Posts Tagged ‘belonging’


August 21, 2012

OK, the title of this post is kind of a play on Mohsin Hamid’s “the Reluctant fundamentalist,” (smile) But, I am exploring fundamentalism (in the context of both christianity and Islam) and giving a picture and nonprofessional psychological theories). All of these opinions and theories are directly related to my own experience, but “might” be able to be applied to the experiences of others. I’d love to hear your opinions and thoughtt on the matter.
There are at least four main schools of thought in Suni Islam (I don’t know how many different schools are in shia’ Islam) and hundreds of different strands of christianity. All have different rules and Holy reasons to support their beliefs. I don’t know enough about the other religions to include them in this post, so I won’t.
what makes a person gravitate to a specific type of religion? All would pronounce that “God/ Allah” led them to this particular religion, but I believe that it is more complex than this. We are all looking for “something.” God/Allah gives us that “something” in the form of the religion that we choose. Many people, including me, go through phases and stages of fundamentalism to liberalism. I am not immune from this unsettling practice and will recount my own experiences later in this and other successive posts. but, I do think that there are certain characteristics that make fundamentalism (whether in christianity or Islam) attractive, just as there are characteristics of more liberal approaches to religion which are also very appealing. I am not naive or arrogant enough to think that I am the first who has wondered about such a thing. so, my first thought is to search the internet. I found psychological articles, but forgot DH’s password to our local library, so I can’t read them. (I hate my memory). Many of the books cited, however, either focus on Islam, Violence or Homosexuals in the context of Christianity. I have found two interesting titles that are yet to be translated into formats that I can readily access. the two titles are:
Religious Fundamentalism and Social Identity
By Peter Herriot
Published January 25th 2007 by Routledge – 144 pages
The psychology of religious fundamentalism
RW Hood, PC Hill, WP Williamson – 2005 –
If anyone has read them, please give your comments and opinions.
I am a rules person. I have always been. I put on my seatbelt regularly, don’t litter, won’t purposefully Jay-walk (sometimes my dog and/or myself have a problem with walking straight) and generally feel guilty when I do break a law, even if I find it a bit mundain. DH is not necessarily a rules person. If he can get away with not obeying them, he will. But, maybe this is dependent on the specific authoritarian. He finds American Government a bit ambiguous (as he probably does Pakistani Government) and tends not to follow rules, if he can do this without serious consequence to himself. He doesn’t disobey rules as a result of some philosophical or hunamistic epiphany. He disobeys when he feels they are not necessary. Yes, this does make him a bit arrogant. As if, he always knows the best or right thing to do and he will never suffer consequences from not obeying the rule. There are also parts of Islam that he finds difficult to follow. I won’t elaborate here, but sufficed to say, he is the last person that needs to adopt a strict fundamentalist approach. Stop! when I say that he might be adopting a “fundamentalist approach,” don’t call the FBI. This has nothing to do with violence or AntiAmerican sentaments. Yet, there certainly are more strict segments of Islam and he seems to gravitate to them. He is from the Suni School of Hanifi, and although I will elaborate about the schools of Islam — at least, touch on some of the differences and leave the rest to other more knowledgeable people in a later post; just know that Hanifis are pretty strict about some things: the role of women seems to be one of them. but, I’m jumping the gun a bit. Let me go back to my own understanding and experiences.
I understand this draw to a fundamentalistic approach, somewhat. when I was raising my children, (those Adult ones that I talk about occasionally), I admit, I was quite the fundamentalist. Let me elaborate.
*We would do devotion at least once a day — many times twice.
*When my children got into trouble, part of their punishment always required them to read, write or explain passages in the bible which supported my reasoning for the punishment.
*Only christian music (and only certain kinds of christian music because much of it sounded much too secular for me) was to be played on Sunday… … and only positive uplifting music for the rest of the week.
*No drinking, smoking, tattoos, substance use, piercings or tabacco use and limited contact with those who do because we wouldn’t want them to influence you.
*no premarrital sex, (which included any contact with certain private body parts and intimate kissing) and only group dating when you are teens(fifteen and up).
* no celebration of Halloween.
* no movies over PG rating soon turned into — no TV.
* no swearing or saying some words that aren’t actually swear words, but have negative connotations.
*dressing modestly meant not showing cleveage; nothing above midcalf (including splits); no spaghetti strap or bear shoulder and no too tight clothing.
*no working on sunday.
*eat healthy, which means limited sugar and preservatives.
*The Parent’s decision is the final one: while you might try a good debate, there is no questioning.
Those are the only ones that I can think of at the moment, but I am sure that my family would say that I was quite conservative. We attended a baptist church which affiliated itself with Southern Baptist, but in some circumstances, made every attempt to be as conservative as posible. It was only recently that the church had supported interracial marriage, yet, I know that many – most – of the members would (outwardly support interracial marriage — but wouldn’t want their child to engage in such a practice).
