Tag Archives: religion

Turkey Basters and Infanticide Part III

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We Catholics are an odd lot of people.

For one, we sing songs in a language we can’t understand. A renegade priest could declare that Pater noster qui es in coelis actually means “Nancy Pelosi fisted a donkey” and the only reason some of us would know that it doesn’t is because Nancy and Pater, for the most part, have different letters.

Every Sunday loads of us get together for an hour-long celebration of magic cannibalism. Of course, it’s only proper to participate if you’ve confessed to a mysterious figure behind a screen that you masturbated to your daughter’s One Direction calendar while she was at school, and no Father, you won’t do it again, can you go to the magic cannibalism festival now? Finally, we think that the only way to get a baby into Heaven is to hand it over to an old man so that he can dip its head into a pool of water and fecal matter. Presumably this is okay because infants spend much of their time covered in fecal matter anyway, though usually not on their heads.

In fact, it was only recently that Catholic babies were allowed into Heaven at all. If they died in infancy, many of them were sentenced to Purgatory, because they were tainted with both Original Sin, and the sin of their very conception. After all, you need to have sex to make a baby, and sex is dirty. That’s why all those Catholic husbands are in the confessionals on Saturdays explaining what really happened to that One Direction calendar. Why do you think they have to sell so many of them?

For much of Irish history, Irish children who died in infancy were not able to be buried in the same cemeteries as those who had lived to be baptized. That’s not to say they weren’t cared for though, because they clearly were. Many of these children were buried in cemeteries, or on the outskirts of cemeteries, that had gone into official disuse. Technically it wasn’t a church cemetery, but the ground had still been consecrated, possibly providing the infants at least with an easier time in Purgatory. There are loads of examples of these sites all over Ireland, and the Blackfriary is one such example. Buried at various locations around the cemetery, but largely above the pre-existing monastic context, are dozens of infants. It seems that these children were too young to be baptized when they died, and by burying them on sacred ground, their parents or caregivers were doing their best to ensure them a fulfilling afterlife. Interestingly, even while caregivers were burying their children in sacred spaces, infanticide was not uncommon, and the two were not mutually exclusive. That is, you could kill your child and still bury it in consecrated ground.

During the 2013 field season at the Blackfriary, a group of students excavated the skeletal remains of a newborn baby. It’s always a time-consuming processing to excavate a burial, and it’s particularly difficult when it’s an infant. The bones are tiny and difficult to identify, and they can only be excavated properly under ideal weather conditions. But eventually, the form of the baby began to appear from the soil as they exposed its tiny arms and legs, and finally, its little head. The skeleton was almost completely intact, but the side of the cranium was completely shattered. Nested inside its little head was a small lead sphere about two centimeters in diameter, perfectly situated in the center of the mass of shattered bone. The baby who had been buried with monks had been shot in the head.

God-Vaginas (Part II)

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One of the most horrifying moments of my undergraduate career took place in the North Market parking lot in downtown Columbus. Fortunately, all of the people involved (except for the questionably homeless guy) are some of my best friends and, even though they are academics, have never judged me for my faith, and have never done anything to make me feel ashamed. Otherwise I might have pooped myself.

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” asked the Questionably Homeless Guy.

Oh, fuck. I had always been told that under no circumstances are you to deny Jesus.

Even if someone has a gun to your head?

Even if someone has a gun to your head. You’ll just go to Heaven faster.

I looked to Best Friends. They were absorbed in conversation and Polish mashed potatoes.

“I do,” I answered.

“Do you believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father?”

Best Friends looked up from their mashed potatoes.

“I do,” I answered quietly. I could feel my face turning all kinds of red.

“Do you believe that He came down from Heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man?”

“I do.” How much blood can flow into your face before it explodes? Best Friends were going to think I was so dumb. Virgins can’t get pregnant. That’s like Sex Ed 101. You have to have sex to get pregnant.

“Do you have any spare change?”

“No.”

First, you can see that if this was one of my most embarrassing moments, obviously I didn’t get out much. Second, as humiliating as that experience was, I’m grateful that I don’t have to experience more alienation on a regular basis. I could be Jewish or a Muslim and be ironically patronized in a superficially friendly academic environment. I could be anything other than white and never be taken seriously in academia. Or I could be a female…

Oh, wait.

But aside from that fact, I am genuinely grateful that I’m as privileged as I am.

