Inspired by Betsy’s post on Monday, I too am going to address the issue of religious tolerance in the science fiction and fantasy community, but first I must lay a bit of groundwork about myself—groundwork that I realize is a little argumentative in nature.
Hopefully, there is a payoff for you. I appreciate you pushing through to the end.
As recently as three or four years ago—around the time editors started publishing my fiction—this would’ve been an easy post to write. Mind you, at that point I’d been an antireligious agnostic atheist for many years, but I still I enjoyed talking to people about their religious convictions. Now and then I even wrote about religion as a problematic but oftentimes beautiful phenomenon. I’d often find myself defending aspects of religious expression—though, in truth, I rarely understood why.
Now, however, I’m unable to glean much from discussing religion. I still enjoy discussing the urge to be religious, but the actual thing—faith in something exceeding the ken of our senses, surety (or near-surety) in the existence of forces outside nature (or so far beyond our reasoning that the distinction begins to appear ridiculous)? Well, I find that to be rather odious. Worse, in fact: by my reckoning it’s massively destructive to our species. I’m actively angry at—and embarrassed by—what appears to be a collective delusion, an infantile supernatural fantasy. I believe faith devalues the here-and-now, ultimately allowing individuals to rationalize being assholes to one another.
Does that sound harsh? I hope not abnormally so. I’m only being honest about my beliefs in the same way many Christians or Muslims (etc.) would. I don’t take particular offense when someone tells me I’m blind to the truth: why would I expect a believer to believe otherwise? It would be supremely odd, I think, for a person who feels they know the truth to say, “Hey, but you know the truth too!”—especially then our visions conflict so obviously.
I believe what I believe. I’ve fought long and hard, mostly with myself but sometime with others, to come to these convictions. I will not lie to anyone and say that I rank all beliefs equally moral. I also will not admit to any prejudice. Prejudice is a preconceived opinion, not based on reason or actual experience. Homophobia, a completely irrational fear, is not the same thing as judging someone’s belief in a deity.
But anyway, I’ll quit indulging this line of reasoning. (I even told myself I wouldn’t go on like that, but with five drafts of this post behind me I’ll just have to admit that I simply can’t get to the next part without indulging myself a bit. Hopefully it makes it easier for you to see where I’m coming from as I discuss—I promise I’m getting to it!—religious tolerance in the sff community.)
The regrettable thing about discussing beliefs, I’ve found, is that it draws lines. Even if you celebrate diversity—and I hope you do, because it’d be sad and boring if we were all identical—you must acknowledge the way in which belief informs action. And from there, you must further acknowledge that you will not agree with every action another person takes. Indeed, some people’s actions might be enough to cause you to react violently, even if only to screech at them to stop their ludicrous behavior.
Does this mean you hate them? Does this mean that I, for instance—a stridently antireligious individual—am intolerant of religious people? No, of course it doesn’t. I may disagree heartily with them about their convictions; I may think even the most peaceful of their religious expressions are destructive to the psyche; but my assessment of individuals is (I hope, anyway) holistic rather than local-symptomatic.
Example: My parents and two younger siblings are Mormon. Do I respect their religious convictions? No—not at all, frankly. I respect their right to believe as they do, of course, but this is where the respect ends as far as religion goes.
And yet… I do respect them more than any other people in existence.
I see no contradiction there.
The world, I believe, would be a better place if people simply admitted that we need not respect every aspect of a person to come to the conclusion that they are good.
As I stated at the outset of this post, I was inspired by Betsy Dornbusch to talk about this today. Betsy is a Christian; I am not; and yet I likely have more in common with her than I realize. From our interactions on Facebook, I know that we stand for many of the same causes. For all that I find disagreeable about the phenomenon of faith, I do not see her Christianity as a sign that she is an intolerant person. Point in fact, the only conclusion that I draw from her Christianity is that she believes in Jesus Christ as her savior.
It pisses me off that she—or anyone else of a religious persuasion—experiences feelings of exclusion from full membership in the sff community simply because she expresses convictions of faith. That’s… well it’s bullshit. I can’t imagine excluding someone, calling them stupid, simply because they believe in a god. I might, in my angrier and ruder moments, say “that’s stupid” about a particular belief, but to sum up someone’s intelligence on the basis of one belief that you disagree with is small-minded in the extreme.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I do believe many Christians get butthurt out of all proportion to the actual discrimination they experience, and are in fact in most cases simply being privileged little snots (as a white male, I know a great deal about this)—a possibility Betsy addresses humbly.
But. (And this is a big but.) I am not the person best fit to judge how bad the situation is for her or any other religious person. I’m lucky to be in a group of individuals—the sff community—that seems to exhibit a higher-than-average number of atheists, agnostics, and general nonbelievers. It is a rare situation in which to find myself, believe me; most of the world is religious. Even most sff writers and readers are religious, in my experience, but they are often less vociferous in the assertion of those beliefs.
Perhaps, because of this situation (as well as my relative newness within the sff community), I’ve been blind to intolerance.
If, indeed, a majority (or dominant minority) is expressing attitudes of intolerance toward the religious individuals in their midst—which, as I hopefully established, is different than a group of people expressing antireligious viewpoints—then that situation needs a good amending. No one is bridging any gaps with that kind of attitude. If you’re not trying to find common ground with people, if you’re only setting out to separate the dumb them from the oh-so smart you, then somebody should be taking you aside and telling you to shut the fuck up.
I personally will do this if I hear someone doing anything other than criticizing beliefs and actions. If I see you at a convention reducing someone to the status of subhuman just because they practice a religious or spiritual discipline, you’ll get a polite but firm earful from me. I’ve done that kind of thing before, and I don’t mind doing it again. I’m the kind of asshole who likes confrontation in situations wherein I feel justified being confrontational.
And why, in that situation, would I feel justified? It’s rather simple, really. No one has the ability to sum up a person’s worth based upon one set of beliefs. The fact that a person believes they can is a sign of arrogance, laziness, and—probably—stupidity.
Now, if someone as unwise and arrogant and downright contentious as Zachary Jernigan gets this, everyone else should, too.
I didn’t mean to ignore the subject of this post, as I’ve read—and been inspired—by many works of science fiction and fantasy that deal with religion. Furthermore, I could have used them as a great springboard to talk about my own upcoming novel, No Return, which involves quite a bit of religion, actually.
In the end, however, I’m happy that I chose to write what I did. As is likely quite apparent, I’m no friend to religion, but I do love people immensely. My desire to communicate with them, the religious and the nonreligious alike, is what inspires me to write. It’s sad that I have to remind myself of that when I get all twelve cylinders chugging away in indignation over some religious issue, but at least I do remind myself.Read More...