Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some thoughts on being a tolerant Atheist

     I am an atheist, agnostic, humanist or non-theist. All of these are reasonable enough titles. I think that there is(are) probably no God(s). This does not mean I am amoral, evil or that I don't believe in anything (as I am so commonly accused of by believers.) It does mean that I use my brain (and admittedly in some cases my emotions) to make decisions about what is the best way in which to behave in the circumstances which I find myself. I believe in families, marriage, respect, tolerance, kindness, charity, hard work, science, reason, art, philosophy and more. While I do not expect everyone to understand my motivations and my life choices I do expect them to tolerate them. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. It simply means that you put up with something. I tolerate religion. I listen to my mother tell me about the plans God has for me. I am silent and respectful while others pray. I pay attention to details about peoples baptisms, christenings, catechism, rites of passage, vaguely super natural beliefs and their regularly uttered prayers and pleas. I do all of this without complaint to the person(s) talking to me and I do it because I respect that someone I like or love uses this faith as an integral part (or at least a nominal part) of how they choose to seek happiness and live their lives.
     As someone in her late 30's I was in school when it became acceptable to promote tolerance and diversity. I have been instructed all my life by educators to be tolerant of diverse cultural and societal views. I want and demand that same courtesy that is commonly extended to people of all beliefs. I do have a complaint that if I even mention that my motivation to engage or decline to engage in an activity is motivated by the fact I am an atheist (or non-theist or humanist, you choose) then I get the roll of eyes and the inevitable look of "stop beating us over the head with your silly belief" (or lack thereof really.) I want my friends, family and acquaintances to shut up and put up with the same things I do under the social contract which in short form says I won't complain about you if you don't complain about me, let us just be nice to each other and nod our heads.
     Yes, the social contract applies even to atheists, agnostics, humanists and the like. Yes, you do have to tolerate how we choose to live our lives. If we are capable of politely respecting that you choose to believe in deities for which you can provide no scientific proof then you must politely respect that I require proof to agree with your premise(s) and then we can agree to disagree. Tolerance is just politeness taken up a notch. It does not imply that you accept my views or endorse them. It does imply that as diversity exists we must find a way in which we can get along even if we don't want to go along with every point of view.

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