Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Open Letter to American Conservative Christians (upset by Gay Marriage)

Dear American Conservative Christian,

You don't know me and you probably don't know much about my world, but I do know something about yours.  See, all my life your news and issues have been on my TV and in my newspapers.  I think it would be fair to say that I am as familiar with your pastors and politicians as I am with my own, if not more so.  In fact, I find myself purposefully following news and opinion stories on American politics these days because, well, if you knew South African politics you'd understand...  I know you guys get a lot of hate and snark from foreigners who act like they understand your issues better than you do and rest assured, I'm not one of those guys.  I've been to America and I loved it.  I loved the place, the people, the culture and most definitely the food!  Are you concerned for the future of America?  Believe me, so am I.  I believe that America is worth fighting for and worth saving.  So I'm not writing this letter to tell you what to do or what to think.  It's just that I noticed that a lot of you are very upset right now and I think my story may just bring you a little bit more peace of mind.

It has come to my attention that you guys are pretty upset about the recent ruling in New York giving gays the right to marry.  Many of you are worried, outraged, saddened and/or shocked by this development and how could you not be?  After all, so many of your leaders have been telling you for years that gay rights will bring down the wrath of God on your country, bringing disaster and devastation to you all.  I know those warnings all too well because they were given to us too.

See I grew up in Apartheid era South Africa, in a situation many of you would envy.  Easy now, that wasn't a backhanded way of calling you racist, I'm not referring to that part at all!  It's just that we had prayer and Bible study in school - state schools mind you - and no one was taught evolution.  We had super strict laws about media content to the point where even porn magazines were printed with naughty bits censored, so you can imagine how clean our TV programming was!  The only religious programs broadcast on national TV were Christian ones.  That is what I meant by "situation many of you would envy".  Unless I'm severely misunderstanding many of your leaders, that is how you would ideally like the USA to look as well, isn't it?  Well I had that and then it all changed.

Believe me when I say you have never in your life experienced political and cultural change as radical as I have.  Virtually (almost literally) overnight our government went from conservative, Christian nationalism to extremely liberal secularism.  Suddenly we had a new constitution that was more progressive than just about anyone else's and everything changed.  A few years later government gave full equality to homosexuals.  Suddenly gays could marry, serve openly in the military, adopt children and were legally protected against discrimination.  When that happened, believe me we heard all the same warnings you are hearing now.

Here's the thing though, this happened years ago and things are still pretty OK here.  Society did not collapse, heterosexual couples are still getting married and having children, the nuclear family has not become extinct, we did not all get "converted" to homosexuality - in short for most of us absolutely nothing changed at all!  Both Christianity and the institution of marriage seem to be thriving.  We did not fall down a slippery slope of deviancy and so pedophilia and bestiality is still totally illegal and going to stay illegal.   There have been no natural disasters, not a single tornado or earthquake last I checked, so no wrath of God there.  Despite what my pastor told me back then, not one preacher has been jailed for calling homosexuality an abomination and as far as I know not one priest has been forced into marrying a gay couple against his will either.  In fact (and you're going to love this part!) people are still free to consider homosexuality sinful and no one is being forced to like it.  In fact you are allowed to very loudly dislike it on TV or in a letter to the editor or in your local church as much as you like!

Now you may be saying "wait a second, I've heard that giving gays the right to marry causes anarchy in society and from what I've heard, you folks in South Africa have a whole lot of anarchy on your hands!"  You would be right about the anarchy.  Violence, crime, corruption, disregard for the law is pretty rampant here but to blame all that on same sex marriage would be massively dishonest.  The anarchy in question is what you might call a "pre-existing condition" around these parts.  It didn't start with gay rights and throwing the gays under the bus will do about as much to end it as human sacrifice did for the problems of Aztec society...

So while you have a lot of very real threats to your way of life to deal with, let me assure you that gay marriage isn't one of them.  Trust me on this, I have lived through this and with this for years now.  I have heard all the same predictions of doom as you and I've lived to see them come to nothing.  So please, for your own good, rather use your energy to address real problems.  I know it's hard to hear this but gay rights are no threat to you.  Really.  The sooner you realize that homosexuality isn't going to destroy your society the sooner you can focus on the things that actually will.  But then again, I'm a foreigner so it's not my place to tell you what to do or how to do it.  Still, I hope you would at least take the time to think about what I said and then look at the countries (and states) that have legalized same sex marriage and see for yourself if what I said has any merit.

