Monday, August 27, 2012

What The Hell Is Up With Hell. (An Excerpt)

(Another, and probably the last I will post here,excerpt from my book)
 What the Hell Is up with Hell?   The Doctrine of Eternal Judgment

When I was in the midst of having the worst of my anxiety attacks, a friend asked me to read a book for him because he wanted to know what I thought about it.  The book was called The Last Word and the Word after That by Brian D. McLaren.  The book shares a fictional account of a preacher, who begins to question the church’s traditional teaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment.  The book isn’t designed to give the reader any answers, but instead to get the reader thinking and asking questions about the subject of eternal punishment. 

The book did for me exactly what it was trying to do, and after I read it, I began to ask a whole lot of questions.  Reading this book was truly a pivotal moment in my life.  I had never seriously thought about the doctrine of eternal judgment and its effect on my life, not to mention its effect on my views of God.  I had heard about Hell my entire life, and if you hear enough people telling you there is eternal punishment, you believe it.  I never considered whether or not that doctrine really made any sense; I simply accepted it as fact.

Mr. McLaren’s book rattled me deeply as a result.  Not only did I have to admit that I had never really questioned the church’s thoughts on Hell, but I also had to admit to myself that I had never really thought about the church’s beliefs about much of anything.  For someone, who had the reputation of being a radical thinker in the church, I had to face the fact that I had swallowed most of the church’s doctrines hook, line, and sinker without really giving them any thought. 

One particular scene in the book really stuck with me. In this scene a preacher (who is the main character) and a friend of his visit a Holocaust museum in the Washington D. C. area.  As they view the displays, the preacher is struck by the horrific cruelty and evil committed by the Nazi regime in the concentration camps.  At one point he walks into a room containing the shoes of all the prisoners, who had been burned in the gas chambers.  The preacher sees the shoes of men, women, and children.  He is nauseated by the sheer number of shoes and the sheer horror of the fate, which befell the wearers of those shoes.  He has to leave the museum, run outside, and vomit.

If I remember correctly, the book draws no direct correlation between the evil of the Nazis and the judgment of fire, which God would eventually impose upon most people, but this horrifying correlation was all I saw in that scene.  What kind of God would send people to Hell to burn forever and ever?  The atrocities of Hitler and his henchman could never compare with what the Church taught God would one day do.  Even worse was the fact that God wasn’t just going to kill people in a horrific fashion; no He/She had devised a crematorium for people where they would suffer these atrocities FOREVER.  How could such a God be viewed as forgiving, patient, loving and a good parent? 

As I thought about these issues during the next several months, I had to admit that the doctrine of eternal punishment made no sense to me at all, but at that time I wasn’t capable of simply accepting logic. I had to have scriptural proof.  So I began to research Hell.  What I found truly surprised me.  First, I found that the Old Testament basically has no mention of Heaven, Hell, or the afterlife in any way at all.  This fact was very puzzling to me.  I began to wonder what Jewish people had historically believed about the afterlife.  I bought several books and began an in depth study.  Apparently, early Jewish believers saw death as final.  Their traditional beliefs contained no heaven, no hell, and no resurrection from death.  God doesn’t mention anything about this miasma one way or the other in the Old Testament, either. 

Then suddenly, just before the inter-testamental period, little hints pop up that the Jews were starting to think there might be an afterlife.  Historians think these beliefs sprung from two sources: the first source was the Persian Empire, which committed horrible atrocities against the Jewish people. These atrocities appear to have caused the people to start thinking that surely a righteous God wouldn’t let them be erased from history by the Persians.  Surely, a good God would either bring them back to life later or take them to a place where they wouldn’t have to suffer such atrocities anymore.  The second source of these beliefs seems to be the teachings of Zoroaster, whom the Jewish people would have been exposed to while in Persian captivity.  Zoroastrianism appears to be the first religion to include a belief in a Heaven and Hell.  While in captivity, the Jewish people seem to have adopted the parts of Zoroastrianism, which they liked.
These beliefs took root in Jewish teachings over time, but not all Jewish people accepted these new beliefs about the afterlife.  The debate about these new beliefs caused two different sects to develop within the Jewish religion: the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  The Sadducees were a hard-line, fundamentalist, by-the-book kind of religious group.  Because the Sadducees could find no proof of any type of afterlife in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Jewish scriptures), they refused to believe in any type of afterlife.  On the other hand the Pharisees came to believe that one day the righteous would be raised from the dead and live on the earth under the reign of the messiah.  Apparently, they also believed that once we died and until we were resurrected (or not), we would either be sent to Heaven (Gan Eden), or we would be sent to Hell (Gehenna). 

