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!

Monday, January 07, 2008

How To Love God Excerptlet: Introductory Note

I decided last night that I really was going to need a brief note on the language. So here it is:

A NOTE ON THE LANGUAGE

Dear Evangelical Readers, and Others of Tender Sensibilities: This book contains swearing. There hasn’t been a long tradition of religious books that include cusswords (with the lovely exception of Anne Lamott), and that’s why religious books have, as a rule, been just a little dishonest. For example, in his book unChristian, whose daring subtitle is “What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity,” David Kinnaman goes for 250 pages allegedly reporting on the results of a study on outsiders’ perceptions of Christianity—taken from surveys and individual conversations with unbelievers, so he's supposedly reporting what they actually say—and by some miracle, not even once does any of Kinnaman’s secular critics-on-the-street use the word “asshole.” The most vulgar thing any non-Christian says in the course of the book is “How the heck should I know?” (p. 21). And when I read something like that, I think, “This reporting is bullshit.”

The only adult people who don’t swear in this world are people who are being self-consciously nice, unnaturally pure, or are trying to sell something to either of those first two people. (Presidents never swear…in public.) The main message of this book is that religious people, in trying to be good, wind up accidentally sacrificing their humanity and their compassion. Maybe only a touch here and there, but it adds up in ways that aren’t always visible. The tendency to avoid cussing is a perfect example. If you had a friend in trouble who wailed, “I don’t know what the heck to do!,” it would make perfect sense to assume that your friend’s problem wasn’t very important, or wasn’t felt very deeply. Because if you can feel a strong emotion, and then think, “Oh, wait; if I express it using this word I’ll offend someone, so I’d better switch over to the decorous Disney equivalent,” you’ve stepped out of your emotion and into the Polite Presentation of Religion, and you are, on some level, a hypocrite. In trying to be polite (and in confusing politeness with actual goodness), you’ve wound up cutting yourself off emotionally and lying about yourself just a little bit. When you repeat the practice for years until you do it without thinking, you stop even noticing how wrong it is.

We’ve had enough of that. The problems of religion are too important to pull our emotional punches. If this troubles you—if you’re more agonized over seeing the word shit than you are about reading about how well-meaning people turn good faith into inhuman cruelty—then you are actually part of the problem, and you really need to read this book. When a homeless person comes to you for help, do you make the poor bastard wear a tie first? Of course not. In the same way, because human lives are at stake, I believe it’s far more important to be honest in our discussion than to be polite.

I am, however, polite enough to warn you that swearing is going to happen. You’re welcome!

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14 Comments:

Blogger Sebastienne said...

Hi Dave!

Guess what, I'm an adult and I don't swear. At least not for emphasis. Sometimes I say "oh my god" in mild conversational tones, but surely that doesn't count. I tried to teach myself to swear in high school, but it never sounded authentic, and now I have just accepted my G-rated language as a legitimate native tongue. And I *do* feel adequately expressive; I just have to be a little creative sometimes.

Actually one of my favorite things about being raised xian was all the adorable anachronistic exclamations we used to get to say: "Christopher Columbus!" "Oh, fudge," "Geez maneez," "Crikey!" etc. Good times.

But yeah, that's just me. I'm thrilled your book is gonna be full of cussing.

1/07/2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Thanks! Reactions like yours are why I post my rough drafts: so I know what to finesse.

I'm trying to make this a short note, so I don't want to do too many apologetical subclauses to the statement as it stands. But I probably should say not "all adults swear"--since, of course, many do not--but something more like "most adults swear unless they've been specifically trained not to." You may not swear yourself, but if you did a tape recording of most adults in their private lives, you'd get a pretty consistent PG-13 rating--except in church, where no one is allowed to be themselves. As I mention in the book, if religion is going to be valuable, it should reach us where we are, not where we pretend to be, and shouldn't suffer an attack of the vapors because someone's language was blunt and Anglo-Saxon.

I should add, of course, that my book will not be "full of swearing," as if the whole thing were just one long string of billingsgate. (Though that would be fun in its own way.) The book simply contains as much salty language as this blog does--i.e., whenever I think it's helpful to make a point or underscore a joke--and for the same reason: I'm writing it and trying to be honest.

I agree, by the way, that it's fun to know all those circumlocutions that people use to avoid profanity: gee whiz, Sam Hill, et cetera. But they're fun precisely because they're weird, not because they're emotionally accurate. I'd use them for humorous or colorful effect; never to express my true feelings.

1/07/2008 12:35 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

David,

Call me old-fashioned, but there are many things we do when growing up that are neither helpful nor wise, and embracing these things is a mistake. Swearing is one such affectation of youth that I am trying to get rid of in myself. It is unintellectual, unprofessional and ugly. Swear more at work, and watch your opportunities dwindle. I suppose you've probably already done that. You might wind up working in the mail room but at least you'll be intellectually honest.

I think it is interesting that at the same time you have embraced atheism in the name of integrity, and sexual promiscuity in the name of compassion, you have also embraced unintellectual ugliness in the name of intellectual honesty. It's as if with every moral decision you make you are actually aiming for the gutter (and hitting, as you marvel, with deadly accuracy). What about not spitting bile all over people is intellectually dishonest, again? You accuse the reader of being unreasonable if they don't consider profanity to be normal. Interesting. Elitist, but interesting.

There are many, many examples of discourse about important issues throughout history that is civil and doesn't rely on this kind of behavior. Now of course, I don't roll with the elite crowds you do now, but I think I could argue that using polite language is not only respectful, it is considered the defacto method of communicating in cultures across the planet. Unless all you have in you is vicious hate of course, and that's all you want to emit, then I suppose swearing will work for you. But maybe you're setting your sights too high by thinking you will be published for writing such things. Maybe you should just start up a grunge band, or go into performance art or something. Or just stick to blogs: something amusing, but free. After all, who would pay money to be cursed at?

By the way, this is just one of the reasons why your book doesn't have a chance in hell of finding an audience: It is ugly, insulting and filled with venom. It purports to be compassionate, but it has no compassion in it, it purports to be intellectual, but relies on base insults, like a shock-jock's rants, to get its points across. It is as if you open with insults, accusing the reader of being an unintellectual moron, and then proceed to articulate your position with the voice of a ninth-grader. Most adults would read your prose and decide you're someone who doesn't deserve a crappy microphone, let alone a book deal.

Maybe you should take a tip from major media or your favorite political candidate and see if you can, oh, I don't know, actually articulate your concerns, using grown-up words.

Or you could make your intellectual honesty more complete by renaming your book "All Evangelicals Are Ignorant Fucking Ass Holes".

1/07/2008 2:44 PM  
OpenID qaqaq said...

Apparently, one does not have to curse to be "ugly, insulting, and filled with venom".

1/07/2008 4:35 PM  
Blogger Sebastienne said...

All I have to say about Daniel's post is:

oh
my
God.

Pay no attention, Dave. Your tone control is excellent.

1/07/2008 6:16 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Hi, everybody! Daniel is my twin brother. And I want to say quickly in his defense that he's not normally this virulent. In fact, in the almost 40 years we've been related, I have never known him to be this insulting. So please don't judge him based on this one note. And bear in mind, too, that this is borne out (I assume) from the frustration that can only come from loving someone who disappoints you on some level. I feel it too, so I know some of its power. This isn't a random attack; it's been years in the making.

But Dan, if it's not too "ninth-grade level" for you, I'd like you to pretend for a moment that you're not a Christian and look at what I wrote, then look at what you wrote in response. If you use any sort of basic, carnal, "fair is fair" mode of judgment, I think it's pretty clear that you're coming across as far more judgmental, aggressive, unfair, ugly, and unduly insulting than anything I have ever written. In fact, I don't think it's just "pretty clear." I think you could see it from space.

In this single repsonse, you have a.) assumed the worst about me from a simple statement (where "there's going to be swearing" means, in your eyes, "spitting bile all over people."); b.) insulted every human being who's not an evangelical (since "having sex with my girlfriend," as most people do, apparently means "aiming straight for the gutter"); and c.) gone out of your way to impugn both my future (since I'll apparently be working in the mail room) and my writing style, which, since my only dream in life is to become a professional writer, is like me telling you you suck as a computer programmer. (I don't think you do, by the way.)

And all I was trying to do was politely--and humorously--warn people that there was going to be occasional strong language, and that an aversion to strong language might be (well, okay, I said "is") a reflection of a larger problem with evangelical Christianity. I stand by that statement, and would add further that I don't need to write a book titled "Evangelicals are Fucking Assholes," because with your wildly intemperate reponse I'm afraid you just announced it to everyone here.

As it happens, the book "Evangelicals are Fucking Assholes" doesn't need to be written, because it already has been: It's called "God is Not Great," by Christopher Hitchens, and I was inspired to write my book precisely because I found it (and Harris and Dawkins) ugly, arrogant, and proudly ignorant of the good aspects of evangelical faith. If I wanted to be an asshole I wouldn't have warned readers about the swearing, I wouldn't have tried to figure out things (like what's behind evangelical hatred of evolution) that TRUE elites like Hitchens have considered beneath notice...in fact, I wouldn't have bothered to engage in the conversation at all.

I really do think you're misjudging me, and misreading the book, and I invite you to hold off commenting until I post the next section, which will be from the "How to Be an Atheist Without Being a Jerk" section. I suspect many atheists won't like it, but again, I'm trying to be honest, not mean-spirited. (And if I write at a ninth-grade level, the reason should be obvious: when you're surrounded by touchy people, it's important to be sure that everyone is on the exact same page as often as possible. If I assume one step too much, I lose someone I might have reached.)

By the way, I probably won't reach you as my audience. Perhaps I shouldn't even try. But I suspect there are tons of people out there who want to live a God-pleasing life, but who find evangelicalism feels wrong for reasons they can't put into words: they're dissatisfied, but they can't quite make the jump to mainstream liberal Christianity (which feels spiritually dead) or to atheism (which feels existentially inaccurate). People like our friends Derek and Lizbeth, who left eventually, but it took them years to find a way to do it. Maybe for people like that, I can shorten the trip between them and happiness. And if I can help reform evangelicalism (and evangelicals have to either reform or start dying in population, if David Kinnaman's surveys are correct), so much the better. I really want people to be happy. But I can't do that without pointing out errors I see.

In the meantime, I'm just going to ignore this very hostile note. I hope and assume you'll come to your senses and apologize at some point--if not for every point, at least for its excesses, and if not to me, then to Jesus, who you have represented so appallingly.

1/07/2008 10:58 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

David:

Okay. It is fair to say that my response to you is from many, many readings from your blog, from the personal conversations we have had, from the bits on the radio, and not from this one, single post -- there is a context around the venom. Though I have brought great shame to me and my people, I will endeavor to explain.

But first, to apologize.

David, I am very sorry for criticizing your career and your writing talent. It was not my intent to do that at all. I was merely making an observation on those who are generally profane from my own professional life, since I think my own career mobility has suffered because of having a loose tongue. I decided to throw the zinger of "you've probably already tried that" in at the last moment, when I should have said, "I know I've tried that, and it has affected my career." It was terrible of me to turn this on you, and I am very sorry for that. Don't ever take a job in the mail room. In fact, don't take any career advice from me at all.

I shouldn't have used the term "spitting bile all over you" when describing profanity, but you do have a cavalier attitude that is gerund to my objection, here. That being said, the ninth-grade stuff is what I genuinely feel your writing is reduced to when you swear. I don't think you write at the ninth grade level, and nobody who reads your stuff does, but I think it is accurate to say you take on the voice of an adolescent child when you decide to just throw out insults. The fact that you are so profane so often bothers me, because it is unnecessary and it detracts from your actual skill as a writer. You goddamn mother-fucker.

See?

You are a wonderful writer, but my main qualm is with the profanity, and is a genuine reaction to your aloof treatment of profanity, as if it is perfectly natural and has no impact. I think the fact that you do not have tremendous, national attention is because you choose to go for this writing style instead of doing things that are acceptable to the mainstream culture, by which I mean "things that can generally be published." Perhaps you feel this would be "selling out" in some way that I don't understand, but I don't think J.K. Rowling would have done anyone a service by dropping the f-bomb every now and then, for the purity of her craft. Perhaps that is an improper analogy, since she is a children's writer, but honestly -- when was the last book on religion or philosophy you read that had any profanity at all in it?

Maybe I'm just not reading the right books.

Granted, I'm probably not your demographic. Maybe there actually is an untapped audience that would buy piles of this. I have heard it said, if you want to do something, don't ask someone who has failed, or those who would doubt you; ask someone who has been successful how they made it happen. I can't speak as one who is an expert on success or publishing; I can only speak as an evangelical. And I have to say I am appalled by the vulgarity of your blog in general, and the book in particular. It does not make it more genuine, and it does not make it more intellectually honest. But the evangelicals will be turned off to it.

