I've been thinking a lot about religion lately. Some of that stems from my recent spate of political discussions -- religion is inextricable entwined in contemporary American politics, in some very unpleasant ways. Some that stems from the fact that both Mainspring
have fairly strong religious dimensions to them. Stemwinder
asks a lot more questions than Mainspring
, but both novels are set in a fantasy environment where the literal reality of divine creation is unmistakeable, something that runs pretty much directly counter to the available empirical evidence in our world for divine creation (zilch) and to my personal beliefs on that subject (to misquote one of my characters, "arrant wish fulfilment").
There's a cognitive dissonance going on here, though. I'm thinking on three levels.
First is my personal, internal worldview. I am deeply suspicious of the religious impulse, and doubtful of public expressions of piety. My negative reactions to religion descend to the level of prejudice, sadly, which is something I have to carefully ward against. My reasons for this are complex. For one, a severe overdose of hardcore evangelical Christianity in early childhood, followed by some years in missionary schools overseas. When I finally developed critical thinking skills, my initial reaction was big giant "WTF? They were brainwashing
To continue this theme, coming of age politically and societally during the Reagan years in Texas meant enduring the endless smug triumphalism of the Moral Majority and its various successors, which would pretty much sicken any thoughtful person who wasn't already bought into the agenda. I missed the Civil Rights era, for example, where churches and their leaders played a huge role in advancing progressive causes -- during my adult life the pulpit has almost exclusive stood for regressive politics of various sorts. I realize the Christian left has not vanished from this earth, but you'd be hard pressed to notice that in the general public discourse since about 1980.
A final note on my personal worldview is that I've been exposed to far too much messaging, especially from evangelical quarters, that seems to equate religious belief with an abdication or evasion of personal responsibility. "Give your life over to Jesus" sounds to me like an excuse not to have to deal with the tough parts of being an adult, a citizen and a moral actor.
Now, my second level of thinking is wrapped my political beliefs. That's where I overcome my reflexive atheism to say, and firmly believe, in freedom of worship. Just because I have rejected organized, formal spirituality doesn't mean I think it should be barred to others. Freedom of thought includes ideas not popular with me personally -- to claim otherwise would be rankest hypocrisy on my part. Where I get bent, badly, is when this same freedom of thought, and freedom of belief, is not extended back
I've put this political belief in action in some very specific ways. One thing Mother of the Child and I spent a lot of time on when were in the process of that the_child
was the question of spirituality. I didn't feel like it was appropriate for me to deny the_child
a spiritual life simply because I'd rejected that part of my existence. We considered a number of angles, including Unitarianism, low church Espicopalianism and Reform Judaism, before settling on a Buddhist temple for her to attend. It seemed culturally appropriate to the_child
's ethnic background, and didn't give me heartburn over the sorts of messaging she would receive at temple.
I like to think I put my money where my mouth is, and offered my daughter freedom to worship, or not, as she pleased, without co-opting her decision. I expect you can see the cognitive dissonance here already, though.
My third level of thinking is fictional. I write about religion a lot. Sometimes sympathetically, sometimes not. One of my most explicitly religious stories ever is "Jack's House
", and it's also one of my favorite short stories ever to see print. (Well, maybe "Jesus and the Cowboys" is more explicit, but it's not available online.) Gods feature pretty heavily in Trial of Flowers
, though more as actors in the story than as spiritual elements analogous to our contemporary American concepts of divinity.Mainspring
, however, deal with this a lot more directly. I don't normally feel moved to analyze my own fiction -- as many of you know, I firmly believe stories belong to the reader, not the writer -- but I'm really playing hard with ideas about how one should believe, what one should believe, and what that means to life. The assumptions aren't questioned in Mainspring
, rather, they simply inform the story. I'm asking a lot of questions in Stemwinder
. None of the answers conform to my personal views, not in any direct way. I'm granting my characters, and my world, the integrity of their beliefs, then working within that structure. Just a bit more cognitive dissonance for the old noggin.
No great point, really -- I just felt moved to comment on the multi-layered structure of my recent thought processes in this regard.