27 May, 2008

Exactly So

One more, and then we're done with the Christians vs. Atheists: FIGHT! theme for a bit.

I just want to point out a few comments that illustrate beautifully what I'm saying.

In a comments thread on Pharyngula, I came across this from an anecdote Wazza was relating:

And he knew my parents were agnostic at best, and probably atheist except that they never really cared that much. And my mother still treasures something he said to her; "Jo, I know you don't believe in God, but you're the best Christian I ever met."

And that's what these people forget. Christianity isn't about Leviticus, it's about love.

(These people, BTW, are the kind of people who put out this ad. Knowing the Christians in my cantina, I doubt the nausea will be all on the atheist side.)

Right. So. Bet you're expecting me to whip that Smack-o-Matic off the wall, aren't ye? Nope. Let's look at what this good Christian gentleman said again, once more with feeling: "Jo, I know you don't believe in God, but you're the best Christian I ever met."

There it is. There's the respect. That's what makes that an "Awww you're so sweet" comment rather than a "Look, you rat bastard, I'm NOT CHRISTIAN!" one. He's not saying that morality only ever comes from God. He's not playing gotcha! games. He's just saying, "Although you don't believe in God, you live the ideal of loving one another." And whatever else he meant by "best Christian," which doesn't seem to require adherence to the letter so much as the spirit of the law.

Exactly so. Now, when we can get to a point where an atheist can say, "Bob, I know you're a Christian, but you're the best atheist I ever met," and the Christian preens, then we'll know we're making abundant progress.

Segue: you're probably wondering what such a comment would mean. Well, some of the best traits of an atheist are the ability to think rationally, avoid arguments from authority, and celebrate human life, right? Don't know if an atheist would ever say such a thing to a Christian, but if so, that's probably what they'd be getting at. "You're a damned fine logical thinker, you don't resort to silly authoritarian answers, and you care about all people without having an ulterior motive (conversion)."

End segue. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

From our very own Cobalt comes this:

Even though I do believe in The Divine Power OMGZ, that doesn't mean everyone is in a place where that's productive for them. It doesn't mean they or I or anyone is "further along" than anyone else. It just means that different people have different needs, and just as I expect not to hear from atheists that my way of fulfilling my needs makes me a backward irrational savage, atheists won't hear from me that their way of fulfilling their needs is somehow morally deficient.
Exactly so. And we atheists would do well to remember that, just as much as Christians and all other religious sorts should. I know many people who need the Divine, magic, something beyond themselves and beyond the empirical world, and I wouldn't take that from them, just as I expect them not to cram their belief down my throat. I've said before, and I say again, I don't want a world without religion. I want a world without religious strife. I want a world where belief and non-belief can live side-by-side in harmony - but not without argument, because damn it, arguing this stuff is fun.

Another segue: when I was taking comparative religion, our Buddhist Jew professor was explaining that in Judaism, things aren't taken for granted. You're not expected to just swallow the dogma. You're expected to think about your faith. You wrestle with it. Someday, hopefully, I'll track down my notes, do a bit o' extra research, and go into that a bit further, because I loved that idea then and I love it now. If you came by your faith after wrestling with it, I can wholeheartedly respect that. And it gives me hope that you can respect the fact that I, too, wrestled with these things, that my atheism isn't a knee-jerk reaction to religious intolerance, but is something I thought about and struggled with and came to after long consideration.

Here endeth segue the second. I suggest you read Cobalt's comment in full, because she says a lot of things I can fully agree with, and there's a lot of wisdom and insight in there. Then read all the other comments, because they're all insightful. Okay, so there's only one other in there right now - but there's other good stuff in my requirements for conversion post.


Nicole said:

I love you. The God I believe exists loves you. And neither of us wants you to change because you're already doing good in this world.

I had a hard time accepting that one. No, not because of the "God loves you" part. I will absolutely accept anybody anywhere telling me that God loves me just the way I am, because that's an expression of love, not an implied threat. A hellfire-and-brimstone type saying "God loves you," on the other hand, always struck me as a prelude to getting condemned: "God loves you so much He's gonna smite your ass if you don't shape up and start worshipping." The first, Nicole's God, doesn't need me to believe to love me, and really, what atheist could have a problem with that?

No, it's the second bit of that last sentence I struggle with: "...because you're already doing good in this world."


Angry, ranting, foul-mouthed, lil ol' me?

Doing good?


*looks at Smack-o-Matic 3000*

Oh. Oh. Yeah. Wasn't there some other guy somewhere who threw tantrums, wielded a verbal sword, and stirred the place up? Beat on the folks with power, reached out to the folks excluded from power, all that rot?

That's right.

And no, I'm not saying just like Jesus, not even remotely close. I'm just saying: now I get it. You don't have to be sacchrine sweet to do some good. No, in fact, there's a long tradition of contentious, argumentative, loud-mouthed, fighting-mad, iconoclastic buggers who managed to do some good. And hey, even Jesus could get tetchy at times, and look what he did (ignoring what fuckwit followers came in and did later). I think that's what she means. You don't have to be endlessly nice to do good in this world. You just have to try to make things better, and if that means throwing a fit, then by all means, throw.

All right. I can accept that.

What all of the above comments illustrate, I hope, is a sense that there are plenty of us who can find common ground without stepping on each other's toes. We do have a lot in common. We care deeply for each other. We can share good ideas without sharing beliefs. We don't have to force the other person to think just like us in order to love and respect them. In the end, no matter what your belief or lack thereof, it really is about love.

Exactly so.


Unknown said...

The funny thing about the ad was the glee the dealer seemed to get from hurting the atheists. The need to hurt the other half of any debate of American citizens is a theme I am hearing from more and more people.

I don't know when this began, probably before I was born.

I have heard people say that since there are people who value their air and safety, they are against gas hogs like Hummers. Therefore because it would hurt these people, they are considering buying one.

If you wanna Hummer buy one. But to buy one to hurt others. Makes me scratch my head more than ache in any way.

I have heard a person on the left say that they are hoping that Obama wins because his middle name is Hussein and that will show "them" meaning the Red state voters, I guess. Again, if you like the man, vote for him. Why add hurting others on top of it?

It seems like there is this anger that is floating around back and forth between people. I was angry today so I made sure I was extra quiet to avoid trouble. It's mostly gone, but I could not figure out where it comes from.

To me this kind of hate is like a disese you catch.

Cobalt said...


NP said...

"You don't have to be sacchrine sweet to do some good."

Yes--that's it exactly! You don't have to smile all the time to love, either!

Dana Hunter said...

@Leroy: You're right, and I've noticed it getting worse and worse. There's always been pettiness and spite in human interactions, but the right's been truly vicious, and it's rubbing off on everyone. At least you're resisting!

@Cobalt: :-D You earned it!

@Nicole: I don't have to smile, but you make me smile anyway. I love you, heart sister!

Mike at The Big Stick said...

And he knew my parents were agnostic at best, and probably atheist except that they never really cared that much. And my mother still treasures something he said to her; "Jo, I know you don't believe in God, but you're the best Christian I ever met."

My favorite lines from She's the One:

Mickey Fitzpatrick: Why are you getting so upset Dad? You don't even believe in God.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: That doesn't mean I'm going to stop being a good Catholic.