“Never forget that it is we New Yorkers and New Englanders who have the monopoly of whatever oxygen there is in the American continent.” – Van Wyck Brooks.
Perhaps the first attitude that gave me a sense of dissonance from my religious upbringing was the elitism very obvious is so much of what I was taught. It wasn’t just the attitudes of the small minded, intolerant among us, the elitism was something expounded by the greatest minds in my religion. Statements like “No other religious person would ever devote so many hours to doing something like ...” is repeated around so many of our ritualistic ceremonies. I remember being a teenager telling my dad, or a teacher, or friends that saying something like that doesn’t make this act more spiritual, or holier. At that point I completely agreed with the ceremony, I participated with devout allegiance. But I never understood how “We are the ones doing it right, because all the others would never do this” makes us holier or more connected to god. If being good is dependent on others not being as good, the system will quickly fall apart.
Apart from the elitism of us a religious group versus all other people in the world, even within the religion there is so much of the elitist attitude. The followers are subdivided into group based solely on the family you were born in. In this case, your spirituality is based completely on the luck of the draw. It reminds me of a quote by Samuel Beckett “Guilty of having committed the crime of being born”. The mere idea that just by being born in a certain family will determine how close to god a person is or can become, is something no educated individual should be satisfied with.
This of course leads me into the specific form of elitism apparent in my community, also based on the crime of being born. There is so much misogyny in the dictates of my religion and apparent in the attitudes of men and (sadly) women in my community. Separate but Equal is something that most of society has realized is nonexistent. It is obvious that my community has not gotten that memo as of yet. I have been told countless of times that women are absolutely revered in the religion and therefore are being ‘protected’ by its laws. When referring to some of our ancient text it does appear that the writers did think of women differently than most. But it has become clear to me that the difference was just that the scholar understood that you cannot kill, rape and be violent towards women, but it doesn’t stop them from considering them second class, or lower. Laws that state how much monetary value there is in a virgin or that say that a rapist must marry the one he raped and give the father “compensation” for the dowry he lost (!) doesn’t leave much room to say that women are equal to men. There is no amount of ideological rhetoric or mystical explanations that can make certain laws seem like anything other than unscientific observations that led to the degradation of a natural part of female biology. My feelings about misogyny and sexism in my community will definitely come out more in other blog posts.
But it was general elitism, pertaining to all forms of mankind, that was the first unsettling aspect of my religion. I do not know if I was sensitive to this because it is my natural instinct to be a independent thinker, of being a type of person who needs to be led, not told. I couldn't help thinking that the value is measured extraneously, for its own merits. The mere fact of it being something others don't do, doesn't add value at all and its sad to think that some think that it does.
Never be told!