Category Archives: Religion

Not all wire hangers are misogynists. Apparently.

A few months ago, I had an embarrassing incident with some wire hangers in my closet. I had set out to organize! cleanse! make all things new!

But the wire hangers, they were acting all privileged. Hogging too much room. Patriarchal, really. Wire hangers, as we all know, are EFFING MISOGYNISTS, AM I RIGHT????

Ahem. Forgive me, this will all make sense momentarily.

The Wire Hanger Meltdown was followed by The Pool Chair Incident. Because, obviously, Pool Chair is just another way of saying Cult Leader–especially when it refuses to properly recline and instead crashes down, landing your ass on the cement pool deck.

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

“BECAUSE THE EFFING CULT LEADER THREW ME ON THE GROUND!”

“You mean the pool chair?”

“No. I mean THE CULT LEADER.”

And that is what we call “My Rock Bottom Moment.” Clearly, I needed help. Probably this came as no surprise to anyone but myself.

: :

I’d been getting emails. Messages. Tweets.

I don’t like your tone, Elizabeth. You sound different. You sound angry. Not all churches are cults, Elizabeth. Not all men are cult leaders. You’re being unfair, unkind, preposterous. Sometimes you have good things to say, Elizabeth, but your tone is so harsh. Why are you so bitter? Why can’t you just move on? Stop being such a victim, Elizabeth. Maybe you should write a disclaimer before you share your experiences because your abuse is not the norm. –Signed, A Caring Reader.

I mean, enough people tell you the same thing and you finally gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Which I did. I checked myself right into an Online Timeout. I’ve been quiet lately.

: :

Back to the story. I was angry. Very angry. Mostly, at God. And pastors. And churches. And apparently, pool chairs. Little League. Citibank. Wire hangers. Cult leaders. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with the anger.

Anger is exhausting. I think I read that in the book of Revelation. Which is to say, when you’re angry, you view all of life through an angry filter. It was like I put on my angry glasses each morning and went hunting for Bad Pastors, Bad Churches and Bad Theology.

This is an exhausting way to live.

I don’t know whether my rock bottom was burnout, anxiety or generalized hysteria but I’m pretty sure it was a combination of all three. The Interwebz can you make you batshit cray, this we know.

Point is, I put my ass in timeout—oh, wait. I’ve already said this. This, you see, is what happens when you’re angry: you forget you’ve already said things and then you start repeating yourself over and over until people are like: yeah, yeah, we GET IT. YOU WERE ABUUUUSED.

: :

I’ve been working a 12 step program. This is uncomfortable. Mainly, because at some point you have to stop talking about All The Ways You’ve Been Hurt and start taking responsibility for the ways you hurt others.

This is annoying. Also, profoundly difficult. I would really rather skip this part.

But I won’t. I’m gonna work it.

: :

I’ve been wrestling with questions:

At what point does the victim become the abuser?

At what point does my anger no longer serve me?

: :

I read this article about survivors of the Holocaust. The researcher was trying to find out why certain survivors went on to live meaningful, productive lives after all they’d endured? I can’t remember the details, but basically, it was that the survivors who lived long, meaningful lives maintained a deep faith and an optimistic spirit. They didn’t just define themselves by their awful experience, they proactively sought ways to make the world a better place for others–even if it was just their families.

: :

A whole person cannot be solely defined by what she stands against. A whole person must stand for something, too.

: :

I have lashed out, criticized, deconstructed, questioned and chided the religious powers that be. This was an important part of my journey and I honor it. But I made mistakes along the way and despite my good intentions, I have hurt people. I hurt myself.

I set out to organize! set right! cleanse! make all things new!

But I got entangled somehow. The weapons that were used against me I used against others.

The problem was not so-and-so-pastor or so-and-so-church. My mistake was playing whack-a-mole with every suspicious church or pastor that came across my radar. Sure, I can react, react, react all day. But then what?

In other words, what am I doing to build up the Church? What am I doing to edify and create new, healthy culture within the Church?

Criticism is necessary but it’s not enough.
I can’t build a culture of love and peace using weapons of hate and warfare. 

: :

I don’t have all the answers, here. But I want you to know I’m taking time to examine myself, to check my motives and sincerely seek to understand how I can use my words to effect positive change. Thank you for being patient with me…..

Elizabeth Smart & the life-threatening danger of shame-based purity culture

*trigger warning: rape, victim blaming*

I read an interesting line in the New Yorker yesterday, describing an important characteristic about one of the kidnapped girls who was recently rescued in Cleveland:

…she had to never forget who she was, and that who she was mattered..

She had to never forget that who she was mattered.

This line haunts me, especially when juxtaposed against the despair Elizabeth Smart felt after she was kidnapped: 

 …Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

What is the difference between a kidnapped girl who actively looks for escape and the one who does not? One possible answer: she knows and owns her inherent worth.

I realize there are many contributing factors but we can’t underestimate the importance that a girl believes she is important. She believes she matters. She never forgets who she is and that who she is matters. She has an unshakeable belief that no matter what happens to her in captivity, SHE is always valuable.

When I started writing about the harmful effects of purity culture, I overlooked one of the most terrible, unintended consequences: when you teach young women that her identity and worth is tied to her virginity, you make her more vulnerable to despair if she is raped and thus, reduce her chance of survival.

A despairing rape victim is less likely report her rape. A despairing kidnap victim is less likely to actively seek escape. Because what would be the point? Why would it even be worth screaming about? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.

A girl who is raised in purity culture and then is raped may eventually realize that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be… a victim of non-consensual sex. And why would a purity-culture-girl report her rape when, as Jori’s story shows, she’d just be blamed for it anyway: “This sort of thing doesn’t happen to godly girls,” [her parents] told her. “You put yourself in a situation for this sort of thing to happen.”

Even for girls who are not raped or sexually molested but who grew up hearing the shame-based messages of purity culture, the resulting despair can have long-term negative effects on their married sex lives. I’ve received emails from young women who, because they had so internalized the message that My Worth Can Be Measured By My Virginity, felt horrifically guilty after “losing their virginity” on their wedding night. Some of these women still do not enjoy sex. Others have yet to experience an orgasm.

As one of my own friends said to me: “If you’ve been told your whole life no-no-no about sex, how do you just flip that switch after you’re married to yes-yes-yes?”

Ultimately, purity culture  isn’t about sex, it’s about control. It’s about burrowing inside a woman’s heart and soul and mind to control how she views her body, her worth and whether she is lovable. Of course, this is done with the best intentions: protecting young women from unnecessary heartbreak.

But by using shame-based messages about sex, purity culture proponents actually expose their daughters to other kinds of danger: learned helplessness and a debilitating despair that prevents them from believing they are inherently valuable, no matter what they do and no matter what happens to them.

Believing she is valuable–no matter what–may literally save her life.

The New Misogyny: “bro-culture” pastors, sexist Christian comedians and abuse apologetics disguised as female empowerment

When I was growing up, the Christian misogynist wore a suit and tie, poured on enough cologne to slay an elephant and toted a Bible the size of an encyclopedia. This pastor boomed Biblical pronouncements from the pulpit and quoted lots of Scripture to defend his abusive, anti-woman teachings.

You know, I kinda miss the Old School Misogynist. At least he was obvious. At least he didn’t pretend to be all pro-woman.

These days, the Christian misogynist is far more subtle. He probably wears hip clothing and may even use feminist jargon to disguise his underlying sexism.

These are the pastors who tweet and talk endlessly about their smokin’ hot wives.   These are the “Christian comedians” who write dating manifestos about why Christian “girls” don’t have boyfriends. Apparently, reading your Bible at Starbucks is NOT attractive to these men. Maybe you should try wearing white shorts to a prayer meeting.

What makes me ill is that these are men are my peers. These guys are not my Dad’s age. These guys are not my grandfather. These men should know better.

It’s even more discouraging when you call their views offensive only to be told by their yes-men, “Hey, can’t you take a joke?”

This is the New Misogyny: when huge bloggers like Jon Acuff claim that sexist jokes about women help “clear away the clutter of Christianity so we can see the beauty of Christ.”

