Friday, September 26, 2008


An irreconcilable rift exists in American society today. It's commonly seen as a clash between opposing value systems, though underneath there is also a fundamental difference in how each side perceives the very nature of reality. That much is common knowledge.

It's also no secret that conservative Christians are seen by much of the rest of the world (including other Christians) as exceedingly arrogant and prideful, with their claims to have the only correct answers to everything (or at least everything of importance). From their own vantage point, however, it would be arrogant for them to claim otherwise, since in their minds they are merely conveying the words and ideas of God himself.

That conflation of personal and divine perspective is hardly unique to conservative Christianity; every belief system has its fundamentalists who believe that what seems obvious to them must be the sole valid definition of reality. To an individual with a Stage Three faith, everything in life can (and must) be boiled down into black and white terms, and only someone trying to rationalize evil behavior would dare to claim that any other colors exist.

Attempting to dialogue with such individuals can be a frustrating endeavor, to say the least. It would be easy to write them off as narrow-minded and unreasonable, but the simple fact is that they cannot conceive of the complexities that Stage Four and Stage Five individuals have come to take for granted. There's no way to state that without sounding at least slightly condescending, but it is not an issue of superiority, merely one of growth.

At the same time it can be a challenge to not look down on Stage Three individuals, when one looks at the mess so many of them have made of the world. How many wars have been fought because one group of people took offense at another group's refusal to acknowledge their 'superior' beliefs? How many inquisitions and purges and witch hunts have whipped entire nations into violent frenzies? We may have a more civilized way of disagreeing at this point of time in the Western world, but that same hostility toward those who refuse to see things our way still burns just as intensely below the surface. Just look at the flame wars that rage across internet discussion boards on a daily basis.

Unfortunately there's no way to force a Stage Three individual to "grow up". If you do manage to convert one to your side, he will simply take up his new cause with the same simplistic fervor he applied to his old set of beliefs. And those of us in Stage Four are often still too disillusioned with whatever system we came out of to serve as bridge builders.

Not that those who do make it all the way to Stage Five are automatic candidates for sainthood. But true humility can only take root when one begins to understand just how large and complex the universe really is, and just how little one can genuinely be certain of in this lifetime. With more of such individuals the world just might eventually become a slightly more peaceful place; without them, we can be certain that it never will.

How do we raise up such people? I wish I knew; I'm still trying to get there myself. Such cultivation isn't happening in very many places. Our political system actively cultivates an "us vs. them" mentality, and unfortunately many of our churches do as well. Even so, there's always room for hope.

Monday, September 22, 2008


"Do you ever read the Sunday comics? ... Well, when I was a little kid, I use to put my nose right up to them. And I was just amazed because it looked like this mass of dots, and none of it made sense until I pulled back. Life looks like that mass of dots to me sometimes. None of it makes any sense, but I like to think that, from God's perspective, life, everything - even this - make sense. It's not just dots. Instead we're all connected, and it's beautiful and funny and good. This close we can't expect it to make sense, not right now."

-Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss), Latter Days

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Will the world end in 2012? That, of course, is the last year in the Mayan calendar, as anyone who watched the X-Files ought to remember.

Until recently I hadn't realized just how much hype there is these days about 2012 - everything from polar shifts to aliens landing to comet strikes and other various catastrophes have been predicted; it sounds like we're in for a very busy year.

Fortunately, cooler minds have examined all the claims. So just in case you are losing sleep over our impending doom, here's some info to put your mind at ease.

Having said that, the world could end in 2012. But then, it could end tomorrow, or next month, or in April of 31673. We simply don't know - and if by some chance the Mayans did, it's not like any of them are still around to say "I told you so"...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Life Soundtrack 9

Wake Me Up When September Ends, by Green Day

I've lived just long enough that it's easy to get caught up in reflection over how much time has passed. I don't let myself dwell on it too much, but it still seems like the years have disappeared far too quickly.

And I have wasted more of my life than I care to think about doing little more than hiding from life. It's hard not to wonder what I could have done with all the time I spent living in fear - fear of what might have happened if I'd allowed myself to be who and what I am, and fear of a God that I was convinced was poised, lightning bolt in hand, to strike me down the second I made a wrong move.

Now that I no longer hate myself, I'm making a greater effort to make the most of whatever time I have left in this life, but it can be hard to break those old habits. If only September could slow down just a little bit...

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Cross-posted from Ex-Gay Watch.

As a child I was atypical. I didn’t begin speaking until months after other kids my age had said their first words - but when I did finally talk, it was in complete sentences. What no doubt appeared at first to be a developmental problem turned out to simply be a different way of doing things. It’s a pattern that has followed me into adulthood; I tend to hold back, watching and learning, and then leap in at hit the ground running once I understand how to do something.

I try to temper this characteristic when the situation dictates, since there are times when something is better learned through the trial and error of doing, but it’s an instinct that has to be consciously overridden at the cost of significant discomfort; it’s simply what comes naturally for me, and no amount of behavioral conditioning can genuinely eliminate the underlying trait.

How did I turn out this way? Some thinkers (as far back as Aristotle) have argued that personality is entirely learned, and that we are all born as blank slates. Research in modern times has demonstrated that some personality traits are in fact innate (whether genetic or otherwise established before birth), and as such the blank slate is a notion that few take seriously anymore. Of course, even the most thoroughly discredited ideas have a way of persisting long after their credibility has been undermined.

Ex-gay theories of sexuality avoid invoking the blank slate (a concept heavily at odds with most strains of Christian thought), but they nonetheless view sexuality as being only slightly less malleable than a blank slate proponent might suggest. A homosexual orientation may not be consciously chosen, but it is nonetheless viewed to be the result of choices made by an individual during childhood.

It may seem odd that something as seemingly important to God as heterosexuality would be so fragile that it could be completely undone by a simple perception on the part of a child who’s too young to have more than the most rudimentary understanding of right and wrong (much less of sexuality). God, however, gets off the hook for this glaring design flaw since it can be summarily dismissed as a byproduct of Adam’s Fall - a catchall that gets invoked to close off further discussion on any subject that makes people too uncomfortable.

Of course, if everything that Christians have ever tried to trace back to the Fall were truly its byproduct, it would require that Adam’s singular act of disobedience triggered a fundamental restructuring of the entire physical universe down to the molecular level, which in and of itself would either call God’s judgment back into question or suggest that we have gravely underestimated the amount of power that Satan and his minions wield (or both). But I digress.

An apt parallel to the "nature vs. nurture" debate over homosexuality is the strongly negative attitude that has existed throughout much of recorded history toward left-handedness. It would be easy enough for modern observers who don't share that bias to scoff at the similarities, but such an attitude would only betray an ignorance of history.

Prejudice against left-handedness has historically been so pervasive that it was embedded into most of the world's major languages. Negative terms like "sinister" and "gauche" derive from words for the left hand, while the right hand is associated with concepts like competence and justice. The authors of the Bible shared this mindset, as evidenced in Gen. 48:13-14, Ecc. 10:2, Matt. 25:31-46 and other passages.

Even in modern times, well-meaning parents and teachers sometimes try to force left-handed children to write with their right hands. The children in question may learn to do so competently, but there never comes a time when it doesn't feel unnatural to them. And the process of suppressing their natural left-handedness can in some cases lead to a lifetime of cognitive problems.

The consequences of trying to change one's sexual orientation may be harder to quantify, but a growing number of former ex-gays are coming forward to testify to the emotional and relational fallout from their attempts. Many ex-gay advocates prefer to dismiss such claims by declaring that those who experienced harm merely went about it wrong, or didn’t have enough faith, or didn’t try hard enough (or tried too hard) - but then, “you just did it wrong” was a popular refrain in fundamentalist circles long before the advent of the ex-gay movement.

The parallels to homosexuality seem evident, even without a chart*. The instinctive bias that many right-handed individuals have toward the left-handed may be more easily overcome than the bias heterosexuals often have toward homosexuals, but both stem from an assumption about the way things should be based on what feels natural to the individual. When sacred texts can be interpreted as reinforcing that assumption, bias becomes dogma.

Society does seem to be gradually becoming more accepting of those who are "different," introverts, the left-handed and gays alike. One can only pray that future generations will value the unique gifts that such individuals have to share rather than trying to treat them like blank slates.

*The research on this chart is several years out of date, but the basic parallels still appear to be valid.