Understanding Faith and class and marriage
This post has such a benign sounding title. But please be warned, it is extremely angry, and it is emphatically unflattering about certain ethnicities of supposed “Christians”.
So yes, in this post I am making yet further generalisations about British-heritage Caucasian Evangelical Christians…
Do you ever find that you are in a situation with other people and you just don’t understand one another? You don’t understand them and they don’t understand you. That was my situation when I was in University, having to interact with some members of Christian Union in my College. I really did not get on well with many of the people in the years higher than me. Now looking back 20+ years later I think I can start to understand what may have been driving them, and why there was simply no understanding at all between them and me…
I have to admit that here I am making generalisations…and while those people were the ones I initially interacted with, these generalisations seem to be relevant to other British-heritage Caucasian Evangelical Christians I have interacted with: to be candid, I’m talking about those British-heritage Evangelical Christians who would be called “White”. This does not include “White” Evangelical Christians from eg Australia or the US or Southern Africa or Eastern Europe who have gained British status from living here for perhaps a few decades, but rather those “White” Brits whose families have already lived here for generations, perhaps hundreds of years.
There are lots of different interweaving aspects to these observations. Some of these include how these people may have seen me, versus who I actually was, and then the generalisations that I have come up with. Because there are so many interweaving parts, it is difficult to know where to start…
Perhaps I should start with myself, and explain a little bit of my faith:
I am a Born-Again Christian. My life is completely directed by the Bible, now more than it has ever been. Disclaimer: I have not really immersed myself in the Bible for a very long time, truth be told. However this is my aspiration. Furthermore, I try to take the Bible at face value, rather than going into profound explanations of the Bible that change what the Bible says at face value. I also try to give Biblical emphasis to Biblical concepts. What I mean by that is this: there are so many things that the Bible talks about. I try to give each subject the same emphasis as is given to it in the Bible, as giving a different emphasis to something even though it is Biblical is another way of distorting or misrepresenting the Bible.
OK, here comes the generalisation: Light-skinned (also known as “White”) British Evangelical Christians simply don’t do this – that is, the ones I had the misfortune of interacting with in Pembroke College Christian Union who were in the years above me, and quite a number of such Christians I have met since. This is hugely controversial because these Christians certainly claim that they obey the Bible. Perhaps they even genuinely think that they obey the Bible. In fact, in my experience they act like they have some exclusive, enhanced understanding of the Bible which essentially amounts to some kind of racial ownership of the Bible. So in practice they can often be racist in a way that they may have thought was “subtle”, assuming that other people (like brown-skinned African me) do not understand with that special enhanced understanding that they have got. But they emphatically do not have any kind of exclusive, enhanced understanding of the Bible. To put it simply, the Bible and Christian understanding belong to all Christians. Obviously! If anything, to be brutally candid, their “understanding” of the Bible is inferior. For instance, to the extent that they would even think that God might specially prize their ethnicity, their understanding is clearly inferior (she rolls her eyes!) In absolutely all ways their understanding is vastly inferior, or at least demonstrably different to what the Bible actually says.
Perhaps it is not surprising that such a situation might quickly lead to mutual disdain. They despised me for refusing to submit to their “superior” understanding of the Bible, and I despised them straight back for thinking that their garbage was even adequate, much less superior.
In addition to very, very flawed thinking about race and/or ethnicity, another area in which their thinking very clearly diverges from what the Bible says is on the topic of poorer people. Here is the thing: God loves poorer people! God commands us as His people to love poorer people, to take care of their material needs etc etc. But in my experience, many of these people do not love poorer people, but rather despise them. They might pay lip-service, they might even set up social programs, but somehow they had a way of communicating that they were superior to others because of their material prosperity. “Here we are helping you!” In this, and so many other ways, their attitude is so different to what the Bible actually says. If it needs to be stated, I have less than zero respect for these “Christians” whatsoever. And I will often ask myself: “These people seem to completely disagree with who God is, and what the Bible says, yet they twist the Bible to squeeze it into their own mindset. Considering that they disagree so much with what the Bible actually says, why do they even claim to be Christians?”
