Friday, September 25, 2009

Faith =/= Fauxgressive

Or, "Spirituality and/or Religion Don't Have to Be At Odds with Feminism!"

As much trouble as I sometimes have in reconciling my Pagan identity with my Christian one, sometimes it's even harder to reconcile the both of them with the fact that I am also a feminist. This is not so much because of anything that I believe or act on, but because of the unflattering light in which many other feminists tend to view those of us who have some kind of religious inclinations—especially Christian ones. I get that people have used Christianity in many horrible ways over the centuries, and that it's still being used as a cross-shaped bludgeon to beat down some of the most vulnerable people in the world. I get that having even a partially Christian identity is to have at least some Christian privilege and therefore one should be ready to examine that privilege at a moment's notice, especially after you've done something particularly boneheaded and offensive in the name of the Divine.

What I don't understand is why it's OK for members of a progressive movement to talk about Christianity like all members of all denominations believe ALL the same things, like it's perfectly right to condemn all of us—and yes, because of the "Christo" in "Christo-Pagan", I do think I have the right to say us here—for the terrible things that members of various Christian groups have done in the past, are doing in the present and will probably do in the future. To talk about all Christians (or even just most Christians) like we all hide behind the Cross as a "get out of Hell free" card without introspection, compassion or acknowledging it when we've screwed up and doing our best not to screw up in the same way again.

Do I think that there are people who do this? Yes, without a doubt. When I was growing up, I knew a few people who thought that it was enough to go to Confession and say a few prayers in penance for whatever it was they'd done to (or not done for) somebody else. I suspect that there are some in the congregation at my church who think that the weekly prayer for forgiveness ("Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed...") that's part of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Anglican Church means that whatever we've done during the week, it's OK now because we've told God we're sorry, even if we haven't done anything to make things better for the people we've hurt. But I don't think that all Christians are this hypocritical. I don't think all of us think that we've got the only moral way to live, the only valid spiritual preference, the One True Right and Only Way. To say that we're all that way would be a mistake that's every bit as harmful as the one that some Christians make when they say that all atheists and all non-Christians are evil and immoral people.

Even so, I do understand the reasons behind some of those ideas. I would never have left the Roman Catholic faith if I didn't understand them to some degree. I got tired of hearing that women couldn't be part of the priesthood. I got tired of hearing nonsense about people going to Hell because of their sexual orientation. I got tired of the self-congratulatory tone of a lot of the charitable work that was done in my (very Catholic) school—remember, I was in my early teen years when I consciously left the Catholic faith. I was tired of the narrow-mindedness of so many of Jesus' followers, and I admit that I lost sight of the fact that Jesus himself was far from being narrow-minded and hateful. So many people take his message of love and turn it into an elitist message of condemnation for anyone who isn't Christian and part of their own particular denomination, which is (Surprise! Surprise!) the One True Right and Only Way. I won't lie, there's a certain amount of that in the Anglican Church, too, but in my experiences with this denomination, I've found that it's not quite as front-and-centre as it was in the denomination into which I was baptized.

I'm aware that a lot of the history of the various denominations of Christianity has been full of hatred and malicious behaviour. As a person qualified to teach History, I can't ignore that—and even more so because I'm a person of (dual) faith. I've seen it from both sides. When I was a child, I saw through prejudiced eyes because I simply hadn't been taught any better, and I didn't have the resources to learn on my own until I'd reached my teens. And since then, I've had to conceal the true nature of my spirituality from some of the people who I love the most because I know that they would not accept my Pentacle or my Elven Star—I know for a fact that my dad would outright hate me for them, and I doubt that most of the people in my church choir would understand why I'm drawn to them, and to what they symbolize, as much as I'm drawn to the Anglican Church.

Even as I understand the anger and ambivalence (or at least antipathy) that I often see directed at Christianity—I embraced them once myself, after all, not much more than a decade ago—it does bother me when, not stopping at enumerating their reasons for disliking Christianity, and often other religions as well, people go on to cast insults at those who do follow that path. People who pray are dismissed as "talking to themselves". Belief in the Divine is scoffed at as a childish superstition. I know that there are people whose idea of the Christian faith as a whole has been soured by the unacceptable actions of some of its members, from the Bible-thumping proselytizers who've made it their life's work to shove their beliefs down everyone else's throats, to the genocidal missionaries who used smallpox as a weapon against the inhabitants of the "New World" (an ugly Eurocentric phrase if I ever saw one), to the bloodthirsty minds behind the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades, and that the closed-mindedness of so many of this religion's current followers has, quite frankly, given the rest of us a pretty bad name. It's insulting to tell an atheist that you'll pray for them. But it's equally insulting for that atheist to tell a person of any religion or spirituality that their beliefs are bullshit. Christians may be the privileged ones in this discussion, so it's easier (and sometimes much more valid) to take shots at them, but let's just remember: every person has their own truth, and it's not for anyone else to say they're wrong unless that person is likely to cause harm to others through acting on their beliefs.

Bottom line: I'll respect your choice not to believe, and your reasons for doing so—but it is only fair that you give my beliefs the same respect as I give your choices. It's not about privilege or who's really right. It's about a principle that I've always believed in, but that I've never heard expressed any better than it's heard in one of my very favourite films:

Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes!

1 comment:

  1. I think the media and FB memes fuel our knee-jerk reactions to each others faith or religion (or lack there of). Not enough 'giving folks the benefit of a doubt' when something a little bit 'off' or stupid is said? When it comes to Christianity, the media automatically ALWAYS seems to interview the same right-wing crazies... never the progressives who better represent what Jesus was about. And the media loves to portray witches as evil and old, or sexpots (!)... and heathens as Nazis. So the media 'colors' how we see the 'other' in always an unflattering way.