It was a long time ago, probably in the mid-1970s. There had been fights about why-do-I-have-to-go-if-I-don't-believe-any-of-it and all of that. Mom just couldn't accept that I wasn't a believer. At some point not long after those arguments, I stopped going to church. It was a relief, as my thoughts on the subject of the existence of a supreme being made me feel out out place in a supposed house of worship.
But this isn't about me and my lack of religion. It's about attitudes toward the religious. More closely, it's about the crust of hardened clichés, reductive thought, and the Internet.
Earlier in the week, I was reading this article at Salon.com entitled "Why I finally joined a church." A self-described religious skeptic, writer Jane Roper had a minor change of heart after having twins and deciding that she wanted to seek out an organization that would help her and her children to deal with the many issues of life, death, and community. So she joined a Unitarian Universalist church. My one sentence distillation of her family's needs and subsequent decision is truly inadequate, so I urge you to read her article.
Roper's ideas seemed reasonable enough to me. The company of like-minded individuals is almost always a good thing. Her desire for her kids to be witness to an active, working community is admirable. It wouldn't be my choice, but I'm so not a joiner that my opinion on the matter isn't relevant.
By Monday afternoon, the article had received nearly 150 comments. A day later, almost 250. The amount of vitriol, snottiness, arrogance, and just plain rudeness was spectacular. Yes, I know, it's the Internet. Was I to expect anything different? After all of these years, I should never be amazed at the things people will say when they can hide behind their net moniker. They would never say this stuff in person (despite their silly protestations to the contrary).
Somehow, the all-knowing goons on the Internet managed to take Roper's calm and even-handed ideas and twist them around into phlegm-coated accusations of: brain-washing, wishy-washy thinking, poor logic, lazy thought, and selfishness. It's didn't stop there though as Jane Roper, the evil parent, is apparently engaging in child abuse, religious indoctrination, and lying to her children. Can bestiality be far behind?!
The commentary devolved into usual web poo-fling, with posters giving themselves verbal hernias in the attempt to find the next clever way to dump on the author (and other writers as well), her apparent lack of parenting skills, and religion in general. Everybody has the right answer. Everybody knows that right way. The Christian commenters know that the true way can only be found in "the word." The atheists know that everybody else is full of shit. All of it without a single molecule of empathy. Heck, one poster even said that Roper shouldn't have had children. Amazing.
There were some defenses here and there, and I'm going to quote a bit of the best one:
So what has happened to us in the US that we are so harsh to each other, that we can so blithely write such negative comments to each other because someone has joined a church (not a "correct" church??), that we excoriate someone for simply stating her desire that she and her family meet with people they feel comfortable and connected with, joining a group of other similarly minded (and non-judgmental) people to build their sense of community?
We can look down our smug noses at the rest of the world as we crow that this is the "greatest country on earth." And yes, a great country is open to all sorts of viewpoints. I'm not here to squelch any of them. But this lack of empathy extends far, far beyond religion. It's one of our biggest problems, and I'm not even sure that we're aware of it.