28 Mar
2013

Gay Marriage Wars

equality symbol

I spend way too much time on Facebook. I always have. I watch people like a serious creeper. I watch people post pictures of their children. I watch people post about their happy marriages. I wonder how much of it is a lie. Occasionally I watch Facebook turn into a war zone. The bullets and the napalm are flying now. Same sex marriage is before the Supreme Court. Yes, I am going to call it same sex marriage as I’ve yet to see anything gay about marriage. I see people getting de-friended left and right for their views on same sex marriage. It’s like the Night of the Long Knives of de-friending. I really did just compare de-friending on Facebook to political murders committed by the Nazis. Awkward. In any event, I’ve watched a lot of Facebook profile pictures change to equal signs and I’ve watched a lot of Bible verses super imposed over pictures flood my timeline this week. I don’t even want to consider what things are going to look like when the court hands down some sort of a decision.

I don’t appreciate the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” attitude of the defenders of traditional marriage and I don’t appreciate the shrill, overly emotional argumentation of the marriage equality crowd. The loudest voices in each camp are the most obnoxious. I suppose it has to work that way. That’s how God wants it. I don’t think many in the marriage equality camp can appreciate that their opponents really do believe that God commands marriage be only between a man and a woman. Many do believe that God wants it that way. God, the creator of the universe wants it that way. A person sincerely believing that God wants it that way is extremely powerful. That’s supremely difficult for people with little or no faith to wrap their heads around. The traditional marriage crowd seem to have lots of difficulty conceiving of marriage as a civil institution. Marriage undeniably has spiritual significance. However, the U.S. government and most governments are secular. Marriage is also a civil institution that grants people practical benefits.

I can never pat myself on the back as some great defender of civil rights. Let’s face it, getting dogs sicced on you at Selma isn’t the same as putting an equal sign on your Facebook profile. I won’t pretend that I sometimes don’t feel revulsion when thinking about men having sex with each other. Hell, I feel revulsion when I think about a lot of people having sex. Can we really treat people like second class citizens simply because we don’t like what they do with their genitals? (Forget people convicted of sex crimes. However, even they have rights.) There was a time when I considered myself a conservative Christian. I fail to understand the jealous protection of marriage now. I’ve seen more than a few people in this holy institution who were virgins on their wedding night and did everything they were supposed to be absolutely miserable. I suspect very strongly that it’s all not as holy as some might think. People love to talk about Adam and Eve. Was there a marriage ceremony in the Garden of Eden that was left out of the scriptural canon? We cannot pretend that marriage is anything but an institution that man is the author of. Would God, if he, she or it is worthy of being worshiped really desire for some people to be regarded as second class citizens? Would you really want to worship a supreme being like that? Government is the little g as opposed to the big G which is God, correct? Why is it so important that the little g enshrine marriage as only between a man and a woman. If God runs the entire universe and you believe that he agrees wholeheartedly with you then I have to wonder why in the hell it matters what a government does. Why must a government adhere to a specific theology? I’d hate to see what happens if the government went Arminian when you’re a Calvinist. The government cannot have a theology because it’s in theory supposed to represent all of us. Let them have their marriage. Leave them alone. Forget about what hole people are sticking it in. I don’t know what to call myself these days. If I were to call myself a Christian then my Christianity would be about denouncing the evil in high places. It would be about attacking the structures in our society that keep people in poverty and keeps us building more and more prisons. I really have to wonder why it is so many Christians are more concerned with homosexuality than they are with poverty or corruption or anything else that causes actual suffering. I suspect that maybe it’s just easier to obsess over what hole people are sticking it in than to force yourself to look at actual suffering. Quit doing the easy thing. Find another fight. Find a fight that matters.

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27 Mar
2013

Deport Jim Carrey?

This damn gun control thing. It makes my head pound. Every time there is a mass shooting it’s the same damn conversation. Guns don’t kill people. We need to ban assault weapons for the sake of the children. It’s all hyperbole hopped up on cocaine. I don’t know about stricter gun control. Maybe some harm reduction couldn’t hurt. It’s about reducing gun violence, right? No one thinks it can be completely eliminated. Of course, some will show you numbers that indicate gun crime is actually going down. I’m not good with numbers so I will not try.

