When Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist: In Memory of the Dante Papers

Before I left the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, I went through a phase of trying to “fix” fundamentalism. It was a time when I could recognize the discrepancies, cognitive dissonance, and abuse, but I wasn’t quite ready to recognize the cult as a whole. I was a student at Bob Jones University, three years into my degree, when I got involved with a small group of students who were writing newsletters under the name of Dante and distributing them anonymously throughout the campus. We weren’t ashamed of what we were doing, and we believed we had every right to write those papers. But we also knew that if the administration found out, we’d be in pretty severe trouble.

“The Voice of Truth” had three good runs. Then one of the group members got caught and kicked out. He refused to turn in the rest of us, so we were able to return to the university if we chose to. I was torn. A year away from graduation—practically speaking, I could have just kept my head down, gotten my degree, and gotten out. It seemed like the smarter move at the time . . . before I found out that the degree was bogus and worth about as much as a non-degree anyway.

But I couldn’t overlook the complete disregard for freedom of speech. How could a school that practically worshipped the Constitution as inspired by God violate other people’s Constitutional rights so blatantly? I wrestled up until a couple weeks before I was supposed to return. As I began trying to pack, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish packing. I simply couldn’t go back and be silent about what had happened. I withdrew from the school, explaining my protest to the admissions office.

I don’t think any of the group actually returned that semester, and the school had a quiet fall. When spring came around, two of us collaborated one last paper to send out to let the students know what had happened.

I’ve been out of the IFB for several years now, and I still value freedom of speech as the cornerstone of freedom. Wherever there is power, I suppose people will always have to fight to protect their freedoms, but lately with Obama’s expansion on the Patriot Act (as if it weren’t bad enough initially) and the recent revelations we’ve seen regarding privacy right violations, the punishment of whistle blowers, and the silencing of protesters, it seems an especially timely year to remember what freedom of speech means to me—what I sacrificed for it, what it was like without it.

With Banned Book Week starting Sunday, I wanted to post the last of the Dante papers that ever went out. It’s a bit cheesy in some places and still carries cultic influences in others, but for the most part, the core of the message is one that I think is vitally important even outside of the IFB. Don’t ever take freedom for granted. Guard and protect it. Treasure it. Use it.

Voice Of Truth Issue 4

Last year, a student [editor’s note: we let the university think it was a single student to protect the others involved] began writing anonymous papers in an effort to spur the students and administration to think critically. He was not attacking the school, although some of the people who read the papers felt the need to defend themselves. He was not, as some have asserted, complaining or trying to gather a following and incite rebellion like Absolom, or he wouldn’t have written anonymously. He wanted to help and improve the school, not tear it down. For that, he was “denied re-enrollment,” which is the same treatment BJU gives those who engage in extra-marital sex during the summer.

First of all, there was nothing wrong in what he did. The administration, when pressed for an answer, admitted that he broke no rule in the handbook. To be quite honest, we all get stuck in our ways, and from time to time, we need someone to challenge our beliefs. Why? If our beliefs cannot stand up on their own merit, we must re-evaluate what we believe. Questioning a belief is not wrong, even if the belief itself is correct. Unfortunately, in fundamental circles, the very idea of questioning what you’ve been taught is not permitted and asking “why?” often brings both rejection and accusations of heresy. Have we forgotten who our God is? God can handle our questions. He is not afraid to let His people question Him. Many in the Bible have done so, including Job, David, Elijah, Noah, and Moses. In fact, questioning what you believe can be very good because it makes you stronger. Each of us will have to defend himself at some point. We should be sure of what we believe so that we can be ready to give an answer to any man who asks.

Secondly, the school was very wrong in expelling the writer. Such an act was cowardly and tyrannical. By kicking him out, the school blatantly infringed upon his constitutional rights. He broke no rule; he broke no law; he told no lie. He merely expressed his opinion in writing, protected by the First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “We punish men for crimes they commit, but never for the opinions [that] they have.” The previous writer committed no crime. What made the administration so angry and so defensive? Was it that he expressed his opinion, because he expressed it in writing, or because he expressed a differing opinion from the one held by the school? The freedom to express what we believe without punishment or suppression is one of the fundamental freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to win for us.

