They touched a nerve…

About a week ago, there was an article in GQ magazine (or at least on their website). I readily confess that I wouldn’t have known about it if it hadn’t been for the reaction of the religious right.

Before I get to the actual article, I have to say that I like the idea. Sometimes I wonder if certain required texts in high school English class might do more harm to a young person’s love of reading than good. And it is with that in mind that GQ collected a list of 21 books you don’t have to read.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Side note: we can agree or disagree about any or all of these books (including the alternatives they suggested). That’s what lists like this are for. My 13 year old son asked me a similar question just the other day and I listed a few books I don’t care for either.

Book number 12 on their list is The Bible, and it’s kind of hard to disagree with the justification for its inclusion alongside books like The Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and A Farewell to Arms. One line that I’m sure will rankle the so-called true believers is “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

Repetitive? How many times does the word “begat” appear in Genesis alone?

Self-contradictory? It is literally not possible to construct an accurate timeline of what happened between Jesus’s burial and the opening up of the tomb, based upon all of the gospels.

Assuming the true believers know what “sententious” means, how can they disagree that that’s basically the whole purpose of the books of Leviticus, Psalms, and, to a lesser degree, just about any of Paul’s epistles?

Foolish? Admittedly, I had a hard time with this one. Is there an easy example of a passage in the Bible that’s foolish on its own without falling into any of the other adjectives outlined in that sentence? My mind kept going back to Psalm 14:1 about how the fool hath said in his heart there is no god, despite Matthew admonishing us not to call others “fools”. But that’s self-contradictory. Ultimately I decided that the first (or the second, contradictory) description of god’s creation of the universe, complete with him talking to himself and having the daytime light before an actual source of that light is foolish enough.

Ill-intentioned? Children are often the subject of some real malice in the Bible. From god telling Abraham to kill his only son as a test of faith (Genesis) to the kids in 2 Kings who were mauled by a bear for making fun of Elisha’s bald head, to the psalm that says that dashing children against the rocks is the key to happiness… Yeah, I think “ill-intentioned” is the polite way of putting it.

As you can probably guess, the right-wing outrage machine is not pleased. It started, as these things often do, with Breitbart, and almost immediately got picked up by Franklin Graham on his Facebook page, and then, more recently, Movieguide, which is actively seeking an apology from GQ, complete with the canard about how they wouldn’t have the guts to say the same about the Qu’ran. Maybe that’s because, when you look at the other 20 books, they’re books that a lot of Americans are asked to read.

I’m not sure the Notebook by Agota Kristof is a suitable alternative to The Bible and we can certainly quibble over that point. (I’d recommend 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, by Rebecca Goldstein, personally.) But they didn’t suggest either the Qu’ran or the Book of Mormon (or the Bhagavad Gita, or the I Qing or any other holy text) as alternatives to the Bible or any of the other books on the list. That’s probably more than enough.

Most telling about the articles of outrage, if you ask me, is the fact that not a single one of them tries to refute the content of the relatively simple paragraph in GQ. They talk about how statements like these offend the sensibilities of the faithful, or the sales figures, or, in the case of Movieguide, how they’d like an apology…

(In fairness, Breitbart did criticize GQ for other choices on the list, too, in a disjointed anti-PC screed that still doesn’t even try to rebut the points made, as though not wanting to prop up white male privilege was, in and of itself, a fault…)

It’s weird. These people claim to be anti-PC but are really sensitive when someone says or does something they deem offensive. I’d just like to see them actually offer a real rebuttal to the statements that offend them, rather than just be outraged. Can they answer the message without impugning the messenger?

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I saw this a while ago

Sometimes you see and hear something that takes a long time to process. Maybe you don’t immediately appreciate the gravity of the situation. Maybe it’s a bigger shock than you were prepared for. And sometimes other factors come into play that divert you from the necessary focus you know you should apply.

In the case of a posting on Rapture Ready that was made, as I write this, 46 days ago, all three are true.

When I look at the subset of the evangelical Christian movement that seems obsessed with eschatology — that is, the study of end-times matters — I seriously question their priorities.

(Note that I realize the words are similar, but it has very little in common with scatology, which is the study of matter coming out of your end…)

If everywhere you look, you see signs (as described in the Book of Revelation) that the world is about to end, it can be a powerful disincentive from trying to make things better (either for you or for anyone else). I’ve written before about all of the failed predictions about the end of the world and openly wondered why people keep insisting that it’s about to happen even when they keep getting it wrong. (Their math was off, of course…)

So it raises questions to me: when things out there are bad — however you choose to define the term “bad” — we essentially have three choices:

  1. Work to make things better
  2. Leave things alone and hope they get better
  3. Make things worse

Choice 1 above is, generally speaking, the preferable option although we do have to acknowledge that sometimes things do have to get worse before they get better. Think of a structurally unsound building. If the solution is to tear down the building before constructing a new, more sound, one in its place, then you might need to make things worse before they can get better.

