The State of Mental Health

Author’s Note: Trigger warnings for time spent in hospital for mental health treatment.

It’s no secret to anyone who has had to spend time in a psych ward that mental health treatment needs some improvement. This is the case for both voluntary and involuntary committals (I’ve done both). This post over at “Taking the Mask Off” reminded me about how far it still has to go. There is real stigma associated with mental health treatment, and considering it’s almost been a year to the day that I was forcibly committed, I figure I’d talk about some of the problems as I see them.

Going to the hospital isn’t about treatment; it’s about being controlled.
Spend a day in most wards, and one will find out that one is being told what to do and when to do it. I’ve only seen this behavior one other time, when I visited a prison for an undergraduate class. Just like prison guards, the attendants in both psych wards I’ve been to not only bossed people around for arbitrary things – like not making one’s bed perfectly – they seemed to relish giving commands. Indeed, for my forcible commitment I talked with one patient who quietly warned me not to buck the system there.

He was worn thin by it all, and he seemed to calm down when I told him that it wasn’t my first time spent under the “care” of mental health professionals. The other people there were all scared and helpless, and I had to choke back my anger and frustration in order to help them through it all. We chose to laugh the first two days, because our only other option was crying. After three days of having my freedom limited, I broke down. Thankfully none of the attendants saw me.

My other problem was that I had to pretend everything was fine. I could tell them that I was angry, but I couldn’t show it. To show it would be to get an unfavorable review. An unfavorable review meant that I would be going to a different facility for a longer period of time. So I did as I was told, I smiled when I wanted to rage, and I joked when I wanted to throw myself under a train. They medicated me and put me on a chemical leash.

They didn’t see the irony when I told them that I would have had more rights as a human being if I’d physically harmed someone.

Inherent in how we do things is building mistrust for people to get help where they need it.
I needed to go to the hospital earlier than when I did. When I went, I was in the process of trying to fix myself. I got there and couldn’t help but think at the dehumanizing aspect of being told to disrobe, to put on those awful hospital gowns, and then to sit and wait for hours while the two nurses on staff laugh and joke about things. The sensible part of me wanted to remind them that what they were doing was unconscionable; that peoples’ lives were unraveling to the sound of their laughter.

One can’t trust people who won’t treat them as people. I get that it isn’t easy dealing with people who are perpetually sad, hearing things, seeing things, or are suffering horrors of a different mechanism. That doesn’t negate our humanity; we are there because we are people first and mentally ill second. For some strange reason, one can’t find that chiseled on any wall of any psychiatric institution. It needs to be.

This mistrust hurts, though, because we need the help. There is nothing scarier than finally realizing that reality is not as we are able to perceive it. Take the most sacred thing you know, that you rely on, that you need to be true…and then imagine that you just found out it’s all a lie. That is the terror that mental illness causes in me. But if I know certain places are going to make it worse, then I instinctively want to avoid it.

I also know there aren’t easy fixes to these problems.
Compared to even a hundred years ago, mental health has improved drastically. These two fundamental flaws are but a few of the indicators that more needs to be done. People who need to manage their physical health are not shunned by society. In fact, people who take efforts to improve and maintain it are applauded. That is the destination we need for people who need to manage their mental health.

Some people, for whatever reason, need to take extra steps to be the people they want to be. We are everywhere, and we go by unnoticed. However, we do exist, and we have hopes, dreams, and ambitions like everyone else has. Please remember that.

The Power of Prayer

Image from imgur.

Image from imgur.

Today was too icy for anyone to travel in, so I got to spend the entire day with my family. By spending my day with them, I basically mean waiting for them to need me for something. Otherwise, they just tend to ignore that I’m there. I’ve been moderately productive, so at least that is a good thing.

Anyways, so I’m sitting around at lunch and I get this article read to me from a Lutheran women’s magazine (I can’t remember the title). The article is about this woman who shows up at national meetings (Lutheran women are highly organized and willing to travel), and she interrupts stuff with adorable acts that I think are supposed to be skits centered around Christian themes. Sometimes she corrals a partner in crime, and they do something funny to get people there to remember stuff.