A friend from South Africa

Monday, June 27, 2011

Verandering or How I found happiness by rejecting nonconformity

"Wanneer ... jy ophou om my te label; En ek ophou worry oor wat jy dink;  Sal almal dan kan happy wees en ophou om te kla?"
— Karen Zoid

"For being different, it’s easy. But to be unique, it’s a complicated thing."
— Lady Gaga

I just had the most wonderful birthday weekend.  I hung out with friends, ate a giant steak, drank lots of beer, went clubbing, danced to loud & terrible music and came home late reeking of a night out on the town.  In other words, I had a blast!  I feel years younger than I am and none of that would have been possible had I not finally turned my back on nonconformity.

Yes, as a teen I was one of those.  You know, the black wearing, alternative music listening, pop music scoffing guys who never seem happy.  I would like to go "what was I thinking?" but the truth is, I know exactly what I was thinking.  I believe that we all want to belong, we all want to be a part of something greater than ourselves.  Hate it all you want, human beings are just hardwired for it.  But what if you don't fit in the way you would like to?  What if the popular fashion looks terrible on you and your hair just cannot look like that of anyone in a magazine?  What if you find popular culture and music shallow and meaningless and completely detached from the way you feel?  When you have difficulty fitting into the group everyone else seems to be fitting into just fine, of course the counterculture alternative is going to be attractive.  I get why I was attracted to the nonconformist lifestyle to begin with.  I was never that great at fitting in and at the time it seemed like the only group that would have me.

The thing is, there are some real problems with being a nonconformist as well.  (If you'd prefer a list based discussion - with cartoons! - that's going to be far more enlightening than my ramblings here check out this article on Cracked)  Nonconformity may seem like the freedom loving choice but in many ways it is as rigid as popular fashion/culture, if not more so.  As with any group you are presented with a list of "in" things and "out" things, things that you are supposed to like and things you are supposed to hate if you want to belong.  Worst of all, you don't even get to decide on what is "in" or not, the rest of the sheeple/popular kids/conformists decide that for you - when they zig, you have to zag, if they like it, you can't.  Them's the rules!  It took me a while to gather up the courage to say it but that's just stupid!

This is who I am:  I really do like many thing's in the "alternative" world.  I never had to pretend to like bands like Nirvana or artists like Tori Amos, I loved them in High School and to this day I'm a big fan.  Thing is, I'm also a big fan of ABBA and I don't think the one precludes the other.  I enjoy both Leonard Cohen and the Vengaboys - for very different reasons - and I don't see why I should hide half of my musical tastes in shame.  I do enjoy deep thoughtful movies at times but other times I really enjoy mindlessly entertaining movies and I don't think there is anything wrong with that either.  I listen to some bands I bet you've never heard of but I don't listen to them because you've never heard of them, I listen to them because I like their music.  If they become world famous next week I'm not going to brand them sellouts and stop enjoying them, how does that even make sense?  I like a lot of popular things too but I don't like everything that is popular either.  Why should I?  Liking things because they are popular or liking them because they are not popular are equally senseless to me.  The only good reason I can see for liking something is how much it appeals to me.  Am I wrong?  I am not alternative and I am not pop.  I am a very surreal, misshapen mix of all of that and more and these days I find far more joy in being myself than in trying to fit in.

I guess it's one of the few happy side effects of growing older but I find myself really not caring as much as I used to about how other people see me.  I certainly wasn't always like that.  For the longest time I cared all too deeply about whether the things I enjoy (or at least the things I admit to enjoying) would make people think I was intelligent enough or deep enough or interesting enough to be worthy of consideration and interest.  I would pretend to be into things that, in reality, I barely tolerated.  Likewise I had to hide things (like my deep love for silly romantic comedies) like it was a dirty secret.  Not anymore though.

From Steam Me Up, Kid - the most joyfully insane blog I've ever seen!  If you haven't checked it out yet you really should!

