Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What Sex Is Like (According to Purity Culture)

Image text: "sex is an intimate and sacred act. ur body is a temple and u shouldn't be sharing it with anyone who doesn't sing the na-na part in hey jude." Image source.
In my experience, sex was talked about a lot in church. Specifically, they talked about how sex is the most amazing feeling, the most intimate loving connection people can have, so incredibly powerful, and therefore it's a wonderful gift from God if you're married, and it's incredibly dangerous if you're not.

They always talked about sex in terms of emotions and love and intimacy. They never talked about the physical parts of it. Here are some examples I've gathered:

Fifty Shades of Nay: Sin Is a Needle, Not a Toy
Sex was given to us to tell us something of the love, intimacy, and trust we experience with God through Christ. Our relationship with God is not sexual, but sex — as the deepest, most vulnerable, most sacred experience two people can have in this life — is a stunning picture of the height, length, width, and depth of God’s love for us.
Confessions of a Former Virgin
I’m more in love with my husband than I was when I walked down the aisle toward him. Our bond is stronger. Our friendship deeper. One of the reasons for this is the sexual relationship God designed. Sex works like Super Glue, binding us together for a lifetime.

Science can back me up. Oxytocin is a powerful chemical often called the “cuddle hormone.” It’s a bonding chemical that creates feelings of caring. God created this hormone to work as human Super Glue.

For example, oxytocin is released when a momma breastfeeds her new baby. It creates a bond that says, “We are meant to be together. Do not pull us apart.” The only other time this hormone is released is when there is intimate physical contact. What psychologists and scientists are discovering is that when we have intimate contact with another person, our brains have a chemical reaction that causes a bond to seal.

In the context of marriage, this is a beautiful thing. Outside of marriage, this is a painful thing. The bond still exists. The glue still adheres, but then the couple must be ripped apart. This is why sexual wounds hurt so badly.
God’s Design for Sex is Way Better than Hollywood’s Cheap Imitation
Believe God and take Him at His Word. When done in the right way, with right person and at the right time, sex will be more fulfilling and exciting than Hollywood could ever hope to achieve.
How Far Is Too Far?
God does the same kind of work in marriage and dating. As we walk up to the edge of marriage, we draw close to something so much bigger than ourselves. There’s a power and a mystery in love like this. It’s a vibrant picture of the love God has shown us in sending his Son for us, a love wider and deeper than the Pacific Ocean.

God designed love in marriage, like gallons and gallons of ocean, to show us how unsearchable his love is for us. We could never contain it or know it completely. And because love within a covenant is so large, so intense, so captivating, he established a boundary, a shoreline. He drew a line in the sand for our safety, and to secure our greatest happiness in marriage.
God intended for one man to be joined with one woman in the promises of marriage, and he intended for us to enjoy marital intimacy and pleasure, especially sexual intimacy and pleasure, only in the context of those promises. Sex is reserved for the ocean deeps of marriage, not the safe wading depth of dating.

My Spouse Doesn’t Enjoy Sex
God made sexual relations to be profoundly mutual in marriage; each gives, each receives, each feels the act as the consummation of a wider and deeper spiritual and personal union, for which sex is only one of the capstones — but an important one. Each spouse is saying, “To you, and you only, do I give in this way. From you, and from you only, do I receive in this way.”
The Problem with Sexual Compatibility (lol this article was written by a guy who's single and presumably not having sex, he's here to tell us all why it's wrong to care about sexual compatibility)
God gave sex as a gift to be exclusively enjoyed by a husband and wife as a means of loving, caring, serving, honoring, and enjoying each other in marriage. So sexual compatibility between a married couple comes neither from ecstasy (how good the sex is) nor frequency (how often you have it) but mainly from intimacy, which occurs as love, trust, security, and respect deepen through the longevity of a monogamous, self-giving, covenant relationship.
From the many conversations I've had with those who are happily married with healthy, God-honoring sex lives, I've learned that true sexual compatibility, if we must call it that, happens when two people commit themselves first to God, and then to each other. This covenant commitment affords an opportunity for a husband and wife to unconditionally serve and love the way Jesus loves his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22-33).
A God-Scripted Engagement
Once you enter that sacred covenant, you are no longer two individuals, but “one flesh.” Then, and only then, are you free to enjoy each other’s bodies in an intimate way – entering the “holy of holies” without shame.
To keep sex sacred, we must keep ALL expressions of sexual intimacy sacred. Sexual touch of any kind is an intimate “knowing” of another person – and such intimate acts, in God’s pattern, are only meant as an outflow of a holy marriage covenant.

