Two Completely Separate Ideas — Or Maybe Not

I love the silly rituals of fall, the creatures and trappings of Halloween. I love tromping out into a muddy patch to bring in a gourd for jack-o-lantern carving. The air is a blend of warm and cool, the sun drifting from behind clouds, then hiding its face again. Perfect weather. Ours is the perfect climate for this holiday, moving as it does between sun and rain, the harvest and mud perfuming the gusty air.

And now, for the other thought flitting through my brain…

What I do not understand is why the cultures who are invaded by missionaries so freely take on the religion of their imperialists. And I honestly do not know, but do other religions besides Christianity and its versions go out and take over other cultures? Do Hindus, or Islamists, or Buddists, worm their way into villages of third world countries and offer assistance in exchange for belief in their systems? There is no more beastly means of destroying a culture from within, I think, than invading the people and converting them to your way of assessing the world. It’s horrific. I do not understand why the peoples of Africa and South America have embraced these religions that allowed the imperialists to come in and proliferate. Be humble. Be a lamb. Do not put up a fight as we push you out and steal your land and resources. Just think about the afterlife and all that it will bring to you, all the riches. Look away as we pillage and destroy you. What an arrogant, abusive way this is. Several generations later, after the people have been displaced, their cultures fully appropriated, they then seek the values of the culture that plundered theirs. It is considered a mark of the true obliteration of all that had been there before. We seek your wealth. We follow your god. We are you. Truly, it sickens me.

Mulling over what I’ve just written, perhaps my paragraphs are not so unrelated. Perhaps some of my rituals of fall were stolen from the culture we obliterated to be here, or that of the culture of some tribe in Europe, or somewhere. I really do not know.

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High School

A couple of days ago I listened to a story on This American Life about prom.  It got me thinking about mine because the people interviewed kept remarking just how important prom was.  One person even went so far as to say it was second in importance to a wedding.  Seriously?  I don’t know that I agree with that.  Prom is certainly a ubiquitous high school event, but it wasn’t anything at all life-changing for me, and it wasn’t because I was an anarchist or anything.  I just didn’t really care.  I thought it was a dumb dance.  I was not one of those people who spent all of high school looking forward to attending.  I did finally obtain a boyfriend by senior year so I actually had a prom date.  If I hadn’t gotten the boyfriend, I probably would not have gone.  I was much more concerned with acquiring a boyfriend than attending prom, and much more surprised and shocked that this happened than I ever would have been at getting a prom date.

For me, the story of how I got my first boyfriend was practically out of a high school movie.   Every February, our school hosted a Valentine’s Day school dance.  For some reason, one of the most attractive, most popular boys in school asked me to dance.  A lot.  We danced together all evening.  This was a surprise to me.  He was Mr. High School All-American boy.  Extremely popular, he had attended the schools in my town his entire life.  This meant something in our little town; it meant you knew everyone and everyone knew you.  This could be a bad thing, but for a lot of people, it accorded them with additional status.  Eric had this status in spades, plus he was captain of the football team and President of the Senior class.  Seriously.  He also had blonde hair and blue eyes, lovely chiseled features, and an athletic build.

I, on the other hand, was not Miss High School All-American girl.  I had the blonde hair and blue eyes, but my hair was short, and for the dance in question, I had tried beforehand to trim my bangs.  After cutting, I realized they were crooked, so I cut them again and made them crooked the other direction.  By the time I was done, they were about two inches long and still crooked.  I was also skinny as a rail, with no breasts to speak of.  Certainly not curvy.  I imagine I was prettyish, but definitely not a beauty and never one of the girls the boys talked about or wanted.  I spent most of my time buried in books, riding my horse, or acting weird because my friends thought it was funny and I liked making them laugh.  My parents lived like they never had money, no matter how much they had, so my clothes were not name brands, which I cared about in those days.  (One nice thing about growing up was giving up that ridiculous delusion.)

In spite of my average appearance and lack of social standing, here we were at this Valentine’s Day dance and Eric was dancing with me.  My friends couldn’t believe it.  “He must like you!” said Marie.  “He keeps dancing with you!”  I didn’t quite believe he liked me.  Deanna kept giggling every time he came near.  “Stop it,” I would hiss to her in a whisper before heading to the dance floor.  Kari just smiled her poker-face smile.

