Stories on the edge of familiarity

The Scariest Thing on the Internet

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimimanda Adichie

I’m scared out of my mind to say that I’m a Christian, or to talk about Christianity.

In one of my earlier blog posts, tried to talk about this, but I skated around the issue and explained everything very poorly. I didn’t say what I was thinking because I was scared.

Mostly everywhere I go on the media and everyone I hear from that’s not Christian has Christians as the enemy. As bigoted, controlling, hypocritical, stupid, foolish, backwards, crazy, hateful, pushy, uncaring, oblivious to the real world, ignorant… look at Sheldon’s mom in The Big Bang Theory for the harmless version of the stereotype and US politics for the more destructive.

When I read or listen to conversations on the subject of feminism, slavery, the LGBTQ community, or various other topics, Christianity is portrayed as the oppressor, the killer of freedom, and the instigator of harm and fear. Christians are the scum of the earth, the cause of slavery, racism, and sexism; they are the close-minded and small-minded, holier-than-thou and bible thumpers. They are the WASPs and all the negativity that comes with them.

Even if the wording isn’t as strong as that, repetition has this funny way of making even the weakest words take on greater meaning and significance.

“But those are just stereotypes; it’s just the media. You know how the media is, Thea. They make everything more terrible than it really is. You should just let it go.”

Tell that to someone battling sexism. Or racism. Or any kind of injustice perpetrated by the media. They’re not “just stereotypes”. They are a representation of the cultures’ values.

I remember bringing a Bible to school in grade four. My teacher told me to put it in my backpack, not because she was trying to suppress Christianity. She was a Christian. She said it was so that I wouldn’t lose it, but I could tell that she wasn’t telling me everything. There was some thing she was scared about; she was scared about what people might think or do if they saw that I had a Bible with me.

That’s something that’s really hard to ignore.

The only time I was in a secular, public school was from kindergarten to grade four. Until university, media and the internet were my only ways of finding out about how people view Christians. That and the clues I could pick up from how other people I knew acted and what they said in relation to Christians and Christianity while we were in a setting that wasn’t completely Christian (like what happened in grade four).

Then I started going to university.

My gosh, if I hear one more instance of someone using Galileo as an example of the Christian position towards science, I might scream. Except I won’t. Because it won’t stop happening. And it’s the only example I ever hear. Seriously, without fail, any time that religion and science are mentioned together, Galileo comes up and Christianity gets displayed as anti-science and anti-intellectualism. I am getting heartily sick of Galileo.

A guest lecturer once talked about the evolutionary development of the human eye, then proceeded to completely misunderstand a Creationist argument, then twist it into a straw man argument, mocking Christians with a condescending smile. I don’t get angry easily, but I was so angry at that that a friend of mine who was sitting a row back could feel the emotion emanating off of me in waves.

In one philosophy class, if anyone mentioned God as part of the equation to a possible way of looking at things, my prof would always have the last word, taking God completely out of the picture. And she would do with a smile and a little tilt of the head as if to say “Don’t you see how much more rational and intelligent my argument is than yours? Of course you do.”

Add on top of that what some friends who are atheists have said about Christians (“Oh, but you’re the exception, Thea”) or snatches of conversation I’ve heard while walking through the hallways where Christians are derided, mocked, made fun of, portrayed as laughingstocks or repressors.

So, I’m scared to make it known that I believe in God, that I follow Jesus, and that the Bible is my scripture. I fear what people might do to me; what people might think of me.

When I see Christians vilified without compassion and then congratulated for it, all I can think is “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”, and when I see it over and over and over, all that comes to my mind is Chimimanda Adichie and the danger of a single story.

Let me make this clear: I am not a victim. I will not come from the point of view of being a victim, because then I will always be harming myself even as I try to gain healing.

Let me also make this clear: The scariest thing on the internet isn’t saying that you’re a Christian.

The scariest thing on the internet is revealing to the world something about yourself that they might despise you for.

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6 Responses to The Scariest Thing on the Internet

  1. Wow, Thea, I had no idea this was such a terrifying thing for you to talk about but now you have I can totally see why. I’m really glad you have brought it up though. People don’t seem to realise that attacking peoples beliefs is just another form of inequality, or they see it as an acceptable target.

    I actually think a lot of peoples anger towards Christianity comes out of their own upbringing as a Christian. For example, I’m not a Christian but I was raised as one. For a short time after I decided I didn’t believe in God anymore, I hated Christianity and couldn’t understand why I had these strong feelings towards it. After a lot of thought on the subject, I realised it was less that I hated the beliefs and more that I’d felt trapped in this belief, people tried to prevent me from questioning my beliefs and now I’d stopped believing in Christianity I felt freed somehow. A lot of people possibly go through that experience without forgiving the religion, blaming their bad experiences on the religion as a whole instead of realising it was the way they were brought up into it.

    It upsets me as well, because you know what, the things that Christianity teaches are pretty useful things that people discard just because it’s associated with the religion. Like forgiveness or compassion. Those things are important to have regardless of your beliefs!

    It’s also really hard to talk about not being religious (I’m sort of agnostic-with-a-Buddhist-philosophy) because of the box it puts me in. I’ve told people I don’t believe in God and they’ve rolled their eyes at me and instantly dubbed me an non-spiritual, compassionless. This drives me crazy because 1. That’s the opposite of the truth and 2. The reason those people hated anyone who didn’t believe in God was because they labelled Christians as airy fairy closed minded idiots. So why were they doing the same thing to me?

    Long comment is long.

    • Don’t worry about long comments. :) I like reading what people have to say; I always learn so much.

      I’ve heard from a lot of people that grew up with Christianity that they felt trapped, like you did. To be completely honest, I have always found this odd. I’ve always felt okay to question my beliefs. In fact, that’s something that’s been encouraged in my life, because people who cared about me wanted me to believe what I believed because I trusted it, not because it’s what my parents/everyone around me believed. But I hear so many stories like yours that I wonder if mine was a unique (or rare, at least) experience. I really hope not.

  2. @keithfrankish who I follow on Twitter once tweeted something along these lines (unfortunately I can’t remember his precise words):

    “The real divide isn’t between theists and atheists. It’s between the tolerant and the intolerant.”

    Unfortunately, the most vociferous people on the Internet seem to be the intolerant—whether they’re extreme “Christians” intolerant of people who don’t share their brand of religion, or extreme atheists intolerant of any kind of religious belief. By definition, the loudest-shouting members of a group aren’t the typical ones. But they’re the ones the group ends up being judged on.

    (I put “Christians” in inverted commas there because it’s pretty obvious from reading Jesus’ teachings as reported in the gospels that intolerance, bigotry, persecution of gay people and the like are the precise opposite of what he stood for.)

    • I know what you mean but, if it was only a case of vociferous and intolerant people on the internet, I wouldn’t have written this. If it were just the internet, I could write it off as a symptom of cyberspace. The problem I’ve been noticing is not that there are loud-mouthed people on the internet; it’s that there are people of moderate volume in real life that I have heard speaking often. That, I cannot ignore.

      Thank you, though, for your comment about the difference between what “Christians” yell and what Jesus taught. I know people who grew up in the church and left it because they thought that the yelling was the same as the teaching, and who refuse to think otherwise because of their background.

  3. I don’t think anyone should have to live in fear over a religion. However I’m certainly of mixed minds. I am a Christian, though I’m a type many would call heretical, so I can’t really talk to Christians! In addition, when I do talk to most mainstream Christians I’m the one who feels afraid, because I /do/ feel like there are these polarized groups that say, want to shove me back to barefoot and pregnant cause I’m a woman. I used to listen to KLove a lot and had to stop because I felt like I was supporting people who I felt were acting against my best interests, even though we supposedly shared a religion…but my interpretation of that same religion, of the same words, leads to such different conclusions. I also got tired of hearing all the marriage advise, which mostly boiled down to “be a good little girl, cause it’s all up to the woman to fix everything and men can behave as badly as they want.” There’s a big difference between Christians and the Christian Right, but it’s the Christian Right who is very vocal, and that’s definitely who I personally am quite afraid of. However, I think everyone is afraid of everyone right now…

What are your thoughts?