According to the Pharisees, only those, who were perfectly righteous and pure, would enter directly into Heaven; most people would have to go to Gehenna for a time of punishment and purification.  Hell (Gehenna) was primarily described not as a place of torture, but as a place where we faced the evil acts we had committed during our lives along with the pain those evil actions had caused other people.  Once we had learned our lesson in Gehenna, we would be granted access to Heaven (usually this time of purification is described as twelve months in duration . . . maximum).
And then the “burning” question seems to have arisen of how the Jews could tell whether or not they were one of the righteous, who get to go straight to Heaven . . . or if they were unrighteous and would have to undergo purification in Gehenna.  So the religious leaders decided that the best way for people to tell was by how blessed they were in the present life.  If individuals were wealthy, owned lots of land, and had lots of children then obviously they must be righteous because why else would God bless them so richly?  This line of thinking apparently worked the other way, as well.  If people were poor, sick, homeless, and had no family, then obviously they were very unrighteous, or else why would they be so cursed by God? 

Inevitably, if something bad happened to a person or country, it was punishment from God because of unrighteous and sin.  When the Romans came not long before Jesus showed up on the scene and took control of Israel, the poor and sick (and thus, the sinful) would almost certainly have been blamed for the Roman invasion.  God was obviously punishing the people of Israel with the Roman occupation . . . kind of like the religious in America blamed homosexuals, drunks, and “bead girls” (how people could think that God could punish women for showing their breasts I will never understand)  for Hurricane Katrina.
So into this scene steps one radical Jesus, and he starts talking a lot about Hell (really, for the first time in the Bible).  But if you look at how Jesus talks about Hell, it seems likely that he is simply trying to deconstruct Jewish beliefs about Hell, rather than making a theological statement.  Just think of the text of the rich man and Lazarus.  In that story a rich man dies and ends up in Gehenna, while a beggar, who sat at the rich man’s door, dies and ends up in Heaven (Gan Eden).  How radical this teaching must have seemed to the people of Israel! 

Jesus seems to have been trying to turn the religious leaders’ beliefs back on them, not primarily teaching about Hell.  Perhaps he was trying to help the Jewish people to see that God was not concerned with how much wealth they had . . . but with how they treated people.  Another example of this deconstruction occurs in the text where Jesus says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven.”  Jesus’ followers are so shocked by a view in such obvious opposition to their traditional teachings that they ask, “Who then can be saved?”  The meaning of their question is clear: if the rich (who are righteous) can’t get in, then who can?  Clearly, Jewish people thought that you could tell who was going straight to Heaven by how wealthy they were.  Jesus said that the rich were actually in worse shape than everyone else. All of Jesus’ teachings on Hell are more about getting people to see their actions—not their socioeconomic standing—as the true indicator of how they fare with God.

But even for the worst of people in Jewish belief there is hope.  The Hitlers, Stalins, and Dahmers of the Jewish people would only suffer in Hell for a period of time, not for all eternity. It is also debatable whether or not Jesus and his followers believed Hell was eternal.  Jesus refers once in all of scriptures to Hell as being forever, and this text can be translated as Hell being for a period of time just as easily as it can be translated forever.   Even the apostle Paul seemed to view Hell as a temporary place (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-5).  So, at the culmination of my scriptural studies, I began to see that the concept of Hell being eternal was not a solid, Biblical concept.  It appears that Jesus and his contemporaries saw Hell as a temporary place of correction, not a place of eternal punishment and torture. 

When Jesus handed the reins of the church over to its early leaders, his probable view that Hell was a temporary place of correction continued as the dominant view among believers.  The early church seemed to believe not only that Hell was temporary (this seems to be where the Catholic Church got the doctrine of purgatory), but also that eventually all people would go to Heaven (there’s pretty good scriptural support for this belief, as well).  One of the early church fathers, Origen, not only believed that all people would eventually go to Heaven, but he also believed that even Satan and his angels would eventually be taught the error of their ways, repent, and end up in Heaven. 

The view that hell was a temporary place and that all would go to Heaven was widely accepted in the church until good-old Augustine came along and wrote that universalism was heresy. Universalism (the belief that all people will eventually go to Heaven because Hell is only a temporary place of correction and repentance, or simply that all people will go to Heaven) fell out of favor with the church almost as soon as Augustine denounced it.  Universalism was officially labeled as heretical at the council of Constantinople, and as a result, many of the writings of the universalists were burned (once again, I was reminded of Nazis).  All this research helped me to see that not only did the doctrine of eternal judgment contain some logical problems, but it also had historical—and even Biblical—problems.  I was beginning to wonder if Hell was just a tool of fear used by the church to keep people in check. 

My changed beliefs on eternal punishment immediately began to improve every aspect my life.  I stopped feeling scared of God.  I stopped feeling like God was out to get me.  I stopped feeling the constant pressure to be perfect all the time.  I felt at peace with whom I was and whom I was beginning to think God was.  These changes helped me to see that even if I couldn’t prove it biblically, I knew this belief in eternal punishment was simply not a good belief.  If I was happier and more adjusted without the belief, then how could I ever return to the illogical, fearful place where I had been before?  I couldn’t.
Of all the beliefs I have jettisoned over the past three years, I am happiest about the doctrine of eternal punishment, and it is the one I needed to abandon the most.  The belief that there was going to be an eternal punishment in Hell was a purely destructive force in my life and the lives of my wife and kids.  I lived in constant fear of God and in fear of myself.  My entire belief system had been based upon fear.  No wonder I experienced anxiety and panic attacks all the time.  I was terrified of everything: God, myself, my wife, my kids; I mean, everyone I cared about could end up in Hell . . . almost everyone, who ever lived.  I could not accept that God would send the majority of the people, who ever lived, to burn forever and ever in His/Her perpetual crematorium; if He/She intended to, then I did not care to follow Him/Her, anyway.

As time has gone on, eternal punishment has made less and less sense to me.  What kind of God would let Jerry Falwell (an angry, bigoted man) into heaven but send Gandhi and Mother Theresa (yes, some Protestants think that even Mother Theresa was not “saved”) to Hell?  What about those individuals, who never heard about Jesus . . . are they doomed to Hell (some Protestants would say they are)?  What about the mentally disabled?  Would they burn forever because they were not capable of accepting Jesus?  What about victims, who were so abused in childhood that they grew to hate God and the church, and as a result, they never accepted Jesus’ “sacrifice for their sins?” What about all the people of Islamic, Jewish, Taoist, Buddhist, Mormon, and whatever other faiths?  Are they all condemned to Hell because they were very good people of the wrong flavor?  Do they burn forever and ever?  What about those people, who lose their faith because they were abused by someone, who was tied to the church?  Do they burn because their pain keeps them from being a part of Christianity? 
What kind of God are we really following if the answer to any of these questions is yes?  Is that God fair and just? Is that God truly holy?  Could you describe that kind of God as “love?”  We must take a serious, honest look at our beliefs—whether they are Christian, satanic, or atheist, and see what effects those beliefs create in our lives (and the lives of those around us).  Ask yourself, “Am I better off for believing what I believe?”  If your dogma hurts you or others, then why continue believing it?  No matter how sacred a belief seems, we need to question its validity.  If it only causes pain, problems, guilt, shame, hatred, and judgment of self and others, then it needs to be gotten rid of—no matter where that belief comes from. 

I think a lot of what Jesus of Nazareth was trying to do was the beginning of belief examination.  He tried to take the most damaging beliefs of his culture and turn them on their heads in order to set people free from religious oppression.  I think the same thing needs to be done with religion today.  We need to seriously investigate the things we believe, and if those beliefs are destructive and harmful, then those beliefs need to be dismissed, despite what any scriptures say.  Think for yourself!  Don’t let any book, preacher, teacher, or guru think for you.  Yes, we need to be open to listening to people, but we cannot simply believe everything we hear. If there is a God, then He/She gave us minds to think with, so let’s start using them.  I have started to think for myself, and I honestly think that the doctrine of eternal punishment is an evil doctrine . . . and any God, who could do such things to His/Her own people, would probably be evil, as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Modest Proposal 2012 (With Apologies to Jonathan Swift for My Thievery)

Author's Note: (If you have not read A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift, you might want to before you read this blog.)

After much consideration I have decided that I am wrong and the Right truly is right.  My approach toward the Bible has been very wrong-headed.  Mea culpa.  I foolishly chose to reject much of what the Bible teaches in favor of being kind, loving, and accepting.  I stopped viewing the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of the Almighty, because of this I lost all direction and all sense of what is truly right and moral. I got lost, but I have now found my way back into the fold. Forgive me, and allow me to make amends by helping to fix our country.

Our country is clearly slipping into the clutches of the Devil.  We are becoming more accepting of homosexuality, we are more tolerant of sex outside of marriage, we have someone who may very well be the anti-Christ functioning in the role of President.  No wonder our country has become so violent, we have lost our moral base, the Bible.  We have sown the wind and now we are reaping the whirlwind.  In the face of all this immorality which we are having pushed upon us by the liberals and the media of our country; some have proposed that we amend our glorious constitution to officially define marriage as between a man and a woman. Getting this amendment ratified would make homosexual marriages of any kind illegal in our great nation.  I think we should definitely support such an amendment my friends, but we must also admit that one amendment will clearly not be enough to fix the immorality in our nation.

So, my brothers and sisters, I am calling today for us to not simply ratify into the Constitution the Bible's views on homosexuality, but the Bible's views on all things.  We need to ratify the entire Bible as an amendment to the Constitution.  Clearly, since all of our forefathers were Christian, this was their intention anyway.  It is time for us to make the Constitution complete by adding all the commands of the Bible to this great document.  Doing so will ensure that our country does not slip further into the immorality which it currently finds itself mired in.  In order to create a ground swell among Christians to call for our future President Mitt Romney to help us make this necessary ratification to the Constitution I will be starting a website called  I ask you to join me there as we begin the fight to save our nation.

We must understand that this will be a long and hard fought battle.  The liberal media will fight us at every turn. There will be much resistance from the lost of our country who desire to remain in their sin and darkness. We will likely not be able to get the entire Bible ratified all at once (unfortunately). But, if we push for ratification of the entire Bible, then we can seem like we are compromising when we get our marriage amendment passed.  After this we will simply push for one more amendment at a time, until eventually we are able to get the entire Bible made a part of the laws of our land.  After we make homosexual marriage illegal, we can just start picking which commands we will push to add to the Constitution.  We can all vote on the website as to which Bible command we will get added to the constitution after the amendment defining marriage is added.

