There are a few days where you experience a mix of pleasure and discomfort. Today was one of those days. It started with a wedding. I’ve been to a fair few weddings over the last decade, and quite frankly I’m over them. The setting is incidental; except that I met a friend who said that my last Facebook post (the day before) was very amusing. The bride, who was one of his FB friends but not of mine, had written that she was nervous but looking forward to the wedding. The very next post was mine; saying that I was working on forty ways to destroy relationships. I had decided to continue working on a manuscript about the misconceptions people have about relationships – the difference between love and being in love, about the idea that looks don’t matter, et cetera – and posted the fact on FB. This juxtaposition of the posts provided the non sequitur that was the joke. True, put like that it doesn’t sound funny.

Then in the early evening I met some friends for coffee – actually hot chocolate with chilli and cinnamon (best described as a spicy chocolate soup) at Chocolateria San Churro – and then went for dinner. Twice one exclaimed “Jesus Christ!” to show his astonishment at something or other. He had done this before but I didn’t say anything, partly because I wasn’t sure exactly what I should say: there isn’t any succinct way to tell a person that they’re using the name (and title, to be precise) of God who became human to suffer the fate that we all deserved, so that we wouldn’t have to, as a curse.

The only way I’ve thought of to do this is to ask, “Do you know who he is?”, and then to expand on the topic. It isn’t so much that I’m offended personally, it’s that knowing who Jesus is and what he did for us, (I believe) that my friend, like all of us, is going to meet Jesus one day in judgment, and I don’t want him to do so, being found guilty of rejecting Jesus’ right to rule his life. But again, how do you say that succinctly?

I hadn’t said anything during the previous occasions he had used Jesus’ name/title, and felt guilty because I should be bold in standing up for the honour of Christ and the sake of the Gospel rather than fear what people would think (and cowards are first in the list of those who are cast into the lake of fire in Revelation 21:8) of me – but the second time, almost without thinking, I said that as a Christian I didn’t like him using “Jesus Christ” as a curse.

He said by way of apology that he respected my beliefs and that was that; we left the issue there. I didn’t think of a proper response until later (as almost always happens): I think I should have said that I appreciate it but I was less concerned that he respected my beliefs and more concerned that he honoured Jesus as he (Jesus) deserved.

One other difficulty with the objecting to something from a religious perspective is that it makes you appear gullible, blinkered, and intolerant. On the contrary, I am sceptical, considerate (perhaps too much of other people and not enough of God’s honour), thoughtful (Bernard Shaw once said, “Most people only think once or twice a year. I have made a reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.” Like Shaw and Chesterton’s detective Father Brown, I try to think about the why’s and how’s and what if’s), intelligent (my I.Q. has been measured at 140) and I’ve spent the last 17 years, give or take, studying Christianity and other religions, the Bible, Greek and Hebrew, textual and higher criticism, analysis and logic, and several other fields (biology, cosmology, geology) in greater or lesser depth.

And yet, although my beliefs have a solid foundation in reason and evidence, I feel foolish for objecting to a topic that must eventually come down to faith (was Jesus who he claimed or not), and doesn’t appear to have real impact on life in the present world. Having said that, my life since becoming a Christian has had a greater sense of purpose, I have more and stronger friendships, but it has also become more of a struggle; living the Christian life isn’t easy. The only recommendation I can give to believe what the Bible says is that, on the balance of the evidence, it is true.

Be that as it may, another effect of this unholy cowardice is that it exacerbates the emotional impotence I’ve experienced for much of my life, even before I could recognise it for the external strait-jacket it is. Physically I appear scrawny, white, balding (but otherwise hirsute) and short-sighted, so people aren’t attracted to me or impressed by me so they generally feel free to disrespect me. Certainly, even if they don’t, I grew up believing I was unattractive, selfish and useless; and that was how I believed other people saw me. Even now, I still do – a difficult mindset to change when people do act that way toward me.

I can’t change my physical appearance and I use my intellect as social entrée but ironically, as I struggle against being selfish, I become more accommodating to others – and this makes me more of a wallflower, keeping myself out of the way so no one can accuse me of being selfish. Keeping myself out of the way of others means they tend to overlook me, which then becomes another jewel in the crown of my twisted self-image. This in turn increases my self-hatred and resentment of others who I believe, correctly or falsely, have scorned me. (Is it any wonder I have depression?!)

I found myself wearing this perverse mental coat yesterday afternoon, before the events I’ve just written about. My threshold for irritation had reached its limit, as it has done before, and as I had done before, I imagined how I might react if I were pushed over the threshold: confrontation; emotional abuse; temporary insanity; physical mutilation. When I met my friends later on, this attitude rose again when I saw another couple of dancers: both physically attractive. My emotional bile rose, and I resented my physical appearance that was partly responsible for making me the cynical and maleficent person I am. Of course, when you’re physically attractive, you will more likely be a nice person: other people treat you well because of your looks. So, as well as the physical disparity, the emotional difference between us just makes me seem more petty and grotesque.

Socrates encouraged people: “Know yourself.” The deeper I go into my own psyche, the uglier the picture gets. And now you’re thinking that the blame for my beliefs rests with what “my religion” teaches me, right? If I thought for myself rather than let others think for me, I’d be much happier; that’s what you think, isn’t it? My response is to ask you several questions: why do you assume that I believe everything that my religion teaches me? What is it that exactly do you think my religion teaches, and why do you assume it is wrong? How much time have you spent studying religion, logic and ways to test claims of truth? Do you read and consider the claims of people who disagree with what you believe? When does truth matter more to you than feeling good about yourself? What would you stand up for, even if you stood alone? What evidence is there for your belief? Why does it matter?

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