And here's what I wrote when I announced that I'm asexual:
Purity culture teaches that sex is THE MOST AMAZING FEELING EVER, but also very powerful and dangerous- so dangerous, in fact, that those of us who are unmarried aren't allowed to know any concrete details about it. Leaders in purity culture talk a lot about how great sex is in marriage, but they never actually give any information about what it's actually physically like. Not a word about genitals, about penises, about arousal, about erections, about orgasms, about clits, about semen, nope, nothing. They talked about it in such abstract terms, how it's about two people's hearts coming together in the most intimate way possible, how it's life-changing, how it creates a bond that lasts forever, how it's a beautiful gift from God.

So that's what I thought it would be. I thought sex would be a transcendent emotional experience, where you just get lost in your love for the other person and you forget that you even have a body, and the next day you still daydream about it because it was so amazing and romantic and you're so in love.
Anyway. Yeah. I'm asexual. Back in my purity culture days, I thought I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted sex, but it turns out that sex is about getting together with another person to stimulate each other's genitals, and I have DEFINITELY never wanted that.
I was SO on board for this "deepest intimate bond" stuff that I heard in church. I'm so romantic. I really really really wanted that. So I thought I had a lot of sexual desire. Then Hendrix and I started having sex (before marriage, which was a really really good decision for us), and it wasn't any of that at all. It was actually about stimulating each other's genitals. Seriously. I mean, I had "the talk" when I was a teenager, and I had sex ed class, so I know that in a technical sense, that's what sex was- but I didn't think that's what it would actually feel like. I thought it would feel like joining together in an unfathomable sacred union, with the most beautiful intimate expression of love, and all that crap.

Ha. Nope. It's really just the genital thing. That was literally it. Yes, really. Here we are, touching each other's genitals. ....... why.

I was SO CONFUSED, trying to figure out if I was asexual, looking at online checklists that asked questions like "do you desire sex", and I'm thinking "YES I do want sex!" but then "oh wait, what do they mean by 'sex', do they mean an unfathomable and sacred act where I 'give myself' to my partner in the most intimate way possible, or do they mean doing stuff with our genitals?"

I'll just conclude by saying this: You may be asexual if you're really interested in romantic feelings and expressing love to each other, but can't intuitively understand why that would be related to anybody's genitals. You may be asexual if you don't get why everyone says it's THE BEST FEELING EVER to do things with their partner's genitals, but you assume it will be self-explanatory once you try it. Yeah, turns out it's not self-explanatory. It's even more baffling when you actually do it. It's even weirder than it sounds. Yes. Really.

If you're asexual, then everything you ever heard in church about sex was wrong.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem

Book cover for "The Cross and the Lynching Tree" by James H. Cone. Image source.
[content note: anti-black violence, lynching, the N-word]

We're going to be looking at James Cone's book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. This post will cover chapter 1, "Nobody Knows de Trouble I See." This book was extremely eye-opening for me, and the reason I'm blogging about it is because white Americans all need to learn about this. In school I learned the basic facts about slavery, reconstruction, segregation, and all that, but I didn't really *get* it. So. Here we go.

First of all: Let's talk about what happened after slavery was abolished.

When I was a child, I had this sort of perspective on slavery and racism: Obviously everybody should have equal rights, obviously there shouldn't be discrimination based on race, obviously slavery is bad. I saw these principles as clear and obvious, and sort of imagined them to be a "default" or a "reference point" which racist policies had been put on top of at various times during history. In other words, I thought that white people during the time of the Civil War would have "by default" believed in racial equality, but the problem was that slavery was legal. As a child, I imagined that abolishing slavery had solved that whole problem. As if the only alternative to slavery is full equality.

Yeah, no. The main problem wasn't slavery itself, the problem was an entire society full of white people who believed that slavery was right and good. And I really didn't get that. I had never imagined that nice people could hold such objectively racist views- believing that black people have a lower "place in society"- and that they believed that was just normal, that was just the way things are supposed to be. That they didn't see those things as evil. That they believed God set it up that way.

"All races are equal" was very much NOT some kind of "obvious" principle which all the white people reverted to when slavery was abolished. Ha. No.

And I should know equality isn't "obvious", because I used to believe in complementarianism. That's what I had been taught in church- that men are leaders, blah blah blah. I very much did NOT see it as "all right so our starting point is that all genders should have the same leadership opportunities, but then on top of that we add some rules from God about how wives should submit to their husbands..." No, they taught it as "this hierarchy is just the natural way that things go, created by God." When I started learning about Christian feminism, I was like "so............. so then how do you interpret the 'wives submit to your husbands' verse? Would it be like, the husband and wife discuss things and then, like, only as a last resort if they can't agree, then the husband makes the final decision?" I needed to spend time unlearning complementarianism.

And the United States should have worked on unlearning slavery. Not just making it illegal, but working through all the implications, examining why it was wrong and what we should do to bring justice to the people who had suffered under slavery.

On page 4 of the book, Cone says "Most southern whites were furious at the very idea of granting ex-slaves social, political, and economic freedom." And "White supremacists felt insulted by the suggestion that whites and blacks might work together as equals." I didn't get this before- I didn't get that a lot of white people disagreed with abolishing slavery. They genuinely believed that blacks were just inferior and that's just the way it is. You can change the laws but you can't change the culture. That takes time.

And OF COURSE if society is run by white people who don't think black people should have freedom and equality, then they're going to do everything in their power to control and limit black people. Even though slavery is no longer an option. That's what happened during Reconstruction.

Again, how did I miss this when learning about US history in school? Maybe the problem is that "colorblind" white Americans see racism as something so horrific and bad that it must exist only in some faraway time and place that we can't relate to at all. We don't think about the motivations of those racist caricature people in our history books. We don't realize that the reasoning they gave for their racist ideas is very similar to debates happening today.

Cone describes how lynching became more and more common after the Civil War ended, and became a racialized form of violence specifically directed at black people (whereas originally it wasn't necessarily directed at black people, but was seen as "the only way a community could protect itself from bad people out of reach of the law"). Lynching became a way for whites to terrorize blacks- and they knew they could get away with it. On page 7, Cone says:
Lynching was the white community's way of forcibly reminding blacks of their inferiority and powerlessness. To be black meant that whites could do anything to you and your people, and that neither you nor anyone else could do anything about it. The Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney had said clearly in the Dred Scott Decision (1857): "[blacks] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." For many whites, whether in the North or the South, that conviction was unaffected by the end of slavery.
And that's horrifying. But... it's also horrifyingly similar to news stories I've seen over the past few years. #BlackLivesMatter has been calling attention to cases where black people were murdered (often by police) and the murderer totally got away with it. "To be black meant that whites could do anything to you and your people, and that neither you nor anyone else could do anything about it." To give just one example: Philando Castile was killed by a police officer, who was then acquitted of all charges. I remember reading accounts of lynchings in my history book in high school, which always seemed to end with "he was acquitted by an all-white jury." And I remember it was scary and shocking to read that, in history class, to think, "how could this happen?" Even more scary and shocking to realize it still happens today.

