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America Doesn’t Need Unity. It Needs Marriage Counseling.

Has anyone else listened to the current political debates playing out on social media and feel that it all seems familiar? Not as is “this argument happened last time,” but some thing even closer to home than that? Am I the only one that thinks the two sides are beginning to resemble a couple in the midst of a divorce going at each other? And I’m not talking about the “oh, they are just drifting apart” kind, but the “should we get the police here before we have to call an ambulance” kind?

Yeah, America needs marriage counseling pronto.  And I say marriage counseling for a reason. When two people don’t get along, you don’t just tell them they need unity… they are already united whether they want to be or not (just like we are in America). You don’t let them blame external forces for dividing them. You tell them one thing: they need to sit down and listen to each other. And not just listen, but learn to practice what is called active listening:

According to experts in the field of communication, active listening means that you possess and have developed a specific kind of communication skill that allows you to fully hear what another person is trying to say.

There are many ways to do this, but the article that I quoted above lists five good places where America (aka “you reading this”) could start:

  1. Let your partner speak”This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position.”
  2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes”During times of conflict, you should enter the conversation with specific goals of what you would like to learn from your mate – and not your talking points.”
  3. Don’t jump to conclusions”Even when folks are trying to listen, they sometimes assume that they know what their mate will say before the words can escape their mouth.”
  4. Ask questions”Avoid asking questions disguised as accusations. Instead, focus on knowledge that you truly need in order to better understand your partner’s position.
  5. Paraphrase what your partner says”Be aware there is a big difference between paraphrasing and parroting. In other words, don’t engage in a verbatim account or take on a litigious tone.”

Notice what this advice doesn’t say: “Quote Bible verses that say you should listen more than speak to the one you need to listen to” “Tell them that other factors are dividing you and there are the reasons why you can’t get along.” “Minimize their point of view by saying your point of view is just as important or more so than theirs.”

Look, I believe in unity. I believe in speaking in love and not hate. But too many times we use the ideas of unity, speaking in love, letting no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, we are all the same on the inside, the world is changed by your example and not your opinion, the media is dividing us so turn it off, etc to silence the other “side” rather than to actively listen to them.

To put this another way, even good responses can be the wrong responses when utilized at the wrong time or with the wrong intentions.

I hate to have to bring it up, but those in power usually use the concept of “unity” to force their political stance on those that they have power over. And even if you don’t buy that, any concept like “unity” has to be defined, and different people will have different definitions. If the goal is unity, then one definitive version of what that means will have to win out. And everyone else will be forced to follow the winner.

metamodern-faith-avatarTherefore, unity is not really a great goal at this point. Maybe someday, but not now. Besides, we have had unity forced upon us in America already. It hasn’t been working all that great, especially in recent years. We don’t need to ignore our differences, or even acknowledge them and then gloss over them in pursuit of one side’s view of unity. We need marriage counseling. We need to understand each other. We need to see each other as humans and not as sides to be opposed. To some reading this, that is unity. But to those that haven’t benefited from the majority’s view of “unity” so far in America, it is actually a much higher goal. Equality.

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Narcigesis (and other obscure big words used to attack progressives) are all Relative

An older term (“narcigesis”) has popped up again – from the root word narcissus mixed with eisegesis. Typically, any word ending in -egesis usually just boils down to “you believe something I don’t, so you are wrong because BIG WORD says so!” That is also the case with narcigesis, which I will copy this definition here for those that don’t want to click over to the link:

  1. The reading of one’s own life experiences and/or that of another’s life experience into the text of Scripture; the need to make the Bible all about themselves.
  2. An interpretation of Scripture based on the interpreter’s self-authority, particularly driven by self-esteem, self-actualization, mystical experiences and/or the interpreter’s “felt needs.” (See Sola Experientia.)
  3. A personal and/or mystical interpretation of Scripture based on the interpreter’s own ideas, biases, opinions, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, experiences, impressions, dreams, revelations, or the like, rather than based upon the plain meaning of the text.
  4. The reading of one’s own doctrinal theories into Scripture (as opposed to exegesis, which is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of biblical text), particularly as a result of personal experience. (See Sola Experientia.)
  5. Self-centered, self-defined and self-authenticating biblical interpretation, application and counsel.
  6. The reading of one’s own interpretation into Scripture based upon the egotistic belief that all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; and that only the learned, the elect, or the leadership elite (of which the interpreter considers himself), may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (See Plura Scriptura.)
  7. The egotistical drive to invent new theologies, doctrines, revelations, applications and philosophies about Scripture, often manifested in self-aggrandizement activities such as book publishing, conferences, setting up organizations and websites, money-making schemes and publicity drives.

