Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Religion and Respect

There was an article that I found really interesting on National Public Radio yesterday that opened a deep can of worms with a very dear friend of mine. The short of the piece was a discussion of the schism among old and new atheists. The old guard believes that atheism is one option for individuals, and religion is another, but both deserve respect. The new guard blatantly calls for the end of religion, and denigrates believers. Not just Christians, but all believers. If you've visited this blog before, you probably can bet where I stand on this issue. Got that right- I stand on the side of respect, thus the title. Respect on both sides, those of any faith and those of no faith.

Imagine my dear heart breaking when the discussion I was having with a loved one ended up being a litany of "I respect your view, but...", and "If you don't mind, I'd like to pray for you" and "Just give God a chance, and He will answer all your questions." I was torn. I know this sentiment comes from a place of love, but the utter disrespect and disregard for my opinion was shocking. This person finds solace and comfort in her faith, and that's good. I'm happy for her. I was raised fairly religiously, went through Confirmation, went to Bible school, even taught Sunday school for a while. I even read the Bible. (Gasp! Shock!) For me, there was no comfort there, only more questions and a deep pit of angst. I tried, I gave God chances aplenty. It wasn't for me.

Now, I'm not going to say that I'm definitely an atheist. I participate in the campus Jewish community. I have helped out at the local Universal Unitarian church. I celebrate the pagan holidays. Heck, I celebrate other religious holidays just so our family can be exposed to other cultures and traditions. I see some form of divinity in many places, not the least of which are my husband, son, family and friends. And of course my wetlands and amphibians. I still think religion has it's benefits. It has inspired great good. And great evil. The same as science and reason. Neither deserves to be mocked and made fun of. Both options work for people.

I think, for me, the worst were those interminable "I'll pray for you" comments. Once again, I understand that this is her way of showing she cares. Prayer is a big part of our society. Even non-religious people I know in times of need will ask for kind thoughts or say something along the lines of "you're in our prayers". Prayer, thoughts, sentiments, whatever you want to call them- are not inherently bad. They have meaning and show compassion. But to pray for someone to be other than who they are- that's hurtful. Respect, and love, don't have but's associated with them. It's not "I love you, but..." To tell a minority "I pray for you" when discussing their race is not acceptable. For my cat to tell the neighbor's dog "I pray for you" when discussing the catbox- well, that's just wrong on many levels. To tell a homosexual "I pray for you" when discussing their sexual orientation is not acceptable.

To tell a person of another faith, or no faith, "I pray for you" when discussing belief systems is not acceptable. I would never tell her "I wish you reason" or "I wish you logic". Her belief works for her, and mine works for me. And that's the important thing. We are both good people (for the most part- my pagan side does have its moments to shine). We both love each other. No buts. No prayers necessary. Only respect. I wish she could understand that, and respect my beliefs.

Is that asking too much? Have I gone too far? Any thoughts- from those of any faith or no faith- are greatly appreciated on this topic.


  1. I totally agree with you. I live in the deep South and am surrounded by evangelicals everywhere I turn. I grew up in that environment, but soon learned that it wasn't for me. I have a hard time tolerating those people. It's a daily struggle to be honest.

    I'm all for respect. That being said, I can understand the new atheist's position. Most people of religion (at least around here) don't show respect for other religions. It's only natural to respond to disrespect with your own disrespect. I personally think though, that we should rise above that. Kill them with kindness kind of thing. It's so damn hard though!


  2. I will be saving "I wish you logic" for the next "I'll pray for you" that hits my forehead.. that's just fantastic.

  3. I've often gotten the feeling that when someone say "I'll pray for you" in the type of context you mentioned it is a way of being condescending. And that's just too much of a double morale for me to deal with, it drives me nuts! The sad thing is you just can't seem to reach anyone using that kind of "logic" and I tend to give up and leave that discussion...

    "I wish you logic" is not a bad response :)

  4. My partner had a very religious friend at college who entirely respected his non-religious views, but who, because of her own beliefs, thought that he'd be going to hell. He was a bit miffed therefore that she didn't try to convert him & pray for him. What kind of a friend is that?! :D

    Then again, neither of us even like it when people say 'bless you' when we sneeze.

  5. Hi, I've just found you blog via IComLeavWe and like it so far :)

    I'm an atheist, but not the new type you mentioned. I'm all for respect, have religious friends(Jews, Catholics,Reformed Church, etc), agnostic friends, whatever, and we can even talk about religion without hurting each other's feelings. I think it only takes some intelligence to know how to be respectful of others' views.
    I think lots of religious people feel it's their job to save our souls and that's why they say what they say, but just like you, I'm quite fed up with the constant "give God a chance"

  6. I'm just following Bozót on the path of IComLeaWe!

    There is something that I see overlooked: religion is not the same as faith or belief. Religion is mostly the motions, and I have my own beef with most religions and religosity of many--still trying to be respectful. I think faith - be it in G-d, a goddess, a multitude of divine things, the Great Spaghetti Monster or in the fact that there is no supreme being - is respectable and should be respected.

    I do pray, and most of the time I feel uncomfortable when people tell me that they keep me in their prayers. It is a weird feeling and I think it's unbiblical, especially if I don't ask for it. Not that I believe in or follow the Christian part of the bible.

    Of course I have my inner Vulcan, and he keeps frowning at my outer Jew. Because HaShem blessed (or cursed?) me with some reason....

    So yes, after rambling on, I am on the respect side from the religious viewpoint.

  7. I hear you, girl.

    I think it's patronizing when people tell someone who is not religious "I'll pray for you", at least in the context of his or her own religious beliefs (or lack of).

    Growing up as a Jewish person in a very Christian community, I was told on a regular basis that I was going to hell. Not in an angry way. More like "you're a great person... too bad you're going to hell because you don't accept JC as your savior..." Hm. Thanks.

    Now, I'd call myself agnostic. I still identify as a Jew. But I don't know if I believe in God. I'm spiritual, but I don't know what I think is beyond *this*.


  8. I so very much agree with what you're saying. I have been vaugely Wiccan, mostly just believeing what I believe for over ten years now- but there are still many people around me that tell me I'm going through a phase of will grow out of it 'soon.' I feel that many of them say that they will 'pray for my' in the condescending way, not the supportive yet misguided way.

    I wish very much that we could all respect eachother, and agree to disagree... but I'm not holding my breath on it happening...