Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Blessing Myth

Why do I speak out against religion so much? Well, for one, I see it being used as a way to undercut the secular nature of our government, as a tool of repression (especially against women), and a cover for some of the worst intolerance of human nature. I also have a problem with the worldview that religious thought often engenders. The following is an example of that troubling worldview, and how it can remove the very legitimate right of people who have survived traumatic events to feel bad about what has happened to them, and understand it in the larger context of random chance. The "Blessing Myth" takes away the right of trauma survivors to mourn their loss, as well as the very real connection they have to every other person on Earth, who is just as vulnerable to random acts as the victim herself.

I watched this very sad video about a woman who survived a plane crash with her husband. And as I watched, I just felt more and more uncomfortable about the tone of the narration. The woman who was in the crash kept saying over and over what a "blessing" the whole event was. Blessing? A plane crash that nearly claimed her life, and left her with disfiguring, debilitating injuries was a blessing?

That just doesn't make sense. Now, I can understand trying to put a positive spin on the things that happen to you- I don't advocate wallowing in self pity. However, I think it is only fitting and appropriate to be allowed to grieve legitimate loss- and this is a story of legitimate loss. The woman hints at this when she talks about emotion "sweeping over her" as she touched her old clothes and yearned to be the person she was before the crash.

Of course she does. Anyone would. That is totally reasonable, and I don't see a reason to put an artificially happy face on the subject. The reason she does, of course, is to make a religious statement. God gave her this "blessing" so she could view her role as wife and mother in a new light. She feels more "divine" after the crash.

Aha. Now it makes sense. The "blessing" is that of rationalization. How could a "good" god allow such bad stuff to happen? He was "blessing" you, of course! It also fits neatly into the whole "place" of women meme- now this person can truly "appreciate" her role as wife and mother, since she almost lost it all. That nagging question she sometimes whispered to herself- "Is this really all there is to life?" is now decisively put to rest, because god has "blessed" her with this trial that makes her more aware of what she almost lost. And let's not forget the social aspect of this- her declarations of faith and her praise to god for her "blessing" cements her role in her religious community. Instead of being pitied, she is revered, because she was chosen by god.

So what's wrong with this? It seems like a win/win. The woman in question gets to feel better about the hellish tragedy she suffered, she gains status in the community, and the community gets to use her story to bolster their own faith and bring new members into their faith community.

Well, it's a win for everyone except for those who loose. For one thing, this mentality is exactly what leads to abominations like Pat Robertson's declarations that Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti were forms of divine retribution. God doles out the blessings and the curses, right? I am sure there are religious people who could spin the tragedy of the plane crash survivor's story into a tale of divine retribution as easily as a tale of divine blessing.

For another thing, this kind of rationalization makes a sticky problem of human agency. Should people just accept what comes their way as god's will? Should people try to prevent bad things even if they suspect god is behind them? Think this is academic? Think again. Religionists have been saying for years that pain in childbirth, which can be prevented, shouldn't be, because it represents Biblical "justice". Even non-religious rationales which valorize the "natural" seem to think great pain is simply a price women should "pay" in childbirth (this is the subject of my next post, incidentally). The rhetoric of "blessing", however ironically, can be put to service- IS put to service- when justifying human suffering of every stripe.

And finally- I suspect that the recipient of the "blessing" looses to, as she is not allowed to feel the very natural feelings of grief after this event. Instead, she represses them, and puts on a happy face. She feels singled out, and different, because she cannot accept the story of her misfortune in the context of random chance. She was "chosen"- this wasn't "one of those things" that could happen to anyone. Difficult questions undoubtedly follow. If this is a "blessing", why do I feel like shit all of the time? Why was I chosen? Is my husband, who was injured much less severely, "less chosen"? Or, am I his burden, his trial?

In the wee hours, when these questions surface, this blessing must feel an awfully lot like a curse.