I personally feel it might be good to start with adding an amendment which demands that women dress modestly.  The Bible states that it is necessary for women to dress modestly.  This amendment goes hand-in-hand with defending marriage by making sure that women are less appealing to men. Doing so will reduce the number of men who are tempted to stray from their wives and commit the sin of adultery.  If we play our cards right we can possibly even kill several birds with one amendment.  We could have an amendment which defines decency for women: no dressing immodestly, no jewelry, no make-up, and no hair cuts.  In one amendment we could fulfill four commands! Think of all the marriages we will save by forcing all of these immoral women to adhere to Biblical standards when it comes to their appearance.

After we get the decency for women amendment passed we could go for any number of other amendments.  We could stick with the marriage theme and get an amendment passed which says  people who get married cannot divorce for any reason except for marital infidelity. I realize that this amendment would force women (and sometimes even men) to stay in abusive relationships, but the women probably deserved the abuse anyway, and the abused men are simply being punished for not following God's rules about ruling their household.  Speaking of which that is another amendment we would need to get passed; defining men as the head of the household and assuring that women must obey their husbands.  Having the man as the head of the house and the woman obeying are principles taught explicitly by the Bible which our country has clearly fallen away from.  If  we are going to define marriage my brothers and sisters, we need to go the whole way and define how those marriages are supposed to function.  Just think of all the good we will be doing for families, putting men and women back in their proper places!

Eventually we will run into some stiff resistance Brothers and Sisters, even among so called Christians.  Some of the rules of the Bible have been neglected for so long that even most Christians refuse to follow them.  Just, because these rules will chafe against our consciences brothers and sisters does not mean that these rules are wrong.  The discomfort we will feel at these rules just shows how far we have fallen as a nation from God's standards and from the Christian nation our Christian forefathers clearly intended to establish.  It will be difficult but we must not waiver or we will be lost in immorality just as the heathen left is lost now, and as I was lost (just yesterday).  We will have to pass an amendment demanding all the wealthy to sell there possessions and give them to the poor.  I know that this sounds a lot like socialism and like some kind of insane tax upon the rich, but it is a command of the Bible and we must follow.  Just consider it God's version of trickle-down economics; God's way just trickles down faster.  The rich selling their possessions and giving them to the poor should not be confused with the devil Obama's calls to increase taxes upon the rich.  The difference is the rich would willingly have to do this (because Jesus said so) and the money would be distributed through the churches instead of through the government.  When the government takes some of your money and gives it to the poor its socialism and it is evil.  If God takes all of  your money by way of the church to give to the poor, then it is good, right, and pure.  I hope you can all see the clear differences.

Eventually, we will have to overturn some amendments which already exist though, or at least change some wording.  See, the Bible clearly teaches that there is only one God and He alone must be worshiped.  This command is extra important because it is repeated in both the Old and New Testament.  Unfortunately,  our constitution guarantees freedom of religion.  Now the liberals have taken this amendment and twisted it to suit their own immoral ideologies saying that this amendment guarantees people the right to believe and follow whatever religious practices they desire.  Obviously, this is not what our Christian forefathers intended when they wrote this amendment.  At the time of the writing of this amendment our nation was an entirely Christian nation.  Clearly our forefathers  had no idea that one day we would have Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and who knows what other religions living among us.  Our forefathers intention was obviously that people be free to be whatever type of "Christian" they wanted to be.  Our forefathers had come from England and other European countries where people were forced to be a certain type of Christian.  This practice was clearly unacceptable to our forefathers.  So, they said there must be freedom of religion, but what they meant was freedom of "Christian" religion.  We will simply need to add the word "Christian" here or there and take out a few phrases and we will have fixed the problem.   We will have to decide, at some point, whether Mormons are actually Christians, but we can wait to do that until Romney is out of office.

We will also have to completely remove the amendment which makes slavery illegal, because slavery is clearly acceptable in the Bible.  God even gives rules on how to treat slaves fairly.  The problem when we had slavery before in the United States was that we did not follow God's rules when it came to slavery.  As long as we treat our slaves well (as the Bible teaches), slavery should be acceptable.  Also, slavery should not be just for people of African descent, but for all foreign people as it was in the Bible.  I know this may make some of you balk brothers and sisters, but remember that we are not capable of deciding for ourselves what is good and moral.  We are fallen, sinful beings incapable of making the right choices.  I know slavery may seem wrong to you, but God says its okay; and if God says it, that settles it.  We must "trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding".

Obviously, I will not be able to go over every rule we will need to ratify eventually from the Bible in this post, because the Bible contains thousands of commands.  Let me just mention two other amendments which I think we should think about ratifying immediately.  The first, is a personal favorite of mine which I hope to one day soon see ratified.  I hope that one day we can have the death penalty, by bear, instated for people who make fun of bald people. Any innocent bystanders who happen to be standing around, while the insults are being hurled at the bald man, will be executed by bear as well.  The final amendment which I think we should consider immediately ratifying is that Fig trees should be grown in greenhouses and parks year round and every town should have at least one fruit bearing fig tree growing at all times, because apparently Jesus really, really likes figs and gets kind of cranky if he can't have them.  Since we do not know when Jesus will return, I think we should maybe focus on this fig one right away.

