Thursday, May 18, 2017

To Live With Your Fiance or Not: Taking Off the Training Wheels

My neice, at a precocious age of only 22 and in pursuit of her masters degree, recently moved to a different state far away from that of her parents. In doing so, she was forced to decide if she was going to live with her fiance (of fiancee?) or not. And what is interesting about her dilemma, at least too me anyway, is how much religion contributed to making that decision weigh upon her head like a crown of thorns. 

Her parents are pretty Roman Catholic in their beliefs, as is she more or less, and although they imparted upon their daughter their religion as well as their wishes concerning the matter, they decided it was high time  they trusted her to make that decision for herself.

To do otherwise, they concluded, was like teaching someone to ride a bike using training wheels, which are essentially what all of the lessons our parents impart to us during childhood amount to, until the parent becomes convinced that riding a bike without such training wheels is altogether too dangerous an activity to ever trust their child to do, even after that child has long since become an adult.

 But that is precisely what such rules are, after all. The rules of, "no sex before marriage," for example, that Catholics and others insist are moral benchmarks that must be upheld, lest a person's soul be flung by God into an eternal hell for daring to engage in something as sinful as being perfectly human, are simply a guide of practicality, not garlands of garlic strung together to protect one's soul from imaginary demons or God's damnation.

Yet even though her parents were perfectly willing to trust whatever decision she made, and in doing so only assure her that they have every confidence in her ability to make this and every other decision she will face in life, she nevertheless found herself on the receiving end of a great deal of Catholic flak advising, nay, assuring her, that moving in with her fiance was like spitting in the face of baby Jesus.

In fact, I would not be surprised if someone even suggested to her that choosing to live with her fiance before marriage (even if it were for no better reason than to save money) was one of the very "sins" Christ himself had to suffer so greatly, and die so painfully, to forgive.  Indeed, it was if she had announced that she was a witch and would be strangling kittens to death with her bare hands and biting off their heads like Ozzy Osborne.

And in daring to suggest so sinful an idea, indeed, for daring to even consider such a thought, many of her blue blooded Catholic relatives, who had all long forgotten Jesus's admonishment that the law was something that had only been made to serve man, proceeded to remind her of just how much her eternal soul depended on nearly nothing so much as her willingness to serve the law instead.

Or to put it another way, rather than trust her as an adult to make decisions about her own life, and for that matter even her own soul, many of her relatives offered not only their doubts about her ability to navigate the perils and pitfalls of such a decision, but criticisms that sat like a crown of thorns upon her thoughts about how it might be perceived by other Christians and Catholics (as if their real focus was not on her, but how her decision might look on them). And in doing so, they unwittingly crucified her with the nails of their moral absolutes, and their dogmatism about what they thought both prudence and divine providence required.

All of this only proved that her relatives had become more like the Pharisees than Christ. They were more concerned with making sure she "served the law" by always following it,  rather than understanding that the law was only ever intended to serve her. They determined how "good" a person was by how willing they were to adhere to the letter of the law, even though Christ had been crucified for pointing out how wrong such thinking truly was. For them, a person could only become or be considered "good" if they conformed and obeyed (even though all of them had scoffed at such ideas, and far more than my niece, when they were her age).

But it was this mentality that condemned Christ for healing the sick on the Sabbath. And that's why Christ pointed out "that the law was made to serve man, not man to serve the law."

Yet despite their collective criticisms, and their myopic view of both their religion and their niece,  despite the fact that so many of them had simply failed to understand the very meaning of Christ's teaching, she faced the Pharisees of her extended family as stoically as Christ stood before the Sanhedrin, and dared to make the decision that was right for her, and her alone. 

And with that, her parents knew she didn't need them to continually enforce their rules any longer, as if they didn't trust she was capable of riding her bicycle with the training wheels. From here on out, they knew she was capable of riding her life on her own. And if they were proud of her for being able to do that, they should be proud of themselves, for having been the ones who taught her how. 


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