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On Josh and Anna Duggar and the Fundamentalist Christian Culture of Forgiving Molesters and Abusers

May 22, 2015 1 comment

I don’t often write non book reviews anymore, but something has come into the news that hits close to my heart and my own personal experience, and I felt it necessary to put my perspective out there.

Probably most people by now have heard that Josh Duggar of the famous Quiverfull family the Duggars has admitted that he molested young girls when he was a teenager (source).  Perhaps what may be more shocking to most people is the knowledge that his wife, Anna, knew about this before they were married and married him anyway and is having children with him.  (They currently have three young children, with a fourth on the way).

If you read Anna’s and Josh’s official statements, you will notice a theme among them.

Anna says, “He continued to do what he was taught. [I know] who Josh really is – someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended.  Someone who had received the help needed to change the direction of his life and do what is right.” source, bold emphasis added by me.

Josh says, “I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions.  I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.source, bold emphasis added by me.

In the fundamentalist Christian community, there is this idea that only those who were not truly saved are capable of abuse or molestation.  I know this, because I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian community and heard this rhetoric over and over again.  If Christianity was a ladder with fundamentalism at the top and the most liberal church you can think of at the bottom, my church growing up was one rung below the Quiverfulls.  (If you are not familiar with what Quiverfull is, I highly recommend reading this expose on it).

Even in my slightly less fundamentalist fundamentalist Christian community growing up this idea existed.  If someone has molested or abused people, they are clearly not saved, because no one with Jesus living in their heart would be capable of such heinous acts.  Thus, if a person who has committed these acts “comes to Jesus” aka gets saved aka simply states that they now have faith in Jesus, the community believes that they are now incapable of molesting or abusing anyone.  What this means is that all a molester or abuser has to do when caught is state how truly sorry they are, that they have seen their wrongs, that they have asked Christ to come into their lives and save them, that they have now repented and are turning 180 degrees from what they were.

You can see this same rhetoric in what Anna and Josh say above.  While I seriously doubt that Josh is actually the changed person he claims to be (once a molester, always a molester, in my opinion), I do believe that his wife, Anna, truly believes that it’s ok to have children with him, because Josh is different now. He’s got Jesus. He didn’t have Jesus before, and that was bad, but he does now, so it’s ok.  You can see how these ideas would lead to the harboring of abusers and molesters within the community.  The molester and/or abuser knows exactly what rhetoric to say to get out of it.  EVEN IF they had previously claimed they were saved, they can simply state that they thought they had been saved, but they must not have truly been one with Jesus or Satan wouldn’t have been able to entice them to commit these heinous acts.  It’s irrelevant if the molester actually believes this or not, they simply know the rhetoric to say to get a clean slate in the community.  While forgiveness is admirable, there are just situations and circumstances where that forgiveness should not go hand-in-hand with trusting the person to be around vulnerable people or with not punishing them at all or holding them accountable at all.

I personally know of at least two scenarios in my own community I grew up in where similar abusers and/or molesters have been given a free pass to be around children because they have “repented and come to Jesus now” so they “couldn’t possibly be capable of it anymore.”  This culture fundamentalist Christianity has of sweeping these situations under the rug and protecting the abusers and molesters simply because they have come to Jesus is inexcusable.  Yet it is so deeply ingrained in the culture, that I doubt it will ever change.  So why am I bothering to write this?  I want anyone who comes into contact with people from that community to be aware of the fact that just because they claim someone is a man of God or an upstanding citizen or a woman after God’s own heart that that does NOT mean that they have done nothing heinous in their past.  They may have, and the community may even know of it and still speak of them that way.  If you are in contact with children from this community please listen to what they say closely.  If they say something like “so-and-so used to be very bad but then they came to Jesus so it’s ok now,” that is most likely a situation that warrants closer attention.  These children need us to pay attention and try to protect them because God knows their own community will not.

Book Review: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

Book Review: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley RobinsonSummary:
Imagine a world where the Black Death of the 14th century wiped out the majority of the European population, rather than one-third of it.  This is the world Robinson imagines, one where Buddhism and Islam rise as the two major religions of the world (with no religion a close third).  See the history of the world through the eyes of two souls who keep reincarnating in different cultures, struggling to better both themselves and their world that could easily have been ours.

