Two Reader Polls: Pictures, and HTML?

Hi, y’all. I’m thinking of making a couple of changes to my blog setup, and I wanted to poll my readers on it before I do.

GretatricornFirst: I’m thinking of changing the photo of me at the top of the blog to a different one. I do like the tricorn picture, it’s one of my favorite pictures of me ever and I’m very attached to it. But I feel like it doesn’t quite represent who I am now (I haven’t done a historical costume event in a while). And as the blog gets a wider readership, I’m not sure I want people’s first reaction on coming to it to be “Historical recreation nerd.” I kind of want my home picture to present a broader picture of who I am. (It’s also a little out of date.)

On the other hand, it is quirky, which I like. And it’s unlike most other blog portraits I’ve seen, so it does set me apart from the crowd. And it is the one I’ve had for a long time, so maybe people are familiar with it and identify it with my blog, and I should just leave well enough alone.

So here are the other ones I’m considering.

ScaryI call this one “Scary.” And it’s a very strong contender. (Yes, I’d crop the top; I just don’t have Photoshop on this computer.) Plusses: I think it’s beautiful and sexy, and it looks a lot like me while still being unusual and quirky and distinctive. Minuses: It’s a little out of date (all of these are, actually, but this one is a little more than most). Also the flash makes it a little washed-out.

SunI call this one “Sun.” Another very strong contender. It’s very beautiful, it looks a lot like me (probably more than any of the others), and it’s more up to date than any of the others (the grey streak shows really nicely in this one). And it’s probably the best-photographed and most professional looking of any of them. Minuses: It’s not very quirky or distinctive — it’s a pretty standard head-shot portrait, and I don’t think it stands out from the crowd that much.

TophatI call this one “Tophat.” I probably won’t use it, but I thought I’d throw it in. Plusses: It looks a lot like me, and it looks a lot like a really happy me who I like a lot. “Big, boisterous laugh” is a good look for me, I think. Minuses: The tophat makes it scream “Historical recreation nerd,” thus not really solving the tricorn problem. Also it has the flash wash-out problem.

Avatar_4Okay, probably not. For copyright reasons if no other. But I had to include it anyway. And the scary thing is: It probably looks more like me than any of the others.

So what are your thoughts? Please vote!

And the second and final question: To HTML, or not to HTML?

330pxhtml_element_structuresvgAs some of you have noted, I don’t have HTML enabled for my comments, so people can’t use italics or bold, or create their own live links. The reason I did that when I was originally setting up my blog is that I had a choice: I could either let HTML be enabled, or I could have URLs in the comments automatically converted to live links.

I chose to go with the latter, since it seemed more friendly to your average commenter who might not be up on HTML and might not know how to create live links. But enough people here have mentioned the fact that they can’t use HTML in their comments, so I thought I’d ask. Would you rather be able to do HTML in your comments, or would you rather have any URLs in your comments automatically converted to live links without having to know HTML to do it? Let me know. And thanks for reading the blog, everybody!

Carnival of Feminists #43

450pxkobe_wonder_wheelThe Carnival of Feminists #43 went up today, with a great collection of feminist blogging. This is the first time I’ve been in this carnival, and I feel a little silly that my debut wasn’t my piece on hate crime laws or sex education or even Christopher Hitchens, but my silly little piece on Angelina Jolie and Us Magazine. But there you have it. You go to the carnivals with the blog you have. Anyway, there’s some good feminist blogging there, and I encourage all y’all to check it out.

“A price I was willing to pay”: Hard Porn, Sex Work, and Consent

This is one of the smartest, most thoughtful things I’ve read lately about sex — not just porn or SM, but sex — and I wanted to call y’all’s attention to it and talk about it a little.

480pxcanis_lupus_layingIt’s by spanking model Adele Haze (I don’t know why spanking models are called models instead of actors or performers when they work largely in movies, but except for curiosity I don’t really care). In this piece, Haze talks about a shoot she did with Lupus Pictures, a kinky video production company that’s renowned/ infamous for making movies with extremely heavy content: very hard spankings/ beatings, done with intense implements, causing real suffering and serious bruises and marks.

