Tuesday, August 07, 2012

"How did things ever get so far?"

Last night I had the unpleasant experience of getting involved in a religious flame war with some long-time twitter friends. One I think is still talking to me, and while I hope the others will cool off and reconsider at some point, I'm afraid that may not happen any time soon.

While I'm sort of doubtful now whether any of them will read this, I hope they do because I want to take the time to lay out what I think sans the emotional extremes of last night.

It all started when I heard two of them lamenting this Salon.com post "Did God Help Gabby Douglas Win?". They were upset that someone found fault with the 16 year old indulging in the practice made famous by another loudly Christian athlete, Tim Tebow, of issuing the obligatory series of proclamations of faith and thanks to Jesus and God for winning. In the Salon post, author Mary Elizabeth Williams writes,
As a Christian myself (albeit one of those really freaky papist kinds), I’ve often wondered what it is about Christians like Douglas that unnerves me so. The closest I’ve been able to figure it is that Douglas and her ilk seem to espouse a faith based on what is commonly referred to as “The God of Parking Spaces.” It’s the deity that grants wishes to those who ask nicely. Douglas is a girl who has described God as the figure who’s “waking me up every morning and keeping me safe in the gym every day.”She told People Thursday, “I was on the bus and it was raining and I thought, ‘It’s going to be a great day.’ My mom used to tell me when I was little, ‘When it rains, it’s God’s manifestation, a big day’s waiting to happen.’ I texted my mom, ‘It’s raining. You know what that means.’” It means that Russian girl is going down, I guess.
It was at this point that I piped up and said, "Guys, it's the Tebow effect. Public displays of faith are like public displays of affection. They should be private." The discussion went predictably downhill from there. A guy for whom I've always had a lot of affection for his wit, tolerance and candor was soon calling me every thing from smarmy to bitch. As Don Corleone said, "How did things ever get so far? I don't know. It's so unfortunate, so unnecessary."

So I want to at least make my position clear and hopefully erase any misunderstandings that may have lead to my friend taking such huge personal offense.

Here's my main complaint. Within certain faiths, in the US it's most notably Evangelical Christian denominations, it's apparently customary when speaking to a group to include an obligatory profession of one's faith as though one were on stage at church. With some notable exceptions, I have no issue with this total perfusion approach to religion as long as they keep it inside their own group. If you want to take the opportunity to testify at your next prayer meeting or in conversation with a fellow parishioner at your local Christian hardware store, be my guest. It's when this practice finds its way into public discourse that I start to have problems.

People who adhere to these particular strains of religion seem to have lost sight of the fact that making unsolicited, gratuitous public demonstrations of faith is inappropriate and simply bad manners. It's as though they have no appreciation or consideration that not everyone believes or behaves the same way they do. This practice, in my opinion, crosses the line into passive-aggressive proselytizing. As such it exploits and abuses the public common and takes advantage of other people's consideration and tolerance.

They don't seem to get that it makes other people uncomfortable, sort of like the discomfort and annoyance you feel when someone at a cocktail party feels it's ok to press their business card in your hand and give you their sales pitch at what is supposed to be a social function. I didn't ask you, I don't care, it's inappropriate, it's none of my business, I'm not interested, please go away.

Preemptively throwing your religious beliefs in people's faces without anyone ever asking is presumptuous, impolite and most importantly injects a highly subjective and explosive element into what might otherwise be a calm, objective and civil discussion. When I was growing up, the first rule of tolerance was to keep your opinions to yourself unless someone asked. Now it seems the rule is, shoot your mouth off first and let others complain, then accuse them of "intolerance".

And before I'm accused of being just as provocative and inconsiderate, let me point out that I didn't start this flame war. It's people like Tim Tebow, who's an adult and should have a little more wisdom and sensitivity who always fire the first shot, who take the opportunity to turn a post-game press conference into a prayer meeting. I'll give Gabby Douglas a pass because she's young and may just not know better. But someone ought to tell her that while that kind of thing may play well at her church, a press conference is not a pulpit.