So this lady, we’ll call her Patsy, she plans this elaborate sketch where she’s supposed to get fed a line about prayer. Prayer is supposed to help her in an amusing fashion. Only it turns out that the straight woman she’s got for the gig loves improvisation. Instead of the line, she gets this long speech that has the crowd laughing. I wish it was more memorable. At any rate, she finally gets to the line, and Patsy just starts laughing. Everything ends with Patsy saying she’s BFF’s with the other lady.

I gave you the short version. Here is the punchline.
The whole point of this was to illustrate how “trusting the holy spirit” leads to moments of inspiration for her. It’s kind of an anecdotal story about how God directly gives her serendipitous moments for her to capitalize upon. Because it’s God doing this, she feels comfortable not writing out everything beforehand. Like in the skit above, she just focuses on the main point and lets the other stuff happen “as God wants it to happen.”

What struck me throughout listening to this was how much Patsy didn’t believe in herself. Where she saw a woman who was just trusting in God to give her what she needed (praying for it too), I thought that she wasn’t giving herself enough credit. Improvisation is an art form, and it is not easy to conduct under any stretch of the imagination. Like a lot of other things, it requires talent. One either has it, or one doesn’t.

There’s another thing I noticed too; any setbacks were messages from God too. While she couldn’t win, she couldn’t lose either. I suppose that’s a useful hypothetical to dull the anxiety of speaking in front of so many people. Personally, whenever I have spoken in front of audiences I get a rush. However, most people would rather die than speak in front of others.

One other thing. Prayer was relied upon.
And that’s really what I’m driving at with all of this. There was this kind of placid dependency on some Supreme Being for everything she did. I don’t begrudge her the calming effects of her beliefs. Now, though, I kind of see other implications there.

A little while ago I wrote about Christians passing the buck, and this qualifies. Criticism is given to God, and the cost is that praise is also given to this construct. All the while Patsy prays for guidance, deliverance, and opportunity. In her world, life is full of answered prayers. Great for her.

Meanwhile, everyone else who needs a transplant, escape from an abuser, or respite from suffering pretty much gets the shaft. This disconnect – from finding one’s car keys to feeding starving children – was nowhere to be found in that article. Here is a woman who has answered prayer after answered prayer. If God wants to do her bidding, why isn’t she asking for people to get their severed limbs back or their lost children returned? Why isn’t there a moral obligation here to pray for bigger things?

I’m not really interested in the litany of excuses anymore.
This is pretty damn serious. Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons. Pray for them to have them all turned into things their people can use to get a real democracy instead of the nominal one they have now. For everyone who gets an answered prayer that finds a lost puppy, imagine what that does to everyone who didn’t get their lost child back.

There are tons of excuses out there as to why people offer one prayer getting answered over another. I know I might receive some in the comments below. The problem with all of them is that they try to divine the mind of the divine. And it feels like salt being rubbed in a gushing wound. For everyone who knows “that’s not how prayer works,” please let others know how to do it right so we can get assistance where it is needed most.

Or, you know, you can stop telling people that it works when it really doesn’t.

The Ferguson Report

I just read this article over at Yahoo News about the report that the Department of Justice just sent out about the Ferguson Police Department. There’s a lot of striking information in there (including some really discriminatory emails). What gets me the most is how much the DOJ found. It’s like Ferguson PD wasn’t even trying to hide a police culture that discriminated against black people.

The information on stops, searches, and arrests alone was pretty bad.
According to the report, black people make up about two thirds of the local population. They are more than twice as likely to be searched in a traffic stop, but they actually account for less contraband found in those searches. Moreover, they make up 93 percent of arrests. Even accounting for population, these numbers shouldn’t be happening.

This can be a good thing for Ferguson Police, though. The report also made suggestions to correct what they were doing wrong, and I hope they take that information to heart. Things can improve in that community if they will listen to the advice they’ve been given.

