or there. But not this Christian. He’s chosen to belong to a religious group that absolutely requires that he leave certain days wide open for them. Despite knowing this requirement, he’s also chosen to pursue a sport that requires intense dedication and frequent weekend participation. And when reminded of this incompatibility, he’s choosing to whine about how mean and hard and unfair it is that he can’t have both of these totally incompatible hobbies.

As one FA commenter has nonchalantly observed, “Surely choosing between God and football should be the easiest decision in the world for a Christian.” I agree wholeheartedly. Life’s full of tough choices, idnit? It’s a mark of the sheerest juvenile immaturity for someone to think that there is a way to reconcile any number of utterly disparate, utterly incompatible life choices.

I’ve got plenty of personal experiences to back up that assertion. When I was growing up, women framed their life choices in terms of “having it all.” As I’ve observed before (and feminists before me have written), having it all meant doing it all, because there really wasn’t any other way to have it all–not for women. Men could have successful, rewarding jobs, clean homes, and a rich family life without wearing themselves down to a frazzle–and nobody even raised an eyebrow at the idea of a man combining work and family, but for women, life was about making trade-offs: being less successful at work or sacrificing the family life we always wanted, or having a home that was a disaster area. We talked a big game about work-life balance, but we knew better than to even cry about how beyond-unattainable that ideal was. Things are a little better now, it seems; I see men taking a much more active role in their families than they ever have, and I see more women stepping into leadership roles in government and business. But back in my day, it wasn’t like that at all. Most of the women I knew might halfheartedly object to how impossible a dream it was, but we all still framed the problem as a question: how could it be done? Was it even possible?

I knew even as a child that if I got married, I would be doing a lot of extra work because my husband would find some way to get out of his share–which is what happened with Biff (and for that matter most of my live-in relationships afterward with only one glorious exception). I knew even as a child that if I had children, this disparity in labor would get even worse–so I never had children. I knew that if I got a high-paying job in certain fields, it’d destroy my free time and my ability to enjoy activities I liked–so I never went that route. Life’s full of opportunity costs. Do the one, and you can’t do the other. I might not have liked the equation, but I knew that this was the reality of it. The questions we framed thirty years ago are questions I still see women framing today.

Religion just added to those costs and made that balance even more impossible. There were jobs I could not take because I knew they’d demand I work on weekends. There were activities I couldn’t enjoy because my religion had decided they were sinful, like going to movies or playing certain games. Nowadays, many flavors of Christianity demand that their adherents sign off on Creationism and Biblical literalism, telling these Christians that if they figure out that Creationism is bullshit and that the Bible is filled with errors and problems, they can’t stay Christian. Such denominations are quite deliberately setting up a cruel and unnecessary showdown between faith and reality, and though it is backfiring by causing more and more people to reject the religion entirely rather than swallow lies, the strategy is working on enough people that they won’t let go of the idea any time soon.

Vincent Johnson’s church clearly puts a high value on church participation. He’s bought into the idea that he must participate in the way his church demands, or else he is rejecting his entire faith. And for what it’s worth, I sympathize that he’s in this dilemma. I believe him when he says that his faith is very important to him and that he doesn’t want to reject its demands.

But he expects the whole world to drop everything and find a way for him to enjoy both the sport he likes and the church participation he values, both on his terms.

It’s not anyone else’s job to find some way for him to work out this incompatibility between his voluntary activities. It’s his job. His coach is not required to let him play if he won’t practice as often as that coach thinks players should practice. I’m sure this coach–if he is anything like the ones I’ve known–gave practice schedules to all of the players at the beginning of the year, so none of these dates should have been a big shock to Mr. Johnson. It was his job to evaluate how capable he would be of meeting the requirements the coach outlined at the start of the year. His inability to evaluate his capabilities is not now his coach’s problem. His lack of planning does not equal a crisis on his coach’s part.

None of this is religious persecution. The college is investigating, but I rather suspect they will find that he’s not being singled out in any way. It’s not anybody’s fault but his own that he chose to participate in a sport that conflicts with an activity he idolizes to such an extent he compares disobeying its demands to rejecting his god entirely. (Indeed, one thing that I noticed quickly while researching his church was that it often comes up in discussions of cults–yikes! The real surprise is that he got into football at all, considering.) It is hardly persecution or discrimination to hold him to the exact same rules everybody else is held to–and considering how Jesus-centric football is anyway, I find it unlikely that his coach just hates Christians and wants to make their lives hard.

I noticed commenters trying to find ways for him to reconcile his two idols, but I don’t suggest people waste time doing so. I worked at call centers for many years and can tell you that sometimes people just don’t leave anything to chance, and they do that for a reason. No matter what workaround someone comes up with, this young man has in mind already what solution he will accept: He wants to attend church as often as he pleases, but still play in football games alongside the players who do attend practice regularly and who do put in the work the coach is asking of the team, the players who probably also have shit they would like to do on a pretty Saturday but who show up to practice anyway because football is their priority. Nothing but his chosen solution is likely going to sound doable to him. I’ve talked to way too many people like this to be under any illusions about how such conversations are likely to go; he’ll find some big problem with every single suggestion offered.

So I’ll let him work it out for himself. I’m sure he’ll find some way to manage it. And if he can’t, well, his religion is replete with stories of people who made huge, terrible sacrifices to follow what they believed was that god’s will. Most testimonies include similar tales. Sacrifice is part of Christianity. It’s curious that he’s not celebrating that he has before him the opportunity to make one of those big personal sacrifices. I mean, come on, he considers church attendance just like his god! Surely this one is a no-brainer? Surely he wouldn’t hesitate even an instant if it came down to his god or some dumb sport? Why is he so singularly angry about and even incapable of making the choice before him?

Could it be that he realizes deep down that the religion is really bullshit, but football is real and it is what is really important to him?

Posted in Biography, Feminism, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Brief Primer About What Proof Looks Like.

It’s gotten almost old dealing with Christians who are convinced they have some kind of proof for their god and for the validity of their religious viewpoints who turn out not to have anything of the sort. From Ray Comfort‘s insistence that bananas “prove” his god’s existence to ignorant zealots who don’t understand big words like irrefutable (and moreover don’t understand big concepts like “you can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible’s ideas”), it seems like I run into a Christian saying this kind of thing just about weekly. So let’s talk a minute here about what proof looks like to someone like me.

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence was based on teleology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If all someone has in terms of evidence for a fact-based claim is philosophy and arguments, then that’s not proof. I’ve talked before about my complete disdain for what I’ve come to call “logical Christians” (those Christians who are most drawn to and prone to using such arguments in lieu of actual evidence). I find the mindset utterly toxic, and haven’t seen it produce much more than Christians who think it’s okay to treat people disrespectfully and contemptuously–seriously, I have yet to run into a Christian using this approach who is at all loving. But it’s a mindset we’re going to see more and more often as the religion continues to polarize its adherents and drive off those who are actually loving people.

The entire attitude seems like such a uniquely American phenomenon. Americans don’t trust or like experts very much, and we really like the idea of an underdog coming up with something that totally stumps and amazes even the most learned scholars. Combine that attitude with a style of religious observance that stresses personal revelation and has decoupled itself from any kind of theological training, and you inevitably get Christians who are convinced that they are the first (and maybe the only) people in thousands of years who have actually proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that gods exist, and more to the point their own personal conceptualization of their own religion’s god exists in the form they think it takes–and that they know exactly what it wants and what it hates (spoiler: it always wants what that Christian wants and hates whatever that Christian hates).

It’s important to me therefore to think a little about just what “evidence” looks like and what it does not look like.

Evidence does not take the form of subjective feelings, even very strong feelings.

A Christian’s feelings of religious fervor, while very important to that individual, do not constitute proof that that Christian’s religion makes truthful claims. This is probably one of the hardest ideas for Christians to understand, since their religion is absolutely filled top to bottom with this overwhelming adoration of feelings; I know when I was a fundagelical, I was taught that my feelings validated my religion (though obviously a lack of feelings did not invalidate it, duh). I strongly suspect that teaching continues today.

The problem here is that feelings are really unreliable. We often feel things that turn out to be wrong. We all have had feelings of affection or love that turned out to be faulty, or feelings of certainty about a course of action that turned out to be disastrous. I can name a number of things I had strong feelings about once–including my former religion!–that turned out to be misinformed. The information we have at hand is what informs those feelings, and the information is what we should be looking at–not how that information makes us feel.

Further, every religion fosters similar feelings in its adherents, and quite a few non-religious ideas foster strong feelings. Those feelings don’t make the situation true. Certainty does not equal being correct. You can rest assured that Wiccans feel very strongly about their faith system, as do Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. Dr. Who fans have been showing quite a lot of feelings lately with the new show coming out–that doesn’t make Time Lords real. I knew a guy in high school who was very sure he was a Time Lord, speaking of which, but obviously he wasn’t one. The sister of one of my first boyfriends really felt that the singer of Duran Duran loved her, but she’d never even met the guy.

When Christians use their feelings as “proof” of their religious claims, that makes me very leery of the rest of their claims. If they had real evidence, they wouldn’t need to rely on their feelings so much. Same goes for visions, by the way. That doesn’t mean a vision is without value to the person experiencing it, but it does mean that I don’t consider it a factual observation that demonstrates anything credible and objective about the supernatural.

