Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reflections on Religion

In a way, I'm surprised I haven't thought to tackle this issue before, and then I think about how little religion affects my life. The main reason I thought to write about this is because this past week I've spent some time on a site primarily for blacks and was reminded of how blacks, particularly when writing, mention God and/or religion all the time...and, to me, rather unnecessarily.

Aside from being black, religion should pop up in other inconvenient ways for me: sexuality, region and holidays. But, really, I've been pretty good at not having to deal with these issues. And I think it's because of the kind of people I stay away from. I don't live in the South anymore. I don't encounter religious people most of the time, because my experience has been that intellectuals tend not to be religious, except maybe if they're black. And most holidays I spend by myself, rather successfully ignoring and forgetting that it's a holiday.

I'm not religious and never have been. Frankly, I view blacks as people who pretend to be religious. I can hear someone saying that most "Christians" do. But blacks are special because it seems as if this applies to the majority of the race. Being religious is very much tied to black identity and even being from the South, by blacks...and apparently by others, as well, as one of the "Best...Posts...Ever" links to the right entitled "Describe a Prejudice..." includes Rachel, I believe, saying she assumes blacks are religious. But I'm not. In fact, I hate hearing about religion. I can't stand people mentioning God. This was so long before really understanding my sexual orientation (which, apparently, I still haven't done), so it has nothing to do with that.

My mother is one person I can point to for support that blacks pretend to be religious. She'll say the words sometimes and she'll have the narrowminded beliefs (i.e. having a problem with gays/homosexuality), but she doesn't really live as a Christian in any way and seemingly possesses more character pitfalls than the average person (i.e. controlling and overly-critical/judgmental of everyone, curses without hesitation, racist in private without hesitation or guilt, etc). This is how I perceive most blacks to be, except, unlike her, some of them go to church and their faults will differ. No one is fault-free, but as I said, I know better people who are not religious across the board.

When I was younger, she did go to church, though--we went to church. I always, always, always hated church. Everything about it--getting up at the crack of dawn every Sunday without fail, dressing up, sitting in church for hours listenening to screaming and yelling...oooh, and especially Sunday school. It was an all-day, every single Sunday event and I just could not understand the purpose. You have the Bible, which I still don't understand how any kid in their right mind is supposed to understand that thing. I remember trying to force myself to get into religion more in college and not being able to understand that thing then. I'm about to finish law school and probably still couldn't understand that book.

By college, it was really too late for me. I am a kid of science and logic. To me, education and religion are very incompatible. If I can't see it, I don't believe it. If you say it, I need to see evidence and proof. The reason why I think so many people in college and graduate school aren't religious is because school teaches you how to think totally differently than the church does. School teaches you to question everything, to support and backup everything you say, to poke holes in everything everyone else says, to follow formulas. I always perceived religion as being an area where you're supposed to just take everything you're being told. If God says this, you do it, you be it. That's not how people at my point in education are told to be; we're told to question. And I like being the way I am.

And when I was in college, trying to be religious while minoring in philosophy, I just couldn't help but agree with what some of those philosophers had to say about religion, God and man. I tend to believe man is the center. At the very least, I believe that if I achieved something, it was because of my efforts, not anything any God did, and that people who pray to God for help don't believe in their own strength or have enough faith in themselves (the latter idea coming from a philosopher, i.e. weak people use religion as a crutch--I believe this was Nietzsche).

Probably one reason I tried to be religious was because my mother has been trying to get me to be religious for years, even though, to me, she's not really religious herself. It's just that she believes in God, and she knows I don't...or more accurately, she thinks I don't when the truth is I just don't care whether or not God exists. As I said, my life is what I make it, so what does it matter if there is a God? That's how I think about it, when I think about it at all. My mother attempts to force her ideas on people, so she insists without question that one day I will become religious and believe in God, as if this is something everyone does and, clearly, God can anyone not see that? Very difficult to have a logical conversation with these people, because they can't use logic or evidence to support their beliefs, since religion is pretty much as I described it above vs education. When you make a logical point, they get exasperated and just repeat themselves or are like, (sigh) "Come on, you KNOW this is true." I have made my mother have to stop and think many times with a legitimate, logical question about what she believes. In general, my father is with me in terms of religion (the non-black parent and also a person more of science and logic).

Encountering Religious Blacks
It seems that every time I'm communicating with blacks via the internet/e-mail, they assume we're all religious or don't think about the fact that some of us aren't. I'm not the kind of person who complains about people forcing religion, or one religion, on everyone else. I know how people are; you can't make people stop talking about their religion. However, I reserve the right to ignore it, and I will tell some stories below about exercising that right, the last story being the most dramatic. First, internet stories:

My mother always sends me religious forwards. Always. And even knowing how I feel about religion. Especially if it's one of those forwards that you have to forward back to the person or otherwise, I ignore them. In fact, usually when I see that an e-mail is religious, I delete it. I made a black friend who does the same thing--sends religious forwards that you're supposed to send around. I never do, and I think to myself maybe she will get the message to stop sending those to me. But she hasn't. As I said, I don't say anything. She's also one of those people who when she talks about being thankful for anything, such as our friendship, or difficult experiences, she will mention God. I have another friend, black female, who does the same thing. I know a couple of white religious people--all from the high school days--and they don't do these things, so it's very interesting to me. Right now, my two best friends, white females, are both from religious families--one's father was a minister. All three of us are on the same page about religion.

One day, I met this black guy, at law school of all places, who assumed I went to church because I told him I was from the South. Throughout the conversation, the black guy basically did what blacks usually do to new blacks they meet--gave them the "black enough" exam. One by one, he assumed many things about me--including that my mother cooked "soul food" for my family growing up, to which I responded that my father cooks and not soul food--and, one by one, I let him know none of them applied to me.

