by STEPHANIE BROWN
My girls and I walk into ballet with completely opposite emotions and expectations. They open the doors excited about what lies ahead. I enter with dread, knowing that for the next hour I will be at the mercy of whoever happens to be sitting within a metre radius of me.
Those people will dictate what I have to listen to and the topics of conversation I will be pressured to engage in.
This week was a doozy. Conversation drifted to religion.
I know this is a very politically incorrect topic to write about.
Spirituality is OK. Religion, not so much.
I know it will automatically switch people off or turn them on. Neither response I am too thrilled about, but the conversation has been swimming around in my brain and must be dealt with.
The mother in my radius this week was discussing her reasons for wanting to move out of the area in which we live. Top of her list, the thing she dislikes most about our leafy suburbia, is that everyone is religious; she perceives we live in a bible belt.
She went on to talk about the large percentage of parents and children in her son’s class who were involved with a church. She vented about feeling in the minority, saying that although people didn’t talk to her about their faith, she felt they were ‘preachy’.
All in all, it seemed that there was little evidence of actual problems or encounters, quite simply she didn’t like it, she didn’t like them. People weren’t like her and this made her uncomfortable.
The reactions were mixed. Some nodded politely, and some had confused looks on their faces. Some went as far as to point out that their experience was quite different, but no one directly challenged her, and I believe she would have walked away thinking people were in agreement with her.
I sat there pondering. I couldn’t help but feel I was caught up in a moment that could be somewhat farcical. If she had said she wanted to leave an area because she didn’t like that there were a group of Asian or Middle Eastern people, it would have been met with shock.
If she had said she was miserable because there were so many homosexual people she would have been heatedly challenged. If she had singled out any other group, even any other religious group, I think it would be seen as being narrow minded and intolerant, and she would have been put in her place.
In contrast, it seemed it was socially acceptable to isolate and attach negative stigma to people involved in the Christian faith. In essence, it was stereotyping and placing prejudice on a group of people without knowing or experiencing them as individuals.
Without getting into the nuts and bolts of whether the area is in fact a bible belt, I have felt uncomfortable about that conversation. It seemed to reinforce a trend, where people with a Christian faith in Australia are free game to be joked about or spoken of negatively in the paper, on the radio and in comic sketches.
You only have to look at regular columns in mainstream papers to find numerous examples of this kind of treatment. The jokes and criticism are often entertaining, and in some cases valid, but I have some level of concern. If the mainstream media took this approach to any other group it would be inappropriate and unacceptable. So why is it tolerated in this case?
Is it because Christianity is perceived to be the institution so many have experienced and are rebelling against? Is it acceptable to generalise and stereotype because most Australians have had some personal contact and experience so, as they see it, they are insulting their own and not a vulnerable minority group? Or do people really have such horrid experiences relating to Christians that their treatment seems valid? I really don’t know the answer, but I have some hopes that things will change.
Surely we should be aiming to remove stereotyping, generalising, pulling down, slandering and discriminating against any one group completely, not just selectively. I want my children to grow up in a world where these things are never acceptable, without exceptions.
I hope this mother can learn a few things. I hope she can learn to put aside her own experiences and prejudices and treat these people like individuals without projecting a uniform typecast on them. I hope she can teach her son that although he may be in the minority in his class, he will still have many things in common with his peers and to look for those commonalities rather than the differences.
I hope she can stop publicly making negative statements about a broad group of people based solely on their belief system. I hope she can extend the courtesy and respect to others that she demands for herself.
And more than anything, at ballet this week, I hope I can find the words to challenge her, because although it sounds more politically correct when couched in an atheistic viewpoint, to be that prejudiced and generalising towards one group is still pretty ugly.
Stephanie is an English and History teacher who is on a break while she raises her three children. She is rediscovering her love of writing while she tries to figure out what the next step is.
Do you and your friends or acquaintances ever talk about religion? Or is it strictly off limits?