Category Archives: Religious versus Spiritual

Christians and Sex

Venus in saran wrap

Sex, Christians, and Saran Wrap

I’m always perplexed by comments that Christians are anti-sex, as I am by comments that Christians are anti-Jew.

Pro-Sex Christians

I’ve been a Christian since 1972, having passed through Catholic-atheist-agnostic-Hindu, and I always found Christians to be quite pro-sex and way overboard pro-Israel. For example, I remember Total Woman, a book used in Bible studies, which suggested meeting your spouse at the door wearing nothing but Saran wrap. So I suspected the anti-sex, anti-Jew ideas come from past-nasty church history, of which there is a great deal, and that is the case. But it does not come from the Bible.

Sex is Good

In Genesis, God makes them male and female, tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and steps back and says, “Well, that’s good.” As the story progresses, people beget, fall in love, cheat on their partners, and let’s face it, have lots of sex. The Bible is at least R-rated, and the Song of Solomon is so hot, rumors have it that young people were once forbidden to read it until they reached marriageable age (which was much younger then.)

Progressive Revelation

The Bible is sixty-six books gathered together; some folk tales, some historical narratives, some poetry, and a whole bunch of song lyrics-otherwise known as Psalms. Revelation is progressive and culturally relevant to the time. That is to say, the culture of nomadic tribal warlords gradually becomes a culture of city-dwellers, artisans, and farmers. Voltaire said, “If God made man in his own image, we have certainly returned the favor.” The people passing the stories down did the same. What else could they do? The tribal God is a god of war, sometimes a god of the mountains, sometimes a god who fits in a certain location, like in the ark which they must carry into battle in order to win.

From Ritual to Relationship

By the time of Jeremiah, the concept has progressed to a God who does not dwell in temples made with human hands, and one who values justice, mercy, and humility. He  does not excuse his people from practicing those virtues because they are Chosen. He does not care about outward rules and rituals as much as what is going on in a man’s heart. By the time Jesus shows up, he has the audacity to say, “It is written…but I say to you….” giving the boot to rules and rituals and even “what is written.” Shocking.

Biblical Marriage?

As for sex, it is reported without so much as a blush, and nowhere is sex reported as dirty or bad. There are rules about sex, just like there are in every society. Rape is proscribed and incest is taboo. Sex is a good thing, but so is chocolate cake. It is not good to eat chocolate cake all day or to have sex with whoever strikes your fancy, such as your mother, your sister, or another man’s wife. It would be hard to take the whole Bible and say, “This is biblical marriage.” King David had several wives, as befits an Oriental potentate, and his son Solomon famously had seven hundred wives and concubines. He could go almost two years without sleeping with the same woman twice, and that was just fine in his society.

You’ve Got be Kidding, Jesus

Jesus comes along and holds up the Ideal in human relationships-this is the highest and best. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek and doing good to those who despitefully use you, I had the reaction his original audience had-“You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” The Sermon on the Mount still bothers me, because I know he wasn’t kidding and I fall short. My falling short is no reason to argue that he was wrong, or to throw out the Ideal. We need a target to aim at, I just find it to be a very tiny bullseye and keep missing. “To miss the mark” is the literal meaning of the word “sin,” though sin has morphed into meaning “some fun God doesn’t want you to have.” The Ideal Jesus holds up about sex is lifetime commitment. Lots of objections can be raised to this Ideal, and I have raised them. But I admit that to fall in love with one person who also loves you and to live together all your life as partners in every possible way-that is a good Ideal. That would be awesome. That it seldom happens means we miss the mark, not that the Ideal is flawed.

Paul and Sex

The Apostle Paul advocated singleness on the basis of the belief that the world would soon end. If the world will end next week, it is better not to marry. Paul goes on to say that if you do marry, that’s OK and by the way, neither of you should deny sex to your partner. So the Bible is consistently pro-sex. Where does the anti-sex stuff come from?

Evil Bodies

Certain Church Fathers influenced by Greek, Roman and Persian philosophies, and pushing Paul’s celibacy option to the extreme, came up with the strange idea that sex is detestable and women are evil because, basically, they walk around looking sexy. Plato had said that the soul and the body are at war, and the Persian Gnostics said the soul is good but the body is evil, your poor good soul is trapped in your evil body, and salvation comes by denying that evil body until it gets free. Persian Gnostics-boo. Certain early “Church Fathers” wrote commentaries on scriptures twisted to their own weird worldview. Current church fathers continue to do this, by the way.

