This post has been marinating for many months as I searched for the best angle to discuss this topic. It is probably going to be controversial, so please if you don’t want your toes stepped on, read the following with a willingness to move your foot.
In previous posts I have discussed how I have felt discriminated against by certain colleagues forcefully pushing their atheistic worldview on me. That said, I am very aware that Christians are not without blame when it comes to pushing their worldview either.
Why are we doing this to each other? Whatever happened to the golden rule?
DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU — Jesus Christ (Mat 7:12)
The above is the Christian version, but this reciprocity principle is found in most major religions and ancient civilisations. I guess there are few such near universal principles, so my hunch is that there is a lot of substance to this ancient wisdom. Unfortunately, it’s opposite: double standard, is far too common. For example, allowing discrimination against LGBTQIA people on the basis of religious freedom is a double standard. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, do not discriminate!
It is not the majority of respectful believers/atheists who are most remembered, but the few extremist protesters harassing patients outside abortion clinics, shooting into a crowd of Christmas shoppers or significant spokespeople of questionable ethics. This makes perfect sense scientifically because our brains are wired to focus on the negative. This is great news for our survival, but maybe not so much for our mental health or societal cohesion. As a friend put it: “in order to survive, we need to focus not on the cute puppy on the other side of the street, but on the cars as we cross”. The problem is that even when it is not a question of life or death, we still focus on our differences rather than our commonalities.
I recently shared that I experienced religious discrimination in academia in response to a comment on an article in The Conversation entitled “Why Australia needs a Religious Discrimination Act”. An atheist reader had commented that she had never witnessed religious discrimination and that in her experience, it was Christians who were pushy. Not surprising, as it is usually pushy disagreeable people who are most remembered. Obviously, discrimination is not a one-way street… Another reader replied to my comment by saying: “If people kept their religiosity and personal belief systems choices PRIVATE, as they should be, none of this [discrimination] would be possible.” This same sentiment was also echoed in the recent debate about religious symbols in the public sector in Quebec. Making religion a taboo is not the answer.
For many years, I did try to keep my faith private and operated as a sort of “undercover Christian” in academic circles, but this led to significant anxiety and a lot of guilt due to my feeling of hypocrisy. My faith is part of my identity, so it cannot easily be repressed. Telling someone to keep their religion private is no different from telling someone to keep their sexual orientation, gender or culture private. Anybody else seeing the double standard here? It is ridiculous to think that my faith would never come up outside of home. Should I avoid introducing my Church friends to my work colleagues? Should I also lie about where I was on Sunday morning when asked by a non-Christian?
I think what we need is not to hide who we are, but to learn to accept that others will not agree with us and that it’s ok. Those who know me well know I am an open book, so for me being undercover is an untenable option. Christians are called to share their faith, not shove it down people’s throat or harass them. Jesus himself said that if people reject him, we are to “shake the dust off our feet” (Mat 10:14). In other words, other people’s choices and identity are not your responsibility. As Rob Bell so eloquently says:
YOU CAN’T TAKE PEOPLE WHERE THEY DON’T WAN’T TO GO — Rob Bell
so please stop trying…
Featured image: Dust lanes in galaxy NGC 7049. Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and W. Harris (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada)