The human face of christian spite

“You just hate god!” “You’re angry at god!” “You’re rebelling against god!” “Our faith doesn’t affect you!” “Why are you attacking us when nothing we do affects you?”

I can’t tell you how often I hear this, both here on News24 and elsewhere. Rational arguments have been made to indicate how wrong those statements are, but it seems they fall on deaf ears. So I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of arguing with you, I’m going to show you. I’m going to try and put a human face to all the arguments, and I’m going to do this by showing you examples from my own life.

Do I hate god? No. I don’t believe god is real. God never affected me at all, because in my life, he simply doesn’t exist. No. I’m not angry at god. If I’m angry at anyone, it’s at certain kinds of god believers. I am angry at fundamentalist Christians. Do I hate them? No. I simply don’t like them very much. They are not the kind of people I want to associate with, because of the way they behave. If I am angry, it is at them. And here is why.

My family is predominantly christian. They’re not all of the same denomination, and here and there you have the odd atheist and, in my case, a pagan. As a little pup growing up, I was naturally taught the version of christianity my parents believed in. I hit a major speed bump almost immediately. The verse in question is Matthew 10:27:

"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” –NIV.

Try to explain that one to a 4 year old child. “If you love your parents more than me, you’re going to hell.” That’s what it comes down to. That’s what 4 year old me understood when I sat in at bible study. I can tell you, I didn’t take that very well. I knew god said elsewhere in the bible that you had to love god with your whole heart and soul, and you were to have no other gods before him, but this thing about loving him more than I loved my family? I knew right then and there that I was going to go to hell. At 4 years old. Imagine what that does to a child of 4: to know that no matter what you did, if you loved your parents a lot, you’d burn forever. I was scared out of my mind, not to mention consumed by guilt...for LOVING MY FAMILY. At that age, you just love your family. You don’t know anything else. Your whole life is your family, and now I’m going to hell for it. I haven’t really even started out yet, and already I have self-esteem problems because of this. I was taught that the bible is always right, so if that’s what the bible said, then that’s what was going to happen. No two ways about it.

Things got noticeably worse when I got to school. Growing up, I didn’t really know too much about other denominations. I knew that some of our family went to a different church, and I knew that their church was wrong. I was not supposed to listen to what they said about the bible because they were wrong. So what do you think happened when I got to school? Now suddenly there were children and teachers who thought of god in a different way. The way they interpreted the bible was different from what I was taught at home, and at church. Of course, I put my little paw up and told the teacher that she was talking crap. I got the hiding of my life at that point, and the ridicule of my classmates. Very few of them wanted anything to do with me after that, and I had to find friends from another class if I wanted company at break times. By this, I knew that my parents were right. Real Christians had to be on their guard and vigilant. Even other Christians could be from the devil. I learned that small differences could be the cause of huge disagreement, and that disagreement often led to being alone at lunch. So I learned to fit in – as much as was advisable. I was taught to treat others with a certain distrust if they didn’t go to the same church we did, and my parents also made sure that I also looked at what I was taught through god-coloured lenses: if we were taught anything that contradicted the bible, I was to not believe it. I was to write down that answer in tests, but I was not to believe it.

This was a problem for me. I had Teacher telling me one thing, my parents telling me another, and both claimed to be right. There I am, a child not even 8 years old, and I must decide who is lying to me. The other problem I had was the concept that I, as a real Christian, had to keep myself aloof from others who could contaminate me. I was a child of 7 though, and who wants to play alone, eat lunch alone? Who wants to be isolated at that age? So I turned to books. Books filled the gap, and thus I became a chain reader. Book after book after book...which served to isolate me even more, because with each book I read, I learned more, and my vocabulary increased. It got to the point where I couldn’t really talk to the other kids of my age group.

