Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Things I Want Every Christian in a Christian-Supremacist Culture To Know

There's a blog essay going around entitled "What Non-Christians Want Christians To Hear."  As most of my friends are non-Christians this spread rather rapidly throughout my social networks.  It's the result of research for a book on how Christians behave toward non-Christians and includes such statements as:
“I feel that Christians have got it all wrong; it seems to me that they’ve created the very thing Jesus was against: Separatism.”– T. O., Denver
“Christians seem to have lost their focus on Jesus’ core message: ‘Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”– R.M., Tacoma
“I don’t know whether or not most of the Christians I come across think they’re acting and being like Jesus was – but if they do, they need to go back to their Bibles, and take a closer look at Jesus.” — L.B., Phoenix
“I wish Christians would resist their aggressive impulses to morph others into Christians. Didn’t Jesus preach that we should all love one another?”– M.G., Shoreline, WA
This seems pretty typical as far as what I'd expect non-Christians to want Christians to hear from us.  Here's what bothers me about it, though:  Too many of them focus on telling Christians what Christianity is supposed to be about and complaining about individual behaviors.  These are both problematic because they both assume that non-Christians are an authority on a deity we do not worship and because they ignore the institutions--both subtle and unsubtle--granting power-based-on-religion in favor of blaming some naughty people who preach too hard.

What I want Christians to know is entirely different.  Because it's not a problem with just the superbigots.  Christian hegemony is something that gives an entitlement complex to not just the Brother Jeds and Fred Phelpses of the world.  This is behavior that comes from people who truly, honestly think they're being open-minded and affirming.

* This is titled "Things I Want Every Christian in a Christian-Supremacist Culture to Know."  The points related to oppression do not apply to Christians worldwide.

What you think of as obvious truth within your religion is not as obvious as you think it is, so actually believe us when we say we don't believe.

There's a tendency among Christians to think we all secretly know that Christianity is the right faith and are deliberately rejecting it for some reason.  Atheists and agnostics seem to get the brunt of this, with Christians accusing them of "hating" or "disagreeing with" God.  Atheists don't believe in God... that's the whole point.  It has nothing to do with whether or not they agree with his message.

In the case of people like myself who have different Gods, again, there's a tendency to think we secretly know that we're "really" worshiping Satan or a false God.

That's absurd.  Really, it is.

I don't care--honestly, I don't--if you believe my Gods are Satan-in-disguise.  I adamantly disagree, but your beliefs themselves don't actually affect me.  But please recognize that when we say we believe something--or don't believe it--that we are being honest with you.

Biblical and Christian values are not universal.

At the heart of every argument toward placing Christian symbols in public spaces is the belief that Christian values are universal values and that all people--Christian or not--will identify with them on some level.

The most prominent example of this is the Ten Commandments.  These are from the Old Testament and apply to all religions tracing their lineage to it (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in particular).  There's the ludicrous claim that somehow even the most staunch atheist will find that the Ten Commandments contain good moral teachings.

What doesn't appear to occur to them is that literally less than half of the Ten Commandments are what any reasonable person would call "universal values."  Do not murder, do not steal, do not lie.  Maybe do not commit adultery, if you play it at the relationship dishonesty angle.  "Honor thy father and thy mother" sounds great on paper until you factor in children of abusive parents.  The rest of these "commandments" literally only apply to Old Testament believers.  "Do not have Gods before me?" "Do not take God's name in vain?" "Do not make graven images?" "Keep the sabbath day holy?"

I don't understand why so many Christians believe these are universal.  They very clearly aren't.

The Bible is rife with examples like this.  Literally nothing universal about those values.  When I've read the Bible I've found practically nothing inspiring about it that can't be find in a myriad of non-religious philosophical texts.  Why are we not trying to get them put on courthouses instead?

Again, you can have whatever values you want, but don't assume anybody else is obligated to identify with them.  They really aren't as universal as you think.

You really take the privileges you have so for granted that it looks like oppression to you when those privileges are taken away... but it's not.

As Christians in a Christian-supremacist culture, you are trained to expect a lot of things.  You expect to be able to wear your religious jewelry and clothing wherever you want and probably don't even think twice about how people are going to view you if you do.  You expect to be able to get time off for religious holidays.  You expect that if you use greetings that have a religious subtext, people will not be offended by it.  You expect that it's just "normal" that your religious beliefs would be represented in the legal system and on public property.  You expect that your children are going to have an education that doesn't conflict with the religious beliefs you have taught them.

What you might not know is that this isn't the case for non-Christians.  When some of these privileges are taken away, you're not experiencing oppression: You're experiencing what the rest of us already experience.

For example, where I used to work the buildings were necessarily open 24/7/365, so we got paid time-and-a-half for federal holidays.  The paycheck after Easter there was a huge string of complaints... people had worked on Easter Sunday and weren't getting paid time-and-a-half for it.

Because it's not a federal holiday.  But because it's a popular Christian holiday, people were rebelling over the fact that they didn't get paid more for it.  What these people neglect to understand is that every day is a holiday to some religion.  I have probably fifteen or so religious holidays I very devoutly celebrate, but I don't get time-and-a-half for them.  Many of us don't even take time off for them; it's too risky when you have devoutly Christian bosses and coworkers.

Not oppression.  Equality.

When I was in elementary school there were several occasions where Christians were given privilege.  After one Christian (who I don't think even had kids in attendance) wrote complaining that our holiday play didn't have enough Bible-thumping they started having a yearly nativity scene in it.  We sang songs about Jesus and how we all see him differently but it's all cool because Jesus... I had a teacher give a lesson about polytheism in which she literally taught that we "now know" there's only one God.  In public school.  That these things are being taken out of public school is not oppression of Christianity.  It's equality.

And you know what?  There still isn't actual equality between Christians and non-Christians.  In my preferred work environment it's difficult to find a job that isn't at a church-run entity with Jesus statues staring at me, listening to people mumble thanksgiving prayers over the intercom three times a day.  There are still raging debates over Christian monuments that are driven by Christian supremacist politicians trying to garner Christian-supremacist votes.  To even claim that Christians are oppressed in this environment is absurd.

I am not obligated to understand your faith references or read your literature.

Here's the thing:  I do understand your faith references.  Probably better than most Christians do.  It's a defense mechanism many non-Christians develop.  Some of us have even read the whole Bible.  One of the reasons for the number of non-Christians criticizing Christian beliefs rather than Christian privilege is because we're expected to know Jesus things and therefore we do.

But when we don't?  Don't act like we're obligated to.  We're not, not any more than you're obligated to understand the Charge of the Goddess or the Quran.

People are not obligated to acknowledge Christian niceties just because you assume we should view them as generic.

When people say "God Bless You" or "Merry Christmas," it grates on me.  It really does.  Not because I don't understand the will behind it, but because it's so presumptuous that people indiscriminately use such language to talk to each other.  I rarely say anything, for the same reason I don't ask for time off for religious holidays:  It's risky for a non-Christian to speak up.

People who do point out that what you're saying is making the assumption that they are Christian when they aren't are perfectly in their right to point that out, though.  Just like being told "Happy Holidays" isn't oppressing you, neither is asking you to think about what language you're using.

Speaking of "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas," it's worth mentioning that if somebody were to tell you "Happy Kwanzaa" it would probably wound really weird and nowhere near "universal" to you (it might even come off as political).  So when people mention that "Merry Christmas" makes the assumption that Christmas is universally celebrated, keep in mind that there is no difference.

In summary...

The idea that Christians are as a whole not following Jesus's instructions makes no difference to me because I don't really concern myself with Jesus's instructions to begin with.  What I concern myself with is Christian supremacy/hegemony and how that affects me and other religious minorities on a day-to-day basis.