Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

Dates, European customs and religion

13 Comments

If you thought France is the only place where people kiss on the cheeks to say hello and goodbye, you’re terribly wrong. They do it EVERYWHERE.

In my first few months I didn’t take part in this weird behaviour. It seemed like an invasion of my privacy to be kissed by people I didn’t know that well, men and women alike. I was known as “the american girl who doesn’t want to be kissed”. Going out, when others joined my group of friends, they’d attempt to kiss me, only to see me duck away from their faces. They smiled at me and said “Right, you’re the American who doesn’t like to be kissed!” Bummer.

But, slowly, I accustomed to this weird social phenomenon. It became more and more normal watching people kiss each other like that. Kiss on the left cheek, kiss on the right cheek. And slowly, I didn’t duck away from people kissing me. I didn’t kiss back, but I let them.

After another while I realized that these kisses had nothing sexual, romantic, flirty or sensual about them. I know that very many conservative christians would be just shocked by it. I was, too. But I made peace with it. While others shake hands, these people kiss on the cheeks. It’s a friendly way to say hello, nothing more, and nothing less.

Anyways, moving on to a different topic. A while ago I posted that I went on a coffee with a friend of a friend, Daniel. I want to tell you a bit about it because I found it really interesting. There isn’t much to say about it other than it was a cup of coffee in the afternoon. But WHAT I was able to learn made me think about it for quite some time.

Daniel was very honest about the rumors he had heard about me. That there was this weird American girl from some sort of cult – is she from that group where the leader married the 12-year-old? Is she Amish? Euros don’t know much about the fundamentalist movement. For them, you’re either Amish or… Amish. Even the concept of rather conservative christianity is something they can’t quite place and imagine. It’s a totally different world for them and they can’t imagine groups like that living in the US.

I told him a lot about the different groups of christianity and christian fundamentalism. While he was interested, he wasn’t quite sure if I was making stuff up. Women submitting to men? Not going to college because you want to be a help-meet? What is that all about? I told him that some of these things are really in the bible – he didn’t believe me and agreed that I would show him the verses in HIS bible. Not mine, because that might be some crazy people bible. I got a good laugh out of that reaction. I thought it was great that someone would actually find it so strange that christianity can be turned into something bad that he wouldn’t believe the things I told him.

On the other hand, he talked a lot about his family. That was really interesting. He comes from a steady, traditional family. His mom is a housewife, but has a small job. The money she makes is just for her personal desires as his dad makes really good money. She wouldn’t have to work, but she likes to work. They’ve been married for a long time and all their 3 kids turned into very smart kids. All of them went to college and his two siblings live in happy long-term relationships. And that’s just plain weird to me, and a whole new experience, because I was taught there are no happy families without God. You can’t have a happy marriage and normal children without Jesus. Life will be an entire living hell if you don’t have faith. Seeing that a good, nice, hardworking group of kids comes from a secular family, that’s something I didn’t believe in.

By european standards, he’s a good christian. The definition of “good christian” differs immensely from the definition used in America. By European views, a “good christian” is a person who believes in God and Jesus. Period. He didn’t read the bible. Not even parts of it. He doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t spread the word, he doesn’t believe in christian values. He doesn’t know a single fact about Jesus other than he was supposedly God’s son, which they think is not true but that’s ok, because you’re still a good christian. It simply means that you believe in God, and that you’re not an asshole. You don’t murder, you don’t steal and you don’t rape. A good christian is a person who believes, but doesn’t apply values. The people we consider conservative christians in America would be considered hard-core fundamentalists here. The fundamentalists… well, as he said, I’m just making those up.

Do you find that weird, too? That they really live in a world where definitions and beliefs are like that? I still can’t grasp how they consider someone who doesn’t know a single thing about christianity and the bible a christian.

After this, I asked some other friends if they were christian, and if they considered Daniel a christian. Most answered “No” when I asked them if they were christian. Out of 10 people I asked, all said no. Some said they believe in “something”, but don’t know what. When the question about Daniel was asked, their answer was “Oh yes, he’s kind of conservative. He even goes to church like four times a year.”

