My feelings were hurt yesterday when a close friend told me I hated people who don’t live the way I think they should. This is, of course, the gentleman I have been sparring with for weeks through e-mail. It began as a lively debate, but yesterday it started to get ugly.
Much of this is my fault. I really know better than to use strong language with unbelievers. Pejorative words emphasize the “us and them” stance so many have instinctively taken. Of course, it is a sad reality that Christians are losing their religious freedom in America. There is a war raging, and the sides are clearly drawn. This political fight is completely separate from personal evangelism. I’m still trying to sort out how much Christians ought to fight the political fight. Should we allow things to run their course and focus solely on reaching others for Jesus?
This exchange began as an intellectual exercise, but a tension soon became apparent, made worse by the fact that my friend was traumatized many years ago by Christians who had no love. He denies this, but it is obvious to me that by being uninhibitedly outspoken with him, I have painted myself in stinking perfume, courtesy of his own perception of Christians.
I have reproduced part of his e-mail to me and my response. This is real time, actual correspondence. My hope is that many people who believe as my friend does will read this and understand why Christians oppose many cultural trends.
I have not been traumatized by the religious right. The closest thing to an offense to my person was the priests I drove to rosaries when I worked for the mortuary. Always, always, always the first thing out of their mouths was, “Are you a Catholic?”. No good evening, how are you, nice day, etc… I always truthfully responded, “No, I’m not”. The dome of silence was immediately lowered over the head of the priest and nary another word was spoken. Only silence and hateful glaring. The thing that really yanks my chain is hypocrisy in any form, and religious groups always win the gold medal for such. I see the televangelists spouting their brand of faith clothed in fire and brimstone so as to inject fear into the hearts of those most in need of guidance, not apprehension. Then it is revealed that these “men of God” to whom God speaks personally are really embezzlers, fornicators, liars and con men. But all are cloaked in the “magic” of Jesus. I find it sickening.
As to John Stewart Mill, his quotes are entirely apropos to our debate. You unequivocally sit in judgment of those who disagree with your brand of faith. Hell, I can even smell the fire and brimstone in your e-mail when you write about “non-believers.” You can deny this to your dying breath but the truth is you hold “heathens” in great disrepute, relishing the sound of the word as it rolls off your fingers as though it was a sweet, mystical melody. If you insist on denying that you are judgmental you will actually have to ease off the gas pedal when you describe others whose conduct you despise. And while it is true that you don’t actively attempt to silence others, your judgmental attitude is palpable. And, in your case, in my opinion, advocating is tantamount to judging and proselytizing. If it advocates like a bigot and speaks like a bigot, in all likelihood it is a bigot.
I’m starting to understand why you see hate in my words. In the first place, I say harsh things sometimes. I have feelings, and when I’m frustrated, I use all my powers of language to express it. It may be for you to conclude that I hate, but couldn’t that be your own anger talking? Some of the words you use to describe fundamentalist Christian thugs are strong enough to peel the wallpaper here, right through my computer screen. But if I asked you, you would tell me you don’t actually hate Christians, wouldn’t you? That, if an opinionated Christian were standing in your living room, you would treat him with respect, get him a glass of water, etc. Right? Same here. I would buy a sandwich for you or anyone else who was hungry and without means, regardless of personal beliefs. You seem to have a deep-seated anger against religious dogmatism. But please don’t assume I hate everyone who is different like some of the impoverished souls you have encountered. I don’t hate you, do I? Au contraire, I love you! I have no doubt that the world would be much more dull if you were suddenly not around anymore. So people can use strong words in the heat of a discussion or an argument, but that doesn’t mean they go around seething with contempt for people who aren’t like them.
It is troubling to me that you see so much hate in me. Okay, I admit to dispensing hyperbole and emotional argument sometimes, according to my mood. I have a lot of anger and frustration, but I do not judge people; only behaviors. Can you not see the difference? Why is it that when a Christian opposes the political advancement of evil, it is so often viewed as condemnation toward individuals?
Here is a quote that sums it up perfectly:
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
You said my words “reek” of religiosity throughout everything I write. I’ll overlook the active verb there. Of course my beliefs permeate my thinking and writing. Yours do too, don’t they? That’s what it means to believe. Do you think I’ve embraced some interesting myth? No! I have embraced a living Being who allowed himself to be beaten to shreds and strung up like some kind of abomination — for me! You can minimize it if you want, but you will be missing the depth and significance of my convictions.
You are mystified as to why I spend so much mental energy trying to impact the culture with my “puritan” views, as though I were doing something wrong. It’s my culture too! People are free to do and speak, as they wish, and so am I. The fact that I speak about the foolishness and depravity in our society doesn’t mean I hate those people, but that I love my country and my God.
This is the concept of community. What we do has an impact on everyone else in the room. Shouldn’t we consider how we are affecting others’ lives? Shouldn’t we take an interest in what others are doing in our back yard? We’re not talking about oppression, condemnation, hate or bigotry. We’re talking about giving a rip about our community and the people in it. Indifference is worse than hate. Don’t condemn me for speaking out against what I believe is foolish and harmful behavior in others — it is an act of love. And I see it as my duty.