xmas eve

I started a rather long post last week that maunders on about the broken ways we talk about discrimination and privilege in our society. I plan on finishing it (it may be a multi-post effort), but it needs some revising and editing. I do have a tendency to go on and on. So instead I’m focusing on the holidays.

Today we’ll be spending the afternoon/evening with extended family, which I’m looking forward to. I’m trying out a new recipe for bienenstich cake, a German pastry. I made the sponge for the brioche on Sunday night. The recipe recommended letting it “ripen” for a day, so on Tuesday I added the rest of the components for the brioche dough and let it rise again. Then I put it in the fridge to firm up overnight and this morning I made the honey-almond glaze and set it up for the third rising.

I hope it turns out. I’ve never done a yeast-based cake before, and the recipe I’m using didn’t do a great job of translating European measurements to American measurements. I really wish we’d get on the metric system with the rest of the civilized world.

For gifts, I’ve gone with a dual approach: Far-flung recipients received candy shipped to them from the internet or Shutterfly photo gifts. Recipients within driving distance receive the (dubious) benefit of my crafty creativity, from hand-painted jars of cookie mix to homemade dolls to crocheted items.

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Hand-painted jars with cookie mix

A topsy-turvy doll in progress (Anna/ Elsa)

A topsy-turvy doll in progress (Anna/ Elsa)

A topsy-turvy doll in progress (Elsa/ Anna)

A topsy-turvy doll in progress (Elsa/ Anna)

A purple ninja doll.

A purple ninja doll

I don’t have pictures of the crocheted items to show, because I didn’t think to take pictures until gifts were half-wrapped. Anyway, obviously I’ve been pretty busy with painting and sewing and baking and whatnot, so I haven’t had quite as much time to write blog posts or even on my book. That said, I did write at least 500 words this week on my manuscript, so yay me?

I’m pretty stoked about Christmas this year. Well, honestly, every year. It doesn’t matter how many holiday seasons I see, I keep loving Christmas best. I found a recipe for these cookies my mom used to make around the holidays: Chocolate Mint Surprise Cookies. I’ve baked several batches of those, and I’ve also tried my hand at gingerbread cookies. I think next year I’m going to try a Yule Log.

Kidling wanted to do an Advent Calendar this year, but we forgot. I’m thinking next year, we’ll do an Advent Calendar and maybe figure out a way to incorporate some version of the Advent wreath. Although my family was not Catholic, we did an Advent wreath every year — I think my parents picked it up while in Germany. Each Sunday during December, we would gather ’round the family dinner table in the evening to light a candle on the Advent wreath. I think my mom or dad would also read the story from the Bible about Joseph and Mary traveling to Jerusalem, but I’m not 100% on that aspect. It seems to fit in with my family traditions — my parents were all about making sure Jesus was front and center in our holiday festivities and Santa was a backseat character. What I remember most, though, was the rice pudding served when we lit the Advent wreath. One of the bowls of rice pudding would have an almond hidden in it, and whoever received the almond got a little present.

I think we can probably do a version of the Advent wreath that acknowledges the Christian origin myths underpinning our personal family histories while also drawing in the overall religious/ solstice reasons we celebrate the holiday. I think that would be a good tradition to start/ continue in our family.

worldviews through film, cont.

Haha, I mixed up my entries. I was writing these in advance and scheduling them, and I accidentally posted worldviews through film, cont. (again) before this one. Durrr. So, this one was supposed to come between that one and examining a worldview through filmThat’s my bad. I left the first entry wondering how films like Beauty & the Beast influenced my feminist values and attitudes on relationships.

Beauty & the Beast

Now, Beauty & the Beast gets a lot of flack these days in Disney Princess critiques as a “classic” tale of Stockholm Syndrome. I disagree. Belle left the Beast. She was like, “Yo, I am not putting up with your abusive B.S. anymore, I am out.” And she left.

Image credit: Disney

I don’t know why absolutely no-one seems to remember this, but Belle chose to stay only because the Beast was injured. Remember? The wolves attacked? Beast fought them off and collapsed in a bloody and injured heap to the ground? Then Belle was like, “Kay, cool, I’m still out –“

Image credit: Fanpop/ Disney

And then she’s like, “Damnit, he just saved my life and he’s laying there all bleeding and stuff. I have to help him back.”

So she takes him back to the palace and ministers to him, and then (because it’s late and it’s dangerous and there are wolves outside), she stays the night. Then what happens? The Beast begins to grow and change. It didn’t happen all at once, but the effort he puts forth in altering his negative habits of interaction is clear.

Image credit: Disney

To me, this was always a story about believing in the essentially good nature/ intentions of others. Belle is compassionate, but strong. She has a spine.

Image credit: Disney

She stands up for herself when she’s really scared, but she’s also accepting and curious and willing to explore a new paradigm. She is kind, and she saves both the Beast and herself by being a genuinely good person.

I’m not saying the movie is flawless, but I do think the biggest flaw with Beauty & the Beast is totally different from some armchair psychoanalysis claim of Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, the biggest problem with Beauty & the Beast is that it perpetuates the myth that the love of a good woman (or person) can change a bad partner.

This message is (somewhat) mitigated by the presence of Gaston — clearly a “bad boy,” but also just as clearly impervious to the influence of Belle’s good nature, despite the fact that he thinks he loves her. And Belle is clear-eyed enough to see past Gaston’s posturing and recognize that his handsome face and apparent interest in her hide a cruel and dangerous personality.

Image credit: Disney

As a mormon woman, I was supposed to want what Gaston was proposing — to be a little wife, massaging his feet while the little ones play by the fire. Maybe not literally, but the idea, the concept was there. I was supposed to want to subsume my needs to the needs of my husband and family, and I knew that. I had gotten the message loud and clear through numerous lessons and activities from the example of the adult women in my life. I knew that my education and any potential career goals were to come second to family.

This wasn’t something that particularly appealed to me, but then, neither did being a primary teacher. I figured god knew best, or something. Plus, it wasn’t like I was thrilled at the prospect balancing a family and a career — even as a kid, I could see that our culture puts much more pressure on women as parents than men. Since I never questioned my desire for a large family until after my first (and only) child was born, clearly it was the “career” aspect of that equation I was going to have to sacrifice. (clarification: This is all teenage-me rationalizations — clearly my stance on all of these issues has changed).

Belle was the first iteration of a sort of third way, a balance between the caricature of man-hating feminism I was internalizing and the fawning subsumation of self I was supposed to seek out. She was someone who exemplified the traits of loyalty, fidelity, and sacrifice that were lauded by the religious teachings permeating my life, but she also exhibited intelligence, resolve, and independence. She followed her morals, even when everyone around her was pressuring her to stop making waves and just fit in. She stood up for herself. She scowled in the face of danger, and I loved her for that.

In later years, the early lessons instilled in me by Beauty & the Beast would be expanded on in Dangerous Beauty, the incredible story of a woman who chooses to become a courtesan and acquire an education rather than marry or enter a nunnery.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

The film is based on the true story of Veronica Franco, one of the first published female authors and a groundbreaking feminist. There is a scene in the film where Veronica, who has been accused of witchcraft by the corrupt and biased court of the Inquisition, “confesses” her sins, saying:

“I confess that as a young girl I loved a man who would not marry me for want of a dowry. I confess I had a mother who taught me a different way of life, one I resisted at first but learned to embrace. I confess I became a courtesan, traded yearning for power, welcomed many rather than be owned by one. I confess I embraced a whore’s freedom over a wife’s obedience. I confess I find more ecstacy in passion than in prayer. Such passion is prayer. … if I had lived any other way-a child to her husband’s will, my soul hardened from lack of touch and lack of love… I confess such endless days and nights would be a punishment far greater than you could ever mete out. You, all of you, you who hunger so for what I give yet cannot bear to see that kind of power in a woman. You call God’s greatest gift — ourselves, our yearning, our need to love-you call it filth and sin and heresy… I repent there was no other way open to me. I do not repent my life.”

