Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Modern 'respect' for religion is really disrespecful

I don't keep up with too much TV, unless its sports. I've seen three or four episodes of Lost, only two episodes of the Office. I even missed the whole Seinfeld craze. Just wasn't into it. But Friends, I watched that religiously back in the day. I was reading a book about religious pluralism and a scene from Friends popped into my mind. Rachel's got a crush on a guy names Joey. Ross doesn't like it. Joey teaches him how to be insulting and dismissive without showing that he doesn't like the fact that Rachel is dating someone else.

Rachel laughs to herself
Phoebe: (About Rachel laughing) What? What?
Rachel: Well, it was just something Josh said about v-necks, but you had to be there.
Ross: Yeah, how does Jason look in a v-neck?
Rachel: It’s Joshua.
Ross: Oh, whatever.

Whatever. I doesn't matter. It's all the same. Dismissive and insulting.
Imagine a child being given directions from their parent.

Parent: gather up all your toys and put them in the toy box. its time for bed.
Child: whatever mom.
Parent: what did you say to me. Say it again and I'll rip your lips off.

Completely imaginary conversation, but 'whatever' isn't respectful, it's dismissive and insulting. And yet, that's exactly how the claims of the great religious leaders not only of our day but from the ages are treated.

Paul: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God
Jewish Teacher of the Law: Jesus was a blaspheming heretic.
Muhammad: Jesus was the Messiah, a great prophet, but not the Son of God (Christians blaspheme in claiming God has progeny)
Postmodern Pluralist: Whatever. It's all the same.

Vedas: the soul is eternal
Siddhartha Gautama: no it's not, everything is in flux and nothing is eternal
Pomo Pluralist: whatever, its all the same.

I find the modern/postmodern understanding of religion, which aims to respect all religions, ends up disrespecting them all by taking none of their claims seriously.

I believe we should respect people of other religions and the traditions they represent. There is much to commend in them - and plenty to disagree about. But can't disagreement be a respectful. I'm not asking 'can't we disagree in a disrespectful way'. Yes we can, and we should (I should probably confess that I have often sunk into sarcasm and harsh criticism of other beliefs, even other Christian beliefs with which I disagree. I resolve to be more respectful, casting other's beliefs in the best possible light, engaging with them at that level, not constructing strawmen to blow down).

But that's not the point here. What I an asking is 'can't disagreement be a way of showing respect'. It says 'I take your claims very seriously. They are indeed different then mine. In fact, they are contradictory. I know you're a logical person who can't abide flagrant contradictions, so we disagree. I might be wrong, you might be wrong, we both might be wrong, but we can't both be right. Lets talk'.

That's dialogue, respectful, honest dialogue. When we dismiss our difference with a 'whatever, it's all the same', dialogue is impossible. All that can be done is patting each other on the tooshy and stroking each others egos. That's just not as fun as real dialogue - nor is it as honest or respectful. It is not all the same. The God of Islam is not the God of Christianity, neither is the God of Judaism. The worldview of Hinduism and Buddhism differ fundamentally with the worldviews of Christianity and Judaism. They are not the same. Lets stop pretending they are and talk.

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