Theologians, They Might Know Something

October 30th, 2019

I’ve been really enthralled by the podcast Preach, in which “host Lee Hale sits down with people from all walks of life and all religions. You’ll hear people talk honestly about their doubts and beliefs. How they wrestle with life’s big questions. And the way spirituality intersects with their daily struggles and joys.”

Not a religious person myself, I am nevertheless fascinated by theologism. I’ve learned a lot listening to this podcast — particularly from the episode with Simran Jeet Singh, a Sikh raised in Texas. I don’t know much about the Sikh faith, and, in fact, was not exactly sure how to pronounce Sikh before I listened to this. But the conversation between this devout Sikh (“sick,” unless you’re a Colonialist) raised in a Western Christian society and an open-minded Mormon (Hale) was fascinating.

Another recent episode also captivated my attention: an interview with Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. The movie Dead Man Walking was based on her relationships with several death row inmates, serving as their spiritual advisors. While this is the work she was well known for, in the interview, she talks in general about her “awakening” as a young nun when she realized that her sheltered middle-class white life had not taught her about how a lot of other people live — not in the ways Jesus intended, anyway.

“It’s not that I was so blooming privileged,” she says. “It’s just that I’d been protected and resourced.” From this awareness she began to spend more time with marginalized communities, including low-income African American communities, and of this experience she says:

I used to say, when I was in the quote “spiritual” phase of my life… I’m apolitical. I’m spiritual; I’m above political things. But there’s no way to be apolitical in a democratic society. If you’re not doing anything, then you’re supporting the status quo. And to support the status quo is a very political position to take.

I so relate to this in our current times. In the last few years I myself moved from a pretty sheltered, “well-resourced” place for middle-class white people: Salt Lake City Utah. Now, I live in an arguably no less white or sheltered place, Vermont. Yet, it feels so different here.

Partly this is because Vermont is quite progressive and liberal. Partly it’s because my daughters go to a Montessori school where anti-bias education is a major priority, and effort is made to educate about other cultures in every possible way. My daughters have plenty of peers and teachers who fall outside the straight white status quo.

And partly it’s because of the, ahem, current political culture. You cannot excuse yourself from voicing an opinion by claiming to be “apolitical” anymore. If you’re apolitical, you’re not paying attention (and, frankly, you’re probably a middle-to-upper-class white person). Not paying attention is a luxury, and at this point, dangerous.

One of the things religion can do well is create ethical mores. But as Prejean said on Preach, anyone can use any religious tome to “proof text.” The definition of proof texting, ironically according to, is this:

Proof texting uses certain short passages, many times only a single verse, pulled from the Bible in support of a particular belief or doctrine. … Proof texting can easily lead to wrong conclusions regarding what is the truth of God.

Uh, amen to that, although I’m sure didn’t mean it exactly as I took it.

I remain steadfastly curious about religion, and respectful of difference, and ultimately committed to my very scientific POV of the universe. Which, thank god, includes podcasts.

What I’m reading:

With my kids, I’ve been reading the extremely trippy and convoluted book House at Pooh Corner

What I’m listening to:

Just going for it and admitting I love country music: Midland

What I’m eating:

All the soups. Brrrrrr.

What I’m working on:

This has been one of those weeks where all the pieces I’ve been writing for months got published at once, making it seem like I am super productive. An illusion I am happy to perpetuate!

For Box:

For Eventbrite:

For Helpshift:

For Peltarion:

For Strivr:

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