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[politics|religion] Where should the rules come from?

Yesterday on Facebook, a conservative friend said, I suspect part of the issue is that most writers and artists of the last 150 years working in the fantastic field have been (more or less) refugees from religion, of one sort or another. To them, a more perfect (or at least more fun) world is a world where god and church… are just not present. God and church mean rules and we work in genres inhabited (more or less) by people who hate rules. On their persons. On their choices. On their thoughts and ideas.

(No link, because I don’t want to accidentally create a dog pile.)

As it turns out, I somewhat mistook the context of my friend’s remark, but I still wanted to repost what I said, because I think it may have some value. Below is a synthesis of several comments of my own:

I think you’re oversimplifying terribly. I don’t know a single liberal or atheist who doesn’t believe firmly in the social contract, and the social contract requires rules. Frankly, from our point of view, it’s conservatives who have been abandoning the rules in working so hard over these past decades to void much of the social contract.

As an atheist myself, and definitely a proud refugee from religion, I write about religion all the time in my fiction. See my entire Mainspring series, as well as my Green series, as well as a large percentage of my short stories, as well as Death of a Starship, whose protagonist is an Orthodox priest, and my yet-unpublished Sunspin, one of whose key characters is also a Christian priest. Portrayed with loving care and as much internal honesty and morality as I can manage, not with liberal snark.

To oversimplify on my part, the fundamental disagreement you’re so casually alluding to isn’t over the question of rules vs. no rules, it’s over the source and meaning of the rules. I don’t think any single faith should be the source of societal rules. How would you as a conservative Christian feel about living in a society based on rules drawn from the Sharia, for example? That’s how I feel about living under Christian rules. Though in all fairness, the vast majority of the secular rules I favor and the Christian rules I presume you favor are in alignment.

In my personal case, I have a particular allergy to both Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, but I also work pretty hard to talk about religion fairly in my writing. I’m an atheist, but I’m not a fool, and religion is one of the defining human experiences/institutions.

Likewise, on the political front, the assertion that the US is a Christian nation is obvious religious fantasy when contrasted with the blackletter content of the Constitution as well as the writings of the Founders taken as a whole in context (as opposed to cherry picking ‘gotcha’ quotes). Nonetheless, it is an act of intellectual idiocy to deny that we are overwhelmingly a Christian nation in a cultural and historical sense. To me, freedom of religion means freedom from religion. That in turn is the single most important protection any particular religion or denomination or sect or individual faith-holder has in pursuit of their own religious freedoms.

To sum up, those of us who reject religion in our own lives are not the libertine1 anarchists of conservative fantasies. We’re just people who think there are better ways than arbitrary faith in revelation to organize society. Better for everyone, including faith holders.

1. Well, okay, I personally am something of a libertine, but that’s not the point here.

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[religion|cancer] Discussing just how bad a Buddhist I would be

Yesterday whilst indulging in the diurnal ritual of my postprandial parboil (a warm baking soda bath which helps the Vectibix-induced skin condition and incidentally has the effect of profoundly exhausting me), Lisa Costello and I had a talk about what a terrible Buddhist I’d make. My observation was that in my extremely limited understanding of the practice, one of the keys of Buddhism was releasing the death-grip that most of us keep on our inner narrative and sense of self. Given that I pretty much define myself by my inner narrative, this strikes me as an improbable stepping stone on any path to enlightenment I might ever follow.

Somewhat to my surprise, Lisa disagreed with me.

We got into a long(ish) talk about how narrative relates to external reality, the nature of truth and what people tend to want to hold on to, mind-body dualism, and a few other related light conversational topics. As I’ve often said on this blog, I’m a relentless empiricist, firmly moored in the world of logos, who doesn’t have any trouble acknowledging the value and power of mythos as a key component of human existence. Including my own personal version of mythos.

My sometimes ugly public quarrels with religion and the religious have entirely to do with people confusing their personal beliefs with some form of objective truth, and then projecting that confusion into the public square to the detriment of both themselves and the rest of society. When it comes to religion, I am a First Amendment absolutist. I will defend to the death your right to worship as you please (and equally my right to find your worship ridiculous); and I will defend to the death my right to be entirely free of the pleasures of your worship.

In the faith-holding sense, I don’t believe in anything. The universe just is, evolution and thermodynamics don’t require my spiritual assent to exist, any more than gravity or climate change or tomatoes do. That’s not to say I’m some mindless, amoral spiritual void. My mythos is always aboil, bubbling over, as anyone who’s ever read my fiction can probably attest. I just don’t confuse the structures of my consciousness with the external reality of the world.

