WWS&RD?

The recent decision by the State of Texas to make rape victims pay for their own rape kits is one of the most cynical and the least Christian moves I can think of. The decision was prompted by the State’s refusal to accept Federal funding in areas such as education, health and law enforcement, leaving the state without money to aid victims of rape. Or at least that’s the Attorney General’s spin.

Basically, the decision means that taxes Texans pay to the federal government get spent on other states instead. In essence, they’re giving our taxes to someone else to make a political point. But the rape kits have to be the kicker.

What’s next? Making homicide victims pay for the crime lab work and clean up? Making burglary victims pay for the finger print kits? Wealthier families will have no problem paying for the lab work, but this leaves the poor with no real recourse to justice since they won’t be able to pay for the investigations.

Screen shot of Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign poster. He has offered it to the Republican party for their other campaigns and they may adopt it.

screen shot of Perry's campaign poster

This callous and cynical, and decidedly unChristian kind of thinking made me realize we need a second ethical guideline as a yardstick for decision making. We have the positive example, WWJD (or, more specifically, What Would Jesus Really Do), but we need a negative yardstick as well: WWS&RD.

This is not aimed at all Republicans, I admire many of them. Unfortunately they cower in the shadow of the religious right and the Tea Party every bit as much as Democrats.

Republicans and Tea Party members will no doubt be upset that I pair them with Satan, but they’ve pointed the Satan finger so unjustly and so successfully for so long that I’ve decided it’s time to call them on it. After all, the Inquisition may well have been one of the most powerful tools in Satan’s arsenal. Why shouldn’t he continue the tactic?

Let me segue for a few paragraphs to explain where I’m coming from.

You don’t have to be an idiot to have idiotic ideas

Liberal Christians (LCs) make the same mistake about Fundamentalist beliefs that secular liberals make about theirs. They assume that because fundamentalists and evangelicals (FECs) cling to a few ideas they perceive to be idiotic, then the entire fundamentalist belief structure must be wrong. As a consequence, many LCs reject wholeheartedly any notion that Jesus was more divine than any other man or that there might be a resurrection of the dead.

Both sides ignore the fact that all of these issues were heavily debated in the early Christian community1 and, it could be argued, orthodoxy only became standardized with the enforcement of empire.

But we may also have to acknowledge that many fundamentalist ideas are held to be idiotic because in some ways they border on the idiotic.

Of course, the problem is that to true believers idiotic never seems idiotic. It makes perfect sense because, by God, that’s what someone important told them. This is why Bill Maher’s Donner Party is doomed from the outset, as much as I pitch my hat to them. Most Donner Party followers will join only with a sense of irony, and idiots have no irony. In the end, faux idiots like those of us in the Donner Party, will always cave to the force of sheer idiocy.

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I was taught that the Bible was literally true. Every word of it. In fact, when I discussed the Bible with family members, they seemed to believe that God literally seized the writing hands of the Prophets and Apostles and everything in the Bible was merely a matter of automatic writing (or, since that has overtones of magic, taking dictation).2

Even casual observation and reading made it clear this couldn’t possibly be true. For one thing, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that he isn’t writing from God but as a fool. But since it appears in the Bible we are left with something even worse than the “this sentence is false” dilemma. Paul says the passage isn’t the literal word of God, but merely the words of a fool.

But if the entire Bible is the literal word of God, it is the literal word of God (and Paul should have known it) and, even worse, the literal words of God are the words of a fool.

Of course, even Fundamentalists balked at scriptures that completely challenge their faith. For instance, the Bible says the eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. And that when a couple are married they become one flesh. Catholics, God bless them, don’t back down on these beliefs.

According to the Baptists, however, marriage and communion were symbolic sacraments (as opposed to baptism which was a bona fide sacrament). Now in my book, “symbolic” means “not literal.” In fact, in the Baptist book it means not literal too unless we’re talking about scripture. In the context of scripture, symbolic means literal, just not literally literal.

The Song of Songs presents a similar problem. If we interpret it literally, the Song of Songs celebrates the joys of physical sex. Let’s be honest. It’s about the joy of fucking.3 If we want to talk literal, I don’t see how we can get more literal than that.

The Song of Song even says it’s okay for a man to want to enjoy a woman’s breasts while they get it on (and, we can infer, for a woman to enjoy a man dawdling around her breasts as well). I learned more about sex from the Song of Songs than I did from National Geographic (the only other publication with breasts I was allowed to see).

