Nearly every time I tell someone what I do, it gets awkward. When they discover that I study the New Testament full time, people of nontraditional religiosities feel the immediate need to defend how they view God, Christianity, and religion in general. It is a known (if not misguided) feature of modern etiquette that you don’t talk about politics, religion, or sex in public or with people you do not know very well. Unfortunately, whenever I’m on an airplane, on a bus, or in a waiting room and the stranger next to me asks what I do, social policy comes crashing down like a chandelier.
I can always tell that they wish they hadn’t asked and now do not know exactly what to do with the Gorilla in the room. Sometimes, they just ignore it by ending the conversation then and there. That’s always fun for me. It’s as if I offended them by my choice in careers. I might as well have said that I work for the IRS. They hate what I do are not well-adjusted enough to move past it. Thus awkward silence ensues.
But, more often, I hit one of their nerves so hard, that I can feel the pain. It is such a contentious area for them that they can’t sit silently, but instead feel the need to explain themselves. To best illustrate this, imagine that you are a math teacher and when you tell someone what you do they respond with statements like these:
“Oh, I respect math. I think it is really great for some people, just not for me.”
Or in a very intelligent and authoritative tone:
“I think that overall, math is probably a good thing, but when people get too specific about their personal mathematical views, then I think that’s wrong.”
Or in a self-defensive tone:
“I always did my math homework as a kid, but I can’t remember the last time I carried the one. But I still think that math is a good thing.”
Or in an already-offended tone:
“Math is a personal matter. It should be kept to oneself. I’m not saying Math is evil, I’m just saying it can do lead to terrible things.”
So, as I’m sure anyone else who studies the Bible or works at a church vocationally can attest, it gets a little tiring. But it does help to highlight some of the ways that our culture views religion and I think it can provide two opportunities for me (and anyone else in the same situation).
First, it can lead to constructive conversations about religion. Perhaps the person I’m with has had exclusively bad interaction with religious people and this is a chance for me to give them a good one. Second, it can be a time where I learn from those on the outside what the inside looks like from their perspective.