Fat Faith?

First off: Remember this one?? For those that don’t want to click through and read it all again: that was the one where I snarked at a guy who, based on his understanding of Catholic theology, opposed marriage equality by (among other things) comparing homosexuality to obesity. His basis for the comparison was that both indicate “disordered appetites.” (Because human beings are “ordered” to reproduce with the opposite sex, just like they’re “ordered” not to eat truckloads of deep-friend lardballs with mayonnaise every day. Which is the only way people become obese, natch.)

The fish-in-a-barrel moment was when he asked incredulously whether anyone SERIOUSLY believed that OBESE people deserved “special” civil rights, by which he seemed to mean the right to be obese. Or something. It wasn’t always clear.

Okay, well, I’ve sat with my resultant mocking screed for a while now, and… you know what? I can really see why it struck some as anti-Catholic. My little vignette at the beginning about the odious priest was, in particular, gratuitous. And I’m sorry. By way of context: I forgot that not everyone can magically discern that I in fact once became Catholic at some personal cost, having been taken by a number of things about Catholicism — its mystical and contemplative traditions, its healthy numbers of peace activists, and its age. And just a few years later I left, because I felt very hurt and let down by the church, such that I could no longer believe it was anything like what I’d thought it was when I’d first become Catholic. Point is, although I knew I was writing as a grumbling estranged family member, I can see how it would have seemed like I was an outsider taking cheap shots.

I think I also knew it was my first real time out, and I was trying to bring extra snark, because I wanted to prove myself.

Anyway, as an attempt to make amends… and as a special gift to those Shapelings who are self-identified religion and theology dorks and have requested a theological post… I’d like to go out on a limb and share some of my own (not-especially-snarky) reflections. I mean, this Fournier fellow took something of a risk, putting his thoughts about sexual and gastronomical appetites out there for the whole world to see. And I just aimed my cannon and fired at him, without offering much in return or taking many risks of my own.

So what follows are some ways that I think about FA intersecting with my spiritual life. My goal isn’t to bring everyone around to my own way of articulating faith (yeesh…. no!) but rather just to see whether this is a conversation to be had, and whether there are other Shapelings who see fat acceptance as a spiritual thing. I write in a Christian idiom because… well, at this point in my life there would be no other honest way for me, personally, to write. The Christian community, for good and ill, formed who I am spiritually and furnished the symbols with which I think. But my idiom isn’t the only idiom, let alone the master idiom, and I really don’t want to seem like I’m proselytizing. Let’s bring all our faith lives, or lack thereof, and talk about what they might have to do with FA, or not, is what I’m saying.

Okay, so. One of the reasons I grudgingly remain a Christian, is because of a particular story that Christianity tells about bodies. Now, I hardly need to point out that not all the stories Christianity has told about bodies are good ones. A lot of them are crap. Maybe most of them; I don’t have an exhaustive understanding of Christian stories about bodies, but of the ones I come across, most are terrible. But there is, I think, a strand of the Christian tradition that is very body-affirming. For example: You might not know this, but there’s actually good reason for viewing the notion of a “soul” going to “heaven” as an interloper in the Christian tradition. Well, maybe “interloper” is too strong. But many theologians would say that, at best, it’s a belief that’s become an unhelpful distraction simply by being so focused upon. (Like, it actually doesn’t say in the historical canonical creeds that Christians’ souls will go to heaven when they die; it says only that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and then ascended into heaven, where he’s hanging out until he comes again.) (Er, I’m paraphrasing.)

Arguably, the FAR more consistent and long-established Christian belief about life after death is EXACTLY NOT that some immaterial vapor of selfhood will go into a happy place in the sky. Rather, it’s that our bodies will be resurrected and perfected.

Aieee! Perfect bodies. I’ve gone to church since I was a wee tot, and have now made a job of it — and yet when I hear about bodies being “perfected,” what springs to mind is not the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead. No, it’s diets. It’s bikini season. Clear complexion products and spray tan and so forth. I fill with dread and anxiety and self-loathing.

But in the Christian theological sense, “perfected bodies” means mostly that our bodies won’t be in pain or die again. (Well, you have people like St. Augustine who also specified that everyone would be 33 years old in the resurrection, but that’s sort of an academic point.) More interesting than what the bodies won’t be, is what they will be, according to this particular flight of the Christian imagination. Namely, they will be ours. Recognizably. They will be physical bodies, the same ones we have now, just… transformed, somehow. They’ll be even more what they are now, more alive, more there. Their longings and yearnings will be fulfilled and satisfied. The delightful tangibility and vulnerability that comes with being fleshy won’t go away, but it won’t any longer be an occasion for danger and harm. It has even been speculated by at least one Christian theologian (and yes those are weasel words, and no I can’t remember who said it but I swear it’s in my seminary notes!) that our perfected bodies will retain their scars. The reasoning was that it makes sense that anything which testifies to suffering’s having been overcome will be preserved.

And what’s one image in the Christian tradition that has consistently been used to describe this new, redeemed, embodied life that awaits? Obviously not immaterial souls becoming harp-playing angels on clouds. Nope nope nope. A feast. A feast, where nobody is left out and everybody has enough. A feast where – if I may extend the image in a manner I think is faithful to it – there are no good foods and bad foods… no popular table and no nerds table… no foods that look gorgeous on the plate but are the result of cruel and world-killing technology… no need to make eating into a locus for control in the hopes of finally, finally being worthy of love. Just a beautiful, intimate, abundant, joyful, and peaceful meal with your close circle of friends. Except that the circle is extended to every creature, and the Holy One is sitting with us at the table too.

Okay, so that’s one very ancient and long-standing Christian image for what awaits: a feast. Want to know another? A “wedding night,” but understood as sexual encounter between two as-yet-unconsummated lovers who have been waiting, yearning for each other so much they’re practically driven crazy by desire. And now they FINALLY know that the desire is mutual, and they FINALLY get to be alone together and touch each other, erase all the distance between each other, and thank heaven the wait is over because IT’S BEEN DRIVING THEM CRAZY NOW TURN OFF THE LIGHT ALREADY!

Please, just for a second, put out of your mind everything you’ve heard about purity balls (tee hee) and True Love Waits and staying “pure” until marriage, and just… you know, think about that kind of longing. Er, I trust some people here know the feeling? *pointed look*

Now, proviso time: Goodness gracious, have those images EVER been turned into weapons. The wedding night one, in particular, has been HORRIBLE for women. One might almost guess that its main use has been to equate “God” with “male” with “savior” with “(sexual) agent”… and “creation” with “female” with “saved” with “passive” with “pure receptacle for Him.” It’s a vile and death-dealing construct, and I wish it weren’t there. Well, then why is it there? Why do these nearly-universal embodied longings — which are used to say something important about the purpose of all creation — end up being a cause of division and exclusion?

Ah, that’s where I see the whole “ordered appetite” thing come in. And, you know, I can *almost* cut my tradition some slack here. I mean, if you’re saying that both gastronomical hunger and its fulfillment, and sexual longing and its fulfillment, reveal something about the very goal of the whole cosmos… well, suddenly, it seems pretty important to put in a bunch of provisos about how there are right and wrong ways for those appetites to be ordered. Because we don’t want to say that just EVERYthing that someone might theoretically do sexually, or EVERYthing you do related to your meals, is redemptive and good. A meal can be the occasion of exclusion and harm, even accidentally. So can sex. So can a bunch of other embodied longings.

Well, better make a whole bunch of rules to make sure that people only do the right things with their appetites, and not the wrong things, right?

Uhhh, sure, go ahead. Make a list of ordered and disordered appetites. And rules. And good people and bad people. And good bodies and bad bodies. Knock yourself out. EXCEPT REMEMBER THAT a big horking part of the Judeo-Christian narrative has to do with the guardians of “order” always being tempted to use that order to shore up their own power. And meanwhile – at least as I read the Christian Bible, but I’m not alone – God has pretty consistently cast God’s lot with those who’ve been othered by the authorities of the day.

Seriously, that’s like, um, kind of the whole freaking plot of the Bible, over and over and over and over and over again. The guardians of order say, with some plausible reason, “These are the conditions necessary for God to find favor with people!” And then God says, “Aww, nice try, mates, and I can totally see how you got there… but turns out I’m not so simple. ‘Scuse me a sec… Hey, you outcasts over there! Come join the party!”

I trust I don’t need to draw you a map of how I connect all that to FA. And I should wrap this up, but I can’t write about this without mentioning a memory that I shall cherish for as long as my memory functions. It illustrates everything I’ve just been trying, in fits and starts, to describe.

In the early ‘aughties I lived in a sort of pacifist anarchist Christian commune. One of the things we did — in addition to dumpster-diving, protesting war, and gardening — was provide a place for families with children who needed somewhere to stay. (At the time, in the city where I lived, most regular shelters and agencies wouldn’t place parents and children together.) One young woman, a high school student, stayed with us for more than a year. She’d been kicked out of her house when she got pregnant and decided to proceed with the pregnancy.

One day – when she was getting near her due date – she and the baby’s father announced they would be getting married. “WHAT!? CONGRATULATIONS!” we exclaimed. “WHEN?!” Whereupon this woman said somewhat dejectedly that they’d just get it taken care of the next day, because it’s not like they’d have any family who’d want to come.

At this point the matriarch of the community BEGGED her to let them try and give her a beautiful wedding. The bride happily said yes. And what I saw come together in the next twenty-four hours… I just don’t know how to describe it except that it felt like God was a sprightly and eccentric auntie throwing a wedding for her favorite niece. Somehow the news spread throughout the whole neighborhood. Little things just came together. For instance, the next morning my friend Christy and I found gorgeous entire bouquets of fresh flowers in the dumpster behind a florist, which we used to decorate the basement chapel. The intentional community down the street baked a wedding cake using, for the toppers, boy and girl chocolate Easter bunnies that they happened to have gotten on clearance. One of the other moms in the house worked as a caterer, and she made piles and piles of pupusas and heaps of black beans. Other neighbors brought chicken and I don’t even remember what else. A very psychologically troubled friend of ours who had some musical gifts sang “Danny Boy” as a solo. The preacher from the storefront church half a block away offered to do the ceremony. And the eighty-five-year-old grandfather who lived up the street — the sort who’d sit on his front porch in all but the worst weather so he could greet everyone as they passed – asked the bride if he could give her away.

ALL THIS HAPPENED IN ONE DAY.

It was both a feast, and a wedding night. And to me, it was a very scripturally-appropriate foretaste of the future of justice and peace that I try to work for. But I’ve often reflected how it satisfied exactly nobody’s rules for proper behavior or ordered appetites. Nobody. Certainly not wedding experts. Certainly not most religious people, who would have frowned on the bride (and perhaps only her) for having sex. Not the young woman’s family, who were angry she proceeded with the pregnancy. Not the vegans in our community, because of the chicken. I mean, they handled it with good humor and everything; I’m just saying if *they* had been in charge there probably wouldn’t have been chicken, you know? The wedding probably wouldn’t even have satisfied the government, seeing as how the groom didn’t speak English, couldn’t understand a word the preacher said, and didn’t actually repeat any vows. Hell, as a feminist I wasn’t thrilled in principle that she was being given away!

Didn’t matter. There was some power that had gone out ahead of us, ahead of all our rules, and brought us together in a place of peace… in a way that none of us could have anticipated. It was a gift *precisely* *because* it didn’t just spring up out of our fastidious adherence to rules.

Well, that’s my take, anyway. It’s also a long way of telling how I eventually found my spot in a liberal Christianity where a love of embodied life (in its lumpiest and bumpiest and earthiest sense) is at the heart of my faith… a Christianity that expects God to be especially at work in the lives of people with the “wrong” kinds of bodies, who have or are believed to have the “wrong” kinds of yearnings, longings, appetites.

Is anyone still reading? Do other Shapelings see spirituality and FA as informing each other? Or if you don’t believe in a deity or multiple deities, how (if at all) do you articulate your source of ultimate hope that sustains your work? I want to make sure I’m setting that up in a way that won’t lead to debate.

325 thoughts on “Fat Faith?

  1. I don’t know how familiar you are with the essays of C.S. Lewis, but the spirit of this piece reminded me of the idea behind some of his best essays–that life is, first and foremost, for joy, both for oneself and for others. I disagree with Lewis on a number of philosophical and theological issues, but that’s really an idea that I can get behind. Life isn’t always easy, and you might have to make sacrifices, but it’s meant to be lived, not kept clean and sterile in preparation for an afterlife.

    Oddly enough, this also reminds me of a (VERY NSFW) article by Holly. She’s talking about sex specifically, but I think her point applies to most earthly pleasures.

  2. A Sarah, this is a super smart post. I am not sure what I think about this for myself, since I’m pretty agnostic. But I have gravitated in the past towards faith traditions that are very tolerant of varied lives and lifestyles and backgrounds, and that are not very prescriptive, for a whole lot of reasons.

  3. I think the wedding you describe it what happens when religion goes right–and that’s one of the reasons I stick with it. I converted to Judaism at some personal cost as well, for just that reason–when the community pulls together around the deep, true ideals of the faith, it is a beautiful thing.

    It is just that too many see that community as a way to draw a circle that leaves others out. Boundaries, ESPECIALLY ritual sexual and food boundaries, are a huge huge part of religion. And too often they are a way to exclude those “not like us,” and I say this as someone who keeps kosher–but will eat in a non-kosher Jewish home because I believe the larger community/inclusion trumps the importance of the ritual observance.

    I think in Catholocism, where you have such a narrative around “excessive” indulgence in food or sex, it is very easy to focus on drawing those dangerous boundaries and judging people by the outside. X is fat, she must be gluttonous, or Y is lesbian, she must be incapable of love and fidelity.

    You get some of this in Judaism, with an emphasis on the “yetzer hara” and “bad appetites” of all kinds. But I think it comes to the fore more in Christianity with its emphasis on chastity and fasting, etc. It’s a toughie, I don’t envy you.

    Great post!

  4. Ooooh, aebhel, looking forward to the NSFW sex post by Holly. :) Thanks!

    volcanista, thanks… I wasn’t sure if it was just a big word vomit that would scare others, but it helped me get some stuff straight in my mind at least.

    (And some of the work I do involves conversations about God not showing up within the horizon of Being, so I actually think agnosticism’s got the right idea in some important ways… Bah, I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry, I have, no lie, been awake since 6 Saturday morning.)

  5. this is awesome.

    as a theological librarian, i shall point out two things:
    the idea that our bodies will come with our scars stems largely from the story of jesus appearing to the apostles when thomas wasn’t there, and then thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he could touch jesus’ wounds, and then jesus came back and thomas touched his wounds and believed. i think it was in the book of john. the point being, only the body as lived in by jesus would have convinced thomas, not one perfected in such a way that the scars from the crucifixion had been removed.

    and, if you haven’t read nancy eisland’s ‘the disabled god’ [http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/30036950&referer=brief_results], you should. much of your argument here reminds me of her work. i think it would be very interesting to see a fat theology grow out of/in relationship to disabilities theology from the common standpoint of ‘god loves my body exactly as it is, thank you very much.’

  6. Chava, what’s the… um… theological status? of fatness in Judaism? That seems like a funny way to ask it, and I realize there probably isn’t just ONE status. I just remember a friend of mine whose brother converted to Judaism and is now a haredi in Israel, in a marriage arranged by their rabbi, and she was saying that there’s almost an expectation that once you’re married and settle you’ll put on weight and that’s a good thing. But of course that’s probably a really really specific kind of Jewish existence, and i don’t know enough to know how widely that attitude extends. My high school was 40 percent Jewish and I don’t remember anything other than general teenage angst.

  7. Whatever you are doing again, I had not noticed! I’m agnostic because I don’t need answers anymore. For me it has been much happier this way than I was in the seeking phase. Though I get a little pissed off by people (no one here!) who suggest that agnostics are just lazy and haven’t thought things through, because in my case, I’m agnostic because I did my research and thought it all through. The result was that not knowing anything made the most sense.

  8. For me, paganism has been one stepping stone on the path of self-acceptance. The myriad images available of fat and beautiful goddesses definitely help! What really clicked for me, though, was the message that all living things are works of art. That all human beings carry a spark of the divine within us, and we are all worthy of respect.

    Keeping this in mind has helped me face and deal with self-destructive behaviors. I used to cut myself. It’s still tempting on some days. When I feel that urge, I keep telling myself that it’s rude and insulting to intentionally cut up the gods’ work. Heh. Sounds silly now that I type it out, but it does help when I get in that mood.

    The same concept helps when I get into the spiral of self-loathing and I’m tempted to diet again. The gods made a perfectly nice body for me and wonderful foods to eat, the least I can do is nourish myself properly and show appreciation for tasty food. (This last part is one reason why many pagans offer food and drink to the gods and eat and drink during rituals. It’s a way to say “Hey, this stuff is awesome, our compliments to the chef!”)

  9. Well, theologically, it depends ;-)

    As far as obesity–I don’t know of a firm theological stance. Gluttony is not cool but not obsessively focused on. Usually it’s touched on with the story of the manna in the desert. Meat eating is somewhat frowned upon (part of the reason for the kosher rules is to get people to eat less meat, for example). But eating itself and obesity really doesn’t seem to be focused on in the same way the Christians focus on it. We get more bent out of shape about whether you eat bacon than if you ate too much. Sort of the same way about sex—official mainstream opinion is to go freaking crazy if you’re married, abstain if you aren’t. But there are a lot of attendant customs regulating when (and how) you can and can’t have teh sex and teh food.

    Now culturally you have a whole other can of worms. If you’re from New Jersey, rich and Reform, you probably have pretty typical body image issues. If you’re haredi or just from the old country, you probably have somewhat older ideas (i.e. putting on a bit of weight is good and even attractive.) It really depends.

  10. As far as what sustains me–well, I think many people would consider me an atheist (how original, a Jewish atheist). I believe in the Divine as a larger concept that encompasses all things, i.e., you contain part of the Divine, so do I, so does this computer I’m using. But the world got broken somehow, and all the pieces of the Divine were scattered, and it’s our job to put them back together through good actions.

    (did I mention I was also raised Mahayana Buddhist?)

    Another thing that as a Jewish person sustains me is the belief that the community deserves and needs to go on, that we have something to give to the world. Not exactly the “chosen ones,” (hah, chosen for WHAT, exactly), but we’ve stuck around this long and I tend to feel there is a reason for that and a duty we have to the larger world.

  11. I grew up Mormon, in home where our religion was the center of everything we did, and although I eventually became an agnostic, I still find it threaded through my ideas about life, charity, how you treat others, right and wrong and all that jazz. I guess in some ways, I have “taken what I liked and left the rest.”

    My husband, who grew up without any religion, often laughs at me (good naturedly) and says, “you are such a Christian!” about my ideas about things (Which is a little funny, since many religions don’t even think Mormons are Christian.) Mormons have something called the Word of Wisdom which is about staying healthy, and I have heard some people say fat people are breaking it, although it really doesn’t mention fat, size or obesity. Since Mormons don’t smoke or drink, food (refreshments they are called) is something that does seem to take on more importance and is at every gathering and part of most rituals.

    My personal beliefs at this point in time about my body and spirituality are that how you feel about yourself, self-love and wellness are all connected. I believe God loves me unconditionally and wants me to be joyful and happy. I try to stay grateful for the blessings in my life and focus on changing what I can and accepting what I can’t. Simple, but it works for me. One of my favorite quotes (buddhist I believe) is “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

    I’m happy being agnostic after years of exploring different religions, but I do miss being part of a larger community. It feels quite lonely after growing up in a large, connected religious community. Sometimes I toy with exploring other churches again.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. There’s also the whole I-was-made-in-the-image-of-God thing, from Genesis. It feels like folks are always making that too narrow, but clearly, if we are ALL made in the image of God, the radical and cool part of that is how huge God is… men and women, and all races, and surely all body types are made in the image of God. Hard to say that my body is diseased because it’s fat, if perhaps there’s a possibility that the fatness itself is part of the image of God in me.

    Certainly, being fat has taught me a lot about empathy and humility and trying to pause to understand where others are coming from before I judge them: these seem also at the heart of my liberal Christian faith. In that sense and in many others, being fat has often led me to God, how ever weird that may sound.

    I’ve also been reading through criticisms of the FA movement, trying to understand where we need to make a better case, where the most reasonable part of the debate stands, and I keep finding that virtues that for me are at the heart of my faith, like humility, kindness, and generosity, seem to be at the heart of what I want to say in that debate. Kindness and humility and generosity demand very different treatment of fat people from many of our politicians and journalists and doctors. (BTW, I absolutely do understand that these marvelous virtues are often lacking in religious conversations, and that they are nothing like exclusive to them either. But, for me, it is my faith that helps me return to them.)

    Thanks very much for your post.

  13. A Sarah – I love your post! I don’t feel I have a solid and concrete answer for specific parts of the post so I am just going to write a little bit about that “hope” that sustains me.

    Amma the hugging saint is a profound corner in my FA journey. I look at her, and her roundness and I feel joy. I look at the millions of people who line up just to touch and hug this woman and my heart leaps to my throat. The love and acceptance and comfort that emanates from her is not sullied by her fat. I doubt people waiting in line are thinking to themselves “ooh, I don’t know if I want to touch something so jiggly.” In my thinking – I feel that the Divine source gave Amma the exact body she needed to sustain her work. And she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

    The second part of my spiritual journey that connects to FA has been a longer one. I grew up in a family that did not have “religion” so to speak – and was actively ridiculed and discouraged when I sought out what I hoped would be something fulfilling (like Christian youth group, going to church etc). This left me with a lifelong desire for something “more”. Some connection to the Divine that I could not put my finger on. There were many reasons I never felt comfortable in church and I always felt sad, like I had been cheated out of a happiness others had.

    A few years ago I went to a special retreat with my husband. About 10 people or so gathered in a condo on the lake to have a discussion with a woman who runs a sanctuary in Hood River Oregon. The weekend was very interesting and I had the opportunity to sit down with her one on one and ask some questions. The answer that I received was stunning to me.

    Without my prompting, the woman told me that I was a “Woman of Christ”, but that I would never find my home in a church. That my work was beyond the 4 walls and to not be too distracted with the notion of making myself fit the way I thought I should. This was very deep for me because I had always felt a connection to Jesus – just not the one that was presented in the Bible.

    To tie that into my FA journey, I realized that I could not be consumed with “making myself fit”. The the Divine had given me the perfect body for me to carry out the work I was meant to do in this lifetime. And this finally brought me peace. After years of struggling in OA to control my “disordered” appetite, I finally looked at myself with compassion and said enough. I am enough, I do enough, I have enough.

  14. I think you can find spirituality in everything! As your story about the 24 hour wedding prep portrays.
    I like to define for myself a clear difference between organized religion and ones personal spirituality.
    Spirituality doesn’t need rules and acceptance or one to be something in order to obtain it. It is yours from birth on.
    It’s within everything already and you don’t need a church or structure of dieties to have it. It’s just there, and flows through everyone!

    Okay I know I’m starting to sound a little “star wars” here, but I believe that. Organized religions are for people who need a materialistic structure and want someone else to show them EXACTLY ABC, how to obtain salvation.
    Spirituality is something that is contained throughout all of us and everything and is accessible no matter what you choose to do.

    Great post!

  15. I’ve been reading for a while, but this is my first post. Anyway…

    I’m pretty much in the same boat with Electrogirl. II’m pagan. My faith is one of several things that sustain me, though not one I honestly talk about that much. As Electrogirl already covered, there are the many many images of fat, beautiful goddesses. There is the belief that all living things are divinely created. There’s the idea that food is both a sacrifice and a gift. And there is the belief in an immanent divinity, a divinity resident in each person, that requires all people and all bodies be given respect.

    For me specifically, there are a couple more things. I believe that love and pleasure are prayers that honor my God and Goddess. Eating (and sex!) are sacred things, and I try to do them mindfully and with joy. It’s hard for food-guilt to co-oexist with sacrament (and vice versa, sadly).

    Added to that, the pagan community tends to be much, much more acceptiing of different body types than the culture at large. I don’t think I can really stress that part enough in this discussion. :)

  16. “I realized that I could not be consumed with “making myself fit”. The the Divine had given me the perfect body for me to carry out the work I was meant to do in this lifetime. And this finally brought me peace.”

    I love this, and I hope you don’t mind if I co-opt it. Thanks. I’m enjoying this thread.

  17. I am definitely an agnostic, but I just want to say that I am thrilled to pieces that someone has a ‘hugging saint’ called “Amma”, since Amma is what my two little granddaughters call me & I am a pretty good hugger & unquestionably fat. Life is full of strange coincidences.

  18. Okay, me again. I just wanted to add this:

    In college, I was once tasked with giving a short speech to a gathering of conservative Christians at a college that forbade drinking. I remember little of what I said, except that my overall focus was that beauty and pleasure are important in life, and that I carefully pointed out that when Jesus changed the water into wine, he pretty clearly did so (according to the story) for a whole party full of already drunk people. The students loved that point. Obviously, for a dry college, my point was subversive: but the subversion seemed far more Jesus’s subversion than mine. Pleasure is okay: it even matters. Enjoying my food and drink, and celebrating in this life, matters. Hurrah!

  19. @ Sticky – co opt away!! Omg I’m ridiculously happy that someone would want to co-opt what I said so thank you for that!!

    @ Patsy – how blessed your Granddaughters are to have an “unquestionably fat”, good hug giving grandma (Amma!)

  20. Organized religions are for people who need a materialistic structure and want someone else to show them EXACTLY ABC, how to obtain salvation.

    Melissa, overall i totally agree with you, but I do want to say that a lot of people find a lot of value in organized religious structures that has nothing to do with materialism and proscripted rules!

    Carolyn, that video is lovely.

  21. I was raised without religion of any sort. My mom didn’t think it was right for her to impose her spirituality on other people, even her kids. So religion was just one of those things that other families did that mine did not do.

    The core of my spirituality (as far as I have any) is that people exist to help each other, whether it’s something as big as building villages in third world countries or as small as holding the door open for your neighbor. Fat hate, directed inward or outward, doesn’t aid that at all.

  22. If I need a quick label, I call myself an atheistic pagan. That is, these things called belief and faith? Don’t have ‘em. Don’t know what that feel like. I have never felt or perceived anything which leads me to believe God, or any gods, exist. If I could believe, I would prefer to believe in a pantheon, preferably in the Valar because I’m a Lord of the Rings fanatic. But since as far as I can tell there’s nothing out there, I can’t act as if there it and take it at all seriously. I do still use a lot of Christian metaphors because I’ve known them since childhood.

    Similarly, I don’t believe anything happens to us after we die. I think we rot.

    So what’s here is all we have. And the only ethical basis for making decisions is based on what’s here. ‘Because God wants you to” is not a viable reason to do anything in my book. “Because it makes the world better” is. Sin is causing other people pain.

    So. Being fat is not a sin. It’s just something some people are. Being mean to fat people is a sin. Gluttony is not “eating too much food”. Gluttony is “eating food that you don’t need and other people do.” Taking half the sandwiches from the buffet so there aren’t enough for other people is gluttony. Taking four sandwiches when most people are taking two but there are plenty left is not gluttony.

  23. Wow A Sarah…what a thought-provoking piece you have written. I believe all self acceptance/self actualization/soul searching is “spiritual”. In my view, anything non tangible that involves psychic change or alterations of beliefs is “spiritual”. It is the seeking of a higher level of understanding about the inevitability of change and how one responds to it, or how it changes your view of the world. This is where I am now in my religious beliefs (of the lack thereof): God exists. God made the world and its inhabitants. God allows us to do as we please with the hope that we will seek perfection in our world that personifies Him/Her. The world was set in motion by God and humanity is free to follow whatever path we choose in that world. Much of my belief seems Buddhist-like upon reflection-which is a far cry from whence I came.

    A little background—-I grew up Baptist. Lots of do’s and don’ts (women shouldn’t wear jewelry or cut their hair/men should be clean shaven and in charge). This didn’t sit well with my strong mother, and once the mandates came down from the Pastor, we left.

    As I became an adult with a fatherless child, I sought out meaning, direction, and guidance from a Methodist church. I immersed myself into it’s inner workings. I volunteered, became an adult leader, held Bible studies, lead Sunday school for kids and adults, Lifegroups were held in my home, attended services every Wednesday and twice on Sunday, read my Bible daily, wrote several notebooks of prayer journals and basically lived my religious beliefs as heartily as I could. I did this for nearly a decade. I was considered a leader within this church of 1500 people by all accounts.

    What changed for me. What changed ME….was human beings. To put it bluntly, I saw how religion, biblical interpretations, expressed and implied beliefes, etc. were being used to manipulated the masses. I saw how religion is often a tool used to amass power over the people, their money, and their behaviors. It was not one single event, but a conglomeration of events, paired with my studious interpretation of the Bible. I saw the casting out of people who did not fit the mold of the church base….when those were the very people who needed unconditional love in the first place. I heard biblical stories twisted to inflict guilt among the congregation about tithes and offerings. I saw good people with big hearts and a willingness to serve be rejected because of their style. It became clear to me that I must move on and reclaim my personal beliefs of God and spirituality for my own good.

