Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord
Faith can be sensitive, an unbeliever is uncomfortable at the prospect of being merchandised by another faith, while the believer, especially an unschooled believer, isn't open to having their cherished beliefs rejected or scrutinised. Religious beliefs are described as "personal," sometimes as a means of closeting the discussion entirely, lest anyone's deep held convictions are scorched in the heat of debate, though there's no way to truly closet the conversation when we realise that the public discourse cuts deep because it's deeper than religion itself, it's to do with nationalities, culture and worldview.
This fact was brought home to me while working in an internationally recognised trading company, a company where religious and racial discrimination were mightily entrenched. My manager was a perfectly reasonable man, treating me with an even hand and generosity of spirit throughout my stay with the company. Though this gentle demeanour, an attitude embracing different races, genders and sexual preferences wasn't extended to believers in Hinduism. The manager, adding to the mystery, wasn't an unfeeling skinhead, but a Hindu, at a glance no different than the employees he would heap the most harsh criticism upon.
"The men were born of distinct races, in separate nations and to colourfully different cultures, yet their point of disunity was on the one subject they were united by, their religion."
Long hours working together meant we had several opportunities to discuss why animosity existed between the two men, and during an evening of particularly heated confrontation, I questioned a young man about the bullying they had received. "Why does he hate you so much?" I asked, "It's because I'm a fighter." He replied with a sigh. Fighters (I didn't know at the time) were a lower ranking section of the Hindu caste system, not particularly low mind you, but our manager, being a priest and therefore the highest ranking member of the caste system, had an abnormal distaste for the cheeky young man. The men were born of distinct races, in separate nations and to colourfully different cultures, yet their point of disunity was on the one subject they were united by, their religion.
Neither man felt comfortable to confront and correct the other mans idea of Hinduism, religion was just too sacred a thing to be discussed and bring them together. To think back on their rocky relationship causes me sadness, not because they were religiously intolerant, neither man truly was, in fact, neither man understood his religion any better than I did. The real issue was that neither man felt comfortable to confront, correct or even to question the other mans idea of Hinduism, religion wasn't just too sacred, it was too scary. This however wasn't an issue in my mind, nor my managers mind, not when the subject under debate was Christianity.
"Hassan was a member of management who often wanted to discuss Islam with the team, but after a lively conversation over milkshakes and McDonald's, he wasn't eager for a follow up debate."
In our workplace not many people wanted to spend their lunch break with the managers, maybe that's just what personality clash looks like, still I managed to do both because (to be plain) I enjoy talking. I wasn't managerial, but I was a conversationalist, not being bothered by their job status probably helped too. "So you're a Christian?" My manager asked, grinning ear to ear, as confident atheists sometimes do, since although he was a Hindu by birth, ceremony and at every family gathering, his disdain for religious culture (and to some extent a personal God) was evident.
"Yes, that's right." I replied, always surprised when someone first takes an interest in my faith, without having to be invited into the topic of conversation. "You stepped on a landmine with Hassan," he said looking away, as if to make sure the coast was clear. Hassan (not their real name) was a member of management who often wanted to discuss Islam with the team, but after a lively conversation over milkshakes and McDonald's, he wasn't eager for a follow up debate. "A landmine?" I replied, "So you're saying Hassan blew up!"
On his lunch break Rajesh (again not the managers real name) would search websites with names likes Evil Bible and the Atheists Annotated Bible, hoping to reinvigorate the negative stereotypes he previously believed in. It’s not something I held against him, popular culture is awash with anti Christian sentiment. Every horror movie has quasi religious cults of cannibal hillbillies hungry for human flesh, while the cross, a symbol of peace and hope for nearly 2000 years, is reduced to a scary prop or blood stained scrawl across the inner walls of an insane asylum. I remember laughing at the idea of crosses and the great outdoors occasioning bouts of anxiety in so many hip urbanite film makers. Are crosses and the countryside truly scary, or are they just what these people are afraid of.
Some readers (Brits in particular) will see Rajesh’s anti Christian attitude as further evidence that an open show of faith causes upset and hostility between otherwise good people. Something different happened though, unlike in the case of Hassan, Rajesh wasn’t guarded (since we weren’t discussing Hinduism,) while I wasn’t an uneducated believer. All of a sudden religion wasn’t an explosive issue wrecking the relationship, it was iron sharpening iron. It was the birth of a friendship and something I still celebrate.
The average person listens for just 17 seconds before interrupting, that’s 17 seconds to convince the boss you deserve that raise, talk yourself out of a parking ticket or explain away the dirty dishes. Now imagine trying to cram 2000 years of Christian faith and practice into those 17 seconds. The 17 second rule intrudes on everything, from the big questions to the petty squabbles. The cure? Joy, peace, patience and gentleness, qualities that the Bible calls fruit of the Spirit.
I titled the section on debate "Come now, and let us reason together," colouring the icon in cobalt blue and centred upon the first century prophet Barnabus, an early defender of the Christian faith. Debate should be seen as dangerous, but not dangerous and destructive to friendships, debate forges strong friendship (as I hope my story shows,) instead ego, arrogance and anxiety are in danger when we break through and begin discussing the nations last taboo, religion.
― Tyrone Cormack