First off, an apology: I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to establish a consistent rhythm of Valleyist emails (not that you’re holding your breath). It certainly hasn’t been for lack of effort – I’ve spent 10+ hours and written 10,000+ words before finally arriving at this email – but I’ll do my best to get us back on track to a weekly or biweekly cadence.
In my last email I described how Christians are at the very bottom of Silicon Valley’s social ladder, and I ended the letter with two questions:
Why exactly is being Christian perceived so poorly by those in the Valley? And is it really that bad?
Because Christianity is the “default” American religion, many who grew up in the US have had some sort of experience with the church. Unfortunately, America conflates Christian values with its cultural values.
The challenge of distinguishing faith from culture isn’t unique to the States – but as an American who didn’t grow up in America, I’m shocked at how blind Americans are to this issue.
For example – my good friend recently captured this photo of a car magnet with an American flag pattern inside of the Christian fish:
Why would someone combine these two symbols together?
Because many Americans who identify as Christian don’t know where their patriotism ends and their faith begins – the roots of which can be traced all the way back to “manifest destiny” 🙄.
So the specific mutation of Christianity that the majority of Americans are casually familiar with comes from – to be blunt – centuries of White America merging their Christian faith with their own political agenda. Like justifying slavery, or more recently, in justifying the separation of children from parents (I don’t believe Jesus would justify either.)
As a result, I think many in the Bay Area have grown to associate what they know of Christianity with exclusivity.
The stereotypes of Christians being people who are close-minded, ignore rational thought, and force their beliefs on others are magnified in Silicon Valley – where residents pride themselves on being intellectually disruptive, logical, and inclusive.
So the underlying assumption here is that those values are incongruent with being a Christian.
Take this Facebook post from a co-worker of Nidhi’s, for example:
“Compassionate, kind, progressive, and least religious generation in history.”
People in Silicon Valley speak candidly about their views of God/Jesus/Christians because they assume everyone else shares the same perspective (that Christianity and compassion – and other positive values – are incongruent).
Just last week one of Nidhi’s co-workers mentioned over lunch that
“songs explicitly about God are offensive.”
A former co-worker of mine once paused his presentation to clarify to the entire room that
“just so everyone knows, that phone isn’t mine. I definitely don’t have the Bible app on my phone.”
One time Nidhi and I were openly mocked by our friend’s neighbors when we told them we were on our way to attend a Bible study.
To be clear: occurrences like these, as often as they happen, don’t offend Nidhi or me. If anything we’re saddened that many of our friends and co-workers have been hurt by insensitive or exclusive people of faith.
I share these moments because they’re social anomalies – similarly disparaging comments would never be openly made in the Valley about someone’s sexuality, race, or other religions/spirituality. Just about Christians.
This social context makes me hyper aware of how people may perceive me if they “find out” that I’m a Christian without having a chance to explain myself. I fear that I’ll be socially ostracized or blocked from advancing my career because people will think I’m small minded.
My fear mostly manifests in small ways – I’ll avoid explaining that I know a friend through church, or I’ll hastily close a Chrome tab of a Christian organization I was looking at when a coworker stops by my desk.
But while I hesitate to casually disclose my faith, I have no problem sharing when there’s a chance to provide more context (typically in one-on-one settings). I’ve had lots of meaningful, in-depth spiritual conversations with co-workers, friends, and acquiantances who are Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, and agnostic.
If I’m so comfortable in those settings, why do I balk at casual moments where my faith might come up in conversation?
Because at a deep level, I don’t fully trust that God is bigger than what people think of me. Instead of stepping out in confidence, I’m acting in fear of other people’s opinions.
God doesn’t need me to protect His reputation.
And I shouldn’t worry about mine.
I’ll end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If you feel like it resonates, please reply to this email with your reflections! Over the course of the newsletter I’ll share some of the responses (anonymously) at the bottom of the next email. I hope we can share this journey together.
What parts of your identity are you hesitant to share with others out of fear that you’ll be met with judgment?
Answers from subscribers to the previous question:
What are two core values by which you measure the social status of others where you live?
“I’m living on the fringes of academia right now, and I think two of the key values are cleverness and institutional affiliation…the real distinction is having ideas that no one else has and being able to critique others’ ideas. This comes out in discussions where peers rush to discredit other studies and substitute their own theories. It can get nasty, but it also generates tons of new ideas. I struggle with the need to prove my cleverness and am trying instead to develop imagination and wisdom.”
“Core values in NYC: uniqueness (coolness? individuality? image?) reputation (and associated popularity)”