This is the New Misogyny: when bestselling Christian authors tell “girls” how to live a better love story by being a supporting character in a story a man is writing. [Note: Don Miller took down that post, but I never heard him recant his harmful view of women.]

This is the New Misogyny: when Prodigal magazine publishes sexist articles under the guise of satire and “truth telling.” Oh, yes.  John B. Crist believes his sexist humor is excusable because he’s JUST TELLING THE TRUTH.

 

[Note: Prodigal removed that post w/o explanation]

This is the New Misogyny: when a popular author of many books on Christian ministry and spirituality asks women why they don’t comment on his blog and then he dismisses their answers.

This is the New Misogyny: when a woman engaging theology blogs under a male pseudonym is treated with greater respect than when she comments as her female persona.

This is the New Misogyny: when “Biblical Marriagists” claim they’re empowering women while defending the very theology that oppresses them.

You guys. What is happening, here?

It’s not that I doubt the sincerity of all these Christians. In fact, it’s their sincerity which troubles me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my years in an abusive church, it’s that the most dangerous abuse apologetic comes from a sincere heart and good intentions.

And the most subtle form of spiritual abuse is cloaked in messages of empowerment.

I guess when you’re hip and sincere, nobody suspects you of misogyny. You can tell the same lies about women that have been told for thousands of years and all anybody will see is the sincerity of your heart and your precious nerd glasses.

*due to an anti-feminist website sending an influx of trolling commenters, comments for this post are now closed.*

A former religious extremist explains how radicalization happens {plus, a theory of how suspected Boston Marathon bombers were radicalized}

How do two sons of a political asylum refugee grow up to be terrorists? Their father loved America. Their uncle and aunt and everyone that knew them–including their neighbors and school mates–were shocked to hear these young men were suspected terrorists. In fact, it was so shocking, that the aunt and father quickly began saying the boys were “framed.”

The suspects in the Boston Marathon were brothers. Their father, by a neighbor’s account, was brutually beaten by KGB and fled to the United States. He loved America.

So, how did they become suspected terrorists?

A neighbor described the boys as helpful, the family as hospitable. She said when she saw their picture on TV, she fell on the floor. Her only thought? Somehow they were “poisoned along the way.”

The suspects’ uncle, in a brief appearance on CNN, said his guess was that “somebody radicalized them.” He said this had nothing to do with Chechnya. And historian Charles King agrees, citing reports from journalists interviewing family members in Dagestan:

In other words, the focus now should be on the Tsarnaevs as homegrown terrorists, not on the ethnic or regional origins of their family. Journalists’ initial conversations with family members in Dagestan amplify that point: a sense of shock that two nice boys who had gone to America for their education could have been involved in such a brutal act.

So, how did these young men become terrorists?

The best article I’ve read is from a Reuters journalist who spent seven months in captivity in Pakistan. And although the radicalization process he saw happened in Pakistan, the underlying conclusions are, in my opinion, spot-on: 

militants had created a sophisticated system of schools, training camps and indoctrination videos that slowly severed young men’s bonds with their families.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God. The only cause that mattered, clerics preached, was stopping a vast – and nonexistent – Christian-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy to obliterate Islam from the face of the earth.

No matter how long I spent talking with him, I could not alter his attitudes. Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

My own extremist religious past resonates with this. Here’s how radicalization happens:

  1. Cut off from family. New recruits to my childhood cult found our extremist way of life attractive because they had never made a genuine connection with the “dead” Christianity of their childhood. It was easy to persuade new members to cut off their families because outsiders were “worldly, hypocritical and compromised.” Outsiders didn’t appreciate the HIGHER CALLING that our TRUE religion offered. Effective radicalization requires a rejection of the outside world which many times includes family members.
  2. Relationship with God is the only thing that matters. Extremist religion is narrowly focused. It elevates one thing; ie. “relationship with God” above all else. The trick, here, is that what ACTUALLY matters is the group. The group becomes God for the new recruit. Whatever the group leader says and believes is what the new recruit says and believes. Effective radicalization requires a rejection of previously held values; ie. the American dream is no longer valuable but martyrdom for God IS valuable.
  3. Radicalism gives identity, cause and community. For those disaffected by the disappointments of modern life or crushed by poverty or suffering a heartbreaking loss, extremist religion provides a nearly irresistible solution. Identity, cause and community are a POWERFUL trifecta–especially for young recruits.

Now, here’s my theory about how the two young terrorist suspects experienced their self-radicalization:

My guess is that the older brother was disaffected first. His father had returned to Chechnya. The older brother had a criminal record–beating an ex-girlfriend. Perhaps he’d become disillusioned with the American dream, with American values. Perhaps it felt like no matter how hard he worked or no matter how good an education he had, he was not going to Make It in America.

There was a vacuum in his soul. Moderate, peaceful Islam was no longer attractive–or perhaps, he had never truly connected with his Muslim faith.

Slowly, religious extremism began providing answers. He began watching terrorist YouTube videos. He was looking for something purposeful, some kind of higher calling.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God.

My guess is that the older brother’s values began shifting. A good education, a nice house and a car, a good job–these things no longer held value for him.

Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

Slowly, martyrdom and/or jihadist insurgency became increasingly attractive to the older brother. He started talking to his younger brother about it. They didn’t want to die, necessarily, but they wanted to inflict righteous judgment on the Great Oppressors–the United States.

Whether or not the older brother had real connections to terrorist groups remains unknown. I agree with David Rhode, the Reuters journalist who spent seven months in Pakistani captivity. The enemy is not religion. The enemy is extremism.

And let’s be clear, extremism isn’t just happening in Islam. It happens in all religions. In fact, what has disturbed me the MOST since leaving my childhood cult is that Christian fundamentalism is growing in popularity. My cult used to be considered “fringe” and “weird.” But now, fundamentalism is hip.

Contemplative, mystic, “moderate” Christianity is derided and dismissed just as contemplative Sufism is dismissed and derided among fundamentalist Muslims.

The enemy is fundamentalism because fundamentalism is very attractive to people looking for Definitive Answers. Extremist religion provides a rigid, black-and-white framework for understanding the world.

For those disaffected by the disappointments of modern life, extremist religion provides a nearly irresistible solution.

**DISCLAIMER: although my childhood cult didn’t promote violence toward outsiders (we just beat up each other, ugh), it’s not a huge leap of logic to see the similarities between hard-line religious groups. Also, these are just my opinions and theories based my experience in extremist religion. When new information comes to light, I’ll probably change my theories and opinions. WHICH IS TO SAY, no need to get all crazy up in da combox, k? Good. Thanks.**

The price of religious shaming, the redemption of love {review of “The Whale” at South Coast Repertory}

The Whale logo courtesy of South Coast Repertory

I took a break from book writing this week to catch a play at South Coast Repertory. I walked into The Whale knowing nothing about it and walked out feeling completely known. And more than that: unconditionally accepted—simply for being human, for being here, for being me.

I laughed, I wept and I trembled all the way home. I woke up the next morning with scenes still running through my mind and snippets of dialogue still wrenching my heart. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop talking about it.

The Whale is the story of a morbidly obese man trapped in his apartment and dying of congestive heart failure. It the story of being trapped in one’s body, trapped by shaming religion, trapped by failure, trapped by mistakes and miscommunication, so helplessly trapped that all Charlie can keep repeating is I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Helen Sadler and Matthew Arkin in South Coast Repertory's production of The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. Photo by Scott Brinegar/SCR.

On the surface it seems like a depressing story. But like Charlie’s body, outward appearance belies inner beauty. At its heart, The Whale is a story of ridiculous hope and a relentless longing for true connection—a connection that can happen against all odds when we simply allow ourselves to be radically honest and unconditionally accepting.

It is a story that rejects the superficial standards by which our modern society measures honesty, faith, love and success. It is a story that asks us to reach beyond what we see and value the truth within.

Rejected by his hateful, rebellious teenage daughter, blamed by his ex-wife, suffering from the heartbreak of losing his partner and having eaten his way into moribund obesity, Charlie shows us that devastating setbacks are not what define a life.

