another vaguely inflammatory christianity post

Main Entry: heathen
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural heathens or heathen
1 : an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible
2 : an uncivilized or irreligious person
- hea·then·dom /-d&m/ noun
- hea·then·ism /-[th]&-"ni-z&m/ noun
- hea·then·ize /-[th]&-"nIz/ transitive verb

I am a heathen.

I kind of like the word, really, for all the images it conjures up of wild Dionysian orgies in the woods, although the closest I think I've come to that started with a box of Franzia chardonnay and a lot of marshmallows and ended with a yoga lesson at 2AM in the middle of the road. Orgies or no, I am certainly uncivilized. I am also a lefty, an erstwhile academic, and a loudmouth who has always gotten a weensy little charge out of shocking the actual civilized people. This may be a bad combination.

I was going to explain my reasons for being so damn fascinated by the Christian housewives, but I'm not entirely sure myself, so in lieu of that I'm going to provide you, my loyal readers (all 3 of you), with a brief history of the heathendom in which I wallow. Also I was just reading my own archives recently and I came to the conclusion that anyone who is not a Minneapolis-area amateur bike racer is going to find my blog ass-boring, and ass-boring is not something anyone aspires to.

Until sometime in 1998, I lived in Terre Haute, Indiana. Terre Haute is home to the federal penitentiary where Timmy McVeigh met his maker, as well as a paper plant, three colleges, Cathy from the first season of The Bachelor, and the "professional wrestler" from the most recent season of America's Next Top Model. The town as a whole is so grammatically challenged that there is a tanning salon called Alway's Tan. Stephen King has blown Terre Haute up in several of his books; rumor has it he drove through once and despised the place so much he just can't help himself. And it is controlled almost exclusively by Bible Baptists, the kind who boycotted Disney World when it began extending benefits to its employees' same-sex partners.

So I was born a minority, to a father who is the biggest heathen in the whole town, or at least the most public one. He has the gall to a) teach evolution at the university, b) believe in evolution, and c) continually be goaded into participating in creation-versus-evolution debates and letter-to-the-editor wars. Coming from that background, how could I not be a lefty loudmouth? My very first theological debate was in first grade with my friend Danielle. It went like this:

Danielle: What church do you go to?

me: I don't go to church.

Danielle: Why not?

me: 'Cause I don't believe in God.

Danielle: (gasps) You can't not believe in God!

me: (shrug)

Danielle: Do you believe in worms?

me: Sure. I see worms all the time.

Danielle: Well, if you believe in worms, you believe in God, because God made worms.

me: I could find a worm right now and show it to you. You show me God.

I don't remember if I actually dug up a worm for her or not, but she failed to dig up God and hand him to me, so I went away from that one thinking I'd won. She presumably thought she'd won with her irrefutable syllogism. Everyone was happy, and we got some Popsicles out of the freezer and peace was restored.

By high school it had become a little more complicated. My friends had developed their theology a bit more, and one of my classmates had actually participated in the letter-to-the-editor war with my dad ("What seems more ludicrous to you, Professor? That we were created by a benevolent Heavenly Father, or that our great-grandparents were fish?"). One day my friend Matt, incredulous at my professed lack of religion, set out to determine exactly what religion I was, if not Christian. We were on a school bus, on our way to some jazz festival or another (yeah, I was in band), so we had a LOT of time. Matt peppered me with questions for a good hour: Do you believe Jesus existed? Yeah. Do you believe he was the son of God? No. Do you believe he died for your sins? No. But you think he existed? As a historical figure, sure. Etcetera.

All this time Matt was plugging my answers into some great theological calculator in his head, and when he was done, he pronounced me Islamic. I said "uh, okay."

See, I don't have a problem with God/Allah/Whatever. I won't be an atheist until someone comes up with a viable way to prove a negative. My problem is with some people's interpretation of God. I received a comment (on my last post about the housewives) asking what exactly was wrong with being a fundie, when being a fundie became a bad thing. In a nutshell, my problem with fundies is this: You remember the game "telephone," where one person whispers a sentence into another's ear, and they repeat what they heard down a line of 20 or so people, and then the person at the end of the line says it aloud and everybody laughs and laughs at how different the final sentence is from the original. Now, take a two-thousand-year game of telephone, add multiple changes of language (Hebrew, Latin, English, etc.), add translators with political agendas, and you are going to have a very difficult time convincing me that the KJV Bible is exactly what the original prophets intended.

Not to mention, most of the cultures who presently have direct contact with their deities freely admit to using 'shrooms to get there. If every college student who had a divine revelation while on shrooms started his own religion, well...... actually we might have a much more democratic society with fewer wars. But I digress. The point is, I'm a little skeptical of divine revelation as well.

The Bible is a pretty cool book, don't get me wrong. Sometime in junior high, feeling theologically deprived, I read the entire thing cover to cover. (I also memorized the Lord's Prayer during this time, which came in handy until I started going to Mass with Nate's family and discovered that Catholics end it in the wrong place, and once I figured out when that was, they started SINGING it, so now I'm back where I started: lost and embarrassed through the whole service. Again, though, I digress.) It definitely has literary merit, and as general guidance and life lessons go, it's not too bad. It's hard to argue with "thou shalt not kill" and "love thy neighbor." I just don't know that the philosophical ramblings of a few shroomed-up two-thousand-year-old Middle Eastern fellows should be taken as literal (and followed to the letter) in the context of modern society. Especially since our current misadventure on that side of the ocean is being rationalized (now that the WMD thing didn't work out) as liberating the poor oppressed Iraqi people from their antiquated Middle Eastern culture.

Which brings me to the housewives. As you probably know, my degree is in cultural anthropology, which is similar to sociology except that in sociology you look at the group to understand the individual, and in anthro you look at the individual to understand the group. I blindly undertook a four-year study of a completely unemployable major because I loved it. I like people, I like languages, and I've always been fascinated by religions. Unfortunately, I no longer get to research and write papers as my main occupation. I have a soul-crushing desk job, much of which involves following the secretary around undoing her mistakes. Anyway, my academic urge to figure out what makes people tick hasn't been crushed like my soul has, so in lieu of actual fieldwork, I have the blogosphere, which is populated by an astonishing number of interesting microcultures, including the Christian fundie housewives. Christian fundie housewife BLOGGERS.

These girls are the opposite of everything I am. I am a shitty housekeeper, I feel exactly zero guilt about living with my boyfriend, I do not refer to children as "blessings" and probably never will, I have impure thoughts, I can't stand my neighbors, and until somebody shows me empirical proof that there is a heaven I will not put any energy toward suffering my way into it. Oh, and if you haven't guessed, I have my own opinions, and I will not stifle them in favor of obsequiously asking Nate for his opinions so that I can adopt them as my own. So the housewives are at least as foreign (and therefore interesting) to me as any undiscovered African tribe.

They do spend a lot of time sharing recipes, house cleaning tips, childcare tips, and (to my shock and disgust -- yeah, even I can get grossed out, imagine what happens to the water in the washing machine) homemade cloth menstrual pads for "heavier flow gals." Although I did copy down a recipe from one of them, mostly I'm bored by that stuff. My, er, "research interest" is the rules that define their marriages. It's all very interesting, and maybe someday I'll write an academic blog post on how to have a proper fundie marriage as seen through the eyes of the fundie wives. But that'll have to wait. I don't know if blogger has a word limit for posts, but maybe it should.

On an unrelated note, I just discovered in her archives that the only noncyclist I've found funny enough to link to so far lists cyclists as one of her pet peeves. Whoops. Too late now. Oh well, she's still funny.


Blogger sasquatch said...

Great post. I especially enjoyed your dialogue.

I'm fascinated by Mormons in a similar way. As a thriving modern religion, they're all the proof you need that establishing a community based on ideas and events you could only believe through pure faith isn't so impossible if the belief system and the timing are right. One of the favorite arguments of the christian apologists is that Jesus MUST have been the genuine divine article or a movement as powerful and pervasive as Christianity wouldn't have caught on the way it did.

But look at Joseph Smith and the angel Moroni and the Golden Tablets and the sacred undergarments and the whole eternal family, praying the ancestors into heaven thing. There are many, many, very intelligent, kind and compassionate human beings who are on board for the whole Mormon ride, and this movement isn't much more than a single century old!

It all comes down to our natural desire for a little existential comfort. The Mormons actually offer a new, improved christianity in that regard because they give more afterlife details (I think lots of christians secretly fear heaven might be incredibly boring). The Mormons promise you'll get to stay with your wife and family forever, and probably offer other comforting specifics (like maybe you get to pick one eternal bike!), but I've not looked closely enough to know.

Anyway, thanks for the post.

8/11/2005 11:44 AM  
Blogger annie said...

Only one eternal bike!?!? How horrible! There MUST be bike shops in heaven! I'm all in favor of human monogamy, but I will never commit to one two-wheeled soulmate. NEVER. ;-)

8/11/2005 3:07 PM  
Anonymous CarlV said...

Interesting Post. I, like you, have become increasing fascinated with a group, but for me it's people who claim to be angostic or athiest or "heathen". I find it very interesting that you believe that Jesus Christ existed, and you have read his words, so you know who he claimed to be, yet dismiss him. So, who was he? Just a wise man, a deranged lunatic, a con man? Your comparison of the Bible to playing telephone is interesting as well. With all the various interpretations and demoninations out there, it's hard to beleive that it all came from the same source. Believe it or not, the Orthodox church has been staunchly protecting the Church and it's traditions and doctrine from change for 2000 years. Even the Great Schism with Rome didn't sway them to change the Creed. Before you get defensive, I'm not trying to argue or judge, just share.

8/12/2005 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Dan I. said...

You know, Annie, you're "obsession" about fundie housewives kind of sounds like your own insecurities with your beliefs ...

Seriously, I am a little puzzled by carlv's post. First, someone doesn't "claim" to be agnostic, as there is nothing to dispute about one's ambivilance about God. In fact, I think most people's faith in God is a dubious claim.

As far as the telephone game - spot on. In fact the telephone game was in full swing before the first draft of the books of the Bible were even written!

I'll leave one more thing that has always stuck in my mind. Terry Anderson, former hostage in Lebanon for 7 years, said that his captors asked him what his faith in God was about. He said "God is about love". His captor vehemently disagreed with him, stating "God is about obedience". Herein lies the problem with religion - so many people just use it for their own purposes.

8/12/2005 1:05 PM  
Blogger annie said...

"Obsession" seems like a really strong word, dude. I've posted about the topic exactly three times. Being interested in the way another group of people lives is, I thought, pretty normal, and if religion weren't such a contentious topic I don't think you'd be accusing me of any sort of insecurity. One of my favorite papers in college was about the people making the yearly pilgrimage to Graceland, and how Elvis figures into their lives - a lot of them actually have entire rooms of their houses dedicated as an "Elvis shrine." When I was researching the paper I could have been described as "obsessed" with the Elvis fans. What shortcoming in my personality does that point to? Insecurity with my feelings about white jumpsuits?

Besides, my primary fascination with the housewives isn't with their faith, it's with their construction of marriage. Why aren't you accusing me of being insecure in my gender role (which is none too feminine, since at the moment I'm wearing pants AND earning money, both of which were prohibited for women not so very long ago)? And in about 10 minutes, I will be going home to a man who is getting the milk for free, so to speak. Maybe I'm insecure about my feminine virtue.

As for Jesus, there's a whole stack of evidence that he existed as a person, and I think that he was a strong leader, a visionary, a political revolutionary. The Bible wasn't written until many decades after his death. People tend to idolize dead leaders, both political and cultural: Kennedy, Guevara, James Dean, Mao, and, well, Elvis. Did you know there are people who pray to Elvis because they have come to believe that he has a kind of intermediary position with God? Elvis himself never claimed that, but that doesn't matter. Given a few more decades and the exact right social climate, and you really don't know what kind of movement could be built, or--and here's my point--what kind of book could be written. I don't think this is the right place or time for Elvis to actually get his own religion, but they all start pretty much the same way. There's some fascinating literature out there on how a charismatic leader gets a following and how that following develops into a cult, grows, becomes large enough to be called a "religion," etcetera. And yeah, you heard me, I just said Christianity started as a cult. Sue me.

CarlV, here's one for you: If I've read not only the Bible, but also writings from other religions including Islam, Buddhism, and Mormonism, who were Muhammed and Joseph Smith? Prophets or con men? If I am to take the Bible at face value because it says Jesus was the son of God, am I also to believe everything the other books have to say? That could sure get confusing. How do I get to heaven?

8/12/2005 3:52 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Huzzah heathendom! If I believed in an afterlife I'd kill myself.

I never though about sociologists/anthropologists like that before. Well, never really thought about them in any way before. Hm, guess that's why I'm not one. Or, is it the other way 'round?

Oh, and - glad to hear you got over those insecurities about Elvis. Perhaps you'd be interested in this new religion I've been hearing about...

8/12/2005 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Dan I, said...

Uh, I guess I should've put a more emphatic smiley face after my first "obsession" paragraph. I did start the next paragraph with "Seriously, ...".

Oh well. Viva La Elvis!

8/14/2005 4:30 PM  
Blogger annie said...

No, Dan, I did get that, but it kind of sounded like you were only half-kidding, and I dunno, it kind of pushed a button. I've had people suggest the same thing in complete seriousness, and that kind of armchair psychology irritates me when it only applies to religion. I don't know why my agnosticism bothers people. I'll find out when I get there, y'know?

And I like talking about Elvis. Actually, I bet there are Elvis blogs out there... screw the housewives, I'll read Elvis blogs instead! Yess! Now I have a new work distraction! *grin*

8/14/2005 6:56 PM  

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