On Judging Christians
"I just couldn't identify with any group that tells everyone else they're going to hell." With that, our late-night dorm room futon musings ended abruptly. A friend who I respect very much refused to be pushed or prodded any further; her opinion of Christianity (or really, just a vocal subset of Christianity) would not change. The idea that belief in Jesus Christ is the exclusive path to salvation and the judgmental nature of humans assigning other humans a place in the afterlife was just too viscerally bothersome. Nothing I could say would make her budge.
Fast forward to the next afternoon. I went on a run with one of my teammates who is a resident adviser in my dorm and a religiously conservative and socially liberal devout Catholic. She told me the story of a troublesome conversation in her otherwise positive RA evaluation. She needed to be more responsible about turning in paperwork, our community director said, but she liked her positive attitude and motivation. But just one thing--her strong religious beliefs were getting in the way of her job. According to our community director, because my friend has strong morals and convictions, her residents feel uncomfortable talking to her about sex. She encouraged her to engage more openly in sexual conversations and implied that her religion was conflicting fundamentally with her role as a mentor and counselor to the people living on her hall.
I understand that the loud, confrontational strain of Christianity (or any religion, for that matter) can make people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. Most days on UNC's campus, a preacher named Gary stands in our main quad Polk Place and yells at any sinners he sees walking by, including same-sex couples holding hands, opposite-sex couples holding hands, people who for whatever reason look slightly liberal, and girls wearing pants. I respect his convictions, though his methods and brand of Christianity are completely foreign to me, but I worry as I see my non-religious friends' and peers' perceptions of Christianity being shaped by what, in my assessment, is an extreme minority viewpoint.
I can't imagine telling anyone they were going to hell. I didn't even really like Dante assigning people to hell when I read The Inferno last year. I don't really even know what I think about hell, actually; for one, it's impossible to conceptualize eternal pain and suffering-- mine only lasts for hour and fifteen minute increments on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Environmental Studies 202.) When people see Gary, our self-appointed campus preacher, and think somewhere in their subconscious, that's what Christianity is, even if they know in their conscious mind he's an extremist, it's damaging for both the religion and that person's potential religious journey. Thus my non-religious friend's refusal to view Christianity as anything other than an egotistical hierarchy of salvation for "us" and damnation for "them."
That same logic was at work in my other friend's RA evaluation. I was shocked by the comment our community director made, and tried to dissect their conversation for make some sense out of it all. Had the community director heard her make any judgmental comments when her residents talked about sex? No, she said. Did she ever imply that her residents should attend church more often? No. Had she ever even talked to her residents about her religion? Not that she could recall. So where was this idea of condescension coming from? It was an illogical, but not uncommon form of reasoning: you are religious, therefore, you must judge others who do not share your religious beliefs.
My friend conceded that one time, she grew somewhat quiet during a particular graphic discussion of her residents' escapades with their boyfriends the previous night. But if our community director wants to criticize someone for having a bit of decorum--that's a whole new issue. The point is, being religious and looking down on others do not necessarily go hand in hand, despite what a vocal subset of Christians would have the world think. Not all Christians are interested in playing Judgment Day with the souls of everyone around them. At the same time, not every RA wants to know the specific details of what happened in their resident's bed last night; last time I checked, that wasn't part of the job description, anyway.
Not everyone wants to be a Christian, and that's fine. But upon inspecting their own biases, many of those with the most anti-Christian or anti-religious institution feelings would find that their own condescending attitudes are held just as strongly as the fundamentalists they so deeply dislike.
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