As long as we keep our dukes up and make sure that piece is protected, isn't whatever someone else believes sort of none of our business? As long as they are not setting policy or writing curriculum, why is there such intense resolve on the part of some atheists to keep pressing and pressing the point that everyone else has stupid beliefs? That seems like the height of bigotry, and I haven't heard anyone yet say convincingly why it isn't.
On a personal level, I am getting so sick of people I respect and feel great affection for, whom I assume have similar feelings for me, stating over and over that my belief system - which they know nothing about except that it isn't atheism - is wrong. That it's valid to use their metrics to evaluate my private intellectual system for organizing ideas about the mysteries of life. I can't believe it sometimes. I don't get why that isn't an egregiously prejudiced, snobbish response.
I personally have no interest in searching historical records for signs of miracles or accounts of the lives of prophets. My eyes glaze over hearing about such things. In terms of my own beliefs, there is no "proof," for or against them. They are just how I picture what we don't yet know about life. You can't really hold them up to a logical analysis any more than you could use a mathematical equation to measure exactly how much I love my husband. Any more than you can study pride or envy or awe in a laboratory. But to say "it's not supposed to be logical" to the evangelical atheist is like throwing yourself to the wolves. "There you go! If it's 'not logical," then it's faulty thinking by definition!"
Meanwhile, it's my mind, it's my belief system, and it's a big part of who I am. I don't follow dogma, or worship a god, but I think about intangible things in the universe in a way that is open, curious, optimistic and...throwing myself to the wolves again...spiritual. I love the word spiritual. It signals ignorance to my friends. But there is nothing ignorant about wondering why the sight of geese passing over autumn trees makes me feel melancholy in a good way. And why thunderstorms both scare us and attract us. Yes, dears, they scare us to trigger the adaptive response of taking shelter. But why do they captivate us too? It's a rhetorical question; please don't send me the evolutionary reason. I don't picture thunder as God bowling, but I think it is magical and mystical and it would bore me to hear why it also promotes the survival of the species. So does minding your own business about what's in someone else's head. Dears.
And as far as people who do believe in things like Jesus or Allah or rain dances or holy books - I can't believe the way they are condemned wholesale by some atheists. It is so surprising to me sometimes. There is a terribly culturally-insensitive aspect to this, so shocking to see played out in liberal discussions. Some seem to feel comfortable mocking whole cultures; whole groups of people who have for generations woven ritual and talismans and rosaries and prayers and holy water and clergy into their lives and communities. And the lip-service paid to the idea that religion "can play an important role in society" or "sometimes helps people feeeeel better" is so dismissive and superior it makes me a little ill.
If the spiritual beliefs of others aren't being forced on you, why does it destroy your day to be aware of them in public? I get that it is ubiquitous, but so is body odor, if you live in the city. I get that it is symbolic to some people of their own traumatic childhood upbringings. To some victims of sexual violence or child abuse, every male with a certain hair color and height does that too. I am not a Christian, but I have the social skills to get through a Christian funeral or wedding. I may roll my eyes when people think there's praying in football, but I don't spend any time on it. I'm more turned off by brightly-painted belly flab than by the sign of the cross from the kicker.
Now, I did have a she-Hulk fit, and lodge an official complaint, when I heard a Christian invocation used to open a county-wide meeting when I worked in the public school system. Although surprised, I stood and bowed my head because I prefered that to noticeably sitting it out. But I'd have completely respected anyone else doing the latter, especially in that setting. I made a mental note to email someone to say that even this ecumenical prayer I was hearing should not have been included at a school system meeting. But when they closed it with "in Jesus' name we pray," I almost flipped the table over. Even in rural NC you'd think they should know about Jews from TV. I didn't break anything, but they heard from me later, formally and emphatically.
But I didn't get bogged down picking apart the contents of the prayer. The prayer shouldn't have been there at all. It is beside the point whether I believe Jesus is magic. I had no interest in pronouncing everyone at that meeting who had crossed themselves to be intellectually bankrupt, superstitious or wrong. If you try to worm it into public policy or curriculum, you're all mine. Otherwise, go for it.
It is not true that you have to choose between believing in evolution and science, and having abstract philosophical ideas that are inconsistent with what science knows now. If you think it is, you aren't thinking deeply. I have been told that believing anything could exist outside what can be proven is by definition superstitious - an ignorant tolerance for the concept of the supernatural. But doesn't my thinking reflect my love for science when I ponder to myself, "I wonder if there could be a force of love in the same way there is a force of gravity?" Saying that certain of your ideas exist outside of science and aren't subject to proofs, is not saying you don't believe the proofs we have. That just sounds obtuse to me!
I will put out a challenge to my readers: please, be the first person who can convincingly explain to me why the following words sound better coming out of one mouth than another:
- "Your beliefs aren't just different from mine; they're wrong."
- "Instead of believing what you believe, you should believe what I believe."
- "You teach your kids that???"
- "I must go out and convince others that this is the only right thing to believe."
Personally, I don't want to hear that mess from anyone.
I think the atheist movement has been brilliant, incredibly important, and exciting. In an amazingly short time the very idea of vocal, activist atheists has gone from 0 to 60. Just a few years ago, people thought an atheist was some crank father who didn't want his child saying the pledge. Well that turned out to be a worthy and seminal cause, and now it's a whole movement led and followed by countless intelligent, witty, creative and accomplished people. This is the perfect time for people in the movement to figure out how to define themselves in a way that doesn't reflect everything they hate about organized religion.