A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

Savage Attacks

Dan Savage

Photograph by 4Salcia, taken at the University of Western Ontario’s “It Gets Better” presentation.

The media is all in a frenzy about Dan Savage’s recent comments at a journalism conference, where he was speaking about his anti-bullying initiative, The “It Gets Better” Project, and his work as a spokesperson for the LGBT community. The story, in a nutshell: Dan Savage remarked on the parts of Leviticus most Christians ignore (like prohibitions on shellfish and menstrual intercourse), he used some profanity in referencing them, and a bunch of Christians in the audience staged a protest and walked out. Now the right-leaning, anti-gay community is lamenting that Savage is totally fine with bullying, as long as it’s Christians being bullied instead of gays.

“It’s amazing that we go to an anti-bullying speech and one group of students is picked on in particular, with harsh, profane language,” said high-school teacher Rick Tuttle, quoted on socially conservative LifeSite News. Commenters from the same site describe Savage as irrational, aberrant, depraved, fake, mentally ill, morally degenerate, pathetic, psychopathic, and blasphemous.

Now that’s a point that I feel like I need to challenge.

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Rapture Ready

Cover art for Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh

Image via DangerousMinds.net.

Title: Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture

Author: Daniel Radosh

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: Bibles, business, Christianity, conservatism, creationism, cultural anthropology, music, non-fiction, politics, religion, theatre, travel.

Summary: Daniel Radosh – a non-believer of Jewish extraction – travels across America to investigate the far reaches of Christian culture. The result of his journeys is this collection of loosely-linked adventures. Meet the sellers of kitschy “Jesus junk”; learn how the Bible continues to be a best-seller even when every Christian’s got one; dance the night away at a Christian purity ball; rock out to the best of contemporary Christian music; investigate the historical anti-Semitism of the Passion Play; ride a dinosaur at Kentucky’s Creation Museum; and get the hell scared out of you (literally, the Christians hope) at a Christian haunted house where evangelizing gets graphic. While many people in the book come across as rigid and doctrinaire, the warmth of the story comes from the few genuine, thoughtful individuals Radosh meets: Christians genuinely grappling with the realities that accompany their beliefs, and trying to engage with broader culture through a Christian lens.

Who’ll Love It: This is a fantastic introduction to fundamentalism, and I say that as someone who has been following Christian culture in America with some interest. If you’ve never encountered the God Squad in the U.S. of A., you’ll get a broad-based view of them here. The book may highlight some of the kookier elements (like the Christian variant of World Wrestling Entertainment!) but it does so in a light, mostly-loving way. Judgment isn’t Radosh’s aim here, which is what gives the book its charm. Avid fundamentalist-watchers will find lots to love here as well, even if they’re already familiar with Answers in Genesis, Christian music, or Left Behind. The conversations with more nuanced thinkers within Christian culture will both inspire and challenge the reader. And I was absolutely riveted by an intensely personal scene in which Radosh, whose children were born through IVF, confronts a pro-life pamphleteer after reading his argument against artificial insemination.

Want More? Christian culture is so fascinating, it can get pretty addictive. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of it on the Internet. If you want to get to know the Creation Museum, check out their ministry at Answers in Genesis. If you liked reading about the Cornerstone music festival, you can find out more about this year’s event. If you were fascinated by the alternate realities of Left Behind and Hell Houses, you should know they were ripped straight from the pages of Chick Tracts. Keep up with the chastity movement at Chastity.com, get political about abortion at LifeSite News, or get it on – but only if you’re married! – with sex advice from the Christian Nymphos. Then, once you’ve found your favourite flavour of fundamentalism, hit Google to see what else you can find out there! (Be sure to comment, so everybody at Bookshelf of the Mind can follow what you’ve found.)

Honouring World Religion Day

The wheel of World Religions.

Image via St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School.

Today is World Religion Day, an acknowledgment that in these times of division between religions, we can choose to look at all faiths as paths to God. Many fundamentalist strains of many different faiths would call that heresy, but it’s hard to imagine a world that can be truly peaceful and just if we don’t have the humility to admit that the path we’ve found to God might not work as well for another person as it has for us. Essentially it’s a celebration of acceptance and unity.

It’s my personal belief that harmony starts amongst children, who have a natural tendency towards openness and acceptance. We can shut that down by teaching them that our way is the only right way, or we can encourage it by exposing them to other types of people and how they are different from – and similar to – ourselves. In that spirit, I’ve created a book list for families who want to help their children get to know how some of the world’s other faiths reach out to God.

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If You Don’t Approve Of Quran-Burning . . .

. . . there are at least a few things you can do to register your opposition.

  • Sign the petition addressed to the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, asking him to please NOT burn the Quran. It even says please!
  • Check out the Quran. Literally, at your local library. (Or somewhere else.) This Facebook site calls for us to show overtures towards peace and understanding by making 9/11 a day to read the Quran instead of burning it.
  • Speak your mind to make your thoughts on the book-burning plan clear. I plan on plastering my favourite anti-book-burning quote all over the place, everywhere I can think of . . . although really it’s sort of sad that I have to even mention it in the 21st century.

Here’s the quote: “Where books are burned in the end people will be burned, too.” Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856. I would absolutely love to see this take over the Internet for the next couple of days as a reminder of the high cost of censorship.

Hey, maybe while we’re at it we can spread pictures of famous book burnings – my personal favourite being the pre-Holocaust Nazis – to drive home how prescient this quote really is. I think I may even change my Facebook pic until Saturday as a form of protest. Wow, this whole ‘educating and reminding’ thing can really go places once you get the creative juices flowing!

This is not a religious battle, Christianity versus Islam. This is about culture – the culture of hate and ignorance going up against the culture of peace and toleration. And make no mistake, there are examples of both cultures in every religious tradition. I call on well-meaning people of every faith and of no faith at all to stand up for the basic right to be treated with respect and decency by those who don’t agree with you. Which is not really a basic right generally, but I was under the impression that we live in a civil society, and it should certainly be a basic right here. Let’s make the point to Muslims here and abroad that not everybody in the West is like these so-called Christians who want to burn away somebody else’s faith.

For the record – yes, people have the right to burn any book they like . . . but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. And actually, I’m not certain whether this demonstration legally amounts to the kind of hate speech prohibited by American law. But I do know how I would feel if I were a Muslim woman watching this spectacle unfold, and I don’t want to see anybody feeling the way I’d feel under those circumstances. That’s not a statement about which religion is right or wrong, or about law or civil liberties or censorship or any of the rest. That’s just compassion, people.

Ten Reasons Not To Burn a Quran

Dove in fire.

Image via the Ministry of the Holy of Holies.

You may have heard about it: the Christian blog on Dove World Outreach Center that plans to spend this coming Saturday (that’s 9/11, for those keeping track) burning copies of the Quran to “raise awareness and warn”. They say it’s not an act of hate, because Islam is dangerous and therefore the loving thing to do is to warn people both within and outside of Islam. I say it’s ironic that the organization is called “Dove World”, given that the dove is a symbol of peace.

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Rice the Queen: Losing Her Religion

Raise your hands if you’ve been here: Anne Rice quit Christianity. She insists she’s still “committed to Christ as always”, but the Christianity label – and all the intolerance that tends to go with it – is too much for the Vampire Queen. I can’t say I’m surprised, but my heart goes out to her. It can be such a struggle to be unconventional when you’re surrounded by the most conventional kinds of fundamentalists.

When Anne Rice became religious, she made sure everybody knew it. She renounced her vampires (to the dismay of  many) and pledged to keep her work forevermore at the Jesus-loving heart of the Christian universe. She followed through, too, with novels like Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt or her spiritual memoir Called Out of Darkness. It certainly seems that Rice was quite committed to proclaiming the Good News. There’s nothing like a revert trying to prove she’s got the spiritual street cred to run with the cradle Catholics who’ve been flocking to Mass all their lives. And that’s not easy when you have to read a missal to know the Mass responses . . . or when you’ve written a series of extremely popular and rather sensual novels about vampires.

Anne Rice

Image of Anne Rice courtesy of Random House Academic Resources.

But like so many before her – including the one writing this post – it seems she couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that some of those more controversial Catholic tenets were flat-out wrong. And finally, she reached the breaking point. I don’t know what did it, but she got there. Calling her fellow Christians “quarrelsome, hostile, [and] disputatious”, she proclaimed: “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”

That’s brave. That’s hard. After all the flak she took for walking away from vampires to write about the life of Jesus, it took a lot of bravery for her to speak up about her break with the mainstream beliefs of the Catholic Church – which, as her bold statement seems to indicate, often seem to focus more on what a person is against rather than what they stand for.

I’m particularly intrigued by her insistence that she doesn’t want “to be anti-life”. I was Catholic for long enough to know this much: the Church loves to talk about being pro-life. It’ll tell you day and night how it’s the most pro-life institution around. She can’t possibly be talking about “anti-life” in the way abortion opponents use the term. So what does she mean?

Personally, I think she’s being informed by the complexity of human emotion any writer has to observe to create even remotely convincing characters. That’s what life is about. When the Catholic Church creates their narrow list of acceptable beliefs, requiring Catholics to eschew birth control and con

demn homosexuality and impose their strictures on the broad range of human experiences they consider “sinful”, they limit the extent to which we can experience life. We’re meant to live it. I believe, fully and completely, that we’re meant to learn. We can’t have much compassion for the human experience if we turn away from it at every opportunity. It’s better to experience life in all its richness.

But Christianity, at its most fundamentalist, often advises us to turn innocent eyes away from the full range of hour experience, to condemn our own inner worlds with all their unflattering emotions and scandalous desires. You don’t deal with that part of yourself face-to-face; rather, you try to not be that part of yourself. That’s a sin against life that Anne Rice – creator of lush vampire worlds and even a few erotic novels – just doesn’t seem willing to embrace.

Personally, I’ll stand by her on that one.

I’m particularly interested to see how this influences her upcoming works, and whether she returns to some of the darker themes she’s considered in her past writings. And even though I admit I never had much interest in her Christ the King series, this latest public conversion has got me curious. I wonder how much she let her misgivings filter into her novels about the life of Jesus. Or did she keep to the orthodoxy she had to know was expected of her?

I’ve heard they’re not her best work, and I’m not surprised by that. Vampires are her subject matter, no doubt about it. But maybe there’s still some value here. Even if the story isn’t particularly captivating, it might be worth a look just to see what the subtext tells me about her experience. After all, we’ve got something in common: she’s a fellow traveler on the same road I’ve been on ever since I came to understand that Catholic orthodoxy and birth control just don’t mix. It’s a religion that (at least in its official manifestation in Rome) has trouble being one-size-fits-all. Some people just don’t fit.

Anne Rice didn’t fit, and neither do a lot of other people who can probably relate very deeply to her experience of renouncing the “anti-life” religion that restricts their hearts so painfully. God bless Anne Rice for speaking up, and for continuing to tell her story.

Maybe that way, the rest of us Catholic castaways – and we are many – won’t feel so alone.

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