So a Christian doesn't tolerate my views - why be so annoyed?

Just why can’t we let some things go? Why do some things bother us more than others? Why do some things bother some people more than other people? These are things about which I deem myself to have some insight; hopefully more than some, since I’m a therapist working somewhere within the psychotherapy field.

Let’s break it down: put very simply, there are three types of recognised personalities within psychology. One is a very sensitive type, prone to traits of emotional delicateness, one is very brooding and ruminative, and the other is a little bit more shallow, outgoing and hysterical. Of course, no one person is one particular type of personality, they are an amalgam of all three, with, usually, one predominant type which marks them as being the personality type that they are. No matter which you are, though, you’ll often find some traits from another type creeping in.

Now, I know ways to deal with the side-effects which certain traits can bring with them. I’m particularly proud of the way with which I have not suppressed, but dealt with some of the traits more detrimental to myself; I have successfully changed some of my thinking styles and enabled myself to live freer and generally more happily. However, today I found the brooding, ruminative trait trying to creep in much more than usual. I was annoyed.

My wife was once Catholic. She now despises the restrictions she felt Catholicism had placed upon her previously in her life and ignorant comments from religious bigots rightly annoy her. I often see their ignorance as their problem; their ignorance is cause for concern but I don’t let it bother me. I learn from it, and I tell her to stop brooding on it and do the same. She can’t watch the God Channel without getting wound up. Personally, I love it. Still, today she showed me a comment placed by her brother’s girlfriend on Facebook. The girlfriend in question had evidently very recently seen Ricky Gervais’s film ‘The Invention Of Lying’, and clearly, it had ruined her night. Well, well. 18 hours ago, she compiled a thread on everyone’s favourite social networking site comprising little gems such as “The Invention Of Lying – what an underhand insult to those of faith!”, “Watch it properly, it’s literally having a go at Christians urghh” and “Suppose I’m just annoyed because it’s become acceptable to slander the Christian nowadays and heaven forbid we stand strong and rebuke it!”.

I couldn’t help but be somewhat irked. What had happened differently this time which had so easily made a little knot in my chest and caused a furrowing of my brow? To quote Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, “I strained the old bean until it creaked, but between the collar and the hair parting, nothing stirred”. I supposed I had just not started the day quite as well as I start most, and I had allowed myself to become annoyed by someone else’s naïve ignorance. Silly me. I went to work, left it all behind, got on with the day and generally, life was good. BUT. When I returned home from work and my wife mentioned it again to me, I brushed it aside politely, finished my dinner and duly jumped into the bath for an unwind. And THAT’S when it hit me. My brother-in-law’s girlfriend, who has previously condemned me to damnation for my atheism and (admittedly, in a rather roundabout way) accused me of being a threat to the salvation of others through it, had now belittled my freedom, and there was no way my mind was going to take it lightly.

Recently, my dad accidentally let slip to our cousins in Alabama, in the good old U-S-of-A that I was an atheist. It didn’t go down well. What an insult – they said they “couldn’t believe they had someone like that in the family”. They said they were going to say a prayer for me. It all rang true – more than blacks and gays, atheists are the most stigmatised minority in America (so I had read, anyway) and here I was, on the receiving end of it in the UK, where it matters so little that my father had quite innocently not realised just what he had said to our cousins. I got that same feeling then that I did again today. They hadn’t considered that other people can and should have differing views from them. It was 0-60 in a second, battle-horns sounding without any negotiations or talks. My brother-in-law’s girlfriend had now done the same.

Freedom is one of the greatest things in life; no matter where in your principles you might hold it, for most it’s a prized thing, and great things come at high prices. If you want equal rights, you have to take equal punishment, so to speak. If you want freedom, you have to pay the price. So why was the girlfriend in question not allowing freedom? Why was she not allowing herself freedom? Why was she seemingly going against atheists and cutting off her own nose to spite her face? Well, she didn’t understand. I know her pretty well – she doesn’t understand that it’s still taboo to criticise religion, even in this day and age. She doesn’t understand that Christianity has had its way and its say for a damn sight longer than any atheist ever has. She doesn’t understand that she doesn’t have the right NOT to be offended.

I don’t especially enjoy criticism of my beliefs. Am I ever offended by being criticised? Of course! But no one has to tolerate any of my beliefs about the universe and my beliefs aren’t afforded the special protection that Christianity has enjoyed for perhaps all too long. I don’t have the right to special pleading. And that’s exactly the way it should be – I shouldn’t have any rights to any form of special pleading. No one should. I don’t like her views, but her mind obviously works differently to mine and I fully support her right to hold those views and air them, 100%. I don’t support her ideas that Christianity should be exempt from criticism, and I think it’s silly that a film which criticises Christianity (not Christians per se, as she holds) causes her to fill with bile and wax loopy on atheists because of it, and to then to pass it all off as it being down to how it’s “acceptable to slander the Christian nowadays”. Nowadays?!

Here’s where it all comes together – she had belittled my freedom because of her lack of understanding of what freedom constitutes. After hundreds of years of “clerical bullying” (thanks, Christopher Hitchens), atheists being able to openly criticise religion is a big advance towards the “conversational intolerance” advocated by Sam Harris. We don’t have to eliminate religion, we just have to promote a culture where it is acceptable for any idea to be criticised and this criticism be deemed another step forward, another lesson learned, another step towards idealised freedom for everyone, instead of warring over it, metaphorically or literally.

