The Guardian story illustrates a point I've believed since I was - oh, 14 or 15 years of age, when I stopped attending Church with my mother. The following was a large part of the reason why.
I was born an artist, much to the distress of my parents. This, aside from everything else, the autism that while nameless was surely visible, the multiple personality that probably became visible in bits and pieces, had they only looked; worst of all, I was an artist, and thus doomed to live and die in poverty, unable to support my parents in their old age, due to my inherent appreciation of symmetry, balance, composition, and the accurate perception and portrayal of reality.
A rotten year for Jesus Christ, American - The GuardianThey say the devil has all the best tunes. It's been a rotten year for Jesus at the movies, too.
Used to be you could depend on the Church for great art, but not any more. The evangelical movement is also the bedrock of American philistinism and the anti-intellectualism diagnosed by the historian Richard Hofstadter. The De Medicis and the Renaissance popes were no less corrupt and hypocritical than this crew, but at least they had taste. At one extreme, there's Titian, Michelangelo, Tiepolo. At the other are the paintings that adorn the walls of Reverend Ted Haggard's mega-church in Colorado Springs: sub-heavy-metal album-cover art by way of some fascistically devout Aryan brotherhood prison tattoo parlour. All the paintings - of warriors for God in their ripped T-shirts, of chesty virgins bearing gourds of massage oil to soothe the toiler's aching bones - seem wildly, cluelessly homoerotic, no matter how many coyly half-exposed DD-cup breasts are depicted. In a subculture whose "artists", like LaHaye, can style themselves without irony as "salespeople for the Gospel", the battle for good art is already lost, and their Willy Loman will never arrive.
The above sounds as if it were written tongue in cheek. But indeed, all these things - and the imagination that drives it - were anathema to the culture of the day. It doesn't capture the visceral fear and resentment my mother and father respectively held for me, as advised by rather a lot of perfectly respectable books on the subject of raising children. In both cases, they tried in every way possible to interfere with, distract and discourage any "impractical" pursuits and "sinful, willful" interests. An imagination, a sense of proportion, the ability and willingness to question authority in expectation of a sensible answer is all that was condemned during my childhood as the worst combination of beatnik and hippie culture.
Being a good son, in my way, I did try; but I'm as unsuited for being other that what I am as a porpoise is to sprinting.
But before coming to that conclusion, I tried everything I could to become "normal," and of course the single greatest bastion of social conformity and unquestioning obedience to authority that is "normalcy" in our culture is Christianity.
If only they could agree on which sort of normal would allow one to avoid Hell, eh?
But Mother covered all the bases; I was raised Episcopal, went to Catholic school and was dragged every Sunday to a series of increasingly wacky Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Charismatic churches, sects, movements and outright cults; the weirdest and most obviously heretical being the "Name it, Claim it" churches.
- As the name "Positive Confession"/"Word-Faith" implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts. The term "positive confession" refers to the teaching that words have creative power. What you say, Word-Faith teachers claim, determines everything that happens to you. Your "confessions," that is, the things you say -- especially the favors you demand of God -- must all be stated positively and without wavering. Then God is required to answer. Word-Faith believers view their positive confessions as an incantation by which they can conjure up anything they desire: "Believe it in your heart; say it with your mouth. That is the principle of faith. You can have what you say" (Charismatic Chaos, pp. 281, 285).I had yet to deeply study the occult, but I had read my Andre Norton - "Witch World" was the Harry Potter of my day - and I recognised ritual magic when I saw it. And when the spirits started moving and tried to climb into my ears and up my pants legs, I found out that the shielding rituals mentioned in Norton's stories actually worked.
I'm rather surprised that I thought to try them, but when you have a congregation babbling in "tongues" in a rented hall that is neither consecrated nor shielded in anyway against spiritual contamination, you will find yourself up to your elbows in members of the spiritual ecology - all of them some variety of "hungry." Given the ability to notice, it's not so surprising as it seems. Turns out that Andre Norton cribbed heavily from Diane Fortune and other respected occult writers current to her time, such as Gardener and perhaps even Crowley.
Like all good SF writers, she based her work on known technology and extrapolated from there, so of course they worked.
I'm a big fan of pragmatism. I can't think of a single serious engineer or occultist who is not. It's only the theorists and theologians that trip over doctrine.
I was not poking under those rocks to find a new religion - by that time, I was getting pretty cynical about any human religion as having any deeper significance than "coffee hour." It's only been of late that I've realized that is indeed the primary significance - an hour a week with friends and family, not talking about work, or sports, but of spiritual matters, or of worldly things from a spiritual viewpoint. That is what was meant when it was said, "The Sabbath was Made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath." If it's not a useful means of fulfilling your own, individual spiritual needs, you should be looking elsewhere.
