Sunday, December 16, 2012

White People, You're Not Listening

I have a paper that I should be writing, and it has nothing to do with gun violence. But the recent school shooting in Connecticut, plus other recent episodes of gun violence (Trayvon Martin, Sherry Frey) and a host of other violent episodes have me thinking a lot.

First, I will say unequivocally that we need stricter gun control laws in this country. We are one of the most violent countries domestically and in our foreign policy. Our foreign policy is a discussion for another day, but America is violent.

Second, I will say unequivocally that we should be ashamed of ourselves the way we stigmatize, limit resources to and treat mental health in this country. Having spent my summers out of law school working at Idaho Legal Services, then with a disability law firm in Boise, and this last semester mediating mostly low income family dissolution disputes, we are doing it wrong when it comes to acknowledging and treating mental illness.

But lots of other people are addressing those issues in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about the way we talk about these violent episodes compared to the gun violence that happens everyday in our country in inner-city neighborhoods, in altercations with law enforcement and in domestic situations.

The last three things I listed almost *never* make national news. When I tried to find Sherry Frey's shooting, a google search didn't even bring it up. I had to go search the twitter stream of one of the women I follow to link to the blog post.

Trayvon Martin's shooting brought understandable outrage from the African American community, but mostly just defensive posturing from the white community about how it couldn't be racist because Zimmerman wasn't white; about how we needed to examine Florida's stand your ground laws; but nothing about how fucking tragic it is that a 17 year old unarmed kid was shot to death in his neighborhood by some neighborhood watch dude carrying a gun.

How many of you remember Aiyana Jones? She was a seven year old shot by police. Her family still hasn't received any closure from that incident. There was no outrage from mainstream media. Only victim blaming of the girl's family.

If these shootings were happening the other way around, if they were being perpetrated by African Americans or someone of Muslim descent, we would be jumping at the chance to analyze their anger or their religious background to explain the shootings.

White people are in denial. We are in denial because we refuse to acknowledge the interracial violence happening in our country everyday, and we are in denial because we refuse to look at the impact of our capitalist, patriarchal, largely Christian culture on our young men. White men, when they go in and kill people, get the privilege of being mentally ill, or law enforcement, or a jaded lover. But that's not fair, white people. We have to stop. We either have to examine *all* gun violence in terms of mental illness, or we have to start exploring racial and religious motivations in the violence we perpetrate.

We do not live in a post-racism society any more than we live in a post-feminism society. White boys are surrounded every day with TV shows, video games and movies telling them they are heroes, telling them they are bosses, telling them they are heads of their households. Girls and people of color are surrounded by TV shows, video games and movies telling them they are helpless, or evil, or subservient and sometimes all of the above. Can we really be surprised that white men are this violent when everything in society tells them they should still get the final say? If we combine these societal factors with mental illness, can we really be surprised when angry, frustrated white men seek out revenge on the vulnerable? Can we really be surprised at the levels of violence perpetrated by our law enforcement officials?

White men in particular need to shut up and listen to the women in their lives telling them about the difficulties they face in an implicitly sexist society. Then white people (my self included, god knows) need to shut up and listen to the people of color, the disabled, and the other vulnerable people in our lives and with whom we share this country while they are telling us about their lives in our implicitly racist/ableist/sexist society.

These groups are talking. But we're not listening. And it's time we started.

Update: Just since writing this, I read another article about the reinforcing of stigmas against the mentally ill that these episodes usually bring about. I'm afraid I've done the same thing here. This article, by Thursday, does an excellent job of explaining why it's unhelpful to talk about these mass shooting episodes in terms of mental illness. So while I will still say America should be ashamed of the way we treat mental illness, I am sorry that I drew some of these same damaging conclusions. Also, I wonder if this strengthens my argument that white people need to do some *serious* introspection and some *serious* shutting up and listening.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Body love and hate

Maybe it's because I'm sick of law school or maybe it's because I'm making an effort to do more things for me in order to survive law school, but I'm writing another blog post. Whoa. Slow down, me!

At any rate, I was reading a recent post by Chandelle about dieting, exercise, and body acceptance. I've only met Chandelle a couple of times in real life, but something about her connects with me, and I consider her a dear friend. Go read her post. I'm responding to her challenge.

