Witnessing for…Humanism? July 25, 2010Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in A New Kind of Question, Christianity, Iranelection, Philosophy, Saving the World, Through the Looking Glass.
Tags: atheism, Christianity, Dawkins, humanism, July 24, religious, Sakineh, secular, stoning
A New Kind of Question, Part 3
Note: This was a personal experience, not a book, but it goes so well under my “New Kind of Question” category that I decided to post it here. 🙂
I was at our local anti-stoning protest today, June 24, the International Sakine Day Against Stoning. As I live in one of the most politically indifferent cities on the continent, I didn’t expect more than the usual handful of diehards like myself to show up at our local event. When I got to the protest location, though, I was somewhat surprised to see (in addition to the small cluster of Iranians and some interested-looking passers-by) a group of about 6 people wearing matching T-shirts:
I went over to the group. Was another protest happening here at the same time? “Oh, no,” a friendly looking man around my age explained to me. “We’ve just come out in solidarity.” He explained that they were the local Humanist/Atheist Association. Seeing my interested look, he handed me a brochure about their group. “There’s all sorts of meetings if you want to join, or give it a try…”
I took it and quickly skimmed it to be polite, but told him (with more than a little trepidation) that I believed pretty firmly in God and that it wasn’t likely that I’d become an atheist anytime soon. “But,” I hurried to add, “I really admire a lot of what you guys are trying to accomplish – your goals, making the world a better place.” And then the last thing I expected happened.
He smiled warmly. “What we’re really just aiming for is to get people to ask questions,” he explained. “Why do they believe in God, or not? What are their reasons? We just want everyone to think about their beliefs, so that things like this -” he pointed to the Save Sakineh signs behind us – “like a country deciding to stone a woman to death for religious reasons – don’t happen.”
I was amazed. I’d been expecting debate, arguments against God’s existence, assertions that religion poisons lives and cultures, all the usual rhetoric. Not this sort of…quiet openness. It made me think. This was, I realized, an example of a humanist group doing what Christians are always “supposed” to be doing: witnessing. And doing it more effectively than most Christians.
Often so much of the time atheists and Christians see each other, ironically, in very similar ways. As combatants. Hardcore, closed-minded fundamentalists out to beat and bludgeon the other side with any ammunition at hand into accepting “the truth.” Christians hurling verses and texts and commentaries, thumping their Bibles, blustering and ranting about hellfire and damnation and eternity, interrogating passersby with “Are you saved”? And atheists returning a volley of “scientific facts” and statistics and anti-religious rhetoric, brandishing their copies of God is Not Great or The God Delusion, demanding belligerently, “Don’t you know you’ve been brainwashed?”
I think it’s time for both sides to maybe drop our respective weapons, calm down, pick up some olive branches and just…ask questions. Like the humanist I met at the rally. Not questions designed to interrogate or intimidate or set up philosophical traps or to preach. Just sincere, real, open-ended questions. And to answer in the same spirit: not trying to “convert” the other side to our own belief system. (It doesn’t work anyway, only drives them further away.) Just…to talk.
I think most of us will find we’re not nearly so far apart as we tend to think on what really matters: helping others, fighting for human rights, making our world a more just and equitable and peaceful place. After all, we’re all human beings…who can have different beliefs on religious matters and still be kind, sincere, caring people. Not lost souls doomed to unending hellfire. Not brainwashed peons hypnotized by primitive superstition. Just people. 🙂
– The Contrapuntal Platypus