Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Modesty Police Are Barking Up The Wrong Tree

I saw the following picture this morning.  It accompanied an article on the PRI regarding Saudi women registering to vote for the first time.

Although it was an interesting and worthwhile article, the picture caught me for a completely different reason.

In Utah, there is this misguided notion among "modesty" minded folks that, if we can just cover up women - make sure their dresses are long enough, cover the cleavage, spare the boys those sinful shoulders - we can somehow get our poor males to behave themselves.

I love the PRI picture, because it calls bullshit on that whole premise. Obviously, the dress choices of the ladies does not change a darn thing...

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Swearing As A Moral Issue

This morning the Deseret News, one of Salt Lake's two primary newspapers, ran an opinion piece about the Book of Mormon musical. Being what and where it is, this musical is getting a little more press attention than is typically the case.

The piece hit a nerve with me and prompted me to write about an idea that has been spinning in my head for a while. The title of the article was "Profanity laced productions demonstrate society's moral decline."

If you spend any time with believers, particular of the more conservative stripe, they will let you know that they don't like swearing. If you spend time with such people regularly, they will let you know about their distaste for swearing... regularly.

In fact, similar to the title on the article, they will often articulate something beyond mere distaste. A moral element will become attached. Swearing is not just distasteful, it is immoral.

This is a common religious drum to beat and yet, even while I was still a believer, something struck me as disingenuous about all of the purity proclamations regarding words. How could a word be so encrusted with... evil?

I remember the first time I realized that there might be something amiss about all of the preening that goes on in religious circles concerning swear words. I was 16 and spending a number of weeks backpacking in Israel. A Bedouin chief was giving a friend of mine and I a tour through the Negev desert on camel back. The chief spoke at least 7 languages that I knew of.

My camel and I were alongside the chief when nature called. I said to him, "Hey, can we stop? I gotta go." He looked at me quizzically. "I have to go to the bathroom," I amended. He cocked his head a little more to the side, trying to interpret my meaning.

"He has to take a shit!" my friend called from behind us.

The chieftain's eyes lit with understanding and he smiled. "Oh yes! Sheet! We stop!"

I reflected later that, contrary to what my religious community taught me, my friend had done nothing immoral, neither had the chief. "Shit" was just a word.... nothing more. Any negative values were our associations, but there was nothing inherently moral or immoral about the word.

So then, why does the issue of swearing garner such attention and bluster among religious folks? Why do they try to make it a MORAL issue?

My family and I recently made the trip back to Michigan to visit all of our relatives. Most of these folks are Christian but in the past few years I find myself in Christian circles less and less. One thing that really stood out to me was how much the issue of swearing came up. I was constantly being informed that they don't swear, they don't like entertainment that swears, and they don't like to socialize with people that swear. Spend anytime with a religious conservative, and they will let you know that they don't swear.


My theory is that one can get a lot of piety points on this issue with very little cost. In fact, no cost. If you are going to resist poverty, or not gossip, or love your enemy... there is going to be some work involved. It will cost you. To make a fuss about swearing costs nothing, and yet it lets the religious person get a sense that they have made a moral step up.

Moving out of faith has shown me that this maneuver is a farce. Religion encourages the believer to develop many contrived moral positions. As an atheist, I have come to realize that true moral foundations are built on harm and help. Does an action harm others? Does an action help others? Swearing affects neither of these questions. It is a question of mores' not of morals.

Yet, the writer of the Deseret News opinion piece has convinced himself that he is making a moral statement when he announces his aversion to swearing. He isn't. He is just taking his place alongside scores of religious figures, both present and historical, who have learned to speak fluent religion on a topic that changes nothing.

Or, as St. Paul observed, he has learned to bang the gong and clang the cymbal.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Facebook Faith # 54: Theological Ideas, Like Comic Books, Have Parallel Universes

I have seen this meme come up a number of times from my Christian friends on Facebook. I struggle with whether to engage this discussion, because I usually get the Facebook equivalent of the deer in the headlights - they don't know how to address my contention, because they are not even sure what I am asking.

In the case of this meme, it seems contradictory to proclaim that using fear as a strategy is unique to the Devil. How is God threatening someone with ETERNAL torture not a fear strategy?

Yet that is what many believers will claim. They will quickly shift gears into "God loves you so much, he provided a way to avoid Hell!" Not realizing, or refusing to realize, that their Savior is also the head torturer... and which role he plays depends on whether you are on his good side, or his bad side.

Believers tend to not worry about continuity. Like comic book writers, all contradictions can be explained by making use of parallel universes. In one universe, Robin dies. In a parallel universe, Robin lives on at Batman's side. Depending on what you want your story to say at a given moment, you pull from the theological universe of your choosing.

The last church I belonged to was BIG about referencing the LOVE of God on Sunday morning. They also believe that anyone who doesn't love their God back is going to Hell... but that part is somewhat minimized.

However, it is spelled out in their belief statements. One day on FB, I pointed that out to one of my former pastors, after he did a status update proclaiming the unconditional love of God. I began by quoting their church website:

The conversation went on politely for a few more paragraphs. In the end though, he seemed to maintain his beginning assumptions.... God loves you unconditionally AND God will send you to Hell for not loving him back.

Each idea in its own, parallel, universe.

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