19 December 2012

The Time to Talk About Gun Control Is After The Voice Is Over

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, everyone is being totally cool and avoiding politicizing the tragedy by saying things like, "It's time to have a conversation about gun control", or "If we hadn't kicked God out of schools, this wouldn't have happened".

I realize it's controversial and edgy and dangerous and full of bad-boy charm to start a debate so soon after an indisputably horrific and sad event. It might seem opportunistic but I'm going to come right out and say it: I'm against people killing other people.

Now, OF COURSE, I mean that I'm against American people killing American people, and OF COURSE it's totally cool if American people kill people from other countries, as long as the people from those other countries have it coming or are inconveniently in the way or we just sort of feel like it. This debate is a domestic one. Like, the motherfucking Cleavers domestic.

We're familiar with the good ol' NRA slogan, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." And they're not wrong! Forget gun regulation— we need people regulation. That seems clear and straightforward to me, so like a good pundit, I'll leave it be. I'm sure there's no way to construe negatively the suggestion that deciding who gets to be a person and who doesn't should be done by lawmakers, or anyone.

So, people regulation aside, we need to talk about the causes of all violence— not just gun violence. Let's look at some options:
  1. Everyone who does violence must be mentally ill.
  2. Everyone who does violence must be evil.
  3. Everyone who does violence must be mentally ill and evil.
  4. Sometimes a non-evil, mentally healthy person does violence.
Ha! Obviously, that last one is a joke. Just trying to lighten the mood with a little levity.

ANYWAY, if it's the first option, let's just fix mental health care, which I had no idea was a thing. And since it's mental health, I'm sure we can just give folks some sugar pills and light psychological jargon and send them on their way.

The only problem is if someone doesn't want treatment, or to even be screened and potentially diagnosed. Obviously, it's the responsibility of someone who cares for them to judge that they're not in their right mind and force them into treatment. At gunpoint if you have to. And once everyone's normal, we won't have any more violence!

BUT, what if the real cause is the second one? I mean, fucking hell, how'd we get so much evil around here? Probably because we won't let an omnipotent God who's unconcerned with human laws and human rulers into our most sacred, most underfunded institutions. I bet God showed up late (because he drives the posted speed limit) and then was forced, or coerced, to wait outside while the shooting happened, utterly incapable of intervening.

We need to start teaching the Bible again. People need to learn the examples of the heroes of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Like Moses, who murdered a dude, or David, who murdered a whole bunch of dudes, and had one dude killed just so David could bang that dude's wife, even though she wasn't totally into it. Oh, that reminds me, there's way too much sex around, and sex is connected to violence, for reasons that are too disgusting to discuss the details of here. But I guess regulating sex is all part of regulating people, right? PROBLEM SOLVED.

The point is, let's put an ever-present God where he belongs: everywhere. Once everyone follows the same arbitrary social norms, i.e. handed-down-from-heaven morality that we're conveniently calling "God", we'll have gotten rid of violence. Because Christians are never violent, so everyone should just be Christian. There are probably no problems in implementing this plan, not from the First Amendment, and especially not from how well it always works making people do what you want them to do! Seriously, though, if they give you trouble, put a gun to their head.

And if we're talking option 3? Seems like a pretty slim chance to me, since you'd have to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on it, but whatever, you bleary-eyed idealist. I guess if it's option 3, just line 'em up against a wall, because that's hopeless.

What's important, more important even than what the underlying causes of violent tragedies might be, is that we don't let this sort of horrific event divide us. It doesn't matter if you believe there are too many crazies, or too many devilsies, or both, or the fourth option— that even normal people can do unspeakable things— HAHAHA, oh I couldn't keep it together, that joke's just too good. Seriously, normal people doing unspeakable things?! HAHAHAHA, ah, it feels good to laugh again.

ANYWAY, what I was saying is that we shouldn't let tragedies divide us. What we can agree on is that  the best way to cope with mass shootings is to create a separate category, be it "mentally ill" or "evil", to put people in so that they're not like us. We'd never want to think of ourselves as violent— it's just the mentally ill or the evil who are. As long as we're not mentally ill or evil, it's totally safe for us to have all the guns we want— which is, by the way, all the guns— because we're not the violent ones.

