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.