The more I’ve written on this blog, the more I’ve run into one particular objection. People suggest – sometimes even accuse – that I’m making too many broad generalizations, painting all Christians with the same brush. I want to take a moment to address this idea, because I think it’s important for understand where I’m coming from.
First of all, I want to admit to something which I haven’t yet been chastised for. While this blog is intended to criticize all religions, I tend to focus on Christianity – evangelical Christianity, more specifically. There’s a reason for this. I’m writing from the United States, and Christianity is the most prominent religion in this country, by a vast margin. When I write, I tend to be drawn to stories about my home. That may be American privilege speaking, and I won’t deny that. But stories about religious infringement in my society are much more likely to becoming from Christians than any other religious group.
“Talk about other countries and other religions? That’s downright unamerican.”
I know I have international readers who may not feel represented very well in my writing, and I’m sorry about that. I do try to write about stories outside U.S. borders from time to time. Muslim countries in particular are a never-ending source for stories of religious infringement of personal freedom. Hindus and Buddhists are hardly innocent when it comes to forcing their perspective on others as well.
There’s also the fact that since I didn’t grow up in a culture where Islam or Hindu were the dominant religion, I wasn’t exposed to those faiths in the same way that I am to Christianity. I have a much better understanding of the specifics of the Christian faith than I do any other. Whenever I write about another religion, I worry that I’m not fairly representing them because I’ve not as familiar. I’m not saying I never make mistakes on my blog, but I do try to limit them.
Let’s just say there aren’t many eight story Buddha statues in the U.S.
Which brings me back to the way I represent Christianity. If you look through my blog’s history, you’ll see posts covering subjects like bullying of atheists in schools, creationism and religious based anti-science, religious based attacks on gay-rights, and questions of Christian based child abuse. All of these posts call out Christians for the way they act, and I stand by every one of them.
What I might not implicitly state, though, is that because all of those stories were about Christians doesn’t necessarily mean that all Christians act like that. There are over 2 billion Christians in the world, and they fall into more than 40,000 sects and denominations. The diversity of Christianity is vast and significant. For the most part, when I talk about Christians, I tend to focus on evangelicals. That’s a direct consequence of the fact that evangelicals are the most likely to try to put a monument on public land or force prayer back into schools.
But even if you’re not trying to stop gay weddings, you’re still in that blue section.
So if you’re a Christian who’s reading my blog, and you want to stop me and say, “Hey! I’m not like that! Don’t group me in with those crazies!” Relax, take a deep breath. I’m well aware my criticisms don’t necessarily apply to all Christians. However, since Christianity is so ubiquitous in America, I also don’t feel the need to add a disclaimer every time I write about Christians. I think it’s safe to assume that when I discuss snake handling preachers, I’m not lumping all Christians into that category.
On the other hand, when I use those same snake handling preachers to make a point about a greater trend of non-critical thinking and faith being used in place of reason, then you might want to stop and examine your own beliefs. While you may not be the type of Christian who thinks holding venomous snakes is a good way to prove your faith to god, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other equally wrong ideas you may take for granted because they were taught to you at church. The claim that going to church makes you less likely to get divorced would be a good example.
Now that’s a biblically based marriage.
Lastly, I think it’s worth noting that religious minded people seem to want to distance themselves from any criticism in my experience. Atheists usually either don’t have that luxury, or don’t want it. I will fight anyone who makes a claim about atheists that’s clearly and demonstrably false. If someone tries to say that atheists are immoral or fundamentally evil, you bet your ass I’m gonna challenge that. However, I will accept fair criticism. If somebody accuses atheists of being disrespectful, unsympathetic, or straight up mean, I would probably agree. There are a lot of atheists out there who are all of those things. While I personally try to be a little more respectful, and do my best to help create a more empathetic atheist culture, that doesn’t mean the point is wrong or unfair. I have no illusions as to my reach or influence in the greater atheist world, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing something to improve the culture.
Christians, however, instead of accepting criticism, always want to separate themselves from it. Instead of saying that yes, there is an unfortunate correlation between religious belief an homophobia, they usually want to say, “Well I don’t hate gay people. Those Christians over there hate gay people, but don’t put me in the same group as them.” And to some degree, that makes sense to me. If you’re an Episcopalian who’s very accepting of people from all walks of life, I can see why you wouldn’t want to have to answer for the beliefs of Pentecostals. But at the same time, you are both Christian, and instead of trying to separate yourself from them, you could do more to change the perception of Christians.
Instead asking why you have to answer for this guy, why not ask why this guy is making you answer for him?
I think that’s what I’m most trying to get across here. If you’re a Christian who’s reading my blog, and you get offended by some claim I made about other Christians that doesn’t apply to you, instead of attacking me for lumping you with Christians you don’t agree or approve of, rather turn on those Christians for giving your faith a bad name.
Most of the religious people I know are good, honest, loving, and caring people. I don’t ever want to suggest otherwise. But if those same people would stand up against hate and bigotry in their own faith when they saw it, and work to change the perception of Christians from the outside, then I would have a lot less to write about, and we’d all be happier.
*** Update ***
This conversation inspired what I thought was a pretty interesting conversation on Facebook about how much culpability someone bears for the words or actions of others who share their beliefs. My good friend, Joey, wrote something challenging my assertions above, and I thought it was both interesting and thoughtful, and most definitely worth sharing.
“…there are some 40,000 sub-sects of Christianity, leaving me to believe that Christianity is as ubiquitous a term as “oxygen-breather”, though just because a fish and I both breathe oxygen; it doesn’t mean we’re the same thing.
I suppose it’s easy to say that from the inside of Christianity. I know what I believe and it seems so WILDLY different from what the WBC [Westboro Baptist Church] believes that makes me want to say that they’re not the same as me (christian).
Ultimately “Christian” is a label meant to simplify and identify who I am through what I believe, but because it’s so diverse, I have a hard time ending with it. I’ve noticed this in other communities too, namely the “Gamer” community. It too has broken up into many sub-sects like casual, codders, hardcores, pros, board gamers, video gamers, war gamers, MTG players, RPGers and the list continues. If we both call ourselves “gamers” yet have absolutely no game knowledge in common, we might tend to say that the other isn’t a gamer because they’re not like “me”.
I think he makes a good point about how claiming to be atheist isn’t a statement of belief, but rather a statement of non-belief. That’s a statement most atheists can get behind. Atheists often are accused of being just as religious about their beliefs as theists. They usually respond with some variation of, “Atheism is a religion the same way that off is a T.V. channel or bald is a hair color.” I think that’s what Joey is trying to get across.
But at the same time, I feel that the fact that there’s very little that tie atheists together besides their lack of belief would give me more reason to distance myself or separate myself from those atheists I disagree with. However, I usually won’t do that. I say usually because I normally won’t accept any criticism that tries to equate me with tyrants like Pol Pot or Josef Stalin. Sure, they might have been atheists, but their regimes weren’t known for an overabundance of reason. But other than those extreme examples (which I feel is dismissing, in that I won’t say extreme Christians like snake-handling pastors are representative of all Christians), I’ll usually accept criticisms of my belief system, even if they don’t apply specifically to me.
Christians, however, regularly pull out the “No True Scotsman” fallacy when responding to criticism. And that objection, well often reasonably justified, creates a de facto “moving the goalposts” situation, as well as opening Christianity to a whole knew set of criticisms. In short, if you’re not represented by those people, but those people are using the same sacred texts as you to inform their worldview, what makes your stance more right or accurate than theirs? I’ll go back to something I said in a previous post: The problem with the Westboro Baptist Church is not that their beliefs aren’t biblically supported, but rather that they are.
Having said that, there is merit to the argument that since Christianity is so widespread and diverse, it’s not fair to assume that more mainstream Christians should have to answer for the opinions of more extreme views. I thought Joey made a good point. I might not entirely agree with him, but I thought it worth sharing.