Excuses of Biblical Proportions

A few days ago I read this post by Christian minister John Pavlovitz. It was a critique of how Christianity treats homosexuals; in particular it offered thoughts on how to reconcile hostile Bible verses with the reality that homosexuals are loving people too. Naturally, some Christians dispute this view, maintaining that homosexuality is merely a sin of choice.

In my previous post, I talked about how the Bible is stretched to be the only reliable source of information to Christians. This debate found on Mr. Pavlovitz’s page and the other post I linked by David Taylor, Jr. both illustrate the need for maintaining Biblical integrity. Both of them argue a position to take on the Bible without even questioning the legitimacy of the text itself.

Admittedly, Mr. Pavlovitz argues for a change in Biblical meaning.
With Leviticus and Romans in play, it’s a tall order to claim ambiguity from the “Good” book. Instead, there is a softer call to determine what is really meant by claiming homosexuality is a sin. Specifically, there is a question asked on whether or not the Bible is referring to people who casually engage in homosexual acts or people who are in a loving relationship. If that is an honest distinction, it means that one can excuse homosexual acts done pursuant to a loving and caring relationship.

The need for this distinction is only necessary to allow people to think that the Bible is okay with same-sex relationships. Otherwise, it’s meaningless. One could argue that the Bible could be ignored on homosexuality, but that would mean ignoring God’s Holy Word. Or one could say that the Bible is wrong…but that would mean saying something in the Bible is untrue. Another argument could be that God is calling people to change their stance on this, but changing meanings leads to the unholiest of unholies: subjective morality!

That’s why Mr. Taylor’s post is so forceful in its defense of classical interpretation.
Not only does Mr. Taylor claim definitive meaning in the Bible, he says that “Homosexuality is wrong.” Arguably this means that engaging in homosexual acts or even lusting after someone of the same sex is morally offensive in the Bible. Such an interpretation flies in the face of Mr. Pavlovitz’s post. Homosexuals are bad people according to the Bible.

This position ignores Mr. Pavlovitz’s statements about homosexual couples in loving relationships. In effect, it calls all of those people liars who say that gay couples can be happy with each other, living in committed harmony. By extension, it puts a negative moral label on all people who are consenting adults that touch their genitals to people of the same sex as they are.

Mr. Taylor’s position requires him to respond to changes in interpretation of scripture. As noted above, changes to the Bible are changes to what God means. A lifetime spent thinking a verse means one thing can be undermined if that verse means something else. The consequences are drastic; the souls of billions of Christians depend upon it.

There is an easier way to go about this.
Simply examine how homosexual relationships function. Mr. Pavlovitz alluded to this, but he couldn’t complete the thought. If the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, why is it that homosexual couples can lead normal, otherwise healthy lives? To claim there’s a secret drawback isn’t enough; one would have seen by now any intrinsic flaw in homosexual relationships.

And all of this doesn’t even begin to reach the sheer ugliness of such a conversation. How would any of us feel when our lifestyles are questioned in such a manner? Why is there such a difficulty in believing that people who love those of the same-sex are human beings? Really, what does it matter what consenting adults do with each other in the privacy of their own homes?

But the Bible. It cannot be ignored. It will not suffer wrong interpretation. Most of this is because of all the ancillary thoughts built around it to prop it up and convince people that it actually provides a clue to life.

Here’s another example.
I also talked previously about believing things that normally would get questioned. Things also can get repeated without question. Christians who agree with Mr. Pavlovitz can site his article as support. Christians who agree with Mr. Taylor can site his article as support. None of it has to be dissected; Christians in both camps can argue ’til they’re blue in the face.

Something similar that gets repeated is the notion that there’s a secular conspiracy to get prayer out of schools. I had Mr. Taylor clarify his remarks about prayer getting taken out of school in the 1960’s, and he said, “Yes there is a concerted attack on Christianity by scientists, atheists, the media, liberals, etc….” Thankfully, I found this post of mine which addresses that statement. What Mr. Taylor isn’t aware of is that Christians were responsible for the landmark cases which got prayer out of public schools, not any secular thinkers. And that process started in the 1940’s (not the 1960’s).

