April 19, 2001

This I Believe, out of the ashes of error

Coincidentally, the e-mail list I moderate had a discussion recently on "embarrassing moments online". Yesterday, I completed the lab section of that course. Hereís the background. One of our more consistently amusing listmembers, whom Iíll call Pubdude, posted a summary of all religions, which essentially boiled down to: -- get a good idea -- declare it the only good idea -- kill everyone who disagrees. (The original was funnier.) Someone who generally lurks posted a snippy response accusing Pubdude of being smug on a topic about which he knows little.

As Listmom I sometimes (not always) try to avoid taking sides on testy issues, but the smugness of the response irritated me. I wrote a note to Pubdude essentially saying "Right on! Feel free to go in swinging as long as you do it politely -- some of these religious types always think theyíre right". Which would have been a little impolitic, but not too bad ....... except that I mistakenly sent it to the whole list. I canít remember the last time I felt myself blush, but I certainly did when I realized that, along with that awful "I have fucked up big-time" feeling in my stomach. I immediately sent a contrite apology and, in a reflex action that I now regret, deleted my original post from the archives (which would not have stopped it from being sent to 300+ listmembers).

But then, a funny thing happened. I got some personal emails and some replies on the list, and every one so far has been positive. Iím not surprised by the responses from some others who are annoyed by the posturing of some religious establishments, but I got supportive notes from some religious people too. I got notes from not one but two Anglican vicars*, by all thatís holy, saying "yes, we do need to be shaken up occasionally, and we do need to avoid stereotypes".

*Later note: one is actually a rector, not a vicar. Donít ask.

I knew there was a reason I stayed with this list.

As a follow-up, I posted a more thought-out response. Quoting one of the vicarís thought that "we are all infinitely valuable", and highlighting the two beliefs implicit in my accidental posting that I do stand behind. First, I really do believe that there is no One Right Way that works for every one. (Though there may be some that are Wrong for every one.) There may be some universal truths -- "Do not do unto your neighbor as you would not have him do unto you" comes close, though even then you have to allow for varying tastes. (What if you sleep with your neighbor and youíre a dominant and heís a submissive?) But there are a variety of ways to get to those truths, and itís important to realize that others may really to trying to get there, even if their paths donít run alongside yours.

Second, all faiths are the better for periodic examination, like clothes that should be tried on to see if theyíve been outgrown. It may be that when you examine your beliefs, you find that you need to change a few details -- this happened to me recently, though not on a religious matter. It may be that you need to tear down the building and start over. Or it may be that you believe what you were taught as a child. In any case, what you have after examination is an adult set of convictions, not a mindless set of responses to a catechism. I would not have made a good Victorian, as I do hold that beliefs born of experience are stronger and worthier than those sprung from innocence.

A minor third theme here is that stereotypes run both ways. I have extensive experience of fundamentalist Christians who automatically assume that anyone else who strikes them as a good person must just naturally share their faith. On the other hand, itís easy for those who stay outside organized religion to assume that religious types are uneducated hicks, sheep who blindly follow the herd. As I have just seen so eloquently demonstrated, neither assumption is universally true. Itís tempting, but never quite safe to evaluate another human except on the basis of his or her own speech and actions.

*steps off soapbox*

-- dedicated to Pubdude and the piffling Reverends --

Posted by dichroic at April 19, 2001 10:31 AM
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