This post is more exploratory than explanatory, since I haven’t really come up with a conclusion or a plan or anything like that. But I think it’s worth exploring just how much we can openly discuss our religious views, and our views on religion, within a framework of politeness.
NYT “Ethicist” Randy Cohen addresses the question in a recent column, not so much about social situations as media reports and other related discourse. Cohen argues that our innate taboos about discussing religion shouldn’t inhibit us from calling a spade a spade, and labeling reprehensible behavior as reprehensible (whether it’s an Orthodox Jewish real estate agent refusing to shake hands with a gentile client, or the Roman Catholic Church making a patent appeal to the more homophobic or sexist Anglicans).
Parenting Beyond Belief also recently addressed the issue in more of a personal way, albeit in the context of a text exchange (on Facebook) rather than oral conversation. But I think they both (especially PBB) hit on an important point — it’s possible to disrespect individual acts and attitudes without disrespecting that individual’s religion (even if it’s the religion that’s causing the bad behavior, or at least being used to justify it).
PBB is especially good at suggesting “defusers” to make one’s observations go down more easily, and produce a response that’s thoughtful rather than hostile. And this bit hits rather close to home for me, with my tendency to take a non-confrontational stance that borders on passive-aggressive:
“Making nice” is ever so much easier. … You just switch off your cortex and say, “Hey, to each his own. Whatever floats your boat. Live and let live. We’re all pursuing our own truths.” That’s vacuous bullshit. I’m not just looking for “co-existence.” I want engaged co-existence.”
My own view is that while engaged co-existence may be ideal, we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes the best possible solution is disengaged co-existence, as opposed to engaged hostility. Can that attitude be abused and twisted into an excuse for disengagement? Yeah, probably. It’s something to watch out for.
(cartoon via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)