Monthly Archives: November 2014

Honey Maid and another example of people being people

I have no opinion on Honey Maid’s product line whatsoever.  As far as I know, I’ve never eaten anything that comes from them at all.

Anyway.  I found a new blog, yesterday and, given that I’m hopelessly addicted to living through other people’s blogs, I started reading from the bottom.  When I reached this post, I stopped for a moment and was struck, once again, by how predictably awful a certain percentage (9.0909091% in this case) of society is, and thinks that it’s their job to tell others how badly they are getting it wrong.

In short, Honey Maid released a commercial that depicted some families that reflect the actual make-up of their target audience (Mainstream American society), rather than the traditional 50’s model of white mommy, white daddy and one or two perfectly-manicured white children who never throw cereal at their parents.  This commercial showed a family with two dads, a mixed-race family, and other families in non-50’s-commercial configurations.  It formed part of their #NotBroken campaign to reflect the true reality that 40% of US families are ‘blended’, ie. there has been some reconfiguration due to divorce and remarriage, or other things that means that there are step-parents, step-siblings, a lot of shuttling between multiple households, and so on.  The feedback they received from the whole campaign was overwhelmingly positive, offset by the usual bile from a certain slice of their audience (9.091%).  Instead of rolling over and chasing that percentage, they responded with this.  It’s a beautiful response to hatred and one I wish more people felt able to embrace.

This touches on a recurring theme that seems to be written through British and US (and others, I’m sure) society like the words through rock.  It’s the notion that religion is a good excuse to behave like warring tribes.  In spite of what that religion has to say about the way we treat others.  My brother-in-law, if you ask him in the right way, will admit to being a member of the Church of the First Stone Thrower.  It’s a joke religion set up by him and a couple of mates down the pub one night.  He’s actually a deeply caring man who would never throw the first stone.  Anyway, it’s a reference to Christianity, specifically from John 8 the story where Jesus is challenged by an indignant crowd who have grabbed hold of a woman, in the very act of committing adultery.  Quite what they were doing barging in on a couple engaged in coitus is another matter, as is the fact that the other party (it takes two to tango, after all) was left in his bed, unmolested.   The crowd drag this woman to Jesus and throw her down before him and try to trap him in the folds and creases of the Jewish Law.  The Law was quite clear on matters such as this: a woman guilty of adultery is to be thrown out of the city and stoned to death.  The Jewish authorities of the time were getting annoyed by Jesus’ constant series of challenges to their conduct and wanted to prove to everyone that his message was just as violent as their own.  Now, Jesus was not a man to be trapped easily, and he seems to have no great difficulty getting out of this one.  He doodles in the dust with his finger for a few moments before telling them “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Oooh, there’s a challenge.  He’s calling us to examine our own lives and admit that we might be in need of mercy before we go about denying that to others.

The usual reaction from the Christians I have debated this issue with is Jesus’ final line to the woman herself, which is “go, and sin no more.”  They use this as justification for pointing out that others’ actions are sinful and that they should stop.  Well, that’s one side of the coin, certainly.  To my mind, it is missing the thrust of the entire dialogue up to that point.  Across the Gospels, Jesus teaches over and over that we are not to judge others’ sinfulness: that is God’s job.  It is our job to teach that God is merciful and loves nothing more than to seek out the lost sheep, to care for the sick, to provide for the widow and the orphan.  Quite why so many people concentrate on what they perceive as sin in others is completely beyond me.

I truly believe that everyone would be better off (and religions would have a better image) if more people decided to concentrate on living their own lives well and less on pointing out how badly they think others are living theirs.

Another lie we tell ourselves, or why ignorance isn’t bliss

Ignorance is bliss, we tell ourselves.

This lie is right up there with Sticks and Stones, and has much in common with it.  The big lie here is that ignorance is only bliss until it is challenged.  Ignorance, the state of not knowing something, has an inherent blissfulness, inasmuch as you aren’t worrying about it.  That seems to be its only advantage.  The disadvantages soon stack up.  The problem with ignorance is that it has the habit of biting you on the bum and, like nearly all bum-bites, it isn’t particularly pleasant when it happens.

