Some of you may be wondering why I go on and on about fundamentalists. Well, to be quite honest, it’s because my family has been ripped to pieces by religion in general.
My own beliefs are nobody’s business but I’m going to tell you anyway. Here’s where I stand on the matter: I’m not an atheist but my concept of god is pretty abstract. I could be called a panentheist, that is god is ineffable and exists beyond space and time and we exist within that god. My concept of god has been very steady since I was a little kid. Yep, all those years trying to convert me were a waste of time. I don’t believe in a personal god, or an anthropomorphic god and I don’t think prayer is very useful. Meditation is and there’s something to be said for mindfulness. Ironically, I’ve always liked Catholic mass a lot but will never attach myself to a church where half the attendees are second class. As for religious texts, I don’t have any but I have always been drawn to Tolkien who was a devout Catholic who also had a peculiar interpretation of religion and myth with a healthy addition of neoplatonism. That’s about where I am. I’m not a practicing anything and I don’t want to be.
So, when it comes to what tore my family apart, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Since my beliefs do not come with a religious text or tradition, all the world’s religions that do have traditions that are thousands of years old look pretty much the same to me. Worship of Zeus and the pantheon or the Nordic gods once made a lot of sense and now look silly to Christians and Muslims. But Christianity and Islam and Hinduism are all premised on equally silly things to me. Nevertheless, if that’s what floats your boat, and as long as you don’t stick your faith in my face by either overt proselytizing or covert banding together to reinforce your beliefs and shutting
others out, I don’t have any problems. What’s in your head should stay in your head and what’s in my head should stay in my head and as long as we don’t insist on everyone else thinking exactly like we do, we should all get along.
Butcha know, it just didn’t work out that way in my family. I blame Martin Luther. Oh for sure, he had some very legitimate points, over 90 0f them from what I can remember. Yes, the Catholic church had become corrupt. Yes, there was a lot to be said about priests keeping the bible out of the hands of common people. But in retrospect, they might have had a point. As Julia Sweeney said in “Letting Go of God” when referring to the bible, “have you read that book??” Sure a lot of people find some wisdom in the bible but that book is also awful in ways that modern humans in this modern world do not approve. And yet, there are people who are willing to kill, shame, pass judgment, and lock into roles other people based on confusing, and brutal texts, taken completely out of context.
Anyway, it started with Luther.
For some crazy reason, there are still people in my family who think that the Pope speaks for all Catholics and they do what ever the Pope says, like mindless automatons. Oh, and priests do all the bible reading and interpretation for Catholics despite the fact that the printing press has been around for 500 years now and Catholics have pretty much given up the battle of keeping vernacular bibles out of the hands of their parishioners. Yes, dear faithful protestants, you can read the bible if you are a Catholic and are free to interpret that nonsense any which way you like. But Catholic masses don’t differ a whole lot from other Sunday services except there aren’t any women at the pulpit and there’s incense and holy water and the communion disks taste like wall paper paste instead of the neat little cubes of wholesome bread you get at a Presbyterian service. It’s all pretty much the same damn service at every mainstream church. Trust me on this. You might even *like* a Catholic mass.
But in my family, we must still believe that there is some gigantic chasm between the protestants and the Catholics, even though, there isn’t. The pope isn’t the dictator everyone thinks he is, most Catholics practice birth control and in many respects, Catholics have a longer history of intellectual thought that many mainstream protestant churches are still struggling with. They have saints and it’s still slightly pagan. And? That just sounds like a brilliant marketing strategy to me and so what? There’s still a thread in Catholicism that reaches back to seasons and nature. But ok, whatever floats your boat. Nevertheless, I’m not going to condemn Catholicism just because Luther uncovered some rather significant problems 500 years ago. As far as I’m concerned, the fight is over. And anyway, I’m just an observer. It’s not personal to me.
But it was personal to others. Religion in my family is like a game of one upsmanship. Lutheranism was superior to Catholicism but not as superior as evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is genuine, until it wasn’t and you had to become a Jehovah’s Witness because THEY had The Truth. But then you had to be born again because that’s where it’s really at. And only if you practice the right brand of Christianity and believe in the signs and condemn the lives of people wholly unconnected to you, can you prove to this capricious, angry, mean and stingy god that you and you alone are worthy to be raptured before the end where you can sit in the clouds and feel smugly superior to all those relatives who didn’t listen to you. Oh, and homosexuals who do all those nasty, dirty things with their body parts (never mind that quite a number of married heterosexuals also do those nasty, dirty things with their body parts, mean spirited hypocritical inconsistencies are required in this version of Christianity), well, they need to be set straight, in more ways than one and it’s the fundamentalists job to be vocal, rude and obnoxious and ruin other people’s vacations.
Like I said before, I don’t really care what you believe as long as you don’t shove it down my throat by either 1.) overt proselytization or 2.) ostracism because you can’t for one second have anyone disagree with you. Both of those things tear families apart.
How did it happen in my family? Well, I think it all began when one family member who was a Lutheran was forced to accept some Catholicism upon marriage. That person wrecked revenge by becoming a Jehovah’s Witness and then relentlessly pursued other family members until they too became Jehovah’s Witnesses. If the whole family had converted, this might have been a different story. But only half converted. Then, when the original Jehovah’s Witness decided to get out after Armageddon didn’t come, the other Jehovah’s Witnesses had to shun her. Yep, no more social gatherings, no more family meals, nada. Scheduling a family event now requires familiarity with GRE logic problems:
“Bob, Sheila and Terry are JW’s and Nina is a JW apostate. Florence is an Evangelical, Ellis is a panentheist and George and Sarah are lapsed Lutheran and Catholic respectively. Bob, Sheila and Terry can associate with Florence, Ellis, George and Sarah but not on any holidays when working people have time off. They can not associate with Nina. Nina is a vocal dissenter of George and Sarah’s gay relatives so inviting her to Sarah’s family gatherings is awkward. Florence can associate with everyone but can’t invite Bob, Sheila, Terry to the same event with Nina. If Nina is not invited to an event, George and Sarah won’t attend in order to protest the JW practice of shunning. Bob, Sheila, and Terry can’t go to the funerals of Florence, George, and Sarah because they will be churches. What day during the year can they all be together?”
I might think shunning is a really stupid and painful practice that Jehovah’s Witnesses use in order to manipulate people into staying in the religion when they otherwise might not but it’s not like you don’t know what you’re getting into when you join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Essentially, there is no unconditional love or grace with the Witnesses. This is the ultimate truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses that the rest of us have observed even if the believers are in denial about it. Their “friends” in “The Truth” will turn on them in an instant if they even think about putting their families first or decide they’ve spent much of their lives in too much self denial of, you know, just about every thing that brings a family joy.
It should be noted that of all the kids of three siblings that became Jehovah’s Witnesses, not one of us became Jehovah’s Witnesses in spite of the regime of fear mongering indoctrination.
The original instigator went on to become Born Again and watched Jim and Tami Faye Praise the Lord!, which to some of us looked like jumping from the frying pan into the fire but we just had to put up with it. This sibling was the one labeled “Most likely to end up a Buddhist” and, you know, that would have been a relief. But Buddhists are too soft and accepting. No, for this sibling, nothing but the most harsh and demanding fundamentalism would do. We put up with relentless pressure for decades to voluntarily lobotomize ourselves, admit that evolution was a lie, and embrace the end times. And some of the targets of this campaign did eventually give in and became belligerent, judgmental shadows of their former selves while the family continued to atomize. Now, that GRE question has a part B that affects a whole new generation.
Now, one half of us can’t speak to the other half. If we’re not actively shunning because our organization demands it, we’re shunning because the non-believer, and at this point, it looks like I might be the only one, still maintains that women are equal to men, evolution is in fact the way the world works, gay people are born that way and that, in general, all people, even poor ones, should be treated with dignity and respect. For some reason, that makes me the bad one. Well, that and I don’t think the bible is the inspired word of god (“Have you read that book??”) Thus, I am ultimately the one person who can unite the rest of the family in mutual distrust of the heathen.
Let’s face it, you can be a decent person, don’t do drugs, don’t steal, don’t kill people, put up with years of crazy and abuse at the hands of some very selfish people who hide behind their religion and never ask for a penny from anyone but if you do not believe that THAT BOOK is the inspired word of god, you are a baaaaad person and people will feel that it is Ok to not be nice to you.
That book, is subject to their interpretation, whoever they happen to be at the time. They can all contradict each other and ridicule each other’s interpretation, and they do, regularly. But they all agree that That Book is the ultimate authority. Of everything.
This is not mainstream Christianity. I can hang out with Catholics and Presbyterians and even some Methodists and never feel baaaaaad. No, it’s the fundamentalists who absolutely cannot tolerate any dissent. In the US, we don’t do honor killings. But it’s perfectly Ok to demonize anyone who is independent, who thinks for themselves without reference to that book, and who by their very presence threatens to tear a hole in the perfect fabric cover that protects the believer from the anxiety over whether they are good enough to survive the wrath of a god who seemingly does not appear to possess self control. This is a god that throws temper tantrums if gay people get married and smites innocent dying people who accept transfusions to save their lives. This is a god that demands that we disavow the laws of nature and choose deliberate ignorance over intelligent understanding. This is a god that would prefer that women suffer their entire lives for forgetting their oral contraceptives. This is a god that insists that we shame and dehumanize women so that their lives and the lives of those who would help them, are at risk of being snuffed out by a person vulnerable to speech that is nothing but an invitation to do violent things.
That book is not the cause of the problem. The problem is that as herd animals, some of us are still not able to tell when the herd is headed off a cliff. And some opportunists and politicians are all too willing to take advantage of that to attain power. They’ve spent the last half century dragging this country back. Where women are concerned, they’ve been very successful, because fully raw cannibals will have equal rights before women do. They’ve not been so successful when it came to gay marriage, probably because there are more powerful men with money backing that. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing but it does show what you can achieve if you’re male and have money. The fact that lesbians also benefit is just icing on the cake.
Recently, the Mormon church delivered a killing blow to any progressive Mormon who thought the church’s stance on homosexuality was softening. This new guidance from the quorum of the twelve Mormon apostles says that not only will married gay couples now be subject to disciplinary councils and expulsion for apostasy, their children would no longer be baptized or blessed. Yes, gay mormons do exist, probably in greater numbers than we think, and because the church strongly emphasizes marriage and families, some gay mormons have been compelled to marry heterosexually and have children. Then when they can’t deny their authentic selves anymore, and marry a same sex partner, their children are instantly ostracized from the church. Imagine what kind of message this sends to LGBT teenagers. Don’t tell, don’t step out of line, because we don’t want you here and your families will be condemned. Furthermore, your children will need to disavow your lifestyle when they become adults if they ever want to become members of the church.
John Dehlin at Mormon Stories has interviewed quite a number of people in the wake of this decision. Some people think this is a legal technicality to prevent the church from being accused of alienation of affection from parents because of its strict condemnation of homosexuality. But the only explanation that rings true to me is that the ultra conservative churches have won the battles but are losing the war. They are now circling the wagons, getting less inclusive, forcing out all dissenters, doubling down on the mean and the judgmental and the fundamentalism because that is what distinguishes them as different and purer and better than anyone else. In fact, making themselves more exclusive in some ways polishes their prestige. If you can endure this demand for perfection, conformity and hard edged faith, no matter how ridiculous that faith might be to the rest of the world, then you know the church must be true. You’re the only ones who see it, you are persecuted by the state for these beliefs and you’ll go down fighting all the way.
Fine. Just do it somewhere remote.
Leave the rest of us alone.
The shooting at Planned Parenthood is just the latest outcome from the barrage of hate and dehumanization that emanates from the mouths of Rush Limbaugh and fundamentalist churches and patriarchs and the politicians they support. It’s also the result of wishy washy Tut-tutting from the likes of Barack Obama who can’t seem to bring himself to stand with Planned Parenthood because he’s the father of two females. I find that almost as disgusting as the overt foaming at the mouth fundie speech. The most powerful man in the world either feels no confidence challenging the money fueled consensus reality or he’s just another conservative guy pretending to be a progressive. Either way, he’s no champion of females, not even his own daughters.
And then there is the media that doesn’t want to piss off the religious contingent by telling it like it is: we have spawned our own religious fundamentalist extremists right here in America.
Those of us who don’t have a dog in this fight see very little difference between the Islamic State and the right wing patriarchs in Arkansas who pick their daughters’ husbands so they can churn out “Christian Soldiers” who pray that they will one day enforce biblical law on the rest of us.
It’s not benign. It imposes suffering on people every day from family members to people whose lives are nobody else’s business.
If this is the last charge at the end of the war, then I can not wait for it to be over. And I believe it will eventually end. But not before it has wrecked destruction on our families and ruined what should have been love, support and friendship for some of us for most of our lives.
If there is a heaven, they have a lot to answer for before they get in.