Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why I'm Both Ashamed and Proud to Call Myself a Tennessean

I was born and raised here, Tennessee has always been and always will be home. I even chose a college within my state's borders to attend when it came time to complete my higher education. And if for some reason I do move away I will request that I be buried back in my home state. I know how southerns may come across as slack-jawed, twangy hill folk fiercely clutching to our Bibles, but we're just like everyone else. All we want is to drink our sweet tea on our front porch on a hot summer day while listening to a bit of Johnny Cash (or maybe that's just me).

I live in the Bible-Belt where there's a church within walking distance from every home (well, I may be exaggerating but you get the point). As a non-Christian I am in the religious minority, and I'm OK with that since most people assume I'm Christian anyway (the Chi-Rho tattoo on my right forearm confuses people all the more after I tell them I'm not one of them anymore). Since Christianity is the religion of the masses here I understand how Tennesseans can feel threatened by an outside group, like Muslims, especially when their knowledge of The Other is based on violent images shown on the news. I'd be afraid too if that's all I knew about them, and at one point I was afraid of Muslims. What changed for me was that I took the initiative to learn about them. Now, it's true that because of my openness and my developing sense of reason that, in the eyes of my neighboring Christians, I have lost my faith. But what I've gained in exchange for breaking my tribal ties is an immense love and respect for my fellow man, a love without conditions, exceptions, or fences.

What breaks my heart is when my fellow Tennesseans allow their fears to overcome their ability to love. I'm referring to the proposed bill which would make following Shariah law a felony, punishable by 15 years in jail. Tennessee is not the only state on an anti-Shariah kick, but since this has hit home the issue has caught my attention. Of course this comes on the heels of last summers wave of anti-Islamic fervor which took root in my old stomping grounds, Murfreesboro, TN, over the building of a new mosque. Fear is truly the mind killer since most of the protesters of the proposed mosque refused to take anytime to consider that their longtime Muslim neighbors (the Murfreesboro Muslim community has been there for close to 30 years) simply needed a larger facility to accommodate their growth over the years. Christian communities expand all the time here in the south but when a minority group begins to expand to the point of becoming visible some Christian communities feel threatened. If Christians communities want a competing religious community to fear it should be their neighboring denomination. And with the decline of the housing market also affecting churches, denominations should be in fierce competition for a flock to fill their coffers.

The mosque protesters tried everything from labeling the Murfreesboro Muslim community as terrorists to claiming that Islam is not a religion but a political movement out to destroy the U.S. To counter the anti-mosque protesters a group formed and grew to not only embrace our Muslim neighbors but support their right to build their mosque and worship freely. The fight over the mosque last summer happened a few weeks after I graduated from MTSU and I unfortunately could not attend any of the rallies. I supported them in any way I could by clarifying the subject with friends and family and by also attempting (a very feeble attempt at that) to contact and bring together the religious communities of my local area to support their Muslim neighbors. What does make me proud to call myself a Tennessean is that even though the loudest residents caught the national media's attention, the silent majority believe that Muslims should also have the same rights to build their house of worship. To be honest I did not believe that my fellow Tennesseans would be as tolerant as they turned out to be last summer and for that I hope they will receive my humble apologies. I was so fixated on the intolerant, Bible thumpin' Southerner stereotype that I too fell victim to pigeonholing my neighbor. I'm glad they proved me wrong then, and I hope they prove me wrong over this ridiculous bill.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy Ghost Wreaking Machines for Jesus!

I just had to share this, this is too much! Oh and the title is a line from the clip. This video made my day.

(h/t Unreasonable Faith)

Thou Shalt Not Mock

Back in 2008 I took a Religion in Popular Media class at MTSU taught by the rascally Rabbi Rami. In that class I learned how to recognize and interpret religious and spiritual symbolism in popular media. Before taking this class I never really paid much attention whenever religion and spirituality intersected with popular media, and when I did I found myself seriously offended when my religious beliefs were "mocked". That was back in the good ole' fundie days. I never sat down to think and analyze why I found something offensive, I just did. Now I can't get enough of it, not because I enjoy mocking faith or religion but I find that the intersection of faith, spirituality, and religion with popular media does say a lot about the human condition. Take for example this latest episode of Mr. Deity (El) and Jesse (Jesus) meeting Allah in the dark matter showroom. Listen closely for the pop culture references. (Just to make things clearer, the explosion they reference towards the end is the Big Bang.)

