In reaction to the froofraw about That Idiot In Florida, the wise and wonderful catsittingstill proposed that we mark today by posting in favor of religious tolerance. TIIF seems to have backed down and will hopefully start receiving the attention he deserves (that would be absolutely none, for those of you who've watched too much television), but it still seems like a topic worth discussing.
I have personally struggled with my feelings about religion for all of my life as far back as I can remember having any sort of philosophical thoughts. My mother came from a fundamentalist family, a faith that practices adult baptism -- they believe you have to be old enough to actually choose to join the religion for it to count -- and by the time she was old enough, she had decided she did not believe. My father was raised Episcopalian, but he wasn't very devout. When I was pretty young, he converted to Catholicism, and for a few years he went through the motions of being devout. I was old enough to have an ingrained habit of not wanting to go to church when he decided that he'd like me to go with him. My father was not a violent, forceful man who would drag me, especially since my mother would have taken my side. Instead, he bribed me; if I would go to church with him (and behave reasonably well), he would give me some money -- rather more than my regular allowance at that time. So I went, even though it made me uncomfortable. I don't recall my thoughts in detail, but I know that I felt something wrong about pretending to believe when I didn't. I can't recall just how long this went on, but after some amount of time, I decided it wasn't worth it and I stopped going. After that, I might have been pressured into attending a holiday service or two, but otherwise, I've not been to a church service other than a wedding or a funeral.
During that period where I was attending Mass, I did absorb some of the doctrine and ritual, and just going through my life paying attention to stuff in the background, I've learned some things about the Bible and Christianity, but I haven't studied them in detail, either academically or religiously. Most of the exposure I get to religion is what gets echoed back to me through the media, and most of that is the bad stuff. I developed some strong feelings -- let's not mince words, I developed a blind, foaming hatred -- of fundamentalists and of preachers and politicians who use religion to whip up their supporters so they gain personal power. Those feelings were so strong that I'd decided that organized religion was itself an evil that society should seek to root out. My motto was that religion should be strictly limited to being practiced in private among consenting adults.
More recently, my thinking has become more complex. I haven't exactly mellowed out; I can still get screaming mad when I hear a news story about people ruining other people's lives in the name of religious beliefs, whether it be a doctor in Afghanistan shot by Taliban who claim he was trying to convert people to Christianity, or a teacher in the US fired for not being anti-gay enough. But I've also come to some realization that most people who are religious are basically good people, they believe a lot of the same things I do, and that their religion helps them. I still see some strains of religion that seek to wipe out all trace of rational thought in their followers in place of blind obedience to the holy message, and some believers who hate the burden of thinking so much that they want to go along with it. But there are a lot more people who are reasonable about it; who believe in a religion, but are still capable of looking at an individual situation thoughtfully and compassionately.
I got about this far writing and realized that I've lost track of what I was trying to say. That happens to me a lot. Where were we again? Oh, right. Religious tolerance. I've spent a lot of my life having little tolerance for religion myself, but I'm learning better. I hope we can all learn to recognize that most religions are much more complex and worthy than the evil caricatures we see sensationalized in the media, that most people, whatever religion they may practice, have both good and bad in them, and that we can all be better people and have better lives if we stop feeling the need to hate everyone who's different.