Category Archives: Christianity

What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Crankier

I

There are certain sayings I hate. Many of them are affirmations. Others are platitudes. Some are just nonsense.

Affirmations, for example. The one in the picture, for example, is provably untrue. There’s a lot in my average day that I don’t choose – whether I oversleep, whether that package from Amazon arrives when I need it to, whether I’ll trip over my cat and break my arm. There are some who say that I can choose how I feel about any of that, but I don’t believe it. Human beings are wired to feel annoyed when they trip over the cat and in pain when they break their arm. Right after that, they may choose to forgive the cat or feel lucky that they didn’t break both arms, but feelings, at the moment they happen, are not chosen. We may be able to choose how we react afterward and what we do about it, but even that is iffy.

Or take the expression “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” There are lots of things that don’t kill me: ice cream, paintings, spatulas. None of them will make me stronger.

And if you tell me (as I’m sure you will) that the saying really means that adverse events that don’t kill me will make me stronger, I have to disagree. Think about someone who is fortunate enough to survive a train wreck. Is he stronger? No. More likely he is considerably weaker, owing to assorted broken bones and ruptured internal organs.

Ah, you say, but he is spiritually stronger, thankful that he survived. Maybe not. Not all people with catastrophic injuries are content with their fate. Some are even bitter and resentful. But we don’t like to think about those cases, so we say something that makes us feel better, even if it bears absolutely no relation to what the person it happened to actually feels.

I feel the same way about “Everything happens for a reason.” One day I heard about a news helicopter that crashed, killing everyone on board. Someone contended that it happened for a reason. “Sure,” I said. “The mechanic failed to tighten the thingamabob on the rotor. Or the pilot had the shakes. Or the passenger distracted the pilot. Of course, there was a reason.”

“That’s not what I meant,” my friend replied. I knew what she did mean – that there was a reason unknown to us and ultimately unknowable. That the passenger was secretly a child molester and now would never molest another child. That the pilot’s wife was about to poison him and this death saved him from a worse one. That if the helicopter hadn’t crashed when and where it did, an innocent child on the ground would have been squashed by it. Something like that. Cosmic justice prevailed.

In all these excuses, blame is never involved. Neither is chance. (The part on the rotor just failed. No one is to blame.) It’s too frightening to think that the actions of another person, our own actions, or the randomness of the universe is “responsible” for a tragedy. So we say there must be a reason, but we can’t – or aren’t able to – know it.

This is a lot like what is meant when someone says, “It was all part of God’s plan.” If you can’t pin the blame on a single person and you’re not willing to admit it “just happened that way,” there’s always God. If I were God (and thank God I’m not), I would be more than a little miffed at being held responsible for all these accidents, not to mention the plagues and disasters that are considered “acts of God.” (Did God send the tornado that destroyed my house because I’m sinful? We’re all sinners, but not all of us get tornados.)

To me, the worst saying is, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” To begin with, it pins the blame on God for all the things that go wrong in our lives. And ultimately, it simply isn’t true. Plenty of people can’t handle the things that happen in their lives. Those with serious mental illness, for example, sometimes can handle it, but sometimes they can’t – for example, a woman who drowns her children obviously can’t handle post-partum depression. The mass shooter can’t handle the stress, hatred, fear, or disappointment in his life. (Not to mention that I don’t believe God hands out these trials.)

That’s when talk of God’s plan gives way to the workings of Satan, or abstract Evil in general. We call people who do things that seem inexplicable to us “monsters.” This is another easy saying that simply isn’t so. Whatever motivated such heinous acts, the people who committed them are still human beings. Making them “The Other” – a monster, a minion of Satan, an animal – is more comfortable, because it negates the fact that human people (and that includes all of us) have the potential to do cruel things. That most of us don’t doesn’t negate the fact that we share a species with those who do.

And then there’s death. I won’t argue with the saying “At least he’s in a better place,” because my father’s death was excruciatingly painful and long, and release from that surely was better than continuing in it. But then there’s “It was his time.” Again, this assumes that God has a plan that’s so detailed that He has appointed a time for each of us to die. Or Fate has, if you prefer. Someone or something, anyway, that controls the minutiae of our lives so completely that every instant of it is out of our hands.

