77 Do not kill unbelievers 22 Sep 2020

You already know this

This is self-evident:

·        People who lean on you for validation are so insecure that they beg for your reinforcing belief.

·        “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt” hides “I am trying to convince myself (and I’m not succeeding without your help).”

·        Anger is a defense mechanism even when there is no attack. Being upset that I do not believe always reveals the upset person’s weakness, doubt, and uncertainty. The person fears the weakness, not my unbelief.

Appropriately withholding belief is an act of generosity:

·        Galileo contributed to science by refusing to believe the geocentric model of his time.

·        The German long-jumper who competed against Jesse Owens refused to believe Adolf Hitler’s race doctrine. According to story, the German contestant deliberately dropped his towel at the take-off line so that Owens’s footprint would prove that he had not stepped over the line and could not be disqualified. Rejecting a bad racist belief and helping the superior performer was an example of courage for all humanity.

Mixed belief

Years ago, my friend completed an opinion survey by rating some common sales slogans. The interviewing company questioned him afterward for marking every statement “completely false.” He was a professor; “partially true” was not his familiar ground. I was surprised that he had responded at all to the survey, because those slogans create moods and are not intended to be measured as truth. Many feelings are preferences, neither true nor false.

Certain institutions are symbolic or metaphorical. Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Jack Frost are all concepts that invoke thoughts or feelings different from the literal meanings of the words. These entities are not physical persons, but as representations they convey specific meanings. There are many expressions that I can respect while not believing them literally. I respect the people to whom they have meaning, although I do not support the literal statements. The Bible provides many similar examples.

·        Saul was jealous of David because the women said that Saul had killed his thousands and David had killed his ten thousands. Even after dropping the numbers to believable levels, I find it incredible to respect anyone based on how many people he has slaughtered. I’m not that kind of believer.

·        Ancient Israel imposed capital punishment for adultery and murder—that is, except against King David. I’m neither a capital punishment believer nor a divine rights believer.

·        My childhood impression was that Noah’s flood was a global physical reality, even though my parents did not believe in Santa Claus. Eventually I thought more about the physics of dealing with so much water. I’m no longer that kind of believer.

·        The Old Testament Psalms carry great literary value. However, it is painful to read David exclaim “hedge up the path of mine enemies.” I don’t have enemies, yet I find it unthinkable to wish evil upon any who attempt to be my enemies. I’m not that kind of believer.

·        The Bible throughout denigrates the human condition. This confidence destroyer is a typical marketing ploy to create an artificial pain point that makes God’s mercy necessary and valuable. This is not uplifting. I’m not that kind of believer.    

Despite my deep reverence for people’s beliefs, dogmatic religiosity calls me an unbeliever. My mixture of values and reality honors humanity without the structured dogma of organized religion. This does not equate God and Santa Claus. I study the classifications separately: traditional religion, myth, and human future godhood (article 52), applying appropriate tools in each area.

Is imagination true? Another classification is fantasy, much of which is not true yet. From Buck Rogers to the jet engine to the lunar landing module, there is a progression of ideas that the faint-hearted were unable to believe. These are thoughts with intrinsic value that are not descriptions of existing things. I am that kind of believer!

It matters

This article pleads for calm, rational thought and action. The opening describes frustration and deadly hatred. While all too familiar with anger and unkindness, I have never suffered deadly hatred like that against science or race. Those who have felt like killing me have always expressed that thought with forbearance, never with intent. I am blessed with friends who can talk through their feelings. That’s probably why I have no enemies.

Here is an important call to action. Readers value free expression. We are tolerant and peaceful. We must also be mindful of those who do not believe us! Even in the political space of polite discussion, I cannot fight for peace. I must practice it along with my fellow believers. In doing so, I must relate graciously to those I see as unbelievers.

After all, we have seen the safety in unbelief; it keeps us out of the extremes. We remain believers in invention and unbelievers in dogma.

Photo: Mary Dyer, a Quaker who was hanged in Boston

Audio file

Cover email:

What are your levels of belief? Belief is sometimes merely a feeling. Some ideas are neither true nor false; their value lies elsewhere. Where there is distinct true or false, we exercise tolerance. That has not always been the case.

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