I can't tell you how sick I am of reading posts like this one at The Dilbert Blog and this one at Pharyngula. I'm actually really appreciative of many of the posts on the latter blog, but the blanket anti-religiosity combined with name-calling really, really gets to me. "Dumbassery"? Dumbassery? Give me a break.
When did name-calling become appropriate among educated and supposedly progressive adults?
What follows is not meant, of course, to chastise those of you who already believe in the fundamental humanity of all people, regardless of credo. Rather, it's a gentle reminder and warning not to become too fond of The High Horses of Intellectualism and Righteousness.
For my progressive readers: All evangelicals and fundamentalists are not stupid. Their leaders may try to push through some political reforms that you and I see as idiotic or dangerous, but that doesn't mean that as individuals they're morons.
For anyone stopping by who happens to be against religion in any form: Religion is not merely a form of superstition that a small group of people are trying to foist on your children in their science classes.
I know some very, very bright people who are fundamentalist Christians. In general, I don't understand their ways of seeing the world, but I don't dismiss them as individual human beings because I disagree with them. (That's an honor I reserve for individuals with real power who keep fucking things up or who take advantage of low-income believers: Hello, Mr. President! Greetings, Pat Robertson, TBN televangelists, and Benny Hinn!)
For my more conservative Christian readers: I'm trying to understand where you come from. I wasn't raised the way you were and thus I subscribe, I think, to a different way of processing the world. That said, chances are we share many core beliefs. In my life's journey, I've come to know fairly well a number of evangelicals, and I appreciate your earnestness, your desire to truly help people. However, when you talk about bringing people to Jesus as the highest form of assistance and service, I sense you trying to sell me on the political package that tends to come with your set of beliefs.
To clarify, here's what I believe about the religious figure whose followers I find most challenging to my worldview: Jesus, be he an actual historical figure or a character in the Bible, is admirable because he was (and pardon my flippancy here, but I mean it with a good deal of affection) the first hippie--wandering around in gown and sandals, encouraging people to drop out of the system and hang with him, spreading words of peace and love and generally challenging The Man. Yay for that Jesus. I don't believe that today's most popular American forms of evangelical and fundamental Christianity are in keeping with that Jesus's core teachings. (And please don't cite that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" line. By calling me a sinner, you're already judging me, deviating from that whole gospel of love and acceptance.) In short, I believe Jesus was a good man, but I don't think he was the literal son of God and a virgin Mary.
In addition, I distrust anyone who asks me not to think critically. I'm a lifelong student and an educator of many years, and I'm unlikely to subscribe to any faith system whose studies of its holy book sound more like lessons in diagramming a sentence than in a real engagement with issues that, for reasons having to do with our human nature, were problems for ancient desert nomads and remain problems for a post-industrial nation of 300 million people. (I speak from my experience of attending a Baptist Bible study on Capitol Hill. It was at once illuminating and frightening, how much emphasis the pastor placed on defining nouns and verbs, on making the assembled believers repeat prepositional phrases. And how blind everyone there appeared to be to the fact that they were still performing an interpretation of the text, rather than absorbing some fundamental truth. But I digress.)
I'm not being very articulate, but here's what I think, in a nutshell: We would all benefit from less criticism of others and more critical reconsideration of our own positions. Even more importantly, we would all benefit from a genuine engagement with others' faith traditions. Find the one denomination that most challenges your own beliefs and seek out its followers on their own turf. If you believe you hold a hardness in your heart against a particular group, you owe it to them to listen to them before making any further judgements based on what your own pastor, favorite media outlet, or peer group says. (And for the love of all that is holy, go with an open mind; shed your defensiveness and your tendency to try to refute everything that's said as it's spoken. Hold off on proselytizing if you're from an evangelical denomination.)
For example, as a feminist who believes strongly in the gay civil rights movement and as one raised in the tradition of a "welcoming" United Church of Christ, I found myself completely lost as to how Baptists could believe as they do, so I sought out that Baptist Bible study. I still disagree with much of what I heard, but now I can use their vocabulary in an attempt to find some common ground; by demonstrating that I have taken care to listen, my Baptist friends are more likely to listen to me. As a progressive of an atheistic/humanistic bent, I agree with (Friends General Conference) Quakers' stance on so many political, civil rights, and humanitarian issues, but their belief in God puzzled me. So I attended three months' worth of meetings--not much, I know, but at least it was something. (And I hope, once my life settles down a bit more, to return to those meetings to learn more.)
Here's a quick and incredibly incomplete list of sometimes polarizing or widely misunderstood faiths (and, in the last case, an anti-faith group) you might check out, either on a series of weekly holy days or through their own study groups. If you're in the U.S., many of the links below will allow you to search for a church, meeting house, temple, mosque, synagogue, etc. in your area.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Please, talk with one another instead of hurling around terms like "infidel," "heathen," "damned," and "dumbass" or by implying that those who think differently from you lack intelligence. Then, and only then, can we begin to reach some common ground and resolve issues that concern us all.
*"And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." (Matthew 5:41)