Monday, September 21, 2015

the power of provoke

"When very bad things happen around the world, people search for news; they do not search for prayers, the Bible, the Quran or anything related to religion." - Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Googling for God

i took comfort in the quote above when i read it in yesterday's new york times. when you look around sometimes, it can seem like the whole world is filled with religious fanatics, but it seems that the trend is actually in the opposite direction, with more people than ever identifying as atheist or agnostic. and that somehow gives me hope.

late last week, a terrible tragedy occurred in the little town where i grew up. a whole family - mom, dad and four children, were killed when their home burned down during the night. i didn't know them, but recognize that it is truly a horrible event with a very big impact on a small community. i immediately went in search of news of the tragedy and found an article on the website of the nearest town with a daily paper, the mitchell daily republic. this link is not the original version of the article, it was updated over the next couple of days, to include more facts about the events. but the initial version had very few facts and a whole lot of god in it. and i have to admit that i felt sorely provoked by that. a daily newspaper that can't even provide the facts of a story, but instead manages a couple of quotes from distraught community members about how they're praying about it and providing ministerial support for the children of the school district. thankfully, they were also providing school counselors, even calling in some from other schools, but what happened to the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state?

there was another article later the same night with even more religion and quotes from two ministers (apparently they're the ones willing to speak to the press) about how the family was well-prepared to meet their maker. yes, really. click the link. interestingly, no one was asking where god was when the fire started. if you believe in such things, that might be the pertinent question.

i've been pondering all weekend why this provoked me as much as it did. i think, like many things, it's a complex web of reasons. an eternal struggle to distance myself from provincial practices. worries about sending my child into that den of fundamentalism next year. an undoubtedly haughty disdain for small, religious thinking brought on by years of over-education and global living and observation of a world made a worse place to be by religious fundamentalism of every stripe. in short, the personal baggage that i carry around. and when something awful happens, it triggers a deep reaction in us and mine was one of disdain for those wishing to see this tragedy through the lens of a god that was apparently not benevolent enough to keep it from happening.

times of tragedy and loss make us need comfort. the comfort of a community gathering together is a powerful thing. we proved at the storytelling evening for my father last november, that being together, sharing stories and laughter and tears and affection and more laughter are enough, there's no need to bring god into it. i have nothing against privately having a word with a higher being or beings, but can't we keep it private, just between us and her/him/them? does it have to be splashed across the pages of our newspapers too?

UPDATE: the story gets worse, much worse. autopsy results have revealed that the wife and four children were murdered before the husband apparently set fire to the place and turned the gun on himself. i really do wonder if they were as prepared to meet their maker as that minister suggested...


Molly said...

I'm SO with you on this.
There's that meme - Religion is like your penis, it's great to have one just don't shove it down my throat.
Or something like that.

Molly said...

Oh my god! Just read your update.
How awful.
(And clearly for the godsquad a sign that SATAN was at work here.)

will said...

Perception, often as not, trumps fact. Statistically, there may be god and churches neutrality but in the marketing & sales depts., god/churches are slam dunk winners.

Back in te Reagan/Bush 1 era one of the key background political/religious zealots publicly stated - and then helped implement - religious colleges which would prepare young zealots for employment within the government - as clerks, mid-level managers, judges, cops, etc.... His plan has had time to work and, coincidentally, laws and codes now favor the religious viewpoint.

Then, there's the Kock brothers ... just think, they've been busy with their rightwing efforts since the 1960s.

Regarding the fire/murder story ... that sort of thing is happening much to frequently (here in the US). Our preoccupation with guns, war, violence - all point to a warrior culture - a culture destined to resist change of cultural and social myths.

A warrior culture will tolerate what they see as aberrations until those 'different' voices want to modify warrior values ... and, liberals, progressives, social democrats, feminists, pacifists, atheists, gays/lesbians, etc. tend to be at odds w/ our version of a warrior culture.

I recently met someone who told me a poignant story. Seems a family (1st gen immigrants) decided to send their teenage boy (born in the US & American in behavior, thought and language) back to the old country - they wanted him to know his roots and family. The boy didn't speak the language, was urban, into sports, girls and tech stuff - but off he went to a rural village because he had no choice. Apparently things haven't been going smoothly. Despite same skin color and last name he doesn't fit and his long time friends back in the US have drifted away as those things tend to do w/ separation ... don't know how this story concludes.

celkalee said...

Violence, in many forms, currently seems to be dominating the news here. I am not sure if these things always occurred and we didn't know about it or if the 'news' has focused more and more on incidents like this to fill those 24 hour cable slots.

In any case, the boundaries of what is and is not appropriate to report are mostly gone. Pushing the fundamentalist agenda is almost as rampant as the violence. I live in a large metropolitan city, predominately Catholic by faith. As am I. I make absolutely no excuses for my faith and how it has helped me survive the difficulties I have faced. However, it (my belief) is mine, it is private and think everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.

Currently, our news is dominated by the Pope's visit. I think it is an amazing opportunity to highlight issues that are important to this country and to the international community. Reports tell us that many attendees of the many events aren't Catholic. However, they are inspired by the promise of a world leader addressing their issues. That is a good thing.

I think your fears for your daughter coming to your hometown to finish her education have some merit. But in the end we all seek our own beliefs. Having varied experiences will help her reach her own conclusions.

julochka said...

@molly - thank you for making me laugh with your metaphor...there hasn't been much laughing about this one. and even that, i probably shouldn't really have laughed at.

@bill - this is definitely the reagan era coming back to kick us in the ass - we reap what we sow, right? i weep for the child you mention even as i also feel a bit guilty, because i suppose it's precisely what i'm proposing to do with sabin - tho' my main goal is for her to know her family better and also know how important her grandfather was to that community a bit more firsthand than she does now. it's definitely not about putting her in touch with religion.

interestingly, the coverage in the state's largest newspaper (the sioux falls argus leader) has not included all of the god stuff, it's just the more provincial daily(mitchell daily republic) where they resorted to that. i suppose mostly because it was the quotes they could get.

@celkalee - thank you for this. i think the pope is amazing and i have NO problem with people believe what they wish and taking all of the comfort they wish from their beliefs - my objection was that i didn't think that the religion belonged in the news story. i have to have faith that the child is super smart and knows herself well (for one who is only 14), so i do think she will be able to form her own conclusions and find a way to process it all. thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.