Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Familial Pressure: How loyalty to the family is tested through church attendance or lack thereof

I thought I was clear enough to my family(grandmother and great grandmother) about my views on religion and church attendance. I was wrong. My grandmother and I had heated discussion about family business and individual treatment of each other. She said she didn't think I loved her and the statement hurt me enough to reduce me to tears. I now know it was a heat of the moment response but the utterance of those words hurt me very deeply. Considering the fact I was the person who was by her side during her battle with cancer, I could not understand why she would think that. We cleared up the problems and each of us calmed down but I was still very weak. I don't like to fight with the people I care about. My grandmother came to me and asked me to attend church with her and my great-grandmother on any Sunday I choose. In my weakened and emotional state I agreed.

My great-grandmother was my primary care-taker for the first 15 years of my life. Going to church each and every Sunday was a tradition. Suits, ties, dress shoes, singing and listening to the pastor "preach the word of God", was what I knew I'd be doing at least 3 times a week. She attributes her life being demonstrably better because she gave her life to God and to this day she holds steadfastly to that claim, despite the poverty stricken conditions, drugs and death we saw on a weekly basis in our community. In her eyes, at least God was there to shield us. The church was a safe haven. It's where we gained validation as people and a connection to a higher power. The church made her happy and she smiled each time she spoke about it and enjoyed attending each service. She loved the atmosphere and the people. Those things were carried with her when she moved at Atlanta, from Charlotte North Carolina early last year. She lamented about not having a "church home". When she found one she was grateful and happy. Her and my grandmother began to attend regularly and still do. My grandmother attributes her triumphant victory against cancer to God's love and care.   She wasn't a church goer as much as she is now until her mother moved here. Until today there was not a push to get me to join in. Both knew, but only my grandmother really understood what an 'atheist' is and why I didn't go to church.

I talked to my girlfriend soon after the heated discussion between my grandmother and I and told her I was going to church. She wanted to know what the fuck was wrong with me. Deciding to go was totally out of character and inconsistent with the man I have shown myself to be. She alerted me to the traditional aspect of my own family and how I can be manipulated by others even if done unconsciously on their part. I understand the place my grandmother and great grandmother are coming from. They see the church as a benefit and something good and they wish for me to partake in it. I figured I had some talking to do so I ended the phone call with my girlfriend.

First I talked to my great-grandmother and asked her why she wanted me to go. She said she wanted me to hear what the preacher had to say. She wanted to 'show me off'. In some churches steeped in old traditions, when a family member is spoken of, it's discourteous and even disrespectful to the parishioners of that church  for that family member to never be seen. You have an obligation to show up to prove you are not a ghost. Very silly but that's where that comes from. When I was first asked to attend my grandmother said "it'll really make her happy if you go", but when she heard me speaking to her mother the 'her' turned into a 'we'. She said "it will make us happy if you go and you should do anything to make us happy". That statement is simply not the case and is a form of guilt. Their happiness need not depend on me going to their church. I don't love them any less or treat them badly because of not attending. It's not something I find healthy for myself or even for them. I have never asked them to not attend church but if they never went again I would be happier. I asked them both "If I asked you not to attend any church again and not give your money to them, would you do it, even if that made me happy"? Both with a strong tone said "no". From there I articulated why I thought their request was a guilt trip. The initial deal was a one time only thing. In further discussion the 'one time' evolved to 'sometimes'. I was able to articulate my view and my reasons for rescinding the offer in a way I had not done before. They will continue to be happy even though disagree with my decision. I was angry even though they could not tell. My loyalty to each of them was under the microscope. All of my past deeds and good action were contingent on attending or not. I fought against that view and gained a better understanding of myself, my positions, theirs, and I came away stronger. I am happy with my approach to them. I hugged each of them and told them "I cannot do this because it will not make me happy".

Their happiness is important to me. I love them both very dearly but I cannot and will not go to church again unless it's for a wedding or a funeral service. I know going is not an admission of faith, but I view the church, religion and a lot of it's gatekeepers as mental road blockers and they conjure up talk which makes reality scary which results in a lot of people not dealing with their lives. Instead they 'give it all to God'. They(churchgoers) are not encouraged to take full responsibility for the things they say or do. It's not a place I want to be and it's a place I will not go. You may think I have a phobia or I have had a collection of bad experiences but you are mistaken. Majority of my experiences were good or okay. It's not a place that I am willing to put my name and my being behind. It's not a place which fosters an account of reality in such a way to empower you to deal with your own life and it's many circumstances. No love or loyalty to a family member or anyone else is enough for me to disavow the person I am and forego my own happiness, even for a short time to appease them. Each of them has to learn no matter our generational differences, I will not attend church. We can still love, laugh, cry, yell, scream and hug without me attending their church. They now know that and I am happy they do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Existential Surrender: Avoiding Responsibility & Reality

