All posts by kagmi

What is your driving force?

This question is always important to consider when matters of conflict come up.

What is your driving force?

Is it simply to survive?

Is there a greater good that you are working toward?

If so, what is it?

What would you most like to help build?

Photograph by Gabriel Castaldini licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike.

Why “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” Doesn’t Work

This post inspired by Beth Woolsely’s article, which I’m sure is much better than mine.

This painting by Heinrich Hofmann is in the public domain..

What makes you who you are?

Is it merely the physical body, the material of which you are made?

Is it your genetic code that makes you “you?”

Is it the information you contain, your thoughts and feelings, which determine your identity?

Are you composed of what you have done?

Are you composed of what you will do?

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” rests on the premise that we are essentially separable from our actions. That hating your actions has nothing to do with hating you; that loving you in no way implies a love for your actions.

There are some circumstances under which this makes sense. A person who has been forced by circumstance to do something they would rather not be doing, for example, or a person who has developed a habit they would rather not have through addiction or poor teaching.

But in these cases, the person’s action is clearly not in line with their will – the assumption that the person is  better than their action rests on a clear distinction that the person doesn’t want to perform that action.

Can it be argued that we are defined by the actions that we want to take?

Where does this leave an unrepentant “sinner?”

Where does this leave the “sinner” who believes that at least some of what you call “sins” are not, in fact, grievous crimes?

Where does this leave the person in the sexual relationship outside of marriage, or the one whose spiritual practices you consider to themselves be “sins?”

Where is such a person left if you hate their relationship, or their spiritual practice?

If you hate these things, can you truly love them?

Or is the effect of this “love the sinner, hate the sin” truly to allow the hater-of-sins to behave hatefully towards the person, transgressing their personal boundaries, treating them with anger and disgust, and attempting against their will to force a change in their behavior, while still allowing the hater-of-sins to pretend they are not themselves being a horrible person?

Food for thought.

This painting of Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is in the public domain. Joan said it was God who led her to successfully drive back the invading armies threatening France; she was killed by the Church, depending on who you ask, for blasphemy, witchcraft, or crossdressing, and later venerated as a saint.

Breaking the Cycle of Recrimination

“In the name of Jesus and Mohammed, we unify our ranks.” During the first days of the Jasmine Revolution in Egypt, Christians and Muslims turned out en masse to form protective shields around each other’s places of worship amidst fears of violence by extremists.

I’ve been speaking recently to a lot of people who feel that other Americans are out to get them.

“Why should we respect Christianity’s right to exist,” ask some supporters of gay rights, “when they don’t respect our right to exist? Christians told me for years that I was evil or inadequate because I was gay; why should I support Christianity?”

“Why should we respect gay rights supporters,” ask the Christians, “when they don’t respect our right to exist? People who want gay marriage are going around calling all religious people dangerous bigots; why should I support them?”

“Why should we respect white people,” some black people ask, “when they don’t respect us?”

“Why should we respect black people,” some white people ask, “when they don’t respect us?”

Christians still say “Paganism is dangerous, because 1800 years ago pagans executed Christians just for being Christian. That’s proof that paganism is evil.”

Pagans still say “Christianity is dangerous, because hundreds of years ago Christians executed pagans just for being pagan. That’s proof that Christianity is evil.”

Going back through history, we see this cycle again and again. Members of one group perpetrate violence against another; and the other group punishes their group for it for years to come.

It’s time to stop the cycle.

Find a member of the group you most fear, and talk to them. You will find that they are only bent on your destruction insofar as they think you are bent on theirs.

Find a member of the group you most fear, and talk to them. Let’s start now.

Gay Jesus Fish
Some American churches have begun using this symbol to indicate that they are a safe space for gay families.

Are Christians in Danger in America?

This photograph of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Ontario, Canada, was taken by Pierre BONA. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike. Canada ranks higher than the U.S. in diversity and tolerance for both race and religion; gay marriage has been legal nationwide there since 2005.

On the surface of it, it may appear that legalizing gay marriage does not effect anyone except those who were hoping to get a gay marriage.

