Thursday, December 27, 2007

An unintentionally patronizing defense of tolerance?

Julianne Dalcanton, an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington and a blogger at Cosmic Variance has this to say about why she is tolerant of others' religious beliefs.
I typically stay out of the God vs the Atheists discussions in the blogosphere. I am soft enough of heart to take no pleasure in trying to argue people out of something that makes them deeply happy. I find no evidence for what they believe, and I profoundly disapprove of any attempt to institutionalize those beliefs beyond an individual church/synagog/mosque, but I just cannot build up a big head of steam to fight against individuals’ believing in something that helps them cope with life’s frustrations, tediums, and cruelties. …

As adults, even the most rational of us sometimes make small concessions to that joy in letting ourselves believe in something wonderful, but not sensible. When I bowl, I firmly believe that absurd amounts of body english after the ball has left my hand are key to keeping the ball out of the gutter. I obviously “know” that this can’t possibly help, but it makes me really happy to indulge my belief that it does. I have friends who have chants that will make parking spaces open up, who carry umbrellas to prevent it from raining, or who have magical articles of clothing that are critical to the success of their favored sports team. All of these beliefs are obviously absurd, but satisfying nonetheless. …

I won’t defend my tolerance with well-reasoned arguments, since I have none. Other writers and readers of this blog have given this topic far more rigorous thought than I. Instead, the tolerance grows out of the same inkling that it would feel a bit small for me to take away my daughter’s belief in Santa before she was ready to stand without it.
Does this seem patronizing to someone with deeply held religious beliefs? I posted this comment on the original blog entry.
I would guess that someone who is deeply religious would either (a) find that this post fails to understand the basis of their religion or (b) see it as patronizing. As it happens, I agree with you about most of what people call religion. But I know people who take their religion much more seriously than any child takes Santa Clause and would find the comparison either uninformed or offensive.
Update: One of the other comments on Juliane's post included this link to Leo Buscaglia's sweet fable "The Fall Of Freddie The Leaf".


Anonymous said...

But which religion do we take seriously? For every silly analogy, there are a dozen equally silly religious beliefs that someone takes very seriously.

Ian B Gibson said...

Hi Russ - it's good to hear from you; I wondered what you were up to these days!

Give my regards to Bella Emberg

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