That effectively set the pattern for my entire childhood. I was isolated from almost everyone else, and because of all that reading, I was also somewhat more advanced than them. I had a couple of friends, but we were not especially close. Perhaps my interest in books and my lack of social contact led to me being disinterested in sports. I just couldn’t find rugby or cricket interesting. I dreaded PE class because I hated contact sports and athletics. I would so much rather have been with the girls in cooking class or something. I “got” the girls much more than the boys. Physical competition and physical confrontation was a mystery to me. I never understood the drive to fight, or to disassemble stuff to see what made them tick. Such boyish things were completely beyond me. I didn’t understand it. I was still forced to participate in it because “I was going to grow up to be a man, and this is what men did.” Much was made of this in bible class, which just heaped more sin and guilt on my 10 year old head. Not only did I love my parents too much, I also wasn’t enough of a man. I was disappointing god left right and centre, and I grew to hate myself because of that. Gender roles would be a problem for most of my life, because I could never see WHY I was supposed to “take the lead” in everything, or why people got upset when the woman is older than the husband in a marriage, or she earned more money than him. I never got that. I never could be an alpha male. That was just never “me”. I was always a more nurturing kind of person, and...that didn’t go down too well with most people including teachers and family.

Then puberty came along to make it even worse. I hit puberty in my last year of primary school, but this wasn’t yet a problem for me because I was so isolated. Highschool was somewhat different. I made some friends early on by defying god and not caring that they were different from me. Some of them were different themselves. I was “in” with the “out” crowd, but I didn’t care. I liked them all.

So anyway, we were all going through puberty (it was a boys-only school) and naturally we talked about sex and the like. Boys being boys and all. One day, one of the group brought a Hustler to school. We all sat under a tree and looked...and everyone but me got horny. (Or at least, so I thought at the time.) I knew how to fit in by then, so I acted all hot and bothered too, but inside...I was terrified. There was something wrong with me. I was not getting aroused. I borrowed the Hustler and took it home, determined to get a rise out of myself. That afternoon, alone in my room, I opened the centre fold-out...and was horrified by the sight of a woman with her legs and vagina flared open. It was the most awful thing I have ever seen up to that point, and I bolted for the bathroom, there to void my stomach of all contents. I didn’t know at that time what a moffie was, but my body had just made it abundantly clear that I was one.

I was scared, but I didn’t show it. I just took the Hustler back the next day and pretended I’d gotten off. There was other porn available, of course. Teenage boys can be very resourceful when obtaining porn is concerned, and I gradually discovered that there was porn I could tolerate and porn I couldn’t. Porn where the male involved was clearly visible turned me on, and it didn’t take me long to make the connection: it was the MALES that were turning me on. That added whole new levels of fear and self-disgust which only got worse over the years at school.

Being an all-boys school, with heavy Christian leanings, we were told about moffies. Not in an educational way, but in a very degrading manner. Homosexuals were painted as predators out to get boys, that they were diseased Satanists who blasphemed morning, afternoon and night. Sad people who could never be happy and who hurt each other and everyone around them. Haters who lived to destroy Christians. Of course, the bible was pulled out quite often to support this view.

I can’t even begin to tell you how confusing and painful this was. There I was at approximately 13 years old, aware that I didn’t love god enough, not devoted enough to god to isolate myself completely (just enough to ensure that I had a very uncomfortable childhood) and now here I was, a bloody moffie too. That was by FAR the most difficult thing for me to come to terms with. I could make some kind of piece with everything else, but being a moffie was more than I could bear. I hid that down deep, and never mentioned it. Puberty had done me one favour at least: I looked butch enough, and was husky enough that no one actually questioned my sexuality. Which was just as well. I didn’t know what to do, or what to think. I didn’t want to be a diseased person full of hate who hurt other people. Could I really turn out that way?

I was still a good Christian, so I did what any good Christian would go: I prayed. I truly did love god. I wanted so desperately to please god. I did my best to do exactly that. I participated in bible study, and grew in insight every year. I proselytised for god. Whenever I encountered a non-believer, I did my best to tell him about god. I followed god’s law. I prayed in the correct way, as described in the bible: in private and alone, speaking in my heart, with full humility. I begged god, not to change me, but to help me overcome this sin. I tried. I really tried so hard not to be gay. I knew how god felt about it, and I really tried.