So, I ask myself, “what drew me to this conservative / fundamentalist lifestyle? (I’ll get to the “How did it effect your children?” and “why did I leave” questions later). I have always been drawn to the “simple” lifestyle. I rarely go shopping, don’t eat out much and am not very materialistic. I enjoy the simple things like spending time with family, card and board games and believe that relationships and communication is the key to a happy life. I wanted my children, above all, to have a good strong character. I did not want them to be caught up in the glammor and glitz of the world or think that dishonesty, deception or jealousy/envy were “just normal.” I was looking for simplicity and peace. (In fact, I continue to look for such things and even dabbled in quakerism to find it). I was looking for order, security and absolutes. Absolutes are a good way TO ACHIEVE stability. In a world of ambiguity and “shades of grey,” many people search for a solid foundation to stand on: one that does not waffle or crumble. and, I felt that I had to give this to my children, also. My life was chaotic, understandably so, after a breakup with my current husband and a move to a very small town where resources and transportation was limited. My children felt insecure. I was looking for a set of guidelines inwhich I could use to help myself and my children adjust. My own family was kind of fragmented on their support and was still dealing with the consequences of my children’s skin color. That is to say, they were still adjusting to public scrutiny and formulating their own opinions about my children’s racial and cultural heritage. surely, Jesus wouldn’t support racism or ableism or discrimination or socioeconomic preferences or…. … —
so, I looked to christianity — fundamentalist christianity for the answers. After all, God Loves everyone and if Love was the central foundation, how could we actually go wrong?? Familial peace and justice was the goal(nevermind that peace and justice have a difficult time coexisting, sometimes), success was an extra perk. You also find that the more fundamentalist a group is, the more close-knit they are. I longed for a close-knit family. It is natural to want to be a respected member of a community. You want to be “part of the whole.” with my own family being so fragmented, I wanted a family that I could count on; a family that shared my concerns and values; a family that really cared for the well being of my children; and a famly that respected me as an individual and benefitted from my contributions. I don’t think that I ever achieved my goal for “family,” and there are many contributors to these ends. to summarize, my disability, my political ideology, my views on social issues such as poverty and racism and communal hipocrasy were the most dominant factors.
Here was another problem. While I whole-heartedly supported those individual rules, especially those spoke about in the “Sermon on the Mount,” and those that advocated for justice and social equality; I didn’t realize that there was a hierarchy. In many christian circles, conservative politics trumps any other conservative values. For example: Let’s say that to negate materialism and support a simple and honest living, you limit the amount of things that you buy your children. You teach them to work for things they want. But, because you supremely believe in the ideology of capitalism, you don’t begrudge businesses from “doing whatever they must,” to make their money. Personally, you talk about giving and charity, but politically, you support cutting social programs. While “Jesus loves the little children,” the unspoken community mindset was that he must love some children more than others because racism was summarily ignored(unless it was perpetrated with malice and visible contempt), socioeconomic disparages were minimized and international concerns were met with either pity, apathy or an opportunity to convert. There might even be a time, as there was for my own daughter, where you (as in the entire community/ church family that I allowed to help raise my children), supported her decision to get on Birth control between the ages of fifteen and sixteen (the support was secret and without my knowledge), but, “you” outwardly and politically spoke out against teens having premaritral sex and “planned Parenthood.” You advocated for abstenance and scorned those who supported birth control, yet, privately, —- Well, — just this once!!!! You, the community, talked about those lazy welfare people and how the bible looks down on laziness. Yet, You would hire an affluent college student from a socioeconomic background similar to your own, as opposed to a person you supposed was “on welfare.” — and, that included myself. I could never find employment in that small town. This Hierarchy of values actually meant that those who were most accepted in the group were those who first and foremost, held similar political views. the values concerning individual living was largely left to the “individual.” I was looking for an “Acts” community. And, while I admit that no community is perfect, I found that noone really wanted to change, even if they saw where the Bible might mandate such a change. The other part of this reason is that “noone,” (at least as far as I know — with the exception of christ) has or will live the religion as purely as it has been defined in a Holy text. But, I found that many people were politically right wing, yet personally (and quite privately) they desired the exceptions that a more liberal approach would afford them. I also realized, much to my dismay that the more close knit a community seems to be, the more exclusive it also is. You can’t be “close” and “inclusive” at the same time because this “bond” relies on a shared value set — one that you would not have if you included most everyone. So, (although sometimes unspoken) there were definitely qualifications to be met for inclusion. And, at one time, I was willing to pay that price for belonging. For that time in my life, I was willing to sacrifice some of my own personal beliefs so that our family would be accepted in such a community.

