Thursday, December 18, 2008

"I can operate as an intelligent free agent."

An older post [August 07] while i'm on a self-imposed sabbatical until the Inauguration.

That title line is on page 38 of the book, The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong. The rest of the book's title is, 'My climb out of darkness.' Armstrong became a Catholic nun but, after 7 years in the convent, she left the order. Her leaving was not smooth and she had physical problems emanating from the stressful stifling of her life as a nun.

That line, "I can operate as an intelligent free agent," The metaphor she uses to describe her life is of a Chinese woman whose feet are tightly bound, as was an ancient custom. She refers to her brain as being similarly bound tightly during her years in the convent. Then she says of the woman, "If the restraints had been removed too late and she would never walk normally again."

I think of children who are raised with their brains likewise bound by the overpowering belief system of their parents. Children who are not permitted to think beyond the imposed boundaries of their authoritarian parents. Often these 'beliefs' have been handed down from their parents and grandparents.

Easily coming to mind is racism, 'carefully taught' to one generation after the other. Ethnic hatred is another damnable, taught belief, which can be seen throughout the world. African and the Middle Eastern cultures are skilled agents of ethnic hatred.

I think also of those children who are indoctrinated in religious beliefs at a tender age. Author Karen Anderson entered the nunnery as a teen, taking with her all of the Catholic beliefs that were indoctrinated in her 12 years of Catholic school. Authoritarianism, we read in her story, was extreme, even for a church traditionally steeped in top-down mandates.

And so she utters the words of freedom as she exits the convent. Freedom to think, at long last. Freedom to make up her own mind about that 'faith' that engulfed her and nearly drowned her. My own faith story is much like hers, having grown up in a house where religiosity ruled the roost. I nearly drowned too.

My mind could never get around those bible stories I was fed; something seemed odd about it all. Naturally, I could never articulate my confusion because, after all, 'God wrote it.' Then there was the Jesus story with all of the magic, especially at the beginning and end of the story. Was Jesus human or divine? Whose chromosomes made up the other 23, I wondered in high school when I learned the biology of the fertilization of the egg. How could a 'super-man' be an example to we humans? So many questions and no room for answers.

I think about one family I know who are evangelical Christians with 4 children. The Bible rules in that family and weekly Wednesday bible class was mandatory. Now some are off to college where they will meet others of different faith traditions, or no faith at all. How will they cope with it all? Will their brains remain bound tightly like the feet of the Chinese woman? Or will the bandage be ripped off by new insights, new ways of thinking?

Those events may not be pleasant and the child may begin to think that, for all of those years, they were fed a load of nonsense, passed on from generation to generation. Hopefully, there will be no resultant emotional damage through the process. Yet, I wouldn't doubt that there will be many permanent emotional scars.

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