Carnival of Aros: Religion? What Religion?

Phew~ I feel like I’m barely squeaking by with this post just before the deadline. Hi again everyone, this is my submission for the Carnival of Aros for May 2019 hosted this month by aroacepagans on the topic of “The Intersection of Religion and Aromanticism”. Unfortunately this is a rather complicated topic for me so I’m first going to have to dump a bunch of backstory exposition on you followed by a long historical tangent. History isn’t pretty folks.

Religion is complicated in my family as we don’t really put labels to what we are exactly or even agree on what we believe. My parents tried to do the Christian thing when I was younger, but it didn’t work out because the greatest sin in my family is ignorance. Both of my parents are the first in their families to go to college and especially in the age of internet with most “common” knowledge just a Google search away, they don’t tolerate ignorance nor denial of facts. The example my dad gives between “facts” and “truths” is it’s true that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It probably did so this morning even if most of us (myself included) didn’t witness it. The fact, however, is that the sun doesn’t “rise” or “set” at all, it’s the Earth rotating on its axis. So, long story short, my parents stopped going to church because the pastors kept getting the facts wrong. There was one particular pastor who was “talking” about Islam (yup, they were Muslim bashing back in the early 90s too) and he said that Muslims believed that the “Earth rode on the backs of four elephants”. I can just picture a double face palm from my parents at that slip up of common sense. After that incident my parents were like “Screw this. We’re not exposing our children to this bullshit.” and we never went to Church as a family again. Several years later when me and my siblings were old enough to understand the basics my parents spent the entire summer break teaching us about all the religions from Amish to Zoroastrianism and basically said, “There, pick one.”

To make things even more complicated my dad is ethnically Jewish and his younger brother is a gun-toting Republican Jew from Iowa, but my dad was raised Lutheran because half of the family converted to Lutheranism after WWII (and that is a looooong story that I’m not going to get into here). My dad is constantly arguing with his brother and his cousin, a Lutheran minister, on Facebook about climate change. My dad’s cousin made the mistake of saying, “There are hundreds of scientists who say climate change is a hoax!” to which my dad replied, “Oh, yeah? Name ten.” and that’s why they haven’t been on speaking terms since last Christmas. My mom was raised Irish Catholic, went to a Catholic high school and that’s why she’s definitely not a Catholic. No one in my immediate family belongs to an organized religion so the short answer would be that we’re “non-religious”…

…depending on your definition of “religion”.

The word “religion” is a very western and a relatively new idea. The word religion comes from the Latin religio meaning “reverence to the gods” (compared to superstition which comes from the Latin superstitio, meaning “soothsaying, prophecy, or fear of the supernatural”). Citizens of ancient Greece and Rome were required by law to have reverence for the local patron gods or goddesses and blasphemy was a serious crime punishable by death (yikes!). Modern scholars have a difficult time trying to pin down a definition for religion that isn’t too constraining nor too loose.

Obviously you have the big three western religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (and, yes, a lot scholars to consider Islam a western religion because of the HUGE impact it has had on western history and culture), but is Hinduism one religion or several different religions arbitrarily grouped together by western scholars? What about Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism; are they religions or philosophies? Where do you draw the line between philosophy and religion? How does it affect a person’s socio-political standing if they’re philosophical and/or spiritual but not religious in a very religion biased society? Are New Age religions legitimate practitioners or is it cultural appropriation? Mom and dad said, “pick one”, but holy jeepers it’s much more complicated than that.  This is not an easy topic for me to tackle and that’s even BEFORE I throw in the aromantic aspect.

It’s a sad fact of life that a lot of major religions are not LGBTQIA+ friendly and those that are might not take converts and even then converting to a religion is a major decision that you cannot take lightly. Okay, then instead of converting to an existing religion how about just creating your own? It’s a nice idea, but then you have to consider how it’s going to be organized, how you’re going to deal with the legal matters, how you’re going to handle internal disputes, and how you’re going to get the general public to take you seriously. Politics and religion have been bed fellows for a long, long time. It’s only thanks to a quirk of fate and a Roman emperor that there’s a bunch of Christians even running around quoting the Bible right now because all y’all were like two inches from being Manichaens.

Cue long historical context tangent: Manichaenism is a weird blend of Eastern and Western religions; It’s something like a lot of Zoroastrianism with a little bit Buddhism and Taoism sprinkled in. At its peak Manichaenism was the most wide spread religion of its day with churches spreading as far East as China and as far West as Britain. I was learning about Manichaenism for a class and how it heavily influenced some later Christian big names like Augustine of Hippo and it’s where we get the idea that Good and Evil are locked in this eternal struggle and you don’t even think about it because that’s such an established literary trope you still see it today in pretty much every single epic movie pushed out of Hollywood. Can you even imagine being there back in the day when that idea was something new? Some dude was like, “Yo, bro, what if, like, there’s this great power that’s just, like, all Good with a capital G, ya know? But, like, the reason people do bad shit is because on the flip side there’s this Evil force that is the reason for hate and ignorance and people are made of the bad stuff, but everybody has a spark of good in them, you know? And the way to live right is you gotta feed that spark of good inside until it becomes a flame, a flame of knowledge, and you gotta keep feeding the flame so it never goes out because if you let the flame inside of you go out then the darkness wins. You feel me?” Yup, I’m definitely sure that’s exactly how that conversation went down. 

Anywho, as I was learning about Manichaeism for class I kept thinking, “This sounds really cool. Why have I never heard about this before? Where do I sign up?” Well, turns out you can’t sign up because the entire religion is extinct, as in gone the way of the dodo, it is a looong time gone. A long time ago there was a Roman emperor named Theodosius I who was apparently kind of a big deal and he issued a decree of death for all Manichaen monks (hooo boy, that definitely escalated quickly) and declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion for the Roman Empire. Waaaaay to be a buzz kill, Theodosius. All the Manichaen texts were destroyed, all of its religious leaders were killed in the name of Rome and Rome’s Christianity, and everything we know about it today comes from teeny tiny surviving fragments that just barely manged to survive in extremely isolated regions in China. That’s why nobody’s ever heard of Mani and his kickass religion even though it pretty much popularized everybody’s favorite epic fantasy trope.

So, now I have a  philosophical dilemma. History paints a dark and gritty story about how, like the empires that honored and celebrated them, great religions rise and fall and change with the politics that can both lionize them or vilify them. Theodosius didn’t put Manichaens to death because God said so, he did it for his own political gain. The US founding fathers didn’t say separate Church and State to protect the people, it was to protect the Church from political corruption. (Yeah, I know, joke’s on us.) So, just like my parents, I’ve got a problem. I have all these religious types telling me that they know this “great truth” and that they’re my “only shot at getting in to heaven” and “fuck those other guys because they don’t tell it like we tell it” and all I hear is these folks basically telling me over and over that tomorrow the sun is going to rise in the East and set in the West like it’s some great cosmic mystery…

But, like, dude, that’s just how the world turns. I don’t know how to reconcile being religious if it means ignoring the facts. I have tried for a loooong time, but I just can’t find a religion that calls to me, that that lets me believe in a higher power, be part of a bigger community, find a higher purpose, and be my aromantic, gender-queer, wisdom-loving self. Maybe, there was a religion like that once a long, long time ago, but then it got wiped out by political pressures bigger and meaner than it was. *shugs* History says it’s possible.

And I’m going to end the post there because that last bit is an existential crisis that can wait for another day. Hopefully this didn’t come off too much like religious-bashing because that was definitely not my intention and I just wanted to throw out some burning questions that I’ve run into trying to figure out what place religion has in my life and a lot of these are questions that I still don’t have answers for: Is it okay for me to believe and pray to a random deity that isn’t part of my culture and upbringing or is doing that disrespectful to the people who codified the deity and made it a pillar of their religious identity? Is it okay to mix and match religions like cocktails or is that just my white privilege/colonialism talking? How much of religion belongs to the private individual and how much belongs to the cultural group? Why is all this so complicated?!!! 

aaaaaand on top of all that I’m still 100% aromantic and I need to reconcile how that’s going to fit into a religious identity because right now there’s like zero intersection because I haven’t exactly “picked one” yet.

Thanks mom and dad. -__-

Carnival of Aros March 2019: It’s Great to be Aro!

This is my submission for the Carnival of Aros for March 2019 hosted this month by Aromanticism on the topic of “It’s Great to be Aro!” For more information about the Carnival of Aros or to volunteer to become a future host please check out https://carnivalofaros.wordpress.com/

I probably can’t stress this enough, but I actually love, love being aromantic. The first time I took myself to a movie was after my dad and brother went seen The Martian (2015) without me even after I had told them repeatedly that I wanted to see it too. I decided to go by myself to the movie theater two blocks down from where I worked. I was still in my work uniform and it felt awkward saying “one ticket” at the counter, but I got through it and had the brilliant insight to buy a cup of coffee instead of popcorn and soda. With a warm cup of coffee in my hand and an entire row to myself I had the best movie experience of my life. Now if I want to see a movie I’ll pick a day in the middle of the week when it’s not busy and buy a cup of coffee instead of movie snacks.

