Saturday, 23 July 2011

Protection from Temporal Power

or, The Separation of Church and State

I am certainly not the only one who has voiced deep suspicions regarding the idea of secular spaces and parts of life, but I have voiced them, here. On re-reading those posts, however, I realize that there may be cause for confusion, and so I wish to make a clarification: while I do not believe that I can divide my life into the religious and the non-religious, I will defend secularism as a political institution. That is, I will argue for the institutional separation of church and state.

I can understand, though, how a devoted Christian (or other believer) could desire a conflation of a religious group and the ruling party. If you do truly believe that your religion offers the best understanding of the universe and the best moral framework, then it may seem to follow that your religion should guide (dictate?) your society's political decisions. The best way of ensuring that, unless your electorate is homogenous, is to have your religion unambiguously in charge. (I think of C S Lewis' allegory of the fleet in Mere Christianity.)

There are some obvious problems to this: for instance, even if Christianity were in charge, I don't think it's clear whose Christianity is in charge. Pope Benedict's? Pope John Paul II's? (I'd say these are different.) Fred Phelp's? Gene Robinson's? Pat Robertson's? Alexis Seniantha's? And how would such religious-political power be enforced? This also holds true for any kind of ideological power, really: can you maintain it and enforce it without violating the principles of that ideology? The sort of Christianity I believe in can't be enforced without contradiction, and this is, I think, an important point. Again I would like to turn to Huston Smith on Hinduism (not that I get everything I know about religion from The World's Religions, but I find it's succinct and usually make explicit what I want to refer to).

In the following passage Smith explains the role of the brahmin in the Hindu caste system:

Members of this class must possess enough willpower to counter the egoism and seductions that distort perception. They command respect because others recognize both their own incapacity for such restraint and the truth of what the seer tells them. [...] But such vision is fragile; it yields sound discernments only when carefully protected. Needing leisure for unhurried reflection, the seer must be protected from overinvolvement in the day-to-day exigencies that clutter and cloud the mind [...]. Above all, this final caste must be protected from temporal power. India considered Plato's dream of the philosopher king unrealistic, and it is true that when brahmins assumed social power, they became corrupt. For temporal power subjects its wielder to pressures and temptations that to some extent refract judgment and distort it. The role of the seer is not to crack down but to counsel, not to drive but to guide. [emphasis mine]

We see here that it is not only political, institutional power that corrupts the brahmin, but also social power. It is likely an oversimplification to say that the worst excesses of Christian churches--whether Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Pentacostal--are a result of power, but I am certain that power was involved, and I think a cursory glance through your own understanding of history will support that.

For instance, much of my sense of the specifics of doctrinal history come from my Lutheran confirmation class some years ago. To my understanding, many of the problems that Luther sought to reform in the Catholic Church, leading to his excommunication and, eventually, the formation of one of the earliest Protestant churches, were fairly obviously instances in which the political power of the Church resulted in a corruption of its doctrine. In particular, the sale of indulgences could only exist in a setting where the church dealt in wealth and power. (Or so you'd think, but Scientology and the celebrity version of Kaballah do sometimes exchange spiritual status for money, and I'm not going to say that televangelists are above similar tricks. But these are somewhat different phenomena.) More than this, Luther was forced into exile because of his heterodoxy. When political power and religious groups are closely tied, heresy is necessarily political. (In better news, it wasn't much later that the Catholic Church conceded he was right on the indulgence count.) If you prefer other examples, I can think of the abuses performed both on Aboriginal bodies and on theology in Anglican missions in Canada, or the current theological "work" being done to support the subjugation of female and homosexual individuals, and to support aggression against Islam (in the past it would have been communism), in certain Protestant churches today.

And so I support the separation of church and state not just to protect the state, but to protect the church. The role of any religious institution is to guide and teach, to offer aid and sanctuary. The effect power has on these roles is largely negative. I had a professor once who said that Christianity might improve for its loss of cultural influence, by forcing it to remember its origin as an outcast belief and thereby forcing it to remember its duty and allegiance to the marginalized, an allegiance all but forgotten these days.

