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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.