Saturday, April 19, 2008

Embracing My Intolerance.

There are quite a number of blogs I follow these days. Too many, in fact. I've seen the complaint before, but truly, I don't have time to keep up with all of you. Sorry.

I have no idea why, but most of the blogs I follow, religiously have issues with religion. (I understand why those of you who have issues, have them. I just don't understand why I've been drawn to so many blogs that have those issues.) Most of the posts on religion are understanding enough that they don't make me feel uncomfortable in the least. They're what you guys believe (or don't) and...O.K. fine. Sometimes, however, some of you go off the deep end.

Before I go any further, I'll restate my own situation. I grew up in a religious Jewish home. We kept Kosher. We went to shul on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. I still know the services by heart. Everything was in Hebrew and, yes, I can still translate most of it for you even though I can no longer carry on a conversation in modern Hebrew. Some time in my late teens, I discovered the joys of McDonalds and I found out that shrimp and lobster are the nectar of the Gods and I rationalized that I should be able to eat these most delicious foods. I became a backslider.

I've never given up some of the most basic Jewish tenets. I still believe that Jesus may have been a really good guy, and he suffered badly and all that, but as far as I'm concerned, he was another Jewish guy preaching a variation on Judaism. I'm not familiar enough with the New Testament to comment authoritatively, but if/when he claimed to be the Son of God, he was hallucinating; happens to the best of us.

I know that there are 613 commandments in the Torah and that for the most part, they're worthy commandments. I'm just not about to keep track of them and follow them, ba-dum-dum, religiously. The fact is, there are two things Jews believe that make me continue to identify myself as Jewish. First is that Jews of all stripes consider it their God-given mission to argue over the meaning of the Scriptures. That's what the Talmud is...a bunch of Rabbis arguing about "what does it all mean". If you're going to claim that God is be understood, claiming you know his intent is the height of hubris. Arguing his/her/its intent honors the concept of "all-knowing and unknowable". Second is the Jewish concept of Heaven and Hell. We don't claim to know whether or not they exist. They might. They might not. But regardless, we're commanded to live our lives as if all that exists is what we know here on Earth. If you're going to be a good guy, it's for the sake of being a good guy...not for some reward in the afterlife. Sorry, religious Christian readers, but I'm offended by the concept of living a good life for the sake of a reward. Here is all that I know about and I'll act accordingly.
(And no, I'm not blind to the fact that if there's an afterlife, I'm working toward prime tickets, but I also think there's something to be said for motive. My motives are all here.)

So, anyway, back to what I was thinking when I started this post. The Pope is in town this week. The main effect on me is that traffic sucks. An awful lot of people have issues with the Pope because he's the final word for Catholics and some of what he preaches grates on some of us...including American Catholics. I remember, not so long ago, folks from some gay and lesbian groups showing up at St. Patrick's Cathedral to protest the Church's stance on homosexuality and lackluster response to the AIDs crisis. I sympathize(d) with them. I've got gay friends and a gay brother. I wish the best for all of them.

But I can't get myself to line up with anybody who thinks a religion needs to change its beliefs to line up with my own or anyone else's. I may agree with Judaism on a whole lot of things, but I can't claim to be a good Jew if I continue to eat pork and shellfish. I am, by definition, a backslider. And I don't think gays and lesbians should be screaming that the Catholic Church should change its basic beliefs to accommodate them. Religions exist to prescribe and proscribe a way to live your life. You either agree or disagree with those basic prescriptions and proscriptions. Sorry, but if you disagree, the answer is not to force the entire group to accept your heretical ideas...the answer is to emulate Martin Luther and found your own church.

The Catholic Church exists to push its agenda. The Baptist Church exists to push its agenda. Every existing religion exists because they believe they are right. If they don't believe they're right, they're useless to their adherents. I'm free to reject the ones I disagree with, but I don't believe I have any standing to tell them they should change their beliefs.

Yes, I believe that these douchebags are going to rot in hell (if there is one), but I'm not about to tell them they need to accommodate my ideas so I can be one of them...I'm just going to reject them. To a lesser extent, I can't align myself with a whole lot of Catholic dogma, but I think my position needs to be that I reject their beliefs and have to go my own way...not to try to tell them what they ought to believe.

I realize that I'm rambling on and on and on here, but there is a point. Really, there is. I'm less offended by a Pope who says the Priesthood will remain limited to men; who says that birth control is a sin and that abortion is a worse one--than I am by people who demand that their Church change its basic beliefs to accommodate them. It's what they believe. Start your own fucking church. The one you're leaving will either survive or it won't...on its own merits.

