Friday, July 26, 2013

The impasse

I have been having some really pleasant online conversations with theists over the past few weeks. They've been good because it has been an example of genuine communication, where it doesn't feel like either side is talking AT the other side. So, it's been pretty nice, and while I don't feel any differently about my beliefs, I've been feeling very positive about the state of relations between believers and nonbelievers.

Then something had to go and ruin everything, and it reminded me of what's lurking beneath even some of the most productive conversations.

Before I get to that, let me pick on the nonbelievers first in the interest of fairness. There's always going to be something lurking in the back of the mind of every nonbeliever, and that is: "That stuff you think is real? It ain't." I suppose that there are probably a lot of nonbelievers out there who will say that they respect everyone's beliefs, but you'll never hear me say that. I respect people, and I respect their right to believe whatever they want. I might even respect how their beliefs shape their behavior, but I'll never say that I "respect" the idea that some dude died a couple thousand years ago and came back to life and all the trappings that go with it. I think that Patton Oswalt said it best:
"You’ve gotta respect everyone’s beliefs.” No, you don’t. That’s what gets us in trouble. Look, you have to acknowledge everyone’s beliefs, and then you have to reserve the right to go: “That is fucking stupid. Are you kidding me?” I acknowledge that you believe that, that’s great, but I’m not going to respect it. I have an uncle that believes he saw Sasquatch. We do not believe him, nor do we respect him!
 If you want to hear the whole thing in context:

I realize that some people might think that I'm being arrogant or intolerant even for saying this, but personally I think that it would be condescending of me to nod my head and say, "Yeah, well, maybe Jesus really did walk on water." I've known some nonbelievers who think that you need to just "let people believe", which I think is even more insulting, as you're treating the believer like a child who isn't ready to let go of Santa Claus yet. For me, I'd prefer it that people know where I stand.

So, if you're a believer, realize that I might genuinely think that you're a terrific person - and I really can say that about a lot of believers I've known - but do I respect those beliefs? No, I'm sorry, but I don't. I should point out though that there are some beliefs that I respect far less than others. I don't respect the belief in the Jesus story, but I have outright contempt for something like Scientology.

But don't get all smug there, theists, 'cause now I'm gonna turn the tables. Before I do, I need to point out that I'm going to be generalizing here, and I know that these particular beliefs do not apply to ALL believers, or even all Christians.

With that said, Christianity just had to go and piss me off again this week. I learned about a couple of kids whose church teaches them that nonbelievers are going to burn in hell for eternity. Guess who happens to be a nonbeliever who's important in their lives? One of their parents. So, basically, these kids are being taught that their beloved parent is going to suffer eternal torment for not believing the right thing. I was going to write a blog about how that's psychological abuse, but maybe I'll have to get to that another time.

Because this is the thing that sticks in the back of my mind, and one of the reasons why I absolutely CANNOT respect many forms of Christianity. Christians think that since I don't believe the same thing as them, I'm going to be tortured forever. Am I supposed to just grin and go, "Yeah, well, maybe that is going to happen to me. We'll see!"

What makes it bad is that for Christians who believe in an everlasting punishment (and I realize that there are many who don't) is that on some level, they not only think that this will happen, but they think that I deserve it. Of course, when you talk to most Christians, they're far too decent to actually say those words, because actually putting those thoughts into their head is too barbaric for them to deal with. They'll give you some runaround about how God is the judge, etc. That doesn't get a pass as far as I'm concerned though because if you believe in God, then you believe that he's the one who makes the decisions and ultimately is the one who determines who "deserves" what.

So, you can't get around it. Yeah, I might think of Jesus as being on the same level on the veracity scale as Santa Claus, but believers think that I deserve to be tortured endlessly. And not just me, most of humanity. If that's not an impasse, I don't know what is.

Note: Please don't go into what The Bible really says about hell and everlasting torment and all that. I don't care what it says. It's the fact that people believe that which is the point.


Tony from Pandora said...

I like the picture for this post... good choice.

Concerning some thinking that you're arrogant...

Well, aren't you?

I just wish for honest communication to build relationships, not to hammer my religious doctrine in their heads. It may not seem like it here, but this blog is set as a forum for opinions, so there's no getting around it. But people can have differences of opinion and still get along. I remember a J. McRoberts post called "So you're right... who cares?" saying that no points are earned by being right, but there is in loving and caring for others.

Concerning intolerance...

Other Christians may not feel this way, but I don't claim 'tolerance'. I admit intolerance to things: stupidity, not washing hands after peeing, calling ANY woman a 'bitch' (I just can't stomach that lack of respect) etc. But from where I stand, people who are preaching 'tolerance' are often not very tolerant. They INSIST on me being tolerant, which within the tenants of Christianity, I cannot be tolerant on certain subjects. They're doing exactly what they complain about me doing, pushing my beliefs on them. They push there 'tolerance of all things' mantra on me, and are intolerant of my refusal to do so. Be tolerant of my intolerance, people! I think there's a difference in being kind, generous and loving your neighbor, and being tolerant of their belief about a subject. The two can coexist. Like you say, there are inevitable impasses between people on certain subjects, but that doesn't have to mean an end of the relationship.