But here’s the thing. If you’re FEC, The Song of Songs isn’t really about sex, it’s about Jesus. (In fact, even many LCs blush over that one and prefer the “spiritual interpretation.”) This means that—not only is there an entire book of the Tanakh that we can’t discuss literally—all those good people who read the Song of Songs before the birth of Christ were left totally clueless. It’s amazing they were smart enough to put it in the Bible.

Here are some other bizarre problems with literalism. The parables couldn’t be stories, they must have actually happened. Paul really experienced childbirth as did the other apostles. Jesus is not only a person, he’s a lamb and the holy spirit is a real dove. And the Bible never claims to be the literal word of God (except for the Ten Commandments and the Laws, many of which fundamentalists ignore—for instance, the verses about making women stay outside of town during their monthly periods).

This leads me to the most perplexing problem. In this literalist interpretation of the Bible, God is incapable of using metaphors, simile and allegory. People can do it, but God can’t because every word he utters (in English) is literal. But even if God can use metaphors, once his words are written down in the Bible, every one of those metaphors ceases to be a metaphor and becomes literally true.

And God doesn’t really get to speak to us with any authority any more because everything important he said was already written.

All of this just to preserve Mary’s virginity, keep the world seven thousand years old and make the dinosaurs go away.

Sure, I get it. If every word of the Bible isn’t literally true, we have to justify our faith in the resurrection with more than “the Bible.” The problem is, nobody believes the Bible but us, so it isn’t very useful for proof anyway.

I understand the impulse to defend the literalism of the scriptures. We don’t want to reduce them to fables and fairy tales either. But I’m hard pressed to find either position particularly intelligible. Or scriptural.

This qualifies as an idiotic belief no matter how profoundly we cling to it. I didn’t used to feel so strongly but I finally had to face the facts. Nobody, and I mean nobody, interprets every sentence of the Bible as a literal expression of truth. Everyone I’ve ever discussed the Bible with has found some reason to explain away the literal meaning of passages they don’t like, even when the example under discussion is really intended to be taken literally (e.g., love your neighbor as yourself).

So to claim that you do is to lie to yourself so loudly and so well that you literally believe the lie you live no matter how thoroughly you fail to actually practice isn’t even simple ignorance. It’s shortsighted, and possibly even dangerous.

But let’s take the example of a man often held up as an example for his defense of fundamentalism and the literal truth of the Bible, William Jennings Bryan. A man I consider one of my personal heroes even though he could be shortsighted. Bryan was a two-time candidate for President who would have been horrified at modern fundamentalism’s right wing politics. Ridiculed for his belief in creation, people forget that his concern was as much about the consequences of evolutionary theory on political and social engineering as he was about the veracity of scripture.

At the time, evolution was frequently tied into a social and political theory called eugenics. Its proponents believed in another idiotic idea—that evolution justified engineering a superior race and citizen (with the implication that the poor and non-white peoples were genetically inferior to wealthy white people).

Bryan was a defender of famers’ and labor movements, and wanted to detach US currency from the gold standard to create more money and improve the lives of the poor and the middle class. He rejected evolution because he didn’t like its use in justifying a war on the poor and less fortunate.

The phrase “eugenics” has passed from the lexicon (except for Star Trek fans) but the social engineering Bryan feared remains firmly entrenched in the hands of Republicans like Rick Perry. Based on his Presidential announcement and his decisions in the past week, this is Perry’s platform:

  • Tax the poor.4
  • Deny justice to poor people when the wealthy rob them of their lives and livelihood.5
  • Make rape victims pay for their own investigation.
  • Take insurance away from the poorest Americans.6

As with eugenics, this is an all out assault on the poor and underprivileged to funnel what little wealth and dignity they have to the deserving rich. Perry and the Republican vanguard (and make no mistake about it, this new virulent strain of the religious right now controls the party) want to make sure that not only can we never dine at the table, the rich don’t even have to throw us their scraps.

And if that doesn’t remind you of one of Jesus’ parables, it doesn’t matter if the Bible is the literal word of God or not. You haven’t been reading it.

So, yes, I propose a new measure, the anti-WWJD. What Would Satan & Republicans Do (WWS&RD)? For far too long Perry and his ilk have accused those who would follow the example of Christ of being enemies of Christ. And this is definitely a move we would expect from the angel of light.


