Sunday, September 25, 2011

the fairness thing, part IV

I seem to get obsessed with certain topics and find it difficult to let them go. I'm still thinking about the fairness thing. 

Once you become attuned to the issue, you see it everywhere.  Tea-partyers fuming that it's not fair that they should have to help fund benefits for people who don't make enough money to pay taxes.  Feminists fuming that it's not fair that women don't make as much as men.  Whatever.  I could make up a million examples.

How did we get so obsessed with fairness?  I don't know.  But I've been thinking about it.  I mean, in some ways it's built in to our culture-- that we each have rights, that they are unalienable, that things should be "fair."  Golf handicaps, Title IX, lawsuits-- they're all there to make things "fair," and some of those things are great.  Wonderful.   To suggest, at a national or legal level, that fairness is unimportant is absurd.  Of course fairness is important. But the obsession with fairness has gone so far that all we have is everybody feeling like a victim, that they are being taken advantage of, that their personal situation is unfair. 

Ack.  I'm not nearly smart enough to figure out what's wrong with the world today, it just makes my brain hurt.  So I will back up to the original story, the one where my friend told me I needed to stop worrying about life being fair.  So here is the explanation of why that pushed my buttons.  Really, although the word "fair" crops up in the story, it's only peripherally about fairness; it's more about my unresolved feelings toward my dad.

A couple of years ago, I screwed up my courage and sent an e-mail to my immediate family members (parents and siblings) telling them about my blog and giving them the link to it. What I say here is a pretty long ways from the way we were raised, and I was scared to death about how they would respond.  But you know, they are all busy people, and it got to be a week, and no one said anything.  Then two weeks, then three.  I ended up just laughing about how freaked out I had been about nothing.  I don't think my mom or my older sister have ever even looked at it.  (which is fine, not a problem.  at least now they know about it.)

But finally, after about a month, I did hear back from my younger sister.  She was intrigued, and glad to know about it, but after reading a dozen posts or so, decided that she didn't want to be involved.  Which I can understand.  She's a pastor's wife, and courting controversy is not high on her list (or mine, for that matter, which is why it took me so many years to tell them about it.  none of us is exactly brave about public controversy.)

I thought my dad hadn't looked at it, either.  But when I was visiting last summer, I found out that he had.  He read this post.  I'll summarize it here so you don't have to go back and read it.  When I was thinking through the religion of my childhood and deciding whether or not I still believed it, there were a zillion little things along the way that added up to my decision to branch out.  But there was an incident that sort of tipped the balance when I was in college. I prayed that I would come out of the housing lottery at my school with a place to live my senior year.  Not any particular place, just any place so I wouldn't have to worry about housing over the summer.  And the prayer wasn't answered--we didn't get a housing assignment at all.  Or as they say, the answer to that prayer was no

In the post, I was (I thought) very clear that what I was upset about wasn't that I didn't get a housing assignment, but that this one tiny incident suddenly illuminated all the logical inconsistencies in what I believed.  It wasn't about me feeling like I "should" have received a housing assignment, it was about me having a childlike understanding of what it meant to have faith.  It was a small event that turned into the beginning of the path that led me to leave behind the faith of my childhood three or four years later.  (note from AB, written a couple of weeks later:  this is probably not very clear, which is why I wrote the post about praying for parking places, which is a better example of that kind of thinking.)

But what my dad said to me last summer when he let on that he had read my blog was, "I just don't have any patience with people who think that life isn't fair." 

Which left me speechless.  It wasn't at all what I was talking about.  First of all I felt misunderstood.  I don't see how you could read that post and think, "Oh, she's just upset because she didn't get the answer she wanted to her prayer."  That wasn't even close to what I was saying.  And secondly, I was hurt.  Hurt that he would look at my honest attempt to explain what had led me away from Evangelicalism and dismiss it as a childish snit over not getting what I wanted.  That he could believe that I would have done something that serious over something so silly.  How could he not know me better than that?  How could he not take my struggles seriously?  If he really thought that was what the post said, why didn't he say, "I can't believe that experience was what triggered all this.  Explain it to me.  This doesn't make any sense to me."

I was.... well, I was about to say devastated, but I'd been through way too much therapy over him for him to be able to devastate me anymore.  I was hurt and angry and disappointed.

But-- not particularly surprised.  It immediately called to mind any number of similar incidents, but especially the time when I was in my late 20s, and the son of some family friends (who was a friend of mine) came to talk to my dad because he wasn't sure he believed in God anymore and he didn't know what to do.  His parents listened to him talk about his concerns and recommended that he go see my dad, whom they were sure would be able to give him good advice.

So Dad is telling me about this, and he stopped like that was the end of the story.  Like just the setup would tell me all I needed to know.  I had to ask: so how did you respond?  what did you say?  And he shook his head and said, "I don't have time for people who don't believe in God.  It's just a waste of time."  This was before I'd been through all that therapy, and I was shocked.  How could he be so callous about a young person's confusion and pain?  (and the snide part of me wants to add, in my most snide tone of voice, he wouldn't have sent him away if he'd been a cute, perky girl.  He would have set up weekly appointments.)

If I've explained this at all well, maybe now you will understand why I was instantly boiling over when my friend Lynne suggested that I was worrying too much about life being unfair. I was already primed.

1 comment:

  1. As a young person struggling with the idea of religion, I completely understand.

    What threw me off was the Justine Winters incident. I had watched that little boy stand next to my brother playing drums while his family smiled and took pictures of him.

    I woke up the next morning and was told he was dead.

    Thankfully, my family has been more than understanding of it.