“I identify as…”

It’s the beginning of every conservative’s favorite joke. And only joke. “I identify as an Apache helicopter.” “I identify as a disabled Black woman.” “I identify as a a hawk.”

You see, the joke is on those wacky transgender people, based on the supposed immutability of the genders. You can’t just identify as whatever you want. You are what you are, no matter what you feel you are. “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” as a famous Christian Fascist likes to put it.

Which is genuinely funny (as opposed to conservative joke funny), because anyone can identify as a Christian and it means literally nothing.

What do I mean by that?

There are currently 2.2 billion Christians on the planet, of which almost all fall within the three main branches: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. They all identify as Christian, and yet, strictly speaking, each branch believes it represents the only true version of the faith. And then, of course, those branches break down into hundreds of denominations, many of them claiming they have the one and only truth.

I could go on about this for pages, but this classic Emo Philips joke sums it up better than a hundred theologians ever could:


Beyond the three branches, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also identify as Christians, even though Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians all reject that claim and dismiss them as cults. But for demographic purposes, Mormons and JWs are counted as part of the 2.2 billion Chrizzos.

Alright, so a bunch of people have differing theological ideas about their religion. Who cares, right? That’s not any great gotcha. It doesn’t undermine the faith. I agree, it doesn’t. I don’t care what a self-proclaimed Christian believes. But shouldn’t Christians?

The Christian Nation

Let’s narrow our focus to America. The United States, as conservative politicians and religious leaders claim again and again, is a “Christian nation.” Founded on Christian values with a predominantly Christian citizenship, it’s totally reasonable for the Ten Commandments to be etched into US government buildings and “In God We Trust” splashed across the currency. So we’re told.

Never mind that the number of Christians in America dropped to an all-time low of 64% in 2020 and is, according to the Pew Research Center, on track to drop below 50% within roughly two decades. America is still a Christian nation. So says a majority of Republicans. So, beat it, Jews and Muslims.

But, here’s the real catch: Among those conservative Christian Nationalists who believe Christianity is the foundational truth of America, there is a growing contingent who don’t believe Jesus was God, which is literally the foundational truth of Christianity.

Don’t just take my word for it. That’s the finding of the most recent biannual State of Theology survey, which is overseen by two Christian organizations, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research. This isn’t a survey of “gotcha” questions from Marxist college eggheads. These are Christian groups looking to understand the American Christian™.

A whopping 38% of self-identified Evangelicals said they “strongly agree” with the statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” Another 5% somewhat agreed, meaning a full 41% of Evangelical Christians question whether Jesus was God. For those who haven’t been to Bible study in a while, if Jesus isn’t God, there is no Christianity.

If you don’t trust an atheist’s definition of Christianity, how about the National Association of Evangelicals:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

So, 41% of Evangelical Christians identify as Evangelical Christians while denying the foundational belief of Evangelical Christianity, namely that Jesus is the Lord.

That should probably raise some holy eyebrows. Evangelicals Protestants, which, for the record, are not a denomination but a subset (there can be Evangelical Baptists and Lutherans; there are even Evangelical Catholics), make up at least 25% of all Christians in America, and growing. 

Let’s do some quick math: There are 330 million people in the US. Since 64% are Christian, that is 212 million (rounding up), which makes 53 million Evangelicals (more than the population of Spain, by the way). And if 41% of those 53 million don’t believe Jesus is God, there are at least 22 million people in the United States who identify as Christian but don’t actually meet the technical definition of Christian.

(For the record Wheaton College estimates 30-35% of the US is Evangelical, which would mean 90-100 million people, with between 37 and 41 million doubting Jesus’ divinity.)

What should we call these millions of people who identify as Christian while denying the central, essential tenet of Christianity? TransChristians? Christian-adjacent? Apache Hell-icopters? (Get it? Because according to their own religion they’re going to Hell.)

I don’t suppose it matters. They identify as Christians, and therefore they are Christians. I have no right to question it, and neither do you. Funny how that works.

Toledo, Spain

Madrid sits amidst some of Spain’s most historically significant and picturesque locales. That means a short train ride in almost any direction will deliver you to views worth capturing. Over the weekend, our troupe of Anglos, all in Madrid to study Spanish and/or teach English, took advantage of the city’s ideal location.

Our destination: Toledo, Spain.