Really, the Bible is concerned with repetition of belief.
While I commend the bravery of Mr. Pavlovitz to openly challenge religious views regarding homosexuality, I as an Apostate Atheist can’t help but notice that the shift in thinking doesn’t deal with the underlying problem. There is literally no need to revamp the Bible’s meaning on homosexuality. It is wrong about homosexual people.

Thankfully I don’t have to try to twist something around in order to reconcile it with an honest assessment of human relationships. There is no need for me to make excuses of Biblical proportions. Such thoughts are a relief to me, especially since I used to struggle with reconciling the Bible’s hatred of certain people for no other reason than they love differently.

(h/t to Figibloom for reblogging Mr. Pavlovitz’s post)

Believing Beyond Reason

Image found here.

Image found here.

In my last two posts on the subject of what faith I had, I covered two core tenets taught to me when I was young. The first is that Jesus loves me. The second is that Jesus died for my sins, and the thoughts that the statement entails. If you’ll notice when I talked about conversion testimonies, these are the two major components of such testimonies. For adults, sin is a problem. Jesus is the solution. It’s the same idea in reverse for when I was young. However, there was a third core tenet: trusting the Bible.

It’s a process of selectively believing absurd things.
Unicorns, giants, magic, super strength, pillars of fire, manna, you name it. If anyone made claims that these things are real, one would either assume that it’s a joke or that there is some sort of fraud being perpetuated. No one to my knowledge has ever seriously claimed and proven that he or she has spoken with snakes or donkeys. I have yet to meet anyone who has parted a large body of water or walked on it with divine aid.

And yet, if you asked me when I was young whether or not this stuff happened, I would have said, “Yes.” Not only that, if you would have asked me if snakes could talk, I would have said, “No.” I would have believed that miracles were possible, but I wouldn’t have been able to point to a verified one. If someone had asked me if the Bible was an accurate account of early history, I would have said yes to all the things I was aware of that hadn’t been scientifically debunked. Furthermore, I would have offered my own impoverished theories trying to reconcile Biblical accounts with what science had proven.

In one of my first posts, I talked about how there is a problem with believing parts of the Bible are literally true and figuratively true. I’ll get into a great example next post, but for now I want to say that logically one must have some sort of rule to ascertain what goes where. Without a controlling principle, the whole reading of the bible is an ad hoc affair. And yes, this reasoning is the major contributor to why there are so many different Christian denominations in existence. Let me outline the process.

Step 1: Believe the entire Bible really happened.
This is the most important thing ever. The Bible is the Word of God, it is inerrant, and it is written by God through normal people who were commanded to do it. Everything had to have happened in it. None of it is false. People will lie to you, but the Bible won’t. That book is the only source of truth in this world. Rely on it more than anything else.

All questions about faith are answered in that book. Any guidance one needs from God is contained in its pages. Barring that, it will tell you what you think God is trying to tell you. Rely on it more than anything else. I was told that talking snakes happened. I was told that Samson really did have super strength. I was told that Jesus walked on water. If you can stomach all of that, coming back from the dead is a walk in the park.

Most importantly, it expands one’s tolerance for Biblical claims. That’s because everyone must rely on it more than anything else. Eventually, claims are evaluated with a hidden bit of coding: is the claim in the Bible? If yes, it is true. If not, be skeptical.

Step 2: Failure to understand the Bible is a personal failing.
This one naturally extends from Step 1. Any misconception about the Bible is regarded as something wrong with the person reading it and not with the text itself. The Bible cannot lie to anyone; it is God’s word. It is completely true. Only a weak faith, deception by Satan, or one’s sinful nature can prevent one from knowing the truth in the Bible.

For example, when I found out that there is pretty good evidence that the world wasn’t created in 6 days, I had a crisis of faith. How could science contradict what was in the Bible? In my search for the truth, I did not consider that the Bible was wrong. Instead, I finally settled on the idea that people were getting it wrong the entire time. Did a day really mean a day in Genesis? Maybe not. Crisis averted.

