I thought about doing this as a long-form explainer, breaking down a bunch of creationist claims in a sort of easy, handleable, you-can-do-it-too kind of guide. Then I thought about it, thought about the effort-to-return ratio. Then I remembered that I met Ken Ham and went: Oh. Never fucking mind.Continue Reading →
Content warning: I talk about my experience with harmful religions and say critical things of the idea of Moses!Continue Reading →
It’s a late thursday night of the day I spent an hour sitting in a doctor’s office to get vaccinated, then observed afterwards. I am exhausted. My arm is killing me. I feel weird in the stomach, and my eyes hurt. None of this relates to the vaccine, as best I can tell, by the way. I’m exhausted because I’ve been working all day, then I had to arrange transport to the doctor’s, then get home, and then, I had to work on rebuilding my bed, because that can’t really wait. It meant that after getting the vaccine — which was convenient and easy and even literally painless — I came homje and had a list of things I had to do before I could tell myself I had the freedom to relax.
And then, eventually, that opportunity arrived, and I had a shower.Continue Reading →
Let’s talk about conspiracies.
Let’s talk about lies.
Let’s talk about protecting very important lies.
A content warning, though. I am going to talk about Mormonism, Mormon history, and the Mormon church. I don’t believe in Mormonism’s depiction of history, and I do not believe that the historical record of Joseph Smith is somehow corrupted. If you don’t want to hear an outsider speaking frankly about his opinion of Mormonism — and you probably know what that’s going to be like — then I recommend you skip on out.Continue Reading →
Who doesn’t love a good Catholic conspiracy theory?
Not one of the conspiracy theories the Catholics have used to shape the way the world views faith and itself, no, those tend to be a bit more… well, they’re the conspiracy theories that we think of as ‘conspiracy theories,’ and they almost all seem to trace back to someone saying ‘Well, Martin Luther was wrong about a lot of things, but as far as it goes on the jews.’
And this isn’t one of those Protestant conspiracy theories about Catholics, which range from ‘they put cornflakes in their bed to stop masturbating’ (kinda true) to ‘they can’t whistle or the pope will hear,’ (definitely not true). It’s about eucharist wafers, and it’s about a conspiracy that, seemingly, some Catholics seem to think exists despite not believing in it.
The Eucharist wafer, if you’re not familiar, is a small bit of more-or-less bread used in a ritual known as the eucharist. During the Biblical narrative of the last supper, a ceremony we mostly document from the one person who definitely makes it clear he was not there, Jesus gives a speech where he offers the disciples wine and bread, saying, and I paraphrase, ‘Come, eat of this, for it is my body and blood, eat it in remembrance of me.’ It’s something Protestants and Catholics share as a ritual.
It is, however, supremely weird.
It’s really one of the sources of dissent between Protestants and Catholics – there’s an idea that this ritual, along with the baptism of infants, was basically one of the things that got the ball rolling on all the schisming and that’s why one of the major groups of not-Catholic Christians that hate the Catholics a lot (except when they’re trying to leverage them for political power) are known as ‘Baptists.’
The weird ritual is a little weirder in Catholic circles because of a belief known as transubstantiation. This idea is that the eucharist, when consumed, literally transforms into actual real Jesus meat and actual real Jesus blood. This belief was used to claim that Catholics were cannibals and tie them to blood libel (and what the hey, we’re back at the Jewish stuff again, that’s weird and sucks).
Transubstantiation is contentious because this idea, that the wafer and wine become real blood and meat is actual Church doctrine. That’s like, inasmuch as there are rules on this stuff, that’s what the rulebook as written says is there. The consensus amongst Catholics in the United States is, however, that this isn’t true; about two thirds of Catholics think that it’s entirely symbolic, just under one third believe it’s not. The church says it’s true, most people don’t believe it.
This makes it an interesting question to ask about on forms, and that gave us this beautiful graph from August 2019.
In this graph, we see that 69% of people (nice) don’t believe that the eucharist becomes real god meat. 31% believe it does. But there’s a breakdown in that; of the 69% of catholics who think that the bread and wine are symbolic, about two thirds of them think that the church also teaches that the wine and bread are symbols. This means that of the entire cohort, almost 45% of Catholics think that the bread and wine are symbolic, which is incorrect, according to the Catholic church itself.
Here, though, is where it gets wonderfully weird.
There is a cohort of 31% that believe that the food they are eating is magically transformed into god meat and blood. This is made up of a body (hah) of around 14 million Catholics, who believe in transubstantiation and who also believe that the church teaches transubstantiation. Yet next to them, in that weird little sliver, is that 2% that believe that it does become god meat… but that the church teaches it doesn’t.
What the heck.
What do they think happens there?
It’s this beautiful little bubble. How do you believe in a core point of doctrine for your church while believing they don’t agree with you, while also believing the weirder thing. Believing that you are secretly transubstantiating with a ritual performed by a priest who you also think is not doing the thing required for transubstantiation to happen, but you’re somehow bootlegging Jesus Bacon into your system some other way?
