Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Things We Say! It's up for Discussion!

This might be a continuation of my last post.  There are several sayings that have their root in religious piety that are real conversation enders.  Primarily because they have no quick retort nor is it considered in good form to answer them in a contrary manner.  I have heard several of those this week and wanted to discuss a couple here.  

"God will never give you more than you can handle.":  This is a response to many of life's challenges including cancer victims and has been recently used in response to those who feel like they have been born gay and it is too much to be asked to stay abstinent.  Some might considered it to be a benign and sometimes spiritual saying; however, I see it as a conversation ender and a statement that is dismissive and is absent of any empathy.  If you are suffering and need to tell someone about it and they retort "God will never give you more than you can handle"  how do you respond.  If you on the giving end of this statement do you really want to share this persons pain?  Do you recognize the absurdity of the statement?

Absurdity:  If you are suffering from cancer and death is imminent, if you are a family member of the cancer victim, if you have lost a child, if your home has just burned down.... god is testing you.  If you loose faith you fail the test.   If the pain is too much and you blame god then the problem is yours because he knew you could handle it and you let him down.  Conversely if you are wealthy and have had no real challenges in life then god must think you were weaker and would not be able to rise to the test.  So you are punished for strength and  rewarded for weakness?

"It wasn't in God's plan for you": If you have tried and worked your heart out and it still hasn't happened its because this guy had a different plan for you and failed to tell you.  Again an opportunity missed to assuage the hurt feelings of someone who is in pain and demonstrate our humanity.  Instead a dismissive remark that invokes piety and hurts someone who may really need empathy is offered.  This was a common saying while I grew up and is kind of woven into the the idea that your existence on earth was preordained.  Now there was also the idea that you had free agency and so if your life was preordained then you really didn't have free agency.

Absurdity:  The saying brings into play two conflicting concepts.  You are free, through agency, to chart your own course but if you fail it is because "it wasn't in God's plan for you." If you follow God's plan for you then you give up your agency.  So it becomes "Your Mission if you Choose to Accept it" ?

"Pray like it is up to God, Work like it is up to you":  This is my favorite saying from annals of pious belief because at least it is an acknowledgement that your dream will likely be realized by your own hard work not divine intervention.

Absurdity:  I don't see this saying as absurd as much as I do the interpretation of it.  I interpret it as an acknowledgement that there very well could be a possibility that there is not a god up there that is really involved.  However, some may say that what you are asking for is too trivial to warrant intervention and therefore your success is up to you alone.  God is too busy to help.  So if you have cancer and you pray for a cure and that is not answered does that mean your life and your existence is too trivial for god to care about?  

So the question is is there a saying that is thrown around your circles that you find absurd or that is a conversation stopper?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Words and Their Meaning

Over the last several days I have given some thought to words and how we assign a value to them.  Specifically how we define swear words or words that are offensive.  George Carlin does a great and classic piece on the 7 words you cannot say on TV.  He also is good at pointing out our own hypocrisy when it comes to making rules about what you can or cannot say.  The video clip is below.  If you are easily offended don’t click on play.

Living here in Morridor there are several other words that are swear words for no other reason that they are assigned that weight.  My favorite Utah swear word is “Stupid”.  I have seen the swift retribution of mothers to their children who use this word toward their siblings.  The reaction is the same as is if they had used the “mother of all swear words”.

My second favorite swear word is “God” .  The way I understand this rule: If you use “God” in any context except a direct conversation with God then it is a swear word.  Here is where we have to engage in mental gymnastics to justify using the word in a manner that it is not offensive.  You can say “thank God”  because apparently this is an aside conversation with god.  You can say, “this is why God Invented”,  because apparently you are giving this ambiguous person credit in some sort of aside wink and nod. You obviously say  "pray to God” and request his guidance because you are talking to god.  However as soon as you say “Oh My God!”  you are taking “the Lord’s name in vain!?!?”  Now I thought gods name was Yahweh or Elohim if you subscribe to the Judeo-Christian texts.  God is a title!... kind of like Dr. or Mr. or PHD. or MA is it not?
If you are a word like damn you are automatically a swear word because of your association with the infamous word god.  Damn in Utah and its other form Dammit  are immediately censored as gateway swear words.  It starts with a damn and then progresses to a god damn and before long you will be saying Stupid!  Absurd?  Yes!

