Bigotedly Correct

Oh, Gary Oldman. I love you. I really do. I see you are in a movie and I get excited to see that performance. You were one of the reasons I did not totally refuse to see the RoboCop reboot.

But really…if you want to be critical of the restrictions of Politically Correct culture…you might want to pick better examples. Mel Gibson made racist comments and Alec Baldwin has used gay slurs.

Being a bigot is not the same thing as being politically incorrect. And for some reason, a lot of folks conflate the two. Suddenly, being a bigot is seen as the edgy person who does not care what society thinks. Bigots become treated as rebels and victim heroes.

Really, can we find some better example when lamenting political correctness than bigoted people?

Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck# 45: Mad Men

This is one of my riskier calls. I may be to close for this to be objective. These guys were one of my favorite bands…especially their first three albums.

Mad at the World was a trio at the start comprised of two brothers (Roger and Randy Rose and a friend of theirs (Mike Pendelton). They started out a heavy keyboard band in the vein of Depeche Mode. They initially gained the interest of Sparrow Records…a major Christian Label at the time. Sparrow decided to pass because-and I am not joking-they already HAD their alternative music act. They only needed one. Steve Taylor.

But in the mid 80’s, there was a growing label called Frontline Records. Before there was a Tooth N’ Nail Records, Frontline was one of the only labels focusing on non-inspirational music. They started with rock, metal and alternative and eventually rap. Along with Broken (Later known as Brainstorm Artists International), they were the place to go for your Christian rock needs.

Frontline snapped Mad at the World up. Their first self-titled release did live up to their name. The lyrics were aggressive, railing against spiritual injustices and enthrall ing vices such as gambling. They actually took some heat for being too angry… And maybe there was something to that criticism. Easy Way Out addressed suicide in a way that lacked compassion. But the band also addressed the desire to find a true love within the confines of the Church. This was a brand of heartache that was often dismissed with platitudes about God’s timing and the like. MatW treated it seriously and with sympathy. They also reached out to try and offer hope to people who were drowning in sorrow in songs like Dry You’re Tears and It Can’t Rain Forever.

It was very much, as stated before, a Depeche Mode inspired album musically. This is no shock, as Roger Rose stated they were his favorite band. But he hated the messages in their songs. So they worked to craft music that could compete, but with a more evangelistic message. And the music is terrific on their debut.

Their follow-up was called Flowers In the Rain. It was still synth driven, but there was a heavier guitar influence. The lyrics also were less “angry”. There was an attitude, but it was full of an undercurrent of heartbreak. The band was looking out and seeing how cruel and lonely this world can be. In Fearfully and Wonderfully the band laments our obsession with beauty, our rejection of those deemed ugly, or with disabilities or scars. The song declares everyone beautiful, that everyone is full of worth because we are created beings, made with care by a loving God.

Why questioned the cruelty of people to each other…the suffering we inflict on people seen as beneath us. No Mistakes revisited the topic of human worth not being measured by our exteriors. Songs like Wait and Dancin’ On Your Grave rock mightily (though DoYG is very much the epitome of a turn or burn lyric).

The band went quiet for two years…when they returned with Seasons of Love and (musically speaking) were nearly unrecognizable … Gone were the synths. Present only were guitars. And holy heck, the opening track, the Narrow Road, was a total alt rock song.

See, no synths.  The songs were also staying in the overall vein of less angry, but very impassioned pleas for repentance or changing ones ways.  Yet they were more honest.  The songs reflected a growing maturity to life.  The title track is a gentle psalm about the turbulence in life.  And even admitting that love can be overwhelming, both for better and worse.  City of Anger is a tough rock track that addresses what a trap anger can be for people.

The album deals as a whole with the joys and heartaches of love.  It tackles the issues of addiction (which can be a warped form of love) in Promised Land and So Insane.  Then there is It’s Not a Joke.  Rather than the bitter “You’ll be sorry!” type of track this could have been, instead it is a lament.  The song looks at a friend who no longer believes, a stranger committing suicide  and faith in general.  Declaring none of these things are a joke, it is a rather polite, but insistent.