We met at the Atocha Cercanías, a Renfe train stop and major hub at the southern tip of the city center. Well, the intention was to meet there. In reality, our fractured group, arriving from all directions, barely made it on to our 10:20 train. As the minutes ticked away, we found ourselves frantically zigzagging through the terminal, trying to determine our point of departure – receiving no help from the Barney Fife of Spain – and, when the dust had settled, well, some of us didn’t make it. Travel is a tough business.

Luckily there was an 11:20.


Toledo is literally an ancient city, one of Spain’s oldest, and like many of the older cities in the country, it was once protected on all sides by a massive wall. Built atop a towering hill, it currently overlooks a web of surrounding homes as well as the el rio Tajo (Tagus, as it’s known in English), which runs around the city center. Tajo is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, crossing from Portugal through much of Spain.

Buses are available to take you up to the city center, but our group opted to walk, following a painted pink ribbon along the road that led us to a series of escalators to the city center.


In addition to the spectacular views from this towering vantage point, one of the main draws of the city is the architecture, influenced by the three major religious groups – Christians, Muslims, and Jews – which many centuries ago co-existed within the city’s walls (an edict in 1492 was enacted to expel non-Catholics from the region).

Vinos de Esquvias

Though Toledo is now mostly a tourist destination – with a squadron of double-decker buses swooping visitors by the main historical sites – the city was once the regional capital and one of the most important trade and travel destinations of its time. It is a city of definite historical importance and a window into a past of relative (to the centuries that followed, at least) religious harmony.

Also, it’s pretty.

(Click on an image to enlarge.)

The city houses a number of museums devoted to both its artistic history and its religious roots. The El Greco museum sits in a recreation of the renowned painter’s home, and some of his works are on display, but many of the art pieces on display are not his works, as the proprietors have used the space to exhibit paintings by other, lesser known Spanish artists. 

The Crew (El Greco)

Many of the museums are free after a certain time, and even those that cost money are affordable for visitors on a budget. For instance, it only cost 4€ for us to check out the demented creatures, sadistic torture devices, and phallic celebrations of la Brujería (witches exhibition):


For all of its reverence to history, though, Toledo is still a Spanish city, which means countless bars and restaurants breaking up the souvenir shops. Plenty of chinos, too. As our group wandered, mostly without consulting the map, we’d often cross from heavily tourist areas to streets that looked like any other neighborhood in Madrid, never more than a few steps from a cerveza.

Now only a shadow of its former economic prominence, tourism surely accounts for much of Toledo’s current economy. In many similar towns, that often results in a garish mix of cheap plastic mementos and overpriced “destinations,” but not so (or, at least, not much so) in Toledo. If you’re in the area and looking for a day trip, especially considering its close proximity to Madrid, it’ll prove a rewarding visit.


Lost in a dream

Plane ticket bought. Living arrangements for the first two weeks settled. Bosses given notice. All over but the movin’.

Right on cue, the stress dreams have begun.

Every move involves dozens of details, large and small, from finding a place to live to packing the suitcases. Some things can be done months in advance, some in the final few days. And then there are those details, like finding a job, that can only be tackled after the physical relocation.

After a decade of this lifestyle, I’m pretty damn good at moving. If I could turn my knowledge into an app, I’d make hundreds, hundreds! Alas, such talents aren’t easily monetized, and mostly they boil down to common sense: Take care of your business.

There is another aspect of moving, though, that no matter how many times I do it, will, by definition, remain a challenge: the unknown. For all the planning, for all the hard-earned knowledge, the whole point of moving to a new city, a new state, a new country, is to explore the unexplored, to take on a fresh challenge. No matter how many books read, how many websites visited, how many personal accounts accumulated, when it comes down to make the actual move, my arms remain outstretched in a darkened room.

I don’t dream much. I mean, obviously, I dream every night, but I rarely remember them or even wake up with the sensation that my mind had been at play. When I do remember my dreams, they’re usually so prosaic and boring that the details meld into my day-to-day memories, which can lead to some momentary confusion.

On the verge of another move, though, my dreams start to take on a more consistent tenor, a pensive hum of uncertainty and doubt. My first such dream happened about a week ago.

