Inside jokes, humor that confirms our own biases, is something we humans naturally gravitate towards. It makes sense, right? Someone posts a funny joke about D&D and you, a player of the game, get a kick out of it because you have sooo been there. There are entire websites dedicated to poking fun and creating relateable humor for the fans of...whatever. On the flip side, there are the comics, memes, and websites that make fun of our favorite things in a mean-spirited way. Like To use the previous example of D&D, I am not a particular fan of comics that make fun of D&D and portray the players as all male playing in someone's parent's basement. I play on Saturday afternoons with my husband, kid, and two friends. It is bright and sunny and we all share a meal afterward. Sometimes extra people (spouses, other parents) come over after we play for dinner. Every Saturday I get to hang out with some of my favorite people, playing a fun game, and eat a good meal afterward. So yeah, I kind of resent the implication that it's a bunch of neckbeards having nerdgasms in a basement. Yet I also know that those jokes aren't for me. They are for the people who really don't understand D&D and think it is weird. To them, the joke reiterates the stereotypes they have formed.
I used to hate things that made fun of religion. As a religious person I would think, "They just don't get it" or "That's a really twisted way of looking at that". As the years went on I began to find some humor in jokes that made fun of religion. I was a particular fan of The Door magazine, a now defunct publication, but one full of so much awesome religious satire. It never went too far, but even as a religious person, I could laugh at it. Fast forward to the age social media and memes. Folks, these anti-religious memes are nasty. They are harsh. I love them.
One of the cons of being a covert agnostic atheist is that I have to be careful what I like on social media, because other people WILL see it. I have a few "friends", mostly former co-workers and classmates who are atheist and they share these atheist memes all the time. A part of me knows though that although these are somewhat humorous, some of them are downright rude. And like the D&D jokes, not entirely true about the people they are cracking on. Another part of me really enjoys them and loves that someone out there is pointing out some of the ridiculous shit that the religion perpetuates. In the end though, I find them unnecessary. No meme will ever change anyone's mind about their religion. It's completely an in-group thing that creates a deeper divide with your out-group. For every meme posted you are only perpetuating more of an us vs. them mentality. As a Christian, I was told to be a good example of a Christian in order to show non-Christians what they were missing out on. How they too could find the kind of life and joy that I was representing. I think the same concept should apply to any those of us who are non-religious. If you want people to be more open to what you are "selling", not offending them and treating them like idiots is a good place to start. That's not to say we can't joke around sometimes, but it does mean that posting memes about how stupid Christians are for believing certain things is probably not the best way to go about it. It's one thing to poke fun at your own in-group, it's quite another to post mean-spirited "jokes" that are meant to offend.
When I was a Christian, one of my favorite songs to sing was a song called Beautiful Things. I loved it not only for the words, but the musicality of it. If you have listened to one contemporary Christian worship song, you've heard them all. But this one was different. Multiple harmonies and a killer bridge, it was a challenge to sing and beautiful when you got it right.
Which is why I am so insanely happy to see that one of the musicians who wrote and sang this song is now an atheist. It is my opinion that musicians who spend their life in service to a religion are wasting their talents. Since the god that they serve is either non-existent or ambivalent at best, it seems a shame for them to be sucked into the religious mold that they are often forced into. Good musicians find themselves playing songs that literally sound exactly like another one because how many ways can you say, "We love you and worship you, Oh God"?
Of course, the Christians were quick to throw out some 'No True-Scotsman' fallacies. She was never one of us. Something always felt off about her/their music. I knew she wasn't a TRUE believer. If she had been a real believer she never would have fallen astray. False teacher. A messenger for the devil. You don't have to believe in Satan to be a Satanist. Women shouldn't even be pastors anyway. Once you are born in the spirit, there is no going back. blah blah blah.
It's hard for people this "devout" to understand how anyone could possibly change their mind about something. That it is possible for someone to have strong beliefs about one thing and then do a complete about face. My dad was in a band when I was a kid, was unmarried when he got my mom pregnant, and did casual drugs. He also had no problem with this and seemed to be fairly happy. Then he became a Christian and denounced all of that, destroying all his secular music and denouncing pre-marital sex and drugs. For something less extreme: I used to hate artichokes. I now put them on my pizza. People change their minds quite often about a lot of things. I see this as good because it means you were open to new ideas. New ideas aren't to be rejected our of hand, but rather examined to see if they have any merit. Some don't. That's okay. There are many hypothesis out there about a myriad of subjects and some don't hold water. (I'm looking at you essential oils) Others end up holding value and make their way into our personal and social philosophies. In Victorian England it was perfectly legal and acceptable to drop your infant on the street and leave it for dead as long as it was under a year old. Today we call this infanticide and parents would go to jail for doing so. What changed? Someone eventually made an argument that this was wrong and unacceptable. People agreed and eventually this practice became illegal. We all agreed it was inhumane. It is okay to examine things you believe as true and to come to new conclusions. It doesn't mean those people never believed or that when they were believing, their belief was somehow already corrupted. All it means is they re-examined those beliefs and this time, they came to a different conclusion.
A great piece on Fresh Air posted yesterday. So much of it rang true for me. I ended up walking away from the faith, but not for any of the reasons that she goes into in this interview or book. Although the purity movement did not do me any favors in my relationships, I see this as a failing of religious doctrine and dogma, not the religion itself.
