I had a very satisfying experience recently: bringing enlightenment to the unenlightened.|
I came across a post on a gay news site, discussing the recent decriminalisation of sodomy in Virginia.
Now, one of the things that kind of infuriates me in general is people cherrypicking Bible quotations to support an ideological point of view, while blatantly disregarding the rest. (For a particularly high-profile example of this general approach to Christianity, see the Catholic Church criticising a group of American nuns for paying too much attention to helping the poor, and not enough time to hating on gays and single mothers. What would Jesus do about the Vatican? Well, there's a story involving some money-changers in a temple that establishes a precedent.)
Setting aside the flagrant hypocrisy of most sodomy laws - the majority render oral and anal sex between married, heterosexual, consenting adults a criminal offence, but they only tend to use them against same-sex couples - we come across my own personal bugbear about it: "sodomy" totally should refer to something wrong, but it does not mean what they think it means.
The word sodomy, after all, derives directly from the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The people of Sodom sinned so deeply, so offensively before God that He obliterated the city entirely.
This is clearly something which is immoral. In general, legislating morality is problematic, mind you, but that's a whole other topic. What's important for the purposes of my argument is exactly what sin the Sodomites committed.
The Bible is, in fact, pretty unambiguous on this subject.
Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV):
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
Arrogance. Being wealthy, yet failing to help the poor.
Had the Lord not entered a new covenant with humanity in the interim, Mitt Romney's speech about the "47%" who "feel entitled" to food, shelter and health care would have copped him a meteor strike to the face.
(I read, a while back, that there was evidence suggestion a reasonably substantial meteor strike that could possibly-arguably equate to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. One of the things that puzzled me at the time was certain evangelical atheists declaring that this was proof of the non-existence of God; that even if there had been ancient cities where Sodom and Gomorrah were thought to have been, then their destruction had a totally natural explanation. It puzzled me because: Assuming God wants to annihilate a city, why exactly couldn't He do it with a rock? Is there a specific way that smiting has to be done in order to qualify for divine wrath? As any GM or roleplayer can tell you, "Rocks fall. Everyone dies," is about as thorough as divine vengeance gets.)
It irks me to the point of spluttering fury, occasionally, when people called out for hypocrisy take the line, "Nobody's perfect." Or, in the case of Matt Moore, an ex-gay activist caught on Grindr: "First, everyone is a hypocrite, regardless of belief system... With that said, you can either be a hypocrite under the grace of God or a hypocrite outside of the grace of God."|
No. First, the grace of God's forgiveness comes after you repent of your sins, and if you're making excuses for them? You're not repenting. You're not sorry you sinned, you're sorry you got caught.
And secondly, no, not everyone is a hypocrite. That full quote goes like this:
First, everyone is a hypocrite, regardless of belief system. People such as Zinnia preach a message of tolerance and kindness to all, yet they are not tolerant of my beliefs and show me no kindness. That’s hypocritical, is it not? With that said, you can either be a hypocrite under the grace of God or a hypocrite outside of the grace of God.
Zinnia is the person who outed him for his Grindr profile.
Preaching tolerance is not incompatible with disapproving of your belief system, if your belief system hurts people, and frankly, hypocrisy removes any protection you get for your "belief system" anyway. Because you're not even adhering to it.
Even Jesus condemned the Pharisees. Just because I believe in Christian love and forgiveness doesn't mean I can't think you're a dick, and calling people out for their hypocrisy was one of the recurring themes of the Gospels, so don't get pious in defence of yours. Because on this particular topic, the record shows that Christ would not be on your side.
So, Carrie Underwood, devout Christian country star, has spoken up in favour of gay marriage - and specifically said that it's because of her faith, not in spite of it.|
It's so utterly wonderful to see someone representing real Christian values in public. This makes me genuinely happy.
I'm sure Internets Jesus is happy too.
