Friday, September 15, 2006

On the art of making Christians

Via Jesus Politics, a Salon article about an evangelical church in Seattle. As one might expect, the article could maybe be more sympathetic to the evangelicals, but, even allowing for that, it's still an interesting read. The Jesus Politics post focuses on one of the more interesting stories, which concerns the life of Judy Abolafya before and after converting.

Before:
...Abolafya toured all over the world with bands like Bush and Candlebox, staying at four-star hotels, living life on her own terms. She made a great income heading up merchandising on tours, managed it well, enjoyed her freedom, and was confident and outspoken.
And after:
She shudders as her daughter wails, shaking her auburn ponytail. "Listening to her like that just grates on me." She grimaces. In a high chair at the table, her toddler, Asher, glumly pokes at blocks of cheese with grubby fingers, periodically mashing them into a paste he rubs into his black Metallica T-shirt. "Let's face it. Asher is whiny and clingy and talks back. It's dull and tedious here -- there are myriad things I don't enjoy about being at home, but it's a responsibility."

..."We had originally planned not to have kids, but now we have to do our best to repopulate our city with Christians."
Granted, I myself would be inclined to go to great lengths to get away from the music of Bush and Candlebox, but this seems like a bit of an overreaction.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with abandoning an exciting, successful job to become a stay at home mom. But something seems off about this particular case.

One might wonder, for example, how she came to the conclusion that it was her Christian duty to stay at home and spend all her time making new Christians. The story here is a little sketchy, but this seems to be a central moment:
In the Bible, Abolafya found story after story about women being willfully deceived, following their own desires, wreaking travesty in their relationships and homes. In these stories she saw signs of her own past, her mother's behavior, her friends' actions. She began to submit to [her husband] Ari about purchases and plans she wanted to make.
In contrast, men never exhibit such character flaws, either in the Bible or in contemporary society. This is why they get to do things like pursue whatever career they like, and decide how their wives should spend money.

A final, sad note from the article:
Abolafya no longer reads secular books or speaks to her old friends.... Abolafya says she doesn't have time for many relationships anyway.... "It's not what I ever imagined," she tells me, "or even what I ever wanted, but it's my duty now, and I have to learn to live with that."
Oy.

It seems that "duty" and "responsibility" are the most positive terms she can come up with when discussing her life as a Christian, and this is cause for possible concern.

And (as was pointed out to me) not just concern for her own religious life.

Abolafya intends to help "repopulate our city with Christians", which is a terribly problematic intention, given that (even if she gets her husband's permission first) she doesn't have the final say on whether her kids turn out to be Christians, or theists of any sort at all. She does not get to decide. For each child, the question of faith--if and when it is raised at all, and if (this is a big if) it is raised properly--will be raised between that child and God. And, try as hard as she might, mom won't be able to intervene.

On the other hand, she could have a great deal to do with shaping how her kids understand the religion that they will eventually either follow or abandon. One wonders about the prospects of someone earnestly embracing a religion, if that religion is associated with joylessness, and characterized by "duty" and "responsibility", while lacking in any understanding as to why those duties and responsibilities might be worthwhile.

1 comment:

Seed said...

I felt this was a welcome section that strangely fit right in the midst of all of this Christian fundamentalist critiquing. This section reminds me of the less complex view of Christianity. A view I find refreshing.

A section from Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
(translated by Rosemary Edmonds)

Hoping to find a confirmation of this idea in the same Gospel according to St Matthew, Nekhlyudov began it at the beginning. After reading the Sermon on the Mount, which he had always found moving, he saw in it today for the first time, not beautiful abstract thoughts, presenting for the most part exaggerated and impossible demands, but simple, clear, practical commandments, which if obeyed (and this was quite feasible) would establish a completely new order of human society, in which the violence that filled Nekhlyudov with such indignation would not only cease of itself but the greatest blessing man can hope for – the kingdom of heaven on earth – would be attained.

The first commandment (Matthew v. 21 –6) was that man should not only not kill: he must not even be angry with his brother, or call him a fool, and if he should quarrel with anyone, he must be reconciled with him before offering his gift to God, that is, before praying.

The second commandment (Matthew v. 27-32) says that a man must not only refrain from committing adultery: he must avoid the enjoyment of a woman’s beauty, and if he has once come together with a woman he should never be faithless to her.

The third commandment (Matthew v. 33 –7) says that we must not seal a promise with an oath.

The fourth commandment (Matthew v. 38-42) enjoins us not to demand an eye for an eye but to offer the other cheek when we are smitten on one; tells us that we must forgive injuries and bear them with humility, and never refuse anyone a service he desires of us.

The fifth Commandment (Matthew v. 43 –8) enjoins us not merely not to hate our enemies or fight them but to love, help and serve them.

Nekhlyudov sat staring at the light of the lamp that had burned low, and his heart stopped beating. Recalling all the monstrous confusion of the life we lead, he pictured to himself what this life might be like if people were taught to obey these commandments, and his soul was swept by an ecstasy such as he had not felt for many a day. It was as though, after long pining and suffering, he had suddenly found peace and liberation.