Along with that freedom comes the freedom to read and either accept or reject what we read, which the school effectively took away from the students in expelling Dante. No one forced those who disagreed with him to read his paper. Those who read and agreed did so of their own volition. Another President, John F. Kennedy, said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” What is the school so afraid of? Again, if their beliefs are true, their beliefs should be able to stand the test of one lone voice crying out. And whether or not the school’s beliefs are true, the students have a right to hear both sides and choose for themselves what they believe. BJU stole those rights away by suppressing free speech.

The original writer of The Voice of Truth was not trying to war against BJU. The administration turned it into a war. Obviously, the school, its administration, and its students are not perfect. However, many choose to accept BJU’s rules and regulations without question or thought. So have generations before us. But looking at the history of the school reminds us that BJU has been very wrong before. Most students know that BJU lost its tax-exempt status at some point. Few, however, know why. The school used to prohibit inter-racial dating and inter-racial marriage. In fact, any student who openly disagreed with the school’s stance could be kicked out. Sound somewhat familiar? Of course, such a racist policy could not survive. Dr. Bob III rescinded and apologized for that policy in 2000 on national television. However, I wonder how many who were kicked out for that reason got even so much as an apology letter?

Could it be that just as BJU was wrong with its unconstitutionally racist rules, BJU is just as wrong with its unconstitutionally suppressive rules? Although it’s obvious that, biblically and constitutionally, it was wrong for the school to kick the writer out and to try to suppress the paper, few would say anything. All of you, students and faculty, have a choice. Will we allow this suppression? I still strongly believe that BobJonesUniversity is a good school with many merits and the potential to be a great and shining light for Christ. However, the school’s attitude of stubbornness and tyranny often covers this light in the bushes.

 

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.

 

Reaching Out to Christian Allies: An Apology and a Challenge

I talk a lot about my dislike for Christianity.

As a survivor of an abusive Christian cult, I think I’ve earned that right.

But I also recognize and appreciate that not all Christians are abusive sociopaths. I have some friends who identify as Christian who are wonderful people. I’m so proud of them for finding a way to turn Christianity into a positive faith experience (not that it’s my place to feel proud of them, but I have to give them credit and respect for doing what I could not).

I thought that my disdain and criticism of Christianity were clearly not something they would perceive as directed at them.

I was wrong.

Within most systems of oppression, there is a way to differentiate between individuals within the privileged group and the system that grants them privilege and oppresses others. Patriarchy and male privilege delineate a system that oppresses women and gives men power without implying that men are all horrible, misogynistic asses. The same goes for White privilege and racism and for homophobia, heterosexism, and straight privilege (or biphobia and monosexism for that matter).

I’ve never heard a differentiation made between religious oppression and religious people.

It might be clear in my mind when I rail against Christianity that I’m not railing against all individuals who identify as Christians, but someone else may only hear a word that identifies them personally.

I don’t want to make Christians feel targeted as individuals by my hatred.

Some have tried to argue that what I dislike about Christianity “isn’t really Christian.” But you can’t say that someone who identifies as Christian isn’t Christian because you dislike the way they act. It’s a logical fallacy, commonly known as “No true Scotsman.” It should be an obvious logical fallacy. No one ever tries to argue, “That’s not really a White person. They’re racist, and I’m not. Since I’m White, they can’t be.” It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not a valid differentiation method.

But I understand what these people are getting at . . . I also want to be able to differentiate between Christianity as a faith identity and Christianity as an oppression/prejudice.

What we need is a word, like sexism, to identify Christianity as a system of power. Whether Christianity was meant to be a system of power is beside the point. We have to deal with what Christianity is, not lament what it should have been. Being a Christian is not bad, but just because an individual Christian doesn’t want to participate in oppression doesn’t mean that the religion suddenly loses its oppressive elements.

I came across something on Urban Dictionary the other day that feels like a solution. “Religism” hasn’t come into wide usage yet (I’m hoping to change that), but it exists to identify prejudice against those of a different religion.

