THE THREE SOCIAL TABOOS: Religion, Sex, Politics
(This is a post without photos. I don’t want to exploit the misery of others. No photo of this crying little girl in a red top and red shoes. Fox took the opportunity to say the photo was fake as this girl was in the end not removed from her mother, missing the point that she had been already exposed to grief of the treatment at the border).
At age eight, I was a devout little girl that swallowed hook line and sinker what I was taught in my parents’ small congregation of ultra-Christians, until I lost all belief in fairy tales including the bible at age 12. Until then, Jesus seemed like a sort of magician, like a nice uncle who would give you everything you wanted, if you prayed long and hard. God was more like a distant father who left the day-to-day business of dealing with the small stuff to Jesus, just like my dad did with my mom.
I had never really understood the idea of the Holy Spirit but took it to be a back-up who kept followers out of trouble after Jesus had died and had gone to heaven, and to inspire them without the Man-God around. We children believed in ghosts and fairies already, so the resurrection of Jesus and an official Holy Ghost doing ‘tricks’ was not a stretch for us.
How gullible one is as a child.
I was always safe at night, but dutifully knelt by the bed anyway, citing the little rhyming verse, praying for protection for the night, but I did also look under the bed when I was in that phase of believing in monsters.
The rules of not stealing and always telling the truth were easy, as long as I had everything I needed. Until it wasn’t that easy anymore. When everyone else in my neighbourhood went to that children’ movie, a presentation that only came along once a year for the entry fee of one guilder, I stole the guilder from my mother’s purse. The film had not even started when in front of all the children in the hall she pulled me out of the audience and dragged me home. I cried loudly for the rest of that day grounded in my bedroom, convinced my mother treated me unfairly.
On entering grade school, I wanted to be part of the clan of other children that freely roamed the neighbourhood. Telling the truth to my parents became harder and the sin of lying by omission became a habit of mine. Not stealing and not causing mischief would mean saying ‘no’ to friends and staying behind, alone, which was too hard for a seven-year-old. We perpetrated our childhood misdeeds communally. I learned not to tell my parents about everything my friends and I were up to. We all knew we should not raid gardens and break into sheds and greenhouses, but those pears and apples tasted multiple times more delicious than those at home. We knew that our playing-doctor-game was maybe not what we should be doing. If we stayed silent, it was as if nothing untoward had happened.
In the fourth grade as a would-be publisher and provider of the resources with my printing kit, I was the leader of the newspaper club we called the Seven-Star in a misunderstood reference to a pentagram; we just liked that drawing. I learned that blocking some kids from joining the club led to being ousted myself as an unfair dictator: they didn’t need my printing kit to be a club. I learned the leader could not be a despot: might doesn’t make right. I gave in and was allowed back into the club. It was a lesson in humility and group dynamics I learned at an early age and taught me what a democracy is.
It also dawned on me that the unilateral and despotic rules handed down by God for his believers did seem somehow out of touch with the real world and could not be copied for use by mere mortals. Why others (including my parents and the congregation) would accept that as the law in their world anyway, seemed weird.
What really put doubts in my mind whether adults can be believed was an event in December we call Saint Nicholas, for short Sinterklaas, celebrated on December 5th. Our Santa came to visit our home with his helper. I was getting more observant and commented afterwards to my mom how much the voice of Saint Nick’s helper, Black Pete, sounded like my brother’s. “Is that right? I hadn’t noticed,” she said.
The next day I discovered in my parents’ bedroom the book of St. Nicholas, from which the bishop had read to us about all the good things—and especially the bad things—everybody had perpetrated over the year. Slowly, the thought that I had heard that voice of Saint Nick before was taking hold. The old man had been shaking his head, and his hands shook too, just like my friend Phyllis’ elderly father, who I now understand had Parkinson’s disease. Then the penny dropped: Sinterklaas had been Phyllis’ father, and Black Pete, my brother! I ran downstairs and asked my mom: “Was Sinterklaas Mr. Klaassen?” She laughed. “What makes you think that?” I told her. To my surprise she then admitted that Sinterklaas was not real and that it is to make kids happy and have a night of fun and have an excuse for making funny gifts for each other.
The loss of my belief in Saint Nick’s existence left me disillusioned. After that episode, my seven-year-old former self became an independent thinker, in incremental steps. It was the start of my loss of trust in anything that sounded magical or miraculous. I started to scrutinise every statement of any adult and also the stories in books, and definitively the bible.
I started seeing the hypocrisy among people in our congregation, especially of course in my parents. I noticed their thoughtless prejudices and easy judgments about people who looked different or who were not of our ‘class’. The contrast between Jesus’ messages and what people within our congregation made of it in daily life seemed like day and night. I discovered two kinds of people: those who actually tried to apply the principles of Jesus and those who just wanted to be part of the club. I wasn’t sure yet where I belonged.
As I grew older, I questioned and debated the principles of the religion in catechism class and at home. My dad told me to just stop arguing and be more like my eldest sister, sweet and obedient. I knew that she was doing everything on the sly and I took my dad’s advice: since open opposition was discouraged, I went my own way, mostly silently. My road to conversion from a believer to becoming an agnostic was one of incremental disbelief and of discovering that adults lie and are unfair. It took about four years. When I entered high school by the age of 12, I had pretty much turned into an agnostic to the desperation of my Philosophy teacher at my Christian school. I argued with quite a lot of vehemence in his class, leaving the other students speechless. Critical thinking, we call it now. This teacher was also a minister and occasionally led the service in our church. To his credit, he was the only adult in my world who took my questions and my search for the truth seriously and he tried to respond honestly, but still he could not stop my conversion. Eventually, I laid low, as that was a lot easier to maintain. I meekly went to church but took off from my seat as soon as the service was about to start, to return by sermon’s end and stand outside, chatting, as my parents exited.
Learning about sexuality took much longer. One afternoon around this time, our neighbours’ son who was about 5 years older than me showed me his swollen penis behind the garden shed. I suspected that it was probably not the right thing to do, although nobody had actually said so. I touched an erect penis for the first time when I was eight. The thing felt soft and hard at the same time. Nobody ever talked about penises, vaginas, or breasts in my childhood world. I was just told to cover up and not to run naked through the garden with the hose and at the pool everyone wears a swimsuit. No sexual education took place anywhere. It was believed that keeping kids in the dark would delay sexual maturity: let sleeping dogs lie was the motto. To have intimacy—for procreation—there was to be married first; I knew that much.
I had no idea about the actual act of sex and procreation, until I saw a mare being bred on a farm; I was around nine years old. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that the long appendix under the stallion’s belly could fit into that girl horse. Although it did not look like anything the teenager next door had showed me, it dawned on me that his member might have been the same body part as the horse’s.
The whole affair kept me thinking for weeks as I was trying to figure out what that event could be for, and once I was told, I wondered if that was also how humans made babies. When I asked my mom, she started talking about the ewes next door in the orchard, and how they went away to meet men-sheep. They came back a week or so later, pregnant, and had lambs a few months later. However cryptic, nothing was explicitly said about a penis into a vagina.
My friends did not really know the facts either, so a variety of vague beliefs, myths and old wife’s tales gathered from various sources among us kept me curious, until I reached adolescence and started dating.
I started reading fiction as soon as I could read, under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime, reading everything I could get my hands on. Especially interesting were the books of my eldest sister—eight-years-older; I had to often reach to understand the contents. I must have been ten when I read Lady Chatterley’s lover. Angelique of the Angels was another great novel about a memorable woman who exerted power through her beauty and smarts, and sex, of course. I started to understand love, physical attraction, and the beauty of equal but different powers between people: the idealist in me was taking shape.
But I also saw how my older sisters fared throughout their adolescence and how my parents responded: extremely controlling, almost as bad as in the Rapunzel story. I can forgive them now: this need to control may have been the aftermath of living through the dangerous war years. By that time, I knew I was better off laying low and just not tell my parents what I was up to.
I continued exploring my sexuality with a number of boyfriends and started failing in school. I had boyfriends. I also was gender-discriminated by a number of instructors. The worst was my chemistry teacher, who called every girl in the class simply Dora and who didn’t bother to learn their names but he loved the boys and knew them all by name. As soon as I opened my mouth to chat with my neighbour, he sent me to the principal. This continued throughout the year with this guy. I started skipping school. I got suspended. The VP wanted to pray with me. I politely declined the favour.
I ended up with an interesting boyfriend, someone four years older than me who was unemployed—a poet. I ran away from home a few times, the first time when a big confrontation happened shortly after I went on the birth control pill. That godsend little pill had recently been introduced to the women in my country and free for members of the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform. My mother had found the pill package in my room and went berserk. I became the adolescent running away from home under the influence of a ‘bad’ boyfriend. I did manage to graduate and left home that summer, to move to Amsterdam together with my boyfriend, and to an apprentice job in a hospital. My physical freedom was hard-fought. My sexual freedom took much longer and only arrived after I met my next boyfriend.
I still like the world of imagination very much, where I can explore the inner world of humans without restraint of dogmas or a prescribed worldview. I do miss the magic of believing. It felt so safe to believe as a child. Now as an adult, I have to act like an adult and, like everybody else, take up my adult responsibilities. I participate responsibly in society casting my vote in elections, and I try to follow the law and most social rules, to a certain extent, as long as these are reasonable, but I also like to debate, exchange ideas. I make a living, respect my neighbours and the rights of others–not always easy to do. Most of all as an adult I became obsessed with information: I have to research the facts and knowwhat is going on in the world. The facts have to match with my decisions and vice versa. I became a socialist and a social worker.
Yes, the truth is becoming ever harder to find. Journalist are trying to get at the truth and most upstanding reporters bring the facts. Their job is to fact-check what political orators and religious leaders are saying about public policies.
The leaders of the religious right base their policies on irrational, religious-based arguments, and defend their statements with the accusation that dissenting journalists are making up facts. The religious right has reporters who mindlessly repeat what they hear from their affiliated leaders. The religious right doesn’t want us to know the facts. They want to continue to deceive us: we should believe them unconditionally. It is important to know which voice one choses as the source for information.
The easily-led rely on somebody else for their information (relatives, husband, wife, political leader, minister/priest). Without knowing the facts, it becomes very difficult to determine what to believe; without the facts one cannot chart one’s own course. Many people don’t want to know the facts and react from an emotional place. Of course, it is so much easier to just repeat what your chosen leader or your chosen TV news program says, compared to trying to figure out what is going on in the world.
MIXING RELIGION WITH POLITICS
Whomever assumes the existence of God as a fact, is in itself irrational. There are no hard, scientific facts that prove a god exists. To assume that everybody else operates from that same belief in God is also irrational. As the basis for a worldview that belief system leaves no room for people who do notbelieve in God, and who prefer to rely on science and the facts. However, that seems exactly to be the current state of affairs, when the Attorney General of the USA quotes the Bible as justification for an inhuman (and in my eyes criminal) measure—separating children from parents in an attempt to try to stop the flow of migrants into that country, many among them asylum-seekers.
In spite of the USA being a secular nation and not a religious-based state, (like Iran) it becomes clear that in fact the USA seems to base its immigration policies on a narrow-minded world view informed by a religious bias for interpreting the current laws, and also wrongheadedly applied. The Trump administration has dropped all ethical principles and the human rights of others and lost its respect for internationally adhered principles of dealing with refugees. It has divided the country between people that believe in ethical government conduct versus those that are led by religious dogmas based on a mainly old testament God-as-a vengeful God.
If Sessions wants to apply his religious beliefs, he could take Jesus’ words instead of Paul’s: to treat one’s neighbour as he would like to be treated himself. Raised as a Christian, I see Sessions distort the bible, a book from two thousand years (and more) ago and many authors talking about sometimes barbaric practices of that time. Does Sessions really want to go back to those barbaric laws born out of ignorance and harsh circumstances of survival in those times? Surely, people with a religion better debate their religious opinions and how they see the world with other, religious people, not adopt these as the tenets for public policy!
In a secular society, religion has no place in politics.
Sessions does not speak for most Americans, I suspect. Neither is Sarah Sanders. I feel sorry for Americans who see this and feel helpless to stop the erosion of their national government and its values. Their head of state is knitting lie after lie into a mantel that suits many believers fine. He and his minions use the name of God to touch an irrational cord in potential followers—his disciples. The consequences are clearly going to be the development of more policies based on fallacies. These destructive policies will destroy any society in which truth and facts have become immaterial and where anti-Other sentiments prevail. The beast has been unleashed!
I mourn for the loss of the USA as a friend and ally against dictators and common enemies. In my neighbouring country, too many Americans have put religion over facts, and racism over compassion. The USA is turning into a force for destruction of the local and international world; its administration lost its compassion, and One-eye is leading the blind.
I come from a country where debating is a national pastime. I love to debate issues and exchange ideas: I might learn something new in the process. The Netherlands has many political parties to offer the electorate choices, and the Dutch do not believe in the two-party system. Although quite a religious country, the denominational parties keep their God to themselves, although unfortunately, the neo-Nazis have become a substantial force. The Dutch government consists of a coalition—very democratically put together after an election. Neonazi Geert Wilders became a well-known oppositional force; he is a friend of the GOP and of Trump and got money from them to broaden his influence in the Netherlands.
In my adopted country of Canada, three parties (at the most) vie for votes in elections. Canadians are not very used to debating their political opinions, or about which church they belong to, and they play their affiliations close to their chest. In life, the warning ‘don’t talk about religion, politics or sex’ is generally accepted, good advice in Canada. The safe way is to just chitchat, have polite social intercourse, and talk about the things we have in common. My need for honest exchange of ideas will have to wait for my visits to the home country. I stay away from religious believers and events. I resent the Jehovah Witnessed who aggressively still come to my door, trying to tell me they have the only truth in their pocket. The best I can do in such situations is to tell them that I believe in facts and not in religion, and to ask to be scratched from their list. Then I close the door.
The subject of discussion has become Trump. We in Canada have found a common enemy about whose policies it is save to become upset and whom to denounce. I have an inkling that is what Trump tried to do in his own country: find a common enemy and unite the country behind him. Unfortunately, he is achieving the opposite in his own nation. However, he is uniting the world against him.