They followed this up in 1991 with Boomerang.  It was a bit heavier than Seasons of love.  The guitars are downright crunchy.  The band got a bit tougher, but in a way that was not like a typical turn or burn message.  Back to You warns that if you put out cruelty and ugliness, it will come home to roost some day.  Draggin’ the Chains Roger sings of being in a spiritual bondage to sin and hate.  Rather than point outwards, he sings from a personal perspective that is pretty effective in this rocker.

All These Questions is about trying to keep your faith strong in the face of doubt.  Alternative Christian rock was still the only place to get anything close to honest treatments of doubt as late as 1991, folks.

The angriest track on the album was by far Isn’t Sex a Wonderful Thing.  A blistering indictment of an oversexed culture, it was originally intended for Seasons of Love.  The label got cold feet.  I am not sure why, the song blasts infidelity, child molestation (with the line “and as he would rape her, he would say, this means daddy loves you, honey, that means it’s okay”) and casual sex.  I find aspects of the song problematic, but your views on things like gender and orientation probably will impact how one perceives lines like:

Does anybody care about their purity?
And is anybody sure what gender they should be?
And does anybody mind that God’s been left behind?
And here we are today, where not to many people left can
Honestly say
Isn’t sex a wonderful thing?
Seems like the human race can ruin anything
Isn’t sex a wonderful thing?

The album closed with what would appear to be a trend of updating older tunes.  Starting with a blistering hard rock version of No More Innocence.

1992 saw the release of the band’s shot at a concept album.  Called Through the Forest, it opened deceptively with an acoustic guitar lick…but then…

The tempo picks up.  The entire album is a tale about a person trying to find their way back to God.  The song I’ll never Go Back There is a declaration to not return to the old ways that kept the character lost.

The songs are pretty straight forward.  This is not really allegory, where the songs require thought.  I mean, the chorus is “I’ll never go back…to sinful living!”  While there are some decent tracks, this qualifies as my least favorite of the Mad At the World output.

The disc featured their second (and last) self revisit with a metal take on Mad At the World.  The album closed with a cover of an Elvis Presley track called If I Can Dream.  These three albums showcased a heavier vocal presence of Roger’s younger brother Randy.  His vocals were more “growly” than Roger’s more Brit Synth Pop vocals.

Only one year later the band returned with a very different sound.  More of a sixties based hard rock, they opened up the Ferris Wheel with the upbeat and  hopeful Not the Same.  With almost a psychedelic rock approach, the album was an unexpected change.

The songs are not in any danger of being uncertain or hard to interpret.  Titles like Jesus Lead Me, No Secrets (about how there are no secrets from God) and When Life Has a Plan (about how much better things are when you follow God’s plan) are straight forward and simple in their lyrical premise.  It happens to work better here than it did on Through the Forest.  The folksy rock seems work in the favor of the lyrics.  Going Nowhere Again feels like a late sixties hard rock  tune.  There is a definite Hendrix influence.

The band’s final release, the Dreamland Cafe, continued the psychedelic rock vibe (And the album’s cover followed suit).  On the Stage is a pretty nice opening track.  The album has a much mellower vibe, only dipping into Randy’s growling vocals on occasion.

Overall, it is a decent, but honestly not very memorable album.  I still find myself returning most to the first four albums the most and find those to represent the band’s strongest moments.

You Must Be Nude Here

Recently, the actor who portrays John Snow on Game of Thrones declared the show needs more male nudity. His argument was there should be more menude, considering all the female flesh on parade.

The truth is…I would like a bit less nudity of any sort. HBO likes to have nudity in their shows…it usually feels forced. But the writers of Game of Thrones seem to have heard the challenge and said “We are gonna raise the stakes here.”