If we begin working together now, brothers and sisters; I am confident we can ratify the Bible to the Constitution and then we will finally have the type of country the faithful deserve!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hateful, Ridiculous Things I See on Facebook: Chick-Fil-A, Obama, and Poverty

Before I really get started with my latest rant, let me just say that I promise to make my next post more positive.  I would like to start having one post a month where I highlight some of the positive changes people are making environmentally or in other ways.  If you have made some positive environmental changes, or you are making positive changes in the world in another way and would like to do a guest blog post please send me an e-mail, or let me know in the comments.  Hopefully we can all learn from each other some practical ways to make the world a better place. :) Now on with the ranting!

So, I have to say that I kind of hate Facebook.  Sure there are some good things about it: connecting with old high school friends (and other friends as well), being silly with my wife, being able to keep tabs on my kids, and Texas Hold'em.  Mostly though Facebook is simply a tool of frustration.  I can't really be myself there for fear of people freaking out at me.  The few times when I am really honest, there is always backlash.  I don't really mind backlash so much; I have come to accept that when I post my opinions I should expect people to become upset with me.  So, in those situations I am prepared.  What always gets me though, is the unexpected, ignorant, and often hateful posts of others.  It is a daily occurrence that I have to see posts which are simply mean and very narrow-minded, and often just plain wrong.  I would love to make comments on these posts, but I truly have no desire start any wars with people on Facebook.  If you are my friend on Facebook, it is because I know and love you.  I do not desire to argue with you. I also believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions. So, I hold my tongue (mostly).

But it has been so bad lately that I am busting at the seams.  So, my solution is this blog.  I have decided that once every couple of weeks, I will simply come on here and vent my Facebook frustrations.  This is my venue, and my forum and I have the right to think and say whatever I want here.  While the fact that I have written a new blog post may appear on your Facebook page, just know that you do not have to actually go read the blogs.  This way you do not have to be frustrated with my thoughts.  Lately, there have been many things frustrating me, but I will spare you from having to here my full and complete rant today.  Let me narrow it down to just a few things for you: Chick-Fil-A, Obama, and poverty.

So, unless you have been under a rock somewhere, I guarantee that you have heard about Chick-Fil-A and their defense of traditional marriage.  I actually don't mind Chick-Fil-A having and financially supporting their opinions.*  One of the things I love about our country is the fact that we have the right to believe in and support (or not support) whatever causes we want.  But, please don't get all up in arms when people want to boycott Chick-Fil-A because of their agenda.  Boycott's are a part of society.  If you support Chick-Fil-A's view on marriage, then great; go eat their chicken and be merry.  I have no problem with you having different views than me. There are two things about all this that really get my goat though.  I actually saw people say things on Facebook about how the right does not get all upset and boycott when a company holds views which they don't agree with.  What?  Are you kidding me?   The Christian right boycotts something every week!  Christians have called for boycotts of Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, a plethora of video games, Circle K, Marilyn Manson (and many other musicians), Disney, The Golden Compass, Spongebob Squarepants,, and like a billion other individuals or companies.  "Hello Kettle?  This is Pot, umm your black."  Come on people.  Think before you post.

The other thing I heard people say about Chick-Fil-A which absolutely drove me up the wall is that they were going to go to Chick-Fill-A to eat, not because they supported Chick-Fil-A's views, but because they supported the right to free speech.  You support free speech?  Great, I do as well.  Free speech lets me write my blog and my books. But, I have a question for those who posted such things. Would you go to a gay pride parade to support free speech as well?  Would you go and support free speech at an Eminem concert?  Do you see my point?  Unless you are willing to go to a place where they are saying something you disagree with to support free speech, then you are not really supporting free speech.  You are simply showing support for someone who has the very same opinions as you.  If you would be willing to go to an establishment or art exhibit which you would not normally support or frequent, and which holds different views than you, in order to support free speech, then congratulations.  You truly are a defender of free speech and I applaud you.  If you would not do these things though, then be honest with yourself and everyone else;  you went to Chick-Fil-A because you do not like gay marriage, not because you support free speech.

Moving on to the next topic: Obama.  Poor Obama, this guy cannot catch a break with the American people.  The left has been disappointed with him because he has been too conservative and the right actually think he is the most liberal President we have ever had.  I have seen the absolutely most ridiculous and hateful things posted about our President on Facebook and most of them are simply flat out inaccurate.  The biggest one though is that Barack Obama wants to tax the pants off of everybody and send us all into the poor house.  Please people, stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or whichever other lying, hate-spewing person you are listening to.  Barack Obama has not raised taxes on a single household in the United States, look it up.  The only things he has placed taxes on are things like tanning booths and cigarettes.

I have actually seen people say that they miss George W. Bush!  Are you kidding me?  Have we forgotten when this recession started?  During W's tenure the Dow dropped from 14,000 points to 8,000 points when he left office.  The dow now stands at 13,179. We are climbing out of a deep hole which the policies of GWB put us in.   Let me offer you a quote from Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic, "On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush's two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country's condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton's two terms, often substantially."  Is this really what you want to go back too?

