Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Conscience vs. Consensus

I have been reading James Bovard’s Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom and Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil. This book represents an aspect of the whole of all my reading over the last four years and more that my attention and passion have been zeroing in on. More specifically the themes of freedom vs. safety, democracy vs. tyranny, civil rights vs. abuse of power, individual conscience vs. the tyranny of the consensus. In my thinking and reflection, daydreams and nightmares, this is where I feel my stifled voice straining to be freed. The fear that the freedom to use my voice will be gone before I have broken through the inhibitions of my past and claimed my right to speak is creating this sense of an awesome scream welling up from within. But it is still mostly an incoherent ‘NO!’ As it was Nov. 2, 1994, the day of my emancipation from the mental and spiritual slavery of Fundamentalism. I fear that releasing it before I can contain and direct the passion into a resounding ‘YES!’ to something, I would only be contributing to the discord and dismay that is already too abundant in the world. Because discord and dismay is what fills my soul right now. Especially as I try to comprehend the possible repercussions of the election.

This election held so much symbolism for me this year. I saw in it all of the same themes which had gripped me on the day of my emancipation and shook the foundations of my soul. That may sound to some ears like hyperbole, like pure exaggeration for effect. But it is the most accurate description of what happened to me that night. Everything I thought I had known for sure up to that point, everything that made me who I was, everything that gave meaning to my life, that gave me a sense of security and peace--everything was called into question and my sense of self--my soul--was left inhabiting an edifice as shattered as any wood-framed structure which has just gone through an earthquake, tornado, hurricane or tsunami.

As it was, I was already marking the two year anniversary of my claiming the right to think for myself. Two years previous in the month of November 92, I had stopped trying to figure out which side of the fence erected by the squabbling Brethren of the Fundamentalist sect I was raised in to come down on. In witnessing the suffering inflicted on the children in the families who were torn asunder by doctrinal dispute and the willy-nilly wielding of excommunication, I saw the fence itself as the evil. Full of righteous indignation on behalf of those children I wrote my first ever rant which served also as my declaration of independence from the Meetings it was also the last one until I started letting loose in my daily journal and in occasional emails to trusted correspondents in the past year:

“All those sober Elders who appointed themselves our teachers, who
point proudly to the missing Rev. before their name and the lacking Ph. D.
following, are far from lacking in B.S. Their head’s and heart’s are stuck so
far up inside their hollowed out egos--that echo chamber where they hear nothing
but the sound of their own voices, but think it God’s--they couldn’t see the
light if the sun orbited their eyeballs and they couldn’t know God’s love if
Jesus himself walked up and kissed them on the nose. None of them will ever have
any further authority over me, body, soul, or spirit. I would wash their feet in
my spit! And anoint their brows with the sweat of my pits! They are worse than
the blackest hearted crook. They are hypocrites! When they try to make out like
they got god’s mouth in their ear, I want to ask how far he sticks his tongue

Realizing that I had never learned how to think for myself I set out on an intensive quest to learn to do so and at the same to time to study the history of religion, the history of Christianity and most especially the history of the sect which I was raised in--an offshoot of the Plymouth Brethren which sprouted in Texas between the world wars. But until the night of November 2, 1994, I continued to believe that my quest would not take me all that far from my roots.

On that night I witnessed a battle of wills between a father and his one-year-old son in which the infant was disciplined for screaming by a hand over his mouth during every exhale to ‘deprive him of the reward of hearing the sound of his own voice’. This took place in a roomful of adults and children who nearly all acted as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. But as I sat there trying to remain calm while holding another sleeping infant, I began to feel the stifled screams of the struggling baby as if they were my own and memories from childhood flooded in and I saw that it was the very teachings of the Meetings that sanctioned this, that made it not just acceptable but a duty of the father’s to break his child’s will and severely constrain all expression of self that did not conform to expectation. It was the belief that though infants are innocent when first born they are still ‘born into sin’ into the ‘weakness of the flesh’ and that from the moment, sometime during the first year of life, that they begin to form thoughts and intents of their own they must be held suspect since the Bible says that mankind’s thoughts and the intents of their hearts are ‘only evil continually.’ We were taught to distrust our every thought, every intent, every perception and every emotion. The hours of all our days and nights were suffused with shame and guilt for always falling short of that very ideal we were told we were incapable of achieving anyway. And since that ideal was unachievable the only acceptable substitute was perfect submission to authority--the authority of God through His Word via the authority of the Brethren who interpreted it. Somewhat buffered--depending on the temperament of the man involved--by the authority of the fathers over their children and husbands over their wives.

The moment I understood this connection between the doctrine and the squashing of our spirits, something in me said a ‘No’ so powerful and resonant I still hear its echoes. I knew that I could not comply with a doctrine that defines humanity as incapable of independence and yet holds that they are responsible for their choices and thus merit eternal torment for making the wrong choice. It was at that moment that it first entered my mind that not only were the doctrines of the Meetings I was raised in suspect but so was the entire doctrinal and theological edifice of Christianity itself. I was terrified. That is not too strong a word. I was terrified to stay and I was terrified to go and this terror paralyzed me for months afterward. I was repulsed by the vision I had of a ‘god’ that held humanity in his hand in the same way that father held his infant. But I was bereft by the loss of confidence in the ‘Abba Father’ of the teachings of Jesus. The metaphors of Christianity were deeply interwoven in my soul and I could not disown them without disowning my own self. And so my quest continues and is apparently going to be an open-ended life-time struggle--a personal spiritual Jihad--with the stories that shaped me and That Source of All Being (That I AM) in which I live and breathe and have my being.

A year ago, right around the ninth anniversary of my emancipation, I became aware and then astounded by the common themes between that event and certain current events in America. The fact that election day was to fall on the exact day seemed a powerful sign to me as well. I have been obsessed with reading, writing and thinking about these themes. Bovard’s book is just one of dozens and books are just one of a number of sources of info on these themes which I am sure will continue to occupy me for some time to come: Abuse of power. Stifling of voice. Equating empathy with weakness. Denial of the pain at the root of rage and thus justifying a cold blooded resolute use of overwhelming force to punish the expression of the rage with either no cognizance of or a willful acceptance of any ‘collateral damage’. And of course, the underlying theme that it is done for the victim’s own good, that the end’s justify the means when good is confronting evil, (even when the ‘evil’ is, as on that day ten years ago, the willfulness of a one year old child) that we can inflict pain and terror in the name of love, or the name of god, or the name of order, or the name of justice, or the name of peace, or the name of freedom, and expect an outcome that in anyway reflects the ideal in the name of which we justify our actions.

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