Depending upon the situation, option 2 might be a reasonable solution. Take the common cold. It’s a bad thing — at its most benign, it’s a nuisance but it certainly can be worse than that — but one that runs its course and things improve after a short wait. Inaction while you’re trying to figure out how to solve a problem isn’t inherently a bad idea either, assuming inaction (at least for a short while) won’t make things worse.

And then there’s item 3. If it’s a step that you have to take before making things better, I approve. Otherwise, it’s a horrible idea. Everyone wants a better life for their children.

Which brings me to the Rapture Ready thread that started on March 11 of this year, by a user named “Yrrek”. Yrrek joined the board in August, 2017 and has only made 45 postings since then. Yrrek made a statement in this thread that is painful to read: “When it comes to me personally, I long to be with the Lord and be released from my loneliness and depression.”

Ouch!

Your heart just breaks for this person. The entire posting is a cry for help. His/her religious faith very possibly might be the only thing preventing him/her from committing suicide.

There’s a second line in this posting that bothers me, and it really does underscore how poisonous some religious teachings can be, both at an individual level and at a community level. Here’s someone who could use a simple friend to talk to, and then they have to throw this out: “Most of my friends are either living sinful lives and are repelled by me or they are too busy to even say hello.”

Ya know something, Yrrek? Maybe if you weren’t so judgmental towards whatever they’re doing, they wouldn’t be repelled by you… Yes, we can have busy lives but I imagine that your excessive passion for your religious beliefs can be, at its most benign, off-putting. You need help but if you’re going to distance yourself from the people who are best positioned to offer you a caring smile and a shoulder to cry on, you might just be beyond help.

I get it. Yrrek is so depressed, that the end of the world must appear to be a good thing. And a teaching about a mythical better life must be appealing.

I know that depression is not easily treated. But it can be treated. Yrrek doesn’t need Jesus. He or she needs a qualified psychiatrist and the full force of the science that is the study of mental health and neurochemistry.

Preferably before he or she does something dangerous either to him/herself or others.

I believe “sociopath” is the correct term…

I’ve written before about the people who post to the Rapture Ready bulletin board, most recently after Billy Graham died.

But there’s a new thread over at Rapture Ready, talking about the recent death of Stephen Hawking, that can’t go without my commenting.

One of the most annoying things about evangelicals — and it does seem quite pervasive if not universal — is an arrogance masquerading as humility. It is humble to express doubt and uncertainty about things we might not fully understand. It is not humility to claim to know better than experts in a given field. And yet, we see in this thread things like this:

This feels a lot like the death of Chris Hitchens. Another guy who spent his entire life saying God was dead…and then God said Hawking was dead and that’s it. We always live with that little hope of “the 11th-hour conversion”, but I don’t see it here. Stephen Hawking spent his entire life studying the very Heavens that declare the glory of the God who made them, and he denied it all the way through.

EDIT: And to think he spent most of his life struggling through a terribly crippling disease, only to come to the end of his life and receive a body fitted for immortality…in Hell.

(User: jjmundt)

Or this:

I don’t think it was the truth he was searching for…his life’s work was to disprove the truth

(User: Momma D)

Or, similarly, this:

The unsaved world certainly has a radically different view than we believers, of the words “smart, genius, successful,” etc.

Then, one day, each one of their hearts stop beating and they are introduced to The Truth immediately.

And, by then, it is too late for them to accept it. They all had their chances during their lifetimes to recognize the existence of the true God and His Son………many times over……… but, they would not see nor bend their knee. It’s very sad, indeed.

It must be hard to be perceived in such a positive light over one’s lifetime, to then face the truth that they blew it big time for all eternity, and they have to admit they had it all wrong. And, they led so many astray of the Truth…………

(User: kathymendel)

One last comment:

I know what you mean. I wish I could say I have respect for him but I do not. I don’t care how smart you are, if you deny God exists, or act the way he did, you are making a mockery of Him. I feel bad that he’s suffering more than ever, but he brought this on himself.

(User: sing4theLord)

So the general consensus of opinion on this board is that Hawking spent his life looking for a lie while denying the obvious “truths” about god, so now he’s in hell. Given his disability, we can all stand in awe at how long he was able to stay alive. I can forgive anyone who might call the fact that he survived as long as he did, a “miracle” but we must acknowledge that this miracle was entirely due to medicine and technology. Had he lived a mere twenty years earlier, he almost definitely would not have made it to 76. It wasn’t a god that sustained him.

