“Salvation can look like ‘coercion’ to a person who has never rejoiced in the clarity of the Holy Spirit. To be born again is a gift that the saved offer to anyone in need. No time or method is unfitting when the final path leads to Heaven. Frex wasn’t ‘using’ his daughter as you imply in your article. He was helping her embrace her destiny as ordained by The Unnamed God.”
The former are some of the thoughts of a religion scholar who emailed me after having read Speaker for the Wicked Witch of the West. His words address this specific passage:
“At first glance, Elphie was neither lovable nor loving. Affection was perhaps a hard emotion to conjure while living under the shadow of a mother who wanted to drown her at birth, a father who used her for sacred coercion, and a sister who just used her. But things in life are never clear or simple; Elphie adored her little sister, worshiped the idea of an unprejudiced world, and loved a man who belonged to another.”
So… on the salvation comment; I read the emails (we exchanged about ten) several times, and wondered if this man was serious. And if he was, was he so deluded that he believed his own nonsense? I won’t even touch the bit about the Holy Spirit and its “clarity.”
I will, however, glare at anyone who says that “No time or method is unfitting when the final path leads to Heaven.” What is he saying? That anyone can burn people alive in order to release their souls from the evils of the flesh, if the act leads to his understanding of salvation? Or let me bring things a bit closer to home, and relate a situation that took place during my little brother’s viewing:
Family members, friends, and some strangers offered to bring their religious leaders to “offer prayers and consolation to the family.” I was thrilled. Light is light and the more the merrier, so I said, “Of course. But would you mind asking your pastor to recognize (aloud) the fact that Pabelo was Catholic. I don’t think that it would be respectful for people from other religions to officiate my little brother’s last goodbye without acknowledging his beliefs.”
No one liked my request. One actually said, “My pastor already knows to do that. Besides, religion is religion, and no one will care.” I let this person know that Pabelo would probably care. But it didn’t matter, for by the time we got to the viewing everybody decided that they didn’t want to embarrass their religious leaders by telling him or her how to do their jobs.
On the day of the viewing, I invited family and friends to share anecdotes about my brother, to share their last goodbye so that we all could lean on each other and know him (and each other) better. Many touching things were said, some extremely funny because my brother was that kind of person. I tried my best not to cry (my asthma acts up when I do), but when my favorite aunt reminded us of the time that my little brother told our 80-something-year-old grandmother that she would complain less if she had a boyfriend, the tears ran free. They were good tears. He lived! I thought.
Then, while I was thanking everyone who spoke, a stranger got to his feet and introduced himself as the religious leader of a few of the guests. He started well, saying that we needed to remember that only my little brother’s body was gone but that he was always going to be with us in spirit. Then he turned away from the gathering, put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and said, “Only those who know me will know heaven.”
I bit my lip and looked away from him. I glanced toward my cousin; she was mouthing ‘Patience, Magaly, patience.’ My hands were shaking, so I crossed them. I saw my cousin cover her mouth. She was probably thinking that I was getting ready to punch the guy or at least drag him and his lack of ethics out of the place. But I didn’t. I just leaned closer to him, and said, “Thank you, I’m sure there is some honesty in your intentions, but you need to sit down now. My brother is dead behind us, and you are trying to use our pain to gather sheep for your church. Stop.” I might have said some other
less kind things, but I can’t remember.
He said a few more words about people needing to repent or start planning for a very hot end. Then he gave me a last look before walking away from my little brother’s casket. I told the gathering that I didn’t know who the man was, and we went on with our mourning.
The man approached me twenty minutes or so after his heavenly recruiting speech, but before he opened his mouth, I told him that he needed to be glad that I respected my family’s pain and my brother’s memory, for those feelings kept me from embarrassing him in public. “This isn’t the time or the place, sir,” I said. He put a hand on my arm, and I gave him a look that made him pull it back. He left.
So… back to the first quote; I say that there are indeed times and places when and where it is totally inappropriate to spew sacred coercion, even if disguised as a message of hope and solace. I’m not talking about the odd family member who, overtaken by loss, screams of repentance and of a need for Jesus or some other god; that’s natural for many. But the religious professional who believes that it is ethical (even holy!) to use grief as a weapon of fear, is not only a despicable person but also an insult to the faith he or she pretends to revere.
I couldn’t find a picture that said ‘Jesus would probably be ashamed of your lack of ethics,’
so I chose an owl that seems to be freaked out by well crafted fakery.