The alternative to that is to continue what they’ve been doing. And from what we’ve seen, the peoples’ reactions in that town seem to be justified (at least with regards to peaceful protest; the rioters were taking advantage of both sides there). From the article I read, there may eventually be grounds for some Constitutional violations by that police force.

All of this makes me wonder about a few things.
I think it might be a good thing for the DOJ to do surprise inspections of other police forces that run afoul of their communities. If the quality of policing in Ferguson improves, I think there might be some traction to the concept. Who knows, there might be enough there to get a suggestion through to the White House (that place where the DOJ’s boss’s boss stays). Should someone already be working on that, I’ll be more than happy to write the suggestion or proofread or clap happily for people.

I’m also wondering about every report I heard that people had no reason to distrust police in Ferguson. Although I understand policing is a thankless job, I also understand that it doesn’t require a siege mentality. Things got out of hand there. Black people no longer have to tolerate racist policing. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that the policing needs to change.

Most of all, I wonder if this is actually going to be a catalyst for change in this nation. Nothing has happened yet, but there are the necessary conditions for it. There is actual information available which suggests that a police force discriminated against people based on their race. One cannot deny those numbers. Will Ferguson PD accept them, or will they try to get around what’s going on?

The possibility that we can actually do something about racism in this country is exciting. I don’t have the illusion that everything will be well in a day or a month or a year. In fact, the process won’t be spectacular if it’s done right. But I would like to think that maybe we can build something that can be handed down to the next generation with pride. It’ll happen quietly until one day those kids will look at their parents and have no idea how people could have been so stupid to judge people based on race.

They’ll have many problems, but race won’t be one of them.

Okay, getting my head out of the clouds for a moment.
It’s just one report. If history is any indication, people will yell and cuss over it without anything being done. Cynicism is a bitter pill to swallow at this point. I’d like to think, though, that good things only need to succeed once. Negative things that have no basis in reality need to be incessantly maintained.

I will say that this is just the beginning. It’ll be interesting to note what happens next.

Judge Not Lest…Eh, Who Cares?

Image found here.

Image found here.

While haunting Patheos (a site I read a lot of but don’t comment much on), I found this article about a reality star’s rant on Facebook. Granted, [she’s 22; thanks to Doobster and M.M.J. Gregory for having better reading skills than I!], so it’s not like she’s fully independent yet. Additionally, her parents are known for their evangelical leanings. It’s all there in the article, but I’m not really wanting to get into that.

Instead, I wanted to talk about the nature of the rant. That is, I wanted to discuss this idea that she promotes. It involves some big assertions:

1. I know what I’m going to say is going to cause people to get upset.
This is a great caveat to throw out there before saying uncomfortable things. It’s almost a staple of Christian rhetoric. In fact, it’s such a bad habit that I still do it from time to time. While it explains my obsession over trying to put a spoonful of sugar with some bitter medicine, there’s not much excuse for it. Disagreeing with people can create conflict, and it’s a sign of discipline to not get upset over a disagreement.

What one really should be asking is why are people getting upset? It goes to the purpose of saying it in the first place. The reason why it gets to me is that it’s an illusory concept; what it really means is, “I’m about to say something that is designed to upset you.”

2. I don’t care who I upset because I feel it is true.
As far as this assertion goes, it most often comes in the form of sayings like, “God says it is true,” or “It’s in the Bible,” or some mish-mash of the two. There’s an appeal to divine authority there which is intended to render all counterarguments null and void. Declare that the authority isn’t there, and the conversation can revert to haggling over God. I’m finding it that dull.

Sometimes there will be a clever tu quoque (lit. “you as well”) offered about Atheists. Granted, it is true, but the offered underpinnings are different. Not to be too snide about it, but atheism offers a chance for discussion and not preaching.

3. Telling people that they are wrong to live their lives without hurting anyone is okay.
Once again, the underpinning for this thought is staked on a divine being. Lots of need for God to be real occurs in statements like this. In fact, one can tell that this thought is required for the following two assertions I list. Staking one’s claims on this one thing is a peculiar hill to die on.

As if that wasn’t awful enough, Christianity thrives on its ability to condemn that which isn’t causing problems. I always get edgy around instances like this because of the guilt and shame built into the notions. One is trained by faith to dwell on one’s sinful nature, to mentally need that relief that comes from Christ. It would be like lacing cookies with an addictive substance; pretty soon they have to come back to you to get a fix. That’s all this is; an attempt to guilt people into submitting.

4. Telling people that they deserve eternal torture for who they are is okay.
On its face this concept is reprehensible. I’ve ranted about it in the past, so I don’t have to devote much time to it here. What I can say is that this claim did come from a [person who intellectually is following her parents.] I’m beginning to wonder how exactly is it okay to teach kids to have such a superiority complex over other people? We complain about how children are not “moral” these days; it’s not a surprise if we teach them how to stifle their own empathy.

5. I get a pass on judging other people because God is the one really doing it.
I’ve also ranted about this idea as well. It’s a great hypothetical device offered as truth to shield the speaker from blame. Some offshoots include ideas that one gets upset because the Holy Spirit is real. At no point does the speaker actually consider that maybe he or she isn’t being kind and has no authority over others.

Some Christians will try to side-step the issue by saying that he or she isn’t judging anyone. Instead, it’s spiritual discernment. While it does sound different, it’s the same thing. One is making a claim that others are wrong – albeit more politely. I suppose one could applaud the effort.

Ultimately I read that article, the rant, and the rebuttal. I ended up thinking, “Who cares?”
I’m happy because it’s progress. My mind was finally able to recognize that I see rants like this on WordPress almost every day. One can’t fart without hitting a Christian condemning someone for something. It’s the faith’s pastime.

Other than the sadistic desire to guilt people into feeling bad about themselves in a bid to emotionally upset them enough to convert, there’s nothing meaningful there. If I go down the street and hear someone preaching about how Cthulhu will drive everyone mad, I’m not going to give that person anything – even emotionally. That idea is literally empty to me.

And I think that apathy is a powerful thing. If the whole point is to get a rise out of people, don’t give it to them. Blink one’s eyes and move on. Logically, if I haven’t been sold on the idea of a God yet, then I can’t feel anything about an alleged deity’s rules for a good life.

There’s another aspect to this as well.
If you go to the article, you’ll get to read the words of a [22-year-old woman] who is condemning others for various sins. I think I find that the saddest thing now. It’s because life’s too short to spend it on worrying too much about every little thing people are doing that I feel is wrong. I’m wondering why it’s necessary to indoctrinate children into a faith that can be used to say such awful things.

Judicial Activism

Image found here.

Image found here.

For anyone who is wondering what judicial activism looks like, here is an example. It talks about an order that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (“Mr. Moore”) signed prohibiting probate court judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. While the order is in typical legalese, it’s fairly instructive as to how same-sex marriage licenses started to be granted here in that state. Also, for anyone curious about the quagmire of Federal government that is the United States, it’s a great example of how state officers can do petty things to circumvent superior law.

Let me be clear at the outset what this order means: Mr. Moore is using his capacity as the chief officer of Alabama courts to stop judges from giving same-sex couples marriage licenses. Let’s find out why, and let’s find out why what he’s doing is wrong.

Some important things to know.
Essentially what is going on here is that a state judge is trying to get around federal laws. Here in the U.S., conflicting federal laws are generally controlling over state ones. So, if I have a federal law saying I can spit on the sidewalk and a state law saying I can’t, the federal law wins. However, this only works when I have a federal law that talks about the matter.

Laws come in different forms, first and foremost they come from a constitution of some sort. Some of them are written by legislatures. Others are written by federal or state agencies, and they have the blessing of an appropriate legislature. Some come in the form of a legal opinion written by a court. A court opinion binds lower courts, and they’re thought of as law because they tell courts what to do. This is fine, because unlike in some other countries, we allow our courts to settle the small details.

