We've talked before about being comfortable with ambiguity and nuance, and how it's a mark of maturity to recognize that there are really 256 shades of gray (or even 4096, if your resolution is 12-bit ;-). There are mixed race people and political independents. Sexuality, like politics, is a continuum. Bright lines of division are arbitrary external constructions.
Fundamentalist thinking is all about imposing bright lines, and firm boundaries. "The Bible says it, I believe it, that ends it." But as we know here in California, rigid buildings can be most at risk when the earthquake hits: it's the buildings that can move and adjust that survive. Rigid thinkers may have their whole world-view collapse when one thing shifts.
Most sensible Episcopalians cringe when the term "Christian" is used as a shorthand for the rigid thinking of conservative evangelicals. How often do you want to say, "Yes, but I"m not THAT kind of Christian" when faced with Fred Phelps or Jim Dobson? Well, I often want to say "Well, I'm not THAT kind of atheist!" when Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers come up. You know the type I mean: I've called them the anti-theists, the new atheists who have essentially made a religion out of their non-belief. They are a mirror-image of the hardcore Christian fundamentalists against whom they are reacting. They deliberately set up scientific inquiry in opposition to faith. So they make a religion of science and attack religion. They are not interested in plurality or tolerance, but demand that the world agree and live by their view. Some of their worst criticisms are directed at scientists with faith (as in their attack on Francis Collins at NIH).
Over at Pam's House Blend, a progressive group blog with a focus on LGBT issues, one of the diarists has "come out" as an atheist. But then he feels the need to be all combative over it. . He writes (my emphasis)
As an atheist, I want to dismantle the power that religion has, not reinforce it. I don’t want people to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith; I want them to see that homosexuality is a brilliant example for how flawed and unnecessary faith is. I hate the idea that religions or religious beliefs are something deserving of respect, and I have no intention of respecting them or catering to them in order to achieve legal equality as a gay man.As I see this, in a fit of atheistic purity, he has decided to attack faith and religion. Tactically, he makes a bad choice, trying to fight the fact that religion-based arguments are the major stumbling block to LGBT equality by attacking religion generally. He puts the backs up of a lot of people who should be his natural allies by turning the battle for equality into a battle against faith. (Our friend Doxy went and argued back.) But if he doesn't respect others, why should they respect him?
Look, I GET that this writer doesn't have faith in a higher power. Neither do I. And I get that he's tired of being beaten over the head by a dominant Christian culture that wields its faith as a weapon against him. Me too. But it's not black and white between him and them. Other people dwell in the grey zone. Yet he's insisting that their experience is wrong. That's rude, that's arrogant and that's EXACTLY what the Christian right does.
This is how a rainbow looks with different forms of colorblindness.
The analogy I have frequently used for the absence of faith is colorblindness . Some people lack the ability to distinguish certain parts of the spectrum. (Red/green colorblindness is quite common in men, on the order of around 10%). Telling those people how they should experience color, based on my experience as a color-seeing person, is, well, wrong. To them, it doesn't matter how *I* see it, just because I'm in the majority. Their experience is as valid and real to them as mine is to me. They can't be fixed or forced to see color, they can't will that perception into being. I should be able to respect and accept that difference--and reasonably accommodate it.
Now, those of you with faith may nod sagely at this point and say, "Yeah, I get it, the atheists are unable to see colors." It makes sense that atheists just can't do it-- the non-believers are somehow deficient in seeing something that is so real to you. Maybe you even feel sorry for us.
But my analogy works just as well the other way around: that it is the people of faith who are "missing something," and faith is a construct that helps you accommodate a weakness. That's what the diarist at Pam's House Blend would say. And it's an equally valid analogy though it may make you feel slightly defensive!
The point I'm making is that it doesn't matter which way the analogy goes. The point is to recognize that we have individual experiences and world views that are full of nuance, not bright lines that divide us. I can find areas of sharing and mutual values with you, even if my experience is different. Heck, I can even enjoy incense and choral polyphony and the rhythm of the liturgy on Sundays when I go to church with my wife the Episcopalian, and be welcomed there...and cheerfully recruited into various projects as needed! I can respect your faith. In turn, in this community, I have generally found respect for my lack of faith. And here we are, all working together on common goals, even if the spectrum we see through the prism is somewhat different. We manage to make it work.
This lesson suggests to me that the diarist at PHB may find that a purity cult founded on anti-belief is no more justifiable than its opposite.