Saturday, August 31, 2013

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” is a crock

I love you so much I need the
government to take your rights.
Please understand.
To some people, that will be an obvious observation; and to others, a hideous lie. Still, it shows up so often that it needs saying. The concept of hating the sin but loving the sinner is a duplicitous crock, a sort of polite doublespeak intended to rationalize and sanitize hateful behavior. It's a transparent endeavor, and yet one that has, surprisingly, remained popular among the religious. Many people say, and some genuinely believe, this tripe. But what truth is there – can there be – to it?

Consider it's application today: largely in relation to gay rights. It shows up now and again with some of the religious right's pet topics, but it's rare to hear people speak of, say, women who've attained, or women and men support women's access to, abortions as being “loved” though the “sin” of abortion is hated. More often that not, terms like “murderer” and “demon” get tossed around. As to the particular reason that the pretense of love can be mustered in relation to some “sins” but not others, I'm not going to speculate here. I will simply use as my primary example gay rights (and, according to some, the mere existence of gay people).

We often hear from anti-gay Christians that they don't hate gay people, but rather love them; it's just the gayness they hate, not the gay. In fact, these Christians love gays so much that they want to rescue them from gayness. As far as this line of reasoning, if it can rightly be called thus, goes, it's possible to deconstruct the entire bit of nonsense with but a single comparison. How would Christians react if someone suggested a similar viewpoint for something like, I donno, Christianity? If holding a belief in the “wrong” faith (a choice, if ever there was one! Why do you deliberately embrace this wicked lifestyle?!) was the thing to be hated and penalized, if the situation was applied in that context, how would that look?

It's not Christians whom I hate; I love Christians and I want what's best for them. It's just that abomination, the filthy Christian lifestyle, and their disgusting beliefs that I hate. As a matter of fact, I love Christians so much that I want them to renounce and repent their faith to be saved, because if they don't, if they continue to believe in their God and wallow in the filth of their lifestyle, they will surely be (and deserve to be) tortured for all eternity.
I also don't want Christians to be able to marry, adopt or have children, collect benefits for their partners, be teachers, boyscout leaders, or have any contact with children. In fact, I don't think it's healthy to have openly Christian people “out” in society at all. I think that it should be legal to fire Christians because of their faith, and any attempts to punish hate crimes against Christians are clearly just an attempt to push the filthy, Satanic Christian agenda.
But, you know, I love you guys. It's just your sins that I can't stand.

That would ring astonishingly hollow as far as “love” goes to most Christians (and everyone else). Consider for a moment that simply asking that Christian belief not be privileged in the public arena gives some of the good folks at Fox an apoplexy. Heads would explode over there if someone, much less a terrific number of someones, tried to reinforce through law such thought. Step aside, War on Christmas; move over, War on School Prayer; this would be the real deal, and the horror of it all would never end. Of course, the same folks who would screech the loudest about such a “loving” view of Christianity are only too eager to give a platform of promotion to the various facets of this “love” for LGBT folk. (I have it on good authority that their hypocrisy sensors died in shame many eons ago.)

But those attempts to do hateful things while shrugging of charges of being hateful are as transparent when directed against minorities as they would be if directed against majorities. It's a comforting thought, perhaps, that you can you love people and yet still persecute, penalize, ostracize and denounce them as unfit, untrustworthy, immoral, hateful, malicious, dangerous and reprehensible, at least if the mantra of your religion is “forgiveness” and “love”; but it's an absurd one with very few, scattered applications in other facets of life. Where is the advocacy for loving pedophiles but hating pedophilia, for loving murderers but hating murder, for loving Assad but hating chemical warfare? Where is the cry to love tax cheaters but hate tax fraud, to love wall street execs but hate financial ruin (OK, the GOP being the 'exception to the rule' in this instance)? I think it fair to suggest that it is not generally characteristic of human nature to simultaneously hate some significant, defining characteristic of a group, and yet retain love for them, particularly as we lose connection to that group. It may be easier to love a brother who we recognize as an arrogant schmuck, but harder to love arrogant schmucks in general; it may be possible to love a gay relative despite religious intolerance of homosexuality, but harder to do so when the intolerance is strong and there is no close connection to gay people (see: Rob Portman). Certainly, there are exceptions in every which way (there are people with no apparent connection to it who would like to see pedophilia decriminalized, folks who refuse to “tolerate” homosexuality even after learning that a loved one is gay, people who love wall street bankers but have no ties to the Republican party, etc.). But human history provides a pretty good study of what we human beings tend to do to one another, and what feelings manifest, when there's something we don't like – hate – about one another.; and it's almost never loving. There wasn't any love to be found when Catholics hated protestantism, or protestants hated Catholicism, or Christians hated Islam, or Muslims hated Christianity, or Americans hated immigrants being Irish (or Italian, Chinese, etc.), or Nazis hated people being Jewish, gay, handicapped, etc. The list could stretch forever, but it felt right to leave it on a Godwin's note. The point is, we people don't treat each other well when we don't like something about each other. We tend to be particularly nasty when we particularly don't like each other. That's the opposite of love. Which is what makes the whole notion of “loving the sinner but hating the sin” such a crock.