After many years of puzzling at this, and shuddering at the mere thought/memory of these Christians, I think I have come up with a few answers:
Long history of blandifying the Bible. History of class tied in with faith in their culture: looking back over generations and generations, faith has corresponded with a certain notion of respectability, which is completely absent in my own notion of faith. For me faith is purely about “face-value” obedience to the Bible – period. It is not about laying claim to a certain social status. So I can afford to look straight into the Bible, and see what it simply says, without the weight of hundreds of years of tradition and “respectability”. I don’t give so much as a damn about your hundreds of years of “heritage”, the simple truth is that this is what the Bible says – so there!
In a way, this may have been presumptuous on their part, but also completely understandable, because they think that they are better than everyone else, and they think that everyone automatically accepts that they are better than everyone else: I think that they assumed that by being a Christian, I wanted to somehow be like them, or I wanted to aspire to their social class. Please believe me that nothing could be further from the truth. By being a Christian, I merely wanted to obey the Bible, in a way that was true to my own cultural heritage. By hanging around them, I was just hanging around other people who claimed to be Christians, and I would have happily done the same with any other Christians regardless of their ethnicity or their social status. When I found out what these people were like, I definitely stopped associating with them, but crucially I clung onto my faith tighter than ever, because (to their unspeakable amazement) my faith has nothing whatsoever to do with wanting or needing to associate with them or needing to win their “light-skinned approval”.
As I said, I think I’ve finally worked out what may be going on in their heads – at least partly.
These people pay lip service to God, the Bible etc, but what they really worship, is social class, and the power inherent in being of a “higher” social class to other people and thereby being able to control other people. I aspire to truly worship God. However, the idol that I struggle with, (other than the hot passion that Mr HW will hopefully bring with him when he finally shows up) – is not social class, but rather my own success, the success of my own dreams. Because these people assumed that I wanted to be like them, then without realising I think that they assumed that I also worshipped social class the same way they do, and dreamt of securing my social status they same way they do, using the same methods.
Another thing I’ve finally worked out: For their women especially, social class is hugely tied up with securing a good marriage to someone with a good, healthy, middle-class career with the potential to get a nice house etc. So this is what they literally spent all their waking moments thinking about and trying to secure (at university – and beyond) – because this is what they worship.
And then by thwarting my own ability to get married to someone of a healthy career etc, then they would communicate to me that I was clearly not of their social class and they could continue to assert superiority over me. However, what they clearly did not understand was that I was not working towards that at all, it was not a dream that was moving me in the slightest. As I’ve said my own idol is not social class itself, and respectability etc, but my own greatness. Actually, I’ve worked out that marriage is more likely to adversely affect my dreams than positively contribute to them. Beyond that, my own greatness is an idol I keep falling into worshipping, but I keep coming out to embrace God Himself, and remind myself that He is the one I worship. But with them it has gone beyond idolatry. The worship of social class has completely replaced any genuine worship of God, or so has been my experience in every interaction with them. So this tends to result in some funny types of arguments. There was this particular woman, and she kept emphasising to me the fact that she was married. “But I’m married…at least I’m married”…etc…ad tedium. And I’d be countering with the ways that I was great in my own right. And I’d always think to myself “Yeah, getting married is great, but it’s just so samey! Don’t you want to achieve something unique?! Don’t you want to jump up and brush the heavens, or catch a star?!” I’m not trying to suggest that I don’t want to get married, because I definitely do. However, it definitely comes second to my own dreams if only in that I expect to achieve my dreams first before getting married.
