Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Brief Dave Religion Timeline

In my last big Clearinghouse of replies to my comments on religion (and evangelicalism in particular), I neglected one friend's request, which was simply, "What happened?" Here's the timeline as I recall it. I'd probably interpret it differently on a different day.

age 8: I convert to evangelical Christianity by reading the Jack Chick tract classic, "This Was Your Life!", which someone left in the schoolyard. This conversion squares with other members of my family's own experiences (especially my father), and we start going to charismatic and Pentecostal churches.

age 8-early teens: I am introduced to the concept of using the Bible to solve problems and to correct errors, because dad quizzes us in the car after every church service: "Did you notice that the sermon today took Acts 5 out of context and mishandled Isaiah? What he said is almost directly contradicted by the book of James..."

age 19: I enter college, intending to major in Religious Studies and become a pastor---and, I feel sure, a great writer who will be the evangelical version of religious writers like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Flannery O'Connor

In college, in no particular order:

* I start attending religious studies classes and discover that non-Christian religions teach things that I thought Christianity had a lock on (such as grace).

* I also discover that other religious traditions read the Bible very differently, and that in many cases, their arguments better explain the text.

*Ditto for liberal exegesis, which takes away the holy aura around the Bible, but definitely gives me a better understanding of how texts are dated, where certain errors lie, and why, when dealing with works from antiquity (religious or not), it's always best to be skeptical about claims of authorship.

* I discover that, in visiting the Catholic student center, that it's possible to worship every week with people whose politics are completely opposite of yours (in MY church, everyone was a Republican), to read the Bible unworshipfully and still get things out of it, and---most interestingly---to understand history, warts and all, without making excuses for your church's past behavior. (In MY church, when you brought up the Crusades, my people would always say, "Those people weren't really Christians like us." The Catholics tended to say, "We really fucked up that time. Christians do that.")

* I notice, with some suspicion, that the only things evangelicals have ever accomplished in literature is science fiction and fantasy---especially books for children. By contrast, almost every other major Christian tradition---especially Catholics, but the Russian Orthodox and Lutherans have good run---is capable of writing actual classics that people of all belief systems return to again and again. Why is it, I wonder, that evangelicals don't seem to understand or tolerate art and ambiguity?

*I begin dating a woman whose brother is gay. (And, I should add, a wonderful guy I don't feel right about judging.) A few months later, in a single February, three of my best friends in the world all come out of the closet. I do the research and discover that, while I've been TOLD that science has an anti-religion, pro-gay agenda, in reality scientists, like evangelicals, assumed that homosexuality was a mental disorder for years. Then someone asked them to test it, and damned if homosexuals didn't come out sane. I realize that, in a similar situation, I would have done the same tests and reached the same conclusion. In a suddenly chilling moment, I realize that the Bible has made me a bigot and is actually morally unreliable.

*In the midst of all this, I also discover that I have a major psychosexual hangup. Praying and obeying the Bible doesn't help. Modern psychology (and porn) does. Who'd a thunk?

*Then I have the Best Sunday School Lesson Ever, which pretty much seals my impression that, by wanting to be good, and joining other good-desiring people in the evangelical church, I have unintentionally wound up in the church of the Pharisees.

Those last two points beg to be expanded, and I will. But now my workday has started. Maybe I'll write more at lunch.



Anonymous Mark Newhouse said...


You bring up some good points about the church that I also have issues with. You know, I guess I'm not as "evangelical" as maybe I thought I was. In some ways I am more liberal and in others even more conservative, as will no doubt become apparent below.

For example, although I would argue that there is more to the Crusades than is often presented, it was pretty much a PR debacle for Christians when looked at in the light of history. And I'm OK with that. We are not perfect. Hopefully we learn from our mistakes. This is an important point, and is very much related to grace. God uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect will.

