When Hatred Becomes Yesterday’s News

Any politician who plans to use marriage equality as her or his main focus will need to find another issue because – haleleujah, brothers and sisters! – marriage equality is now officially old news. I look forward to that happy day when bigotry of EVERY type is old news. We’re seeing the signs – the flags that symbolize racial bigotry are quietly being removed from their poles ( http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/surprise-move-alabama-confederate-battle-flag-comes-down ) – and people of every race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and non-religion are coming together to speak out for equality and peace.

“What is going to happen, Dave?”
“Something wonderful.”
2001: A Space Odyssey

The weapons of bigotry, ignorance, envy, fall before an honest heart.
– 
Mary Baker Eddy

marriage equality

 

We Shall Overcome, performed by Joan Baez –

 

“Love alone is life…”

Years ago, when I was a teenager maybe, I remember seeing a Star Trek episode that showed a man who was half-black and half-white in a struggle with another man who was half-black and half-white – they were enemies because of their color – and I remember looking at them, thinking, “But… they’re BOTH half-black and half-white… what’s the issue here?” And at the end of the episode we finally see that the reason they’re enemies is because one of them is white on the right side of his body, and the other is white on the left side of his body, and… yeah… I remember thinking how absolutely ridiculous it all was for them to hate each other just because they were colored differently on different sides. But it’s absolutely no more ridiculous than hating someone just because they’re all ONE color, and that color is different than mine.

The summer after I graduated from high school – which was about ten years after the Watts Riots –  I traveled with my dad to California. Dad had grown up in Los Angeles, and he wanted to revisit his old neighborhood and see his childhood home once again. As we drove the streets to his old home, I noticed that we were the only white faces in a several-mile radius.

Dad pulled up in front of a little house, and his face lit up – “This was my home!” he said, getting out of the car. I followed him to the front door, where an African-American woman wearing a house-dress and a really surprised look on her face, appeared. Dad explained that he’d grown up in this house and asked if he could come in and take a look around and go out into the backyard where he’d played as a child. The woman smiled graciously and opened her door for us and allowed us into her home. I followed Dad through the house and out into the backyard where there was still the avocado tree he remembered from his childhood. He looked around, said it seemed smaller than he’d remembered it, and started talking about the happy years he’d spent in this yard as a child. He went back through the house, shook the woman’s hand and thanked her for letting him re-visit his old home. Still looking kind of surprised to find these friendly white people traipsing through her house, she smiled back at dad, and told him he was welcome and it was no problem at all.

A block or so later Dad pulled into a gas station to fill the tank up, and a black attendant came out to help us (this was in the days before people filled up their own cars with gas). He had that same surprised look on his face as the woman in Dad’s old house. He smiled, and filled up our tank for us, and, as we were ready to leave, said in a friendly way, a big smile on his face, “Come back again!”

Every time I think of this trip through that neighborhood in Los Angeles I start grinning. I’m pretty sure we were the only white people in years who’d come nonchalantly driving through that section of Los Angeles. I remember the surprised hospitality of the gas station attendant and the woman living in Dad’s old house, and it fills me up with a kind of joy. I remember my dad – totally oblivious to the fact that he was in a part of Los Angeles that most white people might find threatening – happily traveling down “Memory Lane”, shaking hands with the woman in his old house, greeting the gas station attendant with an open, natural smile – and it makes me really proud to be his daughter.

I am, likewise, proud to be my mother’s daughter. When I was a little girl – maybe eight or so – Mom took my little brothers and me shopping at the local mall. As we were looking at clothes a young African-American family walked by, also shopping. A large middle-aged white man standing near us turned to Mom and said something like, “Those people should stay in their own part of town.” My mom looked up at him, puzzled – she didn’t know what he was talking about at first. He pointed to the African-American family and repeated what he’d said. When my mom finally understood what he was talking about her face turned red with indignation. She looked up at him from her height of 5’2″ and, her voice shaking with emotion, said, “That family has as much right to be here as you or me! We are all God’s children!” The white man realized then that he’d picked the wrong person to share his racism with, and sort of stepped back and disappeared from the store.

I’m really grateful to have been raised by parents for whom  the color of peoples’ skin was a  non-issue, and kindness towards everyone was considered natural and normal.

