The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

On Blogging, Religion & Anger

I've been on the road yesterday, for a business trip, so I didn't have time to post much. But after thinking about my last few posts, something came to mind that I realized I wanted to say but hadn't yet.

Now, admittedly, my previous take on anger is not exactly Buddhist of me, since Buddhism describes anger as a “destructive emotion.” I still think that it may be informative and even helpful at some points. But in larger sense, it’s also part of a process that’s necessary for some of us in this culture. It’s a stop along the way, but one we’re urged to move through quickly. Particularly if you’re a minority, and your anger is against the dominant culture or group, you’ll probably be told to simply “get over it.” (Which I think means or at least implies an acceptance of present conditions.)

But there’s no way to “get over it.” The only way is through it, as I saw described in an interesting post about women, religion, and anger.

Women are taught that they cannot perform as well as men outside the home and that, indeed, they are not allowed to try. Osiek calls this “the myth of male superiority” (10). There comes a point, however, at which women recognize their repression and realize the emptiness of the myth. Upon this realization, the woman reinterprets the events of her life, big and small, which reveal her oppression by male superiority. The natural response to this new-found awareness is anger. The anger is not inappropriate and it must not be repressed, for repressed anger leads to depression. Anger, however, is not the final resting place. In order to deal with this anger, the woman must go into the depths of her being and come to an impasse. This impasse is where she wrestles with the meaning of her “‘dual membership’ in the world of church and that of feminism” (23). “The way out [of this impasse] is the way through” (24), but Osiek’s description of that breakthrough awaits a later chapter.

I’m still waiting for that chapter as well, because I don’t know what “through” looks like in that sense. But I think the above could be said for just about anyone cast in the role of "other" in our culture.

Reading that reminded me of something I saw via Pharyngula, about how not to navigate that impasse (or, actually, one like it).

How do we get beyond this impasse? Not by shouting at people about "the God delusion". Religion is immensely important to people, and, although it's easy to point to the ways in which religious belief has caused serious harm, it's also necessary to appreciate its social and personal functions. Religious beliefs play an important role in people's sense of their own lives, explaining why those lives matter. Religion also offers genuine community with others, providing spaces for joint ethical commitment and joint action. You don't end this heated debate by simply telling folk to brace up — or to take their scientific medicine so that they'll feel better in the morning. They won't.

We've read lots of suggestions on how not to talk about religion, citing Melissa and Amanda's posts as prime examples of how not to talk about it, but not (in my opinion, anyway) much in terms of how to talk about religion — and, specifically, how to speak critically about it. Of course that's assuming that one can criticize religion and/or religious beliefs. Faithful Progressive recommends to bloggers these guidelines for schools, from Teaching Tolerance.

Maintain neutrality. Don't promote a specific religion, show favoritism for one faith over another, or even promote religion in general over atheism. Teaching students about diverse faiths and their influences on societies and cultures is constitutional, indoctrinating students or encouraging them to participate in specific faith activities is not.

… Focus on respectful inquiry. Set ground rules for classroom explorations about religion. As students learn about diverse faiths, they likely will discover ideas or beliefs that seem "strange" to them. Help students explore the similarities, as well as the differences, of various faiths.

The problem, and I understand that religious progressives are also critical of the religious right, is that the the religious right — or the theocratic right is not neutral; not in their attempts to use religion as a weapon for political attacks, nor in their use of religion to justify discrimination against others. In fact, their efforts to make their particular version of Christianity the basis of government and the source of legislation is the exact opposite of neutrality.

So, how do you counter them by maintaining neutrality? Does maintaining neutrality mean that you refrain from criticizing specific religious beliefs? Or that you moderate how you criticize them, refraining from jokes about the Virgin Birth and from calling some religious beliefs "hogwash," as Becky does? Even if they are hogwash?

A science student in Kentucky says when the Bible records God spoke, and things were created, that's just what happened, and he can support that with scientific experiments.

"If God spoke everything into existence as the Genesis record proposes, then we should be able to scientifically prove that the construction of everything in the universe begins with a) the Holy Spirit (magnetic field); b) Light (an electric field); and c) that Light can be created by a sonic influence or sound," Samuel J. Hunt writes on his website.

