Browsing Archives for Dear Charles

Some of my favorite posts by Rechelle are those that address religion, particularly those that deal with her conversion from Christianity to atheism. However, I was puzzled to read in a couple of these posts that before her conversion, Rechelle had considered vegetarians and environmentalists members of the hell-bound hordes she felt obligated to pray for. In the course of correspondence with her, I asked about it, and I found her answers quite illuminating. Theorizing that many blog readers appreciate illumination, I’ve decided to post our exchange on this topic. I’ve eliminated most of the irrelevant parts of the correspondence to create a dialogue that is reminiscent of the Socratic dialogues that Plato took such delight in rendering and that still provide endless hours of enjoyment for us today, with Rechelle as the Socrates figure and me as whatever upstart questioner gets put in his place by Socrates in any given dialogue. I think I’m safe in saying that 3,000 years from now, this dialogue will be as highly regarded in academic circles as Plato’s Meno is today, and we’ll be walking around in hell (if we were environmentalists and/or vegetarians when we died) with a feeling of giddy superiority because we were familiar with it before the rest of the world cottoned onto its brilliance.

Before you delve into the exchange below, a little background information might be helpful: we had been speaking of vegetarian cooking.

CHARLES: Speaking of vegetarian cooking, I notice that in a recent post you say that you used to pray for people dabbling in (among other things) vegetarianism and environmentalism, and I know that you mentioned vegetarians in another post (I’m pretty sure it was your apology post). How are vegetarianism and environmentalism at odds with Christianity?

RECHELLE: Clearly.  Vegetarians and environmentalists are headed to hell because they are liberal!!  Here is the deal.  God is coming back (the Jesus God) and when he does there is going to be all sorts of wars and rumors of wars and then some people will get raptured and some won’t and a remnant will get left behind and then there will be beasts with horns and one of those horns is Israel and then the desert will bloom and Jesus will appear in the sky with a three headed harlot which is actually either Iran or Saudi Arabia and at some point there is a burning coal getting pushed on someone’s lips and four horses and one of those horses is the color of ashes and then the world explodes!

But don’t worry!

Because there is a new heaven and a NEW earth that comes down and it is even better because only Christians live there!  So it is a complete waste to be an environmentalist if there is going to be a new earth anyway and only people who don’t believe the bible and don’t believe the new earth would be environmentalists!

As to vegetarians – well they don’t accept the natural order as God ordained.  Which is that all creatures are subject to man because God said so.  So if they are subject to us, we can eat them and people who don’t eat them don’t accept that God put people in charge so they too are miscreants and wholly deserving of the fires of hell.

Sorry about that vegetarian/environmentalism/going to hell/thing.  But I didn’t say it.  God did.

CHARLES: Thanks for explaining God’s views on environmentalism and vegetarianism, but there are still some points that need clarification. Even if you do believe there will be a new earth, what’s wrong with taking steps to keep the old one livable as long as it exists? If one’s plan was to demolish one’s house in three years and then build a new one, wouldn’t most people keep the house they were going to occupy for the next three years clean and in fairly good repair? I suppose the repairs would fall off as the demolition date approached, but is it a requirement to believe that the earth switch will happen soon in order to avoid the fires of hell? I know the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a prophesied battle in heaven took place in 1914 and that all the Revelationy type stuff will happen before everyone who was alive in 1914 is dead, and I know that other people have believed for hundreds of years that the rapture would happen any day now, but I didn’t think that was a universal Christian belief. Is there anything in the Bible that says it can’t take another 500 years for these things to happen?

With regard to vegetarianism, is there any reason that a guy can’t be benevolent to his subjects by declining to eat them even though he firmly believes that he has God-given dominion over them? Must he eat them just because he can in order to avoid being roasted for all eternity himself?

RECHELLE:

1.  It is clear from the get go in Genesis (which means after all – the beginning) that God wants us to eat meat and also just to sacrifice an animal and burn it occasionally because of the pleasing aroma that rises in the smoke up towards the heavens where God lives and this puts God in a better mood so that he doesn’t infest your tribe with oozing boils. This accounts for the 99% of Evangelicals who like to grill their burgers as opposed to microwaving them.   Also – if God didn’t want people to eat meat (and lots of it) then why did he command (in one of the less popular versions of the 10 commandments) not to boil the baby animal in its mother’s milk?  Clearly, it’s not only okay to boil the baby animal, but we are commanded to!  Just not in its mother’s milk.  And then you are supposed to eat it.  This is why Jews refuse to eat burritos.  Because of the cheese and the meat being all smooshed deliciously together inside that white flour tortilla.  Even though most burritos are not at all boiled, they are certainly milk and certainly meat and this is terrifying because one never knows if that cheese came from the mother of that meat.  Of course Christians long abandoned the whole meat/cheese thing because one time a long, long time ago, shortly after the burrito was invented, Christians decided to make the body and blood of Jesus more valuable than the obeying of the ten commandments which includes the baby animal boiled in its mother’s milk being off limits.  So now Christians eat the bloody corpse of Christ and then, after church, they go home and feast on a beefy cheesy burrito and don’t even feel an ounce of guilt for totally disobeying God’s holy word.

2.  Are you completely unfamiliar with the story of Cain and Abel Charles?  In this wise tale, Abel offers God a burnt animal as a sacrifice, but Cain only piles up some vegetables from his garden.  And which sacrifice does God accept?  The liberal democrat/possibly anarchist vegetarian/organic/farmer Cain or the far right winger Republican meat eating/herdsman animal sacrifice Abel?  That’s right!  God accepts Abel’s sacrifice!  And this so enrages Cain that he murders his brother Abel and then in one of the most poetic moments in the entire bible – Abel’s blood ‘cries up from the ground’ and God rushes down to see what the heck is going on.  He seeks out Cain and asks him where Abel is and then Cain says the second most poetic line in the bible, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and then God puts a mark on Cain and at some point in history this ‘mark’ came to be thought of as black or dark skin which greatly helped to enable white skinned people to enslave darker skinned people with far less guilt.  Plus the bible is at best ambiguous on slavery and at worst downright supportive of it, allowing generation after generation of white people to enslave generations of darker skinned people.  Because if Cain was cursed with the mark of dark skin everyone knows that the bible says that God causes the sins of the forefathers to visit the children and grandchildren for generations to come.  And this from a God who loves us SO MUCH that he murdered his son for us so that we could spend eternity sidled up next to the sociopathic bastard!  Lucky us!

3.  As to environmentalism Charles – While every Christian knows (from the pennies, nickels and dimes gathered in the church nursery every Sunday to the ancient elders of the church that are just about to croak and have willed large portions of their earthly fortunes to the church) that the only thing more important than money – is God.  Making changes in industry to make our country more environmentally sound will cost money Charles.  That money should be going to God instead who will magically clean up our country when we all start acting more holy.

You make a good point about taking care of a house that is scheduled to be torn down.  It’s too bad that you didn’t write the bible Charles.  Perhaps you should write a version of your own.  Thomas Jefferson did just that – removing all the things that he considered to be utterly ridiculous such as the miracles of Jesus, the virgin birth and even the resurrection!  It’s no wonder that Cynthia Dunbar of the Texas State School board wanted him removed from US history public school curriculum!  Ultimately Charles, what you fail to understand about Christianity is that the desire to please a deity has nothing to do with common sense or intelligent decision making.  Faith in any type of superstition never fails to holds one’s brain hostage.

4.  Amen.

CHARLES: I can’t dispute that there is ample biblical evidence that God prefers meat to vegetables, but I know of no directive that says we must imitate God’s tastes or temperament. If there were such a directive, we’d all go around becoming enraged when people failed to worship us properly and committing all manner of murder and mayhem at the slightest provocation. Instead, Christianity prevents us from walking across the street and killing our neighbors.

