Just a thought: on Tolerance and Christianity

If you were on campus today you probably saw the Main Event Carnival. I don’t know how you wouldn’t have—it was huge! There were booths and clubs for everything: academics, sports, nationality, sexuality, religion, hobbies. Everything! You’d be hard pressed to not find something you were interested in.

One club that is particularly near and dear to my heart is the Pussy Posse/Vagina Monologues. I’ve never been a member, but I’ve been to see the show every year and a former resident of mine (I advise at Totem Park) is coordinating the whole thing this year. I think it’s an awesome event for an excellent cause run by incredible people.

I was walking home from the Carnival with one of my current residents. We were chatting and she mentioned that she was interested in joining the Pussy Posse. The bright pink felt vagina had caught her eye.

Of course we started talking about how incredibly awesome the vagina monologues are and how sweet the vagina costume is. And then out of nowhere she insults all the Christian clubs that were at the Carnival. Literally, out of nowhere, she brings up those Christian clubs and says something rude about them.

I didn’t reply. I didn’t know how.

I am a Christian. I’m not a part of those clubs, but I have nothing against them. In fact, if I had more time I probably would be a part of one of them. I also happen to have some very good friends, incredible people, who are a part of those clubs.

Her comment took me aback because it had literally nothing to do with our conversation. We were talking about the incredibly talented, tolerant, intelligent people that run the Vagina Monologues. And it was as if she needed something to compare them to in order to show just how great they were. And she chose the Christian clubs.

I know that Christianity has played a role in a lot of atrocities, and that some Christians are ignorant and offensive. But what group doesn’t have people like that?

I imagine it takes a lot of bravery to stand at a booth that clearly declares you believe in Jesus; to approach students and ask them to join. And I bet you on our alleged liberal, uber-tolerant campus it’s even harder than it would be on other less “accepting” campuses.

Trying to make yourself seem more open-minded by insulting groups that you consider intolerant just makes you look like an idiot.

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Genevieve is mildly opposed to writing in the third person about herself, as it sounds rather pretentious and forced. But she will prevail. She likes books and curry and opera and that feeling you get when a professor compliments your writing/thinking etc. She is double majoring in English Honours and International Relations, which sometimes feels like the fast track to a nervous breakdown, but she loves it. She was raised internationally, and has no idea where she is 'from', but currently divides her time between Shanghai, Vancouver and the ever exotic Bellingham, Washington. She is somewhat intimidated by her fellow writers on Terry*, but she tries. If you like her, or hate her, or just want to read more, she also keeps a personal rant--er, blog at http://blogs.ubc.ca/genevieve/.

12 Responses to “Just a thought: on Tolerance and Christianity”

  1. Sarah Andersen

    I do think it’s wonderful that people who are passionate about Christianity are able to express their beliefs and passion on campus. That’s definitely something to celebrate.

    On the other hand, more personally I’ve had an issue in the past with the tactics that are used by some (not all) of the clubs. Personally, I find it intrusive and rather rude to approach someone who’s listening to an ipod and minding her own business and ask flat out if she believes in god and jesus.

  2. Jamie

    @Sarah Andersen:
    But the question really is: Would you have a problem with say, the Marine Biology Society (I read your bio), approaching you while you listen to your iPod and ask you flat out if you believe in protecting our oceans?

    I think it’s important to be mindful of our own biases.

    Is that tactic, interrupting music listening, wrong on its own? Or is it only wrong when you disagree or are not passionate about their cause?

    Just something to keep in mind.

  3. Nicholas FitzGerald

    I imagine your friend might be taking a very reasonable response to some of the reprehensible actions of one or two of the Christian groups (displays likening abortion to the Holocaust etc.) and applying it to other groups which do not do such things.

    That said, at the risk of voicing an unpopular opinion: Religious groups strike me as antithetical to the purpose of a University (rational inquiry and critical thinking in the pursuit of truth), and I don’t understand why they get any of my student fees.