Review:
I originally picked this book up because I have long held a fascination with the various religions of the world (I was actually a Religious Studies minor in undergrad).  The “what if” at the center of the book seemed like a great starting place to me.  Indeed, what if most of the followers of currently largest faith (Christianity, source) had died off?  What things would change and what would have stayed the same?  Robinson chooses to tell this tale through reincarnating souls, which sometimes gives us a lot of access to these changes but other times leaves the reader feeling like they got just a passing breath of a culture and a century.

I didn’t realize going into this that Robinson had chosen to tell this story through the eyes of the same souls reincarnating over and over again.  It’s an interesting choice that I am uncertain about as it lends a sort of “this much we know” to the spiritual side of the story.  We, the readers, know that the souls of people in this world definitely exist, they go to the bardo to await judgment and reincarnation.  The bardo they go to appears to reflect whatever faith they had (Muslims have their own, Buddhists have their own, etc…)  The idea is also put out there that each of the faiths is a different path to the same end (enlightenment).  Much as I may personally believe this idea, I’m not sure how I feel about this particular story being so mythology heavy.  The History BA in me very much wanted to see a more analytical power-structure play-out, which we do get some of, but not as much as we get of the how to better our souls question.  I suppose what I am trying to say is that, although I was anticipating a book that was scholarly with a dash of spiritual, what I got instead was the reverse.  That’s not a bad thing, and I still enjoyed it, but it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, and I do wonder how the story may have played out differently if Robinson wasn’t so tied to the same souls over and over again.

One aspect of the same souls reincarnating that niggled at me a bit was that throughout history, no matter where they were born (or what gender or species), their names always started with the same letters.  So a character whose first name in the first incarnation started with the letter K always had a name that started with the letter K.  It got so I could predict who was who and, to a certain extent, how they would act in each incarnation.  On the one hand, it was a cool idea, although highly unlikely someone’s name would start with the same letter throughout time and cultures and languages.  On the other hand, it distracted me from the more interesting story of the different world developing with the rise of different cultures than actually appeared in our own history.

Similarly, I think there is far too much story and richness in this idea and timeline to limit it to one book.  There were multiple incarnations that I really wanted to know more of.  I wanted to know the whole story of these lives and this place.  Instead, the reader gets a quick glimpse into one time in their lives, and then we are left jumping ahead to the bardo to find out how they died and oh here comes the next incarnation.  Perhaps the point was to make the reader feel as if each life is only a blink, but the scholar in me was left wanting to know so much more about every area and life the book briefly visited.  It was like getting only a small morsel of each chocolate in a box of delicious chocolates, instead of getting to savor them all over a long period of time.

All of this said, let me now discuss the parts of the book I really enjoyed (and would have liked to have seen more of).  My favorite is how Robinson reimagined the Americas.  The same essential problem of real history still exists for the Native Americans even with the change of the Christians mostly dying off.  Mainly, they lacked easily sourced heavy metals to make higher-tech weapons and they were susceptible to all of the germs European explorers brought with them.  (I learned about this in my classes in US History for my BA, but my professors told me this whole idea is also presented in the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, written at a level for those who are not history scholars, if you are interested in the topic).  Robinson figures out a creative way for select tribes in North America to avoid entirely succumbing to this fate, thus allowing them to band together and become the nation Hodenosaunee.  This means that one matriarchal, communal culture survives into the 20th and 21st centuries.  (Also of note, the West Coast is colonized successfully by the Chinese, so it is also vastly different in this imagining).  I was so intrigued by the idea of a Native culture surviving and holding on to their land against invaders.  But, on the other hand, I do feel that the author cherry-picked those tribes whose values most closely aligned with his own to “save” in this imagining.  (For instance, all human sacrificing tribes still die out/are enslaved, the Plains tribes are all presented as extremely violent and thus not eligible for inclusion in this forward-thinking group).  To a certain extent, the Hodenosaunee save the rest of the world with their communal and matriarchal ideas, and that verges a bit close to the stereotype/idea that select Native American tribes were/are just simply more spiritual than the rest of us, and we could all be saved if we would just listen.  (Think of the old commercial about littering and the Native man in traditional dress crying over our hurting “Mother Earth.”)  This stereotype removes humanity from Native Americans.  Native Americans consist of diverse nations with pluses and minuses, just like every nation in the world.  If Native Americans hadn’t been decimated by invasion, persecution, and disease, their existence as a power in the world would have been much more nuanced than presented in this book simply because Native Americans are humans, and humans are flawed. Just as no culture is all bad, no culture is all good.

Robinson does a much better job painting Islam and Buddhism with a nuanced brush.  Since their cultures dominate the book, this means most of the book is much more gray area, rather than presenting everything as black and white.  One element that demonstrates this, is how Robinson handles Islam and women.  All sides of the arguments about Islam and women are presented here.  There are incarnations of the souls that are Muslim women who argue strongly that the men are misinterpreting the Quran, what Mohammed said, etc… There are of course other incarnations that say no, the extreme fundamentalism is the right interpretation.  Through showing Islam through many different lenses in a world that is different from our own, Robinson demonstrates how religion is so incredibly open to interpretation, and good and bad people can shape it to their own agendas.  One passage that I think demonstrates how well Robinson walks this line is a conversation some characters have about the women wearing the veil or not:

The veil has a kind of power, in certain situations.  All such signs stand for other things; they are sentences spoken in matter.  The hijab can say to strangers, ‘I am Islamic and in solidarity with my men, against you and all the world.’ To Islamic men it can say, ‘I will play this foolish game, this fantasy of yours, but only if in return you do everything I tell you to.’ For some men this trade, this capitulation to love, is a kind of release from the craziness of being a man.  So the veil can be like putting on a magician queen’s cape…. Or it can be like putting on a slave’s collar, certainly. (page 592)

If this passage appeals to you in how it presents the various nuances and gray areas of religion and culture, then a lot of this book will appeal to you.

One final issue with the book I will note that may turn off some readers is that out of all the many incarnations, only two are in Native American bodies (and then, they are both Native Americans in North America.  South America is completely left out for incarnations, although incarnations visit there).  Similarly, there are no incarnations to Australia, New Zealand, Central America, or any island nation anywhere (Caribbean, Pacific Islands, United Kingdom, Iceland).  There is only one incarnation where one of the souls is in an African, and that African is a slave on a Chinese slave ship who then goes to China (we thus spend very little time in Africa, just at the beginning on the slave ship).  One character in an incarnation mentions that in the past she went to Africa but the reader does not see her time there.  I definitely think that it’s a weakness that so many areas of the world are left out.  For instance, I have zero idea what happened in Australia now that it clearly was never a penal colony of the UK (since the UK never existed).  Similarly, it seems Africa would be very different with all the changes in global power, and yet the only passing mention we get of modern Africa in the later incarnations is that one of the characters visits there to fight against Female Genital Mutliation (FGM).  If so much else changed, why not in Africa?

I know it may seem like I listed out a lot of issues, but it is a very long book that tackles a huge task.  My review is almost as if I was reviewing an entire series in one fell swoop.  Each individual part had issues, as did some of the overarching ideas, but I mostly really did enjoy reading it.  It’s a fascinating thought experiment that wasn’t as well executed as it could have been, but parts of it were brilliant.  I also enjoyed the feminist themes throughout.  Men and women are both just souls, reincarnating into a woman is not a punishment.  In fact, neither gender nor race is a punishment for previous incarnations, just species.  Similarly, the more a society advances the more equal their genders and races are.  There is a lot of thought given to what it means to be a woman in various areas of the world, which could easily have been passed over or not handled well.

Overall, this is a book that tackles a huge philosophical question in a fantastical way.  It is a large task that probably would have been better suited to a series to fully flesh-out the world, the lives, and the nuances in both.  Readers interested in spiritual questions with a tendency to view all religions as different paths to the same enlightenment and a curiosity about how the world might be different with different religions in the lead will be most suited to the book.  Readers interested in a more thorough exploration of an alternate history will most likely be disappointed by the reincarnation aspect and the brief time spent in each time period and culture.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Counts For:
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge
and
Once Upon a Time IX

Book Review: Oddkins: A Fable for All Ages by Dean Koontz

An assortment of stuffed animals standing on a road between two tall buildings.Summary:
Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker.  He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse.  When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again.  His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children.  Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.

Review:
The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us.  Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book.  Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.

The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine.  Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph.  Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city.  This kept situations varied and engaging.

Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional.  However, their two dimensions work for the story.  For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave.  He is not just naturally brave.  Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them.  The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain.  The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.

So why didn’t I love it?  Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me.  There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan.  There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them.  For instance

God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)

Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me.  A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.

Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique.  It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: Love Me by Danger Slater

December 26, 2011 6 comments

Drawing of a frowning man in a Viking helmet.Summary:
I am awesome. I am the fucking awesomest awesome dude that ever was. I live on a hilltop in my castle made from 300 human skulls.  I sit on the roof and fight with Moon while wearing my Totally Authentic Viking Outfit I bought on ebay.  My tears are cancerous. No really. See how the animals that drink them keel over and die?  I surround my castle with a moat of blood and entrails where my crocoweilers live.  (They’re crocodiles cross-bred with rottweilers).  The thing is, I’m kind of lonely. So maybe I should go have some adventures around the world and do shit like invent Christianity? Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

Review:
This book is definitely intended for a narrow audience. But for that audience it is hilarious and awesome.  You have to love swearing, gross-out humor, complete zaniness, and have an ability to overlook certain discrepancies like the fact that Christianity did not originate in America and if the whole world was at nuclear war why is there suddenly a fully functional president in the White House?  I’m sure that all sounds crazy and bizarre because it is.  But it’s also hilarious.

It’s incredibly hard to describe and articulate just way such a zany book is awesome to read, so I’ll let a couple of quotes speak for themselves.

Three days later Jesus used his magic/zombie/God powers to come back from the dead. All the Romans were like, “No fucking way!” And Jesus was all like, “Fucking way, bro!” (location 662)

My heart, once again, whimpers. It gets all emo and grows an unattractive beard and starts writing bad poetry. My heart is looking very Cat Stevens. (location 1964)

I bind my novel in the hide of the now extinct Caspian tiger just so the publishers will know, Whoa, this dude is serious, and I mail it out. (location 529)

But it’s not just all zany humor.  Slater also demonstrates a clear understanding and knowledge of the rise of Western society and culture.  Passages periodically toss out allusions to not just pop culture and religious history, but also to parts of the Western Canon, such as Greek Mythology:

I welcome the unctuous numbness into my body. It offers me relief. I let the Charon of alcohol ferry me across the River Styx. I let it guide me deeper into Hell. (location 2879)

Underneath the humor and the allusions though what the book really is is a parable for anyone who ever searched for the meaning of life and wound up agnostic or atheist.  Parts of it truly speak to the experience of finding and losing religion. Of then investing yourself into other ideals that just don’t work out for you either until you’re left with the only solution, that life’s purpose is….

to exist in any way you see fit, plain and simple. (location 1391)

The one drawback to the novel is that this small indie press work needs an editor (or another editing swoop from Slater).  Although his writing itself is very good, there are a few misspelled words, typos, etc…. that, alas, interfere with the book’s good qualities.  Please listen to this reviewer and either do it yourself or find a friend to!  Your work is too good for such an easily fixed short-coming.

Overall this book is a delicious, zany, humorous parable of the agnostic/atheist journey through Western society in a search for the meaning of life.  If that sounds like it’d appeal to you and swearing and dick jokes don’t offend you, then I highly recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (Series, #1)

April 26, 2010 6 comments

Female neck wearing a pearl necklace with bite marks against NYC skyline.Summary:
The students at Duchesne Academy in New York City appear to be your typical bunch of wealthy, elite teenagers.  Naturally gorgeous twins Mimi and Jack rule the school.  Bliss became part of Mimi’s entourage when her oil wealthy Texas family moved to NYC.  Schuyler is part of the crowd of misfits who wear goth clothes instead of the more typical Louis Vuitton.  They all gradually discover, however, that the secret to their families’ wealth isn’t just that they came over on the Mayflower.  They are Blue Bloods–vampires who retire from their human shells every 100 years or so then come back with the same blood.  Their teenage years are vulnerable ones, and someone or something out there is managing to kill some of the young Blue Bloods.

Review:
The vampire lore behind this story is not my style.  It is so much not my style that just writing the above summary made me cringe.  None of the official summaries of the book reveal much about the vampire lore, so let me tell you just in case it’s not your style either.  Blue Bloods is heavily steeped in Christianity.  The vampires are fallen angels who are attempting to atone for their rebellion.  They face hundreds of years of punishment trapped in human bodies that they must eventually retire then return in new ones.  The vampires accomplish this reincarnation by taking some of the blood from the dead vampire and implanting it into a vampire woman’s uterus.  It all rings as a bit odd when you have a teenage character who’s never done anything more wrong than sneak into a club be told that she must atone for this rebellion against god that she doesn’t even remember doing hundreds of years ago.  It really takes the bite out of vampires and makes them kind of pathetic.

Where the book is strongest is oddly where the vampire thing is on the back burner.  Schuyler and Bliss get to model for a jean company, and that scene was actually quite enjoyable to read.  If this had been your more typical murder mystery at an elite high school, I think it would have been a much better book.

