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Broken Image

The belief that we were made in God’s image is almost universal in Christianity. It’s so foundational, that many Christians construct their view of ethics, style of relating to others, and entire sense of self around this concept. However, in what manner we’ve been patterned after God, or what existing as his “Image Bearer” exactly means, is often debated. Some Christians assume a physical, or at least symbolic, celebration of masculinity (more properly, maleness) is what God copied into our world, and use this to construct patriarchal systems of political and family life(1). Others focus on the creation story and the human capacity for creativity(2), discarding any gender-specific interpretations of God’s intention. The debate fascinates me, but for more than theological reasons. Despite the importance of a coherent theology, I can’t help but approach this from the perspective of a survivor. The image I have of God has been an embattled subject for my entire life. Some would call it a battle for my soul. Others would call it a battle for ideological purity and social control in Evangelical sub-culture. I don’t know what I would call it. But I do know it’s a battle I haven’t escaped from unscathed.

I think it started when I was six. I’d accompanied my father to a youth camp he was speaking at. I don’t remember why I was the only one who went with him, but I do remember being excited to fly on an airplane and that it was the day I read my first comic book(4). At the campground, a little boy I was playing with started talking about his little brother. He’d died as an infant a short time before, and this boy told me calmly that it made him sad because his little brother hadn’t had a chance to accept Christ, so he was in hell. I cried. I told him that wasn’t how it worked. I said children weren’t old enough to understand, so God wouldn’t send them to hell, because he was merciful and fair. This was unquestionable. What I was describing is what evangelicals (and others) often refer to as the “Age of Accountability”, meaning that sin must be something that is enacted by a free moral agent, and children didn’t have the necessary psychological or personal development to be this. Later, my father preached a sermon where he described a dream he’d had as a child. In his dream, his his family had been accepted into heaven, but he hadn’t. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen my father cry. This sermon frightened more than anything had before, but not because of the description of hell. It hadn’t occurred to me before that my father was frightened of anything, or that his own salvation was something he had ever doubted, especially as a child. I realized that his conception of God and salvation was more complicated than the one I had, and a tiny crack began to form in the image that I carried with me.

Several years later, at a different camp I attended, a different boy was sexually assaulted by his peers. The boy was sent home. I never heard any of the counselors describe the event as a sexual assault(5). It was wrong, but the perpetrators were only children, after all; They couldn’t have really known what they were doing. At that same camp, I saw young girls berated by a female counselor for their choice of clothing. The dress code was strict, and if girls broke it, even slightly, they were subjected to an anger and suspicion usually reserved for acts of violence. I and my peers were told that girls needed to “be responsible”, and “protect your brothers in Christ”. I knew at the time that this wasn’t fair, but it was clear to me that the woman who said and did these things reflected her own image of God with a brilliant and consistent accuracy. I also know it wasn’t an image I liked looking at.

As a teenager, I confided in a person that I trusted that I’d been feeling depressed for a long time, and I was concerned I might need professional help. This person told me that if I turned the matter over to God, he would make me happy. It didn’t work. No matter how faithfully I prayed, studied the word, or participated in church, my symptoms persisted. I wasn’t angry at God for this; by this time, I’d begun to understand that God could look differently to different people and that was normal. But I was angry at the people who saw my depression as a lack of faith. It was brought up on occasion as proof that my heart wasn’t in my activities, that I was “going through the motions”. They knew this, because God was a God of healing, and I was still in pain. God expected more of me than succumbing to my illness, so they reflected that expectation.

It didn’t happen all at once, but this conflict is what finally shattered the last vestige of similarity between the God I was shown as a child to the God I had grown to believe in. I didn’t want to reflect an image of a being who demanded I not have any problems while also condemning me for existing. I didn’t want to look at people and expect to be disappointed by them, while calling it love. This didn’t look merciful or fair to me. Admitting that I was not what I was raised to be, even to myself, had a price. I had to admit that there would be a permanent rift between myself and people I cared deeply for. I had to face that the community I was raised in no longer felt like mine. I lost the sense of unified purpose and understanding that had been present in nearly every social interaction I’d had since birth. I also had to start rebuilding a large part of myself, and for a long time, I had to do it alone.