I've addressed body issues here before. Most recently (almost two years ago now) here. Like most women, I've had a mixture of contempt and love for my body since I was very young. I'm going to give some full disclosures before I get too much further. Aside from the information about my family background at the end of that last post, I weighed 120 lbs. until after I had my second child. At that point, I went up to about 145 lbs. I'm five feet, almost nine inches tall. I wear a size seven. Sometimes a size five. Right now I weigh anywhere from 135 lbs. to 140 lbs. My diet is terrible. I eat lots of processed foods, lots of chocolate, lots of dairy and lots of bread. Some evenings on my way home from school, I'm so tired and hungry that I stop and get fast food rather than try and cook something for dinner.

Up until three days ago (which hardly means I can call it a habit), I almost never exercised. So to make a long story short, I'm tall and relatively thin no matter what I do. It runs in my genes. I sometimes hesitate to talk about my own body issues because I realize that according to today's standards, I have it lucky. I don't garner automatic sneers when I walk down the street. Most people don't feel they're entitled to comment on my body.

As it is, I was embarrassed by my body for a good portion of my adolescent and adult life. My mother played basketball when she was in high school and did aerobics semi-regularly until me and my sister were in our teens. She was always in excellent shape. When I was around 14, she told me I needed to start working out because my butt was saggy. I didn't know this at the time, but no 14 year old who is five foot nine and 120 lbs. has a saggy butt. So of course I believed her. I'm not sure what possessed her to say that, but it stuck with me for the rest of my life. I was embarrassed by my butt. I tried sporadic exercise but never fell into a routine, and it never changed. Even my ex-husband told me that I didn't look good in a bikini because of my butt. So I believed him too. To this day, in spite of the fact that my butt still isn't saggy (it is dimpled though. Two kids'll do that to some women), I'm still incredibly self-conscious about it.

Additionally, now I have a muffin top when I wear jeans. Not the end of the world, I know, but it bothers me. All those thin women on the magazines don't have muffin tops. What's my problem? They also don't have a layer of fat on their abdomens like I do. I suck in a lot. What's wrong with me? I think that's the message that I've taken from America's body culture: "You are thin, but you're still doing it wrong!" I'm not thin enough. I'm not fit enough.

For the last three semesters, I've struggled with anxiety problems (sometimes minor, sometimes major). A good friend who's also been through law school assures me that this is par for the course. But this semester, I've decided that I owe it to myself to do something for me. So I've been walking every day since I got back to school. It's 13 degrees out today, so I'm going to borrow my roommates Dirty Dancing Workout Video for kicks (combine that with my rock-like coordination and it should make for high entertainment. Too bad y'all can't be passersby outside my window) and tomorrow I'll probably try some indoor rock climbing.

As Chandelle mentioned in her post, I'm trying not to get hung up on weight loss or toning as an end result. But there's a little part of me that still secretly hopes that if I keep up the walking (maybe turn it into jogging if I get really motivated later) and the rock climbing (yay for having student membership to the gym!) I'll trim off not pounds so much as the muffin top. And maybe I'll finally have that ass of steel. And maybe my tummy will finally not sag a little bit from the layer of fat on top of it.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep moving to try and keep myself from going crazy under all the stress. Not sure how it will go, but I'm hoping that even if I have that muffin top for the rest of my life, I'll be a less anxious person if I can really be authentic in my efforts to exercise.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Issue Spotting

So... I want to address a topic that I've never really looked at before. I don't really even know how to start it, so I'll just say: I've been thinking a lot about race. I want to start by saying, this post is sincere. If I say something stupid, call me out. I know I've got a lot to learn.

It all started with the Slut Walks (I'm not gonna link. Y'all know how to use Google, and I'm lazy this evening). My issue, the thing that gets me excited or angry or ready to carry a sign, is women's rights. So when I started reading that some black feminists were criticizing the movement, I was taken aback. It took me a few posts and articles to figure out why the Slut Walks, which seemed like an awesome idea to me, were a potentially bad idea for women of color.

After the Slut Walks, it was the Occupy movement (again. no links. Google it. I'm tired). Feminist sites had already pointed out some of the sexist fumbles women were encountering at the encampments (indeed, fumbles is too nice a word. Rape and sexual assault weren't rampant, but they were happening and some blogs were objectifying female occupiers as well). In addition to the feminist critique was the racist one. Occupy is/was largely white washed. Where were people of color in this movement? Of course they were there, but once again they were largely marginalized.

