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Insufferable Christians Part II – Christianity and Pop Culture

Most people don’t care for Pop Culture, and yet most people adhere to it. It’s impossible to avoid, in fact. Even those who make a point of hating everything that comes from Pop Culture are still affected by it, even ruled by it.

So what is Pop Culture? We know it’s not controlled by an individual or even a group of individuals. There may be record and movie company executives making decisions about what they think people want, but even they get side-swiped by unexpected trends in Pop Culture.

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Pop Culture is not a single entity. It’s a collection of ideas and trends, opinions, faiths, persuasions that could come from an individual, but they don’t. No one person controls these ideas. They are moved by emotions, by gossip, by wanting to know what everyone else knows, by wanting in on what everyone else is in on. Pop Culture, in essence, is a mob.

And there is nothing so mindlessly destructive than a mob. They can range from bad to worse, from property destruction to lives lost, to homes burned and physical altercations. A mob is incredibly emotional, incredibly violent, and virtually mindless.

But don’t jump the gun on me yet. Pop Culture isn’t quite the physical monstrosity of a well-inebriated post-super bowl crowd. It doesn’t commit acts of violence (not really), but it does have the same emotional mindlessness associated with a mob. And it makes things happen, for better or worse.

So where does Christianity fit into all this?

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Christianity, the religion of old white ladies with pursed lips, disapproving eyebrows, and a long list of DO NOTS (thank you, Dana Carvey) is bound to put a damper on any Pop Culture party. A mob ruled by emotions and basic, animalistic cravings is not going to put up with something telling it to stop.

But Pop Culture doesn’t hate Christianity for that reason. If that were the case, Pop Culture would hate all religions, all calls to self-discipline and restraint. Other religions like Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism also have a strict set of standards and often require far more self-restraint than Christianity. But these religions differ from Christianity in that they have a sense of otherness that’s easy to romanticize.

Christianity does not, however. Why? Because Pop Culture was birthed from Circumstantial Christianity.

What started as a subversive religion eventually conquered the world, becoming a pandemic that spread from nation to nation and–perhaps–suffered from the Bilbo Baggins lament of “butter scraped over too much bread.” Perhaps not. Perhaps it was spoiled by the sinfulness and laziness of its followers. Either way, it is now understood to be something that more closely resembles American prosperity than a radical, revolutionary faith that challenged–and changed–the world.

In place of that faith is Circumstantial Christianity, which has led us to a generation of people who have just enough knowledge of Christianity to own it but never truly understand it.

And like any petulant, overly-privileged offspring, Pop Culture wishes to undo Christianity, to overthrow it, to make up its own religion, one that doesn’t judge its wrongdoings. It has embraced all the forbidden things Circumstantial Christianity condemns and rages against that which brought it into existence. It is the byproduct of Christians of circumstance, the fruit that withers on the tree, the monster we continue to feed.

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Aside

Insufferable Christians Part I – Christians of Circumstance

Please note: This entry is aimed at Christians only. My goal right now isn’t to proselytize non-Christians but to challenge those who identify themselves as Christians.

It’s no secret that a large portion of the American population considers itself Christian, 75% in fact. And yet I doubt 75% of Americans agree on more than one or two things. So how can one religion inspire so many diverse thoughts and ideas, so much so that it’s hard to distinguish some Christian activity and practices from secularism and pop culture, while other Christians are utterly immersed in their faith?

We all know there are a thousand different interpretations of the Bible, many that have led to split-offs, then more split-offs, to split-offs from those split-offs. Eventually, we landed here, with a vast number of Christian denominations sinking under religious bureaucracy. But what really matters, much more than any interpretation of a single Bible verse, is how each individual Christian got to his or her Christianity. By purpose or circumstance?

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Circumstantial Christians were born to a Christian family. They went to church. They read the Bible. And now that they’re adults, they take their families to church. They celebrate Christmas. They even pray.

But what they’ve never actually done is made any of this personal. Personally, at the heart of who they are, Christianity isn’t there. There’s a lot of other things, like familial connections, material desires, a need to please others, a desire to appear a certain way, to achieve certain things. But there isn’t room for anything else. Christianity is like the suits they wear to work on Monday morning, except they put it on on Sunday instead. It’s an outer layer meant to speak to those around them about who they are. It’s part of their identity, like the color of their hair or skin. It is not, however, at the core of their being.

Purposeful Christians come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some used to be atheists. Some used to be Muslims. Some used to be Satanists. Many were drug addicts, prostitutes, cheaters, liars, thieves. Many were in prison. Some were rich. Some were poor. Some had exciting lives, hard lives, easy lives, and normal lives.

