Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In between... Faith and Family

No, not another post on liminality, but just some random musings. I do have an article in the works, and not on my usual subject matter for a change. But its progress is slow as my ability to buckle down and focus is impeded with a hectic work schedule and little downtime. I think it is an interesting subject and haven't seen much written on it from a GRP perspective, so look forward to it. Moving on...

So I, like most anyone who lives in the "west", has relatives who are Christian. I happen to have almost an entire "side" of a family who is not only Christian, but considerably firebrand Pentecostal. As such spending any time with them is always a very mixed experience. Specifically my aunt, my fathers sister, who has been a firebrand Christian for as long as I have been a polytheist; a strange sort of concordance. Knowing my general feelings towards this particular sort of Christianity and the theological trappings, a few provisos are in order.

I can say without a doubt that my aunts conversion experience saved her life, and she is for me the perfect example of "end of the rope theology". That point in an individuals life where even getting out of bed is an ordeal and while there is that sliver of hope, it has almost become a mocking, cajoling impossibility. Standing on the precipice and staring out into oblivion, who should appear, but Jesus. Or Jesus in the form of a woman with a conversion story of her own. Again I am conflicted about the whole thing; while "finding Jesus" unquestionably saved my loved ones life, the conversion is almost predatory. Take someone who is at their lowest point and throw them a bone, and they'll follow you to whatever ends. Religion and spirituality is not something to be taken lightly, nor can one be expected to make the best decisions when one is at the absolute lowest point of their existence. Normally contracts made by an individual who is under mental duress are null and void, yet those made with deity seem to be the rule, rather than the exception. I find this troubling, because it smacks of exploitation and preying upon the most vulnerable.

Think about it, most of the conversion experiences extolled by the most zealous Christians are far from Paul on the road to Damascus, rather they run the gamut of "substance and narcotic abuse, sexual promiscuity, a life of thieving, or occult dabbling". Being pulled back from the brink, "getting saved" in an almost literal sense is the bread and butter of the Born Again conversion circuit. Their own lives a metaphor for sin and their conversion salvation from themselves. So why are these stories the ones which seem to breed the most vehement, the most zealous of theists? Why, because their very lives depend on it.

You see one of the ideas which is built into the theological concept of salvation through another, is that the saved are unable to save themselves. They have agency only to self destruct, and are unable to effect any sort of positive change in their own lives; their "demons" are too strong for them alone to conquer. The same ideology is at the root of Alcoholics Anonymous, that they need to trust to a "higher power", because they can not trust themselves. All the good which come after the conversion experience is attributed not to the individuals own ability, but to their new found saviour. "I give all the glory to god" is a phrase which I am fairly certain my aunt has framed somewhere in her home. Any bad is understood as a manifestation of their transgression and seen as backsliding. Knowing what their life was like before, the idea of going forward without divine blessings is terrifying. Shame of their own weakness coupled with dependence upon divine favour makes for very devout followers. As someone standing outside of this sort of religious dynamic, I can`t help but see the dysfunctional, if not abusive, nature of the "relationship".

Spreading from this perspective is the desire, and ultimately need, to share their new found life with others. Sharing their own conversion narrative, they reaffirm in their own minds the necessity of the outcome, and hope to convince others that their lives can be better to, if only they "get saved". Except for those people who are not in the same situation, who did not have the same life experiences, who have been able to live ethical and stable lives, the "it gets better" hook lacks the power and appeal it may have on those in dire straits. Enter the fire and brimstone, fear of death and eternal torment, argument. But that's getting a little too off topic.

Owing perhaps to the passage of time, or even a grudging acceptance, my aunt has in the last few years ceased to try and convert me. Owing to a desire to simply not beat my head against a wall, I generally do not discuss theological or religious issues with my aunt. I know her perspective, understand her reasoning and know that discussion would turn to argument in a matter of seconds. The best bet is simply not to expend any effort in talking about things neither of us are going to change our perspectives on. Sensible as it may be, it can at times be very, very difficult. Like trying to explain why discounting other forms of Christianity which are not Pentecostal or Evangelical, as not being "real Christianity", is a blinding ignorance of the development of ones own religion. Nope, apparently the apostles and early Christians were all Pentecostals, and it just took a few thousand years to get back to it. Or that the idea of Sola Scriptura, being an underpinning of the Protestant Reformation, was not something present in early Christianity. Nope, Jesus was walking around with a KJV in hand; those early church fathers had nothing to do with the compiling and composition of the Christian Bible at all.

Yet my aunt is a loving, caring and hospitable woman if I ever met one. She at least embodies the sort of "Christian charity" which is supposedly the exclusive purview of Christianity in general. Always warm, and always welcoming; pleasant and gracious. She is a good woman who has had a lot of awful things happen in her life who was able to turn it around because she "found religion". For her, the conversion was one of the best things that ever happened to her, and certainly she owes a great deal of what she now has to her unyielding faith. At the end of the day she is family, and so despite our widely divergent perspectives on the nature of deity, on politics and culture, family she remains. It is a part of that having to deal with difference, which can be that much more difficult because they are kin, and so not as easily ignored or brushed off as random user on a religion forum.