Friday, December 01, 2006

God on My Side

I saw a new documentary the other day: Andrew Denton's God on My Side. Essentially, Denton, who is an Australian interviewer/chat show host, starts with the idea of the "clash of civilisations" thesis and pictures of Islamic fundamentalists selling Osama Bin Laden t-shirts. Then he decides that maybe he will have a look at the fundamentalists a little closer to home. He goes to the Convention of Religious Broadcasters in Gaylord, Texas.

The movie has been criticized as kind of a weak documentary, because there is not much editorialising or analysis. Denton just walks around, interviewing people and mainly letting them speak for themselves. He is interested in them, in which they believe and why they believe it. He is interested in faith and where it takes us.

There were things I really hated about that convention. All the merchandising, for a start. I'm more of an overturning-the-tables-of-the-money-changers kind of a girl rather than a buy-a-t-shirt-saying-I'm-a-believer kind of a girl. Let alone a buying-a-Noah's-ark lollipop kind of a girl. But the fact is that a lot of the personalities at the convention have considerable charm. And they certainly seem to believe in what they are doing.

I was kind of confronted by how attracted I still am by that kind of Christianity. The fact is that I can be kind of a sucker for people who speak with conviction. I doubt so much, myself, that people who knows exactly what they believe, well, I am kind of incredulous about them but at the same time it makes me doubt myself even more. I can be very wishy-washy that way.

For a while there, I listened to those people and I really wondered about myself. Why does their unearthly serenity make me feel kind of sour? What the hell is wrong with me? Why can't I just believe those things? It would solve a heck of a lot of problems for me. How come I hardly pray any more? Do I really think I'm so much better than them? For a while there, I really wanted to be them.

They seem to have such faith that God is good and that everything will come right in the end. I want to believe that. I do. But somehow, between the time my sister was raped, the months I spent interviewing refugees and listening to all that suffering, my experience of infertility, seeing my Big Dude, the best man I know, sick every day, my friend with the daughter with Huntingdon's Disease, I lost that kind of faith. My neighbour told me yesterday that she has just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and it is spreading. She is 22 years old. I do not know how these people can see all this stuff and go on with such faith.

Sadly, listening to them didn't make me believe in their version of Christianity, though. I just kind of envied them. I'm like a person with a toothache who really, really wishes that she believed in the tooth fairy because it would be so comforting.

And actually, I sort of wonder if what those people believe actually is Christianity. I mean, I do remember what it was like to believe in a God who was all tied up with family values and patriotism and that kind of thing. Those were all good things, and it seemed natural that they came in a package. But, to be honest, it doesn't seem to have much to do with the Jesus of the gospels.

I mean, is their family values Jesus the same Jesus who told a man not to bury his own father? Who told his mother and brothers that his true family were those who obeyed God? Who apparently didn't either marry or have children? Does all that patriotism really come from Jesus, who seems to have been content to co-exist with the foreign empire occupying his country? Does that simple message they preach, with its straightforward, bullet-point rules, really come from the Jesus who preached in the form of stories, parables, riddles and questions? The Jesus of the gospels, to me, is quite enigmatic. There is light and shadow. There is mystery. So why is this form of religion so... glossy?

And the sorry fact is that a lot of the other stuff was kind of damning. You know, I'm genuinely happy for them that they know that Jesus loves them and that they are on their way to heaven, but is there really any excuse nowadays for showing women who have had abortions pictures of little fetuses? For believing it's okay to beat homosexuals around the head with bible verses? How would they like it if I beat them around the head with all the bible verses about God's attitude to rich people?

And once the interviews got onto their beliefs about the End Times, those people totally lost me. It's really quite something to listen to someone who thinks that the solution to problems in the Middle East is to nuke Iran and who believes that, if we do, everything will be okay because Jesus will rescue the Christians in the rapture before everything turns to shit. Pity about all the other billions of people, huh?

And, you know, I really don't mind what they believe. I really don't mind if people believe in fundamentalist Christianity, fundamentalist Islam or that their healing chrystals are talking to them. I mean, I have believed in some pretty silly things myself, and I'm sure I still do. It just worries me how much power these people seem to be accumulating.

There was this very nice woman, a former Hollywood star, who spoke with great conviction. She wasn't one of those never-had-any-experience-of-suffering-and-therefore-apparently-lives-in-cloud-cuckoo-land kind of people. She'd had eight failed marriages and nine miscarriages. That's a lot of pain right there. But she seemed very concerned that we should all know that her kind of Christian is not boring. She's right. These kinds of Christians are not boring. They're a little fucking scary, that's what they are.

Maybe my wishy-washy faith isn't as bad as I fear, even though I would like it to change. As Mark Twain said,

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

11 Comments:

Blogger The Cat said...

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2:48 PM  
Blogger dusio said...

You have a great blog and this post in particular was very interesting. I look forward to reading more.

3:45 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Damn Emmy, yuo just summe dup LOTS o fmy feeling about this . Pretty gosh darn good analysis!

THIS is one of the ressons I busted my AS_ this last election as a call for change volunteer with moveon.org.


We used phone banks of volunteers to help offset the corporate dollars and reactionary coalition of false christianity that hae kept th neo-conservatives in power in our nation fo rthe last decode or so.

Power to the PEOPLE, both individually and as a group!

THANK YOU!

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think maybe one of the problems is that man has screwed everything up along the way and that's why Christianity seems so confusing and contradictory...But this is man and not God. His character is not contradictory otherwise he couldn't be God. Instead of getting confused by what other people say, maybe you should just tell God how you're feeling and tell him to meet you where you are...he's good like that. Dunno if this helps, but worth a try!

2:19 AM  
Blogger Secret Rapture said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!
Read My Inaugural Address
My Site=http://www.angelfire.com/crazy/spaceman

4:06 AM  
Blogger O272 said...

*What the hell is wrong with me? Why can't I just believe those things? It would solve a heck of a lot of problems for me.*

I think this sometimes, too, but I'm not sure why. I mean - what would believing solve? I might just want to believe out of curiosity...and I'd definitely buy the t-shirt just to have it! ;)

4:59 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:10 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

Well, you know, Em, I can't really argue much with what you say. The wacky, tacky 'marketing of Jesus' turns me off, too. And I agree with you wholeheartedly that patriotism and Christianity are two distinct things, and any serious Christian would do well to keep clear on the distinction between them.

And, I think that, even as deeply as I'm 'dug in' to my Christian life, when it comes right down to it, faith, even really strong faith, is not certainty. On some level, I'm always mindful that I don't really KNOW Christianity the way I know that 2+2=4. I read a book years ago by a man named Taylor, titled 'The Myth of Certainty'. Excellent book. Pascal said that "we see too much to deny, and not enough to be certain." And that seems about right to me.

I'm a Christian because, in a fundamental sense, I've become convinced that it's true. Not QED, mathematically true, but preponderance-of-evidence, corresponding-to-how-things-are true. That, combined with my own experience of 'meeting God', have given me enough to go on, and as I've lived within that 'belief', it has only confirmed my conviction that Christianity is, in some mysterious way, deeply in harmony with 'how things are'.

And, I don't have any ready answers for your neighbor's cancer, or the Big Dude's illness, or my own children's proclivity to mental illness (if, in fact, that's what it is, as it seems to be). Life in this world just seems inevitably to entail a certain quota of heartbreak, which some of us bear more of than others, and I don't know why.

But, as Job said, "Even though He slay me, yet will I love Him." At this point, I can't do otherwise.

Thanks again, Em - you are a very thoughtful woman.

6:46 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

Why am I always late to these fun discussions?

I don't have any good answers either, other than, once again, you are looking at a group of people, rather than God or Jesus. Not only that, you are looking at a TELEVISION PROGRAM.

I could also watch the show "Cops" and determine that all Americans have mullets, white tank tops, smoke cheap cigarettes, and haven't showered in weeks.

You seem to consistently talk about your doubt, but it always is about PEOPLE. Like you said, look at the Jesus of the Gospels. Do that. You are right. But you know what? Not only did Jesus talk in stories and parables, not only did he talk about helping the poor... He also said "no one can come to the Father except through me." He said that "I am the way, the truth and the life."

You can see shining examples of pseudo-Christians every day, if that's all you are looking for.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Anonymous - A good suggestion, thank you.

Des - Actually, I wish you would blog more about your kids (if it wouldn't be a total invasion of their privacy), because it must have been a wild ride...

I think you are probably just better at faith than me, Des, and it may of course be due to your greater maturity as a person. I'm not feeling very resigned or very faithful in the "Although he slay me" mode, although I have certainly had those times. Currently, I'm more in "I'm not talking to you, God!" mode. I'm sure God can take it I'm sure he's heard worse.

FTN - I don't think that's quite true. It's true that I was talking about TV and people because I was interested in the documentary. But right now, I don't just have an issue with particular kinds of Christians, I have an issue with God and Jesus, too. I am looking at God, even when I'm looking at God partly through people, if you know what I mean.

I am trying to figure out exactly what I believe and what I feel and think. I was surprised by how strongly I felt while watching that documentary, and blogging about it is a way to work my way through my own issues.

You sound a little pissed off and frustrated with me, and I can understand that. I'm currently feeling like that towards me, too.

At some level, I seem to be in a kind of prolonged spiritual crisis. I seem to have fallen into a kind of hole. I freely acknowledge that. So if you are looking for objective, fair analysis or uplifting Christian thoughts, you probably aren't going to find them here right now.

I notice that as I get to know people like you and Des more and more, I start to wonder if I should hold back on the God-related posts because I know you're not going to like them.

I do not mean to offend you or hurt your feelings. I have nothing but affection and respect for you. But this blog is the place where I sort through my thoughts and feelings, so if I try to be nicer and more reasonable while I have all these sad, angry thoughts swirling around inside, it's really defeating the point.

2:52 PM  

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