Thursday, January 4, 2007

What Would Jesus Do For A Klondike Bar?

A friend of mine has informed me that some of my recent posts might be offensive to stupid people. To any stupid people reading this, please accept my heartfelt apology... but you might just want to avoid my blog from now on.

A lot of my rants of late have centered around my own bias against organized religion. This is probably unfair of me. Growing up, I was always ready to defend Christianity. A lot of the other kids thought of me as the "holier-than-thou" type. Even after college, I had a reputation as a teetotaler. I can't really pin down exactly when I changed; some of it was gradual, but there were some obvious spikes in there.

Some of my family would probably blame KJ for "corrupting" me, and I don't doubt that she was a factor. But I honestly think I've been a bigger influence on her than the other way around. Personally, I would give more credit to a friend I met online, who for anonymity's sake I'll call "BH". I could tell early on that this guy was the smartest person that I had ever met, either online or off. BH was the type of person who wouldn't open his mouth unless he had completely researched everything about the subject. I'm not saying he was infallible, but he definitely possessed a powerful combination of education, wisdom, and common sense.

And yet he was an athiest. I didn't once think about trying to convert him. I knew that there was no point I could make that he wouldn't be able to counterpoint. But at the same time, he didn't try to convert me either. BH didn't mind his friends being religious. He did draw the line at absolute Creationists - he felt that those ideas (Earth only being 6000 years old, created in six days, etc) were so silly that only a complete idiot would believe them. Luckily I was never that type of Creationist, and it didn't bother him at all that I considered myself a Christian.

But without even trying, he planted a seed in my mind. It wasn't any particular thing he said, but rather the simple fact that he was so smart and rational, and yet an athiest. For the first time in my life, I realized that it was okay to be an athiest. Well, not "athiest" specifically, so much as I realized it was okay to have your own beliefs. You don't have keep the beliefs you grew up with. You don't have to believe something just because your parents and grandparents believed it.

"Duh", you say. Of course I always knew it was okay to believe what you want. But there's more than one level of knowing something. For instance, I might have felt it was okay for people to have their own beliefs, but I never thought it was okay for me to have my own beliefs.

So I went agnostic. It wasn't a major life change or anything. Generally speaking, my beliefs didn't change much.

Before: I thought all recreational drugs should be illegal.
After: I still think drugs are for the stupid, but it should be legal for people to make their own mistakes.

Before: I felt that abortion was murder and should be illegal.
After: I still think abortion is a very bad thing, but sometimes unwanted pregnancies destroy even more lives.

Before: I felt premarital sex was evil.
After: I still feel that you should limit your sexual partners, and never sleep with anyone you don't think you'd marry. But that's just a "should", not a "you're going to Hell."

Before: I didn't want to push my religion on to others, so when someone offended me, I just got quiet.
After: It's a lot harder to offend me, but I'm still just naturally quiet.

While I was no longer actively worshipping God, I still defended religion. I didn't suddenly decide that all Christians were idiots, nor did I try to tell anyone else what to believe. I still believed that by and large, religion was a good thing, and that some people needed religion in order to keep themselves in check. Some people were naturally good people, while others required the fear of God to keep their natural selfish tendencies from taking over.

I would have defended religion to my dying day, whether I was in it or not. So what changed? When was that "magic moment" when I decided that Christians had gone too far? I don't know, exactly. Well, no doubt my transgenderism played a big part in it. I've now had greater exposure to a segment of the population that is often persecuted by religion. But even when I was religious, I knew that sometimes people went too far "in the name of God", so that opinion hasn't changed much.

So, I'm trying to figure out exactly why I've developed a chip on my shoulder lately. Forgetting my world-issues, I'm specifically trying to list ways religion has hurt me personally. Here's what I've come up with so far:

1. My realizations about my sexual identity. When I was a kid, I thought that the word "gay" meant, "a guy who wishes he was a girl." I had been told time and time again that being gay was wrong. So whenever I had thoughts about wanting to be a girl, I pushed them out of my head. Those thoughts were the work of the Devil, and would send me straight to Hell. If it weren't for religion, I might have figured myself out a lot earlier in life. Granted, if society as a whole had understood as much then as it almost does now, then I might have been better off. Gender Dysphoria is completely different from homosexuality; it's more like a birth defect. And as such, it's slightly more likely to be acceptable to homophobic Christians. But I was just a kid then, at a time when even adults were confused about the subject.

2. Dungeons & Dragons. In the past few years I've developed a love for role-playing games. I would have liked to have played them with my friends as a child. There's one childhood friend in particular who probably would have loved to play D&D... except his parents wouldn't allow it. D&D was the subject of a lot of several urban legends, and my friend's family firmly believed them. There was that one where the kid played D&D then jumped out a window, which was just an evolved version of the story where the kid puts on a Superman cape and tries to fly. Not to mention a precursor to the one where the kid watches Harry Potter and jumps out a window holding a broomstick (*). If kids were really as stupid as the ones in these legends, nobody would reach adulthood.

(* Before anyone tries to correct me on the Harry Potter thing, yes, I do know there really was a child who got hurt playing with a broomstick. But that child was much younger than the kids typically are in the legends, and she fell off the kitchen counter (the legends have them jumping off of rooves or out of windows), and I'm not convinced she actually thought the broomstick would make her fly. But in addition to that true story, an urban legend also circulated that was much more similar to the D&D/Superman legends. )

But forgetting the legends for a minute, D&D was considered evil for other reasons too. Magic, demons, and other anti-Christian themes. But seriously, it's based on mythology, not religion. You might fight made-up evil gods, but you never fight Satan. And even if you did, I'm not sure how that would make it anti-Christian, since the players are (usually) fighting on the side of good. Is there something in the Bible about not making up stories? Because that's all the game is - a group of creative friends sitting around a table, making up a story. If that's wrong, then so is the entire fiction section of your local bookstore.

3. Censoring myself to my wishy-washy friends. The only thing worse than a friend who has just discovered Jesus, is one who goes through cycles of piety and hedonism. A few years ago, I received a phone call from a long-lost friend. We talked for about 10 minutes before I realized he was currently in Saint mode. Once I knew, I thought back to the things I'd been saying over the past few minutes, and counted how many times I'd probably offended him. But, I swear this guy switched back and forth every week. And while I am loathe to censor myself, I do try to be sensitive to others when I'm speaking. It would be nice if people came with ratings labels. You'd look at a person, see he's wearing a "PG-13" T-shirt, and you'd adjust your conversational topics accordingly. Wait, no, actually it would be nice if people just weren't so easily offended. But I've already done that rant.

5. Censorship in general. I don't mind keeping adult materials away from kids, but I hate it when they outright ban something because someone thought it was offensive. Off the top of my head, I can't think of too many ways this has affected me personally. Removing the blood from the SNES version of Mortal Kombat kind of pissed me off at the time. I vaguely remember hearing about an irreverent animated sitcom I wanted to see, which got cancelled because of a letter-writing campaign from a small church group in Ohio or somewhere. There was a time in Kentucky when KJ and I weren't allowed to receive the "Adam & Eve" mail-order catalog because it violated some local law.

I could probably list a lot more examples of how censorship almost affected me, like when Married With Children nearly got taken off the air, but in most cases smarter heads have prevailed.

6. The assumptions of others. When you live in the Bible Belt, people don't ask, "Do you go to church?", they ask "What church do you go to?" ...which leads to a lot of awkward silences. And every office has that one employee who forwards every sappy religious e-mail they receive, assuming that all the recipients will be overjoyed to have their inbox clogged up with these made-up stories of miracles (punctuated by animated gifs of wide-eyed puppies). Then there's the people who mix politics and religion. Terrorists commit horrible acts in the name of their gods, while our country's Christians shake their heads and say, "poor misguided fools"... completely failing to make the connection.

That's really about all I can come up with right now, but I think it's enough to explain my grudges. Now I have to ask myself a lot of questions.

Do my own experiences justify my bias against religion?
Do the global issues I've studied justify my prejudices?
When I pick on Christians for being bigots, am I being just as bigoted as the people I condemn?

The truth is, I probably have gone too far. Ranting is a great way to work out my frustrations, but it does sound like I'm judging all religious people by the actions of a few. And deep down, I don't really feel that way. I stand by everything I've said, but - Keep in mind, when I rant on Christians and other religious people, I really don't mean "all Christians" or "everyone who believes in a god". If I felt that way, I would consider myself an athiest, not agnostic. I'm specifically talking about that subgroup of believers who commit the sins I've listed.

So before anyone sends me hate mail, just remember - Right now you're probably one of those Christians I support (or at least tolerate). But by complaining, you're being easily offended and trying to censor me. And if you do that, you're placing yourself into the very categories I've been insulting. Sure, it's a catch-22, but that's my bottom line.

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