A few weeks ago I was at C21 in Denver, which was a really refreshing time for me. I was fortunate enough to get to be around others who are like us, was able to get to know some of my peers in the blogging world, and had a great time being part of the panel discussion on the ups and downs of Christian blogging. During the panel, one of the questions was “what is life-draining and what is life-giving about being a Christian blogger?” All of us on the panel had the same reply: people. Lives touched is life-giving, and hate-mail is life-draining. Over the course of the conference I was able to get advice from some of the others on how to manage the issue of nasty emails and comments. On this issue, everyone seemed to have a different approach on dealing with it, spanning all the way from not reading them at all to actually picking up the phone and calling people to talk directly. In the end, I decided that I’d develop my own way of dealing with it: I’ll reply to hate mail when I can, and do it in a funny and obnoxious way (and idea taken from David Thorne’s hilarious blog). The better ones, I’ll post here on Formerly Fundie on slow days like Fridays. Having done my first one this morning, I found that it actually turns hate mail (something that is draining) into a fun and amusing activity.
So, here’s my first one, for your afternoon enjoyment:
From: Adam MacLeod
January 4, 2014
Subject: Your essay on slavery and “marriage equality”
A friend linked to your blog essay, and I was interested to find a fellow Maine native writing in such a prominent venue. But then I was extremely dismayed to read the essay itself. Many of the premises of this essay are simply bizarre. (Do you not understand that by eradicating the conjugality predicate from law, the redefinition of marriage abolishes the offices of mother and father? And you think that this makes people equal? That is a strange claim, to put it charitably. Also, those who perceive inherent differences between men and women are opposed to equality? Odd.) The rest of your premises beg all the important questions–questions to which many thoughtful Christians and non-Christians have devoted careful reflection over many centuries and on which they have arrived at, and continue to arrive at, answers directly contrary to premises that you neither explain nor defend but instead take for granted–questions such as, What is marriage?, Does calling a non-marital act “marriage” make it marriage?, Is the law capable of making radically different human institutions and practices equal in all respects?, Do children have a moral right to be raised by the mother and father who give them life?, If there is a God, how does he exercise judgment on human affairs?, Does He employ human agents?, etc. I take it that your rather unattractive indulgences in vague ad hominem attacks (on whom it is not clear) and beating up strawmen are simply products of your ignorance of the vast literature of Western philosophy and Christian theology, and not simply a rhetorical trick designed to avoid confronting all of the glaring weaknesses in your argument. (To be blunt, this looks a lot more like a temper tantrum than an argument.) Okay, fine. But if you are going to write posts on a widely-read blog don’t you think you have an obligation to at least acknowledge such ignorance, or demonstrate some modicum of intellectual humility in another suitable way? People are reading what you write.
All the best,
From: Benjamin L. Corey
Subject: RE: Your essay on slavery and “marriage equality”
January 24, 2014
Forgive the delayed reply, I have been extremely busy. I love receiving fan mail such as yours, so I hope you didn’t lose hope that you’d eventually hear back from me.
Yes, it is shocking to find fellow Maine natives writing at prominent venues, isn’t it? I mean, after all, we still have dial-up internet in these parts and after I finish digging a snow tunnel to the barn each morning so that I can slop the hogs and milk Bessey, there’s hardly any time to write. How someone from these parts could end up writing for Patheos is beyond me.
First, I’m so sorry that finding my blog left you “extremely dismayed”. If I may, can I give you a suggestion? St. Johns Wort (also known as Hypericum perforatum). It’s a natural supplement that has been shown to help people who are feeling blue (that’s an expression, not that you’re literally blue). I’m not sure if it works to fix “dismayed” since that means to “destroy courage” but it is the closest thing I can think of besides Paxil. But, if you’re not one who is much for natural supplements, just remember that courage is more a mental game than anything else.
There was this one time I was jumping out of a perfectly good airplane 15,000 feet over the island of Guam, and let’s just say, moments before the door opened, I was extremely dismayed. I wished I had had some St. Johns Wart back then to give it a shot, but I didn’t. So, I just had to beat the mind game and step out into the wild blue yonder, even though my courage had been mostly destroyed. Sometimes, you just gotta jump! And, even though I almost shit my pants out of dismay (pardon the expression), when I felt the sea floor rushing up at 120 mph, I was so glad I stepped out that door. Skydiving is spooky like watching a scary movie, as exciting as having intimate relations, and as energizing as having that 9th cup of coffee. I highly recommend it if you need help learning to overcome the emotion of dismay- it worked for me.
Anyways, onto the content of your message…
Thanks so much for your brilliant insight on marriage equality. No, I actually had no idea that if we allow marriage equality the role of mothers and fathers will cease to exist. That’s scary— even more so than skydiving! When I was a kid I was worried that the rapture would come and that my parents would disappear, leaving me behind without the office of mother or father. It’s frightening to think that the secular government allowing same sex marriage is causing children to be “left behind” without parents. I had no idea! But, this does explain why I saw so many kids wandering the streets alone when I lived in Massachusetts- they’ve had marriage equality for a while now (gosh, don’t even get me started on what it’s like in Europe). Your flawless analysis helps me now see that these kids weren’t just unattended, but rather the children of gay people. How sad! And to think all this time I thought marriage equality was making people equal under the law of a secular government. I’m speechless. What is even more strange is that I live in a state that has marriage equality, but my daughter still calls me “Daddy” and still calls my wife, “Mommy”. I guess we should have a long talk with her when she gets home (Ugh. This is going to be an uncomfortable chat.)
You’re also correct to point out that we shouldn’t “redefine” marriage. As I look back over the Old Testament (I hadn’t read it before) I now see that marriage has always been one man and one woman and that there were never any additional parties involved- especially other wives or, God forbid, concubines (what does that word mean, anyway? Autocorrect keeps changing it to another word I don’t recognize). Since marriage has never been redefined, I suppose we shouldn’t allow the government to do it now.
Thanks for also pointing out that there have been many thoughtful Christians and non-Christians who have considered “over many centuries” the issue and arrived at different conclusions than where I arrived. I didn’t realize gay marriage was such a huge issue in centuries past. Also, until your thoughtful email, I wasn’t aware that it is a no-no to disagree with people from different centuries. However, that does make total sense, because 16th Century Germany is a lot like Maine in 2014, so the ideas should cross-apply perfectly without any dissension or consideration of context. I wasn’t aware that I was the first person to break ranks with what a bunch of dead philosophers thought— I can see how it would be dangerous, but it’s also kind of neat because I’ve never been the first at anything until now. At least now I can say “I’m number one!” unlike that time when I was 10 and my little sister beat me in the one mile race at the annual Blueberry Festival.
Back to your point: it actually is amazing how all theologians from all cultures and all times actually thought the same way and arrived at the exact same conclusions on all theological and cultural matters. I guess I should get back in unison with all the voices through the ages, who apparently harmoniously agreed with one another. They totally got it right on women and slaves, so I’m assuming they got it right on other people groups as well.
While I agree with the whole of your message, I must take issue with you on the accusation that I have “unattractive indulgences”. Have you even met my wife? If not, then you should really retract that statement, because she’s anything but unattractive. However, it is true that I occasionally beat up a straw-man… although, I don’t know how you’d know that unless you peered through the windows of my garage. You see, I’m an Anabaptist and believe in total nonviolence— so I’m not permitted to beat up an actual person. Since money is tight right now, I also can’t afford a real punching bag, which is why I filled those old clothes with straw and hung it up in the garage… sometimes, you just gotta punch something, you know?
Unfortunately, I can’t respond to the accusation that I’ve made an ad hominem attack because to be completely honest, I have no idea what that means. It doesn’t even look English to me- I’m assuming it’s Latin, but that’s just a shot in the dark. If it were in Spanish, I’d have a better chance at translating it because I live in a bilingual family. Or, if it’s French, I definitely don’t know what it means. In high school we had the option to study French, but to be honest, it just never appealed to me— it’s what all the smart kids did, and I wouldn’t have fit in. Plus, there was something about the French teacher that didn’t sit right with me. I much preferred Señor Cymbrac. I suppose had I not taken Spanish I would have adopted kids from France instead of Peru, and I’m glad I didn’t do that— have you ever been to Paris? I tried to interact with the people there, but they weren’t very friendly. It was sorta like New Jersey but with cooler shit to do. True story: I once got kicked out of a restaurant because I asked if they had a menu in English or German. They told me to come back when I learned French and was hungry, so I just bought some bread thingy from a guy selling food out of a cart on the street corner. He didn’t care that French was the one language that I haven’t really studied. Have you ever tried one of those bread thingies? I don’t even know what they were, but they were good.
Oh, lest I forget from high school: If I’m being completely honest, the girls in the Spanish class were prettier than the girls in the French class, which is ultimately what I based my final decision on. If I could count how many classes I took for that reason, it wouldn’t even be funny. But, it all worked out because the pretty girls led me to take public speaking, journalism, and theatre, where I acquired skills I still use to this day. But, I did get my heart broke a few times :(
I actually would like to stand up and applaud you (I’m literally doing that now at my desk) for pointing out that I am completely ignorant of the vast literature on Western Philosophy and Christian Theology. Now, when it comes to Western Philosophy I actually have a really good excuse: I don’t care for western stuff in general (never got into the cowboy look, and I don’t like dry heat). Plus, I’m just not convinced that enlightenment thinking got us to where we need to be, and think we should embrace post-modernism as we usher the world into a new era. So, I shy away from the Western stuff that’s been all too influenced by modernity. Plus, Texas is out west and so many people from Texas are annoying. (Q: How can you tell if someone’s from Texas? A: They’ll tell you.)
In addition to Western Philosophy, I also have a really, really good excuse for why I am completely ignorant of the literature on Christian Theology:
Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Do you even know how much they expect you to read in seminary?? I mean, I’m in seminary now for my third time, and if I listed out all the books I haven’t read, it would be shocking. Seriously, who wants to read a bunch of dead Germans? <insert yawn> There were times in seminary where I actually hid commics inside my Systematic Theology books so that I could read something half interesting and with a lot of pictures (for context), without getting caught. Thankfully, when I was mid-way through my second masters, they started granting students access to the WIFI in the classrooms. How did I survive Hermeneutics, Ancient Greek, Recent Theories of the Atonement, Emerging Theology, Church History, and all the other stupid classes they make you take in order to become a Christian Theologian?
Dicking around on Facebook, that’s how.
But wait: by now I imagine you have a really good question: “But, Ben— how did you graduate with a Master’s in Theology, a Master’s in Missiology (another subset of Theology), and not just pass but graduate Cum Laude, from one of the most respected Christian seminaries in the world, and go onto do your Doctorate in Missiology at yet another respected seminary, considering you are so ignorant of the literature of Christian Theology?
That’s a great question, Chief. Here’s the dirty little secret:
Write book reviews based upon the introduction and table of contents. The professor will pass you thinking you’ve read the whole thing, and it saves you a boat load of time. Also, it saves you a ton of money on books… and we all know how tight money can be for a seminary student. If by chance, you have to actually write a research paper, just talk a lot about the chapter titles and throw in a few quotes from Moltman, Niebuhr, Schmiechen, or René Girard, and you’ll probably at least pass. But, if you’re at a crappier seminary or just a “Bible School” you can probably get away with quoting guys like Piper and John MacArthur. However, to play it safe I recommend going for the names of people most folks won’t recognize, because that makes it look like you know something they don’t.
Oh— and the best advice I ever received (you’ll thank me for this one) is to make sure you always quote from a book the teaching professor previously wrote. This is how you go from passing to getting an “A”.
As to your last question: do I have an obligation to publicly acknowledge my ignorance? Perhaps. However, I think my audience is rather bright and will eventually realize I’m an intellectual fraud (so far though, I am completely fooling them). Fingers crossed that I get away with it a little while longer, because blogging is sorta fun.
Finally, thank you for reminding me that “people read the blog”, I was unaware of that. Truth be told, I thought I had all the settings turned to “private”, and when I saw my numbers for last month were 158,716 readers, I was really embarrassed to realize I accidentally had left the settings on “public”. A stupid mistake, I know, but I’m about as rusty with technology as I am with Christian Theology. I should probably just stay away from both of them.
Again, thanks for taking the time to write. It was lovely to dialogue with someone who is clearly more versed on Christian Theology than I am.
If you’re ever back in Maine, feel free to dig a tunnel from the road to my house, and we can grab a beer.
All the best,
From: Adam MacLeod
Subject: RE: Your essay on slavery and “marriage equality”
January 24, 2014
I gather that you specialize in snark and not nuance, and that is why you missed that I was not, in fact, accusing you of being ignorant of Western philosophy and theology but instead I was not-so-subtly accusing you of avoiding all of the glaring weaknesses in your argument. This email confirms that your modus operendi is to do precisely that. Too bad. If you are ever interested in an actual dialogue I would be happy to have one.