Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eugene's fun night of blood and terror

Protip:  If you're taking advice from Insanity Wolf, your life has gone very wrong somehow.

If you are taking recommendations, I would recommend that you do not spend the last night of the year covered and blood and too worried to sleep.

First off, I'm OK, thanks for asking.  The blood wasn't mine.

Let me start from the beginning.  So last night (around 2 am) I'm happily sleeping like a drunk baby, snug between Suicide Dachshund and my big pillow when I'm rudely awakened by a loud and disturbing noise.  It was something to the effect of THUD! groan... *pause*, THUD! groan... *pause* THUD!  By the third THUD! I had gone from dreaming soundly in bed to being out the door in a hyper adrenaline state.  What had happened was that Oom Eddie (for reasons unknown) decided to exit his room at high speed in the dark and walked into his door face first.  This in turn set off a chain reaction of him trying to get up, losing his balance and falling again, then trying to get up again and slipping in the big pool of blood by his feet and hitting his face on the doorframe again.  I have no idea how long this cycle would have continued if I didn't run over to help him up.  Probably for the best that we didn't find out.  I don't see that playing out well in court:  "No your honour, I did not beat Mr Language to death.  He just slipped and fell.  Fourteen times!  No your Honour, I'm not trying to be funny..."

Anyway, so I helped him to the bathroom, stopped the bleeding, cleaned up the bloody floors and walls, got him back in bed, frantically googled "concussion symptoms" (srsly, how did anyone live pre-internet?), checked for a concussion and got him an ice cold coke (for the shock) and some headache tablets (for the pain).  Then I spent the rest of the morning worrying that I missed something concussion wise (because getting medical info off the net is risky, duh!) and worrying that perhaps giving him aspirin was a stupid thing to do because its a blood thinner and I had just stopped him from bleeding like a New Years Eve goat sacrifice.  To top it all off, I got an empathy headache and kept smelling blood even though I washed myself like Lady Macbeth and bleached the floors.  It occurs to me just now that I forgot to wash my feet and I did step in a lot of blood so I guess I'll be washing my bedding today too since that means I got back in bed with bloody feet.  Awesome.

Long story short, Oom Eddie seems to be fine apart from looking like he lost a knopkierie fight.  He's on his way to the doctor now to get his wounds looked at because one or more of those gashes are probably going to require stitches. 

On the bright side, provided there is no more bleeding of any kind tonight, things can only look up in the new year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Persecutor Envy

Some time ago I did a blog post on a Munchhausen syndrome type malady that plagues many Western Christians called "Persecution Envy".  Persecution Envy causes the sufferer to live with the deep need to feel persecuted at all times, causing them to go to ridiculous lengths to find ways to make themselves feel as such.  These ways tend to be so inanely pathetic that it's hard to believe they actually take themselves seriously but since these people are usually folks who have never known actual persecution in any form I guess it could be possible that they just don't really understand the term "persecution".

There is however another strain of envy, spreading amongst Christians* in the West that is related but significantly different namely "Persecutor Envy".  Persecutor Envy causes the sufferer to live with a deep seated jealousy of all religions that stifle criticism and satire through violence and terror, most notably Islam.  In fact, one would be perfectly correct in calling this condition "Fatwa Envy" or "Jihad Envy" I think.  It almost  always tends to manifest as passive aggressive statements on how no one who makes a joke or criticism regarding Christianity would dare make the same comment about Islam.  It will usually also be pointed out that this only happens because Christians (unlike the heathen) are sweet, gentle souls whose longsuffering nature allows them to silently** bear these vicious verbal assaults with grace and humility.  Despite that, I have to say it is rather difficult to listen to these statements and not get the feeling that they wish people would fear them the way they fear reprisals by radical Islam.  Whenever they wax on about how Muslims can do and say whatever they like while everyone gets to make fun of Christians without reprisal it's hard not to feel that they are dreaming of how wonderful the world would be if they could fire up the Inquisition again!

Now much like Persecution Envy, I'm not sure that Persecutor Envy can be cured but I nevertheless prescribe a healthy dose of truth.

Firstly, anyone who claims that the critics of Christianity are loathe to similarly criticize Islam is talking out of their ass.  I'm sorry, there is no diplomatic way to put it, a claim like that is absolute bovine excrement*** and only demonstrates one thing - that the person making this claim didn't even spend 5 seconds of fact checking before pulling this winner straight from their nether region.  Any critic of religion in general and Christianity in particular I can think of - from Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens to Myers, Brayton and Thunderf00t - have all spent plenty of time criticizing Islam.  Anyone who claims differently just never bothered to look.  If there is a difference in the amount of criticism leveled at Christianity compared to that leveled at Islam and other faiths then the reason is simply geographical.  Someone who lives in a majority Christian country would be dealing with Christianity for the majority of their time, I don't know why it should even be necessary to point that out.

To be fair, Persecutor Envy usually just responds to criticism in the form of "OK sure what we did was bad but did you see what that Muslim guy did?  It was super terrible!  Why don't you criticize him instead?".  What really gets the condition to flare up in full blown "Oh if only we could still burn people at the stake!" mode are jokes at the expense of Christians. I have a theory that your sense of humour is inversely proportional to how much of a fundamentalist you are. 

Just recently the Saturday Night Live cast did a sketch about Jesus visiting Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos and Pat Robertson did not care for it at all (for your convenience, you can check out both clips here).  Not only did he see this sketch as an example of bigotry against Christians, he also took a moment to reminisce on how high the death toll would be if SNL produced such a sketch featuring Mohammed.  What Pastor Pat and others like him do not grasp however is that "fear of bombing" isn't really the reason why comedians don't have much Islamic material.  Actually it's far more pragmatic than that.

It's simple really, if you don't understand something then jokes about it won't be funny to you.  I didn't find that Tebow sketch terribly funny because I don't follow American Football and I had to look up who Tim Tebow is.  Rule of thumb, the more reading you have to do to understand a joke the less you will laugh at it!  But don't take my word for it, here, listen to an actual comedian:

Get it?  We have fun with the things we are familiar with.  That's why I, having grown up a fundamentalist Christian, find blogs like Stuff Christian Culture Likes and Scotteriology really funny - they are written by fellow recovering fundamentalists talking about this particular Evangelical sub-culture I know all too well.  If I grew up Buddhist, I don't think I would find jokes about terrible Contemporary Christian Music acts all that funny.  We can hardly joke about things we know nothing about now can we?  Also, I think there is an unwritten rule that you don't joke about those outside your own group.  A poor person can tell jokes about being poor and it's funny - a rich person telling jokes about poor people just comes across as cruel.  Telling (and laughing at) cruel jokes about other groups you don't know or understand lessens you as a person.  Most people understand that.

So instead of wishing there was a way to make everyone who says things you don't like shut up forever, why not ask yourself why people are saying the things they do?  I know this isn't the easy way, Persecutor Envy will make you make that they're simply doing it because everyone is evil and controlled by Satan and therefore they hate you because you have the One True Faith.  Fight that impulse and try to see if there are other reasons.  Is that thing you're being criticized for maybe something you need to work on?  Perhaps you're being called an ignorant bigot because you're being ignorant and bigoted?  They could be wrong of course but what's the harm in reevaluating your position?  And those people laughing at you, any chance that maybe they're making fun of you because you're being ridiculous?  Look at that Tim Tebow sketch for instance.  Wouldn't you agree that believing in an all powerful Creator who cares so deeply about the outcome of a regional sporting event that He actually intervenes because of the prayers of one of the players is maybe an extremely ridiculous thing to believe?  Also, didn't Jesus have a lot to say about how He disapproved of public displays of piety?   Maybe no one is mocking Tim Tebow because he's a Christian, maybe they're mocking him because he didn't listen to Jesus!