I don’t care if private citizens own firearms. Have your firearm. I’m not going to try to take it away from you. I do have a problem with the culture that surrounds guns. I despise the macho bullshit and bravado surrounding guns. I despise this silly notion that someone’s Bushmaster is the only thing keeping this country free. Uh huh. When was the last time a firearm stopped an illegal search and seizure? Did all the firearms next to beds, on racks, in safes and carried concealed and openly make the U.S. government reconsider the Patriot Act? Did it stop the FBI from colluding with major financial institutions against the Occupy movement? Are you going to shoot down drones with your Bushmaster? I see photos of men going into McDonalds with an assault rifle strapped to their back on Facebook and I see thousands upon thousands of people hitting that ‘Like’ button. People who do this are lauded as the most muscular of patriots. That man with the assault rifle on his back while he orders his McFish sandwich is said to be defending our rights against tyrants. Yes. We should defend our rights. We should absolutely defend every one of our so called inalienable rights. We should make sure they are extended to everyone, especially those that we hate. I have that in common with many in the gun culture. I believe rights must be preserved and defended. The right to bear arms is not the only right and it cannot be defended at the expense of other rights.

Recently there has been a maddening display of defending gun rights as if they are the only rights that matter. The alleged comedic actor Jim Carrey did a song in support of stricter gun control on the alleged comedy site Funny or Die. The song is called “Cold Dead Hand.” It made fun of Charlton Heston and it was about as subtle as saying. “HEY! STRICTER GUN CONTROL NOW!” The guns, guns, guns and more god damn guns crowd responded in a very calm, rational way. They started a petition to deport Carrey back to Canada. It’s surreal. It’s absurd. It’s hilarious. The people who shout on the mountaintops that they wish to restrain tyrannical government want to use the force of government to send someone packing for speech that they disagree with. Mr. Carrey is a Canadian citizen but that doesn’t make calls for deportation over a song make any more sense. He’s not going to be deported but it does make me think that perhaps many in the guns, guns and more god damn guns crowd don’t give a damn about too many other rights.

The paranoia peddler Alex Jones who is perhaps most familiar for losing his god damn mind in an interview with Piers Morgan after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre supports the deport Carrey petition. I knew about Alex Jones before he challenged Piers Morgan to a boxing match. Did I just call myself an Alex Jones hipster? Damn. I think I did. I dislike Jones. I think he’s an abrasive prick. I think he’s an egomaniac. I think he exploits fear so that companies selling MREs, gold bullion and ammo will buy advertising on his show. It’s all about money. Just check out the store on his Infowars website. He potentially harms children every time he gets on the air and promotes long discredited anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. He injects needless paranoia into discussions about legitimate civil liberties issues. I disagree with pretty much everything Alex Jones has ever said. I wish he would just stop. Guess what? I don’t want to deport him.

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21 Feb
2013

Crisis of Faith Part III: Utter Uselessness

My crisis of faith has many ingredients. It has screws that hold it together. I write of utter uselessness. I write of the utter uselessness of believers when dealing with real, actual problems. The type of problems that cause pain you can feel deep within the core of your being. The kind of problems that make you cry and make you want to simply die.

I’ve got to get personal here. I must recount a chapter of my own history. I will mention no names.

All my life I’ve struggled with the affliction that Winston Churchill called ‘the black dog.’ Depression. No doubt it can weigh me down at times and can make life hellish. I lost a college career over it and I’ve lost money over it and God knows you cannot afford to lose money in America. The response of my fellow evangelical believers to my struggle had much to do with my disillusionment. To think anyone could suffer from such despair was difficult if not utterly impossible to appreciate. It confused them. It scared them. I believe it reminded them of their own humanity. Stephanie Drury, who maintains a blog called Stuff Christian Culture Likes says that Christian culture has a very difficult time with things like death, desire or despair. It’s part of the messiness that is humanity and it would seem a lot of Christians would be content to forget that we are human and that with that comes lots of messiness. Things become about experiencing the joy of the Lord or trying very hard to convince yourself that you’re experiencing the joy of the Lord.

