Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jesus Loves Me This I Know, For My Parents Tell Me So

Because we seem to have a real "religion" theme going today -- and because, once again, I'm really pressed for time and worthwhile new material -- I figured I'd resurrect (no pun intended) one of the most popular and provocative columns ever to appear on this site. It's from October of 2006.

There are times when living in this city isn't simply tolerable but downright wonderful. Yesterday, my wife and I spent the afternoon wandering through the labyrinthine Museum of Natural History -- taking in the myriad exhibits on the science of the universe and mankind's growth throughout the millennia. We followed this up with a walk through a street fair in the kind of crisp air which can only herald the dawn of autumn, then an evening at my agent's place on the Upper West Side, drinking wine on the terrace and watching twilight descend over the city in shades of blue and purple, providing a view which was beautifully augmented by the rise of a giant and glowing full moon.

This morning, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on a leather coat and wandered out onto a relatively quiet York Avenue to grab a cup of coffee and a few provisions for the refrigerator. Given that I had no intention of straying very far from my apartment, I neglected to bring along my iPod -- an accoutrement which is attached to my person with the regularity of a soldier's sidearm. The lack of Dave Brubeck pumping into my head (the perfect soundtrack to a Sunday morning in Manhattan, I believe) of course meant that my ears were open to the sounds of the city itself.

It meant that I was able to listen to and fully appreciate the conversations taking place outside of St. Monica's Catholic Church on East 79th Street.

On the steps of the church sat a mother and what I assume were her two young children; she was explaining to them Christ's inarguable plan for their lives. Not far away, I strode alongside a family which had apparently just exited Sunday mass; the children were -- as children do -- innocently questioning the dogma which the priest had just laid out for them in no uncertain terms. It made me smile and shake my head -- a somewhat ironic gesture for a somewhat ironic moment.

Here were a group of children -- willing to no doubt thoroughly buy into the existence of Santa Claus -- asking logical questions about a professed truth which even to their young minds seemed incomprehensible. Their parents' predictable response to this curiosity?

Just trust us; you have to believe because that's the way it is.

Suffice to say, it took me back.

As it's Sunday, perhaps a confession is in order: I was raised in a Christian household.

To many, this will come as absolutely no surprise; it takes a fierce knowledge of -- and an even fiercer indoctrination to -- a given belief to eventually wage war against its tenets in any meaningful way. At some point -- exactly when, I can't recall -- I made a personal decision that religion in general and Christianity in particular, was nothing more than absurdist wishful thinking -- and that in this day and age, it's more likely to get you killed by those with equal but opposite views of the hereafter than it is to create a more ethical and moral Earth for the totality of mankind to reside upon.

Needless to say, a majority of America and the world disagrees with me -- which as far as I'm concerned in no way substantiates its opposing position. For some reason, we've come to accept Validation Through Democracy: the idea that the larger the group to adhere to a belief, the more likely it is for that belief to be accurate. Obviously, this is nonsense; it's entirely possible for a very large group of people to believe something that is completely false. At the risk of proving Godwin's Law -- it's important to remember that Hitler once had the overwhelming support of his people.

Many of those who are true believers in the concept of religion -- of course -- are parents. It is also -- of course -- these parents who instill their religious beliefs in their children; essentially creating an inherited fear of God in the same way an inherited eye-color, acquiescence to the parents' ideas of right and wrong, and even the parents' political beliefs are passed along. The end result is that religion becomes simply another ill-fitting hand-me-down. As I witnessed first-hand on the street today -- kids will believe whatever their parents tell them; insist that they must be "saved" and accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and it will take years for them to believe otherwise (that is, if they ever do -- as opposed to simply passing down to their own kids the beliefs they themselves never thought to question).

If you'd like a frightening example of the dangers of this kind of indoctrination, go see the new documentary Jesus Camp. True, the film highlights only the most fervent of Christian extremists, but make no mistake that the ambition of these extremists is to claim the United States of America for Christ. They want nothing less than the dawn of a new theocracy, and -- to borrow a line from George Benson by way of Whitney Houston -- they believe the children are their future.

