I read an article about four Shopfitters who had been antagonising a Teenager who was doing an apprenticeship with them. Apparently it was a form of hazing and when put before a judge called what they did banter. Banter for these Shopfitters took on a distinctly religious overtone however when they realised the teenager was a Christian. The hazing included..
- Being attacked with a lit aerosol
- Tying him to a “crucifix” and having crosses daubed over his face and body
- Tied to a chair with duck tape and had a dummy forced into his mouth before being paraded out into the street and then given a wedgie
- Drawing symbols, both religious and phallic, over [the teenager’s] face.
These weren’t children, the oldest of the group is 37 at the time of writing this. Whilst I’m not a stranger to the various initiation rituals that go on in these circles the fact that this behaviour is acceptable is really troubling. This wasn’t purely religiously motivated, it isn’t a binary case of this or that and I’m sure each of the Shopfitters in some form each went through their own form of hazing but this is distinct because of their shared disdain for the Teenagers Christian beliefs. We’re talking and writing about it because these men acted on their views but the views themselves are widespread. In 2012 Richard Dawkins stated at a ‘reason’ rally in the US..
So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!
Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.
Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.
Now I have no doubt the Dawkins himself would rebuke the actions of the Shopfitters and in this instance he wasn’t talking of mockery for the sake of mockery (though I think this distinction is a fine one for him) nor do I think the Shopfitters would be counted amongst his adherents. I agree with Dawkins that no religion (or rather any ideology or belief system including Dawkin’s anti-theism) is off limits for discussion. Yet despite this I’m not talking about the actions of the individuals, that’s a symptom of (among other things) their low view of Christian belief. Now I’m not saying Dawkins et al is responsible for that low view but is merely echoing what seems to be an increasingly pronounced sentiment at work in our society. A sentiment that is expressing itself in various forms in a variety of ways at different levels of society. The Shopfitters didn’t distinguish the Teenager from his beliefs which I think in this instance is to his credit despite the terrible cost.
This case in many ways is a extreme example of how religion is received currently both certain areas of education and the workplace. University academia was in many ways the most tame and manageable form of disdain I encountered for trusting in and pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet in the workplace we’re an ideological minority, who on coming out runs the risk of being immediately quizzed on our sex life and its history, our views on any range of topics and public individuals. This is followed by a measure of distance being introduced by colleagues depending on the degree to which they object to our answers. Sometimes the objection isn’t upfront and instead finds itself in the form of passive aggressive jibes or links to articles denigrating your belief. When confronted the response is often along the lines of ‘it’s just banter’ or ‘shouldn’t you be turning the other cheek?’ to outright ignoring the question altogether. In the private sector its just easier to not talk about it. Its not persecution, but their is disdain at times and if the experience becomes normative you begin to internalise the disdain.
Despite all the above the thing I’m left wondering (which is the crux of what I’m trying to get to) is what sort of support existed for the Teenager in question on the part of his Church? Dealing with this sort of behaviour has become a matter for the individual as its generally left unspoken about in most Churches. The hazing process is initiation, the questions asked when you come out are to appraise how much your like ‘everyone else’. If they pass you over you’re not in any way functionally different to those around you, your faith is either unknown or not distinct enough to warrant the attention. The easiest way to avoid the hazing and the banter is to simply keep quiet and to not act on your beliefs. Is that what Churches want? I wonder sometimes if part of the reason their are lower numbers of Men in the church is partly down to attrition and eventual internalisation of the views espoused that occurs as a result of this friction. Its not an intellectual decision but a emotional one. You see the faith as something to be mocked, denigrated and laughed about or even scorned and the person in Pulpit goes on as if they are completely oblivious to what’s going on out there. Nobody respects the faith, there is no fear of God in the land and the Church doesn’t seem too bothered about those on the ‘frontlines’. Christians spend more of their week in work than in Christian community and yet this is something that we just don’t seem to talk about.
The Church needs to equip people to deal with this sort of behaviour from both their peers and seniors in work and at home, not everyone experiences this ‘banter’ but I see the practice becoming more acceptable as time goes on. This isn’t a matter for individuals to handle on their own, because the path of least resistance is to just opt out. We shouldn’t have to tolerate this sort of treatment and should be shining a light on these incidents and calling them out when they occur. If we just accept it people will push it further and denigrate not just the believer, but the Church and ultimately God. We can’t stop it entirely but we need to be there to minister to one another and work together to make the case to society that we are worthy of the same respect attributed to everyone else. Jesus told us we’d always be mocked because they mocked him but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t taking place and that everything is therefore ok.