On Elitism:

Now, I admit I'm going back a ways now, but I remember years ago you started writing song lyrics that were, frankly, awesome, and funny, and touching. Your readers may be amused to learn that your first love in song writing was for country western music, but then you decided your real niche wouldn't be country music, but something nobody had heard of called alt-country music. Then later i learned it was hip hop, which then turned into blip-hop (I think). The trajectory of your interests has always diverted into the obscure, and the elite. You love those low-budget mockumentaries that make fun of stupid people, like Waiting For Guffman, and Best In Show. You had to feebly prod your readers for responses to your trivia question about silent movies because I think you're the only person I know who has even a passing interest in silent films. I don't know why it is you are drawn toward the obscure and strange and small, but it seems to be a theme. I consider banking on profanity to be another reflection of this tendency. I promise I'll stop condemning you and resume with the apology now.

You are my brother and I love you, and I am deeply sorry for the tone of my last post. You may think that I am unreachable, and that is fair, because your writings are at odds with my core beliefs. You may accuse me of proving that evangelicals are assholes, but look who's talking -- you're half finished with the First Epistle of Atheism! The fact that we're speaking at all is a miracle of science. Or creation.

But back to the post. You asked me to re-read what you wrote, and I did. You said you were merely trying to humorously warn the uptight evangelical that the occasional f-bomb would be coming, but what you actually did was justify your use of profanity by claiming it is somehow immoral not to swear. Here is the progression of logic I see from what you wrote:

1. Christians who don't swear are dishonest.
2. not only that, but they also lack humanity and are without compassion
3. this gets worse over time
4. eventually you become a hypocrite
5. because you are being polite, when you should be swearing for some reason
6. this means you are lying to yourself
7. you become disconnected from the world
8. and religion is too important to not swear about
9. and to complain about you swearing needlessly is like asking a homeless person to wear a tie before helping them
10. ...for some reason.

David, this is all pure crap! In the space of a four paragraph blog post you have actually disparaged people who don't swear. Is this crazy? You called them "less human, without compassion, hypocritical, self-deceiving, disconnected and, again, incompassionate." This is because they have some supposedly unnatural aversion to profanity. And calling profanity vile isn't just the judgement of a small minority of religious crazies out there: it is actually canonized in the attitude of the entire mainstream media. ("That's a great fucking question, Johnny..."). Please don't forget that there is an awful lot of historical precedent for being civil. It makes no sense for you to consider civility a character flaw.

On shooting for the gutter

How is it that I am now being blamed for criticizing all of humanity's choices in love? Maybe "shooting for the gutter" is understood more broadly than I know. Is it innuendo for a particular sexual act, or something? Now, this is all on you, not on me. I didn't bring up the sex-thing, and I don't judge people who sleep with their girlfriends. I acknowledge that my religious convictions are what kept me a virgin for many years, and if it were not for those convictions you had better believe I would not have stayed a virgin. I mean, come on! We are all seeking happiness, right? But I am offended when you tell me that I live a joyless, disconnected life by saving myself for marriage. Do you get that? This is because I think there is a blessing that God gives for having abstained from those things. And if God doesn't exist, then there really is no point. So belief matters. Perhaps in your mind, that means this entire argument does not. Regardless, I wasn't talking about sex when I was talking about shooting for the gutter, so put it out of your filthy mind. We're not thinking about sex, now. We're not.

No sex, now.

What I meant to say (and this should also offend you, I think), is that you have the most infuriating habit of portraying virtues as vices. As I just said, you say that saving one's self for marriage robs a person of their joy, that abstinence is evil. This is crazy. By personalizing your latest blog posting I read that my efforts to keep a clean tongue for my son makes me less human, and a hypocrite. This is also crazy. Believe it or not, some virtues are actually virtuous, and many are actually hard. When I say you "shoot for the gutter" I mean when difficult moral choices come up -- anything that would require any actual effort -- you take the easy route (which doesn't bother me even remotely, because we are all free people) ...and then you harshly criticize those who don't (which makes me stark raving crazy for reasons I can't explain). This is like criticizing people who don't drink for having some character flaw or something. I don't know why I even care, but it drives me crazy that you are leveling judgments against me for doing what seems right to me, when I'm just peacefully living my life, not leveling judgments against anybody! And then it is my beliefs that need to be reformed, for some reason.

You say that profanity is an acceptable means of communication (fine), but then suggest that anyone who doesn't speak this way is intellectually dishonest! What?! And Christians are the ones who are judgmental. In any case, it is another simple choice to make, (hence the shooting for something right in front of you) but I suppose the mental picture of you winding up in the gutter is unfortunate. But really, after all the barbs you have thrown at me, who is being over-sensitive now? You've literally called the God I worship (and I quote) "a fucking asshole." Cheers to you, too, Dave!

That reminds me, I did enjoy your comment that the book "Evangelicals Are Fucking Assholes" has already been written. That was really funny, and I agree. Nobody needs to revisit the outstanding works of those authors. I would also add "Atheism: The Case Against God" to the list.

I do understand that you are trying to reach disaffected people, who are probably not me. The thing that riles me up is when you portray the virtues of Christianity as the problems of Christianity (or Evangelicalism. Or whatever...). Maybe that's the point. If it is, we may have come to a critical (and important) realization. Maybe you should publish the seven deadly sins and which ones are actually good, and maybe list the ten commandments and which of them are actually really bad.

In any case, you stand by the statement that people who don't swear are the problem with Christianity, fine. I stand by my statement that a book filled with as much profanity as what I have read on your blog will never meet a broad audience. I say this without any malice. This is not to say the book is not without merit; I think it would be valuable. But in particular, your evangelical audience will be turned off to it. And this is not so much a problem with evangelicals, per-se, as it is a problem with the culture of the planet earth.

Perhaps in some small way I have advanced the cause of Christianity by proving the fallen nature of mankind. Again, I am very sorry for the tone of my last post. At this point, I'm not even sure that this one won't raise up an army of villagers calling for my head. But it is early, so I click the Publish button. And wait for the hew and cry.

I guess I will leave you as the insane steward of Gondor, seeped in oil, casting you out of the catacombs. "Go and die in whatever way seems best to you. I'm off to burn myself in effigy..."

Daniel

1/08/2008 5:05 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

See, everyone! This is the brother I love, and this is why I always say I'd take a bullet for him. This is also an example of why he's one of the best critics my book could have; because he knows the little irritating things that other people can somehow ignore--like my supercilious nature--that surface to my discredit and need to be Whack-a-Moled down.

I see your point now, Dan, and I'm going to see if I can finesse the point a little on language by saying, "This may seem silly to say, but I think it's a symptom of a larger issue," and by lightening the post in general so it comes across as curious rather than accusatory. I have a section (not yet posted) where I actually talk about what I mean by "humanity," and you're right: by failing to clarify this (I mean empathy, humility, a breakdown in tribalism--basically all the best parts of Jesus's ministry that even the secular folks love), I've tended to suggest that people who, say, get angry about pornography are monsters. Oops! That's really bad terminology. I'll go fix that.

For what it's worth, you've had at least one additional good effect on the book already. I remember in one of our conversations that you had a strong reaction to a reference I made that equated evangelical Chrsitians to "people who burn Harry Potter." I believe the section in question was where I was saying that one of the problems with fixing evangelicalism is that every time evangelical types do something extreme--like burning Harry Potter--mainststream evangelicals say, "that's not real evangelicalism" without checking to see if maybe it is and if maybe something could be done. For that particular section I needed a religion-inspired activity that mainstream evangelicals would roll their eyes at, but which manifestly comes from evangelical premises. (Like the John 3:16 sign-holders at football games; it's a weird thing to do, but it's a particularly evangelical weirdness and is therefore worth looking at. If I wanted to look a Catholic weirdness I'd check out something like The Blue Army.)

At any rate, I have hereby changed all references to "Harry Potter book burning" to "Harry Potter book banning." There have only been about five incidents of book burnings over Harry Potter that I could find. But the Harry Potter books ARE the single most banned books in the nation. And it's not Catholics who are doing the banning. I think if you can figure out what's motivating that (and I think it stems from people whose entire worldview is shaped by the Bible, so that when they see something unfamiliar like magic, they don't think "childhood and fantasy," which isn't in the Bible, but "that practice banned in Leviticus," which of course is--and they have to make SOME kind of judgment because the world is perilous and what if you're wrong?), you can see similar ways in which mainstream evangelicals (not the book-banners) also trammel themselves.

I'm doing the same thing with the atheists, by the way. Not all atheists think they're smarter than everyone else...but it's a consistent undercurrent of books like "The Reason-Driven Life" and the annoying term "Brights," and it, too, deserves a takedown--not because all atheists are jerks, but because this particular KIND of jerkiness is endemic to an atheistic world view, which tends to overvalue reason to the same extent that fundamentalists overvalue moralism, and for the same reason: to cope with the anxiety of gray areas.

There's more to address, but as usually happens in these exchanges, you give me more to think about than I have time to write on with my day job and my long-ass commute. But I'll tell you this: last night after reading your comment, I was rather dispirited about my writing and about the book. Today you've given me an actual drive to write it, to be absolutely clear I'm understood. So thanks very much! I'll take that bullet now. :)

1/08/2008 7:11 AM  
Blogger Sneb said...