A word of caution, though: I imagine some of the ugliest forms of Christianity that exist today get their ugliness from their loss of power. That's not to say that the loss of power won't, in time, be cleansing for most, but for those invested too much in the idea that America is a Christian nation, or the equivalent of that in other countries (like my own), this loss of power will result in some atrocities. I want to note, though, that this is still a result of power's corruption; you just don't always see the rot until you kick the log over.

And another word of caution: The role of the brahmin is to give direction to society, including and perhaps especially the prince. Isolating the brahmin from power doesn't mean he or she has no role in it. The trick seems to be that the brahmin's resulting power must be invisible to him or her, the (hopefully healthy) inverse of an Ender's Game scenario.

And a final word of caution: It is not only religion that is corrupted by power. Economic or scientific beliefs, even when in themselves good, can be too. While Marx may have been on to something, Stalin wasn't; while genetics is true, when combined with power you might get eugenics.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

On Denominations and Preferance

[Apologies for ugly white space errors. I seem unable to remove them.]

The other day I wrote a post explaining one reason I prefered liturgical churches, and received some positive feedback on it. In this post I am not contradicting that, but I am going to suggest that that preference, though obviously shared by others, is still personal and non-objective. In so doing, I am going to explain one way that I envision denominationalism, which is mainly wild speculation on my part. Don't expect much reasoned argument. On an entirely separate note, I will begin this post with a brief discussion of Hinduism, because it was in my readings of Hinduism that I begin to think this way about denominations.

In The World's Religions, Huston Smith writes of Hinduism the following:

The spiritual trails that Hindus have blazed toward this goal [to unite the human spirit with God] are four. At first this may seem surprising. If there is one goal, should there not be one path to it? This might be the case if we were all starting from the same point [...]. As it is, people approach the goal from different directions, so there must be multiple trails to the common destination.
Where one starts from depends on the kind of person one is. The point has not been lost on Western spiritual directors. One of the most noted of these, Father Surin, for example, criticized "directors who get a plan into their heads which they apply to all the souls who come to them, trying to bring them into line with it like one who should wish all to wear the same clothes." St. John of the Cross called attention to the same danger when he wrote in The Living Flame that the aim of spiritual directors should "not be to guide souls by a way suitable to themselves, but to ascertain the way by which God Himself is pointing them." What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types and the disciplines that are most likely to work for each. The result is a recognition, pervading the entire religion, that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its
distinctive mode of travel.

From which recognition develops the four different yogas in Hinduism. (Actual Hindu yoga is a different order of thing than the sort of lululemon yoga we see in North America; one kind of yoga, for instance, mainly concerns study of Scriptures, while another involves working hard. Body positions are limited to one facet of a certain kind of yoga.) At any rate, what is interesting is the fundamental recognition in Hinduism that "People are different." [Note: that Brahma is often depicted with four faces, as in the photo above, is not to my knowledge related to the existence of four yogas.]

I've done a little denomination hopping in my twenty-and-so years so far, and I can see strengths and weaknesses in each. As I recently outlined, I think that the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses of some ways of doing things and that that's less the case for other ways of doing things. But I constantly find myself coming back to this point that people are different and that these different people have different needs. That is, I know that some people are in such a position that they can't find God in "ceremony." I think this is a bloody shame in the same way I think it's a shame that some people don't like to eat raisins or don't like looking at insects, but I nonetheless sympathize. (Well, I have a hard time sympathizing with anti-insect sentiments. They're just so cute.) I especially sympathize because abuses from whatever church they grew up in could be part of why they can't tolerate that sort of service.

For this reason, while I would not want to attend the sort of church with lots of hand-raising and spontaneous hallelujahs and dancing in the aisles (I cannot emphasize how much I would not want to attend such a chuch), I do encourage their existence. There may be people for whom this is the best path to God, and it is not my place to decide that they must instead sit still in a pew when we sing and must walk calmly and quietly when coming up to receive Eucharist. And I'll also thank-you very much for not calling the way I do things mystifying and bloodless.