Even academia, the safe haven of reason, is not free from people who want to poke around in your god-vagina. For academics who are supposed to take a relativistic approach to their studies, anthropologists seem to forget that they are allowed to treat the religious practices of their colleagues with the same relativistic respect that they normally reserve for their subjects. There isn’t a ban on appreciating Western religion for its cultural value, and there isn’t a ban on believing in a god or gods just because you’re an intellectual. And quite honestly, you’re doing a disservice to the rest of the world by patronizing them for engaging in cultural practices that don’t appear to have a direct scientific outcome.

Now, to be frank, I’ve always had some self-esteem issues to begin with. Working in an environment where colleagues are, on a fairly regular basis, dismissing Western religions and mocking faith exacerbated this for a while.

What if I can’t be a real scientist because I believe in God?

What if they have x-ray brain vision and can read my thoughts and know that I believe in God and think I’m stupid?

What if this skull in my hands comes back to life and yells, “Stop touching me! I want a REAL anthropologist!”

Actually, that part would be pretty great because it would need its mandible to talk, and I can’t figure out how to put it back together, so if it could reassemble itself, that’d be super helpful.

Lately though, like God and your genitals, I’ve decided that I don’t give two shits. This sounds like a decision you’d come to over a long period of time whilst preparing for a religious sacrament or diving into a self-help book, but I actually decided on my level of shit-giving in the span of about twenty minutes in a run-down church in Zagreb.

Located in the heart of what must be the world’s biggest farmer’s market, Dolac, the Church of St. Mary was built in the sixteenth century and quite possibly has not undergone any renovations since that time. It’s easy to imagine that its bile-yellow exterior must have at one time looked more like sunlight than dog vomit as the church of the Blessed Virgin looked down at Her patrons in the marketplace. The bell tower is typically Eastern European, with gilded markings against a dull green bubble and a gilded cross at the top struggling in vain to stand out against the back drop of the unending construction project that is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. A worn statue of the Blessed Virgin guards the entrance, shedding flecks of paint faster than you can say, “lead poisoning.”

Hesitantly, I walked into the church, dipping my hand into the basin of Holy Water and collecting instead a finger-full of slime. Reluctantly, I blessed myself, making a mental note to sanitize my hands and forehead upon leaving.

Inside, the church was silent, but not empty. I made my way to the last row of pews, genuflected, blessed myself again, and sat. Behind me, a line of women stood waiting for their turn in the confessionals. In the row across from me, I saw a nun on her knees whispering the Rosary.

The windows were narrow, and the room was dim, lit only by some battery-operated plastic candles. The walls were little more than solid gray stone decorated with the Stations of the Cross and cobwebs. Outside it was ninety-degrees, but inside it was cold and damp, and it smelled like a wet basement and mold.

I looked at the alter lined with plastic flowers.

I should pray. That’s what churches are for.

When’s the last time you prayed in church?

Um. February? I think I went to part of an Ash Wednesday service…in 2013.

That’s a long time.

Church is depressing. I prefer to pray in the shower where no one can see. One time in the shower, I told God that if we got a snow day, I’d fold all my underwear for a year instead of shoving it in a drawer, and it worked.

I started by saying the Hail Mary. That’s a good starting prayer. It’s also how Catholics call God. It’s like dialing the operator, and she’ll put you through to Him. I don’t know why, in 2014, God still relies solely on a landline, but He does.

I apologized for the normal Catholic stuff- not praying more, not going to Confession since 2006, and in general, existing.

I thanked Him for the opportunity to travel and study, and that I hadn’t yet died in a plane crash.

In 2004, when I was beginning preparations to make my Confirmation, the nun in charge of the whole shebang asked if I ever prayed to my dad. No, I answered. What’s the point?

There might be a point, but like most people, I try to avoid things that make me feel like Jack the Ripper is slicing through my heart with a hunting knife. So I rely on Holy middlemen to do my bidding.

Please tell Daddy that I miss him, and love him, and thank him for the scholarship, but we could have found another way. He didn’t have to go. We could have found another way.

Tell him I do archaeology now. He would like that. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

God-Vaginas (Part I)

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Having a religion in the U.S. is a lot like having a vagina in that it’s everybody else’s business, and there’s always someone out there trying to change it. Personally, I don’t understand this preoccupation with religion. Much like a vagina, as long as you’re not flapping it around in my face and not using it to kill people, I don’t care what you do with it. Some people, however, make it their personal business to poke around in other people’s god-vaginas.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a prime example of this phenomenon. I suppose I should say Confrontational Jehovah’s Witnesses because it’s unfair to generalize too much.