You remember when I said what we needed was not more gun regulation, but more people regulation? Good news! As soon as you relegate "people" to categories like "mentally ill" or "evil" so that you don't have to face the violence you yourself perpetrate, you're already doing the work of people regulation. That's why we can't be divided. That's what makes America great!*

One last thought, on the role of the media: give these guys a break, OK? They're not overhyping and overplaying the tragedy. They're focusing only on high-profile tragedies so that we normal people don't have to think about the fact that the United States has a firearm homicide rate at least 20 times higher per capita than other countries who are similar economically and politically. The media, in this instance, are helping us define the categories of "mentally ill" and "evil" by allowing us to avoid situations which would suggest gray areas exist, or that so-called normal people commit heinous acts.

HA! Sorry, I couldn't resist getting one more in there. ANYWAY, sleep well tonight, knowing that only the mentally ill, or the evil, or both, are the ones who commit violent acts. Also, sleep well because you've got guns under your pillows.**



*After completing that sentence, I fired off a couple rounds in the air, Yosemite Sam-style.
**Which is your God-given right, and why I just fired off a couple more rounds in the air. Hang on, there's some police here. I bet they want to celebrate, too.

07 August 2012

How to Be an Asshole

I've written about the problem of gay marriage before. But the powerful pro-civil rights lobby, who want to see all citizens of the USA treated equally under the law, have prevented my proposal from being taken seriously. Damn atheists and their thinking!

Oh, you didn't know that gay people and atheists are working together in a vast conspiracy to undermine the Judeo-Christian hetero-normative lifestyle? Or that those identifying as non-religious outnumber those identifying as LGBT in the United States of America: The Greatest Country on Earth? Well, I'm about to tell you how gays and atheists (gaytheists) are to blame for everything bad that's ever happened.

I'll use two recent incidents as examples, because that's topical, which is probably important. I don't know, I didn't bother researching that word. I know it applies to some ointments and salves. ANYWAY, there was a shooting at a gurdwara in Wisconsin and a fire at a mosque in Missouri, and even though there's absolutely no evidence that gays and atheists were involved, it's still their fault.

If there weren't so many gays and atheists and they weren't insisting on equal rights and the separation of church and state and that sort of reasonable, rational civil rights bullshit, then maybe Christian extremist white supremacists wouldn't be so angry and hateful. The solution isn't to put Christian extremist white supremacists on a domestic terrorism watchlist or to condemn their hatefulness and violence; the solution is to remove the object of their hatred.

So, if Sikhs would stop looking like Muslims and Muslims and atheists would just convert to Christianity and gays would stop being who they were born as, Christian extremist white supremacists wouldn't have anyone left to hate. Except blacks, asians, hispanics, and women. One step at a time, folks.

If we get rid of gays and atheists and other religions, Christian extremist white supremacists will seem more normal. We could just refer to them as Christians and things would be like they were in the 1950's when we all joined together to hate the Commies and worked as one to get more medals than them in the Olympics.

And if we really want to normalize extremism, racism, and hatred, we could try to make things the way they were back in the 1850's. Cultural regression, just as the founding fathers intended.

09 July 2012

How I Became a Better Christian by No Longer Being a Christian

For some additional background on my experience with evangelical Christianity, as it relates specifically to this post, check out part 2 and part 4 from my "Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical" series.

Here are things I've discovered about myself in my life after evangelical Christianity:

