Trust Issues

You should never trust anyone who uses either religion or patriotism to sell you something. It’s their way of saying their product sucks, and sucks hard, but they’re hoping you’ll forget about that and instead just focus on God or America.

This is really, really terrible. I mean, does anyone actually allow themselves to be motivated to buy more Budweiser simply because it’s temporarily named “America”? If you do, you’re stupid; please stop reading my blog.

By contrast, here’s an ad for the only beer I’ve ever actually kind of liked. It’s called Budvar, or sometimes Czechvar, and it’s made in a Czech city whose German name is Budweis. Guess what it’s called in the non-English world?

Their ad is…strange. But makes more interested in having a Budvar than a can of America.


Does it Even Need to Be Said That This Is a Bad Idea?

Possibly, since it’s going forward at present. The Florida legislature is pondering a bill, which hopefully stands zero chance of passing, that’s yet another one of those stupid “Religious Freedom Bills”. This one comes with a bit of a twist, though: it would, in theory, allow doctors, hospitals, and the like, to refuse to treat gay people on religious grounds.


Apparently I have to say this again: if your religious belief comes into conflict with your job, you don’t get to ask your job to change for you. You have to change for it. You can either learn to deal or you can quit. Those are your options.

What you don’t get to do is pick and chose. You don’t get to say, “You’re gay, so I’m not going to sell pizza for your wedding/provide flowers/perform a life-saving operation.”

It doesn’t just go to the gay stuff, either. Doctors could refuse to perform abortions, provide birth control, implant IUDs, or whatever. Pharmacists could refuse to fill prescriptions that come into conflict with their religious belief. Hospitals could, I assume, refuse to allow legally married couples to visit each other in the hospital.

Now for those of you who want to say, “Well, that’s all bad, but that’s their religious right!” I would point out that, no, it isn’t. Religious rights don’t trump the public interest. Religious rights are not all-encompassing. Also, this can easily be used as a weapon back at the Christians who think they’re being victimized. Once this law is passed, imagine how easy it would be for a Muslim or Jewish doctor to refuse to treat someone on the basis of religion. And why stop there? I’ve used the example of interracial couples before. If someone truly believes interracial marriage is a sin, why should they have to serve someone in an interracial marriage?

Lastly, let me point out that while people in the big cities of Miami, Orlando and the like might have plenty of options when it comes to health care, not everyone does. If you’re a poor person living in a small town and the town’s only doctor refuses to provide you birth control, and even if they did, the town’s only pharmacist would refuse to fill the prescription, what are you supposed to do?

This, and laws like it, are bad, stupid, wrong, and fundamentally un-American. I can’t imagine them standing up in court, but I don’t want to have people suffering while we wait for the courts to sort out the issue. So I dearly hope Florida doesn’t pass this. We shall see.

Judge Not

I’ve never done a guest blog piece before, but when my own mother asks to do one, how can I say no? Enjoy!

Susan E. Lindsey

The Supreme Court’s recent decision about same-sex marriage brought forth a rainbow of celebration, but also dark clouds of anger and lightning bolts of hate.

Many—but not all—of those condemning the ruling identified themselves as Christian and cited various biblical passages to support their positions. Some—but not all—of those celebrating the decision made anti-Christian remarks.

I consider myself a Christian, and I don’t like the term being used as an all-encompassing label for rigid or ultra-conservative people who love to point the finger of sin and condemnation at others. Most Christians I know do not behave this way. The word Christian means a follower of Christ, and Jesus Christ did not call us to condemn or hate one another.

I support the decision of the court and think it’s long overdue. However, I also want to respect the beliefs of others and consider what they have to say, so let’s examine some of the scriptures most often cited by opponents to same-sex marriage.

I have to preface this by pointing out that marriage is both a civil/legal construct and a religious construct, which complicates the matter. I am a great believer in the separation of church and state. That is not an anti-Christian statement. I’m all for Christians practicing their faith. I am not in favor, however, of practitioners of any faith (Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, or anything else) dictating the laws of this land.

I also realize that many people have come to their conclusions about homosexuality from a position of emotion, not logic, so trying to use logic to discuss this may be futile. All of that being said, let’s look at those scriptures. (Citations are from the Revised Standard Version.) First, the Old Testament.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

This scriptures provides a model for marriage, but it does not say that it is the only model for marriage, nor does it in fact use the word “marriage.” A similar New Testament passage (Matthew 10:6-8) likewise does not restrict marriage to this model.

In this passage from Genesis, Lot offers shelter in his home to two travelers identified as angels.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

Genesis 19:4-8

The passage is used as an argument against homosexuality, but it is really about attempted homosexual rape and Lot’s willingness to allow his virgin daughters to be raped instead of his guests. A similar story is told in the book of Judges, where a man provides overnight accommodations for a traveler.

22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, base fellows, beset the house round about, beating on the door; and they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brethren, do not act so wickedly; seeing that this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. 24 Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do with them what seems good to you; but against this man do not do so vile a thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them; and they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, till it was light.

27 And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her upon the ass; and the man rose up and went away to his home. 29 And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and laying hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.

Judges 19:22-29

In this gruesome tale, the host protects his guest by throwing the guest’s concubine into the street (after first also offering up his virgin daughter). The concubine is gang-raped all night. When she crawls back to the house, she’s thrown over a donkey for the trip home, where she is murdered. Again, not a tale about same-sex relationships, but a horrific tale of rape, a culture of blaming the victim, and the disposability of women. Why would anyone want to use follow the advice of the writers of these stories?

In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the Levitical priests lay down the law and specifically address sex in chapter 18. Verses 12-17 of the chapter deal with prohibitions against incest. Verse 18 prohibits a man from marrying his wife’s sister. Verses 19-23 prohibit sex during a woman’s period, adultery with neighbors, child sacrifice, gay sex, and bestiality.

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 And you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, and defile yourself with her. 21 You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it: it is perversion.

—Leviticus 18:19-23

Apparently, the priests considered these to be comparable levels of bad stuff. However, I have a difficult time believing that sex during a woman’s period or gay sex compare in any way to child sacrifice or bestiality. And this passage is from a book that also discusses the rules of animal sacrifices, outlaws the eating of pork or rabbit, requires male circumcision, and forbids getting tattoos or trimming beards. Can we agree that some of it might be outdated?

Once in a while, people will cite passages from the book of I Kings. Chapter 14 tells about a ruler establishing male prostitution cults in Judah; chapter 15 tells about a subsequent ruler who puts an end to the practice. Neither of these passages deal with loving same-sex relationships, but rather with male prostitution in a cult setting. It brings up the question: were female prostitutes in a cult setting OK? Or was prostitution of either sex in a non-cult setting somehow acceptable?

These Old Testament passages were written long before Jesus was born. Let’s look at the New Testament.

21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened . . .

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

—Romans 1:21 and 26, 27, 32

These are Paul’s words in a letter to the Romans. Paul is speaking of people who knew about God, but did not honor him. In this passage, Paul rants against those who believe and live differently than he does. He labels same-sex relations as dishonorable, unnatural, and shameless, but seems to be condemning them more for not honoring God. He then advocates for their murder and the murder of those who approve of such practices. Not exactly a shining example of Christian love. In another letter, Paul writes to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

It is easy to define thieves and robbers, adulterers and drunkards. The other definitions are broader: who defines what is immoral, what is idolatry, and what is sexual perversion? It was once considered immoral for women to show their ankles. In many cultures, any kind of sex besides heterosexual / missionary position / with your spouse is considered perversion. In this same letter, Paul writes about marriage, advocating celibacy for those who can live that way (as Paul did), but marriage for those who cannot:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. . . . I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

—1 Corinthians 7:1-3 and 6-9

This is another passage sometimes cited as a definition for marriage. But Paul isn’t celebrating marriage as a union of one man and one woman. He is saying it would be best if we all could be celibate, but if we can’t, then we should marry. Paul may very well have been asexual, without desire for sex with anyone. He chose, instead, to devote his life to his faith. But if everyone were celibate, the human race would end. If, as Christians, we believe that God created us, then he also gave us sexual desire. We hear again from Paul when he writes to Timothy:

Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

1 Timothy 1:8-10

Dictionaries define sodomy in various ways: as homosexual acts, as oral sex, as anal sex, as bestiality, as sex that is not intended for procreation. Many heterosexuals engage in sex that is not for procreation, and have oral sex or anal sex. So sodomites does not refer exclusively to same-sex relations. And Paul is equating vastly different “sins”—is telling fib equal to killing your mother?

I don’t believe that the Bible forbids same-sex marriages or condemns homosexuality. It certainly isn’t listed in the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20), and there is no record that Jesus said anything one way or another about same-sex relationships.

We have learned much about human sexuality in the centuries since Paul was alive. There is a range of sexual behavior and identities that are clearly biological: these include heterosexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, transgender, and intersexuality.

As a Christian, I follow Christ—not Paul and not the writers of the Old Testament. We are called to love one another and to avoid judging others.

1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

—Matthew 7:1-16

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

—John 13:34

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

—Matthew 22:37-39

History is filled with people who cited the Bible, Koran, or other religious writings to shore up arguments for everything from slavery to domestic abuse to wars. If you’re going to cite the Bible, understand the context and history of the passages. Apply some common sense and thought, and recognize that your own experiences and fears color your views. Don’t support a stance just because your friends or relatives support it, without doing your own thinking.

Finally, if you’re opposed to gay sex, don’t have gay sex. If you’re opposed to gay marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.

The world if filled with enough hate: let people love who they love.

Ill-Advised Advice

Slate has a “Dear Prudence” section where people write in with interesting questions. Think Dear Abby, but occasionally with a more incesty vibe.

Today there was someone asking about their child who doesn’t want to go to church. Here was the question.

Dear Prudence,
Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats. Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn’t believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons’ spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?

—Mad as Hell Mom

Here was the response.

Dear Mad,
There are some people who believe that one’s degree of religious belief has a large genetic component. That means in societies in which everyone appears to be pious, many are secretly saying to themselves, “This is a crock.” Let’s say this genetic theory is true. That means you may have passed your blue eyes and devotion to your elder son, and your husband may have passed his brown eyes and lack of belief to your younger. You and your older son find spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the church, but your younger son finds the whole thing intolerable. You’ve been fighting this losing battle for two years, and if you keep going, your son will flee all observance as soon as he is able. I think you need to walk a more tolerant path. Tell your little atheist that you’ve been thinking about what he’s been saying about church, you’re tired of dragging him to Sunday school, and you’re reconsidering your stand. But before you do, you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn’t mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction. Have your husband agree that Sunday will be bonding time for the two skeptics. Maybe when they hike to the top of a mountain one day, your son will look around and feel a spiritual awakening.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG. This is terrible advice. The boy is clearly unhappy going to church and disruptive while he is there, thus making the experience less enjoyable for those who want to be there. Purely from a good manners standpoint, he should be left at home.

But making him write an essay about this? No, that’s total bullshit. Let me prove how by using one of my lovely little thought experiments.

Let’s suppose that the boy had decided he was going to be Jewish rather than being an atheist. Should his parents make him write an essay defending his desire to be Jewish? Actually, it’s more likely that the local rabbi would do that, but we’ll ignore that for the moment. If he wanted to be Jewish, should his parents say, “Prove it, or you’re going to Christian church!”

Or suppose that he was a boy who had been raised Muslim, but now wanted to be a Hindu. Should he have to sit and write two pages about the glory of Krishna? What if he was a Muslim, but now wanted to be a Christian?

Better yet, what if this kid’s family were all Wiccans, but he’d decided he was going to hit for Team Jesus. Actually, in that case it’s likely his parents would wince, but not get in the way, but let’s say they did. Would it be proper for them to make him “prove” that he wants to be a Christian?

The boy is twelve. He’s had zero interest in church for two years. Leave him be, and let him skip church. It would be nice if he and his father could spend time hiking, but if they just wanna sit around and watch football all Sunday, let them. It will likely lead to a “spiritual awakening” that’s got exactly the same value as that of hiking, ie: fuck-all.

A Bad Court Thing

Also, when are we gonna get around to that 51st star? Come on, Congress and Peurto Rico! Get it in gear!

Also, when are we gonna get around to that 51st star? Come on, Congress and Peurto Rico! Get it in gear!

I am against the Pledge of Allegiance for several reasons. First off, it’s an odious little loyalty oath. I dislike those. I especially dislike children being made to say it in school. Part of having freedom is having the freedom to not say these things, and especially to not say them when the words “under God” are included.

Yeah, that’s in the news again, and this time a judge in New Jersey threw out a case seeking to remove the words in question from the Pledge when it’s recited by schoolchildren. His reasoning was faulty.

In his decision, Bauman noted that the nation was founded on a belief in God. He cited historical references to the nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and the writers of New Jersey’s constitution exhibiting faith in and reliance upon God.

“The words ‘under God’ are now as interwoven through the fabric of the Pledge of Allegiance as the threads of red, white and blue into the fabric of the flag to which the Pledge is recited,” Bauman wrote.

Irrelevant on several levels, and not especially accurate. First off, if the Founders were all that concerned about Christianity, or God in general, they could have added a lot about it to our Constitution. They did not. In fact the only reference to religion in the Constitution is where it says we have freedom to practice whatever religion we like and that we don’t have a national one. I can’t speak to New Jersey’s constitution, but it takes second place to the national one regardless.