What I did not realize at the time is that my own peculiarities, my own unique wetware, would always keep my communions down to "two or three." At most. At the root, even before my rational objections based on obvious hypocrisy, mindless babbling in "tongues," the evident presence of spirits other than anything I'd recognizes as God-Like, the sheer, eye-glazing banality that was and is the American Protestant movement in general; all of these objections were in fact my rationalizations for my neurological aversion to being forced to be in loud, echoing caverns filled with strangers and badly-tuned sound systems.
So I decided I would be a heathen. It was far easier to be a heathen in my mother's eyes than it was to try and explain my as-yet nebulous and under-founded objections to the expression of faith that is American Christianity. If you have ever tried to explain such concerns to anyone who faithfully watches the 700 Club and who considers Robert Schuyler to be a Really Deep Thinker, you probably understand my choice.
Of course, if you faithfully watch the 700 Club, and consider any Televangelist to have the last word on the meaning of Scripture - you probably stopped reading four paragraphs ago. The reason for that is simple - there ain't any preachers on the 700 Club who's message much resembles the red letters in the Bible.
Now me, being Aspie and therefore somewhat literal-minded, was told as a child that the red letters in the Bible were the words that Christ supposedly spoke, and all else was other folks trying to explain them or tell us how He got from, say, Jerusalem to Sardis.
So I never paid all that much attention to Peter, much less Paul. After all, you could almost feel the triple rap of Himself's knuckles on Peter's Saintly Noggin when He said, "upon this rock, I shall build My Church."
It may not have been an unmixed complement, any more than His references to the people as "sheep" and his disciples as "Shepherds."
Anyway, in my own clandestinely stubborn and willful way, I set out to find Christ for myself; I'd already found that anyone willing to point the way for me, all altruistic-like, was holding a pair of shears behind their back with an eye toward fleecing me.
I came to admire the relative skill of Jesuits compared, say, to Pat Roberson. With Jesuits, you can be fairly sure that you are considered a renewable resource, and that a superior mastery of the flock is a mastery that appears to be mere advice and influence.
One thing about aspies that can and does make us socially insufferable upon occasion is that we do not see things in emotional terms. During this entire time, I was getting a high-resolution, brutally vivid view of the hidden motivations behind all the convenient alterations and re-interpretations of The Word. I had absolutely no insight at all into the why of it; I considered it in my own private arrogance to be some combination of gullibility and stupidity.
Of course, that arrogance led me right into my own ten years of enforced humility; Aspies have emotions, they just have little or no connection to the verbal parts of our brains. But we can be as easily manipulated with them as anyone else; more so, really, as we tend to think we are above all that, and are therefore emotionally vulnerable to appeals to very good opinions of our own inherent, superior-minded objectivity.
It took me ten years to see through that one, and it took some particularly blatant lapses on the part of my "guru" to realize that preaching and practice had diverged to the point that they were out of bow-shot of one another.
One can almost hear the angels snicker at moments like that.
But along the way, I realized something else. You see, as a side-effect to that ten-year purgatory and a series of emotional mishaps that would make for a very implausible reality show, I ended up in mental health triage and was diagnosed with profound clinical depression, a depression that was either somewhat cyclic, or which had predated my cultic diversion.
One of the most important characteristics of clinical depression and it's bastard cousin, anxiety disorder, is a complete inability to think in terms other than black and white, off and on, good and evil, Hatfield and McCoy, Cowboy and Indian, Christian and Islam.
If one is Good, the other is Bad. If what I am is "normal," than everything different than me is "abnormal," and dangerous. Here's where Anxiety comes in - Anxiety makes you obsess about the dangerous "other" while clinical depression makes you cling to your own idea of normalcy, no matter how objectively insane and potentially dangerous it is. Anxiety is no relation at all to Prudence or Caution.
Once I got some antidepressants into my system, I realized very quickly how very stupid I had been, and how impossible it would have been for me to realize that, short of hitting that wall.
So I don't make fun of people who see the world that way. I do consider them very, very dangerous, for I know what sort of excesses I would have accepted and committed in the name of maintaining my comfortable, if somewhat bizarre sort of "normal." I thank Goddess every day for the blessing of an unambitious cult leader. Consider the extent to which the followers of Jim Jones went to prove their own righteousness to themselves - they poured cyanide-laced kool-aide down their children's throats before taking their own lives.
I should point out that if you were to take all the followers of Jim Jones before their mass suicide and give them a battery of psychological tests, the vast majority would have tested "normal." This tells us something about our cultural ideas of what "normal" is, and perhaps something about the need for better testing.
At any rate, I had a mess of conflicts from that period that I needed to resolve. First, I had less trust for Authority than ever, both self-proclaimed spiritual authorities, and temporal authorities claiming the mantle of God. I considered both to be deceptive and dangerous by definition - and still do. Now I admit there are some of each who are quite sincere. Those I consider even more dangerous than the the unrepentant Marjoe Gortners of the world. Marjoe was quite happy taking your cash - the sincere want your soul, and will cheerfully crush your spirit or even kill you to "save" it.
