I recently read a book review of “10 things I hate about Christianity.” One of the 10 was the way Christians talk. The book is by someone who attends church regularly. I know exactly what he is talking about. I have managed to get comfortable around all the “amens” and “hallelujahs” and “glory to this or thats”, but I still don’t use that language much myself. When I do, it’s with someone who I know is accustomed to it. It’s really no different than not using the same language I use in the men’s locker room, when I’m in a business meeting, but some Christians insist on interjecting it whenever they can.
It reminded me of a particular Christian I happened upon. I should note that she had no idea who I was. I was a stranger to her, coming to a semi-secular meeting at her church on a Wednesday evening. The speaker was talking about psychological issues of military people coming back from Iraq, something that interested me. I was not shopping for a church or even a religious experience that evening. I walked in to this non-descript, almost pre-fab building of a church and introduced myself and asked how long the building had been there, I hadn’t really noticed it before.
She launched into a story of the whole history of how it came to be. I will summarize part of it for you and spare you the parts where she said it was a miracle. A contractor came to give them an estimate on what would have been a significant expense. When he was done, he was given someone else’s name to contact, someone on the church board of trustees. The contractor clarified who that was and then said, “I’m only going to charge you for the cost of materials”. That resulted in several thousands of dollars saved. As it goes, a nephew of the contractor had got drunk and done something stupid involving the family of this board member. Instead of suing the family, and basically ruining the young man’s life, they forgave him.
This is where the language comes in. This woman, who just met me, and is representing a supposedly non-denominational church is now preaching to me that the above story proves the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and could only happen under the guidance of a just and loving God. Granted, I don’t know too many stories like this, so you could make some correlation that this forgiveness grew out of the Christian traditions, but correlation is not proof, and the language she was using was creating more of a divide than a bridge. I have spent the last decade or more learning to live with this type of language and accept it, but I was still having trouble staying for that meeting. I convinced myself that this person was not representative of the rest of those I would meet.
The book mentioned above is one of the few efforts I have seen from the Christian side to work on this language barrier. Rather than try to start my own suggestions from scratch I searched and found many suggestions coming from atheist for how they would like to be addressed but disappointingly few from theists. Here is a good starting point.
Some of this is just common communication skills and some of it can be reversed and looked at from the other side. For example, knowing the common arguments. It is amazing how many YouTube videos and websites there are that use the same arguments for the existence of God over and over again. Each one speaks as if they are the first to put these words out there. Working through these arguments and studying both sides, either on your own, or with others who agree with you, can be a valuable exercise that can actually strengthen your faith if you have it, or help you understand why someone would make the leap of faith if you don’t. If you are reading this, then these tools are readily available to you.
The last one on the list is “don’t pray for us, or at least don’t announce that you are.” This is a good point. If you pray, it’s not so you can get points for doing it, so announcing it can be a form of pride. For atheists, I ask that you also be respectful and careful about when you ask someone to not pray. A funeral is not a place to enter into a religious argument. People grieve in different ways and comfort themselves in different ways. It’s best to let that go, or at least wait a few months to bring it up.
I’ll explore this in more depth in blogs to come.