Why I am (apparently) not a Christian

In 2004, I had the following conversation in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket.

WOMAN: Jesus loves you, you know.

ME: That’s great. I love Jesus too.

WOMAN (pointing to my car’s bumper sticker): Then how could you be voting for John Kerry?

At the time, I wanted to reply with something like, “Because Jesus isn’t on the ballot,” but I’d already seen this type of person — the kind who equates voting Democratic with being anti-Christian — in the wild, and I knew that engaging would have been a mistake.

That wasn’t the first time that I have found my faith being called into question by people with similar inclinations. It’s come in various forms over the years:

“You have gay friends? But you’re a Christian!”

“You believe in evolution? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re voting for John Kerry? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re taking a philosophy class? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re reading a Harry Potter book? But you’re a Christian!”

“You play role-playing games? But you’re a Christian!”

And, of course, my favorite of all time (from my college days):

“You go to an Episcopalian church? But you’re a Christian!”


Normally I don’t feel the need to rant on about this topic. In 2004, I found that conversation with the woman in the Safeway parking lot a source of amusement and pointed to it as an example of everything that I thought was wrong with politics in the 21st century. It was annoying, but also kind of funny.

What really brought my annoyance to a boiling point though was a sign I saw outside of Dixon, California last night. It read, “Prop 8 = Religious Freedom”. This has demonstrated, to me, the very sad marriage of “Christ-speak” and Orwellian linguistics that passes for popular religious discourse in America these days. “Removing the right of gays to marry is a victory for religious freedom” doesn’t make sense, unless you accept a really unusual definition of religious freedom which doesn’t apply to people who, for religious reasons, believe that gay marriage can be sanctioned by god. I really want to track down the people who made this sign and hung it up and ask them what in the world they really mean by it, and perhaps even demonstrate to them that they’ve hung up a sign which is essentially linguistic nonsense.

It wouldn’t do any good, though. If, to them, religious freedom means removing rights from others, then they’ve already bought into a slew of accompanying myths. The myth of the persecuted Christian, for example, or the myth of America as a country founded upon Christian principles, or the myth of the literal interpretation of the Bible (a myth I particularly love, especially when you start getting into the various literal interpretations of the Bible which all contradict one another). It’s a very complicated structure of mythology which rests, ultimately, on a foundation which is essentially a need to control in order to remove fear.

As a Christian who believes that same sex marriage should be legal and doesn’t pose any sort of threat whatsoever to traditional marriage (however you choose to interpret that loaded phrase), I find this sort of thing reprehensible. I’ve already made my political reasons for voting No on 8 plain (because in a democracy, you don’t get to vote on who gets what rights), but my spiritual and religious beliefs also tell me that voting no on 8 is a bad idea. Even if I believed that homosexuality was a sin, a lifestyle choice rather than a biological attunement set before birth, it wouldn’t be upon my shoulders to judge the people who are gay. I’m not qualified to make that judgement. Neither is anyone else. The Bible tells me that I am not God, much as I want to be, and that trying to be God or even to try to be like God is a sin, and that my call as a Christian is to accept and love others as they are (I have much more to say about this, a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to, but I won’t go into it here).

The point is, I don’t buy into the overarching myth of the persecuted Christian, or the myth of America as a Christian nation. I don’t buy into any of it. God can take care of Himself. What we are called to do as Christians is to demonstrate God’s love for us in our love to our neighbors, which usually means service to others. But not buying into these myths allows me to free up my mind, to vote for Barack Obama or vote no on Proposition 8, or accept that God has chosen a process (evolution through natural selection) that looks random to our human intellect to grow our universe.

I’d go on, but sadly I fear I’m falling into incoherence. Suffice to say that despite my refusal to buy into any interpretation of Christianity which calls me to act based on irrational fears of the unknown or a fear of losing control over anything, I may simply not be a Christian at all.

Sad news from the BBC

David Tennant has announced that he will be leaving the role of the Doctor after he finishes filming the next four specials that will air in 2009 and 2010. Of course, that means we have two years or so of Tennanty goodness before the eleventh Doctor takes the helm of the TARDIS.

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who for more than half my life. I started watching the show when Tom Baker was the fourth Doctor, and he remained the quintessential Doctor for me even through part of Christopher Eccelston’s tenure (I became a convert about halfway through Series One of the rebooted series). But David Tennant has infused the character with a brilliant, manic intensity and even an emotional depth that none of the previous actors to play the character did. Tennant really made the character his own.

So the speculation about who would take over the role of the Doctor is running rampant. My personal choice, though I don’t know if he’s really in the running, is Simon Pegg. True, he’s moved on to movies after doing television shows, and he already played a villain in the new series (as “The Editor” in the first series episode “The Long Game”), but so what. As Shaun and as Nicholas Angel he’s proven he’s got the skill and the potential and word is he’s going to do a decent job as Scotty in J. J. Abrams’s rebooted Star Trek this December. Nick Frost would also be an interesting choice. Of course, if they really wanted to mess with our heads, they could cast John Simm as the next Doctor.

I say we start a “Draft Simon Pegg” movement right now.

What do you think?

Picture of the week

In case you haven’t already seen it, here’s the photograph that Colin Powell spoke of in his eloquent endorsement of Barack Obama on Sunday:

Maureen Dowd has an op ed column about this photograph and about the man, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim who died for his country — America — in Iraq. As Powell said, if someone claims that Obama is a Muslim, the answer is, “No, he isn’t”; but the really right answer is, “So what if he is?”

Blog Action Day: Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day, and this year the topic to address is poverty.

