Following my last post about tribalism, I’ve gotten into a nonversation with someone on this post by Neil Carter over at Godless in Dixie. He wrote a great article about when Christians object to his religious criticisms with the phrase #NotAllChristians. One of the people commenting on the post had a bone to pick with holding different Christians responsible for their different faith tenets.
This issue is a big one for secular people living in hyper-religious parts of the US.
It’s no secret I live in Alabama, a state which claims to be very god fearing and churchgoing. Although people from Mississippi will disagree, a lot of people in my state want to be known as being the most god fearing and churchgoing. But to be completely fair, I know some folks from other neighboring states who claim the same thing. My point, though, is that being an all caps CHRISTIAN is a very public thing where I live.
Case in point, my state’s in an election cycle. What’s one of the important campaign statements candidates (all Republican) put in their ads? That’s right, they’re a conservative Christian who gets their values from the Bible. They’re pretty careful not to say which part. I’m sure the Bama BBQ crowd would get angry at having to give up pork.
More generally, Christians in my state have a nasty tendency to marginalize people who don’t belong. I’ve seen and taken part of many discussions where different Christians will disagree over different points of faith, but when someone questions praying in school, every single one of them will get in front of a crowd and cameras to scream about persecution.
The individual differences are meaningless when this happens.
When individuals and subgroups are willing to band together even when they disagree on specifics, there has to be some sort of recognition of association. After all, this is happening to preserve rights and privileges – mostly the latter – of Christians in this country. It’s not like these groups are ignorant of each others’ existence. They shouldn’t be able to get away with turning a blind eye.
But I also understand that some criticisms are tenuous. Using gay rights as an example, there are many churches who still preach they shouldn’t exist. Some churches were silent in years past, but are now becoming vocal for gay rights since seeing how public opinion is going. And there were some churches who were vocal about supporting gay people without even resorting to the silly nonsense of hating sins but not sinners (which would be a different article in and of itself). Those latter groups and Christians are less deserving of guilt by association.
If you notice, there is a big difference which implicates accountability.
Churches that supported gay rights often got called out and ostracized by their more conservative cousins. This is true for all differences of faith where those differences are announced and maintained. Association might be incidental, but both sides have clearly maintained that it’s not welcomed. In short, these groups do not agree that they share enough common ground to be affiliated with each other.
Ultimately I think intent does matter. I have seen too many Christians be willing to give up their beliefs just for the sake of pushing non-Christians around. When they get called out for it, they pick their beliefs back up and pretend nothing untoward happened.
Why it needs to stop.
There are many cultural implications which are affected by this. Christians in my state have made it difficult for women to get medical care and contraception, education suffers because students don’t always get taught real biology, homeschooling indoctrinates children without giving them tools to survive on their own, and the list goes on. All of this happens because in order to be considered a Christian, you have to say or at least pretend you’re okay with it.
I can’t think of any public policy or social construct which is better served by fear and intimidation. This would be true of any tribal coercion. It just happens that right now Christians where I live are exercising their privileges. If people want to benefit from this, that’s their choice. They might not be physically holding a gun, but they’re close enough to get blood on their clothes.
Thus, they shouldn’t be surprised when someone looks at the stain and says, “Disgusting.”
3 thoughts on “When Is The Christian Tribe Accountable?”
Your argument has some validity. The problem is that the differences within what might be loosely called “Christian” is as great or greater than the differences between major religions. For example my own faith tradition has more in common with secular humanism than it does with traditions that hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura. And it has more in common with modern Buddhism than it does with those that adhere to the Nicene Creed. Yet it is mostly seen as being of the Christian tradition.
I notice a trend here in NZ to use “tradition” instead of “religion” or “faith” or a specific denomination and relegate those terms to adjectives when needed. So we might refer to “Christian tradition” or “Presbyterian tradition” or “Bahá’í tradition”. This has largely been true when referring to other traditions, and, with increasing frequency, is used when referring to one’s own tradition. This might partly be because Kiwis have a tendency not to want to give the appearance that they are better than others. But I think mostly its a recognition that traditions (including religious ones) are of human origin and we (mostly) choose traditions that we are familiar with. In other words, there’s no such thing as a “True religion” or a “True Christianity”.
Here in Aotearoa New Zealand religion is largely a private affair. No politician here would ever wear their religion on their sleeve, and certainly would never claim God or the Bible as a source of authority. While they are expected to be open about their morality, ethics and values, it’s the expression of those, rather than the source that matters. It still surprises me that two constitutionally secular nations with a common ancestry (UK and Europe) have evolved very different attitudes to religion.
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It would be nice if my country could find a way to be at peace with its faith traditions, but I think that can’t happen until they stop having an ongoing effect. People in my country also have a history of remembering things differently to suit a current narrative. This tends to ignore past mistakes instead of learning from them.
I also think people should be more careful when defining and using the word “Christian.” Right now its meaning can have many different connotations and subtexts that aren’t obvious from the word itself. If it was more clearly defined, such ambiguities wouldn’t exist, and people wouldn’t have to be asked all of what they mean by it.
Then again, maybe these distinctions don’t matter. They might just get in the way of people establishing their common humanity.
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I think all myths stem from current narratives at some point in time. All it takes is for a generalisation or interpretation of an event, place, concept, culture etc to be described in metaphoric or allegorical terms, and before you know it, that metaphor/allegory becomes “facts” or “truths”. And our country is just as capable as yours when it comes to doing just that (although if my experience in the blogosphere has any validity, Americans seem to have almost an absolute faith in their myths, whereas the faith of Kiwis seems to be more tentative).
Labels can be helpful sometimes, while at other times they just confuse. For example I should be able to expect that when I identify as an autist or a migraineur others will know that it’s a reference to a set behaviours or symptoms, although they would need to enquire further to discover how those conditions affect me personally. However when I’m asked if I am a Christian, or an atheist or a Quaker, or religious, no matter which way I answer, assumptions will be made that are incorrect. I usually try to convey that, in broad terms, I’m a non-theist Quaker, but to most Americans “non-theist” and “Quaker” appear to be mutually exclusive. In one of my blog posts, there’s a conversation thread of more than a 100 comments on this very matter.
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