Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Soap bubbles

I have a tattoo on the back of my neck from when I visited Australia in 2005. It's generally covered by my hair, so people rarely see or comment on it. Someone recently did notice it when I was working out and had my hair up.

Her: "My friend who lives across the street is Australian."

Me: "Oh?"

Her: "Well, she's not really my friend anymore. She was, but, you know. I'm friendly, I like everybody, but you don't mess with my kids."

That seemed a reasonable position. Being a new mother I've not yet had the experience first hand, but most of my friends with children have retreated from a relationship due to the disregard of some kid-related boundary. The woman to whom I was speaking seems to be very kind from what I know of her. She's quite pleasant about everyone and everything, usually upbeat, and I don't think I've ever heard her genuinely complain about anything. The story she told wasn't at all what I was expecting. She continued:

"Well, my kid would go over there sometimes, and once he was playing a video game with some guy who had on a 'Jesus Rocks' t-shirt. My neighbor starts saying..."

At this point I must note that she broke into a pretty fair fake Aussie accent. I was impressed

"...Ohhhhh, I don't believe in Jeeeeesus like that. I just think he was like Elvis or whatever."

I stared at her blankly for a moment, waiting to hear the rest of the story. I think she noticed my confusion, because she began to elaborate.

"I don't care what people believe, or whatever, but my kids were raised to believe Jesus is Our Lord, and we may not go to church, really, but that's how they were raised and what they believe. My son was very disturbed and came home asking me 'Mom, why would she say that about The Lord?'"

From there she explained that she spoke to her neighbor and requested that such things not be said in front of her son anymore. The neighbor apparently launched into a tirade about how her kid is a giant brat - which isn't really a mature response and seems to be how those kinds of parental interactions go all too often. In reality, it sounds like the friendship ended because the neighbor went on the defensive rather than respecting this woman's boundaries. The boundary she was attempting to establish perplexes me, though.

Being a parent is difficult, and trying to navigate how to introduce the world to your kid can be intimidating. I can understand wanting to limit your child's exposure to things that may upset or disturb them. I plan on limiting my son's exposure to violent imagery, for instance, until he's old enough to process it. The bit that has me flummoxed is the notion that people having different beliefs is somehow disturbing or upsetting. This, to me, seems like a missed opportunity to have a discussion about diversity of belief. There are people in this world who don't believe anything about Jesus at all. A lot of them, in fact. This kid will eventually encounter them, and I'm not entirely sure how this mother will expect him to react when he does.

I'm certainly not advocating this as an opportunity to proselytize either direction as the circumstance was likely inappropriate. From what little information I was given it sounded like the neighbor merely mentioned her point of view in passing. Additionally, my understanding is that the boy is currently in or very close to middle school. I'm not sure how he was even able to avoid the existence of non-christians before this point.

The tendency Bizarro Christians have to want to avoid acknowledging the existence of things they disagree with is, frankly, disrespectful to everyone involved. They home school their children, or send them to private religious schools. They shelter them as much as possible, and then just sort of release them into the world completely unequipped to deal with all of the new and exciting adventures on which they’ll embark. This transition is never a graceful one, and usually results in the sheltered child being traumatized and lashing out at whatever or whomever they encounter that they don’t understand.

This is one of the many reasons young christians give most people the impression that they’re giant douchebags.

This also manifests itself in a much more sinister way. The Bizarro Christian legislators want to simply erase or even violently destroy anything they’re uncomfortable with. Their sights are currently set on – in no particular order - science, women, GLBTQs, Muslims, immigrants (or anyone sort of brownish or who speaks Spanish), the poor, and the sick. They also have their sights set on teachers and unions, but I find that to be an extension of their distaste for science, women, poor people and people of color.

I wish the GLBTQ community could unionize, just to give republicans an aneurysm.

The notion of being “in the world but not of the world” is quite popular among American evangelicals. When I was a teenager, this essentially meant eschewing rock music for incredibly insipid christian facsimiles. What it appears to have become is a desire to separate out everything in the world that could possibly threaten or contradict Bizarro Christianity as a paradigm and then dismiss, ignore or destroy those things.

As much damage as they do, Bizarro Christians cannot destroy the rest of the world – at least, not anytime soon. Hiding from or smashing anything that makes you consider your faith on a more sophisticated level weakens it. This soap-bubble faith that must be protected from the rest of the world at all costs simply won’t survive in the long term. Unfortunately, it’ll do quite a bit of damage in the interim.

1 comment:

  1. As an Israeli I find this post very relevant. Here in my country we often give thought to the limits of tolerating other people's beliefs and opinions. The conclusion is usually that there is an inherent asymmetry between secular and religious views, since one of them can tolerate the presence of the other while the other cannot. In my opinion, religious people claim too much in the name of their belief. Secular people tolerate views and practices that impinge on their own liberties because they can live with different people around them. Also, in Israel, there is some all-prevailing guilt among secular Jews for not being advent enough, which gives precedence to religious demands.

    I think that humanist beliefs should be held in the same regard as religious ones. For example, the oppression of women is highly offensive towards any liberal person's feelings, just like selling pork is offensive to the religious feelings of an advent Jew. Your friend's way of raising her children may not be tolerated by a country that wishes its citizens to hold to the value of pluralism. Liberal people should stand up for their rights.

    I think that if a person is part of a society or a country, they cannot raise their children exactly as they want to. It is a bit disturbing, admittedly, because it means that you are unavoidably affected by your environment in a negative way. But there is no getting away from the compromises that must be made in order for people to live together.