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?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

To Everything there is a Season

Dear Jackie,

I know you will never be able to read this but I still need to say it.  Since it’s Valentines Day, I just really want to say, I love you.  Even though you’re often annoying and smelly, even though you are toxically flatulent and even though I’m pretty sure you gave me fleas once, I still love you.

The thing is though, are you really mine to love?  I don’t know how you see our relationship but as far as we humans are concerned, dogs are property.  We own you.  You belong to us.  I don’t know if that’s offensive to you or if you even care but that’s mostly academic, I’m just telling you how it is.  And this is where the problem comes in.  I don’t actually own you.  Even though I feed you and give you baths and play with you and even though you sleep in my bed every night you’re not technically my dog.  Make no mistake, I love you just as if you were.  But you’re not, and that might become a problem really soon…

I don’t know what your memory is like, your brain seems really tiny so I have no idea how much you actually remember.  Just in case you need a refresher, when you were a puppy, the kids of this house bought you for their mother, who was very sick with cancer at the time.  She died not long after and then a little later the kids moved out of the house and got on with their own lives, leaving you with their widowed dad.  I know you like him, probably because he feeds you whatever you ask for (even though I’ve been trying really hard to get him to stop doing that!) but still, he never really played fetch with you and his idea of petting you is to poke at you with his foot for a bit.  So then when I moved in we got along great.  Even though I only feed you dog food, at least I didn’t mind playing with a ball and rubbing your belly!

It’s been several years now and I think of you as my dog.  Even though technically, you’re not mine.  If you were, I certainly wouldn't have named you Jackie!  Also, I would never have let you get this badly overweight.  OK, you know what?  I can’t keep dancing around this forever, I’m just going to tell you.  Remember when all Oom Eddie’s children and grandchildren came over the other day?  Well those kids who bought you originally think you should be put to sleep.

Did you know that in 2 months you turn 14?  That is really old for a Dachshund!  Anyway, they look at how old you are and how, well lets be honest, how fat you are and decided that you would probably be better off dead.  For the record, I disagreed strongly!  I told them that you still had a lot of life left in you and that they should leave you alone.  I think they will.  For now.  Something tells me they weren’t completely convinced.  They seem really set on the idea of putting you to sleep and getting their dad a new puppy for company.

But now I wonder, am I being selfish?  I look at you and I still see the light in your eyes and I think you have some life left to live.  But how is that life?  I really wish you could tell me.  Those weird bumps that appeared on your ribcage, do they bother you?  When you lick your paws, is it just because you compulsively lick everything or do they hurt now?  How is your back coping?  Thinner, younger Dachshunds than you have had their backs give out.  You may be dumb as a box of hammers but you are tough as nails my sweet sausage, I know that.  I've seen you take a lot without making a peep so how can I know how you really feel?  I'm definitely pro-euthanasia.  I wish it was an option for me actually!  No, really, I've seen what old age and degenerative diseases can do to people and if it came to that for me, I would like someone to put me to sleep.  Yet, when you smile at me I find I'm suddenly not so pro-euthanasia anymore.  Is that selfish?  I just don't want to think of my life without you right now.

Usually when I blog about you, it's to make fun of you and your quirky, suicidal ways.  But today is a day for love so I wanted to just say it, even if you can never hear it.  I hate that now that love is tinged with sadness.  I don't know how long you're still going to be around, I wish it could be many more years but I know that's not really possible.  Just know that if you were my dog I would have named you something more appropriate but I would have loved you no less.

Happy Valentines Day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Intro to Voldemorting

How do you feel about Reality TV stars?  Just for the sake of clarity, when I say Reality TV stars, I'm not referring to the contestants of So You Think You Can Dance or American Idol.  No, I'm referring to that special breed of "star" who became famous for being a terrible person on TV, not because of any actual talent or useful ability.  You know the ones, the "famous for being famous" people.  They're not celebrities because they are smart or funny or in any way gifted, they're celebrities simply by virtue of being on TV, doing dumb shit and being gross.  How do you feel about those people?

If you're a big fan (and due to the baffling popularity of these shows, I have to assume that a lot of people are) then you may as well leave now.  This isn't addressed to you.  If you think they're awesome and you can't get enough of them close this page and go watch some more TV.  I know I won't be able to change your mind so I'm not even going to try.  Let's just agree to disagree.

If on the other hand you share my distaste of these revolting pseudo-celebrities then I would love to run something by you.  See if you're anything like me then you hate these people and everything they represent.  They're destroying good TV as more and more quality shows are cancelled and replaced with a litany of increasingly moronic "reality" shows.  More than that, they seem to be actively ruining society.  Kids don't want to grow up to become doctors or astronauts, they want to grow up to be famous.  Not famous for being a great author or musician, just famous.  Really, who can blame them, seeing as how fame and fortune can result from not wearing underwear in public or taking a drunken shit in public.  In all of human history, has there ever been a worse group of role models?  And make no mistake, these people are role models.  When teenage girls are getting knocked up so they can be on TV, something has gone horribly wrong.  "Reality TV star" shouldn't even be a thing and yet it's become a viable career for many - going from one show to the next, then the all stars reunion show followed by a televised trip to rehab and/or therapy followed by another starring role in their own personal spinoff show.

These people upset me to no end so I rarely miss the opportunity to point out how much I hate them and how much they suck and of course I lap up all the embarrassing news items about them I can find just for a good shot of schadenfreude.  However, this was a huge mistake on my part for it meant that I was actually part of the problem!

In a recent episode of the Dongtini podcast, Simone pointed out that if you're talking and reading about these "stars", you're actually aiding & abetting them.  She was completely right of course.

These bottom feeders are literal attention vampires.  They don't just crave attention, they NEED attention.  The incredible lengths they are willing to go to in order to get it makes it abundantly clear that they don't care if you're watching them out of love or hate - they only care that you're watching.  There is nothing so awful, so inhuman and so degrading that they will not do it for 5 extra seconds of airtime or one extra mention in the media.  So even if you're just watching it to make jokes at their expense, they're still getting exactly what they want.

Simone's idea is sheer genius in its simplicity.  Attention is their lifeblood.  By paying attention you're keeping them alive.  So stop it.  Stop it all.  Don't talk about them, don't mention them in any way.  Don't follow stories about them, don't forward any info about them, don't even click on a link connected to them in any way.  It's as simple as that.  I call this Voldemorting*.  Voldemorting is when you deprive someone terrible of power by refusing to speak their name.  Have you noticed that in this entire blog post I've never mentioned any of the reality stars by name?  That's me Voldemorting!

So if you dislike these people and their destructive influence on society, why not do something about it?  Complaining doesn't help, they want that!  The only thing they fear is your indifference so go ahead and heap it on them!  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  There are still plenty of otherwise talented celebs to make fun of if you need your schadenfreude fix, just don't let these bottomfeeders into your orbit.  If we all do it we will be rid of them for good and if only you do it then at least you won't have to hear about them.  So spread the word, what do you have to lose?

*My only contribution to this idea was the silly name.  If you don't like it, by all means call it something else but please still do the thing!