Another quote from the book:
A black Mississippian recalled a lynching with these words: "Back in them days, to kill a Negro wasn't nothing. It was like killing a chicken or killing a snake. The whites would say, 'Niggers jest supposed to die, ain't no damn good anyway-- so jest go an' kill 'em.'"
Yeah, again, holy crap, that's horrifying. But. There was a GoFundMe page for Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Mike Brown- and The Guardian reports that it received racist comments:
“Don’t let the savages win,” wrote one donor, calling himself Timothy Flagg. An anonymous donor told Wilson: “We appreciate your service in the animal control division of the Ferguson police department.”
And I remember seeing stuff like this, comments like this in support of various people who had killed unarmed blacks. When I first saw them, I had trouble even understanding- why would someone say something like that? What were they even talking about? But that's the reason right there- "N*****s jest supposed to die"- there are literally people who actually believe it would be better if black people just died.

GoFundMe was criticized for "collecting 'reward money for a lynching'". I've come to realize that lynching is about getting rid of black people- the actual reason given in each specific case is just an excuse. And wow, this is horrifying.

(This also explains why the N-word is so bad and we must never say it. It was a word that was used back when society believed that black people should be killed for not "staying in their place." Like yeah I always knew it's a really bad word, but HOLY SHIT it's way worse than I thought.)

I remember maybe about 10 years ago, there was drama because some radio host called a local black politician "a monkey." People were all angry and said it was racist. But the good Republicans- including me- said no it's not racist, he called him "a monkey" because he thinks he's not very smart and disagrees with his political views, it's certainly an insult but it doesn't have anything to do with race. The idea that "monkey" would be an insult specifically directed toward black people, to claim they are less than human, was just unimaginable to me. What nonsense! Who would think something like that? With my "colorblind" racism that didn't know anything about history, I believed that the people who called it "racism" were the ones introducing race into a situation that really had nothing to do with race at all. Why on earth would they interpret "monkey" as being a reference to the fact that he is black? That's just ridiculous! Why would anyone imagine that those things would be connected at all?

I didn't know about the history of black people being treated like animals, like their lives didn't matter. I didn't know about white people who used their power to restrict black people's rights and freedom- even to the point of murdering them- because they believed they weren't really human. Or, I learned about it in school, but I believed it was some long-ago-and-far-away thing that doesn't have any relation at all to any modern ideologies. Maybe a two-dimensional caricature in my history book might say that black people are animals [in some sense other than the scientific definition that says all people are animals], but obviously no one would believe such nonsense now. Right?

Back to the book. Cone also quotes this passage from Benjamin E. Mays:
A crowd of white men ... rode up on horseback with rifles on their shoulders. I was with my father when they rode up, and I remember starting to cry. They cursed my father, drew their guns and made him salute, made him take off his hat and bow down to them several times. Then they rode away. I was five years old, but I've never forgotten them.
And Cone also says this:
Should a black man in the South lift his hand or raise his voice to reprimand a white person, he would incur the full weight of the law and the mob. Even to look at white people in a manner regarded as disrespectful could get a black lynched.
Just like all the blog posts about how unarmed black men wouldn't get shot if they'd just respect police properly. Just like Sandra Bland refusing to put out her cigarette and then mysteriously dying in jail. Just like the black people I follow on twitter, talking about how they are very very very careful to never ever take any action that could be interpreted as threatening or disrespectful when talking to police- even though they're innocent, even though theoretically they have rights.

And here's what I want to know: Why did we learn about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in church, but we never talked about our own history of threatening black people with death, continually, if they don't "stay in their place"? Why was that bible story presented as a one-time thing, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had lives just like us until one day this whole statue thing came up, and then when it was over life just continued as normal, free and happy? Why didn't I ever hear about the fact of entire groups of people living under continuous threat of death if they assert their rights- and no, God doesn't save them like in the bible. Some of them do get killed, and it sends a message to the rest, to keep them afraid and "in their place."

In the second half of the chapter, Cone talks about how blacks dealt with their trauma through blues music and church. Through blues songs, they asserted their humanity and expressed the pain they suffered and their hope. In church, they found meaning in Jesus' suffering and Jacob's struggle with God. Lots of song lyrics in this chapter- both from blues songs and spirituals. Here's an example:
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Nobody knows but Jesus,
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Glory Hallelujah!
Cone says,
Because of their experience of arbitrary violence, the cross was and is a redeeming and comforting image for many black Christians. If the God of Jesus' cross is found among the least, the crucified people of the world, then God is also found among those lynched in American history.
They could relate to the accounts of Jesus suffering unjustly, being beaten and mocked, being tortured and executed publicly. I'm struck by how lynching and the crucifixion of Jesus were basically the same thing, but white Christians see them so differently. We romanticize and ascribe symbolic meaning to every aspect of Jesus' suffering and death, while essentially ignoring our history of lynching, or treating it as nothing more than a bad thing that KKK members did way back then, which has no connection at all to our lives in the present.