It is actually to point that episodes without nudity stand out as noticeable. The nudity is very one sided. It is expected of the women. It is almost always sexualized imagery for male viewer consumption.

The annoying thing?

Generally speaking, HBO has excellent programming. Their shows are well written, well shot, well performed, etc. they do not need to “spice up” their programming.

HBO seems to believe the success in their programs is not in their quality, but how much nudity you can get. They seem to be ignoring that there are networks, such as AMC, that are playing their game (quality programming) without being able to play the nudity card.

I dare the Game of Thrones team to go a whole season with no nudity (and no rape, you know, for a bonus!). In fact, I double dog dare them.

Rise From The Ashes of the Mind’s Eye

I feel like this bog post is about three years late, yet the timing is probably best.

I was raised in the Church.  It was practically in my DNA. At no time did I ever doubt there was a God.  Jesus was the answer to the questions of life.

I cannot say I believe this, after over 30 years of living.  It was about 38 years of living and believing to be exact.

About three years ago, I found I could no longer believe.

There is a quote that has been attributable to many writers, from Stephen Meyer to Josh McDowell. It goes “the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects.”  I have long believed this.  It is why people can believe very outlandish things.  It is not really a defense, so much as a criticism…but you would not know it, because it is primarily used as a pro-conversion statement.

The road to no more faith in a god of any sort was tough.  In the beginning it was more about doubts of the Church and Bible.  The Church I was a part of encouraged using the “Year Through the Bible”.  It is a Bible structured so that each day, you read a portion of the Old Testament, New Testament and the Psalms (which is…uh, part of the OT, but whatever).  Now, I knew the Bible pretty well.   I studied it my whole life.  And my first pass was pretty uneventful.  I was focused on the “year-thru-the-Bible” gimmick.

It was my second pass.  The second year I was reading thru, stuff started to seem… a little off.  Do not get me wrong…there were uplifting stuff, encouraging stuff.  But more and more, God, proclaimed as good and great throughout scripture, started to show as ego maniacal, self centered, manipulative (“If you really loved me…”) and generally petty.  God exhibited qualities that I would never see as respectable in a person.  I mean, Donald Trump exhibits a lot of the same self regard that God does…I do not consider Trump worthy of worship.  The main difference with God seems to be super powers.  These qualities are not bad for God, because, hey, God is GOD!  Which is a pretty lame defense.

The story of Job shows God letting Job lose *everything* including his family to devastation and death simply to prove a point.  God is not innocent of Job’s suffering.  God stops show His favor to Job so He can prove Job does not need those things to love and worship Him.  There is no indication that God is bothered by anything Job is going through, because it is not about Job…it is about God’s ego.  Sure, God gave Job everything back twofold…well kinda.  It is not like God raised his children and servants from the dead.  No, those people were gone.  He just replaced them for Job.

I had kind of rejected Sola Scripture by this point.  That is the notion that scripture is the only source of wisdom from God.  It is circular logic, as the Bible never makes any such claim.  And the verses that speak of scripture being God-breathed were written when there was no Bible.  So, it got ridiculous.

I also confess that I gave up asking for anything in prayer.

Wait, let me re-state that.  I continued to pray.  But I stopped asking for anything for myself.  I focused on the needs of friends and family.  The common answer Christians give is that God’s answers are yes, no or not now/maybe.  So, God is a magic eight ball.

Anyways, I pretty much decided that I had to reject anything that seemed contrary to God.  I did not want to accept the idea that God might not be real.  I wanted to believe, so I just had to stop buying the idea that God was anything like other Christians were willing to accept about God.

I found other people who had similar ideas, which was a bit of comfort.  Unfortunately, they were not at Church, which eventually led to my dropping out.  I just could not worship that God.  I still participated in the video team, though less and less.  I like doing that stuff, I like helping friends.

I had been, for quite some time, finding that the concept of “Faith” as a noble and great thing problematic.  Faith in things unseen is actually pretty neutral.  Your faith in things unseen might lead you to start a hospital to help the sick or a food bank to feed the poor.  Of course, your faith in things unseen might also lead you to fly planes into buildings or shoot doctors.

About a little over three years ago, I was presented a question that I just could not get around.  “Could I prove God exists without resorting to it being a feeling or sense I had.

And I thought about it.

And I thought about it some more.

And even more.

And you know what I realized?

I could not.  Because that is what faith is.

I claimed a personal relationship with a person who did not answer me back when I spoke with them.  I could not have a conversation.  We do not get to know  people merely by reading about them.  I have friends that are very into reading books about various historical figures.  But no matter how many books they read on Lincoln or John Adams?  They will never be able to claim a personal relationship to either man.  They simply know facts about them.  They may feel a kinship, but there is no relationship.  If they quietly pray to them, it is not a relationship.  If they sing songs to them, it is still not a relationship.

Billy Graham was very fond of the notion that God is like the wind.  e cannot see the wind, but we know it is real.

Except wind and God are not the same thing.  Wind cannot be seen directly, but you can see it physically impacting things.  Smoke dissipates or bends to the wind.  Branches and bushes sway.  We feel it move across our skin.  We can hear it make noise.  Wind is truly verifiable.  If you put five people in a a backyard on a windy day, they will have pretty much the same experience.  The variations will be small.  But you sit five Christians together and you will easily get five different experiences that are very different.  Sometimes even contradictory.  Because, unlike wind, we do not hear God (we often claim it is a still small voice-our conscience…but it is not an audible voice that the other four people would hear).  Unlike the wind, we do not feel a touch of God on our skin.  We do not hear, touch, smell or see God.  We rely on feelings about events in our lives.  “This happened, it must be God speaking to me”.  I honestly do not know a single person who has ever made an indisputable case for God.  Instead, their believe is strictly based on a feeling.

I am not denying their sincerity.  They truly do believe.  They are certain the things they do that are good are because of a change God has made in them.  I actually expect sincere belief to change you.  If you sincerely believe something, you should be changing.  But it does not prove your belief to be true.  But honesty, a lot of the attempts I see to prove that Christianity is not simply a religion, but absolute truth ends up reminding me of those Ghost Hunter and Cryptozoology shows on Nat Geo.  They present a lot of unverified images and sounds and then demand you offer a better explanation than Bigfoot.

And so I am left having to side with the idea that I cannot worship that which I cannot prove the existence of.  I do not believe Christianity is al bad.  I do not believe religion has only brought pain and suffering.  But it certainly has not only brought good either.  The Bible has good concepts, it also has some pretty messed up ideas.  While many Christians reject slavery today, it is most definitely not because the Bible condemns it.  Slave owners used scripture to justify slavery.  Why?  Because the Bible addresses slavery…but it does not condemn it.  The holy scripture does not ever condemn the ownership of another person.  Of course, these things become less of a problem if you do not consider the Bible infallible.  If recognized as a book written by flawed humans with human flaws?  You can take note of and hold on to the good while leaving the bad behind.  Just like we do with any other book.

Honestly, to quote Steve Taylor, “Since I gave up Hope, I feel a lot better.”  I am not using that quite in the way Steve intended, but hey.  What I mean, really, is that I have found life to be filled with more hope than before.  Which surprised me.  I do not have all the answers, and I no longer feel like I have to.  I also appreciate that I am no longer paralyzed by wondering if my hopes and dreams are God’s will or my will.  Maybe I am the only one who ever found that an issue.  Do I want to tell stories because of what I want or is it God?  Do I want to share my art because it is God’s will or my own desire?  And so I would stop trying to accomplish anything.  Now?  Without being driven mad by such worry, I can pursue creative endeavors.

I realize that the reactions to this will be varied.  Some folks will be disappointed.  Some will not be surprised.  Some will mock.  Some will be supportive.  But I felt like it was time to say it.  You might wonder why it would be so hard.  One Christian declared not teaching your kids to believe in Jesus (which I could not do, and my sister is not doing with my nephews currently, though she believes in God) to be the ultimate form of (Cosmic) child abuse.  I have seen how some Christians have responded to Ojo Taylor from Undercover.   There is good reason a lot of former Christians (and other religions) kind of go underground.  And much of my personal life is steeped among Christians.  The majority of my friends and family are Christians.  My parents are very involved in Church.  My mom has terminal cancer that we discovered shortly after I stopped believing.  Do I really want to have ongoing discussions about why I should believe in the time I have left with my mom?  Not really.  I want to build as many positive memories in the time ahead.

But there it is.

I do not believe in God.  Or any gods.

Happy New Year?

 

On This Morn

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

The Sound of Silence

So, part one of my thoughts on the situation surrounding the Rosa Parks of our generation. You might have heard about this. For reasons unknown to me, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson felt the need to expound on who would be accepted into heaven. He was quoting the Bible and then covered his ass with the “but it is not for me to judge.” So, A&E suspended him. Of course, he had some rather “poor thoughts” on race.

First, A&E has every right to suspend or cancel a show. It is their network. It is funny how the same people who feel a cake maker should be allowed to discriminate are outraged that A&E should suspend Robertson. But here is my concern about the situation. I am a bit uncomfortable with the attempts to silence people who say things we do not like.

Life is incredibly complex. There is a Tumblr called Your Fave is Problematic. Read through it. Sometimes it is informative. Sometimes it is more an excuse to rant hatefully about people someone doesn’t like. The truth is, everyone I follow in Twitter, Tumblr, etc are problematic. Sometimes? Social justice minded people are the worst. They go so over the top, they become the very same person as the people they are ranting against.

When someone says something we find offensive, we rightfully express our displeasure. But so often, we see major pushes to get celebrities fired. Let us be honest, in real life, nobody campaigns to get the bigots in day to day fired from the local grocery. Celebrities are in a unique place. Every public word they express can work for or against them. And hey, you have to accept you might lose your job.

The problem with the campaigns are…well, they really do not do anything. Phil Robertson is in a long line of teevee and radio stars who said something unkind that were met with demands to get rid of them. When they are fired, everyone declares success. They always seem to land on their feet and and the attitudes are still there. And no actual life changing discussions. And sometimes, the attempt to Silence works in reverse…how many attempts have there been to dump Daniel Tosh? Tosh is still around. And rumors are that Phil will, in fact, appear in January Duck Dynasty .

Silencing tends not to be about true justice or changing minds and attitudes. It is about convincing ourselves we won. Except, we don’t actually win. No, it is worse. Those folks we work to silence? They go on Fox News, the Church Circuit or wherever…they preach their message harder, they play the role of martyr and the people who believed them support them more aggressively than before. Their message is pressed on.

What the world does not need? More “martyrs” and “patriots” of the Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin vein.

The other thing? Silencing can very much be used against progressive voices. And that tide could turn unexpectedly. In the pat, progressive voices were silenced. Even recently, gays have been forced by family to go to rehabilitation to be “straight”. We should not pretend reversing against those that we disagree with is somehow good. Reeducation camps are not a neutral concept. Silencing is not a good thing in a free world. The message offered by progressives is better. The message offered by progressives is stronger, and silencing rarely has the desired effect.

Silencing allows the alternative messages to grow. They retreat for only a limited time, because silencing only addresses a single event…not an attitude. Standing up, speaking our piece is going to do more to make a better world than getting a redneck off TV could ever do.

The Preface

I am working on a couple blog postings related to the general reaction to bigoted comments by celebrities and how these things are dealt with. I have conflicting feelings, and so I am breaking them down into (current plan) two posts. One focusing on my problems with “silencing” people we do not like. The second post will address why I do understand that very tendency.

I am opening with this preface partially to ask that if you take issue with the first post, to wait and see if I address the concern in my follow up.

Overall, December may be ending in a blogging explosion of thoughts from me.