Tertullian (150-230) “The woman is in his eyes a public menace. The man has everything to fear from her, and the first Adam would have done well to be wary about her. The eye with which he looks at her is singularly critical, and not only in De cultu. No occasion is lost to show her vain, conceited, sensual, frivolous, avid and at the same time stupid and cunning.”

St. Augustine (354-430) St. Augustine, a very influential early theologian, had a son with a women he lived with for thirteen years. He also claimed to have prayed before he went out to party, “Lord, make me chaste…tomorrow.” He was heavily influenced by Plato and the struggle between body and soul, a battle which he said he frequently lost before his conversion.

St. Jerome (331-420) St. Jerome was rather extreme in that he wanted even married couples to abstain from sex on the grounds that “corruption attaches to all intercourse.” Although married couples can never be as pure as virgins, he said, at least they can abstain from sex and come closer. Today, St. Jerome would be laughed off stage. Three hundred years earlier, the disciples might have suggested he stop listening to those flaky Persian Gnostics and go find himself a hot Church Mother.

Asceticism vs. “Let’s Party!”

Tertullian and Jerome’s disdain for women is nowhere to be justified by Jesus’ words or interactions with females, and their disgust at sex is nowhere to be found in the rather lusty approach to life, including “corn, oil, and wine” depicted in the Bible. Unfortunately, the rise of monasticism as an ideal held sway until Martin Luther protested, quit being a monk, married a nun, and declared that family life was just was as holy a calling as celibacy. He protested and so was called a Protestant, you see.

Sex Saturation

We stand too close to our own culture to judge it objectively, but even a tiny bit of critical thinking applied to ads leads to the conclusion that here, sex is used to sell everything from cars, to boob jobs, to gym memberships, to toothpaste. An ideal of unrestricted sex with anyone any time, and with no strings attached is presented as natural and healthy, and must have great appeal for say, a seventeen year-old male. Over against that is the ideal of sex with one partner for a lifetime. I actually know a few couples who have achieved this and I’ve been watching for over twenty years for signs of disease or mental illness, but no, they are doing quite well.

Boring, you might say. But you never know, she may be meeting him at the door dressed only in Saran Wrap.

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Manifesto on Human Liberty

Human Liberty

The battle for liberty does not end with the Revolution.

What is happening now has happened before and will happen again.

History Repeats

The year is 2011 and the world is three years into an economic crisis the true scope of which we are too close to clearly see. We see that our national debt is astronomical, that many of our friends and neighbors are grimly unemployed, and that people are revolting all over the world, making the same demands. They are demanding freedom, for their voice to be heard, and for a chance to obtain what they and their families need to stay alive.

Arab Spring

They revolt against a ruling elite which lives in luxury, maintained by secrecy, and enforced by overt and covert oppression. When they revolt, they are inevitably met with violence. Police and military units are dispatched to shoot and club the citizens back into submission; back into a system that is working very well for the ruling elite. Yet incredibly, the people just bury their dead and flood back into the streets to be clubbed again, because what they demand they cannot stop demanding and remain fully human.

Us, Now

They don’t want to die. They don’t want to be clubbed. They have seethed in poverty and accepted injustice for many years, but they look at their children and know it cannot go on. “If not us, who? If not now, when?” they ask, and look down into the eyes of the children and have their answer. They bury their dead and absorb the blows and more people join them until the slaves reclaim the plantation.

After the Revolution

At that stage of any revolution, there is euphoria. Yet this is a dangerous stage, for the ruling elites, having failed with force, as they almost always do, will now use stealth. They will seek to turn the herd, like cowboys turning a herd of stampeding cattle they could not stop. That is, they will seek to retain power in some sneaky way. When revolutionaries come to power and eliminate the ruling elite, through executions and incarceration, a new elite will seek to take over, often from the ranks of the revolutionaries them selves. If none of this succeeds, men in suits will soon appear and offer loans for “economic development” to the newly freed people. The loans are designed to re-enslave the people and open the nation’s resources, including its human resources, to exploitation by the elite of other nations.

Staying Free

If the people resist all these ploys to re-enslave them, the danger is not past. They may become targets for foreign nations seeking to protect their “national (i.e. corporate) interests. They may become targets for “regime change” through assassination, sabotage, or deliberate fomenting of insurrection. If the freed people overcome all these efforts the danger is still not past, because the danger will never be past. The tendency of every government is toward oligarchy, no matter what “ism” they claim to follow.

The United States Has Changed

The United States is no exception. We fought our revolution, wrote our constitution, and we hold our presidential elections complete with coronation ceremonies befitting the myth of a promised king who will, this time, rule in righteousness. We have one of the more workable systems and it works if we work it. But the people have fallen asleep, we would just like to live our lives and trust our leaders. People are reluctant to revolt. As Jefferson said, “…all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Power brokers do not sleep. They constantly push for more power, and that power comes from the power they take from the lives of the people.

Eisenhower’s Warning

We are at this moment fighting two wars, but that will change. We have been in Afghanistan and Iraq for ten years. We are part of a military action in Libya and making war noises toward Iran. Since at least 1945, the United States has been at war, either openly (Viet Nam and the current conflicts,) or covertly like the state terrorism exposed by the Iran-Contra scandal. We are a war machine, arms manufacturers and policemen of the world. This has been very profitable for the military-congressional-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell speech, but we did not heed the General’s warning. The American Empire has emerged, damaging if not yet replacing the American Republic, just like the Roman Republic/Empire we so admired. The Roman Empire, like all empires, fell. What is happening now has happened before.

The Everlasting Enemy

We warred coldly against communism for fifty years, on the grounds that communism is a totalitarian, evil, and godless system. It was the enemy we needed to justify our proxy wars, and perhaps we served the same function for them. Communism is not the enemy now; in fact, now we praise communist China because it enriches our corporations.  The U.S. plays ball with any “ism” or dictator no matter how corrupt or how much they abuse their citizens as long as our corporations profit by the association.

Courage of the Founders

Our new enemy, Terrorism, is a perfect enemy because it is an abstraction. Like the devil, it could be anywhere, it could strike at any time, and the warfare will never end. To protect us from this devil, the government has taken away our privacy and more of our freedoms. Benjamin Franklin said, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.” This was not just a clever saying. The founding fathers were unwilling to trade security for liberty. They were not saints, they were humans just like us, but when they signed the Declaration of Independence, they knew that if they failed, they had just signed their own death warrants.

The American Condition

We are a rich nation, consuming more of the world’s resources than most. In fact, consuming is what we do best. We gaze at the ads that have been scientifically constructed to hit us in the lizard part of our brain so that we respond with the urge to buy. We buy and buy, and work and work so that we can buy and buy and this has kept the treadmill spinning. But it has not made us happy; it has not made us healthy. We are such good consumers that we buy things we do not have the money for; no problem Mastercard assures us, we can charge it.

Selling Our Future into Slavery

We then pay interest, often outrageous interest, which is simply yielding to money merchants hours of our future life. In this way, they enslave us. We may say we own our homes, but when we miss a few payments, as almost a million unemployed people have in the past few years, we find we did not own our homes at all. The banks own our homes and do not hesitate to take them back if we can no longer give them their monthly pound of flesh.

Rumblings of Discontent

So here we are, worried about money, worried about terrorists, and vaguely aware that something bigger than either one is going on. The ruling elite keeps the people scared and submissive through Weapons of Mass Distraction-propaganda presented as news and diversions like the latest celebrity sex scandal. Give the malcontents bread and circuses, and they won’t notice the corruption. It worked in Rome-for awhile. They keep the people divided, liberal against conservative, black against white, and try to hype us into believing that it makes a real difference whether we vote Republican or Democrat. This fraud they perpetrate because their biggest nightmare is citizens who are awake, informed, and united. They know that when that happens, the peasants will grab their pitchforks, and against that moral force even the most powerful military on earth cannot stand.

What Can One Citizen Do?

What can we do? What can one citizen do against a cabal of power brokers? One citizen can join with other citizens and do whatever they do best, whether its make coffee, make music, or make press releases. The elite are not a distant and mysterious organism; it is made up of individuals with a common goal, each doing his or her part. This is the only way, and this way has triumphed in various reincarnations throughout history. They have formed a body, with head and hands and legs and feet, and only bodies have the power to act coherently. The citizens at this time are not a body, they are small groups of body parts scattered about, dismembered hands blaming dismembered feet for the fact that they cannot walk.

