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It’s Not That

January 5, 2012

I confess that I study satire; this reveals that I believe morality is important and that I enjoy wallowing in the various ways human folly has been defined, categorized, and—most importantly–ridiculed in the past.

This week I’ve been having an email conversation with a friend of mine whose interests intersect with my own in a couple of widely variant ways. She’s another chess mom, which is how we met, and she and I talk about eating habits, as both of us tend to–as the satiric narrator of Mean Girls puts it–“eat our feelings.” I was trying to explain to her why it makes me increasingly uncomfortable to participate in an online discussion group where the members are paying lip service to some kind of evangelical Christianity without specifying exactly what they believe.

Now, there’s no reason they should have to specify what they believe to me. Except that they’re bringing it up, like the people who post on social media that they’re having a bad day to get other people to ask what’s wrong and then give them reassurance. It makes me start to wonder if I’m being friendly to people whose beliefs are what I consider ignorant and harmful. Creationists, for instance—people who believe that evolution is “just a theory,” who clearly have no idea about the function of scientific theory.

In actuality, I do this almost every day in my small town, the town that is still deeply divided over the firing of John Freshwater. When I go to the Memorial Day parade on High Street and wave to the mayor going by in a convertible and smile at the people throwing pieces of candy to my children, I am in the midst of some very nice people who believe some extremely peculiar things, as the brochures they’ve given my children along with the candy later reveal. And although I think it’s important to stand up for what I believe, I don’t think it’s polite to do it on the street between the horse with the upside-down boots and the high school marching band.

I don’t particularly want to confront anyone in the online group, who seem to believe that it’s not possible for a non-Christian to live a moral life. It’s like this poem by Maureen N. McLane:

It’s Not That

It’s not that I’m opposed
to poison in my lips

Or pig in my soap—
it’s not that I’m opposed.

It’s not that I’m opposed
to plastic bottles that won’t decompose

to malodorous phosphorus flows—
it’s not that I’m opposed

to what you propose—
surgery on your imperfect nose

favelas blasted
with hoses—it’s not that

I’m opposed to opposing
the opposite of anonymous

neighbors, the nosy stargazers
who discover new celebrity planets

about to crash into your car. It’s not that
I’m opposed that we drive

when it’s not very far
to walk or bike not opposed

you’re opposed to the subway
the stink of the general—

train 4,5, or 6—not opposed
to the sex on Craigslist

to your pets’ special tricks
to the organized slaughter of cows

by the tenderest machines—
not opposed to your dreams

to their screams to our hopes
not opposed to the hordes

with their ropes knives and bombs
set in desolate streets slums

and thrumming towns not opposed
to your proms and baptisms

to ongoing Christian schisms
most unopposed to fierce Muslims

Jews Baha’is and Hindus posed
in poses temples now oppose

the Kama Sutra too ooh-la-la
for the petit-bourgeois members of the BJP

–not opposed to a big GDP
to a loud ATV not opposed to anything

I can see hear or touch
To “enough or too much”—

It’s not that I’m opposed
to whatever I should propose

opposing, knowing
knowing is thinning

in the species’ extra inning
on a world slow spinning on an

axis slightly tilting
into folly so is it folly

to suppose you could oppose
proposing something to oppose

Oh yes, I want to say, it is folly. But there’s a time and a place for satire–usually when someone is willing to try to see the error of their ways–and there’s an even bigger place for good manners, which include me not criticizing what you believe and you not making it a part of our social interaction. In other words, if you don’t want me to bring up my father’s death from lung cancer even though he was a lifelong non-smoker when you light up a cigarette, then don’t bring up your beliefs when I have a glass of wine with dinner. Because really. The social fabric is worn thin enough already.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    January 5, 2012 10:59 am

    Amen, Jeanne. Yes. This non-Christian, this non-religious-of-any-size-or-shape person that I am is quite moral. Or at least as moral as I can be and very much moreso than some famous Christians I could name. I am opposed to the worst of them (not all Christians) and their hypocrisy and their santimonious rantings about how doomed I am, how black my soul, because I think anyone should marry anyone they want and women should have final say over their own damned bodies and please don’t smoke near me or wave your bacon sandwich in my face. Can we all just agree to disagree and leave it at that? And can we all find a sense of humor and laugh? Because even serious things have a funny side to them. Sometimes. My politeness is running very thin.

    I live amongst the type of people you do. Only one flavor of ice cream need apply. The giant Eternal Vigilence sign outside the closest gas station (that I do not go to because they all smoke inside and you can’t pay at the pump) and the Tea Party meeting sign at the crossroads all stand for (in my book) I Hate You Liberal and All Your Fag Socialist Friends. Sigh. I suppose it’s different elsewhere?

    • January 5, 2012 12:37 pm

      I wouldn’t know if it’s different elsewhere. But yeah, around here, I am immediately disqualified as a person who believes deeply in anything by my association with the local college (because academic = secular humanist). You’ve captured the perceived attitude that bothers me exactly–I sometimes feel like I’m walking around and people are beaming the “I Hate You Liberal and All Your Fag Socialist Friends” at me when they don’t even know me.

  2. January 5, 2012 11:12 am

    Moses opposes his roses in toeses–
    And Moses opposes opposingously!

    Spot on, non-necromancer. I enjoyed reading the poem with the image of Danny Kaye singing “Moses Opposes” in the back of my mind. Great poem. Great post.

