My Childhood Delusion

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While growing up in a devout Catholic home, I encountered a lot of stories glorifying belief without evidence. A common theme running through children’s books and movies is the notion that belief itself can lead to something real, something tangible. I firmly believed that, and that led to some pretty ridiculous beliefs.

I thought fairies were real, and engaged in some major conflicts with evil witches.

Yep. Fairies like Tinkerbell. I thought that was real.

If you remember play-acting as a child, you might be able to picture how that came to be. Sometimes the lines between play-acting and reality can be blurred. While I always knew what was real and what was not when I was the one leading the game, it was much less obvious when a friend of mine lead the way. From the age of six to when I was about nine or ten, I encountered several friends with pretty wild imaginations, and over the years, their play-acting solidified into its own belief system in my mind.

The first friend who contributed to this was Jackie. She liked to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a totally harmless show my parents hesitated to let me watch because it had the word witch in the title. I would watch it with her when I went to her house, and then we would go play in her backyard–and that was when she would spin the  most elaborate fairy stories. She pretended that circling a tree three times could take us to the fairy world, and even though the world around us never changed, I believed in the power of imagination, and willed it to be real. I thought if I just believed hard enough, maybe it would be as real as the food that the lost boys eat in Hook. When I took a good look around us, the bush we hid behind to evade “evil witches” was still just a bush, not a magical shield, but maybe it was a MAGICAL bush, and I just couldn’t see it, kind of like how when the bread became Jesus at mass, it didn’t change in appearance at all. If that was real, couldn’t this be too?

Jackie and I stopped attending the same dance academy, so I stopped playing with her. But my neighbors down the street were always around. There were three of them, all older than me. One day, one of them came over and played a game with the magic wand my parents had bought me when we went to Disney World that summer. It had a blue handle with a five-pointed star on one end, and the star was covered in glitter. It was as close to magic as any toy I’d ever owned, and my friend scooped it up and waved it over my head.

“It’s time I showed you the fairies,” she said.

“The fairies? Where?”

“In the tree, over there.” She pointed to the enormous beech tree in my front yard. It had had one of its branches removed at some point, and the place where the wood was exposed had a hole where some of it had rotted away. The hole was too high for me to see into it, but my friend could reach. She swiped it with her hand, which she gingerly carried over to mine, and tipped it ever-so-slightly, as one does when passing a firefly on to a friend. I cupped my hand over hers and looked. “What is it?”

“You don’t see it?” my friend seemed incredulous. “It’s a fairy tree. You’re holding a fairy.”

“No I’m not. I don’t feel anything.”

“Open your eyes and believe.” She insisted, and touched me with the fairy wand from Disney World.

Now, I already suspected that wand was magic. When she said that, something clicked. I think it was because she used the word “believe,” a word I associated with my faith.  Believing was a concept I had been encouraged to stick to no matter what. I was supposed to believe. Belief was a good thing. If my friend said fairies were real, I should believe in them. If my parents said Jesus loved me, it was true; he was real. I should believe them.

So I did.

“I think one spot on my hand’s a little lighter than the other ones–do fairies glow?”

“Yes, they do!”

“I think my hand feels a little heavier too.”

“See?”

“I believe in fairies!”

My friend was playing, but I truly, genuinely believed. I believed in fairies, and witches, well into the years when I had my first real crush, around age nine or ten.

He was the next friend to add to my belief in fairies. To this day I don’t understand why he did it–maybe as a way to tease me for being a drama queen. Maybe he had a crush on me too. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is, every time I saw him, he would tell me fantastic stories about his adventures evading three witches, who wanted to capture him for some reason I can’t recall. Even at his age, he was a wonderful storyteller, and I soaked in every word as though it was the gospel truth. Yes, indeed, there were three witches chasing him! I even had nightmares about them a few times, and couldn’t fall asleep because of them. They had keen senses according to his stories. The only exact words I remember from them are from a harrowing moment when he said he was almost caught, as one of the witches sniffed near where he was hiding and said,

“Shh–I smell something…shampoo!!!”

