Her Bad Mother

Friday, July 21, 2006

In The Forest (Post Script) and other random crap

Because there is, always, more to say... And because I needed to take on those rumours that my last post totally stole from the inspirational writings of Britney Spears. Read on... (reflections on Britney's treatment of William Blake, and really cool BlogHer stuff, follow further musings on religion. Because, you know, God comes first!)

In reading all of your wonderful comments - thank you thank you a million times over - on my Gotta Have Faith post (which is what I would have called it if I hadn't been going for that heavy, pedantic vibe that only references to writers like William Blake can provide), it occured to me that I hadn't really spelled out why, exactly, I felt it important to expose my children to religion and faith. That Santa/Tinkerbell analogy was handy, but it didn't really stand as an argument for religion or for faith in general. Do we expose our children to faith simply for the sake of faith? Because it's nice to believe in something, if only in our youth?

I made it clear that my wishes for my children with regards to spirituality were not grounded in a belief that spirituality/religion/faith would make them (morally) better people or get them into heaven. I don't believe that one needs religion to be good, morally or otherwise (indeed, I think that religion can get in the way of goodness.) And, heaven has bouncers? Whatever.

So, whaddup with my determination to expose my children to religion? I said that I wanted them to have meaningful choice in the matter of whether or not to be faithful, and that I believed that to provide them with such choice required, requires, introducing them to religion and inviting them to take it seriously. This does not, I should be clear, require beating them over the head with pieties and responding to their questions with faith-based answers. (It's raining, sweetie, because God is crying. God is crying because you spilled your milk, and because David Hasselhoff is on television. We must pray to make it stop.) I also want my children to have the choice, one day, to reject religion for themselves, and to be critical of organized religion. A difficult line to walk, but one that I feel I must walk.

But, again, why? Beyond the simple matter of choice? Yes, and for the very reasons that I feel strongly about such choice. I feel, strongly, that they must know religion if their future rejection of religion is to be really meaningful. Which is to say, I think that in order to be really critical of a thing, of a set of ideas, of a belief, you have to have some experience or knowledge of the thing that you are criticizing. Socrates, after all, knew his Homer, and knew it well. I want their criticism, when it comes (and I very much want it to come), to be informed, and not the result of some sort of acquired reflexive secularism. The kind of reflexive secularism that simply assumes that faith is stupid, or misguided, simply because it is faith. I want them to taste faith, to feel it on the tongues of their souls, before they decide that it disagrees with them.

And I want them to know, directly and intimately, why it disagrees with them so that they will know, really know, that such disagreement is always personal. So that their disagreements with religion or with God can be their own, and not my disagreements, or somebody else's disagreements, or society's disagreements. And I want this, again, because I want their critique of religion, when and if it comes (and I hope that it does come, on some level) to be well and personally informed. And, I want this because I always want them to respect the faith of others. I want them to have some sense of why it is that people embrace faith, even if - especially if - they come to reject faith in any of its forms. I never want to hear them dismiss another person, or another person's ideas, simply on the basis that that person is Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Wiccan or whatever. I want them to only ever reject ideas on their own merit, and only after respectful consideration of those ideas.

I want them to understand why people believe. I think that this is necessary to understanding why religion is still such a powerful force in the world, why it still moves people, and peoples, to heights of love and the greatest depths of hate. I think that this is necessary to compassion, and to understanding why certain kinds of hurt persist in the world.

(Yes, I am a beacon of selflessness and love. This is why Jesus loves me.)

But, full disclosure: I have my selfish reasons, too. That argument for honing my children's critical faculties through exposure to religion has, it must be said, a bit of a competi-mommy edge to it. To know, well, the Judeo-Christian tradition (which also shares much with Islam) is, like it or not, to know the core of the history of Western (and some Eastern) culture. It is to know, better, the many threads that make up the tapestry of Western philosophy and art and literature. And I want my children to have this knowledge. I had, have, a tremendous advantage as a student and as an academic for knowing, and knowing well, the Bible. My understanding of philosophy, art and literature is much more extensive and nuanced than it would be without that knowledge. I know when a writer is making esoteric reference to a passage in the Old Testament, when a modern story is really a re-telling of a much older story, when arguments for war borrow from the Christian philosophical tradition (yes, there is one). I know why Nietzsche got his panties in a twist about Christianity. I knew, at a young age, that the stories of CS Lewis and Tolkien were far more theologically sound than those of George Lucas. I know and can explain why the Da Vinci Code communicates a sloppy theology (but, I must confess: I still enjoyed reading it.)
(OK, so those last two are not so special. But still.)