It’s great to feel needed to provide pleasant interludes for God in the form of the wafting aroma of burning flesh, but it’s curious that he didn’t just create some sort of machine that would gather animals whose flesh smells good when it’s burning and push them into a pit of fire one by one so that the aroma would be constant and always at the perfect strength, or an animal whose flesh just naturally burns constantly, or an animal that gives off pleasant fumes even when its flesh isn’t burning, instead of creating a bunch of people who seem to do little but send his divine blood pressure through the roof and expect them to take care of his needs in this area.

Your explanation of why environmentalism is frowned upon in Christian circles makes sense, but I still can’t see the biblical basis for this frownage, apart from the new earth thing, which may not happen for another 80,000 years.

I’ve always wondered why Thomas Jefferson bothered with the Bible at all. Did he think there was some divinely inspired stuff in there among the numerous parts he considered patently ridiculous? If so, why did he think that?

RECHELLE: Well – there may not be a directive, but isn’t it implied?  According to the bible we are supposedly ‘made in God’s image’ and therefore very like God ourselves.  No one really knows what the heck that means.  Does God have arms and legs?  Does God physically look like us?  Or are we alike in a more psychological image or perhaps an emotional image?  In terms of meat eating it seems clear that if God prefers meat, we should as well just because we are (according to the bible) made to be like God.

I am happy to admit however, that it was never taught to me that vegetarianism was intrinsically evil.  It was implied that it belonged within a subset of values that were liberal and therefore far more likely to decrode my faith, but I didn’t pick up those vibes until I was a teenager.  Also, vegetarians were very rare in my childhood.  In fact, I only knew of one and she was a friend of my grandmother Edna’s.  One time I went out to her farm with my grandmother and this vegetarian friend (who was vegetarian because of her religion which I can’t remember what it was, but I think it was some form of Christianity) was making some soup.  The soup was full of vegetables and texturized vegetable protein.  I tasted it.  It was terrible.  It was the worst soup I had ever encountered in my life except for maybe this particularly horrible soup that I used to eat in a cafeteria as a child when I was waiting for my mom to get off her lunch-time shift at the Vo Tech school.  That soup came out of huge industrial sized cans and it was heated up and placed in a stainless steel pot in the Vo-Tech Buffet line.  It tasted like the industrial can with a dash of cat barf and leaf decay.  The smell was so bad that it was actually kind of addictive – kind of arresting – you couldn’t turn your nose away from it.

So when I say that vegetarians and environmentalists were on my list of ‘dangerous people to avoid and pray extra hard for’ it simply means that they typically belonged to a subset that was considered dangerous and subversive (read -  made you think critically about things) and therefore it was best to maintain a healthy distance from these types of folks.  As you may note Charles, I was not very good about staying away from dangerous and subversive people like vegetarians and environmentalists.  In fact, I was always very drawn to them.  That is how I met Susie and eventually, you Charles.  You both played a role in opening my mind to the possibility of a world where Christianity was just one more myth in an ark full of myths that have plagued humanity.  And you also fed me some very good vegetarian cuisine such as Susie’s peanut butter balls.

CHARLES: I think I now get the concept of the danger in associating with environmentalists and vegetarians, and I can see now that you lived for danger in your Lawrence days, always eager to dance on any precipice you happened upon. I remember you as refusing to budge from your particular faith but being oddly open-minded about faith in general. I remember conversing with you about whether one could make oneself believe a thing one didn’t believe; I didn’t think so, and you agreed, which surprised me. But I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been had you chosen the story of Elisha and the she-bears as the Old Testament reading for your wedding like I recommended. Even though I was disappointed on that score, though, I’m happy to have had a role in laying the groundwork for your epiphany.

