Sometimes I find myself feeling embarrassed to speak in public because I have a Christian accent. It is second nature for me to say “thank-God” when I am feeling grateful and “God-willing” when I am strongly aware of how weak my best efforts are in the face of fate.
That’s just where I come from. It’s how my people speak. We are Christians and we believe that God created the universe and we have God to thank for all that has happened and God to trust for all that is yet to happen.
Yet the fact that I often write and talk like a Christian, with a Christian accent, isn’t always taken well in the public arena. Even though I do my best to watch the speed limits and obey all the traffic signs, some people are turned off by the fact that I will also pray for a safe trip.
Even though I will study all night for my test, I just can’t help but also ask God for success in the same.
The world is not secular… or Christian
You see, I live in a land where increasingly many people would rather we “don’t bring God or religion into this”. “This is a secular State,” they scream. “We are discussing a scientific phenomenon,” they explain, often reasonably. So I do my best to find alternative words for my expressions of faith, hope and mystery.
Sometimes their outrage against my Christian accent is understandable. They’ve probably been hurt by people who exclaim “praise Jesus” instead of “thank goodness”. They’ve been betrayed and belittled by people who otherwise walk and talk like me. They can’t help but associate people with my accent with danger and distrust.
So they silence all talk of God whenever they are in the room, in the name of secularism, rationality and liberalism.
Silence is exclusion
But what they don’t realize (or what they’d rather not think about) is that they are essentially asking those of us who live, breath and speak “God” to leave the room, to be excluded from the conversation. They preach freedom of expression except the freedom to express myself the best way I know how, and sometimes the only way I know how, as a Christian.
My Christian accent offends them. I admit that this accent is unrefined and often sounds unsophisticated and downright unscientific. Many have judged me for my Christian accent and dismissed me as illiterate or less “enlightened” than they are. It didn’t matter if I was top of my class in the sciences at school.
It doesn’t matter that I agree with science that it is “unscientific” for dead bodies to come back to life. What they find offensive is that I believe it happened once, some two millennia ago. It doesn’t matter that I agree with physics that a denser solid cannot float on a less dense water (like a human being walking on water), they are just hung up on the fact that I happen to think it happened once, or twice.
And this problem is not just among those who are anti-religion aiming at religious people, it is also a problem within the Christian tribe. We have so many sub-tribes and we can often identify and group other people who claim to be Christians by their denominational accents.
We don’t even need to hear them state what they believe, we can already tell by how they pronounce their words, how they arrange some words. If they are repetitive in prayer, we brand them Charismatics and judge them for all the distortions we have seen Charismatics do to the Word of God. If they say “God told me”, we immediately assume the Bible is less important and less of an authority in their lives.
This tribalism is second nature to all of us, religious or atheist, Christian or Muslim. We would rather look out for linguistic signals and verbal tics to dismiss people with differing opinions instead of simply listening to people and judging them for who they really are in their complicated context.
Which brings me back to my shame about my Christian accent. I have made a decision to no longer be ashamed of my heritage, my tribe, my family. This is how I speak. Christianity is how I make sense of the world.
Same logic, different conclusions
I happen to believe in religion for many reasons, but one of them is because I have seen committed and militant atheists who are more religious in their conviction (God does not exist) than I have ever been in mine. Religion is inevitable and any zealous commitment to eradicate it only ends up being a new religious expression.
I happen to believe in God for many reasons, but one of them is because I have seen the extent atheists would go to protect their wealth, express their sexual freedom, and gain power over other human beings. These gods of money, sex and power are among the most convincing evidence that the supernatural beings (or forces) we call gods really do exist even among the staunchest of atheists.
One man’s funny accent is another man’s normal accent. Same logic, applied from different vantage points, leads to different conclusions. Everyone has their gods, and we are all atheists to one another’s gods. Only that the Christian accepts the existence of other gods; but he or she simply chooses not to worship them.
So, no, I will no longer be ashamed of this accent that is such a critical part of my identity and how I interact with the world around me. Because to suppress who I really am so that the rest of the world can feel comfortable and less offended is to deny the world of truth. Life has taught me that to deny who I am so that I fit in is the surest way to ensure that I will never fit in.
I will also do my best to not judge, silence or exclude others because of their accents. I may believe that they are wrong, but I will never allow myself believe that they don’t belong.
To rephrase Martin Luther King Jr, I will strive to judge others by the content of their character, and the story behind their words, rather than the fact that their words and phraseology sounds like someone else I happen to disagree with.
As long as I am lying about my conviction, the world is robbed of one more person who speaks the truth. I will be adding a liar to the world; and we all know the destructive power of lies, to the teller and to those who believe them. Even if it turns out that I was mistaken about my Christian conviction, may it never be said of me that I never told the truth about who I was and what I believed because I was ashamed of “how I sounded like”.
I am a Christian, and I “hope to God” it shows.