I appeared on the Sacred Tension podcast a while back, and one of the questions that was submitted by a listener stood out. It struck me as a fantastic new example of the “not all _____” trope.
Here is the question that was submitted for the podcast:
I have a question about how [The Satanic Temple’s] protest often involves the mocking or degrading of Christian symbols. Unlike most Christians, by and large I agree with what they are trying to do; but at the same time, using images that I view as sacred hurts me more than it offends me. I understand that those images have been used to oppress people, yet there are Christians who see them as images of liberation. So at the end of it, I guess I see it as counterproductive to desecrate [for example] an image of a poor teenage mother out of wedlock [referring to a statue of Mary] who has essentially become the female face of God.Listener question submitted to the Sacred Tension Podcast
This was my answer:
I don’t think I can speak to the specific protest that’s being described here, because off of the top of my head I’m just not familiar with that event. So I’ll have to speak generally to the idea of using inversions of, caricatures of, or images that are somehow mocking, traditional Christian symbols as a method of protest.
I know that you know that the meaning of that symbol is different in your heart than the meaning that is attached to it in the public sphere where it has been used to oppress people. And you know that the meaning of this symbol to you may be very inclusive and very loving, even though to some, say, gay kid growing up in the south it’s associated with verbal or physical abuse. And I know that to you it feels like an attack on something you hold sacred when it’s used in that way. I do get that, I really do.
But I would hope that you also know… and you are aware, I can tell from how you phrased the question, that there is this larger cultural context. There is this tension between the symbol and the framework as you experience it and as you want to live it, and some of the negative ways in which some other people have experienced it.
I would hope that when you see the symbols used in this way you can look at it maybe almost an anthropological perspective. So you can say, “I understand what that is referring to, and it doesn’t happen to be the symbol that is in my heart. It’s a symbol that I also disagree with the way it’s been used, and that is what they are objecting to.”
It’s similar to, I think, when people make generalizations in the public sphere about… about anything, really. There are times when someone will say “Men act like this!” and there is always someone who says “Well, I’m a man and I don’t act like that!” But, you know, the more compassionate response is not to be offended like the “Hey, I don’t act like that” man, but to sit back and say: You know what? I’m aware of the men who do act like this. I know those are the people this statement is about. They aren’t talking about me. I understand the context of what they are saying, and in that context I agree with it, so I will just say “Yeah you’re right men do that. It sucks.”
That’s how I would encourage you to look at it, when you see the use of some of these symbols, and you know in your heart that symbol doesn’t mean the same thing that we as The Satanic Temple are objecting to or fighting against, I would ask you to understand that and take it into account. […]
The way I try to govern myself–and I’m not going to try to tell people how they should respond to things, especially when it’s emotional–but what I strive for in myself is to be a little bit mindful. When I hear a statement that is a generalization about myself, instead of reacting to the fact that “Hey, I’m not like that!” I will try to take a step back and think: In the broader context of our culture, is this often or sometimes true? And if it is, then can I use my energy in a more productive way to try to work to change the problem or work to be a more visible counter-example, rather than just trying to nit-pick away at the point that they are making.
Especially if it’s fighting against an injustice, by the way. Especially if it’s trying to lift people up and make the world a better place. When someone out there is trying to shine a light on the fact that men are self-involved and tend to interrupt and speak over women, I’m not going to be that guy who says “hey, I don’t speak over women!” I mean, how is that helping? You know? Why would I do that? And I think in a religious context the same thing can apply.Response from Penemue on the Sacred Tension Podcast
Does this mean we should never call out over-generalizations? Of course not. But it’s worth understanding the role that your own participation in a dialogue is playing. If your objection to an over-generalization, now matter how technically correct you may be, serves to decenter minority and oppressed voices, or to distract from an important point that needs to be heard, then maybe just take a deep breath instead. Remind yourself, “Not everything is about me.” And then do what you can to support the fight for justice.