Why is that so?

Americans (especially fundamentalists) are quick to blame it on the supposedly limited religious freedom in Europe. I can promise every single one of them that this is not the case. Absolutely wrong. They have the very same religious freedom Americans have. It’s not 1600 anymore where the king decided what the religion of his people should be. I see religion alive and practices here everywhere, though by small groups. The buddhist center has its local headquarter right next to the universal christian sect. The scientologists (though I personally do NOT consider them a religion) hand out their flyers dressed up in garbage bags everywhere. The catholic nuns are a common picture on the streets. The catholic community does a lot of small pilgrimages with all kinds of pomp and celebrations on their holidays. The jewish community held a memorial a few weeks ago at the train station – all trains were canceled and put on hold to give them the opportunity to do so in safety without worrying about the trains. The muslims, of which there are many in this area, stick to their way of life, and pray wherever they stand when it’s time to pray. The protestants, who aren’t so outgoing generally, hold community festivals with bbqs and invite everyone.

Matter of fact, religion is present everywhere, and it feels a bit like everyone is trying to win the many many “lost sheep” for their side. And yet, it doesn’t do the job. It seems like Europeans are tired of religion and the many harms it caused throughout the last 2000 years.

I really feel like writing more on this but I just can’t really figure out what to add at this point. I will definitely keep investigating and update you on what I found out if you’re interested!

13 thoughts on “Dates, European customs and religion

  1. This is fascinating. I am part of a pretty conservative church in Canada, but even here I’ve found a MAJOR difference between the conservatives here and the conservatives in the USA. The Canadian’s are still baffled that people fight to have guns and keep away government health care.

    • The guns & health care discussion is something people over here don’t get either. I tried to explain the reasoning of the conservatives to some of my friends but it didn’t seem to make any sense at all to them. “Why does owning a gun mean freedom…?” was what usually came out of their mouths. They want to get it and are very interested in learning about it, but it just won’t make sense in their heads. Maybe I’m a bit biased too, I’m not a fan of guns either.

  2. Wonderful insights! Nothing like being in a foreign country to gain some perspective on your own!

    “And that’s just plain weird to me, and a whole new experience, because I was taught there are no happy families without God. You can’t have a happy marriage and normal children without Jesus. Life will be an entire living hell if you don’t have faith.”

    I was told this too, and was shocked to find that it’s not true! But it’s NOT! You don’t even have to believe in God to be a happy, fulfilled person.

    “It seems like Europeans are tired of religion and the many harms it caused throughout the last 2000 years.”

    As a student of history, I think this is an interesting interpretation. After the Reformation, Europeans spent two hundred years slaughtering each other by the millions over religion, and that’s where we got freedom of religion in the first place – because they eventually realized that constant warfare over religion was a BAD IDEA. So they finally stopped and instituted religious freedom. The founders of America had seen the warfare and bloodshed over religion in Europe (some of them even came to America just to get away from this), and they too determined not to repeat this mistake, and that’s where we got religious freedom in the US as well.

    • What I was especially refering to was the last 100 years of European history. I mean, look at WW2 and the role religion played there. (Jewish) Religion as a label which you can’t get out of, even if you convert, a label that meant torture and death. And what did the christians do during that time? Pray and hush up. Or even support some of the agendas! My grandparents were part of this chapter in history, and I fully understand when all people get from it is that religion is bad. It either kills you, or makes you a killer – or at least somebody who watches the killing in silence. People still hold major gudges towards the catholic church for their behaviour in WW2, even people in their 20s, who weren’t there. It’s really interesting to see and hear that.

      • Though it wasn’t really the Jewish religion that was the problem for the Nazis it was the idea that the whole Jewish race was inferior/debased and evil and you can’t change your “race” by converting. That’s why they were catagorizing into 1/2 Jew, 1/4 Jew, 1/8 Jew and only by being 1/16 Jew you were more or less secure from prosecution.

