Sarah, Honey. Let’s Hug it Out.

Palin. Palin, Palin, Palin.

I wish that I didn’t have to talk about Miss Alaska here on my blog, but it seems I do. And all because she has made a big old kablooey fuss about how the laws of this country should be based on the Bible. Oh Sarah. Why you gotta make it so hard?

Or so easy?

The reasons this makes me so angry are manifold. Let us for the moment leave aside the terrifying implications of theocracy and the cringe-worthy hypocrisy of proposing one theocracy (a Christian one) as perfectly acceptable while at the same time excoriating another theocracy (an Islamic one) as threateningly fundamentalist. Let us leave aside the very clear injunction for the separation of church and state in the founding documents of this nation, regardless of the denominations, affiliations or spiritual philosophies of their authors, and the fact that many of those authors questioned the existence of a Christian god entirely. Let us even leave aside the spectacular wrong-headedness of claiming that any religious affiliation should be enforced upon the people of this country, considering the fact that the entire bloody point was to escape theocracy. Let us not even go there, for logic does not disturb the placid waters of Lake Palin. We would merely wear out our boat.

No. The reason this enrages me so is that it makes Christians look even worse to atheists than they already do.

Sarah, honey. You have no idea what a challenge it’s been to convince most of the liberal atheists in my life to even have a conversation with people of faith. To imagine that they are members of the same sentient species at all, let alone abandon the safe encampments of philosophical divide to join forces with them for the betterment of the human condition. I will offer up a painful transparency here, a truth difficult to admit: Many atheists do, in fact, think that people of your faith are dangerously ignorant. It’s a fact. And here I am, striving to challenge the stereotypes of both belief and non-belief, to form a coalition of people who are willing to jettison their biases and make substantive alliances that might begin to heal the wounds of religiosity in this country. And there you are, grinning like a mad moosehunter in a power suit and f*cking it up for all of us.

While I was up north I had lunch with an old friend who was hard-pressed to understand why I, a through-and-through atheist, would get up early Sunday mornings to go to church. His experience of Christians was one of bigotry, intolerance, oppressive rigidity and a total refusal to parlay on the neutral ground of humanism. In a word, Sarah, you. The response that I hadn’t fully formulated in my head at that time but which your most recent squawking has cemented for me is this: Spending time among theists, deists and spiritualists who constantly push themselves to practice unconditional love and acceptance – the gay man who asked me to act with compassion toward the virulent hatemongers of the Phelps klan when they planned to protest a local high school that was putting on a play about murder victim Matthew Shepard; the African American pastor who helped me turn my anger about the racism directed at our President into a deeper empathy for the psychological brokenness of racism itself; the people of the congregation who have showered me with love, real and unconditional love, in full knowledge of and deep respect for my atheism – challenges me to push myself just as hard in the effort to expand my ability to work with people, rather than contract it. Being there begins to soften this terribly hurt place from which I have defended my own beliefs and failed to hear the potential for connection with those of others. It allows me to deal with fundies like you with humanity and compassion, because I am exposed to people whose faith is grounded in humanity and compassion. It reminds me that that which has angered me past the point of reason about religiosity in this country is also that which I myself am in constant peril of doing in the fight against their oppression: not listening.

So I am practising on you, Sarah. I am so very, very angry at you and those you represent, and I am fighting like hell to master it and stay in a position of unconditional love. The problem is that you are so big, so powerful, so entrenched, so impenetrable, that sometimes the fight to stay on the side of love seems utterly futile. What, after all, does it matter to you? Will you ever meet me? Will you ever know I exist? Will you ever be even microscopically aware of my struggle to afford you your humanity in my head? No. No you will not.

But here is the crux of it, Sarah. We in the secular community like to throw around this little idea – if you only do the right thing when you are afraid of being punished for doing wrong, then how right can you really be? If your charity only extends to those who can acknowledge it, what is its value? We like to claim a little superiority on this count, adhering as we do to a moral code based on compassion and enlightened self-interest rather than a punitive paternity poised above our heads to deliver retribution should we fail. So if I treasure and tend this anger in my breast for you and yours, if I allow it to root and grow simply because you will never hear of it, aren’t I just as dangerous as I’m painting you?

So I’ll keep trying to love you, because that is what has been taught to me by folks who read the same book you do. Although I have to say that it sure don’t sound like the same book when you talk about it. But that’s between you and your god, right? And in the meantime, can you please please please stop making Christians look like such flagrant idiots?

Thanks a mill,

-Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist In Church

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