At one point in my life I found myself a terribly depressed, lonely and angry college student. I found myself in the midst of one of the most awful episodes of depression I’d ever had. I had withdrawn from all my classes and the only thing that kept me busy was a part-time job at an Applebees. I was involved in church. A friend of mine had told his small group leader about my situation and I got a call from this small group leader. We talked and he seemed to have the answer to my problem. The Lord told him that I was depressed due to my overindulgence in pornography and masturbation. I look back on that and it was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard in my entire life. It was a simple answer. That’s all it was. That’s all he had. It was a simple, stupid answer. Pornography. Masturbation. Throw in something about deciding to be happy. It was the Christian answer. This is pure opinion. Maybe this is just garbage from my corrupted heretic soul. I don’t think you give people in the midst of such pain Christian answers. No. You wade through the mud with that person. You walk through the dark wood with them. You hold their god damn hand. You listen. You really listen. You don’t just listen for pauses and silences where you can shove in sound Christian doctrine. Why does doing all that seem to come so damn easy to the unsaved? They are fallen. John Calvin says that the spiritual condition of natural man is one of total depravity. Why is the last person you want with you when things get hairy and sweaty and possibly bloody a Christian? Maybe that is God in them. Maybe God is even in those who do not believe. Maybe the unsaved are not really unsaved. Maybe they don’t need saving at all. Maybe it’s the saving that makes the believer useless. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my heretical, earthy nature.

I have a friend. She’s a sweet girl and I’ve had a somewhat flirtatious relationship with her in the past. She got pregnant and became a single mom and I didn’t judge her harshly like many who go to church regularly did. Eventually this friend got deeply involved in Mars Hill Church and went so far as to become a member and get baptized there. I found myself in the midst of another mental health crisis and I ended up having to go through partial psychiatric hospitalization. One of my fellow patients was a beautiful girl who had had a rough two years and had been through many serious suicide attempts. This girl in the program appreciated my compassionate, non-judgmental way of listening and I made a point of taking the time to say goodbye to her when I was released from the program. Two weeks later the girl I met in the program committed suicide. That tore me up inside. I could see the hope in that girl’s eyes even in the midst of her sadness and for whatever reason that part of her did not win out. That was the real tragedy of it for me. I told my friend about this one night and she gave me a simple Christian answer. She killed herself because she didn’t love Jesus. It was that simple. People who love Jesus don’t kill themselves. I disputed this and she asked me if this girl loved Jesus. I don’t know. I do know however that it is unlikely since she was a Jew. I did not disclose she was a Jew since I was not about to leave this beautiful girl’s memory vulnerable to the vandalism of someone’s declaration that she was surely burning and suffering in Hell. Correlation does not equal causation but I doubt my friend would’ve said this back when she was a nominally Lutheran girl who laughed at my jokes.

Maybe I am completely wrong but in my experience, don’t ever call a Christian when the going gets to be more than a bit rough.

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22 Jan
2013

Crisis of Faith, Part II: There Is A Jesus For That

I recall a series of advertisements for the Apple iPhone a few years ago. The damn things were ubiquitous. They were even harder for me to escape since I worked in the wireless industry at the time. The ads were about how there was an application or ‘app’ for nearly everything to be found in Apple’s App Store. Need directions? There’s an app for that. Need vegan recipes? There’s an app for that. I consider the divine and it seems to me there is a god or a Jesus for every single person. This gives me pause. This keeps me up at night. This fuels my doubt.

