Political Flavors

Live Blogging Women in Secularism: A Bizarre Beginning

Posted in Editorials on May 17th, 2013

Ron Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry began today’s conference with a bizarre opening statement. He started off by reading from 1 Timothy (A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man…) and people were snickering along assuming her was being facetious, but after hearing his whole talk, I’m not so sure.

Lindsay gave bell hooks definition of feminism, that it is “a movement to end sexism.” But then he launched into a strange discussion about how feminists disagree about what sexism is and danced around the idea that feminists frequently fall victim to a “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

Then he sunk even lower and broached the topic of privilege. He made some concessions that women and minorities still face discrimination, but quickly rushed to his larger point that the concept of privilege is used as a weapon to silence white dudes. I don’t think he saw the irony in saying this at the beginning of the “Women in Secularism” conference. At all.

Also Justin Vacula is here. And tweeted the following. Surprising no one.

On My Way To Women In Secularism 2!

Posted in Site News on May 17th, 2013

I’m currently on an Amtrak train heading towards Washington DC for the Women in Secularism 2 conference sponsored by the Center For Inquiry.

Although I don’t describe myself as an atheist, there’s a lot of overlap in the speakers an panels with topics I’m interested in: feminism, a critical view of religion, politics- especially with regards to the separation if church and state. Many of my favorite bloggers and twitter friends will be there too!

I’ll be tweeting and blogging as I can. You can also follow along on the #WISCFI hash tag. If you are going, let me know if you want to meet up!

The Guilt of Good Friday

Posted in Editorials on March 29th, 2013

For most of my life, I have dreaded Good Friday. When I was a child and old enough to understand what the day meant, I felt sad and a bit afraid. Catholic Churches drain the holy water from the fonts where you could bless yourself – a dramatic gesture which I found alarming.

Schools were always closed, and my mother and grandmother told me stories about how when they were children, they were not allowed to play or talk or watch television during Good Friday, especially between the hours of noon and 3pm, when Jesus was said to have been crucified. I attempted this over and over, but the stories in my children’s bible and saying the rosary would only last about an hour. I inevitability opened a novel or a magazine, though wracked with guilt and a bit ashamed.

When I was in college, I fasted several times on Good Friday, but I never got the sense of spiritual closeness to God it was supposed to bring. I just felt hungry and irritable and headachy. Crabbiness didn’t feel very holy.

But fasting or not, failing to spend three hours in contemplation of Jesus’ crucifixion or doing schoolwork instead – I always felt a sense of dread all day. Some years, it was easier because our family would often spend a Passover Seder with my Jewish relatives and the holidays often overlap. The celebration brightened an awful day, but on the way home my mother would grouse about how it was terrible that we had just spent the evening enjoying ourselves when it was Good Friday! And….oh my God… matzoh ball soup is made with chicken broth and we were not supposed to eat meat today! I always figured the holidays cancelled each other out in God’s eyes.

Since I started working, I have always worked on Good Friday. It’s much better than contemplating the violent death of a man who preached love and charity. And that I am at work absolves any residual guilt for the most part.

I still think about how guilty the day used to make me feel. Guilt for the death of Jesus, and guilt at not observing it as properly and solemnly as others seemed to be able to. And I wonder if there’s another way to do it – different from how I felt when I was younger, or from the way I try to ignore it now. Would it work as a day of service, like some have suggested we commemorate 9/11 or MLK Day? Or maybe it would be a good time to open a Jefferson Bible?

Holy Saturday was always one of my favorite days of the year. My family would visit the gardening supply store and buy pink and purple hyacinths. We would dye Easter Eggs. I loved the feeling of anticipation for the holiday. Looking back I wonder how much of it was relief that Good Friday was over and that I wouldn’t have to face it again for another year.

I still like the day before Easter, but it no longer packs the same punch it did when I was a Catholic. I’ve shed much of the guilt, though I’m not sure what should take its place.

