I've been down to Louisiana three times to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. Each time I've gone I've run into one major problem: religion.
I'm sorry if you're a very religious person, but I'm definitely not. I don't exactly know what I identify as as a religious/spiritual person, but I know it's not Catholic, in which I've been confirmed and kind of raised. If I believe in anything for sure, it's continuity and the beauty of everyday life, which just sounds fake and poser-ish. It's just a lot easier to agree with my facebook and say I'm an optimistic agnostic.
In Louisiana I've worked each time through LDR, which stands for Lutheran Disaster Response. LDR is run by the Missouri Synod of Lutherans, which means that running into sexism, bigotry, and offensive judgements of other people's religions and lifestyles is just another consequence of the patriarchy. I'm a little bitter about it all, so I tend to rant, excuse me.
We stayed in a large tent city the first time, and my friend and I were the youngest of our group. We were seventeen, and there were others there around our age, and even a little younger, but we didn't really fit in. I don't want to pretend that we were very alternative and hip, but we just couldn't go along with the details of their everyday life, namely religion.
Now I sound like the judgmental one, but you should understand that my friend and I just tried to quietly slide under the radar: fold our hands, bow our heads, and stand in the back of the room, that sort of thing. We never tried to stand out or denounce them or draw any sort of attention.
Well, eventually I was forced to speak about my own beliefs, my friend wasn't because they never paid her much attention. It was their attitude, even the women's, that what the men had to say was more important, and while this never came out in black and white it was very heavily implied from day one that the women did the jobs that had to do with cooking and clothes while the men did the heavy lifting. While my friend did share her opinions, they didn't pay her much mind, and they definitely never sought out anything that she had to say.
We were stuck in small 'prayer-groups' one night, forced to be with people we didn't know, and we were given a list of questions about what we felt certain religious things meant. I was able to slide along neutrally by being mostly quiet, or arbitrarily equating prayer to a form of meditation, and by not investing anything personal in anything I said, until an older guy told me jokingly that I didn't seem like I had too much to say.
I felt I should just be open, so I told my group that I was sorry I wasn't participating much, and that I was generally a lot more involved.
I told them that I didn't have much to say because I wasn't a religious person, that I didn't attend church, or pray, or take part in any form of worship.
As soon as I let go of the first shocker, that I wasn't religious, everyone stared at me like I was a freak for half a second, then they quickly averted their eyes. For the rest of the group time they didn't speak up at all, or look at me. They edged away from me and ignored myself and each other, as soon as the group activity was over they quickly slunk away and didn't talk to me again for the entirety of my stay.
It's possible that I over dramatized a lot of what happened during my stay, like the rampant sexism and the ridiculous hierarchy, but I do know the hard facts of what happened that night. I know that from that point on I was ostracized and ignored, walked around and spoken over. I know that I did judge everyone there for being so religious and I laughed at how corny their intense faith came off, I poked fun at the holes I saw in their arguments.
At least I did that in private, though, at least I stifled my grins when they sang 'Thank you Jesus' to the tune of 'Goodnight Ladies(cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep).'
I felt confused, hurt, and somewhat betrayed by their attitude towards me. I was angry and I had plenty of arguments in my head with myself and them.
I should have been more confident and approached them about how I was feeling, but despite the fact that they were adults I could only envision them as childish.
I didn't handle that situation very well, I just knew that I was hurt and annoyed and I let it get to me.
And that's the thing with organized religion, it hurts and offends and gets to people.
There are good points, as well, I know that, but just like in Louisiana I've never been able to get over the bad enough to fully give myself over to the good.
Other things get in the way, as well, such as my ideas about science and nature and the bible, but the base thing that kept me from religion as a child was the conflict it caused. Now that I'm older I feel like I'm past it, and I'm just not at a stage right now where I could accept a religion. Maybe I never will, but I will always try to accept other people and their lifestyles, regardless of how I feel.
I may not always succeed at that, and indeed in Louisiana I didn't accept the others, but I've realized since then that none of it really matters enough to keep me from being open and accepting.
And that's what bothers me now when I think about it, I don't think any of it matters enough for them to make another human being feel the way I did. We all lost our perspective, and the situation became a little too negative for my liking.
This all sounds really dramatic, but it's just a big rant, and rants will do that, I guess.
If you disagree with me at all, or have anything to share just put it in a comment and I will respond.