Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Violence and its Offspring

Last Thursday, I went to bed thinking, “after work tomorrow I’ll put on ‘The Boondock Saints’ and do some packing.”  Then, the unthinkable happened.  My brain refused to comprehend, how could anyone, ever, pick up a gun, point it at children, and pull the trigger?  And I got to thinking, but this tragedy happens every day.  People, even children, die as a result of violence, and we mostly don’t hear about it, because they’re often from a low socio-economic stratum that the media and all us middle-class people can’t be bothered with.  Why?  Why does this kind of thing happen, ever, much less every single day?

After work on Friday, I couldn’t bring myself to watch anything violent.  I thought, even if it is one of my favorite movies, “Boondock Saints” is one of those things people mean when they say our culture glorifies violence.

Yes, I have a taste for movies that are gory and for songs that talk about violent revolution.  But I’m not especially proud of this about myself.  It’s not something I would want to pass on to the kids I’ll never have.  Violence may appeal to me in a way, but it’s not something I want to remain in the world.

Because when we’re immersed in violent media, in military metaphors, in a huge subculture devoted to killing animals, and our constant glorification of the actual military, it’s easier for violence to happen when it shouldn’t.  I’m not saying we ought to blame all violence and crime on movies or video games.  That’s foolishness.  I want to go through life not even hurting an animal much less a person, yet I listen to Eminem and I watch action movies with high body counts.  There’s not necessarily a direct causal relationship.  But we’re taught, from day 1, that sometimes it’s okay to kill people and it’s always okay to kill animals.  That some peoples’ jobs are to kill other people and that that’s a heroic job to have.  That people with guns who aren’t afraid to commit violence are tough and manly.

Where do the lines blur?  When two kids spend their days imagining blowing the heads off bad guys, when does one kid realize those bad guys are human beings whose death is tragic as all death is, and the other kid start thinking blowing heads off anybody they don’t like is okay?

I wish we lived in a world where ending a person’s life was never seen as okay.  Where the military wasn’t seen as heroic, but as a necessary evil which we ought to work towards decreasing as much as possible.  Where even killing someone in the last extremity of self-defense would leave our hearts broken, though we know there was literally no other choice.  That’s a world in which tragedies would be much fewer and further between, and wouldn’t be swallowed up by the next thing to come across our TV screens.

Most of my beloved violent movies and music are, I think, called for in this world we live in.  They’re about revolt against this harmful world system, or about doing justice against those who destroy others’ lives.  They’re not about just shooting shit up for no reason (okay, so maybe some of that Eminem stuff is. Like I said, this isn’t the thing I’m most proud of about myself).  We live in a violent world and sometimes those who live by the sword must die by it as well.  But where does it stop?  If we use violence to overthrow the institutions that fill our lives with violence and coercion, where will it end?  When we no longer need violence as a cultural narrative, will we have the courage to lay it down?  Or will we let our need to be shocked and titillated, our hobbies, our comfort zone, outweigh the lives of each day’s victims?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Rape Culture and Modesty Culture Have In Common

Rape culture” is a term used by feminists to describe “a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape…[Examples] include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.”  That’s from Wikipedia.   My take is that the basic attitude of rape culture is that all men have a right to any female body they want.  ("Rape culture" refers not as much to the act of rape itself as to the cultural reaction to and acceptance of it.)  From this standpoint, rape itself is an act in which a man’s right to have sex with any woman he wants trumps her right to say no (this leads to trivializing rape, because if a man is just exercising his male privilege, why should we call it a crime? It was her fault the experience sucked for her, right?).  It’s seen in victim-blaming: “You shouldn’t have been at that party.” “You shouldn’t have been on a date with him.”  “You shouldn’t have been wearing a miniskirt.”  “Did you do anything that could have brought this upon yourself?”  It’s seen in internet phenomena like the Reddit creepshots, where men post pictures of women taken without the women’s knowledge or consent, basically close-ups of women’s body parts seen out and about on the street, in a store, whatever.  

The idea is, if you’re a woman, your body is there to be exploited by men.  The burden is on you to defend yourself, not on them to be respectful of your privacy, your right to say no, your right to live a life free of sexual violence and your right to present yourself however you choose without being judged, shamed, or taken advantage of for it (example: women with larger breasts are often assumed to be “bad girls” and interacted with accordingly, regardless of their true personalities.  If such a woman is also an outgoing, outspoken woman, she’s automatically perceived as a slut no matter what her real sexual morals are.  If a woman like this ever sues for sexual harassment, she’s likely to lose the case).

I don’t think “Modesty Culture” is an actual term yet.  But it needs to be.  Modesty culture is supposedly a Christian reaction to the sluttiness and rape-iness of “the world.”  (For any of you who aren’t a Christian insider, Christians use the term “the world” to mean anyone who isn’t a Christian, but especially the mainstream culture of America which is perceived as a cesspool of all that is evil and sinful).  The idea is, a really self-respecting woman will dress herself in such a way that her body will not be the focus at all.  Sermons, conferences, books, even T-shirts all advocate this notion that modesty is a prime component of sexual purity.  There are endless debates on what constitutes modesty.  The general consensus is, however, a woman’s clothing must not be too revealing of either flesh or figure (too scanty or too tight).  Quibbling about inches and guidelines takes up an amazing amount of time and energy, but the idea is the same: Good girls are modest.  

And this is for everyone’s protection.  Men are less tempted sexually when the women around them cover up.  Modest women are less likely to be taken advantage of, whether just by ogling on the street, by men pressuring them to have sex, or by rape (so goes the story, anyway).  Do you feel a little judged, a little meddled with, when a stranger tells you how to dress? Don’t. They really have your best interests at heart.  They want you to “respect yourself” by doing your best to control other people’s reaction to your body.  And they can’t be held responsible for what happens when you don’t dress modestly enough.

You should see some of the correspondence already. 

Here’s the first ugly truth: as soon as a woman falls outside the standards of what is perceived as modest, those advocating modesty culture immediately join rape culture.  They shrug and say, “Whatever happens is on her.  She’s asking for it.”  They’re not actually concerned about all women, only women who are willing to conform to their standards of modesty.  It gets worse:  When a woman is a victim of sexual violence, it matters much less to “modesty culture” than to current American “rape culture” how she dresses or acts – “modesty culture” will assume much more quickly that it is somehow her fault, probably because their standards for how “good girls” dress and behave are so much higher.

