I am often quite critical of religion on my blog (with good reason I believe). However I do believe there are appropriate times and places for such criticism, and there are inappropriate times and places. For instance, if I ask a question of believers on my blog, and they answer, I try to be respectful of their views, even if I do question them to understand more about their beliefs.
On a personal level I have always believed that other can hold different beliefs than my own, including belief in god, as long as they meet certain basic criteria (some of these do tend to overlap a bit):
- They do not attempt to justify their actions based on those beliefs (flying planes into buildings or bombing abortion clinics is wrong, even if god tells you to do it)
- They are respectful of the right of others to disagree with them, and do not attempt to force their beliefs on others (don’t show up on my doorstep on Sat or Sun morning reading from your book at me, and don’t attempt to inject your religious beliefs into schools or politics)
- They do not harm to others (if you want to refuse medical treatment for yourself, good riddance; if you want to refuse medical treatment for your child, go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200)
- They do not expect special treatment based on their beliefs or treat others negatively for disagreeing with them (don’t expect me to care that you’re “saved”, and don’t discriminate against somebody who believes your book is a collection of fictional stories)
In my personal experience, the people most often guilty of breaking these “rules” are religious believers. This does not mean all believers do, just that the majority of people I’ve come in contact with that break them happen to be believers.
So with this in mind, I’d like to invite you along to my evening last night. I had two choices of events to attend last night, both of which are part of atheist/secular humanist groups that I belong to.
One of these events has people I know better, get along with better, etc; however it is a longer commute to go there.
The other event has people I don’t know quite as well, but it also took place in a bar not far from my home.
My wife (who is not an atheist) decided to come along with me to one of these events last night, and due to it being closer and at a bar, we chose the second of our two options.
One of the primary goals of both organizations is the separation of church and state. This is a goal that both my wife and I whole-heartedly support. Even though my wife does believe in god, she has a VERY strong belief that it is her personal belief, and she has never made any attempts to force it on others, or even question those who do not share her belief (in this way she is “better” than me I suppose).
I believed that with this common ground (belief in separation of religion and politics) that my wife would be welcomed into this group, even if there were other differences of opinion. I believed that the members of this group would be respectful of my wife, and focus on the commonalities and not the differences. I believed that nobody would attempt to attack her for her beliefs.
Apparently I was wrong.
To be fair, the attacks (verbal, not physical) were only from one person, others did try to “keep the peace” to some degree, and my wife did hold her own quite well.
At first the meeting seemed to be going well. My wife made it clear early on that she was a believer, but agreed with the goals of this group, and after a few quick questions (and glances) it seemed to pass. A few people had not seen each other in some time, and there was a good deal of conversation on my end of the table about people and events I didn’t have a clue (or care) about.
But eventually it somehow got back to this one person questioning my wife on her beliefs. At first he made the assumption the being a believer in god makes her automatically a christian, which I quickly dismissed (in fact my wife agrees that the bible is fiction, and while it has some very good ideas such as the golden rule, it also has some horrendous ideas such as homosexuality being an abomination). After the attempted christian bashing ended, I felt that perhaps the matter would drop, but while I was distracted in another conversation, he went back after her again, questioning her beliefs, how far they extend, and attempting to poke logical holes in her beliefs (specifically her belief that there is a purpose for things).
Now my wife and I have had these conversations many times, and while we have not come to agreement, I don’t recall either of us using profanity or raising our voices loud enough to draw the attention of half a bar in our direction. I also don’t recall wait staff stopping to stare at us having a conversation on religion, or giving either of us support during a discussion. This is not to say we don’t argue, this is just that when we’ve discussed religion, we’ve managed to remain civil.
But this was not to be a civil conversation on this particular night. Profanity, dismissal, contempt, vitriol… These would be the best words to describe this evening.
As I mentioned previously, my wife held her own quite well, and on at least one major point (which I believe the entire bar heard, as well as pedestrians within a 2 to 3 block range) I believe she made him look like a hypocritical jackass.
Needless to say, my wife is not really interested in going back in the future, but I did feel that with all of the negative attention I give to religion and the religious, that I had to be fair, and point out a personal example of when an atheist crossed the line, and sounded just as ignorant and bigoted at the christian fundies that I so detest.
I’d like to thank those who linked to this post or wrote about, especially The Friendly Athesit, where I have joined the conversation in the comments.