And cancer, like a morning hanging, has a way of focusing the mind. Cancer, at least my path of it, has seized my narrative, and will likely drive me for the rest of my life, whether to an early grave or to a long and thoughtful post-disease survivorship.

I would be a terrible Buddhist these days because the literalized metaphor of my suffering is written in scars across my body, in the daily convulsions of my stomach and my bowels, in the despair and fear and occasional triumph of my thoughts. I live in the valley of the shadow of death, and there is no one here to succor me except myself, and those whose hands reach back from the light beyond.

This suffering would make me a terrible Buddhist, because it keeps me too focused on my sense of self and my narrative in this world. But it might be making me a better human being. At least I love more thoughtfully and live more carefully than I used to. If I am coming to believe in anything in the faith-holding sense, it is that I have come to believe in my own death. Which is of course the least surprising aspect of life.

The narrative? She keeps changing.

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[religion] A bit more on theism

Yesterday’s post on theism [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] produced some nice, civil discussion in comments on both sides of my blog. I appreciated that. I did want to elevate a couple of remarks from comments to highlight just a little further.

Me, on losing my religion:

The initial crack in my unquestioning childhood theism was when I was 6(ish) and found myself in Sunday School wondering why we were celebrating Passover as a miracle, when thousands of little boys were being killed. Not that I phrased it that way at the time, of course, but that was the thought. That was not the deed of a loving God.

I realize that for someone who holds Christian faith, part of the challenge and mystery is reconciling the inherent contradictions in scripture and God’s message. Some people reconcile this through denialism, claiming Biblical inerrancy and asserting that it is a human failing, not God’s, when contradiction is perceived. Others reconcile this through acceptance. Others yet through lifetimes of fearsome logic chopping. All of that is fine with me. I quarrel with no one else’s faith, not at its roots. (Faith in politics is of course another matter entirely.) But it seems to me a lot like acquiring a taste for Scotch, which to me is like drinking paint thinner. Why would I want to go to all that trouble for something that doesn’t make sense to me in the first place? Personally, I cherish my rationalism.

[info]mmegaera, on the self-reinforcing logic of faith:

Well, as I was told growing up, he is what he is whether you believe in him or not.

Saying you don’t believe in God, I was told, is like saying you don’t believe that you yourself exist.

Scary, huh?

To which I responded:

Wow, does that fail the pink unicorn test hard. Nothing like self-reinforcing nonsense passing as logic.

The pink unicorn test is essentially an Internet version of Russell’s teapot. Put simplistically, it says faith claims aren’t provable, and therefore aren’t subject to external logic. My point to [info]mmegaera was that claim made to them as a child has no meaning outside its own hermetically sealed internal logic, and is therefore meaningless beyond whatever meaning the believer chooses to assign to it.

And I suppose as an atheist, that’s really where I land. Faith has whatever meaning the believer chooses to assign to it. The toxic swamp rises up when faith holders confuse their inner meaning with external reality. I will defend to the bitter end to your right to your faith. I will defend to the bitter end my right to live free of the strictures of your faith.

I don’t find those the least bit contradictory. Frankly, anyone who does is deeply confused in their thinking, or possibly has never heard of majoritarianism.

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[religion] If I were a theist

If I were a theist, I would want to believe in a deity who was better than me.

A deity who showed me how to love what I want to hate.

A deity who showed me the good in others, rather than reflecting my own fears in the faces of others.

A deity who expected me to see the world around me rather than denying it.

A deity who was above my prejudices and dislikes, and lifted me above them as well.

A deity who trusted me rather than testing me.

If I were a theist.

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[culture|religion] The modern persecution by the Christians

One of the more ridiculous things I hear from some of my Christian friends on a reasonably consistent basis is that they are being persecuted for their religion. I realize that persecution is an important Christian meme from the earliest days of the Church, and telling themselves this is comforting and self-valorizing. But let’s talk about persecution for a little while.

