Godless Living

Living a fulfilled life without God

The Boston Tragedy and My Dwindling Interest in Interfaith Dialogue

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In the aftermath of the Boston tragedy I’ve found myself extremely bothered by the fact that the evidence seems to be pointed in the direction that the individuals suspected of orchestrating this event were inspired by religious motives. It may seem rather obvious and possibly even a bit predictable that an atheist internet blogger would write about how horrible religion is in light of this event. I don’t mean to find myself matching a caricature description of an atheist blogger, but given my most recent interest in finding common ground with the religious and contemplating finding a way to work with interfaith groups, I think it would be fair to say that the perspective I write from may not be as predictable as one would guess.
For those that were around when I first left my faith, I found myself attempting to make a very passive departure from Christianity. I even started learning about other faiths and was interested in some kind of “live and let live” mentality. Over time my journey took a more frustrating turn as I dealt with the social ramifications of leaving a faith in the area that I live and with the friends and family that I was surrounded by. I was immediately seen as someone who was lost and needed prayer. This led me to talking bluntly about how I felt about religious faith. I became defensive about my position and was ready to give everyone the middle finger if they couldn’t just let me be.
Just a few months ago in the spirit of pluralism and in giving in to some sort of innate desire to live at peace with those around me, I started trying to look at religion very differently. Inspired partially by Chris Stedman’s book, ” Faithiest”, I became intrigued by the idea that perhaps humanists could find a seat at the table of interfaith dialogue. I was mostly drawn to this idea because I really do believe that we can’t spend our time constantly arguing with one another. I was tired of the debates about the existence of god and was ready to move on and seek out things we could agree on with the religious community. I have a few friends who subscribe to pretty liberal religious beliefs with whom I disagree with on very few things. I imagined a world where this happened on a much broader scale than with just a friend or two. In order to pursue better collaboration, I was willing to make some concessions about my feelings on organized religion and to tone down my criticism.
Though I had considered that it could possibly be a good idea to curtail the religious criticism, I’m having trouble maintaining that position in light of the alleged role that religion played in the Boston tragedy. To be clear I’m not advocating for prejudice, discrimination, intolerance, or combativeness with the religious community. I’m merely reserving the right to criticize what I find to be destructive ideologies. I’m annoyed this week by people loudly proclaiming that these people only represent extreme fundamentalism and that their faith is different. I’m not annoyed because it’s not true, I’m annoyed because people are so averse to any kind of religious criticism. People love to throw around the word “Islamaphobia” and to criticize anyone who points out the rather obvious fact that these terrorists are simply following some teachings in their holy books. I understand and agree that there are millions of decent, loving, and caring Muslims who find personal comfort and happiness in their faith without being a danger to society. However, I also have to admit that they are only able to do this by ignoring some of the teachings of Islam. It’s not bigotry to point out that there are harmful teachings within their religion. In fact, it’s not bigotry to point out that there are harmful teachings in Christianity, too. Regardless of how emphatically someone may insist that they structure their life around the teachings in the bible, it is rare to find someone who hasn’t shed many things that their holy book recommends (thankfully). To avoid repeating myself and continuing to share the evil things taught in the bible, I’ll simply point anyone interested to the website http://www.evilbible.com/.
I know I run the risk of appearing angry or filled with disgust for religious people, but I can’t emphasize enough that my criticism is of an ideology and not a person. I know that religion, when used as a tool for personal growth, has been known to help people find comfort, peace, and happiness. While I think these things are attainable outside of religion, I understand that some people find these things through their faith. Without diminishing this fact, I’m still bothered by the framework of religious ideologies. When you have faith as a core element of your religion you leave room for people to believe things and to make decisions in the absence of evidence. You create an environment where it is not only acceptable, but honorable to forsake reason. Religion provides an easy justification for doing evil if one wishes. All one needs to do to convince themselves that what they’re doing is right is to claim that they are following the direction of divine inspiration. No one can argue with this as it is completely acceptable within religion to provide no evidence or proof of such inspiration. When you combine this license to give in to the thoughts in your head with ancient, superstitious teachings of the sort I mentioned above, you have effectively given a free pass to anything someone wants to dream up in the name of God. Religion is an easy justification for people to do evil things. History has shown that it’s been effective in this way. It can be evil in extreme ways such as killing in the name of god, or in more subtle ways like creating room for bigotry and discrimination.
My point is while religion can often be harmless in the lives of its adherents, it’s always readily available for anyone who needs justification for the evil they wish to commit. This justification is there because of the faith element and the fact that people don’t need evidence, logic, or reason to do the things they do. This is why I’m beginning to question how a Humanist can realistically participate in interfaith dialogue. This doesn’t mean we can’t get along or that we don’t cooperate with, tolerate, and even learn to love one another. It just means that unless faith takes a backseat at these conversations I’m not sure where we would go from there. If we’re talking about how to tackle the world’s problems and we’re not going to first honor reason, then we have nothing to talk about. And those of us on the humanist side run the risk of reducing our much needed criticism of harmful ideologies just so we can appear to be working together. I’m just not sure I can continue to curb my criticism any longer and I’m having trouble envisioning a world where humanists and religious find much common ground on a larger scale (more than just a few friends learning to understand each other better). Can they get along and live peacefully among each other? Of course. I just wonder if we’re not too limited as to how much common ground we can find.

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3 comments on “The Boston Tragedy and My Dwindling Interest in Interfaith Dialogue

  1. sthlivingincolor
    April 27, 2013

    Excellent post. I agree, religious people and atheists just start with a different world view and it’s difficult to discuss things when you’re starting with different values (reason vs. faith). I have no problem working with religious people on shared tasks, political campaigns, etc., but they’re never going to convince me to just accept things “on faith” and I’m never going to convince them that reason is a valuable tool in understanding the world, so there’s a limit to the agreement we can come to on things.

    But I also want to say something about being “an angry atheist.” I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels between the women’s movement and gay rights movement (both of which I’ve been involved in) and atheism. When a marginalized group tries to gain the respect and rights they are due, the criticism they always get from the privileged is “geez, why are you people so ANGRY?” and “if you were just nicer/more polite/less confrontational, we could work with you.” And that’s bullshit, frankly. Why wouldn’t anyone get angry looking at the statistics on violence against women? Why wouldn’t anyone get angry knowing that you can be fired in most states just for being gay? Why wouldn’t anyone get angry seeing how important (perceived) religiosity is in getting elected to political office in this country? Dismissing people for being angry–tone trolling, basically–is a way to avoid talking about real discrimination and oppression. Yet we can see that being “in your face” and quite impolite has worked pretty well for gay people. While atheists are trying to be so nice and respectful to religious people, we are being denounced from pulpits worldwide and blamed for all the evils of the world. Screw polite. I’m angry, I have plenty to be angry about, and I damn well will be heard.

    • godlessliving
      April 27, 2013

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve really struggled in balancing my level of aggressiveness. You make some great points. Thanks for taking the time to both read the post and share your thoughts.

  2. Stuart
    April 29, 2013

    > I’m having trouble envisioning a world where humanists and
    > religious find much common ground on large scale (more
    > than just a few friends learning to understand each other better).

    Religious people want freedom to follow their beliefs. Non-religious people want freedom to follow their non-beliefs. Most of us are united in wanting freedom.

    If you want to force anyone to believe or non-believe, then of course there will be endless conflict. If you look for opportunities to increase the freedom of following your own beliefs or non-beliefs, WITHOUT attempts to force anything on anyone else, then conflict will decrease. We may or may not all understand each other, but that’s not so important, as long as we don’t interfere with each others’ freedom.

    If you want to teach your kids there is or isn’t a God, you’ll find very little conflict. If you want to force others to pay for teaching your kids that there is or isn’t a God, don’t be surprised by what happens.

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This entry was posted on April 26, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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