  4. Sarah Andersen

    @Jamie: I believe I would find it equally intrusive, as I think it is only respectful and good PR for any club/society to wait for people to express interest before engaging them in discussion/debate. That being said, I have never had members of any other club approach me in such an abrupt manner. Furthermore, there is a difference between informing someone of a campus bible discussion or political debate and asking them to reveal their personal religious or political beliefs. I have no problem at all with the clubs that do the former. I think the latter is bad manners. Maybe I am old fashioned.

    I agree it is important to consider one’s biases. But (and forgive me if I have misinterpreted your comment), your own bias seems to be that because I have criticized a Christian group, I “disagree or [am] not passionate about their cause”. (Unlike a marine conservation society). My comment, however, bears no relation at all to my personal religious beliefs.

  5. Jamie

    @Sarah: It may have been a misinterpretation at both ends. When I read “people who are passionate about Christianity,” I read that as an implication of your feelings being the opposite.

    Most of the time when I’ve been disrupted with the classic line “Have you heard about salvation,” I simply reply “Yes, thanks.” and move on. Seems to work?

    @Nick: I’m not sure that Christian groups would really be antithetical to universities. In fact, Christian theology dates back to as old as many of the institutions themselves. It was once one of the great disciplines at university, along with law and medicine. So Christianity does have a history with universities. It’s relevance now on the other hand….

  6. Nick Zarzycki

    Historically speaking, Christianity’s cult-like obsession with the suppression of female sexuality (and the female sex in general) has made the institution (and its legacy) unpopular in the eyes of many who have made gender equality a personal, lifelong project. To dismiss out of hand almost twenty centuries worth of blatant sexism and patriarchy, reinforced and rendered sacrosanct by readings of holy scripture (however erroneous or overly-literal the modern liberal Christian might dismiss them to be) is, I think, wrong and unfair.

    I think I’d go one notch further on the unsavoury-comment-scale than Nick and say that religion, however harmless or benign, flies in the face of everything that a modern university represents as a place of rational inquiry. Yes, Jamie, it’s true that theology used to be at the center of higher education. This was also true, however, for subjects like astrology and alchemy.

    I also disagree in principle with those who say that religion is a purely personal issue, since I believe that, like all other claims to truth (concerning subjects like personal ethics and philosophy, politics, economics, culture, literature, science, etc.), religious truth claims and beliefs should be open to questioning and discourse. What’s paradoxical to me is the fact that the people who think it a worthy project to approach complete strangers and ask whether they believe in deity/god ‘x’ are usually the last people I want to get into a (hopefully rational) discussion about religious truth claims with.

  7. Nick Zarzycki

    After reading what I’ve just written I feel obliged to clarify something important: my views concern religious thought and ideas, not religious people. I think we all agree that respect and tolerance are an integral and fundamental part of the university and higher learning (and society in general, for that matter).

  8. Ashish

    For people who have made gender equality a personal, lifelong project I would like to add the following that would, following the same logic, be unpopular in their eyes:

    Men
    Government
    Education

    There are a lot of tangental criticisms of Christianity (as an institution, not the people) in these posts but I wanted to defend the original post. In so far as University is a space for rational inquiry – I would think that people would agree that stereotypical ad homenem attacks only make that space less accessible and, thus, less effective in pursuit of said rational inquiry.

  9. Nick Zarzycki

    Hi Ashish,

    You’ll notice that there was nothing ad hominem about Genevieve’s friend’s criticism (see: “out of nowhere she insults all the Christian clubs”). From what I can see, this was an expression of wholesale anti-Christian sentiment in the context of a discussion about feminism/a feminist group/feminine sexuality.

    W/r/t your list:

    Men – Feminists tend to be sceptical and critical of male-kind’s inherently biological and cultural inclinations towards patriarchy and female submission? You don’t say! (Please don’t tell me that you think feminists aren’t in the right to complain against this).

    Government – If you mean male-dominated, patriarchal government, then sure, why not?

    Education – Ibid.