I can't claim to be a good Jew if I'm not going to keep kosher or go to shul. I'm not going to push black and whites, but if you believe gay men should be married and admitted to the Priesthood, you just might not be a good Catholic and you might want to found your own church.

Stop trying to convince a bunch of people who believe in one thing that they need to adjust those beliefs to accommodate you. Find the folks who agree with you already. Embrace your intolerance.


Janiece said...

Thanks, Nathan, for a thought provoking post.

I think the one thing I have in common with all my "meat" friends and my "vitual" friends is the idea you express here.

Believe what you wish - knock yourself out.

Don't tell me what to believe. Don't tell anyone what to believe.

Because religion is a private matter.

Although I do confess to making fun of the nutbars.

So I guess I'm ebracing my intolerance, too.

Random Michelle K said...


I've had a religion post percolating all week (also because of the pope) and you got there FIRST! BAH!

I do have to disagree with your ideas about just giving up on a religion because you disagree with *some* of it's tenets.

To me, that is akin to saying, "well, if you don't like the US and some of the rules here, you should just go live somewhere else" or "if your marriage isn't working, you should just give up instead of trying to make things work".

I was raised Roman Catholic, and aside from my brother, my family is devoutly Catholic. And I know that many strongly disagree with the Catholic church on some to many issues.

Just as I want to change the US from within when I disagree with it's rules and regulations, so some of my family members believe that the church should be changed from within.

A good example of this is the Dali Lama. He has actually changed rules and regulations as he decided they conflict with modern scientific discovery.

And the Catholic Church *has* in fact done this in the past. It accepts the scientific teaching on evolution, it eventually pardoned Galileo and accepted the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

If an organization is important to you, if it makes up the core of who you are, they you should work to change that organization.

And before you ask, I am not Catholic anymore, because my issues with the Church go, in fact, to the core of Catholic beliefs. It's more than the stand on homosexuality and women in the priesthood and married priests. My disagreement stretches from the infallibility of the pope to the divinity of Jesus.

Nathan said...

Michelle, first of all, this is something I've thought about many times in the past and (as now), I've never been able to articulate exactly what it is I think about it. I fully realize that different organizations (including religions) evolve over time. (Take that Fundies.)

But I think, at some point, one's beliefs are, at core, different enough to warrant moving away from that organization instead of trying to change the organization. (You seem to be in agreement with your statement that you no longer consider yourself Catholic.)

I think my main point is that the whole purpose of religion is that somebody sets down a bunch of guidelines and rules and says "This is the way God wants you to behave." Now, I may or may not agree with that set of guidelines and rules, but to go to them and say, "No, you should accept this within your rules even though it contradicts some of the ones you've got already," makes their entire existence meaningless.

I don't expect anyone who says they're a Catholic to walk in lockstep with everything the Church says, but I do expect that somebody who finds themselves at odds on the most basic ideas, to remove themselves from the church instead of demanding that the Church accept their alternate views, (much like you seem to have done.)

I'm sure I'm articulating this badly, again. At heart, here's what I'm saying:

Imagine Johnny grew up in a family that slavishly adhered to the teachings of "The Church of Red is Sinful". The Church makes allowances for subtle shading. You won't be excommunicated if you sorta like orange, or pink. But pure Red is Sinful. Johnny decides he thinks Red is beautiful and Godly. Johnny really ought to quit the church instead of trying to change it into "The Church of Red is Sinful Except If You Like it, In Which Case, We Love You Anyway Brother."

::This comment reflects the views of the Management who readily acknowledge their ability to sound like a moron. Management's head now hurts.::

MWT said...

It sounds like you and Michelle are saying the same thing. Together you've refined the original post a bit, by making a distinction between core beliefs and ancillary details, and how far things should become unresolvable before it's time to part ways.

If you're going to be a good guy, it's for the sake of being a good guy...not for some reward in the afterlife.

The last time I talked in detail with a Christian about this, it turned out that he was completely unable to grasp the concept of being good without doing it for a reward. And when I questioned him on whether he could be good just because being good is .. uh, good ... his honest answer was no. So, Christianity obviously has an important place in some people's lives.

Anonymous said...

Here's another take on the subject.

I would identify myself as liberal, or progressive, Christian. One of the central tenets of my belief is ecumenism, or the belief that many belief systems are possible, right in their own eyes, and can coexist. As such, tolerance, a belief in unconditional love, service to our fellow humans and a commitment to social justice are very important to me personally and I would look for them in a church. There are a few denominations that exist along these same lines – United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universal.

I have a very difficult time with intolerance, the fundamentalists of any religion who declare everyone but them wrong and lost. I am especially afraid of those who desire to spread that belief system by legislating it. It seems hateful rather than loving, bigoted rather than equalizing. This is why I complain about my in-laws.

So, if the central tenet of my belief system is tolerance, and a fairly important expression of the fundamentalist belief system is intolerance (or, as they would probably term it, purity), am I equally as wrong, actually intolerant myself, because I reject and abhor their beliefs, rather than taking a 'live and let live' approach? My tolerance is not necessarily any more or less valid than their moral absolute.

My head hurts, now, too.

Nathan said...


You're right, Michelle and I are saying much the same thing. And I'll also wager that some of the folks who visit here who identify themselves as Christians, probably have a similar attitude regarding a motive for good behavior. I don't think belief in an afterlife and a belief in 'living in the here and now' are mutually exclusive.


For the most part, I certainly do take a 'live and let live' stance. The fundies don't get that consideration from me unless they extend it to me. Mostly not. I also withhold any 'live and let live' feelings toward religions that practice human sacrifice. And if those folks in Texas really are marrying off their 13-year-old daughters, well, I don't see any need to be accepting of their 'lifestyle'.

While the title of my post was meant to be somewhat ironic, I honestly think intolerance has its place, too.

Anne C. said...

I don't really consider myself a Christian, though I have a Christian upbringing, so I'm hoping this isn't as gag-reflex as it sounds:

One of my very favorite lines in the Bible is "for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven." Which means to me that sometimes, yes, there is a time for intolerance.

Moderation in everything, including moderation, eh?

Steve Buchheit said...

Well, as has been said, if those organizations hadn't changed before, then I'd say, yes, that those in opposition to the fundemental tenants of a religion should really start their own (FYI, ML didn't start out to create a new branch, he was trying to reform the church he was in). The Catholic Church had made changes to their basic tenants before, it's possible they may again. Unfortunately at this time religions seem to be looking backward ("we've strayed from the path, which is why we all haven't been raptured yet").

Random Michelle K said...

I think we're saying the same thing, but I guess it depends upon your definition of core belief.

My mother believes that homosexuals should be allowed to marry, and that abortion should be rare, safe, and legal. Yet she also believes herself to be a good Catholic.

Are these core beliefs? According to the pope they are. Remember when there was talk of John Kerry being denied communion for his support of abortion rights? Yet he, like my mother, has remained a Catholic.

In this case I believe it is a matter of what beliefs an individual defines as core and how those line up with how that individual views their faith.

And Vince, have you read Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God"? She discusses that subject of fundamentalism in detail, including the fact that many of these "fundamentalist" beliefs are in fact entirely modern.

Oh, one last thing Nathan. Do you think the fact that there are different levels of Judaism effects your ability to remain Jewish? Because most of your beliefs seem to be perfectly acceptable for Reform Judaism, so according to those tenets, you're ok.

Anonymous said...

My take as, as Nathan put it, a "welcome newish member of the loony bin":

I have beliefs. I have rather a lot of them, formed from an extraordinary amount of contemplation, study, and more contemplation.

What are they?

They are mine.

If someone wants to ask me what they are, I'll tell them what my beliefs are, because they asked, and that's what a polite person does when someone asks. I won't offer my beliefs unrequested. I won't ask or expect them to have the same beliefs, or to adopt my beliefs as their beliefs.

I will regard with extreme skepticism anyone who wants to blindly adopt my beliefs as their beliefs, because I did a lot of contemplating, studying, and more contemplating to discern my beliefs, and they have not.

I will always present my beliefs, if asked about them, as beliefs, because one of my beliefs -- one I am willing to share -- is that I lack the ability to Know, only to Believe.

Most Sundays, I go to a church that has its own beliefs, and as it happens, I don't share the majority of those beliefs. I go because I enjoy the service, because the congregation is welcoming as is unconcerned with what I do or don't believe, and because the message from the pulpit is consistently a positive and affirming one, regardless of the individual beliefs of the listener.

At the beginning of each week's message, the congregation prays, and it is always the same prayer:

"Pray that the Holy Spirit brings you the message you most need to receive, no matter what message your neighbor receives."

And to that, I say "Amen."

Nathan said...


That's where the paradox comes in. My beliefs are closer to Conservative Judaism than Reform, but I'm too lazy to be observant. That and the fact that I really don't know whether or not I believe in God...and I'm not interested in putting in a lot of effort on the question.

I'll continue to identify myself as Jewish and I'll take the parts of it I want to deal with...and I'll cop to the fact that by an observant Jew's standards, I'm not a very good one. It's only the truth and I don't have a problem with that.