  • I'm more willing to extend goodwill to others and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • I'm more joyful and happier as a general state of being
  • I'm less angry that the world isn't the way I think it ought to be
  • I'm more patient with others. I wait to see what they do, how they resolve an issue, or for them to figure something out I already know, without needing to be in control.
  • I'm more apt to adapt to others and their needs and to be willing to help them along whatever path they're on.
  • I'm more able to be honest and straightforward with others with the result that issues are resolved and relationships strengthened.
  • I've become better at sticking to my commitments instead of turning tail when problems arise.
  • I've become more even-tempered, less prone to becoming upset or bothered, or flipping out.
  • I'm in better control of myself and my emotions.
I'd like to make a few clarifications about this list. First, these are trends, not achieved states of being or anything crazy like that. No person achieves perfection (which I'm not sure is a thing anyway) in any category of behavior, or acts with absolute consistency. Second, about the time I was leaving evangelical Christianity, I experienced a major event wherein I did something majorly wrong and hurtful, and that event was a catalyst for me to make many of these changes in myself rather than just think about them. Finally, I don't believe in some objective state of being or way of living that all people ought to try to attain or live up to; the list above contains things I wanted (and want) to work on in my life, my desire to improve in those areas being the primary motivation for even attempting to do so.

The reason I find the experience of growth as a non-Christian interesting is because I wanted to grow as a Christian and had trouble in the areas mentioned above. I honestly think that being a Christian was a hindrance to my growth, and that's disconcerting. However, my experience shouldn't be seen as some kind of condemnation of Christianity— it's not— but it should at least serve as a basis for questioning what we mean when we talk about Christianity and personal improvement.

When I asked myself if there was something about evangelical Christianity that would cause me to find growth— particularly in the area of interpersonal relationships and communication— difficult, I thought about the evangelical view of the world which separates the in and out crowds. No matter how loving or inclusive Christians claim to be (this includes liberal/progressive Christians who say the word "inclusive" like it's going out of style, which it is), any particular form of Christianity always exists as a sort of sub-culture within the world, but never a fully-integrated part of it (St. Paul and I are on opposite sides of this). This means some people are always on the outside, be it non-Christians or Christians with the wrong ideas.

I think that the world is meaningless, or that any inherent meaning is impossible to know or find or communicate, but that people look for and create meaning. I want to find out how they do that and what it looks like, and that's something that's driven— at least in part— my growth as a person. It's not to say that growth is incompatible with Christianity in a general sense. But Christianity and personal improvement are incompatible in my particular case.

The thing that gets me, that is probably upsetting to atheists and Christians alike, and which I honestly find off-putting and wonderful and strange, is that if there were a God who primarily wanted people to love each other as a way to improve the world, then I have to think that such a God would have wanted me to leave evangelical Christianity so that I would love people better.

30 April 2012

What I Assume Songs Mean Based on Their Titles Because I Never Bothered to Learn the Lyrics

Tuesday's Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd: A man is disappointed to find he has purchased a defective calendar.

Where the Streets Have No Name by U2: A man is frustrated due to a display bug affecting his vehicle's on-board GPS navigation system.

Aqualung by Jethro Tull: A public service announcement regarding the dangers posed to the elderly by pneumonia.

Oye Como Va by Santana: The title being an anagram for "Ova Come, Yo," a girl reflects on her first experience of menstruation.

All Day and All of the Night by The Kinks: An educational song to help children learn about circadian rhythms.

I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles: A normally distant father dying of pancreatic cancer reaches out to his estranged son.

If 6 Was 9 by Jimi Hendrix: A man's frank admission of his struggle with dyscalculia.

The Boys Are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy: A group of friends are excited to learn the Beach Boys reunion tour includes a concert nearby which they will be able to attend.

Just Like a Woman by Bob Dylan: An individual looks forward to their upcoming male-to-female gender reassignment surgery.

We're Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister: A family argues with an aggressive door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.

Every Breath You Take by The Police: A gentle love song from the perspective of a doting lover in the midst of a blissful, committed, long-term relationship.

Low Rider by War: A man is excited to have purchased a new style of jeans that will finally allow him to show off his lower back tattoo.

You're So Vain by Carly Simon: About how self-absorbed I can get when I go off my meds.

