Friday, March 19, 2010

In which I argue that Christianity has a serious PR problem.

I, the author of this blog, have a "faith" and a "belief in a higher power."

I've kept that purposely vague. What does that statement tell you about me? Not much -- it perhaps suggests that I see a great number of mysteries and unanswered questions in this vast, wide universe and that knowing I cannot possibly answer some of them, I therefore refuse to accept mankind as the highest order of intelligence in it. I haven't told you *which* higher power, for all you know it's this guy, and why not?

You probably don't have any prejudices about me -- LOTS of people have a vague, agnostic belief in a higher power. You might suspect I'm an AA member, because who the hell else uses the term "higher power?" But that's about it.

Now let me narrow a little bit. I now tell you that I am a "subscriber to a religion."

I'm still not telling you which one. But I bet you begin to develop some prejudices about me. You think, well, this is a guy who needs an "opiate," who probably doesn't like to free-think and prefers to kind of be told what to do, as part of a "mass," if you will. But not having told you which religion, you might think I'm part of one of the interesting religions, ones that have strong ties to, say, an ethnicity or cultural heritage, and so as part of your training to be sensitive, you'll kind of nod politely and acknowledge that deep heritage while at the same time thinking vaguely that I'm a little silly.

Now let me narrow it down a little bit more -- I am a "Christian."

Oh boy. Now what presuppositions have leapt into your head? Well, your first thought is probably that I'm a political and social conservative, right? Possibly a Tea Party member? I bet you go back and replay conversations you had with me to find clues that I'm trying to push my religion onto you, or signs that I displayed homophobic tendencies you didn't notice before but now stand out clear as day. I bet you start to question whether I'm intelligent at all. I mean seriously, who could believe that crap?

How do I know you probably think these things? Because I do it too. And I actually am a Christian, and I still do that. And I like to think I'm a pretty open-minded person generally, but you bet I have preconceived notions about Christians. I'm not proud of it, but I absolutely do, and I know I'm not alone.

Of course, if you actually know me, you know that none of those things are true. I'm about as liberal as you could possibly get. I voted Democrat in precisely every election I've been eligible to vote in, except the one where I voted for one Green Party candidate (and no, it wasn't Nader -- that wasn't my fault, I voted for Gore). I don't push my religion on anybody -- I have great respect for other people's religions and their atheism and agnosticism and prefer to let living my life according to my set of moral beliefs derived from my religion speak for itself. I'm an outspoken proponent of gay marriage ("proponent" means I'm fur it, not agin' it, in case you were wondering). And I'd like to think I'm smart. I'm probably not, but I can fake it pretty well.

But okay, it's this. Let's say you're on a message board or comment thread on the internet for something you like -- let's say it's "Avatar" for the sake of argument, since you've all seen that movie. You really like it, you can't wait to discuss it with people who also love it. But you get there, and it seems like everybody's being extremely negative. All you find is post after post of people ripping the movie to shreds, and talking at great length about how much they hate it and how awful it was and how James Cameron is destroying filmmaking for the rest of eternity. I thought this was a fan board? you think. Where are the fans?

Well, of course, the board membership is 40,000 (or something -- this is a hypothetical board, who the hell would join an Avatar message board anyway? Snork.) but the negative comments come from the same fifteen people over and over again. Why?

BECAUSE THEY'RE LOUD. It's true we have free speech in this country. But while everybody has a voice, from the largest to the smallest of us, the LOUDEST VOICES GET HEARD THE MOST. Not because they have the best argument or because they're the smartest, but simply by virtue that they're the loudest and they NEVER SHUT THE HELL UP.

So what it boils down to: Christianity has a major public relations problem, and that's because the LOUD SHOUTY PEOPLE are turning everybody the hell off of it.

Now, I am not going to talk down the Tea Party readers if, in fact, I have any. Well, okay, a little. I suspect I have one or two, but I know you're not the majority, so to you I will simply say this: I do not agree with you politically, but you absolutely have the right to believe whatever the hell you want to believe. I happen to think your political philosophy is the equivalent of this:

...but I would never say you don't have the right to believe what you believe. So go on and continue to do what you wanna do. I couldn't stop you even if I wanted to.

What I will say is this: CHRISTIANS AREN'T ALL LIKE THAT.