If any of those ideas bring you comfort, good. But they make me more than a little uncomfortable.

Blown Away

Here’s the thing. It didn’t sound like a freight train to me. I was on the second floor, in bed, when the tornado hit. I remember the crash of the lightning and the bangs, like bombs going off as the trees in our wooded area exploded. Then half the roof came off. I was caught in a blizzard of insulation and dirt. I put my pillow over my head and hoped for the best.

When the wind died down, I got up and took a look around. In the hallway, a bookcase had fallen over and I was trapped upstairs. My husband was at work and I had no idea where the cats were. My cell phone worked, so I called Dan and let him know about the roof and all.

He left work and headed straight for the house despite the branches and debris in the road, driving over people’s lawns to avoid downed trees. He made it to within about a half mile of the house before he was halted by downed power lines. It took him another hour, in the dark and with no landmarks left, to get to the house. But he made it He came for me. Together we waited amid the piles of insulation for rescue.

Help arrived in the form of fire/police/medics, who yelled at us to grab our medications and come with them. It was a mandatory evacuation – not that we wanted to stay put – and they guided us step by step through the obstacle course of trees, branches, wires, roofing, shingles, boards, and other debris till we got to an ambulance.

Neither of us was hurt, so were taken to a local shopping center where we were given water and loaded on a bus for the Red Cross shelter in the gymnasium at the First Baptist Church. It was about 4:00 a.m., but there was food and there were cots. People kept arriving – mostly not tornado victims, but people bringing enormous amounts of food and water. Soon a hot breakfast was ready.

And then, miracle of miracles, we got hot showers. And clean clothes. The helpers even bought us packages of clean underwear and a glucose meter for Dan. They brought him shoes, as he was wearing bedroom slippers when we were evacuated. Food and water and volunteers kept coming, handing out bags of toiletries, and big bags of nonperishable foods when we left.

We stayed only a few hours at the shelter, as we had dear friends, Robbin and Stu, who staked us to a motel room. There was one with a vacancy only a few miles from our house. It’s funny how those tornadoes skip around.

Since then, we’ve been working the phones, getting in touch with our insurance providers (Farmers, by the way, who have helped in every conceivable way. We’ve been back to the house, which is a total loss and keeps deteriorating with the rain and other stresses. I would have guessed that the stresses would have gotten to us, too, but we are taking things slowly, one phone call or errand at a time. We’ve rescued our cats, who are now boarding at the vet, and a few clothes and other things. (There’s a laundromat right down the road.)

I am blogging this from the computer in the lobby of the motel. In a couple of days we will move to a residence hotel that is pet-friendly so we can have our little family all back together. Insurance is picking that up too, and the pet boarding as well.

We have experienced nothing but kindness and understanding from the people around us. Family, friends, and total strangers are all doing what they can. People along the roadside offering free food, free water, and free hugs. Ministers of various denominations have been through the area, dispensing bottled water and prayer. Burly young men with chain saws have begun clearing paths to people’s houses, though it will likely be a week or two till we get full access to ours.

We are mostly numb right now, carrying on with all that still needs to be done, one thing at a time. Sometime in the near future, when things have settled down a bit, I expect the emotions will catch up with us and we’ll have a bit of a breakdown.

But for now, we are working together and thinking about how to rebuild our lives and eventually our house, our home.

Holiday Mash-Up

Quick quiz: What do Jesus and the poop emoji have in common? They both are associated with Easter, silly!

Don’t believe me? Just go to the Easter display in your local store. There you can find cross-shaped tins of candy with the saying “Jesus Saves” and the offer “Jesus Jelly Bean Prayer Inside.” Then there’s the ever-so-seasonal pastel plastic poop emoji that, well, poops candy. (It also has whimsical bunny ears. As you can see.)

Now I don’t mind the mash-up of Christian Easter with its pagan roots. That practice has been around long enough to make it into a tradition. The pagan symbols of Easter are relatively easily adapted from their earlier symbolism of fertility and renewal to their Christian identification with resurrection. New life, and all of that. Eggs. Lambs. Chicks. Even bunnies, that most suggestive of symbols for burgeoning life.