As a Christian, are you prevented from marrying the person you love by the rules of your country’s dominant religion? My gay and lesbian friends are. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a Christian, are your efforts to seek political and legal equality stymied by rhetoric from houses of worship on every street corner, and millions of dollars in a political funds from tax-exempt entries? My gay and lesbian friends are. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a woman seeking basic reproductive health services, are your choices limited and controlled and banned by government interference between you and your doctor, those bans and controls coming from your country’s dominant religion? My female friends are. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a religious minority seeking to practice your own religion in peace, are you constantly subject to prayers, religious observances and public holidays as established by the rules of your country’s dominant religion? My Jewish and Islamic and Sikh friends are. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a religious minority seeking to establish a house of worship consistent with real estate and zoning practices in a major American city, are you prevented from doing so by a massive public outcry led by practitioners of your country’s dominant religion? My Islamic and Sikh friends have repeatedly endured this. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a religious minority voting in state and national elections, are your choices almost always between two members of your country’s dominant religion? My Jewish and Islamic and Sikh friends find that to be so. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a religious minority being sworn into a rarely-elected office, or to testify in court, are you required and expected to swear on the sacred text of your country’s dominant religion? If you try to use your own sacred text, are you subject to mockery and derision? My Jewish and Islamic and Sikh friends find that to be so. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As an atheist who polls as the leased trusted group in America, how would you feel about despised and distrusted? That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

As a student trying to learn to be competitive in the high tech future, are you subjected to counterfactual faith-based teachings in math and science class thanks to the meddling of your country’s dominant religion with its persistent, pernicious confusion of faith-based belief with objective reality? Students across America are every day. That’s persecution by Christians, not of Christians.

The next time you complain about a minor erosion in the absolute social dominance of Christianity as being a form of persecution, take a moment to think, really think, what it still means to be a non-Christian in America. Trading away a small bit of your power for the self-respect and social safety of others isn’t persecution, it’s loving compromise.

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[religion|politics] The Biblical definition of marriage

I was amused in thinking about something recently. The apparently now-faded Chick-fil-A kerfuffle hinged on a remark by company president and COO Dan Cathy about support for the Biblical definition of marriage. (What he actually said was “Biblical definition of the family unit”, but this has generally been read by all sides as referring to marriage.) Everyone involved from any ideological perspective seems to understand Cathy’s words as encoding for “one man, one woman”.

The New Testament, and therefore the New Covenant has a lot of different things to say about marriage without being especially precise. including Jesus’ very clear statement in Luke 18:29-30 that any man who leaves his wife and children behind for the sake of the Church shall be rewarded all the more in heaven. Sounds a lot like abandonment or divorce to me. The traditional one man, one woman form is quite clearly assumed or explicated in the various texts, but not inviolably so.

But since Christianist opposition to gay marriage hinges substantially on Leviticus 18:22, which is in the Old Testament, it seems to me that any effort to understand the Biblical definition of marriage should rest on the same foundations. This is simple fairness and intellectual consistency, after all. (With respect to the New Testament, Romans 1 26:28 is often cited, but if you read the whole passage and apply a little bit of context, it’s a larger discussion of idolatry and turning away from God and a fairly long list of things which are disapproved of, including pride, boasting and backbiting. It’s certainly not the explicit legalistic prohibition against homosexuality found in Leviticus.)

And Biblical marriage in the Old Testament is a messy, complicated thing.

In Genesis 11 through 25, Abraham rocked it with Sarah and Hagar. Definitely not one man, one woman. For bonus points, Sarah was his half-sister. Admittedly, he wasn’t formally married to Hagar, but this three-way relationship was pretty clearly part of God’s plan.

In Genesis 25 through 50, we learn about Jacob. He rocked it a lot harder with his cousins Rachel and Leah, and various servant girls, all of whom the Bible clearly states were given over to him in marriage.

In the story of David recounted in 1 Samuel and 1 Kings, the foreskins of the Philistines are named as a bride price for his wife Mical. Later on, David arranges the death of one of his generals so he can marry Bathsheba, the man’s wife. Neither of these seems to an approved modern method of courtship. He ultimately winds up with eight wives.

In 1 Kings, Solomon is described as having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Definitely not one man, one woman.

In the book of Ruth, Ruth’s relationship with Naomi is described using the same Hebrew words that describe Adam’s relationship with Eve. Even through millennia of selective editing, this seems highly suggestive of a same sex relationship.

This doesn’t even get into the issues around Lot’s daughters, for example.

All of which to say, Biblical marriage is not clear cut. Since my Christianist friends place so much weight on the Old Testament condemnation of same sex relationships in defending traditional marriage, I think it’s only fair that the place a similar weight on the Old Testament’s highly colorful and varied definitions of marriage. One man, one woman isn’t a simple ideal, and it certainly isn’t God’s law.

Doubtless there are detailed theological arguments that richly justify how one picks and chooses which Old Testament verses to defend to the death as inviolable holy writ, and which to blithely ignore. I’m just as certain that once you take even one step away from the moral absolutism of Biblical inerrancy, for example, by wearing mixed fabrics, you lose the right to call upon individual “clobber verses” as being the final arbiters of God’s will with respect to whatever particular argument you wish to make.

Me, even as an atheist I’m a lot more in favor of the New Testament’s messages of love and fairness and non-judgmental inclusion than I am in favor of carefully selected Old Testament prescriptivism. I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point of the New Covenant. Which would seem to argue for a much broader Biblical definition of marriage than my Christianist friends insist upon. Or at the very least, a much kinder and more tolerant treatment of people of whom they do not approve.

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[politics|religion] The soft bigotry of church doctrine

One meme I’ve seen lately in political discussions both in the wider Internets and even here on my blog and in related discussion threads on my Facebook page is the notion that some conservatives opposed to gay marriage and equal rights have that they’re not really bigots at all. They’re just following church doctrine. They’re nice people, they don’t really have anything against their gay and lesbian friends. They’re just being obedient to God’s words. What Slacktivist Fred Clark calls “reluctant bigotry“.

A corollary to these complaints is the bigot feeling unfairly treated for being called out on their bigotry. As R. Eric VanNewkirk says: if you don’t want to be called a bigot, stop acting like one. I’m not about to hold back just because you say it’s your religion. And nobody ought to.

The church doctrine defense is ridiculous on the face of it. Church doctrine is not immutable. It has in the past been profoundly immoral and bigoted. And it has changed. Whatever your opinion of God (and most readers here are probably all too familiar with my opinions on the topic), His word is demonstrably Protean, changing with the needs of each generation and culture. Otherwise, all His followers would look like Orthodox Jews and live like the Amish ETA: look and live like Samaritans. (Thanks to [info]fjm for the correction) If you eat shrimp or wear mixed fabrics or cut your hair or drive a motorized vehicle, you’ve already abandoned the literal and immutable Holy Writ in favor of the realities of modern life.

To put it somewhat more logically, if the precepts of the Bible were as immutable and unchanging as many modern American Christians claim to believe, there would only be one denomination of the Christian church, instead of tens of thousands.

We don’t have to look very hard into American history to see where church doctrine has failed miserably. The most blatant and grotesque example is the biblical justifications for slavery. They are too numerous to bother to link to here, but were woven into the American national conversation from long before the founding of the Republic right through the Civil War. Doctrinal disputes over slavery are why the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, exists at all.

Were defenses of slavery through church doctrine morally acceptable, even at the time? Do they appear morally acceptable even to the most conservative of religious Americans today?

If you think so, then we don’t have much to talk about now, because there’s something deeply wrong with you.

If you think not, then why can anyone use church doctrine today as a defense for discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans? It’s nothing more or less than the same bigotry that wrapped slavery in the Bible for centuries and more. Surely the Bible has verses condemning homosexuality. It also has verses condemning the eating of shrimp, and verses condoning many forms of slavery. We’ve proven time and again that the meaning of the Bible is reinterpreted to suit the tenor of the times. Someday fairly soon, we will look back on the current religious conservative position on homosexuality as every bit as wrong and immoral as the historical religious conservative position on slavery. Or interracial marriage. Or any number of other things church doctrine has been mistaken about over the years.

In other words, sometimes God is wrong. His word is reinterpreted in every generation, in every culture. Pretending now that church doctrine excuses the believer from doing the right thing is both disingenuous and dismissive of the history of belief.

To claim you oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians because it’s God’s will is a cop-out for your own moral decision making. There’s certainly no compelling (or even trivial) social interest in this discrimination, and plentiful compelling social interest in righting these historic wrongs. Insofar as I can tell by observing who opposes full civil rights for my gay and lesbian friends with their words and their money, such opposition is rooted almost entirely in a religious conservative mindset. Come on, people, at least have the courage to own your bigotry instead of hiding behind the Bible.

And in truth, would you rather be on the right side of church doctrine, or on the right side of history? Especially when church doctrine will inevitably change with the times? Just as it has over and over again throughout history.

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[religion] Evangelical America, I feel sorry for you and your God

Slacktivist Fred Clark, a progressive evangelical, had an interesting post over the weekend entitled The evangelical mind must obey the moneyed enforcers of the tribe in which he talks about a frequent theme of his, that modern American evangelical Christianity has morphed into political tribalism rather than a theological movement. I was most struck by this comment:

[The younger scholar] asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: “Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.”

