Saturday, June 7, 2008

Fables from the Book of Child-Interpretations 2.


Most of us shake our heads in dismay at the thought of pre-arranged marriages. We reject the thought of a cold convention planned and executed through negotiated dowries, while rejecting as utterly frivolous the delightful components of amorous romance.

How unfair the chilly mandate that deadens the electrocuting jolt of the connection of two individuals sparked by nothing more than a look, or a deliberate brush of a hand. Pre-arranged marriages, like lightning rods, ‘ground’ dynamic events that should be the birthright of all spiritual and fervent species.

But this rant is not about pre-arranged marriages although such discussion certainly sets the context. This rant is about pre-arranged religion.

Now no one could be more fanatical about religion than my mother was. Fanatical to the extent that as a child and even as a teen, I could not cut my hair, shave my armpits, wear slacks, earrings, make-up, or sleeveless blouses. And I was strongly discouraged from attending ball games or community sports events on the Sabbath.

At the time I thought it was all so bloody unfair and utterly ridiculous. But, now in retrospect I see a very important part of the bigger picture that brings fairness and justice into this equation that I could not see when in the midst of it. Despite all of these house rules and regulations, I cannot claim that I was forced into a pre-arranged religion.

Amidst all those standards I have listed (that I sometimes disobeyed, but in doing so endured such painful guilt), I was still quite inexplicably encouraged to read conflicting publications from other churches, and in our bookshelf, there were many. And in addition to that, I was never prevented from attending other churches with opposing views. Of course I attended church often enough there was little risk of that ever happening. But still, my mother poured over the doctrine and beliefs of other denominations and never discouraged me from doing the same.

Her belief was in a loving and merciful god. Perhaps that is why she sneered at the thought of signing any church-covenant or formal agreement stating her responsibility, or my obligation, to forever be a member of any particular doctrine. And, as peculiar as it is, although she shunned me when I wore lipstick, or dressed immodestly, at no time did she instill the slightest fear in my mind of shunning or divorcing herself from me because of loss of faith.

She saw no reason to sign a contract and she saw no reason to baptize me at birth prior to me having reached an age of understanding. And even later, when I eventually reached the age of understanding, it was completely left up to my own discretion.

So I revel now in the conflicts that I see in her forceful demands that I should dress modestly, but no such force applied to shutting my mind down to spiritual questioning. It seems to me in retrospect that she seemed to think that if she fed me overly large portions of spiritual fodder until my spiritual appetite reached a point of nauseous obesity, the desire for more would be completely eradicated.

And in addition to that, I believe she saw no risk. No risk because she absolutely believed, as her Bible said, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22: 6)

Isn’t that a lovely, fair, generous and comforting thought for a concerned parent? A Biblical promise that it is okay to allow youths to pursue their own paths and exercise their own independence even to the point of wandering way off course in the interim between youth and old age. With dutiful childhood teaching, it’s not a crisis. In fact, it’s of little matter, because in the end all will be well.

And so now, returning to my original thoughts, as disturbing as it is to contemplate the coldness of pre-arranged marriages, I think pre-arranged religion is equally discomfiting. When spiritual beliefs are dictated or covenanted before the age of understanding, religion becomes a stiff convention that ignores and grounds the thrilling electrifying jolt that transports souls to a higher realm, warms the soul with true sincerity, and allows the dignity of freedom of choice.

I am eternally grateful to my mother for having irrational zeal and perfect wisdom.


Kate said...

This well-written (as usual) post cries out for a comment but I haven't known how to phrase one. Because I'm a little confused. Your main theme seems to me to be contradictory. I would interpret the passage from Proverbs as meaning "do train up a child in (whatever, presumably a religion)and he will not depart from it." As much as I can admire your mother's liberalness in your spiritual explorations--because you were able to read about other religions and attend other churches if you chose, you mention very little spiritual guidance from her except to be modest in clothing and behavior. What about some deeper things like the ten commandments, love of neighbor, etc.?

I feel that if a child is not brought up in a certain religion or any religion for that matter, when she is grown it is very problematical she will be drawn into organized religion. (Unless there's a sudden revelatory conversion.) That's why we teach children in school about temporal things--reading, writing and 'rithmatic.

Perhaps I'm not interpreting your meaning in this correctly. If so, I'm eager to be corrected.

Roberta S said...

kate, you are absolutely right. I guess I ignored mentioning Bible stories because I have so often mentioned it in previous blogs. Oh yes, truth, forgiveness, belief in God -- all those things were heavily stressed. But I was never requested to pray in my mother's presence, participate in rituals, or recite lessons to prove they had been learned. So in the end, the thing that amazes me, the thing that prompted this rant, was how this all pretty much came to a halt in my teen years. Of course, the fact of the matter might be that I became more stubborn and difficult than I remember being and so at that stage my mother couldn't see much benefit in nagging about stuff we had already been over thousands of times before.