Showing posts with label belief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label belief. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm an A$$hole.

This weekend I received an e-mail. Well, several actually but most of them were spam. But at least one wasn’t; it was very personal and full of emotion from someone I have known for at least 10 years and it said “Wow. You really are an asshole.” No explanation, no clue to what might have set it off, no links, nothing (well technically it also spread the love to my husband but that’s irrelevant in the context of this post); just that single glaring indictment.

An asshole. Me. Huh. At first I felt really hurt. I had not even had contact with this person recently and I could not imagine what I had done to garner such a hateful statement. I struggle with low self-esteem after enduring decades of bullying and it has long been my weakness to try to gain people’s acceptance so most people think I’m “really nice”. I often play the role of door mat because I am trying so damn hard to not upset anyone so for me to be an asshole, I must have really done something awful.

I got to really thinking about it. Do other people think I am an asshole? Am I an asshole? I guess first we have to define “asshole”. Several qualities come to mind when I look at my own definition; selfishness, spite, arrogance, closed-mindedness, rudeness, vulgarity, hurtfulness. I looked for those qualities in my thoughts and actions. I checked the e-mails I had recently sent to people and my social networking posts but in the past month found mostly music, science and kittens plus a post on atheism and a post promoting a friend’s business. I thought about my thinking process. I look for ways to help and to give. I forgive. I remind myself not to judge others. I reconsider my positions when new information is presented. I respect other people for who they are and I figure I should leave most people alone most of the time because I don’t want to bother them unless I have something important to say or something to share that I really think they’ll like. After review, much to my relief, I came to the conclusion that while I am human and undoubtedly make many mistakes, I do not fit the definition of “asshole”. Phew! Thank goodness!

But what would make someone say such a thing? Perspective. I know, intimately, the intent behind each action I take and each word I utter. I know how hard I try to do good for people, society and the planet. I know the minutiae of each detail of each decision I make. I know how much I agonize over wording things neutrally so as not to offend. No one else knows my motivation. So from the outside, what might someone without that insight see? In my infrequent contact, they might see someone who doesn’t reach out much or doesn’t care. In my voicing my political and religious opinions, they might see someone who pushes their ideology onto others. In my advocacy for atheism, they might see someone whose beliefs are a direct affront to the beliefs they hold near and dear. In short, they might see an asshole.

I cannot control the perspective of others. I can only try to explain when I am misunderstood. I cannot make them believe me. I cannot make them like me. I feel badly for people who consistently find offense where none was intended; people who think that every statement out of line with the dialogue in their heads is a direct attack on them. But you know what? I can’t fix that either.

In the end, the best I can do is be true to me. I can speak up against what I think is wrong and I can advocate for what I think is right. I can do so vociferously if I feel there is a need. I can show compassion and respect for others without having to fit myself into the mold they hold up for me. And sometimes, for some people, that is going to make me an asshole and now that I understand, I am okay with it. I would rather be an honest, ethical, misunderstood asshole than a carbon-copy “nice person” who destroys themselves to make others happy. Looking at it that way, I think we would all be better off if there were more assholes in the world.

I’ll go first.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So, What Do Christians Really Believe, Anyway?

I had a discussion recently with a fellow non-believer in which he said that he didn’t think Christians truly believed as they say they do.  I found this to be an interesting assertion.  It is something I have actually considered before and the conclusion that I came to was that yes, people do truly believe but they don’t necessarily believe in what they say or even what they think they do.

                                     Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut via
Let’s begin by looking at the basis of Christianity, the Bible.  There are two ways to interpret the Bible; literally and non-literally.  In following a literal interpretation, one can be consistent but must perform a fair amount of mental acrobatics to make it work within the framework of society’s knowledge as it stands.  You have to be willing to deny all evidence in the world around you to maintain that faith.  To be consistent with literalism, one must believe that the world is flat, the sun goes around the earth, light was created before the sun, billions of critters fit on a boat and eight people were able to care for them and other statements that defy logic including reconciling the many inconsistencies that exist within the Bible itself.

Literalists believe because it simply must be true.  They cannot accept that they could be wrong; nor do they even allow themselves to consider the possibility.  They know in their hearts that God loves them and that if they follow his laws, even when they contradict the laws of man or are hurtful to others, they will be rewarded in the afterlife.  Some feel their faith so strongly, that they are willing to deny all logic and reason and accept all of this in the name of faith.  I would go as far as to say that I think these people are living in a state of delusion where God is the final answer to every question.  It seems to me that these people have the most sincere and consistent beliefs but also the most illogical and least in line with reality. 

Those who follow a non-literal interpretation are able to apply their logic to varying degrees but lose the consistency of their belief.  I often wonder if these people have even read the entire Bible.  They seem to choose which pieces to believe based on their own personal biases.  For example, many choose to believe that homosexuality is wrong but eating shellfish and getting tattoos is fine or might accept that the earth is vaguely spherical but believe in divine creation.  They might believe that God is loving and forgiving but not remember the parts that say he is vengeful and jealous.  The Bible offers no guide as to which passages should be taken literally and which might be up for interpretation.  How do these believers know that they have chosen the “right” rules to follow?  These individuals may believe deeply but they fail to recognize the way they compartmentalize their thoughts in order to allow their religion to conform to their knowledge of the world and the rest of their beliefs.

Some non-literalists will go as far as to say that the Bible is simply a collection of stories to live by; a guide for how to act humbly and charitably.  They might even recognize that many of the stories such as creation, the flood and Christ’s death and subsequent rising are themes that have been repeated for many millennia in hundreds if not thousands of cultures differing only in names and specific details.  I am particularly baffled by these people because I do not understand, if one does not believe that the Bible was divinely inspired or that God has a personal interest in their lives or that Jesus died for man’s sins, how one can possibly call oneself a Christian. 

It has been my experience overall (with a few notable exceptions) that the Christians I know are incredibly good people.  They are honest, caring, thoughtful and generous.  They want the best for those they love.  They want to help others and improve the world around them.  They think that it is “good” to believe in God because believing in God makes them “good people”.  They believe that God is taking care of them and that he listens to their prayers.  They believe that God gives them comfort and guidance.  They believe that it is arrogant to think that there is “nothing greater than ourselves”.  And they believe that their goodness will be rewarded.  To stop believing would mean they were immoral, they and those around them would suffer and they would be left powerless and unloved.

What they do not allow themselves to see is that the things they consider to be “good” are coming from within themselves.  If belief in God were the only thing making people “good”, then we should see those who de-convert resorting to all kinds of immoral behavior but this just doesn’t happen.  Atheists are not running rampant, a stream of crime following in their wake.  Would these believers really stop caring for others if they gave up the sacred or would they continue to care for those in need because it is the right thing to do?  Would their loved ones fall apart if the prayers of the faithful were not bestowed upon them or would they continue to experience the ebb and flow of life with its triumphs and tragedies?  Would they feel alone or would they realize that as human beings, we are all in this together and are inherently connected to one another?  Would they really think that there is “nothing greater than ourselves” or would they find themselves incredibly humbled by the vastness of our universe and our place within it?  I submit to you that they would come to understand that being a “good person” does not require God.

So while many people call themselves Christians, the space between different Christian’s belief systems is often not just a jump but a chasm with some teetering on the brink of Godlessness.  Some believe that the Bible is communication direct from God, some view it as a divinely inspired guideline and some just believe in belief.  I think that the ones who fall off of that brink may find that the drop isn’t too far at all. 

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