Thursday, April 17, 2008

Untitled mess

I was working on getting my mentors registered for next fall's writing class via email a bit this afternoon, so I had several things open, which meant that the email program label on the tabs for outgoing messages I was trying to send was "Untitled mess." Somehow, that label just seemed to fit my mood.

I'm in a sort of foul mood, thoughts running together. You know how, when you hear the guy on the bus who explains that Jerry Lewis and George Bush met at his house last night to plan the small pox attack on dalmations, you wonder how he thinks he's being really logical but he's not? I'm worried you'll think that of me.

I was reading a job blog I read sometimes, one of those blogs people write about their work. I find job blogs fairly interesting, though really, none can beat medievalist blogs. (I just don't think that's fair, but there you are; medievalists also have more fun at their conference.) Anyway, this job blog is written by JB, a young woman who has a pretty high powered job. JB is also a pretty strict Christian, and not at all reticent about talking about her religion on her blog. One of the things she's blogged about recently is that she wants to tell her co-workers about her beliefs, including that women shouldn't work outside the home and should be subservient to their husbands within the home. But she's worried that they won't treat her like an equal if she tells them that, and they may mock her for inconsistency.

If I knew JB, I'd probably gently suggest some rethinking. But one doesn't really do that in the comments of blogs.

I read the blog because JB is interesting, and thoughtful, and has developed in some interesting ways through the course of writing the blog, which one can see if one goes back in the archives. And that's pretty cool. I admire her openness about some things, though she scares the dickens out of me about other things.

I've seen a couple blogs talking about Barack Obama's comments about some Americans being "bitter" or "clinging to guns or religion" (see "Obama rues 'bitter' voter remark"). One of the bloggers is all pissy because Obama dared to criticize people who believe in religion and own guns. Another is doing headstands trying to explain that Obama wasn't really criticizing religion.

And just the other week, folks were criticizing Obama for going to church because they didn't like the sermons.

I'm not convinced by Obama. He's way too conservative for my liking, and from what I've read, doesn't strongly support choice about abortion, and isn't strong enough on glbt rights.

But I could change my mind if he actually came out and said that people who believe in religion need to exercise better critical thinking skills. Of course, then he'd get my vote, and maybe three others, while a lot of people would be all busy being offended.

I've had some serious conflict with my Mom about religion from the time I first told her I wasn't going to church because I'm an athiest. It wasn't easy while I was a teenager under her roof. Like JB, my Mom has her own special versions of religious rules, which are pretty unique. But she finds them comforting, so I've learned to keep my mouth closed.

I keep my mouth closed a lot about belief stuff. When my Dad died, my Mom, sibling, and I went to talk to the priest (my family is Episcopal) about the service. (My Mom and sibling both know I'm an athiest, and had been at that time for a good 20 years.) And who did they turn to to choose the verses? Because only one of us has actually read their holy book. So I did the best I could to choose the verses. It was uncomfortable because you have this small number of verses to choose from, and you either go with Paul (yes, the Paul who hates women etc), or you go with some really rigid stuff. The priest (who seemed like a nice person) gave me a knowing look when I said I wasn't really comfortable about Paul. (But I think we ended up with the many windows in the mansion one.)

And who did they turn to to choose the hymns? Because, apparently, only one of us had every talked to my Dad about his favorites.

And I did my part at the service. And every bit of it was false and painful. But I did it because it was important to my Mom, and her needs were more important, her pain more deep and abiding.

I look around, and I see people who fervently believe that there's a big guy in the sky who is all benevolent, all knowing, all powerful, and worth worshipping, and they believe this in the face of tragedy and disease, in spite of a total lack of evidence, and in spite of other people's equally fervent beliefs in totally contradictory things/beings. It's a mess.


  1. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Let me get this straight...JB thinks that women should not work outside the home but she has a fairly influential job. She wants to share this belief with other women in her office, but she's afraid they'd mock her for inconsistency. I'd have to agree with her there.

    Bardiac, one of the things that I have found harder and harder to choke down about Christianity, especially the brand to which I belong, is the systematic and definitional exclusion of women from the church hierarchy (ie, by definition, women cannot participate in the priestly hierarchy). And, how Mary is defined *solely* in terms of her relationship with her S/son, while never, ever talking about the ways H/he might have been influenced and defined by her.

    I agree, people with strong religious beliefs need to exercise some thinking skills, but that tends to undermine religious belief for some reason that I have not yet figured out (and anyone else commenting, please don't give me the obvious answer; it doesn't ring true for any believer who *does* think and I do know lots of them).

    And, although it's not my place, I'd like to thank you for your kindness to your family. Such grace and generosity is what Christians are supposed to be striving for, and sometimes we get it and sometimes we don't. You are a very good example to us. Thank you.

  2. It troubles me about American culture these days that conversations like those begun in this post just don't happen (I mean, across differences). Religion is so important in American culture, but at the same time, it's just impossible to talk about it in some ways.

    I'm sorry your father's death was so difficult for you--but what love you offered your mother, especially, at that time.

  3. I would be shocked if I worked for JB and she told me that. I'd also be very concerned about my position within the company. I've had this told to me by men, but never a woman in an authority position. I know that there are women who don't want to work, or who think that it would be better from them if they were at home with their children, but they have to work for economic reasons. I've taken a lot of heat for this in the past, but I'll say it again here: I used to hear this from married women with much higher paying jobs than I had, that they 'had' to have two incomes -- while I was raising a child on only mine. It was hard; there were times that I had to make difficult choices on how to spend my money. But, I was able to do it. I get really pissed by middle-class and affluent people who protest that they must work without realizing that they could do without a lot & still live well on one salary. There are a lot of women (and men, too, but mostly women) who live in desparate situations who would like to have a living wage to be able to buy food, clothing, have a safe place to live, rather than "needs" such as a SUV, a big house, expensive cloths, etc. I don't know JB's reasons for working if she feels women shouldn't, but if it is for 'economic' reasons, I'd advise her to rethink her position.

    As for the church/religion/faith thing: I think you're right that people just won't talk about it. You are right that many people of faith (not just Christians) need to be thoughtful of their beliefs and the contradictions in their lives and that others have equally valid viewpoints. Christian texts have much to say about arrogance and self-rightiousness, but it is too often overlooked. Too often in their fervor, people mistake the words of god for the Word of god. I say this as a person of faith, but I know many people who also identify themselves that way would say that I will burn in hell. I think they will be surprised.

  4. Anonymous4:22 PM

    Recently I have been in a similar situation. My family has been a fairly religious family. A couple of weeks ago my mom has passed away. Now this time has been uncomfortable for me because the time leading up to my mother's death has been difficult for my family and I did not want to add to the stress that my family has been going thru by telling them that I am atheist. Because my mother and I were pretty close I was looked at to pick out verses and a hymn. I am about to move to a college in a different city but I am stressing over if I should tell my dad I am atheist, it is really uncomfortable to sit through his religious speeches. But, if it will cause a lot of stress on my dad I do not want to tell him.

  5. Anonymous, My condolences on your loss. But, congratulations on going away to college! I hope you'll have as much fun as I did, and learn even more :)

    I'm not much for advice, but if you can hold your tongue a bit, you'll be going away to college and have lots of opportunities to think things through, study, talk to a wide variety of people. And your Dad's religious talk will be limited to phone time, which you can cut short if you need to.

    That would let you wait to discuss your atheism until your pain is eased a bit by time, and the discussion won't be as hard.

    Good luck with this, and here's wishing you the best college time ever!