April 28, 2012 by Rhi
So my last post was about tolerance from Christians towards others who don’t share our views. But on Thursday morning, logging into Twitter, I was given cause to think about intolerance coming in the other direction. One of the hardest things about being a Christian in the UK right now is the insistence of some people who disagree with any kind of religious belief, that “Christian” is a one-size-fits-all, generic term for a bigot.
For example. I follow Ben Goldacre on Twitter. He’s a very interesting person, and his Bad Science column often has me nodding in agreement. It’s disappointing to me, however, when he tweets things like this:
Obviously, these exchanges have come from the news that the Catholic Education Service has asked Catholic schools around the country to suggest to pupils that they support the Coalition for Marriage’s campaign to prevent the introduction of Same Sex Marriage in the UK. I’ve got no problems with someone taking issue with this move – I’m not really very comfortable with it myself. I’m not a Catholic, I don’t follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. So you’ll understand why I find myself feeling more than a little defensive when the actions of a small minority from one Christian denomination becomes an opportunity to point out how “the Christians” are homophobic.
It’s a similar story when it comes to the discussion of abortion. I’m not a big advocate of abortion, personally. I think that anyone who has to resort to having an abortion has been put in an impossible position, and it makes me sad to think that any women has to face that choice. It’s rarely a decision made lightly, and I completely detest anyone’s attempts to demonise such women, or to use questionable tactics to try to dissuade them. It not a decision I think I would make myself. But it’s not something you can decide ahead of time, and I wouldn’t want my own feelings on the matter being used as a reason to attack others. It’s not in my nature to try and force others to conform to my point of view. And yet, here we are again seeing that by simply being a Christian automatically makes me guilty of trying to “control” people.
So why is it acceptable, then, for people like Ben Goldacre to take such a generally dismissive view of British Christians? I responded to his tweets, but got no reply. It’s extremely offensive to read a tweet espousing a view I agree with, but which suggests in its delivery that I (as one of “The Christians”) am the sort of person who would disagree. He’s not alone in his disdain for the Christian faith. I’ve had several people attack me based on a label which they would like to attach to me. Some people have even gone so far as to tell me exactly what it is I ought to believe. I find it bizarre that someone who doesn’t believe in God can shout at me that I MUST believe in EVERYTHING the Bible says LITERALLY – their view of Christianity means that I do not have any choice as to how I approach my faith. Their rules, I suppose, make it easier to demonise. Their lack of theological knowledge, and unwillingness to understand that, just like any historical text, there are a number of discussion points over what the Bible means about certain subject, makes me fair game. Tolerance only extends as far as their own opinion, which is frustrating when you’re trying to agree with someone, but they’re ignoring you because of a badge they’ve decided to pin on you.
I’m a Christian, and I have no wish to see gay couples discriminated against by continuing to restrict their access to a marriage ceremony. The reason for this is simple: it doesn’t affect me. I got married in a church (to an atheist, astonishingly!) and so the vows on which my marriage are based are different to those which those who married in a civil ceremony. Therefore, there’s already the precedent (to my mind) where different vows taken in different ceremonies results in marriage meaning different things to different couples.
There are many reasons why some Christian’s are wary of accepting Same Sex Marriage, and it’s not always because of some latent homophobia. There are legitimate concerns (in my opinion) over whether the freedom to teach your own beliefs will be affected. Whilst I don’t agree with those beliefs, I don’t really want to live in a country where giving more rights to one group of people adversely affects the rights of others. There’s also the fact that some churches have expressed concern at the speed with which any legislation could be introduced.
When discussing something so important for the future of our society, any kind of prejudicial opinions about those on the “other side” aren’t conducive to productive dialogue. When people make sweeping generalisations about entire groups of people, especially when those generalisations are completely false and wrong, it immediately makes discussion break down. Why should I support the opinion of someone who is so ready to suggest that I’m bigoted NOT because of the opinion I express, but purely because I belong to a Christian church? And who doesn’t engage in discussion with me when I point out the error in his reasoning?
It’s hard to believe that people are genuinely tolerant, when they’re happy to be so judgemental.