(At the same time, though, Cone mentions that black Christians also questioned how God could allow atrocities like slavery and lynching to happen.)

In conclusion, Americans (especially white Americans) should all read James Cone. We've forgotten our history, and that means we're not able to recognize the racism and systemic discrimination that still exists in the present. I believe white people should learn about the reasons and motivations behind what "those racist people" did in the past- because we will recognize some of our own biases there too. It will reveal that, even though we call ourselves "colorblind," we are also guilty of racism and we need to change.


Cone starts out chapter 1 with these two quotes, which I'll reprint here because they're quite powerful:
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
-- Acts 10:39

Hundreds of kodaks clicked all morning at the scene of the lynching. People in automobiles and carriages came from miles around to view the corpse dangling from the end of a rope. ... Picture cards photographers installed a portable printing plant at the bridge and reaped a harvest in selling the postcard showing a photograph of the lynched Negro. Women and children were there by the score. At a number of country schools the day's routine was delayed until boy and girl pupils could get back from viewing the lynched man.
-- The Crisis 10, no. 2, June 1915, on the lynching of Thomas Brooks in Fayette County, Tennessee

Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone:

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "LarryBoy and the Rumor Weed" (1999)

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Data and Stephen Hawking, on the set of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Image source.
1. Non-binary teen celebrates ‘b’nei mitzvah’ (posted March 2) "A synagogue has held the first known gender-neutral “B’nei Mitzvah” in the UK for a non-binary teenager."

2. Stormy Daniels Is Not a Punchline (posted March 10) "By treating her as trashy or tainted or inherently ridiculous because of her job, we send the message that none of Trump’s flaws are worse than being a “porn star.” We make it seem like her mere existence is somehow more embarrassing than his worst offenses. This enormous gap between how we judge women and men is sexist, and bad men rely on it to get away with their actions."

3. How the Activists Who Tore Down Durham's Confederate Statue Got Away With It (posted February 21)

4. Take The Words "Judeo-Christian" Out Of Your Damn Mouth (posted March 1) "No Jew has ever used the term “Judeo-Christian,” because like the Sinbad movie Shazaam, it does not actually exist."

5. Police Officer Wins Settlement From City That Fired Him for Not Shooting a Black Man (posted February 12)

6. This scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

We will miss Stephen Hawking <3

7.  Can ‘Black Panther’ Change Chinese Attitudes Toward Race? (posted March 9) "Many job postings specify that only white or “native European” teachers may apply, or demand that candidates submit copies of their passport pages at the very start of the recruitment process in order to screen out people with dark skin."

8. Scott Kelly: NASA Twins Study Confirms Astronaut's DNA Actually Changed In Space (posted March 9) Wow!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Post About Masturbation

Putting a wedding ring on new spouse's finger at the wedding ceremony. Image source.
So I want to write about this article on Desiring God about masturbation. It's called If Your Right Hand Causes You to Sin, because of course it is. The article is from 2016 but I saw it being discussed on Twitter recently, and you all know God called me to blog about crap from Desiring God.

The article is quite long so I won't respond to the whole thing. I just want to talk about this part:
2. God purposed that all righteous forms of sexual expression be for the marriage bed. Masturbation removes sexual expression from its only God-intended context.

