Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Feminism Part 1: Paul's Missed Quote

Hello there, all! Today, we're going to talk about the F-word.

No, it's not "fat." Or "fart," as my family finds hilarious even to this day.

It's "feminism." Namely, one of the passages that lots of people get hung up on, which is 1 Corinthians 34-35. For my explanation and discussion, I have extended it a few verses.

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
36 What? Did the Word of God come out from you? Or did it come unto you only?
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
38But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39Therefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak in tongues.

This is the King James Translation, which has the most blatant Verse 36. If you look at the first two verses in the passage, it seems obvious that Paul is trying to tell the church to not allow women to speak up in church or to ask questions when the guys are talking. Don't get in the way, ladies, wait until you get home so your husbands can tell you what you want to know.

But then look at how Paul follows it up. Imagine, if you will, a voice of outrage and sarcasm. "What? Did the word of God come out from you? Or did it come to you only?"

This entire book is a letter from Paul to the Corinthians, and we don't get to see what he is replying to. But in the most dated Greek transcripts we have, the letter contains a funny little mark near Verses 34-35, a symbol that serves as primitive punctuation and means that the section is being quoted from another source. It's the very basic form of what we now know as these: " " .

Paul is quoting someone else, about the expected behavior of women in the Church. If he isn't, then what exactly is Verse 36 responding to? It makes no sense to have that kind of juxtaposition, and especially those two anti-female verses, in a paragraph about encouraging people to speak in tongues and prophesy. They stick out, a massive blot of forbidding among a large chunk of encouraging. So what Paul is actually saying here, is that traditional laws in the Church -- not made by God, but put there by society and culture -- have disallowed women from speaking during services. But Paul says, essentially, "Wait, what? Do you somehow think you made up God's Word, that you're mandating this? Do you think that you and only you are privy to it? That you're cutting out half of Christ's followers?"

In doing so, he's vouching for women, saying to let them talk, and let them prophesy, and let them speak in tongues right alongside the guys.

Now, I'm usually one to question apologetics, to make sure the people are coming from a reasonable place and not just pulling stuff out of the air. What really got me here was the mention of that quotation mark of sorts, the little engraving that has been seen to mean that the text is from a different source and should be considered a recitation of something said elsewhere. You can't deny a piece of the text, and presumably it fell by the wayside at some point during translation and the manuscript that survived natural selection was the one that didn't have it, or else the translators didn't understand what it meant. I can't really say what was going through their heads.

Check this out, for more information:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Burden of Moral Superiority

2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

It has come to my attention, in the past few years, that Pentecostals have to be getting it wrong somewhere. I didn't notice until college, despite the fact that warning signs really should have showed.

Today, I am afraid of my own religion, in a way. Mentions of "Jesus" in public actually make me wince. Not because I have a beef with Jesus -- He's a pretty cool guy, forgives sins and doesn't afraid of anything -- but because I have a beef with the people who preached at me for ages.

I was always told that I was supposed to be Different. That I had to spend my entire life not looking like Them, like the Others, like the people who went about their lives and didn't believe in God. I was supposed to be a shining beacon of goodness, purity, and God-fearing obedience. Now, that's all well and good, but in the end, the nice little messages of "be good" and "don't do evil" turned into "it is your responsibility to show to everyone you meet that you are Christian and therefore you are morally pure and don't even resemble these heathens you're talking to." The implications here weren't just "don't abuse your fellow man"; they involved "don't get piercings or tattoos, don't read Harry Potter, don't date non-Christians, don't watch movies with sex in them, don't swear, don't..." And the list goes on and on. The real way that Pentecostal morality gets you, isn't in the conditions for salvation. They never do say, "Do this and even if you believe, you're still going to Hell." They say, "In order to consider yourself truly faithful, you are going to have a lifestyle that looks like this."

What a horrible burden this is. And in the end, I'll admit to the world -- I couldn't do it. I just can't. And the process of breaking down and discovering that I was miserable trying to be what they wanted me to be, is one that added heaps upon heaps of terror and despair upon me. Note that "guilt" is not in there anywhere. My moral compass is not telling me to feel guilty. Instead, my past teachings are haunting me like ghosts, whispering in my ear that maybe I'm wrong, maybe the world has tricked me, maybe the way my parents taught me to live is the only way I can possibly live and still be the person God wants me to be. Maybe I can't ever have things I want. Maybe I can't ever have the life I want. Maybe everything I want is evil, because that's how it works, right? Desires are bad. Wanting things for yourself is bad. You should be on your knees all the time, asking God what He wants, and theoretically He is going to answer and you should do it. If He doesn't, maybe you're doing it wrong. Or maybe in the end, your motives aren't good enough. Do you look different enough yet? What are your hobbies like? Are they things The World prefers? What about your education? Are you learning good things? Or...

I broke down.

I found teachers who told me that it was okay to look like everyone else, to wear the clothes I wanted and get whatever piercings I wanted. To make immature sex jokes when it was appropriate. To date people who weren't Christian. To have the same hobbies. To acknowledge that evolution is actually not the opposite of religion and is an okay thing to agree with. To choose sides on social issues, the way that I saw fit. To trust myself and my desires. To be okay wanting things for myself. And you know, once I started talking to them, I felt better about life, like maybe God wasn't all about having to shove yourself into a little box labeled I Am Different And Better Than You. Like I didn't have to spend my life proving my moral superiority to the world for the greater good of God.

And yet, did you know there's a verse for that, or more than one? They say that people will choose teachers that tell them what they want to hear, not what is the truth. So once I gathered my little posse of sanity-saving people, the ghosts changed their message: Now you're just doing what you want, so you don't have to confront the truth. You're hiding your head in the sand, so you can be happy. You have put happiness ahead of God.

How do you argue with that? Yes, I was horribly unhappy. Yes, I felt like I'd been given the shaft and everyone else got to do cool things while I had to sit by and pretend to be Miss Goody Two Shoes in the most traditional way. Yes, about 90% of the college world made me horribly uncomfortable because I had never been taught a sane way to react to the presence of "sex-drugs-rock-and-roll" around me, and how to deal with social life when people consider their lives to be totally fine and you have always been taught otherwise, but you're not sure why you have to believe that. Yes, I couldn't find a particular reason why a lot of my arbitrary standards were the way they were except "someone told me God said so."

But in the end, it all boils down to, what if? Those few verses always pose the question, what if you're wrong? What if you've let your desires run away with you?

In a world where every theologian has his own entire method of interpretation for the Scriptures, and where every Joe Schmo can be an armchair preacher, there is just about no way to know if you're actually living an okay life or if you're just deluding yourself really hard. Add in the Pentecostal commentary that you can never trust yourself because you're human and will always incline to evil, that basically means you have to get your moral advice from other people. (Paradoxically, given that they too are inclined to evil. Presumably you find the most pure and well-studied person in your religion to ask. Like the Pope or something, wait, wrong denomination, oh well.)

You'd think all this would have surfaced years ago, back in middle or high school, when I was actually being a teenager and thinking about my life. The reason it didn't, was because I never encountered a situation where questioning this view on life actually mattered. I never had a boyfriend, so I never had to think about romantic relationships. I had only one friend, ever, who wasn't Christian, so my peers at least passed muster there. I got lots of incentive to feel proud of my conservative social viewpoints (handed to me by fellow churchgoers) and my hatred of evolution as a conspiracy to kill Christianity (handed to me by those evangelical tapes my dad always listened to in the car).

This all clashes with the verse I put at the top of this post. If God hasn't given us a spirit of fear, than this nerve-wracking conflict should not even exist. Do we really have an obligation to spend our lives trying to look more moral than everyone else -- and have the package of fear along with it, that says that if we don't, we're evil? Do we really have to keep looking over our own shoulders to make sure we're not letting our Innately Evil Brains screw up our lives and kill our salvation? Do we really have to think about the nitpicky points of morality all the time?

All of that just labeled a thick repulsive film over most of Christianity for me, not the core of "Jesus Saves," but of everything else. People talking about Jesus make me want to flee, because they look just like the old evangelicals I knew who told me that most of what I didn't think was bad, was. Churches look to me like courtrooms, where you go to be judged and your punishment declared, where you are encouraged to go up to the front and try again and again to apologize for something you're not even sure you did wrong. Pastors seem like executioners just waiting to put my head on the chopping block, to cut off huge parts of my life that I care about and don't want to give up (and of course, I only hold onto these things because I'm evil and can't manage to ditch them For God).

By contrast, everyone else looks really welcoming. "We don't care about your personal life; we care if you're good to people. Are you a dick? If not, you're fine."

This is what I like. I want to be free to pursue my own spiritual questions without the burden of having to be The Most Best Straightlaced Christian Ever. I'm just not that kind of person. You have to break my bones to stuff me in that box.

So I guess, you could say I was traumatized away from Christianity, not in the way that I flee in terror literally, but I get exceedingly nervous and shaky and pull into myself and hunch up my shoulders and am always waiting for the shoe to drop when I talk to Christians. I wait for the inevitable "you're not like me" judgment, upon which point they will drag me to their church and attempt to convert someone who likes to think she is already converted, to an even more extreme form of faith, to drag me back to where I used to be.

They may call some things I do backsliding, but I call them the same way, because giving up what I have would be backsliding into fear and lifestyle jail.

I want peace.

The ghosts keep saying, But at what cost?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Humanity's Burden is Heavy

"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." -- Matthew 11:30

There is a sentiment about, especially where I come from, that "no one promises Christians they will be happy." That there is nowhere in the Bible that says that Christians get to have a better life than anyone else, just because they're Christian, that the reward is all in the afterlife. That these 70-odd years (or however much or little you end up getting out of life) are something to be suffered until we can get it over with and go on to heaven where things are perfect and we don't have to deal anymore. In fact, because you're Christian, the world will often treat you like a sack of old cow manure. No one will understand you, and everyone will think you suck, and this is something you should expect and get used to -- in fact, encourage. Because, apparently, if you aren't suffering, you are following the world too closely. You should be under attack from Evil at all times, or else you're cooperating with it.

So I always turned to the verse at the top of this post, scratching my head, and wondered where it fit into things. How does that fit into the "suffer valiantly" mentality? How does it fit into things when being a Christian seems like the hardest part of life? How can Jesus say that his yoke is easy, when we don't get to do anything cool and we're bound by rules that demand we socially embarrass ourselves and make people think we're obnoxious? When we're the ones people are pointing fingers at and saying we're what's wrong with America and the rest of everything? Saying we're obsolete, or misguided, or foolhardy?


Jesus never caused any of that, not really.

First, here are all the rules for Christianity. All of them. I will list them all here.

"Love God."
"Love your neighbor as yourself."

There, that's it. This is straight from the New Testament -- all commandments boil down to this. All that shenanigans about adultery and stealing and not doing them, that's all in the second. All that about keeping the Sabbath holy and not worshiping idols, that's all in the first. Every little nettling piece of instruction from God will fall into one of these two categories. That means that if you let yourself look at your thoughts and actions broadly, you can drop all the nitpicking and simply ask yourself, "Am I loving God through this?" or "Am I loving my neighbor and/or myself?" I don't mean "greed" by "love yourself"; I mean "treat yourself like you would treat a neighbor, and a neighbor as you would treat yourself." Ironically, in that second commandment is a statement that you are assumed to already love yourself. You should treat your neighbor well...because of course you treat yourself well, right?

This means that all the shenanigans about "your desires are bad" or "you should not serve yourself" are sending the wrong message. What is supposed to be a sermon against mindless hedonism seems these days to easily devolve into a rant against having anything that we could want. Preachers are all too eager to tell us to give up things, and in the end, hearing that day in and day out can make one feel pretty guilty about taking breaks, or eating that nice food just because it's nice, or buying that sweater we really want. Doing nice things for ourselves is a key part of life. So is doing nice for other people.

It's not about the specifics of telling lies and whether little white lies are okay and whether telling someone they're not looking fat in that dress is a bad thing. It's about whether you hurt or help. That's all that matters -- are you hurting people? Are you helping them? Are you doing your best to hurt as little as possible, when there's no alternative? That's really, really it. It's not about the movies you do or don't watch. It's not about what you do or don't draw or write or sing or listen to or whatever, not really. It's all about the general case.

So now that we've eliminated all the legalism in one single cut, that allows Christians to suddenly do anything cool that anyone else can do. We can get tattoos. We can marry whoever we want. Sorry, Catholics, but we can choose contraception. We can do anything as long as it falls within those two boundaries.

Looking at the other sources of religious-induced pain in our lives, there is a reasonably long list:
- People saying we suck, for whatever reason
- People treating us less than others because of our beliefs
- Spiritual doubt and confusion
- People trying to 'disprove' our beliefs
- Feeling alone and alienated because of our beliefs

Note that the real common thread here, while it seems to be "our beliefs" is actually "other people."

Other people are what burden us, not God. God tells us that we have reasonably free rein over our lives, and that so long as we abide by two concepts, life is pretty awesome. People, though, tell us we're wrong or stupid or not good enough or what have you. People are the problem. The reason we suffer isn't because Jesus' burden isn't easy or light, it's because people's burden isn't easy or light.

People are amazing, and people really suck. They can both make you feel like you're on top of the world, and squash you until you think you're never going to get back up. People are what's wrong with this world, and that is definitely a Christian concept right there. Sin is what's wrong, but people have to do the sin. Sin isn't a cloud of smog that hangs around and floods the world and does bad things on its own. People have to do the bad things. People have to hurt people. People have to kill people. People have to belittle others and strike them down.

People can include ourselves. We can self-sabotage, or we can be inhibited by what has been done to us in the past. For some, it's still hard to see spiritual questioning as anything but a horrible concept that must be squashed whenever it appears, and then they feel unfulfilled and like they're following a trail that they can't see and don't know why they're on it.

In the end, it's all about people.

Jesus' yoke is easy and light. You just have to take off the layers upon layers of sandbags that humanity tries strap to the yoke, then pretend that this is what the yoke really looks like. So if you're thinking that the Christian life is all about being boring and lame, or about feeling intellectually unfulfilled, or what have you...take off the yoke humans have glued to the real one underneath.

It's like a contact lens. If you're doing it right, and there's no dirt and grit contaminating it, you won't even know it's there, and it will help you, and you will carry it with you gladly.