Look, power is seductive.  Not the good kind or seductive either!  Historically the more power Christians have had to censor and control others, the worse it turned out for everyone.  So don't envy those who use their power to prevent others from laughing at them.  Take a moment and think about what that says about them.  Think about what that says about their beliefs.  Now think about what it says about you that you wish your world could look more like theirs. If you have to force people to respect you through fear and threat, can your beliefs even be considered remotely good?  Can you?  If people are laughing at you or critizising you because you are doing stupid things then you only have yourself to blame.  If they are mocking you for doing what is good, then they are the tools and they will be the ones who will end up looking stupid.  You don't have to take my advice, though it is in the Bible too:

"If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."  1 Peter 4:14-16

*I'm focusing on the manifestation of this disease amongst the religious but a good case can be made that you will find this amongst the members of any group losing their grip on absolute power over society and culture.
**It's worth noting that when Christians in the West suffer in silence, they do so rather loudly.  There is after all no point in bearing hardship if no one is going to admire you for it!
***I'm trying to class up my blog a little. Is it working for you?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

To all my friends, followers, lurkers and complete strangers passing by, have a very merry Christmas!  Wherever you are, I hope you are having a great time that includes a room full of loved ones and at least one food coma.  I know that's my plan for the holidays!

If I may may take a moment, to suggest a really great gift this season I would like to suggest giving the gift of Community.  I don't mean human interaction and togetherness I mean ... OK woah, that came out horrible!  You know what,  you should totally give people the gift of human interaction and togetherness this season!  Reach out to people, talk to them, listen to them, spend time with them - this is a really good thing!  But while you're doing that, also share the TV series Community!  I love this show and it's currently in serious danger of being cancelled and I can't just sit by and watch another great comedy go the way of Arrested Development!

Here's the thing though, you can't just start anywhere.  I saw a couple of episodes from season 2 last year and I thought it was OK but I couldn't see what all the fuss was about.  That was my mistake though.  You don't just show up to the Greendale Community College study room and sit down with the group, you will feel left out.  You need to take the journey with them from the beginning.  So get season 1, sit down (with some friends and lots of food) and start watching it from the beginning.  If you think the first couple of episodes are pretty standard sitcom stuff, just stay tuned.  It will win you over and by the time you reach the first paintball episode you will wonder why you ever watched anything else!  Unlike say Big Bang Theory, this show doesn't just point at nerds and geeks and go "Nerds, right?! They so weird!!"  This is a show by nerds, for nerds and if you stick with it you will be greatly rewarded.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Intro to Eugenics

So you're considering an eugenics project?  Need some advice on how to get it right?  Well you've come to the right place!  Here is the only thing you need to know about eugenics - you have no business messing around with eugenics.  There.  You can forget everything else and just remember that.  But that's not going to be enough for you is it?  Fine, I'll elaborate.

You have no business attempting an eugenics program for one simple reason - you are too stupid.  Trust me, I mean that in the kindest way possible.  I'm not talking down to you, please don't look so offended.  It's really nothing personal, really.  Look, I don't know you but I don't really need to.  If you are a human being (and I'm assuming you are) then you aren't up to the task.  You may be the best and the brightest human to ever grace walk this pale blue dot but when it comes to eugenics you may as well be as smart as a small bag of rocks for all the good it will do.  OK so now you feel offended and you're still not convinced that you aren't supposed to meddle with eugenics.  Fine!  Here's the long answer.

Look, no one is saying you can't do it, I'm saying you shouldn't.  We clearly can do it and we've been doing it for thousands of years.  I have living proof that we can get some pretty interesting results via eugenics sleeping right next to me as I type this actually.

Pictured:  Eugenics

My sweet Suicide Dachshund here is the very embodiment of why we as human beings suck at eugenics.  First of all, we don't know when to quit.  Look, I will grant you that eugenics gave us all our domesticated farm animals, crops and pets.  If we just turned a wolf into a dog and then stopped everything would be fine.  But we didn't.  We couldn't.  It's just not in our nature!  That's why we now have the Chihuahua and the Sphinx cat.  It probably won't end there either, eventually someone will breed something that is even more of an abomination.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder right?  What I see as an unholy abomination others may see as a thing of beauty.  That's true.  Which brings me to my second reason:  we value all the wrong things.  Evolution can be a messy process but it works like a charm.  It may be a blind watchmaker but it builds watches that work dammit!  Human beings on the other hand are less pragmatic than nature.  When we practice eugenics we focus on eye colour, hair, ears perking just so and tails curling in a very certain way (dogs, I'm focusing on dogs for now).  That's how we end up with animals that have trouble breathing because we just had to have pets with flat faces.  Our pets suffer from hip dysplasia and intervertebral disc disease because we would rather have them look a certain way than for them to have healthy and long lives.  Great Danes have the shortest lifespan of any breed (according to Animal Planet's Dog Breed A-Z) and suffer from a horrible condition called "bloat" or "gastric torsion".  See, their stomachs aren't attached to their ribcages so if they run around with a full stomach, their stomach can flip over and basically knot their intestines causing a very painful death for the animal.  Natural selection would never tolerate such a condition.  Artificial selection (aka eugenics) on the other hand totally would because we would rather have a certain shape of head and a certain length of leg than an animal that won't live a short, pain filled life.  This is really bad when we do it to our pets.  It becomes infinitely worse when we try do do it to ourselves.

See the third way in which we lack the intelligence for successful eugenics is the tiny issue that we do not know the future.  Combined with our tendencies to value the wrong attributes, this spells certain doom.  Let's run a little thought experiment for an example here.  Imagine for a moment that the Nazis won World War 2 and that they then instituted and completed their eugenics program.  Everyone on earth is now a 7 foot tall, blonde Adonis with a body like Mr Universe.  We all have blue eyes, white skin and we can run faster, jump higher and bench press more weight than any humans ever.  How useless would that all be?  We don't push plowshares through the earth anymore, we don't stride across battlefields waving giant swords and axes at each other anymore!  Unless everyone on earth is going to be an underwear model, having big muscles and wavy blonde hair is pointless.  None of that is useful in the information age.  How does being tall and handsome help you when you're stuck behind a computer all day?  How does being strong and fast help you work in a cubicle?  None of that would help you get into space either come to think of it.  In fact I'm pretty sure there is a reason astronauts aren't built like Eastern European bouncers - in a space shuttle, space is at a premium!  So if Hitler had his dreams come true, we may have very well bred ourselves right out of the space- and information ages entirely.

So there you have it.  No matter how smart you are, you are too stupid to be good at eugenics.  There is just no way you can understand enough or see far enough ahead to not screw it up for everyone involved.  Evolution may not be perfect but it still does a better job of adapting species to their environment than we have ever managed.  Actually someone said all this much better than I could way back when Eugenics was still the great white hope:

"The history of the race shows endless examples of the pain and suffering that men have inflicted upon each other by their cocksureness and their meddling.

    We know something about biology. We know a little about eugenics. We have no knowledge of what kind of man would be better than the one that Nature is evolving to fit the environment which he cannot escape. We have neither facts nor theories to give us any evidence based on biology or any other branch of science as to how we could breed intelligence, happiness or anything else that would improve the race. We have no idea of the meaning of the world “improvement.” We can imagine no human organization that we could trust with the job, even if eugenicists knew what should be done, and the proper way to do it. Yet in the face of all this we have already started on the course, and the uplifters are urging us to go ahead, with no conception of where we are going, or what route we shall take!

