Why Not Everyone is Roadkill


June 27, 2013 by lucieromarin

I’ve written about the different ways in which the members of the various conservative subcultures of the Church can end up as the spiritual equivalent of roadkill alongside the Catholic highway. So it has to be asked, then – why don’t all members of these subcultures end up this way?

See, it’s easy to tell someone – or to tell yourself – that the problem was only and simply the fact of being conservative, and to infer from this that the solution is to abandon the whole thing. This, however, means that the question, “Why isn’t everyone else like this?” produces dichotomised answers: they don’t think, and I do; they’re bullies, and I’m a victim; they’re religious hypocrites, and I’m sincere, and so on. But this is wrong; it’s wrong, not because these dichotomies contain no truth at all, but because they flatten reality too much. Everyone on the planet, no matter what his religion, exercises both virtue and vice in his daily life, which means that everyone who exists will sometimes cause his fellow man to suffer, and sometimes cause him to rejoice.

There is no single us/them reason why some conservatives end up in the ditch and others end up pocketing the tolls. I’d like to suggest a few other reasons why some of your friends clearly flourish and are happy in the conservative loop.

1. They’re not disappointed in their vocations. Disappointment in vocation is the number one reason my friends asked me to start this blog, but disappointment isn’t common to most people. (Not that I have actual stats on this point!) Thus, the aspects of the various subcultures that are agonising to the unvocationed (such as the millionth sermon about the holiness of marriage) are going to be the very reason that the vocationed like their subculture so much. Their subcultures delivered everything they were promised; of course they’re happy.

2. They’ve had different experiences outside the loop. Religious experience doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s influenced by your home life, school life, and work life. For some people, those lives are exhausting. Your home was weird or cruel or abnormal; your teachers, lecturers, colleagues or friends really thought that constantly insulting your religion was clever and fun; your work wasn’t satisfying. All of this affects your spiritual life; it affects how the sermon sounds, how important a parish social life is to you and the consequences of having or not having one; it affects not only what you pray about, but how you pray.

Furthermore, your experiences outside the loop affect your experiences within it: how quickly you brush off a crazy man or bounce back from pious tactlessness; how readily you resist gyrovagues, or whether or not they notice you at all. Conservative Catholics are the same as anyone else: those who come from supportive families, or satisfying work, or for whom verbal attacks on the faith are rare, enjoy a more confident and positive relationship with their religious communities because of it.

3. They’re secure in their friends. Even people who have complaints with their communities experience those communities differently once they enjoy the company of like-minded friends. (In fact, those friendships will probably turn out to be the most treasured of all friendships, because they really are exhaustion-free. You don’t get attacked for being Catholic, and you don’t get attacked for not being Catholic enough. Your love for the faith is understood, and your preference for skipping that talk in favour of a night of sci-fi is understood, too. It’s great!)

4. They don’t brood. I don’t mean to say that phlelgmatics and sanguines can’t or don’t suffer. They can and do. However, sanguines are blessed with a natural ability to bounce back, and phlegmatics are blessed with the ability to not get knocked down in the first place. And either way, they tend not to brood over injuries, whereas cholerics and melancholics, each in their own way, do. Obviously, this isn’t healthy.

5. Likewise, the behaviour that leaves the melancholic feeling bullied just feels to others like the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. The melancholic, too, will take to heart the most depressing aspects of his subculture (doom-laden sermons, for example) and let that depression grow within him, while the sanguine, who sat thrilled and transfixed by the same sermon, will forget it five minutes after Mass because she spotted an amazing pair of shoes.

6. They’re getting enough recreation. Not everyone gets physically burnt-out because not everyone gets physically and psychologically over-committed in the first place. And that recreation provides psychological – as well as physical – refreshment.

7. They’ve come from something worse. Ask your convert-friends.

9 thoughts on “Why Not Everyone is Roadkill

  1. Amanda says:

    Interesting. It’s a curious fact of life that emerges from the late twenties and gathers momentum: some people seem to have a great capacity to ride the currents of whichever world they’re in, and others don’t. I think this is a good analysis of the factors behind this. Mind you, how many of the people who seem to be expert surfers actually are, and how many are bluffing, is another question.

    Two observations in response to point 2. Obviously there are people who attack other people’s religion – or any other aspect of their world-view/personality/experiences/gender/ethnicity for fun. And as you say everyone’s done some of that without necessarily intending harm. But is it possible that if Roadkill is/are unhappy in relation to their religion, that well-meaning people might actually be responding to that, even if not in a way that’s appreciated or well-judged?