A philosophical argument is not evidence for a factual claim.

When a Christian has only a philosophical argument to back up a belief in religion, then that person has no evidence. But oh, so many Christians adore inventing these contorted arguments that they think are slam-dunk proofs for their religion. Usually these are appeals to ignorance and circular logic–“we don’t know X: therefore Jesus,” or “the Bible says the Bible is true so the Bible must be true because the Bible never lies and the Bible said X and the Bible must be true and and and.” You’d be surprised how long these arguments can run; you can start feeling a lot like you’ve ended up on Time Cube or a 9/11 Truther site by accident.

Philosophy is a valuable exercise for humanity when done responsibly. But Christians use it irresponsibly when they create arguments that don’t line up with or confirm reality. I’m not even sure they really understand what philosophy even is–but debate itself, and the forming of complicated arguments, is quite a cottage industry among fundagelicals. Let one of those Christians go long enough, and eventually you’ll start hearing “but but but how do we even know what ‘truth’ actually even IS?”–sounding for all the world like a stoned college student, as a friend of mine has observed. These contortions are done solely to distance the Christian further and further from any resemblance of objective truthfulness. If they can distort the very concept of truth enough, then their religious views might start sounding reasonable! Tell me again why it is that subjectivity is supposed to be bad to fundagelicals, because that sure sounds like subjectivity to me.

I’ve often seen Christians use what they think is philosophy to avoid engaging with concrete, practical, pragmatic real-world situations–even while denigrating it. If a Christian is using a super-complicated argument to try to argue him- or herself into a real live god, then chances are that person really doesn’t have the first clue how to figure out what is true and what is not. It is safe to say that someone who minces words regarding what “truth” even means is someone who desperately needs every millimeter of wiggle room such contortion provides. I find this maneuvering dishonest and shady. If a religious idea cannot be proven without slicing and dicing common words to allow that idea to survive, then it doesn’t deserve to survive. Surely a god who created the whole universe doesn’t need that kind of dishonesty to demonstrate his existence or his wishes.

Philosophy itself should back up reality and confirm it, not exist as an alternative to it and in lieu of it. An argument should flow from the facts, not try to supplant them or explain away why the facts don’t line up with the claim.

A piece of evidence is observable and it doesn’t matter who is doing the observing.

A Muslim should be able to measure a fact and come up with the same measurement that a Christian comes up with–or an atheist, or a pagan. It’s that simple. Nobody has to buy into Christianity to observe a Christian’s evidence. If a Christian even starts going there, then that’s an indication that Christian doesn’t really have evidence and is admitting that only people with the same biases s/he has could buy into the claim. That’s the exact opposite of evidence.

Evidence for a real-world claim will involve real-world observable facts.

This one really trips up a lot of Christians, but it just means that we match demands for evidence and what forms of evidence are acceptable to the claim being made. If someone is claiming that their god is purely metaphorical or that Hell is just a metaphorical construct (which some Christians do think, and yeah, it baffles me too), then obviously I wouldn’t worry quite so much about physical evidence. But if someone claims, for example, that prayer heals cancer, then you absolutely bet I will require some evidence that the prayers in question actually physically heal cancer in a way that can be testable and observable before I accept that claim. If someone claims that there is some supernatural realm I should fear going to after death if I don’t fall into line with their religion, then that is a claim I will need to see credibly, objectively verified before I’ll take the threat seriously. This condition is true for other things besides religion, obviously; Bigfoot sightings come to mind immediately here–if someone claims that an ape-like hominid exists in the Southern United States, then we need to see some actual real-world proof of that existence before we add Bigfoot exhibits to the Smithsonian.

The more startling the claim, the more numerous and certain the observable facts around it should be.

I’ll just say this: claims don’t get a lot more startling than “a big invisible wizard who always existed made every single thing in the entire cosmos and cares very deeply about where people stick their genitals, but nobody can see him or tell he’s there.” But that’s not to say that Christianity isn’t loaded with others just about as startling. Creationism, incidentally, suffers hugely here; it makes the rather daring claim that the backbone of all of biological and astronomical science is flat-out wrong, but cannot find more observable facts to support that claim than some weak, distorted chicanery about bacteria propellers and whatnot. That’s not exactly compelling.

An honest truth claim will set up conditions for verification–and for falsification.

If a god exists, then what can we observe in the universe around us to demonstrate that god’s existence? If a god does not exist, what differences can we see? I rarely see Christians even going here, and I’m not surprised. One thing that was a real problem for me as a Christian was realizing that I couldn’t think of a single difference between a universe-with-a-god and a universe-lacking-a-god. The universe looked exactly the same either way. Natural processes seemed to govern all of it; a god simply wasn’t necessary for any part of it to exist. And the more I thought about it, the fewer differences I could see between those two universe concepts. For that matter, I never even thought about setting up the opposite premise to examine–the “if a god does not exist” claim. I couldn’t even consider that idea.

If Hell and Heaven existed, then outside of religious texts, subjective feelings, and visions, how did we know they were a credible idea? If souls existed, then why couldn’t we detect them in any way? If our behavior was influenced by something spiritual, then why did human behavior seem to hinge so utterly on our organic brains and hormones and cultural conditioning? If a bodily resurrection was possible and occurred several times in the Bible’s various stories, why had we not had one single verified instance of it happening to anybody (not to mention the truly stupendous healings of lepers and whatnot)? If the Bible was a true history, then why we did we constantly make archaeological finds that refuted its stories?

It gets worse though (at least in my opinion). If communication with a supernatural realm is even possible, then we should be able to test that idea by, well, reliably communicating with that realm–but why haven’t we managed to get even one credible contact with it? If prayer really contacts that realm, then we ought to see something interesting happen when Christians pray, but we really don’t–which indicates that prayer is nothing more than standard-issue magical thinking. For all the posturing and contorting I see Christians doing, though, I don’t see them finding ways to get credible facts into their arguments. The mere existence of a supernatural realm would be the very first piece of evidence Christians would need to have to prove their claims, and I’ve never even seen one try to demonstrate that one. They just take for granted that such a realm exists.

It’s so disappointing to read the myths of the ancient world and think about what the world would look like if those myths were even halfway true, isn’t it? Pillars of fire from the sky, plagues infesting countries, flying prophets, towering angels with swords, worldwide floods, you name it. Nobody had to twist just so, squint just right, and tilt their heads jusssst the right way to see such undeniable evidence back then! But now we’re down to Christians arguing themselves into a god because there is no other way anybody would ever be able to buy into the idea otherwise.

In the end, I’d say this: there really are no compelling arguments I’ve ever heard for Christianity. I’m way past even feeling obligated to listen to every zealot who runs screaming into my line of sight claiming to have one. I’ve given Christianity more than enough of my attention and time; until something striking comes along, I don’t see any need to humor Christians who mistakenly think they have found the first real proof of their religion. I figure they’ve had a couple thousand years. If that’s not good enough, then I’d say it’s time to move on to the next big idea. A god who would condemn me for not earnestly giving my time and attention to every such cry of “wolf!” is not a god worth worshiping, but we knew that already, right?

There is a very good reason why “logical Christians” don’t take all this proof they think they have and do anything official with it; I think they know their ideas wouldn’t survive a peer-review process. They have a much better chance of fooling laypeople than skilled philosophers and scientists. See, it’s a lot easier to pretend to have evidence for a spiritual idea than to actually demonstrate  that evidence. And so far, Christians are content to buy into these false claims. We humans do seem as a group to prefer our smoke-and-mirrors. Reality may seem a pale competition for the fantastical nature of religion.

But I’d rather have reality than tortured “logic.”

Posted in Biography, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Duping the Educated.

I couldn’t wait another moment. We have to take a look at this news story and talk about it a little today. Yes, it’s that awesome.

The piece is called “Dallas researchers out to scientifically prove biblical version of creation,” but what it really proves is that people who think they’re educated can be terribly ignorant and gullible.

Institute for Creation Research in Santee, CA

Institute for Creation Research in Santee, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admit, I’m still just amazed and dismayed to hear that people who stress over and over again how educated they are, who present themselves (almost defensively, it seems to me at least) as intelligent people, can be this ridiculously and mind-bogglingly incompetent when it comes to thinking critically. But creationism (which I will use here to mean both creationism and Intelligent Design, since the latter is simply the former renamed to better sneak it illegally into public schools) isn’t famous for its adherents’ ability to think critically. Even people who are really smart can fall for something this ridiculous.

English: Textual analysis of the various draft...

English: Textual analysis of the various drafts and precursors of the Intelligent Design book Of Pandas and People showing the frequencies of the terms “creation or “creationist” versus “intelligent design” and “design proponent”. Based on data from the Barbara Forrest’s testimony in the court case Kitzmiller v. Dover.. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Yes, it really is just renamed.

