Discourse in the Garden of Eden

“An Apple” by deviantART user Nazegoreng

When I was a teenager, I heard a preacher whose name I’ve forgotten say that Eve fell prey to the Serpent because she tried to reason with him. The preacher’s point was that Eve shouldn’t have relied on foolish things like logical discourse, and should’ve shut the Serpent down the second he dared to debate God’s command at all. Silly women, trying to be all rational and stuff.

While I am still a Christian, I hope it goes without saying that this “check your brains at the door” approach to religion or any other aspect of life goes against everything I now believe. I believe it’s vital to apply critical thinking to everything, even things that come from the people we trust most. Even things we understand to come from God. I believe “Hath God really said…?” is a question theists should ask themselves daily in a sincere search for truth.

But I’ve been thinking back to this long-forgotten sermon a lot lately, and realizing there was a good seed buried beneath the piles of fertilizer. Eve would’ve done well to shut down the Serpent’s discourse from the start, just not for the reasons that preacher stated.

See, the “discourse” between the Serpent and Eve wasn’t really a discourse at all. It’s the tale of humanity’s first bad faith argument. The Serpent didn’t really approach Eve in a desire to verify what God said. His whole purpose in engaging her was to get into her head, get her to question whether she could trust her own sense of reality, and get her to do what he wanted. And it worked. Not because Eve was weak or foolish or amoral, but because she accepted a bad faith argument in good faith. She engaged the Serpent rationally, philosophically, treating his questions like a sincere search for truth when they were really a premeditated attempt to get her to accept a lie.

It gets more interesting when you consider how often Jesus was faced with the same situation, and how he responded to it. There are many times in the Gospels when religious leaders came to Jesus the same way the Serpent came to Eve. They presented a seemingly philosophical question deliberately designed to trick him into revealing himself as a blasphemer, traitor, or fraud. Jesus would respond by exposing them with a counter question, telling a story that he admitted he didn’t expect them to understand, or blatantly calling them out. In any case, Jesus never treated a bad faith argument like a good faith discourse. 

The moral I’m seeing here isn’t one of faith vs. skepticism. I don’t even see this as an issue that specifically applies to people of faith. What I’m seeing is that, if you have every reason to believe someone is only asking you questions to get into your head, gaslight you, trick you into betraying your own principles, or even just troll you for their twisted idea of what constitutes lulz, you are under no obligation to give them a rational answer as though they were asking for a sincere exchange of ideas.

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On Underage Marriage and Sexual Ethics

Preface: Earlier this week I posted a rant to my private Facebook page about a retreat in Kansas for Christian parents to arrange marriages for their underage children. This retreat was being hosted by Let Them Marry, an organization that promotes teen marriages and describes “youths” (people under 20) as being ready for marriage when they’ve developed “all forms of full secondary sexual characteristics”. I encourage you to click the links in this paragraph and evaluate Let Them Marry’s beliefs in their own words for yourself.

The next day, I found out the conference had been canceled because the Wichita branch of the Salvation Army withdrew the use of their facility. What follows is a slightly edited version of a note I posted to my private Facebook page about why I think this is a good thing even though I’m against laws that allow discrimination against same-sex marriage.

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Ah don’t understand ze patriarchy…

Continue reading “On Underage Marriage and Sexual Ethics”

Buy An Ebook, Help a Disabled Kid

Quick version: The royalties for all Thalia’s Musings ebooks sold between 3/1/14 and 4/1/14 will be donated to World Vision’s Child and Family Health Fund. Want to know why? Keep reading.

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UPDATE: World Vision has reversed its new hiring policy because of pressure from their financial supporters. I’m still making this donation because (1) everything I said about World Vision’s work and why I admire it is true, and (2) I’m bigger than the people who effectively turned the children helped by World Vision into hostages in a culture war that we’re all sick to death of fighting. If you’re as upset by this turn of events as I am, please don’t take it out on World Vision. In all likelihood, they only reversed the decision because it was the only way to keep helping the people they were helping. Also, as far as I know, they still stand by their repudiation of Uganda’s discriminatory laws.

World Vision is an international charity that supports children in need and their communities around the world. They’re most well-known for their child sponsorship program. As Rachel Held Evans explains in this post, the money from the sponsorships is pooled to support things like schools, housing, and clean drinking water for the whole community. World Vision makes a point of employing local people in the communities it serves. Their business model is designed to stay in a community for only 15 or 20 years, with the goal of training local people to take over their work entirely when that period ends. Although World Vision is a Christian organization, they do not require the people they help to be professing Christians or to take part in proselytizing activity of any kind. They’re just trying to fulfill the Bible’s commands to care for those in need, especially widows and orphans.

So, why has this awesome organization lost over 2,000 sponsors since Monday?

Because the director of their USA branch announced that they would employ Christians in same-sex marriages.

Christianity Today’s coverage of that announcement is at my Tumblr, including my initial reaction to the news:

This is a huge deal. Personally, I’m not a fan of employers requiring anything of their employees beyond “Show up on time and fulfill your job description,” and I wouldn’t work for anyone who wanted to regulate my sex life. But this is a big deal because World Vision is acknowledging that the morality of a sexual relationship is not determined by the genders of the people in it. They’re holding queer employees to the same standard as straight employees: you can only have sex with the person you’re married to. They’re acknowledging that a same-sex marriage is as valid as an opposite-sex marriage. While I don’t agree with World Vision’s definition of what qualifies as a moral sexual relationship, I completely agree that the genders of the people involved is irrelevant to the issue.

Oh, and World Vision Uganda issued a statement condemning Uganda’s anti-gay laws. You know, the ones that say you can be imprisoned or executed for being gay? The kind of laws even Glenn Beck calls “heterofascism”?

Now, as to why I’m donating book royalties instead of just quietly making a donation myself…I’m broke. That’s it. That’s also the reason I’m (full disclosure) not currently sponsoring a child myself, although I really wish I could. I don’t have the funds and this is the best way I can think of to raise them. But this really is just about supporting an organization whose work I believe in, not drumming up book sales. If you aren’t interested in buying Thalia’s Musings ebooks, or if you’ve already bought them both in the past, or if you don’t trust third parties to make charitable donations for you, please consider donating the price of one of my books ($4.99) directly to World Vision’s Child and Family Health Fund or any of their other projects. I picked the Child and Family Health Fund because, as someone who’s dealt with chronic medical conditions since childhood, this is an issue close to my heart. Maybe there’s another issue close to yours, like education or supporting small businesses in the developing world or fighting human trafficking.

If you’re as broke as I am and can’t even spare $4.99, then please at least go to World Vision USA’s Facebook page and leave them a nice message and a 5-star rating. Or send a friendly tweet to @WorldVisionUSA and the #WorldVision hashtag. However you’re able to help, I want to see this incredible Christian charity rewarded, not penalized, for actually practicing Christian charity.

You Are Better Than Fred Phelps (and that’s why he was so dangerous)

Image via Wikipedia.

I’ve been around some pretty extreme religious types in my life. You know those rhetorical arguments about modern Christians not really taking the Bible literally because they don’t see a cotton/poly blend as a sin? I’ve known Christians who believed wearing a cotton/poly blend is a sin. Yet, not once in my life have I heard anyone say, “I approve of the Westboro Baptist Church’s work.” I have never personally encountered a Christian-identifying person who said “God hates fags.”

Oh, I’ve heard people say that acceptance of homosexuality would bring God’s judgment upon our nation. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say they aren’t required to show love to people the Bible clearly calls an abomination. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say they need laws that allow them to refuse jobs and housing to “homosexuals” to protect their sincerely-held beliefs. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people insist on using the word “homosexual” to refer to all LGBTQ people, because calling gays and lesbians “gays and lesbians” allows them to normalize their perverted lifestyle, and because bi and transgender people don’t really exist anyway. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say, “We’re losing our country,” not knowing they were speaking to one of the people to whom they’re supposedly losing it. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say we should love homosexuals the same way we should love addicts, adulterers, and pedophiles, with the obvious implication that these are all on the same moral/psychiatric plain, and that the end goal of that love is saving these people from their dysfunction and perversion. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say homosexual desire is a temptation like any other, and that it’s no sin if you never act on it – that is, if you choose a life alone, a life with a spouse you can never fully love, or a life of the impossible task of shutting down half of your sexuality while keeping the other half alive enough for functional relationships. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say homosexual love can never be real love, only broken, shallow, selfish, insatiable lust. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people compare my first love, which wouldn’t have been considered inappropriate in any way if it had been with a boy, to bestiality. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say that we can’t grant homosexuals the right to marriage and families because we have to protect the institutions of marriage and family. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say that, while they believe in reaching out to unsaved homosexuals, they couldn’t continue to fellowship with unrepentant homosexual Christians as believers. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people go out of their way to find something, anything, in someone’s past to which they can attribute the “brokenness” of same-sex attraction, to explain away as dysfunction something they’d see as beautiful and healthy if it were between two people of the opposite sex. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I could go on for a hundred pages. If you think I’m saying that all these people are really no better than Fred Phelps, you’ve completely missed the point. These people are better than Fred Phelps. These are nice people. These are people who don’t want to hurt anyone. These are people who sincerely want the best for their neighbors, for their nation, for the poor broken homosexuals. These people feel sincerely torn over how to discriminate in the kindest way possible. They might be you. They have been me. You, most likely, are better than Fred Phelps. I was and continue to be better than Fred Phelps. And that’s his true danger. Fred Phelps and others like him let us believe that being better than them is good enough.

Fred Phelps is dead. Let the scapegoating die with him. Let us all resolve that we can do better than “better than Fred Phelps.”

Not All Like That: A Follow-Up

Last December, I wrote a response to gay rights activist Dan Savage’s challenge for LGBTQ-affirming Christians to stop telling him “We’re Not All Like That” and start telling other Christians. Since then, progressive Christian blogger and author John Shore has partnered with Savage to launch The NALT Christians project.

I feel like Savage has addressed the parts of his original challenge that I found most problematic. He specifically acknowledged the existence of LGBTQ Christians in his introductory video (embedded above), and the project partners with Truth Wins Out, a gay-led Christian organization. I’m fully in favor of this project. I’d love to see it become as big as It Gets Better.

But, going back to my original reservations, I’d like to add a challenge of my own.

To Christian LGBTQ allies: Don’t play into the LGBTQ/Christian false dichotomy. When you “reach out” to the LGBTQ community, please recognize that you don’t have to reach as far as you think. 

We’re not The Other. We’re not broken. We’re not washed and waiting. We’re not lost souls out there in The World that you need to bring to Christ. We’re not The Unsaved or The Unchurched. You want to reach out to us? Look in the pew you’re sitting in. There we are. There I am.

I am the little girl in Sunday School who’s always the first to raise her hand. I am the girl who gets the lead solo in the Christmas pageant every year. I am the teenager who plays piano for the worship service every fourth Sunday. I am the lady who hosts a small group in her home. I am the teacher in your kids’ Children’s Church. I am the Facebook friend who posts Rachel Held Evans‘ articles on your news feed all the time.  I am the friend who prays for you and with you every time you ask. I am Mary Lambert. I am Jason Collins. I am a Christian, and I am not an LGBTQ ally. I AM queer, and I am here.

And a lot of us are like that.

Imagine There’s No Labels?

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

– “Imagine,” John Lennon

This part of Lennon’s classic song has always bothered me. Not that I’m offended by the concept of a world without religion or national borders. (I’m pretty sure we’d still find reasons to hate each other without those things, but that’s another topic for another day.) What bothers me is the idea that, in order to live in peace with one another, humans must abandon the things that distinguish us from one another. This is why, contrary to pretty much everyone I’ve ever talked to on the subject, I don’t hate labels.

Now, to clarify, I hate the misuse of labels. I hate it when labels are used as an excuse for stereotyping and prejudice. I hate it when a label is assigned to someone against their will. I hate it when people take a label and make that single label the entire sum of another person’s identity. I hate it when a person is pressured to choose a label in any given category before they’ve figured out which one best describes them. I hate it when a label is used as an excuse to dismiss everything that a person says.

But labels themselves? They don’t have to be any of these things. They’re just words. Descriptors. They needn’t and shouldn’t have any meaning beyond their most basic definitions.

Let’s look at a few of my own labels. Author. It means I’m a person who has written a thing that was published. Geek. It means many things to many people. To me, it means I’m a socially awkward intellectual who loves science fiction and fantasy. INTJ. It means introversion, intuition, thinking, and judging as defined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are my dominant personality traits. Disabled. It means I have a medical condition that affects one or more major life activities. Latina. It means my ancestors were indigenous to Latin America. Female. It means my gender identity is located on the female side of the gender spectrum. Cisgender. It means that, when I was born, the doctors and my parents made an accurate guess about my gender identity. Bisexual. It means I’m attracted to people of more than one sex. Christian. It means my faith is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

These labels are all facts. I could reject any of them, but if I didn’t or couldn’t change the reality that the label describes, getting rid of the label wouldn’t really change anything. I could choose to stop using the word “disabled,” but that wouldn’t change a thing about the state of my health. I could choose to stop using the word “Christian,” but merely changing the word wouldn’t change my beliefs. (If I did change my beliefs, I would change the word – to a new, more accurate label, like “atheist” or “pagan” or “Reform Jew” or whatever described my new belief system.) I could choose to stop using the word “bisexual,” but that wouldn’t make any of my past or present attractions to people of either sex un-happen. I could choose to stop using the word “Latina,” but that wouldn’t change history and make my ancestors indigenous to some other part of the world.

And, honestly, the only thing on this list that I would change if I could is “disabled.” And in that case, it’s not the label that I hate. It’s the fact that I’m fucking disabled. That I have a medical condition that affects several major life activities. (No, you don’t get details. Sorry.) But as long as I do have it, why do I need to pretend I don’t in order to feel good about myself? Why does another person need to pretend a part of my reality doesn’t exist in order to see me as an equal?

Which brings me to the ultimate reason I don’t want to imagine there’s no labels: the idea that distinction is necessarily a source of strife and oppression. We don’t need a world with no countries. We need a world where national identity isn’t seen as a valid reason to kill someone. We don’t need a world with no religion. We need a world where people can respect each other’s religious choices, even if we disagree with them. Even if we think they are absolutely, unquestionably incorrect. We don’t need a world where the social constructs of race, gender, and sexual orientation don’t exist. We need a world where neither race, gender, sexual orientation, nor any other label is seen as a legitimate reason to deny anyone any right or privilege in our society.

Imagine that one’s country
One’s religion, too
Is nothing to kill or die for
It’s not that hard to do
Imagine all the people, different, yet in peace

People label me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

2012 Blog of the Year Award

Mary from Ocean Owl nominated this blog for Blog of the Year. 😀 As you can see by the icon below, I have accepted the nomination.

Blog of the Year awarded to AmethystMarie.com via OceanOwl.wordpress.com

Here are the rules of acceptance as per Mary’s nomination post:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.
2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
3. Link back to the Blog of the Year 2012 Rules page so people can read the real, complete, and fully accurate rules of this slightly-different blogger award.
4. State 5 things about yourself.
5. Pass the award on to 6 other bloggers and link to one of their specific posts so that they get notified by pingback.

First, 5 things about me.

Continue reading “2012 Blog of the Year Award”

Hey, Dan Savage – I’m Not Like That, And Neither Are Our Conservative Allies

Update: On 9/4/13, I wrote this follow-up post in response to Savage and John Shore launching the NALT Christians Project. I do support the NALT Christians Project, which addressed a lot of my concerns regarding Savage’s original challenge at its launch. 

I have such mixed feelings about Dan Savage. I love the It Gets Better project, and I think it’s pretty cool that Savage has endorsed Christian author John Shore‘s books on LGBTQ issues in the Church. On the other hand, Savage’s hotheaded, reactionary approach can be a real turn-off. And what is up with the biphobia? Did a bi guy leave him for a chick once or something, which I’m sure is so much worse than when a gay guy leaves you for a dude?

Anyway, in the last week both Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Fred Clark of Slacktivist have covered a challenge Dan Savage issued to liberal Christians: Stop telling the LGBTQ community that all Christians aren’t homophobic and start telling each other.

Sometimes I forget to qualify “Christian” with “fundamentalist evangelical right-wing bats–t Christian.” And I’ll write something taking “Christians” to task for their abuse of queer people. And I’ll get emails and I’ll get calls from liberal Christians, whispering in my ear, “We’re not all like that. Psst, we’re not all like that.” I call them NALTs now, for Not All Like That Christians. NALT Christians.

But the reason so many of us have the impression that you are all indeed like that, and why Christian has become synonymous with anti-gay, is because of these loud voices on the Christian right. And they’ve hijacked Christianity, with your complicit silence enabling their hijacking of it.

And you know what? Liberal Christians, you need to do something about it. You need to tell them you’re not all like that. We know — liberals, lefties, progressives, queers — we know that not all Christians are like that. The religious right: They don’t know. Tell them.

So stop writing me and telling me that you’re Not All Like That, and start doing something about it. Start telling them you’re Not All Like That.

– Dan Savage

I think Savage’s challenge, though well-intended, misses the mark on many levels. Mainly in that, while he doesn’t outright state that there are no queer Christians, his wording does play into the idea that LGBTQ and Christian are mutually exclusive identities. They’re not. I, for one, am a bisexual Christian. Of course, Savage doesn’t think bi people are sufficiently queer anyway, so who knows what that’s worth to him. Regardless, there are plenty of Christians out there who are higher on the Kinsey scale than I am.

And here’s the thing: not all of them are liberal. Heard of the Gay Christian Network? It’s an international ministry with thousands of members that reaches out to LGBTQ Christians and their communities. Its executive director, Justin Lee, is an openly-gay conservative Southern Baptist. Conservative preacher boy Matthew Vines went viral this summer with his sermon on how he reconciles his gayness with his faith in an inerrant Bible.

Not all straight allies are liberal, either. I know many evangelical right-wing Christians who personally believe homosexual sex acts are sinful, but who still support civil rights for LGBTQ people. Perhaps more importantly, they treat LGBTQ individuals the same way they treat everyone else, i.e. the way they want to be treated.

Does Dan Savage honestly think the first American president to publicly endorse same-sex marriage was re-elected without the votes of evangelical Christians? Does he think no votes for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota were cast by evangelical Christians? Okay, maybe these Christians aren’t shouting from their church steeples that, “I’m a Christian and I’m not a tool!” But maybe it’s not because they’re complacently allowing the likes of James Dobson and Bryan Fischer to hijack the issue. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy not being tools. They’re out there just living, being kind to people, treating the people in their lives with justice, mercy, and equality, and quietly voting for our rights in elections they can’t wait to be over.

Once more for the record, I am a bisexual feminist liberal Christian. And personally, I’ll take the conservative friend who says “You know I believe differently than you on this, but I just want you to be happy” over the liberal activist who says I’m not gay enough or loud enough any day.