“Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others.”
I have been chewing on this sentence from my last post. During my stint at the UU church, a lot of energy was spent talking about compassion. This was a catch-all word, used to name classes, in the title of sermons, and battered about by the “higher ups”. I was never comfortable with this talk. But I always blamed it on my hard-ass Calvinist upbringing. My family was never very good at compassion. I heard a lot of “they get what they deserve” as a child, and this was sometimes applied to whole cultures as well. There was a hidden, racist undertone to my family’s attitude about the less fortunate. So I attributed my uncomfortableness with all this Compassionate Talk to learned behavior that I needed to overcome. Now I am not so sure if my unconscious assessment was correct. The sentence above has struck me. Hard. It reminded me of the discomfort I had and has caused me to tease out just what felt wrong about all the Compassionate Talk among the UUs.
I find compassion contains an implication of power. Webster’s defines it as ‘sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it (synonym- pity)’. This sounds fine on the surface, but then you get to the parentheses. PITY. There is no dignity in pity. No one wants to be pitied, for the receiver of pity feels shame. So let’s take this one step further. I have compassion for you; I pity you. You, deserving of compassion, feel shame for your circumstance. I have caused you to feel shame. Where is the dignity in that? A more noble approach would be to do as Hitchens says, “prefer dignity for yourself and others.” Work for the betterment of all, yes, but in gratitude and without the implication that your situation is so much greater.
I ended up having to cut and paste this last paragraph right into Facebook. Didn’t really want to do that, but…
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” Letters to a Young Contrarian – Christopher Hitchens
I can’t imagine a quote more opposite of what I was taught as a child. My mother spent the better part of her life telling me to be quiet, to feel sorry for the “less fortunate” and to above all stop rocking the boat.
And yet here I am…completely captivated by this quote, wishing I had read it at the beginning of my own attempt at parenting.
This is the blog of the wife of one of my Facebook friends. I was introduced to him through a flesh and blood friend who is an outspoken FB atheist. I have no idea how they met each other, but probably like us, through the web.
I think you are going to like her.
Inconspicuous Unabashed Female Parent
She describes herself as having been soul-raped.
Mary was raised in a Catholic home, but was tempted by the flashy-fun youth group at a neighborhood Charismatic church. She is a natural leader, and her involvement there grew until she was part of the inner circle, planning events and regularly meeting at the pastor’s home. She was comfortable in this world of Jesus Saves and We Love
Everyone. Too comfortable, perhaps. For she felt compelled to confess to her youth pastor that she was having feelings for another girl. His response was to tell her to view porn and allow the boy next door to feel her up.
I kid you not.
Mary ignored this brush with her lesbianism by dating the boy next door. She went on to attend a Baptist Bible College. Still, she could not suppress who she really was, and as time went on and she again became comfortable in her world, she allowed her feelings for another woman be known. This time the response by her church leaders was worse. They barred the door and tried to pray the demons out of her. She was enrolled in Exodus International. Her nightmare there was so horrific that I know little about it. Her reflections back describe it simply as soul-raping.
By the time I met Mary, she was removed from the Baptist College, but still held the credentials as a youth pastor. I was on the committee to hire her in this capacity, as Religious Education Director at the UU church. I loved her from the first seconds of her interview. Her head of crazy curls matched her personality. Her stint as a UU may not have been as disastrous as her time as a Baptist, but still it wasn’t good. Toting around a red leather careworn bible made her suspicious, and new ideas were not well received so her time there was short and painful. We lost touch for a year or so, but something-I don’t remember what now- caused our paths to cross again.
We are close, or as close as one can be with someone they hang out with electronically. We text, and chat on Facebook. She is sitting in the middle now, attending an “artist-friendly” Baptist church (publically affirming themselves as gay-friendly would incur wrath from the Baptist Powers That Be) and works at a UU day care. She is very active online, and has built cyber communities of people who have survived the Ex-Gay Movement. I see her struggle with her “spirituality.” She loves Jesus, but hates the fundies. She talks about something called qi. She calls herself Spiritual But Not Religious. She desperately wants to love god in spite of her experiences. And even more, she wants god to love her back.
I’m just going to sit here and do it for him.
In my circles, I have to do a lot of eye rolling.
A friend mentioned a meme that has been going around:
“What if you woke up tomorrow and the only things you had
were those you thanked God for today?”
To which others responded, “Oh yes! How thought provoking!” And, “Oh my! I would have my family for sure, but nothing else!” “Powerful!” “Oh wow, something to think about.”
It is just completely and utterly dumbfounding to me that these people take a statement like this and internalize it as a negative reflection on their behavior and not on their god’s. I can’t hear talk like this without hearing a threat. Essentially, this statement says to me, “God is a capricious, egotistical narcissist who requires constant praise and adulation. Or else.”
It’s so odd, because the people making these statements are good people. But if I said to them that I wasn’t ever going to make them another batch of cupcakes unless they thanked
me profusely, and I wasn’t going to do one more thing for them until I was happy with their level of gratitude over my baking, and I behaved like this over and over, they would probably tolerate it for a while but would eventually stop all interaction with me. The double standard is simply not recognized.
I have a hard time doing anything more than eye rolling, because once I open my mouth to the absurdity of such a statement I become a pitbull. I get really loud and ugly and
my words vomit out all over them. I wish I could just make a witty and pointed
statement a la Christopher Hitchens.
The best I can do is remember to have gratitude for the accident of my birth. Not to any supreme gift giver, but just to life. It is right to be aware of the goodness that surrounds us, so to acknowledge that the privilege holds a certain responsibility to our planet and to our fellow humans.
Animal Planet was on the television at the vet’s office, and since I had all fifteen pounds of my nervous pup squashed up between my arms and my lap, reading was impossible. So I was forced to watch. Airing was something called Animal Cops. I sat down to wait in the middle of an episode of horror.
Emaciated dogs, so skinny they had to be carried, were being rescued from breeding pens. These animals were left to die in the Texas heat without food or even water. The sheriff’s team of conducting the raid found 35 carcasses on the property. My own pet,
along with 100 others, had been rescued just one short year ago from a puppy
mill. She had been forced to breed in squalor, but unlike these poor creatures, at least she had been fed. Sitting there, in the waiting room surrounded by people and smells and noises, I stroked her back and nuzzled her neck to hide the tears in my eyes. The scenes on the television before me were awful. Poor, defenseless animals were locked inside their very own hell. How could anyone do such a terrible thing to another living creature?
And then, inside my head, at that very moment, I had a thought so disturbing I could feel the surge of adrenaline shoot through my nervous system. My heart skipped and I had a sensation as startling as if ice water had been thrown down my back:
I love my dog more than god loves his children.
This is the video of the rescue that led us to getting our sweet girl:
A woman I know posted this on her Facebook.
Over 35 children started their walk with Jesus today & the number continues to grow! Pray for all the children who have begun to ask questions about Jesus & what He means to them. Watching those little hands go up this morning gave me a much needed energy boost!! A special Thank You & many prayers for all those crew leaders who spent some special minutes with those kids! You were being lifted up the entire day!!
She is an unordained Children’s Minister at The Big Popular Baptist Church. It took every ounce of energy for me to not ask, “Just what kind of questions are they asking? What answers are you giving them?” I’m doing my very best to stay nice over there, you know.
Two months ago, my best friend told me it was perfectly fine to question the existence of Jesus at her church, because “truth is truth. My church has the answers to these questions.” Kay, who is intelligent, educated, and rational in every other instance, was shocked when I told her there was very little historic documentation of Jesus and none at all of his great miracles, the supposed ‘proof’ of his divinity. In fact, Roman documentation proves the opposite. There was no great census, not even a city called Nazareth.
She honestly didn’t know that, and in fact, thought I was dead wrong. She said there was a vast amount of Roman documentation proving the divinity of Jesus. I told her to find it for me. As I said, she is smart; this is hardly a difficult challenge for her. I’m still waiting for her response.