I've often heard about the power of prayer. It's the thing to do in times of need, suffering, advice, direction and can be done at any moment. The exercise is encouraged by many in the clergy and used as a way to gain political credit and capital by politicians and even touted as fruitful in local barbershops. When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer I was counseled by a number of nice people to pray for her. I thought the idea of petitioning a deity who allowed her to get cancer and based on it's own omniscience, knew that would happen, does not need me to speak on it's terrible plan in such a way to ask for it to be changed. It needs to have a more intelligent plan. In fact, fuck it's plan and we will deal with the circumstance. The best method was to find her the appropriate set of physicians, deal with tight ass insurance companies and get her the necessary radiation treatments she needed. I could have prayed and I know she did, but I do not think her prayers had any impact at all with her current status.(surgery was successful and she is in remission).

If prayer has any kind of power or effect then it ought to be tested to see if it has any kind of real efficacy. A number of large, well designed scientific studies have REPEATEDLY FAILED to find any evidence that suggests sick people who are prayed for recover much faster or more completely than those who aren't. Some have argued prayer is not meant to be something which has specific effects in the natural world and is just something used to bolster faith. Those apologetics are utterly useless. Faith is a parasite. It's not something befitting of thinking, knowledgeable people. It's the refuge for the bombastically ignorant, the pious pompous assholes, and people who don't want their prejudices/biases shred to pieces. (Prayer is the placebo for the self)

Prayer is nothing more than a psychological escape from responsibility and reality. It's a temporary/false paradise, and a petition to a specific deity (no matter how it's semantically defined) to have reality bend in such a way to comfort us and or gain what we want. Prayer isn't work. Prayer does not feed starving children, heal people of diseases, create an environment which fosters critical thinking and healthy skepticism, nor is it a virtuous exercise. Many people pray for others or at least they claim they do. If they found out their prayers caused any harm at all, I wonder would they reconsider the exercise. Or someone who prays to gain a specific job because they want it or need it. I think we can be moderately certain other people have also applied for that job and need/want it for their own set(s) of reasons. You would also be praying that THEY DO NOT GET THAT JOB. You would be petitioning your deity to show favoritism and perhaps may negotiate with the deity by offering more money in the collection plate if you obtain the position.

If you want the job, then you need to know people or do a damn good job in the interview process. If you want to do well on a test, then you must study vigorously for it. You want a better car? Go out and earn it. Get off of your knees and do real work which has demonstrable effects. You have to take responsibility for the life you have and stop worrying or wishing for another one. The time spent praying for family members who may be dying is time you do not spend with them. Praying to gain a specific position is time not spent working on your resume or ironing your damn clothes. Take the reigns of your own life and stop petitioning something in the sky to shine it's light on you and your interests. Doing so is terribly arrogant and wreaks of fantasy and intentional blindness to reality.

Prayer is unnecessary. Surrendering personal responsibility and avoiding real action in your own life is a massive disservice to yourself. It's the willful deigning of your own abilities. I do not care how many clergy, celebrities or whomever yap incessantly about the power of prayer. It's useless. In order to maximize your own potential you must do work and do it well. No more petitioning and negotiating with god(s). Get to work. Help other people by doing work and not by clasping your own hands together or holding prayer revivals. Face reality on it's own terms. It may not be the most ideal thing you want to do but it's certainly better than creating a fantasy world. It's your life and you ought to own and act responsibly with every aspect of it. Ditch prayer as the fruitless exercise that it is and embrace your own humanity, ingenuity, goals, and interests. This is your only shot so do it well.

Black Woman: Thou shalt attend church!

I remember growing up with my great-grandmother and witnessing her involvement in our neighborhood church. Holidays or special occasions, such as children performing a scripted account of a story from the Bible or prominent visitors from a nearby church always prompted a certain dress code. The pastor of the church, along with his dutiful wife would instruct the ladies of the congregation to wear specific colors, hats, shoes etc. My great-grandmother was considered a "mother" of the church. She was granted prominence and her voice would be heard on important issues(clothing and food oriented. Not the direction of the church). She was allowed to sit on the first row with all of the other "mothers" of the church. They were seen as the beacon of what a dutiful woman ought to be. The "mothers" would be together with their prayer cloth over their legs with their huge hats and listening to the very bombastic pastor. The same kind of role was instituted at another church we attended before I left Charlotte, North Carolina. Victory Christian Center also showed deference to older women and touted them as the pinnacle of dutiful women. Strong and sacrificial. Obedient and loyal.

