I was reading an article in the Guardian today about how hard it is to be a Muslim in public life. You get asked all kinds of questions like, ‘Do you think the state of Israel should exist? Do you sympathise with terrorists? What do you think of underage marriage?’ You become the poster-girl or boy for every horrendous act perpetrated in the name of Islam – and in the end you discover, as Nesrine Malik says, that the only way to win the game is not to play.
I can totally sympathise – if not empathise – with this, because it ain’t that easy to come out as a Christian these days either, at least not in Europe. I would never suggest that Christians get abuse on the level of Muslims – for a start, we’re not easily visible unless we go out looking like these guys (the ones with crucifixes, not the ones with breasts). Unless we open our mouths and start quoting the Bible, nobody can tell what we are. But if you want to suck all the atmosphere out of a social occasion and have people edging away from you fast, just try mentioning the G-word.
These days I don’t even say I’m a you-know-what: if anyone asks I tell them I’m a Quaker. This is partly because it’s more in tune with where I am, and partly because you avoid being blamed by association for everything from colonialism to the inquisition. Being a Quaker is much more user-friendly because either people don’t know what that means and are interested, or they do know what it means and start talking about chocolate and world peace (usually in that order.) Being a Quaker is – well, Friendly – and unless your interlocutor is wedded to nuclear weapons or radically opposed to chocolate in all its forms, you’re onto a winner.
Then again, it’s better to stick to the outward actions rather than touching on the inner revelation. Mention ‘the spirit’ or ‘worship’ or ‘the light’ and people will edge away faster than the tide at Camber Sands (and believe me, that’s fast.) Why is it so hard to talk about this stuff? Why are people so hostile to anyone, no matter how tolerant or open-minded, who expresses a faith? I’m not Billy Graham, for f***’s sake; nor do I think evangelism is a good thing. Quite the reverse.
Sometimes I can’t help thinking that the evangelists are all atheists now. Doesn’t Richard Dawkins want to make converts? Aren’t some of the new atheists more intolerant than the believers?
Discuss. (Politely, please – rude comments will be deleted.)