Yes, even cleanliness put a person in danger of the evil witches! I can’t remember how, but there were fairies involved in the story. I think they were helping him in his adventures or something like that. Anyway, one day I went up to him and asked if anything had happened. Had he had any more adventures? Were the witches still chasing him? I was dead serious. I was that delusional.

He said, “They’re not chasing me anymore. They never were chasing me. There are no witches.” I wonder if it had taken him that long to figure out I really believed him, or if he was just tired of telling that story. At any rate, he eventually apologized for lying to me about the witches. I forgave him.

Over the years, I stayed friends with him, and with the friend who worked psychological wonders by the beech tree, the “fairy” tree. Both of them seemed to have little to no delusions. I let mine simmer. I eventually stopped proudly proclaiming my belief in fairies, but I held on tight to it. It lasted into middle school, when I encountered yet another friend with a wild imagination. This one proved to be a habitual liar in high school. She tricked me with a fairy story too.

What I’m getting at here is, while it’s pretty embarrassing and crazy that I believed all these things at such an old age, the truth is, my mind was primed for it. I had been taught to believe in things I couldn’t see, and encouraged to do so to the best of my ability. How was belief in Jesus so different from belief in fairies, or witches, or anything else for that matter?

Did you believe anything crazy when you were a kid? Do you think religion played a role in this, or is this just kid stuff? All opinions are welcome. Feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

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Pope Francis to Officially State Climate Change is Real and Bad

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At last, Pope Francis, the “Good Guy Pope” has done something I’ve been wishing he’d do since he started his papacy:  he’s written an encyclical on something that matters. You can read the full story in an article here, but to sum it up, in a few days Pope Francis will be releasing an encyclical on climate change and poverty. For those of you who don’t know, an encyclical is

“a letter, usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine, sent by the Pope and addressed either to the Catholic bishops of a particular area or, more normally, to the bishops of the world; however, the form of the address can vary widely, and often designates a wider audience.”

Wikipedia

Encyclicals are official. They’re serious. The statements contained in them are considered to be in line with Catholic doctrine. In this particular encyclical, Pope Francis will be officially acknowledging that climate change is a real thing; furthermore, he’ll be encouraging the 1.2 billion people in this world who are Catholic to do something about it. He will also be bringing up the issue of poverty. Yeah. That’s right. He’ll be talking about not one, but TWO serious issues.

It seems these two issues are completely unrelated at first glance, but I think the pope may be on to something. As one archbishop explains in the article I linked to earlier,

“It [the encyclical] will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health”

If I read between the lines correctly, that sounds an awful lot like the pope is pointing a finger at consumerism and saying, “Hey! Look, we know you like your ipads, but could you not consume at the expense of everyone else’s well-being!” It’s about time, too. We know that unchecked capitalism leads to inequality, but as the pope will be pointing out, the consumerism that comes with it also eats away at the environment. Since the Earth is the only place we currently have that’s habitable, we kind of need to make it last. For the first time in a long time, I actually agree with a Catholic on something.

Of-course, there are naysayers. In the recent past, the response made by Catholics whenever Pope Francis did something “liberal” was to act like he wasn’t speaking for God. And technically, as I’ve pointed out previously, they’re theologically right to say it wasn’t an official statement and “didn’t count” when the pope said “Who am I to judge?” in his oft-quoted interview referring to gay people. But the “Good Guy Pope” is finally leaving no room for those excuses for his behavior. He means business. He’s giving it to the world in writing.

This is also the pope who turned down the opportunity to live in the papal apartments in the Vatican. When he says he cares about inequality and poverty, I genuinely believe him. I don’t think he’d include climate change in the same encyclical if he didn’t take that seriously too. People who deny climate change (I’m looking at you, US Republicans) are going to be upset about this. In fact, they’re already voicing their dissent–but they’re going to have to suck it up. This is their religion now.

This, my readers, is that rarely-visible good side of religion. While Pope Francis has been somewhat wishy-washy on other issues (gay marriage and divorce for example), he’s taken a strong stance that poverty is a major problem, and emphasized the importance of addressing it over other issues Catholics seem to focus their attention on these days (like abortion and gay marriage).

This could not come at a better time, or to a more needy group of people. Unfortunately,  politics are often infused into the religious practice of deeply religious Catholics. Political opinions are even preached from the pulpit. For years, I’ve seen my parents vote based on Catholic teachings. To this day, they typically make their voting choices mostly based on whether or not a candidate supports abortion. They are vehemently pro-life and anti marriage equality, both of which are issues the church has been very vocal about. Yet they have always been wishy-washy on climate change, a serious issue about which the church has previously said little. It’s as if, without the OK of a priest, they couldn’t make a decision one way or another. They always recycled, and recently even got solar panels installed on the roof, but they simultaneously voiced skepticism about global warming on and off for years. Since the Pope’s encyclical has been announced, my parents and I finally agree about something. They’ve magically decided that climate change is a thing. While I do wish my parents had come to this conclusion on their own, I can’t applaud the pope enough for this. There are too many people like my parents who needed the church to tell them what to think, and who are now going to finally take this issue seriously. Way to go, Francis!

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

NO, Yoga is NOT the Devil

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every once in a while during my childhood, I got the sense that my parents were not quite as conservative as some of my friends and their families. Never mind their vehement pro-life stance, their frequent votes for Republican candidates, and even my mother’s serious consideration of anti-vaccination articles. My parents wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter for years, and still think oija boards can summon evil spirits, but they got one thing right during my childhood: they understood that yoga is a form of exercise, not devil worship.

I am aware that yoga comes from Hindu tradition and can involve religious practices if you choose to partake in them, but the form of yoga that Americans do in gyms is not really religious anymore, and Christians should relax about the idea that it’s putting them in “spiritual danger.” I’ve known this since my childhood because an uncle of mine, who is a practicing Catholic to this day, has done yoga for years. He finds it relaxing and considers it a good form of exercise. I remember watching him do stretches one Christmas, and finding nothing weird about that. People exercise, and that’s a good thing. The last thing anyone should do is discourage that unless they’re exercising in a way that’s genuinely unsafe.

Unfortunately, many Christians, including many of the Catholics I met in my childhood, mistakenly think that yoga is evil. As a teenager, I attended a youth group for homeschoolers where the host brought in a guest speaker, a former nonbeliever who said she regretted her abortion and had turned away from the evil sins she used to partake in like dressing in a worldly way, modeling, and doing yoga. I immediately wondered why yoga was being listed on the same plane as abortion. Catholics believe abortion is murder, but since when is exercise related to that? I understood why modeling and worldly clothing might violate a religious person’s beliefs concerning modesty, but people don’t have to wear a sports bra and booty shorts to do yoga. I don’t do yoga myself, but to my knowledge baggy t-shirts and sweatpants are just as acceptable as the aforementioned options. What was so bad about yoga?

That experience wasn’t the only one in which someone I knew freaked out about yoga. While attending the Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio during high school, a Catholic homeschooling parent who was chaperoning my group brought up the subject. I told her about my uncle, the aforementioned proud, healthy, Catholic yoga practitioner. Her response? “I’ll pray for him.”

“You don’t have to,” I argued. “He’s not doing anything wrong. It’s just exercise.”

She shook her head. “Actually, there’s a spiritual component that makes it an unsafe practice for his soul. I’ll pray for his soul to be safe.”

“Whatever,” I said, “I still disagree, and so do my parents.”

She wouldn’t hear it, and for all I know she may still be wasting her energy by praying for my uncle (who, for the record, weighed a lot less than she did.)

I asked my mother why so many people kept telling me yoga was bad. Was I missing something about it?

My mom is a very well-educated Catholic when it comes to religion. While she doesn’t research other aspects of her life (like medicine) as thoroughly as she should, she takes her faith very seriously and does study up on what Catholic teachings actually say. She told me that according to Catholicism, doing yoga as exercise is fine, and the only way it conflicts with Catholic teachings is if you practice the religious aspects of it. She said sometimes it involves a form of meditation that conflicts with Catholic teachings, but what most people do in gyms really has no spiritual conflict with the religion. I fact-checked her just to be safe, and a Catholic apologist corroborates this in an article titled “The Trouble with Yoga.” The apologist explains,

As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health.