There is a reason we have developed language as humans.  That reason is because we needed a way to communicate ideas.  While some words in our language have terse meanings and they are abrupt and jarring when uttered… some times they are appropriate to the situation or to the context.  Our abhorrence  to using them sometimes gets in the way of ability to communicate.  I worked with a nice lady who rarely would use any of the “7 Words You Can’t Say of TV”.  She would say that sometimes there is no other word that is powerful enough to communicate the idea.  That is why we see content on TV, in the movies, and in our other forms of literary expression using language that is colored, textured, and multidimensional.

This phenomenon is not limited to the use of swear words. We avoid using words that are appropriate in many contexts and are the proper descriptors  to be offered.  In my last post I noted how Doug Wright could not say the words Oral, Anal, or Vaginal Sex on his radio program.  Why?  They were the appropriate descriptors.  Additionally, we fail to teach our children to use words that describe their body parts like penis or vagina.  Instead we treat them as dirty words and in our inability to to get over our 5th grade reaction we inhibit their ability to communicate with their physicians or healthcare providers.  We also inhibit their ability to have a healthy view of their bodies and in our effort to diffuse our own discomfort with the word we actually do harm to our children.  Our reaction to words ultimately taints the real value that word as in our rich language.

I am not an advocate of using course language in all settings.  I correct my children when they use language that is shocking or inappropriate for the situation but in Utah and in other fundamental communities in the United States; I think we have taken it too far.  I am not sure why?  I suspect that it is in part because of religious piety, in part because of political correctness and in part because we think that June and Ward Cleaver were normal representations of the American Family.  To take away the texture of our language is to relegate us an artificial “Pleasantville” existence that is not representative of the American or Human experience.  Dammit! Even Disney knows that!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Questions should be asked.... when they are young and often as they grow

I was in the car today at about 11:00am listening to Doug Wright on KSL.  He brought this story up on his talk radio program and the engaged in an hour worth of faux outrage:

Sex Survey at D.C. School Sparks Controversy

A Washington, D.C., middle school is under fire after distributing a survey to seventh-graders asking both boys and girls about their sexual orientations and whether they knew how to put on a condom, among other sex-based questions.
The survey, developed by Metro TeenAIDS, a group dedicated to helping young people fight against HIV/AIDS, was intended to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and teach the children how to avoid them,

I read the survey that is linked to the article.  It is a little but direct it uses medical terms that Doug would not repeat on the air ie. oral, vaginal, or anal sex.  It asked the kids if they knew how to get condoms and if they knew how to put one on themselves or their partners.  I did not see anything in the article that my children who live in a nice middle class conservative suburban neighborhood didn't already have some knowledge about.   This survey was given to 7th graders.  Some kids where as young as 11.  I didn't get the outrage because these were similar to the questions my LDS Bishop asked when I was 12.  The same Bishop that asked theses questions of my sister when she was 11 and who described the act of masturbation to my younger sister when she was 12.

There was a minor screw up.... they forgot to send the opt out letter home the day before the test.

Okay that was a screw up but there is a reality, to quote a line from the movie Fame "The kids in my neighborhood are into sex much earlier.... about 6am."  There is a reality that inner city neighborhood children are exposed to sex much earlier in their lives.  There is something about growing up poor in a neighborhood without parental supervision, where drug abuse is high and education is low that causes that dynamic.  I knew a young woman who grew up in inner city Chicago.  She reported she had consensual sex for the first time when she was 8.