Over the weekend after the dance, my friends and I spent many hours on the phone deconstructing the dance and its portent.  Did Eric like me, or was he just being nice?  I could not believe that he did.  They could not believe that he did not.  On Monday, I was embarrassed and terrified at the prospect of seeing Eric. We had a class together the last period of the day.  I spent most of that day a nervous wreck, wondering what would happen in that class.  I was terrified.

Later that afternoon, we were all in Mr. Fisk’s class listening to him drone on about who-knows-what.  Mr. Fisk’s stories were fascinating as sophomores and stupid by the time we were seniors.  I don’t remember now how it transpired, but somewhere along the line in the class a note was transferred to Eric.  I think it was supposed to be from me to Marie or Marie to me, or something like that, but it was about how much I liked him.  He sent me a note and we agreed to both ask to go to the bathroom at the same time.  A few minutes later, Eric got up, asked to use the bathroom, and left.  Heart pounding, 30 seconds later, I asked to go to the bathroom as well.  Mr. Fisk was none the wiser and let me follow Eric. He probably didn’t even notice we were out at the same time. We were the good kids, the ones who always turned in our homework and would never leave to go fraternize and cause trouble, so bathroom passes were easy to come by.

Eric was waiting by the bathroom.  He was wearing his Levi’s 501 jeans, a pink polo shirt, and white sneakers.  I thought he looked amazing.  He said hi and then kissed me.  Exhilarating.

We were going out after that.  We never had a conversation where he asked me to be his girlfriend or anything, I just was.  I adored him.  Completely smitten, I would do anything he wanted to do or go anywhere he wanted to, just to be with him.  Compared to stories of teenage activities I hear about these days, our actions were so tame.  I would never have considered having sex with him, not in a million years.  Honestly, we never made it past second base, but to both of us, this was a lot.

How is it that I managed to get the most popular boy in school for my boyfriend senior year?  I mean really?  I think about this time and I have to wonder.  I know part of it is that this most popular boy in school was unique in some respects.  So often the popular kids are so idealized that we have a vision of how they must be, but to become truly popular and liked by everyone (which Eric certainly was), that person must possess some characteristic of some sort that makes people like them.  Eric was truly likeable.  Plus he’d been in the same town schools since kindergarten.  Plus he was handsome.   Really.  Blonde.  Blue-eyed.  Captain of the football team.  President of the class.  I mean, come on, was this for real?

It was.  That is what is so remarkable to me.  I look back now and for the first time truly marvel at it.  I mean, come on!  Do you think he could have been more of a cliché?  And it’s even more amazing that I, with my background and thought processes, could have had him as my first real boyfriend.  That alone is a feat in and of itself.

One night, we were making out in the backseat of his housemate’s ginormous 70’s automobile.  The thing was a boat on wheels.  I was supposed to be spending the night at Marie’s house, and a group of us had all gone and done something that evening.  Eric and I parked the boat outside her house and started kissing in the backseat.  It was cold out and the windows fogged up.  At some point, I realized there was a round light moving along the back window.  We both sat up quickly and pulled on our shirts (each other’s, as it turned out).  Then we heard a tap on the window.

Humiliated, Eric opened the car door and got out.  The officer took him aside and scolded him.  He then stuck his head in the car and asked me my name and where I was supposed to be. Terrified and humiliated as well, I told him.  He said I should go into my friend’s house and go to bed.  It was probably only 11:30, but I was scared and obeyed without question.

I spent the next week completely terrified that the stop would show up in the local paper.  A weekly, the local paper did not have much to report on, and therefore contained a section listing every petty grievance to which the police force responded.  I was certain our names would be listed with our transgression for all–especially and including my parents–to see.  Thankfully, this never transpired.

Because I now had a boyfriend, prom seemed like it might actually be fun. My friends were all going and I looked forward to hanging out with them.  My mom is an excellent seamstress, and after looking and finding no dresses that I liked, she offered to make a prom dress for me.  I picked out a pink satin and some pink tulle.  She made a long dress with a fitted bodice, with a pink ribbon around the center and tulle around the collar, which sat off the shoulder on my collar bones.  I liked it fine.  Looking at it now, I think it’s kind of boring, but I enjoyed getting dressed up.  Eric looked amazing in his tuxedo, and he arrived in the boat to pick me up, a pink corsage in hand to match the boutonniere on his lapel.