So is this offensive? And if so which part? Is it the in the casual use of vulgarity and violence? Or could the offensiveness be found in the portrayal, lack of portrayal, or even in the passing remark that Allah and El could be twins? Maybe the offense is found in the blending of the sacred and the secular? I love Mr. Deity because the show blends the darker issues and topics in religion seamlessly with a comedic tone, topics which most people are afraid to even mention. I believe the real reason someone would find this offensive is because they're more afraid of dealing with the "skeletons in the closet" introduced in the clip than the vulgarity or even the "skewed" imagery of the divine. What do you think?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Aronofsky's Noah, Not PG-13

 First I'd like to give a hat tip across the pond to Matt Page of Bible Films Blog for all of the incredible work he does on his blog; I highly recommend his page for any and all Bible film news. I've been following Darren Aronofsky's Noah Project for quite some time and it finally seems he's getting around to making it. He's working on a 4 part graphic novel sci-fi adaptation entitled Noah which he would like to adapt to film once he secures a studio (he's currently working on The Wolverine). You can read the full story here and here.

So what is Darren Aronofsky's Noah like? If you're familiar with his previous work Darren does not shy away from troubled protagonists. No, this Noah will not be the Noah we've grown up with in Sunday school, this troubled Noah turns to the bottle (err...the vine) to help him deal with his survivor's guilt. And how can you blame him, his entire world was taken out by a massive flood and all that's left of the human race is him and his family. Of course if and when this film releases there will be protests, boycotts, and counter-films for displaying Noah as more human than Evangelicals remember him in Sunday School. Hopefully this would inspire the faithful to actually read the book they consider divinely-inspired.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Does the Divine Forgive?

There's been quite a few posts in my feed reader written along the theme on the Divine's relationship with humanity focusing specifically on forgiveness. Sola Ratione has written a guest post at Unreasonable Faith explaining God's lack of forgiveness as he takes out his anger issues towards mankind's sinfulness on well, himself. Don at Reflections questions if Jesus' death was necessary and concludes that because of our injustices his death was a human inevitability not a divine necessity. Sam at The Scientific Universalist (whom I highly recommend reading) reflects on her experience wrestling with faith and doubt through a difficult period in her life. Andrew Hackman at Hackman's Musings has also recently written a gem I somehow overlooked (I'm trying to catch up on my blog feeds) on the topic of hell as a form of control and self vindication.

Throughout all of these I've found that we as a species have a lot of trouble of simply letting go. Of course this isn't news but I wonder why we continue to hold onto previous transgressions others (including God, the universe, fate, etc) have committed against us? What do we gain by holding back our forgiveness from ourselves and others? It's easy, too easy, to always play the part of the victim while receiving self satisfaction through the knowledge that we've been wronged. In my personal experience forgiveness brings about a wave of relief for all parties involved, but this process also makes us vulnerable. Forgiveness opens that part of ourselves up which we instinctively feel we must guard by all means necessary. It allows us to move on past the harmful event and rebuild the relationships which mean the most to us. This is done not by being constantly reminded of our mistakes (i.e. the imagery of the crucified Christ) through guilt but by forgiving and forgetting. Forgetting entails letting go of past transgressions while still learning from our mistakes. Forgiveness comes from our shared humanity and experiences. We all wrestle with our brokenness and to hold our brothers and sisters to an unreachable level of perfection lacks of compassion.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Need for Fear

[I've been busy with work so my apologies for the outdated post.]

In a previous post on the fears of Evangelicals Don brought up a GREAT question in the comment section. Whenever he talks with evangelicals on the fear factors of their beliefs he asks
"Why do you need this fear?"
I absolutely love thought provoking questions like these and although this question isn't directed towards me I will still attempt to tackle it. I think believers choose to believe in a vengeful God and an eternal place of torment because the alternative seems too scary for them: living in a chaotic world. They would rather live with the lesser fear, a judgmental God in control of the cosmos, than the greater fear, a random and chaotic world with no guarantee of an afterlife. They've created a scenario in their minds where these are the only two options in deciphering reality.