"There are several documented and currently taught laboratory experiments that accurately portray the events in Genesis in sequential order, the most important being that of sonoluminescence," he wrote.

That, he described to WND, is the circumstance in which sending a sonic signal into bubbles in a fluid causes the bubbles to collapse and they release photons, or create light.

That aligns with one of the earlier descriptions of the creation by God, when, in Genesis 1:1-3, the Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the deep, which generally is considered water, and said "Let there be light," he explained.

How about when it reaches into schools, and parents protest the showing of a movie about global warming, because it doesn't fit in with their religious beliefs, which are somewhat similar to this weatherman's thoughts on climate change, pointed out at Stranger Fruit?

As I have stated before, not only do I believe global climate change exists – it has always existed. There have been times of global warming and cooling. My biggest argument against putting the primary blame on humans for climate change is that it completely takes God out of the picture. It must have slipped these people's minds that God created the heavens and the earth and has control over what's going on. (Dear Lord Jesus…did I just open a new pandora's box?) Yeah, I said it. Do you honestly believe God would allow humans to destroy the earth He created? Of course, if you don't believe in God and creationism then I can see why you would easily buy into the whole global warming fanfare. I think in many ways that's what this movement is ultimately out to do – rid the mere mention of God in any context. What these environmentalists are actually saying is "we know more than God – we're bigger than God – God is just a fantasy – science is real…He isn't…listen to US!"

I have a huge problem with that.

He's not neutral, nor does he have to offer any more evidence of his theory than his own interpretation of scripture. And since he dismisses science, as do others who make similar claims, it's hard to criticize him without also critiquing scriptures, or at least his interpretation of them.

I've come across this with proponents of "reparative therapy" (almost exclusively faith-based), who've refused to accept evidence from or arguments based in science, because science was "used by Nazis" to support theories of racial inferiority, while simultaneously dismissing the reality that religion has been employed for the same purpose, for much longer. Some of the same people then turn around and distort science when it serves their purposes. Sometimes it falls to the scientist themselves to take them to account, because the media can't or won't.

It's not neutral when those beliefs have direct consequences for others. Like when doctors refuse to treat patients, or choose not to tell patients about treatments at all.

Many doctors believe they have the right not to tell patients about treatments that they object to on moral or religious grounds and to refuse to refer patients elsewhere for the care, according to the first study to examine physicians' views on such situations.

In the survey of 1,144 doctors nationwide, 8 percent said they had no obligation to present all possible options to patients, and 18 percent said they did not have to tell patients about other doctors who provide care they found objectionable.

Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that more than 40 million Americans may be seeing physicians who do not believe that they are obligated to disclose information about legal treatments the doctor objects to, and 100 million have doctors who do not feel the need to refer patients to another provider.

It's not neutral when religious organizations are getting federal dollars to fund "crisis centers" that are little more than fronts to prevent women from having abortions. (Speaking of which, does being tax-exempt count as getting federal funds? How about using them to buy luxury jets?) One (that may or may not be getting federal funding) right in my back yard, was running around our schools until the got booted recently.

It was a novel class exercise: Ask a room full of Montgomery County high school students to take turns chewing the same piece of gum.

To demonstrate how sexually transmitted diseases are spread, a visiting speaker invited students to share gum in health classes at four county high schools in December and last month. School officials said a total of about 100 students participated in the lessons, although some declined to chew the gum.

Education and health officials say the gum exercise was unsanitary and should not have happened. The speaker and the clinic, a pregnancy counseling center with a religious orientation, are no longer welcome in Montgomery schools, school officials said.

… Officials of the Rockville nonprofit group could not be reached yesterday for comment. On its Web site, http://www.rcpc.org/index.html, Rockville Pregnancy Center describes itself as a nonprofit, licensed medical clinic and pregnancy counseling organization. One part of the site quotes extensively from the Bible and offers a test "to see if you're going to Heaven."

And, of course, this organization has significant ties to the group that's trying fighting our school district's sex-ed curriculum because it's not anti-gay enough. The same group that distributed anti-gay fliers in one of our schools this fall.