17 April 2012

How to Tip at a Coffee Shop

A barista is someone who works the espresso bar at a coffee shop, because "barista" is Italian for bartender, and coffee shops like to pretend to know Italian. Anyway, I always make sure to tip baristas (baristi?) the same as I tip bartenders— NOT AT ALL. Here's why:

  1. People who work at coffee shops are all disconsolate, anti-social hipsters who want to pretend the whole world is against them. I like to play into their little fantasy by not tipping so they have something to grumble about other than Coldplay and Republicans.
  2. People who work at coffee shops often make less than minimum wage, and certainly less than a living wage. If their employers thought these people were performing adequately at their jobs, their employers would be paying them more. I wouldn't want to step into the middle of that important employer-employee relationship.
  3. Continuing the previous point, it's arguable that rather than the food service industry being a difficult one for a small business to survive, let alone prosper, in, it's probably the fault of these hipster slackers that their employer's small business is doing so poorly in the first place. Maybe if they did a better job, the business owners would make more money, which they'd definitely use to pay their employees.
  4. Another thing to keep in mind is that people only work at coffee shops (and become hipsters) because they've got no real skills and can't find anything better for a job, like being dehumanized in a lifeless cubicle, desperately vying for a middle management position in a slightly larger lifeless cubicle. There's no need to reward their shortcomings.
  5. Tips are anti-capitalist. Capitalism is all about getting something for your money, preferably getting quite a lot of something for quite a little money. Therefore, it's best to have an underpaid hipster get no tips so they can make you a mega-grande-venti-large, three-quarter-caf, soy-almond-rice milk latteccino with gluten-free caramel, the tears of unwed mothers, and full-fat whipped cream while you spend ten minutes holding up the line before deciding to order something not on the food menu so they can make you that, bus your table after you leave a redwood worth of wadded napkins, then wash your dishes while you spend three hours occupying a table and enjoying your sense of entitlement. Everybody wins!
These arguments should convince even the lily-liveredest, bleeding-heart, hardcore tipper not to leave any money next time they patronize a coffee shop. But, if even that's not enough, remember the next time some loser hipster smiles at you, asks how you're doing, and cheerily offers to take your order that anyone working at a coffee shop isn't really a person and should be treated accordingly.

12 March 2012

Tips for Writing a Bullshit Column for a News Conglomerate


I am not a scientist, but I do have opinions, a platform, and and unchecked tendency to give advice about things nobody understands. Which is why I'm hoping meatiocrity will soon become a subsidiary of msnbc. Too bad I have to compete with the brilliant Joyce Cohen.

But I'm a team player, so with Joyce's help, I'd like to outline some tips for writing a bullshit column for a news conglomerate.

Tip #1: Make an assumption, and always write as if that assumption is unquestionably true.

Watch how Joyce does it:
The time shift disrupts the body's natural circadian rhythm, according to sleep scientists. So the alarm clock blares just as your internal sleep-wake cycle orders you to stay snugly in bed. 
You see what happened there? Joyce assumes that daylight saving time is the disruption, not the alarm clock. Obviously, it's the alarm clock, but this is an article about daylight saving time, and it needs to remain an article about daylight saving time, no matter what.

Tip # 2: Terror always wins.

People need to understand that everything in the world carries some implicit threat, or they won't care about it. That's why we combat daylight saving time fatigue. Here's an example:
For [the 20-30 percent of the population who don't adjust easily to daylight saving time], the consequences can be grave. Rates of workplace and traffic accidents, as well as of heart attacks, rise in the days following the spring time change. One study showed a nearly 6 percent rise in workplace injuries on the Monday after the daylight-saving switch. 
That's right. Daylight saving time is going to fuck you up if you don't listen to Joyce.

Tip #3: Vague, generalized advice always applies to specific situations.

That's why horoscopes and personality tests almost always seem accurate. It's called the Forer Effect. Like this:
Practice good sleep habits, with a comfy bed, a quiet room and white noise to drown out sounds if necessary. 
Sound familiar? It's because you already know that sleeping will tend to make you less sleepy. That doesn't matter, though, because once you read Joyce's column and get good sleep, post-daylight saving time, you'll assume that Joyce was right all along.

I can't believe news organizations aren't breaking down my door to get me to write for them. Also, news organizations, your job offer better include money for a new door.

22 February 2012

I Got Interviewed This One Time

So, I may have sort of been interviewed this one time.

