Dividing by zero
More often than not, inferences about my life can be drawn from what I do not write about here on domesticat as well as what I do write about. Since beginning this weblog-turned-journal-turned-something-else-entirely a while back, there have been events in my life that I have not written about here.
Each time, the choice to withhold has been a deliberate one, made after much thought. I've come to grips with the fact that my life is, to some small degree, on display here—but that's for another story, another night. Tonight I'm tipping into the wider half of a bottle of Chardonnay, left unfinished from a night that we had friends over, and trying to dredge up a bit of bravery.
Tonight I can make one of two choices, and what you don't see is the length of time between each sentence, each paragraph, each line of thought. I can do one of two things—tell you about what is really going on in my life, be honest, be a bit self-critical. Or I can shut it all off and throw another five-minute here-are-the-updates post, sign off for the night, and go curl up on the guest bed with the cats and write for a couple of hours.
The fact that you've read this far tells you what my decision was.
I think the word "fight" is the right one here. I am fighting with a friend—a friend whom I know was a regular reader this site, but I do not know if he is one now. A quick dip into my server logs would tell me the answer, but I would rather not know.
We are fighting about religions, his and mine, and currently I am at a loss as to how we can find a way to continue our friendship as it stands…stood…stands. I do not know which is the correct word choice.
We stand probably as far apart on religious ground as is humanly possible. He is a staunch Christian, firm in his faith—in fact, he plans to enter the ministry and make that his life's work.
Words, since I was a child, have been my talisman, my power, my defense, my love—but until I was twenty-one, not once did I have the courage to put these words together in a sentence: "I am not Christian."
Despite protestations to the contrary that there is religious tolerance in the American South, I can tell you firsthand of the subtle ostracism that comes from being on the outside of the One Accepted Religion in the Bible Belt.
While I was growing up, the question "What's your religion?" didn't inspire answers like Buddhist, Muslim, agnostic, or atheist. The 'correct' answers were Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, or sometimes Presbyterian. To be a non-Christian was to be something of a non-entity (after all, what did 'they' do on Sundays when everyone else was in church being good? did they go sacrifice cats to the heathen gods or something?).
My formative years had a recurring, secretive theme that I revealed to no one: "Why do I not believe what everyone around me believes? Why am I different?" I grew touchy about it. I grew very skilled at dodging questions: being asked "What church do you attend?" always received the answer, "I grew up going to a Methodist church." Very few people catch that my answer is a non-answer, and go away assuming that I am a member of churchgoing society and, thus, leave me alone, in peace.
Many years ago I made a decision to be quiet about what I believed. Partly out of spite: Fine, let them judge me by my actions, and they'll think me to be a fine-upstanding-Christian because I do the good things they're expected to do and believe that (only?) good Christians do. Partly out of desire to be left alone: If they don't know, they'll stop this endless evangelization-to-the-unsaved…do they ALL think this is the first time I've heard any of this? Partly out of desire to not ruffle matters with Jeff's family, whom I care deeply about.
Being a minority of one on the issue of religion in the American South often leads to two things. First: tolerance of all religious beliefs in the hope that someday your own would be not just tolerated with rolled eyes, but actually accepted. Second: oversensitivity to Christian dogma toward unbelievers.
So when this friend told me that he felt that he might have to extricate himself from my group of friends (who are a mixture of Christian, pagan, undecided, and atheist) because they were not Christian (and thus not conducive to his spiritual growth), I got mad. I cannot think of a time in recent memory that I have been angrier—and angry is not a word I use to describe myself with very often.
Somewhere close to a quarter-century of being sick of having to hide what I truly am came out. My choice of wording was as bad as his: I told him, essentially, that if he looked at the non-Christians in our group of friends as second-class citizens, and that if we weren't good enough to spend his precious time with, that he could feel free to let the door smack him on the ass on the way out.
Our beliefs seem to have no middle ground. His beliefs tell him that anyone who does not believe what he believes is wrong; ergo sum, I am wrong. My beliefs tell me that the path to wisdom and inner peace is different for each person, and that each path is a valid one; ergo sum, his belief that his path is the only correct one is wrong.
Reasoning seems to be futile. He said to me yesterday: "But Christ also, after He got to know someone, either demanded that you were for Him or against Him."
How does a non-Christian respond to this? It is analogous to asking me the question, "What is three plus four—and please answer with only a yes or a no." My heart and mind tell me the answer is neither yes nor no, but "seven," but that to him, my answer is as illegal and logically unacceptable as dividing by zero. So we stand at stalemate, each avoiding the other and, probably, gathering our thoughts for the next round. He still thinks I'm wrong, and I'm still stuck with two contradictory beliefs.
Belief number one: that I should support my friends in whatever faith or belief system brings them wisdom, peace, and fulfillment.
Belief number two: I should be allowed to do the same. The problem is that his beliefs say that mine are wrong, and imply that I am less of a person because of holding them.
I cannot accept that, and I do not want to lose his friendship, but I am at a complete and utter loss to find a way to make this work. In the meantime, my multi-year spiritual crisis continues. While taking out the trash this morning I muttered to myself, "I know where I don't stand, but that seems to be about all." An odd Buddhist-influenced secular humanism is as close as I've ever come.
For the first time in my life, I think I'm going to lose a friend over what I believe, and that grieves me deeply. But maybe it's for the best. Maybe this is what it takes for me to learn to stand up for what I do—and don't—believe. Maybe it's time to take my near-legendary stubbornness and apply it to this case.
A common theme in my life: I don't know. I just don't know.