Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sometimes Christians do bad things. Deal with it.

This post isn't directed to the people who object to the harm that certain Christians cause to other people and to the world in general.  This is directed to the people who don't accept that Christianity is composed of a number of different large groups of HUMAN BEINGS, and, like any other group of human beings, is going to be composed of many different types of people. Some will be good, some will be bad, some will be neither, and most will be varying degrees of both, leaning one way or the other, but nonetheless both capable of great goodness and great evil.  That's part of being human. And this post is especially directed to people who claim that anyone who does something wrong isn't really a Christian.

Newsflash: sometimes Christians do bad things.

Sometimes Christians persecute members of other faiths.  Sometimes Christians kill in the name of their God.  Sometimes Christians enact pieces of legislation that will make it next to impossible for women to access medical treatment (and no, I'm not just talking about abortion; states in which funding for Planned Parenthood has been cut or eliminated have also made it difficult, if not impossible, for low-income women to access affordable health care at all; Planned Parenthood was never just about abortion).  Sometimes Christians lie, steal, cheat.  Sometimes Christians rape.  Sometimes Christians murder.

And whether or not you like it, they're still Christians.

It doesn't matter that you don't believe that they can be real Christians.  As long as they believe in Jesus-as-aspect-of-God, and as long as the collection of writings we know as the Bible is their holy book, they're Christians.  Their ideals and models for behaviour aren't the same as yours, and their priorities are different as well, but that doesn't mean that you get to say whether or not they're part of the religion they've chosen.  Regardless of whether you approve of what they do, and certainly regardless of whether Jesus himself would have approved of their actions, they are Christians.

They're not just horrible people using Jesus' name as an excuse to do terrible things.  They are Christians.  And denying that they're Christians isn't doing anybody any favours.  True, along with the damage that they do to the people they hurt, they also give the rest of us a bad name.  But you then make that name even worse every time you assert that people can't have morality without Christianity, and that all Christians are good people.

Christianity doesn't have the stranglehold on morality that you think it has.  It doesn't necessarily make you a good person; it doesn't automatically fill people with love and light.  Christianity is a system of belief.  It doesn't remove the impulse to harm other people, and under the right (or wrong) circumstances, it can even fuel that impulse.  That doesn't make them not-Christian.  It makes them dangerous, because they believe that they can do no moral wrong, because their anger, their hate, and their harmful actions are backed up by their God.  Saying "Oh, but they're not real Christians" is neither true nor helpful.

Sometimes Christians do bad things.  Don't deny it.

Deal with it.

(By which, of course, I mean "do something about it.")

Monday, April 23, 2012

Musings Upon Finding My Missing Rosary

I found my rosary a few days ago. It had been missing since shortly after my grandfather died in late 2010; as I discovered, it had somehow slipped into a drawer in my dresser that I don't really open that often. For lack of a better explanation, it's what I call my "memory drawer"—a drawer that I set aside for small keepsakes, photos, newspaper articles, and the like when I was about thirteen. I've been thinking of putting some of those photos and articles into a scrapbook, and was going to go through some of it that night, but then, there it was, right on top of one of the photos.  I consider that to be simultaneously amusing and appropriate.

It got me thinking, of course. Several months ago, I threatened to post about the reasons why I chose to make use of certain prayers when Grandpa was in the hospital, and I think that this is going to be that post, though (as usual) I also have a feeling that it's going to be awhile before I actually get around to writing directly about that.


I haven't considered myself to be Catholic in nearly fifteen years. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, would say differently; according to them, once they've got you, you're theirs for life, regardless of whatever you might say on the matter. (Naturally, this is one of the many things about which I disagree with them.) But at the same time, those early years of Catholic belief, or at least of Catholic thought, have left a mark.  Perhaps it speaks to the power of early conditioning; I have a friend who was at one time an evangelical and charismatic Christian, but who has since become an agnostic, who nonetheless is currently the organist at an Anglican church and who has been known to admit that despite now being an agnostic, Anglican hymns and the Book of Common Prayer are "in [his] circuits."  Obviously there are people who are raised in one religion or another who do completely get out of that mindset, but for some of us, at least, it's not necessarily going to happen.

Some of my Roman Catholic mental residue is actually good; for example, despite my disagreement with Catholic teachings on the subjects of birth control, abortion, sexuality, homosexuality, transubstantiation, and the ordination of women, among other things, the early exposure that I had to the ideas that we should actually love each other and help people who need it laid the foundation for my present political and social views. Perhaps I'd have come to similar conclusions if I hadn't been raised in any sort of religious framework, but as it is, I was raised Catholic and the experience did convince me that we ought (as one of the hymns we sang at practically every Mass says) "to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God."   (Though of course that last bit is negotiable, since not everyone believes in any kind of deity.  But the first two are certainly important.)  Furthermore, it's probably the biggest reason why I'm able to be so comfortable with Anglican liturgy. (The Eucharistic service from the Book of Alternative Services in particular is very, very close to the form that Mass took when I was growing up.)  And as I've said before, as much as I sometimes still can't believe that I, of all people, am a member of a church choir, my experiences at my church and with my church choir have proven to be enlightening in their own way, and I wouldn't want to have missed that.  And if I hadn't had my Catholic background, or if I hadn't been born to a family with Anglican heritage, I'd never have been so comfortable on the trips that my community choir took to sing at the cathedrals in Winchester and Lincoln, and I'd certainly never have been able to join the my church choir and adjust as easily to it as I did.

Some of the residue isn't so good, of course. I mean, I was a narrow-minded little twit for a good chunk of my life because of it, even after I converted to Paganism, and sometimes I still struggle with the difference between what I know is right and what I was taught is right. Among other things, the fact that until my mid-twenties I was unable to acknowledge, even to myself, that I'm bisexual probably comes from that. I never had any problems with the existence of gay or lesbian folks—it's kind of a long story, but by the time I was eight years old I had come to the conclusion that some kids had two mothers or two fathers who loved each other and lived together and that was perfectly OK—but at least among my peers, bisexuality was considered to be undesirable at best, thanks to the promiscuity, infidelity, and perceived denial (or mere experimentation) that are so much a part of the bisexual stereotype. And of course the Roman Catholic Church isn't generally a particularly friendly place for people who aren't strictly straight, which (because I remained in the Catholic school system until I graduated from high school) gave me an additional incentive to ignore that part of myself even as it was beginning to reveal itself.

And some of that Roman Catholic residue is just plain weird, like feeling a little strange every time I make beef vegetable soup during Lent (Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat during Lent—and, strictly speaking, on Fridays throughout the year, even if not a lot of people pay attention to that these days—though fish is inexplicably OK). Or the fact that I automatically remove my hat, if I'm wearing one, as soon as I enter a church, regardless of the reason why I'm there; everyone at my school walked to a nearby church for Mass at least twice a month when I was a kid, and even the girls were told to remove our hats when we got to the church (traditionally, girls and women are supposed to wear something to cover our hair at Mass, though again, these days not very many women actually do except in the more conservative Catholic churches), probably because the boys tended to object when they were told to remove their hats and the girls weren't, and it was easier just to tell all of us that it was disrespectful to leave our hats on in church. And I admit that my fondness for the more theatrical aspects of ritual—Pagan or Christian—largely stems from that period in my life as well.

And perhaps the oddest part of the Catholic residue in my mind is my enduring fondness for the rosary.  But it's something that I consider to be one of the good parts of this residue anyway.  Which brings me back to the prayers that I chose to whisper when my grandfather was dying.

I never actually prayed the whole rosary while Grandpa was in the hospital. Sometimes I'd take it out and go through a decade or two of it when I felt I needed to calm down (a "decade" on the rosary is the "Our Father," ten repetitions of "Hail Mary," and then the "Glory Be" once).  Because it's so repetitive, I find the rosary to be a good way to calm myself down.  Other times, I'd just hold the beads in my hand, feeling their weight and concentrating on what I was feeling, trying to reconcile myself to the knowledge that my grandfather was going to die, probably very soon.  (The fact that the Hail Mary includes the words "now and at the hour of our death" probably helped.)  But the prayers that are traditionally used for the rosary still come as naturally to me as breathing (though admittedly, I do add another prayer near the beginning, I change the wording of a couple of the prayers because of my current spiritual path, and I omit the various Mysteries associated with the rosary because I find them to be unnecessary, so I actually deviate more than a little from the "official" method of praying the rosary), and though I rarely actually make use of my rosary, I do find it to be useful from time to time.

For one thing, it's extremely repetitive, and it takes a long time to get through it all. (There are five decades on a traditional rosary, plus the medallion and the five beads and the crucifix at the bottom of it; fifty-three repetitions of Hail Mary, seven repetitions of Glory Be and Our Father, and once through the Memorare—this is the prayer that I add—and Hail Holy Queen and the Apostles' Creed take quite a lot of time to get through all at once.) Because of the way that my mind works, sometimes I find that it's best to occupy myself with something like that to re-focus my mind, or sometimes just to give myself something to concentrate on when I'm trying to work through something that's bothering me. I'm not quite sure how to explain it except that the sheer repetitiveness of the rosary gives my conscious mind something to focus on while my subconscious mind wanders down whatever paths it has to in order to sort out whatever I'm trying to deal with.

Come to think of it, it's almost like crocheting (well, when I'm not crocheting as I'm socializing, anyway) that way. :)

And for another thing, although the Lord's Prayer and the Glory Be are, strictly speaking, prayers dedicated to an aspect of the Divine that is usually thought of as male (though I hear that at one time, the Holy Spirit was considered to be female), by far most of the prayers involved are addressed to someone who's female, who lived a human life, and although these prayers only ask for intercession rather than any direct miracle working, even when I was young I found it to be very satisfying to be able to address a prayer to someone with whom I might have a chance at identifying.  Surrounded by a culture of strict gender essentialism, I felt that God-as-male seemed to be unapproachable, but Mary had been a human woman, and was by far more easy to relate to.  Later on, when I first converted to Paganism, that early fondness for Mary became the reason why I was prepared to accept the idea of a feminine aspect to the Divine.

Regardless of the reasons why I like the rosary, it is almost surprisingly good to hold mine in my hand again.  I'd missed it.  And while I don't plan to actually make use of it anytime soon, it's good to have the option again. :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shame on the people who thought this was a good idea.

There are no words, but I'm going to try to find them anyway.


Blackface on a cake, of all things, depicting the head and torso of a naked Black woman.

A terrible racist caricature of a Black woman used to protest an act of violence against women.

Red velvet cake, obviously meant to symbolize blood, carved up by White people.  Every time a slice was cut, the baker, also a performance artist, whose head was poking out from under the table, would scream.

That's just wrong.

This is a world in which Black people's lives are frequently held to be less important than White people's, and as a result, they die.

Trayvon Martin was killed for doing little more than walking through a gated community (and he had every right to be there, as he was visiting his father, who actually lives in that gated community) while talking on the phone with his girlfriend and carrying Skittles and iced tea.  His killer was only arrested a few days ago, though there was never a question of who did it.

Anna Brown was arrested for trespassing on hospital property for trying to get treatment for the condition that killed her soon afterward; she died in prison that day.  The hospital claims they thought that she was just looking for drugs; after all, not only was she a Black woman, she was a homeless Black woman.  (An autopsy was performed; no traces of any kind of drug were found in her body.  However, they did find numerous blood clots in her lungs and in her legs.)

Kenneth Chamberlain was shot to death by police in his own home when he'd accidentally triggered his medical alarm in his sleep.

These are only the stories that have gotten enough press that I've heard about them.

And now this.

Racism is evil.  It kills.  It destroys lives and families.  Even if the intentions of the people behind this racist act were good—the cake was apparently supposed to protest female genital mutilation—that doesn't erase the harm that it's done.  It doesn't matter that Makode Aj Linde, the performance artist who baked the cake and did the screaming, is Black himself; it doesn't matter that he claims that the cake, and the cutting of it, were misunderstood (his work has in the past involved putting Blackface into new contexts in order to criticise it).  Blackface is innately racist and even attempting to subvert it, considering the immense damage that racism does worldwide, results in more harm than good.  Especially since most of the people who attended this party at Moderna Museet were White.

I'd say it's even worse that Makode Aj Linde participated in this racist act because it's now given White racists an excuse to say, "Hey, this isn't so bad after all.  A Black guy did it, so why can't we?"

This cake was an act of violence, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

I am disgusted and heartsick.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The evils of religion?

Of all the things that one might have expected me to be contemplating on Easter Sunday, somehow I doubt that atheism would be among them.

Not that I'm thinking of becoming an atheist, mind you.  Regardless of whether the Gods exist, my mind doesn't seem to have the wiring for atheism.  As I am now, the closest thing I could probably get to total non-belief is a sort of curious agnosticism.  And despite normally being a logic-oriented person, I do not consider this to be a problem in any respect.  My belief-and-skepticism system works for me; it inspires me to be a better person.  It reminds me that it's possible to be a thoroughly flawed human being and still manage to do a bit of good in the world.  It reminds me that prayer is all very well, but you've got to help people in practical ways as well.  (I can say this no better than it's already said in my favourite passage from the first letter of John: "Little children, let us love, not in word and speech, but in truth and action.")  It even keeps me from taking myself too seriously.

The thing is, I've been noticing, and hearing about, a lot more highly vocal atheists lately.  And usually they've been the obnoxious ones.  The ones who, being so angry at the idea that anybody else dares to think something that they don't think, might fit in well with certain groups of rigid fundamentalist Christians if it weren't for the fact that atheists believe that the whole God thing is bullshit.  The ones who believe that there has never been anything good whatsoever that came from religion of any type.  The ones who believe that all the world's evils come from religion in general and Christianity in particular, and that we'd live in a perfect world if no human being had ever come up with the concept of one or more Gods.  The ones who look down their noses at people of any religious persuasion, calling us stupid and superstitious.  The ones who speak of us all as if we were somehow simultaneously childlike in our naïveté and hyper-dangerous psychopaths who are just a few social conventions away from reinstating the Spanish Inquisition and shamelessly persecuting and brutally murdering anyone who doesn't agree with us.

Believe it or not, atheism itself doesn't actually bother me.  We've all got to make up our own minds about what we will and will not believe, and I understand that there are people whose lives, and whose treatment of other people, become better once they discard any concept of religion.  We all need to have our own freedom of conscience.  And to a certain extent, I must concede that they have a point or two, even though I doubt I'll ever entirely subscribe to their point of view.  But the common assertion that religion, and especially Christianity, is the root of all evil bothers me on a level that I can't quite articulate.

The thing is, I deeply suspect that even if religion hadn't ever existed, most of the evil things that religion has been used as the excuse for would still have happened.  Religious or not, that seems to be an aspect of certain people's human nature; given great power, and the desire for something that's already possessed by someone else, some people will only need the right excuse to become genocidal.  If it wasn't religion, it might be some other custom.  It might be language or skin colour or some theme in the other group's art or music that the aggressors consider to be unwholesome.  It might be patriotism or some form of insult, imagined or otherwise.  I can't think of a single religious war, even the Crusades, that couldn't also have been fought for other reasons.  Religion made a damn convincing excuse, but as long as there was something else to be gained—valuable territory, access to certain commodities, greater political power, and similar—then religion was nonetheless still little but an excuse.  In its absence, another one would surely have been used.

I will never accept the idea that religion is itself evil; I will certainly never again accept the idea that Christianity is inherently evil.  It's been used as an excuse for evil things, and there are people who use it as a weapon even today.  That, I believe, is evil.  But not religion itself.

If there's evil in the equation at all, it's in the people who use their beliefs to harm other people.