The Mutt’s Nuts

Where religion is about as attractive as a two week holiday in Afghanistan

Respect is a two-way street

with 8 comments

respect1.jpgAbout 6 years ago I stopped attending meetings at the Mormon church. I hadn’t necessarily planned this, but I was becoming more and more concerned about things I was learning about the church and the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing made church attendance progressively more uncomfortable.

As I had always been a regular church-goer who played a very active part in all worship and other activities, my non-appearance for three weeks running prompted enquiries from some church members as to whether I was all right and offers of help if needed. I presume they thought I was ill or something. They didn’t know of my feelings towards the church so, when I made it known that I believed the church had strayed from its original teachings in some important areas and I was taking time out to evaluate how I felt about that, it came as quite a shock to the members that I confided in.

One was a young woman whose response was that she thought I had been deceived by Satan, but she still wanted to be my friend as long as I didn’t ever say anything negative about the church to her again.

Well, this hurt and surprised me (I was very naive in those days about the reaction of the faithful to expressions of doubt amongst their number). As I thought about it later I also began to feel annoyed. She was giving me an ultimatum – don’t speak negatively about the church if you still want me to be your friend. Not only that, but while she was demanding respect for her feelings about the church, she was quite prepared to be disrespectful about my very real concerns by labelling me Satan’s dupe.

Since that experience, I have noticed that religious believers are always demanding that their feelings about their religion, or their god, or their prophet are respected, while thinking nothing of denigrating those of other faiths or of none. These can range from Christians claiming that atheists have no morals because morality only comes from God, to fanatical Muslims claiming that a middle aged school teacher is worthy of death for allowing little children to name their teddy bear Muhammed.

In Britain this year, Christians have been yelling “persecution” because religiously symbolic jewellery such as crosses or so-called “purity rings” are not allowed in schools. Although all jewellery is banned for safety reasons, they feel that, because the objects have a “sacred” meaning for them, they should be given special treatment.

In America, atheists are treated by many Christians with suspicion and, sometimes, downright hostility. Despite Jesus’s example of tolerance and his plea to “love thy neighbour”, many of those who profess to believe in him are not willing to allow non-believers the same respect and protection that they claim for themselves.

I think this lack of tolerance on the part of religious believers towards those of other faiths, or those who have no faith, stems from an unfounded certainty of the rightness of their chosen belief. Despite a staggering lack of verifiable evidence for the claims made by religious believers, they insist that they have the Truth and, therefore, anyone who does not agree is wrong. This allows them to feel secure enough to dismiss any opposing views and march along unscathed by logic, reason, or other religionists’ equally deeply-held beliefs.

I recall having a conversation with a work colleague when I was a dedicated believer, during which I told her that I knew that a certain belief I held was true (I can’t remember what it was now). Up until then she had listened respectfully as I’d outlined my convictions, but at this point she said “You don’t know that’s true”. I insisted that I did and I can remember feeling completely sure of my knowledge. Of course, she was right – you can’t know something without testable evidence to back it up – but religious believers think that they can claim knowledge simply from experiences interpreted in the light of their belief, and feelings that have been manipulated either by themselves or by those who have a vested interest in influencing them to continue with and strengthen their beliefs.

The dogged inflexibility of some believers means that they cannot possibly give any credence to the honest convictions of people who don’t share their beliefs. It’s impossible to respect someone else’s point of view when you have convinced yourself that your view is not only correct, it’s the only one that truly matters. Believing yourself to hold the Truth means that all other views can be comfortably and instantly dismissed. It’s a form of elitism that enables you to be righteously close-minded. After all, if your belief comes from God, then anything that contradicts it must come from the Devil. Such black and white thinking is the hallmark of fundamentalist religionists of every stripe.

