The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. – L. P. Hartley

Rereading the previous posts is a bit of strange visit to the past: the first, to an old job, the second, to a paper I wrote three years ago during my Bachelor’s, and the third, to a book I picked up travelling in India and read on holiday in Spain. In the space since the last post, I’ve gained a Master’s in the Netherlands and worked two jobs in Spain. These two countries embody the Northern/Southern European approaches to Christianity but it’s not this split I want to write about; it’s my snowballing awareness of my ignorance. I could blame it on my white (upper?-)middle-class life and all the accompanying privileges I’ve automatically received. I could blame it on any number of external things. But. Perhaps a shoddy metaphor befitting a shoddy theological blog would help. If you’re inland, you know the sea is out there, but you can’t make it real while you’re entrenched in streets and buildings. Once you get to the sea, however, and you dip a toe or an elbow or a nose in it, then you can feel how unending and unfathomable it is. Maybe it’s just too abstract to know that you’re limited; you only know how much you don’t know when you are faced with a tiny bit of what you do know and the rest hovers around you—tangible, maybe, but out of reach.

Despite having four years of higher education in theology, and despite people’s assumptions that a) theology revolves around Christianity, no other religions need apply, and b) an intrinsic part of my presumed expertise on Christianity is that I have read the Bible back to front, I feel like I know almost nothing about this religion, let alone the others which were included in the courses. But then I am faced with people who think I’m Christian simply because I wrote a paper on Mark’s Gospel or chose to study theology in the first place; who believe, sorry, know, that all of the gospels were written by Jesus personally and this knowledge requires no proof; who think that atheists are more in touch with the real world than anyone religious. And I start to feel like maybe I do know something. The problem I have here is nothing to do with education or research—it’s attitude. Without veering too hard into fuzzy knit-your-own-vegetables territory, knowing that other people have a well of beliefs inside them which can be drawn from any culture, experience, or book is more important than knowing what lives in these cultures, how these experiences were received, or what is written inside these books. I haven’t read the Bible, the Qur’an, or the Pali Canon, but I try as hard as I can not to make assumptions about them or their followers.

I lived in Leiden for a year, and how much do I know about Dutch culture? Once a year, the Dutch have a tendency to black up and parade in the street. I lived in Barcelona for three months, and how much do I know about Catalan culture? Once a year, Catalans hit small logs wearing a hat and cape with sticks until they shit out candy. At least create space to step back and appreciate how unique (read: weird) every culture is, whether you think they’re wonderful or not.

N.B. the shitting-candy-log is obviously wonderful.

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