Fundamentalist Nihilism

This is probably going to be a long one: brace yourself.

Seventh-Day Adventism, the religious system of my formative years, is a little oddball.  Perhaps not quite as oddball as Mennonites, who are unmistakable even to an untrained eye.  Not quite as thorny as the Jehovah’s Witnesses – Sevens aren’t expected to cut off apostate family members – not quite as far out of the mainstream as the Mormons – Sevens don’t wear special underwear, don’t have a history of polygamy, and can claim a conviction in the equality of all humans that goes back to our founder in the 1840’s – Sevens are nevertheless kind of oddball.

The Church’s interpretation of the Bible is strictly literal.  Their distinctive observation of the Jewish Sabbath is tied directly to the fact that God never changed the day of worship in the Bible.  That change came by decree from…  was it Justinian?  No, Constantine.  The change from Saturday to Sunday made Christianity more palatable to the heathen sun-worshipers, but it didn’t come from God, therefore the Sevens worship on the seventh day.  (Hence: Seventh-Day Adventists.  The Adventist part comes from the belief that God’s return is eminent.)

Actually, the Adventist part is particularly relevant.  Sevens emerged after the Millerite movement of the early 1840’s.  William Miller believed that he had a secret mathematical formula that allowed him to calculate the day of Christ’s return.  October 22, 1844 came and went without the promised return of Jesus.  To the Millerites, this was known as the Great Disappointment, and the true believers spent a very hungry winter, having forgone planting and other preparation to feed themselves after October 22.

Sevens emerged from the wreckage of the Millerites.  They kept the conviction (and hope) of the imminent return of Christ.  They also developed a deep distaste for prediction.  The Bible says no man knows the day nor the hour, and the Sevens are behind that 100%.

So in their obsession with the Apocalypse as described in Revelation, the Sevens share a great deal with their Evangelical brethren, but this deep humility about not having any sway or ability to predict the end of the world saves them from some of the worst excesses of Evangelical Nihilism.

Let me explain.

Revelation predicts the end of the world, the violent demise earthly affairs that takes place right before God comes back.  Wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, world government, persecution of Christians, earthquakes, Jerusalem will once more be the sole domain of the Jews… etc. etc. etc.

For the fundamentalist believer, absolute faith in Christianity leads to a profound nihilism.  All hope is pointed towards the afterlife.  The apocalypse isn’t something to be avoided, it is something to be embraced, forced even.  By the simple state of faith, nothing earthly matters or counts.  The means to achieve the ends don’t have to matter, because accepting the martyrdom of Jesus absolves all sins: past, present, and future.

Now, were this consistent, we would see it played out in Evangelicals pushing for an Atheist government.  Instead, you see them interpreting the legal protection of people they don’t agree with as evidence that they are being persecuted.  If there were consistency, there would be great support of the UN, for world government is one of those things that is part of the promise of Revelation and the UN is seen as the beginning of that world government.

Instead, we see Evangelicals picking and choosing which part of the Apocalypse they wish to bring on.  Evangelical support of Zionists and Israel having complete control over Jerusalem?  That isn’t because they support Jewish people in general, that support has a specific end: Jewish domination of Jerusalem is an event that the Bible says will take place right before God comes back, therefore the Evangelicals are for it.

A new world war?  Bring it on.  All the better if it is framed in terms of Christians against everyone else, because that is another bit of Revelation fulfilled, indicating God’s return.

All the elements prophesied in Revelation are no longer understood as prophecy, but conditions to be met.  And if nothing matters, because the whole point of being here on earth is to arrive at the point where you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior as quickly as possible and then get to heaven immediately thereafter, then there isn’t much to live for once you’ve been saved.  Meanwhile, the Nihilist Christian is picking and choosing which parts they pay attention to, ignoring those bits that remind them that all of this is up to God and not dependent on man’s will, breezing right past all the warnings of false prophets…

Nihilism.  The belief that nothing matters.  Christian nihilism: the belief that nothing on earth matters because Christ.  Not much of a distinction for those of us who think the drive to create the conditions for God’s return is a fool’s errand.  A big distinction for those who believe that God’s forgiveness is theirs, no matter the hubris, no matter the casual cruelty, no matter the willful disregard for the example of Jesus they disregard in the life they live.

Incidentally, I believe the Islamic fundamentalists are infected with the same nihilism, to the same degree, and that from this perspective the fundamentalists of both persuasions are actually working quite well together for a single shared goal: bringing their version of the end of the world to fruition.

So.  If you want to know why the GOP is so dismissive of climate change, it isn’t because they believe the outliers of the scientific community.  It is because there is an unholy alliance between the Conservatives who are primarily concerned with small government, big business, and narrow interpretation of the Constitution, to hell with the little people; and the Evangelicals.  The two exist symbiotically: the capitalist Conservatives don’t really care that much about the social issue one way or another, and the Christian fundamentalists don’t care about the capitalist issues, so they use each other to maintain power.  It is entirely possible that the Conservatives, being smaller in number (if wealthier) are being consumed by the Christian fundamentalists.  This election would certainly point in that direction.

Anyway, if climate change meets one of the *conditions* of Revelation – remember, they have stopped interpreting prophecy as prophetic and are treating it as a list of conditions to meet – by bringing about famine, pestilence, and other natural horrors, then feel free to open up the oil reserves and just light the wells on fire.  The Conservatives make money; they’re fine with it.  The Evangelicals get one step closer to the Apocalypse.

If you want to know why the threat of nuclear war as the natural end of a Tantrump doesn’t scare the GOP’s Evangelical base…  it is because World War III is a condition to be met.  Fracking causing earthquakes?  Another condition to be met.  Legal restrictions on Christians being discriminatory assholes?  One more on the checklist of conditions.  Because *that* is what being persecuted for your identity looks like, not the hundreds of Trans folks who get tormented brutally and murdered every year.

Somewhere in there, you also have a deep corruption of the message of the New Testament.  Christianity has been bent into nearly unrecognizable contortions to align it with Capitalist values.  God’s blessings come with dollar signs these days.  Megachurches encourage donations under the logic that tithing to God makes God return abundance to you.  (If only they took this understanding and applied it to taxation.)  Kindness is no longer a pre-requisite.  Withholding judgement of others based on the humility associated with knowing one’s self to be imperfect, also not really in play.  Stone-throwing is a new kind of specialty.  Hospitality, turning the other cheek, gentleness, meekness…  All have been abandoned in favor of larger homes, smaller tax bills, SUVs, and the gospel of the 401k.

Internal consistency doesn’t apply here.

I suspect that, particularly in those areas where the Evangelical Nihilists live in communities where they rarely encounter anyone of color, there is also this underlying feeling that whiteness is a defining feature of being heaven-bound.  That to be white is already a credit to your name on the rolls in heaven, just like being white gives you the benefit of the doubt when engaging with the police.  The rapture movies of my adolescent time in Bible study didn’t feature too many people of color, that’s for damn sure.

In short…  Those of us who experience the world with skepticism and a demand for some sort of intellectual consistency find ourselves baffled by the recent turn of events.  When the GOP told us they were ethical, we took them at their word.  Whey they said they valued Christianity, and honesty, and rule of law, and the Constitution, and high standards for conduct, we believed them.

And then DJT showed up.  He disrespected women, his base loved it.  He broke the rules, his base loved it.  He bullied people, his base roared its approval.  He lied, they cheered.  He cuddled up with Russia, they praised Putin as some kind of defender of white Christianity.  He stood proudly ignorant of the Constitution, they waved their flags.  He promised them the wholesale cruelty to refugees, and they voted for him.  He proved his Biblical illiteracy, they laughed it off.

And we are running around pointing out the disconnect between their old words and their new actions, the example of Christ and their current behavior, and expecting reason to work.

Logic doesn’t work here.  It won’t work.  This isn’t right vs. left, Conservative vs. Progressive.  This is Nihilism vs. Good Faith.  Hubris vs. Humility.

Because the false prophets are in charge and have been for a while.  Nihilism rules the day.  There is no moral compass left.  No objective standards, only tribal markers.  Fundamentalists of all stripes are pursuing a single goal – annihilation – and are happy to feed off of each other in their pursuit.  Israel will wipe out Palestine, and God won’t come.  We will have nuclear winter, and God won’t come.  We will frack California off the continent, and God won’t come.  ISIS will get its holy war, the martyrs will stack to the moon, and God won’t come.  And still they will persist.

And if any of their belief systems hold up, eventually they will show up at Judgement, and God will want to know what made them think they could force the hand of the Divine.  God will ask how they treated the poor and the indigent, how they treated Jesus when he showed up as Travyon Martin, or Matt Shephard, or Fatemeh Reshad.  God will want to know how any of us could function as the instrument of terror, and pain, and cruelty, and not also understand ourselves to be on the side of Satan.  Is the word of God not clear enough on this point, no matter the religion, that those who claim God and mean it are called to be vehicles of light and kindness in the world?

I don’t have a good answer for how to deal with this madness.  I just think more people need to talk about what it is we are dealing with.

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Fundamentalist Nihilism

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The quote goes back to Aesop, this notion that familiarity breeds contempt.  (For the record, he also said this: We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.)  Vice published a piece about the Military’s support for Trump – some at the leadership level, most among those who end up getting deployed.  Trump fans in the Military talked about drawing back on our intervention in the world, the fact that Trump appears to be decisive (I can’t, in any seriousness, call him decisive.)

What they don’t talk about is how Trump’s anti-Islam message resonates with those who have spent time in the Islamic world.  

Let’s start with this: I’m speaking in generalities.  What I am about to say isn’t going to apply to everyone, but it is a decent starting point.  The religion and the culture are intertwined in the minds of those who grew up in it.  Most westerners can talk about their religion in one silo and their culture in another, and their family in a third.  Most westerners can talk critically about one aspect or the other without feeling the whole edifice is about to crumble. It gets much harder to tease out the threads when you’re talking about the Muslim world.  

My expertise on this is as follows:  I married a Muslim man.  We divorced.  I have worked around former military, lived with and loved an Officer who deployed “downrange,” had a long term relationship with another former officer who also undertook multiple deployments.  And I can say with a high level of confidence that familiarity breeds contempt.  Skipping over the salacious bits (I imagine if you spend some time googling night vision videos from Iraq, you’ll find stuff you can never un-see), let’s talk about why that might be.  

First, the world we first think of as Muslim – North Africa, the Middle East – has a culture that cannot be understood academically.  Which means that our governmental approach to it is doomed from the beginning because there is nothing in an American’s education, culture, approach, or experience that prepares us to understand this culture.  We are the distillation of Western culture down to its bluntest components.  We are direct.  We strive to mean what we say and say what we mean.  We value consistency and authenticity.  We don’t respect sensitivity, particularly if it stands in the way of progress.  We take others at their word.  

None of which works in this world.  

Meaning is conveyed in the subtlest of shades.  Go to a paint store and consider all of the different colors that look white to you.  That’s how little difference there is between different shades of meaning in this world, but each of those shades conveys something specific, and important, and different.  Are you frustrated already, just thinking about it?  Most Americans (and even more American men) are going to throw their hands up and storm off saying “I don’t give a shit which white you choose, just leave me out of it.”  We don’t have the patience for nuance that microscopic.  (Which, incidentally, I am behind 100%.  I don’t see the value in 2,000 shades of white either.  50 shades of grey is at least 45 too many.)

Pride counts for more than having something to be proud of.  God help you if you miss one of those cues that came in 2,000 shades of white paint chips, because you will have damaged your compatriots pride so irrevocably that there is no going back.  Ever.  Why do you think there are honor killings?  Because pride is valued at a higher level than a daughter’s life.  Doesn’t make sense, does it?  You can say the words and nod, but that’s academic.  It’s like reading about mermaids and unicorns.  You can understand the words, they fit together, but on some level it doesn’t compute.  It will never compute.  And anything is on the table in service of pride.  Anything.  Pride is valued above honesty.  It is valued above authenticity.  It is valued above progress.  

Children are not chastised with bad (don’t do that, it’s bad), they are chastised with shame (don’t do that, it is shameful.)

There is the inside world and the outside world.  Inside is for family.  Women are inside.  Outside is for the men.  What is said outside may only have the thinnest tie to the truth, but it isn’t considered shameful to lie.  What would be more shameful would be to admit something that is true, but unflattering.  You tell the truth inside, but then maybe only to the men.  And probably not even to the men.  Maybe to your father.  Maybe.  And honesty with yourself about yourself… fuggetaboutit.  

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone functions.  

Our cultures are oil and water.  And that doesn’t mean that we are at war with each other, it simply means that in the venn diagram, we think that the place where the circles overlap is bigger than it is.  Because we’re American.  We’re optimistic.  We’re direct.  We can do anything.  But only the Americans who have tried to get anything done in that sliver of overlap know exactly how small it is.  Find a soldier who has deployed and ask him or her about Islam.  Chances are they met some extraordinary people of courage.  Fellow soldiers.  Police officers in training.  Interpreters.  Leaders.  People they could speak with directly, trust completely, and work with effectively.  But overall?  I’d put money that their experience led them to believe that the whole thing was a clusterfuck from the start and we had no business getting involved because we didn’t know the terrain, human or cultural, and we had no clear objective.  Spreading democracy, incidentally, is not a clear objective.  Democracy isn’t smallpox.  

And I’d hazard a guess that most soldiers aren’t fans of Islamic culture, which gets shorthanded into Muslim people.  

This isn’t about religion.  Personally, I think organized religion is 99% bullshit.  Believe what you want to believe, connect with the divine in the way you see fit, and leave me alone to do the same.  The state of my soul has nothing to do with the state of your soul.  I don’t see how you can reasonably make the argument that religion isn’t its own culture.  In America, the national culture and the religious culture grow further apart every day.  I think this is to the good.  In the middle east, the culture and the religion cling to each other so hard we can only hope they suffocate each other entirely.  

Ooh.  Inflammatory.  I know I’m not supposed to say this.  I know I’m at odds with my basic liberalism which has no problem with democratic socialism, government regulation, socialized health care, mourning Bernie, end the war on drugs, etc., etc.

Of course, I’m American.  I would think this, but I’m firmly behind the notion that a culture should be judged by its outcomes.  By that measure, Western culture isn’t perfect.  There’s still too much racial bigotry, not enough logic (just listen to the people defending assault weapons), and too much religion trying to take over the public sphere.  However.  With all of its flaws, Western culture has demonstrably better outcomes for the vast majority of its citizens.  

You could call that relative, and question my measures.  Well, my measure are things like literacy; life expectancy; poverty;  transparency in government; equality under the law for men and women; the absence of child soldiers, child brides, and child factory workers; the absence of honor killings and feminine genital mutilation (we could legitimately get rid of circumcision here, just for the record); freedom of speech; and freedom of (and from) religion.

Perhaps if you were looking at social cohesion, then Islamic culture would come out on top.  Maybe for the fantastical architecture?  The sense of poetic despair?  Rumi?  The debt of gratitude we owe the Islamic world for hanging on to the world’s intellectual treasures while we the west went through the dark ages?  All of that is great.  But at what price for those who don’t fit in?  At what cost for the LGBTQ community?  The Saudi girl who wants to be an engineer?  The Somali girl who doesn’t want to marry the man her parents picked?  The Afghan girl who just wants to learn how to read?   Should they all be sacrificed for social cohesion or tradition?  And even then, the wars rage on between people who believe things that can only be differentiated by a few shades of white.  So much for social cohesion.  

Does Islam, by definition, prohibit female engineers, or girls who go to school, or homosexuals who live safely and openly in society?  Certainly no more than Christianity does.  But is the culture prohibitive of all of the above?  Absolutely.  

So yes.  By the measures described, Western culture is superior.  I don’t think anyone should die over this.  I don’t think we should drop bombs to stamp out a religion or a culture.  I don’t think anyone should be ostracized or excluded.  I’m not for a ban or a wall or profiling. The “don’t be an asshole” rule always applies.  But that doesn’t change the fact that our foreign policy in the middle east is hampered by our lack of visceral understanding of the culture we’re working with.  And it doesn’t change the fact that western culture produces better outcomes for a larger percentage of its population.

And if the Military has feelings that align with Donald Trump about how immigration from the Middle East should be handled, perhaps their feelings should be understood as having a foundation in experience that goes beyond bigotry and racism.

Okay, let the yelling begin.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Religious Freedom

Religious multiplicity is a function of politics and power, not faith.  There was once a point in time when, if you were Christian, you were Catholic. The Anglican Church happened, not because Henry the Eighth had a revelation from G-d, but because he didn’t like answering to the Pope.  Martin Luther, who sparked the Reformation, did so in larger part because he objected to the politics of paying for indulgences.  Yes, there were 95 thesis, but money was the spark.  Where there is faith, there is money and an inordinate level of influence.  So of course, there is motivation to splinter some of that off of the whole to claim some of that money (through tithe) and influence (from the pulpit and new doctrine) as your own.

If you are in to someone telling you how to do about the business of faith, have at it.

So here come the Puritans, followed by the Quakers.  They start in England, a thoroughly Christian state with a state church and no separation between the dominant church and the governing state.  So Puritans, also Christian, were persecuted because what the believed was a few shades off from what the state church taught.  They jumped on the Mayflower because they wanted to practice their take on Christianity in peace.  Massachusetts to the Puritans.  Pennsylvania to the Quakers.  Maryland (eventually) to the Catholics.  When the founding fathers got around to outlining a government for the people by the people, they knew they had a lot of people who didn’t all believe the same thing, so instead of saying “we will be a government intertwined with a church,” they said “how about we just let everyone decide what church they want to go to, and keep the government out of it?”  It was a good idea.

Otherwise, who decides?  Do the Quakers get to make all the rules? What about the Baptists?  The Anabaptists?  The Catholics?  Sure, the basics are pretty much the same.  One G-d, Jesus dies for us, believe in Jesus and be saved.  But after that…  The squawking.  Like G-d has the kind of time to get worked up about angels dancing on a pin.  Well, technically, G-d has all the time in the world, by nature of being G-d, but really.  The Baptists don’t want the Anabaptists telling them they can’t dunk the saved in a body of water.  The Quakers don’t want someone to tell them they have to have an officially designated pastor.  On and on.

Because the idea of the laws of the land being aligned with a religion is only comfortable if you happen to be a member of that religion.  The Taliban was fine for anyone who happened to both agree with them and not accidentally cross them by stealing bread to keep from starving to death.  You have plenty of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia if you are Muslim.  If not, well…

So the religious freedom of the founding fathers, who were, by and large, a bunch of Deists, not a collection of Evangelicals, was basically the freedom to be left the hell alone to believe what you wanted to believe.  The cost of that freedom being that you don’t get to tell your neighbor how to believe or how to live out that faith.  That is the price of owning the territory between your ears. You don’t get to police someone else’s thoughts.

In other words, this nonsense about the founding fathers and religious freedom being about your right to discriminate is pretty much bullshit.  The point of protecting true religious freedom is about realizing that you could just as well be in the minority belief system and what protections for your faith would you like to have in place to protect yourself?  Cause you better put them in while you are on top because, if history teaches us anything, it is that all hegemonies come to an end.

The funny thing is that the Christians who are squawking about religious freedom are trying to do exactly what they don’t want done to them.  The solution? Mind your business.  When G-d comes back, he is going to ask you about you. Your neighbor will have to answer for themselves.  Your only job is you, so get to work and stop worrying about other folks.

I should add a disclaimer here… I’m not Christian. I’m not anything else either.  My faith is so personally adapted it would be ridiculous to try and talk someone else into it.  I know this language and the mentality because I grew up in it, not because I claim it for any more than the sake of argument.  I believe in compassion.  I believe in minding your business.  And I believe in being able to account for yourself to whatever higher power exists with complete ownership over exactly and only you.  And if you can do that, you shouldn’t have any need to dictate what anyone else believes or does, most certainly not the stuff that involves consenting adults on the privacy of their own home.  Social order gets its own category because some people don’t know how to act.

Religious Freedom

Simple Everything

Late last month, I got mentioned in a tweet from a person/organization/entity promoting Simple Islam.  Not sure how or why they found or mentioned me, but they did.  I followed the link and read the opening article.

I don’t like religion.  I think there is something weird about sitting in a room where one person occupies a full 1/3 of the space to tell everyone sitting in the other 2/3ds of the room what to think, do, and believe.  In every judgement day belief system I’ve ever heard of, we are all destined to be judged based on the merits of our individual behaviors and beliefs.  And given that is the case, shouldn’t you be standing there on something you thought through and questioned thoroughly?  It isn’t like there is a pastor/imam/prophet that is going to put up their hand from the back of the crowd and say “no, no, this one is mine.  I told him what to do, therefore all your questions should be directed at me.”

(Note to self: if you want to know why I’m divorced, start there.)

So I don’t like religion.  I find the need to tell other people how to go about living and believing baffling.  But then maybe I’m easily baffled.  I think it is everyone’s obligation to think things through for themselves and to tend their own spiritual garden.  Worry about yourself.  There’s no need to tell other people how to do it.  Unfortunately, I’m in the minority.  Loads and loads of people find their lives vastly improved by the systematic belief system and community provided by religious structures.  And given that not everyone is content to wander an unmarked path, I like the simplification concept.  Go back to the basics.

Do the details of a religion really matter that much?  In Christianity, people argue and differentiate themselves over interpretations.  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?  Is it okay to baptize with a splash of water, or do you need full immersion?  Are we born evil?  What is the right day to worship on?  What is the right way to worship?  Does Revelation mean that there is going to be a rapture?  (Did anyone else see that we’re getting a rapture movie with Nicolas Cage?  Someone could have asked me and I would have pointed out, rightly, that this was a totally unnecessary addition to our cinematic history…)

Islam is equally tangled.  Who was the true successor to Mohammed?  Which scholar gets to be in charge?  The Sufi think jihad is an argument with themselves and they dance their way to prayer.  The Wahhabi think jihad happens at the end of a weapon.

What would happen if you cut out all the extras?  Islam means peace.  The path there is submission to Allah.  The five pillars of Islam are laudable.  What else do you need?  Same with Christianity: following the example of Jesus as depicted in the New Testament would make for some really nice, gentle, generous people.  And yet, I don’t know that many Christians that I’d count as gentle or generous.  My big sister is one.  After that?  Yeah, not that many in my personal acquaintance.

I’m unlikely to convince the world that organized religion is weird.  Could I talk someone into considering the radically simplified version of their religion of choice instead?

Simple Everything

My Biggest Problem

It may or may not be a mystery that I grew up in a super conservative Christian environment.  Not like rapture evangelicals, more like Mennonites.  No was a big thing for us.  No caffeine, no cigarettes, no meat, no dancing, no jewelry, no makeup, no premarital sex…  It was a long time ago.

I’m not a Christian any more, but I have a friend who is attending a Christian university and is struggling through a class on “the Christian worldview.”  I offered to help thinking that somehow having been immersed in the language and concepts for so long, I might be able to translate or something.  Instead, it would seem I end up saying “one of my biggest problems with Christianity is…” a lot.  Last night, he pointed this out as I was going into another of my frustrations with … well, really any religion that starts with the creation account and the fall of man.