And if humans were strictly rational creatures, this would be true. But in an American society that so often ostracizes and demonizes the Other, it’s arguable that the concerns of some opponents of gay marriage are at least a little bit understandable. After all, our nation does not have the greatest track record for having different groups living harmoniously side-by-side.

“So now that the government must recognize gay marriages,” some people ask, “will my church be sued for refusing to marry gay couples?”

“Will we face threats of violence from those who don’t agree with us, now that we are a minority?”

“Are we heading for an era where discrimination against Christians is legal?”

These concerns may seem outlandish to non-Christians, since Christianity has traditionally been by far the formative power in the U.S., and in many parts of the United States is still the determiner of what is socially and even legally acceptable.

But humans are humans, no matter what their religious stripes. And Americans are still Americans, regardless of their opinion on gay marriage.

And Americans are historically not great at live-and-let-live.

Many readers can probably relate to the experience of feeling oppressed for not being Christian in America; I regularly hear accounts of people feeling that anger was directed at them because they failed to conform to the ideas of their local most populous brand of Christianity, and even news articles about acts of violence by American Christians against what they perceived to be non-Christian ideas still appear.

In the past week, I’ve spoken to multiple people who moved to my largely un-Christian town specifically because they felt anger had been directed at them over their gender identity, religious practices, or political views in their previous Christian hometowns.

But Americans don’t stop being Americans just because they change their minds about God or gay marriage. Indeed, Christians in non-Christian American communities appear to be as vulnerable to discrimination as non-Christians in Christian American communities. Wherever it is socially acceptable to discriminate against a given group; discrimination will occur.

This photograph licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike. Interestingly, the stencil’s creator may have been ignoring some research indicating that at least among children, those with imaginary friends tend to be more well-adjusted.
I know of at least two cases in my own non-Christian hometown where independent legal investigations concluded that a school or business had practiced discrimination against Christians. Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has defended Christians in dozens of discrimination suits across the U.S..

Indeed, reports that global research shows Christians face discrimination in more countries than any other religion, including some cases in the U.S.. Muslims were the second-most-commonly discriminated against, with Jews coming in third.

This is arguably due to the growing sentiment that discrimination is morally acceptable – so long as it’s against someone who might favor discrimination themselves.

Though by no means more common than persecution of non-Christians in a country where 70.6% of the population identifies as Christian, anti-Christian discrimination does happen.

That means that overall discrimination will not necessarily improve just because Christianity – who we are accustomed to seeing as the most-guilty party – becomes less common. What needs to change is not our religion; it is our treatment of minorities.

While the existence of Christianity is certainly not in danger in this country, certain interpretations of its theology becoming less common; the number of Americans describing homosexuality as a “sin” has been steadily declining over the past decade, and in 2012 that was already a minority opinion.

Which is undeniably a win for homosexual people, who in the past century faced social ostracization, threats of violence, and even legal punishment simply for acting gay in the privacy their own homes.

But just because the identity of our minority has changed doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve improved our treatment of minorities.

Comments describing anyone who views homosexuality as a sin as “bigoted,” “stupid,” and “evil” are increasingly common – irrespective of the target’s views about equal protection under the law. Indeed, at times all Christians are targeted with these remarks – even though many American Christians supported marriage equality.

At the same time, both liberal and conservative activists are observing that some pro-civil rights movements appear to have adopted habits similar to the social and moral policing they once complained about coming from their opposition.

In summary, be nice to each other. Be kind. Be tolerant of differences.

That’s the only way we will ever improve our treatment of minorities, regardless of who falls into the category of “minority” in our changing world.

If the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu can do it, why can’t we?

Violence is a Cycle

This drawing from “The War Cycle” by Artur Grottger is in the public domain because it is more than 100 years old.

If there’s one thing I have been reminded of in my interactions with people this week, it has been that violence is a cycle.

“They don’t respect us,” say the atheists of Christians, “so why should we respect them?”

“They don’t respect us,” say the pagans of Christians, “so why should we respect them?”

“They don’t respect us,” say the Christians of non-Christians, “so why should we respect them?”

The cycle continues.

“They don’t respect us,” say the liberals of the conservatives, “so why should we respect them?”

“They don’t respect us,” say the conservatives of the liberals, “so why should we respect them?”

