A combination of two things has lead me to this post. 1) Some of the silly things that people say to others who are grieving and 2) Conversations between my husband and I, brought on by — what else– the binge viewing of our latest series, Supernatural (yeah, I know, we’re a bit behind the times.)
Suffice it to say, I’ve had angels on the brain. What they are. The nature of angels. Especially the paradox of an angel, who presumably has not been given the gift of free will that humans enjoy, yet nonetheless is able to choose to defy or oppose God, and thus, fall. I don’t really have a full enough knowledge of the bible to be able to reconcile this. Perhaps the answers are there, perhaps not. But what really piqued my curiosity was something my husband said while we were watching our show.
Sometimes his wealth of knowledge still surprises me. Don’t tell him, because we don’t want to swell his head all up. But what he said was that one of the biblical descriptions of an angel alluded to a creature shaped like a wheel, and covered in eyes. Something about that just really intrigued me. My regular readers would probably be not at all surprised to learn I almost immediately thought of the Alex Grey art for the Tool albums.
Well, that, and in my mind’s eye, I also saw a more traditional “wheel”, the circumference of which was runged like a ladder and studded with stylized eyes. Something about the image was just so intriguing to me.
So I did what I always do in situations like these; I googled that shit. First and foremost, I wanted to check the accuracy of hubby’s memory– hey, he’s impressive, but his memory has been known to be, eh…selective…and I’m a natural skeptic. But in this case, he didn’t let me down, and I found some basic information on the angels to which hubby was referring. Wikipedia describes Ophanim as:
The ophanim or ofanim, refer to the wheels seen on Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot (Hebrew merkabah) in Ezekiel 1:15-21
“The Ophanim…are creatures that function as the actual chariots of God driven by the cherubs. They are characterized by peace and submission; God rests upon them. [They] reside in the area of the cosmos where material form begins to take shape. They mete out divine justice and maintain the cosmic harmony of all universal laws.
I love this image of angels– the mystery of it, the otherworldliness and distinctly non-anthropomorphic visioning of one of God’s creations. Something not based on a purely xenocentric imagining of some man, with a man’s motives.
Granted, this description was likely written by the same person or persons who initially transcribed the rest of the bible, but it is a far cry from the Renaissance era imaginings of angels.
Anyway, I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but I do consider myself spiritual, and this image speaks to me in a way that makes me almost wish I did have a dogma that included creatures as awesome as the Ophanim.
I want to talk about this, but there’s just so much ground to cover, so many feelings and opinions about the subject. I can’t get into all of it. It’s just not in me emotionally.
Since the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, people all over Facebook (and I’m sure every other social media) are having very strong opinions about what caused this and about why we in America have more school shootings than anywhere else in the world (combined probably.) The two main things I’ve seen are “Gun Control” and “the Mental Health Care System.” I am assuming there will be some “the answer is to get Bibles back in the schools” and “better education” coming along shortly.
The term mentally ill is already being thrown around when we know nothing for sure right now. Probably because to most of us “sane” people, we can not conceive of a normal, well-adjusted person shooting at babies. Bear with me, because I am so upset I am shaking as I type. I understand the urge to blame someone, or something, especially since the killer, like so many of these cowardly wastes of skin, killed himself after he did these horrendous things. It makes me so mad that he’ll never have to feel the GUILT he should feel, let alone pay for what he did. I don’t believe in Hell. I wish I did, because then maybe I’d feel he’s getting what he deserves there now.
But I want to take a moment to explore what it means to be “mentally ill,” and how it may or may not apply to this situation.
Wikipedia describes mental illness as A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological pattern or anomaly, potentially reflected in behavior, that is generally associated with distress or disability, and which is not considered part of normal development of a person’s culture. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives.
*The above definition may also be problematic because social factors can create sociopaths, people with antisocial personality disorder, which very much is in the DSM as a mental illness. Sociopathy is highly correlated with lack of empathy, “damaged” moral compass, and violent crimes that can result from such a disorder. Also, sociopathic personalities generally feel little distress about their lack of normal morals and emotions.
