April 10, 2012

Fundamentalism Infantilizes its Followers

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Here’s a celebrated quote from Rick Santorum:  “The dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. .  .  It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.

When I read this I pictured an eight year old with his hands on his hips blustering away at a room full of adults. Children sometimes do lecture adults and we indulge them because we don’t want to humiliate them.  And adults lecture children.  But adults do not lecture other adults unless one of the parties has abdicated her own mind or the other party assumes she has and doesn’t realize she is picturing him wearing a dunce cap.

It occurred to me that, sexuality and spirituality being so intertwined, this quotation could also be reflective of the Great Fundamentalist Fear: that somewhere out there someone is doing something in the spiritual realm that’s counter to how things are supposed to be.  How fast can you say Fundamentalism Infantilizes its Followers?

When we’re babies, we need parents to be there or we won’t survive. As we get older, we need to think our parents are always right even as we get used to the idea that they’re not.   At some point we understand that our survival doesn’t depend on parents, and we assess ourselves without reference to what was good or bad in the values they bequeathed.  We make choices without resorting to either compliance or rebellion.

Or am I being too idealistic?  Because sometimes when people start in about religion, I wonder.

There’s always a tell when people talk about their parents.  I know guilt is leering at them when they say, “But you know, I really love my parents,” or “But you know, they did the best they could.”  That’s the point that the feeling of guilt over leaving home has trumped the necessity for it.

There’s a tell when people start to feel–what was Santorum’s word?– “libertine” about their religious beliefs.  Anxiety gets slurped into this sentence: “I do believe in God.”  People make that statement as though it’s a talisman against any sacrilegious thoughts they might be entertaining about the meaning of life.  Or they are setting a baseline when questions about life get too confusing.

This is such a sad state of affairs.  Once when I was in my twenties and doing battle against a bunch of evangelicals –I’ve always been feisty about religion– a seminary student said to me, “You know, you can believe anything you want to believe for whatever reason you want to.”  I don’t know how long he lasted in seminary, but what a refreshing thing to say.

I think people get scared because the major religions have been around for thousands of years so they must be Right.  However traditions are not immaculately conceived.  When traditions are used as bludgeons, they kill off the people they’re meant to serve.

We’re all traditionalists is some ways.  You always know what season it is in my house from the holiday altars and tableaux.  On the other hand there are things I do things because my parents went through The Depression, like re-use dental floss.  Both traditions, one is based on choice, the other on an anxiety that was never mine in the first place.

The Spiritual Realm is like the Internet.  No one ever says “Mine is the one true Internet.”  The Internet just is.  We all have our favorite browsers and e-mail programs and web sites and things we like to do on the Internet.

And when your computer crashes and you get a new one and can’t access your wireless network and the tech people at Linksys won’t help you until you’ve bought one of their support packages,  I hope you have someone in your life like my neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything.  Someone who can come over and say, “Oh please, the experts can’t always fix the problem, and you won’t get a refund if they don’t.  There are dozens of ways to do things on the Internet.  Move over, what’s your password?”

Now that’s love.  The experts might say it’s counter to the way things are supposed to be.





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