In it, I’m back in college, still on the verge of moving, but now waiting for graduation to set me free. To my chagrin, I’m being told by a faceless bureaucrat that I’m not going to graduate. I’m six credits shy of my degree and this shadow figure is explaining that I had skipped too many classes and am going to fail my course. And now it’s too late to do anything about it. I feel my future slipping out of my grasp.

We’ve all woken from that kind of dream, filled with a piercing dread that slowly dissipates as reality comes into focus. The anxiety tends to stick with you, though, and even as you rationalize away the source of your mental anguish – I’ve been through with college for over a decade – the underlying emotion remains.

The dream didn’t create the anxiety, the dream was a byproduct of it.

My namesake is the Biblical Joseph. Not Jesus’ stepdad, but the Old Testament punk with the fancy coat and pissed off brothers. If you’re unfamiliar with the story – and since Bible literacy is pretty low in the Christian west, I’ll assume you are – Joseph was the second youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons and his father’s favorite. Jacob’s favoritism did not go unnoticed by his other sons, especially after Joseph was gifted with a brightly colored coat. Such overt favoritism might have been a non-issue if not for the fact that Joseph was also kind of a little shit.

Joseph had dreams. I don’t mean, he wanted to someday be a stand-up comedian. He literally had dreams in which he saw visions of celestial bodies bowing down to him. Now, a smart person might have just written these down in his dream journal and moved on. But this kid decided that he should tell his brothers and parents about his repeated visions of the entire family supplicating themselves to him. They really enjoyed that.

As a younger brother who was, himself, a bit of a shit, I enjoyed the story of Joseph, especially because in the end, the visions come true. Through a series of ludicrous events I won’t recount here, Joseph becomes second-in-command to Pharaoh and his entire family does, indeed, end up bowing down to him. Score one for bratty kid brothers.

Even more than the happy ending (well, for Joseph), what I enjoyed most about the story was the dreams. I obsessed over the idea of interpreting deeper meaning from dreams, of unlocking some cosmic secret. Joseph isn’t the only Bible character who has and interprets dreams. In the old testament, prophets and kings are always foreseeing the future in their sleep, usually laced through with dire warnings about an impending famine or a lousy season of the Simpsons (show’s older than you realize).

I thought that would have been a pretty cool skill to have. The only problem was, I never recalled my dreams. Kind of hard to divine the meaning of a prophetic vision if you can’t remember it.

 A dream is what you want to do, but still haven’t pursued

People love to tell you what dreams mean. Bookstores will sell you dream dictionaries and there’s a whole industry built around the dubious idea that our minds are mystic entities communicating to us through universal symbols that stretch back to our earliest ancestors. Bullocks, the lot of it.

When I was a child, maybe 9 or 10, I dreamt that I was at a summer camp with my brother and a group of other kids from school. In the dream, some of my fellow campers come across a little, talking creature in the grass. We determine, by some unspecified means, that this creature is, in fact, the Devil. Immediately, the group splits into two factions: the boys want to squash the creature, but the girls think that’s cruel. Presaging pretty much my entire life, I side with the girls.

The chronology gets screwy here, as tends to happen in dreams. Suddenly my brother and I are walking back to our cabin alone when we are abruptly attacked. For some reason, I’m holding a ruler in my right hand – as you do – and just as we reach the cabin, the ruler morphs into a snake (a la Moses and the staff) and wraps itself around my neck, choking me to tears. Panicking, I try to call out to my brother but I can’t make a noise. It makes no difference. When I turn to face him, he’s also being choked by a snake.

And then I bolted awake.

That is one of the only dreams I have ever remembered, and it’s stuck with me for more than two decades. I know there are those who’d have a field day parsing the details for some spiritual meaning, but I’ll save you the time: I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home that insisted on a literalist interpretation of the Bible and all its related myths. Also, I’d just watched that episode of Quantum Leap in which Sam fights the devil.

Oh Boy

I know it’s fun to imagine otherwise, but there’s no great mystery to dreams. When we’re asleep, our minds are still active, still processing, but without the rigid rules of reason that generally guide our thoughts (some of us more than others). Many will protest, even some professional psychiatrists, but searching our dreams for Freudian imagery like it were some subconscious Dan Brown novel is pure puffery.

It’s not my intention to suggest no meaning can be found in dreams. My stress dreams are actually very informative, not in that they possess information I don’t already know, but because they forefront anxieties I’m feeling but which, because of my hectic schedule, I’m ignoring. There’s benefits in not dwelling on one’s anxiety, especially when there’s nothing to be done about it, but it’s also important to be conscious of what’s going on underneath the surface. Our emotional state alters our physical state, often in ways we can’t fully appreciate.