To give you an idea of how much this movie meant to me, consider that I first saw it when I was still living at home, and it’s rated R. I was raised in the type of observant LDS home that eschewed all R-rated films because a prophet had, at some point, indicated it was better to avoid that sort of thing. So in order to watch and re-watch my latest film obsession, I had to secretly rent it multiple times and watch it late at night, when no-one knew.

My mom did eventually catch me watching it, and I was able to argue my case to continue watching it based on the historical basis for the film — this is the same argument, by the way, that let me watch Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans, despite their R-ratings. I invoked the history and literary aspects, as well as the fact that if the Bible or the Book of Mormon were made into a film, they would definitely be rated R … but I digress.

Veronica Franco is one of the most inspiring characters I’ve ever come across in film, and I think it’s really sad that Dangerous Beauty is seen as soft-core porn by most people. This is really an amazing film with stunning performances. The character of Veronica Franco is like Belle in that she is intelligent, principled, loyal, compassionate, and strong-willed. She loves wholly and completely, but she doesn’t confused sex with love.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

It was also important to sexually-active mormon-girl me that she was unashamed of her sexuality. It sent a really positive message about sexual empowerment and safe sex to young and inexperienced me. I still struggled with my sexuality and temptations, but I didn’t view sex as inherently sinful. I viewed the religious restrictions on sex as a test of self-control, not something that determined my character or value.

I was able to further reconcile this view by scriptures stories ranging from Esther’s sensuous dance to save her people to Jesus defending the prostitute from being stoned. Here was the bible showing sexual empowerment as a means to freedom, and condemnation for those who could not forgive sexual transgressions. I believe it is this reading of the scriptures that allowed me, when I finally left religious traditions, to easily shed the emotional and mental hangups related to sexual shaming that is so common in the religious traditions of my experience.

Dangerous Beauty movie was the first piece of media to introduce the idea to me that sexual monogamy and love were not mutually exclusive. This is also the film that introduced the idea to me that sex/ objectification as commodities can go both ways — that a woman who is willing and able to do so can choose to subvert the patriarchal rules of a male-dominant society to her own benefit.

I also admired the way this film laid out the different choices available to Veronica. It balanced both emotion and pragmatism as it outlined the pros and cons of the futures available to her. As a wife, Veronica would be socially respectable, but her education would be left uncompleted and she would be completely beholden to the wishes of her husband. She would not have much, if any, choice in her suitors, and because of Veronica’s station in life, she would likely not attract the attentions of a wealthy young man — she would either be consigned to a well-off but elderly husband, or a poverty-stricken, dissolute, and handsome young man. Love would not factor into the relationship. She and her husband would essentially be strangers on their wedding night, and the decorum of church-sanctioned relations would stifle their intimacies.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

As a nun, Veronica would be free of the demands and control of a husband while still benefiting from the privileges of a respected social position, but she would be subjected to the rules and regulations of a nunnery. Vanity, disobedience, individuality, and curiosity would be discouraged.

As a courtesan, Veronica has access to the world of men. She can continue her education, have access to all the books she likes, participate in politics, and even learn to fence. In exchange she will trade her body, her status as a respectable woman, and her safety. Her success hinges on her looks and youth — if a jealous lover mars her face or figure, she will become a common street whore, destitute and bereft. If she can’t parlay her wit and beauty into success while she’s young, then she will die alone and in poverty.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

She knows it’s dangerous. She knows she’s trading stability and respectability for the chance to hold onto freedom, and she chooses intellectual and political freedom at the cost of personal safety. I really admire that about her. Plus, Veronica is smart, sarcastic, and quick-witted. She’s the x-rated version of Belle; the Disney princess all grown up — and unlike Disney’s Belle, Veronica Franco actually existed.

More than that, she actually stood up against the Inquisition and held her own. As I write this, I realize that Dangerous Beauty influenced more than just my feminist tendencies. This film was a key factor in shaping my view of religious institutions as prone to being infiltrated by the weak-minded and jealous, not to mention separated from their humanity by rigid and unyielding interpretations of doctrine that get passed down as moral authority.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

Discovering that women like her have been challenging the status quo since time immemorial was incredibly important to me. When everyone you’ve ever known is telling you that feminism is a newfangled modern invention that goes against the intended order of man, it casts the whole notion as a sort of childish rebelliousness. But when you realize that feminists have been objecting to patriarchal structures of power from the beginning, it really changes the tone of the discourse. Belle introduced me to feminist ideals, but Veronica gave those ideals form and history.

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examining a worldview through film

I am realizing as an adult how much the media I consumed as a child shaped my attitudes and worldviews. It’s weird, because I’ve never considered myself much of a movie buff. I could write a much longer entry — reams of entries — on the influences books have had on my character and worldview. A few years ago I took this film studies class, and ever since then there’s been a sort of ongoing realization that films have really influenced and shaped how I see and interact with the world, and I honestly did not realize how much of an impact they had.

I guess I find myself thinking of this at odd moments because of how very diverse the worldviews of my siblings and I are, and I can’t help but wonder how media influenced these differences. I mean, we were all raised in the same household and same religious tradition by the same parents, who provided us with the same opportunities and same discipline styles. We attended the same schools, and shared many of the same teachers. We grew up in the same ward. My two oldest siblings might recall living in Germany, but they were both under 10 years of age when we moved back to the states, so I know that we shared a pretty substantial portion of our upbringing in the same environment.

Yet as adults, we’re wildly diverse in political and religious beliefs. Two of my siblings are TBM’s (true believing mormons). One is a nonbeliever, like me. One is religiously inclined, but not toward mormonism. In terms of politics, my siblings and I range from left-leaning socialist democrat/ progressive (me) to moderate to right-wing conservative leaning libertarian. Is it nature or nurture?

As our differences have become more apparent through our adult lives, I find myself trying to trace the differing influences that shaped our formative years. I know it’s a losing battle, because even if I could point to, say, my love of Newsies and exclaim, “Aha! This is why I’m pro-workers rights, and none of you are!” that doesn’t really explain it, because personality factors in.

Anyway, I’ve determined a few movies that I’m pretty sure had a much bigger effect on me than any of us realized at the time. These are films that I used to watch over and over, and that I adored for reasons I couldn’t always articulate at the time. They’re movies that I continue to have a deep, personal connection to. Movies like …

Disney’s Robin Hood

Image credit: Disney.wikia.com

Robin Hood is the classic tale of robbing the rich to feed the poor. The brave hero faces ostracization, imprisonment, and even death in order to undermine a corrupt government/ social order and spread the wealth. He’s the first anti-hero I learned to love.

Image credit: Fanpop/ Disney

Image credit: Fanpop/ Disney

I shared a room with my sister when I was young, and I recall us once having a whispered night-time argument about how much I liked Robin Hood. At some point, my sister accused my of loving Robin Hood more than I loved Jesus. I heatedly denied it, but was secretly terrified that it might be true.

In my teens, I became really interested in the mythos of Robin Hood. I checked out every book I could find on the history of the legend. I even taught myself some rudimentary Old English and Old French so I could study the images of primary sources included in some of the resource texts. I watched every Robin Hood film and read books like Sherwood, by Parke Godwin.

