Thursday, September 26, 2013

No one should have to feel this way

This video leaves me heartbroken and sad. Also very very angry.

It hurts my insides to listen to this lady's story.  No one, and I do mean no one, should ever have to feel the way she felt. Not ever, not under any circumstances.  But it does.  All the fucking time! I don't have the words for how sad that makes me.

But mostly I am angry.  I am angry that we live in a world where this happens all the time.  I'm angry that society is apparently pretty OK with this being the case.  I'm angry at myself for the time spent as part of that culture.

This is why Modesty culture and Purity culture pisses me the fuck off.  I cannot just live and let live, those things are not harmless.  How do I hate it? Let me count the ways!  I hate the way it divides people into good and bad based purely on whether they've had sex or not.  I hate the way it makes you ashamed of your body and your hormones and everything that is completely natural about sex.  I hate the way it always finds ways to side against the abused and with the abuser.  I hate the shame spirals and the psychological trauma of calling good, harmless and natural things sinful.  I hate that it teaches men to hate and fear the female body.  I hate that it turns women into things, not people.  I hate how it degrades men and teaches them that deep down they are uncontrollable sex monsters.  But more than anything I hate how it teaches us that we are supposed to be like his. 

This is the one thing that (as a guy) makes me insanely angry about purity and modesty teachings in the church.  It tells guys that they are animals.  That they are slaves to their every urge, that they simply cannot help themselves.  Men are not in control of their behavior, it all gets outsources externally.  Girls have to cover up because guys just cannot help themselves when they are aroused.

That's fucking bullshit.  There's no nice way to say it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Drunk Family History

If you're the type of person that doesn't find Drunk History funny then you're probably not going to enjoy this post.  Also, I don't think we can be friends.  Drunk History is awesome!  So when I recently learned some dark and awesome family history I knew I had to try doing a bit of drunk history myself.  Obviously since this is going to be typed, not told and since there will be no actors acting it out it's not going to be nearly as good.  On the other hand, this concerns the Irish half of my family so in a way NOT doing it after a whole lot of Guinness would be disrespectful!  I should probably put a warning here somewhere that there is a good chance this post will feature more profanity than usual.  If that bugs you then you probably shouldn't be reading this blog.

Here goes.

At my grandfathers funeral, someone suggested we try to find the grave of his grandfather, the original Gillingham patriarch Solomon Gillingham.  My first thought was Solomon Gillingham? Am I Jew-Irish? And is that even a thing? (Its not and I'm not which is too bad because again, the Jewish section of the cemetery is clearly primo real-estate!)  Long story short, I heard a couple of rumours about the man, googled to see if I could corroborate any of that and ended up finding a story* better than I could have dared hope for.

So at first the only thing I knew about my great-great-grandfather was that he was a pretty successful guy with a big house and his own carriage and he owned a bakery here in Pretoria.  Except the successful part was kinda weird because according to family legend his baking was incredibly shitty**.  How shitty?  Well it was so shitty that even the president allegedly commented on how terrible his bread was.

That's right, the guy on the Kruger Rand!
THIS president!
Well it turns out bread wasn't what his bakery was really about.  Turns out the "bakery" was actually the headquarters of the local Fenian cell. (Go on, click on the link.  I had to look up "Fenian" too!)  So basically this was where all the local Irish would hang out and talk about how the British sucked and how awesome it would be if Ireland could be an independent republic and how you should buy some cake to help Ireland punch stupid England in their stupid faces.  Stuff like that.  That's right, my great-great-grandfather was an Irish radical.  The professor I talked to called him "shadowy" and "dangerous".  What do historians call your great great grandpa?  Yeah... that's what I thought.

So life was pretty sweet, selling crappy baked goods and rallying support and funds for the Irish Republican Brotherhood but then they discovered gold in the Transvaal.  Actually they discovered ALL THE GOLD.  Seriously, there was like a million cubic fucktons of the stuff and then Brittain was all, "ooooh that's shiny, we'll take it" and the Transvaal was all like, "Oh like hell you will" and Britain was all like, "Fine, we invade countries all the damn time, we'll just come and take your gold" and the Transvaal was like, "Oh it's on! It's on like Donkey Kong!"***  So the Anglo-Boer war broke out.

This is where Solomon stepped up.  He started going around to all the Irish immigrants saying, "Hey, you know how England totally sucks right?  Well now they're coming here to suck right in our faces and that's not cool.  They think they can just come over here and fuck shit up and take the gold and that is messed up man.  Seriously, fuck those guys! Lets go punch them right in the fucking dick"  And all the Irishmen were like "Dude, you had me at hello.  Lets do this.  Lets go punch those Brits in the dick."  So they did.  They formed their own commando unit to help the Boere and pretty soon they were joined by some other Irish guys from America who had exactly the same dick punching ideas****.  So Solomon was the organizer and his friend John MacBride was the guy who actually led the commando.

So the fight actually goes pretty well for the home team for a while at least.  Solomon sends this letter to his friend and Fenian chief in Ireland saying how awesome they are and how they are just fucking up the English wherever they go and how the Boere are just cheering them everytime they see them and how they just wanted to make him a colonel right on the spot because he was so awesome.  So his friend reads this and goes "Holy shit, this is awesome!  The people of Ireland need to hear this!" so he publishes it in the Irish press and the Irish just lose their shit. They think its awesome, Irish people dickpunching the English is just the best thing since whiskey as far as they're concerned so this gets circulated far and wide.

So eventually Solomon finds out this got published and he freaks the fuck out because he made up a whole lot of shit in that letter.  There were hundreds of Irish fighting, not thousands and while they did a good job they weren't actually the toast of the Transvaal army.  So he writes to his buddy MacBride saying "Heeeeey Broseph, don't know if you heard those horrible rumours about a letter I allegedly wrote that talked all this smack but I just wanted to let you know right now that was a hoax.  Don't know by who, I'm as baffled as you are!  Wasn't me though.  I totally wouldn't bullshit people like that.  C'mon, you know me!"  I'm not sure if MacBride responded but I assume there was some dramatic eye rolling involved...

Anyway, pissing off his bro on the front lines was only half the problem!  The bigger problem was that now the British knew about him and what he was doing since that letter was published with his full name.  And he was right to be worried because once the British finally won the war they hunted him down.  Now lucky for him the Boere were all like "Hey, you know we don't like people who speak the English but you Irish guys are OK" so they made the Irish commandos citizens.  So now they couldn't hang him as a traitor so they had to treat him as a POW.  So they did.

They caught him and sent him to Ceylon - which is now Sri Lanka but used to be Ceylon, where our tea comes from - to serve time in a POW camp.  You know how they say someone was a model prisoner?  What is the opposite of that?  Because it turned out Solomon Gillingham was the opposite of a model prisoner.  He just gave his captors hell 24-7.  Eventually the British were like "Hey Solomon Gillingham, you've been a huge fizzy douche and we don't like you so we're going to keep you here as long as possible" and he was like "Ha ha, the joke's on you! I met this lady here and we've been going at it like rabbits so I don't mind staying here!"  So he was one of the very last people to be released back to South Africa.

So he came back and was like "Sup mofos! War hero in the house!" and his wife was like "So what's this I hear about you starting a second family in Ceylon? I want a divorce!" So she makes legal history by not only getting a divorce in like 190-something but the judge was like "Yeah I see what you mean, this guy is a massive asshole" so he sided with her 100%  Meanwhile Solomon was like "Whatever losers, I smuggled these rubies from Ceylon and this hot chick I met there followed me here so we're going to keep going at it like catholic bunnies"  Which they did.  And that's how I ended up being from a peaceful pentecostal Irish family instead of a radical militant catholic Irish family.