So even though I sympathize with the desire to universalize all church services, to insist that churches all incorporate more responsive reading/ Scripture/ spontaneity/ traditional hymns/ what have you, I want to suggest that that's a bad idea. Basic human variation, locally and across geographies, suggests that we should have different churches that have different ways of worshipping God. Of course, we already have this: denominations. The bonus with denominations is that this allows for difference within a region but similarity across regions; in my last post, Leah commented that she liked universal liturgy because you could go to any Catholic church in the country and know what to expect. Of course that's not always true of Protestant or Anglican churches, but you'll still know that Anglicans and Lutherans will be more litugical while Baptist and Pentacostal churchs will be far less so.

The trouble, however, with taking denominations as simply different in worship style is that that's outright false. Different denominations--different parishes, even--differ not only in practice but in doctrine. I have always found that it is easier to disagree with doctrine than with service style, but there are some doctrines I find too odious to put up with. I have a low tolerance for sexism or homophobia, for instance, and this rather limits my choices. And, unfortunately, certain political positions tend for whatever reason to congregate around certain worship styles. To take denominations as entirely aesthetic and not semantic in difference would be an enormous factual error.

Nonetheless, I will continue to defend the right to worship in ways I find incomprehensible, so long as churches do not violate issues of social justice, and I will tend to choose churches more on worship style than on doctrinal content, beyond certain cut-off points. (This may in part be due to the knowledge that I am probably heterodox in almost any church I enter. But there are places where doctrine crosses over into practice and politics and I am unwilling to tolerate some of those consequences.) This also means that I place a high value on ecumenism, but not on dissolving all denominational distinctions. Due to doctrinal differences, we must have theological conversations across denominations, and due to differences in practice, we can learn practical things from one another as well. But I do not think I would, given the chance, remove the system of denominations wholesale. After all, people are different.

Monday, 18 July 2011

On Unspoken Rules and Why I Prefer Liturgy

I have said before that I find supremely useless the following dancing advice: "Just move to the music." People who know how to dance often offer this advice to those of us who don't, thinking it is helpful. It's not, and the reason it's not is quite simple: the person who knows how to dance knows what not to do. There are particular ways of moving your body that are disallowed, but these are not posted visibly anywhere in the club. Moreover, no one can tell you what these movements are because no one seems to know until you've already done it. Then they know very well that you've broken the rules, and they will sanction you for it. Think of how unfair this is: you ask what you should do, they tell you, you do it, but since you do it "wrong" according to rules they didn't (in fact couldn't) tell you about, they sanction you (by laughing at you, by avoiding you, by being embarassed "for" you--which means "by you").

Ballroom dancing is different. In ballroom dancing, the movements are all very explicit. You can ask what you're doing wrong, and people who know how to ballroom dance can tell you, or at least show you. That's not to say that there isn't room for taste or interpretation, but you can ask for explicit instruction and receive it. In a way, it's difficult to do, but it's easy to start learning. This is unlike club dancing, which is easy to do but very difficult to learn.

I prefer liturgical church services for very similar reasons.

When I was young, I had confirmation class at a small Lutheran church. As part of that process my class and I were often acolytes, which means that we lit the candles and performed minor ceremonial functions during the services. More cosmetically, it means we stood up at the front during the service and wore albs. I was often quite nervous because there were so many rules I was supposed to follow. Sometimes the pastor was quite severe and I had significant pressure to adhere to holiness codes exactly. I needed to remember to bow at the right time, to light and extinguish the candles in the right order, and so on. I was anxious about it. (Which, at that age, was par for the course: I was anxious about everything.)

When I was in my undergraduate degree, I attended a congregational church. I was shocked at first that there was no altar, that there was a band (aka "worship team") and not an organist, that the pastor didn't wear vestments, and so forth. I did get used to in time, though. It was a very energetic church. There was a lot of music and not much in the way of responsive reading. There was no fuss about candles and there was no cross to bow to.

During this time I also starting attending Praise and Power, a worship service held for students in the evening once a month. This was not administrated by pastors or anything; it was run by a committee of student musicians who played worship songs that we all sang to. There was also usually a skit or a speaker of something, too, but the focus was on the music.