The best memory I have of prom is that my best friend Marie won as prom queen.  She had a huge crush on a good friend of Eric’s named Gary.  Gary had a girlfriend, but for prom king and queen, there would be a dance.  When it was announced that Marie was queen and Gary was king, I was thrilled to death for her.  She was able to dance with the boy she liked for an entire slow song.  I could tell watching her dance, her head against his shoulder, that she was in heaven.

After prom, we went to a party at some friends of Eric’s and sat in a hot tub before he took me home.  Most of them were drinking alcohol and this scared me.  I didn’t find that part of the night much fun.  I can’t remember when I got home, but I don’t think it was very late.

One other huge aspect of my relationship with Eric was that shortly prior to our starting to date, he had become “born again.”  Over the course of our courtship, he became more and more heavily involved in the church.  In an effort to please him, I went along.  I had been friends for some time with another girl who was extremely involved in her church.  I started going with her, mainly because I had a crush on David W. and David W. was in youth group.  David W. would flirt with me at youth group and I enjoyed this.  Also, my friend’s parents would take us for pie after church.  Having grown up in a family that went out to eat maybe once every two years, this was an immense treat.

Interestingly, while I was attending church and trying to be a good Christian, I was discovering a lot of hypocrisies that bothered me immensely.  One morning, the pastor described faithful Muslims praying to Mecca.  He spent a good deal of time describing the scene, to the point I could practically feel the warmth of the sun on my back and the rug under my knees.  Then he dropped a bomb saying, “Isn’t it a shame that all these millions of faithful Muslims are going to hell?  I could not tolerate or believe this.  This sermon was a turning point for me.  I had serious doubts about Christianity and organized religion in general anyway, and that statement made me start looking for inconsistencies, which were not difficult to come by.

However, I kept my doubts to myself.  Eric would drag me to youth group on Wednesday and church twice a day on Sunday and I would go with him because usually after we would make out in the back of his truck and I liked doing that.  I went along with the church thing, even so far as memorizing the entire book of Romans because he did so as well, and I believed that he wanted me to.  I would pray with him, and discuss the Bible with him.  Mainly I just wanted to be with him and this offered me the greatest opportunity.

Our small town, like many, had started offering an all-night graduation party to the entire senior class.  The point was to keep teens from drinking and getting hurt or killed as a result.  I was not a drinker and looked forward to graduation and the graduation party.  My grandparents had flown in from Kansas for the event and I was excited by the prospect of all of it.

The day before graduation, Eric took me out in the afternoon to eat at a nice restaurant.  When we arrived back at my house, at the top of my parent’s driveway, he got out and gave me a hug.  Then he said, “It’s been really fun hanging out with you, but we are going to have to stop. I’m going to college in the fall, and I am afraid our relationship is interfering with my relationship with Jesus.”  There were more words, but I don’t remember them.

I was incredulous.  I had not seen this coming, not even close.  Heartbroken and numb, I stumbled into the house and into my bedroom.  I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on my bed in a pool of misery.  We were to attend a Baccalaureate dinner that night.  I dressed in the new outfit my mom had bought for me, a knit yellow sweater and white cotton skirt.  I don’t remember much of the Baccalaureate dinner except there were some speeches.  Eric was there, but he ignored me.  I stared at my plate all evening.  My parents and grandparents could tell something was wrong, but didn’t say anything.

Later, after we arrived home, I went again to my bedroom and lay on my bed, trying not to cry.  My family wanted me to come in the living room and visit, but I just couldn’t do it.  Finally, my grandma came in to talk.  I confessed what had happened.  “Oh, honey,” she said, rubbing my back.  “It seems so hard now, but you’re so young. It is for the best.”

I still remember her voice and the way she stroked my hair and back.  I also remember that graduation and the party were a drag.  My friends kept trying to get me to liven up, but I just couldn’t do it.  Forever after, when I think of graduation, the memory is colored by the fact that the day before the ceremony my first love dumped me for Jesus.

It was the best decision of course.  Eric became a successful missionary in Africa. He is still there, working on a Bible translation of some sort, I think.  I saw him at our reunion and it wasn’t weird at all.  Time heals all wounds and we had grown up. I was such a baby at 17.  I am immensely grateful Eric didn’t do something stupid like ask me to marry him.  I would have said yes in a heartbeat and it would have been the wrong decision. We would have been divorced by the time we were 20.  I’m so different from that person, I can barely remember how I thought or acted.  Most of what I remember about myself at that time makes me cringe in embarrassment.  I certainly could never have been a Christian.  The seeds of doubt in organized religion had been planted, probably before I knew the ground was tilled.