Now, it might be nice to pretend that the hate you're spewing isn't aimed at people, just ideas; it might be nice to act like the hateful things you do don't have a real world impact on people; it might be a good way to convince gullible people in your congregation that you're not simply flouting all that “love noise” in order to further your own bigotries; it might be easy to go with the status quo, to hold onto the ideas that you grew up with without ever questioning them, “because God”, while excusing any liability for the harm they do because they're not harmful at all, just a manifestation of love (which sounds a lot like a rationalization an abuser might make...). I'm sure there are even people who genuinely believe that they do love gay people, along with everyone who knows damned well that they despise and fear them, but don't want to say it out loud because, somehow, it doesn't sound very nice when expressed honestly. But none of it holds up to scrutiny. Telling gay people (or anyone else) that you love them and want what's best for them, but they're vile, damned perverts, a danger to society, predators and frightening meanies who are deliberately making a choice to be gay (or anything else) and therefore do not deserve basic human rights is ludicrous. It's damned near as unloving as you can get without reverting to medieval tactics. And it's markedly, absurdly, cringe-worthily duplicitous.

So let's drop the pretenses. You're not loving gay people as you actively seek to humiliate, punish, ostracize and legally persecute them, any more than Jim Crow laws were manifestations of love for African Americans. You're simply trying to make your hate a little more palatable to modern listeners. And it's not working.

Edited on 7/10/15 to add image, clarify parenthetical element.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Deconstructing the "belief" free pass

Question: what is the one context in which you can hurl insult, display excessive anger, and even employ quasi-threatening language and advocate harm against people who have done you and yours no personal harm or injury, and largely get a free pass in our (and many other) culture(s)?

When it's wrapped up in religion, of course.

Think about it.

Tell someone that they have to believe something you believe, or else deserve to be (and eventually will be) brutally, horrifically tortured, and you might just find yourself getting a visit from the police; you certainly would impress people as an unstable, violent psycho. Tell a person that they have to believe in your god or else they deserve to (and will) be tortured brutally and horrifically, and, well, that's just religion.

Declare that a woman's womb and body is subject to “public” will and should be governed by the state, and you will provoke outrage. Declare that God insists on it, and you will lead a multi-million dollar ministry.

Declare that a person's skills, dreams, hopes and abilities do not matter, that the only thing that matters is the most basic biological function, reproduction, and see where that gets you. Then wrap it in the language of God: motherhood is God's greatest calling for a woman; it is the will of God that a woman sacrifice her worldly ambitions, her selfish and vain desires, to devote herself to the birthing and rearing of children, just as Jesus himself sacrificed himself for our sakes...suddenly, you're no longer a weirdo. If anything, you're praiseworthy for your “traditional values” and your “old fashioned outlook”.

Declare that an entire gender is incapable of self control, that its members are violent, rampaging beasts who seek only to seize, brutalize and sate their lusts on whomever they can, and you will rightly be called out for your sexism. Couch your sexist rhetoric in the language of God, and you are a holy man, preaching virtue: it's man's nature to lust after women; women need to embrace chastity and modesty, so that they are not leading men astray; etc.

Incite violence against people who don't share your ideas, work angry mobs up to that violence, and you will find yourself in some serious legal trouble. Do it in God's name, and in many parts of the world, you will either be ignored (since you're going after a minority) or “tolerated” due to a desire to be sensitive to cultural and religious differences.