There is a trope about how astronomers quickly learn humility in the face of the vastness and wonder of the universe and all of our most famous astronomers — from Galileo, Newton, and Kepler to the more recent examples of Sagan, Tyson, and, yes, Hawking. Our species and our planet are ridiculously insignificant in the face not of god but of the cosmos.

Hawking sought the truth. He found small pieces of it and left more for his successors to find. There was no quote-unquote truth (as Momma D put it) for him to disprove.

I do think these are people who want to do good and to do right by others. But they’ve been so thoroughly entrenched in their theology, that they do far more harm than good. User and moderator Tall Timbers doesn’t “think he’ll be meeting Billy Graham”. The other comments in this thread make Tall Timbers seem downright quaint.

They’re sociopaths. And many of them own guns, too. One wonders when they’ll truly break.

Two more thoughts on the death of Billy Graham

Yesterday, I dusted off an essay I had written nearly four years ago, updated the first few words, checked the hyperlinks, and added a link, to remember Billy Graham for the hypocrite he was.

I have a couple more thoughts on his death, both of which stem from an article in the Washington Post, which had the headline Divorce, drugs, drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.

The first is a comment made by a user of the Rapture Ready bulletin board named “Prodigal Son”. In their thread memorializing Rev. Graham, this user said, and I quote:

Very sad. I didn’t find out until late last night, I had a long work shift. But I woke up to a hit piece from the Washington Post on him; entitled “Divorce, drugs, and drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.”

Wow this really made me angry. They didn’t waste any time going after him.

Okay. I’m not going to deny that the headline is definitely eye-catching, but the article doesn’t exactly qualify as a hit piece, as Prodigal Son described it. It’s public knowledge that Billy Graham himself never got divorced from his wife, Ruth. They were true to the whole “til death do we part” part of their marriage vows.

It’s also public knowledge that three of Billy Graham’s children did get divorced.

Likewise, it’s public knowledge that Franklin Graham “experimented” with drugs and alcohol in his younger days. Hell, the younger Graham talks freely about it quite often.

So the only thing that’s not inherently public knowledge — just from the headline — is the question of his children’s absent father.

Or is it?

It’s certainly public knowledge that he traveled around the world a fair bit on his so-called “crusades” (a term that, if nothing else, should be used with great caution because of its violent history; I sincerely question whether Billy Graham knew that his use of this word would inflame tensions and chose it anyway). Even if it wasn’t common knowledge, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

So what, about this article is a “hit piece”? It actually treated the man with more reverence than I did yesterday.

What Prodigal Son has really admitted to, is that he didn’t read the article he was disgusted by. Ironic for a person whose user name comes from a parable where someone actually gave careful thought to his actions.

Which brings me to the other thing I thought of with regard to that Washington Post article. I make no secret of my admiration for and appreciation of the work of Harry Chapin.

His most famous song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” came from a poem written by his wife, Sandy (which she kept in a poetry book that she had entitled “Fuck You Harry”).

Let’s face it: it’s very easy for one parent (usually the father) to be somewhat unavailable to their children while that parent pursues his/her career. It was certainly true for Harry Chapin who spent a lot of time on the road performing and then, later, undertaking humanitarian causes as well.

And it was true for Billy Graham. When confronted with this dilemma, the oft-traveling parent can do what Harry did (which is to say make constant phone calls home and try to be home as much as possible) or the oft-traveling parent can do what Billy did (which is to say, barely know or recognize his own children).

I’m not trying to say that either is a preferable way over the other, but I have a lot more respect for Jen and Josh Chapin (both of whom have continued their father’s good works) than I do for Franklin Graham (who is the only one of Billy’s children to go into ministry, and may be an even greater hypocrite than his father).

Farewell to the father of modern hypocrites

Nearly four years ago, when Fred Phelps died, most people, myself included, felt that his legacy was one of negativity and acrimony. His long-term sphere of influence, thankfully, was limited to his immediate family and a Supreme Court decision on the boundaries of free speech few people should even consider approaching. Personal invectives aside, he was just a sad little man who will probably be little more than an amusing footnote in future history books, if that much.

But there was another aging religious evangelist whose legacy is far more wide-reaching, and, consequently, more pernicious, than that of Fred Phelps. As the world now mourns the passing of Billy Graham, I do not want him remembered as the hero many other pundits are making him out to be.