So, basically, sociological factors such as upbringing and economic factors can in fact combine with psychological issues to create a killer. Essentially it is an play between nature versus nurture. (edit 6/2015)
However, mental illness can encompass such things as anorexia, OCD, depression, phobias, stress disorders, and much more. The point is, it can be said that half of America is mentally ill, under this criteria. Mentally “ill” does not automatically mean violence, although, using criteria which measures behavior against society’s mores and parameters would naturally mean anyone who committed violence would automatically be considered “mentally ill.” However, not all people who commit violent crimes have a mental illness diagnosable in the DSM. At this early stage, I don’t think it’s helpful or accurate to say that the mental health care system is at fault for this. I really can’t blame gun control or lack thereof either. *In regards to gun control, the kind of gun control we really need is stricter fines and punishments for people like the mother (who died as a result of her irresponsibility anyhow), who knew her son was mentally unsound, yet did nothing to restrict his access to her guns. Don’t misunderstand me. While I do not advocate disarming citizens with a blanket ban on guns, I do believe there should be strict and definite sanctions for any gun owners who are caught being irresponsible in any way with their weapons (ie: leaving a loaded weapon in an unlocked car springs to mind, and yes, it happens quite a bit.)
I can’t help but think there is a social component to this phenomenon of school shooting. I look at it in the same light as the increased suicides over bullying and the increase in family annihilators. Some people are seeing this stuff reported and are getting it into their heads that this is an effective and acceptable way to “make a statement.”
There have always been bullies. In schools and even in adult life. But since the explosion of social media, bullied kids can’t even get respite from their tormentors at home. The bullies continue to harrass and hound their victims on social networking sites. Though there were school shootings before Columbine, Klebold and Harris’s names became known the world over almost overnight. Initially it was speculated that one or both of them had been bullied in school, and the killings were some form of retribution.* (New evidence seems to suggest they were not, in fact, bullied. Rather, they were extremely angry and to some degree, psychopathic. Psychopathy is in the DSM, but as a personality disorder.) Now many bully victims are increasingly feeling that their only way out is suicide. I can’t help but feel that like copycat suicides, public response, media coverage, and perception have a lot to do with the proliferation of mass shootings. But what is the answer to this problem? Stop reporting on news and crimes? It’s not possible, and shouldn’t be necessary.
But I don’t believe there is any one answer. That would be too simple. It’s not JUST a gun control issue, not just a mental health issue, not just a media reporting issue. Our country, our world, is sick. And I wish I knew what the answer was.
But what I will say is that, as a sufferer of an anxiety disorder, I would be classified as “mentally ill.” Even were I not medicated, I can’t even imagine ever…EVER…going into a school and harming innocent babies! I don’t understand why people like this feel the need to make innocents suffer for their misery. Part of the problem I really believe goes back to personal responsibility. I think America has become a society that fosters feelings of entitlement and a refusal to accept responsibility.
Anyway, I’ve already wrote more than I meant to. As a mother now, I feel a gut wrenching empathy for the parents of those poor children killed or wounded. But I also feel a sense of desperation because I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. I just know that spreading the blame is not the answer, and mental illness is stigmatized enough without assuming that it’s the reason for this tragedy. Arguably, a person who would do this is “not right” in the head, but it doesn’t mean the system failed him. I’m betting he never gave the system a fair go in the first place. In terms of mental issues, one usually has to acknowledge the need help, and want help to get help.
As an adjunct, please feel free to share your thoughts, but as this is a sensitive topic, I want to re-emphasize my policy on comment etiquette. No flaming, keep it civil– or your comment will never make it past moderation. I realize I may be expressing views that are contrary to your own. I offer them up in the spirit of expressing my feelings and maybe trying the only way I know how to make sense of this. I respect your right to disagree. Please don’t take my words personally, and don’t make it personal.
When I was fifteen, I told my dad I didn’t want to go to church anymore. I very calmly explained to him that it wasn’t right for me at that time in my life. I never wanted to believe just because I was afraid not to, or because I was afraid of death. (And believe me, I am afraid of death.) I told him maybe one day– when I was ready– I would come back to the Church. I tried to explain my well-thought-out reasoning to him maturely…
And then I told him if he tried to make me go, I’d stop coming to his house for visits on weekends.
Needless to say, I didn’t have to go to church anymore. Maybe he understood…maybe I broke his heart a little. But since that time I have been searching, in my own way, for the answers.
For some people it’s simple. Some people were raised with a faith that they never felt the need or desire to question.
Some people are so immersed in their faith that they literally can not conceive of someone doubting God’s existence; they use rote faith as proof… ie. “How can you look around at this beautiful world and not see God everywhere?” Sort of solipsistic, isn’t it?
And then there are those who insist that faith is about believing in the absence of evidence. In other words, if you want to believe, you just believe.
