Saturday, November 11, 2006

Propagandizing religion

This has been an exceptionally good week for bloging at Noodlefood. Diana Hsieh posts an essay by Allen Farris chronicling his experiences growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household. To add to the discussion, I offer a different take, not of my childhood as a Catholic, but of one of my experiences as an adult Objectivist.

My ex-wife is an opera singer who grew up a fundamentalist Christian. Because churches are one of the few places where a classical singer at her level can make some money, she sang for several church choirs. I supported this choice as the extra income paid for continued voice lessons, which were the obvious priority.

At the same time, I detested having to play the role of the dutiful husband and listen to her solo in church, lending her voice to those whose goal is to make mysticism more palatable to the unthinking. In fact, I could do little to squelch my displeasure, even if I hardly spoke a word. I suppose if my ex-wife had been a lousy singer I wouldn't have minded so much, but as a good one, it was tough to endure.

Why? Because it was things like uplifting music, serene architecture and beautiful stained glass that kept me with that moldy faith far more than any doctrinal agreement. That's the vicious bait and switch with mysticism.

At least I had exposure to enough science as a young boy to eventually snap myself out of the trance (with a little help from the GW Objectivist Club). How many others fail—and rely on their "faith" to guide them when it counts? Are we not currently waging a faith-based, compassionate war for our very existence—and failing miserably?

When we were married, my ex-wife certainly could not see what all the hubbub was about. I have no idea what she thinks now, but at the time I knew her, she had rejected her religious upbringing for atheism. Nevertheless, she simply could not see how anyone could have an ax to grind with the church. Most of the religious people she knew were far from monsters; they worked hard, raised their families, showed concern for morality (even if their concern led them to do things like vote to outlaw abortion, or turn the other cheek to jihadists)—and they loved beautiful music. Who were we rude and overbearing Objectivists to damn their creed as immoral—after all, it clearly works for them? Which is easier for the intellectually uncurious—navigating though the pitfalls of pragmatism and a mixed premise, or simply accepting the Golden Rule? Live and let live, or wage an outspoken fight for your values because that's what's most important to you?

I obviously chose my path, and as far as I know, she still continues to propagandize for religious congregations. And in the end, I'm not surprised. Faith does promise certainly in uncertain times, and it offers magnificent alleluia choruses to help close the sale.

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