Things we don’t say

I’ve been thinking about things we think but don’t say because we’re still afraid to challenge some parts of the status quo publically and out loud. By “we,” I mean people in general but especially those of us of a more progressive or even radical persuasion. I feel there is a certain amount of self-censorship among us because sometimes if we said what we really think, it might prove all of conservative’s worst fears about us. It may also be that we don’t feel like getting into a big annoying discussion that will really just go around in circles and would be easier to not have. Have you ever tried to explain your faith or politics to someone in your second or third language? It gets confused and difficult and it is easier to talk about the weather because that is what they taught us in high school language class. That is what it seems like to me.

Here’s an example
I don’t really “believe” in the Bible in the sense that more evangelical and/or fundamental Christians “believe” in the Bible. I’m not really into the personal Jesus my saviour/boyfriend, sanctified by the blood thing. I tend to be more into the Jesus the interesting and challenging human who taught us a lot about how to live. I’m not going to throw out scripture or the idea of Jesus as Christ but neither am I all tied up in either. By saying that outloud (or typing it), I imagine I have just committed some heresy of Christianity and Anabaptism or maybe I’ve just let the cat out of the bag.

My point is that I think that a lot of us progressive folk hold our tongues or pay lip service to the status quo because we don’t feel like getting into it. We are afraid that if we don’t throw a few christ/savior/lord references into things, we might get called unchristian. We don’t want to deal with having our religious and other beliefs challenged or challenging others because it can just get too complicated and annoying because we are speaking different languages.

So, here are the questions you should all respond to because I really like comments and check for them a couple times a day.

What are you thinking but not saying and why aren’t you saying it?

Is it just to avoid those annoying conversations? Do we convince ourselves that “we really do kind-of believe in the status quo in a way – right? We just understand it in different way and we are so progressive we won’t triffle over little things – right? it’s all the same…”

Comments (9)

  1. eric

    great thought katie.

    i don’t say: sin entered into the writing of the bible.

    but that’s because i can’t quite figure out a strong definition of sin that i care very much about, and i think the entire concept of ‘the bible’ as a valid textual unit is a bit silly to start with. it’s more of a best-of compilation by someone who’s tastes don’t necessarily match mine.

    that’s a lot of explaining to do for a statement that would already be offensive enough to many christians without my further dissection of it.

    there’s also the fact that i get bored with what seem to me fairly basic statements of honesty. we’re all agnostics, everyone of every faith or non-faith in existence is agnostic. we don’t know. the various letters and poems and histories that have been compiled into what we call the bible were written and compiled by people who may or may not have been particularly more or less inspired than you or i. they disagree with each other on a regular basis about who and what god is and what god wants. and on and on. Jesus existed, as did many other prophets – some considered messianic, others not, by various groups.

    what’s the point? the conversation doesn’t actually becoming interesting till you reach a level beyond that.

    maybe your different language explanation is an apt metaphor for that. there’s not much interesting to discuss when you don’t even have enough of a shared language to communicate.

    on the other hand – ever since a bit of a personal shake-up a few years back, (and with some thanks to you) my self-censoring has all gone to pot. sometimes that concerns my grandma who would prefer that everyone in the community continue to respect me. i find those things hard to care about a lot of the time.

    it looks to me like several of my comments here could be construed as somewhat egotistic – as though my particular preferences should have anything to do with what texts become canonized or i have reached a level of honest enlightenment unattained by, well, people who can’t even acknowledge the difference between faith and knowledge. damn – i did it again.

    oh well. like i said. basic honesty. i’m not all about relativism, or opposed to strong statements of faith – but you have to start by acknowledging a basic universe and your frame of reference within it. without that on both sides, conversation is a silly little (often masochistic) game to play if you have the time and the heart for it.

  2. Pingback: Response to MJS on Coverings and Conservative Mennonites » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  3. graham

    Great questions/challenge. However, I think you miss an important factor. Sometime it’s just not *helpful* to get into these things.

    I can think of some old folks that I fellowship with, who would be genuinely upset by some of the beliefs that I hold or some that I don’t. As some of them involve technical arguments, or completely new paradigms of thought (e.g. re-evaluating penal substitution by reconsidering the purpose/efficacy of OT sacrifices), I’m just not sure that the time and effort involved to help them see what I actually believe in the first place is always worth it.

    Not sure if that makes sense?

  4. folknotions

    This is a great thread that I didn’t notice until Eric linked to it in a recent comment. Thanks! I think more folks should respond to this, so I’m leaving a comment to keep it on the sidebar

    Something I don’t say: I don’t think Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus is The Way, but he didn’t say “The Only Way”

    It seems culturally imperialist to assume that Jesus is better than all other teachers. I become overwhelmed by my faith and love of God, and feel re-affirmed in my faith in Christ’s teachings, when I read about Indian yogis. Is that heresy?

    I don’t think we have a monopoly over the truth. If someone claims that God only revealed himself fully through Jesus Christ, I think that is dangerously limiting our view of God. Who are we to say that God hasn’t manifested in many different ways throughout history? I don’t like to put limitations on God.

