I was walking to my car from the train station yesterday evening listening to NPR's 5-minute news podcast when I was suddenly struck by two thoughts in rapid succession:
- News anchors and reporters and headline writers so often make generalizations about groups; e.g., such-and-such candidate "has found favor with black Americans" or "gay rights activists are upset" about something or other.
- If someone were to say something about Catholics... what is the likelihood it would apply to me?
First, the always-fabulous Rachel Held Evans (seriously, go read her blog), in response to the Internet erupting over the Kony 2012 campaign, posted this video of Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk on "the danger of the single story." It's worth the watch next time you have 20 minutes to spare.
Secondly, Jackie at Blueberries For Me wrote an excellent post called "Why I am (still) a Catholic" that from now on will be my go-to piece when people ask me this same question.
These two pieces together brought me to this thought: It is dangerous to oversimplify and overgeneralize, whether you are on the outside or the inside.
It saddens me to think that a non-Catholic, upon finding out I was Catholic, might jump to any number of conclusions about me and what I believe. Particularly because the theological aspects of the Catholic faith are not generally what make it into the public sphere. So it's less likely that the person would draw conclusions about my beliefs on, say, the Eucharist or the veneration of Mary than that they would make assumptions about my beliefs on contraception and gay marriage.
And they would probably be wrong.
This means that not only are people making assumptions about me based on my religion, but the things they're assuming about me are the very things that I disagree with the Church about!
This makes me think of a book I read in college called Naked in Baghdad, by one of the few reporters who was in Iraq at the beginning of the war but wasn't embedded with U.S. troops. She talked to many different Iraqis about, among other things, their view of Saddam Hussein, and she found that not only was there not a consensus among the people about whether they wanted him gone, but some individuals couldn't even make up their minds! So how could we possibly have done "what the people of Iraq wanted" when they couldn't agree themselves on what that was? That is the danger of the single story.
Assumptions don't just come from outside, though. My mom is in a Bible study at her church and has told me about women who will constantly share their political views in a way that assumes everyone there agrees with them simply because they're all Catholic. And there are certainly people who believe that I'm not a "real" Catholic (like they are) because of some of the things I believe.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: If being a true Catholic meant you had to know and understand and agree with and act upon every little piece of Catholic teaching, there would be no true Catholics.
Take two people who both believe themselves to be hardcore loyal Catholics, and even if they each believe every single thing they've ever heard a Church leader say, you could more than likely uncover things that one had been taught but not the other, or that they'd both been taught and interpreted differently how that should play out in their lives.
Think about this: People across the world and throughout time have been taught and believed many, many different things. What are the chances that everything you were taught and everything you believe is exactly right and perfect and 100% true and everyone else in the entire world is wrong in some way or other?
Even the Church has changed over time. And as Jackie said, "We can see and justify changes in the Church in the past, but it is naïve to assume those are limited to the past and we have already reached a state of perfection."
So what's the solution?
If oversimplification and overgeneralization are problems from both the outside and the inside, how do we overcome that blindness?
We tell our stories, and we invite other people to tell theirs.
We ask questions out of a genuine curiosity and desire to learn, not in a sarcastic way to put other people's beliefs down.
We pursue truth, rather than assuming we already have it in its entirety.
I am a Catholic. But I am not every Catholic. And you cannot know everything I believe simply from that one identification I give myself.
So I ask that you listen to me tell my story. And in return, I will listen to you tell yours. And then we will each be one step closer to truth.
Where do you see the danger of the single story play out in your life?
P.S. A huge thanks to everyone who left suggestions on my post about describing this blog to other people. I appreciated hearing what resonates with you most about this blog, and I feel much better prepared to tell others about my blog now!