* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bold Honesty, Part 3

Just as it's important to be boldly honest about what you really care about, it's important to be boldly honest about our answers to some other questions, especially the questions Where do I find a genuine sense of belonging? and Where do I find authentic community? When we aren't honest about what we really want from community, we wind up in places that aren't authentic for us, where we don't feel like we genuinely belong. When we adopt other people's ideas about what we should want, we aren't likely to get what we actually want and need.

It may be that what you really want from community is to be told what to think and believe so you don't have to think for yourself. If that's what you want, be honest about that. Other people may criticize you -- hell, I may criticize that desire -- but it's better for you to be honest about what you actually want rather than pretend someone else's expectations are your own. There are plenty of places where you can be told what to believe and where you'll be discouraged from thinking for yourself, so one advantage is that your desire for community will be easily satisfied.

There's a challenge even in those communities, though, because many times people want to pretend that they are being intellectually honest when they're actually being quite lazy in their thinking. Some people feel some shame about just wanting to be told what to think and believe, so they pretend that they are making rational, well-thought-out decisions. Some people don't want to be seen as stupid or foolish, so they pretend to have rational reasons for believing irrational things. People even make up evidence (read: lie) in order to make the irrational seem rational.

People say, "Prayer works!" instead of saying, "I just prefer to believe that my prayers have some effect on my relative's illness because otherwise I would feel powerless and grief-stricken. By pretending that I'm doing something useful and meaningful, I feel less anxiety." It's tough for one person to keep up the pretense that prayer has an effect on external reality, but when an entire community repeats an irrational assertion over an over again, it can almost seem rational. OK, not "almost". People literally brainwash themselves into believing something irrational. Despite documented research that suggests that prayer has either no effect or a negative effect on the health of a patient, many people still prefer to pray rather than feel helpless. 

Bold honesty can come into play at so many different points in this process. And the outcome doesn't even have to change just because people are boldly honest. People could be honest about their community and admit, "What we say here doesn't actually line up with reality, but it makes me happy, and I prefer being happy." Or people could say, "I don't really believe this, but I like the people here, so I'm going to pretend that I agree with them." That level of honesty would probably stop inside a person's head, but imagine the effect on a community if just one person came out and said, "What we say here doesn't actually make any sense, but I feel happy when I say it. So I'm going to pretend that it makes sense." If what you want from community is for people to reinforce an unreasonable belief that you have the power to alter reality through your intention and words (or your "faith"), be boldly honest that that's what you really want.

When we listen to the rhetoric of some political and religious spokespeople, we hear blatant lies about public figures, about history, and about supernaturals. Many people are fine with those lies, because the lies match the way they choose to see the world. I know that it's a lie, for instance, that LGBT people are going to hell. For one thing, hell isn't real. For another thing, a lot of LGBT folks are already going through hell just to exist. Some people prefer to believe that their imagined supernatural hates gay people, and is going to punish them for eternity (loving supernatural that it is). 

They may say trite things like, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," and they may say that their love for the LGBT community is why they fund the psychological torture known as conversion therapy (now, reparative therapy). The truth is that they prefer to pretend certain things about reality, and they prefer to indulge their fear of people who aren't like them. Say so. If you want to participate in a community that either overtly or subtly rejects, persecutes, and marginalizes people who identify as LGBT, be honest. Just say, "I don't understand gay people, and I don't want to take the time to understand them. I prefer to think that they're going to burn in hell than think that they are human beings with inherent worth and dignity." Don't make things up about what your supernatural thinks, because you couldn't know that even if there was supernatural to know something about. Be boldly honest about what you actually know and want, and own it.

Now, I know you probably read all of that as being a bit of a rant, and that's fine. The point is that there's no reason to pretend to have noble reasons for wanting what you want. There's no reason to pretend that there's evidence for something just because you want to believe it. Some people may see this as a postmodern nightmare of making truth so relative that it has no meaning, but let me be clear: I'm not saying that just because you want prayer to work, that means it's true for you. The true part is that you want prayer to work, and you're willing to pretend that it does even though you have no falsifiable, replicable evidence. I'm not saying that for some people it's true that LGBT folks are evil. I'm saying that it's true that some folks prefer to believe that LGBT people are evil. If we can get to that level of honesty about the difference between what we know and what we prefer to believe, we will have made great strides forward as a species.

This all works the other way, too. If you can be boldly honest about what you actually want from meaningful, authentic community, you'll be more likely to find it. A community that lies to you is not authentic, and you won't find a genuine sense of belonging there, unless you honestly want to be lied to. If you want to be in community with people who allow you to express what you believe and accept you openly as your authentic self, be boldly honest about that being what you want. Don't settle for a community where you have to hide who you are just to be around people who seem nice and treat you kindly. It is not nice or kind for people to insist that you believe as they do and encourage you to hide who you are. Keep looking. Now, perhaps more than ever before, there are places where you can find genuine belonging -- not just a sense that if you play by the rules and pretend to be just like everyone else, you can get a false feeling of acceptance. Acceptance is not the same as approval for doing what someone else wants you to do.

I spent years of my life pretending to be something I wasn't because Christian churches paid me well as a musician, but I couldn't safely say, "I don't believe most of this stuff you sing about and teach, and I actually think a lot of it is harmful." People thought I was wonderful, as long as I pretended to believe what they believed. Their acceptance of me shifted sharply when they learned otherwise. If I am boldly honest, I sometimes even wonder whether my level of atheism and Humanism is welcome in a Unitarian Universalist context. There are so many options for atheists and Humanists to find community now -- authentic community where they are not only accepted as they really are, but encouraged to be even better versions of who they really are. So many churches encourage people to be better versions of who the church says people are supposed to be. Don't settle for that unless it's what you actually honestly want.

If you want to find a genuine sense of belonging, be boldly honest about who you are and find the people who receive you without reservation. They exist. If you want to find authentic community, be boldly honest about what you want. Some folks may want to echo Kennedy and say, "Ask not what your community can do for you; ask what you can do for your community," but I've found that people who are nurtured by their community wind up giving back to that community. It really is alright to start off by asking, "Where do I find community that actually meets my needs?" 

And please, please, please: be boldly honest about what you prefer to believe. Don't shore up your irrational preferences with false data or made-up anecdotes. Just be boldly honest about your biases and prejudices. Be boldly honest about what makes you feel safe and happy. Too much time is spent arguing nonsense with one another, when we could just be honest and say, "This is what I prefer to believe, despite any evidence to the contrary." At the very least, it will make for a more honest world. 

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