Step 3: Don’t believe anything that contradicts the Bible. It’s your friend.
Here is an example of the thinking that I’m talking about. In that post, notice how the author relies on simple declarations that the Bible is true. Sheer force of will is sufficient to denounce what other people say.

And other people do say it. If you follow that link, it goes to a wonderful post by Ark with a wonderful video on how archaeology is dismantling Biblical history. Sadly, none of it has any bearing on someone who simply refuses to acknowledge other viewpoints. Even I would have tried to make excuses as to why the Bible was exempt from such scrutiny.

The end result is that the Bible is your only real friend.
This was why I kept making excuses for it like a drunk uncle at a wedding. Yeah, it said some awful things about gay friends. There was no mercy for women who had children out of wedlock. Slavery was okay. Supernatural stuff was fine as long as it was between Genesis and Revelations. All non-Christians were out to get me. You get the picture.

Above all else it kept telling me that it was all real. That my expanded sense of what was possible and impossible was okay. That it wasn’t laughable to think about talking snakes and turning water into wine. That there was a God.

Save the Unicorns This Earth Day

Image found here.

Image found here.

[Edit: Please go see this wonderful post by Cooperlewis for more information on other amazing creatures found in the Bible!]

Today is Earth Day, and so I wanted to take a moment to talk about an endangered species. Everyone seems to have the other ones covered, so I won’t add to all that talk about preserving ecosystems and such. I’m here to actually talk about an animal that is oft maligned and rarely seen in the wild. It’s featured in the Bible, and it’s becoming extinct from that true book’s pages. That’s right, I’m talking about the fabled unicorn.

As we all know, Genesis 2:19 states that Adam named every living beast. Not just a few, or a couple. Every last one of them. We know this because God walked them on by. And since women weren’t created for men yet to cook, clean, and make babies, Adam didn’t have to get heckled for any stupid or silly names. What this tells us all is that Adam got every name for every creature, and Eve didn’t secretly change the names at all.

This is important because forces are at work creating an endangered species.
Here enters the majestic unicorn. It’s truly a fascinating creature, as the article in Wikipedia will tell you. And because it’s in Wikipedia and the Bible (Isaiah 34:7 KJV, to be exact), we know this magical beast is totally real.

So why, then, is there a conspiracy to remove the unicorn from subsequent editions of the Bible? I’ll be more than happy to tell you: money. That’s right, the root of all evil is to blame for this missing beast. Unicorns fetch expensive prices on the black market, and their horns are probably made of some valuable thing like gold or platinum. Or something.

How can people modify God’s Holy Word(TM) to suit their covetous natures? Everyone* knows that the King James Version of the Bible is the only correct version to read it in English. In fact, it’s the only correct version ever. The Greeks and Romans couldn’t have written it correctly; they didn’t even know English at the time. And we’re not even going to go into the mess that was Aramaic. They could barely speak their own language in Judea, much less a proper language like English.

So much for an inerrant word.
Now, some people might say that what the writers of the KJV meant was “rhinoceros” instead of “unicorn.” But remember: Adam already named everything. We have two different words for rhinoceros and unicorn. Therefore they have to be different creatures. Since I’m getting this information from the Bible, we all know I’m not making this up.**

What this means to people who believe the Bible completely and literally true is that you have to help me save the unicorns. Call up Gideon or whoever that is who puts Bibles in your local No-Tell Motel. Get in touch with pastors, preachers, and evangelists all over God’s green Earth. We need to tell them to put the unicorns back in the Bible. Or else God will smote us good.***

Look, the bottom line is that today is Earth Day. Instead of putting a hole in the ozone, take out any copies of the Bible that isn’t a KJV and write “unicorn” into it. Do it for the Earth. Do it for Jesus. Do it for justice.

* By “Everyone”, I mean no one who can actually intellectually justify one version over the other. Hell, this entire post is silly and the product of the KJV writers’ failure to realize they translated a word incorrectly.

** And by “not making this up”, of course I mean it is made up in its entirety.

*** He might order pizzas, place them on our credit cards, and cause us confusion as we’re left paying for 20 pies that have anchovies on them. Or, you know, he could just send locusts again. Nobody ever got tired of those.

Jesus Hates Sin*

*Whatever that means. Below is what it means to me.