346pxalineetvalcour_t1p112Haze makes no bones about the fact that the actual “getting caned” part of making this video was very difficult and not at all pleasurable. But she also makes it clear that she found the experience extremely satisfying, and doesn’t regret it in the slightest. She found it professionally satisfying — Lupus’s production standards are apparently very high, and as a performer it was an artistic pleasure to be working with them. And she found it sexually satisfying — the caning itself was far from enjoyable, but the prelude and the aftermath were an intense erotic pleasure, and she was able to tap into some very dark fantasies of non-consent in a way that she hadn’t been able to before in a professional setting.

Spank_me_cane_mePertinent quote: “So yes, I knew there would be pain, and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it. I wrote it off as a side-effect: a price I was willing to pay. In hindsight, I’m glad to say that my judgement on this was sound.”

I think the thing I like so much about this piece is that it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and doing any other kind of job vividly clear. And it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and being in any other kind of sexual relationship vividly clear as well.

LoveitSee, in any kind of job, and in any kind of relationship, there are things you like and things you don’t. Even if it’s a job or a relationship that you’re basically happy with, there are going to be parts that are hard to deal with. What makes a job or relationship a healthy one is that the good parts make the bad parts worth putting up with — and that you’re free to make that decision.

Hot_english_punishmentAnd that’s true for porn — all porn, not just spanking porn — as much as it is for any job. I think some people have a tendency to think that if every single thing on a porn shoot isn’t a perfect erotic dream for every performer, it’s therefore exploitation at best and coercion at worst. (Eros Blog, the blog where I found this piece, has an excellent analysis of this coercion/ exploitation question with porn in general and with Lupus Pictures in particular, in his piece Evil Porn Werewolf Enslavers Debunked.) But if you look at making porn as (a) a job and (b) a sexual relationship, you realize that porn doesn’t have to make all its performers perfectly happy in order to be a healthy job. It just has to make them happy enough. There has to be enough about it that they like, sexually and professionally, for the stuff they don’t like to be worth putting up with.

(Via Eros Blog, who got it via Spanking Blog. God, I love the Internets.)

Mighty Real: A Review of “9 Songs”

9_songs_1I was digging through my archives the other day, came across this, and was extremely entertained by it. I think I’m the only film critic on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I may be the only sentient being on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I think there are giant seven-eyed mollusks from the planet Zarquon who hated “9 Songs.” So I decided I should come clean about it and stand by my eccentric opinion. Here’s the review I wrote of it for Adult FriendFinder Magazine. Enjoy!

Mighty Real
Copyright 2005 Greta Christina. Written for Adult FriendFinder Magazine.

9 Songs. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Michael Winterbottom, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Starring Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Unrated.

9_songs_7Before I say anything, let me get this out of the way: This is the movie where people have sex. If you’ve heard about “9 Songs,” this is almost certainly the Number One thing you’ve heard about it. The actors — not the characters, the actual actors playing the characters — have literal, explicit, non-simulated, actual real-life genital fucking-and-sucking sex. And rather a lot of it, too.

Now obviously, if I were talking about a porno movie, this would be so uninteresting as to be laughable. But for a non-porn, semi-mainstream art-house movie, it’s pretty much unheard of. And whatever buzz is being generated about the movie is being generated because of it. Which is kind of too bad. Because while the sex in “9 Songs” is pretty interesting, the fact that it’s “real sex” isn’t the most interesting thing about it.

So I wanted to get that out of the way right off. And in fact, the movie gets it out of the way almost as quickly, establishing its “real-sex” credentials in the very first scene between the two main characters — so you can get a good look at it, and get used to it, and move on.