Sexual expression manifest in orgasm is a good gift of God (1 Timothy 4:2–5) that men and women are to enjoy only in the context of marital intimacy (Genesis 2:23; Song 8:4–6; 1 Corinthians 7:2–3; Hebrews 13:4). When people reach orgasm outside the covenant-confirming act of lovemaking in marriage, the act becomes solely self-seeking, divorced from its purpose of creating intimacy. Sexual expression through orgasm should be an overflow of a desire for a spouse, not merely for a feeling or experience.
  • “[Liars] forbid marriage . . . that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:2–5)
  • “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another . . . so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:2–3, 5)
  • “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)
So wait wait wait. Let's see if I'm understanding this: God wants you to only have orgasms if your spouse is there participating.


What is this business about "Sexual expression through orgasm should be an overflow of a desire for a spouse, not merely for a feeling or experience"? Like, this writer just completely made that up. Who made him the expert on everyone else's orgasms?

In this culture of "sexual purity" (which Desiring God is a part of), sex and love are connected in only one way. Sex (and anything involving orgasms or anything sort-of sexual) is something you do with your spouse, of the opposite gender, to whom you are committed for life, monogamously. That is, apparently, "God's design" for sex. Because sex means love, and sex means lifelong commitment, and marriage means sex. There's no acknowledgement that maybe sex could mean different things to different people.

I love my husband. And I am interested in learning about my own body through masturbation. And those two things just aren't in conflict. Like, why would they be? They're two completely unrelated things. Masturbation doesn't take away from my love for my husband- it has nothing to do with him at all. (Well, except in the sense that if I understand my own body better, then we will be able to have sex together better.) Just because we're in love and I fully intend to spend the rest of my life with him, why on earth would that mean that he needs to be present every time I stimulate my genitals?

Like why does genital stimulation need to have anything to do with love?

Yes, I grew up in that culture, I know the reasons that Christians say masturbating is bad. Because if you get good at masturbating, then maybe you won't be interested in having sex with your spouse any more. And if you don't have enough sex with your spouse, then you two will feel like you're not close. Blah blah blah. Sure, it's possible that could happen in some cases- so if you find yourself in those cases, then take a step back and figure out where you went wrong and what you need to do to get your marriage healthy. But that's no reason to teach that masturbating is bad for EVERYONE in ALL CASES. I'm tired of being afraid of my own goddamn body, and I'm angry.

Why, in "God's design," is "sexual" supposedly synonymous with "lifelong love and exclusive commitment"? Why would a certain physical action always have the same emotional and symbolic meaning, to everyone? Why?

Many married people have had sex with an ex before they got married, and they're fine. Some couples (who are having sex- not that it's any of your business though) choose not to get married, even though they are committed to each other. Some people have casual sex. Some people are polyamorous and have sexual or romantic relationships with multiple partners, and do so in a healthy way that relies on honest communication between all the partners involved. Some married couples don't have sex at all, maybe because they're both asexual. Or maybe they don't have sex with each other because one spouse is asexual, but the allosexual (non-asexual) spouse has sex with someone else.

And all of those examples about relationships aren't even related to masturbation at all. You can just masturbate by yourself, no matter what your relationship structure is. It doesn't have to "mean anything" about your love for your partner(s).

Like, there are a lot of ways to mix and match sex, love, and commitment. How on earth could it be possible that those things would map to each other in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY for every person in the world? Above all, we need to value consent, respect, and honest communication.

And I'll conclude by saying this: I very much recommend masturbation. I see no downsides at all- it's just a thing one does by oneself, it doesn't have the emotional vulnerability risk factor that partnered sex does, and you can learn about your own body. I wish I had started a long time ago, like maybe when I was a teenager, rather than believing that masturbating was sinful and being terrified of it. I personally use a magic wand sex toy like this.

And maybe that's "too much information" but I am saying it here because I spent all those years not allowed to talk about it, not allowed to have desires or even curiosity, too scared to even think about the existence of my genitals. No one should have to live like that and I'm ****ing angry. I want to preach the good news of masturbation to all the church kids. 

Especially the aces. Because they're the ones most likely to actually be able to keep the rules about abstinence and no masturbation. They're the ones who are likely to remain ignorant about their own genitals, because they don't learn it through "falling into temptation" and beating themselves up about it like other kids. I feel so sad for all the good pure baby aces out there who believe they're so godly and that someday they'll be rewarded with mind-blowing awesome honeymoon sex. (And speaking of asexuality- I want to make it clear that some people just aren't interested in masturbation or sex and THAT'S ALSO COMPLETELY 100% FINE AND NORMAL. I personally am very interested even though I don't experience sexual attraction.)

