A few months ago, I was deleted by someone on Facebook for making a joke about Christianity that they found in bad taste. It turns out that this had also been fuelled by the fact that I had earlier poured withering scorn on their belief that we should forgive unrepentant rapists and because I had called them sexist and homophobic (which I still believe is true for various reasons, the latest being that they referred to LGBT in their last blogpost as “politically correct lingo”). My subsequent attempts to reconcile with them privately failed miserably, as they sent me increasingly bizarre messages that included mocking me for having a mental breakdown last summer and a lengthy explanation about how they had only started sending me abusive messages only when they considered that our relationship was doomed and that’s why it was justified. I’ve never found “Thou may abuse ex-friends and strangers” in the Bible, at any rate.
I found the hypocrisy of someone sending me messages telling me that I am unconscionably rude and arrogant and then signing them, “Your better” breath-taking. I still find it reasonably incredible that someone can call for a Christian attitude towards men who commit violence against women and then apparently fail to demonstrate it themselves to people who offended them. To this end, I wrote a blogpost on the matter entitled, “A Joke to Delete For? Religious Humour and Hypocrisy on Facebook”. I took it down after a lot of criticism for apparently attacking religious people and because the person involved claimed I was back-biting.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the comments that I received. They ranged from suggesting that I should never have posted the joke at all in order to offending someone’s sensibilities, to the fact that my post was largely intended to publicly proclaim someone to be a hypocrite.
The conclusions that I have come to are that no, I’m not going to stop making jokes about religion to religious people. Nothing is off-limits to humour, and I find it strange that people who would call themselves liberal and laugh at photoshopped images of politicians in compromising positions would say that it is disrespectful to do so for religious leaders. I think that Isaac Hayes being willing to work for South Park for ten years mocking largely everything that some section of the American population holds sacred and then resign when his own values (Scientology) came under fire is hypocrisy of the worst kind. But he is not alone. The fact that right-wing fundamentalists in our countries always retreat into “A right to freedom of expression does not involve a right to offend”, and find common cause with a large number of people who would otherwise consider themselves progressive, I think says much about this type of argument.
The only thing that is worse to hear is “If it was your religion/political values/whatever you hold dear, you’d be offended as well”. And that would be true, but irrelevant. You’re as welcome to make pointed jokes about stuff that matters to me as about anything else. That’s the point of freedom of expression. For me to try to insert some kind of caveat around things that offend me would make me an absolute hypocrite – as it does everyone who argues this point of view.
But the other criticism, that I was just attacking religious people, I think stemmed from my sheer anger at the hypocrisy of the person concerned. I wrote this article at a spiritual community I have been staying at for the past two months – I’m hardly one to be saying “religion and people who believe in it are stupid”. But instead of writing a constructive post using my experience as a target of abuse to talk about religious hypocrisy and why it’s bad, I just criticised this person for being a hypocrite. I was a bit mean about it, and consequently people felt I was just being mean about religious people. That’s not what I meant, but that’s clearly what got across.
And while I still consider that pretty much everything I said was true, it’s not the sort of thing that is going to leave you walking away feeling good or like you’ve learned something. And while I am not one of those people who wants to only post relentlessly positive things about puppies and that one time I fell down a mountain for 300 feet and it was hilarious (I think that would make me some kind of Stepford activist), I do want to make sure that everything I do contributes to the world, and doesn’t detract from it. I have subsequently republished the post with modifications to make it much more positive. My point about religious hypocrisy still stands, and has always stood, but has been buried under other issues. I am determined to ensure this does not happen again.
I tried this new and shiny constructive attitude out on another blogpost that I wrote based on my experience of having to terminate a friendship, called “How to Deal with Friends and Folks Who Just Mess you Up.” I got extremely positive feedback, and not a few people who to tell me they loved me (I had suggested in the article that go tell a friend that you love them). So I think I am heading in the right direction.
Incidentally, the same person commented on it anonymously to everyone but me, accusing me of bitching again. Their choice of name? “Learntodealwithyourproblemsinsteadofwritingpassiveaggressiveblogposts” I’m not sure how to deal with people using anonymous commenting systems passive-aggressively to accuse me of passive-aggression, but I’m reasonably confident that the worst that I can do is write another blogpost about dealing with them constructively. :)