How Clarissa Found Religion, Part III

And to conclude this series, I wanted to mention that I’m living with a man who is agnostic, of which I’m extremely respectful and which I would never try or want to change.

If we do have a child, I have already prepared the answer to a question about religion. I’d say the following:

“I believe A. Daddy believes B. Grandpa and Grandma believe C. There are some people in Israel who believe D. And some people in Egypt believe E. And some folks in India believe F, G, and H. And also there are people called “atheists” who believe I. The great news is that you get to decide for yourself what you want to believe. Or you can start a completely new system of beliefs. And you can change your mind at any time. Isn’t that neat?”

How Clarissa Found Religion, Part II

On the subject of Christianity’s compatibility with feminism, I can say that this religion is a fantastic vehicle for feminism. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that other religions aren’t. I have no knowledge that would enable me to make that judgment. I also warn you that when I say “religion”, I mean a system of beliefs. The fact that many people choose to do weird things and call that “Christianity” is as relevant to me as the actions of confused folks who call themselves feminists while doing decidedly unfeminist things. So, please, refrain from laying the blame for any horrible things that some churchy people did at my door. Do you think that if some men rape then all men are rapists? No? Then I’m not guilty for anything Rick Santorum has to say.

So why do I say that this is a powerfully feminist religion? Let’s look at a small excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

And there is more in the same vein. Are you seeing any gender divide here? Any suggestion that rules are different for men and women? Of course, you don’t. Because it’s not about that at all.

Then, there is also the famous,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

No male or female, got it? The message couldn’t be clearer. I don’t even know what else could be said on the subject. In the eyes of God, men and women do not exist. Gender is meaningless and immaterial. That’s precisely the extent of my feminism, too, which is why I read these quotes as the perfect feminist manifesto.

How Clarissa Found Religion, Part I

Reader Evelina Anville asks:

At some point, (assuming you are comfortable) I would like to hear more about you reconcile your religious and your feminist world views. (Not that I think that a religious and feminist worldview can’t be reconciled: it’s just that they so frequently exist at odds with one another.)

I don’t have a tendency to persecute people with my religion, as I’m sure everybody has noticed. Even David Bellamy, one of the earliest and most constant readers of my blog who has probably read most of the 3,500+ posts I have published had no idea until very recently that I identify as Christian. Since Evelina Anville, one of my favorite readers, wants to know, I will gladly write about religion and I hope that nobody accuses me of being preachy.

I was raised in an atheist country where people only discussed religion in very negative terms. There were some folks who went to church but these were either very elderly or very weird people. So I was a fully atheist kid and very happy to be one.

Until I had a mystical experience. It was a kind of experience that came completely out of nowhere because it wasn’t like I even knew that mystical experiences could happen. It was completely non-sexual in nature, if you are one of those weird folks who sees sex in all mystical experiences. So after that, I did not have a choice but become a religious person. It was a huge secret from everybody because it would have shocked people too much and they would have ridiculed me.

I’m the kind of a religious person who wasn’t baptized, never goes to church, has only a very vague idea what people do in churches, and is terrified of folks who discuss their religion in public. I’m only sharing my religious beliefs on my blog because I was asked to, but in real life you will not find a person who has heard anything from me on the subject. This is an intimate issue that I do not inflict on anybody.

I also have no use for the debates as to whether Jesus existed. Somebody came up with the words in the New Testament, so the code name for that person or group of people is “Jesus.” Who was born where and to whom is of absolutely no interest to me. As a literary critic, I’m not into the biographical approach to a text. I dig the words but the life circumstances of their author bore me.

Choose Your Religion

I consulted this great chart I found at Hattie’s web, and it suggested to me that I should be a Jehova’s witness:

All I know about Jehova’s Witnesses is that they distribute little books with creepy-looking kids, so that did not attract me. I decided to pretend that I was indifferent to bacon and the chart told me I should be a Muslim. Of course, I could give up hummus, too, and become a Jew, but life without both bacon and hummus looks bleak. So Islam it is for me.