Articles like this one won’t help clarify just how contemptuous real scientists are toward creationism or why; the whole thing sounds like its writer is hedging his bets to avoid angering his paper’s fundamentalist readers. Though he does make fairly clear that creationists are distinctly in the minority, he doesn’t spend much time dwelling on just how overwhelming the evidence is against their quackery. At one point he mentions almost insultingly inaccurate and incomplete information about how the ages of the Universe, the Earth, and the human species were figured out, which tells me that he is just as ignorant and uneducated as the people he is interviewing for his article (pro-tip to the writer if he sees this: we didn’t split from chimpanzees and gorillas; we share a common ancestor that is not a chimpanzee, gorilla, or human, and according to that Wiki page, the timeline cited in the piece isn’t even correct).

After reading it, one might be forgiven for thinking that creationism is just a new, fledgeling sort of science that just needs a little time to take off, and not a thoroughly-debunked, discredited fringe bit of blithering pseudo-science fakery done purely to promote forced-indoctrination of schoolchildren and to enforce and entrench Christian privilege in society. I find this whole piece to be utterly irresponsible, and if I, as a layperson who just puts on her robe and wizard hat for science, can see through this weasel-wording, I can’t even imagine how frustrated real scientists are about it. And it was utterly unnecessary to give it that much undeserved credit; as just one example, I pulled up this Tufts University writeup debunking one of the books this group thinks is admirable, The Genesis Flood, in 30 seconds on Google. No real scientist takes the idea of the Great Flood seriously, and nobody reputable thinks that book is anything close to credible. But you’d never know that from reading this article.

Here is what education and real science are fighting, my friends: this kind of gullibility, this kind of ignorance, this kind of total inability to really think. But don’t take my word for it. The writer himself makes perfectly clear why creationists buy into this bullshit. Without further ado, here are the reasons he unwittingly cites:

1. Sympathy and defensiveness for their creationist-leaning parents.

Henry Morris III, the CEO of the Institute for Creation Research that is profiled in this bit of hackery, said: “I remember being upset that my father was — I’m not sure ostracized is the right word — but knowingly distanced by the rest of the scientific community. It became clear his stand on creation was the source of the conflict and I was just always defensive for Dad.”

Look. I totally understand feeling defensive and sympathetic about one’s parents’ shenanigans. I had the same feelings myself about some of the stuff my own parents did when I was growing up. A bully at my school felt that way too, and once threatened to beat me up because I said that her grandmother was wrong about cats stealing babies’ breath. But that Mr. Morris felt this way doesn’t mean that what his father was saying was really true. And as an adult, he is no longer required in any way to buy into a parent’s tinfoil-hat weirdness.

On that note, I find it terribly sad and pathetic that Mr. Morris’ sympathy for his dad has blinded him to just what he’s gotten involved with here.

2. A feeling of faux-persecution.

The piece says, “Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist and the research director at ICR, said he has no chance of winning a Nobel Prize, even if he makes a groundbreaking discovery. Secular scientists, he said, would never bestow the field’s highest honor on a creationist.”

English: Student table at the Nobel Prize Banq...

English: Student table at the Nobel Prize Banquet 2005 with menu and the special Nobel service (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Not shown: Creationists.

Mr. Lisle is either lying here to himself or to readers in general. He doesn’t know that at all. He’s just hoping desperately that this is the case, because then he’ll have the excuse he needs to believe for why he hasn’t gotten anywhere near that award. The truth–that he has done nothing worth getting it and is virtually guaranteed never to do so because of how he conceptualizes science itself as a creationist–would be very upsetting to him.

The problem is that creationists don’t use real science. They don’t test their theories and indeed largely cannot test them; they don’t publish in accredited journals; their “findings” can’t be peer-reviewed or objectively verified or duplicated. For the most part, creationists spend their time trying to find inventive and creative ways to deny actual science because they are convinced that if they can debunk the idea of evolution, then their idea wins by default. It’s not that the scientist in question is persecuted and oh-so-maligned just because he believes something goofy, but because that scientist’s methods are sloppy and have no place in the march forward. Jason Lisle’s association with creationism marks him as someone who puts theology and ideology over reality, which isn’t awesome, but that’s not what would stop him from ever getting a Nobel Prize.

I’d also like to point out that Mr. Lisle makes another big mistake here too–did you see it? He conflates “non-creationists” with “secular scientists.” Not all top scientists are secular; many are religious–a lot more than we’d expect, as I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson say in a lecture once. To Mr. Lisle, though, anybody who doesn’t buy into the inane theories of the ICR is obviously “secular.” And that is where he makes his biggest error in judgement.

Creationism really isn’t “atheism versus religion.” It’s “reality versus a very narrow-minded and surprisingly new fringe movement in Christianity.” Creationism is a symbol of a much bigger problem: the culture war that fundagelicals kicked up thinking it would win them back the heart of a nation that is rapidly moving away from their control. This culture war isn’t just about what religion everybody will pay lip service to, but rather it hits to the core of about how we know what’s real and what’s not real, how we sift opinion from fact, and how much control we’re going to grant religion in the public sphere.

So maybe Mr. Lisle should produce some Nobel-worthy work, and let the scientific community get their hands on it and critique it. If it’s really worth a prize, then that’ll become glaringly obvious and we’ll hear about it in short order.

I won’t hold my breath on that one though. No, Mr. Lisle and his cronies will just continue to bleat and whine and moan about how meeeeeeeeeean everybody is to them while not actually producing Nobel-caliber work. They’re like the Nice Guys™ of the scientific world, whining that the Nobel committees won’t see past their scientific awkwardness and reward their niceness with a medal. They’re busy blaming those committees for their inability to win the award rather than themselves.

3. They don’t understand big words like “evidence” and “science.”

The author of this article writes near the end:

For example, Lisle cites the “spiral winding problem” as evidence that galaxies cannot be billions of years old. Essentially, he says if stars had been swinging around galactic centers for billions of years, they’d look more like massive phonograph records than what we see through telescopes, which are loose, hurricane-shaped spirals. Or oceans — if they’d been around a billion years, they should be more salty. Or genetic mutations — if humans are hundreds of thousands of years old, there should be more genetic wrinkles in our DNA. Or dinosaur bones — if they’re millions of years old, scientists should not be recovering soft, protein-based tissue in them.

But if you’re expecting some kind of citation about how Mr. Lisle knows anything about this “spiral winding problem” or some inkling that it’s not quite the problem he imagines (and hopes) that it is, you’ll be waiting a long time. This whole thing sounds like the infamous immune system testimony that creationist professor Michael Behe so foolishly put all his hopes on during the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial–one tiny little thing that creationists think is some kind of slam-dunk that real science dealt with a long time ago. And we do remember what came of him doing it, right? That was one of the more dramatic parts of the trial–when the opposing lawyer dropped over FIFTY peer-reviewed books and journals on his desk that talk exclusively about how evolutionary processes could have produced the human immune system.

In the same way, nothing in Mr. Lisle’s Gish Gallop there is any kind of problem to science; some of it’s stuff we’re still working on, but most of it’s stuff we resolved quite a while ago. And the reporter who wrote this piece would know this simple truth if he just would only spend about 30 seconds on a good search engine. You just don’t hear about any serious scientists shaking their poor widdle heads and going “Yeah, we’re just totally baffled about this one and we’ll never figure it out–MUST BE THE CHRISTIAN GOD! We just don’t want to admit it.” But Jason Lisle is totally okay with pretending that’s what’s happening. His “paycheck” in both a literal and spiritual sense depends upon him buying into this thought-stopping act; he needs this nonsense he spouts to be true for a number of reasons, and nothing is going to get in the way of his belief–not even simple facts.

I wonder what he could really discover–maybe even a Nobel-worthy discovery!–if he weren’t so shackled down with this baggage he carries. Every educated scientist the ICR employs and indoctrinates is a scientist who is not actually reaching his or her full potential and contributing as much as he or she could be contributing to the world’s store of knowledge. And folks, we’ve got some problems on this planet that we need all hands on deck to fix. We can’t be screwing around like this. Even studying duck penises is more worthwhile (and hilarious) than trying (and failing) to prove that an ancient body of mythology is reliable history.

Alas for creationists, sheer numbers are on the side of reality. Any ten-year-old with a smartphone can debunk creationist claims with a simple search engine nowadays, and more and more American states are rejecting creationism and cracking down hard on pseudo-science bibble-babble in public-funded classrooms. Scientists are learning to engage the public to dispel the myths and lies that creationists are spreading. In the end, you could say that creationists’ own efforts to sneak their pseudo-science into schools spelled their own undoing; it forced the rest of us to wake up to what they had been doing for years already in more religious settings.

One could also add, if one were feeling uncharitable, that fundagelicals’ inability to embrace real science is one of the reasons they are losing members so quickly–along with their inability to heal themselves of their sexism, racism, and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. But that’d hardly be charitable, more like rubbing salt in a wound. (Though let us not forget after rubbing in that salt that Germ Theory is after all “just a theory.”)

This battle will be won eventually. But you can count on creationists to make a lot of fuss till it’s all over, and a lot of reporters to write irresponsible puff pieces about them.

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

(Un)Prophetable.