Feeling Alienated From My Catholic Friends

Posted in Editorials on March 19th, 2013

Last week when Francis I became Pope, my Facebook feed was alight with people celebrating and excited over the news. My reaction was one of indifference and cynicism. Meet the new Pope, same as the old Pope, I thought. Francis I is opposed to contraception, to legal abortion and has said that same sex marriage is satanic.

But seeing my Catholic friends joy was disquieting. When Pope Benedict XVI became pope, I had already stopped going to church for over a year. I was busy with school and didn’t have much time to reflect on it. This time it’s different. I spend a lot of time on social media, so I was able to read all about the misguided Catholics who were hoping for reform, the outraged feminist and LGBT activists at the selection of Francis I, and most troubling my friends and family rejoicing at the news.

For the most part, I’m really glad that I have left the Catholic Church and I’m proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. While there were things about Catholicism that made me feel happy and spiritually fulfilled, the hierarchy wasn’t one of them. Perhaps it’s because my parent’s house didn’t have a picture of John Paul II framed adoringly. Maybe it’s because my parents always loudly disagreed with the idea of the Pope – and questioned how it’s possible for any one person to be closer to God or holier than another. I just don’t get what there is to celebrate.

I suppose I might feel a little left out. But more than that, even if I accept that my friends can accept or ignore the church’s teachings on contraception, abortion or gay rights, I don’t understand how people could just brush aside child abuse.

I don’t know what to do with this feeling. There’s no nice way to ask my friends why they are celebrating an institution that covers up for people who rape children. Our norms around religion dictate that it’s not polite to ask someone why they believe what they believe. I can understand that my friends don’t need to justify the private intricacies of their consciences to me. But when their support for the Church infringes on my rights, and the rights of others, when it causes death and pain – there is still no frame for the conversation.

Quiverfull: Inside The Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

Posted in Book Reviews on March 8th, 2013

Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull makes clear the inherent conflict between The Bible and feminism. Although the idea that this conflict exists is still controversial, even among feminists, this is the implicit message of the book.

Quiverfull is divided into three parts: wives, mothers, and daughters. Although the title refers explicitly to the Bible verse that informs a specific view of childbearing, the book looks at Christian Patriarchy as whole. Christian Patriarchy is a way of life defined by a strict interpretation of the Bible’s prescriptions for gender, marital and family roles – including that wives be submissive to their husbands, that men be the heads of their households and that children – especially daughters – be subject to their fathers in all matters.

The first section explains the Christian Patriarchy’s view of marriage. Joyce spent a weekend at a retreat of “The Apron Society,” an event designed to fulfill the commands in Titus 2, which calls older women to instruct the younger ones about marriage and family life. The weekend did not focus on improving communication skills or child care, but about Proverbs 31 and hospitality. What struck me as I read about these incredibly earnest women was a comparison between their attempts at “Biblical Womanhood” and that of Rachel Held Evans. Evans made her attempt to live precisely by the Bible in good faith, but also with a smile and an easygoing, carefree attitude. There was no friendly wink to the reader here. To the women of The Apron Society, being a good hostess wasn’t just something to do for fun or to be kind – it was a matter of their eternal salvation itself.

A disturbing undercurrent of Christian Patriarchy is that women’s lives don’t matter. This is made clear when Joyce reviews the writings of Debi Pearl, author of Created to Be His Helpmeet and other books about marriage for Christian women. Perl explains how women don’t need to enjoy sex, that close female friendships can be a sinful “spiritual masturbation” and that your life itself is worth sacrificing for the sake of being a properly submissive wife. Perl writes about a woman who came to her for advice after her husband had tried to kill her with a knife while she was pregnant. Perl said this might be grounds for divorce, but that she could also try to win him back by being kind and never speaking of the abuse again. According to Perl, once the woman kept quiet, everyone lived happily ever after. That this is extremely dangerous advice is beside the point. Perl sees nothing wrong with suggesting the woman risk her life and the lives of her children for the sake of her religion.

The section on motherhood was very different than what I had expected. I thought I was going to get a TLC like view into homes with dozens of smiling and identically dressed children, or alternately, horror stories about endless housework and abuse. What Joyce described was a group of people who worship fertility almost as much as they worship Jesus. When common sense or medical advice suggests something incompatible with their worldview, they of course side with their faith.