Here is the thing: while they were desperately trying to secure their own “good” marriages, they were simultaneously trying to thwart the possibility of my own marriage – to communicate to me my own inherent inferiority. I did not realise at the time that that was their intention, because I simply did not get it. I did not go to university for the sake of finding a husband, but rather because it is the cultural expectation where I am from. Even a few years later when I might reasonably have been thinking of marriage I was not really expecting to find a husband in a predominantly Caucasian church although I was open to the idea, but still more focused on my own dreams. So they were doing their thing(s), and pulling their various machinations, and I was just looking on a little bemused… So they were investing all that effort to stop someone from getting married…who had no real determination to get married at all, or rather, I am determined to get married, but I do not pursue it with my utter heart and soul as they appeared to do.
Emma: Well I’ve recently been talking about Jane Austen dramas, and then I noticed that a recent adaptation of Emma was available on the BBC, so yesterday I finally decided to watch it, largely out of boredom. I would say it was “quite good”, but still I vastly preferred Sanditon. (In Emma it seemed as if the lead actress spent all her effort perfecting the accent rather than actually acting…) However, it was while watching Emma, and with this blog post vaguely in my mind, that the point was driven home, that the class aspirations that I have observed in my uni Christian Union colleagues are literally a continuation of what was so much more obvious then, in the times when Emma was set, where your worth was literally decided by your social class, and women did everything they could do to contrive good marital matches. Because I come from a completely different background, I don’t have those centuries of heritage weighing down on me and informing my thoughts. Back then too, faith or rather supposed faith seemed to be so fake, with no real emphasis on sincerity, but was still deeply tied up with class and respectability – consider how the Queen is known to go to church. We’re talking centuries of flattening the teachings of the Bible into bland, mostly ineffectual platitudes, centuries of ostensibly upholding the Bible while subscribing to completely unbiblical practices like slavery, while simultaneously justifying those practices via the Bible. On second thoughts, slavery was Biblical, but not the way practised in the West, with Western slavery based as it is mostly on first dehumanising whole ethnicities, also there is a racial hatred I’ve perceived in the way these “Christians” relate to me, and I think that historically their ancestors first had to cultivate that hatred to allow them to do the awful things that they did to their slaves, and whole centuries later they have not been able to get rid of that hatred altogether, otherwise they would have to admit to themselves that the foundations of the seeming success and wealth of their country were theft, rape and murder. As noted above, the Queen is known to go to church, and yet observe how the Caribbean islands are now claiming that the royal family got rich through slavery (despite all their historical churchgoing), and these islands are now demanding reparations.
So no wonder that these Christians would have resented an empowered African Christian, who completely rejected their shibboleths ie all the ways they and their ancestors have justified their evil behaviour to themselves for hundreds of years, and instead had the boldness to say “That is not what the Bible says!” Perhaps by clinging to these things they can attempt to persuade themselves that their actions “were not that bad” and that they helped to bring civilisation to Africa. And then along comes an African and immediately pooh-poohs the idea that they have anything to offer, and or that their faith represents anything of worth, and or that Africans gratefully look up to them, as if violently ripping away the way they like to think that Africans think of them.
[Furthermore: single mothers: while I was at university, (and beyond), these people seemed to be obsessed with the idea of single mothers. Thinking about it, that could well also derive from the]
Furthermore, I think that what I am about to describe is also reason why they cling on to Christianity, despite the fact that they apparently do not agree with anything that Jesus Himself says.
I have finally realised, after many years, that as a woman, obeying the teachings of the Bible, especially in sexual matters, makes you middle-class! Whereas as a woman rejecting the teachings of the Bible in sexual matters keeps you poor, broke and vulnerable to abuse, and likely to be dragging a few children behind you.
I have heard many Christians make the observation that Christianity seems to be concentrated in the middle classes. However, that is not that surprising if Christianity itself boosts someone’s class status.
Abortion: You know in the recent Roe v Wade consternation, an observation that people made constantly was this: allowing free/unhindered access to abortion improves women’s life chances. It means that they can carry on to further education, for instance. It means that they don’t have to give up working to look after children, or possibly take years out of the workforce. It means that they don’t possibly have to pay lots of money for childcare or children’s clothing, nappies/diapers, food, so perhaps someone could afford to invest themselves into learning lucrative new skills rather than jump out to take a job, any job for the sake of keeping a roof over their family’s heads. It was so bad that some people actually suggested that the real reason that “Roe” was repealed was to keep the working class workforce impoverished and force them to keep working for their billionaire overlords, and also to keep worker numbers high to provide lots of cheap labour for future employers.
