Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Your god, Not God

Writing a blueprint for a new coalition is hard. That's all I can say to people that I know are waiting for a particular post to go up. In the mean time I want to tackle something on the religious end of the issues I care about. I've been fairly focused on queer issues for a while and I think it's time to shake that up.

There is a form of oppression in our culture that I think is often only recognized spiritually but which has very tangible effects. Feeling something spiritually is difficult to quantify exactly, especially for people that aren't religious. There also aren't solid terms for different forms of religious oppression the way there are for other kinds of oppressions, so I can't point to a concept that can be more easily recognized by people with more removed relations to faith. For a working term, admittedly one that doesn't quite roll off the tongue, I'll be using "Gnosivism".

This refers to the assumptions that
  • Everyone in a society has the same religion, or that everyone is hearing the same thing from the divine, as the mainstream of the dominant religion . 
  • The dominant religion of the culture is superior to all other religions
  •  And that members of other religions or those lacking religion can be freely mistreated, harmed, oppressed, discriminated against, or litigated against.

 Gnosivism is derived from the Greek word "Gnosis" or "knowing" which in the modern world means an experiential knowing of the divine, and refers to something along the lines of heterosexism or cissexism (bonus: the lack of good explanations of cissexism online compared to heterosexism is itself cissexist) which is why I chose to structure the word that way. So for example in the United States most Christians will assume everyone they meet is also Christian, and if they seem nice they may also assume they're of a similar mind when it comes to knowledge of God. That's gnosivism all by itself. In the US Pagans are also fairly likely to assume people they run into outside of spaces specifically designated for other religious groups are Christian in some manner similar to the mainstream in that area, which could be considered internalized gnosivism. We'll often assume, based on their sheer number, that whoever we meet is probably Christian and may even have strong feelings about how we're going to hell. Meanwhile in Egypt Western travelers might express gnosivism by assuming everyone they meet is Muslim. Obviously racism can act as a major component of gnosivism. No oppression is a vacuum.

Now that that's established (and a damn fine word it is, if I do say so myself) we need to look at why it's a problem. On the spiritual level this is the problem of having only one god available. Tangibly it's a problem of allowing a single religion to hold societal influence.

I should note that this is destructive for a lot of people even on a physical level. Religious groups that have power get to make the rules. If you don't like them there's a long history of executions, assassinations, and bombings to reinforce the "will of" deity X. These destructive acts are absolutely worth addressing, at length, but those conversations have already been started elsewhere so I can take my time jumping in. My purpose with this post is to outline how gnosivism works as a concept so the people in those conversations potentially have a word to use and can solidify the acts they experience into a clear system.

The effect of this aspect of religious oppression we don't actively consider, but are still affected by, is in how we view ourselves in relation to our religion (if we have one). How validly we view consider our own belief in the face of a plurality of beliefs, how we are able to engage with our own faith community and with interfaith, and the views others have about our faith communities or about the Atheist/Agnostic communities are all affected by the existence of gnosivism.

My personal belief ( which I guess would be considered part of my theology, so you can totally discard it due to its lack of objective facts and just focus on the effects)  is that people are called to by deities if they're meant to worship. Some people only hear one, some hear many, some don't hear any and all of these are equally valid. You aren't more or less moral for hearing any deity, it's just how things work spiritually. That's my view anyway.

If this is the case, when you're in a situation with a culturally empowered religion and you have something about yourself that extends outside of what that religion allows (identity, beliefs, actions, things that make you feel personally fulfilled but aren't harmful outside the context of that belief system) you're confronted with a conundrum. How do you square religion with what you're doing? For some people this is pretty easy, we recognize deities that are supportive and affirming want us to partake in part of their belief system, or we realize no deity has ever made themself known to us in any way and embrace Atheism. For others this is harder, because our society tells those people "What you're doing goes against our god's will. Your behavior needs to shift to match our god." A lot of people really internalize this because that is how societal messages work. That's one form of gnosivism in play.

How does gnosivism affect those that internalize it? Well, when you have a society assuring everyone that there's only one deity available to them, that only one exists, and that at least one exists, it's harder and harder for people to find themselves in that belief system when it diminishes them as a person. Some people in the LGBTQ community have found peace in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or other belief systems that have rules against "that sort of thing" with a new reading of how their texts are meant to be, guided through their relationship with their deities. Others have felt further and further alienated, and this drives many people that are believers to suicide or horribly damaging self-hatred. They feel honestly called to faith, but can't seem to square the circle. The problem here is that "called to faith" should not only refer to the societally empowered faith. Someone hears a god speak to them, and the people around them say "That's Jesus" or "That's Allah" or what-have-you, and because that's the only messaging they get that's what they believe, which brings in all these conflicts with themselves.

Atheists have another related problem: they don't hear anything. To them everyone around them seems to be hallucinating, and the hallucinations don't particularly like the people that don't hear them (I'll be covering the "Religion is a Mental Illness" meme soon if it helps explain why I feel fine acting irreverent about something intrinsic to me). People will assure children, even adults, that would otherwise be perfectly happy just not having religion in their lives that their lack of religion is due to some kind of character defect. Even when you're actively aware and fighting this kind of rhetoric it still hurts when it comes from someone you love, or someone that has power to affect your life.

What's worth considering now is how SHOULD the system be? What do we begin working for when we acknowledge the presence of gnosivism? Instead of trying to fit our personal journeys on the path of the Christian just because that's the messaging that our society allows to be presented, we should recognize the voice of A god is not always the voice of "big G" God. Your purifier may be Apollo, your sacrificer may be Odin, your prophet may be closer to The fates than Mosses or Mohammud. Maybe the reason it's so quiet "out there" in spiritual space is that you don't need someone to talk to you. That isn't to say those deities and figures don't actually match up to anyone, but we need to stop buying into the idea that it matches everyone just because a lot of people in those beliefs are saying it's true. Nothing about this is any easier than eliminating any other systemic biases, but it's a tiny bit easier if we can use a common language to talk about them. Hopefully this is a start.

P.S. - I'll probably submit Gnosivism to Urban Dictionary sometime soon, but I'm a big fan of the word so I'm purposely claiming credit using it here.

1 comment:

  1. Just a fair warning, most of this was written/edited with a fever of 101.0 so if anything seems very off, that's why. When the urge to blog takes you not even Mono can stand in ones way.