Regardless of religious affiliation, respect benefits all

Columnist and Columnist

Contrary to the old adage, there are atheists in foxholes. And contrary to the common misconception, not all theists are close-minded, homophobic or bigoted.

But do non-believers and believers draw these lines in ideology, or are they drawn for us?

As the son of a Lutheran minister and as a member of the Baha’i faith, if the necessity arises, I will publicly affirm my belief in God However, this doesn’t mean that I look down upon any other religious beliefs or upon the beliefs of agnostics or atheists; nor does this mean I will go out of my way to preach about my religious convictions.

Frankly, the idea that believers and non-believers have too many differences between them to be friends, or even significant others, is a false dilemma. What most reasonable people think is seldom expressed by figureheads like Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly, who bluster about too much religion in society, or too little, respectively. It comes down to an individual level of tolerance, patience and love that can only be achieved by two individuals who can agree to disagree, be they believers or not.

In my opinion, the disagreement that often devolves into argument between believers and non-believers comes from being too sure of our beliefs. In “The God Delusion,” author Richard Dawkins fashions a scale of theistic probability ranging from one (complete surety that God does exist) to seven (complete surety that God does not exist).

Regardless of where we rank ourselves on this scale or whether we even believe this can be an accurate barometer of theistic probability, I think considering ourselves either a one or a seven on the scale is the kind of thinking that causes us to become close—minded. In the words of Voltaire “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

It becomes a genuine problem when theists try to force their views and agendas down the throats of the unwilling in the name of evangelism (which by the way only means “to tell the good news”) and it becomes just as much a problem when atheists belittle and insult believers for having the beliefs they do. However, the people who are guilty of this sort of behavior are in the minority of their respective groups.

Theists and atheists have much more in common than they can sometimes realize. It is the agenda of both extremes to make us think collusion is impossible and dialogue is futile. In the end, I challenge pessimism and I believe in the general goodness of people.

These people range from the most devout Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha’i’s and Pagans to the most sure and devout atheists and agnostics.

If our goal is to make a more tolerant and peaceful world, we must subject all of our knowledge and beliefs to the scrutiny of reason and the careful consideration of mysticism. Ultimately, it is up to every individual to decide whether or not they can reconcile the existence of a deity, but whatever our individual beliefs, the most important thing we can show others is respect for their beliefs.

Most people believe we ought to be good to each other and treat each other fairly, and whether they do so to fulfill a divine command or because they simply believe it is the right thing to do matters little. The most valuable thing you can latch on to is the determination to keep an open mind.

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