Lisa Graas, mind your own business

I have a suggestion for religious homophobes: Stop acting like the rest of us are stupid.

Jeremy Hooper recently posted a video of a panel at a “town hall meeting” of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the campaign working to ban gay marriage once again in Maryland. In the clip, panelist Reverend Robert Anderson claims that “those who practice such things are deserving of death”. Just to drive the point home, he further adds that “if we don’t vote against it, then we are approving these things that are worthy of death”.

Then Catholic blogger Lisa Graas decided that this was something she needed to defend. In a reply to Jeremy Hooper, she insisted that Anderson’s statement “refers to the death of the soul. In other words, going to hell. He is saying that God will send sinners to hell.”

Here’s why everything about this excuse is crap. When a member of a politically powerful religious majority declares that a historically disempowered minority is “deserving of death”, and goes beyond mere disapproval in the religious realm to insist that these beliefs also justify unequal treatment of that minority under secular civil law, that is a threat. It is a threat because they are using their religion as a reason to impose inequality on us in the legal sphere, and because they believe their religion designates us as “worthy of death”. There’s no way around where this line of reasoning leads, and that is why it is an obviously threatening act.

Choosing to defend this means that, just like them, you’ve elected to value religious beliefs over human life and well-being. The consequences of this should be unacceptable not only to minorities, but to everyone, because there’s no telling which religion will one day rise to prominence, and what morals that faith might decide it’s entitled to force upon the entire population via the state. Why would anyone want to be potentially subject to that?

Not only is siding with those who make such threats an act of foolishness and inhumanity, but Graas’ explanation is intellectually dishonest garbage. Pretending that those who say gay people are “deserving of death” only mean it in a spiritual, theological, metaphysical sense, rather than a literal and physical one, is plainly unconvincing. People know what “deserving of death” means. It means deserving of death. The real phenomenon of death is something that everyone understands, and if a religion instead decides to use it to refer to what they believe is part of a supposed afterlife that isn’t supported by even the thinnest of evidence, their use of the term in a general setting without clarification is extraordinarily careless.

And this was a general setting – the panel was part of a campaign working to bring about a change in the civil, secular law via a measure that will be put to a referendum. Citizens of all faiths, belief systems and philosophies will be voting on it. It was not a sermon directed solely at those who choose to affiliate themselves with Reverend Anderson’s church and its beliefs. It was delivered to a general audience of voters. To say that a certain minority in the state which is about to vote on their equality is deserving of death, without specifying that you actually mean something much different from the most prevalent understanding of “death”, is both irresponsible and a failure of communication – if that was even what he meant to say.

Historical religious attitudes about sexual “sin” and the death penalty make it impossible to conclude that we should only interpret Anderson’s remarks in the most charitable, metaphorical light. The Bible itself does indeed state that a man who “has sexual relations with a man” is “to be put to death”. Regarding this as merely a metaphor for something-or-other would require reading adjacent passages – such as those saying “kill both the woman and the animal”, “the members of the community are to stone him”, and so on – as also being metaphorical rather than literal. This would make no sense.

It is obvious that the Bible contains passages which clearly refer to homosexual activity, and prescribe the death penalty in plain language. And even the common apologetic defense that this is no longer the case due to Jesus or something must implicitly acknowledge that this was once the case, and that there was indeed a time when religious disapproval of homosexuality had very real consequences beyond simply telling someone that “God will send sinners to hell”. There is an extensive history of religiously-based laws against homosexuality which prescribed punishments up to and including death, and this still occurs today.

Expecting listeners to ignore both the common meaning of “death”, and the historical record of religion being cited to justify killing gay people, is simply untenable. It means asking people to deny the violent and dangerous implications that are right in front of their own eyes. We’re not the ones who should be obligated to interpret a political campaign calling for our death as just a figure of speech. Anderson is the one who should have exercised better judgment instead of speaking so recklessly.