Voila! Just like that, I have a word to describe the prejudice and oppression that comes from the Christian religion as a whole that doesn’t target individuals!

I feel it’s important to say that I’m truly sorry for the allies that I’ve inadvertently hurt. I should have done my Google search far before now. I want to work with Christian allies.

But in return, Christian allies need to also do work to recognize where they have privileges because of their faith identity. Just as I have hurt Christian friends without meaning to, many Christians unintentionally contribute to the oppression of others, even with the best of intentions. This article has a great beginning list of privileges Christians often enjoy without realizing it. I’ve added some of my own additions below.

  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, your neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances aren’t likely to view you as an imminent threat.
  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, the media and law enforcement aren’t likely to see your religion as the root of that violence.
  • If being questioned by the police, you have reasonable expectation that stating your religious faith will be an asset rather than a liability.
  • If arrested, you have reasonable expectation of a speedy trial without excessive detainment.
  • If you talk about your faith on the phone, you can feel relatively secure that the NSA won’t monitor you for simply mentioning your religion.
  • Lawmakers and judges who oppose laws on religious reasons refer to your religion.
  • In cases of civil rights violations, your religion is likely to be favored.
  • The morals of your religion are so commonly accepted that they are represented even in media and entertainment that claims to be from a different religious perspective (e.g. Charmed, a supposedly Pagan show, featuring Christian-esque demons despite the fact that most Pagans do not believe in the Christian version of the Devil or good and evil.)
  • Accepted alternatives to scientific theory reference your religion’s mythology.
  • Despite a violent past, your religion is not considered violent.
  • TV shows that portray your religion favorably aren’t likely to be boycotted or recalled because of public outrage.
  • History often favors your religion’s perspective and portrays the work of those from your religion as beneficial.
  • Even non-religious people are likely to use your religious buildings for special occasions unless they have cultural ties to other religions.
  • If neighbors or acquaintances find out about your faith, they are likely to assume you are a safe person for their children to be around.

I could go on, but I hope that my point has been made. It’s hard to see all the ways that Christianity is favored above other religions in the U.S. until you step out of Christianity. It doesn’t mean that these privileges are always present for all Christians, nor does it only refer to rights acknowledged by the government. Privilege is about societal structure that favors one group above another.

And I’m not saying that having privilege automatically makes someone a bad person. Privilege, by its very definition, is something that is given to a group of people whether they want it or not. It’s not necessarily something they have a choice about, and those who are aware of their privilege are limited in their ability to decline to participate.

However, being aware of privilege and taking steps to counter it can pave the way for healing and change.

I’m taking the first step to acknowledging how I’ve hurt the conversation by failing to differentiate between people who have a Christian faith identity and the Christian religism that pervades society. I’m changing my language in order to open the door for that conversation to begin again. We can work together to address the oppression within Christianity but only when Christian allies are willing to acknowledge that it exists.

Now, the ball is in the court of the allies. Are you willing to do your part to address and raise awareness of the system? Can you meet me in this place of differentiation? It won’t be easy. It may challenge you to examine your own life and faith a bit closer. It may challenge you to change perspectives, which is going to be extremely difficult when society is designed to validate your perspective. It may require you to bite your tongue when a wounded person is writhing under the agony of what Christian religism has done to them and to practice patience, love, and space-holding for those too hurt to recognize yet that you are not the same as the system. It may require stepping back from the conversation and listening instead of talking, following instead of leading, acknowledging instead of defending.

The good news is that if you’re a Christian ally, you’ve probably already had to do these things in other areas. You’ve probably already done some work to address white privilege if you’re white, male privilege if you’re a man, and straight privilege if you’re straight. This is nothing new to those who love equality. The trick is to take what you’ve already learned to do and apply it to a new aspect of your life.

Guest Post: Sometimes Fuckin’ Magical: An Enlightened-ish Post about “The Freedom to Cuss”

Today’s Guest Post is from Gail Dickert, author of Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams and Enlightened-ish.