All right. Anyway, the point is, that Desiring God article believes that God intends for orgasms to only ever happen in the presence of one's spouse. Which is just so absurd. So laughably ridiculous. My favorite part was how the writer couldn't even find bible verses that said anything like that- the examples given are along the lines of "marriage is important, and don't be sexually immoral." Apparently, figuring out a reason why masturbation is "sexually immoral" is left as an exercise for the reader.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Reading US History Inerrantly

A painting of George Washington at Mount Vernon, with slaves working in the background. Image source.
[content note: racism in US history]

I'm going to do a blog series on James Cone's book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It's about the US's history of anti-black violence and the ways that black people have found inspiration and courage in the story of Jesus' crucifixion.

Before I actually get to talking about the book, I want to say something about the history I learned in school. The facts about slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the Civil Rights movement were covered. There were diagrams of how many people got crammed onto ships and brought from Africa, and shocking statistics about how many died. We read graphic accounts about beatings that slaves suffered. There were novels about heroic characters who escaped from slavery. We learned about the various laws to stop black people from voting- sneaky stuff like literacy tests and grandfather clauses. There were articles about how "separate but equal" really wasn't equal at all. We learned about protests during the Civil Rights movement- sit-ins and boycotts and the March on Washington- and the laws that were passed that finally guaranteed equal rights for black Americans.

So I knew all those facts. But I didn't really *get* it.

Because there was something else I learned too: American exceptionalism. Adults told me "this is the greatest country in the world." We have more freedom and democracy than any other country. The founding fathers were Christians and America was founded as a Christian nation. And they did such a good job writing the Constitution- such perfection, 3 branches of government, checks and balances, ingenious compromises between delegates from large and small states. It's so good that it's used as a model for other democracies all over the world.

The "big picture" I believed was that the US government, in its original form as laid out by the Constitution, was perfect. And, you know, throughout history there have been some bad things that have happened, but those are exceptions. My concept of "the United States is the greatest nation because it's a Christian nation built on principles of freedom and equality" was never really challenged.

Or was it? I remember on more than one occasion, a history teacher saying "you know back when this country was started, they had slavery, and women couldn't vote, so when they said 'all men are created equal' they really just meant white men who owned land." I remember one lesson where we discussed this hypothetical: Imagine aliens visited earth during the Civil War, and then visited again a few years later during Reconstruction. Based on what they saw during the Reconstruction era, which side would they conclude had won the war? (The answer is the South, and if you're wondering why, go and learn what happened during Reconstruction.) I remember when our history teacher told us that ending slavery wasn't really a priority for Lincoln; he wanted to keep the country together more than anything else- he didn't really believe in equality for black people. Little hints where it was pointed out that this big American ideal of equality wasn't really equality for everyone.

But still, there was nothing that ever caused me to seriously question that whole "the US is better than any other country because we have FREEDOM." There was a lot of conservative Christian propaganda about how the founding fathers did everything right and they were led by God, and how our country has totally gone downhill from there. 

I'm just now realizing that that's an EXTREMELY RACIST thing to believe.

I remember in middle school history class, at the beginning of the school year we took a quiz to see how much we already knew. One of the questions was "True or false: The Constitution allowed slavery." I wasn't sure on the timeline- slavery was a thing that happened a long time ago, and the Constitution was a thing that was written a long time ago, but I didn't know which was first. But I was certain that the founding fathers were guided by God to write a uniquely perfect and completely good document. So I figured, no there's no way the Constitution could have allowed slavery. Surely that was added later by bad people.

(For those of you following along at home, the answer is yes, the Constitution allowed slavery. Until the 13th Amendment came along in 1865.)