In retrospect, I’m very glad for what I went through. I’m very glad that I had to struggle to put an image of God together from my earliest experiences. Because it hasn’t gotten any easier as an adult. I still find people who, in their attempts to reflect the image of God, impose their own image onto him. I know that I do this as well. I still have to regularly peel back my most deeply held beliefs and assumptions about what part of me is made in God’s image, if any, and it still hurts. It still has a price, and it always will. What’s changed for me, is that I’ve stopped seeing this as a failing of mine, and instead see it as a responsibility. Faith should be a struggle. Claims about absolute morality should be deeply questioned. Assertions that the will of God is known by a lone group or person should be met with the gravest skepticism. Conflict should not be shunned. The alternative substituting the gaps in our image of God with ourselves; and experience has taught me that there is nothing more dangerous or painful than that.

 

 

(1): Douglas W. Philips is a good example of this.

(2): Check out Dorothy L. Sayers and “The Mind of The Maker”.

(3): I think the Incredible Hulk was fighting Captain America, although i forget why. Anyone who can find this piece of my childhood gets Jedi hugs.

(4): I only discussed this with people peripherally involved with the incident.  I don’t know how the boy’s family or friends reacted.

Uncategorized

So…What Now?

This will likely be my last post for Skeptic Freethought, at least for the foreseeable future. The past four months have seen considerable changes in my life, especially with regards to my mental health. Over the past few months, I’ve started taking medication for my depression issues for the first time in my life, and I’ve adjusted to it enough to know that I’m responding well. This was a major step for me on several levels. I’ve known I needed medication for a long time, but until recently I’ve not had access to it. Doing this has allowed me to move forward in my overall treatment plan, and take more charge of my life, which is wonderful. It’s also a decision I know I couldn’t have made, at least calmly, several years ago, due to fears of stigma. I’ve reached a place where I feel much more equipped to make informed choices about my health, and a lot less concerned about public perception. But the biggest reason this is a change for me, is that it removes a huge obstacle I’ve had in my life for a long time.

As I’ve mentioned before, my issues started when I was pretty young. For years, I was torn between wanting to get better and the fear that treatment would change me. I got stuck in a loop where I didn’t like who I was, but I hated the thought of something outside of me impacting how I felt. A lot of this was simple immaturity, since no one is 100% self-determined; But a significant portion was caused by the awareness that my symptoms were providing a lot of fog, and I was scared of what I’d find when and if the fog lifted. I was scared that I might like myself even less when the curtain was pulled back, and that I’d be stuck with whatever was there.

I know now that this fear if very common to clinical depression; I knew that before, but knowing didn’t really make the fear go away. Now, I’ve been on medication for a while, I’ve responded positively, and my symptoms are diminishing at a reasonable rate. What I’ve found to my complete and utter surprise is that I might actually be ok. I may even be more than ok. For years, I’ve been bracing myself for a crisis that has, so far, failed to materialize.

A part of me is relieved to the point of tears by this, and I’ve already gathered a much clearer picture of how my symptoms effect my perception of myself; which I can use in the future. However, another part of me is confused about what I do next. It didn’t occur to me that I’d have the option of actually moving forward with my life, at least not this quickly. I’m still not sure what healthy me looks like completely, or what this person will do with the energy they usually expend on surviving. Luckily for me, other changes have been happening as well:

My family is growing. New career opportunities are opening up. I’m discovering skills I didn’t know I had. New people have fallen into my life with delightful regularity. I’ve become more involved with my community. I may be leaving the country next year on a grand adventure. I’ve been published multiple times now. In short, I’m finding that one big change in my life isn’t the end of anything. I suspected this pre-medication, but I couldn’t quite believe it. The only downside is that all the change, while positive, is overwhelming. I need to spend time processing what I want my life to look like in the future, and I’m going to take some time off from writing to do that. As confusing as the whole process is, for the first time in my life I don’t mind not knowing what to do.

