Faking it for god

Interesting, all-too-brief account of a family in Texas who fakes Christianity for social reasons. As agnostics, their children don't get play dates.

68

  1. According to my mother, my grandfather did something similar to this. He was agnostic, but he and his immediate family always went to church, for social reasons.

  2. This is pretty much how my parents raised me and my brothers…which is kinda funny, considering my grandfather was a pentecostal Church of God of Prophecy preacher. Honestly, though, he’s probably the most laid-back pentecostal I’ve ever encountered. No way he’s faking it, though; when we would visit, his speaking in tongues at the break of dawn = my alarm clock

  3. “play date” really really annoys me, it’s the quintessential piece of lazy language use.

    The kids don’t go to restaurants, films, museums or any other traditional ‘dating’ spots, with the intention of creating romantic relationships.

    As to faking beliefs to appear likeable to your peers, it’s the lot of any new arrival into an established social hierarchy.

    1. Merriam-Webster –
      Date(noun)-(4a) an appointment to meet at a specified time; [i]especially:[/i] a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character

      Play Date(noun)-a play session for small children arranged in advance by their parents

      Seems pretty consistent to me.

      While the word ‘date’ CAN imply romance, romance is neither a necessary condition, nor a sufficient one for a given meeting to be a date.

    2. Do you ever make a lunch date with your friend?

      The word “date” doesn’t have to mean romantic possibilities.

      Spend a little time wallowing in the fecundity of the English language. Only a small percentage of words have only one precise meaning.

  4. Its a shame she and her family have to pretend just so the kids can have friends and socialize. Wasn’t the something in the bible about loving and accepting your neighbors?

    1. That would be asking Christians to act in a manner that was actually “Christian”. Hanging out with prostitutes and low-lifes and the diseased and helping them to feel like they are part of society is -so- 2000 years ago.

  5. We recently declared ourselves as non-believers after years of being conservative evangelicals and we’re finding it very, very difficult to deal with our previous social circles. We’re finding the same slow withdrawal is happening.

    We’ve documented our “coming out”, and the response has been incredible. Our “Open Letter to Our Friends” was featured on many different atheist sites and the discussion has been very positive.

    http://wonderfulpages.com/doodad/2009/11/an-open-letter-to-our-friends/

    We’ve also started writing about our struggles to find community afterwards:

    http://wonderfulpages.com/doodad/2010/02/starting-from-scratch/

    [Mods: I hope this isn’t considered self-promotion, I apologize if it is. I have no advertising, and I do think it’s relevant to the discussion, because we’re struggling with the exact same problem as the original story… ]

    1. You’re welcome, anytime, to move to any of the liberal hell-holes here in the upper mid-west. We don’t care what you believe so long as you recycle and take your own bags to the grocery store. Seriously.

      Failing a massive economic recovery that would afford you that kind of mobility, best of luck to you and your family in finding a new place within your existing community.

  6. This is *exactly* the conversation I’ve been having with my friends and my wife recently!! We don’t have kids currently, but having been in the church, and now agnostic, I keep wrestling with the ethics of faking religion just for the benefits of the community and social aspects of a church.

    Thank you for posting this article!

  7. this is why i love the unitarian universalist association. all the social benefits of a church, but without requiring specific beliefs. it’s basically (semi-)organized agnostic religion.

  8. I love that the article spawned a comment (on the NYT page) about the “anti-Christian bigotry” in the media. Ah, yes; it must be so difficult being a member of the state religion in a theocracy. So much persecution.

  9. I fake it. I also hate it when someone asks me, “do you believe/trust/love the Lord Jesus Christ?” There’s a big part of me that just hangs its shoulders; “ugh,” I think internally, “another one.”

    Of course, I always answer “yes,” just to bring the matter to a close. There has been a time or two where some zealous Bible-thumper wanted to then hold a kind of impromptu church with me, but I’ve been able to weasel my way out of that, so far.