Now, I should know; because of my peculiar blessings, it takes a lot more crushing to put a really permanent dent in me. While I did not think of my life as man and child as being any more remarkable than anyone else, I was forced to revise that opinion when it's exceptional negativity was brought to my attention during an emotional abuse assay that likened it to physical abuse on the level of frequent broken bones.
I can say that based on what I now understand of my parenting, my schooling and my later life, I should be a paragon of apparent normalcy. Or at least, should have been until a probable breakdown at or about the same time. I know a fair bit about the predictable courses of both legitimate and illegitimate psychological influence and pressure and I should have grown up as externally "normal" as, say, Donald Rumsfeld, had I taken my father's example or at least Al Gore had I taken more after my Mother's side.
Instead, I withstood far more stress without ever entirely losing at least a compass pointer toward the direction of reason and right action; being aspie and a multiple personality, I'm very resistant to pressure, and at the same time adept at avoiding it.
I speak of that as a blessing, as it's very difficult to take credit for being either dissociative or autistic; both are probably genetic to a large degree and if you happen to have both, whether it's a blessing or an affliction is pretty much a question of choice. I view it as a different mental toolkit and figure that it's better to explore what I can do with the relatively rare tools I have lucked into than try to compete at a disadvantage in areas I'm poorly equipped to handle.
But one thing I will say is that aside from the ability to mentally evade and ignore the worst pressures set against me by the people in my life, mostly with with the best of intentions, there is one thing that has sustained me since I was a very little child who took Sunday School very seriously:
You see, I've always somehow always known that there is a God, a God who is somehow much larger and more pervasive than most commonly think, a God who is both compassionate and practical, loving and yet sometimes moved to outright schadenfreude by our misadventures, or at least, more than willing to let us suffer our bruises for as long as it takes us to get a clue.
I know this in a tangible sense, as surely as I know that I'm typing. It's something I consider to be so obvious as to be self-evident, and I believe that would be true of more people if they were willing to be less religious and more spiritual.
The key phrase for me was one that leapt out of the Bible at my face, years and years ago. "God made the Sabbath for Man, not Man for the Sabbath."
I'm constantly surprised that that phrase has survived accidents of translation, for you will not find the concept enshrined in any church or at the root of any mainstream doctrine; quite the opposite. Indeed, the Catholic church goes even further, to trump the entire Bible and any individual ethical collywobbles by stating with authoritarian arrogance that "church tradition is a superior guide than scripture or conscience."
Now, the only intelligent response to that is "g'wan with ye, ya heathen." No doubt the priests of B'all and the Quezaquatl human sacrifice cult would have said much the same thing - and for much the same reasons. It's the priests what live off the leftovers of sacrifice, you see, with an evident reluctance to do much sacrificing of their own.
Well, those particular red letters, "The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath" was aimed straight at their bottom line. THAT sort of teaching was why He was crucified, and that is why the same thing will happen today, unless and until we laugh the greedy bastards out of our Churches, our Mosques, our Temples and our Groves.
Religion is for OUR benefit, not God's. We seek out particular religions and flavors of religions because they speak to us, not because one is superior to one or another. Being created first for the benefit of people, and then controlled for the benefit of those in charge, religions are imperfect by definition, and not to be taken any more seriously than they should be, as a means to an end. They are merely a means of structuring a time and a place where you can be spiritual in company better than you could if you stayed home, and if that costs a bit, and a priest or a preacher is good at bringing you to a place where you can be spiritual, well, then; "The worker is worthy of their hire."
Just so long as they don't get too uppity about their place in the grand scheme of things.
If you can do it better staying home, you should. If you are at all like me and find that groups of people and personal spiritual awareness are directly incompatible, you'd have to be some variety of stupid to put up with it. It's not just uncomfortable, it's BAD for you.
If you find that you are subjecting yourself and your children to the cold, judgmental stares of the dour and humorless, adjusting your daily life and routine to meet their approval, choosing your friends and your interests to avoid scandal, shopping and interacting only under the Sign of the Fish, - you would do better to dive head-first into a river of Triple-X porn. At least you might gain some insight into some pretty basic human motivations, that's never a wasted exercise. It's also never a wasted exercise to peek behind the Curtain that hides the Great and Terrible Oz.
Aside from that, a good orgasm is a more spiritually productive than an hour of feeding your anxieties with hellfire and your delusions with "pie in the sky."
There is a Jewish teaching that says that it is a Mitzvah, a Good Deed, to give your partner an orgasm, because it is the closest a person can come to seeing the face of God.
I'm sure that's a metaphor - but it certainly does have a profoundly liberating effect; it literally takes you out of your mind and body; the very opposite experience that those fearful Augustinian types would suggest.
Makes you wonder why they keep trying to paint white as the new black, doesn't it?
tag: dominionism, social engineering, religous cults, psycological torture, The strong-willed child, truth, Christianism, Christian, faith, fundimentalism, authoritarianism, individualism