Friday, March 19, 2010

In which I argue that Christianity has a serious PR problem.

I, the author of this blog, have a "faith" and a "belief in a higher power."

I've kept that purposely vague. What does that statement tell you about me? Not much -- it perhaps suggests that I see a great number of mysteries and unanswered questions in this vast, wide universe and that knowing I cannot possibly answer some of them, I therefore refuse to accept mankind as the highest order of intelligence in it. I haven't told you *which* higher power, for all you know it's this guy, and why not?

You probably don't have any prejudices about me -- LOTS of people have a vague, agnostic belief in a higher power. You might suspect I'm an AA member, because who the hell else uses the term "higher power?" But that's about it.

Now let me narrow a little bit. I now tell you that I am a "subscriber to a religion."

I'm still not telling you which one. But I bet you begin to develop some prejudices about me. You think, well, this is a guy who needs an "opiate," who probably doesn't like to free-think and prefers to kind of be told what to do, as part of a "mass," if you will. But not having told you which religion, you might think I'm part of one of the interesting religions, ones that have strong ties to, say, an ethnicity or cultural heritage, and so as part of your training to be sensitive, you'll kind of nod politely and acknowledge that deep heritage while at the same time thinking vaguely that I'm a little silly.

Now let me narrow it down a little bit more -- I am a "Christian."

Oh boy. Now what presuppositions have leapt into your head? Well, your first thought is probably that I'm a political and social conservative, right? Possibly a Tea Party member? I bet you go back and replay conversations you had with me to find clues that I'm trying to push my religion onto you, or signs that I displayed homophobic tendencies you didn't notice before but now stand out clear as day. I bet you start to question whether I'm intelligent at all. I mean seriously, who could believe that crap?

How do I know you probably think these things? Because I do it too. And I actually am a Christian, and I still do that. And I like to think I'm a pretty open-minded person generally, but you bet I have preconceived notions about Christians. I'm not proud of it, but I absolutely do, and I know I'm not alone.

Of course, if you actually know me, you know that none of those things are true. I'm about as liberal as you could possibly get. I voted Democrat in precisely every election I've been eligible to vote in, except the one where I voted for one Green Party candidate (and no, it wasn't Nader -- that wasn't my fault, I voted for Gore). I don't push my religion on anybody -- I have great respect for other people's religions and their atheism and agnosticism and prefer to let living my life according to my set of moral beliefs derived from my religion speak for itself. I'm an outspoken proponent of gay marriage ("proponent" means I'm fur it, not agin' it, in case you were wondering). And I'd like to think I'm smart. I'm probably not, but I can fake it pretty well.

But okay, it's this. Let's say you're on a message board or comment thread on the internet for something you like -- let's say it's "Avatar" for the sake of argument, since you've all seen that movie. You really like it, you can't wait to discuss it with people who also love it. But you get there, and it seems like everybody's being extremely negative. All you find is post after post of people ripping the movie to shreds, and talking at great length about how much they hate it and how awful it was and how James Cameron is destroying filmmaking for the rest of eternity. I thought this was a fan board? you think. Where are the fans?

Well, of course, the board membership is 40,000 (or something -- this is a hypothetical board, who the hell would join an Avatar message board anyway? Snork.) but the negative comments come from the same fifteen people over and over again. Why?

BECAUSE THEY'RE LOUD. It's true we have free speech in this country. But while everybody has a voice, from the largest to the smallest of us, the LOUDEST VOICES GET HEARD THE MOST. Not because they have the best argument or because they're the smartest, but simply by virtue that they're the loudest and they NEVER SHUT THE HELL UP.

So what it boils down to: Christianity has a major public relations problem, and that's because the LOUD SHOUTY PEOPLE are turning everybody the hell off of it.

Now, I am not going to talk down the Tea Party readers if, in fact, I have any. Well, okay, a little. I suspect I have one or two, but I know you're not the majority, so to you I will simply say this: I do not agree with you politically, but you absolutely have the right to believe whatever the hell you want to believe. I happen to think your political philosophy is the equivalent of this:

...but I would never say you don't have the right to believe what you believe. So go on and continue to do what you wanna do. I couldn't stop you even if I wanted to.

What I will say is this: CHRISTIANS AREN'T ALL LIKE THAT.

