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.