In her ignorance, she made these comments because she feels her self-worth is being attacked. Deeming herself a strong Christian, her self-worth is so interwoven in the idea she holds so true, she is unable to separate the two. Ricky Gervais wasn’t being “underhand” and blatantly insolent – he was doing exactly what he should be doing. His cinematic criticism of the religion she adheres to was taken as an attack on herself. I have to conclude that although it’s annoying, she’s blinkered, and I have to content myself with honestly believing that I enjoy more of that much-coveted freedom than she can ever be afforded whilst she so constricts herself within the limitations of her theistic principles.

There’s no disputing that I’m far from the first person ever to make this case. I won’t be the last either, but I’m the only one to put it all in my own words. Long may I have the freedom to do so.

Views: 503

Comment by James Hearn on May 20, 2013 at 12:30am

Atheism isn't a belief. It's reality. 

Comment by shelley on May 20, 2013 at 1:56am

I enjoyed reading this, I struggled for a while - It's hard to understand why your own family members mark you as a Bad Person for simply not believing in god.

I generally don't get upset by other people's religious hangups (anymore), but I am furious with the lawmakers in my state. They are Tea Party types, so they campaigned on a small gov't, no business regulation platform and are working toward that end. But, at the same time, they are feverishly passing bills which take rights away from women and the LGBT community based on their evangelical and mormon belief systems. I have been unsuccessful when trying to make them understand that they are limiting other's freedom (both socially and economically). Do you have any suggestions?

Comment by Diane on May 20, 2013 at 7:02am

I appreciate what you've said.  It reminded me why I started to speak up about my atheism in the first place - so I could educate theists about atheism in a positive way..  It certainly doesn't always work out that way though.  I like to meet them on their terms.  If they bring something up for which it is sensible for me to respond honestly as an atheist I will.  I do, after all, have that right, whether they like it or not.

Some respond with hostility, some with fervent proselytizing.  Others seem to be more evolved and let whatever I've said just simply be spoken unopposed.  It doesn't happen too often though. 

Comment by Suzanne Olson-Hyde on May 20, 2013 at 7:47am
***We don't have to eliminate religon - we just have to promote a culture where it is acceptable for any idea to be criticised.

I am really happy with that - In Australia at the moment is a Royal Commisiion - an inquiry into the rampant pedophilia and cover up perpetuated by the catholic church over the last fifty years. To see the apologists, the bishops and archbishops dragged kicking and screaming, for the first time in their protected lives, is a joy to behold. They are proving what liars and hypocrites they are, for all to see.
Comment by Ed on May 20, 2013 at 9:12am

Theists/atheists annoying one another is often unavoidable and usually inevitable. I consider it a small price to pay if there is one iota of possibility that they might be provoked to question the validity of their belief system. Hopefully later on they will have reason to thank me. 

Comment by Mabel on June 17, 2013 at 4:21pm

I am not an out atheist (only to my immediate family because they are also).

I had a cousin who visited from across the country recently. He is gay and a Christian. Now and then he mentioned something negative about people who don't believe in God, but I always let it slide and said nothing until one day we were at the park and we saw a couple Christians witnessing to a girl. My cousin said he would not mind talking with her also. I said no no. That would be like a gang bang.

A a few minutes later (I forget how we got on the subject) he said that if you are for America, you are for God and vice versa. I couldn't take it anymore, but instead of telling him the truth about myself I said "I don't believe in God. Err, well sometimes I do and sometimes I don't." I said it that way to give it more of an agnostic bent because I know it would be much more acceptable.

He said nothing and didn't bring up religion again for the rest of his visit. I was a bit surprised at his non-reaction and I let it drop also.

I'm so suppressed I guess the only way I keep my sanity is at least I have a couple family members that are atheists. I only have one friend who is atheist but she fully respects religion and I don't, so I can't really relate to her a lot. All the rest of my friends are Christian.

As far as the issue of my freedom, I'm thankful at least I am now free from driving myself crazy trying to make sense of everything in a God exists context. That will have to do for now.

Comment by Eljay on June 17, 2013 at 4:58pm

Thanks for the comments, guys. Sorry the approvals took so long - had to take some time off to start raising my baby, born between my writing and then posting the blog! But to clarify a couple of points, yep, I also don't see atheism as a "belief", just to be clear on that. As for any suggestions...well, in the context of the 'freedom' theme, it'd have to be up to you, Shelley, but I don't necessarily subscribe to the "be a dick" method of raising the roof each time you need to get a point across - manners and subtlety can work a charm when needed. It's all in the judgement. However, you're talking about the law which is something that affects us all. Perhaps being a little more boisterous is in order if people aren't listening. You have to take a stand sometimes...

Comment by shelley on June 20, 2013 at 11:29pm

Thanks for responding & congrats on the addition to your family!

I can be pretty snarky on twitter but my letters to legislators are cogent and calm (time and place kind of thing, I guess). I have gone back and forth with a few of them (including the now infamous Steve Smith R-AZ), so I guess they are listening but...I guess I was just desperate for an angle while formulating a letter I never sent. Their translation of the separation of church and state is much different from mine. That's why I was trying to tackle it from an economic standpoint. I'm not a lobbyi$t so I'm sure my opinions don't carry much weight but I'll never stop trying. This session ended a lot better than usual because Jan Brewer had some kind of weird turn-around. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. Fascinating stuff.


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