After Occupy it was an evening with an attorney/writer from one of the Indian reservations here in Montana. He came to our university to speak about why he wrote. And he said he wrote because so many people have this image of Indians as stuck in the late 19th/early 20th century. And that's inaccurate. I spent time after the presentation talking with a classmate who grew up on a reservation in Canada, and we talked about her experience growing up Indian.

After that evening, it was my favorite move Iron Jawed Angels. There's a scene where Alice Paul, a personal heroine of mine, tells Ida Wells, a black activist, that she'll have to agree to march in the back of their suffrage parade with the rest of the black women because the women's movement can't afford to mix issues.

And that brings me to where I am now: realizing that I've been living with blinders on for awhile. My own struggle for visibility and search for my own voice made me sympathetic to issues of race (and sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.), but I didn't really see them as something to spend much time thinking about. But the more I think about it, the more of an issue it's becoming to me. I'm becoming more aware of the general assumption of whiteness that pervades almost every aspect of our culture.

I'm finally internalizing that not only does this assumption pervade mainstream culture, but it adds a layer of invisibility for people of color who don't identify as straight or cis-gender or Christian or any number of other things outside this straight, white, Christian male assumption.

I've come across this quote often: "If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time... But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." --Lila Watson

It's always been something that I've given a passing glance at and thought, "Yeah. Ok. That's nice." But now I'm thinking about it a lot more. There's a lot of injustice in our country right now. There are a lot of groups--ethnic, gender, race, religious--being oppressed. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I've got to broaden my focus. The game is fundamentally skewed.
The fact that my classmate and I are both women means it's skewed against us both on certain levels. But the fact that I'm white means it's still skewed more in my favor than in hers.

I guess I'm asking: What do we do? What do I do? Obviously the game needs to change--radically. But what does that mean? This is where I'm hitting a wall. What action do I (we?) take from here? How do we write the contributions of all these invisible groups--and for me recently race has been the one on my mind--back into our everyday understanding? How do I teach my sons about these things? How do I help them notice and respect and learn from the contributions of so many groups are institutionally, systemically shut out?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Thing about Being a Kid and Being a Mom

The thing about being a kid and being a mom is they don't always mesh. When children are young, we make every effort we can to instill in them the values we wish we'd had instilled in us. The thing is, children grow up, and if we're lucky, they learn to look critically at the ideas we taught them and decide whether our values need to be their values.

This article on The Daily Mail, by Rebecca Walker, illustrates that point to me. Rebecca is the daughter of feminist/womanist icon, Alice Walker. Read the article for yourself, but Rebecca's argument is that her mother, in an effort to instill her own version of feminism on young Rebecca, ultimately neglected many of Rebecca's needs and refused to recognize Rebecca's own desires and personhood. Rebecca asserts that her radical mother didn't prepare her for the role of motherhood that Rebecca herself craved so desperately. And frankly, I think Rebecca is right. Alice Walker seems like the wrong kind of mother for a woman who wanted so badly to be a more traditional mother.

But what about women for whom the opposite is true? By that of course, I mean what about women like me? My own mother was very traditional. She stayed home, she indoctrinated my sister and I with the idea that a woman's place was in the home. Unfortunately, from a very early age, that was not that kind of person I was. So I could say that my mom's efforts to instill her values in me were ultimately damaging. My mom didn't seem to think doing well in school was that important for me and my sister. She'd never gone to college and was fine. If we wanted to go, that was fine, but ultimately, we should be looking for a man to take care of us and so college was mostly something to do until we met such a man. My mom didn't teach me about being independent and driven and passionate about career goals. Those were things I had to figure out for myself.

I guess what I'm getting around to saying is, for Rebecca Walker, the problem was feminism. For me, the problem was lack of feminism. And I guess that's what I'm getting around to saying. We're still not applying enough imagination when it comes to raising children. We look at them as either a burden and form of servitude or as the ultimate fulfilling object of womanhood. I think both do a disservice to children themselves.

The thing about children is they aren't interested in whether they're fulfilling you or not. They're interested in being loved and respected and acknowledged as individuals. My children are simultaneously one of the biggest points of anxiety for me (in that I'm by no means a traditional mother and feel like traditional motherhood would prevent me from attaining my personal goals) and one of my biggest sources of pride as they grow and become smart, loving and capable individuals.

