An Incident in a Discussion Forum (okay, this is me being cranky)

Asking people about their opinions is a very good way of making friends. Telling them about your own opinions can also work, but not always quite as well. – Douglas Adams

 She arrived in the middle of a discussion upon international politics. “Look at India,” one of the ladies was saying. “Yes, but look at Japan,” urged the other with intense vehemence. Barbara was introduced to the ladies, of course, but she never heard their names. They were already labeled, much more legibly in her retentive memory, as Mrs. Japan and Mrs. India. She was rather crushed at the farsightedness of the two ladies— what did they see when they looked at Japan and India like that? Did their bird’s-eye view take in the whole of these Asiatic countries at a glance? Were India and Japan open before their eyes like a child’s picture book? – D.E. Stevenson

The following was originally a chapter in The Madcap Christian Scientist: All Things New, but I took it out because the voice in this chapter doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book. In this chapter you see me being cranky and a little ticked off. It ain’t pretty…

Have you ever looked back on a period in your life and smiled with amusement and a certain amount of affection for the person you were? That’s how I feel when I look back on the person I was five years ago – during the period when I was spending a lot of my free time on a religion discussion board. I was cute, wasn’t I? – idealistic, naïve, really believing that everyone was on the discussion board for the same reason I was – to learn about other people’s beliefs, share their own, and exchange ideas and thoughts about religion, science, metaphysics, philosophy, literature, music, art.

I learned an awful lot from that discussion board – some of it was awesome, and some of it not so much. I learned there were a lot of people in the world with kind hearts and open minds and good humor. I also learned that there are an awful lot of people who want everyone else to think and believe exactly what they think and believe – and I learned that I wasn’t one of them.

I saw bigotry.

If there’s one thing that toasts my cookies it is bigotry.

At first I found myself mostly coming to the defense of the atheists on the discussion board, who, initially, seemed to be the major target of bigotry. They were told they were going to hell. They were told they were all lacking any kind of moral compass. They were compared to Pol Pot and Stalin. It was all ridiculous and hateful, and I could not let the bigotry slide by without responding to it.

Then for a time the bigotry seemed to be mostly directed towards the “believers”. Those who believe in God were called ignorant, uneducated, unintelligent, superstitious scaredy cats, and blamed for the murders committed during The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials. Which… yeah… I’m sitting here now, just shaking my head, as I remember the nonsense.

There were a lot of generalizations made – every atheist was lumped together into one group – as if they all believed, felt, and thought the same about everything; and every Christian was lumped together into another monolithic group. Finger-pointing and blame-laying was rampant. As a Christian Scientist, I was told by many of the Christians that I was going to hell because I didn’t believe in hell, or in a devil, or that Jesus was God. And as someone who identified as a Christian, a number of atheists seemed inclined to assume I held the same beliefs about God that they had learned when they were youngsters attending Christian Sunday Schools – and then judged me for the beliefs that they wrongly attributed to me.

It could all be a little exasperating.

For the first few years the humor, friendship, and intellectual stimulation I got from the discussion forum outweighed the exasperation. I met some really good friends there – people I still continue to call my friends – people who became familiar with my spiritual perspective about life in a way that many of my offline friends never did.

But after several years my interest in the discussion board began to wane. More and more I found myself in these weird dialogues with people who presumed to know what was in my head and heart without giving me the opportunity to tell them myself. More and more I found myself in the unsatisfying position of being treated like a student whose job it was to quietly sit and listen while others threw their great wisdom and knowledge at me. I found myself getting lectured to and preached at a lot, and I do not particularly enjoy being the target of lectures and preaching. Dialogues became one-sided monologues; the exchange of ideas turned into a one-way sermon – people telling me what I should believe, think, and feel, and then getting really agitated with me if I dared to question or voice a thought of my own.

The Grand Finale – the defining moment when I realized I no longer had any interest in serious participation on the discussion board – came for me on a thread titled “Repeal the child abuse for Christian Scientists in Washington State law”. For four pages (100 posts) I read comments, written by my friends (people whose atheism or Christianity I had defended time and again on the forum) about the lunatic Christian Scientists who are “neither Christian nor scientists” (pretty original, right?). For four pages I read comments from people attacking a “strawman” – indignantly pontificating on how wrong it is to legally allow Christian Scientists to abuse their children – when there never was a law or lobby that supported child abuse by Christian Scientists. And then I saw where one of my forum friends had written this: “I just took issue with the thought that the faith healers could be unaware that their ‘healings’ have zero positive effect… I think the fact that the alleged Christian Science lobby feels the need to protect themselves from prosecution tells me that they must know the reality of their faith… He seems to be saying that Christian Scientists aren’t True Christians. The Christian Science people seem to think they are Christians, based on my scanty reading of what they believe.”