(This is Clark in turn quoting another source, Peter Enns.)

That in turn prompted me to revisit a thought I’ve had for a long time. Basically, it’s this: I feel sorry for evangelical Christians of a conservative bent whose faith compels them to deny reality and turn away from the richness of the world. Here’s why…

  • I feel sorry for you that your faith is so weak it can be challenged by open, honest education. If I were a faith holder, I’d like to think my faith would be strong enough to be reinforced by the mysterious, miraculous complexity of the world around me rather than undermined by exposure to reality.
  • I feel sorry for you that your God is so petty that He tempts you with false evidence such as dinosaur bones embedded in the rocks of the Earth. If I were a faith holder, I’d like to think my God would love me enough not to twist the world around me with cheap tricks in an attempt to lead me astray.
  • I feel sorry for you that your God created you with all the magnificent imagination and intelligence of the human mind, only to demand that you ignore and even falsify the fruits of reason and observation. If I were a faith holder, I’d like to think my God would rejoice in the fullest use of the gifts granted me by His creation.
  • I feel sorry for you that your faith is so petty and narrow-minded that you cannot encompass the glorious complexity of evolution, astronomy and Deep Time. If I were a faith holder, I’d like to think my faith would enhance my imagination rather than impoverish it, and bring the world to me rather than shut it out.
  • I feel sorry for you that your religion compels you to act in ways and believe in ideas that are so obviously stupid, mean and hateful when viewed by everyone outside your tribe. If I were a faith holder, I’d like to think my religion would make me an example and even a leader to everyone outside my tribe.

So I say to those people I feel sorry for in Evangelical America, wake up. We live in a better world than your faith allows you to see or believe. I feel sorry for both you and your impoverished, petty God that you cannot do so. If He is as you say you believe Him to be, your God is either a bully or a liar, or both.

I will welcome you joyfully when the scales of your blinkered faith fall from your eyes and you see the beauty of the world as it truly is.

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[religion|food] Saving your pizza for marriage

There’s a meme in the Evangelical world that if you wait until you’re married to have pizza, your pizza will be awesome.

I understand that in some people’s belief systems, pizza can only be consumed within the sanctity of marriage. The right of every individual of consenting age to choose when and how they begin eating pizza is entirely up to them. That right clearly and unreservedly includes the choice of not eating pizza until they have entered a state of church-endorsed marital bliss.

For a lot of those folks, they’re not even allowed to look at pictures of pizza, or smell pizza, or go into pizza parlors, or attend parties at homes where pizza might be served. To my personal view, this seems like it might be taking the whole no-pizza-before-marriage thing a bit too far, but everyone is entitled to their worldview. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and I for one would go to the barricades to vigorously defend the rights of my fellow Americans not to eat pizza out of wedlock.

But I really have to question the practical wisdom of this perspective, and especially the assumption of that married pizza will be even more awesome if you’ve never indulged in pre-marital pizza.

How would you know? With no pizza experience, you wouldn’t have any idea if your marital pizza was awesome or not. You’d have no standards of comparison, and you would never have gotten an opportunity to develop your tastes.

We all know pizza preferences vary widely from individual to individual. Some folks are inveterate sausage hounds. Others prefer the classic simplicity of plain cheese pizza with all its warm, milky goodness. Some people like their crust thick and chewy. Others love it crisp and thin, going down fast and hard.

Beyond that, what about vegan pizza? Or gluten-free pizza? Or junky kitchen sink pizzas? Let alone the more esoteric forms of pizza, such as stuffed crust pizza, pesto pizza, pepperoni rolls, stromboli, and calzones. Even the sink of moral depravity that is meatball sandwiches can be argued to be a form of pizza.

And the ways and means of eating pizza… Many people do it missionary style most of the time, grasping the crust firmly and munching on the warm triangle before them. But some folks like to come in from the other end. That thick, ridge of fully risen and freshly baked dough can go down a treat before the explosion of salty goodness that follows. Some people use a fork. Some people even use a knife. Others stick to their hands, just as God intended.

Of course there are risks to eating pizza. You don’t want to cut a slice out of some skanky old box that you don’t know where it’s been. Pizza shared with trusted friends and partners is probably a better idea than picking up any random pizza on a street corner down by the docks. But that’s all human behavior. Smart, sensible pizza consumers can enjoy a wide variety without risking themselves overmuch. Prophylactics such as antacids can cut down on the health risks of pizza. Frankly, for most of us, life without pizza is a worse fate than navigating the risks of procuring and consuming pizza.