Christian Patriarchy is not just an ideal for family life. There are a set of political values and beliefs that go along with it. Conservative think tanks and churches have funded such projects as the Natural Family Manifesto the World Congress of Families, and the Population Research Institute. And these aren’t just places for conservative Christians to get cushy jobs. Their lobbying has real impact on the laws of the United States. Joyce does not go into the policy implications specifically – but it’s easy to guess what some of them might be. The WCF has lobbied extensively against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and of course, CEDAW – the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Within our own borders, PRI would like to make all abortions illegal. Reading through the parts of the book about these organizations made clear to me the links between theocracy, natalism and fascism.

The section about daughters is the shortest in the book, and much of what Joyce talks about is similar to what Jessica Valenti covered in the Purity Myth. Young women in these homes are taught to prize virginity above all else, to revere their fathers as the ultimate authority in their lives and to wait patiently to be betrothed.

Although Joyce meets many Christians in the book who are kind and warm to her, and some who seem like they are genuinely nice people, it was clear to me that their fundamentalism has elegantly solved the obvious conflicts between feminism and Christianity. While I think that treating women with dignity and respect is more important than leaving yourself open to charges of hypocrisy, the choice is not as clear for others as it is to me.

To be clear, I know lots of Christians who are also feminists. How they resolve their belief in women’s equality with their belief that the Bible is a Holy Book is something I don’t understand. It must require a complicated set of caveats and a faith so strong as not to be shaken by the conflict between their belief in women’s autonomy and the Bible’s decrees that women are unworthy. The Christian Patriarchy movement is by comparison incredibly simple. Dark, bizarre, harmful and hurtful. But as plain as the words on the page.

The Toolbox of Justice

Posted in Editorials on January 29th, 2013

This post is modified from a talk I gave at my UU Congregation. I have been thinking about this idea for a long time, but it was most recently influenced by “Dear Liberal Allies” by Trung Nyugen.

What I mean when I talk about the toolbox of justice is that social justice movements, like civil rights and anti-racism, feminism and the women’s movement, the GLBT rights movement, the movement for the rights of the poor and disabled are both political and social movements to create change in people’s every day lives, but also tools to understand how we interact with each other and how society works on a personal and on an institutional level.

For example, in 2010, an anthology was published called “Click: When we knew we were feminists” edited by Courtney Martin and J Courtney Sullivan. The book is an anthology of the “click moments” that women of all ages and backgrounds have had that made them realize they were feminists. These moments weren’t always about sweeping political or social change, like fair pay, but rather when they realized that their experiences made more sense through a feminist lens than without it. In my own toolbox of justice, feminism is like a pair of glasses through which so much becomes clear. I remember watching the winter Olympics with a group of friends and one woman asked, “Why are the women’s costumes so much skimpier than the mens?” “Because women’s bodies are decorations!” I blurted out. I could only see that through my feminist glasses.

Men can wear the feminist glasses too. In 2008, my brother remarked, during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech to Barack Obama, “It must be very strange for you. None of the presidents have been women. Does that make you feel weird, or excluded?”

There are all kinds of glasses and goggles and prisms and magnifying glasses in the Toolbox of Justice. And as Trung Nyugen reminds us, they work differently depending on whether or not we are using them to understand our own oppression or our own privilege.

There are hearing aids and decoder rings and Rosetta Stone like primers inside the toolbox of justice as well. These help us understand the sometimes hidden or invisible ways others are excluded, oppressed or discriminated against.

After sparring for years with her atheist son-in-law, my mother walked away from a Memorial Day commemoration wondering aloud why the Catholic priest giving the invocation spoke so specifically about his beliefs Jesus and the trinity. “When you talk in public like that, the prayer is for everyone,” she said. “Who knows if anyone in the audience is Jewish or atheist? “

When I was knocking doors for a political campaign I was volunteering for, I went out one day with an acquaintance from my local Democratic Club – a tall, African American man. He asked me, “Would you please go back to those two houses for me?” I knew he was asking because he had the feeling that the people who lived there might open the door for a white woman, even though they hadn’t for a black man.

