(Sorry about the numbering a pagination. Things do not always translate well from Word)
Perhaps I reached for that depression medicine a little too soon. J
There is hope, yet: at least in my house. I went a little auto biographical in my last post and talked about how religious prejudice persists even in my own house. My wife dropped me off at my non-religious church of choice before heading off for her faith-based church… or so I thought. Moments after I settled in class with a fresh cup of coffee, in walks my wife. I expressed some bit of undignified shock, but was happy to see her. On the way home she told me why she came back. She said something about modeling the love of Christ to those without faith. Great! Now, I’m a mission field. But it’s a start. She crossed an important barrier for the sake of our community. This may have been the most courageous thing I have ever seen her do.
Now for those solutions…
I have four ideas on a subject that has seen little progress over the ages. I think it will require the input of more than my four ideas, but here they are:
- Overcome the fear. Earlier, I said that all prejudice is based on some kind of fear. While that is not always a bad thing, it is a bad thing when it is always. We cannot go through life in constant fear of everyone and everything. I understand the survival instinct, but we have to come to grips with the fact that none of us is going to make it out of this life alive. Whether ill health or a stray bullet intended for someone else, something is going to get us. Fear of that unknown something only diminishes life; it does little to enhance it.
Telling people to get over their fear is easy; doing it is hard. But, there are some strategies that can help. It seems that almost all children are afraid of the dark at a certain age. In my case, I was convinced that monsters were waiting to get me the moment the lights went out. My oldest brother would get up in the night with me to go to the bathroom or get some water. He was always fearless. As long as he was there, the monsters couldn’t get me.
However, at some point in a person’s life, their big brother is not there to go with them to frighten off the monsters. Eventually, I had to go to the bathroom bad enough that the monsters and I would just have do battle if that’s what it took. As it happens, I made it that night, and every other night. It turns out that the monsters were just as afraid of me as they were of my big brother. It eventually dawned on me that there were monsters of which to be afraid. Fear can be overcome when the motivation is strong enough.
My wife and I want a healthy marriage. That is a strong motivation. Back when I was a faithist, I took a job as the piano player and music director of a United Methodist Church. I needed the money. Motivation. That experience led me to experience other denominations that I had written off as hopeless. I wanted to get to know people outside of my limited world. Motivation. I have clawed my way from my religious beginnings as a small child in a conservative church, through a large swath of religion, and out through the other side. Each step of the way, there was fear to overcome, and motivation enough to overcome it.
I learned that the people I feared were just like me, for the most part. Where we differed, there was room for negotiation. Where we were alike, there was brotherhood in places I didn’t believe possible. But it was not enough for me to overcome my fear. I had to help others do the same. By my going to places that people like me usually do not go, they had a chance to experience someone like me in a safe environment. To their great surprise, they found that there was little to fear in me just as I was learning the same about them. Sometimes, our religious communities take the place of the big brother who holds our hand in the dark. It is time we grow up and venture into the unknown. Visiting, even participating in other types of religions is not so frightening once we learn that there are no monsters to get in our way.
- We must pursue a common humanity. In my first post on the subject, I used an example of three fictional, agrarian churches to make my point. At the end, I said that they all wanted to grow their crops. In my next post, I challenged that assumption, suggesting that for many religious people, there are some things more important than growing crops, such as attaining Heaven, avoiding Hell, or wiping out all the ill-behaved infidels.
What I am suggesting is that we find our common humanity and get back to common, human goals. At some point, we must lay aside the otherworldly beings that we are desperately trying to please, and pursue our common humanity. In my example, if growing crops were really the goal, the three religions would not have lasted very long. This is true in all manner of human endeavors.
An example is raising children. We all want to raise healthy, smart, good looking, and successful children so they can experience a prosperous adulthood. But, there are a few exceptions to this. In many parts of the world, a daughter is considered less than a son: less than a person. Religion trumps the natural humanity of loving one’s progeny. Another example would be those parents that, due to religious objections, refuse necessary medical care for their children. They are convinced that such care would offend their god, so they would rather watch their child die a senseless death than provide the necessary care. Here, again, religion trumps common humanity.
We all want sufficient food, clothes, shelter, and safety, yet some religions require us to sacrifice some of these things for the sake of piety. We want more than sufficiency; we want quality offerings, and a full measure of what life has to offer. Many religions tell us that such pursuits are wrong. This leads to us being jealous of those who do have a full measure of the bounty of life. We vilify them as heretics who laid up their treasure in this world as opposed to the next. How much better might life be if we all were free to pursue the full measure of what life had to offer without the constraints of religious guilt and jealousy to dampen our common humanity?
A common moral center is also necessary in finding a common humanity. Rape and murder cannot be acceptable anywhere if we are to experience a common humanity. Holy wars are always unholy, regardless of who fights them. Righteous indignation is seldom righteous. Enough said
- We have to learn to practice mirror ego. When I see you, I must also see myself in you. If I see nothing of myself in you, then mirror ego is not in force. I must see my fears mirrored in your furtive glances, and my joys in your smile, and my sense of humor in your laughter. Your confusion when you try to speak my language is no different than my inability to speak yours. Your cultural headdress is my cowboy hat. Given a slightly different set of circumstances, you are me and I am you. Recognizing and acting on this is what I call mirror ego.
- Finally, Religion, if it is to persist, must become personal. Many Westerners talk about a personal relationship with god, then spend their lives judging others based on that personal relationship. If a Volcanist wants to throw himself into a volcano, no problem, the religion will quickly change or die out. Tossing in babies makes it much less personal. Behaviorists need to spend more time working on their own behavior rather than fretting over mine. They might just discover that in the grand scheme of things, human behavior is pretty much the same across the board. But don’t let your choice not to eat mean give you reason to judge my enjoyment of my hamburger.
Creedal faithists are not only interested in maintaining faith in a set of creeds; they want to evangelize the world and make sure everyone is adhering to the same set of faith-based creeds. Suddenly, there is nothing personal about that personal relationship. Naturalists, while tending not to be very religious, seem to want everyone to be scientists. This is unrealistic. Not everyone is capable of seeing the world through Einstein’s eyes. The world will always be a mysterious place for the majority of its inhabitants. There are none so holier-than-thou as the naturalist who “understands” how the universe really works.
We must let our religion be personal, and our humanity be public. We should remember that we were people before we were Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. We were born human, not religious. It is our humanity that we should wear on our sleeves, not our faith. Forming communities around creeds is an awful thing. According to the biblical story, god separated man at the tower of Babel for no good reason. He continued his separatist policies when he commanded his chosen people to stay exclusive from the world. That policy was furthered in the Christian scriptures when Paul commanded that a believer and an unbeliever should never be unequally yoked together. The world has never recovered from religious separatism.
Instead we should form more communities around our humanity, leaving religion to the private life of the individual. Let us stop using creeds as a test of fellowship, and instead, replace it with a humanity index. My community of the future has no place for psychopaths, but most everything else goes. I would rather be a friend with a happily married, gay couple, than a toxic heterosexual couple. When we form our communities around the needs of humanity rather than the demands of personal religion, then social evolution will be ready to take a giant leap forward.