I am none of these people. I have issues with organized religion. I’d love to believe there is a God, but I’m not sure I 100% like the Catholic God I was raised with. Or rather, the representation of him. Many, many Christians interpret sections of the bible in ways which suit them, latching on to certain ideas, rejecting or ignoring others. And then there is the question of how literal the bible is to be taken, and then how to interpret the contradicting ideas–
-Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live… but…
-Thou shalt not kill.
Only God is allowed to judge, yet we make judgments on our fellow man all the time, often based on our interpretation of “God’s word.”
Then there is the question of whose God is the “right” God.
Also, I have a very analytic mind. My majors in school were Psychology and Sociology, so I tend to approach the idea of religion and faith in the context of those disciplines.
But all of that’s academic. In other words, it’s not the real point of this post.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I went through a period of many losses. Jobs, family members, a miscarriage, our home… At four and a half months pregnant, hubby and I uprooted and moved 800 miles on three hours’ notice. We were going through a very financially and emotionally stressing time, my husband’s unemployment at one point being held for three months (three months with NO income and a baby on the way,) and my mother and I were in the worst fight of our lives. I actually worried the stress would harm my unborn baby.
My best friend, who is pretty much “born again,” only not in the annoying, bible-thumping way, urged me to come to church with her, and to put my trust in God and ask for his help. So I tried. I really did. I prayed, although my praying was stunted because I constantly over-thought everything even AS I prayed. I would tell God about my day, and then say, “But I guess you already knew all that…” and then chide myself for presuming to guess what God may or may not know. (Weird, I know, but I’m Obsessive-Compulsive, so what do you expect?) I found it hard to concentrate, and my mind would wander so I actually started keeping a prayer journal. I also did go to church with my best friend. My husband went once or twice, more to support me than out of any feelings of faith.
And the funny thing is…I actually did start to feel a measure of peace.
Fast-forward to after my daughter’s birth. Like most new mothers probably, I was overwhelmed with emotions, chiefly deep love and deep, deep fear. Becoming a mom changed me in many ways, some expected, some not… One key difference is that I became infinitely more sensitive to media reports of violence against children. Especially violence perpetrated by people the children are supposed to be able trust. Like their parents. The number of family annihilators, mothers murdering their infants, and children abused in horrific ways is staggering. And it was weighing very heavily on my soul.
The point is, at that important juncture of my life, when I should have been the most thankful to God, when I should have looked to God the most for guidance and peace, I could not– can not– reconcile myself with the idea that a “loving god” would allow such horrors to happen to innocent children. All the “God’s plan, mysterious ways, devil’s influence, sins of humans” platitudes in the world are not enough to make me alright with this.
It has been told to me more than once by people of faith that people in general tend to blame God when something bad happens, but often don’t give Him credit when things go their way. My question is this; conversely, then, why is it okay to give Him credit for the good, but not look to Him for a damn good reason for the bad (especially something as bad a the murder of a child?)
I know it may sound like I am preaching here, but really I am just trying to sort out my thoughts, and please forgive me if this blog entry is very stream-of-consciousness or seems to ramble.
These are the things I think about when I lay awake in bed at night.
I would love to believe we are not alone in the universe, and when I try to pray at night I can almost feel like I might be talking to someone… But when I step away from that isolated moment, I feel the sterile and empirical “alone-ness” of the human condition– that all life on this planet is the result of a coincidental series of optimal conditions. That when we die, we cease to exist. That there is no judgment for the wicked people who would harm their own babies, aside from that which we mete out here on earth (our “justice” could never be enough for these people, and some escape the law entirely.) That no amount of praying can protect my child.
I keep telling myself– hoping to myself– that by the time my death approaches, hopefully after a long life filled with love, that I will have found the answers. That I won’t be afraid anymore. Now, as any good mother would, I care more for my child’s health, life, and happiness than my own anyway. So I will continue to seek the answers, however passively, and hope that one day I will be at peace with whatever those answers are.
Maybe there is a God, but He is unlike anything written in the Quran, the Bible, or ancient mythologies. Maybe he is an observer. Maybe He is Love, or maybe He is completely ambivalent. Maybe He is infinitely more complex and inscrutable than we could ever conceive with our piddly human minds.
The only thing I can know for sure is that I have to do the best I can with this life, and the best way I know to combat the fear I feel is to fight it with love. I’ll make sure those dearest to me know how much I love them.
*This is an intensely personal entry for me. In some way I can’t define, I am uncomfortable with it, and even now hesitate to click the “publish” button. Maybe for that reason more than any other, I have to post this entry.