1Readers who believe the early Christians held a monolithic interpretation of the faith haven’t really been reading their Bibles. Early Christians argued like Baptists over who had the “true” message. They argued about whether gentiles could be converted, and once they let the gentiles in the argued about whether they needed to be circumcised. They argued about whether one church should support the work of another church. They argued about the spiritual status of sacrificial meat. They argued whether or not Christians could also serve the Roman empire.
They even argued over the resurrection of the dead. If you doubt it, check out Paul’s defense of the resurrection, which is addressed to believers. (1 Corinth 15) If the resurrection of the dead was a universally accepted belief among early Christians, we have to question why he would feel the need to argue so passionately that none of the faith is meaningful without the hope of resurrection.back

2Ironically this is an Islamic and not a Christian belief. The idea that God literally dictated his precepts to the writers of scripture appears nowhere in scripture. He inspires prophets, he speaks to them, but they remain free agents in the transmission process. Mohammed, however, did describe the Koran as a literal message from God which he wrote down word for word.
So it could be argued that people who believe God took control of the people who wrote the Bible and forced the words through their hands are actually Islamists.back

3Before you go getting all weird about my saying “fucking” in a Christian column, let me assure you I debated whether or not to use the word for fifteen minutes (which is a long time for me to debate myself; in fact it shows exceptional restraint and reflection on my part, as Carol and the rest of my family will attest). But I finally decided that if we’re going to talk about the consequences of literal interpretations, there’s nothing more literal than that.
When I was in Nashville as a teenager I ran across a protestor outside the publisher of the Living Bible. Now I’m not a fan of paraphrased Bibles because they aren’t even translations so much as “the Bible as I would say it” (which should cause even more problems for Baptists who believe the Bible is the literal word of God and who also read the Living Bible). He was upset because the paraphraser used the words “crap,” “piss” and “bitch.” I asked him if those weren’t the real words in Hebrew and Greek. He admitted that, yes, they were but the writer still could have used words that were better suited to Christians. Sometimes you just have to call something what it is.back

4What else are we to make of his pronouncement, “half of Americans” don’t pay taxes? Let’s put aside the fact that the number seems highly exaggerated. The Americans he refers to don’t make enough to pay taxes. And most of them do give the money to the government only to have it returned at the end of the tax year. This allows the government to at least earn interest on the money in the meantime, helping generate the revenue to build roads and pay for bullets for our soldiers in Afghanistan. back

5Aka “tort reform”back

6Aka “repeal the Health Care Act.”back


Bill Maher is Christian, or might as well be

The perils of religism

I love Bill Maher for two reasons. First, he understands Christianity better than most Christians. Seriously. Unlike many Christians, he seems to have read the same passages in the Bible that I remember and many Christians ignore.

But he was raised by Catholic and Jewish parents so maybe he had the support of two religious traditions to enlighten him. Being raised as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), I only had one, the one that glossed over the verses he remembers and I only discovered—to my shock and horror (and maybe even a little embarrassment)—as an adult.

But I like Bill Maher even more because, in spite of his insistence that he doesn’t care for Christianity in the least, he thinks just like them. It’s amazing, really. He thinks Christians are evil, irredeemable, a threat to our Constitutional rights and the cause of most of the evils in the world.

Wait a minute, less perceptive readers may say, that’s the opposite of Christianity. Readers might believe that because they pay attention to words and overlook what are known as isomorphic (or structural) correspondences. Both Maher and Christians hold the same basic beliefs, they just attribute them to opposing causes. This create a series of parallel beliefs as illustrated by the following table:

Problem Maher Christians
Taking away our Constitutional rights Christian Right Maher Left
Determined to ruin America Christian Right Atheists and Liberals
Ignorant and narrow-minded Believers Atheists and Liberals
Represent everything bad in Society Believers and Tea Party Atheists and Secular Humanists
Want to control our children’s minds Religious Zealots Scientists, Atheists and Homosexuals
Force their values on Americans Christian Right Democrats and Permissive Liberals
The antiChrist controls the Oval Office George Bush Obama

You may find yourself skeptical, but just as the children of alcoholics can recognize addiction and addictive behavior—even when alcohol itself isn’t involved—so can BPKs recognize religion and religious behavior (even when a religion itself isn’t involved).

You see, when I was a kid, members of my family would have attributed the cause of the problems in my chart to Catholics and John F. Kennedy. We may have been raised in the Bible Belt, but if we had to choose between our sisters marrying a Black person or a Catholic, we would have disinherited our sisters.

