I Feel A Rant Coming On…

And so I’m cut tagging this. It’s a religious rant! Those are always fun, right?

So in the last week or so, as y’all may have noticed, I have been painting saints.

They’re fun. For some reason, they speak to me on some level…compositionally they’re fun, and they tap into that whole freaky world of hagiography* and religious iconography which is so weird and rich and, let’s face it, totally fucked up in this bizarre deadpan fashion that takes practically everything at face value. There’s some weird quality to the mythology that you can’t get anywhere else.**

They also poke a little fun at Christianity–Catholicism, perhaps most notably, but any of the groups that like their saints. It’s pretty mild fun, all things considered–a mildly dirty joke or two, a whole lot of generalized silliness–and compared to how bitter I’ve been over religion in the past, never mind anybody ELSE, it’s pretty tame stuff.

And for the most part, the Christian contingent of my readership–who are admittedly, a self-selecting sample of open-minded types with a weird sense of humor–have written in to say they’re hysterical. They’ve been cool. I had somebody showing them to a buddy who was a Trappist abbot. My Lutheran boyfriend has ’em as a desktop background and wanted a pack of the mini-prints for his pastor, fer god’s sake. If anybody’s offended, they’ve kept it to themselves, and I’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback.

The last saint I did–St. Snargus–however, engendered offense in a few individuals.

Not Christians. Pagans. People who saw that St. Snargus was martyred by a pagan emperor and saw fit to take offense, the gist of which seemed to be (in comments and notes) that no, no, no, pagans got burned by Christians, not the other way around, and they resented the implication that it could have happened the other way.

At best these were well-meaning souls of the Earnest Young Pagan mold–and Ganesh knows, I’ve been one myself back in the day–who just want to educate everybody about the witch trials and the oppression of happy nature-worshipping pagans and the roots of the Greek paganus, and god, they mean well, and believe me, I have been there, done that, and owned the hand-stitched wand-cozy. All you can do with these people is smile and nod and wait for them to mellow with age and pot, and, should they happen to mention a paleolithic goddess cult stretching across Europe, destroy them utterly and sow the ashes with salt.

At worst…well, we won’t speculate. I was an Angry Young Pagan myself, back in the day, slightly before and to the left of when I was an Earnest Young Pagan. If we didn’t have Angry Young Members of any religion, we’d probably all be Unitarian Universalists*** by now, or worse, and the temples and churches and synagogues would never get painted.

Regardless, we have pagans taking offense to my art making mild fun of Catholic saints because one of them got martyred by a pagan emperor.

This irks me.

This irks me because if you’ve ever read an actual hagiography, my little descriptions were actually very much in that vein, and that was part of what I enjoyed about writing them.

This irks me more because it displays a vile lack of knowledge about history–the Middle Ages were not the be-all and end-all of religious oppression, and the Christians took their lumps and got fed to the lions by the Romans back in the day. And Christians burned each other at the stake for heresy with presumably as much glee as the Romans did to each other centuries prior, because let’s face it, at the end of the day, everybody was doin’ bad shit to everybody else, in a way that says a lot about the ugly side of human nature and very little about what religion one happens to be.

This irks me most because…goddamnit, people.

Some part of my brain, more hopeful or more stupid than the rest, is going “But we’re supposed to be the cool ones, damnit!” Somebody introduces themselves as a Christian, and the vast majority of the rest of us squelch an internal sigh. (You know the sigh. The one that says “I really hope you’re not a sanctimonious born-again twit, but statistics are so gravely against you, and yes, I feel a little bad for thinking this, but I’m thinking it anyway.” I am dead sure that I am not the only one who does this. I STILL do it, and I’m dating a Lutheran, because one really cool credit to his species cannot counteract a lifetime of grim experience, no matter how good he is in the sack.) Every religion has its humorless twits, and I’ve known enough humorless pagans to last a lifetime, but damnit, YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

I suppose I resent it mostly because it’s my own faith–or at least something akin to it, once upon a time–showing up badly alongside one that I have generally enjoyed feeling snidely superior to, lo these many moons. (Is this a GOOD feeling? No. Does it make me a good person to feel that way? No. This is an admission of me-being-a-bad-person, here. I feel snarky about Christianity. Still. Sorry, mea culpa. If it helps any, a lot of you really don’t deserve it.)

And geez, nothin’ pisses a person off like being on the recieving end, huh? I’m too close enough to having to squelch that internal sigh when people introduce themselves as pagans already, I do not wish to slide clear over that particular cliff.

Now, these days I am a rather mellow secular humanist, albeit one with a shrine to Ganesh in the kitchen and distinctly pagan leanings. I don’t know that I’d call myself a pagan, per se, but I’m certainly not a monotheist, and you start to run out of good descriptors after awhile. Mostly-secular humanist? Thingy? I’m not sure if I’m Earnest, and I’m maybe not all that Young anymore, but that’s about all I know. (Okay, okay, a little Angry. I had enough bad blood with Christianity back in the day that I can still get a nice righteous wrath going if I really want to, but it takes a lot of effort better spent on video games and naps.)

I cannot believe I have been driven to defending early Christian martyrdom. Christ on a pogo stick. That’s probably what irks me the most. Somewhere, in some black little chunk of my soul that is still an angry sixteen-year-old who is pissed at God for betraying her, Christianity will always and forever be The Enemy. (Again. Not saying this is right, or that it’s a good thing. This is an admission of personal reality, not an endorsement of it. This is also not an invitation to try to change me.) And the reasonable part of me that knows its history and was most of the way to a classics minor and is beholden to the truth is having to nudge that sixteen-year-old aside with the toe of her boot, and say “Look, we’re all just people together. Deal with it.”

I didn’t like eating crow at sixteen, and I still don’t, although I’ve gotten better at doing it, even in a graceless and half-assed fashion. So I say this to my pagan brethren the world over–If CATHOLICS are makin’ you look humorless, you have gone WRONG.

Now I know why Kevin sinks down in the seat a little whenever we get cut off in traffic by a minivan with an ichthys on it.

(Of course, at the end of the day, my buddy Brooke may have said it best, “…it’s a capybara and a trout. People are getting bent out of shape about a capybara and a trout!?”)

Let the flames commence if you must, I probably deserve them. I’m not even sure who I’m defending any more. Probably not myself, anyway.

It’s a funny ‘ol world out there, ya know?

ETA: On the other hand, I gotta say, I do feel better about my sense of religious tolerance now, because my brain started whispering “How can I piss those people off EVEN MORE?” which is something it does whenever I manage to hit a nerve among the humorless. At least I’m an equal-opportunity bastard.

*Study of saints. I’m gonna be using it a lot, so I wanted to define my terms.

**We will use mythology in this case as an indicator of having-the-quality-of-myth, not speaking to the veracity of any particular saints. Plenty of them were made up out of whole cloth, or WERE myths, but I’m not equipped to sit down and argue about exactly how many virgins, if any, St. Ursula may have been martyred with, or what psychosis St. Christina the Astonishing really had, and there will be plenty to get one’s panties in a wad about later in the rant without starting here. Promise.

***This Is A Joke. I normally would not feel obligated to say this, because the Unitarians DO have a sense of humor, in my experience, although many of them also slide into Earnest Young Flake mode, god knows–but given the rant, better safe than sorry.

Leave a Reply