Well guess what?! All those advantages offered by abortion are also there/also remain there if you never get pregnant in the first place! You can take time to consider further education. You can invest your time in learning lucrative new skills. That is essentially what I have done. Because, by the grace of God, there has never been the slightest risk of getting pregnant, I have been able to invest all the time I have needed into my businesses. Man, I have worked, and cried, and persevered, and reworked my business ideas dozens of times. And this has come about by obeying the word of God to avoid pre-marital sex (and avoiding marriage itself). If I had not altogether avoided pre-marital sex or if I had gotten married, it is not impossible that I would have fallen pregnant. Then I would have had to put all of this on the back burner for the sake of finding a good steady job to look after my children. I have found it practically impossible to find such a steady job even as a single woman, so I cannot imagine how hard it would have been as a mother, trying to find a job that was steady but also had sufficient allowance made for flexibility. And now by the grace of God my businesses finally stand on the verge of success. Women do certainly “make it” with children, it is just that it is a lot harder. There are so many systemic hurdles in your way that it is simply not that easy to give yourself over to your businesses, as clearly your children must come first. It has taken me years to get to this place. I feel as if I have learned and relearned various lessons over and over. If I had had children, I would not have had the luxury to take years to make and remake the same mistakes, or sit down and puzzle through business theory. If I did have a business, I would have had to pick a sure winner, something that would have been guaranteed to succeed from the outset.
The Bible does not just instruct Christians in avoiding pre-marital sex, but also in working hard, trusting God, persevering, maintaining a positive attitude. The Bible instructs us in seeking a stable marriage, rather than just flitting from one partner to another. So even if I had gotten married, I can be reasonably confident that it would have been to another strong Christian, and we would have formed the stable union that would have been a great foundation for bringing up a family, or attaining other kinds of success. So I might not have had these businesses, but I can be reasonably confident that I would have found other kinds of success. So these are the things that are/would have been available to me simply from obeying the words of God. And yet these things are actually incidental to my own faith. It is not because I want to have a successful business, or have a successful marriage, or walk in respectability that I am a Christian. I am a Christian because I believe that God is real, and the words of the Bible are true. Actually, due to my faith I have often had to forfeit things like seeming respectability, or a middle-class career, and it has taken me up to now to work out that social status is actually a perk of the faith, or that is why many people claim to be Christians. (Although, due to the prosperity doctrine I have always known that faith promotes wealth. I just have never thought about it in terms of social class, because I never think about anything in terms of social class.)
(I believe that for these people, because they are Christians for the sake of social class, where the faith stops offering class is where they will leave the faith, or they will start ignoring the Bible at the point at which it stops promoting their social class.)
So I have only just realised this. But imagine, if you will, these people for whom social class is everything, who essentially worship this. Not only have they thought about it, but I believe that this is the very reason why they embrace faith in the first place. So if you as a people want to maintain your social status, but you don’t want others to attain to that social status in the first place, much less maintain it, then it makes complete sense to act in the way that they did. They kept trying to persuade me that I was not good enough to get married, and that my only realistic prospect in life was to be a single working-class mother. Remember that as middle class people they would retain power over working-class people, so all that they had to do was make me working class to retain power over me. By constantly referring to it (OK it was not constant, it just felt that way) it felt as if they were trying to achieve two aims 1. To persuade me that this was indeed my inevitable future fate 2. They were actually trying to call it forth into being, perhaps by persuading me that I could have no other future. 3. Reassure themselves that they were actually better than me, as after all, I was only ever going to be a lowly single mother. But you know ironically, I think that getting married would have been the way I might most easily have secured for myself a truly “lower” status. Because if I had married anyone at all that I knew from back then, then the probability is that the marriage would not have lasted, in light of everything I have learned since. Since then I have become extremely ambitious, and I have become extremely fussy about insisting on interacting with people of outstanding character. So even if I had married someone straight out from university, as I learned these things, these things would have put pressure on the marriage. The likelihood is that any marriage I could possibly have contracted back then, with anyone, would have broken apart, and there would have been a high likelihood of children. Or in other words, realistically the most probable way I would have become a single mother (and thereby tied in to a lower-income status) was not by sexual promiscuity on my part as they groundlessly assumed (somehow these Christians also seemed to think they had some sort of monopoly on avoiding pre-marital sex) but rather by marital break-up. So ironically, by trying to thwart any marriage I might contract, they most reliably prevented for me that fate of single motherhood that they so desperately tried to proclaim as my manifest destiny.