A little secret community of roughly a million Catholics in the United States.
Qanon has been a surprising opportunity for a lot of people to learn something they probably never realised before: That the conspiracy theory wing of the world was bountifully alive, well, and extremely well-fed, in the existing landscape of Christian dominionism.
Content Warning: Church, Qanon and related subjects, American Christianity, and Conspiracy Theories.Continue Reading →
I don’t think Jesus existed.
I mean, there’s scholarship on it, and for some of you, ‘no, we can give the concession,’ and there’s a host of opinions. Lots of people I know, atheists even, even active anti-thesists, think that Jesus existed, or rather, say that they think that Jesus was a ‘real person’ and attribute the teachings in the gospels to that person.
I don’t. I don’t see how I have to give that concession. And, like, I think the idea that ‘there’s a real kernel of truth’ to Jesus mythicism is really weird. Why? Because the text that describes Jesus also describes massive sermons memorised perfectly, specific literary devices that would be very unnatural as observed practice, historical characters behaving wildly out of character, an actual zombie apocalypse, and people coming back from the dead. Those things don’t happen, meaning any text that includes those things is inherently suspect. Like, The Walking Dead happens in Macon, Georgia, and the fact that Macon exists doesn’t mean that The Walking Dead is a good text to use to learn about it.
And largely, the thing is… what is there left, then? If you take all the stories in aggregate and just drop the stuff that contradicts one another, and the stuff that absolutely could not have happened, you’re left with a very vague outline that at some point, a dude named Jesus existed. Historically, the best record we have is a hundred years later is people saying ‘hey, Christians exist, and they say this is their backstory,’ which I mean, that doesn’t mean anything. Every religion we’ve ever seen founded with good record keeping has an obviously nonsense origin story, why is this the one we take seriously? Because that’s the only records we have? But those records also have again, total nonsense in them.
There are some academics who have written on the topic*, and they construct a reasonably solid argument for the mythical nature of the Christ story. In 2007, the Jesus Project was kicked off to attempt to settle the question in an independent and authoritive way, only to be shuttered two years later when its own coordinator determined that the project could neither get reliable enough historical information to prove Jesus existed, nor could it in any way verify the idea that Jesus did not. There was also a problem with how the researchers seem to split into people who assumed Jesus was real and people who didn’t, which meant there wasn’t a proper skeptical framework. And when people say ‘we have more proof of Jesus than we do of Julius Caesar,’ it’s kinda this auto-disqualifying position, but it’s seen as the norm to say that.
Personally, I think that the way we give Jesus the benefit of the doubt is a form of religious privilege; that Jesus gets held to a much lower standard of evidence, because well, there’s all this stuff. Look at how much Christian-ness there is around us, surely the history of this church has to be, like, based on something right? And we defer to the experts within the textual space, in the privilege superstructure of the church itself. And like, surely there have to be good sources for this, right? Right? It’s a coincidence I’m sure that in our Christian culture surrounded by Christian media with Christian colleges that have Christian teaching positions for Christian students that there’s a bias towards selecting academics who may think that there’s something to this Christianity nonsense.
One predominant complaint about mythicists that’s used to dismiss them wholesale, tends to be ‘these people aren’t getting hired in academia,’ which I mean, that sounds like a hiring practices problem? Like, the argument seems to literally be ‘we don’t hire mythicists, and none of these mythicists work as professional scholars.’
Anyway, I find the entire idea of a historical Jesus unnecessary, and any historical records we have are so far beyond the life of an actual cult leader that any of the records about his life presented in the Bible are no different than Qanon fanfiction.
There is a problem with my position though.
You see that *?
That * is where I would normally talk about and share excerpts from those scholars and why I find them compelling. And I used to be happy to do that. Except now… I don’t. Rather than swerve this little piece all the way into the ditch, though, I’ve put an explanation for those things down under the fold. Basically, the scholars on this subject that helped me build to this position – where I now don’t feel I need their writing to do it – are people I’m not comfortable mentioning in public, because of Content Warning bits.
It’s not necessary? Like, I don’t think that you need these scholars to serve as the undergirding for dismissing the idea of Jesus. If you don’t think the Bible is a historical text, and I don’t, because of all the stuff in it that is fictional, then literally all that we have is ‘Christians say they followed a dude with an extremely common name, who came back from the dead,’ and like… that’s just repeating a clearly fictional story. I don’t need any of the people with degrees to tell me that that’s not convincing.
I don’t know what a historical Jesus gets you anyway? Like, if you don’t believe in the miracles or the ahistorical bits, or the fictional bits that can’t work, or the teachings that are in many cases inconsistent, or the weirdly threatening culty bits, or the ability to see the future, and you say ‘well, I do think there was a guy, in this time, in this place, who had a cult, and that became Christianity,’ then I’m left wondering what’s left of that that matters?
… And now, the Content Warningy bit.Continue Reading →
According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.
No, not that kind of bee.