Then there was the time we learned about the compromises that went into making the Constitution. How the founders were so intelligent and came up with such good solutions that took into account arguments made by delegates from all the states. There was the Great Compromise- which said that representation in the House would be based on each state's population, and in the Senate each state would have 2 senators. Wow wasn't that such a good idea- then the large states and small states were both happy. How wonderful. And there was the Three-Fifths Compromise, which said that when counting state population for the purposes of representation and taxes, slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person.

And middle-school-Perfect-Number was like, wait that doesn't make sense. They weren't actually letting the slaves vote. They weren't giving them representation- so OF COURSE they shouldn't be counted in population numbers for determining how many representatives each state should have. This has the practical effect of giving white people in slave states a disproportionately large say in the government. I mean, this is just totally illogical.

(Many many years later, I realized that laws get passed by the government because they managed to get enough people to agree to them. It's not really about what's good and fair and makes sense.)

But this three-fifths crap is written into the Constitution. I should have realized right then that all this stuff about "the Constitution is such a perfect document" was a myth.

But I didn't. Because I had a lifetime of experience laughing about that time Elisha called God to send bears to maul some kids, while still believing the bible was inerrant.

See, the way white American Christians talk about the Constitution is very similar to the way they talk about the bible. Apparently, back when the Constitution was written, the founders had this big ideal of how America would be a Christian nation and a democracy where everyone was equal, and ever since that time, our culture has moved away from that perfection and become more and more immoral. Oh if only we could just get back to the Constitution! We need Supreme Court justices who just do what the Constitution says, not like these liberals who add all this other junk because they're secular and don't want to follow what the founding fathers intended. Just stick to the plain meaning of the text!

They framed it like there's the good, honest people who obey what the Constitution clearly says, vs the bad liberals who want to change our country into some kind of awful godless wasteland, who make dishonest arguments to try to lead people astray and twist the words of the Constitution into something they were never meant to be. Just like the good honest people who just obey the bible and the fake Christians who only pick out the parts of the bible they like and preach some kind of weak lovey-dovey God who just wants everyone to have good self-esteem.

I eventually discovered that interpreting the bible isn't so clear- that every Christian comes in with their own perspective about what the bible is and what it's for, everyone has their own biases, and those things determine the conclusions they reach about "what the bible says"- not their own honesty and good intentions or lack thereof.

Much later, I realized the same thing is true about the Constitution. So it's meaningless to say we want Supreme Court justices who "just follow what the Constitution says."

They said the bible was good and perfect and inerrant and inspired by God. Then I went and read the bible and there were a lot of foreskins and God killing people and graphic scary prophecies about war and destruction. And I had to believe that was all fine and didn't in any way affect the bible's status as good and perfect. As a good church kid who read the bible a lot, I developed the habit of not noticing or questioning those things. Or, I did notice them, but I saw them as fun bits of trivia that would show off my bible knowledge. I trusted God so much, so I was sure there was a good reason he did all those shady genocidal things. In fact, I was so confident, I would laugh about the atrocities God committed in the bible.

They said the United States is a Christian nation, the best country in the world, and that the founders were good Christians who prayed and were guided by God to write the Constitution. Then I went to history class and learned about slavery and segregation and violence. And just as I had trained myself to read about the Canaanite genocide without ever thinking "hey, maybe this was a bad thing that God commanded here", I read about the kidnapping, sale, torture, beating, and murder of African people without ever thinking "hey, maybe it's actually NOT true that this country was founded on principles of liberty and justice for all." Sure, those things were awful, and there were times that I cried when I read about families being split up when they were sold into slavery. But I saw these horrific events as exceptions that didn't have any bearing on the United States's identity as "a Christian nation, the greatest nation in the world because we have freedom." It was just an isolated thing, a bad thing some racist white people did back then. Just like God can command an army to "kill everything that breathes" and still be perfectly good and worthy of worship.

So I learned all the facts about racism in US history, but I wasn't able to really *get* it. There was no way I could get it, when all the adults said "this is the greatest nation in the world." And I read the bible from cover to cover and believed it all really happened, but the thought that maybe God is a monster never crossed my mind. There was no way I could get it.


Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone:

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem