In the last week I have stumbled upon stories about 5 women who were beaten to death in India because they were thought to be witches, a toddler who was abandoned by his family in Nigeria because he was thought to be a witch, an orthodox Jewish practice wherein the rabbi sucks the blood from an infant’s penis after circumcision which has led to various infections, and a faith healing couple who let their infant die because they thought prayer (and olive oil) was a vastly superior course of action than simply calling 911.
No person in their right mind would ever think any of these things were acceptable and yet in the 21st century faith is still trumping reason at great expense. What is the most troublesome here is that in all these instances, I don’t believe there was any malicious intent. Each thought they were doing right by god and therefore their actions (or inaction) was sanctioned by him. They sought to do good rather than evil. This desire to do right by god caused them to do ‘evil.’ HOW?
How do good, well meaning, god fearing people end up doing such radically evil things? How do they rationalize actions that seem completely opposite of their values – like shooting up an abortion clinic in the name of life?
I don’t have an easy answer. I had a student in my office today who wants to talk about inequality for his final speech and as we are on a predominantly white campus, he was wondering how to break through that lens of white privilege so that his audience might hear him rather than write him off out of defensiveness in the first 5 minutes. His dilemma reminded me of my time as a christian and how absolutely and utterly committed I was to my worldview. There simply was no other option. The way I saw the world was through god’s eyes. I had asked him for this gift. I saw people as he saw them. I knew their brokenness was because of their lack of connection with him. I knew the cause and cure for all their problems. I think back to this version of me and if I were to approach her with reason, she would have defensively closed up and pitied my lack of faith rather than really examining my position. As my student sat in my office today wondering how to break through a worldview that has been entrenched so deeply that to acknowledge it would feel as though it betrayed reality, I was at a loss. I have been on that end. I stopped to wonder how I broke free of it. It wasn’t all at once.
I think there were little chips and cracks in my reasoning (or lack thereof) that I would walk past and ignore like cracks in a bathroom wall. They are so small there really is no point to do anything about it. Over time they grew until they became so large they connected to each other and eventually my theoretical wall came crumbling down.
I can not even explain the feeling of freedom I felt and continue to feel after standing in a pile of rubble and finally stepping out from it. The world is broken. People are broken but we are all we have. There is beauty in that. Each day is precious because I finally know how valuable it is. When I am done, that’s it. I don’t get to sit and look over the course of my life after it is all over. I am not going to reflect upon all the choices I made. I will not continue to watch my family members go about their daily lives. If you think about it, do you really want to sit and watch your family members go about the mundane day to day tasks until they die and can join you in watching the actions of their kids until they die and so on. If our loved ones are watching over us then wouldn’t their loved ones be watching over them and so on and so forth until you have just millions of people watching generation after generation until the end of time? It doesn’t make any sense. And yet we don’t stop to question and follow through these trains of thought. We are content to tell ourselves that we’ll never fully understand the mysteries of god.
At some point, we do need to follow those thought trains and moreover those of us that have come out the other side should be engaging in dialogue with those that are still stuck. I’m not sure what that looks like yet. How do we have discussions without defensiveness? How do we break through the barrier of automatic rejection of anything that pokes a hole in the illusion of faith? I am still figuring this out. I do not want to knock on doors and ask people if they’ve heard the good news of no news. However, I do want to challenge the excessive evangelism and unwitting judgment of others. Ask questions. Get people thinking. Despite my objection, I still have students who somehow manage to weave in all but an altar call into their speeches thinking that they have a captive audience so why not save some souls? That persistent need to get as many people believing the same thing that they do needs to be addressed.
The one thing that brings me comfort is that the ‘nones’ are growing. More and more individuals are divorcing themselves from fundamentalism. I can only hope this trend continues. Those of us that are nones, agnostic, atheist, secular, humanist, or the like need to be open about our lack of belief and ready to discuss WHY we no longer believe.