Saturday, December 06, 2008

On Faith... for the holidays

So many different things are pointing me in this direction lately, so I thought I would discuss it here, where I can toss the topic out and you all can help me bat it around for a while.

I just found Aerin’s other blog, No Coward’s Soul and I am looking forward to seeing the content she’ll put forth. I find Aerin’s thoughts on faith to be both thought provoking and intelligent... so, if you’re reading this, Aerin, you’ve got at least one avid reader before you’ve begun.

And then I read Sarah’s comment there, which got me thinking about something else. Most people who dislike religion, or were once religious and find it hypocritical have a story – usually one that starts with a person of position in their faith talking down to them or treating them as ‘less than’. I have one that equates:

I went to Catholic School growing up... grade school and high school. In fourth grade, right around Halloween, my teacher asked us to raise our hands if we believed in ghosts. Mine was the only hand in the air. I can still hear her response.

“Now, Merry,” her voice was sugary sweet, “we know there are no such things as real ghosts, don’t we?” Then, to the class, “Are there any such things as ghosts, class?”

“No Miss. Pain in the ass teacher” (okay, that wasn’t her name, but it might as well have been and they replied in the sing songy tone of a mass of children just given the golden opportunity to fillet one of their peers on the playground)

“But... Father, Son, and Holy Ghost...” I said in the high-pitched kid whisper you get when you’re sure you’re right, are bordering on tears, but know you’re going to get punished for responding and do it anyway.

By this time she was already turned toward the chalkboard, but she heard me. I could tell in the same way a kid can tell when their mother’s heard them swear – the silence is accusatory.

“That’s different,” she snapped, “That’s the Holy Spirit, not some made up ghost like Caspar”

But she didn’t ask about a made up ghost like Caspar, just about ghosts. I was not stupid enough to push her on it; I just lowered my head and tried to avoid any more attention. Looking back now I kind of wish I had argued with her – even as a fourth grader, I think I might’ve won that one... though, I wouldn’t have made it past fourth grade, but that’s another story.

A few months later and we were in the glorious month of December – every kid knows what December brings!!! There were snow forts and games of King of the Mountain. There were candy canes, and boots full of treats from St. Nick... We watched the advent wreath each week, thrilled to see another candle flicker to life... when we got to the pink one, the yearning was palpable... Oh yes, Christmas was a joyous time for a kid.

And then my fourth grade teacher asked another stupid question.

“Who believes in Santa?”

Anyone want to guess how I screwed this one up? I couldn’t help it really. I had two older brothers and I knew this little fact of life, well, for as long as I can remember... we used to make a game of hunting down our presents... the only time my mother out maneuvered us was the time she hid them in the neighbor’s garage... We still figured that out when we saw her going back and forth through the gangway late one night to wrap them... but we didn’t get to play with them ahead of time that year...

Again, I can still hear the tone in this teacher’s voice. It was the same tone you use when you think someone is beneath you. It’s the same tone you’d use to call someone stupid. Meanwhile, all I could think was, here’s a lady who goes to Church, is a practicing Catholic but doesn’t believe in ghosts... while still petitioning saints? And saying the line, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”... And she believes in Santa... oh, and she once corrected me for saying the television show “Family Ties” was not realistic... okay, I’m getting off track, but I still... still don’t like her.

I wonder if she knows that. I wonder if I was that kid in her class. The one she just didn’t care for? I most likely was because the feeling was absolutely palpable and I can still feel it at age 35.

The thing is, I had other teachers throughout my education that more than made up for her... okay, my second grade teacher wasn’t that great either – surly nuns rarely are. But for the most part, I’ve had other people to look to in my faith that helped me to form a more solid thought process on things – that encouraged questioning, that adored thought and reveled in respectful discussion and tolerance of all positions. Respect is the optimal word in this little essay.

Often when religion is discussed, respect is in short supply. But I think when a lot of things are discussed, the same can be said. I’ve been following Post Secret for some time now, and occasionally wander over to the message boards to read what’s said. There was a postcard today that said, “I love my wife but I don’t respect her, because she’s not very smart”

It’s someone’s secret and I’m not going to sit here and tear it apart, but I was astounded at the number of commenters who agreed or stated that they couldn’t respect someone who was less intelligent than them. If I got to impart one great truth to the masses, if I got to give the world one tenet of character which they’d all adopt, it’s this:

No human being is less than you, nor are they more. We are equal. Education does not make you superior. Nor intelligence, nor money, nor power. The illusion of superiority is the crutch of the petty man.

