I’ve been fortunate in my adult life to have dealt with very little intolerance. This wasn’t the case in my childhood – I was bullied incessantly until right around the time I reached middle school.
Looking back I can guess at the reasons why. I was quiet, shy, off-putting and overweight. I got beaten up by boys who were angry at me for not being available for their viewing pleasure, or verbally brutalized by girls because I stuck out so much, and like any pack of animals children will turn on their weakest member and try to cull it.
Around middle school I began figuring out who I was enough to make some friends, and that’s also the age where the social contract starts to kick in and people start hiding how they feel about you, at least to your face.
Since then I’ve surrounded myself with communities into which I fit who have never failed to be loving and welcoming. My primary two are my nerdy family, and my Christian family.
My nerdiness stems from an interest in the imaginative and creative culture that Sci Fi and Fantasy worlds present. This can be attributed largely to my mother since I’ve been entranced ever since she read the Chronicles of Narnia to me as a little girl, and ever since she sat me down to watch Star Trek: TnG with her when it came back on the air (I’m the exact same age as Will Wheaton, so whatever age Westley is on the show is the age I was when I was watching for the first time).
My Christianity primarily stems from my lacking enough faith to believe that all of existence spontaneously generated from absolute nothingness for no reason whatsoever. From that point of realization, I had to ask the question, “if it wasn’t nothing for no reason, then who or what was it?” The reason Christianity became my way to answer that question is detailed in this previous post. Also, I feel that the basic tenant of, “love your neighbor as yourself” is a good moral compass by which to live my life. So at the end, if I was wrong, at least I will have attempted to live a good life. I believe my purpose on the planet is to show God’s love to other human beings. I also know that I do not succeed even remotely often enough, so we’ll call it a work in progress.
These two basic attributes I think define the core of me pretty well; my faith and my culture. If I had to pick one of the two as more important it would be my faith.
Being online opens all of us up to a much wider world community, and also exposes us to a number of interesting social phenomenon. The primary one I’ve been noticing of late is how differently people behave when they do not have to look you in the face while stating their opinion. When they are speaking into the vastness of the internet they will feel free to speak however they please, even if that speech is hateful, abusive or intolerant in nature. As such I’ve been encountering intolerance in a way I haven’t had personal contact with since I was a tween.
Some of it is simple fat hatred, and although I am losing weight and will get to my goal I will always remain a member of the fat community. Fat is my body’s natural state – the fact that I am forcing it away from that state doesn’t change what my genetics intended me to be. This journey will never be over, once I reach goal I will have to struggle and fight every day for the rest of my life to stay there. So I will in essence always be “fat” and thus always stand up against intolerant speech, government bias and medical community shaming cruelly directed toward the overweight.
Although I’ve been fortunate not to personally encounter it I know there is a lot of bias directed toward nerds in general or female nerds in particular in my gaming/Fantasy/Sci Fi community. Just the other day on Facebook I saw a boy spewing profanity and vitriol toward a female cosplayer who has a fantastic body and likes to create sexy outfits. His intolerance of her is sickening to me. Women in that situation simply cannot win, if they are perceived unattractive then they are hated for the same reason I was as a child – not being available for the viewing pleasure of boys, and if they are attractive they are hated anyway (though the reasons why are more mystifying to me in this regard, perhaps for being unattainable?) Needless to say the nerdy community can and does still turn on itself, and as a card-carrying nerd girl I will speak out against those instances as well.
And lastly I encounter intolerance for the sake of my faith. This one is the most painful, as it is most deeply close to the core of who I am. It tends to be generalized rather than specific, although once in college I did have a friend smirk and inform me that I was a, “blind sheep” – most of my current friends respect my beliefs and even support me in what they see as my quest to live a good life, even if they don’t share my ideas about the correct path to doing so.
On the internet it can get pretty nasty out there. Criticism about the stupidity of Christians and our superstitious belief in a fairy tale book and all powerful sky-man can get pretty thick. Usually when I speak up and say, “hey – I am one of those, can you lay off the insults a bit?” people will back off at least temporarily, because then I’ve put a face to the label. They are forced to realize that this person who shares their interests and seemed pretty cool is part of this big, amorphous group that they’re having fun mocking.
Sometimes they explain to me that since some messed up jerk falsely claiming to be a Christian was mean to them in the past, that gives them the right to be mean to me now. I say “falsely claiming” because if someone has actually read the bible and is actively practicing the teachings of Jesus Christ they wouldn’t have acted like a monster in the first place (I am looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church). Even so, if that were a good justification for intolerance then I guess I should hate all boys forever for beating me up as a child, but I don’t want to live my life spewing hate just because it got spewed at me. Also, it’s completely unfair to all the good, real men out there who deserve to be seen as individuals and not judged for the actions of others.
And then sometimes I’m simply told, ‘no.’ No, I cannot speak to you or about your faith without hurling insults, and by you asking me to you are stifling me and trying to force me to conform to your viewpoint – because that’s exactly what all you Christians always do.
Think about that for a minute… asking someone to please not insult my faith during the course of open conversation, is perceived as me stifling free speech and taking away their personal voice and viewpoint. Keep in mind that I never at any point asked them to mindlessly agree with my opinion, they are as always wholly welcome to their own, and to respectfully share their own in open discourse. I merely asked if they were able to freely give and take opinions in an open fashion without also demeaning the beliefs of others and publicly bullying them. Do you think if a gay person asked publicly not to be referred to as the “F” word during the course of an open discussion that “no” would be the acceptable answer? Do you think if a black person asked not to be referred to as the “N” word during the course of an open discussion, that “no” would be the acceptable answer?
I think in either circumstance an entire army of people would rise up to defend that gay or black person’s right to open conversation without insults being directed their way, and I would absolutely be one of them. Yet when discussing Christians the words “moron” and “idiot” are apparently perfectly acceptable parts of the conversation, and I don’t see many people stepping up to speak out against it.
This isn’t just about me, or what I believe. It’s about mutual courtesy and respect for those who are different from us. I give it, always and without exception to those I am communicating with who are different from me – even if I disagree with them I am fully capable of saying, “I disagree – and here is why” without also giving insult.
As an example, a lot of my friends are pagans. I don’t agree with their beliefs, but I know that they are living their life in the way they feel is right and good and beautiful, and I’ve learned some really beautiful things from them sharing with me. I would never dream of insulting something so close to what they feel is the core of their being, even though it differs drastically at times from what lies at the core of mine. To me, free respectful and open disagreement is actually part and parcel of what makes America a great place to live.
I give it, and I expect it in return. I no longer have the time or patience for those unwilling or unable to extend the same courtesy to me that I extend to others.
My only hesitation is to wonder if this change in my attitude is a failing to show love. I am caught between believing that being a Christian does not equal being a doormat and knowing that utterly withdrawing from many social contacts with the world isn’t what I’m supposed to do either. You will rarely see my husband on any form of social media primarily because he wants to go on liking people and that is easier when you don’t know too much about what they really think of you. That is sad, but it’s also totally understandable to me.
I guess I have to make some more decisions here. If anyone is still reading, thanks for letting me get my jumble of thoughts down. Respectful opinions, be they agreement or disagreement, are always welcome.