The film focuses on the "Kids on Fire" camp which is located (ironically) at Devil's Lake, North Dakota. While there, children are forcefully instructed how to become "Christian Warriors" -- the eventual frontline in the battle to win the hearts, minds and souls of America; it's essentially a Jedi camp for Fundamentalist Christians, with a rather unassuming pastor named Becky Fischer playing the part of Yoda. Some of the film's most trenchant images are of children -- most under the age of ten -- weeping openly, speaking in tongues, praying before a large cardboard stand-up of George W. Bush (an image, coincidentally, with roughly the same IQ as the real President Bush), and talking about their initial desire to be "saved" because -- at the astute age of five -- they realized that they simply needed something "more" in their lives.

It would all be hilarious, if it weren't so utterly disturbing.

Some have seen the movie and have called the tactics and methods used on these children nothing short of brainwashing; Unfortunately, it's simply parents doing what many parents do: passing their beliefs down to their children, and giving them no other real option. Kids generally want to please their parents during their formative years, so if, as a parent, you tell your kids that they should believe the sun revolves around the Earth -- or that they need to be saved by Jesus Christ -- you can be all but assured that that's exactly what they'll do.

Understand, neither Pastor Becky Fischer nor the mothers and fathers who send their children to Camp Kids on Fire care one bit about my opinions or beliefs; to them, I'm to be at the very least pitied for what will surely be an eternity in hell -- or at the most, despised for openly wishing to inflict my belief in logic and reason on the rest of the planet, which would inevitably turn it away from their "One True God."

This leads me to confession number two: for a very short time (not even a full year, for reasons which should be obvious) I went to a Fundamentalist Southern-Baptist school.

For the record, my parents sent me to Dade Christian School not because they were zealots or in fact subscribed at all to the school's extremist take on Christianity; I went there because it was right up the street from my home as a teenager and because it actually did offer an excellent education. Unfortunately, with that education came indoctrination; Dade Christian was -- and still is, unless raided by the ATF at some point -- the kind of school which force-fed students Evangelical dogma to the point of exerting a chilling level of control over not just their lives in school, but at home as well. Children weren't allowed to hold hands -- in school or out -- dance, attend rock concerts or generally do the things that normal kids often do. Important to mention at this point is the fact that the students who either truly believed the teachings of the school or simply hoped to ingratiate themselves with the teachers could be counted on to report the behavior of those kids who broke the rules outside of the school gates back to the almighty administration. Dade Christian School operated as if it were an occupied city -- complete with traitorous spies and a Vichy student government.

It goes without saying that I was less than popular with the occupying force -- acting as the metaphorical insurgent who wandered the streets painting a giant red V over each Bible verse.

The clash of beliefs however reached critical mass in the wake of a tragedy.

A few years before enrolling at Dade Christian, I became friends with a young girl who lived up the street from me. Her name was Debby, and she and I would meet most afternoons to play kickball and generally get into trouble. We had both recently passed the point in life where boys and girls loathed each other, which meant that there was an odd but undeniable undertone of intimate curiosity to our relationship. We liked each other -- quite a bit in fact; we had the kind of relationship which was tinged with a level of youthful discovery that in retrospect brings a bittersweet smile to my face.

At some point however, it just stopped; she still lived up the street from me, but for a reason unknown to me at the time she simply seemed to disappear.

It was later, during my first day at Dade Christian, that I ran into Debby again. She was warm and kind to me, but strangely distant. I did my best to put it out of my head; I figured I would need all of my mental faculties to resist the school's relentless day-to-day proselytism.

Debby and I never really talked again; we never got the chance to.

A few months after my encounter with her, there was a fire not far from my house. I awoke to the sound of firetrucks screaming past my window and quickly rushed outside to see what was going on -- running after the trucks until I saw what exactly had dragged them to my quiet neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Debby's home was on fire.

I stood silently, bathed in flashes of deep-red as the lights from the trucks created a chaos of long shadows and violent bursts of color. I watched Debby's mother -- whom I'd never actually spoken to -- cry loudly and collapse into a firefighter's arms. I never saw Debby come out; the reason is because she didn't.

I walked home numb -- a lack of feeling which lasted well into the next day at school. It was there -- surrounded by tearful students and teachers, comforting each other with the knowledge that Debby was in a better place -- that something overcame me. My numbness was replaced by something else: sheer fucking rage. I didn't doubt the honesty or sincerity of those who grieved at Dade Christian School, I did however doubt that they ever knew the Debby that I did; they never saw the truly beautiful young girl underneath the thick topcoat of artifice with which they had covered her through the perpetual insistence that there was something wrong with her -- that she needed to be "saved," and needed to denounce her humanity -- herself. To those who truly believed the teachings I was inundated with daily, Debby was simply another lucky Christian soul gone to heaven.

