My wife and I try to be positive people. So when Laurel told a man we'd just met today, "You should know that we're anti-Christian," I hoped that this believer wouldn't take our negativity personally.
Fortunately, he didn't. I went on to explain that it isn't so much Christianity that turns us off as fundamentalism – which comes in many guises. Christian fundamentalists just happen to be by far the most common variety in our neck of the world's woods.
This cartoon does a good job of summing up what we find objectionable about so many Christians. They take the most ridiculous parts of the Bible literally, rejecting science in the process, but look upon the most elevated aspects of Jesus' message metaphorically.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." "Judge not, lest ye be judged." "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor." Whaaaaaat? Jesus couldn't have meant us to take that stuff seriously. He's all about stopping gay marriage, abortions, and stem cell research, right?
Well, I'd bet on wrong, though it's an open question whether Jesus even existed, much less how he'd feel about 21st century social issues.
So I don't see it as negative to be anti-Christian if what you're against is Christian negativity. Negate a negation and you're left with something positive. Or neutral, at least.
Still, I'm pretty much on the same wavelength as Michael Shermer's "Rational Atheism" essay in Scientific American. He argues that while religious beliefs have to be dealt with when they conflict with scientific facts or violate principles of political liberty, skeptics should be cautious about going overboard with all-out attacks on religiosity.
Shermer's five reasons are:
1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.
2. Positive assertions are necessary.
3. Rational is as rational does.
4. The golden rule is symmetrical.
5. Promote freedom of belief and disbelief.
Here's his explanation of #5, which is difficult to argue with.
A higher moral principle that encompasses both science and religion is the freedom to think, believe and act as we choose, so long as our thoughts, beliefs and actions do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. As long as religion does not threaten science and freedom, we should be respectful and tolerant because our freedom to disbelieve is inextricably bound to the freedom of others to believe.
Yes. And I recognize that while I no longer see the need to pursue my "do-gooder" activities under a religious banner, other people feel differently.
For example, Jonn, the man with whom Laurel and I had an interesting chat this afternoon at a table outside of the charming Sisters Coffee Company in (where else?) charming Sisters, Oregon.
(As an aside, Sisters Coffee has a reference to Jesus prominently displayed behind the cash register, and an open Bible near the seating area; this means nothing to us heathens, because they serve great lattes and sweets).
Jonn came up to us with some comments about something he and I have in common: a gray beard. Ostensibly he wanted some feedback on a desirable beard length, but pretty clearly a primary motivation for sitting down with us was to share his Christian-related vision of a cause called "Profits for Peace."
Which I'm still vague about. The description on his web site doesn't cast much light on what his recently formed non-profit organization is all about.
But, hey, we're down with sustainable peace. I'm just understandably a bit skeptical about whether "Profits" or "Peace" is the main goal of this group, notwithstanding its non-profit designation.
Regardless, talking with Jonn helped Laurel and me to remember that many (if not most) Christians aren't of the fire and brimstone fundamentalist variety. Yes, they're committed to their faith. And yes, they want to act on that faith. There's nothing wrong with either "yes." Often, a whole lot right.
Someday, I hope, people won't identify themselves as Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever. Nor will they be anti- or pro-religion. Humankind will have evolved beyond such distinctions.
Until that blessed time comes, it should be the goal of each of us to tolerate differences of belief and unbelief with as much goodwill as we can muster.
Yet only, as Shermer said, when one person's thoughts, beliefs and actions don't infringe on the equal freedom of others.
If you want to take away my grandchild's right to learn the scientific truth of evolution, unmixed with creationist or intelligent design B.S., then you'll have a fight on your hands. Or if you want to stifle federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that could benefit millions out of a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture.
Remember, Christians: the Bible says Thou shalt not pray in public! Keep your beliefs private and no negativity from unbelievers shall fall unto you.