I am well aware that religion can be a pretty personal topic for many people, and I’m not here to offend anyone, but I’d like to speak my mind on what’s okay and what’s not. I’m not going to turn this into a testimony or stand on my soapbox and say who’s right and who’s wrong. I am sharing my thoughts because I believe there are quite a few people who will agree with them, and just as many people that will read this and consider making some changes in their daily lives.
I understand that religion is the most important aspect of many people’s lives. On the contrast, I understand that some people do not believe in any religion or higher power. I have absolutely no problem with either person, but I do have some problems when boundaries are crossed by both parties.
- Saying things like “He’s a good Christian” instead of “He’s a great guy”. People can be good without being religious, and this saying implies that people of other religions are inferior to Christians (ever heard somebody say “He’s a good Muslim” with a positive connotation?). Conversely, being a Christian doesn’t magically make a person good. People’s worth should not be defined by their level of spirituality.
- Being offended by good intentions. For example, when people say “God bless you” after a sneeze, or that they’ll pray for you when you’re in a time of need, there’s no need to respond “I’m an atheist”. Good for you! Now stop being so easily offended and accept that their intentions were good, and simply say thank you. That Christian didn’t wake up this morning thinking, “I’m going to offend an atheist today!” It’s okay to think in the back of your mind that prayers are a waste of time, or that the person who sneezed needs a strong dose of God in their life, but don’t blatantly disrespect the beliefs of others to their face.
- Trying to convert someone and forcing your beliefs (or disbelief) upon them. I understand a Christian experiencing the unfailing love of Jesus and wanting to spread that feeling with a friend, but if the friend declines multiple invitations to church events and is obviously uninterested, then drop the subject. Don’t make it your mission to save them or fix their “wrong” ways; learn how to respect them and love them for who they are. And for you atheists out there—don’t lecture your spiritual friends on why their belief system is flawed or wrong all together. They wholeheartedly believe there is a God just as much as you wholeheartedly believe there isn’t.
- Being close-minded toward people with differing beliefs. Now, I’m not saying a conservative southern belle raised in the Bible belt should run off and elope with a liberal, California hippie atheist, but I am saying that those two should be able to have a civilized discussion about their beliefs and see the good in one another. It’s good to have friends with varying beliefs because it exposes you to new cultures and sometimes makes you analyze your own faith. If you’re scared to have your faith questioned, that’s probably telling you something, but if you’re strong in your faith this questioning will often make it grow deeper. Don’t rule out a person as a potential friend or significant other based on their faith (or lack thereof) before you take time to learn why they believe what they believe.
- Exhibiting condescension. “Oh honey, you’re young. Just wait and see, you’ll figure it out in a few years.” My interpretation? “You’re young, dumb, and wrong but in a few years you’ll realize I was right all along.” This works for a religious person speaking to a religion-less person or vice versa. Either scenario has the, “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality, and that is unacceptable. There is a monumental difference between telling people what you believe and why you believe it, versus telling people why your personal beliefs are right and theirs are wrong. Be certain to avoid the latter.
I’m sure there are plenty of other examples; please feel free to contribute in the comments.