Finally, if he was indeed only claiming that gay people are going to hell, then the proposal to ban gay marriage is both ineffective and irrelevant. First, banning gay marriage never stopped anyone from being gay. And second, saving “souls” is not the government’s business. Our civil law does not exist to force people to do whatever some religion believes will keep them out of hell. Why is Anderson’s church free to believe what they do even if some other faith claims they’re going to suffer eternally for it? Because whatever someone’s religion says about the afterlife, this is only their own concern, and it’s never grounds for telling the entire population what they can and can’t do.

The only reason they’re able to practice their own faith without interference is because of this fundamental principle of individual religious freedom, and disregarding that freedom jeopardizes everyone’s rights. If the government ever told them they needed to stop being who they are for the sake of their own “salvation”, they would be outraged at the total lack of respect for their freedom of conscience and self-determination. And you know what? So am I! We don’t need a nanny state in the name of a nanny god. If your god really exists and wants to send me to hell after I die, then that will be between me and your god. But right now, we all live on earth, where there are things like basic human rights and secular governments that do not endorse religions.

Lisa Graas and her pathetic excuses reveal the worst aspects of every campaign to ban gay marriage: they can’t even be honest with the people whose rights they’re trying to take away, they don’t know the difference between the law and a Bible, and they just can’t seem to mind their own business.

Lisa Graas, mind your own business

Live show tonight at 9:30 PM

Heather and I will be hosting a live show on BlogTV tonight at 9:30 PM Eastern time. If you haven’t been to BlogTV before, it’s essentially a live stream with a chatroom attached where people can talk with us. It’s usually a lot of fun. If you’d like to stop by, just go to http://www.blogtv.com/people/zjemptv at 9:30 tonight. See you there!

Update: The show is now concluded. Thanks to everyone who came by!

Live show tonight at 9:30 PM

Gelly Rolls: The circle closes

After my last post about Gelly Rolls, the unforgettable glittery pens that brightened up my childhood before they were abruptly taken from me, I was surprised to see how many people were moved by the story of my odd obsession with this one little thing. I didn’t expect it, but it’s heartening to see that others can relate to the seemingly trivial bits of history that come to hold such personal significance in our lives. Even if they didn’t grow up during the era of Gelly Rolls, they understood what it was like to find something meaningful, lose it, and eventually rediscover it years later.

But it didn’t end there.

The day after I wrote about it, I was contacted by someone at Sakura, the makers of Gelly Roll pens. You won’t believe what happened next. As it turns out, Gelly Rolls are alive and well, and when they heard about my story, they did something I never would have imagined. They wanted to give me back what I had lost.

So they sent me a Gelly Roll care package.

A plethora of Gelly Roll pens

How many pens is that? All of them! And there they were, right in front of me, in my hands once more. The real thing, at last. Finally safe in their pencil case, I would never have to lose them again.

A case of 58 Gelly Roll pens

Naturally, I had to try out every single one of them immediately. They were just as I had remembered, and yet I had forgotten how many varieties there were. These aren’t just pens, they’re art supplies: colors that shine, sparkle, glow under blacklight, colors that grow their own gold and silver borders right before your eyes… It feels more like holding some kind of wand.

Heather got into it, too – if you’ll recall, her artful penmanship is miles ahead of me:

Heather's drawing

Laying them all out on the bed, scribbling glitter in page after page of our notebooks, we touched the past together. And we made it ours.

Thank you, Sakura

Gelly Rolls: The circle closes

Please support Greta Christina

Fellow FTB blogger and atheist icon Greta Christina was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer. While the outlook fortunately seems positive, she’ll be unable to work for some time, and has asked for assistance with her living expenses. Greta is one of the most inspiring and insightful leaders of the atheist movement, and I ask that all of you do what you can to help her out during this difficult time. Please contribute what you can, and get the word out online and among your families and friends. If nothing else, send her your messages of support. We’re all pulling for you, Greta.

Please support Greta Christina

The Family Research Council is demonstrably wrong

In a recent press release, the flagrantly anti-gay Family Research Council claimed:

As more churches move away from biblical authority, their attendance suffers. Just ask the Episcopal Church, whose pews are virtually empty after the decision to endorse homosexuality. It’s time to push back on the spin that’s feeding our weak brethren who say that compromising truth in pursuit of love is the way to reach the lost.

Is any of this factually accurate? As usual, no.

First, the Episcopal Church has experienced an overall decline in attendance (PDF) of 3.7% from 2000 to 2010 – hardly “virtually empty” pews.

Second, the idea that churches have lost followers due to “compromising truth” is wholly contrary to reality. A series of studies of young Christians and ex-Christians found that three out of five of them will leave their churches for a lengthy period, often permanently, after age 15. Why? Were their former faiths just too accepting of gay people? Were they driven away by churches that prized love over “truth”, and compromised their doctrines in order to appeal to more people?

No. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Those who left their churches offered several reasons for leaving, such as the perception that Christians “demonize everything outside of the church”, that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”, that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”, that “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date”, that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths”, and that they feel “forced to choose between my faith and my friends”. Do these sound like people who wanted more “truth” from dogmatic churches which demand they place religious belief before reality, humanity, and love?

According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 69% of Millennials believe “religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues”. In other words, people aren’t leaving because their churches are too tolerant of homosexuality. They’re leaving because their churches are too intolerant of homosexuality. The FRC is operating outside of reality, in a world that exists only in their fevered imagination.

The Family Research Council is demonstrably wrong

Revising the self, continued: Penmanship

It’s been a few months now, and my newly adopted real-life name has become much more natural. Our families and friends know me by it now, and it’s no longer something I have to remind myself of just to get it to sink in. I sense I’m quite a ways into the arbitrarily-designated third phase, incorporating it as a part of myself, but not quite at the point where it’s just as deeply and thoroughly entrenched as my previous name was. It’s still a notable thing in my mind, whereas a name that’s become natural to you is a non-thought.

Regular usage for a lengthy period, by myself and others, seems to be crucial to accepting it as actually being my name – there’s no way around that. Everyone changing my name to it on their phones, listing it as “parent 2” in the contact information for our son’s school, signing it on his behavior sheet every day, registering a new Gmail account under it, generating a PGP keypair for it, filling it out on forms for my doctors, drawing up papers for a legal name change, all of these otherwise mundane instances are small pieces helping to bridge the gap between an old label and a new one. But there are also ways to nudge the process along.

It’s sometimes helped me to run through my very early memories and visualize them as being revised to include my new name. My mother asking me if I want to help mix the cookie batter. My kindergarten teacher calling on me when I raise my hand. My grandparents getting me a bicycle with training wheels and a custom “license plate”. Slowly typing my name into the crude word processor of ClarisWorks for Kids. And learning how to sign it.

That last one is significant. After spending a few days in the first grade, I was subjected to a battery of tests, and then placed in the third grade for the remainder of the year. One problem, among many others that would eventually manifest, was that we were supposed to learn cursive in second grade. Of course, they were used to making special accommodations by now, and I was given two weeks of individual instruction so that I could catch up. The teacher for the gifted students spent an hour with me every day as I scrawled words nearly half my height onto a chalkboard. For me, the result of learning cursive in two weeks was forever adopting a writing style that closely mimicked the look of the archetypal examples of all the letters, filtered through a slow and unsteady hand. I honestly have no idea how people like my partner can let the words flow from their fingers in such graceful, swooping, personalized, soulful arcs. My writing has scarcely improved since I was 6 years old – it’s still the same process of slowly and deliberately drawing out the loops and lines.