It didn't happen all at once and I can't really pinpoint an event that got the ball rolling.  Perhaps it was a consequence of just being surrounded by a better class of friend who accepted me for who I am, not who I had to pretend to be.  Perhaps growing older made peer pressure less relevant.  Either way, I'm grateful it happened because I've never felt more free.  If your opinion of me is diminished because I'm a fan of Lady Gaga then that is your problem, not mine.  I'd much rather have the warm feeling I get everytime I watch Love Actually than the imaginary approval of people that don't even know me.  Best of all, as I realized on the Tipsy Turtle's dance floor this weekend, not caring what you think of me leads to a surprising amount of fun and acceptance!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I but laugh to keep from weeping

Does anyone actually enjoy getting a call from a telemarketer or do you find them annoying too?  Well if you've ever been annoyed by a telemarketer then boy do I have a bittersweet tale for you! 

Just to be clear, I always try to be nice to telesales people because I get that it's a job and in this economy you do what you can to put food on the table but it's not always easy.  I think it's the dishonesty that gets to me.  There are those who just come straight out and ask you if you are happy with your current armed response/carpet cleaner/water filtration system and then try to sell you one.  That's annoying but those calls tend to be brief at least so it's easy to take in stride.  No the ones I really dislike are the ones where they pretend they aren't trying to sell you something and they're just doing a survey and then after you patiently answered a bunch of questions they hit you up with a sales pitch anyway.  So then today while I'm getting dinner ready the phone rings and I realize almost immediately that this was going to be one of those calls.  Anytime someone calls looking for the owner of the house "but since he's not in and you are here would you mind answering a few quick questions?", then you just know what's coming.  Since this lady claimed she wanted to do a lifestyle and holiday related survey I'm guessing she had planned on selling me timeshare but this call didn't really work out the way either of us thought it would.

(For this reenactment, imagine my voice as a croaky James Earl Jones since I have a bit of a chest cold at the moment.) 

SALES LADY (chipper tone):  "So tell me sir, are you between the ages of 30 and 40?"
ME (fiddling with the phone cable hoping it cuts out):  "Yes I am"
SALES LADY (still chipper):  "Excellent!  Now tell me, are you married?"
ME (kicking the wall socket with no luck):  "No I'm not"
SALES LADY (less chipper):  "Are you engaged?"
ME (giving up hope on faking phone trouble):  "No"
SALES LADY (starting to sound concerned):  "Are you living with someone?"
ME (now a little more interested in this conversation):  "No I'm single and I'm not seeing anyone."
SALES LADY (desperately hopeful):  "Do you have any children perhaps?"
ME (sensing weakness and deciding to pounce):  "No I don't have any children.  Look it's really starting to look like I'm not the right kind of person for this survey of yours, perhaps you should rather call back later when the owner of the house is here.  I'm just ummm... doing some part time work around the house here."
SALES LADY (clearly distraught):  "Yes I supposed that would be for the best."
ME:  "OK, goodbye then"
SALES LADY (sounding downright bummed out):  "Sir, you really shouldn't be going through life alone like that..."
ME (making my "wait what now?!" face):  Err.. OK?  Thanks?"

So there I stand with a dead phone in my hand not knowing if I should be happy or insulted.  On the one hand I got out of what was bound to be a very long sales pitch in no time flat.  On the other hand apparently my life bummed out a telesales lady so much that she decided I needed life advice more than a sales pitch.  I don't think I would be more weirded out if a hobo gave me my money back because I look like I need it more than he does!

I chose to find it very amusing.  Because if you can't laugh at your own lonely, childless, semi-penniless life spent living in a house that isn't yours then really what's left?

I'm not kidding though, I've been pretty down this last while because I have a birthday coming up that I really don't feel like celebrating.  After that phone call though, I feel a lot better.  I will celebrate it and so help me there will be beer and meat and friendly faces involved and I will enjoy it!

