Yesterday morning the local UU hosted a discussion on how to reach out to people warped by intolerance and help them to become tolerant. It is a vital discussion, especially given the current climate, but the whole time I was there I felt a critical component was missing. While the information was good and vital, such as don’t mock people’s beliefs, try to find the common ground, etc, several people talked about how they just couldn’t have these conversations without them deteriorating. As I was driving home it hit me. It’s easy to talk about calmly having these discussions with people who hold intolerant viewpoints in a safe setting filled with people who agree with you. It’s another thing to hold them when you hear someone spout hatred, especially if you are, like I am in the southern US, surrounded by people who hold these views.
Facebook reminded me of something that happened a few years ago when a person going door to door to preach in my neighborhood knocked on my door. He asked me if I died today would I have amassed enough good deeds to earn a reward in Heaven. I sighed and said, “You shouldn’t do good things because you’ll be rewarded. You should do good things because they are the right things to do. Merry Christmas.” I then shut the door in his stunned face.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating misconceptions Christians have about me is that, because I was raised without religion, I know nothing about Christianity. Granted, given that people who were raised Christian and became atheists also get the message that they don’t understand Christianity, it doesn’t just seem to be my upbringing that is a factor here. Yet occasionally I’ll see articles where Christians are wanting to bring their message to other Americans, as if they believe that somehow there are people in the US who aren’t aware of Christianity and Jesus.
Whether religious or non-religious, stories are important to our humanity. Before we were watching stories on tv and movie screens, we were reading stories in books and papers. And before we were reading stories, we were telling stories through an oral tradition. Stories help us find a way to relate to our world, to understand it. Sometimes we recognize our struggles in the struggles of fictional characters. Sometimes a story helps us make sense of something tragic that happened to us and helps us to move forward.
I’ve been going to a Unitarian church for a few months now. When I decided I was going to homeschool Buddy I wanted him in a place where he would be around other children that was tolerant (of his special needs, of having an atheist mother, and of my children being multi-racial) and non-dogmatic. My husband had been taking them to mass, but his church really treats families horribly and there’s no sort of Sunday school. Also, even though I’ve never been Catholic, dealing with the Catholic church through my husband has been traumatizing enough that I fully understand why people call themselves Recovering Catholics and I don’t want to put my kids through that.
Someone asked a good question about how my parents introduced the concept of religion to me and if I ever experimented with religion. When I was five I think my parents realized it was time to explain the concept. I was starting to socialize more for one thing. I remember going to a friend’s house before I knew anything about religion and a friend showing me a coin with Jesus on it and talking about how important the coin was and how mad her mother would be if she gave it away. And then, for logical reasons that only make sense to a five year old, she said she wanted to give it to me. Ever the goody-two shoes, I demurred. She insisted. I pointed out that my dress had no pockets and that won the argument.