Thursday, January 26, 2006

the opiate of the masses?

I think, in fact I know, that the little diatribe I am about to embark on will probably upset some people who read it. I don’t want to apologise, it’s how I feel, but neither do I wish to offend people arbitrarily. I was simply shocked, and it all came flooding back after reading recent posts by Sandra and Melissa

If you’ve been reading this jibber waffle for a while you might remember that I spent three weeks last year fulfilling an ambition, which was to cross the northern United States by car. I went to a friend’s wedding in Toronto and then dropped down through the Great Lakes and drove from Michigan to Oregon, avoiding the freeways - and all the way back.

You’d better believe it was tedious in the extreme at times, and full of days where travelling seemed to be the objective rather reaching anywhere in particular. But I’m lucky in that respect, I’m generally too thick to get bored and I take a particular pleasure in ‘crumbs’ of comfort, a rest stop, a song on the radio, a cold beer in the evening and the eventual, obligatory “you’re not from these parts are you buddy”.

Some states are relentless in their ‘sameness’. Miles upon hundreds of miles across Wisconsin through dense forest. Great oceans of pasture under limitless skies following a shimmering ribbon of road through North Dakota. At times I felt dwarfed by the scenery, like a dust mote feathered along by the same breeze that bent the corn, vastly alone, wonderfully free of any compulsion to be do anything but go on.

I listened to the radio, it was fascinating, so very local, obviously speaking to the community in their own language about their interests. I listened to music shows, talk shows, discussions on farming, a wonderful phone in where people described items that they had for sale including hay bailers, horses, tractors, just about anything you could imagine. On a couple of occasions I spotted buildings on high spots in the landscape with enormous ariels beside them and it dawned on me that I was actually looking at where the program I was listening to was being broadcast from. I could have knocked on the door and said hello. This is intriguing because we have nothing like that in the UK.

There is a vast tract across the central northern States where it is possible, without making any real effort, to travel for an entire day without seeing another solitary soul. In almost inverse proportion to the dwindling proportion I found myself tuning in to more and more ‘Christian’ radio. Quite often it was the only thing I could find to listen to. And I enjoyed it! I missed my Radio 4, I missed my Archers, and the afternoon play, and ‘Women’s Hour’ - it won’t mean much to you, but it’s good quality, spoken radio.

There’s a calming quality to the well trained human voice, and many of the speakers on the radio were excellent presenters. I listened, rapt, to bible stories and experts unravelling the messages hidden in the arcane language of the gospels. I listened because they were knowledgeable, and unwrapped their messages slowly like expert story tellers, modern day evangelistic jongleurs .

One day I found myself listening to a program hosted by a young couple, they were conducting a phone in and helping people with practical problems in a matter of fact, common sense way. It was very sensible and good radio too, albeit all of the advice was liberally sprinkled with Christian virtue, each to their own. And it was obvious that they were speaking to their own too, this was community radio, and these people were good, solid country folk, the salt of the earth.

And then a young lady called in to the show. She was nervous, and evidently she found it very difficult to say what the true nature of her problem was. In retrospect I can’t still can’t comprehend the courage it must have taken for her to pick up the phone and dial, and in front of such a small community that some listeners must have had a very good idea who she was - slowly, painfully reveal the nature of her problem.

She was young, in her late teens, perhaps early twenties. She was devout, and was following a path that would save her immortal soul. She believed - and for my part I felt strangely warmed by her belief, even though I don’t share, because she was so incredibly sincere. Eventually and with much hesitation and some tears and with a low voice of shame she revealed the crux of her conundrum. She was attracted to other women. She knew this, although she had done nothing about it. She didn’t mean just in a physical way, but emotionally too, sex she said was not the issue, but companionship, the strength that comes from knowing that you love someone and are loved in return.

She thought it was wrong, un Christian, but she couldn’t deny what she knew to be true about her own sexuality, and because it was so important, her faith in apparent conflict with her mind and body, she NEEDED to know - was it possible to be who she was and still go to heaven.

The couple on the radio listened stolidly to her, coaxing and gentling her when she hesitated until eventually she revealed the nature of her ‘problem’. Then they asked her if she was sure, whether it was perhaps “just a phase”, a period of temptation, something she might speak to a trusted confidante about in a Christian environment, perhaps her pastor or her parents.

The girl replied to these suggestion quietly, almost timidly, that she was sure, that this was her nature.

And then they conferred. The young couple on the radio effectively went off air to deliberate for an unfeasibly long time - until eventually they returned to pass verdict. “No” they said, “impossible” to be a homosexual and a good Christian. There is no compromise, the path is the path, my way or the highway.

The girl was distressed, distraught, reduced to tears, and left the air sobbing thank you and so sorry in equal measure .

I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO ANGRY IN MY LIFE. I stopped the car and got out, I felt physically sick, my stomach knotted. I wanted to find them and rail at them, “how fucking dare you!”, I wanted to slap them and take an axe to their buttons and slides and telephones to stop them from perpetrating such sanctimonious, well meaning, bloody evil ever again. To send a good girl in every way, away to make a choice that would condemn her to such loneliness and guilt for the rest of her life….

After that I spent most of my time driving in silence.

23 comments:

Shephard said...

I lost myself reading this story, thoroughly involved in your words. How profoundly sad, and yet how profoundly American.

I've always told my Brit friends who visit you're really taking your chances if you travel much more than 50 miles from a major body of water in the USA.

Thank you for posting that. I hope a lot of people read your post, and hear its message.
~S :)

Sandra said...

The grip fundamentalism has on people in the US is terrifying. We also have quite a few nice heathens to balance it out. These stories really rattle me though, the wrongness of it, disguised as such rightness.

Don't ever drive through Minneapolis again without stopping for a pint!!

Wendy said...

Well ... I could spout on for days about this. I'll try very hard to be succint though -- I was raised Catholic. I wouldn't call myself Catholic right now, if asked - though I'm sure I'm 'listed' that way somewhere. Anyway, I do believe in God. I guess it's part of my upbringing that I can't 'let go' of - nor do I really want to. But, I do NOT believe that there is a God who discriminates. I cannot believe there is a God who says "my way or the highway". I simply do not believe it. I cannot believe there is a God who would turn away a truly good person, simply because she/he is not a heterosexual, and yet -- welcome someone who lived a horrid life, hurting others, judging others, and right in the end, begged forgiveness. I simply refuse to believe it. Life is SO SHORT. I refuse to be so narrow minded. Love is love, and when someone is lucky enough to find it - how can ANYONE else take that away and say it's wrong simply because it's between people of the same gender? That poor girl. Needless to say, I'm not raising my daughter Catholic - or any 'organized' faith. I'm raising her, instead, to simply be a good person. A kind person. A compassionate person. Not a judge and jury. No one really knows, til they know - and we all just have to wait and see. But for me, I believe in good things when we pass. These same folks who told that poor girl she can't get into heaven if she loves women, are the same folks who will cut you off and flip you off while pulling out of the Church parking lot. Bah!!!

Magpie said...

its sad that religion may dictate someones life, even if they never find happiness because of it, and for that i'm truly saddened...

i always tune out the god squad in the states as they are preaching to the lost in my case...

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

That's horrible...and a big part of the reason I don't do "organized religion".

I believe there are different degrees of every religion. For instance, my parents raised me as a Christian but my views and their views are a lot different. Both The PK's mother and my own mom are CONSTANTLY pushing us to go to church but I just DO NOT believe that if you DON'T go to church, you'll go to hell. Just like I don't believe your sexual orientation will earn you a place in hell either.

I believe that if you're truly a good person and you try your best to do the right things in life, that if you're not malicious and really evil and you really try to help your fellow man or woman, you'll get to where you need to be...you know what I mean?

Eh, I'm rambling....sorry! :)

a fish on a bycicle said...

May I just say please, that I didn't intend this as a negative comment about America in any way - or for matter organised religion per se.

It's just it seems to me that religion, and the interpretation of it, allows for the potential to empower zealots.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Completely understood...:)

And your last statement there says it all.

patti_cake said...

Wow I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt in the South so I know where you are coming from and it makes me MAD too. I'm a "live and let live" kinda gal and the bible thumpers who want to save everyone's soul get my goat. Worry about your OWN soul and leave mine alone!

krisbtterfly said...

there is a reason behind the fact that i will not move to salt lake city. although i believe in the statement "to each their own," i know that this is not the case in some areas of the U.S. discrimination because of your religion (or lack thereof) happens often, and i don't care to put myself in a position where it would happen often. *sigh*

Shephard said...

Colin, I'm sure no one thought you were meaning this as a negative comment on America.

Not meaning to segue into politics, but we have a president whose approv. rating is below 35%; Americans are kinda unhappy about all all the pettiness and lack of compassion. So I think your post touched on a good example of it.

~S :)

Aims said...

It's a sad story. Everyone should be allowed to find true happiness.
I do understand why they told her it was wrong. I went to church & believed strongly for almost 10 years. I also had a bad experience with a pastor telling me that if I didn't stop smoking I would not be allowed to sing in the worship band. He offered me support for a week & when I couldn't give up I was kicked out of the worship group. It was a horrible experience for me.

SquirrleyMojo said...

that's pretty much how i ended _here_, after ten years of marriage and unable to confess the situation of it all after my eyes open . . .

thank you

Jess Riley said...

What an excellent and thoughtful post! I have to say that you passed through my home state of Wisconsin (although I'm not sure if you heard this program incident here). And you're much more brave than I am; I can't even bring myself to listen to local radio like that.

Deranged Doctor said...

Collin, I like your attitude. Hopefully, this young girl will be able to find peace - and somewhere someone like you will tell her just how okay it is to be who she is.

Just Some Gal said...

That is very sad and angering. I have dealt with family and churches that are like that. Guilt is a great control item when controlling and "guiding" tender souls that have a deep rooted "fear of God" in them.

I have a truly deep respect for you Colin after reading this, it says a lot about you. (in a good way)

x

Deadly Female said...

Good post. I hope that young girl has found peace in her life xx

Seven said...

Colin,
I did not find the post offensive in any way, but rather it was articulate, entertaining and well crafted. I have linked to it in a response blog on my blogspot and I hope this is acceptable to you. Damn fine post!
Good Cheer

Jenn said...

Nothing quite so refreshing as an empowered zealot, I always say. If a bucket of ice water is refreshing....

I read a book once - a long time ago so I've forgotten the name. But the story was excellent...about how men/women make religion fit their needs and such. I'm not doing justice. Richard Bach, I think..something about a messiah.

Anyway - live and let live (and sometimes get annoyed) - that's my thing.

Good post.
(I'm so excited - I finally got a real word on the word verification..sort of. 'elfhen'...would that be a chicken with pointy ears?)

Grant said...

Well written post. My first reaction would have been in line with yours, but on genuflection I have to wonder what did the girl expect, calling fundamental xtians for advice? There are a couple of places in the bible that are pretty clear about condemning homosexuality. It seems that if you believe everything in the bible, you have to accept that being gay is an "abomination" (the word used in the King James version, written in Jesus' original English :p). I'm not gay or an xtian, but gay xtians always strike me the same as a black man trying to join the Ku Klux Klan.

Gerbera Daisy said...

I completely agree with Wendy on this subject. I think it is very hypocritical of fundamentalist Christians to judge people who do not fit into the "cookie cutter" mold of being and acting a certain way. 70% of the people I work with are either gay or lesbian and they are some of the best people I know. They are not judgemental, they are the most loving and caring people and would do anything for me.
Also what Shephard said is true.

Miladysa said...

Well said Fish!

Jessica said...

So incredibly sad...I can only hope that the young lady involved eventually moves beyond the small mindedness of her community.

Melissa said...

Hey, Fish. Thanks. Thanks for writing so well and for being a compassionate human with a brain. Now get back to the bar on Friday to meet the girl who hugged you from behind so a couple years from now you two crazy kids can procreate and make more normal people with good hearts and great minds.