The story caught me, I think, because so many versions cast him as a person born into privilege who opts out of a corrupt and elitist system. But he doesn’t stop at just eschewing the privileges he was born into, he actively combats those privileges. He fights to undermine the corruption of the social system, and to redistribute the wealth that has concentrated into the hands of an elitist few.

Image credit: Disney

Perhaps in defense against my sister’s childish accusation, I also found parallels between the Jesus and Robin Hood mythos. Both men saw how privileged and inequal the world was, and both chose to address this social disparity by undermining the claims of the powerful. Both took steps to put the power into the hands of the people and redistribute riches. Robin Hood robs the rich to feed the poor, and Jesus specifically tells the wealthy that the only way to get into heaven is to renounce all their possessions and follow him. He actually says it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to get into heaven.

That’s some socialist freaking agenda right there, and I love it! This basic story arc, of the rebel going against the social order on behalf of the downtrodden, remains a favorite of mine to this day. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to prefer the narratives that showcase an ordinary person who inspires a community to come together and revolt against an unfair status quo as opposed to the individual-as-savior story arc.

Now, did I develop my stance in favor of democratic socialism and spreading the wealth because of the myths of Robin Hood and Jesus, or was I attracted to those stories because my personality predisposed me to connecting with theses types of stories? I don’t know. It’s a good question. I have similar questions about how films like Beauty & the Beast influenced my view of relationships and feminism, which I’ll explore in a later entry.

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Mainstream is not Controversial

There’s a funny thing that happens in places like Washington. We’re a little liberal corner of the world, unnoticed by most. I often joke that the national news stops in Oregon. When Colorado legalized pot, the time zones and news cycle made it huge news: The first state to legalize pot! Even now, most news stories seem to focus on how pot legalization is rolling out in Colorado. Hardly anyone seemed to notice or mention that Washington legalized both pot and gay marriage in one fell swoop.

Someone once told me Washington has the highest amount of churches per capita, and the lowest attendance. We’re home to The Evergreen State College, a highly respected liberal arts college. We have the highest minimum wage in the country, and rank among America’s wealthiest states. In 2012, the median household income in Washington was $57,573, while the national median household income was $51,37. It’s a beautiful state, is what I’m saying — not just in terms of clean air, plentiful wildlife, and beautiful state parks, but in terms of liberal state policies.

It does have problems — all states do. Washington, for example, has a population that is almost 86% white, which means most white Washingtonians are raised and interact in largely white-only populations. This creates an interesting situation where many of the left-leaning liberal anti-racism Washingtonians are actually pretty uneducated about race relations, and often labor under the mistaken conclusion that racism as a whole is in the past, and people of color experience no real fallout from racism.

In fact, Washington’s biggest problem is a sort of persistent denial that racism, misogyny, anti-atheism (or paganism, or any non-Christian religion), and homophobia are still pretty damn mainstream and well-accepted in large swathes of America. One of the most frustrating and frequent conversations I find myself having in my little liberal corner of the ‘verse is debating the existence of discrimination (or worse, that “reverse discrimination” is a thing).

Something I want to say to everyone who earnestly argues things like, “We don’t need to worry about the girls, we need to worry about the boys,” or, “The only people who won’t say [n-word] are people who are afraid of looking racist. It’s just a word,” or that workers who look for higher wages are lazy and unambitious: Your views are not controversial. They are not new.

It might seem like you’re adopting a radical philosophy because you happen to be enmeshed in a tiny liberal little corner of the country and world, and your particular social group likely does not agree with your stance — but if you move to pretty much any small town (even in liberal states like Washington!) or any stretch of the midwest or South, your views become the norm. Your views are the status quo. Your “controversial” opinions are the tired, worn out arguments that are repeated ad nauseum across the internet, news media, marketing world, and history books to justify discrimination of all sorts. You are the status quo, mindlessly repeating the bill of goods you’ve been sold.

I want to say this, but I don’t. Because I have said it, in the past, and I know what the response is. They say, no, I’m wrong. I’m close minded. I just am refusing to hear their response. In online debates, they read the first three lines of my response and angrily type out their rebuttal without ever reaching the body or the conclusion.

I did not grow up identifying as atheist, or feminist, or as an LGBT ally. I was not raised in an environment or culture where pro-union sentiment, progressive politics, and critical race theory were taught.

Religiously, I was raised LDS. I was baptized at 8 years old, and I was taught that men were the natural leaders of the household and religious institutions. I was taught that women existed as complements to men, to be helpmeets, mothers, and eternal companions. I learned, and believed, that I could not achieve the highest levels of heaven without a husband. I believed watching porn was a sin akin to adultery. I believed divorce was the sundering of the most sacred and special relationship available on earth. I was taught I was a warrior in the “Rising Generation,” and I believed that I was among the select, chosen by God to bring His word to the world in the last days. I was taught that Mormons were hated and discriminated against, that lies were told about us, and that we were persecuted. As a pre-teen, I wrote a short story (and imagined a longer novel) about a dystopian future where an anti-religious secularist government rounded up all the Mormons into concentration camps in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada — and I didn’t think it was an insane impossibility.

My parents voted Republican — my mom even campaigned for Nixon — and so when I turned 18, I voted Republican. I was anti-abortion. I didn’t even know homosexuality was a thing until I was 17. I didn’t think about gay sex or relationships or rights. My schools were largely populated with white people — “diversity” to me meant the students of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean descent. We had some native Hawai’ians in our ward who used to do a traditional hula/ fire dance at ward talent shows. I had four black classmates in middle school, but when a new high school opened up the following year, I went to the established school while they (and all the other “urban” students in the area) went to the newly opened school.

In other words, I was an LDS Christian white girl, raised in the political and religious attitudes of my parents and community. I spent the first 23 years of my life intentionally not seeking out information that contradicted my views. I was not the best or most devout mormon, but I did believe in the doctrine completely. I voted Republican. I voted for President Bush. In our state election, I voted for Rossi and complained bitterly about stolen elections when Gregoire won. I believed movements that agitated for the rights of women, minorities, and workers were unnecessary; that their aims had already been achieved and their equality enshrined and protected by law.

Because my dad was a lawyer, I was well versed in how to debate. I knew the arguments for my side. I knew the talking points of the arguments for the opposing side. What I did not know was the meat of the arguments; the history and the why — for either side. I thought I did, and to my everlasting shame, there are numerous conversations in my past where I hotly defended anti-abortion laws and the opposition of gay marriage.

But somewhere between my mom’s death and starting college, I began to question my assumptions and attitudes about the world. I began to research the issues. I began to expand my reading and worldview, and I discovered that the world I thought I knew did not exist.

I still learned wonderful things in my childhood, and I don’t regret it. I love my parents. They taught me to be compassionate and forgiving. They taught me the value of respectful debate, and of considering both the micro and macro. They taught me that a system can be perfect, but the people who enact it are imperfect and flawed. Their lessons, perhaps ironically, made it easier for me to divorce my emotional response to the facts and history and consider the information based on its merits.

When I assess the validity of information, I usually ask myself questions such as, Is it peer reviewed? Is it accepted by an academic consensus? Are the conclusions supported by statistical data, ethnographic research, and/ or longitudinal studies? What are the goals of the sources — who funded them? Why? What were their research methods? How do they distribute their conclusions? Are they engaging in deceptive tactics to get their information out?