It’s time we put the ‘F’ word back in fundamentalism. For those of us who have survived “Christian” Fundamentalism specifically, the inability to embrace our inner sailor has been detrimental to our spiritual and psychological well-being. However, as I discuss in Enlightened-ish, fundamentalism is an equal opportunity oppressor. There are New Age fundamentalists, Buddhist fundamentalists and probably Muslim fundamentalists. These fundies of our faith experience have a way of taking something quite natural and turning it into a process of self-suppression that divorces us from valuable parts of our human condition. Consider this excerpt from a chapter called “The Freedom to Cuss,” which is the very first freedom in Enlightened-ish.

~~

“… organized religion is far from being the only possible obstacle to enlightenment. Industrialized societies have been isolating themselves from the spirit-body connection for decades. Our behavior reveals that the body can be separated from the soul. We can take our bodies to the spa and treat it with essential oils and gentle touches and yet continue to harbor old feelings from being ill-treated by a co-worker or spoken harshly to by a parent. Conversely, we can take our souls to the church pews and saturate them with creative, understanding and compassionate communities only to return to our homes where we barely know how to function and our souls become neglected in mindless attempts at intimacy.

We try to do everything and accomplish next to nothing every single hour of those precious 24 that we are given each day.

We cannot blame our governments. We cannot blame religion. We cannot blame family.

                        Damnit, who can we blame?

                        Politics may tell you to blame a party or leader. Religious leaders may tell you to blame a devil or karma. Society may tell you to blame a parent or the economy.

Politicians may say you can find salvation in their new campaign perspective. Religious leaders may say you can find respite in eternal life. Society may say you can beat the odds by applying yourself and working harder to get what you want, can what you get and then sit on your can but no!

The sacred journey to enlightenment is about personal responsibility.

                        Go ahead.

                        Cuss about it.

            If you are looking outside of yourself for any answers, you are going to get increasingly frustrated by the lack of answers that I will offer you.

                        I am not you.

            I will only suggest that you go inward and you find out what the Sacred has to say to you individually, to your body, in your mind, for your heart, about your soul.” (Freedom to Cuss, Enlightened-ish: A Grief Memoir about Spiritual Awakening)

~~

Well, fuck, Gail,” you exclaim. “Part of doing a guest post is delivering some easy-to-follow Five Step program so I can heal myself, awaken, forgive my oppressors or let go of my past. You suck.”

Hey, be nice to the guest blogger. There’s a good chance that we can be sometimes fuckin’ magical here.

How about I create for us The 3 Tenants of the Freedom to Cuss, so we can really stay in touch with our fundamentalist roots here? I mean, what’s freedom without a few rules, right? (See how I did that? I made a point and then I prepare to contradict my own point and proceed anyway… that’s the Freedom to Guest Blog However You Want, bitches).

Tenant One: Thou shalt cuss because it frees your mind.

With a little En Vogue attitude, let your hair down and let the words flow from the foul-mouthed freedom-fighter within your brain. Our minds, while sometimes our greatest ally, often censor us and play tapes in our heads about what is “right” or “proper.” Free your mind and I have no doubt that the rest will follow! This has certainly been the case for our “Bi-feminist Apostate” who hosts this blog. Just look at her writings and how she continues to bloom in the pile of spiritual manure that her family of origin chose for her. I mean, it’s about as badass as you get – when you let your mind wander into leslooms and yoni rituals. The shit is made good, when we choose to outshine the stink, ya know?

Tenant Two: Thou shalt cuss because it saves your heart.

I’m not a medical doctor, but as an intuitive healer, I’ve seen more than once, how people who block their “uncomfortable” emotions end up choosing unhealthy behaviors that prevent the flow of love to and from their hearts. Not cussing is like a big, cholesterol-packed McDonald’s cheeseburger for your energetic health. Ironically, with every cuss word that you utter, you pump authenticity and pure, raw blood through your arteries… and when it comes back to your heart through your veins, the vulgarity is full of life-giving oxygen.

Tenant Three: Thou shalt cuss because it’s fucking hysterical.