But lately, there’s something … odd about the merchandise that’s offered for consumption on Easter. It’s not just that the pagan roots are showing. It’s more like Easter is getting confused with Christmas. Or maybe Halloween. Easter is getting to be yet another occasion for retailers to make a buck in the name of wretched excess. 

Look at the Easter displays in your local supermarket or department store. You’ll find baskets, all right, but many of them look more like trick-or-treat pails than things a seasonal rabbit would deliver. Now you can find them shaped like a Troll head or Mickey Mouse, and adorned with Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman, Despicable Me Minions, Spiderman, and other characters more often associated with Halloween costumes. There are even felt “baskets” adorned with pictures of dinosaurs and volcanos.

(Dinosaurs have theological implications, of course, as reminders of evolution. When pressed, some Christians will claim that dinosaur bones were put into rocks by Satan, to test the belief of the faithful. But I digress.)

Obviously, these assorted characters are meant to appeal to media-obsessed kids, and so are the trinkets the Easter baskets are loaded with. Barbies. Water guns. Chocolate soccer eggs. Posters and stickers and PJ Masks toys. Any gimcrack fancy that can pull in a few bucks, whether or not it’s related to Jesus or Oestre.

When did superhero, sports, and other fashionable toys become symbols of Easter? Back in the day, we got plush rabbits. Of course, we also had a limited choice of sweets – jelly beans, gum drops, and chocolate bunnies (which occasioned the eternal question of whether to bite off the ears or the tail first). Christmas candy consisted largely of candy canes and “books” of Life-Savers. Halloween candy was much more varied. 

Halloween has already surrendered its place as a Christian celebration (the eve of All Saints’ Day) to being a childhood ritual of door-to-door sugar-laden extortion. Sugar skulls for Día de Los Muertos may be gaining on fun-size Snickers.

Now both the commercialism of Christmas and the pop culture iconography of Halloween have made their way into children’s Easter baskets. The hell of it (sorry not sorry) is that it’s most likely too late to turn back now.

Mash-ups of Christian and pagan holidays are par for the course. We get the Druidic Christmas trees and the Coke-ified Santa (originally a Christian Saint Nicholas) and the exchange of gifts on Saturnalia melded with of the celebration of a quiet birth.

I’m not saying that cultural mash-ups aren’t fun or happy or festive. I’m just saying it’s all gotten a little out of hand. We now have the ubiquitous image of Santa kneeling at the manger. How long until we have Mickey Mouse rolling away the stone?

 

Satanic Panic and Politics in America

The U.S has long been uneasy with the idea of the occult, from Harry Potter to Halloween parties. But the most extreme form of fear occurred in the 1980s, when panic swept America. “Stranger Danger” and “Good-Touch/Bad-Touch” were taught in schools. Someone – many someones – were after America’s kids.

But these weren’t ordinary pedophiles the nation learned to fear. They were occultists. Satanic. Devil-worshippers. And they wanted our children for acts that were unholy as well as sexual. Black masses. Ritual killings. And of course there were the run-of-the-mill child pornography rings, made up of community leaders.

The center of the “Satanic Panic” was daycare centers. As Vox magazine pointed out:

Although it was a time of economic growth and financial prosperity, the Reagan Era was also a time of unease centered on population growth, urbanization, and the rise of the double-income family model, which necessitated a sharp rise in the need for daycare services. As a result, anxiety about protecting the nuclear family from the unknown dangers of this new era was high.

Uneasy with the idea of women of child-bearing age entering the workforce, society seemed bent on convincing them that leaving their children in the care of others was fraught with danger. Unspeakable danger. The worst anyone could envision. So bad that no one could be trusted.

The only safe thing to do was to stay home and keep your children under your own eyes at all times. The ultimate expression of this was the McMartin Preschool case and the ensuing trial.

Rumors of sexual abuse at the daycare center run by the Buckey family mushroomed into florid accounts of ritual abuse. Arrests were made. The community was outraged.

The Institute for Psychological Therapies explained it thus:

The formal charges were wrapped in a conspiracy theory that portrayed the defendants as satanists who used the preschool as headquarters for a vast kiddie porn/prostitution empire that produced millions of child sex photos. The children were allegedly drugged and forced to participate in satanic rituals and sex games with teachers and strangers at both on and off campus locations. During those episodes the children encountered turtles, rabbits, lions, a giraffe, a sexually abusive elephant, dead and burned babies, dead bodies in mortuaries and graveyards, goat men, flying witches, space mutants, a movie star, and local politicians.