The Way to Freedom

This way takes work and time. Americans are more willing to work than wait. We want fast, fast relief, some sort of magic bullet that will fix everything quickly-like a new President. We have not yet seen that the new President becomes an organ in the elite body and assumes his role there. We have not yet seen that, but we are beginning to.

Hijack Movements

In 2008, when the economy seemed to unravel overnight, groups of citizens spontaneously organized in homes and restaurants to protest. They called them selves the Tea Party, after the group that defiantly threw British tea into Boston Harbor before the American Revolution. Various Tea Party groups sprang up around the country and Republican political operatives saw this as a stampede that needed to be turned. One such operative started the Tea Party Express, a private bus company which transported activists to rallies. Perhaps the Tea Party members were already staunch Republicans, and if so, had every right to be. But if not, they were soon using  Republican talking points and being heavily promoted on Fox News.

Division=Weakness

Unfortunately, opponents of the Republican agenda began to vilify and mock the Tea Party and continue to this day. The dismembered hands raise their middle fingers toward the dismembered feet. This behavior keeps the elite safe and comfortable and until it stops citizens can make little progress. There are very few pure left or right-wing ideologues; that is a false and manufactured polarity. The great mass of citizens occupies some space in the middle and is flexible on strategies. Citizens do not have to agree on everything to make changes, the elite don’t agree on everything, but they agree on their goal, which is to live far above the common people by making the common people work for them.

Common Goals

What are the goal of the citizens? 1) To have the means to stay alive, to meet the physical needs of them selves and their families. 2) To be free of abuse and dominance, free to keep their private life private, free to form their own beliefs and to have those beliefs respected. 3) To have the opportunity to contribute, to create, to improve conditions for them selves, for their families, for their community. If any of these goals are obstructed, then the citizen’s very humanity has been obstructed, and they will rise up and break down those obstructions. These three goals are universal, they cross all party lines and agendas, and they are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. All humans desire these things, from Egypt to Africa to the Americas. Basic morality demands that what we universally desire we must universally grant to all other human beings or we become elitists our selves and despicable hypocrites.

LIBERTY

1). Every human deserves freedom from domination in any form; physically, mentally, and spiritually.

HUMANITY

2). Every human deserves the means to maintain life.

OPPORTUNITY

3). Every human deserves the opportunity to create and contribute according to their abilities.

These are the Principles that do not change, but Strategies must change as the world changes. It is imperative to see  the difference.  Principles stand; strategies evolve. We have lost our way and been flexible on our Principles but rigid on our strategies. Thus we violate the very ideals that make our Republic great, while rigidly adhering to a set of talking points that are mere partisan strategies. All strategies must refer back to principles: Does it increase or insure human liberty, humanity, or opportunity? If not, it is an unprincipled strategy.

It is us and it is now and we have unchanging principles to guide us. What is happening now has happened before.

Getting Un-Stuck: Three Steps to Sanity

meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life is Growth

We humans quest for certainty as if our lives depend on it; we want to know, and to know for sure. This is not a bad thing; it leads to growth, to discoveries, to finding more pieces of the puzzle. It becomes a bad thing when we think we have arrived and have nothing more to learn. Surely the universal metaphor of life as a journey implies that while we yet live, we keep moving, we keep growing, and as we do we find more puzzle pieces along the path. Even if the road is narrow and wrong turns are possible, if we are alive. there is hope and if we are humble we can turn back and take the right turn. If we are closed, if we arrogantly assume we have arrived, we are stuck.

Being Stuck is Mental Illness

Being stuck is a common characteristic of mental illness. People seek help when they realize that they are stuck in addictions, in self-defeating behaviors, in obsessions. They are the fortunate-they SEE that they are stuck. The unfortunate ones don’t even see it. Stuck people come in all flavors. It is possible to get stuck in religious traditions or scientific paradigms, in political ideologies or cultural conformity. The quest for certainty takes on life or death proportions somehow. “I must be right-if I’m not right, I will die-worse-I’ll die and go to hell.” Terrible evils arise from terrified, closed-minded stuckness-religious terrorism, state terrorism, genocide, and war.

Making Rules to Live By

I spent most of my life working with people whose lives were not going well; addicts, inmates, adolescents in trouble, abused women. These people had made rules to live by, just like we all do-and they had constructed the rules them selves, just like we all do. After awhile I saw that they had something in common, not only with each other, but potentially with all other humans, including myself. They clung to their rules for dear life and were terrified of changing them. In short, they were stuck.

Our Rules Keep us Alive-Most of the Time

We may judge a woman who believes she deserves to be smacked around as deluded, or an addict who believes he will die without his drug of choice as deceived. Yet they have built their belief system like all humans do, filtering information through their view of the world. Their view of the world began forming at birth and their rules have kept them alive in their world up to this point. Of course change is threatening! We are asking them to give up rules that have certainly kept them alive for new rules that are uncertain.

Hitting Bottom and Changing the Rules

That’s why trust is essential in counseling-in the end, they must trust that a counselor is not trying to kill them-they must take his word that there are other rules that work. Stuck people take a big leap of faith to get unstuck and they generally won’t take that risk until they see that the road they were on has led them to the edge of a cliff-a few more steps in that direction and they are dead anyway. They call it “hitting bottom” but actually the stuck turn around when they gaze over that cliff at the bottom, when they see that this is not the way to live, this is the way to die.

Forming World Views

An example of forming rules according to world view: a little girl who watches her mom being beaten by her drunken father forms a view of the world that is alien to most of us, but it was her world and she learned to survive in it-who are we to judge? She learned that men are dangerous, women are defenseless, and women survive by submitting. As she grows up, the validity of her worldview is daily reinforced. Her bruised, submissive mother is indisputably still living.

 Faulty World Views

Because men are dangerous, she will seek a dangerous man. A non-dangerous man is not a real man at all. She will seek to establish a familiar situation in her adult life, miserable, but familiar. She may leave the abuser, claiming to hate the situation (and meaning it) yet will be surprised to find herself with another abuser, confirming her original belief that men are dangerous. All humans constantly and unconsciously seek to confirm their beliefs. We filter all new information through our world view and sort it into pre-constructed boxes in our brains. Scientists even have a name for this-confirmation bias-and honest scientists admit that they, too, harbor confirmation bias.

Radical Skepticism and Paralysis

This is just the way our brains work. It’s not a bad thing-it conserves lots of energy, kind of a mental short cut. We can’t stop and critically examine every little factoid that comes our way in a busy day; we’d never make it out of bed. “Oh, I’m awake. But am I really awake or am I just dreaming I’m awake?” Einstein said, “Question everything,” but there is solid evidence that Einstein did make it out of bed in the morning.

Humans are not Rational

It will be very helpful if we realize our limitations. We, especially in the West, like to flatter ourselves by claiming that we think in a logical, rational, linear way-that we are more Spock than Kirk, that is possible to reason our way to certainty. Ironically, a few brilliant mathematicians have used their reason to prove mathematically that some things can never be proven!  Their proofs, while acknowledged as solid, were nevertheless emotionally rejected and the mathematicians them selves went mad.

How we Really Think

We think in metaphors and we think along the networks we have grown in our own brains. I just used metaphors of a road, a journey, a puzzle, and a cliff-and you got it. We grew our brain networks according to our experiences of the world. It is hard to change our minds and even harder to change our brains, but it is possible. It is also essential because-take a deep breath-we don’t know everything and we can be wrong sometimes. When I asked the people I worked with to repeat, “I don’t know everything.” “I can be wrong sometimes,” they could not say it! They fidgeted in their seats, their expression pained, and they were silent.

Three Steps to Sanity

Then they started laughing. This is the appropriate response to the human condition-laughter. Of course we don’t know everything and we can be wrong-nothing could be more obvious. For my friends who take the Bible as the rule book, here’s a rule for you (for those who reject the Bible, open your mind and consider it) “I have shown you, oh man, what is good-and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly (be fair) to love mercy (be kind) and to walk humbly with your God (admit you can be wrong)?”

Be fair, be kind, and admit you can be wrong. Holy Three Steps to Sanity! If we all did just these, it would revolutionize the world.

Humans are Not Rational

Values and Worldview: Where did we get that Idea?

Hijacking Christianity

Christianity Hijacked by Right Wing

How the US Right Wing Hijacked Christianity

I was sort of shocked after reading through the red letters (the actual words of Jesus in the Bible) that Jesus never said anything about actually starting a religion! His message was above and beyond religion, which is, after all, merely men’s attempt to organize transcendence.

Religion versus the Spiritual

But then Mohammed didn’t leave instructions for starting a religion and neither did Buddha. Once again, followers started organizing institutions as soon as the men died. Followers also immediately began arguing, writing rules, and persecuting each other for not keeping their set of rules. I wholeheartedly agree with critics of religion, while insisting that religions don’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with God.

Humans and Transcendence

Humans are spiritual creatures. According to Donald E. Brown, author of Human Universals, a belief in the supernatural, or the transcendent, is universally present in all times and cultures. The transcendent may take the form of Nature, or the Universe, or Art, Truth, the Brotherhood of Man, or even Science. According to cognitive researcher George Lakoff, people’s God concepts (what is sacred, or of ultimate value) come in four flavors: God as Father/Shepherd/Judge, God as Infinite Qualities, God as Source of all that is good, God as the Physical World/Universe. Lakoff says, “Plenty of people who don’t believe the first two metaphors, and see themselves as atheist, believe the last two…it’s not clear what an atheist is.”

Jesus Didn’t Come to Start a Religion

Humans are also religious creatures. They create rituals and try to organize and codify their beliefs. An agnostic environmentalist, for example, ritually recycles and sacrifices by riding his bike everywhere because of his beliefs. It is the same impulse that moves a Christian to read their Bible and go to church on Sunday. But if Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, why did he come? He said he came to seek and save what had been lost, he came for sinners, for the sick. Those who were righteous and self-satisfied need not apply. He was accused of being a drunk and a glutton because he went to dinner with his friends instead of moping around starving himself like they thought a religious leader should. Let’s face it, he hung out with whores and even worse-with tax collectors and made no apologies for it. He publicly called out the clerics for hypocrisy. No way the power brokers could let him live then and I’m pretty sure the power brokers, both political and religious, would not let him live now.

The Jesus Movement

For three hundred years, members of the Jesus movement lived simply and apparently joyfully, as a network of persecuted, communal pacifists, according to linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky. Three hundred years. What happened? In 312 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, ordered his soldiers to march through a river and called them baptized believers, and thus politically hijacked Christianity.

Holy Roman Empire

Christianity was subsequently organized with all the skill and hierarchal structure that had served the Roman Empire so well. Some argue that it served Christianity well too, making it rich and powerful and helping it to spread all over the Empire. That would be acceptable if that had any relation to what Jesus intended, but it actually seems to be the very opposite. It was a Religion that grew and spread and slaughtered heretics and crowned kings and conducted holy wars-an oxymoron if ever there was one. The Jesus movement never died, though, it continued underground, and supplied the heretics for the burnings.

 Religious Right: Virgin Timber

In America, a similar hijacking has taken place. Politicians in the most powerful Empire at this point in history, the U.S., have cornered the loyalty of the religious right, a very powerful group labeled by a GOP political operative in the late 1970s as the “largest stand of virgin timber in the political landscape.” The Christian left and Christian moderates clearly see that supporting wars and pouring derision on the poor is NOT what Jesus would do, but they are not as loud, nor as angry, nor as fearful as the religious right.

Meanwhile, the unsung members of the Jesus movement go about their lives, trying to love one another, trying even to love the religious right-and trying to simply do all the good they can, just as they have done for two thousand years.

The Road Upward (and to the Left)

The Road Upward to the left

Leftward Journey

I was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic High School, where, in my senior year, I decided I was an atheist. The nuns had taught me logic, and I reasoned that the world sucked so bad that either God was not good, (or he’d do something about it) or he was good, but he was not powerful enough to do anything (so he wasn’t much of a God) or he simply was NOT.

Losing My Religion

I went with “NOT” after being told it was no longer a sin to eat meat on Friday. Only a Catholic can understand why this was an existential issue. You see, we had been told all our lives that it was a sin to eat meat on Friday, so we always had fish. Even the public schools served fish on Friday to help us stay sinless. Now the Church said, “Psyche! It’s O.K., go grab a burger next Friday.” My conclusion was that they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

What Bible?

