Book Review: “The Power of Mindful Learning”, by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, chapter 1

After a year after writing the introduction to this book, I am ready to proceed (especially after having just taken English 101 and 102). So, here it is:

“Whether it is learning to play baseball, drive, or teach, the advice is the same: practice the basics until they become second nature. I think this is the wrong way to start” (Langer, p. 10).

This is the thesis of this chapter. Langer then cites examples that question the effectiveness of the basics, even questioning the very concept of the basics. She acknowledges why teachers teach the basics, but suggests mindful learning based on awareness of context and appreciation of uncertainty as better teaching methods. She cites two examples to contrast mindless and mindful approaches to learning. She then cites personal examples and research to support her claim that mindful approaches are better. After mentioning the role gender plays, she introduces the concept  “sideways learning” in contrast to both top-down (lecture) and bottom-up (experimenting) approaches to learning (pp. 22-23). She describes sidewaya learning as “learning a subject or skill with an openness to novelty and actively noticing differences, contexts, and perspectives” (p. 23). She uses piano playing as an illustration of the concept, mentions an experiment showing how a text can teach mindfully, and concludes with a hypothetical example of performimg CPR (involving the differences between infants, 50 lb children, and adults) to illustrate the importance of mindful techniques. She concludes the chapter with the question, “Which way would you want to learn the [CPR] lesson? How should we teach it?” (p. 31). 

I am not going to go over the content in detail (even summarizing it will make this post very long), so I am going to address a few concepts, and discuss their application. I will discuss obedience to authority, the value of doubt, sideways learning, and how they relate to feminism, religion, and language learning. 

When Langer questions the existence of the concept of the basics, writing, “Perhaps one could say that for everyone there are certain basics, but there is no such thing as the basics” (p. 15, emphasis Langer’s). Langer suggests that it may appear easier to teach one set of basics because “the teacher needs to know less, a single routine little room for disagreement and hence may foster obedience to authority” (p. 15).  In my Fundamentalist upbringing, obedience to authority was highly valued, and rebellion was viewed heinously, being seen as witchcraft (based on 1 Sam. 15:23). In my view, obedience to authority is a questionable value: after all, obedient participants in the Milgram experiments were willing to apply an electric shock at a dangerously high voltage level when told to do so. In addition, obedience to authority may make it easier for abusers to get access to victims, and to gaslight, shame, silence, and control them. Also, it may make it harder for people to speak out against said abuse. Furthermore, Nazi war criminals defended themselves with, “I was just following orders”, a defense rejected by the courts. To expand on that, social progress has often come about through disobedience to authority, and we are the beneficiaries of that today.

Now, to the value of doubt and sideways learning. Concerning the former, Langer writes, “The rationale for this change in approaches [to mindful learning] is based on the belief that experts at anything become expert in part by varying those same basics. The rest of us, taught not to question, take them for granted…. The key to this new way of teaching is based on an appreciation of both the conditional, or context-dependent, nature of the world and the value of uncertainty. Teaching skills and facts in a conditional way sets the stage for doubt and an awareness of how different situations may call for subtle differences in what we bring to them” (pp. 15-16). I gave the definition of sideways learning above. The bottom line is to think in different ways and to say, “There’s a box? What box?” Langer mentions experiments involving a pilot study (pp. 18-19), a game called smack-it ball (similar to squasj but with a small racket that fits like a baseball mit is worn on both hands, p. 21), and a piano study (pp. 26-27). In each study, the group given mindful instructions to vary their technique, use previously learned material and/or experiences, and to think in creative ways outperformed the control group, enjoyed the activity more, and had a better grasp on the material.