Content Warning: Bullying, Fundie Upbringing
Time to time, I share this meme.
If I have ever shared it with you, please understand it is entirely goodnatured.Continue Reading →
Okay, okay, hold up, this one might be a walk of an intro.
Do you know the story of Ananias and Saphira? It’s a Biblical story, a story that gets loved by grifting preachers and people who want to scare the shit out of kids. During the early days of the church in the book of Acts, when the church was going full communist, there’s this little cautionary story about Ananias and Saphira, a couple that sold everything they had, gave most of the money to Peter to build the church, and held some of it back.
When they brought the money to Peter, he looked at them, asked them if this was all the money, they said yes, and Peter said ‘no it’s not,’ and they died.
Now, I’m simplifying the story (it’s done in two incidents, there’s talk about whether it’s about lying or it’s about greed, but whatever, it’s Christian myth, it sucks ass and none of these people existed), but this is a story that sometimes gets brought up with a giggle pointing out that this would make Peter a level 17 wizard, minimum, or a cleric with the war domain, because this was a Biblical appearance of the spell Power Word: Kill.Continue Reading →
When you talk about conspiracy theories, or false information, one of the unfortunate side effects, because of how our brain processes information, is that outlining the thing first creates the impression that it’s true, and then the disproving has to be satisfactory to that. Even if you do a perfect job debunking the introduced idea, our memories filter away in different order, and the thing more easily brought to mind seems more true. It means you have to be careful how you introduce the outlandish, for fear of leaving people with the impression of the wrong thing having a kernel of truth.
With that in mind, there’s a not insignificant number of people who believe the United States government found a giant in the invasion of Afghanistan and are covering it up.
Pause for effect.Continue Reading →
Hey, here’s a thing that exists.
Okay, now you may read this and have some questions. Meet me after the description.
For those of you who don’t want to click the link and check it out, it’s a link to After the Rapture Pet Care, a website that offers a paid service (a small one-time payment of $10) to arrange for volunteers of non-Christian religions to promise to take care of your pets after the rapture. The rapture is this belief in some types of Christianity that Jesus will return, take all the living Christians (sometimes) to Heaven with him and then the world will spend its time ending in a few different cycles. It’s a weird belief and it’s part of how the people in charge of the US government are ruining the world.
But let’s not dwell on that, let’s talk about the idea of pet care and rapture preparation, because this thing opens up my mind to one particular question that I imagine you might have now.
Is this a parody?
Well, here’s the problem. It is possible the people who made this website don’t believe it. It’s possible the people who pay money for the service or for the merchandise don’t believe it. It’s possible that nobody involved in this process is doing it seriously and it’s all a joke. You could categorically assert that nobody like this really exists, so the website is a joke about the idea of what if it is. That could be a funny joke, but then the question that follows that is okay, how many people are serious?
How many people have bought into it?
And now the thought that festers for me: How many people didn’t have anxiety about their pets after the rapture until now?
You need to know that these people really exist. They do. They’re all around you and they’re very typical and they’re not even that exceptional. They’re conspiracy theorists on a cosmic scale, with nothing ever able to prove that their idea is foolish. And when they do exist, you’re left looking at this website and thinking: Even if it’s a joke, how different would this look to the serious veresion of what it is?
Content Warning: I discuss dealing with abusers, violence, and tragedy. This one sucks. Trust me, it’s not a fun time.Continue Reading →
Content Warning: I’m going to START at Hitler and we’re going downhill from there. Here’s a picture so the thumbnail’s not fucked up. Here’s an escape link.
I have a strange love for losers.
I mean, I make fun of the Confederate flag waving assholes, and it’s worth remembering that that’s good, because they’re losers, and they should always be forced to confront that they’re losers, and they lost because they were bad at winning, and this is just a long aside to dunk on the Confederacy. But not all losers are that kind of loser. Sometimes you lose not because you were wrong, or because you were on the wrong side, or because you’re bad, but you lose because the bad people had more stuff. They had more money and more people and they didn’t even realise they were the bad people, because they were removed from the bad things they did.
I think about the people that lose against empires.
I think about Carthage.
I think about Carthage, and the story of Hannibal, a general who tried audacious things and succeeded. I think about bloody battles in the desert by mercenary armies. I think about the strangeness of a country whose big sin was not really doing enough for military infrastructure and how it was the victim of an empire next door that was. I think about how you can win a dozen fights in a row, but if your enemy can handle losing, and you can’t, then it doesn’t matter.
Carthage is on my mind because while history tells us that Carthage lost, there were a lot of times and places in Hannibal’s campaign that he won. There’s a lot of people who were living their lives and having what they thought of as important conversations about the future of Rome and their campaigns for political office and governorship or whatever, and then Hannibal happened to their territory, and they’re just gone.
This is what I’m thinking about, when I’m thinking about this card game I’m making. The different things nobles can do, these little festivals and parties and politics and territorial disputes and fights over who has the best land or best marketplaces, all while quietly aware that you can’t change the future.
That Hannibal is going to happen.
The idea for this game, the idea that I’m working with, is that of a stacked deck. At the start of the game, players get their cards, then the deck gets loaded; you shuffle up and deal out stacks of cards. Into each stack, you shuffle one of a number of cards, then you put those stacks on top of each other. Now you have a deck of events that everyone draws from, to play their cards and live their lives, and then one point, near the end…
Time to time Jesus comes up on the timeline and I watch as people who are generally well-meaning people try to harmonise together the Bible and the oppressive behaviour of Christian hegemony. There’s usually some sort of deference to a Gandhi quote, some sort of next-levelling smugness of well Jesus was great, Christians are bad. Maybe you’ll see something like Jesus was a leftist or Jesus was an ally or a truly amazing take Jesus was more of a trans person and on the one hand I try to file that under ‘fanfiction’ but then people use it to discuss real world political behaviour of a culture that has probably a third of the world’s resources and is using them to kill people.
It’s basically an attempt to make Christians feel ‘not so bad’ about being part of a great big dreadful machine, which is not something I see typically extended to things like heterosexuality or cisgenderness.
It annoys me, personally, because Jesus isn’t a cool guy who’s being mangled by his followers.
Jesus is a total dick and his teachings are full of confused morals and justifications for evil. The only reason people treat him like he’s good is because we treat his story as if he’s meant to be good and interpret his positions that way. There’s a constant decontextualisation of Jesus – that’s what Sermons are for! – that turn his positions into whatever we need them to be, and want to pointedly make sure you don’t relate what he said today to what he said yesterday, because if you do, you might go ‘hang on a second, fuck you Jesus.’
For example, the story of the Widow’s Mite. Now for the purpose of this consideration we’re going to treat Jesus like he existed and did the things that are kind of fundamentally necessary to the Christian narrative of Jesus. He didn’t, and he didn’t, but let’s just pretend for now. Treating this text as a text.
The story, which appears in Mark (the first draft) and Luke (the second last draft), tells of a time when Jesus and his disciples were rubbernecking in the temple and watching people do their weekly donations to the temple’s upkeep. Rich people came in and dumped large amounts of cash, and a poor widow came in and gave a ‘mite’ – one of the smallest currencies they could give. Jesus turns to his disciples and says:
3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Then we nod and tap our chins and we move on to the sandwiches and coffee after church.
Now think about this in the context of the fact that Jesus is meant to be the perfect human sacrifice that redeems us our sins. Remember that Jesus is God in this interpretation of the faith, that he talks to and experiences the voice of God, and that he is aware of God’s plan.
When Jesus submitted himself to torture and death, that was a bad weekend out of an infinite life and he knew he was going to survive this. We’re told it’s an important, meaningful sacrifice, it’s meant to be the ultimate sacrifice, but in this case, Jesus is the wealthy, giving a meaningless fraction of his wealth (time), and it wasn’t going to bother him a week later. It was performative, it was literally done so he could show off to people millenia later for whom he had done nothing.
If it costs you nothing, Jesus, what does it mean that you’re giving it up?
As you can tell, this month, I’ve been thinking about magicians.
I’ve been thinking about magic, a thing that’s still happening and living and still being part of shows and performed in goofy tricks in lunch rooms and a thing that’s part of a long tradition that reaches back oh so far. What we call magicians these days we sort of generally recognise as stage magicians, and there’s a well accepted folk wisdom that anything they do isn’t supernatural it’s just often doing things you’d never consider. It’s a trick, right. We call them magicians, and leave the magic undefined. Sleight of hand is magic, mind tricks are magic, communication tricks are magic, prop effects are magic and optical illusions are magic.Continue Reading →
Hey, you know the Exodus of the Israelites? I have this thing about that and poop-
(Hang on, is it Passover today? It is? Uhhh… Maybe read this next week)
One of the most dangerous things to fundamentalism is a desire to be good.
This post was in part spurred by relistening to the absolutely dreadful Camp Kookawacka Woods by Patch the Pirate, a subject so dreadful I feel a bit like I should do a rewatch podcast just so I can impress upon people just how utterly yikesy the whole franchise is at its core. Listening to it, though, with Fox, I had to let her know that some of the songs (that were performed pretty well) were hymns, and some of the songs were based on old campfire songs, and some of the songs were rip-offs of pop songs, and how the whole thing was just so cheap and hacky.
This is a pattern.
If you’ve ever gone looking for what I call Christian Replacement Media, you might have noticed that it’s kind of bad? Not necessarily remarkably bad, no glorious-trainwreck The Room style hubristic excess, it’s just that the best of these movies tends to crest a Pretty Alright level. Probably the best Christian Media Escapee band is Five Iron Frenzy, which is to say that the entire right-wing music machine was able to produce a single good ska band of leftists, which considering the number of times they’re rolling that dice is not a great average. The movies, the branding, the graphic design, almost everything you see in the Christian Replacement Sphere is a slightly shit version of whatever it’s replicating.