Before a major life change, anxiety is normal, it’s healthy. It’s fuel.

Having had a brief, two-year respite from regular relocation, I’m slipping back into my old rhythms. There’s the excitement for future possibilities, the sadness of leaving behind another home, the motivation of working my ass off to achieve a financial goal. But there’s also this boiling anxiety for the unknown, and while it’s necessary to put a lid on it in order for me to function, it’s also very good that I’m reminded every once in a while that it’s there. It keeps me alert; it focuses me.

So, when I’m asleep tonight and dream about being in a subway car that’s going the wrong way while the faceless crowd blocks my egress, I can wake up in the morning knowing that I’m just one more day closer to another leap into the unknown. That growl in my gut, that’s just letting me know I’m headed in the right direction.

Oh boy, indeed.

The Mary Jacket

Let me tell you a story about a jacket.

It’s not all my story, and in fact, it originates somewhere that I’ve never been: Portland, Oregon.

Before we get there, though, I need to back up to somewhere I’ve spent far too much time: my hometown.

Here I am trying to make my first escape.

We weren’t a happy family; perhaps not an unhappy one. We had our moments, to be sure, a series of explosions – laughter, anger, whichever broke us through. Before I’d even turned eight, we had already fractured once; a few years later, we’d do it all over again. Eventually, the whole damn thing fell apart. And we were fine.

The first fracture came when my oldest brother, Mike, abruptly left home when I was in second grade. The subsequent fracturing event came a few years later with the exit of my second oldest brother, Steve, who left home under acrimonious circumstances when I was maybe nine or ten. To be honest, the timeline of those early years has always been jumbled in my mind. The mixture of my sheltered youth and a familial tendency to talk around the issues has left me spending my adult life indolently piecing together family history, like someone absentmindedly scratching a bug bite.

I suppose it must seem strange that a writer would be this incurious about his own past, but the truth is, it isn’t my past. Everything happened around me; I was a background extra in my own life up until college, and even then, really only a featured player.

So, what I know of Steve’s exit: I was the last one to speak to him before he left the house that final time. There were five kids, so my parents had opted to get us a second landline phone just for us (just for them); it was even listed in the phone book as the separate Teens’ Line. That night, my parents had gone out and gave instructions that Steve was not to use the phone, he being on punishment for one infraction or another. Nothing new there.

I was watching TV in the living room when I heard the kids’ line ringing in the den. Since the phone was never for me, I instinctively ignored it until I remembered my parents’ instructions. I rushed to the den just in time to find Steve answering the phone.

“You’re not supposed to use the phone,” I dutifully bleated.

“I know!” Steve snapped back. “No one else was answering it!”

That was it. I skulked back to the living room, then, some minutes later, I heard  Steve leaving out the garage and that was the last I would see of him for years.

Kids Christmas
My siblings. Probably.

That could all be wrong. I don’t trust the details of my memory; I tend to conflate different events, sometimes years apart. It’s immaterial; this is how I remember it. The great irony – and power – of our past is that perception shapes memory, which then shapes perception. We’re all living a lie we told ourselves. This is mine.

My next memory of seeing Steve in person came many months later. He was standing on our porch, saying hello to my tearful mother who was welcoming him back home to Lawrence. He’d gotten heroin thin – emaciated, really – and was covered with piercings, a safety pin pincushion. 

I don’t remember if Steve was wearing the jacket, though I suspect not. This jacket, which came to represent all the mysteries and allure of my brother’s time away from home, was a plain brown, polyester gas station attendant’s jacket, an ugly thing made all the more unsightly by large rips and frayed edges. Like Steve’s eyebrows, the thing was pierced through with a phalanx of safety pins, some of them functional, most just for aesthetics. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

After leaving home, but before meeting up with Mike in Flagstaff, Arizona, Steve spent time in Portland, Oregon, living in a shithole (probably) and working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. Other than learning the basics of cooking from the restaurant’s chef, Steve’s main pastimes in Portland were poetry and drugs (I won’t pretend to know which ones; all of them?).

In Portland, where by law gas station attendants still pump your gas, Steve picked up the jacket. What really made this unassuming article of clothing pop, at least for me, was the one piece of personalization that my brother had attached: a yellow and orange fabric patch with the name “Mary” sewn in green letters over an orange heart. I had no idea who Mary was, but she was clearly perfect.

In fact, Mary was no one, but everyone. As Steve later explained, “Mary” was the stand-in name he used in his poetry when he was writing about a woman but didn’t want to use her real name. She was the all-encompassing focus of love and lust, hate and sorrow; she was all womankind.

So she came to represent to me.

My parents were permitting my brother to store some of his belongings at the family house, which is how I came to stumble across the Mary Jacket hanging up in a hallway closet. For a time, I would take it out just to put it on, and then slip it back on its hanger. As the months passed, though, and Steve made no indication that he intended to take it back, I began to wear the jacket out of the house, to my mother’s chagrin.

Steve didn’t mind me wearing it, but there was always an understanding that someday I’d return it to him. That never happened.

The jacket engulfed me. It must have been huge on Steve when he was at his thinnest, which is why I doubt he was actually wearing it that day he showed up on our porch. It didn’t matter, I loved it and wore it constantly. After losing a great deal of weight in a very short time as a teenager, I was slow to update my wardrobe so most of my clothes were baggy on me. The jacket fit my style (a term I use loosely).

People asked all the time who Mary was, or, sometimes with confusion regarding my long, feminine blond hair, if I was Mary. Some kids took to calling me Mary, presumably as an insult, but if it bothered me, it didn’t stop me from wearing the jacket every damn day.

Whatever reason Steve had for choosing Mary as his female catch-all, the name had an extra level of resonance for his youngest brother, a kid named Joseph who had been brought up in the Jesus in Wonderland orthodoxy of Evangelical Pentecostals. Everything was filtered through Bible stories and purported prophecy. Mary didn’t just represent some unknown love interest, she came to represent the unseen woman, the one that completed the equation: Joseph and Mary.

Perhaps I have a genetic predisposition to symbolism, or it’s just a product of my religious upbringing, but early on I developed an obsession with poetic symmetry in life, always looking for surreptitious indicators of deeper meaning or direction in the innocuous happenstance of life: a song playing on the radio with an oddly fitting lyric; the crash of thunder in a moment of doubt; a girl named Mary.

I wanted – needed – there to be signs of something grand ahead, because in the now, life was pretty miserable. Certainly, I was.

As high school ceded to college, I left much of my old life behind, including church friends and my faith, but the Mary Jacket stayed with me. From wear, the tears had grown into fluttering gashes with loose threads hanging from the edges that I routinely had to cut off. I’d repurposed some of the extra safety pins to hold the entire left side together, which otherwise flung open like a gaping mouth.

If the jacket had arrived in Kansas looking like a holdover from the 80s hardcore scene, I had managed to turn it into a homemade Halloween costume assembled by a disinterested stepmother. It had long ago ceased to be a jacket in any functional sense, more of a rag to throw over my shoulders like a cape. So be it, it was my cape.

When I packed up everything I owned for the move to Charlotte that would launch 10 Cities/10 Years, I stuffed the Mary Jacket in my boxes. Eventually, I gained enough sense to stop wearing the thing, but for sentimental purposes, the jacket remained with me for many moves. After a few years, realizing that sentiment wasn’t worth the extra money and effort it required to move every year, I unceremoniously discarded the jacket along with many other artifacts of a life I no longer lived.

Before I tossed the jacket –there was no hope of donating it, the thing was mostly safety pins by that point – I removed the Mary patch. That I still have.

No words.


Writers love symbols. Fiction, in particular, is buoyed by their potential. Properly deployed, one symbol can say more than ten pages of exposition; even poor writing can be given the façade of depth with some hasty symbolism. Then there are the great writers, like Fitzgerald, whose symbolism could captivate so thoroughly, he redefined the prosaic truth of the image itself. A green light is never just a green light.

Even though I no longer believe in higher powers or spiritual intercession in the natural world, I’m still taken with the way coincidences can imbue day-to-day life with literary flair. From time to time, it’s fun to indulge a flight of fancy, to impose meaning on the meaningless. It’s utter rubbish, but what isn’t? A writer has to think in symbols.