Teach that one race is superior to others, and you will find your list of friends very short indeed. Declare God made it so, and you've invented a portion of Mormon theology.
There are, of course, many more examples that I could give, but I'm sure you get the idea. The fact is, we allow the open embrace of extraordinary bigotry and cruelty without so much as an “I beg your pardon,” if it's sheltered under the umbrella of religion, while similar sentiments, bereft of that sheltering religiosity, would be met with unequivocal condemnation.


Now, I'm not asking why we don't take legal action against it. As long as this hateful rhetoric is only rhetoric, and not action that harms others, it should be protected free speech as much as that spewed by the KKK or neo-Nazis. But why should it not be recognized as belonging to the same malignant strain of bigotry as its intellectual siblings? Why should we see use of the word “f*ggot” in a different light, or, remarkably, worse than telling someone that they deserve to be brutally tortured, forever, for being gay? Adding, “it's not that I hate you; it's just who you are and what you represent” (or some more duplicitous variant of “hate the sin, love the sinner”) does not change the sheer depravity of it. You're suggesting that someone deserves to be burnt, tortured, mutilated, for all eternity, because they love or had sex with a consenting adult – or a hundred, for that matter. When we're talking about hurting people for doing things we don't like, particularly on such an astronomical scale as eternity, the “how much” is really irrelevant. The fact is, the punishment is in no way proportional to the crime. And yet many religious people are confident in the belief, happy, even, to believe, that this will happen to gay people. To women who have abortions. To atheists. To people of other faiths. To people of other denominations. To anyone who isn't sufficiently like them.

And we're OK with this, because it's a belief. “We have freedom of religion in this country.” Of course. We also have freedom of speech. With limited exceptions, you can say what you like; but you will be judged accordingly, and it will impact your life. People will choose to associate, or not; to befriend, or not; to like, or not, based on things you say. Why does this principle not apply to expressed religious beliefs? Why do we fear to say, “You know, I find your belief that I should be brutally tortured because I don't share belief x repugnant,” when we would surely say it if someone embraced the same ideas outside the god framework? Beyond the question of its impact (demolition, one might say) of the wall between church and state, why do we consider laws that, without an appeal to religious belief, would be abhorrent to our democratic principles – that are, when considered without the fawning approach we take toward religion, abhorrent to those principles – as justifiable on those grounds? Some people believe that birth control causes abortions; they have every right to believe that, or any other absurdity they like, but it doesn't change reality; and laws should be based on reality, not belief. So when these nonsense items end up being thrown into the political arena, why is there so much hesitance, so much respect for ideas that, objectively, deserve none? Individuals have every right to dismiss science and reality based on an unproven, unprovable belief, foolish though we might deem that; but we have every right, and more reason, to dismiss such nonsense in the face of good evidence. Whence, then, comes the hesitation to do so?

Now, I'm not advocating being adversarial for the sake of it, or picking fights with people's beliefs as sport, or bullying or intimidating people simply because you don't share their particular brand of faith. But surely, when those beliefs enter the public arena, when those beliefs pick fights with all of us by trying to control our lives, and the lives of our friends and families...surely that is the time to stand up and evaluate the merits of what, exactly, it is that is attempting to control us? People have the right to say and believe any hateful thing they like; but when they say it to us, when they try to govern our and our fellow Americans' lives based on it, I suggest that is the right – and duty – of fair-minded Americans to stand up for what is right, particularly in the political arena, without deference to “religious belief”: if it enters the public arena, it's fair game. If you would criticize someone for espousing the same viewpoint sans god, what is to stop you from criticizing it inside the god framework? Any belief publicized and used to further an argument is open to scrutiny. What difference does a supernatural element make?

I submit, none whatever.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Grandma's Fish Chowder

Grandma Caspersen, during The War

Grandma (left), readying for take off
Ingrid Caspersen, my paternal grandmother, was the daughter of Trygve and Ingeborg Caspersen, new immigrants from Norway. And "Grandma," as I knew her, was an amazing person. She was one of the first women to enlist during WWII -- because she wasn't going to leave the fighting to the boys. When asked, she'd tell you that being at sea with U-Boats all around was one of the most frightening experiences, for her, of the war -- because you just had to wait, helplessly. She could tell some stories about living through the great depression, too, times when everything was scarce, and even basic staples like milk and butter were out of reach. She had plenty of fun stories, too, like Grandpa Trygve's memorable gripe about American food: "Papa no want jam! Papa want feesh!" My dad remembered with fondness the stories she told about the old gods of the old country, about Valhalla and the gods who loved to fight and drink mead.

