Thursday, October 25, 2012

(maybe) there's a God above. But.

A little bit after posting on Sunday, I dressed my son, strapped him to my chest in a snuggie, and took him to a church that is walking distance from my house.

It was Anglican, and beautiful, and when he started to wriggle around and I got up to go, a deliciously stout, dark-skinned woman shuffled over and insisted we stay, because this was his church.

And when I went up for Communion (again, at her urging), the man giving it out asked if Mac was taking Communion yet. Handed me the wafer as if my participation was not even a question, as if it had nothing to do with him and barely anything to do with me -- it was that foregone a conclusion.

And see: there are people in the world who haven't really experienced much love. I'm not one of them, although the problems I have kept me from accepting a lot of the love people gave me early in my life. But even being me, even having the best parents and best husband in the world, even having awesome friends and a comfortable life, even being recovered from a disease that could have killed me, but didn't, the feeling of being loved in that way, by strangers -- it gave the feeling after you take medication for a pain you've gotten used to, and then the pain is gone, and you're left wondering how you were living with it before.

I can understand how vehemently a person might react to the idea that people are killing or persecuting others because they believe God is calling them to do that, particularly if that person believes that that God -- that any God -- is a fantasy.

I have a harder time understanding why a person would look at this breed of faith --  the breed that says,

welcome, this is your church, this is the body of Christ, broken for you, though you didn't bother to get dressed up like us, though you seem not to have brushed your hair in a week, though that baby needed his nails clipped several days ago -

-- and see a dragon in need of slaying.

Why not be more interested in how else we can get human beings, imperfect and small as we are, to show love to one another? To show this kind of love, which doesn't ask its objects to be useful or sexy, or self-sufficient or charismatic or neat or whole?

I follow an blog on skepticism, atheism and polyamory that is, often, very well-written. (As is often the case, I kind of channel-surf, waiting for the girls to come back onscreen and occasionally caring about what the more loquacious male contributors have to say). A recent post was talking about how terrific it will be when we will have all the amazing art that our society produces, but will have outgrown the religious context in which much of this art was produced.

But I feel like this won't happen. I don't feel smug about that, because I don't feel it proves anything about the truth claims made by Christians about God, or Christ, or their faith. I think it just reflects the very human need for love, for honest love, based not on the pretense of who we would like to be or the promise of what we can offer others now, when we are healthy and able and appear to be whole.

Even if God were not real, even if Christ were not God, part of the human condition is the inevitable recognition of our own limitations, of our own frailty and smallness, and of the absolute irrelevance of our claims to power, to agency, to ability. Some of us recognize this early, and often. Being an addict helps, as does working with others who are disabled or sick, as does the realization that those who are disabled, sick and poor often do with regularity things I could never do.

But either way: eventually you will be old, and you will be unable to care for yourself, and if you are still loved, and cared for, it will be either because there is a source of selfless love in the world, or because you are valuable apart from what you have to offer others, or both. When people show love in this way, unconcerned with their own well-being or with the superficial appeal of the object of their love, and tell me it is because of Christ, I believe that.

It happens that no one I have encountered has shown this love and claimed that they are showing it because Christ is not real. And so I think that, to truly "move beyond" Christianity, people who have a problem with faith would need to find a viable source of the kind of love that motivates people to welcome and care for others indiscriminately. Because for many people, that kind of love is a reality for which no Selfish Gene has convincingly accounted.

Not to put to fine a point on it, there are a lot of Depends to be changed, a lot of broken people to be welcomed and loved, and I think we're unlikely to "dispel" the "myth" of Christianity with rhetoric, however sound, until a critical mass of vocal atheists begins to love those around them with similar abandon, and to articulate as their motivation something comparable to the claim:

Christ valued this person enough to give up His life, and I am called to treat her accordingly.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

election thoughts: a prelude

So, below -- my thoughts immediately following the first, disastrous, debate between Obama and Romney, when my husband and dad were both strongly pro-Romney and I was strongly pro-crawling under my bed and eating graham crackers rather than getting on with life:

I don't feel good about anything political right now. I have enormous trouble dealing with the following ideas: old people tied to their beds in shitty nursing homes, unwashed and covered in pressure ulcers; hungry children; people bankrupt and/or dying because they couldn't manage to budget for $1000/month health insurance premiums and now they have cancer.

I just   -- I believe that, whenever possible, people should not have to be in pain. Even if you have to take someone else's money to help them. You don't "earn" the right to not die of cancer, to not be tied to your bed and left to rot, to not be left alone and frightened and or abused by the people you love, by making good financial decisions. 

I believe that most people would agree with the above, and so I believe I'm not unusual when I say: I will pay more tax to live in a country that does not leave vulnerable populations to suffer in the interests of interpreting more strictly a document written in a time when women routine died in childbirth, children did not live past five, and cancer was just God's vendetta against your unfortunate ass, end of story.

The thing is, we're not going to start letting people die in the streets again, in some sketchy Dickensian way. So we all collectively need to come to terms with the idea that the government is going to be using tax money for some social programs, and focus on how it can do so thoughtfully.

For instance: oh my god, effing tax effing junk food! Candy is a luxory. Soda is a luxury. Beer is a luxury. There is no reason on God's green earth not to tax these things and then spend the revenue on public hospitals and pubic health programs.

People who claim this is targeting the poor: you either represent Nestle or Coca Cola, or you are being obtuse. The injustice is not that we tax "poor people's" beverages of choice and not rich people's. The injustice is that those people who have the most incentive to care for their health (because they have the least resources to get adequate treatment for their diabetes, etc) are also the most likely to buy the exact items that are jeopardizing our health.

People who claim that this is interfering with their civil rights: this is a tax you can avoid by drinking the abundant clean water that you have, and that large portions of the world does not have. Don't like water? Learn to like it. You will likely enjoy having your gangrenous leg amputated even less, and given the choice, I'd rather not pay for it.

Also: people should not be afraid to lose their jobs capriciously. But people who are not doing their jobs should be afraid to lose them. You don't need to gut the educational system, but you do need to stop paying "consultants" and administrators two and three and four times what teachers are paid, and you do need to revamp the public school system so that it is possible to fire shitty teachers. You can do it in city-funded child care programs and city-funded hospitals if you get an able manager, someone who will work to counsel and document when staff are not doing their jobs. 

If you are kvetching about your manager and ignoring your patients' call bells when their abscesses are leaking onto their linens, their diapers are going unchanged, their Dilaudid is overdue or has stopped working, then you should stop being employed as a nurse. 

If Americans could stop looking at politics as an arena for talking about principles and instead consider public policies in terms of the actual effects they have on people and communities, then we could save money. While we're fighting over whether or not people on welfare are layabouts or creating new minimum wage jobs is better than giving everyone health insurance, one group of people is wasting everyone's money on programs that don't do what they say they'll do, and another group is learning that they can get free bottles, but not formula; they can buy cheetos with their EBT, but not tofu; they can get their leg amputated and go on disability, but they can't get the preventative care to keep their leg or their training they need to get a job. 

.... anyway, then I had to go to the hospital, where I felt better, because when someone was in pain, I could hassle the nurse myself, not being hooked up to an IV with no call bell by my bed. When someone's abscess ruptured, I could change their sheets.

I get the frustration: Obama promised a lot and didn't deliver everything he promised. But Romney isn't even promising a lot. He's basically saying: I'll give this guy money, and it will make your life better. So we've got someone who at least says he agrees that poor people should be assisted, and someone who says outright that they shouldn't. Who says: you need housing, education, job training, and health insurance? I'll give this guy back money to start a company that will provide jobs that won't pay for any of those things. I think Romney flat out does not believe that the working poor exist, nor does he understand what constitutes "work" for a lot of Americans.

Working at Family Dollar isn't the same as working for a business that you own. Probably to most people, that statement is so obvious as to be almost meaningless. Unfortunately, our potential next president seems not to have encountered it before, and has constructed a campaign that makes sense only in a universe in which every single job will make your life like his.