When we come face to face with a situation that we are completely unprepared for, survival instincts kick in.  The first thing that happens is a fear response, adrenaline, fight-or-flight, etc. you know the drill.  Now, a million years ago, this reaction to the unknown had significant survival advantages and those who reacted with fear lived to pass on their genes.  The Croods‘ motto was “Never not be afraid”.  This had served them well, and Mummy and Daddy Crood had survived to pass on their DNA to their children.

Now, in modern, Western society, one is not all that likely to run into a hungry tiger or be suddenly required to out-run an enraged hippo (you can’t, but that’s beside the point).  The fear/threat response is still strong with us, however.  As is often the case, Yoda has the measure of it, once we’ve taken the first step from ignorance into fear.

Ignorance leads to fear, for we are faced with an unexpected adversary that may well eat us, bite us, poison us, shoot us or, as is more likely these days, embarrass us.  Many of us, of course, would rather be eaten and/or shot at than be embarrassed in front of people we know.

Fear leads to anger, for we are upset that the situation has developed in a way that is causing us embarrassment.  We do not wish anyone to see that we lack knowledge in an area, and are angry with the person or situation that has exposed us.

Anger leads to hate, for we learn to hate the things that make us angry.

Hate leads to suffering, for we nurture hate at our peril.  The person we hate can go for days without our hatred affecting them, but we carry it with us every moment of every day.  There is suffering on both sides of this and, before long, we are waving light sabres around and cutting off people’s hands.

There is a variety of ways we can address our ignorance.  One way is to deploy humility and admit that there are things we don’t know and that, sometimes, we just need to learn stuff.  Learning new things is fun: it lowers stress, promotes brain plasticity and is a great way to meet new people and have new experiences.  The possibilities are endless.

Another popular way to deal with our own ignorance is to ignore it.  Denial is a powerful tool and is effectively and widely deployed by people in all sorts of situations.  As a rule, it’s not very healthy, but is so much less effort than learning and so much less embarrassing than admitting that you don’t know something.

Denial has friends in rumour, gossip, extrapolation and hearsay and, because we are talking about a primal fear response, it is nearly impossible to argue with rationally.  Any argument, or sentence, or even a single word, that might be perceived as not agreeing with the denier is perceived as an attack, and will be met with a swift, instinctive counter-attack as a simple survival mechanism.  Often, in such situations, the non-denier is forced either to attempt a kill or to withdraw,  neither option is particularly fulfilling.

Lori, over at Raising my Rainbow, has been having a time of it over the last couple of weeks.  Her son is gender-nonconforming, and she has been working as an advocate for him for a long time, and has taught me many of the things that I now know about children like CJ.  At her recent PTA meeting, however, there were a couple of parents who had been drinking deeply at the rumour-fountain and stockpiling hearsay, mostly concerning where CJ uses the toilet.  Their fear was expressed by their statement that they didn’t want a girl in the boys’ toilets, looking at their sons’ penises.  Their statement displays such a shocking failure to understand the concept of a door that I find myself spluttering and unable to form a counter-argument.  Charles Babbage summed it up more succinctly than I ever could.

Given that the children under discussion are seven years old, most arguments that could be deployed will end up prematurely sexualising the children.  This seems to be a very common theme when discussing young transgender and gender-nonconforming children.  People who have them have spent a long time learning about them.  People who do not have them fill in the blanks with rumour, hearsay and fear-stoked backlash.  The PTA meeting descended into a shouting match where a small number of parents stole the agenda and made sure that everyone got to listen to their diatribe of hatred aimed squarely at a seven year old child and his family.

Marlo Mack, the Gendermom, is facing similar attitudes daily.  Her child is transgender and, at age six, she is years away from spending time dwelling on sex.  She is a child, purely and simply.  Whatever she keeps in her pants is, frankly, nobody else’s concern.  That’s why they’re called private parts.  What she does with them, at this age, is empty her bladder.  In a room with a door.

The people who, in their ignorance, assume that small children behave in the same way as the worst adults that they can conceive deny personhood to those small children.  The people who think that a child should behave and/or dress in a specific way based on body parts that they never see do the same.  And, they spend far too much time thinking about other people’s children’s genitals.

And that’s creepy.

Colour me surprised: why the synod was better than I expected

The synod on the family has been and gone.  I find myself somewhat astonished.  I’ll admit that I hadn’t set my sights particularly high for this one, to the extent that I have mentioned to anyone who would listen that I thought that the only feasible result from a bunch of old celibate men sitting behind closed doors talking about the families they never had would be embarrassment all round.  I fully expected to be looking at the final synod document now shaking my head sadly and wondering what on earth they were drinking in there to come up with something so far removed from reality.

