Listening

I have always had a sense of the ‘other,’ an other that communicates with me, and through whom I have at times been able to draw on reserves of strength. Paradoxically, my faith is as innate to me as my natural skepticism, and I do not feel I could truly be myself without either. Yet lately, I have allowed my own frustrations with religious culture—in my community, my town, and my country—to obscure my connection with this other. I haven’t been listening.

Bitterness with friends old and new added emotional weight to my intellectual doubts, causing me to blur the lines between personal grudges and doctrinal questions.  In short, I let my annoyance with people cause me to think less highly of the worldview they represented. This was a natural response, but it confused the issue.

I have been involved in a skeptic community in which some members point out the backbiting, passive-aggressive, and judgmental tendencies of the churches they left as evidence against the validity of their ideology. One of the many online communities I am apart of recently had a string of antagonistic posts headed with titles like, “God is for Idiots,” and several rants indicating that the eradication of religion would solve the world’s problems. To be fair, I joined this community because it is intended to be a haven for skeptics, something I felt in desperate need of at the time that I joined. What I did not need was yet another group of fundamentalists, expressing blanket disdain for an entire perspective.

I had already seen a similar attitude through my interactions with Palisade. I met Palisade through a Christian ministry program when I was eighteen. She was a new Christian, and had the evangelical zeal and enthusiasm of a fresh convert. Unlike most new converts, however, she seemed to possess the maturity to remain non-judgmental of those less enthusiastic than herself–that is, until the weeks before I began this blog. Palisade, whose faith I admired, whose story inspired me, began using her social media account to deride religious skepticism, atheism, and evolution. Over the course of a few digital encounters I came to the conclusion that an attempt at dialogue would be fruitless. She deleted my posts without responding, she circulated offensive internet memes. My frustration with Palisade bled into my doctrinal frustrations with Adventism until I concluded that organized religion accomplishes only division, the fostering of superior attitudes, and destructive social patterns antithetical to the mission of both the gospel and the spirit of humanitarianism.

A well-timed sermon (I still attend church on a semi-regular basis) and the encouragement of family has led me back to what I consider a more

Sundial and wind compass in Sagres

Sundial and wind compass in Sagres (Photo credit: GavinBell)

accurate conclusion: Religion is not the problem, people are. Believing in God doesn’t make people judgmental; instead, judgmental attitudes often result from a lack of empathy. People convinced of the absolute truth and functionality of their worldview tend to lack empathy, and thus are more likely to judge others harshly. The atheists who mock religion as the crutch or weapon of the stupid or backward lack empathy just as surely as the Bible thumping zealots who refuse to engage in civil dialogue with their skeptical brother. Fundamentalist atheists and Christians are unable to discourse with one another because their respective worldviews hinder the cultivation of empathy necessary to recognize the appeal and elegance of the other’s worldview.

Over the last few weeks I’ve allowed the raucous grandstanding that passes for interfaith dialogue in my community (and, incidentally, in my country) to drown out the voice I needed to listen to the most: the Ultimate voice. It has taken weeks for me resume living within the familiar understanding that my connection to the object of my devotion must transcend the culture of devotion that surrounds me. I move forward, at peace with the decision I made to cease identifying myself as a member of any denomination, yet with the renewed desire to listen.

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