Names will always hold deeper meaning, like how hearing a particular name brings a rush of memories about an ex or a friend I haven’t thought of in years. I’m always tickled by couples with famous name pairings or when someone’s moniker takes on an ironic double meaning. To this day, “Mary” is freighted with unrealistic meaning. It’s a connection to a past that’s mostly been forgotten or blurred into unreliable memory, and yet also a suggestion of a future that could have been, probably never will. I hear the name, it triggers visions of a specific type of life with a wife and a house, a family, a place; stability.

Before anyone thinks, “Awwww,” I haven’t lost anything, only come to understand myself better. Like that shredded gas attendant’s jacket, that existence wouldn’t fit me now. It’d only split and unravel. I held onto that vision of my future for a lot longer than I should have because I wanted so much for there to be a plan, a destination. Not anymore. I don’t need a prophecy to tell me about my future; I make my own.

Traveling has stripped me of much of my sentimentality. I’ve gotten much better at letting go of my relics. On the verge of another major move, my biggest yet, I’m examining my possessions with a plan to unload it all. Holding on to mementos from the past doesn’t actually prolong the past. Baggage is a burden, and a crutch. Minimalism is both a necessity and incredibly freeing.

Still, I like to imagine someone found that old jacket in the trash, took it home, and sewed it back together. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the things we abandoned came to have a second life with someone else? Well, the past is always being written and rewritten. May all we leave behind be remembered as fondly as a ripped polyester jacket.

Religion is a Choice

The Baptism of Christ

The recent attempt (and failure) in various states to “preserve religious freedom” by dumping on the gays has added a new wrinkle to the Gay Rights debate. With the tides of inevitability pretty much guaranteeing that within the decade we will see the national legalization of same-sex marriage, the religious right and conservative groups seem to be shifting their focus: If they can’t stop the gays from getting married, they’ll simply refuse to attend the weddings (me-e-oww).

Despite all scientific evidence and reason (and even bigger failures), much of the religious opposition base their public arguments on the notion that homosexuality is a choice. Of course, they have to hold onto this view because if they acknowledge that sexual orientation is as much an engrained reality as gender or race, the whole “Gays are going to hell” thing gets a little difficult to preach (though, never put it past a Christian* to find a nifty, gymnastic justification for whatever belief they hold).

It’s an interesting view: Since homosexuality is a choice, a person of religious conviction has the right to discriminate against them (oh, I’m sorry, not discriminate, “condemn the lifestyle”).

Well, religion is a choice. In fact, religion is nothing but choice. Which God do you want to worship? Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or someone else with less publicity? Which part of the Bible do you choose to believe is literal? Just the New Testament, maybe parts of the Old Testament, or the whole shebang? Which laws still apply to you? Which sins should you ignore? Which IRA investment strategy does God want you to pursue so that you can be rich, just like he wants you to be?

Christians are always complaining that their religious liberties are under attack, yet by their own logic we should be able to discriminate against them all willy nilly because their faith is a choice. It’s one of our sacred rights to discriminate against people’s choices.

Of course, Christians aren’t discriminated against in this country, not really. An individual Christian might face some discrimination, a Christian might have an unpleasant experience in a store or restaurant, or be verbally abused by a stranger, and sometimes Christians are told that they can’t have everything they want. But there isn’t a systematic mechanism in place for discriminating against Christians, like, for instance, the ones they would love to see codified into law against homosexuals.

The reason, of course, is that nearly 80% of the nation’s population are self-proclaimed Christians (I’ll leave it to them to tell you how many are ‘Real Christians’™). The Christianity vs. Homosexuals debate comes down to basic numbers. One side is the majority, the other is the minority. Our Bill of Rights was created to help prevent the Tyranny of the Majority. Granted, our nation has a long, dark history of stomping all over the rights of the minority, but that’s all the more reason for us to not be swayed by arguments such as “You’re changing the definition of marriage” or “Tradition.” The history of the world is the story of greater liberty for all, won through fits and starts and uncomfortable evolution.

If you’re a Christian and you don’t like the changes you’re seeing in the world, don’t fret. Christianity is a choice, so just change your religious orientation to one that’s less judgmental and bigoted and you’ll be totally happy.

Or you could just choose to not be an a-hole.

*For the purposes of this post, it should be understood that any reference to ‘Christians’ refers to the conservative, right-leaning members of the religion.

Christianity and Gun Ownership

The picture below popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, which bothered me for multiple reasons, and, as I showered in the morning, I couldn’t help but stew over everything that was wrong and ignorant about it.

Guns and God

Let me start with this picture’s basic assertion. It is, essentially, just a more topical version of the old, patently false axiom, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” This isn’t just a condescending dismissal of atheism, but also of the pantywaist belief that maybe guns aren’t the solution to every problem. You can claim not to believe in the value of guns or God, it says, but in moments of trouble you’ll turn to both. Because godless liberals are all just raging, gutless hypocrites, doncha know?

Well, speaking from personal experience as a cowardly heathen, I can say this is false. My apartment was robbed on New Years Eve. It sucked, and while the robber(s) didn’t take as much as they could have (thankfully they got scared off in the middle of unplugging my computer), it was still an infuriating and disheartening invasion of my and my roommate’s private space. Not so private, it seems. Yes, my roommate called the police, not to protect us but so we could file an official report with the infinitesimal hope of maybe recovering some of the lost items. (We never did.)

I don’t claim to speak for my roommates. Maybe they’d like to have a gun in the house. It’s an option. I understand the desire for increased security, and I certainly don’t want us getting robbed a second time. Personally, though, I’d rather invest in better bars on the windows and a security system that can protect our place when we’re not here rather than a gun that a) would have been useless in this particular scenario (no one was home) and b) would pose a statistically greater risk to us than to any potential, future robbers.

I’ve never taken any training in shooting a gun (though I have gone shooting) and if I go my whole life without that particular skill, that strikes me as a win. While I’m sure that makes me less of a man in the eyes of many people, I have a hard time understanding why living my life free of fear represents a shortcoming. We live in the least violent period in all of human history, I don’t have any delusions of being a vigilante. It’s possible that a crazed gunman could kill me at some point (and if so, shucks), but living my life with a fear of it is beyond pointless.

So, I don’t believe in gods or guns. Why this offends the sensibilities of a large portion of America I’ll never understand. But, rest assured, in times of trouble, I don’t suddenly start praying for a .45.

Christianity and Guns

Now, let’s reverse the equation. To me, the most revealing aspect of that picture above is not what it says about atheists (nothing) or people who don’t like guns (again, nothing) or even what it says about what Christians/gun owners think about atheists/gun non-owners (nothing new). No, what it really reveals is the bizarre mindset of Christians who, despite professing belief in a loving, all-powerful, prayer-answering, omniscient God, still put their faith in a gun.

A gun, which is a weapon for the purpose of killing (Exodus 20:13); a gun, which is used to protect your material possessions (Matthew 6:19-21); a gun, which is meant to keep someone else from taking from you and punish them if they do (Matthew 5:39-41); a gun, which is your protection against enemies (Psalm 20:6-8).

A gun, which is about as appropriate in the hands of a Christian as a meat tenderizer is in the hands of a vegan.

(I want to be clear that I’m not saying American citizens shouldn’t have the right to own guns. While I am in support of intelligent gun control, I have never advocated for stripping Americans of their guns. Unfortunately, as soon as your lips start to form the words “gun control” you immediately get shouted down for trying to “trample on the 2nd Amendment” and no conversation can even be had. So fine, I don’t care. Keep killing yourselves, America.)

I believe this: A Christian who needs a gun is no Christian at all (I’m not referring to guns for the purpose of hunting, because, whatever). I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: There’s no such thing as an American Christian. It’s an oxymoron. The gun ownership debate makes it pretty plain why: Whereas Jesus preached a message of peace, forgiveness, rejection of material possessions and a dedication to God that would require a person to abandon one’s family, the American life (the American Dream, in fact) is all about building up treasure on earth and guarding it like a rabid dog with special affection for vengeance and retribution.

I see nothing inherently wrong with the American life, other than that it flies in the face of basically every single one of Jesus’ teachings. Reconciling the two diametrically opposed worldviews of American Capitalism and Biblical Christianity is a feat of such gymnastic contortion, even a yoga master would pull a muscle.

If you want to own a gun, go for it. It actually is the rational choice for someone who has no belief in a higher power, and if I lived in a constant state of fear I might just be so inclined.

However, a Christian who condescendingly suggests everybody needs a gun is admitting one of two things: Either their faith isn’t very strong, or their god isn’t.

Jesus and Guns