Later that same semester, I believe it was, I was on the train heading to Chicago. It was Christmas time. Now, being agnostic, I decided it was inappropriate for me to, in any way, celebrate holidays, particularly ones that relate to God. I also have my convictions, so I made the conscious decision not to say things like "Merry Christmas" in response to people who say that to me. I might say "Happy Holidays," but usually not even that. Other than that, everyone else can do what they want, and I will ignore it; I'm not going to fight a battle over it.

But these two people--a black male and, in particular, a black female--were making it pretty damn hard to ignore. They were rowdy the whole ride to Chicago--basically a 5-hour ride. And another example of fake Christians??? These people were drunk, harassing others, cursing and going off, slapped a female, etc. Yes, on the Amtrak. Unfortunately, I was sitting right behind these people. The black male kept harassing me, wanting to know if I had Jay-Z--yep, Jay-Z, not the most holy music--on my mp3 player, where I was from, etc. The black lady seemed to have the "Christmas spirit," loudly singing Christmas songs and such. Now, on the train, people are supposed to be quietly in their own little world and leave others alone, but no can do. She tried and tried to force everyone on the train to sing Christmas songs and say "Merry Christmas"...and, eventually, became irate because others would not do so. Now, you know if I'm not going to say "Merry Christmas," I'm not going to sing Christmas songs...not that I really even know that many. My plan? I decided to pretend to sleep so she would leave me alone.

I guess it worked for me, but, unfortunately, it didn't work for the white female sitting across the isle from me. Now, this black lady harassed this white female the whole way to Chicago! This is one time when if a white person wants to complain about black-on-white racism, I will support them, HAHA. We're talking everything from, upon learning where the female was from, talking about how white people probably don't live there anymore because black people now do, to going off about how not all black people are from broken homes like white people seem to think we are, to slapping this girl repeatedly in order to wake her up for no real reason!!! And if I remember correctly, the slapping happened around the time this black lady was walking up and down the isle, having her tantrum, going off on everybody on the train because they didn't want to sing Christmas songs and say "Merry Christmas." The black male was nowhere near as bad as her, but he was her accomplice and, as I said, he was annoying me while the black lady was annoying the white female.

My point, other than to tell a funny story, is I didn't complain; she did. And I probably had more to complain about. See, people try to force their beliefs, their celebrations of God, on others whether they realize it or not. And, like I said, I normally don't have anything to say about that, even though it really irritates me even in the smallest manner, such as not being able to spend time on a black website without seeing post after post referencing God or talking about how blacks are messed up in part because they aren't into God, etc, like blacks used to be.

Blacks, Religion & Homosexuality
In addition, I can't go to these sites without reading something where a black person--ironically, often a black male--ranting and raving in long, unreadable (because they are horribly written, demonstrating ignorance in more ways than one) posts about blacks and homosexuality. I say it's ironic because 1) black males are notorious for being on the downlow, and 2) the majority of these posts talk about homosexuality and black women only, which is funny given that so many black men act as if they can't stand black women...apparently, it's a case of "I don't want her, but you can't have her, either." However, I have seen posts with black women going off, too, or agreeing with the black males. They don't talk about this without bringing up the Bible, of course. Very interesting was how one of these black men wrote a post, kicking it off with crap about the Bible, but the whole way through was referring to black women as "ho's."

This is one of the reasons why people, particularly blacks, being narrowminded towards anything related to me in a religious way doesn't bother me at all. People rarely illustrate narrowmindedness in an intelligent fashion. Seeing how stupid they are--with the incorrect grammar, run-on sentences, misspellings and contradictions, not to mention THE ANNOYING ALL-CAPS--gives me a level of satisfaction, not to mention smug superiority. Of course, a white gay person reading those messages would be crying and whining and calling GLAAD and the media.

I've realized that a lot of people question queer blacks who identify more with blacks than white queers, or, as they would see it, "choose" blacks over gays. And I definitely identify more with blacks and care more about racism/racial issues than homophobia/queer issues. I really could write a book as to why. It's all about 1) experiencing racism all my life vs pretty much never dealing with homophobia, 2) not having the same interests/issues as white queers, 3) not being accepted at all by white queers vs having some sort of acceptance by blacks, even if it's just their being nice to my face and disparaging behind my back or over the internet. I've started to see a difference, because there are some blacks who fit in with the gay community. To me, it's about how race-conscious you are. Whites want us all to forget everything else and just focus on our sexuality. Blacks who are better at, at least, presenting the perception that they generally can do this and/or think about black issues in a way that is very similar to that of naive whites can find a place for themselves among white queers. There are other blacks who have the same story as I do, or similar anyway in terms of fitting in, and many of them mention things like not feeling that we have the same issues and interests as white queers and racism.

As unaccepting as blacks can be, I've had it with not being accepted by whites. I know blacks well enough to know how to navigate their alienation in many ways. As I said, at least many blacks will pretend with you, or even genuinely like you as a person but adamantly have a problem with your being queer through their lack of understanding about where queerness comes from. Whites don't really bother; you're always in the room but aren't, with them. I also have realized that I simply don't understand white queer culture, nor do I relate to it...and I have no desire to. However, I do understand black heterosexuals, even the "religious" ones. When it comes down to it, I can say that I have more experiences in common with them than I do with white queers. And I can tell you the hows, the whys with blacks as far as the way they think/act, but can't do this with white queers. With blacks, I just have a bond that nothing they do can will break; this is not the case with anybody who is gay, mainly because it's not a culture/experience I've been immersed/thrown in my entire life as with race.