In the aftermath of the love bomb, the next layer added onto my former religious structure was that of sin. Jesus loves everyone, I was told. He loves everyone so much that he died for their sins. Little children don’t have to worry about that. But sooner or later, they have to be confronted with what sin really means.

It’s too bad there isn’t a good definition of it.
How it was introduced to me was when I misbehaved. When I talked back, I was sinning. When I didn’t do chores properly and without supervision or instruction, I was sinning. When I otherwise misbehaved, I was sinning. Worst of all was the alleged fact that I wanted to sin because some jerk ate some fruit he shouldn’t have. And because I wanted to sin, I was destined to go to Hell.

What did that even mean to my eight-year-old mind? Looking back on it, I can’t rightly say. All I know is that I started associating shame, hatred, and disgust for myself with some weird doctrine that I couldn’t even express properly. It became a personalized system that I explored only when I was being punished for something. To make matters worse, my family had learned from Christian parenting books that I needed to be told that I was hurting them by making them hurt me.

Somewhere over the next couple of years, I formed a thought of sin that I used to start growing the seeds of my eventual depression. Sin was my problem, not anyone else’s. Other people talked about struggling with it, but I couldn’t ever seem to master mine. I had to deal with it, because sin was so bad that I deserved eternal torment for it. So when I got yelled at for not doing the dishes properly, or not making my bed properly, or not doing a chore unbidden, I was being the worst person in the world.

That definition never got corrected. It only got reinforced. No one wanted to talk to me about it. This problem, after all, was known to everyone. Through all of this, it logically followed that somehow I was defective. I didn’t deserve anything good in my life because I just couldn’t help being sinful, and trying to give myself to Christ wasn’t working.

One moment of clarity shone upon me, but I didn’t have the wisdom to see it for what it was.
Just before when I was in confirmation (around 11 I think, but maybe 12 years of age), I remember thinking about my sinful nature after being sent to bed early. I don’t even remember what I was being punished for. What I do remember was realizing that there was a surefire way for God to let me and everyone else off the hook: forgive Satan.

In my young mind, I thought that if the whole problem of sin started with Satan and eventually led to the corruption of mankind, forgiving everyone and everything would take care of that. God did that for humanity, apparently. He was allegedly omnipotent. The deity I believed in could do anything, so I prayed for it to do the one thing that would end human misery as I knew it. It wasn’t just for me, I reasoned. Everyone would benefit from it.

Of course it was a fool’s errand. If I had realized that just a decade later, I would have gotten rid of my faith then and there. God can forgive humans, but they have to suffer first? This is a lot of work to get people who “want” to worship a supreme being. It’s dreadfully inefficient. But at that young age, all I could be was disappointed that my prayers weren’t answered. Not only that, but it was also all my fault for failing.

The second layer of sin is fertile ground for intellectual weeds.
No gardening equipment is provided.

I don’t know what thinking about a sinful nature has done to other people. It doesn’t seem to bother people much, because they can move past the self-loathing to a place of righteous indignation at the behavior of others. To me, it has robbed me of my feelings of self-worth, confidence, and well-being. I wish I knew what these felt like. As of this writing, I’ve only had fleeting feelings of satisfaction at who I am, followed closely thereafter by punishing myself for such self-aggrandizement.

It also acted quickly upon me. My mind drew implications from the doctrine of sin that exist but aren’t exactly dwelt upon by most sermons and Sunday school classes. If it is, it’s glossed over without true measuring of the meaning. What I’m driving at is the idea that sin makes everyone in the Christian faith a worthless, evil, malevolent, petty, vindictive, sadistic tyrant. We are all equal in that we all do things that eternal torture is needed to provide justice for.

Within a few years of getting informed about sin and being reminded of it, I had a belt around my neck and tears in my eyes. Before I even got to high school, I knew I wanted to kill myself. If I had any sense of planning, I might have even succeeded. And the precipitating event for me wanting to strangle myself? Being sent to my room as punishment for something I can’t even remember.