This doesn’t mean, though, that there can’t be any devils hiding in them. One such wrinkle is that courts generally can’t bind other people in an order to do something or not do something. So, a court can’t tell people who weren’t there to do stuff. This is fair because those other people weren’t represented.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at what happened.
The really short version is that someone sued the state in federal court to be able to get a same-sex marriage license. When that lawsuit got to court, the judge said that what Alabama was doing was unconstitutional.* However, the only person involved in the order was the Alabama Attorney General. The court told the Attorney General to stop preventing same-sex couples from getting married (because he was representing the state in the action).

This runs into the wrinkle I mentioned. In the state, probate judges actually issue the licenses. Since they’re not run by the Attorney General, the order does nothing to them. When I wrote about this last week, I noted that Mr. Moore was very keen to point that out. To those judges, they could choose to issue licenses now, or they could choose not to.

Interestingly enough, the federal court also said something about this. On page 6 of the order, they quoted the court telling people that, while they didn’t order the probate judges to do anything, those judges are required to follow the law. All this means is that they recognized the wrinkle, but they advertised how they’d rule when people started suing. In effect, this told Alabama officials that they would lose if they made a stink about it.

At any rate, many probate judges started issuing licenses, and some probate judges didn’t issue licenses. This created confusion, and so a probate judge asked the Alabama Supreme Court for direction on what to do. Here was Mr. Moore’s excuse to codify what he said earlier. And he has.

He also took it way further than it needed to go.
On page 77 of the order, he stated that the Alabama Supreme Court declared no violation of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the probate judges still had an obligation to prevent same-sex couples from getting married. What he is doing is trying to say that Alabama judges have the capacity to override federal judges on issues of federal law. Mr. Moore, then, is basically saying he knows better than people who are actually responsible for knowing better. A bunch of reasons are given why he thinks that the U.S. Constitution isn’t offended by discrimination. There’s a ton of them in there, and it would take me forever to go through them all.

Anyways, basically all this is doing is telling federal authorities that the state will wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to tell them to do what they were supposed to do in the first place. To Mr. Moore, it does not matter that Federal District Courts are created by Congress to say what the law is. He wants a few more months of being able to tell same-sex couples that they aren’t allowed to get married.

The worst thing about all of this is that based on current federal law, he knows he should lose. One can see this in the actual order on page 134. It involves a probate judge (Judge Davis). Initially, he refused to grant marriage licenses to the couple that sued the state. The federal court ordered Judge Davis to comply and issue licenses to the couple and three other couples. Judge Davis requested that he not be given a conflicting order, and Mr. Moore is leaving those licenses alone.

Or, to put it more succinctly, he’s avoiding what he thinks is obvious territory.

The bottom line.
Part of me is grateful for the order, especially if a couple sues in federal court over it. There is enough bad law in there which a federal court could have a field day with. If the U.S. Supreme Court had to rule on it, he could get told by his superiors that the stunt he’s pulling isn’t funny.

But another part of me laments the fact that one person is deciding to intentionally prevent couples from getting access to fundamental rights. I can’t think of any excuse why this is okay. He is costing the state money, the people their sanity, the state its integrity, and same-sex couples their dignity. He is relying on complicated and technical issues to engage in his own brand of activism, and he is wrong for doing so.

Coming Back Haunted

If I could pick a song that describes how I felt when I was abandoning my former faith, this would be it:

Then again, I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan, so I don’t need much excuse to link to Trent Reznor’s music.

On to my point.
I read this this wonderful post by Zoe over at “Secular Wings.” It involved an interesting story of a woman who got to clean up two diapers, dirty clothes, fix car seats, and poorly dispose of the hazardous waste while an adult male stood there doing nothing. I thought it was extremely poetic, considering what she said she saw at the end. Before I get to that, let me explain something else.

The reason why I say the story is poetic is because it really is a good metaphor for unrequited faith. Picture God as the guy who just stands there, for whatever reason, waiting for people to handle their shit. No interference is offered; no assistance is given. He won’t even say anything if trash doesn’t make it to the trash can, or if the car seat isn’t replaced perfectly. He’s just there, watching.

