On Faith and Respect

I saw a Tweet the other day that really bothered me. I don’t remember the exact wording but the gist of it was “How can we get people who don’t go to church to go to church?” My response was “Um, leave us alone? Not everyone wants to go to church. It’s ok. You can relax.”

I know there are some people who really can’t relax about that because their doctrine tells them that sharing their faith and bringing others into it is vital but, speaking from the perspective of a non-believer, that attitude is pretty had to take.

Not that I have anything against religion. I totally don’t. I was raised Unitarian and still love the teachings of my church. I just don’t attend any more because I need a free morning more than I need spiritual support at this moment in my life.  But religious communities in general strike me as pretty cool. I love the idea of people joining together with common purpose and helping one another and others in need. And if you said to me “Hey! I’m part of a group of thoughtful, caring people, who have a great choir, do amazing potlucks dinner, and do projects to better our community! You should check it out!” I might be interested in stopping by to see how cool the party is. But if you append that with “And if you don’t you’re going directly to Hell”, well, you’ve lost me.

No, I know no one ever says the part about going to Hell outright but it’s implied whenever someone tries to share their brand of religion with a missionary intent. And I really, really, really hate it. A lot. Because the underlying sentiment in evangelism sounds to me like “My faith is all right. Yours is all wrong. Change. Now. Or suffer the consequences.”

What on earth is appealing about hearing that you’re wrong? What is seductive about being told everything you believe is blasphemy? Why would I want to play along with someone who is unwilling to even consider that other faith choices might be valid? To be fair, I feel the same way about anyone pressing any sort of lifestyle choice. People who are evangelically eco-conscious, people who wax rhapsodic about the contents of books like The Secret, people who subscribe to rigid parenting philosophies and feel compelled to share and persuade, it all grates at me.

Here’s what’s at the core of my beliefs: if the gods all wanted us to be the same religion, we’d all be the same religion.

It is my prerogative not to be anything but Unitarian. I have arrived at my beliefs through years of thought and consideration. I am not ignorant of the tenets of other faiths and they don’t ring true to me so I do not follow them. I wish to be left alone with my faith. I wish for others to respect it and not ever try to convince me that I need to join their religion because they think it’s intrinsically better and I’m just too ignorant to know it. That actually happened to me in an airport once upon a time. Boy, was I mad at those guys. What arrogance to tell a stranger that she’s foolish, and her belief system is inferior and that, based on your convictions, she should abandon them and climb on board your bandwagon.

You know what? You don’t know that your religion is really better. Just like I don’t know that mine is really better. I just know that mine is best for me. And I would never presume to tell you which religion is best for you.

Because all of us in America have the good fortune not to live under a theocracy, we all get to pick which church, or schul, or mosque, or what ever place of worship we choose. Or we can choose not to. We can turn off the tv when Pat Robertson comes on, we can unfollow the person on Twitter who tweets nothing but religious messages all day long, we can celebrate our own slate of holidays in our own homes as we see fit with no fear of recrimination by an official authority. Furthermore, if you want to go door to door and spread your faith, you can as long as you obey local laws on trespassing and privacy.

But why would you? Why, why, why would you bother people in their homes and try and tell them they’re wrong? Why can’t you respect their faith as you would ask that them to respect yours? Think about how you’d feel if you tried to share your faith and were told “Oh! No, that religion is flat wrong. Yeah, you’re going to burn in eternity for thinking that. Let me tell you what I believe. It’s the right choice. Yours sucks.”  Why not choose to do it the way  a woman I was chatting with recently does; she told me she prefers to exercise the evangelical aspect of her doctrine by praying privately for those she cares to pray for, without getting in their faces about it. That seems like the perfect compromise between missionary intent and good manners.

What I guess I’m saying here is I that I support your freedom to practice your religion. But I support my freedom to not practice it and ask that you support it, too.

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11 comments for “On Faith and Respect

  1. November 9, 2010 at 9:05 am

    On phone so can’t say much. But 100% agree. My faith is mine and you don’t get to judge that.

  2. November 9, 2010 at 9:41 am

    As you know now, I was also raised in a UU church. I never really got anything from it, but hey, I had a great time seeing my friends on Sunday mornings. I come from a family of Jews who went through the Holocaust and stopped practicing years later, for reasons that are not important to go into now. Married to an atheist, I have always been drawn to my Jewish roots and we decided when we had children, this was the religion they were going to be raised in. OK, fast forward to the day I was in Barnes and Nobles, new and a bit daunted by the Jewish religion, still trying to feel my way around. Looking at about 7 different Judaism books. A woman comes up to me, asks if I am finding everything ok. I assume she works there and tell her that I am fine. She then asks me if I am Jewish. Well, a bit personal, but whatever. Yes, I am. She THEN says to me “Do you understand that if you do not accept our lord Jesus Christ as your savior, you will burn in hell?” AAHBAHBAHBAH. What did she just say to me? She then asks me “Do you have children?” Simply b/c I was so stunned, I actually answered her! “yes.” “Oh, you don’t want to see your children burning in hell for all eternity, do you? Because you are mislead?” I so WISH I was making this up! She said some other things that I don’t remember anymore, simply b/c my mind was racing. For someone who is quite outspoken, I was speechless. I got out of there quickly. On the drive home, I started realizing how I was accosted at Barnes and Noble by this religious freak! And then I was angry! And THEN I started thinking of everything I SHOULD have said. Like, “Who are you to judge me and try to use scare tactics on me to have me think like you do? Why on Earth do you CARE what happens to me? Don’t worry about me hon, I am fine. Why do you think yours is better than mine? Why do you think you are right and I am wrong?” I can take her now. I actually find myself in the religious section every once and a while, hoping she approaches me again. I am SO prepared to take her on now! SHE is a cock-smoking asshat!
    Oh, BTW, totally love the post and agree with what you have stated.

  3. November 9, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Amen. Or whatever.

  4. November 9, 2010 at 10:14 am

    As a semi-practicing Christian, I have to say that people who pull this brand of foolishness are not following the basic tenents of Christianity. Yes, the bible says share your faith… but it also emphasizes LEAD BY EXAMPLE. Which means you don’t mail out flyers that say “Be like me or die a horrible death.” It means you live YOUR life the way you believe you should live it. And if others see your life and want to follow suit, then by all means, tell them why you do it your way.

    But condemnation? No thanks. Judge not lest ye be judged. If I tell someone they are going to hell, God tells me I’M going to hell. So um… no thanks.

  5. November 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Also? Yes. What you said. All of it. I meant to put that in there, too. 🙂 I will never EVER understand people who hate/judge/look down on people because of their religion.

  6. November 9, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Growing up a pastor’s kid and seeing the dirty underbelly of organized religion, I completely agree with you. I have no use for churches and no use for people who are determined to “save” me from myself. I’m just fine thanks.

  7. November 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Ick. I don’t like that kind of religion. I go to church – I dig it – I teach Sunday School, right now GLAD I do because our “helper” and the other teacher REALLY should not be the spiritual helpers of these kindergartners…all they do the whole time is say, “Be quiet, settle down, listen, stop talking.”


    They are FIVE. I want them to talk and be silly and learn something.

    I had WAY more fun last year with my foursome with these kids and the kids one year younger.

  8. kim
    November 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    i’ll ditto that amen. you would not believe the number of people who come to my door- guess what, religious folks- no solicitors means you too!!!

  9. Erica Snipes
    November 10, 2010 at 11:09 am

    My favorite line in your post is: That seems like the perfect compromise between missionary intent and good manners. EXACTLY. I don’t think the God I choose to worship would want us to be mannerless, judgemental ass hats. The judgemental part, in a kinder context, in my beliefs, is actually God’s job, and the rest of it can be chucked out the window. I also like the comment from Lawmomma that says that if I tell somebody else they’re going to hell, that means God tells me I go to hell. Another exactly on that one. Seriously, we live in a fasciniating society that juxtaposes free will, choice, tolerance, and privacy all on each other. Those of us who get the Jehovah’s Witness magazines and personal notes on our doors when they get home from work have to respect the (following laws and all of that, of course) right of the particular person to put them there for us to consider, just as the Jehovah’s Witness has to respect my right to shake my head at the ridiculousness and throw the damn magazine away. This applies to in person communications as well. People can say what they want to me about religion, but they have to respect my right to answer back or walk away. We all need to COEXIST and display the good manners that hopefully somebody taught us along the way.

  10. anthrogrrl
    November 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I always say that feel the same way about organized religion as I do about fraternities and sororities. Some people seem to need that kind of structure. Some people really benefit from the social support aspect. I know that it can also be a great networking tool in certain communities. A lot of good comes from these organizations, but they also have the potential to be damaging to individuals. And while I completely understand why others want to belong, I am simply not interested.

    (This comes from a recovering Catholic who was extremely serious about her faith in high school, but eventually found it detrimental to her mental well-being, not to mention in contradiction to most of her political beliefs.)

  11. Virginia
    November 15, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    As a practicing UU, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think it would be awesome if someday you decide to get involved with a congregation, enjoy all those potlucks and choir performances, and generally help keep the UU community strong and working to make the world a better place.

    That said, I totally understand the need for a free Sunday morning.

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