Two weeks ago, I posted a link to my new website on my Facebook page. I was expecting some feedback on the template I’d chosen and the way I’d organized my content. Many of my Facebook contacts are way more technically savvy than I, and I thought they might give me some pointers as I launched my first website and blog.
I didn’t get the kinds of responses I expected.
With the exception of my friend Anthony from high school who (very usefully) flagged me that my blog was not set up to receive comments, the feedback was not about the design and organization at all. It was about the content. Much of that feedback was super positive and encouraging – and it came mostly from my friends who have strong theistic beliefs. It’s not that I anticipated hate mail. I expected that civility would prevail. I just hadn’t predicted the outpouring of support and encouragement that I got from people who believe in a god. I am, after all, categorically rejecting something that these friends hold dear. It really caught me off guard.
It shouldn’t have. Most of these folks are people who I know well, and I know them to be tolerant, generous, accepting individuals. The idea of secular ceremonies for those who want them isn’t threatening to what they believe. Marriage equality is a right most of them value and support. My own humanism isn’t a shock to any of these folks. Some of them knew me back in my teens when I painted my finger nails black and claimed to worship the devil. They’ve witnessed the journey.
I realize that there is a part of me that’s become so hostile to the idea of faith – because of how it’s wielded by a lot of other people – that I am less conscious of when it is practiced with restraint and openness. It caused me to re-evaluate the copy on my website. All in all, I think I was pretty even. I did edit out one kind of snarky comment about “imaginary friends”.
I’d like to subscribe to a philosophy of ‘live and let live’ and I think that works on an individual basis. I’m not so sure it functions beyond the circle of people one knows personally. Sam Harris, whose philosophy I really identify with, suggests (and I’m paraphrasing here) that religious moderates provide a kind of safe cover for religious extremism. By rejecting the intolerant and violent pieces of dogma, they’re sort of practicing a “religion lite” while still lending credence to the religion as a whole, and making way for those who have a more literal, and perhaps dangerous interpretation of the faith.
So can we believe different things and still share the world? Do my friends believe they’re going to heaven and I’m not? Do I believe they’re wasting time and energy on religious practice that could be better spent on tangible action? Does that change the way we think about each other? Should it? By advocating what we believe, do we give license to those who would take those beliefs to unreasonable ends?
I’m still working through this…