nashville-statement

The Nashville Statement – revealing the chaff among you

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, then you know that I’ve long believed that the Christian church in it’s many forms was on the way out. It’s death throws being sung by the disgruntled generations which cannot stomach theological ideas that are misaligned with their Jerry Falwell inspired version of the American Christian Gospel.  If you don’t know what I mean by that, then you are the subject of this post. The Nashville Statement, which you can read here is a cementing of the trend toward obscurity. Perhaps, and I hope this is true, it will be replaced with a better church.

The Nashville Statement is in no way new. We’ve been watching mainline protestant denominations vote on and endorse similar statements and doctrines for ages. Somehow, this statement feels different because it crosses the borders of denominations – it’s original signers include pastors and ministers from across the board. It sends what seems to be a unified message to the world and to those who are LGBT and specifically calls out Transgender people with the notion that, “you are wrong about what you think you are, and we have all the answers.” It manages to say, to the most marginalized and endangered people in our country and our world that they don’t have a safe haven, even with Jesus.

The Nashville Statement says to the LGBT community that, while the church in all it’s denominational strife and confusion – in all that disagreement, the one thing they can agree on is you. That you are a problem.

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losing my religion

Losing at Losing my Religion – a 10 year perspective

For just over 10 years now I’ve been an atheist, an ex-Christian. After losing my religion I starting sharing the story of that journey, my difficulties with the church, and many of your stories as well. I’ve been talking privately with dozens of people ever since the first time I wrote down my story, and I’ve been touched by what it’s meant to you – and what your stories have meant to me.

During the first few years after I left the faith, I found myself driven toward kicking against the church with as much vigor as I could. I needed to see it’s defeat and I needed it to be done at my hands. I felt like everything leading up to my awakening had been a giant deception, and that was true – people, adult people – had lied to me in order to control me. They used their influence to teach me that my beliefs about god were determining factors in my eternity. I eventually modeled their behavior. I did the same thing to others. I also became as self deprecating as they were, as I learned to hate all the parts of myself that couldn’t meet the standards set forth by my benevolent but jealous god.

Eventually my vigor waned. I became more concerned about social justice; LGBT rights, the lives of black and brown people, the treachery of warmongering and death in countries inhabited by people poorer than anyone reading this can fathom, and the importance of separating church from state. It became clear to me that what was important was not my insistence on godlessness and controversy, but instead on humanity and the philosophical ideology of humanism and what reaching it’s ends would look like for underprivileged people. I thought – and maintain, that the church will destroy itself with no help from me. It will implode by the force of the immense anger and hate machine that churns inside it.

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An Odd Grief

Yesterday I found out that my father died.

All I feel is a mixture of numbness, a relief, and a very quiet sadness about what a pitiful life his was.

I don’t have any fond memories of him. I’m trying to be fair to his memory, but – my life with him was limited by the fact that he was mostly an absentee who made violent interludes into my life at his own convenience. He was an alcoholic, he was violent, he was racist, and he dedicated more of his life to finding his next stash of narcotics than to providing for those who would have depended on him had they ever been foolish enough to do so. I’m bitter at him for so much and I feel myself processing this odd grief for his life and death that I’m not properly certain how to define. I hate him, but I pity too that his life was influenced and molded by his own father who was a special sort of terror in his own right.

Writing this is – well it’s going to be shittier than my normal shit. My childhood is a dark canvas with few distinct but very vivid memories interspersed throughout. There are bits that I wonder if they aren’t fabrications of my younger mind – I wouldn’t know. The fear I had of my father made him seem like a monster to me, I wouldn’t be surprised if my imagination painted his actions more egregious than they were – I don’t know. What I don’t remember is, I believe, a result of dissociation.

(This post is not for everyone. This is a trigger warning for violence)

Recounting fuzzy memories

My mother married my father twice, she met him at her workplace and had a brief affair with him, left her then husband and then had me.  Sometime after that they divorced, she remarried again, and then divorced that husband 9 months later and married my father again. It was always confusing to me to keep up with her marriages, but the important bit is that theirs was born of an affair and was frequented by affairs.  She had two children from the previous marriage and he had one.  None involved have left uninjured from his presence, but their stories aren’t mine to tell.

Polaroids

Age: Don’t recall 8-10ish?

I found the polaroids mom used to prove that she was beaten by him. They were hidden in her little cedar keepsake box. She kept a little purse of collectible coins in there, and I liked to sneak in and look at those when she was at work. She used it as evidence to the Sheriff’s.  Best as I can recall, this has something to do with one of his stints in the county jail.

Wal-Mart

Age: 3-5ish?

My sister was frequently required to drive my dad around when he was drunk, well before she had a license.

One night she was driving him to go get a bottle of something and I was sitting in his lap.  (she would have been about 13-15)

She recalls this story much better than I.

She ran into the local Walmart, she told him she needed to make a phone call or…something.

She called the police on him and had him arrested that night so that we could have a peaceful night at home.

I’m not sure what for, but…probably for some beating or something.

I remember being scared and confused and crying.

I remember thinking, as I grew older, that I had never seen bravery like that in anyone in my life.

Renovation

Age: 9mo-1 year

My sister tells the story of one beating my mother received that resulted in the entire living room wall falling in on my bed as she protected me.

I bought the same house I grew up in, the same house this event occurred in.

It’s the only wall made of sheetrock in our home.

There are a few scars left on these walls from him.

Screwdriver

Age: prior to my birth

He always beat women, aside from the many times he had fights with his brother – beating women was what he did. He got drunk, he beat women.

I don’t know the situation around this – but at some point before I was born or just after he was beating his own sister, punching her in the face and kicking her – brutally. (I’ve seen these pictures of her pre-op and…i don’t know how he wasn’t charged with attempted murder)

My cousin, who would have been 3-4 years old at the time had to jump on him and stab him repeatedly with a screwdriver to make it stop, to save his own mother’s life.

He’s been a terror.

To every life he’s ever touched.

Seen and not heard

He believed that children were to be seen and not heard. He was his father.

He believed that never should you coddle a crying baby or child. You let them cry, if they cry too long you hit them.

I’ve been told that I was made to stop crying a number of times. I don’t know.

I do remember hearing all my life, “if you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about”

Those who know me, know how little control I have over my tears.

He got so angry at my tears.

Accidents

Age: 6 or 7

I was playing with a toy car in the living room – he was playing too. This was during a relatively calm period.

He asked me to give him the car, so I threw it at him – but I threw it too hard, and it hit him in the lip.

I saw the look on his face, but I don’t remember what happened after.

The letter B

Age: 8/9

In the third grade I received my first B on a report card.

I just want to acknowledge here that living in a violent home is hell on one’s ability to function in a learning environment.

I was riding the bus to my grandmother’s that day. His mom’s. He was living there or had remarried or something – so this is after the second divorce I guess?

On that bus ride, her’s was the very last stop. The ride was over an hour and half.

I stared at that B and played in my head how I’d talk him out of beating me for an hour and a half.

He beat me angrily. He beat me again for crying. He used a belt and he didn’t seem to ever stop.

He didn’t even let me get inside. He met me outside, he walked me around the side of my grandmother’s trailer…and he just wailed.

Escape

Children have a tendency to overhear bits of conversations that adults have and fill in the missing pieces with their best understanding. I think I did a lot of that as a child.  One of the recurring themes of my childhood was that of escape.  My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side lived in  Rome, GA and later in Cedar Bluff, AL – and during the frequent events in which my mom and I needed to escape him that’s where we would go.

For some reason one of the associations I had with my father was with a bar in Macon, GA called Whiskey River – I don’t know if maybe he went there at times and came back home ready to fight, or if maybe it was just the word whiskey that scared me, but I recall being terrified as we passed that place on the way to escape to my Aunt’s.

In 91 or 92 we moved to Rome for a short time while mom tried to start her life over. We couldn’t sell our house so we had to move back.

Hank

I used to be afraid of Hank Williams, Jr – because he looked (to me, my mother disagrees) just like my dad.

For some reason Whiskey River and Hank Williams, Jr had an association together when I was a kid? I dunno – that’s probably stupid. I was really young.

Rehab

He went to a lot of rehab.

The most successful stint was in my pre or early teen years – it was a Christian based organization (similar to Teen Challenge) which he attended for about a month before becoming the President’s right hand man. He was terribly charming when he was sober. I have few memories of him being charming, but I do remember how people just – liked him, trusted him even….

He had either been married for a few years prior to going into this, or got married shortly after to wife #4 (I count mom twice)

He stayed sober for 4-5 years. I visited he and his wife every other weekend.

Pills

(intentionally obfuscating some facts here)

In order to cover up some crimes that occurred, I recall watching him destroy thousands and thousands (4-5 gallon zip lock bags full) of narcotics at a family member’s home of wife #4. (this was prior to rehab – which I think was court ordered) He burned them in a 50 gallon barrel.

I never understood why he was at the pharmacists so much, but he was apparently distributing a lot of pills and had always had a knack for them himself.

Car Door

Age: 12ish

Wife #4 was nearly killed when he got drunk one night (prior to rehab) and repeatedly slammed her head in the car door.

WHY THE FUCK IS IT REQUIRED THAT A VICTIM PRESS CHARGES AGAINST A CRIMINAL ACTOR.

He served no time for that.

Relapse

After rehab he became a …kinda normal person. Families perplex me, I don’t understand normalcy. I realized this when I met my wife and experienced hers.

You have to remember that this man had been abusing his body with so much alcohol and narcotics his entire life (one time he tested with a BAC of .38 if I recall correctly – while still awake, I think he was even driving!) that he had created for himself a pretty serious dependency. He was always a hair’s breadth away from relapse.

He always had a misogynistic view of the world, even though he never brought any real income into the families he had (which seems to be the backbone of a lot of misogyny – breadwinning and providing security?) At least he wasn’t hitting anyone.

One day we went fishing at the river near his apartment (Section 9 housing) and a friend of his came along too. His friend packed a cooler of beer.

He resisted most of the day, but a few hours in, he made me hand him a beer.

That turned into about 30.

I didn’t see him again for about 2 years and another wife.

I don’t remember a lot about wife #5 other than maybe she wasn’t actually married to him because #4 never finalized the divorce…and she was a Jehovah’s Witness and he didn’t tolerate that very well.

Senior Year

I didn’t see or hear from him except once or twice from 15-18. (this is my best estimation of those ages).

One day I came home from school, I was getting ready to graduate and trying to figure out what to do with my life – I got off the bus (we couldn’t afford a car for me, so I used the bus), and he was sitting in my living room.

MY living room. In MY home. The place that I now felt safe.

He was talking with my mother.

He moved in that day. They were getting back together and I just needed to deal with it.

This didn’t last long, a few months. It was tense. He wasn’t drinking, he was just surfing through his previous wives to find which of them would give him a home to live in as he owned nothing and had earned nothing his entire life. He was charming when he was sober, but – I guess not charming enough to stay forever.  He eventually moved in with wife #1 after he left our house.

He immediately positioned himself as the runner of the household though. He didn’t pay any of the bills of course, he didn’t contribute to anything.

I resisted his orders, I told him no. I told him he had no right to tell me what to do.  Eventually he left. I don’t know why, I’m glad he did.

I never have felt like I could trust my mother since then. We were close prior to that.

Fragility

About 8 years ago I got a call from wife #1, whom he was living with. He’s drinking again, he’s doing pills again. He’s on enough xanax to sleep a horse.

He wants to get clean but they don’t have the resources to do it.

He’s a goddamned mess when I make my way over there.

I acquire power of attorney over him over the next couple of weeks and I submit him to an inpatient treatment facility housed in a local nursing home (less than a mile from my house)

I inform him that, under no circumstances, will he be given another opportunity to clean up using my emotional labor and energy.

This is my policy on any addict in my life.

I don’t do it twice. I can’t.

He lasts in there for two weeks – he calls me and tells me the nurses are poisoning him.

I tell him he’s full of shit,  because he is.

he begs me to remove him from the facility.

I do.

I have not spoken to him since.

– – –

Occasionally I have received calls from some hospital or nursing home, or more recently, hospice unit – to ask me something. I tell them not to bother me.
I tell them I don’t care.
I tell them.

I tell them to let him die.

They tell me it won’t be long.

One time they tell me, “He’s escaped the hospital and is walking home – it’s an hour and a half away by car”
I say, “well…let him walk”

11 months ago I sign the papers to have him cremated because “any day now.”
Never underestimate the ability of shit to stick to the bottom of your shoe.

I hate him for making me feel this way about another person.

Hate isn’t natural for me. I’m not cold.

But I’ve forced myself to not feel anything about him until now.

Odd Grief

I’m stuck here, feeling bitter and angry about a childhood I hardly remember because I know a few things about my life could be different if he’d been different. I think he could have been too, or he could have just – not procreated.

A good father in my life could have helped me avoid a child predator when I was 10.

A good father in my life could have helped me avoid the pitfalls of a fundamentalist faith, which I retreated to in order to replace him.

A good father in my life could have provided a stable income for me, safety and comfort for my mother – so she could have worked normal hours  (rather than, at times, 3 jobs). I may have been able to go to college.

I’m less angry about who he was than who he could have been, and what a waste he was.

And yet, I know that this Saturday there will be people who he nearly killed years ago talking fondly about him.

and I’m angry about those lies they’ll tell.

and I’m so goddamned angry at these tears.

 

Pushing the Gospel on Easter Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday, and outside my window I can hear birds singing through the occasional rush of cars leaving the church just down the road from my house.  In the church this was always one of those most important services of the year – I don’t know how true the statistics were, but the asses in seats always seemed to confirm that the Big Three services were Mothers Day, Easter, and whatever service your particular church had for Christmas. The Big Three because on these three days, moms and families would be more able to convince their adult children to go to church with them – and in the churches I attended, when you had a captive audience of people whose salvation was questionable you had all the reasons necessary for pushing the Gospel.

Easter always seemed to be the most obvious time for this sort of thing, but I’ve seen hellfire and brimstone preaching done in Mother’s Day services too. Some churches would have the sort of messages that would simply pull at your heartstrings and tell a story of sin and sacrifice – while others would focus on the dangers of hell.  I’ve never seen anyone pass up the opportunity to sell to the unbelieving or unchurched on these days, and if I did in my small town I think there’d be a pastor looking for work that coming Monday. Parents want their kids saved, especially older parents who are afraid they’ll miss out on the opportunity to see to it that their adult children are given the guarantee of an afterlife that isn’t full of torment – and so these opportunities are unapologetically taken.

That’s what Easter Sunday looks like in my experience; well dressed people, uncomfortable and present by coercion as relatives look on hopeful that something the preacher says will hit them in the gut just right to get them to the alter.

Good news?

By definition, the word gospel means “good news”. It’s meant to convey that Jesus himself was good news to all the world (or for your Calvinist buddies – to the Elect) by providing them with salvation by means of his sacrificial death on the cross at Calvary. The goodness in it is that all of your sin and inadequacy to meet the standard of the Law is covered by a single sacrifice of one perfect man.

Somehow, looking back, that doesn’t sound all that good to me anymore.

The prima facie belief required for the gospel to be true is actually pretty horrific. That belief is that all of mankind is wretched, from the smallest child to the kindest adult, and deserving of punishment as their creator sees fit seems like a headline from the world’s angriest newspaper. Furthermore, that you are so wondrously wretched that a perfect man must die in your place to make up for it is a horror unto itself.

Christianity posits that we are sinners. Inescapably.

This message is entirely unavoidable, so far as I can tell, within Christian tautology.

And I think you should reject it, because I think it’s a lie.  You have no basis for pushing the gospel if nothing is being cured by it.

Something better

I read somewhere that, as an adult, you should try to be the person you needed but didn’t have available to you when you were younger. If you are 20 today, be who you needed for someone else at the age of 16 – so on, so forth.

When I was 16, I desperately needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t a sinner. I desperately needed to feel adequate and worthy of my own life.  Somehow I never experienced anyone like that in my life, but I know the sort of value they would have had for me. I do try, and I’ve had the opportunity to fulfil that role a few times in my life. Nothing – ever – has been more fulfilling than loving people who believed themselves to be broken enough to tell them otherwise.

So – a new gospel:

You aren’t a sinner. Nothing about you is so broken that it required the death of a perfect man to fix. Nothing about you is so broken that it makes you less worthy of good things, but if you continue to believe that you aren’t worthy of good things – you may miss the opportunity to pursue them. Pursue good things for yourself.  Treat yourself with kindness, treat others with kindness. Do not tolerate those who refuse to do the same. We only have an instant on this planet, try to make it the best instant you can. You don’t need to be saved – you are just fine the way you are.

I think that’s good news.

Swapping Realities – God and family

Often times, when Christians leave their faith they’ll find themselves swapping realities with their loved ones. There seems to be a common phenomena of spouses and parents becoming hyper-religious as their family members become non-believers. This leads to a great deal of difficulty in conversing between the two parties.

I turned 31 two weeks ago, a fairly uneventful age with little fanfare and celebration. I didn’t actually do anything that I wanted to (I went with my wife to a thing she wanted to do…a thing that turned out to be not fun).  The day after I received a card in the mail from my mother, who – during her last visit, became very upset about the fairly recent opening up of my marriage (A topic I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time, but just don’t know where to start).

The card looked normal from the outside, your standard  birthday greeting from mother to son.  My mom has always been prone to writing little notes in cards she sends , underlining words in the text for emphasis. This was the largest note she’s ever written.

The content of the note was not particularly offensive as pleading for one’s soul can go, but she was pleading for my soul.  I hate that.

I do empathize with her fear for my eternity. I believed the same thing about her that she now believes about me, so it’s not as if I can go around pretending like I don’t know that it’s incredibly difficult for her to consider the idea that I may be destined for the fires of Hell.

My mother was a nominal Christian, at best, during my youth. I won’t bother going into all the details of her own hedonism, but it disturbed me when I was growing up as a person of great faith to bear witness to all of the things that confirmed to me that she was going to suffer at the end of her life.  It was torturous for me to consider that, and she often reminds me of the fact that I so frequently prayed for her or poured out a bottle of vodka after she came home from a night of partying.  On one hand, I was a judgmental prick – on the other, I was scared shitless for her. I often dreamed that she had died in a car accident on her way home from a bar some Friday night and didn’t have the opportunity to “make things right” with her creator.

My mother and I swapped realities. It seems as if the moment I left my faith behind, she decided that it was time for her to pick it up.  No amount of my own pleading made any difference to her, but my apostasy seems to have forced her to face all of the fears I was trying to divorce myself from.  Suddenly my soul was in jeopardy, which seems to have brought her face to face with the status of own.

I know that she blames her own hedonism on my departure from the fold, and I know that she also blames her mistakes in raising me – which don’t seem to be any more numerous than many parents. There’s always a reason to be found for why someone would turn away, except for the truth: I don’t, I can’t believe the gospel. That reason is avoided like the plague and has been since our first conversation on the subject.

It makes me miserable that my mother feels presumably the same fear that I did for her. I don’t think anyone should have to endure that and I mark this fear as one of the major failings of the Christian faith. If I must fear for the souls of everyone around me, then the cruelty of this faith’s god is doled out in double proportions as all of those souls will be tortured for eternity while believers must be tortured during this lifetime as they labor over the fate of those they love.

She would say, of course, that she isn’t worried – she knows by some invisible comfort that I’ll make a triumphant return to the fold. This is the most common statement made about me, prophesied by many as if they’ve been given access to a newsletter that I forgot to renew my subscription to. Statements like, “he’ll do powerful things for the gospel one day,” or “when he comes back, he’ll change the world.” What they fail to acknowledge is that I’m far more tolerable by Christians today as an atheist than I would be or ever was as a Christian.

I believe that there is something inherently radical about the gospel and the story of Jesus – even if I find that the story itself is a narrative I simply cannot believe, it’s a powerful one that the church has long failed to grasp.  The church is not a vehicle for radicalism today, but is instead an angry child that feels left out at the playground due to Western societies’ tendency toward tolerance – a rally that should have been led by the church via radical and piercing grace and love toward those which our society has long rejected.

I’m not sure I know how to fix the way my mother views me, or how any other people in my community may view me. To be honest, most people take the time to hear my positions and recognize that I’m where I am theologically outside of my own will. Additionally, I’m fairly certain that it’s not my job to try and fix this – instead it seems like I’ve done all I can to explain my positions and ensure that I present myself in a way that makes me approachable.

Ultimately I don’t really care about being understood. I don’t care if people “get it”, but I do care that other people are harmed emotionally by what I do or don’t believe.  It’s a vile thing that any faith might cause a mother to lose sleep over the fate of her son.

 

Donald Trump's Christianity

Donald Trump’s Christianity is probably yours too

This is the first time I’ve written anything in months; my last blog post on Removing the Fig Leaf about the sexual molestation I experienced as a child was more emotionally taxing than I expected, that coupled with the political climate of late has given me the desire to write but not the wherewithal to do so. The way this election cycle has been going leads me to feel like anything I might have to say would be trivialized or obfuscated by those unwilling to see my point.  Alas, here I am discussing my least favorite person – Donald Trump, and his version of the Christian faith. His is a version of the Christian faith I think some find confusing and unfamiliar, but for many I suspect it sounds just about right. Donald Trump’s Christianity is normal, you’ll probably recognize it in this post.

You might be thinking, “what gives you the right to address The Donald’s faith, or that of anyone else and determine whether or not it’s right or wrong?” – and I think that’s a reasonable question. Far be it from me to proclaim that there is a right way to believe in Christianity and a wrong way to believe in Christianity, as best I can tell any recipe for Christianity is ultimately a falsehood because the story that is foundational to the faith is a falsehood, but there are recipes for this faith that use a central ingredient of grace – and others which use a brew of xenophobia, self-righteousness, and a persecuted Americanism. On the spectrum of recipes for salvation, I’ll let you guess which of these Donald Trump ascribes to. Furthermore, I’ll leave it up to you which I find to be more palatable myself and more in line with my own philosophy of Humanism.