Finally, the thing which I think upsets me the most is the attacks against the poor which I have seen  on Facebook.  There have been so many hateful things said against poor people that I do not really know where to start.  I have seen people say that people should get jobs to pay for their own healthcare and for their children's healthcare. If you can great, but what about the single mother who's daughter is having to undergo chemotherapy a second time because her leukemia has come back.  The mother cannot be at work because she has to stay home with her very sick daughter. What do we do with these people?  I saw this exact thing while I was taking care of Noah (my son) in the hospital (Who was also on Medicaid, by the way;  medicaid which Paul Ryan proposes to cut while giving tax breaks to the rich).  I think people have the impression that there are all these able bodied people out there living off the government tit, but this simply is not true.  I worked for 13 years with poor and homeless people.  In that time I can safely say that I only met about a dozen people who were milking the system.  The rest were people who had severe physical, mental, or psychological disabilities.  They are people who need help and can't make it on their own.  It is easy to say that they should not be taken care of with taxpayer dollars, but what should be done?  Where is your compassion?  Stop judging those whom you do not know and whom you have absolutely no idea what their stories are.

Okay, I feel better now. I am sure I will have more Facebook rants soon though. :)

*After I wrote this a very astute reader pointed out why I was incorrect to state this opinion the way that I did.  She is correct.  I refer you to her comments below. She posted as "Mistress..."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Changed Thinking On Homosexuality an Excerpt From My Book

So, my last post has started some interesting discussions for me on Facebook and in other places, because of these discussions I felt that it might be worthwhile to share the chapter from my book where I discuss my transformed thinking toward the issue of......

Homosexuality (Chapter 29)
“War.  Rape.  Murder.  Poverty.  Equal rights for gays.  Guess which one the Southern Baptist Convention is protesting?”  The Value of Families
Among political issues in the United States today (and especially among politically conservative Christians), gay rights is still one of the most controversial.  I’m not sure why this particular issue creates such panic among Christians (there are many unbiblical “acts” taking place in this country, but those topics are never even broached in churches).  Regardless of why, homosexuality (as well as providing equal protection under the law to homosexuals) is clearly upsetting to a large percentage of Christian believers.  Perhaps it is because Christians have big problems when it comes to any form of sexuality, not to mention a form of sexuality they view as expressly forbidden by God.  For the majority of my life I was disgusted with homosexual behavior, and until two years ago I had no question in my mind about homosexuality: it was a sin.
Part of my disgust with homosexuality (I now realize) was simply a hangover from my childhood.  When I was growing up, you couldn’t call someone anything worse than a “fag.”  I heard this insult thrown around by the boys in my school, by my brothers, and by my cousins.  When I was young, I had no idea what a “fag” was, but from the way my brothers used the word I could tell it was a bad thing.  Once I learned the meaning of the term—that it referred to homosexuality—I recognized the social and religious stigmas behind the insult.  Added to these stigmas was my personal fear that I might be homosexual (because of the sexual abuse I had suffered as a child).  I had been molested by two different members of my family, and both were males.  In my mind I had participated in homosexual acts, and doing so had possibly made me homosexual. 

I was terrified for most of my youth that somebody would find out about the things, which had been done to me by other males, and I would be labeled as a “fag”.  The stigma attached to the words fag, queer, and homo created constant fear in me and led me to hide the abuse I had suffered as a child.  One of my abusers had threatened to hurt me if I ever told what he had done to me, but he needn’t have worried because I would never have told for fear of people knowing I was actually a “fag” or a “queer.” (I realize these are very offensive terms, but these terms were a big part of my issues with homosexuality so I use them only for the sake of explaining).

So take a terrified, sexually abused kid, who lives in a society where homosexual signifiers are the worst insults of all, and who fears that his sexual abuse means he is homosexual; then heap religious teachings on him.  Guess what happened?  I became even more terrified.  The church taught me that homosexuality was an abomination in the eyes of God.  When I heard this teaching, part of me became hopeless because I knew I was a homosexual as a result of the abuse I had endured.  I believed I was an abomination in God’s eyes.  So to protect myself, I decided I would be as un-homosexual as I could possibly be from then on.  In order to become so, I buried my childhood abuse.  As I grew older and I began to learn about God for myself, I luckily realized that God must love homosexuals—just like he loved all other “sinners.” 

Once I realized that God loved homosexual “sinners” just as much as any other “sinners,” I became very uncomfortable with the way most members of the church responded to those, who “struggled” with homosexuality.  It seemed to me this sin (and any other sexual sin) just didn’t get a fair shake in the church.  Churchgoers overlooked sins like greed, gluttony, and even substance abuse, but sexual sins—especially homosexuality—drew the immediate wrath of the church body.

