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I ran across a blog post asking that non-believers seek to change the tone around the cultural conversation by giving believers a little slack. It makes several valid points but misses a key break point in how we need to approach all discussions around “sensitive” issues. (The longer you spend in online conversation the more broadly you find that “sensitive” issues are those issues discussed online.)

All such issues must be discussed in terms of both the public and the personal.

I am a non-believing (formerly-believing) son of genuine believers. I spend a lot of time in this strident cultural moment understanding the Christian impulse being expressed while no longer condoning (or working towards) the cultural hegemony that that cohort is so hungry for. A cultural majority on the level of American cultural Christianity never truly understands the power it wields until it’s challenged because so much of that influence is soft power.

The average middle-aged cultural Christian quite literally doesn’t understand that having their religion celebrated in the town square and by every local business isn’t a right. Due to the language of their religious scripture being that of the defeated decidedly oppressed minority they operate from that mindset. The dominant sect of Christianity participating in public discourse is explicitly evangelical, their mission being to bring the whole world to their Christ. The language of evangelism has been extracted from the vocabulary of war rendering the girding to the spirit in offensive rather than defensive terms. They believe that their ultimate incarnation is post-physical paradise and all things are being made ready for the Christ’s return to earth and the End of Days.

A Messianic apocalyptic death cult made up of a large plurality of my homeland has an explicit mission to convert me to their faith using the same terms General Petreus does and I’m supposed to be nicer to them?

I refuse to yield my public obligation to frog march Christian cultural hegemony back over some sort of line where there is no Shibboleth required for public office, where prejudgment (in civic matters) doesn’t hang on whether or not they went to the same club you did on Sunday, and where it’s not expected that I’m in the same group as Satanists because my morals weren’t walked down Sinai by a tribal chieftain.

I welcome the blasts of invective from the likes of Dawkins, Maher and (formerly) Hitchens because non-believers deserve corollaries to James Dobson who are leaning into the megaphone when offered rather than away from it. When Pat Robertson is a bigot or Billy Graham is anti-Semitic excuses are made for them. Bill Maher is too crude? Bill Maher wields as much power as Cokie Roberts, Billy Graham’s anti-Semitism was discovered on tapes from the Oval Office. There are more pro-Christian bigots in the current field of US Presidential contenders than on the atheist/agnostic hit list.

No quarter is given. Non-believers (and indeed all non-Christians) have to fight for every inch through a system that asks its component adjudicators  to (by default) swear on the Christian scripture as a sign of fidelity to their oath. I don’t owe that system or its hateful field generals a single thing except a fond wish that they are judged fairly by the god they profess to follow.

But that’s in the public square, the arena.

My family remains believers. I have no interest in recruiting them to non-belief. I have no interest in challenging my friends on their faith. It matters to them. It is a keystone of their existence, and I’d have to be well beyond insensitive to want to rob them of that just to be ‘right’ in an argument. To assume that because I don’t want their personal beliefs to be installed as the law of the land I have to destroy those personal beliefs is an unsupportable leap.

Every group owes it to the greater community to advocate for their own rights in the public square. The idea that anyone should muzzle themselves because that will keep them from feeling anger or creating tension  isn’t just idealistic or naïve, it’s dangerous. It’s nothing more than ceding the floor to bullies and hooligans for the temporary reward of being disengaged.  Be full-throated in your support of your rights and your beliefs. Just leave anger and frustration in the arena and don’t let it rule your personal interactions.

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  • An important distinction. Thanks for sharing. And for fighting.

  • Brandon Moore

    Christianity requires evangelism, and evangelism requires participation in public discourse.  Unfortunately evangelism – like redemption and saviour and sacrifice has lost its meaning somewhere along the way.  (TM Marcus Borg)

    I think we all establish our terms on how we go about doing that and when we choose to do.  I wish there was a little more Marquis of Queensbury to it; I think all we can do ourselves is to start from a place of respect, and respond to respect with respect.  When respect is absent, we should not be surprised if it is not returned.

  • It’s hard to deal with the generality of it because my personal interaction with most of Christianity is very humble and authentic. But that isn’t at all the public face of it as American Spiritual Christianity and American Cultural Christianity drift further and further apart. (Please pardon my ignorance of Canadian culture on this point).

    The key for me is how can spiritual Christians reclaimed evangelism as 1-to-1 personal compassionate ministry versus the high volume MLM scheme that has been created by cultural Christianity?

    The second key for me is how can non-believers (respectfully) demonstrate the amount of soft power and privilege that is wrapped up in even faux belief?

  • Brandon Moore

    There’s probably something circular in that isn’t there?  The truly humble face isn’t going to be a dominant public one.

    To the first point, at the risk of being simplistic… do it better.  My minister said once that “Christians don’t need T-shirts, they’ll know we’re Christians by our love.”  It’s not easy to drown out that volume, but it’s becoming easier and easier to have a voice; or as somebody on 2AM put it, we’re all nobodies together.

    To the second point, the privileged rarely see themselves that way.  I think we all attach ourselves to whatever ways we feel lacking in privilege and project it onto others.  (“Affirmative action discriminates against me.”)  And the less privileged one feels, the less responsive one is to being told “You’re privileged.”  I think it’s the same way one explains white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege: show, don’t tell.  Figure out what triggered the light-bulb on understanding those privileges for you, and turn it around the other way.