    In response to Katie and Eric, discussing the place of the Bible, I have recently been reading the Hutterite confession of faith. In it, Peter Riedemann states that the first book was Creation, not the Bible. That is beautiful to me. I am reminded to look around at what God has created as an ever-present reaffirmation of God’s love and power in the world.

  5. Skylark

    folknotions, I see absolutely nothing wrong with gleaning the truth from other faiths’ writings. Some people get all bent out of shape at the idea, perhaps assuming Christians who read “outside Christianity” do so out of scorn for writers with a more Jesus-centric approach. That’s not it at all.

    I really liked “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nach Than, though I’m sure I’m not spelling his name right. I wasn’t too crazy about his efforts to make Christianity and Buddhism sound like exactly the same thing, but he had some really good things to say about living in the here-and-now and appreciating the present.

    If we are so caught up in “Only Christians have the truth,” we’ll have to stop reading anything written by anyone else. Goodbye Hallmark cards. Goodbye cookbooks. Goodbye owners’ manuals. Goodbye news from any source that isn’t explicitly “Christian.” (Ignoring the fact many Christians work in secular media or publishing, like me.) Because after all, all truth is God’s truth, so we best get it from the only ones who have truth. Some rank “Christian music” by it’s Jesuses-per-minute.

    OK, sarcasm aside, I tend not to speak up when someone at church lauds the latest lame attempt by “Christian moviemakers” to produce a blockbuster. I keep quiet when someone asks the church to pray the state lawmakers pass a bill limiting how close patrons can get to a lap dancer. I’m sick of arguing with a particular church member over his/her incessent sending of forwards that say I have to prove I love Jesus by emailing this gushy drivel on to everyone in my address book. A few years ago, I remember the young adult group laughing about accidentally running over a kitten when backing out of a garage. I kept quiet, figuring nothing I could say would bring the cat back now, so what was the point? But their it-doesn’t-matter-who-hurts-if-I’m-having-fun attitudes were making me want to vomit. I don’t say much when the evangelicals say we need to be winning more people for Christ, and we’ve got to get our witness on. When someone asked me if I knew my rainbow-striped belt could be interpreted as supporting gltbq a few years ago, I passed it off as mainly liking the style, not trying to make a statement.

    Maybe these are things I couldn’t keep my cool on if I did talk about them. Or maybe I underestimate myself. I need wisdom to know when to talk about these things, and with whom.

  6. phathui5

    “I don’t think Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus is The Way, but he didn’t say “The Only Way”

    You left out the second half of that verse.

    Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6

    It’s comfortable to say that Jesus isn’t the only way. It’s more polite, less offensive. But it isn’t what He says.

  7. folknotions


    I am in agreement with you. This contradicts my previous statements, but I wrote that during a time of examination of what I believe. I have since changed that position.

    However, I would like to note that I’m not entirely sure that everyone who hasn’t been evangelized is condemned to hellfire. I think there are possibilities for Christ to make himself known outside of scripture (uh-oh, there goes Sola Scriptura! – maybe that’s the thing I’m afraid to say)to people who have not encountered Christ or Christians. How exactly that works, I’m not sure, but I’m confident in the power of God to accomplish these things according to God’s will.

  8. somasoul

    *Feels like he has been sent to the wrong doctor’s office*

    Most Christians believe in the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. Would you say you disagree with that?

    While some of you were brought up in very traditional menno churches I was brought up in a very liberal “anything goes” type unitarian enviroment. I view that stuff as largely flakey, confusing, and irritating. A bunch of people talking about how THEY feel about God, not how God views us.

    Isn’t that idolism or have I lost my mind?

  9. Katie (Post author)

    “My point is that I think that a lot of us progressive folk hold our tongues or pay lip service to the status quo because we don’t feel like getting into it. We are afraid that if we don’t throw a few christ/savior/lord references into things, we might get called unchristian. We don’t want to deal with having our religious and other beliefs challenged or challenging others because it can just get too complicated and annoying because we are speaking different languages.”

    Somasoul, you seem to have a knack for illustrating my points pretty well. Do I believe in the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed? Eh, if it would make you feel better, sure, why the h*ll not. Really, do I hold those creeds to be useful in my life and faith? No, not really. As far as I can tell, the whole idea of these creeds in the first place was to create a litmus test to say who was/is and who wasn’t/isn’t “Christian.” Another way of putting it, it’s a yardstick for “correct belief” (thank you Wikipedia). They were used to exclude people, always a fun pastime of the powers-that-be of the institutional church.

    Neither of these creeds are part of my personal faith history as I grew up Mennonite (though Mennos can be just as strict about “correct beliefs” despite being officially creed-free). I’m not much into Orthodoxy, especially creeds written in the 4th century (or earlier) by a bunch of old men who met together to decide what was Christian and what was heresy. A bunch of people reciting an old creed to prove their right belief seems kinda like idolatry to me (while we’re calling things idolatry) but, you know, whatever floats their boats. Do I have major objections to the contents of these creeds? eh, some parts, yes, some parts, no. Does that make me a heretic? Eh, whatever floats your boat.

    So, again, to illustrate my point about the things we don’t say. It seems we might be speaking different languages on this one and this discussion is bound to get mired down in tedious semantics. Let’s not, shall we?

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