Does the doctrine of sin work on people? It did on me, a little too well. What I wish I could have told myself back at that time was that I’d make good on my promises to myself, that I’m not a bad person no matter what I was being told. Above all else, I wish I could have told myself that I don’t need some ancient blood sacrifice for forgiveness; forgiveness always comes from the self.

Jesus Loves* You

*Except when otherwise contradicted below.

As I try to catalog what my journey into and out of faith looks like, I invariably should start at the beginning. Or, at least, I should start as near the beginning as possible. I was “raised in the faith,” a term that might have different meanings for people.

What I mean by it is that from birth, I was taken to church and kept around Christian beliefs. Early beliefs were gradually layered with newer ones, and the Bible was explored more deeply as I got older. From 11 to 13, I was given extra beliefs in Confirmation class; the whole exercise was to build on the process of warping my reason to conform to faith. [Edit: Charles caught my editing mistake that truncated the previous sentence. Thank you, Charles!]

My earliest memories regarding religion center around me singing children’s songs in Sunday School. During the service, I’d get to listen to children’s messages. For the very young, the message is simple: Jesus loves you. There is no complicated doctrine, no description of what that love means. Like a Disney Prince/Princess combination, love is just love. It’s a good thing that somebody I didn’t know had for me. One day I’d get to meet him, but not right now.

I’ve heard it referred to as the “Love Bomb.” It’s when someone just positively fawns over another, letting the other know that he or she is the world to that person at that moment. Occasionally it’s used to describe the behavior of malignant narcissists when they try to get you into their orbit. There’s usually an implication that the affection is to some non-love related end. See if you can spot it in this hymn:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak, but he is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Little ones: property of Jesus.
Before I get back to the concept of love, I just wanted to point out that the concept of ownership is at least implied when kids are young. Sure, not all time spent in religion is the same. But I’m talking about my time spent growing up, and I wasn’t the only kid there. To think that children don’t sing that hymn anymore is a bit naive.

The hymn is just one example of how other messages get piggybacked onto the positive message. While singing it, it feels like more of a reference to a warm embrace than a chain around one’s neck. That’s what it’s supposed to feel like. No, you’re not trying to deny what you are to give your imagination to God. Your chains are to set lightly upon you at first.

Jesus still loves you.
For years, that’s the focus. Jesus will love you no matter what you do. That’s the promise to children. Even your parents can get angry with you, but Jesus will love you all the same. Other people will come and go in your life, but Jesus will be there for a divine hug. Jesus will not abandon you no matter what.

I think that’s why I accepted this first lie. Growing up with a dad in the military, I moved around a lot. Jesus was the only anchor offered to me outside of my family. Taking what I could get, I began attaching my needs to the concept of a divine friend. What’s more, I was too young to really ask the questions necessary to evaluate the statements I was offered. All I knew was that it was nice to feel loved, and everyone I trusted seemed to be going along with it. Those were the only criteria my young mind needed.

The end result of all of this was that at a young age I fostered an emotional dependence upon Jesus. Unlike conversion experiences involving some sort of trauma or drastic realization, my conversion started small and grew over time. It wasn’t the product of just one attempt to get me to believe in Jesus; it was the product of repeated messages provided without full context as to how to evaluate them for myself. Trust was placed in people who were supposed to know better than I, and I wasn’t given an immediate reason to think that trust was misplaced.

I wish I knew what things were necessary for my beliefs to have turned out differently. Not knowing troubles me at times, because if I could go back in time I’d want to hand my young self a list of questions to demand of everyone who told me that Jesus loves me. The fine print alone would have given me enough reason to balk at trusting an invisible person, or at least I hope it would.

The fine print.
What I didn’t find out until later was that there are things one can do to make Jesus hate you. Deny his existence is one of them. Blaspheming is another thing that will get you sent straight to Hell because Jesus didn’t die for that sin. Suicide is yet another, but only because you can’t beg for forgiveness before you do it.

All of this is quite concerning to someone who believes Jesus is real. If those people catch you not loving Jesus back, all kinds of awful things can happen:

(h/t to Victoria for finding the segment on YouTube and thereby letting me be lazy).

