Divine Intervention

I already had something more beautiful and valuable than I would find anywhere I went “out there” in the world.

I went on a little shopping excursion this weekend and was very happy to run across the little guys in the photo in a thrift shop. They were made in Greece, and I suppose they’re sold as tourist trinkets there. They’re about four inches tall and pretty crudely made, especially Apollo, who seems to have a bit of a lurch going, like he’s spent too much time hanging around with Dionysus. But I don’t mind that. Finding them was the best thing that’s happened to me in a while.

I’m in transition in more ways than one at the moment, and I feel like I’ve been in suspended animation for the past year. I’ll be moving to my own place at the end of June, but until then my living arrangements don’t give me much chance to live my womanhood, which is pretty frustrating, of course. The long weekend just made it worse, giving me that much more time to feel pointless, which is why I decided to go shopping; it got me out of the house and passed some time doing something besides thinking about my situation.

So that was positive in itself. But the thing is, these two little figurines have a special meaning for me because of a dream I had quite a few years ago, a dream that became a major turning point in my life.

In the dream, I was on my way to the Hauptbahnhof (main railroad station) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (I worked in Frankfurt for a while, many years ago.) I was definitely going to the station to take a train, but the dream didn’t indicate where my journey was going to take me. As I approached the station, I saw there were numerous street vendors with tables set up along the sidewalk, hawking all kinds of wares. (This is not something you’d see there in real life.) It crossed my mind that maybe I would find something that would be useful on my trip, so I started browsing the tables.

I wasn’t finding anything that seemed very helpful, and I finally came to the last table without seeing anything I wanted. And then much to my surprise, I saw my maternal grandmother (who had died many years before) sitting in a chair nearby. Naturally, I stopped to talk with her. I explained my predicament, and she just nodded toward my hand and said, “What have you got there?”

I looked down and realized with considerable surprise that I was carrying what appeared to be a small suitcase, rather old and a little beat-up. I laid it on the nearest table and opened it, and was astonished at what I saw inside. It wasn’t actually a suitcase, it was a carrying case, and in it were two golden statuettes set into form-fitting recesses in the lining: figurines of Artemis and Apollo, about 8 to 10 inches tall, very beautifully wrought in a style somewhat like that of Benvenuto Cellini.

Seeing them, I realized at once that I didn’t need to acquire anything else for my journey. Indeed, maybe having these images in gold meant that I didn’t need to make the journey at all – I already had something more beautiful and valuable than I would find anywhere I went “out there” in the world. And that’s when I woke up.

I’m not going to do a detailed interpretation of my dream here. I’ll note that I have a lifelong love of Greek mythology, going back to grade school, when I read a collection of tales from the Greek myths written by Robert Graves (“Greek Gods and Heroes”). From that time on, in the symbolic competition that has been referred to as “Athens vs. Jerusalem,” I’ve always sided with Athens.

I should also mention that at the time I had this dream, my lifelong spiritual search was leading me increasingly to suspect that I was going to find my core intuitions best articulated in ancient Greek philosophy, specifically the Orphic-Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. I was resisting this conclusion at the time because I had studied philosophy in college (indeed, I majored in it for a while) and had found nothing in that study that seemed even remotely connected to my spiritual intuitions.

The dream led me to revisit and reacquaint myself with Plato and also his later follower Plotinus. What I found in their writings, looked at afresh without the refracting lens of scholarly prejudice, was that the ancient philosophers never intended to teach a purely intellectual, abstract system of thinking, but rather were teaching a systematic “way” of self-transformation and spiritual ascent – a way, moreover, that closely resembles the teachings of the great masters of the East. And I’ve been working on practicing that way ever since.

As for Artemis and Apollo, as brother and sister – twins – they form a syzygy (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/syzygy ), a union or reconciliation of opposites symbolized by the union of a female and a male divinity. Their attributes make this clear: Apollo is the god of the sun, of daylight and thus of the conscious, rational mind. Artemis is the goddess of the moon, of night, of the unconscious mind and the ineradicable non-rationality that exists both below and above human consciousness.