It probably wasn’t a sin to have sex with your boyfriend either! Budding community organizer that I was, I gathered a bunch of friends and made an appointment with the priest who taught Marriage and Family. ‘So, fish on Friday is O.K.” “Yes.” You used to say it was a sin.” “Yes, but it’s not in the Bible.” “You say sex outside of marriage is a sin, is that going to be O.K. next week?” “No, of course not.” “Show us where it says that in the Bible.” God help him-he did not know-and he was teaching Marriage and Family.

Marvelous Hinduism

Even as an atheist, I felt there was something more to life than met the eye. I was what is now called “spiritual but not religious” a whole new category for poll takers. I eventually admitted that there was no way I could logically prove there was no God, so I had to admit that there could be a God, even if I didn’t like the idea. Therefore I called myself agnostic and practiced Hinduism, which is marvelous because you can be Hindu and agnostic at the same time.

Boring Churches

To be fair, I thought I should try Protestant Churches, mostly because the Catholic Church had said I should not and they were wrong about the fish. I was bored at the Protestant churches and the people were not friendly. I didn’t know much about Christianity, but I thought at the very least, Christians should be friendly.

Radical Jesus

While attending art school, I kept running into Jesus freaks. Feeling I had thoroughly tried Christianity and found it wanting, I rejected them with profanity. One day a Jesus freak asked me if I would read something with an open mind. “Sure,” I said, “I have a lot more open mind than you do.” It was just a booklet with Jesus quotes, but the Jesus quotes hit me hard. They had, as Gandalf said in Lord of the Rings, the ring of truth. I finished the book and said, “Why, I’d be a damned fool not to try this.” Suddenly aware of the numinous, I felt bad for cussing, then laughed when I realized that “damned fool” was perfectly accurate. So I prayed a pitiful prayer and waited. Nothing. I went into the kitchen and said, actually expecting an answer, “I’m supposed to be different. Am I different?”

The Holy Sledgehammer

That’s when I got hit upside the head by a Holy Sledgehammer, (not to be confused with Monty Python’s Holy Hand Grenade) which is what it takes, I guess, for hardheads. I have no idea how long I stood there and no real explanation for what happened, except that I was instantly and profoundly changed. I knew. I knew God was there and I was his. I’ve never stooped knowing, though there have been times that I’ve thought this is the only thing I do know.

Jesus Freak

I, too, became a Jesus freak. I went to church three times a week and became a Bible-thumping, “God said it-I believe it” fundamentalist. I also got involved in helping the poor, runaways, and the disadvantaged. Catholics are actually pretty good at this sort of thing and the fundamentalists generally approved. I spent the next 25 years doing social services and trying to drag my Protestant friends along-with some success.

Obama the Muslim

Fast forward past about 4,000 church services to a home Bible study in 2008: My friends were praying and fasting for Obama to be defeated in the upcoming election. Politically innocent, I asked why. “He’s a socialist.” “Why do you think he’s a socialist?” “If he’s elected, he’s going to nationalize the banks.” I pointed out that George Bush had done that a week previously. “He’s going to take our guns.” “Do you have a gun?”  “No, but I have the right to one.” “O.K.,” I acknowledged, “Anything else?”  “He’s a Muslim and not a U.S. citizen.”

Losing My Friends

“So you’re praying, but if he’s elected, you’ll accept that he’s supposed to be President?” They looked at one another fearfully. “Look guys, you seem so scared. Jesus never says you should be scared. Don’t you trust God to carry you through the trials of a democratic presidency?” I was fairly apolitical; I was just concerned about my friends. But I lost my friends that night, and I miss them.

Hard Right

I heard from them on Facebook, making cruel remarks about poor people, unemployed people, Hispanic people. Horrible, hateful things. When I got the courage to reply, they defriended me. Without friends and with time on my hands, I set out to debunk conspiracy theories, to prove that the U.S. was the best, most altruistic, most democratic, special nation ever. I’m a pretty good researcher. I found out that some conspiracy theories are painfully true, that Israel is being bad, and our everlasting wars have little to do with spreading democracy.

Dreams vs. Nightmares

I got so lonely I tried liberal denominations, but liberal theology is not the same thing as Christian/left. I believe Jesus taught radical fairness, kindness, and the absolute value of every human being, but I do not buy that he was a gay Hindu magician, for example.

The power of the extreme right is the power of nightmares, the power of fear, and I admit that is very powerful. But love is still the most powerful force in the universe and love never fails.