Thou to whose power our hope we give,
Free us from human strife.
Fed by Thy love divine we live,
For Love alone is Life;
And life most sweet, as heart to heart
speaks kindly when we meet and part.
– Mary Baker Eddy

“I’m putting you on ignore!”

The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity.- Mary Baker Eddy

So there’s this tool you can use on the Amazon discussion forums that will allow you to “ignore the trolls” – you click this button and their posts go into hiding under a sign that says “You are ignoring this customer’s posts.” I myself am too curious to know what everyone else is saying to have much success using this tool, but those folks who aren’t as nosy as me sometimes use this device as a way to protect themselves from personalities they find disturbing for whatever reason.

Of course, there are folks who cannot resist letting the people they have on ignore know they have them on ignore (which sort of defeats the whole purpose, right?) – and then they need to let everyone ELSE know they’ve got these folks on ignore, too – so often an announcement is made to the person who is being put on ignore – an announcement everyone else can see, too: “I’m putting you on ignore!”

And so the fun continues. “Oh yeah?! Well, I put you on ignore first – so there!” “Well, if you put me on ignore how can you see my posts, eh?” “I unignored you so I could see your post telling me you’re ignoring me – and how can you see MY post if you’re ignoring me?!” And so on. Yeah. Good times. Good times.

But I recently found a thread devoted to ignoring “trolls” that gave me some pause for contemplation. Two of the posters that the people on this thread were considering “ignoring” were actually people of education (both had doctors degrees) and intelligence – people who put some thought into their posts. One of these posters identifies himself as an atheist, the other as a Christian – and, although I don’t always agree with them, I usually find something in their contributions to the forums that makes me dig deeper into my own beliefs and thoughts about God and life. Their posts make me think… which… I don’t know… but I’ve always considered that a GOOD thing, right?

So I wrote this response:

Wow. I have now read through this thread. It has been an eye-opener, for sure.

I see some of us are debating whether to put those big bad trolls H. and E. on ignore. And I say, right on! I think it’s best to always ignore intelligent, educated posters – like H. and E. – who might actually make us question our own stereotypes and biases and points of view. I mean, who really wants to spend any time in SELF-reflection when we can better spend our time telling OTHER people how to think, believe, and live, right? So I think we should all scurry off to our separate little groups, fortify our barriers, unite against people who don’t think like we do about stuff, find our scapegoats for every ill that has ever befallen the planet (this could be theists or atheists or Jews or Muslims or Christians or Democrats or Republicans or Ralph Nader, depending on one’s perspective), and ignore the hell out of them. Let’s make sure they know we’re ignoring the hell out of them, too. And let everyone else know we’re ignoring the hell out of them. And let’s gossip about them. Ooh! Ooh! Does life get any more fun than that?!! 🙂

Yeah. I know. I am such a troll.

And, after a little more “discussion” about “group-think” – the need the people on this thread seemed to have to come to a consensus about who to ignore, as opposed to deciding as independent, individuals thinkers which posters are helpful, and which aren’t, I finally was the recipient of the words: “I’m putting you on ignore!”  🙂

Weirdly, this did not have the effect the other poster was probably hoping it would have on me. I found myself smirking. Not so’s she could see – but, yeah, in the privacy of my own home I was smirking. Being put on ignore by a poster simply because I questioned her stereotypes proved what I’d long suspected: We tend to ignore those people who threaten our own comfortable view of the world – we tend to ignore voices that might force us to take stock of ourselves and… yeeks!… change the way we look at stuff. And so we band together with like-minded people – isolate ourselves and insulate ourselves from differing perspectives – and find a television “news” station or other “news” source that caters to our own little conceits, and our stereotypes of others.

It’s all so silly, ain’t it?

How are we ever going to learn and progress if we shut ourselves off from others who challenge the way we look at things?

seagull and cormorant

An Incident in a Discussion Forum (okay, this is me being cranky)

Asking people about their opinions is a very good way of making friends. Telling them about your own opinions can also work, but not always quite as well. – Douglas Adams

 She arrived in the middle of a discussion upon international politics. “Look at India,” one of the ladies was saying. “Yes, but look at Japan,” urged the other with intense vehemence. Barbara was introduced to the ladies, of course, but she never heard their names. They were already labeled, much more legibly in her retentive memory, as Mrs. Japan and Mrs. India. She was rather crushed at the farsightedness of the two ladies— what did they see when they looked at Japan and India like that? Did their bird’s-eye view take in the whole of these Asiatic countries at a glance? Were India and Japan open before their eyes like a child’s picture book? – D.E. Stevenson

The following was originally a chapter in The Madcap Christian Scientist: All Things New, but I took it out because the voice in this chapter doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book. In this chapter you see me being cranky and a little ticked off. It ain’t pretty…

Have you ever looked back on a period in your life and smiled with amusement and a certain amount of affection for the person you were? That’s how I feel when I look back on the person I was five years ago – during the period when I was spending a lot of my free time on a religion discussion board. I was cute, wasn’t I? – idealistic, naïve, really believing that everyone was on the discussion board for the same reason I was – to learn about other people’s beliefs, share their own, and exchange ideas and thoughts about religion, science, metaphysics, philosophy, literature, music, art.

I learned an awful lot from that discussion board – some of it was awesome, and some of it not so much. I learned there were a lot of people in the world with kind hearts and open minds and good humor. I also learned that there are an awful lot of people who want everyone else to think and believe exactly what they think and believe – and I learned that I wasn’t one of them.

I saw bigotry.

If there’s one thing that toasts my cookies it is bigotry.

At first I found myself mostly coming to the defense of the atheists on the discussion board, who, initially, seemed to be the major target of bigotry. They were told they were going to hell. They were told they were all lacking any kind of moral compass. They were compared to Pol Pot and Stalin. It was all ridiculous and hateful, and I could not let the bigotry slide by without responding to it.

Then for a time the bigotry seemed to be mostly directed towards the “believers”. Those who believe in God were called ignorant, uneducated, unintelligent, superstitious scaredy cats, and blamed for the murders committed during The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials. Which… yeah… I’m sitting here now, just shaking my head, as I remember the nonsense.

There were a lot of generalizations made – every atheist was lumped together into one group – as if they all believed, felt, and thought the same about everything; and every Christian was lumped together into another monolithic group. Finger-pointing and blame-laying was rampant. As a Christian Scientist, I was told by many of the Christians that I was going to hell because I didn’t believe in hell, or in a devil, or that Jesus was God. And as someone who identified as a Christian, a number of atheists seemed inclined to assume I held the same beliefs about God that they had learned when they were youngsters attending Christian Sunday Schools – and then judged me for the beliefs that they wrongly attributed to me.

It could all be a little exasperating.

For the first few years the humor, friendship, and intellectual stimulation I got from the discussion forum outweighed the exasperation. I met some really good friends there – people I still continue to call my friends – people who became familiar with my spiritual perspective about life in a way that many of my offline friends never did.

But after several years my interest in the discussion board began to wane. More and more I found myself in these weird dialogues with people who presumed to know what was in my head and heart without giving me the opportunity to tell them myself. More and more I found myself in the unsatisfying position of being treated like a student whose job it was to quietly sit and listen while others threw their great wisdom and knowledge at me. I found myself getting lectured to and preached at a lot, and I do not particularly enjoy being the target of lectures and preaching. Dialogues became one-sided monologues; the exchange of ideas turned into a one-way sermon – people telling me what I should believe, think, and feel, and then getting really agitated with me if I dared to question or voice a thought of my own.

The Grand Finale – the defining moment when I realized I no longer had any interest in serious participation on the discussion board – came for me on a thread titled “Repeal the child abuse for Christian Scientists in Washington State law”. For four pages (100 posts) I read comments, written by my friends (people whose atheism or Christianity I had defended time and again on the forum) about the lunatic Christian Scientists who are “neither Christian nor scientists” (pretty original, right?). For four pages I read comments from people attacking a “strawman” – indignantly pontificating on how wrong it is to legally allow Christian Scientists to abuse their children – when there never was a law or lobby that supported child abuse by Christian Scientists. And then I saw where one of my forum friends had written this: “I just took issue with the thought that the faith healers could be unaware that their ‘healings’ have zero positive effect… I think the fact that the alleged Christian Science lobby feels the need to protect themselves from prosecution tells me that they must know the reality of their faith… He seems to be saying that Christian Scientists aren’t True Christians. The Christian Science people seem to think they are Christians, based on my scanty reading of what they believe.”

SCANTY READING?!!! Oh, for Pete’s sake! I’d been sharing my experiences as a Christian Scientist on that forum for almost seven years – shared wonderful healings I’d had in Christian Science, shared my thoughts about “Christianity” – but my friend hadn’t, apparently, learned anything about my way of life or beliefs from what I’d written on there. It came to me, then, that the only reason some of these people had ever considered me their friend was because I had been a good audience – willing to listen to THEM – but that they hadn’t really been interested in anything I’d had to say.

I wrote a response:

Christian Scientist from Washington State here. I’m sure you are all completely right about me. I mean, you must be, right? I should be, like, locked-up for the good of society. Interned in a camp maybe. I should never have been allowed to marry – and certainly not to a nice, decent liberal man raised by his decent God-loving Methodist parents. I should never have been allowed to have children, and certainly never been allowed to raise them – it’s a miracle that they survived to adulthood and turned out to be such intelligent, healthy, whole, well-adjusted young men, considering their mom was a Christian Scientist. I should not be allowed to share in the rights of citizenship of this land – it’s far too good for the likes of me. I should certainly never have been allowed to vote – and never been allowed to participate in the democratic process. I should never have been allowed to be elected delegate to our state Democratic convention, and should never have been allowed to write letters and donate in support of environmental causes, the ACLU, gay rights, Habitat for Humanity, atheists, Amnesty International, and yes, universal health care (I don’t believe anyone should be denied the health care they feel they need just because they’re poor – health care should be considered a basic human right). I am, of course, just a cardboard cutout of a person – like every other Christian Scientist in the world.

As you know – seeing as how I’ve been on here for ALMOST SEVEN YEARS sharing my beliefs, thoughts, and feelings with you – I am a despicable, ignorant, uneducated, illiterate human being. I should probably be lined up with my fellow CSists against a wall and shot, as was once suggested on a local talk show.

Am I Christian? Nope, probably not (according to the current accepted definition of a “Christian”). Like my fellow CSists, I do not believe Jesus was god. Do not believe in a literal place of hell or heaven. Do not believe in Original Sin. Do not believe the story of Adam and Eve should be taken literally. Do not believe the world was, literally, created in seven days and seven nights. Do not believe in creationism. Do not believe dinosaurs and humans roamed the world at the same time. And, like those familiar with quantum physics, I DO believe matter is pretty much nothing . So shoot me.

My children , by the way, were vaccinated (edit: the topic of vaccinations is probably worth a whole ‘nother blog post), and were taken by me to doctors, when the need arose – which wasn’t often – they were mostly healthy. They also were raised by their parents – as I was raised by mine – to not be quick to make judgments on others, to try to approach the world without bigotry, and to question political and religious dogma, and those in authority (including the medical profession – you do all know that traditional medical practice is the third-leading cause of death in this country according to the JAMA, right? – it shouldn’t be surprising that thinking people might sometimes look for alternatives to it).

Okay. I’m pretty much done here. I’ve been yammering away on this forum for seven years. And apparently no one was listening.

Karen

Weirdly, I got nine out of ten “yes” votes for that post. 🙂 Most gratifying personally, though, was the response that came right after my post from my atheist friend, Conley. I think when I first came onto the forum Conley had had some pre-conceived notions about me as a Christian Scientist, but, like any true critical thinker, Conley had listened and observed and been willing to learn and shift his thinking. I liked and respected him. Following my post, Conley wrote: “Damned well said, Karen. And I was happy to note that you listed about half my favorite causes–which is what I’d have guessed of you. Best regards. -Conley”

I guess it’s because of people like Conley that I still sometimes pop in on the discussion forum. As for the “others” – the close-minded, arrogant, sermonizing, judgmental know-it-alls from the right and the left, the up and the down – both religious and non-religious –  who don’t really want to hear what other people have to say – I guess I just feel really bad for them. They are missing out, ain’t they?

what people think I do