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.