9_songs_10See, here’s the interesting thing about “9 Songs.” It isn’t that the sex is “real,” or even that there’s so much of it. What’s interesting about “9 Songs” is the way the movie uses sex. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Welcome to Sarajevo”), “9 Songs” uses sex to tell the story of a couple’s relationship (well, okay, sex interspersed with songs at live rock concerts). We find out about Matt and Lisa (Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley) and the rise and fall of their love affair, not through a series of conversations, but through a series of sex acts. The way they’re having sex — what they do, how they seem to feel about it, how it gets started, who takes the lead, how well they pay attention — this is how we find out about who these people are and what they’re like together.

9_songs_8And here’s what struck me. In most mainstream (i.e., non-porn) movies, when two characters have sex, it’s the very fact that they’re having sex that’s important. Typical movie sex shows people having sex for the first time; even when it’s not a first time, sex is almost always used as a plot point, a shocker or a turning point, a newly opened door or a burned bridge. Filmmakers don’t bother to show you anything special about the sex, don’t bother to make the style and the feel of the sex unique to those characters. The fact that they’re having sex is apparently special enough. The actual sex can just be generically hot movie sex, with perhaps a few broad strokes (rough or tender, quick or slow, loving or cold) to paint a marginally more specific picture.

9_songs_11But in “9 Songs,” the fact that Matt and Lisa are having sex is a given. They’re having sex from the very beginning of the movie, and by the second or third scene, the fact that they’re having sex is no more surprising than the fact that any two people in a relationship are having sex. So it’s the kind of sex they’re having, the tone and flavor of it, that becomes important.

For instance. There’s a scene where Matt ties Lisa up, blindfolds her, and begins guiding her through a fantasy, telling her “Forget where you are” and making up an erotic story for her to imagine and enjoy. But almost immediately she takes over the storytelling, picking it up and running with it in an entirely different direction, taking control away even as she’s bound and blindfolded.

For another instance. There’s a scene where Matt and Lisa go to a strip club together, apparently to enjoy this naughty thrill together as a couple. But as the scene unfolds, Lisa become increasingly entranced with the dancer, ignoring Matt entirely and even forgetting that he’s there — to the point that she doesn’t notice when he takes off and walks out the door.

9_songs_9There are many, many more instances. There’s a scene where Lisa is masturbating, with the door open and Matt in the next room; not in a friendly “showing off for my lover” way, not even in a feminist-empowered “my body, my right to masturbate” way, but in a defensive, closed-off, “fuck you I don’t care what you think or want” way (exacerbated by the fact that, as always, they’re at his house). There’s a scene where Matt asks if she thinks they’ll ever have sex without a condom, and Lisa says no: not because of safety, but because she likes it better with one. There are scenes near the end of the film where Lisa feels Matt slipping away and starts becoming more sexually attentive and affectionate. I could go on and on. The whole movie is like this, with the actors expressing subtle emotional shadings and character traits during sex scene after sex scene after sex scene.

9_songs_15And again, it struck me how rare that is, in both mainstream movies and porn. Mainstream actors spend years learning to express emotion and character in the way they walk, speak, smoke, eat, scratch their head, look in a mirror, everything. But sex is either supposed to come naturally, or it’s not considered important and unique enough to work on. And porn actors — even the ones who can act — spend so much time and energy trying to look hot that there’s nothing left for depicting the way their particular character would have hot sex. (I still remember how great Rocco Siffredi was in the arthouse movie “Romance” — until it came to the sex scenes, and he stopped being Paolo the character and just became Rocco the porn star.)

9_songs_16The fact that the sex is real isn’t entirely trivial, of course. You’d think it would work as a shocker, and it does a bit at first. Even I was staring at the actor’s genitals for the first few minutes, making sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. But after a while, the realness of the sex has the exact opposite effect: it normalizes it. It presents sex as natural: one of the things people in love do together, and therefore interesting to look at and worth depicting as authentically as possible. (Director Michael Winterbottom himself has commented on this, pointing out that, “If you film actors eating a meal, the food is real.”) The scenes at the rock shows are given the same casually loving attention as the scenes in the bedroom, putting sex in the same category as music: an integral part of the characters’ lives, important but not separate. And while there’s no special attempt to show you the fucking and sucking in all its close-up glory the way porn movies do, there’s no special attempt to avoid the shot, either. It’s just normal, filmed like a normal aspect of love and coupledom, beautiful and moving and fucked-up and funny and sad.

