Religion. Jesus. And associated political concerns.

Have you seen the latest viral video? Jefferson Bethke rhymes his way through four minutes, explaining why he hates religion but loves Jesus. It’s interesting, for sure. Check it out and share your thoughts. I’ve got mine… to follow shortly.

First a few disclaimers: I’m not trying to get you to love or not love Jesus. That is not my concern. It’s your business. And I’m definitely not trying to convert you to a particular religion. That’s not my place.

Jefferson Bethke has Jesus, not religion. And I respect that. I have faith, but not religion. I was raised Catholic and much of that is my “culture” but it does not define fully what I believe, who I am or how I operate in my life. Bethke seems to take Jesus a little more seriously, and I think he wants me to as well. It is unlikely, but I appreciate the well-intentioned directive on his part, and I wish him well on his journey.

I get why religion matters to people. I believe the sense of community, and the rituals within religious practice, is what draws many people to a religion. The podcast The Moth featured this week (02/06/2012) a story of a Judy Gold’s departure and return to Judaism. The rituals of Judaism that Gold so despised as a youth became years later a welcome aspect of her life. I believe this is the story for many, and I am happy for these people. I would lie if I said the rituals of Catholic mass still to this day provide some comfort.

When I was a kid, the church was a huge part of my life. The kids in CCD (Sunday school) teased me by calling me “Bible girl.” We went to midnight Christmas mass, we prayed the rosary, we did confession, we said bedtime prayers, we wore the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, we gave up something for Lent, ate fish on Fridays. My mom played the organ too – to this day I still know the words to the hymnals by heart and could recite most of the mass to you as well. I didn’t just have religion back then, I had spirituality as well. Church was the stable part of my life – consistent, dependable. It helped me feel safe. It was my community. But my spirituality was how I lived my life. How I learned from my mistakes.

When I was fourteen, I realized people often went to church out of tradition, for comfort, for appearances, or as “fire insurance” (avoiding the whole burning in hell thing by going to church regularly and paying a tithe). Most people used faith to tell them what to do, but many didn’t question why they were doing it. They didn’t have a dialogue with others about these perspectives. Religion was a prescription and they took the pill, no questions asked. But even worse, many didn’t follow their church’s teachings in their every day life, yet they felt compelled to condemn others for a difference in belief or practice. I found this offensive to my idea of faith. I was taught to question my beliefs, my perceptions. I was taught to introspect, to consider how others might feel as a result of my actions or beliefs, not to condemn others blindly for our differences. I grew through dialogue, not by instruction. It became apparent to me that those within my church, and the church itself, did not satisfy the way I lived my faith. So I left my church. I left behind all religion. But not my spirituality.

When people believe their religion should be everyone’s, it creates huge problems.

We see it throughout the world. In the news I hear constantly about religion in the US being “oppressed” by liberals, yet these same faith systems want to legislate their moral code into the law books. Doesn’t this oppress those of us who choose no religion? Certainly. Religious freedom cannot be only for those who believe their religion is the one true way. It must be for all – including those without religion, including those whose beliefs conflict with yours.

The actions by religious groups to legislate their beliefs on marriage and contraception into law specifically create in me a feeling of oppression – and frustration, since a majority of men and women of all religious groups utilize contraception. If they didn’t, what explains families only having one to four children? No contraception would yield families of ten or more. I would rather religions police their own devotees who do not follow their dogma, rather than enforce it upon an entire country filled with religions not their own. The same for gay rights and marriage. Many religious groups want to deny gay and lesbians the same federal rights that heterosexual people have. Aren’t the religious supposed to put themselves in others’ shoes? If they did, would they want to be denied the right of seeing their loved ones who were dying in the hospital based on what they do in their bedroom? Probably not. If marriage were only for one man and one woman with a goal of procreation, as the pro-Prop 8 spokespeople claim, then why are heterosexuals who cannot conceive are allowed to marry? Their assertion implies only fertile men and women should be granted the institution of marriage. This assertion implies my marriage is invalid, as we may not have kids. Furthermore, if the sanctity of marriage is so important, why are they not pursuing a law to deny divorces and re-marriage? This would doubly render my parent’s marriages invalid, though they very much love their spouses and are happier now as divorced/remarried persons than ever as a married pair.

I would ask, then, what is the true motivation to legislate on religious perspective? Is it fear? Self-righteousness? Is it a lack of understanding and acceptance of others? Is it a lack of self-knowledge? What drives a person to designate millions of people to a life of oppression for not fitting into a set of religious standards?

Asking what is the motivation could be where to start a dialogue.

Creating a feeling of open, accepting discourse without the goal of conversion can bring others more readily to an understanding of different ideas (but it only works when all sides are open to new perspectives).

Would then people understand that everyone just wants to live a fulfilled life on their own terms, not as second-class citizens, but autonomous independent people?

And let’s be honest here: I want people to see my way of things, just like everyone else (go figure). But I know I can’t expect people to see it my way. I can hope. I can hope for a willingness to coexist with one another as diverse beings and celebrate these differences rather than homogenize them. I can hope other people share this conviction with me.

Interesting links: Religious Tolerance website – great source for information on other faiths, including rare ones
FSM – ever heard of the flying spaghetti monster?

Taxes taxes taxes… with a twist

Happy tax day! You ready for this?  I have posted here a chart that details information released by Senator Bernie Sanders about the top 10 corporations who are worst at paying taxes.

source: MoveOn.org

With businesses like these laying people off and moving their business overseas, it makes you wonder the value of these tax incentives. We all take advantage of deductions, but this corporate behavior calls into question how ethical and legitimate their actions are.

Just doesn’t seem very… nice.

Rather than go on about my own perspective (which I’ve developed with lots of news and informative podcast listening!), I urge you all to inform your opinions with lots of reading and listening. PBS News seems to offer insights on both sides of the issue, but I’m sure there are many other reliable sources out there.

Happy reading/opinion-forming,
Jen

Feeling a little heated–the debate, I mean

It doesn't really relate, but isn't this the best picture, ever?! Source: http://forums.colbertnation.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=5788

Phew! Politics. Goodness! Is it ever NOT a heated debate about something? Not really. This morning, when I groggily popped onto Facebook, I found my friend had posted a link to an article detailing the latest update on the activities of the US House of Representatives. Anymore, politics are a hot topic for an online debate which can get downright ugly, and often these exchanges become pointless in the end.

(Imagine something like this: “I will yell to prove my point.”…. “NO YOU WON’T! I will yell even louder to prove my point and not concede or find common ground!”…. “Well, I’ll just be extreme to prove my point and do it so loudly you are drowned out!”.. . and so on. You get the idea….)

Because I don’t want to get into a debate here which would detract from the point, I am not going to tell you what the posted article was about. But I will tell you how the responses to my friend’s post went (totally paraphrasing here), with my little “I couldn’t resist! I had to weigh in!” reply at the end including my strategy to diffuse the argument into something effective and constructive. (Note: everything is written in first person, so follow the indents and colors.)

🙂

  • THIS SUCKS! WHAT A BUNCH OF BALONEY! The “issue at hand” is important for America! Why is it being attacked? It is so much more than the Congress’s simplified notion of being related to the “bigger issue!” GRRR!
    • I have no sympathy for you because I’m on the other side of the “bigger issue” and I blame the “issue at hand” for much of it.
  • Well, what about problems A, B, and C mister? You ever thought of that? The “issue at hand” is essential for dealing with those things.
    • Oh yeah, I’ve thought of A, B, AND C, but those are taken care of elsewhere. The “issue at hand,” however, is involved with the “bigger issue” so the “issue at hand” is on my naughty list.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #1:] Well, don’t you think “elsewhere” also contributes to the “bigger issue?” It’s not only their fault!
    • I seem to be on the defensive. Now I will use an extreme example to support my argument and detract from the validity of your point, while also illustrating my contempt for the “bigger issue”.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #2:] I don’t think you know anything at all. You sound stupid. Here are the reason facts A, B, and C are so important, and why they make the “issue at hand” so necessary and not evil. The “issue at hand” is separate from the “bigger issue”.
    • Why do you try to confuse the topic? The “issue at hand” is definitely what I’m mad at. The “issue at hand” is to blame 100% for the fact that A, B, and C exist in the first place. If the “issue at hand” didn’t exist and a few other extreme measures did, we wouldn’t have these “bigger issue.”
  • [Continued counter-argument from friend #2:] I am really mad at you now and am going to tell you that you are full of crap. And I’m going to reitirate the need for the “issue at hand” in order to deal with the very real problem of A, B, and C. So there!

At this point the owner of this Facebook page is completely out of the conversation. This has become an all-out Facebook debate-style war. What would happen if the argument was diffused with a little recognition of the complexity of the issue? I decided to test the theory (I swear there may be a formula to this!) while providing a counter-argument as well.

  • [This is me now:]  …. Step 1: I need to inform you of some facts to legitimize the necessity of “the issue at hand” to deal with A, B, and C. Step 2: (This could also come first in many cases:) I recognize your position and the complexity of the “bigger issue”. I am going to use statements that do not begin with “I” or “you” or personal opinions so the energy of the previous confrontations are removed. Now I will gently reassert the importance of recognizing the value in the “issue at hand.”
    • Reply to previous comment from friend #2 with a “my way or the highway, all-or-nothing” agenda. I’m going to come from nowhere to bring up another really “controversial issue” to make my original point more clear.
    • Reply to the new comment comment with a much more chilled out perspective (this is 10 hours later, which proves that “getting some air” might help), citing personal second-hand experience with the “bigger issue” that has shaped my perspective.
  • I choose to ignore your rather simplified–and outrageous–statement about the “controversial issue” in your first reply, because it would cause another angry debate. Instead I am focused on the calmness of your reply and the submission of a personal connection to both of the “issues.” Step 3: I see a common ground here. In a neutral voice, I relate the conceptual basis and underlying facts of human behavior to the “bigger issue” to explain why your extreme solutions won’t work for everyone. Humans are to blame, not the “issue at hand.” Step 4: I restate something about your argument that I can agree on to enforce that you are being heard. I acknowledge your passion for the issue. Step 5: Without using “should’s,” I express my optimism and hope for a way you could communicate your passion that could positively affect others on the “bigger issue” as well as problems A, B, and C. Perhaps you could advocate for the facts at the heart of both the “bigger issue” and the “issue at hand.” Step 6: Express gratitude for the civility in our discourse, which includes listening to my perspective.
    • I feel the change in tone. I am grateful for the constructive idea. I regret being so aggressive with my wordage at the start. Acknowledge my passion. But… what about this aspect of the “bigger issue?” Doesn’t that support my all-or-nothing assertion?
  • Acknowledge the logic of that perspective but cite the inability for any of us to control the actions of others. Praise your own self-control in relation to the “bigger issue” and named problems A/B/C, but discuss that not everyone may have the same extent of control. Acknowledge that there is not one solution, but that the best thing you or any of us can do (in this case specifically) is model the behavior we wish to see in others–or the behavior we see in others that we admire–to try to encourage our viewpoint.
    • Personal account for what informs my perspective and explains my anger. Acknowledge the points offered–“I have something to think about,” I say. I can see the validity in what you say. Expression of gratitude for the exchange.
  • My expression of gratitude as well. (happy face included)

While the guy and I did not come to an agreement on the “bigger issue,” or the “issue at hand,” we both managed to have a civil conversation and we left with perspectives we hadn’t considered before. It reminded me that at the center of many of these arguments is someone who has been hurt, and who may have formed incredibly strong feelings about the issue because of it.

Reading this without the specifics of the argument, maybe it seems very confusing or reactive. And much of the discussion was. The way facts are emotionally communicated seems to produce this super-charged outcome. If people try to find common ground, or be willing to hear the logic of the other’s argument (to suspend their emotional appeal for the moment), we might make headway on many issues. There will always be disagreement. But perhaps our ability to consider the motivations behind our opponents’ viewpoints will yield a better resolution to these controversies than what we’ve seen in the past.

Unfortunately, I know I will always have a chance to test my theory on communication. The good news is that I live in a country where I can communicate my opinions freely and expect them to be heard by someone. What a gift!

🙂 Have a great day!