Uncategorized

Ideology, Culture, and Old Habits

In my previous post, I discussed briefly how the evangelical focus on conversion experiences can cause problems for post-evangelicals when they try to join other groups.  An additional difficulty with this transition is that so much of evangelicalism is based on persuasion.  People who grow up in this culture are taught from a young age that a major part of their faith entails persuading others to join it.  Often, the ability, or at least attempt, to perform this type of persuasion is used as a litmus test of one’s spiritual health or sincerity.  Apart from the psychological effect of being in a group that has a singular goal and polices commitment to that goal, this also causes people in this culture to build their idea of social responsibility and even affection around the need to convert others to their way of thinking.

The harm and frustration this creates is obvious, and is part of the reason evangelicals have developed a reputation for being opportunistic in the wake of tragedies.  To the world at large, an evangelical that promotes their faith to those in pain is preying on a vulnerable moment for the sake of their own agenda.  To the evangelical, he/she is providing the best support and encouragement they know how, as well as what they see as a solution to literally any problem.

The two definitions of this behavior are not mutually exclusive, and I don’t mean to imply that intentions matter more than the effect of actions.  They don’t.  However, even for someone like me, who no longer identifies as evangelical, and is vocal about their criticisms of its issues, that habit is still difficult to break.  The reflexive tendency to try to “help” people by changing their minds (apart from being self-righteous), is reinforced so much that the reflex remains even after the reasons for it evaporate.

For me, I often still feel that pull to argue or defend the church, even though my actual opinion of it has changed dramatically.  I still sometimes feel a twinge of anxiety when I hear criticism about conservative Christianity, even though I’m now a liberal-leaning Christian Humanist. Despite my beliefs being very different than what I was raised with, it’s still work to keep myself from leaping into debates about religion just because they’re happening, and to remind myself that the world won’t end if I don’t change everyone’s mind.

Transitions away from religion, even if it’s to a different form of it, hold more challenges than changing conscious opinions of ideology.  Each Religion, sect, and denomination has a culture built around it, and that culture contains habits and modes of relating to others that are often unconscious for both the individual and the group.  Changing those things, even becoming aware of them, is a long and arduous process, sometimes longer and harder than the change of faith itself.  I’m of the opinion now that it isn’t possible to do this alone, and I was very fortunate during my own time of change to be in the company of people who’d made that journey before.

The Fattened Calf and Cookies: Ruminations on Evangelicalism and Identification

One of the most fascinating and frustrating things about being a person is that you don’t get to compartmentalize your problems. If it were up to me, I’d order my personal and psychological issues into a bulleted list, rank them by severity and resources needed, and proceed to mend them in a structured and logical fashion. Also, if it were possible, I’d have on hand an infallible reference point; something I could check regularly and know without doubt if I was Doing It Right. Needles to say, I don’t get to do that. My problems often hover below my awareness, bleed into each other, and resurface long after I’m sure they were dead and done. This gets especially complex when questions of identity and change surface.

I’ve been very open lately about my issues with depression; but for a long time, the identity of Mental Health Patient was one I tried not to have. My long journey towards acceptance of my illness has occurred almost in perfect tandem with my explorations of faith, and what both of those factors in my life mean for me and the world around me. The process is often awkward and imperfect. One example is that until very recently, I was leery about identifying as a Feminist, as you can see in an older post. Apart from the embarrassment I feel about this now, what bothers me most is why. Why did it take me so long to openly identify with feminism? What part of my perceived identity felt threatened by the term?

 

It would be easy to blame my evangelical background for this, and point to the suspicion of “the feminist agenda” that is often found there. I’m certainly not the only post-evangelical woman that’s gone through this. But I don’t think the problem is that straightforward. Apart from the fact that I take full responsibility for myself, the religious influence on this and other civil rights issues is more nuanced. Christianity in general, and evangelicalism especially, values conversion experiences. The prodigal son, the lost sheep, the Damascus road. These are are pivotal, beloved stories in the evangelical community. In all of them, the prevailing message is some variant of: “You’re here/changed your mind? Let’s throw a party!”. Growing up, celebrating a shift in identity or acknowledgment of imperfection was a given. Not that it was ever that simple in practice, but the expectation was that the intention to change or to do good was all that mattered. I do think there is a kind of beauty in this. Forgiveness and acceptance can be wonderfully liberating, as is the idea of making a fresh start. But it does contribute to problems people have if they leave the identity of evangelical behind.