We each, every one of us, have gifts and talents that we’re born with – some are better with numbers or good with the turn of the phrase. Some are kind of heart, or responsible and just. Innate talent is a thing you’re born with, it makes you no better or worse than someone who wasn’t given the same gift. When you can hone these things to improve a life other than your own, then you’ve got something to feel proud of. When you feel the need to belittle others for any reason, you’ve lowered yourself in character.

Another religious themed thing that’s taken my attention these last few days is the sign placed in a government building in Washington. It’s an Atheist group who wanted a sign next to the Nativity scene. You guys can google it and find it pretty easy. I think Atheists have every right to have a sign – it is state property and if a religion is allowed their form of speech then it’s fair for every philosophy to have the same courtesy. What I find unsettling is the lack of respect for other peoples’ beliefs. The leader of this particular Atheist group claims the Nativity scene is hate speech toward any non Christian, which I think is a little ludicrous. The sign is purposely inflammatory. I will defend his right to post it, but I think the message belittles his character. Notice that I did not say it belittles all Atheists... I’m guessing all Atheists wouldn’t agree with him. Now they’re just playing tit for tat, like little kids caught fighting on the playground who point at each other screaming, “He started it.”

Doesn’t matter who started it, you earn respect by giving it. And you can’t take instances that a person or people acted in a negative fashion and blame the whole of their religious group. That’s just bigotry wrapped in justification.

Was this long enough for you guys? I’m on a nice long tear here, aren’t I?

Let me get to the end then... and here’s my message for the holiday season:

My kids had their Holiday Gift shop this week. Their class has an assigned time and all the kids file in and can buy presents for their family. I gave each of my kids a (fairly small) amount of money and they had a list of who to buy for but they had to budget themselves and buy their own Christmas gifts. They looked so forward to this.

The day of his class’ turn at the holiday shop, my oldest son asked me if it would be okay for him to buy himself a gift after he bought his presents... of course, I told him it was fine. He’s a great kid and he’s only 8, and I know it’s hard for a kid that age to be around so many toys and things and not get themselves anything.

After school the kids ran to the car with their bags, all excited about their day. We got in the car and I asked oldest son, “Well, did you get to buy yourself a gift?”

“Yes,” he said, “I bought myself a cup filled with candies... but I don’t have it anymore.”

“Why don’t you have it anymore?” I asked.

“When I was done shopping and bought all of my things, I went back by the door to stand in line, and my friend (we’ll call him Joe) didn’t have any bags and he looked really sad” he explained.

“Oh,” I said. Nothing else would come out. I felt terrible for little Joe. It’s a rough year this year and there are a lot of people in my community that are having a hard time.

“Anyway,” Oldest son continued, “I asked him why he was sad and Joe said his parents didn’t give him any money to shop... so I gave him the gift I bought for myself and it made him happy.”

“Oh.” Still all I could think of to say and I was trying really hard not to cry.

“It’s okay, though, mom, I didn’t need anymore candy and I still got to get presents for my family.”

Not one thing for himself, and my 8 year old was perfectly happy. Happier I think than he would have been with the candy... I don’t think I’d have been so astute at his age – with a bag full of brand new crap, I doubt I would have noticed another kid was sad...

For this Christmas, scratch that, from now on, I’m going to follow the example of the 8 year old. I don’t know why so many people spend so much time, money, and energy exerting their opinions over others. The world is full of opportunities to make another person smile, and I think we can each find a cup full of candy that we really don’t need to eat.

Tirade over... thoughts?


Lillie Ammann said...

Your 8-year-old demonstrated the meaning of Christmas better than any sermon or essay or lecture could. You must be very proud of him.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Lillie,

I am prouder than I'm even able to articulate. I do think we're each given gifts and one of my eight year old's gifts is a helping heart. He's very sensitive, so much so that I often worry about him because he's very hard on himself if he doesn't do well at something and can get upset by things. But one of the things he has from this sensitivity, is an ability to empathize with those around him that you don't see in very many people - and definitely not in kids his age.

He likes to make people happy. That's a fantastic gift.

Thanks for stopping in Lillie.

jjdebenedictis said...

What a sweet, sweet kid. It gives you faith in humanity to hear things like that. I'm kinda tearing up too.

No human being is less than you, nor are they more. We are equal. Education does not make you superior. Nor intelligence, nor money, nor power. The illusion of superiority is the crutch of the petty man.

