The Different Shades of Rebellion

Who is more rebellious? The girl wearing makeup, a skirt, and high heels? Or the girl with baggy pants, a shaved head, and a dozen piercings?

Stereotype would say the latter is far more rebellious, and not too long ago, I would have agreed.

Not anymore.

I’ve been reading Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, and it’s completely shaken my assumptions of what makes up a rebel. (Yes, it’s the same book that I was reading when I wrote this post, and yes, it’s my first reading still. I’m slow with nonfiction books. Don’t judge me!)

I never considered my sexual orientation as an asset to rebellion. As a bisexual female married to a guy, I often feel like I’m the most benign version of “queer” out there. There’s no way to avoid passing as straight unless I stand up and wave a flag in people’s faces (which I’ve enjoyed doing at Pride parades). However, Eisner has helped me see that it’s that very facet of my identity that makes it so much more subversive because it challenges what people think about relationships, sexuality, and identity in general.

Whether I fit into or challenge the stereotypes about bisexuality, either way I challenge stereotypes about what it means to be straight or queer. My very existence undermines the invisible certainty of monosexuality.

In other words, me being a bisexual woman can be seen as an act of rebellion. Yay me!

It was a subtle shift in perspective that had enormous consequences on the way I viewed the rest of the world and my place in the world. Suddenly even mundane activities seemed potentially radical. With the example given at the beginning of the post, both girls could potentially be making a radical feminist statement . . . or a statement about gender . . . or a statement about freedom . . . or a statement about sexual orientation.

I guess it really comes down to two basic ways of rebelling. The first is by abstaining from certain looks, behaviors, or associations. The second is by embracing them.

I’d been taught to view the abstemious method as rebellion, but only because I saw embracing such behavior or associations the same as embracing the norms that society attached to them. How could that be rebellious?

I was faced with that question when I found out about Abercrombie and Fitch’s ridiculous status obsession, from not wanting the homeless to wear their brand to refusing to supply clothes to women larger than they deemed attractive.

I never actually purchased anything from Abercrombie, but I did have a shirt with their brand on it that my partner had found in a thrift store. Normally I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about brands, but I did get a small thrill whenever I wore Abercrombie. It was the only brand that was outright forbidden in the IFB because, as the Bob Jones University student handbook from 2011 states, “Abercrombie & Fitch and its subsidiary Hollister have shown an unusual degree of antagonism to biblical morality (page 32).”

I was more than a little miffed when the CEO turned into the king of snobs. Most of the people I knew wanted to boycott the company (abstinence rebellion). For a while, I felt pressured to stop wearing my thrift-store purchased shirt in solidarity.

Then this guy starts a movement of giving Abercrombie shirts to the homeless to “taint” the brand’s “pristine” reputation. An exploitative move on the part of privilege by using the homeless in status wars? Perhaps. Charitable activist choosing to make a political statement while helping those in need? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether his move was particularly wise or not, the larger idea—claiming something “forbidden”—is a valid though often overlooked form of rebellion. He wasn’t the only one doing the whole “you can’t stop me” act with Abercrombie, but he was the only one I saw that actually got attention. Such a form of rebellion raises a valid question. Would a rebellion be more successful by people boycotting Abercrombie (fiscal punishment) or by “unacceptable” people wearing their brand (reclamation of the forbidden)?

Several years ago, I saw rebellion as an action against an authority or a system of rule. It was a choice akin to standing up when you’ve already been sitting down. It was the radical, in-your-face moments of movies and books. And I’ve had my fair share of those and am proud of them.

But that’s not where rebellion has to end.

Now I’m starting to see that rebellion can be more “passive” than that. It can be as simple as refusing to submit to a false dilemma—refusing to box in your identity.

In this way, my agnostic spiritual life becomes a form of rebellion against fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike who want the world to be a choice between each other. My nudity-affirming feminism becomes a form of rebellion against both modesty culture and objectification culture that wants women’s bodies to be all about male arousal.

There is a time and place for marches, protests, petitions, and attention-grabbing speech. By all means we should be making use of those to effect change in society. But in the times when those are not appropriate or simply not feasible, it’s the quiet rebellion, the passive rebellion, that erodes the lines of societal norms. It’s the every-day, mundane kind of rebellion that shifts paradigms.

So, join me this week by going out there and living a rebellious life—a life that says that you can challenge or embrace stereotypes and still be kicking ass and taking names.

 

Authentic Movement: A Lesson in Following my Heart

This past weekend, I went to my first herbal conference, though hopefully not my last because it was a ton of fun. While I was there I decided to attend a class about working with plant allies. I’d developed an unusual bond with catnip over the last year, and I wanted to see if I could find a way to understand what made it particularly special to me.

I didn’t pay attention to the class title until I got there: “Authentic movement.”

For those who are equally unfamiliar with this type of movement, the best way I can describe it is movement meditation that involves going into a trance-like state in order to listen to your body’s urges (hence the “authentic part”…you only move when your body wants to). Since this class was focused on plant allies, it started with inviting the plant of your choice to accompany you on this mental journey.

I’m definitely not opposed to meditation or trances, and I’ve had my fair share of “visions” and revelations during meditation. But when I heard what was about to happen, my first thought was, “Oh hell no!”

I couldn’t imagine doing that in front of people, not just because it sounded potentially embarrassing but also because my experience with spiritual vulnerability has taught me to never let my guard down around others. When it came to spiritual groups, I lived by the motto: Never let anyone get you into a state of anything less than guarded.

However, I allowed myself to linger when the teacher explained that we’d all have our eyes closed during the exercise (no one would know I looked like a fool) and that her job was to create and hold safe space for us in our process.

I was still thinking I wouldn’t be comfortable doing anything, but at the very least, I figured I could learn what it was about and take it home with me if I really needed to be alone to feel safe.

To my utter surprise, I didn’t sit in the grass, hugging my knees to my chest the whole time. Not too long after she rang the meditation bells signaling the start of the exercise, I found myself releasing into my traditional meditative safe space. Part of me prowled the perimeter of my mind like a tiger, ready to pounce if I felt even the slightest hint of invasion or danger, but I slowly surrendered the rest of me to the movement.

Since visions are intensely personal, I won’t share what came to light in my soul here. However, I did want to talk about some of the secondary lessons I learned from participating in this class and stepping out of my comfort zone.

The first, and perhaps most obvious lesson, was the importance of listening to my body. As awkward as the idea of authentic movement sounded when I started, I realized later that it was nothing more than an exercise in intuition.

There will always be a cognitive, logical side to decision-making, and we hear about how to strengthen that aspect of our mind all the time. But there is also an intuitive side to decision making that we rarely talk about as a society. How do you know that you just applied for the right job? How do you know that this particular car or house is the one for you? How do you determine when it’s time to re-enter school? Or when it’s time to leave?

Sometimes, the logical side and the intuitive side coincide well, and the decision is easy. Other times, they clash, and what might seem like the best move to outsiders feels like the wrong move to you. Do you listen to your mind or your heart at those times?

Can you even tell the difference between your heart and your mind during those times?

Intuition was distrusted in the IFB. I was taught to fear and suppress it, yet I often found it to be my most accurate guide. Looking back with the awareness that comes not only with time but also with healing and distance from the brainwashing, I can see how my intuition protected me and led me, first in the small ways that informed me when people couldn’t be trusted with my truth, then in bigger ways when it led me out of the IFB even before I fully realized the magnitude of what I had left. Right now, I’m just beginning to grasp the depth of my intuition in protecting myself from my own truth until I could handle it.

However, my skill in listening and recognizing my intuition has been sketchy. I don’t always understand the subtle cues or hear the early warning signs. I can talk myself out of my feelings or deliberately ignore them in the effort to follow another’s expectations.

But the authentic movement showed me what it could be like to practice actually listening to myself. Rather than following someone else’s guided meditation or sitting still trying to empty my mind of useless thoughts, I can block out the outside world and go deep, deep into myself until my own impulse is all I can hear, see, feel, and understand.

The implications of this for my personal practice and life are exciting, to say the least, but I can’t help but also think about the implications for healing within a psychological setting. For anyone who has ever had their autonomy violated or their personhood crushed, I see tremendous possibilities for empowerment and reclamation through authentic movement.

Of course, in order for authentic movement to work, safe space is absolutely essential, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next week for that part of my revelation. My body is telling me it needs to repay the sleep debt it acquired over this magical weekend!

Cult Recruitment: An Insider’s Perspective

Even if you don’t know that much about cults, you’ve probably heard about the famous mind-control of brainwashing. It’s the process whereby new members have their identity broken down and cult values and a cult personality implemented instead. It sounds like a sensational process, requiring torture and weird machines.

Remember this scene from Lost?

Karl being brainwashed in Lost

The truth is, it’s not. If it were that obvious, people would be much less likely to join a cult. Brainwashing is a simple process of manipulation that is so subtle that new members don’t notice the destruction of their sense of self.

I know how the process works, intimately. Recruitment is an essential part of most cults (outside of the handful that stopped recruiting in order to kill themselves off), and the IFB is no different. However, I’m finding a disconnection between some of the scholarly understandings of recruitment and my own experience.

It’s not that the breakdown is wrong, per se. The mechanics are all there—targeting emotionally vulnerable people, bombing them with love, and offering them hope. All of that is entirely true.

So where’s the problem?

It always sounds so sinister. In Cults in our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer describes the process as “deliberate,” and to some extent it is deliberate, but it’s not intentional-deliberate (“I’m going to brainwash someone”) or malicious-deliberate (“I want to ruin her life”).

In the IFB, we absolutely targeted emotionally vulnerable people (children, military, grieving family and friends, the lonely, etc.). We had any number of programs to reach out to those in difficult places in their lives, those less fortunate, or those simply confused and dissatisfied with where their life was going. We promised them answers and meaning and showered them with love. We had both subtle and blatant ways of worming into their minds and planting the idea that their misery and trials were due to their sin. We were trained on how to approach people, how to gauge their receptiveness to the message, and how to gently push them into accepting our beliefs.

I think I still have a bookmark in my old Bible with my script cues written on it!

But we did it thinking we were doing the right thing. We would have never called it “recruitment,” “brainwashing,” “mind control,” or any of the other clinical terms.

We called it witnessing, sharing our faith, spreading the good news, and sharing the love of God. We saw ourselves as missionaries of good. People were dying and going to hell because of their sins, and we had the cure. It was our duty to offer them a chance for salvation.

“The most sobering reality in the world today,” Bob Jones III would often prompt in chapel.

“Is that people are dying and going to hell today,” the students would chant back to him.

I would have never admitted it because it was horribly taboo, but I never liked witnessing. I hated approaching a complete stranger and trying to find a way to trick them into talking about God. I hated asserting that they were sinful and needed to be saved or else they would go to hell. I even hated knocking on apartment doors and asking parents if I could take their kids to my Bible club when I was at BJU, often wondering what kind of parent would let a complete stranger take a child away simply by claiming to want to tell them about Jesus?

Every time I witnessed, I felt like a pompous jerk.

But I did it because I was led to believe that I was responsible for the lost souls of those I failed to witness to. Choosing not to try to recruit someone was tantamount to murdering that person. How could I possibly bear the guilt of watching them burn in hell for all eternity simply because I was too embarrassed to approach them?

Today, when I watch documentaries like “Jesus Camp,” I shudder to see the brainwashing tactics in play. When I hear about how Missions to Military (which has connections to the IFB, for the record) waits until soldiers are at their most broken point in boot camp before approaching them to witness, I get sick to my stomach to see vulnerable people being targeted.

