Monday, April 16, 2007

Leisurely, Vigilant, polytheist, atheist

"Please notice when you're happy!"--Kurt Vonnegut's advice to graduates

The nor'easter is something, but an inconvenience for me and the other New Yorkers I know, not the end of the world. I'm sure there are people in Virginia who wish their biggest problem was this storm. I am still just absolutely blown away by the Virginia Tech massacre today. The radio newsman's saying it's not just the worst school shooting, but the worst *shooting*, recorded in American history. Damn. Double damn. It's surreal.

Another one of the great ones died, as you know. Kurt Vonnegut was something the Dorkfish and I had in common. Actually, I introduced my kid brother to Vonnegut's work when he was in high school and tired of the boring nonsense his teachers told him to read. We're seven years apart, and I helped teach him how to read. I loved watching his blue eyes go big over a book. Kurt Vonnegut got them doing that again, years after our mom and his teachers thought that had stopped. We loved the same things about him--his dark humor, his ability to see the worst humanity has to offer so very clearly, and his underlying hope, the way he never entirely gave up on us. I called Dorkfish to tell him. "Oh, *man*," he said, and he gave up on his video game for a few minutes. We talked about ice-nine and Harrison Bergeron, Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five, Margaret Atwood and Ray Bradbury. We knew this wasn't completely out of the blue. It still sucked.

It didn't take long for the right-wingers to get after Disney for offering same-sex couples the right to spend thousands of dollars for their Fairy Tale Wedding packages. The most amusing response came from an outfit calling itself Americans for Truth. One Sonja Dalton wrote that "Disney will be marketing a fantasy wedding indeed--after all, homosexual pairs cannot obtain a marriage license in Florida or California." Funny, but that's L'Ailee's objection to commitment ceremonies, too! Dalton doesn't want to know about two-woman, two-dress weddings like ours, apparently: "Two men or two women may play dress-up in tiaras and tulle and tuxes (respectively), but afterward they will remain immoral in the eyes of God and unmarried in the eyes of man..." The best part is her suggestion that families (all ten of them that she considers acceptable) take action by passing up Disney parks for an even more fantastical place--the Creation Museum! At least Disney doesn't pass off its fantasies as real and expect them to be taught as science to schoolchildren...

A couple of people wondered why I haven't written so much about L'Ailee lately. Well, our life is a shared one, but there are certain parts that are really only for me or her to tell. I'm going to make up for it in this entry. Lately, she's been spending a lot of time in front of the TV, alternately worrying about the pro-democracy protestors in Russia and distracting herself from the bad news out of Russia with the NHL playoffs. Between those, she's bitten her fingernails to the quick. But there's been more.

Some of us were working out in her gym when that repellent idea of "curing" gay fetuses in utero came up. (It absolutely is not going away, unfortunately, as you can see here.) L'Ailee seemed to have checked out of the conversation, as she often does, doing something I can only describe as inverted vertical stomach crunches--her feet were hooked over a bar, and she kept reaching for them with her elbows. This, I figured, was why her abs look really amazingly good and mine are still cleverly hidden under a thick layer of fat. But it turned out that she was, in fact, listening. I should know better than to make that mistake by now. She came up with the best rebuttal to anyone expressing their warped hope for a cure, *ever*, and expressed it between grunts.
"The Baptists should also want to make their babies very ugly and very shy during pregnancy," she said.
This knocked us all for a loop. "Huh?" I asked from my exercise bike. I'd been going at a very lackadaisical pace.
"They say lots of things are sex sins, not just gay things. Almost everything a person can do with their body is a sin. So make the baby ugly, and it will have less opportunities to have sex. Then making the baby shy means no stripping, no wet T-shirts, no pictures on the internet."
"You're kind of shy yourself," I noted.
"No, no, no, no. Very shy. So it's a handicap."
"Sounds like the perfect Southern Baptist life," I said. "Everything they dream about for their kids. But what about marriage? They're very much for marriage, you know."
"They can marry another ugly Baptist."
"So their parents and preachers can push them together once they're in their mid-thirties and still haven't been engaged. And since they're so very ugly and shy, they'll be grateful for each other, and they can't possibly cheat on each other." My pace picked up.

"Exactly. Those idiots who say people shouldn't even kiss until the wedding should be pleased." I then had to explain to the others about books my younger cousins, raised strict Assemblies of God, have told me about, by Joshua Harris and other writers, while L'Ailee unhooked her feet and came down.

"The doctors that would offer, you know, the de-gaying, should offer that as a package deal," I said. "Make it a damn law. If you want the de-gaying, your kid also has to be uglified and stripped of all social graces, just to keep them on the straight and narrow, no pun intended." By then, I was pedaling furiously, and the others were giggling, with very nervous expressions on their faces.
"If science gets to that point where a sexual orientation can be changed, they can also change looks and personality," she reminded us. The group then had a good time tossing out other things that could be modified in utero. (Most of these ideas involved genitalia.) One of our friends wondered aloud whether Jerry Falwell had gone through an early version of these proposed experiments, which made all of us stop working out long enough to laugh like idiots.

Later, I told L'Ailee I was absolutely sharing that idea and using it in every debate where it might apply. She has been warned. :-)

Also in that gym...well, this is hard to talk about. L'Ailee sees so much so clearly, but she doesn't quite understand when someone has a crush on her. You can't be subtle around her. I know this from experience. A woman in our gym, whom I will refer to as the Skank for many excellent reasons, had a crush on her that wouldn't go away. The Skank took to denigrating and insulting me, out of L'Ailee's earshot. She primarily went after my body and the way I move. "I hope you don't crush her," she'd say, and I'd pretend I didn't hear her. "Oh, I didn't know they made bathing suits in your size," she'd say, and I'd reply, "There's a lot you don't know." She'd compare me to Rosie O'Donnell and L'Ailee to Kelly, and I'd punch the Skank right in her all-too-blatantly rhinoplastied nose and lay her out flat...oops, sorry! That was just my fantasy!

L'Ailee asked me why I was so hostile toward the Skank this week, and I finally told her. "I know it's middle school stuff and I shouldn't let it get to me because you're with me and I'm wearing the ring, but..." I rambled as her lips got really thin.
"I am going to talk to her," L'Ailee insisted, in her Siberia-cold voice.

So she did, and we're certain the Skank won't renew her gym membership this year. She's stayed away from us both. Apparently L'Ailee took her aside and really let her have it, to the point where the Skank was seen crying in the locker room. I had to pump L'Ailee for the details of the discussion. Among them, she said that she didn't even tolerate it when her middle-school gymnastics students insulted another girl for being overweight, so she certainly wouldn't consider that attractive in a partner. She wound it up by saying, "If I didn't have a partner, I would have had to make one up, to save your feelings." I worried that L'Ailee would get in trouble on my account, because she works in this gym, but she's assured me that she wasn't the first instructor who had to get mean when a client just didn't understand that the feelings weren't mutual. I certainly hope so.

She used to wear her great-grandmother's crucifix, which somehow wasn't taken from the family after the Bolshevik Revolution. She wore it even after she decided that she no longer believed in God and couldn't even try anymore, shortly after 9/11. It took the State Supreme Court's decision against same-sex marriage to finally make her put it in her jewelry box and seriously contemplate giving it to a female cousin who'd been eyeing it. She no longer wanted anyone to think she was a Christian.
There's been a lot about "new atheists" lately. The "new atheists" don't just personally disbelieve in God, but think it's completely wrong to believe in God and that religion is responsible for the world's problems. For me, the current atheist versus conservative Christian debates in the media are a bit upsetting. As a Pagan, I know that there are many other religious choices in America and the wider world, choices that need addressing. Black and white, I have noted before, is cute on pandas, penguins, and Russian girls whose black eyebrows pop against their alabaster skin, but not at all good for theology. I worry that the true, full spectrum will disappear.

I tried to pick L'Ailee's brain a little after asking a question about the narrowness of current debates on Yahoo! Answers. The thing is, not all Christians are conservative. Not even most are. And even some of the political conservatives are more worried about global warming and getting our soldiers home than gay marriage. In my blogfriends' writings, I get to see a very different kind of Christianity from the mean and noisy one so many self-appointed leaders promote. Not all atheists are liberal or against religion, either. L'Ailee figures that everyone deserves some sort of comfort, and that "religion is probably better than drugs." She believes that if a person worships a cruel God, it's because they themselves are cruel--in other words, people make their gods in their image, and their religions won't get any nicer unless they do. Growing up in the last gasps of the Soviet Union, she saw that not all repression or cruelty is done in God's name. It was because she grew up in the Soviet Union that she was reluctant to identify as an atheist at all.

I am a polytheist, meaning I worship many Gods. I believe there are Gods that haven't even been named yet, computer and vacuum and parking Gods. Yet I make common cause with atheists, including my wife. In this culture, both groups are discriminated against because we believe in the wrong number of Gods, so it's worthwhile to work toward a patchwork-quilt majority. L'Ailee and I have many values in common, too. We're both skeptical and curious. We both love many facets of nature and hate being bossed around. (According to the Personality Self-Portrait, my Leisurely style and her Vigilant style are good together because of our mutual distaste for authority.) We both respect science--I don't literally believe that the Sun God "dies" every year at Yule and is "reborn" every year at Candlemas, for instance. When I co-led my Orlando coven, I would speak of the Sun God "moving", because I couldn't bring myself to use that obviously outdated and irrelevant liturgy.

L'Ailee has asked me why I'm not atheist. It's because I see way too much order in nature, no matter how badly we humans try to mess it up. I think of the Gods as the ultimate artists, who worked through evolution to create the world we live in. Just as artists go through periods--Picasso's blue period, Matisse's paper cutouts, Sinead O'Connor's reggae CD--the Gods seem to go through periods as well. I think something had to create the beauty of the world. And I think just one God can't account for the vast variety of people, climates, flowers, and animals on this planet, never mind the rest of the universe! I get moved by the ocean, a clear cold night, the scent of orchids, my cats, and nature documentaries to look up and breathe "Thank You, Whoever's responsible, thank You so much." It's an irresistable urge in me, and while I've seen a lot that makes me think, I haven't seen anything to contradict that feeling that Someone is responsible for all the good stuff yet. I feel the need to thank Them, if They are out there, for making the good stuff and letting me see it.

It's so hard for me to talk about my religion and my relationship with the Gods--I get very self-conscious around people who aren't polytheist or Pagan, and I get to thinking I sound like some stupid fantasy novel and the monotheist or atheist I'm speaking to wants to call the men with the white coats on me. "That's not true," you might protest, and maybe it's not, but that's how I *feel*. When I can string words together, they feel so inadequate. Words are good for many things, but Paganism has to be lived and experienced, not just talked or written about. Apologies to Malcolm McLaren, but writing about Paganism is like dancing about architecture. That said, I've decided that I'm going to start trying harder to express it, to tell you all more about what I am and less about what I am not. The Religious Right has a lot to say about and against lives like ours, and it's important to talk about their efforts in order to resist them. But I have given them much too much power, I think, even in this very entry. I've decided that if I want the discussion to be bigger, I will have to start adding my voice. I guess a good place to start would be your questions, if you got this far, and the ones I get elsewhere.


cats said...

i might have a crush on l'ailee too! ;)

keep writing about your faith it only brings you closer to the divine because it makes you think about what you truly believe.

i learned more about being a christian from listening to what other people believe and watching their faith than i learned in seminary.

alan said...

Hoping you all get a chance to dry out soon; hopefully the thermostat won't go to "boil" until the water is gone!

I too have been listening to the news from Russia and worrying. I'm glad L'Ailee is here and not there right now! I had hopes things were going to turn out differently not so many years ago, and even when "Mr. FSB" came to power I still hoped, but the clouds of darkness are gathering I fear...

I am glad she spoke to your detractor at the gym; beauty comes from within and just because someone refuses to see it doesn't mean it's not there!

And speaking of beauty, it's nice to hear your beautiful voice speaking amongst the croaking of all the frogs!


Dr. Deb said...

I love(d) Vonnegut.

Jaded said...

Religion is a very personal choice. We must each do the thing which makes the most sense to us. Because I've chosen Christianity, I also realize that it was my own choice. I don't then get to shove that choice down the throat of anyone with whom I come in contact. I am happy to share my beliefs, but only because the better people understand each other, the better we all get along. I've spoken with Pobble many times about her faith. It helps me know her better as a human being, and it helps me better articulate my personal faith. I don't see her faith, or yours, as wrong, only different. It is the thing which makes the most sense to you, as it should be.

I am not a conservative Christian by most people's standards. I don't know that I'm terribly liberal, either. I'd say I was moderate. I believe Jesus when He says that the greatest commandment is to love one another as He loved us. I don't think it's possible to do that and to also condemn people to hell. Doesn't make any sense to me.