Monday, April 09, 2012

Reading Biases Between the Lines

I have written previously warning Christians about the way we treat others and avoiding hypocrisy. The Christian Church has a reputation for being too political, sometimes radical, and intolerant and in many instances those of us within the church are at least partially responsible for that perception.

However, I also want to take the opportunity to illustrate the opposite side of the equation.  Sometimes those outside the church work very hard, in my opinion, to find a reason to attach these labels to Christianity, even when it is not justified.  I recently read a conversation on Facebook which began with the following post:

"I just got an email forwarded where the original sender's e-signature stated 'As Christian Patriots, we must be committed to doing the 'Right Thing for the Right Reason', no matter what the cost or consequence.' How can this NOT be construed as creepy! 'No matter what cost'? Isn't that the type of radicalism that promotes terrorism? Eek."

The responses this poster received included the following:

"lets see... kill the gays... kill the Muslims... need I go on?"

"You know...some time in April there is a 'bible revival' at RFK...loaded with folks like that....scares the hell out of me."

"The cost: the suffering of other human beings at the hands of 'Christian Patriots'; the consequence for the Christian Patriot: eventual guilt due to the disappointment of their perceived god and the general public, which causes pain, denial, and lashing out. It's a cycle and it's just sad."

"‎'no matter what the cost or consequence' = the opposite of the teachings of Jesus in my opinion."

"Jesus was an awesome guy....some of his followers scare me."

To be fair, I conducted some research into the "Christian Patriots," and in the 1980s and 1990s there was a militant organization by that name in the United States.  However, that organization has been defunct for over a decade.  Today there are any numbers of organizations using that moniker, usually in relation to advocating for conservative political issues.

Most importantly, though, nothing in the e-signature at issue ever said to "kill the gays," "kill the muslims," or promoted "suffering of other human beings."   These were all preconceived conceptions about Christianity that the commenters were reading into the e-signature.

I responded to the post as follows:

"It also said to do the right thing. I'd venture a guess that the 'no matter the cost or consequence' is referring to 'I must do what is right no matter the consequence to me.' Sometimes doing the right thing puts us at risk. Just think of all the people who stood by and watched the horrible beating in Baltimore recently. Nobody tried to stop it. Respectfully, I think you all may be reading a bit too much into an e-signature."
In fact, virtually every time you come across a Christian saying something to the effect of "do the right thing, regardless of the consequences," he or she is speaking of personal consequences like I suggested in my response.  To give just a few examples:
This most certainly is not " the opposite of the teachings of Jesus."  In fact, it is absolutely critical to the central message of the cross.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39.  Christ willingly went to the cross because he knew it was the right thing, regardless of the horrifying consequences to himself.
Perhaps what is most telling is that even after I posted my comment, the unwarranted assumptions continued:
"Christian extremists use this kind of phrasing to justify hate crimes and they are getting bolder in their speaking about their views."
"Welcome to the Age of The Crusades Resurrected. BELIEVE OR PERISH!!!"
All this from an e-signature.
"Fiat Justitia et Pereat Mundus" is an old Latin phrase meaning "Let there be justice, though the world perish."  In a 2009 film it was paraphrased, "Do the right thing, come what may."  This phrase, or variations thereof, have been used by Emperor Ferdinand I, 16th century author Johannes Manlius and philosopher Immanuel Kant.  It has been viewed as a noble and worthy calling for centuries.  Yet for some people, when it comes from the mouths of Christians, it is seen as a call to radical extremism.  Some of this may be viewed as a symptom of the times, when acts of Islamic terrorism have been responsible for the deaths of thousands.  People are "on guard" for religious extremists of any stripe.  And while there may be some element of truth in that, our generation does not corner the market on violence in the name of, or in opposition to, religion.
Sometimes Christians are responsible for bringing about the negative perceptions that are attached to them.  But many times they are not.  Some people are so determined to believe what they wish about Christianity that they will convince themselves that they see evidence even when it is not there.  Whether it is in respect to Christianity or any other worldview, we must all be cautious to follow the evidence only where it leads, and not read our unjustified biases between the lines.

No comments: