Noon last week Beyond every reason, edited collection by Cees Dekker in which 22 Christian scholars have written about their lives, work, and faith. Cees asked me to speak at the book’s launch and inquired carefully if he knew I was an atheist. He knew that and thought it would be interesting to hear my opinion of the personal stories in the book.
If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be: transition. Colleagues I know from scholarly articles and serious lectures at conferences speak very frankly about their lives. About their parents and their youth, their personal struggles, loved ones who died and how they give meaning to their lives. Even if this meaning to you does not come from a dogma, it is very helpful to read how others do it. Especially because in science we don’t talk a lot about these kinds of big personal questions.
What the book also made me realize is that Christians are now a minority, in the Netherlands in general and in the academic world in particular. A colleague said that some students indicated in a survey that they find it difficult to express their faith at university.
Years ago, I was reminded of how a gay friend patiently explained to me how inappropriate it can be for so many people to subconsciously assume they are straight. Then they see his wedding ring and joke about his wife. Does he have to state that he is married to a man? Or just be silent? It’s not conscious discrimination, but the moments of discomfort that happen to you as a minority.
I can well imagine fellow Christians regularly having the same thing. Even if no one has openly said anything bad about your faith, it will probably be less fun if your colleagues dismiss Easter as the days when you go to the furniture store, when these days are important to you. after reading Beyond every reason I will no longer subconsciously assume that colleagues are skeptical. I will pay more attention to my compositions. As I previously learned to avoid inhomogeneous forms (it is no coincidence that the couple Robin and Joe appear in my columns several times), I want to make sure that my words do not accidentally offend my fellow believers.
Undoubtedly some readers are now shouting that this is all fully woken up, and you can say nothing else?
Of course you can say whatever you want, and fortunately in Holland you can also joke about God, religion and whatever you want. But when it comes to the people around you, the people you work with, and the people you love, why not try so hard to take their feelings into account?
It is, of course, the classic biblical text taken from Luke 6:31: “And as you would want people to do to you, you also do the same to them.” Although I myself simply follow the mantra of the humanist Kurt Vonnegut: “There is only one rule […]: You must be nice.