Sunday, October 03, 2010

Insults Falling Upon Us

One of the local channels in our area plays Ghost Whisperer for three hours straight every afternoon/early evening.

I never watched the show before, but now that it's always on, I have managed to catch a few episodes. In one particular episode, Melinda, the main character who helps spirits "cross over" to the light, is having a conversation with her friend who has come to believe that Melinda can actually see ghosts, though her friend remains skeptical by default. At one point, Melinda acts hurt and goes on and on about being able to believe in more than what can be seen with our eyes. She also implies that her friendship will be compromised by her friend's disbelief and lack of trust in her.

This 30 second blip in the show brought me up short because I have heard versions of this conversation in church and in politics.

AVI had a post up in September about Evangelical Suspiciousness that may be tangentially relevant. In the comments section he wonders aloud about otherwise seemingly normal, bright people with fringe beliefs, who are strongly anti-vaccination, or convinced 9/11 Truthers etc.

I have had this happen to me before. It's unsettling to be in conversation with a person and realize that they have latched onto something you consider kind of wacky and misguided. When you respect someone for their other intellectual positions, or maybe have even looked up to that person, and you find a cognitive fault in their reasoning it does make you rethink your evaluation of them.

If they are so off-course in this area, how do you know they're not off-course in other areas?

Besides the implications for the particular image we have in our minds about people like this, there is also a sense that there is no room for conversation with someone who is heavily invested in "fringe" ideas. To disagree with them, or question their positions is to personally offend them.

When DH and I left the non-denominational church that we had been a part of for years, because the pastor had decided to push some new ideas and doctrines that relied heavily on experiences with "Demonic Oppression", I remember having the same types of thoughts.

Even though I strongly disagreed with where our church was going, along with about 1/2 of the congregation, I had the following thoughts,"How could I be right and a well-educated pastor of almost 20 years be wrong about something like this? It's his job to know this stuff. He has had way more experience than I ever will with people. How could I be right and he be wrong?"

At one meeting, when the pastor was trying to make his case and let everyone know that only people who were on board with his new teaching would be allowed in leadership, he asked the doubting crowd,"Do you think I am making this up? Do you think that I am crazy? Don't you trust me?" He pressed the people to accept his teaching because of their relationship with him, and when they couldn't believe for themselves, he asked them to believe because of him.

Except most of us couldn't. We weren't ready to sign up for a strong belief that every addiction, marital problem, or spiritual struggle was the result of us being oppressed by demons, necessitating a special "healing and deliverance" ritual.

He manipulated people. He shamed people into listening to him because of who he was, rather than listening because he was right. His outrage at our "unbelief" was personal. Not believing his teaching was the same as not believing him. There was no room for disagreement. We either believed what he said, or considered him a liar, from his perspective.

When we have strong religious or political beliefs, we tend to identify ourselves by those ideas, and the rejection of those ideas feels like a rejection of ourselves. I have seen this in myself. There have been times when I will be reading a blog and the blogger's sharp criticism towards someone, or something, that might be close in comparison to who or what I imagine myself to be stings me. I have to purposely shelve my feelings and remind myself that it's not about me, though I am not always successful at it.

There are times when I feel like the Psalmist:
Psalm 69:8-9

8 I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother's sons;

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
Minus the "zeal for your house" part...because I feel this way frequently in many other situations which are not religiously themed. Still, the feeling represents the situation accurately. The insults of those who insult our beliefs fall upon us.

The Psalmist goes on to ask God to take care of those mockers, blotting them out of the Book of Life, letting His wrath fall upon them and overwhelm them.

I'm not sure that's the object lesson we want to take from that particular Psalm, though it reminds me of Retriever's post today about Psalm 127 and how the pastor planned to preach on it. I didn't bother to leave a comment on her post about how I used to read this Psalm in exactly the way her pastor planned on presenting it! Her insult for the pastor's methods fell upon me also....even though I don't read the Psalms like that anymore.

It's funny how we align ourselves with ideas and movements and attach so many personal feelings and emotions to them that we seem incapable of hearing them abused without feeling the arrow dig into our heart a little bit.


Retriever said...

Oh, dear Terri, I am sorry if I insulted you. I probably sounded so negative about the method because the minister involved is disappointing.

terri said...


No, no, no! I should have rewritten that part. I looked at it later and realized that it probably came off too serious towards the end.

Your "insult" wasn't insulting to me...although I did feel an inward cringe because what you were representing in your post was about where I was several years ago.

But...I feel that cringe a lot when I remember things I have said and done with so much certainty and flippancy.

Aagh...too many gaffes to forget! ;-)

I didn't mean it as a criticism of you....I just thought of how the rest of Psalm 69 is like the rest of Psalm 127....a lot of stuff that we really don't know what to do with and kind of make up, or sweep under the rug.

When I was writing this post about our attachment to ideas and positions that phrase kept circling in my head, "the insults of those who insult you fall upon me". I couldn't remember which passage I had remembered that from....and then when I found it in the middle of one of those bloodthirsty Psalms pleading for God's wrath to fall on everyone...well it made me laugh a little.

The sentiment in that phrase conveys a true emotion we experience...but the rest of the Psalm is over the top!

When I referenced your post it wasn't to call you out as much as point to all the trouble that can come up from those emotional Psalms...and how trying to use the parts that inspire while not knowing what to do with the rest is kind of flabbergasting.

I didn't do a good job expressing what I meant. I was trying to touch on too many ideas in one post.


Retriever said...

Phew! I have been inadvertently offending so many people lately, that I had been afraid I had offended you too! Glad not to have.

I loved this post of yours, by the way. I have been thinking about just this issue lately, ever since that post of AVI's. The ways I freak out people with my own "weird" views. "Funny, you seem nice, how could you be religious???" or more seriously when talking with my incredulous spouse and children who do not believe in the divinity of Christ and think me an ignorant, superstitious peasant because I do. ALso, the way I have that UHOH reaction when certain people I know start getting too heavily into the conspiracy theories, or talk of demonic possession or whatever.

I do try, however, to remember that plenty of people are very charitable with me despite their view of my own strange (to them) views, so I try to set aside my feelings about some types of odd views. In particular, when I have friends who are really into summoning spirits and that kind of stuff, I will sometimes cautiously engage them and try (if they are still nominally Christian) to expose them to passages that warn about such things, or even (not very subtle) get them to watch truly horrific movies where people come to grief messing around with spirits. Whatever will get across the idea that seemingly arbitrary warnings from Jesus were given for a purpose...

I always appreciate your posts on popular culture.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hey! What's all this talk about offending people? I never heard of such a thing.

I think context, one's knowledge of the writer, matters greatly - in both directions. If it is a site or a commenter I don't know much about, I am likely to take general statements as blanket statements, not recognising that the writer has sometimes, or even often, been careful to note exceptions. In the other direction, if it is someone who knows me and my association with a group or opinion but makes a generalization I might think "Hey, what am I, chopped liver? He knows I, at least, am not like that."

I find that when I write vividly and forcefully I run the risk of offense. When I don't, I run the risk of not really saying much of anything. In conversation, one can soften the blow somewhat with expression, tone, and followup comments. I have had more than one person over the years note that they have left Bible study or adult Sunday School angry at me, only to be surprised weeks or months later when the topic comes up again that I had listened to and remembered their comments and noted them with approval. I'm not sure that quite makes up for it - especially as sometimes they didn't say anything worth approving of I can pull out later.

You offend very rarely, if at all. I have concluded you are a person willing to absorb (some?) damage rather than strike back hastily. An admirable quality.

Retriever said...

AVI, it was a reference to my inadvertently offending someone I greatly admire and like with posts on my own blog. The specific post was one where I was describing my fury when my spouse was unemployed and we were really struggling and I would be buying cruddy groceries with our last dollars, in line behind people buying far more lavish groceries than me with food stamps. And their weight. Anyway, me and my big mouth...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Retriever, I was narcissistically referring to myself as a frequent offender of others. I am unfortunately familiar with this topic