Monthly Archives: May 2012

Happily Ever After – Fairy Tales and Religion

You may not agree with me, but I really don’t like the movie “Pretty Woman.”  I can watch Richard Gere do almost anything, but trying to pass off Julia Roberts as a prostitute and Richard Gere as someone who needs to hire one was unconvincing and ridiculous.  What is offensive about “Pretty Woman” is perpetrating the mythology of women in need of a rescuer.  There are times when all human beings need or desire a rescue, but that is not exclusively experienced by women.

In The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, Sheldon Cashdan tells better stories like “The Adroit Princess” (p.144-8) who saves herself and her sisters from an evil prince while her father is away at the Crusades.  There’s also (my favorite), “The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet.”  She had a talking dog and was tall and smart.  She tried to dumb it down for her intended prince by not talking and sitting down a lot so he wouldn’t be intimidated by her height, which he was.

The Princess eventually punted the dolt to the chagrin of her parents who gave her a condescending lecture about her duty as a princess.  She said, “I have other duties: a princess says what she thinks.  A princess stands on her own two feet.  A princess stands tall.  And she does not betray those who love her.”  I wish I had heard her story when I was growing up.

Fairy tales didn’t become children’s literature until the 19th century and have evolved to offer the “power to help children deal with internal conflicts they face in the course of growing up,”  said Cashdan (p.10).  Charles Perrault (1628-1703) is credited with establishing the moral of the story and highlighting the good versus evil struggle when he wrote down and edited oral tales.  However, women had already been taking folk tales and infusing magic to create fairy tales in France during Perrault’s time.  According to Jack Zipes in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (p.xxii) female writers established the genre.  I bring all of this to your attention not as a bedtime story to lull you to sleep, but to provide context and to suggest what fairy tales and religion have in common.

Cashdan asserts, convincingly, that fairy tales address common fears of children.  In danger or crisis, it’s natural for children to look for a rescuer.  And that’s why I believe this rescue mentality, when applied to religion, is a juvenile interpretation of god.  Many religions apply a parental analogy to help practitioners in how they view their religious leaders, or their god(s), especially in looking for rescue from hardship.  It is understandable, but it is limiting.

In the United States we talk about “fundamentalists” by which we mean Christians who have a fundamental interpretation of their religion and read much of the Bible literally.  And no matter what they tell you, they do not ever take all of it literally or as a verbatim instruction book.  For example, the “Song of Solomon” is an “Old Testament” book that is romantic and erotic poetry.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t get quoted much.  In book seven, verse 11 (NAS) it says: ‘Come my beloved, let us go out into the country.  Let us spend the night in the villages…There I will give you my love.’  I am not aware of any group of Fundies recommending we all go out in the country and have sex, or even that God is telling us to have sex outside.  That is a juvenile and erroneous interpretation of text.  Abstracting passages from their context and applying a literal interpretation is how Fundamentalist Christians are abusing the Bible to justify gay-bashing.  It’s childish bullying.  Here’s what Jesus said about homosexuality: NOTHING.  The link below is a Huffington Post column that goes into greater detail.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-cunningham/what-were-jesus-views-on_b_554230.html

I posted a CNN story on my Web site (www.allthingsreligiousonline.com) about a North Carolina “pastor” who sermonized on how to “get rid of gays.”  I watched the YouTube video of only part of his sermon because I couldn’t stomach the whole thing.  That his brand of vitriol and ignorance is connected to any religion is appalling.

Last night “Modern Family” had an episode with the gay couple trying to adopt a second child and being disappointed.  Yes, I know it’s fiction, but there are terrific real life gay couples like them.  There are probably some dysfunctional ones, too, but being straight doesn’t prevent bad parenting.  So how about the religious fanatics quit bitching about abortion and gay marriage and get all the already born unwanted children adopted to the gay couples that want them?  And while we’re at it, how about the Roman Catholic Church start ordaining women to address the shortage of priests?  Women in the priesthood would start to breakdown the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club that’s been protecting sexual predators.  In my fairy tales, there would be justice and common sense, heroes and heroines, and protagonists solving problems for ourselves so that we all live happily ever after – not just princes, princesses, the wealthy or the religious.  That would be heaven on earth, and we wouldn’t need to be rescued from it, or each other.  –J.B

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Religion and Theatre of the Absurd

If you think religion and religious people are not influenced by popular culture, then you just aren’t paying attention.  More often, the religious folk are in search of headlines and news clips, not truth or enlightenment.  This happens in small towns and mega-churches.  For the record, I have blogged about mega-churches before (“The Religion of Me Part Two: The Mega-church,” 09/29/2010).  They are not churches, they are theatrical events with a religious theme.  If you disagree with me, then I ask you to consider a Texas story.

Yes, I understand Texans like to do things in a big way.  My best friend from college lives there and turned me on to this story, so apologies to the Lone Star state, but sometimes y’all are just crazy.  At Fellowship Church in Grapevine, “Rev.” Ed Long thought the Easter story of Jesus rising from the dead was not dramatic enough.  He authorized the church to hire a real lion, lion handler, and four-day-old lamb to symbolize Jesus as both a lion and a lamb (April 2012).  One story reported the show cost the church $50,000.  I guess that’s not a lot of money to Pastor Ed because he makes more than $1 million per year.  (Usually I would offer links to stories, but my best source was the Dallas Morning News and you can’t get the story for free.  The Humane Society of Flower Mound has a good summary.)

I was unable to find anything about the pastor’s credentials or education online, but I was able to find plenty of press.  He and his wife made news (February 2012) by doing a 24-hour bed-a-thon on the roof of the church to promote sex in marriage.  More accurately, Rev. Ed was promoting his latest book, from which he doesn’t have to share sales revenue from with his church.

The absurd is not limited to big-time money-grubbing showmen.  It also infects in smaller arenas.  I posted a story on my Web site (http://allthingsreligiousonline.com/) about an Assembly of God Church in Central Pennsylvania that kidnapped youth group teens at gunpoint to show them what life is like for missionaries.  Neither the teens nor their parents knew this was going to happen and the designated kidnapper was an off-duty police officer with a real gun.  It wasn’t loaded, but the kids didn’t know that.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/pennsylvania-church-kidnaps-teens-holds-them-at-gunpoint-to-teach-a-lesson_n_1382605.html?ref=religion

Stories like these are why atheists think religious people are nuts.  It’s a difficult point to defend.  The practice of faith is not a concrete endeavor.  Still, there are lots more people quietly honoring their own spiritual interpretations without circus stunts and contrived violence – or real violence for that matter.

If the church folks in Central PA wanted to demonstrate real courage, they would fire their minister.  Rural Pennsylvania is known as fertile ground for hate groups like the Klan.  I am certain that the Assembly of God church could find actual mission work spreading compassion, if they chose, like that ‘love your neighbor’ stuff that is in their Bible.

The best thing that they could do in Grapevine, Texas would be to convert their ‘mega-church’ into a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.  Then they wouldn’t need their $1 million-per-year Showman Preacher and his private jet.  Even if they took all that money and started a business, they would be creating jobs, which would be of more service to the community than devoting extraordinary resources to religious theatre.

Jesus had a lot to say about peace, poverty and humility.  But you wouldn’t know that if you went to church in Grapevine, Texas or Middletown, Pennsylvania.  It’s not just ironic that these two churches are doing such a poor job of representing their own religion – it’s tragic.  These stories demonstrate that you can’t immunize religious practice from human ego any more than you can protect organized religion from politics, or politics from organized religion.

There is a desperate need for reasonable people to have a stronger voice.  This is true in religion and in democracy.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how to make that happen.  The only response I can think of for us non-wealthy regular folks, is to respond to news stories.  I want to believe that if regular people, regularly, demanded better news, we would get it.  If we stopped being consumers of sensationalized non-news, maybe there would be less of it.  That means writing letters and e-mails to news editors.  It also means turning off the TV, or changing the channel.  It might mean getting more news from National Public Radio.

I admit that watching a story about “tanning bed woman” from New Jersey (where else?) who is being referred to as beef jerky on Facebook is a hoot.  We might need to watch a water-skiing squirrel to balance our day.  But if we don’t work in some real news stories of greater length and depth than sound bites, then we can’t expect much more than sound bites and beef jerky, the latter offering more to chew on.  –J.B.