I’ve had some pretty negative experiences with religion in my life . . . particularly with Christianity. Well, let me back up and give you a little information about my Christian experience. I was born and raised Catholic, baptized in the church. My family went to church every single weekend, and it was made clear to us that going to church was not really a choice. We had to attend. I went to Catholic school for 9 years, and I was the one of the youngest lectors in my church’s history, reading the gospel in front of hundreds of people at mass in the from about 9 years old until I was 16.
I was always incredibly inquisitive. I remember when I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade asking the priest at school what it means if I don’t believe (as Catholics do) that the bread and wine we eat and drink on Sunday is ACTUALLY the body and blood of Christ. What if I don’t believe that I am actually eating God’s skin and blood? I was told, “Well, then you’re not really a Catholic. You see . . . that is one of the core beliefs of Catholicism.” Of course, then, I fell into line . . . more so out of fear than out of belief.
As I grew older, I became frustrated with much of the hypocrisy I saw in the Catholic church and in other Christian denominations as well. I read the Gospel and saw the teachings of Christ as a call to serve, as a call to caste off worldly desire and possession and work for justice. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the head of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:24). “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:20-21). Yet I didn’t see this in the Christians or the Christianity practiced around me.
I saw Christ’s message as one of pacifism rather than the bellicose preachings I was hearing from those in my church and elsewhere. “You have heard it said, ‘An Eye for and Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other” (Matthew 5:38-39). Yet I saw Christians leading charges for war around the world.
I saw hypocrisy, and for many years I sowed seeds of doubt. In time, I came to feel that while Christ has always been one of those I look up to as I search for how to lead my life, I could not say comfortable that Christ and God were one in the same. I announced to my family that I could no longer attend church with them and that I no longer considered myself Christian.
That was a tough time for me. I became intensely anti-Christian and anti-religious. I saw religion as nothing more than the “opiate of the people” as Marx would say. There was no place in my life for religion. As a result, a pretty great rift began to grow with my family members. At first my parents treated my convictions like a phase, which only left me feeling patronized. I had some pretty intense arguments with my mom about this. My sister and I argued endlessly about the merits of her new-found faith in Christ through a “born again” denomination. I felt out of place in my own family.
I began to clash with other Christians in my life, most often on the topic of war (particularly in the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq). The picture of Christianity that I began to paint is one of intolerance and hate. As a result (and quite ironically), I found myself becoming intolerant and hateful toward Christians.
Now, to this day when I hear Christians in the U.S. complain of being persecuted, I want to respond, “Boo Hoo.” I am sorry that you have some of the most potent political lobbying power in the U.S.. I am sorry that you have created a litmus test for any U.S. president to be of your religion. I am sorry that you have your voices represented in every major news source in the country. Boo Hoo.
After all, I can understand my own struggles with anti-Semitism. From both the right and left in this country, there is an assault on Jews. From the left, there is thinly-veiled anti-Semitism, often muddying our legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel (something I struggle with regularly). From the right, we have a Christian piety that condemns the Jews without the veil.
I can understand my own struggles with bigotry toward Muslims. After all, religious bigotry against Muslims seems these days to be as American as apple pie (which . . . ironically is either English or German depending on your pastry genealogy, but I digress). I see this bigotry all around me and constantly find myself not only defending Muslims but struggling with my own prejudices.
Now to be clear, I actually have come a long way from my incredibly combative feelings toward Christianity and Christians. I have had the pleasure of knowing some people who practiced what I like to call “Living Word Christianity,” truly living their lives (though not without flaw of course) in the example of Christ. I have come to a place where I can read the bible and find awesome wisdom and direction. Now, I have not gone as far as to consider myself Christian once again, but my rhetoric has surely softened.
Yet I find my attitude is often still, “I Love Christ, but I Can’t Stand Christians.” Regardless of how many Christians frustrate me these days, I definitely see my own hypocrisy in that. I am the first the stand up to those who speak in such a bigoted fashion against Muslims or Jews. I publicly preach against religious bigotry for a living. Yet I struggle all the time with the ways that I see Christians and Christianity. I justify my frustration in legitimate critiques of Christian policy makers, preachers, and history. That does not hide the fact that I carry an incredible amount of prejudice toward Christians. When people are trashing Christianity or Christians, am I the first to speak up? Do I speak up at all? Therein lies my hypocrisy.
I definitely have my own work to do, and I especially have work to do to ensure that I practice what I preach. Fortunately, I have many incredible Christians in my life who can remind me of the work I must do. While I should not soften my criticisms of the ways in which Christianity and Christians oppress and hurt (in the same ways that I should express those criticisms in Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or others), I must also ensure that my criticism is legitimate and not simply a mask for prejudice, bigotry, and hate.
Peace be the Journey.
In talking with one of my closest Christian friends about my blog, I am realizing that I did not express myself wholly and clearly, so I mean to offer a few points here.
I want to be clear. The point I am trying to make in describing my reaction of “boo hoo” to Christians who feel belittled and persecuted is NOT to say that this is an acceptable reaction. Instead, I am trying to express how problematic and hurtful this reaction is and how hypocritical it is.
My journey in this life is to strive for acceptance and love in all my interactions, and my reactions of bigotry and prejudice toward Christians only build walls between myself and those I love. Those reactions build walls between myself and those with whom I can work for justice.
In this journey, I can only hope to tear down those walls.