It is 9pm in a city centre bar and I find myself on the defensive. Somehow the conversation has turned to religion and, as if my mother was being directly insulted, I’m prepared to speak frankly if necessary.
I have to remember to control myself. One deep breath and I’m rather more relaxed. Everything continues civilly. Perhaps I feel tense as it is only hours after the above beer label started a conversation on the topic.
I am, for my sins (pun intended,) a Christian. Specifically I’m actually Catholic, as that is the church I attend on the odd occasions I do go, though I do not identify myself under a singular denomination. My faith doesn’t define me nor dictate many of my actions. It should do - according to non-Christians – but it doesn’t.
Christiantity has a basis of privilege in western society being the dominant religion. I know that I am not marginalised by bigots for my faith and that is a freedom other faiths don’t have. What this privilege creates in this country, however, is a series of unwelcome conversations where my beliefs can be questioned in everyday social situations in a manner deemed acceptable. The assumptions made about Christians are often delivered in either an accusatory tone or with a smirk.
To try and best create an equivalence I have previously compared being a Christian in modern England to being a Scottish football fan in modern England. I used to be a big fan of Scottish football and support one of the two big Old Firm (Glasgow) teams. These two teams spent much of the late 90s and 00s being judged on whether they were fit to join the English league as that was considered to be the only way they could further excel. On learning your love for Scottish football people in general conversation would automatically make two assumptions:
a) You believe domestic Scottish football to be as good as domestic English football
b) You believe Rangers and Celtic (The Old Firm) are capable of competing for the English Premier League title.
Neither of these ideals were applicable to me or the majority of Old Firm supporters I knew, yet these “conversations” (arguments) would break out with fans of English football anyway. The accusations and derision came from assumptions of your beliefs and the discussions would continue this way even after explaining that their conjectures were false.
Talking about Christianity here is similar. By existing I am allowed to be challenged directly about my thoughts on sexuality, creationism, mosaic period text, etc.. and people often assume they understand my attitudes beforehand.
At a time of heightened cultural awareness I’m sometimes a touch perturbed by the ignorance I receive so I’ll make it clear.
You – a non-Christian – don’t get to decide my faith. You don’t get to decide my interpretations of written doctrine. You don’t get to decide what I must believe based on the ramblings of Ricky Gervais. You don’t get to decide what I assumedly dictate to other humans based on Richard Dawkins work. You don’t get to decide who I am talking with at the end of a telepathic converasation. You don’t get to mock that ritual of lighting a candle under Mary’s statue in every place of worship I attend across the globe.
And if you are a non-Christian who often raises issues of cultural misappropriation, but still celebrates Christmas and/or Easter…
This began when I saw the first image on this page and I began to think of the many other labels and names using Christian imagery that have entered beer. Not a single one of them bothers me. There is nothing within me that takes offence to those words and images. Heck, I would happily buy the lot (I often do with the Great Heck.)
It did make me consider though why that has gone unchallenged? We are taking on sexism and racism in beer correctly – images and language that shouldn’t divide opinion. But there are many discussions about the more schismatic use of cultural misappropriation in beer. Yet none of my beer peers have questioned the use of Christianity in beer or asked my opinion about it.
It may be that the creators are Christian. It may be that some are huge Bobby Bare fans. Maybe we are doing this cultural and religious ambiguity correctly and waiting for an actual Christian to speak about this. I have no issue with these beers and nobody else seems to have raised it. Yet I have seen increasing examples of brewers and marketers being questioned as they haven’t considered that a certain image on their marketing was once sacred in 18th century Mutapa. Stop defending cultures that haven’t asked for it. It begins to degrade the important discussions.
Mostly, though, this was never a conversation about beer even if it is one that I have in the pub frequently. I’m not suggesting that Christians are marginalised or that I ever feel that way. I would just like people to consider their language more and reel in their offensive assumptions. Especially those that challenge prejudices openly yet are judgemental of religion.
When it comes to imagery and text, maybe speak to somebody it affects first before throwing out the disrespectful language. If somebody actually asked me as a Christian what I thought of Jesus' use in beer I will happily tell them that the Scary Jesus Rock Stars are on me.
As with all religions, with their many interpretations and denominations, a single noun to cover all is problematic. My vision of Christianity is very different to my mother’s, as hers is her mother’s. We belong to the same faith though. Let us interpret the words and symbols. Let us appropriate those correctly. You don’t decide whether to fight the fight or let it be. It might just be that my Nanna would have hated those labels.
I’d like to end by redirecting you to a post I wrote after my Nan passed two years ago. I mention religion briefly there and the solace it gave my late Nanna and my mother. We recently laid my father-in-law to rest after he had battled illness for 17 years. He had been an atheist until the illness. He found something in the church in those final years to give him strength and comfort. Nobody can be sure what it was but faith doesn't need a descriptive. His atheist friends respected it for what it was. Make sure you would have done the same.