My Journey and My Own Religious Bigotry

Jamie in 2nd Grade - Around the age I started training to be a lector

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.

Swastikas painted on graves in a Jewish cemetary in Connecticut

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.

Protestor Against Mosque Construction in NYC

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.

——–

Post Script

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.

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9 thoughts on “My Journey and My Own Religious Bigotry

  1. Jaime,
    This is exactly where I am in life with some obvious differences in the details, bravo sir.
    Can we share this on unleashbrilliance.com ?

    Dave

  2. You are a leader and your passion is to bring people closer through understanding the walls that separate us through our judgments. You blog shows a very luke warm attempt to make that space for Christians. The fact that Christianity is strongly tied into our country’s political system and news sources does not make persecution easier to face or make it acceptable. The goal should be that NO ONE faces persecution for their faith…..not dealing out who deserves what and I don’t believe that you personally should be making that call.

    I work very hard to show people who have been treated poorly in the name of Christ that not all Christians are judgmental, harsh, critical, self righteous…and the list goes on! Christians have made many mistakes and continue to do so and I will be the first person to admit this!

    But it is unfortunate that as a believer in Christ to know that I am up against Christians who live in a way that does not reflect the Gospel AND people who are going to judge me for my faith before I even get a chance to show them that I am accepting, caring, loving, and not judgmental. It is unfair to minimize my struggle. “Boo hoo” is your response? I am disappointed about such an insensitive response on this topic.

  3. We all have things we say “boo hoo” about, I think. The term determines the worth of someone’s suffering, that the person complaining of persecution does not have an accurate spectrum to contextualize their suffering in comparison with others. I, too, have thought “boo hoo” many times when I hear complaints from people who live their entire lives in privilege — racial, socio-economic, first-world, gender and sexuality-based, religious — because it seems unfair that those whose groups hold power should be allowed to express a lack of any kind.

    But as you say in the post-script, Jamie, saying “boo hoo” is childish, because diminishing others to distance oneself from their behavior is childish. Empathy is much harder than judgment — honesty about one’s proximity to that behavior is hard to admit. I really appreciate your willingness to do this publicly, because it helps me hold up my own mirror. We all have the capacity to act childishly and we slip into the bad habit of judgment, gaining easy power by dismissing the concerns of others like they don’t matter.

    It seems to me that you’re asking us to think twice, as you have, before judging one another. It’s a reminder we constantly need, and we can help each other by providing that supportive reminder to those we love. WWJD, amirite? 🙂

  4. […] While I don’t consider myself a Christian, I do consider myself a follower of the message of Christ, and I do celebrate Christmas culturally as a way to count my blessings and put forth a little bit of extra love out into this world.  Thus, my friend Sheila suggested I offer some of my suggestions for making this time of year a more just, intentional, and love-filled holiday, especially since the power of our consumption in the U.S. has great potential to change the world and also great potential to do harm in this world.  Perhaps I should have written this blog earlier in the season so that those buying for Hanukkah could have benefit from the list (and considering that most have already done their Christmas shopping), but hopefully you can draw some insight from the post either for this year or holidays of the future. […]

  5. Jamie,

    Thanks for posting as usual. We miss you here in Chicago!

    Unfortunately, you’re experience mirrors many people’s experiences within the Catholic Church. Usually a Catholic School education doesn’t do much in the way of forming young minds to be critical about the faith in a way that leads doctrinal understanding. Some schools do, but they are few and far between.

    Catholic thought (from Augustine and Aquinas down till today) has always considered it important to address contrary viewpoints and down through the centuries has gone through great lengths to build a deeper understanding of doctrine in relation to the questions that naturally arise in regards to theology.

    In today’s world unfortunately, the message has been watered down to a list of things to believe along with a list of rules to follow. There is very little intellectual inquiry like you had as a young person. And when there is, it is often met with on-liners or simple answers that do not quench the desire for understanding. I’m sure that the priest you spoke with was well intentioned in trying to answer your question about the Eucharist, but obviously did not do a very good job since fear is not what you should have left with.

    I’ve actually started a distance learning program (ironically in your town!) at a school called the Augustine Institute. I’m studying to receive a MA in Pastoral Theology and just finished my first semester. I may be headed to Denver for a week this summer to complete some coursework.

    If you’ve already made up your mind about the Church, then I have nothing much to offer you. But if you’d actually like some academic and well thought out responses to the inquires that a young Jamie Utt had a while back, I can definitely point you to some solid resources.

    Also, I can’t control the behaviors of others within the Church (this is apparently the main grip that people have) but then again I have a hard enough time controlling my own behaviors. As you indicated, what we should/want to do are sometimes not what we do. It is admirable to have the kind of humility it takes to point out your own faults.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, George! Sorry I didn’t respond sooner . . . I just noticed the response today! I am always open in this journey to learning new things, so if you want to provide me (and others through this blog) with the resources that have helped you in your spiritual journey, I would love to share in those.

      In Peace,

      Jamie

  6. […] Bigotry of any kind. Particularly, in looking back at 2010, though, let’s leave behind the socially-acceptable […]

  7. Hey Jamie,

    Maybe we never spoke about this in the coop, but I went through a very similar struggle as a young Catholic. Like you, I was a lector at eleven. I also figured out I was gay at eleven, and as I began to peruse the Bible I came across the same doubts you did. I was lucky, I suppose, that my father was never the sort of Catholic the Vatican would have approved of. He was content to say that Christianity informed his culture, and it was through that culture that he chose to express the spiritual. If he were Indian, he once told me, he’d do the same through Hinduism.

    My brother asked me to be his confirmation sponsor when I was eighteen. My parents didn’t object, even though I was openly gay by that time and I’d told them my serious doubts about the truth of the faith I was claiming to profess. I participated in the ceremony to please my parents, but I felt rotten and dishonest. I told my Dad I just didn’t believe in the religion, and I hadn’t for a long time. He responded that I was making the mistake too many Christians and atheists make; I was conflating truth and fact. “I don’t believe my faith is factual,” he said, “but I believe it’s true.” I still don’t quite understand this, but I thought I’d share.

  8. […] my post on my own religious bigotry, my friend Julia commented, mentioning the importance of having “an accurate spectrum to […]

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