The ties that should bind Christian and non-Christian bloggers

There’s a hailstorm of discussion circulating around the Philippine blogosphere, centering on a few individuals’ disappointment at the Philippine Blog Awards’ invocation. Specifically, Benj, an atheist, was extremely offended at the mention of Jesus Christ as a motivating factor for Philippine bloggers in maintaining their blogs. He was further offended by the response of “a lot of people” (in particular, this fellow) to his post, and has gotten a good round of discussion from Jorge, Tess, and Gail, who defended the organizers and initially encouraged Benj to join the group next year to ensure non-Christians’ rights would be represented better, but later took back the invitation.

(To Benj’s credit, he did say that the organizers were not to blame; to moot the point, he placed the blame somewhere else, when at this point, finger-pointing would not do the issue any additional good.)

Joni, coincidentally, asked me this morning what I thought of the ongoing flurry of activity. Initially, I thought to myself, this is not an issue I necessarily want to weigh in on, preferring instead to just let the issue die. As a self-professed Fil-Christian blogger for the past seven years, I think I should at least say something about how the situation may have been handled better by the Christians in the group, so as not to further stoke the flames of this ‘controversy,’ which may have marred, in one way or the other, the success of the Philippine Blog Awards.

First off, I want to say that Benj and I have not had the smoothest of relationships, thanks in large part to two things: a less-than-stellar-but-more-than-civil exchange of thoughts on PinoyExchange, where we first ran into each other, and a tendency to read too much into each other’s blog posts, hahaha. I have often said things that may have been offensive to him, and he has done likewise. What I think makes our online relationship work – and translated at least into a decent conversation at the BlogParteeh ’07 when we didn’t kill each other – is a common respect for the other person’s beliefs. After all, it is expected and common that, in our individual web spaces, we call the shots. He has the freedom to delete/edit anything I say on his blog, and I on mine; of course, we don’t, out of what I hope is a respect for the person’s freedom of speech, and to my (not-so-perfect) recollection, I’ve never had to delete any of his posts on any of my Christian blogs. Occasionally, he’ll make a post that will push my buttons, intentionally or unintentionally, and I pray for the strength to just let it go. I’ve often apologized to him in public and private, and he has, too.

There is something to be said for an online relationship between a hardcore atheist and a Bible-thumping Christian, that we can have reciprocal links to each other’s websites, and what I hope is a healthy respect for each other’s rights as people.

The Philippine Blog Awards, however, was no longer just a webspace. It was a gathering of people, not all of whom share the same beliefs – religious, political, whatever. What should have united every person in that theater that night was a healthy respect for each other as individual bloggers, all coming together to recognize that we are all equal – as bloggers, and as people.

Despite my being a Christian, I feel very strongly about recognizing and acknowledging Benj’s point that a more universal prayer or moment of silence would have been more appropriate. There was a point in my life when I was on the other side of that fence, when I was just like Benj. There was a time when I denied the presence of God, and did my part in trying to convince others of my beliefs. I can understand why he feels the way he feels. I may not have expressed myself the way he did, but I can see where he’s coming from.

I definitely disagree with how Benj may have phrased his disgust disappointment with that prayer – especially since some have since interpreted his rather angry post in a negative way. That post was written for response and controversy; there’s no way organizers would have not reacted to it because Benj did throw a lot at them.

When a negative response to something is made, it’s human nature for the owners of that something to react in defense. Shari and and a few other attendees who found that prayer a bit disconcerting may have been left out, but Benj spoke out. Whatever results or changes he may have wanted for next year’s PBA, however, were probably diluted because it was so angrily said.

There are diplomatic ways to express displeasure, but in the heat of the moment… well, Christians and non-Christians can all lose tempers and say things they may end up later wishing they had not said.

Of course, the non-Christians aren’t as driven as we are to forgive. Nor are they as smug as we are because we are in the majority.

Frankly, we Christians in the Philippines do not realize how good we’ve got it, that we can pray in public and not be shot. That we can open our Bibles and read it on the subway. We don’t live in the minority, unlike the earlier Christians, or like Christians in other countries like China or Cuba, and as a result, we’ve become complacent, and almost snooty, just because most Filipinos know of Christ, and a few have active relationships with Him.

The problem with many Christians – and I can include myself in that list on several occasions, unfortunately – is that we tend to become almost elitist and high-and-mighty, knowing we have something in our lives that others do not. We forget it is still their freedom to accept the gift we have ourselves been given and accepted. We become so ritualistic that we forget about the non-believer whose impressions of God and Jesus is based on their interactions with us.

How is a non-believer supposed to know our own Jesus Christ – the person we acknowledge is the Son of God – hobnobbed with the huddled masses, the whores, and sinners? He accepted them for who they are, and (I believe) they changed in time because they kept company with Him. He influenced them in a positive way, and one day, that message of love made a difference in the lives of the people.

How can we reach out to these people when we offend them fresh out of the gate? How can we build relationships with them when we leave them out? And how can we expect them to understand Jesus’ message of compassion when we throw stones instead of bread?

My ending point is this: I personally don’t think a message of tolerance is necessarily a message against Christianity. If we automatically shut out people who do not share our views and faith, we would have lost sight of that which Christ specifically told us to do in Matthew 28.