A while ago, I wrote a review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins" in which I point out that Bell's argument about Heaven and Hell is a bit condescending and doesn't really address the full theological conversation that's occurred throughout the history of Christianity.

ANYWAY, a super nice guy named Raymond, who works for ResonateNews.com, called me and we talked, and if you want to find out what about, you should go here.

21 February 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 4: The Absurd

You got some readin' to do! Part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I could easily title this post "Why I Never Became a Full-Blown New Atheist" and it'd make about as much sense. Lemme 'splain.

My experience with evangelicalism is that evangelicals always provide for meaning in the universe. You got the job you wanted? Praise God He does good things for those who love Him. You didn't get the job you wanted? It wasn't God's will for you. Grandma just died? It was God's time for her. Or, for the more sensitive, God works in mysterious ways.

It's not that any of these things are codified theology per se, or said by all evangelicals all the time. They are said by many evangelicals most of the time. They're part of evangelical culture, and even admitting that God works in mysterious ways that maybe we don't understand implies that an event has inherent meaning, albeit meaning inaccessible to human beings.

I think many New Atheists have a similar problem. Everything has a meaning that can be explained by science, and maybe our science isn't good enough yet to explain everything, but it could be eventually. Everything potentially has meaning. Just have faith.

Again, there's nothing codified or prescribed by either group; it's simply the cultural practice I've observed in both to assume that there is some kind of inherent meaning in the universe and that humans can know some of it. I think it's a tendency that's human. We desire meaning and value, there just isn't any.

I went through a series of personal changes and hundreds of questions and counter-questions before I eventually concluded there wasn't any inherent meaning in the universe. I wanted there to be, but I couldn't locate or identify any. Only later did I find out that the conflict between my desire for meaning and lack of meaning in the world was called Absurdism.

I don't think absurdism proves God doesn't exist or that Christianity is wrong, or that science is. But, it puts me at odds with the prevailing cultural sensibilities of both evangelicals and New Atheists. They both want to provide pre-packaged meaning for quiet consumption and easy digestion. So, I'm not really a Christian, but I'm not really an atheist either, culturally speaking.

This will be my last post in this series, at least for now. What I've written about isn't an exhaustive, comprehensive list of reasons I stopped being an evangelical, despite what the title and format might seem to imply. I'm not recommending that others stop being evangelicals. I'm not even telling a linear story.

This series describes a complex of reason, emotion, belief, logic, experience, questions, and growth that served to move me to a position where I felt and still feel that the most honest thing I can say is that I don't believe in a God, and technically, that makes me an atheist.

I haven't fully discounted the possibility of there being a God. I simply think the entire concept is an escape from the tension between the human desire for meaning and the lack of any, and I'd prefer not to be an escapist.

But I don't believe that, even if meaning is inherent to the world, there's any way for people to get it. So, I prefer being identified as an absurdist. I'm fully aware that that doesn't really mean anything in itself.

08 February 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 3: Morality

Need to catch up? Read part 1 and part 2.

This is the post in this series that will probably get me into the most trouble. Most people, even those in the so-called New Atheist movement (I'm not a member), aren't particularly comfortable with the thought of getting rid of morality. Silly secular humanists. Morality is for religions.

I'll start by clarifying how I think about morality. Morality is a value judgment by a group rather than an individual, promulgated as socio-normative by that group, and necessarily external in origin to the individual. I'm not satisfied with morality as such as a method for directing my life.

I don't consider myself an immoralist— that would mean I still subscribe to and reject some particular morality. Instead, I'd consider myself an amoralist. That doesn't mean I do whatever I please, regardless of the consequences, like some kind of radical, self-interested Randian chump. Rather, I try to do what's right according to my own internal sense of right and wrong. I don't call that sort of thing morality when it's specific to an individual, I call it integrity.

The reason I make this distinction is a direct result of my experiences as an evangelical. For most evangelicals, certain activities are irrefutably immoral. Murder's an easy example because it's one of the Big Ten (not in an NCAA sense, in a Commandment sense). But I still heard evangelicals approve of and in some cases demand the United States kill a person or a group of people, or go to war with some country, or nuke a city.