The toolbox allows us to hear the bigotry sometimes referred to as “racist dog whistles” like when politicians immediately decide that their top priority is immigration once they know their opponent will be Latino, or to understand why well meaning organizers sometimes ask my brother or my father or I how they can “get all the Hispanics to help them.”

The toolbox helps us to understand seemingly nonsensical news stories – like why the University of Notre Dame has spent more resources talking about their reaction to Manti Teo’s imaginary girlfriend than the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg, a 19 year old student who alleged that she was raped by a member of the Notre Dame Football Team.

The toolbox of justice is what connected Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall in President Obama’s inauguration speech.

Sometimes you find tools you didn’t know were there. A friend of mine from graduate school has Cerebral Palsy and she has done a lot of research on accessibility for people with disabilities in public parks or historical sites. I nodded along with moderate interest until last summer. My mother was suffering from tendonitis in her foot after a knee replacement surgery and I was spending Fourth of July weekend pushing her wheelchair around Atlantic City. It will be no problem at all! I thought. Lots of older people vacation there who have trouble with mobility, and after all the Americans with Disabilities Act was over 20 years ago! For the most part I was right. But when we were trying to get into a theater to see a show we had bought tickets for that was starting in 5 minutes, and the elevator wasn’t working, and the phone number on the elevator just lead to a busy signal, I felt totally helpless and angry, and I wasn’t even the person in the wheelchair. Luckily a security guard came to help us – there was another elevator just a little of the way down the hall. We thanked him profusely and I asked him to add a sign to the elevator explaining how people could access the theater. I enjoyed the show, but when I reflect on that experience I find myself thinking about all of the people for whom this type of frustration is a daily occurrence. We might see a wheelchair ramp at the entrance of a building and think everything is okay. But if we think that one ramp is enough – we are not using all of our tools.

The toolbox of Justice is a way that we can live our principles.

The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Privilege is, in part, not having to notice the attacks on the dignity or the injustices done of others who are not like us. But if the toolbox allows us to recognize them, then we can take steps to support our brothers and sisters in fighting them

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

It’s important to hear the lived experiences of people who are different than we are. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why someone feels excluded or hurt but we must make an effort not to be defensive or to make assumptions – we do this by listening with open hearts.

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The toolbox of Justice allows us to see the truth of others lives.

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

The toolbox of justice is one of the ways in which we can build that world.

Revelation is Not Sealed Redux

Posted in Editorials on January 24th, 2013

In April of 2012, I published a blog post called “Revelation is Not Sealed.” In July 2012, I led a service at my UU Congregation that expanded on this post. Here is the sermon I gave in full:

As the years go by and my identity as a Unitarian Universalist solidifies, I feel my appreciation of my new tradition deepening all the time. At first I was drawn to a place where I could be spiritual with others who accepted me. And this congregation is a community where I can share common values, but also where disagreements do not mean fear of expulsion.

But something I have been thinking about recently is the UU doctrine that “Revelation is not sealed.” What this means is that while there might be some good lessons in the holy books of other religions, people can still learn truths about morality, human nature and the world in a multitude of ways. As Mark Christian, from the UU Church of Las Cruces said, “we must be open to new and higher truths.”
What this also means is that Unitarian Universalist Ministers are not limited to a single volume, written in the past during a different time and place to find the words to inspire and guide their congregations.

I think of the scene in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line where Jack says

Look, J.R., if I’m going to be a preacher one day, I gotta know the bible front to back. I mean, you can’t help nobody if you can’t tell them the right story.

To a young boy of strong Christian faith, this makes perfect sense. But in my mind, his earnestness is immediately contrasted with Julia Sweeney’s remarks in her monologue Letting Go of God about the priests who have to live this reality of trying to tell people who need their help the right story. She says,

[L]ike a big ocean wave, the force of all that I hated about this Church welled up in me; all the pompous, numbing masses, the unabated monotony of the rituals, all the desperate priests trying to tease out something meaningful from a very flawed ancient text.