( Transcript of image joke thing at link. )
Something occurred to me the other day: By rights, I should be able, without giving people serious misapprehensions about my political leanings and opinions, to call myself a left-wing conservative. A left-wing conservative Christian, even.|
Because really, that would or should be a pretty accurate summation of my political leanings. I am left-wing on many major issues - I'm pro-science, pro-environment, pro-choice, anti-racism, and I think that the correct reaction to problems with crime should include serious efforts to understand and correct the fundamental societal ills that lead to crime. I think more of the prison system should be like Yetta Dhinnakal Correctional Centre - relatively petty crime is a symptom of other problems, and you need to treat those problems.
I'm also in favour of government regulation of commerce and industry, socialised medicine, and welfare.
This, in American-style political parlance, makes me a liberal.
However, I am also deeply, profoundly conservative by nature. I don't like change. I object to change, pretty much universally, where change is not clearly, demonstrably needed. For example, I am a constitutional monarchist; I am thoroughly hostile to the idea of Australia becoming a republic. Constitutional monarchy has worked sufficiently well for us so far that I see no need to change, especially when the world's premier example of republican government, the USA, is a hellscape of political paralysis.
The reason why I'm so damn progressive on social issues is that they're areas where change is necessary.
And yet, the very concept of conservatism has been taken over by the people who don't even want the status quo, so much as they want to bring about comprehensive change - it's just that they want to change things to the advantage of a privileged minority, rather than in an attempt to bring about broader social improvement.
Desiring the amplification of social injustice doesn't make you more conservative than wanting to increase social justice - but the people who wave the "conservative" banner want exactly that.
It's infuriating not just because of the appropriation of "conservative", of course - the appropriation of "Christian" tempts me to incandescent rage, because of the degree to which it is wrong. Really, Muslim and Christian people of this world have so very much in common, including the outright betrayal of people who claim to be our co-religionists.
Consider this about Islam: the Koran forbids activities like fasting (even during Ramadan) when unwell or pregnant, fasting past the requirements of Ramadan, and other activities which will harm one's health, as a demonstration of piety. This is the degree to which Islam is not about martyrdom.
When Mohammedan conquest was sweeping the known world, it is worth noting that the Muslim armies were so bound by their faith that they were required to feed surrendered opposing forces - which was not precisely common behaviour of conquerors of the era.
Jihadist terrorists are betraying Islam utterly.
Meanwhile, so-called Christians are defiling the word of Jesus in the name of hatred every day. In all likelihood you've heard discussion of this before, and you may well have heard it from me, so for today I will hope that this passage will suffice to make my point (I don't have quotations from the Koran to hand, because, I confess, I do know the Bible better).
For Jesus said (Matthew 5):
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
While the specific Aramaic term of contempt is no longer current, I'm pretty sure Jesus was just using it as an example. The hatefulness spewed by people who claim to be Christians is so ridiculously, utterly anti-Christian.
Oh, actually, I'll throw this one in too:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Public displays of "righteousness" sicken me.
I am a Christian; my love is given to Jesus. But this is a question of faith, not knowledge, and so I cannot condemn people whose faith has taken them along a different path from mine. I have no problem with people who adhere to religions other than mine, or no religion at all.
What disgusts me is hypocrisy. If you murder in the name of the Prophet Mohammed, if you preach hatred in the name of Jesus - or vice versa, not least because Jesus is still viewed, in Islam, as a prophet of the Lord and therefore some of this stuff counts for Muslims too regardless and Jesus was also really not in favour of the whole murder thing - then, and only then, will I loathe you for religious reasons.
The one time I've ever been deeply, truly, and profoundly offended as a Christian remains the time the Daily Show featured some Tea Party types, one of whom wore a holster with a crucifix in it. I like to think I'm able to be pretty live-and-let-live about my faith, but desecrating a representation of Christ our Lord that hard is kind of angering to me.
So, this morning I went to the pharmacy, but when I got there they weren't open. They would be open in a matter of minutes, though, so I went to the post office. I bought an envelope I needed and a couple of magazines.|
One of the magazines is called "Archaelogical Diggings", and it's about what you'd expect it to be about - mostly.
I keep being taken aback, though, because in the first couple of articles, at least, it is weirdly Christian.