She was the young woman who went to war, the mother who, recently widowed, went to work at
Grandma, doing her part, center
almost 50 to support her family. She was a loving mother and a loving grandmother.

And, on top of all this, she was a great cook (and a fantastic wood carver, too). It was always a good day when someone decided to make "Grandma's banana bread", or "Grandma's pumpkin bread". It was Sundays when my dad would make "Grandma's fish chowder," though, that we all looked forward to. It's similar to some other Norwegian fish chowders that I've found recipes for (for instance), but not identical. Since my mom discovered the recipe card (written out by my Grandma :) ), below, I decided to make it today.

There are a few updates I made to the recipe. First, I cut it in half, based on the number of folks I'm feeding. I also do not eat pork, so I do not include it. :)


2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup hot water
1 medium-large onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 lb cod or haddock fillets, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups milk, hot
chopped parsley

Saute onions in 1 tablespoon butter in heavy pan. Add water, potatoes, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for ten minutes. Add fish, simmer an additional ten minutes, or until fish flakes with a fork.
Turn off heat, add the hot milk and stir thoroughly. Check seasoning, add additional salt or pepper if needed.  Serve with bits of butter and a sprinkle of parsley. 4 servings.

One of the beauties of this recipe is how simple it is to make. The most labor intensive part is dicing; and you don't want to skimp to save time here, because it will impact your cooking time (and overall texture) later. The good news is that you can prep these in advance, if you like, (store in an air tight container, refrigerate after you're finished) which reduces your cook time to less than half an hour. 

When I make this, I start with dicing the vegetables.

The onions should be between 1/8" - 1/4" inch long (ring thickness):

Celery should be cut lengthwise and cut into pieces no thicker than 1/8". These I try to keep more uniform, whereas I cut the potatoes into slices between 1/8" - 1/4 ", and then 1/4 " pieces. The variety provides a moderately chunky texture, while still cooking thoroughly.

You do not have to prep the fish yet because you will have ample time while the chowder cooks. When your vegetables are diced, saute the onions until soft and slightly golden. If you plan to heat your  milk on the stovetop, start now on a low temperature.

When finished, add the celery, potatoes, bay leaf, seasoning and water. Mix thoroughly and cover.:

Let this simmer at a medium heat for ten minutes. Meanwhile, cube the fish. I used cod below, but both are very good.

Try to keep the pieces uniform. It's OK to have slightly bigger pieces where the fish is thinner, but your cubes should be no bigger than 1" x 1" x 1".

When the vegetable mix is finished, add the fish.

If you dump it in like I did :), you will want to stir thoroughly -- you want the fish covered in the liquid to ensure thorough cooking. Cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes. (If you are microwaving your milk, make sure you heat it to coincide with your timer expiring). Before shutting off the heat, check that the fish is flaky. If it is not, keep cooking until your fish flakes. It will have a thick, almost stewy feel at this point.

Shut off the heat add the hot milk. Mix thoroughly. The chowder will have diluted sufficiently, retaining some of the chunkiness but thinning to a good, chowder-y consistency:

Test that your seasoning is right, adding more salt or pepper if needed. Serve hot. Scoop into bowls and top with flecks of butter and sprinkles of parsley.

And enjoy: fish chowder, the way Grandma used to make it... "feesh", one of the ways "Papa" Trygve would have eaten it. :)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Millennials and religion. Is there a simple answer?

So I've been reading some interesting conversations lately about why millennials are leaving the church. I have my own answer to that question. Really, it's a conglomeration of a lot of the ideas bandied about, but I think it's nearer the mark than any one on its own.

1. If the church was something more than a combination mutual ego-stroking and witch-burning festival, millennials might be more inclined to stay...