But not for a single second would I ever think that the people doing the recruiting had bad intentions at heart. They believe in what they are doing 100%. That’s why they’re so seductive. Cults are insidious and destructive because victims believe in them. Brainwashing doesn’t end when you join—it’s just beginning. You can lay out a map of behavior for cult members to look at and point out exactly how they fit into that map, and they still won’t think they’re a cult because they’re convinced they’re doing the loving thing, the right thing, the only thing they can do.

Why am I writing about this?

Because it’s not good enough to just identify the behavior of cults and how they are destructive or even how that behavior is used in the grand scheme of control.

Cults are monsters, and the people in them can be monsters. But if you’re looking for a monster under your bed or hiding in the shadows, you’re not going to find it. All you’re going to find is a smiling face and a human being who desperately believes they are doing the right thing.

If researchers are truly going to expose cults and protect people from them, they need to be able to recognize that the most important part of the recruitment process isn’t the part where they break down the recruit’s identity—it comes long before that, when they lull the recruit into letting his/her guard down. The claws and fangs are there, hiding under the mask, but no one will see them until they try to leave.

Recruitment is a golden road to a physical hell paved with someone else’s good intentions.

On a Scale of 0 to 10, My Pain Is . . .

“Does that hurt?” the doctor asked me, pressing against my swollen foot.

“Yes?” I asked, then added, “No. I don’t know.”

“You’re grimacing.” She moves her hand to a different spot.

“Yeah, I think it hurts.”

Putting my foot down, she makes a note on the computer. “Has the pain worsened since it happened?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure. It comes and goes.”

This was me in the doctor’s office on Thursday as I got my foot checked out after having it hit by a baseball on Tuesday night. Thank goodness she didn’t ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 0-10 because I would have given two answers on two opposite ends.

The truth is, I have no idea how to gauge my pain. When I broke a toe in high school, I walked on it until it healed, wearing four inch heals every Sunday. I never went to the doctor, even though I could clearly see that it was misshapen.

“That’s impossible!” people have told me.

Maybe for someone who grew up in a normal environment—where belts are not considered legitimate whipping tools, where sexual abuse doesn’t lurk around church corners, and where abusive siblings don’t minimize the pain they caused after throwing you across your room by your neck.

Bur for someone who faced the possibility of pain on a daily basis, I’m not sure I could have survived if I hadn’t learned how to ignore it. I became very good at dissociating out of my body, talking myself out of my feelings, and redefining sensations as something else—as something acceptable to my various abusers.

So what happens when I suddenly don’t need the protection of a high pain tolerance?

I have to teach myself to listen to my body again.

Notice I didn’t say teach myself to feel pain again. My body, on some levels, has no problem feeling pain. It registers in my brain just fine. Sometimes it’s from current stimuli; sometimes it’s from past traumas. I feel it, but immediately my cognitive mind works to control its interference. Deep breaths, creative visualization, etc.

Like most things in life, it’s not bad in and of itself. The ability to look past pain is a good tool for pain management.

However, that’s not so good when the pain is there to tell me that something bad happened—like my foot this week, or the shin splints that notified me that I needed to adjust my running a few weeks ago, or the pulled muscle that told me I pushed myself too far in yoga last year.

In high school, I would have ignored all of those unless I simply couldn’t function—and I would have done permanent damage to my body.

I may not feel any more inclined to acknowledge the pain now. I could have muscled my way through this current injury if I were determined. I chose to go to the doctor—not because the pain was more intense than it was the last time I broke a toe, but because this time I’m committed to caring for and loving my body.

Plus I’m surrounded by people, for once, who don’t understand why the hell I wouldn’t go to the doctor if I had a question of injury, so I had lots of encouragement.

Turns out the X-ray didn’t show a fracture.

Immediately my stoic upbringing ran its familiar diatribe.  “You’re such a baby.” “You’re going to get fat.” “You’re so lazy.” “It’s not broken, so why can’t you walk?” “Is the pain really that bad?”

Apparently only broken bones serve as legitimate injuries to this “old me” that I’ve resurrected. It’s hard to make room for weakness and injury when you grew up on the motto “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

But here’s one thing I realize now that I didn’t realize back when I could bully myself out of listening to my body:

Ignoring the pain doesn’t actually make it go away.

Ignoring the injury doesn’t heal it.

Pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s weakness entering the body. It’s the signal that my body sends to my brain that something needs attention—something’s wrong. While there may have been times as a child when my mind needed to believe that the pain was unimportant, I’m not there anymore. I’m in a different place—a safe place—where I am responsible for listening and caring for myself, which means using crutches for a few weeks instead of trying to prove my willpower to those ghosts in my head.

 

What’s In A Name? Just A Soul

Hi my name is

What’s in a name?

Everything as far as I’m concerned. Names tell who you are. They’re your primary identifier. They say something about your personality, the culture you were born into, and your family history.

They possess power.

Names are important. Deep down, I think we know that, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it. I think it’s why we give each other nicknames and pet names, because we recognize that public names don’t have the same power as a name that is more personalized to an individual.

I hate my given name, but it carries a lot of information for an observant person. When I introduce myself with my birth name, someone could easily figure out that I grew up in a Christian home. A person who knows the etymology of my name would know that I was named after an animal that is not exactly known for thinking for itself. Someone who knows even a little bit of my background could easily deduce how the animal I was named after was both revered and disdained by my religious group.

When I first decided to choose a different name for my online life, I did so out of a desire to protect my given name. I was taking baby steps out of the IFB and was paranoid about being watched—for good reason. Family and members of my former church would stalk my online activity, often attacking me or chastising me for the questions I was asking. Something as simple as choosing a new music artist to listen to or talking about seeing a movie at a theater was enough to get me embroiled in arguments or buried under nasty emails. As the closet to my sexual orientation and changing religious beliefs began to peak open, I felt trapped. I needed a safe place to figure out myself and my world, but my Facebook page wasn’t that place.

I briefly considered going offline altogether, but I had started to build a true network of support for the first time in my life and couldn’t imagine leaving all that behind. Changing my name seemed like the only way I could protect myself as I explored where I needed to go.

So I unfriended everyone from my former church and blocked them on Facebook. Then I changed my name and web address. From then on, I started to develop a persona under Diane.

While my given name had been pretty well descriptive of who I was within the cult, Diane was much more descriptive of who I was striving to be. Diana is one of my favorite Goddesses—the virgin Goddess, a strong, capable woman who owes nothing to no man . . . the type of girl who doesn’t take shit from those who stick their noses where they don’t belong.

I felt different interacting under that name. It wasn’t just the security of having a protected page. It was the way the name made me feel, the personality traits that it brought to mind.

It was liberating.

Eventually, Diane came to feel like a true name—my birth name felt more like the shield that I wore around my family to protect my identity. Diane was the persona I wanted the world to see, while my birth name was the persona I adopted when I wanted to give the world as little of me as I could.

When I started this blog, I considered going back to my birth name. By that point, I knew that my chosen name had been divulged to my family (because the IFB are really persistent stalkers, especially when they’ve been denied the ability to snoop easily). I had no hopes of continuing to keep my chosen name a secret, but I also knew that I was no longer so afraid of them seeing my beliefs. They had lost the power to shame me into conformity.

But I came to realize that Diane felt too real to me now. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to use my birth name for fear that someone would link my words back to me; I didn’t want to use my birth name because I felt that my birth name no longer applied. I’ve even considered having my name officially or semi-officially changed (by semi-officially, I mean announcing it to friends and family and smacking them if they don’t comply).

But here’s a secret, even though I’ve adopted Diane as my own name, it’s another alias to one extent or another. It’s closer to who I am at my core–as close as I will ever publicly get, but it isn’t the name that I sign off with in my journals. No, I first learned the name I would adopt as my innermost name from a friend way back in high school. It was the name that resonated to my absolute core. It is my soul’s name, and only a handful of people have ever heard me refer to it.

And no, I’m not going to reveal that one here to you because, like the Doctor, I believe fully in the power of a name and the need for that power to remain with the one who possesses it.

Doctor Who Name

Nor am I going to reveal my birth name because, as every musician, actor, or writer has discovered at some point, the power in a given name is nothing compared to the power in a name you choose for yourself.

What’s in a name?

Only the identity you are given . . . or the identity you create.

The Point of No Return: When Survival and Freedom Are At Odds

Spoiler Alert: The Awakening and Crewel
Trigger alert: suicide

I finished reading The Awakening for the first time about four weeks ago. I think when I started it, I was expecting feminist erotica—titillating, empowered romance.

While it was certainly titillating and empowering in its own metaphoric way (I don’t think I’ve ever read more vague yet obvious references to a sexual awakening without there even being a kiss in the first three-quarters of the book), what I found was that it was less about sex and more about autonomy. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting the suicide at the end. And part of me wanted desperately to cry and to see in her death the tragedy of a life lost . . .

But I couldn’t.

All I could see was the freedom that she had found—both the freedom of life and the freedom of death.

It was the same feeling I got at the end of “Thelma and Louise,” when I wanted to scream as much from horror as from joy.

"Something's, like, crossed over in me and I can't go back, I mean I just couldn't live."

“Something’s, like, crossed over in me and I can’t go back, I mean I just couldn’t live.”

I know that feeling oh so well. I don’t often talk about my views of suicide because they tend to be hugely unpopular. I’m not even sure I’m prepared to get into all the nuances of my thinking here. Suicide is a deep topic, complex no matter how you approach is. But suffice it to say that I don’t always see suicide as a tragedy, as weakness, or as giving up.

Sometimes it can be exquisite. Sometimes it can be noble. Sometimes it can be a victory.

I can picture the reactions of some who are reading this, the horror and disgust they feel at my words. I’m sure some are going to accuse me of saying various things that I haven’t said. Others may attack me out of their own pain. And that’s okay. Those who don’t want to hear what I’m trying to say won’t be able to hear what I’m saying. I know they don’t understand—they can’t understand. And I accept them where they are.

But for some, their hearts are whispering, “I know what you mean.” They, like me, have experienced what Edna experienced and what Thelma and Louise experienced—even what the unnamed character in the Yellow Wallpaper experienced (although she didn’t technically die).

People can live a long time in a stifling environment, whether it be an abusive relationship, a totalitarian regime, a controlling community, or a hateful culture. The ability of the human spirit to adapt to such stressors and even rise above them is well-known and inspiring.

But I’m not here to talk about the endurance of the soul.

I’m here to talk about when the soul is no longer satisfied with merely existing.

For some, there comes a moment when they get a taste of hope and freedom, and they know they can never go back. That moment when they know that conformity doesn’t cut it, that treading water isn’t worth it, and that anything is better than what they have. That moment when the soul whispers, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

It’s a brilliant moment and a beautiful one!

It’s the point of no return.

To the rest of the world Edna, Thelma, and Louise may look like horrible, senseless tragedies, but those women understood what it meant to value their identity, autonomy, and freedom more than anything else.

Once you have that kind of awakening, it’s irrevocable.

I can remember the moment that I realized I couldn’t stay in the IFB. I’d been suicidal for most of high school, but I always felt ashamed of my desire to die. Then one day I knew that if I couldn’t get out, I would kill myself—and I would do it with relish–because it was far worse to be trapped in that life.

It was my point of no return, and I still think suicide would have been a victory for me if there were no other options.

But this post isn’t just about death . . . or well, it kind of is, but not the kind that we think of. In Tarot, the Death card is a special card. It rarely signifies a physical death. Rather it serves as a symbol for a transition that is so complete that it feels like you are dying in the process.

From the Traditional Rider-Waite illustrations.

From the Traditional Rider-Waite illustrations.