The younger women of both churches were encouraged to prepare themselves for "god fearing men". They were cautioned against the "evils" of pre-marital sex and a strong emphasis was placed on purity or in today's crude terms, "low mileage". She's supposed to wait until she is married to engage in sex because she is only supposed to be with ONE man. That is her reward for obeying and following the destiny god has set out for her. The woman's value was determined by 2 things; her loyalty to her church & to the man who "picked her". The young men were told to gain experience. They were given license by specific members of the church to use "other women" in preparation for the good woman god was going to send their way. Any woman who didn't obey and in any way strayed away from the divine path was deemed unclean and slutty. She was relegated to the bottom of the social church class and was greeted with gossip, sneering, cold shoulders and name-calling. Breaking from the ranks was a rare event and when done the woman would become a target. Sermons would be dedicated to call out her specific behavior. I don't know what happened to the 2 women who were called out(not specifically by name, but due to the gossip we all knew), but I hope they were not broken by the shabby treatment of mean-spirited, intolerant religionists.

The view of a loyal black woman is still preached about and demanded by black men right now. I'm an atheist. I'm a black male who is not afraid to say it. I know I am afforded a lot more room when it comes to criticizing religion than that of black women. I am rarely asked if I attend church. The assumption is I don't have to attend, but my blackness indicates that on some level I do believe in a higher power. Black women who are agnostics/atheists/free thinkers are not afforded the same kind of latitude. Take the two following questions; Do you go to church? Which church do you attend? The first question can be answered simply by an affirmative or a negation and is typically asked only of black men. The second question is far more nuanced and is aimed specifically at black women. The first assumption is based on the integral connection between femininity, blackness and their duty to maintain their place in the church. The question has already been answered for the black woman. She's supposed to say "yes....". That is her role and her duty. Once she provides a church name, she has done her job and automatically receives praise and smiles. If she does not attend church and does not believe, then the questioner will attempt to employ the Socratic method to all aspects of her life.

The way she wears her hair, clothes, the type of profession she has, education(type of degree), and so forth will be up for debate and not just in a private setting. Her entire existence and value will be for all to comment. Her body will become a moral playing field for men who seek to "put her in her rightful place". They will create legislation and public policy to restrict her rights/choices as an autonomous human being. She will be deemed untrustworthy, reckless, selfish and so on, for exercising her personal liberty. She has violated the 11th commandment; Thou shalt attend church and believe in God. She is not allowed to pursue her own interests unless it coincides  with the will of men. She is not allowed to not have children. (another way in which she is valued) She must toil at home with the kids(be fruitful and multiply, but damn a job!) while the man brings home the bacon, which she is expected to cook. Failure to fall into line is social suicide. More men will target her and privately witness to her about how good god is and how they ought to re-think their decision. However in public these men must maintain the non-believing black woman is an infidel, while privately trying to tame her into the docile character they want her to be. She is not afforded the immediate and indefinite line of social credit offered to black women that provide a church name to the aforementioned second question. She is a blight on the ass of humanity and she must be stopped. Something is off about her and she is too strong and too independent.

The last perspective is offered for a few reasons. First, black female atheists/agnostics/freethinkers have a different set of supposed expectations in which to deal with and overcome. Second, their value and existence is placed in a narrow set of ideals that's not befitting of someone who's autonomous. Many black men uphold what I stated in the previous talk and probably employ other methods which I didn't mention. I don't know them all. Third, I am tired of the churches, the applications of religious dogma, and the ideas of a god(s) defining black women. I'm tired of black men who use their religion and power to keep them down. Churches continue to herd black women toward sub-par men and goals. As long as he believes in god, he's good. It does not matter if he is terrible with money, treats you like shit, has no goals, no desire to work, etc. He believes and that's enough. What he lacks, the black woman is supposed to pick up the slack. That is the view of a slave and perpetuated by people who wish to keep black women in a mental prison and thereby giving them full access to her body. I am happy to see more black women come out boldly and substantively against the rhetoric offered by churches, the dehumanizing aspect of religion and define themselves for themselves and not to please some sorry ass piece of shit man, who only respects her as long as she does what she's told, puts him first, and only pursues her interests and long as he agrees.