Second, both “cultures” have a very problematic stance on men; it’s not as bad as their view of women but it’s another of the shocking similarities between the two.  Why does “modesty culture” try to get all women to cover up?  Because men, according to “modesty culture,” cannot help themselves (sound familiar?).  Since actually sincere Christians want their men to be sexually pure as well as their women (or at least they say they do, but of course the onus for keeping men pure is put on the women), all temptation must be removed.  For even seeing a flash of skin he ought not to have seen will make a man think all sorts of lusty and rape-y thoughts.  That’s the gist of it – I’ve read modesty books that go into great detail on how men’s chemistry works, essentially saying that if he catches just a glimpse of a woman’s body he will be sexually turned on in an instant and after that he is incapable of controlling his mental/physical reaction. (and it is only a woman’s body that will create this reaction…modesty culture is heteronormative to the point of denying that real homosexual attraction even exists).  So both rape culture and modesty culture envision men as drooling hound dogs with everlasting erections.  (As a side note, modesty culture is mostly made up of people who think men ought to be the ones running the world, and that the male gender holds all spiritual authority.  No wonder women should stay in the kitchen, we can’t have the lords of creation suddenly turned into slavering animals while they’re trying to do important political and religious leadership type things.)

But how can a “culture” that ostensibly seeks to protect women from sexual exploitation be fundamentally the same in assumptions as a “culture” that accepts sexual exploitation and violence as the norm?  It’s simple.  Fundamentally, they are both based on the exact same principle: Objectification.

Here’s how it works.  Imagine that I am on a beach on a very hot day, wearing a bikini.  I look at some cool algae that’s washed up on the beach and I say to the two men standing next to me, “I didn’t know algae could be purple, I wonder what causes that?”  Man number one is “rape culture man” and man number two is “modesty culture man.”  Neither man really registers a word I’ve said.  “Rape culture man” reaches for his camera (there’s a lot of people on the beach so he’s not actually going to rape me; he’d also totally love it if I were to lose my top whilst swimming in the ocean).  “Modesty culture man” panics, looks around and while averting his eyes grabs a nearby towel and hands it to me, saying, “Cover up!”  Neither man has reacted at all to the thought I had just expressed, to the fact that I, as a human being, was trying to interact with them, as human beings.  They didn’t even see another human being, they just saw body parts.  Rape culture man wanted to take sexual ownership of those body parts, while modesty culture man wanted me to hide those body parts from his view so that he wasn’t tempted to take sexual ownership of them.  But despite the different end result (and the fact that, to be fair, if I were “appropriately covered up”, modesty culture man would be more interested in me as a human being), their initial reaction - ignoring me and seeing only my body - was the same.

Whether the obsession is with seeing & exploiting a woman’s body or with the danger of being tempted by accidentally seeing it, it’s just two sides of the same coin.  I become an object. I am considered not as me, not as a person with thoughts and feelings and ideas and a back-story, but as a simple trigger for lust.  Whether you are hoping to see a little cleavage or desperately avoiding the possibility of seeing a little cleavage, you’re still just focused on my cleavage, and you’re probably not hearing a word I’m saying.  I am still just an object, reduced to a body part, and by focusing so much on your own lust (feeding it or starving it), you’re reducing yourself to a body part too.

Though they’re based on the same view of humanity (men as lustful, women as objects), rape culture is still the worse of the two.  But I dislike both.  Objectification is just not okay and it’s happened for far too long.  When will we see all people as people instead of just extras in the movie of our own personal life?

For the record, I’m just a little annoyed when it comes to me personally being objectified.  Mostly, I’m like, whatever.  How you react to me is your choice and it’s not my fault you’re making a dumb choice.  (Not including sexual violence here; that’s a whole different ball of wax)  But I still want to change cultural attitudes.  I’d love to see a world where victim blaming does not happen, where a woman is interacted with as a fellow human being no matter what she’s wearing, where no one assumes that anyone is “asking for” sexual violence.  I’d love to live in a world where assumptions about your ethics aren’t made based on your clothing choices or your personality.  But I’m not going to let categories of “good girl” or “bad girl” change the way I act.  I am not going to treat myself as an object; I am not going to listen to people’s judgments of me; my body is a part of all that makes up “me” and I’m not going to let any obsession with it take over my entire life.

And I’m also going to arm myself, because I do not yet live in a world where any woman can consider herself completely safe.

[endnote: Unfortunately I could not provide hyperlinks for a lot of the claims made in this post because I have gleaned them from print media, including my extensive reading of Christian dating/modesty/purity books in the past.  I can provide specific citation for my claim that certain types of women have a much harder time suing for sexual harassment and for the modesty-culture description of a man's arousal response to seeing a woman's body, if you care to ask, but as I am commenting on cultural phenomena it is hard to provide specific citation for other items (for instance the heteronormativity of modesty culture).  I may have read similar arguments in the past to the one that I am making here, but I cannot attribute the argument as it stands to any specific source other than my own reflection and observation.]

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Lady's Lament

I recently rediscovered this poem I wrote a couple years ago, about all the uncertainties in my life and the constant danger of being victimized by circumstances or other people.  I find that these questions never really go away.

When villains and court jesters
Steal a lady’s heart and mind
Can she trust there’s still Prince Charming
Or is he of the same kind?

When she’s locked inside the tower
Spinning webs in poetry
Is the first to crack her mirror
The right one to set her free?

When she holds the crown and scepter
Rules with wisdom and with grace
Will a Prince just cast her down
So he can steal her rightful place?

When they choke her will and spirit
And they promise her she’s wrong
Will she dare to just not listen
Hold her truths and still stay strong?

When she’s banished to hard labor
Hidden from the summer sun
Can she hold fast to her hoping
Until the fool’s feast is done?

When she’s walking free at last
And someone catches her eye
Is he villain, jester, prince
Or will his love still let her fly?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Heart of it All

In my experience, it’s a conscious choice to set out on the journey to being a whole person – complete, connected to my body and mind and emotions and soul.  I say “journey” deliberately because I’m nowhere near there yet.  But I know I’m getting at least a little bit closer to being a truly integrated human being, compared to where I was a few years ago.

Body, mind, heart, soul.  Exploring and seeking to understand each of these aspects is a vital part of the journey.  Today I’m thinking more about the heart, the emotions.  I’m curious as to whether I’ve done irreparable damage to this part of my being.

I don’t recall ever being particularly afraid of my emotions until I reached teenagerhood.  At that point, my emotions suddenly stopped making sense.  They became unpredictable.  They weren’t always under my control.  They were downright scary.  I had no idea, for instance, that having feelings for someone could cause such intense pain.  I also was caught completely off guard by depression.  Who knew that a feeling existed which would drain everything of color and cause me to want nothing more than to escape life as I knew it?