    Religion has many good qualities about it, but some very destructive ones as well. I can’t….CAN’T get past many of the biblical stories that are thumped upon the heads of people weekly. Stories like:
    1. Men being the head of the household and sole decider of family matters. ( 1 Cor 11:3, Gen 3:16)
    2. Women submitting to imperfect men without question. (Eph 5:22)
    3. References to women as whores, harlots, temptressees, embodiments of Satan, etc. (Rev 17:3)
    4. Homosexuality being an abomination to God, yet no sin is greater than another sin in God’s eyes? (Lev 18:22/ 1 John 5:17)

    I could go on, but this is not the place. I probably came too far already. Let me just wrap this up by saying that I believe FA or self acceptance AT THE PLACE YOU ARE TODAY…can invigorate the weary, replace self loathing, and undo decades of destructive messages that deeply effect your soul. FA with a smattering of humility that does not judge or criticize others who aren’t there yet, is, in my opinion, a spiritual thing.

    Thanks for the forum…..sorry for the ramble. :)

  24. Beautiful post. Love the wedding story and the allegory it becomes. Love the examinations of the pleasures and the pitfalls of the Stories Christians Tell to try to approximate the presence of God. Thanks for this.

  25. This is one I don’t think I can contribute to; I went from being fundamentalist evangelical to atheist, and am still a little too bitter to have distance to treat it well. But I do appreciate your thoughts and that you put them out there.

  26. So I will label myself as well.

    I am a christian, and I believe that God is and we should be about the work of love. Christianity is meant to be about sacrifice and love. God loved us so much he made us thinking beings with the ability to choose and sin, but then he created a way for us to come back to him. God looks at us and sees perfection. He sees Jesus. That said I think this concept also applies to the Ephesians 5 verses about marriage. The wife sacrifices her own desires for her husband as does the husband for his wife. the next passage is Husbands love your wives as christ loved the church. Love unto death. Sacrifice on both sides. Equality.

  27. Sticking the Christian thinking (because I am one) my pastor taught a little bit of this today in regards to this verse: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16). Even though I’ve likely read that dozens of times it was finally an illuminating moment for me. What I eat or drink isn’t anyone else’s concern and *I* should not put up withe letting *anyone* else judging me on it.

    Since there isn’t a BMI chart in the Bible I’m also taking it as my size isn’t anyone else’s beeswax either.

  28. a sarah, thank you for this interesting post and thank you to all who are on the thread. seeing Amma was very healing for me. it makes me think, “i can do that. i can hug someone like that.”

    as for me, i’m an agnostic buddhist. i was raised Catholic. then i joined a fundamentalist, nonfamous born-again-Christian cult which basically took away 12 years of my life. i was married to someone there, fortunately a good man and a good father to my kids – but women were sposed to be barefoot and pregnant. i gave up my bright career as a professional violist cuz my career was sposed to be orbiting around my husband and his desires.

    i divorced him and left eventually. but what i want to say is this: the intersection of religion and FA is not a happy one for me. the pastor was about 6 foot 4 and pushing 300 pounds; at that time i was 5 foot 2 and somewhere between 200 and 300. yet every sunday i had to submit my weight on a piece of paper to see if i had lost enough wait to rejoin the musicians’ group from which i’d been banned because i was up in front of people and my image “didn’t reflect the image of jesus.” yeah, fatty pastor, stay classy that way, ya fuckin hypocritical asshat. the humiliation regarding these weigh-ins i cannot describe. it was oceans deep and still hurts, 20 + years later. in this group on 3 occasions i went on physician-supervised fasts or starvation (500-calorie) diets and i NEVER deviated. the second refeeding started i gained maybe 2 lbs a week. no one believed me but boy, were they my special good best friends during my fleeting thin moments.

    so yeah. it’s very loaded for me. i am very skeptical of things xian and of the faith in toto, though i support anyone’s right to their beliefs. it’s just a charged subject.

    thank you for listening. here i am at 400 pounds-ish and making my way in the world, which includes healing and a fucking boatload of courage.

    love to the community,

    kcd

  29. Thanks for this, A Sarah. I never even made a connection between the two until I read this post and realized how huge of bridge there is between my realization of my atheism and my path to body/self-acceptance.

    One summer in high school, I began questioning everything about Catholicism, the religion of my household. I felt whatever faith I had left in the religion dwindling into a new ideology, something I understood and embraced in a way I had never felt about Catholicism. I fought it, honestly. I felt like a traitor, living (or rather fronting) a Catholic life so disingenuously in a way that contradicted my own atheistic and agnostic thought processes. I eventually came to terms with my beliefs…you can’t force yourself to believe in any specific religion or faith system, much like how you can’t force your body into any permanent shape or size beyond its own set point.

    Accepting my body had an analogous path: I refused to believe that accepting your body the way it was, was the answer. Even though I knew deep down I would never be satisfied with any weight — as Kate has pointed out, the cycle of being thin, fatter, thinner, really thin, had changed nothing but the numbers on the scale — my disgruntled, hurt, and self-loathing continued at full speed. Even when I was actively trying to lose weight, I thought…will this really make me happy? I even at one point admitted that society had brainwashed me already and I might as well deal with the harmful repercussions by conforming to its aesthetic ideal.

    Definitely didn’t work…or else I wouldn’t be here writing this. In a small Christian community with a HUGE Catholic family, I felt wrong and dirty for believing something else entirely with my heart and soul. And considering body acceptance — embracing my “flaws,” fat, whatever — seemed equally as dirty. Turns out, neither were bad. Wonderful, actually.

    No matter what anyone said or told me to do, following my heart (and my body) made me happy. I wish more people did.

  30. I don’t have a clever thing to comment on, besides I’m an atheist and all (though my family is fundamentalist and we all love each other anyway) so I don’t really belong at this party.

    I just spotted this newsbit on sciencedaily saying that people apparently have moral setpoints too, which is kind of bizarre to wrap my head around.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090626141233.htm

  31. I don’t think it’s possible for me to join a conversation like this without sounding a little bit pedantic, so I apologize in advance.

    First, I was going to say what Franke said above, which is that Ephesians 5 says a whole lot more than “WOMEN, SUBMIT!” In fact, that passage is less about marriage than it is about the mutual relationship between Christ and the church. It’s worth being a little bit more subtle in how we interpret these things, regardless of how they’ve been appropriated.

    Second, and this is where my inner pedant rears her ugly head, being created in the image of God has nothing to do with race, gender, fatness or anything else to do with physical appearances. Our bodies are not in the image of God, at least not according to traditional Christian thinking on the subject. Our minds are. Different kettle of fish. Yes, that extends across gender, race, fatness, and whatever else. All human beings possess this image of God, no matter who they are. And our minds are embedded in a body that will be resurrected, according to traditional Christian belief, and will be preserved forever.

    Part of our perfection is that the image of God in us will be repaired such that we perfectly reflect who God is. We don’t perfectly reflect that image now. Things have gone awry. Not only do our physical bodies decay and die, our passions rule us in a way that prevents us from loving one another and loving God perfectly.

    With that in mind, I think this question of ordered/disordered appetites deserves a little more attention. It isn’t just that some appetites are disordered and others are ordered. Certain appetites are neutral–things like the desire for food or sex. How they function in a given life, this is where order and disorder enter into it.

    I actually think this language is really useful. I wrote a comment about this once before, actually. The point as regards gluttony is that it is an undue fixation with food. That is generally associated with overeating, but in fact says nothing about consumption. If you are so consumed by thoughts of food and eating that it interferes with your ability to love God and love neighbor, then you are a glutton, without ever touching a bite of anything. Food should occupy a certain amount of space in one’s life, no more and no less. That is order.

    Obsession with food is a spot-on description of what my life was all about when I was habitually undereating. I thought about what I was going to eat or not eat constantly. I spent goodness knows how much time each and every day measuring various parts of my body. I expended my mental energy counting calories. Instead of spending time with friends and family and meals, I calculated how much I had to eat and how to mess up my plate sufficiently that my lack of food intake would go unnoticed. My life was about food, even if I was hardly eating any. I was spent, mentally and physically.

    That is disordered eating. We all get that. But it’s also gluttony. It’s a disordered appetite. My appetite for food had become disordered such that I could not reflect God’s image in me by loving people as God loves them. My obsession with food prevented me from seeing other people clearly, for a start.

    So I say rather than hedging at the fact that Christianity is telling us we aren’t perfect, this language of disorder is a good way to diagnose some of what is wrong with folks in our culture and ourselves. When we see it clearly, we can can work against whatever is disordered, and toward being able to love one another as God loves us.

    Or at least that’s how Christianity and FA coincide for me.

  32. This is an extremely interesting post. I’m agnostic, and have been for about five years; I’m a former Catholic. Often I struggle with my lack of worldview, lack of structure, meaning, purpose, or however you want to put it. I guess I feel like nothing sustains me, and it’s depressing. Some kind of meaning or spirituality might make my body image struggles a little bit less of a struggle.

    Also, your anecdote about the impromptu wedding choked me up–not because it made me think of a god bringing together all these different factors. It didn’t fill me with appreciation for a higher power; it filled me with appreciation and wonder and love for the people who came together to make it happen. It made me feel gratitude for all these humans. And sadness for the chickens (vegan here =p).

    But I digress: FA and spirituality don’t intersect for me, because I have none of the latter.

  33. What a wonderful post! That wedding story is just beautiful–and how strongly it echoes the story of the loaves & the fishes. Also your interpretation of the idea of “perfected bodies,” and the metaphor of the feast. None of that would ever have occurred to me, and it’s such powerful stuff.

    I noticed several commenters expressed a wish to find a religious community where they felt comfortable. I urge you to visit your local Unitarian Universalist congregation. Unitarian Universalism is, to quote a minister I know, is “a non-creedal religion that grew out of the most liberal wing of the Protestant movement.” In other words, there’s no specific creed or belief requirement — in fact, many members of my church are atheists. The Unitarian Universalist Association does adhere to a set of principles, the first of which is “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

    I could go on (in fact I’d love to, Unitarian Universalism is one of my favorite things to talk about), but this is already long, so I’ll just point to the UUA Web site:

    http://www.uua.org/

    I now return to my regularly scheduled program of sibling conflict intervention. :-/

  34. Thank you A Sarah. This was fabulous.

    Like Chava, I chose judaism. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home, however. I also have a similar conception of God as Chava, though I would call it more panentheistic, more based in jewish mysticism than atheism. The story Chava references (the broken pieces we find and put back together with good actions) is a/the classic in jewish mystical thought and I find it a very helpful metaphor. I find myself lately thinking of God less as the Divine Being and more as Divinity, if that makes sense.

    I also agree with Regina T about many, many things falling under the heading of “spirituality” or “spiritual development.” My FA journey has definitely intersected and walked along with my spiritual journey. Just as kindness to others is spiritual, self kindness is a spiritual practice.

    I found your question, Sarah, about acceptance of fat in judaism very interesting. I agree with Chava’s answers, however, in more recent years, there have been a lot more eating disorders in girls and young women in the haredi (ultra orthodox) community (or perhaps it is just more known now). I believe there is even a documentary on the subject done fairly recently (last few years).

    In my experience, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in body politics between the jewish community and the community at large. As in much of the rest of the “progressive” world (the jews I generally hang with are progressive), the obesity crisis is one issue that is not questioned generally.

  35. becoming whole, I go back and forth between panentheistic and straight up pantheistic. It depends how secular (Spinoza) vs religious (kabbalah) Jewy I’m feeling that day.

    As for the haredi community, we don’t have any ultra Orthodox family, so I don’t have a great perspective. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a lot of disordered eating simply because of the shidduch pressure and the immense amount of control over their entire lives.

  36. I love this. While I have some deeply mixed feelings about Christianity, I find I’m often drawn to writing and worship in the liberal Christian traditions — Anne Lamott, Sara Miles. Myself, I’m rather UU-meets-Pagan-meets-Episcopalian, with a nice Seder for good measure. But one of the more interesting bits to take away from Sara Miles’ Take This Bread is that she found her spiritual work to be in feeding people. That, basically, Jesus said to feed the hungry, and she said, “Ok.” I also am totally in love with Anne Lamott’s idea of treating her thighs (which have been hard for her to accept) as beloved old Aunties — maybe not the hippest kids in the club, but they just want love and attention, and you think they’re beautiful because you just love them so much.

    I also love the fat, motherly goddess figure in certain Pagan imagery, Jewish traditions around good food, and just the general idea of an all-loving God. If grace is the love we always have, and do not need to earn, then my weight and my fatness have nothing to do with my lovable-ness. I do actually believe that God/dess loves us just exactly the way we are, and that I don’t need to change anything about myself to be loved.

  37. AHHH!
    A Sarah, I love you so much right now.

    As a Christian and a seminary student, I’m loving the fact that you’re bringing theology into the picture. And this post was brilliant. For a long time, I’ve been contemplating the intersection of Christianity and FA (as well as Christianity and feminism), and what you’ve written here is kind of along the same line of what I’ve been thinking, the whole idea of Jesus reaching out to the outcasts and marginalized groups in his day.

    Oh, and kind of off-topic, when you mentioned True Love Waits, I chuckled a little, because I went through the True Love Waits program when I was 12. I even got a ring, but I don’t wear it anymore, (mainly because it no longer fits), and also because my decision to remain abstinent until marriage runs much deeper than a piece of jewlery.

    So, that being said. let me just at an “Amen, sister!” and a wave of the hankie. I eagerly anticipate more posts like this.

  38. I was baptized and raised a Christian (protestant, even) in/near a Bible Belt, orthodox Christian sort of community. Because of that, I later on distanced myself from that same faith. In our village, all I saw was people being flaming hypocrites; going to church on Sunday and beating their kids on Monday, girls being forced to wear only skirts and black stockings; and if it hadn’t been for the constitution saying to treat women equally, they would’ve banned women from voting, too. I see the major religions in the world mostly as a way to oppress other people, and for some reason most of these people are women, and it ticks me off. But those are my personal views, and I don’t go about bothering Christians trying to convince them that their belief is bad. I think whatever gives people strength, love and happiness is a good thing no matter what faith.

    I consider myself a agnost/humanist now: I seem to pick and choose from other religions and take what makes more sense to me and put it into my own world view. But most of all, I think I am a humanist; I believe in the strength of people themselves, their adaptibility, their capacity to create, to love, to build, to adapt – the potential that we are as humans, and that even when we feel utterly misunderstood and alone, there are actually tons of people who feel the same way, because they’re also human. Because we’re the same. That doubting oneself is human. That no matter what the shape of your body, you are still human, and deserve to be treated as such.

    But every once in a while I run into these challenges, overcome them, and can’t help but feel that I’m on this path in life that wasn’t 100% my own plan. Like someone’s up there after all, and guiding me along, throwing me a new challenge when they think I’m ready for it so I can grow further. I don’t know if that someone is God – but that’s as far as my spirituality goes, before it gets held back by cynicism.

  39. re: chava- the shidduch pressure is exactly what it is (and the control–so yeah, exactly what you said).
    I also read recently (on Jewcy?) that the disordered eating has creeped upwards into the mothers, as they are looked at as what the daughters may look like as they age. yeah.

    I’ve got too much of the evangelical upbringing in me to ever feel very secular. I’m like Shalom Auslander–”Yes, I believe in God. It’s been a real problem for me.” Not a problem so much anymore, but that’s thanks in large part to the Judaism.

    I get all geeky on this theology stuff. I actually did a couple of semesters at a christian seminary, so I have an appreciation for a variety of flavors (like with my food). :) thanks again, Sarah, for doing this. I’ll have to check back in tomorrow, though, as I am sleeeeeepy tonight.

  40. I was raised in a fairly Christian household (until I was in my mid-to-late teens, my father was a minister for the Churches of Christ), but one which wasn’t prescriptive about the exercise of religion. There were a number of reasons for this, one of which was the way my father was raised (he believed very strongly that choosing a particular faith was a personal and adult decision, one which couldn’t be made for a child by a parent) and another of which had a lot to do with the way my mother was raised (her family background was Christadelphian, from which she had very firmly lapsed). From both sides, I learned more about thinking about the ideas at the centre of the spirit of a religious faith than the letter of the rituals performed by that faith as a way of judging them.

    My own religious preferences are self-described pagan pantheist. The simplest way of summing it up is to say I believe all gods are equally likely to exist – if the God worshipped by the Christians, Jews and Muslims exists, then so do the gods of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the pantheons of the Hindus and Mayans, and all the various other spirits to which people have attached the label “god” at some point. All of the universe is a reflection of the divine[1], which makes living an ordinary life simultaneously one of the most profane and most holy acts a being can perform. I am part of the divine, the divine is part of me, and I therefore am of God in my own way. Facial hair, excess kilos and all. For me, faith and spirituality is about accepting myself as a part of the universe, and my main religious rituals (if I can glorify them with that title) are attempting to stay awake for twenty-four hours each solstice – and thus connect myself with a rhythm of something larger.

    Oh, and my explanation for the universe is that it was created by a committee of Trickster deities, while all the other divine entities were looking elsewhere… and hoo boy, is there gonna be a kerfuffle when they find out about us. Don’t pray, it might draw their attention. (*grin*)

    [1] As per Genesis in Judeo-Christian theology, where humans are created in the image of God. Now take a look at the number of different ways humans express that image – humans of all sizes, shapes, shades, races and ages. God is therefore more than the standard Anglo Beard In The Sky as per depictions.

  41. @becomingwhole–

    yeah, the “shidduch crisis” disgusts me. even if you are against intermarriage, expand the pool a little, let your kid marry a non-Satmar or a non-Hasid, for chrissakes! the onus is also put *completely* on the woman’s family.

    I think things (again I’m going on hearsay not firsthand here) like obsessive/excessive attention to fasting or even kashrut observance can become a kind of ED all of its own, like pregnant women who fast on YK or Tisha b’Av, or the Orthodox who shun all fresh vegetables because they MIGHT G-d forbid have a bug.

  42. This is such a great post, A Sarah! A veritable feast of words. :-)

    For me (as a Christian), the intersection of my faith and FA (with a heaping helping of feminism) has centered around the ideas of loving yourself, as in the part of the great commandment “…love your neighbor as yourself”. The idea is that you love your neighbor as you, in fact, already love yourself: you take of yourself, work for your own good, etc. that type of thing. What got me was when I realized that I was much, much kinder to others than I am to myself. I DIDN’T want to love others the way “loved” myself, because I in fact hated and loathed myself, and wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Yet somehow I had managed to live a couple of decades learning to love others, to treat them with mercy and compassion and forgiveness and all manner of good will, and that is a great and beautiful this-is-the-way-it-should-be thing, but all I had for myself was this contempt, this hatred? How is this right? Well, it isn’t. I need to love myself and have mercy on myself, too, just as I love and have mercy on others, and as God loves and has mercy on me.

  43. @volcanista: “The only true wisdom consists of knowing that you know nothing.” Socrates, as quoted by Keanu Reeves as Ted “Theodore” Logan.

    I have to go to bed now, but I like this post, and I’m going to chew on it and read the rest of the comment thread in the morning, and maybe I’ll have something to say. I’m an atheist, but there are a lot of ideas and concepts and emotions that are traditionally connected to religion and spirituality that I don’t reject–no, okay, I have to go to bed, I can do this tomorrow.

    I’ll be back.

  44. I always love Pentecostals the best. Yeah, they believe some crazy things.

    My mom is a fat Pentecostal lady, and I admire the surety, the blood-and-gutsy quality of her faith. God is THERE, she knows him personally, they talk all the time, that sort of thing.

    Had a hard time accepting the entire ridiculous shebang of taking the Bible literally; how the hell do you even DO that? The “intellectual” side of me fights it hard.

    Spent a few years in a Unitarian church, but fuck, they were so cold. God could be a metaphor for XYZ great cause in South America, sure, but he wasn’t REAL. Nobody with any education really thinks *that,* you know? lol.

    Well, and they’re right. But how could I stick around a congregation with more graduate degrees than kids? I need something dirtier, less cerebral.

    It occurs to me, perhaps too late, that faith is like love. You can’t rationally decide to love the guy who’s Perfect on Paper when the one you really love is the balding dude with the small penis and the appallingly sloppy apartment.

    Now I’m faithless, but it’s a terribly hard way to live. Wish I KNEW God like my crazy old mom does.

  45. I just spent the weekend at my Eparchy’s 40th anniversary celebration, and this post really spoke to my heart. I explored a lot of religions and faithways before finding a home in Byzantine Catholicism. If anything, my faith strengthens me to stand up for FA. And it helps me identify my authentic self apart from the images held up by media and other social conventions.

  46. Thanks for this post. I will admit that your post on June tenth was one that I personally placed in my mental ‘Feminist hate Catholics, and that is why I will NEVER consider myself a feminist’ box. It’s nice to know that with a bit more explanation perhaps it didn’t belong there.

    I have found that many *not all* feminists who preach acceptance and tolerance towards others are often gleefully hateful towards Catholics. It is a form of bigotry and hatred that is embraced in much of the feminist world (again – not all of it).

    If you haven’t guessed yet – I am a Catholic. My faith is deeply important to me, and in many ways it defines who I am – I attend Mass daily (sometimes in Latin) and go to confession weekly. I do think that in attacking my faith and it’s members people are often by extension attacking the 500 million Catholic women in the world (assuming half the billion Catholics are women – it may be a higher percentage). One would think that feminists would want to work with those women instead of attacking them.

    In fact, I think that feminists could find many heroines in the Catholic Church. If one looks at the history of the Church you can find many strong women who could be wonderful examples for feminists. Personally I have always loved St. Catherine of Sienna who was smart and independent and told the Pope what to do! (and he did it!).

    Just look at a list of Catholic women Saints and there are tons of examples of strong women – from Saints Felicity and Perpetua in the 3rd century through to St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (born Edith Stein she was a PhD philosopher who converted from Judaism, became a nun and was eventually killed in Auschwitz).

    Vowed religious Catholic women were changing the world, being educated and educating others centuries before modern feminism was first espoused.

    I am a Catholic by choice – and any adult who is a Catholic is there by choice. For me, part of that choice means that I will never be a feminist… because why would I want to identify with a movement so hateful towards my faith?

    I find the Catholic Church to be a very body positive place for me. I have never had any sense that it wasn’t an FA church. Have you looked at painting of St. Thomas Aquinas? He was quite famously fat… and is a Doctor of the Church. GK Chesterton is not a Saint, but a well loved Catholic convert and writer… who was welcomed in the Church with open arms. I can’t think of anywhere in my life that is more FA positive than the Catholic Church.

    Sorry I rambled a bit in my comments. I like much of what the FA movement stands for, and that I why I enjoy this blog. I am always dismayed when posts take a turn like your post of June tenth (with some particularly hateful statements in the comments) … but I figure it’s par for the course with a feminist blog.

  47. A Sarah, I loved this post. I love the way your mind works, and now I also, through hearing that little snippet of your past commune-y life, love that too.

    I was raised Catholic, spent most of my adult life in rejection of it, and am still appalled at the … the social harm, the discrimination, the pain, that the church in its various incarnations has caused. I don’t know if this is balanced by the good that it has likewise caused, and it seems a little soulless to try and tally it up to find the score.

    My social conscience, my environmental conscience.. these cannot be fully reconciled with some of the tenets of Christianity as the mainline religions seem to practice it. A Sarah, your point is well taken.. that when we look at what god actually says/does, he seems to stand up for those that are othered, discriminated against, victimized. Ha! It reminds me of a fridge magnet I saw once.. it said “Jesus called. He wants his religion back”.

    I find, as I’m getting older, that I am much MORE than my social conscience. For better or for worse. I don’t agree with big portions of what Christianity has done. But parts of it are beautiful, and I respond to that. I can’t help it. I’m thinking specifically of Catholicism, I suppose. I always, even in my most anti-religious days, missed the ritual, the sights, the smells, the STORIES, the message of love and inclusion.. where it exists… I can’t help loving those parts of it. I can’t completely discard the baby with the bathwater. I guess the thing is… I won’t use it as a weapon. I won’t use to to make someone wrong, or to discard any portion of human identity or desire.

    I haven’t the slightest idea whether I actually believe in God. That sounds funny, doesn’t it? It feels almost irrelevant. I suppose what I do believe in is.. well, energy between people, and in the universe, seen and unseen. The stories about Jesus, whether literally true or not, are in part a rather beautiful manifestation of that. That’s enough. Really enough..

    As I understand it, the idea that Jesus was flesh and blood, that he had a human body, was vitally important. “Word made flesh”. And, I don’t know quite how this is relevant, and it’s definitely pretty rambly, but I wanted to throw in the story of Prisca. She was a Roman woman in… oh, the late first century? Or maybe the second? And she was a Montanist.. a sort of radical Christian sect.. now, did they become the Pentacostals? Possibly… all this is very rusty in my mind, but what I do remember is this.

    Prisca was wandering through the desert, and she had a vision of Jesus, and Jesus was a woman. And she told the Pope about her vision, and he ex-communicated her. And she said “I am driven away like a wolf from the fold, but I am no wolf. I am word and spirit and truth.”

    Or something like that. I always wondered why it was that she was convinced she had seen Jesus as a woman, and not, for example, something rather more acceptable, like the Virgin Mary. Was it because there was no Marian cult as yet? Or because the .. the purity of what she saw, or thought she saw, was so complete that she just had no other word for it.. that it had to be actually Christ, not any lesser figure?

    And she was punished for believing.. for seeing, for saying.. the wrong thing. Social harm… but still a vehicle for guarding and expressing and conceptualizing some intrinsic instinct for the divine. Oh religion, what a mixed thing you are.

  48. I’ve always been an atheist, despite growing up in a Salvation Army family [you want a way to mess someone up, I SWEAR that's it!] and honestly I struggle to reconcile religious belief and logical thought. I find myself losing a lot of respect for someone if it turns out they’re a believer, because I’ve seen how far the delusion and total denial of reality can go.If anything, atheism is a comfort because I know for a fact that our heavily patriarchal society comes directly from religion and everything religious groups do to control women. In the end, it all ties back to that, and I don’t see any way around it.

    But then, I’m mildly autistic, and according to my grandma autistic people don’t have souls, so whatever.

  49. my religious beliefs would cause severe strife in my family, so i will be posting anonymously today.

    i was immersed in christianity from the day i was born until i stepped into college. my beliefs started changing in college once i started really examining *why* i believed things, and well… several years out of college i now consider myself pagan.

    i strongly believe in reincarnation. i even have faint memories of some of my past forms. they’re very faint memories, mind you, so i can’t compare too much about how i felt then to how i feel now. ^_^ but i think that the big thing i’m supposed to learn this go around is to accept and love myself completely.

    the way i look at it is that i can learn things in this shape that i couldn’t learn in any other shape. they may not be easy or pleasant things, but life is about learning. i cannot change into a skinny woman, any more than i could change myself into a gopher. and although sometimes i wouldn’t mind learning whatever it is a gopher has to learn, that’s not my reality. this body will eventually decay, but what i learn from living this life in this society will carry on.

  50. pardon my double post, but in reading some of the above comments i was reminded of a dream i had many, many years ago.

    in this dream i had figured out how to fly. it was wonderful, blissful, and absolutely easy. ^_^ i went away for a while and came back to find schools set up in my name and a textbook designed to teach people how to fly. the textbook was written in my name, but i didn’t have a thing to do with it. (i was pretty ticked when i saw i was listed as the author.)

    anywho, there were people lined up by the hundreds just to get into these schools and the classes had all of these elaborate set ups to teach people to fly. they followed the textbooks exactly and did everything perfectly… but no one else could fly. (not even the teachers!) i talked to many of the people and tried to explain that you just had to believe that you could fly, and you would. . . but no one would listen to me. they were so certain the book contained all they needed to know that they didn’t dare to look inside themselves.

    yeah. my subconscious rocks. ^_^

  51. Thank you so much for this. The church I was brought up in emphasised the idea of a God who seeks to punish you , rather than give you joy and welcome you to his table and it has taken me a long time to come round to the idea of a benevolent God rather than one who spends his time taking note of every little sin.

  52. I. Love. This. Piece. Thankyou for writing so honestly and openly.

    Myself, i am a reluctant catholic. If i didnt know some pretty amazing catholics who are completely full of God’s spirit, i wouldnt be one myself anymore. I would still be a christian, because I cannot deny that aspect of my life, but i’d leave catholicism far behind me.

    One thing I find interesting about religion and FA (and also life in general) is that the obsession with our bodies comes down to one thing: Control. when we want to diet, exercise to shape our body and our health, it is because we desire control over ourselves. We are told it is possible to control every aspect of our own beings, of our experience in our life and nature. That is a terrible responsibility and a barefaced lie that many people can sort of see through but still choose to believe it. It’s a terrible lie because when things enevitibly go wrong, we have to take the blame, because we were supposed to control for this. How often have we heard the idea that someone must have done something wrong to get a life threatening disease or condition, when in actual fact there is NOTHING they could have done? when ideas get so bizarre (positive thinking to prevent cancer, anyone?) and so blaming that we have nothing left but guilt.