Millennials, and every one else who can't stand that behavior. This is an obvious one, but it cannot be overstated (and, sadly, seems to fall on deaf ears). The petty, back-biting, judgey one-upmanship that is prevalent in church communities; the obsession with attacking “others”, like gays, while ignoring all the things that the Bible says that apply to our own circumstances; the insistence that we should ignore passages like Matthew 7:1 (“do not judge, or you too will be judged”), the showmanship of the church, the church politics, the drama, etc., etc.: these are all extremely off-putting.

What passes for “substance” is often just a way to feel better than the “other” group: “God condemns homosexuals and women who have abortions and women who show cleavage and Democrats, and they will surely burn in hell; only his beloved, though they are condemned by the world and mocked by the fools who think themselves wise, will sit by the right hand of the Father, will live on for all eternity in paradise. Amen!” It amounts to little more than theologically-based intellectual-masturbation in a group setting.

The church spends little time exhorting its followers to make real and significant, positive changes to their own behaviors, but rather spends great amounts of time focusing on how evil other people are – and, by contrast, how holy they are. Thus you hear frequent condemnations of gays and “immorally dressed”, “promiscuous” women; lots of raging about what's on TV, and all manner of things that don't affect (or are quietly covered up by) the congregation. But how often do we hear passages like these covered in detail?
Matthew 6
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

To follow this passage, of course, would cut deeply into the culture of sanctimony that so much of the Christian world embraces. Gone would be the incessant droning on social media, at every church function, at every opportunity, about the parishioners' righteousness, about their unending love for God, about, ultimately, what damned fine Christians they are. Or, more accurately, gone would be the parishioners – to a church that was content to stroke their egos.

Likewise with the “judge not” passage, from Matthew 7. Too many congregations are rife with petty vanities, gossip, backstabbing and self-righteousness; too few take to heart passages like these:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

And when these are quoted, pastors go to extraordinary lengths to assert that judging is actually peachy-keen (for instance, the quote of Paul Washer's, “You say, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ But I say, ‘Twist not Scripture lest ye be like Satan’,” which gets bandied about frequently in such discussions). It's particularly irritating to see unabashedly cruel, bigoted and callous people defend their sanctimony in such a way. How could that not disenchant people with the church? How could that not drive people to, and through, the doors?

As to the generation in question...why does this urge to leave manifest more in millennials? That I think has a relatively simple answer. There are fewer incentives to comply, and fewer penalties for failure to do so. You can have a rich, intellectually fulfilling social life without ever stepping foot in church; and you're no longer going to be ostracized if you choose not to attend church. Which means the church has to work harder and smarter to retain millennials (and, I would hazard a guess, subsequent generations). Instead, though, the church is stuck in “indoctrination mode” – whereby children were raised in the church, sufficiently frightened into remaining there, and severely penalized if they did “fall by the wayside” so as to serve as a warning to anyone else. The church has failed to evolve, and is only recently beginning to wake to the possibility of eventual extinction or irrelevance.

2. Atheism and agnosticism do present appealing, intellectually honest alternatives

When you're talking about something that no one has seen, no one has witnessed, no one can reproduce – and the only “evidence” in its favor is an ancient manuscript that has been altered, re-translated, and mistranslated a thousand times – is it really a puzzling thing that so many people are saying, “to be honest, I just don't know”? Factor in that information has become more easily accessible – a person can become well-informed on many topics with but an internet connection, a tablet, and a discerning eye – and the exclusive “truth” of any given religion seems to fade. The morals that religion today tries to attribute only unto itself have existed long before the faiths of the current era, in those hated and feared “pagan” faiths. The moral precepts that the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead puts forth, rules by which the worthy dead are supposed to have lived, are as good as those found in any religion nowadays: do not rob the orphan, do not murder, do not speak in anger, do not cheat or lie, do not defile the temples of the gods, etc., etc. Christians like to believe they have a monopoly on virtue; and yet such ideas existed thousands of years before the birth of Christ. The parallels between creation stories can also be quite disconcerting for someone who has been raised, as so many American Christians are, to believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, complete and exact. Furthermore, the Bible is full of stories of magic and witchcraft, to say nothing of a violent, vengeful God who commands genocides and kills willy-nilly. The church has offered little to counterbalance these decidedly unsettling realities.

3. Science answers questions that used to be the province of religion

The earth was flat; the sun revolved around the earth; illness was God's judgment; storms, chaos, and death were the evidence of the disfavor mankind had curried with the Supreme Being. As in most cultures, the Christian world attributed what it feared and could not understand to some supernatural judgment or force. (Even today, every time there's an earthquake or tsunami we still hear this mega-preacher or that televangelist assuring us that God massacred however many people half way across the world, because gays are allowed to roam about gayly gay-ing at will, and God doesn't like gaying gays, so he'll kill a bunch of unconnected folks, just to teach the gay-coddlers a lesson. Because, God is love). Now, science has replaced superstition, giving concrete answers in lieu of self-serving ones. Anyone genuinely curious to understand how a given illness works, can find out. You can still simply resort to, “sin! Judgment!” of course, but that argument no longer holds the persuasive force it once did simply because we know better. Back in the day, superstition provided an answer, no matter how bad; and until such time as there was a better answer available, it held sway over people's minds. But those days are gone. Science has provided the better answer, and religion, which was content simply to reap the benefits of people's fears, is obsolete in this respect.

4. The church no longer has a monopoly on thought

This is closely linked to the point above. We live in an age where ignorance is ever more a deliberate choice rather than anything else. With answers to a thousand questions but a few taps or clicks away, falling back on “because, God!” or “demonic possession; quick, an exorcism!” or “how dare you question the will of God?!” is a cop-out. When information was scarce and questioning dangerous, people had little choice but to content themselves with the church's position. Not so anymore.
The irony of this, of course, is that this is a “problem” for the Christian world inflicted largely by the Christian world; the Martin Luthers of the past showed that dissent could bear fruit. Granted, the Calvins of the world brutally oppressed it when it conflicted with their own supremacy, and that response still exists in church communities and families, but the seed was planted and flourished. The holy men of the Church were not infallible. They could be challenged – and the challenger might be right. Combine that with a shift toward representative government, where every man had an equal say, where the old ideas of ruling classes that could not be questioned gave way to a more inclusive system; an influx of information and a boom in scientific discovery; philosophical thought that offered good alternatives to strict religious adherence, by providing a measure of worth for the average man equal or greater than what religious thought of the day afforded; and you have the “perfect storm” for skepticism to take hold. The Church was not unassailable; its leaders were fallible, wrong, sometimes wicked even; the worth of men could be discerned – and protected – by secular measures; and science provided provable answers to questions that had long netted “the wrath of God!”-type answers. Why look to an aging, corrupt, oftentimes seemingly morally bankrupt power structure for answers that reason, scientific inquiry and secular thought can provide?

5. The church has lost its moral authority: people can be good without religion, and people can be evil in spite of religion

This is another point closely linked to the preceding ones. Not only does religion no longer have a monopoly on thought, but many of its thoughts have been proven wrong. Once upon a time, good and the church were unalterably linked in everyone's mind: you either were a believer in good standing, or you were evil, possibly a servant of Satan, definitely deluded by him, always deserving ostracism and often brutal death. Not so anymore. Just as a recognition that gay people aren't scary “others”, but our own friends and family – forced into the “closet” by exactly the bigoted thinking that gay equals evil – has precipitated a shift toward acceptance of the LGBT community, the recognition that people we know and love, not scary “God haters”, are atheists or agnostics, is signaling a shift in the way the “godless” are perceived. Most people know an atheist, or two, or ten – and they're good, even great, people. It's hard to credit the church's idea that good only comes through belief in God, or that anyone who lacks that belief is evil, when the evidence of our own experience contradicts such thinking.

That's only one facet of this point, though. There's the competing notion that a belief in God does not equate to goodness. Christian history, for a glimpse into the past; the Catholic sex abuse “scandal”, for a current example; and, of course, individual encounters with self-serving, cold-hearted, malicious “good Christians”: these are but a few of the instances when belief in God has done absolutely nothing to limit evil. Now, Christianity explains why people can be evil and still believe in God (while also giving them a “get out of jail free” pass for doing so, through faith); but it doesn't lessen the overall point: if godless people can be as good or better than “Godly” ones, what “good” is Christianity?