These were the opposite of liturgical. I was new to this sort of Christian culture, and for a while I was quite nervous. I didn't know what was expected of me. People are raising their hands. Am I supposed to raise my hands? People are praying for each other. How does one do this spontaneous prayer thing (or "popcorn prayer" as some people called it)? What do you say? What are you allowed to say? What are you expected to say? There's a sort of awkwardness if you don't do what you're supposed to do with confidence, but how does one get the confidence if you don't know what you're supposed to do? And if I asked people, I was either told to do what I found natural (which wasn't anything like this, frankly) or do whatever everyone else was doing (thanks, like I hadn't picked up that principle in kindergarten) or, worst of all, let the Spirit guide me. Which is theologically sound advice, maybe (maybe), but unhelpful because my concern wasn't so much what was Spiritually mature but what conformed to this particular culture.

The problem, of course, was that the people who breathed this sort of culture effortlessly didn't realize that there were rules. They didn't think of it in terms of rules. To an extent, they couldn't. They thought they were being spontaneous, that they followed the Spirit where it willed, that they were accepting of all who earnestly sought Christ. All of this meant that they couldn't recognize that what they were doing was patterned. I'm not saying there wasn't spontaneity, but that it existing within a certain framework of allowable actions at allowable times. (For instance, no one spontaneously removed their clothing or began swearing at the top of their lungs. Moreover, no one kneeled. No one canted in Latin. No one took out a rosary. No one made the sign of the cross. No one venerated an icon. No one tried to meditate.) And I'm not saying that the Spirit wasn't leading them; if they were Spirit-led, though, then the Spirit pretty clearly wanted them to adhere to the social norms of the culture, and until I knew those norms, I was at a loss. And they would accept anyone's right to be there, but that doesn't mean there were no sanctions. Sanctions came in the form of awkward silences, of gossip, of gentle teasing, or of (depending on the situation and the person doing the sanctioning) "Christian" rebuke.

Eventually I learned most of the rules--one of the big ones during Praise and Power was when to stand and when to sit, because it was our own "choice," but that choice was enclosed by unspoken social expectations. Once I became one of the oldest generation there, I was part of our closely-knit trend-setting class, so (to an extent) what I did set the pattern, within the larger expectations of the group (and the rest of my generation). That made it easier, especially when I got a handle on those rules. But this was a slow process, and I was rather anxious even then, let alone before I had that confidence.

After I graduated, I went to Fort McMurray and eventually joined an Anglican church. The church was liturgical, and it felt like coming home. I realized how much I missed candles lit in a certain order, chalices with wine, vestments (with different colours based on the season!), cinctures, responsive readings and Books of Alternative Services, scripted prayer. There are lots of reasons for liking liturgy, but when I signed up to be a server I got a handle on one of them: it's much easier to learn very exact rules than it is to learn unspoken ones. If I had a question, I could just ask. Of course, it helped that the preists and the deacon were very nice and forgiving of mistakes. (We laughed an awful lot, I recall.) And it's the same at the church where I now serve. Of course I worry sometimes about getting things wrong, but if I ever forget what I'm supposed to do, I just ask. It's quite easy, really. (It's even easier at St. Faith's, too. The bulletin has everything printed right in it and we never sing hymns back-to-back, so I don't need to worry about when I'm supposed to perform my assorted duties.) As a congregation member it's even easier to pick up the expectations. Again, you can just ask. (Note: our church looked nothing like this photograph. St. Thomas's was very low-church and had strains of charismatic worship if one priest was presiding that day.)

Later I learned that St. Thomas' in Fort McMurray wasn't even all that liturgical. The Anglo-Catholic churches and High Anglican churches generally are even more liturgically inclined. Perhaps a more strenuous insistance on doing liturgy correctly could increase anxiety, but I still maintain that that's better than a non-liturgical church or worship culture where doing things correctly are equally important. Of course, there's a middle ground, too; the United churches I've visited aren't very liturgical but also don't especially require the congregation's participation. This means that there's almost no stress at all on the congregation member and, therefore, the degree of liturgy or non-liturgy matters much less.

