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The Religion(s) I’m Not Reforming

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“Where am I going to go, where patriarchy doesn’t exist? Where is this magic island, free of misogyny – I will go there; tell me where it is (laughter).
But it doesn’t exist – it doesn’t exist anywhere. So it makes the most sense to try to reform your own culture and your own place, and the space where you are most fluent in the language.”
(excerpt from Unladylike interview with Kate Kelly)

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Department Of Tell Me This Is Not An Oxymoron

Which was one of my first (printable) thoughts upon hearing the title of episode 8 of the podcast Unladylike: How To Be a Mormon Feminist. BTW, the podcast’s website has one of the best logos ever: an image of stereotypically ladylike fingers, with one impeccably groomed fingernail raised in a defiant salute….

 

Back on topic, please.

 

Once again, I digress.

If you think you don’t have time to listen to the podcast but your curiosity is stoked by the episode’s title and you wonder, How does one be a Mormon feminist?, here’s my time-saving answer:

By leaving the Mormon church.

 

 

But seriously, ladies and germs, I recommend taking the time to listen to the entire episode, which is an interview with “Mormon feminist” and attorney, Kate Kelly.  In 2013 Kelly founded Ordain Women, an organization which…wait for it…advocates for the ordination of women to the Mormon priesthood.  That and other feminist/dissident activities got Ms. Kelly a don’t let the door hit you in your temple garments on your way out from LDS church leaders (translation: Kelly was excommunicated).

Ms. Kelly has quite a story to tell.  Despite her passionate interest in gender equality issues she loved her church – she was raised a devout Mormon, and admits during the interview that she might not have left the LDSchurch had she not been thrown out.   [1]  Listening to her astounding account, and despite her sincere and reasonable articulation (the quote which opens this blog post) about why she stayed in her church, I was once again amazed at our human tendency to beat our head against walls; i.e., not see the reality forest for the mythology trees.

During the interview Kelly felt compelled to explain (or was asked) why a 21st century, educated, intelligent woman concerned with justice could stay – or would even want to stay – in such a misogynist, repressive institution. IMHO she did a good job of trying to explain (to non-Mormons) how being in such a group – you’re raised to believe you are one of the chosen people, and you really have no close relationships outside of your family and friends, who are all Mormon –  is compelling, and confers a feeling of being special.

At the point where Kelly talked about how Mormonism had been her most intimate relationship, I had an immediate, visceral, click[2] insight:

It’s like how some battered women “love” – and thus are not able to leave – their abusers.

Kelly mentioned Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency, and how people both inside and outside the Mormon church found Romney’s campaign a watershed moment for Mormonism, in that the larger society saw a man who was presented as a nice/normal guy who wasn’t flaunting his own religious beliefs and who had promised to be a leader for all. Meanwhile, Kelly was disturbed that there was little to no media attention paid to/examining the fact that Romney was participating in an institution which discriminates against women at every level and which does not allow women to hold positions of power.

 

 

The battered women analogy kept coming back to me. Yo, Mormon women, and all you women involved in patriarchal religions,  [3] institutions, or worldviews: y’all are married to your abusers.  You are battered wives, intellectually and spiritually.   [4]   You have been emotionally and cognitively kidnapped; you suffer from Stockholm Syndrome :  like an abduction victim, you have developed a psychological alliance with your captors as a survival strategy.

Before I had listened to the interview in its entirety I wanted to ask Kelly, “And so what if you (Mormon feminist women) are able, in the near (ha!) or far future, to baptize people or perform any other of the Mormon priesthood rituals reserved only for men?  That’s not going to change the fact that the LDS church is an institution built on falsehoods and discrimination.”   …As are all religions, BTW, including (what was once) “my own,” which is why moiself has no problemo with critiquing yours.

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Department Of As Long As We’re On The Subject Of Religion-Bashing Analysis

Faithful (ahem)  [5]  or even sporadic readers of this blog may know that I was raised in a Christian household/church-going family. However, as long as I can remember thinking about such things, I never really bought into the religion’s tenets and finally  [6] came out as a Humanist/Atheist/Freethinker many years ago.

 

 

Now that I am out as religion-free, whenever I have discussions with friends and family members who are religious believers – and it may interest you to know that these discussions are actually few and far between…in my experience, religious believers do not really want to engage a well-read and articulate person who has been on the inside and then left – we apostates know where the bodies are buried, so to speak (which is yet another subject worthy of a post of its own)….

Ahem. Yet again, please excuse the digression. 

 

Book ’em, Danno. Digression in the second degree.

 

When I have  discussions with a friend or family member who is a religious believer (about why they remain so and why I am not), I often hear some variation of the following statement, in which they try to assert what they think is my opinion about their beliefs:

You probably think I’m an idiot/ignorant
for remaining in the church/being a believer.

This is absolutely not true, and I say so.

Or sometimes I’ll say, “That’s not necessarily true,” and explain, provocatively but with good humor, that I really don’t know their innermost thought processes nor how their mind works; perhaps if I did, then yeah, idiot might apply.  But I never, ever assume that, nor even think it (until they brought it up).

Here’s the thing: despite how close or distant our relationship may be; despite what you claim to know about the origins/history/scriptures of your religion, I cannot know your level of intelligence, nor if you’ve objectively/rationally examined the evidence…etcetera and whatever.  With regard to your holding religious beliefs, here is the only thing I do know about you (and other believers):

Whether or you are intellectually gifted or blissfully ignorant, whether you are a snake-handling Holy Roller or a High Mass-attending electrical engineer, you are credulous.

*   *   *

What is needed is not the will to believe but the will to find out,
which is the exact opposite.
(Bertrand Russell )

 

 

This bears repeating: you are not stupid; you are credulous.

Yep; that’s it. And I dare to speak not only for moiself. Most of us who are religion-free do not think that you-who-are religious believers are stupid. We do think that you are wrong, and also, most importantly, that you are credulous.  Can you understand the difference?

You are credulous, the opposite of incredulous: you want to believe. And Religion with a capital R   [7]  gives you very compelling reasons to do so, to the point that otherwise discerning folk who are eager and able to point out the absurdities/errors/this-cannot-be-a-description-of-reality of other religions are able to set aside their analytical capability when it comes to their own tribe’s practices and beliefs.  I know some very smart and sincere people who are experts at such compartmentalization, and when I’ve pointed out that, for example, they do not practice Iron Age medicine, engineering, politics, etc. yet continue to maintain the alleged relevance of Iron Age spirituality and scriptures…they get…nervous (or incredulous!), to put it mildly.

This compartmentalization/cognitive dissonance is no surprise. Religion has done a very good job convincing people that they cannot ultimately:

* be “good”
* live a worthy life
*take comfort in unanswerable questions
*have the love and respect of family/friends/community…

without subscribing to religious beliefs.

A few religions/religious believers don’t even seem to mind so much if you aren’t a member of their church, just as long as you pick one deity to believe in (“Even though, of course, ours is the best /the One True Faith ® , if you can’t do that, at least pick something, okay?)

I’d recommend picking the one with the best hats.

 

Not only is religion is a main – and in many cases, the only – component of a believer’s social and/or peer group dynamic, there can be severe emotional, social and familial (and even business and professional) consequences for leaving your faith group, or even for remaining in the flock while denying or examining too closely /attempting to reform its traditions and tenets…as per the aforementioned excommunication of Ms. Kelly.

Back to Kelly: my favorite part (read: a jaw-dropping, NOT) of Unladylike‘s interview with her was when she spoke of the aftermath of being kicked out of the LDS church. (my emphasis):

“They can take everything away from you; they can take your family away from you. As soon as I was excommunicated my parents were asked to meet with their (church) leaders, and their leaders took away their callings,   [8]  took away their temple recommends – which means they can’t attend the temple – and really socially ostracized them, to the point that, in the meeting they said that, ‘you’re still permitted to love your daughter, even though you can’t associate with her.’ “    [9]

 

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Department Of Can You Just Find One Nice Thing To Say?

 

Although at the end of the day (or the never-ending time period, if you subscribe to the concepts of reincarnation and nirvana   [10] ) the various strains of Buddhism are filled with as many superstitions as other religions. But Buddhism as a philosophy contains ideas/advice based on the observation of reality (as opposed to alleged supernatural revelation or decree).

 

When’s the last – or first – time you heard a religious leader say that?

 

Besides the observation that life is tough and no one gets out alive (my pithy summary of the first of The Four Noble Truths ) —  one of the Buddhist ideas I find helpful and hopeful – not to mention merely and profoundly accurate – is the concept of impermanence.

With regards to human circumstances, impermanence, simply explained, is the acknowledgement that things change. This can be seen as both a caveat and a reassurance, as both warning and comfort.

* So, things are going very well:  you have stable and loving family, good health and close friendships, fulfilling work and hobbies, financial security – everything seems to be going your way and you feel on top of the world!  How wonderful for you! Enjoy this time, even as you keep in mind that things change… This will not always be the case.

* So, things are going very badly: your spouse has abandoned you; friends are absent or seemingly indifferent to your suffering; you have lost a loved one to death or estrangement; you are ill or injured; you were laid off at work and seem to be heading toward bankruptcy and you feel caught in a downward spiral of unbearable despair.  How truly awful for you…but remember, this too, will change.

 

Why do sloths remind me of Buddhist monks?

 

*   *   *

 

May you find the strength to leave your abusers, be they persons, thoughts, or institutions;
May you be both challenged and comforted by the reality of impermanence;
May you find simple pleasure in regarding a sloth’s monk-face;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Kelly claims no current religious affiliation.

[2] A term from the 1970s/second wave feminist, describing that moment wherein a woman, usually in listening to/reading about the experiences of other women, realizes she is a feminist and/or understands feminist principles and observations about living in a patriarchal society.

[3] All religions, basically, with arguably some Pagan/Wiccan strains outside the fold.

[4] As per the typical questions asked of battered women about why don’t they leave the relationship – look them up, and you’ll find the same reasoning/fears can apply to fleeing an abusive spouse and leaving such a life-dominating institution.

[5] How we Freethinkers looooove using that word.

[6] Almost 15 years ago.

[7] As in, all of them, and the societies where they dominate.

[8] “Callings” in the Mormon church are assignments or chores to make the church function. Callings can vary widely in capacity and responsibility, such as working on a committee, serving as a Bishop (a male-only calling), being a Sunday School teacher, making a monthly meal for your congregation….

[9] How many times have you heard, from non-Mormons trying to say something nice about the LDS: “Well, you gotta give ’em credit, they do so love the family….”

[10] And I hope you don’t.

The Secrets I’m Not Publishing

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Department of IF ONLY

Dateline: Tuesday, April 25, 8:31 am. I turn to the last page of the New York Times Arts section, only to have my eyeballs unexpectedly and viciously assaulted [1] by an enormous, surgically-stiffened nightmare of a visage – it is an advertisement for a “book.” The “face” to which I referred currently belongs to a particular offshoot from a particular celebrity-mongering hominid tribe. The ad takes up the entire page

The entire fucking page.

A really big headline –  FINALLY, THE WHOLE STORY – menacingly looms above a really big picture of the product being flogged: the ironically and erroneously entitled, The Secrets Of My Life. Caitlyn Jenner.

 

 

 

KHAN

No. No.  No. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

 

 

 

If only such would truly be kept confidential – which is in fact what a secret is.  That title; that book; those people…. So wrong, on so many levels. Including that of basic word usage and definitions. How can there be any “secrets” about any member of that conniving clan of celebrity seekers whose only talent is self-promotion – a tribe who seemed determined to convince The Rest Of Us ®  that a colonoscope’s view into their every moment is warranted?

 

 

policetape

Back off, folks. Move along; there’s nothing here to see.

 

 

 

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Department Of Correspondence Re Dead Friends

Bay Area friends LH and DH, who are very much alive, were up for a visit last weekend. LH, a fellow UCD alum, had expressed her condolences re the death of my friend since college, Jim, the One Of The Nicest People You’ll Ever Meet ® (mentioned in last week’s blog).  LH has also experienced the recent passing of several loved ones, and we email wondered (e-wondered?) back and forth about the situations. Are we getting to that stage in our lives, or are these deaths just a wobble in the Circle Of Life’s orbit?

Here is what moiself mused:

 One of the things I’ve long admired about some of the Buddhist perspectives on life is that there is an admission, right up front, that life is tough! No one gets out alive (well, then there is that silly reincarnation crap….).

I wish I could remember the phrasing; I know it’s not the 4 Noble Truths or the 8 Fold Path (Buddhism is big on numbering things), but a few years back I came across a list of Buddhist observations that were as profound as they were simple. I kept the list in my office, and now I can’t find it (a cat probably barfed on it, and it got thrown out).

It forthright, yet somehow not depressing, and goes something like this:

It is in my nature to grow old;

– It is in my nature to contract illness;

– It is in my nature to have the cat barf on things that are important to me.

And so on. As you may have guessed, that third observation isn’t really attributed to the Buddha (but if he’d had a cat I know he would have been enlightened on the matter).

So, I guess it is in our nature to, as the years go by, be adding to our list of loss. That doesn’t mean I have to like it…

I guess it keeps me humble, how even the things I *know* are inevitable (like my mother’s and Jim’s deaths) and think I have prepared for still sneak up and kick me in the spleen. And I want to kick back SO HARD but there’s nothing to aim at. At least the MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course I recently completed is helping.

WAIT  WAIT – I FOUND IT! It is called The Five Remembrances (see, I told you about the numbers thing). The idea behind the Five Remembrances is this: when we deny the reality of life, we appreciate it less. There are several versions/phrasings; the following is attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh.

* I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

* I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

* I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

* All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

* My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

 

 

buddha cat

 

 

 

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Department Of I’ve Always Thought My Dinner With Andre Was Overrated,
But Dinner With A Dung Beetle Is Spectacular

The lowly dung beetles – where would we be without them?   [2]  Dung beetles are some of the most unappreciated creatures on this planet, so I was thrilled to run across a short-but-sweet video clip about them, via the NY Times. Dinner With a Dung Beetle is a presentation about – a tribute to, really – these vital creatures.

Naturally, the dung beetle video got me to thinking about potluck dinner parties.

 

 

siriusly

 

 

Yes, seriously.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (read: when our now young adult offspring were still living at home), we used to host potluck dinner parties for ~ 20 – 30 people on a regular basis. The parties always had a theme, and guests were encouraged to bring food to share that they could justifiably claim was appropriate to the theme.

Past dinner party themes included

Cusina Obscura  [3]

*  White Trash Potluck   [4]

*  The PuPu Palace   [5]

*  Better Red Than Dead  [6]

One of our most memorable parties was held in the autumn of 2005, when MH, son K, daughter Belle and moiself transformed our humble abode into The Dung Beetle Café. The guests were encouraged to bring round or “roll-able” culinary creations, in honor of dung beetles but also to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox. Or, at least that’s how we convinced our guests to attend.

The real story behind what sparked the party theme was an evening several weeks prior to the party, when my ungrateful wretches darling offspring complained yet again about the exotic (to their middle school palates) meal I had once again served for dinner…which lead to them being treated to the following harangue serene clarification from moiself.

Do you know how lucky you are? You should be thankful we’re not…uh…a family of wolves. What if your father and I were wolves? Each night, after a long day of hunting, we’d return to the den, greet our pups – that’s YOU – with howls of, “We’re home – gather ’round, time to eat!” And then we’d serve you dinner by regurgitating the elk we’d eaten and partially digested.

Or what if we were…dung beetles, yeah! What if we were a family of dung beetles?  “Hey Mom, what are you making for dinner tonight?”  The answer would be the same, Every. Single. Time. “Good news, kids, it’s DUNG for dinner!”

 

While my kids counted their blessings I left the dinner table, scurried to my office and wrote myself a note about what would be the theme for our next dinner party. The rest is potluck party history.

 

 

 

dung

Is this a great party or what?!

 

 

 

About a year or so ago MH heard someone tell a dung beetle joke – the first dung beetle joke MH had ever heard. Romantic fool that he is, he couldn’t wait to tell me about it. I was smiling the rest of the day, in awe of the joke’s masterful sublimity. I’m smiling right now, just to have this chance to share it with lucky y’all.

A dung beetle walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Is this stool taken?”

 

 

 

duck

The chicken doesn’t talk, either.

 

 

 

*   *   *

May you have many great remembrances of many friends;
May you appreciate culinary diversity in all forms;
May you tell me every dung beetle joke you hear, the moment after you hear them;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1]  I feel as if my retinas have been scarred. And it’s not like I was standing in line at the supermarket and caught a glimpse of a tabloid headline, and could then look away. I turned the page of a (formerly) respectable newspaper, and was ambushed.

[2] Answer: covered in manure.

[3] Foods of the “minor” cuisines, as defined by people’s familiarity with the cuisine and/or its availability in restaurants.  In other words, none of the usual suspects — French, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, German, Moroccan….  How about Gourmet Guyanan?  Savory Samoan?  Nouvelle Netherlands or Norwegian Noshes? Tasty Tibetan? Yummy Yemeni…?  

[4] White Trash Food was defined for the party as embarrassing comfort food. From the party invitation:  That is, food you (at one time) ate and even liked, but would hesitate to share with others. Are you ashamed to admit you loved your school cafeteria’s “Salmon Surprise?” Do you secretly crave your Aunt Erva’s liver/lima bean/cream cheese casserole, or have fond flashbacks re surviving college on Kraft Mac and/or Stouffer’s chicken pot pies?  This is your chance to share these goodies with others, in an atmosphere of mutual confession, acceptance, and acid reflux.

[5] Pupus, as in appetizers and “finger foods.” From the Hawaiian-derived term  pū-pū, which indicates a relish, appetizer, or hors d’oeuvre.

[6] Guests were asked to bring a Red Food dish to share.  There are the classics — Cajun red beans & rice; beet juice risotto; Red Hot Chili Pepper layer cake…. An imaginative interpretation of the theme was strongly encouraged, as we feared dining on nothing but cabernet and ketchup.