What matters in life—what truly matters—is being so totally honest with ourselves and with others that we see through to the beauty within each human person and accept them just as they are.

The Whale is graphic and raw and desperately honest. It is at times brutally heartbreaking, also irreverent and unabashedly LOL funny. But as Charlie lurches across the stage toward his daughter, we find ourselves gasping for breath along with him and suddenly we understand: love conquers all.

If you’re local to Southern California, go see “The Whale.” Shows run through March 31.

We’re baaaaaack! EE & Kristen Howerton “So Totally Relidge!”

Kristen Howerton and I had such a great time discussing politics that we decided to team up again and discuss another topic we care deeply about: religion! Our plan is to do a weekly recap about religious topics we’ve read on the Internet. Our first episode? Last week’s brouhaha surrounding Mark Driscoll’s disrespectful tweet about President Obama. Also, we’d love your feedback. If you’ve read something you’d like us to discuss, please share.

Giving our men their balls back? How old-school misogyny is still thriving among Christians.

Old-school misogyny is alive and well. Except now it’s dressed in hip clothing. It probably blogs. It probably gets its ideas from books rife with harmful gender stereotypes. And it probably uses edgy language like “giving our men their balls back…one day at a time.” OK, see. Let’s stop right there. I have questions.

  1. If you’re gonna give the balls back, why do it one day at a time?
  2. Why not give BOTH balls back on the SAME day?

I also need an explanation for this statement: ”The Love & Respect book had a lot of sexist stereotypes about women but hey! Let’s talk about how awesome this book is!”

Well, that’s a paraphrase. Here’s the real quote:

I’m not going to promote or bash this book… it had some good points that have been eye opening and some HUGE stereotypes that made me crazy mad.

You know what makes me crazy SAD? I get so discouraged when, instead of refuting those HUGE, harmful stereotypes, Christian women promote those ideas by asserting that We Women–and I quote–”have essentially castrated our men.”

Well, thank goodness we haven’t literally castrated our men, amen? Because, ew. Also, messy.

My real problem, here, is that harmful books like these are still popular in Christian circles. What REALLY breaks my heart is that women who are sincerely trying to improve their marriages fall prey to harmful teaching mainly because the most popular Christian books on marriage are harmful!

Heck, this book has spawned Love & Respect-themed retreat$! There are workbook$!

*sigh*

Is this book really about helping people?

Because here’s the thing: any Christian book that claims to have discovered “THE SINGLE GREATEST SECRET to a successful marriage”  is highly suspect. It makes all my fundamentalist triggers go on high alert. It’s formulaic! If you follow steps 1-2-3, you, too, can have a Successful Marriage!

I mean, dude. How did couples ever manage to stay married before this book was published? THEY DIDN’T KNOW THE SINGLE GREATEST SECRET!

Just in case you’re wondering, the Single Greatest Secret for Marriage Success is that women need unconditional love and men desperately need unconditional respect. Yes, men desperately neeeeeeeed respect. It’s in the title. Love & Respect: the love she most desires, the respect he desperately needs.

I don’t know about you, but a man who desperately needs anything from me is also highly suspect. I don’t like neediness. Neither does my therapist. She has this fancy word for it: co-dependent.

Also, what is unconditional respect? To me, that sounds like a huge loophole for tolerating abuse. Like, hey, woman. NO MATTER HOW BAD I TREAT YOU, YOU MUST RESPECT ME!

Why is respect gender exclusive, anyway? Women need respect, too, yes? I mean, are we calling Aretha Franklin a liar??

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me! 

Ahem. I digress.

Point: I have a hard time believing there’s any Biblical support for “unconditional respect.” I COULD be wrong. Feel free to correct, exhort and rebuke me in the comment section. I will listen. Or delete you. Depends on whether you desperately neeeeed me to respect you. Mwah-ha-ha.

Multiple reviewers have noted that the book is ‘incredibly sexist“. So, why are Christians still propagating this stuff?

I just don’t get it.

Oh, wait. I do.

