Friday, January 11, 2013

On Liking Christ But Not Christians

There's a quote that I've seen several times recently, some with slightly different wording, that's frequently attributed to a certain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is of course better known as Mahatma Gandhi.  A little bit of research has informed me that there's not a lot of evidence that he actually did say it, but nonetheless, Gandhi the historical figure and Gandhi the archetype do seem to be a bit different at times.  In any case, the quote in question is "I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  And frequently, I've been encountering it in contexts that make me feel extremely uncomfortable and even a little bit insulted.

I know.  I'm a Christo-Pagan; to a good many people whose Paganism is, as some would say, more "pure" (ugh) than mine is, I'm effectively a member of the enemy camp.  They would say that I've sided with the oppressors, the megalomaniacs, the ones who want to Do All The Bad Things to women, children, LGBTQI (etc.) people, poor people, people in overpopulated areas or areas in which diseases, especially sexually-transmitted diseases, are still a huge health threat, and the rest.  They would say that I am a tool of the patriarchy, a tool of the Christian supremacists, a tool of anybody who hopes to make Christian theocracies out of countries in which people are currently free to choose what they will and will not believe, and all that.  In short, they'd say that because of the Christian aspects of my personal spiritual practices, I am not to be trusted and my opinion doesn't matter.  And I would even hesitate to express this sentiment to close friends of mine who happen to be Pagans of various stripes because I do have a certain amount of Christian privilege, and I do my best to keep from hurting anyone with it, and I would especially hate for it to hurt those who number among my nearest and dearest.  So there are things that I keep quiet about, no matter how much they hurt me, because my hurt is, in the end, the hurt of someone who has a form of privilege that they don't, and using that privilege to silence them is bad form at best.  But damn it, this is my space, and so I feel free to say this here: I used to like this quote, regardless of who and what its actual source may be.  (I've also seen at least one version of it attributed to the Dalai Lama.)  I don't anymore.

The thing is, I know a lot of Christians who are kind, compassionate, and generous people.  They aren't perfect.  They've all done things that they regret, they all have their dark sides, and they all have their own issues, but that's because they're people, not because they're Christians.  And I've been part of a number of initiatives at my church that were aimed directly at helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves, including putting on a play that raised money for Child's Play and making warm winter clothing for children who live on a remote reserve in the far north.  One of my close friends is an Agnostic who was raised in two Protestant denominations, at least one of which is Evangelical in a thoroughly Charismatic way; I am also fond of his still-Evangelical parents, who have always treated me with great kindness.  With a few individual exceptions, most of the members of my family are Christians of one denomination or another (most frequently Anglicans or Catholics, though a few other denominations make their appearance here and there), and as much as some of them drive me nuts sometimes, they are good people and I love them.

To place all of these people in the same category as those Christians who harm others and use their religion as an excuse to do so, those Christians who oppress others because they are something of which those Christians don't approve, those Christians who kick people when they're down, and those Christians who, through self-righteousness because they believe that they are "Saved," look down on others who are less fortunate than they are or who are different from them in some way...on a bone-deep level, that strikes me as being wrong.  And I know that this whole post probably reads as a slightly more long-winded example of something from Derailing For Dummies, but nonetheless, to make such a blanket statement as "I do not like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ" does imply that the speaker believes that all of them are hateful, all of them are hypocrites, and not a single one of them is a decent human being.  I take exception to this.  It is a direct insult to me, as someone who sees Jesus as a face of the Divine, and even more so to all the genuinely good people I know who happen to be members of one Christian denomination or another and who walk considerably more traditional avenues of belief than I do.

I am every bit as insulted by that statement as I would be by anyone who disparages Paganism or insults any of my Pagan friends.  And I cannot simply understand that we are not among the people who are being pointed out as hypocrites by the originator of this quote; because of its wording, the phrasing that does not include anything like "with a few exceptions, your Christians are so unlike your Christ," it's hard to interpret this as anything but a harsh criticism of everyone who has claimed some variety of Christianity as part of their identity, particularly because the quote is frequently attributed to men who are widely acknowledged to be, or to have been, particularly wise and enlightened, and who are known to never have been Christians.

I understand Christian privilege and I certainly understand anger at Christianity.  In many ways, I still feel this anger myself.  But I am angry with the Christians who use their religion as an excuse to do harm, the Christians who use their power to cover up terrible things, and the Christians who try to impose their beliefs (regardless of whether it's through political influence or unwanted proselytizing) on other people.  Believe it or not, it is possible to make distinctions between these Christians and the ones who do not use their faith as a weapon of Mass (ha!) douchebaggery.

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