The first method by which I tried to deal with strong emotional pain and distress was one I would never recommend to anyone.  I took to making up long, involved stories in my mind, essentially creating a fantasy world that I inhabited almost entirely.  There were periods of time when I was so withdrawn into myself that I was literally only physically present in the real world – my body might have been in front of you, but the rest of me had left this plane of existence.  Anyone or anything real was just an annoying distraction from the stories I was spinning in my mind.

It is not easy or fun to revisit this part of my past and I can’t remember, right now, why I finally re-entered reality.  However, once I did, I started using another method of dealing with my emotions.  The technique of self-talk can be helpful, but I used it to try and suppress my emotions entirely.  All emotions, I began to believe, must be completely subject to the intellect.  If I cannot explain why I am feeling this way, or even if I can logically prove that it is unhelpful or sinful to feel this way, then I shouldn’t be having this emotion.  It’s not a valid emotion and I must therefore completely ignore it and act as if it doesn’t exist.  All negative emotions, all “selfish” emotions (such as romantic interest in someone), were taboo.  Eventually, I wanted to distance myself from every emotion other than things like “wonder at God’s creation,” “disgust at my own sin” (including “bad” emotions) or “gratitude.”  Any other emotion was nothing more than rebellion or doubting whether God really controlled literally every aspect of my life.

This, trying purposely to submit every one of my emotions to logic, is what still haunts me today.  I know that learning to control one’s emotions is an important part of reaching maturity, but I pursued that goal with no balance and no wisdom.  Eventually, I had myself convinced that no feeling was really legitimate.  Of course, I didn’t stop having feelings.  I just felt very ashamed of them and did my very best to compartmentalize them from the rest of my life.  Spock would have been proud of the way I strove to live according to reason.  And it was just logic, based on my rather stringent beliefs at the time.  There was nothing actually spiritual about it, though I convinced myself it was all for the good of my soul.  (My soul was probably languishing in a corner, trying to gather the strength to protest the way I was letting my brain take over everything).

As time went on, I learned a better way.  I learned to be more charitable with myself and other people.  I learned that it’s okay to feel.  But I can’t remember the last time I had a strong emotion without hearing the little voice in my head, standing over and against that emotion, saying “yeah, okay, but…”   This obnoxious voice offers reasons why the emotion is just a passing thing, why I shouldn’t do anything about it, why I should ignore this emotion and live as though it doesn’t exist.  And in frustration, I yell back at my brain, “for heavens’ sake can’t I just simply feel something without you getting involved?”

Can’t I believe what my heart has to say is legitimate?  Can’t I cry without feeling a little guilty and stopping almost right away?  Can’t I accept that maybe my depression is there for a reason and isn’t just me being a baby about life?

Of course I will be at my best when my heart can work together with my mind.  But in order for that to happen, I first have to strengthen my heart.  I have to teach my mind and my heart that they are not enemies.  I have to allow my heart to sometimes trump my mind instead of always allowing my brain to trump my heart.  Yes, I understand there must be balance, but sometimes I desperately want the sweet freedom of making a decision from my heart and never looking back. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why I'm Voting Democrat This Year

The Republicans are trying to emphasize, over and over, that the focus in this election is on jobs and the economy.  Of course, that’s not entirely true.  Republicans just want it to be true because they know that their social policies are increasingly unpopular.

No election is about just one thing.  In order for that to be true, all elected officials and their appointees would have to promise to only make decisions about that one thing.  “No legislating about the environment for the next four years, and forget any non-economic foreign policy, folks.  This election is solely about jobs and the economy!”  That’s completely silly.  The reason journalists want to know what Republicans think about social issues is because they know that we, the people, are going to be effected by the very real choices that Republicans, if elected, will get to make about American society.

Of course the American people are very concerned about the economy.  It’s something that affects every one of us every single day.  I’ve been reading both party platforms and both parties really do want a lot of the same things when it comes to the economy. They want to encourage entrepreneurship and business growth here at home, they want to create jobs and grow the economy.  Both parties want to streamline government, cutting whatever they deem unnecessary spending and reducing national debt.  The only problem is, each party has a fundamentally different philosophy about how to achieve these goals.  Republicans place their trust and the vast majority of the burden for economic revival on the free market, while Democrats place trust in the government to boost the economy.  And they both blame the others’ policies for the economic mess we’re in right now.  It’s up to the American people to decide which institution they distrust least. 

To my mind, if government really did its job, if politicians were concerned with the good of the governed rather than with their own financial wellbeing or re-election or power, I would be much more excited about the Democrats’ solutions.  As it is, I’m pretty wary (especially that we’ll just get more power-play gridlock instead of progress), but at this point I think I still trust the government just slightly more than I trust the free market.  Unchecked capitalism may sound good to those who have money to begin with, but it tends to turn into a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest game for those on the lower rungs of society.  Humankind, according to all the political theorists whose ideas America is founded on, originally banded together to avoid the dog-eat-dog violence of an individualistic world.  We formed governmental institutions and charged them with the task of protecting us from those who would seek to take our life, liberty, or property.  Republicans want government to guard our property most fiercely, but Democrats think that the loss of food, shelter, and health care is tantamount to a loss of life.  When working within the capitalist system fails to provide the basic necessities of life, maybe it’s the government’s job to step in and help out until we can get back on our feet (whether that be as larger groups of people, by job creation and economy stimulus, or individually, as in food stamps and welfare).  We live in society for a reason, and if as members of society we can’t help support those around us, maybe we shouldn’t be members of such a privileged society.  As a personal example, I used to whine about how much of my paycheck went to taxes, especially social security which I may never see again. But then my dad lost his job and he started receiving unemployment, and government support programs didn’t seem so terrible to me anymore.

But, as I said, the economy is just one piece of the pie.

One of the political issues that I support wholeheartedly is the legalization of gay marriage, or, as I prefer to call it, marriage equality.  It’s just bat-shit crazy to me that about half the nation still believes that some peoples’ civil rights ought to be restricted based on other peoples’ religious beliefs.  I salute the Democratic party for officially making support of marriage equality part of their party platform.  And I am appalled at the way anti-gay Republicans will cloak their phobia in lofty talk of the Constitution (it’s right there in their party platform).  It’s true, the Founding Fathers probably wouldn’t have supported gay marriage. But they also knew that the world would change and so they did not primarily enshrine bigotry in the constitution (there are a few clauses now stricken from the document which were pretty bigoted and racist), they primarily enshrined language of rights, freedoms, and most importantly a mechanism whereby the Constitution could be amended to embrace changes that might arise in our unwieldy, diverse, messy nation. 