I first thought about this problem after a Sunday service here about Leymah Gbowee, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism in stopping the Second Liberian Civil War.

I wondered how a Catholic priest could talk about Leymah Gbowee if he wanted to. There was a priest in the parish my family belonged to when I was in high school, who loved to talk about “the power of prayer.” Sometimes he quoted guests on Larry King Live or something he read in Reader’s Digest to make his point. But, as a Catholic priest, he was limited in when and how he could broach this subject – or any subject. The Catholic Church has selected Bible readings for every Sunday of the year – This lectionary is the same all over the world – on a three year cycle. So any priest only really needs three years worth of homilies for his entire life. If he wants to write more than that he can – but the readings never change. Unlike Jack, who was a protestant, Catholic priests do not even have the entire Bible at their disposal to refer to during Mass.

Current events did come up in homilies on occasion. The Catholic chaplain at my university campus often spent Sundays relating that week’s gospel to the unjustness of the Iraq War. And I will always remember the Christmas Eve Mass I attended in 2001, where the priest spoke of the Olympic Torch in Rockefeller Center, on its way to Salt Lake City, as a light of hope – we should see it as symbolic of the light of Christ – and a symbol that we would heal from the horrors of September 11. Several members of our community had been killed in the attack, and many people were comforted by his words. But they were his own words, and had little to do with the story of the Nativity he had just read.

That homily was not the norm. Most of the homilies I heard as a Catholic were much more generic. I understand perfectly what Sweeney is talking about when she refers to the “desperate priests trying to tease out something meaningful from a very flawed ancient text.”

When a priest wants to speak about an issue facing his community he faces several hurdles. First, how to relate that issue to the week’s Bible passages prescribed by the Vatican. Second, there is the possibility that the topic he wants to explore is not relatable to any of that years readings or the entire three year cycle of readings at all. Aside from a few Christmas and Easter services, I cannot remember which Gospel readings went with any of the Catholic homilies that have stayed with me through the years. The purpose of the homily is for the priest to relate the message of that week’s Bible passages to the community. But the two types of homilies I remember hearing most often were either interpretations which were exceedingly vague platitudes about being a good and forgiving person, or insightful discussions which only tangentially relate to that week’s Bible reading. It was very rare that a homily was both inspiring and clearly related to the text.

Unitarian Universalist ministers do not have this problem. I have heard UU ministers read from the Bible, or from another holy book. But more often than not they read a passage of poetry, prose, philosophy, or history that speaks to them. Sometimes these readings are written by other UU’s – and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes a reading during a UU service is not a piece of text, but music or a work of art. In this way, a congregation can address its needs, and is not frozen in time. When we believe that revelation is not sealed, we are open to learning about the world and about ourselves from every source around us. In not limiting ourselves, we can continue to grow unrestrained, and search for truth.

And the search for truth is not an easy task. As some of you may know, my husband and I both write internet blogs. Recently, anyone who reads or writes about religion online was shocked when a well known atheist blogger, Leah Libresco announced her conversion to Catholicism. As I turned her words over in my head, I found myself with a lot of questions. What would be the ideal Unitarian Universalist response to this news? Leah seemed so joyful! Was I wrong to leave the Catholic Church? But her reasoning really didn’t make any sense to me. Should I reconsider my rejection of atheism? What is Unitarian Universalism, and am I doing it right? Could I be doing it wrong? Are there some truths I will never understand?

I felt like a cat chasing a laser pointer.

But all of this thinking and questioning lead to more reading and thinking and writing and questioning. And I felt comforted that unlike both the metaphorical cat and laser pointer I’d probably be able to figure something out, and unlike Leah, I had more than just the Bible to guide me.

One thing that I have found, while reading about Unitarian Universalism, is that some of us are fond of making jokes about our denomination. One of them seems particularly relevant here:

Each religion has its own Holy Books:
Judaism has the Torah,
Islam has the Koran,
Christianity has the Bible,
and Unitarian Universalism has Roberts’ Rules of Order.