Someone I know from St. Thomas' once said that all churches have liturgy; liturgical churches just admit it. I think she's right, in a certain sense. In the culminating course of my Religious Studies minor, we read a paper about the specific patterns of behaviour followed by some of the more evangelical, charismatic, Spirit-minded churches. Close analysis of who did what when--and, specifically, how the genre of "testimonial" was constructed--shows that there is a very rigid pattern. Testimonials must address specific, gender-linked tropes and follow specific narrative structures. These churches are among those who are most insistent on their spontaneous following of the Spirit, and at the same time an observent, trained anthropologist could formulate an accurate liturgy. (And, somewhat more terrifying, these churches are more likely to ostracize you for breaking the rules than an Anglican church.)

I know people new to liturgical churches are often nervous about the rules, but I can assure it's easier to learn these rules than it is to learn the rules of the non-liturgical churches, especially those which are very energetic and allow for lots of participation. I would far rather start attending a new liturgical church than a new non-liturgical church, even beyond the other reasons I value liturgy. If can choose between explicit and implicit rules, I will often choose the explicit ones. There are of course exceptions, but that's for another time...

Friday, 15 July 2011

7 Quick Takes (79)

(Quick note: Leah could yet again use your help in discerning atheist from Christian responses; since I think most of my readers are likely Christian, I'd highly encourage you to go over since for this round she'll be most interested in Christian responses.)

1. On the Saturday after you last heard from me, I went shopping at Metrotown Mall for clothing with two (female) friends. I do this sometimes; having a little money ear-marked for clothes but not enough fashion sense (or inclination, honestly) to actually make fashionable choices, I enlist the help of fashionable people who like clothes shopping but don't have the funds to do it as often as they'd like. Somehow they thank me for doing this, which seems backwards to me. The upshot is that I now have three new pairs of shorts, a new button-down shirt, and a new polo shirt.

2. Thanks to Netflix, I have watched numerous movies recently. (Some of these likely precede the last 7 Quick Takes, but I thought I'd lump them all here.)

Harry Brown stars Michael Caine as a pensioner and ex-Marine who tries to mount a one-man war against the street gang that murdered his friend and terrorizes the project he lives in. It's an OK movie, but quite bleak. Don't expect a thrills-a-minute ride.

The Life of David Gale is about David Gale, a death-row inmate (Kevin Spacey) who was formerly an anti-capital punishment activist. He has recruited a reporter to tell his story in the three days before his execution, and she comes to believe that he is innocent and tries to exonerate him before it's too late. (This film is fairly obviously anti-capital punishment.)

Traitor concerns the acts of a former US Forces operative (Cheadle) who now appears to be tied to Islamist terrorist groups, and the FBI agents who are tracking him. It's far easier to follow than most political thrillers but at the same time doesn't oversimplify. (Or, at least, it oversimplifies no more than other such movies do, which is probably to say it oversimplifies quite a lot.)

Agora follows the atheist philosopher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) and her students and slaves during the conversion of Alexandria to Christianity. Three religious traditions--polytheism, Christianity, Judaism--clash during the time of transition. The film glows when Hypatia attempts to refine a heliocentric model over the clumsy Ptolemaic epicycles; the film is rather dark when it depicts human arrogance and religious exclusivism.

Kill Bill, which I'm sure most of you have heard of, is Tarentino's two-part take on martial arts and samurai movies. Since I was expecting it to be pretty bad, it was better than I expected, though I found I enjoyed the first part more than the second. The best moments in the second concerned the protagonist as a mother. However, the second part does not free itself from the orientalist baggage of the movies it references; it walks a fine line between parody and homage, and unfortunately is not explicit enough in its parody to escape from the label "racist."

(500) Days of Summer is sort of like a rom com, but isn't. I like the novelty of boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, girl-leaves-boy-for-good, and I like narratives that wander across chronology, but that didn't save this movie for me. See, I could not stand the female lead--Summer--and as a result had difficulty getting into it. As far as I could tell, Summer displayed everything that is unlikeable about the "indie lifestyle" (affected voice, flouting social conventions, pretentiousness) and nothing that is likeable about it.

Centurion was better than I thought it would be; its protagonist is (surprise!) a centurion stationed in Britain. After the slaughter of the 9th Legion at the hands of the Picts, a small band of Roman soldiers is deep in hostile territory, fleeing back into Roman-occupied lands while being pursued by an expert tracker named Etiane. It is not an especially optimistic movie, a mood reflected in the bleak but beautiful landscape they run through.