Once again it all comes back to Jesus Christ. I see two Jesus Christs out there. There are probably more and I’m probably looking at this in a very America-centric sort of way but my perspective is necessarily limited and I acknowledge this. I see a Jesus that is very much like Dr. James Dobson or Mark Driscoll or John Piper or John Hagee. He sees the Bible as a literal guidebook for life on earth. He’s concerned with issues like abortion, gay marriage, personal responsibility, which political party to support, gender roles and he takes absolutist positions on these issues. He’s all about personal morality. Things are black and white. The other Jesus is all about economic justice, emancipation of women and homosexuals, racial justice, being against war. He isn’t absolutist. He isn’t a literalist. He’s very much concerned with acting in this world and isn’t overly focused on the life of the world to come. I know which one I prefer these days. I prefer a Jesus that is concerned with justice in this world and isn’t so concerned with issues of personal morality and theological orthodoxy. That may be my preference. That doesn’t make it true. It would make many people pity me but I must say I do not know who Jesus is. How could I? This was a man who existed in a culture that is alien to our own. How could I know him in a way that isn’t clouded or muddied by the peculiarities of the culture that I exist in? Maybe that’s why he’s great. Maybe that’s why he’s God. He can speak to us through time. He can transcend culture. Maybe that’s what I tell myself. Maybe that’s just a shallow intellectual justification for belief. Maybe I am truly an atheist and just don’t have the guts to admit it.

What do I make of the fact that there seems to be a God or Jesus for every single person? I suppose I can say that God is so big that he cannot be pigeonholed by ideology or theological orthodoxy. There are so many different kinds of people that God must necessarily manifest himself in a nearly infinite number of ways. This is what the hopeful mystic in me says. The part time atheist says that people simply are making it up. It comes down to the fact that man never truly worshiped anything but himself. It’s simply man creating God in his or her own image. It is man appealing to the ultimate authority for validation of himself and his opinions. I straddle the border between these spiritual regions. I sneak across the border several times a day with forged papers. Maybe the fact that I don’t just stay on one side is cowardice. Maybe it’s wisdom. I suspect at this point in my 30 years with little idea of how many years I have left that I prefer it that way. I suppose that wonder has it’s own splendor and beauty. I don’t want to get too certain about it because then I become what I deplore. Once again I have no answers. Don’t come to me for answers. I doubt that’s why you’ve come. I cannot bear witness to my faith. I can only bear witness to my doubts, to my questions.

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21 Jan
2013

Mark Driscoll’s Useless Inauguration Day Tweet

Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know. -Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington

This was posted to Twitter by Seattle’s resident clerical controversialist-in-chief Pastor Mark Driscoll. I am probably being generous calling him that as I consider the man to be a troll playing parson and a ghoul who uses God as a blunt instrument. I am not a fan of his and I judge him and his ministry harshly. I do not support it and I don’t buy the “It’s all about Jesus” line that is used as some sort of mantra by him and his sycophantic supporters to drown out dissent. I should also mention I am not a fan of the Obama administration. I did not vote for him and I did not vote for his opponent either. Now that that is out of the way let me address the tweet (Hate that term) in question.

Obviously Mr. Driscoll is not privy to the President’s innermost thoughts. This is a truism I shall not discuss in any depth. The issue I have is what occurred in the time that it took to compose and post this tweet. How many children died of starvation? How many infants were born into poverty with just barely a fighting chance of getting out? How many people lost their homes to foreclosure? How many workers committed suicide to escape endless hours assembling the iPads owned by so many in his congregation? I don’t know how many but I do know Mars Hill tends to be quite OCD about numbers. Attendance numbers. Number of baptisms. Number of members. What about the lamentable numbers? I know that in the time that it took to compose and post that tweet all those lamentable numbers probably went up by a bit. That tweet did nothing to address those injustices. It did nothing to inspire people to act to bring those lamentable numbers down by a bit. This tweet did nothing to inspire his congregants to alleviate suffering in any practical, earthly way. This tweet in my estimation was god damn useless.

What is Pastor Mark’s malfunction? I’m in a crisis of faith. I am straddling the fence between belief and agnosticism so many would say I am not qualified to speak on matters of theology. I suppose I could counter that I’m not sure who the hell is. Mr. Driscoll’s theology is defective and useless in the real world. He is madly in love with the idea that an avenging Christ will return one day when he has had enough injustice. Maybe that will happen but for now that’s little more than deus ex machina. That can only inspire complacency. Avenging, scary tattoeed thug Jesus will fix everything some day. It’s that mindset that leads to this useless, sad and pathetic sectarianism. It leads to worrying about whether Presidents are on speaking terms with mysterious ghosts in the sky while real suffering goes on. It’s a god damn shame.

