Amalthea (amaltheae) wrote,
Amalthea
amaltheae

Now, do I want to convert you to Jesus? No. That's not my way. But on the other hand, there shouldn't be a stigma involved in trying to convert other liberals to Jesus... And there is.

I am glad that you're back, and I appreciate you writing how you feel, and think there are a lot of important points therein about hostility to Christians. I am going to explain, from my perspective, what is wrong with the above, however. You may consider it a nit, in the end, but I will try to explain why I think it is a whole lot bigger than a nit to a lot of people.

I fundamentally believe that there is a difference in acceptability in speaking honestly and without hiding the nature of my beliefs when the occasion arises where it seems to apply, and "trying to convert liberals to Jesus". I believe 100% in the former and not at all in the latter. I even believe that my stance is supported by the bible and Jesus' behavior therein.

Jesus, in a variety of places, spoke of converting people by living life by example which would inspire them to follow the Christian path. Jesus himself didn’t force his belief on people who didn’t want it. Explained himself forcefully when it was demanded of him, or someone tried to trap him with his own beliefs, spoke to those who asked him about it a whole lot, and offered respectfully that the had this cool thing that he would share if you were interested. Yes, to all of those. But even his healing was not conditional on acceptance of his God. It was a gift by example.

I don’t consider any of that to be “trying to convert x to Jesus” however. And probably this is related to an evolving connotation of the word “convert”, but, it is important to understand what many of us hear when people use it. Trying to convert, to me, includes the concept of force. Sales skills about whatever your cause are a kind of force. And often it hasn’t even been limited to sales skills in terms of my life and people’s attempts to convert me to Jesus. It is the distinction between sales and marketing.

I think there absolutely needs to be a stigma against "trying to convert x to y" in whatever form because that is where most of the worst human rights violations in human history have come from. I think it is then important to evaluate whether any individual case of "trying to convert x to y" should overcome the stigma. I believe that, whether y is Christianity or BDSM or any gigantic list of other things.

I think we, as a culture, consider it our right to “convert” anyone to anything we believe strongly enough in. We all say “stand up for what you believe” but really, what we need to say is “be what you believe, and do what you need to do to give other people the opportunity to continue to figure out what they believe and who they need to be." Not as catchy, though.

I don’t actually agree that we have the right to go about trying to convert everyone to anything we believe strongly enough in. I believe we have the right to talk about our own beliefs honestly. And I believe we have freedom of speech which means that even if you are violating my right not to have you “trying to convert” me, I am usually going to defend your right to speaking, because I consider freedom of speech a sort of trump card. But, and here is the kicker, each of us has a RESPONSIBILITY to attempt to respect people’s boundaries and self, their right to life, LIBERTY, and their pursuit of happiness, whenever humanly possible.

We in America have never had a good grasp on, and lately largely abandoned the idea of responsibility to one another’s physical instead of spiritual or emotional well being, where those things are not immediate impending deadly risks. We as a culture fail to differentiate between “do what allows them self consistency and autonomy and continued opportunity to learn” and “do what is ‘best’ for them”.

The gay and lesbian rights thing, like interracial marriage and slavery and many other things before those, were really about the distinction between the responsibility to allow people to continue on their own journey, versus believing we have the right to convert them to our journey, or at least to holding our hand down One True Journey. We think we get to decide what will be good for other people whenever we so desire, instead of asking the fundamental question “is this such a profound exception that I must attempt to convert others to it, use force, etc, or is this something people should be respected to find, if needed, for themselves?"

To frame it another way, a parent fails their child when they try to prevent them from learning from natural consequences just because it’s the wrong thing for the child to do that thing (in their opinion). It is the parent’s job to let the child learn from natural consequences as often as possible, to teach them to make choices carefully, while still protecting their life and protecting against major bodily destruction or catastrophic emotional failure likely to lead directly to loss of life or bodily destruction, IN THIS LIFETIME. There are times when we have the right to grab the child and drag their ass out of traffic, but there are also times when we try to scream at them for hours to do their homework or break up with the boy we don’t like, because we care more about their limited scale failures they should be encouraged to handle or next life failures than they do, having never been allowed to suffer the natural consequences for them or explore the question themselves.

A hell of a lot of Christianity has been very focused on limiting choices rather than encouraging them and is overstepping their right and duty to teach choices, and is instead preventing growth and learning so that people are not allowed to find their own path and make their own mistakes. To me “trying to convert liberals to Christianity” falls into the latter rather than the former, and very firmly so. It is our duty whatever the topic, to attempt to see “catastrophic risk” outside the bounds of our own best personal moral judgment and belief systems and conceptions of the makeup of eternity.

I am really genuinely happy for those who have found this great thing that they just think if they could force everyone to, the whole world would be a perfect place, but that isn’t their right to do, and there has been precious little clarification as to where those boundaries are. Because, to a Christian, what is at stake is eternity and damnation and moral oblivion, they tend to decide those are more than sufficient catastrophic risks.

But it isn’t. You can usually tell the difference if you have no useful internal sense of such things, based on whether it requires long term suppression to be achieved, or whether it is a short term buying of more time to let them make their own informed choices.

Catastrophic risk is when, in the next 2 minutes or half an hour, I have the opportunity to save someone from death, arrest, killing someone else, or an extended hospital stay and allow them to go on about learning as much as they can themselves while offering to be here for questions.

Just for clarity, I think there is a big difference between "including", "respecting", "allowing for", "marketing to", etc and "converting".

I think any of us can and should attempt to change ourselves and our platforms to be more representative of a larger number of people as you suggest, one of whom is the Christians. And I believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with explaining respectfully to someone what my beliefs or your beliefs are if it fits the conversation and is done respectfully or if they have asked.

Rational analytical discussion, sharing, discussion of why you believe what you do, all that is fine. My problem comes in when you use terms like "convert". I do not think you would appreciate it much if I were to really work to "convert" you to poly, or bisexuality, or legislated that since I have failed to convert you to believing all people should be red heads, I need to convert you in masse through legislation.

I grew up in a southern baptist church. Those people claimed to be Christian and loving and all those things. I personally think I have found more Christianity in fortune cookies than typically inhabited a room with a majority of those people (though like all things there were truly fundamentally respect worthy examples who were just outnumbered by the selfish horde).

I know what they meant when they used the word "convert". And I would bet money that I am not alone in that perception. Let me tell you a little about the attempts to convert that I have experienced.

Major highlight 1: At about 17, the church that my mother attended was putting on a free pizza social with the idea that people would be available to talk to about religion and personal journey and such and they could draw a lot of teens with the free food that they might not otherwise make comfortable enough to ask questions of them. At least, that was how it was advertised. What actually happened was that they served pizza in the tennis courts and you didn’t find out until you were inside that the “greeter” at the door was really the thug there to prevent you from leaving. They escorted all of these young people, between a line of very large men on both sides of them, into the sanctuary, where they then posted them on every possible exit from the room. We were not allowed to leave, even to use the restroom. They literally growled at us to sit down at the doors.

And they had some big name ass hole who specialized in converting teenagers to Jesus who was in full force intimidation revival conversion mode. I was there with a young woman who was raised wiccan. She was literally curled up in the pew in the fetal position, crying because they would not let her leave. I was used to the southern Baptists being a few bricks shy of a load when it came to civil rights and their respective responsibility to people. I was, disturbingly, less horrified by a long shot than she was.

When I realized she was fetal, I decided I’d had more than enough. She argued with me because she was afraid of what the “deacon” (read thug) at the door was going to do to her. I out massed her by almost double her size because she was a tiny little thing. And I basically decided that I would escalate until I got us the fuck out of the sanctuary. After threatening to call the police, the guy finally let us leave with much condescending lecture about us making the wrong choices and that we better get off the property, etc.

I took the concession I had and ignored the crap that came afterward because he really did out-mass me by a good bit and I wasn’t willing to press my luck that far. I went to that church one more time to tell them that I was never coming back because of that program and their behavior. They spent a VERY long time trying to explain to me that they were only living up to their responsibility to God and concerned about the kids' afterlives. Hell was worth avoiding by any means necessary. They still believe this was the right thing to do because 50 kids “found Jesus” from the revival. Personally I think they found fear and something that claimed to solve fear for them and it didn’t matter the actual results. But that’s my opinion.

