Secular folks are incredible!
If you are reading this post, I want you to do something for me. Read the following quote that an evangelical Christian friend posted on Facebook, and then — without reading the rest of this post — think about how it makes you feel. What are your reactions? Here’s the quote:
To my secular friends: I understand that the beliefs of religious people can be bothersome, unpredictable and seemingly irrational. So I truly appreciate your tolerance of us and your ability to make accommodations around us so that we can maintain our personal integrity and live out our convictions. It’s not always easy, but your ability to live with people who see the world differently is appreciated. We can learn a lot from your example.
The reason I want you to think about your thoughts (perhaps even post them in a comment?) is because I want to know if I’m just overreacting. Reading more into this than I actually should be.
If all (or most) of you say, “This is a great comment!” then I’ll just stifle my negativity.
But…before then, let me post that I find something about this statement very troubling, and although I can’t quite figure out why, I think I have an analogy.
The rough analogy that is coming to mind is that it reminds me of LDS adoration and praise for women (e.g. Quentin L. Cook’s April 2011 General Conference talk “LDS women are incredible!”)… the statement is made to cover up the fact that the person making the statement is part of a class of folks who have institutional power and the people being addressed do not. The statement does not address or attempt to ameliorate this power differential.
I recognize that the analogy isn’t a perfect fit. But still, in this case, secular folks have to tolerate religious folks because religious folks make up the majority, and as a result can control how much of our lives (familial, job, etc) will go. Being tolerant and accommodating is a survival tactic.
I think the line that really bothers me is the idea about making accommodations so religious folks can live out their convictions. Secular folks have to make accommodations around religious folks so they can maintain their personal integrity and live out their convictions not as some favor to religious folks, but because they do not have any institutional power to possibly cause religious folks to do otherwise. Even that sentence mis-captures the power differential. It’s not as if secular folks have power, and then deign to make accommodations for religious folks. Religious folks make their own rules, and then accommodations for minority religions or secular religions are painstakingly carved out as scraps.
What I fear is happening (but I have no idea if that’s a subtext of the quote, and I don’t necessarily have reason to believe that this friend would think this way) is that the quote is buying into a narrative that sincerely believes that conservative/evangelical Christians are persecuted in America. That sincerely believes that religious folks do not make up a sizable (or even controlling) voting bloc because *not every* conservative evangelical policy gets through or is upheld upon judicial review.
Ignoring the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, let’s cover judicial cases that might feed into such a narrative: the many and continued court cases striking down gay marriage bans state by state. Even if and when political events seem to go “against” what conservative religious folks would want, as is happening in these court cases, I still can’t see this as a secular push. In a political system where atheism is most distrusted, even progressive, seemingly secular end results aren’t accomplished primarily by secular groups, but more overwhelmingly by groups of people who would still identify as religious.