A very long while back (relative to my life, of course, cause this was maybe two years ago), I found out that I, along with most people, am very bad at guessing the spiritual beliefs of people I know (and also people I don’t know). It was a bunch of my lady peeps and I, and of course we were talking about all our mutual guy friends, one guy friend in particular at this particular moment, and someone made a crack about how he’s a bit of a humorless atheist.
Now, here’s where it gets good. Now, backstory, this guy is in fact basically “textbook” atheist. He’s a science nerd (he wants to be an engineer), he’s very quiet most of the time, he has a very existential way about him, he can be incredibly sarcastic. Now, basically, as soon as our one friend says it, almost all of us subconsciously agree. Oh yeah, of course he would be an atheist. I’d never actually thought about it myself, but if I had to take a guess, I would have guessed nonreligious.
So like I said, here’s where it gets good. Another of my lady peeps has known the guy almost literally since they were born, and she laughs at us.
“He’s Christian, actually.”
A good half the group is amazed.
“What!? Him? No! There’s no way!”
And that’s when I realized that most people are stupid like this. Most people stereotype. But a good many of the people who do it would be offended at that analysis. They never judge people based on the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, their clothes. They judge people based on their actions, which is a totally reasonable way to judge people if they do say so themselves. However, when this judging leads to stereotyping (ie. Boy A does X, Y, and Z, so he must be Q), that’s still harmful to their relationships with other people.
At this point I’d like to bring up one of Hank Green’s vlogbrothers videos, entitled “Do You Believe in God?”, in which he assesses why straight up asking people about their religious beliefs is not at all productive, and why he himself prefers not to answer when asked about his. Spoiler alert, he says that it’s bad to put people in boxes of any sort: “Black”, “Atheist”, “Christian”, etc. And because he doesn’t want to be in your “Satanist” box, he just doesn’t answer. While I agree with the vast majority of what he says in the video, I tend to take the opposite approach.
Now unless you’ve heard me talk about organized religion (which makes me very angry, but that’s not a discussion I want to get into now), you have no idea what my religious beliefs are. Most people, though, tend to ignore the fact that they have no idea what I believe and put me in the “Spiritual Hippie” box.
I object to this heartily.
I mean, if you’re gonna stereotype, at least use the right stereotypes, people! It’s like a racist looking at an Indian man and yelling, “Learn to drive before you hop over my fence, ya Mick!” It’s just silly.
People have their reasons for putting me in the “Spiritual Hippie” box, of course, don’t get me wrong. Namely their reasons are that I’m very socially liberal with regard to my political views, I really really hate wearing shoes of any kind, and I’ve been a vegetarian for five years. To be honest, even people who have heard me rant about organized religion STILL think I’m a crystal-wearing, athame-having, herbal-tea-drinking, pantheistic, meditating neo-hippie. Often this is because I know what an athame is. Then I explain to these people that, no, I think a monotheistic view of the world is ridiculous, and I ALSO think a pantheistic view of the world is equally ridiculous. Then come the people who think that atheists are Satanists. This was more of a problem in high school, back when people were stupider. Somehow the logic is such that if I don’t believe in a pagan god, and I don’t believe in the Bible’s definition of God, I must of course worship the antagonist of the Bible, Satan. Yes, it’s ridiculous, and yes, I have had to explain why it’s ridiculous to a good many of my peers. So now we’ve made the full progression from what you think I am, to what you think I must be because of what I told you I am, to what I actually am. We’ve finally arrived at truth, right? Wrong! Come to find out I don’t look like the pessimistic, argumentative atheist caricature these people have in their heads either. They ask me what my problem with Jesus is, and I tell them honestly that I have the exact opposite of a problem with Jesus, I actually quite admire him, in the way you might admire a story’s hero and the way he ultimately embodies courage and morality. They ask me why I’m incapable of having faith, and wouldn’t my life be so much better if I did, and I tell them I have faith in lots of things, like that my roommates aren’t going kill me in my sleep (because I can’t quantifiably test it before I go to sleep), and like that my boyfriend wouldn’t cheat on me (despite the fact that I’m told all men are pigs), and like that humanity is basically inclined toward empathy and kindness (even though there’s lots of proof against it).
Not fitting in people’s boxes is something I feel like I do quite regularly, and I don’t think it’s because I’m special. I think it’s because almost nobody fits in a box. I think some people pretend to fit in boxes because ostensibly it makes life easier if you don’t challenge people’s beliefs and you try and squeeze yourself into whatever box you’re handed by society. I say ostensibly because it’s very very difficult to be not-yourself. If you’re left-handed and you spend your whole life trying to be right-handed, you will probably never write as easily or be as comfortable in your own skin as if you just did things with your left hand. If part of your energy is always being expended trying to be what you’re not, you are inhibiting your own potential, and that’s bad for you, and it’s bad for society.