Thursday, April 16, 2009

Better

I like your medicine I like your birds and your bees Now don’t you start thinking you’ve gotta buy the cure from them, sugar I know you know they’re only gonna sell you the disease --Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, “I Know You Know” There was a guy I knew once. He was friends with my older sister during junior high, but some time around high school she stopped talking to him. I always assumed it was because they were friends from youth group and my sister stopped wanting to have anything to do with church somewhere around her sophomore year. I knew this guy’s older and younger brothers and they were both cool. I liked his brothers. Still do. At some point he ended up back in the area and I ended up hanging out with him because we were often in the same place and had something of a history. I didn’t mind him much, but it was always obvious that he lacked whatever it was about his brothers that I liked. He was cocky. Arrogant, even. He just wasn’t good people when it got right down to it. He also had a specific form of navel-gazing arrogance. See, within the fundagelical world there are some people who think they’re more spiritual than others. And since they’re more spiritual than others, apparently that means they get to act any way they damn please because if they say something against another they’re speaking god’s own truth while anyone who speaks against them is blaspheming god. I know the type well. I was one for a while, at least from the “speaking god’s truth” perspective. One day I asked my sister why she didn’t talk to or say nice things about him. She told me it was because he used to make fun of me behind my back in junior high. My big sis can carry a grudge like no one I’ve met, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing… Either way, when I stopped going to church I stopped seeing a lot of people from church. He, unfortunately, was not one of them. I still ran in to him on a fairly regular basis. There are some people I used to go to church with who I still run in to and liked seeing. I’m generally fairly careful to avoid bringing up certain things, but I can otherwise have perfectly pleasant conversations with them. With the guy in question I realized I didn’t have to cover up the fact that I didn’t like him. I decided that I just wouldn’t talk to him any more than necessary. He said something I really didn’t like during one of those times I ran in to him. I responded extremely sarcastically and he stopped and said, “You’ve been so angry lately. What’s going on?” I almost told him. But I knew what would be coming. I’d never hear the end of it. This was just a couple months after I’d simultaneously lost my job and Her. I was in a bad place. But I also just didn’t like that guy. I wasn’t yet ready to defend myself against my former co-religionists, either. So I mumbled something and walked away. Anyway, I knew how the conversation would go. If I admitted that I was no longer a Christian anything I said after that would be thrown out the window. If I was mad, it was because I didn’t give it to Jesus. If I didn’t have a job, it was a lesson from god. And assuming I survived that conversation, news about me would soon circulate. I’m not the sort of person who believes that everyone starts talking about me the moment I leave the room. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of the people I used to go to church with don’t think of me at all. But I also know who the gossips are. I know the exact people who would bring it up to make sure that everyone prayed for me. I’d rather fade in to nonexistence, thanks. Anyway, a big part of the personal Christian story revolves around a twisted concept of “being a better person.” Accepting Jesus is supposed to somehow make the new believer better. Jesus apparently takes away all the horrible things in a person’s soul and replaces them with love and peace and joy. The counter-argument, then, against those who are in my position is, “So you’re worse person now, right?” Because with no Jesus, there can be no goodness. This is the root of those dumb “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace” bumper stickers. The thing is, I like to think I’m a better person since I left Christianity. I also like to believe it has very little to do with me leaving Christianity. It’s important in that I don’t have to spend my days trying to distract myself with double-think. It’s important in that I no longer reflexively look over my shoulder to make sure I’m not being judged. It’s important in that I don’t have to match the lessons I learn in life up to a book that tells me my morality needs to be firmly entrenched in bronze and iron age cultural mores. However, the larger part of the reason why I like to think I’m a better person now than I was then is because I’ve done a lot of what I like to call “growing the fuck up.” See, my general belief is that there are only two way to better ourselves. The main way involves learning from our experiences. The secondary, and admittedly more difficult, is to learn vicariously through the experiences of others. The first requires clarity and the ability to be honest with yourself. The second requires empathy and a willingness to hear what others have to say instead of waiting for them to be quiet so you can fill the empty space with self-indulgent chatter. These are things that generally come with age and experience. For some people they never come at all. It’s why I’ve tended to catalog my own stories on this blog. Simply having experiences isn’t enough. Cataloging and sharing them is what often drives the lessons home. We tend to learn the most, I’ve learned, from teaching others. This is why it’s important to be open both to teaching and being taught. Self improvement is also often predicated on hope. If I don’t believe there’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning, I’m going to be fairly lax on being a better person when I get around to it. It’s why, as silly as it may seem, getting the job I have now probably had a hell of a lot of influence on my own attempts at self improvement. I’ve spent ten months going in to work with an, “I’m just happy to be here,” attitude. It certainly makes the day go faster and the hard lessons easier to take. However, this pervasive question is also why I tend to qualify a lot of phrases with, “I felt that way when I was still a Christian.” I didn’t like the guy I talked about at the beginning of this post much when we went to church together. I don’t like him now. If you hear me say, “Yeah, that guy’s a jerk,” you could easily dismiss me as not liking Christians. If you hear me say, “He’s a jerk now, he was a jerk in junior high, and he was a jerk at every point I recall in between,” you can’t dismiss my opinion as prejudiced. Would he, meanwhile, be a jerk if he wasn’t a Christian? Probably. The thing that I wonder, though, is how much of my own growing the fuck up process was impeded by my Christianity. As I’ve mentioned before, fundagelical Christianity isn’t exactly built on the premise that it’s a good idea to listen to other people, especially people who have different beliefs. So even though I was learning from people who weren’t Christians back in the day, I wonder if I could have learned more and faster if I’d allowed myself to be open to them instead of having to filter everything through the double think. But I suppose that’s all academic. I was worse then than I am now. I’m probably worse now than I’ll be in the future. Does that have anything to do with my beliefs? Yes. Just not the ones others might like to claim. It’s my belief in learning from my mistakes and successes that makes me better. It’s my belief in learning from others that makes me better. And that’s a belief I intend to stand by for the rest of my life.

8 comments:

PersonalFailure said...

Ah, yes, the hope that is atheism. Well put.

Temaskian said...

"Anyway, I knew how the conversation would go. If I admitted that I was no longer a Christian anything I said after that would be thrown out the window. If I was mad, it was because I didn’t give it to Jesus. If I didn’t have a job, it was a lesson from god. And assuming I survived that conversation, news about me would soon circulate."

I have the same thinking towards my ex-church mates! That's why they still don't know that I am already an atheist. Someone recently asked me on facebook which church I was attending, and I just ignored that question totally.

And I too, know a christian that I bump into from time to time, but dislike.

The Woeful Budgie said...

You aren't alone, Temaskian. My church friends still think I'm one of them. I can't figure out if I'm wisely picking my battles, or if I'm just chickenshit.

Apparently, for whatever reason, I still care about having credibility with these people, but the ironic thing is, I will lose it the second I become honest. Life's funny, huh?

Oh, and ditto on the facebookery. I recently ignored an invitation to "National Pro-Life Cupcake Day". (Seriously? WTF?)

The Woeful Budgie said...

As I’ve mentioned before, fundagelical Christianity isn’t exactly built on the premise that it’s a good idea to listen to other people, especially people who have different beliefs.Hell, dude, it isn't even built on the premise that listening to yourSELF is a good idea. "The heart is deceptive above all things" and all that jazz.

Because with no Jesus, there can be no goodness. This is the root of those dumb “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace” bumper stickers.You know, it's funny, I was just thinking of that bumper sticker the other day, probably because of something your good buddy Ken said on the other thread (though I don't care to comb through all that tripe to find any specifics--my day's been long enough, thanks). One of the huge things my church is into is "finding your identity in Christ!", which basically means that you only get any peace and fulfillment in your life when you discover the destiny God has for you, and so of course, in order to know that, you have to be close to God. (Which, of course, means the American Evangelical idea of God, and all the weird cultural baggage that entails.)

Thing is, the farther I've gotten away from that, and from Christianity in general, the more peace and fulfillment I've found. It's like all that stuff before served as a shiny distraction from the fact that I didn't like myself very much...and until that changes, no magic bullet is going to work, not even Jesus.

It blows a hole in their theory, though. I couldn't find my identity til I got away from Christ. Which I think ties back into your point earlier: they can't let us have our stories, because it invalidates theirs.

And God forbid we fuck up their tidy little theories with our pesky reality.

Temaskian said...

TWB,

"You aren't alone, Temaskian. My church friends still think I'm one of them. I can't figure out if I'm wisely picking my battles, or if I'm just chickenshit."

Same here! They've been christians for years, but we've only been atheists for a while. So we're not so secure with our new identity. Plus, we're in the minority.

"Apparently, for whatever reason, I still care about having credibility with these people, but the ironic thing is, I will lose it the second I become honest. Life's funny, huh? "

I feel exactly the same! Yeah, sure is. Maybe guys in the dark ages, like Galileo, felt the same way.

The Woeful Budgie said...

Temaskian: Same here! They've been christians for years, but we've only been atheists for a while. So we're not so secure with our new identity. Plus, we're in the minority.Well, to be fair, I'm not sure how secure I ever was in my identity as a Christian. In fact, I seem to remember being insecure a lot, but I think that has very little to do with Christianity. I already had my problems; religion was incidental. :)

I'm not terribly secure on this ground either, which is probably why I'll only cop to agnostic at this point. Being sort of noncommittal saves me from having to defend my non-faith. My Christianity left me with the impression that if you couldn't defend your beliefs, somehow you forfeit the right to have them. I'm not quite past that, so I'm not really ready to face up to any fights yet.

Being in the minority sucks. I've got three very select friends at church who know, but that's it. I mean, don't get me wrong, those three make a world of difference, and I feel closer to them now...but somehow, I doubt that would go for most of my old church friendships.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be a relief for them all to find out, and let the chips fall where they may. Like maybe I'd stop worrying about it so much. But I don't know. And I don't think I'm brave enough to risk it.

Temaskian said...

I'm an insecure person myself. So for people like us, it's a double whammy. I think only 2 of my friends know, but then they live in another country far away. And they only got to know because one of them asked me a direct question which I could not avoid.

I'm not much of a risk-taker myself.

anorangeautumn said...

I'm just one of those people to happen upon your blog, and agree that I know of your pain. Not exactly, of course, but I've been on the roller coaster myself with Christianity. Of course, I shrugged it off in high school. My dad was more of a religious person, so when my mom divorced my dad, for very good reason, at the beginning of high school, she never made me go to church again. From there, I developed my own beliefs. I basically see it like this, maybe there's something out there, maybe there isn't, but whatever happens, I'm just going to live my life. I'd like to think that when my time comes, I'll go somewhere nice, everyone will, no matter what they've done. I think everyone deserves peace in the end, even Hitler. ( Of course, thinking that won't make it true, but I like to dabble in wishful thinking. ) The human brain is so complicated, it's really not right to judge someone for how they are. We're all raised differently, so while there are the more open people like us, there will certainly be the people we just can't understand. We don't know why they're so close-minded, why they do certain things, why they're happy over something bad, or miserable over something good. It's all very confusing and twisted. I try to keep this in mind when facing someone who is being unreasonably angry toward me. Sure, it'd be nice if they could see their own assholery, but the fact of the matter is that some of them never will. They'll continue along with their hateful, irrational manners till the day they die. And isn't that sad? But that's just one of the millions of outcomes in a human life. We are all such intricate patchwork quilts, trying to understand the World and the people in it just gives me a gigantic headache. And on a random note, I love that you've had enough of crazy chicks. ( Spotting this from a later blog of yours. ) It amuses me immensely 'cause I hear it so often from guy friends. I can't help but agree, even as a chick myself... women are rather psycho. My sister, for instance, is very psycho, much of what she does confuses the hell out of me. The same goes for most of my female friends. I can't help but take lots of interest in their relationships. I sit at their little get-togethers and just watch these interactions between girls and boys going on before me, and it's pretty riveting. The way adolescents communicate and try to rope each other in these days is hilarious and sometimes pretty pathetic. But really, it probably just applies to everyone. No one wants to be alone, some of us have never learned to be alone ( mostly those who dated right out of middle school and on and on and on ) and it's that that ends up breeding this desperate drive to always have someone even if they end up being a complete douche. As long as you have some good romps in the bed, and you get along fine enough, it works for however long it works. This mostly seems to be the running theme with my girl friends. Of course, when they do get boyfriends that are very nice and actually respectable, they initiate their "crazy." I think maybe it's a defense mechanism to see how far they can push this person, like if they stay that means the love is truer or something, but obviously it can't work that way. Love is a two way street. I can understand testing the waters, but some of my girl friends take it too far. It's baffling, too, because it all starts off good and well, things are going great, then it's like she's suddenly evolved into this raging bitch machine. I will sit there in the apartment of my friend's house, just hanging out, and literally watch as she rips into her boyfriend for doing practically nothing at all. But anyway, I'm going to cut off there before this turns into a novel! I just thought you should know that your bloggings are very sensible. If we all just lived our lives, and stopped trying to conform to a set of holy rules, we'd be a lot happier. Good morals are pretty easy to define, so I really don't see why we need religion telling us what is good and what is bad. I know we thirst for the knowledge of what is out there that made us, but when we can't identify this source or see it, it's best just to drop agonizing over it and enjoy the things around you. Makes perfect sense to me. And I'm sorry to those offended by this, but I really just can't trust The Bible. It's been through so many human hands, it's hard to truly know what is fact or fiction. Well, that's that then, haha. It was nice looking at your stuff, I think I'll definitely stick around to comment on more blogs when I have the time. Hope you have a good weekend where you are.