I am a formerly Roman Catholic atheist. I was born into the faith and educated in it through seventeen years of Catholic school. I was extremely devout until I was a young mother when for reasons that would seem mundane if I described them here I abruptly lost my faith. It was as if I had been living inside a soap bubble, and it suddenly burst. It was gone. And that was that.
But that is not to say that I lost my interest in religion. Or my knowing what it felt like to be part of a church that informs, comforts, and restricts a person’s day-to-day thoughts and actions. My first two historical novels involve devout religious faith as part of the lives of my characters—as would certainly have been the case in South America in 1650 and 1868. Now I am in the throes of writing a series based on the Ten Commandments along with themes of other evils left out of the Law of Moses.
During the time I was a practicing Catholic, orthodoxy was not an issue for me. “Catholic” meant that the teachings of the Church were the same all over, so there was no question of sectarian competition. One accepted it all or not at all.
I was in my thirties before I began to see how—within a sectarian form of religion—orthodoxy might work to narrow what was permissible, what was admirable, how one defined the difference between right and wrong. In fact it was observing the life a Jewish friend that I began to see what orthodoxy could do to a person.
When I met this particular friend, she was working in a huge insurance company as a management trainer. Despite serious physical disabilities from an early childhood case of polio, she flew around the US lecturing and training employees. In her private life, she performed on stage and on the radio with her charismatic persona and lovely singing voice. She gave inspiring and entertaining lectures that helped people concentrate on their opportunities instead of their challenges. She was (and remains) irresistible.
But then, after her mother died, her father and her brothers, all rabbis, began to crack down on her activities. As the years went by, especially after her father also died, her brothers’ ideas of what was right and proper for her constantly escalated. All of a sudden they declared that it was immodest of her to present herself in public and speak before groups of that included men. She complied, even though it meant quitting her job. Not long afterwards they ordered her to confine her free-lance personal appearances to religious subjects. And then they said she must confine her activities to religious venues. And then to religious venues where only women were in attendance. They made her smaller and smaller until she was practically invisible.
Whether in the context of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, this is how orthodoxy seems to work. The leader of a sect says X. His (It’s never a her!) competitor in the Holier-Than-Thou race says 2X. The rebuttal is 3X. And off they go, making the rules stricter and stricter and stricter.
This rush to ultra-orthodoxy seems also to be affecting the secular side of life. In politics, what does it mean to be conservative? Or liberal? Nothing seems to be enough. It is not enough that President Obama has walked an extremely difficult path to get the country on an even keel and keep it there in such roiled waters, that he managed to break the color barrier to the presidency, that gay marriage is now the law of the land, that 36 million more Americans now have health insurance… I could go on. Several of my liberal friends rail against him for not doing _______, fill in the blank with whatever their personal pet peeve happens to be.
It is not enough for the Republican Conservatives in Congress that John Boehner has given our Democratic President all kinds of hell to deal with and halted much of Obama’s progressive agenda. Boehner has not turned the country into a paradise for the right wing. He has therefore been branded as the enemy of the orthodoxists in his party and has been forced to step down.
It is not enough that Pope Francis has changed the conversation and sought to find common ground where none seemed to exist. He must be vilified because he has not jettisoned everything about the Church that some people happen to dislike. He is a “fraud” and a “hypocrite” because he has not taken that aircraft carrier he is steering and turned it on a dime in the direction they want it to go.
What I find astonishing in these people is not that they still have issues. I do too. It is not that they want to speak out on what they think is still needed. I do too. It is that they become outraged when they do not get their own way IMMEDIATELY. They seem to think they have a right to judge and DICTATE to the whole human race.
They want to be the head rabbi, the head imam, the head priest, the boss of the entire world and until they get their way, they declare an end to any form of civilized discourse. They never softly say I disagree. Shouting and name calling is their knee-jerk response.
A picture is worth a thousand words. I recently came across a photograph by a splendid artist that says all these nearly one thousand words in one image. His name is Boushra Almutawakel. And here is his instantaneous indictment of the evils of creeping orthodoxy. It is called Mother, Daughter, and Doll.
Annamaria - Monday