Because really what else can I do?  Life didn't exactly turn out the way I would have liked it to but that's all the more reason to spend time doing the things that bring me joy.  Speaking of, here are two things that make me really happy COMBINED!!  It's Weird Al doing a Lady Gaga parody!  It may be the funniest, creepiest thing I've ever seen and it's awesome!  And yes, I'm probably going to do a Lady Gaga post around my birthday so just deal with it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Strange New Godview: The Get Out of Jail Free Card

Just about every Christian believes in a God who freely pardons sins.  However there is a subset of believers who have a God who not only forgives but also legally pardons felonies.  It's a pretty sweet deal!  Not only do you get to have a clear conscience, you also don't have to face any punishment or justice for your crimes and you definitely don't need to worry about any of that pesky restitution stuff.  This God is like Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction, only better!  He can do so much more than a normal cleaner or a sleazy lawyer because He can render your entire criminal past completely irrelevant!  Have you heard?  He can even destroy the DNA evidence against you!

No no, it's OK, we don't need to check the facts here or ask for evidence, it's cool.  He heard it from his apostle after all so it has to be true!

But of course this isn't that new.  I first ran into this God as a teen at the display table at church where all the Chick tracts were kept.  There I found the Get out of jail free God in what has to be the vilest Chick tract of all time.  It was called Lisa and was one of the very few tracts that was ever pulled from circulation (It can still be found online here).  In this happy story a dad descends into pornography and incest because he lost his job and his wife nagged him.  When his neighbor finds out that dad is raping his 6 year old daughter he offers to stay silent in exchange for also getting to share in the "fun".  Luckily for little Lisa, her doctor is a Christian who worships the Get out of jail free God, so when he diagnoses her with Herpes and realizes she's being abused by two grown men, he does the right thing and calls in the dad to tell him about Jesus.  Dad then gives his life to Jesus, feels better and promises to never hurt his baby girl again and they all live happily ever after.  Is it any wonder Chick tracts are so popular in prison ministries?

You'll also find this God very popular amongst the "former satanist" crowd.  That's why they get to regale crowds with their tales of ritualistic rape, abduction and murder without fear of having to be accountable for any of those things.  Sure, if their stories were true they could close many cold cases and by turning in their former buddies could prevent many baby sacrifices but then they may end up paying for those totally real crimes too and then who would warn parents about AC/DC?!  The Get out of jail free God is really helpful to the "former witch/high priest/druid/werewolf" because thanks to Him they get to pretend they never did anything wrong (except for when they have to pretend they did in order to scare parents into fearing rock music and D&D).

So whether you are a family values politician caught with your pants down or just a clergyman with a taste for the illicit, have no fear, the Get out of jail free God is ready to take your call right now!  Why pay for your crimes when you can pretend it never happened?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


What do you care about?  What matters to you?  The AIDS pandemic?  Deforestation?  Human trafficking?  Endangered species?  The exploitation of the poor?  Overfishing?  Violent dictatorial regimes?  Global warming?  Racism?  Women's rights?  Victims of natural disasters?  Victims of man made disasters?  Political & corporate opposition to the prevention of man made disasters?  Do you care about some of that or all of that?  Do you care about some more than others or do you care equally for them all?

All of these issues are constantly in your face, demanding your attention, demanding that you care.  If you consider yourself any kind of decent human being, it's like you're supposed to care or else you are implicitly admitting to being some kind of heartless monster!  I have a question though, is it even possible to care about everything worth caring about?  Maybe it's just me (I hope it's not but it's a distinct possibility) but I just don't have to capacity to care that much about that many things.

But is it just me though?  Does anyone have the physical and mental capacity to meaningfully care about everything that needs to be cared about?  Sure, I can be concerned about all those things and more.  I can even be opposed to all those nasty things in principle.  But can I care?  I don't mean in the hipster douchebag sense where you are totally "into" every bad thing du jour for about 5 minutes.  What does that accomplish besides giving you a smug sense of moral superiority and annoying the living shit out of everyone around you?  How is that even caring?!  If someone I care about is in trouble I show I care by trying to help, trying to make whatever is wrong better in whatever way I am able.  To me, that is what caring should look like, otherwise why bother?  Simply shaking your head with a sympathetic look may give you the warm fuzzies inside but it certainly won't do anything meaningful for those in need of care.

So I ask again, if really caring about an issue requires that you bleed for it, sacrifice your time and energy and resources and comfort in an effort to address the issue, how many things can you care about?  Everything?  Surely not!  Most things?  Unlikely.  A handful of issues?  Possible but even that would be pushing it.  Seems to me that if you want to care in a way that is at all meaningful you really need to pick your issues with care.

