A Little Light Plagiarism to Start…
Okay, so I’m basically stealing the format of this post from JT Eberhard’s excellent exploration of flirting and boundaries, but instead I’m going to talk about dialogue between members of the Christian and Atheist communities; um, please don’t leave yet.
As a Christian who is also a member of CFI, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with and get to know a group of people that is largely comprised of Atheists/Agnostics, which is new for me. I do believe that my involvement, and the friendships I’ve made because of it, have gone a long way to opening my eyes to the discrimination and hostility Atheists/Agnostics deal with, and also the social privileges granted to religious individuals, especially Christians. However, there’s a problem.
In my attempts to engage with Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, etc., (and I don’t mean try to change them) I try to be both respectful and open, but I sometimes make my conversational partners(s) uncomfortable, especially when I’ve just met them. I’ve found myself in situations where someone has assumed I was also an Atheist because of the event I was at or because we share certain opinions that are more common in the Atheist community. When correcting the misunderstanding, I’ve seen this cause unease and sometimes suspicion. But if I slip into the conversation early on that I am religious, I find that the conversation is usually a lot shorter.
Personally, I don’t blame anyone for reacting this way. I’ve had my own run-ins with religious peers, so I can only imagine how many of these new acquaintances have been treated, but that’s kind of my point. Imagining really IS all I can do. I want very much to facilitate open discussion, (whether it’s about religion or what cartoons I like), but I recognize that it requires a level of trust that I haven’t earned yet. Especially when I’m dealing with people who have been mistreated by the church, or just the church-centered culture we live in.
What I would like to know, is how do I be honest about myself in a non-threatening way? How do I make it clear that I don’t have ulterior motives for talking to you? Am I obligated to state my religious affiliation from the start? If not, when is an appropriate time to mention it, to avoid misunderstandings?
The main reason I’m starting off with this topic, is that I would like to address religious and cultural issues with this blog, but my hope is to do so in a respectful and productive way. So this is me officially (probably awkwardly) asking for help in reaching that goal. Tips?