    My theory is that people are mostly opportunistic, selfish and parasitic to each other. Believing in something like Jesus gives them a kind of higher power they can focus on and ask for forgiveness for being such a bastard to everyone else in their life. Most of them believe that it’s okay to mistreat everyone around you as long as you occasionally check-in with Jeebus and say “sorry.” Maybe chuck a dollar in the donation box, but only if it’s convenient.

  10. I assume a “play date” is what I (in the UK) would call “playing”, or “seeing my friends”. (As in, “mum, can I go to Sam’s house after school tomorrow?”)

    Anyway, it reminds me of when age 10 I changed from the state school to a private school (which cost my parents a load of money). My best friend’s parents decided private schooling didn’t fit with their religious and political views, and told their children to stop talking to me and my sister. Next time we met I tried to talk to my friend, but he said, “mummy says we’re not allowed to talk to you because you going to posh school and it’s really mean and evil.” His mother was obviously very embarrassed, and hasn’t spoken to my mother since. Ten years later I met up with my friend again, but our interests had diverged somewhat.

    (The rest of my friends parents had no problem it, and I made new friends at my new school anyway.)

  11. One wonders how these parents who expose their kids to all beliefs and don’t value one over another will react if their kids someday become Christians. (ooh, even “evangelical” ones… all us tolerant types know they’re the worst…)

    1. I will feel sad if that happens. I will feel sad because I spent a good part of my life trying to make that life work, trying to reconcile the irreconcilable and not being able to.

      I spent a long time struggling and confused because of my association with the church. Most of it was hidden behind a facade because the community is not very doubt-tolerant. I don’t want my children to have to go through that.

      The short of it is: If they truly believe and are happy there, then all power to them. If it’s a place where they feel more guilt and doubt than joy, then it’s a bad thing.

    2. I can’t speak for max_supernova, but I don’t have a philosophical purity test for friendship or family relationships.

      That said, I’d certainly expect my children to be able to make better arguments than spurious hypotheticals aimed at proving just how oppressed they are by other people having different beliefs.

  12. I never fake it, and for a while living in a rural northwest bible belt my family and I were quite the spectacle. I always relish shooting down the aggressive conversion types who wanted to save my soul. I guess my yeshiva education paid off, I was able to out bible the bible thumpers. That said we had about 3 friends total, all imports from out of town. Shooting guns in the yard was kind of fun, but not that fun, I am glad I left.

  13. I have long suspected that a large proportion of church goes are faking it or just going for the social aspects.

    ¿What if everyone is faking it?

    Although I suppose those that would forbid their children from socializing with demon atheist children… have been drinking the koolaid for a while.

    1. I wanted so badly to say respond with something very similar from work (“Most of the Christians I know ARE faking it”). Good on ya!

  14. While it’s always easier to stay in the closet, but at the same time, every time you deny it, you’re enabling the hostile environment that you can’t stand. You are the reason why 48% of Americans won’t vote for an atheist. You hide and let them demonize us, instead of coming out and saying, “I’m an atheist. Do you think I’m immoral? Do you think I eat children?”

    Come out, come out, wherever you are!

  15. I’ve often wondered how much of the “founding fathers'” religion was in this same category. Suspect Washington Jefferson et al had to play along as Deists just to fit in socially.

  16. I’ve personally been kicked out of two church groups when I was a teen for being a non-believer, despite the fact that I was there to help with community volunteer events. Lost a lot of friends that way.

  17. I’ve always thought that if was ever really down and out, and lost contact with friends/family, I would go to a church and pretend to be christian so they would give me food/clothes/money to get back on my feet.

  18. I am a Texas atheist. My girlfriends kids don’t go to church. My girlfriend claims to be a Catholic but I’ve only seen her in church at weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. Her kids are active in sports and have lots of friends around the neighborhood and school. Perhaps your kids aren’t getting “dates” because of some other reason. Don’t sell out your beliefs. Those people who would shun you for your choice of religion are not worth hanging around anyway, and you and your kids are better off.

  19. Living as an atheist in Texas, I understand the struggles of religion-oriented social isolation. And I can understand not wanting your kids to be negatively impacted by your personal philosophy. The problem can become even nastier in the workplace.