Some reviewers had a problem with the presence of teenage drinking, drugging, and sex.  I actually thought the sex was handled quite well, with teens talking about it a lot but nobody actually managing to do it.  That read as very real.  The alcohol is kind of a non-factor, since vampires can’t be affected by alcohol.  My only confusion with this is if that’s the case, then why are they risking breaking the law to drink?  I suppose it seems minor compared to convincing a human to become your familiar so you can feed off them.  The drugs are entirely presented in a negative light the few times they are briefly mentioned.

What shocked me, and I can’t believe how infrequently this is mentioned, is that there is incest and the vampires accept it.  Gah!  There are times when incest is present in a book, and it is handled so that all sides of the issue may be seen–all of the accompanying emotions are delicately handled.  Here, the vampires just say that it’s the way it should be and are protective of the siblings.  Not much else is said of it, beyond a few teen vampires being grossed out, but it is made clear that their reactions are considered inappropriate by the vampires.

That said, it’s not badly written on a sentence level.  It reads naturally, which is probably the only reason I struggled through the cringe-inducing lore.  It is essentially Gossip Girl crossed with Vampire Diaries with some incest and Christianity tossed in.  If that’s your thing, you will enjoy it.  All others should probably pass though.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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5 Year Old Me and a Bag of Kitten Food (Virtual Advent Tour 2009)

December 23, 2009 12 comments

I decided to participate in the Virtual Advent Tour in which bloggers sign up for a day of the advent calendar to feature a holiday-centric post.  So, happy 23rd day everyone and welcome!  On to the post.

I grew up in rural Vermont with a brother 5 years older than me and my two working class, highly religious parents.  Since my parents were very serious about their Christianity, to the point that I was homeschooled until the 6th grade, Christmas was a big freaking deal.  Jesus being born was the fulfillment of many prophecies.  Without Jesus’s birth, there’d be no Easter and without Easter we’d have no hope at all.  Jesus’s birth was second only to Jesus’s death and resurrection, and that was only first because the Second Coming hadn’t happened yet.  Therefore, Christmas was one busy season for us.  I’m talking Advent Calendars, baking multiple goodies from scratch, multiple must watch specials and movies, two extended family gatherings, candlelight services, special church performances, and more.  Of course, me being a kid, the only truly important part of Christmas was the presents Christmas morning.  Although, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to admit it, and I would fervently state how much I enjoyed the family reading of the Christmas story from Luke between stockings and presents.

Since my parents fervently believed telling us that Santa was real was akin to telling us Muhammed was right, presents were gradually placed under the Christmas tree, and we weren’t allowed to touch them.  This led to hours of me sitting on the rug in front of the tree pining and wondering erm, *ahem* reading a book.  My brother and I became experts at determining what a present was just by its shape or determining what awesome present the unwrapped accessories under the tree went to.

Every year pretty much from the time I could talk, I asked for a kitty.  We had a dog, Beuaregard, but all I wanted was a kitty to snuggle and to feel purring on my feet when I slept.  Dolls shmolls, I wanted a kitty.  One December morning, when I was (I believe 5, definitely before I was 7) I came into the living room and came to a dead stand-still.  All you needed was to turn me to salt, and I’d be doing the perfect impression of Lot’s wife.  There under the Christmas tree was a bag of kitten food.  My heart raced and I did my best not to shreek in sheer joy, because a family rule of Christmas was if we guessed a present prior to Christmas morning, we weren’t allowed to have it.  It was the veritable don’t ask, don’t tell of holidays.  My mom wasn’t big into giving us what we wanted, she thought it’d be spoiling us, but my dad.  My dad always wanted to give us exactly what we wanted, and I was certain this bag of kitten food was his way of telling me that I’d have my kitty in a few short weeks.

Christmas morning came, and I impatiently went through the stockings and the reading of the Christmas story.  Present opening started, which was always a slow ordeal as we opened them one at a time while everyone watched.  My first present was not a kitty.  Ok.  So they were waiting to give it to me last knowing what a ruckus it’d cause.  I could wait.  Gradually all the presents were gone from under the tree.  Only the never-wrapped chocolate covered cherries and kitten food were left.

“Isn’t there something more?” I asked, as my parents got up to get some coffee.  My mom’s mouth opened to go into her ungrateful speech, but my dad cut her off asking, “Why do you think there’s something more?”

I pointed at the kitten food, “Well, there’s that bag of food there.”

“Oh, that’s a treat for the dog.  He loves cat food.”

No.  My dad had to be kidding.  He was a big teaser.  “What?”

“The dog loves cat food.”  At this point, my mom started tapping my dad on the arm, and recognition dawned on the two of them as I started to wail, “You mean I’m not getting a kitten?!”

According to family lore, I was inconsolable the entire day and crying a good portion of it.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your day be filled with kitten-like presents.

Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall By Anne Bronte

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

coverthetenantofwildfellhallSummary:
Cited as the feminist antithesis to her contemporary Austen’s romantic 19th century ramblings, Anne Bronte’s best-known novel presents the much more dire image of the very real risk of marriage in a time where the wife loses all her human rights to her husband. Gilbert Markham becomes infatuated with the widow Helen Graham who has moved into his neighborhood with her son, but rumors soon start to spark up around her. When he confronts her about her conduct, she shows him her diary. There he learns her travails and sufferings at the hands of her still very much alive husband.

Review:
I came to this book with high expectations. I heard of it simply as the one of the earlier feminist novels written in response to such works as Austen’s. I felt this opened the door to many possibilities, but perhaps I was thinking about this with too much of a 21st century brain. What held The Tenant of Wildfell Hall back was the relentless presentation of Helen as the picture of Christian piety. Given the fact that Helen behaves quite willfully and controversially for the time period by leaving her husband’s home to live separately from him, this was probably quite necessary for Bronte’s contemporaries to find Helen a sympathetic character. For me though her severeness sometimes had me siding with her tyrant of a husband in my mind. He calls her cold and calculating. Well all she ever talks about is living piously now to be joyous in heaven after death. I would find that cold and calculating as well.

This book does hold value for the modern feminist though if we re-position ourselves to look at it through the lens of how society at the time has messed up both Helen and her husband, Arthur. Society tells Helen that it is her job as a woman to be the pious one. Although single men may go cavorting about she must sit respectably at home or go out to supervised dances. Men may behave however they desire as long as they settle down after marriage. This belief leads Helen to make her foolish, egotistical mistake of thinking that marrying Arthur is alright for she can change him after they are married. To a certain extent Arthur makes the same mistake. He has been told the ideal wife is a highly pious one, so he marries Helen thinking she will save him when, in fact, they are the most mis-matched couple ever.

Arthur enjoys cavorting, playing cards, and drinking. Helen refuses to do these things out of piety and nags Arthur not to do them. They both come to realize they are mis-matched, but in their society divorce is a painful embarrassment to both parties. Helen doesn’t even consider it for Christian reasons; Arthur in order to save face. This leads to their gradual loss of caring for each other, although Arthur’s comes much faster and more brutally when he carries out an affair with the wife of a visiting friend.

Arthur no longer wants Helen, but she is his wife and he would be a laughing-stock if he couldn’t control her, so he starts abusing her emotionally–repeatedly telling her it disgusts him to see her pale skin, for instance. He also carries out the afore-mentioned affairs with her full knowledge and at first forbids her from having any of her own. I am not condoning Arthur’s ill-treatment of Helen. He made the situation far more worse than society alone would have had them make it. He could, for instance, have allowed them to set up separate households, which was sometimes done. He at least could have shown her the respect she deserved as a human being, but instead he came to view her almost as a hated prison guard. This would not have been the case if they could have parted ways amicably.

I must admit what struck me far more than the restrictive society was Helen’s restrictive religion. She almost constantly lives only thinking of her reward after death in Heaven. She possesses nearly no joy for her beliefs require that she squander her life away serving a man who hates her. The only reason she even leaves him for a time, relieving some of her pain, is because she believes her duty to raise a pious son outweighs her duty as a wife, so she is justified to remove her son from the soul-risking influence of his father. Helen’s faith seems to bring her no joy, but instead demand she behave as a judging marble statue.

Although The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not an obvious feminist manifesto, it as an excellent rendition of the oppression of 19th century society on both men and women. Reading of their struggles and realizing as a 21st century observer that there is essentially no way out for either of them beautifully demonstrates how far we’ve come. Bronte’s writing style is complex enough that what could be a bit of a boring, straight-forward tale remains interesting throughout. She changes perspectives a few times via diaries and letters. She does suffer from the 19th century literature trap of overly extensive descriptions of settings, but these are easily skimmed. An excellent example of 19th century literature, I wish Bronte’s realistic work was assigned more often in literature classes than Austen’s fluffy, unrealistic drivel.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

The Rifqa Runaway Case

September 17, 2009 6 comments

Maybe through all the hubbub of the Yale murder this week you heard about the teenage girl named Rifqa.  Rifqa ran away from home.  She told the authorities her parents had threatened to kill her.  Child custody cases happen a lot, so why did this one get picked up by Newsweek?  Rifqa’s parents are Muslim; she converted to Christianity and says this is why they threatened her.

I am angry about this.  I am angry at the way the media is handling the story.  I am angry that representitives from both religions are using this to argue over religion.  I am angry that the court is even considering giving Rifqa back to her family.  In fact, that is what I am the most angry about, because this case should not be about religion.

We have a frightened, terrified child who gathered up the courage to run away from home and tell someone her parents were threatening her.  Most children fear their abusive parents far too much to ever do such a thing, and what is the court saying?  They’re saying there is no evidence.  Rifqa’s testimony is hearsay.  Her father seems genuinely upset.  He was just like any other concerned parent when she went missing.  The Newsweek writer keeps pointing out how nice he seems.

Newsflash!  Abusers don’t seem like abusers!  If they did, we wouldn’t have so many cases of adults raised in abusive homes who never escaped.  Ask any person who was abused as a child.  They will tell you mommy/daddy was a real angel around everyone else.  Only the child ever saw the monster inside.  Abusers can be the most upstanding citizen in your community.  They can be active participants in your local church/mosque/temple/whatever.  They can seem perfectly holy.  Why?  Because abusers are masters of deceit, whether they are deceiving themselves or others around them.  Some abusers actively work to deceive the community.  Others deceive themselves into thinking they never abused their child.  I know people whose parents who abused them claim to this day when confronted that it never happened.  The child is lying.  The child is crazy.

It is awful, terrible that in cases like this, in abuse cases, rape cases–cases where the victims are predominantly women and children–the victim is the one being put on trial.  It is assumed the victim is lying until proven otherwise.  This is wrong!  I am not saying in cases like this where there is no physical evidence that the parents should go to jail, but the child should be removed from the home and placed into protective custody!  That is the very least a terrified victim deserves.  The trust of the authorities that she actually is in danger and the guarantee of protection.

Amazon Isn’t a Library

April 13, 2009 4 comments

Apparently, it recently came to light that Amazon has removed GLBT books from their online ranking system.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t find a GLBT book if you are looking for it though.  I checked myself this morning, so I wouldn’t be going on hearsay.  When I typed in “heather has,” the auto-completion drop down box immediately completed it with “heather has two mommies.”

Another complaint people are putting forward is that a search for “homosexuality” pulls up books that are against the homosexual lifestyle higher in the rankings than supportive books.  I checked this.  The first result I got for “homosexuality” was Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of  the Homosexual Lifestyle.  The second result was a genre tag for “homosexuality, ” and a choice of fiction or nonfiction.  I clicked on nonfiction and was immediately led to a result page consisting entirely of books supportive of GLBT people, including Gay America: Struggle for Equality.  Back to my original results page, the third hit was a book from a gay erotica series.

Ok, so Amazon is still selling and displaying books supportive of the GLBT lifestyle.  No, they aren’t the first hit.  No, they aren’t included in the selling rankings.

Newsflash:  Amazon isn’t a library.  Amazon has no ethical responsibility to fairly and equally display both (or multiple) sides of controversial issues.  Amazon is a private retailer.  Whoever owns Amazon can choose what stock to carry, as long as it is legal.  They clearly cannot sell pot, for instance.  Amazon may also choose how prominently to display their stock.  Imagine a traditional bookstore.  They choose what books to place in the windows to draw people in.  I view the sales rankings as similar to this.

What it all boils down to is that Amazon has the right, as a bookstore, to choose what books to stock and how prominently to display them.  Even if they flat-out refused to sell GLBT books, that isn’t “book banning.”  Amazon is not the government.  For comparison, a couple of GLBT friends could start their own bookstore and decide that they didn’t want to carry anything anti-GLBT or pro-fundamentalist Christianity.  Do you think the whole nation would be up in arms about this?  No, it wouldn’t be.  They would say “good on them, overcoming that adversity.”  Well, the fact of the matter is, if we’re talking rights, anti-GLBT people have rights too.

Amazon isn’t breaking any laws.  Amazon didn’t make some hit-list of gay people to refuse to sell to.  That legally would be considered discrimination.  Amazon isn’t even refusing to sell GLBT books.  It simply isn’t displaying them as prominently.  Well, they are a private business, and that’s their right.  If you have a problem with it, feel free to boycot them and send them a letter explaining why you will no longer be buying from them.  However, stop with all the hate and fear-mongering against them.  Quit making a mountain out of a mole-hill.  Quit being a wanna-be martyr.  There are far bigger issues in the world than where Amazon ranks GLBT books.  If you have a problem with it, boycot them and move on.