Saving Face is not a movie that I would ordinarily watch, but recently I've been trying Asian-Canadian and Asian-American films. Wilhelmina Pang is a brilliant young surgeon and a kind-of-closet lesbian whose mother keeps setting her up with local Asian men. Suddenly her mother, Hwei-Lan, a widow, arrives on her doorstep needing a place to stay. Hwei-Lan is pregnant and was kicked out her parents' house because she won't tell who the father is. I'm afraid I'm not describing this very well. Watch the trailer. Anyway, as I said, it's not what I'd usually watch; it was funny, but rom coms are not really my cup of tea.

3. I am no longer catsitting as of last weekend. I've been enjoying the ability to sleep in and without interruption. The cat was wont to climb on me at about 4:00 in the morning. However, she was quite soft and I'm sure I'll periodically wish I had a cat to play with again.

4. This week (Tuesday) I began volunteering as a narrator for audio recordings of library books for the print-impaired. I've only done it once so far, but it will be a weekly thing. One's voice is usually sore afterwards. I'm pleased to be doing this, though; I feel like I'm not really doing enough positive work right now and appreciate the opportunity to get involved in this. Ability is such an underrepresented issue at the moment--compared, at least, to sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc, but not compared to neurotypicality and atypical anatomy, of course--and I'm happy to have even a small part in this endeavour.

5. Tuesday afternoon I attended a lecture on civic Islam and secularism. Dr. Amyn Sajoo gave the talk, entitled "Public Islam: Citizenship, Identity, Anxiety," hosted by the Iona Pacific Inter-Religious Centre at the Vancouver School of Theology. I can't hope to encapsulate his talk in a single take, but he addressed the Sam Harris version of secularism, which posits secularism as modern and rational, opposed to the traditional and sentimental religion. Dr. Sajoo suggested what I've written about before, that it is not possible to separate the religious and the "non-religious", and tied this in with an activist and publically engaged ethic in Islam. I should also mention that he brought up the idea of alternative modernities, ones that do not have an Enlightenment history, and how this seems to threaten some proponents of a non-religious secular ethic. I was very heartened by the talk not only because of what was said but also because the audience was largely Christian and I was so pleased to see such fairly conservative-looking parishioners interested in inter-faith topics.

6. I've been apartment hunting. Yesterday I was trying to respond to a craigslist advert and the e-mail address did not work. Since the location was close to where I currently live, I decided to walk over and see if a phone number was given at the location itself. After all, the rent was very low and the details in the posting looked good. It was a great deal and was close to where I wanted to live, so I wasn't about the let the failed e-mail deter me. I got to the apartment and saw a "vacancy" sign out front, so I took a photo of the sign, which had contact information on it. As I did so, a woman came out and interrogated me about what I wanted. I explained, and she seemed rather displeased. It turned out that the craigslist ad was a hoax. She did not know who posted it, but she was furious. There was a vacancy, but the rent was actually about double that listed. All told, that was disappointing. Fortunately, I do have some other leads.

7. I've started listening to The Wailin' Jennys. Leah at Unequally Yoked mentioned them last week. I particularly like "The Parting Glass", which I think I'd like played at my funeral (whenever that happens), and "Storm Comin' ."

Please proceed to Conversion Diary, host of this blog carnival.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Colonial Identities

I have a game for you. Please tell me what cultures the following groups of objects signal to you.

1. Earl Grey tea and white sugar. (Your probable answer.)

2. Tulips and fine blue-and-white china. (Your probable answer.)

3. Chocolate and diamonds. (Your probable answer.)

What's odd is that nothing about these items is indigenous to the European cultures we associate them with. They are all colonial imports. Why is it that some of the mainstays of European culture are imported? And why is it that non-European cultural artifacts are considered inauthentic when they have imported elements, like Chinese rap or African bottlecap art?