    In an age of meddling, presumption, and gross denial of all the individual feelings and emotions, the world is urged, not only to forcibly control all conduct, but to remake man himself! Amongst the schemes for remolding society this is the most senseless and impudent that has ever been put forward by irresponsible fanatics to plague a long-suffering race."

Extract from "The Eugenics Cult", an essay by Clarence Darrow that appeared in The American Mercury, Volume VIII, Number 30, June 1926 (available in full online here)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Remedial Class Warfare

I stole this from Leaving Alex Jonestown.  Go read her Christmas countdown series , it's scary and hilarious!

I don't think I could work for Fox News.  It's not just because I'm not blonde a pretty enough either.  Having to constantly act outraged at the most trivial bullshit imaginable would just take too much of a toll on my general wellbeing, I don't think I could handle that.  If I had to spend my days acting like a new type of lightbulb is the worst thing in the history of anything I would have to fucking kill myself before the inevitable aneurysm puts me into a permanently vegetative state.  I don't know which is worse either, having to constantly pretend that the most trivial nonsense is worse than Hitler or having to ignore the genuinely terrible things out there because you're paid to pretend it's the best thing since the discovery of cheese.

In a season where many in the media are even more nonsensically outraged than usual, Fox has once again managed to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack with its current outrage at The Muppet Movie:

That's right, the fact that the bad guy in the movie is a rich oil tycoon means that the Muppets are teaching class warfare to kids.  Fox totally calls it like it is there, liberal Hollywood is  totally demonizing the rich!  It started way back when with classic movies like It's a wonderful life.  Basically every Bond movie ever along with all Superman movies that featured Lex Luthor had evil rich villains.  Of course there are also horror movies like Hostel where evil rich people pay to torture and kill young people and sci-fi movies like The Phantom Menace where the Trade Federation (a group of interplanetary job creators simply protesting a tax hike) are portrayed as the bad guys.  Also, when the A-Team got hired it was usually because some rich guy was trying to muscle out a smaller competitor.  In pretty much any period piece or Western I can think of the bad guy is almost always the rich landowner/tycoon trying to destroy the hard working poor.  Actually, come to think of it most villains tend to be rich and powerful people oppressing the poor and disenfranchised. It makes sense though, having the protagonist be richer and more powerful than the antagonist just wouldn't be good storytelling, why would anyone root for someone like that after all?  This is another reason I can't work for Fox, I don't think I can pretend that I think Ebenezer Scrooge should have been the hero while holding a straight face.

Of course while Fox I knows all about the infamous liberal bias of Hollywood, they may not realize that this evil liberal bias against the rich is everywhere.  Not just in movies and the media but also in books!  And not just in radical fringe works like The Communist Manifesto either, I'm talking about the world's favourite all time best seller - The Bible.

The Bible is just class warfare from cover to cover*.  Well by Fox standards anyway.  You have Jesus commanding a job creator to redistribute his wealth to the welfare cases.  There is the socialist setup of the original church which is portrayed in a positive light.  Jesus even told this one parable in which a rich man goes to hell because he was rich and a poor man goes to heaven because he was poor - not because of their creeds, dogma or belief systems, riches and poverty are the only things mentioned in the parable.  Also that whole thing about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven didn't seem very pro-capitalism at all!  It wasn't just Jesus being all hippie either.  As The Slacktivist pointed out recently, the prophet Nathan once used a story about an evil rich man who took from a man who had very little to illustrate to King David just how evil his actions have been.  In fact, demonizing the rich seems to be a running theme with the prophets.  The Bible has lots to say about money but it rarely has a good word for those who have a lot of it.  It has plenty of really bad things to say for those who make their money by exploiting others, those who don't pay their workers fair wages (promptly) and especially those who foreclose on widows (See Deut 24:15; Isa 58Mark 12:40 for but a few examples)

Clearly the Bible is one long piece of anti-capitalist propaganda and I bet Fox would be outraged that it is taught to children.  Of course they can't be outraged by it since they've clearly never read it.

*To be fair, Fox is also wall to wall class warfare but unlike the Bible, they side with wealthy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vindication Videos

Every once in a while I come across something that totally vindicates something I blogged about earlier.  I won't lie, it feels good to be right.  Sure, I always try to put my facts on the table when I post something so it's not like I just pull these posts out of my ass but still, it's nice when you find something that corroborates your original thesis.  Usually I resist the urge to do the "I told you so" dance but this is the season for giving is it not?  Now I could do a separate post on each one but that seems a little bit like cheating to get my post numbers up.  So instead of doing three separate short posts, here they are all rolled into one:

Most recent first.  In my previous post I talked about being a better person than the generations before you.  I found this old PSA that shows that we are indeed managing to do that.  Sure, there are still plenty of people out there who consider homosexuals to be mentally ill predators intent on infecting young people with gayness but those people are fast becoming a minority.  While they may still be a vocal minority they at least don't get to be as vocal as this anymore:

See?  It really does get better.

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.  When I blogged about Christians saving their first kiss for the wedding day I'd wager some people didn't think I was entirely serious.  Surely such a thing doesn't happen in real life, right?  Oh but it does and now I have video to back me up.  I did my best to describe the practice in my post but I don't think I could ever hope to accurately relay the awkwardness of it all the way this video does:

OK, so maybe that wasn't quite a thousand words.  More like three - Hard. To. Watch. (Especially that kiss.)

Finally, did you catch Lady Gaga's Thanksgiving special?  If you didn't then you missed out on something truly amazing - and I'm not just saying that because I'm a huge fan.  It was a thing of beauty, pure and simple.  If her talent didn't bowl you over then you are dead inside!  And the waffles!  ZOMG the waffles!!  But I digress.  Remember when I said that Lady Gaga was the last of the Nazirites?  If not, go back and read what I said there and then watch this video:

Did I nail it or what?

It's OK, you don't have to answer, we both know I totally nailed it.  Her speech at the 6:30 mark was exactly what I said being a Nazirite is all about.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be a better person than the Pilgrims

"Be a better man than your father"

I heard that line on Fringe some time back and while I have forgotten the episode, story and original context that the quote first appeared in, I have never forgotten the quote itself.  To me it was just so beautifully profound I wanted to translate it into Latin and put it on my family crest.  It's a great motto for any individual and certainly for any family.  Even more so, it would be a great motto for a country to have wouldn't it?.  OK sure, it's a little patriarchal but the sentiment is about more than sons and fathers.  It's about honoring those who came before without living in their shadow.  It's a reminder that each generation can reach higher by standing on the shoulders of the previous one.  It shows no disrespect to your parents and grandparents - if they were bad, you can be better;  if they were good, you can be great.  Instead of stagnation, everyone can move onward and upward, even if it's just by the smallest increment at a time.  "Be a better person than your ancestors".  There, I washed off the patriarchy and now everyone can enjoy it!  Happy?

Well turns out not everyone agrees with me that this is a good motto to live by.  I'm specifically referring to the massive crapstorm that hit the airwaves when President Obama's Thanksgiving proclamation on Youtube failed to explicitly thank God.  I'll let Jon Stewart run you through the story:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Much Ado About Stuffing
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

On a day commemorating their history, these Fox News pundits and their fellow umbrage junkies ended up being no better than their forefathers.  Guess it's true what they say about those who do not learn from history!  So lets look back.

Everyone knows that the Pilgrims left England and sailed for America (after a bit of a detour in Holland) to escape religious persecution.  Worth noting though is the nature of this religious persecution.  It's not that these people weren't allowed to be Christians in jolly olde England.  On the contrary, Christianity was compulsory!  What made these Christian Pilgrims feel so persecuted was the fact that they had to be Christians the way the official state church mandated - with harsh punishments for anyone who tried to be a different kind of Christian.  Now interestingly enough it turned out that these Pilgrims weren't really opposed to the idea of religious persecution, they just didn't like being the ones getting picked on!  After settling in the New World they established a system identical to the one that drove them from their homeland, only this time they were the ones deciding how Christianity should be practiced and punishing those who would not conform to their ideas. 

Luckily for everyone, subsequent generations of Americans did turn out to be better men than their fathers.  Over time Americans didn't just embrace religious freedom, they became the example for the rest of the world on what freedom should look like.  Once the First Amendment arrived on the scene, it pretty much set the standard for everyone else to try to live up to.  It's sad then that those talking heads on Fox didn't seem to get the memo.  Instead they still seem to be stuck in the mindset of the Pilgrims, namely that everyone should not only be Christian but that they have to be Christian in a very certain way and anyone who fails to conform must be persecuted as much as possible.  They use the word "freedom" a lot but I don't think they really understand what the word actually means!  I'd like to believe that they represent the exception rather than the rule though. 

Look, I get it.  By its very nature the past will always exert a stronger influence on us than the future could ever hope to.  I don't know about yours but my forefathers invented Apartheid!  I have to live with that legacy and I have to try to do better.  Maybe our forefathers did the best they could with how they understood the world but if we know better then we have to do better. What good parent would not want their offspring to reach greater heights than they did?  If our forefathers are worth the reverence we afford them, would they not want us to exceed them too?  I'm not saying that just because your ancestors were imperfect you have to be perfect in every way.  But if every generation can just take one small step forward, who knows where we could end up going?  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Missing Uncle Sam

Today I am doubly wistful.  Not only is it the 1 year anniversary of the first time I set foot in the glorious US of A but it is also Thanksgiving today which is my favourite holiday of all time that I don't get to celebrate because my stupid ancestors knew how to hunt, fish, farm and survive in a new world and didn't need to be rescued by helpful natives bearing delicious poultry.  Thanks a lot ancestors!

Anyway, I guess all I'm trying to say is, Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the US!  Wish I could be there again.  I did find this little ditty that expresses my feelings really well though...   

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Politicians vs Truth

So today many of us in South Africa protested unsuccessfully against a proposed bill on the "protection of information" which many fear will become a tool for the government to silence media reports they dislike.  The government swears they would never use it to censor the media though.  Somehow I'm less than convinced.  Lately it has become very clear to me that politicians as a species very much dislike the truth.

Now I'm sure you just had a very sarcastic thought after reading that last sentence of mine.  I know how naive it must sound, expecting honesty from politicians!  A politician telling lies is hardly breaking news after all, it's business as usual.  In fact it is probably the earliest entry in the big book of lame cliches and I get that.  I promise you I'm not as naive as I sound, I understand that politicians have never actually been honest.  It's just that they seem to be getting worse lately.  Much worse.

First there was Senator Jon Kyle who told a whopping lie about Planned Parenthood - nothing odd about that.  The really crazy part came a few hours later when he was confronted with the truth and his office responded that his words were "not intended to be a factual statement".  I'm pretty sure I'm not just looking at the past with rose coloured glasses here, this isn't par for the course!  Pretty sure that traditionally when caught telling a big fat lie politicians at least bothered to come up with some lame excuse for it or at least doubled down and tried to defend their statement.  To basically tell everyone else that they are actually the dumbasses for expecting a politician to tell the truth in the first place seems like a brand new twist on dishonesty!  It's not just me right?  Pretty sure this was the first time that a politician blamed the public for stupidly expecting his facts to be factual!  Sadly, that was not the last time...

Just the other day I watched presidential hopeful Herman Cain start a discussion on the Occupy Wall Street movement by saying "I don't have facts to back this up".  Since when is that a way to start a discussion?  Am I the crazy one for thinking that is how you end discussion of a topic?  "I don't have any facts to back this up" should be how you excuse yourself from discussing something you don't know anything about.  It should not be offered as a license to share any crazy idea you just pulled out of your ass!  Maybe I'm wrong but my parents raised me differently.

Speaking of parents, Michelle Bachmann is a proud parent.  I've often heard her bring up the fact that she is a mother of 5 and foster mother of 23 to illustrate her conservative, pro-family credentials.  Yet, lately she has started doing something I'd bet she never let her children do.  First she went on national television to tell the world that the HPV vaccine causes girls to become mentally retarded.  Now this claim is utter bullshit as any doctor would be able to tell you but Mrs Bachmann had a great source - some woman she doesn't know told her that.  Now I'm not sure what kind of a parent Mrs Bachmann is but I know what my parents would have told me if I came to them with a wild story I heard from a complete stranger;  They would have told me to stop passing on unfounded rumours and to check my facts before I start spreading lies that could potentially hurt people.  I may be out of line but I'm reasonably sure that Mrs Bachmann would have told her children the same thing.  So why is it OK for her to spread false rumours?  It's not like it was a one time thing either, she recently told how "Obamacare" prevents doctors from helping the sick because they have to check with the IRS before they can treat someone.  It's not true at all but she shared it anyway because an anonymous 7 foot tall doctor told her that story.  Surely she knows better?  She must know she's spreading rumours and telling lies, right?  She can't not know, people keep telling her these aren't true and she keeps doing it anyway!

What's going on?  Is this normal now?  I didn't even have to go looking for these stories, these are just the ones that made the headlines so who knows what else is out there!  Like I said, I'm not really this naive, I know politicians are dishonest but this goes way beyond simply telling lies.  This is a new level of brazenly disregarding the truth.  It's like they don't even have the decency to act honest anymore!  They're not even pretending to tell the truth anymore, they are just openly lying and getting upset at people for not being OK with that.  It's gotten so bad that I can't even enjoy the irony of seeing the same people who rail against the dangers of moral relativism be openly dishonest when it suits their campaigns.

Am I the crazy one?  Am I wrong?  Surely it wasn't always like this?  When did politicians openly declare war on the truth? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Waiting for no one

I recently discovered the blog Stuff Christian Culture Likes and I loved it so much I read the whole thing front to back!  Reading it was like taking a journey back to the weird and wonderful (but mostly weird) time in my teens and early 20's when I lived fully immersed in charismatic Christian culture.  One particular post on "Waiting to kiss until your wedding day" really stuck with me because it brought back a lot of memories about just how confusingly complex the church's view of physical intimacy is.

Having sex is the second worse sin anyone can commit (worst is having gay sex, obviously).  We use words like "dirty", "defiled" and "impure" to describe people who have been physically intimate.  You can lie cheat and steal all day long but the the only time anyone would tell you that you are "living in sin" is when you're having sex.  Sex is so bad you can't even have it by yourself!  Most congregations have groups for men that provide "accountability partners"* to help keep them from flogging the bishop.  They also help keep men from looking at the swimsuit issue of a sports magazine because sex isn't just a dirty sin when you actually commit it, it's even a sin when you just think these dirty and impure thoughts!