    The other point that gets lost in current discourse about social relations between believers and non-believers is that believers can actually be very threatening to non-believers. There’s a sort of assumption that atheists have it all their own way and everyone who believes in god/s is a bit of a victim in secular society. I think this is rubbish, actually, along with the secular progress narratives on which this claim rests. But that aside, a women in a headscarf is an unsettling thing to a lot of women, not because they’re anti-religion per se, or “Islamophobic”, or disrespectful of others, but because her clothing symbolises female submission and a whole irrational and pernicious subordination of female to male that is terrifying because so recent and so close to the current reality of all women. Her covering is a gesture of disrespect towards women – whether it’s willed by her or her male relatives/ wider ‘community’. I could make related points about faith schools, male-only clergy and the “pro-life” lobby. Any set of deeply-held beliefs, however benign, or even cosmically necessary, they seem to the holder, are likely to be profoundly threatening to other people, and believers ought to take that into account when assessing other people’s reactions to them. In a way, this might make aspects of the world seem less hostile, perhaps? Are people bullying you, if they are, or are they actually feeling bullied, even scared, themselves by your confidence in things that seem good and positive to you but don’t to them? I don’t know what one should do about this, but there it is.

    After all, Christianity was meant to be a disruptive, challenging force within the Roman empire, and it was only when the elites converted that this changed – and monasticism and extreme asceticism were born out of the continuing need for an unsettling, challenging side to the faith…

    • Amanda says:

      Sorry – just to clarify some poor expression above: I didn’t mean that the Muslim woman *meant* to be disrespectful towards other women, but that the other women *perceive* her apparent endorsement of the idea that women need to be covered/deferential/second-class as disrespectful/threatening to women as a group.

    • lucieromarin says:

      Sorry – belated and brief response to your question – yes, it’s definitely true that a well-meaning person can accidentally blunder while hoping to help someone (and then end up, equally accidentally, hurting the person further) but I wasn’t thinking of that so much as of the blatantly rude comment followed by a gleeful look that indicate that the speaker is all pleased with himself, and whose glee visibly increases in proportion to your visible distress. Seriously, it has its own facial expression. People who are used to being on the receiving end of it know what I mean! (A friend of mine worked in a science lab; when the resident atheist found out she went to Mass on her lunch break, he made sure that he fired a vulgar joke about the Blessed Sacrament at her each time she left for lunch thereafter. It’s easy to say that she should have spoken up for herself, but she was part-melancholic and he was scary. People don’t understand how difficult it is for melancholics to express themselves).

      • Amanda says:

        Well, that sounds very unpleasant. It’s in the same bag as sexist, racist, homophobic taunting, and shouldn’t happen at all, especially not in the workplace.

  2. Cojuanco says:

    And what would the answer be, with all due respect? Should the Muslim woman abandon hijab despite her consciene telling her to wear it? Should someone who believes abortion to be a moral evil merely acquiesce? If the very fact of one having deeply-held beliefs of whatever kind is in itself offensive, is that a problem of the espouser, or of society?

    • Amanda says:

      I think you didn’t quite get the point I was making, which was more about the importance of religious believers recognising that things go both ways: that their beliefs can seem as threatening to others as they feel others sometimes are to them. I think this is something that gets lost, partly because religious believers are very reluctant to accept that people who don’t believe the same things are them have equally valid thoughts and feelings (in fact, the Catholic teaching against “moral relativism” is designed to prevent Catholics from any serious intellectual engagement with the moral positions of others. And you can see a similar panic in Muslim leaders who demonise “the West” in order to prevent their followers from aspiring to the freedoms of a liberal society.) I was making this point in relation to the common idea that secular society is always the aggressor and the religious believer always the victim. I wasn’t being prescriptive about what people should or shouldn’t do, but suggesting that they should understand the effects on others of what they choose to do.

      In response to your questions, I’d say that the cases of the hijab and abortion are slightly different. It’s generally accepted in a liberal society that women should be able to chose what to wear, so if a woman is genuinely choosing to wear clothes prescribed by the male leaders of her religion, it’s considered to be her business. Abortion is a different sort of question, because not only do “pro-life” people want not to have or perform abortions themselves (a perfectly reasonable position), but they want to make it a crime in the eyes of the law for anyone else to do so. This has real-world consequences for all women including those who do not share “pro-life” beliefs, and so becomes a problem for society.

      Having “deeply-held beliefs” is not in itself offensive (after all, pro-choice beliefs are just as deeply-held as “pro-life” beliefs: that’s why it’s such a significant and even symbolic disagreement in US society). It only risks becoming so if the believer tries to impose their consequences on the lives of people who don’t share them.

      • Cojuanco says:

        So it was descriptive, not perscriptive? Got it.

        Sorry if I came off a bit snappish. Had a bad week (example: someone saying that Catholics should not be in the professions in a secular state), the redeeming note of which was a talk with a friend of mine (also called Amanda, funnily enough). Not about Catholicism, about Doctor Who and the alien noises her cabinet makes.

  3. Amanda says:

    I’m intrigued, so going to have to ask, Cojuanco, which alien in Dr Who does your friend’s cabinet sound like???? Don’t worry, you didn’t sound snappish: these are pretty fraught topics to be discussing.

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