Belief, part 5 (a response)
It's time to make this clear, since there was a hefty dose of unintentional timing: this 'Belief' series is neither fictional nor an April Fool's joke, despite part of it being posted on April 1. Ricky Ellis is a real person, a high school classmate of mine I have not seen in fifteen years, and those words are truly his. His profile on facebook, if you have access to it, contains more of the same, and specifically references me, once by name:
Ricky Ellis: atheism= WHAT A JOKE!! Iv been standing my ground for 2 days againsnt some of the smartest people in bauxite......but thats not saying very much is it! LOOKS AS IF THE DUMBEST OF BAUXITE HAS GOTTEN WAY AHEAD OF THE BALL GAME!! AND MY SALARY IS TWICE IF NOT 3 TIMES AS MUCH AS THERES......NOW YOU TELL ME GOD DOESNT HAVE GREAT THINGS INSTORE FOR
Ricky Ellis: Had a real hard time on amy qualls-mcclure page.......a lot of people with great minds just can't seem to phantom the belief that God exist!!! I WAS ATTACKED BY DEMONS WHEN I SPOKE GODS NAME TO A BUNCH OF VERY SMART PEOPLE!! WWWOOOOWWW!! But as always god won the battle of the unfaithful threw my mind.....THANK YOU JESUS!!
For those of you—cousins, friends, high school acquaintances, and yes, co-workers—who participated in the thread that got hijacked, you have my apologies for the email spam you have undoubtedly gotten in the past few days. Facebook does not allow you to turn off comments in threads like those; otherwise I would have redirected discussion here, to domesticat.net.
I made the decision to archive everything that was said, and leave everyone's names intact. I have a mix of motives in doing so, but in the end, I think everyone's words need to be taken in context.
It would be incredibly easy to write of my disgust with Ricky's words—for let us be clear, I am discussing his words —and translate that disgust into a disgust with Christianity. But that's wrong in the same way that the original letter I was responding to was wrong. We must not—cannot—judge the whole of a religion by the actions of the few, as my inbox has indicated this week; what you have not seen are the emails from and the conversations with several other Christians who felt compelled to apologize and say, "This is not us. These are the words of one person. Please do not assume he speaks for all of us, for he does not."
You know who you are, and I have a great deal of respect for each one of you. Each of you use your religious beliefs to approach your lives with grace and care, and put great stock in the idea of embodying your faith, not just preaching it.
* * * * *
As a result of the past few days, I've put thought into the concepts of faith, zealotry, and logic. I knew in the end this (...hopefully) final installment hinged around those concepts. Why could faith and logic co-exist peacefully, sometimes even encouraging each other (think of Einstein's quotes about God and the universe) while zealotry and logic never seemed to coexist on the same person? What was the difference between faith and zealotry?
My answer came in a rush over lunch today, when I was trying to explain the entire mess to a co-worker. I rushed to scribble it down before I forgot:
"The difference between faith and zealotry is the difference between taking your faith in context of the world around you, versus taking your faith instead of the world around you."
It's the difference between seeking knowledge of the universe, because knowledge of the created world teaches you more about the Infinite ... and refusing or disbelieving anything that does not fit with your established worldview.
I don't know if it's the right delineation, but it's the best I've come up with so far.
* * * * *
The harder part is acknowledging that there is fault and intolerance on all sides. It is harder to look my friends in the eye and say, "Next time, try it without the ad hominem attacks."
Given that this country is a majority-Christian country, it's a reasonably safe assumption that many non-Christians were at least heavily exposed to Christianity at some point in the past, or were once adherents themselves. So, when you factor in that most of these people had ample exposure to Christian beliefs, and didn't incorporate them into their worldviews, one could expect a certain degree of hostility if the unwanted topic is frequently revisited. If this is the fiftieth time you've been approached, and the fiftieth time you're not interested, it is probably about one-fiftieth as easy to be as polite as it was in the first round. Even if it's a completely different person doing each approach, the effect is cumulative; it becomes surprisingly easy to skip the "thank you, I'm not interested" for "leave me alone, you pain in the ass, I've heard this already."
I am guilty of this shortcut. It has a lot to do with why I have said as little as I have during this entire debacle. (Go back, look again, and notice that my name very rarely appears in these exchanges.) I recognize my bias and my frustration with repeated proselytization, and I think several other people in the thread shared the opinion, and we all let it out to one degree or another as Ricky's words became angrier.
That doesn't excuse his words, but it means we must be as mindful of our own. The same standard applies to both sides.
* * * * *
So I—hopefully—end this unintentional series in the general area where it began, with a quote from a letter I sent to a woman who forwarded me a hateful, ignorant, and wrong letter whose intent was only to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment:
"...I believe that every person who makes a peaceful religious choice, regardless of the choice itself, deserves better."
My friends have made theirs. I have made mine. You, reader, have probably made yours, and our decisions are likely all different ones. You don't have to agree with mine, nor I with yours, but decency, politeness, civility, and common sense dictate that religious decisions made in peace and followed in peace should be greeted with peace. Not sniping, not air quotes around the word 'tolerance,' not pronouncements that someone is parroting the devil's words, but peace.
That is all.