Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy-Happy-Happy, all the time

I have a whole list of happy, uncontroversial posts running around in my head, and a few even on my list of I-Can't-Believe-I-Haven't-Posted-That-Yet items.

Instead, I'm thinking about how much we avoid talking about the negative in this culture, even when we're living in its midst.

* * *

I listened to a few minutes of a fantastic radio discussion yesterday--and I am currently downloading the program to my iPod for some listen-while-knitting "entertainment." On the show, one scholar suggested that atheism was an unacceptable idea because it defined by the negative rather than suggesting what one does believe (as secular humanism does).

I found myself highly troubled by this correction. For those of us who do not believe in God, it IS precisely this "negative" idea that is at the core of any effort to behave honestly.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not at all saying that real believers are dishonest. I am saying that when a person (read "Purloined herself") says she believes in God (or maybe even when she goes through rituals that imply belief?), even though she knows in her heart of hearts that she really doesn't believe--but that so-called belief is socially expected, or socially expedient, or reassuring--she is not living an honest life. It is not helping her become a better person.

It is when we force ourselves to confront the fog and the voids in our lives that there is the most potential to grow.

(Yes, well... I am still waiting for that growth personally--but I, um have faith that it is on its way one of these days.)

The fact that I believe in our duty to other humans and the earth, and in equality of all people, and more-or-less in the inherent goodness of our hearts (despite all the real-life complications in human hearts) makes me a humanist. That is all fine and good--in fact, those beliefs are a big part of who I am. Not surprisingly, I have been able to find other nonbelievers as well as many believers from a great number of religious traditions who all accept similar things and can work together for progressive change--even when we are not coming from the same underpinnings. It is essential that we find each other and work across religion in order to address issues--but that does not mean I have found my own tribe, my own sense of who I am and what I can be openly, when I am in those groups.

No--what really defines my beliefs about religion, about the people in my tribe, is the negative, the absence of God--not the belief in unity with-or-without God.

* * *

This desire not to say anything negative stems, I think, from the Disneyfication of our culture: a complete turning off of the critical mind.

Critical, of course, has two meanings: that you are being negative, and that you are being analytical. At heart, the definitions are linked; the ability to be analytical means you sometimes wind up in negative territory. THINKING can leave you in lots of nots.

* * *

I am part of the facilitation planning committee for a community visioning process. One person suggested that we ask groups to start out with a list of things they were seeking and a list of things they actively wanted to avoid. Very quickly, others jumped in that we did not need to ask for "avoids" and if anyone suggested one, we should help them reframe it as a positive. (Don't want things to harm the environment? Say we want to protect Mother Earth. Don't want jackhammers running at 7AM? Say you want to maintain peaceful mornings.)

All that is true: you can almost always cast the negative in reverse positive terms.

But WHY do we feel called upon to censure the language of avoidance? Why can't we embrace the negative sometimes, even "learn from our mistakes" as they used to say? Everything now has to be sanitized of anything that might suggest failures, complexity, sadness.

We are trading in the authentic for the romantic comedy version of our lives.

* * *

Yes--I wallow way too often in my own private underworld.

Sometime the demons get the better of me. Even when I make sure all the closet doors are firmly closed and the door to the basement is shut and locked, spray lavender on my pillow--the demons still seep out and enter the room.

When I deny they are there, that all is happy-happy, I am literally denying my own life. When we do it as a culture, we are shutting down our brains and losing our true selves to what is real and honest darkness.


CG said...

Reminds me of UNschooling. What do we do instead of schooling? We don't do ANYTHING instead of schooling. We don't do schooling!

Queers United said...

came across yur blog, leaving love

Susan (ZenKnit) said...

I think the "happy / positive" language is extreme sometimes. It is better to be honest. I see that as the energy of the words, and the context. One can be plenty positive and "up" using what other people can see as "negative" words. Gah!

Words get in the way....

Anyway, I totally agree with you.

pc crochets said...

Wow! My thoughts while reading this was my experience tonight - attending an atheist meetup, wearing an atheist shirt in a cafe surrounded by Baptists (cafe is in a building owned by a Baptist church). The glares from the other patrons was very uncomfortable for me. Because they DO see atheists as a negative. But I'm no more a demon than they are with their ugly looks. Still coming out of the closet gradually.

el said...

I think the happy-happy IS our culture. It's completely at the heart of why an absence of theism in a person is a threat to the greater culture: what, you don't WANT to believe in the happy-happy?

I'm not so sure negativity is quite the same thing. As a math problem, it's the there/not there issue. Not there (0) is not a negative. It's nothing. Neither one holds more value. Our culture, as you have said, expects us to believe in the there.

Let's face it, TPL, it's easier (politically expedient) to say there's something there. What's at the crux of the problem is neither those who think there is and those who think there isn't still deal with the same issue of negative thoughts, as you call them. Religion purports to answer that. But morality as you well know is not the sole purview of any one religious creed, or lack thereof.

SO I wouldn't say it's an atheist issue. It's our culture of headnodding nonthought that's the issue.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we got new terms... something that means critical thinking (as in using your brain) and something else that means thinking in criticisms.... then we could really see the difference, and quit being confused enough to stop thinking just because we've stopped sniping.

I'm perpetually trying to teach my kids that blaming doesn't solve the problem


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