Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Personal Schism

I grew up in a religious, mostly protestant, mostly white, liberalish community in Apartheid South Africa. One of my watershed moments was being forced to choose between two of the local churches. The one I had grown up in, and the one I was enjoying attending because of my circle of friends. To become a member of the Baptist Church, I had to be baptised. To become a member of the Methodist Church, I had to confirm my baptism. I had been dunked as a baby, which was not recognised by the Baptist church. Being 'baptised again' would mean that my first Baptism was rejected in some way which would upset some people who were important to me. I didn't really know why it was important, but in the end went back to the Church I grew up in for Confirmation classes. The long history of the Abrahamic Religions is a series of these kinds of 'there is only one path' splits. This was my personal Schism.

'The Angel hinders the offering of Isaac'

The Protestant Church grew out of the idea that you should be able to look inside. Rather than a delivered truth, people should be able to look inside. They should be able to be their own ministers and priests. They should be able to read "The Word" in their own tongue and interpret it according to their own contexts. The movement was as much a political statement as a convenient shift in religious beliefs. The Christianisation of the Barbarian Tribes was also an attempt to control them. Vladamir The Great dated all the Abrahamic Religions before choosing Christianity because he liked wine. Charlemagne and Louis The Great were also one country, one religion, kind of guys. It was Louis who kicked the Protestants that headed to South Africa out.

You should take another look at the Church Trev. It is not the same place as when you grew up. Also, don't you remember all the good bits? Church provides a centre for the Community. A shared belief that brings people together once a week to think about something bigger than themselves. It is a place to look after each others mental health, and to think about those less fortunate than ourselves. Surely that is a good thing? The Churches in Westville have done a lot of work over the last 20 years. There are more women involved in leadership roles, the demographics of the services are more mixed, they are wrestling with their homophobia monkeys and the various churches are starting to put aside their different interpretations and work together. Even the Catholic Churches are very much part of the mix. And the Mosques and Temples. The door is always open to you. 

It does play on my mind that leaving the Church leaves these spaces only open to particular parts of the Community. I now live in the UK, where most villages have beautiful little churches. Churches that are struggling to get people to come. I can't teach Yoga at my local Church because it is viewed as "Hindu". I could, but I would have to strip out the Oms and Chants and bits that freak people out. That is kind of like saying, you can make the Braveheart movie, but I don't want there to be any Kilts. I feel like we get excluded from a lot of the beauty of seeing different perspectives because we are forced to choose which one is "right".

You need a shared story for the place to be Holy. It can't be a free for all. It isn't about being right, it is about keeping stories clean. A genuinely open Community Hall might be great because it is all-inclusive, but it will be excluded from the magic of keeping things pure. Imagine a Buddhist Silent Retreat that now had to accommodate your Oms and Jaya Ganeshas... even though they share a common underlying philosophy, they would probably also tell you to pipe down.  There is nothing wrong with that. Just because Coke, Orange Juice, Milk, and Vodka are nice drinks doesn't mean you can throw all of them into a bucket with an extra thin mint and think your stomach will accept it willingly. Tolerance doesn't mean you can't protect spaces for a coherent story. Even if you admit that it is just a story.

Sure, but then how do you create a shared narrative? The rulers of the past just issued "the truth" and then used their monopoly on power to brainwash everyone into that. The new Churches are just political parties. Protestants and Catholics may have made peace, but now we have Partisan Political Parties. In the UK, US, and South Africa where I know most about the politics relative to other countries... the majority of voters are hugely tribal. They interpret "facts" based on the opposite of whatever the other team thinks. Too many people believe anyone who disagrees with them is stupid, evil, or has some other Bad Faith incentive to obstruct and destroy. 

It's just noise. People do actually get along pretty well. Particularly if there is money to be made. We huff and puff a lot on Social Media but as soon as you put people into a room together off camera, then people tend to learn social skills that make things work quickly. It genuinely isn't as bad as all the Drama Queens out there are making it out to be. If anything, it is just distracting us from continuing the progress. Yes, Church buildings are emptier... but there are far more cross-community communities springing up. The world has never been more tolerant, less xenophobic, less homophobic, less sexist etc. than now. We just focus on the bad stuff. It makes for a better moan. And we have always loved a good moan.

There are more cross-community communities, but they weaken local communities. If we all live in digital land, we have less motivation to make friends with our neighbours. If the shows we watch become global, there is an increasing sameness to our storytelling. There is a larger "structural" risk, because we aren't trying different things. There are no fire breaks for if we try something that seems to work, and it goes horribly wrong.  There is also a local disconnect. In the past, leaders in communities used to live very similar lives to the people they led. Increasingly the CEOs, MPs, Professors, Priests and other leaders live in unrecognisable bubbles. Physical lives separate from mental lives. That means we become these mindless bodies and bodyless minds living different lives.

You can't go backward. The communities of old weren't these glorious little neighbourhoods we like to picture. Think about how difficult it is to live in a closed community where everyone knows everything. Where your mistakes follow you like they are burnt into your forehead. There are positives to a separation of physical space from the mental. We all get a little more peace. We also aren't as subject to the geographical lotteries that force us to interact with the people where we were born, and believe what they believe. It is also much easier to physically get off your ass and go visit the people you meet online than ever before. In my experience, people make more of an effort to see you when you don't live where they do. The visit triggers a "must make a plan" attitude, rather than a "but I don't feel like it now" vibe.

I get it. But I, like a lot of Global Citizens, probably feel like Theresa May nailed it when she said Global Citizens are "Citizens of Nowhere". It sometimes feels like that. Rootless. I know there is no way to solve this. We are Scatterlings of Africa. Everybody. Everywhere. People have always migrated, and the stories we have used to describe ourselves have always changed. I think that is beautiful, and it allows us to evolve and work through our problems. But it also leaves me feeling rootless a lot of the time. Like my foundations are creaking. Like I have forgotten something somewhere. A sense of unease. Maybe that's just life.

[Mike, Paul, Jessica, Rory, and Alex are fictional]

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