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14 Jan
2013

Crisis of Faith, Part I: The Narcissism of Faith

I am a god damn narcissist. We are all narcissists. I detest this. Everything I do is evidence that it isn’t a bum wrap. The fact that I changed my religious views on Facebook to ‘Crisis of Faith’ and thought people would give a damn says I am a god damn narcissist. The fact that I write of my thoughts and put them on the Internet for someone to stumble upon by accident while they look for their favorite flavor of hardcore pornography says I am a god damn narcissist. This scrawling on the bathroom wall of the internet is about my crisis of faith. I am in a submission grappling match with the divine and have been for at least three years. I am not sure of gods or devils or angels or an afterlife or an objective purpose or meaning to our mystery laden lives. I am not sure I care. Some days I believe. Some days I do not. Sometimes that changes several times throughout the course of a day. My perspective on the divine is limited in the sense that it is exclusively Christian. It’s difficult if not impossible for me to address things from any other perspective. This essay addresses one facet of my crisis of faith. This is what I see as the narcissism of faith.

The popular Christian blogger Jon Acuff once wrote a post addressing his “haters.” He castigated his critics for dragging him back to average when he was afraid of being awesome. He said he was actually starting to believe he was created for more than average. He was created for more than average? The eternal God of the universe specifically created him to be extraordinary? The fundamentalist Christian is fond of accusing the atheist of arrogance for the elevation of human reason and the products of human reason like the scientific method. It would seem to me many atheists are quite humble in believing that the vast, ancient universe we inhabit isn’t here simply as a playground for human beings. It is so many Christians who believe an all powerful God intends for them greatness. You might say to me that God intends for his children to prosper and it says so in the Word of God. This assumes the Bible is the word of God and that the exegesis of this divine document is sound. That’s another matter entirely. It is my contention that the belief God intends any man or woman for greatness is arrogant as all hell and is the height of narcissism. Human beings are narcissistic enough. Why baptize that narcissism? Why take that narcissism and shoot it full of divine steroids? I also must wonder if a belief that God intends a human being for greatness is healthy.

I observe. I watch. I analyze. It’s what I do. I see people who believe God has a plan to make them a successful entrepreneur or an evangelist or an artist. I suppose that such a belief could be useful in achieving such a goal since maybe it can become a positive self fulfilling prophecy. The idea that a human life needs to be extraordinary places quite a bit of pressure on a person. What if you fall quite a bit short of the goal you believe God intends for you to achieve? What if you are persistent in trying to break into the recording industry despite a lack of talent because of a belief that God intends for you to be a recording artist and win a truckload of Grammy awards? What I observe most with this belief is a lot of angst. People constantly spend their time wondering if the plan they believe God has for them is really the plan. Did they hear God correctly? Did they correctly understand the significance of every event in their life? Every single event in their life, even the ones that seemed meaningless represented road signs that were supposed to lead them to their destiny and they constantly wonder if they made a wrong turn. That is a helluva lot of pressure. It’s not just the pressure. The tragedy is the tremendous self absorption such a belief entails. A person spends so much time navel gazing. Too much time spent within yourself can only make you miserable. While you’re navel gazing maybe your friends are lonely or in pain. They might need you. Strangers might need you. You can quote scripture. You can give me dubious exegesis clouded by a culture that is completely different than the one found in the pages of scripture. Do that all you want. I’ll point to Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. Murray as Phil Connors is a self absorbed asshole concerned with career advancement among other things. He ends up repeating the same day over and over again and cannot escape. He cannot commit suicide to end it. He’s stuck. The only thing that breaks him out of it is that he reaches outside of himself. The moments of kindness and compassion and friendship that you share with your fellow human beings are infinitely more satisfying than trying to discover exactly what it is an Almighty God intends you to do. Why mystify it all? Why not just accept that if there is a God that he, she or it might not have a specific plan for you? Maybe God wants you to find your own way and love your way through the darkness and basically not be a total and complete asshole toward your fellow man. Why not just forget about it? Forget about what you don’t know about the ultimate purpose of your life. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if God has a plan for me. What I do know is that I’m on a planet with billions of people. I’m going to encounter some of these people. I know that I don’t want anyone to be worse off for having known me. This is all I can truly say with any amount of confidence.

 

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