2013/07/01

Obedience and Disobedience: The Nation, Religion, Gender

I was most interested in the material on obedience and disobedience since obedience has never had a good result for me, and disobedience generally gets me in trouble.  It is one more reason to avoid the other humans entirely and go one's own way. 

I am glad that Soelle breaks it down into three areas (the nation, religion and gender) because I think that they really are three different things, especially religion where I have a much more Benedictine take on it.

First she talks about obedience from her perspective as a German, and I think that many of us in the United States should share such a shame as we are complicit in even more atrocities than the Germans ever were. 
As a United Stater I am ashamed of my country, and I am ashamed of its lack of shame.  
It is true that as nation/states go, the USA is one of the better places to live.   It's at least in the top twenty.  But it is also one of the biggest purveyors of destruction too.  We pay for our ease with the blood of others.

I can see that from the earliest beginnings of my life I was made to give my allegiance to this terror state called America.  We place our hands on our hearts, we sing the nationalistic theme song, we fly the flag because we have been brainwashed into believing that America is the greatest nation that has ever existed.  And that sort indoctrination is still going on today!

In public schools all across the United States students are taught to get up and stand in a line when the bell rings.  They raise one finger to go to the toilet, two if they want to say something. (I can teach my dog more complex tricks than that.)  The public school system does not prepare children to become thinking members of society, it prepares them for one of two things: obedience or prison.  (Or leave, of course.) 
Yet, curiously, many of these indoctrinated children grow up to love and identify with their country.  Regular flag-wavers they are!  America the Great, and all that jazz.  Soelle says it better than I can when she says that identification with the aggressor, the ruler, and the violator is the worst thing that can happen to... really to anyone.  I do not identify with America.  It's just a name on my passport.

Next we talk about obedience and disobedience in religion.  I was glad that Soelle drew a distinction between authoritarian and humanitarian religions.  I was first exposed to the authoritarian kind (Southern Baptist), but spent my adult life, until recently, in a humanitarian one (The Episcopal Church in USA). 
I have always been thankful for being somewhat raised by the Baptists (and the vast majority of Baptists in the USA are Southern Baptists so I am going to use those terms interchangeably.)  The Baptists made me memorize the books of the Bible, who wrote them, and when.  They also made me memorize long passages which have stayed with me.  And, most significantly, some very good Baptists provided much needed stability in my childhood.  Later, my Southern Baptist affiliated university gave me a very broad liberal arts education which has served me well.  So, yea for the Baptists.

But I see how they also set me up for a type of thinking that I would later have to abandon.
I was a good and obedient Baptist.  And what that means is that I was "saved."  I had "asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my personal savior."  I prayed a "special prayer" for that to happen.  It's almost amusing in its absurdity.  In my own defense I was only five, and while I do not believe that that prayer saved me, I do believe that it was the start of my being saved.  And when I'm all the way saved I'll let you know because it is a process that has continued long past the amen of my "special prayer."
What that did, though, is that it placed me in a special category:  the saved.  And if there are some who are saved, then if follows quite naturally that there are some who are not saved.  If some are obedient, then some are disobedient, Some are good, some bad,  Some are going to Heaven -- that's where I was going!. And some are going to Hell.  This sort of dualism stayed with me right through my first year in college when I finally had to jettison it all.  I didn't not know what I was jettisoning it for, only that it didn't comport with the God I had known even before I knew the Baptists.  So it's true that obedience presupposes dualism.  It did that for me by putting me in a special category, thus creating an opposite category too. 

I eventually found the Episcopalians and that was a happy home for me for many years.  As Soelle describes, it was less authoritarian and more humanistic. Episcopalians are not known for their obedience.  Of course, not many of them disobey either.  They are a tepid lot, and that suited me just fine.  Obedience and disobedience aren't real issues in TEC.  You work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  The church may or may not provide some guidance on that, and they offer the liturgy as a structure for you.  But you're pretty much on your own.  As it should be.

On the rare occasions where I found obedience an issue it only involved clergy, never laity, and there was capitulation, no real question about whether or not to obey. Mostly I've seen it used as a reason:  "Well, I am under orders..."  And later it will be used as an excuse, "Well, I was under orders..."  Of course the ordination process weeds out any candidate who is not desperate for the approval of others and willing to do anything to get it.  So they "obey" quite nicely.  That is one of the ways that authoritarianism has been a hold-over even in the more progressive or humanitarian churches.  
Episcopalians are even worse at disobedience.  Witness the proliferation of the various "Anglican" missions, churches, and clubs of the self-disenfranchised.  It's all so middle-ages.
So I am not sure that my years in TEC really prepared me to speak on obedience or disobedience in a religious context.

But there is another way to think about obedience, and that is to think of it as obedience to Christ. This sort of obedience, of course, can't be entered into blindly and it can not be used as an excuse.  In fact, it makes the obedient one accountable.  Benedict talked about this sort of obedience and he said that it can never be coerced and is based on listening for the voice of God.  So I would say that this type of obedience, based on holy listening and entered into freely is something that we can consider along with the more traditional/authoritarian model.  (Just Google "Benedict on obedience" and I'll bet you get some good hits on that.  My internet clock is ticking or I'd do it for you.  They are limiting us even at the internet cafes now!  But I think that's worth looking into.)
Finally, we talk about obedience and disobedience to the expectations of society, especially as it relates to sex and gender expectations. 

I was conditioned to be a compliant heterosexual woman.  My mother even gave me tips on complementing  a man.  I was dressed in the finest petticoats and pinafores money could buy.  Oh, and the patent leather shoes and socks with the lace.  I had pretty little girl handbags and I knew the proper way for a lady to get in and out of a car.  I waited for the gentleman to pull out my chair for me at dinner, and I smiled at all the right moments.  By age six I was programmed for success as a Stepford wife.

Of course, we see how that worked out. For those of you who don't know, I didn't turn out that way.
In some ways it was easy for me because I made a clean break of it.  But even now I know that some things are expected.  Heterosexuality is so expected that no one in Burma even suspects that I am gay.  It simply doesn't enter into their consciousness.  It's not a possibility.  (Oh, the hairdresser who lives across from another friend of mine knows.  He looked at me one day and I knew he knew.  But we keep one anther's secrets.)  People say to me, "You only one?"  and some are even more blatant, "Where you husband?"  or "Why you no husband?"  and I want to say, "Because I'm a big lez, you moron."  But I don't.  I just smile.  And I hide it.  And then I feel a little bit less like myself.
Closer to home we've had DOMA overturned and Prop 8 is no longer a threat.  And there are expectations that go along with that too.  Of course, we'll all have to be oh so much more acceptable now, to go along with our new acceptable status.  And I wonder what will happen to the flaming queans, and the queer girl/boys, and the kids who used to get minimum-wage jobs just off Christopher Street because they had left home without a high school diploma... because they had to.  And maybe they made a little extra dough working at a club or something but at long last they were free to be gay, gay, gay... and now the world tells them again, to put away the glitter eye shadow and be a man and look acceptable for all the straight people.  And, for God's sake, don't wear a skirt.  What about them?
For me?  I know that the really fun days of being queer are over.  From now on we will have to keep our fabulousness under wraps a little tighter.  We don't want to mess it up for the good (conforming) gays, after all.
No matter how much progress a society makes there will always be the rules.  Greatness, genius, and glitter will always be squelched and the dominant culture will assimilate the blandness while the rest of us queers go on... underground... with our glitter and flannel shirts.
I will say one more thing about it.  I am all for the great feminizaton of God, and Christ, and all that.  But, like liturgical dance, it sometimes goes too far. Really people, we can't arrive at a new concept of God just by changing pronouns.  I am so weary of that that even though Saint Benedict would disapprove (he had a lot to say about "murmuring" too) I am going to say it anyway.  You can't just change the pronouns.  Desirable as that sometimes is.
Just one quick example. -- I have six minutes -- The two most radical words in the world are "Our Father..."  and often I hear it changed to "Our Mother..."  (I'm talking about in THE Our Father, the Pater Noster for you Latin geeks).  And God is mothering.  I can justify that statement with as many verses as you can.  But in emphasizing that aspect of God, we loose the radical nature of those words which give everybody the same father.  And that great equalizing pronouncement, that we all have the same father, actually gives power to the powerless.  So it's not enough to change the pronouns.  We have to come to a radically different concept of God which includes all genders and which goes way past the pronouns.  --  That one with the Pater Noster is just one of my personal pet peeves.
I wanted to say something about belonging to Christ on account of his powerlessness, because he only has love to offer, but I sense myself rambling more than usual and I am out of time.
As usual, your mileage may vary.  Probably will.

I thought we had some very good material this week and I have lots more thinking to do.  Thanks for your comments.  I always find a way to read them all even if I don't respond.

With time to spare,

Lindy

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