Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Modesty Police Are Barking Up The Wrong Tree

I saw the following picture this morning.  It accompanied an article on the PRI regarding Saudi women registering to vote for the first time.

Although it was an interesting and worthwhile article, the picture caught me for a completely different reason.

In Utah, there is this misguided notion among "modesty" minded folks that, if we can just cover up women - make sure their dresses are long enough, cover the cleavage, spare the boys those sinful shoulders - we can somehow get our poor males to behave themselves.

I love the PRI picture, because it calls bullshit on that whole premise. Obviously, the dress choices of the ladies does not change a darn thing...

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Swearing As A Moral Issue

This morning the Deseret News, one of Salt Lake's two primary newspapers, ran an opinion piece about the Book of Mormon musical. Being what and where it is, this musical is getting a little more press attention than is typically the case.

The piece hit a nerve with me and prompted me to write about an idea that has been spinning in my head for a while. The title of the article was "Profanity laced productions demonstrate society's moral decline."

If you spend any time with believers, particular of the more conservative stripe, they will let you know that they don't like swearing. If you spend time with such people regularly, they will let you know about their distaste for swearing... regularly.

In fact, similar to the title on the article, they will often articulate something beyond mere distaste. A moral element will become attached. Swearing is not just distasteful, it is immoral.

This is a common religious drum to beat and yet, even while I was still a believer, something struck me as disingenuous about all of the purity proclamations regarding words. How could a word be so encrusted with... evil?

I remember the first time I realized that there might be something amiss about all of the preening that goes on in religious circles concerning swear words. I was 16 and spending a number of weeks backpacking in Israel. A Bedouin chief was giving a friend of mine and I a tour through the Negev desert on camel back. The chief spoke at least 7 languages that I knew of.

My camel and I were alongside the chief when nature called. I said to him, "Hey, can we stop? I gotta go." He looked at me quizzically. "I have to go to the bathroom," I amended. He cocked his head a little more to the side, trying to interpret my meaning.

"He has to take a shit!" my friend called from behind us.

The chieftain's eyes lit with understanding and he smiled. "Oh yes! Sheet! We stop!"

I reflected later that, contrary to what my religious community taught me, my friend had done nothing immoral, neither had the chief. "Shit" was just a word.... nothing more. Any negative values were our associations, but there was nothing inherently moral or immoral about the word.

So then, why does the issue of swearing garner such attention and bluster among religious folks? Why do they try to make it a MORAL issue?

My family and I recently made the trip back to Michigan to visit all of our relatives. Most of these folks are Christian but in the past few years I find myself in Christian circles less and less. One thing that really stood out to me was how much the issue of swearing came up. I was constantly being informed that they don't swear, they don't like entertainment that swears, and they don't like to socialize with people that swear. Spend anytime with a religious conservative, and they will let you know that they don't swear.


My theory is that one can get a lot of piety points on this issue with very little cost. In fact, no cost. If you are going to resist poverty, or not gossip, or love your enemy... there is going to be some work involved. It will cost you. To make a fuss about swearing costs nothing, and yet it lets the religious person get a sense that they have made a moral step up.

Moving out of faith has shown me that this maneuver is a farce. Religion encourages the believer to develop many contrived moral positions. As an atheist, I have come to realize that true moral foundations are built on harm and help. Does an action harm others? Does an action help others? Swearing affects neither of these questions. It is a question of mores' not of morals.

Yet, the writer of the Deseret News opinion piece has convinced himself that he is making a moral statement when he announces his aversion to swearing. He isn't. He is just taking his place alongside scores of religious figures, both present and historical, who have learned to speak fluent religion on a topic that changes nothing.

Or, as St. Paul observed, he has learned to bang the gong and clang the cymbal.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Facebook Faith # 54: Theological Ideas, Like Comic Books, Have Parallel Universes

I have seen this meme come up a number of times from my Christian friends on Facebook. I struggle with whether to engage this discussion, because I usually get the Facebook equivalent of the deer in the headlights - they don't know how to address my contention, because they are not even sure what I am asking.

In the case of this meme, it seems contradictory to proclaim that using fear as a strategy is unique to the Devil. How is God threatening someone with ETERNAL torture not a fear strategy?

Yet that is what many believers will claim. They will quickly shift gears into "God loves you so much, he provided a way to avoid Hell!" Not realizing, or refusing to realize, that their Savior is also the head torturer... and which role he plays depends on whether you are on his good side, or his bad side.

Believers tend to not worry about continuity. Like comic book writers, all contradictions can be explained by making use of parallel universes. In one universe, Robin dies. In a parallel universe, Robin lives on at Batman's side. Depending on what you want your story to say at a given moment, you pull from the theological universe of your choosing.

The last church I belonged to was BIG about referencing the LOVE of God on Sunday morning. They also believe that anyone who doesn't love their God back is going to Hell... but that part is somewhat minimized.

However, it is spelled out in their belief statements. One day on FB, I pointed that out to one of my former pastors, after he did a status update proclaiming the unconditional love of God. I began by quoting their church website:

The conversation went on politely for a few more paragraphs. In the end though, he seemed to maintain his beginning assumptions.... God loves you unconditionally AND God will send you to Hell for not loving him back.

Each idea in its own, parallel, universe.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Facebook Faith #53: You Have Your Truth, I Have Mine

I have seen this posted no less than a dozen times in the past week. I agree with it on most levels, but I also see a dark side to its use.