Am I wrong or does having to care about everything prevent any meaningful action?  I feel like I'm just so bombarded with good great, meaningful causes that I'm supposed to care about that I become overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it.  Overdosing on empathy feels a lot like paralysis to me.  Is there even a difference between overcare and zero care?  For all the good it does, it may as well be the same thing!

I don't mean to sound preachy.  Truth is, I suck at caring.  I tell myself it's because I'm currently rather low down on Maslow's pyramid but it's far more likely that I'm just not that caring a person.  I prefer to spend my time with escapism and humour rather than with the cruel realities of life in this world.  Caring about a cause takes a lot of effort for me.  But that is how it's supposed to be, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jackie the Suicide Dachshund

I'm going to come right out and say it, my dog is trying to kill me!  Oh I know, she looks all innocent and adorable but you don't know the darkness in her dachshund heart!  Every winter she tries to leave this earth in a violent flash of murder-suicide and I'm afraid that one of these days she is actually going to succeed.

See, glorious Winter has once again arrived in the Highveld and since central heating is for the pampered weaklings in First World countries, things can get quite chilly around bed time.  I'm not complaining of course, sleeping snug on a bitterly cold Winter's night is one of my favourite things ever.  I stay warm using a three pronged approach - a pile of blankets, an electric blanket and a snugly dachshund.  Now for those who don't know, dachshunds are perfect cold weather dogs.  They are small so they don't take up much space on the bed, they are genetically programmed to burrow so they love tunneling under the blankets, they are very loving dogs who enjoy snuggles and their tiny bodies give off a surprisingly large amount of heat. Unfortunately for my health, my dachshund also has a potentially lethal personality quirk.

Caught in the act!
As this picture shows, she is a compulsive licker.  For some reason she enjoys licking things more than she loves life.  I have a theory that perhaps she is powered by static electricity which doesn't make much sense but it would explain why she acts like a tongue that uses a dog for life support.  Now this is merely annoying when she does that while on my bed.  It becomes downright dangerous when she does that while I have an electric blanket on my bed!  Since she is usually snuggled tightly against me while doing this I can only assume she plans to take me with her when she electrocutes herself.

Now I could be wrong, it may not be malice driving her.  After all, while she is a sweet dog I have to admit she's as dumb as a small bag of rocks.  So it could just be coincidental but then again, what if it's not?  What if the stupid is all just an act?

I guess that what I'm saying is if I turn up dead, I need someone to please tell the cops to question my dog!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When Bad Things happen to Bad People

"Why do bad things happen to good people?" is a question we hear all the time.  Somehow you never seem to hear the inverse, "why do bad things happen to bad people?"  Why is that?  Sure we seem to get upset at the success and prosperity of the wicked but we rarely feel sorry for their misfortune.  But the thing is, bad things happen to good and bad people (as do good things), it's just that we don't consider bad things all that bad when they happen to people we consider evil.  When that happens we prefer to think of it as justice.

It seems that the idea that we cause our misfortune by our own actions* is as deeply ingrained into our psyche as the idea that we can somehow control the universe by saying and doing the right things.  I recently wrote a post explaining why I reject the latter and by that reasoning I should also reject the former.  And I do.  But believe me, it's not easy.  Especially when you read a story like this:

"ALAMEDA -- Harold Camping, the Doomsday radio preacher who sparked international media attention by predicting the end of the world last month, has been hospitalized after suffering a stroke at his Alameda home Thursday night.

The 89-year-old radio evangelist and president of the Oakland nonprofit Family Radio was taken by ambulance from his house Thursday night, a neighbor said, but his well-known, gravelly voice that led many believers to donate millions of dollars to his cause may never be the same.

"He had a stroke, it was on his right side," said the neighbor,"


I freely admit that I would love to agree with the many internet commentators who call this stroke a just punishment for a false prophet.  Thing is when I gave up trying to control the world and accepted that I live in a random and often chaotic universe I also gave up on the idea of karmic justice.  The world is rarely fair and not everyone gets what they deserve.  It sucks but then again, from time to time I have been grateful not to receive my comeuppance so there's that.  I like the local term for karma/the hand of fate, namely the "blinde sambok" (blind sjambok).  Granted for most people that describes someone getting their just desserts but I like the image of a blindly wielded whip it conjures.  Anyone can get hit, at some point everyone does and some people get hit more than they should be and others not as many times as they probably deserve.  Doesn't sound very comforting, I know, but it's actually a load off your mind once you realize you are not responsible for every piece of misfortune that comes your way.

Besides, real justice would be for Harold Camping to live long enough to see the world not end in October!

*Just for the sake of clarity, I'm talking about causing our misfortune in the sense of Karma.  Not talking about doing event A which directly leads to logical outcome B, I mean the way we tend to mystically connect outcome C with utterly unrelated action S.   For instance I don't mean it in the sense that you caused your nose to be broken because you flirted with a Rugby player's girlfriend.  I mean it in the sense that you think you "caused" the cold you got on your birthday by not calling your mom on Mother's Day.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Strange New Godview: Jedi Jesus

Today's entry into the pantheon of new and exciting ways Christians are looking at God stands out from the rest of the pack.  Just about all the Godviews I can think of, both ancient and modern, tend to have one thing in common - they all regard God as a Person of some kind.  So while some may think Him a good and gentle Shepherd while others see him as the blood soaked God of War, they all see Him as a Him, not an It.  Not so much with this next one.  Check out the Godview of this pastor:

Did you notice that his God wasn't so much a person as it was a mystical force to be harnessed?  Now I'm pretty sure if you actually asked Pastor Deluca here (I didn't, so guessing here) he would of course deny my inference and insist that he does consider God a person.  Thing is, actions speak louder than words and this is not how you act if you think your God is a person.  No, this is how you act if you're in a Star Wars movie.

Hear me out, let's say that instead of a Person, your God was more of a Force that surrounded and permeated the universe, keeping it all together.  Now if you had the right midi-chlorian count anointing, you could manipulate and control this Force and use it to do magic tricks!  Why you'd be able to use it from everything from mild brainwashing to knocking people over at a distance.  With enough training you could even fashion it into Force lightning Glory Grenades and cause excruciating pain the giggles!

This form of Christianity-as-ritual-magic may seem weird to some but it is practiced fairly widely in the Ultra-Charismatic sects of Christianity.  I could tell you about some of the things I've seen these Jedi Christians attempt but you'll just think I'm making things up.  Some things are so unbelievable that you really ought to see it for yourself.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Just pulling your leg!

With regards to faith healing, there is one thing I'm still trying to process.  If you watched the Derren Brown special I posted in the previous blog post you would have noticed him explaining the leg "lengthening" trick.  If a 74 minute Youtube video/700 mb file download was more than you could bite off and chew, here is a shorter clip by the Debunkmaster General, James Randi.  He explains the leg trick at about two and a half minutes in:

When you see it explained like that it seems pretty silly.  It really is the faith healing equivalent of pulling a coin from behind someone's ear;  if there was a school for faith healing this would be the thing they teach you on day one.  It shouldn't fool anyone, but strangely enough it does.  I know it fooled me.  I remember the first time I saw it at a youth camp when I was 13.  They asked if anyone there had back pain and then told us that if you have back pain it's often because your one leg is longer than the other.  Then, would you believe it, everyone who came out for prayer for their backs happened to have one leg longer than the other!  Since then I lost track of the amount of times I've seen this happen since, like I said, it's a bit like the coin trick.

Look, I get it now.  In fact I'm a little bit ashamed that I even needed to have it explained to me.  Obviously you can't go through life with one leg several inches shorter than the other and not know it!  This is the kind of thing they diagnose very early on in life and prescribe corrective footwear for.  This is not the kind of thing you suddenly discover during a prayer meeting, you either know you have it or you don't have it.  So therefore when someone discovers (and then repairs) your newly uneven legs during a prayer session that must mean they're tricking you, right?