Believers who accept the first option are gambling (Pascal Wager style!) that it is better to take a change at living a life in fear of a god which may grant them a minute chance at eternal life than not attempting to gamble at all. I understand their reasoning (you can't win the lottery if you don't play) even though I don't believe in the game of heaven and hell. All of this is driven by the ancient and primitive instinct of self preservation. We know death is coming and we obsess over it throughout our culture, from our popular media and advertisements (think about how many products and slogans focus on "happiness") right down to our daily rituals. Tick tock tick tock, death is coming, death is coming. Survive, survive, survive. It's no wonder that people are driven to religion for comfort and escape.

And yet, all of this is an obsession over something that will eventually happen. Evangelicals need this fear because it is easier to swallow, it offers a mental escape from the inevitable. The set back is that mankind is so preoccupied with the uncertain future that we waste our lives in the present while our eyes and heart are fixed in the future. To live in the present is perceived by some as foolishly letting your guard down of what may be waiting to pounce on us just around the corner. Pastors and doomsday preachers feed off of this fear like parasites engorging themselves with followers and self-righteousness as they weaken the frightened flock. The look on the faces of church goers after an old fashioned fire and brimstone sermon is heart breaking, and their attempts to hide their fear behind trinket smiles is devastating. I can find nothing uplifting about waiting for a chance at happiness in the afterlife (IF you believe and behave).  Yes this world is painful but along with it comes the chance to experience moments of happiness which if we truly live in the NOW becomes all the more precious as death approaches.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Enveloped in Fear

One of my long time blogging friends Don of Reflections has recently commented on the fear factor which has enveloped the lives of many evangelical Christians. (I know this post is a tad outdated but I felt this was still worth commenting.)
I have come to the inevitable conclusion that a large number of evangelical Christians live in fear. Fear of God, fear of the future, fear of the unknown. This fear may not be a 24/7 thing to them…or it may be. The indoctrination within evangelical Christianity teaches them to fear the judgment and condemnation  of a God who loves them. I think many evangelicals "need" this fear to keep them "in line", to keep them on the "straight and narrow". I just don’t understand this thinking anymore. To me it is so schitzophrenic. How could God be loving and condemning at the same time. IMO, he can’t. It’s that simple, He Can’t…
Note that he didn't say ALL Christians or even ALL Evangelical Christians, but a large number within this cultural and religious subgroup. And also to clarify (for my occasional Christian readers, please don't take offense) this is not another jab at Christianity and its belief system, but merely a comment on a particular view within a very large cultural subgroup in America. I strongly believe that like Jacob in Genesis who wrestled with his humanity and the Divine we too should wrestle with who and what we are. Don hit the nail on the head by his last line "How could God be loving and condemning at the same time." For many people this question does not even bubble to the surface because by merely asking this "heretical" question they fear the walls of reality will come crashing down upon them.

Fear causes separation, and love can't truly reside among and within us if fear is present. It simply can't! If God (however you may use the word) is love then there is no punishment to fear. It really is that simple. But why should we give in to the fear which makes us distant, condemning, and even outright prejudice against our neighbor? Evangelicals may claim that they are only following God's Will by hating what God hates but how is that any better? Shouldn't our goal be to transcend the holy hatred that divided our tribal ancestors? Should we not be more compassionate than our fathers?

A huge factor which fuels the Evangelical's fear of everything considered "un-Christian" is their fear of losing their identity. For many people their belief system and way of life IS their identity. To remove, change, or in any way alter any component of their beliefs places their own identity into question which then throws their entire perception of reality into question. What most people see as meaningless and random chaos I choose (keyword) to see an endless sea of new life and new possibilities. The universe is an explosive arena of creativity and as the most advanced expression of the universe how can we stop ourselves at any one point in history and say "this is it, no more change". History, life, and mankind will continue progressing long after we're gone. The Christianity of today HAS evolved from the Christianity of 2000 years ago (most Christians forget that the first Christians were Jewish AND occupied by the Romans; a perfect storm scenario for the creation of apocalyptic and messianic literature), and in another 2000 years, if Christianity survives, it would be completely alien from the Christianity of today. As the world becomes more globally interconnected and aware of itself the previous tribal walls of separation and identity are beginning to melt on a massive scale. We are also beginning to disassociate ourselves with our previous concepts of morality: we no longer need a god which threatens us with damnation to keep us in line, we keep ourselves in line because we recognize our shared humanity with our neighbor. We are no longer enveloped and driven by fear, we are guided by compassion and love.