So yeah, as major douchebags tend to do, he totally landed on his feet. He eventually had 9 kids with his new wife so YEAH THAT'S RIGHT I have part Sri Lankan family somewhere out there!  As dark family secrets go, this is pretty brilliant! I think the last time he got recorded doing something was when he chaired an Irish Sinn Fein meeting in Pretoria and posing under a bullet riddled Transvaal flag for the Irish press.  Like a boss.

So here's to you great great grandfather!  You were clearly a huge tool but at least you were interesting!  For all my snark I doubt anyone will be writing about my life in a hundred years!  I mean you pissed off everyone everywhere you went but you were also kind of a badass who fought for your beliefs and I can respect that.  I'm not done with my life but it's a pretty good bet that no historian anywhere will be using any sexy adverbs to describe me one day so don't mind my snark.  Sláinte!

*Found a book in Google books called "Forgotten Protest: Ireland and the Anglo-Boer War"  by Donal P. McCracken.  It had a bunch of stuff on my great-great-grandfather so I tracked down the author, a professor who specializes in the history of the Irish in South Africa and through our correspondence I learned some more.  Before long the rest of the family were adding to the conversation and that's how I learned what I wrote here.  If you'd like a more factual account, I suggest reading the book!

**I would like to go on record saying that this is not genetic.  My baking is fantastic.  Anyone who has had my chocolate cake with mocha frosting can confirm that my baking will make you cry tears of joy.

***No one actually said any of this, I'm paraphrasing.

**** It was pretty much a worldwide open forum for every young man with a yearning to punch the British right the nuts.  Americans, Russians, Germans, they all came over here to fight.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Fun in Funeral

For someone who doesn't like funerals, I've sure been to a lot.

It's not that I have a particularly big family, it's just that I keep having less as time goes by.  I have now carried the coffins of my grandmother, my mother, my father and this week, my grandfather.  Always a pallbearer, never a corpse...

I would rather remember him as young and strong than as old and frail.

My grandpa died at the ripe old age of 94 and 10 months and I'm still in a bit of shock over it.  It didn't matter how old he got, on some level I always thought he would live forever.  This one cut deeper than I thought it would. He was the last parental figure I had left.  I don't think there is anyone else now who cares how I turn out or what I do with my life and that leaves me feeling so empty.  All I have now is the sadness of his passing.  And the regrets.  So many regrets...  I regret all the times I didn't call, I regret all the times I didn't make the time to talk to him, I regret all the worry I caused him, I regret not being someone he could be proud of.  In his death I see mirrored all my failings, every standard I failed to live up to, all the goals I never reached.  I think it's all the shame that blindsided me.  All the times I didn't call him because I knew he would ask about my life and I was too ashamed to tell him the truth so I never did and I never called and now I will never get to again.

My grandpa deserved a much better eldest grandson than the one he got.

At least he had a lot to be grateful for.  He lived for almost a century and gathered so much love along the way.  He had a long, happy marriage, children who loved him (of which he outlived only one) and a whole lot of grandchildren who are almost all prosperous, well adjusted and happily married adults now.  He even got to meet some of his great grandchildren which is more than most people can say I guess.  His mind stayed sharp his entire life and apart from his sight and hearing going by the end, he was in pretty good health.  He even kept all his hair!

Yeah that's me back when I was still cute...
At least the day wasn't just memorable for its sadness.  There was also some weirdness and some laughs, though now that I'm about to write it down I don't think you'll laugh...

At the grave there was this old guy in a suit and he was hugging and kissing everyone hello and leaning on my cousin all the way to the gravesite.  I never saw him before so I just assumed he was a far off family member I've never met.  Apparently so did everyone else.  He wasn't though, turns out no one knew him!  He was just a random stranger who showed up to a funeral to touch people.  And by touch I mean physically, not emotionally.  Just to be clear, he didn't do anything inappropriate.  Maybe he was just a lonely old man looking for some human contact.  That, or he was just a really weird pervert who gets off on consoling young ladies at funerals.  I guess we'll never know...

I also learned that the graveyard itself is segregated not only by race but also by faith and denomination.  I can only guess that this was masterminded by the department of applied theology so that come the Ressurection we can finally know which church had it right all along!  Telling people "I told you so!" before they go to eternal damnation is half the fun!

Also, just out of curiosity, how hard is it to be buried as a Jew?  The Jewish section was by far the part of the graveyard in the best condition.  I'm thinking that's the place to be after death!

The service was at the same place I had my last fun Pentecostal adventure a year ago and it certainly didn't disappoint.  The pastor managed to tone down the crazy at least though he did brandish an "authentic" shepherd's crook from the Holy Land at one point. He also managed get through an entire sermon without including any stories of his battles against the forces of Satan!  Still, it could just be me but the choice of "The Lord is my Shepherd" did seem a tad odd.  The entire service was wall to wall sheep anecdotes which is weird for a funeral because we all know what happens to a sheep once its life ends and it's never pretty...

I also got some fun pamphlets!  I got one on homosexuality which laid out the case for homosexuality being an abomination and a sin but at least it did include a small paragraph outlining the four simple steps to curing homosexuality.  It's in Afrikaans so if you're gay and were hoping to pray it away but can't read Afrikaans then I apologize to you dear reader.  You're just going to have to stay gay.

There was also a pamphlet on tithes and offerings which was basically just four pages of emotional blackmail to squeeze more cash out of congregants as well as little envelopes labeled ""Aircon" fund".  Not sure if it's a case of unnecessary quotation marks or if "Aircon" is what the pastor calls his new boat...

If I seem extra hard on the church for the finance stuff, it's because I'm more than a little pissed off about the way the church treated the funeral.  My grandfather was a lifelong, committed Christian.  He gave his time, energy and money to the the church for as long as he lived and yet when he died, the church acted more like a business than like a family.  We were charged for the sermon, there was a fee to open the church, there was a catering fee, etc, etc, etc.

But I'm not going to end this on a bitter note.  If you managed to read this far, congratulations, I know I've been all over the place.  That's kind of what my insides look like right now though.  It's pretty messy.  Despite all the sadness I am also left with love.  I loved my grandfather and I know he loved me.  When I speak of shame and regret, I need to be clear, he did not force those onto me.  He was never anything but kind, loving and interested in my life.  All the bad stuff I'm left with now spring from how I responded to that over the years.  So let that be a lesson to you.  If you have loved ones, let them in.  Let them know you, let them be a part of your life.  I can't tell you that it will make everything better.  I can just tell you that the alternative feels so much worse.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Different Worlds

Men and women live in different worlds.  I'm not referring to that Mars/Venus thing, that's bullshit.  We are all on the same planet, we're just not entirely in the same world.  I'll let Louis CK explain.

See that was funny but also sad, because it's true.  I'm sorry to say it took me way longer to catch on to that than it should have.  I remember what finally opened my eyes.  I forget who said it but I read that what men fear most from the opposite sex is getting laughed at, while what women fear from the opposite sex is getting raped or killed.  I read that and it hit me like a lightning bolt.  I don't live in the same world women live in.  I can walk down the same street as a woman but our experience of it can be so different we may as well be in two different places.  I'm a big, scary looking guy so when I walk down the street people leave me alone.  No matter where I go or what time I go there, at most I might worry about getting my wallet stolen.  I never have to worry about getting raped* or cornered by someone who won't stop hassling me and I most certainly never have to worry about total strangers throwing lewd comments my way.  No woman has that luxury.  We can share the same space and time but we do not share the same experience.

I'm a guy, so I live a privileged life.  I'm privileged because I never even have to think about any of that stuff.  My life is just easier than hers by default when it comes to this.  To me, a guy hitting on me on the bus is a funny story I can blog about.  For a woman, being stuck in a crowded metal tube with a guy that won't take a hint can be anything but funny.

