Diane Silver

My Christianity Problem

Filed By Diane Silver | August 30, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christian beliefs, revenge

I am three months into my 12-month Goodness Project, and I gay-churchs600x600.jpgthink I should probably turn in my goodness card. I blew up -- via email -- at a well-meaning Christian who wrote to tell me that all I needed was prayer to find the Holy Spirit. This happened about a week ago. I've been mulling over the incident ever since and have realized that I need to make a confession: I have a Christianity problem.

To be specific, I'm rather famous among my friends for responding with an instantly arched back, flattened ears, puffed up fur, bared fangs and a loud, prolonged hiss to any mention of Jesus, Christ, the Bible or traditional churches. Like a tabby that turns a corner to unexpectedly bump into a pit bull, I find myself thrown into battle mode.

This is decidedly odd given that some of my best friends are Christians. I'm not joking. Two of them are even ministers. I vacation with them, laugh, debate and explore spirituality with them. These two aren't mere acquaintances. They're call-in-the-middle-of-the-night-when-I'm-desperate friends.

I attend services every Sunday at a Unity Church, a denomination that until recently billed itself as "practical Christianity." My personal creed is best described as Buddhist/New Age/Spiritual. Nothing in it demands a rejection of other religions, and I serve on the church's board. Many members of this close-knit spiritual community are Christians. We get along well.

My hostile reaction to Christianity is personally puzzling, but it's also an issue for the Goodness Project. If nothing else, I doubt whether I can find or even understand goodness if I'm eaten up with hate for a portion of humanity.

So what gives?

I suspect that my reaction grows from many seeds, but I didn't see what may be the biggest source until this week. To explain, I must digress and tell a story. This tale has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with anger.

From 1979 to 1985, I studied karate with the Feminist Self Defense and Karate Association. About a quarter of our work focused on self-defense. On this particular day in a World War I-era gym at Michigan State University, we were learning to defend against club-wielding attackers. The technique is simple. When an attacker runs at you with the intent of clubbing you on the head, you step to the side at the precise moment he swings. If done correctly, your side step leaves only air for the attacker to hit.

The trick is in the timing. Move too early, and the attacker adjusts his swing and hits you. Move too late, and the result is equally painful. The only way to practice timing is to do it, so we were to divide into groups of two, and arm ourselves with rolled-up newspapers.

On this day, a new student had arrived at my nearly all-female school. This guy was about 6 feet tall and muscular in a hulking, steroid-enhanced, wrestler kind of way. His gi (those white pajama thingies martial artists wear) barely contained his body. He wore a white belt, designating that he was a beginner, and he terrified me. He chatted politely with other students and smiled, but the mere fact he was in the room scared me.

That's because of my father. Dad taught me many things: to take pride in my work, always strive for excellence and to know terror. He abused me to the point where I alternated between wanting to die, and believing that I was going to any minute. On the day of this karate class, I didn't want to be put in a self-defense situation with any man, particularly a big one. As our teacher, Joan Nelson, paired up the students, I silently chanted "Don't put me with that guy, don't put me with that guy."

She put me with that guy.

Nelson lined us up in two rows, facing each other. I got the rolled-up newspaper and was to play the role of attacker first. At the teacher's command, the other attackers and I were supposed to yell, raise the newspapers over our heads, run at the defenders and try to hit them. We were supposed to make it realistic.

My teacher gave the command. On both sides of me, students shouted and dashed good-naturedly at the defenders.

The moment I raised my newspaper, I was enraged. There was no logic to it; all I was doing was feeling. I bellowed and ran at this man as fast as I could. I wanted nothing less than to kill that bastard. Once, twice I ran at him, swung the bludgeon and hit only air, getting more furious by the minute. On the third pass, I swung as hard as I could as he started to step to the side. I hit him solidly on the shoulder.

He flexed it and smiled sheepishly.

My fury drained away. I blinked. Like a blurry film jerking into focus, this fearsome creature suddenly shrank from hulking to slender. He wasn't half as big as I had thought. "Sorry I hit you so hard," I said.

"You are really fast," he said.

I laughed.

After that, we completed the exercise in the same friendly manner as everyone else, and I learned something far more important than a self-defense technique: I feel enraged when I feel powerless. Like a surprised tabby cat bumping into a dog, I use anger to puff myself up when I think I'm in a hopeless battle. Once I hit my practice partner and knew I wasn't helpless against him, my anger dissipated.

Here's what this story has to do with my feelings about Christianity: Christians terrify me. I am strong and capable, but part of me feels like a powerless child who can't withstand the Christian onslaught. I'm a 10-pound cat facing a 120-pound pit bull and the snarling beast is frothing at the mouth.

I'm an out lesbian and a non-Christian living in nation where more than 75 percent of the people are Christian. A healthy chunk of those folks are fundamentalists, Mormons and conservative Catholics who expend enormous effort and money to limit my legal rights and hurt my family. A tiny portion of those people, like my neighbor the Rev. Fred Phelps, believe I should be put to death for no other reason than who I am.

Preachers and priests rail against me from the pulpit. Churches and Christian organizations campaign against my family. In the process, they stereotype me as a vicious sexual predator or a sex addict. (A homosexual will have 10,000 sexual partners, and they're always looking for new victims, claims the pastor of a church in suburban Kansas City. I haven't had even 5 sexual partners in my life, let along 10,000. I don't even know how you would do that. When would you buy groceries, do laundry, go to work?)

I joke about this minister's outrageous claim, but I also worry about how many of the 4,000 members of his congregation believe him. How many of them would deny me work, or beat me up because he has convinced them I'm a threat? When I'm not being pilloried by Christians for being queer, I'm being exhorted to ignore my own experiences and my own spiritual journey and accept "Jesus Christ as my Savior."

