Gripes and Groans: Religion, Entertainment, and a Culture of Disposability

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Don’t Give Me That Old Time Religion

I have fortunately never encountered anyone who actually told me I was consigned to hell because I am an atheist. What I usually get is almost worse. I get pity.

These people—usually kind, well-meaning, and fairly civilized—grieve because I’m deprived of the blessings of You Know Who and the thrill of knowing all the answers for, probably, forever. Plus the chance to see all my loved ones again in heaven.

There are actually only a few of my loved ones I’d want to see again, much less in some conventional notion of heaven. In fact, perhaps only one, but my husband didn’t believe in heaven either, so perhaps we will meet in limbo? Surrounded by all the most intelligent of Homo sapiens?

To run the topic of religion into the ground, I will give you a personal anecdote that helps explain some of my deep-seated aversion to religions that believe in the supernatural.

I was a young doctor in my twenties. Charles, one of my multitude of first cousins, was also in his twenties. Many of my cousins were staunch believers, but those who grew up in the eastern US were not, and some, like me, had not been raised Mormon. Charles was different. He was born and raised in Utah. Furthermore, he and one of his brothers had broken away from ordinary Mormonism and had joined the fundamentalist Mormons infesting southern Utah.

That weekend long ago Charles had come to NYC on a business trip and insisted on meeting with me, his peculiar relative who liked living here. I tried to be a good New Yorker, if not a good relative, and took him to the tourist spots he wanted to see.

I remember only some of the spots, like the jazz joint in Greenwich Village and the top of the Empire State Building, neither of which had been in my repertoire as a young woman spending most of her time in school, hospitals, and clinics. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the tour, especially the Empire State Building. I was, however, more than a little amused when my cousin said as I dropped him off at the airline terminal, “It’s an interesting city, Janet, but I don’t know how you stand the pace.” I went home and collapsed, grateful that he had gone and could not lecture me anymore.

For Charles did lecture. Maybe all fundamentalist Mormons do, but I think the regular church tries to be more circumspect about its theology, the promulgation of which has been codified into the task of the missionaries. Anyway, Charles assumed that eventually I would follow my ancestors, join the church and give up atheism.

I was about to argue when he informed me that in addition to my not having been baptized into the faith, I had a worse condition. I was not married, so I would not be able to progress in heaven even if I joined the church.

Women had to marry because only human males, the pride of the species, could make their own heavens on other planets elsewhere with lots of wives to build up their reputation with the Almighty. Or (I may be wrong about this) be gods themselves. As I listened to my cousin, the glories of fundamentalist far-out religion went on and on.

I did not argue. There’s no point in arguing with monomaniacs. I smiled sympathetically and recoiled when he offered to marry me and join his stable of three wives (he eventually produced more than thirty children by the time he died at age fifty).

“You will be favored by God,” he said.

I said no.

I may have remembered the fundamentalist theology inaccurately, and any fundamentalist is free to correct me, but the underlying principle is that women don’t count except as wives, and that God is not only patriarchal but also a businessman.

It seems to me that a great many of the world’s religions are equally monomaniacal about the place of women. We females should all be griping about this, but sadly, so many do not, or are in fear of their lives if they do.

And girls, it’s going to get worse. With rising population and diminishing resources to fight over, more people will suffer than are already doing so. What do you think will happen to equal rights?


Trends in Fiction that Annoy Me

I am referring to the penchant of the entertainment industry to produce so much that is grim and gritty in the way of fiction. Movies, television, and novels seem to be blessed by critics who swoon over how “noir” the fiction is. Said critics also seem to have less interest in the actual story than in whatever they know about the life of the author. Don’t they know that stories have their own lives?

Maybe it’s my age or my having been through a lot of tragic times, some very personal. I end up resenting the substitution of gore and violence for genuine tragedy. It’s possible to be uplifted and changed by a superb rendition of tragedy, although I can no longer go to see King Lear because I’m now too close to the end to enjoy how shattering the play is.

It’s not enough that we are subjected to a plethora of blood and bodies, but in all too many movies, television shows, or books, what we are exposed to turns out to be so unrelentingly, boringly unpleasant.

We are supposed to enjoy being drowned in “realism.” Maybe that’s good for people who have never had to cope with the grimmer aspects of reality. People well-acquainted with grim reality want to escape it occasionally.

Sadly, some of what should be good escapism turns out to be difficult to enjoy if one’s hearing is not what it was. I can hear all the words in those wonderful British shows; I just can’t understand them. Nor can I understand the dialogue in so many movies and television (or even the majority of restaurants) because the background music drowns out the diction, often not too great to begin with.

This gripe is, I am glad to report, not restricted to us geriatric cases. I have been told that a lot of restaurant customers ask for the music to be turned down. And one can watch TV shows with closed captioning. Sad, for when I turn on old, old movies, or for that matter old Star Trek shows, I can understand every word.

In the meantime, there are always books. I have currently been rereading my collection of old, usually mystery novels, as well as some children’s books that even antedate me.

I recommend rereading. I am not the same person I was when I first read any of the books in my collection, and I find that rereading is frequently a rewarding experience. Except that I washed out on rereading Anna Karenina for the third time. I just didn’t care, not the way I did—again—for everything in War and Peace. Or in the way I did for the necessary sadness in giving up magic, in Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle.


The Disposable Civilization

These days it seems to be taken for granted that a great deal of the universe is supposed to “get old, die, and be replaced,” and I’m not talking about huge stars that go boom. I look in the mirror and know that the quote also applies to me, as well as to the latest electronic device I apparently bought yesterday that is suddenly, very suddenly, out-of-date. And I’m annoyed.

My ancestors were not New England Puritans who believed that one should “use it up, wear it out, make it do.” Maybe it’s the pioneer history in my background, or maybe it’s having grown up in the Great Depression, but I certainly do believe in that mantra.

I read the news, learn about the coming shortages, marvel that our entire electronic civilization is currently built using chemical whatever found in not too many places on Earth, and wonder if there’ll be time in between terrorist attacks and sieges of starvation to do the necessary inventing and manufacturing of replacements that are readily available.

In the meantime, as the world gets scarier, please do try to use it up, wear it out, make it do. While supporting birth control, without which the future will be—groan—worse than unpleasant.