    But I have very mixed feelings about faking it. For starters there is the basic issue of dignity, of having to toe the line of someone else’s superstition. And if people can’t learn to look beyond our differences, opinions that for all of us boil down to ignorance, and respect you for you who are as a person, then are those the people with whom you really want to be socializing? There are other fish in every sea.

    And if other parents want to quarantine their kids from any thought-diseases your kids might carry, well, they may be doing you a favor by quarantining your kids from their own form of thought-disease. They may be saving you the after-play-date hassle of explaining why your kids aren’t going to hell because mommy and daddy are servants of Satan.

  20. Social spinelessness. That’s the saddest part of the story to me. Nevermind the “Oh, I *have* to pretend I’m a Christian because (sniffle) nobody will like me if I don’t” part of this. It’s not like it’s much easier, for instance, to live in Utah in many places as a non-Mormon, or to have been pagan during the Spanish Inquisition, or to be a member of a non-sanctioned church in China, or a Jew in the Middle East. I could see reasons (real, valid reasons) for pretending to be something you’re not in those scenarios. But it’s rather yellow to play at being something you’re not just because you don’t have the fortitude to be yourself. Don’t blame Christianity. Blame cowardice.

    1. thanatomaton, so parents who fail to put your principles ahead of their children’s well-being are cowards?

      Hehe… I’m sure they can live with that.

    2. No, you can blame christianity. Whether its Texas or any other state with a highly concentrated christian population in the bible belt; they look down on those whom don’t share their religion. Highly religious families don’t want to contaminate their children with other or non religious beliefs. Because of this, the poor woman mentioned in the article has to pretend so her children don’t grow up being treated like social lepers.

      Just because you haven’t experienced such bigotry, doesn’t mean that it does not exist.

      1. Not Christianity, but what the Texas heretics call Christianity, is the problem, IMHO.

        I’ve not noticed Texans to turn the other cheek, and bid their enemies strike that, too.
        “Don’t mess with Texas”. Now that’s Christian! Ain’t it?

  21. wow — it’s refreshing, yet sad, to see others in the same situation. i’ve been “out of the closet” since high school, in the south, and i must say that had i been born a male, the hostility i’ve encountered in the past (and in response to questions about my beliefs, not to my throwing it out there, out of context) might possibly have become physical. i mean, people can get *really* angry at you over simply not having an opinion, much less a negative one about religion.

    a question for you all: at what point did you begin “faking it?” because i think i began around the time i realized my atheism; in fact, i remember the very first time, in sixth grade. someone asked what kind of church i went to and i answered “christian” as i sat there hating myself for lying to avoid (further) social stigmata.

    thanks for a great post (and a great link, #5).

  22. In Palm Springs, people join AA to make friends and get dates. They actually go to AA meetings, hook up with each other and go out for a drink afterward.

  23. Kind of fits in with my jokes about how the entire anti-gay movement is composed of a whole bunch of desperate people — fearing loneliness — saying the right things in order to fit in and keep their friends.

  24. Darwin said “Unitarianism is a featherbed for falling Christians”. http://uua.org has a widget on the right hand side for finding a Unitarian Universalist organization near you.

    A lot of people are UU because they want the social environment and connections of a church without having dogma and intolerance forced on them.

    People intolerant of theism, atheism, or homosexuality will find UU churches an uncomfortable place to be. Because other churches are not accepting of atheism and/or open homosexuality, there’s a higher proportion of gay folks and unbelievers than you will find in the population at large. A UU church is a place where atheists, cross-dressers, Bhuddists, Hindus, Jews, pantheists, transexuals, and goddess-worshippers can all get along just fine.

    Many UU preachers are openly agnostic.

  25. I don’t think I’d want to hang out with these people either– who wants to be friends with a bunch of fakes? My town is easily 99% some flavor of Christian, but I’ve never been anything but straightforward with people who question me about whether or not I believe. So far, it really hasn’t been a problem.

  26. Corny: You got any interest in reading the Bible?
    Justine: I have my own, you know, beliefs.
    Corny: Well, we don’t preach fire and brimstone. 10 Commandments, gotta live by those. Other than the usual ways, we’re not interested in scaring people. We’re about loving Jesus.
    Justine: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I kind of like my nights to myself.
    Corny: Well, maybe you’ll have night after night of eternal hellfire all to yourself. Just kidding you. Drive safe. Bye-bye.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0279113/

  27. This is just what Jews had to do in Poland before and during WWII. Hide their beliefs. Now we (I’m an atheist, and I’ve hid it on many occasions) have to do it, too. It’s barbaric.

  28. I’m an agnostic from San Francisco, so I’m happy to say I never had to fake anything re: my relationship with the Higher. Plenty of places in this city to pray with the like-minded, but the social attitudes are not unfavorable if you do not choose a religion. That being said, I have in the past felt uncomfortable going to church with my ex-girlfriend (who is a devout Catholic); holding hands with the people next to me sharing in the blessing of Christ I didn’t feel was quite rightfully mine to receive. . .it didn’t feel good to have to fake it. And the last time I went to church with her was in her hometown of Seoul, Korea; I really felt like a phony after she pushed me toward the pulpit to get a blessing from the priest and he gave me a frown and said ‘are you Catholic?’ ‘Baptized Greek Orthodox’ was my reply (true). . .I guess during the sermon I must have dozed off (it was hot! it was long! and it was in Korean!) Not the best example I could have set or result I could have hoped for. The choir was really amazing however. . .also the only time I’ve seen a crowd of people waiting in line to get into church. Anyhow: faking no fun. Best thing: Respect the beliefs of others and be true to your own.

  29. I wouldn’t say we’re faking it but we pulled out son out of public school and enrolled him in a private Christian school because the local public grade school was pretty abysmal in how they taught math and a couple other subjects. The private school is one of the best in the state. We don’t go to church or really talk much about spirituality here in the house, and we try to keep our son to think open minded about other viewpoints. But we’ve found it’s rather awkward to meeting other parents at this schools “functions” and eventually the question comes up, “so do you go to church.”. We’re honest and say we don’t, but usually feel obligated to come up with some excuse. Neither of us are athiest, but we’re not strictly Christian either. I lean more towards Buddhist thinking and my wife is more agnostic. But for us we do sort of fake it for the sake of our son’s education.

  30. I’m agnostic. What plagues me are the people who believe agnostics are the same as atheists. Atheists _are_ believers – they just believe in the _non_-existence of a deity, rather than the existence of one. Agnostics, on the other hand, doubt that either proposition can be proven.

    1. The problem with that simple a distinction is that there are different levels of belief and of proof. I would pick at least four different types of non-belief:
      1. People with no idea whether God exists, and often the idea that it’s impossible to know. This is what usually gets called agnostic.
      2. People who don’t know whether God exists, but think it’s not likely enough to care about. I’ve heard some call themselves apatheists.
      3. People who think there is good evidence against God existing, although as with any evidence it’s not perfectly certain. I think most atheists belong here.
      4. People who take it on faith God doesn’t exist. In my experience this is rare outside different, non-theistic religions.

      1. May I propose an option 5.?

        I guess this would put me somewhere between agnostic and atheist on your list, but what if I just find the whole question on this type of ‘belief’ confusing? The idea of “God” is so incredibly ill-defined and vague (and I don’t see that ever changing) that just having to classify myself to people as ‘agnostic’ or ‘atheist’ feels wrong to me, as if I can even accept that question, “do you believe in God”, as making any sense.

        For me, the only proper response seems to be to just argue that the whole debate is a waste of time, because it starts out with concepts that I can’t make sense of. It’s for this reason that I find both fundamentalist believers AND Richard Dawkins annoying.

        1. The idea of “God” is so incredibly ill-defined and vague

          No it’s not. Unless you choose to make it so by adding spurious nonsense like beards and penises and old books. That’s what the priests want you to do, but none of that crap is necessary. You don’t have to be a tool.

          You can use the ancient, traditional definition of God which will allow you to use the English language in a way compatible with prior and current uses quite easily, in the interests of clear communication with other human beings.

          In the English language, “God” means “that entity which is greater than any other entity”. It doesn’t mean “Jehova” or “Xenu” or “Krishna” or “Great Father in the Sky” no matter how much the devotees of those mythical daemons want you to believe it does. If used in the plural (which I do not recommend) it means “an entity belonging to a set of entities greater than all entities outside that set”. You can see how the plural form is less meaningful; that’s the attraction of monotheism.

          1. You use this word, “ill-defined.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

            The concept of “God” is vague by definition. And this can be a good thing – leaving it up to the individual to fill out the definition. The problem arises when one becomes a little too attached to his or her definition and wants to fight people who see Him* differently. The bottom line, though, is that the Christian God and the Jewish God and the Muslim God (or Allah, if you prefer, but that’s like a Catholic calling God “Deus” or something) are one in the same. It’s just that a practicing Muslim drops what he’s doing and prays to God five times a day, while I prefer to enjoy the beautiful Sunday afternoon He made by riding my lawn tractor shirtless while drinking beer.

            *I use the designation “Him” merely for convenience’s sake.

          2. Humpty Dumpty said “when I say a word, it means exactly what I intend it to mean, and nothing else”. Look what happened to him!

            Words are for facilitating transfer of information (at least) between two (at least) minds. If you allow Catholic Priests to control your language, you restrict your mind to Catholic dogma. The same applies if you follow Krishna. Or P.Z. Meyers. If you choose to have your own definitions (or lack thereof) for words, you choose not to communicate beyond your circle of like-minded zealots. We have to intentionally seek common ground or we cannot reason together. If we cannot reason together, well, next thing you know the kids are strapping on the explosives.

            Why do you think the Jews excommunicated Spinoza? Because he pointed out that it’s very easy to arrive at a common definition of the word “God”… once you pare away all the differences and contradictions between what all the priests and philosophers say about divinity, the only thing left is this: God is by definition the greatest of all that is. אהיה אשר אהיה. If something exists that is greater than what you worship, you aren’t worshipping God.

          3. If something exists that is greater than what you worship, you aren’t worshipping God.

            Hinduism has the concept of ishta deva(ta) which means, more or less, personal god. Without losing sight of the idea that “God” is primal undifferentiated consciousness, you can pick a “god(dess)” as a focus for your devotion.

          4. Hinduism and Bhuddism are much more difficult to discuss in English than the desert monotheisms are. I was trying to dodge that issue, and you caught me.

            Part of the problem is that most Hindus are perfectly happy to use the English word “god” to describe Durga or the Lokapalas. I usually call ’em “devas” or “demiurges” but the average English speaker would probably be better off with “angels” or “demigods”.

            Does English have a word any more for the category of devotions that Hindus direct towards individual devas? “Worship” is too strong, in my opinion, and “fetish” unfortunately no longer means what it meant back in the day; it has baggage.

        2. @dangeroo it’s called theological noncognitivism, and is the reason I don’t like calling myself an athiest. Yet, I think it reasonable to assume that anything coherent that some theist might come up with is going to be so ludicrious, so spaghetti-monster-unlikely, that I am willing to wear the athiest label to distinguish myself from theists, and from, worse, people who have actually entertained the question, rather than going with the theistic flow, rather than using the language of religion because it somehow bonds them to others in some sort of genunine similar experience of the world, and not only found it to make sense as a question about reality but decided that they just don’t know the answer; oh how I despise “agnostics.” But yeah, Dawkins annoys me too. I suspect that for most people religious belief isn’t so literal, isn’t about some binary proposition, but rather an affirmation of something they don’t have other language for. Or so I have to hope…

    2. Bloo, obviously there are some atheists who disbelieve so strongly they have to tell the world about it; and indeed there are times when the behavior of the religious is so intensely irritating that even I feel moved to respond with a personal insult or a scowl.

      But for the most part, why bother? Atheism isn’t a belief, it’s just so bloody obvious; it’s accepting the evidence of your eyes and ears, it’s observing how the world works, it’s common sense.