I guess what I'm saying is, we can only expect so much from our children and, as we get older, we can only expect so much from our parents. My mom would have been a great mom for Rebecca Walker (based only of course, on the beefs she has in this article. Otherwise, I understand this is a gross over-generalization). Alice Walker would have been a kick-ass mom for me. As dearly as I love my children, I had them because I felt like I had to--not because I had always longed for a family. It would have been great to have a mom who told me that I didn't have to have kids. It would have been great to have a mom who enforced independence so entirely. Just as Rebecca didn't feel comfortable disturbing her mother from her writing career, I didn't feel comfortable expressing my career aspirations to my more traditional mother for fear of earning her disapproval.

And so I guess that brings me to my point:
We have got to stop telling women that they absolutely should or should not have children; we have got to stop making parenting about shaping children and more about recognizing individual children's propensities and interests; and finally, we have got to make parenting more village oriented--stop expecting so much from one woman.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making Amends (I hope) or a Public Apology

I am a proud, arrogant, stubborn person. Especially when I feel threatened. Last night, I went into a rampage on Twitter against my ex-husband and his new wife who were behaving in a way that I felt threatened my relationship with my kids. I called the two of them juvenile, stupid and weak. I roared about getting a lawyer if they thought they could just step in and tell me that I no longer had say over my children's lives. I went on a particularly vicious rampage against the new wife, who frankly has been engaging in some power play with my kids. I refuse to apologize for all the terrible things I said about her except for one. I called her short and fat. And for that, I am deeply sorry. I'm not even so much deeply sorry about how it might affect her feelings should she ever see it. I've tried to maintain compassion for her through these little power battles but since she continues to refuse to talk to me (she's never once talked to me. It's not like I've done or said something up to this point that has made her mad. She just won't talk to me), I've decided to quit seeing her point of view and build her into whatever kind of monster my imagination desires. Suck it, chica.

The reason I'm so sorry for that comment is because it was so entirely uncalled for. I had this brought home to me when one of my dear friends sent me a tweet telling me that as a short and fat person, she was no longer following me on Twitter. I realized at that moment that I've internalized the privilege that comes with being thin. I've internalized the messages that tell me that as a tall, thin person, I'm automatically better than someone with a different body type. For me, my comment about that woman's height and weight are equivalent to racist, sexist or religionist (?) comments about someone's skin color, gender or faith. I recently read this post on The Exponent blog and found myself whining about how hard it was to be thin. After my friend's comment to me last night on Twitter, I find that my whining about my body type makes me no better than the white, Christian male who whines about how discriminated against he is.

And the thing is, I should know better. In theory, I have no use for the current beauty culture and the way it idealizes only one body type. I cheer quietly to myself when I see plus-size or just different sized models in feminist magazines. I was at a friend's house just a few weeks ago getting angry at my friends for putting down fat people and refusing to date them. And then I go off and say something to the effect of someone being inferior to me based on appearance alone. My father is six three and weighs around 170 lbs. My mother was almost my height and was thinner than me for the majority of her life. I came into my body type entirely by chance. I have no right to lord it over others.

This particular friend that I've offended has done countless good to me. She's had me in her home, fed me, given me rides when my car broke down, taken me out of town for fun trips and simply been someone I could rail with on all my little soapbox subjects. And yet I managed to betray her entirely. And not just her, but others of my friends who aren't tall and thin like me but have been just as kind and giving. How did I dismiss their worthiness so off-handedly?

I have no excuse. All I can offer as an apology is that I gained some self-awareness from my friend's comment on Twitter. I won't do it again. This will be something I'll be thinking about for a good while. How do I eradicate the feelings of superiority I didn't even realize I had? How do I internalize the concepts that I argue for outwardly but obviously hadn't accepted inwardly? How do I ever make this up to this friend and any of my other friends who saw that comment and were also hurt by it?

Once again, I'm deeply sorry to any of my readers or friends who saw or were told about my behavior. I love all of you so much. You've all been so kind to me with no expectation of return. I'm going to work to change my views on these things. Allow me now to beg for your forgiveness.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sexual control, consent, responsibility

Since I have a contracts final in two days, I'm doing the obviously responsible thing and putting off studying to write a blog post about rape. We'd been talking about rape in my criminal law class even before all the drama about Julian Assange went down. So in a morbidly fortuitous way, I'd already been thinking about what rape means in our culture when he was arrested.

True to my lazy ways, rather than go research rape history, I'm going to outline how I've understood rape and leave that open for criticism in the comments. I'm still learning, so if y'all know something I don't, feel free to point me in the right direction.

