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As a Religionist: You Versus the World

By Steve Dustcircle ~

People are people, and events happen. There is nothing you change or prevent, within reason. You accept people how they are, and hope that they will choose on their own what you dislike about them.

 I felt this way about others' musical and film choices. I felt this way about people's sexuality. I felt this way about other choices others would make, about not having children, about donating time and finances, about habits like smoking and drinking, and about other things that lie within the boundaries of “ethics” and “morality.”

It didn't matter what my view was. I was taught by my mentors to love the sinner, hate the sin, and I wanted to practice that sort of accepting love. Sadly, however, I honestly didn't see much of this among my church or college peers.

This idea of trying to be like Jesus, hanging out with sinners, was admired by some and detested by others within my church circles.

Not that I was pure in thought, and was only intending to go out to evangelize. I liked to drink. I liked my smoke. I liked pool halls and goth clubs.

I lived my life to a certain degree of what I wanted, not being legalistic about the biblical commands to not do some of the things I was doing. Some might call this moral relativism, but honestly I was getting exhausted from trying to be one thing in front of more legalistic friends, and another in front of my less religious friends.

I became a more take-me-as-I-am person, telling others that God accepts all where they're at.

The idea of trying to change someone by force angers me. Coercion, manipulation, threats—all of these forms of forced morality is in itself immoral. And I felt that by trying to change someone before you lead them through some magical “Lord's Prayer,” was like trying to give birth to a 5-month old fetus.

I figured I would be myself, not hide my religious beliefs, and if people wanted to invite Jesus into their hearts, I would be there for them.

I wanted to primarily be everyone's friend, with an ear to listen. And if they needed spiritual advice, I was trusted by them to speak into their lives, as I had already been faithful to them in simple friendship and acceptance.

The trouble with being friends with people who live a life you might not theologically agree with is (not that you necessarily become like them), you actually start to see how normal they are.

Gays don't have an agenda. Drinkers aren't forcing anyone else to get drunk. Consensual, casual sex doesn't mean people will become rapists. People simply start to resemble people.

If you're the type that loves and enjoys people, then no matter what the ethical or moral views that they may have that differs from yours, you'll see these people as you see others at church: as beautiful. You'll see them as lovely; with purpose and promise.

The lines between the forgiven and the forsaken start to blur, and you start to lose the us vs. them mentality that usually accompanies religious people's minds.

One of the first god-damned questions Christians have about other people when they talk to you: “Are they saved?”

My answer: “I don't know. Maybe someday. For now, I like their friendship.” And I understand why it is so important to Christians that people are saved or not, but division and walls aren't exactly the best way to get people to open up to you. And it surely isn't a way to exemplify an accepting god … by not being accepting.

I'm unsure if Christians (or Muslims, or any other organized religious group) can not see beyond the divisive wall of us vs. them. There will sadly always be a guard up when it comes to people groups and individuals of a different mindset. And here is why: You are sheltered.

The trouble with being friends with people who live a life you might not theologically agree with is (not that you necessarily become like them), you actually start to see how normal they are.
While community is important, religious groups place themselves in cozy little ghettos. With people who are carbon-copies of themselves, they feel comfortable, safe, and agreeable. There's little room for having their feathers ruffled, their ideologies challenged, or their emotions toyed with.

Once one feels safe and secure in their little religious community, any outside difference or challenge feels like an attack. It could be simply a question about your belief. Ask for the evidence of a god and watch a religionist's muscles tighten and their eyes dart. If one if so secure in their belief about something, there shouldn't be such a fear.

Sometimes, you'll see the other end of the spectrum. When they're questioned, or even debated, the religionist's whole persona changes. It's like they become a whole different person. Their eyes either start to glaze over or widen, their voice either starts to boom or become hippie-like, and their stance or posture changes. Simultaneously, their word choices change; a whole new vocabulary.

I used to chalk this up to “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” feeling that Jesus was moving through me, or something to that effect. But let's call it what is. An altered state.

Just like the key words used in “The Manchurian Candidate,” if there are key phrases used or sights seen, the Christian or Muslim or Hindu will alter their stance, their eyes, their voice, and their vocabulary. This is classic brainwashing.

For if there were an actual spiritual or soulful change from a god, the whole being of a person would stay constant in its delivery of words or body language. There would be no gear-change.

I've seen it happen myself, and recall instances of when it happened to me. Change the topic and the person goes back to his or her normal self. It's actually quite fascinating—almost to the point of frightening.

From a very young age, boys are taught the duality of the Us vs. Them mentality.

As far back as I remember, I would play “Cowboys and Indians” or “Cowboys and Robbers” with my friends. While my peers and myself chose each side without much thinking about it, we usually chose according to how we chose sides in other games or toy-playing.

It was like choosing sports teams. You rooted for your own, for your favorite. And you rooted against those from another place, of another team, of another culture. For whatever reason, the same kids chose to be the cowboys, and others chose to be the Indians or robbers.

But seriously, look at the choices in just that simple little game of “Cowboys and Indians.” You can either be a rugged horse-rider or a thief on the run. It's funny, almost. The perfect match between the good vs. the bad.

And if you didn't wanna play robbers, you can choose the lesser “evil,” by choosing Indians. Indians in kids' minds are barbaric, uncultured, different, rowdy. You remember the old TV shows? How did the cowboys look? Clean-shaved, feared, manly, respected, with a handkerchief tied neatly.

Of course, there were movies that showed a more rebellious, violent type of cowboy—the outlaw—but those movies weren't really made for kids, so you wouldn't have exposure to a less black-and-white idea of what it was to be a cowboy, a robber, or an Indian.

I was quite young, and I remember watching “West Side Story” with my dad (and perhaps with my mom and brother). I asked my dad which were the bad guys. Like all young boys, and probably most adult men, I wanted to know who to root for in the movie.

My dad responded something like, “They're both pretty bad because they're both gangs, but if you had to choose which were 'good guys.' I'd say the Jets.”

That is, the white gang.

This left quite an impression on me. If there's an us vs. them situation, and both were in the wrong, you chose the lesser of the two evils. You usually chose what is most like yourself.

If you have two friends who were dating, and they were in a fight, you chose to side with your guy friend if you were a guy, and you side with the girl if you were a girl.

If you have two teams playing each other, like the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox, you chose the team that had the stadium on your side of town.

If you had two friends who were Christian, and one was Catholic, the other being Protestant, you felt closer to the one that shared your own version of Christianity.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, income inequality, nationalism—all forms of bigotry are born and raised from us vs. them mentalities. If two are not quite good, or if two aren't quite bad, you chose which is most like you, if you had to make a choice between the two.

I always liked to side with the underdog all my life, which means now that I tend to speak up for those with little to no voice. I stand up for the poor. I feel compassion towards the struggling. I like to see the one with the odds stacked against her rise up.

But this also meant, that as a youngster, I liked to be the robber in the game. Or the Indian. I rooted for the Sharks in “West Side Story.” When collecting toys, I chose to collect the Decepticons of “The Transformers” brand, while my brother collected the Autobots. Same goes with G.I. Joe: I collected the nemesis: Cobra.

There was a little rebel in me. An outlaw, if you will. I liked the bands that got into trouble all the time: Guns N' Roses, Mötley Crüe, and Two Live Crew. I tended to also like the actors that had a troublesome life, and who usually died earlier than their time.

But there were some assholes in music and film that I had no use for. These clearly were evil people, and though I tended to lean towards gangster or horror movies with villains or anti-heroes (or listen to heavy metal or emerging LA rap groups), I knew I never wanted to be someone no one liked.

I didn't want to get in trouble. I didn't want to be a burden on anyone, let alone a menace to society. I had a good heart, and I knew there was a difference between collecting the Transformers' Decepticons and being something that only wanted to destroy mankind.

When it came to real life, I wanted to choose good. I believed that there were black-and-white choices, though I didn't understand the ramifications of long-term consequences, I knew that I wanted to end up in Heaven and not Hell.

In Sunday School, we're taught about a god who wants mankind to choose him, and we're taught about a devil who wants keep us from choosing to serve a god. Bad things happen because Satan causes them, and Jesus wants Satan to be stopped … eventually. So it goes.