Honestly, I wish I had something original, clever, or wise to say about poverty. I’m not an economist. I’m not a social worker. I’ve done some work with the povery-stricken, but not much. So my participation is limited to a few random thoughts I’ve had about the subject over the years.

And, in fact, this has been an almost impossible post to write. I’ve struggled with it off an on all day, and I have written and erased at least 1/67th of a Moby Dick* of text several times over trying to figure out exactly what to say. And I never got it.

So, short and sweet: Povery sucks. I mean it really, really sucks. So do what you can to eliminate it, both at home and abroad. At home, donate money or time to a local food bank. Buy food for or give money to the homeless people on the streets. Donate time or money to an adult literacy program, since illiteracy is one of the greatest contributing factors to the problem of poverty. For the problems abroad, give money or time to international relief organizations.

I mean, seriously. What else can I say? I feel strongly about this, but I don’t wish to be pretentious or presumptuous. I’m not in danger of slipping into poverty myself, and I’ve never experienced it; the closest I’ve ever come was in the few months after graduation from college, when I had to sell off most of my book collection to pay my rent, or borrow money from my parents. There was this one time when I had to go to the emergency room with a serious asthma attack, and couldn’t pay for it and had no insurance, so the hospital wrote off my bill. But that wasn’t poverty either; that was just inconvenience, really. I’ve never experienced the soul crushing despair of absolute poverty. I’ve never lacked for resources. I’ve never had to worry whether my landlord would evict me for being a few days late for the rent. I’ve never starved. I’ve never had to worry about whether my children would have enough good food to eat. I’ve never even lived in the bad part of town. I’ve met and spoken with people who have lived in poverty. I’ve driven through a Native American reservation and seen scenes of utter despair. God willing, I will never have to experience that level of poverty for myself.

So do something. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the problem. It’s easy to pretend that you didn’t see that homeless guy on the corner. It’s easy to say that the poor deserve what they get because they don’t want to work, or never bothered to learn marketable skills. It’s easy to justify not giving because we’ve heard all the stories about the “welfare queens”, or because we figure they’re just going to spend that money on drugs or alcohol, or because we just figure someone else — the government, perhaps, or corporate charity programs — will take care of them.

Poverty is easy to ignore, even though it lies at the heart of just about every other problem in our society. We’ll never be able to eliminate poverty, but that doesn’t excuse any of us from doing what we can to ease the pain of someone else.

'80 vs. '08?

Looking at the current Presidential election, I can’t help thinking of parallels with the 1980 Presidential election. Not that I remember a whole lot, since I was 12 years old at the time and more caught up in other interests besides politics, but I’ve read some history on line and I do have some memories. Consider:

  • In both years the incumbent party was saddled with a major international crisis involving the Middle East; Carter and the Democrats were facing scorn for their handling of the Iranian hostage crisis, and this year Bush and the Republicans can’t seem to get out from under the shadow of the Iraq war.
  • In both years, the main challenger to the incumbent party had a well-run and well-executed campaign, while the incumbent party’s campaign was disorganized and shoddy.
  • In both years, the main challenger was an unlikely candidate. Ronald Reagan was an actor, for crying out loud, and even though he’d served as governor of California, he was still better known as an actor, not a politician. And Barack Obama will very likely go down in history as the nation’s first African American president.
  • In both years, the incumbent party was reduced to nothing but negative campaigning. I seem to recall that Carter’s ads toward the end of the campaign focused pretty much on the fact that Reagan was an actor, not a politician. I’ve seen ads from that period and they’re pretty nasty. In 1980 this tactic arguably led to a landslide victory for Reagan, and McCain’s negative advertising will very likely lead to a landslide victory for Obama (according to many sources and in my own humble opinion).
  • Reagan seemed to be made of Teflon, and Obama does as well. And not just Teflon, but Teflon infused with heavy amounts of rubber. Not only are McCain’s charges against Obama not sticking, but they’re bouncing back and sticking to McCain himself.
  • Finally, in both years the challenger brought with them a positive message about change and renewal. Reagan’s slogan was “It’s morning in America”, and Obama’s is the inspiring “Change we can believe in”.

I’m not a political scientist or analyst by any means. These are just some random thoughts I had, and I’m interested in some feedback.

Voting No on Proposition 8

Here’s what happens if Proposition 8 fails:

  • Homosexual couples will retain the right to marry in California


  • Churches will NOT lose their tax exempt status if they choose not to perform same sex weddings

I haven’t been keeping up on the “Yes on 8” literature and advertising, but I understand that the fear of churches losing their tax exempt status if they refuse to perform same sex weddings has been the centerpiece of their campaign. It is, however, not true. In fact, from the state ruling: “no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.”

  • Schools will NOT be required to teach children about same sex marriage

Nothing in the text of Proposition 8 mentions this anyway. Nor does the ruling which legalized same sex marriage. Furthermore, California state law forbids the teaching of anything about health and family issues without their parents’ consent.

There’s quite a bit more, which you can find at the No on 8 website. Ultimately, though, the only reason to object to same sex marriage is the “ick” factor. It’s what’s driven anti-homosexual sentiments in so many societies throughout history, even in societies which were nominally atheistic (I would NOT want to be a homosexual man in China, for example, or in the Soviet Union before it collapsed). In all honesty, I get icked out by the thought of homosexual sex myself. But that does not matter. What it comes down to for me, and what it has always come down to, is that you don’t get to vote on rights in a democracy. Especially in a democracy, I would say.

Anyway. Vote no on 8.

Liberal Taxonomy

I don’t ordinarily do memes and such in my main blog but this morning I’m bored. So here’s my liberal taxonomy.

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

Take the quiz at www.FightConservatives.com

That’s all. Nothing to see here. Move along.