We are Sorry

A week ago Saturday, Martine and I were walking through Union Square in New York when we saw a small group of people holding signs that proclaimed “We are Sorry.” Sorry about what, I wondered, so I went over to find out. They didn’t look very rueful, in fact they seemed to be having a rather good time, smiling and enjoying the fine spring weather.

I couldn’t resist. “Sorry about what?” I demanded. One sprightly young blonde sprang forward and said “we’re sorry that so many Christians have behaved so badly. That wasn’t Jesus, that was people getting the message wrong.” She then thrust a card bearing the words “We are Sorry” into my hand.

Christian apology

Well. How about that? Although I am not among the faithful, I do think that Christians tend to get a bad rap, their image spoiled by the words and deeds of the radicals and extremists. (Such is the lot of all of the children of Abraham.) It was nice to see people making a point of distancing themselves from their insane counterparts and planting a standard for the simply misinformed.

“Apology accepted” I replied with a smile, and moved on. Given that this is New York, where few people apologize and fewer still will acknowledge one, she seemed a little surprised. “Gee… uh… Thanks!” she said, with a big grin.

As I made my way across the square towards the Saturday market stalls, I turned the card over. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. It turns out those nicely washed kids are from “The Awakening Church,” a Greenwich Village based Christian center “bringing spiritual Truth through cultural relevance.” They bill themselves as “spiritually messy people following a perfect Savior.”

we're sorry

While I like the idea of spiritually messy people, these folks are establishing bulkheads against true messiness (and thus, I think, true knowledge and awareness) by proclaiming things like “spiritual Truth” and “a perfect Savior.”

Because, really, there is no single truth, and nobody — not even a savior — is perfect. Truth, perfection, and reality are slippery and shape-shifting. Nobody has it wholly right, and that includes Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and even the radical atheists like Dawkins and Harris.

The only “truth” I understand is this: the more you are convinced you have it figured out (in matters of God and spiritually) the more I distrust your opinion. I value the doubters and the questioners, not the ones who think they’ve got it.

On the other hand, it’s a nice try. All of the Abrahamic faiths follow the same basic principles, and much of what we in the West think of as morals and ethics spring from that foundation, so I’m not willing to throw the whole thing aside. But don’t get all doctrinaire about it. Be flexible. Have more questions than answers. It’s OK to run MS Word on your Mac and to use iTunes in Windows. Heck, the backbone of OS X is Unix for Pete’s sake! There’s no single right answer, and if there is any such thing as truth you find it by looking in all directions.

16 thoughts on “We are Sorry

  1. Oh noes! Are you saying that a group of people with professionally printed signs and business cards were, gosh, I don’t know, part of an organised group? The devil you say!
    Admit it, you weren’t duped. I think you went up there, knowing they belonged to an organisation, and may have already been planning a blog post, using this opportunity as a stepping stone to proselytize.
    Did these washed kids come up to you? Did they harass you in any way? Did they, as Ruttan so blithely suggested, proclaim that you were damned?
    No, they were just doing their thing, and *you* approached *them*.
    C’mon Ed, you can do better than that.

  2. You’re right. It was a pretty nice try. I’ve been looking for stuff like that, actually. It’s a pretty good answer to the atheism campaigns. And if they have something to say to people, this is as good a way as any (no, better) to get people to listen to them.

  3. @Michel; Huh? What are you talking about? It’s New York and I’m curious, so of course I wanted to know what they were apologizing for! What’s wrong with that? When they brought out the Jesus thing I assumed it was some kind of organized group; so what? My only complaint is that despite their apology (which I still think is welcome), they still seem to be falling into the old trap of avoiding skepticism and making absolute-sounding claims about truth and perfection. That’s all I’m saying.

    Jeez, who bit you on the ass today?

  4. Wow, talk about being bitten in the ass. I didn’t know you would have such a visceral reaction to being questioned or disagreed with. Learn something every day, I guess.
    Seriously, though, where on that business card are they avoiding skepticism? As to claims about truth and perfection, I’m pretty sure that Judeo-Christian theology is based on a perfect God, though perhaps not a perfect Saviour, who had his moments of doubt the night before he was crucified (I’m not sure about that, so don’t ask me to back up that claim).
    Anyhow, my problem with the post is that Christian groups are the easiest to mock or question, which is why I said you could do better. But, what the hell, I’m looking forward to you writing a similar post about Muslims or Jews. Heck, there are often Nation of Islam guys at the doors of the Lionel-Groulx metro handing out pamphlets. They’re always well dressed, bow ties and everything. When can we expect a photo (and not a clandestine one, either) and a post?
    BTW, I’m not trying to pick a fight.

  5. Well, there’s nothing particularly new about Nation of Islam people, so I would have nothing to report there. In this particular case, I did, indeed think “blog post” as soon as she said what they were apologizing for. It was going to be a positive post, because I think Christians, Jews and Muslims all have a lot to apologize for, and I wish they would get down to it.

    When I flipped the card over, my initial disappointment was due the the fact that I mistakenly thought it was some kind of theatre piece, meaning the apology was just a sales pitch. Upon closer examination, I realized what it really is, and my disappointment abated, but not entirely, as I realized it’s basically just more-of-same (although not really, as they admit to being messy and they did, indeed, apologize).

    WRT Christians being the easiest to mock, I agree, and I even mention that in the post. And while my line about “the simply misinformed” could be seen as mocking, it should be noted that “misinformed” applies (in my opinion) to all those to fully believe any single doctrine. However, that doesn’t mean those doctrines don’t have a role to play in the full picture.

    My “visceral reaction” was to the sarcastic tone and the implication that I have some kind of hidden agenda and that I’m not giving them a fair shake.

    That said, this is a blog and not “The Economist.” I’m allowed to editorialize, and indeed proselytize, if I want. In the week that passed between the event and my writing about it, my disappointment with the more-of-same aspect of their group increased, and that’s reflected in what I wrote. Thinking about this also caused me to think about my own position, and that too is reflected in what I wrote.

    This is standard blog procedure, so I don’t understand why it bothered you so much.

  6. Actually, the use of “the devil you say” and “proselytize” was in keeping with the whole Christian vein, and was a feeble attempt at subtlety.

    Personally, I think their campaign is brilliant, and turns on its head the typical in-your-face, over-the-top, holier-than-thou Christianity now prevalent in the United States of Godland. They’re admitting that organised religion is pretty fucked up these days, and this is their attempt at trying a different approach. As an agnostic, my interest might nonetheless be piqued and could even get me to go see what it’s about. Hell, and if I didn’t care for it, it’s at the AMC Loews, so I could just scoot out and catch a flick instead.

    I agree, what you wrote is standard blog procedure. However, I no longer read a certain blogger who would, at a 6-month interval, post some long and ridiculous diatribe about how we are supposed to write blogs, so I guess I’m out of the loop: are we now not allowed to disagree with a post? Because, hee, you know, irony.

  7. If you weren’t allowed to disagree I would have deleted your comment. Such was the practice of a blogger I stopped reading several years ago (for exactly that reason).

    We certainly agree that these folks are on to something and are a counterpoint to the holier-than-thou types (who I refer to in my post as “their insane counterparts”). But I wish they could have reeled it in a bit more, at least for the postcard. Those “truth” and “perfect savior” lines unfortunately throw them back into the ring of proselytization (there’s that word again) and implies a kind of holier-than-thouness, even if it is wrapped in apparent benevolence.

    When you speak of your faith as the capital-t Truth and your icon as the “perfect savior” the subtext is that they are right and others are wrong.

    If they had left that part out, I think their message would have been a lot more inviting.

  8. Um, check out this site if you want to see what faith/religion your beliefs most closely match, check out the Belief-O-Matic at this site:


    …she says with her best distraction technique…look! over here!

    I mean, come on, it’s not like you’re discussing food savers. :)

    p.s. Not surprisingly, Roman Catholic was the farthest from my beliefs (yay women! yay reproductive rights! yay gays & lesbians!)

  9. Milliner, the quiz on that site is pretty cool; it’s got a lot more thought behind it than most of those silly online quiz things.

    Here’s how I scored:

    1. Theravada Buddhism (100%)
    2. Unitarian Universalism (98%)
    3. Secular Humanism (95%)
    4. Liberal Quakers (89%)
    5. Nontheist (80%)
    6. Taoism (79%)
    7. Mahayana Buddhism (72%)
    8. Neo-Pagan (68%)
    9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (67%)
    10. Jainism (60%)
    11. Orthodox Quaker (59%)
    12. New Age (48%)
    13. Hinduism (48%)
    14. Sikhism (48%)
    15. Reform Judaism (43%)
    16. Seventh Day Adventist (39%)
    17. Baha’i Faith (36%)
    18. Scientology (29%)
    19. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (27%)
    20. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (27%)
    21. New Thought (26%)
    22. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (21%)
    23. Islam (17%)
    24. Orthodox Judaism (17%)
    25. Eastern Orthodox (11%)
    26. Roman Catholic (11%)
    27. Jehovah’s Witness (10%)

    Apparently I’d make a good Buddist and a lousy Jehova’s Witness. :-)

  10. Yeah…I thought it was kinda a cool quiz. Never thought I’d have so much in common with so many religions.

    My top 3:

    1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
    2. Liberal Quakers (95%)
    3. Neo-Pagan (91%)

  11. Awww crap, now I’ve found out I’m a “Secular Humanist”. I was aiming for “None of the Above”! Am I going to have to go to some sort of meeting? Learn a secret handshake? I’ll just say I’m more of a nonpracticing Secular Humanist and have another sip of tolerance juice.

  12. I was beginning to think the quiz was a promotional thing for Unitarian Universalism, which I had never heard of. That came in first for me, followed by Secular Humanism.

    But who can take it seriously? I don’t see “Jedi” anywhere, and that was a serious contender, at least in the last Cdn. census.

  13. Michel

    What happened to you? You’re totally out of line. I had the fond impression that you were always “Live and Let Live” but now you’re tearing down our friend Blork in a quite virulent manner.

    It says more about your beliefs (or half-beliefs?) than his very good-natured post.

    You want vitriol? Just come and see me. But I think I can safely say in this case, “Lay off Blork.”


  14. “Long and ridiculous diatribe” . . . huh? How long have you actually been around, Michel? Sure didn’t read that way to me. Blork is the most level-headed and provocation-free blogger I have ever come across.

    The word “diatribe” would probably apply more to your comments in this context.

    What happened to you, anyway? One rock fall too many?

  15. Thanks for the support, Nick, but Michel and I have made up. Let’s settle down; we’re all friends here.

    BTW, the “Long and ridiculous diatribe” bit that Michel said was in reference to another blogger that he no longer reads.

Comments are closed.