For example, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is widely accepted and cited by both conservative and liberal academics and experts as a non-partisan and non-profit group that studies American economic policies. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is backed by a marketing firm who is funded by a cadre of conservative businessmen opposed to increasing the minimum wage. Their “studies” contradict all the statistical, longitudinal, and historical research regarding economics — but their web addresses are (respectively) www.epi.org and www.epionline.org. Someone who doesn’t know how to assess sources could easily confuse the two and think that the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is the well-regarded Economic Policy Institute (EPI) cited by every economic expert in the media.

When I am examining the long-term impact of historical forms of discrimination, I follow the thread all the way through to today. When historical information is cited, I ask, Where the information comes from? Are contemporary documents cross-referenced? Are the archival and archaeological records compared and contrasted? What were the immediate effects? The generational effects? What were the political and social responses to the situation? How did the issue evolve?

Because my parents taught me to back up my arguments and encouraged my tendency to academic curiosity and research (though, admittedly, they were not nearly as comfortable with religious self-examination, which somewhat stymied my predilections), I learned to ask these questions of my sources and research fairly early on.  Sadly, I didn’t apply these research methods and source assessments to socio-political and religious issues until I was in my mid-20s.

Still, I did. Eventually I did. So when someone comes to me and tries to tell me that racism is a thing of the past, or that misogyny isn’t a real issue, I find it incredibly frustrating because we’re approaching the discussion from completely different spaces. I used to hold those views and determined through prolonged and intense study that I was wrong; whereas they ignore the research and data I present them to just yell over me that I’m not listening and I am wrong.

You’re not controversial. You’re not new. You’re not innovative. You’re mouthing the same justifications to perpetuate discrimination that have been mouthed in various permutations for decades. You’re approaching the same old problems in the same old way, but you think you’re unique and innovative and different because you happen to live in one of the little liberal pockets of the ‘verse where your beliefs are challenged by your peers instead of sliding by unopposed.

 

American Families/ first 2 weeks (with notes)

I’m taking a class on the history of American Families right now, and I really enjoy it. I like this paper and once I finally got started, I had a great time writing it and I’m really proud of it, so figured I’d post it up. When classes are in session and I’m taking 20 credits a quarter, it’s difficult to find time to write non-school related stuff.

Over the last two weeks in class, we looked at the familial structures of European immigrants, African immigrants, and Native Americans in the 17th and 18th centuries. In doing so, we looked at the roles of community and religion within marriage and family relationships, as well as the transition over two centuries from marriages formed for familial duty to those ideally based in affection. This shift in priority is seen in several areas.

Something important to keep in mind is how completely foreign the worldview of the 17th century actually is to the modern mind. An example of particular interest from our reading recounted a community member who caught a neighbor in the act of adultery by spying through a knothole in their cabin. Imagine someone doing that today — the question of adultery would almost be lost in outrage over the violation of privacy. At the time, however, it was perfectly acceptable for neighbors to spy through window in order to regulate behavior in the community and even to tattle to the authorities about what they saw with no fear of recrimination. Today such behavior is seen as a creepy imposition into private affairs, not to mention a crime.

Entwined with this community involvement was the concept of sin, as it was one’s  godly and neighborly duty to prevent community members from falling into temptation. A lot of Christian theology is contradictory, and I when I learn things like how the conception of sin has changed over the centuries, the existence of such contradictions make a lot more sense. Consider a comparison and contrast of “sin” in the 17th and 19th centuries. In the 17th century, man (and woman) was considered tainted by Adam’s infamous transgression, born steeped in sin. The natural state of man was fallen, and life was an everlasting struggle to resist temptation. Even children were not perceived as innocents in need of guidance, but as sinners in need of discipline — and everyone is a child of God.

Such a view meant any sinful behavior was seen as man reverting to his normal, sinful state. It was a regrettable lapse, but not an indication of individual character. The sinner would be punished — perhaps fined or whipped or both — and then the incident would be forgotten. Even if the sinner was caught in similar acts, it still would not be seen as a reflection of their individual moral fiber — such a person could still hold positions of respect and authority within the community.

By the 18th century, the conception of “sin” was already making the transition to a personal moral failing, and acts of sin or righteousness were being interpreted as indicative of the individual’s personal character. By the 19th century, conceptions of sin and purity were entirely viewed through the lenses of the individual moral character.

The earlier view of sin fit into the community involvement of personal affairs mentioned earlier, because such a view of sin meant it was the duty of each community member to keep an eye on their fellow man and help prevent them from succumbing to temptation. Concurrent with the perception of sin as a personal moral failing was the rise in individuality and familial isolation from the larger community.

The rise of individuality is another fascinating aspect — sin and community were all bound together, but so was a sort of lack of individualism, at least as we understand it today. This is another mindset so unfamiliar to the modern lens that it is actually difficult to find the words to try to explain it. A good analogy might be to imagine that the world was seen as a giant mechanical clock, and God was seen as the clockmaker, while heaven was an orderly clock-making workshop. In the workshop, each tool and material is set in its place so that God may find them when he needs them and utilize them for their designated tasks. Mirroring the shop itself, the clock is crafted according to a design where each cog and gear play  specific roles. If anything moves out of place, the clocks will no longer work correctly. Each part has a specific role to play. A gear cannot be a cog, and a cog cannot be a chime. Likewise, a peasant cannot be a merchant, and a merchant cannot be a nobleman. That would upset God’s design for society, and the world as a whole.

So in the view of the Euro-colonial families we studied, an orderly society depended on God’s design, and man’s inherently sinful nature meant it was necessary for the community to monitor and report on behaviors that were damaging to the orderly organization of society. Marriages were arranged based on advancing the interests of the family as a whole, and performed with an eye first to duty, second to God and community, and last to the possibility of eventual affection.

The Euro-centric view was also based on wealth and land ownership, which ultimately undermined the aforementioned worldview. As land inheritances in the colonies were divided and subdivided among the surviving offspring, more people had to move off into urban centers make their way apart from their families. This facilitated the shift from a domestic economy to a market economy, and the minimalization of patriarchal enforcement of family duty through the promise or denial of inheritance.

As society transitioned from a culture based in community and domestic economy to a culture based on the capitalist market economy and the right of all men to equality and the pursuit of happiness, the value of love within marriage and family shifted. Love became a priority in marriage, and even a source of capital for women in terms of what value they brought to a marriage. The problem with love is that it is a pretty unstable emotion, and a stable family was a central social institution. It was necessary for a shift in values to occur in order to stabilize marriage and family against the threat of the love match. A gendered view arose, which cast men and women as complementary opposites who needed marriage to become wholly complete.

This attitude is similar to modern gender stereotypes and attitudes about love, but social attitudes still were not similar enough to modern attitudes for a time traveler to comfortably fit into a house party. If anything, these values were more extreme in the nascent 19th century phase than they are today. For example, the gender essentialism which stereotyped women as biologically designed to be the nurturing household center was accompanied by a shift in the moral worldview which cast women as asexual, pure beings. As a result, expressions of affection and expressions of sexual interest were considered pretty much completely separate. That, in turn, led to expressions of affection toward friends and children that would read as sexual to modern sensibilities, but were seen as completely appropriate in the context of a society that drew a sharp divide between sex and love. It also meant that men who truly loved their wives were in a difficult spot, because the expression of such love and respect meant both remaining monogamous and denying their sexual urges.

So if you have ever wondered why modern stereotypes hold women to be both passionately illogical and ice-cold prudes in complete control of their sexuality, it can be attributed to this contradiction in 17th and 19th century attitudes toward sin in general and women in particular. The 17th century attitude saw all humans as fallen, the community as responsible in preventing sin, and women as not exempt from temptation — women were actually seen as more prone to fall to temptation, due to their role in Adam’s transgression. This is where the trope of the emotional, passionate, illogical woman who is ruled by her desires can be traced to, and the beginnings of the idea that men have more control over undesirable emotions.

The 19th century attitude toward sin had shifted to an individualistic morality, in which the individual was responsible for resisting temptation and women were designed by God to be the moral locus of the home and society. In this trope, women were viewed as the gatekeepers of sexual behavior, and men were often seen as animalistic sexual beings ruled by their basest desires. This is where the stereotype of the prudish ice-queen, in full control of her sexual desires, comes from — and thus two contradicting stereotypes are born: Men as logical beings who cannot control their sexual desires, and women as illogical beings in complete control of their sexuality.

This shift came about in large part by the transition to a market economy in the 19th century. As the market economy replaced the domestic economy of the 17th century, the production role of women and the domestic role of men were de-emphasized within the household.  In the domestic economy household and income were intertwined — family was business, and business was family. In the market economy the household and business spheres were separated. This was directly tied to the increased emphasis on expectations of male production and the financial value of free “women’s work.” For the middle class family, it was more cost-efficient to support a housewife who would raise the children, sew the clothing, and cook the meals than it was to outsource that work to the tutors, nannies, and other servants hired by the upper crust of society.

The working family, of course, could not afford to hire servants or keep a housewife at home. Their labor was ensured by the growing wealth inequalities precipitated by the shift to a market economy. In the early 17th century, a Black or White indentured servant could potentially work their way to freedom and even landownership. By the 18th century, Black indentured servants had become slaves, and White indentured servants were apprentices or hired help who could expect to one day be  shopowners or homeowners themselves.

With the transition into the market economy of the 19th century, it actually became more difficult to improve one’s financial situation throughout a lifetime, as the need for the middle and upper class to maintain a hold on an exploitable working class solidified. Instead of working class children entering an apprenticeship and learning a trade, they accompanied their parents to the factory or coal mine and worked alongside their parents to contribute to the family income. This was necessary, because the working class laborer was paid less than a living wage, so it was common for all members of the household to contribute to the income in whatever way possible. The exploitation of working class families also perpetuated class divisions across generations, because the hard physical aspect of working class labor meant such an employee had a shorter working lifespan (about 30 years) before injury and illness took their toll. Therefore, it was necessary for working class families to have more children in order to support the family as the adults became too disabled to work.

Another interesting aspect of the lectures over the past two weeks is the role Euro-centric views on marriage played in both the Indigenous cultures and in African-American relationships. In terms of Black Americans, we studied the role colonial legislation played in creating the racialized institution of slavery and, by extension, our modern understandings of race. We saw that, contrary to popular opinion, there were free Black colonists, as well as Black indentured servants, and that Black and White colonists married one another. Over time, such marriages were punished through legislative acts, and the rights of Black Americans were eroded in other ways, as well. In particular, contracts for indentured service were extended into slavery and the legal status of a child was tied to their mother’s legal status, thus ensuring generational enslavement. Eventually, Black Americans (even free Blacks) had fewer rights than White Americans. According to Birth of a White Nation, some of the first gun control laws in the United States were racially motivated, preventing Black colonists from owning or using firearms.

Despite the fact that enslaved Black Americans were denied the ability to make legal marriage contracts and were always at risk of losing family members to the auction block, they formed kinship relationships that paralleled the cultural norms of the Euro-American colonists. In defiance of the interference of slave owners who forced their slaves into relationships for breeding purposes, or who split up families in order break their spirits, enslaved Americans still formed affectionate relationships. In fact, one of the readings specifically noted that the kinship bonds formed by Black Americans during the period of American slavery was one of the most effective tools at a Plantation owners disposal, because tearing apart families was more psychologically scarring than any whipping.

Even Native Americans eventually transitioned their attitudes and experiences of family and marriage to fit the Euro-centric colonizing notions. For example, the Iroquois were a matrilineal society when the colonists initially arrived, but their social and family interactions changed due to extended contact with the Europeans. Part of this was the effect of population decimation caused by plagues and war, and part of it was because Europeans preferred to negotiate with men. After several generations, the 18th century Iroquois prophet Handsome Lake advised his people to take on certain Euro-centric behaviors, such as having couples move into individual homes instead of a matriarch-guided communal lodge. By adopting these and similar familial roles, the Iroquois adapted into the conquering Euro-colonial mindset and survived the tribal genocide that erased many other indigenous Americans.

Across all these cultures, a similar theme prevailed where the domestic economies reliant on prioritizing strongly neighborly bonds gave way to market-style economies in which the needs of the individual families outweighed the community as a whole. Based on class status and ethnicity, this shift in how families were prioritized in relation to community might have been more or less pronounced, but the shift occurred to some extent across all racial and social classes. This economic transition was accompanied by a refocusing of family values to prioritize affection and love in marriage, as well as an adjustment in social attitudes which viewed sin and morality as the responsibility of the individual and their family, rather than the community as a whole.

Note: I have already turned this in, and it was returned with some minor editorial feedback in the body of the paper. I made changes from my original paper based on my professor’s remarks in the body of the paper. Her accompanying remark, which I consider high praise indeed (considering the source), said:

DEAR LAURA:

THIS ESSAY REFLECTS AN EXCEPTIONALLY SOPHISTICATED AND THOROUGH GRASP OF THE READINGS, LECTURES AND CLASS DISCUSSIONS. YOU ACCURATELY SUMMARIZE THE CHANGES FOR ALL THREE GROUPS, CAPTURING THE SOCIAL DYNAMICS INVOLVED AND PAYING CAREFUL ATTENTIONS TO VARIATIONS BY RACE, ETHNICITY, CLASS AND GENDER. I WROTE A COUPLE OF NOTES IN THE BODY OF THE PAPER, AND I WONDER IF YOU MIGHT HAVE MADE MORE EXPLICIT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE COLONISTS’ SOCIOECONOMIC DYNAMICS AND THEIR “EURO-CENTRIC” ATTEMPTS TO CHANGE MARRIAGE AND FAMILY SYSTEMS OF BLACKS AND NATIVE AMERICANS. BUT OTHERWISE I CAN’T THINK OF MUCH YOU COULD HAVE IMPROVED. EXCELLENT WORK!

STEPHANIE.

Healing Orientalism: An Exploration of White Supremacist Spiritual Practices | Saturday Workshop 2 | WPC-14

**DISCLAIMER**

Notes & Copyright

Healing Orientalism: An Exploration of White Supremacist Spiritual Practices

Facilitators: Chilan Ta and Michelle Kleisath, April 13, 2013

[Personal Note: My stupid tablet unexpectedly turned off and I lost first 1/2 hr of notes. Basically, there are two presenters. Chilan Ta came to Buddhism through her family and culture; Michelle Kleisath came to Buddhism through travel and curiosity.]

Kleisath relates how living in Tibet and then Seattle highlighted the differences between Tibetan/ Asian Buddhism and American Buddhism. She found herself wondering why Tibetan/ Asian Buddhists do not meditate, but it’s so central to American Buddhism. Sought answers, and was really disturbed by the answers. The white American Buddhists were dismissive of the understanding/ awareness/ faithfulness of Tibetan Buddhists in their answers, saying things like Tibetan Buddhist didn’t really understand their own religion, or took it for granted and weren’t very faithful. Kleisath was disturbed by this and began investigating the issue for her thesis. She shared two personal experiences that illustrating cultural differences between American and Tibetan Buddhism.

