religion

How to Be a Jerk to a Person of Faith

“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.

Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”

I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.

You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.

Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.

I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.

What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:

Are you a jerk?

Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.

Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?

“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.

A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.

Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.

I think I know a better way.

*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.

**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.

Advertisements

15 Years Ago Today

A still from the segment on "Rescue 911" that featured Dad's story

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my father’s death. This is insane because I was 19-years-old when he died. (I’ll wait while you do the math.) I’m fast approaching a time when it will be longer since he’s been gone than the time I had with him. And yet, in a lot of ways, it feels like his death was just last week.

Coincidentally, I wrapped up my latest revision of the manuscript for my memoir today. (I’m not yet ready to talk about WHY I did another revision, but suffice it to say that this is a significant day for more than one reason.) The one passage I think I’ve struggled with the most over the course of my many, many rewrites hasbeen the one where I describe my thoughts and feelings immediately after finding out Dad had been killed.

For those of you that remain unaware (and, as often as I freely talk about it, that’s almost hard to believe), my father was killed in an armed robbery at his store 8 years after surviving a previous armed robbery. At the same store. Sometimes, lightning does strike twice. (Especially if you sell guns.)

Getting down on paper the various odd, monumental, despairing, uplifting, cynical, hateful, joyful and, ultimately, peaceful things that went through my head that night has just been an absolutely huge challenge. How do you take people on that journey with you? What words could possibly communicate those feelings? It helps that my memory of that night is about as clear as any memory I have, but still… it’s been a challenge.

I was in a unique situation when it happened. I hadn’t actually seen him in the flesh for 10 months.  I was serving as a missionary in Arizona, off in my own little world of cacti, no grass and a big, hot sun. When the call came in, I had just gotten home from a long day of knocking on doors and riding my bike and looking ridiculous with my helmet and tie ensemble. I couldn’t have been more shocked by the news–nor less surprised.

Dad always said he was going to die relatively young. He insisted he wouldn’t get to see all of his sons reach maturity. I’m the oldest of my four brothers and the youngest of us when he died was 9. (Hi, Tyler.) Everybody thinks bad things happen to other people. I grew up thinking we were the other people. It was kinda true. That’s a lot of what the book is about–what Dad knew and how that changed the way I saw the world and how much of a gift it was when he was finally taken from us. A bad thing does not always equal “a bad thing.”

There’s a hope and a responsibility that comes with knowing, and I’m glad Dad had the wisdom to tell us what was coming. My life hasn’t been the same since, but I can’t honestly say it’s been for the worse. Dad’s death marked a moment in my life when I stopped being who I was and became someone else entirely. We don’t get many moments like that, but when they come–however they come–they are an opportunity, I think. To grow, to change, to reassess, to gain empathy and understanding and experience. I hope I’ve taken advantage of that opportunity fully. I think that’s pretty much the point to life in general.

I’ll go visit his gravesite later today. I know he’s not there, but that’s as good a place as any to reflect and remember. And to be grateful.