So this is my Christianity problem: some Christians have hurt me and continue to want to hurt me and the people I hold most dear. I'm having a horrible time figuring out how to handle my feelings about that fact.

Intellectually, I know every Christian isn't anti-gay or disrespectful of other people's religious beliefs, but my little girl self doesn't live in the land of logic. My little girl self wants to hurt them as much as they've hurt me. I can be the closest of friends with Christians if I know they don't seek my destruction. I can accept their theology, and support their worship. However, I also feel powerless to withstand what feels like a continuous assault from a portion of Christianity. My smallest, most frightened self is too scared to wait to determine if an individual Christian is friend or foe; I just want to verbally attack the instant I meet one.

But here's a fact about powerlessness that's surprising. I learned two lessons that day in karate. I learned that my anger is fueled by feelings of helplessness, but I also learned that my feelings distort my perception. My hapless practice partner was much smaller than I could see at first. What am I missing in my great tussle with Christians? What am I unable to see about them?

I've read that some Christians are just as frightened of me as I am of them. They think I want to destroy their way of life, take their Bibles, or close their churches. (I don't.) I think they're the pit bull, and I'm the helpless tabby. Do they think I'm the attack dog, and they're the cat?

I refuse to be governed by fear. I refuse to be fueled by hate and a thirst for revenge, and I refuse to add to the demonize-the-opposition poison that is sickening our society. I want to let go of my anger at Christians.

I have no instant cure for the dilemma of my feelings. I won't deny the real pain some Christians have inflicted on me. But I suspect that I'm not as powerless as I fear. Once I can understand -- right down to my socks -- that I frighten some of them as much as they scare me, then perhaps, just perhaps, I can finally let go and see every Christian as an individual. Maybe someday I won't feel the need to strike out at them. Maybe someday I can learn to give all Christians the benefit of the doubt. I'd certainly like them to do that for me.

Cross posted from www.InSearchOfGoodness.com.


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"I'm an out lesbian and a non-Christian living in nation where more than 75 percent of the people are Christian. A healthy chunk of those folks are fundamentalists, Mormons and conservative Catholics who expend enormous effort and money to limit my legal rights and hurt my family."

Only one-third of Americans are the Christians that give you trouble. The other two-thirds actually believe you are equal. We spend too much time promoting the crazy fundamentalists, instead of embracing those that already support us and our equality.

The problem with Christianity is that it needs to grow up. It needs to evolve (sorry) and join the 21st Century. Sooner or later Christian denominations must reject (formally) the traditional Christian belief that homosexuality is wrong. Simply hanging a rainbow flag and "welcoming" us isn't enough. They need to be courageous and part with ancient teachings/beliefs. I hope this begins to happen. If not, Christianity will continue its decline.

I appreciate your journey and I'm glad you shared it. I spent many years exploring religion and after learning there are more than 40,000 different religions (including more than 20,000 Christians) I simply concluded they are all "stories." Some of them are terrific, others not so much.

The realization I had was an honest, objective understanding that nobody knows and that's okay. I don't know, neither do you, and that's okay.

I think religion should be a personal matter. If someone wants to believe a story that is their choice. Trying to convince thinking people it is the "correct" choice is another matter. Injecting religious beliefs into government is even more offensive.

If someday we are able to leave our religious beliefs home, we might actually realize we can work together - beautifully and effectively.

Thanks for the comment, AndrewW. I appreciate your perspective. Personally, I think there are many paths up the mountain to enlightenment. Different people need different paths. Part of my path is to seek to understand myself when I act out of anger or fear, which is something I do when I stereotype Christians. I hate that because I know what it feels like to be stereotyped.

Great post.

This is definitely something that we need to keep in mind - anger doesn't come from power, it comes from powerlessness. And because many people are being lied to about us, they feel genuinely powerless and fearful. I remember an Bobby Parker post on this site about how when he was in the LDS church he assumed the gays were as well-organized, well-funded, and politically savvy as they were. Then he came out and got into LGBT activism and learned the sad truth.

Alex, that Bobby Parker story is hilarious, and so true, at least from the point of view of the "invincible" might of LGBT activism. Thanks for your kind comment.

Like you, I hiss and spit at religion at my door (to quote John Cale, in a video below). But I'm curious about the sentiment expressed in statements like these:

"In the process, they stereotype me as a vicious sexual predator or a sex addict."

"I've read that some Christians are just as frightened of me as I am of them. They think I want to destroy their way of life, take their Bibles, or close their churches. (I don't.)"

While the worst stereotypes are of us as "sexual predators" and "sex addicts," (and they are among the most extreme) the phrases are simply code for people who admit to having and liking sex (and, as we know from countless exposes, conservative Christians' sex lives are way more kinky and fascinating than anything most of us could dream up. They just don't admit to it). And they raise the issue: what of gays who are "sex addicts" or have sex with younger people, not always in predatory fashion (I won't go into the onerous nature of sex offender laws governing intergenerational sex, which are ridiculous and on the way, hopefully, to being overturned). As to the second statement, I know lots of queers and straights who do have deep problems with churches and bibles and do want to destroy that way of life. What could be wrong with that? They have no desire to change the church from the inside and know too well the deeply damaging role it has played in society.

My point is: while your post is good at explaining why you have a problem with religion, it doesn't go much farther than a call to inclusivity. Which is to say, you start off with what seemed like an interesting and provocative set of statements but in the end capitulate to the conservative impulse that we're all the same.

Perhaps you didn't really want to go as far as I would have liked, but I just wanted to point out that the issue should not be whether or not gays are hyper-sexual or anti-religion, but that many of them are. The more difficult conversation to have among ourselves is about figuring that out instead of stamping out any evidence that many of us are, in fact, a lot like the scary monsters portrayed by the religious types. And we rather like it that way.