And that is what I'm struggling to process.  See, with leg pulling being the go to move for amateur faith healers I've known a lot of devout Christians who preform this particular trick.  In fact a close friend of mine is a Christian because of a leg pull - he believes he felt the power of God lengthening his leg and that turned him into the Bible literalist, Young Earth Creationist, born again, baptized believer he is today.  How can I accept that these good, completely sincere people are all deliberate frauds?  I'll have to ponder this some more but I'd like to think that there is some kind of ideomotor effect at work here, that while they are preforming trickery they aren't doing it on purpose.  Am I being naive?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Miracles for sale

Derren Brown changed my life.  I was only marginally aware of him at first but then I saw 'n clip from his series "Messiah" where he managed to convert a bunch of atheists into believers simply by touching them.  People were falling over when he touched them, there was some uncontrollable crying, basically they had the same kind of pentecostal experience that I was all too familiar with having grown up in the Charismatic Christian tradition.  After seeing this mentalist - an atheist himself - work the same kind of "miracles" I've seen in church since childhood I knew I had to learn more so I immediately bought his book, Tricks of the Mind.  (I heartily recommend that by the way, its a great read).  Church was never the same for me after that.

So then it should be no surprise that I was very interested to see his latest show on Faith Healing called Miracles for Sale.  Full disclosure, I nearly died because I put my faith in Faith Healing instead of going to the doctor so this is a topic I feel very strongly about.  Now if you are unfamiliar with the Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian movements, have never been to a healing service and don't know who Benny Hinn is then you probably won't enjoy this program as much as I did.  It's not as spectacular and exciting as some of Derren's previous projects like The Events.  On the other hand, if you do know what terms like "slain by the Spirit" means and you have heard preachers claiming to heal the blind and deaf and cripple at their services then this is a must see.

As James Randi has demonstrated so well in the past, the best way to test and/or debunk a claim of supernatural powers is to show how easily it can be replicated using nothing but natural means.  In Miracles for Sale, Derren finds a charismatic young scuba instructor and within a few months teaches him all the necessary tricks of the trade, transforming him into Pastor James, faith healer.  They then travel to Texas and he preforms "healing miracles" indistinguishable from those you may see at an actual "Miracle Crusade".  For the finale he hosts a full blown Revival service, again identical to the real thing, without having any actual "anointing".  Here he ended off by giving a stirring sermon about how people asking money to heal others by the power of God are doing something utterly opposed to what Jesus taught and warning them to stay away from anyone who would advise them against seeking medical treatment because that would constitute a lack of faith.

I liked this program for several reasons.  First of all it wasn't an attack piece on Christianity.  In fact several Christians were involved in this project.  They didn't attack the flock, they took square aim at the wolves who fleece the faithful with false promises of health and wealth.  There was one scene in particular that just destroyed the Jack Chick view of non-believers as vile creatures slobbering at the prospect of destroying the lives of good Christians.  At first they were planning on using a Christian PR firm in order to break into the Texas Christian community.  But then they realized that once their deceit was made public they would be destroying the reputation of a good and honest man so they decided to rather take the risk of doing it without PR.  That's hardly the picture many Christians have of atheists!

Then there was of course the nuts and bolts of the faith healing business that I found fascinating.  If you ever watched Benny Hinn do his shtick and asked yourself "how does he do it?!" then you have to watch this show.  Derren actually demonstrates how to "heal" a blind person and a deaf person.  No stooges either, these were people who were legally blind and legally deaf.  Of course they were still deaf and blind afterwards but it turns out that it's surprisingly easy to make someone look healed when they aren't.

Unfortunately I couldn't find it streamed online anywhere but I will post it if I ever do find it.  If you see it in your TV guide, make a note to watch it if you have any interest in the faith healing business.  If you have the bandwidth however, here are some links you can use to download the entire thing. 

Found it!  Guess I just needed to look harder!

File Name ..........: Derren.Brown.Miracles.For.Sale.WS.PDTV.XviD-C4TV.avi
Total Size (MB) ....: 699,93 MB
Video Length .......: 01:13:32

No Passwords



Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Impossibility of a Christian Nation

Are there still any Christians out there?  I'd like to think there are but honestly, they are increasingly hard to find.  No, I'm not saying that because the Atheist-Communist-Muslim-Socialists are busy destroying Christianity and persecuting the righteous.  Look, you can find millions, no billions of people who belong to churches and read Christian scripture and refer to themselves as Christians.  I'm not talking about those though, I'm talking about people who actually live up to the criteria implied by the name Christian.  If you call yourself Christian, the implication is that you follow Christ.  Just to be clear, by "follow" I mean spending your days living according to the teachings and example of Jesus the Christ.  That's what the word means, there is really not a lot of wiggle room.

Thing is, the weirdest piece of news just popped up in my daily news feed.  It turns out that in Orlando, some people were thrown in jail for feeding the homeless"No effing way!", you exclaim, "surely there is more to the story?"  Well yes of course there is more to the story.  They weren't just thrown in jail for feeding the homeless, they were arrested for feeding the homeless in a public park.  The city fought a long, hard and expensive legal battle to make it so and they weren't going to let some dirty hippies thumb their noses at them by feeding some dirty homeless people!  You know what?  I actually get it.  I know that nothing ruins a nice picnic in a pretty park more than a smelly hobo who stands around acting weird and looking like someone who hasn't eaten in days while you are just trying to enjoy your adorably tiny picnic morsels.  So I can understand why the city fathers decided to ban feeding the wild homeless in their public parks.  No God fearing taxpaying citizen wants the unwashed poor hanging out where their dogs poop, now do they?

Now I'm guessing most of the good people of Orlando Florida who support this law would also self identify as Christians.  (The USA is a Christian Nation is it not?  Pretty sure I read that online...)  Heck, many of them would even call themselves "fundamentalist" or "Bible believing" Christians.  The only problem is that a law like this is completely and utterly against the teachings of Jesus, i.e. Un-Christian.  Therefore no one who claims to follow Jesus can also support such an antichrist law and still call themselves Christians.  Jesus didn't leave that loophole.  Bummer.  (Unless you're a bum!)

It's the weirdest thing really, so many people who claim to know and follow the Christian Bible don't actually know its content.  Somehow many people live with the delusion that the Bible is mostly concerned with regulating sexual activity plus some stuff on getting into Heaven and spotting the Antichrist thrown in to round it out.  Of course in actuality, The Antichrist is not mentioned in the Bible (ditto the Rapture) and the Bible mostly deals with the here and now, not the sweet hereafter.  Even better, when it comes to the "here and now" stuff, the sex verses are barely a drop in the ocean compared to the money verses.  By far the biggest part of the Bible talks about money and stuff and more specifically, how to treat those who don't have any.  Now I know that many a modern apologist manage to somehow wrangle the scriptures to make it look as if the Bible was written by Ayn Rand and is profoundly anti-welfare but to do that they need to pretend that the majority of the Bible doesn't  actually exist.  Sorry, but as a former theology student, that doesn't fly.  One of the core principles of Biblical interpretation is that the majority/unambiguous verses are used to understand the minority/unclear verses, not the other way around.  According to the major part of the Bible then it is very clear that God does not care about your picnic pleasures, He wants you to take care of the homeless.  Like in, all the damn time!

This just again shows why (contrary to the idea many have) there can be no such thing as a Christian nation.  You can live as a Christ follower, you can run your household (or commune) in accordance with His teachings, perhaps even have a small community that truly follows Christ in all they do.  However it would be suicide to run a Christian country.  Jesus had a habit of saying and doing things that made the rich and powerful deeply uncomfortable - it's one of my favourite things about Him actually - so the idea of getting the rich and powerful to abide by His teachings is so unpractical it's downright funny.  Here is an atheist who understands Christianity better than a lot of Christians making the point better than I can:

I think that if you try to run an entire country according to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ you are going to have a nation full of deeply unhappy people.  There would be no military, very little (if any) capitalism, a government budget spent largely on welfare and a justice system that doesn't resemble a justice system to name but a few issues.  Face it, Jesus wouldn't make a good president.  But don't take my word for it, go see for yourself what an actual Christian nation would look like.  You don't even have to read the entire scary big Bible, just the four Gospels.  Remember if you call it a Christian Nation then it has to be based on what Jesus taught.  No cribbing from Moses or David!  Afterwards you can tell me if that sounds like a nation you can live in or if you would prefer a secular government.  It's OK, I can wait.