Day: January 2, 2015

Not Discussed in Polite Society

As the readers of this blog probably know by now, I focus my writing here on academia and on personal stuff that relates to my work, my experiences as a woman in science, or on being a “high-tech” immigrant in the US. I don’t discuss politics or religion or current affairs in general. Mostly, I don’t because I have limited time and energy, and I like to expend both on things I have some actual control over, such as my day-to-day life and the lives of people I am intertwined with (family, students, coworkers). I am, however, a bleeding-heart liberal. I feel passionately about civil liberties and social justice; I hope everyone has the right to marry whomever  they want, gets access to a broad and affordable education in order to get trained for the type of job that best suits them, has a satisfying career among respectful colleagues while having unfettered access to healthcare for themselves and families, and that everyone can go into retirement with enough financial security and dignity.

We had dinner with a couple of friends a little while ago. It was fun and pleasant, but at one point we started talking about religion. Although you could say that it went well, it didn’t really; these things never do, unless you are with like-minded folks. The ordeal just reinforced my belief, which is a generally well-known rule for socializing in the US, that religion is something best not discussed.

I am not religious. See, even the way it’s phrased is couching it. A lot of people cringe at the word atheist, but can swallow “not religious.”

I respect the right of people to believe whatever they want; what they think or feel is their personal business. But I admit outright I have serious issues with all organized religion, and that I resent the aspects of religion that spill over onto policy (e.g. you won’t be successful running for office unless you are at least nominally religious), touch important aspects of everyone’s daily life (erosion of a woman’s right to choose and access to birth control), or result in unexpected annoyances (having to partake, or technically pretend to, in a collective prayer at a colleague’s wedding). To be completely honest, had I known as I do now how important religion is for every aspect of life in the US before I came here, I am not entirely sure this is the place I would have ended up immigrating to; at the very least it would have given me serious pause in my deliberations.

My religious friend is a smart, educated, and generally progressive Christian. We discussed the friend’s attitude towards the Bible, its necessity for faith or lack thereof, how people interpret it and what it means in this day and age. Ultimately, this is an aspect that will in the future best remain closed to us if we are to remain friends.

It comes down to this:

Do you or do you not believe in a God who is interested in and interacting with humans? We can pretend that the answer to finding religion is to use analytic thinking to examine the stories in the holy book within the appropriate historical context, but bottom line is that you believe in a loving or meddling God because you just do, usually because that’s what you were taught as a kid. You cannot convince me that it makes objective analytical sense (even though it may be personally fulfilling and there are utilities in finding a community or ethical guidelines) or that it is something that one can reason towards. And I have to pretend we are having this analytical conversation, when I really have to mince words and filter hard what I say in order not to offend you. Ultimately, you believe because you do and want to continue to do so, and that is fine and should probably be the end of it. Trying to convince me that it’s objectively meaningful and rational and a self-consistent worldview at best ends with me biting my tongue so hard it bleeds, and at worst we stop being friends because I didn’t bite my tongue hard enough.

Another aspect came up, which I honestly don’t understand. Why is it the job of the people who are outside of a certain religion to keep an endlessly permissive and open mind about said religion and avoid citing its horrific, disgusting, fringe aspects in order not to offend the religion’s moderate/progressive practitioners? If you are a believer associated with a religion, and you recognize there are destructive forces that give your religion a bad rep, then it is your job as a moderate religious person to distance yourself and to make sure the fringe becomes disenfranchised and disempowered. I don’t understand why it’s supposed to be the job of everyone else to ignore the humongous piles of turd in your living room that make everyone sick; it’s your house, you clean it up.

There are a lot of religious professors at my university. With most, the religion never comes up explicitly, which is for the best, even though it does come up indirectly in how different people handle conflict or their attitude towards the personnel or political aspects of academia. The best I can do is just accept it as another aspect of diversity. A unique aspect of diversity that, unlike others, appears to be off limits to discuss.