Well, I have been focused on the extremes of religion lately, so now it’s time for something more upbeat. (Even I can get sick of my negativity after a while.)
Anyway, this post is to remind myself first of all that religious extremists are like loud, obnoxious American tourists in Europe. It may seem that all American tourists are loud and obnoxious, but that’s only because those are the ones you hear above everyone else.
One of my best friends in the Netherlands is a protestant minister. We met in college and we spent many a summer vacation hiking the hills of Britain and camping by streams and tarns. She never once tried to convert me; she never once suggested I’ll go to hell if I don’t find Jesus. She is deeply religious and I’m deeply not, and that’s just the way it was.
A woman I was friends with in college in the Rio Grande Valley was a lapsed Catholic. At least, I think that’s what you’d call her. She was a devout Catholic, donating oodles of money to the church, until the priest did not come to her house to offer some spiritual support when she asked for it after her husband died, because he had committed suicide.
She once told me that, as a Catholic, she believed that God could come in the guise of anyone, and therefore she treated everyone as if they might be God. Wow. That blew me away. And she did, too. I have seldom met anyone with so much respect for every. single. person. she met. She came to mind immediately when I saw Rachel Maddow talk about the homeless Jesus sculpture outside the Catholic charity in Washington, DC where the pope served lunch to the homeless.
My favorite relative has fundamentalist Christian views; she believes in the literal truth of the Bible. But rather than spending her time condemning people, she has spent her entire life caring for others and she still does. Even her creativity is channeled into caring for the needy. She is constantly crocheting blankets and slippers for the poor. She is soft-spoken to the point of being hard to understand and she’s self-effacing to a fault.
One of my friends here in Austin–well, she just moved away–is also deeply religious, but that has never stopped us from being friends. She, also, has never tried to convert me. Her take on homosexuality: God made all of us and God doesn’t make mistakes. High five, girlfriend!
Of course, as an atheist/humanist, I don’t believe any of the above people are good because they are religious. I think they’re good because they are thoughtful human beings and their positive traits–in my eyes–are those they would have anyway; they just don’t give themselves enough credit.