Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm intolerant of intolerance...

... which is sort of like hitting the mean of the mean...

A post by New Kid on Atheism got me thinking about intolerance...

She describes an old attitude she had about religion --"Before grad school, I was pretty anti-religion, and considered almost any expression of religion as an imposition on my right to be religion-free." She continues on to describe how her study of history has changed her point of view on religion and the religious... it is a very thoughtful post, so you should go read it.

I'd like to take issue with the position she held before grad school -- the idea that any expression of religion somehow prevents her from being religion-free.

Really, that is the same kind of nonsense that argues against same-sex marriage because it will destroy traditional hetero marriage...

I just don't understand how someone else having a belief and acting on that belief in an innocuous way harms another person. How does the family next to me at McD's, who prays before eating their cheeseburgers, somehow infect me? Can religion be spread like a cold? If I, as a person, am not strong enough in my position on religion to have it in my vicinity -- then perhaps my position is wrong? I really think that is the point -- people who are so hostile toward religious expression are afraid of seeing something that will change their mind.

Please understand, I'm not talking about blatant or even subtle crossing of the church/state division. I'm not talking about situations in which social pressure is used in the workplace to coerce religious practice. I'm not even talking about situations within families that place subtle pressure on members to go to church...

I'm talking about the people who freak out because someone puts up a religious display on private property -- that is adjacent to a well-traveled road. I'm talking about an innocent invitation for a new family in the neighborhood to join a practicing family at church. I'm talking about someone who quietly says a prayer before a meal.... Those folks face intolerance on a regular basis -- and I think it is really, really stupid and wrong that they have to do so.

6 comments:

Seeking Solace said...

Amen, sista! My feeling is, as long as you don't splash on me, have at it.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I just wanted to note that I completely agree with you - now! It (the belief I used to hold) is a little bit like a belief that some child-free hold that I don't agree with either - some people who don't want kids feel that they should be able to live their lives without ever encountering kids, and that encountering kids on planes, in supermarkets, etc., is an infringement of their right to be child-free. I don't think you should have to sit next to a crying infant in an R-rated movie, but I don't think you can expect to erase kids from the landscape. That's how I feel about religion now, too.

I think things can be blurry, of course - if someone's religious display on private property but adjacent to a well-traveled road says the equivalent of "If you don't follow Jesus/Yahweh/Hare Krishna/whoever you will BURN IN HELL!!!!!", I find that annoying (like when parents tell the child-free, "but it's so selfish not have kids!"), although I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it shouldn't be allowed. But that's an extreme example - most religious expressions aren't like that. (For instance, those big billboards with white text of black, that were supposed to be from God? They usually amuse me more than anything else.)

Anastasia said...

I can't imagine why Krishna would want me to burn in hell :)

Meanwhile, those signs with the white text by the freeway? I hate them. They annoy me. But that isn't to say they shouldn't be there.

excellent post.

meteechart said...

My take on it is that while the acrimonious among atheists are bucking the larger cultural tendency to believe a G/god, they are smack dab in the middle of a different widespread cultural tendency to disdain divergent beliefs.

I think there's a lot to that tendency that bodes poorly for our society - even beyond the political abuse of spirituality during the past 15 years or so.

This here atheist developed his belief that god is not an external reality through religion and religious history classes at Catholic high school. While the facts in the open were there for us all to interpret as we will, elements of the culture of the religious practitioners I grew up among remained unexamined until some years later. And, one of the elements of that culture was a strong belief that non-believers were heathens, misguided, maybe dangerous, perhaps touched by Satan, and certainly of a lower class. Think of 18th century missionaries bringing "civilization" to the "savages" and lighten it up a little.

So, for my own part, I too once harbored disdain toward religious practice. I think it was both a response to the negative pressure a very small number of Christians exerted on me as well as a adaptation of attitudes toward religious difference that I learned as a conception of "non-believers". Only the type of belief had changed. I was negative and immature. But, I was a lot like the things I was trying to overcome.

It wasn't until I did community outreach work in a low-income, urban, African American community that I learned that churches could be so, so much more than what I had seen before. I saw what religion could do for people and to this day have not been in a community that was more open and welcoming. Although I didn't change my spiritual beliefs, I did see a better way to treat people. Given a more positive cultural idiom, I tried to adopt it and grow.

Now, when I see the spiritually acrimonious of any persuasion, I know it's a symptom of the limitations of their experience. It's not about a particular religious practice. It's about something many of us associate with religions/non-religions, but may have more to do with (increasing?) forms of cultural balkanization than anything else.

Psych Post Doc said...

I am an atheist who is not at all concerned with other people's religious practices unless like New Kid said they're telling me that I will burn in hell.

I once had an exchange with one of my best friends who happens to be a devote Catholic which I found really enlightening. She said "I know you think it's stupid, but I pray for you".

I was shocked that she thought just because I wasn't religious that I would feel like she was stupid for believing and I was honored that she cared for me enough to pray for me. I knew that it was something that was very important to her and for her to bring me into it made me feel really special. Her religious views never played into how I felt about her or what I thought about her and that is still the case today with all of my loved ones.

I don't judge my catholic friends anymore than I just the atheists or the wiccans.

JustMe said...

couldn't agree more with this post... your talking about it as a possible infection is hilarious and true and the kid analogy of new kid's is so apt.