There are other Christians who have strong faith, who believe in the same tenets of that faith but somehow, MAGICALLY AND MIRACULOUSLY, are not led by that belief into things like homophobia (like posting "God Hates Fags" on Facebook), social injustice (like bludgeoning a health care bill to death), money-grubbing (or war profiteering!) or watching Fox News. In other words, we believe that the tenets of our faith (and those of Jesus H. Christ -- the "H" stands for "Horatio," in case you were wondering), encourage us towards things like conservation of resources, helping the less fortunate, making sure that there's general justice and fairness and that nobody gets dragged behind a truck for being a "fag".

Amazing, isn't it? That the same book could be read two such very different ways? And yet, it's true. Not all Christians are right-wing redneck idiots. Not all of them want to eliminate Thomas Jefferson from history books. Not all of them think Adam and Eve had pet dinosaurs. Not all of them stand in front of government buildings holding misspelt signs.

The problem is, there's kinda no way to get that message across.

I feel bad for Christianity as a whole, not that there's any governing body that gets together and represents "Christianity" (that would, of course, be impossible, as God would strike them down with a punishing tornado because some of them believed in having gay folks behind the pulpits! We all know that). There is no way for the churches who ARE, y'know, lefties, to not put too fine a point on it, or who are just maybe reasonable, non-virulent, non-hate-mongering folks who are of whatever political point of view, to get the message across that "Hey, we're not like those folks over there who promote a message of hate while carrying an American flag, a cross and a picture of Glen Beck."

Because they would get shouted down. Not because they're a minority -- I suspect they're probably quite a comfortable majority, though I have no poll numbers to back this up -- but because the other people SHOUT LOUDER. Because they're represented by people like Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh, or the people of the Westboro Baptist Church -- people who use the press to basically SHOUT. They don't have the most intelligent or rational message -- you could rip 'em to shreds with a tiny bit of logic, even if you DID agree with their point of view generally -- they're just the loudest. The left fail when they try the tactics of the right -- they don't make good fearmongers, they can't really use hate or jingoism as weapons -- so they try to make smart arguments or use sarcasm, and that's not as loud a voice as someone yelling about how we're slowly turning into NAZI GERMANY because Obama wants health care for everybody in America and that the founding fathers wanted us to be a Christian Nation and that's the end of it.

So my only point is rather a sad, pathetic one: I know it's tough, but don't let THOSE PEOPLE (points to the right with thumb) make you think that EVERYBODY who calls themselves a Christian is either a) stupid or b) hateful or c) stupid. That's not as potent a message as "HOLY SHIT OUR COUNTRY IS GOING TO HELL" but it's an important one. Believe it or not, the aforemented Mr. Christ had a message of kindness, compassion and love -- it wasn't tucked in amongst a bunch of doggerel about how America is the best country evah, either, it was right out there in big red letters. Believe in Him, and be nice to other people. That was it. Super simple. The other stuff the hate-mongering Christians believe? It's bullshit. Or rather, it's what THEY believe, and I respect their ability to believe it, I just happen to believe myself that it's bullshit.

(Meanwhile, I'm recommending He get in touch with a good PR agency. I think I know one.)

SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, you could rewrite this article and substitute the word "Republican" for the word "Christian" and not change much else (except the bits about Jesus Christ -- maybe you wanna throw another name in there? Lincoln? Teddy Roosevelt?) and it would probably still be true. The only other group that's been as badly effected PR-wise from the rise of the Tea Party conservatives is Republicans. I know quite a few of them who are reasonable, intelligent people who believe in smaller government and such (supposedly the tenets of the Republican party! Believe it or not!) who wish their party didn't ALSO stand for gay-baiting, abortion-stopping, health-care-bill-killing and lots of other things.


Eliza K. said...

Thanks for this post, it made for a very interesting read.

Steven said...

Great post! I must admit I've been guilty of certain, shall we say, 'preconceptions' myself... Particularly from a European perspective, it's sometimes easy to think there's just one single (and powerful) group of ignorant, hateful Fox News-watching, tea party member, Republican voting, Palin-loving, misspelled sign-making, bible-toting, hateful 'Christians' 'over there' determined to spread their hateful and misguided beliefs.
I know I shouldn't lump them all into one category but sometimes just can't help it (definitely no excuse, I know). Like you said, unfortunately the loudest usually win. Guess it's time for you to speak up(and perhaps make some signs yourself!)!