Anyone that follows and participates in my Facebook discussions probably noticed a pattern- I like to tease Christians. A lot. I routinely make Raptor Jesus jokes. I toss out hyperbole-laced rants about the logic of religion. I use religious imagery and ceremony is blasphemous ways.
Most of my friends understand I’m just joking around. I have tremendous respect for those that have strong beliefs. Well, not enough respect to prevent teasing… but Sometimes, however, people will chime in and express genuine disdain for the religious.
This has been especially evident in recent days with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA and Prop 8. I see a lot of pointless arguing between the religious and nonreligious that is generally caused by a lack of understanding from both sides.
As an agnostic-ish atheist, I sometimes struggle with my perceptions of religious folk versus their actual selves. It’s easy for someone from my perspective to think of the religious as backwoods bigoted yokels that cling to outdated ideas. Luckily I have a significant number of religious friends that are articulate and open-minded (and tolerate my teasing of their belief system.) Their articulation of their beliefs forces me to look beyond my own stereotypes.
For all my nonreligious friends- give religious folks a break. Don’t automatically jump to the “I’m right and you’re wrong” conclusion. I know, it can be difficult at times. As such, here’s a few of the things that help me empathize:
1. It’s not cool to be a dick. We’re often critical of the religious for their intolerance of various groups. It’s not uncommon for the secular folks to openly insult religious people because the religious people insult others. Not only is it hypocritical, but it violates an important rule that should govern all human behaviors: Don’t be a dick.
2. Infringing on their rights ultimately erodes our own rights. We sometimes forget that our own rights are limited by our willingness to protect other people’s rights. I take great pride in the fact that it’s exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to offend me. Why? No matter what you say or do, I know my own right to do whatever I want is contingent on my ability to tolerate your dumbassery.
To quote BRU’s legal scholar Christian Peterson “In America, private citizens have the right to be as bigoted as fuck.”
Do I like bigots? Absolutely not. Will I fight for people’s right to be bigots? Absolutely. Fighting for something you vehemently disagree with is a critical element of living in a democratic society.
I’m about as socially liberal as a person can get, yet I’m often annoyed at my fellow liberals because of their tendency to play the politically correct card. If you’re offended by something, that’s YOUR issue, not the person doing the offensive behavior. As soon as you play the PC card, you’re eroding your own rights.
3. Empiricism isn’t the only route to understanding. I trained to be an experimental psychologist. I taught psych for over a decade. The scientific method is my go-to tool to understand the world around me. It can be difficult to understand how someone could use any other paradigm to make sense of the world around us.
But people do.
And religion is a biggie.
I really like the saying “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming your perspective is the only perspective, but sometimes it can be beneficial to see the world from a screwdriver’s perspective. Or an orangutan. Or a Ford Pinto.
Your way of understanding the world works for you, but it’s silly to assume it would work for all. Some people prefer to use religion. Some use philosophy. Some use science.
We may really like wearing ties, but is it realistic to expect everyone to like wearing ties?
4. Arguing FOR something you don’t understand is a good thought exercise. We like to fall in love with our own ideas. Well, most of us anyway. I like to be most critical of my own thoughts and ideas, which is part of the reason I love debating so much. However, most people are much more likely to be critical of other’s ideas.
Arguing against your own thoughts, ideas, or self-interest can be a great thought exercise. This is especially true of my liberal friends. I’ve found most self-professed liberals aren’t really open to new ideas, they just fall in love with newer ideas than conservatives. It’s not a surprise most liberals eventually become conservative as they age.
I experienced this one day on Facebook. A FB friend that often touts their progressiveness disagreed with a point I made. They claimed to enjoy discussion and debate, yet were completely intolerant of my idea. As it turns out, they didn’t like true disagreement. They liked discussions where a bunch of people agreed with their point of view. There’s nothing progressive about that… it’s merely searching for affirmation for your own “liberal” ideas.
We vilify the religious for their supposed limited perspective, yet do the exact same thing in return. If we were really open-minded, we’d be able to take their side and empathize with ease.
The irony- actually agreed with the person’s point. I was just arguing the opposing point as a thought exercise.
5. Not all religious folks march to the beat of the same drum. We routinely fall for a simple in-group/out-group bias on a regular basis. We see individual differences among people similar to us, and assign group stereotypes to those that are different.
We assume all tall people play basketball. We assume all overweight people are lazy. We assume all parents of kids throwing a tantrum are bad parents. We assume all French people are snooty and surrender at the first indication of a fight. We assume all Muslims are terrorists.
And we assume all Christians boycott the funerals of heroes that died for our country because they believe God is punishing us for accepting homosexuality.
There is far greater variety of beliefs between the religious than there are between the groups of religious and nonreligious. Just because some religious people express one particular belief or idea does not mean all people of that faith believe the same thing.
Take Christianity. There are thousands of sects that have developed through schisms over the years. Each particular brand has it’s own interpretation of the religion.
Don’t assume all religious folks are the same. Not all religious folks are fanatics. Take the time to get to know them as individuals before criticizing their beliefs.
6. They might be right. Okay, I know this one is going to be difficult to swallow… but none of us have the right answer. Or at least we don’t know if we do. It’s easy for religious folks to sincerely believe their religion is the truth, but that’s okay. That’s the nature of faith.
I have a problem with the secular folks that buy into the idea of empiricism but disregard the possibility that any particular religion may actually be right. The basis for this idea is simple- the scientific method doesn’t “prove” anything is right. Empiricism is always limited by what can be observed, which can then be measured.
This is all fine and dandy… until we factor in the fact that there are always going to be things that we can’t measure today, but we may be able to measure in the future. Since we can’t predict the future, we can’t predict what we can and cannot measure. As such, any idea, no matter how absurd, cannot be completely rejected.
The universe may be nothing but a big bowl of butterscotch pudding.
Is the idea probable? Not at all. Is it possible? Yes. Until we can develop a method to accurately measure something to disprove the idea, we cannot automatically disregard it.
There very well could be a God.
The creation scientists could be right.
We may be butterscotch pudding.
Until we can measure it, we have to at least consider any idea as being possible.
That brings me to my “As an agnostic-ish atheist…” comment at the beginning. What does that mean?
I’m not prepared to put all my eggs in one basket. I may have listed the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the acknowledgements of my first book, may constantly antagonize my religious friends, and may laugh hysterically at Raptor Jesus memes. However, if meteors started crashing down around me, I’d probably drop to my knees and start praying to Shiva.