As in, an article that's more-or-less a profile of Nebuchadnezzar and the building of Babylon into a great city has several paragraphs summarising events from the book of Daniel that read like they're from a sermon.
Which would be weird enough, but there's also paragraphs like this:
Nebuchadnezzar lost his reason and for seven years lodged in the fields. Some may wonder why his subjects did not replace him on the throne, but many easterners have a superstitious regard for the maimed and insane. Some dwarfs in Egypt held positions of rank in the government.
Any volunteers to break down just how many things are wrong with that paragraph? Entirely [sic], by the way.
And then there's the editorial comment at the start, on the topic of "Hebron in the news". (Same man as wrote the Nebuchadnezzar piece - he's the "Editor-in-Chief".)
Talking about Abraham's burial cave:
Today a large building stands over the burial cave. Inside are some symbolic structures with the names of Abraham and his family on them. If this is the burial site, the bones would be in the cave beneath the floor of the building. There is a small opening in the floor but no one is allowed to enter. The only person who has ever been allowed to enter the cave was Edward, Prince of Wales, in the 1930s when he was on an official visit to the Middle East, but he left no record of what he saw there.
On one occasion when I visited the mosque I met an Israeli soldier who was guarding the mosque. He was standing beside the entrance to the cave and I fell into conversation with him. At one point he lowered his voice and confided to me that a few days previously he had descended through the hole and entered the cave. He was not prepared to tell me what he saw. Not being an archaeologist he would probably not have noticed anything significant. I cannot even be sure he was telling me the truth though he looked so furtive about it I think he was.
I just. What.
AND one of the images in the magazine has the credit: "Photo by Gryffindor". Which is just weird too.
Seriously. Haven't read anything in weeks. There's stuff.|
I'm only really posting to propagate this.
The people holding hands are Christian Egyptians, forming a shield to protect Muslim Egyptians while they pray. This happened on the most violent day of the protests.
Our house has two front doors, sort of.|
One is off the driveway, and it's the one that's straight ahead when you come in off the street. It has a doorbell.
The other is off the garden. Finding it involves opening a gate (that's always closed), wandering down a path, around a couple of corners, and into a little alcove.
This one doesn't even open, there's stuff behind it.
Occasionally people go to this door. These people are almost always Jehovah's Witnesses.
This morning I noticed an insistent banging that sounded like it was at our house. I went downstairs, checked the door - no-one.
Then I thought, wait, there's another door...
Went outside, into the garden... oh look, people there.
Two older ladies, holding a stack of Watchtower magazines.
It's always fun to tell JWs that you're a Christian. They always say, "Oh good..." but there's this tiny look of wariness, too, because their best angles don't work.
"We encourage people to look in the Bible for answers, as to why bad things happen..."
"Yes, I do that. I'm a Christian."
These ones were canny. They asked me about my favourite part of Scripture.
"Well, the Sermon on the Mount is pretty hard to top."
We then had a bit of a discussion about the writings of Paul and why I feel justified in dismissing them. (Summary: As a Christian, I feel bound to give honour and respect to the teachings of Christ; Paul, not so much, particularly considering the cultural context in which he wrote, with reference to the Christian abandonment of the prohibitions of Leviticus.)
(And if you are citing Leviticus against homosexuality or anything else you personally disapprove of, I will in fact call you a hypocrite if you wear shirts of mixed fibres or shave. Just so you know.)
I won, by the way.
We also chatted extensively about history, travel, and suchlike things, which was really quite pleasant.
Eventually one of them said they had to go because they had friends working with them this morning. They departed without even trying to give me a pamphlet.
1) Hypocritical evangelical atheists.|
There's a looong list of people who fall into this category, but it's an opinion piece on The Drum website that's set me off today.
Basically, I'm talking about your PZ Myers/Richard Dawkins types, who are not only atheists, but are hostile to non-atheists and hostile to the very notion of treating religion with respect.
In this column Bob Ellis accuses the Prime Minister of "theological correctness" because she "turned up to honour Mary MacKillop" despite being an atheist.
To which I say: what the hell?
Yes, the Prime Minister is an atheist.
However, she is still the Prime Minister. In much the same way, it would not be inappropriate for her to attend a major event for the beef farming industry if she were a vegetarian. Because she's the head of our bloody government, and her duties thereas are not subject entirely to her personal whim.
Evangelical atheists aggravate me in general, because it's so... I don't know. Tacky. Rude. Irritating.
I have friends who are atheists. I have friends whose religious inclinations I don't really know at all. I have friends whose religions are different from mine - across the spectrum. A Hindu agnostic is not quite the same thing as a Christian agnostic, after all - if someone is taking the non-existence of the Judeo-Christian God as a given, but is ambivalent about the Hindu gods, that's a very different outlook from someone who is uncertain about the existence of the Judeo-Christian God but assumes that the Hindu gods aren't real.
(Religion is more complex than just the three Abrahamic religions, after all, and very few people even consider the ancient pantheons at all. Zeus, for most people, is just assumed to be a false myth.)
All of us manage to get by without sneering at each other over this.
I can go weeks, even months at a time without mentioning specifically that I consider myself to be a Christian at all.
I think both Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers would rupture something if they tried to go even a few days without a diatribe about the non-existence of God.
I consider it a firm point of basic courtesy that, unless someone has attempted to convert you to their religious position, it is entirely inappropriate to try and persuade them of yours.
And I consider it somewhat reprehensible to accuse someone of duplicity merely for showing respect to a position that differs from their own. They keep saying how Gillard "despises" Christianity, and yet: no, patently she doesn't, she just doesn't agree with it.
I can't remember how this came up, but yesterday, talking to my therapist, he suggested that atheists have more freedom than Christians.|
"What makes you say that?" I asked.
"Christianity has rules, about what you can and can't do... like the Ten Commandments, and so on," he answered.
"... I'm not Catholic," I told him. "Catholicism lays down a lot of rules, Anglicanism really doesn't. I mean, yes, I feel that as a Christian I should try to live my life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, but they really boil down to 'be kind', do unto others, that kind of thing. And I think that people should live by those principles whether they're Christian or not. I only became a Christian in my early twenties, and it hasn't really changed how I live my life that much."
I find myself thinking about what he said, and I really wonder about where his ideas on this come from. Because my therapist does seem like a genuinely nice guy. He goes out of his way to help people. I'm not, personally, paying for my sessions with him; he's bulk-billing me to Medicare. He doesn't have to do things like that, but he wants to help me, so he arranged to do so.
But he thinks that Christianity denies freedom of action to its adherents. It's just so odd.
Or maybe he's one of those people who treats Paul as canon. A lot of people do, I know.
Me, I call myself a Christian because I believe in the teachings of Christ. Paul wasn't Christ, but he was a misogynistic and hateful opportunist, whose writings have been of tremendous value to everyone who wants to use Christianity as a weapon.
His words were not those of the Saviour, nor had he followed Jesus during Jesus's lifetime, nor did he even follow the Gospels of those who had actually done so.
I'm at risk of getting distracted onto a rant about Paul, because oh, boy, do I have issues around his inclusion and the general self-serving nature of some people's approach to religion, including the various councils etc that defined the biblical canon, but really, the point is this:
Jesus's teachings really don't prohibit anyone from doing things that, in a perfect world, they would want to do anyway. For the most part, the Bible in general (Paul excluded) doesn't; most of the Old Testament restrictions, including the dietary ones, are actually pretty logical. The dietary restrictions are generally really good sense when you consider the geography, climate, and lack of refrigeration the ancient Jews lived with; most of the rest (in Leviticus, for example) are markers for the maintenance of cultural identity in an era when Roman/Hellenisation was overtaking just about everyone.
Like so many things, really, the problem with the Bible only starts when people stop thinking about what they're doing, and just follow thoughtlessly - particularly if they follow 'leaders' who cherrypick and twist the texts to serve their own purposes instead of God's.
