• S.E. Burr

An Anthem to Ambivalence

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend introduced me to the comedian/musician, Tim Minchin. He's very talented. I REALLY like two of his (admittedly less funny) songs, "The Fence" and "Not Perfect." (Fair warning - "Not Perfect" contains a swear.)

"The Fence" is about how people, and things generally, are more complicated than we like to admit. Nothing is ever just good or bad. I'll put a video of the song below. I love the part about cancer. It's funny (and how many opportunities in life does a person have to say that the cancer part is funny?) I've watched enough of Tim's YouTube videos over the last couple weeks that I've begun to feel like I know him. I've entered into the sort of parasocial relationship with him that I discussed in my last blog post.

Tim Minchin is vocal about his atheism. Lots of his jokes and songs are about hypocrisy in religion and in religious people, which means that he has plenty of material.

I am religious. It's more than that. I am broadly pro-faith. In general, I support believing in fantastical things with very little evidence. That's a difficult viewpoint to explain, even to myself.

Having been raised by one nonbeliever and then having fallen in love with another, I've spent my life in close and continual association with atheists. I feel that I understand their point of view and even relate to it in many ways. Sometimes I've thought that my life would be more pleasant if I could just not believe the way that, frankly, most of the people around me don't believe. It seems like it'd be nice to share a (non?) belief system with the people I love. It seems like it'd be simple.

But I can't do that. I'm not willing to walk away from God any more than I'm willing to walk away from my loved ones, and that makes my life complicated., but isn't life supposed to be complicated? Isn't that what makes it interesting?

Maybe as a little girl my grandparents taught me to pray. If so, I don't remember it and for a significant part of my childhood they lived two thousand miles away, which limited their influence on me. I don't remember prayer being promoted in the house I grew up in, yet I always prayed. I always spoke to God. I always felt like God heard me. That part of me, that prayerful part of me, feels very core to who I am as a person. When I think about my thoughts, my actions, my equilibrium, my hopefulness, I feel at a deep level that trying to cut God out of my heart and my mind would be wrong for me. And if that's true for me, I have to believe that that's true for a lot of other people, too.

That's where I get uncomfortable with Tim Minchin. I feel very at home with quiet unbelievers just like I hope that some of them feel very at home with me, a quiet believer. But when a person speaks publicly and often about their atheism and when they try to sway others to their point of view, I start to worry, perhaps unfairly, that they might be an angry person, and that what they're angry about is a central part of my personality, a central part of many peoples' personalities.

BUT, Tim Minchin seems quite thoughtful, and it seems like his jokes about religion come from a good place. It seems like he's not trying to hurt anyone and is, in fact, trying to help. That's all, as fallible humans, we can ask of each other.

BUT, a couple of Tim's songs DO sound quite angry and unfair.

AND, my ambivalence about Tim Minchin is exactly the point of his song, "The Fence," which has so moved me. It's "an anthem of ambivalence," talking about the important place mixed feelings have in our lives. If we want the good things about someone, we have to accept the bad things, and I think we should at least try to understand a person's reasoning behind whatever it is that we find so distasteful about them. Sometimes, a viewpoint that you just can't agree with, is, never the less, a valid one, perhaps even a valiant one.

I don't think that we, human beings, understand each other very well, or that we even understand ourselves. I know I don't. One thing I do know is that if you ever meet someone who you think is all good and has all the answers, that person is absolutely guaranteed to tumble off that pedestal you've put them on. That's equally true if you've climbed up there yourself. I've been disappointed by people and I've been disappointed by myself. I've been wrong. I've realized that I've been wrong far fewer times than I've actually been wrong, I'm sure. I've had the thing I liked the most about someone become the thing I liked the least about them, and I've had the thing I liked the least become the thing I liked the most.

It seems like we're all stumbling through life half blind most of the time. As Tim says in "The Fence," "It doesn't really matter if you find you can't see which grass is greener. Chances are it's neither, and either way it's easier to see the difference, when you're sitting on the fence." I'm going to try (and undoubtedly sometimes fail) to postpone casting judgment on people, and I'm going to try to love them more than they deserve to be loved, because I want them to love me more than I deserve. Thank you, Tim, for your music and thank you, readers, for reading this blog and making me feel less alone. I hope I can do the same for you. We're all fumbling our way through this world together.

(The song starts at 1:57.)

My newest book (It's out!):

Previous Blog Posts:

The Power of Minor Influences

Unintended Consequences and Not Being Able to Reach Someone

I'm a Robot from a Parallel Dimension: Difficulties in Understanding and Communication

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