peeling off the label

April 28, 2010

Anyone would tell you that I dislike labels for a plethora of reasons. I feel that they are constrictive, misleading and one way that we as a society limit and impersonalize people. Furthermore, rarely, can we escape the stigma of a bad one, yet we can easily be excluded from a supposedly positive label. While “blind,” might tell you that I am unable to see, it does not necessarily mean that I count my steps, am a good musician, feel faces of others to understand what they look like, am mentally incapable of understanding complex thought and/or wear sunglasses to hide my eyes. In fact, “Blind,” (unless one uses the adjective [totally]) does not mean that one has “no sight.” It means that one has less sight than the normal and probably due to this limitation has to make some modification in the way that they view the world. I know blind people who are able to drive in certain circumstances. So, for this reason, and many others, I find myself rejecting labels and the people that feel it necessary to use them.

Yet, I have a need to find a lable to describe my specific brand of christianity. I find myself searching for a label that will fit: not because I want a box to fit into, but because I want to find likeminded people to fit into the box with me. Sometimes, not having a specific label, means not having somewhere to belong. It means, not being able to proudly proclaim something and having others affirm you in your stance. Yes, the thing about labels is that many have been put into the category that you are placed into. It is easy to suggest that I create my own space and my own definition of what I am and what I believe. Yes, that is forward thinking and a good suggestion, as far as it goes. But, within that creation and definition, one stands alone and is many times misunderstood. What that suggestion is really saying is “Do your own thing and don’t be afraid to stand alone until someone else finds themselves in a similar situation and joins you — in which case, you will be creating your own label for you and others to fit into and inversely reject.” People don’t like a fluid concept of belonging. They feel much more comfortable understanding “who” belongs and “who does not. And, there are certain criteria for one to “belong” anywhere. I must be “blind,” to be integrated into the blind community. I must adhere to certain idiologies, if I am going to claim to support a specific political party. So, where does this new brand of faith leave me?

I have searched for a church from the time that I arrived in Indianapolis. Actually, the last thing that I did on my computer before I packed it up was to search for churches. One of the first things that I did when I arrived in this city was to start calling churches. Because of my interfaith connections, I had lots of questions to ask them about interfaith issues, as well as issues pertaining to disability, transportation, beliefs and so on. I left many messages. No church seemed to have a secretary and the ones that did, took a message and promised to give me a return call. The calls never came. An amazing thing is that Imran came down to see me one week later and found a Muslim taxi driver to drive him to my house for a small visit. He, with one call, found a Muslim man to help him, yet, my calling all week yielded nothing.

What is that saying?

I must admit to being a bit fearful of churches. Most are fundamentalist and know nothing about Islam and would certainly condemn me for dating a Muslim. It does not matter that there is other points of sin within the church that they do not deal with. And, who really cares, accept for the point that any mention of “Islam,” or “Muslim,” yields such a strong reaction that it is overkill. But, honestly, there is just too much for most people to accept. First, I am blind. Imran is blind. He is a Muslim. I have friends of many different cultures and am open to learning new languages, cultural customs, etc. I believe in the sanctity of life. I adhere to a more “socialist” brand of Christianity than most Americans are comfortable with. I need transportation to participate in worship and church functions. Oh, I am unemployed, so am not of the socioeconomic background that would allow me to lavish gifts of gratitude on those who assist me. That is more than enough for me not to fit into their religious community. So, I look online. And, I find myself trying to craft a new label for myself: one that adequately explains my spiritual beliefs and one that I can comfortably live by.

Check out my written articles and comment at:
“Bonds of the Heart should never be broken!”
“Dil kay rishton kay bandhan kabhi naheen tootnay chahiay hain!” — Urdu translation