I also appreciate your point about the lack of an understanding of art (and ambiguity) within evangelical circles. Too many are afraid to even step into an art museum - no wonder our most well known painter is Thomas Kinkade. John Grisham is looked down upon by many (most?) evangelicals because even though his works often point to God, they also contain words like "hell" and "damn" and maybe even worse swear words. Plus he's "sold out" to a non-christian publisher! But even Grisham's works aren't great literature, destined to become classics. If we want to impact our culture, we need to get involved in the arts again in a positive and constructive way, not just complain when something we don't like gets funded or called "important" in some way.

Regarding homosexuality, I think you have come to the wrong conclusion about the Bible making you a bigot. Trying to be succinct here: the Bible calls homosexuality a sin. The Bible also calls murder and adultery a sin. Yet the greatest king in Israel was both a murderer and adulterer. This is where grace and mercy come in. If God has room for murderers and adulterers, he's also got room for homosexuals. However, they are all sinners. But, so am I. I've lied, cheated, lusted (committed adultery in my heart, as Jesus expanded it), so who am I to judge an individual. I've got my own logs to work out before I help others with their specks.

The point still remains, however, that homosexuality is a sin. In fact it is a behavior (in the sense that homosexuals want to be recognized as a particular class of society, and gain certain rights, this is only based on the behavior that defines them as homosexuals. If they weren't "practicing" homosexuals, they wouldn't "need" and special protections.); whether there is a genetic predisposition to that behavior or not is irrelevant. My foster son likely has a predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse. He was born with meth and cocaine in his blood. He's already had his first "hit". None of that changes the fact that doing drugs is illegal and a sin. It does not make it OK for him to do drugs when he grows up.

Further, and this is where evangelicals get the whole homosexual thing wrong, is that the reason there are such strong words about homosexuality in the Bible is that marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church. This is why the one man, one woman thing is so critical. Christ is male and His Bride is female. The evangelical church stops there. The Bible, however, does not. It lays out clear roles for the husband and wife - roles that reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Husbands are to be the providers - to do anything less is infidelity (1 Timothy 5, verse 8 in particular, KJV). And wives are to, among other things, be homemakers (keepers at home), loving their husbands and children (Titus 2:4-5) - to do otherwise blasphemes the Word of God.

I'd venture to say that more than 99% of evangelical churches have hired married women as secretaries. And every such church that has a school associated with it has a slew of married women teaching in that school. All of this provide ample opportunity for the Word of God to be blasphemed as they ignore scripture in this instance but apply it (harshly) in the instance of homosexuality. I'd guess that 99% of those churches that hire married women haven't even given it a second thought.

Finally, your comment about the church of the Pharisees is spot on. I have a terrible tendency toward Pharaseeism, which I suppose is why it bugs me so much when I see it in others.

7/12/2006 1:33 PM  
Blogger Tristram Shandy said...

The concept of homosexuality dates back a mere hundred and some-pdd years. How can the Bible condemn what did not at that time exist?

A scant few passages can be construed to condemn homosexual acts, but sexual orientation lies beyond the pale. Those who would suggest that Leviticus 18:22 be used in support seem ignorant of the use of “abomination” in that context, and unless they don’t wear mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19) or eat pork (Leviticus 11:7-8), they’re completely hypocritical as well. As far as Roman 1:26-27 goes, well, Paul’s talking about “natural” versus “unnatural” relations, and believe me, sex with a woman is unnatural for a gay guy.

So give me a break with your murder, adultery, and alcoholism analogies: even bigots can rationalize their bigotry.

7/12/2006 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Mark Newhouse said...


I am sorry for offending you (and any/everyone else).

I seem to have hijacked this blog, and that was not my intent. So I will become a silent reader.

7/12/2006 7:23 PM  
Blogger Tristram Shandy said...

It’s not even a question of being offended. I dislike shabby arguments, particularly when they serve only to reinforce foregone conclusions.

Nonetheless, apology accepted.

7/13/2006 7:13 AM  

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