Last week I called the new religion ‘Denying Responsibility’. Said another way, it’s the refusal to believe that taking personal ownership in a situation will yield meaningful change in outcomes in that particular situation. In making a religious comparison, I believe that there are several similarities between one’s commitment to a lack of responsibility and one’s commitment to a set of fundamentalist/orthodox religious beliefs. This week I want to look at that which can not be questioned.
The Evergreen State College
One of the frustrating things about leaving the last Church I was a part of was the idea that you couldn’t openly and sincerely ask questions about certain doctrines. As a matter of fact, to do so was seen as disruptive, disobedient, and perhaps a sign that the Devil/Secular World was invading your mind. As I began researching the origins of the Biblical writings and really trying my best to imagine the context in which these writings happened, I just couldn’t agree with certain ideas: Women can’t be leaders, homosexuality is a sin, or the idea that human beings are born with some inherent ‘brokeness’.
In my research I came across progressive religious thinkers like Peter Enns, Richard Rohr, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Their content made me realize that I wasn’t crazy for being suspicious of rigid religious dogma. As I persisted with my questions to friends and leaders at my church (who I truly believed loved me and I am sure still pray for me) I realized that an answer wasn’t coming. Eventually, a gentle suggestion that I should leave the church came. It was fine. I can’t handle a place where I’m not allowed to think.
Recently I heard this quote by Dr. Bret Weinstein,
A sincere person can’t ask a question about a dominant moral orthodoxy…Dr. Bret Weinstein
Dr. Weinstein is a Biologist and Evolutionary Theorist and recently I heard this quote diving down a series of YouTube Videos on protests that were held by Students at The Evergreen State College back in 2017. The College is in Olympia, Washington about a 45 minute drive south of Tacoma. I had heard loosely about the incident but had never dived in to try to understand it. After spending some time watching videos of the situation I was very disturbed.
In short, students on the campus began protesting against what they saw as broad spread white supremacy and systemic racism on the campus. Dr. Weinstein, in response, asked for evidence. The mere fact that he asked for evidence of racism was seen as confirmation that he was racist. This sounded very familiar to me. Like the fact that I asked church leadership about the validity of church norms that had serious implications on people’s lives now makes me an agent of the devil. In both cases a lack of conformity to human interpretation of the Almighty Being, is a confession of personal evil and moral corruption. In the case of Evergreen State, this Almighty Being seems to be Systemic Racism and White Supremacy.
Let’s look at where else this happens in life…
We’re All Going to Die
This is true. I don’t deny that one day I will die. The question is how soon will it happen and in what physical condition will it be? “Well Travis, clearly genetics play a role in you being in such good physical shape. We all aren’t blessed with your genes…” Ohhhh okay, I got it. So my African American Family that is predominantly obese and from The South where decadent-delicious-unhealthy food is a large part of Southern Culture… from this environment, came these supreme genes. You know, I didn’t understand how many everyday folks were experts on genetic expression until I started working at a gym back in 2012. I must have missed this aspect of public education. Too busy losing 100 lbs and studying that stupid engineering stuff.
Anyway, when I try to challenge social conventions around health people resist in a manor that has resemblance to a religious fervor.
Well everybody knows…
- Tall People have knee problems!
- It’s all over when you hit 40!
- You have to have meat in your diet!
- Your metabolism slows down when you get older and you’re going to gain weight!
Over the years I’ve realized that when people ask for my advice/opinion about getting in shape they often don’t realize their own unconscious bias. Deep down they want me to confirm what they already believe which comes from accepted social narratives (or stories). Part of what I try to do by telling my story is interrupt that cycle in their mind. It’s difficult because people don’t like their religious beliefs to be challenged. In this sense, the social norms of health outcomes play the role of God and, based on human interpretation, these norms can’t be defied unless one has been genetically gifted.
My contention is that biology in many ways exists beyond our control which is why we die and experience puberty etc. But we do play a conscious role in how our genes are expressed by making conscious decisions about our behavior. Nature is powerful, but so are we.
The American Dream
Talk about a religious commitment to a social construct. And I mean unquestioning commitment. ‘You gotta have a house, car, and good job with benefits. You get this by going to college etc.’ The weird thing about this is the fact that the professional roles in organizations that offer the type of income and benefits that make this possible, come from the efforts of entrepreneurs who take on the inherent risk that comes from not doing the normal thing. There would be no Apple, no Amazon, no Microsoft, no Tesla, and no Facebook, with out the CEO/Founders who didn’t go the typical route. Whatever criticisms we have about the business practices of these organizations and there impact on society, we have to ask ourselves questions about the standard personal financial practices that have been broad spread for decades now.
Increasing college debt, car loans that have become larger, consumer credit card debt, and the increasing cost of home ownership. Why is it that the acquisition of these things somehow make a person’s life, whole and good? Why should we all aspire to these things? It’s been my experience that personal financial choices is one of those places where people don’t like being questioned.
I was once having a conversation with a recent college grad who wanted to start a business. This person had a significant amount of student debt and wanted to purchase a new car. I encouraged this young person against buying the car and tried to help them understand the uncertain nature of income when you have a business. A few days later they had the car and were very proud of the loan terms they negotiated. They felt like graduating college meant that they deserved a new car and they wanted to begin building their credit score. I have been down this road before. They hadn’t even gotten a job in their field of study yet. This same young person introduced me to the idea of being ‘woke’.
I hadn’t really heard of the term ‘woke’ but apparently it involves a rigorous observance of social injustice. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc. Often, wealth disparities between blacks and whites are used as evidence of systemic racism by those who are ‘woke’. This young person was black, in college debt, no job in their field, and just took a loan on a notoriously depreciating asset…. but they’re ‘woke’. Religious commitment to ideas that the faithful refuse to be challenged on.
Ideas that can’t be challenged have assumed to role of God in a person’s life. Some Christians might argue this as evidence for the truth of Christianity. Basically, the idea that we worship/behave based on various beliefs/constructs is evidence that we were created to worship something and that something must be the God of the Bible. Well, of course, you all know I don’t believe that. I believe that there is a human proclivity to evade the struggle and, perhaps, suffering that comes with having to change your story based on new evidence. Critical thought is taxing and self-examination can reveal ugliness about ourselves that we just don’t want to face. Therefore, the power to change things must be outside of us. It must be some larger than life force that I can shake my fist at when I’m not experiencing life the way I want to.
It’s The God of Social Justice, The God of Higher Education, The God of Healthcare, The God of Credit Scores, The God of Home Ownership, The God of The American Dream, The God of Monotheistic Religion… and God forbid you should question any of them.