        I’m spending a lot of my internet time on livejournal and such so the fundamentalist christian views aren’t as foreign to me as they must be to some of my fellow Germans but I still don’t get it. I was brought up catholic by my mother while my father was pretty much indifferent about religion. When I was 14 I realized I don’t believe in god and while my mother was never happy with that she wouldn’t and of course couldn’t do anything against it — because she loved me. Love being the ultimate sign of a good christian in all the religious teachings I grew up with (and I did the whole altar girl and Sternsinger thing for quite a few years). All that hatred in the fundamentalists teachings are so very much the opposite of everything Christian for me. Even as an atheist it still pains me when other atheists portray Christianity as this evil, distructive force because I only have fond childhood memories of church.

        I’ve now spend, oh let me see about 3 hours on your blog and I think it is past time to tell you what a wonderful and strong woman you are and to wish you all the best.

  3. “religion is bad. It either kills you, or makes you a killer…” Very well said. I’m putting it on my FB status. Lol! Here’s the thing though. Jesus is not a religion. The religion would be Baptist, Fundamentalism, QF, whatever your given sect’s interpretation of Scripture is. Part of what I had to learn over time was that religion was definitely the problem, while a relationship with Jesus ad my God helped me in a lot of areas. It changed my entire view on people, and made me realize that I’m not anyone’s judge but my own. It has worked wonders in my life, but there’s no way I could convince anyone else to separate the two, especially if they’ve been involved in a cult, and have had brainwashing in their lives.
    There was a family who came to the church I go to, and their children had been brainwashed, and it was so hard for us to relate, even morally, to them because of what the parents had indoctrinated them with. It was very sad. Trust me though. There is a balance in this whole thing, and you will find it if you’re looking, and I think you are!

    • Oh I totally agree that a relationship with Jesus is possible without a steady group with the exact same beliefs and doctrines (aka a denomination/religion). It’s just not seen that way here, or maybe it’s just that many people say they have their very own faith and don’t need a church, but then it still comes down to them not really believing anything. I have heard the line “I do believe in God, but when you die, it’s over and out and black” from a bunch of euros.

  4. The word “Christian” means different things to different people. My pastor has actually heard people claim to be a Christian simply because they live in America and America is a Christian nation.

    Religion has been used against other people all the way back to Cain and Abel. People don’t want a relationship with God or Jesus so much as they simply want to be right. It’s a simple case of selfishness–I’m right and you’re not, unless you agree with me. It’s not until we develop a relationship with God through Jesus that we can begin to get over that.

    I can understand where European thoughts on the movement are coming from. That’s similar to what people in my area think of it–and I live in a fairly conservative, fundamentalist area. For most of them, probably their only connection to any part of the movement would be watching the Duggars on TV. Having met some people in the movement on the internet and met other people who have been exposed to the “attractive” end of the movement, I can see how horribly scary it is.

  5. It’s very interesting reading the perspective of someone from abroad. I can tell you what you describe in your post is the common, day-to-day life here in Spain, too.

    • Oh yes, I heard so, apparently, all mid and western european countries are very much alike in these aspects. It does seem weird to someone from outside at first but I’ve grown to love the way people are.

  6. Your statement that “Americans (especially fundamentalists) are quick to blame it on the supposedly limited religious freedom in Europe.” is fascinating. (American myself) I’ve never heard of this. Can you elaborate a little on these skewed views of Europe, or maybe the rest of the world in general?

    • Hey Rex! That’s a really good question and the answer would be too long for a comment reply, so I’ll write a post about it. Now that you’re asking, I can see how vague and easy to missunderstand this sentence is. I’ll get right on it. it should be up today. I wanted to write more about America/Europe anyway!

  7. With respect, “Europe” is quite a big place with quite many kinds of Christians and quite a many views on being Christian. Believe this a humble Hungarian (ever heard of?) Catholic (this one I am sure you heard of: Satan’s breed).

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