Wednesday, November 11, 2009

...What Just Happened Here?

Ladies, I apologize. For one, I failed to post last Thursday (due to technical difficulties that have since been happily resolved). Second, this post will not be a top ten list. Third, I'm about to get all somber and spiritual on you. Sorry.

When this post was first inspired, I was standing on Elgin street in a huge throng of people. I toyed with the idea of working it into a list-form, but it just didn't seem appropriate. And after yesterday's post, I think our Rememberance Day coverage is pretty much complete. But there was one thing that I couldn't help but to write about. Its not the kind of thing I'd usually opt for, but here goes.

If you've never experienced Rememberance Day in Ottawa, I'll give you a quick run-down. A memorial is held at the foot our beautiful Cenotaph, starting just before 11am. Elgin street, a pretty arterial downtown route, is closed off and hundreds of people gather in the streets, right up to the edges of the barricades. It draws an impressive crowd, especially for Ottawa.

There are appearances by the likes of the Prime Minister, the Governor General, and yesterday even Charles and Camilla showed up. There are words of gratitude and praise spoken, prayers led, commemorative music is played by a marching band and sung by a children's choir. There is a parade of soldiers, sailors, pilots, all representing the people that are still today pledging their service to our country, like all those of the past whom we gather there to honour every year.

The air is always thick with reverence. The normally bustling intersection is quiet, despite actually hosting hundreds more people than usual. It's silent. Not in a creepy way - in a peaceful way. Everyone is gathered for the same reason: to remember. Listening to the silence of all those people is like listening to someone remembering. And we were all remembering the same things today. This is pretty much when it happened.

I was standing there, and I started to feel very strange. I'm not one for crowds, but I felt comforted standing there. Seeing all these people coming together for a common reason, one that unites all of us living in Canada today. It was magical. Ok, maybe "magical" is a stretch, but it was something. My first instinct was "Oh my God. It IS God. God is here. I can feel him." Think Pam at the Dundies.

The only thing is, I'm not really sure I believe in God. I was raised Presbyterian; my Dad took my sisters and me to church every second Sunday. But the more I learned about religion, the less I wanted to follow it. For a long time, I've considered myself agnostic. I like to believe that there is something out there looking out for me, but probably for the same reason people follow religion in the first place. It helps us sleep at night.

But, being a woman, its easy to resent religion of almost any kind. Most of them got their hands pretty dirty over the years; religion has played a HUGE role in the oppression of women for a long, long time (witch hunt, anyone?). I'm not here to point fingers in any way, but it's interesting that (as far as the western world is concerned) as religion has become less and less an accepted part of the fundaments of society, women's rights, status and credibility as valuable citizens has skyrocketed. Just in the past century alone. Obviously, one trend is in no way solely due to another, but it makes you wonder. As far as religion goes (aside from some of the most beautiful contributions of music, art and literature the world has ever seen) I generally would leave it sooner than take it. Which is why having these moments is weird for me.

I won't try to describe it. The only thing I can compare it to is a moment of enlightenment combined with utter calm. All those people. The heavy silence. The pain of the inevitable empathy. The shame that we only take one day a year to remember the people that died fighting in our name. These things really get to me, every year. But this year was different, or maybe just more intense. "Emotional" doesn't seem like quite the right word, but I can't think of a better one.

So here's the rub: is it possible to inherently believe in something without consciously acknowledging it? After all, I wasn't thinking "I can feel this mysterious, unknown presence amidst all these people!" I was thinking "That is most definitely God." The same Presbyterian God I grew up with. Despite all the despicable things religion is held directly accountable for, things I've learned slowly but surely over the years (and still am learning), it seems that deep down I am still willing to believe in the same religious God I was raised with.

It makes you wonder how many of your conscious ideals actually reflect what you truly believe.



  1. I don't know; I honestly don't think it's been religion that's been holding women back. Or, not all religion, anyways. I don't want to seem anti-Christian because I have met some lovely people, but it's been twisted to justify some ugly, ugly things.

    I'm...spiritual? religious? but I'm also a polytheistic pagan. So. I see no conflict there. My parents aren't really religious but I went to church with my grandparents, who are Mormon, until I was about 10-12 or so, when it stopped making sense to me. I remember asking my grandma if God was heavenly father, then was Mother Nature the heavenly mother? haha. Not a big surprise I ended up where I am now!

