Monthly Archives: December 2011

Creative General Opinion

And now, if you will, a Metaphor….

Imagine a massive ship filled with many sailors…

At some time, a rumor began spreading amongst all the people that the boat was heading towards an island that was unbelievably amazing; an island where all the normal laws of reality were suspended and ultimate, endless bliss would enrapture them forever. Many of the sailors took so much joy from this thought that they began ignoring their duties on the ship, doing little more than staring out on the horizon and waiting for the island to appear. Many others did indeed continue their day-to-day tasks on the ship, helping to keep it clean and such, but they constantly talked about the island. It was their obsession, their passion, and their pride. Groups and sub-groups formed around different ideas of what the island would be like. Some thought it would be tropical, others temperate, and still others thought it would have every climate imaginable for all people to enjoy. Arguments sprang up over what sorts of foods would be present on the island!

At various times, different sailors would hold out their spyglasses and shout aloud “I see it! I see the island there!” and many would swell with enthusiasm…that is, until it was revealed that the crier had seen wrong (or, on occasion, even outright lied). Despite all these false alarms and misplaced swells of hope, the vast majority of the sailors kept believing, to the point of certainty, that the island was just over the next wave.

Eventually, almost all of the sailors took to ignoring the present duties of ship-board life and chose to stare out on the horizon with their own spyglasses, each on certain that they could see the island in the distance (despite some of them looking in utterly opposite directions). Indeed, there were many heated arguments, but one thing every one of them could agree on was this: regardless of exactly where it was or what it was like, that perfect island was definitely out there, somewhere. It just had to be.

One day, one of the sailors climbed up to the top of the mast and found two other sailors there, arguing.

“I think the island will be temperate!” said the first. “It will be temperate, I tell you!”

“Ah, but you’re mistaken, friend. It will be tropical!” said the second. “I guarantee you, for I can see it!” he continued, holding his spyglass aloft.

“Fool!” shouted the first. “I can see it, and it is, in fact, quite temperate!”

At that point, the third sailor (who had just climbed up) yanked the spyglasses from both others and told them this:

“Actually, friends, you’re both mistaken. If you’ll just look right here,” he said, gesturing to the ends of their spyglasses, “you’ll see that you each just drew what you wanted the island to be like on the glass. You were never actually seeing the island; you just painted what you wanted to see and thus saw it in your own imagination. Now if you’ll just look without these faulty spyglasses, you’ll quickly see that there is no island; in fact, there never was an island. However, what we do have is an amazing ship with everything you could ever really want already on it. There are lots of other people onboard, too. You can get to know them, make friends, find lovers, and have wonderful conversations. You can learn, eat, relax, work, and overall have a merry life aboard this ship if you’ll only just stop obsessing over this island you came up with.”

“But the island is supposed to be perfect!” cried the first sailor.

“Indeed! Perfect!” shouted the second, both of them clearly distraught at this news.

“Ah, but that is exactly why it doesn’t exist, friends,” said the third sailor. He reached out and put his hands on their shoulders: “Nothing perfect is out there. I’ll admit it, this ship is sometimes leaky and some of the other people aboard aren’t too terribly pleasant. But I think you’ll find that once you stop daydreaming about perfection and start happily working with what you do have, you’ll find yourselves much happier.”

Behold, our ship

Now, guess which sailor was the Atheist…

Conferences Opinion

Skepticon and the True Believer

My trip to Skepticon was delightful. Good friends, great presentations, and lots of thought provoking discussions with the attendees. The only cloud on the whole experience, speaking for myself, was the brouhaha over a local restaurant refusing to serve the convention’s participants on the grounds of their non-religious status. While the owner of this “Christian Business” did eventually apologize, the episode left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  But what struck me the most was my own reaction.

To paraphrase Greta Christina, many religious people, especially Christians, have a nasty habit when confronted with injustice enacted by members of their faith. This habit is to brush the incident aside with an, “Oh, that’s not the True Faith,” and leave the matter there. What this says to their conversational partner is that they’re far more concerned about their own reputation than the injustice innocent people have suffered.

I have to admit that I also have this habit. When I heard about this incident, my first internal reaction was: “That man calls himself a Christian?  Hardly, a real Christian wouldn’t do that.” A moment of reflection (and Ms. Christina’s timely words) suggested to me that I was being just as dismissive of this man as he was towards my friends. “True Faith” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it hasn’t been since this year that I’ve given any serious thought to what that means. Apart from the fact that there are thousands (upon thousands) of versions of my own religion, you can find plenty of discord and descent within almost any of those versions. What level of arrogance does it take to sate that my own interpretation is ‘the’ correct one? Or that my “True Faith” makes me more of a human being, entitled to greater privilege, than the rest of the population?

Additionally, using a term like “True Faith” usually only serves as a disavowal of responsibility. It’s very comforting to believe oneself an enlightened individual immune to prejudice or flawed reasoning. It’s also egotistical and apathetic towards the plight of others. The world we live in is a far cry from heaven on earth. What’s worse, many horrific acts are carried out every day in heaven’s name. The victims of these acts aren’t concerned with whether or not they’re representative of our own belief system, or the history of doctrinal divergence. We need to stop trying to absolve ourselves, god, and the Church of the charge of moral depravity through empty words and complacent behavior. We have a responsibility, not as the few, lucky, chosen of god, but as human beings, to fight discrimination and and injustice wherever we find it.  So many Christians ask themselves what they’ll say about their life when they stand before god, what can we say to our fellow human beings if we ignore their suffering? What can we possibly say in defense of ourselves for tolerating bigotry and ignorance? “It’s not the True Faith,” isn’t good enough.

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Jaime Wise is a devoted member of Center for Inquiry on Campus at Grand Valley State University where she is studying Writing and English and continues to be a model of rationality and tolerance from within the Christian faith. She has defined herself as a Christian Humanist and has started a theology sub-committee of CFI GVSU to discuss matters of Theology from outside the usual Christian context.