I think in our society’s fear of death, we’ve lost the ability to see it as a symbol. The point of no return is as much about the death of inhibition and the death of your old identity, relational ties, security, and place in society as it is about the willingness to die physically.

And that’s where I find Edna, Thelma, and Louise become symbols for an entirely different action—embracing the unknown. Hurdling off a cliff, surrendering to the vast, endless ocean—choosing to let go of everything you’ve known in order to pursue freedom and autonomy.

I was finishing Crewel around the same time that I was finishing The Awakening. Two books with vastly different plots and vastly different endings, but they felt like they were mirroring each other in a way that not even an English professor could orchestrate. The day after I cried my happy tears as Edna gave herself over to the pull of the tide, I was reading about Adelice ripping open the fabric of her society and contemplating her chances of escaping into the void beyond.

And I saw myself staring into the blackness of leaving my religion.

The point of no return is terrifying, but enlivening. You don’t know whether you’re going to be annihilated or break through to a new world, but in that moment of leaping, it doesn’t even matter.

Technically, we don’t know for sure whether Edna dies at the end of The Awakening. It’s implied that she cannot live, but the moment of death is never actually shown—because it’s the surrender that is the most important part, that moment when she decides she’s not going back. In Crewel however, we do see what happens after the point of no return. Adelice pitches herself over the edge, admitting that the fall could have potentially gone on forever, but nevertheless reaches out in faith, breaking through the unendurable illusion of her former life into an unknown, uncontrollable, but totally authentic world of her own choosing.

“What’s worth doing even if you fail?” Brene Brown asks in her new book Daring Greatly. I know that sacrificing my life for my freedom and autonomy was worth it . . . and that no matter how it ended, I couldn’t fail because I was claiming my freedom.

As Jesus once asked, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” In the IFB, I was taught that question was pointing to the waste of worldly possessions in relation to salvation. Now, however, I see it differently. What is the point of surviving–what is the point of safety–if your sense of self and freedom are the price? The point of no return isn’t about death; it’s about freedom being more important than survival.

Is It Wrong to Stone an Adulterous Wife?

“The Bible says it; that settles it.”

How many times have I heard that statement, or variations on it? It’s used as justification for almost any unpopular or unpleasant stance in Christianity.

“The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. I don’t hate them. I just can’t accept their sin.”

“The Bible says women are to submit to their husbands and be silent in the church. I’m not a misogynist. It’s just the way God set things up.”

“The Bible says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. If you don’t accept him, you’re going to hell.”

“The Bible says that a parent who loves a child will beat that child to save his soul. I don’t want to whip my children, but the Bible commands it. I would be a horrible parent if I didn’t obey.”

It’s almost as if Christians think that by pulling out this excuse, they can distance themselves from their own actions and words.

Sometimes I counter with other words that have been attributed to Jesus or God.

“Be submissive to the wife; her love ennobles man, softens his hardened heart, tames the wild beast in him and changes it to a lamb.” (The Life of St. Issa)

“The kingdom of heaven is within you and all around you. Cut a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me.” (The Gospel of Thomas)

“There is no such thing as sin.” (The Gospel of Mary)

“I tell you that the son of man is within you all! Seek him inside; those who search diligently and earnestly shall surely find him.” (The Gospel of Mary)

Those who are familiar with the Bible quickly recognize that my quotes aren’t in the “Bible” as we know it.  And, of course, people react negatively to them when I refer to them, complaining that those aren’t known words of Jesus. And we get down to the real heart of the issue.

Why do we accept the Bible as it is presented to us today?

The 66 books contained in today’s popular Scripture are far from the only books that claim to be gospels or holy texts of Christianity. In fact, there are enough texts that aren’t included to create a whole new Bible! I’ve got the collection sitting on my coffee table.

Historically, the Canon has varied considerably since the first century. The Catholic Canon cannot be traced any earlier than 393 (almost four centuries after Jesus). The Protestant Canon, which further rejects the Apocrypha, is even more recent. And no matter which version of the Canon we’re talking about (for there are many), the inescable fact is that it was chosen by a committee of men who had never even met Jesus.

People try to argue that the non-Canonical books were rejected as frauds which were most likely written by unqualified people. But the true authorship of the Canonical books is equally questionable. We don’t even have a reasonable guess as to who wrote Hebrews, and the four gospels are neither the oldest nor the most credible in authorship. The Gospel of Matthew wasn’t even attributed to Matthew until well into the first century.

Sometimes Canon apologists abandon the fruitless age/authorship line and try to argue that the non-Canonical books were rejected because they contain unorthodox teachings—that for whatever truth they may possess, it’s tainted with errors and lies and is filled with misogyny or questionable morals.

They’re right.

But the Canon that the church accepts contains passages that command the stoning of rape victims and people who break the Sabbath. The Canon that the church accepts contains passages where God commanded the slaughter of infants. The Canon that the church accepts contains passages that blame women for the entire fall and demands that they redeem themselves through the pain of childbirth.

Authorship and credibility has always been a crapshoot. At least before the Canon was set, Christians were forced to use their brains in determining what to accept and reject.

“But once you start questioning the inerrancy of the Bible, then how do you know which parts to accept?”

I don’t—if by “accept” you mean “don’t question.”

So where am I going with this? Before I finish out my rampage against the Bible, let’s take a tiny little tangent—a story.

Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to see what humans were capable of doing. He came up with a way to test their abilities by setting up a teacher/student scenario, assigning one volunteer as the teacher and one as the student. Teachers were responsible for giving their students a simple test. If the students failed the test, the teachers were told to hurt the students to help them learn from their mistakes faster. It started out with mild pain, but with each mistake, the pain was supposed to get worse.

As the teaching commenced and the punishments rose in intensity, the people who had agreed to help the man with his teaching started to think that maybe the whole thing wasn’t working out so well. They felt like they were hurting the students too much and they asked if they should stop. But the man told them to continue. This work was important.

So they continued.

They continued even after the student had stopped trying to respond to the questions.

They continued even when they thought they had killed the student.

This man wasn’t really interested in how pain affected learning. He was interested in obedience. In fact, the “students” were really actors and the pain wasn’t real—but it was to the teachers who thought they had killed their students.

His experiments became famous. You can watch a sample of them below.

Milgrim Shock Experiment

His results became famous—when ordered by an authority figure to do something, even something atrocious, the majority of people will obey without question.

Obedience.

“Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe. Doing exactly what the Lord commands. Doing it happily. Action is the key. Do it immediately. And joy you will receive. Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.”

The Bible says it; that settles it.

People do some pretty atrocious things within fundamentalism. I have a four-page document of links to stories of abuse, violence, and hatred in the name of God from IFB churches alone. That’s not even counting the number of scandals in other denominations or the things that get covered up.

When confronted with these acts, many try to excuse their behavior saying, “I just did what I thought was right.”

But the problem is that they didn’t think.

They obeyed.

They obeyed the faulty interpretation of a two-thousand year old book that is controversial in its authenticity at best. Very often, they overrode their own conscience in order to obey a command from someone they had never met.

The Bible should be questioned.  Every fucking word should be questionable, especially if you are trying to distance yourself with a phrase like “God said it; that settles it.”

What are you willing to obey? Are you going to gouge out your eyes or cut off your hand if you’re tempted to sin? Are you going to stone a girl who gets married without being a virgin? Are you going to demand we execute every man, woman, and child in the countries we’re at war with? Are you going to force women to wear veiland cover their heads? Are you going to burn alive your pastor’s daughter if she becomes a prostitute? 

Just because the Bible said it doesn’t make it okay. We are each responsible for our own choices. While claiming the Bible as authority might save someone the grueling labor of figuring out what they actually believe is moral, it doesn’t divert culpability. God is not the invisible white lab coat who is going to accept responsibility for the things someone does in obedience to him.

Obedience is not an excuse.