I don't expect to change your mind concerning God & Jesus. That's not within my power. And it's not what the bible calls me to do, anyway. But just because this 'impasse' exists, it doesn't mean that I'm going to quit reading your blog, and I hope it doesn't mean that you'll quit posting my responses. After all, I do eagerly await your review of the latest 'Wolverine' film.

Concerning Hell...

Yeah, there's no getting around that one. The bible says what it says. The only point (or 2 points, rather) I'd like to make is this:
1. I believe I deserve Hell as much as anyone.
2. Hell isn't so much a 'torture chamber' for not believing, it's God acquiesing to one's decision to refuse Him. Those who want to live in a world without God will have it... only to find that it feels a lot hotter than they'd like... though Balrogs may find it quite comfortable...

So, anyway... all that to say, I agree with what you said... and just hope that the 'impasse' doesn't stifle your relationships, but provides a stepping stone to further them.

One last thing, somewhat separate. You mention Santa Claus. Do you do the whole Santa Claus thing for your son? This isn't a loaded question, but I'm curious as to your stance on that. My wife and I do not. My wife HATES lying in all its forms, and for me, I'm simply too lazy to keep up with the charade of hiding presents. Though I would like the responsibility of eating a plateful of cookies & milk every Xmas eve...

Lance Johnson said...

"Well, aren't you? (arrogant)"

I don't think so. My wife says that I seem arrogant in my writing, but she doesn't think that I actually am. I'd explain why, but that would be "thou dost protest too much" and probably just make me seem more arrogant.

Regarding your paragraph on tolerance, I totally agree.

"I believe I deserve Hell as much as anyone."

Reason #214 why religion makes me sad.

"Hell isn't so much a 'torture chamber' for not believing, it's God acquiesing to one's decision to refuse Him."

Just curious - but where do you get this? What I always find amusing is that if I got 10 Christians to comment on what hell is, we'd get 10 definitions, all of them confident that they're right.

"Do you do the whole Santa Claus thing for your son?"

Yes, and I've given it a bit of thought. Right now, it's fun, especially considering that he has no grasp over what's real and what isn't. As he gets older, I'm going to let him figure it out for himself that Santa isn't real. I'll never tell him, and if he asks me, I'll say: "What do you think?"

In other words, I see it as a trial run for him to learn about critical thinking and abandoning myths, even though they might be comforting.

Tony from Pandora said...

Arrogance... I was just picking on you a bit...

Reason #214... awwwe... don't be sad... I'll be okay...

I live in a small town of Pandora, OH. If you asked 10 people what Pandora is like, you'd get 10 different answers... if you asked my 3 kids what I'm like, you'd get 3 different answers...

Definition of Hell....

That is just how I approach the subject with my own children when they ask me about it. While I believe what the bible says about hell (torment, brimstone, gnashing of teeth, Golgathans... okay maybe not Golgathans...), I don't find it necessary to be that specific in the details of what the bible says of Hell at their age
So don't take my above description alone as biblical doctrine. There are many facets of Hell which I biblically accept, but for the sake of the topic (Hell, as it related to children learning of it), I didn't acknowledge. Those 10 people may give 10 different answers... and they all may be correct.

Santa Claus...

I remember the day I found out there was no Santa. I was devastated. My sister told me. I think I was 24 at the time...

Lance Johnson said...

"I don't find it necessary to be that specific in the details of what the bible says of Hell at their age."

Or maybe you realize (perhaps on a subconscious level) that it would be psychological abuse to tell them something like that?

"I remember the day I found out there was no Santa. I was devastated. My sister told me. I think I was 24 at the time..."

Imagine what it's going to feel like when you find out that this whole Jesus thing isn't real either!

I just made a friend on Facebook - she's 54 and went from a Catholic to an Evangelical to a Muslim to finally an atheist. So, you might have a few steps to go first. ;)

Tony from Pandora said...

No.. it's pretty conscious... I don't use Hell as a scare tactic to get my children to believe in Jesus. I don't think that communicates the Gospel (good news) of Christ as much as teaching them what Christ actually said was most important, "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength." and "Love your neighbor as yourself."

"... finally an atheist..."

Who says she's done?

You know... there's one thing that has bothered me since I began frequenting your blog. Maybe it's the fact that it's 12:45 a.m in Ohio, and I should be sleeping but can't... Anyway, I feel that we have reached the point in our superficial web-based acquaintance-ship that I can say this...

Every single time I comment on your blog in this little box, I have to read this, "Thanks for commenting... blah, blah, blah... they turn up on old posts and I never see them sometimes!" That combination of 'never' and 'sometimes' just doesn't seem grammatically correct.

Lance Johnson said...

"Who says she's done?"

That's a fair question. Honestly though, while I know of plenty of people who were atheists and became believers, I do not know of anybody who became an atheist through skepticism and then went back to believing in God. It just doesn't seem to happen. The former atheists are usually the type who didn't give the whole God thing much thought one way or another.

"That combination of 'never' and 'sometimes' just doesn't seem grammatically correct."

It's a sloppy sentence; I'll give you that. What I mean is that there are some comments that I see and some that I never see.

Tony from Pandora said...

I've always been skeptical of skepticism...

Lance Johnson said...