Tina K. Russell

January 30, 2010

Read your Bible

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 8:36 pm

(I wrote this a few months ago and was afraid to post it. Please take it seriously… I’ve tried my best to be brutally honest, and it’s painful to share because of how important being Christian and being Quaker is to my identity.)

I’m having a bit of difficulty with the Bible.

A month or two ago, I bought, from eMusic Audiobooks, a full set (1255 tracks) of “The Message: Remix” (rather, “The Message – REMIX//Complete,” as the über-hip—and trying-too-hard—typesetters at the publisher would like you to call it). It’s really an excellent deal; it’s something like eighty hours of audio for ten bucks total. It makes you wonder if the pricing was set by more than just an invisible hand.

I digress. So far, I’ve listened to the first seven books, so that’s Genesis (seven days, lots of begats, twelve tribes) through Judges (in which Samson’s girlfriend is very, very interested in learning how to tie him down, another lesson in the importance of safe words). And…

You should know that, as a Quaker, I’ve grown up with a God who loves me, and one who abhors violence. I’ve always been taught (with the lesson continuously reinforced) that war in God’s name is absurd, since God does not sponsor war or take sides. And…

I was bracing myself for the Old Testament, knowing it was a bit of a risk to start there. I knew that it’s full of amazingly arbitrary laws (if you have sex with a woman on who is on her period, you are exiled, and if you work on the Sabbath, you are stoned to death), bloody battle sequences, and a thorough and inevitable poking of holes into everything I know about God, love, and forgiveness. It comes with the territory, and necessitated Jesus coming down to Earth to forgive us for our sins and set things right on the Old Testament’s exciting sequel.

I really had no idea, though, what I was in for. I often complain about Quentin Tarantino, despite having seen only one of his movies (Pulp Fiction) and that one for only fifteen minutes. (I justify my judgment by noting that the first fifteen minutes of Pulp Fiction is all anybody ever quotes from.) As far as I’m concerned, he represents an awful idea that violence and depravity are artful and meaningful unto themselves (at least, when you give them a hip, idiosyncratic soundtrack and an incorrigible pretense of irony). I saw Sin City (of which Tarantino wrote all of one scene) and nearly puked my guts out. (And yes, it’s a raw wound that ten minutes of nonsensical dialogue about hamburgers, followed by a ruthless and unprovoked murder, is somehow considered one of America’s great cinematic achievements.)

So, it’s tough for me to get down that the first seven books of the Bible, anyway, collectively put Tarantino to shame. I’m not sure even he could direct a movie this bloody. It seems like the majority of the time—not individual passages, not embarrassing moments of canon that I can safely relegate to my personal, religious Dis-Continuity (TV Tropes link warning! Don’t click if you have anything to do today), but the bulk of the text—is spent on tales of wholesale slaughter, of unprovoked genocide, of invasion and wanton killing in the name of God. The Israelites have no more reason to kill entire communities than the promise that God has bequeathed them this land, a chilling theme today (as cutthroat armies hold firm in religious conviction as a shield for their crimes, take your pick from the Congo to the Middle East) for such a supposedly timeless book.

It gets worse. Sexual minorities like me should be happy that the dinky passage in Leviticus banning gay contact is part of a long list of arbitrary rules which even the most observant Jew will not follow to the letter. While I already knew how readily Leviticus dispenses the death penalty for minor offenses, it’s another thing to hear it read aloud, spelled out, over and over again: Kill them. Bring them before the congregation and stone them. Cast the evil from your community.

Crimes that don’t bring death bring exile, and crimes below that merit only specific instructions on which animal to sacrifice in penance and how. No mention is given to being good, for its own sake; God speaks to the Israelites as children, presuming that all good comes from him, and that he will take care of them if they follow his rules.

Now, of course, I can’t call myself an expert on the Middle East of these old days. I often defend the Quran on similar grounds, that it must be understood in the violent context of Arabian antiquity. It really appalls me, now, to think of the bigots who speak of the atrocities in the Muslims’ holy book as evidence that the religion is fundamentally violent and hateful; Christians who say that have no leg to stand on (and I hope that atheists, by and large, acknowledge that violence and hate can exist without religion as well, as there are plenty more weapons in the hatemonger’s arsenal). I always took a bit of pride, though, that my hero, Jesus, my personal savior, never engaged in war, and would sooner die on a cross than take up arms against the people he came to save. I knew that his message, his Gospel, was meant to wash away some of the bad blood from times past. It’s just difficult to find such brutality buried deeply in my own lineage.

I wrote about this someplace else online, and a friend (please don’t hate me for writing about this, friend) suggested I stop trying to read the Bible all at once, as it’s too “heavy.” I should space it out, have time to discuss and reflect, and in the meantime she recommended reading two books by Philip Yancey.

I had a bit of a cow. All my life, I’ve been told, read the Bible, read the Bible. The Bible has the answers within, the Bible is living food for the soul, the Bible brings comfort and wisdom. Yet, now I read it, and it’s fundamentally disturbing—it’s a long, flowing, poetic Quentin Tarantino movie—and now people tell me, pull back, hold off, don’t read the Bible, or at least read it more slowly, and spinkle in some Philip Yancey to make it go down more easily.

Now, I’m aware of Philip Yancey, and I know that part of what makes him a renowned author on religion is his willingness to take a long, hard look at original sources while casting aside received assumptions and traditions. So, he certainly wouldn’t dumb down the Bible the way my Sunday school teachers did (who would have had me believe that the Bible is a warm and fuzzy book of fables and miracles). I was just offended by this idea… I thought she was telling me to have Yancey explain it away. I don’t want to believe in anything that makes it okay to kill people merely for sitting on “God’s land” and worshipping other gods. That’s never okay, and I don’t care what God says, he gave me a brain and I have to think for myself. I became too terrified to keep writing or thinking about it because I imagined Philip Yancey, starer-into-of-God’s-black-heart extraordinaire, trying to explain why these divinely mandated massacres are really good things, necessary to our societal upbringing then if not today. I doubt he says anything remotely like that, but in that moment I had already felt betrayed, and every Christian in the world, all my brothers and sisters in Christ, had become suspect. My Sunday school never told me of the cruelty in the Bible, but neither did my young-adult pastor, nor my parents, nor my present pastors, nor any of my Christian friends. The whole experience of finding this atrocious killing in the Bible made me feel like I’d been betrayed my whole life, that every Christian in the world had been lying to me, that my image of an all-loving, pacifist God was now shattered. I was a girl with no origin, no past. I didn’t know what or whom to believe.

My concern now is that I need to talk to somebody about it, but I can’t figure out whom I even trust enough. Who will hear me out without trying to explain it away? I just don’t know.

And yes, for now, I’m still a Christian; I’ll make it through the whole Bible before I judge. It’s just that… part of why I didn’t want to read Yancey in-time with the Bible itself is that I didn’t want to force belief upon myself. If the Bible speaks to me, if it lives up to its reputation, if it becomes something I can turn to for advice and solace, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t speak to me, though, and continues as a lengthy Tarantino slasher flick, I may lose my faith and convert to something else.

We’ll see.

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July 10, 2009

Forgiveness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:19 am

Letters – How Should We Remember Robert McNamara? – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

What is one to make of this man’s life? It was, certainly, classically tragic: the war with which he will forever be linked was caused not by inadequate skills or lack of diligence, but by his failure to question that which his boundless intelligence and diligence caused him to believe.

Like the classic Greek tragic heroes, he came to understand his folly and yet was unable to change it. He died apparently haunted by his error.

It is impossible not to feel empathy for this man. But when one thinks of the tens of thousands of young men and women who died young as a result of the Vietnam War, it is impossible to forgive him.

Frederick T. Davis
Paris, July 7, 2009

“Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending things aren’t as they really are. Forgiveness is the recognition that a ghastliness has happened. And forgiveness doesn’t mean trying to paper over the cracks, which is what people do when they say, ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ Because they will not. They have an incredible capacity for always returning to haunt you. Forgiveness means that the wronged and the culprits of those wrongs acknowledge that something happened. And there is necessarily a measure of confrontation. People sometimes think that you shouldn’t be abrasive. But sometimes you have to be to make someone acknowledge that they have done something wrong. Then once the culprit says, ‘I am sorry,’ the wronged person is under obligation, certainly if he or she is a Christian, to forgive. And forgiving means actually giving the opportunity of a new beginning.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

June 24, 2009

Missing the point

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:20 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Koran and the Ballot Box – NYTimes.com
Yet in the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule. Islam’s categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims —“commanding right and forbidding wrong” — is being transformed.

This imperative appears repeatedly in the Koran. Historically, it has been understood as a check on the corrupting, restive and libidinous side of the human soul. For modern Islamic militants, it is a war cry as well — a justification of the morals police in Saudi Arabia and Iran, of the young men who harass “improperly” attired Muslim women from Cairo to Copenhagen. It is the primary theological reason that Ayatollah Khamenei will try to stop a democratic triumph in his country, since real democracy would allow men, not God and his faithful guardians, the mullahs, to determine right and wrong.

Oh, shut your pie hole already! Khamenei isn’t transparently grasping at power for religious reasons; it’s because he’s a cynical despot who’s abandoned his legitimacy for the faint hope of longevity. Indeed, a fundamental tenant of Shiism is the concept of a divine mandate to rule; opposition to Iran’s rulers shouldn’t be interpreted automatically as opposition to the Islamic system. I would imagine that in the minds of many protestors, Khamenei just lost his divine right to rule. (After all, I doubt those shouting “Allahu Akbar!”—God is great—in defiance of the government are secular liberals.)

I doubt Khamenei is acting out of fear for the future of Islam; I think he’s acting out of fear for the future of Khamenei.

February 27, 2009

Awesome Transsexuals: Audrey Mbugua

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:02 am

In a small world, some things are true no matter where you are. Kenyan human rights activist Audrey Mbugua demonstrates.

allAfrica.com: Kenya: Social Injustice And Transsexual People (Page 1 of 1)
Another minefield in transsexual people’s lives is the issue of discrimination in Kenya’s labour market. Though I have personally been denied job opportunities just because I am a transsexual, I still don’t understand the logic. I hope I am just too daft to get the argument. Here is the argument, and maybe you could help me understand the quantum electrodynamics behind it: ‘You were born a boy and you are now a woman. How could you do that to yourself? Do you actually think God made a mistake in creating you the way he did? In the first place, who do you sleep with? …blah…blah…blah…lots of crap’.

Will somebody please help me understand, because I thought the employee-employer relationship was that of ‘Give me your most productive 40 hours in the week and at the end of the month, I will deposit KSh blahblahblah in your account. Satisfied?’ That’s how I see things and furthermore if you are clean and tidy, does it matter that I look like a woman but I have a penis between my legs?

And she keeps going!

How is my penis supposed to make organisations lose profits? In fact, I am wondering why these morons are not blaming transsexuals with penises for the global financial crisis. A penis on a transsexual people is not a substitute for her brain. Look at the skills he or she possesses, not penises and vaginas. Why don’t you go around the streets of Nairobi, stopping and squatting under women in skirts to see whether there is a shwing shwong up there? Go ahead and feel the crotch of every person you meet to determine whether their genitals and physical presentation are incongruent or not. You could go further and smell the genitals. Your god will add more days to your lives and you will live to blow 1,001 candles.

Don’t annoy transsexual people further by asking them who they have sex with. That is none of your bee’s wax. How would you feel if you accompanied your dad to a bank and the cashier asked him whether he enjoys taking it up his ass or whether he suffers from impotence? Would you nominate the cashier for an Oscar or a Jerk-of-the-year award? Another thing my dearest friends, I have the right to change my sex if am not comfortable with my sex or even for whatever reasons I have. It’s my body and I don’t see how it interferes with your lives. Or, had you expected me to first consult with your church elders before I had a scalpel plunged inside my scrotum? No, maybe you wanted me to accept myself as a man that god created me to be? Why don’t you also tell diabetic people to stop taking insulin shots and accept themselves the way God created them, as diabetics? We hate such stupid and disrespectful questions and you hateful, ignorant and annoying religious nutcases need to reform.

I can’t tell you how vindicated I feel. As a Quaker, I have an innate fondness for Kenya, home to one of the world’s biggest Quaker communities. (Actually, it might be the biggest.) And, as an American, I’m grateful they had the wherewithal to fight for independence, earning it and prompting John F. Kennedy to start a scholarship program to train future Kenyan civil servants, bringing one enterprising Kenyan to a school in Hawaii where he met a kind free spirit from Kansas, a union which produced our current head of state. So, it does make me sad, of course, that such anti-trans prejudice persists in Kenya.

But holy mackarel! This woman can rant! This is exactly how I’ve been feeling all my life. I probably would have put it more politely (and I think she gets overly harsh toward the end of the linked piece), but sometimes you need to be blunt. It’s oddly comforting to know that the same things frustrate transsexual people the world over. And, I have always wondered why people always seem to think my genitals and sex life are critical public information which they have a right to know about. Gaahhh!

December 12, 2008

Relativism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:48 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Grand Theft Nautical – NYTimes.com
There was some semblance of law and order in 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union, loosely linked with Al Qaeda, took over much of the country and imposed Shariah law. Though there were cruel tradeoffs, the Islamists virtually eradicated piracy. The crime was a capital offense punishable by beheading.

When Ethiopian forces, supported by the United States, replaced the Islamists with an ineffective transitional government in 2006, piracy returned with an intensity not seen since the 17th century.

It is evident that no nation can impose its will on Somalia; the colonial British and Italians learned the hard way. And certainly no nation can force Somalis to stop the best business in town. But if the West really hopes to eliminate the scourge of piracy in these strategic shipping lanes, then it should consider involving the courts union, the only entity that has proved it could govern the country, and its militant wing, Al Shabaab, in a new government.

If there is movement to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, then there should be some effort to talk to the fundamentalists in Somalia. If the Islamists were permitted to form a viable, functioning and effective government, this shattered land might be able to return to the community of nations — and supertankers will be able to deliver oil to the United States without fear of getting hijacked.

Yes, you read it here first. Who needs human rights when we have cheap oil?

I’ve written here before that I don’t think the West should be obsessed with keeping the “Islamists” out of power in Somalia; I don’t approve of religious rule or Sharia law, but it’s not my place to decide what governments other countries should have. (That, and bloody, endless wars hardly advance the stated aim of upholding human rights.) The concept of international intervention is hotly contested, but I think we can all agree that it’s the sort of drastic step with such dramatic consequences that it should only be used in international emergencies, such as genocide. If we fired our guns on every country with a miserable human rights record, we’d have to start with Saudi Arabia and China on down, a mess that would hardly justify itself.

This op-ed writer, though, takes the opposite extreme; we should endorse cruel, abusive regimes in the interest of stability. We should help them come to power. (I should note that the sort of desperation caused by war, the kind of war advocated by militant idealists and interventionists, is what helps extremists come to power, but that’s a separate subject.) Yes, yes… that’s why the West installed or helped install the Shah in Iran (twice!), Pinochet in Chile, the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. In fact, he doesn’t even discuss any human need for stability, speaking only of a need for safe, cheap passage for oil tankers. Anything else would be unacceptable!

I need a shower.

November 22, 2008

Not That Kind of Christian

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:58 pm

You really have to read this article. It is brilliant!

I’m Not One Of Those ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ Christians | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source
I’m here to tell you there are lots of Christians who aren’t anything like the preconceived notions you may have. We’re not all into “turning the other cheek.” We don’t spend our days committing random acts of kindness for no credit. And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn’t mean we’re all obsessed with extremist notions like “righteousness” and “justice.”

My faith in the Lord is about the pure, simple values: raising children right, saying grace at the table, strictly forbidding those who are Methodists or Presbyterians from receiving communion because their beliefs are heresies, and curing homosexuals. That’s all. Just the core beliefs. You won’t see me going on some frothy-mouthed tirade about being a comfort to the downtrodden.

November 13, 2008

Discipleship and Proposition 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:06 pm

This essay really puts a lump in my throat. Christopher Priest on Proposition 8:

The Guy With The Microphone (According To Me)
The notion of gay marriage being a threat to straight marriage is ridiculous. The sanctity of marriage was undermined and trashed by *straight* people. These days, people treat marriage like it is the same as dating, people having “starter” or “trial” marriages—all of which I find offensive, and all of which undermines the sanctity of the institution. People, so committed to one another that simply dating is no longer enough for them, who fight for the right to be married, who risk their livelihoods and, in many cases, their personal safety if not their lives in order to marry—I can’t imagine in what way that kind of dedication undermine the institution of marriage. But, to be blunt—who cares? I mean, seriously, why do I care what other folk do?

Personally, I don’t affirm gay marriage. I don’t believe that’s what marriage is about. But, like navel tangerines [see earlier in the essay —Tina], that’s *my* belief. I don’t feel some compelling need to force people to agree with me or to live their lives the way I do. Moreover, there’s a terrible and slippery slope that begins with the denial of anyone’s civil rights. It’s quicksand: the more we do it, the easier doing it becomes. That people can’t see the connection between Prop 8 and The Patriot Act and FISA and Jim Crowe is utterly stunning to me, demonstrating how poor a job we do at educating our children, ourselves, not only about why America is great but about how easily the freedoms we take for granted can be stripped from us.

He goes on to discuss how denying civil rights to others is rather un-Christ-like. Jesus said that “my kingdom is not of this world,” imploring people to stockpile their treasures in heaven through deed rather than attempt to build a kingdom on Earth. To think we can do so is, as Priest says, blasphemous.

Priest is a minister and a writer. He was the first black writer both at Marvel and DC, and stomached a lot of bigotry for it without ever letting it change him. I cherish his run on Black Panther. Anyway, he’s excellent.

October 29, 2008

Values

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:19 pm

I’ve spoken recently on Ethiopia’s human rights abuses and Somalia’s right to self-determination. In the interest of fairness, here’s what an Islamist court in Somalia has decided to do with all that self-determination:

World Briefing – Africa – Somalia – Rape Victim Executed – NYTimes.com
A woman was stoned to death for adultery on Monday in an Islamist-controlled region of Somalia. Somali human rights officials said the woman, 23, had been raped, but the Islamist authorities determined that she was guilty of adultery.

That’s disgusting. (The article is just one more sentence, but I snipped that because it’s graphic.) This is reprehensible on, like, a million levels. To note three:

  1. The death penalty is wrong. Always.
  2. They say that she was an adulterer. Even if that were true, which I doubt, it is wrong to punish adulterers. Government should not legislate individual choice, or attempt to fix families.
  3. Punishing the victim is wrong.

While the mistake of punishing the victim occurs on many levels in many governments, to punish the victim of rape is to take what is already a crime to an unspeakable degree. To punish her with death is beyond my comprehension. I cannot imagine how anyone who asserts that is moral can claim with a straight face to speak for God.

Jesus, a prophet of Islam, once espoused that “he who is free of sin shall cast the first stone”; and that was about a woman who was actually guilty of what she was accused of. I step carefully when I talk about this because I think stoning her to death would still be wrong if she were guilty. I think it would be wrong if she were guilty of murder. I think it would be wrong if she were guilty of murder and the execution were administered with a lethal injection of painkillers in the most humane way you could possibly think of. It’s clear, though, that the people who delivered, carried out, and supported this verdict have vast oceans of sin in their hearts, given their willingness, their enthusiasm, for such an unequivocally evil act as this. They should not throw stones; and neither should we.

