Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Open Letter to the Duggar Family... Re: Tolerance

The Duggars

Dear Duggars,

I would like to preface this letter by saying first and foremost that I bear no ill towards you whatsoever, and confess that I am usually watching your show every morning while I feed breakfast to my almost 9-month-old son ever since we moved here. He wakes up conveniently when your show starts, and for that first hour he's awake I will flip to TLC and revel in the fact that one woman could bear and raise so many children and still be ready for more despite the daily struggle it seems to sometimes present, and that one man would so patiently and lovingly put up with and help with it all - all while both having a saintly serenity in their countenance that never lets up for a moment.

It also brings about a certain feeling of nostalgia, as watching everyone's interactions reminds me of the days I spent visiting with my extended family (on my mother's side) in Delaware and the boonies of far-eastern Maryland. The two families, mine and the Duggars, interacted with each other and their respective friends in similar ways, and both were/are extremely devout. It was rare, in my early childhood, to have anything but happy moments in their company, especially when my mother's cousins from Boston would come down with their two children and we spent afternoons re-enacting plot lines from (and pretending to be) video game characters. Though it was only four of us, as opposed to 18+ children and guests or family friends, it was wholesome, clean and innocent fun. Religion would rarely come up, other than the adult speaking of something in passing to another adult or using a phrase like "Lord have mercy" or "Bless you".

Then, as fondly I remember these younger years, I begin to progress forward in my mind to when only a little more time had passed and I was older, just entering the "teen" ages after twelve. I begin to remember what began to happen when religion became a more serious and unpleasant matter between them and myself - and I begin to wonder how the Duggar family might have reacted to the situations that ultimately led to my complete self-estrangement from nearly my entire family.

It was an almost inconsequentially small, insignificant gesture, but at my tender age it was more seen as an act of war, the latest in one of many acts that have been exchanged between devout or evangelical Christians and Pagans (or more specifically, witches).

I was a good kid overall, though very spirited and.. shall we say, assertive, I had a good head on my shoulders and a great heart to boot. I had even been good by Christian standards up until then, going to church regularly, reading the Bible, praying - the whole nine yards. For some reason, though, even when I was most enthusiastic about it (in part due to my best friends' contagious enthusiasm, one of whom was a preacher's daughter), it never felt right to me.

I couldn't place the feeling then. After all, I agreed with the main standards of morality and ethics they enforced, I felt compelled to engage in rituals like praying and observing holidays. As it was, however, it still felt empty and hollow, as if I were being commanded and not empowered. I never felt any surging feeling of euphoria that sent me into a spasm or caused me to speak in tongues. I never felt "the presence" of God as I had learned of it. I felt no passion sitting in a church, and everyone around me seemed to be either distanced or acted as though they were just going through the motions so they could get to schmooze and munch on free breakfast.

I didn't understand where the disconnect lay, so I chalked it up to me just not having good enough knowledge of the Bible. This text that everyone quoted all the time they surely have read themselves, so perhaps I'm just behind on it. So, I picked it up. I read it. The entire thing, Old and New Testament, from front to back and cover to cover.

This only further confused me, and even frightened me.

Sure, the parts of the all-knowing, all-loving God that had been spoken of by many a pastor in my churchgoing days were in there, but hidden in the subtext of it all was a brutal tyrant who seemed to have no qualms sending an otherwise good person who was never baptized straight to hell; this was a God who didn't flinch after almost convincing a man to kill his own son, who would see women or a gay man bludgeoned to death for committing acts which were supposed to be born of love, acts that are as natural and necessary as breathing or eating punished with cruelty and an eternity of fire and pain.

This can't be right. Why would you not be rewarded in death, or in life, for just being a good person and doing your best? One mistake and you're damned to hell forever unless you constantly apologize and stroke the egos of an uncontested, all-powerful God? I was afraid for myself. I didn't want to be thrown into a fiery pit to burn endlessly for wanting to enjoy what life had been given to me.

Nor did I want to worship a God out of fear of being punished for not doing so.

I spent the next year delving into every religion I could find out about on the fledgling AOL internet connection we thankfully had at the time. I was afraid for the longest time that because I did this, I would be reserving my space in hell. It took me a while to get over that fear, even after I had finally found the one spiritual path that called to me louder than I'd ever been called to anything before.

Mind you, I researched a lot of religions. I think now that I pretty much touched on every last one of them, with the exception of a few more recent ones such as Scientology. I read all that I could about them and even tried performing the usual daily rites associated with each one, to no avail.

Just as I was about to give up, I found a marker that showed me the path I needed to go. Suddenly it all made sense, I was a witch. My mother was a witch, though she'll never admit it, and her mother before her. We all shared similar outlooks on spirituality, felt similar feelings as ones that were commonly described in books and writings from other witches and Pagans, and none of us ever really felt terribly enthusiastic about being a Christian to begin with. It is because we were all lying to ourselves.

In the many versions of explanation and historical research into ancient Pagan religions, I found things described within that appeared as though they had dictated my own thoughts. There was a source from which a divine entity sprung, but it had two forms - masculine and feminine. You need both to create life on Earth and it made little sense that one supreme being could create it out of thin air. I always used to pride myself on only believing that which I saw with my own eyes, and by walking with nature (and an open mind) I found answers to all my questions.

Life and rebirth was as sure to me as the passing of seasons, where we all can see the trees prove to us the process a living thing must go through to experience life and rebirth time and again. The existence of there being a sun and a moon, along with countless other examples of ying and yang, is evidence that life cannot sustain itself without two polar opposites working together harmoniously - therefore, how could just one omnipotent God have created and sustained all this alone, with no materials other than Himself to create with? It just never added up for me. Try as I might (and did), I could not accept this as stark a reality as my peers and elders, despite having likely put forth more effort towards understanding it all.

I could go on about my subsequent research into history and all the findings I made when looking into the beginning of Christianity, how early believers took Pagan deities and practices and demonized them to make it out to seem that a devil was tricking them into what they had so long knew to be divine - but that isn't the point of this letter. Back to that simple, little incident that turned years of pleasant, happy memories of being with my devoutly Christian family into a dark battle both internally and with my own relations.

All I did was wear a necklace. Like they wore their crosses, so too did I find comfort in wearing a symbol that best represented my own faith. It was a tasteful, pretty little (upright, not inverted) pentacle within a circle outline that was embellished with a few mock gemstones. My mother even bought it for me, in fact, after I had shared in a long talk with both my parents about my spiritual journey and where it had led me. Even though they were reluctant at first, I am glad they were able to embrace that my heart and head were in the right places.

I didn't make a fuss over it or rub it in anyone's face. In fact, it wasn't even my intention to have it visible when we went out to breakfast early that morning. I was a sleep-deprived thirteen year old, and in my groggy morning state it must have slipped out above my shirt as I ate with the family out at a restaurant.

My mother's cousin caught a glimpse of it from the corner of his eye, perhaps, because I saw his face quickly turn from a warm smile into a cold, hard look of displeasure before he averted his eyes, started shaking his head and commanded whilst pointing at the "thing" around my neck, "Put it away. Put it away..."

I have felt myself being distanced from my more devout relations ever since that day. And that wasn't even the last incident where I had to fight to even wear it. I was thrown out of class by a Christian teacher that said my jewelry was inappropriate, and he didn't let up until the ACLU was called in and threatening them with a lawsuit.

Certainly, I was not born being wary of anyone because of their beliefs. I loved everyone equally as best I could, and still continue to this day trying my best to be a shining example of a person. However, I have been treated like the most villainous scum on the earth by people who supposedly worshipped a God that taught love for thy neighbors.

Therefore, I cannot help but wonder what kind of reception I would get from the seemingly incredibly friendly but also incredibly devout Duggars. I start off watching the show having fond childhood memories, and I'm usually left with wondering what you all would actually think of someone like me - or how you would treat me.

We may certainly not have the same religion in common, but there is much my family and yours would have in common, such as a love of music, a strong sense of spirituality, and a reverence for love and family and raising children. If fate, or God, or the Goddess or whatever divine force we believe in threw us in the same community and our paths were to cross, would we even be welcome in your home? Would you teach your children to stay away from us because we are straying down the wrong path? Or would we be welcome to share in a non-denominational fellowship with you, sharing stories and beliefs, thoughts and feelings, with our child or future children playing around with the youngest of your brood?

I don't know why, since it is likely none of you will ever see this letter, but it troubles me. Perhaps because I liken it so much to my past, it is as if I am finally confronting my own extended family and asking them if we could look past religion and just enjoy time together again? Perhaps it bothers me because I fear that the children of the family are being taught intolerance, whether they intended to teach it or not. It wouldn't seem so, but so many things on television can be doctored to highlight the positives and downplay or eliminate anything controversial.

I do not fault you, Jim-Bob or Michelle, for bringing your children up in a devoutly Christian home. Really I commend you for sticking so faithfully to your beliefs, especially in light of the scandal that touched on a well-known pastor you may have met once or twice in your lifetimes. Michelle, you especially seem very wise, so maybe you understand that all those who taste power can be easily corrupted by it. Then again, that may also be a teaching in the Bible. You see? Our beliefs and understandings of the world are very similar. We just approach that same end result, being the best person you can be, in slightly different ways.

No, it is not how you've raised them that worries me - and you all have done a wonderful job of raising so many children. I say that with all sincerity. To be honest, I hope that one day I can possess the same saintly amount of patience that every Duggar seems to have in spades.

My only worry, since so many other well-meant Christians have fallen easily into using their beliefs as a mask to cover intolerant behavior towards otherwise good people, is that tolerance might not be one of the highest-priority virtues you desire to instill in your children. If that is the case, I beg you to open your hearts and your homes to other loving families that see spirituality through alternate lenses.

Though it is important to pass on to your children your convictions and beliefs, it is also very important to teach tolerant behavior to them as well. Your children might hurt someone they care about, or someone that couldn't bear being hurt anymore because of the choices they have made in what religion to practice, or not practice. Worse still, you might end up hurting your own child because he or she feared divulging to you that they have had questions about other faiths, or if they discover they are gay or lesbian, or felt severely depressed because they knew they should have been born a different gender and spend their lives tortured by their own bodies so as not to disappoint their parents, siblings and relatives.

It is not an easy thing to hide something like that. It weighs on you. It presses you down, sometimes so far that you will feel as though you cannot bear life any longer. No one should have to go through feeling as though they are being persecuted by their own flesh and blood, their own relatives. It's miserable.

Again, I doubt this will ever reach the eyes of any Duggar, ever. But if I could speak with any of you, even for just a few moments, I would thank you for encouraging such wonderful parenting and promoting such honorable values in an age such as this, where values mean nothing to far too many. I would wish you all to know that no matter your beliefs, I hope you will always be tolerant to those you meet who are different, and that you never ostracize one of your own because they might disagree. A family so full of bright and capable young minds setting examples for so many other American families should take advantage of the position you have and promote tolerance as much as you promote any other Christian virtue, because there are too many Christians that are out there using their faith to make the lives of others miserable.

You know that God does not want His children to scorn or judge others. That is His job, is it not?

If you would do this, going forward, it would mean the world to me and so many others who share different beliefs and lifestyles. Teach your children of tolerance. Be an example of a tolerant and good Christian, and they will surely follow your example, for throughout their childhood their parents are God in their eyes, no matter what you teach them.

My family and I would gladly open our home to you, if you ever happened to pass through the mountains of Winchester, Virginia. I will never treat anyone ill for what they believe, and respect what makes them feel closest to that which we cannot yet understand. You would all be welcomed with love, food and hospitality here, as would any friend or kind soul that crossed ways with us. I hope that you would welcome others with different beliefs and lifestyles in the same unconditional way, and that you teach your children to do the same.

Blessings to you and your family. May you all live richly and inspire love, faith, family values and tolerance, in the homes and hearts of all who watch you.


(a.k.a. Metal Maiden)

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