Moral minority?

This one is for Catherine.


            Here in the UK, we get American television programs after a bit of lag time, so I must say the writers’ strike has had less of an effect on my television watching habits than it might have.  I am just now getting to watch the one and only season of Studio 60, and since I have enough energy for about 2 hours of TV watching a week, that one season seems to be sustaining me quite well.

            I can’t help it.  Bradley Whitford rocks my world.

            Despite the fact that the producers seemed determined to pack four season’s worth of developments into one season’s worth of shows, Studio 60 has some mighty fine, mighty smart writing.  Smart like The West Wing.  Smart like Sports Night.  Anyone notice a trend, here?

            I am a sucker for smart writing and good timing, which is why there is one line from the series that has stuck in my head.  Harriet, the devout Christian/late night comedienne, is arguing with her producer/ex-boyfriend, Matt, a more-or-less secular Jew.  These two characters are meant to represent the religious divide in America, yet, Harriet tells Matt, she does not even know who the two sides of that divide are and why they seem to hate each other so much.

            “Your side hates my side,” Matt tells her, “because you think we think you’re stupid.  Our side hates your side because we think you’re stupid.”

            That about sums it up, right?  The non-believer intellectuals think the believers are morons being led about by the nose.  The believing moral folk think the non-believers are soulless heathens standing on the edge of the precipice, about to fall into a pit in which they will burn in hell for eternity and into which they just might pull all of America if we’re not careful.  That is the divide, right? 

            Shit.  Yet again I did not get the memo until it was too late.  See, I do not fit into either camp.  I am definitely not a believer, but I like to think I am fairly moral.  And, while I like to think of myself as somewhat intellectual, I cannot seem to muster any enthusiasm for labeling people of faith as mindless sheep who cannot think for themselves.  Always the good sport, I tried.  Really I did.  Unfortunately, I have known a few too many real, in-the-flesh believers, and they totally blew the whole stereotype for me.

            To be fair, I used to espouse the notion that people believe in God (and angels and miracles and an afterlife) because they are not bright enough to question the “truths” they are taught in their youth.  I never would have expressed it just that way, but it seemed pretty evident to me that this whole God thing was a pretty big bunch of hoopla, so people who couldn’t see past it clearly had fairly limited vision.  I would hazard a guess I am not the only person ever to feel this way.

            But, as I have gotten older, it has occurred to me I, myself, take a lot on faith.  Global warming, for example.  I almost failed chemistry.  I know diddly about the process by which CO2 floats up into the sky, turns the planet warmer, melts polar ice, and is going to make our planet uninhabitable.  But, the scientists tell me it is so, and I believe them.  Why?  Because they are scientists and they said so.  How, please tell me, is that any different from believing what a priest says?

            I have chosen a system of belief because it makes the most sense to me.  But, because I am a bear of very little brain, I am not so sure I could argue for it in a room full of skeptics.  Put me in a room with George W., and I would fail miserably to convince him that global warming is for real and he has a moral responsibility to stop it.  Hell, I can’t even convince my husband to be worried, and I have a bit more air time with him.  I have taken a lot on faith, and I believe it fully, but I could never prove it.

            People are not stupid because they take God on faith any more than they are immoral because they do not believe.  We all take some things on faith, and just because you accept one system of beliefs and I another, I have no right to decide you are a lower order of thinker.  (Now, if you voted for George W. as the moral candidate, I take issue with your process of rational thought…)  By the same token, a lack of belief in God in no way makes me a less virtuous soul than regular church-going friends.  If we may, can we please save the label of “immoral” for the people who earn it: serial killers, animal abusers, and people who throw paper into the trash?

            So, much as I would like to belong to one clique or another, I am afraid I am going to have to sit this one out.  I just do not have the time to worry about whether someone else believes in angels and what that says about her IQ.  I am way too busy sorting my recycling.

25 responses to “Moral minority?

  1. Hey Em,

    Don’t fall off your computer chair. It is actually me commenting! Woo Hoo!