At this point, many Christians will argue that “good” is irrelevant, that everything comes down to a belief in God – that is, the saintly atheist (and, oftentimes, Christian of another denomination) will burn in hell for his lack of belief, but the hard-hearted, lecherous, abusive Christian will sit at the feet of the Lord in paradise, simply because the Christian had faith in God while he went about his evil (and was thus “forgiven”), but the atheist did not (so was not “redeemed”). That's an issue for another post, but not an easy theological argument for many to accept. For the point of this discussion, it comes down to this: goodness is more or less irrelevant, and Christianity may have no bearing on goodness. This is a significant loss of moral weight. If goodness can be obtained from other sources, and if goodness isn't a prerequisite to eternal life anyway, all that the potential Christian is left with is a husk of creation stories, miraculous tales, talking animals, lineage lines, judgmental hypocrisy, etc. Strip away the moral authority, and require only literal belief in stories that oftentimes seem beyond belief, and it is no wonder that people fall away.

I have not touched much on the obsession with “hot button” social and political issues in our own time, more because I think those tend to fall in the categories above than anything else. It should be noted, however, that – much like getting drunk and insisting on arguing politics at every holiday function – the obsession with overriding the separation of church and state in order to force religious opinions into law isn't an endearing trait. There are many others, but I think I've hit the main ones here. I do think that this is an interesting and potentially productive debate, so I look forward to the continuation of it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

God is not pro-life

Every time I discuss abortion, it's always the always gets back to God, and how he ostensibly hates abortion. Nevermind that such belief has no business being legislated. To many folks, if God says it, it's true; and if God says it, well, to hell with the constitution. One of several significant problems with that line of thinking is simply that “God” (by which it's meant, of course, the Christian God) didn't “say” anything of the sort anywhere in the Bible.

The Christian God's holy book doesn't mention abortion. Or feticide. There are a (very) few instances where a reading sounds something like the pro-life concept that fertilized eggs are people (the same kind of anthropomorphic descriptions also exist for sperm, by the way...still waiting for the bills regulating how and when men can dispose of their sperm-children). But such interpretations always depend on dropping all context, and completely ignoring that figurative language is employed heavily throughout the ensconcing verses (for a further discussion, click here). But what's more, not only does the Bible not bolster God's cred as a pro-life champ, it seems to do rather the opposite. Combined with our understanding of biology, a religious vision of God as a “pro-life warrior” seems downright laughable.

1. If God designed and created human beings, and fertilized human eggs are people, God has personally orchestrated the largest, ongoing slaughter of human beings, ever.
Does that sound ridiculous? It should. Because the whole concept is ridiculous. But, as the pro-life crowd would have us believe, a fertilized human egg, a zygote, is a full human being. (This is, among a slew of bad arguments, often the justification for opposition to birth control, on the mistaken premise that birth control prevents the “preembryo” from implanting in the uterine lining). Of course, as anyone who knows anything about human reproduction knows (and now you, pro-lifers reading this), one third to one half of those never implant. In other words, up to half of all those “egg babies” simply get flushed out of a woman's body, naturally. As God designed it to happen, if you so believe.

Let me reiterate. If you believe God designed and made us all, and that a zygote is a human being, God specifically designed women's bodies to destroy their own offspring. We women are natural born killers, and God is the engineer of the largest, ongoing slaughter of human beings (egg “people” being no different, as pro-lifers would have us believe. than people people) ever imagined, a massacre that started with Adam and Eve, and that will only end with...well, Ragnarok? Armageddon? Alien invasion? Zombie uprising? (As these are all infinitely more likely to occur than that men and women, even pro-life ones, will stop having sex to save the egg people). All of which brings me to my point: either, the idea of “egg people” is a ludicrous bunch of fantasy, or God is the king of abortionists.

2. If God considered a fetus to be a human being, it follows that there would be no need for superficial divisions between human beings in utero and born.
This is always a fun one. For a minute, let's forget that God has killed one third to half of all the egg babies ever made. Let's look at how God's laws and protections apply to fetuses. Presumably, since there is no difference (“it's just another stage of development, as a geriatric is different than an infant,” as the line goes), and a fertilized egg is the same as an embryo is the same as a fetus is the same as an infant, there should be no difference in how God sees and protects fetuses and born humans: life is life.
Here again, it's a bad day for pro-lifers. There are a few interesting examples of this, where born people are held in a different light than fetuses, but my favorite is in Exodus 21. The chapter deals with all manner of fun topics, from slavery to murder. The verses of import to this discussion, however, describe the punishments for murder and accidental death and injury. Here's what it has to say about murder:

12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.
14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

If you murder someone, you must die. If you kill them but without murderous intent, you depart to the “safe city”. Let's consider what happens when a fetus is killed, though.

22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Got that? If a pregnant woman is harmed, whatever harm, up to and including death, that befell her shall befall the one who harmed her. If a fetus is killed, however, pecuniary retribution is in order; the husband is reimbursed for his disappointment, and that's that.

Now, “life being life”, a fetus having the same intrinsic value as “any other” person, indeed, being nothing more or less than a person at another life stage, this seems completely illogical. Completely.

3. If God gave a dang about zygotes, embryos or fetuses, he wouldn't have massacred them.
Nope, this isn't a repeat of point #1. I'm not talking about the “egg people” that are routinely massacred by the sinful bodies of wayward women. I'm talking about all the “egg people”, embryos and fetuses that – I'm sorry, “who” – died during God's many purges, attacks and genocides.
I'm going to run off a list, from the top of my head (had to look up verse references, but otherwise you witness the effects of my parents' insistence on Bible study, now put to good use).

God flooded the world, and killed everyone on earth but Noah and his family. That includes pregnant women, fetuses, embryos and zygotes. (Genesis 6 - 9)
God oversaw massacres of entire populations while ordering his people into new lands (Numbers 31: only virgins were spared, meaning any and all pregnant women died [as well as anyone else]; Deuteronomy 3: all the men, women [pregnant and otherwise] and children were massacred in multiple cities; etc.)
And then, of course, we have the city of Soddom and Gomorrah, which God wiped out – any pregnant people and accompanying fetuses included (Genesis 19).
Miscarriages. Punish guilty life by taking innocent life. Pro-life, Level: God. (Hosea 9)

All of these places, and so many more, would have included fetal life. And while rationalizations are often made for the killings depicted in the Bible, anyone having had the privilege to debate pro-lifers will be able to recall one of their favorite lines: this is innocent, the most innocent, life we're talking about, life that has committed no sin. Surely a pro-life God would have found some way, short of wholesale massacre, to spare these innocent cherubs, these perfect egg babies?

4. If God was pro-life, you'd think he'd be a little less keen on killing kids.
This one's more a gut feeling than anything else...but doesn't it seem that, if you love fetuses, because, life!, you're going to take care of kids too? I'm not even talking about the “problem of evil” question, where, as an all powerful entity you'd look out for the defenseless. No, I'm aiming for the low hanging, how about you just don't drown them, send your followers to butcher them, enslave them, etc.? Or maybe he's more like modern Republicans and pro-lifers than I give him credit (is that the right word?) for being: love the fetus, drown/maul/butcher/starve the child. It doesn't seem to follow, though, that you'd want a woman to die because there's a detectable heartbeat in that dying 14 week old fetus whose presence is killing her, while you also do charming things like:

Flood the entire world. Killing everyone, innocent babies included.
Send bears to maul kids who call your prophet “baldy”. Forty-two kids, in fact. Because that really fits the crime. (2 Kings 2:23 – 24. No, I didn't make that up)
Kill every first born child in Egypt, to make your point (Exodus 12)
The genocides mentioned above, where entire populations, infants and children included, were annihilated
Did I mention, flood the entire freaking world, killing everyone??

Of course, there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind right off the bat. Ultimately, the point is this: God had no problem massacring children – not sitting back and letting massacres happen, but personally ordering or executing massacres. Have we really stepped through the looking glass, where a mass child killer is somehow also the paragon of what it means to be “pro-life”?

In fact, that really sums up my entire point: God is not pro-life. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” or so says Matthew 7:20; and by such a standard, it is impossible to paint God as pro-life. Not from the “moment of conception” outlook, not from a more moderate standpoint. The best that can be offered for the argument that God is “pro-life” are a few cherry-picked phrases; but any examination beyond select half-verses puts the lie to the idea that the Bible gives any weight to anti-abortion arguments. Indeed, an honest reading of the Bible and examination of human reproduction indicates that not only does God not regard the zygote, embryo or fetus as much, he has designed the human body to dispose of as many as half of these before they ever amount to anything; and he has himself, according to the Bible, committed feticide on an astonishing scale. So I'll say it again: God is not pro-life.