Oh, they’re often expensive. Yet even the things that are expensive in this space tend to be gaudy, or overpaid for. When it comes to art and media these stories are almost always just slightly inferior, confusingly weak versions of things that aren’t actually that hard to get right. There are bestselling Christian authors whose work crests the quality of maybe a decent fanfiction.
This is weird though! It’s not like being in the Christian cultural space asks you to be bad. Assuming a random selection of the Christian media space is an equally random selection of the culture of the world, you have to assume that a certain percentage of them are just going to pick up decent artists.
I have a theory.
No, wait, I have a hypothesis.
The hypothesis is built out of my experience, and the experience of a few ex-fundie friends. We’ve talked about it, about the things that pulled us away from the faith, and how those things that pulled us off the path were not the fun, excellent temptations we were warned against, but inevitably, a drive to be good at something. I didn’t learn my eschatology and biblical foundational theory because I wanted to prove it wrong. I learned it, because I wanted to be able to prove it right. Nonbelievers would come at me with arguments, I was told, and so I wanted to understand those arguments so I could show how they were wrong. One of my friends wanted to do excellent work rendering graphics for their church, and so they wanted to study how graphics worked and how to convince people with the icon rendered in front of them. Another was driven by a desire to Make Computers Work.
None of us set out to fall.
The basic idea is this: To be good at something requires context and practice. Gaining either of these things inevitably exposes you to the ways in which fundamentalist church spaces fail.
It’s not that church seeks out awful artists. It’s that the modern American church is a sorting algorithm that wants to throw out the good artists in the name of keeping the people who are content to be average at things. Oh, they may want the numinous and the excellent, but if you ask a preacher to choose between a ‘faithful’ artist vs a ‘troubled’ one, they’re going to plomp for the pious one every time.
Plus, the faithful don’t tend to charge what they’re worth.
One of the things patriarchy teaches men is that they own, in a way, what they look at. It also teaches non-men that that they are, in part, owned by being looked at.
Simple little lesson. Simple little idea. Advertising to men often just shows them things and the natural intuition is that they’re entitled to it. Women are shown things with an explanation for what’s wrong with them and why they need to get them.
This idea is part of why there’s not really a structural comparison between the male gaze and female gaze. The thing is, The Male Gaze is the default structure, an observable trend that comes about not because a bunch of dudes looked at a textbook for Male Gaziness, but because men, given control and means to, did things, and afterwards, people observing that work were able to find a really clear, consistant pattern.
It was a byproduct of giving guiding control of a medium to mostly a single gender for generations. And it grew in part out of that same starting mindset: The idea that you were entitled to the things you looked at.
In the Bible there’s this passage:
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
This passage has been used heavily to talk about the dangers of lust as an action. It’s one of the times the Bible weighs in about whether sins are things you do to people or objects, or if they can happen in your mind. Which, well, the Bible is pretty clear, yes, they can. If you think it, you did it, and adultery isn’t just about bodies and grinding, it’s also about the mere capacity to want it.
Which makes a kind of sense, if looking at something is an action of power.
It makes sense if you own the things you look at.
Let’s talk about love for a moment.
Content warning; I’m going to mention some bad people, bad actions and some church stuff.
There’s this story about my grandfather.
Back in the day you did a lot of odd work around the infrastructure of Australia. Power poles and telephone poles were still being put in. It’s funny that now we don’t need them that telephone poles are so comparatively new. Anyway, at the time, my grandfather was sitting, hanging by a strap, to do work on a juncture box – one of the old hard metal boxes full of fuses that were used for determining throughput, fixing fuses, that kind of thing.
Anyway, it seemed that something went wrong in the box, or maybe he messed up – and there was a huge, nasty spark, a belch of lightning that threw him back, off the pole, and kicked him meters away, burned all over. Medical care rushed to help him, kept his eyes covered, and bandaged him up.
Months of healing. Nervousness. Uncertainty. Learning to live in the darkness. Fears he’d lose his sight.
Then, when the time came, when the doctors were as sure that his eyes would be as okay as they could be, they unwound the wrappings from his head, slowly, one by one, letting his burn-healed skill adjust. Slowly, slowly, until finally, they were removed… and he could open his eyes, to see how much damage had been done to his eyes in that moment of lightning.
… and then, he looked around and realised his eyes were fine.
In the flash between the explosion and the impact, his eyes had slammed close, his eyelids had protected him. And this story, we were then told, was proof of how miraculously well-tund our bodies are. Praise Jesus, etcetera.
I heard this story, first, as it was told as something that happened to my grandfather. Then years later I heard someone else, who wasn’t related to me, saying it’d happened to their grandfather. Then some fishing around and it turned out to just be one of those stories, even if it described a phenomenon that could actually happen. It’s a bit like the Bricklayer’s Story.
The thing about this story, the thing that really does nag at me as I go about my day, as I clean my glasses because I know my eyes are getting worse, as I sniff milk to make sure it’s okay, as I run my finger along a surface to detect imperfections in a print, is that sensitivity is so obviously and stupidly important.
Why wouldn’t you want to be sensitive? Your entire body is made up of systems designed to preserve your sensitivity. You check for smells and tastes and touch. You blink to keep your eyes sensitive. You feel pain to keep you from damaging your sense of touch.
In the end, the only person who wants my eyes to be less sensitive is going to sell me glasses or steal from me where I can’t see.
I had a weird nightmare last night –
I say last night, based entirely on when I’m writing this. You know I load this blog ahead of time so it’s no secret that I’m not writing this literally right now. I actually really like the distance it gives me when I write about something emotionally entangling. With the knowledge I’ve written about it, I can talk about it dispassionately, but nobody I know is going to react to this text now when I’m raw about it, and nobody’s going to read my blog like tea-leaves trying to work out my mood or whether or not I’m okay.
Anyway, it was a really weird nightmare because all I can really remember is the end. I was at a revival church meeting with my parents. Big white tents, sunny day, and like, there were tubs of soda drinks, and bags of chips and lots of things that normally make me happy – indulgent things, the kind of free food nobody checks up on you about or tut-tuts about you having too much.
Then the organ started to play and everyone filed to sit down… and I realised I didn’t have any paper or pen.
And that was… strange. It was deeply strange to wake up, with the lurching feeling of horror from that. Every time I went to church I took notepaper along, ostensibly to ‘take notes’ but realistically speaking it was to draw things, write things, or just play in paper space while I listened. Really, the main discipline of church was being taught how to sit quietly and not cause a fuss – you don’t actually learn much. Sermons are often really basic, really bad demonstrations of ideas or points, they’re much more about setting a tone and a style, and part of that means they have to be boring because if they were fun or exciting or interesting or easy it’s not ‘serious’ enough.
To be caught without paper and pen means staring down this boring demonstration of information by someone who is interpreting a book and if you’ve read the book as well you know what they’re leaving out. It means you’re going to be bored and angry and you will be so for eleven billion hours.
The story of the city of Sodom is barely worth recapping, but in case you’ve never heard it, basically there was this place that God didn’t like that was basically named Doomedsville, and the only good people who lived there were shown in one incident how they were too good to live there, before God told them the town was hecked and they left. I’m glossing over some plot points, but it’s honestly not important, because what’s really remarkable about this story is what it’s about.
See, right now, if you ask people, it’s about the sexual immorality of the city, the way that the people of Sodom used to stick their hoo-hahs into butt-holes and that’s why it was a sign of what a problem things could be. That’s why God hates gay marriage.
Except those people, these days, are also opposed by people, equally certain of their familiarity with the religious texts of the now, who want to assert to you that, in fact, the sin of Sodom was their failure to show the messengers proper comfort: That the story of Sodom was a place that failed to respect people enough, and right, and therefore, God loves gay marriage.
This is not, in any way new.
Back during the 1930s, the city of Sodom was a story about a failure of the people to care for their travellers and interlopers, brought up as an example of people who weren’t in the proper spirit of Christian Charity. In the 1940s and 1920s, Sodom and Gomorrah were known to be about the vile practice of race-mixing. In the 1890s, Kelogg was certain that Sodom and Gomorrah were a story about the foulness of indulgent humanity who ate fancy food.
Now this is no secret to anyone familiar with Christian movements: Everything in the story is just a justification for today’s latest problem, and nobody wants to read any further than the destruction of the city for their metaphor.
The stories we tell, and how we tell them, shape our worldview. This isn’t ‘media programs you,’ not a satanic panic fear-of-the-demons-in-your-media, but something slower, more grinding, more insidious. There’s an acretion of the world around you as you pass over it, little bits of the everyday. Making everyone’s clothes show ads, we thought, would be about making sure you were always showing off the #brand. Turns out that it mostly just meant people saw ads on clothes as normal and not worth noticing any more.
It’s hard to turn that kind of ubiquity into money in a pragmatic one-on-one sense. It’s difficult to monetise a brand if the main job monetising it is to be everywhere all at once, you need a certain scale for that to have an impact. You need to be Pepsi, for example. What you can do with it, though, is reinforce an idea of what’s normal, and thousands of sources doing it all the time can do a lot to shape that idea of normal.
It’s Marketing Whiteness.
CW, gunna talk about slavery and fundamentalism and whiteness and dismiss the historicity of the Bible, which just gets some people up in a dander.
Five years ago, I spoke about myself very differently.
As with Rachel and Clay before them, I once more turn to point to someone I know, and love, and care about, who hasn’t had a fair shake.
Melissa Elliott, two ls, two ts, is one of those people who, if the 17th century wasn’t just the most awful, would have been one of those academic thinker types we sit around now wondering where they find the time. She’s done infosec research, drawn comics, built a twitter brand, built videogame AI, done some work on videogames, reverse engineered some things, won a My Little Pwnie award for her work in information security –
er, specifically for writing a silly song –
Now, none of these are raging successes, by the standards we use to determine success. This is in part because none of us grew up in cultures that value artistic expression, and I know that moreso of Melissa’s upbringing because she and I shared a particular horrorshow that was American Fundamentalism. This is not an experience and a place that, let me tell you, does much to encourage the creative efforts of young women.
I am grateful this year that Melissa has been part of it – the whole way. I feel like a walking firework alongside her, where she needs some degree of quiet, some emotional space, and I, with my big loud idiot elbows smack into spaces that can distress her without even trying – but despite it, she still shares with me what she makes, and what she wants, and what she’s interested in, and that means a lot to me.
Incidentally, she hates card games, and that’s okay – because when I share what I do with my friends, I don’t do it because I want them to feel obligated they should like them.
I said I’d say something about this and I never did, and this sucks and it’s in my head and now I’m going to share it with you. For as there are good things in this world, there are dark and miserable reflections, and with Christian Replacement Media on my mind, let us speak now of some of its worst examples.
In the late 90s there was a ska boom. Ska music got on the radio. There was also the peak era of South Park, as a generation of teenagers tried to convince their parents that they didn’t care about your opinions, dude and they liked edgy, powerful, dangerous media like this thing about children talking to poop.
Two media trends, two chances to capitalise and milk money out of other Christians? Well, of course it was time for the Christian Replacement Media machine to get involved and get involved hard.
“What,” you may be asking, “the fuck was that.”
That, my friend is the evil mirror to Five Iron Frenzy. It is the fundamentalist-enough Christian alternative to South Park’s visual aesthetic branding and opposition point to the radio’s sinful Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It is a musical Waluigi, an entity created entirely in opposition to values rather than expression of values. It is ash. In as much as art can be, it is sin.
By the way, boy, the people on the Mexican border really had a problem that they weren’t getting enough Americans telling them about Jesus. Mexico’s a country with a real problem with Christianity, right? Let’s set aside the Anti-Catholic and patronising probably-Racism of Mission Trip To Mexico and instead examine what I feel is probably their worst song, Homeschool Girl.
Public school is full of drug addicts, boring, and lies to you. But Homeschool girl, well, she’s super great.
Augh I’m listening to it again.
It literally exhorts how good she is at preparing him stuff! It holds up how smart she is by how many grades she is ahead except because she’s homeschooled that doesn’t mean anything, since the person telling you that isn’t a fucking teacher! This is literally propoganda for a lifestyle that I know’s inflicted tremendous harm on people!
Sometimes you can think about the impact of a piece of art in terms of what it made seem normal, what it impacted, who it really influenced. And I am sadly certain that there are people, right now, homeschooling their kids, who are doing it in part because when they were young teens, they heard this song and it helped to form what they thought of as ‘normal.’
Hmm, let’s see, other countries, homeschooling with some overtones of sexism, what about –
Oh yeah, Abstinence!
Fucking hell this fucking group of fucking dickheads.
Okay okay, not going to talk about the lyrics or message of this media – the pain of having had sex? the fuck, you’re doing it very wrong – but I’m going to talk about how boring this ska music is. It’s very competently arranged, but very poorly mixed, and if you listen to all this stuff in a row you’ll be struck by how all BOB songs more or less sound the same.
All their album is up on Youtube, if you give a shit to go listen to it. I think their least obnoxious track is I Saw Pastor Dancing, which is just intensely cringey.
Oh and if you’re curious: Yes. I owned this album. And I owned it instead of owning All The Hype Money Can Buy.
Did I really choose that title? Is that what we’re going with? Mmh, well, okay.
If you’ve spent any time on the internet delving through the Youtube archives of people telling you about things you’d never heard of that suck, chances are good you’ve run into the ouvre of Christian Replacement media I was raised in. you’ve seen attempts to make Christian musicals, you’ve seen the Christian animations, and you’ve probably even come across the Christian superhero stories. Which suck.
You’ll see this kind of media absolutely everywhere but only once you puncture into the social space of the Christian media sphere. There’s an actual suggestion when you’re inside it that you should buy this stuff and wear the branding because it’s a good way to get people to notice you, it’s a starter of conversations and it makes sure people recognise that you’re Christian, Not Ashamed, in your pursuit of the attention of the heathens, moving about in their space and being a better person than them. That is absolutely not what happens. What happens is you go to a youth camp and see everyone wearing the same general genre of t-shirt showing off Christian bands, Christian branding, Christian media franchises and that’s all. And some of it is pretty lazy – I mean, seriously, Jesus → Reese’s is as far as that idea got.
There’s a lot of this stuff, and I know I’ve spoken in the past about the absolutely awful band Bunch Of Believers – wait, I haven’t? I haven’t subjected you, my readers and friends to that particular flavour of garbage? Well, heck, I’m going to have to work on that. Anyway, the point is, this stuff exists and it’s almost always derivative and it’s extremely weak in its execution. Often anything that calls for a thoughtful interpretation or even something where there’s a clear, useful connection to existing media, it’s not taken. Heck, it’s sometimes missed so widely you can be left wondering if the people in question are trying at all.
