Author Topic: DM28 Faith and Punishment  (Read 12141 times)

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Offline Daen

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DM28 Faith and Punishment
« on: August 30, 2022, 02:47:23 AM »
I recently watched the show Midnight Mass, and it was chilling, suspenseful and thought-provoking. I kinda ruined it for myself by getting some spoilers before I really got into it, and now I regret that.

This Musing isn't about the show itself. I doubt I could do it justice anyway, and there are others who've done an excellent job already. Drew McCoy and Vi La Bianca did an impressive joint outline of it on Youtube, and they both have personal experiences that make their descriptions much more valid.

Quick, spoiler-free summary: Midnight Mass is a heavily religious-themed drama taking place on a small fictional island 30 miles off the US coast, called Crockett. It is brilliantly written and performed, by an incredible group of people, and I had to watch it again and again just to get all the details right in my head. That's rare for me with modern TV. Most shows are cookie-cutter and bland, but this one is a feast for the mind.

Anyway, one of the more controversial residents of Crockett is Sheriff Hassan, the recent appointee to the island. As comes out in the show, he requested the assignment- begged for it in fact- because of the discrimination he and his son faced on the mainland after 9/11. Most of the residents seem to be accepting of him, but there's an undercurrent of racism and religious intolerance from Beverly Keane and a few other devout Catholics, because Hassan and his son are Muslim.

His son Ali is in a tough spot. His mother died horribly, of pancreatic cancer not long before they moved, and he's literally the only kid on the island who looks the way he does. As such he's quick to distance himself from his father, at least in front of his peers, to make friends.

As the story goes on, Hassan finds a Bible in his son's school backpack, and is told that it was given to him by Bev Keane, who is one of the teachers in Crockett. He's understandably upset that it happened in a public school, and complains to the PTA. One of the other teachers agrees with him, but they're ultimately overruled by the majority, because of plot reasons I can't go into without spoiling everything.

Ali is just a kid, and it's only natural that he's curious about Christianity, as he's surrounded by other kids and the religious life they've all grown up within. There's one scene that really stuck with me though, between Hassan and his son, when Ali is being drawn more and more to the church. In it, Ali wants to go to St. Patrick's, the local church, and his dad is opposed. When asked for the reason why not, he says it's because Ali is not a Christian.

"Well, that wasn’t up to me, was it?" Ali responds. "None of this has been up to me. You didn’t ask me if I wanted to be a Muslim."

That, right there, is what really caught my attention. That's what I want to Muse about today.

Let me be clear. The show portrays Sheriff Hassan as one of the good guys. When he's talking to the PTA, he's polite, respectful, and articulate. He's diligent at his job, and overly patient with the Crockett residents who call him 'sharif', meaning it to be a racial slur mixed with a stupid joke. But his son is right. Hassan didn't give Ali a choice in his faith, which was probably a big reason he was so insistent on choosing another one in the show.

I've followed Drew McCoy's other videos, and he's clear about his religious upbringing. It's an obvious reason for him to make the videos he does, and it drives him. I was also raised with faith, though not quite in the same way that Drew was, or the fictional Ali. I remember going to services and being bored out of my skull, as you'd expect any kid to be.

Faith has been a difficult topic for me to wrestle with, for years now. I've tried to puzzle it out, both in private and with family and friends, many times. I've seen how it can drive people to do wonderful things- selfless, joyful things for each other. Unfortunately, I've also seen how it can influence people down the other end of the behavioral spectrum. How people often use their faith to excuse bigotry and discrimination, if not outright killing.

When I was overseas, I attended a very religious boarding school. I went to weekly services, and religious classes. Our dorm parents and teachers were all practicing Christians, and they instructed us accordingly. I don't remember exactly how old I was, when I first heard the song "You've Been Left Behind" by Larry Norman. It describes the rapture, or at least the modern understanding of the rapture, which actually has very little to do with the passages in the Revelations. I found the song absolutely terrifying!

I remember thinking, "what if I'm not faithful enough? What if I had a sinful thought and didn't realize it? I don't see anyone around me... does that mean the rapture happened, and I was left behind??" It got so bad that I was afraid to be alone, for fear I'd be literally the only person left in the school, or in the town, or in the world for all I knew!

There's a trope in stories about parents who've walked away from their kids. As commonly goes, the kids always blame themselves. They ask themselves what they did to drive the parent away. I don't know how true the trope is, but I've seen examples myself, and experienced them as well.

I'm sure I'm not the only kid to have been afraid of being left behind. Imagine how damaging that can be to a child, though! Imagine how putting the fear of eternal damnation on a child would be even more upsetting than just being all alone! Especially if they blame themselves for their circumstances.

Ali was right, in the show. He didn't ask to be a Muslim. His father made that decision for him.

I get that parents need to decide things for their kids, 100 percent. Kids aren't able to make the tough calls, and the parents love them and know them well enough, hopefully, to make the right decisions for them. But I'm talking about the details of everyday living, though. What time is a good bedtime, how old is old enough to get a driver's permit, which school is right for the child, etc, etc. Shouldn't religion or faith be in a separate category?

I also get that if you have faith, it's probably the most important thing in your life. It's only natural that you would see your faith as true, and right, and beautiful. And that you'd want to share it with your kids at every opportunity. That's only natural.

I was lucky, growing up. The people closest to me who are Christians, are good examples of that faith. They're thoughtful, kind, polite, and considerate. I dodged a bullet being raised in that environment, instead of in one filled people who view their faith as something that should be imposed on everyone, like it or not.

But I was a child when all of this was happening. I was too young to be aware of religious intolerance, even on a local scale, much less a global one. I believed what I was taught, and I was taught that the Christian way was the right way. As I grew up, and when I moved out and was on my own, that upbringing affected my philosophical efforts. When I tried to build my worldview, that was always in the background whispering to me. It slowed my progress later on.

Isn't faith more pure if it's reached on its own? If a person thinks about the various options, and decides on that one faith themselves, without any personal history clouding the issue, doesn't it mean they'll be more sure in those beliefs? Telling someone about your faith is one thing- but raising someone in your faith is biasing them ahead of time! Isn't that what we accuse cults of doing?

This is dangerous ground I'm treading on here. I recognize that. I'll step lightly, if possible, in my ending statements. All I can really say is this: if you have faith, and you're raising a child, please consider not compelling them to go to services. Please don't influence them to join your faith until they're old enough to consider other ones as well. If you're afraid for their eternal soul, it's just another sign that you're a good parent.

But won't God accept them into heaven, the same way He accepts anyone else unable to fully comprehend His word? The way He would accept a child that died in a miscarriage, or an adult with a mental disability? Please, let your child come to the faith on their own, instead of giving them proverbial spoilers. If they really are faithful like you, then they'll appreciate it in the long run. If they aren't, and you push your faith on them anyway, won't they be living a lie for most of their upbringing?

Phew. That's pretty heavy stuff. Not dark like I usually end up going, but pretty intense all the same. Whether you agreed with any of this or not, I'd recommend watching Midnight Mass anyway. Like I said earlier, it made me think hard, and I watched it repeatedly for all the details. That's valuable to me.