Alas. This was a boys-only school. A school full of horny boys. Experimentation was inevitable. I was still trying to not be a moffie. I’d gone so far as to swear off masturbation. I’d decided if I simply stopped being sexual at all, it would help. Teenage hormones being teenage hormones, that was never going to happen. My best friend at the time and I were very close. We did everything together, so when one day he brought over a porn video for us to watch together, I went with it. We’d shared everything else. It didn’t seem particularly weird to share this too. So we watched it together, and eventually masturbated together. This happened a few times until that didn’t seem enough for him anymore, and he offered mutual masturbation and oral sex.

Good Christian that I was, I refused. I wasn’t going to be gay. No way. Even though I wanted to so badly, I didn’t. I hated myself so much for wanting to take him up on the offer, but so proud of myself for resisting.

I can’t even begin to describe the chaos in my mind at the time. I was fighting myself, castigating myself, tearing myself into little pieces. But I survived. That urgent stage of exploration eventually passed and things cooled down. We all acted the parts of homophobic butch boys (even though none of us played sports and we spent most of our time in the library reading, or decorating and painting beautiful designs on the walls – with the approval of the school librarian, who couldn’t believe her luck at having such dedicated “media assistants”.)

High school came to an end and we all departed to our various universities, never having learned the truth about each other.

University was a haven for me. It was the first time I was ever on my own, where I could take care of myself and really BE myself. Only trouble was...I had no idea who I was. I was a bundle of neuroses and I could find no peace within myself. I was still having trouble with being gay, and still refused to admit it to myself. I went back into full hermit mode, and mixed with other students only during class while I worked out my person problems.

One of the more painful awakenings I experienced happened sometime during my second year of my B.Sc: one of my old school buddies contacted me one night (we still visited each other and retained contact) and tearfully told me that he was gay. I was stunned. Part of me wanted to run and hide, cut all contact, reject him...but another part of me whispered “you bloody hypocrite.” So I didn’t reject him, and we met up. He thanked me for not rejecting him, and I told him I would never do such a thing, that I didn’t care if he was gay or not.

Of course, I did care. I was still confused as hell, but I just couldn’t be a hypocrite about this. I thanked him for telling me, and what he said next hurt me to the quick: “Thanks anyway. You know I had to be prepared to lose you as a friend before I could come out to you. You know our other friends are gay too, right?”

That crushed me. I thought back at school. We were all so close, and yet...none of us had dared be honest with each other. Such was our fear of rejection, of being outed to the whole school that we all acted straight. We all lied to each other. How we had all torn each other to pieces each time we made a homophobic remark, how that strengthened our resolve never to reveal it.

That was the most painful moment of my life up to that point, and I decided right there that causing someone else that kind of pain was unacceptable. From now on, I would accept anyone. I would never again reject anyone.

That helped ease my inner turmoil a bit, but I was still not ready to accept myself. So I went back to work. By the end of my third year of the B.Sc, I was crawling out of my shell a little, but it would still be a few years before I finally came to terms.

Another event that helped happened during my first or second year of doing my M.Sc.

I was driving back to my little garden flat one night after losing track of time working on my thesis, and decided I deserved something nice for dessert. So I stopped at the local Spar for chocolate and wine. As I got out of my car, I spotted an older white guy also heading in. As I closed the door and locked, I caught a glimpse of a young black boy approaching him. What happened next shocked me to my core.

The old man backhanded the kid across the face and shoved him away so hard he fell and knocked a dent into one of the parked cars. Then he walked on his merry way as if nothing had happened.

I just stood there, shocked. Other people walked on by and did nothing. They didn’t say anything. They didn’t help that poor child, who lay there crying and bleeding. This happened in Potchefstroom, home of the Potch University for Christian Higher Education. God is BIG in Potch. I stood there, and couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened. A CHILD had been violently assaulted right there in front of me, and NO ONE DID ANYTHING!