Like most UU jokes, this pokes fun at our argumentativeness and our sometimes painful earnestness. But I like the truth hidden within this joke. Roberts Rules are used to moderate discussion and bring order and equity to a heated or chaotic argument. I like the idea of using guidelines for respectful discourse as a sacred text.

This joke gets at the heart of our belief that revelation is not sealed. It says that instead of an established holy book, what we revere is a process, a journey to discover what is true and to grow spiritually.

That revelation is not sealed is a truly radical and unique idea among the world’s faiths. It is anathema to almost every other religion.

The ancient Greeks told the story of Pandora, the first woman. She is given a gift by the gods, and told not to open it. Out of sheer inquisitiveness, she does. She is human after all. And she unintentionally releases evil into the world.

Similarly, in Abrahamic traditions, Eve is told not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but she does so anyway – the Devil himself igniting her curiosity. And this is the cause for humans expulsion from paradise, pain in childbirth, toil in farming, and original sin that will stain the souls of every person born thereafter – wanting to discover the truth.

Entire books could be, and have been, written about Pandora and Eve and how they have been used to demonize women specifically, but today, I am more interested in what these stories tell us about other traditions attitudes towards the quest for knowledge. The message is made explicitly clear by the Book of Proverbs, chapter 3, verse 5. It is written,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

My own understanding, the power I have to learn and understand new things is a source of great joy in my life, and has been at times a spiritual experience. I remember feeling a deep sense of reverence in my high school biology class when I learned for the first time how cells replicate their DNA. Cells multiply for any number of reasons, when a new animal or person is gestating inside an egg or their mother’s womb, to repair injuries or to replace older, dying cells, the process is called mitosis. And in part of this process, a complete copy of the entire DNA of the individual organism must be made for the new cell. Specialized enzymes “unzip” the DNA, copy it, and create two separate but identical double helixes. When I finally grasped the concept, I felt like I was looking into a treasure box, that some precious secret had been revealed. My own understanding made me feel close to God.

The opposite idea, that revelation has been sealed, has stunted humanity’s growth in countless ways both spiritual and material. Limits on the creation of “graven images” slowed the development of artistic techniques. Prohibitions of dissection impeded the progress of biology and life saving medicine. Today, Biblical literalists would curtail the rights of women and LGBT people throughout the world – all because of the command to lean not on our own understanding, but instead to trust that all we need to know is contained within a single volume.

By contrast, in Unitarian Universalism, we have the freedom to cherish these texts as holy if we choose, but we are also free to follow our conscience if they are teaching something that is not right. This is an awesome freedom, as the possibilities are endless, so it should be treated with respect.

As UU’s we have real power to use what we learn not only in our day to day lives, but in our congregations and in our denomination. Unlike those of other faiths bound by unchanging texts in a constantly changing world, we can change our ways in response to new understandings, and we have come to believe that there are times when we MUST change.

This is why UU’s were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, in the Feminist Movement, and why we were among the first denominations to marry same sex couples in the United States. This is why UU’s from across the country have protested Arizona’s unjust and dehumanizing immigration law. This is why we undertake extensive projects to learn how to unlearn all we have absorbed from our toxic culture of bigotry and hatred. Our ability to learn from past mistakes is what has inspired our campaign to stand on the side of love.

I am proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. And I am inspired by the idea that the universe contains truths that I have yet to learn. When we say that we believe that revelation is not sealed, we are saying that we are open to spiritual growth. When we say that we believe revelation is not sealed, we are saying that we know that we could be holding ideas that are wrong, and that we are open to changing them. When we say that we believe that revelation is not sealed, we are saying that we accept the awesome responsibility of our search for truth.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Posted in Book Reviews on January 3rd, 2013

Rachel Held Evans is an American Christian from Tennessee. Her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” is an attempt to live by according to the rules Bible prescribes out for women.

Evans writing is very accessible, and she’s immediately likeable. I do wish that she would have explained exactly what her theology is though. I see that on her blog she has said she is not a fundamentalist, but that doesn’t offer much. What exactly does she believe about the Bible? Her faith in God and Jesus are apparent, but after that I don’t know much about her beliefs. And if I don’t know what she believes, it’s hard to know what she’s asking for when she calls for reform in the way Christians view women and the Bible.

Each month, Evans focuses on a different aspect of Biblical Womanhood – modesty, purity, obedience, etc. Some people would call this a cop-out. But I understand why she did it. One of the overarching themes of the book is that any one rule could be emotionally crippling or logistically impossible. To follow them all at once would lead to burnout and not as interesting of a narrative. She studies each topic in depth and applies what she learns to the next.

One thing I was reminded of is that the Bible contains misogynist ideas that are still with us today. That women are gossips, that they lie about being raped, that they are the other and require special rules to be constrained.

I think the most fascinating part of the book was when Evans and some of her friends held a mourning ceremony to remember women in the Bible who were killed or abused. She was inspired by the passage in the Bible that says “From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah.”

It’s easy to see why this book makes some Christians uncomfortable. She writes of Mary,

That a woman who managed to be both a virgin and a mother is often presented as God’s standard for womanhood and can be frustrating for those of us who have to work within the constraints of physical law.

She writes about her doubts, and her “pesky insecurities” in her faith, facing them head on.

Evans comes to the conclusion that there is “no such thing as Biblical womanhood.” There are too many contradictions, too many proscriptions and too many impossible demands for one woman to embody them all. It was gratifying for me to see her come to the conclusion she had been building all along. However, as a Unitarian Universalist, I am not limited to the Bible in my search for truth or in my spiritual practice. I am not bothered by the idea that it is possible to pick and choose what you need from the Bible. I think that Evans makes a strong case for this when she says that Christians should spend more time with the troubling parts of the Bible and not less. It’s important to understand why you believe what you believe and also why you reject what you do not believe.

Even if I’m not exactly sure how she defines it, Evans lives her faith and is not afraid to ask questions. This is a refreshing contribution to the discussion about the conflict between religion and feminism.

The Hindsight of an ex-Catholic

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 29th, 2012

When you’re a kid, you never question the whole faith thing – God’s in heaven and He’s…She’s always got her eye on you. I’d give anything to feel that way again.

As child and as a teenager my faith was very strong. After reading about Leah Libresco’s Confirmation, I find myself reflecting on my own and how much I looked forward so it. I would finally be initiated into the Church, and I saw it as an important step towards adulthood. They told me it would mean an indelible mark on my soul. The oil the Bishop would anoint my forehead with would be clear, but it would leave a mark – invisible and indelible, I thought. I was so excited to make a commitment to Christ, to live by the Beatitudes, to engage in the Works of Mercy. It was so beautiful.

I remember my confirmation day in November of 1996. I was one month shy of my fourteenth birthday. I wore a white skirt suit. I remembered the etiquette as I had been taught in my preparation classes, I would hand the priest a card with my confirmation name on it (Margaret, more after my late grandmother than the Saint), he would hand it to the Bishop, the bishop would anoint my forehead with oil and say, “be sealed with the gift of the holy spirit.” Then we would shake hands and both of us would say “Peace Be With You.” My godfather was my sponsor, and as we approached the altar, him walking behind me with a hand on my shoulder, I noticed that none of my classmates were shaking hands with the Bishop. Well, I’m going to! I thought, This only happens once, might as well do it the right way. And so after the Bishop had anointed my head, I reached out to shake hands and said “Peace Be With You.” He smiled and did the same, and then I realized why he hadn’t been doing this for everyone. His hand was dripping with oil. And now mine was too.

I thought it was kind of funny, that my eagerness and joy almost ruined my new suit, and I was all smiles as I headed back to the pew to sit with the rest of my family. The tissues in my mother’s purse and my Dad’s good handkerchief were enough to save me from any lasting grease stains. I felt relieved and blessed.

The happiness of my Confirmation Day stayed with me for years. It was what kept me from leaving the Church for a long time. The indelible mark on my soul. But eventually, I thought, well I guess I’m just taking this mark with me – into Unitarian Universalism and wherever I would go from there.

It’s been eight years since my last confession, or since I have received communion. I signed the book on my Unitarian Universalist congregation in January of 2009. But my faith in the Catholic idea of God has receded into a set of morals grounded in Catholic social teachings, the UU Seven Principles and a vague spiritual longing. I struggle with the term “agnostic,” because I long for spiritual connection, and I still find comfort in prayer, even if I don’t believe that it works the way I was taught it does as a child.

I’ve come to realize that the more time passes, the deeper my anger and outrage at the Catholic Church’s moral failings. I am incredulous as to why people I know and love stay in the Church and speechless to those who decide to join.

Lennon Cihak has courage beyond his years for refusing to back down on his support for gay rights, even in the face of not being allowed confirmation. This is exactly what is supposed to happen – no organization should have to accept members who do not believe in its principles. I’m glad that attention is being drawn to the teachings everyday Catholics are expected to live by. But it’s difficult to watch the rejection of a teenage boy by his own community for standing up for love and equal rights. It’s that disconnect – seeing someone punished for speaking for justice that makes me angry.

Savita Halappanavar’s senseless death is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. She was 31, married, and hoping to have her first child. But she died when doctors refused to remove the fetus she was miscarrying. It’s hard to find words to write about this. I think about my own future, and about my friends who want children, and how this could happen again at any Catholic hospital in the United States. No one should ever forget her, or stop being haunted by what happened, because this should never happen again.

The more distance I put between myself and the church, the more I clearly I can see it. At first, I thought, what happened to the church I loved so much? But in reality, I could not actually see it for what it is. I didn’t know about the depths the church went to cover up child raping priests. I didn’t understand that women die in septic wards all the time in South America because they are denied contraception and abortion because of the Catholic Church’s influence. I had an inkling that masturbation probably wouldn’t send me to Hell, but I gave no thought to how the church’s warped teachings on sexuality would effect a gay or trans* teenager. My excuse is that I was thirteen years old. What’s yours?

It’s Not Wrong To Believe You Are Right

Posted in Editorials on June 29th, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about the comments I received on my post on Leah Liberesco’s conversion. On Reddit, I was engaged by someone who said,

I feel that tolerance and respect for the positions of others outweighs the need to be right. That is how we deal with other UUs who have a different perspective such as theist vs atheist vs agnostic. Why would it be any different with people outside the UU faith?

This sounds really wise. Because it’s restrained. It’s submitting your ego to a higher priority of tolerance. But tolerance doesn’t mean tolerating intolerance. Respect does not mean ignoring your own capacity for critical thinking.

I’m treading on dangerous ground here. I know that my need to be right is something that can consume me. But I also know that I am a liberal because I believe words have meanings. I’m a liberal and a pragmatist because I really care about how my actions impact people around me. I have a desperate need to know I’m not hurting anyone else.

So when I read Adam’s post, “Today’s Reasons to Quit The Catholic Church” I couldn’t help but feel relief and pride that I have made that decision already and that it’s behind me. And I won’t apologize for that.

What’s the point in having a religion if you don’t believe it’s the right one? When Unitarian Universalists gather, we state that

We covenant to affirm and promote

The inherent worth and dignity of every person,
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations,
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning,
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large,
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all,
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Our principles mean something. That’s why we begin with a covenant, a solemn promise we make publicly to ourselves and each other. Stating that we affrim them means we believe in them.

There are others who don’t believe in our principles. And that our principles are not self evident to all people, is what marks us as a group when we say we covenant to affirm them. When we affirm our principles, we are by definition saying that we think that we are right and that people who disagree are wrong.

Disagreement need not be intolerant or disrespectful. But we can’t deny that we hold these disagreements. And we shouldn’t be ashamed to hold views that others don’t or back down from our belief that they are true.

The second part is that we are saying we will promote these principles. We will spread these values, talk about them and explain them when applicable. This doesn’t necessarily mean evangelize or argue when it’s inappropriate to argue. Just that we will speak up for our values when the time is right.

Now, “when the time is right” is open for debate, and that was the point of my previous post on this subject. But stating that you believe your beliefs are correct is not disrespectful or intolerant. If we don’t stand up for our principles, no one else will.