There are other Christians who have strong faith, who believe in the same tenets of that faith but somehow, MAGICALLY AND MIRACULOUSLY, are not led by that belief into things like homophobia (like posting "God Hates Fags" on Facebook), social injustice (like bludgeoning a health care bill to death), money-grubbing (or war profiteering!) or watching Fox News. In other words, we believe that the tenets of our faith (and those of Jesus H. Christ -- the "H" stands for "Horatio," in case you were wondering), encourage us towards things like conservation of resources, helping the less fortunate, making sure that there's general justice and fairness and that nobody gets dragged behind a truck for being a "fag".

Amazing, isn't it? That the same book could be read two such very different ways? And yet, it's true. Not all Christians are right-wing redneck idiots. Not all of them want to eliminate Thomas Jefferson from history books. Not all of them think Adam and Eve had pet dinosaurs. Not all of them stand in front of government buildings holding misspelt signs.

The problem is, there's kinda no way to get that message across.

I feel bad for Christianity as a whole, not that there's any governing body that gets together and represents "Christianity" (that would, of course, be impossible, as God would strike them down with a punishing tornado because some of them believed in having gay folks behind the pulpits! We all know that). There is no way for the churches who ARE, y'know, lefties, to not put too fine a point on it, or who are just maybe reasonable, non-virulent, non-hate-mongering folks who are of whatever political point of view, to get the message across that "Hey, we're not like those folks over there who promote a message of hate while carrying an American flag, a cross and a picture of Glen Beck."

Because they would get shouted down. Not because they're a minority -- I suspect they're probably quite a comfortable majority, though I have no poll numbers to back this up -- but because the other people SHOUT LOUDER. Because they're represented by people like Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh, or the people of the Westboro Baptist Church -- people who use the press to basically SHOUT. They don't have the most intelligent or rational message -- you could rip 'em to shreds with a tiny bit of logic, even if you DID agree with their point of view generally -- they're just the loudest. The left fail when they try the tactics of the right -- they don't make good fearmongers, they can't really use hate or jingoism as weapons -- so they try to make smart arguments or use sarcasm, and that's not as loud a voice as someone yelling about how we're slowly turning into NAZI GERMANY because Obama wants health care for everybody in America and that the founding fathers wanted us to be a Christian Nation and that's the end of it.

So my only point is rather a sad, pathetic one: I know it's tough, but don't let THOSE PEOPLE (points to the right with thumb) make you think that EVERYBODY who calls themselves a Christian is either a) stupid or b) hateful or c) stupid. That's not as potent a message as "HOLY SHIT OUR COUNTRY IS GOING TO HELL" but it's an important one. Believe it or not, the aforemented Mr. Christ had a message of kindness, compassion and love -- it wasn't tucked in amongst a bunch of doggerel about how America is the best country evah, either, it was right out there in big red letters. Believe in Him, and be nice to other people. That was it. Super simple. The other stuff the hate-mongering Christians believe? It's bullshit. Or rather, it's what THEY believe, and I respect their ability to believe it, I just happen to believe myself that it's bullshit.

(Meanwhile, I'm recommending He get in touch with a good PR agency. I think I know one.)

SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, you could rewrite this article and substitute the word "Republican" for the word "Christian" and not change much else (except the bits about Jesus Christ -- maybe you wanna throw another name in there? Lincoln? Teddy Roosevelt?) and it would probably still be true. The only other group that's been as badly effected PR-wise from the rise of the Tea Party conservatives is Republicans. I know quite a few of them who are reasonable, intelligent people who believe in smaller government and such (supposedly the tenets of the Republican party! Believe it or not!) who wish their party didn't ALSO stand for gay-baiting, abortion-stopping, health-care-bill-killing and lots of other things.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Information Overload. Brain in Shut-Down Mode.

I know your attention span is short, so I'll try to keep this brief. Hell, *my* attention span is just as short, so I may have no choice but to keep this brief. By the time I get to the end of this paragraph, I might have lost focus and moved onto other things, like looking at an article about Roger Ebert or reading my Twitter feed or seeing what's happening on Facebook or...

...nope, I'm still here. But it's seriously a wonder, because I've been feeling the SERIOUS crunch of information overload recently. In any given half-hour span, I'm probably connected to three social networks, my iTunes, whatever project I'm working on, a couple of articles I found on Google -- okay, I just seriously blanked out there. I'm not kidding. That's about how long I can focus without moving onto other things. That long. Long enough to compose one and a half paragraphs of this blog.

