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:

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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.