Which they’re not.
Know why this stuff is all garbage?
There are two basic reasons that the Christian Replacement Media is low quality. The first is it’s an industry; it wants to churn out things with as little effort as possible to scoop up as much purchasing power as it possibly can from the networked church system of industries, and it wants to do that as cost-effectively as possible. People aren’t buying clever or good, they’re buying in-group markers. The other reason, though, and it’s the reason that makes so many of those tv shows and the like look so bad is because they’re often aiming for an audience that has no idea about quality. They’re not dealing with audiences who have seen and tried a lot of things – they’re dealing with some audiences who have only really experienced the Christian media landscape, people who are dismissing non-Christian media out of hand, and people who are trying to insulate their family – usually children – from the harmful influence of Things That Exist.
These things exist to suck because they literally do not want you to have anything better to compare them to.
I grew up – okay, let me start that again.
I lived, from the age of four to the age of fourteen, in a suburb of New South Wales called Engadine. Engadine is where I learned how money works, how to read, what a library was, how to talk to a doctor, about family restaurants and VHS tapes and watched the Beta cases slowly disappear off the shelves. It’s the place I walked with my mother as she went to a business to pick up an actual physical paycheque and hand it into an actual physical bank. It’s the place I tried a paper route.
To say I ‘grew up’ there is a misnomer, though. Because in Engadine, I was in an environment that deliberately sought to stifle what I learned of the world, watching a small number of years left in the world tick down. But Engadine is still a big part of my life, and time to time, we pass through it on the way to Sydney, from where I live now.
Engadine has a KFC and a McDonalds on the highway, meaning that on a long con drive out of Sydney, it’s a place to refuel and restock, and also, crucially, a place where you’re not going to get caught up in a brutal Sydney snarl of traffic if you stop for a while and sit down.
Dad used to say Engadine had a lot of flat ground – it was just all vertical. The terrain of Engadine is all hills, homes perching on uneven backyards, with the biggest flat areas being the football pitch, the mall, and the public pools, which sat across from the school I went to. We would cross the road and do sport on the big field, or in the public facilities to play hockey.
I really do love the public works part of Engadine, in hindsight. There were so many things that were available to me that I didn’t know, or didn’t appreciate. There was a walkway to the Train Station that went under the road, so as a child, I could safely make my way to the station without having to go up a huge number of stairs or some other way cross six lanes of highway.
When we revisit Engadine, though, the thing that blows my mind is how little it changes. Storefronts have changed – different businesses have come and gone and I’m sure nobody there remembers me, nobody remembers what I did or who I was, some nondescript little church kid with a bowl haircut reading Pratchett novels in the foyer. But the shape of Engadine is the same.
I think a lot of this is because of the roads. Engadine’s roads are all… pretty much the same? The big Woolworths is probably a Coles now, the NeoLife offices aren’t there any more (because the bastard who ran them is dead), but the businesses and the people have to follow the shape of the roads, the roads that are laid out on the land as best they can be.
I remember when I lived there I was genuinely confused as to how there were any other places in the world. How would you get there? The first time dad drove us out onto the highway and I saw that that little road I thought went nowhere in fact went everywhere, it blew my tiny mind.
But Engadine is still Engadine. It is older and it is different and it is dressed differently, but it is still a place named for the people who we took it from, wearing on its roads the scars of a culture that should never forget what we did.
You know what it’s like to walk into a world where David Bowie has existed your entire adult life and you have no idea who he is?
The man’s like a fucking space alien.
I grew up in a media bubble which means my actual appreciation of media as having some sort of continuity and inter-related field of study. So imagine if your first encounter with music is jumping from church praise songs to, around 1997, suddenly having access to popular radio and media, which you listen to in your room, with headphones, for fear of being found out.
Now you might think this means I learned a lot about trash, and boy howdy did I. My knowledge of pop music started in 1997 and that was not a great time for Australian pop. And somehow, in the intervening years, I never actually went that far back. I never really got ‘into’ Bowie. He was part of the landscape already. I could literally never experience his songs new, see his impact new.
But he was everyfuckingwhere.
When I learned the man had passed, I tried to think about what he’d done that I really knew. Oh he was in Labyrinth. Oh he made The Man Who Came To Earth. Oh he was in The Prestige. Oh he was referenced in The Venture Bros. Oh he was responsible for that song in Elite Beat Agents. Oh he was in Shrek 2.
In his lifetime, David Bowie became part of the landscape. Fluency in him didn’t just become important to understand the world at large, but he became osmotic. And that’s just from me, from someone who is as close as you can come to not having anything to do with the guy as possible. For a lot of people, for my friends, David Bowie is the Michael Jackson of the queer set – an ideal of concepts and values that has underpinned their entire lives since it was introduced, something so fundamentally ur to their modern now that they don’t even realise he had formed it. The people who are all fucked up and sad right now because he’s gone but don’t know why because it’s not like they listened to his music all that much.
It didn’t impact me much, but I get that it did.