It’s pretty frustrating dealing with thinking that prayer and other stuff is supposed to work. Hell, it’s maddening dealing with a faith that’s supposed to offer tangible benefits but doesn’t. Of course, some people might disagree and say they “feel” God’s presence everywhere. That’s nice, but it does me no good. In fact it’s pretty damn useless, and it doesn’t give anyone an excuse to blame me for not feeling the presence of an invisible being.

By now, people can probably tell I’m slightly upset.
I’m upset because of this sign Zoe saw at the end of her story: “Jesus Heals Depression.” She handled it way better than I would have. Hell, she’s handling it better than I am, and I didn’t even see the damn thing. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not angry or anything. It’s just that the words “Jesus” and “Depression” have significant meaning to me, and that meaning is exponentially multiplied when they’re in the same sentence.

Mostly it’s because Jesus doesn’t give a shit about depression. Yes, some people will swear up and down that Jesus helped them out. Great for them. As for me, I’ve prayed, begged, pleaded, mended my ways, and done all kinds of stupid people tricks to try to get God to cooperate. Eventually I had to give up on the idea that an invisible deity was out there; if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t even be alive to have this blog.

More broadly, the crossroads of mental health and religion is still a raw nerve that can get inflamed. I’m tired of seeing people project what subjectively worked for them as some sort of objective panacea. Jesus doesn’t replace your rescue inhaler, and he damn well doesn’t replace medication and therapy. The Prince of Peace is only as useful as the constructs one has to keep him on his pedestal. If those break, so does one’s recovery plan.

Some Christians may seize on that to mean that it will work if one’s belief is strong enough. That’s a reprehensible non-starter because it just blames the afflicted for being afflicted. It’s passionless and without pity. And I used to believe it. The part of me that used to believe it still rears its ugly head to remind me too, and the best I can do is make a mental note that it’s another issue I have to deal with.

This is why I feel that I’ve come out of religion haunted.
Echoes of faith still resound in my mind, habits that don’t have any basis in reality. Perhaps it’s because of my condition that it affects me so; or maybe it’s just because I’m finding new cobwebs in new attics within my brain. I really don’t know at this point.

However, I will say that I’m glad to have the opportunity to examine these thoughts over time. There is some progress; a year ago I would have just let this wind myself up into a frenzy. I can see that therapy and medication are working. That’s more than I can say for Jesus.

All of this makes me wonder, though, about others who have left a highly caustic faith behind them as well. How many people suffer in silence because they don’t feel like anyone wants to listen? They’re just as haunted as I am, but they don’t have the means to dump the baggage. Such thoughts remind me that it’s important for people who get out of bad faith situations need safe places to be themselves.

At any rate, I want to try to be positive about all of this. So I’ll say that if anyone reading this is having issues caused by their faith, they’re not alone in feeling haunted. Reading about the struggles of others helped me out, and it helped me get through the long process of being rid of my faith.

People who suffer aren’t alone.

Leaving the Faith: Doubting Assumptions

Earlier today, Mak asked me a great question in one of his comments. It reminded me of one that I used to ask myself back when I had faith in God: which is more important, being a good person or being a good Christian? Essentially what I was asking implied that, if I was to have one of those qualities which people would remember me by when I’m gone, which would I want?

Growing up, I had always thought of the two terms as being mutually inclusive; that is, if one was a good person, then one was a good Christian. The same was true the other way around. Christianity is supposed to transform a person, to make one more receptive and obedient to God’s commands. These two concepts, then, were intertwined in my mind.

One of the great challengers to that concept was Penn Jillette.
It was this video that made me question whether the two concepts had anything to do with each other.

Mr. Jillette makes a great argument; at some level if you’re reluctant to act on God commands, then there is a part of you that doubts. This is terrifying to a person who isn’t supposed to doubt God at all. No, I balked at thinking about killing a hypothetical child, let alone if I actually had one.

Naturally, at the time I scoffed and began the train of rationalizations that would get me around Mr. Jillette’s wager. God doesn’t ask people to do that anymore. Jesus talks about love, which clearly means God doesn’t even want to do that anymore. The whole thing doesn’t apply because God didn’t really mean for Abraham to kill his son.

