Archive for June, 2007

Ah, Outreach day.

It’s Saturday afternoon on the first relaxed weekend I’ve had in about a month, and I could not be happier. Better yet, Outreach arrived in my mailbox today, along with a fascinating book that I can hardly wait to read: A Tragic Legacy: How a Good Vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency. But I’ll focus on the Outreach issue, because of what’s on page 120.

If you haven’t read it, it’s about a young woman who left her job as a stripper. Her name is Harmony Star Dust, and the first few paragraphs are fantastic, because they explain how she ended up as a stripper in the first place. She was sexually abused repeatedly, had an abusive boyfriend and was putting herself through school.

That’s the kind of thing that so often gets left out of these “how I left the profession and found Jesus” stories, and it’s a terrible shame. The sex industry is legitimately a flashpoint for society and for religion, but almost never for the right reasons. And this is where we link up to the book I mentioned, actually. Too narrow a focus on the sin involved completely blinds many people to the real issue: what leads to the situation in the first place. Not everything is clear-cut, but women don’t go into the sex industry because they’re evil. Some claim that the job is fantastic for them, that they make a lot of money and that they feel powerful in their sexality because of it. Whether or not that’s true, strip clubs and the oldest profession would never be able to get enough labor if women were truly valued in our society.

I have two dear friends who went through nightmares of abuse when they were kids, and their stories are shot through with the way their trust was broken and the people who should have taken care of them let them down. This is the real sin. The sex industry holds up a mirror to us and when we don’t like what we see, we want to break the mirror instead of do something to change ourselves.

This is why I wish the noisy types in religion, the ones who use their fame and supporters to hold forth on society’s ills, ever had anything to say about the real sins in our society. Not the evil of the sex industry, which we could debate all day; but the cruelties that  often drive women into the sex industry, which are unmistakably evil. How many times have televangelists or professional religious folks condemned the sex industry as though it came out of nowhere? How many times have they held forth about sex and failed to utter a peep about sexual abuse?

I’m glad Star Dust’s organization (www.iamatreasure.com) is out there. I just wish more people cared about the folks in the sex industry as people, and wanted to change the world that was cruel to them before they were big enough to fight back.

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I doubt you care, but…

…the best bumper sticker I’ve heard of lately:

 “I’d rather be reading Jane Austen.”

Sin and the Sopranos

Don’t read this if you like the Sopranos and are planning to watch the finale someday. I won’t give away much, but I would hate to ruin it for anyone.

I don’t know if any of you are Sopranos fans, but if any of you saw the finale you’ll know that mobster Tony Soprano doesn’t seem to be receiving much of a direct comeuppance for his many, many appalling sins. I found that awfully frustrating, and it led me to think a bit about sin, which I promised I would post about.

Obviously, when you’re agnostic, the business of sin and hell is less concrete. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally embrace the idea of hell, or at least the hope of it. I think it would be really lovely if certain folks who have offended God and the whole world with their cruelty had the same kind of hideous experiences waiting for them that they had inflicted on others in their lives. But I don’t know if they do, and that makes it complicated to think about the concepts of sin and forgiveness.

For example: Hitler needs forgiveness. Duh. Jeffrey Dahmer needs forgiveness. Jim Jones needs forgiveness. Alcoholic fathers and mothers need forgiveness, although they also need support and help to stop their bad acts. But how do they work together? Does forgiveness excuse or merely attempt to heal what can’t be undone? And how does religion really factor in? Does it make you feel forgiven, or does it actually give you the forgiveness you can’t give yourself?

In a comment some time ago, someone suggested that I need Jesus to forgive the sins I’ve committed, because we have all sinned and we all need forgiveness for those sins. But why? Because I’m not sure I believe in hell, the idea of forgiveness of sins committed doesn’t have the same resonance as it would otherwise. If I need to be forgiven in this life so that I don’t have hell in my next, then forgiveness becomes merely a way to get the black marks off of my cosmic report card. If my sins are such that I deserve hell (lying to my mother about whether or not I eat breakfast? being proud that I was able to weed my yard and plant some new grass all by myself?), then God’s got himself a hair trigger temper. I’ve never bought the idea that the least of our sins is important enough to offend God, any more than any of us would thunder and smite when a child who doesn’t know better whacks another on the head with a spoon.

I can buy that I need forgiveness for my sins in order to be a better person in this life. If we all pursued that, we’d probably have a much easier time getting along. But that’s hardly religious; that’s just practical and nice in a secular kind of way. So what’s the answer? What do I really need, and why do I need it, in the matter of whether I ask God to forgive my sins?

Pride Day

I came across a blog post about all the gay Pride doings today, and wondered what people thought: What do people think about this business of gays in the church? The post, available here, runs down many of the demoninations and whether they ordain gays or not. What do folks think about this? That’s maybe a good topic to begin this business about sin, since so many people seem to equate being gay with sin.

Uncertainty

So I’ve realized another hazard of blogging. I’ve been talking about a post about sin for some time, and yet it never materializes. Why? Because I’m not sure what I want to say. But the whole point of being agnostic is a certain amount of, well, uncertainty. So why not take a risk and say what I’m thinking, even if I’m not sure what I’m thinking? Ah, it’s all about risk and not being sure but that’s the exact opposit of what I like. Perhaps I’m not cut out for agnosticism, eh?

In the meantime, I’m reading a book called The Big Bang, at least at the moment. It’s about the origin of the universe. I’m reading it because as an agnostic, I feel more certainty about science than about religion, and yet here I am subscribing vaguely and not at all thoughtfully to a theory that I know nothing about. More when it becomes interesting; at the moment it’s still about the Greeks figuring out the world, and that’s cool but I tend not to give it the credence it deserves.

Radio silence (part deux)

Hey, folks, I’m not dead. I’m working on a post about sin and forgiveness, and now that I’ve seen the finale of The Sopranos, I’m working that in. In the meantime, check out faithinamerica.org and let me know what you think. I just saw the home page and haven’t looked at it too closely.

I’m totally listening to this at noon.

It may be on a lot of NPR affiliates, but at noon central on Minnesota Public Radio there will be an interview with John Shelby Spong, author of many interesting books about Christianity. More this afternoon!

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/04/23/midday2/