This is why I rarely bother writing by hand, except when it’s unavoidable. One such instance would be my signature. The concept of a signature was initially explained to me as nothing more than writing your full name in cursive, which is basically accurate but fails to capture its purpose as a personalized mark. My signature is no more special than anything else I write in cursive; nothing about it stands out, and it could just as easily be anyone else’s name that I’m writing. No barely legible split-second scribbles for me – it’s as drawn-out and deliberate as ever. Years of practice have not changed this, and cashiers probably imagine I’m sending coded messages to terrorists through the banking system or something. Of all the challenges that have accompanied taking a new name, learning to sign it hasn’t been one of them.

But there was one thing I found that, for a short time, made writing by hand almost fun: Gelly Roll pens. Sakura Gelly Roll gel pens were the thing to have when I was in the sixth grade. If you’re too young or old to have experienced these as a milestone of your upbringing, they were right at the apex of the hierarchy of needs when it came to pens. Yes, they wrote, and they wrote very smoothly – but they didn’t just write. They wrote in pale blue, chartreuse, pastel pink, deep purple, mint green, teal, gold, silver, and almost any color you could imagine. Colored pens? What’s the big deal? Well, these had glitter in the ink. I loved them, and so did everyone else.

Some people might interpret an intense interest in multicolored sparkly pens as an early sign of feminine identity on my part. But this wouldn’t really be indicative of anything like that, because we all had these pens, boys and girls alike. It wasn’t even about actually writing with them most of the time – sure, it was nice to have so many options, but the teachers strongly discouraged using glittery ink on our work. Instead, they were more of a status symbol, bridging the trend gap in our little town between Tamagotchis and Pokemon cards. The more Gelly Roll pens you had, the higher your social standing. These things take on an inordinate importance when you’re in sixth grade.

Indeed, they were so important that someone – still unknown all these years later – was compelled to steal them out of my starry cloth pencil pouch. It really did hurt. For all of their meaningless, artificial social value, they made it seem like my crude cursive squiggles were alright, like it didn’t matter how wobbly they were. They sparkled just the same. It wasn’t long before holographic Charizards were the new rage and everyone had moved on from those strange and frivolous pens. But they stayed with me. Their unmistakable translucent cases revealing the color inside, rounded glittery caps and bar codes on the side would be recognizable for life.

After the stores stopped selling them, I gave up hope of finding them again. What else can you do when you’re 9 years old and it’s 1998? Your world is pretty small, and your reach is even smaller. Where would you get them from? How would you know where to look? We didn’t even have the internet at home, not that finding something like that online would have been very easy at the turn of the century. People remember 9/11, but they sometimes forget how primitive the web was back then. (It was that long ago? Yep.) After enough time without seeing them anywhere, I accepted that they were nothing more than a memory now – and one that hardly anyone else seemed to cherish.

I rarely thought about them until earlier this year, when I took my new name. In an attempt to brute-force it into my identity, I would sign it over and over, filling sheets of paper with it, trying to get used to the feeling of it coming out of my hand. You can only write the same thing so many times before it starts to lose all meaning, but that wasn’t really a problem – it was supposed to become instinctual, something I didn’t have to think about. Still, something occurred to me as I watched my fingernails in motion, an iridescent blue against the dull, flat black of the ink. Didn’t there used to be some way I could feel like my handwriting was truly mine?

On a recent trip to Target, we stopped in the office supplies aisle to look for more of the composition notebooks my partner uses – when penmanship comes easy to you, filling hundreds of pages with artful cursive must be a joy. Then I caught a glimpse of something buried on the bottom shelf. Those rounded caps, sparkling: “Gel ink pens. Fashion and glitter pack. 10 assorted colors. Lovely lines.” No, not real Gelly Rolls, but the closest thing I’ve found in the past decade.

I couldn’t wait to try them out, and the lovely lines were just as incredible as I remembered.

The same old sparkle was still there – tacky, childish, and completely awesome. At last, it flowed right out of my fingertips and onto the page. This is how we rewrite history: in hot pink glitter.

Revising the self, continued: Penmanship