Archive for the ‘ Thoughts & Musings ’ Category

If You Need To Take Out the “Father/Son,” Maybe Patriarchal Religion Isn’t For You

Iholy-trinity-stained-glassf you’re of a religious nature here in the U.S. of A., but you also like to think of yourself as a decent human being independent of and outside the confines of your religion, odds are you attend some flavor or other of liberal Protestant church.

You’ll be familiar, then, with accommodating phrases accompanying the doxologies in the bulletins along the lines of “using ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ — please feel free to substitute ‘Creator’ and ‘Christ’ or other phrases as you feel appropriate.”

I looked for a delicate way to say this, but after many revisions, I’m just going to cut straight to the chase: if you feel the need to pretend that the overtly and deliberately male-gendered pantheon of Christianity somehow isn’t, Christianity may not be the religion for you.

I appreciate the urge to reform, but it doesn’t matter how reformed you want your Bible to be. If you’re relying on the Bible for your theology, you’re not going to get around the idea that God is male, his Son is male, and men in general are great and awesome and divinely inspired, which is why women should shut up and do what they say. That’s pretty much baked in from start to finish. And y’know, that does it for some people! That is how they like to think about the world. But if it’s not how you like to think about the world, and you’re seeing those little “Creator/Christ” substitutions, you might be in the wrong building.

A linguistic figleaf on some hymns doesn’t change dogma. It also doesn’t make “the Church” any more welcoming to women, as long as we’re talking about the big-C concept of Christ’s church universal here. You can join a congregation that sings “Creator” and “Christ” instead of “Father” and “Son” if you want to, but it doesn’t change that fact that, if you’re female, you’re not supposed to be singing in church at all. Or, you know, speaking.

That’s for the menfolk to do. And that’s because God said so, and God is the Father who sent down Christ his Son to save all men. And if you don’t believe all of that shit, gender roles included, I don’t think you should take comfort in fiddling with a few words in the songbook. It’s just a way to feel not-horrible about a religion that is, frankly, horrible in a lot of ways.

Better to put the bulletin down and walk out than to slap a veneer of phony inclusiveness on a religion aggressively built on practices and principles of exclusion. If you’re not down with the inherent superiority of men, you’re just not that down with the tenants and traditions of Christianity.

And you know what? It’s all good. There are plenty of other things to do on Sunday morning.


Did you know that religions call for peace and understanding, not violence?

Except for the parts where they don’t, but those aren’t the parts good believers obey, at least according to the peaceful (or just hypocritical) practitioners that get cable news spots and write op-eds. So let’s not blame the whole bushel for a few bad apples here, or expect the good and peaceful practitioners of faith to apologize for the bad and violent, all right?

We have heard this a lot, from a lot of people, since the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, and I’m not sure everyone making that argument recognizes how aggressively and radically libertarian it really is.

hashtagI mean, think about it. We can basically boil this school of thought down to #NotAllFaithful — just as #NotAllMen are rapists, misogynists, harassers, whatever, #NotAllFaithful are judgmental, fundamental, dominionist, terrorist, or violent.

And that’s true. But just as, to continue borrowing the language of trend, #YesAllMen are part of and continuers of a systemized inequality, #YesAllFaithful belong to a culture that calls for the privileging of some beliefs and the oppression of others — and, in most countries, to one that has succeeded in achieving that goal with legal force.

As uncomfortable as it is for the faithful to recognize their oppressive presence, the existence of institutionalized religions really does harm people — and yes, kill them — whether #NotAllFaithful want it to or not. And affirming membership or belief in a religion really does mean being part of that system, whether you actively encourage the inequality, work from within to lessen its impact, or, like most people, don’t think about it much one way or the other.

That doesn’t make any individual practitioners of faith bad people, or even doing a bad thing by practicing their faith. But I think people who concern themselves with structural violence and systems of oppression need to realize — if you’re arguing #NotAllFaithful, you’re also arguing #NotAllMen, and #NotAllCapitalists, and whatever other opt-outs you want.

So maybe pause and think before reminding us that the vast majority of religious believers are good, peaceful people. Because they are, they really are. Just like the vast majority of men, of employers, of property owners, of politicians, of police…

It’s Time to Stop Venerating Religious Beliefs

athiest-empty-setHere is a thing that may not be comfortable to hear, but that is by any evidential standard true, and that deserves more public acknowledgement:

Codified religious beliefs are fiction

The things described in works like the Vedas, the Torah, and the Bible are stories. Some are, at times, historical fictions, although most are for the largest part purely fantastical, but they are not true records of any real events.