(I should note that I do not believe that the only route to such knowledge is through religious education, and especially not through any one particular religion. Far from it. Anybody with a good liberal education gains access to all of this. But a religious education - one that did, I should stress, allow ample room for questioning and critique - in childhood gave me a head start. And it provided me with personal reference for the more focussed study that came later.)

So, an education in religious tradition will give my children an advantage. That matters to me. Yes, I want them to be good people - more than anything I want them to be good people - and some exposure to religion and the opportunity to experience faith will contribute, I hope, to that end. But I also want them to have knowledge. And as counter-intuitive as it may seem at first glance, a religious education - any religious education - will contribute to that end as well.

This whole speculative project goes, then, a little bit further than the joys of Santa and TinkerBell and that warm, secure feeling that comes from singing Jesus Loves Me. And is, perhaps, somewhat less pious than it might have initially seemed. But what did you expect? I'm Bad.

Save it, Ma. Christianity is Platonism for the people. I've decided to worship Bopis.


What, what, WTF, is up with the universe that both Britney Spears and I wrote about William Blake - the same work, no less - on the same day? Her post got more traffic, I'm sure, but I think that mine was better written. Still, you can't beat her analysis of Blake:

Then from the gloom came Britney Spears
And broke the poets down to tears
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made Will Blake make thee?

William Blake is currently up in Heaven smashing all of his Britney albums under the heel of his boot.


More! More!

When not pondering the mysteries of the universe, I've been giving and receiving interviews. BlogMe interviews!


Devra at Parentopia interviewed me today, and I'm completing an interview for Izzy as we speak (well, after we speak). I'll post my own interview of Devra, and my interview of the scrumptious Izzy as soon as I get Izzy's material. Both interviews will be sizzling, I promise you.

In the meantime, you can see my interview questions here. Toronto-area mama-bloggers, I've tagged you with this interview thing; see details at Mama Blogs Toronto. Please participate, especially if you are not going to BlogHer: I want to gather together TO mom-blogger profiles before I go so that I can direct people to one virtual location to meet you all.

And anyone else who feels at all interviewy - I'd love to see your responses, too! Go, go - do it!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In the forests of the night

Obligatory warning: long post. Much religious auto-biography and reflection on piety and faith. Some heresy. Proceed with caution.

(But, sweet reward awaits! Gratuitous WonderBaby photo at end!)

A month or two ago, Amalah wrote a powerful post about her struggle with issues concerning faith. A couple of days ago, Nancy took on the same topic. Both wrote from the perspective of lapsed believers, of women who had grown up with faith but grown apart from faith. Both struggled, in their posts, to make sense of their relationship to God and Church. For the sake – for the possible sake – of their children.

Both posts hit me in the gut. Hard. I’ve been wrestling with these issues for, well, forever. Since my own faith started taking sucker punches from Real Life - divorce, death and other tragedies that make the voice waver as it recites the 23rd Psalm. Oh, yeah, and a young adulthood spent studying political philosophy, and reflecting upon the political uses of religion, most of which reduce to pacifying or mobilizing the masses. Hurt, and reason: both have a sobering effect on blind faith.

I was once a passionate Catholic. As a teenager I thought seriously, if briefly, about becoming a nun. (This in my goth phase. Yes, I was a Catholic goth. I wore a rosary as costume, but I took that rosary seriously, by God.) Not so much because I felt strongly about commiting to my faith, but because it was fascinating and I wanted to make it my own: all of the esotericism and the Latin and the mysteries and the feeling, at once giddy and solemn, of tapping into some deep vein of meaning. I would sit in the dark in my room during thunderstorms, looking out my window and trying to wrap my head around the relationship between God and Nature, trying to work out the theology of Milton and Blake and Big Blue Marble. I read the Bible for fun.

(You would have wanted to be my friend, for sure. I was good times. A bit intense, but really! Fun!)

I was into it. I loved it. It provided both security and stimulation, soothing me to sleep and pricking me awake, for a very long time. But then I grew up, and the stars threw down their spears.

I grew up, and my family – that had long been so solid, so secure – hit difficult times, and my parents split up, badly, and I left home and made all the bad decisions and took all the dangerous steps that disillusioned Catholic girls who leave home at 18 make. My mother declared that God had abandoned her, and me, and us, and insisted that she would herewith keep faith only with Mary and the saints and that I should do the same. God was a mean old guy who provided no comfort because He could not, my mother insisted, be trusted. He’d turn on you. He’d turned on her, and on us, after we had prayed so hard for Him to guide us and keep us.

I wasn't sure that I agreed with my mother, but with every bad thing that happened in my life and in the lives of others, as the world came to seem uglier and uglier, my commitment to the Church waned. My faith waned. And it took a direct hit when, in my very late teens, after I had left my broken home to try to find my own place in the world, I was informed by a well-meaning - and very Catholic - boyfriend that I was going to hell. He had discovered, by finding and reading my diary, that I was tainted by sin (a long story, and a whole 'nother post). And, after going to confession to consult with a priest as to whether my sins might taint him, he informed me that God had told him in the confessional booth that he could no longer associate with me. I was corrupt, I had committed a mortal sin, and I was going to hell.

God told him to break up with me. And that was that. It was absurd, unreasonable, and just enough to tip me over the edge that I was already teetering upon. This was not my Church, not my God.

It was, in a twisted way, my Lisbon Earthquake. I thought: how could a just God, a reasonable God, inspire such nonsense? And then I thought: what evidence have I ever had that God was any of those things? A few moments of spiritual epiphany while watching cute altar boys light candles and a succession of thunderstorms didn't weigh up very well against broken families and death and starving children in Africa and fucked-up twenty-year-old boys spouting nonsense about God's greater plan for their dating futures. Clearly, God was, as my mother said, a dodgy piece of work.

I wanted nothing to do with it, with Him. That day was the last day that I ever went to confession.

And then I went off to university and began studying philosophy and that did nothing to restore my faith. I began studying the Bible as a book and God as source material for art, literature and politics. I presented papers on how modern philosophers used women as figurative representatives of conventional Christian morality. I argued that some philosophers suggested, quietly, that women could be understood as the ultimate practitioners of moral deceit and use this deceit to their greater strength and that this practice reflected the politics of the Catholic Church and of Christianity generally and that this revealed all variety of interesting things about morality and virtue and the power of women.

I liked these arguments. A lot.

And I liked that, on one or two occasions, during mid-summer lectures in which I related these and similar arguments, a thunderstorm would roll in and lightning would flash right after I said something about Nietzsche or Machiavelli and godlessness.

It was an ambivalent relationship. Philosophy was more interesting when it was transgressive, and it only really felt transgressive when it confronted and challenged my faith. So faith became a way of keeping things exciting, of pricking myself awake when I became complacent about Liberalism and Secularism and Rationalism blah blah blah. I became an opportunistic believer, using God and belief in God as a tool to advance my own learning.

Then the Husband and I decided to start a family, and there were problems, complications, and for a while it looked like we couldn't have a family. But then the path opened up and I became pregnant and thankful. I struck bargains with God. I swore up and down that I would raise a believing child if He let this child come into the world. And when more complications emerged I swore harder. I went to sleep murmuring Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. I prayed.

And I meant it. I prayed with full acknowledgement of my own confusion, my own ambivalence. I couldn't do otherwise; there was no comfort in prayer unless it was confused prayer, if that makes sense. But my promise to give my child the opportunity to experience faith was not confused. I meant every word. I wanted - I want - my daughter, my children, to know God. As I did.

I do not want this because I think that it will make her, them, morally superior beings (I don't think this, not at all). I do not want this because I want to secure them a place in Heaven. I don't know that I believe in security-patrolled Pearly Gates; I do know that it is possible to be 'good' without God (but please do not ask me to unpack that statement here.) I'm not looking for spiritual guarantees or moral failsafes, if such things even exist.

I want this because I want my children to have a meaningful choice in the matter of whether or not to embrace faith. And I don’t think that they will really, meaningfully, have such a choice if they are not exposed to faith from an early age. It’s all well and good to take a principled position against what might be called an indoctrination of faith, and to insist that exposure to religion is something best left until children have the maturity of reason to critically evaluate organized religion, but that position pre-determines its own end. If faith is set aside in childhood, and reserved for later examination and evaluation under the bright lights of reason, then it’s doomed from the start. Reason is antithetical to faith, especially in its first age, when it is clung to like a brass ring, when it causes us to chortle with delight at knowing, to thrill at being let in on the world's secrets (Chrissi is still a baby because she still believes in Santa, right Mommy?) It is only the strongest, most hard-won faith that does not pale at the approach of reason. Reason shatters faith, exposes belief as simply that - belief.

Who among us would ever have given Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or Tinkerbell a second thought if we had only discovered them in the age of our reason? We might be amused or entertained by them, but we could never take them seriously. But when we meet Santa Claus in the innocence of our youth, we give him a chance. And we’re well-positioned to decide, when we’re ready, whether or not we want to continue believing in him. If we never believed in Santa as children, we can’t be said to have ever made the choice to not believe.

So it is, I think, with God. I’m not suggesting that God is a character of myth or fantasy, as Santa is generally understood, although many have argued and do argue that God is exactly that. What I am suggesting is that belief in God usually (not always – people do sometimes ‘find’ God and religion later in life) requires exposure to the real practice of faith before one learns that faith is, or appears to be (appears to be), contrary to reason. It requires having someone say, emphatically, insistently, that yes, Virginia, there is a God. It requires, yes, some sort of indoctrination into faith during childhood. Saying yes to religion. Talking seriously and respectfully about God and church and faith. Reading Bible stories. Attending church or synagogue. Saying prayers. Watching Little House on the Prairie. Some or all or variations of the above.

The problem? I no longer do these things, for the most part. My faith, such as it is, is quiet, private. It is something that I subject to scrutiny every time that I pull it out for inspiration or for comfort. It lives in the strange space that I've craved out in my soul for those things that I fear and love and am confused by and ever will be confused by. I’ve made my choices, it seems, if living in a state of such critical ambivalence can be regarded as a meaningful choice.

But I don't want to make that choice for my children. So how do I create the opportunity for my children to have a choice, a real choice? For them to really, meaningfully explore the option of faith, and take that option seriously? Do I suck it up and re-enact the rituals of the religion of my own childhood, and swallow the hypocrisy as well-intended? Or is there another way?

How do you find your way when the path is dark?

Monday, July 17, 2006

This Blog Needs an Enema

Or at least a good bran muffin.

This blog has never been regular. It doesn't always move every day, but its movements are always long - sometimes so interminably long as to be, ahem, runny - and robust. So after living for so long with blogorrhea, it was discomfiting - to say the least - to suddenly be struck with a severe case of blogstipation.

I'm not sure what bunged it up. The heat, the sick, the lack of sleep, the frustration with blogging induced by a confusing comment tussle - all, I think, undermined my usual healthy, fibre-rich blog regimen. And by the end of the week the small hard posts stopped coming. (And, as a consequence, I stopped venturing out for visits, and managed only the feeblest of occasional waves from my virtual front window. For this I apologize. If you haven't heard from me in a while, know that it is entirely due to the gastro-blogtestinal distress that I am currently experiencing.)

I'm still struggling with this. But I'm going to keep pushing away. Something's gotta give eventually, right? And in any case, I want to keep a record of everything that's going in - all the things that demand passage into posts - the better to ensure that most of them come out.

So, herewith, HBM's recent diet of mental and emotional consumables that are awaiting passage pending laxative:

1) Milestones! But not your good old BabyCenter developmental marker milestones (sure, I could blog about how the Future Ruler of the Known and Unknown Universe has moved from standing and cruising to balancing and climbing - prison-breaking, effectively, as she masters hoisting herself up and over the baby gates - but these are coming so fast as to defy meaningful posting. And besides, they frighten me - they represent the very real possibility that my baby will very quickly overtake me and defeat me entirely - and I haven't yet worked out how to process that fear.) No, the Milestone of the Week is much more in keeping with the scatological vein of this post: Baby's First Dump in the Tub!

Ducky? You okay Ducky? It's just a little spill, Ducky. DUCKY?!?!

Eight months on this Earth and WonderBaby had never even had so much as a little tinkle spill on the change table. We had never actually seen her produce a poo. We might have - if we were more fanciful people, and if it weren't for the robust farts and occasional grunting that accompanied the bigger deposits - imagined that little poo fairies came in the night and during naps to deliver custom-made fairy shits to WonderBaby's wee diaper.

If we had imagined such a thing, that fantasy came to a shocking end on Saturday evening, when WonderBaby let loose in the tub. It was a dump and it. was. spectacular. Or, at least, that's what the Husband tells me. He witnessed it, he cleaned it up. For which, it must be said, he rocks, even more than usual.

2) Why the Husband rocks. A post about why the Husband rocks is long overdue, as the Husband very helpfully reminds me on a regular basis. Such a post is so overdue, in fact, that the Husband informed me on Friday that he would soon be respectfully requesting to write a guest post, to the effect of the following:

Hello Internet,

This is Her Bad Mother's Husband, aka Her Awesome Husband (ed. note HBM takes no responsibiity for the acronym). I am, as my name suggests, awesome, and I welcome your positive comments.

Thank you.


Cleary, I need to get on that post, before his fragile ego is irrevocaby destroyed.

No, the Husband is not threatened by this rooster. But he still felt it necessary to enter into a little cock-a-doodle-doo-off in the barn. Cockcomb envy, maybe.

3) The effect of the heat on my will to breastfeed. Sweaty baby clamped to sweaty tit, sucking fluids from my dessicated, wilting body. Need I say more?

4) Further to breastfeeding - how to get WonderBaby more comfortable with bottles before BlogHer.

5) Further to BlogHer - how to get me more comfortable with self, and with liquor, before BlogHer.

6) Further to issues concerning my comfort and the comfort of my family - whether or not to seriously consider moving to a bigger, more comfortable home outside of the city. Which is to say - gasp - leave the city. And become exurbanites. Commuting exurbanites, ack. (Better than commuting suburbanites, but still.) Which means, of course, that we would never see the inside of a museum or art gallery again. Would we trade the buzz and hum and culture of the city, trade our tiny, dusty, 120 year old house in an up-and-coming neighbourhood that is nonetheless overrun by roaming gangs of Portuguese youth who roll each other for BBQ chickens for a house with a finished basement with family room and big treed yard and full laundry? Near a lake?

Did I mention how hard it is to rid a house of 120 year old dust? And did I say about the gang-bangs provoked by BBQ chickens?

7) Further in the category of things that are messed up: Where's Suri? Over three months since the purported birth of the TomKitten - the off-spring of the emphatically heterosexual Scientologist and publicity-whore Tom Cruise and some chick who surrendered her identity and free will for the greater purpose of bearing, or pretending to bear, said offspring - and still no verifiable sighting of the child.

The obvious answer is, of course, that there is no baby. They may still be awaiting delivery of the black-market baby that will be passed off as the natural product of Mission Impossible Sperm. But there are other possibilities: if the child is, as widely rumoured, an alien, then it may take some months before she acclimates to the Earth's atmosphere.

However, it is equally likely that the TomKitten is the human vessel of a rare bloodline that can be traced back to Jesus Christ. Scientologists, then, are latter-day Templars charged with protecting this extraordinary legacy and that they are currently battling a vast Roman Catholic conspiracy to destroy all evidence of this legacy. This theory does not presuppose that Tom Cruise or Katie Holmes share such divine lineage (heavens forbid); rather, that Tom Cruise beat Bill Gates in a secret auction for genetic material stolen from the last of the Merovingians and consulted with Michael Crichton and various genetic scientists on the best methods of creating a human child out of this material. The result of these efforts is Suri, the Holy Grail test-tube miracle baby, who is now being held in a top secret bunker near Rennes-le-Chateau in France, the better to protect her against Opus Dei-funded bounty hunters.

But that's just my guess. Your thoughts?

My guess is Area 51 alien breeding program, hijacked by Scientologists, but that's just me.

There. If anything's gonna clear the pipes, it'll be the monstrous hybrid of TomKat gossip and Da Vinci Code psycho-babble.

Now we wait.


There's a new guest in the Basement. Go, keep her company, hear her story, and have some cookies...