I became an advocate very early in my Christian life for “sinners,” arguing that the church should be a place where all “sinners” were accepted and treated with kindness.  I believed deeply in the “hate the sin but love the sinner stance,” even for homosexuals.  Clearly homosexuality was a sin in my mind, but it was no worse than any of the other sins people in the church dealt with on a daily basis.  However, I still struggled with a deep sense of disgust when I was around any homosexual male (I did not have the same problem with homosexual females—such a guy response!).  I think the disgust was a lingering fear response from my childhood abuse (which I now know had nothing to do with homosexuality).  I continued believing the Church should love the homosexual “sinner” but hate the homosexual “sin” for years.

The first crack in my foundational beliefs about homosexuality came one night while I was watching Bill O’ Reilly.  His guest that night was Rosie O’ Donnell.  She and Bill spoke of many things, but obviously the topic of her homosexuality (she had just come “out of the closet”) was discussed in great detail.  Rosie’s religious beliefs came up during this segment of the interview.  O’ Reilly asked her if she believed in God, and Rosie told Bill she did believe there was God.  O’ Reilly then asked her what she thought God would have to say about her lesbianism.  Her response shook me.  She replied something to the effect of, “I think God would be proud that I am able to love at all after what happened to me as a child.”

 At that moment I realized for the first time in my life that my view of homosexuality was completely messed up.  I had always viewed homosexuality (just like most Christians) as a sin people chose to commit, and they simply needed to make better choices.  If Rosie had not experienced trauma in her childhood, I wondered, would she have felt the need to be with a woman instead of a man?  Suddenly, homosexuality was no longer a black and white, right or wrong issue for me.  I began to think maybe a lot of homosexuals were homosexual because of deep emotional issues with which they struggled.  How horribly uncaring and uncompassionate Christians were to label them as “sinners” and summarily dismiss them from membership in the church!  My first stage of changed thinking after the Rosie O’ Donnell interview still wasn’t healthy or fair to homosexuals because this view makes homosexuality seem like it is a disorder . . . as if homosexuality is something people need to be healed from, but this event started me on a journey of change in many of my beliefs, and especially in my beliefs about homosexuality.

The next crack in the foundation of my beliefs about homosexuality came when I read the book (which I have already mentioned in the chapter on Hell) The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian McLaren.  One of the characters in this book is a lesbian “woman,” who was actually born a hermaphrodite.  Hermaphrodism is actually a reasonably common occurrence in human births.  Until the discovery of DNA testing, which allows doctors to determine which gender an individual is on the genetic level, doctors chose to surgically remove the penis and make all hermaphrodites “female” because removing a penis is simply easier than removing a vagina.  

In McClaren’s book the lesbian character’s doctor took the easy road when she was born and removed her penis.  Unfortunately, this lesbian woman was actually more male than female and should have been raised as a boy.  Her attraction to females was not sick, deviant, or “sinful” in any way; it was actually quite normal.  But in the book her hermaphrodism was not taken into account by the church, and she was rejected by the Christian community.  I could not help but feel the injustice this character had suffered at the hands of the church, and although she was a fictional character, I realized there were very real people out there, for whom this fictional story was real life.  It broke my heart that anyone should be treated so callously.  As a result of reading the fictional story, I began to view homosexuality (and equal rights for homosexuals) as a much more complex issue. 

I finally realized that we humans are a mess of bundled genes and DNA.  Some of us are born with long toes, short ear lobes, more hair, less hair, and all kinds of other variations.  There are so many things, which can happen with our genetics, and we have absolutely no control over these things.  I mean, some people are actually born with both a penis and a vagina!  I began to wonder if it wasn’t possible for some people to truly be born homosexual.

 If a person can be born with both a penis and a vagina, isn’t it possible for a “male” to be born with a fully operational penis, but internally for him to be “wired” more like a female?  In essence such a person would be a female trapped inside a man’s body.  He would be male on the outside but have natural sexual desires for males; he might even be more interested in roles and activities, which our culture traditionally labels as “female.”  In my mind many variations of genetic possibilities indeed became a great possibly.   Maybe it was even possible for people to be born kind of straddling the gender fence, and they could easily go either or both ways. 

The more I thought about these concepts, the more I realized the church’s answers as a whole when it came to homosexuality were woefully inadequate.  I realized I could never look at homosexuals as “sinners” ever again.  If it was even remotely possible for someone to be born with homosexual desires, then homosexuals must be treated like any other normal humans.  Treating them as something less would be like judging me for being born with a predisposition for baldness.  I believe this obvious problem is why conservative Christians fight so vehemently against the scientific argument that someone can be born homosexual; that argument makes them look like the freaks for being bigots.

Many Christians argue that God would never create a child with a mixed or confused sexual identity.  This belief is based on a deeper belief that God directly controls the genetic result of human mating, that He/She creates each of us exactly as we are.  This belief is based on a verse from the Psalms, which fundamentalist Christians love to quote: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”  Traditionally, this belief is followed with a statement that God’s creations are all perfect exactly as they are, so obviously He/She wouldn’t create homosexual children in the womb.  But this view poses an extremely troubling question: If God is creating all of us in the womb, and we are all supposed to be perfect when we pop out, then what the Hell went wrong with so many of us?  Did God “form kids in the womb” with predispositions for heart disease, cancer, or obesity?  Did God make me with an overdose of the bald gene?  And what about children, who are born with physical or mental disabilities?  Why are some born with Down’s Syndrome? Why are some born without a limb? Did God make them the way they are?  I don’t think so.  I doubt that God is in charge of exactly how people are born. 