    Like you, I don’t fit into a socio-political-spiritual category very well. It is a source of great frustration for me that there seems to be so little chance of real dialogue about it all. As “nice” as it would be for people to fit into all those simplistic categories, it just doesn’t work that way and I am left with the option of looking at persons as individuals. Go figure!

    Oh, and I loved Studio 60. I was sad it didn’t get a chance to work some of what I thought were its problems out in a second season. I love smart writing and fast talking! Have you seen the episode with the Katrina musicians yet? My favorite part has nothing to do with smart writing and fast talking, but there is a musical number that is sublime. That’s right. Sublime. There is no other word for it. In fact, I recorded it and played it for my husband just to confirm that I wasn’t crazy. (I’m not a music afficianado. My husband has an excellent ear for music.) He confirmed it was something special.

    Happy Holidays you non-cliquish person!

  2. Thank you! Catherine (whom I have the pleasure of knowing in real life) isn’t the only one out there, thank God. As my husband likes to say, there are good people and bad people, deep people and shallow people, in every category… atheist, Jew, Christian, liberal, conservative, agnostic, rich, poor, geek, beauty, Asian, Western…you get the point. My personal pet peeve is people who think Southerners are stupid or that all Southern Christians are Pat Robertson devotees.

    Mind if I link to this post? (After I go sort my recycling…)

  3. Amen to that
    I feel pretty much the same way about it all.
    First time by and I luuuurve Bradley too.
    Since you opened with ‘here in the UK’ I read the whole thing with the accent I imagined you to have, except I just realised it was the voice of the new mom at my school who just moved from Australia. Oooops

  4. Well, I think those who throw around the moral or immoral labels in regards to belief in a deity or several deities really don’t get it.

    My grandfather was probably the most “moral” person that I ever knew and I continually try to live up to his image. But, he never believed in the church. He always told me, “The church is man’s not god’s.” He felt the same way about the bible.

    This was hard for me to understand as a youngster. But, now, it makes perfect sense. It is the distinction between being “spiritual” and being “religious.” And, it is really about following a set of beliefs based on personal conviction rather than on what someone else tells you.

    And, despite the fact that I would not consider myself “religious,” I am fervent in the belief that I have a great deal of faith. However, it is not “faith” in the belief that there exists an all powerful deity or a heaven or a hell. It is a “faith” that my small actions will make a difference. It is a “faith” that those actions will spur others to action. And, most of all, it is a “faith” in my fellow humans that we can together make this world a better place for future generations.

  5. Emily….have I mentioned that I like you? Ok, good.

  6. My daughter said today – I had enough of the human race, everyone bothers me, even my friends bother me because everyone’s got little something that doesn’t fit with my being …

    She got the concept of being different. Now the question is – what is she going to do about it? She could go this or the other way, she can start labelling people, to see them as minors or just be acceptant of the differences and see them as a chance to widen her horizons …

  7. That last bit about sorting the recycling made for a perfect ending! 🙂

  8. Thanks for this.

    I think of faith and morality as two separate conversations. I know very moral people who are not believers, and religious people who had no morality.

    I get really frustrated when people toe the party line, so to speak. Because I am a believer, other things about me must also be true. They usually aren’t.

    One of the best parts of having met you is having the opportunity to talk to someone of another faith. We aren’t trying to change one another’s mind, and I really appreciate that about you.

    Also, I love Bradley Whitford, too. He plays a secular Jew in West Wing as well. Hmmm.

  9. Twenty Five Days

    Hmmm…I’ve never felt that nonbelievers were heathens. I know very few from my believing “camp” who do (although I know the exist). The issue that divides me from others is the fact that I am incredibly open-minded, I don’t claim to know for sure what is right or wrong when it comes to believing in a higher power, and the greatest thing I believe in is respect. I have tremendous respect for your unbelief in God….and I have tremendous respect for those whose belief is much, much greater than mine. What I find myself faced with is the reality that I am OFTEN judged and criticized and mocked as a part of the camp who does believe, and even more so because I am Catholic. I don’t get my back up over’s something I don’t take personally. I find it interesting to sit back and watch the assumptions that people make–on both sides. I think that people need better things to do with their lives than judge people over this particular issue.