From the way I understand it, rape was originally about theft, not sex. If a man forced a woman to have sex with her, that was only a problem if he wasn't married to her. Society saw that sex as a theft from the man that the woman actually belonged to. We didn't always recognize marital rape as a valid crime because rape wasn't about the woman originally. It was about a commodity being stolen. As time progressed and women became more fully human under the law (thank you, feminism!), we finally started seeing rape as a means of control or domination over women. It still wasn't about sex. It was about a man overpowering a woman and making her submit to him. It was about him seeing her body as something that he was entitled to. It was about her not having any sexual autonomy. We're finally getting to a point where we're acknowledging as a society that rape isn't about what a woman is wearing or where she's walking at night. Rape is generally about control--which is why we're also realizing as a society that rape is most common in relationships where the woman knows her attacker. Men use rape or sexual to keep women in a place of submission.

And now here we are at a place in history where women have more sexual autonomy than they've ever had before. Condoms are relatively easily accessible (I know they should be even more so if we're serious about preventing unwanted pregnancy, but that's for another post), birth control, at least for most middle class women, is still relatively accessible and while we have a long way to go on sexual education, enough awareness about disease prevention is arising so that most women and men are talking about these things and deciding what kinds of protection they want to use (hmmm. I'm realizing I could be projecting my own experience on to society at large here. Is that sentence naive?).

Which brings me to what I want to discuss. Again, before the Julian Assange drama, we were talking about rape in my criminal law class. We discussed rape history. We discussed consent. We discussed force as an element of rape and whether it should even have to be an element in rape. Legislatures are finally recognizing that some women don't resist because it would further endanger them. They're also recognizing that sometimes women are "forced" to have sex by more than just brute force. Maybe they're manipulated. Maybe they're shamed. But we're slowly realizing as a society that sex without consent can happen even without being beaten to the ground.

And this is where we get into the gray area. This is where I start getting confused and this is why I'm writing this post. We discussed a hypothetical where a man is potentially convicted of rape because he lied about wearing a condom. The woman had consented to have sex with him as long as he wore a condom. After the sex, she found out he hadn't worn one and so she filed a rape charge. I have to say, this makes me extremely uncomfortable. While I'm not going to say this happens all the time, it does happen that a woman will lie to a man about being on birth control. Has she raped him?

I'm all about a woman having a say in how sex goes down for her (heh). And I've been in situations where I felt like my body was being co-opted for someone else's purposes. I've been made to feel dirty and owned by a sexual partner (not this one, but that's also a post for another day). And it messed with me. It gave me issues about my body, control, trust, sexuality, etc. So I can't imagine the emotional trauma that must come from an actual rape.

And yet... I realize that I also have to take responsibility for my sexuality. I'm a big girl. I've never had sex and been unaware as to whether or not a condom was present. I've had condoms break in the middle of sex before (aren't y'all just thrilled at how much information I give you? Sorry. I feel like we gotta say these things out loud for them to get better). And I would hope that if I told a partner, "hey. the condom broke. you gotta pull out" or if the partner said, "oh, shit. the condom broke" and then i said, "ok. then pull out" he would. But if he didn't... I'm not sure it qualifies as rape. Is it wrong? ABSOLUTELY. You gotta stop when someone says stop. Jerk yourself off. Maybe ask her if she'll do it (and be willing to reciprocate. I mean, really guys? This shit is not all about you). But get out when she says get out.

But is that situation going to cause the same amount of emotional trauma that a more manipulative and/or forceful situation is going to cause a woman? Is a guy who keeps going after the condom breaks working under the same "i'm entitled to her" mentality as an uncle who molests his niece? Or is he like, "oh, shit. but i'm almost done!" I mean, no one likes a buzz kill, cock block, interrupted orgasm, however you want to call it. Are we really going to tell women that they're not responsible at all for checking whether the condom is in place before they actually start having sex? Is that helping women to tell them that they're entitled to sexual autonomy but still not capable of taking some responsibility in what we're trying to reform into a mutual relationship between mature adults?

Lastly, I want to clarify that I know I wasn't in the room for the Assange events. I have no idea what those women went through. My questions stem mainly from the hypothetical we discussed in class that seems to be very similar to the Assange mess. I'm also not trying to blame those women for anything. They're certainly entitled to have sex with whomever they want and to insist on condom use. But my questions above are sincere. I really want to understand this issue more. I want an honest dialogue (seriously, chrome? we're not spelling that with "ue" on the end anymore. sigh). So please, discuss.

