6 04 2015
"You don't refuse service to gay people because you are a Christian, you do it because you're a bigot." (click for full story)

“You don’t refuse service to gay people because you are a Christian, you do it because you’re a bigot.” (click for full story)

I often hear Facebook criticized as being a mindless wasteland where digital “friends” that one barely knows prattled endlessly about what they are wearing or where they are going or what they had for lunch. Perhaps I just am lucky enough to have a particularly interesting circle of friends (many of whom actually are friends that I see outside of the Internet) but my Facebook conversations often go much deeper.

All right, I’ll confess, I have blocked some people because they have spammed my feed with way too much share bait, Hallmark inspirationals, or nAWWWWseating cutesieness. And occasionally the never-ending “Look what the RWNJs have done now!” memes get on my nerves. But on the whole, I find many interesting links, nuggets of information, and genuine chuckles in my daily feed. And often a post will spin off into a stimulating debate. Sometimes they deteriorate into link wars (“No way — check this out! [link]” “Oh yeah? Well, what about this! [link]”). Sometimes, they evolve into thought-provoking exchanges of ideas.

There were three or four of these going yesterday, Easter Sunday. One of them, posted in the Atheist Librarians group I belong to, started with a link to a RawStory piece with the title: “How are atheists spending their Easter morning? By mocking Christians on Twitter, of course”.  One comment read, “I think the above is just comedy, its not bigotry in any way, shape or form. We aren’t discriminating against christians or refusing to serve them (sound familiar!) just mocking religion, which is an idea, not a person itself, and ridiculous ideas are okay to mock.” That is, I think, a legitimate take, although arguably the atheists in question are mocking a person (Jesus) and people (those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection). One commenter groused, “because the twits on twitter represent 100% of atheists”. Good point. Not only am I not on Twitter, but I was spending much of my Easter in a dialog with some theist FB friends about how to come together in harmony and celebrate the values we agree on, like compassion, generosity, forgiveness and selflessness.

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” HH14DL

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” HH14DL

I posted: “To those who follow the teachings of Jesus: May I humbly suggest that it is time you all took your religion back from those who are giving it a horribly bad name. It makes it very confusing to the rest of us when you all call yourselves by the same name (Christians) when you manifestly don’t all believe and act the same way. In fact, it might not be a bad idea for all of us to clean house a bit, and distance ourselves from hatemongering of all stripes. I welcome suggestions on how to go about this.”

Since it was Easter, and since many if not most of my FB friends self-identify as Christian, I addressed it to them. But it could have applied equally to any theist. I have heard Muslims express the same misgivings about how extremists have horribly perverted their faith.

Vikki responded: “Honestly, all faiths must be examined, evaluated, tidied, rearranged, and updated from time to time. I think people tend to forget that faith must be dynamic, not static.”

To which I replied, “Problem is, many faiths think the Truth IS static, eternal, never to be questioned, which is why it is the Truth. This is difficult to get past.”

Matthew said, “Justine hit it on the head. For it to be “The Truth”, it must always be true. In order to change, people must take the teachings metaphorically. But a metaphor would be a spiritual truth. Even the tolerant ones only accept their beliefs as metaphor when it contradicts their current moral code or scientific knowledge. Christians of a logical bent will accept that young earth creationism is a metaphor in the light of science, but try telling them the virgin birth is a metaphor and you get the cold stare.”

Larry's discussion

Meanwhile, on Twitter…..

Meanwhile, a similar discussion was taking place on my husband’s Twitter feed, which he shared with me (another example of an atheist constructively engaging with theists and not mocking them). Ted Cruz’s candidacy for president may become a catalyst for Christians who don’t support the extremist fundamentalist agenda to speak out and defend their faith.

Laura said, “Those of us who do choose to worship within an organized setting and call ourselves Christian cringe at what some of the associations are.”

Gail agreed. “Just trying to figure out alternative ways to express it since now haters have also made a mockery of the phrase ‘sincerely held beliefs'”

Beth said, “These people who profess one thing, and do the exact opposite (treat people mean) shall be called ‘hypo-Christians’.”

Angi suggested, “Maybe instead of trying to apply a label to the crazy cakes from the outside (provoking a defense), how about a movement positivity called something like ‘Loving Christians’.”

I agree with Angi. It’s less provocative to take a name for oneself than to lay one on someone else. But her suggestion leaves out many of the rest of us who are on the same page: Atheists, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims. There are individuals in all these belief systems who honor the same values of compassion, generosity, tolerance and selflessness.

I don’t much like labels because they are so limiting. They are a Procrustean bed that we are forced to lie in when we take one on. But the fact of the matter is, we rely on labels as a shorthand to help us sort the world out and make sense of it. So I humbly suggest that we take on a tag that will help others to distinguish us from those who have given our belief system a bad name. Something simple, like, “Coexist”. It expresses our desire to find common ground, share the planet, seek peace with each other. When a Coexist Christian and a Coexist Atheist meet, they know they can relax. They are not a threat to one another.

It is time for all people of good will regardless of religion or lack thereof to stand together and speak with one voice against hatred, bigotry, extremism and violence. These are the real enemies. Let us be secure enough in our own beliefs that we are not threatened by someone who believes differently. Let us agree that we should be fighting poverty and suffering, not each other.

Let us coexist.coexist




2 responses

8 04 2015
Mary Jolles

I have noticed that the hardest thing for many people to do is to adopt an attitude of tolerance. I think this is because they will be regarded as people with weak convictions, pushovers, cowards who look the other way when someone does something they disagree with. Hence the baker who refuses to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, for fear of being seen as approving of homosexuality.

I don’t recall in the biblical story of the woman about to be stoned to death that Jesus approved of her adultery. In fact, he didn’t. He directed her to “sin no more.” But what he did see was that a group of men were about to kill a woman, for doing what at least half of them had done before. Not only was this hypocritical, but it must have also struck Jesus as rather over-the-top, to kill someone for an act that essentially was consensual. Oh, yes, feelings and pride and family connections were almost certainly injured in this tribal society. But I feel certain that Jesus’s attitude toward feelings and pride were: that’s your problem–don’t make it somebody else’s. Jesus intervened to save a live.

Recently I read Hilary Mantel’s book, “Wolf Hall,” and marveled again at how Catholicism held such a grip on people’s lives, social and political. In this century it is hard to imagine a time when people were not free to believe as they chose–when people, for disagreeing with the Church’s teachings, were literally burned to death. How could any faith justify killing people in such a gruesome manner simply because they refused to go along with religious doctrine? Simple: it was all about power, not about faith. Belief had nothing to do with it. The loss of power was what the Church feared.

So it is with individuals: the bigot, who believes his bigotry is moral conviction, fears the laughter and contempt of his neighbor if he is perceived as bending or weakening his convictions through compassionate action. So instead of simply voicing his conviction that homosexuality in his mind is not something he himself would adopt as a lifestyle, he must act rudely, cruelly, even illegally, by treating another human being disrespectfully.

There is a very small space between believing you are right while tolerating others’ convictions/behaviors, and between believing that not only are you right and that another person is wrong, but that it is now your business to show he/she is wrong through word or deed. It is easy to slip over from the first to the second. Again, I think this is because people don’t want to look as though they just stood by and did nothing while someone else did something “wrong.” What amazes me is how little thought is given to whether an act is truly “right” or “wrong,” or harmful to another human being. Jesus had the right of it: adultery may be wrong, but stoning to death is murder.

8 04 2015

We are each of us all alone inside our heads. How can we know who to believe, and which interpretation of the sacred is correct? How frightening it is to have so much at stake, one’s immortal soul if one believes in such a thing. But even if one doesn’t, the fear of being wrong, of reaching the end of life and looking back with regret at having made the wrong choices. Risking the contempt and rejection of one’s community, as you point out. No wonder people hunger for certain answers, authorities to believe in, immutable truths. No wonder that, when they think they’ve found that solid rock, they cling to it with fierce determination, refusing to look beneath to see their rock rests on shifting sand.

What did Jesus, or the Buddha, or the Bible, or the Koran, actually intend to say, and how do we get at the truth through the ambiguities of time, culture, language and translation, and the conflicting interpretations of scholars and authorities? All we have ultimately, is our own judgement. I embrace the truths that resonate with me. You embrace the truths that resonate with you. I find belief in a personal God baffling. You find my lack of belief baffling. There can be no arbiter to judge which of us is right, because such an arbiter would just be another human being with the same limitations as we.

There is a joke that goes with the story of the adulterous woman that perhaps you’ve heard. Right after Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” a rock comes sailing out from behind him. Jesus turns to look who threw it and groans, “Mother, sometimes you really piss me off.”

Irreverent, yes, but that’s why I like it. It brings the situation down to earth, and humanizes the people involved. Religion is a human construct. If there really were a deity behind it, whispering in people’s ears, one would expect fewer contradictions and more consistency. That being said, there is nothing in the groping, fumbling, contentious and often vicious business of religion that precludes genuine encounters with something which might answer to the description of God. Just because I’ve never had such an experience doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t. It’s just that sometimes such experiences lead to Mother Theresa and other times the Westboro Baptist Church.

I don’t think Jesus walked on water or that his mother was born without sin. I do think he, and the other great teachers who have been such an influence on humanity, had important things to say that resonated powerfully with their listeners. The fact that they resonate, that in the isolation of our own heads we feel something we can connect with, gives them the quality of truth. These truths seem so important that some individuals want to deify them, make them sacred, make them worth killing for. I understand why they would want to do that. I also think it’s a grave mistake that can only cause greater suffering.

But that’s just the view from inside my head.

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