Saturday, April 12, 2014

Responding to Voice for the Voiceless comment

This is a response to a comment left on THIS article.  My response got too long for Blogger to accept, so I had to make it a new article.

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for the commenting on my article.  I wrote this article three years ago, so I had to review it so I would know how to respond to you.  At the time, my wife and I were invited to go to Voice for the Voiceless by a friend of ours who lived with some Catholic nuns.  They identified with the Franciscan order, and devoted their lives to what they viewed as social justice.

Well, that was three years ago.  Since then, our Catholic friend who invited us, the nuns she lived with, in fact every single Catholic friend we had at the time (save one) has left my life.  Unfortunately, they are no longer friends.  I treasured these people, and it makes me sad when I think about them today.  I volunteered what time and effort I could to help their cause to ease the plight of the poor (and as you well know, the El Paso area has plenty of poverty).  As I wrote in this article, I admired their dedication to service, even if I disagreed with their strictly religious motivations.  Our Catholic friends had plenty of connections, so my wife and I volunteered where we could within the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, my lack of religious Faith would inevitably get in the way.  I would be hanging sheetrock, and some missionary would inevitably ask, “so what church do you go to?”  I would say, “I do not attend church”, and hope that they would not probe with further questions.  Eventually, it got too much.  Catholic friends started to leave us, one by one.  They asked my wife why she was still with me, and warned her that I was a very bad influence.  It became obvious to me that I was not wanted around any more.  So I stopped volunteering.

Read my article again.  I am not condemning the poor.  I am not unaffected by the stories of a murdered journalist or a threatened librarian.  That is not the point.  The point is that I am viewed as part of the problem simply because I do not believe Catholic dogma to be true.  I volunteered to help because I know a little about construction, and I can afford to buy supplies.  I don’t care about discussing religion or arguing people out of their beliefs.  I genuinely want to help where I can.  But I am not welcome among the social-justice Catholics any more.  They had to know that, despite what they all said about me, that I am not a person who secretly believes.  I am not a person who is ‘searching’.  I am not a prodigal son who will soon find his way back to belief.  No.  I really do not believe any of it!  I want to help.  I admire the service and dedication.  I just don’t believe in superstition, and don’t like being made to feel guilty because I am ‘privileged’.  And the social-justice Catholics have made it clear to me – they do not want me around any more.

I divert my charities in other directions now.  Border justice is not the only cause worth my attention.  I do not organize with my ‘kindred, non-religious skeptics’ because I honestly don’t know any.  I think almost everyone I know identifies as being a Catholic, although with varying degrees of conviction.  Actually, I suspect that I do know non-believers – it is just that I do not care to discuss religious beliefs with most of the people I know.  Even if I did know more non-believers, I have no desire to organize with people who don’t believe.  I know plenty of people do, but to me, organizing around something that I do not believe in has always seemed strange.  I just choose not to do it.  But religious people always wonder why atheists do not form hospitals and charities if they think they are so virtuous.  But they fail to recognize two things:

1) Atheist charities may not exist, but secular ones do.  Lots of them.  What I mean by that is, you can join, volunteer, donate time and money to these organizations, and you will never be scrutinized for your religious beliefs.  Religious beliefs or even lack of belief are irrelevant to these organizations.  All they want is your dedication to their cause.  This is unlike Annunciation House, which demands that I give a detailed account of my religious beliefs before I can volunteer.

2) So why don’t atheists have relief charities if they are so great?  Because, by and large, atheism is not an organization.  It is not a religion.  It requires no Faith.  This is why I don’t call myself an ‘atheist’.  It does not mean anything beyond non-belief.  Do you know what is required to be an atheist?  I don’t believe your god exists.  Boom.  That’s it.  It’s over.  There is no creed, no conviction, no faith, nothing to organize around.  It is effortless.  It would be kind of tough to form a hospital based only on something the doners and patrons did not believe in.  That does not not make any sense to me.

The social-justice Catholic uses words like ‘privilege’ as a derogatory term.  If you say that I am “speaking from a place of privilege”, it is meant to mean that I am not as virtuous as the person who is in need.  I understand that poverty is considered to be a virtue to the social-justice Catholic.  I am by no means a millionaire, but it is true, I am wealthier now than I ever imagined I would be just ten years ago.  But calling people like myself a pejorative like ‘privileged’ is just a function of the religious habit of inflicting guilt.  I can be shown that a need exists, without being made to feel guilty that I have not personally experienced that need.  I agree – those of us who have plenty should feel obligated to give time, resources, money and expertise where we can.  The main point of my article is the strictly religious motivation behind these charities.  It is judgmental, divisive and I am through with guilt manipulation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Blockbuster Bible

I know I am very late in writing this.  In today’s frantic and fickle pop-cultural tastes, a week is an eternity.  I want to write a bit about the new Noah movie over a week after the Hollywood blockbuster has been released, but since this is not a movie review; the week delay should not matter too much.

I have not seen the movie.  It’s not that I have anything against it.  It is just that I do not get out to the local bijou very often.  (Bijou?!!?  Now I know I am getting old.)  But from the few reviews that I have read on the Internet, everybody who has seen it seems to have some kind of heated response.  My favorites are from reviewers who condemn the movie for being ‘historically inaccurate’.  Oh dear.

Quickly, and without seeing the stinking movie, here is my take.  The only difference between Noah and other modern interpretations of mythical epics is the fact that a large percentage of people still believe in myths contained in The Bible.  Hollywood can safely deviate from ancient tradition when they dramatize King Arthur, Robin Hood, Beowulf or other quasi-legendary heroes.  Forget about legend and myth.  Historical dramatizations, even recent Oscar winners (e.g. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Captain Phillips, etc., etc.) often deviate from known historical events.  This artistic license is routinely done, everybody understands it, and nobody seems to mind.  But when certain myths that come from a certain book are given the same artistic treatment, people come unglued. 

With this month’s Noah, and the Exodus movie scheduled for a December release, Biblical epics seem to be making something of a comeback.  They were hot Hollywood property back in the 1950s, and even then there was plenty of fuss and furor over deviations from the text.  I saw The Ten Commandments in a drive-in theater in the early 1970s, and I had to listen to Grandma Wagner nit-pick over every scene (‘An Egyptian Princess?  Who fell in love with Moses!  That’s not in the Bible!’).  Even the Catholic TV-movie Jesus of Nazareth from 1977 went through my mom’s pious scrutiny (‘The Bible says Jesus was dunked when he was baptized! He was not sprinkled!’).

Nope.  Their can be no deviation from these ancient myths.  At least, the ancient myths that we happen to believe are actually true.  Even history can get a pass, but not these beloved myths.  Christians often ask, ‘why would non-believers want to make a movie about a story in the Bible?’  No Christian, it is not because you or your scriptures are being mocked.  It is because The Bible contains some great stories, and with a little brushing up, that book is great fodder for Hollywood blockbusters.  As far as I am concerned, if Hollywood can tweak mythic heroes like Odysseus, Hercules, Thor and Beowulf and film them with epic scope and effects for a modern audience, they should be able to do the same thing with Noah.  I see no difference between them, except again, that some people still believe in Noah.  They may even see in the movie Noah the inevitable slide toward treating more big ticket Bible stories as summer blockbusters.  Maybe they have a right to be worried.  The Bible is ripe for the picking. 

This may explain the controversy over Noah.  Theologically, I do not see how the Biblical Patriarch is important.  The stories of Noah contained in the Bible have nothing to do with redemption from sin and salvation through Jesus.  Noah taught no moral standards.  The only thing the story of Noah and the Deluge explains to the modern reader is the formation of the Grand Canyon and the purpose of rainbows – and this only to a handful of Christians.  If I had to guess, the presentation of Noah as a Hollywood action hero is not what worries Christians.  I think what worries Christians is that they see the potential of more of their holy myths as summer blockbusters.  Noah may not be that important to Christian theology, but who is next?  Moses is coming in December.  Elijah and Elisha are golden opportunities for lovers of action spiced with magical spells.  But eventually, the biggest ticket item of them all is coming.  You know He will.  Think I am kidding?

Say, you know, Jesus did have a dark side to him.  Didn’t he turn over the money-changers’ tables and cause the Temple worship to cease?  Can we picture a plausible insurrection against the Romans before his fateful destruction?  Hmm … I think the people behind a movie like 300 can easily do something with that.  No I am not joking.  Christians must know this.  They simply cannot stomach the idea of having a ‘fictionalized’ version of an ancient Palestinian deity opening against Marvel Comics’ ‘fictionalized’ version of an ancient Scandinavian deity at the nearest multiplex.