I have broached this very subject with my mother several times, trying to get her to understand the deep hurt that the church (and she) instilled in me concerning the purity movement. And she just doesn't get it. She is quick to condemn my youth group leaders and the church for teaching me to hate my body, making me afraid of sex, and shaming me. Yet, she pushes away any culpability on her part. When I discussed this interview with her this morning she said, "It isn't the job of the church to shame women about what they are wearing. That's the job of the Holy Spirit." Basically stating that she *does* think people dress and act inappropriately, but with enough GAWD the problem will fix itself. "No," I told her. "Nothing is wrong with how she is dressed. It doesn't matter. How someone is dressed is not indicative of how pure, wonderful, kind, or good a person is. She can dress in the most low-cut dress in the world and it means nothing about who she is spiritually." It is at this point I should state that I am still in the closet with my family, so my mom thinks I am arguing from a religious standpoint. Then we moved onto the topic of sex and the used up chewing gum scenario (Oreo cookie in the interview) that people use. My mother used to teach a True Love Waits course at our church. I know for a fact that she used to teach this very concept to other young women. Yet, when I bring up how wrong this idea is, that a woman is undeserving of love because she has had sex, she immediately states, "I do believe in purity." Yeah, well, what about young women who have been sexually abused? I mention a girl who I know was in her class. A friend. Melinda was being sexually abused by her step-father who ended up spending five years in jail for it. You taught her that she was a used up piece of gum and no one would want her because she had already had sex. How did you think that made her feel? How many young girls were taught this? How many girls will go to youth group tonight and be taught this exact same thing? The conversation ended abruptly as my mom headed into work, but I know it's like talking to a brick wall. Despite realizing how harmful the purity movement was to her own daughter, she can't help but be judgmental of other young women, assuming that if they dress a certain way or behave in a certain manner, they just aren't listening to God. After all, if you are a good Christian girl who obeys God you will look and act a specific pre-defined way. It took me ten years to get her to admit that what I was taught was wrong. It will probably be another ten to get her to understand that a woman in a bikini is no more or less spiritual than a woman in "modest" clothing. I have no hope of my mother ever leaving the faith, but I would settle for her not body shaming the women around her, especially since she is still involved in children and youth ministries.
Living in a geeky home, it is fairly normal to have conversations regarding things like the metaphors in Dune or who is the best supervillain. Today my teenager (adopted), was talking about superpowers. As I've stated before, this kid knows very very little about religion and despite attending a Unitarian church weekly, has shown zero interest in actually learning about any religions although tells people that he is a Christian. He decided that if he had his choice of superpowers, he would like to have the ability to create living beings. The conversation went something like this:
Teen: And then once I created them, they would have to do what I said.
Me: So wait, they wouldn't have free will?
Teen: Well, if they developed free will I guess that would be okay.
Me: But you wouldn't create them with free will?
Teen: No. Why would I?
Me: Why would you create them without free will?
Teen: So they would do what I said.
Me: So you would create sentient creatures and then demand they do what you tell them to do. What happens if they develop free will and don't want to? What happens then? What if they chose not to acknowledge you?
Teen: They would have to. I made them.
Me: What if many generations went by and you lived on a mountain and they hadn't seen you in a long time. What if they didn't believe you existed?
Teen: Then I would come down and show them. I would show them my superpowers.
Me: Well, that makes you at least a god who is somewhat understanding that some people require evidence to believe. But what if they see you and still choose not to help you or do what you say?
Teen: Well, I created them. I can destroy them.
Me: Oh. So you are a vengeful god then?
Teen: No. I wouldn't be a god.
Me: But you created them. And are demanding they worship you. That makes you a god, at least to them.
Teen: But I am not asking them to worship me.
Me: Requiring people to obey you and acknowledge that you are their creator is what worship is, even if it doesn't include things like prayer and songs, although those would probably follow. So as these people's god you are saying you would kill them for not obeying you?
Teen: ::shrugs:: I made them.
Me: But what if you aren't a good god? What if you did terrible things and didn't deserve to be obeyed? After all, you are just a human with superpowers.
Teen: If they didn't obey, they would be killed.
Me: So you would be a god who controls his people through intimidation and fear? One who demands worship even if you are undeserving of it? And condemns people to death for not doing what you want them to do? Sounds like a villain to me.
Teen: I wouldn't be a villain. I would do good things.
Me: Killing people for not obeying you doesn't sound good. Congratulations Teen. You just described the Jewish and Christian god. And here I thought you didn't understand the Bible. Jesus says that the only thing you have to do to be a Christian is acknowledge he is god and then later Paul says that obedience to Christ is the key. And if you don't obey and acknowledge this god you will go to hell and be tortured for eternity. I wouldn't call that kind of a god a good god or a superhero of any kind. And unlike you, that god isn't coming down from heaven and showing people his superpowers. If he exists, he is choosing to remain invisible and still condemn people for not worshiping him.
Truth be told, if my teen ever got superpowers, he would be a villain because he struggles a good deal with self-control, kindness, and being empathetic. Foster care and neglect don't really lead to the light side. He also has a very difficult time with rules and makes up his own rules even when he has no authority to do so. For example: Teacher says no headphones in class. Teen decides (tells himself) that music helps him focus so he turns on music despite his teacher's rule and then gets angry and curses out the teacher for telling him to shut it off. So the conversation wasn't surprising to me. What was surprising was how quickly his "hero" devolved into a a petty, jealous, controlling god. I don't really think I got through to him. I think that he lacks the capacity to understand this complex topic or why such actions would be wrong. He makes many of these same mistakes when we play D&D and his character is basically evil at this point because of the many of the stupid decisions he has made for the character. And he doesn't understand why. Does he not understand right from wrong? I think in clear black & white instances he does. It is wrong to murder someone. It is right to give people hugs. But the more nuances things, like how do you treat someone who does something you don't like? He just doesn't get it and 9 times out of 10 he chooses to be mean instead of kind. This is hard to live with on a daily basis because I see a kid who wants to be good, but has absolutely no idea how to do it, particularly when he is angry, which is a lot.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.