ShortbusAnd of course, the fact that the sex is real puts “9 Songs” firmly on the line between porn and art. You know how non-porn movies have become more and more sexually daring (some of them, anyway), and how porn movies have become more artistically interesting and innovative (some of them, anyway)? You know how that line between the two has started to blur, the way it seemed like it was going to in the ’70s before everything went to hell and the two split off back into their own little worlds? Well “9 Songs” is trying to make that happen again. It’s more than just the latest salvo in the campaign, more than just the latest push of the envelope. “9 Songs” has plonked itself squarely on the fence between the two territories, sitting its big naked butt in the gateway and holding the gate open for anyone else who wants to come through. In either direction.

9_songs_4But does it work? Sure, it’s an important event in the history of cinema, blah blah blah. But is it a good movie? For the most part, I’d say yes. It’s very much a small movie — it’s not even a slice of life, it’s a sliver — driven less by plot and narrative than it is by feelings and images. You have to have patience with that sort of thing, with a quiet, meandering story that takes a while to establish itself and doesn’t really go very far. And the voiceovers during the Antarctic scenes (the movie is presented as a flashback, with Matt remembering the relationship while he studies glaciers) are pretentious to the point of teeth-gnashing madness. So you’ll have to have patience with that, too.

9_songs_2But if you can deal with this sort of small, quiet, occasionally pretentious arthouse movie, I think your patience will be rewarded. It’s perceptive and thoughtful about sex, about love, about relationships, about the places they do and don’t overlap. The sex is beautiful to watch, even when it’s sad, erotic and romantic in the way that your own sex life might be erotic and romantic. And if you’re at all interested in the way sex is (and is not) depicted in movies, then rush your butt out to the arthouse before it goes away. You absolutely cannot miss this one.

The True Faith: Liberal and Conservative Christianity

Jerry_falwell_2There’s an area where most liberal/ progressive Christians and I would seem to be in agreement. And that’s about how screwed up it is for the Christian Right to spin their version of Christianity as the one true version of the faith.

When the Christian Right talks about Christianity as if their practice of it (bigoted, theocratic, intolerant, sex-phobic, hateful to women, hateful to queers, hateful to anyone who isn’t them, yada yada yada) is THE Christianity, the only Christianity, the Christianity that counts… well, the liberal and progressive Christians I know get almost as mad about it as I do. Maybe even madder.

But here’s the thing:

Liberal Christians do exactly the same thing.

And it bugs me almost as much.

Jesus_healing_the_sickI can’t count the number of times liberal/ progressive Christians have said things like, “All that hate and hellfire talk — that’s not Christian. That’s not the true message of Jesus. The true message of Jesus is love and compassion and tolerance. What the Christian Right is doing and saying — that’s not true Christianity.”

And you know what?

They’re just as full of it as the Christian Right.

Quakers_support_gay_marriageI mean, obviously I agree with them about the actual issues. I agree that their view of the “true” message of Christ is a better one. By several orders of magnitude.

I just don’t think it’s a more Christian one.

And I don’t think there’s any basis for saying that it is.

BiblefireThe Christian Left doesn’t have anything more to back up their claim of being the true faith than the Christian Right does. Sure, they can quote chapter and verse — but the Christian Right can quote chapter and verse, too. It’s not like it’s hard to find messages of hellfire and judgment in the Bible, or even in the New Testament, or even in the Gospels. When I was debating a liberal Christian over a similar issue, I did a quick flip through the Bible, and in just the first half of the first book of the four Gospels, I found six separate references to wrath, the hell of fire, the destruction of hell, and judgment day. Four of them in Jesus’s own words. It took me about ten minutes to find it. It’s plentiful, and it’s front and center. The Christian Right has every bit as much Scriptural support for their hellfire-and-judgment version of Christianity as the Christian Left has for their love-and-tolerance version. Sure, they cherry-pick the parts of Scripture that support their vision and ignore the parts that don’t… but isn’t that exactly what progressive Christians do when they ignore the wrath and damnation stuff?

Cherries_1Now, obviously I’m not saying that progressive Christians shouldn’t set aside the judgment-and-damnation stuff. The judgment-and-damnation stuff is beyond fucked up — it’s essentially a form of mind control that exists to squelch questioning and dissent — and it deserves to be set aside. And to be fair, most progressive Christians acknowledge that they’re cherry-picking. They’re not pretending to take every word of the Bible as literal truth while ignoring the parts they don’t agree with, the way the fundamentalists do. And that’s not an insignificant difference.

HeartBut when you ask progressive Christians why they believe their version of Christianity is the true one, the one Jesus wants us to have, when it comes right down to it all they can say is, “I feel it in my heart,” or, “That’s just what I believe.” They can quote chapter and verse to back up their ideas about what Jesus wants from them, and they can point to what does and doesn’t work in the world to back up their ideas about… well, about what does and doesn’t work in the world. But like all religion, their belief that they’re doing what God wants them to do ultimately comes down to the conviction of faith.

Jesus_fish_eating_darwin_fishThe problem with that, of course, is that the Christian Right is every bit as convinced that their version of Christianity is the true one. Their faith in a hostile, bigoted, pissily judgmental Christ who’s obsessed with who’s fucking who and how… it’s every bit as strong as liberal Christians’ faith in a gentle, loving, forgiving Christ who just wants us to treat one another with compassion. Their conviction is every bit as powerful; they feel it in their hearts every bit as passionately. And they have every bit as much evidence — which is to say, ultimately none — to back up their claim.

FireAnd I think progressive Christians need to cop to this. When the Christian Right acts like evil theocratic bigots, it’s much too easy to respond by saying, “Well, that’s not true Christianity, is it?” Yes, it is. The Christian Right are Christians, just as much as you are. And their hellfire and judgment version of Christianity is a huge part of the reality and the history of your faith. It’s not like they’re some weird obscure sect that believes Jesus is a space alien or something — they’re probably the largest and most politically powerful religious group in this country.

CrossBy all means, say that the Christian Right is wrong. Say that their vision of the world is hateful and bigoted and out of touch with reality and not one that you share or care to. Say that their version of Christianity isn’t the only one, even. Say any of that, and I’ll happily back you and stand by you. But don’t say that they’re not true Christians. They are Christians, by any reasonable definition of the word. You don’t have the one true version of the faith any more than they do.

“Give her an out”: Prayer and Terminal Illness

Okay.

Yes.

This.

CaduceusThis is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, touching pieces I’ve read about medicine and religion. The piece is about a child in Seattle with terminal cancer, and her family’s obsessive focus on healing her with prayer. (The story’s been in the Seattle newspapers, and the writer of the piece, Sid Schwab, is a surgeon and writer who’s commenting on it.) And it hits perfectly on the head one of the things that makes me most crazy about medical prayer — i.e., praying for someone, yourself or others, to recover from a serious/ terminal medical condition.

Quote #1:

Praying_hands…pray if you need to. Pray for comfort, for understanding, for strength. But get off this miracle healing thing. You’re ruining what life your child has left. Keep up hope? Sure, as long as it’s reasonable. But give her an out; give her a way to accept what’s happening to her, if such a thing is possible, without blaming herself.

And rather more harsh, but very much to the point, Quote #2:

GodI should just shut up at this point, and let it be about the care of the poor child. But I can’t. I must also say this: there’s something perverse to the point of revulsion in the idea of a god that will heal the girl if enough people pray for her. What sort of god is that? To believe that, you must believe he deliberately made her ill, is putting her through enormous pain and suffering, with the express plan to make it all better only if enough people tell him how great he is; and to keep it up unto her death if they don’t.

Yes.

Exactly.

What makes me crazy about medical prayer is exactly this. If God made you sick, has the power to make you better, and doesn’t, then either:

a) God is a complete asshole with the ethics of a sociopath,

or

b) You did something wrong.

Praying_hands_2svgYou didn’t pray hard enough. You didn’t pray right, with the right kind of feeling or faith. You didn’t get enough people to pray for you.

There’s something wrong with you.

It’s your fault.

Even if you’re a child.

And that’s what I like about the naturalist/ atheist view of the world. In the naturalist view, the world is often harsh, and terrible things will happen to you and your loved ones for no reason — but you don’t have to fucking well feel guilty about it. You can accept it, or fight it, or do whatever combination of the two works for you.

And if you can’t make it better, you don’t have to feel that it’s because you somehow made Daddy mad at you.

Dead_treeInstead, you can know that it’s just the way the world works: we are an animal species in the physical world, and animal species in the physical world get sick, or get in accidents, or get birth defects, or die in natural disasters. Sometimes good people, sometimes too young. And if it happens to you, or someone you love, it’s not because you/ they did something wrong.

Aerial_gardenferns_on_a_treeIt’s because you/ they are part of the world: the physical, natural world, with all its wonders and horrors. It’s a world that doesn’t really care whether you live or die, whether you suffer or rejoice, and to some people that can seem bleak and cold. But it’s a world of which we are a part, a world which we are intimately connected to down to our very molecules — not a world that stands apart from us and punishes us with sickness and suffering for reasons we can never fathom.

(From Surgeonsblog, via Pharyngula.)

How Can He Just Keeping Saying That?

George_w_bushHe’s saying it again.

How can he keep saying it again?

Via Pandagon:

President Bush, defending his troop surge in Iraq, insisted Thursday that the insurgents attacking US troops in Iraq “are the same ones who attacked us on Sept. 11.”

Bush was speaking at a White House press conference on the same day an interim progress report on his troop surge in Iraq was released. Asked for proof of the connection between insurgents in Iraq and the 9/11 hijackers, Bush said both had pledged their allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq are the ones who attacked us on Sept. 11,” Bush said.

1984orwellOceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

How can he keep saying this? Didn’t he already have to admit that this wasn’t true, that Iraq had nothing at all to do with 9/11? Isn’t that one of the basic rules of debate and public discourse — that once you admit you’re wrong about something, you don’t get to keep saying it over and over as if it were plain fact?

I mean, this is just laughably pathetic. Or it would be if it weren’t so appalling.

I hereby propose a new law, possibly even a Constitutional amendment: The President of the United States is not allowed to say, in public, things that he freakin’ knows for a fact are not true.

On Jealousy: The Blowfish Blog

Gotta say, I’m enjoying this Blowfish Blog gig. It’s forcing me to write something thoughtful and meaty and at least semi-serious at least once a week, which is hard but also kind of the point of me being a writer. And it’s neat to be getting paid to blog. When I’m feeling cranky and jealous of writers who are more successful than I am, I have to remind myself that plenty of writers would kill for that.

Jealousy_monsterAnd speaking of jealousy, my latest piece for the Blowfish Blog just went up today, and it’s on that very topic. It’s called “On Jealousy” (hey, sometimes I’m good with the clever titles and sometimes I’m not), and here’s the teaser:

If your partner is casually attracted to other people, it doesn’t mean they have a serious desire to screw around on you. It just means that they’re, you know, alive. Human beings are animals, and a healthy human being with a healthy sexual appetite is going to get a hard cock/ wet pussy when they’re around other human beings who look like hot stuff.

To read the rest of the piece… well, you know what to do. Enjoy!

Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”: Atheism in Pop Culture Part 3

BlanketsFirst of all: Atheist or not, if you haven’t read Craig Thompson’s Blankets, it’s a reading emergency. It’s not just one of the most beautiful and compelling graphic novels I’ve read; it’s one of the most beautiful and compelling books I’ve read in any format.

And if you’re interested in religion — whether you’re godless or a believer — it is absolutely a must-read, pretty much right this second. Thompson’s depiction of his fundamentalist childhood is a pitch-perfect depiction, in vivid and unignorable detail, of how, precisely, a religious upbringing can traumatize and fuck up a child. It’s not written as a critical argument, it’s not Dawkins or Dennet or Hitchens; it’s a personal, emotional, intensely intimate view of what this experience felt like from the inside. I don’t actually know if Thompson is an atheist or if he’s just discarded the fundamentalist faith of his childhood (maybe I should have called this post “Questioning Religion in Pop Culture,” but I’ve dubbed the series “Atheism in Pop Culture” and I’m sticking to it). But if you want to know how religion is playing out in families across the country, you have to read it stat.

So here, more specifically, is what I want to say about it.

Sunrise_over_the_seaOver at Daylight Atheism there’s a beautiful, eloquent post about how religious teachers act and speak as if they know how the spiritual world works — often in startling detail — better than the rank and file. The post, and the discussion that followed, reminded me immediately of this scene in Blankets:

Singing_angelsCraig is a child in Sunday school, being told in detail about what Heaven is like, how everyone will be singing songs and praising God forever. Craig asks his Sunday school teacher if he’ll be able to draw in heaven (even as a child he loved to draw), if he could praise God and creation with drawing instead of singing. And the teacher says, unequivocally and with complete confidence and authority, No. You can’t draw in Heaven.

The exact words in the book: “I mean, come on, Craig. How can you praise God with DRAWINGS?” And when Craig asks if he can “draw His creation — like trees and stuff,” she replies, “But Craig… He’s already drawn it for us.” She’s quite adamant about it.

Escher_handsNow, let’s set aside for the moment how appalling it is to squelch a talented child’s creativity by saying something like that. My point is this: How on earth did the Sunday school teacher know that you can sing in Heaven, but you can’t draw? On what basis was she making that claim?

None at all, that’s what. It’s not what she was taught about Heaven — she was taught about singing God’s praises, not drawing them — and in her closed mind, drawing therefore couldn’t be part of Heaven. But she didn’t really have any basis for her answer. She taught it to a child as if it were a plain fact — but she was just making it up.

The same way that all religious teachers are just making it up.

BibleThey don’t have any basis for their detailed claims about Heaven or Hell, God and the soul. They have Scripture, sure; but Scripture is self-contradictory and vague, and if you ask ten religions teachers what Scripture means you’ll get ten different answers. And there’s no evidence for any one of those answers being right or wrong. Ultimately, it always comes down to faith.

Greys_anatomySo I think this Blankets story shows beautifully how the very idea of religious teaching warps the basic idea of authority. I don’t mean authority like cops or bosses — I mean intellectual authority. Human civilization is based, at least partly, on the passing down of knowledge from generation to generation, from people who know stuff to people who don’t; and in particular children’s brains are wired, for good evolutionary reasons, to believe what adults tell them. But that only works when the intellectual authorities have their teachings based in reality and evidence (and are open to new ideas and being proven wrong). Religious teaching, of the “I know what Heaven/ Hell/ God/ the human soul are like, and I’m going to explain it to you” variety, completely hijacks that process, by presenting with the conviction of authoritative truth ideas that they are just making up.

My New Favorite Picture

This…

is the best thing…

ever.

It’s absolutely my new favorite picture of myself. I want to make it my new primary photo on my blog. I want it to be my author photo on my next book. I want it carved on my gravestone.

It’s me as a character on the Simpsons.

Avatar_4

It really looks astonishingly like me, I think. Except that I never wear my hair in a headband.

You can get your own here. And if you do, will you please please please please tell me? If you have a blog or website of your own, post the link in the comments. Or else just email me the jpg, to greta at gretachristina dot com. Maybe I’ll Photoshop together a group portrait!

P.S. I want that T-shirt!

(Via Friendly Atheist, who is my new favorite atheist blogger for finding this thing.)