In one of my last articles, I mentioned ‘the three things’ one should never bring up at a dinner party: sex, religion, and politics. Sex was on the menu last time. Religion is today’s special.
Far from being ‘dead’, as Nietzsche once quipped, it seems that God is very much alive when it comes to the media, the web, and yes, even our dinner party conversation. Whether or not people believe in God, they usually have something to say on the subject of religion. But sadly, what people say—in particular, what they have to say about Christians and Christianity—is not always positive. In a recent sermon, I asked the congregation to reflect on the surrounding culture’s perception of Christians. At best, I suspect that most of us can amass mixed reviews; at worse, largely poor ones. I don’t think this has much to do with the hugely positive contributions Christianity has made to society through the ages.
If anything, it probably has more to do with what individual Christians say and do on a daily basis. And, of course, what they’re quoted as saying and doing in the media. All it takes is one extremist to make many people suspicious of all Muslims. And all it takes is one loveless Christian to make many people suspicious of the entire Christian faith. Whether we like it or not, what we say and do as individual believers has a major impact on what people think Christians are like collectively and what they think Christianity is like as a religion. This includes what we say when we talk about things other than religion, what we say when we talk about art, and film, and sport and music, and other subjects in the usually acceptable dinner party repartee.
Perhaps the reason why religion has been nominally banished from the dinner party is because religious discussion can so easily become heated and divisive. Ignorance is misinterpreted as opposition, and proponents of different views either attack or go on the defensive. Yet Jesus dined in a variety of places: private homes, brothels, public squares. For someone who was extremely forthright when it came to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in matters of religion, I wonder how he amassed so many friends among ‘sinners.’ Could it be because he was just as engaging when he chatted about the day’s fishing as he was when talking about spiritual things? Perhaps he also knew when to stop talking and just listen?
So how does one hold and profess religious faith and keep the peace at a dinner party? At some level it must be because our speech and actions positively reflect the deeper religious truths we believe in. On another level, it must also be because we speak well about film and football. And on yet another level, it must be because our ears are as sensitive as our mouths. We should pray and love and help others as Jesus did, for sure, but maybe we could also learn to dine as he did, and be as gracious as he was over wine, candles and warm food.