As a very conservative Assembly of God Bible teacher once said, “anyone that claims that there is a ‘plain meaning of the text’ is not being intellectually honest about the complexities of translation.” Now, to be clear, It is not about having to be “learned, the elect, or the leadership elite” to understand, it is just that everyone that is not fluent in Greek and Hebrew has to rely on translators to know what scripture says, and those translators frequently disagree with each other even on key passages. And therefore, even if you know the languages, you still have to pick which of the various sides of these debates to go with on many scriptures.

In reality, what that means is 1 – 7 above are all relative. For instance, after college I took #4 seriously and set aside all the things the evangelical church had taught me, took a long, hard, exegesis / critical examination of the whole Bible, and ended up rejecting several evangelical teachings because of it. I had no desire to go that way, but exegesis led me to those positions. Yet many of my church friends from that time claim that I am reading my own experiences, stroking my self-esteem, self-centered, inventing new theories, etc. Current church friends of mine disagree – they think I am following the clear text. We usually label what we agree with as clear, and reject anything else as narcigesis or heresy or what have you.

In other words, Christians usually have to rely on their own feelings, their own understandings, their own theories, their own ego, etc in order to claim that others are doing the same. In order to prove that someone else is doing so, one has to pick a translation of the Bible first – one that is going to reflect the bias and ego of its translators and the side of various linguistic arguments those translators chose to follow. Then you are going to filter that translation through your own bias and feelings. Its pretty naive to say that we can get through all of these barriers and claim “plain meaning” as if all of these choices don’t exist and we speak as a direct conduit straight from God’s mouth.

metamodern-faith-avatarIn many ways, this link is like an organized list of how many of us have been judged, misunderstood, and ostracized for thinking critically about and ultimately leaving the realm of evangelicalism. Narcigesis is not the word we are looking for, it is a word that represents the last bits of modernism left in churches trying to judge postmodernist scripture interpretation even though it sorely misses the mark in doing so.

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How to Destroy a Nation

Capturing millions of people and selling them as property to support business through slavery will not destroy a nation.

Latter declaring that these people have no legal rights and therefore can not even be citizens of your nation will not destroy a nation.

Forcing native inhabitants to move from their homelands to horrible living conditions – killing thousands in the process – will not destroy a nation.

Sending hundreds of thousands of people into internment camps just because they are the same ethnicity as the country that you are fighting with will not destroy a nation.

Dropping bombs that instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people in an instance will not destroy the nation that dropped the bombs.

Denying equal rights, voting, pay, voice, and other basic aspects to over half of the population of a nation just because they are women will not destroy a nation.

Hundreds of years of atrocities, murders, lies, cover-ups, unethical experiments, hatred, greed, mistreatment of the poor, abuse of children, and many other sins will not destroy a nation.

What is finally going to get God mad enough to destroy America (or let America destroy itself)?

Marriage equality and transgender bathroom access.

Two issues not even directly mentioned in the Bible… unlike all of the things above. But sure, God is going to finally hit that smite button because we let people marry who they want, and go pee where they feel comfortable.

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What if We are Just Starting to get Gender and Sex and Sexuality and All of that Right?

Many of my conservative friends are lamenting on Facebook this week how our world is becoming more confused about gender and sexuality issues, based mostly on marriage equality and transgender bathroom access. Their general point is that our children are losing their innocence because of the changes that our society is making regarding these issues. They feel that society is declining morally and calling what is evil good. They feel that our culture is out of control and getting everything wrong, because we had it so right in the past.

Or did we?

For hundreds of years, our society thought it was okay to look at people of color as less that human, leading to racism, slavery, hatred, and lynchings. We got that wrong for most of our time as a society, and are still struggling to get it right.

For hundreds of years, our society thought it was okay to look at women as property, leading to patriarchy, sex slavery, inequality, and gamergate. We got that wrong for most of our time as a society, and are still struggling to get it right.

We thought smoking was good for you for a long time, leading to cancer, death, and massive health problems.

We find out every year that the way we have eaten for years is wrong.

We find out every year that the way we teach our kids and ourselves is wrong.

We find out every year that we know less about the universe than we thought we did.

We are finding out that the way many of us sit and work all day is bad for us. That the way we treat our spouses is not healthy for them. That the materials we make our stuff with is killing us. That all kinds of ideas are not helpful but harmful.

And let’s not forget that almost all of these societal constructs we got wrong were adamantly supported by people claiming that the Bible was “clear” about these issues. Oh, and let’s also add in the problems caused by one religious interpretation forcing their beliefs on others, causing witch trials, inquisitions, and holy wars.

metamodern-faith-avatarSo suddenly certain parts of society can claim that what our culture has claimed is “normal” about sexuality and gender for centuries is completely okay, when it has a horrible history of getting so many other things wrong? Pretty much every time that a religious male forced their image as standard on others that were different, we see horrible things resulting: sexism, racism, slavery, religious cleansing, genocide, etc. But let’s also not forget that these men are also heterosexual cis males. What has been the result of the society that heterosexual cis males have created? Bullying, hate crimes, murder, and rising suicide rates among those that are LBGTQA. Have I made the pattern clear yet?

What if we are just now getting sexuality and gender right? What if the “right answers” are not as simple and clear cut as we would like them to be?

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Trangender and the Garden of Eden

When dealing with the issue of transgender bathroom access, many people attempt to connect gender issues in general with various parts of the Bible. Probably one of the more common questions I read is something along the lines of: “if God created intersexual and transgender people, then why was there only a male and a female in the Garden of Eden?”

So let’s look at this question at face value, putting aside debates about whether Adam and Eve were real people or literary devices. Let’s look at this question from the side of a person that believes that Adam and Eve were real, and that all humans are descended from them.

Therefore the question is a valid one from that mindset, so lets take it to its logical conclusions. Two people meant there were only two sexes. That much we can read. But what else does that mean? Two people in the garden means that at most, there were also only two ethnicities, two hair colors, two eye colors, two adult heights, two personalities, etc. And this is all at most – Adam and Eve might have had the same hair color for instance, or might have both been introverts (wouldn’t that have ended the whole human race pretty fast, huh?). If our physical, mental, and emotion states were limited to only what was present in two people at creation, that means that every aspect of humanity is would still currently be limited to two possibilities.

But that is not what happened in reality. Now we have more than two possibilities for all physical, emotional, and mental characteristics in the world today. Think about it: whether you are born male or tall or black or cranky or genius is all coded in the same genetic strand. If you can have a different nose length than either Adam or Eve did, then you can also have a different sex or gender than either of them. Its all part of the exact same process.

metamodern-faith-avatarGod creating something in the garden means just that – God needed those parameters for creation. That does not necessarily mean that what God used for creation is what is also decreed as the only options for all times (basic genetics proves that). To say that what God used for creation is also a decree for what must be for all time is adding to what the Bible. God needed male and female for creation, and now creation is over.

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Is Same-Sex Marriage Unjust?

One of the more prevalent attitudes today about marriage equality is that people should just mind their own business and not get into legislating religious beliefs in the bed room. This stance is obviously a good step to take towards living at peace with people that disagree with one’s personal beliefs. However, one of the problems with the whole issue of marriage equality is that this compromise is not enough for one side of the debate.

James S. Spiegel has published an article titled “Why Same-Sex Marriage is Unjust” in the Cambridge Journal. I have tried to get a copy of the full-text through the two top-tier research University libraries that I work with, to no avail. This really means that: 1) I can’t comment on the full article without reading it; and 2) It’s not a widely read journal, so the impact will probably be minimal. However, the abstract is being circulated on social media because it represents a widely-held set of beliefs within evangelical circles:

Proponents of same-sex marriage often defend their view by appealing to the concept of justice. But a significant argument from justice against same-sex marriage can be made also, as follows. Heterosexual union has special social value because it is the indispensable means by which humans come into existence. What has special social value deserves special recognition and sanction. Civil ordinances that recognize same-sex marriage as comparable to heterosexual marriage constitute a rejection of the special social value of heterosexual unions, and to deny such special social value is unjust.

