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The Dangers Of Holding To Tradition or: That Time Gong Jin Water Boarded A Boy For Converting to Christianity

September 4, 2012

Part of a continuing series I’ve dubbed, “To Be A Young Necromancer In Love,” updating Tuesdays and whenever the hell I feel like it.

I’ve definitely spoken about the Weird West game before. It was my first experience with the Hero System, and it was definitely a good introduction to just how far the system could go. After all, I played a martial arts character who eventually gained numerous Chi-based powers alongside people that were expert sharpshooters with Winchesters and Vampiric blood sorcerers. Things could get weird from time to time though.

Especially when Gong Jin, my character, was able to wander off on his own.

As I explained briefly before, Gong Jin was a disgraced monk. Of course, one of the major points about Gong Jin was that he brought so much dishonor and disgrace to himself, his order, his family, his ancestors, and pretty much every human being who ever might have come into contact with someone who once possibly could have known him, that he was exiled out of all of China. It’s important to remember that despite how we sometimes imagine it, China is not a country consisting of a single culture. It is a vibrant place full of distinct cultural entities, languages, and so on.

None of them wanted Gong Jin to go near them.

His infamy was so well known, that it spread to the Americas as well. When Gong Jin encountered other Chinese people, there was a strong chance that they would recognize him as a crazy, disgraced monk who could do nothing more than bring shame and misery to a house hold.

All of this, along with Gong Jin’s search for redemption, and his belief that becoming a “vengeance spirit,” (how he interpreted being turned into a vampire) was a part of his destiny, would occasionally crop up in little asides. Gong Jin wanted nothing more than to prove to people that not only was he a good person, but that he was capable of being a holy man. He believed in doing what was right, regardless of the costs.

And so, in one session he was offered what he viewed as the perfect chance to redeem himself.

Sometime after becoming a vampire, Gong Jin encountered a family in a small western town that did not recognize him as a disgraced monk. They only saw the holy robes that he wore as part of his continuous effort to redeem himself, and the other holy tokens he carried on his person. This family saw Gong Jin as a blessing, because their son had recently been turned against his heritage, and converted to Christianity.

Seeing their troubles, and the way their son had turned his back on his ancestors’ way of life, he proceeded to speak with the boy. Then finding him an insolent whelp with no concept of what was good for him, began to throw him through walls and water board him. Needless to say, Gong Jin was not known for his patience. Under this duress, the boy renounced Christianity, and promised to return to the old ways of his people. Gong Jin left, proud with his accomplishments. The family stood there awkwardly with a mixture of horror and gratitude.

Obviously, I’m not advocating that when children disobey their parents they should get thrown through walls by total strangers that claim to be holy men, and then tortured by them. That would just be silly.

However, other things that I would consider fairly silly, as well as definitely wrong, do seem to happen in the name of tradition, cultural values, and other terms all the damn time.

As always, we begin to tread this difficult line of whether or not cultural relativism should be the first thing to step in here. Is it right for us to judge people based on our moral values without any regard for the cultural differences that shape such values. As I mentioned at the start of this series, many of our moral values are shaped by our society’s experiences, and can be somewhat silly.

After all, what’s so terrible about wearing blended fabrics? A lot if you listen to some parts of the Old Testament.

Yet, this doesn’t necessarily render all of our beliefs to be silly. Nor, I might say, does it render all moral values necessarily equal. Nor all ways of enforcing them equal.

There’s a lot that gets done in the name of tradition or preserving our cultural values that is very harmful to the person who is “violating,” tradition. Especially depending on how that tradition might be viewed by a larger community.

While there is the temptation to go right for particularly brutal actions, or especially insidious ones. Concepts like female genital mutilation. The theoretical (and sometimes proven) actions of people ensuring their family name will carry on under China’s One Child Policy. The drastic measures Saudi teens will go to to date. The well documented male-to-male sexual abuse in the Arab world. All of these are kind of heinous, some of them could be defended by cultural relativism, some not. However they’re all hot button issues when we’re talking about cultures far removed from our own experiences.*

Let’s look at something that happens all the time right here in the United States of America. Something, that humorously, isn’t so different from what Gong Jin was doing. The abuse isn’t physical but it’s still there.

On the liberal coasts, we might forget that these places exist, and that they’re widely supported. In fact, these places are so widely accepted that a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination had a husband who ran one. I’m talking, of course, of places where parents send children to “pray away the gay.”

If you hack away the bullshit surrounding homosexuality. Namely, the idea that it’s sinful. You’re left with the simple fact that it is a child defying tradition and cultural norms. Perhaps not even going very far outside of cultural norms. Not every gay guy loves theater and is into fashion. Some of them play football, pound beer cans against their skulls, and do other stupid normal teenage stuff.**

Yet if they look at someone of the same sex, there’s suddenly a problem with them. A problem that most parents don’t how to deal with. Even accepting parents are probably perturbed when their child comes out for the first time.

The problem is when it’s viewed as a denial of tradition, of the family’s values.

This is when the parents will begin to rail against their child. Verbal and emotional abuse might come, such as a father announcing that he has no son, or that his son is “going to get AIDs and die a sinner.” Physical abuse may also happen. Some parents at a total loss, often seek outside help.

And that outside help is one that will seemingly reinforce the family’s tradition of sticking dicks inside of vaginas. That outside help often also comes under the guise of some sort of religious or pseudo-religious nonsense. Finally though, that “help,” is often abusive.

I don’t mean physically. I would hope that if parents discovered their child (regardless of how they feel about his or her’s sexual orientation) was being beaten for being gay by the people that were supposed to help them, they’d take their child out of that environment.

I find abuse in the way that they reinforce the idea that traditions are right, because they’re what we’ve “always,” done, which harms the child’s critical thinking skills. The fact that they make the person feel like they’re sick and wrong for doing something different than others but feels totally natural to themselves. To convince someone that what they’re doing is wrong and is a behavior that needs to be corrected, you need to make them feel bad for it. In this case, you’re making them feel bad for being who they are.

It’s ridiculous, and it’s doesn’t make them not gay. You can throw the kid through a wall and it won’t make them not gay. However, you throw a kid through a wall, they get a bunch of physical injuries and trust issues, whatever. You make a kid hate themselves, literally loathe the things that make them feel good. You ruin them for life.

It’s like some sort of horrible version of teaching a man to fish. Beat Up A Gay, Make ‘Em Feel Bad For A Day. Teach A Gay to Hate Himself, Make Them Feel Bad For A Lifetime.

It’s as insane as Gong Jin water boarding a child for converting to Christianity.

Why was that crazy? Because as the child said, in that session, they weren’t in China anymore. They were living in the 19th century United States, and he was adapting to the culture around him.

Progress is what happens in culture. Cultures never stop growing, they never stop reproducing, and they never stop adapting to new things. Holding to tradition for traditions sake is dangerous. Sometimes on a societal level, in the sense that tradition would have denied us heliocentric theory. Other times though, on a personal level, such as when you make a child feel bad for enjoying themselves.

On the scale of the United States of the early 21st century, being gay shouldn’t be such a stigma. They can serve openly in the military, in many states they can become married, and regardless of their marital status if they work for the federal government they can share benefits.

It is ridiculous, barbaric, and embarrassing to know that there are people who enforce their traditions in the same brutish heavy handed manner as a table top RPG character who was known for being a buffoonish and radically insane man.

Stand up against the Gong Jins of your culture, people. It’s the right thing to do.***




*: I assume that I’m speaking to a Western, and most likely American or Canadian audience.

**: Like the wonderful activity of Mud Holin’. In which you and your buddies go dig a giant hole with ramps going down and up, then fill with water so it gets muddy. Grab some brewskis, and your trucks, and drive through the mud hole with said truck while drinking.

***: Not really ending on a question this week, just straight up what I feel to be right, feel free to disagree. Though, I thought we would have all learned about Tradition from Tevye the Milk Man by now.


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