or… how America turned me into an activist.
I am often asked what I miss most about Britain, and have been since I first landed in the good old US of A. I knew I missed something big, but I could not put my finger on it. So, I often answered very flippantly: ‘Marmite‘,
or, perhaps if I was talking to someone older and wiser: ‘my friends and family’.
I do of course miss those. Especially my friends and family, but that never quite summed up the ache in my heart. I wondered if it was bigger: public transport?
Again, I do miss that, but the answer isn’t satisfactory. Again, while I applaud and support the development of a wider public transport system I can be happy without it. There is something I find it difficult to be happy and content without, and that I have yet to find here in America:
Being trusted, protected and respected. And because of that, we are to some extent: humble.
Hmmm… let me elaborate with some examples:
In the UK, believe it or not, people do have a fairly strong personal moral codes, that encompass all the current political ‘hot topics’ from abortion, to homosexuality, to healthcare, to contraception. But that is the key: they are personal moral codes. That is: yes, contraception is as easy to get as candy – for everyone. The young, straight, gay, unmarried, old, married, male, female, rich, poor and all alike. That isn’t to say that everyone is encouraged to be ‘at it’ all the time: some people are indeed so, and some people are not. We are trusted to make my own decisions about our sexual relationships, and protected as much as possible from any consequences.
My personal story is that I decided sex before marriage was not the course for me. Then I decided to have sex before marriage, then I later changed my mind and stopped, after deciding through personal conversations with God, that it hadn’t been the best choice for me, and as my husband put it, He had ‘kicked my tail’ for it :). In England was respected for all these decisions (even though at very step of the way someone didn’t agree with them), and I was protected from any consequences. By the law, and by society (including by my parents). People are humble enough to accept that they do not know the right answer for individuals, or for society, or certainly for God, and so individuals are given all the tools they can be provided with make their own decisions, with minimal negative consequences.
I findthe moralizing and judging that goes on in America very difficult. When I expressed the view that contraception should be freely available to all, one outraged response was “Why should *I* pay for *you* to have sex??” – the implication being that sex before marriage (or sex at all – who knows) was not this person’s choice, so why should they financially support my choice if it was different? Because, here is the thing: we all make choices, and we all make choices that others disagree with and have to pay for. Whether it is the food we eat, the dangerous sports we play, the people we sleep with, the lack of exercise we undertake, the lack of sleep we get, the speed of our car, the stress of our job, our plans to travel, our decision to be married (or not): all of these are decisions that likely will affect our health and in the UK there is no moral judgement about which choices you make. Again, you are trusted to make your own decisions, and protected from them. I was so saddened today to read of doctors in America turning away patients over 200lbs: how can that be acceptable? How can you judge that you won’t help these people, but those with stressful jobs you will? Were any ‘decisions’ really made?? And if they were, who made the worse decisions? And can’t we be humble in recognizing our own mistakes and helping protect people from theirs?
This is how I arrived at my stance on abortion. Yes, personally I think it is wrong. I am: anti-abortion. But, I would never take away someone’s right to make that decision themselves: I am pro-choice. And I would never judge someone who had suffered through an abortion. Were you a friend who came t me in need, I would support, and respect you and care for you. I am anti-abortion for me. I am pro-choice for everyone. When does life ‘start’ – how should I know? How should anyone, except God, know? If you don’t believe in God then look to Scientists, or feelings, or some other deities. Either way: there is no answer. Be humble enough to know that you do not know, and trust yourself to follow your own moral / personal code, and respect other people enough to decide theirs.
I guess I miss this trust, respect, protection and humility and how it reflects on my faith as well. To me: faith is very personal decision. The cornerstone of my Christianity is a deeply personal relationship with God. I don’t think I have got it ‘right’ (other than that I love Him above all others, and am forever grateful He sent His only Son to die for my sins), but I don’t like (1) being told how to live my faith and life and (2) being judged and punished by anyone but God when it doesn’t conform to their perceptions of what my faith / life should be. My reading of the Bible is that it is outside the law: so the law should extend complete equality and a basic code of rights to all law abiding citizens, and one’s relationship to God is what decides how you choose live within that. Isn’t that ultimate freedom?
You know – I don’t agree that God asks for no contraception and no masturbation. But, I respect that some Christians do, and I will protect their right to execute these choices. I am humble enough to think: maybe they are right, but I trust myself to be guided in my own moral code (it of course, doesn’t have to be a religious code). I also *do* personally think that God asks us not to look at pornographic images, but I acknowledge I could be wrong, and respect people who do such, and certainly am humble enough NOT to judge them. Hence, much as I don’t really like the porn industry, I would not seek to punish people for accessing it. I might seek to educate and protect but as maybe I am wrong, and pornography is the healthiest thing for mankind: I would not deny others access.
I guess a good exemplary of this, is how the UK taught me about the whole creationism / evolution debate. We learned about evolution in Science. We learned about the support for evolution, and we learned about the phenomena evolution perhaps could not explain, and the criticisms leveled at evolution science. We were told that evolution was studied in Science because it was a Scientifically testable theory, but the completing theory was not, and so the alternative was mentioned in Science, but we would learn about that in Religion. Almost simultaneously, in Religious Studies, we were were taught about creationism and the arguments for / against, including again, the criticisms leveled at evolution. (We were also taught some non-Christian but religious creation arguments). We were supplied with the facts, told that no one knows the answer, and trusted to make up our own mind. My ‘mind’ and opinion evolved (pardon the pun) over time, but it never caused me much distress. When we covered this topic in Bible group we listened to people defend and criticize the Biblical view of creation, and to people try to synthesize the two. All views were respected as potentially correct.
And through all this, I have friends who have made utterly different decisions to me: health wise, sex wise, religion wise. I love and respect them all: I don’t think either one of us is ‘better’ than the other. I do think those who do not believe that Jesus died for our sins are not going to heaven – and while this is sad, this does make me think I am better person, or that I have any right to tell them how to live their life (incidentally, much as they love me, many of them think I am gullible at best and a crazy ‘magical thinker’ at worst 🙂 ). We just all live our lives, respecting each other’s choices, and trying to protect our loved ones from any potential consequences of their decisions.
The upshot of this is that Christians are not really hated in England. I was shocked when people in America seemed to get angry or passionately against Christians. How can you be so against peaceful (now… history is a bit different, tiz true) people, who are told to – above all else – love each other. Then I totally saw why: some Christians are trying to force a life on people, based on a belief system these people don’t have! Good grief! I would hate Catholics if they took my contraception away! I would equally have hated atheists if they had insisted I had sex before marriage (returned to. Ahem.). And, I think some Christians are trying to impinge on my personal relationship to God, by telling me how to live out that relationship, when the only voice I want to hear about that comes from God Himself. Not saying I will get it right… but I have no reason to think you will do a better job, either.
A more succinct summary of my views.
So, that is what I miss in the UK. I miss freedom to practice my faith in my way. I miss respect for my religious choices. I miss respect for my non religious choices. I miss a law system in which I am afforded equality and power and protection from the consequences of choices – be they mistakes or not – and a society that trusts me to make my own decisions within that.
I think my most passionate wish at the moment is that my child be bought up to respect and trust other people’s decisions, and to never judge law-abiding others as ‘wrong’, or deny them equality for these decisions. And to feel free to make his own decisions about his life, and his body and his views as he feels is right for him.