Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Responsibility

Oh I try to get some distance I try to escape But this nightmare’s so persistent In a Shakespeare kinda way Be not afraid? No, fuck that, be very afraid --Raine Maida, “The Snake and the Crown” “I think I might be an agnostic,” I said. This was probably about two years ago. “No, shouldn’t be an agnostic,” she replied. “Why not?” “Agnostics can’t accept responsibility for anything.” “Have you met me? I accept responsibility for everything, even stuff that isn’t my fault.” No, seriously, that was a conversation I had once. It was back when I was leaving religion, but still hanging around primarily with fundies. It was seriously believed by people I used to call my friends that only Christians knew how to take responsibility for the things that happen. The idea made me want to laugh then. I think it kind of makes me want to cry now. Christians suck at taking responsibility for anything. Well, at least the fundies do. Everything is the work of god or Satan. Most of the Christians I used to hang out with took as little responsibility for the things that happened around and to them as humanly possible. Major life decision? Pray. Wait for god to tell you what to do. Bad shit happened? Pray. Beg god to fix it for you. Really bad shit happened? Blame it on Satan or call it a test of faith. Really bad shit happened to someone else? Tell them that they aren’t a good enough Christian or that they didn’t pray hard enough. No, seriously. The hypocrisy was strong with my co-religionists. So if the country is going to hell in a hand basket, we all know whose fault it is. The gays. The country is built on the institution of marriage, after all. And marriages are already failing in record numbers. So if the gays are allowed to marry then it will be all over, man. They just don't get it. After all, everyone knows Christian marriages are the best, most successful marriages of all. Wait, what’s that? They’re not? They actually have the highest divorce rate? Must be the lies of Satan… Okay, for serious, let’s unpack this one. Christians are more likely to get divorced, but Christians are the most likely to obsess about marriage. Why is that? Back when I was hanging out in the shadow of Wheaton College and friends with a lot of Wheaton College kids I noticed a pattern to the lives of my friends. At the end of their junior year a couple that had been dating for about a year would get engaged and set the date for the summer after they graduated. I could often predict who would make that announcement and when. I also remember that of all those couples, there was exactly one I looked at and said, “Yeah, they’ll probably do well.” That particular couple possessed a maturity above and beyond your average pair of 21 year-olds, mostly because they hadn’t had the typical Christian household upbringing and were less sheltered in the ways of the universe. In fact, they were younger than me but I often forgot and thought they were older. The rest, though, trusted that Jesus would make sure everything was okay. This, I don’t think I have to tell anyone, is a bad bet. And even back when I believed in all of it I realized that was a bad thing to bank on. Marriage is hard. Going in to it because you’re supposed to get married the summer after college is just about the worst reason to get married ever. Well, except for getting married so you can finally have sex without regrets. That’s pretty damn stupid, too. So within evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity you have people who are too young getting married for the wrong reasons with unrealistic explanations. On top of that you have the burden of an immediate expectation to start a family. One of my best friends got married last summer to a girl I used to go to church with. My old high school pastor counseled them. My friend had the completely sane plan for the two of them to work for a while, then have kids when they were ready. My old high school pastor told them to start having kids immediately. Mind you, this was the very first time my friend met my old pastor. When my friend said that wasn’t a good idea in his book my old pastor said, “But children are god’s blessing. Are you sure you want god to delay his blessings for you?” Fortunately, my buddy wasn’t having any of that and he and his wife are more than willing to keep their own counsel. Of course they were 27 last summer when they got married, so they were more aware of what people need to have to live. And kids are expensive, no matter where they fall on the blessings from god scale (I’d say somewhere between a pet rock and a really, really expensive hobby, but I’ve never had kids, so what the hell do I know?). But judging by the people I know of who got married young and started having kids right away, I think my friend is the outlier (oh, and for the record, that couple I figured would make it? They’ve been married for five years now and to the best of my knowledge she has yet to get pregnant). Married young for all the wrong reasons and immediately having kids = stress. Of course it made a certain amount of sense back when the Bible was written. “‘Til death do us part” lasted, like, ten years on average. And people had to stick together and start pumping out kids just to help the community survive, right up until he got his head chopped off in war or she died in childbirth. Those ideas aren’t so much important in a world where infant mortality is down, where the death of the mother during childbirth is uncommon, and where people regularly live two, three, or even four times the lifetime of the average bronze age human. Our lives are elongated. The nature of modern, first world society also means that adulthood happens later, so a 20 year-old of today is, on most levels, far more knowledgeable but far less mature than a 14 year-old of two thousand years ago. Of course part of that is specific to America, too. American teenagers seem to be less worldly and experienced than their European counterparts. But that’s not really a cogent point, just a tangential observation. Either way, the institution of marriage is failing, um, according to Christians who believe that sort of thing. Personally I’d say that the number of people who get divorced, then remarried, sometimes multiple times, indicates that the institution itself is just fine and even people who have already seen the bitter side of it think it’s a good or necessary thing. But, y’know, that’s just me. These marriage apologists who see marriage as failing can’t exactly blame it on themselves. So it has to be the fault of someone else, someone who just doesn’t get the importance of involving Jesus in the marriage decision. So it’s those heathens that are doing it. And the next step is the gays, who are only a step above Satan hisownself on the list of terrible beings. Of course to anyone who looks at the data this makes no sense. The worst places for marriages correlate strongly with the places that are biggest in to the Bible. And I don’t think that’s because Satan’s fighting extra hard to ruin marriages in the Bible Belt. It’s a problem with the system and the way of looking at the world that’s inherent in evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. They have an unrealistic opinion of human sexuality and the capability of 20 year-olds to make decisions that will affect them for five or six decades. They have an unrealistic opinion of the difficulty inherent in raising children. But rather than take responsibility for it, they blame teh gays, the atheists, and the agnostics. But, you know, it’s the non-Christians who have no idea how to take responsibility for their lives and actions…

9 comments:

atimetorend said...

So much think a lot of it is the politics of the religious right, leveraging marriage just like abortion. And tie in premarital sex as a bonus to promote those early marriages.

"I also remember that of all those couples, there was exactly one I looked at and said, “Yeah, they’ll probably do well.”"

Curious as to how the other couples did. There were many couples I knew in the Inter Varsity group I was part of who married moments after graduation from college. They are all still married over 10 years later, and happily and with lots of early kids to the best of my knowledge. A small sampling, and perhaps there were unique attributes to the group which could cause it to deviate from the norm. In general I agree with your post, but at the same time, in general, the Christian groups and church I was involved with have produced happy and enduring marriages.

jessa said...

I believe you mentioned before that you have found that being an atheist means you have to take more responsibility for yourself just for it to look like you are taking the same amount of responsibility as a Christian. Sure, either one of you can take absolutely no responsibility for anything and leave disaster in your wake. But Christians can, and do, blame everything on Satan, or the gays, or beg God for things instead of doing the work it takes to do those things themselves. Atheists don't have that luxury. (And Christians are not all like that. I consider myself a somewhat Christian and I'm pretty sure I'm not like that. But it seems to be a fundie trend.)

And have you seen our old high school pastor's website? I can't say I'm surprised he would give your friend that advice. Though I can't say I don't think that advice is incredibly shortsighted, at best, either.

Michael Mock said...

Geds: "And kids are expensive, no matter where they fall on the blessings from god scale (I’d say somewhere between a pet rock and a really, really expensive hobby, but I’ve never had kids, so what the hell do I know?)."

It's not the money that does me in, it's the cost to my free time. Picture a hobby that not only costs a lot and requires a lot of your time, but actively comes looking for you if you're trying to do something - anything - else.

...And I say this as the adoring father of a three year old boy. It's a good thing he's such a satisfying hobby, because ever since he came along, I haven't had time for much else.

I'm actually keeping a journal of my life as a parent. If you're looking to waste a few hours (and are interested in the topic)...
http://www.mockwriting.com/Progeny/index.htm

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

BeamStalk said...

When I was a Christian I got married and divorced within a couple of years. I broke from Christianity after my divorce. To say the two were completely unrelated would be a lie but the divorce only further solidified the change going on in my life at the time.

Now onto why I am posting. Over a year after my divorce, my ex writes me an email. In it she starts to take responsibility for what happened but quickly begins to blame Satan and demonic attacks on our marriage. I was never more happy to be out of that relationship than at that time and have never looked back since. I had taken my responsibility in what had happened and she never can.

PersonalFailure said...

It's not the money that does me in, it's the cost to my free time. Picture a hobby that not only costs a lot and requires a lot of your time, but actively comes looking for you if you're trying to do something - anything - else.

So, children are like a really cute heroin addiction?

I so wanted to get married the instant I graduated from college. And have bebbes. Lots of bebbes. Not that I liked babies (I don't like kids till they get a personality.) Not that I liked the guy I was dating in college. Total jerk. But my sisters got married right out of college, and so did all my friends . . .I wish somebody had slapped me upside the head and hit me with a dose of reality.

DMD said...

The gender stuff is ultimately why evangelicalism didn't stick with me, I think (though I am still a liberal Lutheran). It's not only the push to get married early and the idolization of marriage, but also the "complementarian" (read: separate but equal) take on gender roles that didn't sit well with me. Why are "traditional" gender roles so important to evangelicals/fundies? ("traditional" in quotes because historians know better). I could never figure that out. And while I didn't exactly grow up in a radical egalitarian household, but even I knew what my evangelical/fundamentalist campus minister was teaching was nuts.

Christianity Today had a cover story a couple weeks ago pushing early marriage. To his credit, the author took down the "marriage will solve all our problems" school of thought, and also recognized that telling singles to wait for sex until marriage is ridiculous if people get married at 27+ years old. Of course his answer was to get married earlier and work out your issues together. sigh.

Geds said...

atimetorend:

Y'know, I really don't know what happened to the rest of them. I kind of lost touch...

If you were dealing with IV, I'm guessing you weren't at a conservative Christian school, which probably helped (and, um if you've told me where you went to school and I forgot, mea culpa). The ones I worried about the most were the Moody Bible (or, as we called it "Moody Bridal") students. The school had a whole hierarchy of dates and students were regularly encouraged to go on a Level 1 and move to a Level 2 or whatever their system was. It was decidedly creepy, even to a lot of the people who I knew who went there.

jessa:

Haven't seen his site, no. But I do know he has a whole passel of kidlins.

And of course all Christians aren't like that. But the ones that aren't like that usually aren't the ones blaming all society's ills on teh gays, either. Seems there's a correlation there...

Michael:

Ha! I've been known to play Magic. I can tell you all about really expensive hobbies that just come looking for you...

Although cards probably aren't as noisy. Or potentially smelly.

BeamStalk:

I had something similar to that. But it wasn't to someone I'd even dated. She just got mad at me over absolutely nothing, than stopped and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, Satan just took over my emotions."

It's creepy. I'm glad I'm not around that any more, too.

DMD:

Yeah, the gender thing is confusing, too. I've spent a whole bunch of time in corporate America and have had many female bosses. Some of them were good, some of them weren't. It had nothing to do with gender. It was competence, personality, and any number of other things.

At some point I sat down and thought, "Wait, I've had women as bosses who were really good at their jobs. Why can't they be pastors, exactly?"

And it seems like that Christianity Today article didn't actually solve any problems. Sounds about right...

Jordan said...

This reminds me of a quote I read somewhere about (I don't remember where) about how the anti-abortion and pro-family/anti-divorce positions of some fundamentalists are contradictory. For example, if a teenager gets pregnant, if they have the child, financially, they're almost guaranteed to be worse off than if the baby had been born, say, 15 years later in their life. Statistically speaking, they're going to end up raising the child as a single parent, whether or not their marry the other parent (divorce rate for shotgun marriages like this are high).

Basically, the kid's going to have a screwed up life. However, if the teenager has an abortion, none of this is an issue.

Jay said...

The responsibility issue is one that I've noticed and continue to be very puzzled about. I've seen some very strange rationalizations brought to the table to explain away such things as job losses, deaths, and assaults, always involving God's plan or Satan's efforts to lead us astray.

Why is it so difficult for people to acknowledge that sometimes, despite their best efforts, bad things just happen?

@Michael Mock -
When they get to be about 7 or so, they start actively looking for you to ask for money, and then when they hit about 12 or 13, they molt into strange and frightening creatures that want to completely ignore you until it's time to drive them somewhere.

You've got it easy now. :-)