RECHELLE: Believe it or not your suggestion of using the she-bear story at my wedding must have stayed lodged in the back of my mind somewhere, because a few years later when Mike’s brother ‘The Oracle Known as Steve’ got married, I got my husband to read that story at Steve’s wedding reception.  Everyone was giving speeches, and when was Mike’s turn, he stood up, took off his tuxedo jacket to reveal that he was wearing a bra over his tuxedo shirt (a bra that the bride had lost earlier that day) and then he read aloud the immortal story of Elisha commanding a she-bear to murder a hoard of children who were calling him ‘baldy’ over and over again.

It was absolutely shocking and no one really understood what he was doing.  But I did.  And I thought it was GENIUS!

Dear Charles,

I have a number of very important, pressing questions, and I am hoping you might be able to answer them! Ok, let’s get started.


1) Are you single? And if yes, are you willing to move to
Vancouver, BC, or should we meet halfway? I think Moosomin, Saskatchewan is quite nice for a few weeks in the late spring time.


2) This is isn’t really a question, but I just wanted to express my love for Dan Savage as well; his columns appear right after the escort services classifieds in The Georgia Straight, and I generally pass right by those to get to Savage Love.


3) What sort of treatment plan would you recommend for a horse with hives?


4) Who do you think would win in a fight; Waldo or Carmen Sandiego? I’m going with Waldo seeing as he has the ability to travel through time and space, and he manages to make horizontal stripes slimming.

Your servant,

West Coast

Dear West Coast –

1) I am single, and I’ll move anywhere if you can get me a ridiculously easy and high-paying job there. I’ll consider moving to Moosomim for a few days during the time when it’s nice, even without the job, but I think we should at least wait until the Moosomim Museum (“Coming soon!”) is up and running.

2) Dan Savage’s column usually appears somewhere in the front half of the Washington City Paper, and I, too, usually skip through whatever comes before it and read it first, but the escort services ads appear in the last few pages of the City Paper, so I still have them to look forward to after I’ve read Savage Love.

3) For a horse with hives, I would take a two-pronged approach, consisting of a consultation with a veterinarian, with both you and the horse in attendance (prong 1), followed by a strict regimen of doing whatever the veterinarian recommends during prong 1 (prong 2).

4) Your request for a projected winner in a fight between Waldo and Carmen Sandiego was a little harder for me to fulfill, as I had only a glancing familiarity with both characters, but I quickly corrected this deficiency by watching fragments of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? episodes, a complete Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? episode (the one where Carmen destroys three famous paintings), and the “The Great Ball Game” episode of Where’s Waldo on You Tube.

It struck me right away that there’s more “fight” in Carmen Sandiego than there is in Waldo, who seems to overcome all of his difficulties through dumb luck and with the aid of a dog who sort of talks and is cognizant of any threats and clever enough to take whatever action is necessary to avert danger. Exclusion of the dog from the fight would be a serious handicap for Waldo, who would likely be unaware that there was a fight in progress. To be sure, if Waldo was aware that he was being attacked, he could take evasive action by using his magic walking stick to create a portal through which he could enter another time and place (although the portal remains open long enough for Waldo’s enemies to get through as well if they’re close by) and he could use his magic horizontal stripes to slim himself, thereby making himself a smaller target, but it’s hard to picture him going on the offensive.

Carmen Sandiego is certainly more menacing and sinister than Waldo, but she was usually on the run and seemed to rely on various henchmen to do most of her grunt work, so it’s difficult to predict how she would handle herself in a one-on-one encounter with a motivated opponent, and it’s also difficult to imagine Waldo as a motivated opponent.

Carmen Sandiego was often defeated on her own shows, something that I don’t believe ever happened to Waldo on his show. Moreover, the key to defeating Carmen Sandiego on her turf seems to be extensive geographical and historical knowledge, and Waldo is knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics. Thus, I think Waldo would emerge victorious in any matchup that occurred on either party’s show.

However, in a more conventional fight of the biff!-bam!-pow! variety taking place on some other show or at a neutral location (Moosomim, Saskatchewan, perhaps) and not involving dogs or henchmen, I think Carmen Sandiego would have the edge because of her far superior focus. Both characters on their own have the physical and intellectual resources to win such a fight, but all of Carmen Sandiego’s resources would be concentrated on winning the fight, while Waldo’s would be scattered among whatever distractions were present and whatever happened to pop into his head.

Your attendant,

Charles

Things were beginning to get uncomfortable. The Cardinal Richelieu/sex toys post had been my most recent post since mid-August, and I knew you were getting tired of seeing “What Kinds of Sex Toys Might Cardinal Richelieu Have Used?” pop up periodically at the top of the page whenever you accessed Rechelle Unplugged. I wanted to see it replaced with something else as much as you did, but I hadn’t received any more letters to answer or experienced anything particularly postworthy, so I decided to attend an open house at my local Church of Scientology in the hope that there I would experience something interesting enough to write about. Although that hope was not realized (nice use of foreshadowing, eh?), I figured that even if my experience at the Church was less than fascinating, at least my write-up of it would be of some value to those who are curious or fearful about what they would encounter if they were to heed the beckoning fingers of Scientologists or the inviting messages on the signs outside any Church of Scientology they happen to pass.

When the Church of Scientology set up shop about a block from my apartment building around Halloween of last year, my first thought was “there goes the neighborhood.” How wrong I was! The neighborhood is now more vibrant than ever, at least on the corner the Church occupies. One can often see well-dressed people with the demeanor of laid-back Secret Service agents on the lawn struggling with some logistical problem, on the sidewalk handing out “tickets” for “events” whose start time appears to be whenever you want to show up, or all over the place presiding over a cookout or some other Scientological happening. One can also often see often-costumed, often-dancing protesters of Scientology often brandishing often-colorful signs, of which one or two usually suggest that honking would be a good way for passing motorists to show their solidarity with the protesters, and one can often hear the festive honking of passing motorists.

I’m not sure why I was never curious enough to investigate the Church before I needed something to write about. Over the last few months, I’ve just deposited “tickets” that have been handed to me by sidewalk Scientologists in the nearest trash receptacle without much of a thought. This sort of behavior is not consistent with what has been my general attitude toward people who approach me about religion. When I lived in Kansas a few years back, my policy was to give anyone who came to my door as a representative of a religion as many shots as they wanted to win me over. [The Jehovah’s Witnesses never give up; I met with a Jehovah’s Witness once a week for several years until I moved away. The Mormons have a program of a certain number of visits (six, I think); I went through two of these programs a few years apart, and the second time the two missionaries who had taken me through the program handed me over to an area Mormon scholar, who was in the process of leading me through the Book of Mormon when I left town. The door-to-door “are you saved?” brand of Baptists whose entire Bible seems to be John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”) usually start to wrap things up when you direct them to Matthew 7:21–23 (“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”) and ask them what it means.] Perhaps I was never interested in talking with the Scientologists because they were not as aggressive as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, et al., keeping to their own property and never knocking at my door and interrupting me in the middle of waiting for the next religious agent to show up at my door (in fairness, no solicitors of any kind can get past the front desk of the building I live in now), or maybe it was because I had a vague sense that Scientology isn’t a “real” religion.

But there was no time for self-examination; I had to displace that Cardinal Richelieu post from the top of my page, and I had to do it fast, so I high-tailed it over to the Church of Scientology and was happy to find that there was a sign in front of the building reading “Are you curious about yourself?” and inviting passersby to come in and take a Free Personality Test. It looked like self-examination was going to be a part of the order of the day after all. I entered the building and found an impressive-looking reception area. Most of the rest of the first floor was occupied by viewing stations containing flat TV screens and things to sit on. In the back, I could see a large room with several desks in it. I told the man at the reception desk that I was there to take the personality test; he seemed to be waiting for further information, so I pointed out that there was a big sign in front of the building advertising a Free Personality Test and again announced that I was there to take it. He then seemed to understand and gave me a flyer about the test and had me write my name on something and summoned someone who showed me to the room in the back with all the desks and gave me a test form and a pencil.

The name of the test is the Oxford Capacity Analysis, which sounds pretty impressive, what with the first word in the name being “Oxford” and all, and I initially thought that it was a recognized standard psychological examination, but then I noticed that the second word in the name is “Capacity,” a word I didn’t think I’d ever seen in the name of any recognized standard psychological examination. I looked the test up online when I got home and learned that it had been developed specifically for the Church of Scientology. You can take it online at http://www.oca.scientology.org/, but you’ll have to go to a Church of Scientology to get the results. I was unable to find out what the word “Oxford” is doing in the name of the test, which seems to have nothing to do with the University of Oxford.

I completed the test and turned it in to a man identifying himself as Tom, who said he would grade it and invited me to take in any of the programs available at the viewing stations scattered throughout the floor. I settled into a station that offered an introduction to Dianetics. I learned from the program that there is a hitherto unknown part of the mind (the “reactive” mind) that associates past unpleasant and traumatic experiences with certain objects and situations that were involved in those experiences, resulting in irrational aversions to these objects and situations and thus making life more difficult, and that Dianetics is about neutralizing or eliminating these associations. I had just begun to watch a testimonial from an actual secretary about how Dianetics had worked for her, when Tom returned and told me he had my test results.

Tom led me back to the testing area, and we sat on a couch, and he presented me with a chart showing my scores for various factors. The news was not all good. I scored quite low (in the “Unacceptable State”/“Attention Urgent” zone) on the happiness factor, indicating that I am generally unhappy and depressed. I told Tom that I didn’t think that was true, that I’m generally fairly content, neither depressed nor ecstatic. He informed me that part of the Scientology philosophy is “if it’s true for you, it’s true,” and so he accepted that I’m generally content and asked how long that had been going on. I told him I had been content for a long time and that I think that’s my natural state. He asked if I wanted to work on that, but I told him I’m content to be content.

In the “Acceptable Under Perfect Conditions” part of the “Normal” range were my scores for stability, composure, and “correct estimation.” My scores for activity level, aggressiveness, and “responsible (causative)” were in the “Attention Desirable” zone of the “Normal” range. These factors weren’t discussed.

I scored very high on “certainty” (very comfortably in the “Desirable State” zone), but I wasn’t certain whether I agreed with that result, which cast a bit of doubt on it.

Also in the “Attention Urgent” zone were my scores for “appreciative” and “communication.” I don’t recall that we discussed “appreciative” or what it meant, but the discussion of the “communication” factor morphed into a discussion of how I am in social settings. I said I was social enough at work but not exactly a butterfly at parties. Tom asked if I wanted to work on that, and I expressed more uncertainty. He informed me that the Church offered courses that could fix me right up in that area. Not of a mind to pursue that topic, I asked whether Scientology is a religion (everything I had seen up to that point had suggested that it was more of a psychological philosophy), and Tom assured me that it was but said that one could be a Scientologist and still be a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or agnostic. I couldn’t seem to get an idea of how that might work, and I asked whether the Church had any theology. He informed me that there were scads of Scientology scriptures and that Scientologists believe in a higher power, but he didn’t elaborate on the nature of the scriptures or of the higher power the Scientologists believe in. Instead, he kept recommending that I consult a book (“What Is Scientology?”) that was for sale at the Church or could be checked out from the library. He also kept mentioning that the book was very thick, and each time he mentioned that, my inclination to check it out diminished.

Our session over, Tom invited me to have some refreshments on the way out. I had a few bites of watermelon, which was quite good. I came away from the experience feeling not much more knowledgeable about myself or Scientology, but at least we now have a new title to look at when the most recent content of the “Dear Charles” page rolls around at the top of whatever page we happen to be looking at on Rechelle Unplugged.