Experience the First

An Asian friend went to the home of a white American male, and walked in to see Tibetan decor all over the walls. She feels small and shamed at seeing how much of her cultural history he is aware of, and how she doesn’t have that kind of culture and history in her own home. She feels like less of a Tibetan, and intimidated by his knowledge/ fascination with her culture.

[Personal Note: I imagine this would be like going to India or Japan and discovering that they are intimately aware of aspects of my country’s religious and historical events in a way that wasn’t even on my radar. I’d feel really off kilter and a bit panicky that someone might ask me a question thinking I’m an expert when I’m really not.]

Experience the Second

Another Asian friend went to the home of an American woman, and needed to use the bathroom. When she went in the bathroom, she couldn’t use the toilet because her hostess had placed a statue of Buddha right above it. She was in great discomfort, and could not explain to the hostess how sacrilegious and awful it was for fear of rudeness.

[Personal Note: It is also kind of odd that Westerners are so happy to hang pictures of Jesus in their bathroom. I wouldn’t shit in front of my husband, so why an image of my god? Seems disrespectful. I’m  an atheist and I wouldn’t put someone elses’ religious iconography in my bathroom.]

Kleisath explains the history of cultural approbation and imperialism regarding Buddhism. Sacred caves in China, British explorer discovers giant statues of Buddha and cuts the heads off to take back to Britain, heads now in British museums and archives. Wealthy elite use the Buddha heads to decorate their homes/ show how well traveled and cultural they are. Jump forward a few decades to the Vietnam war. Elite white men joined the Peace Corps to dodge the draft. This put them in Tibet during the transformative social movement in the US and the trauma of Vietnam. Same time frame has elite young Asians dealing with the trauma of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and they joined forces. The elite Americans pushed/ campaigned through college programs etc. to get the Tibetans (people and culture) imported to America, which is how we ended up with Americanized and misunderstood ideas of Buddhism as taught through the lenses of the elite/ wealth experience.

Small Group Discussion

My group: Zach, Dylan, Bob, myself. All white middle-upper class. Zach and Dylan do not practice Buddhism and are surprised at the history just shared; they were unaware of it. Bob does practice Buddhism (apparently a sort of Christian/ Buddhist mixture) and claims to know most of the history just presented. He is uncomfortable with their casting of American meditation (kneeling/ sitting, mindful contemplation) as an American interpretation, not a traditional Buddhist practice. He is uncomfortable. Says the lens he is hearing this through is a lens of questioning why you’re engaging in Buddhism and the value of meditation. Says he came to workshop because he felt confronted by title and wanted to lean into that discomfort. He says so many mainstream religions have oppressed and practiced cultural approbation, but the spiritual is still valuable and meditation is very meaningful. He feels uncomfortable with negativity toward Buddhism.

I shared my history/ perspective on religion, and my relief that they are not casting Buddhism as either wholly good nor wholly evil. Said it’s good to question narratives and whenever anyone represents a belief or culture as wholly good or wholly evil, they are purposefully ignoring facts that derail their version of truth.

Dylan pointed out that presenters are not saying to stop meditating, just to stop referring to it as a “traditional Buddhist practice.” Points out that she stated several times that meditation as Asian Buddhists practice it is very different from the American Buddhist tradition of sitting and practicing mindfulness.

[Personal Note: LOST MORE F*CKING NOTES.]

Summary of Lost Notes

Basically, we broke for total workshop discussion. Someone liked the presentation and someone didn’t. Someone mentioned the commercialization and approbation of Buddhism and other religions without any deep understanding. Someone said they were involved in one of those interfaith movements that promotes picking and choosing the religious traditions you find most valuable, and this presentation has changed his perspective on his participation in this group. Someone said they really liked Buddhism and it helps their mental/ psychological/ emotional health, and they do not want to stop practicing it just because it’s cultural approbation. Someone else got really angry and confrontational about their terminology of the Tibetans in this history as “elites” and became super yelly about how they suffered and lost a whole lot. Someone who works in therapy talked about mindfulness within the therapy community as a means of dealing with oppression. Someone else pointed out that you can be elite and still have suffering/ oppression happen in your life, and it’s important to realize and recognize that mentioning or acknowledging the elite aspect does not discount the later suffering.

Back to Presentation

Ta supports this by talking about her ancestors. They came to America in part because of the cultural revolution in China, and the shrinking gap between the wealthy/ elite and the poverty stricken when communism came in. Her family fled communism, and were only able to do that because their elite status provided them with the wealth, means, and connections to escape. In this way, they were both elite and oppressed.

Ta talked about the baggage of conservatism, racism, sexism, etc. in Asian spaces, and how they can be very damaging. People often don’t recognize this aspect of Asian culture because they have romanticized the perceived spiritual/ connectedness of the culture.

[Personal Note: An Asian spin on the nativism/ noble savage trope?]

Then she talks about how meditation as Americans practice it totally be beneficial and good and valuable, but it is MISTERMED when it is sold and marketed and referred to as “traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation,” and that undermines both the actual Buddhist religion and its traditions by ascribing false actions/ meanings/ and values to it. Cracked an off-hand joke that I didn’t completely hear — something about how maybe the elite young white guys learning Buddhism had trouble standing still, so they sat instead and that’s where the difference came from.

Several self-identified American Buddhists in the audience are still confrontational/ upset/ aggressive about the lesson, which is apparent through their mutterings, but they do not actually try to argue back to her.

Kleisath wants to share a final story/ twist. Kleisath and Ta are actually partners and live together. When they first moved in was when Kleisath had just returned from Tibet, and she had put all her baggage on the walls as a means of dealing with how much she missed it. Ta was kind of weirded out by it, but had the attitude of okay, if it makes you happy. Over time, Kleisath realized how uncomfortable and unhappy this made her Buddhist and Tibetan friends, as well as her partner. Made her re-assess why she was doing it, and what meaning it had for her. She decided to take it all down, and shared with a laugh how Ta had not helped her put any of it up, but she sure did help her take it down!

Ta takes over the story and explains how the removal of Kleisath’s Tibetan baggage/ decor left the walls bare and clean, and opened up a space in her home where she finally felt relaxed and able to breathe or even fart in her own home without having Buddha staring down at her. By opening up that space, Ta was finally able to start reaching out and connecting to her own cultural connection with Buddhism forming a mode of neo-traditional practice that links her to her family, race, and heritage while shedding the racism, sexism, and oppression endemic to the religion. She says neither American Buddhism nor traditional Asian Buddhism had afforded her that opportunity, but by creating their own space they were able to create their own traditions.

latest feel-good b.s.

So this fallacious argument disguised as a “thought-provoking” parable has been making the rounds on FB. It has, nauseatingly, found it’s way into my feed three times in the past week.

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It’s funny/ frustrating. The whole thing — from the image to the text — is so blatantly manipulative, fallacious, and ridiculous that it kind of makes me want to tear my hair out. And this is getting re-posted with comments like, “beautiful,” or “inspiring,” or “makes you think.

This. This makes you think? This heavy handed, pseudo-philosophical nonsense?

“In a mother’s womb were two babies.”

Look at that picture again. Those are two post-partum babies in a fucking balloon. You’re circulating a picture of infants in a clear balloon. Wtf is wrong with you?

“One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replies, “why of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later. “Nonsense,” says the other. “There is no life after delivery. What would that life be?”

Oh, that’s subtle. Equating straw-man atheist arguments against the afterlife to the arguments an apparently intelligent and sentient fetus would make against existence post-birth.

