Thank you for not burning me at the stake

burn-at-stakeTo everyone who disagrees with me, sometimes strongly, thank you for not burning me at the stake. No, this isn’t sarcasm.

Granted, I think there are a lot of problems with religious dialog today. Shame and guilt still remain major components of belief and practice in certain circles. That said, I am very grateful that I am still alive and relatively uninjured in spite of my vast disagreements with popular religious beliefs.

Though I have received hatemail and undergone severe stress from primarily verbal spiritual abuse, no one has threatened to kill me. Such threats are still possible today, but I would have serious doubts as to whether the threat was real or if it was merely posturing. The fact is that religious violence as a cultural norm is largely a thing of the past in many countries including my own.

So despite all my disagreements with fundamentalism and generally more conservative theology, I have to say this: thanks for not murdering my entire family. Thanks for not burning me at the stake or hanging me for what you consider to be heresy. Really, I’m so glad I live now instead of 300 years ago. I kind of wish I could live 200 years in the future, but oh well.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, so let me just make a point here: if we can agree that we have actually made ethical progress over the centuries in that we no longer kill each other when we disagree, then let us agree that there is work to do still. As I pointed out a short time ago, many of us who have taken a more liberal/conservative path still hurt because of how people treat us. We can disagree, but let’s stop hurting each other in our disagreements.

The point is that I am really glad we’ve come this far that we no longer consider it proper conduct to throw religious or political opponents out of windows. Still, let’s not stop here. Don’t manipulate or bully people into agreement. Don’t call people heretics just to damage their credibility. Allow open discussion of ideas, but be sensitive to others as you do (“are gays like pedophiles” is similarly offensive to “are conservatives like Nazis,” and neither should qualify for polite discussion). Don’t tell people how they ought to believe, but demonstrate the validity of your beliefs by how you treat others and through sound reasoning. Accept and wrestle with critique. Generally, let’s just strive to be better human beings.

Most of the things we can do involve allowing each person to make his or her own decisions, especially about beliefs and lifestyles. When we stopped thinking it acceptable to kill or otherwise physically maim people because of disagreements, it was because we started respecting individual autonomy. Having rid ourselves of the obvious grievances like physical brutality and violence, let us now start to seek to rid ourselves of verbal and emotional brutality.

We have come a long way, and if we can see past our disagreements, then we can move even further. Let’s teach our kids an even higher form of respect than we were taught as we grew up: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will ever hurt me.” Let’s discourage disparaging each other when we disagree and teach people to focus on the specific actions which hurt. This is the difference between “people from this group are all ignorant” and, “when people say this or that, they are ignorant of how hurtful that is.” And when someone does something good, let’s give credit where credit is due.

So again, thanks for not burning me at the stake or anything like that. Let’s keep going and do even better.

About Chris Attaway

Chris Attaway is a Christian philosopher seeking to refine the way we live through reasoning and reflection. Be sure to follow his blog, The Discerning Christian, for challenging articles which offer new perspectives on old problems.
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17 Responses to Thank you for not burning me at the stake

  1. her·e·tic noun \ˈher-ə-ˌtik, ˈhe-rə-\
    : someone who believes or teaches something that goes against accepted or official beliefs

    Full Definition of HERETIC

    1
    : a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth
    2
    : one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine :
    I embrace the title of heretic. I refer to myself as a Heretic Christian. I use the second def. I do dissent. It’s the easiest way for me to keep politicized words out of it. I would rather be a heretic and believe that people were created the way God intended for them to be, than to believe that God made a mistake when He created them.

    • If you self-identify as such, that’s no problem. When it turns into a heresy-accusation fest in order to discredit people without argument, I have an issue.

  2. I can live with that. *grins* In general, it’s why I avoid, most, emotionally loaded issues. It becomes very easy to demonize the opposition. I can handle rational disagreement, even if neither side is going to bend. It’s also why I try to write in first person. As soon as names are called, rationality goes out the window and discourse becomes impossible.

  3. Shirley Mataya says:

    Thank you, for expressing yourself in such a manner as to promote clarity, honesty, and and reasonable discussion!! My daughter brought my attention to your missives and for that I am grateful. She is a dissenting Christian, having followed the conservative path for many years and lately has become much more open to dialog and discussion and reason. I am a Buddhist, and I believe that Love is the answer. I shall continue to follow your blog, and I am sure my next trip to Michigan will be filled with lively and interesting conversation. Namaste. Shirley

  4. The real problem is that we have not moved beyond. There are still radical Christians who are more than willing to perpetrate or participate in hate crimes against homosexuals, abortion clinics, people of color, etc. Then there are the radical Muslims who are honored to sacrifice their lives, while taking the lives of innocent victims. We don’t burn people at the stake, we use more sophisticated methods of murder in the name of God/Allah. Radicalism is never a good thing.

  5. Ken Nichols says:

    You’re welcome (for the “not burning” thing).