    It is of course absurd to blame historical (and present) gender inequality entirely on supernatural belief systems that originated in Iron-age Palestine. What I’m arguing is that it is equally absurd and wrong to dismiss Christianity’s intimate complicity in this phenomenon, seeing as it has historically made the enforcement and exploitation of these inequalities not just (more) acceptable, but in many cases sacred.

    I am all for rational discourse. I also think, however, that sometimes people are justified in expressing their frustrations with groups that they perceive to represent of a set of values and beliefs that run counter to their own. And I think sometimes “what group doesn’t have people like that?” doesn’t quite cut it.

  10. Nicholas FitzGerald

    In so far as University is a space for rational inquiry – I would think that people would agree that stereotypical ad homenem attacks only make that space less accessible and, thus, less effective in pursuit of said rational inquiry.

    Without knowing the specific comments which prompted the original post, it is hard to say the extent to which they were “stereotypical” or “ad homenem”. The point I wished to make was that there are legitimate criticisms to be made about the specific Christian groups which operate at UBC, and about the appropriateness of student-funded religious groups on campus in general.

  11. Ashish

    Nick Z.

    The point of the list was that pretty much every institution that existed during the time period you appear to be referring to has complicity in the subjugation of women. Current governments, education systems, and men continue that oppression as can be argued for various churches / denominations.

    My point was that the women’s outburst was unlikely to be based on the explanation that you provided. It is much more likely that, as Nicholas F. pointed out earlier, the actions of specific Christian groups (one that I know of since their booth was always opposite ours :/) around abortion has condemned, in her eyes, all Christian groups on campus.

    Both Nicks

    With reference to the use of ad homenem… What I meant was that she was challenging Christian clubs, not by putting forth an argument, but by attacking them for being Christian clubs and being a member of that overall group. But that is just an assumption – I assume most sudden “rude” outbursts that are leveled at an entire group generally are not arguments but stereotypes. As I was not there – perhaps she provided some rationale behind her attack on all Christian clubs on campus.

    Nicholas F.

    I agree with you. There are legitimate concerns to be made about specific Christian groups that operate at UBC. The question about whether your student fees should go to religious groups is also interesting. Would make for an interesting blog post but probably would be a bit tangental to discuss here.

    My overall point is that it makes University less accessible to vent in that fashion. If you believe that a person, who identifies personally as Christian, can engage in rational discourse than you should regret the chilling effect that stereotypes about Christianity has on people. The same can be said for any religion or group. (Maligning all Turkish clubs because the country and one group on campus protests the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Canada for instance). Obviously people are human and they make mistakes but the point is that it is a mistake to give into easy generalizations and insults.

  12. Sharon N.

    I understand that uneasy feeling when you’re given the opportunity to say you believe in Christ and you don’t, I’ll never forget when this happened in the Ethics in Education course.

    I think that this article brings up a very interesting issue for female Christians- the binary between Christianity and Women (women’s studies, female anatomy, females) etc. I am a Christian; I believe with all my heart that Jesus died for my sins and that he rose again and is God. I also like reading and learning about women’s issues. For me, the challenge of reconciling myself as a Christian and a “feminist” is hard… when we are talking about abuse etc. there isn’t much controversy.. but as I transition from an informed citizen to an active woman the situation becomes a little muddled….

    I am transitioning out of university and into adulthood and as I do, I realize more and more that I am a Christian Single; my living situation, mid weekly church attendance and raging hormonal 20 something body scream it. My epiphany was fully realized a few weeks ago when I lost my virginity to a Monistat stick. This made me laugh and then make an appointment to audition for the Vagina Monologues. The audition is tomorrow and I am starting to feel uneasy, I came across this article when I googled Christian controversy and Vagina Monologues. As I read about the controversy I hear no voices of Christian women struggling to make sense of it all; as a Christian women can/should I audition? As the old adage goes WWJD?

    Is there a place for Christian women to talk about sexuality? To put it in UBC terms, is there any way a single individual could be a part of UCM and the Pussy Posse without having to swing by Brock Hall for a multiple personality disorder membership card at Counseling Services?

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