Does this give you hope?

This is a post I wrote back on January 22, 2010, for another blog I used to write at (which no longer exists). Some of the references are a bit dated, but the ideas are as true as ever, and I thought the content would likely be interesting to NFQ readers. Apologies for the “recycled content” … but it’s new to you, innit?

Alongside Twitter and Tumblr, we’ve also seen the proliferation of ultra-brief update sites like F My Life, Texts From Last Night, and My Life Is Average. They’re borderline-addictive to read, but a lot of the posts can be pretty depressing and/or depraved. I sometimes like to check out the sites It Made My Day and Gives Me Hope for more positive stories. IMMD makes me smile because the stories are so bizarre and funny, while GMH is more of the inspirational variety — so much so that it occasionally comes full circle around to sadness again. You know, kids with terminal cancer saying really sweet things to comfort their parents, formerly suicidal teens finding a reason to love life and finally stop cutting themselves, stories like this.

Lately GMH has been making me sad, but not quite for the usual reason. Here are a few recent, poignant examples of this depressing flavor of “inspirational.” All the bold and extra spacing is original, from the site.

Last Sunday, my dad was at a church service in Austin, TX. An obviously homeless man sat next to him in the pew.

During the offering, the man put $2 into the basket.

Selflessness GMH.

That’s right, we’re supposed to be hopeful about humanity because a man who really couldn’t afford it somehow scraped together some money to give to a church. Aren’t churches supposed to be helping the poor, not taking their money? I don’t know what it means to be “obviously homeless,” but I assume it means he appeared unwashed, with ragged or dirty clothes, and maybe seemed noticeably in need of medical or dental care. I’m pretty sure he could have put those couple dollars to better use at a laundromat, or Goodwill, or a grocery store. What’s the great thing the church is going to do with it — buy some new hymnals? Send some solar-powered audio Bibles to Haiti? Best case scenario, they put it towards a soup kitchen, a shelter, or other resources for the neediest in society. I think Jesus would want this man to keep his two dollars, this week and every week, at least until he is able to get his own life back on track. (Or for him to give away as much money to the church as possible, so God would make him rich. Either way.)

Today, the pastor of my church announced that his 19-year-old daughter was pregnant out of wed-lock.

As the pastor’s wife began to cry, a little boy ran up to her and hugged her saying, “It’s okay! Babies are the best thing in the world, no matter what.” GMH

I’m sorry, no. It does not give me hope to think that this 19-year-old girl — just getting started with adulthood and figuring out what life she wants for herself — is going to be putting her life on hold indefinitely to raise a child she is probably nowhere near ready to care for, even if she had a stable partner to help, which it sounds like she doesn’t. It does not give me hope to think of the child who will grow up around grandparents (and presumably also parent/s) who were sorrowful and ashamed when they anticipated the baby’s birth, rather than proud and eager to move forward into a new and exciting part of their lives. Without further details, I am also left to assume that this girl probably missed out on anything resembling comprehensive sex education, at home or at school, all in the name of purity and devoutness. I am left to assume that if she had been more informed about how babies are made and not made, this whole thing could have been avoided. Look, I like babies too. Babies are great. But at some point we have to admit that being pregnant is not an awesome development for every female person at every point in time. Pretending otherwise is just sad.

I recently rung up a young boy and his mother. When he saw me at the register, wearing a hijab, he grinned broadly at me. As they were walking away afterwards, he tugged on his mom’s sleeve and said,

“Did you see her, ma? She’s gorgeous! I bet that’s why she’s all covered up.”


This anecdote fails to give me hope for precisely the reason it seems to give hope to others: this little boy is exactly right. I wouldn’t stop a woman from wearing a hijab if she really wanted to; I appreciate the importance of cultural history and tradition in some people’s lives. For some, the hijab is basically just a form of traditional dress, so who cares about where it came from. But it is important to remember that the origins of the tradition are pretty suspicious from a gender equality standpoint. There is no clear commandment in the Koran that women must cover themselves in precisely this way. The commonly cited passages sound more like suggestions, and are not specific. An ultimately more revealing passage can be found in the hadiths: “O Allah’s Apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.” Yes, by request rather than by divine order, these women (well, at least Muhammad’s wives) must be covered (in some way or other) because they are getting nonzero attention from men, and this ought to be stopped. That is the philosophy behind this tradition. So yes, it would seem that you are all covered up because you are too gorgeous to be seen by men around you. It’s nice that a little boy thought you looked pretty even though you were dressed differently than most of the people he saw in your store, but his comment is so emblematic of a larger problem that it doesn’t give me hope, it takes some of my hope away.

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  1. Ugh, that story about the pregnant 19-year-old. If it gives you hope just to see her get a hug from a little boy who knows nothing whatsoever about the realities of childbirth and parenting and what effect this is likely to have on her life, then your standards are much too low!

    I wonder how much of this attitude flows from the religious teaching that if you just accept whatever comes to you cheerfully and without complaining, then everything will be OK (somehow) and you’ll live happily ever after. I think a lot of people tell themselves stories like that so that they don’t have to look too closely at the very different and considerably less comforting truth.

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