Nihilne Sanctum? Is Nothing Sacred?

Just a few weeks before we left the States to move to Dubai, I saw something that bugged me.

In the parking lot of the post office there was a car that had what appeared to be one of those Christian fishes on the back. As I got closer though, I saw that inside the fish was not the name “Jesus” but the words “‘N Chips.” It reminded me of the fish with legs that says “Darwin” in the middle and it helped me figure out why I have never like those.

It seems puzzling to me that in an age when we work so hard to make others feel accepted and grow toward tolerance (which I believe are wonderful things) the one last religious group it seems tolerable to slam on is Christians. If someone had a bumper sticker that took a sacred symbol of Judaism, for example, and made fun of it, people would be (and rightfully so) outraged.

I thought, well maybe Christians are the only ones who would put a sacred symbol on their cars, so maybe they deserve it. But, after I moved to Dubai, I realized that that wasn’t true. Many Muslims here have the Islamic confession on the back of their cars. If someone in the States put it on the back of their car and changed it to make a joke, they would be considered a jackass (and most probably would be a jackass).

I am on two sides of this issue because I am decidedly a Christian, and I also preach tolerance. A real life example brought this home to me last week.

My wife and I were traveling to Oman via bus to visit some relatives in Muscat. We had requested a front row seat because my wife gets very car sick and it helps a great deal if she can see out the front window. Upon boarding the bus we sat down in the two seats directly behind the driver. Across the aisle from us was an older Muslim woman in her abiya. She immediately began complaining to one of the men in charge about us sitting across the aisle from her. She was speaking in Hindi, so my wife understood what she was saying.

Initially, she was upset because I was in the aisle seat closest to her and she did not want a male that close. Out of respect then, my wife and I switched seats so my wife was on the aisle. However, the woman was still upset that we were across from her, saying that she had booked her tickets four days in advance and it shouldn’t be like this. At one point her argument with the man about us reached a screaming stage with her threatening to exit the bus and cursing the man for tell her to pipe down.

There are a number of possible cultural explanations as to why she was acting this way, though she never said exactly what bothered her so. One, she most probably assumed that an Indian woman and a white man were not married. The implication is that my wife is easy, so she considered being near us frustrating or she was frustrated that fornicators would have the same privileges (sitting up front) as her. Another possibility is that she had wanted her servant to sit across the aisle from her. The woman was taking up both seats on her side and may have planned that her servant sit opposite her. As it ended up, her servant sat right behind her. And it may have been something else altogether. We’ll never know for sure.

All the while she was screaming and ranting she was holding the Muslim prayer beads. This really put me in a pickle. I preach tolerance, but I was not tolerating her intolerance very well. By definition, tolerance means be tolerant of intolerance, too. I wasn’t feeling tolerant. In fact, if I spoke Hindi I probably may have said something like, “Is this how your faith teaches you to treat people?! You’d better stop praying, then!”

But then I was struck. How am I any better than that woman? I wanted to repay her yelling by yelling at her. Okay, I didn’t do it, but I wanted to. I realized at that point, that the woman was on the outside what we all are on the inside. And if she needs a lesson in tolerance, love and decency, so do I all the more. At that point I prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

So, I guess people can continue to put whatever they want on their cars.

And though it hurts to have something that’s sacred to me made into a joke, I know that I probably make a joke out of being sacred everyday.

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6 Comments on “Nihilne Sanctum? Is Nothing Sacred?”

  1. Evonne Says:

    Y’know, I have to say that I never looked at the “Jesus fish” as a sacred symbol of Christianity before your post. And now I’m going to think twice before giggling. Speaking from an ignorant viewpoint, I should say that I never realized that the symbol of a fish was considered sacred. I mean, I know the story, but I never put a fish on the same level as, say, the Cross. So that makes it easier to look at it and think “fish” rather than Fish.
    IMHO, it’s not tolerable to slam on Christianity any more than any other religion (I prefer equal-opportunity slamming with a good-natured sense of humor), but with Christianity being a large majority in our country, it’s much more noticeable when people who call themselves Christians loudly and publicly behave in a most unChrist-like manner while claiming to do it in Jesus’ name. This is what I find offensive (not only their behavior itself but honestly how horrified I think Jesus would be), and I think this provides much of the fodder, and all of Christianity is being slowly dragged down by the bad apples.
    So all this to say that I appreciate Christians like you even more, because you’re a role model, and the fact that you struggle and question makes you a stronger and better human. And the world can always use more of those.

  2. boehadden Says:

    Hey Vonnie! Thanks for the comment! I love hearing your thoughts!

    I think you are totally right about the behavior of ‘noticeable’ Christians in America. It is unfortunate that the one’s that scream the loudest get the most press. It is even more unfortunate that those of us who watch the press so easily generalize what we see on the press (myself included!).

    And I know that the behavior of the ugly few is what people are slamming on when I see such things…It just reveals a prejudice of ignorance.

    Believe it or not, I’ve been asked in more than one job interview: “So I see you’ve done a lot of work for your church. Would you say your are judgmental? Or are you going to try to convert clients?” To me, that’s as offensive as someone saying to an interviewee: “I see you’re Black. So are you going to be lazy on the job?”

    Thanks again for reading…and keep commenting!

    Miss you!

  3. Evonne Says:

    Wow, that is TOTALLY offensive. I’d love to come up with a clever and witty comeback, but my mouth keeps dropping. I wonder what would happen if you responded like that in an interview.
    I miss you too, and love reading your blog – the next best thing to traveling myself. We just opened a store in Dubai and I sooo wanted to be part of the team that got to go overseas to do the opening. It was so great to see photos of the city and surrounding area. I’d love to see photos of your real life over there. No pressure – just when you get a chance. Big hugs to Raina and you too! (hug each other for me)

    PS – you don’t have to approve this comment for blog publication. =)

  4. Myk S. Says:

    As an agnostic non-theist i felt i should weigh in on this debate as I have once had the exact same debate from the other side (I had a Darwin fish on my car) I found this cartoon that pretty much sums up the way we in the Agnostic and Atheist communities feel about Christians getting offended when their symbols are used to mock. [IMG]http://i591.photobucket.com/albums/ss351/matrixneo73/l_4f62fadd368d4440a0c450d78742a4e6.jpg[/IMG]

    • boehadden Says:

      Myk, I couldn’t agree more that Christians are soooo guilty of hypocrisy and being disrespectful of others…unfortunately. It is Christ, after all, who preached against hypocrisy.

      Wouldn’t you agree, though, it is faulty to say that because Christians are disrespectful it is okay for me to be disrespectful back by making fun of their sacred symbols? Then don’t we become the very thing we despise about them (i.e. disrespectful and hypocritical)?

      Also, I am curious upon what grounds an atheist is able to say that hypocrisy or even disrespect is “wrong”?

      Thoughts? Comments?

      Thanks so much for sharing. I’m so glad people from all different views can comment and share their thoughts!

  5. Patrick Says:

    Erik – This was an interesting read (I always enjoy your updates). My only response would be Jesus’ words, “If they hated me, they will hate you.” According to Jesus himself, intolerance of Christianity should be very much expected. I don’t think we should wish for it to go away. Once people begin to tolerate Christianity (without actually embracing it), then the message is lost. The truth of the gospel is an offense to the fallen world. So let’s never pray that the world will begin to “tolerate” Christianty.


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