Last night, my family was sitting around when I pulled up a FB posting of an article from Cracked on my phone (why? Because it was there, and we were between games of Uno). The article was something like “Seven Conversation-Ending Phrases,” and #1 was “I’m not a racist, but…” (The one that got people crying on the floor was “In Plato’s allegory of the cave…”)
I was reminded of that article this morning when, after talking by phone with my son for a while about notions of faith and belief, I noticed an article that had been posted by one of his friend to his Facebook timeline. Here it is. The article per se isn’t important here (though it looks interesting), but my son and I were talking about religion and what constituted Christianity, and the article and the Cracked piece combined in my head and stimulated some thought.
And here is the result of that thought:
The number one way that Christians turn off those they’re seeking to evangelize, that Democrats and Republicans turn off voters, that road bikers turn off mountain bikers. Here it is: Start a discussion with “I know that you’re a __________.” Or, what amounts to the same thing, “I know that you’re not a __________, but…”
When you say something like that to me, you presume to know me. And you don’t. Some people think I’m an Agnostic, probably because that’s the closest generally-used term to the way I think of myself. I sometimes use the term to label myself, because I don’t have time for an eight-hour discussion of What I Believe. But that’s for the sake of convenience. Those who actually know me realize I’m as likely (considerably more likely, actually) to quote the Bible as to quote Aldous Huxley. Or some of them do.
Listen, there are lots of people who think of themselves as Christians who don’t think it’s possible that people in their pew might be gay. They see these as mutually exclusive categories. But they’re not. There are gay Christians (and I suspect some of them would welcome the sacrament of marriage). There are also conservative Republican lesbians. I would venture to wager (if I wagered) that there are more combinations and permutations in this reality, Horatio, than you have ever dreamed of.
If you want to collect a scalpt, a number, if you just want to “witness” for whatever your cause happens to be, then feel free. But don’t be surprised if people walk away. The world is not, generally, black and white. It’s not even shades of gray. It’s a freaking rainbow.
You. Do. Not. Know. The beliefs a person has.
Yes, we like to identify others with our own positions and beliefs so as to validate our own beliefs. That’s one of the reasons we join associations and go to churches. That’s why roadies make jokes about mountain bikers and Minnesotans about Iowans. We’re far better at defining what we are by saying what we’re not. That’s why no other antinuclear group would come within spitting distance of “Pro-Lifers for Survival.” Why the popular book Kingdom of the Cults appeals so to youth who are trying to figure our what it is that they believe in. Why religious conservatives are nervous about Mitt Romney.
(I may appear to be particularly hard on Christians here. My apologies–that’s the culture in which I grew up, and which I often feel most free to criticize because I know it most intimately; but there are plenty of other broad categories of people who do the same thing. Or, as another of my sons would say, screw it. We all do this, every one of us. Christians are no more guilty than anyone else.)
So listen. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. We’re intellectual strangers to one another–until we’re not. So if anyone wants to know what you think or believe at the moment, be glad to tell them. But also, be glad to listen.
We might be surprised by how much we all have in common.