    We as humans desire so much control over ourselves, and religion (especially of the christian persuasion) is about relinquishing that control and being free from it. We CANNOT control. Our bodies, our experiences, things happen to us that are out of our hands, in all aspects of our lives.

    I find that within FA, we understand exactly how little we can control the shape of our bodies. While this is an almost entirely secular movement (and no harm in that at all), I think that the acknowledgement of the fact we cannot control our bodies the way our society requires us to is a bit of a revelation that falls in line with religious thinking. I’ve always seen FA as an idea that can be taken on board by EVERYONE. because its simply true, with or without religion. and that is a rare and beautiful thing :)

  53. Seriously, that’s like, um, kind of the whole freaking plot of the Bible, over and over and over and over and over again. The guardians of order say, with some plausible reason, “These are the conditions necessary for God to find favor with people!” And then God says, “Aww, nice try, mates, and I can totally see how you got there… but turns out I’m not so simple. ‘Scuse me a sec… Hey, you outcasts over there! Come join the party!”

    I LOVE this post. I had never connected the dots between kingdom-as-feast and kingdom-as-wedding. And I’ll give you full credit for it, A Sarah, when I preach this paragraph word for word.

  54. From Anastasia: ***Second, and this is where my inner pedant rears her ugly head, being created in the image of God has nothing to do with race, gender, fatness or anything else to do with physical appearances. Our bodies are not in the image of God, at least not according to traditional Christian thinking on the subject. ***

    But, I think that for me, being created in the image of God just does feel connected to my body. If there’s an understanding that my body is going to be resurrected…if it is integral to who I am…well, it is connected to what is as-God-created-me-to-be. And while I’m certainly not able to get into a debate about what is “traditional Christian thinking” on the subject (which traditions? whose thinkings?), I do think that I have SOME good ground on which to stand in thinking as I do. First– “in his image he created them, male and female he created them” goes Genesis: gender is paired with this idea of the image of God, both inclusively and, somehow, specifically there. Second, well, there’s an interesting FA blog by a Canadian minister (Ad Imaginem Dei) which speaks of this point that I was making: that this body of mine is part of being in the image of God.

    (The English words for this–image of God, likeness of God–are intriguingly visual.)

    And… it has always felt important to me that my body is not just a home for my true self, a soul: my body is part of my true self, and has much to teach me.

    In any case, what matters to me in all of this is a sense that my body is something I RECEIVE, as a gift, and I don’t get to dictate much of what I look like. So there’s something spiritual in exploring this gift, giving thanks for it, and incorporating it–every bit of flesh of it–into my sense of gratitude to God.

    I’m grateful for my fat body, I believe it is a gift, and receiving this gift with gratitude leads me, at least, towards God, somehow. I imagine that you might insist that all of this is absolutely good and fine, but separate from being made in the image of God. For me, it’s not.

  55. LivingTheQuestions, I do kind of agree with you, because I don’t think you can truly separate mind and body the way some Christian lines of thinking have wanted to do. Your mind is IN your body. That’s where your brain is, and your brain is behind what goes on in your mind. I mean, maybe some god stuff is behind the mind, too, or some souly stuff, depending on who you talk to, but your brain is at least most of it.

    If anything, atheism is a comfort because I know for a fact that our heavily patriarchal society comes directly from religion and everything religious groups do to control women.

    Hm. I’m thinking about this. I really kind of think that heavily patriarchal societies shaped religion, or they co-shaped each other simultaneously, because you can’t separate “society” from “religion” over the millennia. I don’t think I can blame “religion” any more than I can blame, just, history. Unless if by the word “religion” you simply mean a set of social norms tied to ritual practices, but then, that’s kind of what “society” means, too. I think in the very recent past we can look back and say that rules and norms that “come from” religious traditions reinforce and perpetuate the patriarchy, but ultimately those traditions are informed by a patriarchal history. So I guess I don’t place the blame on the religion, except insomuch as it’s been a mechanism by which harmful and unequal traditions have been continued for thousands of years just by resisting (often violently) any change to social structure. It slows things down. But I think that would happen in the absence of strict spiritual rules – without them, we’d find some other way to have traditions and rituals that resisted change. And my bowing out wouldn’t probably change that, you know?

    But how could I stick around a congregation with more graduate degrees than kids? I need something dirtier, less cerebral.

    friendly daughter, I totally see what you’re saying, because a lot of UU congregations are distant and cold. Not all of them are, but quite a few. And since a big reason so many people look for a structured faith tradition is to join a community, that can be lacking in a socially distant congregation. I think UU is a better fit for people who are looking for a community with which to move for social change and be an activist, unless you find a particularly warm group — it’s not as good of a fit if you are looking for warm, welcoming social support (informed by a set of values with which you identify, of course).

    That said, nothing wrong with graduate degrees, or with not having children, right? Even less educated religious congregations have their thinky theology, although there is a balance between meditative ritual practice and thoughtful analysis, and UU is way on the thoughtful end of that spectrum. Also, a lot of UU congregants do believe in God, as more than a symbol or metaphor. (Just as there are a lot of adherents to more dogmatic faiths that [mostly secretly] consider God to be a metaphor! But with UU, those people don’t have to be secretive about it, which is pretty nice.)

    Pentecostals are interesting. Their belief system is so literal, but at the same time, the Pentecostal people I have met swear up and down that you can basically adhere to as much or as little of those rules as you want, because they take the non-judgmental part of the teachings very seriously. I found that to be a very interesting combination.

  56. Marvellous post, A Sarah.
    I’m a hardcore Catholic, and I felt you had totally misinterpreted the author of that other essay. So I very much admire you for taking back the excess snark and sharing these profound thoughts with us. Especially, thank you for publicizing the resurrection of the body! I wish people would put more emphasis on this, too, as it has really been key for me in accepting and loving my own body.

    Can I just say it breaks my heart that you felt you had to leave the Church? For me it is the ultimate community, my spiritual sustenance, an incomparable refuge of acceptance and forgiveness. Sorry, I’ll stop evangelizing now… anyway, I know you know this, but the Church is always there for you. It’s always there for everyone.

  57. I think the “image of God” thing gets misconstrued to mean several ugly things, such as dominion over the animals and “man” (as in penis) being the one created in the image of God.

    That’s also where you get God as a white male.

  58. friendly daughter–

    Um, I get what you mean, I do (that’s why I stopped being an official atheist, I needed a warmer community, and all the atheists I knew were Ayn Rand atheists.)

    But “more graduate degrees than children”??? Heck, lady, I *want* four children and *I can’t have them* because academia is not at all supportive of families. That doesn’t mean I’m cold, uncaring, or not involved in my religious community. If anything I have more time to BE in that community since I don’t have four children.

  59. I’m in the same boat as chava and becomingwhole — what are the odds? :-)

    I ran into a marvelous poem by the Sufi poet Hafiz lately that seems kind of apropos:

    “God and I have become like two giant fat people in a tiny boat
    We keep bumping into each other and laughing”

    I just have this marvelous mental image of jolly boating Hotei figures.

  60. It’s always there for everyone.

    This really kind of is evangelizing, RN, and it’s making me uncomfortable. It’s also patently untrue for many people. It’s a nice view of things, but very idealized, and not everyone’s experience. I don’t want to disappear the people who were NOT welcomed and were hurt by that.

  61. So when I was a little less agnostic and a little more seeking, I almost became a Baha’i. There are some rules, but they’re not enforced (helps that it’s a young faith – give it 1000 years and it might become a lot more restrictive), they’re more like guidelines for spirituality. I couldn’t really deal with the fact that the writings explicitly consider homosexuality to be an affliction, though, even if I understand they were written in a time when that was an incredibly progressive and accepting position to take. There was also the god part. But I felt like people of different backgrounds and colors and body sizes were all equally accepted and never judged, and people were so careful not to let anyone else feel excluded or judged, no matter what their background. That was a religious community within which I could have felt comfortable. If not for the agnostic thing and all that. But if I ever decide I want me some more religion, that’s probably where I’d go.

  62. volcanista, the problem with that approach is that until very recently, religion has been pretty much the only thing shaping society. There is a reason that the term ‘secular society’ is so very new. Which ever came first, religion cannot be separated from patriarchy, no matter what, and it will always be a tool for social control and mass delusion.

  63. I’m torn on the role of religion in my self image. On the one hand there is the long tradition of “religious fasting” and the idea the gluttony is a major sin and overeating = gluttony and that of course fatness = overeating glutton, ergo, sinner. With the heath craze that started in the 80s and the increased drive for thinness this became theologized as preaching about how your body is a temple and how dare you abuse it with excess food. And frequently I see weight loss sites have members who are “praying to lose weight”.
    On the other hand there’s a strain of Christian thought in which Jesus accepts you as you are, fat, warts and everything. I have a complicated relationship with Christianity right no, to say the least, but one thinking I recently came to was teachings on being humble, and gee, being fat in a world that expects you to be thin by just “trying harder” and being unable to lose weight and control your body the way that is fashionably popular can be a humbling experience. I must bend to what my body wants, and not the other way around. When I try to go against it, it only hurts me. (Which isn’t to say I haven’t given up futilely hurting myself yet but at some level I recognize I’m fighting a losing battle.) In short, Jesus loves me whether I’m fat or thin, and in fact, whether I’m being eating disordered or not.
    that’s an interesting line of thought on the resurrection. I have a brief moment of schadenfreude imagining all the resurrected health nuts being (just for a moment before they become blissfully happy) being shocked, SHOCKED to see all those RESURRECTED FAT PEOPLE happy and healthy in heaven *snarfs coffee* Oh god sorry *giggles*
    Somehow I doubt the big wedding feast in heaven will be all low fat and low carb. ya think?

  64. That’s assuming a causality I don’t think exists. They were the same thing. And there are other tools for social control that are coming to take the place of shared religion, in this newly more secular society. Also, if by “mass delusion” you mean spiritual beliefs, that’s a little offensive.

  65. Well, Kaz, that can certainly be your opinion. Thanks for informing many people on the thread that we’re deluded. You know, atheism or Marxism is just as much of a belief and community as anything else. The only ones that are really exempt are the agnostics.

    Volcanista, that’s funny–my father’s side of the family is Scientologist, VERY young religion, and I can tell you there are much *more* restrictive than older faiths.

  66. the Church is always there for you. It’s always there for everyone.

    a) That is not true and b) the Catholic Church is about the last place I would look for “acceptance and forgiveness”, especially of women and gays, both of which I happen to be. I’m glad for you that you’ve found sanctuary there, but you might want to rein in the preaching, because the Church is categorically NOT always there for everyone.

  67. JenRave, yeah, the “stewardship” thing is a loaded and abused concept, I completely agree. Taking care of your mental and physical health because that’s the state in which you can most fully experience and celebrate the joy of existence? Sure, I can get behind that, as long as it’s with an understanding that we have the bodies and circumstances we have and can only do so much by intent. But it crosses the line into blaming and self-punishment alllll too easily. And very few people seem to notice that line.

  68. No matter what the tool for social control is, it’s not a good thing. If we move on from religion to something else, that doesn’t make religion a good thing or whatever replaces it a good thing either. Whatever that new thing is should be viewed in the same way.

    And by mass delusion, I’m talking the people who feel that disease is caused by sin, or that instead of getting treatment for their psychosis feel it’s a visitation from god.

  69. Atheism is not a belief – it’s the opposite, and a lack of belief. Marxism isn’t a religion, so I’m not sure why you’ve brought that up, and Agnosticism IS a belief. It’s a belief in a non-quantifiable higher power.

    Atheism is a belief in what you can see and what you can quantify. In things that can be tested and measured and identified. Pretty much the exact opposite to prayer.

  70. Kaz — I’m sure our lesbian feminist rabbi will be amused to know that she is a tool of the patriarchy. (Listening to her speak on that unfortunate verse in Leviticus was *fascinating*).

  71. Kaz — I was under the impression that agnosticism was the uncertainty as to whether or not there was a higher power, or the belief that the existance or lack thereof was unknowable. What term would you use for that?

  72. A lot of former Christians in America turn to some form of New Age belief but many of the underlying attitudes remain the same, i.e. illness is a punishment for the new “sin” of not eating whatever the person “preaching” to you believes is “healthy”. As someone who is chronically ill I’ve had to endure almost as much preaching by heath food new age types about my diet and what I should/shouldn’t eat to solve all my problems as I ever did about sin in the church. I’ve become really rather hostile about it. I’m 37 years old, I think I know by now what caffeine/ coffee/ soda /sugar/low-fat/low-carb/ no additives/vegan/ vegetarian/ 8 glasses of water a day do to my health more than someone who barely knows me and doesn’t live in my body. But if its their new religion, they must convert everyone. Gah.

  73. Agnosticism is a belief that we don’t know if there is a higher power, actually. And you simultaneously said “atheism is not a belief” and “atheism is a belief in…” Agnostics are usually accused of being indecisive and having no beliefs, not atheists, who are painted as absolutists, so the philosophies are getting kind of mixed up there.

    Being a part of society means people are controlling each other. You can avoid that by being a hermit, but there aren’t a lot of places left to go do that and impact no one. You oppress people by breathing. You can opt out of those institutions which you think are most harmful, as we all try to do, but saying it’s all because of religion is simplistic and denies the benefits some people experience within that framework.

  74. Kaz–

    With respect, that simply isn’t true. A belief that something does NOT exist, when there is no evidence either way, is a belief. You cannot possibly know, so you take it on faith that God does not exist. It’s okay, many atheists cannot accept that they have a belief system. There is also an atheist culture of sorts, although it is not as tightly knit as most belief systems. For the record, atheists are horribly discriminated against and that is NOT ok.

    Agnosticism isn’t a belief in a non-quantifiable higher power. It’s a belief that we simply cannot KNOW.

    I brought up Marxism because you brought up the “opiate of the masses” chain of reasoning.

  75. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. This is wonderfully written – there’s a lot I agree with, and a lot I want to go back and re-read slowly so I take in more. I just wanted to share a couple of things:

    “It has even been speculated by at least one Christian theologian… that our perfected bodies will retain their scars. The reasoning was that it makes anything which testifies to suffering’s having been overcome will be preserved.”

    Yes – I agree with this. When Jesus comes back to the disciples, he has the scars on his hands that Thomas touches. They are a part of his ressurection body.

    This Easter, our assistant priest threw in a great little bit to his sermon. He was talking about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Jesus in the garden – in the Bible it says he said something like “Don’t hang on to me”. Now, I’ve heard that interpreted as “Don’t hang on to me in this earthly life, I must go back to the Creator”. But this priest interpreted it as “Don’t hang on to me so tightly – my body aches. I hurt.” And that was big for me – the resurrected Christ could still ache, still have scars that hurt. My aches, my scars – he knew their pain. And there was none of that “Don’t touch me woman” stuff gets thrown into some interpretations, either.

    And there’s something more about the nature of the incarnation. If the second person of the trinity chose to be a human, chose to have a body, that says to me that bodies should be honoured, respected and loved. They are very important to God.

  76. Yeah, JenRave, and I think that preaching happens even without New Age beliefs (which, of course, can be just as beneficial for some people as any other set of beliefs). The values we have are informed by our past, and in this part of the world those tend to be pretty puritanical, no matter how liberated a person thinks they are. We inherited that, even if you think you’ve untrained yourself. Those attitudes piss me off, too.

  77. Atheism is a BELIEF not a FAITH. When it rains, you don’t need to have FAITH that it is raining. You can look up and see – ‘oh, it’s raining’

    You don’t need to BELIEVE that it rains, it just DOES. That is atheism, right there. It rains because the air currents and cloud levels were right. No need for faith or trust in anything you can’t see or measure. Ergo, NOT a faith.

    And as for the lesbain feminist rabbi? It’s entirely possible to be outside of patriarchal norms and still a tool of it. Otherwise, what are all those female [and indeed, black and gay] republicans doing?

  78. JenRave–YES YES YES. My father was a Catholic, now he is a Scientologist and health nut and oh my goodness, does he retain his Catholic guilt and belief in sins. It sticks.

    I often think of atheism as a belief centered on science and the scientific method as elevated to the highest possible way we can acquire knowledge (touch it, measure it). That is a *belief,* guys. A useful and often accurate one, but still a belief.

  79. It’s entirely possible to be outside of patriarchal norms and still a tool of it.

    It’s not possible to be outside of patriarchal norms, even if you are explicitly choosing to reject them. You can’t escape the context.

  80. You can be outside of patriarchal norms. Normal = heterosexual. Therefore, by not being in a homosexual relationship, you’re outside of it. Yes, you’re still affected by and have to live in patriarchal culture, but you’re living outside of those norms.

  81. Kaz – I really feel that you are being very disrespectful of people with religious beliefs, which seems extremely inappropriate on a thread where people have been invited to openly discuss the intersection of their religious, spiritual, and general universe/existence-explaining belief systems with FA.

  82. Um, Kaz–most religious people believe it’s raining when it rains because of clouds, air current, etc. Rain is not at all the same thing as a possible God. Your metaphor, it is flawed.

    I can believe that science has told me the correct things about WHY it rains. I can also believe that a diety caused those things to happen, or that a diety created everything and set it in motion (deism), etc. Not incompatible.

    As for a serious response to your “tool of the patriarchy” business: Yes, religion has patriarchy at its root, all religion. So do most cultures of the world. That doesn’t mean we go live in a cave–we work to CHANGE it. The lesbian feminist rabbi probably believes that she can help change the system. I believe that as a feminist Jew, I can help change the system as well. It’s a difficult process and we’re trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  83. heh, chava, you know, I believe in global air currents, even though I’ve never seen them, because I’ve heard about indirect evidence for them.

  84. Kaz — in what way is religion different than any other aspect of society in being based in patriarchal roots? Democracy was originally a tool to keep rich white males in power. Most educational systems started out as patriarchal. Science has been used and abused again and again as a way to prove that men are superior. At some point we need to say “ok, it may have been that way in the past, and may even be that way now, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw it out completely”. If you don’t find religion useful in your life, that’s absolutely fine. But it’s such a huge and forceful thing in the world that to abandon it as an act of feminism is simply going to mean that there will be fewer people to keep the male chauvinists from using it for their own agendas.

  85. A Sarah – I recognize that I have a slightly atypical religious background (well, being Jewish puts me in a minority already, but being Reconstructionist is an even smaller minority…and then there are the whole progressive, humanist, secularist aspects…which I don’t think are mutually exclusive, but some disagree), and I generally think this is a wonderful post. There is one thing that struck me: You have to be extremely careful with the term “Judeo-Christian.” You only use it once, so I can’t get a good sense of how you intend it, but the term has the general effect of applying Christian doctrine to Jewish belief, often falsely.

    I really doubt it was anything intentional, but hey, I’m a master’s student in sociology of religion, and do a lot of my writing about American identity, the “Judeo-Christin” tradition, same-sex marriage, and reproductive choice – so it’s just one of those things I find myself sensitized to.

  86. I am inordinately amused that chava has espoused belief in a diety. I realise this is needlessly trivial in this otherwise impassioned and (variously) erudite discussion, but I am giggling like a loon on loon gas.

  87. Respectfully, I really think that the only way this conversation will work is if we engage without intending to convince others of the rightness of our respective beliefs or the wrongness of theirs. You can express how you see your spirituality intersecting with fat acceptance, without needing others to see the error of their ways. Which of course is exactly what I didn’t do in the earlier post, so I’m not pretending to be perfect here.

    Also, car and any others not engaging because the topic is too hard for you: hey, I really admire you for that kind of self-awareness, even as I wince that I’ve excluded you in the choice of topic. (I’m that way about breastfeeding discussions, and I don’t always manage to sit them out even though I know I should.) Anyway, I’m watching how this plays out, to know whether the religion stuff will be good fodder for future posts. It may be that I’ve made a big mistake by even taking the risk.

  88. I think it’s extremely difficult for many people (especially those coming from within a belief) to see that atheism, agnosticism, secularism, etc. are all frameworks for belief. They may not be organized in the same way religion traditionally is, but they are all still lenses through which people view the world and interpret what they see. We can see atheism as a lack of faith or belief in a higher power, but that alone causes us to look at everything in the world through a different light. It’s unfair to argue that any nonreligious belief is somehow more objective, because it’s not.

  89. This was a really interesting post. I had never consciously thought about the intersection of my own personal lack of faith, and my own personal journey toward body acceptance. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that it was connected in some ways.

    I was raised Lutheran, in a nice closeknit church community with all the right role models and sunday school teachers, and bible stories, but was also told by my parents the whole time I was growing up to think things through, and taught to be interested in science and ask questions about everything. So for me early on, there was this big disconnect between ‘real life’ and ‘spiritual life’. By the time I was 16 I told my parents I was done going to church because it was apparent to me that there was no god, and I’d rather sleep in on Sunday. I’m 26 now and I haven’t looked back.

    I was shy about telling people about my lack of beliefs for years, but I do call myself an atheist now and I’m very open about it. I think for me, when I think about religion, I think about the oppression of women and minorities and gays that is tied into it a lot of the time, and it just goes against everything that I feel is good and worthy for me to pursue in my life. Religion to me is something that usually *keeps* people from doing the really moral thing in a given situation, because they’re hedged in by arbitrary and outdated rules. I feel like my lack of faith frees me up to do what I *know* is right, and not what someone else is telling me is acceptable.

    When I started getting into FA, I was also really getting into politics for the first time, and calling myself an atheist, and beginning to vocally support causes like gay marriage. So for me, owning my lack of faith really tied into my new discovery of independent thinking. Fully rejecting the religious dogma that I was raised with gave me the power to say, hey, I can question these other things too. Like why shouldn’t gay people get married, why should my body be anyone’s business, why do people fall in line without thinking about why they’re doing it?

    I’m not saying that all religious people just ‘fall in line’ without critical thought, because obviously from reading the comments everyone here has been on a personal journey to get where they are in their faith. It’s just that for me, religion and a belief in god was incompatible with my overall humanistic beliefs. And one of those humanistic beliefs is that my body is great how it is, and that I didn’t have to adhere to someone else’s ideals.

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing so much in the comments, I’m really enjoying reading them!

  90. FA has actually strengthened my faith at the same time as my faith has enabled to me to better internalize the messages of FA, at least those that allow me to love and accept and appreciate my body.

    I have been a practicing Catholic all 31 years of my life. I was a very law-abiding child and ate up the clear distinctions between good and bad, and the delightfully straightforward, inflexible guidelines to How To Live. I craved adult approval and saw rules I could follow and then be rewarded for following as a source of that. It worked, too – adults loved me.

    As a teenager the acceptance of adults started to yield importance to the acceptance of my peers. Being painfully shy and fatter than the popular girls made it impossible, frankly, to get the approval I wanted. Religion did provide a solace, in the reminder of God’s unconditional love. Unfortunately, the cultural message that fat is a moral failing fostered a lot of guilt, shame, and frustration as I completely failed to become beautiful and thin (in other words, good.)

    In college I eventually landed in the sociology/anthropology department, where I learned how to study a foreign perspective without judging it. I also had an awesome priest as resident chaplain, who told me that he believes that the Church will one day allow women into the priesthood and change its teachings about homosexuality – not necessarily soon, but eventually. The idea that it was okay to disagree with the Church on something like that, and to advocate for its change, was a revelation.

    It took encountering FA a couple years ago for me to put all the pieces together, though. I remember Jesus reaching out to touch the lepers, and calling to the tax collector perched in the tree to come down and join him for dinner. This stirs the sociologist in me to examine what it is about various groups of outcasts – like fat people – that prompts otherwise kind people to avoid and even revile them. I also remember that the words Jesus speaks more often than any others in the entire Bible are “Be not afraid” and “Fear not” and variations thereof. And I realize that it’s okay to stop worrying that people won’t approve of my fatness, that they’ll judge me by what I eat and wear.

    I am now convinced that the condemnation heaped upon people in the name of Christianity, Catholic or Protestant, is a product of our culture rather than anything we’ve been told or given from God. I could give up organized religion as a bad job, sure. But I derive great comfort from the familiar, communal worship, and great satisfaction from discussing doctrine with other believers. People will always find something to waggle their fingers at other people about, and to feel ashamed of. Religion is a convenient excuse, but those without it are still just as capable of judging and condemning themselves and others as the rest of us. For me, FA and my faith have reinforced each other as awesome tools for self-acceptance and kindness to others.

  91. You have to be extremely careful with the term “Judeo-Christian.” You only use it once, so I can’t get a good sense of how you intend it, but the term has the general effect of applying Christian doctrine to Jewish belief, often falsely.

    Ahh, yeah. Thank you, Sniper! [Er, edited to say: I mean Meems! Sorry Meems!] Very good point. Sorry. I almost just put “Christian,” but then I thought, “Hang on, the Hebrew Bible also has a lot about God casting God’s lot with the outcasts.”

    Any suggestions for something better?

  92. A Sarah, I tend to just say “Christian” when I mean “Christian” and “Jewish” when I mean Jewish. It’s a bit of a clunkier sentance to name both, and “Judeo Christian” does roll off the tongue, I admit. I have negative associations with the phrase “Judeo Christian values” being used as a tool of the right, not so much to exclude Jews, fwiw.

    Judeo-Christian also excludes Islam, which is odd because Islam has just as much a link to the other two as they have to each other.

  93. Yeah volcanista, it’s pretty clear I’m gonna have to leave this particular discussion. In my mind, religion has no place in feminism. I struggle to understand how people can accept teh existence of something that cannot be measured and quantified and rationalized.

    And as for the rain metaphor – not flawed at all. The believer has to say ‘do I believe there is rain? Do I have faith in the rain?’

    The atheist says ‘the rain can be measured. It can be examined and quantified. Therefore, there is rain’

  94. You have faith in the system that gives you the knowledge of how the rain is created. It’s really that simple. Most people (incl myself) have some faith in science, simply because we cannot hope to understand it all in a lifetime. There’s no shame in that as long as we are open to changing our minds.

    The rain still doesn’t work as a metaphor for the existence of God, btw. First of all, the rain is observable and quantifiable–something available to our sensory perceptions, as opposed to something not available. The existence of a clockmaker deity has no evidence either way. You just feel one way or the other (or on the fence) about it. You have faith that the unseeable either is, or isn’t, there.

    If you believe religion has no place in feminism, why did you join a discussion explicitly about religion? Do you think beating us over the heads with our collective delusions will change our minds?

  95. I like the term “Abrahamic” for “Jewish, Christian, and Muslim”, though it’s less-used and thus often less-useful.

    Amy — I’ve often been glad that I wasn’t raised in any particular faith (my parents aren’t even really atheist — they’re just nonchalantly not religious), as that meant I went straight from “figuring things out on my own” to “complex discussions of moral/theological issues” without having to get over the wall of “cartoon god with thunderbolts and an inflexible list of rules”. You can have nuanced moral and religious discussions appropriate for five-year-olds; it’s just rarer.

  96. Yeah, I don’t hate the Unitarians by any means. I just can’t hang. A lot of the nice folks there would find dealing with the thick-headed literalism inherent to Pentecostalism completely maddening, too. So fair’s fair. Not even UU can be perfectly universal.

    And hey, fuck academia! What’s it done lately but chew people up and spit ‘em back out? My “feminist” academic advisor was leaning on me hard to go to grad school till I turned up pregnant with #2, at which point he “jokingly” called me a breeder and dropped me like a hot potato.

    Har har, asshole! But how embarrassing to find the hypocrisy I’d scorned as a feature of the fundamentalist circles of my youth flourishes in progressive, well-educated circles, too.

    Ah, people suck, ’tis true. Might as well love the hypocrites who’ll actually love you back.

  97. A Sarah – Thank you for bringing theological and spiritual lenses with which to to view FA to the blog!

    It has even been speculated by at least one Christian theologian (and yes those are weasel words, and no I can’t remember who said it but I swear it’s in my seminary notes!) that our perfected bodies will retain their scars. The reasoning was that it makes anything which testifies to suffering’s having been overcome will be preserved.

    I think we will all retain our earthly bodies because God loves us as we are, not as human society thinks we ought to be. My fear in seeing the perfection of bodies as the removal of all scars or features that don’t conform to society’s “normative” standards, is the way that excludes persons with disabilities. I hadn’t really thought of all of this until my husband mentioned a seminary classmate whose dissertation was entitled “The Withered Hand of God: Disability and Theological Reflection.”

    It made me realize that my girlish longings for a rebirth with God as a skinny and gorgeous version of myself was inherently false. If I accept that I am a child of God, loved for who I am, then I need to love myself. I also realized that any rebirth that reshaped me implied that I was in fact, in need of reshaping. We are all of us perfect the way we are, no matter our size, our hair color, our complexion, or the number of scars we carry.

    Anyway – thanks again A Sarah

  98. A Sarah – Thank you for bringing theological and spiritual lenses with which to to view FA to the blog!

    It has even been speculated by at least one Christian theologian (and yes those are weasel words, and no I can’t remember who said it but I swear it’s in my seminary notes!) that our perfected bodies will retain their scars. The reasoning was that it makes anything which testifies to suffering’s having been overcome will be preserved.