Are you identical twins? If so I need to rethink my assumptions of genetic destiny.

I haven't read Hitchens' book, but do you really think Harris and Dawkins are ugly and arrogant? I can see Dawkins as arrogant at times, but he can be very humble and self-correcting too. I don't think either of them are ugly. And Harris is always extremely polite. See how cool and calm he is during debates.

You also mention the arrogant undercurrent in books like The Reason-Driven Life. I haven't read it, but I have heard interviews with Bob Price, the author. He seems to know a lot about the Bible and deserves his nickname "The Bible Geek". Is he being a jerk in the book?

Regarding the profanity issue, I don't have much to say. But Isaac Asimov was famous for not putting any sex or profane language in any of his books.

I'm looking forward to reading more drafts! Keep up the good work!

1/08/2008 10:51 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I have a brother too, and like it or not they seem to disagree, JUST to disagree and that IS what makes them the best critics of what you do. But it also makes for long conversations and apologies. Maybe skip the warning altogether - honestly the one's who are going to make the biggest deal are the evangelicals, they'll hold ralleys and prayer groups against your book and call you the anti-christ etc.. but your sales will go through the roof, and it'll be all to evangelicals, maybe even put a picture of satan on the cover laughing. there's never any warning when you hear swearing in real life, so why be warned about it when reading about real life? I think the warning in the beginning will deter the more ignorant evangelicals from ever getting anything out of the book because they'll put it down before they read any of it. I'd keep the swearing but hold off till chapter 3 or something - that way they'll be too into the book to want to stop reading. - that's my opinion though, and I like to hear myself talk.

1/09/2008 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Derek said...

Hi all,

Fascinating conversation! As the "Derek" in "Derek and Lizbeth" above, in Dave's comments, I want to clarify for any overly rapid readers that we are both still definitely Christians! We have simply moved slowly from a more right-wing evangelical Christianity to the company of more mainstream Presbyterians.

It's been a long process, and a subtle one. We still definitely consider everyone in the churches we left to be our brothers & sisters in Christ, and honestly, the core theology is exactly the same.

Any differences are frankly peripheral, but I remember feeling back then as though those peripheral differences were absolutely critical, the litmus tests by which you could tell "committed Christians" (read "real Christians") from posers. To be clear, my younger self would be suspicious of the authenticity of my present self's faith.

You can see this fundamentalist passion in many groups in America today irrespective of religion, like "health fundamentalists" who devote themselves to food & exercise purity, and even the atheist fundamentalists that Dave references earlier here. It is hard to give up especially when you're succeeding to a certain degree, because of the sense of high rank that it confers. At least for me it did.

A major event for me in my own journey toward the center was simply reading the Gospels straight through as a story and realizing to my shock that I was something of a modern Pharisee (for those who don't know, the villains of the Gospels). It may seem strange that I had missed this for so many years, but fundamentalists tend to zero in on individual pieces of Scripture, expecting to find carefully concealed truths, and risk missing the major point.

Dan and Dave, I applaud you for being able to reconcile over a flame-prone medium! I gotta respect that. Keep it up.

--Derek

1/09/2008 10:19 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I'm thinking a chapter of the twin brothers debating might be interesting.

1/10/2008 1:38 PM  
Blogger Tristram Shandy said...

Ruth Wajnryb has written a brilliant book, Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language. Among other things, she examines the role that swearing plays in social situations… Although she doesn’t specifically mention blogs.

And I will note, as a recent transplant to the Left Coast, that San Franciscans seem to swear less than New Yorkers. At the American Museum of Natural History, we pretty much swore like sailors. Not the way things work out here, and honestly, I think there is a disingenuous quality to the restraint. One might even say that it confuses “politeness with actual goodness.”

1/12/2008 7:18 PM  
Anonymous molpal said...

I think it would be infinitely more appropriate, more "grown-up," and more writerly to continue with your swearing whenever you so choose, but to leave out your little warning. That's sort of juvenile, don't you think? Remember back when you were just beginning to "rebel" and every time you said a curse word, you looked around to see if anyone noticed? (Anyway, that's what I did). I think you should let your readers react to your cursing however they want to, instead of dictating an entire philosophy of cursing to them. Chances are, most people will think nothing of the cursing, the way we think nothing of it when one adult curses while speaking to another adult. A "curse warning" will only serve to distract the reader from what you're actually writing about.

1/21/2008 12:42 AM  

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