Also, I care deeply about women’s issues, as I should, since I’m a woman.  I’m not going to say that in order to be a good woman you have to agree with me on everything.  And I’m not even sure what my official position is, though I think making abortion illegal would create more problems than it would solve.  I certainly don’t think Planned Parenthood should be defunded; they are a top provider of contraception and of health information, most vitally to lower-income and uninsured women who might otherwise not have access to such health care.  These women should not be casualties of political crossfire.  (If you’ve never actually interacted with anyone involved with Planned Parenthood, go ahead and look at their website; you may disagree with them on many issues but it’s important that you not get all your impressions of an institution from what their critics say about them). Anyhow, I want a party in power that might actually invite women to the bargaining table when specifically female issues are at stake.  There’s nothing more ridiculous than an all-male panel on contraception.

Of course, since the majority of people living below the poverty line are women, and the majority of those women are single mothers, the economy comes into play again.  Would these women like to duke it out in an arena where they and their children have no social safety net to fall back on? Would they like an unregulated capitalist economy where a predatory housing market, companies just trying to turn a profit, and exorbitant lenders are free to take advantage of them?  I suspect that these women might like the Democrats’ philosophy of how to fix the economy better than they like the Republicans’.

Finally, as far as women’s issues go, I was extremely pleased to see that the Democrats mentioned multiple times in their party platform that they urge the ratification of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women).  It’s a document drawn up by the United Nations in 1979.  Most nations that have ratified it have done so with some reservations, but the United States is the only developed nation that has not ratified it at all (see the Wikipedia article; I was first made aware of CEDAW’s existence by this fantastic book about women’s rights around the world).  The Republican party platform nowhere mentions CEDAW.

These are some of the important, deciding issues; there are others such as the environment, immigration, education, labor policy, and foreign policy, all of which I also have more or less vigorous opinions on.  But bottom line, in reading both party’s political platforms, I see two different philosophies (or, if you will, “worldviews”) at work.  I used to be very strongly Republican, even Libertarian, but I’ve changed my mind.  I find my ideas are in line with the Democratic party and so that’s how I plan to vote.  I’m not going to try to pressure you to agree with me, and I know many of you won’t.  Let’s all go ahead and vote our individual beliefs, and prove once again that democracy really does work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Guaranteed-Result Couch-Potato Diet!

Recently, researchers concluded (in this study) that organic food isn’t any more nutritionally valuable than non-organic food.  To which I responded with a resounding “duh…”

It’s true that there are questions about the reliability of the test results.  But the biggest thing that this proves to me is: Americans are stupid about food.  Really, why would the non-use of pesticides or the use of natural fertilizer boost the amount of Vitamin C in an orange, for instance?  I wouldn’t even suspect that the raspberries plucked right from under the nose of all those bees and hornets that buzz around our family raspberry patch are better for me than the ones they stock at Wal-Mart.  (they may taste better but I think that has more to do with the freshness factor)  I never thought organic food was better for me than non-organic (and, let’s be honest, it’s way worse for my wallet).  If I want food that’s better for me, I go for non-processed food, regardless of how it was grown.  I avoid sugar and excess fat and meat.  The reason for organic food, in my mind, has always been for the health of the earth and in support of better farming practices.

But, all things considered, I’m not surprised that the healthiness or non-healthiness of organic food is a research-worthy topic.  After all, America is the nation that thought it could subsist entirely on meat.  We are just incredibly dumb about food.  The diet industry is entirely funded by the millions of people who have no idea what it is they put in their mouths every day.

I won’t lie to you: I like to eat cheap, processed foods sometimes.  My favorite snack for awhile in college was Easy Mac, for crying out loud.  But I eat food like that the same way I read those books comedians write.   No, screw it, bad analogy – laughter is the best medicine, and processed cheese product probably isn’t.  The point is, cheapness and convenience in food is quite pleasant but it’s not something I want to live off of.

Cheap and convenient is just one symptom of what has been called our “national eating disorder.”  It’s what happens when you listen to the marketing narrative that’s pushing processed crap.  “Ready in 2 minutes!” they shout.  “Save money!”  Until you consequently have to spend lots of time and money at the doctors’ office, this is an enticing narrative indeed.

But cheap and convenient is just the tip of the iceberg. (Also, did you know iceberg lettuce is basically water? Yeah, go for Romaine instead).  The big money comes in with the diet schemes.  The people who think up the diets get money, their publishers and advertisers get money, every company that can spin their product to fit the dieting fad gets money.  And as soon as the FDA (or whoever regulates these things) gets in there and slaps a truth-in-advertising law on some over-used word or phrase, the marketers come up with something else to dupe the unsuspecting masses into buying their food products.

Sadly, by the time the average American wakes up to the fact that she is stupid about food, she finds herself so swamped in contradictory information that she doesn’t know who to listen to.  That’s the problem with living in a nation of self-proclaimed experts on everything.  It’s almost impossible to sort through the crap and find the truth.

So as much as I might roll my eyes at this silly organic-food-isn’t-extra-healthy study, maybe some people actually need it…and then the eye-roll is back and I figure if someone really needed this study, there’s probably not much hope for them.

Oh look, an article in my latest fashion magazine about how dieting fads don’t work.  Geez, and last month they had this awesome “cleanse” article, and… I think the way I actually manage to keep my weight pretty stable and my health pretty solid is by just ignoring nearly all the advice.  If some nutritionist somewhere does happen to agree with me, I just nod and move on.  Who cares.  Apathy is a legitimate dietary choice…right? At least I’m consistent.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Civil (rights) Wars

When a group of previously marginalized people steps forward and asks to partake in the civil rights which other members of their society share in, some other group of privileged, powerful people will say: “but that would end society as we know it!”  Normally, the marginalized group and their non-member advocates then hunker down and dig in for what they know will be a long, protracted, bloody yet ultimately successful battle.  And they begin to win more victories, and the powerful people mutter under their collective breath, and civilization lumbers wearily onward, rolling its eyes at the idea that a little bit of justice could derail all of humanity.