 

When I began hesitantly questioning my own faith and what form it had, it opened up a whole bunch f questions about civil rights and what I thought about them. I expected to be celebrated for wanting to do better. I thought the fact that I meant well and was trying was enough. My experience with Center For Inquiry was also liberating, and there were people there that welcomed me with open arms and without reservation. I’ve always been grateful for that. But there were others who quite reasonably hung back and waited for me to earn their respect and trust. Initially, I was hurt and confused by this. I may or may not have demanded ‘cookies’ from people (you’d have to ask them), but I certainly awarded a bunch to myself. In retrospect, I can appreciate how much the way I’ve grown has depended on the kindness and patience of those around me. They gave me room to be stupid and let me figure out that I was without pressure or judgment. If I am hesitant to use titles like Feminist, Humanist, or Egalitarian now, it’s because I can see that those are titles you have to earn.

 

If I could give any advice to people making a similar transition, I wouldn’t stop with the popular “don’t expect a cookie”. I’d say expect everything to be different than you thought it would. The world’s a lot bigger, scarier, and lovelier than any one of us ever knows, and you miss out on that if you’re preoccupied with your own moral goodness.

 

Response to the Response to Libba Bray

 

Theferret.com recently posted a response to Libba Bray’s description of what it’s like to live with depression. You can find Bray’s post here, and the response here.

 

As someone who’s recently started writing about their own depressive issues, the exchange interested me. As people with mental health concerns become more vocal, and more visible, it’s inevitable that they will also become more vocal about their disagreements. TheFerret doesn’t pull any punches in his criticism of Bray’s personal story. He calls out what he considers catering to a “Good Depressive Citizen” trope: the disingenuous tendency to write about depression in a way that distances it from yourself:

write a Very Articulate Post detailing your pain…

…but do it from a distance. Write about it in a sad, somber tone. Do not evince an ounce of self-pity. Hold this odious disease at a distance. End it with a triumphant note that yes, you too can fight back!”

 

The pressure to keep silent about mental health problems is real, and the author of the above statement has every right to be angered by it. The tendency to try and distance oneself from something like mental health is a serious problem, and one of the reasons that so many people with treatable conditions don’t seek out the help they need. But my issue with this response lies mostly with how Libba Bray’s comments are criticized:

 

Now, I’m not kidding, or being in the least sarcastic, when I say that Libba has written a wonderful post. That is part of what it’s like to be depressed, and she expresses it well, and eloquently. It helps, and I am glad she wrote it. But notice how carefully she speaks. She doesn’t say what, if anything, she is depressed about – and she’s a good enough writer that that omission is clearly on purpose.

 

Because she knows how to be a good depressive citizen.”

 

My initial reaction to that statement was a tirade of my own, which I’ll spare you. Not because the public must be protected from my feelings at all cost, but because anger, while valid and cathartic as it can be, is not always the most helpful response. What is helpful for people working through their mental health problems, is keeping the following in mind:

 

 

 

1: People set their own degree of disclosure.

 

Criticizing someone for not stating what’s triggered a specific mental health struggle (setting aside that triggers and episodes aren’t always reducible to one identifiable cause), is like criticizing an amputee for not wearing a sign explaining how they lost a limb. No one is entitled to know the details of your private life or health, and people reaching out for help don’t need to be subjected to some sort of litmus test for expressing their pain correctly.

 

2: Stigma is not the fault of the stigmatized.

