Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christians and Kid Soccer Players

 

 

Yesterday, I got into a short spat with Pastor Rick Warren on Twitter. He posted one of his routinely banal Tweets, the kind that go more for the five second, “Oh wow, that’s a great saying!” but mean nothing to people in the long-term. It’s the kind of thing you say that people like but almost instantly forget, and he posts these Tweets quite a bit.

It wouldn’t bother me if the guy didn’t have such a large following, but he does. He’s influential enough that when the President needed someone from across the aisle to give the prayer at his Inauguration, he chose Warren, who is seen as a “cuddly conservative,” the kind of conservative with whom you might disagree but wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

Rick Warren does this on a daily basis. His Tweets are either exceedingly superficial or offensive but not so much that it would inspire boycotts. He straddles a fine line, pandering to the conservative, religious masses but not pissing off liberals too much.

The Tweet with which I took issue was another banal saying about “truth” that is too ridiculous to state here, but it led to me asking him about Evolution. He replied that it’s just a theory, that theories have to be proven, therefore it’s not true, etc.

Warren was pushing the tired argument about fact vs. theory that many Evangelical Christians push without realizing that theory means something entirely different in a scientific context.

I’m not really smart when it comes to science. I slogged my way through college chemistry, and I struggled in physics. I made it through Calculus II successfully, but it was it was pretty damn hard.

I’m not naturally inclined towards science. I say this to emphasize how simple a concept it is to understand the meaning of “theory” in science circles as opposed to the linguistic understanding of the general public.

Even elementary students who are introduced to the Theory of Evolution are able to articulate that theory, in this case, is different because it simply means that something is founded on logical principles tested time and time again over a period of study. This is as opposed to the more speculative use of theory as in, “I have a theory Bob is stealing the donuts in the break room. Here’s why…”

This is a very simple concept, one that I want to reiterate even children can be taught.

And this is what I find is the biggest problem with Evangelical Christianity: It’s not really a lifestyle. It’s more of a hobby.

And I say this as someone who spent four years in Evangelical churches. They’re mostly nice people, but they’re not interested in applying critical thinking. They only care about concepts being handed to them, doing praise and worship, having the social aspect of Church, and some (if not most) do “Bible study,” which really means that they’re just reinforcing what they’re taught by pastoral leadership with a stunted approach to the Bible.

So, what you get is a lack of emphasis on the poor and downtrodden and more of an emphasis on “living morally” or “being accountable.”

This means no sex before marriage, homosexuality is a sin, abortion is bad, men are spiritually superior to women, etc.

You don’t have to really put forth a lot of effort to be an Evangelical Christian. Come to the Church, tithe (if you feel inspired to do so), and accept the “wisdom” of your Pastors without question.

It’s not hard. You can male it hard if you want. You could read a few hundred pages of the Bible daily, meditate on the Word, volunteer in your Church, etc.

But the baseline requirements are pretty bare. Show up, agree with us, and other than that, enjoy yourselves.

Evangelical Christianity is a lot like organized kids’ soccer games. You go to practice (though you don’t necessarily have to do so), you go through the motions of kicking the ball (doesn’t really matter if you kick it the right way), you don’t argue with the coaches, you get to play a few minutes, every game…

…and at the end of the season, no matter how bad you played, no matter if you missed half your practices or games, no matter if you stood in the middle of the field blowing bubbles in the midst of the soccer-kicking chaos around you, you’ll *always* get a trophy.

You win just for showing up. You’re told “good job” and get a pat on the back for putting on your uniform and coming to even half the games.

Evangelical Christians don’t have to try, they don’t have to have their beliefs held up to scrutiny, they don’t have to acknowledge that they might be wrong.

They get up, go to work (where religious debates are usually not held), come home to spend time with the family (also, very likely, Evangelicals), watch some Fox News (reinforcing Evangelical Christian culture), and hang out at Church or with friends from Church on the weekends.

It is a powerful bubble. Their beliefs are only challenged if they insert themselves into a situation in which they can be challenged, and unless they’re watching MSNBC or trolling on some online news site, their beliefs aren’t going to be challenged very often.

So, when they watched Fox News over this past year and were inundated with two main themes, 1) Obama is bad and 2) Obama will lose to Romney, of course they were shocked and pissed when Obama won.

Their bubble had been burst. Their trophy had been stolen.

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Death and Dollars

 

School shootings in the news never get easier to see. If anything, they get harder as you grow older.

I was 12 at the time of the Columbine massacre. I remember feeling as though the air had been sucked out of my school; every teacher seemed gloomier, maybe a bit on edge. It was strangely different for the students. We knew what had happened was wrong and tragic, but for the majority of us, there was little emotional cost. And although I could probably chalk part of that up to the socioeconomic status of most of the students (including myself) giving us more to worry about at the time, I like to think age played a big part in it.

Fast-forward to the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007. I was 20, and it seemed very different. The victims were a bit older, save for the professors who were killed. They were my age, and having been an “adult” (whatever that is) for a few years, my experiences with death, or, at the very least, the fear of dying, seemed to color my perception. This seemed more real. The stories were somehow more heartbreaking although I know that can’t be quite right, and so, I attribute it to maturity. The harsh grace of wisdom seemed to unlock tears easier.

And now, this past Friday, the shooting at Sandy Hook. I saw the headline when it first appeared on CNN, and at the time, I thought it said only two adults dead, and that was tragic, but in my mind, I was relieved. No kids. That’s good.

An hour later, I started seeing the statuses pop up in my newsfeed. Sandy Hook. Tragic. Elementary School. I must have seen “Why?” a few dozen times from friends.

I went back to CNN, and I was shocked. 10 kids. No, 15 kids. No, 20 kids. How old? We can’t confirm. Two gunmen? One gunman? Ties to the school? Random?

So many questions and so much heartache. And for the first time, I legitimately cried in the wake of a tragedy like this. I didn’t cry for Columbine. Or 9/11. Or Virginia Tech.

But there I sat, in front of my computer, crying because 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down. And I knew it was wrong not to get as emotional over the adults, but I was crying mostly for the kids. I didn’t know what came over me. Maybe I thought of my 10 year-old sister and 14 year-old brother being among the victims. Maybe I was shocked that someone would go into an elementary school and start shooting.

And then, something strange happened. I got pissed, and I wasn’t yet really pissed about gun control although I was busy away researching it and conferring with friends on Facebook about it.

I was pissed because of the reaction of the media. It all seemed so brazen.

“Hey, I got a great idea. These kids have just witnessed a shooting massacre. They’re only 6-10 years old, but let’s interview them in the heat of the moment!”

And that’s really what it felt like. I know there’s a lot to be said for journalistic ethos, capturing the moment as it unfolds.

But shoving a fucking camera in the face of a kid who just went through that?

There’s a difference between pointing your camera to capture a moment as it unfolds and actively engaging the victims in the heat of the moment.

The news networks didn’t give a shit about capturing heartache. They wanted the clips, 5-10 second shots of kids sobbing uncontrollably, parents wrapping them up and refusing to let go, police officers huddled together in comfort after seeing the bodies, etc.

They wanted clips that attract the morbid fascination of people far from the scene of the crime. They wanted ratings. They wanted the advertising revenue that comes from ratings.

“But Charles, they’re a business. Are they not allowed to position themselves for profit?”

Yeah, but there’s a line, and as vague as that line may seem in peace time, there are moments when most people are onboard, and when an 8 year-old child is crying and in shock from going through something like that, pushing your lens into their mug is just callous. It comes across as bloodsucking and predatory… because it is.

Even the little things about the media’s reaction pissed me off. Some of the news networks had elaborate, cartoonish logos for the tragedy. They looked like movie titles, like I should have been holding popcorn and soda while I watched teachers be interviewed, parents cry, and the President give his speech on Sunday.

It seemed incredibly careless and just wrong.

And then there was Mike Huckabee making his assertion on Friday, even while the school was still swarming with first responders, that, essentially, the shooting happened because God had been “systematically removed from schools.”

This, of course, is bullshit, and Mike Huckabee knows it’s bullshit, and that actually hurt more, that this man who wanted to be our president, who is supposedly a dedicated man of God and moral purveyor of truth and light, actually exploited this tragedy to make an obscene religious statement to grandstand to the Evangelical community.

And I couldn’t believe my ears when he said it. I couldn’t believe in my heart that he had really done what he did.

20 kids, all of them either 6 or 7 (as we would later find out), had each been shot multiple times and several (if not many) of them likely bled out and suffered. Death was not instantaneous.

And this asshole has the nerve to put forth an assertion that I know he doesn’t believe in order to sell more books and attract more viewers to his program.

Guys, I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry for rambling, but I really don’t know how to tie this altogether, and I’m not sure anyone else knows, either.

It just hurts.

The Truth About Cadet Blake Page and Why West Point Is Not Anti-Atheist

 

On Monday, the Huffington Post published an article written by soon-to-be-former Cadet Blake Page, entitled “Why I Don’t Want to be a Graduate of West Point”.

In the article, which I encourage you to read by clicking the hyperlink, Page writes that Atheists and Agnostics face discrimination at the Academy on a number of levels, and thus, he is resigning to protest proselytizing in the military.

This is actually not true. I used to attend West Point and was in Page’s class (2013) for two years. Although I do not personally know him, we have some mutual friends, and I have talked to many of them about this.

Here’s actually what happened: Page is not a stellar cadet. That’s not a crime, of course, because many folks who don’t do spectacularly at the Academy go on to have great careers in the military as phenomenal leaders.

The problem with Page is how badly he performed. He failed multiple leadership positions, and this semester, the Academy intended to separate him for medical reasons related to mental health.

Mental health is a serious issue, and shouldn’t be taken lightly, so please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here.

Page was going to be separated but instead asked to resign, which Academy officials accepted out of grace. In turn, Page went behind their backs and claimed the resignation was done to protest Christian Fundamentalists at the Academy, which is a whole lot of bullshit.

I posted an open letter on Facebook to explain why Page is completely in the wrong in this. Here’s the full text:

Hi Blake,

I’m pretty sure we don’t know each other. My name is Charles Clymer, and I’m a former member of West Point’s Class of 2013. I am a former classmate of yours.

I read your article “Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate” on the Huffington Post on Monday. Initially, I decided to ignore it since a) I reasoned I didn’t know all the details of your experience, and b) It’s been 18 months since I last wore a cadet uniform, and I felt this would really get in the way of moving on from my time at the Academy.

However, over the last few days, I’ve had more time to consider the article, and I must say that I can’t help but chime in with my two cents.

As I could not find you on Facebook, don’t know your e-mail, and wish to do my part in setting the record straight, I’m posting this as an open letter as well as sending it to the Huffington Post. I doubt they will publish it or that this will be widely read, but I’ll take a shot and see what happens.

First, I feel I should admit to you that I’m a Christian, and I’m sure that at least some bias comes with it when analyzing this situation. I love Christ, and I want to establish that as a way of being honest before I continue.

With that said, I’m fairly certain that if you were to ask any of our classmates who know me, they would all probably say the same thing: that I’m an aggressive, outspoken liberal.

At the Academy, I didn’t shy away from controversial topics. I tended to voice my opinion quite loudly on the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the limited career options of women who serve our country in uniform, and what I feel is a very broken system of addressing sexual assault at the Academy and in the Armed Forces in general (among other things).

I say all this to let you know that I was never a “typical” cadet and that the opinion I’m about to give you shouldn’t be dismissed on the rather lazy theory that all (or even most) cadets are mindless, conservative drones.

I’m angry and disappointed with you over this article, and I say that as someone who very much supports the separation of Church and State.

I believe religion belongs in one’s private life, and apart from certain, limited allowances for those who have a faith they practice, government employees should never be given preferential treatment and upon such instances, leaders who allow that to happen should be counseled and/or punished.

With that, here are the reasons my blood pressure has somewhat risen over the last few days when I think about your situation:

1. I never, not even once, witnessed, heard about, or even thought it implied that non-religious cadets face discrimination of any kind at the Academy. I saw widespread homophobia and sexism but never any negative sentiment towards those cadets who identified as Atheist or Agnostic. In fact, the closest thing I ever observed that looked like a pro-Christian bias were the few cadets who believed Islam is evil, and that was a very small fraction of our class. The vast majority of Christian cadets treated non-Christian cadets with respect insofar as their beliefs are concerned.

And I should again point out that I spent the better part of two years calling out homophobia and sexism when I saw it, and it wasn’t as though I was “known” for being a Christian in our class. I didn’t exactly spend my free time in Christian-based organizations or attend church services, regularly. I did sing in Gospel Choir for a few semesters but never heard any sort of anti-Atheist remarks during my participation with them. They treated everyone with respect, regardless of faith, gender, or sexuality.

My point is that, try as I might, with all my stereotypical, sensitive liberal feelers in tune, I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing about negative experiences of Atheists, Agnostics, or other Non-Christians at the Academy.

2. I am not thrilled with your sweeping indictments of the Corps. In your article, you paint a picture of Atheist and Agnostic cadets walking around with targets on their backs with harassment coming from both their fellow cadets and the commissioned officers appointed to guide us through four years of leadership development. You make it seem as though a cadet who openly identifies as an Atheist or Agnostic is viciously torn down.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Logically, one can’t prove something doesn’t exist, but as a person who prides myself on maintaining honesty in regards to how minorities (of any kind, including spiritual) are treated, I can say with confidence that are you are either blatantly lying or, at the very least, being incredibly misleading with how you represent the Academy’s religious environment.

3. You have failed at least two leadership details of which I am aware. For those not familiar with USMA’s leadership system (included in the Academy’s ‘military pillar,” one of three for grading purposes), a cadet, starting sophomore year, is given charge of other cadets, every semester (either directly or indirectly), and usually during two summers during their time at the Academy.

You have to do pretty bad or have some extraordinary circumstances to fail a detail. I can understand failing one. Shit happens, and sometimes, you have an incompetent rater (supervising cadet) who fails you for petty reasons. Failing multiple details takes effort, the kind of dogged determination to go your own way (and not in the good sense) or be so completely careless or incompetent that those above you can’t justify your performance with anything higher than an “F”. Failing a detail usually means you have to repeat it, which takes another semester at the Academy or some generous leniency on the part of the senior leadership (commissioned officers) observing your progress.

So, when you state in your article that you could have made it to graduation in May, you’ll have to forgive me if I express a high degree of skepticism. I’m simply not buying it.

Accordingly, here’s my theory, and I’m quite confident in it: the Academy just wasn’t a good fit for you. It’s tough. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have great success in life if you don’t graduate (either through resignation or separation), but it’s not for everyone.

Instead of cutting your losses and admitting it’s not a good fit and likely separation or simply working harder and seeking out the help you need to get through it, you decided to co-opt an issue (that’s usually controversial) as a front for your own failings. Rather than be separated for your performance, resigning in “the name of religious freedom” has provided you the opportunity to save face.

Well, that really pisses me off. You have managed to smear most of my former classmates (and friends) as well as the faculty and other commissioned officers at West Point by using an issue that is very important to me in order to make yourself look good.

You have made exactly the kind of ethical decision that the Academy’s Honor System is designed to prevent.

Not to mention you’ve made West Point look incredibly unfavorable to promising Atheist and Agnostic applicants who could be great officers. someday. We need those kind of young people to lead the next generation of Soldiers, and you’ve effectively deterred some (if not many) of them from continuing the application process.

Less importantly, your conduct is something I find personally insulting. I had to medically separate from the Academy because of health complications at the end of our sophomore year (illnesses I’m still dealing with), and I would give anything (absolutely anything) to be back with our classmates and preparing to be the kind of officer who takes care of the young men and women assigned to him or her, to not worry about OERs (job performance reports essential to promotion) but put my Soldiers before myself while still accomplishing the mission.

You had the opportunity to be that kind of officer, and if I am to believe that you are so passionate about religious freedom in our military, it completely goes against common sense that you would resign “in protest” rather than be the kind of officer who does those things you wish to see be done.

So, no… I don’t believe your story for a second, and I’m angry that you’ve managed to insult the institution and everyone in it, lie about your experience, and exploit an important issue (separation of Church and State) for your own long-term gain.

And just so we’re clear, before it even happens, don’t dare compare yourself to Katie Miller, the cadet who resigned in 2010 in protest over DADT. I absolutely do not speak for her but she resigned because she was literally being forced to lie about her sexuality in the professional arena, and being at the top her class, she had a great deal to lose. You have neither the personal justification or the “professional loss” to paint yourself as a martyr, so don’t. It makes you look ridiculous.

Sincerely,

Charles Clymer

Former Member, Class of 2013

This open letter circulated around my former classmates until it finally reached Page, who posted this comment in response:

Well written, but like many others, ill-informed.  The OpEd in the Huffington Post was certainly vitriolic, but without understanding the intent, audience, number of people represented and my personal circumstances, you lack enough understanding of the situation to give an authoritative response just yet.  We can talk if you’d like, or if not you can watch the rest of the story come out over the next couple of days.

Of course, Page is once again lying here. At first, he was resigning in protest of the Academy’s supposed (and completely false) Christian bias against non-Christians.

Then, in an update by the Huffington Post, it was that he was due to be medically separated for depression and anxiety.

This has done considerable damage to West Point’s reputation. A quick Google search will show how many news sites and blogs have picked this up.

And as a liberal, this makes me quite angry because of how audaciously Page has lied about his experience and the circumstances of his “resignation” by using an issue important to those who believe in the separation of Church and State.

Please don’t believe this guy. He is completely bullshitting to save face for his failures at the Academy, and I fear it’s going to have a long-lasting impact on West Point’s reputation if he’s not held accountable for his actions.