*nods* I took the IQ test to join Mensa one year, just to see if I could make it in, and I did.

I ended up doing nothing with the club, however, because the group in my area (or at least the person who seemed to run the show) really did seem to think they were superior to others, and the club existed just to give them opportunity to be smug about in it.

Of course, not everyone is that way! Another member of Mensa once gave a speech that summed up quite beautifully why that attitude bothered me so much. He said that intelligence is something we are born with; our IQ is a matter of biology. And in that sense, being nasty to someone less intelligent than you is as distasteful as being racist. A difference in IQ is an accident of your birth, and it's vicious and arbitrary to punish someone for their DNA.

Also, there are many forms of intelligence, and IQ tests only examine two of them. It's petty to decide some human traits are more valuable than others. An IQ test won't show if someone is a great artist or athlete, for example--or whether they're kind-hearted and socially aware like your 8-year-old clearly is.

This is a really interesting post, Merry! Thanks for putting it up!

Travis Erwin said...

Long post, but well worth every second it took to read.

Realmcovet said...

You and I have the very same stance in regards to religion,spirituality, whatever one calls it, methinks.

This particularly struck a chord with me:

"No human being is less than you, nor are they more. We are equal. Education does not make you superior. Nor intelligence, nor money, nor power. The illusion of superiority is the crutch of the petty man."

So beautifully spoken. It gives me such pleasure and joy to read wisdom such as this.

And my 11 year old has the same heart as your 8 year old. So encouraging to know these kiddos are a part of our lives, no?

I'm adding you to my blogroll. (Been meaning to actually for a while now, I just kept forgetting!) Happy Holidays! (I follow you on Twitter too!)

silken said...

oh, those kids teach us such powerful lessons don't they!

my daughter told me some similar things you discussed earlier in the post in her own sweet simple way the other day (lording power over someone). it is so powerful to hear a kid just tell it like it is, or to just do the right thing with no pretenses.

thanks for sharing!

spyscribbler said...

Oh, man, TEARS! I teared up, too. What a sweet, amazing kid.

I'm not really a Christian anymore. (I'm more pagan, so I'm more than willing to believe in the Christian god, just not willing to believe he's the only one.) I do tire of the lack of respect and the assumption that everyone is Christian. I didn't find their message hateful, but I wish it had been more peace- and love-filled. If they want respect for their beliefs, they need to show respect in return.

What they did will only increase intolerance for atheism and inflame anger of the intolerants.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi JJ,

Thanks so much for such a great insight... the mensa speaker you saw, I would say is a person of both intelligence and humanity... you don't always get both in a person and I think it's an awesome combination when you see it. Intelligence can be self serving by itself... but combined with humanity, it can have a profound impact on the world.

And the other thing that gets my hackles up a bit in this line of thinking, how do you know how intelligent another person is? No one else can read the inner workings of my mind, so their perception of my intelligence is just that, their own vantage point of what they think I'm capable of... What about people who are not gifted at communication? So they understand intricate concepts but can't articulate it well.

I think that's the thing about all forms of judgment: no one can truly know what's in another man's heart. So looking down on them for their perceived abilities really only reflects badly on the person doing the judging.

And I so agree with you, intelligence is an inherited thing - you can improve yourself through education, but some people just have a greater potential for academic and intellectual growth... the same way some people have a greater potential for artistic or musical ability. And some have a greater potential for the humanities... none of these are inherintly better than the other, it's how you live your life that counts. How you use your abilities, or even how you push yourself to master abilities that don't come naturally (good work ethic, comes easier to some people too).

It's an interesting topic to me, I'm glad you stopped in a furthered my thinking :-)

Hi Travis,

Thanks for reading - it was a long one for me... I've been in a rambling mood lately.

Hi Realmcovet!

Thank you for the add! I've caught your comments around over at Stephen's and Erica's... and I think Spy's - always good food for thought. I just stopped in to check your blog out (you wouldn't happen to be a Violent Femme's fan, would you?) I'll stop back over soon to give it a better read.

And yes, we are definitely blessed with our kiddos, and there are lots of them out there who are sweet that way... makes me think the world might actually be going in a good direction.


Tell your daughter I said she rocks! I will say this for parenthood, I've learned more from my kids than I have from any teacher or professor... and the lessons are infinitely more important to me.

Hi Spy,

I didn't know you were Pagan. I've studied a bit of Witta, Wicca, and Stregha - stregha and Italian folklore and remedies being my favorite, because it's my own heritage. I always find it fascinating how similar the thoughts behind the faiths are.