How could people who were unequivocally against murder call for the murder of innocents, or at least, civilians? Maybe they possessed a more situational understanding of murder. Maybe murder became acceptable under particular conditions. I could see either of those cases being reasoned out, just as we might consider a soldier falling on a grenade to save her comrades a noble sacrifice rather than suicide, which, I suppose, it technically is.

When I questioned one of the people who'd talked about going to war about why they wanted to, I was surprised by the answer: the people who'd be killed in the war or the nuclear attack were evil, so no big deal. They were complicit in the death of Americans, and had therefore forfeited their right to not be murdered in vengeance. It's the same logic that says, "Abortions are evil, therefore those who perform abortions are evil, therefore murdering an abortion doctor is a righteous act."

My point here is not to debate the morality of murder. If you do so in the comments, I'll just assume you didn't really bother reading. ANYWAY, I suspect some of you are thinking, "Well, maybe that particular individual was just a bloodthirsty dude." You're exactly right. That particular individual was a bloodthirsty dude. So was his wife.

Interestingly, at one point over a decade ago, I was also that bloodthirsty, which is to say I have some idea how this dude's worldview worked. Because morality applied not merely to actions but to states of being, whole categories of people could be labelled as evil and thereby dehumanized. No longer did the evil have the dignity of being human such that killing them was murder. Once classified as evil, they were sub-human until they became good, usually by converting to Christianity, even in a rudimentary form.

Again, what's important isn't the topic of murder specifically. I could have gone with anything— sexuality, science, family, etc.—; what's important is that morality in evangelical belief is frequently, if not always, coupled with a moral judgment of people in such a way that those people are no longer considered fully human.

This plays itself out on the individual level, too, not only applied to groups of people whom most American evangelicals will never meet. How many young evangelicals spend years confused and ashamed of their sexuality because they've only ever heard that sex is dirty and evil and ought to be kept for marriage? (And what's that say about marriage?)

Either morality is indeed socio-normative— thereby doing violence to individuals and groups deemed evil—, or morality is treated as subjective, situational, and particular, in which case it's not really morality any more. I think it's fine to have some external ideas inform one's sense of integrity— that's unavoidable—, but what I find in evangelical circles is that morality becomes a measure by which certain groups and individuals are dehumanized, denigrated and disparaged.

I suppose in some ideal, theoretical sense, morality is a net positive, but functionally, it serves to diminish the dignity of humankind and of specific humans, and deny life itself as a positive, creative force in the world. As Nietzsche puts it, "The Christian resolve to see the world as bad and ugly has made the world bad and ugly."

Discuss.

31 January 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 2: Heaven and Hell and the Real World

Looking for part 1? Go here.

When I was an evangelical, I didn't think much about the End Times. I like the bit near the end of Revelation where it says that God will wipe the tears from our eyes and there won't be any more death or mourning or crying or pain. Seems like a good thing. It also seems like a world I wouldn't recognize.

I bring up the ultimate fate of the world and my relative (to other Christians/evangelicals) disinterest because when it comes to my ultimate fate— in short, if I'd go to heaven or hell— I was fairly well obsessed. For a while. I got better.

The primary reason I was so obsessed with heaven and hell and what happened to individuals after they died was because I'd been taught that, being corrupted by sin, this world was never going to be as perfect or ideal as existence in heaven. Hell was just what was left of this world when you took all the heaven out of it.

So, in my thinking, our current existence— the one in which I'm writing this, you're reading it, the only one that anyone has knowledge of, the one which I now believe to be the only existence, period— was little more than a shadow of an inaccessible greater future existence.

Eventually, I started to ask myself why I thought that this world was existentially less than that world. I started to care about right here, right now, and everything that comes with that. One day, I decided to perform a thought experiment. I would try to think of Christianity and evangelicalism and the gospel, but without reference to heaven and hell. I wanted to know if I could live only in this world.

Turns out it was easy to be a Christian and not think of all my experiences and actions in relation to any future other-worldly existence. I was surprised to find out, though, how fulfilling it was to think about how to love another person, to live in community, to be concerned about global justice. In many ways, I felt I'd awakened, or was suddenly aware, or suddenly alive. It was pretty sweet. So I kept going.