Check out the pastor at the end. When asked directly whether Atheists go to Hell, he laughs. In response to a yes or no question, he replies, “I’m not God.” That’s how I would have answered when I was a Christian. Deflect responsibility to Jesus and his Dad. Since they’re not talking, no one will have to say, “Yes.”

So that pastor can still tell people that Jesus loves you, because Jesus will contradict him if he’s wrong.

Sounds legit.

People Don’t Burn Witches Anymore

Okay, I’ll admit it. I watch Outlander. It’s not great, but there are a few things that keep my interest. Last episode featured a trial for witchcraft, something that isn’t illegal in the U.S. anymore (except maybe in some dusty statute that has been overlooked for repeal). As the witnesses got done talking about how two women were using unholy powers to do whatever, I thought about how silly the whole thing seemed.

Still, trials like that used to happen. It was illegal to practice witchcraft in the 16th Century in England. In 1735, it was an offense to just pretend to practice witchcraft. Here in the U.S., we had the Salem witch trials in 1692 and 1693, but we didn’t end the practice of having witch trials after that. Apparently the last recorded case was in 1878; it was the result of one Christian Scientist accusing another of using powers to…well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Why don’t we try witches anymore?
It really ought to be a silly question. The short answer is that it just sounds weird accusing someone else of sorcery or using infernal powers. What constitutes sorcery or using infernal powers? Is it just a thought of ill-will that comes true, or does it involve some sort of dark and mysterious rite in the light of the full moon?

Maybe a better question is why witches were tried in the first place. I couldn’t find much about it in antiquity. The early Romans executed witches when epidemics broke out. But later on, when Christianity took over, it became illegal to burn witches. In the Dark Ages, they didn’t know much, but at least they had the good sense to know witches couldn’t exist.

Apparently killing witches became fashionable from the 1500’s to the 1700’s. Certainly there seemed to have been a craze involving people thinking that there was rampant Devil worship going on. Whether this is a result of the Protestant Reformation or the series of religious wars that started breaking out at the time is unknown. But what I do know is that, at least in the regards of superstition, the so-called enlightened societies of Europe did a lot of backpedaling.

Two steps forward is a bit optimistic.
In my research, I found this article originally published in 1990. It concerned the troubling rise of witchcraft in the United States. Apparently the numbers of people calling themselves witches is good for frightening United States Christians, as this article claims that Witchcraft is the fastest growing religion in the U.S. It isn’t, but who cares about facts?

Thankfully, there aren’t calls to burn people who practice Wicca, witchcraft, or any other form of sorcery. Instead, it’s getting the typical treatment as a competing belief scheme. If you click to that article, you’ll also see Humanism get conflated with witchcraft. I also found this admonishment of Christians practicing “Biblical” witchcraft. By far, this last article had the strongest language which hinted that the author might consider some of it as actually real.

What shocks me the most is how people back in the 1000’s didn’t know the world was round, but they could figure out that Ecbert and Belinda next door had a snowball’s chance in Hell of hexing their stuff. A thousand years later, we can get global positioning down to within a few feet, but now people believe that Edgar and Betsy might be up to some dark practices in their basement. I don’t get it.

I suppose I should be happy that people aren’t calling for the killing of witches anymore.
Except, you know, I’d be wrong. Thousands of people in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific, Western Europe, and the United States are getting killed every year. They’re getting killed. For being witches. For practicing sorcery. For giving people the evil eye.

Before I started looking into this, I actually thought that witchcraft trials only happened after some sort of rare case of mass hysteria. I was wrong. Not only is this stuff still going on, it’s getting more frequent. What is wrong with people?

Hearing about this really deals a blow to my faith in humanity. Just when I think we got this witchcraft thing on the decline, I have to go and find out that no, there really are people who believe in witches. No proof is required to kill someone. All one needs is to accuse someone else of using evil powers. Sounds legit.

These things are exactly the kinds of situations skepticism would help out with.
I didn’t intend for this to be a rant, but it kind of ended out this way. Killing people because of unverified complaints is atrocious and awful enough, but to do it from obviously false claims is worse. How does one make the leap of logic to go from “my cow died” to “Bob hexed her!”? The answer is straightforward: take logic out of the equation.