The "Religious Right" and al Qaida, I'm looking at you. Protip: Jesus didn't hate anybody and the Koran actually tries to make a case for moderation in religious observance, to the point where excessive displays of piety are actually forbidden; also, the Muslim world in the period following the actual life of the Prophet was the centre of culture, science, and learning of its era. And women were both respected and well-educated, if only because educated, strong mothers produced educated, strong sons.
(Seriously: Staying up all night praying, fasting at night as well during Ramadan, that sort of thing: the Koran actually says not to do that shit. Fasting during Ramadan when it will be dangerous to your health, again, not cool with the Prophet. Islam is not supposed to be the religion of batshit insane extremism. But then, being cruel, being hateful, being avaricious, being wealthy and ignoring the plight of the poor, are all things that are deeply uncool with with the Christian Saviour, and hello, have you met the Catholic Church, so. *sigh*)
So, this evening I went to this: (Im)Possible Faith: Atheism, Agnosticism and Belief.|
It was an interesting evening, on a range of levels - all three of the panellists were quite moderate, and quite interesting people in their own right. Dr Colette Livermore, representing atheism, is a doctor now, but was once a Missionaries of Charity nun who worked with Mother Teresa. Tracy Ryan is a novelist/poet and self-proclaimed agnostic.
And, representing the faithful, we had the remarkable A/Prof Sister Veronica Brady, who opened by saying she felt she too is an agnostic. (Because she doesn't believe a human can fully know and understand the meaning of God.) I spoke to her briefly at the end - she remains wonderful.
I'd forgotten to take pen and paper, so my notes are very brief, written in whiteboard marker on a Zoo flyer I had in my bag.
Tracy Ryan's introductory remarks were interesting, and in places wildly problematic. For instance, she said that her parents had been part of a British colonial family in India, so her mostly-Catholic upbringing had included a light version of some yogic teachings. As far as I could tell, she hasn't thought in any real sense about colonialism, appropriation, or the degree to which she can legitimately claim understanding of yogic teachings at all. Meanwhile, talking about Christ, she said that she thought, from a feminist perspective, that the idea of putting others before yourself was problematic, because women are often asked to put their own needs second already.
To me, you can't go down that path and just look it only as far as it affects women who are not otherwise disempowered, when Christianity's role in colonial power dynamics has been so huge. It's just... her ideas are too unexamined and vague, I think, and I suddenly have a very real sense of why certain people have a problem with mainstream feminism and its blank ignoring of issues beyond white middle-class women.
Sister Veronica Brady talked about how you can't define God for other people - she's really not your traditional Roman Catholic, but her way of talking about this stuff seems so right and sensible. I don't have detailed enough notes to do it justice.
Audience question period brought some serious aggravation, especially in the form of Prepared Statement Woman.
By the way she reacted as she took the mic from the moderator - something about her insipid smile, perhaps - I pegged her instantly as a nutbag, and then thought I was being horribly judgemental and uncharitable. Turns out, I should trust my instincts.
She had several pages of notes and prepared statements, opening with her reading out her own Statement of Faith - which had five subsections detailing her personal religious beliefs. And then she went on, and on, rambling about crap that made no freaking sense, until an audience that had gathered for discussion about faith in a way that was open to the belief spectrum was starting to laugh at her, and heckle her to sit down and stop talking, already. After the third time the moderator tried and failed to get her to wrap it up and ASK AN ACTUAL QUESTION, I got up and took the mic with force of personality and will.
At that point, she was expressing her view that the Catholic Church attacks abortion because it's a female sin, and ignores war because it's a male sin, and the way to end warfare and bring about peace on earth is to genetically modify men to reduce their hormonal impulses.
After that I asked my question, and other people asked actual questions, and the discussion was interesting, although a few other audience members were also kind of irritating.
I'll probably post more about some of these topics later - right now I'm tired and a bit too irritated by certain things.
Because the good lord knows, this is a subject where there's no risk of pissing anyone off, right?|
See, here's the thing.
Right-to-lifers, a body of people that no doubt includes good individiuals but is overall pretty loathsome, have a tendency to refer to their opposition in the abortion debate as "pro-abortion". I've seen people who are in that opposition get suckered into doing the same thing - I've done it myself.
My brother-out-law Chas tends to call me on it, because, as he rightly points out, I'm not pro-abortion. I am profoundly, heartfelt anti-abortion in my convictions. Looking at the terms literally, I'd say I'm also pro-life, in that I'm in favour of life, and all that.
However, I am also deeply, profoundly pro-choice in my convictions.
Abortion is bad. An abortion is a sign that something has gone wrong. It's just a matter of where that wrongness happened - whether it was the wrongness that is rape, or the wrongness that is bad sex education, or the wrongness that is a pregnancy that endangers a mother's health, or the wrongness that is a foetus so malformed as to be unviable.
Nobody wants abortions to take place - it's just that abortions can be necessary, which is why they should be safe, legal, and accessible. Including, perhaps especially, late-term abortions, because late-term abortions are not elective, not really - late-term abortions are for pregnancies that were wanted, chosen, intended to be kept, but which have become life-threatening, or which feature children who cannot live.
That's serious stuff. That's the situation where people are hurting, grieving, and perhaps gravely ill - that's a situation where things need to be as easy for them as possible, as safe as possible, as gentle on their grief as can be achieved.
If you disagree on this point, you are wrong, and I will not "respect" your "beliefs".
Second point of language: People are very careless with the word "abortion". When we talk about abortion, we're almost invariably talking about induced abortion - as opposed to spontaneous abortion, which is what you mean when you talk about "miscarriage", and the like - which, by the way, happens kind of a lot. The majority of first pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion. I'll come back to this later.
So let's consider the question of the demonised induced abortions - the ones where the woman is old enough, the foetus is viable, but the woman can't handle pregnancy and wants it terminated. If you remove any religious aspect from it, I'm not that sure what the argument against choice is. An embryo at that stage isn't a person; I'm not sure it's even alive by a sensible definition. It's incapable of anything approaching independent survival. Given that the female body will, in pregnancy, sabotage itself for the benefit of the foetus, if anything an unwelcome foetus is a parasite.
However, people bring religion into it. I'm going to speak only about Christianity here, because they're the most vocal in my cultural context, and because I am myself a Christian, and therefore can speak about Christianity with more authority and knowledge than I can about most religions.
The question depends on the point at which life begins - the point at which the potential baby goes from being "two separate cells, a sperm and an egg" to a living soul. It's the soul that matters - from a religious perspective, that which has no soul cannot be murdered.
The thing is, the question of when the soul is formed/attached/however it works is one that, strictly speaking, only God can answer. It is beyond the scope of we mere mortals.
So what did God say about this question?
Well, let's look at our only real source on the word of the Lord: the Holy Bible.
I admit, I haven't memorised the full text, but the only point I know of where this question is addressed is Genesis 2:7:
then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
If you take the Bible literally, which fundamentalists claim to do, then a living being is formed when the first breath of life is taken. Not breathing yet? Not alive. Not a soul.
I don't know that this is, in fact, the Truth of the beginning of a person's life. I can't know. I'm not God, and I don't speak for God, not really - I can say what I believe to be true about God, but that doesn't have to mean anything to anyone, especially if you don't worship my, or any, god(s). More than that, I don't want to. I have my own beliefs about my God and other gods - I feel less than obligated to explain my faith.
However, I do know that people who say that "life begins at conception" have no valid theological underpinning to this - it's just an excuse for extremism, an excuse to try and deny a woman control of her body.
And it is rooted in misogyny. It can't not be - ultimately, trying to dictate others' abortion rights is saying that you are better-equipped to make the decision than they are. It's saying that women can't be trusted to make the right choice, and should have that choice taken away from them.
Which is why they're not pro-life, they're just anti-choice. If they were pro-life, John McCain would have lost all of his support, all across America, the moment he put "health of the mother" in scare quotes and called it the extreme pro-abortion position.
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