It’s all Eve’s fault!

 

Catholicism is wrecking my life

I am done seeking.

I am done striving.

I am done looking for Something–Someone?–who isn’t there. Or, whom, at the very best, is there inconsistently. I have sustained myself in a state of spiritual half-starvation: living on glimpses, tastes, morsels, crumbs dropped from the table.

But ever always the hunger gnaws at me. I have denied myself. I have prayed. I have fasted. I have done penance. I have wearied myself in well-doing and in all my well-doing have gained nothing except a growing awareness of my desolation and abandonment.

I eat loneliness. I sleep with loneliness.

Loneliness is, as far as I can tell, the core of the human condition. Above all else, loneliness remains. It is a deep, abiding friendlessness. None can truly know us and we are puzzles even to ourselves. I play editor to memories, pretending that by emphasizing one event over another I can bring order to my chaotic life story. But I can see it’s all contrived.

I am tripped up by the vagaries of my humanity. I am fretfully weak, hyper-sensitive, prone to wander.

I used to believe God had some grand purpose for my life but I’ve utterly discarded that as a spiritualized ego-trip. All I can do is tiny, little things. I can place a soup spoon on a table with the utmost care.

The veritable truth is that Catholicism is wrecking my primary relationships. How naive I was to think I could have it all: I could have Eucharist and peace.

Jesus was right. He didn’t come to send peace, He came to send a sword. And now I live in this sundered reality. My one consolation is to sit in silence before Eucharist. Even my tears are dry.

It is the worst of times and the best of times. It is the time of dreams coming true and dreams ending.

All I can do is place a soup spoon on the table with utmost care.
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Throwing out the baby with the bathwater?


Here’s the thing: whenever someone warns you against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” they are trying to control you. And scare you. They are afraid your actions threaten their dearly held beliefs.

First of all, what if there isn’t a baby in the bathwater? What if ya got twins? ;-)

The thing is, people get scared when someone refuses to go along with the prevailing wisdom or conventional practices of the group. When anyone comes along who seems to defy the norms or whose very existence is a massive exception to the rule, people get scared and perceive this person as a threat. As a result, they will try to control and subdue the threat.

They will try to silence you. They will threaten you. They will call you names.

Many people, unfortunately, react in fear when they see someone who looks, acts or speaks differently than themselves. Instead of responding in love and with a genuine desire to understand, fearful people will attempt to maintain conformity at all costs.

You must have enough courage to hear your true, inner voice. Furthermore, you must act on that true, inner voice. You can’t let mockery, ridicule or threats prevent you from living the authentic life you were meant to live.

Remember that wisdom is justified by its fruits. If you are choosing to live in a way that directly contradicts the accepted norms of society, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to grow into the fullness of God’s dreams for you.

Did you know God has a dream for your life? Don’t let the naysayers and accusers hinder you from reaching that dream. Instead, shut out their words. Record a new soundtrack for yourself filled with words that fan the flames of your exciting destiny.

God loves you unconditionally and you are not BIG enough to screw up His dream for your life. No matter what happens–even you fail and fail again–keep going. There is no such thing as a “missed opportunity.” As long as you are still breathing, there is time to get back on track. And anyway, detours are often necessary time-outs.

There are things to be learned in all the dead-ends, tangents and scenic routes of life. In fact, if you haven’t gotten off track in awhile, maybe it’s time for a nice scenic drive down a road you haven’t explored yet.

You living your life is not a threat to your company, job, church, family or friends. If anyone discourages you from following the dream God has placed in your heart, it’s time to get new friends. While traveling your own path might seem lonely at first, don’t get discouraged. I can promise you that eventually you will be joined by fellow travelers who totally GET IT and GET you.

Sometimes the realization of your dream might look utterly different than what you expected. That’s OK. We usually don’t have a very clear vision about our destination when we start traveling. But as we go through the refining process of the journey, we gain a better understanding of how everything we experience works together for our good.

In the end, believe. Believe. Believe.

And as Winston Churchill once said: “Never, never, never give up.”

How do I know all this?
Because I just had a dream come true (I’ll share more soon). :)