Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Memo to the Wolf Blitzers of the World: Don't Assume Everyone Believes in God

On Tuesday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed a young mother who survived the deadly Oklahoma tornado. "You've gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord?," he asked.

The young woman briefly hesitated. "I'm actually an atheist," she said, and laughed off Blitzer's awkward, foot-in-mouth moment.



Having just returned from Charlotte, N.C., where a Starbucks barista said "God bless you" after a transaction and a shuttle driver freely expressed his belief in God to me and other strangers, Wolf Blitzer's question makes me bristle.

Perhaps I'm old school. But I firmly believe religion is a deeply private matter. It's not something you bring up with strangers, unless you happen to meet those strangers at a like-minded religious gathering. I even believe you should be careful mentioning religion with friends and family members. But judging from the religious postings I see frequently on Facebook, I'm in the minority here.

Religion, politics, money, sex. They're all vitally important topics, but in my view, they're usually not something to be casually brought up. The fact is, there are plenty of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and others in the world whose spiritual beliefs don't align with yours. When you express your religious beliefs to them, you make them uncomfortable at best, combative at worst.

Admittedly, my 'God is great' antenna are always out, probably because as a gay kid growing up in the South, God was often used against me. (I'm gay, therefore I'll burn in hell is the general theory.) Luckily, my parents didn't participate in this charade. My father strongly disliked it when someone would bring up their religious beliefs. This was because his mother was a Bible-thumping Baptist who forced religion on him and his brother. Not surprisingly, her actions had nearly the opposite effect.

My father decided that he wanted to expose my sisters and I to the Christian church and for us to be confirmed in the church. We attended a nearby United Church of Christ, but not all that often. In fact, I visited Sunday school so infrequently as a child, the teacher assumed I was chronically ill. Mischievous kid that I was, I didn't discourage her assumption. After we were confirmed, my sisters and I were free to participate--or not--in the church.

As tempting as it might be, I'm not going to share my spiritual beliefs in this post, because I feel so strongly about how personal those beliefs are. However, I'll add that if you have strong religious beliefs, I'm happy for you. Seriously. Life can be extremely challenging, and we all need something to get us through the difficult as well as the joyful parts. We must all find meaning to our lives, to understand humility and gratitude, and religion can be a powerful means to those ends.

But if you're a rental car company shuttle bus driver, or a Starbucks barista, or Wolf Blitzer, or a Facebook friend, don't assume I share your religious views. Or that your beliefs are better than mine. Or that you need to lay your beliefs on me like a choir robe. We're all believers in something, and we often don't believe in the same things, and to that I say: Amen.

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17 comments:

  1. I agree with you completely! I get uncomfortable with people who bring religion up, sometimes even when I share the same beliefs, because to me, our individual spiritual lives are just as private as our sex lives. There are a few people you might share details with but it shouldn't be just any person you happen to meet. Obviously that isn't how everyone feels, but it is kind of surprising. It's upsetting (and kind of unbelievable) to see reporters and news anchors throwing religion (even when it's my own) into their interviews. It's the wrong context for that. And it gives the impression that we are not really free to choose our beliefs. BTW I'm from Charlotte...and I have strong religious beliefs..which I keep mostly to myself!

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    1. Thanks for weighing in, Daricia! We're on the same page!

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  2. What I like most are the screams of "Allah Akbar" as people shoot each other on the streets in Syria! I would far prefer to talk about sex!

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  3. Religious beliefs actually make me cringe
    On the other hand I find nothing discomforting about spirituality

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  4. You tell it, brother! And thanks for including the clip. It was priceless.

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  5. You tell it, Brother! And thanks for including the clip. It was priceless.

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  6. I was raised that you don't discuss money, politics, religion and may I add WEIGHT to that list? I so agree with you on this one.

    My husband is an Atheist, and he gets quite upset when people bless him. (as you know, here in the South, that's said as often as y'all) I try to remind him that we can't be blessed enough (!) but I understand his frustration. He doesn't walk around saying, "NO ONE OUT THERE BLESSES YOU." :-)

    You are a true gentleman with tons of class.

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    1. Thanks Judi! I hadn't thought about weight as another taboo topic, but you're so right.

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  7. Like JuJu, I was raised that ladies did not discuss certain topics. Oddly a few weeks ago I was ringing up a customer who had just returned home after spending 2 years in a military hospital. He had taken a bullet to the head and had a long and slow recovery. When he was leaving I said "God Bless You", he gave me an odd look and I immediately thought "you never say that, what in the world are you thinking and why did you do that?". I think sometimes a situation impacts you so strongly that your emotions take over.

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    1. Agreed, Colleen. Sometimes we tell people what we think they want to hear, or what's in our hearts. I do believe many people like you have nothing but the best intentions.

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  8. Just as I think it's ridiculous that the FCC goes ridiculously over the top on words that refer to sex while having no issue whatsoever with heinous violence, I find it joyfully ironic that you include sex in this spot-on discussion. Imagine the hue and cry had Wolf said to this woman: "So, after surviving this horrendous tornado I certainly hope you were lucky enough to get lucky last night!" Yet it's apparently perfectly fine to assume that she must have "Thanked God" to have survived.

    As always, great post Jim!

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    1. Too funny, Steve. I can just see Wolf asking, "Was it good for you too?" Thanks for chiming in, my friend!

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  9. Jim! Just saw your blog for the first time. My colleague is Lee Wimbs, son of Mr. Wimbs who you reference in your blog about Cheerwine. I live in Greensboro, NC and I love Cheerwine despite my upbringing in Jackson, MS. I am responding to this post because it's more important! And here's my point: God and His relationship is not private. It is precious. He loves you more than you'll ever know. Did you know there are more than 70,000 million million million stars in the universe? That doesn't count any of the other celestial bodies. And think about it, in all that hugeness, someone or something created YOU. And think about this, what is the PROBABILITY of all the DNA and events of your life and every other occurrence in the universe working together perfectly to allow you to breathe oxygen and live and think and speak and read and cook, etc. The PROBABILITY is immense and immeasurable. It will always be immeasurable because it was planned by an immeasuable God. And here's my last point: Jesus Christ is God and he died for your sins because your sin and my sin must be punished with death. That was the way things were created, but God's grace allowed for a way out. And you and I all have a decision to make, we can look at our selfish and miniscule reasons for NOT believing in God. Or we can choose the infinite reasons to believe in God and surrender to Him because we're not dealing with 80-90 years on earth. We're dealing with eternity. And your eternity and where you spend it is far more precious to God than some "private" belief. Thanks for your time. Feel free to respond to me at fmickens@wfmy.com or check out my blog sayhellohope.wordpress.com May the Lord of the universe bless you!

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    1. Hi Frank. I still believe religion is a private matter. But I thank you for your thoughtful and passionate comments.

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  10. Love all your blogs!
    Ironically, as a Christian, I cringe when I hear "God bless you"...because I know the majority sure don't act like they've been blessed, and the saying is more habit. Cynical, yes. Bless my pea-pickin' heart! :)

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