UPDATED: Just wanted to throw in this delightful video on consent :) You know, lighten things up a bit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Subjective Experience, Dogma and Community

As my four, maybe six, readers know, I attend the Unitarian Universalist church here in Idaho Falls. We're an eclectic group. Some of us are Budhist, some are pantheistic, some are pagan, some worship Norse gods and goddesses, some are agnostic, some are atheist (me, me, me!), some are new agey, and some I haven't talked to or figured out yet. But as I've said before, we disagree about where we come from, what we're doing here on earth, and where we'll go after we die. Put us in a room together to vote on anything from our seven principles to whether UUs should adopt a stance on war and peace, and we'll argue, cajole, debate, and get loud. But again, as I've mentioned in previous posts, we manage to make a loving, committed community in spite of these differences. What we generally have in common is our desire for social justice, peace, egalitarianism and deeper understanding of different circumstances. What's even more amazing is we manage to get things done both in our congregation and in the community at large.

What each of us brings to the community is our own subjective experience. Some of us have felt things or seen things or heard things that make us feel like there is some kind of higher power out there watching us. Some of us have never had any kind of experience like that. Some of us may have had these types of experiences, but written them off as emotional responses to beauty, fear, guilt, whatever. But we respect each others' subjective experiences. While most UUs hold very few things sacred, our subjective experiences are one of the things we do.

We also use different language to describe these experiences. Some people use words like revelation, blessings or spirit. Some use words like dream, gifts or connection. But each of us understands that these experiences, regardless of how biological or not they are, are meaningful to us. These experiences help us cope with the difficult elements of life. These experiences give us strength and healing. And for those of us who don't have these types of experiences, perhaps we scratch our head, but accept that the people we're talking with are sincere in their belief and entirely accepting of our own lack of belief.

And this brings me to dogma. I'm not writing this post to convince everyone to become UU. I'm done being a missionary. I will proselytize no more forever. I'm simply using my UU congregation as a microcosm to look at a broader issue I've seen in my larger community lately. Some of my close friends (one of whom even attends the UU congregation here on occasion) have been speaking out against religion and religious language in all its forms. They've been calling out religious liberals for their "irrational langauge," their "adherence to superstition", or their belief in "magic". Just today I was using the phrase, "kool-aide drinkers" in reference to people who accepted their respective faith without question. So I understand the ease of reductive language. But in the case of larger societal discourse, I find it unhelpful. I worry that we atheists are beginning to formulate our own dogma and display intollerance similar to the kind we criticize so vehemently in some religious sects.

I'm not saying that blind adherence to any ideal is a good thing. I'll continue to criticize religious sects or leaders who I feel are harming their members or certain groups of society. I'm not calling for a cessation in criticism, only for an examination of our own prejudices. I know many faithful, believing Christians and hippie, happy pagans who share my ideals of equality for women, the right to choose, equality for gay and lesbian citizens and tolerance and acceptance of beliefs that are different from but do not threaten their own or others' ways of life.

The source for their commitment to equality is their understanding of Jesus' teachings or their understanding of their place in nature just as the source for my commitment to equality is the realization that this life is all I've got and so I should try to make the most of it for myself and others. But ultimately, we're working toward the same goals. Why would I want to alienate myself from these kind, compassionate and motivated people simply because they hold a belief that I find baseless? Is their belief threatening me? No. Are they insistent that I accept their belief? No.

I understand that religion can be harmful. Boy do I understand. The religion of my childhood and adolescence caused me so much pain as I got older and realized that my goals in life conflicted with those prescribed for me by that religion. I'll be honest and say that I feel the higher-ups in many religions do take pains to control their membership with fear and guilt. But I'll also acknowledge that this is not everyone's experience of religion. For some, religion is nothing but a net positive. Religion has spoken to them and prodded them along the path of sharing and love.

So I guess what I'm arguing for is less dogma from either side. Call for questioning of assumptions. Call for questioning of authority. But don't stomp on someone's motivation for causes that you feel strongly about. Where religious liberals are concerned, we must search for common ground rather than getting hung up on differences in motivation. Even if everyone became Christian or pagan or atheistic, we'd still disagree about things. Why not work more on practicing a society who accepts and thrives on those differences (again, as long as those differences aren't harming people or groups) rather than one that insists on such strict conformity?