      On the other hand, my observations of the religious, who are constantly encouraging each other to ‘believe’, to remain true, is that ‘belief is really hard. Accepting as true things that run against a lifetime of daily experience, that are inconsistent and make no sense — what a struggle, and one that so many would-be believers plainly have no heart for.

      Evidence of that is in everything from the “crises of faith” the seriously devout appear to suffer, to the lamentably “unchristian” behavior the religious so often exhibit — the sort of thing that obliges ordinary people to hide their true beliefs, or disbeliefs.

      Once again I’m glad I live in a country where (unlike parts of the US) I’m free to tell the religious where to go and what I really think of their mental powers. But only if I’m provoked and grumpy, of course.

  31. @Bloo No. Atheists are not believers. Belief in “the non-existance of a deity” implies that said deity’s supposed existence was the baseline or default, which it is not.

    Also, why is the subject trying so hard to win the hearts of such prickly bornigans? Help your child find some better friends… I promise you, even in Texas, you’re not alone.

    1. benher: Hear, hear. I don’t really call myself an atheist or agnostic, but I’m apparently one or the other, as defined from a religious point of view. To me, that’s like a sports fan coming up with a name for someone who isn’t a sports fan. What, I’m an a-football-ist? Suit yourself.

  32. Stories like this make me very glad to be bringing my children up in Canada. We still have lots of religious types around here but they have the good manners to keep it to themselves.

  33. In year ago I spent a large portion of time with friend who was religious. Some offshoot of Christianity. I was constantly amused by his subtle nudges to convert me. I was even more amused by horrible stories he told me about his past. Lying, prostitution, violence, domestic abuse, drug use. He covered a lot of subjects and definitely lived an interesting life. He stands as a good example for me on why the religious thing doesn’t stand up, and why I am agnostic. Hopefully I’m never in the situation where faking my beliefs is the best possible scenario. I don’t know if I could stand wasting several hours of my Sunday morning…

  34. I grew up in Austin, arguably one of the most liberal areas of Texas, and I still had to defend myself as an atheist in a pretty serious way as a kid. But in my experience, the people who are intolerant of religious beliefs are often intolerant of outside views in general. What’s the benefit in raising kids in a community that supports those kinds of behaviors?

    It’s not as though I can’t rely on my religious friends– and frankly, if I had to lie to get people to be around me, how would I ever be able to trust them? Honesty needs to go both ways.

  35. @ a_user

    Your understanding of a “Date” infuriates me. Lets get together on the 3rd to fight about it. OK? Well then, it’s a date!

  36. Living in Denmark, where supposedly at least 85% are Christian (in that they are members of the state church) it is very rare to meet anyone who will proclaim their chistianity. In fact I only think I have ever met two, who were openly Christian (both of them rather lonely girls). I have also lived 8 months in a very small town in Idaho, where people were either evangelicals/Mormons or tweakers (not a lot to do up there) and I found that refreshing, although I toned down my belief in science (when in Rome, try not to piss of the locals). In fact I had an enjoyable 3 month stay with an evangelical cop & his family.
    I do dislike the Christian right, but trust me, it is much better than the wet pseudo-belief of the majority of the Danes. At least with the evangelicals you know where you stand, in DK the “non-belief” belief just sort of creeps in, which can be seen in our social system, our “We know what’s best for you” politics and our attitude towards foreigners.
    Better to get things out in the light, so you can swerve & avoid.

  37. Sounds pretty medieval to me. I can imagine lots and lots of people in the Middle Ages didn’t really have much time for God, but faked it anyway to avoid getting burned at the stake.

    I presume “faking it” in Texas might also involve paying tithes to some church in which the poor schmuck managed to gain membership. They might as well have a state church tax, although that sort of thing runs directly afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

    And if you wanted to find one of those socialist hell holes to live in, you might try Upstate New York. The cost of living is moderate, as are salaries, the food is better even if the weather isn’t, but few people give a rat’s ass if you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Of course, our next-door neighbors do care. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is ride my John Deere lawn tractor on Sunday with no shirt on swilling a beer. I haven’t heard much from our neighbors in years.

  38. I live in Cambridge, MA. There are few spots more liberal in all of the US than that. We actually have the exact opposite problem. All of my friends are godless heathens (like me), we all have gay friends, we might spontaneously combust if holy water hits us, and one of my roommates works for Planned Parenthood.

    I was out with some friends and some how the topic of Catholic priest molesting boys came up tangentially. I made a crack about sexually repressed priests and earned a sharp kick from under the table and my friends quickly dragged the topic from the table. Why? Hey, you live in a bubble long enough and you forget other people exist. I completely forgot that one of my acquaintances that was with us was not a fellow godless heathen and actually goes to church every Sunday… and not a Unitarian church, like a real church. Crazy. Thankfully, I have friends more thoughtful than I.

    1. I once said “this is harder than a priest at a playground” while cutting up something frozen in the shared kitchen at university. A couple of people laughed, no one kicked me, but one person said “um, I’m Catholic”. I didn’t apologise for my joke. If the Pope apologises for the child abuse I’ll reconsider.

      (Since then, and having spent time outside of home and Catholic school, the Catholic guy has become agnostic.)

  39. It’s good to be reminded that there are plenty of places out there (probably the majority of the planet’s land, at least as measured by surface area) where people discriminate based on religion. Not as bad as during the Spanish Inquisition (although some places in the Middle East are still barbarically theocratic), but not as enlightened as a Unitarian Universalist congregation (although some areas, like San Francisco and Seattle, come close).

    How do we combat this bigotry? Is it even possible? Will it naturally die out, or does it need a 1960s-civil-rights-type movement? Do we need the centrist open-minded people (be they agnostic, liberal Christians, or whatever) traveling to the Bible Belt and going door-to-door trying to explain to people that humanism is at least as solid a moral foundation as religion, that you can’t really KNOW whether God exists, and that naturalism can be supported by observation at least as well as religions’ supernatural models/stories? This would not be an attempt to convert anyone away from their current beliefs, just to give them more of an appreciation for other beliefs (or at least for the fact that we all make axiomatic assumptions about the universe and then rationalize them post-hoc, i.e. we each believe what we like). Sure, some people might be absolutely convinced that everyone is going to hell except for conservative Christians, and such people might be effectively immune to a tolerant meta-worldview. But it seems like a lot of people would not be so averse to a message that says “Here’s how some other belief systems work. Here are the assumptions that their followers like to make about the universe. Here are some things that make those people uncomfortable even though these things aren’t really ‘bad’ as you see them. Here is how those people get to empathy and altruism. Here is why they will not lead to the downfall of society. Here are the dangers of those belief systems taken too far, and the mechanisms that keep most followers from going that far”. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people were exposed to that kind of thinking?

    Thomas Jefferson said that every young person would be a Unitarian in 40 years. I try to be similarly optimistic.

  40. I totally understand what they’re going through, except in my case, I’ve got to fake it for a job. Couldn’t find anything else (from grocery checkout cashier to washing cars), and then a kick-ass proposition opened up in my field. Come to find out that the organization only hires X-tians b/c “we want to make sure people can feel okay about working with other x-tians”. Organization head interviews everyone (Everyone!) after their initial interview to pose the big question (“So, do you believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins…” blah blah), and depending upon the answer given by the interviewee it’s thumbs up or thumbs down. I tried to tell the big boss that I believe people can be good people regardless of their spiritual beliefs, but he didn’t want to hear that. Even though I love my job and the people I work with are really nice, that interview process really pissed me off (as well as cementing my lack of interest in organized religion).

  41. I don’t understand why the word God should only refer to the Christian one.
    Hinduism is a complex mix of philosophies, apart from the pantheon of deities there are also sects and philosophical schools that believe in one abstract supreme divine entity (Advaita).
    The usage of the word God, by a Hindu usually refers to $DEITY, and not any specific divine entity. Also the flexibility and pluralism means you are free to find your own path to God, whether you call him Krishna or Shiva or Yahweh or Allah or FSM or..
    you get the picture.

Comments are closed.