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Secular folks are incredible!

July 2, 2014

Dear readers,

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.

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8 Comments
  1. eyeontheuniverse permalink

    I agree with the myth of oppression here, but my first reaction was in response to the myth of harmless tolerance. The assumption that the groups behaviors are not substantially hurting others is another ignorant and dangerous one. Tolerance is only extended to groups and beliefs whose harms are small in comparison to the secular issues related to their own freedoms (meaning we don’t calculate heaven or reincarnated lives into the equation).

  2. Good point, eyeontheuniverse

  3. The quote makes me feel ragey, Andrew. I’m assuming it’s relating to the Hobby Lobby decision, and to me it reads, “Hey, thanks for being tolerant of our intolerance.” Or rather, “Ha! See, even the Supreme Court is going to *make* you tolerate our intolerance of y’all.” Makes me want to hit things.

    • eyeontheuniverse permalink

      Exactly. “Please tolerate our intolerance of you.” Nice try.

  4. It seems condescending even to someone on the believing continuum.

  5. I read the statement with no context and I kind of felt like the person was apologetic for the way religious folks sometimes act. Implying that we, the ‘secularists’, are the more tolerant ones. Even after reading your own reaction I still felt the quote was far less smug than someone pushing their craziness onto others.

    Then I read Lorian’s comment and realized that I too could react very negatively to this quote depending on the context that it was written. If it was written in reaction to the hobby lobby outcome or if it was written in context of thank you for tolerating us pushing our beliefs on you through civil law… then yes I agree with you it is a bit condescending and makes me want to punch back with my own verbal blows.

    What context was it written? I’m curious now what, if any, the implied meanings, were behind the statement.

  6. I still don’t really know the context of the statement. The person originally posted this the morning of July 1st, so that would be after the Hobby Lobby decision…but nothing in the original post (or a post to a Mormon group) provides any detail as to whether it was in response to the Hobby Lobby outcome. None of the comment responses at the places I’ve seen it posted have led to anything conclusive regarding context, either. I will say that from the conversation I’ve had with the person who posted it, he has also said the following:

    From the religious perspective, Bill Maher is right. You’ve won the culture war. There may be some things that secularist need to accomplish but they are inevitable. So I think this comment is spot on:

    ” the majority would run rampant with their privilege, and “accommodations” to the minority would be hard-fought and hard-earned.”

    We’re working out the terms of surrender.

    and

    all the discussion of culture wars, combat and dividing lines have brought me back to the original point of my OP. It was meant to be a peace-making gesture. There for sure are many things we still need to work out in our society. The conversations are not done (as you clearly illustrate). But I’m willing to live in tolerance of those who see the universe differently and I’m truly appreciative of secularist who at least agree with me on that point.

    If you take that gesture to be paternalistic or patronizing there’s probably not much I can say to convince you otherwise.

    and

    I wasn’t asking you to believe that Christians are persecuted. I’m far to aware of what true persecution is to dishonor those who are persecuted. I wasn’t even asking you to see Christians as “defeated”.

    You still want to fight religions on same-sex marriage and abortion. . . there is a time and place for that. I’m not asking you to put those values down. I’m just saying “thanks for being in the room with me”.

  7. Hedgehog permalink

    My response was much the same as gr8ergood. But then religion doesn’t interfere with politics nearly so much in Britain and Europe, so my experience is vastly different.

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