Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"...this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."

Perhaps the title for this post wasn't the best thought-out, given that it's arguably racist (it's a quote from Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Prospero's talking about his slave, Caliban, who is frequently portrayed as being non-white).  Nonetheless, it was the only title that came to mind that I didn't absolutely hate, so I hope that you'll forgive the infraction.

The thing is, a number of things that I've been seeing, reading, and experiencing have lately had me thinking about the darker side of people's personalities.  Regardless of whether we admit to having them, we all do.  All of us have thoughts and desires that, if we're basically decent human beings, disturb us or make us wonder if we're really the good people that we want to be.  (Or, if you want to be cynical or are experiencing a period of self-doubt, you might say that these things make us wonder if we're really the good people that we pretend to be.)  Nobody thinks or acts with perfect love at all times.  And yet, so many people have such a drive to be kind, to make this world a better place, despite these things we try to keep buried, to hide from others and perhaps especially ourselves.

It's such a temptation to pretend that these less-admirable qualities of ours don't exist, and it occurs to me that it is not necessarily a wise thing to do.

Wouldn't it be better if we were able to openly acknowledge these things about ourselves?  How effective is it to bury these things, knowing that they're never really all that far away from the surface?  I'm not saying that we should actually indulge these harmful aspects of ourselves, but I do think that it's far healthier to admit that they exist and try to actually live with them rather than to try to sweep them under the rug and pretend that they don't exist, despite the strange shapes that they make under the surface that we're futilely pretending is flat.  And in fact, perhaps the one positive thing that I've found has come as a result of having experienced serious, long-term depression is this: I've been forced to confront these demons of mine.  I've never had the luxury of ignoring them.  And every time I feel like I'm going to relapse, I have to confront them again, if only because I know from experience that if I try to ignore my personal demons, my mental and emotional state will only get worse.

I won't list them, but anyone who's been following this blog for a while will probably be able to figure out what at least one or two of them are.

When my character flaws come to surface as they occasionally do, I deal with the problems that result in several different ways.  Usually, my first impulse is to write out what's bothering me; if I can put what I'm feeling into words, it will almost always calm me so that I can deal with my emotions in a more productive manner.  (In the words of John Donne: "Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,/ For he tames it, who fetters it in verse."*)  The results of this tactic, of course, sometimes end up here, or in a locked post on a blog that I write on another site under another name.  Sometimes I'll resort to meditation, or if I can't concentrate on that because I'm too upset, I amuse myself by playing Vice City in order to do some stupid car tricks (I've edited a couple of the cars so that they're almost indestructible and will travel far faster than their default settings would allow for), picking up my violin and playing very fast; tunes like Catharsis or a fiddle adaptation of The Hellbound Train are particular favourites of mine for moments of intense frustration, perhaps especially because I don't play them perfectly, or, if I can be reasonably sure that nobody will hear me, singing something with a lot of high notes—or even one very cathartic high note, like "Stay" by Shakespears Sister. (That note actually is in my range, though I don't so much "hit" it as "pulverize" it, so it's not actually a sound that you ever want to hear me make.  Still, I often feel better after I've sung that song because it just feels good to produce that high note.)  And when all else fails, I take a good long walk, moving as fast as I can for as long as my feet are willing to carry me.  And then I rest for a while, think (or write) about what's been bothering me, and make my way back home.

I know that none of these things will ever solve whatever problem I'm encountering, but I still consider them to be a good start; they give me a chance to tame the negative emotions that I'm experiencing so that I can actually think clearly enough to do something about whatever is causing the problem.  It's my form of acknowledging those demons of mine without actually letting them take over, especially as most of my character flaws tend to be emotional in nature.

I'm not suggesting that everyone has to do these things, of course.  However, I do think that, rather than just ignore one's shadow side or try to pretend it doesn't exist, it's far more practical and constructive to take a good look at it—shine a bright enough light so that it can be seen, so to speak—and come up with ways to deal with it.  It's a profoundly uncomfortable processs, of course, but I would argue that it's also a necessary one.

After all, it's awfully difficult to figure out precisely what darkness and light really are unless you've taken a good, hard look at both.  Or at least, that's been my experience.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@ --,--'--@

*"The Triple Fool"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Enough Already!

Courtesy of a friend's Facebook feed: here is something that makes me very, very angry.  And courtesy of the group in whose photo album that picture is posted, here's a statement about Christianity that starts out with a fair point, though one that's a bit of a straw man in places, but which descends into little more than a slightly more eloquent version of "these people are all scum."

I realize that a group with the name "Strong Intelligent Women Choosing Equality & Freedom Instead Of Religion" is hardly going to be sympathetic to anything that even has a slight whiff of religion to it.  I understand that they have a certain interest in portraying themselves as being more intelligent than people of any kind of faith, and that they will prefer to see religion as an oppressive and evil force that holds no value in their lives and ought not to be valuable to anyone.  And in all fairness, given the fact that I left the Roman Catholic Church for some similar reasons, I admit that I can even sort of see their point.  Still, it makes me angry that people who see themselves as intelligent and strong are so adamant that anyone who hasn't embraced atheism as they have has to be stupid and malicious.

It's not just the repetition of these tired old stereotypes and attacks—and I do view the way that all Christians are routinely equated with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church or the guy holding the sign in that first picture as a sort of attack, as by far most of the people I've known in my life who are Christians are actually pretty decent people, with (gasp!) functional brains and well-developed consciences—that makes me angry.  It's the fact that so many Christians, people with whom I share some elements of belief, are expected to be judgemental and misogynistic anti-intellectual assholes, particularly since so many vocal and/or high-profile Christians insist on being judgemental and misogynistic anti-intellectual assholes.  It's the way that it's so popular to either embrace the worst hateful, misogynistic, and destructive things (and it's a decided understatement to say that there are some absolutely awful things in the Bible) or harp on the horrible stuff as if that's all there is.

On both sides, and in very different ways, there often seems to be a willing ignorance about (or perhaps even the suppression of) the kinder, gentler things that appear in the Bible.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye.
—Matthew 7:1-5

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'  Then the righeous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  And the king will answer them, 'Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'
—Matthew 25:34-40

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
—Luke 12:48

How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
—1 John 3:17-18

These passages, and ones like them, are the reasons why I'm able to blend the basic religious framework in which I grew up with the more Earth-centred, female-friendly, and inclusive spirituality that I developed in my years as a total Pagan.  This is why I haven't totally abandoned Christianity and this is why I believe that it is, at its most basic level, compatible with my Pagan beliefs and practices.  There's love there, and compassion, too.  There are reminders that no matter how self-centred we can get, we are not the centre of the universe and we owe other people, and the world itself, our kindness and generosity.  And the more we have, the more we have a duty to share, or at least to work for a world in which those who do not have as much as we do will still have a decent quality of life.

Don't tell me that I can't believe in these things, or that I can't possibly acknowledge the importance of science (I do), or that I'm a misogynist or an anti-choicer or a person who thinks that women ought to shut up and be kept pregnant and dependent on men (I'm not) just because to me, one of the faces of the Divine is Jesus of Nazareth.  If you do, you're doing yourself no favours and you're doing me (and people like me) a lot of harm.

It's one thing to dislike Christianity because of the bad things that it's been used as an excuse for, and because of the less-than-compassionate aspects of the Bible.  That's fair game.  But to hate all of it outright, to blast it (and the people who follow one of its many paths) for the bad things and completely disregard the good without regard to the fact that many people are inspired to do good things because of it, are inspired to be better people by it (and not just because of the threat of Hell that the churches have disproportionately emphasized through the centuries for their own purposes and gain), there's no excuse for that.  The anger may well be justifiable, but the misrepresentation and disdain are not.  It's entirely possible to disagree with people of other creeds without having to stoop to insults, straw arguments, lies, and half-truths garnished with conveniently unpleasant truths.  All it does is antagonize people.  This kind of hate, as with any other kind, doesn't help anyone.