Having spent the last ten years being a parent, it is fairly obvious to me that the only way to discover what it is like being a parent is to be one.  There is no description or simulation that can even scratch the surface without falling under the UN’s definition of torture.  It’s a white-knuckle ride full of highs and lows, with hour after hour of monotonous grunt-work.  In the rare moment of peace, you look around you and wonder where your social life went.  It’s not that bad, really, you don’t get long enough to dwell on it before the next emergency needs to be dealt with.

The parents amongst you will recognise this, I am sure.  The challenge that the world’s Catholic bishops face is that they’re celibate and childless and, therefore, necessarily divorced from the central influence on most of their flocks’ lives.  One consequence of this is that some seem to espouse the view that parents should prefer their relationship with the church over their relationships with their children.  Cardinal Raymond Burke said more-or-less that (I won’t link, Google will provide) responding to a couple who were asked to address the bishops at the synod.  You see, it seems that they had the temerity to suggest that they would welcome their adult gay son into their home, with his partner, for Christmas dinner.  A Christmas dinner with din din dinnnnnnn!!!! grandchildren present.  Burke, true to his name, wouldn’t want to expose the children to the evil of homosexual sex.  Frankly, if my kids wanted to have sex during Christmas dinner, I’d ask them to get a room.  Beyond that, Burke is stepping outside even Catholic teaching on gayness.  To him, the very hint that two men (or two women) might love each other is simply a precursor to that horrible, nasty, non-procreative sex that they spend all day and night doing, in every room of the house, with as many people watching as possible.  Even the Catholic church says that treating someone harshly because they are gay is unacceptable.  I digress…

Back on the subject, the vast majority of parents I know would choose their children over any institution, and will do the very best they can by their kids.  When faced with the choice to accede to the demands of a heartless and faceless institution or to open their heart to their own children, parents, in their droves, choose the latter.  And the Burkes wonder why people are no longer listening to them.

So anyway, I was surprised by the fact that that particular couple spoke to 190 bishops about their open-hearted welcome of their own son into their Christmas celebration.  I was even more surprised by the reception they got.  Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Archbishop of Westminster, UK) reported that their words drew applause from the assembled holies.  The interim synod document, released after the first week of the gathering, had decidedly warm language towards gay people, and explicitly recognised the value to be found in long-term, loving same-sex relationships.

Cardinal Burke and the swathe of bishops in his camp worked quickly to ensure that such welcoming language was excised from the document before the final draft was published, of course.

The other point of departure from traditionally hard-nosed Catholic rhetoric was the language used to address people whose marriages have failed.  To some (indeed most), Jesus’ language appears unequivocal in his assertion that God joins a couple in marriage and that man cannot separate that bond.  Twenty centuries of hard reality later, we still find ourselves having to deal with marriages that have not worked, for many reasons.  Fortunately, we seem to be past forcing abused spouses to return to the homes in which they are abused, and we can understand that some marriages are literally life-threatening to partners and/or children.  What we, as a church, still have difficulties with is what happens next.  Officially, if a person flees a violent and abusive partner and finds someone much better suited who will love them and cherish them in the way God intended for married couples, then that person automatically bars themselves from receiving the sacraments, most notably Communion.  Murderers can take Communion, rapists, child molesters, thieves, estate agents, bankers and all of the other low-lives you can find: no problem.  Find someone who has fled a home in which their partner would regularly beat them until they bled and found someone who can love them, and they are barred.  The synod sought to find ways in which these people could be welcomed back to the sacraments, to put our money where our mouths are when we say that the Eucharist is food for the hungry and medicine for the sick, not a reward for the just.

That language got watered down too, but hey.  Pope Francis made sure that everyone got to see the good wording, and we also get to see what happened to it.

So I am surprised.  There are many places the church needs to grow up, and the synod on the family only grappled with a few of them, but I was genuinely impressed with how the bishops didn’t embarrass themselves too badly and, as a group, they came across much more sanely than I had predicted.

They now have 12 months to ponder the document before they meet again, in larger numbers, to come up with a final final document that the church can mull over for the next ten years.

I hope it will pleasantly surprise us again.