But Purposeful Christians have all come to terms with themselves. They have all been to the place of death to everything they held dear. They’ve watched their lives collapse. They resigned themselves to the authority of God. They’ve witnessed their lives rebuilt from the scraps.

They are Christians at the core. It’s not an outer identity, as inconsequential as the color of their skin or eyes. It is who they are.

The important distinction between Circumstantial Christians and Purposeful Christians is that one is a passive condition while the other is the result of action. I’ve talked at length about the importance of being a Do Woman, not an Is Woman, and this isn’t much different. Do you consider yourself born into Christianity? Raised as a Christian? Are you a Christian because that’s what Americans are? Or are you a Christian because you’ve taken the burden of Christianity onto yourself and have actively pursued the faith?

Purposeful Christianity is a hard sale. It’s not going to solve all your problems or make you rich or good-looking. It will not help you lose weight or find love or cure arthritis. It will change you, however, what you desire, what you prioritize, what you love. It will not change your circumstances, and that makes it difficult to persuade others to pursue it, understandably so. Most of us want to keep ourselves and change the world around us instead. Because losing oneself is a kind of a death.

The price is worth it, however, because death is inevitable anyway, and there’s no hope of life for those who have not actively pursued Christianity. It is also worth pursuing, not because of a Heavenly reward–and if you’re clinging to Christianity just to get to Heaven, you’re doing it wrong–but because Purposeful Christianity leads to a life that doesn’t deteriorate and wither into dust.

Circumstantial Christianity is safe, yes, and easy, but it is also a deadly trap. A Circumstantial Christian is convinced of his righteousness and never questions it or himself, which leaves him virtually unreachable and lost.

Finally, it may be a stretch to say it, but I will anyway. Most modern Christian churches are built on members who are Christians by circumstance, not by action. Christianity is so embedded in American life, so widespread, so connected to wealth and privilege, that it has been watered down into a vague shadow of its former self. This may explain why many churches are failing. They spend time arguing what is and isn’t righteous, what is and isn’t sin, what is and isn’t justified. They spend time selling Christianity as a cure-all and ignore what’s at the heart of their members.

Insufferable Christians Part II, Pop Culture and Christianity

The Problem With Being A Girl, Part III

Victimhood: The Individual

Let me preface this rant by saying that all women are guilty of being willing victims, including myself. So while I may get preachy here, you need to know that every women will struggle with something in her life, some weakness, some flaw. The only difference between perpetual victims and temporary victims is the ability to learn from one’s mistakes.

Hopeless Romantics: These women imagined a perfect life for themselves, and they’re waiting for it to fall into their laps. They’re waiting for their soulmate and have yet to figure out he doesn’t actually exist. They want a fairtale wedding, a fairytale husband, a fairytale job, and a fairytale life. They are the dreamers who never stopped dreaming even as they grew up. And while there is nothing wrong with wishing upon a star, if you’re just waiting for good things to happen, chances are they never will.

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Hopeless Romantics also have high expectations for their lives. Their chief emotion is disappointment, because nothing turns out the way they hoped, the way they dreamed it would be. While the Hopeless Romantic may only be harming herself at first, her disappointment with such a non-fairytale life will likely push her into bitterness. And her bitterness and feelings of ingratitude, her inability to recognize the good in her life, will sour to the point of making her a bitter, selfish, ungrateful woman. That’s not a pleasant way to be.

The best remedy for the Hopeless Romantic is to be proactive and grateful. Life takes work and commitment, dedication, and you have to get over your fear of failure. You can’t hide from the world and expect the world to come to you. You have to be involved. You have to be out there. Secondly, you have to understand what gratitude is. If you’re waiting for circumstances to make you happy, you never will be. If you can’t find joy in your life right now, as imperfect as it is, you’ll never find joy in a fairytale life. Because what we imagine and what we experience are two different things. If you only flex your disappointed and bitter muscles, that’s all you’ll feel long term, no matter how many dreams come true.

Insufferable Vanity: It’s obvious who suffers from vanity, isn’t it? Or is it? Vanity affects more women than we can guess, and it doesn’t require beauty to be vain. Vanity comes in many forms. The most vain women are the ones who are negatively obsessed with their appearance. In fact, it’s safe to say that women who are always complaining about how they look are more vain than women who post 19 perfectly-posed selfies a day on social media. That’s not saying the selfie-enthusiast isn’t vain. Yes, they are, but they’ve also accepted that they’re beautiful. And accepting that you’re okay just as you are is a healthy step up from trying to get others to tell you–over and over again–that you really are beautiful.

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Vanity diminishes you as a woman. It makes you an Is Woman instead of a Do Woman, desperate to be something over which you have very little control.

So to all the vain women out there (myself included), please stop. The world doesn’t revolve around you and what you look like and how you feel about what you look like. Be a Do Women and give to your friends and family, instead of demanding they give to you, that they notice you. Notice them, not in a phony, overly-flattering way, but take a genuine interest in what they’re thinking and feeling. Your beauty will come naturally if you stop trying to possess it.

Afraid To Be Alone: This woman isn’t waiting for Mr. Right. She’s out in the world in a desperate search for any male creature who will have her. She cannot–must not–ever be single for longer than a day. If she can reduce her horrifying solitude to an hour, those 60 minutes of not being attached to someone may still be too long. The fear of being single has led her into relationships where her boyfriend has cheated on her and abused her. He may have abandoned her, stolen all of her things, or locked her out of her own house.

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This is the most dangerous willing victim out there, because her lack of discernment can cause a domino effect. If the world around her is lucky, she’ll keep these dalliances she confuses for the real thing to herself, and they will only affect her. But the world doesn’t work like that, and it’s often those with the most power who don’t know what to do with it.

To the ATBA woman, you need a hobby. You need friends. You need a career. You need something besides an obsession with men. Listen closely. You will never find yourself in a good relationship out of desperation. In fact, by making your life about getting, having, or losing a guy, you’ve left little room for anything else. All the default relationship advice, such as sharing common interests, finding someone who’s not controlling, someone with a job, someone who respects you, none of that matters to you. You have no interests, and no man respects a desperate woman. So you’re stuck repeating the same mistakes over and over again and wondering why you can’t find lasting love.

This is not an easy lesson to swallow, but it’s necessary if you plan to grow as a person, if you intend to grow up and give up the selfish helplessness of youth. It requires overcoming what comes natural to you, and that is one of the hardest things any person can do.

I’d like to conclude–now that I’ve insulted every woman out there, including myself–by saying that women have never been, and never will be, the weaker sex. We’ve got a heavy line to tow, a lot of power, a lot of opportunity, and a lot of terrifying responsibility. This is why we can’t afford to be weaklings and victims.

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The Problem With Being A Girl, Part II

Victimhood – A Collection of Victims

This may ruffle some feathers. In fact, I imagine it’ll ruffle a lot of feathers, but bear with me.

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The state of being a victim, I believe, should be reserved for actual victims, victims of crime, abuse, and sexual assault, not for people who declare themselves victims in order to get stuff.

Feminism started as a movement to recognize that women were equal to men and therefore deserved to vote, hold jobs, and contribute to society. Many women today consider the 1960’s to be the defining decade for feminism, but feminism started centuries earlier. And women back then dealt with much weightier issues than cultural attitudes towards the female gender. Long, hard battles were fought for suffrage, education, and equality.

And those battles were not in vain. Today there are women in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Women can vote, hold jobs, even become CEOs, like the recently named CEO of GM, Mary Barra. We have female scientists and mathematicians, astronauts, professors, philosophers, writers, governors, and yes, homemakers. All contribute to society.

It’s safe to say that the battle, for the most part, has been won. Isn’t that right? So why are we still at war?

At the end of the movie Zero Dark Thirty, Maya, the driving force behind the discovery of Osama Bin Laden, climbs into the back of a plane and begins to weep. The war she’d been waging had been won, and yet she was weeping, and I presume not with joy. Why? Because sometimes winning is harder to stomach than losing. When a person or a movement has been fighting long and hard, a sudden victory is almost unfathomable.

Feminism was a long-fought, hard-won victory. But it was a victory nonetheless. And now, instead of fighting obvious battles–pop culture sexism, human trafficking, equal rights for Muslim women–we’re fighting pointless ones.

A quick Google search brings up hundreds of news stories where someone, an organization, a political figure of some kind, is accused of sexism. The offenses are usually so mild, like arguing against the policy positions of a female political opponent, that you wonder how sexism even applies. While most would agree it’s outrageous to use the term sexism just because a certain person irritates you, the damage is much more serious than character assassination.

When the word sexism is so diminished, it makes it that much harder to battle real sexism and actual degradation of women. The idea is so softened by overuse of the term that it’ll no longer be a serious enough allegation–even if justified–for anyone to notice. It’s a classic case of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

That brings us to point number two.

Many of today’s more passionate feminists don’t want equal rights. They want to be taken care of. They want access to free birth control, free abortions, free physical examinations, free healthcare, and free childcare.

But is that what feminism is? Instead of our fathers taking care of us until we could be handed off to a husband who would take care of us, now we’ll have the government take care of us. That’s feminism? After battling for centuries for the right to education and employment, we now want someone else to be financially responsible for everything about us that makes us women?

Whenever I argue against this, whenever I argue that feminism means having independence and freedom, and responsibility, I get sob stories. I get vague, anecdotal parables of women who can’t afford birth control, who work two jobs at minimum wage and can barely make ends meet. But that isn’t what I’m arguing against. I’m not arguing against helping the individual, and there are always individuals who–through no fault of their own–are temporarily in need. I’m arguing against welfare for women as a whole. I’m arguing against the idea that women, just because they are women, must have free stuff, that we can’t possibly take care of ourselves, that we can’t possibly make grown-up decisions about birth control, who we’re going to sleep with, and who we’ll risk having a baby with–that we must have no physical limitations at all if we’re going to truly be equal to men.

But we’re not men, and our limitations are also a blessing, a powerful tool. Women give birth to–and nurture–future world leaders, presidents, writers, car mechanics, doctors, and scientists. How we go about raising our children determines not only the course of that one person’s life, but the entire world. That kind of power should be celebrated, and we should be sober and thoughtful about how we intend to wield it. But when feminism starts dumbing us down into helpless human beings “burdened” with bodies that can create and sustain life, it causes a ripple effect that drags down the world in its entirety. Women, after all, were never meant to be weak.

Feminism started as a grand idea, a good idea, a moral idea, but we won the war and don’t know how to cope with victory.

Victimhood may get you stuff. It may even ignite a wave of self-righteous indignation from women who’ve taken no notice of their own privileges. But it also starts a slow march backwards away from independence and equality–which cannot exist without the burden of responsibility–to weak subservience to others.

Next: The Problem With Being A Girl, Part III: Victimhood – The Individual

Aside

The Problem With Being A Girl, Part I

Is Women and Do Women

Let’s stop being dishonest with ourselves. Girls are messed up. We really are. We over-analyze things and beat dead horses long after they’ve died, become zombified, and have died yet again. We can’t let things go. We’re vulnerable, but we hate to admit, or we use that vulnerability to get attention. And we love attention. Yes, we do. We want to be the prettiest, most interesting, most mysterious woman in the room.

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The problem is, most of us aren’t. We’re not any of those things. And there is no sin quite so painful and quite so punishable as being ordinary.

So what do you do as a woman who may not be remarkable enough or young enough or beautiful enough to stand out? You stop being and start doing.

In C.S. Lewis’s book, Perelandra, Satan’s means of tempting the pristine and sinless Queen of Venus (Tinidril) is by first making her aware of herself. She goes from a woman of beauty who merely experiences the world around her, to a woman of beauty who becomes aware of her own beauty and her own importance and intelligence. She is no longer one being but two. In the same way that Gollum becomes a divided creature due to the maddening influence of the Ring, Tinidril’s first step towards sin is noticing herself.

Women of today have come so far since then. Not only do women know they exist; they have selfies to prove it, profile pages devoted to themselves, and Twitter feeds talking about themselves. Self-awareness on its own may be a neutral condition, neither good nor bad. But it appears all sin, especially female sin, first requires the condition of self-awareness before it can flower into full-fledged self-destruction.

Is there nothing sadder than a woman well beyond her youth desperately clinging to her youth? It’s easy to mock such a woman, but what has changed since she was actually young and beautiful? Nothing, nothing but her appearance. Time alone revealed the true nature of what once seemed a virtue and is now a vice. She lived her life passively as an Is Woman, not a Do Woman, and never learned how to stop . . . or start, I should say.

What becomes of us, especially women, when we’re busy doing things, putting our backs into it, and changing the world around us? We disappear and become heedless of ourselves, our appearance, how many wrinkles we may have, how much weight we need to lose, and how pretty we should be. We become instruments that are making the world a better place, not instruments that merely exist in the world.

If you want to have value, no matter how pretty or young or old or un-pretty you are, do something and forget about who you are. You’ll never figure that out anyway, unless you’re someone shallow enough to classify in one sentence. And you’ll never be that, because you’ll be busy doing, creating, giving, knitting, painting, reading, singing, supporting, nurturing, quilting, jogging, listening, cleaning, or writing. You will never be limited to Who You Are if you learn how to be a Do Woman instead of an Is Woman.

Up Next: The Problem With Being a Girl, Part II – Victimhood

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