Honestly, this is one of the things that baffles me about the world we live in.  “Civilization as we know it” was built upon slavery, oppression of women, and exclusion of interpretations of normalcy and reality that differed from the official line.  Yet when slavery ended, when political entities officially acknowledged that all racial groups ought to have equal rights, when women began to share in the civil society that men had previously thought their own exclusive territory, when all-around diversity grew to be viewed as desirable rather than repulsive, civilization did not collapse.  The polis was not overrun by bloodthirsty Huns.  In fact, life got better for a lot of people.  The people who weren’t immediately affected still had avenues of opportunity for positive change opened to them which had never before been possible.

But, in classic human style, we never learn.  Each advance in human rights and justice is eventually accepted by the brains of us powerful and privileged middle-class white Americans.  Then, someone else comes along asking for their human rights and a little justice, and we freak out all over again.  It’s like we think human rights is a zero-sum game and if we give some to that gay Hispanic factory worker, we won’t have any left over for ourselves.  To which I say: bullshit.

If you can believe it, hardcore Bible-thumping Protestant types used to kind of be a fan of individual rights.  They may have devolved into a lot of old white guys with bad hair who preach terrible sermons against gay marriage, but back in the 1500’s, Protestants were the first advocates of popular literacy.  That’s right, Martin Luther himself (great-great-granddaddy of every Protestant who ever judged you for thinking for yourself) wanted every plow-pushing farmer to be able to read and interpret the Bible for himself, rather than having some ecclesiastical institution telling him how to think.  It didn’t take more than a few years before these educational egalitarians began getting quite violent over minor doctrinal issues, but the fact remains that you can thank the chaos they brought down upon the fairly institutionalized monolithic Middle Ages for some of the freedoms that you’re entitled to today.

Which just goes to show that people are usually big fans of rights and justice until their own rights are achieved.  Then they tend to sit back on their asses and try to hoard all the human rights for themselves, as if other people on this planet aren’t really human enough to deserve rights.  That’s a depressing thought.  For instance, if in my lifetimes women’s rights are fully realized, will I then lock myself in my ivory tower and stop caring about other peoples’ rights?   I truly hope not.

There is so much progress to be made still on this planet.  There are billions of people whose basic rights are violated constantly.  We cannot be content with the progress that has already been made.  We cannot be stingy.

Will justice and the progress of human rights really bring a violent end to civilization as we know it?  If it will, I say down with civilization.  I say that ten thousand years of history built on the broken backs of oppressed people is not worth it.  If giving people their rights brings an end to civilization, I will be the first in line to burn it all down.  But we know better.  Despite our contradictory actions, the society we have built is what gives us ways to fight for what we know is right.  Justice can only be a good thing for humanity.  Civilization as we know it might indeed change, but as long as it is changing for the better we should just stop the hysteria already and get to work.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Baby in the Boardroom

On my way to stand in line for my lunch at Panera, I noticed a headline story gracing the cover of “USA Today.”  Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, just announced that she is pregnant.  More significantly, she announced that she isn’t planning to scale back her career on account of motherhood.  According to the article, Mayer plans to take a short maternity leave and even work from home during that leave.

It’s been a while since people have seriously argued that women cannot succeed in the workforce.  However, the idea that women have to choose between motherhood and career persists.  A woman can’t be a responsible mother and maintain the career trajectory she had before motherhood, or so popular perception would have us believe.  In fact, when discussing the issue of a pay gap between men and women, a frequently cited reason is that women often take time off of work when they have babies, chopping chunks of time out of their 20’s and 30’s to focus on family.  A career with baby-shaped holes carved in it isn’t going to “get ahead” as quickly as an uninterrupted career.

Curiously, no one expects fathers to take time off of work to focus on their families further than a couple of weeks’ vacation in the summer.   Fathers aren’t asked how much time they plan to take off of work when their children are born.  As far as the working world is concerned, fatherhood is something that can be accomplished during evenings and weekends.

Whenever people complain about the breaking down of the American family, the burden is often placed on the mother to quit work, to go take care of the house and the children.  Why does no one advise fathers to give up their career for their family?  Why does no one suggest that men have to choose between the two?

Marissa Mayer is a high-profile woman, making a very public decision about how work and motherhood are going to intersect in her life.  But in reality, women from the beginning of time have been faced with this very decision.  Women have always worked, whether it was on subsistence farms in agricultural societies, in factories from the beginning of industrialized society, in a high-rise corporate office, or in any other job across the world and through time.  And women have always been mothers.  Some women choose to drop out of the workforce and stay home, considering mothering their most important calling at that point in their lives.  Others choose to continue their careers, splitting their time like men do between work and family.  Still others, perhaps most women who have ever faced this choice, really have no choice at all: they must work in order to pay for food and housing (these women are the women I particularly think of when people try to foist a guilt trip on working mothers – they are best serving their family by leaving the home, and all the moralizing in the world about traditional family structure should be ashamed in the face of their real moral fiber).

It makes me sad that the career/family question is constantly cast as a women’s issue.  It’s not: it’s a human issue, a question that men and women alike should face.  Traditional cultural expectations shouldn’t give men a shortcut out of this weighty question, nor place an undue burden on women.

I hope that by opening up discussion about careers and parenthood, Mayer’s decision will help continue the process of cultural acceptance of working mothers.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, especially to assist single mothers who work to support their families.  But one of the building blocks of truly constructive change is change in cultural perception.  

Show us how it’s done, Mayer, if you can break through the glass ceiling set so low for mothers, we'll have one more witness against all the voices that constantly say, "you can't do that."  Maybe you'll inspire women everywhere to step up and say, "too bad, haters, we're already doing it."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"What There Is To Conquer...Has Already Been Discovered"

I used to follow a popular, hip Christian magazine which shall remain nameless.  A few months in, however, I realized that all of the articles are about almost exactly the same things, all the time.  One article on slacktivism, one article on relationship roles, one article on lust, one article on pop culture, one article on the exact amount of simpleness needed to achieve optimal Christian hipster-hood…all recycled over and over again.  The content is all right the first time around, but by the third month of the same repeated drivel, I decided to take up a more thoughtful form of time-wasting, and started subscribing to fashion magazines.  At least their repetitiveness is accompanied by pretty pictures.

The point is, the magazine conundrum begs a question: is the addition of one more voice to the teeming multitudes of the information age really worth it?

Is it worth my time to be writing these words, and is it worth your time to be reading them?  Especially considering that other people have reflected almost exactly these same things, and written them down, and you’ve probably come across them before.  Not to mention, a large percentage of these people are probably more intelligent and clever and well-spoken than I am.

For instance, T. S. Eliot:
“So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” [East Coker, No. 2 of “Four Quartets”]

See what I mean?  Even the throwing up of one’s hands at the futility of speaking these small thoughts over and over is a repetition.

But I am afflicted with the generational curse to find an online forum and strut about on it, pontificating any banal thesis that comes to mind.  This condition is made worse by my incurable taste for books and sharpened into a fine point by my college degree.  Hmm, I may be mixing metaphors here.

In any case, as a good postmodern, I feel the absurdity of my pursuit but I decide to continuing pursuing it anyway.  There’s probably some lesson to be learned from this.  It might go something like this: The world we live in, this 21st century, has managed better than any other age to convey to the human mind its own smallness within a world of other beings like itself.  But all that exercise has proven is the individual ego’s persistence in denying any truth that is uncomfortable.  In the face of my own smallness, I still choose to assert myself.

It’s a paradox, but it’s a paradox I can live with.

With confessedly less than due humility,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Loving Memory

Seven years ago today.  It doesn’t seem like seven years of course, it’s one of those events that defies time, remaining in my mind when other memories have slid away in the endless succession of days.

It was a warm day for winter, or maybe I just thought it was because I was used to Michigan winters which are so unlike Maryland winters.  We, along with my mom’s brother and my mom’s sister and her family, had been living in my Nona’s house for the past few weeks, caring for her as she succumbed to cancer.  Other family members lived in the area and spent most of their time at Nona’s house as well.  Nona was dying, but she was dying surrounded by her family.  The sadness of Nona’s illness and the intense experience of family love and caring combined to make these weeks the most treasured painful experience of my life.

We knew that Nona had a very short time left to live.  But on February 22nd, that wasn’t so much on my mind.  Because on that day, I was exactly 14 and 9 months, the age at which, in Michigan, I could legally register for driver’s ed.  In sympathy for my excitement about the anticipated joys of driving, my uncle pulled the riding lawnmower out of the garage and taught me how to drive it around the yard.

After driving around for a little while, thrilled by the experience, I finally decided to go inside.  I don’t remember why anymore.  I think I wanted to tell Mom about driving the lawnmower.  I walked through the kitchen, happy, my cheeks stinging slightly because of the chill in the air outside.  And then I opened the door to what we called “the Blue Room,” where Nona’s hospital bed was.  My mom and one of my aunts were sitting on the small couch we had moved into that room.  The room was dark, Nona’s bed against the wall, and the heavy smell of some flower someone had sent in the air – I think it was jasmine.  Before I opened my mouth, I looked over at the bed.

And that was when I knew.  Nona was gone.  Her body was still there but I knew absolutely that her spirit had already left.

Tentatively, I asked Mom and my aunt, “what are you guys doing?”

“We’re just waiting for the angels to take Nona,” she responded.

“They already did, Mom,” I thought, but I didn’t say anything, just left the room.  I went down to the basement bedroom where my sister and I slept, feeling numb, not knowing whether or not I felt like crying.  I grabbed a book and lay across the bed and it was probably just a minute or two later that Mom came downstairs and told me that Nona had died.

I cried then.

Later, I heard that when my cousins, who were still outside in the yard, were told, my uncle asked them if they wanted to come in and say goodbye to Nona.  But one of them replied, “but she’s not there anymore, it’s just her body.”  So instead of crowding around her body to say goodbye, they simply looked up into the cold blue sky and sent their goodbyes in the direction of Heaven.

I remember some of my aunts and uncles standing at Nona’s bedside, singing “’tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free…”  Most of the rest of that day is a blur in my mind.  They gave me Nona’s wedding band, but I couldn’t wear it at first.  I’m not sure why, but it just didn’t feel right.  I started wearing it once we went back to Michigan, a few weeks later, and I haven’t stopped wearing it since.

It’s been seven years.  They’ve been good years.  I miss Nona and I regret that she died when I was only fourteen.  I wish I had been able to get to know her better – I have questions I wish I had asked her, but of course when she died I was much too immature to consider her primarily as an individual, as herself, not just in her role as my grandmother.

But Nona was too full of life and love for me to spend time brooding on her death.  If anything, the fact that one vibrant, loving person passed from this earth seven years ago is greater motivation for me to live the best life I can.  I want to overflow with love and joy the way she did.  I want to live life to the fullest.  February 22nd is not primarily a day for me to mourn, it is a reminder for me to laugh.  It is a reminder for me to love passionately and unconditionally.  It is a reminder that a life well-lived is beautiful.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Women See In the Mirror

I have a picture in my head of what I wish I looked like - my ideal self.  Every time I look in the mirror, I turn this way and that, hoping that at the right angle my real self will look like my ideal self.  Even though I normally am very satisfied with how I look, my real self never exactly corresponds with my ideal self.

For most women, this ideal self is formed by pictures burned into our brains by the media - by fashion magazines, artwork, movies and TV shows.  I'm an entertainment addict just like everyone else so I really cannot judge people for exposing themselves to these images.  But some reading I have been doing lately has helped me understand how these images are destructive to women.

Throughout the history of Western civilization, men have held the most power in society.  Although women are gaining more power - economically, politically, socially - this is a very recent development and men still tend to have more power than women.  So women, for thousands of years, have been socialized to believe that allying themselves with a man, usually by marrying him, is their best avenue to power and security.  Rather than cultivating within themselves education, skills and experiences, women spend a great deal of time making themselves physically attractive to men.

But it is not just the great amount of time, effort, money, and emotional and psychological energy invested in the quest for beauty that is destructive to the American woman.  It is the image held up as the standard for attractiveness which not only causes women much pain and distress (physical and mental) but undermines our autonomy and our potential to take control of our own destinies.  The standard of physical beauty shifts from decade to decade, but a few factors remain common.  In 1869, John Stuart Mill wrote that men "represent to [women] meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness."  Over a century later, we do still find young women fretting that a man will not find her attractive if she takes initiative.  But these days the "attractiveness of submission" is conveyed to the female mind much more subtly.  An attractive woman is one who looks like she'll need a man's help.  An attractive woman is small, weighs about 100 pounds, has little to no visible muscle mass, is built delicately.  She takes up very little physical space.  The only parts of a woman's anatomy permitted to be large and still thought attractive are specifically sexual areas.  On a basic level, a woman considered attractive by today's standards is one whose physical body says, "I am not a threat to your masculine power, and I will be very good at pleasing you sexually."

