So, Harold Camping, a small-time Christian preacher told us that the end of the world was coming last Saturday, when 200 million Christians would rise up off the ground and go to heaven while the rest of us mooched around murdering each other until Judgment Day in October sometime.
Pretty much everyone who doesn’t listen to his radio shows found the concept pretty damn funny, lots of people held rapture parties, etc. More serious minded Christians pointed out that the New Testament is pretty clear on the fact that you can’t predict the end of the world by adding some numbers together – Jesus himself says “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matt. 24:36). But mostly, we all took the piss. It’s a funny idea.
Come 5pm my time, I posted on a friend’s Facebook Wall, “So, um, you haven’t felt the urge to float upwards at all?” I was expecting some kind of response along the lines, “Oh, Harold Camping is an idiot, something-interesting-about-said-person’s-views-on-eschatology” I was mildly surprised to get the response “fuck off you rude bitch” and then to be promptly deleted as a friend. I was even more surprised to get the response when I asked what he was doing by Facebook message that “you compared me to the lunatic fringes. I am completely fed up with your lack of respect and rudeness. Mocking my faith is completely unnacceptable and reveals you as the hypocrit you are.”
Now, setting aside the comment I could make about someone expressing their frustration with my “rudeness” by telling me to “fuck off you rude bitch” and then calling *me* a hypocrite, I must take issue with these accusations. I am deeply religious, I was well before this person decided to start church shopping, and perhaps my relative confidence in my identity is why I can take criticism of my faith and he can’t. Because take criticism I do, and I have yet to delete anyone for it (except for that one person who started claiming that Hamas had the right to demand the UN teach Holocaust denial in Gazan schools, but that’s less criticism and more anti-semitism).
I’m not a fan of Christianity, I won’t pretend that is not the case. However, the reality is that a lot of people profess Christianity, including some people I love dearly, and if we don’t find a way of politely turning a blind eye to the fact that Christianity itself states it is incompatible with everything else, we end up with crusades and jihads and segregated communities, and I don’t really think that anyone wants that.
But that doesn’t mean pretending that freedom of religion trumps freedom of expression. You have the right to go to church, to take communion, and to really, earnestly, believe that everyone around you is going to hell, and I have the right to call you an idiot and take you to task for corrupting my scriptures. But conversely, I have a right to go to synagogue and believe that God created a world-wide flood several thousand years ago for which there is little to no archaeological evidence and that’s why I can’t work on a Saturday, and you have the right to tell me that I am an idiot and take me to task for that.
Faith is not, and should not be, exempt from scrutiny, humour, criticism, and parody, no more than any other subject which you or I may hold dear, be that politics, family, or relationships. You may call me up on any of my beliefs and, believe me, a lot of people do. To call me a hypocrite for criticising Christianity when I field regular hostile questioning about everything I believe from my wide circle of outspoken atheist friends is simply to misunderstand what that word means.
Although I got deleted, a few friends commented on the wallpost saying that he had overreacted somewhat. In response, this person wrote “that is like writing “looking forward to your 72 virgins?” on a muslims wall when there is a terrorist attack. completely unnacceptable.” Indeed, writing such a thing would be completely unacceptable. Making an insensitive and tactless joke following a highly emotive tragedy, however, is not exactly analogous to making a knowing joke following a mildly embarrassing incident by someone else to whom the recipient has a link. An actual analogy to the 72 virgins comment would be writing “I’m planning to start a bakery and I hear you have some ovens going spare?” on my wall on Holocaust Memorial Day, or “What’s the difference between Jesus and a painting? It takes only one nail to hang a painting!” on a Christian’s wall on Good Friday. Those are just lame and offensive.
A much more appropriate comparison would be posting on my wall, “so, how can I serve you, O overlady?” the day after Ovadia Yosef, a respected but ultra-Orthodox/Haredi rabbi, delivered a sermon in which he said that the sole purpose of non-Jews was to serve Jews. I can tell you now that my reaction would not have been “fuck off” but “lol, yeah, bit embarrassing, that guy…”, maybe do a little debunking if I felt like it. Telling someone that they’re a “rude bitch”? Perhaps not. An (atheist) friend who does Physics noted that an analogy for him would be “if someone asked me how the search for those 7 extra dimensions was doing”. You can’t disavow members of your own community, but you can fail to defend them when they do something demonstrably stupid, and dare I say it, you can take a joke aimed at them in good humour. Such has been the reaction of most Christians I have spoken to about Harold Camping, because of course I didn’t single out this person for my “abuse”, as I am sure he would like to believe.
I’m pretty sure that this person, whom a few friends have seen since and he seems somewhat embarrassed about this entire episode, wants to believe that he is persecuted for his faith, as he further commented that I deemed his “”Christian views towards forgiveness” (paraphrase) as “anti-woman.”". I was genuinely saddened by that one, because I said no such thing. In a Facebook post I had made on a book extract by a woman who had had her rapist jailed twenty years after he and two of his friends had drugged and raped her at a party, I had actually said that his accusing a woman he had never met of lying about her trauma after rape was sexist. (No, I’m actually not making that up. He wrote “just because someone is a rape victim, it doesn’t mean she is a portal to objective truth, her claims must be subject to the same scrutiny as his … Her attempts to belittle his ‘spiritual awakening’ indicated to me someone who doesn’t comprehend the depths that a person can change.”) I then said that his motivations for accusing her of such a thing derived from his Christian convictions, which were blinding him to the facts actually presented in the article.
There are some very interesting analyses out there to say that Christian attitudes towards forgiveness *are* anti-woman (because some denominations encourage women to stay silent about rape, assault and other abuse in the name of “forgiving” their attacker, who are often fellow Christians – the Amish are especially bad for this). However, that really wasn’t the point, and I have no desire to promote or develop such ideas further – forgiveness is important for any traumatic event committed by or against you, but it’s not an excuse for inaction. If someone cannot recognise that refusing a woman justice after rape because her attacker wrote her an insincere letter saying sorry, then they cannot recognise how they are perpetuating a blame culture in which women are expected to just deal with men’s “uncontrollable” desires and consequent begrudging apologies. And that is really just sad for all of us who have to keep living in the world that culture creates.
I’m really not kidding that not actively batting down excuses for rapists encourages rape, and I think that it is deeply hypocritical to claim that Christianity is the most moral and true religion while advocating policies that I cannot help but see as actively immoral. Allow me to demonstrate this and quote a good article entitled, “Feminism 101: Helpful Hints for Dudes, Part 3”
A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?
They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.
Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.
If one in twenty guys (or more) is a real and true rapist, and you have any amount of social activity with other guys like yourself, then it is almost a statistical certainty that one time hanging out with friends and their friends, playing Halo with a bunch of guys online, in a WoW guild, in a pick-up game of basketball, at a bar, or elsewhere, you were talking to a rapist. Not your fault. You can’t tell a rapist apart any better than anyone else can. It’s not like they announce themselves.
But, here’s the thing. It’s very likely that in some of these interactions with these guys, at some point or another, someone told a rape joke. You, decent guy that you are, understood that they didn’t mean it, and it was just a joke. And so you laughed.
Or maybe you didn’t laugh. Maybe it just wasn’t a very funny joke. So maybe you just didn’t say anything at all.
And, decent guy who would never condone rape, who would step in and stop rape if he saw it, who understands that rape is awful and wrong and bad, when you laughed? When you were silent?
That rapist who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.
You. The rapist’s comrade.
I’m not sorry for making a joke about religion, and I simply don’t have sympathy for people who accuse me of being abusive in abusive messages. I am very grateful that I live in a relatively free society devoid of theocracy, and I’m glad the worst I have to fear is being deleted from Facebook rather than having my head cut off. I think it is a moral imperative for anyone religious who cares about the dignity of the human condition to call sexists sexist when they’re being sexist, regardless of how much it upsets them, because, maybe, one day, they’ll stop. “The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening.”
The greatest irony, of course, is that someone who demanded that I forgive an unrepentant rapist apparently couldn’t find it in his heart to forgive me for my “sin”. But I think I can forgive him for that…