Peace or the Sword?
I want to take a moment to put before our community here an issue that has come up for me recently. It’s a small question, but I think ties into something bigger. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.
I just recently entered the 21st century, and joined Facebook. The last filaments of my SNL (Social Networking Luddite) resistance eroded away as I decided that, [huffily] okay fine, it really is a pretty good way to keep up with friends and family whom I would otherwise rarely see.
So, now I’m on Facebook. My family, too, is on Facebook. My saved, Bible-believing, churchgoing, Christian-rock-listenin’, Sarah-Palin-lovin’, Obama-can’t-standin’, fundamentalist family. And you can be sure of that, because their profile (not to mention “status” updates) say so.
Me…. well, now, not so much. Now, my FB profile could – could – if written for full disclosure, accurately say something like (one could mix and match here, so take your pick): secular, atheist-leaning agnostic, humanist, religious naturalist, and liberal/progressive, existentialist, militant agnostic (“I don’t know and neither do you”), and, of course, Arrested Development fan.
There are more contrasts to be had, too, when you get to the likes and dislikes sections. I do not have a favorite book of devotionals or apologetics. I do not watch Fox. Ever. I do not write “Happy Birthday Jesus” on Christmas day. I dislike C. S. Lewis and have no favorite scripture. Instead, my favorite quote (or one of them) would be from Nietzsche:
But I am one who can bless and say Yes, if only you are about me, pure and light, you abyss of light; then I carry the blessings of my Yes into all abysses. I have become one who blesses and says Yes; and I fought long for that and was a fighter that I might one day get my hands free to bless. But this is my blessing: to stand over every single thing as its own heaven, as its round roof, its azure bell, and eternal security; and blessed is he who blesses thus.
My profile could say these things. But it does not. Nor do I put up posts and updates about something exciting I just read from Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins, or something interesting I learned from Bart Ehrman or Robert Price. I deliberately stay away from anything strongly religious or political. I do not link to anything I write on this blog. I know that, essentially, when on FB you are in mixed company. Many people will see what you write. Given the intensity of their views, and, frankly, the prickliness of their views, many of my family and friends would be very upset indeed at the sort of things I have to say. So I restrain myself. I try to keep it light, try not to offend. Even if it means downplaying who I am and what I really think. I hold back.
But they don’t. My family and extended family put up religious (and political – strongly conservative) posts all the time. They make not the slightest pretense of holding back.
Now, it doesn’t bother me so much what their views are. It’s not the content, in other words. I know what they believe and I expect lots of Jesus-this and Jesus-that. The rub for me is that it does not seem even to occur to them to refrain, as I do, for the sake of not ruffling feathers. They know, broadly at least, what I think and what my opinions are, and in person we have an unspoken agreement to simply not talk about sensitive matters. But on FB, it’s damn the torpedoes, full creed ahead.
So my question is simply this: they do not make any effort to downplay or even tone down their views for my sake. Should I? So far, I am of two minds about this. One the one hand, part of me feels I shouldn’t tone down, anything, at all, beyond what one might normally do in a public forum. Just be me and write whatever I think, whether it’s religious, anti-religious, political, gallows humor, or none of the above. It may cause friction, and if so we’ll either work that out or we won’t, but regardless, being a secular humanist, atheist/agnostic, or whatever is nothing to be ashamed of and I should not treat it as such.
On the other hand, just who am I trying to model myself after here? Why should I aim deliberately to mimic this wear-one’s-ideology-on-one’s –sleeve mentality that I, frankly, can’t stand? Being an atheist is not the most important thing about me. It is the absence of theistic belief, not an organizing theme for a life. Besides, I kind of suspect that those who feel the need to publically, and over and over, affirm their beliefs are too wrapped up in (and insecure about) their own identity. Why go around declaring yourself to be this or that? That’s insecurity, and it’s off-putting to others, and it’s kind of pointless. It’s like saying, “Don’t forget – I’m a Christian!! Don’t forget!!” And moreover, I do think it’s kind of incumbent upon liberals – valuing tolerance and pluralism as we do – to be more sensitive to these matters and to make a greater effort to avoid pointless, arbitrary divisiveness and tribalism.
Now, I know that FB is not such a big deal. It doesn’t really matter whether I put a Nietzsche quote in my profile or not. But it does have to do, I think, with how we present ourselves, as atheists, agnostics, and humanists, as nonbelievers, as deconverts, to our families and to the world. If we hold back for the sake of peace, are we confident and mature, with a healthy dose of perspective, or merely lacking in resolve? Conversely, if we let it all hang out, are we simply being true to ourselves and claiming our rightful place in this pluralistic society, or are we being somewhat self-centered jerks, more interested in spouting off about me, me, me, than we are in our lives and our relationships and the things that really matter?
I don’t know the answer. What say you?
“Perplexed About His Profile”
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