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Have you considered him who calls the judgment a lie?
That is the one who treats the orphan with harshness,
And does not urge (others) to feed the poor.
So woe to the praying ones,
Who are unmindful of their prayers,
Who do (good) to be seen,
And withhold the necessaries of life.

Can anybody disagree with these beautiful words?

“Why Doesn’t the Bible Contain Superior Medical Advice?”

I understand that the current wave of religious fanaticism is scary and annoying. We are all equally fed up with fanatics trying to destroy the advances of enlightened societies. I get it, people, we all fear that the world will plunge into the depths of barbarity. Practicing complete and utter idiocy, however, is not a good response to that. The attitude of “I’ll combat jerkdom by being the baddest jerk of all bad jerks” will only add to the problem.

I’m saying all this because the proliferation of articles that try to ridicule holy texts is very disturbing to me. Here is the most recent example:

Many will consider the answer to the question posed in the title of this post obvious, as indeed do I: The Bible does not contain superior medical knowledge, or indeed anything that we might consider medical knowledge in the modern sense at all, because it was written before there was any medical knowledge, much less advanced medical knowledge.

I always feel very embarrassed when people are so militant in their stupidity. I see absolutely no difference between the author of this inane post and folks who, instead of saying “My intellectual limitations and lack of knowledge prevent me from understanding evolution”, proudly deliver the “Evolution is just a theory, anyways” line.

If the author of this strange piece took the trouble of chewing before blabbering, he’d very easily find out the following two things:

a) the Bible (whether you believe in its divine nature or consider it simply a work of literature) contains some of the very best practices of psychological hygiene that humanity has been able to come up with. Just a small example among many: have you seen Jews at prayer? How is what they do any different from stimming, an anxiety-reducing practice that helps autistics and non-autistics alike?

b) the very point of practicing a religion (any religion) is to maintain one’s psychological and, consequently, physical health in a way that the pill-popping, “cut it out and then think about it later”, chemically-dependent, “superior” medical knowledge will not be necessary. Don’t practice this approach to life if you don’t feel like it. But, at least, strain your intellect and realize that if a religious text discussed triple bypasses and anti-spasmolytics, it would stop being a religious text.

Religious fanatics annoy us because they allow for no space where people can have alternative worldviews and organize their lives according to different principles. It is sad, indeed, that many non-religious folks also become fanatical to the point where, in their zeal to promote their point of view as the only correct one, they cannot even accept the idea that different value systems can be just as valid as theirs.

Why Are They So Rabid?

Reader Evelina Anville says a propos of my post on Girl Scouts and their vilification by the Catholic Church:

On the one hand, the Catholic Church is one of the major churches in the US (and the world); and, on the other hand, Girl Scouts is so wholesome and so very “establishment.” So it’s not like some fringe church is rejecting a group of radical feminists. It’s a major church with a great deal of clout rejecting a mainstream group (and, from what I understand,continuing to support the Boy Scouts.) So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am worried what this means in terms of gender and sexual politics when a major Church brands a group that encourages cookie-selling, arts and crafts and camping, as radical or extreme. I agree that it’s the Catholic Church’s right and that the Church shouldn’t be forced to recognize the Girl Scouts or anything. Still, I find the entire thing disturbing.

I agree completely that the Church’s attack on the Girl Scouts is completely out of proportion but I have a different view of what this means. I find that the rejection of such an – as Evelina says – wholesome group and such a vicious backlash against a very non-threatening organization for children signals complete and utter desperation on the Church’s side. They are losing parishioners left and right. There is one scandal after another, they are being slowly squeezed out of contemporary reality, so they flail around like a drowning person.

This is precisely why the Fundamentalists are trying to pass all of these outrageously barbaric measures against contraception and abortion. This is why the Republican primaries have been so bizarre. The Fundamentalist, ultra-religious brand of Conservatism is dying out. These are their final moments, and they know it extremely well. This is the very last opportunity they have to signal their presence. They are so rabid because they are scared. I have a feeling that even among Conservatives there is a growing dissatisfaction with how the Conservative movement has been overrun with shrill religious fanatics, which does great damage to the rational, intelligent Conservatism.