Sex is a wonderful gift from God and He want's His children to enjoy it.  Many churches have a several week long sermon series on Song of Solomon to teach congregations that physical intimacy is a blessing and that God intended it for their pleasure.  Churches therefore encourage Christian couples to have a lot of sex with programs like the 30 days of sex challenge.  In other words, Christians are supposed to have a lot of sex and they are supposed to enjoy it!

Confused?  You are not alone.  Yes, the Christian culture's views on sex sound a little bit like Schrodinger's petting.  It manages to be incredibly good and incredibly bad at the same time, the difference maker being marriage of course.  Marriage is the magic wand that turns the dirtiest, most sinful thing you can do into the most wonderful, holiest thing ever.  If you are unmarried then there is nothing more important to God than your purity, i.e. not defiling yourself with physical intimacy.  Get married and suddenly God no longer gives a hoot!  Purity shmurity!

It should be no surprise then that Christian young people tend to get married young and also tend to have very short engagements.  The problem is that it doesn't work out that well for everyone, mostly thanks to the unholy abomination that is Christian dating and courtship.

The first rule of Bible based dating is that dating is evil and immoral and should be avoided at all costs.  Since God has a perfect plan for your life, this includes the perfect marriage partner and you should let God be your matchmaker.  If you start dating different people you run the risk of stepping outside of His Perfect Will by following your own sinful desires, in which case: no perfect life partner for you!  Instead, a lot of churches teach "Biblical Courtship" which is a complex multidimensional system involving assorted small group leaders, accountability partners, the pastor and both sets of parents.  I would explain further but it would take a very long time and I'm not sure I understand most of it.  I wonder if anyone really does...  Anyway, the second rule of Bible based dating is no funny business before the wedding!  I'm not talking about sex, that should be a no brainer.  No, things that should be avoided are anything that could tempt you to slip and fall into the sinful morass of sexual impurity - so no kissing, no hanging out alone, no touching in the swimsuit areas (and this is Christian culture so I mean one piece, not bikini!) and preferably no hand holding (though it is grudgingly allowed).  After all, if everyone is destined for someone then you run the risk of getting frisky with someone elses spouse-to-be!  That would be sad and wrong because you would be robbing both your true future spouse as well as their true future spouse of something meant only for them.

Couple of problems with this.  First off, "Bible based dating" is not based on the Bible.  At all.  How could it?  There is no dating in the Bible!  People in Biblical times just married whoever their parents arranged for them to marry after all.  There may have been matchmaking involved but it certainly wasn't from God's side.  This is also why the Bible places such a premium on (female) virginity - women were property back then and their "purity" gave them value in marriage negotiations.  "Biblical courtship & dating" is probably based on Romeo & Juliet more than any other source material, only instead of "star crossed" lovers you have "God ordained" partners.  Secondly it places a lot of unrealistic expectations on libidinous young couples that they are often ill equipped to deal with, leading to downward spirals of (completely unnecessary) guilt and shame.  Thirdly, it clearly doesn't work for everyone.  If you look past all the engaged/married kids in their early 20's at church you are bound to see a smattering of lonely single people in their late 20's (and 30's and 40's) still desperately waiting on God to be their matchmaker.  Why do you think that is?  It's not that they are being punished for their impurity.  On the contrary, these folks are usually far better at "staying pure" than their married-at-20 counterparts.  I can think of three possible answers:

1 - God is a matchmaker but is also running an eugenics program.  Take a closer look, those singles are more often than not of the overweight, unattractive and/or socially awkward variety.  Matching them doesn't seem to be as high on God's to-do list as matching their attractive, vivacious counterparts.  Coincidence?

2 - God did in fact have a perfect life partner picked out for you but then said future spouse decided to obey the Word of God and chose to stay unmarried (as endorsed by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul).  Could God's perfect plan for you to get married be overruled by His own endorsement of life long celibacy?  That is a question for better theological minds than mine!  Alternatively maybe your perfect partner didn't go to a church that taught Biblical courtship and ended up marrying someone outside of God's perfect matchmaking plan.  OR perhaps your perfect partner did go to a church that taught Biblical courtship and dating and were so overcome by their sinful desire to have sinful intercourse that they married the first best person they could find just so their desires could stop being sinful

3 - Maybe it's none of the above.  Maybe God is not your matchmaker (good guess since as already pointed out, none of that is in the Bible) and the rules for finding love is exactly the same inside the church as it is on the outside.  Maybe you're supposed to do what you can to make yourself as attractive as possible, go out and meet some people, ask some of them out and find someone compatible.  Who knows, you may even find someone you get on with so well that you want to marry that person!  Could happen!

*This one time, at church camp, I met a guy whose mother (a Christian counselor) also doubled as his "accountability partner".  He would have to go to her every time he had "sinful thoughts" or masturbated and confess his sin to her.  I wish I was kidding about this!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How gay is the anti-gay movement?

Something extraordinary happened recently:  My cousin recently proposed to his girlfriend of three years.  Doesn't sound very extraordinary does it?  But it is.  Or at least, it's supposed to be.  See in this country gays have full marriage equality and if you have been listening to Christian Conservatives you would know that once same sex marriage becomes legal it will inevitably be followed by the destruction of the institution of marriage!  The Family will cease to exist!  People will marry horses and cows!  Slippery slopes will drag us all down to anarchy!  Civilization will cease!

Except none of that ever happened.  Civilization is still going (despite the best efforts of Greece), my cousin is getting married in a year and it turns out they have to wait that long for a venue because apparently a lot of other couples also plan on getting married it seems.  It's been years now since the legislation passed and despite all expectations heterosexuals are still getting married and starting families - which seems rather extraordinary considering the fact that gay marriage was supposed to destroy both marriage and the family!  Imagine that.  In yet another shocking turn of events, people are still not marrying their pets/toasters, pedophilia is not legal and "the gay agenda" somehow failed to turn us all gay.  So much for those slippery slopes...

The thing about all these demonstrably false claims about "the gays" is that, like a lot of the anti-gay movement's activities, they sound a little... well... gay!  Think about it:

Firstly there is the preoccupation with gay sex.  I'm a hetero male.  Do you care to guess how much time I spend imagining gay sex acts?  None.  I spend absolutely no part of my day picturing what gays get up to behind closed doors.  "None" is also the amount of homosexual pornography I look at.  Now I can't possibly speak for all straight people but I'll wager that for pretty much all of them the answer to the above questions would be somewhere between "very little" and "none at all".  You know who does spend a fair amount of time thinking about gay sex though?  Gay people, sure.  But also anti-gay activists.  How weird is that?  The people who act the most outraged by the very idea of gay sex spend hours of their day thinking about and talking about the details of gay sex.  They even check out a lot of gay porn - and not just any old porn, the hardcore S&M stuff - and then show it to other people who also claim to be very much against homosexuality.  They do this on a regular basis too. Yeah, that's totally not gay...

Secondly there is their need to make the lives of gay people as miserable as possible.  To the anti-gay brigade, the concept of "live and let live" is more abominable than socialism and secular humanism combined.  They don't believe in liberal hippie nonsense like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  Instead they go out of their way to oppose anti-bullying and hate crime legislation that would protect gay kids from being tormented to the point of suicide.  Yes, here you have "good" Christian folk being PRO-bully.  Their rationale seems to be that kids won't "choose the homosexual lifestyle" if they can make it unattractive enough.  The fact that countless kids still somehow "choose" a sexual orientation that will guarantee lifelong harassment, mistreatment not to mention verbal and physical abuse never makes them consider that perhaps choice has nothing to do with it.  Now I'm not saying that these pro-bully, anti-gay folks are themselves homosexuals who feel that since they are forced to live miserable, closeted lives by their beliefs then no other gay person should be allowed to be happy and openly gay because that would be slander.  All I'm saying is that it sure looks a lot like it.  The logical inference of their position is that being gay is so attractive that if it was a hassle free option then everyone would want to be gay!  Which makes very little sense because typically the only people wanting to be gay are people who actually are gay.  Just sayin'...