    I think we will all retain our earthly bodies because God loves us as we are, not as human society thinks we ought to be. My fear in seeing the perfection of bodies as the removal of all scars or features that don’t conform to society’s “normative” standards, is the way that excludes persons with disabilities. I hadn’t really thought of all of this until my husband mentioned a seminary classmate whose dissertation was entitled “The Withered Hand of God: Disability and Theological Reflection.”

    It made me realize that my girlish longings for a rebirth with God as a skinny and gorgeous version of myself was inherently false. If I accept that I am a child of God, loved for who I am, then I need to love myself. I also realized that any rebirth that reshaped me implied that I was in fact, in need of reshaping. We are all of us perfect the way we are, no matter our size, our hair color, our complexion, or the number of scars we carry.

    Anyway – thanks again A Sarah

  99. When we’re talking about things in common among all Abrahamic faith traditions, I tend to just say… Abrahamic faith traditions, I guess. Which includes at least Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i faith. You might include some others in there, depending on how you define separate religions. They do tend to share some values and definitely some narratives in common, only some of which they share with global faith traditions, so it can be useful to discuss them together. I agree about Judeo-Christian being a bit of a loaded term, though I never used to think of it that way. You guys r smrt.

    Kaz, fwiw, Amy seems to share some of your ideas and opinions, but I found her words interesting and not judgmental. I think the reason is that she frames it in terms of her own experiences and feelings, instead of saying “this is how things are.”

  100. And hey, fuck academia! What’s it done lately but chew people up and spit ‘em back out? My “feminist” academic advisor was leaning on me hard to go to grad school till I turned up pregnant with #2, at which point he “jokingly” called me a breeder and dropped me like a hot potato.

    :( I think this is really because society sucks, not just academia, though the academy is totally old and entrenched. But not all of us are like that. ;)

  101. …friendly daughter:

    Because having more babies isn’t necessarily more important to me than doing something I adore, despite the crappy systems around it.

  102. I mean, if you’re saying that both gastronomical hunger and its fulfillment, and sexual longing and its fulfillment, reveal something the very goal of the whole cosmos…

    Nice post. In Wicca we have — “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals…” — which IMO relates pretty firmly to this concept. Someone else up thread mentioned how helpful it can be to have many images of deity when trying to accept one’s body. I found this to be true as well.

  103. I just want to touch on the whole “ordered” appetites thing that you mentioned in your post. And I’m going to do this in a totally secular way, because I have found in my, way more extensive than I would like, study of Catholicism, that rules imposed by religion are valuable in many ways for a society as a whole, and not for some kind of spiritual reason. This is because for probably 3000 years religion was a major tool of governance, it was not a merely spiritual community, it was what made the community prosper.

    Many of the messages that religion espouses, if taken on their own, and in context, served the basic purpose of preserving our species. That is why, ultimately, there is so much focus on the idea of “ordered” appetites in the bible, and in religion as a whole.

    It makes sense, in the context of the time period the bible was written, to discourage sex outside of marriage, because there was no birth control and there was a low life expectancy for mother and child. Having an additional person there was likely key for the survival of offspring because life was so work intensive at the time. It made sense, at the time, to try to ensure that all children born were born to a pair of people tied together by some bond. (It also made sense from a patriarchy stand point, but that’s another story.)

    It also made sense, when food was scarce to moderate the amount of food consumed. When most of the population is barely subsisting, feasting is, well, jsut rude. And it also does not benefit society.

    See also, Teh Gay, gay people do not produce offspring which does not help the human race move forward. (However I think there is a valid argument to be made that having people not focused on procreation is ultimately good for society in that it allows progress on other things besides population growth. But again this was more relevant during historic times when child rearing and merely living were much more time consuming activities.)

    So essentially, I think a problem with religion, in a modern context, is that a lot of the rules that it applied are now obsolete, that is, no longer necessary for the surivival of the human race. There are plenty of people to breed, the need for stable relationships has lessened now that most people can survive and raise children on their own. Also, y’know, birth control. Plus we are well past subsistance farming.

    Ultimately, I think keeping Kosher is one of the best examples of outdated rules out there, it made sense not to eat pork, when pork could probably have killed you because you were cooking over a fire and who knows where those pigs had been. But now we know, and we can temperature test our food to make sure all the germs have been cooked out, so continuing to keep kosher is now a strictly spiritual/cultural practice.

    I think the same is true of many of religion’s rules about appetites. It made sense, once upon a time, to follow these rules, but now doing so is merely a spiritual practice.

    Did this make any sense? I’ll stop rambling now.

  104. Naw, I know that, volcanista!

    I guess my point is, belief systems in and of themselves can never completely control the tendency of people to be good, or evil, or plain obnoxious.

    If we shut off one gate to temptation, we can always find another one open somewhere.

    And a lot of the intellectualizing we do about faith is really about “proving” to ourselves why we tend to love the people, the ideas, that we love… but I think that’s like congratulating yourself on your clear-headed partner-choosing acumen during your honeymoon.

    Better yet if you’ve got some lonely girlfriends to give your “helpful” advice to! :D

    “I’m so wise to have chosen such a sexy, kind and intelligent partner!” when the fact is that I just lucked out, in a big fat way. LOL. And no, my girlfriends apparently don’t want to date a carbon copy of him.

    Unfathomable! :D

  105. Also, car and any others not engaging because the topic is too hard for you: hey, I really admire you for that kind of self-awareness, even as I wince that I’ve excluded you in the choice of topic.

    Not at all a problem! I don’t feel excluded; I just know that I can’t say anything about it without potentially offending anyone else. I’m not at a stage where I can be polite about it yet, so I know to keep my mouth shut.

    Actually, if I had to point at any single “personal growth achievement” in the last year, it would be that I’m trying to develop the ability to not butt in when I shouldn’t, so this is good practice. :)

  106. Ultimately, I think keeping Kosher is one of the best examples of outdated rules out there, it made sense not to eat pork, when pork could probably have killed you because you were cooking over a fire and who knows where those pigs had been. But now we know, and we can temperature test our food to make sure all the germs have been cooked out, so continuing to keep kosher is now a strictly spiritual/cultural practice.

    This has nothing to do with religious reasons for keeping kosher; it’s a theory secular Jews and non-Jews like to spout off to tell us why we’re illogical. Yes, it’s possible this might have been the reason at some point, but there zero evidence for that view and certainly no theological evidence. I get really tired of people spouting this one, sorry.

    Personally, I keep kosher for several reasons. One, I find it to be an excercise in mindful eating, especially meat eating, which helps me to keep in mind where my food came from and the potential suffering it entails.

    Two, these dietary customs are a big part of what makes a community a community. I feel that be re-interpreting kashrut to fit a modern era, and being sure to practice an inclusive kind of kashrut, I honor the traditions of those who came before me and help bind the entire Jewish community closer together in my small, tiny way.

    If you want to get into the theological reasons for kashrut, well they are legion and quite complicated, and I don’t buy into all of them. Some are good, some are racist, some are silly.

  107. shinobi42 – erm, not everyone in the world has moved past the subsistence level. I get your point, but you’re generalizing a Western lifestyle as universal when there are still a lot of people living in conditions that are not the same as the post-industrial West, with regard to availability of food, birth control, etc. It’s worth remembering our personal experiences aren’t the standard for everyone in the world.

    I can connect FA with Christianity fairly simply: there was one rule that Jesus supposedly taught his followers that superseded all other rules of faith and religion: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If that ain’t the heart of the FA movement, I don’t know what is. “Treat me with the same basic human dignity you would want to be treated with yourself, because I’m a human being who deserves it.”

    I was raised Catholic and lately have found myself for political reasons identifying as Catholic more than I have since I was in my early 20s. A friend of mine and I used to joke about how good Catholics are at indoctrinating us into the Church as kids. Most of the people I know who were raised Catholic, even if they no longer practice or have converted to another religion entirely, still talk about the pomp and ritual of Mass with nostalgia. I still get chills remembering the one Latin Mass I went to, which was at night, with candles burning everywhere. It’s a powerful thing to feel that you’re speaking the same words as millions of other people all over the globe – no matter what church you wander into, the words and the structure of services are the same. It’s comforting.

    The thing that caused me to move away from the Church was looking at the disparity between what Jesus actually says in the Gospels versus actual Church practice and theology. “What you do to the least of these, you do to me.” “Blessed are the peacemakers” Etcetera. Whatever you feel about Jesus as a religious figure, his message was one of the most revolutionary ideas ever introduced – everyone was equal in the sight of God. Being rich or noble didn’t make you better, and it didn’t guarantee salvation. Every society on earth and especially the Roman society dominating the Mediterranean at the time believed strongly in castes, the holding of slaves and that wealth made you more likely to spend eternity in bliss. One guy turned that premise upside down and we still haven’t entirely grappled with the ramifications, as is clear by ongoing prejudice in the world, especially in such a Christian-identified country as the US.

    Anyway, shorter version: Faith is of G(g)od. Religion is of humans.

    DRST

  108. Tough to disentangle child-rearing and patriarchy, Shinobi. I don’t suspect that association is actually going to come apart anytime real soon, for a lot of reasons.

  109. I grew up in a fairly fundamentalist church, and the constant guilt and shame and sick fear I experienced are very similar to the sensations I would get, years later, about my body, up to and including minor panic attacks about going to hell or developing diabetes. Constant self-flagellation in front of the group was encouraged. The “temptations” I confessed to later in life were far more minor – slices of cake and hush puppies rather than lustful thoughts and sloth – but had the same sort of compulsive quality, and the feeling I’d get when I confessed was exactly the same – a shaky, dizzying rush that I imagine is somewhat like being on uppers.

    I tried very hard to hang onto my faith, but I lost it, sometime between elementary and middle school. The more I tried to force it, the more it slipped away, which made Sunday school and church tortuous. I still get sweaty palms if I think too hard about what happens if my church was right – I am hell-bound with a vengeance. While I don’t believe in a personal, cruel God any longer, the sensations of belief have stuck with me.

    Today, I am more or less at peace with myself. I took a course from a rabbi and read a lot of Jewish philosophers, and understanding where the church came from, and what weird history it had, helped a lot. Hanging out with the radical nuns and the admirable chill Presbyterians helped. And so did understanding that I can’t force belief, anymore than I can force my body to be what I want.

    After a while, the high of confession wears off, just like the high of not eating, and what you’re left with is fear and misery and hunger that you can’t confess, because having religion/a “life-style change” is supposed to make you happy, or at least fill the void in your life. After a while, you’re dieting and attending church for form’s sake, and because you’re afraid of hellfire and diabetes, and the important things you should be doing, like helping people and studying and playing in the park and learning to sew and hanging with your family get left behind.

    I know this is not everyone’s experience, and I envy the closeness and comfort some people find in their religious communities. I don’t think everyone in my church suffered as I did (or they enjoyed the suffering a lot more), and I don’t want to generalize my experience. (I notice I switched to second person above, and this has much more to do with distancing myself from my trauma than claiming *you* have the same experience.) My current philosophy for both religion and weight is pretty much the same: We don’t really know, and we certainly don’t really understand, and until then, I’m going to do what feels “right” to me, meaning “eat cake if you want and be helpful to people, including myself.”

    On a lighter note (maybe), I think that analysis of religion solely as a social restrictor is problematic. Certainly, you can cherry pick certain ideas and claim that they “make” society work better, as long as you don’t count all the ostracization and punishment, or acknowledge that it’s at best problematic that one of the ways people tend to bond is by punishing those who believe differently or break the rules. (“Burn the witch!”)

  110. I haven’t read everything on the comments, but wanted to throw my few cents in.

    I’m a pagan dedicated to a very earthy goddess. I find that my path, in keeping faith with her is to explore what it means to be in my body as a spiritual exercise. The body is the core of sensuality (in the meaning that all our senses are experienced only through it). Without it, I would not have the existense I have.

    I am fighting decades of inculturation that the mind/spirit are seperate from the body, and this is just so utterly not true. In my spiritual beliefs, no body is better or worse than anyone else’s…they are all manifestations of goddess/god.

    FA for me represents the way that I imagine working to bring about a just and rich society. I really think that part of the rejection of fat people is a rejection of the body, its sensuality, and ultimately our connection with divine.

    On a sidenote…I am reading a book about the history of the Bible and was fascinated to learn that keeping kosher was not a traditional way for everyone to observe…it was a priestly law. But that with the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the priests that keeping kosher was a way of keeping the rights of the temple alive in the home…it was a way of keeping alive a faith in the face of an increasingly dispersed people. I love that idea.

  111. I’m sorry if I came off sounding like I think people who keep kosher are illogical. I did not intend that at all.

    Keeping Kosher as well as many other religious practices could be said to have served a dual purpose, having both a spiritual component, as well as a “this actually makes sense for the survival of the species” component.

    Just because the practical component is no longer an issue, does not mean that the spiritual component is not valuable. It is obviously meaningful to you, as well as the many Jews who follow it, for a variety of reasons, and for that reason alone it makes perfect sense.

  112. DRST,

    You’re right, obviously. I was trying to conserve space by not placing a ton of caveats on my points because I felt like I was already going on at great length, and I generally prefer to be as succinct as possible. (And have obviously failed at that.)

  113. Superficial moment: Hey, two people have now quoted the scars bit, such that I’ve realized I… um… left out a couple of words in what I wrote. I’m gonna fix that now.

  114. shinobi, eh, I don’t really agree. It sounds nice in concept but it’s a little evo-psych-y, frankly. For example, this:

    Many of the messages that religion espouses, if taken on their own, and in context, served the basic purpose of preserving our species. That is why, ultimately, there is so much focus on the idea of “ordered” appetites in the bible, and in religion as a whole.

    probably isn’t really true, at least not so literally. There certainly isn’t evidence that it’s true. Patriarchal sexual restrictions, for example, had a lot more to do with inheritance and lineage than ensuring the species was propagated, which frankly was just as well-served by older religious and social institutions with very different sexual rules. And what chava said about keeping kosher. Ancient rules about ordered vs. disordered eating and sex and other behavior were probably more about, well, placing order on things and upholding social stratifications than regulating biologically necessary behaviors for species survival.

    I mean, men can sleep with multiple women but women shouldn’t sleep with more than one man in a society where inheritance is passed through the male line, because otherwise it wouldn’t work. It’s pretty logical, except for the whole property-must-be-passed-through-the-male-line part.

  115. I was going to write a response, but volcanista hit it. shinobi, I realize you were trying to leave the spiritual componant it, but calling the kosher rules “best examples of outdated rules out there, ” seems to not jive so well with that aim.

  116. Volcanista,
    Just to get all… annoying on you,

    Ancient rules about ordered vs. disordered eating and sex and other behavior were probably more about, well, placing order on things and upholding social stratifications than regulating biologically necessary behaviors for species survival.

    Why does a society need to uphold order? And why would they believe that they need to uphold some level of social stratification?

    For the survival of the society, and by extension, one could argue, the species. I wont argue, because it probably is a bit of a stretch. But I do think it is possible that some of the people who created these rules believed that they were doing it to protect humanity.

    I definitely think that religion was used to maintain societies. I was just taking it to a different level, saying that perhaps these rules that religion created to maintain society, also aided in the survival of the human race through some of the more difficult times. Also, there is no doubt in my mind that there were some rules that helped us, and a lot of rules that hurt us, so I’m not trying to argue that religion was some pure thing throughout history that served as a magical guiding light. (I think I am just trying ot be as nice about it as possible because my own personal biases about religion are extremely negative.)

    Goodness knows they certainly aided in the survival of a lot of bad social messages..

    Anyway, I fully acknowledge that I am WAY oversimplifying a lot of things. And that this is totally a b.s. theory that I am spouting on a blog.

  117. Oh, they THOUGHT it was to protect humanity, but people have thought that about human sacrifice, too, which arguably is actually rather counter-productive. If we’re getting into why people think rituals are important, sure, it’s because in their mythology it’s necessary for survival (now, for the species, or later, with the afterlife). And a few of those traditions probably are rooted in actual necessary things for survival – for instance, having a calendar is useful for knowing when to plant, and having someone who can read the calendar is important, so they and their descendants would probably end up in the upper class. But I really believe most traditions are not about necessary actions to propagate the species in a biological sense.

    Most religious and social restrictions on behavior are not the result of actual need. Human psychological behavior is not all dictated by evolutionary theory.

  118. Interestingly, my issues with being fat and my issues with being a (lapsed) Catholic don’t intersect. I find myself wondering if I was just part of an inherently accepting community, if it was because I was foolish enough to try to teach CCD classes (ha!), or if it was because it was considered a “mission” church and was run by Jesuits, who are often a litle “outside” the norm for priests. I always used as sort of a benchmark something that happened when I was in college – I’d rousted myself out of bed on Sunday morning, threw on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt that was frayed at the cuffs and went off to church, where I stood in the back. The priest, an old family friend, scolded me smilingly as I was leaving, wondering if I couldn’t have dressed up a little to come visit God. I answered him, “We both know God’s thrilled I’m here.” Which he had the grace to admit with a rolling laugh and a nod of his head. And I remember that always… God IS thrilled I’m there when I go – no matter what I look like. He doesn’t care about my outside. He cares about how I live my life, how I treat others – the stuff on my inside. And I always felt the reason for fasting and so on was in part because you were removing that from your thoughts – today I won’t think about eating or preparing food, I will think about how to make myself closer to God; and in part because the time in which Jesus lived was so much less plentiful than what we experience today. Fasting allows us to more closely replicate the experiences of everyday life “back then,” and hopefully see more clearly the ways of Jesus.

    I’ve gotten away from Catholicism because I dislike its closed nature. If God is love, he is love to all people. He is love to women, to gays and lesbians and people inbetween or undecided, he is love even to people who don’t fully understand him. And as an adult, I see more clearly that the Church doesn’t reflect that, so I can’t live within the Church… at least not now. Which I’ll admit saddens me in a way because it has often been a place of sanctuary and refuge for me.

    One last thing – my mother, who was also a CCD teacher, and held classes later for adults, often brought up the miracle of Jesus and the wine at the wedding. So many folks look to be so serious and somber when it comes to religion and its constructs, but she would say, “How can you not want to celebrate and enjoy a religion in which one of the Messiah’s first miracles was to provide wine to a party? Not because he wanted everyone to get drunk, but because it was a celebration of life, of community, of family… and in those places, one finds God.” I know it’s not so for everyone, but it made me smile to have A Sarah invoke the image here. Thanks. :)

  119. As a raised-Catholic Shapeling who doesn’t always agree with the church (but of course, there are plenty of those… my Catholic high school was really big into Feminism and gay rights!!), I just had to say that your analysis was excellent. God always went for the “others” in the Bible. YAY GOD!!!!
    But what really moved me to reply was your awesome story of the wedding. Seriously, one of the best things I’ve heard in weeks. What a beautiful, moving example of love from the community! If that’s not Christian love, i don’t know what is.

  120. It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which any of our modern religions were operative* where they might have contributed to the survival of the species as a whole.

    Certainly by the time Christianity was ascendant, humans were not at risk as a species from very much. Maybe a comet, or possibly an extremely virulent form of the plague. Maybe. But we were far past the “encourage people to share their genes” point, probably because the people who didn’t share their genes died out. Tens of thousands of years ago.

    Evolution pretty much takes care of its own, without esoteric restrictions. It’s not like all the folks who didn’t keep kosher died, or all those homosexuals damned their region. Well, except for Soddom and Gomorrah, assuming you buy that S&G’s big sin was gayness, and not hostility towards strangers and rape. Non-fidelity hasn’t hurt many species’ chances (Exhibit A: Birds) although there are monogamous species. While religion may have codified certain behaviors (avoiding pork) that helped increase chances of survival, the point at which those behaviors would have needed to be initiated to help the species would have been much, much earlier, when humans were not as widely spread out and established. Your argument makes sense if there was severe environmental pressure (ie everyone else ate pork and pork killed almost everyone who ate it before they had kids) or competition (ie the Neanderthals hadn’t died out and were breeding like crazy, using up all our resources unless we all agreed to marry early and breed hard.)

    * I am not well versed in paganism at all, much less ancient versions thereof, so I can’t really reflect on this much. Sorry.

  121. I’m new to Shapely (stumbleupon sent me here a couple weeks ago), but I felt this was a really intriguing topic.

    My background: I grew up with a mother who was raised Roman Catholic, but eventually lapsed into a spiritual-but-not-religious-somewhat-New-Agey hippy. My father was a devout Southern Baptist, but eventually joined the Presbyterians. I was forced as a kid to go to church 3+ times a week. After taking world history in high school, I started to learn everything I could about religion- focusing specifically on Judaism, Hinduism, and eventually Paganism. I ended up (and still am over a decade later) a very happy Witch.

    I wrote several academic papers as an undergraduate on ancient Goddess religions, matriarchal societies, and female self-acceptance. While I didn’t focus on FA, per say, I did spend a lot of time on the female body, and, more specifically, menstruation. To very briefly summarize, I found that Goddess religions fostered pride in the workings of the female body and taught that monthly cycles were powerful (instead of “unclean”). Additionally, I investigated how self-image was linked to women in these societies achieving high levels of social status and power.

    And I personally love that the oldest human religious relics are a huge-bellied Goddess figure.

    I do think that it isn’t religion, but religious institutions that instigate societal problems (the Crusades, hate crimes, California’s Prop 8, “disordered appetites”). I found that I could not be a part of organized religion, because the organization is deeply flawed. Religion, as a social and political power, has been and will continue to be used to control people. Hell and heaven (or good and evil, God and the devil, or whichever dichotomy you prefer) are conceptions that allow religious officials to dictate behavior. My atheist partner (a historian who extensively wrote about Catholicism in China) makes this argument much better than I do.

    Just my .02

  122. Volcanista, on that last point where you said:

    “Most religious and social restrictions on behavior are not the result of actual need. Human psychological behavior is not all dictated by evolutionary theory.”

    There’s a book called The Lucifer Principle that I read a while back that touches on this idea, except it implies that human trends in history such as religions, social groupings, popular morals and causes *are* actually dictated by the evolutionary need for the group to survive.

    I don’t know that that’s relevant to this discussion at all, but it was a really cool book, even though I didn’t agree with everything in it.

  123. Oh sure, there are lots of people who believe evo psych. I really don’t, though. And while there are some traditions that surely arose out of necessity, like the calendrical example, I don’t think they are representative of human social traditions on the whole.

  124. Now I’m running off to go find books on evo psych. I don’t think I’ve come across that term before!

    :)

  125. Evolutionary psychology is behind ideas like, say, people don’t find fat people attractive because they are unhealthy in times of plenty, so it’s “natural” to stigmatize them. For example. It’s an extremely problematic field, if you can call it one, and very poorly backed up by actual evidence.

  126. I do think you can make some decent arguments that human behavior is, in some respects, driven by evolutionary pressures mediated through the lens of culture. I’ve yet to hear what I thought was even a reasonable explanation for incest taboos that didn’t touch on evo psych (in the broader form) at all. But most of the real evo psych people leave out that mediated by culture thing, plus the vast wealth of human experience that doesn’t fit into the mold they’d like. And so most of the field becomes Just-So Stories for Racists and Misogynists.

  127. I mean, it’s not exactly the same as evolutionary psychology – that would be arguing that we have these traditions because they were genetically superior to develop and we are thus now genetically disposed towards them. It’s a little different. But it’s a very similar line of thinking, I think, to say that we developed traditions because they were a superior mode of survival, because it similarly lacks any evidentiary support. That’s what I’m saying. It’s a little flippant for me to just say it’s evo psych when it isn’t, not properly, but they bother me for similar reasons. Does that make sense?

  128. Right, I mean, some of our behavior IS genetic, and maybe we have social stratification because of our inherited behaviors. And basic social inequity is behind a whole lot of our traditions and rules — making that stratification function as a system, and then prolonging it. But I also think it’s a little too pat to say that bizarrely specific rules about what is and is not pure-enough food for the most special class of people to eat at certain times of day and certain times of the year were formed because it’s how we best could survive.

  129. I also have to say that I don’t think the Bible supports God as an inclusive guy. Hey, remember the whole curse of Ham thing, where he and his sons got unchosen? Oh, and the mass drowning of the people that pissed Him off? Then there was the Battle of Jericho, where all the people were killed except Rahab, and then the city was burnt to the ground.

    So it wasn’t all partying with the prostitutes and breaking bread with the masses.

  130. I guess it depends on what level we’re talking about. I think there’s reasonable evidence, albeit soft evidence, if just through universality, that the fact that traditions and other facets of complicated social behavior exist is related to human biology. But when you start getting down to a (not even very) specific level and saying that tradition exists in that way because of human biology, you get on really tricky ground. Especially when you consider that some seemingly “universal” or even very common facets of human culture are likely to be driven not only by biology, but also by convergence – similar traditions/material culture/etc. develop where conditions are similar – and by whatever was in place before we spread out into subpopulations.

  131. (Sorry, posting at the same time as you, Volcanista. We might be saying exactly the same thing?)

  132. Good point, Anita. There was also the whole systematic prosecution and murder/execution of anyone who worshipped a different deity because it was the patron god/goddess of a conquered or rival people. I do find it to be an interesting catalog of things that both have and have not changed in the last few thousand years.

    That’s not to say there isn’t a lot in there that’s inspiring, but it’s just very complex. So while some people have found some supporting messages about hating the body and punishing it, you can also certainly find body-accepting viewpoints and messages in the stories told there. I guess I think A Sarah’s take-away message of acceptance is probably the most useful one for our time and, you know, creating a more tolerant society.

  133. Lately I’ve been thinking about the myth of Genesis and the idea of God creating human beings in His/Her own image. That’s been relied upon to justify all kinds of dreadful prejudices, but I believe in a God with a limitless capacity for forgiveness and unconditional love, One who believes, and wants US to believe, in the perennial potential for redemption. Hence it seems to me that FA has a lot to do with unconditional love as well as the chance and the obligation to forgive and maybe help redeem those who have not yet come to terms with their own lumps, bumps and imperfections, as well as those of others.

  134. Oh, yeah, I don’t mean that it’s all welcoming-the-outsider in the Christian Bible. But I think some people just aren’t going to leave or disavow the tradition in which they grew up, for reasons that are really complicated and personal. The United States has done terrible things but I don’t as yet plan on renouncing my citizenship, and even if I did, I’d still feel in my bones that I should be eating turkey on the whatever Thursday in November. For me it’s more like, “Okay, given that this is an inextricable part of my identity, how will I understand it? In a way that allows me to kill Canaanites, or in a way that allows me to imagine a divine power making spaces of nonviolence and welcome?” But that doesn’t free me of needing to own up to the fact that, yeah, my wagon is hitched to a church and a tradition that’s very often just stood on people’s necks for grins. Maybe the more honest thing would be to walk away, but speaking only for myself, I don’t think I can.

  135. I am Pagan and I do think that Paganism has helped me in my path to self acceptance a lot. It certainly helped me stop self harming (Hey, Electrogirl! Funny we have such similar experiences, and great to meet a fellow Pagan) – not because I had any problem with what I was physically doing to my body (I believe pain and harm are separate) but because I realised I was addicted to the act and that that is harmful, as well as realising my actions were emotionally harming the people close to me.

    Dieting and body hatred is also a form of self harm and the cycle of starvation and hiding food and conflicting needs and shame can harm the body and the mind equally. I realised that I was treating dieting as another form of self-harm; focussing on the feeling of hunger in my stomach and enjoying it the same way I enjoyed cutting, trying to see how few calories I could consume and feeling achievement when I ate a dangerously low amount, becoming obsessed and aggressive towards my own body, hating myself when I “failed” to keep up such a harmful pattern indefinitely… so deciding to stop doing that was important for me as a means of stopping harming myself.

    Finding FA came afterwards, but made the transition much easier – I still fell off the diet and cutting wagon every once in a while before finding FA – this community gave me the strength to do what my spiritual beliefs made me want to do.

  136. @friendly daughter: I feel the same way about my Mormon parents as you do about your pentacostal mother. At my grandmother’s funeral recently, my relatives expressed how they know to the depths of their souls that they will be reunited in heaven. I envy their sureness and comfort of their convictions.

    Your words were a little clunky, but I know what you mean about Unitarians. I had the same experience trying to go to that church. I thought they were wonderful, loved their openness and humanism, but it was so…cerebral. Which is probably awesome for many people, but after my own childhood, I did find it a little cold. For my tastes, not others. I’ve also visited some amazing new age churches that were open to everyone, female ministers, loved the ideas, the diversity. Then I found myself hearing over and over that my thoughts were making me fat, sick, unhappy and even though I believe in the power of thought to SOME extent, I had to leave that behind. My step in-laws (don’t ask, my husband has a lot of divorces, remarriages and thus, parents) are Catholic and I love them and the beautiful cathedrals, rituals and the charitable work. I’ve worked with nuns on legal immigration issues who seem like some of the most transcendent and caring people I’ve ever met. But then I’m often horrified and angry at some of the statements that come out of the Vatican (the recent statement that condoms are not the solution to the AIDS crisis comes to mind), the oppression of women (same with Mormons and other religions).

    I really relate to being sort of stuck in the middle of many of these issues. While I lament the Mormon church’s stand on homosexuality, women’s rights and many other issues, I can’t forget the positive experiences I have from my childhood, their amazing charity work, the community support, my lovely parents who are such good people albeit with big blind spots, the values that I still hold (although I reject many more) and that kind of thing. I have had to learn to let others have their experiences also. My husband moved to a small community that was primarily Mormon when he was 10, and he is still scarred from the way he was ostracized and picked on. His pain is as real as my memories. I used to be very defensive about some of his anger toward the Mormons, but I finally realized that I have to respect his journey. My mother gets great comfort and identity through her church work, and I’ve had to learn to respect the role it plays in her life also.

    I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here except that religion encompasses both good and bad values, and for me, one does not cancel out the other. Like other institutions and ideas, it has been used for great good and great evil. I try to respect other’s beliefs because it is what I want them to give me also. But it doesn’t mean I don’t speak out against injustices like the recent Mormon antics in California over gay marriage. It’s a weird balancing act for both me and my parents to respect each other, and yet not compromise our individual values, but it’s worked out pretty well. I’ve tried to hold on to the parts I like from every church I’ve ever been to and let go of the rest of it. It’s imperfect, but it’s the best I can do. Sorry for the ramble.

  137. (though I DO think that Christians who use the Bible to exclude and condemn are ignoring major and central themes in the text… which maybe wouldn’t be such a big thing were it not for the fact that they’re just doing “what the Bible says.”)

  138. Heh. So I just wrote:

    Oh, yeah, I don’t mean that it’s all welcoming-the-outsider in the Christian Bible.

    But of course I pretty much DID say that when I said that that theme was “kind of the whole freaking plot.”

    Yeah. Um. Sorry. Anita, point taken. And merci.

  139. A Sarah — one of the most inspiring commentary on Leviticus 18:22 I’ve heard (quoted by Velveteen Rabbi, I think?) is that, in addition to considering the cultural context it was written in, perhaps it’s there specifically to enrage us. So that we can never look at this text without something new to question and analyze and confuse us.

  140. Meh, I think the Bible is much like “scientific studies” – it’s so nebulous and full of such variety that you can find support for whatever case you want to make. God is punitive in some passages, loving in others. Outsiders are stoned in some passages, welcomed in others. There are so many messages, and even those are up for debate. Theologians argue about the meaning of a single word in many cases! You find what you want to find.

  141. No problem A sarah. I was surprised to finally post and find that a whole new discussion is going on. *goes back to reading intently!

  142. This was great. Thank you so much for sharing your own ideas and experiences with spirituality. For me, acceptance of my body is inextricable from acceptance of myself generally, of others and of God. I don’t feel like a complete, whole person when I don’t accept myself as God sees me. And this has reminded me that God’s unconditional love is always available, whether I accept it or not. I have some experience with the 12 steps in my eating disorder recovery, so spirituality is a big part of my own ideas about FA. Also, as someone else alluded to, I think Christian love and compassion is a big part of it too.

    On a more personal level, I really appreciated your descriptions of your own theological ideas and especially the story of the wedding. When I read that, I teared up and thought, “yes, that’s what God is!”

    One of the biggest things for me about Christianity is the invocation to love your neighbor as you love yourself, but for me I have to add in, “and love yourself as God loves you.” I have wasted a lot of my life loving others as I love myself, which is not at all. My faith in God’s love and the ultimate perfection of all creation helps me see my own worth and value and, by extension, that of others as well. And, fwiw seeing the value and worth of others, especially in God’s eyes, helps me understand my own worth. For me love of self, love of others and love of God is really the same thing and I can’t truly have one without all of them. Anyway, thank you so much, again, for writing this.

  143. Gah! I go for a run and come back to so much more to process!

    The idea behind “Judeo-Christian” for many people is that Christianity has Jewish origins, so the term recognizes a common heritage. The problem I have is the same one Volcanista mentioned – it’s a loaded term because it’s been co-opted by the conservative right to mean anti-gay and anti-choice. I’m also uncomfortable that it appears to include Judaism in a grouping of beliefs that many Jews (and Christians…) disagree with. I’m not sure I really like the term “Abrahamic” any better, though it does include Islam, because I don’t like the idea that the “right” values come only from religions with one single background.

    Chava – I choose not to keep kosher, but would never impose that belief on another person. I see choosing to do so as a way of keeping connected to Judaism throughout the day in a way that one might not otherwise.

  144. @Bunny Mazonas: Merry meet, fellow pagan! :)

    Wow, so many points of view here. I’m not at my most coherent today (medication changes make Electrogirl’s brain short out), so I’ll keep this short.

    I enjoy attending the local Unitarian church when I have enough spoons. It’s kind of a religious smorgasbord. That being said, I can see why some people find UUs to be overly cerebral. My experience has been that sermons tend to be designed to make us think. Coffee hour afterwards is when we talk, socialize, share our feelings, discuss the sermon, and of course eat and drink. It’s usually not a good idea for me to eat a large breakfast on Sundays if I plan on attending church. (I should bring a batch of fudge once my brain recovers from the medication change. Everyone goes crazy over that fudge.) People tend to hang around for a while during coffee hour in order to do all the touchy-feely emotional stuff.

    So… if you’re curious about Unitarian Universalists but the reputation for ‘coldness’ has given you cold feet (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!), I would recommend hanging around after the sermon and talking to people. Most UU churches have several friendly folks who volunteer to take visitors under their wing, so to speak. Introduce you to people, answer questions about Unitarianism, etc. This was helpful to me as an aspie-type person. “Oh! I have a guide! I can ask him all sorts of questions about this new subject and it’s okay, because he’s volunteered to do exactly that. Yay!”

    That wasn’t short, was it. Oh well. Hopefully it was at least somewhat readable.

  145. Hey, Margaret, your comment wound up in the “pending” folder, and I’m not sure why. I’ve approved it now… I’m not about to unilaterally delete a comment that criticizes me for things that are criticism-worthy!

    But I think you’re being reductive with feminism in a way similar to what I did earlier about Catholicism. There are feminist Catholics! And some on both side would say they can’t be both, and they have to choose. (I feel strange here because sometimes I am the Christian in the secular liberal circle, so maybe that just means I’m two-faced. Or inconsistent.)

    Anyway, our comment sort of gave me that feeling of, “HEY NOW! THOSE ARE MY PEOPLE YOU’RE TRASHING ON!” and then I was like, “Ohhhhh… Uh, right. That’s probably exactly how Margaret felt reading my earlier screed.” And I am sorry. There’s a way to disagree without being gleefully cruel.

  146. I’m loving the info about wicca and paganism, btw. If I ever just can’t be a Christian anymore I might be emailing you folks and asking to be proselytized, which would be… ironic. :)

  147. “…sometimes I am the Christian in the secular liberal circle, so maybe that just means I’m two-faced. Or inconsistent.”

    Gee, A Sarah… or maybe just real? :)

    I think that’s why Catholicism pulls at me even though there are so many things the Church does with which I disagree. I forget who said: “Consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds.”

  148. A Sarah, I think you’re being really nice, but Margaret, I see the “feminists hate Catholics” thing as a straight-up straw feminist argument. I really don’t know where you get that. Is it because a person can’t be snarky about a Catholic theologian they disagree with without being a Catholicism-hater? Because that would include a lot of… Catholics.

  149. There are feminist Catholics!

    There are feminist Mormons too, Mormons who believe in gay marriage and even (gasp) Mormon democrats. My brother’s Catholic wife tells me she just ignores all the birth control and abortion stuff, but she will never stop being a Catholic. In the end, even within very rule-oriented dogma, most people still have a lot of wiggle room about how they choose to apply their religion and it’s traditions to their personal life and how they treat others.

  150. There are feminist Catholics!

    And feminist Christians! The person who introduced me to/explained feminism to me is a dear friend of mine who is also a Christian. When we were in college, we had our own Christian feminist group that would meet once a week. Sadly, it died after we graduated. :(

  151. Uh, Charlotte, I think Catholics are Christians. :)
    (And Mormons.)
    I never ran across any feminist Southern Baptists, but I suppose the potential exists.

  152. I’m loving the info about wicca and paganism, btw. If I ever just can’t be a Christian anymore I might be emailing you folks and asking to be proselytized, which would be… ironic. :)

    Heh. It could be ironic or it could be “the norm,” when you consider that most pagans start out as some other religion and then “go exploring” as it were.

  153. That should read “Catholics (and Mormons) are Christians”, not “Catholics are Christians (and Mormons).” Sort of a sentence construction defect there, eh?

  154. I never ran across any feminist Southern Baptists, but I suppose the potential exists.

    Oh, my Mom was a pro-choice, feminist Baptist, but we argued about church politics all the time. I couldn’t live with the hypocrisy of it. Of course, most of the hardcore anti-woman Baptist politics didn’t really take over the everyday church life until the 70s. She couldn’t imagine leaving by that point, but I grew up watching things get worse and worse… :-(

  155. Yeah, I was attending church after things had gotten hardcore, although my church was still less hardcore than some. Still, I remember being very upset that women couldn’t teach in the church (except for Sunday school) because we “had other gifts.” Like making coffee, I guess.
    I can’t imagine what it would be like watching the church culture gradually shift around you in not-so-awesome ways. It was bad enough going in when it was not awesome.

  156. “I see the “feminists hate Catholics” thing as a straight-up straw feminist argument. I really don’t know where you get that. ”

    I get it from the attacks in the name of feminism that I have seen launched at the Catholic Church. I get it from having feminists find out I was Catholic and attack me personally saying that I am stupid, and a ‘tool of the patriarchy’ and that I can never be a feminist and Catholic at the same time. I have come to agree with that position.

    I took pains in my first comment to say that this was not the position of *ALL* feminists… I know that. However, it is the position of a pretty vocal contingent of feminists many of whom I have encountered in my life.

    Again, I like this site and I know what I am getting into when I read things here. That said, sometimes it’s important to remember that on the other end of the snark are real people – real WOMEN. Being hurtful towards them because they believe differently than you is not a shining light of tolerance and respect for all woman that one would hope would be a consistent part of all feminist writings.

  157. But then why are you letting a vocal contingent define feminism to you, when lots of other feminists are telling you that isn’t part of standard feminist thought?

    A Sarah’s snark in that post didn’t target practicing Catholics, from what I remember, though now I want to go back and reread it when I have a chance. It targeted one really anti-woman Catholic theologian.

    Though, feminism also does NOT mean you can’t disagree with other women’s ideas. Tolerance of difference of background is not the same as keeping quiet or even not getting angry — and sarcastic, even — when someone says things that are illogical, inconsistent, and marginalizing.

  158. Yeah, i went back and reread most of it, and I just don’t see it. There isn’t a disparaging comment about Catholicism as a faith tradition, or about Catholics in there that I could find. There are a lot of disparaging and sarcastic comments about one person who says assholish and illogical things from a position of authority in the Church, which is not above criticism no matter how much you respect people’s beliefs. I really do not see the connection between disagreeing with a church official and hating Catholics.

  159. Being hurtful towards them because they believe differently than you is not a shining light of tolerance and respect

    Please take your own advice. I understand your hurt feelings, truly, but you kind of showed up with a big chip on your shoulder that doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the people here, but other experiences you have had in other places.

  160. Still, I remember being very upset that women couldn’t teach in the church (except for Sunday school) because we “had other gifts.”

    Yep, that’s one of the main reasons I wound up Wiccan. Having a vocation (granted I didn’t know what it was until much later) while being a girl in a Baptist church was not a pleasant experience.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like watching the church culture gradually shift around you in not-so-awesome ways. It was bad enough going in when it was not awesome.

    It was never a feminist heaven or anything, but it really did get worse — and continues to do so in a lot of ways.

  161. In all fairness, while I do believe there are people who would consider themselves “feminist Catholics” or “pro-choice Catholics,” there is a fine line, here, and the reason I bring it up is because it is the reason I do not practice the Catholicism with which I was raised. The Church, under its present leadership, has stepped back from the pro-humanist leanings of Vatican II which happened in the (I believe) mid-70s, and has now gone back to a very hard line stance. Pope John Paul II, who was revered by many, was not kind to feminists and pro-choice Catholics. In his Church, if you didn’t attend Mass at least weekly, you were not to consider yourself truly Catholic – because one that does not live the faith cannot hold the name. That’s why the furor over politicians who believe in choice being denied the sacraments.

    True feminism existing alongside true Catholicism is, I think (based on the edicts of the Church), impossible. I think that might be how some can view feminists as hating Catholics or vice versa. It’s not actually hatred… my view is that it’s just differing core beliefs that are incompatible.

  162. Whew, there was a lot of commenting since I’ve been out of the discussion! (So glad that Chava and LimeSarah were here to represent, though :), and that LimeSarah quoted the VelveteenRabbi, that makes me happy).

    OK, a couple of things, since this has been marinading in my brain for a while:

    First, as way, way up there Katherine alluded to the verse from Vayikra/Leviticus about loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The intersection of FA and my faith brought me to where I could finally love myself as I had been loving my neighbor.

    Second, in a more general way, the way I see an intersection of FA and religion/faith…We all have lenses through which we see the world. These are partly an influence of our families of origin, our culture, etc., etc. It seems that those of us who buy into the whole FA thing have essentially “questioned the lenses” (not sure if my phrasing makes sense), that is, questioned the “givens,” question the “obvious” things that everyone just “knows” (i.e. about fat, etc.). It seems that a lot of us have also questioned our religious/spiritual lenses, questioned the very way we are looking at the world, not just what we are looking at, and I do not think that the two are unrelated.

  163. I guess I distinguish between individuals who consider themselves Catholic and official church dogma. I have respect for people who find value in a faith tradition where they might not agree with every last piece of church writing to the letter. And there are so many self-named Catholics who believe in using birth control, who work for equality for women, who even support gay marriage, even though those are officially not allowed in church doctrine. By the strict rules of the official church dogma, probably only a small portion of people who consider themselves Catholics really deserve the name, but I think that would offend those people even more than me saying they can’t be a feminist, you know? Who am I to say what works for another person? I think feminism and Catholicism are as compatible as being a feminist and voting for the Democratic party. Which I generally do. :)

  164. Also, not to pile on, but I am also uncomfortable with the term Judeo-Christian. I know it is often used to be “inclusive,” but rather than feeling included, I feel that my religion is co-opted or covered over.

    I have heard other, smarter, academic-y type jew people say things like this as well.

    I don’t have a solution, though I prefer “Abrahamic faiths.” It kind of sucks when so many people have been assholes ahead of you that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  165. Yeah, I thought grouping that lineage of religions together as “Abrahamic” was less loaded, though someone upthread (can’t find the comment now) said they thought it still implied superiority, which surprised me. I thought it was just a category. Maybe there’s also a history to that term that I haven’t heard about before?

  166. It was never a feminist heaven or anything, but it really did get worse — and continues to do so in a lot of ways.

    Ok, I can’t keep out entirely. ;)

    The zeitgeist of Southern Baptists has definitely gotten more anti-feminist in the last several decades. But if it’s possible to change in one direction, it’s possible to change in the other, too. Not as easily; strident extremists are by definition more tied to their line of thinking than moderates, and will fight harder to get/stay in power. But no denomination is currently exactly like it always has been. All of them are subject to politics the same way as any other grouping of people, and the flavor and feel of each will change each generation as different people come into power. And make no mistake about it, there is a hierarchy of power in most denominations. For instance, for all their posturing about local church autonomy, it’s surprising how much the SBC controls when you realize it – the leadership sets the curriculum for the seminaries, which then train all their pastors in that mindset. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave a religion if it doesn’t fit with what you think about the world, but it’s also possible to stay in, call yourself one of them, and work hard for change from the inside. Southern Baptists used to be incredibly against divorce; I remember when I was a youngster one of the most upstanding pillars of the church was denied becoming a deacon because he had been married and divorced once in his youth (although married to his second wife for over 30 years at the time). Now no one blinks twice, and the last Southern Baptist church I was in had more divorcees in the congregation and leadership than people who had never been divorced. As the social climate changed, so did they, eventually. If a lot of feminists remain as Southern Baptists, vocal enough to stand up and tough enough to withstand the backlash, it might change on that as well.

    I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve thought of it that way – that it might indeed be possible to change church doctrine by becoming a majority voice within it, and that if people want to take that route, it’s not at all hypocritical for them to call themselves feminist Baptists, or gay Catholics, or whatever. So there you go.

  167. I am also uncomfortable with the term Judeo-Christian. I know it is often used to be “inclusive,” but rather than feeling included, I feel that my religion is co-opted

    Yes, exactly.

    @Volcanista – I think it’s my post that you’re referring to. I do think that “Abrahamic” is a far better term for simply grouping religions with common heritage and scriptures. My issue is that the context in which I’ve generally encountered the term is no different from “Judeo-Christian” – i.e. it’s often used to describe the values on which the United States was (supposedly) founded and by which all citizens “should” live. It’s just another way of forcing specific values on all people.

  168. A Sarah said: Also, car and any others not engaging because the topic is too hard for you: hey, I really admire you for that kind of self-awareness, even as I wince that I’ve excluded you in the choice of topic.

    Thank you. For me, personally, it’s not that it’s too hard, it’s just that there is nothing for me to discuss. I’m an atheist, I grew up with no religious family members, I was never part of any faith-based group, though I was a theist at one time.

    I don’t feel that anything I have to say would be relevant to the current discussion as it stands, and I’m pretty much okay with that, even as I’m really confused by a lot of what my friend calls “the god talk.” It’s not something I understand, therefore I don’t tend to engage because I know I can’t without becoming condescending or confrontational.

    A Sarah said: Anyway, I’m watching how this plays out, to know whether the religion stuff will be good fodder for future posts. It may be that I’ve made a big mistake by even taking the risk.

    It’s not my cup of tea, but I absolutely don’t think you have made a mistake. From the comments I am reading here, this is a very valuable subject to a lot of people, and I think you really touched a nerve — a good one! And that is really important. If we, as a movement, want to achieve our goals, we need to be flexible enough to accomodate members of all faiths.

    Part of accepting anything in life, part of making SENSE of things, is finding a metaphor that works for you, a metaphor you can live without diminshing or denigrating yourself or others. If the Christian people here find that a metaphor used in their faith works for them as far as FA is concerned, dude, I think that is so amazing. And I think more talk of that is good. Religion is a shared thing, and as such, it has powerful potential — often overlooked or misused, but still, wonderful potential — to provide metaphors and understandings of parts of our lives that are difficult or conflicted. That is a huge part of what it is FOR.

    I would really really love to see some guest posts by people of other faiths. We should try to be inclusive.

  169. Hi everyone…I thought I would comment for the first time (have been reading for a while) to announce myself as one of those mystical creatures: a feminist Catholic!

    Thank you to those of you who realize we exist. Though I understand how Margaret could have come to the conclusion she did…I have run across many, many anti-Catholic sentiments elsewhere in otherwise feminist geared, safe spaces, typically any time the Vatican or other Church leadership does something awful relating to birth control or abortions. A Sarah, your earlier post did not come across that way to me…I had run across the same article about “disordered appetites” earlier and was *furious* that someone, under the banner of my church, was saying that because I am fat, I do not deserve dignity. I was equally furious at the point he was trying to make about gay marriage.

    Not all Catholics subscribe to some of the more restrictive dogma. The whole birth control/abortion debate is a new, new thing…and is based on a belief that life is sacred. Which I believe supports even more an argument for treating all people, of all races/genders/sexualities/weights/what have you with dignity. I have met wonderful priests who start mass by welcoming everyone, gay and straight alike. I met with a priest recently, as I am preparing to marry a fantastic Jewish man, and I was upset because I read somewhere that an interfaith marriage, while considered valid by the church, would not constitute a sacrament. His response? He asked me if I thought a marriage between two men or two women was a sacrament. I was worried it was a trick question, but answered honestly that I thought it was…and he agreed. I have talked to priests that say you should only have as many children as you can financially and emotionally support…and who have not condemned the use of birth control. So not all in Catholic communities is counter to feminist values.

    More on point to this post…my acceptance of myself has always been entwined with my spirituality. In high school, while struggling with the fact that I felt that my mom would love me, if I could just lose the few pounds she wanted me to lose, I lost my faith in God…because I had always believed God was unconditional love, and if love from my closest family was conditioned on weight, how could there be unconditional love anywhere? I have since found comfort in the belief that out there is a Being that does love me that way. (And my mom and I are better…I was overreacting, and she is working on her fat-shaming tendencies.)

    Probably way too long of a ramble. But those are my thoughts. :)

  170. I was raised as an Episcopalian, more or less, as my mother’s stepfather was Jewish, so we had Easter and Passover and Yom Kippur and Christmas and Hannukkah. I married a Catholic, who is now a Atheist\Secular Humanist (or perhaps Buddist, we’ll see), but I still attend church with his mother and our kids.

    At this point in my life, I have collected three Advent Wreaths, a couple of liturgical calendars, two Menorahs, my grandmother’s old Seder Plate, a certain aversion to pork products, numerous prayer books and colored candles, some truly revolting incense, and the deep seated belief that beyond all the trappings, clutter, words and deeds (ain’t free will a bitch?), God (as I call him) is Really Real.

    This works for me.

    As for FA, it occurred to me with great joy not so long ago that the God I believe in doesn’t create mistakes. Therefore, I am not a mistake, my body is not a mistake, I don’t need to be fixed.

    Yes, this can also be backed up with several scientific reports and all those wonderful, strong people who I’ve found through FA.

    But, for me, it all started with a kind of faith that I wasn’t lazy, stupid, worthless, shameful, doomed, or broken for deciding to live in, and perhaps even learn to love, the body I was given.

  171. With respect, that simply isn’t true. A belief that something does NOT exist, when there is no evidence either way, is a belief. You cannot possibly know, so you take it on faith that God does not exist.

    I hope I’m not stepping outside the bounds of this discussion, but I have to take issue with this. Atheists have beliefs (not all the same ones), but most reject faith in the sense that religious people seem to use it. I don’t believe in a god or gods. I don’t believe in a whole raft of things, actually. It’s not an act of faith, simply an absence of belief.

    Most religious people I know also don’t believe in a bunch of gods – they only believe in their own. (How’s that for awkward phrasing). I did briefly share a house with someone who believed in pretty much everything. Every time she heard of a god in any pantheon, old or new, she added it to her list. She also believed in auras, crystal healing, alien visitations, fairies, ghosts, and several forms of fortune telling. I was occasionally awestruck by her capacity for belief, but I had trouble having a conversation with her.

    I’m not bringing her up to make fun of believers (except her) because I have a number of good friends who are religious and we get along fine and mutually respect each other. I respect A Sarah and the commenters here for talking about their faith in a serious way. I just want to note that some of us don’t believe in things because we find them unbelievable – nothing more complicated than that.

    Now I’m running off to go find books on evo psych. I don’t think I’ve come across that term before!

    AIEE!! Don’t do it! Run away. Evo psych is a pseudoscience created by aging professors who wanted an intellectual underpinning to justify their sexual harassment and other bad behavior. It has nothing to do with evolution or psychology.

  172. hope I’m not stepping outside the bounds of this discussion, but I have to take issue with this. Atheists have beliefs (not all the same ones), but most reject faith in the sense that religious people seem to use it. I don’t believe in a god or gods. I don’t believe in a whole raft of things, actually. It’s not an act of faith, simply an absence of belief.

    Yeah, I’m with you on this and was debating whether to comment on this very same thing earlier. I identify as an atheist because I live my day to day life as if there is not a god. That doesn’t mean I have faith that there is not or that I even believe there is not. Given the information before me, I think that there being no god as we humans tend to contextualize the idea is the likeliest thing, but I also think there’s an infinite number of things we don’t know and understand and I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers.

    I don’t think that set of beliefs that I hold is what people are saying when they say that atheists have faith there is no god and I don’t think having that set of beliefs makes me an “agnostic” either. I think the tendency of religious people to define all but the most militant atheists as agnostics is a technique that serves to minimize the influence of atheists in public discourse. I also find myself kind of annoyed that it tends to be thrown out like some favor — “Oh, that’s what you believe? Well, I would consider that ‘agnostic’.” It’s kind of a “But I don’t think of YOU as fat” thing.

  173. Thanks, Sniper! I’m glad I refreshed the page, because I’d been skimming down the thread and kept thinking, ‘Atheism, I do not think it means what you think it means.’

    A good place to start, IMHO, is the Wikipedia article on Atheism, and also that on Existentialism. I’d link them, but every time I link something I wind up in moderation.

    However, short answer is much as Sniper’s: Atheism is the absence of belief rather than belief in absence, and it comes in many flavors.

  174. Oooh – I super hope I’m not inserting my foot in mouth here but:

    faith
    –noun
    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing.
    2. belief that is not based on proof:

    As Sniper said – it may not be faith as most religions use the term faith, but what I got from what Volcanista was saying is that because it is a belief that can not be proven it would fit the definition of “faith”. At least that is how I saw it.

    I’m not well versed in Atheism – but would like to ask the honest question – is there a reason that Atheists would take issue with part of their belief being categorized as faith? is it because of the connotations typically associated with faith or is it something more?

  175. Hmmm. I just erased a big answer to Carolyn’s comment because it was probably out of place and I get testy when people try to define my beliefs for me. Let’s just say that I use Mark Twain’s definition of faith, and leave it at that.

  176. @ Sniper – I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to define your beliefs. I was trying to put together what you said and what Volcanista said and try to understand something I felt was important about this belief system but that I felt I wasn’t “getting”. Again, I’m sorry if it was offensive.

  177. I wasn’t offended, Carolyn, just testy. I’ve been an atheist my whole life and I’ve run into way too many people who are concerned for my spiritual health and wonder if I’ve ever really tried prayer and meditation.

    There’s a link to Fat Acceptance there, too.

  178. Sniper and Volcanista~

    Yeah, it took me about 5 minutes of reading about evo psych online for me to have the oh-that’s-crazy revelation. So I was warned off too late, but thanks for trying. ;)

    And I was interested to find out that the author of the book I was referring to (The Lucifer Principle) is considered one of the founders I guess you’d say, of evo psych. That was my first and only run in with it, and although I found the book really interesting, there were a whole lot of parts that were pretty out there and (I thought) sloppily researched/supported. But still a fascinating read, and it did give me a whole lot of conversation fodder with my brother who read it after I did.

  179. Sniper, I am not sure if you were objecting at all to my response to Kaz, but here is where I am coming from on it:

    I WAS, for most of my life, and to an extent still am, an atheist. For a very long time I danced around it because I had internalized a lot of the unconscious prejudice about it, and one day I woke up and said, you know, *I believe* there is no God. And that is my credo/faith/what have you. That simple statement was so powerful for me, especially to start telling others that (I grew up in Dixie, so you can imagine).

    I am trying to say that for me personally it was very much a belief system with its own little culture, and I knew I had my own prejudices around that system, and get irked when other atheists would get all “Noooo, we are perfectly rational! No faith here!”

  180. FWIW – I googled Mark Twain’s quote on Faith. I’ll have to let that one marinate.

    Indeed I see the FA connection there. Today was my first day of College classes. I started the morning at 7:30 in a “health” class. It wasn’t 15 minutes into the class and the teacher already had people listing off the diseases associated with obesity and going on about how people in Cambodia and Japan are exponentially healthier than Americans because they walk or bike everywhere and they eat healthy food that keeps them skinny. **headdesk**

    So yeah, it reminded me of a few times going to church and sitting amongst the congregation as they shouted “Amen” and what not and being SUPER grateful that no one was telepathic.

  181. (I grew up in Dixie, so you can imagine).

    @ Chava – oooh I feel ya!! I grew up in rural Montana. 2 things you never say in Montana:

    1. I don’t hunt – I’m vegan.
    2. I’m not Christain

    Both of which are true for me.

    I worked at a credit union for many years and people would come up to me and try to convert me at work! (not that I brought up my faith at work – apparently I just look un-Christain** to some folks) They would leave me with pamphlets and stuff it was crazy because you couldn’t just tell them to bugger off. But on the FA tie in – I use to have people try to sell me diet stuff at work too. One guy was always trying to get me on the Barley Greens thing. Blech! I guess being a fat, happy girl with tons of tattoo’s just screams SAVE ME FROM MYSELF!

    ** I know this isn’t how all Christians operate – it just happened to be the extra “judgey” experience I had with the extra conservative folks in the town I lived in.

  182. I grew up in Dixie, so you can imagine

    I was raised by agnostics in very secular northern Canada, so it’s actually pretty hard for me to imagine, but I get your drift. And no, I wasn’t objecting to your post. It’s just that I’m not an atheist because of faith, or belief, or because I’m super rational; I just don’t believe. Belief doesn’t seem to come naturally to me at all.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard “your body is a temple” crap from religious fat-haters, and “calories-in, calories-out” crap from nonbelieving fat-haters. It’s all hate to me.

  183. I’m reading all of these comments about atheism being a type of faith in the non-existence of a god, and I have to chime in again. I think LilahMorgan’s description of atheism is perfectly in line with how I view it. I can’t honestly call my atheism faith, because to me faith has such an obvious religious connotation, and atheism is just the absence of religious faith.

    My idea of faith is when someone says they are *certain* about something existing, even though they have a lack of proof for it. They feel it to be true and actively protect and nurture that belief.

    My disbelief in god is the same for me as my disbelief in other mythical things I can’t see and have no evidence of. Unicorns, fairies, three-toed sloths with laser beam eyes. I don’t go around convincing myself anew each day that these things do not exist, I just assume they don’t, and they don’t cross my mind because the things that don’t exist are legion, and god just gets a lot of that attention in particular because so many people do believe in him/her/it.

    So I guess my point is that faith is a belief in a something, while atheism is categorically a belief in nothing.

    The first requires an active role on the part of the believer(affirmations, creeds, prayer, group discussions about god’s nature), because you believe in a specific thing and want to strengthen your belief in it.

    For something that you have a non-belief about there is no effort to sustain it, because there are all sorts of unconsidered and improbable things that you just don’t bother imagining to dissuade yourself of, and for an atheist, god is one of them.

    I hope that makes sense, I’m getting sleepy…

  184. @ Amy
    three-toed sloths with laser beam eyes

    I have a 6 toed cat who thinks she has laser beam eyes does that count? :)

    On a more serious note – I appreciate your comment and think it answers my question about what I wasn’t “getting” above.

  185. Hmm, Amy, I’ll play devil’s advocate a little, because I guess I’m not sure I’m understanding everyone’s arguments very well.

    Many of the religious folk I know have a gut feeling – they KNOW – that God exists. Sometimes a definitive one (the Christian version), sometimes a more nebulous force.

    I suspect that those who feel that way see prayer/discussion as flowing naturally from that, rather than strengthening it – the same way that, say, I experience feminist philosophy discussions.

    I guess I wonder about setting *any* belief that gets set up as a default against which others are measured – the way whiteness is seen as a default and poc are “deviations” or the way capitalism is the default and other forms are aberrations. It’s an idea that makes me uncomfortable, and I can’t quite figure out how it applies to atheism, or if it doesn’t at all, since atheism is relatively unprivileged so it’s not a literal social default mindset.

  186. I don’t think atheism is a default the way whiteness is. Rather, atheism is a default for some, but not all, atheists, the way religious is a default for some, but not all, theists. It’s a personal thing, and – probably partly because I am the child of agnostics and was raised in a fairly secular environment – it’s what comes naturally to me.

    That said, I still think there’s a difference between affirmative belief and an amorphous lack of belief of the sort many atheists, myself included, profess. It’s not so much about whether a theist prays or meditates to strengthen that belief; it’s about an actual profession of faith and a commitment to a life style that involves a deity or deities. Someone who just goes about their life assuming that there is no god but not engaging with that disbelief in an affirmative way occupies a different space, I think.

    That said, I am sure there are theists who interact with god much the way atheists interact with no god — or, perhaps, the way many atheists AND theists interact with scientific principals that are poorly understood by most of us but which we assume as part of our background cosmology. Like relativity or something. And who put god in that category. So maybe there’s not a categorical difference between atheists and theists, and many atheists have an awful lot in common with many somewhat vague spiritual people. But I do think there’s a difference between most atheists and most people who actively identify with a particular religion.

  187. Okay, I’m totally late to the party here. I am an atheist (by my own identification) who grew up very Christian and very involved in a Baptist church. It was actually my involvement in the church, and specifically with their Bible-reading groups, that lead me to the whole atheism thing; my interest in theology lead to an interest in philosophy, which lead to a pretty strong identification with logical positivism, which lead to my eventual apostasy.

    Anyway, I really wanted to reply to Carolyn’s question here:
    I’m not well versed in Atheism – but would like to ask the honest question – is there a reason that Atheists would take issue with part of their belief being categorized as faith? is it because of the connotations typically associated with faith or is it something more?

    Okay. I’m going to get a bit logic geek-y here for a moment, so please bear with me. (For the purpose of making this easier to read, when I say “God”, I mean any divine being, not just the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph.)

    In my particular flavor of atheism, I lack a belief in God, and if someone told me that I believe there is no God, I’d correct them. Because there’s a big difference.

    God is unproven. There are a lot of attempts at logical proofs of God’s existence, and, well, they’re all pretty bloody awful. In my opinion, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence, empirical or logical, to support the existence of God.

    This is where logical rules come in. In argument, skepticism is usually assumed, and the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim. So, if someone claims there is a God, it’s their job to prove it.
    Another rule is that it’s impossible to definitely prove a negative claim. Only positive claims can be proven. Logically, I will never, ever, ever be able to prove that there is no God and I’m not foolish enough to attempt the impossible.

    So, to *finally* get to answering your question, Carolyn, I acknowledge that I hold a belief in the absence of proof, but I think my belief is a logical one, assumed from skepticism and subject to change as new information comes in. I don’t, however, have faith because there’s nothing there to have faith in.

  188. “Or if you don’t believe in a deity or multiple deities, how (if at all) do you articulate your source of ultimate hope that sustains your work?”

    Currently I’m in between undergrad and teacher’s college so I don’t really feel like I have “my work” and feel rather purposeless. For now. But for the work I hope to do (for a career, teach social sciences, ideally women’s studies to high schoolers), my hope is simply that I can in some way make the world a bit better and improve/change people’s lives a little.
    Sometimes, I want to believe in God again. It’s not that I “logically” don’t believe. It’s just that you can’t just choose to believe. Otherwise I might. But at this point if I somehow started to believe in God, I’d also doubt that He exists because I’d think that I’m just believing because *I* might feel better if I believed, not because He actually exists. Hope that makes sense.
    I read the whole Bible as a young teen. I think Jesus said some really great things.
    One source of hope for me is my optimistic belief that the world is improving. No matter how many things seem to get worse I can always point out a lot of things that have improved.
    I tried out churches once. I felt surprisingly euphoric at the pentecostal service singing those songs with everyone (it actually scared me a little, it almost felt like I had taken drugs). I admire how they seem to *know* God and Jesus. But my parents made me wary of any church that has too many rules for life outside church. I went to United Church and I love how they are liberal and accept everyone and talk about social justice but in a way I liked the pentacostal service better. I’ve never heard of a church that has both those aspects. Is there one?

  189. juliah wrote:
    “God is unproven. There are a lot of attempts at logical proofs of God’s existence, and, well, they’re all pretty bloody awful. In my opinion, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence, empirical or logical, to support the existence of God.”

    I can totally relate to this. Given my past churchy history..and the subsequent “finding of myself” in my 20s, I too contemplated this very question. The answer I got was this: My meager knowledge of science, evolution, and how life comes to be aside…..I just can’t get past that all life on Earth is here because of some Big Bang Theory. Explosions and energy and matter colliding to form the basics of life from whence we all have come seems too random for my own logic. There is too much order, specificity, uniqueness and creativity involved in life for my mind to believe that it is just some random, disordered, luck of the draw type of thing. There is so much that works and works well in the formation, sustenance, and cycles of life and growth for it (to me) to be just a chance happening.

    For this reason, I have embraced the existance of God. That doesn’t mean I embrace a specific religious depiction of God….in fact, I tend to believe that God exists in many forms, in many ways, and on many levels. I also believe that God does not intervene……He/She merely set life in motion and left the rest up to us to live as we see fit. I guess that makes me a deist…..believing in one Creator who started the ball rolling wherever it may roll. Though we don’t attend organized religious services anymore, we DO give thanks for what we have to the Creator–giving thanks before meals, thanking God for the goodness of our lives, especially in the face of tragedy.

    This way of thinking has faith…just not expectations. I don’t expect God to change my life…that’s up to me.

  190. You guys, I haven’t gone back to reread all of my comments, but I sincerely hope I never used the word “faith” when discussing atheism.

    It’s interesting to me how the words “faith” and “belief” are being used interchangeably, when I was always taugh that those words have very different connotations from each other in a religious context. Saying that atheists and agnostics have personal belief systems about how the universe and existence work and function is not the same as saying they have religious faith, through disbelief or otherwise.

    I think everyone has beliefs about some things in the universe based on inconclusive evidence or just a hunch or feeling. Maybe those are just taken on “faith,” depending on how you use the word. These things don’t have to have anything to do with god(s) or spirituality, and I wasn’t suggesting that the lack of a belief in god(s) constitutes a belief structure or a faith. But I would suggest that people who don’t believe in God still have beliefs about existence – like that the universe started with the Big Bang, and the moon was formed by a large impactor, and that life started somehow at the molecular level in the Archean, maybe related to a comet or something. Scientists believe a lot of things about their fields of study that they don’t know for sure, where the evidence is contradictory or lacking. I mean a LOT. They believe in an idea, or come up with a new one, and they try to test it, but no scientist perfectly and objectively follows the scientific method, because we are all biased by personal beliefs. I mean, I firmly believe in plumes, and the anti-plumists firmly do not, and people believe and disbelieve in these things with religious fervor.

    It’s not necessarily equivalent to religion, and that isn’t really what I’m driving at (e.g. science is just a kind of religion! yeah, no), but there is enough in common for me to feel pretty strongly that humans make assumptions and construct belief systems for themselves. All humans. So I avoid suggesting one system is superior to another. Just because an atheistic approach appears to be more evidence-based doesn’t mean it always is. Scientists and atheist scientists still have feelings about how things are and don’t draw all of their conclusions about the universe based on cold, hard logic like robots.

  191. Another way of saying this is that even when it reaches the level of a Theory, scientists don’t really know anything, either. The most we know is how things can’t be. Science is all negative.

  192. I’ve been pondering this one; as a neopagan, I too find images of goddesses with ample figures comforting and beautiful. Even more comforting aspects of earth-based religions are paganism’s attempt to avoid the sense of perpetual sin that dogs many other religions and its focus on the sacred as immanent (right here, right now, in the body, on the earth) rather than transcendant. All of these are useful ways to look at things when I’m feeling bad about my shape being less than “perfect” by conventional standards.

    That sounds really good, doesn’t it? But the truth is that with all paganism can offer me, I still remain really conflicted. I spend a lot of time in that phase that Kate once described as “cognitive dissonance,” the one where FA principles make perfect sense…for everyone else, the one where I can have Shapely Prose open in one tab and Weight Watchers in the next and can’t fully commit myself to either one. Coming from a family with a long Puritanical streak running right through it, there are a lot of times when I can’t believe in a world without guilt, or in which the flesh is innocent, or in which I’d be happy about being fat. There are times when I’m painfully embarrassed about how woo-woo-flaky my religion can appear, when I think bitter thoughts about the way witches dress or the number of us who are willing to use phrases like “energy work” in public. And I’m also ashamed of feeling this way, of being ashamed. I know both FA and paganism have as their central tenets “don’t beat yourself up,” but for a lot of us that’s like telling us not to breathe. There are wonderful times when the divine is luminously present even to my warped vision, when “love and trust” are more than a catchphrase….but those aren’t all the times, not by a long shot. I hope this doesn’t count as trolly diet talk or anything, but every time our bloggers say self-acceptance isn’t any box of baby donuts, let me tell you, they are not kidding, no matter what you believe.

    Anyway, I don’t know what to do with these things; the best I can say is that I’m a work in progress in terms of both paganism and body acceptance. The key to both is FAITH–believing in what we don’t (generally) see, and that’s never been my strong suit. Maybe if I keep hanging in there, the Goddess will yet show me the way. Blessed be.

  193. God is unproven. There are a lot of attempts at logical proofs of God’s existence, and, well, they’re all pretty bloody awful. In my opinion, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence, empirical or logical, to support the existence of God.

    That will also greatly depend on how you define “God”. I would say that I have evidence for the existence of God, but I have a very non-anthropomorphic, Kaplan/Buber hybrid sort of God. For me, God is the beauty and interconnectedness of the universe, the act of connecting to other people, the sum total of justice in the world…that sort of thing. And someone might reasonably disagree with my choice to connect all the acts of kindness in the world into a unified concept, but they’d almost certainly agree that each individual one existed. It’s more a matter of disagreeing how to view or describe the same data than a matter of differing data.

  194. You know, as a happy agnostic, I’m getting a little testy that so many atheists here are using the term agnostic as though it’s some sort of wishy-washy, indecisive, pseudo-belief.

    It’s not.

    I call myself agnostic – and don’t see that changing anytime soon – because I don’t care if God exists. It doesn’t matter to me because I see no proof either way and am going to live my life as a good person regardless. Admittedly, I probably lean more towards atheist than theist, but God’s existence is not a central issue in my life.

    I’d also like to reiterate that being religious does not necessarily intrinsically indicate belief in God. I’m very secure in my Judaism – it’s an important part of who I am – but I don’t think that any sort of belief is even required of me. In fact, I know that Judaism doesn’t require belief, because action is more important. In the Talmud, it says (to paraphrase): When you come before God, He will not care if you have believed, but how you have treated your fellow (hu)man.”

    It’s not just here – I’ve run into this a lot (*ahem* Richard Dawkins) – but agnostics aren’t only questioning theists or wimpy atheists.

  195. Meems, do you know the militant agnostic bumper sticker? “I don’t know, and neither do you!”

  196. LilahMorgan, that was very helpful and interesting. I’m going to chew that over for awhile. Thanks!

    limesarah, I think the difference between “evidence” and “proof” is important. I can find evidence for a lot of stuff, some of which exists and some of which doesn’t. Thresholds for when evidence becomes proof vary a lot; for me, the existence of acts of kindness is not proof of God, any more than the existence of the earth is proof that God created it. It’s something that you’d expect to exist if the argument was true, but far from being a posteriori proof. On the other hand, the evidence at hand suggests other theories, too – in the case of the earth, I’d say there’s a stronger case to be made that the Earth was not blipped into existence 6000 years ago. So it’s not just that evidence exists, but also that it supports your case convincingly and more strongly than others.

  197. I hope I’m not stepping on any toes, but I find it a bit disconcerting that atheism and agnosticism are being discussed in a way that is often done for them, but never done for any religion. The merits for and against, questions like “how can atheists be happy or think there’s any meaning to life”, talk about whether someone is a ‘real’ atheist based on the strength and quality of their belief system, what the evidence is for and against the specifics of each individual – I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it, but it’s another example of it being seen as lesser than other belief systems. Usually people are too – polite, or circumspect, or something about beliefs to not take a person and dissect and analyze their particulars. But when it’s an absence of belief, suddenly it’s like being a lab specimen. I don’t want to say that there’s anything wrong with the conversation here, and it’s going very well, but something seems off. First people were talking about their own experiences with faiths and how it affects other parts of their lives, and each was just given as a personal example, but then when atheism came up suddenly the thread was all about specifics of atheism, and definitions of atheism, and atheists feeling the need to rationalize out and explain everything…
    I don’t think it’s a problem with the conversation itself; it would be perfectly situated in an atheism 101 post or something, but here it just seems like an odd fit. Everyone’s sharing their own experiences, but then when atheism comes into the mix it’s the odd duck that gets derailed on. It could just be that I’m overly sensitive to criticism and being poked at due to my experiences and background, but it feels like there are at least a few dozen different ways of looking at the world here, and only one is being singled out.

  198. An observation of the conversation as a whole:

    Something I’ve been thinking about while reading the comments is how loaded so many of the terms are that we’re using, that we HAVE to use because they are all we have. I first became really aware of the loaded-ness (???) of so many religious/spiritual words through my conversion process to judaism. So many of these words in English have so much Christian baggage for me, and so much Christian connotation for others, that sometimes it is hard to communicate what I want to say describing a Jewish thing by using an English word.

    A number of times while reading the discussion (particularly the atheist/agnostic thread) I was thinking, “But how are we defining our terms?” I was just getting an impression that one person was using a word one way, and another was using a word another, and it can be really frustrating to have a conversation like that. Some of this has been addressed already by previous commenters.

  199. “Organized religions are for people who need a materialistic structure and want someone else to show them EXACTLY ABC, how to obtain salvation.”

    Geez, Melissa, that’s an awfully broad generalization, bordering on prejudice. If organized religion is not for you, that’s cool, but please don’t make sweeping assumptions about those of us who belong to an organized religion for reasons of heritage, or community, or the comfort and joy we find in rituals.

    I’m a Catholic and a feminist.

  200. Car, I agree with your observation that atheism/agnosticism gets dissected a lot more than anyone’s religious beliefs.

    I’ve never really understood that, since it seems to me that ‘the burden of proof” as one of the previous commenters put it, should rest with the person defending an affirmative stance. And besides that, I think the respect for personal beliefs should go both ways.

    I like reading people’s explanations and questions about faith and doubt, belief and disbelief, but I do wish that it was more common to really question believers about why they believe, because for me that seems so alien and I always like to hear arguments for it from rational people (like the ones on this forum). Sometimes in real life I’m too afraid of offending someone to ask about their reasons for believing, even as I’m getting interrogated about being an atheist. But I live in the bible belt, so maybe that’s here more than other places…

  201. @car (a while back): If a lot of feminists remain as Southern Baptists, vocal enough to stand up and tough enough to withstand the backlash, it might change on that as well.

    It’s not impossible. From what I understand, the WMU has been putting up one hell of a fight behind the scenes. And there have been a few SBC officers elected recently who weren’t quite as hardcore.

    But there are some serious obstacles to uprising from within — one of which is that core baptist doctrine isn’t really taught to the congregations much these days. How can they revolt if they don’t even know why they should?

    I wish anyone who’s willing to take that on luck and strength, cause they’ll need it. But it seriously wasn’t my road to take.

  202. It’s not just here – I’ve run into this a lot (*ahem* Richard Dawkins) – but agnostics aren’t only questioning theists or wimpy atheists.

    Who said this? I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but as an agnostic, I didn’t notice!

    car, but what about all of the commenters right from the beginning of the thread who said they were atheist and how that informs their experience of FA? or the long and only vaguely on-topic discussion about the nature of Catholicism? The discussion has moved off topic, but I didn’t sense that the conversation about the experience of atheism and how people understand it was all that different.

  203. Also, the big derail started, IIRC, because there was some religion-bashing going on, which led into a discussion of how people use the terms “atheist” and “agnostic,” because clearly not everyone (including atheists and agnostics) are using them the same way. Most of that conversation seemed to be between non-religious folk.

  204. Volcanista, my phrasing was specifically that of Dawkins himself, but I felt echoes of it in the posts of several people who identify as atheist and I think were getting defensive about other people defining their beliefs for them.

    Car & Amy – I think people, especially in the United States, are scared to criticize religion for fear of backlash or rejection. I will say that we do discuss all aspects of belief in Divinity School, though the one I chose is known for being especially progressive.

    BecomingWhole – I think you’re absolutely correct that a lot of terms are very loaded, especially for non-Christians. Even the word “morals” makes me uncomfortable in some contexts.

  205. I just got back from vacation to find this whole discussion, which I love.
    @ becomingwhole: I also find it intensely difficult to describe anything Jewish in English. The first time I attempted to describe tzniut to someone in English, I actually cried I got so frustrated. Not to mention chesed… (I identify as an Orthodox Jew (born and bred, or frum from birth) but my parents grew up Conservative and are ‘ba’alei teshuvah’, my cousins are Reform, my sisters are pretty yeshivish… when we all get together it’s a little crazy.)

    I agree with the people who said that they find the term “Judeo-Christian” to be problematic. I always assumed it came into play when people were attempting to refer to the Tanach, or Old Testament. Thing is, the book reads differently in Hebrew than in English, and depending on whether you’re using the KJV or whomever. The organization varies a little, as does the meaning in some sections. I’ve studied medieval Jewish-Christian polemics and can give examples, if you want them. Christianity and Judaism each have tons of separate traditions… I’ve always seen them as dealing very differently with issues like bodies and women and othering… maybe I’m missing something? And I thought “Abrahamic” is a Muslim construct — do Christians see themselves as being connected to Abraham?

  206. But how could I stick around a congregation with more graduate degrees than kids? I need something dirtier, less cerebral. [snip] Now I’m faithless, but it’s a terribly hard way to live.

    friendly daughter, I know this discussion has moved on from your original comment, but this childfree, multiple-graduate-degrees-having atheist is still pissed about this comment. I’m sorry you feel that being faithless is terrible for you, but the assumption that graduate degrees + no kids + cerebral discussions = self-evidently heartless is insulting.

  207. … but the assumption that graduate degrees + no kids + cerebral discussions = self-evidently heartless is insulting.

    Well, as my cousin once said right to my (childless) face, “I think the real bitches are the ones who don’t at least ache for a child.”

    Oh, wait. That actually really sucked. As did the “concern” some family members had that by getting a degree, I was placing myself outside the marriage market. This attitude is distressingly common, I’m afraid.

  208. volcanista – yes, atheists were putting their comments in, but the direction of the later comments is different than with the discussion about Catholicism. That one was about whether one could be a feminist and a Catholic at the same time, not whether being a Catholic was a valid choice for anyone in the first place and what the historical and philosophical underpinnings of Catholicism are, if that makes any sense. I might well be being too sensitive about it – it just seems that the legitimacy of atheism is always a question in a way that the legitimacy of different denominations isn’t, and that this discussion was tracking off into analyzing that legitimacy rather than focusing on the personal interaction of it with FA.

  209. Seriously, that’s like, um, kind of the whole freaking plot of the Bible, over and over and over and over and over again.

    That may be the point of the New Testament, but it’s not the point of the old, many parts of which are about the divine right of a small group of people chosen arbitrarily by G-d to triumph over their neighbors through superior military force. (I’m not implying anything about the values or practice of modern Judaism, by the way, but the OT is not about the triumph of the meek.)

    I have a ton of respect for both Judaism and Catholicism and have spent many years immersed in one or the other, but I’m also pretty wary of white-washing the message.

  210. gnatalby, I totally can’t fault you for not wading through all the comments, lol, but… yup, you’re right, and Anita called me on it upthread. So you’re in good company. :)

  211. A Sarah, I love this post…that wedding gave me the sniffles. If that kind of Christianity had been around when I was younger, maybe I wouldn’t have turned my back on it.

    I was raised Church of England, had encounters with evangelical Christianity at school, and was for some years married to a Catholic. And in combination – although I guess I really became apostate after the evangelical stuff – they managed to turn me off anything that called itself Christianity for some years.

    Lyndsay, you touch on something interesting: both the CofE (in my case High Anglican) and the Catholic services I attended were definitely connecting with something in the atmosphere they created. For me, ritual is a powerful way to, yes, embody the Divine (isn’t that part of what a sacrament means?) in whatever form. And the evangelical mission I got dragged to was full of that euphoria you mention with the Pentecostals (although in that case, I wasn’t really able to be ‘drawn in’ and it was slightly disturbing – although I could see the effect it was having on my friends from the looks on their faces).

    But, in all cases, the connection didn’t carry through to everyday life. In all those traditions, there was always some part of me, of my own human life, that couldn’t be included. While there wasn’t an explicitly female bias to this, it did often seem like there was this image of the ‘good Christian (woman)’ and there were always things about me – my sexuality, curiosity, need to explore, desires, need for power and autonomy, for self-esteem and for human love – that didn’t fit that ideal. (I realize looking at that list that the name ‘Eve’ sums up the awkward stuff rather well. That was never made explicit but…interesting.) And I eventually decided that if the God who was supposed to have made me couldn’t take my human messiness, he wasn’t getting anything else from me either. I’ve since met Christians who’ve showed me that that isn’t the whole story, at all…but unless I ever end up living within traveling distance of St James’, Piccadilly (unlikely, as I can only take London in very small doses now), I don’t think I’ll be calling myself a Christian any time soon.

    Anyway… Having come through a bunch of other traditions (including Wicca, more generic paganism, Kemetic, Buddhism and a bunch of esoteric things), I’m not now sure what I’d describe myself as. Very eclectic pagan? UU? (I attended one of their churches for a while too, till we moved.) I suspect I’m one of those dreadful creatures, someone with a buffet-line religion – but I’m not sure what’s so awful about buffets. They let you pick what you want to eat, or believe, without worrying about foods, or doctrines, that make you gag or give you hives. Every established religion that’s ever existed has, IMHO, been syncretic, so they can hardly blame individuals for doing likewise, if it’s done with awareness and respect (which the religions too often haven’t shown to the neighboring or older creeds they took ideas from).

    I am, most importantly, a universalist, in the sense of believing that if there is a fulfilled condition, whether you call it heaven or enlightenment or whatever, and whether you believe it’s in some distant time or here and now, and if unconditional love has anything to do with it…everyone gets to go to the party. And part of that comes from the experience of being ostracized for appearance : I can’t countenance a cosmos where God won’t let you in unless you fit the dress code, in any sense. I’m now, finally, comfortable using the word God, which used to have way too much baggage for me, but I could say Goddess, or Reality, or Being, or Universe, just as easily. Immanent, knowable in a way that goes beyond logic, and for which we choose symbols and names to relate to it because we’re human and that’s what we do. Something which, ultimately, we can’t be separate from or rejected by. Gut feelings, unprovable, and I don’t really think that matters – not to me, anyway.

  212. @shoutz & @volcanista, re: what HMC (Holy Mother Church dogma) says, what Catholics say they believe, and what Catholics do:

    This history of Roman Catholicism (like Christianity broadly, as well as Islam) is interesting because they are religions that are so good at their programs of conversion.

    Quite rightly, we pay a lot of attention to the ways colonizing powers have used HMC – and the Church has allowed itself to be used, or has chosen to act- to subjugate others.

    However, if Catholicism as an institution wasn’t any good at being adapted by its converts, it would have had a harder time taking hold in new ground than it has. Anthropology, is my field and is all about how people do and don’t adapt in circumstances of cultural change.

    There’s a lot of interesting literature out there in Anth (on Voudou, and other Afro-Caribbean religions, on Native N. American populations, and more) that show how people on the ground hear doctrine, claim certain beliefs and practices, and reject others. What HMC says and what its adherents do is, to put a mild point on it, often very varied.

    If Haitians (80% Catholic, 100% Voudou, as they saying goes), Brazilians (people who will willingly consult Candomble priests and go to mass), and so on and so forth weren’t considered Catholic because of the ways they depart from the RC hard-line, there wouldn’t be any of them left.

    My point is, I find it helpful to think of feminism as similar to these sorts practices, which shouldn’t be compatible with Church Doctrine (which AREN’T if you ask HMC in Rome), but yet actually… are. People are endlessly inventive about how they manage their systems of belief. They make them work when they shouldn’t work.

    Critically, believers in “contradictory” systems of faith and philosophy, or faith and faith, tend to have a “says you and so what” approach towards outsiders informing them they can’t be X & Y. They find ways to become empowered or resist exclusion or whatever it is they are after.

    For me personally it’s not someone else’s prerogative- priest or atheist feminist- to hand out the jerseys to members playing on opposite teams. If I want to participate in Catholic faith life and feminist philosophy and politics, chances are good I will find a way and to hell with the naysayers.

  213. Wow, what a great essay, for anyone of any faith/mindset.

    In a similar vein, let me not comment any further and instead point all Shapelings towards “The Book of Longing” by Leonard Cohen. He hits the intersection between the flesh, the spirit, and good ol’ fashion hungers of all sorts right on the head, which also probably goes a long way towards explaining how he sold out a North American tour in something like an hour….

  214. And now that I’ve actually due diligized and read through the thread, I’d like to recommend this post:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_15759_10-things-christians-atheists-can-must-agree-on.html

    Which has some annoying sexism, but does posit some nice suggestions for how we can have conversations without hurting one anothers’ feelings on this intensely personal topic.

    (And, A Sarah, I did really like your post, I apologize if I came off jerky, I generally think you’re the cat’s pjs.)

  215. I’ve read this whole discussion with some interest, because I identify as athiest, and it’s always interesting to me how other people define and relate to their religious beliefs and faith.

    I was raised Presbyterian, the whole nine yards: Sunday school, membership classes, joined the church. And yet something was missing throughout that whole experience – data.

    A lot of my life can be boiled down to one statement: “show me the numbers”. And for this whole God concept, the whole religion idea, there weren’t any. In short, it wasn’t meeting MY needs.

    Of course, my needs are the opposite of faith: I need data, and as I’ve had it explained to me, faith is belief in the absence of data. Which is why it really bothers me when atheism is labeled as “faith there is no god” or “belief there is no god”. In my case, it’s “lack of evidence that there is a god.”

    The same data requirement brought me to FA: all my life I was told that being fat was a death sentence. That I would die of all TEH HORRIBLEZ. That eating less and moving more WOULD make me thin and acceptable.

    But when I finally looked at the data behind all these statements, it didn’t add up. The studies didn’t show the automatic death sentence. They did show that diets don’t work. (Which was backed up with my own experiences.) That bodies fight very hard to be what they are.

    FA logically fell out of that for me. Followed on by “since there is no concrete evidence for any deity or afterlife(*), there really isn’t any benefit for beating myself up.”

    Should new data come in, either pointing for or against a god, or for or against body issues, not only am I willing to reevaluate, I would require it of myself. It would be intellectually dishonest not to.