Author’s Note: I didn’t even want to get into killings of animals associated with witchcraft accusations. I know that black cats still get maligned in certain parts of the world because of it. Now I’m going to go try to scrub my brain with steel wool and pretend I never wrote this article.

Religion Isn’t A Mental Illness

One of the things I’ve noticed is that sometimes people compare those who have religious beliefs to being mentally ill. Even on my blog, I’ve used the word “crazy” and “deluded” from time to time to describe specific beliefs or illogical adherence to those beliefs. Sometimes I catch myself before I write it out, because having religious belief isn’t itself a mental illness. And using the comparison, especially with regards to ostracizing and marginalizing people, both increases mental illness stigma as well as inhibiting people from seeking help for possible mental illnesses they might actually have.

One really good example of what I’m talking about.
A while back, I read two posts (part 1 and part 2) by Victoria over at her blog “Neuronotes.” (Apologies in advance, Victoria, for not getting all the special characters right; I wish I was more tech savvy.) Her posts explored how neuroscience was attempting to explain religious behavior. In the second part, she quoted a study that found that hyperreligiosity is a major feature of several prominent mental illnesses.

The reason why I’m pointing this out is that hyperreligiosity – basically someone who is almost or actually obsessively focused on religious experiences and claiming to have them frequently – can be a sign that there is something actually going wrong with the function of one’s brain. That being said, this loss of function when left untreated cannot be helped.

So is it really okay to use mental illness stigma to describe peoples’ beliefs?
Sure, as long as it’s okay to use other stigma to do the same thing. In this manner, it’s quite alright to use sexism, racism, physical handicaps, ethnic slurs, and mental handicaps to bully people into changing their views. So what if they can’t change them? In the efforts to use social coercion to manufacture compliance, anything goes.

Some people might disagree with the analogy. That’s fine; show me how mental illness is a voluntary state of being. While we’re at it, we can crack jokes about cancer and AIDS. I don’t know any, but I suppose I can learn some.

Third, and this is the biggest kicker, relying on mental illness stigma to shame people into being silent about their beliefs (and yes, even Christians will do it to Atheists; don’t think Jesus saves you from this one) is of the exact same kind of shaming that is attempted by fundies to get other people to comply.

“Atheism is the belief that something came from nothing. Sounds legit.”

That’s just one example of an idea that can get easily translated into declaring someone “insane” or just plain “batshit crazy.”

And yes, there’s a weakness in English for word usage to describe illogical behavior and insanity.
For starters, insanity isn’t even a psychological term. It’s used in courtrooms, but that’s only because the law refuses to get out of the 1800’s on this mess. In common parlance, crazy can mean anything from great to completely off one’s rocker. There’s no quick way of telling what is what, and context is everything.

Of course, this doesn’t excuse my behavior over the past several months. It worries me that there are people who are suffering from undiagnosed disorders, and that I might have contributed to them keeping quiet. I know what it’s like to avoid treatment, to convince myself that God will make things okay. This isn’t something that can just be casually dismissed.

Moving forward, I’ll try to be more careful in how I refer to religious beliefs and those that hold them. Reducing mental health stigma is very important to human flourishing, and I should do my part in contributing to eradicating such stigma. Just as it’s not okay to rely on other innate qualities of others to shame those into compliance, it’s not okay to use mental infirmities as well.

British soccer. On American TV.

I get back from my daily constitutional, and I see Chelsea playing Manchester United on the TV. While I am happy that NBC has decided to be more international in its sporting tastes, I think I’d prefer rugby to soccer. Don’t get me wrong; I think soccer is a fine sport. But I can’t tell what the crowd is chanting. They could be saying, “We’ll give 5 quid to the Yankee bloke that repeats this back to us,” and no American would collect. Well, no sober one at least.

That’s also why I like soccer. It’s one of the few sports that gets proportionally better as one drinks. One beer, and it’s alright. Ten beers and my shirt’s off while I’m screaming epithets at the goalie.

However, now that Premier League soccer has made it to the States, I suppose I shall have to pick a team to support. I don’t know any of them. Is there a team out there that prides itself on sophistication and drunken name-calling of one’s rival club?