So to summarise, to everyone who has ever worked to thwart my hopes of marriage, in that you also prevented me from eventually getting divorced, all I can say is an unreserved “Thankyou!”
I’ve just remembered that they also tried to stop me from being a Christian altogether this way: They were extremely rude to me, in the hope, I believe, of trying to get me to think that “since Christianity is a “White” religion, if “White” Christians are rude to me, then I no longer need Christianity!” (And then I guess the hope is that I would aggressively reject faith and then throw myself into living a non-Christian life, and embracing pre-marital sex etc. Well of course that silly plan backfired or rather “blackfired” because the only thing I aggressively rejected was them. Apparently I was smart enough to see through the totally false conceit that Christianity is somehow “White” because it simply is not. So I rejected them – and clung onto my faith tighter than ever – and here we are today! Seriously, imagine the idea that supposed Christians try to stop someone else from being a Christian just for the sake of promoting their own false superiority.
So the way that they apparently thought that they would go was this:
– They treated me badly
– I would think “Wow, White Christians are awful! And since Christianity is a White thing, do I even want to be a Christian anymore?”
– Aggressively renounce the Christian faith, go off and live a non-Christian life, throw away my future.
What actually happened was this:
– They treated me badly, with barely disguised racism.
– I thought: “Wow, those pink-skinned British-heritage Evangelical Christians were awful! (Not all pink-skinned British-heritage Evangelical Christians of course, just those particular ones who treated me badly.) Seriously, I can’t believe that those jokers expected me to look up to them in any kind of “leadership” concerning the Christian faith, considering that they do not genuinely obey the Bible at all!”
– Aggressively unfriend most such Christians through Facebook, refuse to have any interaction with them going forward. Also write a large number of very spicy posts about them on my Bible blog.
– Crucially, hang on to the Christian faith, embed myself into it more than ever. Also write a post unsubtly telling such people that they do not own Christianity, and boldly promote said post on my Facebook account.
– Happily carry on my life, more Christian than ever, now knowing to aggressively avoid any groups of such Christians.
I know that many African-heritage Christians are rejecting Christianity, because it was used as a vehicle of oppression in slavery etc, and Christianity was used to justify slavery. I would say that of course slavery was wrong and evil and dehumanising etc. However, none of that evil actually flowed from the Bible itself, rather the Bible was twisted to justify the racist evil that these people cultivated in their hearts. Furthermore, all that does not change the fact that the Bible is true. It is because the Bible has real power that people will always be finding ways to try to twist it for their own evil ends. Consider how so many “pastors” are now trying to twist the Bible to persuade their congregations to give them all their money. Are we going to reject the powerful life-giving Word of an Almighty God just because yet another group of charlatans have thought up yet another way to twist it? The prosperity doctrine, just like the slavery doctrine, is literally the complete opposite of what the Bible actually says. Would you reject truth just because some people undergird their doctrines of death by taking the words of truth out of context? So I would say embrace the Bible and its truth, and rather reject these jokers and their lies. Would you reject the principles of agriculture to bring forth nourishing fruit and vegetables, just because some people have used those same principles of agriculture to deliberately grow poisons? Would you reject science altogether, which has given us medicine and electricity, because some people have used that same science to produce the atomic bomb?
