Globalisation, fear and the gift of ears.
In a world constantly becoming more connected and globalised, where internet allows us to peek into the lives of people on the other side of the planet with only a few clicks and decent Wi-Fi, we are becoming more and more conscious of the fact that humanity is a very diverse reality. Different lifestyles, different perspectives, different values.
This growing interconnectivity has provoked mixed responses. On one hand, we see an increasing curiosity for the unknown, with a greater inclination towards open-mindedness and a growing appreciation for other belief systems and cultures. On the other hand, tensions between different ethnicities living in a same territory has never been more pronounced. Nationalism and xenophobia lurk in the shadowy corners of our society, waiting to pounce, and in times of economic strife it doesn’t take long for them to do so either. Human beings are nothing if not predictable, and finding scapegoats on which to blame our problems during times of economic hardship is, unfortunately, one of the more human traits.
Still, overall the effects of a growingly interconnected world seem to have been beneficial to its inhabitants. The awareness for different (sub)cultures across the world is greater than ever, and respect — or at least tolerance for- other perspectives on life is a reality in many circles. The interfaith movement is growing, and both the emancipation of women and the recognition and improved integration of ethnic and sexual minorities within mainstream society have been, at least in part, stimulated by globalisation. Now that we are able to access detailed information about other people, it’s much less difficult for us to put ourselves in their shoes, after all.
Many social changes have occurred through globalisation, and most Christian churches are now much more open-minded than they were before. No longer do pastors and priests claim we need to be educating other cultures on the greatness that is our own western form of life. We seem finally to have realized that our culture, so idealized in the past, is as much flawed as the next lifestyle.
Our western love for ambition and productivity, values much proclaimed for being the singularly ‘right’ ones in the modern era, have also been cause for hundreds of wars, worst of which took place in the Twentieth Century, after all. Seeing this in hindsight, along with improved communication with other cultures, not to mention the high rates of burnouts, depression and anxiety present in our daily lives, seem to have made us aware of the imperfect nature of our civilisation’s rather ambitious nature.
Society has changed to adapt to this more open stance towards diversity, that’s undeniable. But how has Christianity? How has the Church — one which has proclaimed only its specific way of doing and seeing things was right for many a century — evolved in this time of growing awareness for things different? Looking back, it would seem we have frequently been fighting on the wrong end of history, with many Christians having campaigned fiercely against women’s rights, interracial marriage, religious freedom and other key developments to the growingly egalitarian society we live in today.
We have preached in favour of slavery, against equality for ethnic minorities, against a woman’s right to vote, and now against same-sex marriage.
This is different, we could say in our defence, yes, we made all these mistakes again and again, but this is different. Trust me, it is.
But is it really? And can anyone deny Christianity doesn’t generally tend to lag several decades behind on whatever controversial social change might be occurring in society at the time, and that it catches on about thirty years after the rest of the world has? Our record isn’t exactly clean, if we look at centuries past.
For many years Christianity has taught singularity. During the times its reign was strongest it quelled people who dared think differently — be it for following another religion, interpreting the Bible differently or even challenging Church teachings on science — with violence and cruelty. It started crusades, led witch hunts, condoned slavery, stifled scientific development and fought change with ferocity.
And we might not burn people at stakes any more for not following our specific branch of doctrine, but all these centuries later, we still fight change with the same ferocity. It terrifies us, and we hate it for that.
Everyone loves stability and familiarity over the unknown possibility that change offers — myself very much included — but shouldn’t we Christians be different? Shouldn’t we know better, especially after having repeated the same mistake so many times?
Unfortunately, the only difference between a Christian and a non-believer when confronted with something unknown seems to be that we Christians justify our discomfort by pointing at a handful of Bible verses taken out of context and then covering our ears to avoid having to listen to anyone who challenges that view. Even when logic and common sense point the other way, we stubbornly cling to a few select sentences cherry-picked from Paul’s many letters, despite these being dedicated to communities living as persecuted minorities almost two thousand years ago.
I am a naïve young adult. I’ve seen but a little of the world. I don’t have a degree in theology, and I definitely don’t intend to ever get one.
Yet sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be fighting at the other side of all these debates. Jesus was known, if anything, for being controversial. He broke with the rigid social norms of His time. He tore down the social hierarchy of His society, bringing justice and respect for those oppressed and unheard by those at the top. If we take but one look at the past, isn’t it clear what we should be doing? What we should be fighting for? Who we should be fighting for?
We have learned there is more to the world than the subculture we have created for ourselves in the western world. We have accepted that there are different cultures and perspectives on what the world is and who we are within it.
Can we not do the same for people who break with our perspective on gender or sexual orientation? Can we not talk to people with differences in these aspects of life without running — hands on our ears — to the safety of our cherry-picked Bible verses?
Can we not just listen? Not everything is as black-and-white as we thought. If the past tells us anything, it is that. All we need to do is stop talking and preaching and just listen.
After all, God gave to us our ears for a reason, right?