I believe that soon the prolonged agony of fanatisicm will be over. Religious people will give up on trying to make the secular society follow their rules and bow down to their beliefs because very very soon this will become completely untenable. And then, finally, the reasonable, non-fanatical representatives of Conservatism will recover their movement and we will start seeing productive interactions between Liberals and Conservatives.

As stressful and depressing as it is to observe the current developments in the war against secularism, feminism, human rights and choice, the reality that they obscure is very hopeful and positive. The more rabid the fanatics get, the greater is the desperation that they are communicating by their acts.

The Way Not to Talk About Christianity, Part II

To continue with the list of inane objections people make to Christianity:

2. So many atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity and so many horrible things are being done by Christians at this very moment! How can you identify with something like that?

People who raise this weird objection in a triumphant manner seem to forget that this can be said not only about many different groups of people but also about humanity in general. Human beings have perpetrated many atrocities, and truly horrible things have been done in the name of humanity. So how can you love your mother? Isn’t she a human being, too?

This kind of an argument is similar to the one radical feminists often make. Men have historically oppressed women. Many men have raped women. Ergo, if you happen to love a person who is male, you are a traitor to feminism and a collaborator in the cause of oppressing women.

I was once told by somebody who was burning with righteous indignation that after the scandals with pedophile priests, any person who identified as a Christian was complicit in the acts of pedophilia. This kind of reasoning is so mind-bogglingly unintelligent that it always stuns me when seemingly well-educated people rely upon it.

The Way Not to Talk About Christianity, Part I

Let me preface what is going to be of necessity a preachy post by saying that I deeply respect everybody who is an atheist, an agnostic, a Pagan, a Muslim, a Hindu, a practicing Jew, a Buddhist, etc. Religious identification or lack thereof is a person’s way of answering the most important, crucial questions about the meaning of life, death, morality, ethics, and so on. Far be it from me to declare any method of addressing these vital issues as inferior or superior to any other.

What I want to talk about is that, often, people discuss Christianity without even trying to understand what it is, and that makes them look stupid. I’m sure that scientists and all the smart folks who understand evolution must be sick and tired to death of hearing ignoramuses proclaim, “Well, if the theory of evolution were true and people did descend from monkeys, we would see all those monkeys going through the process of becoming human right now. But we don’t, so evolution must be a load of rubbish.” It’s perfectly OK not to understand evolution. What is not OK is to address this complex theory with childish simplifications and consider yourself smarter than people who do understand it.

It’s the same with Christianity (and probably every other religion, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to talk about other religions, so I won’t.) Again, one is perfectly justified in saying, “Christianity doesn’t offer ME any useful tools for understanding the world.” It isn’t OK, though, to come up with some half-baked explanation about why this religion must be stoooopid without even stopping to consider the possibility that the generations upon generations of theologians and believers might have already heard these objections and maybe have even addressed them.

So here are some of these illiterate objections I’m truly getting tired of hearing:

1. If the Christian God is supposed to be benevolent and all-powerful, then why did he allow for things like Holocaust to happen? If he didn’t stop it then he might either be not benevolent or not that powerful.

The number of times I have heard this inanity (often proclaimed proudly by pretty well-educated people) is overwhelming. I always feel deep vicarious shame when I hear this statement.

Now let me tell you why this is a very stupid thing to say. And, once again, please excuse my preachiness. I always thought I could make a really good preacher, so maybe in my golden years I will try myself in this arena.

The Christian God (a.k.a simply “God” for the purposes of concision) does not deal in collectivities. He isn’t a social scientist. Groups, nations, social classes, ethnicities do not exist for him.

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Colossians 3:11).

This tells us that the Holocaust, a genocide of a huge group of people by another huge group of people, does not exist for God. God relates to each person individually, establishing a personal connection, a personal conversation, and a personal rendering of accounts with each person. The sum total of all these millions of individual conversations come up to events that we cannot fail to see as atrocious when we analyze them from the perspective of history.

You don’t expect a cardiac surgeon to conduct a triple bypass on an entire ethnic group simultaneously, right? Or to offer collective diagnoses to large groups of people? So why do you expect a religion that denies the very existence of a collectivity and that is all about intensely individual experiences to be a useful tool for a social scientist or a historian? Conversely, do you tell a sociologist that all her statistics must be wrong because your own experience is different from what her numbers show? Of course, you don’t (I hope) because you must surely understand that a sociologist does not address individual stories but, rather, draws general conclusions about groups of people. Such general conclusions can differ profoundly from your personal story.

Christianity as a system of beliefs simply cannot be used to analyze groups. It doesn’t work on that level. That is not its purpose. People who expect it to explain history or any interactions between masses of people remind me of that guy who asked, “Doctor, will I be able to play the violin after this operation?”

“I don’t see why not, given that we will just be removing your appendix,” the doctor responded.

“Oh, the miracle of modern medicine!” the patient exclaimed. “I never learned how to play the violin and now I will know how to do it!”

(To be continued. . .)

Who Are the Bad Guys?

In my course on Hispanic Civlization, I was talking about the horrors of the Inquisition.

“Why do the Christians always come off like the bad guys?” one student asked giving me an accusatory stare.

I didn’t want to tell her that we still had the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas in the name of the spread of Christianity ahead of us in the course.

And the ruin that religious fanaticism brought to the Spanish-speaking world during the years of the Empire.

And the way the Church constantly undermined the struggle for progress and the attempts to create a democratic society in Spain in the XIXth and early XXth centuries.

And the fascist Catholic dictatorship that existed in Spain between 1939 and 1975.

I have no desire to hurt the sensibilities of my Bible Belt students who have spent their lives in places where religion is the only form of entertainment and community organizing. But what can I do if history is the way it is?

Christians Disrespect Soldiers’ Funerals

The worst thing that ever happened to Christianity are the actual Christians.

A battle is currently going on where people who claim to be Christians try to force Christian prayers on the bereaved families of soldiers. These pseudo-Christians believe they have the right to do so even in those cases where the deceased in question were not Christian and their families expressed no desire for being bugged by Christians during the funeral of their loved one:

In Texas, three Christian military organizations — Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4, the American Legion Post 586, and the National Memorial Ladies — have filed suit against the VA because the Veterans’ Administration doesn’t include Christian prayers in vets’ funerals unless the deceased and/or the family request it. They are claiming that Christianity and Christians are being discriminated against when Christianity isn’t inserted into every funeral, whether the family wants it or not.

For some unfathomable reason, these folks identify as Christians even though it is crystal clear they have never even been in the vicinity of the Bible. As we all know, Jesus was opposed to public prayer and ridiculed those who believed that repeating a prayer ad nauseam would have some beneficial effect. As for forcing others into being exposed to your praying against their will – poor Jesus would have had a heart attack if anybody suggested that his ideas could be used to perpetrate this kind of atrocity upon people in pain.

These so-called religious folks don’t give a rat’s little tushie for religion or for the fallen soldiers as you can see from the comments made by one of these quasi-Christians:

[Nobleton] Jones said he has presented shell casings from the gun salute to veterans’ grieving family members at funerals in Houston National Cemetery for the past three years.

But after a burial ceremony May 16, Jones said a government official told him he could no longer recite the words he always says when he hands over the shells: “We ask that God grant you and your family grace, mercy and peace.”

The 66-year-old Houstonian said he felt belittled. “That makes me feel smaller, even after I spent my time in the military, fighting so that people should be able to say that,” he said.

This guy comes to a burial where family members of a dead person are saying good bye to somebody they love. And all he can think of is his freaky self-esteem issues? Who cares whether you feel smaller or bigger or fatter or thinner or hairier or balder at somebody’s funeral? Funerals do not take place so that some Stewart Little gets a chance to engage in self-aggrandizement. They exist so that families and friends can mourn their loss in peace. Without some creepazoid self-righteously sticking their unwanted religious beliefs under their noses.
Of all the people to exploit ideologically, people at a funeral seem like a really bad target. What next, walking around the mourners and sticking your business card under their noses? Seriously, how low can people sink?