Desensitized to boundaries
by: Susannah Mallett
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Why am I reading & hearing so much about religion lately? It seems like every time I read the news, there are Christians going on about how teaching creationism is only fair, & let's put the Christ back in Christmas, & political climbers jump at the chance to publicly & messily declare their love of the lord. Newt – saying your new catholic wife has taught you to love god, & this after dumping your first two wives when they became ill, that's so yesterday! So dull. Where is the goat sacrifice? Where are the stonings of your neighbors working on Sunday? And you call yourselves Christians! Anyway, U.S. citizens were more uniformly religious in the 1950s thru the 1970s, yet one didn't hear that much about it. People kept their religion private, or in the church. I think for my grandparents' generation, this was considered proper. Ladies didn't swear, men opened doors for women, & you weren't so tacky as to discuss your relationship with god unless you were having tea with your ladies' group or warning your boy-child against the perils of white lies.
But the more vocal of today's Christians have moved unashamedly into the public forum. Decorous is no longer an appropriate adjective for these believers. And I've been wondering why. Whence comes this sense of entitlement to expect public figures to answer personal questions about their religious lives? If god is the one judging, why do you need these answers? Why do I need to open facebook & see that you like the page "our lord Jesus Christ is an awesome god"? Isn't the place for that declaration when you're on your knees in church?
I suppose much of it is quite complex. In so many realms, we have become desensitized to boundaries. Advertising, reporting, TV shows – everything has become more & more extreme. In this climate, the religious attitude has changed to – if you want any press at all, be happy when someone calls you shameful. They're just saying that because they're jealous you're so brave. And understand that humble is just another word for boring. Don't be shy! Wear your faith proudly. A tramp stamp tattoo in the shape of a crucifix lets you convert people even at the wet t-shirt contest.
Even in the face of the many interrelated factors in today's society, I still think there might be a partial explanation that can salvage come scrap of hope for those of us who enjoy the pastime of thinking. I think we are looking at extinction behavior. Do you know what that is? When an organism acts a certain way & is rewarded, taking away the reward doesn't cause an immediate cessation of the behavior. To the contrary. The behavior becomes more extreme. It's like the system is saying, gee – this WAS working – it's not now – maybe I just need to try harder.
I think that's what we're seeing with evangelical Christianity. As science squeezes god's mysteries into the unheated & cobwebby attics, the faithful feel the pressure. As their numbers dwindle & the edges of the herd ditch & head for smarter pastures, those remaining lose the security of mass. If you & everyone you know believe something batty, you can just kind of relax into it. If some people look at you weird, all of a sudden you find yourself unwillingly compelled to defend your position. And that might include thinking about your position. Which might cause you to see inconsistencies. Which makes you veeeerrry uncomfortable, & pretty prickly & defensive. A deer in a herd is alert but relaxed. One deer alone in the forest is terrified for its life. And nothing fights harder than a dying thing.
So I'm going to feel hopeful. I think the these last few years of so much rabid religion in the media doesn't at all mean people - as a group - are being more religious, & I would caution you all most strongly against reading it so & feeling like you have to, in some way, accommodate these people. They are pushing harder not because they truly are present in numbers, but only because their power & hold is waning, & if we can somehow organize & be strong against their many damaging goals, then eventually this behavior will die away. We are seeing the creature under threat, which means it is at its most cunning, most clever, & must hungry. And now is when we must be firm & not give in. It would encourage more bad behavior.
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