Most women cannot conform to our society's "ideal" body type without a great deal of effort, often to the point of starving themselves.  So not only does this ideal body type hold up the appearance of physical weakness as a standard, it also forces most normal women who want to conform to it to mistreat their bodies, becoming sick both physically and psychologically to meet the unnatural standard (also sometimes undergoing painful and expensive plastic surgery).  A woman with a naturally small frame can be strong, of course, and I am not criticizing anyone whose body type happens to coincide with cultural standards.  But a woman who is starving herself down to proportions she was never meant to be is having her life sucked away, her strength undermined, as she fights desperately against her own natural power and beauty.

If we women are to embrace freedom and fight oppression in our own lives, we can start with the mirror.  We can look at our bodies when they are healthy, when they are fit, when they are exactly the beautiful proportions that are natural to each one of us individually, and love them.  Let's not waste quite so much precious time, energy, effort, and money (all of which are power) on trying to meet someone else's idea of attractiveness.  Let's not allow society to tell us that we must be weak to be attractive.  Let's not allow the beauty industry, the fashion industry, the entertainment industry, to induce us to disempower ourselves any longer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Musings on Being Pro-Life

I was working on my last speech for my senior-year public speaking class, a stack of books beside me, determined to prove that gay marriage should be legalized on a federal level.  In sharp contrast to my politically liberal project, the student using the computer adjacent to mine was researching pro-life arguments, a pet theme of political conservatives (especially those here at Cedarville).

The image burned into my brain, the two of us on such opposite sides of the political spectrum, and I wrote angrily in my journal:  conservatives will fight so rabidly for protection when it pertains to unborn children, but once you leave the womb, you’d better not turn out to be gay or they will fight just as hard to keep you from equal protection under the law.”

I have been exposed to a good deal of writing and rhetoric from pro-lifers.  In the abstract, without all the political brouhaha usually connected with the term, I would say that I am pro-life.  I love life – human life, animal life, plant life, just about every type of life there is. And I’m not just for quantity of life, I’m for quality of life too.  I am for the very best life possible for everyone.  It’s just too bad that hardcore conservatives have hijacked the term “pro-life” and attached it to their narrowly defined crusade against abortion (and, at times, against family planning in general).

If I were to offer suggestions for the improvement and development of the pro-life stance, I would offer the following:

1)   Instruction on safe sex should be part of the pro-life agenda.  Many religious pro-lifers would prefer every person on earth to abstain from sexual activity until marriage.  That’s a personal  commitment tied to spiritual belief, and it cannot be required or imposed on others.  It’s a fact that many teenagers (even committed Christian teenagers) are sexually active.  Access to safe and uncostly birth control methods, accurate knowledge of proper use, and guaranteed privacy about safe sex choices could greatly decrease the amount of unplanned pregnancy among teenagers and adults alike.  Safe-sex education programs include education on abstinence as well as various methods of birth control and STD prevention.  Pro-lifers should be able to partner with pro-choicers in the fight for educating teenagers on safe sex.  We cannot expect that most teenagers will choose abstinence, but we can expect that most teenagers will choose safety over the risk, expense, and stigma of teenage parenthood or abortion.  And safe sex habits begun in teenagerhood lay a foundation for safe choices as an adult.

2) I am glad that so many pro-lifers find that their spiritual beliefs inform their political opinions.  However, the connections between spiritual belief and political opinions can be so overdrawn that other people of faith feel that they are being attacked if they do not hold the same political opinions.  Also, some of these pro-lifers will turn the conversation into a religious argument rather than a political argument, an approach which is not helpful at all.  Don’t misunderstand me – I think it’s okay to say “my belief in the teachings of Jesus lead me to believe that abortion is wrong.”  It’s not okay to say, “God has revealed that you are going to hell because you want first-trimester abortion to be legal.”  Radicalizing the conversation in this way leads to uncharitable dispute and advances no-one’s political agenda.  Also, it makes pro-lifers look a little crazy.  So please, stop dragging religion into the discussion.  America is not and never will be “founded on the Bible,” thus the Bible is not relevant to a discussion of Roe v. Wade.

3) In general I really, really wish that pro-lifers would approach politics with a more holistic viewpoint.  I am especially addressing Christian pro-lifers here.  I have heard so many Christians talk as though abortion and gay marriage (opposing both, that is) are the only two issues that matter.  What about education? What about labor? What about the environment?  What about corporations?  What about women’s rights? What about equality in general?  There’s so much more to politics than the classically conservative hot-button issues.  And each one of these issues allows for voting pro-life.  Not pro-quantity-of-life, necessarily, but pro-quality-of-life.  Pro-love, pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-any other virtue you can think of.

I am pro-life, I suppose, in that I hope for pregnancies to end in the delivery of a human being into this world instead of premature termination.  Making abortion illegal, however, will not stop it from occurring.  It will only make it more dangerous and risky when it does occur.  And at this point I think making abortion illegal is impossible, anyway.  But I hope it becomes more and more rare, that people will choose to have safer sex in the first place and choose adoption or parenthood over abortion.  But this is not a single flag that I wave in the air, challenging any and all comers to duel me over every particular.  Rather it is just one piece of the puzzle, a part of my overall worldview.  It’s right next to my belief in women’s rights, gay rights, the value of multiculturalism, the importance of interacting responsibly with our planet, my skepticism about the values of the corporate machine, my vegetarianism, and a whole pile of other viewpoints, beliefs, and values.  I want my political views to affirm the whole spectrum of human life, along with all the other types of life found on our planet.  This makes it impossible to pigeon-hole me into any particular political party, but that’s okay.

I know a lot of you will disagree with parts of what I have said here, and that’s okay too – a real democracy values dissent.  Feel free to comment.  The more voices that join a discourse, the better, especially if they can do so charitably.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Abuse of Religion, Part 2

In my last post I wrote about people who abuse religion by using it as an escape from real life and an excuse to not deal with their problems.  But that’s not the only way people abuse religion.  There’s another kind of abuse which I have seen almost as often: people abuse religion to gain power for themselves, to manipulate other people, and to sanction their judgmental attitudes.

I am always troubled when people in positions of authority spend a long time and a lot of Bible verses proving that they should be obeyed and respected.  This is one sure-fire sign of an abuse occurring.  Real leaders behave in such a way that most people do respect them and are willing to follow their lead.  And real Christian leaders have enough humility, grace, and general Christ-likeness that they are willing to go without the benefits of a leadership position rather than bully people into giving them those benefits.  When a leader has to remind you constantly that he (or she, though “she’s” in Christian leadership are still very rare) is in a position of authority, you start wondering whether they just like the power trip that position gives them.

Christianity centers around Jesus, who gave up his divine power and forewent the authority he could have summoned in order to humbly accomplish his mission of redemption.  On several occasions he was in a position to be made king, yet he chose every day to be a servant instead.  Every single person who uses Christianity to gain power for themselves, to bolster their position of authority, is spitting on the name of the God who chose to be humbled to the point of death.

Closely related to this first subtype of abuse is the second, manipulation.  Those who use religion to manipulate others often sound better than the power-grabbers, because they tack on holy-sounding phrases like, “this is what God wants you to do.”  But in the end they are still using religion to gain power over someone else.

Manipulators often have their one set idea of what a Christian life looks like.  They then summon all the persuasive force inherent in religion to get those around them to conform to their ideal lifestyle.  “God is not happy with you when you watch violent movies,” they will say, or, “if you persistently continue [doing something I’m not a fan of] you will be cast into everlasting darkness.”  They are deeply concerned for your spiritual well-being when you step off their narrow path.

There is difficulty in discerning the difference between manipulators and people who sincerely have your best interests at heart.  The really sad part is, some manipulators are no longer aware that they are being manipulative and really do think they have your best interests at heart.  Many manipulators are parents who are convinced that by using this manipulation they are raising their children correctly.  But at bottom, whatever the motivation, manipulators are abusing religion by using it to support their own constructed way of righteousness.

Finally, there are those who use religion to sanction their own judgmental attitudes.  This category is very often blurred into the manipulators category.  It’s fine to judge others, these people think, as long as it’s God’s standards I’m judging them by.

Yes, and as I write about this category I feel a little stab of conviction because in this case there are definitely three fingers pointing back at me.  I find it so easy to start judging people as soon as I’m convinced that I’m judging them to some purpose.  “it’s okay to judge people who are racist and sexist,” I might think to myself.  Or, “I only judge people who are judging other people!”  Which is actually not true, sad to say.  There’s this cool verse in Matthew where Jesus goes, “Judge not.”  Just that.  He doesn’t say, “judge not unless they’re wealthy elitist capitalist fat-cats oppressing the 99%.”  Or any one of the other varieties of judging I find myself likely to fall into.  Bottom line, do not condemn other people.  It’s just that simple.

I thought I was writing these posts about “people out there who abuse religion.”  I turned on the spotlight and scanned the crowd, and I found that front-and-center was my own familiar face.  I hope that I am changing for the better, but I still too often abuse my faith.  Forgive me, and let’s move together away from these things which only wound.  Jesus died to give the world healing, and wholeness, and all that is the opposite of abuse.  Regardless of what I and others do in his name, he still wants to reconcile everything and everyone to himself, to the fullness of all the best that we are supposed to be.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Abuse of Religion, Part 1

The media explodes every time a scandal pops up about some well-known religious figure.  Whether it's embezzlement or sexual abuse, everyone stops for a moment in stunned silence when someone who was supposed to be a spiritual leader is exposed as a self-serving fraud.

But there is a deep, persistent abuse of religion which rarely receives any attention, which doesn't stop us in our tracks, which goes on every single day.  Scandals may turn away some, especially from certain forms of organized religion, but this kind of abuse turns away many from even the simplest form of faith.

I'm talking about people who use religion in a way it was never meant to be used - as escapism, as an excuse to remain ignorant and irresponsible.

I often hear Christians speak as though their faith makes everything automatically all right.  I understand where they're coming from - I thought this way too for a long time.  The train of thought goes something like this: "Yes, this particular matter is troublesome, even heartbreaking, but I am rising above these negative emotions.  This book I've been reading has many biblical passages arranged into a solid argument as to how God is in control of everything and everything is turning out for good.  Therefore, this situation is not really bad at all and I only have to keep smiling and see the good in it."  I used trains of thought like this to defend myself against the pain of loved ones dying, against the doubt that accompanies knowledge of great evil and suffering in the world, and against the suspicion that my view of "God's chosen" was probably too narrow.

The problem is, when I relied on other peoples' reasoning and out-of-context Bible verses to escape the normal emotions and questions that we as human beings face on a regular basis, I essentially was using Christianity as a shield against the painful process of maturity.  No teenager should feel guilty for grieving at the death of her grandmother, yet I did because clearly there were verses in the Bible that said everything works together for good.  So why was I sinfully doubting God's goodness?  Instead of dealing with life circumstances, I reasoned them away by forcing them into pigeon-holes I had created (or had been created for my) based on faulty religious reasoning.

When I began to study philosophy in college, I began to notice more and more that the nice handy little Christian phrases people like to use are often nothing more than laziness.  There is nothing like a good Christian phrase to short-circuit an intellectual discussion.  "God has this under control" means "I'm planning to be irresponsible about this."  "God said..." means "A lot of good Christian people think this and I don't have the time to go investigate for myself" (used most often in debates about gay marriage).

Please don't hear me wrong.  There are many Christians who are mature and responsible people, actively engaging in their lives rather than trying to escape from them.  These people usually have come to terms with the fact that not everything is clearcut, that no one person has all the answers (themselves included), and that they must come to terms with their lives for themselves rather than regurgitating arguments someone else wrote in some appropriately spiritual-sounding book.  The immature, irresponsible escapist contingent are abusing religion, they are not automatically made immature, irresponsible escapists by being religious.

This is a real world we live in.  We just finished celebrating Christmas which is really a celebration of Jesus coming down to this real world and living a real life with all of its ins and outs, all of its scary emotions and grayscale situations.  Christianity should not be about some Victorian-era dream of shedding this earth and achieving mystical peace in a land of rose-tinted clouds and baby-like cherubs.  It is about here and now.  Trying to escape will only stunt my character and in the end shortchange me on life, because this life was meant to be lived, fully and unapologetically, with tears as well as joy.  I have to learn to be okay with questions and with tension.

I used to say, "I just can't wait for Jesus to come back."  I thought if only he returned to earth tomorrow, all of my problems would disappear and I would be happy forever.  But if I don't see Jesus in the day-to-day grind of life, how would I expect to recognize him when he appeared in person?

No-one's ever going to write a headline news article about the abuse of religion by using it as a means of escape, but it's a scandal nonetheless, and its results are poisonous.  Escapists frequently wonder why their children "get out into the world" and then stop going to church.  It could be because the discovery of real life is incompatible with escapist religion, and thankfully many of my generation have finally figured that out.