Just about every constitutionally questionable intrusion of religion into US state affairs from the 1950’s is because Billy Graham had the ear of our elected officials who sought other ways of distancing themselves of the “godless commies” in the Soviet Union. Whether we talk about the phrase “under god” being added to the pledge of allegiance, “in god we trust” appearing on our money, or the congressional laws about a national day of prayer, Billy Graham’s signature is everywhere.

Just as pastors who preach that homosexuality is a sin might distance themselves from Fred Phelps and his family, Billy Graham’s words and deeds still echo in the intolerance and bigotry of the Religious Right, even as he might have distanced himself from them. Let us not forget that this is a man who first rose to prominence as the leader of a deeply segregated church. Yes, he let blacks in after segregation was declared unconstitutional, but he did it not out of conscience but instead because that was the direction in which the political winds were blowing.

Billy Graham may have tried to preach a message of love, but when it came to letting people who love each other marry, his message was that of hatred, as the full-page newspaper ads he and his church bought on the eve of the gay marriage referendum in North Carolina in 2012.

Religious incursion on matters of state is nothing new, as Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists will attest. But American history is mostly from the state pushing back on the religions who sought undue influence. Until Billy Graham came into the picture.

With Billy Graham gone, it’s not too late for the state to push back and undo his influence. It’s the least we can do if we want the republic to thrive.

A glimpse into a mindset

If you direct your web browsers to websites like Townhall, it shouldn’t take long to realize the agenda that they’re pursuing. If you don’t want to follow that link, just know that they feature articles by columnists like Ann Coulter, Todd Starnes, and Michelle Malkin, three people who, to paraphrase Will Rogers, never met an anecdote that couldn’t distort to serve their own agendas.

(Starnes is particularly gifted at this, since everything he sees is a form of Christian persecution. I’ve wanted to write a blog entry about him for some time but doing so would require a significantly greater time commitment than I’m prepared to dedicate…. There’s a reason why Ed Brayton refers to him as “Fox News’ resident hysteric”.)

But there’s an interesting article over at Townhall that I can’t look away from. Hence this essay. Columnist Scott Morefield, whose name is so far under the radar in the conservative movement, he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (unlike Coulter, Starnes, and Malkin, as linked above), has put forth an article that’s simultaneously frustrating and, in a perverse sense, validating.

Note that I readily acknowledge that I don’t have a Wikipedia page either. But I’m pretty sure that my tens of followers don’t mind that. I don’t have a national platform like Townhall (or a comparable liberal blog) from which to share my views.

The article begins with an unnecessary and snide remark that the phrase “Christian liberal” is not an oxymoron. Listen, Scott, (may I call you that?) I get that you’re a conservative and a Christian. Demonizing the other side doesn’t bolster your credentials. It makes you look petty. If you can’t back up your position with, you know, facts, maybe the issue is your position.

What’s the adage about being an effective lawyer? If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table. But I digress…

As is true for many phrases that come from the Bible, the title of Scott’s essay is a cliche, specifically derived from Isaiah 5:20, and the warning not to confuse good and evil. I always objected to this particular verse because of the plain black-and-white nature of it. Even assuming you know and understand the difference between the two, why can’t there be shades or degrees of them?

The concept of heaven itself illustrates this. Imagine two people going to the same place in the afterlife, where they’ll be treated as equals in a perfect paradise: the racist white supremacist and the black man he tried to keep down. To the black man, being treated with a respect he never felt in life, this place might be heaven. To the guy who oppressed the black man, this place would seem more like hell.

And that’s not even getting into psychology tests involving runaway trains where doing nothing will cause the deaths of multiple people while doing something will still kill someone, but save everyone else.

But this essay takes liberal Christians to task because they object to the way modern evangelicals, like Jerry Falwell Jr, for hitching their wagon so closely to Donald Trump. Indeed, evangelicals are the only people who are. And even if I haven’t explicitly said so before, I think it’s clear my opinion of evangelicals like that: at best, they’re hypocrites.

So the liberal Christians to whom Scott objects, are taking Jesus’s teachings about loving your neighbor seriously. They’re not as concerned about, say, abortion (which is not only condoned in some bible verses, an argument can be made that, if we hew strictly to verses in Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy, then it’s acceptable until a month after the baby is born) as they are economic inequality and opening your door to strangers in need. They don’t want Trump’s proposed wall between us and Mexico, they want bridges.

Now I will grant you: the Bible is so long and self-contradictory, it’s certainly possible to find biblical justification for just about any position you might hold on just about any topic. I mean, let’s face it: both sides of the United States Civil War justified their positions on slavery using completely valid biblical verses.

Both Scott and those he demonizes, justify their positions with their cherry-picked bible verses of choice. Scott clearly favors the verses that consider blacks and women as second class citizens and a generally prevailing tribalism. I get that. He can be a bigot all he wants.

And I can cite him as yet another example of how I agree with Isaiah about calling evil good and vice versa. That’s why the folks at Townhall shouldn’t object when I emphatically state that their website, and the Bible they so love, are evil.

Woe unto them for calling them “good”.

Religious Exemptions to Public Laws

On the dating website OKCupid, there’s a question that asks about religious exemptions to marijuana laws. Now on my profile, I not only answer the question with its multiple choices, but I often add my own comments and color to those responses. And this question begs for additional color no matter where you stand on the question of legalizing pot (assuming you can remember where you left the petition).

You don’t need to be a lawyer to look through all of the laws on the books in your city / state / country and see things that need to be changed, modified, repealed, or otherwise revised with changing times. Not everything needs to be changed, of course, but it shouldn’t be that hard to draw the distinction.

I genuinely don’t believe marijuana should be illegal to possess or distribute. If nothing else, given the size of the black market for it, it would be a great source of tax revenue. If tobacco and alcohol are legal — as they should be even though they’re significantly more dangerous than marijuana — then so too should marijuana. Feel free to place restrictions on where it can be smoked. And on the minimum age to buy it sell it. But don’t outright ban it.

For the record, I’ve tried it and it did nothing for me. I have no interest in trying it again.

Which brings me back to the OKCupid question. I said I am no fan of marijuana laws but at the same time, I’m also not a fan of hiding behind the fact that the first amendment protects “the free exercise” of religion as a means of subverting a law that was otherwise passed by the legislature, signed by the executive, and interpreted by the judiciary. If a law is unjust, it should be repealed, pure and simple.

Let me make it clear that I acknowledge that I’m treading dangerously close to making a slippery slope argument. The thing about slippery slope arguments is the plausibility of the end result. Letting gay people marry won’t (or doesn’t have to) lead to allowing people to marry their dogs. That said, if there weren’t some question of public good before we restrict the things that can be done in religious ceremonies, how long would it be before people tried to get around manslaughter laws because their “religion” advocated human sacrifice? There’s no shortage of religions — past and present — that do have this as a part of their tradition. (And yes, I do count Christianity as one that does even if they don’t do it any more. But the Catholics do encourage a form of cannibalism as a part of that same tradition.)

Which brings us to a case heard by the Supreme Court earlier this week. A Colorado bakery that specializes in wedding cakes refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, which ran afoul of the state’s anti discrimination law. Take a look at their web page. The first link in the top right corner is for wedding cakes, although if you click on it, they say they’re not currently accepting requests for new wedding cakes.

At the end of an article in the Washington Post a little over a week ago, the decision to stop doing wedding cakes has cost the Masterpiece Cake Shop 40% of its business. Think about that: if you’re earning $100,000 per year in your bakery, how bigoted do you have to be to be willing to cut those earnings down to $60,000 just because you don’t like the idea of two guys or two girls bumping uglies after they eat your food?

The fact that Masterpiece Cakeshop is still in business despite the publicity makes me weep for society.

Now before you ask why the gay couple couldn’t have gone somewhere else, I’ll answer that of course they could (and should) have, if for no other reason than to do some comparison shopping before choosing the baker who would ultimately make their cake. But what would have happened if the next cake shop also refused? Recall the story of Jessica Ahlquist, the Rhode Island high school student who got a religious plaque — which was also in violation of the first amendment because it constituted government endorsement of religion — taken down off the wall of her public school. After her victory, Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation tried to send her flowers, but three separate local florists refused to accept the order.

Finding the one bakery that actually abides by the anti discrimination law could test anyone’s patience.

I also want to draw the distinction between requesting offensive imagery or messaging on a cake and what happened here. A Nazi who requests a cake with a swastika on it would rightly be rebuffed. If the only difference between a cake for a same sex wedding and one for an opposite sex wedding is the apparent genders of the figurines on top of it, you should be laughed at for trying to draw a distinction between them. And I’d even support the cake shop if the customers asked for something truly inappropriate on it.

A lot of bigots complain that they don’t like being called bigots. There’s an easy solution to that one: don’t do things that make you look bigoted. Jack Phillips, the owner of the cake shop, is a bigot. And if he’s complaining that he’s being called a bigot, he’s a fragile little snowflake too.

Now there’s one thing I can think of that specifically pertains to the catering industry that I worry about, assuming the Supreme Court does the right thing and rules against the cake shop. (Not a given, considering a relatively recent ruling that I thought was equally obvious.). We’ve already seen bakeries risk their reputation because of the religious views of their owners to varying degrees of success. I would worry that they’d be willing to risk their reputation even further by tampering with the food they prepare. May it not come to that.