Growing up, my faith was the one true faith. Anyone not of our faith was to be regarded as a potential convert or the enemy. Folks were out to infect THE truth and we had to guard ourselves against them. This was an easy position for leaders to promote as information for an opposing view was not readily available and fairly easy to block.

Nowadays, information is readily available and in many ways unstoppable. With these new circumstances, faith groups seem to be making a pivot in practice.  They have changed the rhetoric, while still maintaining the goal of keeping out, or at least neutering, opposing views. Now believers say, "They have their truth, we have ours." By doing so, they no longer have to deny the existence of alternative world view voices. The view can be acknowledged, but does not need to be addressed.

This is a more passive position than previous practice... but it still lets believers and their leaders continue to mantra their position as TRUE, while avoiding having to compare those claims against anything other than their own statements.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Facebook Faith #52: Supreme Court High Five!

Turning on the computer - June 26, 2015
Yesterday was a big day, and I spent a lot of it writing and reading on Facebook and various news sources.

I was, of course, happy with yesterday's ruling and it was great to see all of the celebrating going on. I was also surprised to see normally conservative folks coming out of the woodwork to back the SCOTUS on this one.

The video of S.E. Cupp on CNN was particularly interesting to me.  Not only was I unaware that she was so passionate about gay rights, but it again demonstrated the rift in the GOP.  Going to The Blaze to read a write up about that interview,  I was taken aback at how viciously the commentors spoke of her.  She was not a fellow republican with a different opinion, she was a @#$%!  Reading those reactions, and then seeing Governors like Jindal declare that they will do everything they can to resist the SCOTUS on this.... I realized we will not see another Republican president until there is a split in the party.  Old school Republicans see these new Republicans, who are more inclusive, as the enemy.

Then there was the pastor from Texas who said he would set himself on fire if gays got the right to marry.  He quickly recanted once the court ruling became known.

No one really wanted this guy to set himself on fire. However, his hyperbolic reaction is indicative of typical Religious Right behavior. Everything is always extreme, oh no the sky is falling - the world is ending, kind of responses.

The reality is, despite yesterday's events, the sun rose and life went on. I have no hope the Religious Right will ever learn to behave differently. They have been over-reacting and the world has been coming to an end since I was a little kid. They will never change. The only thing you can do is leave... which I did.

This picture from Salt Lake shows the polar ways this ruling is viewed. The Deseret News, owned by the LDS church, wonders how we go on, in an America that allows gays the same rights as everyone else.  The Tribune sees yesterday as an important, historic day.

While most of the nation celebrates, the Religious Right are planning their next strategy. Some are calling for revolution, both violent and non-violent. Others are encouraging each other to just hold their nose and try to be polite so they can demonstrate how good they are as religious people.

So much drama over something that has almost zero impact on any of them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Facebook Faith #51: Whom Do We Thank?

Recently, my FB friend James Mulholland posted this quote and asked what people thought of it.
“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank.” - Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Everyday on Facebook, I see believers quickly bypass the work of their fellow humans, so they can get on with the business of lauding their god. The doctor who healed them, the chef who prepared their meal, the farmer who grew their food, the stranger who helped get their car back on the road, etc. All of these people get a footnote, while the big thanks goes to an unseen, unheard ghost whose interactions do not differ from chance.

I was guilty of this misplacement of gratitude for many years. My appreciation for my fellow travelers on the road of life grew exponentially when I started giving credit to whom the credit was due.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Supergirl

Supergirl was leaked months ahead of its debut. I tend to think this "leak" is actually a beta testing. If so, I hope they make use of it.

First, what I liked. I think Melissa Benoist is going to be an outstanding Supergirl.  I always love when an actor can communicate as much with a raised eyebrow or a curl of the lip as they can with a line. Benoist's face literally broadcasts her emotions. She is fun to watch and I enjoyed her character. She can carry this show.

It is clear that the producers are going for a lighter tone - more CW Flash than WB Man of Steel. It's working for The Flash, so I tend to think this is a wise move.

I loved their take on Jimmy Olsen. Rather than the innocent newbie, it was great to see him portrayed as a seasoned photo journalist. If this show goes long term,  I think they would do well to give him lots of story time.

Now... since there is time for re-shoots...

Ditch the opening scene. Change it, or skip it all together. The opening should be powerful, but this looked like something from an old Saturday morning kids show. Their planet is about to be shredded, parents and child are saying goodbye forever.... and the scene was delivered with all the emotion of ordering a #3 meal at the drive-thru.

There is a scene in the Simpsons where Lisa wants to be subversive and signs up for the community football team. She is deflated when she arrives at the first practice to find out there are already girls on it. At least a half dozen times in Supergirl they stop the story in order to announce, "the hero is a girl.... weren't expecting that, were ya!" Except we were... we are. We are totally cool with female superheroes and have been for awhile. Only certain strands of Hollywood seem to think there is something awkward about female hero leads. When you keep referencing it scene after scene, you sound like you are trying to talk us into this concept.  We are great with it... why can't you be?

Something needs to be reworked with the Superman references. His being on the planet, and yet never talking to her, never seeing her... it just felt rather unbelievable.  Not sure what would work, but I am sure this approach doesn't.

Get rid of Mr. Surly-in-charge-of-anti-alien-task-force. Bleech!

All in all, there is some great potential here. I enjoyed the pilot.

... hoping Supergirl soars!

(oh, and btw... it is clear that The Flash is now part of a multi-verse....  cross -o-ver!)
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