3/13/2010

Finding Assurance

Yesterday something rather odd happened. I found myself not rising to the bait in an argument with a conservative Christian. It was a very liberating experience because by not engaging I stripped him of his power and importance.

For most of my life, I have been quick to jump into arguments. I am opinionated and have a quick Irish temper much of the time. Growing up outside the usual accepted groups by being gay which sets me apart from straight people and then being hefty which sets me apart from many gays and then questioning religion which sets me apart from 95% of my fellow Americans - all left me feeling quite defensive most of the time. I have always felt that I had to explain myself to others.

Yesterday I realized that by continually rising to the bait I was unconsciously telling myself that somehow their views mattered to me. Why would I do that? Did I think I was going to change the mind of a conservative minister by arguing science versus mythology? There was pretty much no chance of that. What I was doing was providing him with entertainment. I was his afternoon (or morning) project at his seminary. In short, I would be his chance to show off his latest indoctrination into mythological belief disguised as "science." So, why should I bother?

So when he demanded, yes demanded that I prove to him "the 'scientific proofs' that show incontrovertably (sic) that evolution (such as you espouse) really exists and works?" Then went on to claim that non-belief in god was actually a religion (talk about warped thinking) I decided to cut him off.

This was a person I'd gone to high school with and had not seen in nearly 28 years. I realized I owed him no explanations, I was not beholden to him in any way and his status as a "christian" did not endow him with some honor that dictated I speak to him, much less serve as his debate project for seminary. So, why should I bother.


Instead of rising to the challenge and going on a fool's errand for the rest of the day "debating" science versus mythology (as I put it to him we might as well debate whether electrons cause lightning or it really is Zeus throwing thunderbolts) - I said the following:
"I am not here to serve as your sparring partner. I have a life to live and it is not my job to be your research team. I suggest you go to Google Academic Search if you are serious about evolution, but I cannot but think you just want to bait and try to show off whatever you learned at your Seminary most recently.

I have rejected the "god" you believe in after careful consideration over many years just as you have probably (and forgive the assumption) rejected Krishna, Baal, and Apollo among millions of others.

If my rejection of your god and its attendant beliefs in things like creationism upset you, then there is nothing I can do about it. In which case there are two choices. First, you can remove me from your friends here on Facebook and go your own way. That is perfectly understandable if you wish and I will not hold it against you. Secondly, you can accept that I do not believe what you do and we can enjoy those places where our lives overlap such as family/community happenings or reminiscing about the "good old days." I will leave the choice up to you."
I received no reply to that and he does not appear to have removed me from his list of friends. So, I'm not sure where that leaves us but I've been clear that I am not to be his conversion project nor a notch in his seminary evangelism belt.

Recently, I wrote to Richard Wade who writes a column for the American Humanist Association and The Friendly Atheist. I asked about integrating with the world at large who continually flaunted their anti-intellectual beliefs as "religion."  His answer was quite wonderful but some of the comments from readers were even more eye opening:
In other words, turn it on them – why are they trying to make you so uncomfortable? What’s in it for them to be so nosy? That doesn’t help when you’re trying to grin and bear it listening to their woo-talk, but might help deflect a little of the direct pressure.
A fellow Gaytheist (love that term) had this to say:
(regarding demands by Christian to explain to him my disbelief) ...if you did give an accounting of yourself, he’s accuse you of trying to convert him. Trust me — that’s is a no-win situation, and nothing you could possibly do would be right.
And Richard's sage advice (condensed and edited):
You’re suffering from overexposure to secondary woo.

Yes, you will probably always be surrounded by a majority of people who believe inane things, and they will get to you sometimes. But you can be more relaxed and tolerant while in their midst if you can detoxify from the secondary woo on a regular basis.

...begin to develop a sense of calmness and confidence within yourself. Think about how fortunate you are. You have, against high odds, freed yourself from superstitious chains that hobble the minds of most people. Yes, what they believe is nonsense to you, but think of yourself not as being better than them, just luckier. That will help you to avoid being smug or condescending, like those religious and New Age acquaintances you mentioned. The whole mentality of thinking in terms of being superior or inferior to others is a trap. If you see yourself either way, you won’t be happy being with others, and so you’ll likely start isolating.

 I think that last part is key. Part of what I have been feeling lately, is that I have to be some sort of standard bearer and as such I'm in the line of fire. As "THE atheist" now among most people I know, I am often a lightning rod, it seems, and the natural resentment I have toward religion for what it has done to the LGBT community and the world has been ratcheted up to a level that is unbelievable. Where it was once just simmering dislike, after the first few confrontations it became outright disgust.

That has led me to view all religious people as virtual mental midgets. That is not a healthy way of thinking about people at all. I have met people who believe in all this stuff who also are kind and intelligent. Some admit they continue in it out of loyalty to their families or community traditions (a number of Jewish people I've met over the years are atheists in reality but practice the religion as more of a family tradition than a belief in supernatural powers).

So, yesterday, I decided that I didn't need to rise to the bait every time a believer challenges me. If someone wants to speak honestly about their doubts about religion and hear what I've learned, then I'm happy to oblige. But if somone's sole purpose is to draw me into an argument then I need not participate. It's quite simple and I do not owe any believer an explanation simply because they put on the mantle of belief.

How utterly liberating that is.

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