which generalisation are you?

Any of you who don’t use Facebook you will have been spared the seemingly endless succession of pseudo-psychological ‘tests’ to analyse your personality.

Which sandwich are you?

Which Disney character are you?

Which Reformation leader are you?

Which Greek god are you?

Which Hobbit character are you?

and so on…

ad…

nauseam…

(which Latin phrase are you? Aaaargh, stop brain stop!)

taking this test may alarm you

taking this test may alarm you

When I see these come up on Facebook I have two reactions. One is, ‘Oooh, I wonder which I am’. The second (and it usually comes a split second after the first) is ‘I am not a [insert noun from the question here], I am an individual.’

Yes, I know that these are intended as a bit of fun. I get that. And yes, we must always remember that we are unique: just like everyone else. But we cannot be defined by a few inane questions that identify us most strongly with one of a range of options.

For a start the list of possible outcomes is finite so the answer is limited. The person framing the question has also framed the answer. It is like the old story about the interviewer who asked a visiting Pope whether he would be visiting any nightclubs in their city during his stay. The Pope replied, “Are there any nightclubs in your city?”

The newspaper ran the headline the next day, “Pope asks ‘Are there any nightclubs in your city?'”

You may have chosen from the options, but someone else chose the options from which you chose.

I think I also have a reaction against these sort of quiz because the answers are based on generalisations and stereotypes. That is inevitable given the nature of the quiz. They are picking up on answers and making assumptions about the answers that filter us and pigeon-hole us. If your favourite colour is blue, you can eat at least six jelly babies in a minute, you have visited more than three non-European countries and you wear glasses then (wait for it) you are Nick Lear. (If you are, by the way, I apologise profusely!)

Yes, I still know that they are just a bit of fun. I still know that we are not meant to take it seriously. But there is a trend within our culture to pigeon-hole people. There is a trend in our culture to group people together and treat them as one. I do not subscribe to any of these views but I have heard them expressed: ‘People on benefits are all lazy scroungers’; ‘Women are all over-emotional’; ‘Readers of certain newspapers are all bigoted’; ‘Christians deny science’.

None of those is true. All of them are abhorrent. But if you listen to people it won’t be long before you hear one of those, or other stereotypes that are siblings of prejudice. Racism, ageism, sexism, classism, religious discrimination, and any other prejudice is fed by generalisations and stereotypes. One of the most powerful pieces of television in recent years was when Tommy Robinson, the founder and leader of the English Defence League, agreed to spend some time with Mo Ansar, a Muslim who was campaigning to ban the EDL. As they got to know each other understanding, respect and ultimately friendship replaced fear, prejudice and hate. As a result Tommy Robinson quit the EDL. (It’s not available on iplayer at the moment but this page on the BBC website gives you a flavour).

If you enjoy the ‘what [insert noun here] are you?’ quizzes please don’t let me deter you from continuing to enjoy them. But perhaps each time you do you will also listen to these words of wisdom from Psalm 139:

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

and later:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Be blessed, be a blessing

churches are female if you are stereotyping

Grilled Sausage PattiesTomorrow we have a community barbecue on our church forecourt. We will give away hot dogs and burgers, there will be music, face-painting and even a magician (I wonder who that might be?). One of our members is working flat out to make it all happen (pray for him and the team if you are a pray-er).

The task is complicated by the fact that our church roof is being re-tiled, there is scaffolding at the front of the church, there are sometimes skips and there is a caged off area for the builders so we have to be very careful about health and safety as the place is effectively a partial building site (no builders working that day though).

We also hope to be able to offer people friendly conversations and perhaps a little book by Jeff Lucas that opens up questions of life and faith in an engaging way.

Oh yes, and the weather forecast suggests that we might get a bit wet at times so we will be dodging the showers. It’s good Baptist weather – full immersion!

We will be seriously multitasking tomorrow. Indeed churches often are: which is why I think churches are female if you are stereotyping because the gender stereotype is that men can’t multitask.

I don’t often find stereotypes helpful. Especially if you are going to lump together about 3.5 billion people on this planet as having the capacity to multi-task (or not depending on which gender you select). I know some blokes who are awesome at multi-tasking, and some women who are not so good at that.

We find stereotypes funny because we sense that there might be an element of truth in them (man flu anyone?) but they have a sinister side too. Indeed ‘sinister’ reminds me that left-handed people were stigmatised in the past because of stereotype that left-handedness was a sign of being under evil influence (‘sinister’ meant ‘left-sided’). Today we consider such concepts to be medieval superstition. Stereotyping means that you don’t have to bother considering people as individuals because you have already decided what they are like. It is a very close relative of ‘prejudice’, but perhaps wearing a funny wig so we feel happier about it.

God has made 7 billion individuals who are currently living on this planet, not to mention the billions who have lived here before us. And not one of those people has been the same as anyone else. Even identical twins (or triplets, etc) may look similar but have different personalities, experiences, preferences, and so on. We are all unique, just like everyone else.

So if God has gone to all this trouble to make all of these amazing people and not resorted to making any exact copies what right do we have to reduce them down to stereotypes? And that includes stereotyping churches!

Be blessed, be a blessing