Thirdly there is the statement that same sex marriage will "destroy marriage".  I've never heard a particularly good argument as to why allowing more people to get married will somehow lead to less marriage though.  Like my cousin (and the millions of people like him and his girlfriend) demonstrate, the fact that same sex couples are getting married does not in any way diminish the desire for marriage among opposite sex couples.  Really the only scenario I can imagine where legalizing same sex marriage would end a hetero marriage is if say you're a gay person who entered into a straight marriage (due to religious or societal pressure) during a time when gay marriage was illegal but then when it became legal you decided to stop living a lie, get a divorce and finally marry your true love.  Again I'm not saying that when anti-gay activists are saying "same sex marriage will destroy marriage" they really mean "if it was legal it would probably be the end of my marriage".  Sort of sounds like it though...

Oh and apropos of nothing, here is a growing list of the top anti-gay crusaders who turned out to be gay.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spellcasting for Christians 101

Thanks to the new Facebook layout I get to see a lot more of what my friends and acquaintances are up to.  So then whenever I see someone commenting on or "liking" an person that actually uses "Prophet" or "Apostle" as a title, I'm compelled to check it out.  I have to say, it rarely disappoints!  For instance I was checking out the Facebook wall of "Prophet Kobus van Rensburg" and I noticed that while every one of his status updates is a Bible verse, there was this one exception:

"...Today I put on the power of heaven, The light of the sun, The radiance of the moon, The splendor of fire, The fierceness of lightning, The swiftness of wind
The depth of the sea, The firmness of the earth and The hardness of rock
Today I put on God’s strength to steer me, God’s power to uphold me
God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye for my vision, God’s ear for my hearing
God’s word for my speech, God’s hand to protect me, God’s pathway before me
God’s shield for my shelter, God’s angel to guard me, From ambush of devils
From vice’s allurements, From traps of the flesh, From all who wish ill
Whether distant or close, Alone or in hosts, Christ-beside me, Christ- before me
Christ-behind me, Christ-within me, Christ-beneath me, Christ-above me
Christ-on my right hand, Christ-on my left, Christ-when I lie, Christ-when I sit
Christ-when I rise, Christ-in every heart who think of me
Christ- in the mouth of all who speak of me, Christ-in every eye that sees me
Christ-in every ear that hears me, Christ-guard me today, From poison, from burning, From drowning, from hurt, That I have my reward, Today I put on a terrible strength, Invoking the Trinity, Confessing the Three, With faith in the One, As I face my Maker."

Clearly this was no Bible verse.  In fact this looked exactly like a magical incantation.  Turns out it is (sort of) and it's rather old.  It's known as Saint Patrick's Breastplate, a prayer and hymn attributed to the patron saint of Ireland.  (Prophet van Rensburg here actually used the short version, you can check out the full version at the wiki link)  According to the Wikipedia article on it, "It is written in the style of a druidic incantation for protection on a journey".  So yes, it looks like a magical incantation because it's based on one!

You know, Charismatic Christians may buy into Jack Chick's claims that Catholics all work for the antichrist, but they sure do act pretty much exactly like medieval Catholics!

Before I forget, Happy Halloween to all who celebrate it!  Feel free to use this bit of Jesus magic to keep yourself safe from all the ghosts and ghouls out there!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Libertarian and the Antichrist

While watching this week's Daily Show interview with Judge Andrew Napolitano, I was once again reminded of why I find Libertarians so fascinating.  As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, I do enjoy a good juxtaposition and Libertarians offer a particularly interesting one in that they claim to follow both Christ and an antichrist*.  Now I realize that I'm generalizing here and that this will not apply to every Libertarian, but hear me out at least because I do think it applies to a whole lot of them.

First off, I know that not all Libertarians are Christians and therefore would not claim to follow Christ - what follows does not apply to those.  A lot of Libertarians on the other hand are Christians.  All the Libertarians that I know are certainly Christians and I don't mean the nominal kind, these are all very serious Christians.  Not sure about Judge Napolitano's exact religious beliefs but in that interview he talks about "Judeo-Christian values" being foundational.  So then a lot of Libertarians claim to follow Christ.  Which makes it extremely strange that so many (again, not all) would also be such avid followers of an antichrist like Ayn Rand.

Again, I know that not all Libertarians worship Ayn Rand and that she herself wasn't a big fan of the Libertarian movement, but it's undeniable that Rand is idolized by a significant portion of Libertarians.  She famously authored "The Virtue of Selfishness" and in that interview, Judge Napolitano explicitly mentions that "selfishness is a virtue" - that is no coincidence.  Her works and words have clearly saturated the thinking of many in the movement. 

So how exactly do so many people see no contradiction in following both Rand, who advocated individualism over collectivism and egoism over altruism as well as Jesus, who preached pretty much the exact opposite?  Judge for yourself if you think I'm being too extreme:

 Ayn Rand said:
And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: "I."

Jesus said:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 Ayn Rand said:
“the first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man’s first duty is to himself. His moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others. His moral obligation is to do what he wishes, provided his wish does not depend primarily upon other men.”

Jesus said:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 Ayn Rand said:
The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.

Jesus said:
"whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

 Ayn Rand said:
"The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves. The relationship produces nothing but mutual corruption. It is impossible in concept. The nearest approach to it in reality -- the man who lives to serve others -- is the slave. If physical slavery is repulsive, how much more repulsive is the concept of servility of the spirit. The conquered slave has a vestige of honor. He has the merit of having resisted and of considering his condition evil. But the man who enslaves himself voluntarily in the name of love is the basest of creatures. He degrades the dignity of man, and he degrades the conception of love. But that is the essence of altruism."

Jesus said:
And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

"The greatest among you shall be your servant. "

"Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves."

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.”

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

From Common Sense Jesus

I could go on but you get the idea, Jesus and Ayn Rand had polar opposite worldviews.  These were just the words of Jesus mind you, if I started quoting from the rest of the "Judeo Christian tradition" (aka the Bible) this would have been a very long blog post indeed.  My point is that while anyone is free to read both the Bible and Atlas Shrugged, no one can reasonably base their beliefs on both.  You can follow the teachings of Jesus or the teachings of Ayn Rand but as far as I can see it would be a complete contradiction to claim to follow both.

"Contradictions do not exist". "Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises". "You will find that one of them is wrong".  Ayn Rand

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Jesus of Nazareth

Seems like Jesus and Rand do agree on some things...


*Please not that I'm using the term "an antichrist" here and not "THE Antichrist".  The Antichrist is what fans of the Left Behind books imagine will be the leader of the coming One World Government that will resemble Christ as far as the world is concerned but who will actually be a satanic imposter.  The Bible on the other hand does not refer to one single antichrist but instead uses the word as a plural, i.e. those people who live and operate as polar opposite to the life and teachings of the Christ.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Common Sense" Jesus

Would you vote for Jesus?  In principle, a lot of people probably think they would.  In reality though, I don't think they would, not in a thousand years.  Jesus would make a terrible president.  Not that he would even make it past the campaigning stage without being re-crucified!  The fact is, Jesus had some strange ideas and tended to ruffle everyone's feathers.  Not some feathers, everyone's.  It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you reside in, chances are pretty solid that there would be some things about Jesus you would not be willing to live with if they were government policy.  If you don't believe me, go read the Gospels.