Okay, so we’re made in God’s image.  Do we really think this means that God has a nose and requires oxygen to survive?  If He’s omnipresent and omnipotent and omniscient, doesn’t that kind of preclude having a body that is tied to time and place?  Probably.  So if we don’t look like God, what does that leave us?  What about Humans is different from all the other animals?  The only thing I can come up with is our ability to create.  To look at the world and imagine it as other than what it is.  To ask questions.  To ask why.

So if our ability to ask why and to create intentional change in the world is how God has created us like him, why would the first test of humanity be whether or not we can not ask questions and just obey because we’ve been asked to.  Have you ever met a three year old?  Seriously, God must not have known us at all if He thought  that we’d manage an eternity without ever asking “why not this tree?”  It was a question of time.

Already, you’ve got a conflict between the trust God has given us with the ability to think critically and imagine the world as other than what it is and the demand for unquestioning obedience.

We know that, given a choice between the two, Religion is always going to focus on the obedience.  The crew I grew up with certainly didn’t like questions.  They didn’t like people who thought out of the box.  They didn’t want to have to apply logic.

My conclusion? Trust nothing that gets between you and your responsibility to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

That covers the first of equal problems I have with the business.   That’s probably enough for one day.

My Biggest Problem

Faith & Fragility

My ex husband and I had a cross cultural, intra-faith relationship.  And by intra-faith, I mean he identified with one of the big 4 religions and I have my own idiosyncratic belief system.  He hated it when I asked questions.  I made him feel stupid.  At least that’s what he said.  I think it’s more likely that my questions made him uncomfortable.

Because what ever my question (usually starting with “why”) the answer was always that someone else – namely a religious figure of whatever stature or influence – had said this was the way it was.  He had read his holy text, but he’d never thought it through for himself.  And my questions about his belief system did not help in the effort to stay married.

It didn’t help when, standing in the shower together, I asked him if he would face judgement when God came back.

“Yes.”

“And you’ll get asked about your life and your choices, right?”

“Yes.”

“And is your religious authority of choice going to raise his hand from the back of the crowd and say ‘wait, wait, God Almighty, I got this one’ and speak for you?”

Silence.

“Well, if that isn’t how its going to go down, don’t you think you’d better come up with answers that you can stand behind?”

Silence.

Yeah.  We’ll call that a nail in the coffin of the marriage.

He could have asked me all kinds of questions about what I believe, and I could have answered them.  It wouldn’t have bothered me, because he couldn’t have pushed me any harder to come up with a defensible belief system than I pushed myself.  I know why I believe what I believe, I know why I do what I do.  My belief system isn’t so fragile that it can’t withstand a reasoned discussion.  If I had a holy text (which I don’t) you could burn that if you felt the need.  What does your act of rage have to do with my faith?

I think the more degrees of separation we have standing between ourselves and the things we believe – people, interpretative texts, cultural norms, traditions that no one questions – the more anxious and defensive we get about our faith.  When you’re confident that you can stand at judgement day (or any other day for that matter) and take complete ownership of the path that you’ve taken, then it really doesn’t matter what other people do or think.  Your direct connection to the divine/universe/source/G-d/Allah/whatever is not dependent on an external entity.

When your connection is based on rumor, hearsay, tradition, interpretation, etc…  how can you not be anxious?  If your belief system is dependent on any number of unknown external entities, then maybe the guy’s opinion down the street is a legitimate threat.  Maybe this book being burned, or that film being made, or that gay couple getting married, maybe all of that is relevant.  How would you know what mattered, or who could upend your world if your relationship to the divine wasn’t a monogamous arrangement?

Maybe it’s judgmental, but whenever I hear someone squawking about what other people are up to, I pretty much assume that the reason they’re so bothered is because their connection to their belief system isn’t intrinsic and organic, it’s a super-imposed structure that they can neither inhabit, defend, or explain.  When your belief system is organic and intrinsic, then what other people do with their free time isn’t relevant.

The further you get from owning your faith, the more fragile you are.

Just my two cents.

Faith & Fragility