It’s always valuable to support an emotionally-laden argument by relying on imaginary characters, since the whole not-existing thing means they can’t falsify the claim.

In addition, has everyone who’s ooohing and ahhing over this drivel collectively decided to ignore the fact that fetuses actually do respond to stimuli from outside the womb during the last months of pregnancy, indicating that they are well aware of the existence of an outside world?

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.” The other says “This is absurd! Walking is impossible. And eat with our mouths? Ridiculous. The umbilical cord supplies nutrition. Life after delivery is to be excluded. The umbilical cord is too short.” 

Haha, get it? See, it totally parallels strawmen atheist arguments, and bam! See how the atheist babies “science” is incomplete? That proves science and atheist baby are wrong!

Plus, that talking atheist baby sure sounds like a douche, right? “Life after delivery is to be excluded,” ha! What a dick.

 “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.” the other replies, “No one has ever come back from there. Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

Clearly there is life after delivery, ergo imaginary strawman atheist baby is wrong, and imaginary hero believer baby is right, ergo actual real life atheists are wrong! Wow, this parable is so inspiring and realistic. These two hyper-intelligent existentialist fetuses in a balloon are really making me rethink my life choices.

Well, I don’t know,” says the other, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.” “Mother??” You believe in mother? Where is she now? “She is all around us. It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.” “I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

Holy emotional manipulation, batman! Why, those babies don’t believe in their mommy! Plus, the assumptions. Ye gods, the assumptions. 

  • Assumption that the fetuses have no feedback from the outside world. For some reason they’re not hearing their mother’s voice (like fetuses in, you know, the real world can). Fetuses also respond to light.
  • Assumption that the mother (“god”) will take care of them. Guess what? Not all mothers are nurturing. Some mothers are abusive, or suffering from illness, or neglectful, or resentful of their children. Some mothers have baggage they can’t handle, and a child exacerbates that reality. So … one could extrapolate from this “argument” that god could, similarly, be an abusive, egotistical, maniacal asshole intent on emotional and physical abuse. Actually, this view of god is pretty well supported by the available religious texts, so, okay then. 
  • Assumption that irrefutable existence of mother correlates to the supposedly irrefutable existence of god. If we take this to it’s rational conclusion, then there is a multitude of gods. There may be one mother to those two fetuses, but when they’re born and become human babies, they will live in a world where multiple other human babies from other mothers also exist. If we’re supposed to be reading this parable as an analogy to our individual relationship with god, then whoever wrote this drivel just proposed an afterlife populated by multiple gods — a polytheistic afterlife.

Also, I would like to take a moment to point out to everyone that when a woman is pregnant, the fetus still needs to void. That baby is pissing and pooping inside his mom. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just the way pregnancy works … but I think that whenever people start romanticizing motherhood and pregnancy as some incredibly spiritual transcendent thing, it’s valuable to remember that to the fetus that mom is an all-in-one toilet buffet.

To which the other replied, “sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her. I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality.

These poor fetuses are fully intelligent, sentient beings capable of existential discussion prior to birth, and they just … lose that level of communication? So according to this little faith lifting parable, we just completely lose any higher intelligence or ability to communicate in an advanced, meaningful manner when we die?

Because these fetuses are speaking to each other on the linguistic level of human adults, but clearly will not do so upon their entry into the world as fully actualized tiny humans, nor have the ability to do so for many years afterward.

Yet, according to the construction and presentation of this parable, the adult humans (“mother”) are gods, and post-delivery life (“afterlife”) are akin to advanced spiritual beings and an advanced spiritual state. So the afterlife believers are positing here is … reincarnation? Where we continually begin at the beginning, collect knowledge, “die” into an advanced world that renders us infantile, and start over in the accrual of knowledge?

That’s actually an afterlife I can get behind. Bring on the eternity of learning!

Question: Is this supposed to be taken seriously by atheists as an argument, or is this another idiotic faith-supporting meme that is not meant to be looked at in any way even approaching basic critical deconstruction? Also, why does this shit keep ending up in my feed when believers get all butthurt about expressions of nonbelief?

I mean, I don’t give a shit if y’all need to circulate these feel good memes about religion and scripture and hyper intelligent fetuses in order to validate your faith — whatever floats your boat — but I don’t get the double standard of expecting everyone to be copacetic with your blatantly public displays of faith, but freaking the ever-loving fuck out when someone makes a blatant display of atheism. I’m so tired of this.

Since I left the mormon church, any time I post something mormon or religion related and my kid sister (or any other mormon temporarily on my feed/ blog/ whatever) happens to see it, the inevitable response is, “Why does it matter? You left. Why do you gotta keep harping on it?”

Hmmm. Hmmm. Why would I need to keep studying and “harping” on something I’ve intellectually rejected, but which shaped my formative years/ upbringing and which continues to shape the politics and social attitudes of the world I live in? Why would that matter?

If I grew up in a foreign country — say, Russia or India or something — and as an adult, moved to a country with a completely different culture that I then embrace, am I supposed to reject all aspects of my country of origin?

If I was a Russian expat rejecting, say, the homophobia of Russia, am I supposed to reject the art and history of it as well? Am I supposed to ignore their impact on international politics? Am I supposed to ignore the ongoing struggle against homophobia within Russia?

If I was an Indian expat rejecting, say, the caste system and sexism endemic in much of India, does the fact that I no longer live in India then prevent me from continuing to engage in the ongoing Indian struggle for gender and class equality? Am I supposed to disavow any cultural link with India? Am I supposed to ignore their political impact?

That’s what believers of all strips, and (for me) mormons are asking me to do. They’re saying, “Hey, you rejected god. You don’t get to have a voice in this discussion anymore. You shouldn’t even want one.”

I’m sitting here going, “Uh, no. I rejected false doctrine. From there, I walked a path that led me to believe there is no rational evidence or proof that god exists. I do not “reject” god any more than I “reject” fairies or unicorns or elves or Santa Claus. I cannot “reject” the imaginary. I do object to (and reject) the systemic presence of religious faith in every aspect of political and social policy, though! And I do reject the influence of religious indoctrination in my personal life and upbringing.”

Mostly I roll my eyes and let it slide when I see this type of blatantly manipulative faith-promoting bullshit on my FB feed, but this one is just irritating the crap out of me. Partly because it keeps fucking showing up in my feed, and partly because it’s so blatantly emotionally manipulative. The people in my feed who are sharing this are people who I know possess intelligent critical thinking skills., I’ve spoken with them.

I guess this is one of those instances when a FB persona illustrates a part of someone that they don’t individually present to you, and you realize with a jolt that they’re not exactly the person you thought they were. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I just … I tend to think I surround myself with thoughtful, intelligent people. Some of them have faith, yeah, but I tell myself it’s not the obnoxious, intrusive, manipulative type of faith.

Then I see them on my feed.

*As a final, minor note — the spelling, grammar, and sentence structure in that FB post is simply atrocious. I know, I know … don’t throw stones at glass houses. I have no doubt that my post is less than perfectly grammatically accurate — but really? Really? Am I as bad as that?

doctrinal problems in LDS “history”

A Letter to a CES Director » FutureMissionary.

This is amazing. It’s a complete list of the doubts of one disaffected member; the doubts that brought his testimony to its knees. The introduction says,

Recently a CES director asked a lifelong Latter-day Saint, Jeremy Runnells, to share his concerns about the church. In response, Runnells wrote him a letter outlining his concerns and questions from a year of research into the Church’s origins.  After sending it privately, he decided to publish the letter publicly on the internet. He even released it under a Creative Commons license allowing people to distribute it with very few restrictions.

 

Mormon Church Rules Blacks Not Inferior

Mormon Church Rules Blacks Not Inferior.

The Mormon Church has ruled that black people are not inferior to whites, and that dark skin is not, in fact, a “curse” sent by God to punish unworthy people, as the church has maintained from its …

Mind you, the mormons let blacks have the priesthood in 1978  — and they completely retconned history to pretend that they were never racist and they totes wanted the blacks to have the priesthood before but gods time is not mans time, blah blah blah. So according to the mormon way of viewing it, god is apparently led by man, not the other way around.

No matter what apologetics you try to use or how you try to dice it, black LDS Americans had civil rights before they had religious rights, and it seems like the church that claims to have a living prophet on the earth would have been able to sidestep that whole debacle pret-ty damn easily if god had just sent the word down about the priesthood situation before 1964. 

Anyway, so in 1978, the mormon god decides that blacks can actually have the power of the priesthood and can therefore be sealed in the temple and gain eternal mormon salvation. But apparently the almighty omniscient one neglected to tell the prophet the little detail that mormons also needed to stop claiming that blacks have dark skin because they are descendents of Cain, who was cursed for his sin.

I guess the Second Article of Faith does specify that man shall be not be punished for Adam’s transgression. No-one said jack about Cain.

Whatever. Good news, everyone! It turns out the LDS Church isn’t racist, no, no, no. It’s just that the second major prophet — the dude who led them to Utah and had a bajillion wives and kept the church going after Smith was killed for raping those children; the dude who the mormon-funded colleges are all named after? Turns out that guy is the racist asshole making the LDS church look bad. He kept pretending he was speaking as a prophet when really he was speaking as a man — a very, very, racist and sexist man. 

God should probably figure out how to make his prophets glow when they’re engaging in prophet-speak instead of man-speak. This is leading to a lot of unnecessary embarrassment for the LDS church.

Karma doesn’t exist

Saw this on FB today:

Image

I’ve been thinking about the concept of Karma for a while now. I’ve always been tangentially aware of the Westernized notion of it, obviously, but in the past year or so, I’ve learned more about Eastern religions and (unrelated) a few relationships have ended. All this made me really take a step back and look at the idea of Karma in the context of my own life and the lives of those around me.  These are the conclusions I’ve come to:

  • First: The way we talk about Karma in Western society is infused with blindly ignorant cultural and religious approbations.
  • Second: I think when someone says Karma will take care of revenge, it highlights the lack of control they feel in their own life.
  • Third: Karma is not real.

~*~

First, Western notions of Karma tend to break down to this very simplistic idea of:

Oh, I perceive that person as treating me unfairly, therefore they are a bad person, therefore Karma will get them.

Ever hear the phrase, “The best revenge is living well?” This is a truth, but because it is true, it can seem to us that if we’re living well, then Karma dictates that whoever has wronged or hurt us must be unhappy or miserable. But that’s not it at all — Karma is not some sort of cosmic revenge on people we don’t like that will automatically occur because we feel offended or maligned.

According to Eastern Traditions, Karma is broadly and basically a moral law of objective cause and effect that spans past, present, and future. The long and short of this is that despite the Westernization of the idea, it’s not some sort of an immediate cosmic revenge for bad deeds or granting of a cosmic luck reward for good deeds. The Eastern School of thought views Karma as an immutable law, like Newton’s Third Law of Motion:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s not a judgement from some omniscient being regarding the people you disagree with or whose choices hurt you. I mean, personally, I don’t even think Karma exists, but even if one does believe in the notion of Karma, the Western notion of it is completely wrong-headed. It’s an appropriation and misrepresentation of another culture’s religious traditions, twisted to fit the Judeo-Christian ideals of a just world and the modern mindset of, “me, me, me.”

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Second, the idea that some cosmic force will get revenge on people you’re upset with is so . . . passive, and it denotes an utter lack of control or understanding of one’s own situation. It’s this cowardly way of avoiding introspection by off-loading all blame onto the other person.

The best revenge is living well.

This is true. This is absolutely true, and not because you’re hoping the person who hurt you will see you living your awesome life and feel miserable and jealous. No, it’s because if you are truly living well, then you’ve moved on from that toxic situation or relationship. Living well is living a happy life in spite of the negative relationships and experiences you’ve had, not to spite the people involved in those relationships and experiences.

You’ve learned your lessons. You’ve engaged in some serious self-examination and determined whether you feel your actions were justified or whether you were unnecessarily cruel and hurtful. You’ve made amends and tried to become a better person, to learn from your mistakes and stand by your values. You have made what changes in your life you can and have control over to prevent a similar situation from occurring.

As a side note, engaging in active acts of revenge to cause pain to someone you feel wronged you is not living well and moving on — it’s kind of the opposite of that. Allowing a negative or toxic relationship to become the focus of your life and lead you to engage in active acts of revenge is an unhealthy level of negativity to cultivate. All you’re doing is taking what should have been an opportunity to break off the relationship (whether friend, family, or romantic) and redirecting it into obsessive hatred.

In other words, living well is an active process which involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and taking control (as much as one can) of ones own life to ensure you can avoid similar toxic relationships in the future; while relying on concepts of Karma is a passive process that assumes no personal responsibility and no control over one’s life. Acts of active revenge are just refocusing the sense of hurt or betrayal into unhealthy obsession as a means of attempting to find control, but it’s still just ceding control of your emotion and reactions to the very person you have deemed not worthwhile.

To invoke the Western concept of Karma in order to make you feel better about personal disagreements is not living well. That’s not to say someone who is living well will not invoke concepts of Karma; it’s just to say that invoking the Westernized concept of Karma as a revenge concept is an inherently passive and self-justifying act which views any perceived failure or setback in the other person’s life as the universe settling the scales of their personal drama. Both the passive and active senses of revenge are incompatible with emotional and mental health or self-awareness. A person who invokes Karma is a person who is indicating that they lack of sense of control over their own situation.

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Finally, Karma isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. There is no cosmic balancing of the scales. Bad people get away with shit all the time, and good people face unnecessary hardships and cruelties all the time. I don’t like it either, but there it is. It is a fact of life. As human beings, we like to try and project a pattern, a sense of fairness on the world. This is a fallacy. In an immediate and personal sense, what this means is that when someone upsets, hurts, shames, or rejects us, we tend to view any future instances of hurt, shame, or rejection they experience as “Karma” for their actions toward us. In the U.S., especially, we conflate the myth of meritocracy with the idea of Karma, while ignoring all the times that people succeed despite flouting the traditional systems of merit, or fail despite adhering to them.

If we are honest, I think we would all admit that notions of Karma as referenced in Western society and through social media memes are not about Eastern notions of moral cause and effect. No, the idea of Karma which spread like a virus over the Western hemisphere and is illustrated by the quote at the top of this blog is all about justifying personal behavior in our interpersonal relationships and casting a nebulous, cosmic notion as judge and jury. It is the distorted idea that a life without challenges is proof of righteousness, while those who experience hardship earned it through their bad actions.

Oddly, this Western idea of Karma does not seem to encourage self-examination. People rarely seem to view their own hardships and shortcomings as the result of Karmic justice or divine justice derived from their actions. Instead, hardships that occur in one’s personal life are “tests of faith,” or due to unfairness created by another’s actions, or just the way life is. I suspect this contributions to the phenomenon of presented perfection on social media — if your life looks perfect, than it must be perfect, and people will know that you are a good person whom the cosmos have blessed.

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