Friday, July 15, 2005

Respect for Diversity

We in the agnostic/atheistic wing of the ideological spectrum have a really bad habit of looking down our noses at the faithful. It is as if to point out that somehow they have been duped by some con that we successfully avoided. I call it a bad habit because over three quarters of the population of the United States believe in a higher power and many who do not regularly follow a religious teaching are spiritual none the less. If it is a con it is the biggest con in the history of the world.

Of course, religious people also look down their noses at us, as if to say; poor nonbelievers, they are hopelessly lost and pathetic souls. They will, of course, deny this. Many claim that they have no problem with people who do not believe as they do. Some religious people are more straightforward. They tell you that they actively seek to convert you to their way of thinking. Religious people are often as guilty of close-mindedness as non-religious people.

Many religious groups regularly knock on your door to invite you to see things as you do. These groups believe that they are saving you. Saving us from what exactly, from our miserable lives in the dark? This disconnect in belief often manifests itself in hostility that does no one any good. Religious people claim that they could care less about the scorn of nonbelievers, and we nonbelievers claim that we could care less about their scorn for our lifestyle choices. Some of us espouse the philosophy that people of faith use religion as a crutch with which to cope with the world. I think both sides are full of crap. Religious people want their faith to be respected, and nonbelievers want their own form of spirituality or lack thereof to be acknowledged and respected.

A Catholic friend of mine recently had words over conspiracy theory (the faked moon landing to be specific) and she commented that the saddest thing was that people really believe that. I, in a rather ill-mannered, self-righteous moment of poor judgment snapped back that the same could be said of faith by those that do not believe. Of course, the truly sad thing is that I was simply playing the role of devil's advocate. I don’t believe the moon landing was faked, I am simply intrigued by conspiracy theories.

What is lacking from the discourse is a lack of respect for diversity of opinion. Everyone claims that it is okay to believe whatever you want, but we are all guilty of, overtly or subconsciously, looking down on those that believe differently then we do. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE!

So what do we do about this disconnect of beliefs? The answer is not a simple one. There is an old adage that goes: the two things that should never be discussed in mixed company are politics and religion. But really, this is just a cop-out that has allowed us to get into this sorry state of affairs in the first place.

What we need is more civil and open discussion about all kinds of individual beliefs. I believe that the better we understand what others are thinking and believing the more we will be able to tolerate others beliefs.

It is not an easy path to walk. There is a lot of feeling and emotion invested in our beliefs and subtle and often unintended missteps hurt real feelings. These things will happen, but if we keep our eyes on the goal of respect for diversity, then the rocky road will have been worth traveling.

As the Sabbath days of my religious friends approach I say simply, from my heart; bless you.

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