Major highlight 2: Somewhere around the end of high school, early college, I don’t recall, the Pope came to town for a world youth conference. We had a habit of going down to 16th street mall, downtown, and watching the pan handlers perform for cash in the outdoor mall, and sit around and talk and such. As you might imagine from such an event, catholic youth from around the world had come in rowdy hordes from all over the world. They actually caused quite the bill for clean up after their visit, but that is another issue. Anyway, we were downtown. So were every extreme Christian proselytizer and a few they’d imported just for this purpose.

We were polite. We were considerate. We thanked them for their concern, smiled, did everything we were supposed to do to be respectful of their efforts. They were busy trying to convert us to Jesus, instead. We were stalked, people physically grabbed our arms as we walked on, they ridiculed us to passers by for not listening to “the word” of God. Finally the group that followed us for two blocks tugging at us to come listen and accept Jesus was the last straw. We turned around and talked to them.

In the group at the time, we had one ex-Christian ministry student, a Mormon, an ex southern Baptist, An ex Lutheran, a wiccan and a couple other vague Christian upbringing friends with us. We all knew the Bible. We talked to them. We kept up with them verse for verse for quoting why we needed to convert, versus why what they were doing was wrong. At no points did we call names, yell, or do anything other than use their own reasoning against them.

We tried multiple times to call it done and leave, but they would have none of it. Finally we gave up, stayed and outlasted them. The man sat down with his arms crossed and looked irritated. The woman was rocking and crying and repeating “I will pray for your souls” as loudly as she could wail it. They believed it was their right to convert all of us to Jesus no matter what that took or how incredibly cruelly disrespectful it was to some of our group. They called us Satan’s children and a whole slew of other religious name calling as we walked off where we were calm and respectful to them to the end, but utterly unbudging in our respective beliefs or lack thereof. They physically menaced us, stalked us, called us names and otherwise ridiculed us publicly because all of those were useful tactics within "trying to convert liberals th Christianity".

Major highlight 3: We used to hang out at a coffee shop a lot as a big group in high school and college. One night when we were there, despite no soliciting signs, we had a religious group of people block the doorway to the room we were in and then send three people to sit down and talk to us about Jesus. We had been loud enough that we hadn’t heard them doing this to other groups in the other small rooms of the place until they appeared in ours. They, again, were trying to do what was best for us, and refused to take polite nos for an answer. Finally after talking a little about the Bible and contradicting them with it, they got more and more loud until the woman was essentially yelling at all of us. At this point it finally attracted the attention of the girl behind the coffee bar who called the police about them. In the mean time, we all just sat staring in disbelief at these people who launched into religious tirade mode trying to convert us to Jesus. They got no where, as you might imagine, and eventually basically ran out of the place when they heard the sirens of the cops pulling up. Once again, I had been trapped in a room by people larger than me in a threatening manner, intentionally to provide the opportunity for "Christian" intimidation tactics with the idea that it was tough love and the only way to get through to young people.

Major highlight 4: Most recently, I was at an art show. I was trying to talk to people in my little ten by ten space and encourage them to buy art. It is a hard enough business and one I don’t like to do to sell things to people in the first place. I had this woman with her religious tracts come into the booth dragging her hollow eyed haunted looking son behind her. She asked me if I knew Jesus. I said that I had been raised Southern Baptist. She said just because I was raised that way didn’t mean I had him in my heart, and asked if I believed in him. I thanked her for her concern and said that I wasn’t interested in the tract she’d been holding out most of that time. She persisted. She was taking up space in a booth that I paid $500 to get to set up to try to sell people art, and she was hell bent on not letting me get on with my job until I’d found her Jesus. Her son looked horrified as the exchange continued. I was polite but got more and more forceful about dodging her because she was refusing to take a “no thanks” as an answer. She was inserting herself between me and any customer I might try to talk with. Finally I said “I am not interested in your God or your literature, I have paid for this space to sell art in it, which I cannot do as long as you are here trying to distract me. Please leave.” And I said the latter in a tone that implied a threat, because I was about to call show security on the woman for harassment.

So this is what “trying to convert liberals to Jesus” has been in my life. And those are just the highlights. This is why it holds the stigma among my friends that it does. It has been used as a tool for physical intimidation and threats a huge number of times in my life. I have been scared of menacing men trying to force their God on me. I have been accosted in any number of illegal ways and places no matter how tollerant or respectful or polite I was to them. That may not be your method, but English is ambiguous and that is not at all clear. And if it is not your method, you as a more reasonable Christian has a responsibility to educate people that you are not all like that and that most of you do not condone such behavior or participate in it because, for example M, the young wiccan, hadn't the first clue and was truely afraid for her life as far as I could tell, of the Deacon at the back of the church. She had no idea that this was utterly beyond the bounds of appropriate behavior. Hell, at the time, I didn't either. I thought it was normal Christianity until I looked at M and realized just how utterly cruel it was and had one of those clarifying moments of faith wherein it was not possible to maintain faith in the God these people believed in, in the face of her tears. Some other kind God, perhaps, but not their God. Just as we have a responsibility to encourage liberals to re-examine their inconsistencies if we want to get anywhere, so too do the moderate Christians, ESPECIALLY the moderate liberal Christians have a responsibility to attempt to curb with reason, or at least denouce to others, those who are threatening and causing civil rights violations in the name of the church. An equal blindness exists on both sides.

And just as we have a responsibility to try to clarify and include and strive for the best of both in our causes, so to do the Christians. And to be quite honest, I have heard alarmingly few Christians stand up for civil rights or against their pulpits preaching hatred and sometimes lies. If they have stood at all, it has been while omitting the fact that they were Christian. I have seen, in all this whirlwind of emotion, exactly one example of someone standing against the tide of "Christians" in favor of Christian behavior instead of the dogma. If anything, Christians who don't agree with the cruel among the "Christian" numbers are far more guilty of failing to live self consistently with their beliefs, as far as I can determine than those who do not profess to believe in God's doctrine in any way. We all have a damn long way to go, but true stories of courage to stand against the insanity and in example of what you truly believe are not something I think the moderate Christian can claim high moral ground about. If you are silent while someone rounds up a minority because it isn't you and they're just doing what they believe in in discriminating, it is more a crime to maintain your silence than to round them up or pass legislation against them, because you had a real chance to be heard by your own people, to stand up in service and say "What about....", where our chance of being heard was marginal at best due to being the minority they already weren't respecting.

Also, I think that while you found a lot of what went on on LJ in terms of Christian bashing offensive, I personally think it is important to understand that these are people’s journals. These are where they blow off steam and frustration. And many of us have a lot of years of active illegal violation of our rights and physical intimidation to blow off steam about and have found most of the Christianity we came from to be hypocritical at best, and certainly not Christian. Which is to say that yes, we should not use Christianity as a blanket term when what we mean is the hypocritical and cruel in religious clothing, but understand that while you might be right that we will never get anywhere without drawing Christian’s back, I think there is a good reason we have gotten no where, which is that a lot of us have a lot of bad memories and fear associated with Christianity, and for some, that is all we have ever seen of it…one attempt or another to make our choices or live our lives for us.

I know a woman who because of her gender identity struggle, was subjeted to electroshock torture by her "Christian" mother to "cure" her ability to think for herself or need that which did not coincide with scripture. She has used the police to intimidate this same person and appears, currently, to be attempting to collect enough "evidence" to have her committed and shock tortured again, because her brain developed a different gender identity than her body. The hatred may not be the most useful tactic, but I think the underlying problem of utter failure of respect needs to be addressed before many of those liberals as a group are going to stop hating the people destroying, threatening, trapping and violating them under the banner of Christianity. And those same liberals are essentially powerless to prevent such violent intrusions, only handle them after they happen. Most people would not have managed to stay respectful in all those circumstances. Most wouldn’t have kept their calm. Any one of those incidents had the potential to turn into a riot because of denial of autonomy, liberty, freedom to leave, etc. I am an extrordinarily non-violent person and I have seriously been thinking that I have been physically threatened myself so many times that I aught to take the opportunity available here in Colorado to get a concealed carry permit and walk armed, so that I have some chance of not being trapped like this again.

But that is what Christianity has come to represent to a lot of us. Many of us walked away from our churches (I do not necessarily say religions, here) because we were tired of being bullied and feel like we still are being bullied regularly on an individual and governmental level when we stopped giving them the opportunity to abuse us in person. Because “trying to convert” in my book is a synonym for “bullying”, where “living as an example” is what I call practicing Christianity instead of simply calling yourself a Christian. If I were writing for major media, I would not use Christian as it has come to mean to me for the most part, and would not assume any shared meaning, but a lot of people on live journal are writing for themselves and the friends with whom they do share those definitions. Just like for all their screaming on Limbaugh’s show, Christians know individual gay people who appear to not be especially abomination like, we know Christians who aren’t especially abomination like, but we don’t always speak in completeness, nor is it required of this medium as long as you’re willing to have people yell at you in comments for your lack of precision or lock it private for yourself.

A great goal of personal ethics, I will totally grant. But as imperfect creatures, I go into reading expecting failure and being delightfully surprised when I do not find it.

While I think you’re right that the liberals won’t win without the moderate Christians, I also think that it is unfair to criticize people’s expressions of frustration and blowing off steam in their journals and condemn them to silence for their often well earned hatred just as it is to condemn you from ever speaking of your Christianity. Both have a right to exist on LiveJournal as it is a collection of journals and people can say whatever they want in their own journal. You have the right to read it or not, and even to be offended, but it wasn’t put there for you. It was usually put there to spend a very negative emotion so that we could get on with going about trying to be respectful to everyone in our real lives even though we are not generally afforded the same. Or as an expression of defeat.

I appreciate that you were feeling trapped into not talking about it, but clearly you could as you have demonstrated in your journal. And I do agree that there is sometimes a strong leaning in one direction because of the more common internet access among liberals on LJ, but I have been argued with extensively by conservatives here, Christians here, and even people who believe every male child must be circumcised. There is at least one person around for any cause you can think of. The opportunity exists to discuss those views on here just as it does in real life, but it is the responsibility of the individual to be true to themselves and respectful of what is deliberately directed at others, not the responsibility of the masses to read their minds and prevent every offense and specifically grant them opportunity to share their dissenting view. Leaving comments turned on grants that opportunity.

And it is the responsibility of everyone to do whatever they need to do, including hateful journal ranting, to help them get over their own internal contradictions, like “we love everyone” but “those fucking Christians keep hurting people I love.” Among other things, we need to vastly clarify our language, but that is part of what a venue like this is for. You do not have to take up the mantle to argue with all those people or demand clarification that they were just pissed off and needed to vent, if you don’t want to.

But journal writing is part of that process for a lot of people and should be respected as such, in my opinion. I do intensely respect that you spoke up about what was bothering you and think you have a number of good points about inconsistency and such in terms of applying those attitudes to the larger cause of fixing this country beyond their expressions in their diary of frustration. And I am sorry that you were feeling unable to be open about that part of yourself just as I am sorry that there is a TS woman who lives every day afraid of being taken against her will and tortured in the name of "Christianity" and "Christian values". But I do not think it was truly because any liberal set out to really say “that Ferrett is only welcome if he renounces his God(s)” so much as a very poorly worded scream of helpless frustration and feelings of hopelessness and well earned rage at long term suppression. I am glad that people like you who don’t seem to have given up on the US system exist, but I think a lot of the people you were describing were essentially writing “It’s hopeless and I’m powerless” in less accurate words. Draw attention to the words, absolutely, but be careful about questioning their feelings of powerlessness as unjustified vomitous bile.

And on a final note, I have seen plenty of examples on LJ of “man, those fucking faggots make my skin crawl…” and you are welcome to flame just as we are in response to such frustrating expressions. Having been so flamed for expressions of frustration or attempts to deal with powerless hatred of my treatment with humor, I can tell you that people are on here who stand up for your approximate beliefs and that a lot of us will admit that A) it wasn’t written for you, but B) Yeah, it was not winning friends and we do understand that it was venting, not a complete or even always at all accurate picture.
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