Not that this has ever stopped opportunistic politicians from claiming Jesus' personal endorsement on their campaign.  None of them are of course willing to look at the whole package when it comes to Jesus though - both liberals and conservatives tend to only focus on the things Jesus said that they personally agree with while pretending all the other stuff He said somehow doesn't count.  For instance, recently Herman Cain made the following statement:

 "He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He feed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds, and giving them hope, encouragement and inspiration. For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check. Nevertheless, he completed all the work He needed to get done. He didn’t travel by private jet. He walked and sailed, and sometimes traveled on a donkey.  For over 2,000 years the world has tried hard to erase the memory of the perfect conservative, and His principles of compassion, caring and common sense."

See?  Jesus was the "perfect conservative"and his approach was one of "common sense".  Oh really?  Well I guess I could answer that by quoting some Scriptures but we all know how that goes; before you know it both sides are throwing Bible verses at each other, armored with the deep conviction that they are right and that Scripture vindicates their personal beliefs with neither side listening to anyone else.  So why bother?  Instead I'm just going to link to this fantastic new site called Common Sense Jesus.  It does a beautiful job of debunking the idea of Jesus being a party line towing, modern right wing, common sense conservative.  Go there now!  You will find more gems like these:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Worst Crutch To Lean On

This month has not been a good one for me as far as hero worship is concerned.  First Donald Miller, one of my all time favourite Christian authors, writes this article claiming that the biggest problem with the church is that it's too focused on scholarship and education.  That just rubbed me the wrong way for a lot of reasons but eventually I calmed myself down and decided not to vent about it on my blog (though I may have left a snarky comment or two on his facebook fanpage's link to the story).  There is a chance I'm over-reacting and the article is written in pretty ambiguous/slippery language.  On the one hand, I can agree - if all the church does is argue dogma and split theological hairs and it never helps anyone then what good is it?  On the other hand though it seemed to me to be talking down to academia in general, calling education pointless.  Again, that could just be me.  It did seem to echo the populous notion that education and scholarly pursuits are for out of touch elitists and that real, salt of the earth, common sense folks don't need none of that thar book larnin' to know what is right.  Also, pretty sure that the problem among Christians is not too much education, if anything it's the opposite!  I'll get back to that before the end of this post.

Anyway, so just today The Slacktivist, one of my favourite bloggers in the universe, discussed the very Pat Robertson video I posted in my previous post and he (unlike me) came out in support of Pat.  Actually I've been meaning to do a follow up on what I wrote previously because I did get thinking on the matter.  For one thing, I'll give the Slacktivist that much, the video shows a far softer and less dogmatic Pat Robertson than the one who usually comes on TV to kick suffering people when they are down.  There did actually appear to be a glimmer of empathy in his reply.  I still disagree with his advice though.  The Slacktivist post did make me realise that I should perhaps just clarify a tad and expand on what I said.

First of all, like I took pains to point out, I have nothing but the deepest empathy for people who has a loved one suffering from Alzheimers.  Pat was right, it's a truly hateful disease.  Frankly if I was diagnosed with it, I'd go the same route as Terry Pratchett and choose to die as myself, not an incoherent mess that couldn't even be called a shadow of who I used to be.  But I get that is not what everyone would choose for various reasons and that is why there needs to be some frank discussion and planning for the future when a disease like this is diagnosed.  If the subject of the letter to Pat Robertson and his wife had sat down together and discussed the way forward and she agreed that it would be best that eventually he move her into a facility and move on with his life I would agree with Pat's advice.  BUT - and that's a big but - this was clearly not the case.  This man's wife went into that long night fully confident that her husband was going to take care of her the way he promised in his wedding vows and then he changed his mind.  He started off taking care of her, got frustrated, found someone else and is now going to move on.  That, I can never agree with.  If you said you were going to be there to the end then you better be there to the end.  The commitment you make is the commitment you stick to.  That is why I found Pat's advice so offensive, because it was such an after the fact rationalization made in order to justify and excuse a course of action that has already been taken in bad faith. 

Just a little bit of honest planning would have changed the way I responded to that situation.  Of course planning ahead was never going to happen, much the same way it didn't happen when my grandmother got sick.  The problem is that just like the man with the sick wife, my family are fundamentalist, Pentecostal Christians.  People like us, when faced with dread medical conditions, tend not to plan for the future the way we should because we have a crutch we lean on.  Unfortunately this crutch is weak and brittle and can never give the support it promises.  It doesn't look it though, it looks ancient and noble and trustworthy.  We are all taught early on to trust in it completely.  It's not a cheap crutch either, it asks a lot from us.  It asks that we cheerfully deny reality, that we stay positive and believe and trust and above all never give in to the temptation of accepting the facts.  This crutch is faith that God will heal.  This crutch will make you fall on your face every time.  It may ask for a lot but it will give you nothing but disappointment and bitterness.  It won't even let you have that though, you're not allowed to be disappointed or bitter or voice any doubt in the claim that the crutch is sturdy and true no matter how many times it has demonstrably failed to be that.  So really, it takes everything from you and leaves you with nothing.

I remember a lot of things about my grandmothers disease.  Some of the worst memories however are not the one's where she didn't know who I was.  The darkest memories are of my grandpa furiously praying over her, rebuking the devil and praying the healing power of God over her.  My grandpa leaned on that crutch more and more as my grandma got worse and worse and sure as day, it dropped him on his face every single time.  My grandma never got better, why would she, she had Altzheimers!  It's an incurable, soul crushing disease!  It's not caused by devils and it's not healed by the hand of God.

My dad used the same crutch for over a decade when my mom's kidneys started failing.  There was fasting, and praying - so much praying - she was anointed with oil, demons were bound, healing was claimed and...  well what do you think?  That crutch kept collapsing but we kept believing in it right up to the day she died.  Also, my dad stuck with my mom all through this decade plus long illness which I knew wasn't easy just like my grandpa did.  So again, while I have tons of empathy for someone living with a loved one with an incurable disease I will never have sympathy for you if you decide to call it quits because it's too hard on you.  That choice runs contrary to my very DNA.

I too leaned on that crutch and for most of my life pretended it wasn't as worm eaten and rotten as it demonstrably was.  I trusted in it as a child when my mother and grandmother were ill, just like the rest of my family. I leaned on it while my dad lay dying in the hospital.  I leaned on it desperately when I got cancer - even though I should have known better by then.  I don't like to talk about my own disease, mainly because what I faced wasn't as bad as what my parents and grandparents had to deal with.  I had the weak, sissy kind of cancer that spreads slowly and grows at a snails pace.  The only reason it almost killed me was because I kept going to prayer lines and healing services instead of a hospital.

If you or a loved one is sick, don't pray about it, go see a doctor and get help.  As someone who grew up hearing countless sermons about how we're supposed to put our faith in God and not reality I know that won't be easy to do, so why not start small?  Try this simple test.  Next time you get a headache, pray about it but do nothing else.  Did the headache go away?  How long did it take?  Now, if you get another headache pray again but this time also take some painkillers.  Pretty sure the headache went away pretty quickly this time, right?  OK, now repeat this a third time but this time just take the painkillers, don't pray at all.  Any difference?  It's a simple experiment that anyone can do and it's bound to demonstrate reliably which works best:  prayer or medicine.  Jesus Himself said in Luke 16:10 that: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dis honest with much."  Doesn't it then follow that if modern medicine is trustworthy to fix headaches you should also trust it if you have cancer?

