Why I’m Here (Updated)

In my second post, I explained why I started my blog. I have decided to do an updated post because there are other things I’ve thought about that I would like visitors to this blog and to my Twitter homepage to know. However, I am going to keep the old post up, which you can view here, though most stuff there will be repeated in this post.

Why does this blog exist? First of all, the name: it comes from Jeremy Beahan of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast. “Before you identify yourself as a Republican or a Democrat; before you identify as a Christian or a Jew; before you identify as anything, identify yourself — think of your primary identity as a seeker oftruth.Put that first above anything else. Then whatever is worthy should follow that.” Previous to this quote in the podcast Beahan said it’s important that we have the courage to seek opposing viewpoints; to listen to the other side. Thus, I hope this blog won’t be a liberal, conservative, or libertarian blog; it won’t be a Christian blog; it will be a blog for all seekers of truth — black, white; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu; conservative, liberal, libertarian; cisgendered and straight as well as LGBTQIAP+. 

To share whatever I have that may help someone, that they may connect to. A little over a year ago I joined Twitter to connect with people beyond my bubble, to see alternative perspectives, to break the shell of provincialism.

People have called me smart for much of my life, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. However I think I need to share what I do have. The Quran says “Whoever is given knowledge is given indeed abundant wealth.”(Surah 2:269) and “O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge.”(20:114). The Bible says “If you seek it[wisdom] as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”(Prov. 2:4-5, NIV)

Here are a few hadith(sayings of Muhammad): “Go back to your people and teach them.”(Bukhari 3:25); “Let him who is present impart knowledge to him who is absent.”(Bukhari 3:37); “Knowledge is only maintained through teaching.”(Bukhari 3:10). The idea of knowledge being wealth and the imperatives to share it reminds me of Psalms 72, in which Solomon prayed for wealth and power to be a voice to the voiceless. Like in the parable of the talents(Mt.25:14-30) I see a good mind as a gift, a trust. The two servants who used their talents were told “Well done thou good and faithful servant”(Mt. 25:21, 23); whereas the one who buried his talent was told “Thou wicked and slothful servant”(Mt. 25:26). 1 Peter 4:10 says “Each one of you should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its many forms.”

I mentioned above my reasons for getting a Twitter account. As I mentioned in other posts, I grew up in an insular Evangelical/Fundamentalist environment. Around age 18 I began to question my upbringing and wonder if there’s more than just my bubble. Plato’s Cave became a good friend, as it was the only way I could verbalize my sentiments. )That’s where my profile pic comes from.) In the Bible Jesus interacted with a variety of people, choosing for apostles a tax collector (basically a collaborator with the Roman occupation) and a Zealot (a group that wanted an armed revolt against Rome). The Epistle of Diognetus says, “Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.”

I also seek to build bridges of understanding between peoples and resist tribalism and provincialism. The Bible says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”(Matthew 5:9) and “For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.”(Ephesians 2:14‭-‬16). Furthermore, it says, “Strive for peace and promote it!”(Psalms 34:14b). The Qur’an says, “O mankind! We made you from a male and a female into nations and tribes so that you may know each other.”(Surah 49:13) I’m here to help break down these walls and to help us to know each other. The us vs them mentalities are one of my pet peeves. There is so much more to the world than our little bubbles; it’s more beneficial for all that we transcend our provincialism and tribalism.

Due to having grown up in a controlling environment (and having wondered whether or not to label my experiences as abusive), I also want this to be a safe place for abuse victims/survivors; particularly for spiritual abuse, but also for all other abuse as well. I’ve learned a bit about this subject not talked about much in Evangelicalism and have found various online spaces helpful in sorting things out. I want this to be such a place (for people regardless of where they are on the political spectrum); it’s a way of expressing gratitude.