  2. pleh!
    ..I have SO many thoughts to share on the interconnectedness between religion (mainly Christianity, is that is the one I am probably most familiar with) and women's rights....but SO many papers to write today, and thus SO little time to actually think about what I want to post here in response. Bear with me.

    Christianity has definitely been used as a means of justifying some ugly things....i.e. "women should be silent" or "women can't be in leadership"...... but I think it is important to remember that there is difference between the actions of people who act "in the name of God" and the values and beliefs of God, and the (dareIsay) "actual" teachings of Christianity. I can't believe in a God who would proclaim that I, as a women, am not of equal value to a man. (I DO believe in God....)

    I haven't thought MUCH about this, but at first instinct at least I am inclined to think that it is not linked to a removal from religion, but from a better understanding of religion (---again, out of my limitations, I speak mainly of Christianity).........I think there are lots of people who continue to immensely misinterpret the core beliefs of Christianity, but I think that we must also remember that there is being a lot of focus on "better interpreting" the Christian bible.....leading to conclusions that immensely support women's rights.

    I can definitely say that for me personally, it is not through a withdrawal from religion, but from a new-found renewal of religion that I have come to better appreciate myself and my rights as a woman.

    ...More thoughts on this later?? Perhaps.

    (Please ask me if you want to know anything more specific or I said, I have LOTS of thoughts on this. It is a passionate topic for me; let's talk.)

  3. Also, I just wanted to toss out there that as a non-Christian who is religious, it's not cool that people use the word "religion" to mean Christianity. I almost wrote a post on Christian privilege, actually, and put it up in the Feministing community...but I didn't want to get flamed, so I didn't.

  4. flamed?
    Christian privilege?

    Michelle I wish I understood what you are saying better but I don't think I do. it might be the paper overload, perhaps. Re-explain? I love your thoughts so would love to understand this one! :)

    - Nadya

  5. I didn't mean to use Christianity as a representative for religious generalizations! Like Nadya, its just because that's the only substantial first-hand experience I have with any religion, so I have a better understanding of Christianity than other religions. I apologize if I offended anyone! And I agree with Nadya about people misinterpreting its teachings, and absolutely believe that if people actually followed the Bible, Christianity would pretty much work like a dream. The only negative feelings I have toward religion in general are surrounding the insane corruption so many religions have been susceptible to over time.

  6. Nadya -

    Christian privilege is prevalent in our society (much like white privilege, able-bodied privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, etc.) ; the post that made me want to write something about it was one that talked about a Feministing writer going to a church and having a positive experience. It was bombarded with comments by people who said things like "I'm so glad to see this! Feministing is always so mean to religion!" (when Feministing never even posts about any other religion except fundamentalist Christianity. Hence my comment about "religion" =/= Christianity). One person even claimed that being a Christian among a group of progressives was akin to being transgender in today's society. Which, you know, kind of pissed me off. A lot.

    I was going to write a post about unpacking Christian privilege, with some of the things that people don't even think about until they've either had it pointed out to them, or they've been on the other side of the fence. (Much like all privilege works.) I don't know where I saved the list, but offhand here's a couple of things:

    -Christians can wear symbols of their faith without having to worry about backlash or harassment.
    -Christians already get most or all of their sacred days off of work; and if they did need it off work, it probably wouldn't be considered an issue. Try requesting Halloween off for religious reasons while living in the Bible Belt & see what happens.
    -When fundamentalist/crazy/"out there" Christians are represented in the media, most people know and understand that those are not the majority of Christians. The same is unfortunately not true for Wiccans or other pagans.
    -Christians can generally speak about their religion in public without being laughed at or harassed to convert.
    -Chances are, Christians can find likeminded people and have a built in support group no matter where they're living. (Obviously, that'll vary, a progressive Christian probably won't feel at home in a southern Baptist church. But in general.)
    -and to clarify on what I said earlier, if you say you're religious, people automatically assume that that means Christian.

    There have been cases of people being harassed, losing their jobs, beaten, and driven out of communities for not being Christian. As the majority religion in America, I think being a Christian definitely comes with some privilege. And as someone who has lived in a rural area in the Bible Belt while being not Christian, I can tell you it's not a picnic.