For the record, I won’t be boycotting Amazon, as I like them, and I don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.  Odd stance for a libertarian librarian, I know.

Encountering Columbine

April 8, 2009 3 comments

A new book is coming out this week in the true crime genre: Columbine by Dave Cullen.  This, of course, is leading people to talk about the first big American school shooting, with even an article in Newsweek about it.

I’m part of the generation that was heavily impacted by Columbine.  I was a freshman in highschool when it happened.  I’ve read some articles written by members of my generation about it.  They all say similar things.

We were shocked into realizing we weren’t safe.
We instantly became more likely to talk to the loners.
Suddenly schools were having practice lock-downs, just in case.

Of course I experienced all of these things, but Columbine was twisted and used by my religious fundamentalist community to such an extent that even with all of the news coverage, I had some of the details of the shooting completely wrong for years.

You see, my fundamentalist protestant school (that I thankfully got out of my sophomore year) told us that the shooters were targeting the Christian students.

That’s right.  It wasn’t random.  It wasn’t the jocks or the popular kids.  It was the Christian kids.

I remember having an assembly at my school where the principal told us that the shooters asked the kids if they believed in God/Jesus.  If they said no, then the shooters would let them live.  If they said yes, then the shooters killed them.  There was even a book called She Said Yes, which was essentially required reading in my community for all highschoolers.  There is a huge amount of controversy surrounding this book now, with the people who were actually present at Columbine stating that no such exchange ever occurred.

Well, I know this now, but I didn’t know it then.  At the assembly regarding Columbine, my principal hailed the teenager who died saying yes as a martyr.  He grilled us asking us if push came to shove if we would denounce Jesus.  He showed us Bible verses showing that denouncing our Savior would permanently ban us from Heaven.  So fourteen year old me was given the choice of denouncing my Savior and living longer but going to Hell or affirming my belief and dying immediately but going to Heaven.  This, then, became my primary focus that bothered me for years until I left the faith.

While my public schoolmates simply wondered how they would survive a school shooting, I agonized wondering if when push came to shove I would denounce Jesus.  What a choice for a fourteen year old to be weighed down with.  I wasn’t told the logical thing my secular schoolmates were told repeatedly by their parents and teachers:  if a shooting is occurring, do what you need to do to stay alive.  No, no, I was told that my everlasting soul was the far more important thing.  If I was a “TRUE CHRISTIAN,” I would be willing to die.  I shouldn’t be afraid of dying, if I truly believed that I knew where I was going when I died.  This choice haunted me for years.

I quickly became accustomed to the idea that someone could come to school with a gun or a bomb and try to kill us all.  I think pretty much everyone in my generation has simply acclamated to that.  In fact, my highschool had an actual lock-down when one of our students’ parents woke up to find his son and his gun missing.  Luckily for us, he went to his ex-girlfriend’s highschool instead of mine, but we were still on lock-down for hours while the cops tried to figure out where he was.  Frankly I’m not at all surprised I have a story like that, and most people my age who I know have a similar, or worse, one.

What did haunt me for years though was this idea that everyone outside of our community hated us and wanted us dead.  The idea that we were persecuted, even to the point of being a martyr for our faith.  Was I strong enough for such a thing?  The vary thought ate at my soul.

Maybe if the story they told us about Columbine was true, I’d be less upset about it in retrospect.  I’m sure that gay teens are haunted by Matthew Shephard’s murder, and understandably so.  The thing is though, Columbine wasn’t about persecuting Christian teens at all.  It was about a couple of very angry, mentally disturbed teens taking it out on those closest to them.  The story my Christian school told me never actually happened, and that is what makes me angry.  It’s blatant mind-control techniques.  They made me terrified of going to public school, of encountering the secular world.  Frankly, the amount of balls it took me to beg to go to public school and to walk into that building when I had been told repeatedly that it was exactly like walking into a war zone was enormous.  I’m not at all surprised, given scare tactics like this, at the number of fundy-raised kids who remain fundy.

Fundy kids are being raised in fear, and fear breeds hate.  If you think that how fundies raise their kids is their business and doesn’t affect you, you are dead wrong.  For fundy groups, it’s all about an us versus them mentality, and really, that mentality is what the Columbine shooters had too.