Keep Your Brains In Your Head

Some days, I just want everyone to believe the same things I do.  Wouldn’t that just make it easier for us to get along? I think about how much unnecessary suffering and injustice could be eliminated if we could just get on the same page about some basic premises.  But religion provides premises that nobody outside of the faith would agree to (example: “you should never [fill in the blank] because the Bible says so). So how are we supposed to come to agreement on polarizing topics (marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc.) if there’s a biblical trump card that derails logical argument?

Luke has spent a good amount of time in the podcast discussing why we shouldn’t hate religious people, but some days I just need another reminder.  And it’s not really the people I hate on, usually, but I might hate on religion itself more than I’d like to. At some point, he recommended the book Faitheist by Chris Stedman and I must repeat the recommendation here -- read it; it’s a great story of a guy who makes a concerted effort to find interfaith opportunities.  He interacts with people who have different beliefs and manages to show respect while learning with and from them.

In Stedman’s book, he mentions the New Atheists, the folks that shame religious beliefs and ludicrous and its adherents as idiots.  The most familiar ones are Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I’ve tried to read a book from each of them, but I found that they just made me more angry and more hateful.  I understand the purpose of criticism, and we need to be critical of some practices, but I was angry enough and I needed more love and acceptance instead. As some would say, I needed Jesus.  Except not Jesus. The secular version, whatever that is.

Stedman recommended finding opportunities to interact with interfaith folks.  While I didn’t end up finding a group to join in my area, my search did lead me to a food bank that provides hot meals and groceries to people in need.  I’ve volunteered there a few times now, and ended up spending a shift talking to a gal about witchcraft. She was raised without religion, but has found some sort of spirituality.  While I can’t say I totally understood the entire concept of her beliefs, we got to share ideas and empathize with each other over the misconceptions of our respective philosophies.  Although our beliefs are different, we both are members of groups that are perceived as misguided at best, or evil at worst. Interfaith interaction: success!

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about beliefs and doubts, and although I can’t find the quote, one of the books I read mentioned A.C. Grayling as one of the anti-religious atheist evangelists.  I was shocked. I’ve read several of his books and love them all -- he is one of my favorite philosophers! I had thought of him as pro-humanist rather than anti-everythingelse. But then I went back through some of the favorite quotes that I had written down, and… Ok, so he’s not super thrilled with religion, but he makes some good points.  But on this topic, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes from him, that edge away from atheist evangelist and more toward atheist advocate:

“[t]he human community benefits by permitting a variety of lifestyles to flourish, because they represent experiments from which much might be learned about how to deal with the human condition.” (A.C. Grayling, Meditations for the Humanist)

So we can let people run their experiments.  Maybe they’ll learn something that we’ll miss.  They can share their wins with us and we can share ours with them, and we’ll all be better off.  If Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism or Scientology provides someone with the self-help product they need, I don’t want to take that from them, even if I feel that it’s inferior to my method.  What works for me might not work for them.

Of course, there are limits to tolerance.  I refuse to tolerate human rights violations that are justified by religious beliefs.  Grayling has some wise words on that, too:

“When we understand that there is great variety among human needs and interests, we must accept and tolerate it, and be open-minded.  We might otherwise make bad mistakes, and act in a prejudiced and ignorant way, to the detriment of others. This does not mean that we abandon standards … one should not be so open minded that one’s brains fall out.” (A.C. Grayling, The God Argument, emphasis added)

And when I feel tempted to get into a debate where the other side will use religion to back their point of view, I think back to this lovely metaphor, and abstain from the discussion that will certainly fail to cause anyone to deconvert:

“Contesting religion is like engaging in a boxing match with jelly: it is a shifting, unclear, amorphous target, which every blow displaces to a new shape.” (A.C. Grayling, The God Argument)

So if you find yourself getting angry at religion, try finding opportunities to talk to people who fall into a different category.  Find common ground. Stay open minded, but remember that some circumstances call for criticism. And don’t feel like you need to convince everyone to think the same way you do.  Let them run their experiments, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, and see what you can learn from them. Let them have their comfort and their community. And spare yourself the frustration of boxing the jelly.

Guest Writer Contributions are direct-published opinion pieces. They are not always edited and reflect the views only of the author.