The allegations seemed literally unbelievable, impossible in fact, but arrests were made and a years-long trial began. The call to action took the form of “Believe the Children!”

The result? Reports of similar atrocities around the nation and indeed around the world. More and more daycare owners and workers accused.

But the bottom line? Few convictions – none in the McMartin case – and many elsewhere that were later overturned. A new focus on how therapists should interview children for forensic purposes. And perhaps some women frightened out of the workplace, but no end to the profound need for daycare (although funding for that was another matter entirely).

By 1992, reported Vox, “the Department of Justice thoroughly debunked the myth of the ritualistic satanic sex abuse cult.” But the panic didn’t end there.

Flash forward to the 21st century – the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. Then there was “Pizzagate.” According to Salon, “this bizarre pizza-pedophilia piece of make-believe seems to have struck the right kind of nerve in this simultaneously gullible and paranoid time to become a lasting, serious concern.”

Accusations focused on a Washington pizza parlor called Comet Ping Pong. It was another theory based on dreadful, unthinkable threats to children.

There were rumors of human trafficking and child abuse in a seemingly innocent pizza place. Again the allegations veered into absurdity, such as emails contained code words – “cheese pizza” for “child pornography” because they have the same initials. Salon noted: “If ‘pizza’ is code for pedophilia, the rumor mongers reasoned, clearly a pizza restaurant is the dungeon where all the horrors go down.” The crimes were said to take place in the pizzeria’s basement. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the shop had no basement. (It’s perhaps notable that one of the accusations in McMartin was that much of the abuse occurred in underground tunnels, which didn’t exist either.)

As compared to the “Satanic Panic,” it didn’t gain much traction, except with one sorry citizen who believed it so wholeheartedly that he showed up at Comet Ping Pong Pizza with a rifle.

But, like the “Satanic Panic,” Pizzagate had a political subtext. Well, not even a subtext, really. The thing that made Pizzagate special was that it was an attack on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who had only a vague connection to someone who knew someone who visited the pizzeria. It was unclear what her involvement in the supposed human trafficking/pedophile ring might have been, but it was clear from emails, the conspiracy theorists claimed, that she knew all about it.

Again, Salon nailed it:

Hoaxsters and the deranged collaborated to create a compelling and nonsensical story about depraved, satanic elites operating with impunity. This struck a chord with people who have long seen the mainstream media and politically powerful and well-connected people as manipulative and evil.

Especially if those implicated are people the theorists don’t like, such as working mothers, daycare center workers, or Hillary Clinton. Does it seem odd to anyone else that, while pedophilia is statistically a predominately male crime, women seem to be at the bottom of the dogpile, the subtext, the unseen movers?

References

http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume7/j7_2_1_9.htm

https://www.vox.com/2016/10/30/13413864/satanic-panic-ritual-abuse-history-explained

https://www.salon.com/2016/12/10/pizzagate-explained-everything-you-want-to-know-about-the-comet-ping-pong-pizzeria-conspiracy-theory-but-are-too-afraid-to-search-for-on-reddit/

Let’s Call a Truce on Christmas

I wrote this over a year ago, but it still seems relevant.

Time to choose sides again, folks. There’s a war on Christmas, says Bill O’Reilly. No there isn’t, says Jon Stewart. Christians are being persecuted. Christians are the ones persecuting. “Merry Christmas” is forbidden. “Merry Christmas” is mandatory. The Constitution forbids manger scenes. The First Amendment protects manger scenes.

I hate war metaphors. There are too many of them and they encourage a martial mindset. War on Terror. War on Poverty. War on Drugs. Cupcake Wars. My least favorite hymn is “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”(1) So let’s dispense with the whole “War on Christmas” thing. Until automatic rifles and tactical nukes are involved. Then I’ll be willing to call it a war.

What side am I on, I hear you ask? To quote Tolkien’s Treebeard, “I am not altogether on anyone’s side because nobody is altogether on my side….” (If you promise not to say “the reason for the season,” I will admit that crass commercialism and greed are, I believe, the real forces that threaten Christmas.) So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.(2)

Christians are being persecuted. Yes, they are, and it’s appalling, indecent, and shameful. Christians are being persecuted in Iraq. In North Korea. In India. In China. In other countries around the world. They are being killed or driven out of their homes and towns. They are jailed for preaching and handing out Bibles.

None of that is happening in the U.S., most likely because Christians are in the majority here. Christians are persecuted in places where they are in the minority. If you think you’re being persecuted by being asked to say, “Happy Holidays,” think again.

Christians aren’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas.” Well, sure you can say “Merry Christmas.” Say it to your friends and relatives. Say it to passersby and people in the streets. Say it to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists if you want. The one place saying “Merry Christmas” is frowned on is in the workplace.

Let’s think about this a minute. There are all sorts of things that employers don’t want employees to do in the workplace. Some of them don’t allow facial hair. Some insist that tattoos be covered. No one wants you to come to work with dirt under your fingernails.(3) They don’t allow you to call customers granny or bro or stink face. Why? They want you to show respect, so that customers will keep returning and spending money. Flip it. If every store that Christians went into greeted them with “Happy Hannukah” or “Joyous Eid,” would they feel welcome and respected and want to come back? No?

America is a Christian nation and should follow Christian laws. Here’s where things get sticky. It’s true that many of the founders were Christians.(4) And many of them were getting the hell out of countries that told them what kind of Christians they had to be – Catholics or Protestants. Or Calvinists or Presbyterians. Or nonbelievers.

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that in the U.S. Constitution, the very first Right in the Bill of, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”(5)
Simply, the government can’t tell you what religion to be – Christian, Baha’i, Sikh, Jewish, or none of the above. And the government can’t stop you from practicing that religion, or none.(6)

And that’s it. The government can’t show preference to ANY religion, because the founders knew personally how easy it is for that to be abused.

My Freedom of Speech means I can say “Merry Christmas” if I want to. Yes, it does. The government can’t tell you not to, or punish you if you do. But the government also can’t forbid people to say “Joyous Kwanzaa” or “Enjoy the holiday of your choice.”(7) But, as noted, while the government can’t do that, many businesses ask employees not to. Blame them or boycott them if such be your inclination. Just don’t drag the government into it.

But we can’t put up manger scenes in public places. Sure you can. Have the biggest one you want in front of your house or your church or your private school or even your restaurant (if you don’t mind driving away non-Christian customers). But, again, the government wants to stay hands-off. No manger scenes in front of public buildings that everyone of every religion gets to use. Yes, all are welcome at the court building, the IRS offices, and the public schools.(8)(9)

So, that’s the story. It’s government places that have to call things “holiday” this-and-that. Many people and businesses think that’s a good idea and do likewise. Others object, and the government can’t tell them not to. It’s got enough headaches.

But it’s also the government that can’t say a thing about how you choose your holiday or celebrate it or decorate for it or speak about it. And if anyone tries to stop you, the government will tell them to cut out that nonsense.

So when former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) decried anti-Christian persecution in America, comparing it to Nazis and the Holocaust, you can just ignore him. No one here is heating the ovens, and he probably just wanted to get his name in the papers, or votes, or something. Besides, whoever mentions Nazis first, loses the argument. That’s a rule.(10)

Peace, everyone. Can we all agree on that?

(1) We’ll leave the Salvation Army out of this. For now. Except I have to say that I like the ones that play saxophones instead of ringing bells.
(2) Two cents. It’s worth exactly two cents. Duh.
(3) Except for mechanics. They can probably get away with it.
(4) Or at least deists.
(5) In this sentence, “respecting” means “about.” No law about establishment of religion.
(6) Unless you break fundamental laws, like about not beheading people. They get kinda cranky about that.
(7) My favorite. It offends either no one or everyone.
(8) You know, the ones that local, state, and federal governments (that aren’t allowed to mess with religion) let you send your children to for free.
(9) A personal plea: If you do set up a manger scene somewhere, PLEASE don’t do the kneeling Santa thing. It was thought-provoking the first 7,000 times, but now it’s merely provoking.
(10) Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies. It’s in the Third OED, which is authority enough for me.