But Catholics were worse than Black people (aka Negroes) because Negroes could be saved. Unless they were Negro Catholics.1 When I was a kid, mixed marriages didn’t involve Black people and White people (aka Negroes and people), but Baptists and Catholics.

This changed, of course, with the Great Crisis of Faith (GCOF). The GCOF occurred sometime in the 1980s, and is best summed up by a conversation between my Baptist Preacher Father, whose Christian credentials were somewhat suspect to his own Baptist Preacher Father and uncles because he was a more liberal Southern Baptist (yes, it’s possible) and not a true Bible Believing Baptist, and one of my uncles. The conversation went like this:

Uncle2: How can you have leadership meetings with Catholics? They worship the Pope and the Pope is Satan’s puppet.

Father: You know, I discovered that Catholics actually accept Christ too. They have the same Bible except for a few extra books that got thrown in by mistake.

Uncle: Exactly. That wasn’t a mistake. The Pope included those books because Satan told him to. Everything the Pope does or says is from Satan.3

Father: So anything the Pope says is inspired by Satan and we shouldn’t believe it.

Uncle: Exactly.

Father: But the Pope says abortion is evil.

At this point my mother broke in and changed the conversation, but dinner was pretty much over, and my uncle’s family left us to enjoy our after dinner liqueur, cigars and pornography.

But this pretty much summarizes the GCOF. Catholics maybe believed everything Christians (Baptists) found appalling, and they may have taken their marching orders from the Pope, but they were Pro-Life. Suddenly, the heavens opened and Catholics were Christian again.

It also illustrates what I mean when I compare religious behavior to alcoholism.

Now I’m not saying that my father wasn’t guilty of religism himself. He was, as am I, as are all BPKs and is Bill Maher whether he wants to believe it or not.

What are some of the signs of religism?

  • Insisting that you’re right, and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong.
  • Not just wrong, but wrong for America.
  • Insisting there are no conditions under which they could possibly be right.
  • Insisting there are no conditions under which they could possibly have something good to say or good to offer.
  • Mocking unbelievers (e.g., with names like “Religulous”).
  • Lumping all unbelievers into a single category.
  • The absolute total faith that you’re right and they’re dangerous.

As for me, like it or not, I’ve come to accept that it’s perfectly reasonable to believe God doesn’t exist and that God doesn’t hate you if you do. And God is much more tolerant of stupidity than I am.

In fact, the only guy I know of who never, for a moment, exhibited religism was Jesus. And we had to go build an entire religion with thousands of mutually exclusive versions around him.

Including Bill Maher’s religion that Jesus is good and all those who follow him are ignorant morons (which, by definition, would include me).

It’s all in the wiring

Modern neurobiology suggests religism (aka irreligulosity) may not be Bill’s fault. Belief is very much formed by neural connections. The more you accept one conclusion as true, the more you reinforce the neurons in your brain that shape belief.

As a consequence, the brain tends to ignore information that doesn’t reinforce that connection. Unless, of course, you consciously and deliberately make yourself consider that information as a possibility, and start to build a parallel connection.

The more you refuse to consider additional information, the more you erode the possibility of making that new connection. Soon the brain simply refuses to process that conflicting information at all.

Christians may call this faith (and Bill may call this enlightenment), but this is the opposite of faith or enlightenment. This process is literally the process of narrowing your mind.

Nothing I said is contradicted by the Bible, by the way, although I’m sure someone can spin a verse out of context to prove me wrong. Paul understood why other apostles interpreted the faith differently, and he never doubted their faith. Or his.

You don’t have to believe an idea to open your mind to it. Opening your mind to conflicting information doesn’t mean you will lose your faith. Accepting the fact that others may believe differently and still not threaten your world or conscience requires a true act of faith.

Jesus was constantly pointing out how reality contradicted religious tradition and faith. These contradictions never threatened his faith; they shaped his belief and made him stronger and wiser. If people didn’t follow him, he didn’t condemn them or berate them. He simply went on his way and let them go on theirs.

To be like Elisabeth

If I have to acknowledge a TV personality I’ve come to admire, it’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the View. I don’t agree with her most of the time, but more than anyone else she seems open to the possibility she could be wrong.