It's not neutral when the White House establishes an office of faith-based initiatives that's little more than tax-payer funded proselytizing cottage industry for evangelical christian organizations, or when the idea spread to states like California. [Via Pharyngula.]

It's not neutral when a legislator in Arizona wants to block judges from hearing complaints against state-sponsored religion. [Via Ed.]

A Mesa Republican wants to strip Arizona courts of the ability to decide any questions related to religion.
Sen. Karen Johnson wants the state constitution altered to say Arizona judges have no jurisdiction to hear complaints brought by people who want to block government activities they believe are an improper religious action.

Her proposal, SCR 1026, would specifically bar courts from being able to grant any injunctions or other legal relief if the question involves "the acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government." And that bar would remain in place whether the action were brought against the government as a whole or any state or local official.

"It takes away the jurisdiction of the courts here in Arizona … in anything related to issues of God, like the Pledge, like the Ten Commandments," Johnson said. She specifically does not want courts ruling on whether those activities or monuments are permitted in public situations or public places.

It's not neutral when it leads to taking a child away from her parents, as in the case of Anna Mae He. It's not neutral when the media ignores the religious angle when reporting on the story.

By the way, I'm not implying that religious progressives are in favor of any of the above. My guess is that the overwhelming majority are just as opposed it as any non-religious progressives would be, and just as infuriated by it. In fact, one of the things I've been thinking about in light of this weeks events is that the religious left and the non-religious left (or "the left" and "the other left," and you can decide yourself which is which) have got to find some way of working together, and coming to an understanding on how to fight stuff like what I mentioned above from both a religious and non-religious perspective. Is there's a way to do that while respecting both religious belief and non-belief? I don't know, but we're close enough to being in the same boat to make it worth considering.

Those of us in the non-religious camp — which could include those who are atheists as well as those who are "quietly agnostic," as mentioned before — are outnumbered in the general population. Religious progressives seem to be outnumbered among people of faith, or at least significantly challenged in numbers. Both are significantly less organized than the theocratic right, and are nowhere near having the media access and resources of the opposition. We have at least that much in common.

One difference is that in criticizing it, those of us who are not religious don't have to deal with opposing stuff like this while simultaneously having to argue for a different interpretation of the faith or scriptures that inspired the actions of the individuals above. In other words, we don't have two fronts to defend; defending our government and society against the theocratic right on the one hand, while defending our faith from them as well.

In fact, we can and sometimes do dismiss the whole issue of faith, out of hand; and sometimes offensively, as far as some people faith are concerned. It's an approach I saw summed up pretty well a while back, at Orcinus.

The government cannot harass you or jail you for your associations, your political views, or your religious beliefs. (Or, at least, they couldn't, right up until last Monday.) It does NOT mean that the rest of us non-government types are required to hold our tongues and smile while people say things that are stupid, dangerous, or contrary to fact. In fact, it means we are duty-bound as citizens to stand up and say, as loudly as necessary, "No. That's a bad idea. And here's why.

That's probably as polite and even-tempered as it's going to get, and could be an approach that passes muster without to much offense. It's not a way out of the impasse, but it's a first step. The closest I've seen to a way out of the impasse is from an article I quoted in a long lost post, titled "When Religion is an Addiction," which seem to recommend a kind of "intervention" that could be a joint venture for religious and non-religious progressives.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves, maintain our sanity, promote a healthy alternative, and confront religious addiction? What’s the closest thing to an intervention when we’re dealing with the advanced, destructive form of religious addiction that’s become culturally dominant?

…You can’t argue with an addict. Arguing religion to one so addicted plays into the addictive game. Arguing about the Bible or tradition is like arguing with the alcoholic about whether whiskey or tequila is better for them. It’s useless and affirms the addiction.

You can’t buy into the addict’s view of reality. Addicts cover their addiction with a mythology about the world and with language that mystifies. This means we must never use their language.

Never say, even to reject it or with “so-called” before it: “partial-birth abortion,” “gay rights,” “intelligent design,” “gay marriage,” etc. Speak clearly in terms of what you believe it really is. Say “a seldom used late-term procedure,” “equal rights for all,” “creationist ideology,” “marriage equality.”

