Following the follow-up
Well, that was clumsy of me. Not only did I forget I had another posting scheduled, but of course, right after I get through chastising patronizing over-simplification of complex issues… I do it myself. How embarrassing. ;)
A big thank-you to Velvetpage, whose critiques never fail to be both thought-provoking and courteous. With her permission, I’m quoting her entire comment regarding why women stay with Christianity:
I have one more to add to your list: their cost-benefit analysis is weighted so that the benefits of believing as they do outweigh the negatives. For example, a church is often described as an extended “church family,” and there’s a whole world of truth in that simple phrase. Churches are often very, very good at taking care of their own. They’re there to help with transition periods in life, to provide a network of support during the difficult ones, to provide shoulders to cry on and people to offer to pray for you, to celebrate with you when things go well. Some examples: churches that have freezers full of frozen meals to provide to congregants who need that type of help; church bridal or baby showers wherein a bride or new mom can outfit her home or nursery for several years without spending a cent except to attend similar events for other people; offers to babysit, a network of potential businesspeople who might provide jobs or help at a discount or just someone you trust to do the job right.
I cannot overstate the importance of this kind of church family, nor the potential devastation of losing it suddenly. The church becomes the village that supports the family, and its help is very real and valuable. Losing it can mean losing your entire network of social and business connections, especially if your reason for losing it is something that has those people viewing you with pity or disdain — say, a pregnancy out of wedlock, for example.
If a woman is not herself interested in the ministry as a career; if she wants to work a few years and then settle down into part-time work or the life of a SAHM [Stay At Home Mom]; if her career choices are of a nurturing variety, approved by the church, where she feels she can fulfill her calling as a Christian by doing that job; then the trade-offs, where she loses elements of power and self-determination to the authority of the church, seem far less valuable than the tangible benefits of membership. It’s not that hard to convince yourself that the good things you have are the work of God in your life, when you or I, from a secular viewpoint, might see it as simply the benefits of belonging to a certain group. They may also seek to change the organization from within, if they can do that and keep many of the connections they most enjoy.
Many thanks also to Oceanstater, who verified the nature of this extended family of “fictive kin.” Thinking about it, I feel sort of silly for not realizing this myself already; I should have. Not only have I been anthropologically trained in analyzing the pains and pleasures of power and its lack, but I’m also keenly aware of the enjoyment and helpfulness of being part of a large group of close, mutually supportive friends — especially since I’ve recently joined one in the last two years. Further, I’ve recently been studying the more “tend and befriend” nature of females of most species, as opposed to the “fight or flight” nature of males which has been incorrectly generalized over both genders.
Upon reflection, I see I should have added yet one more potential reason for someone remaining with a subculture or group that harms them: it is so much a part of “normal” daily life that it has not occurred to them to question it; they’re not aware of its potentially harmful nature. In explanation, there are certain things we take for granted in our native cultures, that we ordinarily simply do without demurral. In mine we usually: obey traffic laws, get married and have children, eat food and breath, sleep in a bed in a darkened room at night in special sleeping clothes, and so on.
I say this because I still have people occasionally look at me oddly when I say I’m not married and have no intention of doing so, and yet I have a 20+ year relationship with my sweetie. I’ve had people tell me that’s the same as marriage, and I can almost see them mentally relabeling me as “Married” — because that is what people are supposed to do in their world. From my perspective, however, marriage is not something we should accept without question. I believe it has been unfairly reserved for only certain elements of the culture, unjustly penalizing a minority; and I question its religious “sanctification” of an unequal and gendered power structure between its participating members. I also question its social ubiquity and acceptance. To someone who has never questioned the social value of marriage, however, my concerns make no sense and are a pointless time-waster.
So that’s two other reasons people might stay with a social group which is actually harmful to them. Thanks again to my readers for keeping me intellectually honest! :)