If we want the cycle of disrespect to stop, the most effective thing we can do is ensure that it stops with us.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

They are very likely to reciprocate the behavior.

Transgenderism – Why All The Hate?

***Trigger warning: If you are transgender, you may not wish to see some of the comments that will be quoted in this article. If you love someone who is transgender, you may not wish to see them either. But unfortunately, if you run in public circles on the Internet, it is probable that you already have.***

Sex and gender identity are not typically high on my priority list. I am not transgender myself; I am happily cis-female (that meaning that my gender identity is “cis,” which is chemistry lingo for “on the same side,” as my body).

But some things I cannot ignore.

Those things are the sickeningly horrific public reaction I have repeatedly seen in recent months to families with transgender children.

Apparently, respecting the wishes of the child in the middle to be treated as a boy is “child abuse.” Although I daresay the images I found on the first page of Google search results described as “Brad and Angelina’s Satanically confused child” are more abusive than anything going on in this picture.

When it became public knowledge that Bragelina’s child, a biological girl, prefers to go by the name “John” and dress in boy’s clothes, public reaction was shocking.

People called it “child abuse.” People demanded that Child Protective Services be called, and the child removed from Bragelina’s custody. “There’s no way,” people said, “that that little girl wants to be called John. Her parents must be forcing their own agenda on her.”

Why do we have this reaction?

I can see how it could be difficult for a cis-person to understand what it is to be transgendered. For someone who has always woken up and felt like the gender in the mirror, you probably think that gender is determined by what’s in the mirror.

When roughly 99% of people feel the same way, and the 1% that doesn’t are often forced to hide the fact that what they see in the mirror does not match the way they feel, or are called “mentally ill” for feeling the way that they do, it’s easy to see how one might not understand transsexuality.

But why become enraged by it?

Why have opinions so fixed about a subject because it is unfamiliar to you that you are not willing to consider new sources of information?

I have seen this syndrome many times with people who don’t believe that gender reassignment should occur. “These people,” they say, “are sick. They need help. Being surgically mutilated or subjected to dangerous hormone therapy is bad for them.”

One person described their approach to transgender people as “frustrated compassion.” She just wanted what was best for them, you see – but they refused to accept what was best for them.

How dare you tell another person what is best for them?

And if your only concern is for their well-being, why become enraged when transgender people, after going through psychotherapy and hearing out your point of view, fail to change?

Why do they threaten you?

Why force your child to continue going to a therapist who tells her there’s something wrong with her, and isolate her from anyone who tells her that her gender identity is okay? This describes the behavior of Leelah Alcorn’s parents leading up to their daughter’s decision to walk into incoming traffic on the freeway.

She left behind a suicide note citing her parents’ inability to accept her and their forced isolation of her from anyone who did accept her as among the reasons she decided to end her life:

“When I was 14,” Leelah wrote, “I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.

“If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.” – Leelah Alcorn, 2014

Would that behavior be preferable to Bragelina’s – that, or the behavior of CeCe McDonald’s family, who told her to “pray out” her love of wearing women’s clothes in early childhood, and then resorted to beating her when they became aware of her attraction to boys during her early teen years?

Instead of praying to stop feeling like a girl, CeCe prayed before bed to wake up in the female body that she was sure God intended her to have.

Why punish your children and tell them they’re wrong for any sign of acting the “wrong” gender?

When I was a teenager, two of my friends recounted how their parents had become very angry with them as children once when they helped their brother to dress in girls’ clothes. My friends said that “now they understand that what they did was wrong, because they might have confused him.”

laverne cox
Actress Laverne Cox was born in a male body. She began begging for dance lessons at the age of 5, and first told a therapist she felt like she was supposed to be a girl at age 8. Her family’s attempts to convince her that she was wrong only succeeded in instilling a sense of shame, as though her unhappiness was her own fault.

How fragile is gender identity, that a substantial portion of parents seem to think that allowing a boy to wear a dress will leave him irreparably damaged?

If gender identity is so fragile, then why do so many people report having felt like the wrong gender from a very early age; and why is it that for many of these people, neither years of therapy nor violent beatings and threats of death cause them to feel that they are in the correct-gendered body?

A transgender friend once described her situation to me as “It’s like you’re wearing your coat upside down and backwards. Except instead of your coat, it’s your body. The right things just aren’t in the right places. And it’s tremendously uncomfortable.”

We don’t even need to discuss the medical and scientific soundness of gender reassignment surgery to understand why our society has a huge problem.

People don’t need to be getting surgery or hormone therapy to be considered “sick” because they live as a member of the opposite sex to that of their body.

Apparently, allowing a boy to wear a dress or honoring a girl’s request to be called “John” is enough to be accused of abusing them.

This issue was brought up for me again recently with the publication of an article about an ordinary family – no celebrities here – whose choice to allow their four-year-old biological boy to live as a girl per her wishes was apparently sensational enough to make headlines.

And again, the reaction was the same:

“That’s child abuse!”

“Someone call Child Protective Services!”

“These people should not be allowed to be parents!”

As someone who has watched several friends come out as transgender only to be greeted variously with rage, disbelief, exasperation, and general denial of legitimacy by their families, these comments made my blood boil.

After having seen people cry with happiness the first time their parents called them by their proper pronoun, I couldn’t believe we were accusing supportive parents of abuse.

“What kind of world are we encouraging?” I asked, “By so severely punishing parents who dare to let their children be themselves?”

Another concern: “Now, you say you blame the parents for mistreating the poor child, who you believe needs right guidance.”

“How would you react if your child came out to you as transgender?”

“Transsexuality is a mental disorder,” I’ve heard it said. “It’s just like anorexia or bulimia. You don’t let someone cut off their body parts because they hate them. You get them psychological help.”

That virtually all transgender people go through psychotherapy to address any body dysmorphia they may have before starting hormone therapy or getting sex reassignment surgery seems irrelevant to these critics.

That some teens kill themselves after being forced through years of “reparative” therapy by non-mainstream counselors who don’t believe in gender dysphoria does not seem relevant to these critics.

That constantly being called sick and wrong is probably a leading cause of suicide among these people does not seem relevant to these “compassionate” critics.

“Transsexuality is new,” the I have heard the critics say. “Until the last few decades, no one had even thought of something so unnatural.”

Except that those claims are not true at all. Societies around the world and throughout history have had examples of transgender individuals; many even had formalized social classes of transpeople, such as the fakalaties of Tonga, the “two spirit” male-female people of the Native American tribes, the hijra of India, the burrneshas of Albania, or the five different genders recognized  by the Bugis people of Indonesia.

This princess of the Zuni Native American tribe, who toured Washington D.C. as an ambassador for her tribal nation in 1886, was biologically male. She was recognized by her tribe as a “two spirit” individual who combined male and female, a commonly accepted concept among North American tribes prior to colonization by Europeans.

One very, very old archaeological site is thought to be the grave of a transgender cavewoman; the bones bear the marks of developing under the influence of male hormones, but the person was buried with female implements for cooking and sewing, facing the direction in which females were typically buried.

I would ask: “If both genders are okay, why is it essential to stick to one or the other?”

I would ask: “If both genders are okay, why is it so important to society which one a person is?”

I would ask: “What do you have to fear from the idea that transsexuality is a real thing that happens to a tiny percentage of people?”

Perhaps someday, someone will answer my questions.

But until then, consider this: if you have a problem with something that doesn’t hurt anybody, what is the motivation for your rage?

To put it another way, are you loving, or controlling?

Understanding Conservatism

This painting of Allies flags hanging by Childe Hassam is in the public domain.

I’m sure everyone has noticed that the divisions between Americans are wider now than they have been in decades.

As far as our attitudes towards each other go, we are all now either “good” or “evil.”

To liberals, those are “evil” who appear to oppose equal protection for all – be that through opposing expansions to Medicare and Medicaid, opposing the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage, opposing a woman’s freedom to choose whether she gives birth, opposing legislation designed to protect minorities, or through blatant racism and sexism.

To conservatives, those are “evil” who appear to oppose traditional values – be it through supporting government redistribution of wealth, supporting government restrictions on free enterprise, supporting the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage, supporting the killing of fetuses, or blatant slamming of those who hold traditional values.

You don’t find any middle ground these days. Everywhere you turn on the Internet, you find increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories about how one side or the other is conspiring to destroy America.

How did it get this way?

I would suggest that the culprit is a lack of understanding.

We seem to suffer both from lack of understanding of the other, and understanding of the self.

Do you understand why you believe the things you do?

Do you understand why you feel the way you feel?

Do you understand why you react negatively to some ideas?

Is your reaction rational? Is it the right reaction for the situation?

As human beings, we are very, very good at lying to ourselves.

Drawing from the unique understandings yielded by neuroscience, we know that the brain is literally designed to tell stories to explain our actions; even when it cannot possibly know the true reason for them.

In studies of “split brain” patients (those whose connection between the brain hemisphere has been severed, resulting in each hemisphere only receiving sensory data from half of the body), the left brain, which contains the speech center, will blatantly lie without even being aware that it is doing so.

“Why did you laugh?” the scientist will ask the left hemisphere of the split brain patient, after showing the right brain hemisphere a funny video which prompted the laughter?

This image of the brain, emphasizing the corpus callosum which allows communication between the two hemispheres, has been generously released into the public domain by its creator, Oliver Stollman.

“I was thinking about the bird outside the window,” the left brain will say, “and it reminded me of something funny.”

Clearly, the probability that the left brain independently laughed about a bird outside the window at the exact same moment when the right brain was shown a funny joke is low. The left brain shows no awareness of the video that the right brain saw; it does not reference it at all.

But it insists that it knows why its body laughed. It makes up stories about the reasons for actions whose true reasons it cannot possibly know.

I think this surfaces quite frequently in politics. More than once in my life, I’ve been speaking with someone who claimed to know why they held a given political feeling; only to have the feeling completely unaffected by the disappearance of their supposed reason for it.

Whether it’s someone who thinks they dislike a Supreme Court ruling “because it’s undemocratic” – and then opposes the same law when it’s passed at the state level by the people, or someone who thinks they oppose something because they care about children, and then ignores mountains of hard evidence about what is good for children – let’s face it.

We all do it.

But why do liberals and conservatives do it differently?

Here again, neuroscience can give us insight into what is normally beyond the realm of our knowledge.

Many scientific studies have been done to see how liberals and conservatives respond differently to stimuli. The overall results are this: that liberals want to believe that the world is safe, and conservatives want to believe that it is dangerous.

Conservatives have stronger biological responses to stimuli which induce fear and disgust; they react with more empathy to members of their “in group” as far as race, religion, and nationality goes, than to members of other groups. They cleave strongly to sure allies.

Conservatives are slower to recognize change and ambiguity; when shown a shape that slowly morphs from a circle into a triangle, conservatives will be slower to change their designation of the shape from “circle” to “triangle” than liberals.

It is easy to see how these traits would be advantageous under certain circumstances. Indeed, the World Values Survey has found that societies which live at high levels of physical insecurity almost universally cleave to traditional values like those espoused by conservatives.

There is good reason for this. If you live in an area of decidedly scarce resources, who your “in group” is could become very important. If you live in an area where you need to fear predation or disease, strong fear and disgust responses will keep you safe.

This map of the cultures of various nations on the scales from “traditional” to “secular-rational” and “survival” to “self-expression” values by Koyo. Licensed under Creative Commons Share and Share Alike 3.0.

If you live in an area where the world is dangerous and uncertain, it makes sense to learn from authority figures and traditions which have worked in the past; if you live in a safe world with little to fear, it makes sense to discard tradition to try new ways which might be better.

This is probably why societies that live at high levels of physical safety and prosperity almost universally move towards liberal values. Characterized by the World Values Survey as “secular-rational” and “self-expression” values, these are values which create new things in safe environments.

It is easy to see why these, too, are good in certain circumstances. It is the mind that has little fear which gives freely to others; which widens one’s “in group” to include all living creatures; which discards tradition in pursuit of better ways, because it can afford to do so.

Both sets of values are essential in the right time and place. Let our wisdom, then, lie in recognizing the correct places to apply each.

Let us recognize what really poses a threat to our society.

Let us question our perceptions when we think that something threatens us.

Let us recognize what a fearless, giving heart would do.

Let us recognize when it may not be such a good idea to simply give someone what they want.

Today’s challenge: name three areas in which you are uncertain of your own motives.