That last part actually made it sound worse.
God, a loving, omnipotent being, decided one day to see how faithful Abraham was. On a dare, he convinces his lead minion to almost kill his own kid. If God is omniscient, then he already knew how faithful Abraham was. If God is loving, he wouldn’t put someone through such emotional turmoil. Hell, if God had any sense he probably shouldn’t yank his follower’s chain like that.

Regardless, at this point I came to the realization that maybe being a blind follower wasn’t the best thing in the world. The implications of that idea are immense; it actually means the parts of the Bible requiring blind obedience aren’t true. My solution at the time was what many faithful people do: rank priorities and go from there. Since I knew that Jesus made a big deal about being excellent to each other, and he also overrode some of the old commandments, I decided on my own to put that at the top. Crisis averted.

Only it wasn’t. The thought kept nagging at me. Other Christians weren’t even doing loving things. How could they be so wrong? Was I actually in the wrong? Depression, for those that suffer from it for an extended time, know that one of the things one might do is question one’s own worthiness for anything. I got to feed on some negative stuff for quite a while. Always I felt like I wasn’t a good enough person, and I now had some evidence to back that up. I wasn’t being a good Christian.

It meant that my friends lied to me about being okay, and everyone else for that matter.
There I was, people telling me I’m at least not terrible to be around. And that’s when I got to my conundrum. What was more important, being a good person or being a good Christian? I saw what good Christians were capable of. They followed without question, creating divisions with people and standing on whatever they felt God was telling them to take a stand on. A lot of people didn’t like them precisely because of how caustic and hateful they could be at times.

On the other hand, if someone calls you a good person, then he or she likely means that you have exhibited some decent qualities in the past. It involves trying to do right by yourself and others. Sure, everyone has enemies, but good people leave mostly decent memories in their wake. Nobody really wants to slander a good person when he or she is gone. There’s a fondness for good people that transcends that person’s life. Negativity is forgotten, and kindness echoes through eternity.

Based on that evaluation, I realized that being a good person was more important than just being a good Christian. While other Christians would do things that were unconscionable, I could try to empathize and not make someone’s life harder than it already was. I know that I would appreciate it if others would do the same for me.

I don’t think about this much since I deconverted.
I probably should have, though. This whole mess of separating a good person from being a good Christian was central to making it okay for me to doubt my faith. Part of me could entertain the idea of not believing in a deity without feeling guilty. At the time, I thought I was abiding by a higher calling.

Now, though, I realize that it was just me trying to be decent to my fellow human beings. I shouldn’t have been doing things for a cosmic reward anyways; that just makes me self-interested and not moral. Thankfully, now that I don’t have my faith holding me back, I can devote more time to figuring out how not to be a jerk. One day, I hope I feel like I have learned a lesson about it.

Regardless, I think it’s important to ask others how they feel about being a good person versus a good member of a label. If anything, I’d wager most Atheists would answer “good person” without much delay. I wonder how Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other faiths would answer. Maybe it’s a great way to gauge a person’s philosophical focus. Even better, maybe it’s a way to get others to realize that we’re all on the same team when it comes to the things that matter most in life.

Having It Both Ways, Part II

Image found here.

Image found here.

Author’s Note: Part I can be found here.

Last post, I wrote a bit about how the GOP is trying to have it both ways: making policy out of something that can’t be done or is at odds with other policies they support. Today I wanted to express a particular tactic of the GOP which uses religious rhetoric and reinforcement at church to make butts travel from pew to voting booth.

I’m not sure about how this occurs in other countries, but in the U.S., the business of mixing faith and politics has been gaining ground. At least with respect to the question of whether churches should engage in political speech, 49% of Americans now think they should. In addition, Pew reports that the GOP is making inroads into getting occasional churchgoers to vote for them.

Why go to the trouble?
Because churches stress which way to “correctly” vote. If one can get congregants to be open about their faith and politics, then they can start equating faith with politics. It also helps to have specific materials provided by famous evangelists (like David Barton) to show in Sunday Bible Studies. These link voting on certain issues with faith-based justifications. From there, it’s a foregone conclusion who supports the “right” issues.