I know a lot of people have trouble looking past the differences in ideology to see the similarities... but basic spells work the same way that prayers do, and the rituals for both are eerily similar... very long topic really, but another I find interesting.

Maybe that's why I have such a big problem with intolerence. If you never learn about other people's faiths and thoughts, how can you ever understand any of their experience?

Thanks for the visit, Spy. Let me know if you ever post anything on paganism - I'd love to read it.

Realmcovet said...

Yes, the world seems to be taking a turn for a more hopeful outlook. I think teaching the kid's of today's youth to see the neutral shades of gray in all situations is going to be the most empowering tool we can pass on. Unconditional love speaks so much louder than anything could. No one thing is better than any other.

And yes!! I AM a Violent Femmes fan by the way!! How'd ya guess?? *giggles n blushes*

Merry Monteleone said...


I can spot my own kind miles away :-) In my late teens and early twenties, the Violent Femmes were one of my favorites... For some reason when I paged up to your blog 'Blister in the Sun' kept running through my head.

SUV Mama said...

Your post made me more than a little ashamed of myself lately. I'm feeling a lot of not-so-nice thoughts (all magnified, of course, as I am full of bizarre hormones and I'm fully aware that my thoughts need to stay firmly in my head because I can't be trusted to speak outloud) about pride. We're having a really great year (and no, not at the expense of others) after having some very, very rough financial times. It's strange because while everyone else was high on the hog, we were broke. Now everyone else is broke & I'm getting really sick of hearing how "lucky" we are. How is it LUCK and not hard work or ingenuity? Why is MY accomplishment meaningless? The answer is that it is meaningless, really. Instead of just being grateful, I'm comparing myself and my situation to others. How petty, how selfish, and how small minded. What you said about the illusion of superiority was so right on. It is a the crutch of man- and of me. :(

Regarding the teacher- oh, Merry! I think the worst thing that adults can do to children is shame them.

Your 8 year old did, indeed, teach me a lesson. He's a doll and a half. :)

Merry Monteleone said...


I never meant to make you feel bad! And I sooo doubt that you were feeling superior... it's probably more a matter of a little jealousy directed at you that your reacting to...

I have a friend who is my age and also has kids. They have a beautiful house and were able to, a little at a time, re-do the kitchen and baths among other things... now I know her, and I know that she budgeted really well and worked very hard at finding deals to do what she wanted done, and saved for each project. But some family members came over for a party and made some snide comments about "How nice it must be to be so spoiled that you don't have to work and your husband can afford to redo the whole house..." "boy, it must be nice to marry so well" etc.

She's a stay at home mom, that's not the same thing as sitting home and eating bon-bons. And even if it was, when someone else is able to do something nice or afford a new thing, the proper response is, "That's great! I'm so happy for you!" or "It's beautiful!"

What ever happened to good old fashioned courtesy? And when did blatant jealousy become a thing that's okay?

I'm happy for my friends when they have good turns of luck and when they reap the rewards of hard work. And I'm happy for you, SUV! It's a hard spot for you, though, because it's hard to be happy for your good fortune when friends or family aren't doing as well.

But that's what friendship is supposed to be - non-judgmental. If I'm having a hard time, my friends' jobs are to ask if there's anything they can do or just be a shoulder. If I'm doing well, they're supposed to be happy for me. That's it. That's the job.

I've had friends that I don't feel I can confide in when things aren't going well, because I almost feel like they'll be happy about it or tell me how if I did it their way I'd be doing fine... I never want to be one of those people, because it means my friends can't trust me, which means I'm not a real friend.

Don't feel guilty, SUV. I have never seen an ounce of superiority complex in you and you are more than allowed to be happy for your good fortune. If it helps at all, I'll always be happy for you.

Realmcovet said...

I read every last one of your responses to these comments and more and more I just love you to pieces.

Yes, I am of your kind. I "woot" in delectible delight. Now I'm gonna go put "Blister in the Sun" on my muzak player, just for you. (Amongst other Violent Femmes faves.)

Yer awesome Merry. :)

pjd said...

What a beautiful and amusing and thought-provoking post. We all had those "wish I could disappear" moments in school. I'm not sure we all had those selfless moments at age 8, though. I like to think I did, but I can't remember anything specific.

Regarding faith and Religion--I actually don't have any specific story for why I dislike Religion (with a capital 'R'). I was raised in a nonreligious home, but I was dragged to church when I spent weekends with my grandmother. I never understood Church or felt comfortable there.

