Thinking toward religious and non-religious tolerance.

February 15, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Posted in religion | 5 Comments

I was directed to an atheist’s blog recently. His posts Things Christians Should Know Before Talking to an Atheist and its follow-up More Things Christians Should Know About Atheists, But Don’t were amusing in a sense, but I found them ultimately disappointing. Here are two of them.

* Suppose someone knocked on your door some Saturday afternoon ans said, “May I introduce you to the “Church of the Holy Leprechaun”? He died for your sins while searching for a pot of gold” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? You would think that person had mental issues, wouldn’t you? Could you seriously believe in a religion that reeks of lies, based upon more lies?

* The fact that we are Atheists does not make us immoral and are no more susceptible to go off on a killing spree than religious folks. If it takes your religious doctrine to keep you from murdering your brother, then you are a worthless being anyway.

I don’t know if the blogger, Mark Pogue, wrote these lists himself or if he copied them from somewhere, but they are obviously responding to statements that have been made by evangelical Christians or religious zealots against “non-believers.” I have heard such statements by people who believe that their religion is the one true religion and that they must spread the word of their God and convert everyone possible to their religion, or else shame them, run them out of town, get them fired from their jobs (especially if they are teachers), etc. Mark and the folks who comment on his blog (you need to be a member of the blogging community Atheist Nexus to respond to comments) seem to me to have quite an anti-Christian sentiment. If their main experience with Christians has been attempts at conversion and fire-and-brimstone preachings that, from their perspective, are full of illogical arguments and circular reasoning made by hypocritical people, I suppose I can hardly blame them.

Believe in a deity or believe there is no deity, it makes no difference to me. As long as you live life trying to act responsibly, be a good neighbor, and treat others with mutual respect and kindness, I don’t care what you believe in. But when these Atheists respond to attacks from Christians with insults and attacks on Christian beliefs, it is not helping the problem, it is exacerbating it.

Christians attacking Atheist beliefs and morality is not justification for Atheists attacking Christian beliefs and morality. Those acts are both wrong. To those who respond to attacks on your belief in this way, congratulations, you have sunk to their level. I don’t care if they attacked your beliefs first. By making these attacks you have left behind whatever “higher ground” you thought reason gave you. Intolerance and disrespect for the religious or non-religious beliefs of others is wrong, no matter if it is in the name of a god or of reason.

I have nothing specifically against Atheists or Christians or Pagans or any such group. None of these groups is the enemy, intolerance is.

There are some people, perhaps like the prosthelytizers these Atheists have encountered, whose ears and minds are closed, who are caught in negative patterns of behavior, and who refuse to try to coexist with people who are different from them. These are people you should not give any energy to. As the saying goes, “Do not argue with an idiot. They bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

But there are good people of all beliefs who are in the middle, who know what is good about their belief and don’t know so much about others. Perhaps they have heard negative propaganda about other beliefs. Their first experience with someone of your belief might be with you. Would you have their first direct experience with someone of your belief be an insulting and angry attack on their belief? Is that likely to reduce people’s negative views about people with your beliefs, or increase them?

These people will start to accept and deal respectfully with people of your belief once they have met some people of that belief that are kind, treat others with respect, and are generally positive. Whether you intend to be or not, sometimes you are an ambassador for people who share your belief, your nationality, your ethnicity, where you come from, etc. People’s opinions about those groups will be colored by their interactions with you to some extent. If my first experience with an Atheist was this blog post, I would think Atheists were smug, self-righteous, and unaccepting of people who don’t believe as they do, which ironically sounds like how they see Christians.

The question is not who is right. Or who is better. The question is, will your words and actions add energy toward an adversarial relationship, or toward a peaceful relationship. Do you want to win a fight with people over beliefs, or do you want people to not fight at all over beliefs? That is the real choice.

In my opinion, if someone is spouting their beliefs (perhaps like me in this blog entry) and you don’t agree with them, either ignore them or talk civilly about it with them. (I usually opt for ignoring them, but that’s your call.) If they refuse to talk civilly or if they are clearly not interested in an exchange of ideas, of both listening and being listened to, then definitely ignore them. If they attack you verbally, then either ignore them or defend yourself without attacking others who share those beliefs. Then sensible people of all beliefs who are reading or listening will recognize that. If your words are mean-spirited and disrespectful, people will recognize the hypocrisy, too.

On the other hand, if someone actually directs a substantive attack on you based on your beliefs (or for any reason), one that would actually damage you or your family or some tangible aspect of your life, then by all means fight. Fight and defend yourself and your family with everything you’ve got. But it’s not their beliefs that you should be fighting, it’s the intolerance. Because if you wind up fighting against their belief, you will end up spreading the same intolerance that was directed against you in the first place.

Fight the intolerance.

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5 Comments »

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  1. Bravo! Very well expressed. The world could use more civility in any number of areas, with religion being a prime example.

    I sometimes wonder about where the cycle of proselytizing and insulting responses begins. It’s by and large been my experience that no one outside of my circle of friends much cares what religion I may have or not have. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky in my encounters, or perhaps the offense that continues to be given is in proportion to the amount of offense taken.

  2. I never really “got” the concept of going door to door and spreading the “word of God.” I mean I understand what’s happening, but why? Maybe some people are just so thrilled with the religion they found and it turned their life around so profoundly they think, “Hey, everybody should have this!” No, it’s got to be more. Power? Money for the church? No, the problem isn’t money hungry people, it’s the overzealous true-believers. The “my way or the highway” people, though they don’t say, “my way,” they say “His way.” What motivates them? How do they learn that? Where do they get it from?

  3. I think that the more, for lack of better word (or two), conservatively religious folks, have a stronger personal identification with their group identities than the more liberal of us do, and that those group identities have evolved in ways which increase the chance of continuance of that identity. In a world of limited resources, entities will be selected for which maximize their own resources and minimize their expenditures (grossly oversimplifying, of course, but…). While perhaps, as Robert Wright would have it, civilization as a whole is evolving towards non-zero sum strategies, for many groups, religious or otherwise, a tradition of proselytizing and (once numbers are strong enough) intolerance has proven useful for their survival and growth.

    Of course, I haven’t had breakfast yet, so if that didn’t make any sense, that’s why. I’m going to go blend up some fruit and whey protein and such….

  4. Actually, yours made perfect sense, but when I read back what I wrote in the comment above it, it looks pretty unintelligible. I think I was just doing a little stream of consciousness brainstorming, trying to figure things out.

    Perhaps it’s what you say, evolutionary, best-fit, survival traits of social groups. I don’t know. On some level I think it comes down to a struggle for power in the “power over” mindset rather than the “power with” mindset, if you know what I mean.

    I am frustrated when I look at something like this and can point to what is going wrong, but I feel like I haven’t done anything to make it better.

  5. […] Atheists, I’m sorry about misunderstanding and misrepresenting your views in my blog entry of a couple of weeks ago. My statements about intolerance still stand, […]


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