I would like to clearly state right now that I am not insinuating homosexuality is a defect of any sort; I am simply trying to show how diverse we all are genetically and how ridiculous it is to say that God personally creates each of us.  A loving God wouldn’t intentionally create children with physical or mental defects, so He/She must not be very involved in the process of conception.  Honestly, I’m trying to say that Christians can’t have their argument both ways.  THEY think homosexuality is a defect, and they say God wouldn’t create babies with defects.  Well, guess what, folks?  A lot of humans are born with defects, so the argument won’t fly. 

Are Christians really going to tell the parents of a child born with severe mental disabilities that God made the child that way on purpose?  Even if God really doesn’t like homosexuality (I don’t think God has any problem with homosexuality), it does not mean some males are not born attracted to men and some women are not born attracted to other women.  If it is even a remote possibility that some people are born attracted to the same sex, then Christians need to begin seriously adjusting their views of and treatment of the homosexual community.  Imagine if the Bible forbade you from having sex with the gender you were attracted to.  How many of us could follow such a rule every day for the rest of our lives?  If the Bible had forbade me from being heterosexual I would have never been able to follow that rule.

The final blow to my traditional Christian views about homosexuality came when I was watching an episode of the Morgan Spurlock’s 30 days.  For those of you who do not know him, Morgan Spurlock is a documentary maker, who critically examines social and societal issues.  My wife and I love his movies and find them very thought provoking.  When we found out he was producing his own television show, we set our DVR and tuned in!  The premise behind the show Thirty Days is to have either Spurlock or someone else put themselves into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation for thirty days (essentially, to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes) to see what the person learns. 

Spurlock has gone to prison for thirty days, lived on minimum wage for thirty days, and lived with a Native American family for thirty days (I am sure he has done more, but these are the episodes I have seen).  In one episode of the show he sent a conservative Christian, who believed homosexuality was a sin, to San Francisco for thirty days; the young man lived with a homosexual man in his apartment and totally immersed himself in gay culture.

 I will not tell you everything that took place during the episode (you should go watch it for yourself). But at one point the conservative Christian and a group of homosexuals got into a debate about whether or not their homosexuality was a choice.  In tears, one of the homosexual men stated something to the effect of, “Why on earth would I ever choose to be a homosexual?  I am rejected by my family. I am mocked by society. People drive by and throw stuff at me.  I would never have chosen to be like this, but this is what I am!”

I believe the Christian in this episode was deeply affected by this poor man’s statement, but even if he was not affected, I most certainly was. I realized how easy it is for me as a Christian to sit in my church and judge the world and cling to my narrow-minded beliefs, but if I would only get to know other people and try to understand them, I would see the world is not nearly as easy to pigeon hole as the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible seems to make it.

I have now come to a place where I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality.  I believe the only reason the Church has a problem with homosexuality is because the Bible seemingly condemns it because our culture is so deeply rooted in religious conservatism, our entire society has come to see homosexuality as unacceptable.  The sad truth, however, is the Bible is actually very vague when it comes to homosexuality.  Yes, the Old Testament is clearly against homosexuality, but the Old Testament is also against mixing fabrics when making a shirt. Do we really think any God cares if my shirt contains both cotton and hemp fibers?  I doubt seriously if God cares who we are attracted to, either.  Christians must accept that some things in the scriptures are simply not applicable to humans in the 21st century. 

Yes, we need morals to guide us, but can’t we be guided by the principles of scripture instead of following every obscure rule found within the Bible’s pages? Why not follow the principles like “love your neighbor” and “do to others as would want them to do to you?”  If Christians are to follow either of these principles, then they owe the homosexual community an apology because Christians as a whole have not loved the homosexual community, and they have not treated homosexuals as they themselves would like to be treated. 

These commands to love should be the overriding principles of all scriptures, which is why Jesus himself said, “One command I leave you.  Love as I have loved.”  Love, it seems, should be the only rule.  Homosexuality does not seem to violate this overriding principle of love, and therefore, should not be considered evil.  Yes, there are some evil actions, but they are all actions, which are not of love.  I can think of no reason why two men or two women being in love with each other would violate the law of love.  Now, having lots of unprotected homosexual sex could be seen as unloving, but so could having lots of unprotected heterosexual sex . . . or being greedy, for that matter. 

When it came to homosexuality, I eventually realized (as with many other “sins”) that the only real problem one could have with homosexuality was the group of six scriptures in the Bible, which seemed to condemn homosexual activities.  Even if those scriptures were not debatable (which they are), I personally decided those six scriptures were simply not enough for me to abandon the greater principles of love, forgiveness, tolerance, and kindness taught by Jesus.  I choose to treat homosexuals how I would like to be treated if I had been born in their situations.  I choose to love them like I know Jesus would.  If I am wrong, then when one day I stand before God (if there is a God), He or She can kindly show me my error, but if I am going to err, I always want to err on the side of love and never on the side of hatred and judgment.