Even very young, growing up in New England, I was keenly aware of why the Pilgrims came to the New World--religious persecution. But I did not understand it. How could one group of people who believed in God want to oppress and frequently kill other people who believed in essentially the same God? It made no sense. And how did one decide which was the true God? And if a king could start his own Church, then wasn't it people doing this to other people in God's name, and would the God they professed to believe in really promote that?

By the time I hit 10th grade, I thought of myself an Atheist. I took a World Religions course and solidified that position when I found that most major religions have the same fundamental tenets but different rites, prophets, and lexicons. Another thing they have in common is the overwhelming desire to destroy all other religions and either convert or eliminate heathens and infidels.

Now that I'm getting older, I find I've moved from Atheist to Agnostic. I no longer think I know everything there is to know, and I think there are things simply beyond our perception as humans. And that makes me even more anti-Religion because I believe that if God does in fact exist, there's no person alive that can understand it.

Religion (capital 'R') has little to do with faith. It has everything to do with political power and socio-economic clout. This has been true since LONG before Joseph and Mary were told there was no room at the inn.

Merry Monteleone said...

Thanks, Realm! *blush*


What a beautiful and amusing and thought-provoking post.

Thank you, kind sir. My ego's getting over-inflated as I type :-)

Seriously, I'm glad you enjoyed it and it got you thinking.

I know a lot of people who are anti-Religion, with a capital R. For many different reasons, sometimes it's personal experience, sometimes the ideologies just don't resonate with them, sometimes, like you, the histories of these institutions make one cringe... and they do.

All of this to me is valid. I think being agnostic or atheist are both valid choices for those the ideology resonates with... just as I think any religious affiliation is valid. I'd really like to see society, or more of society, get to a place where they can openly discuss their beliefs and faith without resorting to bashing each other.

You don't need to be Religious to have a faith, either... nor does being atheist mean you're a bad person... it comes down to that judgment thing again, people assuming you are the same as the worst example of your ideology or belief.

Thanks for the visit. I enjoy hearing your views on it.

Colleen_Katana said...

Ugh, I came into my 4th grade religion class upset because my dog had passed away the night before. My teacher decided to use that moment, while I was in tears, to tell me that animals don't have souls and therefore my dog was just lying in the ground somewhere.

I told her my dog had more of a soul than she had. I then got sent to Father Jack's office.

Zoe Winters said...

As someone myself who "deconverted" from Christianity, there is an ANGRY phase. For whatever reason, Christianity isn't the right religious path for some people. And when someone leaves it, especially if the flavor they were in was very restrictive and dogmatic, suddenly you're out and you see Christianity "everywhere." It can be hard to heal.

So yes, a lot of atheists are fairly reactionary. (But not most. My husband is an atheist and so is one of my best friends but they aren't angry.) I think a lot of the louder more reactionary people were likely originally Christian, and not fluffy Christian, but very very dogmatic Christian.

It's a phase for most people. It was a phase for me. I don't react anymore against any part of Christianity or Nativity scenes or "under god" in the pledge, or any of that. It's irrelevant to me.

If people want to express their faith, fine. As long as they don't force it on me where I can't opt-out, we're cool. And I don't consider a nativity scene or "under god" in a pledge I don't say anyway, or "in god we trust" on money I dont' spend my whole day reading anyway, to be in any way "in my space."

But the newly deconverted often feel differently. It's a very hard thing to get over for some people.

I'm glad it doesn't affect me anymore, but there were a couple of Christmases that were very hard for me.

Merry Monteleone said...

Holy crap, Colleen! What is it with fourth grade teachers? Is there a mandate that they have to be dimwits or something?

I'm soooo sorry, and I hope Father Jack gave her what for... too bad you weren't a bit older, then you could have reminded her that she must be excluded from heaven too, being that she was a bitch.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Zoe,

I get what you're saying, but at the same time I think the negativity toward a religion is way more out of line than anything else. Someone's atheist views don't bother me... it's none of my business what anyone else's faith is, really. It gets bothersome when there's judgment or name calling.

Here's part of it for me, too. When people bash Catholicism or Christianity it is universally accepted. If I get upset about it, I'm viewed as without a sense of humor or too sensitive. But those same people, often well educated and politically correct in every other arena, would never stand for the same disrespect of another religion or ideology.

That, to me, doesn't seem all that fair... but then, life's not fair, so what are ya gonna do, right?