This has been something that's been on my mind since I've taken up tea-drinking. In that regard, I encourage you to read this post.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Leah's Ideological Turing Test

At Unequally Yoked, Leah is hosting an ideological Turing Test, in which atheists and Christians try arguing for each other's positions. To see how well they do, Leah needs folks to try and guess which are atheists and which are Christians. If you'd like to participate, there's a more in-depth explanation here ( and the voting page access is here (


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

On Privilege, Sexism, and Anger

I tried several times to write a post about the reaction on the atheist blogosphere to Rebecca Watson's accusations of pervasive sexism in the atheist community. You had better look at her account of it here, but I can summarize briefly. Watson was at a skeptics conference in a Dublin hotel. At 4:00 am she announced that she was tired and wanted to go to bed. As she got on the elevator to go to her room, a man followed her in. During the ride up he invited her to his room. She declined and in a subsequent event recounted this event in order to discuss sexism in the atheist community; the context of that discussion was a talk on sexism in the religious right.

I feel like I have a lot more to say about the words privilege, oversensitive, and overreaction, but in all honesty I can't do it. I'm tired of the whole conversation. I know lots of people who say they are sick of feminism. I'm sick of it, too, but for a different reason: I'm so so so bloody sick of the need for the same basic discussions over and over again. I'm sick of people--mainly men, sometimes women--refusing to listen. I'm sick of people claiming that a discussion about sexism is off-topic (especially when the topic you wish you were discussing was about how it's bad that the religious right is sexist). I'm sick of people taking a conversation about semantics and the history of words--a conversation I think is very helpful and important--to use it as a way of fudging out of the real problems (note: that is a non-atheist example, but the comments are an excellent example of the sort of blindess I'm seeing). I'm sick of people who seem to be trying to give perfect examples of speaking from privilege. I'm sick of people claiming they don't have privilege when what they only seem to lack is superpowers. I'm sick of it all. I want to give it all up.

But more than that, I am furious. First of all, I'm flabbergasted that people don't see how it's a problem to corner a woman in an elevator in the middle of the night and proposition her. If you don't bother to think through how this would look to the woman, there's something really wrong with your methods. This makes you blame-worthy. Not because she felt creeped out, but because you did not do anything to mitigate the possibly creepiness. I'm flabbergasted that this doesn't seem more obvious to people. But as an extention of this I'm furious. Absolutely blood-boilingly angry. All I can see right now is that those who are saying this is not an issue of sexism or is not worth talking about (and, worst of all, that it is an issue of sexism and it's still not worth talking about) are being deliberately obtuse, are outright refusing to listen. Which is why I can't write those posts I wanted to write. Which is why I need to write this post instead.

It's strange. I'm familiar with the discourse around angry feminism. That is, of course feminists are angry; they have an awful lot to be angry about. Asking them to be calm and considered is too much to expect (and not because they're crazy hormonal women but because they have too many legitimate grievances to not be angry). In fact, accusing them of not being "reasonable" continues, albiet unintentionally, a historical line of sexism. But I've never been angry before. Then again, I've never been as interested in gender issues as I am right now. There's a personal history behind that, but nonetheless I am realizing how horribly frustrating this absolute refusal to understand really is. And yet it's clear that anger is not going to help right now. For the first time I think I begin to see the real importance of finding a place for emotion in discourse about such issues, including the academic discourse I am most used to. [Note: most of the feminists in this particular discussion have been very calm, collected, and reasonable. I'm just saying that I'd understand if they were otherwise.]

Part of what infuriates me, of course, is that while all of this is going on in the atheist blogosphere I know that folks in that quarter will still criticize religion for being sexist. I don't know what bothers me more, that people will claim that there isn't a huge sexist issue in atheism and from that position of supposed security critique religion, or that people who know perfectly well that this problem exists still level those critiques against religion. I do know that religious institutions are sexist and have been sexist in ways the atheist community isn't, but I still think that community had better do some serious housecleaning before pointing fingers. Glass houses, eh?

But this is not what makes me most angry. No, what makes me most angry is accusations of overreacting, is the utter failure to listen. That more than anything makes me angry these days, the failure to listen, the utter arrogance required for people to shut out others' experiences in order to hold their own not-very-considered armchair philosophizing. This is a rampant problem, one that promises to make me angry (or forlorn, depending on my mood) again and again and again.

