Friday, December 19, 2008

SEASONED WITH REASON - Stunning Ignorance

Last night, I got together with a group of women I see about once a month when we gather to make cards and learn new paper crafting techniques. While they are all Christian, I get along really well with most of these women. A few of them are very vocal about their religious beliefs, while I tend to keep mine to myself.

While we ate supper together at a restaurant last night, that became a little more difficult.

I don't recall how the subject came up, but one of the women--I'll call her Mary--said something about "all the fruits and nuts" in California. Mary is the one who once emailed me religious nonsense criticizing Barack Obama for not wanting to run the country by biblical scripture. I wrote a calm, composed response reminding her that there's supposed to be separation of church and state in our nation, that using any religious literature as a basis for government would compromise religious freedom for everybody.

She didn't respond.

So the disparaging, veiled comment about California's gay population didn't surprise me, nor did Mary's comment about California being poised to fall into the Pacific Ocean, destroyed Sodom-and-Gomorrah-style by god. But then, in what I think was an effort to change the subject, another woman said something about political corruption in Chicago, referring (I assume) to the recent scandal involving Obama's Senate seat.

And Mary said, "Yeah, look what happened to New Orleans."

I was flabbergasted. Of course, I know that there are people who actually think that way. They see natural catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina as god's judgment for sin, and even when I was a Christian, I considered that idea utterly preposterous and appalling. I remember people of faith proclaiming that AIDS was god's judment on homosexuality and shaking my head in disgust.

Rarely do I have to sit next to such stunning ignorance, though. Most of the people I know, even the Christians, don't think that way, and if they do, they keep it to themselves. I sat next to this woman feeling a small war within myself. Should I speak up? Should I point out the obscenity of her assertion that all of the innocent people who died in that disaster deserved it because of some imagined "sinfulness" of New Orleans as a whole? Or should I let it go, not afford her the dignity of any response?

That is what I did. I said nothing. I let it pass, but I don't know if that was the right thing to do. I believe, especially after reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and seeing the movie Religulous by Bill Maher, that atheists need to be more vocal and outspoken, to challenge religious dogma in all its unapologetic ignorance.

I didn't do that last night. I'm not sure why.


writerdd said...

Great topic. Maybe these women are not really your friends. I find that when I don't really care about people, sometimes I don't speak up because it's just not worth the effort. Sometimes I am more apt to speak up to my friends, because I really care about them.

On the other hand, sometimes I don't speak up to my friends because I don't want to fight over something that's not important to me, but I don't care if I piss off a stranger. It doesn't sound like that's the case in this situation to you, however. It sounds like this is an issue that's important to you.

Anyway, I guess you have to decide if these women are really people you want to hang out with. Maybe you can be a force for the positive if you speak up in a calm manner when you think you might be heard. You never know when what you say might plant a seed for thought in someone's mind, even if they act like they are rejecting what you say.

I was warned about the "fruits and nuts" in California by my Christian friends back East before I moved to San Diego in the 80s. I guess in a way, they were right to worry. I did not turn gay while I was there, but I did become an atheist!

Darren said...

Yeah, we of little faith do need to speak out more -- but it's also important to pick one's battles.

If we go around correcting people every time we hear such things, people will tune us out. With people such as you describe -- those who believe God's wrath is wrought upon innocent and guilty alike through horrifying natural disasters -- your argument would likely fall on deaf ears.

There is a trick to use if you do choose to confront those types of people, but it requires a deep knowledge of biblical matters and some basis of authority they'll respect. I do this, because I was an ordained minister I have a reasonable chance of getting away with it. The trick is not to confront the core of their belief, but some theological detail; and to do it in a "just trying to help" manner.

When people blamed Katrina on "the depravity", I put on my "minister voice" and point out that every time God destroyed a city, there was a clear call to his obedient people to vacate the premises (or do some other spectacular act that would result in salvation). No one claimed such a call before Katrina hit.

Note that I don't try to address deep things like the "God is love" concept or the non-existence of God as a being -- I just point out that God probably didn't do *that* thing. When I've done this with certain folks on a regular basis, the end result is that they grow to distrust the pulpit as a source of absolute truth (which, theologically, it shouldn't be anyhow). This is a win for humanity.

Anonymous said...

You should have said something! They are entitled to their opinion sure, regardless how bigoted it is, but so are you. If they feel they have the right to voice their opinions they should feel that right extends to you as well.

By not saying anything you have tacitly agreed (at least in their eyes). Next time speak up and if they don't like it tough, then they don't deserve to be your friends.

dashnak said...

I have come the point were I just think "bleh". I have NOT come across a single person who cares about anything I have to say regarding our favorite subject. Even people who used to care, have converted to "the dark side" and now regard my ideas with contempt. So i just say f**k them. I never engage in discussion anymore.

Kaa said...

One of the women in my writers group is writing a novel in which the main character--a human/alien hybrid--is so much more intelligent and more powerful than humans because he "utilizes 90% of his brain instead of just 10%."

It has taken every ounce of restraint I possess just to keep my mouth shut.

As another commenter said, these people are not my friends, and the last thing I want to do is set myself up as a "trouble-maker." So I grit my teeth and keep my mouth shut.

Even when she says that his IQ at 8 was 270 but now that he's 15, it's off the charts.

<insert sound of grinding teeth here>

Phillip Moon said...

Tough call. I have done both. During my first 15 years as an atheist, I took on all comers, while in my second 15 I selected my battles. Now I am finding a middle ground. I think it is time to speak up and make the 80% of America understand that the other 20% are not their foot stools or door mats.

The exception I'll likely make are those Christians who want to engage in an exchange of views so they can "understand what I think" better. The two times I did this, I ended up ending both friendships because the purpose was to convert me, not learn anything. I even warned the second person that I didn't want to be the target of a stealth "save a soul" project.

Like many others, I am getting tired of keeping quiet so someone else doesn't have to feel uncomfortable because I spoke my mind. Time to be heard.

Alnonymous said...

I have always had trouble coming up with appropriate replies for such comments. The best Ig Nobel approach is probably best, 'something that makes them laugh and then think'.

The following probable wouldn't have made them laugh: but in response to "Yeah, look what happened to New Orleans." - "Yeah, and those miners in West Virginia" or insert your natural disaster of choice.

S E E Quine said...

Any churches collapse on a congregation lately?

Phillip Moon said...

Alnonymous said...

"I have always had trouble coming up with appropriate replies for such comments."

The trouble with sarcasm or light humor is they don't always get it. I have made comments like the coal mine type and had it fly over their heads. They will more often see it as agreement.

A comment like, "Sad really, that god is so petty. Killing thousands of innocents to punish a few wrong doers."

Now there is a comment that will stop them dead, just before they take off the gloves and try nailing you to a cross of your own.

Just out of curiosity, what were the reactions of the other women at this meeting/dinner? One of them may well have been uncomfortable enough to change the subject. Do you think they would have liked to have a voice of reason to join in opposition to "Mary"?

Sisyphus199 said...

Most of the time I do the same thing: I don't say anything, because trying to convince people that an irrational belief is wrong is just about impossible. But, to make myself feel better I usually say something sarcastic, like "Whoa someone is a bigot," or "I hope no one in your family is gay," or some such comment which implicitly expresses the disgust I feel but does not directly challenge them. I'm making it known that I disagree but am not getting into a frustrating argument that inevitably leads to anger and more frustration.

I know that this is not the moral high road; sarcasm (which I resort to too often) is passive-aggressive. It is less courageous than expressing disagreement directly. Then again, if you know someone is not going to hear you, then I'm not sure it's courageous to try. It may just be foolish, a set-up for failure.

Phillip Moon said...

My main thing about this is that some response is needed. As hard as it is, and I admit that it is difficult to confront people, we need to do more of it.

I have many friends/family that are gay or lesbian, so I can usually say something like that with disapproval in my voice.

As to disasters, a comment like, "You do know that there are natural explanations for the weather that don't rely on god to explain them, right?"

But while you're not likely going to change the mind of the person making the remarks, you can show the others that speaking up is O.K., and who knows, they may join up and speak out with you. What gives bigots power is the fear other have of standing up to them. Bigots are bullies, and bullies tend to be cowards when they get outnumbered. Of course, if you end up with more bigots than not your screwed. :^)

Selmada said...

I don't know what I would have said. I try not to challenge people on 'belief' but I've been known to ask them (without being condesending) why they feel a particular way about something.
In this case (if I had been able to keep my cool) I might have said "That's an interesting comment. Can you tell me a bit about why you feel that way?" Or something stupid like that. I find that many people havent reached these conclusions themselves, but were told so by other people and they blindly accepted it. When asked to discuss it, they may clam up, but they will also end up thinking about it.

S E E Quine said...

Aha! Questioning! The skeptic's tool/weapon of choice.

Anonymous said...

I would so have said something sarcastic. "It's not the fruits you have to worry about but the street corner preachers, they're the real nuts" or something like that. Escalating but not int he direction they expected.