Some thinkers (e.g., Nietzsche) have seen Apollo as the epitome of order, and any divinity set in opposition to him (Dionysus, for Nietzsche) as disorder personified. I think this is wrong; rather, what Apollo and Artemis represent is the interplay of two kinds of order, both necessary to life and growth: formal, principled order and natural, dynamic order. Apollo without Artemis is static and sterile, Artemis without Apollo is riotous and self-destructive.

It seems to me that no human can be whole without awareness of and attentiveness to both these sides of ourselves. More importantly in the context of today’s world-situation, no society can be whole that doesn’t acknowledge and respect the creativity inherent in the “other” and promote and protect the freedom needed for this “other” to breathe and grow and live its self-nature for all to see.artemis-sculpt01

Vegan HRT

” The resulting brew is drinkable, but to me tastes sort of like overcooked spinach.”

I’ve seen quite a few posts on transgender-related Facebook groups asking about various possible plant sources of estrogens or androgens. This happens to be something I researched in some detail during the years when I was trying to get around the Harry Benjamin standards of care. The most helpful source I found during that time was a U.S. Department of Agriculture website, “Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases” (https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem/search ). It’s a comprehensive compilation of research on chemicals found in plants and is searchable by plant species, chemical name, chemical activity and other, more technical terms.

Here’s a brief rundown on some of what I found out there in looking for sources of estrogen:

First, there’s a difference between actual estrogens and other chemicals that are estrogenic, i.e., have effects or activities that are similar to estrogens in some way and/or to some degree. The database lists a total of 81 chemicals as estrogenic (plus one more listed as possibly but not confirmed as estrogenic, rutin (see more below). In contrast, the database lists just five estrogens: estradiol, estradiol-17-beta, estriol, estrone and coumestrol.

Here is each of the estrogens and the plant sources for them, by species name followed by common names (the words in parentheses refer to the actual part of the plant in which they’re found):

Estradiol
Humulus lupulus – Hops (fruit)
Panax ginseng – Ginseng; Oriental Ginseng; Korean Ginseng; Chinese Ginseng (root)
Panax quinquefolius – American Ginseng (plant)
Punica granatum – Pomegranate (seed)

Estradiol-17-beta
Phaseolus vulgaris – Navy Bean; Green Bean; Pop Bean; Field Bean; Haricot Bean; Flageolet Bean; Snap Bean; French Bean; Black Bean; Dwarf Bean; Popping Bean; Kidney Bean; Wax Bean; String Bean; Haricot; Garden Bean; Haricot Vert (seed; i.e., the bean itself, not the pod)

Estriol
Glycyrrhiza glabra – Licorice; Smooth Licorice; Licorice-Root; Common Licorice (root)
Panax ginseng – Ginseng; Oriental Ginseng; Korean Ginseng; Chinese Ginseng (root)
Punica granatum – Pomegranate (seed)
Salix sp. – Willow (flowers)

Estrone
Humulus lupulus – Hops (fruit)
Malus domestica – Apple (seed)
Olea europaea – Olive (seed)
Panax ginseng – Ginseng; Oriental Ginseng; Korean Ginseng; Chinese Ginseng (root)
Panax quinquefolius – American Ginseng (plant)
Perilla frutescens – Perilla (sprout, seedling)
Phaseolus vulgaris – Navy Bean; Green Bean; Pop Bean; Field Bean; Haricot Bean; Flageolet Bean; Snap Bean; French Bean; Black Bean; Dwarf Bean; Popping Bean; Kidney Bean; Wax Bean; String Bean; Haricot; Garden Bean; Haricot Vert (seed)
Phoenix dactylifera – Date palm (pollen, seed)
Prunus armeniaca – Apricot (seed)
Punica granatum – Pomegranate (seed)
Zea mays – Corn, Maize (seed, oil)

Coumestrol
Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera – Brussels Sprout (shoot)
Glycine max – Soybean (shoot, plant, seed, root, leaf)
Medicago sativa – Alfalfa; Lucerne (root, sprout/seedling, leaf, shoot, plant)
Phaseolus lunatus – Lima Bean; Butter Bean (seed)
Phaseolus vulgaris – Navy Bean; Green Bean; Pop Bean; Field Bean; Haricot Bean; Flageolet Bean; Snap Bean; French Bean; Black Bean; Dwarf Bean; Popping Bean; Kidney Bean; Wax Bean; String Bean; Haricot; Garden Bean; Haricot Vert (seed)
Pisum sativum – Pea (fruit)
Psoralea corylifolia – Black Dot; Malaya Tea; Babchi (root)
Trifolium pratense – Red Clover (root, sprout, plant, flower)

One thing to be taken into consideration upfront: Estradiol is by far the strongest (i.e., the most biologically active) of these substances; all the others are far weaker, which means they would have to be consumed in much larger quantities to get the same effect. At the same time, the concentrations of all of the chemicals, including estradiol, are pretty low, so even those plants would have to be consumed in mass quantities to have any effect. It should also be mentioned that some of these plants also show up on a search of the database for chemicals with anti-estrogenic properties, which would suggest that consuming those plants would end up having no net effect.

My impression is that while many of these plants might offer some help to women dealing with the symptoms of menopause, they offer little or no help to transgenders seeking substitutes for prescription HRT. And I speak from experience, having tried some of them.

Based on my research, some years ago I decided that the most promising of these plants was red clover. For one thing, it has a much higher concentration of coumestrol than any other plant (1,322 mg/100g compared with 14.08 mg/100g for the second-place source, dry kala chana, whatever that is; so almost 100 times as strong). In addition, red clover also contains high concentrations of coumarin, a chemical precursor for anti-coagulants such as coumadin (Warfarin).

Which brings us to rutin. The USDA database cites one study (Economic & Medicinal Plant Research, 6: 189) that found estrogenic properties for rutin, a flavonoid found widely in citrus fruit and numerous other plant species. It’s also an anti-coagulant recommended for prevention of HRT-related blood clots. The USDA database lists a total of 263 plants that contain some rutin, but since it’s readily available as a nutritional supplement, I won’t go into detail.

Many of the other plant sources are also available at health food stores, pharmacies, etc. Estriol is also available in pill form outside the U.S., but in this country it’s only available in topical creams. Red clover can be found in capsules, which I personally found fairly indigestible, and also in teabags; the resulting brew is drinkable, but to me tastes sort of like overcooked spinach. (I also tried ginseng capsules for a while, with similarly disappointing results.)

Anyone who’s on HRT should avoid phytoestrogens because they bind to estrogen receptors and block the more active prescription estrogen you’re taking. If for whatever reason you’re unable to obtain prescription estrogen, you could try these phytoestrogens, but my personal experience was that they had no perceptible effect. (Which is not in any way meant to imply that they aren’t effective for treatment of menopausal symptoms; there does appear to be a fair amount of research supporting their efficacy for that purpose.)

As for the non-estrogen “estrogenic” chemicals, some may actually have stronger effects than the actual estrogens. Most are flavonoids or isoflavones, such as genistein and daidzein, which are found in abundance in soybeans. The same caveat about avoiding them while on HRT applies here, too.

Not on any of these lists is that favorite ingredient in nutritional supplements aimed at menopausal women: black cohosh (Actaea racemosa). According to USDA, black cohosh contains no estrogens, but does contain one isoflavone, Formononetin, that (like other isoflavones) has some estrogenic properties.

I apologize to any transmen readers for not including information about androgens and androgenic chemicals, but I would surmise that the same kinds of limitations and caveats apply to the phyto- sources for those types of chemicals: use only if you can’t get the prescription stuff, and don’t expect much effect.

A History of Gender Non-conformity in One Image

The whole “transsexual” thing is an excellent example of how descriptions become prescriptions.

Taking a cue from vox.com in the title. Probably a little overstated, but there it is.

What we’re looking at is a graph from Google’s Ngram service (https://books.google.com/ngrams ), which searches all of Google’s archive of books and other texts and then displays the results in graphic format, showing the percentage of texts that include the searched word or phrase.

What we see here is that there was very little discussion of gender identity in any way except in terms of cross-dressing within the gay entertainment sector (“travesti,” “female impersonator”) through the first half of the 20th century. I ran the search terms back to the 1700s, and they show the same pattern. (What we’re talking about here is almost exclusively MtF; FtM was even slower to appear on the radar, likely because the professionals researching these things have long been mainly cis-male doctors, who aren’t exactly noted for their sensitivity to women’s psycho-medical concerns.)

Activity picks up a little in the late 1920s, but from that point until the 1960s it’s all connected with that entertainment sector. The most active terms are “travesti,” “in drag,” and “female impersonator.”

The developments are a little easier to see if we drill down a little, so here’s the same chart from 1950 to 2007:

 

00multi03

It’s clear that the whole discourse about gender identity / gender expression takes off from the mid-1960s. And it’s possible to pinpoint a couple of reasons why it starts there, the main reason being the publication of Christine Jorgensen’s autobiography in 1967, followed the next year by Gore Vidal’s novel, “Myra Breckinridge.” Those two books brought the whole topic of what was then primarily called “transsexualism” to bookshelves across America, and in the years immediately following it became a subject of discussion on TV talk shows and so on.

The discussion at that point was not very well-informed. The psycho-medical establishment was in the early stages of deciding what to do about non-conforming gender identities, and the whole “transsexual” thing is an excellent example of how descriptions become prescriptions: Dr. X publishes a study that says, “Here’s a case history of someone who exhibits characteristics a, b, c and d, and I’m calling that set of characteristics ‘transsexualism.'” Subsequent researchers and/or practitioners then say, “You have characteristics a, b and c, but you don’t have d, therefore you’re not really a transsexual.”

The way that played out was that the early studies of “transsexuals” led the psycho-medical establishment to define the “condition” in terms of their own biases and stereotypes. How that played out was that they expected the treatments available (hormones, surgery) to result in the conversion of an anatomical male into a “normal” female – so the resulting female would, of course, be “heterosexual,” meaning that she would automatically be sexually attracted to men.

These several decades later, we know that’s not how it works. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Many if not most people who have undergone hormone therapy and even surgery have not experienced changes in their sexual orientation. But under the “transsexual” model, it was expected that 1. every gender non-conforming person would ultimately want to “change their sex,” i.e., go through hormone therapy and surgery, and 2. would be “heterosexual” in terms of their post-treatment gender.

As actual case histories began to multiply over the next couple of decades, it began to be clear that this model was seriously inaccurate, and the people seeking treatment began to resist the prescriptiveness being forced upon them. A watershed was the publication in 1994 of Kate Bornstein’s book, “Gender Outlaw,” which argued against the imposition of the “transsexual” model on all gender non-conforming people. And as the chart makes clear, it’s from this point in the mid-1990s that the term “transgender” begins to rise in frequency to become the dominant word and concept in the discussion of gender identity.

I included “genderqueer” in the chart, and we see that it’s a very rarely used term, at least up until 2007. I originally also included “gender fluid” (and also “genderfluid” without the space) and found that there were zero hits on it, which leads me to conclude that the term was first used sometime after 2007. Clearly, the whole topic is still in flux, and it might be wise to refrain from getting too attached to any particular terms or concepts. At the same time, it seems as though pretty much any of us, if allowed and encouraged to find our own individual way, could potentially send the whole discussion in a different, and possibly better, direction by finding a new word or phrase or description that opens new avenues for understanding.

Dark Light

All seeing is seeing light. All experience is inner experience.

I have a secret superpower: I can make myself invisible.

I’m not joking, this is serious. It’s not like saying, “Want to be invisible? Just tell all your friends you need to borrow money.” Being unseen isn’t being invisible. This isn’t about being unseen, it’s about being unseeable.

Here’s how it works: All seeing is seeing light. All we ever see, all we can ever see, is light. When you look at, say, a tree, you don’t see the tree itself, you see light that has bounced off the surface of the tree. You don’t see the tree, you see the light reflected by the tree. That light enters your eyes and touches your retinas, where it’s converted into electrochemical impulses (so “science” says). Those impulses travel up the optic nerve to your brain, which then – “somehow” – converts them into what you believe is a tree, but what is really an inner image of a tree. The tree is not “out there,” it is “in here” that you experience it. All seeing, all sense-perception, all experience – happens “in here.” All experience is inner experience.

If all seeing is seeing light, then to make something visible become invisible – not just unseen, but unseeable – means removing it from all light. It isn’t difficult to do that – in fact, people do it all the time. All you have to do is go into an enclosed space where light cannot enter. You will thus be rendered not only unseen – because you’ve gone into a dark box no one can see inside – but unseeable, because even if someone were to get inside your box, there’s no light, so they couldn’t see anything, if there were anything to see.

A closet, for example.

Okay, making myself invisible isn’t really a superpower, anyone can do it. And in fact a lot of people do it – they regularly, and some of them constantly, and one way or another, conceal themselves, or some part of themselves – becoming unseen though perhaps not unseeable.

What’s to conceal? Why would you or I want to make sure that something about ourselves never, as people say, “sees the light of day”? Because we fear that there will be unpleasant consequences if other people see what we’re doing or what we really are in our true “disconcealed” state. People are, we know, widely inclined to pass judgment on others and to inflict punishment on anyone they judge negatively. Those judgments are as often based on ignorance or prejudice as on knowledge and intelligence. To avoid being subjected to them, we are often driven to hide things that we know are harmless or even beneficial, because we know there are other people who insist on seeing them as harmful and wrong and requiring eradication.

Thus is created a twilight world, a shadow world, an underground, where everything lives that society disapproves, everything rejected, neglected or viewed as infected – the “immoral,” the misfit, the unruly and untamed – things good thrown in with things bad, the sweet and lovely next to the foul and ugly, the natural saint keeping company with the thief and cutthroat in the foggy cellars of Shadowland.

Here’s another secret: The universe is full of light, the darkest-seeming expanses of space are filled with light – light we can’t see and will never see unless someone or something enters the darkness and reveals the light hidden there.

sol01

What do we see when we look at the sky on a clear night? Points of light scattered across a field of darkness: stars, planets, the Moon. The stars emit their own light, and we see them because some tiny fraction of their light enters our eyes and becomes an image in our mind. But the Moon and planets are different. Remember, all seeing is seeing light, but the Moon emits no light of its own. Its glow reveals to us that the dark-seeming space surrounding our planet is filled – flooded – with sunlight at all times. In daytime, some of that light streams straight at us or strikes the objects around us, bounces off, and enters our eyes, and so forth. But at night the mass of the Earth blocks the Sun’s direct light and we find ourselves in the Earth’s shadow. So although the Sun never ceases radiating light in all directions, we see only the tiny fraction of that light that enters our eyes. At night, the light streams past us unseen though it fills the space around us – invisible and absolutely dark to us.

But when the Moon rises and passes across the sky, the flood of invisible light washes over it, and some of that light reflects toward us, so that now we can see the light, the light that was pure darkness to us until the Moon revealed it.

Like the secret of invisibility, this secret of dark light is no secret, but just something rarely given any thought. To give thought to what is unknown or ignored is to enter the shadows in search of unseen light, to rise above the dark horizon and become a mirror for the invisible. Fearing and hating the darkness only deepens it. Enter the night with open eyes, look for the light that’s always there, and let it shine on you and in you for all the world to see.

Trans_Day_Visibility

Logos and Eros

The natural human being is curious, has a need and a drive to learn, to understand, to know.

I’m a very religious person. I believe (one way of saying it) that manifest reality is produced by an unmanifest reality. I believe in one Highest Good and Highest Truth, and I would like to keep it always in mind as I deal with life. And I think religion in general can and should – and occasionally has been – good for humankind. It can encourage us to set our aspirations high, to treat each other compassionately and to find spiritual replenishment in everything we do.

In general, you could say I’m pro-religion. But yes, I have been making some fairly critical statements on this blog about a certain religious doctrine and the behavior of some of the people who espouse that doctrine. I’m speaking, of course, of the claim that the Bible is “the word of God and literally true, word by word.”

As multiple surveys – like the General Social Survey I’ve mentioned a few times, and the recent PRRI survey – have shown, people who interpret the Bible literally (or say they do) are the most prone of any religious group to hold prejudices against minorities of different kinds. They’re also the group that most wants to censor speech or writing they disagree with. And today, they are the only religious category in which a majority still favor restricting or punishing certain sexual orientations and gender identities, purely because the Bible says they’re bad.

There are a lot of ways to refute the claim that the Bible is literally true from beginning to end and the accompanying claim that its divine authorship guarantees its authority as the only reliable guide to divine and human reality. What I want to say this time is somewhat inspired by the alchemical woodcut that I put at the top of the page. I added the word bubble to draw attention to the element of conflict the picture shows. On the left, we see a Christian bishop attired in his official regalia and clutching the symbol of his office, the shepherd’s crook. On the right stands a dual-natured person, male and female in one body. The bishop is making an admonishing gesture and the androgyne holds something that seems to have been formed into the letter “Y.”

I think the artist was showing the contrast between the highly civilized and formalized religion of the medieval church and the “natural religion” of the human soul. By that period, the church was as much a body of definitions and dogmas as a collection of people. And expressing disagreement with the church on a fine point of doctrine could often prove fatal. But the natural human being is curious, has a need and a drive to explore, to learn, to understand, to know. It’s a drive that can’t be stopped by rigid, lifeless laws and limits. We will always ask “Why?”

I can’t say for sure whether that Y in the picture is really a visual pun on “why.” It could be purely symbolic, pointing to the unification of the divided. A forked stick, like a fork in a road, can be seen from two directions. If you’re traveling in one direction and come to a fork, you see it as one road splitting in two. But if you’re traveling in the opposite direction, it would look like two roads converging into one.

Carl Jung argued at great length that the medieval alchemists were using their art of chemical transformations to bring about their own spiritual transformation. The process begins with a dark, formless mass that is changed step by step to produce an increasingly pure and living substance, symbolized at last by the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, uniting Intelligence and Love, Logos and Eros – the divine wedding, the sign of the transformation and unification into wholeness of the inner human.

The Bible is of course a book and by definition is all Logos: all words, statements, stories, explanations, rules. And the “religions of the book” – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have all tended to add more words, filling vast libraries, in fact, with increasingly fine distinctions, restrictive definitions and narrow decisions – a dense web of boundaries that believers are forbidden to cross.

Logos without Eros is lifeless and uncreative, Eros without Logos is chaotic and self-consuming. Like Yin and Yang, Logos and Eros must join to create and sustain, must join and rejoin infinitely in the cosmic dance of light and dark. And no one, no voice, no book, will ever say everything that needs to be said about it. There is no final word – unless it’s “Why?”

Regina Noctis

O farewell sunshine bright,
Welcome Queen of the Night.

Memory like the glow
of a day long ago
of a child’s lonely play
on a long summer day
Solitary she sings
of impossible things
as she walks through the meadow
all alone with her shadowsummer01
The dark forest is near
It fills her heart with fear
Is there someone in there,
does she feel their eyes stare,
does she hear whisperings
of invisible things?

The shadows grow longer
The breezes blow stronger
The whispers sound clear now
She feels no more fear now
The twilight advancing
makes a girl feel like dancing
The darkening sky
unveils stars shining high
O farewell sunshine bright,
Welcome Queen of the Night.

luna01From the shadows they rise
Moonlight shines in their eyes
Pretty creatures of night
coming out to delight
in each other’s fair faces
and ecstatic embraces
welcoming all who love
the bright queen up above
Now they dance, how they dance,
falling into a trance
where this night lasts forever
and morning will never
put an end to the joys
of untamed girls and boys.hughes_fairies

But the circling moon
knows the sun will rise soon
and the harsh light of day
will chase love far away
And then memory’s glow
will be all we will know
of the long ago night
we danced in the moonlight.

moonbeams-dipping-into-the-sea-evelyn-de-morgan.jpg

No True Christian

This young woman’s parents (and their church) had been preaching to her that God will send all LGBTIQ people to hell, quoting all the usual Bible verses condemning these things.

Quite a few years ago, a transgender teen spoke up at a support group meeting I attended about her problems at home. She was very upset, understandably so. Her parents were part of that minority of Americans I wrote about last time who believe the Bible is “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” (Based on the wording of a question (code BIBLE) in the General Social Survey (GSS), a massive long-term, large-scale survey conducted regularly since 1972. (Data available online at http://sda.berkeley.edu/sdaweb/analysis/?dataset=gss14).

This young woman’s parents (and their church) had been preaching to her that God will send all LGBTIQ people to hell, quoting all the usual Bible verses condemning these things. The one that seemed to damn her most definitively for her gender identity was Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

The reason she found it so disturbing, she explained, was that she really wanted to be a good Christian, but she was being told that to be a good Christian, she must believe the Bible is literally true, and if the Bible really is literally true, then God must condemn her for wanting to express her deepest feelings about herself.

I found it all pretty upsetting and disturbing, too, but for different reasons. At the time, I had already been studying religion and the history of religion for several years, and I knew that many of the claims that Christian Fundamentalists make about their teachings are simply untrue. And eventually, I told her so.

“You don’t have to believe that,” I said. “Most Christians don’t believe you have to interpret everything in the Bible literally. Many of the greatest thinkers of the early church didn’t believe that – they even taught that taking the Bible literally was just wrong in a lot of cases, and you have to look for the higher, spiritual meaning behind the surface meaning.”

All of which is quite true.

For starters, turning again to the GSS, among respondents to a question about what religion they belong to (code RELIG), only about two out of five people who identify themselves as Christians give the TWOG response (The Word of God) to the BIBLE question I wrote about last time. In other words, TWOGs are a minority not just among Americans but also among American Christians. The largest number, 50 percent, are what I call INSPs (“The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word”) and about 10 percent even give the least Fundamentalist response (“The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by men.”)

Of course, TWOGs/Fundamentalists regularly claim that if you don’t agree with them on this point, you’re not a “real” or a “good” Christian. Besides being an example of the classic “No True Scotsman” fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman ), if this claim were true, it would mean that many eminent church fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, Saint Jerome and even Saint Augustine (beloved by Fundamentalists for formulating the doctrine of original sin) were not “real Christians.”

The real reason Fundamentalists preach Biblical literalism (though they don’t actually practice it consistently) is, I believe, pure authoritarianism and dates to the Reformation: rejecting the authority of the Roman Catholic church and especially the Pope, the Protestants embraced the Bible as the only sure authority for religious belief and practice – but authoritative only if interpreted according to their own teachings.

There are numerous problems with the whole Fundamentalist approach, but one of the most glaring is the fact that the effort to declare the Bible an infallible authority about everything in the universe boils down to another classic logical fallacy, the argument from authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority ).

What that boils down to is that it doesn’t matter who makes a statement, you still have to judge whether the statement’s content is true, i.e., corresponds with reality. Alas, in many, many cases, the Bible’s statements do not. Threatening people with eternal damnation for not believing things that don’t make sense isn’t “good Christianity,” it’s just bullying.