In any case, this was my prom and the story around it.  Nothing spectacular, just an old memory. It’s funny, as I’ve been writing this, how much I actually do remember.  Life is interesting and so much is forgotten.  I’m glad I remember this.

And Then

Liz Cheney is as big a fucking hate-mongering idiot as her devil father.  Spawn of the devil keeps his evil going…

I may have been followed this morning.  A woman I had seen on the train got onto the elevator with me and did not choose a floor while I was on the elevator.  I do have to say though, that she did not get off at the 6th floor as I did.

When I go to businesses that ask my name, I make one up.  Your name?  Aristophanes.  Spell that one.  Then pronounce it.

We are losing.  Here is my prediction of what is going to happen:   The ginormous corporations will continue to get bigger and proliferate.  The masses, increasingly ignorant and sedated with fast food, television, noise,  sports, and religion will become even stupider, turning back into the peasants of the middle ages.  The power elite are going to win and the poor are going to help them.  The poor want to be rich and if they were given the means, they would act the same way so they don’t question being constantly sold and mollified with product, trying so hard, kissing vacations goodbye and futilely trying to shovel their toddlers into Harvard.  Since they will not become a part of that which they seek, they go along and buy their lottery tickets, stuffing their faces, plugging earphones into their heads and turning up the music so they can drown out their own oblivion.  They believe it when they are told there is a magnificent being in the sky who cares about them and will take care of them after death so they don’t have to concern themselves with the fact that the place in which they are actually living right here and right now carries other possibilities.    Numbed and choking on corn and petroleum, they will let the power class continue to take them and take the planet.  In time, those of us who are in the minority and see the damage and want change may rise up and revolt, but success is an unlikely prospect.

And a thought from my friend Carin:  Something that’s been bugging me.  Self righteous boobs claiming to be upstanding and moral whilst they are posing half nude with photographers, getting boob jobs and participating in a meat, sorry, “beauty” pageant.  Or teenage twits who claim they are the voice of abstinence-only sex ed while holding their baby that they conceived obviously not through abstinence.

As I walk to the subway, ride the subway, and walk to my office, I’m filled with thoughts and observations.  The moment I walk through the door and sit down under the flourescent lights, the thoughts fritter away into the ether.  I wonder as I’m walking if I should stop and write some of the thoughts into my notebook, but I don’t do it.  My notebook used to be full of thoughts, but right now the only words there are a note I took to remind myself to contact my daughter’s school about an art teacher who smashes art pieces she deems unworthy of her almighty judgment.  Other than that, nothing.  Is it the flourescent lights?  Maybe it’s the air-conditioning.  Maybe it blows the thoughts from my brain.

Faith in a Cushion

All the claims people make of faith, yet when a “face” appears in a cushion (see article here), thousands flock to see their proof.  If they are so faithful, why do they need to run get such “evidence”?  This is only one problem in many with belief systems that rely on nothing in order to sustain themeselves.  I have little doubt the “faithful” who want to see the face would say it is because they just want to see Him.  I don’t buy it. They want something to back up their efforts, some proof that their beliefs are not in vain.

Today the Pope said condoms won’t stop the spread of AIDS in Africa.  I’m not surprised.  Maybe the Africans can pray the disease away.

My Response to a Comment

I received a comment from a reader of my post yesterday.  I have posted the writer’s comment here and responded individually to specifics.

“You might think that the fact that you use words as “vilify” makes you an authority on something which you obviously know nothing about.”

By phrasing your opening line with the words that I “might think” something, you limit logical denial.  However, while I “might think” using the word vilify makes me an authority on something, I don’t.  My use of the word is as a verb to describe behavior of certain people.  How is it you prove I have no “obvious” knowledge, because I did not give a history of religious bigotry in an opinion piece?  I need not give such a history; your own letter proves my point in its last line.

“You vilify Christians in the same breath you claim we vilify you.”

Show me where I say anything about Christians and show me where I vilify anything.  I am making a valid criticism of organized religion.  You jump to conclusions and take it further, ascribing my criticism to Christianity, then claim I am vilifying, all in the same breath.

“You don’t understand us, but yet we are supposed to understand you.”

Again, this comes from nowhere.  My fundamental thesis requests that we look hard at religion, that we seek understanding.  You miss this point entirely and as you do in your entire letter, making assumptions and jumping to unjustified conclusions.  You state I want “you” to understand me; does this mean you think I am in a minority and want religions to understand me?  Is it something else?  I offered an opinion, I did not ask for religious tolerance of what I had to say.

“It seems that whenever any group of people creates a movement with the same rhetoric you espouse, you want to play with a different set of rules and on a different playing field.  Your attitude and language mirrors that which you abhor in Christians.”

What rhetoric is it that I espouse, that we should look at religion’s place in furthering intolerance and bigotry?  I suppose you are right that I want to play with a different set of rules on a different playing field because I am not arguing we use intolerance and bigotry in making this examination.  And again, where in anything do I specifically mention Christians?  Where do I show abhorrence?  In asking we stop intolerance and bigotry?  Is that abhorrence?  It seems you are the one with the attitude, as well the one who is jumping to conclusions and making assumptions.

“Have you thought about that?”

Why yes.  See my previous response.

“You make leaps and bounds and speak with hyperbole, and use circular reasoning to prove your point.”

Ironic, considering this exactly what you have done through this entire diatribe. Making leaps and bounds?  You have done so by assuming I speak only of Christians.  I said religion.  Does this mean only Christianity qualifies in your narrow mind?  And where exactly is my hyperbole, in claiming religion is used as an excuse in most bigotry?  This is not overstatement; it is truth.

“I don’t think you’re going see people give up on religion.”

Did I make such a request?  No.  I said we need to look at religion honestly to see its place in bigotry.  I did not say do away with it.  Read my words, don’t jump “leaps and bounds.”

“After all, religion is a word that people don’t understand.  What we really focus on is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

As is typical with those of your ilk, you think the only religion is yours.  There is no response to your narrow-mindedness.

“You don’t have to understand us or believe the way we believe, especially with regard to sin and our own sinfulness.  But, then again, we don’t have to understand you or believe the way you believe, either–even if you don’t want to believe that there is such a thing as sin.”

Again, as with this entire pointless rant, you make assumptions based on your own beliefs, not based on anything I have said.  And again, there really isn’t much one can do to respond to your own imaginings.

“So, I will respect you and let you live the life you want to live; but, please, respect me and let me live the life I want to live without the name-calling and generalizations.”

Name calling?  Where in what I said did I call anyone any names?  You are deluded.  And if this entire letter is your being respectful, I would hate to see what you consider disrespect.

“The proposition was voted, and unfortunately for you, you are in the minority.”

Yes, thanks to religion and the hatefulness of most people like you, bigotry is alive and well.  Thank you for proving my point.

Have We Overcome?

This piece can be seen here on Huffington Post. If you like it, buzz me up.

Isn’t it ironic that as we’re congratulating ourselves on our ability to elect a black president we are simultaneously lamenting the passage of Proposition 8? We Americans have been quite pleased with ourselves because we were able to elect a black man to the highest office in the land. I would argue that we may have overcome something, but it is not bigotry. The day we will really know we have overcome bigotry is the day we elect a black, Atheist, lesbian–THAT would be a feat.

Inherent in the post-election discussions of race and politics is the conclusion that because large segments of our population have moved away from open racism, we are beyond bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth; we have simply traded one for another, or several others, as the case may be. And these latest forms of intolerance and discrimination are often made more palatable through religion, as open racism against blacks used to be.

Because of religion and its ever-encroaching move into the political spectrum, Americans were forced to live through an administration that would not allow medical research on single cells to help find cures for diseases in people who are alive right now. Because of religion, pro-life politicians gain support from citizens whose actual interests are ignored in favor of policies that benefit the extremely wealthy. Because of religion, all over the country laws like Proposition 8 proliferate.

In spite of Obama’s election, what America has not given up and seems loathe to give up, regardless how far backward we move socially, morally, and legally, is religion. Why should it? Religion allows people to vilify those they don’t understand. Simply claim that anything different from you is against your religion and you are protected by your God-given, inalienable right to believe.

It is truly a significant step in the right direction that a black man will be our president. It is evidence that progress is possible and that society is able to make changes that seemed impossible only decades earlier. Yet is seems to me that if we are ever able to really end bigotry, if we are ever able to end all forms of discrimination, we are going to have to take a cold, hard, honest look at religion and its role in the promulgation of hate and intolerance. Only then will we truly overcome.