Something else I didn't expect was that I'd stop talking about God, too. Once I'd cut out heaven and hell and started thinking about the real world, I suppose there wasn't much need to talk about a being whose sphere of influence had just been diminished by two thirds. Maybe because heaven and hell were external or other than this world, my mind began ignoring anything incorporeal, anything that wasn't purely immanent in this world.

I still think Jesus is mostly pretty groovy. I think love and community and forgiveness are groovy. After finding that I was more comfortable thinking about a world where heaven and hell and God weren't in it, all those things are now humanisms. What I find now is that the world and the people in it have their dignity restored. In the next installment, I'll discuss in further detail the topic of dignity, especially as it relates to morality.

23 January 2012

Why I Am No Longer an Evangelical, part 1: Authenticity

About two years ago, I stopped being an evangelical Christian (I stopped being a Christian at all, but more on that later). It took me a little longer to fess up to it. It didn't happen in a single moment, which is why this topic will comprise a series of posts. People aren't usually so simple.

Evangelicals, as a group and as individuals, face an authenticity crisis.

We're in a tricky place already; authenticity exists at the edge of language. I'd prefer not to give a specific definition because I'd rather not prescribe a narrow way of living on others. Rather, I'd like to talk about inauthenticity and imagine authenticity as, well, not that. One quick, short idea (among many) is that inauthenticity is any instance in which an individual purposely subverts their internal feelings or beliefs about what's right in favor of external feelings or beliefs, especially for the sake of the perception of others.

Let's also dismiss the idea that I stopped being a Christians because certain Christians behaved in overtly inauthentic ways. Those people exist inside and outside Christianity. You know who they are. I know who they are. They're so mired in their images rather than their selves that Christians can safely call it idolatry, and in this context, I'm fine with that description. My criticism is of the evangelical belief system itself, specifically that it makes inauthenticity a systemic problem.

Although it is nuanced across many churches and denominations, a reasonable and fair assessment of the fundamentals of the evangelical belief system would be that it is based on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The first says to love God and love your neighbors. The second says that a good way to love God and love your neighbors is to tell your neighbors all about how much God loves them and the world by sending Christ to die.

How this plays out depends on how we think about the word "love." I think we can agree it's not merely warm feelings, all fuzzy and whatnot. The evangelical definition is self-referential— to love a neighbor means to tell them about God's love. In short, to do your best to convince them to believe that God loves them. The action of loving is always associated with the gospel message. The belief system requires that the act of love violate the subjective experience of another; it implies that any non-Christian doesn't fully understand love by virtue of simply being a non-Christian (or even a non-evangelical).

Suppose, though, that you'd prefer love mean living in the space created between two people with their own subjective truths who both choose to encounter each other and have their respective views of the world changed and challenged by each other. That's a definition of love I prefer, and I even know some evangelical Christians who'd prefer it, too.

The problem for individual evangelical Christians arises when the definition of the belief system encounters the definition I've proposed. Again, it's a definition I'm comfortable with and that I prefer. It doesn't need to apply to everyone, but it is part of why I'm no longer an evangelical Christian. The point is that the conflict between the belief system and the individual idea means they can't both be true. And to reject my own idea of what love means in favor of that prescribed by a belief system is fundamentally inauthentic.

Evangelical Christianity, in my experience, expects the individual to repent of any action or feeling if it goes against the Great Commandment, or the Great Commission. It's also my experience that the Commandment becomes subject to the Commission.

I couldn't live authentically if I felt I needed to love by expecting a certain belief out of others. So I gave up Christianity. What I find now is that I'm able to be open and honest with others, regardless of their beliefs. I also find that evangelical Christians seem to have a problem being fully open and honest with me. I think many of them want to, but they sense the conflict between their own inclination of what is right and the demands placed on their actions by their religious beliefs.

This is a continuing series, and so is the discussion, so please comment. I'm happy to take questions and to talk about this in more detail.

12 January 2012

How to Revitalize a Brand

I was thinking today, whatever happened to Shake 'n Bake? Is that still around?

Also, how come they never made a Shake 'n Bake product that incorporated bacon? Maybe that's why they're not doing so hot. They didn't get on the bacon train, and now they're sad and alone in a bacon-less train station.

A good solution might be for Shake 'n Bake to make a comeback via infomercial. They'd need to bring bacon on board, obviously. People will pay $17.99 for some kind of dispenser that helps you add bacon to your Shake 'n Bake meal, as long as they also get something like a premium meat sifter (valued at $35) for free, while supplies last.

Of course, the dispenser itself would need to have a second, unexpected use, like as an awkward exercise aid. Just for example.

The final component would be a spokesperson. Given the infomercial format and what I assume Shake 'n Bake's operating budget to be, it'd have to be some regionally-known celebrity from a religiously-oriented cooking show on public television.

That should do it!

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Shake 'n Bake brand, even though they didn't ask me to, I proudly introduce The Bakin' Shaker's Shake 'n Bake Bacon Shaker Shakeweight! Not available in stores.

09 January 2012

Things I Learned After One Day of Being 29

1. People fucking love to wish other people a happy birthday on Facebook. I'm not terribly big on birthdays or birthday wishes, and people say Facebook's so impersonal; it's not as good as a card. But when I find out 50+ people wrote on my wall, that's pretty cool. If only they'd all also sent cash.

2. You can eat a lot of sandwiches in an hour. To be more accurate, you can eat a lot of creative, interesting sandwiches with funny names in an hour. Like one called "Kermit's Delight" because it contains prosciutto and cantaloupe (that is, a pig with melons), or a meatloaf club, or a dessert PB&J made with cake instead of bread. Basically, sandwiches— and more specifically, friends who make sandwiches— rock me like a hurricane. A tasty, slightly less sloppy hurricane. But only slightly.

3. Teenagers have no concept of tipping, how to place an order, how to stand in line, how to clean up after themselves, or how to lower their voices. I knew all this before, I just wanted to bitch about it again. In most other contexts, I'm sure I'd like a few of them. In this case, the best I can hope for them is that grow into passably polite adults whose unreflecting fear of mild social sleights forces them to feel enough guilt to give me a dollar when I make them a goddamn drink.

4. Fezzes are cool.

5. Find creative, interesting people who challenge you to be more interesting and creative yourself, all while letting you be yourself and who you're becoming. If you can trust someone to do that, they're a friend. Everyone else is just someone you happen to know.

6. There is no number 6.

7. The risk to try to be amazing outweighs the safety of being mediocre, and living in the chaos at the boundary between creation an destruction is better than off in the well-ordered safe area where nothing ever happens. So if you're looking for a birthday or New Year's resolution from me, it's to commit more, to risk more, to be more vulnerable, and given those three things, to be more amazing.

02 January 2012

How to Fix the Banking System

Not too long ago, banks really hosed us regular folks as a result of their subprime mortgages, undisclosed conflicts of interest, and general unbridled greed. And how did we respond? We allowed our governments to use our money to bail out these asscaps. Thanks a lot and you're welcome, banks.

But when I went into my bank recently, I didn't feel they were appropriately contrite, nor thankful. Come on banks, if corporations can be people, the least you all can do is act like some. It's not like you got anything more than a slap on the wrist from the government.

Something else happened when I was in the bank. A teller called for me, but I couldn't tell which one. Maybe there should be an easier system for knowing where and when it's your turn at the bank, like little numbered tickets. And that got me thinking that maybe we could reform the banks in a way that's never been done before.

I'm talking about deli-banks, folks. You go in, you get your ticket, you get called, you make a deposit, and you withdraw a pastrami sandwich. The pens might be chained down, but the pickles aren't!  Just ask the teller to loan you the mustard!

I could use this closing to make the point that we need to get creative when it comes to thinking of solutions to our various crises. But that point's been made, and it's time to start doing the thing we keep saying we ought to do. So, yeah, it's a silly idea, but until I hear something better, I'm going to assume deli-banks will solve our problems.