Ack, I copied from the wrong tab!

Here, finally, is John Cale:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4e3uAFk9hw

Yasmin,

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I'm actually not intending for this post to be a call for inclusivity, but as a call for us to dig beneath our knee-jerk emotional reactions and to understand ourselves. The better I understand myself, the more I can respond in a way that feels better to me. From a practical point of view, my experience in politics has also taught me that responding in anger doesn't do much to win a vote or change a mind.

But I believe the situation is far more complex then just learning to be a better activist. I know what it's like to be stereotyped, and I don't want to do that to anyone else. Human beings are far too individual to paint any group of us as being all alike, even those who belong to one religion.

What's tricky about what I'm writing and trying to understand is the absolute fact that THEY have done great harm to US, that THEY and US are not alike at all... except in the ways that we are. I have no intention of giving a pass to people who have done such horribly destructive things.

But, we are all human beings. That doesn't mean I want to link arms and sing Kumbaya with those who appear bent on destroying me and my family. But it does mean that we both may be reacting out of a sense of powerlessness. And we both may be prone to misperception when we look at those who frighten us.

By the way, I don't believe that "sexual predators" and "sex addicts" always have to be code words for those who enjoy healthy sexuality. I enjoy healthy sexuality, abd I'm not a predator, but that's not what my post is about, and that is a discussion for another day.

I see where you're coming from, but I'd still point out that "sexual predators" and "sex addicts" is pretty loaded language, and not phrases we'd want to repeat without offering absolute clarity. And the phrases are absolutely germane to your original post - being with you on your argument requires us to first accept those phrases in an uncritical way.

As for: "But I believe the situation is far more complex then just learning to be a better activist." - well, that implies that becoming a better activist is somehow less than what you're suggesting, "a call for us to dig beneath our knee-jerk emotional reactions and to understand ourselves." First of all, what I outlined is by no means a "knee-jerk" reaction but, for most people, one that comes after many years of experience and understanding of how religion is deployed; and it does in fact involve "understand[ing] ourselves."

It's convenient to refer to anger/fierceness in politics as "knee-jerk" and therefore thoughtless but one could just as easily - and, I think, accurately - refer to what you advocate as: passive-aggressive posturing/hand-wringing that has taken us nowhere. Witness the meteoric rise of the Religious Right in this country - even those who vehemently disagree with them don't have the guts to call them out. The result is that they wield tremendous influence - the recent "controversy" around the Islamic Cultual Centre is just one example. You've got even the Dems and so-called centrists now trying to shut it down.

I really don't get "What's tricky about what I'm writing and trying to understand is the absolute fact that THEY have done great harm to US, that THEY and US are not alike at all... except in the ways that we are." This just sound really too Christian for me, so we'll have part ways here.

I really don't get "What's tricky about what I'm writing and trying to understand is the absolute fact that THEY have done great harm to US, that THEY and US are not alike at all... except in the ways that we are." This just sound really too Christian for me, so we'll have part ways here.

LOL! I am sooooooo not a Christian. What that sounds like to me is Gandhi, so maybe I'm a Hindu, but I'm actually much more of a Buddhist. It's a tradition I like because it doesn't focus on worship or God, but on helping people live clearer lives.

Finally, one thing I learned in karate was that it the clearer one's mind, the easier it is to fight.

And so it goes...

Best wishes to you, Yasmin.

You're not a Christian and yet, "I attend services every Sunday at a Unity Church, a denomination that until recently billed itself as "practical Christianity."

:-) I think Gandhi would quibble with you on that, but all the best.

Yasmin, you make me chuckle. Christianity isn't a virus. You don't get it by rubbing shoulders with Christians. For me to become Christian, I'd have to lie about my own spiritual beliefs/experiences, and my theology is far different than any Christian's. To me, Jesus was a nice guy and a very good teacher, who had some good things to say. Period. End of Story. FWIW, in my little New Age congregation, we discuss Buddha as much as Jesus. We have a tree, not a cross on the wall. We welcome all faiths and have members who are atheists. We're about community, seeking and understanding. Oh, and then there's our out-lesbian minister, but that's a topic for later.

Cheers!

Christianity, like any religion, is surrender. It replaces life as we define and understand it, with a story.

I agree with Yasmin - you can't be "a little pregnant." While I wouldn't call religion a "virus," it is understandable why many people would see it like that. I think it is bacteria and I hasten to add that there is good and bad bacteria. WE get to determine that.

Unless you want to be infected with everything that Christian means, you need a new name or identity. No denomination has the courage to be "new" Christians, so maybe we need a new religion. One that can learn from Jesus (and many others), but not surrender our own identity or have to endure the bad reputation of Christianity or the bigotry it has promoted for centuries.

I actually agree with Andrew.

And, Diane, I'll respect your views, at least the ones I can make sense of, but not the rather passive-aggressive way you have of turning my comments into something else altogether. Or of trying to dismiss them without really engaging them.

And, Diane, I'll respect your views, at least the ones I can make sense of, but not the rather passive-aggressive way you have of turning my comments into something else altogether. Or of trying to dismiss them without really engaging them.

Many apologies, Yasmin. It was not my intention to ignore or dismiss, and certainly not to be passive-aggressive. I think we simply disagree and may well misunderstand each other. We may well have had different experiences, which have provided us with different perspectives. I'm merely attempting to engage you and your ideas in a cheerful, friendly way.

I suspect that there is one thing we do agree on: The need to stand up, be out, fight back and speak our truth.

Take care.

Yasmin, you make me chuckle. Christianity isn't a virus. You don't get it by rubbing shoulders with Christians.