So now what?  What do I do after coming to this realization?  Well, truth be told I don't have it all figured out just yet.  I do think reminding myself of this reality is necessary so I don't unthinkingly belittle those who experience this world differently from me.  I try to be more considerate of their experience.  I try to just be more considerate in general.

For instance, this week I was walking to the store as I usually do.  My route takes me along this big vacant lot.  It's a quiet little side street bordered by this overgrown field with nothing in it but long grass and two horses and it stretches for almost an entire block.  Anyway on this occasion I noticed there was a teenage girl a couple of meters ahead of me.  Didn't pay her any mind, I was listening to my iPod and planning my purchases for dinner, but I did realize after a few minutes that she kept glancing over her shoulder and walking as fast as she possibly could.  Now I could have just rolled my eyes and called her silly for acting that way because I'm a nice guy and I wasn't going to do anything to her and how dare she treat me like a potential rapist?  But I didn't do any of that.  This is South Africa, really terrible things happen to young girls in vacant lots all the time.  She had every right to be wary of me.  So I slowed my pace, crossed the street and hoped that would make her feel a little bit safer.  I don't know if it did.  I don't know if it was the best course of action.  All I know is that it was certainly better than doing nothing and it really cost me nothing at all.

I know I can't change the world.  I know I can't undo an epidemic of violence against women as old as our species.  But I have to do something.  I have to try.  Even if I don't know exactly what to do yet, at least I can try to be more accommodating and compassionate.  Anything, no matter how small must be better than living blinded by privilege and doing nothing at all.


*Yes, I know men get raped too.  Not denying that.  I'm just saying that getting raped is quite literally the furthest thing from my mind if I walk into a dark parking structure.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Demon Possession Made Easy

Via Scotteriology:

This list is like the Oprah of demon possession!  You get a demon! You get a demon! Everybody gets a demon!  According to this list I have about 8 demonic doorways into my life*.  How did you score?

Seriously though, Vampirism? Lycanthropy? LEVITATION?  Do I really have to explain to adult humans that those things aren't real? Good grief Charismatic Christians, you know I love you but you guys are gullible as fuck! I'm not saying you are fucking stupid if you believe in this.  I'm just saying that if someone concluded you were fucking stupid for believing vegetarianism makes you demon possessed I wouldn't blame them for reaching that conclusion!

Also just FYI - those Bible verses at the bottom doesn't actually relate to most things on that list!

*Not going to tell you but you're free to guess!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Passing the Persecution Envy Torch

I've written more than once about the strange phenomenon called Persecution Envy:

"Persecution Envy (not to be confused with Jihad Envy) is a mutant strain of Christian Reality Denial Disease (CRDD). It causes some of the most fortunate, prosperous and free (aka blessed) people in the world to imagine that they are being discriminated against, persecuted and oppressed."

Now it seems the torch is being passed to the next generation.  Behold, The Thaw:

There is so much wrong here.  I thought about debunking the many false claims that video makes but a blog isn't really the best forum for that.  I could try an point out all the misinformation, half truths and blatant lies in that video but I think it may be more productive to talk about the deeper issue at play here.  It seems to me that these well off, well fed, un-imprisoned kids with the freedom to discuss their beliefs in a public forum are suffering from a severe lack of empathy.

I may be just a simple seminary dropout but I seem to remember the guy Christianity is named for saying something along the lines of, "Do to others as you would have them do to you."  Which is pretty much a statement about empathy is it not? So then I don't think I would be unreasonable to expect Christians to have some empathy.  And yet, we all just saw that video.

They make a lot of false claims in that video:  that they're not allowed to pray or read the Bible or talk about Jesus in school.  Even I - a filthy foreigner from the 3rd world - knows that is just blatantly false.  They can do all those things.  What's forbidden is for the school to tell you what to pray and who to pray to.  This is a pretty reasonable rule, unless of course you are completely devoid of empathy, like these kids (and the adults who made them this way).  Instead of being grateful for the protection of such a common sense rule, they seem to be deeply offended that they are not allowed to impose their beliefs on everyone else.  But what if the shoe was on the other foot?

What if school prayer was brought back, except it's Catholic prayers to the Virgin Mary, and you're a Baptist and you believe that's idolatry?  What if Scripture reading was mandatory but the Scripture in question was the Book of Mormon?  What if the God in your history books was Allah?  Does that still sound like something you would want, entitled young Christian?  No of course it isn't! You'd be feeling very oppressed and persecuted indeed and you would be right!! You would be oppressed, that really would be religious persecution!

So why would you want to do that to others then?  Shouldn't you rather offer them the freedom you would like offered to you?  No one is taking your freedom, please stop campaigning to take the freedom from everyone else.  Come on, it's the Golden Rule!  How can you hate it?

So, just one more time:

Are you free to do business? Are you free to take part in your country’s political system? Are you free to share your opinion in the press? Are your children welcomed in public schools? Are you able to work? Are you free to go to the church of your choice? Are you able to freely purchase and read a Bible? Do you have free access to Christian radio and television broadcasts? If you answered “yes” to these questions then you are most certainly not being persecuted. If you answered no you may want to consider moving.

Does your government ever raid your church? Are you forced by law to meet in secret? Are you in any danger of being shipped off to a concentration/internment/”re-education” camp for your religious beliefs? Are you forbidden to vote or run for office due to your religious beliefs? Are you legally forbidden from raising complaints about government policies? If you answered “no” to these questions then you are definitely not being persecuted.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Psycho God Test

Lets do a quick thought experiment.

You're sitting at home, enjoying dinner with your family when suddenly a SWAT team bursts though the doors and windows.  They grab your mother and beat her do a bloody pulp with their nightsticks right there in front of her family.  Then they drag her outside  and kick her until she loses consciousness after which one of the officers takes out his gun and shoots her in the back of the head.  Traumatized and horrified by what just happened, you ask "WHY?! Why did you do this?"  The officer closest to you tells you, "Because we found out she had been gossiping".

What is your response?  Do you say:

A - "Oh, right that does make sense.  We warned her that gossip was really bad.  I'm sad of course but she brought this on herself"



So which did you choose?  Did you pick B?  I hope you picked B, that was the only remotely sane option.  In fact I hope everyone would pick B.  Problem is, not everyone does.  A lot of people have to choose A because they believe that option A is the right, kind and loving option.  Despite any and all internal struggles this might provoke, they will have to pretend that is the right option, the good option.  They will have to do that because they are Christians and this is what they believe about their God.

That is a panel from a Chick tract aimed at children to teach them about heaven, hell and salvation.  See all the things that disqualify one for heaven?  Dirty thoughts, hate, gossip, lies, revenge and cruelty.  None of those are particularly nice but do you consider any of those unforgivable?  Do you consider those to be grounds for eternal torture?  I know I'm using a Chick tract here but this isn't some crazy fringe notion.  While not every Christian denomination believes this, a great many do.  Since earliest childhood this has been the message I've gotten in church - all sins are equally bad therefore doing even the most minor thing wrong makes you a sinner unworthy of God and deserving only of eternal torture in Hell.  Stealing a paperclip and killing someone is equally sinful.  There are no white lies, only lies. Dirty thoughts make you as guilty before God as dirty deeds would.  For a great example of this kind of reasoning, check out The Way of the Master's famous "Are you a good person?" evangelical tool.

So yeah, this is really what millions of Christians believe.  Funny thing, this is not what millions of Christians actually practice.  I'd like to think that most of them would read my little thought experiment and agree that yes, this is an insane way to react to something as insignificant as gossip.  This is because they go through their lives able to forgive small offenses.  Hell, they might even consider some offenses too small to actually count as offenses!  Isn't it odd how people can be more merciful, more kind, more loving and more forgiving than the perfectly merciful, kind, loving and forgiving God they pray to?  Somehow millions of people manage to be more moral than the alleged source of their morality.

If you wouldn't kill someone for saying a bad word, or for that matter thinking it, doesn't that make you better than a God who would?  Eternal torture for inconsequential, temporal wrongdoing seems like something only an insane psychopath would do because it is something only an insane psychopath would do.  Deep down, you know it's true.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

God loves you but His angels could take you or leave you!

You really can't trust angels.  OK maybe that's a little harsh.  Maybe you can totally trust an angel with a loan or something.  What you can't trust them with is their JOB.  A full three quarters of them are just going to blow it completely!  Or at least, that's the impression I got from this new Chick tract called: Four Angels?

If you thought Jack Chick's views on Christianity made no sense then I'm about to prove you right! I've been in some weird churches in my life but this here is some Grade A crazy!  Buckle up!  Here we go!

Meet the Sawyer family.  Well, most of them.  Pappa Sawyer is basically an extra with no lines in this story.  Frank, Bobby, Charlie and Henry are going spend the rest of this tract living the Parable of the sower.  Spoiler Alert - this is really only going to work out well for one of the Sawyers...

Now meet the titular four angels (they don't get names).  One of them is there on a mission from God!  The other three, not sure.  Maybe they thought they were going on a beer run or something and got tricked into coming to the Revival meeting just like the Sawyers!  As the rest of the tract will show, they're clearly not here because they're heavily invested in the whole "angel" thing.

Henry's angel is the one with a mission so he's the one taking the whole "guardian angel" thing seriously.  His job is to keep Henry safe so he takes on that snake like a damn honeybadger!  In case you were interested, Hebrews 1:14 reads "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"  As this tract will go on to demonstrate, the answer (at least according to Jack Chick) is a resounding "Eh, not so much".

Real True Christians know that the best thing for a small child is to tell them they are terrible and that they deserve to be tortured for endless eons.  Fear is the path to the Dark Side and also to Jesus it seems!

See?  Little Henry doesn't convert because he loves Jesus or because he finds the Gospel compelling or because he desires God in any way.  Little Henry converts because he is crap-your-pants terrified of going to Hell.  As we go on you'll see that this is not a bug, it's a feature.  Of course, as the highlighted text points out, you're out of luck here if you don't get the "believe in your heart" thing just right.  As a child this kept me constantly doubting my own salvation and led to many a "re-dedication".  As the Slacktivist recently pointed out, I wasn't alone in this, it's how Evangelicals do business.  Can you see the complete lack of enthusiasm in the other 3 angels?  Clearly they were told there would be cake!  Instead they're saddled with a job they have no enthusiasm for.

Poor Frank!  Because his guardian angel couldn't be bothered to call shotgun, he ends up getting chatted up by a devil while the angel rides in the back making his best judgy face.  Frank ends up hellbound because his guardian angel couldn't make five minutes worth of effort to help him out while being mentally assaulted by a demon.  Here's the thing though, none of this makes any sense.  Frank leaves the faith because a devil convinces him he looks stupid and his girl would leave him.  Frank then continues to live a life of outward piety and Christianity.  So what exactly changed?  Frank doesn't want people to think he's a Christian and yet anyone looking on who wasn't a mind reader would mistake Frank for a committed Christian who loves the Lord.  Also it couldn't have been that offensive to his girlfriend because she seems to be his wife now and sitting next to him and their kids in church.  This is the kind of nonsensical content that makes me believe that Jack Chick lives in a dark basement somewhere and that he's never actually met people.  This is not how people react when they reject the Gospel.  This is not how anyone acts.  Anyway, clearly Frank here is supposed to illustrate the idea that doing the right thing doesn't matter, only believing the right thing on the inside matters.

The same thing happens with Bobby.  He is forced to abandon his Christian faith in order to make it at work.  He then goes on to practice his Christian faith outwardly exactly as before.  So what changed?  Is his boss a mind reader?  Can the CEO of his company measure the faith in your heart come promotion time?  I guess he can, otherwise this entire story would make zero amount of sense.  Well, that's 2 angels back in heaven, breathing sighs of relief at the snack table.  They didn't put in a whole lot of effort but then again, they clearly weren't planning to.  Now we move on to brother Charlie.  Charlie gets to be the one thing Jack Chick hates more than Satanists and Homosexuals - a preacher who tells people that God is love.  There's an entire tract just about that called Reverend Wonderful (which I'm pretty sure is based on Billy Graham, but I can't prove it...)

So how did the good Reverend manage to drive off his personal angel? He looked at porn, which it turns out is angel kryptonite.  Turns out a Playboy is the equivalent of an exorcism for angels.  It's weird, angels are immortal spiritual beings who have been watching over humanity for their entire history.  That's thousands of years of seeing people get naked, even if you're a Young Earth Creationist.  But some boobs in a magazine just makes an angel go "I've seen enough" and run home? Sure...  Anyway, now you know - choking the chicken chokes the word!

Anyway so Charlie is a typical sleazy Televangelist, exactly like all the other Evangelical sleazebags.  Well... Not exactly...  Quick, off the top of your head name me five Mega church pastors!  Easy right?  It doesn't matter what you believe, these ministries are so obnoxiously big you know about them whether you want to or not.  OK, now name me one Christian Mega Ministry attended by people of all faiths.  I'll wait.  Can't do it, can you?  That's not a real thing that exists in our world.  They may be sleazy, they may be greedy, they may be telling you whatever you want to hear, but at no point in history has any Christian Megachurch ever been frequented by Muslims, Hindus and Jews.  Jack Chick doesn't understand the basics of the English Language.  To him the world is made up of Real Christians and Everyone Else and therefore Everyone Else must basically be all on the same team.

Now we return to little Henry.  No longer little but still somehow sporting a band-aid on his face.  Henry is the success story and no wonder since he's the one who got the guardian angel who actually cares about his job.  Like a teacher that refuses to give up on a tough class, this angel has been working hard through the years, watching Henry's back and not giving up at the first sign of trouble like his 3 friends.  As a result, Henry is a committed Christian who has more compassion for the lost than 75% of God's own angels.  His guardian angel didn't quit on him and likewise he doesn't quit on the needy, even if the going is tough.  Henry is a good egg.

Or maybe not.  Here Henry decides to interpret Scripture as literally as possible in order to be as big a dick as possible to his famous brother.  Now I share Henry's deep and passionate dislike of sleazy Televangelists but isn't there an off chance that he would have been able to get through to his brother if he didn't just start acting like a huge fizzy douche right out the gate?

 Like I said, it's not that I disagree with Henry here on principle - exploitative megachurch pastors are the scum of the earth - but wow, he is not as great at picking damning Scriptures as he thinks he is.  Here is the entire verse of Jeremiah 48:10 "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood." Yeah, that verse isn't about telling preachers not telling folks they're going to hell, it's about God ordering the bloody destruction of Moab.  Just sayin'...  As for the quote from James, well that one is just sad.  In a modern English translation, that one reads "But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers."  It has nothing to do with having respect for people, it's about favoritism.  That's what happens when you read a translation from the 1600 as if it's exactly the same thing as modern English - you end up looking like a bit of a twat. 

Brother Charlie has been telling that God loves them instead of scaring them towards salvation with threats of hellfire.  Since this is a Chick tract, this probably won't end well for Charlie...

Suckers!  They gambled on God being progressive, kind and loving and it cost them dearly.  They should have listened to that fire & brimstone preacher in the tent - God will happily have you tortured for uncountable billions of years for not really truly believing in the Gospel! (In a Chick tract, He will...)  The porn was just the sin cherry on the sin sundae!

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours but if this tract is right, 75% of converts will end up in hell because three quarters of the angels just can't be bothered to help out.  Be honest, those other 3 angels were kind of dicks amirite?  Mull that over while brother Butler plays us out!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

That should have been your first clue

I know I'm over a decade late to the party but I recently discovered the delightful British series Jonathan Creek.  On the bright side, being late to the party means I get to watch the whole series on youtube for free!  For those unfamiliar with the show, it's about a man who devises illusions for a stage magician for a living who uses his skills and insights to solve crimes that appear to have been impossible.  If you're into skepticism and/or the very charming Alan Davies I strongly recommend watching it.  It frequently demonstrates how the truth behind an astonishing mystery can be incredibly mundane so if you want to believe that magic tricks are really magic, this may not be your kind of show...

So while watching one of the episodes, an off hand comment by one of the characters made me realize that there is an incredibly banal truth behind the very popular supernatural belief in reincarnation.  In the season 2 episode "Danse Macabre" the victim of a baffling murder is said to have been working on her autobiography - or rather her autobiographies - an account of her many lives throughout the ages. They included: "high priestess of the Aztec Empire... a courtesan to King Charles I, a Russian Countess and a Zulu at Rorke's Drift."

I've been fascinated by the supernatural since childhood and read anything I could find on the subject* and this seemed exactly like everything anyone claiming to remember their "past lives" has ever said.  It's the weirdest thing when you think about it, how these previous incarnations are always incredibly significant.  People were either very important historical figures or they were somehow connected to important historical figures and events.  How strange, seeing as the vast majority of people throughout history were neither important nor involved with anything important.  For most of history people were born, worked hard, lived lives devoid of comfort or importance and then died.  Yet funnily enough, you never seem to hear anyone with a past life being any of those people!  No one remembers a past life where they toiled hard, lived off turnips and died young because the most cutting edge medical procedure of the time was getting bled to death.  Nope, it's always kings and queens and courtesans it seems!  What are the odds?

Uncomfortable truth time, how important are you?  I know we all get told from childhood that we are special little snowflakes and that our lives have much importance and meaning, but does it? Really?  I'm not trying to insult you and I'm not insinuating that your life is meaningless.  Obviously if you are reading this blog you are an amazing and intelligent person with a sensitive soul and a great sense of humour! Your closest friends and family would no doubt agree that you are totally awesome.  However, in the grand scheme of things, how important do you think you are?  Will people be reading about you in a 100 years?  How about your friends and associates? Will they be famous centuries from now?  Will your work be discussed in Universities one day?

Several important events happened within my lifetime: Elvis died, ABBA broke up, John Lennon was assassinated, George Lucas created and subsequently destroyed several million happy childhood memories, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, Apartheid ended and Lady Gaga was born.  I didn't play any part in any of those events.  It's a fair bet that you didn't either.  Not everyone gets to do something significant with our lives.  That doesn't mean we don't wish it wasn't so.

There is a reason that almost all works of fantasy involve someone plucked from obscurity and turned into someone of great importance.  I think all nobodies wish they were somebodies.  Who doesn't dream of being discovered and appreciated and admired and remembered?  I suspect this kind of dream, this deep wish for specialness, lives inside us all.  Therefore the fact that all past life experiences are so special and significant is the only clue you need to figure out that past lives are bullshit. There are no past lives, just current wish fulfillment. 

No matter how much you dream of being special, the cold reality of your life can't be shut out forever.  Reincarnation is however a great way of overcoming reality.  Maybe you're not so amazing NOW but what if you were incredibly special in a past life (or ten)?  Surely that could mean that you might end up being incredibly important in some other life in the future!

I'm something of a dreamer myself so I completely understand the allure.  But that doesn't make it true.  You can't make yourself special by wishing it so.  Burying yourself in fantasy is comfortable but it's also a little dangerous.  After all, if you're reading this you're probably not dead so your story isn't over yet.  History is not done with you, maybe you turn out to be more significant than you could even dream.  Who knows how your story is going to play out in the end?  You're not a Pharaoh or a High Priest or a brave knight.  You are you.  Why not make the best of it?

*It led to many tearful repentance sessions and the occasional book burning since by even reading about the occult I was opening myself to Satan's influence.  If you didn't grow up Pentecostal or Charismatic that wouldn't mean anything to you but trust me, it was a big deal!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What is Wrong with Rights?

Today is Human Rights Day which is great because it's a public holiday.  There is however the fact that the words "human rights" still conjure up a vague sense of unease within me is keeping me from enjoying it as much as I should.  This is not OK.  I was raised to have a negative view of human rights and this needs to stop right now so today I'm going to try to dig this thing up by the root!

I think part of the problem was that I was never really clear on why human rights were supposed to be bad.  For as long as I can remember people in church only mentioned human rights in a derisive manner.  Much like "humanism" or "compromise" it was a term that everyone apparently just understood was a bad thing, no explanation necessary.  So that was all I knew.  Human rights were bad.  Actually all rights were bad - Human rights, Children's rights, Animal rights - all of them.  Good Christians were supposed to be against having rights.  Having rights were bad, you were supposed to "give up your rights".  Again, no idea why, it's just something good Christians were supposed to believe.  Lest you think I was just in some weird cult, this happens all over.  Not only do certain American Christians oppose Children's rights, they even actively oppose giving rights to the disabled.  This isn't just something my weird little pentecostal church taught, this is something Christians all over the world believe.  But why?

Well for the first time in my life I looked up the actual Universal Declaration of Human Rights and I have to say, it was no help at all!  Everything on there seemed like a great idea!  I see nothing in it that could be scary in any way, except perhaps if you were a running an oppressive dictatorship.

So I've been scouring my memory banks and came up with two possible reasons I was supposed to consider human rights a bad thing:

Rights lead to entitlement!  I distinctly remember one sermon in the student church I attended making the case that we should abandon human rights and instead adopt human responsibility.  See having rights make you entitled and lazy and prevents you from taking the responsibility to help yourself.  This makes total sense right up until you actually read up on what human rights actually entail at which point it stops making any sense at all.  This is just one more nasty offspring from the union of Christianity with political conservatism.  There is this deep seated aversion to people getting good things they didn't earn themselves which is pretty ironic considering the basic tenets of Christian Theology...  Any mention of human rights also tended to get rather vitriolic when it was regarding the rights of a criminal.  This of course isn't confined to church, this happens everywhere.  Everyone seems to get really upset at the idea that a suspected criminal could have rights under the law, and I certainly understand that impulse.  However this too shows both complete ignorance of what human rights actually entail and a staggering lack of empathy.  You don't think criminals should have rights?  What if you were accused of a crime?  Should you get to have rights?  Yes?  Well then, maybe having basic human rights isn't the worst thing in the world!

Rights are a conspiracy!  If you want to understand Evangelical Christians you need to understand End Times paranoia.  Really if you only have the time to learn ONE THING about Christians, learn this because it colours the world of Christendom more than any other doctrine.  What Christians believe about the end of the world determines how they relate to the other groups, international relations, climate change and everything related to the future.  This is why many Christians - especially in America - distrust the UN.  They believe that the UN is just a forerunner for the One World Government the Antichrist will install during the End Times to oppress all Real True Christians (who weren't Raptured)*.  Therefore, everything connected to the UN must be viewed with suspicion.  No matter how benign it might seem, ultimately it has to be a nefarious trap to destroy the Christian way of life.  Since the UN is the one pushing for rights, rights have to be bad.  I know it doesn't make sense but then again, neither do their ideas about the End Times.

