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Crazy All Around

In my early teens, I became very interested in music as a way of understanding and expressing my feelings, something I felt like I couldn’t do through speech or any other means. I tended to latch onto specific songs that resonated with some part of me (though unfortunately since all non-Christian music, and much of Christian music, was suspect of “leading me astray”, many songs I latched on to I wasn’t allowed to listen to). I always sort of felt that if I could share those songs that really touched me with someone, if we listened to them together, maybe they would understand me and we could connect with each other.

Dad and I fought a lot during that time, something that had been the case going back many years but which definitely got worse in my teens. I remember there was this one song, Crazy All Around (by Christine Glass), that I heard on a Christian radio show and really liked, so I got the CD. Once during a car trip to church on some weeknight with just me and Dad, I got the chance to play my CD in the car, and I was hoping we could enjoy the song together and connect through a shared experience of it. He was quiet for most of the song, but it got to a line near the end “Felt the angel bend and kiss me/ran away and hid in fear” and he exclaimed “What the hell is this!?” I was deeply disappointed; once again I felt like I’d tried to share my feelings, my unique experience of life, and I was rejected. I remember feeling, “Really? Is there nothing I find meaning in that’s pure enough for you, that you can appreciate the beauty of without picking apart any small hint of worldliness you find?” After that, I gave up hope of being able to connect with him through music.

At some point, I don’t know when, I developed a dislike for the song and never listened to it again.

Living a Fantasy

A study has been done that suggests that children raised in religious households are less able to distinguish fantasy from reality. This morning I was wondering how this could help me understand some of the particular quirks I’ve noted about myself in contrast to other people. Ever since I could remember, violence in movies has felt unsettling to me. Actually, unsettling isn’t the right word–the feeling is more that my existence feels fundamentally threatened. A similar feeling occurred also in English class when I started going to public high school (newly out of being homeschooled) and I had to read disturbing literature (like The Yellow Wallpaper or The Handmaid’s Tale). I remember after reading some of those things, I felt a black dread inside that I couldn’t shake and had no idea how to handle.

As I’ve gotten older, the reactions have mellowed (to the point where I kind of want to re-read The Handmaid’s Tale), but I still find it hard to watch movies or TV shows with cruel violence (either physical or psychological). Even with books, I generally find myself more comfortable with young-adult fiction than adult fiction, because I find the raw emotion in the adult fiction to be overwhelming (as an example, I thought I Am Legend told rather an interesting story in an interesting world, but it left something of a black feeling in me after I finished, with the result that a lot of time has to go by before I try reading something like that again).

I feel like my reactions to these things could come out of an extremely-delayed development of the ability to distinguish fantasy and reality (although it could partly or fully be due to other things, like being a Highly Sensitive Person or the like). I think perhaps due to my fundamentalist religious upbringing (combined maybe with my staying at my parents’ home until I was almost out of college), I’ve had a hard time distinguishing between “threats” to myself from horrifying situations in literature and media and actual threats to myself from the objective world. It’s not that I couldn’t tell any difference, obviously–that’s why I think I felt a conflict about these feelings. I knew there was no real threat, yet I felt like there was a real threat, and I didn’t know how to understand that conflict.

Potentially this inability to distinguish fantasy and reality could explain some of my other quirks that result in my being mocked in social situations, too. One that comes to mind was an instance when I had been reading about the bacteria that live in your mouth, and why it’s important to spit out your mouthwash after swishing it around (even if the mouthwash was inherently edible, e.g. oil pulling)–the idea is that you can harm yourself by loosening the bacteria from your teeth and then ingesting them.

Around that time, I ended up eating a rather large quantity of Swedish fish, and then I rinsed my mouth out with water to dislodge the pieces that stuck to my teeth. I was lazy, so after swishing the water around in my mouth, I swallowed it. Shortly thereafter, I developed an extremely painful feeling in my abdomen, and I had to leave work early. I told some of my coworkers that I thought it might be due to swallowing the water I used to rinse my mouth (instead of just blaming it on eating too much sugar at once, which in retrospect seems more reasonable). That haven’t stopped making fun of me for that since. I wonder why I stuck on that rather unlikely explanation at the time instead of putting more weight on the more acceptable idea that eating a large amount of sugar can hurt you–perhaps it’s a lingering effect of a delayed ability to separate fantasy and reality.

Trump and Evangelical Infidelity

I remember when W was being elected for the first time. The semi-fundamentalist community I grew up in was desperate for him to win. He was “our guy”, a true follower of G-d (determined using the fundamentalist superpower of being able to know who’s a “real” Christian on the inside), and just as importantly, a Republican, the chosen party of G-d. On the other side was Gore, who, if elected, would bring G-d’s judgement on America, and “probably wasn’t the Antichrist” (as we so reasonably conceded) “but would likely usher him in”.

The second time W ran was similar. I remember a woman at my university saying she’d probably vote for Kerry “to give him a chance and change things up”. She was in our Christian group on campus, and I remember feeling the default fundamentalist horror at someone who had deliberately blinded herself and was now walking in darkness. Kerry was evil, and if he got elected we would never escape G-d’s judgement on our country.

Things started to get weird with the Obama/McCain election (or possibly they were always that way but I finally started to see it). First, when Hillary was making her bid for the Democratic nomination, the fundamentalist email trains were aflutter with Biblical references to Deborah and grave pronouncements that a woman leader was a sign of G-d’s judgement on a country. But after Hillary lost the nomination and McCain chose Palin as his running mate, suddenly people were talking about their visions of bees (Deborah is Hebrew for “bee”) and praising her as a Deborah who would save us (what happened to the judgement?).

I also remember people struggling with McCain’s nomination, since the he had no kinship with fundamentalists. He was the one selected for G-d’s Holy Party, but he himself wasn’t holy (evaluated using the above-mentioned fundamentalist superpower). Someone else on this email train reported struggling over this very issue until she got a vision in which she heard “McCain, McCain, why are you rejecting My anointed?” (note that “anointed” is the English translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach, which is commonly translated “Messiah”).

That was the first time the whole thing struck me as odd. It made sense to me to vote Republican when the party nominated a “good Christian” like W–obviously any group would feel more comfortable with one of their own running the country. But McCain wasn’t one of us. Why would he be G-d’s “Messiah”? It could just as easily have been the Democrat in that case (although Obama, with his Arabic-sounding name, was being explicitly predicted to be the Antichrist by some of my friends).

Obama got elected, life went on, and then came Romney and with him the unbelievable attachment of fundamentalists to the Republican party got even worse. Romney was Mormon, a group that when I was growing up was synonymous with “infidel” (and was viewed in much the same way as Muslims are today by that group). Yet once again, the conservative Christians rallied behind the Republican former-infidel-now-brother as the savior of our country (though admittedly with less enthusiasm than I saw for Bush or McCain).

Now it’s 2016, and Trump is the front runner, and more and more evangelicals are falling in line behind him. This is insane. There’s nothing Christian about Trump. He uses people, he promotes immorality (via the “immodesty” of his beauty pageants), he’s on his third marriage (divorce was considered an unforgivable sin when I was growing up), and he obviously doesn’t even know the Bible! Yet Liberty University welcomed him enthusiastically, Jerry Falwell Jr called him a “servant leader” in the tradition of Christ (the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard from a Christian leader), and after Palin’s endorsement Christians are increasingly supporting him.

Trump is everything we despised growing up: an “obvious” unbeliever, an immoral and liberal businessman, and not a true conservative. The fact that he’s now being accepted as the chosen one shows that evangelicals are no longer even pretending to be choosing who to vote for based on their religious principles. They have merged with the “non-Christian” (their words) conservative culture and established that over their own religion and over the Bible. And consequently, they’ve lost their voice to talk about G-d in our society, and they’re deceiving only themselves with regard to what their political motivations are.

G-d’s Love for His People

R. C. Sproul Jr. has an article on “hesed,” which he translates as “loyal love:”

God loves His people genuinely, immutably, loyally. Both the love and the loyalty are, of course, tightly bound together. That is, just as one cannot love capriciously so one cannot be loyal without love. God is for His people, and will never cease to be for them.

It’s a beautiful idea. But the irony is not lost to me of using an Old Testament Hebrew word to motivate an idea about G-d’s commitment to a group of people who’ve replaced the original group of people that the term referred to. If G-d’s election is irrevocable, then how is it that His election of Israel has been revoked? If His grace ensures the perseverance of the saints, then how is it that the entire original nation that He elected has failed to persevere?

And if His “hesed” for them has failed, then how strong can the idea of “genuine, immutable, loyal” love really be for us?

Christianity and Mysticism

I read an article on Challies Dot Com about the increasing influence of mysticism on Evangelicalism (http://www.challies.com/articles/the-boundaries-of-evangelicalism). The author is concerned about this influence, given that the two ought to be opposed.

I find the attempt to distinguish between Christianity and mysticism interesting, because one thing that becomes readily apparent when one studies Judaism is that Christianity is mysticism. That is, the topics that form the core of Christian belief are, in Judaism, the material of mysticism: heaven and hell, the nature of G-d, the nature of the soul, the Devil, the supernatural understanding of history. The idea of Jesus dying on the cross for sins is a mystical concept. So is the idea of becoming part of his body. And so is the idea of the trinity.

Core Judaism isn’t as worried about making sure your beliefs on hell, or the structure of G-d, or whatever, are correct. In Judaism, you don’t follow the Law so that you don’t go to hell. You follow the Law because you’re a Jew, and the Law is what Jews do. G-d founded the Jewish nation, yes, and you’re obeying Him by following the Law, yes, but at the end of the day, the Law is proscriptive. You’re supposed to do–why isn’t as important. (To be fair, due to the influence of Chassidism, this description isn’t entirely accurate.)

Christianity is mystical to its core. Its main concerns are the nature of G-d in the Trinity, the meaning of Jesus’s death on the cross (understood as the ultimate victory), and eternal reward or punishment in heaven or hell. As a whole, it rejects the idea of following the Law. Some parts (Protestantism) even reject the idea that doing anything has any importance. Everything happens via the vehicle of the mystical Grace of G-d for the purpose of the Glory of G-d, and the only proper goal of life is the understanding that everything that exists is only an emanation of that Grace. The goal is understanding, not action–that’s mysticism.

What’s really interesting is that for some reason (or reasons), much of Christianity has felt the need to see itself as non-mystical. Thus came the “canon law” of the Catholic Church, that tried to essentially become a new law-based religion while still rejecting Judaism. So also comes the article at the beginning, trying to strictly and logically define what is proper, based on rules and guidelines–including rules for the proper way to feel awe at a sunset! It is certainly a curious experiment: making a practical religion out of a mysticism.

Do Unto Others

I’ve had some discussions where I’ve tried to defend Muslims against being painted with a broad stroke as following a religion that inherently produces evil. Sometimes in the course of those discussions, I’ll make some argument against my opponent based on what the structure of his/her beliefs appears to be–based both on other things the person said and assumptions about what the person might believe based on group affiliation. Trying to make those kinds of arguments then results in an angry rebuff in the form of: “I hate it when people assume they know what I believe!”

But wait…isn’t that what you’re doing to Muslims?

Movie Review: Follow the Prophet

We watched the movie Follow the Prophet the other night. I was expecting a scathing criticism of a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism (and perhaps religious fundamentalism in general). What I didn’t expect was to spend over an hour being subjected to the type of high-quality argument you might find in the comments to an article on the Fox News web site.

The story focuses on 15-year-old Avery, the daughter of a bishop of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints. On her 15th birthday, she’s told that she is to become a “secret wife” of the Prophet. More horrifying, her father attempts to rape her under the pretense of “preparing her for the Prophet.” She escapes and elicits the help of an ex-Delta Force soldier, Jude. The rest of the movie is about how Jude obtains evidence of the Prophet’s child abuse so that he can be arrested and charged.

Unfortunately, Jude pretty much ruins the movie. He is a weak man, driven more by his emotions of outrage and grief (the grief is over his daughter, who was killed in the army) than any sense of justice. He plants video cameras in private homes without any apparent concern over the breaking-and-entering and surveillance laws that he’s breaking. At the end, Avery goes back to marry the Prophet in order to get a video of child abuse that could convict him. As part of the plan, Jude is to monitor the house to protect her. He prepares by assembling his sniper rifle, promising a couple times that he’ll “ventilate” the Prophet if Avery sends the distress signal. She does, and Jude fires, almost accomplishing the murder he very much wants to commit.

The way that Jude does whatever he sees fit without any sense of consequences makes the movie feel surreal–a feeling that is only heightened when agents of the Prophet show up in dark suits, swarm the hotel that Jude was staying at, and shoot Jude with a sniper rifle in broad daylight. It makes it hard to imagine most of the movie actually happening in any part of this country.

The movie then ends by showing some text making the outrageous claim that it has shown the evils of polygamy. Wait, what? Where was the polygamy? All I saw was a movie about child abuse! In theory, the movie was set in a polygamous society, but any depiction of polygamy in the movie was very subtle and played no significant place in the plot development. How does a movie showing the evils of child abuse demonstrate that polygamy is bad? Is child abuse only bad if polygamists do it? (I speak as a fool.) Or do you have to be polygamous to abuse children? Obviously not, since the “zero-gamous” Catholic clergy seem perfectly capable of it.

The text also complains about how there are polygamous societies in several states, living in “violation of the law.” But having failed to make a compelling argument that polygamy is bad (I’m being generous by saying the movie failed to make a compelling argument, since it in fact failed to even present an argument), the fact that it may be illegal is anything but motivating. What, just because something’s illegal makes it bad? Was forced segregation of blacks and whites right while it was the law then?

Child abuse should be stopped. But if polygamy doesn’t necessarily result in child abuse, then that’s no argument against polygamy. If two women and a man love each other and want to get married, why is that anyone’s business?

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