See, this is why Donald Miller's article got to me.  Me and my family trusted and leaned on a rotten, unreliable crutch not because the church is run by teachers and scholars but rather because the teaching we got from church was no good and definitely not scholarly.  I think if anything that points to a lack of good teaching and scholarship in church, not an abundance!

Now if you are a Christian and you've actually read this far, congratulations.  I really didn't think you would because this post moved into heretical territory real quick!  I appreciate you hearing me out at least, unless you were just skimming this post while planning a rebuke in the comment section.  Anyway, maybe you know exactly what I'm talking about, maybe you've tried this crutch and fallen on your face many times too.  Maybe you know that feeling of having that gnawing feeling that there is no help coming from above, only to have to convince yourself that somehow it will work out because the very idea is blasphemous.  I've been there.  So for you I offer this compromise.  Pray, OK?  Pray all you want.  But please, treat prayer as a complimentary remedy, not an alternative to seeking medical attention (or in the case of incurable disease, realistically planning for the future at least).  I get it, lots of people call that having "weak faith" and will blame you for the inevitable happening.  Forget those guys.  Trust me, when the inevitable happens anyway (as it is wont to do) they won't have anything for you either except platitudes and perhaps more guilt.  I may have only had the sissy cancer but I've met lots of people with the scary real deal when I go in for treatments.  I've seen that for many, trusting God to heal them offers much needed hope and strength when undergoing treatment.  I'm not a complete dick, if you need to hold on to that crutch for comfort I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't.  That is really up to you.  Just don't you ever lean on it exclusively.  If you do that, it's pretty much guaranteed to fail you.  No matter how many amazing testimonies you may have heard about miracles happening, take this from a real person who has lived through some real events that were anything but miraculous.  Prayer alone is no substitute for treatment.  That way lies nothing but bitterness, disappointment and disillusion, not to mention a deep well of anger you're not going to be allowed to acknowledge.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pat Robertson vs The Sanctity of Marraige

I remember that back when Pat Robertson made his immensely horrible comments on the Haitian earthquake Jon Stewart did this amazing response to it, pointing out all the great (and Biblical) responses Pat could have made instead.   That was one of the clips that got me started watching The Daily Show because I thought it was just such a smart and well thought out response that showed Pat Robertson for the insensitive jerk he was.  Apparently not everyone thought so though.  In the comments on that clip I was stunned to see many comments along the line of "How dare you criticize God's anointed?", "Pat Robertson is a man of God, shut up about him!",  "Pat is a prophet speaking the Words of God, you will be judged for opening your mouth against him!" etc.  And I remember thinking "WTF is wrong with you people??"  Do you really think this failed apocalyptic prophet, this ghoul who has never found a tragedy so heartbreaking that he couldn't turn it into an opportunity to take cheap shots at the groups he dislikes, this horrible, cruel, self righteous old man - you think he is God's anointed prophet?!  How ugly would your God have to be for that to be true?  How damaged would you have to be to actually buy into such a claim?

Long story short, I try to avoid Pat Robertson because he's really bad for my blood pressure.  But now he's gone and said something else that I simply can't ignore:

So if your wife has Alzheimer's disease, consider her dead, consider your commitment to your marriage vows done and go find yourself someone else.  Just be nice about it and at least dump your spouse at a care facility first - just dumping them on the street just wouldn't be Christian after all!

Lest you think I'm upset just for the sake of dogma or ideology, I'm not.  I am all too familiar with the horror that is Alzheimers.  My grandmother, the only one I ever knew and who I loved dearly, had Alzheimers and it was hell.  It's not like most bad diseases where someone gets it, gets worse, dies and then everyone gets to mourn and move on.  No with this hellish disease you get to watch for years how someone you love turns into someone who doesn't even know who you are.  I've never lived through anything worse.  So I get how hard it is, I understand fully just how badly one wants to escape from it.  But I would never agree that it would be OK to forget about them and move on as if they are already dead.

See, her illness was hard for me - it was hard for everyone in the family - but no one suffered due to it like my grandfather.  I just had breakfast with him last week, he turned 93 and the man is still as sharp as a tack.  I can't even begin to imagine how it must have felt for him to watch his wife of about 50 years slowly deteriorate day after day until there was nothing left of the woman he married.  I can't even conceive of that kind of pain.  Here's the thing, he never bailed on her.  He stayed with her, taking care of her all day and every day until the day she died.  Just by doing that, my grandfather taught me more about what it means to be a real man and far more about what the term "sanctity of marriage" means than every lecture, book, sermon and talk I've heard on the subject my whole life. 

A real man, doesn't take the easy way out.  A real man stands by his loved ones until the very end no matter what.  Marriage vows mean something.  Phrases like "in sickness and health" and "for better or for worse" are not just idle words, if you speak them you better mean them.  The vow you make is the vow you live by.

I don't think anyone ever called my grandpa an "anointed man of God" but I have to say, I think he is a million times the man Pat Robertson is.  If I can live to be half the man my grandfather is I would not have wasted my life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rob Bell Fixes Calvinism

Right, so I did all those posts on "Love Wins" before it came out and then just one short one when I got it and then I never got around to giving my final impressions on it.  Not that anyone asked...

I'm sure that by now you can find all kinds of reviews of the book online both positive and negative so I'm not going to do a review.  The book was interesting and well written but not quite what I expected.  Not that I'm all that sure exactly what I expected.  Rob came out both for and against orthodox Christian theology.  Simultaneously.  In short, Rob Bell fixed Calvinism.

See, Calvinists say that God is the omnipotent, omniscient King of the Universe.  Therefore it's impossible for Him to fail - to even suggest that people go to Hell because God failed to save their souls would be blasphemous.  Therefore, people only go to Hell because God ordained ahead of time that they were meant to go there.  Thereby, the Majesty of God remains unblemished because everything happened exactly the way He wanted it to all along.  This is why Calvinism always left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Rob took the same concept and turned it around.  He pointed out that salvation, Heaven, Hell (and how you end up there) is nowhere near as neat and formulaic in the Bible as Christian theology suggests.  (Fun fact - he uses the Bible to prove it! )  He tackles the unblemished Majesty of God slightly differently than the Calvinists.  Simply put, God wants to save the world and therefore God will find a way to save the world.  This means everyone.  Even the bad ones.  If it takes you some time in Hell to be cured of your evil then so be it but in the end, Love/God wins out and everyone is reconciled with Him.  Not that he suggests Hell is more like Catholic Purgatory.  In fact, he mused that Heaven and Hell may even be the same place.  For if Heaven treats all races with love and respect then that Heaven would be Hell to a racist for instance, or if everyone shares freely then it would be Hell for the selfish and so on.  Anyway, point is that you don't just die and end up either immediately perfect or eternally damned.  Everyone gets sanctified over time until they are able to fit into Heaven's way of doing things.  So really just like the Calvinist, Rob believes that God is the omnipotent, omniscient King of the Universe.  This God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to save it and this God cannot fail since He is the omnipotent, omniscient King of the Universe - eventually then He saves everyone and to suggest otherwise would be blasphemous.  That's a taste I can live with.

Is he right?  I don't know, but I hope so.  Having a God that actually turns out to be benevolent and good at the end of the day is really good news.  I can totally see why so many people were upset with this book though!  Lots of believers aren't that happy with the Gospel being good news.  It was that way even in Jesus' day...