As for the second part of his statement, it seems to basically say, “We’ve been doing this long enough that you people can just get over it.” That’s like saying, “That slavery thing has worked for the last few centuries, so why not keep going with it?” And, “Monarchy was good enough for my ancestors, so it should be good enough for you, rebel scum!”

I’m very pleased with the next sentence I wrote about this, so I’m going to highlight it: Doing the wrong thing repeatedly doesn’t magically transform it into the right thing.

The judge went on to say:

Bauman said the Pledge of Allegiance, in its historical context, has never been viewed as a religious exercise, but as a vehicle to transmit “those core values of duty, honor, pride and fidelity to country on which the social contract between the United States and its citizens is ultimately based.”

This is a lie. It is right to say that prior to the 1950s, it wasn’t viewed as a religious exercise. Then the Knights of Columbus, a religious organization, pressured Congress and the White House, and under Eisenhower the words “under God”, which were not part of the original Pledge, were added to it. Doing that is what made this a religious exercise. Either this judge is ignorant of history or straight-up lying when he says otherwise.

Oh, and as for transmitting values, etc, that’s what we have civics classes for.

The Pledge needs to die the death it so richly deserves, but failing that, I don’t think it’s at all wrong for people like me to ask that the words “under God”, which by definition cannot have anything other than a religious context, be removed from it.

How Not to Get It

A small, conservative, insanely-religious (but I repeat myself), newspaper in Israel has cropped out women marchers from photos taken at the recent march in Paris. You know, the one that paid tribute to people killed by religious extremists. Said one father:

“The eight-year-old can’t see what I don’t want him to see,” he told Israel’s Channel 10 television station. “True, a picture of Angela Merkel should not ruin the child, but if I draw a line, I have to put it there from the bottom all the way to the top.”

He also said he did not want to tarnish the memories of the people killed in the attacks.

“Including a picture of a woman into something so sacred, as far as we are concerned, it can desecrate the memory of the martyrs and not the other way around,” he said.

…what’s Hebrew for “clueless-asshat”?

I really don’t get how seeing a picture of a woman walking with men, when the woman is wearing a long coat that leaves basically only her head exposed, can possibly, even remotely, be something dangerous or lead to something dangerous. If your eight-year-old son is being sexually aroused by Angela Merkel, then something is going seriously wrong somewhere.

Oh, and lest you want to shake your head and say, “Well, at least that kind of stupidity can never happen in America,” allow me to point out the existence of Kiryas Joel, New York. This is a town that is basically run by Orthodox Jews, who are determined to force their religion on everyone else as much as possible.

Say what you like about places like Iran, but at least they don’t edit the existence of women from their newspapers.

It Begins…

So a group of religious leaders, you know the type, are urging the president to allow for a religious exemption in upcoming federal rules protecting LGBT employees.

Well, that was fast.

As I said a couple days ago, the Hobby Lobby case is not resolved, and won’t be for a while. This ruling will be used an excuse for people who don’t like gays, blacks, Jews, Muslims, etc, to simply say, “I own this company and I have a strongly-held religious belief against working with such people.” True, the ruling says that it can’t be used to justify those sorts of discrimination, but people will argue, quite logically, that once you allow one exemption, how can you not allow others?

I was discussing this with one of my friends earlier. He basically said, “If you’re gay, why would you want to work for a corporation that doesn’t like gays?” It’s a valid question, and he and I are fortunate in that we live in the sixth largest city in the country, so we have options.

But what if you lived in small-town America? What if you lived in a town of only 5,000 people out in rural Nebraska, and you were a gay, black, Muslim? Let’s say that the largest employer in the area is one that doesn’t like Your Kind. Ok, you could in theory go work elsewhere, but what do you want to bet that some other businesses will take a cue from the largest one in the area, who they would probably want to keep happy, and also start to discriminate against Your Kind?

Oh, my friend says that social media would call out places like that. He’s right to a point. Remember how social media called-out Chik-Fil-A for their owner’s attitudes on gay marriage? Remember what happened when they did? Suddenly what fast food restaurant you ate at became a political issue. And Chik-Fil-A is still open, and still going strong, and their owner is still against gay marriage.

Laws against discrimination are important, and yes, they step on people’s freedom to discriminate. But as I’ve said before, once you’re doing business in the public space, you have to agree to certain rules. If you don’t like it, don’t open a business in the public space. That would be an annoying choice to have to make, but at least you could go look for a job, free of worry that someone would refuse to hire you for being a straight, white, Christian male.

It is worth noting, on the religious freedom side, that I would never tell a church they have to hire someone who isn’t of their faith, or that they could discriminate all they wanted to within church structure. But businesses are not churches, and that is that.