Growing up, you could always tell when the Confrontational Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter referred to as CJW’s) were in the neighborhood. A line of cars would appear in the cul-de-sac, noiselessly, as if placed there by the hand of God Himself. A procession of women in linen dresses would then make their way from house to house asking occupants if they’ve heard about the Word of God. How they think you could live in the Midwestern United States and not have at least a vague idea of what Christianity is, I’m not sure.

Coming from a fairly small blue-collared town, not a whole lot else of significant entertainment value went on, and as children, we found watching the CJW’s and the ensuing panic amongst the neighborhood adults almost as good as Saturday morning cartoons.

Sometimes my mom would get a warning call from one of the other neighbors, an unfortunate soul who had opened the door and now wanted to protect others from falling to a similar fate.

Sometimes we would see them first.

“Mommy! The Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming!” We would yell. We knew the drill. It was the same drill we had carefully perfected for Christmas carolers. Don’t talk. Turn off all the lights. Hide in the basement.

CJW’s are not alone in their quest to systematically destroy the Amazon by distributing literature in attempts to convert their victims.

Which brings me to the topic of Confrontational Protestants.

Now I know I said that it’s unfair to generalize, but I admit that I tend to lump most Protestants into one category. I understand that there are a gazillion different types of Protestant- Methodists, Lutherans, born again Christians, and whatever that English one is, for example. But I don’t know them all because frankly, I don’t care, and God probably doesn’t give two shits either.

Confrontational Protestants (hereafter referred to as CP’s) seem to be in the business of condemning people to Hell, also while systematically destroying the rainforest like their CJW brethren. If you’re looking to have an identity crisis, seek out a CP. They’re fond of saying things like, “You’re a really great person, and I accept you for who you are. But by the way, you’re going to Hell because you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart, and all your dead family’s in Hell.”

They seem to be stuck on this idea that Catholics don’t know who Jesus is.

Sometimes you might get really lucky and find a CP who doesn’t want anything to do with you, and that’s great. For example, a CP might have a child in school with you, and you aren’t allowed to play with that kid anymore because you’re a Catholic and your eternal sin might ooze out your nose and get all over his Pokémon cards. At first this might seem like a bad thing, but this is a good way to limit the number of head cases you have to deal with when you reach adulthood.

Catholics of course, are not without blame, and they too come in the confrontational variety. As a confirmed Catholic, I can only speak to the internally directed confrontation, but I’m sure Confrontational Catholics (hereafter referred to as CC’s) are just as bad as their non-Catholic counterparts. Divorced? Not okay. I’m not sure what happens to you, but it’s probably bad. Gay? Not okay. Birth control? Nope. Pregnant and unmarried? Don’t bother coming back to church until you’ve had the baby. And by the way, you’re going to Hell. Can’t get your kids to Sunday Mass because you’re visually impaired and can’t drive? Maybe God will forgive you, but it’s unlikely.

Why would someone join one of these Hell-condemning cults where people force you to undergo procedures where bits of Jesus are inserted into your right ventricle, you might be asking. First of all, not everyone who identifies with a religious affiliation is a confrontational self-absorbed Hell-condemning maniac who thinks that “eternal sin” can be spread like the flu. Second, it’s none of your business.

But my religious affiliation, like all of my reproductive organs, seems to be everyone else’s business anyway.

I don’t think religion and faith have to be the same thing. For me, religion is part of my cultural heritage. Sometimes I go to Mass, I take Communion, and in the winter I get ashes smeared all over my forehead. I never drink the wine though because that seems to be the number one way to spread SARS.

I am 100% confident that God gives zero shits about whether or not I do these things. I am also 100% confident that God doesn’t give a fuck what you do with your genitals. Penis and vagina? Fine. Penis and penis? Cool bro. Vagina and vagina? Right on. I’m sure he also doesn’t care about which type of birth control you’re allowed to use. Don’t want a baby right now? Fine. He has other stuff to concern Himself with, like Ebola and the international one-man shit-show that is Vladimir Putin.

Talking to God in the Shower

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I can’t be rude on purpose.

This is a problem.

You see, it’s not that I’m stupid or naive. In fact, I like to think I’m quite the opposite. I often think the absolute worst about everyone until I have reason to believe otherwise. People can be bad, and I do not warm to them easily. In the words of my role model Agent Mulder, and those of my lesser-known role model Catherine Clark, “trust no one.”

I do not trust anyone.

I’m just not good at showing it.

Take, for example, a recent encounter with a panhandler.

“Excuse me there for a second, love,” said the woman as she approached me. “Could I bother you for a pound? Listen, my car broke down and I need to get the bus. I’m pregnant, and it’s too far for me to walk.”

