From RobRoy McCandless, Armchair Blasphemy‘s own guest agnostic:
Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of words and taste. I haven’t been around for a long, long time, but I’ve had my moments of doubt and pain. I am pleased to meet you, and pleased to have accepted Ed’s invitation to, as he put it, “write some guest agnostic shit” (isn’t that just pure Ed, right there?) for this blog.
With apologies to the Rolling Stones, what you need to know about me first is that I believe there is a God. Or rather, like Mulder from “The X-Files” I want to believe. This desire is very strong within me, because if there is a God, no matter how distant or mysterious or uncaring He (for lack of a better pronoun) may seem, then my life has definite meaning, is on a definite path, and will not end when I shuffle off this mortal coil. That’s not to say that I haven’t been carving out meaning and a path for over 37 years. I have. But I’d like to believe that there is greater purpose to my presence on this third rock from the sun. Even if that greater purpose is just to post on the blog, and provide my own balance to his atheism.
Or at least correct his spelling and grammar.
What you should know about me second is that I’m a former member of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). I attended Catholic grade school up through the 6th grade. I interacted with nuns and priests and deacons through all that time, and not a single one molested me or treated me as less than human. Further, I did not have a traumatic moment of loss or pain that caused me to break with the RCC. I have found that such concepts (“Oh, God let him down, so now he hates God”) are mostly urban myth. Atheists and agnostics tend to have come to their outlook through a long and, mostly, logical path of analysis and deep consideration. They have looked at the evidence, and looked into their hearts, and found the concepts of organized religion wanting.
Which brings me to my topic for today.
My belief (or if you prefer, uncertainty) doesn’t mean that your religion, your particular set of dogmatic viewpoints and centuries old philosophy, are wrong. To even attempt to change your opinion . . . excuse me, your belief on the matter is simple foolishness. In fact, it could be downright detrimental to both our relationship, and my health. Religion, you see, isn’t like the choice of college you attended or your favorite sports team. But, at the same time, religion is exactly like the fanaticism that can find its self-expression through being part of something larger than oneself. Consider, just for a moment, the unfortunate case of Brian Stow. If you’re not familiar, Mr. Stow is a sports fan, and specifically a fan of the San Francisco Giants. He attended a Giants game L.A. Dodger Stadium. Following the game, in the parking lot, Stow was attacked from behind and severely beaten by two Dodger fans. The beating was so severe that this paramedic and father of two has brain damage and remains in a medically induced coma.
But just for a moment lets change a couple names in this story. Let’s call the Giants: Christians. Let’s call the Dodgers: Romans.
What have I really changed here except the group of self-identification. Stow is a firm believer in his team, he loves to attend their meetings, and he makes donations to them through the purchase of various paraphernalia that identifies him as a member of his chosen group. The assailants, equally, are firm believers in their team. They are such firm believers that, when confronted by someone with a differing view point, they lashed out physically.
Now let’s change the names again: Muslims, Mormons, Scientologists, Homosexuals, Buddhists, Hindus.
What is the actual difference? Is it that God prefers one group of His children over another, and thus condones the use of violence and brutality? Does God actually hate the San Francisco Giants fans? Does He actually hate atheists?
Thomas Jefferson wisely wrote, “[God], if there be one, He must approve the homage of reason rather than of blind-folded fear.”
Some people get their feelings hurt because they identify with their particular faith very, very strongly. This *IS* like the choice of a particular sports team, but it goes one step beyond. This is BELIEF. I know, because I’ve been there as a Catholic/Christian. Any bad-mouthing of *MY* beliefs, even if they were correct, caused a knee-jerk reaction of defensive outrage. Just like Mr. Stow’s assailants, I fell into that dangerous category of belief so strong that it would deny any other opinions, and especially the opinions of those outside my particular belief system.
Even today, to some extent, I still have that reaction. It’s that heavily ingrained in me.
Of course, if you’re talking about some other religion, then I was more inclined to a) listen to what you have to say and b) not mind any bad-mouthing, because after all MY TEAM was better than the OTHER TEAM.
My GOD was better than YOUR GOD.
The solution to this is not easy, which is why we still see a great deal of religious strife in the world. It’s why we, even here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, have groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and Pastor Terry Jones. The faults of these groups are easy to point at, as we shake our heads at their wrong-headedness. But the blind-folded fear of introspection is difficult to remove, otherwise we wouldn’t get our feelings hurt when someone points out the errors of our particular team of choice. Instead, once you realize that no religion has the corner market on truth(TM), then you can start being objective about religions in general, and your general belief, even though you may maintain a soft spot for the old hardcore, dogmatic RCC.
This, then, is the way forward, away from bigotry and hatred and toward tolerance and understanding. Not just the tolerance and understanding of other organized religions, but for all of God’s children, whether or not you believe that He exists.