Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Being Friends with Christians

By: Craig Rigby

For most of my adult life I haven't really known any Christians. I am sure that some people at work believe in some sort of god and afterlife but they don't really buy the whole bible and Jesus thing. I know because we have talked about it. There is only one person who calls himself “Christian”, but he never goes to church and knows less about the bible than I do. I didn't go to college with any Christians either. There just aren't that many around.

Bryan and Jay have a lot of trouble with anti-Christian feeling, being both gay and God squadders. Many people who ask me about them feel uncomfortable with their religion. I know quite a few people who don’t like to watch their videos in which they mention God. I thought I would try to explain how I, as a judgemental atheist, manage to get along with the Christians in my life.
In my family I would say that my grandparents consider themselves Christian, but they ride there bikes every Sunday, and so have no time for worship. And they don’t seem to buy most of the bible either. I suppose you can never be sure.

It was a shock to me, therefore, when I started going out with my boyfriend Jake, to find out that he seemed to have tapped into the fabled, long lost Christian society of south east England. Like me he doesn't seem to work with any. He just happens to have been friends with someone who converted from the sort of lazy nothing most English people have instead of religion, to Christianity for his wife. He managed to suck Jake into the church social world (although not the religion) through the side door.

Most surprising of all was the discovery that Jake's family is Christian. None of them go to church, don't get me wrong, they have gardening to do on a Sunday the same as everyone else, but his mum and dad pray sometimes and his granddad was a vicar! His brother told me the other day he was a Christian, but he isn't getting married in a church, that would be a bit hypocritical because he hasn't been to one for about 15 years.

I have always been pretty mean about Christianity. Personally I find a lot of it pretty repellent, and I don't just mean the more nakedly bronze age sections of the Old Testament. I am not sure that a god who puts “Thou shall worship only me” (commandment 2) in front of “Thou shall not kill” (commandment 6) is very moral. Jesus gets on my nerves too, telling everyone they are fundamentally made evil and that only by worshiping him will they avoid burning in hell. The fact that god requires a blood sacrifice (dead Jesus) to forgive us all our “sins” speaks volumes to me as well. Mostly what annoys me about Christianity is the black and whiteness of it all. This is good and this is bad, because we said so. Buying a morality off a shelf is lazy; especially when that morality was written in the Bronze Age. I hate absolutism.

So as you can see I am not a natural ally of Christianity, and yet I find myself with Christian in-laws and playing dungeons and dragons with a church group. Bryan and Jay, who recently put us up in their lovely house are Christian. Bryan is possibly the most Christian person I have ever met.

I think it would all be easier if Christian teaching wasn’t so gay. The fact of the matter is that the monotheistic religions are responsible for a lot of sexual repression over the years, of women and gay people. It can be exist alongside a philosophy that includes that.

The sad thing about having Christian friends are those times when the gulf between suddenly and briefly reveals it presence. When they reveal that they worry you are going to hell, or show that they think their Christian marriage is worth more than your gay “friendship”.

I was once speaking to one of Jake's church friends about Jake and me getting a civil partnership. In the UK these are commonly referred to as marriage, I think civil partnership is too long to say. It was all going nicely until I mentioned we would want a party and ceremony. I could see in his eyes he was genuinely shocked and surprised, just for a second.

I can live with that, but have learned I have to have my own boundaries with them. They can only go so far. One of Jake’s church friends was once badgered by the vicar into telling Jake he was wrong to be gay and should change his behaviour. This was before we met, if it had been while we were going out now... I can promise you that friend would not be welcome in my house. The same vicar has since had a couple of affairs and left his family incidentally, says it all really.

The trouble is that a lot of this is prejudice. It is like saying I don’t like gay people because they are all promiscuous. Not all Christians believe that homosexuality is the greatest evil facing mankind and many are not trying to erode gay civil rights every chance they get. Many Christians are rational, questioning people. They try to fit the better moral messages of the bible to the world as they find it, not try to fit the world to strict black and white rules. While I may not agree with their ethical starting point, as long as they have no beef with me, I find it hard to have a problem with them.

What is the difference between a scientist who uses his understanding of the natural world to develop a liberal social idea and a Christian who uses his knowledge of scripture and experience of life to reach the same place?

I would never bring up my own children as Christians. I think religion is disabling rather than enabling. But I now judge people on what they think, not why they think it. If someone thinks homosexuality is wrong then I think they are a small minded fool no matter what religion (or lack of) they come from.


  1. Craig,

    Everyone has there own take on what Christianity is about. For me...and I guess I stand alone in this...the core of Christianity was meant to be love. But if a person doesn't see that in Christianity its no great surprise as its been used and abused by people for centuries....However, no matter the what has been done in the past, that should not stop us from bringing the best of ourselves to whatever we believe, instead of the worst.

  2. Craig, I have had discussions with atheist friends and it occurs to me that you share many similar arguments. Mainly these are based on a materialistic (in the physical sense, not monetary) perspective, without considering the metaphysical meaning of religious experiences. Religion is more than commandments and morality. Religion is striving to achieve oneness with the Creator, to be in harmony with the universe, and to find meaning in life and death. These are the highest goals of "Religion," whereas the commandments which emphasize obedience and sins are but a small part, which I call "religion." Organized religions focus on "religion" because few can grasp Religion and rules are easier to propagate than insights. Most Christians and people who seek religious experiences want Religion.

    I agree with you 100% that if religion is all there is, I'd say no thank you. But Religion is greater than people's rules, and men's hierarchies. It is only available to those who seek something more than the physical.

    Like appreciating art, not everyone want Religion, so to each his own. What I find hypocritical are atheists who insist that everyone give up religion. If they don't like Christians telling them what to do, why would they think it's alright to tell Christians what to do?

    It is not just tolerance that we need in the world; we need acceptance, even when we don't understand the difference. That's the real meaning of Viva la Difference. I don't agree with you, but I defend you right to be wrong. :-) Cheers mate.

  3. Crag
    I fully admit that I am not you perfect Sunday church attending Christan, although I really do mis it there is still my own personal baggage (not related to the church I attended threw out childhood) which has kept me physically away.
    But I still consider my self a christian, and like Brian I think that core of the faith is love.

    To me the message I take away is one of love and one of trying to make the world a better more equal place for all. It is also a way to find some meaning in this crazy life and to find ones place (and connection in) the universe as well as bring some hope into the inevitable prospect of death, while bringing all that much more value to the life that we all have.

  4. I grew up Catholic. My parents forced us to go to Catholic school for the first 8 years of our education. I have always felt "closer to our creator" taking a walk in a woods on a beautiful day than in any church..
    I've only been back inside one for the occasional wedding or funeral.
    My Dad is deceased now...he was an AVID Catholic. I wonder how he would feel now to know that the money he gave every Sunday in the basket was now used to discriminate against me his son?? The Catholic church gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat gay marriage in Maine last year. The church also spends millions on victims of pedophile priests. I think it was Gandhi who said.."I like your Christ. I do not like the people who pretend to represent him here on Earth!"

  5. Its been over a year since I went to church, and yet I found some of this information offensive - while also true.

    Most of the first people I came out to were Christians. They were the people I was closest to in high school, and some of them remain my closest friends. Some of them responded very, very well - telling me to be proud of myself in a way that none of my "non-Christian" friends would. They seemed to get that being gay is a big deal, and it is challenging - maybe because they have been critical of the hatred that they have seen published on such a large scale by evangelical groups. Others, including my parents, just don't seem to understand the social challenges that I have had, and continue to have.

    The Christians tend to be wise, patient, and spiritual - they are the only people I know who will sit with me and cry, rather just watching me cry.

    While I agree with Jim that I seem to find myself more aware of my creator in the natural world than in a church, I won't deny the power of a cathedral to stun me. I don't consider myself Christian - I don't even know what that means anymore - but I would say that I am inclined to believe in the ideals of Christ.

    Whom, I believe, was all about loving everybody, and putting oneself last rather than first.

    That said, I have also hated Christ, and have been completely uninterested in spending time any Christians. They have caused me a ridiculous amount of pain and heartache - some friends refusing to be my friends because of the way I was born, often telling me that they couldn't be friends with somebody who was choosing to be gay.

    For the sake of my soul and refusal to continue my downward spiral of self-destruction through malice directed at others, I decided long ago to work daily to forgive them for the pain that they caused me. And, to be honest, I fail frequently.

    My church recently removed my membership. In the letter of notice I received, it made a comment about my sexual promiscuity as a deviant. I almost wrote back to the pastor, telling him that his fourteen year old son had more sexual experience than I did. I'm a virgin. He isn't. Because I'm honest, and willing to talk about it without condemning him, he told me.

    He will never tell his father.

    Ultimately though, Christianity is damaging at times. But don't sell your soul away to something that doesn't have meaning. And don't allow anger to cloud your willingness to befriend people - show people the kindness and love that you would hope they would show you. Or the homeless man living down the street.

  6. Not many Christians in my circle of friends. Most of us are in the technology field and I note that lots of us are atheists.

    I was brought up Catholic but rejected it at a fairly young age. But twelve years of Catholic schools gave me a weapon that has served me all my life.

    Why? Because even though I'm an atheist I know their damned Bible better than they do. It is a constant source of amusement to me to hear so called Christians putting others like the poor, or immigrants, or even the diseased down when if they had read the book they'd have found that those were precisely the sort their Jesus hung out with.

  7. If I had read your post just four years ago, I would have agreed with every single point you made without complaint. Throughout my childhood I knew many fairly religious Christians and because of my situation I hated them. Being gay in an area with such religious fervor forced me to dwell deep in the furthest corners of darkness, and I never had any illusions as to what was to blame: Christianity. Therefore I was always the one who defended Evolution and the Big Bang Theory from their ignorant zeal. It was my way of striking back, and I relished every second of my vengeance.

    When I went to college, this outlook changed somewhat. I became friends with a whole group of "God-squadders,” as you have so comically termed them. I actually didn't even know they were a religious group until a week after I met them. They exhibited many of the qualities I had never expected in a Christian: genuine compassion (as opposed to the "forced pity"), intelligence, and even tolerance! The "leader" was an argumentative philosopher whom I eventually argued with for 8 hours about the nature of Christianity.

    He gave me a different and somewhat unique perspective; one that I have postulated and even researched over in order to better myself and my understanding. Science and Mathematics do not always have the right answer. Sometimes one must use their own past experiences and humanity to solve their problems, even if that solution is contrary to logic. For if one does not rage or hate, cry or laugh, are they truly human?

    Did he convert me? Hell no! (…or perhaps hell yes?…) However I, like yourself, had another revelation (puns all around!!!): just because a group of people hold a belief doesn’t mean they are all alike. Some Christians are fundamentalist, ignorant, and sadistic; others are not. Since then I have, occasionally, met with other devout Christians and have on the whole found them to be just as varied as anyone else.

    So the question must be addressed: Is Christianity inherently evil? Is it something deleterious to the human race? I actually refute this in an earlier post I did, a response nearly twice the length of this post alone, so I won’t re-post it here. …needless to say, it’s attached to the “Gays and Religion” blog article under the name “Anonymous.” (Just a bit of SHAMELESS self-promotion…) I will say that the aptly labeled “bronze age” section shows a stark contrast to the New Testament, what could also be called the ‘true’ Christian portion of the Bible, and much of the questionable material contained within it (the Old Testament) can be explained more in the social and historical context of the time. For example: the Old Testament God is one of draconic punishment who levels entire cities and wipes out (nearly) all of humanity, while the New Testament God is a benevolent one who seems to really care for humans. This contrast was so striking that an entire sect of Christian Gnostics divided them and created a complicated hierarchy where the tainted “Demiurge” (Old Testament) dwelled in a strange state of ignorance to the higher spiritual Goddess (that’s right: she was a feminine deity!). The “blood sacrifice” of Jesus can also be explained in a historical and social context through many different avenues: sacrifices, even those of humans, were extremely common (not so common for human sacrifice) in every religion of the time.

    If I convey anything to anyone who reads this it should be that a person’s spirituality, or search for humanity if you prefer, should not be denounced: it is a personal struggle that all have, no matter what creed they might prescribe to. Rather it is the outward expression that should be scrutinized, and in this I think we agree Mr. Rigby.

  8. I think it should be noted that everyone views religion differently. I myself hate the concept of Religion (especially the Catholic and Southern Baptist take on it) while I find that I am undoubtedly a follower of Jesus. The concept of worshiping being on high while do not murder being just a rule baffled me as well.
    I don't see this whole conversion thing to matter. God exists to me, it makes sense, that's all. Jesus, from what I have read, speaks not of conversion so much as "live right, live at peace with each other, love everyone" which I think speaks more to the left wing hippies of 1965 than the orthodox Christian crackpots of the same decade.

    Growing up in a southern baptist and homophobic household, I've learned that I do not subscribe to the twisted faith of my ancestors for it is a mockery of the human condition. The Human Condition being beautiful and chaotic. I've gotten tired of the judgment and fear that religion has placed in people, when I see the scriptures as a symbol that we're diverse and meant to accept our differences.
    The fear of hell is futile, there no such fate for any good person and for all intents and purposes we're all good people.
    I embrace my pansexuality, whether my family accepts or shouts at me blasphemy. They want to fear hell fire and raging God they've made up in their minds then they can go to hell.

    It's no problem to me, really, if my family was raised christian and hate's homos or my best buddy's an atheist or my cousin Ralph is a Muslim who likes to make fireworks. I will still persist against my family's wishes but I'll love them just the same, several of my finest friends are hard-ass atheists and I love the discussions we have against each other as well as just the fun we have beliefs aside and my cousin's odd hobby is actually entertaining, seeing as I too like blow things up

    I've always accepted the different views of people, my best friend in the world is a right wing conservative homophobe, yet he knows I like guys like I candy and we are friends. No matter the gap, I seem to do fine. It's just a matter of forgetting our differences and facing what counts. The chemistry.

    In short. I agree the belief in western religion that has come over us is barbaric. But it's all in how you read it. A pastor once told me, anyone can interpret the scriptures to say whatever they want to say. I take it as lesson to love and live life to the fullest. Many take it as a warning to hate and judge. It's true, though, no matter where you got it from or why, all that matters is that you're wise. I'm a pansexual and anyone so ignorant or hateful to say I'm evil or a faggot can go to their own imaginary hell. They're so called 'evil' means nothing to me. It just makes them more the gits they think I am.

  9. As a fellow Brit Craig, it's really different in the UK-we're not as religous as the US so whilst I completely see your article, it doesn't surprise me that some commenters would be shocked by it.

    I'll never forget when a friend of ours told us she was a christian and went to church-our mouths just hung open!

    Like 'why?'

    Also, one must never forget it was the religous fundies who left Europe to set up 'America' as we know it, so it's in the American cultural make up to be Christian.

    Anyway,I see Christianity, like I see philosophy-it's something to inspire and grow from, not to imitate like it's a 'rule'.

    I'm an athiest but if there was one religion that I find interesting, it is Buddhism and Islam, especially for the enlightened educational qualities of the religion.