So I did, in my befuddled state. I walked up to the kid and helped him up. I dried his tears as best I could and gave the wounds he suffered what treatment I could. Then I told him to wait outside, I’d be back soon with food. I apologised to him. What else could I do? I hadn’t really believed racism was real until that day. I was so ashamed to be Afrikaans at that point I could barely stand it. How could this be justified? How could this happen? I knew, of course.

The bible had been used to justify it. The bible advocated isolating yourself from others who didn’t fear him. I’d done precisely that for so many years, and I was confronted with the reality of what such isolation did: it made you forget your common humanity with others. It made you put GOD ahead of your fellow humans. It made you treat them like dirt, like filth, like they were less than human. It made you dismiss other people as lesser beings – sinners – if they didn’t follow god’s word. But that night, I was forced to acknowledge my common humanity with that black child, as I’d a few years earlier been forced to admit it for my gay friend.

At first, I suffered even more guilt for even questioning the bible, as I’d done many times in the past, each time I noticed something in the bible that didn’t quite fit with Christianity as I understood it and as I was taught. Grandfather and I had discussed this many times, but this time, not even his “always walk in love” interpretation of the bible was enough to save it. The bible was heading out the door, and it needed just one final shove for me to reject it utterly.

That shove came when I ran across a quote by a Native American shaman...a quote that matched almost word for word what I had written down one night while trying to figure out exactly what it was that I believed in. Discovering that there was something out there that matched my wild intuitions, something into which I could fit what I knew about the universe through science, did it for me, and Christianity went right out the window – and along with it, all my efforts to cram my round soul into a square hole.

I am what I am. I didn’t choose to be this way. I wasn’t taught to be this way. No one made me this way. This is me, and I’m done being guilt-ridden and ashamed. No one is ever going to tell me I have no right to be me, or that I must hide myself. If anyone got hurt, it was the people I didn’t trust, and whom I SHOULD have trusted. No one should have to ever lie about themselves to gain acceptance. I reject that notion, and any religion that says otherwise.

You want to know why non-christians get angry at fundamentalists? We’re not affected by your faith? Think again, and think very long and hard too about the children at school, who go through worse than I did because they’re non-christian. At least for me, it was just being a different kind of Christian. Think of those who aren’t even that. You teach your children to hate them, and then you have the temerity to say “well, if you raised your child Christian, they wouldn’t be bullied.”

We’re not angry at your god. We’re angry at YOU. YOU are the ones pulling stuff like this. You may justify your actions with the bible, but it is you who ultimately do it, you who throw the first stone. We don’t judge your god. We judge YOU, as you judge us, each and every day. You may think you’re being cruel-to-be-kind, but ultimately, all that the other person experience is the cruelty.

These experiences I have shared are mild compared to some. Some parents throw their gay kids out of the house at 13, 14, 15 years old. Some teachers stand by as Christian kids beat muslim or atheist children to a pulp.

Some just refuse to see, and does nothing. Like that black child who got assaulted by a white man. What do you think he’s going to remember growing up? The white man who beat him up? How about the number of people who just walked right past him and didn’t do anything? How strong do you think the memory of one white dude who gave him food will be when compared to the violence and blindness of those who ignored him?

And you ask yourself why people are angry? People have suffered, not just through your actions, but through your INACTION.

Last example before I conclude this article. Most of you will know Merry Martin. You’ve all seen her around. Not so long ago, Merry was a Christian like many of you. Unlike most of you, she spoke out against the kind of injustice I mentioned. What did she get for it? Abuse. Worse yet, right this second, there’s a Christian on this site going by the name “MemeMartin”. He’s long maintained that Merry Martin and MemeMan are the same person, even after she permitted people to verify that they’re NOT the same person. Yet still this person continues to attack her. Did any one of you Christians speak up against it? I’ve yet to see ONE of you do so. I’ve yet to see ONE of you call another Christian to order. Merry was the ONLY one whom I ever saw who did so, and all it got her was abuse. Now, she’s an atheist, no small thanks to you lot.

Hate god? No. God doesn’t exist. But you do. Unfortunately.