No, Christianity is not a virus ... but it is a [meme] and as such it can jump from one person to another via social and/or cultural contact.

You make a good point here Yasmin. That is why I adhere to a faith system that allows us to accept and even celebrate healthy sexuality.

Wow. Just what exactly do you mean by intergenerational sex being OK?

If you are suggesting adults having sex with children, I protest in the strongest terms.

No coherent thoughts to respond, just a sense of been there, done that. Perhaps something to do with my father, a hard-working, popular guy whose only response to disagreement in the family was to raise his voice more. I have much trouble with Authority.

I'm with you, in that I don't go to church any longer. I can't sit and listen to narratives that didn't happen, that couldn't happen. It jars me like a really bad chord in music. My husband is trained in language theory and happily goes to Evening Prayer three times a week. He recognizes that the people repeating these things are, in a way, pledging themselves to act more kindly and socially responsibly. Their good intentions sour for me, because they're validating belief without evidence. Works for them, because they're nice, and their politics are moderate. Look at what the right-wing is doing with uninformed and misinformed masses.

Sorry you took so many words to explain and justify a very reasonable reaction. People who think they know what you should do on the basis of myths and group think should put your back up.

Rev. Tara Lee | August 31, 2010 4:04 AM

I do believe in having a healthy respect for the enemy. To me christians who oppose my civil rights as an american citizen are to be opposed and faught with every fiber of my being. When the head of the catholic church says I don't exist because I am trnssexual and one cannot change the body god made, and i am going to burn in hell for this, then he and his followers are my enemy.

The same goes for Tony Perkins and james Dobson and the rest of those fear mongering tyrants of the old order. These are the folks that declared all social change after 1960 to be opposed as part of the cultural wars. They declared this cultural war. I didn't. I just want to live my life as who I am. And they won't let me.

Know your enemy. Respect their strength. But always fight your enemy also. Thats the only way we win.

Rev. Tara,

I send you much respect and much love. I, too, believe in fighting back with every fiber of my being, and I have done so for many years now. But if I become as hateful as some of the anti-equality forces, then I add to the poison in our society. I refuse to do that. So, here I am attempting something quite different: I'm calling them out on their bad behavior.

I'm calling them out on the fact that some of their behavior is downright evil, the consequences are horrible, and they have inflicted enormous pain on their fellow human beings. But I refuse to respond in kind. I agree with Gandhi that "an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind."

But I also think it's important for me to understand that stereotyping people is an equal evil. When I react like an enraged cat and refuse to give the benefit of the doubt, I'm stereotyping. I'm saying all Christians are the same, and they're not.

Hugs to you. Keep fighting the good fight.

Christianity isn't really one thing. It's a thousand different species huddling under one giant phylum. The same is true of any other religion. Some "Christians" use their bibles to kill, some to heal. The trick is knowing which species you're dealing with, and that's not easy.

And most don't use their bibles at all, save for decoration and social status.

I have had the pleasure of being physically thrown out of a bible study at one person's home. I learned that those that are least secure in their personal beliefs are the ones that are the most vocal and active about proctecting their religious space. The most accepting of difference are those that their beliefs are their bedrock, and thay can be flexible and accepting, because their foundation is solid.

In my opinion, the Cathloc priests that have made the step above the loval parish support are now on a power trip (to serve, but still a power trip)and the higher they ascend, the more the power trip and less seritude they are on and they enter the same realm of the power trippers like the Jack Walshes & the Martha Stewarts. They are still well founded in their beliefs, but they are afraid of others that can take away their power, hence they are again insecure and need to viciously defend their place, so they are no longer able to be flexible and accepting, seeing flexibility and acceptance as weakness.

What if your problem is not Fundamentalist Christianity? What if your main problem is the restrictive notion that: it is not OK to be not OK with someone/some group?

I felt much more free when I let go of the notion that I had to be OK with everyone. Some people are so superstitious and/or ignorant and/or hateful and/or hostile that I do not feel obliged to see them as my human brethren that I need to love- regardless. Sure, if I saw one drowning or about to step in front of a bus, I'd pull her out. However, I am comfortable with the idea that at least part of my motivation for such actions would be based in a holier-than-thou framework.

Thanks for that, Diane.
I think we all have those fears and anxieties- in varying degrees and forms- and your honesty and humor give a great perspective.
I've had my own problems with Christianists on my blog. This particular variety isn't interested in understanding, just preaching the most fearful of gospels- their Jesus and mine don't really have anything to do with each other.
Just know that there are lots of people pulling for you- me one of them.

I see lots of people who convert to my faith and who have unpleasant personal histories with Christianity. It can take quite a bit of work to get past it.
The approach that I have is not one of telling people that they should forgive and forget. It is ok to have a distaste for people who have wronged you but it needs to be in context and not be problematic by inspiring unpleasant behaviors.
Getting beyond the type of damage that Christianity and disordered thinking that that a very vocal group of Christians espouse can take a long long time.

My problem with christianity is their blatant righteousness founded in ignorance, beliefs that have no basis in fact, and then having the nerve to want to take those beliefs and legislate from them. That's my problem with christianity.

The term "Christian" isn't helpful anymore. If their are new Christians that have abandoned or rejected the traditional Christian teaching/belief that homosexuality is wrong - they need to come out of the closet.

The idea of "old" and "New Christians" seems to make sense. Which denominations are the New Christians? Any takers?

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How about:

Tolerant Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Jews...

Intolerant Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Jews...

Folks usually do not fall in the middle.

"Tolerant" means we have to be tolerated. I don't need to be tolerated, I need Christians to stop teaching that homosexuality is wrong.

