Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew? I don’t care, so why do you?

Today I published my ‘maiden speech’ at medium.com, a new space for longer works of a non-creative writing form. As it really falls under my byline of ‘opinionated blogging’ I figured it was probably worth repeating here in its entirety. Enjoy. Or not.

Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew? 

I don’t care, so why do you?

South Coast Fishermen
(c) J Mosher 2011
Acrylic on canvas

One of my mother’s guiding expressions for a happy life was, ‘Never talk about sex, politics or religion.’

As a teenager, the sex part of that list got ignored fairly quickly – it’s pretty much the basis for 75% of teenage conversations, one way or another. As for politics, I never quite understood how people could say one meaningless thing today, contradict themselves two years later, then spend a small fortune trying to get elected on the basis of their revised commitment. Too illogical for me.

But religion – well, I’ve been pretty circumspect for the most part about keeping my mouth shut on that topic, unless chatting with close friends whose views I know and understand – no matter what those views may be. Which makes me curious about a strange phenomenon I’ve noticed over the last few years: the ‘Of course, I’m a Christian’ introduction from people I’ve only just met.

I thought it was me for a while, but a not-very-scientifically based survey of a few close friends reveals I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. And I find it rather curious, when I’m not being annoyed about it.

What seems to happen is that I meet someone new, either in my line of work, or just socially, and after the initial exchange of pleasantries, this new person finds a way to slip into the early conversation something about how they’re a Christian. Now it might be a quick comment about, ‘That happened to one of my friends from church just last week!’ or maybe, ‘Well, when I was at church last Sunday …’ right down to the exceedingly unsubtle, ‘Well, of course, I’m a Christian you know.’ (True story!)

No, I didn’t know. And my question is: Why do I need to know? What difference does it make?

Do you expect me to think more of you because you’re a Christian? Do you think it makes you a better person, because I will tell you right now – it doesn’t necessarily follow. I’ve known extremely honest, law-abiding atheists, as well as thieving, lying Christians, and vice versa. What you do makes you a better person, not what you believe in. There are good and bad apples in every bunch, so don’t think you’re going to score brownie points with me by labeling yourself before I can!

Perhaps you tell me your theology as a way of sussing out mine? Is it perhaps that my theology is more important to you than you think yours is to me, so you want to get in first, open the door, let me know that it’s safe to admit my label?

Or is it because my Jewish-sounding name might mean I actually am Jewish and you want to gently let me know that we might not be playing on the same team? Well, thank you for your respect. I think.

Or is it because my Jewish-sounding name combined with my melanin-deprived Irish-Catholic heritage appearance has you confused, so you’re opening the door with your label so that I might offer you mine, so that you can figure out where to place me in your mud-map of the world?

And if any of the above is true, why does it matter? As a client or as a social contact, do you really think I am going to treat you better or worse, knowing that you’re a Christian? Trust me – it makes no difference. How you treat me is how I’m going to respond to you. End of story.

I don’t care who you are. Lie to me, and you’re out. Treat me badly, use me, manipulate me, and you’re out. As a client, don’t pay your bills and you’re out. Make life hard for me or my staff and you’re out. I don’t care what religion you do or don’t follow. It is irrelevant and entirely your business.

Funnily enough, I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who insisted on slipping their theology into the conversation where that theology was not Christianity. I can’t recall anyone ever saying, ‘Of course, I’m Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Catholic you know.’

So next time I’m walking in the park, please don’t latch onto me and slip in your breathless comment about teaching at a local Christian school. Just tell me you’re a school teacher – that’s all I need to know. And then as we politely admire the houses we pass as I try to work out how get away from you, please don’t waste breath telling me how that fellow in that house there has a lovely nativity scene each Christmas. You don’t know me. What if that offends me? And even if it doesn’t offend me, what makes you think I care?

What I do care about is how you are teaching the children in your class. What challenges do you face as a 21st century educator? How do you motivate the children when they don’t want to learn? Now that’s something worth talking about.

What you believe in is your business. What I believe in is mine. If time should pass and we get to know each other on a more personal level, then maybe one day we can share our theological positions (which may or may not be the same) in a respectful, intelligent manner.

But until then, please have a little dignity, not just for my sake, but also your own. Take your time to get to know someone as a person, and judge them on their actions and the way they treat you, before you start judging them based on their theology. I’m sure the world would be a better place for it.

Opinionated blogging: it’s at the top of the page.

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