  10. Thanks Emily! I don’t think I’ve ever had a post dedicated to me before, and I’m very honored. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I SO deeply agree.

    I’ve said this a million times but…I wish that people in every camp could see that “idiocy” and “bigotry” are the problems, not the other camp. So frequently someone will leave one camp because of the poor tactics used by that camp, join a different one, and never realize that not only does that second camp use the same tactics, but that person himself does. We need to all work together, not against each other.

    Thanks for hanging out in the middle with me.

  11. I think many people participate in religion more because they need dogma as a guidepost than because they are true believers. Does that make them simple or stupid? I hope not; I’m one of them. I would never imagine that people who are professed non-believers are immoral based solely on their decision to be a freethinker.

  12. studio 60 ROCKED! i nearly cried when they cancelled it. So smart. And LOVED the whole religious debate.

  13. What a clever way to explain faith, and a lack of disdain for “the other side.” Well done. And you make me so sad about Studio 60 but I won’t be a spoiler.

    Using My Words

  14. I have always tried to own what ever it is I believe to be true. That being said, I tend to have a perspective that likes people for the person they are, not for their beliefs. Morality is not owned by any church. Morality is a description of how you live your life.

  15. Hey Emily,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. I, too, am so thrilled that Laura chose CJ – what a very special honor.

    CJ is flying to WA right now and I’m a nervous wreck. I am much happier when my loved ones are on the ground!


  16. Hi Emily,

    This was a great post. I am completely on the same page as you on this… and there are lots more important issues to deal with…. where to begin??

  17. I’m completely with you on this. We all take things on faith – all the time. I’m not about to stomp on anyone’s personal belief system. If they don’t get choices, neither do I.

  18. Amen, sister. Well said. I belong to a UU Church, and before I became a member, it was mostly the intellectual snobbery kind of person who went there. We got a new minister who was kind enough to point out… the members were being just as close-minded as many fundamentalist Christians. It’s been uncomfortable for some. I appreciate his message, and his continual reminding that there are more people in the wide inclusive middle than there are on either end, so be present, be accepting. Recognize what works for you might not work for everyone. It helps that I know many Christians who haven’t just taken things on faith… they’ve looked inside, questioned things, lived in the world, and have decided Christianity is what helps them be their best person.

  19. I consider myself a fence sitter. I don’t belong to any clique either. But sometimes, it’s even harder not belonging anywhere than professing to be with one clique or another. Because you might just end up getting all the flak from both sides of the divide.

  20. My first time here, and I just want to say…Amen, sister.

  21. Couldn’t have been said any better, sister! Rock on!

  22. can i sit with you? i don’t fit either.

    i love you for this post. . .

  23. Emily – thank you for expressing this so well!! There are times that I feel like I could probably explain Global warming better than I could my faith (especially after last week!!) but that doesn’t make me any less of a believer. And twosquaremeals…I loved your comment about being a Southern Christian doesn’t make you a Pat Robertson devotee! AMEN! (said in my best southern drawl of course) 🙂

  24. I was raised in a very “believing” faith and taught by culture (not necessarily by doctrine, although it’s definitely there in the older stuff) that the poor fools who weren’t “one of us” were unenlightened and to be pitied. Having left that religion I know all too well how I am viewed (fallen, selfish, probably morally lost… it goes on) and yet knowing so many faithful, intelligent people within that church I can’t have the satisfaction of doing a “oh yeah? Well you’re so…” right back at them. I tell my kids that the best we can do is try to look at individuals not creeds, races, genders or any other arbitrary sorting system. We keep trying, as best we can, to avoid seeing and judging the group… not always easy in this pigeonholed world!

  25. I loved this.

    I am a woman who is fascinated by science and yet firmly believes in God – although my definition of God is pretty fuzzy even though culturally I identify most with Jews and Christians…so in cases like this I always fall back on Albert Einstein – who had such a complicated relationship with the spiritual..

    “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” (Albert Einstein)