Nominal Christian

I am personally in no position to proclaim that Donald Trump isn’t a Christian. I honestly don’t know that anyone could qualify themselves for such a role. We all have to take him at his word – if he says he believes the message of Christianity and Jesus (and whatever he believes that message is) he is some form of Christian.

If I were to classify Donald Trump’s Christianity from what we know of him through his life and the way he’s talked about his faith, I’d call him a nominal Christian, at best. Nominal Christianity is best defined as a person who professes Christianity, but neither understands the faith nor makes any effort to live according to it’s tenets.  The nominal Christian is simply a Christian “by name”.

Many evangelical organizations (this link is a really good read from a Christian perspective on this same subject) consider the nominal Christian to be the greatest target for evangelism in the world, in fact the Bible addresses these very Christians and I’ve talked about what it has to say about them a great deal on this blog in the past.  Matthew 7:21-23 is alleged to be Jesus addressing those who carry on the facade of faith but fail to do the will of god. John 5:39-40 addresses Christians who fail to study the scripture to find out who Jesus is beyond just a name.

Jesus is just a name to many though. When I was a believer I felt burdened by my peers who professed faith but who failed to show any fruit of it and who didn’t do what I called “seek god” in order to know him better. That may sound odd coming from an atheist, but think about all the Christians you know – think about whether or not their life is a testament to a life of faith or a life where their faith is a tertiary afterthought they rarely give any real consideration to.

There are some easy to spot signs of a Nominal Christian, here they are – along with links to examples of how Trump is a shining example of each of them.

  • They have a favorite Bible verse, but they don’t know anything about the Bible – just like The Donald.
  • They’ll quickly take a stand for their faith when their isn’t any reason to, because of a need to appear persecuted and genuine – just like The Donald.
  • They’ll take up the cross on issues they are convinced are important to their god, but because they don’t understand their faith, are concerned with the wrong issues – just like The Donald.
  • Conversely, they won’t take up the plight of those their scriptures do actually tell them to be concerned about (see James 1:27) – just like The Donald, and again, and again.

Donald Trump, like your average nominal Christian – believes everything he reads but doesn’t read anything he believes. He’s used the Bible as a prop in his pony show, but he doesn’t know it or study it. He doesn’t love the scriptures or seek god in them. It’s more like a key that unlocks the door to Christian voters than anything – I would hope that American Christians would see through all that, the reason they don’t is because his faith is so similar to theirs.

Trump on Abortion vs The Bible on Abortion

Evangelical Christians are known for their fervor on the issue of abortion rights, that being the case – it has been the policy of the Republican Party to use it as well as homosexual marriage and being “tough on crime” (better read as “jailing blacks”) as part of their Southern Strategy to polarize Southern Dixiecrats against their former Democratic party in the wake of the Civil Rights Era.  The abortion issue is one that didn’t exist until it was made to exist and the Bible was used to fool nominal Christians into believing that their god had a problem with it. My friend Neil Carter over at Godless in Dixie wrote an incredible article on the transition from non-issue to the one issue that evangelicals vote on now – I highly recommend it for further reading.

Suffice it to say, Trump and every other neo-conservative before him bear witness to one thing: The Bible is, on a scale of pro-life to pro-abortion (not even pro-choice) – very much pro-abortion, but that doesn’t matter if you can convince people that don’t read or understand the Bible that this is the hill worth dying on.

Trump and Grace

If I read the Bible in the way that my most educated, thoughtful, loving, and respected Christian friends read it – I read a story of grace. A story about mercy given to those who don’t deserve it with no strings attached. If I read the Bible in the way that the most hateful, xenophobic, and ignorant people I know read it – grace is still a central part of the theme there just happen to be more rules and rigamarole attached to receiving that grace.

Donald Trump’s Christianity seems to be a faith that lacks any semblance of grace. I say that because I see no evidence of it in his life or in the way he carries himself, even when he’s talking about his faith. The central theme of his faith is, “I have faith and here’s my favorite book of the Bible, Thessalonians!” as opposed to, “I’ve been saved by grace, through faith in Jesus, and that has humbled me to be more graceful and forgiving to other people.”

Trump sues indiscriminately, assaults women, discriminates against the poor and minorities, fails to pay his bills or keep his contracts, lies about his net worth (most of the property with his name on it is owned by other parties, he is paid a royalty for his name, for now), seeks for the death of the innocent and acquitted, cheats on his wives, among many others. He’s one of the least graceful men on the planet.  He’s just like every other nominal Christian I know, in other words.

Trump and You

3f2d57b701faea69dd204e9c0d476a8e“He tell’s it like it is,” or “he’s someone who’s finally saying what we’ve all been thinking,” are common reasons followers give for loving Donald Trump.  It’s true too, he’s telling you what you think the world is like – he’s confirming your biases. He’s telling you it’s just fine to be the sort of white evangelical Christian he is too – it’s fine to wave the Bible around like a prop, it’s fine to share that meme on Facebook with Jesus on it about not denying him in front of the world or he’ll deny you so you’ll feel comfortable about your salvation for the week, it’s fine to pretend like you are being persecuted because your kid’s teacher can’t lead him in prayer every day, and it’s even fine to build a big wall to keep undesirables out – because Jesus never said anything about sheltering those with heavy burdens.

If Donald Trump’s Christianity is a reflection of you and your Christianity I’m perfectly fine with that. The writing has been on the wall for a long time regarding the fortitude of America’s church, and you – dear Christian in your red “Make America Great Again” hat – are the reason.

You can be just like Trump if you want to.

Christian. By name only.

White guy, unsure why everyone is so upset.

Is our society more easily offended?

Over the last several years, actually going back into the 90’s, certain groups have decried “Political Correctness” and what some call a culture of being easily offended. If you happen to be one of my followers or friends on Facebook you already know that I have a massive variety of people that come to my personal page to engage in discussions about practically every hot topic imaginable. My little corner of the internet is one of the few places, next to 4chan, where there is practically no censorship or filtering going on – I let people reveal themselves for who they are and display even the most outrageous points of view.  Doing so is really important to me as I value freedom of speech and the safety of that space above all else, and I think that despite not having hard-line rules the extremes tend to equal each other out so that the middle can be more easily heard.

That said, if you spend much time on my personal Facebook page you are guaranteed to get offended. If not by me, then by

The Rules of Engagement for my personal Facebook wall - posted recently.

The Rules of Engagement for my personal Facebook wall – posted recently.

some of my friends or followers, that’s one of those disclaimers I wish I had the ability to put somewhere on the page,  – that I take the time to state every now and again in some fashion for people that might be new to my virtual forum (example included to the right.)

I honestly can’t think of many times where I’ve actually been offended in any serious way. I might find certain views to be simply atrocious, but they don’t offend me – I think the main reason for that is because I’ve been born into a great deal of privilege and I’ve long recognized it – so I just don’t let peoples words and beliefs get to me so much. Sometimes the things people say or do will  prompt a response from me, but not because I’m offended or hurt, because I think it’s important that we engage with bad ideas.

There are those that assert that society as a whole is more easily offended than in years past, citing movements like #BlackLivesMatter, the push for safe spaces on college campuses, and LGBT acceptance – movements which often use social media to lash out those who wish to remain a part of the status quo. Are these movements and these reactions evidence of a more easily offended society?

I don’t think so.

The segments of society who hold the most power have always tended toward a prejudice against the “other”, which is why those you are most likely to hear complaining about the “sensitivity of our times” are by and large white straight males (on Fox News) – as it’s usually they who are saying things that are most readily offensive or hurtful to people who are on the outskirts of modern power structures.

We do, today, live in a society where you hear a lot more about offensiveness though – so, what does that say about modern people and the changes that living in a technologically smaller world (ie: a world made smaller by the advent of technology which brings more people together) has wrought?

It says that we are a (somewhat) more caring society:

I know it seems like the opposite – and there are certainly times when the opposite is true, but we are by and large heading toward a more humanistic society who’s citizens care for the “other” and who consider with empathy the effects of their words and actions.

If you think back to the 70’s and before, it was practically unthinkable for a straight male to be an ally of the LGBTQ community unless that ally had experienced some sort of discrimination on his own, today – however, we are seeing more and more allies for every marginalized part of society today and while some of those allies may be hopping on the bandwagon of popular morality, the roots of this shift in thought are surely empathetic and if empathy is a bandwagon people are jumping on that’s a better bandwagon than others I could think of.

There are, of course, those who try their damnedest to prove me wrong here, bent on the idea that privilege is non-existent or even OK – but I believe and can see in my community and in the US that those people are becoming the louder but more fringe voices rather than a rumbling cacophonous majority that agrees in these old ways of thinking.

We have avenues to express anger that we didn’t have before:

It’s easy to forget, especially if you are around my age or younger (29 as of this writing) the impact of the internet and social networks. I practically grew up with some sort of connectivity to a world of online friends and enemies.  With the advent of social media sites like Facebook and a generation of people who are accustomed to sharing their frustrations online it is easier than ever to express frustration and anger at some injustice or bigotry we witness or experience in every day life and for that experience to become a viral, mimetic cause du jour.

The nature of our social network beast makes it easier for people who wouldn’t have been exposed to social justice issues any other way (many of us live in very sheltered worlds, I am among those people) – and so it’s easier for us to care about things that we know about because of this exposure.

The landscape of the world has changed so drastically because of the internet that we often mistake those virtual interactions with real life interactions, forgetting that people on the internet are often unfiltered caricatures of themselves. While one generation of users may be well aware of the “keyboard warrior” affect – another generation may not be, and while both express anger in their own ways, one tends to believe that the others anger is the result of over-pacification and coddling – the idea that their opponents are too easily offended is almost always a hypocritical failure to view one’s very own leanings toward offense when exposed to a litany of new ideas.

Whether it be by a trending hashtag or a photo that gets turned into a meme and shared millions of times, we’ve got ways to express our anger at injustices that didn’t exist just 15 years ago – and unbelievably those things can lead to actual change. Public outcry via social media makes a difference in the world and in when someone in an authority position does something immoral the outcry can have them fired within days – rather than the weeks or months or never of previous years.

The offended are simply more aware and more vocal:

I think it can only be considered a matter of privilege if you find yourself inconvenienced by the outcry of a marginalized group, and the fact of the matter is that people from all walks of life are fed up with privilege as the status quo and are therefore more vocal about it than in years past.

It’s easy for a straight white male to complain about the constant tenor that “things need to change” because to the straight white male that’s an idea that means a loss of power, privilege, comfort, and often class and when you fail to see your own privilege you’ll be far less likely to empathize with those who aren’t benefiting from it or who are victims of some sort of neo-classism, sexism, racism, or other -ism and yet this is the landscape of our country and largely our world simply because the victims of old world mentalities are waking up to their oppression and speaking out about it with less fear.

Are these people more victimized today than they were 10-50 years ago?  Arguments can be made for and against. While the consciousness of the world is slowly moving toward more equality there are those who are, in more extreme ways, lashing out at communities of color, transgender people, the LGBT community, and even the poor (who we often forget about when discussing this sort of thing).  The most deadly mass murders against a racial group of the last 75 years in the US happened this year, in 2015, in Charleston – so it’s not difficult to see the extremists pushing against the broader narrative of brotherhood and humanism.

The fact of the matter is simple:  When black people, women, or the LGBT community react to something it’s easy to say “I don’t want to hear it, stop making a big deal of of this” when you aren’t the victim of an institutional bias – but these people are getting louder and they’ve got damn good reasons for it, I recommend anyone and everyone of the aforementioned mentality to shut up and listen to see if perhaps you can learn something.

Moralizing Political Correctness

I like to define Political Correctness as follows:  The ability to communicate with empathy for the marginalized.

There are those that want to compare Political Correctness to a police state or some invention of politicians, as if having a society of people who want to avoid offending their fellow citizen is a bad thing. Political Correctness, even if many don’t see it this way, is an attempt to neutralize harsh language and action toward marginalized groups, I’m not sure how that can be considered a bad thing unless of course you have a problem with empathetic behaviors.

Being more PC has certainly become a little more extreme, with the advent of social media (as previously discussed) using the wrong term can land one in a media firestorm and if you don’t know how to properly apologize properly for a failure to communicate with empathy you can easily be dismissed forever.

I think it’s clear that those who stand against a more politically correct world are in the wrong as it’s truly a more moral world they are standing against – a world where people have to hear epithets and cat calls walking down the street rather than our continual progression toward a world where that doesn’t happen and where those behaviors become overwhelmingly unacceptable social abnormalities. What many don’t know is that this memetic is how things change – societal morality slowly changes because society stops being OK with the way things are and polices those who continue operating with the same old and tired ways of thinking that have allowed people to be so marginalized for so long.

Offended?

I’m not the type of guy that cares a whole lot when certain groups are offended by something I say. When others are offended I agonize over it. You probably know which category you belong in by your reaction to most of my writing.

One day, the outcry from those who are just now getting the opportunity and wherewithal to stand up to microaggressions won’t be necessary – we won’t have to talk about who’s offended and by what, we’ll just live in a better society and it will be because people were willing to say “You know what, your viewpoint is shitty” and make a bigger deal of it than some might think is necessary.  If you happen to be the type of person that makes a lot of social faux pas, now is the time to brush up on your apology skills and your ability to be sincere because you will be called on it one day and hopefully you’ll use it as an opportunity to learn something about yourself and those whom you’ve transgressed against. I hope you will, and I hope we’ll all learn to extend a little grace to those that do screw this up.

 

Dawkins a Dick around Ahmed’s Clock

Late last week a young boy by the name of Ahmed Mohammed brought a clock/suitcase hybrid into his school to show off to his teacher at his Texas school. He was arrested and interrogated by police for over an hour without the presence of a lawyer or his parents because his teacher felt “intimidated” as the clock resembled that of a suitcase bomb in her eyes – not considering the fact that a 14 year old has no frame of reference for such a thing, nor the very apparent lack of C4.

That’s the old news.

Richard Dawkins, living up to his name and reputation of late, along with a few bloggers over at Skepchick (who I won’t bother to name or link to) have a beef with Mohammed:

The 14 year old child used the word “invention” for his contraption while being placed in front of national TV cameras, and it’s got them in an uproar.

What Ahmed did and didn’t do

A homemade clock made by Ahmed Mohamed, 14, is seen in an undated picture released by the Irving Texas Police Department September 16, 2015. Mohamed was taken away from school in handcuffs after he brought the clock to his Dallas-area school this week and the staff mistook it for a bomb, police said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Irving Texas Police Department/Handout via Reuters

Irving Texas Police Department

A homemade clock made by Ahmed Mohamed, 14, is seen in an undated picture released by the Irving Texas Police Department September 16, 2015. Mohamed was taken away from school in handcuffs after he brought the clock to his Dallas-area school this week and the staff mistook it for a bomb, police said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Irving Texas Police Department/Handout via Reuters 

Ahmed Mohammed didn’t invent a damn thing. Clearly. He took two things that already existed – took one of them apart – and stuck it inside the other. Ahmed’s clock is a clock + a suitcase.

What he did requires no special brilliance or insight into electronics and fails to make him special. It is not indicative of genius and wouldn’t win the science fair even if EVERYONE else in the school made those lame volcanoes.

Ahmed misspoke, and perhaps he’s not mature enough to know the difference between inventing and …er…Frankenstein-ing things together and a Professor Emeritus at Oxford with a PhD in biology took the time to correct him on twitter so that his name could be part of the media frenzy taking place over this, even going so far as to suggest a conspiracy on Ahmed’s part:

“…Ahmed didn’t build a clock. He simply took one out of its casing. Did he deliberately want to be suspected of making a bomb? Did he want to be arrested, to be seen as a victim of ‘Islamophobia’?”

““He disassembled & reassembled a clock (which is fine) & then claimed it was his ‘invention’ (which is fraud)” and asserted, “True, Johnny Smith would not have been arrested & Ahmed should NOT have been. But his motives remain questionable.”

Well, I don’t have  a PhD, and here I am stating the clearly obvious as well minus any insanity. Can I have a brownie now? Where’s my book deal?  Oh, there’s more to the story?
You mean we’re focusing on the wrong thing?

Ahmed Mohammed and Me

Here I am a 29 year old IT professional writing about a young man that took apart a clock, who – like me – started taking things apart at a young age out of a sense of curiosity for how they work.  I started disassembling things as soon as I could hold a screwdriver and growing up there probably wasn’t a piece of electronic equipment or complex mechanics that I hadn’t taken apart and put back together hoping it worked by the time mom got home from work.

That’s the beautiful spark of curiosity that got kids like me interested in a lifelong passion, and like Ahmed there were things that I slammed together and called inventions – one – an alarm clock with speakers that I replaced with bigger, louder speakers.  Is that anything special?  Nope.  But it was cool to me, and when I was 14 it was something I did that no one else had done, not to mention that I had the loudest alarm clock for miles.

This is the birth of the tinkerer, and that’s really cool to see from my perspective. I love seeing kids tear crap apart and put it back together. I don’t expect every kid to know how to use a breadboard and soldering iron at 14, because we all start somewhere – and THIS is where we start, and sometimes we call the crap we do an invention because we aren’t adults and because we haven’t been tainted by the trouble of filing a patent yet.

My curiosity and love for tinkering never got me arrested though.

That’s the point, that’s why media attention to this is OK, not because he called his traveling clock an invention or because the President had an invite to the White House for him. That’s also why it’s OK for tech companies to jump on the bandwagon of free advertising and send the kid all kinds of free stuff that may foster this interest, because a kid did something he thought was cool and because of his skin color and last name he was arrested for it – detained without warrant – and questioned, at 14, without the presence of his parents or a lawyer. Ahmed’s clock is supposed to be his introduction to my world, instead it was a crash course in Islamophobia and racial profiling.

Dawkins – aka white privilege personified, is meanwhile convinced that Ahmed Mohammed was an inside job.

Can we stop taking him seriously now, once and for all?

Introducing Southern Discomfort

The past couple of months I’ve been working with my friend Jordy on a new Podcast project called Southern Discomfort and after quite a lot of work we have our first episode up.  This, of course, is a growing process – but I’m pretty damn proud of it and I think that if you like what I do here you’ll appreciate the podcast.  You can subscribe via RSS here.

 

So, check it out please!

 

Welcome to Episode 1 of the Southern Discomfort Show – in this show we introduce the show, ourselves and our religious and political backgrounds, plus we prove how nerdy we are. In addition to all that we get into a long talk about same sex relationships, how your grandpappy’s idea of “race mixing” was probably wrong and why Christians aren’t actually being persecuted here in the USA.

PLUS  we talk about Black Lives Matter and whether or not that means that police are all terrible people.

 

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Direct Download

The Pastors on Ashley Madison

If you’ve been living under a rock then you may not know that the popular infidelity site known as Ashley Madison was recently hacked by a group of moralist hackers with the intention of exposing those who were using the site to find people to have affairs with.   So far over 400 of the exposed have been Christian pastors on Ashley Madison – many with paid accounts (paid accounts allow a person to send messages to others).

This news comes as no surprise to any of us, Christian and unbeliever alike – we all expect hypocrisy from the Christian elite. Josh Duggar – stanchion of fundamentalist morality, vitriolic anti-lgbt hate, and former spokesman for the Family Research Council had multiple accounts, affairs, and participated in both prostitution and had a past littered with child molestation cover-ups is a shining example of what that hypocrisy looks like in one of it’s most dangerous and vile forms. This post isn’t about Josh Duggar though, it’s about better people.

We know that Christianity is full of hypocrites. Christians know it. I know it. This is reality.

 

How then should we respond?

 

I, obviously, am not in the position to prescribe to my atheist friends the best approach for this but I do think I have a Humanist approach and I think that’s how we should look at this whole thing. I know many of you are reveling in this revelation as if it’s some beautiful day, “we’ve finally exposed the Christians!”  But I don’t think that’s a fair assessment, I don’t think that Christianity needed any more exposure than it already had and I don’t revel in the fact that hundreds of men were deceptive to their wives and congregations. I can’t find joy in that, I can’t find joy in seeing people who want to be one thing fail at that thing and be altogether another. I think that’s what these pastors represent in large part is a desire to earn god’s favor and an utter inability to do so. They represent the futility of Christianity, and the pain of it’s failure.

This is not a good time for these men, many of whom have spit fire from their pulpits about what marriage is and isn’t. I’m saddened for the pain they and their families will endure because it isn’t so unlike the pain they’ve been in large part responsible for among the LGBT community for decades and it is grievous. They will be judged, hated, mocked, and invalidated – and that’s not good for anyone.

On August 24th, 2015, John Gibson, a 56-year-old pastor who taught at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was found dead by his own hand. He was exposed in the Ashley Madison hack and his suicide note contained a great deal of shame and remorse.

I don’t know if Gibson was a bigot, I don’t know if he was the sort of man to preach hate and condemnation or if he truly believed in grace and lived his life in a way that made that evident. I cannot know and I don’t care – but I do know that he was a human being with a life and a family and that he experienced the depths of depression to the point that he was willing to take his own life.  As one who has been there, as one who has held a gun in his mouth pleading for the end – I don’t think anyone deserves that. I’m therefore, saddened, deeply.

We cannot be happy that these men have been exposed. That mankind is likely to pursue sexual urges is no surprise, that pastors are humans is no surprise.

We cannot be happy that Josh Duggar has a trail of victims in his wake, including his poor brainwashed wife Anna and 3 of his sisters.

We cannot be happy that a man killed himself and left his family to pick up the pieces, either because he didn’t know how to handle the pressure of guilt and exposure or because he didn’t feel like he would receive love and grace from the church.

This is a time for Christianity to come to terms with the reality that it is not the shining white tower it so often portrays itself as; in the wake of the exposure of these pastors on Ashley Madison and of bigots like Kim Davis the church has an opportunity to self examine and to recognize that the perfection  is a guise for inadequate people who are failing to reach the standards they use their pulpits to preach about. This is an opportunity for the Church to show grace to those inside it’s walls, and maybe apply that lesson to those outside – where it has so often failed.

So, I’m asking for us not to revel in the pain of others – simply. Let’s be better than that.