[Additionally, something that demonstrates the historical lack of sincerity is this: in the times of Emma, being a clergyman was not an expression of your deep love for God and commitment to His ways. Rather, alongside the military (and the law?) it was seen as a respectable career for a son to go into, if he was not the firstborn son who would inherit the estate. I suspect that it is from those times that faith started being not about simple obedience to the Bible, but rather performative performances in sophisticated wordplay, that often changed the meaning of the Bible. And now the descendants of those clergymen apparently expect people like me to be impressed by the fact that they have had centuries of diluting the simple truths of the Bible in favour of insincere sophistry.
– Respectability v character – respectability is a very poor relation of character
– Marriages seem to be characterised not by people who truly want to be together, but rather people who just wanted to get married. Marriages do not seem to be characterised by any true, deep feeling for one another, but rather “respectable” interactions as if this is some kind of expression of maturity.
You know, perhaps it is a bit unfair of me to sit here and judge other people’s marriages. However, writing this post has been instructive when I sit back and think about the marriages of these people, at least the ones I was exposed to. I apologise to the couples for whom this was not true. However, for at least a number of people, it seemed as if their primary consideration when getting married was not love, or heaven forbid, passion, or even character, as I endlessly emphasise on this blog. Rather, it seemed to be a desire to get married itself, coupled with the respectability of the future marriage. So to put it another way, it seemed as if these people were out to get married, and they were each looking for someone with whom they might be compatible, who would be able to offer respectability.
Actually, my approach is somewhat similar, except for two main things:
– I have chosen character above respectability, because character is a vastly superior consideration. I never consider respectability in anything, because there is no actual substance to it. It seems to be a combination of “what people think” and “what is considered conventional”. So actually, it is not that I chose character above respectability, but rather that it did not cross my mind to consider respectability at all. Once again the preoccupation with respectability attests to people who are obsessed with social standing and status. Regarding myself, I am not looking for the kind of marriage that people would look on from the outside and respect. Rather I am looking for the kind of marriage that will be genuinely excellent, whether or not other people are there to observe it. For the kind of marriage that I am looking for, who the man truly is and how that relates to who I truly am, are what truly matter. It is more than possible for someone to be outwardly respectable but to have a whole wardrobe (cupboard? closet?) full of skeletons (whatever the idiom is!) Some of these women would be more than happy to accept this, as long as they think they can successfully hide those skeletons.
– As well as outstanding character, there has to be true feeling between me and my husband. This has previously stopped me from considering men in the past because, even though they seemed to be good men, I just could not make myself be attracted to them.
When I observe the marriage of these people, it could be argued that how on earth would I know? However I have to say that to my untrained eyes, often they don’t seem to be full of truly deep feeling for one another. You will get the odd couple who buck this trend. However, it seems to me that there is almost a prejudice that for a couple to be giddily in love is an expression of irresponsibility or immaturity more than anything. Rather these respectable couples seem to interact with one another “respectably”. This is very different from what I am looking for and expecting in my marriage. I hope that Mr Huggie-Wuggie and I, for all his excellent character and my own too, would be able to take time to develop true intimacy and vulnerability and tenderness between us. And oceans of passion too. I hope that this is not too much of a leap, but as I write this, this occurs to me: these couples do not seem to share any truly deep passion within their marriages, or so it seems to me as I critically look on. I’m sure that they must share times of physical intimacy, but how they bring themselves to do that in the absence of deep feeling is absolutely beyond me. (Actually, I recollect that a big percentage of marriages have “dead bedrooms”, where couples very rarely make love, if ever – oh, what a surprise!) And yet, they remain creatures of passion like everyone else. If they do not/will not express passion to one another, then that passion will just be directed elsewhere. So in that case it does not surprise me that we endlessly hear stories of illicit affairs from these seemingly straitlaced people. Does it not just make more sense to marry someone you can truly be passionate about, and then work to keep that fire burning, rather than look outside your marriage to satisfy your desires? But no, everything must be sacrificed to respectability!
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