So far, not a single Christian denomination has formally rejected that belief/teaching (not even MCC or UCC). Sure, a few hang a rainbow flag and "accept" or "tolerate" us, maybe even let us work there (Vicki Gene), but to make any real progress they need to part with the hateful belief/teaching that has defined us for centuries.

I don't understand how anyone who wants to be a Christian will sit in a Church that hasn't taken that important step. It seems counterproductive. Jesus wouldn't do that, would he?

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So many provocative comments, so little time to respond! I'm adding a few comments scattered about through the comment thread as I have time to write. And, thanks to everyone for reading my post and commenting.

Sadly many use Christianity to promote their views, try to gain political power, impose their own personal prejudice. This has been the case since the start of the Christian church. It however does not necessarily mean that the belief of Christianity is wrong or invalid. It just means many who claim to speak in the name of God do not do so. They who promotion of hate, division, or an air superiority or snobbery are not accurately living the way the teachings I read say. If one were to carry this to the other end of reason, what better way would someone wishing to spoil the Christian message within the greater church do that than to speak some of the hate promoted by some who claim to believe promote.

I will not claim to know the heart or judge those who say they speak with authority of God. I just find it impossible to reconcile my understanding to what they claim to say on God's behalf.

came across a link to a well written thesis, The Authoritarians, which explains this psychological style of being in the world.

http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

It is not like they can change or even want to. They can only see things in black and white terms and will only follow those they deem authorities.

Check it out and it will shed much light on fundamentalist types.

Thanks for this. I am going to read it.

I also appreciate the link. Many thanks!

I love the post. Thank you for sharing your insights. I am a former fundamentalist, and I am still healing from the spiritual abuse suffered as an adolescent and young adult. It really helps me to read stories of how others deal with Christianity. I still cannot step into any church, even an affirming one, without suffering panic. And while this does not help you, I am relieved to know I am not alone at feeling incredible anger.
So, just a thanks!

Having lived in the closet and with the fundamentalists for a good 35 years of my adulthood (I'm almost 40 now), I can see both sides and you're right, both sides fear the other side which makes each side fall way too easily into a "demonize the opposition" poison, which allows no compromises, no diplomacy or joint effort whatsoever. Each side will have it's own version of dogma which the other side will find distasteful or impossible which fuels the vicious cycle of helplessness, fear, defensiveness and even hate. (I'm reminded of Yoda here).

I think it's always a good idea to find some tenets, something good about everyone and even some dogmas. I am currently an independent thinker now, opposed to groupthink...it often makes me the enemy to everyone but at least I'm true to myself and I don't have to confront everyone or even insist on debate all the time. I often leave these kinds of things.

Now that this thread has fallen off Bilerico's front page, I'll venture to offer two points for you to consider, Diane:

(1) You are not the first "Hindu/Buddhist" to have trouble with fundamentalist Christians. Even Gandhi admitted what is now a famous quote: "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians."

If you want to lessen the fear and/or hatred you feel toward fundamentalist Christians, be assured that that is a very Buddhist thing to do. Buddhism has a facet called bodhicitta, which basically is the desire to achieve enlightenment so that, in turn, one can lessen the suffering and increase the happiness of others. Related to the lessening of suffering is the Buddhist spiritual goal of cultivating compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings.

Buddhist meditation tradition includes exercises for increasing compassion, and some of these exercises ask you to envision a specific subject that you find difficult to feel compassion for. It might be a particular individual who wronged you in your past and for whom you harbor resentment, or it could be a foreign group who you find difficult to relate to with compassion. Any teacher of Buddhist meditation should be able to tell you about these exercises.

(2) To get a better understanding of why fundamentalist Christians are the way they are, you might find it interesting and helpful to become familiar with James Fowler's Stages of Faith Development Theory. This theory has been around for about 30 years, and Fowler has identified six stages that people develop thru --- many don't make it into the upper stages, but no one can skip a stage. Here is a good summary of the [ Six Stages of Faith ], and here is the [Wikipedia page], which provides many additional online references.

You will readily figure out that it is the Stage Three Christians that give us LGBT people the most trouble, since they believe more generally that the whole world should follow the rules of their "tribe". (Stage Three Muslims, Jews, and other religions have the same attitude, usually believing that their religion is the only correct one.)

It is instructive to know academically what you have already experienced, that not all Christians are alike. That is because people mature into different stages. Some Christians make it into Stage Three and remain there until they die, others manage to progress into the higher stages of (4) Questioning, (5) Spirituality, and (6) Universalism.

The interesting and unfortunate thing is that, regardless of the religion, Stage Three people tend to distrust and be confused by people in the higher stages --- and often they fear them and demonize them outright. They think the questioning of Stage Four is apostasy, that the mysticism and ecumenism of Stage Five is occultism, and they may think a person in Stage Six is a lunatic, if they ever encounter such a person.

For many people, learning about the Stages of Faith is like a lightbulb going on, explaining many personal experiences and observations that hadn't quite yet gotten organized into a coherent scheme inside one's mind. I hope you find it helpful, Diane.

AJ - Thank you so much for this marvelous comment. Such useful information here!

I love the Gandhi quote. I can't believe I never heard of it before.

Also, thanks so much for the information on James Fowler. He hasn't been on my radar, and I'll check him out right away.

Finally, I wonder if it would be OK with you if I borrow your comment (with link to Bilerico, of course) and post it on my www.InSearchOfGoodness.com blog? This is just the kind of perspective I'm seeking for my search for goodness.

Feel free to re-post this information however you like. I consider it all to be in the public domain.

Also, here's a link regarding the [ Gandhi quote ]. I forgot the last sentence, which completes the observation that Gandhi is making.