    *Blows out torch*
    *Restacks firewood*

    Seriously, it’s not worth getting worked up over religious matters. It’s not up to ME who gets “saved” anyway. That’s God’s business. I just share what makes sense to ME, and enjoy hearing what other people have discovered in their truth journeys.

  6. Mike Moore says:

    As an atheist, I found your blog to be a breath of fresh air. I’ll be returning and thanks for the read.

  7. Kelly says:

    Amen! (Pardon the word.) I am an agnostic. I’ve written about my time attending a fundamentalist Christian church, which yielded not a lot of answers and enough hypocrisy that I came to reject religion as an institution. Spiritually, I’m still open-minded, and your writing is wonderful food for thought. Thanks for putting yourself out there with ideas that, as you say, can get you burned at the stake. Well done!

  8. shek1na says:

    The people burned at the stake was and is still people seeking the truth.
    Like Jan Hus and Balthasar Hubmaier: http://wp.me/p3tGFm-3N

    And the Truth is revealed in the original Scripture, copied in thousands by the very first christians. If the Bible is a lie or metaphor, like you are preaching, then there is no absolute Truth. God is Love, yes, but he is also a burning fire. And a Judge.

    So why did Jesus enter this world?
    http://wp.me/p3tGFm-5w

  9. boldbrad says:

    Great piece! I enjoyed this read! Thank you for sharing!

  10. boldbrad says:

    Reblogged this on boldbrad and commented:
    I love this piece of work! It is timely and well executed! I had to share!

  11. I love your voice on the role of faith in the way we treat each other and engage society.
    Since that is an issue close to my heart, I wanted to see your thoughts on the questions I posed as my part of the Liebster Award process. I just saw that you (deservedly) exceed the 200 followers target, but maybe you wouldn’t mind participating anyway? I would love to “hear” your answers.
    http://faithfamilyandfocaccia.com/2014/05/10/liebster-award/.

    • Haha well my Rhinos, Unicorns, etc. post pushed me past both 200 AND 300 followers, so I only exceeded the goal as of this week thanks to making it onto Freshly Pressed. But sure, I’d be glad to answer some questions for you. I’ll make a post about it soon! Thanks for nominating me, even if I’m a bit outside of the rules =)

      • Great! Glad you got the exposure as your voice is such a good contrast to so much of what is out there. I’ll look forward to reading your answers to my faith and culture questions and seeing the other bloggers you select.

  12. Reblogged this on james clayton brown and commented:
    Test 2

  13. Marta Layton says:

    This is a very encouraging, positive post, and I thank you for it.
    I was struck by your statement that the question “are gays like pedophiles?” doesn’t deserve civil conversation, and that got me thinking. Because while there’s not a doubt in my mind that people sometimes (often!) ask questions like this as a weapon against gay people, and I’m equally convinced it is beyond hurtful to gay people, no matter the reason it’s posed, I also think there are some people who honestly have this question. Sometimes it’s being surrounded by that lying, and sometimes it probably grows out of a deeper suspicion that you can’t have good outside of religion and custom so if people act off their inclinations in one way why not go full pedophilia.
    These are obviously false, obviously harmful trains of thought to those not stuck in them. There is such a world of difference between paedophilia and homosexuality it hardly seems worth dignifying the line of thought. But I’ve taught years of intro philosophy courses as a grad student, and one thing I’ve found is you’ve got to give people who aren’t there yet the chance to ask the questions and see, really internalize why their belies lead to such false and harmful places. They’ve got to be given the safe space to ask the question. And I can imagine people in general asking those kinds of questions not out of a desire to be meanspirited or hurtful or even obstinate, but because they’re just not to where I am now, for a variety of reasons.
    So I was thinking about that in light of your common about the question not deserving civil conversation. And I know I’m going on quite a while here, so bear with me. :-) I guess what I’m trying to say is there seems to be a world of difference between someone saying what they know to be false or should know to be false, and someone asking, “Hold on, I heard gay people were more likely to molest boys” [... quite often from those people lying through their teeth for their own political purposes, but they may not even be aware of the where...] “– isn’t that true?” Or the person who says “If you’re just going to have sex with whomever you’re attracted to, whether or not it matches what’s good or what society has found is natural or what the Bible says, how are you different from the paedophile who is attracted to boys and chooses to have sex with them because that’s who *he* loves?”
    These are horribly painful questions, it makes me a bit sick even putting them into words, but my point is there seems to be a real different in how we should reply. In the first case I agree, civil conversation is completely too kind for trash like that. But in the second case, I’d start with why the question is painful and needs to be posed very carefully if at all – but then probably do them the courtesy of taking their concerns seriously. The question is genuine, after all, even if it’s horribly misplaced. Civil conversation in that case (perhaps involving how to address these concerns honestly but with more care for people hurt by them, through humility and empathy) seem okay to me.
    … And that was longer than I intended. Thanks for indulging me.

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