Let’s be honest. In the proper setting (and with the right amount of dessert wine), dropping a few inappropriate F bombs is incredibly entertaining. The first time I heard someone say “un-be-fucking-lievable,” I think my inner grade school kid punched a bully in the face. I thought, “Yes! I wanna cuss like that!” One of my favorite memes on Facebook is the one where the Buddhist children are meditating and one shouts, “First to Enlightenment… eat my dust, bitches!”

enlightenment bitches

Now, as the Executive Director of an Early Learning Center, I’m not suggesting that this is quite so entertaining in all settings, but honestly, people of faith take themselves way too seriously sometimes. Nothing breaks the ice better than knowing that I can laugh with someone about how the sacred and the silly converge… and a hearty, “Hells Yeah” in response to finding a good parking space is really appreciated sometimes. Why not act like you won the World Series when you manage to get through the day without (ironically) screaming profanities at your boss? “Way to fuckin’ go, yo! You did it!”

Honestly, in the end, The Freedom to Cuss has less do with actual cussing, or even fundamentalism and more to do with the grief that I felt when my father died. On that day and every day since, I don’t kindly dress up my grief with happy words about pious platitudes related to life after death or everything happening for a reason.

Nope, every time I consider that he will not be at my wedding…

When I consider that he will never hold a grandchild…

When I consider that he doesn’t call on Saturdays anymore to annoy me with his crossword puzzle answers…

When I consider that the leaders at the church I was attending right before he died responded poorly to my need to grieve freely…

When I consider that my ex made my grief all about her and I was too heartbroken to get out of that relationship…

When I consider that I was only 33 years old when the man who brought me into the world died…

I get fucking sad.

I even get fucking mad.

And in that way… I learn to be free.

Damnit! So this is awakening?

fuck you

Well then…

Namaste, my friends.

Let your badassery begin today!

P.S. Fundamentalism: The Equal Opportunity Oppressor – stay tuned this week for my full discussion of the topic at For Gail So Loved the World.

Playing in Possibility (Step Two to Spiritual Freedom)

Back in January, I wrote about embracing uncertainty and sitting with the discomfort of deconstructing my worldview. It was a terrifying but important part of leaving the cult. At the time, I knew that “The Freedom of Uncertainty” was what I would consider the first step to true spiritual freedom, but it wasn’t the last step. I hinted at the next step towards the end of that post.

“I began to play with ideas, trying them on like clothes, seeing how they fit. I allowed myself to start exploring and creating my own spirituality, choosing what made sense to me rather than what I was too scared to reject. Suddenly the journey to find what I believed was a wondrous, fascinating, and exhilarating journey, rather than one of terror and pain.”

Play.

I know I’ve written about it several times already, but it seems the more I look at it, the more I feel its importance. But how can I codify this idea of play into a meaningful philosophy? I don’t know if I can, but I’m going to give it a playful shot.

To start I want to look at two fields in which ideas are treasured, science and philosophy.

I find many people worship science as the concrete body of knowledge upon which they can rely. By worship, I don’t mean they think of it as a god. I mean they treat it like a god—with the same rigid certainty that other religions treat their religious texts.

In reality, science is far from certain. Every published study contains a discussion section at the end which should list weaknesses, ways in which the hypothesis could still be wrong, and areas that need additional research, even if the overwhelming evidence of the study was in support of the hypothesis. Of course, when news stories cover a popular scientific or psychological study, they try to leave that part out. They try to make it sound like the results were “proven.”

In science, nothing is proven; it is merely supported. One of the first things I learned in my research methods class is that scientific knowledge is only as good as what we think we know. Every hypothesis can be torn down by a single new discovery.

Now, before people get angry with me for denying science, I’m not.

I love science, but what I love about science is that it isn’t about knowledge. It’s about exploring the unknown and testing the known.

To some extent, I want to say by testing the known because one of the strengths of science is building off of evidence. But I left the “and” there because the other great strength of science is that it constantly tests itself. It takes imagination to look at an experiment and see what can be built off of the results, but it takes even more imagination to look at an experiment and envisage how many other ways the results can be explained. Scientific “knowledge” is constantly in flux, changing as technology improves and understanding deepens.

It’s a beautiful dance between imagination and experience.

Science pushes the boundaries of the world to see what we can do. It’s a form of physically playing with possibility, but just because something is impossible for science in this moment doesn’t mean it’s impossible. That’s where philosophy comes in.

Philosophy and science always seemed at odds to me. I actually hated philosophy passionately when I was getting my undergrad degree in psychology. Philosophy doesn’t have to demonstrate validity or accuracy. As long as the philosopher can coherently connect her/his line of reasoning, it’s a valid philosophy. It seemed like such a scam compared to the rigorous experimental method that science and psychology had to go through to get a hypothesis or theory widely accepted.

I don’t know when my opinion of philosophy officially changed, but at some point I realized that without philosophy we wouldn’t have science. Before we can get down to testing anything, we have to first imagine something. Ironically, what I find most frustrating about philosophy is also its greatest asset—the ability to consider an idea and follow a line of thinking without regard to whether it’s true.

Every discovery starts with a “what if” question. As I pointed out above, science is limited to our current understanding and abilities, but there is so much more out there right now that science can’t even begin to touch—and scientists know it.

So does that mean that what science cannot test and verify doesn’t exist? One philosophy might say so. 😉

But we would be in sad shape indeed if we limited our exploration of ideas to only what we can physically play with. Not only would philosophy be out (along with all the yummy philosophical ideas that exercise our brain’s understanding of reality), but so would certain kinds of math and science.

Two seemingly opposing bodies of “knowledge,” but together they encapsulate the essence of play.

David Eagleman has this fantastic TEDtalk on Possibilianism. He describes how the universe is full of  infinite possibilities in the unknown, and he encourages people to embrace them. When I watch the video, I get excited that there’s a man who knows how to embrace uncertainty and play with possibility (there’s a man who’s faced down his fears).

But he contradicts himself! He says that possibilianism doesn’t mean people can believe in ESP because, as far as science has shown, there’s no evidence for it.

I agree with him partially. We do need to work with our worldview to incorporate the evidence that we have surrounding us.

But the part that ESP isn’t a possibility is only true insofar as our technology and understanding work today. Given a good imagination, someone could still formulate a worldview in which ESP is a valid possibility without contradicting the evidence that we currently have. The only way in which ESP is definitely impossible is in the way that we have imagined it to function in the past.

I can imagine some are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Oh, great. Pseudoscientist over here who believes in ESP.”

But that’s oversimplifying it!

I don’t believe in ESP, per se. I believe in the possibility for a valid worldview to exist in which ESP fits.

Eagleman does a brilliant job of showing how science and philosophy can play, but I think there needs to be another layer to this idea of playing with possibility—that of being comfortable with relativism and multiple layers of truth. This is actually very much present in philosophy, but we forget about it when we step into the arena of “knowledge,” which is really just another human construct like time.

This is where true spiritual freedom comes together. It’s one thing to be willing to test your beliefs and figure out if they “work” in the real world. That’s important–necessary even. It’s even better to consider the value of a belief whether or not it ends up being true. But when you combine the willingness to play with ideas with the recognition that truth comes in many shades, then you truly have infinite possibilities. You can find exactly what works for you and appreciate the level of truth that it represents to you without feeling the need to deny evidence or prove that everyone else needs to believe the same.

The Place of Apology in the Cycle of Abuse

Have you heard about Exodus International yet?

They pretty much did what every survivor dreams their abusers would do (in between the dreams where boulders fall on the abuser). They apologized and have announced that they are shutting down . . . you know, in case you live under a rock and only read my blog.

Great news, right? Now we can all hug and “move on.”

Wrong.

As with most apologies that come from abusers, there’s fine print. They’re starting another organization under a different name.

Forgive me while I vomit.

Let’s review a little something about abuse, something that we tend to forget when faced with apologies from abusers . . . they all do this! They all pull out an apology from time to time.

“I’m so sorry! It will never, ever happen again!”

And it doesn’t, until the next time.

It’s such a common pattern of abuse that it’s made its way into a pretty little flow chart that you will come across in most basic psychology classes: Tension, Incident, Reconciliation, Calm.

“This is the song that never ends. Yes it goes on and on my friends…”

cycle of abuse

It takes a while for victims to learn that apologies don’t necessarily mean things are going to change, but sooner or later, we catch on. In the context of abuse, apologies mean nothing. They’re one of the more underhanded ways of catching victims off their guard and making way for more abuse.

That’s true, even if it’s a sincere apology.

Does that mean that abusers can never truly change?

Not at all. Everyone can change, including abusive people/organizations. But it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work to prove that the promised change is real. Too often apologies have been used by abusers to get charges dropped, prevent victims from leaving, make themselves look better, or even get themselves into a position for abusing new victims.

Not so surprising then that I found this sudden apology from Exodus a little questionable (especially since it came out the right before a program aired in which survivors of the ex-gay movement confronted Alan Chambers and Exodus’ practices).

I was willing to give them a chance, but I needed to see some proof before I started celebrating.

Shutting down was a good start for an abusive organization. For abusive individuals, that would be the equivalent of quitting a job that puts them in a position to abuse or relinquishing authority within the home. Perhaps if Exodus had stopped with the shut-down, they would seem more believable in their contrition.

Unfortunately, they made the mistake of thinking they could just start up again. Kind of like a priest getting caught abusing a child and starting a new ministry in a different parish.

BAD!

Acknowledging abuse means acknowledging that they abused that position of power. Pretending they can just pick up and start anew is the biggest indication I’ve seen that they don’t understand the full gravity of what they’ve done. It shows little concern for their victims and how their victims might be feeling. It shows no concern for protecting other people. It’s a completely ego-centric approach.

This is exactly the kind of crap that made me write my “Forgiveness is Bullshit” post a while back. 

More importantly, with an apology comes the responsibility to shut up and listen. Abuse is about power. It’s about silencing victims and stealing their voices. When abusers apologize and truly want to change, they need to accept full responsibility for their actions, which means zipping their mouths for once and letting the victims speak. The victims need a chance to voice their pain. Apologizing doesn’t erase the victim’s need to be heard, and an apology that is used to try to coax a victim into more silence is just another form of abuse.

Exodus isn’t listening right now. They’re barreling ahead with their own ideas and agendas. They’ve spent years teaching that homosexuals are sinful and need to be cured. They’ve spent years torturing innocent people and convincing them it’s “for their own good.” Now, they want to say sorry, kiss and make up, and go back to loudly declaring their beliefs. And the worst part?! I don’t see any change in their message. From what I understand from TWO, ex-gay has rebranded as Restored Hope Network. The “About” section of their new Restored Hope Network still condemns homosexuality as a sin that will keep people out of heaven and even steal their salvation away.

So . . . what the hell is the point of shutting down then?

The only ones they’re speaking for are themselves, trying to do damage control because their victims are getting vocal. Where is the desire to understand their victims’ experiences? Where is the desire to educate themselves on the truth after so many years of believing lies?

This isn’t like a company suddenly deciding that a product isn’t selling. Exodus doesn’t get to pull the “consumers have spoken” line. This is about an organization that survived on the exploitation of the pain of a group of people.

Change has to happen for this apology to mean anything, and I’m not talking about a change in the direction of their marketing. There has to be a change in behavior. Exodus needs to completely close its doors, back away from the homosexuality arena, take responsibility for their actions, and let their victims speak out. They need to show humility and understanding over what they’ve done and the impact their actions have had.

Sorry just isn’t enough, and in this case, I’m convinced it’s not even sincere. Thankfully, I’m not seeing many people who are buying their b.s. right now, but in case anyone is confused by the smoke and mirrors, Exodus isn’t shutting down. They’re just apologizing and changing their name so they can continue to do the same thing all over again.

EDIT: There’s also rumors of Chambers starting a “reduce fear” organization, but even if he has good intentions at this point (doubt it), he has yet to prove he has even changed himself. We’ve got the same problems as above. He’s not leaving his position of power, he’s shifting it. He’s not listening, he’s restarting under a different name. And though I can’t find any information yet about his Reduce Fear idea, even if its goal is to preach acceptance, he doesn’t get to switch from being the head of the abusive organization to the lgbt church advocate overnight like that. I wouldn’t trust him any more than I trust this “Restored Hope Network” crap.

Have You Ever Heard of a Superstitious Witch?

I normally keep my spellwork pretty quiet, partially because it’s none of people’s business. But if I were extremely honest with myself, I’d also have to admit that I’m afraid—not of the people who would think I was evil. Ironically, the prejudiced and terrified are fun to poke with my non-traditional beliefs. Rather, I’m afraid of those who will think that I am silly and superstitious.

I know when people find out that I create my own brand of spirituality by drawing from Paganism, Buddhism, and other religions, many raise an eyebrow at the idea. Why would I trade in the Christian doctrines for another set of rituals and practices?

Sometimes I try to explain the thinking behind the value of choosing your own worldview for the benefits it brings to you. More often than not, I try to emphasize the difference between rituals that are done for fun and rituals done out of sheer terror. But many times I just kind of want to hide because I know that, no matter how good my explanation is, there will always be a handful who will deride the things that have helped me connect to the deeper levels of my self.

I’m not afraid of debate, but for some reason, I’ve been afraid of judgment. Up until recently, I felt almost as if someone else’s disdain could destroy the joy I get from my own practice simply by making me feel silly.

But when the impending visit of my family left me feeling anxious, trapped, desperate, and helpless, I turned to the one thing I knew would work.

Magic.

When my partner offered to help with the housework OCD/anxiety supergirl cleaning rituals, I didn’t shrug him off and wait until he left the apartment so he wouldn’t laugh at me. Instead, I handed him a jar of my freshly made Protection Wash from Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery and told him he had to use that to mop with.

I didn’t silently mutter my incantations as I sprinkled salt in front of my doors. I said them boldly out loud.

When I hung my protection charms (from the same book) by the doors, I didn’t hide them from sight for fear someone might ask what they were.

I was to the point where I didn’t care if others thought I was superstitious because I knew that the spells would serve their purpose for me.

I didn’t care if I was superstitious because I suddenly realized that it’s okay to have a superstition.

I would never try to force someone else to adopt my beliefs or practices. I would never expect the world to conform to them. I wouldn’t want teachers to present them in school. In short, I wasn’t violating my own rules of respect for others’ paths, nor was I trying to claim scientific or academic backing for these rituals.

I can recognize that there’s no scientific evidence that hanging herbs by my door or sprinkling salt across the threshold does anything to actually protect my home. There’s nothing new in that revelation. I have always approached my new path with a sense of agnosticism. I’ve embraced the doubts as part of myself and found that many things retain their value even in the face of doubts.

One of the first things I learned about magic was that it worked less on changing the world around you and more on changing your perspective of the world. Aren’t superstitions the same thing? On Dictionary.com, superstition is defined as “an irrational belief,” “not based on reason or knowledge.” But what about its purpose? People turn to superstitions when they are in an uncomfortable, uncontrollable situation and need something to ground them and give them a sense of power.

In other words, superstitions help people cope when they feel powerless by giving them a means of altering their perspective to an empowered one.

Perhaps a better definition would be unintentional magical thinking for those who don’t claim to believe in magic.

There’s no shame in that. There’s no harm as long as people can recognize when they are making use of a superstition to cope and don’t allow fear to rule their lives (because unlike the dictionary, I don’t think fear and terror are the basis of superstitions).

I could go more into why I think magic is different from superstition—but ultimately, it’s going to come down to something along the lines of “it’s in the eye of the beholder.” The point is, some people pray. Some people put on a lucky shirt. Some people sprinkle salt. But we all have little things we do to help us cope.

My spells worked as they were intended to. They set the foundation for me to protect my sacred space from the potential invasion of others. They helped connect me to my own power in maintaining my boundaries. And in a roundabout way, they helped me realize that my beliefs and practices aren’t subject to the rationale of others. don’t think magic and superstition are the same. If someone else thinks my path is superstitious, that’s only because they don’t understand my way of thinking.