These thoughts represent a major logical failure on (at least) three fronts, all of which I will touch on here. Maybe Speigel deals with these in the article, maybe not. However, all of the points below would still stand even if they were dealt with in any manner.

First of all, not all heterosexual unions produce children. I’m not just referring to those that choose not to have kids. Many people know that they are not able to produce children before they even get married. Other people get married after they are too old to have children. There are many heterosexual marriages between people that biologically can not produce children from that union. Some know before hand, others don’t find out until after they are married. If the special social value of heterosexual marriage is that they can produce children, then allowing people that can’t have children to get married is also a rejection of the special social value of heterosexual unions. But if one allows exceptions for heterosexual people just because their attractions could have led them to kids if they were born differently…. that is pretty much the same logic for allowing marriage equality. The same logic that would allow for an infertile or older couple to be an exception to this special social value would also apply to same sex marriages.

Second of all, someone being born with a certain ability does not automatically give it “special social value.” I was born a tall person. Every where I go, I am asked by strangers to get various items off the top self. I provide a special social value in that aspect, but that doesn’t make it unjust to equalize the reach of others. I could fight against laws that require stores to have step ladders in all aisles, claiming my height is a special social value that should be protected. But its just silly to think that because I am born in a way that makes me able to do things a certain way, than this is special social value of some kind. “But wait”, you might say, “we are talking about having kids here! That is not reaching a can of soup on the top shelf at the grocery store!” Well, of course. I am making an exaggerated example to show how you can’t just say “this is special, so we must keep others that are different from having it!” You see, the thought represented in the abstract above conflates two things that I will deal with in the next point: it confuses producing kids with raising kids, as well as confusing being pro-marriage equality with being anti-traditional marriage.

The third and final point is that support for marriage equality is not a rejection of the “special social value of heterosexual unions.” No one is trying to stop heterosexuals from getting married and having kids. Being pro-marriage equality is not the same as being anti-traditional marriage. Its is only adding to those that can already get married and raise kids. It is expanding the other social values that marriage brings (security, shelter, belonging, etc) to people in society that desperately want them (recognizing, of course, that not everyone needs marriage to find those – there are just many that do). It is also not about producing children, or making it so that heterosexuals can not have children. That is paranoid extreme right-wing weirdness. The world population is still increasing, and marriage equality is not slowing it down.

metamodern-faith-avatarThe special social value in heterosexual union is producing children. That is happening at such a rampant rate that thinking that producing babies needs some kind of protection is ludicrous at best. We need more people (single and married) to raise the number of children our world already can’t keep up with. The reality is that the “special social value” in marriage equality is creating thousands of more families that can legally adopt and raise all of the kids that heterosexual unions are producing. To me (and most people), raising children trumps having them, therefore in any case same-sex marriages have more of a special social value that heterosexual ones because they actually meet a real need. Producing children is not a social need at this point in time. Raising them is.

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Musings on the Current Presidential Race

If you had asked me four years ago what I thought of the host of The Apprentice becoming a serious U.S. presidential candidate, I would have laughed and said he a racist, misogynist, divisive, unstable megalomaniac that has neither the temperament nor the skills to be taken seriously. Of course, fast forward to now and when one says the same thing, Trump fans accuse you of buying the media lies that the corporations are paying for to slander Trump because he is an outsider. Not sure how the media and corporations would have done that to an opinion of mine that would technically be unchanged for years before he even announced he was running, but whatever. Anyone that knows Trump’s history knows he is neither a Washington outsider nor anti-corporations. He is deeply entangled in both.

Everyone seems to be complaining about media bias. Trump, Sanders, Cruz, Rubio…. Clinton? Has she complained about it yet? I can’t remember. But the funny thing about her is that in the past week I have heard several of her opponents (DEM and GOP) say something about media deception and then follow that with some Clinton issue that they could only know about… from the media. Think about it: email scandal, Benghazi, you name the things dogging her now… the only way we know about these problems is through the media. So the media can accurately report Clinton’s problems, but not the other candidate’s? If the media can’t be trusted, then how do we know any of Clinton’s problems are real? Clinton is currently the only candidate not getting hammered by her opponents for things she said recently or policies she stated since running. That one thing about Sanders standing right behind her 23 years ago is about as bad as it gets… and that is a silly point at best. The attacks on Clinton are all about media-reported issues. That a dangerous place to be. Does anyone know anything about Clinton other than “she’s copying Bernie!!!” and “Benghazi / emails!!!”? That should concern people.

As far as Sanders, the real concern with him is who is voting for him. As in, mostly young rich white males. People of color are voting for Clinton big time. The reaction from the Sanders camp? “They are uninformed! They are buying into media hype!” I have a huge problem with that reaction. People of color voted Obama in as well. This was followed by the McCain and then the Romney supporters claiming “They are uninformed! They are buying into media hype!” Of course, it was racist back then, and its still racist today. Voting for a democratic socialist doesn’t suddenly change that. If the group that voted for Obama was well-informed and levelheaded just four years ago, how are they suddenly not today? People that voted for Obama and claimed one thing about people of color four years ago, but are now claiming the opposite message about the same group of people today, have a lot of explaining to do.

Thankfully, there are some Sanders supporters that are not saying those things. But… they aren’t really doing much to stand up to those who are. Silence is not always a good thing.

Also of concern are the liberals that say “Sanders or third party!” or “Clinton or third party!” Might as well go vote for Trump, because that is what you are doing. This is different from choosing not to vote (which is a choice I still support, because a freedom is not truly free if it is obligatory). Increasing voter turnout has never been found to change the percentages of who votes. “Republicans win in years when voter turnout is low” is an urban legend. What does change elections is when large swaths of voters that typically vote for one party switch votes and go for a third party candidate. They basically shoot their old party in the foot. Of course, that has never really happened for a presidential election, but Sanders and Clinton have enough support to change that this time if the supporters of which ever one loses do go through with the threat to go third party. I will vote for whoever is not Trump or Cruz no matter how much I don’t like them, because those two are miles beyond worse than anyone else left.

What do I have against Cruz? He twists the Constitution to fit his own warped ultra-right wing theology and then claims to be a constitutional scholar. Sorry, I have designed college classes with true constitutional scholars that are also conservative. They would agree with almost nothing Cruz stands for. And don’t get me started on his twisted version of Christianity.

What I personally want to see for the election is Kasich versus Clinton. They are both the most moderate candidate in their parties (but not by much), so if they go head to head the contest will pull them both more towards the moderate middle. This will change the conversation in the country to a message of coming together on middle ground, which will also usher in more moderate candidates in other elections. The overall effect will create more fertile ground for whoever wins out of the two to create the most real change in this country. People of color see that, and that is why they are voting for these two.

If Sanders and Trump go head to head for the election, it will be a different story: here you would have two people at the polar opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. Their campaigns will further pull people towards those poles, further dividing the nation. More radical people on both ends of the spectrum will be elected in other races as well. No matter which one gets elected, the division their stand-off will cause will create an atmosphere where neither one will be able to accomplish much while in office, meaning less real change. Just look at the last two elections – Obama and McCain/Romney are technically closer to each other than Sanders and Trump, but still far enough apart that their campaign caused major divisions in this country. Obama spent the first half of his presidency attempting to overcome that division, and then the second half doing a fraction of what he could have because the division was still there. It would have been the same for McCain or Romney of they had won. It will be the same, but worse, if Trump and Sanders go head to head.

metamodern-faith-avatarWhat most fans of any candidate most get wrong is thinking that their one candidate can make the changes this country needs. What we really need is a complex scenario of the right people running against each other at the right time starting early enough in the process to create the right atmosphere for real change. But I fear that it is too late on the Republican side to go down that road… no matter how you slice it, Trump does not fit into what this country needs in any way, shape, or form.