Don’t let the addict get you off topic. Addicts love to confuse the issues, get you talking about things that don’t challenge their problem. When you do, you further the addiction.

Never argue about whether sexual orientation is a choice. It doesn’t matter.

Never argue about sex. Our country is too sick to deal with its sexual problems.

It’s okay to affirm that you don’t care or these aren’t the issues. You don’t need to justify your beliefs to a drunk or druggie.

Get your message on target and repeat it. Get support for your message from others so that they’re on the same page. Make it short, simple, to the point, and consistent.

Don’t nag addicts. Don’t speak belligerently or as if you have to defend yourself. Just say: The government and other people have no right to tell someone whom to love.

Don’t accept that the addiction needs equal time. Stop debating as if there are two sides. Get over any guilt about a free country requiring you to make space for addictive arguments. You don’t have to act as if here are “two sides” to the debate. Addicts and their dealers already have the power of the addiction and addictive communities behind their messages.

Model what it is to be a healthy human being without the addiction. Addicts must see people living outside the addiction, happy, confident, proud, and free from the effects of the disease. In spite of the fact that we’re a nation that supports both substance and process addictions so people don’t threaten the institutions and values that pursue profits over humanity, live as if that has no ultimate control over you.

Don’t believe that you, your friends, children, relationships, hopes, and dreams, are any less valuable or legitimate because they aren’t sanctioned by a government, politicians, or religious leaders that are in a coping, rather than healing, mode of life.

Would that be a step in the right direction?

One other thing that comes to mind, though, about blogging as related to all the above is that while you're wandering — or stumbling — through that impasse, sometimes detouring into anger and sometimes running into dead ends, you're doing it publicly. And, while there are actually no "wrong" paths out of that impasse as long as they get you through it, people are watching you navigate that impasse, including some who believe they're on the "right" path and that "the way" is so clear that they don't see why you must forge your own. In fact, by doing so you may be undermining their path.

And that you are doing so, and thus rejecting their path (the "right path") probably inspires some degree of anger as well. Or so I imagine, which brings to mind something I quoted earlier by Pema Chodron.

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and nonBuddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there's some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there's always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.

For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We're all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.

And openly rejecting that which gives others hope, and going so far as to deride it probably causes nearly as much anger as it does at the other end of the continuum, for reasons mentioned in the post I quoted above.

So when stuff flares up like what happened this week, I think it's a kind of "perfect storm" of anger that's probably inevitable when those two fronts meet, given the length of time they've had to form and the conditions under which they meet. And who's to say what spark will set it off next?

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for that excellent post. I struggle with many of the questions you raised, in terms of how to respond to religious viewpoints. I’m a confirmed atheist, maybe a 6 on Dawkins’ Belief Scale, and I pretty much share Dawkins’ dim view of religion to the point where I might even be called an ‘anti-theist’. Yet I have friends who are Christians and belong to progressive, gay-affirming churches like Unity Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist, and Metropolitan Community Church, and occasionally I’ve tagged along to sunday service at their churches.

    Attending these services, I can’t deny that religion serves as a powerful agent of community bonding, social support, and healing for these congregations, and on the whole it seems to be a positive influence in my friends’ lives. The atmosphere of Unity Fellowship, a mostly black congregation in Los Angeles, is undeniably joyous and refreshingly free of the homophobia that, as you’ve blogged about, is so prevalent in many black religious communities. It’s hard for me to condemn this positive social aspect of these churches, even though I have conflicting feelings about their spiritual worldview — isn’t progressive christianity still propagating mythology after all, no matter how benevolent it appears?

    In the end I find my attitude toward religiosity startlingly similar to what I suppose must be the Cheney’s attitude toward gays. I have no qualms about condemning it in the abstract, but when confronted with a religious friend or family member, or when in the midst of a whole congregation raising their voices, I offer my quiet, respectful support.

  2. There is no one true religion, using the analogy of the spiritual journey; different modes of transport might be employed, some will be quicker than others. The fastest route might get you there sooner, but it might not be the best. The slower passage enables you to witness more.

%d bloggers like this: