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.
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.”
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.