So caller after caller called and expressed their outrage and many said this discussion belongs in the home.  But the comment that floored me was the one who said this conversation belonged in the home and maybe with their religious leader ( in Utah that translates to "the Bishop") but this conversation should not have occurred in a health class, with a trained health teacher, because the school is 16 times more likely to have students engage in risk behavior.  REALLY? a Bishop is more qualified to ask theses questions than trained aids workers?

The reason we need comprehensive sex education in this state and early is because we are at risk of having stats similar to Washington DC.  Conservatives like to tell us there is consequences to behavior.... when your child is dying of aids that was preventable not only are they responsible but so are you for denying them information that could have saved their lives.  Instead we opt to pretend that a parent with no formal training has any real expertise to teach the child and that they will.  Once they have the disease all the prayers, blessings, or voodoo will do nothing to save them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullying is not just perpetrated by the kids on the playground

There has been much said about the recent rash of gay teen suicides that have been caused in part by peer bullying.  The attention has resulted in of hundreds of links offered in Facebook and countless comments posted on Facebook, blogs, and other networked social media sites.  In Utah this attention crescendoed with the ill-timed and foolishly worded address given by Boyd K. Packer in the LDS general conference.

I think it is a shame that the attention is solely focused on bullying; because, the image that we as Americans have is limited to the school yard bully.  Bullying is only effective if the attacks on the child/teen have the effect of making them feel isolated, worthless, and without an ally.  The problem here is much deeper than just a school yard bully and it extends beyond homosexuality.

Andrew Hackman wrote in his blog: "Your attitudes will be reflected and amplified in your children."
What does the child do when his peers attitudes are reflected in the attitudes of his own parents, religion, religious leaders, and community.  This has been my point in the Facebook debates.  In Utah the LDS culture dominates on matters of public policy.  I have seen the most hateful and insensitive remarks come from purported temple recommend holding members regarding the "sinner" they see in a homosexual who lives his or her life in a full and meaning way including intimate same gender relationships.  They quote scripture, their "prophets", and make arguments that are writhe with logical fallacies all in an attempt to be in lock step with their doctrine.

Again I point to a brilliantly written piece by Andrew Hackman:

  Objecting to homosexuality, I believe, cannot be a universal moral. It is a religious conviction. I think for something to be considered a universal moral, and not merely a religious position, it has to be amenable to all faiths... and those without a faith. The bible says murder is wrong (although it acts it out more as a guideline than a rule) but I could also make a non-religious arguement as to why it is good for humanity to follow that position. On the contrary, I have yet to hear a valid argument against homosexuality that did not come back to a religious point and/or that individual's personal "ick" factor with homosexuality. 
I concur with Andrews stance on this matter but take it a step further in that I have to question why you would hold the texts of any religion and the texts specifically of Christianity and Mormonism (they are the texts that I have some experience with)  as a supreme word given their flaws.  Many religious scholars will tell you that the texts are not historical and the events and people are not actual but allegorical.  So based upon a myth we will throw away or relationships with actual people for salvation that is not likely real now matter how nice it sounds.  

I have seen first hand the mistreatment of a child who diverges from their parents religious world view.  Whether it is a homosexual teen who comes out of the closet or a heterosexual teen or young adult who engages in the very natural act of premarital sex.  The child who chooses not to go on a mission or the child who has the audacity to leave the family's church.  The messages delivered to that young and inexperienced human is : If you continue on this course your are going to hell.  You are no longer worthy of your heavenly father's protection or mine.

The bullying is not just from their peers but from their religious leaders and sadly form their family members.  I have seen this first hand because it has happened to me and to my spouse.  It is a guilt that takes years to repair and for some the on relief from it comes in the form of drug abuse or from the last desperate act of suicide.

I cannot figure out why we choose to chase a myth developed from contrived man made religious dogma while we throw away the amazing relationships with our children/youth and adult citizens who exercise their freedom and engage in age appropriate consensual  relationships that are natural and normal.

I think the question here is does your loved one have a place to go for comfort and are you providing it or are you pushing them to their last desperate solution through your piety and inflexible adherence to doctrine?