Prophets–the divinely-touched emissaries of a god–have always had a very special place in human minds, haven’t they? They are thought to be the conduit for divine words and power, the most effective demonstration there could be for the existence of a living god. Prophets told a religion’s followers what to do, how to react to events, and how best to worship their god. They worked miracles and advised kings. Sometimes they took the religion in whole new directions or up-ended a previously-held social order (like Jesus is said to have done). Prophets were infused with divine essence, so much so that they seemed insane to those around them. And why would they not be out of step and acting strangely? They gazed on a world that other people couldn’t even imagine. They spoke in prophecies, which might be foretellings of future events (which is what most of us think of when we think about prophecies in general), or else just a god’s words of instruction or admonition, and in the myths at least, they were powerful figures who were ignored or mistreated at their antagonists’ own risk. Societies might sometimes chafe against a prophet’s words, but they knew the risks of disobedience–and in a world where scientific concepts were understood poorly if at all, I can imagine that having someone around to explain mysteries–even incorrectly–was a real comfort to ancient people.

Prophet Ezekiel, Russian icon from first quart...

Prophet Ezekiel, Russian icon from 18thC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bible certainly doesn’t step outside of those tropes for its own prophets. Christians generally believe that their god is literally a real live god, and moreover that he is passionately interested in what humans do and even more passionately interested in communicating with them. In the Old Testament, when that god was a bit more remote and hands-off, prophets gave messages to kings and helped direct the course of wars and great migrations. They called down pillars of fire from the sky, shook cities to their foundations, and more. Sometimes they were taken well and obeyed; sometimes they were persecuted. And either way, what they said happened. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and many others acted thusly as spokespeople for their god.

In the New Testament, the tradition of prophecy continued. Though some Christian denominations don’t think there are prophets anymore, the New Testament quite explicitly discusses the matter. It’s not hard to find various Christian sites that discuss how to tell if someone’s really a true prophet or a false one; if you go to that link, notice please that the site simply takes for granted the idea that yes, prophets do totally exist and can be hearing from a god. And of course some denominations–notably Mormonism–wouldn’t be quite the same without their conceptualization of their leaders as automatic real live prophets.

I know what many of y’all might be asking right about now, hearing that information: why would prophets be necessary at all in a faith system whose adherents seriously think they have an intimate “relationship” with a god?

And yes, I kind of wondered too at the time why this god would need to send emissaries when we all thought he was quite capable of talking to his people himself, but even then I realized that I–a very fervent Christian–still had, despite my fervor, the most terrible luck figuring out what messages were from my god, which were from my own head, and which were from simple cultural conditioning, group hysteria, or rational biases. For all our talk of having a big cosmic purpose and of talking with our god and hearing back from him, we seemed as a group to have a tremendous amount of trouble actually hearing his voice clearly and accurately. Having someone say that this or that statement or command was coming straight from our god was very easy for us to understand, and as long as it didn’t interfere too much with what we already thought our god should say, the folks around me were all too happy to celebrate each “prophecy” as a real live miracle.

I’ll add as well that for a religion whose adherents prize blind faith and obedience over proof and critical thinking, prophets fulfill a very real function in the religion: they act as a sort of ersatz “proof” of this god’s reality and his capability to communicate. Just as demon possessions can’t possibly be real if there aren’t any demons, prophets can’t be real if gods aren’t talking to anybody. The very idea of prophecy takes totally for granted that such things are true. I think sometimes that this desperate need for evidence is why Christians tend to ignore when their “prophets” make false predictions. I know of not a single prophet who’s ever gone on record with a prediction that could actually be rigorously tested who hasn’t also been debunked–but I didn’t hear much about them till after I’d deconverted. Such debunkings didn’t fit the narrative, so they just got blithely ignored.

Nobody wanted to look too closely at the idea of prophecy itself or test it with any kind of scientific rigor, obviously.

I think that deep down we knew what we’d find if we did.

Ah, but as with everything else related to the Bible, the folks calling themselves prophets nowadays don’t even come close to the phenomenon outlined in that book.

When non-Christians hear at all about prophets in Christianity, it’s usually in the context of a prediction that prophet has very foolishly made on record. Disgraced doomsayer Harold Camping is one such person; his numerous failed predictions about the end of the world made him a laughingstock in America at least. I’ve mentioned before that another very popular prophet, Edgar Whisenant, made a prediction about the Rapture in the late 80s that actually snagged me as a convert.

The problem, of course, is that the Bible is quite clear about what happens when a prophet makes a prediction that doesn’t come true: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:22) That said, I’m sure that Pat Robertson is very glad indeed that most Christians don’t have the faintest idea what’s in the Bible, after his famous false prediction about Mitt Romney winning the 2012 election, when he said, “the Lord told me Romney will win.”

Christians don’t tend to remember those false predictions at all, any more than people who give money to psychics ever remember their false predictions–it’s such a well-known cognitive bias that it has its own name by now, the Jeane Dixon Effect (after the super-famous-at-the-time psychic Jeane Dixon, who let loose a veritable slew of predictions that largely didn’t happen). In the same way, fans of current famous psychics like the recently-deceased Sylvia Browne don’t even notice that their accuracy rate is barely that of random chance. Given that there doesn’t seem to be anything supernatural “out there” communicating with anybody, it shouldn’t be surprising that Christian psychics–er, prophets–are any different at all. Derren Brown, a well-known British debunker, did a very good documentary about how he pretended to be a prophet and miracle worker–and Christians ate it up with a spoon for the most part. Here’s an entire Wikipedia page just about the various Christian prophecies that didn’t come true.

What’s funny is that Christians–especially fundagelicals, who seem to me to be the most glaringly ignorant of their religion’s history–often point to the story of Jesus’ biography as told in the Gospels as if it was some massive fulfilled prophecy, which just tells me they don’t actually know what a prophecy actually is and how little they know about how their Bibles got written. We could spend a whole post on this subject alone, but I’ll just let it go at this: No, Jesus’ life is not actually evidence of any fulfilled prophecy, because 1) the New Testament was written decades after Jesus’ supposed death, not before it, so we don’t actually know how much the writers heard before his birth; 2) the events in his life do not have external corroboration, so this is a bit like using Harry Potter books to prove Harry Potter is real; 3) even if by wildest coincidence the Gospels are even halfway correct about Jesus’ life, their authors have written about him making several false predictions, which according to Deut. 18:22 makes him, at best, a false prophet. Also 4) Quite a few of those “prophecies” are very obviously mistranslations and misunderstandings of the Old Testament verses that were getting shoehorned into his biography. So basically, people writing about a character who lived decades previously and who didn’t understand much about their source material could make up whatever they wanted–and did. We’ll come back to this idea at some point soon because I find it interesting, but the idea I want to convey here is that there has never been a single confirmed prediction made via prophecy that can be definitively put down to a supernatural agent’s influence.

I don’t normally talk that much about false prophets. I certainly could; there’s enough of them to fill a blog all by themselves. I just view such charlatans as low-hanging fruit, not really worth discussion. Most of them are well aware of how risky it is to put specifics into their “prophecies” and stick to the other side of being a prophet–general exhortations and vaguely-worded sort-of-predictions that could mean just about anything. There’s much less risk of being proven wrong that way. Most of them try hard not to ping outsiders’ radar too much.

As approaches go, this more cautious approach gets received about as well as the bolder predictions anyway. When I was Christian, I belonged to a church that took prophecy very seriously. At many revival services–and quite a few regular Sunday night services (those were the ones that got rowdy at my church; the morning services were usually fairly subdued and staid)–there’d be this ominous, swelling silence that’d spontaneously arise during a service, and then a minute or so later someone would stand and yell very loudly in tongues (glossolalia). This yelling was very different from how people normally spoke in tongues; speaking in tongues was supposed to be part of one’s private prayers, not something one exhibited for crowds. But “a gift of tongues” was meant for a group, and it always had to be interpreted. It was also at least in theory a real live language, one living or dead, though in practice it always came out sounding exactly like what you’d imagine a lower-class uneducated Houstonian in the 1980s/90s would sound like trying to imitate what they thought was Hebrew or Arabic (by way of King James Version English cadence, of course, and often right down to the totally misused “selahs”).

So we’d wait and pray and be all oogly-boogly and wild-eyed–OMG OUR GOD WAS TALKING TO US RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND–and then at some point somebody would stand up and give the “translation” to the “tongues.” I do not remember a single one of these “gifts” to be anything really important or ground-breaking. Usually they were vague warnings of future difficulties or exhortations to hold true to the Cross or something. Afterward we’d all party and dance and yell anyway.

That’s the kind of prophecy you run into more often in Christendom nowadays–overwrought, histrionic drivel like this, from one of these self-appointed panderers prophets, Chuck Pierce:

The confrontation of the enemy is at hand. You must be filled with praise to enter into that conflict ahead. War is stirring in your midst. War is rising. Unless I rise and inhabit your praises, you will not be able to praise in the midst of the conflicts ahead. I am calling you into a place, and I am going before you so that I am waiting to give you victory. I will establish Myself in your midst. When your conflicts arise, praise Me, and I will assure you of victory in your wars ahead.

I’m not exaggerating here: this exact (and meaningless, and beyond pointless) “prophecy” was something I could have heard back in my old Pentecostal church at any point in my years in that denomination.

It simply amazes me that once I used to think this kind of blather was a real, live communication from a divine being to his awed children.