    Oh and by flamed, I meant have people be upset with me, insult me, etc. I like reading Feministing but some of the commenters there need to, if you'll excuse my phrasing, pull the stick out of their ass before posting! I just didn't feel like having to justify my point over and over again, and I'm afraid that's what would happen if I did write such a post at that community.

    I wasn't angry at anyone, I just thought I'd point it out - like I said, most people don't think about it until they've been on the other side of the fence.

  7. Interesting post. I think people of all political and theological persuasions should constantly critique and challenge their values.

    I'd say God was challenging you to do so. Or it was just collective effervescence. Or both.

  8. hello, i dont mean to shove my beleifs down anyones throats so im just going to talk about the history of organized christianity breifly. Avonlea mentioned it has been used in the past to discriminate women. While the witchhunts were a notable example of such a thing, they were motivated mostly by power politics. A man names Kramer published the malieus malificarum (witches hammer) under the name of a more successful man (Springer - without his permission!) and this text was picked up more after all the major marginalized-population-especially-pagans-burning was done (used alot in salem, thats why we know about it!) the witch hunts were motivated mmore by the elites of the time, and less of the religious community. I'm not seperating responsibility here, but im just saying there were two official church positions that kept switching up: Pagans are wrong, magic doesnt exist, if we burn pagans for witchcraft we are aknowledging their existence and thats silly; and Pagans are evil, magic does exist, humans cant use spiritual powers on their own, they have to go to church to do that, so we should burn them. Both these perspectives were used by the church depending on time, location and political air. Mostly, it was whichever perspective most benefited the elites, which then trickled down to the lower, less educated classes and resulting in a moral panic and very extreme actions. Ironically, if you were a woman in that time, you would be better off getting tried by the inquisition, who doubted the existence of witches, than an ad hoc tribunal of your fellow townspeople (who were mostly uneducated, and very very afraid).

  9. next, I want to talk a bit about jesus so you will take me seriously when i say my next bit. Jesus was a good guy - if you tend to beleive he existed. He preached to marginalized groups (the sick, prostitutes, you name it, he loved them!) and in some earlier and alternative texts, he included them in spirituality - for example, the story of Paul and Thecla (if your super familiar with biblical things).
    The problem is with the "cannon" put together 200 years after jesus died though. "Cannon" means the group of texts that the powers that were thought were necessary to guide people to be christian. There are three kinds of texts: Orthodox, Heterodox, and Heretic. Orthodox texts are considered to be true, and that usually means they were written at the time they claim to be, likely by the person who they claim to be written by (an example: the letters of Paul). Heterodox texts have been proven not to be 100% true (not written at the stated time, etc) but still carry a good message (according to christians) and Heretic texts are considered by the men who crated the biblical cannon as RIGHT OUT and not to be looked at. One of the major motivations driving the selection of these documents to be included in the biblical cannon was the goal of evangelism, mostly turning pagans. Pagan religion was (and still is) female oriented - or at least female inclusive. Women could participate in any religious practice, sexuality was not controlled by outside sources, and women were respected and powerful. If you look at the pauline letters to the Corinthians, a group of Pagans who were converted but sort of developed their own syncretic religion, you can see how Paul takes dramatic sexist measures to get them following orders from the central powers in Rome: telling women to cover their heads, etc.
    This is clearly a result of Power politics, I dont think anyone beleives that Jesus hated women or thought less of them. But if you are going to claim to beleive that Jesus lived and was the son of god, give him a little credit. Understand that the text telling his story has its own unique history, and just because its got a really really amazing protagonist, doesnt make that history any less contested. It isnt bad to take the time to understand the background of your beleifs before you start preaching them. I recomend "The Less Noble Sex" by Nancy Tuana and "Women & Gender in the Western Past (Vol. 1)" by Katherine French and Allyson Poska. These books have helped me see clearly the great things christianity is rooted in, and understand the contested history.
    also, on the topic of Christian Privledge, you should definitely read "White Priveledge and Male Privledge" by Peggy McIntosh to understand the complexities of subordination.

    As a feminist, im sure you are interested in understanding both sides of an issue so please dont take this the wrong way. Think about socrates "All i know is that i know nothing". He beleived in strengthening his beleifs by challenging them.