    (*)Speaking of intellectual dishonesty, there’s only one line of logical reasoning that has ever made me think that there may be something to an afterlife for souls. It goes along the lines of: in nature, nothing goes to waste. Everything is reused, there is a purpose for each energy expenditure. Humans spend a LOT of energy on spiritual matters. This would seem to be evolutionarily contraindicated, since it’s taking time and energy from other evolutionarily beneficial pursuits. Yet we as a species do it, so it must meet some need. The question is: what’s the need? Is it somehow tied into making us more productive in the here and now, or is it something else?

    I need more data :).

    (And as long as I’m digressing: “what need is this meeting?” is another of the fundamental questions of my life.)

  216. @ A Sarah:

    The article “White” in _Fat the Anthropology of an Obsession_ has some interesting things to say about colonialism, fatness and thinness, control of bodies, and the Roman Catholic Church. It’s about fat-sucking Andean vampires who steal lovely healthy fat from Indians in the highlands and use it to make soap and lotion and cooking oil for rich people in the Cities.

    It takes your interest in good bodies and bad bodies in a Christian context and adds a dimension of race and colonization that I found enlightening.

    I loved this post, too.

  217. Well, as my cousin once said right to my (childless) face, “I think the real bitches are the ones who don’t at least ache for a child.”

    I realise me saying this is a bit like men who say “What, people sometimes touch you even if you don’t like it?” to women, but holy fuck, I wish I couldn’t believe that people say that kind of shit. I’m really shocked.

  218. before I read everyone else’s posts I just had to say that I found your story of the wedding utterly moving and I feel very uplifted :) I’m so happy to know that this kind of love still exists in the world

  219. I suspect I’m one of those dreadful creatures, someone with a buffet-line religion – but I’m not sure what’s so awful about buffets. They let you pick what you want to eat, or believe, without worrying about foods, or doctrines, that make you gag or give you hives.

    Oh my, that deserves a place in Bartleby’s. Yeah, anyway, what IS so bad about buffets? I mean, there’s the whole thing about, “Well, doesn’t it turn capitalism into the totalizing master discourse, if everything related to spirituality is just another glittering trinket in the marketplace that you bought because it appealed to you?” But more and more I think… well, that’s not *entirely* how it’s working when people take an eclectic approach to spirituality. (Dang it, want to say more but the appraiser just got here…)

    Quickly @gnatalby — Oh, gosh, you didn’t AT ALL come across as jerky! I’m learning a lot from all the good points raised, and yours was one. Also the Judeo-Christian thing (so, thanks Meems and others.) Makes complete sense, but it never occurred to me since I’d spent most of my time around Christians who wanted to deny that Christianity owed anything to Judaism.

  220. Of course, my needs are the opposite of faith: I need data…
    The same data requirement brought me to FA: all my life I was told that being fat was a death sentence. That I would die of all TEH HORRIBLEZ. That eating less and moving more WOULD make me thin and acceptable.

    But when I finally looked at the data behind all these statements, it didn’t add up.

    Awesome.

  221. Ack! That “Awesome” was genuine, not sarcastic, even though I see things differently! I just started panicking that it might sound sarcastic.

  222. I wish I couldn’t believe that people say that kind of shit

    Oh, she didn’t mean me! She meant other women who, like me, don’t want children and she just happened to be talking to me. Similarly, I’ve had people tell me that I can’t be a “real atheist” because I’m a nice person and nice people can’t be atheists. Hah!

    But doesn’t this kind of thing happen all the time, especially to women? We’re supposed to live up to certain standards. We’re supposed to be happy doing what other people want us to do. We’re supposed to live for future rewards.

    These are reasons that, for me, fat acceptance is links to feminism. It never occured to me that it could be linked to faith, so thanks, A Sarah, for the interesting post!

  223. Similarly, I’ve had people tell me that I can’t be a “real atheist” because I’m a nice person and nice people can’t be atheists. Hah!

    Yeah, “You have morals! You can’t be an atheist!” Love that one.

  224. I also had this awesome concern trolly conversation recently with my well-meaning-but-douchey co-worker about how kids needed to learn religion because all the atheist kids he knew in college went around talking about how there was no reason to be nice to anyone without God. It was like the religious version of the fat people at Chili’s conversation.

  225. First off – thank you so much to the multiple people who took time to answer my question about faith & Atheism. I think as Volcanista was saying – I was a little confused at the interchanging of faith and belief that was happening, but the responses helped clarify.

    I also think there are important reasons why we started “dissecting” Athiesm. First off, I think it was because we had a nice group of people who were willing to be open and answer questions. Second, I think it’s the natural evolution of what was posted. As we explore our personal intersections between FA and what gives us hope and spirituality, it seems like a natural response for some of us to be confused and curious by how other people view and relate to these issues.

    Sure, its clunky and weird trying to have the conversation in a commenting format, but I think it was also enlightening and fascinating and also relatively civil all things considered. There has been a wealth of information available in this post and the subsequent comment thread, but I think I would have missed out on a lot of information had people been unwilling to go into the nitty gritty bits of their faith when others expressed confusion.

    I would also (in all my utter optimism) hope that in the future other discussions will happen where we can explore other views more in depth. I think the reason this post was more “flavored” with Atheism was only because trying to cover every aspect of every belief from every angle would have been too nebulous.

    Hopefully though, we have demonstrated as a community our definite interest in this topic (200+ comments!) and our ability to remain civil with each other in the subsequent discussions – so hopefully we can cover more aspects of other beliefs later on.

  226. It was like the religious version of the fat people at Chili’s conversation.

    Hee! I know! It’s like there’s a Chili’s conversation about everything.

  227. But doesn’t this kind of thing happen all the time, especially to women? We’re supposed to live up to certain standards. We’re supposed to be happy doing what other people want us to do. We’re supposed to live for future rewards.

    Okay – isn’t that sort of the point of religion in general too though?

    Live up to standards (set by someone else) – Check
    Happiness comes from serving others – Check
    Living for future rewards – Check

    Any connection or is it just me?I was thinking of it as the little ways that the dominant religions have permeated daily life and we don’t even realize that that is where these “norms” come from.

  228. Well, as my cousin once said right to my (childless) face, “I think the real bitches are the ones who don’t at least ache for a child.”

    *sigh*

    <—- Single childless graduate student. I do not ache for a child. I'm not even sure I want children, though I'm sure I'll make a great aunt someday! Thankfully, my parents haven't been pushing me…yet…

  229. I have to say, as I keep reading, I am really annoyed at how atheists/agnostics are having their beliefs defined for them, and words applied to how they think and feel for them, and how their experiences are being categorized for them, and how people are actually coming out with the old “But you can’t KNOW there is no god.” How atheist things are often discussed only as they relate to or differ from religion, with a belief in god as the central unquestioned and unassailable hub. I don’t like that.

    It’s a really subtle thing, and this thread is not nearly as bad as most I have seen, people are mostly being really nice, and most of the conversation is about personal intersections of faith and FA, which is so wonderful and I would love that to continue because I would love this to be a friendly space toward people of faith, but this is about one of the last places I want to have to put up with questioning my beliefs.

    I am an atheist. I don’t want to argue about “proving a negative.” It may be true, but bringing it up in a non-debate space is just . . . bloody disrespectful. I am willing to keep my nose out of discussions that don’t include me, but when they start talking about and defining and poking at what I am without my input, I am not letting that go on behind my back.

    For me, okay, and maybe this is just me, but the whole “you can’t prove a negative” thing really gets up my nose. The same way my fatness is not about justifying my right to be fat, and the same way my sexual orientation is not about me explaining why I am not straight, my atheism is not about proving to other people that there is no god, and I get pretty tired of people telling me I cannot prove their god is not there.

    If YOU want to believe in a god/gods/goddesses, I will not stop you. I think it’s a wonderful idea. I don’t think worse of people who have a religion or faith, okay? I envy them the reassurance that their faith provides. I miss my own faith. But please understand, the whole “prove a negative” thing is really, really, really dismissing, and it’s often used to silence atheists, so yes, we have a perfectly rational reason for hating that argument.

    These debates are fine in debate-type spaces, but I would really, really like if this was NOT one of those spaces, for real, because pretty much every other place in the world IS. We have few enough fat-friendly spaces. I don’t want to be called on to defend my atheism in any of them, even casually.

    So, really, and with all due respect, if I can keep my nose out of discussions of god without challenging people’s belief in god, can we please not bring out the whole “atheists can’t prove they are right” thing while we are here? Talk about god, fine, talk about what religion means to you, fine. Talk about being an atheist and how that affects you, fine. I think this has a lot of value, I think this is important. But can we please NOT try to resolve the god issue here? Can we please leave it be without trying to argue with, define, categorize, reframe, or hijack another person’s beliefs?

    I am sorry for being so bitchy, but something about the tone of this whole thread is suddenly really seeming off to me, and I want to make sure this (not discussions of faith and FA, but the discussion and definition and dissection and recatigorization of MY worldview by someone who is NOT ME) isn’t going to be a regular thing.

  230. I’m not a Christian (at least, not in the Nicene sense, and possibly not at all), but I will forever love the New Testament for Luke 2:8-12. The New International Version says:

    “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.””

    The reason I love this so much is that the angel is a messenger “of a great joy which will come to all the people”. The angel is saying that this Anointed One, this God incarnate is for all people. Jewish and Gentile, Roman and Provincial, socialite and outcast — this is a joyful event for everyone; for ‘all the people’.

    I don’t know much about the theology of the body – e.g., physical vs. spiritual resurrection – but I do know that this “all the people” included the (for lack of a better word) icky. Think about it: shepherds were not, and have really never been the gentle, pastoral, romantic people that art and literature depict. These were men who lived out in the hills living among sheep and their dung, away from human habitation (and the concurrent amenities such as roofs, baths and women) for long stretches at a time. And an angel came first to these smelly, coarse people to announce the “great joy” that God incarnate was now on the earth.

    Who are typically the first people to have the birth of a new baby announced to them? The family — neighbors and co-workers come later, but the people who get the call within the first few hours are the family members themselves. This idea is bolstered by how the angel said that, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (emphasis mine). This sounds to me remarkably like “we have a new baby”. Not only that, but the angel goes out of his way to point out that Jesus was born in Bethlehem — the city of David, a place with great resonance to the Jewish shepherds that the angel was talking to. How much more clearly could the angel have said to these shepherds ‘God is one of you’?

    God is one of you, you smelly, randy, lonely shepherds. You might have B.O. and smell like sheep poo, your clothes might be grimy and ragged, you might be sunburned and wind-chapped, and utterly socially unacceptable but God is one of you.

    The angel’s good news is “for all the people” — the rich and poor, the small and tall, the fat and thin, and even for the shepherds who smell more like sheep than people. God will not exclude me on the basis of my dress size — there are far, far more vital things going on in my soul than in my weight.

  231. @ Regina T, upthread:
    “I can totally relate to this. Given my past churchy history..and the subsequent “finding of myself” in my 20s, I too contemplated this very question. The answer I got was this: My meager knowledge of science, evolution, and how life comes to be aside…..I just can’t get past that all life on Earth is here because of some Big Bang Theory. Explosions and energy and matter colliding to form the basics of life from whence we all have come seems too random for my own logic. There is too much order, specificity, uniqueness and creativity involved in life for my mind to believe that it is just some random, disordered, luck of the draw type of thing. There is so much that works and works well in the formation, sustenance, and cycles of life and growth for it (to me) to be just a chance happening.”

    You actually touched on the exact reason why I’m not a deist here. There are wonderful things in this universe, and I know that. I also know all about the astronomically slim chances of Earth being suitable to develop life. But, given the enormity of Everything, I think the chances of things happening exactly as they have here are actually not that bad. Especially since they did happen. Regardless of one’s beliefs, the probability of all of these things happening is exactly 1. :)

    @ Meems:
    I call myself agnostic – and don’t see that changing anytime soon – because I don’t care if God exists. It doesn’t matter to me because I see no proof either way and am going to live my life as a good person regardless. Admittedly, I probably lean more towards atheist than theist, but God’s existence is not a central issue in my life.

    That’s actually very similar to how I see it, even though we identify differently. I see God as a nonissue in the absence of proof as well. What pushed me towards the atheist identification was simply the whole burden-of-proof thing I mentioned in my earlier post.

    And I don’t think agnosticism is the label of the wishy-washy either (and yes, I remember disliking that when I read The God Delusion). “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer to something you don’t know the answer to, and I was actually surprised that a scientist like Dr. Dawkins didn’t understand that.

  232. Naamah,
    I am not sure how the “you cannot *know*” argument is insulting.

    What I saw happening on this thread was this: one self identified atheists declares all religion evil and un-feminist. atheism is declared reasonable, and agnosticism wishy washy.

    People (myself included) disagree with conception of atheism as a conclusion which one can prove more easily than theism, and as agnostics as wishy washy,

    Now, it’s a thin line between “you can’t prove atheism” and creationist museums (I’m being serious). It is also true that atheists have a terrible time with discrimination or all sorts.

    I think that atheism isn’t only one thing (just like any other belief system), which is what’s causing some of the friction on the thread. For me it had a lot in common would what I would call faith, past a certain point. Before that point, it had a lot of what people are describing–look at the data, decide it didn’t seem likely that the kind of God they talked about in Sunday school existed, etc. After that point, it was a leap of faith to go from agnosticism to atheism. What it didn’t ever have was the religious “feeling” many described–I sat in hundreds of beautiful churches and never felt a thing. I never have had that sort of a high from my personal belief that there is no God with a big “G.”

    I found it much more liberating for things like sexual politics than for weight and body issues, although there is a large amount of body policing of all kinds tied up in being raised in an intensely conservative religious community, so they are linked.

  233. What I saw happening on this thread was this: one self identified atheists declares all religion evil and un-feminist. atheism is declared reasonable, and agnosticism wishy washy.

    Did this really happen? I mean, I think that would be extremely problematic, but I didn’t see that happening in the least. I saw people asked the basis for their lack of faith and asking.

    Your description of going from agnosticism to atheism is interesting and I hope what I’m going to say isn’t read as discounting your experiences. But what I object to is the characterization that one can’t be atheist unless they have that belief system that has a commonality with faith, and that’s what I often see discounted by believers and my own self-identification erased.

  234. What I was trying to get across (although I may not have managed well) is that, like any other belief, atheism is not a singular entity. There is my flavor and many other flavors.

    So, while some people may feel their atheism has a “faith” aspect, others may not. No problem. The ONLY problem here comes when some atheists try to set up their lack of faith as meaning that they are more intelligent/rational/educated than religious folk. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, and is probably an understandable response to the third degree atheists often get.

    It did happen in the beginning of the thread; I tried to read through carefully and that was only time I saw it occur. In responding to that poster, I think I may have kicked off the “but you can’t KNOW” business, which is why I’m bothering to post again.

  235. @ Naamah,

    Are you talking about my post upthread? I’m fairly sure I’m the only person who brought up “proving a negative”, and I was talking about it because Carolyn asked for an explanation of atheism/agnosticism and belief. I thought I was clear in my post that I was talking about how I reached atheism as a conclusion, not how every atheist in the world thinks. If I’d become an atheist on gut feeling, rest assured I would have written that.

  236. I don’t want to be called on to defend my atheism . . . [snip]

    I realize that this feels very personal to you and I hope what I say doesn’t pile onto the hurt feelings.

    I didn’t see what happened in this thread as anyone being “called on” to defend Atheism. I saw it as honest curiosity and some confusion over terminology which was eventually sorted out. People who inadvertently crossed the line were called out and it was acknowledged. Heck even A Sarah got called out and it was handled gracefully.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: A question was asked about how peoples spiritual beliefs intersected with their FA experience. I felt the resulting discussion was more about understanding where people were coming from so we can connect how it effects their FA journey.

    I’m not an Athiest – so the only way for me to gain perspective and even come close to comprehending how Athiesm affected a persons FA experience was to ask questions, which I am grateful people were willing to answer.

  237. I guess one thing to remember in this discussion is that non-religious people by and large don’t have a choice about understanding the dominant religious system where they live. I mean, I grew up in about as secular an environment as you find in the U.S. and I still am pretty well versed in Christianity and the bases for people’s Christian faith (and the year I lived in Egypt did wonders for my understanding of Islam). So while I really, truly don’t mind explaining my own beliefs 95% of the time, I will admit that it gets frustrating that other people aren’t expected to have the same default understanding of my world view as I am of theirs.* So in some sense, honest and openminded curiosity, while being totally okay, can still be sometimes aggravating. This is especially true since so many people (not here mostly, as far as I can tell) use the facade of honest curiosity to be condescending and insulting (“But I don’t understand; have you tried diet and exercise?”) and it’s something you kind of have to be constantly on the look-out for. It can be wearisome.

    I hope this comes off as explanatory rather than accusatory. I don’t really know what the solution is, except to remember that people aren’t all being asked for explanations at equal rates. And this applies equally well to members of non-majority religions as it does to non-believers, I think.

    * I know this analysis discounts the highly individualized theologies people have, but speaking more generally for a moment.

  238. @ LilahMorgan – I appreciate your response and no I don’t feel jumped. This may be naivety on my part – but can you explain your feelings about “I will admit that it gets frustrating that other people aren’t expected to have the same default understanding of my world view as I am of theirs.”

    I don’t get how you would be expected to have a default understanding of someones world view? I mean, my brain isn’t quite grasping how that applies in religion or FA. I promise I’m not trolling here and I am feeling like my “newbie-ness” is showing, but I get that I am missing an important part of why Naahma was upset.

  239. LOL – okay sersiouly! I have a real life answer to my own question staring me in the face. I sat here stewing trying to understand what you meant LilahMorgan and I realized that I expect people to share my world view without even realizing it.

    Okay – here’s my example, and you can tell me if I’m anywhere close to what you meant.

    This morning I went to my second day of a nutrition class I am taking for my degree. I was already annoyed yesterday with the constant reference that fat = bad. Today the teacher was telling people that fatty foods and red meat cause cancer. BWAH?!?! I was annoyed!! Oh I was having some serious head-desk moments.

    So sitting back and thinking about it now – I realize that I expected the teacher to know better because I know better. And if I’m a lay person who knows better than the person I’m paying to teach me should know better. Granted had they asked my humble opinion I would have explained – but had 30 people gone “yeah but. . . . ” that would have been really frustrating.

    am I on the right track here?

  240. Well, I think basically what I’m saying is that growing up in the U.S. you’re soaked in an essentially Christian worldview, even if it’s not explicitly taught (and often it is). If you don’t have a basic understanding of it, you can get in real trouble. And asking questions about the basis of people’s faith is considered rude at best and downright hateful and offensive at worst; you’re expected to understand the fundamentals and then keep your head down about it.

    The same doesn’t apply to the world views of members of minority religions (including forms of Christianity that aren’t considered mainstream, I’m sure) or nonbelievers; those very basic questions are fair game and get asked over and over and over again. As any Muslim woman who wears the hijab and constantly has to explain why she might choose to do that can tell you.

  241. Cross-posting with you, Carolyn! Yeah, I think that’s essentially exactly it – everyone here knows exactly how diets work, and what the common wisdom on red meat is. And it’s considered rude as hell to question someone’s decision to diet. The basic tenets of FA are always up for argument even when you’re just explaining what you practice without any attempt to impose it on someone else. And even experts may not be up on it.

  242. Sweet!! I got it! LoL I delight in the small things. :)

    Seriously – thank you for explaining that so patiently. I totally want to do your taxes LilahMorgan.

  243. Oooh Touche you cheeky monkey

    Hah! I haven’t heard that for decades. It’s one of my grandmother’s expressions.

    /off topic

  244. I totally want to do your taxes LilahMorgan.

    I will never get tired of being offered that. Ever. :-)

  245. I totally want to do your taxes LilahMorgan.

    Ahahaha. I am stealing that for the next time someone seriously impresses me.

  246. But please understand, the whole “prove a negative” thing is really, really, really dismissing, and it’s often used to silence atheists, so yes, we have a perfectly rational reason for hating that argument.

    oh, okay, thanks for this. Now I have a much better understanding of why people like you and car are bothered. That comment actually bothered me because, well, it’s not even true. At least, not from an empirical or scientific perspective, where a negative is the only thing you can prove. So I didn’t really get the argument, and then I ignored it because I figured I didn’t understand the point.

    As a self-proclaimed agnostic who has dabbled in some atheism and some theism over the years, I did not feel marginilized or picked apart by this conversation, for the most part, but I see better why some of you have felt that way. I suspect I actually don’t really know the dog whistles in that direction as well as I should. And so I didn’t notice anyone calling me wishy-washy. So if someone did, they should please stuff it.

  247. The ONLY problem here comes when some atheists try to set up their lack of faith as meaning that they are more intelligent/rational/educated than religious folk.

    I mean, the opposite problem is when some religious people try to set up their faith as meaning they understand something that non-religious folk just don’t get, or like they have more meaning in their lives, or have better purpose and superior values. I think both things have at least been hinted at here, if not been said outright.

    fwiw, I see only a few instances of either of those things happening in this thread, which really does mostly read to me as pretty respectful. Those instances are totally deserving of angry responses, because people’s belief systems are very personal and shouldn’t be second-guessed or attacked. but it also seems to have really pushed people’s buttons.

  248. (@LilahMorgan, thanks for the note about the dominant culture versus the Others up above. I tried for awhile to say exactly that but kept wimping out when it came time to click Submit. I think there’s an argument about “religious privilege” or something similar in there somewhere, but this really isn’t the place for that. But thanks for saying what you did!)

  249. That was very well said, volcanista. I’m still pissed off at (Canadian politician) Jake Epp claiming that, as an observant Christian, he had a special insight that made his opinions more valid, not to mention George Bush Sr. saying that atheists shouldn’t really be considered citizens. There are a lot of cultural assumptions about atheism that make those buttons you mentioned pretty easy to push.

  250. volcanista said:

    I mean, the opposite problem is when some religious people try to set up their faith as meaning they understand something that non-religious folk just don’t get, or like they have more meaning in their lives, or have better purpose and superior values. I think both things have at least been hinted at here, if not been said outright.

    Yeah, exactly. I wasn’t trying to say that what you describe never happens, simply that my only beef with that particular worldview occurs when tha chain of reasoning is used.

  251. @ juliah
    “You actually touched on the exact reason why I’m not a deist here. There are wonderful things in this universe, and I know that. I also know all about the astronomically slim chances of Earth being suitable to develop life. But, given the enormity of Everything, I think the chances of things happening exactly as they have here are actually not that bad. Especially since they did happen. Regardless of one’s beliefs, the probability of all of these things happening is exactly 1. :)”

    Exactly. One of the best things about who I am is that the book is not closed on how I think and feel and believe about things. Truly, the one, single thing I DO know…is that things change. And that includes me. My God connundrum (sp) has taken a lifetime to settle where it is today. I am certain that tomorrow I may feel differently. I never want to be one of those people who draws thick, black lines in the sand and never wavers from it, and know that I will never ever be. Things are temporary, and I love love love that it is entirely possible that the odds of the world and all of life in it are exactly one….cuz that’s all it takes. In total honesty, my belief in God (or non belief) does not and will not be the measure of my value, worthiness, or moralily and alter the way I CHOOSE to live my life and view the world. Even when some/few religious leaders try to shame me or cast doubts and fears into me about my future. What I am sure of is change…and I embrace that fully.

    Thanks for your words! They challenge me…and that’s always a good thing in my book. :)

  252. My mom is basically a feminist southern baptist. She just doesn’t realize it. She thinks women can do about anything but be the president. But she raised my sister and I in such a way that we know we can do anything. Why she is so hung up on the president thing I’m not sure.

  253. I think on issues of faith, religion and belief the discussion is often dominated by the ardent. My mother is an atheist and loves to tell everyone so. She feels that this makes her superior to people of faith. Her arguments include: People of faith are only good people because their religion tells them to be whereas she is a good person on her own. People of faith have easy answers to all questions their children ask because they always answer “because God wants it that way” whereas she had to think to answer her childrens’ questions. And many other examples. My sister and I nicknamed this OMAM, “Our Mother the Atheist Martyr”. We felt this very clever when we were teenagers.

    Fast forward many years and I meet my future husband’s sister and her than boyfriend (now husband). This is how a typical conversation with them goes. Me, “How are…” Them, “Jesus…Jesus…Jesus…The Devil…God…Answered Pray…Jesus,Jesus,Jesus…God…Jesus…” Me, far too stunned to respond. Thoughtfully, for our first anniversary my sister-in-law sent me a letter explaining why I was going to hell and what I needed to do to prevent this and get my “Accounts with God in order.”

    Not to be outdone by this nonsense my mother has attended church for our wedding and children’s Baptisms but refuses to stand during the service, open a hymnal or acknowledge the minister and will gladly tell anyone how she feels all of this church stuff is a crutch. She in fact announced multiple times that she would not sit anywhere near the minister at the meal following our wedding.

    The fact is that the majority of the conversation about belief in our family is driven by these people. Whereas the more quiet of the faithful, agnostics, atheists and those that really do not care do not speak about these issues much. Religion has become a divisive issue for us, one that makes people feel prickly and defensive.

    I see this so clearly in how I react even outside my family. Someone says they are an Atheist and I am waiting to be belittled for my beliefs. Someone else says the are A Believer and I am waiting to be told that I am on my way to hell. When often the people speaking have no intention of attacking. Overcoming this reaction is an ongoing process for me which is not helped at all by the fact that sometimes the folks talking are attacking.

    I appreciate being able to participate in a discussion about faith and fat and acceptance without feeling the urge to pull the hair right out of my head.

    And tying this to FA my atheist, fat mother always wished I had the guts to have an eating disorder so I could get thin and get a husband. Then it would be okay to be fat. Still fat, happily married and attending church. She is so not pleased. And my Jesus preaching sister-in-law who has always been thin attributes this not to genetics or diet but to her adherence to “Pray A Weigh the Pounds.” It may be wrong to generalize but I have drawn the conclusion that people who are annoying on one topic tend to be annoying on many others.

  254. And my Jesus preaching sister-in-law who has always been thin attributes this not to genetics or diet but to her adherence to “Pray A Weigh the Pounds.” It may be wrong to generalize but I have drawn the conclusion that people who are annoying on one topic tend to be annoying on many others.

    I am here and now founding the New Church of Whatever You Say About Your God, At Least My God Could Spell (If It Existed).

  255. And tying this to FA my atheist, fat mother always wished I had the guts to have an eating disorder so I could get thin and get a husband.

    Fucking hell. Amy How, right now I want to slash the tires of everyone in your life who’s giving you shit. The urge will pass (so, um, if your sister-in-law finds her tires slashed tomorrow it wasn’t me!) but GAWD.

    (“Pray A Weigh the Pounds” is hilarious, though. I think there’s another Christian weight loss plan called the Weigh-Down diet, but then there was a hubbub because the woman who came up with it was found not to believe in the Trinity! Like, the fact that she had no background in nutrition was fine, but heresy, well, better not listen to her anymore. I think I’m remembering right.)

  256. Well, and as long as we’re getting all thankful… I’m so thankful that everyone was so generally respectful, such that, even if it WAS a bad idea for me to post on this topic, it still didn’t blow up in my face like I may have deserved. :)

    I also am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really realize how often atheists get the whole “You can’t PROVE there’s no God” faux gotcha retort. I think because that retort is never where I felt like going in a dialogue with atheism, so I didn’t really pay attention to its use and overuse. (I don’t get very bothered either way with “proof” for these sorts of things; and also, some of my work deals with the advantages of not conceptualizing God within the horizon of Being, which means that the death-of-God variety of atheism is a really important interlocutor in my work, and not as just an opponent over which theology is to triumph.)

    Er…. ANYWAY, of course it makes complete sense now that it would be exactly like “Have you tried diet and exercise?” thing. So thanks for those who were willing to explain that. It sounds like you have to explain that a lot.

    LilahMorgan, your point about Christianity and privilege has got me thinking hard about how best to write about theological themes, and the ways in which I benefit from the fact that Christianity has tried — with some success, and very often backed by violence — to position itself as the master discourse that everyone, even non-Christians, has to know about and contend with. I think that awareness will change how I write, though I’m not sure how yet.

  257. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m so glad you’re a regular contributor.

  258. AnthroK8 – your analysis of the way feminism and Catholicism mesh is just dazzling. If you haven’t published on that topic, you really should.

    Sniper and Sweet Machine, please allow me to hop up on your bandwagon of childless holders of multiple degrees, who really have nothing against children (I love OTHER peoples’ kids!) and have not made this choice out of any sort of militance or misanthropy. Long before I had even a high school diploma, I just felt that every child should be a wanted child, and I don’t happen to want any. I guess I don’t need to tell you guys how many casual acquaintances thought it appropriate to tell me how “selfish” it was to feel that way, and don’t even get me started on the self-styled progressives who seemed to think I should have kids because I have a high I.Q. and it would be a shame not to pass that on to future generations. The great thing about passing 40 is that people stop handing you that kind of bullshit, but I’ve never gotten over my shock at otherwise intelligent, well-brought-up people encouraging me to bring a life into the world for eugenic reasons.

  259. I just felt that every child should be a wanted child, and I don’t happen to want any.

    It’s odd how hard that is for many to understand. It’s not a dislike of kids, it’s just an absence of want.

  260. the self-styled progressives who seemed to think I should have kids because I have a high I.Q. and it would be a shame not to pass that on to future generations. The great thing about passing 40 is that people stop handing you that kind of bullshit, but I’ve never gotten over my shock at otherwise intelligent, well-brought-up people encouraging me to bring a life into the world for eugenic reasons.

    OH MY GOD. I thought I was the only one!!!! My mother in law will not stop about how my “smart” genes and high IQ obligate me to pass said “genes” on through having babies.Of course, my smart genes are secondary to her genius son’s smart genes, for which I am only an appropriate brood mare.

    Don’t even get me started on the places it goes from there. Let’s just say some people still believe The Bell Curve.

  261. My aforementioned douchey co-worker is a proponent of the high I.Q. baby thing. Except the way he phrased it was (to another co-worker) “But if you don’t have kids, we’ll be outbred by the crazy poor people.” Yeah.

  262. There’s also the “if you don’t have babies, the Muslims will outbreed us” tack. Sigh.

    It’s been pretty well noted that slim, white upper class women are pressured TO have babies while women not “correct” for child-bearing and forcibly sterilized, told not to reproduce, etc (i.e. fat women, WOC, poor women, mentally ill women).

    I think this also ties back into religion with the obligation to reproduce, especially things like the Quiverfull movement. Judaism has it too, with the “p’uri v’ui” (be fruitful and multiply) being taken to mean that you have a sacred obligation to bring 2 children (boy and girl) into the world–so if you have three girls, you need to keep trying for that boy, etc.

    The obligation to reproduce is of course at odds with the obligation to be thin and treat your body “as a temple.” Again, back to the generative praxis of religion finding major roots in customs around food and sex, food and sex.

  263. A Sarah, thanks for a great post. I wondered when someone would bring up the Weigh-Down plan. It’s like God only loves think people, or at least likes them better, which is a lot how my parents are. I’ve been really working hard on wrapping my mind around the concept of God who loves us as we are and who created us as we are, genetics and all. And when the guy asked Jesus what are the most important commandments, he kinda gave us our job description: 1) Love God more than anything, and
    2) Love other people. Nothing about judging anybody. I like that!

  264. Who said anything about “heartlessness?” (anatomically, impossible, and as a figure of speech, pretty subjective anyway.)

    What I do mean is that groups of people who spend most of their young adult lives in or around a university, (as opposed to people who spend those years fecklessly breeding,) wind up with a worldview and a set of social behaviors that are REALLY hard for me and my family to relate to.

    There are some things you need to do, wear, and understand implicitly that mark you as “People Like Us,” in that setting, and we pretty much don’t have ‘em.

    And, in fairness, I’m sure it works the other way ’round.

    Which is why I’m not comfortable being a Unitarian, even if the belief system is intellectually appealing; the social codes are, to me and my husband, impossible to crack.

    At this point in my life, I feel that at least half the point of religion is “community,” and I’m a LOT more willing to overlook weird theology to find a community that’s relatable than I was ten years ago.

    Clear as mud?

  265. My mother in law will not stop about how my “smart” genes and high IQ obligate me to pass said “genes” on through having babies.

    Right. Because geniuses always have genius parents. Wasn’t Marie Curie like, the sixth ground-breaking scientist in a row or something?

  266. I thought super-smart people were much likelier than not to have rather mediocre kids, IQ-wise. “regression to the mean” or something.

  267. At this point, I have to resist the impulse to moo (i.e. prize heifer) when she says it.

    You can select for things like height or blue eyes, *because they are a simple Mendelian D/r gene*, but there’s very little evidence (morality of the thing aside) that you can select for IQ.

  268. I think it is interesting that we have this kind of discourse around IQ and beauty, but not around weight.

    I have never heard, you should have children to pass on your thin genes–fat is assumed to be totally under our personal control. Sigh.

  269. Whew! I finally read all the posts! (I had to go to bed and then finish up today…)

    I LOVED this post! ANd I think there should be more!

    As for my religion-this is going to boggle everyone, perhaps, but I am a feminist Christian and I belong to a feminist Christian church. We are not affliated with any denomination, but are our own community in Atlanta. We’re actually the only one of our kind in the world (as far as we know…). We’re a really small community and have been around about fifteen years.

    Basically, we are committed to inclusivity and to inclusive language. We have people from many religious backgrounds. Our minister is a lesbian with a partner-we break all the rules. lol We are also committed to being a “safe haven” for all people. We are not afraid to “re-image” theology and ways of worship. We don’t believe in a literal translation of the Bible or that our way is “right,” but we are followers of Jesus. I hope that makes sense.

    How it intersects with FA:
    Our church ALWAYS has food! We have fabulous cooks. Having good food nourishes our bodies AND souls. Once a month, we have Sabbath meals, which is directly about being spiritual with food in a positive way. Feeling fulfilled and nourished and supported about this is very new to me. Celebrating food is new. On Easter, our Eucharist is milk and croissants with honey, symbolizing the “land of milk and honey”

    Another way-my minister once did a sermon on the fact that Godde first pronounced us “good,” so we are really “originally good.” That sermon changed my life and made me realize that if I really am good and really am made in Godde’s image, then I really do deserve to eat what I want to eat. (Sorry for long post)

    http://circleofgraceatlanta.org (Just If you’re curious…)

  270. I just want to thank you, A Sarah; for even if there were missteps and friction, I think everyone came through it pretty well. Faith’s a hard thing to talk about, but I think important.

    I am a quaker of the ‘unprogrammed’ sort, which was once christian and is now mainly what you make it – there are atheist, pagan, jewish, buddhist, agnostic, and christian quakes – and in so far as that a gathered meeting exists, the divine (or whatever) can and sometimes is a pretty powerful experience that shifts things around for people in a split second. Some of my fave atheists have had this experience and have come away with atheism.

    The fun thing about quakerism is you try to find truth in everybody’s experience, including stuff that looks paradoxical. Which is how quakerism isn’t strictly natural – since the core of the exercise is to believe a and !a simultaneously – but it’s why it’s able to have christians and atheists doing about the same thing together.

    Whatever the experience is (mystical, transcendental, meditative, however people call the feeling of paradox, comfort, understanding, humility, and awe) it’s not an experience that people necessarily get to easily or always, not one that everybody has, and not one that people share identically.

    Not being an american I know the dialogue is somewhat more fraught with political danger (although canada has the theocratic religious as well, they’re not quite so powerful).

    But, I think this step away from first premises is part of the problem.

    Some but not all of the religiously “faithful” are having experiences they’re sorting as experiences of “god”.

    Some are there for the luncheons, some for the mythos, some for the judginess, and many other reasons.

    Similarly, some in the atheist group are there due to out of the ordinary experience.

    And some are there due to lack of other belief, some due to lack of need, and some due to witnessing suffering, and many other reasons. (As far as I’m aware, atheist organizations do not yet provide weekly luncheon. *G*)

    What FAITH means, then, I think is widely variable. It could mean belief in one’s culture, or belief in one’s internal understanding of the world, or it could be the acknowledgement of experience.

    Listening to the experiencial faith based Atheist (non strict-naturalist, therefore) talk about atheism is different than hanging out with strict naturalist atheist scientists which is different from hanging out from the gobsmacked what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-people who’ve been hurt by fundamentalists of religious philosophies. There are different atheisms, just as there are different theisms.

    Which means that any one atheist can’t be representative, any more than any one christian. It means that I am in closer companionship to the mystical atheist than to the fundamentalist christian, although I would sort myself as non-strict-naturalist and therefore be a Crazy Hippie Flake to some of my strict-naturalist atheist friends. See what I mean?

    The distinctions, to me, are rather like that “political compass” – left and right are meaningless without also some discussion of authoritarian intent.

  271. People of faith have easy answers to all questions their children ask because they always answer “because God wants it that way” whereas she had to think to answer her childrens’ questions.

    Ahahahahaha! Ask any minister how many times they’ve had to wrestle with (much less attempt to explain) the whole “if God’s so good, why is there evil” conundrum. (And no, “it’s Eve’s fault” doesn’t cut it.) It’s like “Because I said so” – maybe it works on a few kids at a few ages, but by and large, the next question is still going to be “Why?” And while I can dive into a long explanation of patriarchal norms of violence, any parent that uses “God wants it that way” then gets to explain the Mind of God. (Heavy Christian assumptions of religion in my post! Let me show you them!) On the whole, I’ll stick with my task.

    KC, I’m not sure what about this thread made you think we’d be “boggled” at the idea of feminist Christians or lesbian ministers.

    I think class position is something that’s not much brought up in discussions of religion, and I wish it was. I hadn’t really thought about “cracking” the social codes, but that’s a really good way of putting it. It’s not just finding a church that aligns with your beliefs and desired lecture style and location – it’s also getting the social nuances right.

  272. KC, your church & congregation sound delightful! Any community that celebrates the nourishment of the body & soul are OK in my book.

    Re: that idiotic “smart women have a genetic imperative to reproduce” argument, I’m currently teaching a summer school class that is part of a special program for smart kids from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods – all of them are the first generation of their families to attend a 4-year university (just so everyone’s aware that I don’t snub people with fewer degrees than myself, doncha know.) I don’t know, don’t WAN’T to know their bloodlines, because however they came into the world, I’ve never seen such a bunch of bright, diligent, interesting, ambitious thinkers.

  273. Arwen, my birth mother is a Quaker and from a long line of Quakers (related to Richard Nixon *hangs head in shame.) I love, love, love their ideas about social justice and the absence of dogma. I’ve really enjoyed attending church with her. Plus you can wear pants! (Mormons dress up on Sunday.)

    I have really loved this topic, and I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my thoughts. It’s easy to put your foot in it while talking about issues so close to people’s heart. I’m always really impressed with the discourse on this board, and I learn a lot, not the least of which is how to reason and discuss things in a respectful way. As always, thanks.

  274. Mary J. Blog: Thank you for the very nice comment. Lately, I’ve just needed to get my own head in order about faith feminism and social justice. It’s only seeing the light of day because the internet was invented. If there were a Journal of Personal Manifestos, I suppose it would have a reason to be published.

    Re: Smarts and reproduction. Good gracious. I really genuinely hate cocktail party eugenics. It’s more world-view revealing than sound-policy establishing, and rarely does it describe a world I want to live in. I’d take a mediocre-intelligenced nice, loving, justice seeking person over a brilliant scheming, selfish, ruthless one as a spouse or child any day. Human decency, thank goodness, does not come with an IQ cut-off.

  275. My comment about being “boggled” was really in jest. I am used to being told that I cannot exist.

    It wasn’t about the fact that there can be feminist Christians, since obviously, many of you are. I was referring to the fact that my church is an organization that specifically calls itself feminist Christian. UU may have feminist principles(?), but they’re not specifically Christian and other Christian denominations may be welcoming of feminists or use feminist theology, but they are still tied with another mainstream denomination.

    I guess I shouldn’t expect it on this board, but for most people that I talk to having a lesbian minister is quite shocking. (I was told by a coworker that I should sprinkle her with holy water… ) She was Presbyterian (and so was I) and graduated from seminary having taken all the classes, but not being allowed to be ordained. Our church eventually ordained her as a community. Being a lesbian minister, especially in the American South, is indeed breaking all the “rules.”

    I’ve gotten a lot of ridiculous responses over the years when I tell people that my denomination is feminist. (Well, I’ve actually never used the term denomination before, but I thought it made sense here… ) Someone once told me that I should be careful-I could get in trouble when making spells! No shit! lol That was the last time I hung out with that person again… The sad thing is that person was totally serious!

  276. Kaz, chava, volcanista- heard this today and thought of you…

    “belief is never sure”

    it was in a Lou Reed song on the New York album

  277. gah! KC, I forgot about that. I was raised Presbyterian, and when the national church voted to approve the resolution that gay members had to be celibate in order to serve as ministers or elders, I almost removed my names from the rolls. (Instead I eventually just stopped going. The official name-being-removed step didn’t happen until the national assembly voted to divest from Israel. I mean, wtf?) The North and South churches should never have rejoined into one organization after a century of separation, IMO, because philosophically they just have too little in common. And it meant I could never really get my head around how my home church and presbytery could simultaneously be so liberal and progressive and yet belong to an organization that would demand celibacy of gay elders.

  278. Great post, A Sarah! I’m glad you’ve opened up a space to talk about FA and faith.

    Like you, I’ve found the liberal side of Christianity to be a pretty good home, and I think you really hit the nail on the head with Christianity’s particular acceptance of the body. (That’s one of many reasons Dan Brown annoys me — the Gnostics were the ones who were anti-body, damn it!)

    I grew up in the Bible Belt, in a household that went through phases with a handful of different Protestant, low-church denominations. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (not to mention countless other male relatives) were all Baptist preachers, my parents met at Bob Jones, the whole nine yards. Except: my dad lost his faith and left the church when I was pretty young, so my religious training was an odd blend of “the end times will happen exactly this way” and “none of the miracles really happened.” My cousins, heck, most of the kids I knew, were absolutely certain about who God was and what he wanted, but I could never make it work. The one thing I picked up on was: if you’re a good Christian, your life won’t suck, and if it does, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough. That’s probably not a fair assessment of the Protestant tradition, but it was definitely my experience.

    I was an increasingly fat, nerdy teenager with bad skin, attentional problems, and surely no hope of dating anytime this century, so I tried really hard to be a good Christian. But it turns out that trying really hard doesn’t protect you from life happening — it just makes you blame yourself for everything that goes wrong. Fat? Not enough stomach crunches in the morning. Bad skin? Failure to use every product under the sink regularly. Daydreaming? Not pretty? No shining religious experiences? Not trying hard enough.

    It wasn’t until I wound up, quite by accident, in a quirky Anglo-Catholic church full of gay men and academics (or both), that I started to understand the world in a way that could take a little uncertainty. Nearly everybody there had a rough history with the church, had given up on religion entirely, stopped believing in God, and seemed a little surprised to find themselves genuflecting at an altar.

    The experience of being surprised by faith, finding God in a place so entirely unlike what I’d grown up with, in a community of people who’d also been misfits, helped me give up the belief that I could control my life, my future, my body, by just trying harder, damnit.

    (Also, I had a lot of support for my interest in social justice from the church, which is what let me to the FA movement.)

    Again, great post. I look forward to reading the discussion. :)

  279. volcanista – Presbyterian USA is getting better and I think the ruling will change fairly soon. My parents and several other people I know are involved in a Pres group about overturning that motion. Change is in the air-just not soon enough for me to continue attending where my parents do…

  280. @ Arwen – Yay Quakers :) I am a Quaker of the “unprogrammed” kind too!


    “What I do mean is that groups of people who spend most of their young adult lives in or around a university, (as opposed to people who spend those years fecklessly breeding,)”

    might just be me – but I find the term fecklessly breeding pretty dang derogitory

  281. @ Arwen – Yay Quakers :) I am a Quaker of the “unprogrammed” kind too!


    “What I do mean is that groups of people who spend most of their young adult lives in or around a university, (as opposed to people who spend those years fecklessly breeding,)”

    might just be me – but I find the term fecklessly breeding pretty dang derogatory

  282. Melissa, on June 29th, 2009 at 12:56 am Said:
    “Organized religions are for people who need a materialistic structure and want someone else to show them EXACTLY ABC, how to obtain salvation.”

    While he certainly doesn’t neglect passing on the faith and teaching with care, I suspect my pastor would argue that God serves the church in order to enable the church to serve people (both in the sense of serving each other within the church and in the sense of serving those outside the church), and that the church is meant to do that both as community and as individuals. So from his perspective, organized religion exists to serve in ways that individuals cannot.

    Which is pretty much how this church congregations functions. When eldest daughter (now sixteen) was badly burned at a two-year-old, a year or so after we joined, we had no insurance. We hauled her to the emergency room literally the day before we were going in to sign on with a free or cheap (I forget) insurance deal available to anyone local for two years. The insurance did cover much of her follow up fees, but it was the church congregation (and matching funds from a larger church organization) that paid the hospital bill. This congregation does that kind of thing all the time, for people in the congregation and for people brought to their attention who aren’t members.

    Not surprisingly, this church community also supports the idea that nothing about being fat makes you unworthy or wrong. Not to say no one there diets, but in my experience fat is not seen as a moral issue any more than the color of your hair is. So fat people get no more grief about their looks than blondes do. The church community is meant to be supportive in more ways than financial.

    In answer to A Sarah’s original topic, while I’d been exposed to FA concepts (or come up with them myself) prior to joining this church, now I have a much more concrete idea of what a society that doesn’t judge fat people might actually look like. And it is a heck of a lot easier to hang onto the fundamentals of FA when you’re actually dealing with people who accept you as a person despite your build, y’know? Not to say that having others agree with the principles make them any more right or wrong, just that it’s way more of a challenge to stick to what you know what’s right when you’re surrounded by those telling you in a thousand different ways how wrong you are.

  283. LivingtheQuestions said:

    And… it has always felt important to me that my body is not just a home for my true self, a soul: my body is part of my true self, and has much to teach me.

    In any case, what matters to me in all of this is a sense that my body is something I RECEIVE, as a gift, and I don’t get to dictate much of what I look like. So there’s something spiritual in exploring this gift, giving thanks for it, and incorporating it–every bit of flesh of it–into my sense of gratitude to God.

    I have been dealing with health issues for entirely too darn long, I had an appointment Monday that I dearly hoped would be the announcement that I’m done with chemo (my condition is benign but could turn cancerous), only I never made it to that appointment because Sunday night I hit the emergency room and last night the surgeon yanked my gall bladder. All of which to say, while I think you speak truth, at the moment I just want to figure out what my body’s trying to tell me the past year or so, because then maybe it’d quit yelling quite so loudly. :p

    I spent a good deal of my time in the hospital thinking about FA issues, because about the first thing I heard from my roomie was her fussing about her weight as they were preparing to move her from the gurney to the bed. I was not at all surprised at the attitudes of the nurses, who assured her it just wasn’t an issue. When I later saw her she truly was a large woman, tall as well as heavy, so she wasn’t a 200-pound woman shamed into thinking she’s any more effort to move than a 200-pound (thinner) male. Still, when I overheard that interchange, and considered how consistent it was with the care I have received there, I so wished more people received the compassionate medical care that she and I did. *sigh*

    To get back to LivingtheQuestions’ statement – I have long felt that my body had much to teach me about joy, but since I have been taught (by the culture and past sexual abuse) that my body is evil and untrustworthy (over and above the usual anti-fat stuff, there’s the fact that if I hadn’t a physical aspect, they couldn’t have abused me in that way), it has been very hard to listen to my body.

    volcanista, on June 29th, 2009 at 1:01 pm Said:
    I don’t think you can truly separate mind and body the way some Christian lines of thinking have wanted to do. Your mind is IN your body. That’s where your brain is, and your brain is behind what goes on in your mind.

    I’d go further and argue that your mind IS your body, or at least part of it. Your mind is physical. Emotional trauma, particularly when related to abuse that does not involve physical violence, is recorded in some minds in a physical way. Your experiences – an aspect of the mind and soul – have a physical impact on the body. And of course your body has an impact on the mind; witness Alzheimers, or depressions that can be dealt with through chemicals. While you can divide the body from the mind in the same sense that you can divide the body from the lymphatic system – in order to discuss the latter somewhat in isolation – that division is never more than theoretical.

  284. limesarah, on June 30th, 2009 at 1:11 pm Said:
    And someone might reasonably disagree with my choice to connect all the acts of kindness in the world into a unified concept, but they’d almost certainly agree that each individual one existed. It’s more a matter of disagreeing how to view or describe the same data than a matter of differing data.

    Sometimes it is a matter of differing data, though. As a child I lived in fear of the God I kept hearing about in church – but at the same time I loved the God I “met” sometimes outside of church. I can’t say I saw him in a physical sense, I can’t say he spoke to me with words, but there was an undeniable Presence that was part of my personal experience of reality.

    I would argue that it is this personal experience of a Presence that is behind the fact that most cultures have either gods – or ghosts. I suspect this is one reason for Car and Amy’s observation that “atheism/agnosticism gets dissected a lot more than anyone’s religious beliefs.” For a lot of people, a certain awareness of the supernatural is the “default”, and they struggle with the idea that some people literally have no awareness of such foreign presences.

    The questioning that atheists and agnostics get strikes me as similar to the questioning autistic people get over their distinterst in socializing. The idea that someone really isn’t interested in hanging out with people, that it isn’t that they’re being deliberately rebellious but that they don’t “hear” socializing messages in the same way, is extremely difficult for a lot of people to get, literally beyond their ken. And it doesn’t fit worldwide human experience in some ways – the need to socialize has always been viewed as just that; a human need.

    By the same token, for many people athiests and agnostics carry the “burden of proof”, because they are claiming a perspective so alien to that of most of humanity. There’s no one religion that’s universal, but I can’t think of any culture prior to the modern era that didn’t have some set of beliefs regarding some kind of supernatual phenomenon; from that perspective, the religious find the non-religious curiously compelling.

  285. Shiloh – As a Quaker and one who hangs with a lot of (strict naturalist) scientists, and as someone particularly interested in the ‘etymology’ of faith, I totally agree that the ‘presence’ sensation *must* be something of the creation of spiritual/religious paths.

    Being of a bit of a scientific bent, I decided to check out how many people had experience of other/greater, and to my great surprise there were 1) Fewer than I had expected in the religious population, given my own background and 2) More than I had expected in the atheist population.

    Which is what I meant upthread about our dialogue being insufficently robust – it seems to me that, Dawkins aside, there’s an ecstatic atheistic movement afoot … *g*

    And there are a lot of religious folks who haven’t had any sort of ‘other’ experience, too!

  286. I have deliberately stayed the fuck away from the religion chat because after 14 years of forced Catholic schooling I proceed from “reasonable” to “rage” in about 2.4 seconds where my belief systems are concerned. But I did spot this:

    You can select for things like height or blue eyes, *because they are a simple Mendelian D/r gene*

    Absolutely they are not. There are thought to be at least 6 genes interacting to create eye colour, and for height there are literally 100s of influencing genes, each contributing a teeny tiny effect (at most a few %). Eye colour is closer to Mendelian inheritance, but height is actually the textbook example of the farthest thing from it!

  287. Sorry! I remembered from high school bio that eyes were, and I don’t know what the frack I was thinking about height!

    Sadness–and I like to call myself scientifically literate *hangs head in shame*

  288. I don’t know why I got out my “absolutely” like I am Queen of the Life Sciences or whatever, sorry. I just get so excited when I get a chance to put my degree to use! (Not super-many opportunities in Starbucks.)

  289. Also, I think it was thought until pretty recently that eyes were D/r, because I remember being taught that in school too. And then I think they discovered that there was some epistasis going on, and maybe that there were more genes determining whether you have a ring of colour round your pupil or the inside of your iris, and that sort of thing.

    I dunno, to be honest, my eye-gene-based knowledge is pretty minimal. I just know there are several thought to be involved at the minute. That’s the nice thing about genetics, it changes all the time.

    /thread hijack

  290. I would argue that it is this personal experience of a Presence that is behind the fact that most cultures have either gods – or ghosts. I suspect this is one reason for Car and Amy’s observation that “atheism/agnosticism gets dissected a lot more than anyone’s religious beliefs.” For a lot of people, a certain awareness of the supernatural is the “default”, and they struggle with the idea that some people literally have no awareness of such foreign presences.

    I see what you’re saying, but at the same time – I’ll go back to the fact that for people who don’t experience that sense of the divine it makes equally little sense that other people do (arguably MORE sense, since it’s not something that can be measured), but we learn not to question people’s experiences of the divine at a young age. Much, incidentally, like autistic people probably learn certain questions aren’t acceptable, but neurotypical people never have to learn they shouldn’t be turning around and asking the inverse questions of autistic people. Sometimes the minority/majority dynamic really is a power dynamic and not just a numbers one, and sometimes the numbers one really feeds into a power one.

  291. A Sarah, I find it very striking that, per Luke (and maybe also John), one of the first things Jesus does upon appearing to the disciples after the resurrection is to request food and eat it.

  292. For me, FA is part of my general betterment that began about 5 years ago when I fully embraced atheism and also began kicking my depression.

    I can’t explain it very well. I’m still trying to figure it out. But naming myself an atheist, rejecting the the ideas of ensoulment, an afterlife, the supernatural, and discovering more about science.. has prompted me not only to appreciate and care for myself, but also other people.

    I haven’t read the whole thread yet.. looks fascinating.

  293. @Richelle — ME TOO!! (You can’t see it but I’ve just clasped my hands to my bosom and looked upward in delight.) :-)

  294. chava, on July 1st, 2009 at 4:12 pm Said:
    I have never heard, you should have children to pass on your thin genes–fat is assumed to be totally under our personal control.

    I guess I agree that I’ve never heard the discussion, but I always said I needed to marry a tall, thin guy so my kids wouldn’t have to wrestle with the whole being short and fat thing the way I do. Although I kind of suspect I wouldn’t have the weight issues I do if I hadn’t dieted. *sigh*

    Still working my way through the thread, which has been, on the whole, refreshingly polite. Some clashes, of course, but the topic is volitile and there have been no explosions yet. Shapelings impress me once more.

  295. Cool. For me, the explanations of religious restrictions on behavior that I’ve always been most sympathetic to are based on a depiction of the body as a precious gift. Its needs and urges are not innately bad, merely by virtue of being physical. In fact, the fulfillment of some of them can be among the most beautiful and exalted experiences in existence. Correspondingly, the abuse of such a treasure is a real tragedy, like deliberately defacing a work of art.

    Now, the treal trick is determining the behaviors that fall into each category. That’s where some of the unfortunate tendencies you mentioned in your post can creep in.

  296. Arwen, on July 2nd, 2009 at 3:17 am Said:
    Being of a bit of a scientific bent, I decided to check out how many people had experience of other/greater, and to my great surprise there were 1) Fewer than I had expected in the religious population, given my own background and 2) More than I had expected in the atheist population.

    One of the reasons I thought of the autisitic parallel to athiesm is that a lot of religious belief seems more a form of socialization than a reaction to personal experience. I agree with someone upthread when they said that one characteristic of Shapelings with significance both for accepting SA and for their own personal religious beliefs seems to be a willingness to question and a reluctance to just accept the status quo.

    In contrast, in the U.S. most people stick with the religious beliefs they were raised in, except for those who say their parents had no religious affiliation – two thirds of the religious stay with the faith they were raised in, while 60% of people raised without religion become religious as adults. Which intrigues me but I have no idea what it means.

    My personal experience with the “Presence” is way closer to wicca than Christianity; my preference for Christianity is more of an intellectual than experiential thing. I find the Christian prophecies compelling (I realize most people don’t, but I think symbolically in the same way so they make a lot of sense to me), although I totally disagree with the whole “Left Behind” scenario (it ignores the parallels between Revelation and OT prophecy we’ve seen fulfilled and how they were fulfilled).

    So while I do think spiritual experiences are common and help to explain why all cultures have a spiritual sense, they often don’t seem to have direct impact on the people who experience them. It’s kind of weird when you think about it.

  297. Richelle, on July 2nd, 2009 at 5:43 am Said:
    A Sarah, I find it very striking that, per Luke (and maybe also John), one of the first things Jesus does upon appearing to the disciples after the resurrection is to request food and eat it.

    I think in a sense he feeds them first (Luke 24:30 and John 21:10&13). I’ve always thought it a pity that most Christians practice communion as a ritual rather than as a feast, since in the Bible it really does seem to be a meal, a feast, the whole “cup runneth over” kind of thing.

  298. I haven’t read a single other comment, but that wedding story made me bawl in the best possible way. <3

  299. I am blessed that in my religion–there are many popular images of deity that look like me and my friends. There are shapely goddesses, thin goddesses, strong goddesses and pear shaped goddesses and apple shaped goddesses and hourglass shaped goddesses. There are sexy goddesses and chaste goddesses of all varieties. Young ones and old ones and middle aged ones. When other pagans say to one another thou art goddess, it truly fits, it is conceivable. I have noticed that among my pagan friends, there is a healthier body consciousness. We rarely rip on our own bodies, and the body is shared and appreciated by others. I can’t call us perfect, there are always women who still feel bad about themselves. But for most of us, health and wellbeing is more important that weight and shape.

  300. Interesting post. I know that this site is generally liberal-leaning, but I am hoping, and it seems to be the case, that there is no animosity against conservative Christians. I consider myself a conservative Christian feminist (and I’m fat, too). As for me, I know God cares less about our physical appearances and more about our relationship with him and our spiritual health. In my beliefs (if I actually have to qualify my statements that way), Christ came to set us free from bondage to sin. So if there is an issue, whether the person is addicted to dieting, anorexic, and trying to live up to society’s standards, or feels like she has no control over her eating habits, I would say that is something Jesus is interested in…in freeing our minds and souls. Ultimately, this life is short, and Jesus wants us to get our priorities in order and work more on our character and relationship with God and other people (things of eternal value) and let go of the things that have only limited temporal significance (such as weight, wealth, and so on). Does that make any sense at all with regard to how my faith ties into FA?

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