Over the years that I have been involved with the blogosphere, I have often jumped to the defence of Christians – especially when when statements begin with “Christians believe…” or “Christians do…”. The last few weeks have given me cause to reflect on why I have jumped to their defence when in hindsight it would have been more prudent to “keep my mouth shut”.
My mother was a devout Christian who believed very much in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She had a very strong moral code, and nothing, absolutely nothing could ever allow her to break that code. I realise now that so much of the criticism of Christians is generalised to include or to imply inclusion of all Christians. And that would include my Mum. And those claims are so much not what my Mum was.
The observant reader will have noticed that in the previous paragraph my mother is referred to in the past tense. She died in the early hours of last Tuesday morning and her funeral was held last Thursday. On Monday my siblings and I, with our partners, will scatter her ashes and those of our father into the Whanganui River from the river bank that adjoined my parents’ home of forty years.
Unlike the rest of the whānau, I feel no sadness or loss at her passing. She was more than half way through her 97th year and had had a very good innings. Her death is as natural as the passing of the seasons and the blooming and fading of a flower. I do have some unease about the morality of the process of dying that modern medicine raises, and her death brought that into focus for me, but that’s a matter for discussion at another time.
I’ll confess that I don’t understand why friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers feel sadness or grief at Mum’s passing. What emotions I feel are sympathy for those who are experiencing that grief and not knowing what I can do in the circumstances. I feel somewhat helpless in this regard as I know my putting a rational slant on the event will only make things worse for them.
Getting back to the subject of this post: Generalisations can be both inaccurate and hurtful. “Christians are judgemental”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians think they are somehow better”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe homosexuality is a sin”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians proselytize”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians can’t distinguish beliefs from facts”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe atheists are unethical or untrustworthy”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe it’s okay to shame someone who holds different beliefs”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe other faiths are wrong”, that’s not my Mum.
So what was she like? As I mentioned, Mum had strong moral compass, but in all my years, I’d never heard her use the Bible or her religious beliefs as a justification of her views. She may well have got some (perhaps most?) of her values from her religious beliefs, but it was from her that I developed my own philosophy which loosely says “if the Bible is the only source of authority for a particular stance then it’s time to change the stance”.
As the most wayward of us siblings stated during the funeral service, Mum was his confidant, counsellor, adviser, moral guide and friend. Even today if he is unsure of whether he is doing the “right thing”, he considers what Mum might think about it. Of course, knowing what is the “right thing” doesn’t always mean that he will do it.
Mum’s method of guidance was by example. We were never judged, no matter what the transgression. We were encouraged to learn and discover for ourselves what values we should aspire to, even if those values were different from her own. For her, differences in the way we perceive the world were part of the rich tapestry of life.
For Mum, love was never conditional, and even though we were far from being a demonstrative family were all knew and felt that love. Punishment of any kind was virtually unknown. Justice was always restorative, never retributive. We were encouraged to discover for ourselves why something might be right or wrong. But for Mum, knowing the difference was not enough. It’s our duty, as far as we are able, to right wrongs and to fight injustice wherever we find it – even if that meant being on opposite sides from each other.
To me, my Mum exemplified what the Christian message is all about. Although I can’t say that theology was irrelevant to her (she had a firm belief in life after death, and Jesus was her Saviour, for example) it was the spirit, the broad brush strokes, of the message that were important to her.
If I were to believe in a deity, it would be modelled on my Mum and my Dad. Although they were poles apart on religious belief (one being Christian, the other having something close to agnostic atheism), they shared almost identical values and practices. Those values and practices I see as being prevalent in the Christian community here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sure, there are exceptions, and the Destiny Church and Gloriavale are extreme examples, but on the whole, Christianity here, with varying degrees of success, preaches and practices those values that so clearly shone through my Mum.
The sense of justice and compassion that I learnt from my parents – especially my mother – causes the hair on the back of my neck to raise whenever I hear comments that tar all members of a particular group with a wildly inaccurate generalised brush that at best applies to a very small subgroup. I don’t care whether the group being generalised is religious, atheist, LGBTQ+, ethnic, cultural, or even Morris dancers. Don’t do it.
And when you include all Christians as being a horde of Bible-worshipping, homophobic, fundamentalist, Evangelical bullies, you’re including my Mum. Back off. She, like most Christians in this land, is anything but.
By all means, be critical of religious privilege, or attempts to impose belief on those who do not hold them. Be critical of bigotry and intolerance, be it religious or otherwise, but please don’t claim or imply all when you really mean some or a few.
Finally, if you care to comment on this post, please avoid offering your condolences or expressing sympathy/regret for my loss. I feel no loss, and while it was necessary to hide my irritation at such expressions in the neurotypical world in which I must live, this is my blog, my world, and that requirement does not apply here.