Monday, April 24, 2017

You're wrong but I love you.

I suspect I'm getting old on this topic of disagreeing well. Unsurprisingly, with a general election now imminent and our media (nation?) apparently incapable of sensible conversation, it keeps cropping up. 

Atheism for Lent - another of my favourite drums - began with an excerpt from a graphic novel set in a pub frequented by Batman, the Joker et al. By some kind of magic, violence and seeds of violent intent were prohibited in this hostelry and so, even for sworn enemies, it was a place of safe encounter.

This excerpt set the tone of AfL, encouraging participants to declare truce while ferociously analysing our ideas about (No) God.

Two tangential TED talks were flagged by coursemates. Megan Phelps-Roper describes how conversations on twitter, of all places, gently led her away from the fundamentalist beliefs she cherished at Westboro Baptist Church. She lists the ingredients of Good Disagreement. Along with the more obvious - thinking the best of the other person, for example - she exhorts us to actually say what we think. Sounds obvious .... but how often are we courageous enough to do this? To be braver than the quick "I disagree" followed by swift departure? Or the quiet gossip with an ally later? To spell out carefully why we disagree and attempt to articulate what it is we believe?

Margaret Heffernan goes on to say that honesty without disagreement is actually futile. You can express as many heartfelt, informative, accurate points as you like and it doesn't change anything. You need a worthy adversary to uplift your point by disagreeing with it, if it is to shine with any useful kind of truth. This committed, brave disagreement is in fact a type of love.

I suspect most of us disagree badly because of our own insecurity about whether the other person likes or loves us or, more fundamentally, whether we are loveable at all. This is human nature. So we need to create places like that fictional pub where we can practise disagreeing well and try to face those who do the same.

We need to make spaces where church leavers and almost-leavers are listened to very carefully with no desire to change them. Where backslapping, self-congratulatory, tribal politics is undermined by those from within each and every 'side'. Where friends and family are encouraged to make us defend our opinions, to keep us on our toes.

I do not want to go through life being told and allowed to believe that I'm right. I mean, I do. But I don't. Get me?



Monday, April 03, 2017

Capitalism, sex and the church.

Following a bit of 'erm, so?', I'm getting to the wonderful juicyfruit stuff in Atheism for Lent. It's now political, economical and psychoanalytical and has perhaps unexpectedly chimed with some Radio 4 sex talk (ha ha, the raciest kind!)

In Sunday's seminar, Pete Rollins discussed the work of Todd McGowan. McGowan argues that Capitalism is a strong system because it will always motivate us to get up and go (you need to acquire more) with promises (you can acquire more). It is a deadly system - not because it doesn't fulfil us but because it makes miserable the pursuit of fulfilment. It makes us feel inadequate.

Radio's Thinking Allowed discussed the impact of Capitalism's beauty industry on women. Mostly, ladies getting HD brows done believe these look good, in some objective sense. Really, cosmetics companies select the latest fad and send us to the beautician. We are driven to look better by spending on products and procedures. We do not grow up learning techniques for sexual fulfilment or how to accept our bodies. We grow up learning to despise ourselves, expensively groom ourselves to death, expecting this will somehow lead to good relationships, sex and self-esteem. To link back to McGowan, capitalism drives us to the salon (you want to look better) with its gorgeous magazine models (you can look better) but the process makes us ashamed.

You might think the church would liberate women from this stuff. Often, as with so many other things, it mimics capitalism, keeping us inline by making us insecure and miserable. We aren't pressurised from the pulpit to get Botox or cosmetic gynaecology. But we are told we are not 'naturally' good enough to have successful relationships; we must train our minds and bodies out of sexual depravity; we must suspect and hide the flesh. This mirrors, rather than challenges, the Capitalist messaging: 'you must work to be a good woman', 'if you follow these rules, you can be a good woman' and yet we are constantly made afraid that we are not, deep down, really good women.

This is just one way the church copies capitalism, making people miserable in order to protect its own structures. The evangelism business is another (for fear of hell, you must win more attendees; the bible promises that you can get more attendees; and yet you are failing to get more attendees). The exhortation to give more time and money is a third (to avoid backsliding, you must come every week; God promises he will help you and you can be a better Christian; Why oh why are you not doing enough?) I could go on.

Whether it is as a woman, churchgoer or passionate human being, AfL has inspired me to learn how to enjoy the process of changing and seeking. I accept that I am motivated to accrue (I am driven to want more and better) by never-quite-fulfilled promises (I always believe I can get more and better). But I also want to learn to love my current, imperfect state and therefore relish the journey onwards.