Monday, February 1, 2010

Further Negotiations: Zealotry is Scary and Dangerous

When I was tiny I attended Creative Playschool, a cooperative preschool that my mother helped found. (Faculty wives got together and got a Montessori-style preschool up and running.) I remember marching around holding construction paper circles stapled to drinking straws while singing along to a song about the colors of the rainbow sung by Joan Baez, Judy Collins, or Joni Mitchell. We had a tractor tire to play in, and a sailing dingy filled with sand. We had clothes to play dress-up in, and a class hamster.

One of my classmates murdered the hamster. Because she was stupid. Really.

We had on hats, the fifties style ones meant to be pinned to a French twist, and old lady dresses, meaning big flowered prints with buttons up the shirtfronts from the elastic waist to the men’s style collars. The dresses dragged on the floor. For some reason we were playing in one of the large rooms under the University of Redlands library instead of in one of The Village apartments—cinderblock rows of apartments built to house GI Bill students.

Ginny. I want to say her name was Ginny. Ginny was holding the hamster—maybe it was a mouse. We loved it. It was soft and pretty and gave us tiny nibble kisses on our fingers. She was taking care of it. So she wrapped it up in a Kleenex blanket and tucked it in to bed in her plastic coin purse.

I said, No, you can’t put it in there; it won’t be able to breathe.

She looked at me blankly. Deep breath, then, They have lungs. They need air. They have to breathe like us.

Blank stare, then, Nuh-uh.

Yes, it needs to breathe. You have to take it out. Now!  I grabbed for the purse and missed.

She dodged me and kept flitting around the room with her purse full of mouse.

I told her again, panic rising, You can’t put the mouse in the purse; you’ll kill it.

No, I won’t.

Yes, you will. You’re killing it!

I was wide eyed. I ran for the teacher: She’s killing the hamster! She’s killing the hamster!

And then the teacher calmly asked where the hamster was…let me see it…Oh. My.

The body of the mouse hamster curled in a limp little half moon on the teacher’s palm. Ginny burst into tears. I stood back, outside their little circle of grief and consolation, hating Ginny, hating the teacher, and then completely flummoxed by the other adults and children joining the circle, all feeling bad for stupid little homicidal Ginny.

Nuh-uh: evolution is just a theory. Nuh-uh: global warming is an unproven theory. The Big Bang? Says you.

Oprah’s guests recently included Ted Haggard and his wife, Gayle. She explained her choice to stay with the reverend Ted and work through their problems. He explained, what? How grateful he was that she stayed? Theirs was a confused message. I came away from the broadcast clear that Gayle has written a book about her experience and Why I Stayed is now available at major booksellers.

I believe they are sincere in their faith and their commitment to each other. They appear to be people who were blindsided by the truth of their lives—a truth that remains obscured by a world view that will not allow for such a truth, however much concrete, experiential proof is served up on a silver platter by Providence. I imagine they grew up in “caring Christian homes” attending Bible Belt churches several times a week. I imagine old Ted is as stymied by his behavior as is his wife.  They have the look of people with a faith so deep and deeply illogical that it lives next door to denial and delusion.

Or he’s a sociopath—which is a distinct possibility—you can’t lie as well as he does without some kind of crazy going on. His lie is without the panic of the guilty. Sociopath is a distinct possibility. That’s scary.

Blinded to the truth of himself is scary too.

Linda Lovelace comes to mind. Lovelace became a born again Christian sometime after her Deep Throat years. Ordeal, her story of degradation in the porn industry, reads suspiciously like the other texts I read for a graduate course titled Pornography and Melodrama. It didn’t read like Thinking Through the Body, a serious feminist study; it read like My Secret Life, a very old amalgamation of naughty stories. Pornography for good Christians. Stories of enemas and spankings and all manner of fetish told in the context of testimony. Clever. Probably lucrative.   

There are times when I watch people lie to themselves and others in an open lie everyone has agreed to a priori—the sick days taken around holiday weekends, for example—and I see the social utility of the exercise. I understand completely when it is accompanied by the half smile, or the jovial nod, or the practiced questioning of coughing fits prior to the long weekend. Kind of like when the closeted guy everyone knows is closeted, walks around the office singing Evita songs and tells stories of fabulous vacation exploits in which one need only change the genders of the players to arrive at the truth. The clueless are allowed blissful cluelessness, and the clued don't have to feel the contagious crazy of denial.
There are other times —when everyone seems to have genuinely lost sight of the truth underlying the communal lie —when I get frightened. Visceral fear: increased pulse rate, wrinkles between my eyebrows, fluttery chest and tight stomach.

When the zealots start talking, I am four years old trying to save a hamster from stupid Ginny.


  1. Proofs of evolution are not limited to contentious computer models. Can you lend me your copy of Ordeal?

  2. Hell yeah, Sybil!

  3. Nicolas, if I can find my copy or Ordeal, I will lend it to you. Last I saw it, it was in a box headed for the basement.


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