Pandering to Christian persecution fantasies never gets old to them,, and “war is stirring” rhetoric  certainly isn’t going to be a surprise to anybody. But I can easily guess why Mr. Pierce has to hedge his bets and be as vague as he can; he’s certainly been peddling and pandering with his vague little “prophecies” for a while now. He claims–just like any cable-TV-infomercial psychic might–that he’s had remarkable success with his prophecies, such as predicting Hurricane Sandy (but weirdly, his god was silent about all those other bad storms like the one that did so much damage in Japan, and speaking of which, did you hear any prophets predicting the hurricane before it hit, when people could actually do something to prepare for it? Yeah, me either). I’m not saying this to be mocking the guy, though mockworthy he truly is: I read the previous link a few times and all I got out of it was him gloating about how he’d supposedly predicted the hurricane and doing generic rah-rah for himself. Reminds me of those twits who “like” their own Facebook comments.

Are churches actually paying this doofus to squint at them and intone magic utterances at them? Oh yes, they are. This guy makes a living lying his ass off for Jesus. The cool part about being a “prophet” is that you’re not required to be accurate or even make predictions; you don’t have to be a skilled public speaker or even a nice person to be around, because prophets have a reputation in the religion for being a little weird. If you have no other marketable skills but have the ability to speak in riddles and sound earnest, you too can be a prophet!

I would like to point out here that it was realizing that none of these so-called “prophets” ever actually came up with anything really noteworthy that was part of my eventual waking-up from Christianity. The second one of them foolishly went on record with anything specific that actually could be tested, the prophecy turned out to be false. And Christians would just conveniently ignore that false prophecy and the charlatan could continue on the evangelism route, confident that nobody important would ever hold his or her feet to the fire.

Still, they know it’s better not to get too specific, just in case. Normally they do what Chuck Pierce does and try to be as urgently vague as possible. Otherwise they come out with eye-bulging inanity like this (emphasis mine):

The Lord showed me after the first three years into President Obama’s first term, America’s covenant alignment would polarize and the America as we know would no longer exist but begin to fade quickly. That occurred in May, 2011. President Obama made a statement that was overlooked by most that set all of this in motion. Next, He showed me that by within three years (by May 31, 2011), a statement would be made regarding Israel in this nation that would realign the nation and determine the future of this land. (With President Obama’s speech of mid-May 2011 endorsing the Palestinians’ demand for their own state based on borders that existed before the 1967Middle East war, I believe that statement was made (this returns us to the warfare dimension of that season and time in U.S. History!) I sense that three years into this last term there was a shift to turn America from its current covenant aligned form into a new form. I then saw a massive storm hitting the East Coast. This storm would be sent as a sign for this shift that would come on the East coast and water would cover Atlantic City.

I saw that and literally just groaned on his behalf. (He is Chuck Pierce–a fundagelical. He cannot groan. So I groan for him.) Do you see what happened in this quote? This is a “well if I don’t say so myself” self-done back-patting, nothing more. And of course his “prophecy” involves Atlantic City. That’s like Jerusalem for fundagelicals, right?

Oh, it gets so much worse. This prediction came from shortly after the 2012 elections, when fundagelicals were all convinced the end of the world was at hand because the Scary Black Muslim Atheist Kenyan Space Alien got re-elected; Chuck Pierce uses rhetoric that wouldn’t sound out of place at all in a Chick Tract:

Then He showed me high places. These were altars that had been built by the enemy and positioned strategically throughout the land. I saw how the sacrifices on these altars were empowering and keeping an atmosphere held captive by ruling hosts. Next, the Lord showed me the atmosphere. In this vision, He showed me different layers of the atmosphere in relationship to His presence versus the demonic spiritual rule in that particular area or region. (Some areas have already been taken over, and darkness actually rules those areas.) There were 10 ruling centers already developed within the United States. Then He showed me the communication systems between these centers. I saw how one sacrifice empowered one dimension of an evil presence, and then that presence would communicate to another center as together they networked their plan of control. (I could go into great detail here, but I will wait for another time to do this. As a matter of fact, I believe it would be unwise to share everything I saw. In the next book when we are dealing with worship, perhaps I will share more.)

Oh my, he’s going to share dangerous, secret knowledge in a book “dealing with worship”? I didn’t hang around the Music Ministry offices enough, clearly. That sounds like some next-level shit, right there. I’m down with that. But we know it won’t be like that at all. This is just a desperate ploy to sell books.

I don’t think fundagelical “prophets” like him even really think this stuff through. Why is his god so worried about America’s elections when half the planet is at war and children are starving all over it? Ebola is cutting a swathe through West Africa, but American politics is just so much more of a priority? Seriously, I’m not even kidding around here: how narcissistic are modern American fundagelicals? Because every damned time I think someone has won the prize, another entry rolls in to top the previous big winner. These totally out of whack priorities remind me of the weird hypocrisy of those beefy, corn-fed Bubba Christians who are absolutely convinced that their god earnestly cares about who wins the local high school foobaw game. I mean, really when you get down to it, America’s just one country, and we’re doing pretty well all things considered. But fundagelicals–who seem to regard America as a new incarnation of Israel, and themselves as their god’s Chosen People 2.0–don’t even stop to wonder why their conceptualization of deity gives a third of a shart about momentary, fleeting current events in the face of serious need in this world. It’s like all that suffering doesn’t even matter. I just don’t know how someone can be that immoral and egocentric.

There’s something so cheap, so obviously fake, about Christian “prophets.” So dollar store. So Wal-Mart. Slickly-packaged, airbrushed, blow-dried, sequined, glittery, loud, over-salted, swaggering hucksters, the lot of them. Only the spiritually-blind could ever mistake this performance art for anything divine.

And if I sound a little wistful or sad, then you may rest assured that it is because I am; I am sad that Christians have sold themselves so cheaply and are as gullible as they are, and wistful to realize that there really aren’t any real prophets, not really. I’m about as friendly to the idea of spirituality as someone can get, but grifter conjob bastards like these make me realize anew that there simply is no evidence for a single bit of any of it.

Whatever is out there, it either does not or cannot communicate with us; we are on our own.

There’s a sweet simplicity to that.

I’d rather just go with the idea that humanity is on its own than give a single second more attention to the charlatans who claim to speak for the supernatural. It is nothing but a waste of time to do more than the bare minimum required to debunk their claims. They drag humanity back; they spend our precious finite moments lying to people and stroking egos and feeding paranoia and outraging fears. Since these hucksters lack the capacity to feel shame for what they are doing, it is upon the rest of us to deny them soapboxes and funding for their lies and self-serving blather, and to call attention to their predations.

“Prophets” are another symptom of the sickness that is fundagelical Christianity. As the religion’s adherents get more and more desperate for some kind of sign that their god is real and communicating with them, we’ll see more and more of them.

(H/t for original linkie from Right Wing Watch.)

Posted in Biography, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Interlude: The White Man’s Flag.

I can’t stop myself from briefly stepping back from our regularly-scheduled posts to add my wholehearted support for the people who are facing police brutality and oppression in Ferguson. It dismays me that so little has changed from decades past. There’s been a lot of ink spilled of late about it, but this post here really solidified a lot of things for me. I was shocked reading it–but grateful, too, that the person who wrote it did so.

I couldn’t help but remember something that happened to me a long time ago, as I read that post. You see, in 1992 or so, I was working in Houston at a print shop. I was still very Pentecostal. I still remember I was wearing my favorite plaid jumper that day (for the Brits reading this, I mean a skirt-with-sleeveless-blouse-attached sort of dress that you’re meant to wear a shirt under)–it was one I’d sewn myself, Black Watch plaid, and a white mock-turtleneck that I wore with pretty much everything like it was the fundie Garanimals.

That afternoon a gangly young African-American man about my age came in to buy stamps. Though I didn’t normally handle register stuff, I happened to be waiting for a big print job to finish, so I grabbed him a book of them out of the drawer.

He accepted them from me, but then he looked at the book of stamps and an expression of unmitigated hatred and disgust came over his face. It was the most palpable expression of emotion I think I’d ever seen, an honest and completely genuine, unprovoked response. He wasn’t doing this reaction to get a rise out of me. He really hated that book of stamps.

“Is everything okay?” I asked, suddenly very concerned.

He startled as if suddenly becoming aware again that another person was standing nearby. He flashed me the book of stamps and shrugged and shook his head. “That’s a white man’s flag,” he said under his breath.

That’s when I noticed that the stamps depicted the United States flag.

A lot of things went through me right then.

I was hurt he’d say that. Angry. Offended. I grew up military and there ain’t much that unites most military folks–brats and servicepeople alike–as much as respect for the flag. I didn’t know what to say.

In retrospect, I’m touched that he felt comfortable telling me such a thing. I’m about as white as it gets–light-blue eyes, blonde hair, freckles, paler than milk most of the time, and wearing a plaid jumper that day, for chrissakes. Maybe he felt bold because I’m a woman so maybe facing oppression just like he was, or maybe because I was close to his age, or because I didn’t come across like a managerial type (I was the manager of my little corner of the shop; I just didn’t dress like it because this was a college shop and fancy clothes were considered too corporate for the market). But at the time, I didn’t have any idea how to respond. I was young, and I’d never encountered anything like this situation.

Finally I said, as gently as I could, “It’s your flag too, you know. People of all races have died for that flag. It’s every American’s flag.”

He just shrugged. I don’t think he believed me. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder but I sensed that wouldn’t be welcome. I wanted to tell him I was so very sorry that he felt that way, but I didn’t know how to say it without coming off like a jackass. I could tell he was trying to find some way to put into words how he felt as well. We were both struggling to find some way to meet across a gigantic divide. We both spoke English, but the words of that language seemed so inadequate right then. We were both Americans, but our worlds were totally different.

We stood there together like that, heads awkwardly bent over the book of stamps, till my printer screeched at me and I had to run to fetch my print job before paper went everywhere. The regular cashier showed up and that was that.

I still have no idea what the “right” response would have been–if there’d even been one. Maybe there wasn’t and that was the whole problem.

Over time I would learn that why yes, it’s not that unreasonable for someone like that young man to feel that way about the American flag–about nationalistic American ideals themselves–that seem like they belong to and encompass everybody but him. That’s why I’m bringing up the incident now: to tell you that sometimes it takes something startling like that to wake someone up to what’s happening. That’s what woke me up.

And white America does definitely need an awakening.

Oh, we talk a big damn game about equality and liberty for all, but we live in a country where many Black mothers have to teach their children how not to get shot by cops when (not if, when!) they get profiled. I don’t know about y’all, but I missed that lecture. Maybe it was between the ones about my first period and how to correctly load a dishwasher.

I also missed how to accept mistreatment from the police and how to best abase myself before oppressive white people so they wouldn’t see me as a threat. I never learned that police could hurt me worse than any citizen or that the justice system would always see me as less than human so I had to step extra-careful and doubly-gently as other races do. I never saw people want to kill me for my race, or had to learn how to bottle up my rage and anger to react nonviolently; as a white person, nonviolence is just part of how I handle things, and as angry as misogynists and forced-birthers make me, I have never even once thought about reacting to them with violence. I’ve never had to suppress that urge on a systemic level; I can’t tell you how horrified I am that anybody in this country actually has to do so.

What’s happening in Ferguson this week is nothing less than an atrocity–the inevitable boiling-up of decades of a simply sickening, dehumanizing level of pandering and race-baiting and fearmongering against an oppressed group that has been kicked every single which way but Sunday and have finally had it up to here.

As for that young man I met so long ago, I still remember his face and the sullen tone of his voice–like he’d been daring me to say something, like maybe I was the first white person he’d ever said that sort of thing to and he was testing the idea. When I hear about racism, I think about him and about what he said that hot late-summer afternoon. A week previously I’d heard some church friends complain about the Black Student Union and wonder aloud why we didn’t have a White Student Union (and this was in the early-90s, let me reiterate–though I read the same thoughtless, blithe bit of privilege-blindness not even a week ago online). Now I was suddenly realizing why we needed the one but not the other. I don’t know who that man was or where he is now, but his words have always stayed with me.

I don’t want that kind of statement to be true. I don’t want my flag to be a white man’s flag. I don’t want it to be a symbol of oppression. I hate thinking that it certainly seems to be that way sometimes. Here we are. This injustice simply can’t stand. It can’t go on like this. We need a real change, not just posturing, not just gestures. This racism and endemic injustice simply cannot be just the accepted way of things. Mothers and fathers should never have to teach their children how to endure injustice in the name of keeping them alive a little longer. Children should never fear their own police. Citizens should not ever fear their own criminal justice system.

And nobody should be pushed so fucking hard that violence becomes the last resort, the last scream, the last gasp, the last blazing flame of humanity’s spirit before it dies, the last attempt to gain a single inch against a system that has been set against someone his or her whole fucking life.

You see this flag? This is everybody’s flag. This is that young man’s flag, and mine, and every other American’s. This flag means justice for all. It means equality of all citizens. It means liberty. It means us, together, united, for all, holding hands, making a better country.

It is obscene to talk about “good things coming out of” something like what’s happening in Ferguson. Obscene. Cruel. Unthinkable. Inhuman. We shouldn’t have had to get this far before a real discussion about racism emerged in this country. We’re here now, though. What will we do about it? If we finally get to the point where those in the dominant group are willing to take a serious look at what’s going on, then at least we’ll have salvaged something out of this stinking pile of festering evil. White people have had the luxury of ignoring that evil. It didn’t impact us. We could afford to allow this shadow-America to happen. But Black people have had to navigate around it their every waking day. Now we know, collectively, what’s happening. We can’t just ignore it anymore. This injustice, this shadow-America, it can’t stand. It can’t stand, do you hear me?

Not under this flag.

Flag of the United States of America

Flag of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted in Biography, Off-Topic, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

When Sounding Deep Is Good Enough.

A couple of years ago, a young Christian fellow named Jefferson Bethke uploaded a video onto his YouTube account called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus“. It got the attention of an awful lot of Christians, quickly amassing–as of this writing–almost 28 million views. I noticed that his work’s been making the rounds again, so I wanted to talk about it today and why I don’t think it’s nearly as impressive as his fans think it is.

The video–and the ones that followed it–epitomized that “more hardcore than thou” mindset that pervades a certain segment of its adherents. In this way, little has changed over the years. Even when I was in the religion, everybody I knew competed and vied to be the most spiritual–the most Jesus-filled–the most “on fire”–the most sanctified–the most joyous–the most hardworking–the most prayerful–the most zealous–the most pious. Even though I had some hard limits about what I’d say or do to further what I thought of as “the Kingdom,” even I couldn’t avoid that mindset.

English: George C. Tso Memorial Chapel has bee...

English: George C. Tso Memorial Chapel has been used by the Emmanuel Church for its regular religious service since 17 December 2006. The photo shows the first day of the service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even though none of us really had any idea what we were doing any more than Christians today do, we all learned how to put on a good show of lofty spirituality. And nothing epitomized that facade more than claiming with earnest wide eyes and chirpy intonation that Christianity wasn’t a religion, it was a relationship. Oh, did we ever get some mileage out of that meaningless, empty platitude. Saying it got us at least fifty points in the “more hardcore than thou” game. This pious declaration was also a great comeback to those people who tried to get out of being witnessed at by saying they weren’t “religious.” Oh, that’s fine, because you see, neither am I, we could say, and get our foot wedged into a closing door. Dishonesty is okay if it’s all for a good cause, right? (Oh wait.)

Now, obviously and even on the face of it this assertion is total bullshit. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to know that Christianity is most definitely a religion. It fits every single facet of the definition of the word no matter what (reputable) dictionary you consult. Humanity would know absolutely nothing about Christianity without a religion fostering and propagating those claims. Disavowing the dogmatic, practice-oriented side of the religion seems rather self-serving. It was one of those ways that I–and the Christians around me–had redefined the word “religion” as well as the word “relationship.” I’m not the only ex-Christian who deconverted and immediately felt like an idiot when I finally realized that I’d made and built up this fake relationship with a fake person in my head like Jesus was my waifu. (That’s a good band name, isn’t it?)

And so now we have Jefferson Bethke doing the same thing I did 20+ years ago and thinking it’s some brand-new thing that he’s just now figured out.

If you’re wondering who he is, he’s a very earnest and–as if we needed to clarify this point–young fellow with a goofy, boyish Kirk Cameron grin and a burden for “teaching” people his view of Christianity. If you want more than that, you are on your own. His biography page is a masterful bit of evasion. I don’t really give a shit what his favorite cereal is, that he runs a candle company, or anything about his hard-on for the Narnia series. I don’t even care who he’s married to or what cre8ive name he gave his kid. I’d rather know how long he’s been a Christian and what his educational background is, especially as touching theology. That he omits all of these details from his biography tells me that he is well aware that if he revealed them too widely, they would detract from his message. And if he weren’t trying to persuade people to adopt his ideology, I wouldn’t care about those glaring omissions quite so much.

If his educational background, age, and time spent in the religion might alienate potential book-buyers and fans, then it’s no wonder at all that he conceals this little bombshell: not only does he identify as a conservative Christian, but as of this link’s creation was apparently a member of Mars Hill–the church led by the disgraced Mark Driscoll! Seriously, can we AVOID that guy for two frickin’ posts?!?

Yeah, it does seem like the guy who says he hates religion is indeed a member of a very regimented, authoritarian church. The guy who asserts that Jesus would never tell single mothers that they’re worthless if they’ve been divorced attends a church run by a total misogynist–a church that practices shunning and whose abusive, controlling disciplinary practices have shocked people all over America. The guy who insists that Jesus says “son” instead of “slave” and that grace is “addictive” to him goes to a church that preaches Calvinism, which has to be the most sociopathic, callous, and evil flavor of Christianity there is (it teaches that the Christian god only wants to save certain people from eternal torture, and everybody else will burn in Hell forever at his will, and it produces exactly the sort of Christians you’d expect). It’s a glaring–and disturbing–omission to discover.

After his first video about hating religion went viral, I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to know that he wrote a book that seems to have sold fairly well; the reviews I saw of it on Amazon indicate that most of the Christians reading it simply adore it. Fundagelicals absolutely eat it up with a spoon because it tells them exactly what they like to hear (that they are a relationship-not-a-religion)–and I’ve seen a number of puff pieces with softball “tough questions” for Mr. Bethke to answer, none of which are actually tough or produce any clarity about how his views actually look in action. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to talk much at all about that aspect of his ideology. It is best viewed at a distance through many layers of gauzy tissue, and not studied too hard or questioned too much.

After that viral video, it didn’t take Mr. Bethke long to figure out Christianese, incidentally. For all his hatred of “religion,” by which he apparently means organized Christianity (I don’t think he’s even aware that other religions exist), I didn’t have to hear him talk for more than 30 seconds before pegging him as a fundagelical, conservative Christian.His speech is filled with the usual memes and catchphrases that ultimately mean nothing and aren’t supported by the Bible, like his conceptualization of Jesus as a sweet, attentive boyfriend who wants his followers to have self-esteem and happiness. If  you want to play a fun (but potentially life-threatening) drinking game, take a shot every time he says the word “just” in any of his videos. It’s just so frequent how he just talks so much just like just that just just just just *FLOOR*

It’s weird how a guy who eschews “religion” could talk exactly like someone who is deeply enmeshed in his religion’s popular right-wing culture. His blog contains the usual talking points interspersed with that peculiar fetishizing of “true love in the dark”-style sex that you really only see out of young fundagelical Christian men who haven’t been married very long but who are absolutely convinced that they know exactly how to be married the right way (in his case, about a year as a husband is all it took for him to be able to declare definitively that sex outside of marriage is horrible and destructive and evil and nasty and ickie for everybody). Remembering what sex was like for me, I feel distinctly uncomfortable listening to young Christian men crowing about how their sex is the bestest ever because Jesus. Indeed, he careens from asserting in one video that women have intrinsic value to declaring in the very next breath that masturbation is some great harmful thing for men, that pornography is responsible for sexual assaults (likely inaccurate), and that he thinks that a sexually permissive society will lead to us seeing more assaults on women (dafuq did I just read). Yeah, I saw a downright disturbing number of videos about sex on that channel for a guy who sees it as his cosmic purpose to “teach” people about how evil religion is, but he is, when it’s all said and done, a fundagelical Christian; I think they take away your fundie card if you don’t casually interject yourself into other people’s intimate lives, judge other people’s sexual expression, and carelessly assert that your view of sexuality is not only the best view but also the only valid one at all.

Really, this guy isn’t different at all from all the other bright-eyed, ignorant Christians out there trying to sell a religious viewpoint under false pretenses as if this is the very first time anybody’s ever said these things. Now that we know all of that, let’s take a look at his new video, “Why Jesus Still Hates Religion (And You Should Too).” It’s not actually super-new, but again, it seems to have caught on with folks lately so that’s why we’re talking about it now. Some of the big criticisms I saw of his first video were that it was childishly-simplistic, overly-generalizing, and largely ignorant of Christian theology history. Let’s watch together and see if he’s learned anything in the last two years. C’mon, it isn’t long.

I’m not really good at discerning the difference between just a spoken video and a poem or a rap or whatever, but it’s just a video of (I assume) Bethke talking in a serious, earnest tone of voice as he writes what he’s saying on a big sheet of white paper with a black marker. After each page is filled he starts a new page. He’s got decent handwriting, at least.

The first bit is about how people tend to compete with each other and lord it over each other. I’m guessing he’s going to use that as a launching-pad to say that his version of Christianity doesn’t do that. But I just spent like 600 words up at the beginning of this post talking about how they do indeed do that. And it’s hard to escape the idea that Mr. Bethke himself is competing–just in a slightly different game whose rules he’s set up to benefit himself and help himself win. Every single time he makes a video, he’s asserting his superiority over all those other worldly, religious Christians. He, you see, has a relationship. All of those other Christians, they just have a religion, bless their cotton socks.

About a minute in, he begins talking about doctrinal points that Christians use to divide themselves–“conservative vs. liberals,” “Calvinists vs. Arminians,” etc. Again, this is a little weird and uncomfortable considering he is conservative and he is Calvinist. He correctly realizes that nobody but Christians care about these distinctions, but he phrases it thusly (capitals are his own): “As if the world DYING outside really CARES.” (Sometime I’m going to have to ask The Apostate why Calvinists even bother caring about evangelism if everybody’s pre-ordained to go to Heaven or Hell. If this were CinemaSins, I suspect we’d be up to an embarrassing number of sins considering the length of this video.)

Then he tears up that last page and begins trying to make a picture out of all the shreds. Finally he ends with a > sign and the words “Jesus” and “religion” appear on either side of it. Haha! See? I get it! It’s the name of his book! Jesus > Religion! Soooo clever. Then it ends with an admonishment about a date and a TV-streaming Christian website where I assume something is going to happen that is somehow related to the book. As he says in his “about” blurb beneath the video, this was a teaser trailer for something. That’s it; that’s where it ends.

Okay, I am completely confuzzled here.

I’m not sure this young man actually knows how to construct a compelling argument. This was a minute-and-a-half of catchphrases and emotional manipulation. The title is “Why Jesus Still Hates Religion (And You Should Too),” but Mr. Bethke neither explained why Jesus hates religion nor why anybody else should leap to that conclusion. He says he wanted it to “spark thought, emotion, and conversation,” but that’s just a copout. He makes a few generalized statements about how bad he thinks it is that people divide themselves up into tribes, seems to be declaring that all tribes are bad based on his own limited life experiences (no really, every sociological or cultural inference I’ve seen him make derives either from his time in high school or from those aforementioned fundagelical talking-points), and then declaring by fiat that Jesus is superior to shredded paper and religion.

I felt like he was making one of those “arguments from X” arguments: “My poorly-conceptualized idea of religion is bad because I say it is: therefore you should all start believing like I do!”

I probably don’t need to mention that he never explains how he knows that Jesus hates religion. From what I remember, the character didn’t like hypocrites much, but he said repeatedly that he wasn’t on Earth to repeal the Law, which of course means the religion of Judaism; moreover, he established the Church itself before he died, according to the Gospels. If you use miracles as a barometer of divine approval, then in the Bible’s myths the earliest evangelists in the religion certainly got miracles aplenty to help them propagate it–and they were propagating a religion, make no mistake of it; their earliest arguments were over doctrinal points and rules, not about how to best cuddle their boyfriend!Jesus.

Mr. Bethke’s theology is as childish and as overly-simplistic as it was two years ago. He’s convinced that if he just sounds earnest and Christian-y enough, that’s all he needs to do. If he sounds deep, then obviously he must actually be deep. Being a spark doesn’t carry any responsibility at all for proving one’s point. It’s irresponsible. If he thinks religion is bad because it introduces tribalism into groups, then it’s on him to make that case.

See, not all tribes are bad. Military forces are a type of tribe. So are charity groups like Doctors Without Borders. The ex-Christians I hang out with could be considered another, as could Bronies (those way-too-old-for-this-stuff folks who love that My Little Pony cartoon show). Just because he wants to set up his own tribe–that of “relationship-not-religion” believers like him versus those nasty evil ickie “religion-not-relationship” believers that apparently infest the religion–doesn’t mean his tribe is better. I don’t think he realizes that tribes can accomplish a lot that their members can’t really do by themselves. That’s an objective truth that he might be entirely too inexperienced to comprehend quite yet.

One thing that really disturbs me about the “relationship” Christians like him is that their vision of Christianity is entirely unfettered by anything even remotely objective. They don’t know much theology and doctrine–and if they did, they’d probably reject it anyway. That leaves a lot of leeway for abusive practices and beliefs to creep into their worldview. That doesn’t mean that Mr. Bethke is a bad person at all–but it means that his context-free vision of Christianity is even more unrooted and vulnerable to errors than the regular sort. We’re tribal creatures whether we like that fact or not, and we really do depend on each other to regulate ourselves and keep ourselves from straying too far from decency and goodness. That may well be how a nice-if-paternalistic young man like him ended up at Mars Hill; he might not even realize just how bad that place and its leader really are or how beyond-antithetical they are to his vision of Christianity because he’s basically sailing an ocean without an astrolabe.

I’d like to close with one final observation. I noticed that comments about his videos and writing frequently include some reference to how overly-religious Christians drive people away from Christianity. I’d like to say that nothing could be further from the truth. That’s just something some Christians believe. They think if they can just get back to Jesus, then we’ll all come flocking back. This comforting illusion, however, isn’t true. Such Christians can be as fake-relationship-oriented as they want, but that won’t magically make their claims objectively true. I spent quite some time trying to do exactly that before realizing that my “relationship” was a figment of my overactive imagination, and that the closer I got to “Jesus” the more abuse I suffered and witnessed. That’s the kind of thinking that starts cults. It seems to me that the healthiest and safest types of Christianity are the ones that root spiritual devotion into a context of community. Otherwise one runs the risk of becoming a zealot who cannot be corrected or set on a better course–you know, like Mark Driscoll.

I wasn’t intending this piece to get this long, so we’re going to break here and come back next time to talk about modern-day Christian “prophets,” who indeed cannot be corrected or set on a better course because they are convinced of something so subjective (even by religion’s loose standards) that it just can’t be disproven. Or should I call ‘em “profits?” Either way, I hope you’ll join me.

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The Christian’s Guide to Ex-Christians: The Things We Did Wrong.

English: The notion that all Mennonites would ...