Thankfully, there are religious believers who are more open-minded and thoughtful, with whom those who hold differing views can have a genuine debate and know that they are being listened to. Unfortunately, the young woman that I mentioned at the start of this post was not one of them. Instead of demonstrating her commitment to our friendship by talking and listening to me, she chose to report my “apostasy” to the bishop, who was equally rigid in his rejection of the validity of my questions about the church. I never returned and my former “friend” never contacted me again. Perhaps things might have turned out differently if we hadn’t been separated by a lack of respect.

IslaSkye

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Written by islaskye

December 30, 2007 at 11:22 am

8 Responses

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  1. Man, the Mormons will only continue to be your friend until they are certain there is no way you’ll go back. I left three years ago and within a few months of my leaving none of my Mormon friends were still around. Great post, great thoughts.

    cltra

    December 30, 2007 at 9:21 pm

  2. Sorry to hear about your experience, but not surprised. It’s a shame that people can’t like you for yourself, rather than what you believe.

    islaskye

    December 31, 2007 at 7:38 am

  3. I have a few more liberal views than my parents and they seem to take offence that I would believe different from them. I would not even be considered a ‘liberal’ Christian really just a bit more than my parents. I often just skip out on the conversations with them to avoid the hassle. I have found a number on atheists who I love to talk to regarding faith, simply because of the challenge it presents to the faith that I grew up with. If we aren’t being challenged then we aren’t growing in knowledge. Great post.

    curtismchale

    January 5, 2008 at 1:04 am

  4. It’s good to hear from a Christian who doesn’t become all defensive when their faith is challenged. I think that if a person’s faith can’t stand up to scrutiny and questioning, then it isn’t worth very much.

    islaskye

    January 6, 2008 at 7:24 am

  5. Thanks. Sometimes actually living that out is harder than saying it in the comments, I’ll admit.

    curtismchale

    January 6, 2008 at 5:05 pm

  6. Good post. Nice to see my fellow exmos coming out in force. 🙂

    Eight Hour Lunch

    January 9, 2008 at 1:46 am

  7. Hi, my name is John and I’m an ex-Mormon.

    Everyone: “Hi John!” *grin*

    I think that the intolerance of many believers is also motivated by fear. I know people who are complete secure in their (misguided) faith, but who are completely capable of accepting that others see the world differently. It seems to me that the least tolerant are the ones who are frightened by the prospect that you might be right, and that your ideas may pull a brick out of their own teetering Jenga tower of faith (especially in an age where the primacy of reason and science are continually reinforced with each advance and invention).

    That said, I had the mixed fortune of having some pretty understanding Church leaders and friends, who helped make my exit from the Church long and arduous. Most of the core friends are still friends, as hopeless as my case may be. 🙂

    John Remy

    January 9, 2008 at 10:33 pm

  8. John

    I agree that fear also plays a part. That was something I didn’t understand until after I’d left the church. Looking back now, I can see how certain members’ actions were probably motivated by fear. The bishop, for instance, had a reputation for being kind and compassionate and going out of his way to help people. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a thinker or a reader and was aware of his limitations in understanding the scriptures, so rather than seeking to talk through our concerns and explain how he saw things, he retreated to the stance of “I don’t know the scriptures like you do, but I know the church is true and that’s all that matters”. He obviously felt threatened because he was unable to answer our questions, so he totally shocked us by resorting to “unrighteous dominion”, in banning us from contacting other church members and withdrawing our home and visiting teachers. This was at a time when we needed someone to talk to and may yet have been persuaded that our concerns with the church could have been reconciled, enabling us to continue as active members. His actions prevented that from happening and we were left to our own devices. No doubt we were portrayed as dangerous apostates to our ward and only one person was “brave” or caring enough to contact and talk to us after that.

    Mind you, I’m quite grateful for that now, as it meant that we were able to move forward without the guilt trips imposed by other members that a lot of questioning Mormons have to put up with. Living in a city where church members were an insignificant minority certainly helped, as we almost never came across other Mormons in our day to day lives. Our greatest support came from a community of tolerant and understanding Latter-day Saints (both TBMs and liberals) who we met on the internet.

    islaskye

    January 13, 2008 at 8:05 am


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