I quietly responded that I didn’t have any money, as I had only just moved here and used everything I had (which was sort of true). I popped my headphones back in before I could hear her response.

My mental response, however, was quite different. It went something like this.

Oh no. If you’re going to interrupt my playlist, you better be dying. Just because I’m the only white person with all her anterior teeth within the city limits doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. That “my car broke down and I’m pregnant-“ heard that one before; we have that in the US too, you know. And by the way, you are NOT pregnant. That ship has long sailed, lady.  Oh, and pregnant women can walk. You are an embarrassment. 

This thought process is not congruent with the reaction.

This is not dissimilar to a recent encounter with a panhandler in Zagreb.

Nor to the other gazillion panhandlers in Zagreb.

Nor in Columbus.

Although there was panhandler in Columbus that I managed to scare off. He asked if I had any spare change. I said no, but I had some chocolate vaginas and would he like one. He didn’t ask me for money anymore after that.

Anyway, I do not trust people. I assume that when panhandlers ask me for money, they will use it for drugs. When I pass youths on the street, I assume they’re going to mug me.

So you see, the issue is not that I am too trusting. It’s that I’m too polite.

I’m working on trying to rectify this. Really. Sometimes now before I go out I listen to Eminem. Then I practice frowning and puffing out my chest to make myself look bigger and less pleasant. If I had a tail, I’d try puffing that out too.

I find it particularly difficult to be rude when I’m traveling. After all, it’s not my country. Who am I to be rude to the locals?

Before going to dig in Croatia, I stopped in Sarajevo for a few days. I had heard that it was a unique mix of cultures, a meeting point for Eastern and Western Europe.

And it was. Within the same city block there was an Orthodox church, a Catholic church, a Synagogue, and a Mosque.

I had never seen a mosque before. Growing up, everyone was Catholic or Protestant, descendants of either Irish or German or both, and if you were Catholic you were going to Hell said the Protestants. Did you know your dad’s in Hell? Yes, you’ve told me that a thousand times I think.

I stood at the gate of the mosque in the old city center. I couldn’t enter, said the sign on the gate. My legs were showing, sticking out of a skirt that was too long, and my arms and shoulders were exposed in a tank top. My frizzy hair was poking out of a bun in every which way.

I was indecent.

Allah doesn’t like it when your hair’s not covered.

Jesus doesn’t like it when you wear hats in church. Face forward, you aren’t to look behind you. Don’t look at the clock during Mass. Fold your hands like this, now like this. Kneel down. Stand up. Stop hitting your brother. I’m telling Sister Jane. Don’t say His Name.

Jesus Christ.

I peered through the gate and watched all the men, women, and children gather for prayer in a Holy place where I was not welcome.

Nothing new.

“Hello,” came a voice from behind me. I turned around and saw a young man about my age, perhaps a year or two older.

Hi.

What are you doing?

Just watching.

Are we different?

Not much, no.

Where are you from?

America.

Are you afraid of Muslims?

No.

We are a kind and peaceful people.

Ok.

Are you traveling alone?

Yes.

That must be lonely.

It’s not.

Are you busy tonight?

No.

Do you want to meet in the city center? We can go for ice cream.

Um.

I thought you said you were not afraid.

I’m not.

Then meet me for ice cream.

Why don’t we just go now?

It’s Ramadan. I’m fasting. I’m a good Muslim.

Oh.

I knew there wouldn’t be ice cream. I’m not stupid. Why did I meet him? To show him that not all Americans were bigots? That we’re not all afraid of Muslims? To apologize?

For what?

For being American and existing, duh.

We met on a park bench. It was dark. I could hear the tinkling of the little bells in the memorial for all the children who died in the war.

Should we go for ice cream now?

No, let’s stay here.

I think we should go for ice cream. It’s dark here.

Kiss me.

No thank you.

Come on.

No thanks.

Why not? Won’t you kiss a Muslim?

I don’t want to kiss anyone.

Kiss me.

No thank you.

I inched away on the bench. He inched closer.

Please kiss me?

I don’t know you.

He took my face in both his hands and kissed me. I tried to turn away. He had strong hands. His tongue was hot and wet in my mouth. I gagged.

Kiss me back.

No thank you.

Kiss me back.

No.

Come, let’s go to my place. You can meet my mother. Maybe if she likes, we can get married, and I can move to America.

I think I should go. Bye.

Are you sure?

Yes.

Can I call you?

I don’t have a phone.

Back at the hostel, I took a shower with the water on all the way hot.