My anger finally exploded just a few days later, during the memorial service held for my friend at the New Testament Baptist Church, which ran Dade Christian School. It was there that something so hideous happened that I have no doubt of its impact on my view of religion since. During the service, the silver-haired pastor -- a man who looked as if he came right out of Central Casting -- stood on the stage and uttered these words:

"Perhaps something good can come from Debby's death. Perhaps it can teach you all that you can be taken from this world at any moment, and that you cannot take your immortal soul for granted. You have to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior now, because there may not be a tomorrow."

He then urged those who were saved or wished to be to come up to the stage to bear witness for all of those in the crowd.

It was at that moment that I got up and walked out.

I was in the outer lobby of the church -- pacing and shaking with what I feared was an uncontrollable fury -- when one of my teachers, one I happened to like, came out to find me. She asked me if I was alright, and that was when I let everything inside me come bursting out.

I tried to keep my voice down, but I wound up seething and spitting anger through clenched teeth. I told her that what was going on just behind those double-doors was wrong. I told her that she couldn't possibly condone that kind of macabre exploitation of a student who sat in one of her classes just days ago. I told her that there was no reason for Debby's death, nor the death of any other kid -- and that justifying or rationalizing that kind of tragedy was simply outrageous. I told her she couldn't possibly believe in a god that would allow such groundless suffering. I told her the death of a young girl was just fucking wrong.

And then I cried.

Rather than defend the grotesque spectacle taking place just a few feet from us, the teacher simply nodded her head in acknowledgement.

But there were others who didn't -- who wouldn't; they were children -- like the baleful faces at Camp Kids on Fire -- who have been the targets of so much religious agitprop throughout their formative years, from parents who believe that they're doing God's will, that they truly believe that the death of one of their own would offer a silver-lining in the form of an object lesson from on high. At the risk of being too provocative, you have to ask yourself: if this kind of manipulation of children were coming from anyone but those who preach the dominion of Jesus, would we as a nation tolerate it?

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Museum of Natural History. As we took in the exhibits on the earliest incarnation of the universe, the earliest incarnation of man, and the fossils which act as a concrete testament to the existence of dinosaurs -- it dawned on me that there are children in this country who believe none of it. They deny proven fact because their parents do. They've learned to demand nothing less than a new age of unreason.

Which is nothing compared to demanding that the death of one of them be accepted as the unquestionable work of a god who operates in ways we're not meant to understand.

The best we can hope for, is that they grow out of it.


Deacon Blue said...

I understand your points, Chez, but I would no more raise my daughter in a religious vacuum than I would raise her to embrace conservative Republican values.

Fact is, we as parents will raise children with our values.

The important part ISN'T that the kid grow out of those values necessarily; the important part is that the parents be willing to not only raise the kids with those values but ALSO let the kids know that as they mature, they are allowed to question, deviate from and even reject those values...but that they will still be loved regardless.

Al said...

Sky Wizard™ Camp isn't new - it was made in 2006. Look for the scene with the dynamic young pastor Ted "I got busted with a meth dealing male prostitute" Haggard.

votar said...

This article isn't about values.
This article is about religion.

Deacon Blue said...

I think you're splitting hairs, Votar, because the thrust of my point is unchanged regardless. Religion is the source of many of my values, many of the ways I approach life and how I frame my spiritual reality. You can choose to question the existence of a spiritual reality, but I don't.

Values. Religion. Whatever.

My point is that as a parent, what am I going to hand down to my child but my beliefs? We raise children within the framework of our views and our values and yes, that includes our religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Later, it will be up to the child to accept it, or not. Just as it will be up to the parent to love the child regardless...or be considered a very huge turd in my opinion if they don't still love that child regardless.

So, whether you use "values" or use "religion" it's all the same. We pass down what we have, and there is nothing *inherently* wrong with that.

What I take away from Chez's post, as beautiful and moving as it is, is that somehow religious parents should shy away from telling their children about those religious beliefs, or should downplay their faith. Or that tragedies, when couched within a religious belief system, are somehow automatically devalued in the process (they can be, but that isn't a *necessary* result).

Then again, man, I've had only four hours of sleep each of the past couple nights, and I've got a buttload of client work and maybe I've pegged Chez's fears/complaints all wrong. And I'm not even arguing most of his points and concerns, but rather noting that it is natural for religion to be passed down through the generations, and not pathological.

In the end, I agree with Chez that Dade Christian and the Jesus Camp thing probably trend toward indoctrination. I'm not keen on that. But within the family, I think that it is both impractical and ill-advised for parents to fail to share their religion with their children and to even want them to engage in activities with a religious bent to them from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a religious family. I tried, so very, VERY hard to make sense of it, to feel what the rest of my family professed to feel, to "know".

I read the Bible cover to cover by the age of 9. I knew many of the quotable scriptures by heart. I studied Revelations and Isaiah just because I wanted to know what others in my religion didn't. I wanted to UNDERSTAND.

Yet, eventually, I came to the realization that it didn't make sense. It didn't come together for me. I wanted it to. I really, REALLY wanted it to. In the end all religion was to me was the same prattle spilled over a pulpit for the masses week in and week out. A tool simply used to keep people "in line", "to become better".

My infuriation with religion only became more severe with age. As I came into my teens, I eventually started pegging real world reasons to "god's commandments", and I don't even necessarily mean the big ten.

Stuff like, "don't have sex before marriage", "don't swear", etc. All of these have real, applicable reasons why they shouldn't be done, and it isn't because "God said so".

I tried to bring this up, that perhaps we should focus on real doctrine in our meetings, rather than topics which could be covered by real world knowledge and reasons. I certainly think the risk of raising a kid and/or coming home to mom with herpes is a much better reason to wait for sex than "because God said marriage is sacred".

The highly religious never listen to facts. "God said so" is infinitely more important than gonorrhea.

Religion is a tool of society to control the common man. It needs no other explanation than "God wills it", no hard thinking required. "As long as what you are doing feels right, the Lord will be with you in it."

To this day, I thank God (At least, assuming he exists) I had the ability to break away from organized religion. I can get all the spirituality I want now with none of the stupidity involved with religious politics and sermons and lessons.

God, I need a beer.

Zeromark said...

As someone who studied college level theology as one of my majors in school, I feel for you here Chez.

I have been challenged before by fundamentalists of both sides of the theist/atheist argument, and it gets frustrating trying to balance faith and reason when the "Jesus Camp" crowd is in sheer shock of my questioning of established doctrine, and the hard-line atheist crowd sneers at my reverence for both the divine and the poetry of theology itself.

The problem is, at least in the evangelical crowd, doubt is never taught as a natural, normal qualitiy of humanity, much less a good one. Doubt means that we're still human, that we're asking questions, that we seek to understand something. If we're just told to accept it on blind faith, they shouldn't be surprised when people reject it.

votar said...

Hand down self-reliance.
Hand down exuberant creativity.
Hand down voracious curiosity.
Hand down insatiable hunger for intellectual nourishment.
Hand down respect for discipline.
Hand down civility towards others.
Hand down veneration of family.
Hand down obligation to community.
Hand down energetic drive for physical well being.
Hand down persistence.
Hand down tenacity.
Hand down humility.
Hand down dignity.
Hand down wonderment.
Hand down industriousness.
Hand down simplicity.
Hand down harmony.
Hand down a disgust for gullibility.
Hand down knowledge to thwart manipulation.
Hand down disdain of ignorance.

You see, there are a great, great many other things to hand down to one's child but your beliefs. None of these -- not one of them -- relies on, or flows from, an intangible guilt/reward construct invented generations ago as a primitive attempt to demystify the complexities of the physical universe. They are simply, unconditionally, and without need of justification, correct.

There is a cavernous gulf between the simple obligation to teach children meaningful positive values, and the anachronistic indoctrination of superstition. The difference can not be more plain, nor can it be argued that the two concepts are at all interchangeable. They are not.

Values develop in individuals, in families, in communities, in societies, as ways to promote positive welfare, and minimize negative consequences. Laws evolve from values according to the mechanisms of governments. Religion is a framework that filters, redirects, dilutes, burdens, and attempts to control awareness of Values. This can be illustrated:

"Don't kill your neighbor, or God will punish you."

It is beyond obvious that everything after the comma in that sentence is unnecessary. The Value being taught, "Do Not Murder," remains valid, pure, and indivisible, without the extra words which act to exaggerate and change the fundamental meaning. The interjection of a reminder of punishment is just a mechanism of control: since God's punishment is the implied consequence of murder, some agent must be put in place to interpret and carry out this result. Thus is born religion.