English: The notion that all Mennonites would undergo a “rebaptism” completely naked is wrong. A sprinkling of water on the head was usually enough for the Believer’s baptism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve mentioned before the Pentecostal-yardstick act that erupted whenever I or someone from my church met another Christian, haven’t I? When meeting someone new, I couldn’t just be happy to know someone new and get to know that person. I had to figure out if that person needed saving–or correction on incorrect doctrinal points. Was this person Christian or not? If Christian, what sort? Did he or she believe in water baptism or sprinkling? Oneness or trinitarianism (sorry, Neil, but you were going to Hell long before you deconverted, at least according to the folks at my old church)? Holiness or worldly dress? Rapture before the Tribulation or after it or during it? This examination and comparison could get really detailed, as you can imagine. People often get way more hung up on their differences than on their similarities.

Once I deconverted, people had to figure out what I did wrong, and that effort continues to this very day. Something about coming face-to-face with an ex-Christian brings out the yardsticks in some Christians. And I know why they do it and why they must do it. I don’t hold it against them, either. They’ve been taught their entire Christian lives that anybody who rejects Christianity obviously did something wrong or weren’t really “real” Christians. So today I want to briefly talk about some of those things.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of Bible verses that Christians use to give themselves permission to mistreat others. Surely one of the worst offenders of the lot is 1 John 2:19:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Context is everything here, though. If you go read the actual chapter this verse comes from, you’ll quickly see that it is presented as part of an apocalyptic warning about that time being “the last hour,” cautioning believers about all the “antichrists” that were circulating around during those last frenetic days before Jesus’ triumphant return. It isn’t talking about people who deconvert from Christianity. It’s talking about false prophets who were pretending to be on the level and who were deceiving innocent and gullible believers by feeding them the wrong information. You’d never know this fact, though, from the Christians who use this verse to negate the life experiences of ex-Christians by claiming that clearly we had simply never “really” been Christians at all, because if we had been, we’d still be Christians. I’m pretty well-educated about flavors of this religion, and I don’t know of any Christian denominations that take that verse any other way or use it in any other way except as a way to negate ex-Christians’ experience.

The problem is that to the Christians doing this negation, Christianity is seen as a perfect system. When a system itself is regarded as perfect, then anybody who doesn’t do well with it is going to be seen as the problem. It doesn’t matter if the system is a multi-level marketing scam, an uncommon diet, or a religion, the philosophy is that “the system works, if you work the system.” Anybody who tries the system and rejects it for whatever reason simply did something wrong. And the true believers in that system feel compelled to figure out what that thing must have been. It’s a challenge to them and their ideas about this system being infallible and perfect.

It doesn’t matter if that error is really what happened; once it is arrived at and decided upon, then all the people remaining in the system can breathe easy. Hooray! Now they know what that person did wrong. Now they can all relax. They’re not doing that thing wrong, so obviously they will never leave or reject the system. Best of all, they can still believe that their system is perfect. Whew! And needless to say, whatever that error is, they are in no danger whatsoever of committing it. They would never do X. They would never fail. Ever. This works until they realize what’s going on and reject the system as well (as touching religion, I don’t know a single ex-Christian who would ever have thought before deconversion that such a thing could ever happen to him or her).

Even weirder are the ones who give these declarations to me as if once informed of what I’ve so obviously done wrong, I will immediately gasp and cry out “Oh wow! I never thought of that!” and reconvert, this time dedicated to doing everything right so I don’t stray ever again. These sorts of scenes are famous in romance novels–“What?!? You really did that bizarre thing because you totally were in love with me and I just misconstrued everything?!? I had no idea!” the heroine cries, and swoons into her misunderstood sheik’s/playboy’s/Highlander’s/pirate’s arms, now that the confusion has been cleared up with a denouement scene that explains everything. Such dramatic denouements are a little less common–and plausible–in real life.

So yes, total strangers have taken it upon themselves to inform me of what I obviously must have done wrong to make me reject Christianity. They all present their theories to me as if they were the very first people to ever do so, and yes, it is hard not to roll my eyes or reply sarcastically to their earnest declarations of psychic ability and prescience. It’s nothing more than an attempt of Christian cold reading, after all; they’re making guesses and hoping that something sticks. That’s all I can fathom after surveying the list of mistakes they are convinced I made as a Christian:

* I wasn’t liberal enough. I was too literalist.

* I didn’t attend church enough so my discipling suffered. I attended too much and missed the “relationship” part of Christianity.

* I got sideswiped by the misogynistic elements in Christianity and became too complementarian. I got seduced by feminism and became too egalitarian.

* I had too many friends who were in the wrong denominations and they got me all confused. I had too many friends exactly like me so I lived in an echo chamber.

* I didn’t speak in tongues often enough. I spoke in tongues at all.

* I didn’t pray enough. I prayed too much and didn’t read the Bible enough.

* I didn’t study the Bible enough. I got too caught up in studying the Bible.

* I didn’t have enough mentors so I gave myself too much authority to work out Christian concepts. I had too many authority figures around me so I never figured out things for myself.

It gets downright insulting when they go into “you never really really really loved Jesus” territory, when I know that I did. I was 100% totally in love with this nonexistent, mythical character, obsessed with finding him, obsessed with reaching him and communicating with him and touching him and knowing him. Any One Direction fangirl understands exactly what sort of “relationship” I built up with this character. That’s why I kept plunging into ever-more-perilous waters–that’s why I stayed in the religion as long as I did. I wish Christians knew how destructive and counterproductive such accusations are, and how genuinely unloving it is to accuse someone of such a thing. It’s so easy to find out if I did or didn’t love Jesus just like they do now: they could just ask. But they never do. They always just assume. I guess that the nice thing about assumptions is that the people most guilty of making them don’t often feel the need to challenge them. And nobody likes to think that it’s more than possible to love someone or something that turns out to be a mistake later. In that kind of Christianity, nobody is allowed to change their minds.

Such Christians will also ignore entirely my insistence that no, actually it wasn’t “bad Christians” that made me deconvert. It wasn’t any bad treatment I ever got from any Christian, though it’s telling that this becomes the go-to excuse I get from them; even they know that a lot of Christians mistreat people. Nor was the problem inadequate parking, too many sports activities on Sunday, or any of the other insultingly superficial excuses I hear from Christians trying to explain these deconversions. But even after I say so, these Christians remain utterly convinced of whatever easy, glib explanation they think they’ve come up with–excuses that they themselves would never find satisfactory, but which they think they can pin onto me like I’m some kind of idiot or fool.

You see what I mean? When Christians are presented with the exact same ex-timony (that’s a word some of us ex-Christians use to describe the story of how we deconverted), this is the sort of bullshit I get back from the ones who desperately need to find something, ANYthing, that they can use to negate what I have to say. And not a single Christian has come up with the real reason: because I discovered that Christianity wasn’t true, and I couldn’t be part of a group that treated people the way so many Christians treat people if its claims weren’t true.

I find these assertions to be insulting to my intelligence and integrity as a human being. The people saying this stuff don’t care about what I have to say; they just want to dismiss me. They don’t care about really communicating and conversing with me; they just need to negate me so they can continue to feel correct and smug in their bubbles, and that’s all they’re in the whole discussion to do.

(Saddest of all are the people who failed to live according to a system but who still believe wholeheartedly in its value and truth; they beat themselves up for failing to live up to those ideals, never even realizing how flawed those ideals truly are. Or those people who don’t realize that if a system was genuinely perfect, that it would never produce so many perceived failures.)

Like the fact of evolution confounds a literalist view of the Bible’s creation myths, the fact of ex-Christians’ existence confounds a literalist view of 1 John 2:19. If evolution really happened, then the creation myths simply could not. If I am an ex-Christian and did everything right, then the standard interpretation of 1 John 2:19 can’t be true. Christians’ negation of my story says more about them than they do about any ex-Christian. It took me a long time to figure that out. It wasn’t about me, it was about them and their need to believe in something they think is true even at the expense of treating another person with disrespect. I consider these constant attempts to negate ex-Christians’ life experiences to be one of the black marks against the religion as a whole; way too many Christians simply can’t accept that the system won’t work for everybody. This phenomenon–which just about all ex-Christians have experienced, by the way–is a symptom of the sickness of the religion.

I wish Christians would quit trying to psychoanalyze me or ferret out some secret reason why I deconverted and just trust that I read all the right books. I did all the right things. I prayed enough. I read the Bible. I attended church. I was sufficiently gung-ho about Jesus. I lived the way they think Christians should live. I knew about a number of Christian faith systems and if I’d thought there were any redeeming features to the religion, I could have made it work somehow. But I didn’t see any.

What I have to say now matters more than figuring that stuff out anyway. When someone’s that focused on finding out what I did wrong, I know that person is desperate to find some easy way to negate me. That person isn’t wanting a real conversation, but rather to find something to use against me.

And I don’t think that’s very loving. Considering the stakes for Christians if they don’t behave lovingly toward their neighbors, I’d say there’s a cause for concern here.

I’m leading into this topic because next time I want to talk about this idea of “loving” Jesus, especially with regard to having left Christianity. That guy who did the popular “it’s a relationship” video a while ago has been rearing his head again on the tubes, and I think it’s time to take a look at the topic. See you next time!

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