October 25, 2008

Progress in the weakest sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:50 am

Freedom is on the march, huh? Nice to know that Afghanistan is such a staunch ally in the fight for freedom and justice. By that I mean… okay, they’re an enormous letdown.

No Death Sentence for Afghan Journalist – NYTimes.com
KABUL, Afghanistan — An appeals court sentenced a young Afghan journalist to 20 years in prison for blasphemy on Tuesday, overturning a death sentence ordered by a provincial court but raising further concerns of judicial propriety in the case.

The defendant, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, 23, was a journalism student in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and worked for a daily newspaper there. He was arrested last October and accused of printing and distributing an article from the Internet about Islam and women’s rights, on which he had written some comments about the Prophet Muhammad’s failings on that issue.

While insults to Muhammad are anathema in Afghanistan, the decisions by both the lower court and the appeals court shocked many of Mr. Kambakhsh’s supporters and outraged international journalism organizations, which suggested that neither of the trials had been fair. The defendant’s brother, also a journalist, said the proceedings had been prompted by his own critical writings about local militia and political leaders.

That’s right! Twenty years for criticizing the Prophet Muhammad. Or, twenty years for having a brother who criticized local media and politicians. I’m not sure which is worse.

It should be noted here that Muhammad was a man who invited criticism and stood up for women’s rights. I’ll get letters, but it’s true.

Mr. Kambakhsh’s defense lawyer said he would appeal to the Supreme Court, and he called on President Hamid Karzai for help.

“We request the president of Afghanistan to intervene and to not let the corruption in the judicial system violate the rights of Afghan citizens,” said the lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nuristani.

’Cause if they don’t, support for Afghanistan among Americans will become timid, at best.

October 13, 2008

The Cure for What Veils You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:30 pm

World Briefing – Europe – France – Agency Rules That Burqa Violates Values – NYTimes.com
The French agency devoted to combating discrimination has determined that the burqa, the all-encompassing garment that some Muslim women wear, violates French values and inhibits integration into French society. “The burqa is a sign of the submission of women that surpasses its religious aspect and could be considered as a breach of republican values,” the agency, the High Authority for the Fight Against Discrimination and for Equality, said in a ruling, the daily newspaper La Croix reported Thursday. The decision means that women will not be permitted to wear burqas or niqabs, a related garment, in state-sponsored French-language classes.

I have mixed feelings about the burqa. On the one hand, everyone should have the right to wear whatever they want; I’d think that’s a cornerstone of American, and French, values. On the other hand, I don’t like knee-jerk liberal defense of the burqa because I don’t just dislike it when women are explicitly forced to wear the burqa (as under the Taliban), I dislike it when women are socially coerced or universally expected to wear the garment. So, in that sense, I do feel that the burqa represents oppression of women worldwide. However, I do understand that there are women who wear the burqa of their own free will, without any sort of coercion from outside, and such freedom to wear what you want ought to be encouraged. This French ruling pre-empts women’s right to wear what they want, and that I find distasteful.

I guess what I’m saying that a) I want to go to bat for the burqa because I feel this ruling is unconscionably restrictive, and b) I’m reluctant to go to bat for the burqa, because while I know many women wear it out of free will, I don’t want my (proud!) liberal sensibilities to get in the way of acknowledging that many women don’t get that choice and are forced to wear it through explicit force or through social coercion and expectation.

I wish I could wear whatever I wanted to, but society expects a standard of modesty for me. The burqa is a spectacularly restricting garment, expressing practically nothing of the women behind it. I suppose some women like it that way, and more power to them (or they like the garment for other reasons), but it still represents oppression so as long as women are forced (in any way) to wear it. I think that’s the kind of prejudice, the real threat to women, that this French ruling is meant to oppose, and it’s a shame that for such good intentions the bill is just more restriction of women’s freedoms. I don’t like the burqa, but the whole point of freedom is that I cannot and should not impose my beliefs upon others, and nobody should have the choice made for them beforehand.

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