I won’t deny that humans are social creatures by nature, but some of my best moments when I feel the most like myself are when I’m alone doing my own thing. When I’m hanging out with other people the need to fit-in and avoid social faux-pas kind of sucks the fun out of it. It’s much easier to dance like no one is watching when you know for a fact that nobody is actually watching. I feel like I’m constantly flirting the line between being my best self and a crazy loner and some days are easier keep that healthy balance than others. I definitely felt some minor angst when I first realized I was aromantic years ago and realized that wouldn’t get that classic Hollywood ending promised in almost every movie ever, but I did eventually learn to accepted it as my normal and I’ve been focusing on celebrating my singularity rather than worrying about my nonexistent relationships.

It’s kind of like…well, for example, a lot, and I mean a LOT, of folks at my work play Magic the Gathering. One of my coworkers even offered to give me $50 to build a starter deck, but Magic is seriously not my thing. Sure, I feel left out when they talk about planning game days and I see a bunch of them leave together with chips and soda under each arm. It’s frustrating to hear all the talk about trading cards or meeting up to open new packs and I can’t join in, but Magic just isn’t my thing. It’s an expensive hobby that I have zero interest in. You can pitch it to me anyway you like, but I don’t do trading card games. I will play Liverpool rummy any day of the week. Hearts? I’m down. Spades? Sure thing. BS, Slap Jack, Black Jack? You bet ‘cha. Hell, I’ll even play Crazy 8’s in a pinch, but Magic the gathering is just. not. my. thing. and I’m not going to force myself to play a game that I know I don’t like just so I can fit in. My view on romance is like that almost verbatim. Most folks love to gush about mushy stuff and I’m like, “….uhhhh what about all these other awesome stuff that isn’t, ya know, romantic?”

I don’t get crushes on people. I get “let’s-quit-this-dead-end-job-and-run-away-to-become-space-pirates”es on people which is sooo much cooler in my opinion. I haven’t quite figured out how to explain to people that I don’t want to “date” them so much as just slay a few dragons at the ol’ 9-5 together before they go home to the wife and I go home to my cat. I want to belong to something magical, epic, heroic, that doesn’t have the executive meddlers saying “Hmmm, this needs an unnecessary love triangle and more romantic tension to boost ratings.” As an aromantic I have all these wonderful, unique and different feelings that nobody talks about that I think are worth exploring and celebrating in media and in everyday conversations.

Aromanticism is the most dominant of my identity labels. Most of the time I don’t even think about being asexual or agender, but hoo boy, my aromanticism is cranked up to 100 all day everyday. That might have something to do with how pervasive romance is in western culture, but that doesn’t change that my aromanticness has the most impact on my way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. I’ve literally never dated. I’ve never pursued any possible romantic ties and I’m uncomfortable when people try to ask me out. I’m also get very defensive when people even joke about me dating. One of my coworkers was poking fun at me because someone had asked me out and they were like, “I’m going tell him you changed your mind. You would look so cute together.” and I got super defensive and reminded him that it takes something like six weeks for knee caps to heal. The reason I was so defensive is because I felt like my identity was being targeted. It’s like telling a gay guy, “Oh, you should totally go out with this girl, you’d make a cute couple.” and that’s super not okay and very hurtful, but for some inexplicable reason it’s soooo hard for people to understand that.

Jerk-ass coworkers aside, I really do love being aro because I wouldn’t be myself if I wasn’t. I’ve worked really hard to become comfortable with who I am and what it means to be “me”. I think Liverpool rummy is more fun than Magic the Gathering. My ideal “date” is when I take myself to coffee and a movie. I think there are other feelings and relationships besides romantic relationships that are worth celebrating and talking about. I treasure the journey of growth and self discovery it took to get me to this point in my life where I can appreciate and celebrate being a single person. So, I didn’t get to slay any dragons with anybody today and people still don’t understand that a life without romance is just as fulfilling and rewarding, if not even more so, as one where romance is the central focus, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating being aro.