 

A lot of the anger in the response to Bray’s post seems to be directed at her for being stigmatized. While the “Good Depressive Citizen” is a very real social pressure, someone who falls into it (and I’m not convinced Bray has), isn’t some sort of traitor to the rest of us; they are someone looking for a way to express something our culture doesn’t give us much practice or forgiveness for. It’s only to be expected that the attempt is awkward. The response to Bray seems to be confusing anger over the state of our culture with anger towards Bray for being caught in it.

 

3: Pain is always individual.

 

Having the same problem, health, personal, social, etc. doesn’t dictate that the experience is the same for everyone that has it; especially with mental health. People with depression may have a lot in common, they may fit the statistical profile, or they may be an outlier. Regardless, depression is always experienced individually. It’s always deeply personal, and it always requires a complex and individualized coping strategy. The idiosyncratic nature of mental health experiences is the reason we need different voices about it. We need to hear the anger and frustration just as much as we need to hear the hope for recovery. There is no “correct” way to express experience with depression, other than honestly; and choosing to be calm and articulate in order to do it isn’t a sign of dishonesty.

 

4: In-fighting never helps.

 

The issues listed in the response to Bray are real; there is little to no forgiveness for someone who publicly demonstrates their mental health problems. There is a lot of pressure to remain silent about them. There is an inexhaustible supply of judgment and ‘advice’ doled out to people dealing with their mental health. There is certainly a tendency to label people as ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’ when they admit their own struggles. Those of us with mental health have enough trouble with people who expect us to justify our problems; we don’t need to attack each other over how we choose to deal with it. Instead of that, why not focus all that energy on making our culture safer for people to be open about their problems? Simply criticizing how someone chooses to express their own pain only contributes to the heaps of judgment already piled on top of them.

 

Depression

Depression & Existential Crises

I’ve been battling depression for approximately fifteen years. I like to think that I’ve built myself a type of arsenal against it. I’m used to some of the more intense symptoms, and with time, practice, and help, I’ve found my ways of managing them. For example: I experience self-destructive impulses pretty regularly, but I’ve got a litany of coping strategies that work for me, and while it’s always unsettling, I don’t have any worries about actually indulging them. I’m also getting better at sifting my symptoms from reality. This is never going to done with. But I’ve at least learned that when I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for accidentally breaking one of my Aunt’s glasses and start to think I’ve ruined her entire life and thus become unworthy of her love, that I might possibly be in the middle of a depressive episode.

I’ve developed a tough hide over the years with regards to my health issues, and I’m proud of it. I’m not frightened any more of my illness, or of being stigmatized by others because of it. I don’t think I have to apologize for being sick, or hide the fact that I’m sometimes in pain. As hard as punching back against depression is, the fact that I’m still here after a decade and a half means that I must be doing something right. But I’ve run into a problem. If all goes well, in the next few months I’ll begin taking medication for the first time in my life, and the idea has brought up concerns I didn’t know I had. I don’t mean the standard risks. I’ve researched those and taken what precautions I can. I don’t buy the argument that medication will somehow re-write who I am and I’ll be compromising my soul or true self or some other such garbage. I know that depression isn’t who I am, that it’s gets in the way of things, instead of constituting some foundational part of me. But, you see, that’s actually the problem.

My issues started when I was very young. I didn’t have time to figure out who I was before I started fighting this. I’ve had to learn that haphazardly; sifting through all the wreckage caused by my illness, finding broken chunks of what healthy me would look like, and slowly piece them together. Even with all the progress I’ve made, there’s a thought nagging at the back of my head: When I start taking medication, my best-case scenario is that I meet a part of myself for the first time.  I’ll find myself in uncharted territory again, and I may have to re-learn everything, including how to be me.

The unvarnished truth is that this scares the hell out of me. I don’t have an answer for this situation, and as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t know what to do.

 

Depression

Depression, Meaphors, and Old-School Gaming: Part II

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, Depression is a disorder that has a lot of metaphors attached to it, but not a lot of cultural understanding. Interestingly, computer games are becoming a useful tool for promoting awareness and empathy for clinical depression. I previously discussed Fixation, a puzzle game with a story built around it; Another game I’ve found striking is Every Day The Same Dream.

 

 (this discussion contains spoilers, click the link above if you want to play first.)

 

This game could best be described as minimalist. The graphics are simple (but beautiful) and there are only three controls: forward, backward, and action. The limited scope works wonderfully, since it revolves around a suicidal man desperately trying to change his life, who has no idea how to do so. There are only a few screens in this game: home, elevator, traffic, and work, with a few others that have to be discovered. The challenge of the game, since there are so few controls, is to discover what it is you can do differently. There are only a handful of changes that can be made, and one of them entails jumping off the roof of your work building. If you discover all of the changes, you get a closing scene where you catch someone who looks a lot like you also jumping to his death.

 

This is controversial, and like Fixation, I would not recommend this game to someone looking for an uplift, but I’m enthusiastic about it myself. The reason for this is the interpretability of this game. It’s non-linear, and the changes can be discovered in any order. This leaves it open for discussion, and creates individual narratives for the player. From my play-through, I took away that this man is struggling and feels alone, and doesn’t realize that someone he sees every day is going through the same thing. In this way, the game makes a powerful argument for the necessity of a more open acknowledgment of depression and suicidal ideation. It wonderfully captures the feeling of isolation and helplessness for someone facing these issues, and addresses the possible result in an emotionally complex manner.

 

 There are a lot of things I could say about this game, but I would prefer if people played it came to their own conclusions. I would love to see a discussion about it below, and will leave this question for anyone who wants to answer it:

 

 Does the shock value of this game (incorporation of suicide) help or hinder dialogues about depression?

 

 

Depression

Depression, Metaphors, and Old-School Gaming: Part One

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m currently receiving therapy for my depression issues for the first time in my life.  The decision to get help necessitated another difficult decision: whether or not this would be public knowledge.  As I’m sure anyone reading this is aware, there’s a lot of misinformation about mental illness and health in our culture, which contributes to negative stigma for those dealing with it. I’m convinced that an important way of combating this is open discussion, but believing that is a lot easier than acting on it.   Even though I ultimately decided to be open about my own issues, I still struggle with that decision.  One of the issues I’ve run into in working through this,is that depression seems to have an overabundance of metaphors attached to it.

“It’s like drowning.”

“It’s like Suffocating.”

“I feel like a ghost.”

“Imagine being buried alive.”

I have mixed feelings about this. On the surface, the number of metaphors is a good thing, because it means it’s being discussed. It’s also true that these metaphors have a certain accuracy to them, at least for certain people. But their limited nature can make clear communication difficult for individual people, and lead to damaging stereotypes; especially the idea that depression is strictly an emotional state, affecting only “emotional” people.  People untouched by clinical depression, and without extensive research on the subject, usually don’t understand the variability and pervasiveness of depressive symptoms.  Metaphors are often necessary to communicate these things, but it’s difficult to find one that is both accurate, and not overused to the point of meaninglessness.

The challenge then is finding metaphors that communicate something of both the objective causes and subjective experience of depression, while also referencing the variability of its idiosyncratic manifestations; not an easy task for a complicated disorder. One I’ve found very useful, interestingly enough, comes from a video game.  Designed like a classic platformer with great puzzle aspects, the game Fixation addresses the difficulty of navigating symptoms and treatment in daily life.  One beautifully simple way it does this is by designing its obstacle-course puzzle levels like the main characters house.  The struggle to get through each level, requiring increasing ingenuity an effort, occurs alongside the character’s discussion of her symptoms, and attempts to help her friend with her own.

My only complaint is the ending.  This game is a prequel to another game, The Company of Myself, which is pretty dark.  By necessity, the ending of Fixation needs to fit this tone, so I don’t recommend either game to someone looking for an uplifting experience.  However, Fixation is still a very effective humanization of depression, anxiety, and what it’s like to navigate those problems.  If any of you have time to play it, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Question of the week: have any of you found an innovative example of mental health being addressed in a productive way?

 

Depression

Places of Exile

 

I haven’t written anything for this site in a while, and despite the fact that I could fabricate any number of plausible excuses, the truth is that I’ve been dealing with mental health issues. I feel very strongly that mental health is something there should be more open dialogue about, but I can’t say that it’s easy or comfortable to talk about my own in any detail. There’s a beautifully insightful quote by Albert Camus that captures the difficulty of facing these issues: “We all carry within us places of exile”. He was discussing revolution, but what strikes me about this quote is how much it also applies to those struggling with mental health, especially depression. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, but it’s only been this year that I’ve pursued actual treatment for it. What I’ve discovered is that all that stuff people say about the first step being the hardest, an asking for help taking courage, is all more true than I believed.

Here’s the thing about depression: It really sucks. It’s difficult and frightening, and getting help for it isn’t just a choice you make once. Every time you have a meltdown in therapy, or fear it isn’t working, or just don’t feel like going, you have to make that decision all over again. Every time you face those parts of your mind you were afraid of looking at, or have a relapse, or wonder if you even deserve help, you have to decide to receive it for the first time again. And you have to do this knowing that as much work as you’ve done, you’re still taking that first step; that taking it will last much longer and be much harder than anyone would want. Add to this that while you’re waist-deep in your own psychological muck, there will never be a shortage of people telling you that you’re exaggerating the problem, that it’s all in your head, that you’re weak for seeking out help and delusional for thinking you need it.

But here’s the other thing about depression: it always makes you feel more alone than you are. Despite how much time you’ve spent in exile, and how complete you believe your isolation to be, there are millions of people in the same place as you. There are people who will understand you better than you could believe; who will respect the courage and strength it takes to live your life. And as hard as it is to keep picking yourself up and move forward again, it can be done, and it is worth it. If anyone reading this has their own struggles with depression, or any mental health issue, please know that you have my admiration and esteem. Weather or not you’re being treated, the fact that you’re still standing is the best hope that I have for myself and others like us. You’re an inspiration, and you deserve to be recognized for it.

Instead of asking a question, like I usually do, I’d like turn any discussion over to you, to share any stories or advice about your own experiences you feel comfortable sharing.

Religion

The Problem with Cherry-Picking

 

In my previous post, I attempted to clarify some confusion caused by differing views on biblical interpretation. Today, I’d like to address another subject that often complicates this further; Selective interpretation, otherwise known as cherry-picking. Here’s the thing about it in Christianity: everyone does it to some extent, but many of us are unaware of it. Most reasonable people will admit to points of confusion in their own attempts to interpret scripture, but others will become very defensive. Much like the assertion that “The bible is true” can mean several different things, “Cherry-picking” has its own problems associated with it in conversations about belief.

 

Here’s a personal story by way of explanation: As a teenager, I took biblical knowledge very seriously. I’d read the entire Bible multiple times; I competed in a competitive biblical study program; I could recite entire books verbatim in King James English. I prided myself on knowing scripture, and was more than willing to discuss my religious views. But if someone brought up cherry picking, my first response was to feel deeply insulted. The reason for this was that I was raised in a literalism tradition, and when someone asked about cherry-picking, what I heard was this:

“You haven’t read the Bible for yourself.” or “Why are you lying to me about your beliefs?”

 

In reality, what was usually being asked was: “To what degree are you a literalist?/Do you agree with the traditional interpretation of passage xyz?”

 

I won’t try to excuse my own defensiveness, it was the product of immaturity and arrogance. The reason I bring it up now is because my biblical knowledge actually made it harder to get over. Because I was well-versed in biblical literature, it was easy for me to dismiss alternative views. It took me a long time to realize that I, like everyone else, organize information according to my own agenda because I was swamped with information. I see similar things happen a lot among my fellow Christians. Some of the most hard-line literalists are also the most educated about he contents of scripture and its historical context. The problem of creating productive dialogues isn’t as simple as educating people.

 

I don’t believe that I have a final answer to this problem. At this point I’m very open to suggestions. Apart from that, the question I’d like to leave you with is this:

 

In your opinion, is there an equivalent to dogmatism in the secular community? If yes, what is an appropriate response?