Friday, January 21, 2005

Reach Out, Touch Faith

Tonight's entry is inspired by tonight's episode of Joan of Arcadia. I like the show, if for no other reason than it's thought-provoking. I'm not a religious person, so the whole "I talk to God" aspect of it isn't what draws me to it; rather, the show fascinates me because it shows the interconnectedness of life and life events. Whether inspired by some grand design or not, it's possible to take away all kinds of life lessons by being just a little more observant of your surroundings and the relationships between Acts One and Two.

On Joan, Joan's mother is an art teacher in the local high school. One of her students had a pet hamster who died; as a project for the art class, the student had the hamster shellacked and replaced it in the cage with a pithy epitath. It was rather gaudy, frankly, but Joan's mother permitted Hamster Girl to display it as her own work.

Another girl in the class objected to the hamster work. Calling it "disrepectful to life," she found it offensive. Joan's mother told her she was entitled to her own opinion on it, but in the end it was Hamster Girl's artwork. Objecting Girl eventually told her parents about it; her parents called the principal about it; the principal demanded that Joan's mother remove the offending display. Joan's mother refused, leading to a showdown with the parents. Objecting Girl eventually dropped Art Class, feeling as though she "didn't belong in The Club," as long as she refused to be like the rest of the class and call a dead hamster "art."

At the end of the episode, Joan's mother has an epiphany about how closed-minded she was about the feelings of Objecting Girl. She (Joan's mother) described herself as "on a mission," having decided she was "right," and didn't even listen to or respect the opinion of Objecting Girl. She eventually even apologized to Objecting Girl, but the damage was done: Objecting Girl still refused to return to Art Class.

I was disappointed by this ending.

I feel like Joan's mother was being waaaay too spineless in this situation. It's one thing to be sensitive to religious beliefs, it's another to allow religious beliefs to run tyrannically over beliefs that it doesn't agree with. I think W. and his ilk are well on their way there, which is why this ending left me so wildly unsatisfied.

Objecting Girl had every right to her own opinion. She didn't like the dead hamster. She didn't think it was art; she found it fundamentally disrepectful to life. But she didn't have to impose her will upon the whole of the rest of the class. If she didn't like it, she didn't have to look at it. Fact is, she's going to be faced with a lot of objectionable things in her lifetime. She really needs to learn to get used to it and not take things like that so personally.

By capitulating to Objecting Girl, Joan's mother sent the clear signal that if you make just the slightest bit of noise and cloak it in a religious belief, you can easily have your way. There's very little difference between what Objecting Girl did tonight and the Taliban's finding centuries-old Buddha statues offensive and thus worthy of destruction.

I have some personal bias as respects this particular fact situation too. A woman in my life (that's as vague as it comes, isn't it?) is a deeply religious woman whose religious beliefs render slews of innocuous everyday things offensive. As a result, being in her presence is an exceedingly trying task at times. You can't say simple things like "Oh my god," without receiving a withering glare at the use of the word so flippantly. You can't clink your glasses together when making some kind of toast because that ritual (allegedly) has its origins in a pagan ritual involving scaring off evil spirits. All these things add up, and in the end what it means is one cannot just live life normally, for fear of offending, when she's around.

See, to me, religion is a deeply personal affair. Your god is not my god, and never will be. Even if we attend the same church, yours is not mine. Any relationship you have with your god should not affect me. I should not have to live my life any differently because your god disagrees with my life. If you believe in some sort of Second Coming, or Judgment Day, worry about living your own life in accordance with your beliefs, and -- within some reasonable limits, of course -- leave me to my life.

The corollary to the above is that if you do feel the need to impose your religion upon me -- either by demanding the removal of an offending dead hamster work or by preventing me from raising my glass to someone else's glass at dinner -- you need to seriously re-evaluate your relationship with your Higher Power. When I was a kid, I was always told that the bullies were the ones with the least sense of self-worth, which is why they felt the need to pick on those smaller and weaker than they were. It made up for their insecurities; it made them feel good to exercise their power over others. The same applies for religious zealots who insist on imposing their belief structure on others. If you have a strong, committed, and happy relationship with your Maker as you define Him, why should you care what anyone else thinks?

This is the sum total of my beef against B*sh 43 and his "evangelical" base which purports to legislate morality into the United States. Those of us who dare to live life differently from the way they interpret their Bible deserve our rights whittled away to nothing. They're right; we're wrong -- all based on nothing but their own interpretation of a book written thousands of years ago and of wildly varying interpretations. Get over it. You keep your god, I'll keep mine (or my lack of one), and we can all just get along if we agree to disagree on all kinds of social issues, including whether homosexuality is a sin, or whether safe abortions should be available to women, or whether contraception should passed out in school, or whether my kid says the friggin' Pledge of Allegiance without the "Under God" in it, whether evolution should be promoted or dismissed in schools, and whether needle exchanges should be implemented.

To sum up:

1. Lighten up and thicken your skin. If your religion mandates that you take offense at things that don't comport with your worldview, you will spend your entire life noticing the tiny, trifling awful things which offend you. You'll spend so much time being offended you'll have a much harder time finding happiness.

2. Mind your own frigging business. Others can take care of themselves. It's not your job to worry about the salvation of other people. They may not even want or need to saved in the way you think they should be. Religion is different things to different people. That's what makes this country great.

3. Think hard about yourself. If your own personal belief in your god isn't enough to get you through the day, such that you have to go about imposing your religious will on others, I submit that your faith in your religion isn't as strong as you want to believe it is.

Whew. It feels fantastic to get that off my chest.


p.p. said...

I agree with pretty much everything you said, but I think some aspects of what you say are, unfortunately, contrary to current views on God (god). I think it is hard for one person to understand that their God is different from another's God (i.e. there is only ONE God, and THAT God is mine). So, those religious loons who feel strongly about something could not possibly believe that their God would sanction a contrary belief or act. Thus, since their God is righteous and good, only the person or act could possibly be evil.

Also, I don't think these same loons can mind their own business. They feel it is their moral duty to steer people on to the right path -- their path. This moral obligation is strong; religious folk don't take it lightly. Look at all the wrong in the world based solely on religion. For instance, did you see the movie "Saved?" There, we saw the beliefs and acts of only one HS teen. Think about such behavior on a macro scale.

Anonymous said...

Wow! And all that from one episode of Joan of Arcadia? LOL That's awesome! And they say television is just crap.

I have always also believed that there are more than one version of The Truth as pimped by the religious zealots of the world...and by zealots, I'm referring to those who are threatened by cartoon characters such as SpongeBob Squarepants (who may be *gasp!* GAY!), among other things.

I refuse to be mentally and morally raped by any religion who claims their god is the "one true god" or by those who feel it THEIR right to thrust their crucifixes in my face and claim righteousness.

Dennis! said...

Peter: Unfortunately, you are way too "right on" about the "loons." Those people really need to get over themselves and stop imposing their narrow viewpoints on everyone else.

Christian: Right on, man. I'm with ya.