Most people can grasp this, at least at the literal, factual level. Apart from the genuinely delusional, most of us understand that there is no cosmic entity that exists and identifies itself as the God of Isaac and Abraham, and that personally delivered stone tablets to Moses on Mt. Sinai at a specific date in history. Likewise, no Indra ever killed Vritra and set rivers free thereby, and at no point did a divine father-god impregnate a Jewish woman named Mary, whose son died and then physically rose from his grave.

Those things never happened in any way more real or meaningful or verifiable than the defeat, in a magical world just beyond a London alleyway, of an evil wizard named Voldemort by the plucky schoolboy Harry Potter. All fall into the same category: fictitious, fantastical fables.

That being the case — and regardless of what feels comforting or empowering to believe on a personal level, in terms of factual truth that is the case — we need to recognize that religious ritual is functionally an expression of fandom, no different from the expressions of fans of other forms of fiction. If you’re really into the Torah, maybe you wear a tallit and cover your head; if you’re really into The Hunger Games, maybe you get a mockingjay tattoo and do that three-fingered salute thingie. It’s all the same.

Only of course it is not the same, culturally or legally. A faddish diet like veganism or paleo is just that — a fad — but a religious diet like keeping halal or kosher is something that public institutions are typically required to accommodate, and that private institutions will be criticized for failing to accommodate. A burqa or a turban may be worn to school (although there is at least debate over that, from time to time); a Spider-Man costume or a baseball cap most certainly may not.

It is considered rude to point out this inconsistency. The fact (and again, it is fact) that religious texts are not true records of any real events goes largely unspoken in modern life. This is a useful reminder that “rude” is usually whatever threatens to undermine the cultural capital of the people who have the most of it already. It is also something that needs to change.

To be clear, this is not a call for a ban on religious expression. People should believe whatever irrational things give them comfort, and practice those beliefs in whatever way they see fit, so long as it does not harm others. There’s nothing inherently wrong in covering your head and praying to God, any more than there is in donning a plush suit and claiming to have the spirit of a wolf. It’s easy to see how either or both could help a person through life, and neither should be prohibited — though by the same token, neither should be privileged.

But let’s stop pretending that one is spiritually superior to the other, or that the plush-suited furry is in any way less rational than the pious churchgoer who dresses up sharp on Sunday.

The Strange Trade Secrets of Christmas Tips

I tend to both despise tipping as it’s practiced in modern America and to do it excessively because all other options would make me a terrible human being. This is not, I think, an uncommon sentiment, at least among people who stop and think about it for a moment.

So it’s in that mindset — already grumpy at the institutionalized passing-on of wage costs from the employer to the customer, and further aggrieved by its current seasonal tie-in to a religious holiday mutated and metastasized into a ritual of consumption — that I have to admire whatever genius thought up the Christmas card (with handy return address) left by the newspaper deliverer around the holidays.

holiday-tippingFor those of you who have never received a physical newspaper delivery, the system works something like this: year-round, you see more or less (generally less) of the person who puts the newspaper on your doorstep, or at least flings it in that general direction. Come Christmas time, you’re expected to find this person and tip them a little bonus cash by way of gratitude for an undeniably thankless job, adjusted up or down depending on how close to the doorstep the paper actually gets most days.

Since the odds of your delivery person catching you face to face on any given day in December are already not great, even before you start ducking back inside to avoid them when you see them coming down the street, most deliverers nowadays will leave a nice holiday card along with the paper some day in late November or early December, with their home address printed in nice, clear letters on the envelope and often on the inside of the card as well. Hint, hint, hint.

At this point you, unless you are a terrible person or your papers have just straight-up gone missing for most of the year, reply with a card of your own that contains at least $20, and maybe more if you’re conspicuously living the good life. (Remember, they see your house every day, and have a pretty good idea how flinty you’re being if you lowball the tip. If starving writers like me are coughing up $20 from run-down apartments in the city, people with sprawling suburban lawns should probably aspire to do a little better than that.)

It’s a neat and efficient way of cutting out the random-chance-encounter element, and I really have to wonder how that particular trade secret got spread. Like, do the paper deliverers say to the new guys, around the water cooler or whatever they have, “Oh, be sure to do the Christmas card thing for Christmas tips!” And just what does the cost/benefit analysis work out to once you balance the cards and envelopes against the inevitable jerkwads who don’t tip?

I marvel at this deeply entrenched system, and wonder how it first came to be. Is the initial author of the Christmas card with return address scheme remembered in his profession as an innovator, perhaps even a savior? Should we pause to shed a tear for the database workers who, rather than delivering physical papers, organize and hotfix the streaming of online subscription news services, and who will never see a holiday tip unless they steal it directly from your bank account using your payment information? Am I overthinking this just a tiny bit? Whatever — tip your delivery person, if you get a paper delivered. They’re making it easy on you.

Kentucky’s Troubled Relationship with the Secret Ballot

I grew up in the Midwest, where everyone knew all the dirt on everyone else, and was therefore expected to pretend they didn’t and to espouse a great respect for personal privacy — sort of a social Mutually Assured Destruction scheme reinforced with good old-fashioned Protestant guilt complexes.

It’s not a system I’d necessarily recommend, but it did have some beneficial side effects, like an obsession with secret ballots. Asking how another person voted, I learned at a very young age, was both rude and an insult to our democratic tradition. People fought and died for the right to vote privately, the argument went, so don’t use it to score cheap conversational points or to stir up shit. (Iowans, even in the days before hog megafarms started exploding in geysers of burning manure, had strong opinions on the subject of shit-stirring.)

But like most patriotic lessons learned in the Midwest, that was based more on fancy than on fact. America didn’t start adopting the secret ballot for major elections until after the Civil War, and even then it took a while to catch on. It’s more accurate — albeit more uncomfortable — to say that lots of people died from the lack of secret ballots, most of them black.

alison-grimes-secretary-of-stateCue the biggest non-story out of Kentucky, the last state in the Union to adopt secret ballots for national elections: because talking about actual policy bores viewers to tears, TV reporters and anchors have suddenly become obsessed with Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grime’s refusal to say who she voted for in 2012.

This is, I kid you not, being spun as a scandal. Eager to tie Grimes to the unpopular-in-Kentucky President, political and media figures have been characterizing her refusal to say who she voted for as “evasive” — rather than, you know, how our electoral system works.

Whether we buy into the old-fashioned notion that it’s a rude question or not (it is), Ms. Grimes is currently Kentucky’s Secretary of State. Ensuring a private ballot is literally her job right now. Who she voted for in 2012 doesn’t have any bearing on how good a Senator she might make, but discussing it publicly would certainly reflect on how good of a Secretary of State she makes.

Mitch McConnell reminded viewers in a debate Monday that there’s no “sacred right” to privacy at the ballot box. That’s certainly true, in part because America doesn’t have “sacred rights” of any kind. But Kentucky, reluctant though it may have been to follow the trend, does guarantee citizens a private ballot, meaning it very much is a right until the law is changed. And it happens to be a law that Alison Grimes is personally responsible for enforcing.


Gun Crimes Have One Common Factor, and It’s In the Name

Here are some things that other developed nations have:

    • people with untreated mental illnesses
    • social stigmas against seeking help for depression, alienation, etc.
    • violent video games
    • violent movies
    • public spaces where people, by law, may not carry guns

Here are some things that no other developed nations have:

    • virtually unrestricted access to all kinds of firearms
    • our insanely high rates of gun killings (by an order of magnitude or two)

It’s not actually that complex.


I overshare my happiness. I undershare my sadness.


I overshare my rage with structural and systemic injustices, and undershare my anger at wrongs done to my person specifically.


I overshare my food and my drink and my hospitality. I will overshare yours, too.


I overshare the fact that I think you are pretty, and that I would be delighted to make out and/or go to bed with you (although usually not until I have had some beer for courage), and I wish that you would do the same. I undershare the amazing extent to which said making out and going to bed is smiled upon by all current participants in my romantic and sexual life, but only because it seems rude to talk about them when I am with you.


I will probably overshare “the deets” with said participants, but purely from a mental and physical health standpoint.


I overshare on digital spaces that feel like they are mine: my blog, my own Facebook feed; my writing. I undershare on all other social media.


I think you should do the same. Especially re: Facebook.


I overshare about anything pretty willingly, but only if you ask me directly. I undershare when I’m making my half of the conversation up as I go along.


I overshare about things I have read recently that I thought were interesting. This is not to show off; it is because I cannot carry all the interesting things I have read recently around with me all the time to give to you when it seems relevant. I would be happy to clip an article or e-mail you a link if you would rather read the full text and form your own opinions.


I overshare clippings and links, too. This seems to be embedded on the paternal gene.


I undershare the degree to which I worry that you have not contacted me recently because you are angry with me, or have decided you do not like me for some reason, rather than because there has been no real reason to contact me and you have other things to do with your time. Or I did until now.


I overshare my business cards. Why not? FedEx sells them in lots of like 250, and I don’t meet that many new people.


I overshare love.


I undershare love.


But I am, on the whole and when you come down to it, generally in favor of more sharing rather than less.

What about you?


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