And I never think it's all atheists or all of any religion. As far as I'm concerned, you can only hold a person accountable for their own actions - not any old thing someone of their faith did.

pjd said...

The problem with bashing Christians is that you bash both Pat Robertson and Mother Theresa with the same words... or David Duke and Desmond Tutu. How can you possibly paint David Duke and Desmond Tutu with the same brush?

Same thing goes for Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, etc.

But really, Religion makes it easy to bash. Catholicism is embodied by the Pope, and when the Pope says that God hates gay people, then that's Catholic law, basically. Right? If the Mormon elders in Salt Lake say that gay people should be kept from marrying each other, then the Mormon Church has that belief. You either go along, or you're a bad Mormon.

Am I missing something about Religion here?

This is the same thing that got Obama in trouble. Some folks wanted to paint him as hating America because his minister said some certain things. Yet many of those same folks also wanted others to think Obama was Muslim. So... Religion is not only a tool to be used for power, but it is also a cudgel with which we can beat up people, a brand we can use to mark them as friend or foe.

But it is the nature of Religion. Religion makes sense as a tool of power--of unification and division, of moving the masses. But it does not really make sense as a guider of personal faith. At least, it doesn't in my book. But then, as an Agnostic, I have no book and all books.

Merry Monteleone said...

But really, Religion makes it easy to bash.

Oddly enough, a Harry Potter line comes to mind - there is a difference between what is right and what is easy.

And, no, I don't think this is entirely accurate. Rarely do I see anyone discuss the intricacies of any religious faith past the half-hearted suppositions of its detractors, at least not when their aim is to denounce or bash the religion. Often the points made against said religion have nothing to do with the beliefs or teachings and, in fact, have more to do with the misconceptions.

Catholicism is embodied by the Pope, and when the Pope says that God hates gay people, then that's Catholic law, basically. Right?

Which Pope said God hates gay people? Please point me to that reference.

It's my understanding that the current teaching of the Catholic Church is that you are born homosexual the same as you would be born straight. They recognize homosexuality as a creation of God, so I'd be interested to see where and who said God hates them.

If the Mormon elders in Salt Lake say that gay people should be kept from marrying each other, then the Mormon Church has that belief. You either go along, or you're a bad Mormon.

My bad, I obviously don't know enough about the Mormon faith. Is this an actual teaching? And is the teaching that gay people shouldn't be married within the Mormon church? Because if it is, religious beliefs are private and they are allowed to follow their faith. Society or government can't, and should not be allowed, to dictate who may or may not be married in their faith... by law is a completely different story, faith should have nothing to do with it - which is why I'm incensed that any religious group should get involved there at all.

But on the subject of a religious marriage, there are stipulations that the couple needs to meet in any religion. If you don't like the Mormon teachings, then don't participate in their church.

As far as following all of the teachings of one religion, I have a problem with that argument. To say that I have to follow and believe every nuance of my religion or I don't truly believe or am not a member of that religion, well it's stupid. Obviously I'm allowed to question my faith. I'm not completely on board with the whole Mary was a virgin til death and Jesus had no brothers thing, either... It doesn't mean I'm not a Catholic, it only means I question.

None of the things I question or disagree with change the core of my faith - otherwise I'd likely be a different religion, or none at all.

But it is the nature of Religion. Religion makes sense as a tool of power--of unification and division, of moving the masses. But it does not really make sense as a guider of personal faith.

In the instances you cite, I can see how you came to this conclusion, but I find it to be a narrow view. Yes, people will use religion as a tool. That says nothing truly about the religion, it says a great deal about the character of the people wielding religion in that way.

It makes sense to a great many people that their religion is a guide in their personal faith. The fact that your experience differs doesn't make their experience any less poignant.

pjd said...


I had this brilliant rebuttal nearly drafted when my computer crashed last night. And, it being midnight, I chose sleep.

A few quick points, though:
First, it's clear I'm out of my depth, so I defer (mostly) to your knowledge. You are correct that my experience of Religion is as an outsider, and I get what you're saying about not understanding how the church can guide an individual's faith in a very meaningful way.

While I admit that I was, um, "spinning" the Pope thing, the Mormon church did in fact take an official position on Prop 8 in California. While I fully support the Mormon church's right to include or exclude anyone they want, they should not impose their moral code on people who opt out. I understand the "if you don't like what they do, don't join" position. But now those organizations are imposing their moral code on people who opt out specifically because of their moral code.

One may argue that other opt-in organizations such as labor unions or are doing the same thing. The difference is that those organizations don't end every argument with "because it's a sin" or "because God says so." When that is the basis for a position, debate is impossible, and every disagreement becomes a "you're either with us, or you're with the [terrorists|sinners|infidels|etc.].

Finally, on the Atheist sign. They could have chosen less inflammatory language for sure. But their message is no less one of faith than the nativity scene itself. Their faith is that nature is the only thing. Any statement to the contrary (e.g. a public display of the birth of God's son) makes Atheists feel attacked. Think of the Atheist saying, "Nature is the one true God." Thus, in the same way that Mormons believe gay marriage is an affront to God, Atheists feel that Religion is an affront to the truth of non-God.

I think the guy with the sign in Washington, though, is an Atheist Fundamentalist. Most Atheists, I am sure, enjoy the story of the nativity and the trappings of the Christmas season and figure "whatever."

Merry Monteleone said...


I had this brilliant rebuttal nearly drafted when my computer crashed last night.

I hate it when that happens... or when blogger eats the damn comment... urgh... sorry.

First, it's clear I'm out of my depth, so I defer (mostly) to your knowledge.

You're definitely NOT out of your depth... religious discussion is not just about the tenets of a particular faith, it's also about applied morality... believe me, you're definitely holding your own.

While I fully support the Mormon church's right to include or exclude anyone they want, they should not impose their moral code on people who opt out.

I agree. I think religious leaders should lead their own followers, but they should stay out of American politics and legislation. This is a political ideology of mine, so I think a lot of religious people might disagree - and of course everyone has a right to state their opinion... but, religious beliefs shouldn't have any real place in law - for that reason, no one should be forced to be governed by another man's faith.

I agree with you. But, I don't blame entire religions for these things. There is a specific person or people responsible for this stance - and that's who should be held accountable, not the religion in its entirety.

And I don't care what the religious tenet is. You can disagree with it, but you can't argue it or insist it be changed. Just as religions should have no place in running law, society/government has no place in dictating religion.

The difference is that those organizations don't end every argument with "because it's a sin" or "because God says so." When that is the basis for a position, debate is impossible, and every disagreement becomes a "you're either with us, or you're with the [terrorists|sinners|infidels|etc.].

Again, personal responsibility. Yes, there are zealots who lean on, "because the bible said so", but there are also Atheists who insist on positions like, "You have no proof, so therefore your god is a lie"... You can't debate with that thinking either. When one side or both sides refuse to see their opponent as valid and worthy of the most common of human respect, there is no point in conversation. No one learns anything or furthers any sort of progress when they're just yelling to be heard. And I posit that any person (no faith or ideology, but individual) who refuses to consider the oppositions reasonings loses by default. So do we all.

Their (Atheists') faith is that nature is the only thing. Any statement to the contrary (e.g. a public display of the birth of God's son) makes Atheists feel attacked...Atheists feel that Religion is an affront to the truth of non-God.

Okay, here's my problem with this entire line of thinking - it's not about YOU (and by 'you' I mean any affronted atheists). Look, I am a person of faith and I don't get in the least offended by a person who believes God does not exist. That's your right. I'm not even offended by the sign, though I dislike the way it was phrased because it was geared specifically to cause ire. If you have something valid to say, just say it - the only reason I've ever known for someone to denegrate another person is to make themselves feel superior - and I think that's the same tactic we're seeing here with faith.

Atheists can feel any way they want about open displays of religion. Their belief doesn't in any way affect mine. Doesn't it strike you as a little ludicrous that my belief should offend them? What's it to them? I'm not judging them - they're perceiving judgment where there is none. And if someone is actively judging you, as a person, then that is something to take up with the person doing it, not the entire religion. I'm not responsible for what every other Catholic does and says, anymore than you're responsible for every other agnostic.

And, for the record, I've run across far more Atheists that are actively bigoted against any and all religions and people of religion than I have religious who are bigoted against Atheists. I love the ones who think I must be a moron because I *gasp* believe in God. Or the ones who insist that religion has done NOTHING but perpetrate EVIL and it should be illegal to practice or instruct children in any religion...

But I dislike and disagree with the people who've uttered those sentiments, not everyone who is atheist.

pjd said...

It seems we tend to agree more than disagree. Which doesn't actually surprise me. Zealots cause gnashing of teeth among reasonable people, no matter what type of zealot it is.

Anyone that claims that lack of proof is ipso facto proof of the negative is a buffoon. I learned in 9th grade trig that A => B does not necessarily mean that !A => !B. (I.e., A = "proof God exists" and B = "God exists") In fact, I find the counterargument relating to God to be a beautifully confounding thing: It is the lack of proof that God exists that is at the very essence of faith. Faith can not exist in the presence of proof, yet faith is essential for both the religious experience and salvation. God asks us to believe simply because believing is right. Then He gives us the ability to choose for ourselves.

As you have pointed out, it's certain religious leaders that do not honor that free choice. I say, if a person truly has faith, then they therefore must allow for every individual to find (or not) his or her own faith. Without coercion.

Thanks for the lessons along the way!

Merry Monteleone said...

I say, if a person truly has faith, then they therefore must allow for every individual to find (or not) his or her own faith. Without coercion.

Yep!!! I think it's perfectly fine to answer questions about your faith, or even speak highly of your religion... but not at the expense of anyone else.

Thanks for the great discussion.

Zoe Winters said...

Oh, Merry, I totally agree! I don't think it's "right," that was just my perception of "why" it happens. Unfortunately a few Christians have created such a hostile environment for some people that those people then feel compelled to lash out, and unfortunately other Christians end up paying for it.

And you're right, it's NOT fair. It's not fair that if someone is Jewish, or Buddhist, or Pagan, that someone may not share those beliefs but it's "intolerant" to bash them.

Meanwhile it's not considered intolerant to bash Christianity. Maybe because Christianity is the "mainstream view." but that doesn't matter, because Christians are individual human beings and they shouldn't all have to deal with this crap because of the behavior of a few.

Merry Monteleone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Zoe,

Oh, believe me, I agree with you! I think often when these things get heated, the person doing the arguing is really lashing out at whoever offended or denegrated them... but taking it out on the religion as a whole or another person of that faith.

For me, I actually get a lot more incensed at other Catholics who are idiots. When I see someone sitting in church with their nose in the air, looking down on you because you don't attend mass as regularly as they do. When I see that pious, devout church goer out in the parking lot, swearing at people for taking their parking space... or stealing the handicapped space for fuck's sake (and yes, I've seen this...) When I see them act like it's a social club and you need to know the handshake to get in...

We used to have a resale at my kids Catholic school (the kids are at the public school now, but we're still in the same parish). There was a lot of talk in all of the committees I was on about which fundraisers to keep and get rid of, and the resale always on the block because it was a lot of work... but the volunteers who ran it really fought for it because it was a service to the community. Lots of moms, myself included, spent hours getting our kids old clothes and salable toys and books ready. It was a consignment sale, so the school kept 40%, but the seller got back 60%... more than once I wound up with a check for nearly $100.00 and lots of parents picked up their kids winter coats and extra clothes for a fraction of the store price... win - win.

One of the moms really lobbied to get rid of the resale. When we said how valuable it was for the community and even pointed out how many people came into the school because of it (therefore people who might think about sending their kids there, our enrollment was very small). She said, and this is the exact quote, "Well, those aren't really the kind of people we want here anyway."

You see people like that and you just want to throttle them. My exact response was, "You know you're standing in a building with a cross on the roof, right?"

Some people are just asses. In every walk of life in every place. The thing is, when you're standing in a church, or when you say you are of a religion, you're a representative of that faith, for good or bad... and people will take your actions and attribute them to the religion.

So I can see where the biases come in. Hell, if I wasn't Catholic there are a number of people who would've turned me off of them completely.

I love this about my bloggy circle, though. My religious and political views often diverge from those of my peers. But we can usually discuss it in such an intelligent and judgment free way that everyone gets something out of the exchange.

Thanks for the visit, Zoe and for adding so much.

Zoe Winters said...

Thanks, Merry! It was a long road for me. I was pleasantly surprised to wake up one day and be over the "angry-phase" haha. Now people are just people and as long as they aren't trying to convert me, I'm good. :D

It's also nice to be able to discuss the topic without any weird background issues.

Nandini said...

I try to keep an open mind and warm heart towards people of all religious persuasions (or lack thereof). This is essential for sanity in my life where very close friends and relatives are hindu, catholic, muslim, jewish, buddhist, atheist and agnostic. but sometimes it can be hard :-) ... i don't like dogma and too much certainty when we know so little ... sometimes focusing in on kindness, warmth and compassion on a small individual level to all you encounter takes more faith than participating in traditional rituals. hugs to your son and happy holidays!