Since I have questioned my upbringing and had times of doubt, I also want this blog to be a safe place for doubters, a place where we can ask honest questions. In my Twitter bio I quote Michel de Montaigne, a 16th century French essayist: “Que sais-je?”, meaning “What do I know?” I say this as a rejection of dogmatism (like what I was raised with) and a willingness to learn from others. The 17th century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacoub urged people to submit their beliefs to a thorough examination. The Bible says, “But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.”(1 Thessalonians 5:21) and “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.”(1 Corinthians 13:9‭-‬10). It was through wrestling with God that Jacob becomes Israel, and after Job has honestly expressed his doubts and feelings, God tells Jon’s friends, who had said pious clichés, “You have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has.(Job 42:7). In her book Allah, Liberty, and Love Irshad Manji writes, “Faith doesn’t forbid exploration. It’s dogma that does. Dogma, by definition, is threatened by questions, while Faith welcomes questions because it trusts that God, being magisterial, can handle them.”

BOTTOM LINE: I have an inquisitive personality, have many interests, and am an intellectual. For me learning new things is fun. I want to share that; my experiences, my journey, my story, my studying, reflections — maybe it will be of help to someone; I hope to make connections, to develop a community in which we can learn, grow, connect, etc. Also psychology shows that sharing what we learn helps us to learn.
For more please see my post Meet Me.

Political  (In)Correctness: Beyond the Hype

Every so often controversies over “political correctness” flare up. When this happens, have you ever wondered, “What’s wrong with people!?” I certainly have. Well, upon reflection, I have concluded that this is largely hype, and that communication would be better if we were to drop the terms “political correctness” and “political incorrectness”. In presenting this case, this post will go back in time to the origin of the term “politically correct”, return to the present to give a survey of current viewpoints, and give my personal experiences and reflections. In a later post, I will suggest an alternative paradigm.

The term “politically correct” originated as an in-house critique among leftists, as a shorthand for saying that compassion is more important than the party line. These people used “politically correct” to mean self-righteousness and dogmatism. However, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s the Right started using the term as a critique of the Left. For conservatives most notably, “political correctness”  to refer to attempts to ban hurt feelings and offense; in this case, it is associated with the Orwellian thought police and censorship of dissent. For these folks, “political incorrectness” means “saying unpopular ideas, questioning dogma, challenging orthodoxy; being radical and breaking taboos”. 

On the other hand, others came to see “political correctness” as supporting language, measures, and policies intended to avoid offense or disadvantages to marginalized members of society. They associate political correctness with compassion and sensitivity towards out-groups, minorities, and other marginalized people. Conversely, for them, “political incorrectness” means jerkishness, bigotry, maintenance of systems of power and privilege, cruelty towards the disadvantaged, discrediting concern for the underdog, bullying, trolling, harassment, etc. (More info here.)

I think these ideas are mistaken, and I will now explain how I came to understand why people hold these ideas so strongly. I grew up in an authoritarian, Right-Wing, Fundamentalist bubble, which denounced political correctness, presenting it as censorship. In addition many people watched Fox News and listened to Right-Wing talk radio. It didn’t take long listening to those guys to realize were doing the very things that they accused PC liberals of doing. Therefore, I started using the term “political correctness” to describe conservatives’ getting offended by things like criticizing USA and Christianity. I also had a rough time with a lot of what happened at church, which I have since come to realize was abusive. I thought many harsh things against these abusive practices that were done and ideas that circulated, and because I knew that people would be offended if I said them out loud, I labeled my thoughts criticizing the church as “politically incorrect”. This is why I think that it overgeneralizes to demonize people for opposing PC.

However, I have noticed that for abuse/trauma survivors, certain terms and concepts can evoke visceral reactions, even when the survivors realize intellectually that there is no connection. This certainly is the case with me! This brings me to a recent conversation that I had on a blog on which I frequently comment. I told my interlocutor that I understood her point intellectually, but that certain things she had said had hit a sore spot with me. She replied by apologizing that I found some things she had said triggering.

I have been reflecting on this conversation ever since; in fact, this post is largely inspired by these reflections. I came to recognize that when something hits one of my sore spots, I often feel an urge to label things “politically correct” and to rail against “political correctness”. This happens, for example, when I feel erased. With the labeling of my reactions as being “triggered”, I began to consider that maybe “political incorrectness” is triggering to some people, since some people who proclaim themselves to be “politically incorrect” are, in fact, abusive bullies. 

In the above-mentioned conversation, I used neither “politically correct” nor “politically incorrect”; instead, I explained my thoughts and feelings, something I think helped both of us come to a better understanding of things. As a result of these experiences and reflections, I have concluded that the terms “politically correct” and “politically incorrect” are buzzwords that hinder communication and should be replaced with terms that encourage thinking, active listening, and understanding. 

In a forthcoming post I will present an alternative approach.

The Genocide Begins

Istanbul, 24 April 1915:

The door fly open and soldiers enter the home, arresting Dikran Chökürian, one of many Armenian writers.

Eastern Turkey, a few months later:

The Najarian family huddles together at the sound of hooves signaling the approach of Turkish death squads. Marta holds her daughter Mari close as a soldier grabs her and holds her down while she screams, “Hayır!”* repeatedly. The soldier ignores her, insulting her. He then shoots her. 

The villagers are deported, and marched through the desert. Mari collapses from fatigue and dehydration. A soldier shoots her.

A Turkish family shelters a survivor.

*Hayır is Turkish for “No”. 

This Friday Fictioneers story is dedicated to the 1.5 Armenians killed in the Armenian Genocide during WWI. Hitler later asked, “After all, who today speaks of the annihilation of Armenia?” The answer is many do. #NeverForget. To this day the Turkish government denies the genocide. The event started with the deportation of around 250 Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915, of which writer Dikran Chökürian was but one. 

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields has arranged for this Friday Fictioneers, and Liz Young provided the photo. 

Murphy’s Law in Action

Fahrünnisa, being short on time slipped on a pair of low-heeled dress shoes instead of the oxfords, and stomped a spider that showed up. “That’s bad karma”, Max said.

“Get in the car”, she replied, pushing the unlock button. She started the car and floored the accelerator. Once at the conference, a man snatched her purse and ran off. The thief gave the purse to a vendor. When the vendor refused to hand it over, Fahrünnisa stepped on the tomatoes. She and Max then fell over when they were injected with syringes. “Don’t oppose Erdoğan”, a voice said.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Magaly Guerrero.

Feminism Reflects Christ Better Than Does Fundamentalism

I grew up Fundamentalist, and in my circle, feminists were bashed as man-haring rebels against God’s Divine Order. However, over the past couple of years, I have read feminist blogs and interacted with feminists on said blogs and on Twitter. As a result of all this, I have concluded that the teachings of Jesus are better reflected in feminism than they are in Fundamentalism. Let me explain how.

Let’s start with a popular definition of feminism: the radical idea that women are people too. We find this idea reflected in the Bible, back to Genesis: “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”(Gen. 1:27), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, their is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female — for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal. 3:28)

This belief in women’s being human motivates feminists to insist on autonomy, boumdaries, and consent in human interactions, and that corercion should be avoided. This consent must be informed, and is considered invalid if obtained by deception. Well, this is integrity par excellence, and integrity is a value everywhere in Scripture. Also, it is written, “Love your neighbor as yourself”(Lev. 19:18). This respecting other people’s boundaries and acknowledging their autonomy is a integral part of showing concern for others, allowing us to have what Martin Buber describes as an I-thou relationship(approaching them as people) rather than an I-it one(approaching them as objects). Also, Erich Fromm mentions that a healthy self-love and others-love are interrelated. Setting our own boundaries is an expression of that healthy self-love. 

By contrast, autonomy, boundaries, and consent are sorely lacking in Fundamentalist circles. Despite the scriptural injunction, “But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness — or distorting the Word of God”(2 Cor. 4:2a), Fundamentalists are infamous for their lack of honesty and alternative facts, calling it all “The Truth[TM]”. They apply Philippians 2:4-11 to the populace, but the leaders act more in line with the boast attributed to Lucifer in Is. 14:13-14

They love Eph. 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”, using it to justify misogyny. However, some ancient Greek manuscripts do not include the word translated “submit”, in which the verse reads, “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.” This means the verse is a continuation of v. 21, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”(emphasis mine). Also, in Greek, the word for “submit” has a meaning of its being voluntary, which requires consent. Fundamentalists tends to not get consent, and prefer coercion. They sometimes reference Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her”; however, this often is used as a means of promoting paternalism.

Christian feminists are not opposed to submission per se, but only opposed to it when it is one way, and/or the burden is placed solely on women. As we saw from the quote in Eph. 5:21, this is a biblical criticism. This is in agreement with what Jesus Himself says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and are called ‘benefactors’. Not so with you; instead, the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”(Luke 22:25-26). But demanding that their followers submit to them and that wives submit to their husbands, these leaders are “lording it over” them. Also, treating people in a paternalistic way, justifying control because it’s for “their own good”, is NOT an example of being a servant; it is still “lording it over” them. 

Another way in which feminism reflects the character of Christ can be seen by comparing the depictions of Babylon and the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. First, it is written about Babylon, “The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed in the earth”(Rev. 18:24). Next, onto what it says about the New Jerusalem, “The kings of the earth will bring their grandeur to it”(Rev. 21:24b). Throughout Revelation “the kings of the earth” refers to humanity in rebellion against God, and the passage indicates their redemption, rather than their destruction.

Fundamentalism damages even its own. There are countless spiritual abuse survivor blogs out there, with this list being just a few, and many people raised Fundamentalist go through religious trauma. There is widespread silence on abuse in Fundamentalism, and encouragement of women to stay in abusive marriages. 

Feminism is opposed to abuse. This is reflective of the heart of Christ because the Bible depicts God as hearing the cry of the oppressed. Feminists teach that your pain matters, and that oppressing others is wrong. This is why they support autonomy, boundaries, and consent, since abusers tend to ignore these things. Feminism concerns itself with ending the oppression of women. However, I, though a cisman(a biological male identifying as male), have benefited from these ideas. The church I grew up in did not teach boundaries and consent; so upon reading feminists online, I realized I could set boundaries for myself! Pick-up artists tend to be extremely unpopular in feminist circles, due to their being notorious for not respecting women’s boundaries or accepting “No”. However, in her book Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser, Clarisse Thorn mentions a PUA who actually benefited from feminist ideals and used them for himself. Also, feminists insist that the boundaries of even jerks and abusers need to be respected, and that one can only do what is needed to protect oneself and others. This is a good example of Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. 

So, while Fundamentalists decry feminists, and accuse the latter of destroying God’s order of things, and even of being an Illuminati plot to destroy the family, when you look at the Bible it seems that the spirit of the law is better reflected in feminism than in Fundamentalism.

Unlikely Meal

Rania pulled into Steve’s driveway and the two of them went into the apartment, Steve carrying pizza and Rania carrying food from her native Syria. Opening the pizza box once they were seated at the table, Steve said, “No pepperoni, no pork!”

“Jazak’Allah*”, Rania replied.

Before they started eating, Rania said, “Bismi’Allah**” and Steve said grace.

Steve turned on the news and saw a report on a suicide bombing in Egypt, and heared inflammatory comments from the US government.

“Turn that off”, Rania said, “an American and Syrian sharing a meal; that’s what’s important!”

With that, they kissed. 

*Jazak’Allah means “May God reward you”, a Muslim way of expressing gratitude.

**Bismi’Allah means “In the Name of Allah”, commonly said before eating.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Dale Rogerson

Busted!

CRASH! A window shattered. Then…THUD! Something slammed on the car, causing the woman inside to spill her coffee. A guy jumped down, saying, “Sorry, Miss. My name is Adam,” and tossed her a business card.

“Jane”, she replied firmly.

Adam then hopped on a bike and left. Soon two men in suits showed up, flashed badges, saying, “Federal agents, have you seen this man?”, showing her Adam’s photo.

BOOM! A building blew up and Adam went by on a motorcycle, tossing smoke bombs. Then the police arrived, grabbed the men in suits, and said, “You are under arrest…”

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Jellico’s Stationhouse

Unusual Plan

Agent Robert Thompson handed his partner Agent Jennifer Green to the traffickers in exchange for money. “I’ll kill her myself!”, Bobby said, “Jenn, I’m doing this for the kids, remember what I said!”

A ray shot out of his gun and Jennifer grew, clothes, accesories, and all. She placed her foot on the traffickers. “Where are the girls?”, Bobby demanded.

“There is a giant shoe on us!”, one cried, and revealed the location, while the leader insulted Jenn.

Jenn tossed her pendant aside to signal the rescue team. Once the girls were rescued, Jenn pressed her weight down on the traffickers.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Jennifer Pendergast.