SCANTY READING?!!! Oh, for Pete’s sake! I’d been sharing my experiences as a Christian Scientist on that forum for almost seven years – shared wonderful healings I’d had in Christian Science, shared my thoughts about “Christianity” – but my friend hadn’t, apparently, learned anything about my way of life or beliefs from what I’d written on there. It came to me, then, that the only reason some of these people had ever considered me their friend was because I had been a good audience – willing to listen to THEM – but that they hadn’t really been interested in anything I’d had to say.

I wrote a response:

Christian Scientist from Washington State here. I’m sure you are all completely right about me. I mean, you must be, right? I should be, like, locked-up for the good of society. Interned in a camp maybe. I should never have been allowed to marry – and certainly not to a nice, decent liberal man raised by his decent God-loving Methodist parents. I should never have been allowed to have children, and certainly never been allowed to raise them – it’s a miracle that they survived to adulthood and turned out to be such intelligent, healthy, whole, well-adjusted young men, considering their mom was a Christian Scientist. I should not be allowed to share in the rights of citizenship of this land – it’s far too good for the likes of me. I should certainly never have been allowed to vote – and never been allowed to participate in the democratic process. I should never have been allowed to be elected delegate to our state Democratic convention, and should never have been allowed to write letters and donate in support of environmental causes, the ACLU, gay rights, Habitat for Humanity, atheists, Amnesty International, and yes, universal health care (I don’t believe anyone should be denied the health care they feel they need just because they’re poor – health care should be considered a basic human right). I am, of course, just a cardboard cutout of a person – like every other Christian Scientist in the world.

As you know – seeing as how I’ve been on here for ALMOST SEVEN YEARS sharing my beliefs, thoughts, and feelings with you – I am a despicable, ignorant, uneducated, illiterate human being. I should probably be lined up with my fellow CSists against a wall and shot, as was once suggested on a local talk show.

Am I Christian? Nope, probably not (according to the current accepted definition of a “Christian”). Like my fellow CSists, I do not believe Jesus was god. Do not believe in a literal place of hell or heaven. Do not believe in Original Sin. Do not believe the story of Adam and Eve should be taken literally. Do not believe the world was, literally, created in seven days and seven nights. Do not believe in creationism. Do not believe dinosaurs and humans roamed the world at the same time. And, like those familiar with quantum physics, I DO believe matter is pretty much nothing . So shoot me.

My children , by the way, were vaccinated (edit: the topic of vaccinations is probably worth a whole ‘nother blog post), and were taken by me to doctors, when the need arose – which wasn’t often – they were mostly healthy. They also were raised by their parents – as I was raised by mine – to not be quick to make judgments on others, to try to approach the world without bigotry, and to question political and religious dogma, and those in authority (including the medical profession – you do all know that traditional medical practice is the third-leading cause of death in this country according to the JAMA, right? – it shouldn’t be surprising that thinking people might sometimes look for alternatives to it).

Okay. I’m pretty much done here. I’ve been yammering away on this forum for seven years. And apparently no one was listening.

Karen

Weirdly, I got nine out of ten “yes” votes for that post. 🙂 Most gratifying personally, though, was the response that came right after my post from my atheist friend, Conley. I think when I first came onto the forum Conley had had some pre-conceived notions about me as a Christian Scientist, but, like any true critical thinker, Conley had listened and observed and been willing to learn and shift his thinking. I liked and respected him. Following my post, Conley wrote: “Damned well said, Karen. And I was happy to note that you listed about half my favorite causes–which is what I’d have guessed of you. Best regards. -Conley”

I guess it’s because of people like Conley that I still sometimes pop in on the discussion forum. As for the “others” – the close-minded, arrogant, sermonizing, judgmental know-it-alls from the right and the left, the up and the down – both religious and non-religious –  who don’t really want to hear what other people have to say – I guess I just feel really bad for them. They are missing out, ain’t they?

what people think I do