Please leave Jews out of your diatribe. They don't believe the whole world should follow their rules. Quite the opposite in fact, Jews consider it their burden so much so that they actively dissuade conversions.

Don't know what your problem is, but at several points I said in effect, "maybe you might find this helpful" --- that implies "take it or leave it" and is the temperamental opposite of a "diatribe".

As to your claim that "They [Jews] don't believe the whole world should follow their rules", you missed exactly what I was saying: Not all Jews feel the whole world should be Jewish, but Stage II and Stage III Jews often do feel that way, even if they don't offer it out as official Jewish doctrine.

And your claim does not mesh with what is going on between Isreal and Palestine right now, where large contingents in Israel wish to establish an officially Jewish state, and to practice apartheid against the Palestinians that remain among them. Yes, I am mixing religion and politics here --- and that is exactly what Stage II and Stage III believers of all traditions like to do.

There's more to say, but let me say this here:

After the Civil War, freed male slaves were portrayed as sexually aggressive wild animals, and "their" women as seductive Jezebels, in an effort to strike fear in some people and excuse the sexual excesses (rapes) committed by others.

This kind of dehumanizing propaganda has also been used by Hitler, and against "our" enemies in times of war. Fear and loathing can be remarkably effective tools when used against groups of people we don't know well. A fellow student once asked a Jewish woman I know if she could see this woman's horns and tail.

These days, the Far Right uses the same propaganda against gays, and in some quarters it is still effective. Homosexuals -- never called gays by the Right -- are declared our most serious public health threat. There's even talk of marauding gangs of gay soldiers raping (defenseless?) heterosexual soldiers, if DADT is repealed.

This shit gets deep.

And, much to our shame, many of our allies wield propaganda in the same way, because it works!

Interesting piece. As a clinician what held me was that you could fairly calmly discuss years of abuse from your father and not realize with most other 'unbalanced' power relationships you would feel the same.
I am always amazed how any abuse victim can grow to adulthood and beyond that to become wonderfully well-adjusted. Though flashbacks are always a possibility.
I am sure it is the 'holier-than-thou' attitude, as my Mom always called them that seems even 'paternalistic' to you and 'pushes' your button. Certainly, consciously equalizing your roles helps you get past this.
Look up the work of SOULFORCE and others who are glad to enter into discussions with fundamentalists about the true meaning of Christianity.

Diane I had not noticed this post until I scanned the weekly recap. I've been traveling for several weeks and just returned home a few days ago.

I am a Christian and attend a full gospel worship church. I wish you all the best in life.

Andrew is quite wrong IMHO about what Jesus Christ of Nazareth would do.

I encounter people frequently who hate me for one reason or another and who style themselves "christian". I return love to them. What gain is there in loving those like myself? Even tax collectors and sinners do that. The standard Jesus set was to love your enemies.

I suspect I can offer you nothing that will suddenly create a change in your reactions to "Christians". These incarnations we have in materiality are wonderful opportunities to learn which comes primarily through experiencing and far less so through mental exercises. You already have voiced one key when you observed that it is your own perceptions which drive the emotions you experience. Let me suggest you take control and consciously alter from threat perceptions to challenge or opportunity or some other perceptions. Was that not a point made by your karate instructor?

Dear Ms. Silver:

Thank you very much for your article. As a former Southern Baptist minister who is gay, and now retired, I can empathize with your sentiments to a significant degree.

You stated in your article, "I'm an out lesbian and a non-Christian living in nation where more than 75 percent of the people are Christian." Perhaps another word or two would make the statement more accurate. If you had stated, ". . .where more than 75 percent of the people CLAIM to be Christian," I would certainly be more in tune with you.

Discrimination is un-Christian! Injustice is un-Christian! Intolerance is un-Christian! Exclusion is un-Christian! Diminishing our lives in the name of their god is un-Christian! The late Laurence Peter, author of "The Peter Principle," said it most succinctly and IMHO best, "Going to church doesn't make you Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

May I add, you are not powerless. You have the power of the written word and once again I thank you for using it extremely well. Great article!

Dear Ms. Silver:

Thank you very much for your article. As a former Southern Baptist minister who is gay, and now retired, I can empathize with your sentiments to a significant degree.

You stated in your article, "I'm an out lesbian and a non-Christian living in nation where more than 75 percent of the people are Christian." Perhaps another word or two would make the statement more accurate. If you had stated, ". . .where more than 75 percent of the people CLAIM to be Christian," I would certainly be more in tune with you.

Discrimination is un-Christian! Injustice is un-Christian! Intolerance is un-Christian! Exclusion is un-Christian! Diminishing our lives in the name of their god is un-Christian! The late Laurence Peter, author of "The Peter Principle," said it most succinctly and IMHO best, "Going to church doesn't make you Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

May I add, you are not powerless. You have the power of the written word and once again I thank you for using it extremely well. Great article!

Dear Ms. Silver:

Thank you very much for your article. As a former Southern Baptist minister who is gay, and now retired, I can empathize with your sentiments to a significant degree.

You stated in your article, "I'm an out lesbian and a non-Christian living in nation where more than 75 percent of the people are Christian." Perhaps another word or two would make the statement more accurate. If you had stated, ". . .where more than 75 percent of the people CLAIM to be Christian," I would certainly be more in tune with you.

Discrimination is un-Christian! Injustice is un-Christian! Intolerance is un-Christian! Exclusion is un-Christian! Diminishing our lives in the name of their god is un-Christian! The late Laurence Peter, author of "The Peter Principle," said it most succinctly and IMHO best, "Going to church doesn't make you Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

May I add, you are not powerless. You have the power of the written word and once again I thank you for using it extremely well. Great article!

By our nature, Christians who are uncomfortable with our virulently anti-gay brethren want to run from them. "They're not REAL Christians. We are." We're embarrassed. We're angry. We're a little scared too. Scared that not only will they reflect on us - but that we are in some little way like them.

When I converted, I knew that part of the deal was to associate myself with some loathsome movements, to take the bad with the good. In that spirit, I want to say "I'm sorry" - not for what I have done, myself, but for what we have done, as Christians.

And I also want to say "Come home" because I believe, in my heart of hearts, that there is a place reserved for everyone in the little-c-catholic church for everyone.

And I want to say "thank you." For what you've written, for facing yourself, for being.

And for giving me hope.

K.Chen - Thank you for your kind comment. Just a brief reply... It would be impossible for me to "come home" to Christianity because I've never been a Christian. I would have to deny my own spirituality and my own experience of the world to convert. I don't say this out of anger or to spite Christians, but only to note that my theology is not Christian, and to adopt a Christian theology would be to lie. Many hugs to you.

You don't have a Christianity problem. Christianity has an anti-LGBT problem.

Religions are ideologies, not races or ethnicities. Like any other ideologies, they can be and often deserve to be harshly criticized. Every Christian is an individual, yes, in the same way that every Republican is an individual. But both of those wake up every morning and willfully commit to the tenets of that belief system, and at any time they could exercise their free will not to. I'm guessing you might have problems with Republicans in general (and correctly so). The problem with religions based on divine texts -- like Christianity -- is that they are limited in the degrees of freedom in which they can develop. This makes them fundamentally different from, say, philosophy, which is infinitely flexible. There are certain directions in which Christianity simply can't move and keep its integrity. For example, the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality -- I'm sorry, but anything else is simply a dishonest reading of a text. That's in the Bible because, as it turns out, the Bible wasn't written by God, but by ignorant, homophobic human beings whose life experience was very narrow.

As an atheist who's "spiritual," I'm always left wondering, what do LGBTs feel they need from Christianity that only Christianity can offer? The problem here is that Christian clerics may eventually "evolve" to a position where they'll tolerate you despite what you immutably are (after over a millennium, and for the sake of their own survival, by the way -- and, make no mistake, it's usually very much "despite"), but they won't tolerate someone else for what she or he immutably is. LGBTs are not the only types of human beings or the only types of behaviors condemned by Christians. And then you'll find yourself part of an organization that does the same thing to other people that was previously done to you.

Most liberal Christians I know remain Christian because they were raised with it. It has become a part of their childhood memories and as such it gives security and holds deeper meaning to them beyond what the adults around them were trying to indoctrinate.

Symbols have cultural and personal definitions. There is no "true" definition of a symbol, no way to own a symbol or force a definition upon it–if it was possible then "dyke" could have never been reclaimed, nor the pink triangle.

Most religious people I know take their religious symbols and personalize them, whether they realize it or not. It is inevitable, because all the symbols we learn are colored by our personal experiences. Every religion changes over time, even their texts change (Lord knows there are lots of "lost" bible verses out there).

I wasn't even raised Christian and veer towards atheism at times, and yet both the cross and the figure of Jesus hold important meaning for me. It is just not a meaning that would please any church official. That is why I believe religion is truly a personal thing.

What is unfortunate is that most Christians are blind to the ways they constantly redefine their faith, much like how straight people are blind to the ways they have redefined marriage throughout the years. They then use their social privilege to stop anyone else from making those changes. They claim their varied personal beliefs are common across the entire religion, much like how the myth of whiteness has made people believe that all light-skinned Europeans in the US somehow share a common cause. It is a false unity perpetuated by powerful myths.

In short, the problem isn't religion itself. The problem is hierarchy and authoritative power.

The problem is that Christianity is not nearly as flexible as you suggest. Neither are most other religions. I would like to think they were, but they’re simply not. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been social and political movements from their inception, rather than the mythical, entirely “personal” relationships with God that you suggest. Not only have Christians not understood Christianity that way until very recently, but even today most Christians don’t experience their faith that way. If you want proof of that, check polls of Americans on half of the social issues of our day.

There is no significant nonreligious argument against gay marriage. There is no argument against gay marriage in secular moral philosophy, such as virtue ethics, utilitarianism, or Kantianism, that holds any great sway. Atheists never had a problem with gays and lesbians to begin with, because instead of being filled with anxiety over what other people do in the bedroom, they worry about things like poverty and suffering. And yet Americans are about evenly split over whether to deny this basic right to gays and lesbians – who is the other 50%? It’s not atheists, I can tell you that much.

I would also like to think that if Christianity could only accept gays and lesbians, by some combination of torturing Scripture and selectively treating certain teachings as "peripheral" with the benefit of hindsight, then we could move on. But the problem is that similarly substantial numbers of Americans would like to overturn Roe v. Wade, oppose stem cell research, block the teaching of evolution in schools, oppose euthanasia, and so on. So, although to gays and lesbians it justifiably feels like the wrath of Christianity comes down primarily on them, it doesn’t -- that’s only the tip of the iceberg. And the difficulty in denying that and joining the institution of Christianity as soon as it’ll “tolerate” you (how wonderful) is that you then become complicit in its backward social policies and persecution of other categories of people.

I was raised in a Christian home, but was fortunate enough to see through the hypocrisy and leave the institution. I’m sorry, but that’s just not an excuse. Being raised in a Republican home doesn’t absolve one of moral responsibility for joining the ranks of Republicans. We’re adults, not children. The personal sense of “security” that you’re referring to comes at a high price for other people.

Reece I know quite a number of atheists and agnostics who are opposed to Gays, gay marriage and anything that is not "straight" as they define it.