For many years she would come to the View armed with pages printed from the Web to prove that all things Bush and Republican were good and all things Rosie O’Donnell were bad. She would become flustered and petulant and completely defensive. When you see Kristin Wiig do Elisabeth on SNL, that’s the Elisabeth you’re seeing.

Something changed during the 2008 elections. I don’t know what happened. Maybe one of her children showed signs of early onset Democrat and she had to learn to love him anyway. Maybe she caught her husband Tim looking sideways at Maria Shriver and decided to become more rounded to win him back. Maybe the uber-liberal producers at ABC (as if) threatened her job.

But now she seems more open to a wider view of faith and politics. Ironically, now Joy Baher is looking more narrow-minded. More like Bill. The print-outs are gone, the red-faced rants are gone. And, most of all, she seems happier with herself and more confident in her beliefs.

So, Bill, I admire you and watch your show religiously. But please, be more like Jesus (and Elisabeth) and less like Sara Palin. As you have noticed with others (without, perhaps, being aware of the cause), too many neurons on one side of the brain can be unbalancing.


1Don’t judge them too harshly. Most good Christian racists didn’t really believe they were racists any more than Bill Maher believes he’s religiously irreligious. (Except maybe for that passage in the Bible that condemns Black people because they were the descendants of Noah who shamefully looked on his nakedness, which is why they will always be inferior.)

Baptists are tempted to believe that Negroes came from Africa, which makes them closer to monkeys than more advanced white people, but that would mean evolution is true, which, of course, is ridiculous and completely against the Bible.

So this leaves them to suggest that Negroes do funny things, as is proved by all those wonderful jokes they are no longer allowed to tell. But the jokes also prove they don’t really hate Black people because we laugh about them lovingly. On the other hand, there isn’t a single Catholic joke because there’s nothing funny about a false religion that put the antiChrist in the oval office.back

2Not named because he is still alive and I have to talk to him at family reunion, even though he will probably never read this blog.back
3Which, to be honest, I sometimes feel when I listen to Pope Benedict and his hints that maybe it’s time to repeal Vatican II, the way Republicans want to repeal the entire Obama administration.back


Thank you, Bill Maher,

For making a case Christians couldn’t make

Ever since the death of Osama Bin Laden, Christians who haven’t felt comfortable with the celebration have had to duck and cover. We have been made to feel that reservations about celebrating the summary execution of a man without trial or due process was not only unAmerican, it was unChristian.

Poor Katy Perry tried and only got ridiculed for being an airhead. Which, without a doubt she is. Her career isn’t built on rocket science, or even a grasp of elementary science. It’s about puff and fluff and increasingly outrageous costumes. Let’s face it, her career hasn’t prepared her to be a theologian either. And criticism from her mother about how bad a Christian she is probably isn’t helping.

But the truth is, whether or not Bin Laden deserved his fate, rejoicing in his death isn’t Christian and it took Bill Maher to say it. (And Katy Perry, but who really listens to her beside Russell?) Maher did so in his New Rules on Friday night’s broadcast. Hopefully it will show up on YouTube so Christians can actually hear it.

I find it ironic that a man who is so totally intolerant of faith understands Christianity better than most Christians do. And I have to admit, when he describes what Christians are supposed to believe, he’s usually right.

I’ve long believed that God speaks through unbelievers when Christians refuse to listen. There is Biblical precedent. When the prophet Balaam refused to listen to God, God had to speak through an ass. And Bill Maher is definitely an ass when it comes to religion. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen for the times he has something correct to say.

Judgment belongs to God, not to us. John of Patmos stresses this in the book of Revelation. Celebrating the downfall of our enemies is Old Testament thinking.

Back in the Bush administration I wanted to put out a bumper sticker that said “Jesus love George and Osama.” But with the little heart instead of the word “love.” Carol talked me out of it, and she was probably right to do so. It would have inspired more hatred than it would have encouraged clearer thinking. But the principle is, I believe, fundamentally Christian.

This is what bothers me about advocates of the Rapture. They seem to take too much joy in the prospect of God kicking the asses of everybody who they think slighted them and sending them to burn in hell.

This is my last preview before Righteous Indigestion officially launches on May 21, the official day of the Rapture. And this is the thought I want to leave you with. If you can’t wait for God to crush and destroy people who seek a path of righteousness that isn’t the same as yours—be it the righteousness of charity or the righteousness of enlightenment or the righteousness of social justice—how sure can you be that you want be left behind?