Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Uncertainty, Unbelonging and the power of weaponized laughter
Is it just me or does it really suck not to fit in? Now I know, there are many out there – mostly conspiracy theorists and emo teens – who revel in the fact that they are not one of the sheeple, going against the stream instead like someone in a whiskey ad. I don’t buy that though. If years of being a misfit have taught me anything it’s that most alleged non-conformists merely traded in one kind of herd mentality for another. If there is one thing a non-conformist hates even more than a conformist, it’s a non-conformist who fails to conform to the norms of non-conformity. Suffice it to say, I’ve been disabused of the notion that not fitting in is romantic in some way. It just sucks.
Besides, for me this isn’t about clothing or taste in music or even political views. If only my problems could be that trivial. Unfortunately the places I have trouble locating my place in just happen to be the very places human beings draw their sense of self and identity from, namely culture and religion. I can’t delude myself into believing that this somehow makes me special and enlightened because I suspect that I struggling with the same question that millions of my fellow human beings are struggling with. Culturally I know that it’s a rather confusing time to be a White Afrikaans South African, especially one who grew up in Apartheid South Africa. At this point you can’t really open a Sunday Newspaper without seeing some kind of debate in it regarding our place in this country (and whether we still have one). My cultural dilemma is slightly less academic though. Thing is, I was raised to be very patriotic and I grew up loving everything about my culture. But then 1994 came around and with it, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I had to come to terms with the fact that not everything I believed about my culture was as true as I once believed. My dilemma therefore is that of a child learning suddenly that his parents are deeply flawed and imperfect human beings. I actually think that sums up my trouble with my faith as well. I used to be a True Believer, with unquestioning faith in God and the literal, infallible Truth of Scripture. Alas, just like my faith in the nobility of my culture had trouble surviving contact with the truth about Apartheid, my faith had trouble surviving contact with the Information Age.
So where does this leave me? I’ve noticed that most people seem to take one of two approaches. Some decide to shut their eyes and ears to all the questions and dissent and the nagging doubts and just hold on tighter. They find apologists who tell them what they need to hear, they distance themselves from all who disagree in even the slightest, they circle the wagons and they work at believing with all their might in the intrinsic rightness of their position. To combat doubt they become more patriotic, more fundamentalist and more separate. In other words, “My country/church/family/race right or wrong” (Cliché to be sure but we have those for a reason). This is not an option for me though, attractive as it may seem sometimes. While I envy the community and security these people seem to have I can’t pretend to not know what I know. I certainly can’t pretend that things I know are wrong are actually right. I definitely can’t pretend that any group can be free from wrongdoing (and wrongbeing).
On the other hand some people choose to distance themselves utterly and almost violently from their former identities. Just like I’ve seen some of my friends join Facebook groups where they can sit around all day telling each other what a magical happy time for everyone the Apartheid years were, I have friends that hardly even speak Afrikaans anymore. Seems that there is an entire generation out there of people who’s very identity rests on rejecting everything Afrikaans, Christian, Calvinist and Traditional. Now on the one hand, I don’t blame them since I agree that both culturally and religiously there are a lot of things worth rejecting. Heck if you’ve read a few posts on this blog you would be excused for thinking that’s what I’m all about too. You’d be excused, but you would be wrong.
See I can’t just take off my faith or my culture like an old pair of socks and pretend I never wore them. I did grow up as an Afrikaner and I did grow up as a fundamentalist, Pentecostal Christian. These things are part of me whether I like them or not. Yet while they may be part of me they are not me. Therein lies my sense of unbelonging. On the one hand I have to try and deal with the fact that not everything I once considered true and right is true or right. For this reason I can’t simply fit in and belong anymore. On the other hand I can’t pretend that nothing of what I once considered true and right was true or right. Whether we are talking about Charismatic Christians or Boere Afrikaners, these are people I spent most of my life with. As tempting as it would be, I can’t simply reduce these people to broad stereotypes in order to distance myself from them and all they stand for because I’ve known these people all my life. I’ve been “these people”. In some ways I guess I still am.
This leaves me stuck in the limbo of unbelonging. Worse, it leaves with in a world without certainty. I don’t get to live with the happy certainty of a true believer and I don’t get to live with the renewed certainty that comes with rejecting all that you believe is wrong. But I guess that gives me a reason to keep blogging. At least here I have room to keep searching, to keep asking questions. Maybe in time I will learn to ask the right questions. Maybe not though, maybe I’m just starting down a very long and uncertain road. I guess there is no way to know that right now and that too kinda sucks. I’m human after all, I crave certainty, I want to know I’m right, I long to believe in a group of my own. I’m often tempted to follow those who seem so certain of themselves, who seem to have it all worked out so much better than me. I just happen to be unable to do that right now.
But before I start sounding like the emo teens I disparaged not so long ago, I have to add that I am becoming more and more appreciative of one particular form of questioning certainty – satire. When someone questions and confronts the beliefs we hold dear it’s easy to become adversarial in return and not consider that some of that criticism may be valid. When properly done, humour seems to circumvent that response entirely and (when done right) may even cause us to pause and reconsider some of our most dearly held beliefs. In my previous blog you may remember one of the so called “New Mystics” pontificating about how their ridiculous “Tokin’ the Ghost” rituals are actually powerful tools to break down religious mindsets. It’s really not though, its just really stupid. Now compare the following video:
"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.
See? Now THAT is how you break down religious mindsets you air sipping, Bible sniffing, pretentious halfwits! Satire is an incredibly powerful weapon when used right. It can do more than just confront you with truth or questions. It can get you to honestly ask the really important questions yourself. Questions like: Do I really sound that silly? Do I really come across like that big a douche? Could I really be such a hypocrite? No matter if it’s political, cultural or religious, if it is that easy for people to make fun of you maybe its time to pause and ask yourself why.
Now I freely admit, I’m still a novice – which is why my attempts at satire may sometimes come across more like mocking. Oh who am I fooling, maybe sometimes it really is mocking instead of satire. Usually though in my own imperfect way, I’m just trying to tell my friends, my family, myself, my nation and my fellow Christians one thing:
You may crazy and ridiculous and sometimes you completely embarrass me but I still love you all. The only reason I mock you and make fun of you and challenge your ideas is because I think you are worth saving. You may be wrong about so much but I still think there are things worth keeping about you.
That is all.