Maxims for Non-Believers
The other day Chad Orzel excerpted my post on teaching Athena about Christmas and did a compare and contrast with a comment about religion from another blogger who is a non-believer. This prompted a comment from a reader (who is, presumably, also a non-believer):
“I really can’t approve of John Scalzi’s Laodicean attitude. Believe, if you can. Disbelieve, if you must. But don’t pick out just the pretty parts to pass on.”
This naturally caused me to break out John Scalzi’s Patented Hard Rubber Mallet of Agitated Clarification and apply it liberally. I won’t post the messy, snippy results of this; instead, please visit Chad’s fine, fine blog for the details.
However, in the course of whacking on folks, I did sketch out seven Maxims for Non-Believers — seven heuristics that I use to reconcile my own utter lack of religious belief with the rather more religious world I live in. The maxims are:
1. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be intolerant of those who believe.
2. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be ignorant of the beliefs of those around you.
3. Being a non-believer doesn’t mean you need to keep your children ignorant of the beliefs around you either. Withholding information from your children is a very bad way to help them make responsible decisions.
4. Being a non-believer does not mean you can’t empathize with the religious impulse in others.
5. Being tolerant of belief, knowledgeable about beliefs and empathetic toward the desire for belief does not make one less of a non-believer. It makes one tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic.
6. I believe that my tolerance, knowledge and empathy makes my own non-belief stronger, because I know why other people believe, and why I don’t.
7. I believe that in being tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward believers, I encourage those who believe to be tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward me.
Note for the record that these maxims do not preclude thumping on people of faith who are also ignorant as paste and would try to make me and mine just as ignorant. Since I don’t believe that faith requires adhesive levels of ignorance, I feel perfectly justified tolerating faith while whaling on active, aggressive know-nothingness. Jesus may love us all, even the morons, but that doesn’t mean being a moron should be an aspiration.
But I have to be honest: I find arrogant, intolerant non-believers just as annoying on a personal level as arrogant, intolerant believers. Just as having faith doesn’t require ignorance, neither does non-belief require sneering contempt. Ignorant believers, contemptuous non-believers: Both are equal in my eyes, since both should be laid upon hard with a shovel and put out of my misery.
Anyway: Tolerance. Knowledge. Empathy. They work for everyone. Believe it. Try them.