Remember those catch phrases from my last post? Some of them are making their way into churches. By repeating specific phrases, there’s a connection made between loving God and voting GOP. While some Christians might not fall for this rhetoric, it is designed to encourage group conformity. And the thinking behind it is that it works.

Based on the above links, it might actually be working. This strategy isn’t about getting new people to vote Republican, though. Instead, it’s about keeping a steady, high volume of voters. It’s working great in areas that are highly religious and rural, but it’s working poorly for national elections (like Presidential ones). Still, it’s worth the trouble right now because they’ve shown they can get Congress by doing what they’ve been doing.

Why it’s a bad thing.
Linking religion with politics decreases critical thinking skills. Instead of disliking the President because of his policies, they make stuff up like saying he’s secretly Muslim or not a real American. There’s been no major Republican inquiry into why we haven’t criminally charged the board members of companies that tanked our economy, but we have had hearing after hearing on Benghazi. They’ll lament government interference when the IRS does its job to verify if a tax exemption applies (albeit selectively), but they’ll also tell people to sit down and shut up over loved ones being shot and killed in Missouri.

As if all of this isn’t terrible enough, we also have politics getting skewed towards the extremes. In primary races, GOP candidates have to show they’re infinitely more conservative than the next person. Has anyone seen ads for candidates in a GOP primary race? I thought they were all running against President Obama. As it turned out, they were just arguing over who hates him more. All this does is reinforce a message: hate the enemy.

Which leads me, to the next problem: creating enemies out of ourselves. We can see it in the Tea Party extremists that get elected to Congress. 52 of them decided they’d rather pull a stunt than have our country be defended properly. In the aftermath, I can almost guarantee that they will find a way to blame government spending. They’ll make it sound like they have principles that don’t involve money or abuse of power. And you know what? The people that vote for them will buy it.

Words cannot describe how unconscionable this state of affairs is. There are people in this country that feel anyone who disagrees with them is inherently evil, spiritually misguided, and morally bankrupt. Without those principles being used in churches across this country, the GOP couldn’t get away with doing what they do.

Moderate Christians and non-Christians seem to be the only people that know better.
One thing that Christians I know harp on is this notion that if we somehow became a Godly nation again, we’d be a “great nation.” Efforts to emphasize this are haphazard at best. In Oklahoma, they’re de-funding AP History classes because they don’t teach “American Exceptionalism,” or basically how America is a nation established by God. In my home state of Alabama, we’ve got an idiot Chief Justice who has said all kinds of stupid stuff, especially when he talks about his love for Jesus.

Ask Christians what a Godly nation looks like, and they’ll give you some broad platitudes of how we were once a great nation. Try to get anything more specific, and at best you’ll get told to go have carnal relations with yourself. Naturally, it’s because no such nation existed, and no such nation can exist. Even if everyone said they were Christian, the debate would invariably go to what brand of Christianity is the right one. And if you think that’s easy, there are still Protestants out there that think the Pope is the Antichrist.

All of this ignores the fact that we know what happens when we try to enshrine religious policy into law. Quite frankly, I’m inclined to ask people who want a religious country to go live in ISIS controlled lands for a year. That’s the kind of country you want. That’s what countries do when they only have an ancient text to guide their moral, ethical, social, and legal principles. That’s what happens when we base how we live on subjective principles of how to please an invisible friend.

Moreover, we used to have nations that did this sort of thing. In other words, we’ve tried what ISIS is doing out already, and it didn’t work. A lot of people had to die to learn those lessons, and it spits in the face of all good and holy sense to think any other time will be different. I can’t say this enough: religion and government mix about as well as gasoline and fire. It’s almost an historical certainty that religious-based countries make for terrible times.

End of rant. Well, until the next time.
The next time, of course, I’m reminded in no uncertain terms that my and other countries just need to love Jesus more. It’s a farce to believe this, but the main reason why nobody laughs is because others are dying over it.