    • January 5, 2012 12:38 pm

      Trust you, my friend who thinks more about religion than almost anyone else I know, to make a dance number out of this poem!

  3. January 5, 2012 12:10 pm

    Because this is online, you have no way of reading my body language or hearing my tone of voice so I’ll tee this up by saying please assume good motives, not snarkiness.

    I have no idea how much or if any of this is aimed my way (I am historically notorious for missing subtle hints—see also my inability to realize Kent was interested in me), but these comments did make me wonder:

    Except that they’re bringing it up *snip*

    It makes me start to wonder if I’m being friendly to people whose beliefs are what I consider ignorant and harmful.

    I don’t believe I’m randomly bringing up my beliefs, and I know I’m not proselytizing anyone, but my faith doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is part of my life. I would assume that’s true for the woman, the chess mom you mention. Is she trying to convert you? Or it is just that she and others (like me) have these “ignorant and harmful” beliefs you find objectionable?

    • January 5, 2012 12:31 pm

      The chess mom doesn’t bring up her religion unasked, and neither do you. What I’m objecting to is having beliefs that go right to the core of a person sort of tossed off to people that person doesn’t know very well, like the people in the online discussion group.

      No one’s faith exists in a vacuum. That’s it, exactly. But we do have friends and neighbors we value who don’t believe as we do. I’m trying to think about when it’s important to get along and when it might actually be important to tell someone you disagree about some fundamental issue.

      In my book, serious disagreement is a sign of a pretty deep friendship. It means I like you enough to take you on and think our friendship can survive it.

      • January 5, 2012 12:42 pm

        That last comment is exactly what I believe about you and me and deeply hope you feel that way too.

  4. freshhell permalink
    January 5, 2012 12:51 pm

    I like all kinds of people and life would be boring otherwise. To say I’m not interested in other people’s beliefs is to misunderstand what I mean when I say that which is: as long as you are not trying to convert me (and this applies to things other than religion) in a way that implies that there’s something deeply flawed in me if I don’t agree with you, then I like to have conversations that remind me that I may not always be right about everything. I like to have friends that span the gamut of philosophical viewpoints. In that way, it doesn’t matter what those view points are neccesarily.

    That said, I’ve come to my stances on certain issues based on my experiences. I cannot fathom why WOMEN would want men and politicians to decide how they should live their lives, whether they should have children or any children at at. Why personal decisions should be so politicized and couched in religious terms and why certain politicians get to run roughshod over the rest of us and consider us second class citizens. I like a good debate. I don’t like being judged any more than the next person.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why we must, as a society/world, constantly find someone to squash and hate – women or Jews or homosexuals or blacks or …..etc. There’s always gotta be someone on the bottom and often, the haters use biblical scripture to prove their rightness in this belief. That’s what I can’t stand. And it’s not just fundamentalist Christians that do that. It seems anathema to the whole belief system, everything Jesus talked about (in my very narrow knowledge of such things). I rarely see the good except the kind of thing that Jimmy Carter does – walking the walk, talking the talk. I admire him greatly.

    And creationism….don’t even get me started.

  5. January 5, 2012 2:28 pm

    I agree with you about liking to have conversations that remind me that I’m not always right–usually by showing me a point of view I haven’t yet considered–but that only happens with people I know pretty well. It’s hard (at least for me) to have such conversations with folks I only intersect with in specific ways during my daily rounds, and almost impossible to have them with people who are total strangers, no matter how nice. Because a total stranger doesn’t want to talk to me about my deepest beliefs, so it’s not polite to bring them up. And what I’m trying to say (and not succeeding, I’m afraid) is that it bugs me when I feel like people are talking about religion in a kind of surface way, almost as a pleasantry with little thought behind it.

    Living in this town, I’ve thought a lot about creationism. The short version is that wanting us to require our middle school teachers to teach it is very much like refusing to give John Donne the two college degrees he earned before he was willing to sign the Oath of Supremacy.

    • freshhell permalink
      January 5, 2012 2:46 pm

      Oh, yes. That’s very true. I run up against people who assume you believe exactly whatever crazy thing they do and say it with such assurance that we’re all on the same page that I really don’t have any reply available. I nod and scuttle on. Because, yes, unless I know you pretty well, I’m not going to tell you much about myself at all.

  6. January 5, 2012 3:23 pm

    I am really sorry you and Freshhell have had to put up with people who equate morality and theism. Or worse, social conservatism religi-fied. That is hurtful and awful, and never fails to gobsmack me when I run into it–it makes me scuttle too.

    What you say about the social fabric being worn thin enough already seems very wise. I feel the only time it’s bad to be friendly with someone whose beliefs you believe are harmful is when you find the friendliness is such a psychic drain that it leaves you with less energy to put into what you believe is good. Stilted construction, but I can’t think of another way to put it! Friendliness isn’t the same as friends, after all. I try to be friendly to my family that way, but over the years it has been coming closer and closer to crossing the line. (My husband would say it crossed it long ago.)

    What is this discussion group about, that is full of non-specifying Evangelicals, if you don’t mind my asking?

    • January 5, 2012 4:10 pm

      It’s a discussion group for talking about food issues.

      Your phrase “psychic drain” is exactly what I was searching for.

      Rather than getting support, I was feeling the group as more and more of a psychic drain, like I’d spend a disproportionate time after reading the posts responding to them in my head and then resisting saying anything because what I was responding to was implicit, rather than explicit. And it definitely wasn’t their fault. But it is also not worth so much of my psychic energy.

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