they mean well

Yesterday, while trying to explain office politics to a co-worker, I metaphorically invoked the story of the Israelites in Egypt. Since the two churchgoing ladies to whom I was speaking weren’t familiar with the story, I had to explain it to them, and then account for my intimate familiarity with the book of Exodus; before the conversation ended I had let slip that I once briefly considered studying for the Methodist clergy.

Oddly, learning that I was once very religious often causes people to look at me in a different light. To some folks, I am suddenly a member of The Club, albeit one who hasn’t paid his dues in a while.

One of these ladies fell into this category. She told me that I was like Jonah – dwelling in the belly of a fish, waiting to eventually be vomited up on a beach somewhere, at which time I would return to the flock and fulfill my destiny.

Obviously, I can’t say with complete certainty that this will never happen. All I can say is that it’s very, very unlikely; I consider myself to have “graduated” from Christianity, in that I’ve gotten everything I needed from it and moved on. I now believe that Christian theology – indeed, monotheistic theology in general – is based upon an irresoluble fundamental paradox.

Some people with beliefs like mine are insulted and/or angry when Christians patronize them. I don’t react that way because I’m used to it – even when I was a Christian, I was often patronized by various cliques and in-groups within the churches I belonged to. It’s not meant as an insult; usually it’s meant as a compliment, or at worst as an invitation.

These people do not patronize you because they want to insult you or belittle you, but because they have a powerful need to believe that they have chosen the correct path, the best possible path, and they are looking to you – as they look to most if not all people they respect – for confirmation and validation. If you join their church or clique, you have validated their choices.

Most people I have encountered say things like this not because they think they have something you need, but because you have something they need – approval and validation. It’s a compliment, in a twisted, indirect way. They mean well.


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