She even adds,

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned.

In other words, it’s really not a huge deal.

Knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people were convinced that doing yoga at all would damn a person to hell.  I’m convinced it’s for the same reason that many Christians still to this day think Harry Potter encourages youngsters to seek out Satanism or Wicca, when really it’s just another fantasy containing wizards. The Harry Potter series is no worse for its magic than the conservative’s favorite fantasies like The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it doesn’t contain direct religious allegory like The Chronicles of Narnia, but that doesn’t make it any more dangerous than other fantasy stories that don’t. Unfortunately for young readers, many Christians believe in spiritual warfare. They believe Satan has a lot of influence on the world and secular culture, and expect to see the devil everywhere. When they don’t, they begin to imagine him in the most benign places, and shelter their children and themselves from completely harmless things.

The bottom line is, even if you’re a devout Catholic, you can relax about yoga. Seriously, go to the gym. Find a form of exercise that works for you. Maybe you’ll like kickboxing, or pilates, or rock climbing, or swimming. It doesn’t have to be yoga, but you should only eliminate it after research into what it entails, and maybe trying it once or twice. It’s not for everyone, but it’s no more dangerous for your spiritual well being than running on a treadmill or lifting weights, I promise.

Here’s a video about where yoga comes from and its benefits. In summation, it does come from a religion, but even just the exercise is really, really good for you.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, but please be respectful and think things through before posting.

Now go exercise. America’s obese for a reason.

-Nancy

Purity in Disney: Tangled’s Take on Premarital Sex

A man with a frying pan, a girl with long blonde hair, and a white horse.

Image taken from Tangled’s Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangled

I may be in my twenties, but I absolutely love Disney. You may be wondering where that fits into a blog about religion and politics, but trust me–it does.

Disney has shown itself to be fairly progressive. For example, several years ago, the Disney Channel show Good Luck Charlie aired a much anticipated episode featuring a lesbian couple. But sometimes Disney is a bit more subtle, addressing serious adult topics through its much-loved children’s movies in an indirect, even symbolic way.

Take Tangled for example. It’s a song-filled adaptation of the well-known story of Rapunzel.  Like most fairy tales, it has fantastical elements, and it’s definitely intended for children. But I was thinking about the film the other day and realized it can be argued that in some scenes, Rapunzel’s crown stands in as a symbol of her virginity. If that is the case, then her decision to give it to Flynn when she does–prior to marriage, but after they have gotten to know each other fairly well–and the fact that everything works out for them in the end, suggests that despite what Rapunzel’s mother warns her about giving the crown away, premarital sex isn’t always a terrible thing. In a movie about coming of age and making your own decisions despite what your parents are telling you, the inclusion of such a symbol is pretty ballsy of Disney. I say more power to them.

Maybe I just miss taking English classes, but I think this offers a pretty cool way to interpret the scene when Rapunzel gives the crown to Flynn. He’s just done what she wanted:  he’s taken her to see the lanterns for her birthday. Basically, he’s taken her on a really nice date, and they’ve gotten to know each other fairly well throughout the course of the day. He even brings lanterns for them to send floating into the sky in the scene, to participate in the event she’s watched from a distance for years. By doing that, he’s offered her something he didn’t have to give, showing that he actually cares about her. When she gives him the crown she says,

“I should have given it to you before, but I was just scared. And the thing is, I’m not scared anymore. You know what I mean?”

Those words would fit pretty well in a scene with someone having sex for the first time. It takes a lot of courage to trust someone like that, and at this point in the story, Rapunzel finally does.

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Not convinced that the crown symbolizes Rapunzel’s virginity? It definitely isn’t such a symbol in every part of the film, but it’s safe to say that the symbolism holds for the majority of the story, and I’m not the only one to notice this either. One person’s explanation of the symbolism on Reddit is pretty strong. You can read it most of it below. I’ve inserted some brackets and a link for clarity, as well as some nit-picking on facts, but altogether it’s a pretty strong argument and I’m convinced:

…When Mother [the witch in the original fairytale] sees the crown later and deduces that Flynn is with Rapunzel, it stops being a MacGuffin, but until then it functions as a fairly average one. However the crown is not simply a MacGuffin; it is a symbol for Rapunzel’s virginity.

First, it is important to know that technically Rapunzel has had the crown since birth. After all, as the daughter of the king and queen, the princess’s crown is hers by birthright. It is something that she wholly owns. However, she didn’t always know it was hers because she was kidnapped. She only begins to figure this out later when she goes out into the world and learns more about it and herself. This is not unlike a girl’s virginity. It is something she is born with and that she owns. However, many girls don’t know what it is until they are older and begin to learn about their bodies and the world around them.

Second, consider Mother Gothel’s words to Rapunzel once she finds Rapunzel the first time. Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel that as a mother, she knows that once Rapunzel gives Flynn the crown he will not want to be with her anymore. She says that Flynn doesn’t really like her and that he is only sticking around, waiting for Rapunzel to give him the crown; once he has it, he will leave her. If you replace crown with virginity, you get the same advice that nearly every mother tells her daughter(s). Mothers tend to warn their daughters to save themselves for the one they love and warn them of those that will just use them until they get what they want, i.e. sex.
Third, there is the fact that in the original Grimm version of this story [English major technicality here: the Brothers Grimm collected stories from oral tradition, so the Grimm version is not technically the original, though it may be the earliest written form of the story] Rapunzel does give her prince her virginity, leading to a teen pregnancy. This idea of the crown being a symbol for virginity would make sense since by the end of the film, Rapunzel does end up giving Flynn the crown.
It would also make that scene that much more significant and heartbreaking. In this scene, Rapunzel tells Flynn that she was afraid, but now she wasn’t and then gives him the crown. Then when Rapunzel thinks that Flynn took the crown and left, she is devastated to the point that she willingly goes back home with her manipulative and cruel “mother”. If we equate the crown with Rapunzel’s virginity, then her giving it to Flynn becomes a sexual act: she is giving him her virginity. She is no longer scared because she trusts him. Then when she believes that he has left her, Rapunzel’s devastation is now a product of the real life fear that many girls have: trusting a guy with her virginity and having him basically spit and trample all over that trust. Traumatizing, indeed.

Ultimately it’s impossible to know for sure whether the creators of this film intended for this symbolism to be there unless they say so themselves, and I doubt that they would for a children’s film. Nevertheless, considering what a clear parallel it is, I suspect it was intentional, and I love being able to think that.

There was a bit of conservative recoil from this film from what I recall, mainly because Rapunzel acts like a real teenager and rebels a fair amount, and despite that everything turns out OK for her. As one reviewer puts it,

 “…the legitimisation [sic] of the heroine’s rebellion against the authority over her was just too terrible. Our children are rebellious without any encouragement: to see how a rebellion is carried out and ends in glorious joy is very disturbing. The film says not to trust your parents and to despise their claims of love.”

I understand his concern, but by putting in this virginity symbolism and depicting teenage rebellion for what it is, Disney has shown a very real part of growing up:  realizing that your parents, who do what they feel is best to keep you safe, aren’t infallible. Granted, in this movie the parent is actually the villain, but what better way to show that not every parent is right about everything?

When people argue for parents’ rights to control every single aspect of their children’s lives, including education, they often conveniently ignore that some parents are white supremacists who would like to teach their children inaccurate, racist versions of historical events because they think that’s what’s best for their kids, and that other parents don’t believe in modern medicine and would rather have their kids die than receive a life-saving blood transfusion, or disease-preventing vaccination.

In Tangled, for the first time in any kids movie I can think of, a parent was depicted as being wrong about something–or even a lot of somethings. I wish this movie had come out when I was much, much younger. It might have prepared me better for the realization that my own parents, while loving and well-meaning, can be very, very wrong. This film is Disney at its finest, and I applaud them for it.

While we’re on the subject, do you know any other kids movies that contain fairly adult topics? Have you ever re-watched a film you used to love and finally understood half its jokes? Feel free to leave a comment.

All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy