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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-09-06 09:10
Subject: [cancer|religion] Talking about God with a faith holding friend
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, family, friends, health, personal, religion
My good friend [info]daveraines, a UMC pastor, has another post in his Jay Lake, Cancer, and God series. I read his post, and saw it as an unfinished interview. I asked Dave if he'd mind me responding. He said, "I would love for you to respond to this!"

So, here we are. I respond to each of his sections below.

Empirical vs. Mythical truth

Dave captured my point of view on this pretty well. I would make a small correction of "Mythical" to "Mythic", mostly because of Dave himself pointing out to me that "mythical" is a specific kind of dismissive, while "mythic" is descriptive of a certain kind of thought process outside the linear, objective structures of the Apollonian perspective.

How Those Christians Behave

Again, Dave captured my point of view pretty well here. I have a lot more to say on this topic than his encapsulation. I will add one thing now: I have what evangelists call a "pain story" about the enormous hurt and damage that American Christianity caused me and my family back in the 1990s. Mother of the Child was pregnant (this was about 1994). The fetus died at 14 weeks. Her body would not spontaneously miscarry, so our doctor scheduled a D&C (which is normally an abortion procedure) for 18 weeks. Thanks to protests and pressure from Christian protestors, almost all the hospitals in Austin, TX had stopped allowing D&C procedures to be performed in their operating rooms for any reason.

It was Bible-believing Christians who would have forced my wife to carry a nonviable fetus indefinitely. There is not enough of God's love in the world to justify the misery they wanted to inflict on my family for the sake of their narrow minded beliefs. There is nothing moral or ethical about opposition to abortion when it includes this kind of profound cruelty.

That experience hardened my existing political and cultural opposition to the religious extremism of the public face of American Christianity from a sort of generic liberal-progressive discomfort to a deeply personal hatred which has never guttered out.

God's Wounds?

This is the section where Dave said the least. I'll quote him in full:
I must label this as speculation. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of some kind of personal struggle between Jay and God, or perhaps with the church. The first thing he ever said to me (upon finding out I am a pastor) was something like, "Many of my stories work out my struggle with the god I don't believe in."

I was raised churched early in life, mostly under the influence of my very strict grandfather. He was a devout member of the Disciples of Christ who slightly after that point in my life earned a Doctorate of Divinity from Texas Christian University and was preacher for the remainder of his working life. (Having previously been a dentist, a colonel in the army, a land developer, a retail store owner, a black market meat smuggler, an armed strike breaker, and quite a few other things.) I was a good little Bible student, earning all kinds of awards.

Then I actually read the story of Passover and the Angel of Death with some care.
4 And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:

5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.

6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.

    — Exodus 11:4-6 (KJV)

Even at age five or so, I could not understand how a God who loved his creation could kill all the firstborn children of Egypt. How were they to blame for the misdeeds of Pharaoh? What would they have done. Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents had nothing on what the Lord God Almighty did to those poor children whose only crime was to be sleeping in the wrong house.

That was the beginning of my lifelong dispute with God. My teen aged and adult observations of the behavior of His followers in Christian America have only confirmed that the God of my fathers is a petty, mean spirited tyrant who reduces his followers to cruelty and intellectual dishonesty in the name of faith. The same God who killed thousands of innocent children just to make a political point, something that was obviously immoral even to my five year old self. And yet, we celebrate this as a miracle?

It is Christians like Dave Raines, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, John R. White and Fred Clark who remind me that I am wrong about this. My argument is with God, not His followers. As Dave quoted me, the God I don't believe in.

There is absolutely no proof of God in the world. The Bible no more proves His existence than comic books prove the existence of Spiderman. I'm an empirical guy (Dave's first point), and I see no empirical evidence. Nonetheless, God plays a very powerful role in the world precisely because so many people do believe (Dave's second point), and so it is this God-by-implication that I am really arguing with.

As for cancer, well. I can neither blame God nor Satan, as neither of them exist in any form meaningful enough to have an effect on my health. But my own mythic truths are powerful and deep, and they have been shaped by the Christian narrative.

So I argue as I not so slowly die.

Post A Comment | 11 Comments | | Link

User: lindadee
Date: 2013-09-06 16:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The link to daveraines appears to be broken.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-09-06 20:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fixed, I think.
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User: daveraines
Date: 2013-09-06 17:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm fascinated by this! Going forward, would you mind if I responded? Probably in the context of the continuing series.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-09-06 20:54 (UTC)
Please, feel free to continue.
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Kate Schaefer: First Icon
User: kate_schaefer
Date: 2013-09-06 18:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:First Icon
A minor -- okay, not so minor at all -- point -- a DNC is not normally an abortion procedure. It used to be a standard treatment for endometriosis and a number of other gynecological problems. My mother had multiple DNCs; she had no abortions. Yes, it's also a procedure sometimes used for abortion, but that's not its main purpose.

So, those Texans? Stupid and cruel in so many ways for so many reasons.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-09-06 20:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Honestly, it might have been a D&X, but at this point, D&C is what sticks in my head.
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Amy Sisson
User: amysisson
Date: 2013-09-06 23:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think that makes a brilliant quote:

The Bible no more proves God's existence than comic books prove the existence of Spiderman.

May I use (attributed, of course) it?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-09-07 00:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Feel free! I will note that the idea behind that remark is not original to me, though the particular form of the quote is.
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Sputtering with Indignation
User: weirman
Date: 2013-09-07 00:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's interesting to me that for many people I know who are either atheists or agnostics (in essence, non-believers to the Christian point of view) first began to have difficult with things when they were quite young. Things that seem empirically obvious often strike the young but for some reason most people are able to overcome their skepticism. It's only a fairly rare number of people who hold on to those questions and come to the full conclusion later in life.

For me, it was the concept of hell. I couldn't understand how any God, regardless of how many negative human attributes are assigned to him (jealousy, anger, vindictiveness, etc.) could really be comfortable with condemning people to an eternity of torment simply for the crime of disbelief. To make matters worse, the typical Christian perspective is all you really have to do to get an exception from hell is believe (the whole Mark 3:16 verse) which means that any monster who happens to believe that Jesus is the son of god who gave his life in sacrifice to us can get access to eternal peace and joy while someone with a skeptical bent of mind who could otherwise be a fantastic person would be forced into eternal torment.

Even if I were inclined to believe in such a thing (which I'm not) I have no desire to worship any sort of deity who would be so cruel and vindictive. I dealt with enough of that kind of bullshit in high school.

To understate the point, there are a shocking number of people who take quite a bit of pleasure in the concept of others suffering such a punishment. By their definition, I'm damned to an eternity of torment and most of them actually like that. When such a perspective extends to actual family...well, I just can't abide. Maybe I'm wrong and I'll actually endure something so terrible. I don't take pleasure in the thought but I'll be damned if I offer myself to such a cruel master. No pun intended.
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User: daveraines
Date: 2013-09-07 01:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'd just point out that I don't believe in the god you describe either. I will grant that what you describe is taught in certain circles.
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LiveJournal: pingback_bot
User: livejournal
Date: 2013-10-14 17:49 (UTC)
Subject: Jay Lake, Cancer, and God #8: The Intersection
User daveraines referenced to your post from Jay Lake, Cancer, and God #8: The Intersection saying: [...] missed the main point:  "blind guides."  Jay's got a pain story or two [...]
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