So then as best I can gather I was supposed to distrust human rights because it may make people suffer less and because it could all be fantastical plot by a nonexistent evil entity.  Well, I guess that settles that.

Human Rights are to be promoted and protected.  Human Rights are not to be feared.  These things should be self evident and I'm ashamed that for a while they weren't.  Happy Human Rights Day!

See also:  Things that are and are not cake.  I should add human rights (or just rights in general) to things that are not cake.  You can have the full spectrum of human rights and it will take nothing away from me.  I can have all the same rights too.  There is enough to go around, rights are not cake!  Enjoy!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Brownie Recipe Glurge - now with added moral consistency

I did not write the following story, I'm just amending the ending to make it morally consistent.  You wouldn't want to forward this glurge and look like a hypocrite now would you?  You can read the original, unaltered version here

If you ended up here because you were looking for an actual brownie recipe, why not try Nigella's Snowflake Brownies?  I've made them a bunch of times and they haven't failed me once!  These are so good you will be weeping tears of joy after every bite!  By all means feel free to leave out the white chocolate bits and add more dark chocolate instead.  Always remember, use the best quality ingredients for the best quality results!

OK, on to the morality tale with the questionable morals!


A father of some teenage children had the family rule that they could not attend PG-13 or R rated movies. His three teens wanted to see a particular popular movie that was playing at local theaters. It was rated PG-13.  The teens interviewed friends and even some members of their family's church to find out what was offensive in the movie. The teens made a list of pros and cons about the movie to use to convince their dad that they should be allowed to see it.

The cons were:
*It contained ONLY 3 swear words!
*The ONLY violence was a building exploding (and you see that on TV all the time they said),
*You actually did not 'see' the couple in the movie having sex, it was just implied sex, off camera.

The pros were:
*It was a popular movie, (a blockbuster).
*Everyone was seeing it.
*If the teens saw the movie then they would not feel left out when their friends discussed it.
*The movie contained a good story and plot.
*It had some great adventure and suspense in it.
*There were some fantastic special effects in this movie.
*The movie's stars were some of the most talented actors in Hollywood .
*It probably would be nominated for several awards.
*Many members of their Christian church, including the pastor, had even seen the movie
and said it wasn't really 'that bad'.

Therefore, since there were more pros than cons the teens asked their father to reconsider his position
on just this ONE movie and let them have permission to go see it.

The father looked at the list and thought for a few minutes. He said he could tell his children had spent some time and thought on this request. He asked if he could have a day to think about it before making his decision.

The teens were thrilled, thinking, 'Now we've got him! Our argument is too good! Dad can't turn us down!'
So, they happily agreed to let him have a day to think about their request.

The next evening the Father called his three teenagers, who were smiling smugly, into the living room.
There on the coffee table he had a plate of brownies. The teens were puzzled. The father told his children
he had thought about their request and had decided that if they would eat the brownies, then he would
let them go to the movie. But, he explained, just like the movie, the brownies had pros and cons.

The pros were :
*They were made with the finest chocolate and other good ingredients.
*They had the added special effect of yummy walnuts in them.
*The brownies were moist and fresh with wonderful chocolate frosting on top.
*He had made these fantastic brownies using an award-winning recipe.
*And best of all, the brownies had been made lovingly by the hand of their own father.

The brownies only had one con :
*He had included a little bit of a special ingredient: The brownies contained just a small amount of dog poop.
But he had mixed the dough well and they probably would not even be able to taste the dog poop and he had baked it at 350 degrees so hopefully any bacteria or germs from the dog poop had probably been destroyed.

Therefore, if any of his children could stand to eat the brownies which included just a 'little bit of crap' and not be affected by it, then he knew they would also be able to see the movie with 'just a little bit of smut' and not be affected. Of course, none of the teens would eat the brownies and the smug smiles had left their faces.

The next day the kids told their father that since they weren't allowed to see the movie they would be spending their weekend reading a book instead, unless he had objections to their choice of literature as well that is.  Since the father was very strict and wanted to shield his kids from all material that had age inappropriate content he asked them to tell him more about the book they planned on reading.  They then made the following list of pros and cons for their dad's consideration.

The cons were:
*It contained SOME bad language but not that much.
*It does however contain plenty of sex.  It starts off with some nudity and before long there is sex, rape, incest, sexual slavery, prostitution as well as some passing mention of homosexual sex and bestiality.
*It is pretty violent, start to finish.  There are beatings, stabbings, suicides and murders.  Genocide, patricide, infanticide are all regular occurrences and it also features many brutal depictions of animals being abused and killed in various sadistic ways. 

The pros were:
*It was an international best seller.
*Everyone they knew had been reading it and recommended it as a "must read".
*Many people in their church, including the pastor, had also recommended reading it.
*It contained many noble themes such as perseverance during adversity, humility, forgiveness and compassion for the less fortunate.
*It celebrated the victory of good over evil.
*This book contained some of the most memorable characters and themes of all.
*Since it's based on a true story, it's considered very inspirational.

"Well", said the dad, "I can see you put a lot of effort and research into this but it sounds to me like despite all the good you claim it contains, it there is just way too much inappropriate stuff in there for it to be wholesome reading.  However I'll leave it up to you" said the dad smiling smugly, "if you'd like to prove to me that you can handle so much crap mixed in with the good, I'll be happy to whip up a batch of my special brownies for you!"

"Sheesh! No thanks! That won't be necessary dad!", the kids said in unison.  "It's fine, we promise we won't read the Bible!!"

Have you ever seen the insanely strict standards by which Christian media review sites like Plugged-in Online judge movies and TV by?  The irony is that if they ever judged the Bible - which they claim as the source of their judgements in the first place - by their own standards, the review would be more damning than the one they gave the SAW franchise!  If the Bible was published today, Focus on the Family would be telling you to stay far away from it!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

If you got problems...

You know, when you have one it's really easy to take it for granted.  Sometimes it's easy to forget just how many problems are solved simply by having one.  Thankfully someone stuck this reminder on a roadsign!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Myth of Heroic Rape

Rape is an exceedingly terrible thing that can never ever be considered good, right?  I thought that would be the foregone conclusion of any sane, civilized person with even an ounce of empathy but I was wrong.  Some people seem to have come to the worrying conclusion that while rape is usually bad, it can sometimes be a good thing.

I was watching a Rosario Dawson movie called Descent the other day.  She plays a shy, bookish girl who goes on a date with a popular jock and then gets brutally raped by him.  *Spoiler alert if you plan on watching it but I wouldn't recommend it, it's not a good movie* In the end she seduces him, brings her to her apartment for a date, convinces him to get undressed and then ties him to the bed where she proceeds to rape him with an object.  Then her big black friend comes in and brutally rapes the jock some more.  I believe something similar happened in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

However this idea that rape can be heroic and appropriate as long as you're raping a bad person isn't confined to the occasional girl power revenge flick.  It's everywhere.  You see it every time a sex offender gets sentenced to jail and suddenly everyone seems to be gleefully commenting on how he will soon be on the receiving end of several hundred rapes.  Hell I used to do that myself until the full implication of this dawned on me.

If rape is an abominable, soul destroying act that harms another human being to their very core then it cannot ever be a good thing.  Not ever.  Not even when it happens to a pedophile.  We are outraged when some tribal elder in some godforsaken part of the world uses rape as a way to punish a young girl - and rightfully so!  Rape is a crime, not a punishment.  It should never be OK to use as a form of punishment, it should always be an abomination to us.  Always.  Once you start decreeing that some people actually deserve to be raped then you're not even on a slippery slope anymore, you've already fallen down the hole.  

I have no proof of this but I don't think that you can defile someone in this way without defiling yourself as well.  When you rape someone you are doing violence to your own psyche as well.  Nothing about rape can ever be redemptive or heroic.  It's bad enough that in the last decade torture went from something unspeakably wrong to something completely acceptable as long as the "good guys" are doing it.  The same thing should absolutely not be allowed to happen with the crime of rape.

I understand this impulse though.  Whenever I hear of some horrible crime (and unfortunately that's happening a lot) there is that moment when I wish the cruelest of the ancient tortures to be visited upon the criminals so they can be made to suffer for their barbarity.  However I understand that this impulse is not about justice but about vengeance.  This is impulse is neither good nor right and I try not to foster it.  I don't always feel it but I have to believe that violence and cruelty can never be the way forward.  When we indulge in it, it stains us all.  No good can come of it.  So I try to choose not to indulge in such twisted fantasies.  This pervasive idea that violence and death can be good needs to end.  It will not come naturally to us so he have to keep making that choice again and again for as long as it takes.

Or am I just being massively naive now?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Queer Thing Happened on the Bus...

When you regularly commute using the same bus line you get to know the other regulars.  It's not like you're making new life long best friends (well maybe others do, I don't) but you get to know the faces.  Occasionally there is some light conversation, usually just about how much the bus service sucks.  We exchange a few horror stories of how late a bus we waited for was and then we go on our way.  That's the way I prefer it anyway.

So there is this guy on my morning route - to protect his identity we'll call him "Johnny" - who usually walks over to strike up a conversation.  Like I mentioned before, bus stop conversations are rarely serious.  At this point all we've ever chatted about was what we do for a living and how much the bus service sucks.  This time we ended up sitting together so we had to talk some more.  He asked what I liked to do on weekends, if I go to clubs and bars.  I replied that I don't.  So we're driving along and I'm making increasingly strained polite conversation and wondering just how rude it would be if I put my earphones in and turned my iPod back on during a lull in the conversation.  Suddenly he points out a building in Lynwood street and asks if I knew that the old ABSA bank building was now a place called Sauna Boyz where you can go for saunas and massages or just lounge in a jacuzzi.  I did not.  Now dear reader, you may be a lot more astute than I so at this early point in the story you can probably tell exactly where this is going.  I assure you however that at this point I was completely oblivious!

So then he keeps telling me about all these clubs that he (and a friend) went to.  He told me about his friend from a small town who really wanted to go check out this club in Joberg called The Factory where - you guessed it! - people could jacuzzi or sauna.  In fact, he just kept going on an on about all these clubs where you can jacuzzi or sauna, although he preferred to hang out at the bar in a towel and just check out the people.  Yes I know that it should have been super obvious to me at this point but I swear I was just honestly puzzled about his obsession with going out to bathe in clubs!  My honest-to-blog thought at this point was "Does he not have a bath at home or something?"  He just went on and on about all these places and how they usually have one day per week where you can bring a friend along and then you only pay cover charge for one person. 

Eventually though when he was telling me about this club in Menlyn called Camp David (where blah blah jacuzzi, sauna etc) the penny finally dropped and I thought to myself, "Hold on, Camp David?  That sounds kinda like a gay club..."

So what I should have said was "Hold on, are these gay clubs?  Because if so you may have the wrong idea about me."  What said instead (right after he explained how you have to take off all your clothes and put on just a towel upon entering) was, "So where do you put your wallet then?"  In my defense I didn't just want to assume anything so I resolved to just google those places later rather to make sure of my facts.

Long story short, yes they were.  Actually no, they weren't JUST gay clubs.  They were gay sex clubs.

So now I'm in a bit of an awkward situation.  Thinking back, the fact that I was so clueless may have given the impression that I was totally open to going on a date to one of these clubs!  So what is the most tactful way to handle this?  I really don't want to be a a-hole here, he seems nice enough but that doesn't change the fact that I am also very much not gay.  I know what if feels like to put yourself out there and get shot down, I know it's not fun so I'd like to be kind at least.  What's the best way to communicate that?  Do I now just straight up tell the guy I looked up the places he mentioned and tell him he's barking up the wrong tree?  OR do I just try to steer our next conversation to how much I'm into females with all the subtlety I can muster and hope he gets the hint?  Straightforward or subtle?  Which is best?  I have very little experience of either sex hitting on me so I' a tad out of my depth.  How do you make the best of an awkward misunderstanding without escalating it to Three's Company style hijinx?    

Truth be told I'm not angry, creeped out or disgusted.  I'm just really, really puzzled!  What did I do to give him the wrong impression?  Do I come across as gay*?  More importantly, do I come across as bath house gay?  And should I ask?  This is the kind of situation I'd really like to avoid in future!

*I swear, I didn't once mention being a Lady Gaga fan!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Everybody's doing a brand new dance now

So I was watching The Daily Show the other day and something strange happened during the Moment of Zen...

I watched that and didn't really know what to make of it.  Was this some kind of commentary I just wasn't getting?  But then I saw Colbert doing the same thing!

That's when I learned about the Harlem Shake.  Just type "Harlem Shake" into Youtube and you'll find an avalanche of short videos from all over the place.  I have to say it looks like a lot of fun.  Silly fun, but isn't that the best kind?  Definitely a good time you can have with a group of friends.  It's so easy that anyone can do it!

Step 1:  Get some friends and the song Harlem Shake by Baauer
Step 2:  One person dances awkwardly while everyone else sits around feigning indifference
Step 3:  Everyone erupts into crazy dancing!  The goofier the better! 
Optional Step 4:  Record and post to Youtube.

But did you know that besides being easy, enjoyable, accessible and lots of fun, doing the Harlem Shake was also sinful?  Well now you know!  According to this New England pastor, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself because doing the Harlem Shake makes the Baby Jesus cry!

After seeing a video of young Christians doing the Harlem Shake he had the following to say:

"What’s the problem with a little bit of fun, anyway? No one was harmed. There is a time for everything, after all. And anyone who would find fault with it is simply a puritanical prude. Besides, there is context to the occasion; it is participation in a wider cultural experiment and pursuit. It’s innocent.

Never mind the other errors of such thought-processes, I think this definition from Susanna Wesley – mother of John - enunciates the pitfalls of this minimalist mindset the best:

    Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.

It seems to me that the “Harlem Shake,” however innocent it may appear to some, doesn’t pass Susanna’s criteria – which, I should hasten to add, seems to be a good paraphrase of Philippians 4:8 – on any level.

Of course, to a large degree, I don’t necessarily blame these young people for the behavior. Young people, to a great extent, are simply living as good as they’ve been taught (and putting into practice what the older generation would love to do in theory – were they not too self-conscious). They’re a reflection of where we are as a people – a people who have not been gripped by the grace and love of Christ to the point that we want to live entirely by His Spirit rather than our flesh; a people who have forgotten that we’re participants in a “great controversy” where Christ is waiting for us to testify unequivocally that He is a God who not only is love but a God who is powerful enough to transform us into other-centered, self-denying people."

Ahh, that sure brings back memories!  No, not of watching Footloose, though I can totally see why you went there!  No, the thing is I used to be that guy.

Here's the thing.  Christianity is not and can not ever be cool.  No matter how many worship leaders and youth pastors you dress up in vintage tee's & tattoos & goatees (and other stuff that went out of style 10 years ago), it will never be cool.  It can't be.  (Some might argue that it shouldn't be) That's not a bug, it's a feature.  It's about Heaven and Hell and Demons and God and Salvation and your ETERNAL DESTINY.  These are serious things and they don't leave much room for frivolity.  Or being cool.  Or fun.

Look, it's not like no one ever tries.  Lots of Christians try to be cooler or more fun.  It's just that as soon as they do, someone is going to come along and ask a passive aggressive question like, "Is what you're doing/wearing/saying really bringing glory to God?" or "Is this really the best way to redeem your time?" or "How do you think Jesus would feel about this?  Would HE think it's just harmless fun?" or "Just remember, we'll all have to give account of every idle word we speak..." or "Is this really helping the Gospel of Jesus Christ?"  Once that happens people are usually shamed into submission for they know that should they continue, the subject is going to rapidly change to passive aggressive comments on the evils of a rebellious heart...

Still, people then try to be fun and/or cool while keeping everyone happy and not offending the easily offended and that's why Christian Culture tends to be "funny" rather than funny and at least a decade behind actual cool.

However, this doesn't mean Christians are doomed to never have any fun activities!  As the blog I quoted from showed, the good Christians of the world still have some options.  Unlike the Harlem Shake, it's never going to be easy or accessible or even that much fun, but it can be very enjoyable in a sense.  Want to know more?  Well then, let me tell you about competitive piety.  See, just being pious can get tired real quick.  Trust me, as a young Christian teen I was pious as fuck (also probably annoying as fuck but I'm sure that's implied...) so I know exactly where this pastor is coming from.  So then, the way to make it more fun is to make sure you're better at it than the rest.  Being a good Christian, you're probably not going to be dealing with any of the major sins (like murder and stealing) so piety really comes down to sweating the small stuff.  So how do you play?

Step 1:  You can never actually admit to anyone (yourself included) that you're being competitive about your piety because admitting that you think you're better than others is prideful and pride is a sin so admitting to the game means losing the game.

Step 2:  Start dissecting every aspect of life and human conduct and try to find out how they could somehow be sinful.  Bonus points if it's for something really popular and relevant.  (This presupposes a thorough knowledge of Scripture but if you didn't have that you wouldn't be playing, obviously!)  No transgression can be too small!  Example from the comment section:
"In response to your second point: simply taking your words that their motives are to “seek attention” (which is what you have ascribed to them), then, biblically, you contradict your own conclusion that it is not “soul-harming.” See Philippians 2:5-8. Any time my motive is to “seek attention” for myself I am not living out the mind of Christ."
 Step 3:  Start sharing your findings with others and try to shame them into conforming - remember, if you can see sins where they cannot then you win!
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE ON STEP 3:  When shaming people about their hitherto unrealized sinfulness you have to be extremely careful not to appear prideful lest you lose the game so close to the finish line.  Therefore it's important to use terms terms like "I struggle with this too" and "None of us are perfect" and "I'm not judging anyone, we all fall short" with very high frequency.  It's important that this comes off as friendly camaraderie and not as judgement - even though it obviously is about judgement otherwise you wouldn't be having this conversation!  Remember, you're not angry, you're just sad about this unfortunate lack of holiness (of which you are of course also guilty and besides all sins are totally equal and you're totally not prideful or judgmental or anything!)  Example from the comments:
"Sadly, I do this often in my own life, so I condemn no one.
But any time I continue with this type of mindset and behavior, it is very soul-harming because I am indicating that the attention Christ gives me is not enough. I am not ascribing this motive to any in the videos, but simply speaking in generalities. All must evaluate their motives for themselves and be cognizant of this sobering dynamic."

Optional Step 4:  If someone accuses you of being judgmental, nitpicky or being guilty of shaming, act all shocked and butthurt and do your best to turn it around on the accuser.  Remember, hyperbole and slippery slopes are your best friends.  Example from the comment thread:
"So merely evaluating a person’s behavior and concluding that it must make God sad is “condemning” and “shaming”? No one is judging motives, eternal destiny, or anything of the sort. To do so would be, as you say, “condemning.” We are simply evaluating the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a behavior. We’re not trying to read hearts.
Should a person never do this – or must we turn a blind eye to everything?"

Now in the days before the internet, Step 3 took some work.  Nowadays anyone with a blog or a Facebook page can do this with ease but just in case you're abandoning the online world due to its sinful character, here are the old school ways to do it:
  • If you're a pastor, just use your pulpit obviously.
  • If you're an elder or someone else with slight access to the pulpit, try to use your window.
  • If you're a smallgroup leader, use that.
  • Ditto if you're not a cell group leader but are still in a cell group and are given a turn to talk
  • If all else fails, use that old evangelical standby - the prayer request.  It takes a little skill but with practice you can use prayer time for anything from malicious gossip to thinly veiled personal attacks.

So there you have it!  Have fun!  Or, you know, "fun"...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to make Jack Chick's head explode.

I have a theory about Jack Chick.  I think he lives in a bunker somewhere deep underground and has been for decades.  I don't think he ever comes out of his hole, he probably just has everything delivered.  Could this be true?  I don't know for a fact, but it certainly would explain a lot about his tracts.  People in his tracts don't act or talk the way that people in the real world do.  It's not even close.  You really have to be completely and utterly isolated from reality to believe his tracts are connected with the real world in any way. 

Then again, a bunker doesn't have to be physical...  As a young, sheltered, small town Christian boy, I lived in the social and mental equivalent of an underground bunker so Mr Chick's tracts seemed totally plausible to me.  I devoured every single one (our church had a tract table) and they provided me a terrifying window into the apparently nightmarish world that existed just outside my walls.  I'm ashamed to admit how much of my worldview came from Chick tracts at one time but in my defense, I was young and impressionable and no authority figure in my life ever gave me the impression that these were anything but factual.  Now I liked to imagine that over time I've purged myself of "Chick facts" and replaced those with actual, true facts but it's a long process.  After all, we're talking about a veritable mountain of bullshit here!  For instance, here are some of the things he taught me about Catholics:

  • Catholicism is a false religion invented by the devil himself in order to enslave the world.
  • Catholics were secretly behind everything from the birth of Islam to the Nazis and the Communists.
  • The Pope is a false Christ and the final pope will actually be the Antichrist.
  • Catholics are at best deluded and hell-bound and at worst actively conspiring with Satan to destroy REAL Christianity.
  • The poor deluded Catholics don't know how lost they are because they never actually read the Bible (they're not allowed) otherwise the truth would just be staring them in the face!
  • Catholics are all about worshiping a false Christ and a pagan, false goddess.
This was all pretty easy to believe since I didn't know any actual Catholics so I ended up believing all of this for quite a long time.  However there is one thing about Catholics so terrible that Mr Chick includes it in every single tract about Catholicism -  Transubstantiation.  For the theologically ignorant, basically that means the bread and wine literally becomes the blood and body of Christ during communion.  Literally.  Yes I'm using that word correctly.  Anyway, Chick spills a lot of ink attacking this practice (there is a whole tract dedicated to nothing but transubstantiation) so I'm just going to give you some of it straight from the source:

From:  Are Roman Catholics Christians?

From: The Death Cookie

Got all that?  Catholics all believe that the wafer is literally Christ because they fear going to hell and also the Pope will have them executed if they dare disagree (remember, the Pope secretly runs the world and has the power to do anything).  According to Jack Chick, these are all real true facts that you should believe because they are totally true.  OK, with that in mind, watch this clip from a recent Colbert Report:


Ever seen one of those old Science Fiction movies where the protagonists are up against an unbeatable robot/computer foe?  Usually the brave heroes triumph by presenting the robotic mastermind with a simple paradox which causes the otherwise flawless machine to break down spectacularly and explode.  Well, here we have a Catholic going on the nationally televised television program of another Catholic to talk about the book he wrote that disagrees (among other things) with the doctrine of transubstantiation.  It gets really fun when they start debating scripture and quote the Bible which (as Catholics) they have never read because that is not allowed on pain of death.  Just like disagreeing with transubstantiation.  Strangely enough, last I checked neither Gary Wills or Stephen Colbert have been burned at the stake by the Vatican Inquisitors.

How is that head feeling Jack?