What kind of religion is that?
We recently spent time at our cottage. It’s not as remote and rustic as some, but life is simpler there. We do have a television—one that requires you to stand up and walk over to change the channel—but we don’t have cable or satellite. This leaves us the choice of three channels.
The Sunday morning that our holidays ended we packed to leave. My two teenagers had done their part and needed to wait while my husband and I took care of the last-minute details. The kids settled in front of the television. I packed the lunches and finished in the kitchen.
As I spread tuna salad on the first sandwich, I heard the click of the dial in the adjoining TV room and the happy sounds of TVO Kids. That didn’t last long. The dial clicked again as my kids searched for more mature fare. Then I heard the unmistakable, roller coaster, Reverend Lovejoy-esque voice of a television evangelist, from the kind of program that always ends with some version of “Please send money.”
My back stiffened, as if they had tuned into Playboy TV or one of the cruder episodes of The Family Guy.
I expected that they would ditch that channel immediately. I expected that the episode of Pinky Dinky Doo they had just left behind on TVO would suddenly become very appealing. But, no. They stayed with that channel, and they watched with anthropological interest.
From the kitchen I listened long enough to hear the cringe-inducing expressions “wrath of God,” “sin,” and “fear the Lord.” That was all within about 30 seconds. I hadn’t even finished making the first tuna sandwich, but I couldn’t take it any more.
“Guys,” I said, “I’d rather you didn’t watch that.”
My daughter called out, incredulous, “What kind of religion is that.”
We are members of a progressive Christian denomination, and my daughter didn’t recognize that version of Christianity as anything even close to what she had ever experienced.
I know that version of Christianity is what non-church-goers assume about me when I tell them that I go to church. The assumption exasperates me, because that version of Christianity is so different from mine as to be unrecognizable to my children.
My exasperation must be like the frustration that Muslims feel when faced with assumptions of fundamentalism and violence. Every day a billion-plus Muslims lead peaceful, loving, charitable, normal, routine, humdrum, prayerful lives. There have to be Muslim teenagers out there who, upon seeing news of suicide bombings, say “What kind of religion is that?” That version of Islam would be so different from their experience as to be unrecognizable to them.
“Normal” doesn’t make headlines
Routine doesn’t make the 6:00 news. Humdrum is not newsworthy. Exceptions to the rule get the big block newspaper print. The exceptions that make the news plant seeds that grow mistaken assumptions.
We, as individuals, can do better than that. We can recognize the “exception” for what it is and look past it to see what “the rule” is all about.