Sunday, October 24, 2010

Religious Activities Update

After the scandal of the adulterous priests which rocked the (protestant) church which I have found myself maneuvered into attending 15-20 times a year for the sake of various aspects of my children's development, the committee charged with selecting the new head priest evidently determined to hire the least exciting candidate that could be found. I have no doubt that the new reverend is exquisitely well-intentioned, and I should note that she has glorious credentials-- reading over the schools and seminaries she has been affiliated with and the positions she has held briefly provides the brain a jolt of the pleasurable imaginative agitation that her actual presence is incapable of inspiring--and certainly she has succeeded in fostering a nonconfrontational atmosphere, and I suppose a welcoming one, assuming one has the desire to be welcomed into an airless and tomblike community. Everybody besides me who I can find that is willing to offer an opinion on her however claims to think she is 'great'. Great at what? I wish the lady no ill-will, but if there is anyone I know for whom the modifier 'great' does not apply in any instance (including negative ones), it must be she. It has been explained to me that she does not like to preach. Why take up this line of work than? If you like the prestige of the position and what appears to me to be the healthy middle class--maybe even greater--income that comes with it, to my primitive mind the primary visible function of the holder of this position is to display spiritual leadership, to which end, other than a tireless Mother Teresa-like presence performing humble acts of charity, preaching is the most obvious vehicle. One can opine that modern congregations, particularly those holding a substantial number of the well-educated and well-heeled, do not require nor have any taste to be preached at on traditional moral and theological points; but it is still the minister's part in the charade to carry on somewhat as if they do, and to make an attempt at displaying leadership beyond what any stiff from the audience could carry out within the realm of the service. This is especially true if you are still going to exhort people with a straight face to give you money in terms of percentage of their income as if this were 1640 and the minister and the church represent the primary authority and institution in everyone's immediate life by a vast margin. It is almost comic. Jeremiah Wright has fifty times a more serious claim to being a religious leader than these Episcopalian ninnies.

You would think then that I must have been happy when this recent Sunday featured a guest sermon. But of course, I was not. The speaker was a lady, apparently a clergy member of some sort, who happened to be up from Haiti, where she operated a music school in addition to performing spiritual good works and whose sermon was in large part a report of the conditions there. What her connection was to the dust-dry church in Concord, NH or why she happened to be speaking there last weekend was not made clear to me. As is my wont, I took an immediate dislike to this admirable and compassionate servant of God. She was middle-aged, overweight and smug--yes, I know she has devoted her life to hard, real and significant work and recently survived an earthquake which collapsed the building she was working in and killed a hundred thousand people--love comes harder to me to feel as I get holder. She told us about the stoic Haitians singing hymns of praise to God while having their limbs amputated without anesthesia and stated out loud the question that the story already implied--whether we soft, trivial and spiritually undeveloped Americans could imagine ourselves showing such fortitude in a like event--which clumsy didacticism in speaking doubtless distracted me from the substance of her words. The answer to the question, for me of course is no, I would be crying and screaming and cursing and begging to die in the most disgraceful manner conceivable, which everyone knows already, so I probably resented having it asked out loud, as it were egregiously. My reaction then took on the character of muttering that if the Haitians are, as they seem to be, so spritually developed, and indeed, that they are culturally rich musically too, such that most knowledgable people are concerned that an increased exposure to Americans and their methods will destroy this richness and turn the beautiful-souled Haitians into generic, soulless, fat, inarticulate, imaginatively dead, etc--people rather like me and my children, in other words--then why are you there? The spiritual and cultural wasteland, we are always told, is middle-class whitebread America. It is we who need the ministry and the music school most desperately. The Haitians need doctors and engineers and economists and managers and perhaps math and science teachers, and maybe even a language arts/history teacher or so. But priests and music instructors would appear to be the two outside influences they least need.

Why, the hypothetical reader would be asking by now, am I sitting there so hateful and petty--for I admit that I was. Doubtless part of it was resentment at my own failure to make people turn to me for leadership, or to impart instruction or wisdom; part the sense that other people had figured out how to do substantial and interesting things with their lives and brains while I was tied down with a bunch of children and deteriorating in intellect more and more every week; doubtless a third part was that I was feeling a fat middle aged woman who had an obvious chip on her own shoulder had gained ascendance over me, or the generic type of me, and was in some degree revelling in it, while I had to sit there and take it. I knew even at the time that under the circumstances the response I was having was neither the mature nor the appropriate one. I admit I have still not sure what, in the ultimate sense, the object of the talk on Haiti really was--there was not any great pitch to donate money that I can recall, and these usually take on such a predominant character that I do remember them--but I have no good reason to automatically assume the basest motives merely because I operate that way myself. I need to let go of my need to be deeply respected, and looked to for leadership and instruction. No one has done this, and no one is going to do this, because the qualities which inspire this confidence and admiration in other people are not there. They failed to develop. I do not understand why they failed to develop so completely and spectacularly, and I would like to find out to some extent what different things I might have done because I do have 4 sons and I do not want them to find themselves in middle age in the unpleasant state of consciousness that I am in currently. For myself however the usefulness of the religious discipline may be in teaching me how to accept living in a condition of humility and worldly subordination to my better-trained and realized fellow citizens, which is the main struggle I have been dealing with for the past several years. I would do well to stop trying to impose my own dubious importance and insight onto both formal and informal settings, and listen to and follow the lead and good advices of others. Nietzsche of course was correct in asserting that the teachings and habits of religious life are primarily crutches for the feeble-minded, but none of these scientists and philosophers who have no use or need to learn humility in their own lives address the circumstance that denying the rituals of religion to the weak will not make them strong, it simply renders their position and state of existence even more inscrutable. It gives them no model to fall back on which holds out the possibility of dignity. I suppose the master and inferior strictly secular model can be conceived as a way to offer dignity to the inferior in the outstanding discharge of his particular function, but that entails a certain grandeur of attitude and vision on the part of the superior both to create and appreciate the role of the lesser, which is a level of cultivation and development that I do not think most contemporary superior people possess.

My current task is to cease craving and pretending to a status that I have not earned, and do not understand how to even go about earning.

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