Charlotte Brontë, feminist

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, originally published under gender-ambiguous pseudonyms, as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Ellis Bell’s Wuthering Heights was republished under Emily Brontë’s real name shortly after her death. At the beginning, Charlotte Brontë wrote a biographical note on Emily and Anne, now both dead. It included this note on their choice of pseudonyms:

Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called “feminine” — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality and, for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise.

The biographical note is followed by an editor’s preface, also by Charlotte Brontë. Talking about the qualities of constancy and tenderness in the characters of the novel, she wrote,

Some people will think these qualities do not shine so well incarnate in a man as they would do in a woman, but Ellis Bell could never be brought to comprehend this notion: nothing moved her more than any insinuation that the faithfulness and clemency, the long-suffering and loving kindness which are esteemed virtues in the daughters of Eve, become foibles in the sons of Adam. She held that mercy and forgiveness are the divinest attributes of the Great Being who made both man and woman, and that what clothes the Godhead in glory, can disgrace no form of feeble humanity.

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Am I small-minded?

This thought occurred to me just last night:

There are some opinions I understand and agree with. They are based on arguments and presuppositions which make sense to me, and which seem to me reasonable and well supported.

There are some opinions I disagree with. The arguments in their favour seem to me lacking in some way, perhaps by being based on presuppositions which I do not share, or perhaps due to a failure in logical reasoning from those presuppositions.

There are some opinions I disagree with completely. The arguments in their favour are non-existent, or are based on presuppositions so completely alien to my mind that I simply cannot make sense of them, or follow a chain of logical reasoning which I cannot grasp.

It occurred to me last night that the middle set, the arguments which seem lacking, but not fundamentally unreasonable or utterly incomprehensible, is a quite likely to be a reasonably good proxy for how open-minded we are. (Compare Aristotle’s dictum that it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it. What I’m saying is not quite the same thing, but it is a related concept.) It also occurred to me that, for me, the middle set of ideas is, actually, rather small. I find it quite hard to get my head around conservative politics; I find it very difficult to understand or communicate with people who are uninterested in scientific evidence for or against the types of medicine they advocate; and I often find religious concepts difficult to grasp (which last is especially odd, given that I was raised religious).

So, how worried should I be about that?


License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

What does it mean for a priest to ‘lose faith’?

Alex asks an interesting question on Christianity Stack Exchange, and gets an answer which is well worth repeating here. The answer is from Affable Geek, a Christian minister.

Here’s his meditation on losing faith:

In short, it sucks. It sucks eggs. Really. It’s like believing the Gospel, but not having any grace to go with it.


The biggest problem with “losing one’s faith” is that your moral compass remains unchanged. Unlike what I suspect many can do — namely ignore their own internal compass — priests are, by and large, a self-selected lot. People who are attracted to the priestly vocations have a strong sense of right and wrong, and at least in my case, I have a physical reaction to it. At the risk of having too graphic an image, when I act in a way that is contrary to my internal sense of ethics (call it the opposite of integrity), I feel that pain in my stomach that is felt when you need to throw up, but can’t. My heart pounds, my stomach turns, and I feel ill. Stressed seems so quaint a term. Trust me, its physical.

Jeremiah 20:9 has the prophet telling God:

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

For many of us, real honesty is fundamental to that integrity. We cannot preach that which we do not believe, lest that feeling arise. Were losing that honesty and commitment to transparency and integrity something that was lost along with one’s belief, it would be easy. We would merely be actors playing a part. Being a charlatan or a hypocrite would have no hold on us. But no, sadly, if its your job to preach and minister, you still have to do it.

I would suggest that there are three categories of “losing one’s faith,” and there are different effects of each. Hebrews 11:6 says,

“Who ever would come to God must

  1. believe that he exists and
  2. believe he rewards those who do good.”

Using that verse as an outline, I would suggest that as Tolstoy said, “Happy [Christians] are all happy alike. But miserable [Christians] are each miserable in their own way.”

  • Category 1 would be what is often called “the long, dark night of the soul.”Many Christian leaders, from Mother Teresa to Billy Graham, echo the sentiment of the Middle Ages mystic who describe a period in which God seems to simply be silent. In these cases, the work of ministry is merely a drudge, devoid of the music that God brings. I would argue this is the least “bad” of the categories of losing one’s faith. No one suggests that God is anything but silent. Your moral compass remains, your theology is intact, and your ministry can continue as leader and teacher. Individually, it just becomes a matter of work like anything else. You do what you need to do, you don’t violate your conscience, and you just eagerly anticipate God’s return, both in your life and the next.
  • Category 1b would be the full-on rejection of God’s existence.NPR had an amazingly good story about a Methodist minister who became an atheist. In that story, she describes the same gut-wrenching feeling that I describe, and speaks of the consequences in her life. She describes how she came to the rationalization that God is a myth. (If you will forgive the commentary, it seems a natural extension of too cereberal and metaphorical a faith. It can be a very natural progression from mythic to myth.) In her case, she got up and addressed a convention of atheists, much to the applause of that body, but was then somehow astonished that her temporal boss — the Methodist bishop, fired her. Grant you, if I spoke glowingly about a competitor’s product at the competitor’s function and urged everyone to ditch my own company in favor of the competition, I would expect to be fired too, but I digress. The point is in that instance, she was able to find both solace and connection in a new group of “believers” (albeit atheist believers), and restore her sense of integrity. For her, “losing her faith” was simply a job change, and in this day and age, job changes are easy.

    In my case as a Baptist minister who found himself desiring a stronger liturgy, changing from the Baptist denomination to the Episcopal one was fairly easy. I could preach as I wanted, and I could continue to minister. Different clothes but the same God. It doesn’t turn your world upside down to modify your faith. It’s different when it breaks.

  • Category 2 is the one that sucks the most. It says, “God exists, but he is not good.”That is my current dilemma. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the circumstances of my life have made it increasingly difficult to believe that God is good. I can only hold on secure in the knowledge that I am not yet ready to “curse God and die,” but I’m beginning to like Job’s wife a lot more than Job.

    You see, it’s real work to maintain a love for a God whom you secretly hate. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. When a minister loses his faith, the job is the easy part. Pastors, of course, tend to find alternative employment. (I know of one who, after leaving his wife — my college friend and a girl I considered marrying! — became a used car salesman. Talk about about transferrable skills!) They do this because they cannot be honest with themselves in ministry.

    No, the hard part isn’t the money but the music. You see, for me, God’s love is like music. I can live without it, but life lacks color. It lacks joy. I know in turning my back on Him, I turn my back on myself too. I lack purpose, I lack … music. I am left only with that gnawing pit in my stomach: Insufficent to expurgate, but sufficient to cause distress. Were I able to deny the existence of God, I could rewrite my life. Absent that, I left in a state of limbo that churns against my very core.

    In my case, I console myself with the last lines of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The hymn writer himself was once a pastor, but also gave it up to, in his words, “chase after worldly things.” He so eloquently phrases it:

    Prone to wander, Lord I feel it — Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it to thy courts above!

    If only, I think. If only. You can imagine how much it sucks to know the music, and yet be bereft of the assurance that it will come to pass. I personally tend to “blow hot and cold,” preaching to myself (really the main I reason I preach!) the goodness of God, hoping only that I can convince myself of that fact. If only I were a better preacher 🙂

So that, my friend, is what it means to lose one’s faith. It is to choose a personal hell in which you get hit on both sides. You become your own worst enemy, and you cannot rest.

If you will forgive the Ferris Beueller riff, “I most heartily do not recommend it.”


Copyright Affable GeekOriginally published on Christianity Stack Exchange. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Feel free to repost elsewhere.

This Life

I love my parents, but I don’t trust them.

Awkward.

I know they love me, but I still can’t trust them.

I need to find myself an independent job, so I’m no longer working for my Dad. I need to move out of home. And then I’ll tell them.

And if I find that it’s okay, that I could have told them earlier, I’ll be sorry I didn’t, sorry I wasted so much time and mental pain.

But, where I am now, I can’t take that risk.

I haven’t even really told them I’m an atheist yet, though they do know I’m asking lots of questions and no longer trust the answers provided by the Watchtower Society.

It’s a mess.

Why do I want to tell them? Because I can never have a proper relationship with them until I do. I may not have a proper relationship afterward, either, but with a bit of work it should grow back. I hope.

Why do I want to tell them? Because until I tell them I can’t explain why I so despise the Watchtower Society. They taught me to hate myself. I can’t forgive that.

Why do I want to tell them? Because I want to tell everyone else, and I owe it to my parents to tell them first.

I do want to tell everyone. Not directly, perhaps, but I want to stop hiding who I am. Go to at least one Pride parade (depending what I see there, I may or may not go to more).

I have never seen an openly gay couple here. I’ve seen gay couples kissing once in Madrid (Atocha Railway Station, if you want to know) and once in Dublin (in St Stephen’s Green on a warm day). It matters to me to see that, and to see everyone else ignoring it. It’s no big deal. It should be no big deal. And yet it often is. Gay kids. Gay teens. Confused and lonely. They need to see that there’s a place for them in the big wide world. They need to see they can be happy. I almost feel it’s a duty for me to be publicly gay, and publicly happy.

One day. One day.


I wrote this for a messageboard, and then decided to put it also on the blog. The messageboard has since been redesigned, and all old posts have been removed. This was previously published on my GreenTambourine blog.

Choosing to be Gay

Does one choose to be gay? It’s a fascinating question, and many people feel that a great deal rides on the answer. If homosexuality is a choice, they argue, it is permissible to restrict the civil rights of homosexuals, and to encourage homosexual (or ‘pre-homosexual’) teenagers and younger children to ‘turn straight’. (Some of the methods used to achieve this end are quite nasty.) On the other hand, if homosexuality is ‘hard wired’, they should be nice to homosexuals.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family, in his book Bringing Up Boys, disagrees. He argues that the morality of homosexuality is not dependent on whether or not it’s a choice. Dobson is a charlatan, and Bringing Up Boys is a collection of pseudoscientific nonsense (the chapters on ‘pre-homosexuality’ are, anyway), but on this issue he’s right. Homosexuality does not harm. In certain circumstances, indeed, homosexual acts may even increase the sum total of human happiness. I can find no logical reason for labelling homosexuality as immoral; and this conclusion does not in any way depend on whether or not it’s a ‘choice’.

For the record, though, homosexuality is not a choice. Gayness, however, is.

Homosexuality is an orientation. You’re homosexual if you’re sexually attracted to persons of the same sex as yourself. Gayness is an attitude of mind. You’re gay if you can say so, even to yourself, without wincing.

I found myself homosexual, and chose to be gay. The alternative was to be self-loathing. Some people (Ted Haggard* and Larry Craig spring to mind) seem to have taken that option.

* “There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.”

Originally published on GreenTambourine.