April 04, 2021

A parable about Christianity

I saw a Christian-parable post going around on FB. Read the post (or at least, enough of it to get the gist, you'll see where it's headed pretty quickly) before my comment:

Parable of the Donuts

First of all, we can be very clear that non of this is face-value stuff: this is not a story that actually happened. It's a parable! And it's a pretty well-written one, in that the characters are actually sort of kind of believable, as opposed to a lot of the modern-written parables out there (see also: "glurge"). To someone who is Christian, or possibly even just raised in the Christian tradition, it can be read as a beautiful story and illustration, bringing home Jesus's unconditional love and sacrifice for us. I can and do appreciate the parable on this level. It's a very Christian story.

What makes it an exceptionally good parable is that it also can be read with a more critical eye, and it is an accurate illustration of many non-Christians' critiques of the religion itself (as opposed to critiques of some of its infamous and notorious practitioners). To wit: that teacher is being phenomenally manipulative of the students—including and especially Steve—in a way that he clearly expects will draw them all in, and will probably work on many of them, but for the ones it doesn't work on, it will absolutely push them solidly and resolutely away, in a manner that will be difficult or impossible for him to heal. The students, particularly later in the process, would be well within their rights to respond, "I don't even want your fucking donut. How dare you make me complicit in your abuse of my fellow student?" Students that didn't ask for or want the donut are made to feel needlessly guilty for receiving it, and rather than feeling grateful to the prof they might feel resentful. The early ones, handed the donut before they knew or understood how it was being "paid for", might feel a different sort of resentment based on their lack of informed consent (not that anyone receiving a donut actually gave informed consent for the process). The teacher's bit about being the autocrat of the classroom is pretty on-point here: I make the rules here, he's saying, so you'll accept my Very Nice Gift whether you want it or not, you ingrates, after all, Steve paid for it by acquiescing to my kinda sadistic rules that I made up and that I'm only following because I want to.

Anyway, so, it's a parable that both Christians and non-Christians might appreciate.

But wait! Bonus layer three: it's also a pretty good illustration of privilege. How differently does the parable read if Steve is the only Black student in an otherwise white class? (Or, to stretch the parable slightly, the only woman in a class otherwise composed of men, or etc.) The other students didn't ask for their donuts, and they're not allowed to refuse them, even though each one they receive is tied to the the "work" veering into punishment and torture of that unprivileged student. Not eating the donut does nothing to stop the systemic problem, and doesn't even help Steve in any way. Fixing it seems almost intractable, because it would require a bunch of students to collectively try to appeal to some administrator, who would presumably believe the teacher when he claimed that Steve was doing this totally voluntarily and the power relationship certainly had nothing to do with it. They'll have to come up with something more creative to stop this teacher from striking again. (Bonus layer four is that Jesus actually wasn't white, but that's probably deep enough for one parable for today.)

"A home phone is like a normal phone, but attached to a building where you think they might be." --Martin Freeman

—Comments on Facebook Posted by blahedo at 11:03am on 4 Apr 2021

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