The smack-it ball experiment was done to study gender differences. Langer writes, “In general, young girls are taught to be ‘good little girls’ which translates into ‘do what you’re told’. To be a ‘real boy’, on the other hand, implicitly means to be independent of authority and ‘don’t listen to all you are told’…. Our hypothesis was that motivation to be a good girl would lead to taking in information in a mindless way. Similarly, being a bit rebellious was expected to result in conditional or mindful learning” (p. 21). They told some players, “One way to hold the ball is…”, and other players, “This is how you hold the ball.” After practice, the researchers replaced the ball with a heavier one that required different body movements. The boys performed the same regardless of instructions or the ball. The girls who received instructions in an absolute way performed worse with the heavier ball, but those who had received conditional instructions performed as well as the boys regardless of the ball used (p. 22). Langer also suggests that is why girls have a harder time in math in high school. They excel in grade school, but the do-as-you’re-told doesn’t help at higher math levels, since numbers need to be seen in new ways. 

I was skeptical of the claim that boys are urged to be rebellious, as that’s not my experience, but that is another topic. Anyway, this betrays an aspect of sexism and one more reason why we still need feminism. Being a guy, I will not harp on this (I would rather hand the mic to women), but I will say the following: guys, we need to stand up for women’s right to dissent and to speak up, and not call her names. We need to consider her viewpoints and examine her conclusions and their implications. Also, we need to train people of all gender identities to question dogma, to look at alternate ways of doing things, and to consider multiple perspectives. 

Now, to talk about religion: first, in Fundamentalism, obedience to authority is highly valued, and rebellion is seen as witchcraft (based on 1 Sam. 15:23). For me, that meant that rebellion was punishable by a whipping (not with the hand), threats of hellfire and brimstone, and allusions to Korah (Num. 16). People at church thought that if you didn’t choose one of the options those in authority presented, you were in rebellion. 

However, I do think religion should be approached with a sideways learning approach. (Since I am a Christian, I am telling this from a Christian perspective, and am open to perspectives from other religions.) Evangelicals tend to see themselves as following the Bible, but often approach the Bible mindlessly. I discovered this when I read texts from outside my sect (JW literature, Jewish writings, Catholic materials, etc.) and saw Bible passages presented in ways that I had never seen before, and never would have seen otherwise. This shows that there are multiple perspectives to the Bible. A midrash says that there are seventy facets to the Torah. So, when reading the Bible, we should read it from multiple perspectives and consider out of the box interpretations. We should also consider critiques from critics of the Bible, in order to enhance our understanding. I think that a mindful approach will make religion more just. 

Now, for foreign languages. Learning a language involves vocabulary and grammar. I think it is an idea to learn words related to topics of interest,, and to learn grammar so that these topics can be discussed with someone in the language. Vocabulary related to topics that one is not interested in will also have to be learned. A mindful approach may be to learn the vocabulary to express how one is not interested in this topic. Thus, learners should vary the material that they are learning. 

To conclude, Langer shows the insufficiency of the “learn the basics” approach and introduces us to sideways learning. I showed how these are relevant to feminism, religion, and language learning.

No, LGBT Rights Is Not The Sin of Sodom!

“If God doesn’t judge America, He’ll owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.”

This is a popular saying among Fundamentalists, used to attack acceptance of homosexuality and LGBT rights. But, even coming from a traditional view and more literal reading of Scripture, this view does not hold up, and I will show you why.

The view that Sodom was destroyed for homosexuality is derived from Gen. 19:4-5, “Bedore they could lie down to sleep, all the men — both young and old, from every part of the city of Sodom — surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot,’Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!'”

Well, there is a difference between modern same sex couples and the men of Sodom: in the case of the former, there is consent. The fact that the Sodomites tried to rush the door when Lot refused them and the angels blinded them shows the Sodomites didn’t care whether or not the angels wanted to have sex. Thus, this was an attempted gang rape. Rape is not actually about sex, but about dominance. In fact, most cases of same sex sexual assault are committed by heterosexuals. In fact, some convicts claim to be gay, because they more fear rape from straight inmates than gay ones. I guess you can say Sodom had a rape culture.

Also, Sodom had other vices: first of all, xenophobia. When Lot tried to talk the Sodomites out of gang raping the angels, they replied, “This man came to live here as a foreigner, and now he dares to judge us!”(Gen. 19:9). Ezekiel lists other vices: “See here — this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease; but they did not help the poor and the needy. They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before Me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.”(Ez. 16:49-50). This passage doesn’t even mention homosexuality(something even conservative scholars and preachers bring up every so often). 

Also, the king of Sodom brought Abraham to see Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High. In the New Testament Melchizedek is seen as a type of Christ. This shows the king of Sodom as a religious type. In other parts of the Bible, God insists justice as necessary to piety (Is. 1:10-18, 58, Amos 5:18-24, Mt. 23, Jam. 1:27), which the Sodomites lacked. 

Basically, Sodom’s sin was both individual and group narcissism. They refused to help the less fortunate (according to rabbinic writings, they punished anyone who gave food to a stranger). They were xenophobic, as indicated by their reaction to Lot and their attempt to gang rape the angels. (The rabbis say their streets were paved with gold and that they flooded the approach to their city to restrict immigration.)

All this convinces me that we are not a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah due to recognition of same-sex marriage and trans-inclusive bathrooms. Even if you think homosexuality is always sinful and that it’s wrong to act like the opposite gender, even a literalistic interpretation of the Bible does not support the God-discriminated-against-Sodom line, at least in reference to QUILTBAG people. 

However, based on what I shared, I cannot say we are NOT a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Today USA is one of the most religious countries in the world. Well, arrogance is prevalent, with Evangelicals particularly having a reputation for arrogance. Xenophobia is prevalent in segments of the American population, with certain theologies in Fundamentalism actually baptizing it. There have been cases of sex abuse cover-ups, and, according to many feminists, a rape culture exists in much of American society and includes Fundamentalism. Stats say Americans overall are generous, and Christians have done a lot. But, are we actually helping the poor or are we doing  things that look like help but actually harm? Are we caring for the least of these?
However, regardless, the desire for judgment is misplaced. When informed of Sodom’s destruction Abraham interceded, asking God to spare the city, going down from fifty to ten righteous people(Gen. 18:22-33). There is a debate over whether Abraham should have kept going, or whether less than ten was a threshhold indicating the city was corrupt to the core. But what I see is that we should pray for our nations, and we should pursue justice ourselves, thus inspiring others to follow in our footsteps promote a just society. In the New Testament Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is here, but that we should pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as in heaven”. 

Appeal to Love in a World of Hate

This post is inspired by a post on the blog Love, Joy, Feminism. I wrote this post to urge my readers, in the midst of a world turned inward and towards hate, to be a purple thread on a white cloth. As MLK said in his sermon “Love Your Enemies”, ” Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiples hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending Spiral of destruction.”(The Strength to Love, p. 47)

We see this played out these days: in the African-Americans killed by the police; in the cops killed by a sniper; in the violence of ISIS; in the anti-Muslim rhetoric of demagogues feeding a fear and hatred of the Other; in the spike in xenophobic attacks in the wake of Brexit. Though it seems these are on the rise, these really are ancient vices we have been succumbing to for centuries, possibly even in us thanks to evolution.

However, even if this is natural, that does NOT make it right, and wrong it is! Our species has the potential to transcend our animalistic nature, a feature existing in many world religions. I heard talk in Judaism mentioning rising above our lower nature.(A friend of mine heard Rabbi Lapin identify this lower nature with Baal.) In Christianity this animalistic, primal nature is called “the flesh” or “the sinful nature”. (A discussion on the differing views on this is for another post.)  Among the works of the flesh listed by St. Paul in Gal. 5:19-21 are hatred, strife, rivalries, divisions, and factions; this means that all this tribalism and hatred is not in line with the Kingdom of God, for St. Paul continues, ” those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. “(Gal. 5:21). Paul continues with the fruit of the Spirit: ” But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”(Gal. 5:22-23). Elsewhere it is written, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.'(1 Jn. 3:15) and ” If a man says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for He who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”(1 Jn. 4:20). This love is to extend beyond whichever groups with which we identify. Way back in Genesis it is written that humanity is made in the image of God(Gen. 1:26, 5:1, 9:6), and after we are told to Love our neighbor as ourselves, we are told to love the stranger as ourselves (Lev. 19:34). When Jesus is asked “Who is my neighbor?”, He tells the story of a Samaritan helping a Jewish man, teaching that neighborly concern is to be universal(Luke 10:25-38).

In Buddhism hatred is seen as one of the three poisons(roots of evil), the other two being lust(that is, greed, passion, desire) and ignorance/delusion. These three are considered responsible for all suffering (a major theme in Buddhism), are seen as being part of maya(illusion), and are what keeps us in samsara(the cycle of rebirth). On the contrary, compassion is one of the most important virtues in Buddhism. In Buddhism compassion is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering. There is another virtue, loving-kindness, which is the wish for all beings to be happy, in which one values all their joys and pains as one’s own. In the Mahayana branch of Buddhism there is the bodhisattva ideal: to reach enlightenment but to remain in the cycle of rebirth out of compassion for all beings, that they may be enlightened as well.

In 2006 there was a terrorist attack on the island of Bali in Indonesia. In response, the rock band Dewa 19 wrote the song Laskar Cinta(Warriors of Love) . An English version can be found here.

The songs alludes to Surah 49:13 in the Quran: “O mankind! Truly We made you from a male to a female into nations and tribes that you may know each other.” DNA tests prove that every human being alive today shares a common ancestor. As I mentioned in my post “Ethnocentrism in Evangelicalism” when I referenced the Tower of Babel, God allowed different nations, languages, and cultures to develop so that there would be multiple perspectives, like different facets of a diamond. I will add here that this saves us from our blind spots. Here is a great quote: “He doesn’t know England who has only England known.” Personally this ayah(verse) from the Quran is one of this Christian’s favorite quotes from any religious text. It teaches that learning about other cultures is a moral thing to do; that were are all equal; that we can learn how each other, rather than war against each other. And that is beautiful!

I will conclude with the refrain from the song Laskar Cinta:
Warriors of love
Spread the seeds of love throughout the earth
Go and destroy the virus of hatred
That makes people’s hearts sick and depraved
By corrupting their souls.
Warriors of love
Teach the mystical science of love
For only Love is the eternal truth
And the shining path for all God’s children.

As the Ahmadi Muslims say, “Love for all; hate for none.”

Thoughts on Doubt

Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself. -Madeline L’Engle, quoted in The Case for Faith(p. 223) by Lee Strobel.
As I mentioned before I was raised and homeschooled in an insular Evangelical/Fundamentalist environment.(For more see here ). It is this type of environment that has cheesy lines such as, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” However in my case I’ve had doubts basically since I was 18(which was 2003). Over time, however, it was in my doubts that I had a deep spirituality. It was the Strobel book I quoted that first showed me that there’s a place for doubt. Chapter 12 of The Purpose-Driven Life built on this, as it talks about the need to be honest with God and points out the honesty of biblical characters with God.

Now to dig into this. I have come to view the line, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” as contrary to Scripture. When God told Abraham of Sodom’s destruction, Abraham talked with God until He agreed to spare the city for ten righteous people. Moses, when informed of Israel’s destruction, didn’t just accept it — he talked God out of it! The Psalms are full of the prayers of people expressing their doubts, anger, frustrations, and other emotions to the Lord. David summed it up as, “I believe, therefore I said, ‘I am utterly ruined’ “; that is, because of my faith, I expressed my true emotions. Job expressed his true feelings throughout the book of Job, whereas his friends offered pious clich├ęs. At the end of it, God said to one of the friends, ” I am incensed at you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me as did My servant Job”(Job 42:7b, New JPS translation). From this we learn that God wants us to be honest with Him; He’s saying He’s OK with our anger, doubts, questions, fears, etc.

Like Jacob(Gen. 32:22-32), it’s OK to wrestle with God and say, “I will not let you go until You bless me” (Gen. 32:26, New JPS translation). This wrestling with God is what made Jacob into Israel.(In the Bible a name is tied to who you are and all you stand for.) In the New Testament it is written, “Test everything, hold onto the good”(1 Thess. 5:21, NRSV). Romans 12:2 mentions ” discerning” the will of God, which refers to proving it through repeated testing. Romans 12:1 mentions our “reasonable”, ” logical”, or “spiritual” service/worship(depending on the translation). I take this to mean that thinking and questioning can, too, be Acts of worship.

So when doubt strikes, we should give thanks to the Lord, for He knows all things and we don’t. Nevertheless, we seek it out, seekers find — a promise existing in some form in the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon. We should tell God exactly how we feel, return to the things that draw us to faith, and just admire them and the Lord Who is behind them. Also seek to understand the Bible from different theological perspectives; seek out new ideas. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans were praised for searching the Scriptures to see whether or not what Paul was saying is true.

I think doubt helps keep faith relevant, in that it forces people to face the questions those outside the bubble face. This, I believe, promotes empathy, particularly if the people involved are open-minded. Through doubt, if we are humble, we are reminded that God is bigger than our dogmas, our churches, our cultures, our nations, our races, or any other tribal identification you can come up with. By walking through the valley of doubt we learn which of our values are worth defending, why these values are important, thus teaching us integrity and giving us meaning. Doubt can be God’s way of expanding ourselves and showing us our possibilities. As Romain Rolland said, “Skepticism, ridding the faith of yesterday, prepares the way for the faith of tomorrow.” For millenia people have questioned popular dogmas(including religious ones); today we enjoy the benefits of their actions, for they were the history makers.

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 3

For part 1, see
And part 2:
I mentioned at the end of my last post of a storm coming. Well it arrived when my friends and I got recruited to work for a guy at church at a very low pay rate. We were told it’s God’s Will(TM) for us to accept this job. As for me, I was told it’s the Kingdom of God[TM] and because it’s a kingdom I don’t get to choose. I was also told that if I didn’t accept this job my marriage and ministry would be postponed, with a “Thus saith the Lord.” The boss yelled at us, preached at us. I won’t get into the details. At the same time a book circulated in which the author claimed God paralyzed him due to his mouthing off to an authority figure who was being a jerk. The message I got was we had to just take all we were going through lying down, or God would be ticked at us. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, due to fear that it would be Korah(Num. 16, he got swallowed by the earth for rebelling against Moses). For the first time in nearly four years I began to question God’s existence. I began to see the god presented to me as a jerk, paralyzing people for petty things that aren’t even wrong while allowing child molesters and genocidaires to prey on children for years; and torturing you for all eternity in a place that makes Auschwitz seem like an amusement park after you die. I got to the point I was thinking I’d rather be an atheist than believe in the god being presented to me and I didn’t care if whose feelings were hurt(as changing religious views is a human right! This still gives me a bad taste for political correctness, but that’s another post.)
In addition the church started turning insular, especially after Obama’s election. We were shown a number of videos on the Illuminati, and how they’re trying to destroy the economy, destroy America, destroy [Real True] Christianity [TM], and all this is leading to the Great Deception[TM], the Great Apostasy[TM], and the Antichrist. There was one on how the interfaith movement is just an attempt by the Illuminati to destroy Christianity, that [Real True] Christians [TM] are singled out for attack, and set up a one-world religion. This caused cognitive dissonance, as I’m not an Illuminist and I support interfaith dialogue. People support interfaith due to the fact that fanatics who believe their way is the only way kill in the name of God those who disagree with them. As it was referred to as “The Left-Wing Shadow Government” I thought it just a way to demonize those who disagree with us; that this is just an “us vs them” mentality. I also saw a bit of xenophobia in this, in that just being interested in other countries would label you an Illuminist. All these things I saw are things I really don’t like! I even asked the leadership for permission to go abroad; but was told, “Not yet; not until you get in the Glory.” This became very frustrating.
I feared that I’d be told, “The Lord says that Sister So-and-so is your wife” but I wouldn’t like Sister So-and-so, and thus be forced to marry her. I really didn’t (and still don’t) want to marry anyone I grew up with, as I knew I’d have to Drink the Kool-Aid and probably give up my dream of living abroad (as some people said they don’t want their son-in-law to take their daughter away from the man of God). Later I grew fearful that I’d never marry(as I mentioned in another post, we had purity culture and dating was verboten. Parental approval was strongly pushed, and my mom didn’t think I was mature enough.) Thus I thought marriage was effectively banned. We were also told that we should be willing to never marry if God says so. Concerning going abroad people asked me what if God said to remain in this bubble the rest of my life. People got offended when I said I’d still go abroad (something that’s a human right — one reason I support the right to offend; but that’s another post). I was frustrated over being stuck in a job making hardly anything, unable to go anywhere, having no prospects for marriage, all because leaders said it’s God’s Will (TM). This definitely helped contribute to my religious crisis, as it seemed God just made arbitrary rules that were impossible to follow and was going to torture us for not keeping them, but Jesus convinced Him into beating Him instead.
However there were a few things I did to move forward. Since we traveled a half hour to an hour to reach the job, I listened to language learning podcasts in the meantime. (However I couldn’t stick to one language.) I also bought books on subjects of interest from Barnes and Noble.
Well, I’m going to end this post here. I apologize this is such a downer, and I promise the next post will have more positive content!(Seriously, this period was one of my roughest.)

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 2

This is part 2 of my post on my spiritual journey. Here’s the link to part 1:
The next event was getting confronted on lust. After the confrontation I mentioned questioning God’s existence, something that gave people a fright. I was told that if I went down that path I’d become a womanizer, get a venereal disease, and/or have a terrible, sexless marriage(but I could have all kinds of blessings if I stayed with God). I’m sure you could guess my decision. I followed the inspiration I received from The Purpose-Driven Life. I was tweaked over feeling coerced until I got praised for having experienced the most growth of anyone in the church, something that was a shock to me! I started reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, something I found inspiring. I decided not to go back to finding demons behind every bush(I didn’t see the need to), and I sought to see how religion and psychology can be reconciled seeing God as smiling on my interest.
I discovered a show called Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel(whose book Case for Christ I’d been given). With it being a discussion show I got exposed to differing perspectives even within Christianity, so that I was able to form more nuanced views than the Fundamentalism of my preteen/teen years. I had a similar experience with the “Religion” and “Opinion” pages of a local newspaper, as I got to see a diversity of beliefs and actually encounter liberals for themselves, rather than the right-wing straw man arguments. I also started watching Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS, which sometimes does reports on other religions, allowing me an understanding without the Fundamentalist filter. Another epiphany was Strobel’s saying that it’s OK to have doubts.(I’m going to do a post on this subject.)
In a moment of frustration over my horniness, I was thinking to myself “bad karma”; then it hit me that karma can be changed. I remembered the Noble Truths of Buddhism: 1)suffering permeates all existence; 2) Desire(thirsts, cravings) is the cause of suffering; 3) there is an end to suffering, called nirvana; 4) the way to nirvana is the eightfold path. In my reading about Buddhism I found that ” suffering” includes even discontent and frustration. “Birth is painful, death is painful, aging is painful… association with what is disliked is painful, disassociation with what is liked is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.” (The Buddha). That is something I can relate to! I began to see how the Buddha, Freud, and Jesus combine.(All these things I do that make Evangelicals and Fundamentalists nervous I’m going to call “Fundie-mistakes”.)
Another post on the journey was my discovery of a copy of MLK’s book The Strength to Love at my great-grandparents’ house.(The book is a collection of his sermons.) What appealed to me was his global perspective, his stress on our being human, more than the accidents of race, tribe, nation; his promotion of peace and criticism of war(this was the Bush era[c. 2005], the Hawks were out); it gave me a sense of purpose. In addition my Judaism interest was rekindled, this time without the Fundamentalist filter. I really connected with the greater leniency towards wrestling with the text, vis-a-vis blindly accepting it. I loved a lot of the rabbinic insights; in fact, they helped me to maintain my faith in the Bible. Though I didn’t read them, I found inspiration in the quotes I heard from Martin Buber and Rabbi Heschel.
One day in Borders I flipped through a copy of Jim Willis’s book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. In this book Willis critiqued both sides and introduced me to The Consistent Life Ethic, which is opposition to abortion, capital punishment, war(though there is space for just war). There was also talk among particularly younger Evangelicals of having a broader pro-life platform, including things like anti-poverty in the platform rather than obsessing about people’s sex lives. My knowledge of rabbinic thought even motivated me to support passing out condoms, as, opposing abortion, I saw it as better that if people were determined to have sex, to not conceive and have and abortion.
In 2006 I watched Bill Moyers’s Faith and Reason on PBS, which was a series of interviews with writers associated with PEN(poets, essayists, and novelists — I became and remain a fan.) None of these people were Fundamentalists; in fact many criticized Fundamentalism and sounded the theocracy alarm.(One defined Fundamentalism as trying to force an antiquated model of religion on people today.) I used the critiques as a way to better understand Christianity, to look at it from a different perspective.
It was through these interviews I first heard of A Handmaid’s Tale. Also through these interviews I developed an appreciation for the hip-hop art form. One of the writers explained hip-hop as taking something old as “flipping it”(that is, updating it), something he did with Sophicles’ play Oedipus Rex, and explained Sophicles himself did with an ancient Greek myth. This gave me a model, as I’ve flirted with being a writer from the time I was little. (That’s another post.) I also enjoyed the interview with Pena Chodron, a Buddhist nun.(I may go back to find the interview to find a text she mentioned; perhaps I’ll review it, no promises though.)
I was inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun-ha’olam(repairing the world), of making a difference. Reading on Islam I read that there’s a concept in Islam of struggling on behalf of the oppressed. I read in The Purpose-Driven Life that God gives us some of His passions that we could speak for Him. I support peace; I like people from different countries cooperating instead of hating each other; I like people of differing religious views cooperating instead of killing each other in God’s Name. I began to think maybe God’s calling me to promote peace and justice. Upon going to Rick Warren’s website I read of his promotion of education to lift people out of poverty. I connected with this, due to my intellectualism. I read that the Hadith say to share your knowledge (quoted in the why I’m here post). Of course I knew all this went against the grain of my church environment. Thus, I hoped to move abroad and once there, pursue these interests.
Well, I have pretty positive memories of this period, and thus will end part 2 in my happy place. (Storm warning for part 3!)

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 1

Now for a series in which I share my spiritual journey. I mention I’m Evangelical but disagree with much of Christian Culture(TM). As I mentioned in my homeschooling post( )I was christened AME Zion and raised Charismatic. We were taught the most literal version of hell and a book called A Divine Revelation of Hell circulated, in which a woman claimed Jesus gave her a tour of the horrors of hell. This contributed to a few pacifist phases, as I wanted people to have every possible chance to escape the fires of hell. For part of my teen years I had a fear of hell, such that there was a time I was afraid to close my bedroom door at night. This fear decreased upon reflection on the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith(though I did wonder about works, especially with some of my teenage rebellion).
Another teaching we had was the pre-Trib Rapture. Unlike many of my cohorts who grew up Evangelical/Fundamentalist, I didn’t fear being left behind; in fact, I thought it might be a bit of an adventure, and was willing to remain behind for the sake of those left behind. I did, however, fear Jesus would return before I got married(which means had sex) and lived life.(This is something a lot of people don’t understand — some said, “If you get Jesus in person, why do the other things matter?”)
I also developed an interest in Judaism, as Christianity comes out of Judaism(and our church had interest in the biblical feasts). This was period one of looking into Judaism, the phase in which it was viewed with a Fundamentalist Christian filter. Later I concluded this was an expression of individuality, of an identity crisis. With this being a such a strict environment the only way to express individuality was to be stricter.
There were a few times I had questions about things, like the terror passages in the Old Testament. I didn’t question hell or the Rapture during this time, but if a thought occurred questioning God I’d bind it up.(Say something like, ” I bind you, Satan” and quote a Bible verse or two.) At the time questioning God’s existence was as unthinkable as saying the sky is green. (However during strict periods in which I got a lot of spankings I’d wish I could leave, and at times wished I hadn’t been raised in the church.)
It was after finishing school in 2003 at the age of 18 that I really started questioning my upbringing, that I started considering the possibility of life outside the church bubble. The only way I could explain it was Plato’s Cave Allegory: I began to see myself as one of the guys on the cave wall, and wondering how much of my upbringing was just shadows on the wall, resulting from growing up in USA, and in my social environment. I began to think that I’d be Muslim if I’d been Saudi and Buddhist if Tibetan. I wanted more than just my little bubble; to go places. Plus I was horny.(This, for Fundamentalists, is the Real True Reason[TM] for my doubt.)
This kinda felt liberating(which surprised me as I grew up hearing how freedom is in Jesus). In the words of Lamin Sanneh, “We remember our coming of age on the fateful occasion when the devil, who had stalked us all through our childhood, finally committed suicide from having witnessed the impregnable achievements of science and technology.” (Whose Religion Is Christianity: The Gospel Beyond the West, p. 1). Well, not exactly, but I did quit seeing the devil behind every bush. I no longer needed to fear the devil.
I developed an interest in psychology, especially as I saw the theories applicable for my own behavior, like when I myself couldn’t explain myself. (There were times when questioned about behavior I could get in trouble for I’d be drilled on why, and people didn’t believe my “I don’t know.” Freud’s “defense mechanisms” after I finished school vindicated me on this.) I began to see my interest in cultures as Erik Erikson’s “Identity Crisis.”
I also lost my fear of other religions enough to begin to learn about them, starting with encyclopedia articles. I learned about a 19th century Hindu thinker named Ramakrishna, who after trying Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity concluded they all have the same goals. I began to question the harsh view on Islam. I even read a  National Geographic article(published in 2002) on Islam that included the story of a convert. This convert mentioned that she was at peace for the first time in her life(something that contradicts the Fundamentalist narrative that only Jesus brings peace). When I went to Borders(which sadly closed in 2010) I flipped through books on various religions. It was during this time I first read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, a novel that really resonated with me.(I plan on doing a review of it.)
Probably the system I looked into most was Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their literature was the most readily available. Although I had never questioned the morality of hell, I found their case that hell makes God to be a sadist to be very compelling. I also enjoyed their stories from around the world, giving a sense of a global perspective lacking in my upbringing.
At church the young adults were studying The Purpose-Driven Life. Chapter 8 really resonated with me. The chapter explains worship is anything we do that brings God pleasure and if you say, “I got nothing out of worship” it means you worshipped for the wrong reason. This is because worship is not about our feelings but about God. Beforehand there were times people would say things like, “God is really moving today, can you feel Him?” And the answer for me was, “No.” Thus I got from the book, “If there are no feelings don’t worry about it!”, something I found liberating. Other chapters talked about God’s smiling when we use our abilities, that we could have a conversation with God at any time. All this really excited me. This occurred simultaneously with my questioning and considering other options. But, this has been a lengthy post, so I’m going to get into that more in later posts.