“It’s Not Just the Messengers, It’s the Message, Too”: I tried being a progressive Christian

I tried to believe that there is a God, who created each of us in His own image and likeness, loves us very much, and keeps a close eye on things. I really tried to believe that, but I gotta tell you, the longer you live, the more you look around, the more you realize, something is fucked up.
~ George Carlin

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Sexual morality initiated, but did not cause, my unbelief

The other day I came across a book review Dan Savage wrote on Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me? There was one paragraph that really resonated with me:

Chu worries that gay people like Mr. Byers have been “pushed out of the church.” That’s not true for all of us. My father was a Catholic deacon, my mother was a lay minister and I thought about becoming a priest. I was in church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. Now I spend my Sundays on my bike, on my snowboard or on my husband. I haven’t spent my post-Catholic decades in a sulk, wishing the church would come around on the issue of homosexuality so that I could start attending Mass again. I didn’t abandon my faith. I saw through it. The conflict between my faith and my sexuality set that process in motion, but the conclusions I reached at the end of that process — there are no gods, religion is man-made, faith can be a force for good or evil — improved my life. I’m grateful that my sexuality prompted me to think critically about faith. Pushed out? No. I walked out.

I loved this. The first area of my faith I dissented against was homosexuality. I’ve written about how I have LGBTQ people close to me in my life (here, here, and here), and I saw first hand how the homophobic positions of Catholicism (and other conservative forms of Christianity) negatively impacted their lives. It got to a point that I couldn’t in good conscience agree with my church’s approach to LGBTQ people. A couple years later, I realized that my church’s teachings on premarital sex and contraception had very real and very negative effects on my and my friends’ lives. So, I discarded those teachings as well.  Continue reading

Fear of the body stems from fear of death

I’ve been having some really good conversations lately with a friend of mine who grew up a devout Catholic and is now a functional atheist. He brought up a topic today that I haven’t thought about in a while – how the fear of the realities of the human body stem from a fear of death. I’ve blogged on the topic of “getting out of life alive” before, and this is an extension of it. I first started thinking about how negative reactions toward the profane stem from a fear of death when I read an essay posted on Experimental Theology a few years ago:

[…] many profanities appear to be associated with the psychology of disgust and contamination. Urine, feces, blood, and other bodily effluvia are routinely referenced in obscene speech as well as being reliable disgust elicitors. But the profanity/disgust link is incomplete as it fails to capture facets of religious cursing (e.g., damn, hell), references to sexual intercourse (e.g., the f-word), or references to body parts (e.g., breasts, genitalia).

[…] One facet of [Terror Management Theory] research has been to examine how various facets of everyday existence can become existentially problematic, particularly when functioning as death reminders. We are unsettled upon being reminded of our death and, thus, tend to repress or avoid aspects of life that make death salient. Much of this research has focused on how the body functions as a mortality reminder. The vulnerability of our bodies highlights the existential predicament that we will one day die and decay. Further, the gritty physicality of the body (e.g., blood, sweat, odors, waste) highlights our animal nature which functions as an existential affront to our aspirations of being transcendent spiritual creatures. Based upon these insights, an impressive body of empirical work has strongly linked body ambivalence to death concerns. Much of this research is summarized by Goldenberg, Pyszcynski, Greenberg, & Solomon (2000) who conclude: “[T]he body is a problem because it makes evident our similarity to other animals; this similarity is a threat because it reminds us that we are eventually going to die.”

We are so scared of the human body – farts, female body hair, menstrual blood, semen, pooping, etc, etc, etc. These things are not to be talked about in a respectable setting, they are, to quote George Carlin, “bad, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene…” Of course, they are also natural parts of human anatomy and physiology. These things remind us that we have mortal human bodies, and that reminds us of death.

Anyways, if you have the time, go and read the whole essay, it’s quite fascinating.

Experiential religion in an ideological world

I want to start with two passages from the Christian scriptures; the first is from the Gospel of Matthew:

..the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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Human value and protecting God

I came across this post on Rational Doubt from a former pastor on how praising God often comes at the expense of denigrating humanity in many Christian circles.

I’d probably sung the song a hundred times, swaying to its gentle melodies with arms uplifted and eyes closed.  It was one of those praise choruses evangelical Christians love to sing, a few words repeated over and over again –

“You alone I long to worship.  You alone are worthy of praise.”

We sang until we were oblivious to our surroundings and open to the Spirit.  Having practiced this form of spiritual reflection often, I was startled when my inner voice said, “That can’t be true.”

[…] Every human life had worth.  Nearly everyone did something worthy of praise.

[…] Of all the religions I’ve studied, Christianity has the poorest opinion of human nature.  Christian theology, rhetoric and music often praises God’s magnificence at human expense.  According to orthodox theology, we are born into sin, doomed from our first breath.  Though Christianity says we were created in God’s image, that image was quickly and irrevocably broken and twisted by sin.

[…] When my children were born, I didn’t look at them and despair[…] While I knew they would make mistakes, I saw this not as a moral failing, but as a necessary process.  What I expected from them was not perfection, but eventual maturity, the ability to live life with wisdom and sensitivity[…] Eventually, I realized my opinion of my children was more praiseworthy than God’s opinion of me.

This was something I grappled with growing up Evangelical. Why do good things happen if humans could do no good? If no one could do good, why do we spend so much time shaming certain acts? If no one could do good, why do we spend time pushing for laws to try to force people into good acts? Why should I trust that my parents, or teachers, or pastors if they’re depraved humans like me? Continue reading

Reflection on the commandment to honor your parents

Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism has two new posts up about adult relationships with parents. The first post describes how her relationship with her father evolved (or devolved):

My father simply didn’t know how to let me grow up. He didn’t know how to switch from interacting with me as his golden daughter to interacting with me as an adult making my own way in the world. He couldn’t handle me disagreeing with him, because in his mind that meant he had failed me. Perhaps he was so afraid of seeing me hurt and so sure that his way was the only way for me not to be hurt that he simply couldn’t handle it when I saw things differently. Perhaps he simply wanted to protect me, but in doing so he forgot that he couldn’t protect me forever, and that at some point he had to let go and let me grow up.

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Sunday reflection: what God has done for me

Despite my functional agnosticism, I still attend an Eastern Catholic parish (side note: if you don’t know much about Eastern Christianity, you should learn about it – it will expand your world as to how broad Christianity really is). During the announcements at the end of Divine Liturgy, our priest always says something along the lines of, “Have a blessed week, and tell someone what God has done for you.” I normally let this go in one ear and out the other, but today I asked myself, “What has God done for me?”

Both growing up Evangelical and later as a Catholic, prayer was very much emphasized. As an Evangelical we were supposed “pray in the spirit” – i.e. the Holy Spirit would supposedly give us the words to say, which apparently included a lot of emphatic sighs and using the word “just” as much as possible (“Lord God, we just come to you to day to ask you to just help [insert person and concern here]”). As a Catholic, prayer was more repetitious – the rosary, ancient prayers written by saints, etc. – even my more free-flowing prayers included the sign of the cross and one or more common Catholic prayer. The thing is, while the emphasis was different, both were simultaneously personal and formulaic in their own way. And, in both traditions, prayer was a big deal. If you want to be closer to God, pray. The adverb “prayerfully” was included in any major (and sometimes minor) decision in your life. And, I prayed. Although, I was very careful to do my best to only pray for “important things” (health, salvation, etc.) and not be so presumptuous as to pray for “stupid things” (football games, parking spots, etc.). Continue reading