My point is, there are as many preferences in pizza as there are people who enjoy pizza. There are even people who don’t enjoy pizza at all for purely personal or physical reasons. I fully support their right to live their life untrammeled by the emotional and social complications that pizza always seems to bring.

So, if you follow the Evangelical way, and you never look at pizza, or smell it, or taste it, or sneak a pepperoni roll on your way to the altar, how will you ever know if your married pizza is so very awesome as you’re being promised? What will happen if you’re a deep dish eater at heart who marries a back-to-front New York style vegan? You might never find out what kind of pizza pleases you most, what sort really makes your life worth living. You’ll never know until it’s way too late.

How will you know?

Because of the broad public interest in this topic — who among us does not think about pizza on daily basis? — I invite you to share your personal pizza testimony in comments. When was the first time you had pizza? What was the best pizza you ever had? Do you have an especially favorite pizza? Any recommendations on where someone just branching out and testing the pizza waters might find good advice and the appropriate support for their pizza-curious interest?

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[religion] Who’s persecuting whom?

Yesterday in the course of an only tangentially related discussion on a mailing list I participate in, one of the other writers (who is a friend of mine) made an offhand comment that of course Christians were under attack right now, and that it had become socially acceptable to attack religion. They said this as if were a patently obvious truth, a self-evident problem in our culture.

Um… no.

All my adult life, I’ve been hearing variations on the theme of “the modern persecution of the Christians.” (That exact phrase cropped up on AM talk radio in Austin, Texas back in the mid 1980s.) Anyone who actually believes this is displaying both a staggering ignorance of early Christian history and a staggering ignorance of current American cultural dynamics. I suppose it’s a very comforting, self-valorizing narrative for some people, but that doesn’t make it true.

Christianity is still overwhelmingly privileged in this country. Despite explicit Constitutional declarations to the contrary, our government is overwhelmingly Christian. 89.3% of the members of Congress are Christian. (8.4% are Jewish, the rest are other or undeclared, with only one openly declared atheist.) Although I can’t readily find similar statistics for Federal judges, I strongly suspect they’re quite similar. Likewise most state and local governments. We celebrate major Christian holidays as secular holidays — when was the last time you got Hannukah or Ramadan off at work? We see a constant privileging of Christian ideals in education, in law making, in local, state and federal government. (If you want to talk about being under attack, atheists, by contrast, often poll as the most despised group in this country.)

So far as I can tell, what some Christians interpret as attacks on religion are a combination of two things.

One is the constant drumbeat from conservative politicians and media alleging such attacks. Fox’s “War on Christmas” is an example of this effect. Those declarations are almost always severely divorced from reality, but in conformance with the principles of the Big Lie, they are repeated so often and so loudly that many people come to believe their truth. (Especially people who have a significant psychological investment in seeing themselves as persecuted heroes.)

The other is the gradual lessening of the absolute grip of Christian privilege on our society. Christianity is merely overwhelming these days, as opposed to utterly dominant. Moves to restrict school prayer and government display of nativity scenes may feel like attacks to Christians, but what they are in fact is some daylight for people of other faiths and no faith at all.

Confidential to Christians in America, and especially Christianists: Not getting things your way all the time doesn’t count as persecution. It’s a rebalancing that acknowledges other strands of the culture.

Speaking from the outside of a Christian framework, that Christians see themselves as under attack is laughable. In many major debates in our culture, self-identified and high profile Christians are the aggressors, for the most part without any worthwhile moral basis. Everything from reproductive rights to teaching good science in the schools to marriage equality finds large groups of vocal Christians and their prominent political and spiritual leadership arguing vociferously for regressive repression and standing firmly on the wrong side of history. Just as many Christians stood on the wrong side of history with Bible-based beliefs on slavery and Civil Rights movement, a historical irony that seems utterly lost on Christianists arguing today against everything from gay rights to access to contraception under the rubric of “religious freedom”.

My friend’s unconscious assumption that their faith is under siege is very telling about how deeply that meme of persecution has sunk into the minds of the very same people who are daily working to limit the rights and freedoms of so many of my fellow citizens, and stunt the education of all our children. To my Christian friends: if you want to be taken seriously by people outside your own faith narrative, open your eyes and look at what people are doing in the name of you and your God.

(And no, I did not engage this question at all on the mailing list. It was off topic, and it would have been deeply rude of me. I address it here with anonymity out of respect for the source, and because I think the question is important.)

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