I Am Large

Never fear, not another weight-loss post (which my Facebook friends have seen from me ad nauseum)! My title is drawn from a line I love:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman

People on Facebook and Twitter have mentioned occasionally (and, I suspect, thought more than occasionally) that I’m difficult to pin down. It’s not entirely clear what I believe on a whole range of issues.

Sometimes that is ‘read’ as being dishonest or strategic. I don’t think it is: if someone wishes to ask a straight question about what I believe, I’m always willing to give a straight answer. That answer itself might be ‘it’s complicated’… and might then spin out into something like a blog post. That’s because I’m very comfortable with ambiguity and complexity, so what I really think about something is often not easy to communicate in a sentence.

I guess the other thing is that I’m happy to talk to other people in their own register, not in mine. I recently wrote a piece, which will be published in Adventist Today in a month or so, about climate change. I clearly outlined the science, but also made the point that it is the most vulnerable people on Earth who will be most harmed. I quoted the book of Revelation, which says that at the Second Coming Christ will return to ‘destroy those who destroy the Earth’, and I quoted Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about what his followers have done for ‘the least of these’.

For myself, I don’t necessarily believe that there will be a Second Coming. It seems wildly improbable to me. But I’m not being dishonest, I don’t think, in speaking to Christians in the language of their own wisdom literature, to motivate them to act in a way that is simply humane and human. To clarify for them that, despite the ‘prosperity gospel’ and all the deeply evil shit some of their ‘leaders’ espouse, if you actually look at what Jesus (is reported to have) said in the Bible, it’s generally a decent guide to life.

One of my atheist friends immediately commented one of the less lovely things Jesus (is reported to have) said, about creating division between families, and used that to dismiss everything Jesus (is reported to have) said. I see that approach pretty often, but I don’t necessarily see it as a way of having a connected human conversation with people.

I try to apply the same approach to other belief systems, unless and until they’re harmful. Taking the vitamin and herbal supplements your naturopath prescribes is, to me, a silly way of creating very expensive urine (because with a balanced diet, most supplements go straight through us), but I’m happy to leave you to it… until s/he prescribes bicarb soda instead of chemo for your cancer (because s/he believes it’s fungal) and significantly shortens your life.

So yes, I’ll engage with Christians on their own terms – until they’re opposing same-sex marriage in Australia or working toward the death penalty for gay people in Uganda: then I’ll resist them as hard as I can.

I guess there’s the danger of seeming condescending with this approach: “Oh well, I have this ascended understanding, so I can talk to all these deluded people in their own language to try to enlighten them.”

I don’t think it’s that, though. I think it’s an attempt to make a genuinely human connection ‘across the aisle’ with everyone. To hold no person in contempt… but to support and advocate for ideas that lead to human flourishing, and challenge ideas that do harm.

So, if you’re confused by who I am and what I stand for (a) I hope this little chat has been helpful and (b) so am I, a lot of the time and (c) ask!