Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Time again to speak



A little over a year ago, I announced on my old blog that I was going to start a new blog, the main problem with my old blog being a title which I felt I'd outgrown. From time to time, the thought returned, I need to start blogging again, or, I wish I had a place to blog about this. But I’ve been a single parent to two young children and a graduate student, so extra time has been at a premium, and I wanted to come up with a good title for a new blog before I started it. The break has been good in many ways. Several issues that I've been pondering have been fermenting in my mind over the last year. It was probably best for a lot of that to take place out of the limelight, but it feels like time to start speaking aloud again.

Lack of time legitimately was part of why I stayed off the internet for so long, but there was another thought that kept me from returning: If I start blogging again, I'm going to have to go back to dealing with people telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm as susceptible to error as anyone. But what I have always written about on my blog has been my own experience, a topic about which I am the only person qualified to write, and yet I still heard from total strangers who tried to insist that I was mistaken in what I wrote.

For example, a couple years ago I gave a talk at a seminar on campus about my experience growing up Mormon and then leaving the faith in my mid-twenties. A couple of priesthood leaders from the local ward showed up (for "damage control," as another attendee put it), and spent the post-talk discussion time trying to tell me that I had misrepresented my own past, that things had not happened the way I said they did. Nevermind that I was there and they weren't. I don't belong to the group that holds power in their culture, so my experience can be dismissed as invalid.

Or one time I posted this image:



and a reader said I was being "unfair," that such discrimination doesn't happen anymore. Well, it happened to me and I still deal with the fallout of messages I heard as a young girl, yet it is "unfair" of me to assert that patriarchy does in fact still exist.

I'd say about half of the comments I get are very thoughtful by which I mean "showing evidence of thinking," not (necessarily) "considerate of other people's feelings." These comments may or may not agree with what I've written. Either way is fine with me, as long as it's thoughtful. The other half of comments come from people who fall into one of the following categories: (1) People who think I've been deceived, as evidenced by the fact that I don't ascribe to their particular religion, (2) people who think I'm weak/stupid/immature/delusional because I still care about religion at all, (3) (male) people who call me ugly, dumb, slut, bitch, etc. because I have an opinion and I voice it in public, and the internet gives them the anonymity to make such comments without consequence. Almost invariably, the commenters in the third category also fall into one of the first two categories.

Let me address the first two categories, since it is partly from them I got the idea for the new blog title. I grew up in a fundamentalist religion. I'm not saying that all Mormons are fundamentalists, but the way Mormonism was practiced and taught to me by my parents and almost everyone I knew was very literal and black and white. We were the One True Church, and it was all or nothing with no room for questions or disagreement. I got to a point where I couldn't do that anymore and I left.

I explored various other traditions, but didn't know how to let go of that all-or-nothing approach. They all had good things to offer, but sooner or later, too, they all ran into their own brands of crazy, as I saw it. They all required a leap of faith across something illogical or improbable or esoteric, and I just couldn't do it.

It was around this time that I came across the writing of Richard Dawkins. I found myself nodding along as he delineated so many conclusions I had already come to on my own. I was starving for reason, and atheism made so much sense. There was so much relief in not trying to believe in anything anymore.

And yet... there was something missing. There had been good things about being a practicing religious person. It was great to be free of the emotional fettering, the legalistic minutiae, but I did indeed have significant spiritual experiences, even in the context of a religion that I now saw as deeply flawed, and despite atheist friends' insistence that I just needed to look at the stars or hang out with friends or get a hobby to fill that sense of "wonder" (which seemed such a trivializing way of describing what I was yearning for), I couldn't find a way to fill that void in the secular world.

I wanted a middle way, with both faith and reason. The real turning point in my journey was the realization a couple of years ago that you are not supposed to take anything literally! That might seem obvious to folks who grew up in more moderate faiths, but for me this was revolutionary. I started my former blog as an atheist. When I began writing that I was giving religion another look, people really wanted to know, "So what do you believe?" I tried my best to answer, though I wasn’t entirely sure myself, and I doubt my answers satisfied the questioners. My answer now would be, "What does it matter?" I don't say that to be obstinate or evasive, but really, what does it matter what or whether I believe? I don't go to church in search of "answers." I go for the way the rituals, symbols and narratives work on my psyche and teach me to live in a more fully human way. When I read scripture, I don't for one moment ask myself, "Do I think this actually happened?" because it’s completely irrelevant to me whether it did or not. What I care about is whether the text speaks to me in a way that has meaning for who I want to be and how I want to live.

Via media refers to Anglicanism being the best of both worlds between Protestantism and Catholicism. I have recently joined the Episcopal Church. More about how and why in the weeks ahead, but in summary, in the Episcopal Church I've found not only a middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism, but also a middle way between religious fundamentalism and hardline atheism.

I have a couple of reasons for wanting to start blogging again. First, just as it was once important to me to be “out” as an atheist to help break the stereotype of atheists being hedonistic, scary people, it’s now important to me to be “out” as a rational religious person, to give visibility to a kind of faith that doesn’t require the abdication of reason.

The second reason has to do with an essay a friend posted on Facebook a couple of months ago: “The Pen Is Mightier: Sexist responses to women writing about religion” by Sarah Sentilles. Her essay calls out sexism in the literary world, and she says, "I expect to be called whiny and strident and annoying and grating and hysterical and uninformed. I expect to be told I don't know what I'm talking about." Sentilles' naming of her experience helped me to recognize and name mine. I experienced sexism as a blogger. I expect to experience it again, and I expect to be told that I'm too sensitive and that I'm imagining it. That can wear on a person, but I’ve decided that the more terrifying alternative is to remain silent.

The last few weeks, I’ve been rereading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which I first read five years ago, and which I still refer to as the book that changed my life. Kidd explains her reasons for writing her memoir in the introduction: “If women don’t tell our stories and utter our truths…who will?” Sentilles describes “memoir-writing as a powerful, intellectual, creative form of agency—a way to tell our own stories instead of accepting the story society might like to tell for and about us.” It’s important to me personally to tell my story, and I believe it’s important for other women (and men) to hear it. I do have plans for a book-length memoir someday. A blog is what I can do for now.

As far as my concern that returning to blogging would mean that I would have to go back to dealing with people telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve decided that no, I don’t. I’m going to be pickier about the comments I let through. If you don’t like my ideas, tell me why. Tell me your own. If you don’t like me, or if you don’t like the fact that I’m writing at all, I don’t care, and I don’t have time for you. I don’t claim to have authority to speak truths for anyone other than myself, but this blog is about my own experience, and I claim the sole right to name and write about that.

7 comments:

  1. Nice to see you back. Speaking for ourselves is all any of us can (or should) do.

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  2. Wondered what had happened to you since your last post. Glad to read the developments.

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  3. I have had many personal revelations, if you will, on my own atheism over the last year or two. I am always relieved to find another who is searching for a middle path. Glad to see you writing again. :)

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  4. Reason and logic are not as important to me as my own intuition. I feel science, like religion, can also have an ego. They think that they know everything there is to know and are afraid of change when something different than what they thought is discovered. I left Mormonism simply because if felt bad. Of course, that left me floundering for a while trying understand a Higher Power that felt right to me. If I became atheist I think it would take all of the magic and fun out of the world. I love pondering things that logical minds think are impossible. I love pondering life's unexplainable mysteries and I definitely believe in miracles. It's boring to think of them as mere coincidences or random events. It's disempowering to not believe a Higher Power can help you in ways that you can't help yourself.

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  5. I smiled when I saw the link to your new blog come up in my reader. You may have been silent, but how cool is it to see that the Hound of Heaven was chasing your heart all this time.

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  6. Glad to have found your blog. I'll look forward to reading about your journey to, and through, the Middle Way.

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