Murder was an extreme but easily deconstructed example (you can easily substitute one which instead lays out a positive reward for Good Acts, and observe that the Act would still be Good, despite the reward). Pick any other issue, simple or complex, and you will find the greasy fingerprints of superstition all over it. Just look around at the state of the world, and at what these ancient rituals of guilt and intolerance and righteousness and zealotry have wrought. The world is in this state because we as a species still have not shrugged away the yoke that chokes us off from the realization that it is possible to teach our children to be good to one another without the deceit of a bogeyman to frighten them into submission, and goad them into idolatry.

Anonymous said...

Aint it funny that the religious believe the rest of us exist in a morale vacuum. To me belief and morale values are common sense, backed up with a bit of background work (dont take someone elses word for it)

Its like reading up on the JFK assasination (oh ur a conspiracy theorist). Those unlightend members actually still believe it happened as discussed in the Warren report. However a bit of digging....and it all becomes planly a ficticious lie.. just like the bible.

I to had a similar experience with my best friend being killed in Lebanon, not from shells but from a school gas explosion.

You guessed it, some religious pompous ass said 'god decided it was his time'.

After they got up off the floor i retorted 'god didn't tell you that was comming wanker did it'...annoyed.... slightly.

when will religious people get on with it without trying to explain that some beardy guy with the voice of james mason isn't actually watching over us, and that there are some great hobbies to take up instead.

Pants said...

I'm sorry but I have to agree wholeheartedly with every word in this post. Yesterday I found out my cousin, who is like a brother to me, can no longer be treated for his HIV and is dying from it at just 26 years old. The people Chez is chastising in this post, believe that he deserves this cruel fate because he is gay and atheist. This pains me in ways I can not put into words. What I can articulate, is that on days like these, I fear the generation that is being raised not to ask questions, to have blind faith. Because even though there are many good values that are described in scripture (Testaments, Thora AND Koran), there are just as many dated and unjust judgements being passed on to these blank slates that are children's minds, teaching them to hate people they don't even know and will never get to know, because their god dismisses them for merely being who they are.

Deacon Blue said...

Let's not mischaracterize me, though I know it's easy since I can't exactly put a manifesto in the comments.

I never suggested that people without religion exist in a moral vacuum. I simply said that believing in a spiritual aspect to life, it is ridiculous for me to raise my children in a religious vacuum.

I never said that all values and morals flow from religion. I don't teach my children to do the right thing because God will punish them if they don't. I teach values for the sake of values. But, religion plays a part in that value system. If I see us all as being with spirits/souls, then we are interconnected at a level far more than just the physical. Therefore, it is important to me to impart on my children that what they do affects more than just the physical and emotional state of others.

It's all well and good to make fun of people with religion as being superstitious. You're welcome to believe that. But it doesn't take away from the fact that what we believe and what we hold dear is what we will pass to our children. Period. That's part of loving my kid, and I won't be made to be ashamed of it.

Yes, ridicule my "invisible man in the sky"; I don't mind. That's your prerogative. But don't paint me as someone who couches everything in religion. Shit, most of my comments around here have zero to do with religion. Many of the posts on my blog have little to do with religion.

If you don't see me wandering around her waggling my finger at folks, why do you think I'm doing that to my kids. For me, religion and spirituality isn't about explaining the universe or providing a fear of God to instill obedience. It's about something more prodound, broader and deeper than that to me.

And what's so wrong with that? Does my belief in a spiritual world and a God who have expectations and hopes for us really fuck things up for anyone else?

Again, I AGREE with Chez that many people take it too far. Shit, most GOP faithful take their political bullshit too far, too. Human nature, folks. There are always idiots and always repressive institutions.

I started this with a simple commment that I thought projected a concise thought and sentiment.

Now it seems I've spawned a backlash of assumptions and blowback.

Did I cast a stone at someone and not notice? Is the mere expression of my religion and a statement that it is part of my family life so provocative?

burke said...

Deacon, I think you stand outside the "mainstream" of religion in that you are accepting of other people's views. I know there are others like you but most of them aren't willing to publicly admit it.

I, for one, always appreciate your viewpoint and the fact that you are willing to engage in thoughtful discussion.

Deacon Blue said...

@ burke:
I realize I'm a bit outside the mainstream of Christianity...but much like the GOP and the American auto industry, someone's got to be willing to step outside. And folks have got to realize that while there are lot of idiot Christians, not all of them are, and you don't just throw out the whole thing (just like there are lots of idiot Republicans, but not all of them, and throwing out the party is ill advised)

I'm sorry if I seem defensive in the past comment or two, and I even vented on my own blog about this less than an hour ago, largely because I didn't have any other ideas for the day's post. But it just seemed that my initial comment was so damned innocent and neutral that I was surprised it triggered anything, and even more surprised when my clarification triggered more.

Again, I'm operating on too little sleep right now...I'm sure Chez can sympathize.

Big Man said...

I came over from Deac's blog.

I posted something at my spot about religion and how it's discussed by people.

I just wanted to say that I understand the antipathy that many of you have for religion and religious people. I particularly understand it from those of you who view the concept of "meeting God" as some sort of foolishness.

I don't agree with you and I find some of your comments to be insulting as a person of faith, but I'm just going to take that as a challenge to do a better job of presenting my faith.

Good day.

Gunny Geek said...

"I don't agree with you and I find some of your comments to be insulting as a person of faith, but I'm just going to take that as a challenge to do a better job of presenting my faith."

Why is it you feel you have to "do a better job"? Your faith is your business, and those that want to hear it are those already in agreement. If you really understood the antipathy, you would know it stems from being inundated with proclamations like the one above. You find some comments insulting, but fail to consider that you "presenting your faith" might be insulting to someone else.

Anonymous said...

(Anon from 1:23 A.M.)
@ Big Man: On the contrary, I find the idea of meeting God most intriguing. I would be interested to meet him now, this second. No, not just interested, ecstatic. Who wouldn't want to meet their creator if they thought they had one?

To me, that doesn't change the fact that organized religion is run in a way that promotes sheepism, the idea that questioning is wrong, and that if there is no answer to your question(s), that you need more faith and shouldn't doubt God, because he has all the answers, knows what's best for you, and if we as people knew everything we wouldn't be able to have faith because we would know everything, yada yada.....

Why can't people in religion simply say, "I don't know. Perhaps you should talk to someone with more information." Instead of just shrugging issues off as matters of faith, why not direct questions to known theologists within your religion? If that theologist doesn't have the answer, maybe one of his colleagues does. If nobody does, then the suggestion might be that the person with the question should work hard to obtain the answer to his question (through whatever religious method is preferred for spiritual enlightenment in your religion), not just rely on faith to sort things out.

Isn't this a rather simple idea that would actually make sense and promote the advancement of religious knowledge and learning, and therefore faith as a side effect?

Honestly, if that sort of thinking had gone on when I was still involved in religious matters, I might've become a theologist. Now, whenever someone talks about religion, I expect nothing but ridiculous blathering crap coming out of their mouth, because the average churchgoer is usually theologically retarded and only relies on the spiritual scraps they get tossed from their pastor every Sunday.

The worst part is that religious individuals have nobody else to blame. Can't blame God, because he's perfect. Can't blame the religion (Except Scientology, blame that all you like), because the doctrine in many religions makes at least moral sense. It's how organized religion has been approached in the last couple thousand years (if not longer) that makes it an embarrassment to intelligent thought. What kind of God would tell you to stop thinking and just obey because you simply "need more faith"?

I believe in a God who wants us to find out all the answers, if only we'd get out of our own damn way and try to find them.

Deacon Blue said...

@ Gunny Geek,

I'm not going to post any more on this thread after this, but I do want you to do a tad bit of self-examination on a couple items that strike me after reading your comment.

1. Presenting one's faith isn't always about getting in someone's face and trying to convert them. It's about being a good model/representative of the faith. Would you ask someone to hide their sexuality, political beliefs, etc.?

2. You are so angry that our faith is "insulting" by its mere existence...don't you see that we would perceive that as unwarranted hostility? Neither I nor Big Man have tried to prosteletize here, nor even give a big diatribe about religious values, now did we? If our faith is publicly questioned or ridiculed, why wouldn't it be our place to defend in, at least in some small way? If someone attacked your beliefs/philosophy/etc. wouldn't you speak up? Why must people of faith shut up where others might be encouraged to speak their mind and defense their view?

Anyway, that's it. I'm only asking you to self-examine, not to answer my questions. And I didn't come here to start a debate. And I am, now, officially done. If you want to take that as an invitation to attack me without me launching any responses in kind, feel free to shred me mercilessly if it makes you feel better.

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