I believe you although I haven't met the people you're referring to. I think the difference is in whether you have a moral "handle" that you can grab while trying to justify your homophobia. My experience among atheists is that you'll be ridiculed and ostracized for homophobia because it's an extremely difficult attitude to try to justify. As a Christian of the same education level, you can quite validly point to Scripture and centuries of doctrine; it's difficult for another Christian to dispute that in a way that's cogent. So I think the "conversational pressure" goes in quite a different direction, and that makes a huge difference, as you can see from poll results comparing more religious U.S. states to less religious U.S. states, and more religious nations to less religious nations.

I think you're once again confusing personal belief with institutional power. The liberal Christians I speak of no longer go to church and do not support church hierarchy. When talking about religion, they openly admit this. Their belief is purely personal, a complicated mix of past history and present knowledge, and it helps them greatly in life. It works for them, giving them strength, and I see no fault in it.

Many people do the opposite. They personally claim to support queer rights while publicly living within the world of the Catholic church (or any other denomination that opposes queer rights). Those are not the people I am talking about.

I agree with everything you say.

I'm just always suspicious of this "private faith" meme that says one's Christianity can be a private matter between one and God and does not involve anybody else. Until very recently, Christianity has not been understood that way. Jesus himself harshly condemned others in moral terms. Christ's apostles did not have "private" faith. Martin Luther's loud denunciations of Jews for failing to convert to Christianity created much of the anti-Semitism in German history. Proselytizing and judging others are and always have been at the core of Christian faith. During centuries of burning heretics, a clerical judge never stopped to ask himself, "should I keep my religion a private matter?" That only started very recently, coincidentally after "heretics" gathered the power to physically defend themselves.

And Christianity is so skilled at rewriting history to claim credit for progress that was imposed on it from the outside. If one listened to the Pope and other clerics, one would think that priests were looking at the stars through telescopes in the Middle Ages; one could easily forget that for a long time the penalty for being a scientist was a gruesome death at the hands of the Church's executioners. When the Pope apologizes to the victims of the child abuse that he and his predecessors long condoned, he conveniently fails to mention that his apologetic tone is mostly due to the secular throngs who would like to throw him in prison. For centuries before that, the Catholic Church got away with child abuse without a hint of criticism. In a few generations I suspect Christianity will be taking credit for spearheading the LGBT rights movement.

So I agree with what you're saying. I just think it should be put in historical perspective.

When you say that this "liberal Christianity" uses the Bible only as a decoration or a symbol, I'm just not sure what that means. That sounds to me like not Christianity at all (I would call it "spirituality", which is a form of human experience that several religious and nonreligious traditions dip their toes into). And that's all fine with me. But we should recognize that the vast majority of Christians in the U.S. (and anywhere) don't think the Bible has the same normative force as a refrigerator magnet. When a "privately religious" person casts a vote to ban stem cell research because his personal relationship with God tells him that a blastocyst has the moral status of a human being, then his "private" religion just became intensely "public." We ignore that reality at our own peril.

I take what you say at face value, but I think a danger is that this non-Bible form of Christianity can easily be misunderstood by others as an endorsement of the Bible form of Christianity that the vast majority of Christians experience. And insofar as it's misunderstood by others in that foreseeable way, it just gets back to the problem of effectively propping up what is actually an institution, not a personal spiritual journey.

"That sounds to me like not Christianity at all (I would call it 'spirituality'"

You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

I agree, by the way, that most Christians are blind to the way they constantly redefine their faith, and it would be helpful if they weren't. Partly it is the time scale involved and an ignorance of history. And another problem for Christians in this regard is the same as the reason why some of them, amazingly, oppose Dan Dennett's proposal to teach children about different religions in school. A bird's eye view actually weakens their faith, rather than strengthening it. When you learn that Indian moral teachers and Greek philosophers in Jesus's era were morally light years ahead of Jesus, it tends to take the punchiness out of the Christian narrative. This kneejerk fear that historical and cultural perspective might harm one's fragile "faith" should be a red flag that one believes something that's deeply misguided. So I agree with you.

I think teaching about different religions in school is a great idea. Long ago in 11th grade I had a class in comparative religions (at a public school in Kentucky). It even included atheism and agnosticism as well as many minor religions in various times throughout history. What inever ceases to amaze me btw is the number of Christians who have never read the Bible cover to cover. I am also amazed at the number of non-Christians who engage in debates about the Bible yet have never read it completely. That is like someone debating a Shakespearean play without reading it. The whole protestant reformation centered around the battle to provide people the Bible in their own language with the Catholic church adamantly opposed to the idea and Martin Luther excommunicated for proceeding with a translation.

It's the proselytizing that gets my dander up. And I do think religions do more harm than good, by undermining science and education.

There are times when I half-wish for a modern Robespierre-Lenin-Mao kind of solution to just wipe away all the fools and charlatans and their superstitious claptrap. That's not likely to happen -- too many unintended consequences, as history has shown, and not effective in the long run -- but one small, practical step would be to take away all their tax exemptions. In fact, I would argue that the tax exemptions are contrary to the 1st Amendment.

Thanks for your article. I'm on my journey as a Christian, and I also have a hard time with alot of fundamentlist beliefs. I suppose I'm quite liberal really, but still consider myself a Christian. I too cannot come to terms with their hatred of gay people. I'm straight, married with 3 children, but I've lived in Sydney Australia and worked with alot of gay people. My cousin is a lesbian in a loving relationship and my uncle, who has passed way, was gay, and a wonderful caring person. I just CANNOT be anti-gay, or tell gay people that they can never have a relationship, and have to be alone for the rest of their lives or go to hell. I've pretty much been told by fundamentalists that I will go to hell if I don't change my "liberal" views about gay people. Anyway, all the best on your journey. I'm on an interesting one myself.