Sunday, June 3, 2012

Coexist

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By now, I expect that just about everyone in America has to have seen this bumper sticker.  So I ask you my friends.  Is this possible?  Can we ever actually coexist?  Is there room for tolerance on behalf of religion as a whole and the people that the same religion is bound by edict to be at odds with?  I know what the answer is at the level of the individual.  I know it is possible because there are plenty of believers who see their faith, their God, and their message as one of peace, love, and tolerance.  I know believers who can look at their uncle (a gay man) with unabashed love.  And to come to the defense of his partner in the face of hatred and bigotry.  I know these people, and I love them.  But then I see these guys.

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And I don't understand.  I question the coexist concept.  Is there room to coexist with them?  The only answer I can come up with is no.  Coexistance requires mutual respect and an openness and willingness to tolerate.  How can I coexist with them?  How can any of us coexist with people that hate others, particularly when that hate is so central to their being.

Our nation (for all it's victories) has a history of resisting tolerance.  The power base has challenged every cry for equality.  Why else was the concept of "separate by equal" ever given any ground.  If we want equal, why must there be separation?  If we always thought that blacks, Indians, women, etc. had to be GIVEN the same rights well after the fact?  Why was equality something to be conceded by the "white man"?  If equality is the ultimate goal, why have we hedged it against so many individual groups?  Why is it okay in the 21st century to denigrate gays with the same hatred we showed blacks and women in the 50-60's?  Why does freedom of religion come with a national caveat that feels a lot like "Freedom of MY religion", or "Freedom to be Christian"?  I understand a national hatred against the people who enacted 9-11, and I even understand the greater sense of threat at the behest of another religion that wages war against different faiths around the world.  But the uproar over the "ground zero" mosque.  How can we square the circle of being a nation of religious tolerance, and still have an underpinning of intolerance for the "slight" and "insult" that would come from letting Americans who disagree with our own personal beliefs build a place of worship, based on the proximity to the sight of an attack that happened as much against them as any of us.  Coexist folks.  Turn the other cheek.  We are all Americans.  But yet we hate "them".  I remember that the last time we gave into hate and fear over the makeup of American citizens in the face of an attack.  Manzanar.  We interred our own citizens because WE couldn't trust THEM.  Can we coexist when there are people that can divide the nation into us and them, for any reason?  Even if it's me against the Hillsborough contingency?

I want to believe that electing our first black president was a very profound statement, but the fact that this simple act is so profound speaks volumes to our society.  Can a woman be president?  A Mormon?  A homosexual?   An atheist?  My thoughts?

Woman - Maybe.  But until we get rid of the people who (and this happened to Angela) call in and being told their request can't be fulfilled ask to speak to a MAN, I can't see it.  God forbid 5 days a month we give the launch codes to a person with PMS.  The irony being that a little less cocksure bravado and dick swinging might actually have reaching effects to a world of peace and understanding. 

Mormon - I mean, from a religious perspective, Mormons share enough of a central belief in Jesus that they shouldn't really be seen as all that different than Baptists, Catholics, or any others.  But there is a "healthy" distrust in Romney by the base in large part because of the mistrust in his take on faith.  I think A Mormon could be electable, but I'm not sure Romney is that guy.

Homosexual - I think there's no chance.  I think to a vast swath of this country, homosexuality is so central and fundamental to immorality that they may as well be atheists.  Fear over the policy implications and backlash hinder any chance of real acceptance in America today.

Atheist - No chance.  We are all morally corrupt satanists (still can't figure out how I don't believe in God, but I do believe in Satan) that will sink the country into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.  And no, that's not directed at believers in general.  It's toward the ones that can't see past that term as a morally corrupt concept at it's base. 

Coexist?  I can't see it.  I can't imagine tolerance in an intolerant society.  Where there are labels, and borders.  Things we use to divide each other into groups, so we can judge them.  Black, woman, Jew, atheist, gay, stupid, fat, etc.  To define people into categories serves only one purpose.  To separate us.  And as long as we willfully accept divisive policies into our society at the behest of any "belief"...religious or not.  No.  Coexist is a fantasy on the same level as world peace.  Maybe I should make a TOLERATE bumper sticker.  At least that might be feasible.  And yeah, I'm patenting that. 

Having Gotten That Out Of The Way

Having officially "come out" as one of the most (if not the most) distrusted groups in America today ( http://www.sadlyno.com/archives/5125.html ) I have to face the fact that there is a MAJOR disconnect in the way atheists are viewed.  And rather than take the time to single out any one faith, or mount specific arguments against one or the other, the general consensus that I think feeds into this perception is that of morality.  Specifically that atheist morality is arbitrary and selective and since it's not based on the decree of a higher being that it somehow is less valid.  Obviously I am an opponent to this view, but what really baffles me is how so many people (specifically religious people) who on a fundamental level make the exact same conscientious choices on morality don't see that this is what they are doing.  In fairness, I must say that a large majority of the religious people in my life do not fit this identity, there must be a large group out there that does. 

Allow me a brief divergence to my past if you will.  Growing up, faith was almost optional.  Not in the sense that atheism or agnosticism was hoisted as an alternative, but in my little circle, people who went to church were just people who went to church.  People who believed in God were just people that believed in God.  There was a fundamental separation between a persons faith (or lack thereof) and any implied sense of morality.  I never once looked at a church going friend and thought less (or more) of them as a consequence.  And I hope that the corollary is true.  That it was my actions in their entirety were what defined me, not my allegiance to this deity or that, or my belief in the words of any specific book.  It wasn't until later that I started to realize that there were people out there (more than I would have ever thought) who would fundamentally judge a person based solely on their choice of faith. 

So where am I going with this?  Why do I feel compelled to bring up this point as my opening salvo?  Mostly because I think any and all issues I have with faith boil back down to this point.  The seed of my discontent I guess boils down to this question?  What is it about someone who chooses to be an unbeliever that categorically makes them less trust worthy?  I hope, and pray (okay, not really, but you get the point) that it's not as simple as the question "If you don't believe in God, why do you bother to be good?".  Beyond the direct implications about ones own morality and whether or not doing good so as to avoid punishment is just pandering vs. doing good because it's the right thing to do.  Shouldn't it be enough to want to do good regardless of the ultimate motivation.  If someone cares for the sick and dying because the message from their deity is that it's a virtue to do so, who am I to judge their motivations.  Why would I proactively object to good deeds at the behest of these individuals?  But I feel like the exact opposite is a commonly held belief about we infidels.  That if we do something good, it comes with an ulterior motive.  So fine, you might say.  You want to do good, but if your morality is based on your own perceptions, how can I trust that what you think of as moral is actually moral.  What's to stop someone from saying that murder is moral, and then killing people on account of that perception.  I have heard this argument far too many times and it baffles me every time.  It implies that humans (at least the overwhelming majority of us) are born without a moral center, and we can only be moral by following the preachings in our holy texts.  Ignoring the argument of "which religion" then, knowing full well that our societal norms would be different if we happened to be born in a different country.  I ask this.  Do we really need God to tell us that murder is wrong?  Or that stealing is wrong.  If we could boil the golden rule back down to it's core, treating others with love and respect as a tenet of morality, the rest is just details.  We shouldn't kill.  Yep, passes the golden rule.  I wouldn't want to be killed, so killing is fundamentally an immoral concept.  No matter what side of the coin I'm on in the act, it's wrong.  Whether I'm religious or not.  Stealing, same thing.  And while I agree that morality in this sense is subjective.  It is also subject to revision as society changes.  I think this notion may be the core of it, that many people want to think that because the word of God is unalterable and final that there are ultimate truths that we can count on to be true today, and every day since and hence.  But again, we have to at least acknowledge that geographically we are subject to discrepant accounts of this same ultimate authority, and in truth, someone has to be wrong.  And the truth is that holding onto a religious text that one is steeped in from birth, neither side is likely to just have the revelation that they have been wrong lo these many centuries.  I mean, we fight wars over the different interpretations of the same texts.  And this is the problem with absolute texts.  Especially the ones where we both have the "the word of God is perfect" and "man is fallible" in the same argument.  Because whether we like to admit it or not, the religious may glean what they thing of as their morality from their doctrines, but the majority of them do omit certain aspects that they know are immoral. 

Stone disobedient children to death.  Man put to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath.  Where is the morality in either of these?  If you could take "the word of God" out of the equation, we would all fundamentally reject them.  They are repulsive on any moral level until we invoke God to justify them.  That's why we don't do this anymore.  These are not laws in our constitution, nor in any of our other legal documents.  Why?  Because they are immoral to the core.  So as a society.  As individuals, specifically the religious followers of these texts are practicing just as subjective morality as we atheists.  And surprise, surprise the fundamental morality that the bulk of the religious do follow as tenets are fully embraceable concepts to all.  I said it above, and I'll reiterate it here.  I would not deny any religious person the right to use their text as a foundation for good behavior, but the minute you can pick something out of that same text and deny it fundamentally why deny anyone else that same right to selective morality.  And please, let's not get into that whole Old Testament vs. New Testament argument here.  All I'm saying is that if one group can read a religious message and choose to deny immorality in the text, any other group should be given the same freedom. 

Time to Stop Lying to Myself (and Others)

My name is Jim, and I'm an ATHEIST
And let me get one other thing out there before I even really get started.  I know this tidbit of information isn't new to some of you.  It's not something I've hidden per se, just something I have held back to a degree because of fear of the repercussions of making that statement outside of a small circle of people.  Specifically I worried about my job, and any potential negatives that might come with making that statement.  My hope is that by putting this out there, it will in essence force my hand about this fear.  And here is the nitty gritty of it. I can't keep lying to myself.  I can't.  And I especially can't in the face of fear over how others may take this.  I can't continue this self revelation and still hold concern over how some people might view me.  What this really means, is that I have to be okay with the possibility that someone out there will cast me out of their lives on account of me coming out.  And my justification to making this decision was pretty simple.  Anyone who would actually judge me to the point that they would pull back as a consequence, I don't need in my life.  I hate absolutes.  I HATE divisive actions and behaviors.  But I have to do this.  I have to say to the world.

This is who I am, and if you love me, you will love me for WHO I AM.

So there it is folks, the least alienating way I can say that to the world.  And yes, this blog will go off on a host of tangents that may be a LOT more divisive, but I will never go out of my way to alienate anyone.  I will say what I think, I will speak my honest mind, but if you're still reading this, I think you are the kind of person who can respect my ideas, even if you disagree with them.  And know this, I can respect yours in that same way.  I want and encourage anyone who has thoughts, or opinions on anything I say to feel free to say it.  I love to engage in discussions. 

A final word (for now) is that I want everyone who can accept me for who I am to know that I can never tell you what that means to me.  Beyond just saying that this knowledge is sooooo self affirming that I swell with joy to know it.  And for anyone who can't make this leap, I understand.  And I will mourn losing you as friends.