Which is why I haven't been blogging recently. I'm a member of at least one message board, check two others. I have a Twitter feed, I have a Facebook page with 600-plus people on it (I checked: all but TWO of whom I actually know). I have two emails I have to check on a regular basis, plus a phone that only rings anymore once in a blue moon, because everybody knows I won't answer it anyway. I have iTunes and an iPod that I use constantly to try to focus out the XM radio and the sound of the other people in my office talking and clicking and looking at THEIR Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and whatever else.

And that's AFTER peeling back, people. I don't have a cellphone anymore -- which sounds insane, because why wouldn't I have an iPhone?? It's an iPod and a phone and an internet browser ALL IN ONE and that means I could browse the net when I'm out walking or on my bike or WHATEVER! And I don't have cable television either, because I realized at some point that everything on television is either crap or something I can get in DVD box sets or on iTunes without commercials.

But that's still too much! But even if I eliminate, say, Twitter -- which I tried to do, but I couldn't even, because I was reminded that I have to market my band online and participate in the fifteen-hundred online conversations I'm part of every single day -- or Twitter AND Facebook -- which I'm not sure I *could* do, because now that I'm reconnected to every family member and school chum I've ever had, my absence would be like a slap in the face -- there's still a GIGANTIC BARRAGE OF DISTRACTING INFORMATION COMING AT ME.

Plus, it strikes me evermore that everything is completely transitory. There is no permanence anymore. Everything I do vanishes off into the ether. In my meatworld job as a Creative Director, I'm not designing physical stuff like book jackets or CD covers or whatever, I'm designing crap that sits in an imaginary fantasy world and the minute someone pulls the plug on it, everything vanishes into the ether. I write blog entries and Twitter posts -- and poof, there it goes off into an Info-Realm that no more exists than Wonderland. My music collection sits in a series of fingernail-sized microchips. My friendships exist as a series of bytes and blips and they're no less real than the meatworld one. Everything feels impermanent, plastic, digital, false.

The end result of this is that I spend MORE THAN HALF MY DAY tied to this damn computer taking in a CONSTANT STREAM OF UNENDING INFORMATION and my brain is fucking SICK OF IT. It is seriously rebelling. It is saying "shut this shit the fuck off NOW." But come on -- that's not possible, anymore, not if I wanna live and make money and be creative. I can't stand on the corner and hand out flyers for my band. I can't design with pens and paper. It doesn't work that way. I'm stuck here, and my brain is getting fuller and fuller and fuller and there's no end in sight.

I mean, even my little rebellious dike-plug efforts like tossing out my cell and getting rid of cable -- they can barely stem the flood. The flood is ever-coming. The flood is good. Embrace the flood. Without the flood, you would not exist.

And you know what ends up happening to me? What's happening to Millenials around the world, according to statistics -- a nostalgic yearning for simpler times. It's not so much that I wish it was 1979 anymore -- it's more that I wish it was 1979 in terms of the way my brain dealt with stuff. I wish I had a rotary-dial telephone and a record player with vinyl records and a library full of REAL BOOKS and an encyclopedia and four channels of TV that came via an antenna and my bike and the great outdoors and *that's it*. I mean, if I want information, I've got it -- it's called "a library." But it has one input PER TIME. My eyes, a book. My options are "pick it up" and "put it down." It's binary information collection -- "on" or "off," not "off" or "HOW MANY FUCKING CHANNELS DO YOU WANT AT ONE TIME YOU SEXY LITTLE MONKEY?"

It's not that I wish I was young again. I just wish there was less input. Does that make sense? Are you even still with me?

So the weird-ass thing I've been doing recently is listening to ELO. Why? What does that have to do with the price of tea in china? Well, a couple things. For one thing, it reminds me of "those days." Which for some reason I find very zen. It puts my brain back in 1979 mode and for a few seconds I can pretend it's not full of knowledge about who SNOOKI FUCKING SNICKERS IS. For another, the album covers -- that's the future I wanted, dammit. I wanted neon and bright colors and airbrushing, NOT the apple white-plastic-and-cathode-ray-tube-future we actually got. For yet another, I can pretend I'm listening to it on an 8-track and not on my super-impermanent iPod that risks getting wiped at any second.


I'm totally open to suggestions, here.