I begin this entry with a metaphor that I recognize as clumsy but that seems to be the best I can muster: sometimes when I’m thinking about my 30-year-old son Jim, my mind does something that I could almost describe as throwing up two projection screens side-by-side before its own gaze. On one of those screens I view vignettes from the years that Jim and I have known each other and spent together. On the other I view snippets of my own childhood and the role my father played in it. Those two sets of vignettes always present themselves in such a way as to suggest complementarity and invite comparison. It’s invariably a cathartic experience, as deeply honest moments almost always are. I never fail to emerge from such experiences sobered by the resulting insights and wrung-out from the effort that the attaining of them cost me.
The relationship that Jim and I enjoy is thoroughly good. We have the deepest respect and admiration for each other. We understand each other on a level that I think might be far rarer among parents and their children than one might wish, and our conversations are accordingly deep and meaningful. Despite his having avoided some of my mistakes and charted a more reasonable and promising course in life than I ever did, we’re very much alike in many ways: we’re both possessed of a native curiosity that drives us to distraction and gives us no peace; we’re both musically talented and we both love language (these two traits are often bound up together); we both derive great joy from writing and from reading what others have written; we’re both pretty well aware of the way the big game is played and have equal (although not always openly-expressed) contempt for the “playas” and we both recognize how hopeless the human condition is; we both have a well-developed sense of irony, which is another name for a sense of humor; we’re both adept at sarcasm, but we tend to be restrained in its use by our humane instincts – which we also share. We both have a finely-calibrated ethical sense. We’re both atheists, but he wears his atheism much more lightly and comfortably than I do mine, probably because unlike me, he didn’t have to fight his way to it. And when I look at him I see the man I might have become had my relationship with my father been like Jim’s with me.
Continue reading “For the Sake of Your Children…”
I’m going to use some ugly words in this essay. It makes me squirm whenever I have to do that, but in this case it’s necessary in order to make my point.
During the formative years of my life I spent every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening at the Missionary Baptist Church in which my parents (well, mostly my mother) raised me. I got to know that church’s teachings very well: I was one of those kids who took everything very seriously and listened carefully to what the authority figures – chief among whom was the pastor of said church – had to say. I was then (as now) a very impressionable, vulnerable person. This trait is sometimes described as “hypersensitivity.” It’s the reason that I became a musician. It is also the reason that I have taken “spiritual” things so seriously throughout my life: there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve read the Bible much more closely than most Christians, and I’ve scrutinized the holy books of some other cultures almost as thoroughly. More importantly, I have reflected deeply on that reading: have tried to download it into my very cells. I’ve been open to it all, and believed it all. I need to enlarge a little on that in order to make my meaning clear.
Continue reading “On Barricades and the Stifling of Divergent Opinion”
It occurs to me that I might be able to shed a bit of light on some of the dark and impenetrable mysteries that occasionally issue from the febrile minds of Christian fundamentalists. The reason I’m in a position to do so is that I was once just like them: a Bible-totin,’ Scripture-quotin’ True Believer™.
I had the grotesque misfortune of being spawned by impoverished, uneducated teenage parents whose families had always “belonged to” the Missionary Baptist Church. That church was their default position both socially and intellectually, and they inflicted it on their children. (Actually, they would scold me for misrepresenting them; Missionary Baptists harbor the novel idea that there is no “Church” – there are only “churches.” I won’t bother to try to explain the significance of that abstruse theological notion here.) That’s as bedrock fundamentalist as it gets. Missionary Baptists pride themselves on an absolutely unalloyed, never-to-be-examined-or-questioned embrace of the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible, our operator’s manual for life, every word of which is absolutely, unfailingly true from cover to cover.
My embrace of the Bible was as ardent as anyone’s: I was as convinced as any fundamentalist you’ve ever met on Facebook or on Main Street that the Holy Bible – preferably the King James Version – is the very Word of the Almighty. I therefore saw atheists as just as dangerous and hellbound – and homosexuals as just as disgusting and abominable – as they do: children necessarily adopt the attitudes of the authority figures in their lives. If they’re lucky – as I was – they later outgrow those attitudes. For those cursed with a modicum of native curiosity, such a belief eventually becomes a powerful incentive to actually read the damn thing, and that’s where some people get into trouble and end up losing their faith. Most either don’t read it, or read it with a special kind of selectivity backed by a scheme of interpretation that I want to talk about here. (NonStampCollector’s excellent “Context!!!!!!” barely scratches the surface: what follows is what lies beneath.)
Continue reading “Dispensationalism: The Answer that doesn’t Answer All your Nagging Questions”