I'm at a loss. I don't know what to do with this anger. One thing I did is go through this post and cut out all of the cusswords. And another thing I'm doing is reflecting on how my education in a liberal English literature department has helped me see past my own privilege, and how other people who have not been as educated to consider things from other people's perspectives may not find it so easy to do so. Another thing I'm doing, hopefully, is letting women who are hurt by this whole issue know that I'm angry on their behalf. But otherwise I don't know how to move forward, how to make all of this OK. I probably can't, and that's what's scaring me the most.

[Edit: I should also point out that I realize I might be unwarranted in my some of my anger. That's what makes it difficult.]

Monday, 4 July 2011


to those south of the border.

Friday, 1 July 2011

7 Quick Takes (78)

1. Happy Canada Day!

2. I got Netflix, which has been trouble. I've been watching too many shows now. I have gone through the first season of Community and both seasons of Dollhouse. This has had a negative impact on my productivity.
I do have a few thoughts on these, though. I really enjoy Community for its genre-savviness. I know some people find the main characters unwatchable, but I do also enjoy most of the characters' assorted story arcs. A few episodes were less interesting to me, but nonetheless I find that as the season went on, their consciousness in storytelling improves.
Dollhouse is even more fascinating. How does one tell a story in which the protagonist changes personality each episode and/or has the absolute minimum requirements for being a person? Echo is a doll, a person wiped of memory, personality, and skills and imprinted with those she needs for her engagements. Essentially, she and her fellow dolls are rented out to wealthy clients by the illegal Dollhouse. It's very strange, and it necessarily places more weight on the supporting cast (which, I should add, is quite good). But Echo slowly develops a personality out of the skills and memories she somehow retains despite complete wipes, and this is also interesting to watch.
It's unusual for me to watch this much TV. Netflix has changed my veiwing habits; my standards are in some ways higher and some ways lower. If the first five minutes do not interest me, I stop watching. However, because I'm paying the same amount no matter how much I watch, I do sample the beginnings of many many shows and my threshold for enjoyment is lower.

3. I'm apartment- and cat-sitting for a professor. The cat was shy at first but is now very affectionate, usually at the times which are precisely least convenient. She likes to nap on me at about 4:00 in the morning, sitting squarely on my chest. It's taking some adjustment, but I do enjoy having her company.

4. I've visited friends and dined in new restaurants. Among other things, I went to North Vancouver and saw some of the Deep Cove area. That was fun.

5. And I had a joint (half-)birthday party with a friend here. I was not expecting presents but got some anyway, including a rosary from the friend whose half-birthday we celebrated alongside my own. It's a Catholic rosary and not an Anglican one, though; notably, it has a crucifix instead of a cross. I'd prefer a cross but otherwise it's a very nice-looking, minimalist rosary. I also got some lovely green tea and a CD of rap in order to broaden my musical horizons.
The party consisted of dinner at Hapa Izakaya Kitsilano and then games (Citadels and Taboo) at the other celebratee's apartment.

6. They've been keeping me busy at church. I was asked, spontaneously, to serve two Sundays ago and last Sunday I was scheduled for sidesperson's duties. Next week I am serving again. Perhaps the following week I will be a passive parishioner, but it seems unlikely. I suppose this is what happens when you are one of the few people to be trained in multiple responsiblities. It just seems odd when I still feel relatively new.
As sidesperson I was asked to read the Prayers of the People. I was told that I have a good reading voice. This aspect of service fascinates me: it's one of the rare places that laity get to prepare responsive reading. I didn't prepare it this time because I'm new (the diaconal candidate did it for me), but in the future I will be writing my own. A friend who has recently moved from Salvation Army to Anglicanism says that she's far more used to extempore praise than scripted liturgy. I think I have a whole post in that, but I suppose it seems less unusual for her that laity can choose words than it does to me. She's suggested that the Prayers of the People would be a place where the Anglican church could better incorporate spontaneous praise.

7. I've done some reading, but I'll save that for another large-ish Books this Summer post. Instead, I'll tell you that there is a lovely crêperie near where I am catsitting. They have both savoury and sweet crêpes, as well as tea. I can't eat there often (it would be too expensive), but if I was idly rich I would eat there perpetually.

This carnival is hosted by Jen Fullwiller at Conversion Diary.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin