Wisdom?

A family in conflict.

A young man trying to find his identity.

A married couple on the verge of divorce.

A young woman with a personality disorder.

At times in our lives when we are struggling, hurting, lost and confused, we seek answers. We desire solutions, some relief from the thing that afflicts us. We are vulnerable and susceptible, seeking comfort, safety and understanding. Most of us will at some point reach out to an authority figure for help, someone we respect, who will listen to us and be able to provide sound counsel. It is good to have people in our lives who we trust, individuals who offer their knowledge, wisdom, experience, love and compassion when we need them most.

When you trust in the wrong person, the results can be disastrous.

The Bible teaches that God gives wisdom to those who ask for it:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, English Standard Version)

Simple, right? Just ask God, and wisdom is yours. It makes logical sense, then, that leaders in the church would be full of wisdom – these are the people who diligently study scripture, pray ceaselessly, and who have been placed in a position of spiritual authority. Many self-help resources will advise you to seek the help of religious clergy in working through the difficult situations you’ll encounter in life. If God is real, and the Bible’s promises are true, then God will grant the requisite amount of wisdom to be applied to any problem. Christian clergy believe that the Holy Spirit gives them the right words to say at the right time – that their advice to you has been generated supernaturally, or that events leading up to your exchange were orchestrated to deliver a unique message. If this were true, then all advice from clergy would be one-hundred percent trustworthy, one-hundred percent of the time. It is not. Most of these clergy are not near qualified enough to handle your deepest struggles and provide healthy guidance.

In my experience, religious and personal bias almost always results in the distortion of reality, and sometimes produces pure fantasy. Well-intentioned people who believe they have a direct line to the mind of God are predisposed to think all kinds of strange things, and will not hesitate to speak authoritatively into your life. You may find yourself walking away with a new views that hadn’t occurred to you, having received a slight tweak to your identity. You may even develop a habit over time, a habit of looking to your new authority figure whenever you need to make a difficult decision; weighing their thoughts more than your own, responding to their guidance without question. In my childhood, this kind of blind allegiance was encouraged by my parents and our church leaders. They taught me not to think critically, but to trust and believe. I have been burned many times.

Doubt (not to be confused with pessimism) is a wonderful counselor – it leads to discovery. I am quite content these days to ignore the menagerie of characters dogmatically laying claim to what’s right for me.

Sometimes, there is no answer.

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Pussy Hats

I have to take a break from my story today, and get something off my mind; something that has been bugging me since the Women’s March that took place on Saturday, January 21.

I have no problem with peaceful assembly and protest, and I do not deny that women have had a hard fight for rights over the decades that they should have had to begin with, as human beings of unquestionable and equal value. I have a high degree of respect for women, which is why I was baffled and disappointed by some of the things I observed during the march.

Enter the Pussy Hat.

pssyhat

You can see an ocean of them here:

gty-womens-march-washington-4-jt-170121_12x5_1600

I get it – many in this crowd have female genitalia. They’re women. That’s great. But with nearly a million people congregated at the nation’s capitol, the unifying symbol was… a pussy hat? I started grappling with the meaning of this immediately. I googled “pussy hat” (carefully), and found the movement’s web site at http://www.pussyhatproject.com (nothing lewd here, but probably NSFW because of the nature of the language). According to the web site, the Pussy Hat Project started back in November 2016. This is the Project’s two-part mission statement:

“1. Provide the  people of Washington D.C. a means to make a unique collective visual statement which will help activists to be better heard.”

“2. Provide people who cannot physically be on the National Mall a way to represent themselves and support women’s rights.”

A unique visual statement was most definitely made, but what was it? Which rights were we talking about in a sea of pink, knitted pussy hats gathered at the National Mall? If the Project had to reduce its message to a single symbol for visual effect, was this the right one? Was this not the symbol of the very thing that Donald Trump boasted about grabbing, in an awful sound byte that aired in the run up to the presidential election? Maybe that was the point – to rub it in the president’s face. Pardon the pun.

Jokes aside, I question the project and the symbolism. The message seems rather crude, and I think it distracts from the real issues women face. I saw photographs of children wearing these hats. My own daughters witnessed this on television. Are they old enough to comprehend what they are seeing? Might a little girl subconsciously absorb the message that the most important thing about a woman’s identity and message is her genitalia? Would it be unreasonable to think that the Pussy Hat Project has objectified women? What if we had elected a woman president, and a million men marched on the Capitol with Dick Hats? Begin the process of trying to forget that visual.

Aside from hats, there were a number of other crude and irresponsible demonstrations at the National Mall, including Madonna’s use of hard expletives and openly claiming to have fantasized about blowing up the White House on live national television. I think a movement can, and should, do better than all this. I have no doubt that there were many people at the march who clearly articulated their real concerns, even their anger, with dignity and class. It would be unfair and inaccurate to paint the entire movement as vulgar and irresponsible; my intent is not to do that, nor to minimize the positions and feelings of the marchers.

Still, I can’t help but feel a bit put-off by the gender-based rage and animosity that I witnessed. The symbols and messages seemed vague and sometimes inappropriate, extreme in their vitriol. A few casting a shadow over the many, I certainly hope. Are things really this bad?

I waited in line behind a woman waiting for coffee at work today. She was wearing a pussy hat. I had a negative, unspoken internal reaction. Therein lies the problem, and I do not think that was the Pussy Hat Project’s goal. Then again, maybe it was, and things are much worse than we’d like to admit. .

 

Life in a Bubble

Growing up, I never seemed to fit in. Anywhere. Before I began kindergarten, my parents bought a sixteen-acre piece of land with a small, private school on it, and my mom assumed the role of head teacher. I attended that school from kindergarten through eighth grade. When I reached grade six, my parents cleared some more land on their property, built a log home just a stone’s throw away from the school, and we moved there. That piece of land, the school, and our log home comprised the bubble I lived in until my sophomore year in high school. We didn’t go out in the World much, and the World wasn’t allowed in. The kids I knew from the neighborhood we had lived in prior all went to the local public school together, building relationships and living in proximity to one another; any dreams I had of being part of their social circles disappeared when we moved. There were other kids at the new school, and a couple of them are my oldest and closest friends, but I didn’t feel like I fit. I felt like the life I was supposed to be living had been interrupted, like my path had been irreversibly altered.

Around the same time that I started kindergarten under my mom’s tutelage, we began going to church up the hill from our house. Other than frequent family camping trips during the summers, church was the only part of the World I remember being a part of, and the only activities that were approved were activities put on by the church. I went to Sunday school, sat in the services, memorized Bible verses, and sang in the choir. More of my oldest friends are people I met at that church, but I still never felt that I fit. I felt like a stranger in a place that wasn’t meant for me. I still feel like that sometimes, so I don’t view the people or places themselves as the cause. I am extremely introverted – it takes a lot of energy for me to interact with people, and even when I do, some part of me tends to remain in my own world; the Observer, the Outsider.

Much of this is to say that my parents sheltered me very carefully in my youth. Because of their Christian faith, they believed that I was to be kept separate from the World, and that the only way to prevent me from being corrupted by its influences was to keep me out of it and keep its influences away from me. Anything that was not “Christian” was considered “Secular,” and was off limits. This included anything coming out of pop culture, be it music, movies, literature, or any arts or entertainment that didn’t promote a strictly Christian message. This was the nineteen-eighties, and I quickly found myself unable to carry on conversations with other kids my age who were listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna and reading Mad Magazine. One might effectively argue that much of that same popular media was garbage anyway, but one would be missing the point. So here it is: I was learning was that there were two groups of people, the “Good” and the “Bad.” We were the good, and anyone who took part in things of the World was bad, lost, corrupted, and not to be associated with, unless we were working to show them the light. This idea was hammered home with the authority of God’s allegedly perfect and infallible Word, the Bible, and was reinforced by the church and the entire structure of our lives.

This is where cognitive dissonance began. Anyone who looked behind our family’s curtain could see that we were no different than anyone else, and it wasn’t because of the World. I felt this without being able to articulate it, uncomfortable and uneasy deep down, and yet I believed what I was being taught, both directly and indirectly. I didn’t arrive at my beliefs by experience, knowledge, and reason, and I feared eternal torture in a lake of fire (in addition to my mother’s wrath) if I should ever question. It was easier to just accept the “truth” and be safe. Years went by, and these ideas shaped who I became.

The unraveling is still underway.

It Starts Here

Actually, it all started on August 13, 1975, the day I came into this world. For me, at least. I guess the question is what “it” is that is starting here, and for our purposes, “it” is the beginning of this blog. It took me forty years and a lot of pain to start questioning everything I believe – to strip my worldview naked and begin the process of reasoning my way through life outside the trappings of the faith discipline I was raised in. The purpose of this blog is in part to journal my thoughts and experiences as I re-evaluate why I believe what I believe (or disbelieve), especially as it applies to ideas about God, Christianity, and organized religion in general. I wish this examination had started long ago, and I’ll get into why it didn’t. But here we are now.

Right out of the gate, so there’s no confusion or unnecessarily prolonged mystery, I was raised Christian, and I now consider myself agnostic.These titles or positions need some explanation, more than I can do in a paragraph or two, because they can mean different things to each individual, so I’ll describe to you what they mean to me in upcoming posts.

Regardless of what I believe, I find the subjects of religion, faith, morality, the universe, and the origin of life infinitely interesting. To be an observer in in this universe, one of billions of human beings on this planet, spinning through space and time and able to even ask questions about what it all means, is an amazing privilege; not to be taken for granted. Whether there is an all-powerful creator or not, the acknowledgment that we live on a relative speck of dust in a cosmos that stretches out for billions of light years (an estimated 13.8 billion, based on what we are able to observe), is immediately humbling. Even so, human beings are inclined to unbelievable arrogance; one form that arrogance takes, in my opinion, is religious dogma. The idea that one has the Answers, and must impress those answers upon others, erases the bright line between what can be known and what is believed. That being said, dogma exists outside of religion, too. To say authoritatively that “there is no God” I think is a step too far, and one that many of the New Atheists are too quick to to take. This cannot be proven. This is not scientific. This is dogma.

That’s about as deep as I want to get at the moment. I don’t intend this blog to be a biography, a chronological account of the evolution of my personal belief system, a dry exercise in agnosticism or an apologetic of any kind, but more of a journal. I will get into my story to lay the foundation, but I will also go completely off the rails and write about whatever strikes me on a given day. I hope that there is some value in it, that it’s worth reading for someone out there. Things are actually important on this speck of dust, and people’s experiences matter. We’re all in this incredible story together, searching for truth, and there are things we can learn from each other.

Maybe we’ll learn that we’re all wrong.

For now, I’m proceeding skeptically.