Sometimes I think my blog may come off a bit too strongly. Since the recent deconversion my wife and I have gone through, our relationships with parents, siblings, and many of our friends have changed substantially. Due to the doctrine of withdrawal (which I still plan to write about one day), they don’t believe they can have a social relationship with us now that we’re no longer Christians. As you would imagine, that’s painful for everyone.
So it was really nice this week when a good friend of ours met my wife for coffee to catch up on things. We had been out of touch for quite a while, but he had heard about our predicament and wanted to check in. And even though he’s a Christian and doesn’t share our beliefs, he listened patiently to what my wife said. There was no condescension, no anger — he was caring and courteous. It really meant a lot to both of us — though really, I didn’t expect anything different from this individual. He’s always been a great friend.
But his great capacity for listening to beliefs that were very different from his own really reminded me how important tolerance is. There are times on this blog when I haven’t been as tolerant as I should have been, and I regret that. It can be difficult to talk about why your beliefs are different from someone else’s while staying calm and respectful. And since my beliefs have created this division in my family, it’s even tougher to keep the conversation civil. But whether it’s politics, religion, or some other volatile subject, we should all try to remain tolerant and considerate with those we talk to.
I’ve recently read two books by Sam Harris (referenced in the books section of this blog) where he goes beyond the notion of tolerance, stating that religion should end, period. I understand the rationale behind his position, but I don’t go as far as he does. I don’t see any threat in moderate religious people. I doubt that any two people have the exact same views on religion, but that’s okay if we can each practice our own beliefs without pushing them on others. I don’t want my blog to come across as though I’m out to destroy religion. Instead, I think people should be free to practice and talk about their own beliefs — I just want the same rights.
I’m not bothered by other people’s beliefs, even though I sometimes come out pretty hard against Christianity. In part, I guess I do that because I feel some bitterness about it. My entire life had been built around Christianity, and I felt so sure about it. When I found real problems, it was a huge blow. But the main reason I critique it so heavily is because it’s severed so many relationships for us. Our families haven’t been able to take a moderate approach, so compromise or “agreeing to disagree” has been out of the question. In other words, tolerance isn’t something they can allow right now. But if we can continue our dialogue, and if we can all keep open minds, then maybe we’ll get there one day.
In the meantime, thanks to those of you who have been able to hang with us despite our differences. And if I’ve written anything on this blog that’s been offensive, I apologize. I’ll try to focus on tolerance.
EDIT: After I posted this, my wife reminded me of a relevant quote from The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville (pg 10-11). Hope you enjoy it:
“I believe in God,” a reader once told me, “because life would be too sad without him.” This is not an argument, of course (“It is possible,” as philosopher Joseph-Ernest Renan said, “that the truth is sad”), but it should be taken into account. There is no reason to take faith away from those who need it — or even those who simply live better because they have it. […] Their faith in no way offends me. Why should I combat it? My intention is not to convert people to atheism. It is merely to explain my position and the arguments in its favor, motivated more by the love of philosophy than by the hatred of religion. There are free spirits on both sides, and it is to them that my words are addressed. The others, whether believers or atheists, can be left to their certainties.
Can we do without religion? From an individual point of view, we’ve seen that the answer to this question is at once simple and subtle: many people, including myself, live perfectly well without it on an everyday basis, and as best they can when confronted with death. This does not imply that everyone should do the same. Atheism is neither a duty nor a requirement. The same is true of religion. It remains for us to accept our differences. When the question is considered in this light, tolerance is the only satisfying answer.