Thursday, 14 April 2011

Yes, I exaggerated a bit

My last post was a mixture of genuine viewpoints and exaggeration, as I hope was obvious. Yet I was seeking to make a few points I do find critical. Genuine injustice is tragic and even an outrage. There are certainly plentiful examples of the genuine article without clouding the issues, or spurring others to a rage that blinds one to the truth rather than expressing it, without exaggerating what is offensive.

I haven't been drinking perfume (I'm not even financially able to have an occasional gin at the moment). :) I know the moralists who would speak of 'elitist' attitudes towards 'non-human animals' were focussed on ecology, and not equating my cat's use of reason and will with our own. Yet I wanted to underline concerns I have in that area. I am very 'green,' very concerned for stewardship of the earth - yet I refuse to 'take a guilt trip' for eating animal products. If a drug or operation which can save human lives needed to be tested on a dog, this will not be anything I'd oppose.

Many flaws in Western theology of which I've previously written have a connection to disliking the physical, so I'm not going to repeat myself. I think we all have moments when we can come close to feeling as if we are 'pure mammal'! With the continuing, ever-increasing strain of recession, I occasionally find myself feeling like a hungry cat with my survival threatened - ready to get out my claws at any danger. Nonetheless, with my being very centred on the Incarnation, creation, our deification and the like, I believe that an excessive pre-occupation with the 'non human animals' can blind us to the awe and gratitude we should have for our own unique dignity amongst creatures. Nor can we excuse ourselves from our wrongs because of our animal nature. I may feel like a threatened cat at times - but the normal life for that species would be a sad situation for a human!

I've often said that one problem (in all fields, but here I specifically am referring to theology) which can be highly confusing is that terms which have a specific meaning in the theological context differ greatly from the vernacular usage. In common usage, if one refers to 'envy,' it can seem positive - perhaps 'you' accomplished a goal to which I aspire as well. It has a striking difference from 'envy' in moral theology - where the same term would mean 'you have what I want, and I hate you for it.' Anger, in the vernacular, can have varied shades of meaning, and certainly being upset, outraged, and so forth may be understandable, justifiable, or, at times, a spur to positive action. This, too, is quite a difference from 'an inordinate desire for revenge.'Being truly vengeful can spur blindness to the truth, contempt, hatred, and violence.

I'm sorry to say that I am no stranger to sexism - not only in the abstract but in the many forms in which I was its target. I doubt too many people would ask a man with advanced degrees questions such as, "You don't type?! Then what could you do - be a waitress?" Male department heads probably are not excluded in ways that I experienced, and vendors or representatives who meet with them may not be thinking 'how do I get past this glorified clerk to the man who really makes the decisions?' I've actually had vendors phone me, to say a letter I signed should be replaced by one from a male, because, otherwise, those in authority would think 'this was just sent by some secretary.' My own family members, who knew I could go through diplomae like a deck of cards and had been in management for years, tended to assume I had an entry-level clerical job!

Seeking to remedy such viewpoints (and I doubt I'll live to see this - many of the vendors who were first to assume they needed to 'get past me' surprisingly were younger than I am) can be thwarted by excess. Assuming women cannot be 'real' managers is insulting - saying that Meryl Streep is a great actress is a compliment.

There are other, far more insidious, traps into which one may fall (and I'm not exempting myself, since I am sorry to recall excesses to which I was very prone at one time.) I'll borrow my previous example, related to liturgy, as a simple illustration. Modifying the text of the creed may be helpful in clarifying meaning. (In my university days, hardly ancient history, 'his' was a correct form when the person to whom one referred could be of either sex - and 'man' meant 'humanity' in certain contexts. Perhaps the very young would not be aware of this.) However, were I seeking to spur others to outrage, hoping it would promote a feminist goal, and said that, when I heard "for us men and for our salvation...," it meant that salvation was extended only to males, this isn't true - never was true - and I know this.

I definitely have never seen women as inferior, and always was troubled by their being treated as such. (I could speak of many other areas that trouble me, but I am speaking of this one in particular merely for the sake of simplicity, since I don't want to write two reams.) Yet I remember, all too well, when articulate and very charismatic women - who were too intelligent and educated to not be either selective or distorted in references they used to spur action - seemed more to be seeking to inflame other women than to dealing with (painful) truth. Much that came of this was tragic. Women who'd been outstanding in service could be convinced that they'd been in a shameful position - the big, bad males treated you as a slave. People who'd worked side by side, and well, could be led to contempt for one another because the associate suddenly is a male who had to be part of the oppression. There were other cases where women could not admit to problems other women in authority may have caused for them - everything had to be blamed on the males, and how can one resolve internal conflicts if the source cannot be admitted?

We also need to be cautious that, when we are conscious of, and troubled about, such matters as the sexism I've experienced all too frequently (and this compounded by the assumption that anyone in the charity sector is incompetent), we don't become 'victims' in our own minds. This can lead us to seeing offence when it does not exist, or, perhaps more dangerously, blinding us to our own weaknesses - we are the victim, we are blameless. Rage and envy (in the theological sense I previously referenced) can give us tunnel vision and distortion. We can begin not merely to disagree with another's viewpoint, but to assume it is rationalising misogyny, when that may not be the case. We can justify wrong-doing on our own part, if we become so focussed on our own oppression that we (unwittingly) assume we can do no wrong, or justify our rage based on (possibly very inaccurate) ideas about underlying motives on the part of the other.

My prayer today is for truth and love - as only God can give!

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