wrestling with smug

August 21, 2012 | 36 Comments

Shannon looking smug

I’m at a stage where I feel triggered by mention of God or Jesus. Like the survivor of a plane crash who finds herself in airports. It has this trauma attached to it, but also a sense of strength.

How do I dispose of the smug feeling that comes with enlightenment? See, even “enlightenment” is suggestive of rank. I can’t help but feel enlightened as a former Christian. People don’t leave or join a thing thinking, “This will nicely diminish my quality of life.” We do it because we feel good about it. We believe in its rightness.

Christians believe they are living “the way the truth and the life.” That’s arrogant. I believe they may as well be pinning their hopes on Wonder Woman. Which is also arrogant, right?

Can I be pleased without the disdain? I’m trying. I believe, if asked, my still-in-it friends wouldn’t say I make them feel silly for believing.

I don’t think they’re silly for believing. Or maybe I do. And that’s hard to admit because I know reading it will hurt and offend. I guess I should figure that out.

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” -Malcolm X

Some of the things religious types say and do, however, make me want to fork-stab stuffed animals. I feel impatient. Sad. Dumbfounded.

Hopping the fence landed me on tricky ground. My life is sprinkled with people who still believe. How do we feel safe around each other? How do we talk about our beliefs without making the other feel triggered or isolated? Is that even possible?

“[…]it is possible to be well-educated and still believe you can get 72 virgins in paradise. This is made possible because we have allowed a certain mode of thought–religion–to thrive in a cocoon of this fear, of protection from criticism. It is taboo to criticize people’s religious beliefs.” – Sam Harris on the dangers of religion.

So… what? What do I do with this angst? To date I’ve ignored it, or vented with other heathens. I wonder if you know or care what you believe is damaging?

And that I love you?

Linking up with just write because sometimes there are words you just need to string together and place somewhere.

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  • N

    Funny how we’re twinsies in so many ways, huh?

    Yeah, I struggle with this, too, except less so because I care less if people like me. I know they don’t. I know they’re scared to de-friend me because… of what? Surely not that I’ll be hurt, right? Can’t they tell I’m not the type? If I don’t care enough about their feelings to not post stuff on Facebook, I probably don’t care if they unfriend me. I’m DARING them to. I’m pushing the limits of their charity, their Christianity.

    What was I saying? (I’m a teeny bit tipsy.) Um…. Right. Some things are right and some things are wrong. It’s wrong to tell people they are evil and going to hell for things you cannot prove even the tiniest bit. It’s wrong to try overtly or covertly to control the lives of others based on a morality based on stuff you cannot prove at all. In fact, it’s craziness.

    So, when people like me offend Christians, we are doing it in response to them throwing the first punch. If you don’t want me to turn around and punch you in the head, or screamingly threaten to, then stop following me down the street, calling me names, and threatening to hurt me. Eventually, I will beat the shit out of you.

    That’s religion. That’s most Christianity. It’s arrogant, it’s based on little-to-nothing (might as well be Greek mythology—but they know so little about how little historical evidence there is of Jesus, and his miracles), and it wants to convert the world and control it, because it’s fearful of Satan and punishment. It’s smug, and pushy, and boring, and in conflict with itself, and requires so! much! work! and! conversion! to maintain itself, unlike, you know, all other truths that just exist peacefully. And so, when people respond to it, and attack it, they’re just being self-defensive. And anyone who values themselves, is going to have a healthy self-defensive response. Anyone who values the well-being of others is going to be defensive in response to smug abuse.

    THE END.

    • Shannon

      Yes, I care a lot what people think. I’m thankful I’ve never had to figuratively or literally throw a punch. I’ve definitely never felt abused.

      It’s just a lingering chasm that’s present in some of those relationships.

  • Sharene

    I love you, too.

    • Shannon

      I’ll never stop needing to hear that. xo

  • Angela

    i think the issue here is superiority, right? and that’s a human thing, not a christian or atheist or muslim or jewish or anything thing. all of us who want to do better and rise above the ugly, struggle with it. i want to punch christians in the face who are against gay marriage, for example, and i am a christian. it’s hard. smugness is unloving and it’s hurtful – whether you’re an atheist saying christians are dumb or a christian saying Muslims are going to hell or a liberal christian rolling your eyes at the crazy right-winged christians, it’s not super helpful in promoting peace and patience as we journey through this weird world. but i don’t know why we are so hard-wired to feel the need to prove our own ideas are better than others’ ideas. it’s frustrating. i’ve got a long ways to go when it comes to the people who still have the version of faith i grew up with. i try to see some good bit of love in them that i can focus on instead, and remind myself that we’re all trying to figure this out and most of us are pretty scared while doing it. and mostly, i try to remember that none of us actually knows anything for certain. i try to stay open to that.

    • Shannon

      Yes, superiority is an issue. It comes out of me as smug. I don’t want to feel it, but there it is. And I agree it’s a human thing.

      I don’t feel the need to prove my ideas are better. I feel discouraged when I hear harmful ideas though, and that might come across as being the same thing.

      I like your idea of finding love in people. I do that. And it does help immensely remembering we know nothing for certain.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I always like your thoughts. And you.

      • Crystal

        Shannon why are they harmful? If they lead someone to be happy and helpful who is it really hurting?
        If it leads them to be a better person then why does it matter?
        If it helps them get through awful things and gives them hope why is that not important? Maybe sometimes it does not matter if it is right or wrong and at the end of the day who are we to decide that?
        Who are we to say something when we do not know for sure either way and destroy someones hope?

        • Shannon

          If you believe homosexuality is wrong, that’s harmful. If you believe people are going to burn in hell, that’s harmful. If you believe sex outside of marriage is sinful, that’s harmful. If you believe people need to be wearing certain garments to show their dedication, that’s harmful.

          There are beliefs that lead to shame and intolerance. I think that’s harmful.

          Most of the religious people I know think a lot bigger than this, which is wonderful. But a lot don’t.

          I have no desire to steal anyone’s hope, because you’re right, I’m certain of very little. I’m only being honest about the fact that I am triggered by the small-mindedness that is prevalent in many religious communities. I am wrestling with what to do with those feelings. I’m not here to decide anything for anyone, nor am I interested in trying.

  • Angela

    dude, i like you, too!
    but yeah, i think sentences like, ” I wonder if you know or care what you believe is damaging?” definitely sound like participation in the “i’m right, you’re wrong” discussion. and i think you used the word more “evolved” yesterday. i don’t know. i think there is a time to just full on, respectfully argue with each other, and i’m alright with that. especially when people are being hurt by powerful groups, but it is the oversimplification of a complicated faith journey in phrases like “christians believe they are living the way the truth the life” that are maybe not very helpful to this discussion. i don’t believe that, and i am a christian, so it’s frustrating to be reduced like that – especially when i know we share some friends with complicated, crazy faith journeys that are waaaaay beyond that definition. but language is weird and it fails us in all sorts of stupid ways – if there is anything i learned in doing an MFA it’s that most people don’t get what i’m trying to say. and i know you’re awesome and i like that you’re trying to work through these things that i’m working through too.
    so.
    there.
    i guess that’s a start to talking about it with this faith friend, right?

    • Shannon

      You’ve given me a lot to think about. I think I’m going to respond with another entry, using this comment as a spring board, if you don’t mind? I doubt most will dig into the comments, and I feel like I have some things to clarify and apologize for. Not everyone knows I’m awesome. :)

      Thanks for making me think. Thank you even more for caring enough, being brave enough and loving enough to talk with me.

  • http://www.buzzbishop.com buzz

    thanks for dropping these words.. awesome. i’ve been writing about my atheism lately too. god is about as legit as a unicorn, right?

    http://blogs.babble.com/kid-scoop/2012/08/22/my-kids-have-never-been-to-church-and-im-not-ever-going-to-take-them/

    but .. .. you’re right about the smug line. there’s a camp for atheists in washington st, they were profiled on abc this week. and it just came off so, i dunno ‘holier than thou?’

    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/summer-camp-atheists-17070038

    why can’t you just be human if you don’t believe in god? why label it as ‘atheist’? it sounds so punk, anti establishment, and bad ass. i’m not any of that, i just don’t believe a magical omniscient being floats around picking and choosing

    there is a fine line to walk when we become ‘evolved’, isn’t there?

    • http://hellofisher.com Steve Fisher

      god is about as legit as a unicorn, right?

      WAIT!? Unicorns aren’t legit!?

    • Shannon

      “In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
      ― Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

      Yes, a very fine line. I’m crawling it right now, just to be careful.

      Thanks for being here!

  • Crystal

    I am here to disagree on some things. I don’t think that believing homosexuality is wrong is harmful. It only becomes harmful when I chose to act on that and treat them like they are less of a person than me. I don’t think that having a belief regardless of what it is is wrong so long as you don’t use it to harm others.

    My question is is it the religion that is flawed or the people? I think it is a people issue what is said in the Bible for the most part is black and white. However what people have taken out of it and used to their advantage to hurt/harm other people is awful. I do agree with your points there.

    Just so you know where I am coming from I have been on the harmful end of so called Christians and as a result have not walked into a church in a few years. My issue is I believe in God but I also believe that if I want to find him I should not walk into a Church. That makes me sad.

    When I got prenant outside of marriage it was awful the way people treated me. That was not the religion that was the people and how they chose to inteperate the religion. I remember someone asking me if I could take it all back would I and I told them no. They told me I had not learned anything.. I in turn asked them if they understood what they were asking. That by changing the choice/sin that I had made they were asking me to give up my kids. That for me that was not a choice I would ever change. That said it does not mean I did not learn. They were sure upset when I challenged them.

    Your right religious groups can be small minded but there are also the gems in there. And its those gems that make me question my choice. At the end of the day we row the same boat of smugness is some ways. I don’t know what is right and I am glad to see that others are questioning similar things like me. I just wish it did not have to hurt so much. Much love Shannon and to a life of happiness for you.

    • Shannon

      Crystal, I’m sorry to hear about your hurt. And that’s just it, they did it because they really believed they were helping you. They believed that if they shunned you, they’d shame you into taking a better path. That’s pretty messed up. And yes, it’s the people making that choice, not the religion. But how on earth are any of us supposed to know ANYTHING. There’s so much craziness in the bible that is left up for interpretation, Crystal. We’re all making it up based on OUR interpretation or the interpretation of someone we trust. But it’s always an interpretation.

      And so, really, it’s completely made up. Completely.

      I can say “I’m feeling blue today and then disappear.” You can believe I meant that I’m feeling down and take a group of people off in the corner to decide how to help me. The other person in the room could have heard I’m going to go out and buy blue clothes, and they take their group off to brainstorm the best kind of blues for me. Neither of you know what I really meant. Neither can be more sure of the other. So it’s all made up and you’re acting on your own belief. And in reality, maybe I meant neither of those things, but that I’m going to chew blue gum today.

      Stupid example, but I’m running low on brain cells this afternoon on this gluten-free diet I started four days ago. My point is that religion can’t be BUT flawed; it’s based on interpretation, which is ALL MADE UP. No one knows for sure, so we have all of these little pockets of people doing whatever the hell they want based on their beliefs. Here’s a belief–be a decent human being. Decent human beings don’t reject other human beings based on who they love. Period.

      And it IS harmful to believe homosexuality is wrong because we act and speak based on those beliefs. Your child will pick up on that and some day be part of a situation where he/she has the ability to shame or embrace someone. It’s going to happen. And if it doesn’t, something else will or already has. Maybe your best friend comes out to you and you do your best to love them in that moment, but the look on your face BECAUSE of your belief says it all. And that is going to hurt them. That kind of hurt is damaging.

      What we believe guides us, like it or not.

  • Jennie

    Okay, I’m gonna declare my biases and background up front: I’m a cheerful atheist. I was raised Catholic, on the liberation-theology, arguing-with-god-is-okay (but arguing with your teachers is not) end of the Catholic spectrum—the one about helping the poor and not throwing the first stone, etc. I came to my atheism after a pretty long struggle, realising that the Catholic teachings with which I had been raised forced me to choose between my sexuality and my beliefs (why would any god have created me a happy pervert if that god wanted me not to have sex? It didn’t make any sense. Just how could the archbishop tell, as he claimed to be able to do, whether I’d shamed myself to some boy. And why did I bear the shame for that, and not the boy?) I visited the vastly more accepting United church, and was on the payroll of one for a while. I flirted with Unitarianism and various pagan structures. I read a lot of science. I came to see religion as a set of filters that help people make sense of the things that don’t immediately make sense to them. I decided that I’m a reasonably smart person with access to a lot of information, and the filter I prefer is that of science and empiricism.

    The thing is, one of the things I learned from science is that there really aren’t “right” answers. There are just answers that are less wrong: science is about the process of developing successively better approximations of the answers to difficult questions. I don’t have all the best answers yet. The day I have all the best answers is the day I’ll be allowed to be smug. I will also broadcast all the best answers far and wide, take over everything, and make it perfect. Then we will all hold hands, feed each other cupcakes, and dance under a magnificent double rainbow.

    Until then, I’m probably not allowed to be too smug.

    I eventually decided that atheism made the

    • Shannon

      GAH! You had me on the edge of my seat. Were you eaten by zombies?

      I have no desire to feel smug, it just wells up in me sometimes. I agree that there are no right answers. I’m just SO happy to find somethings that fits so much better that the Christianity suit I tried to force myself into for years.

      That’s quite the journey you’ve been on! I love people’s stories. Thanks for sharing all of this, Jennie.

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