Something has happened to me this year. I had to step away from religion and politics so it would not consume me. I think about writing here every day. Topics I am most passionate about, like healthcare reform and the separation of church and state, have me surrounded. I don’t know where to begin. I could write two posts a day and it would never make a dent.
But the real source of struggle has been unexpected.
I no longer know how to communicate with those who share my belief system. My desire to question things isn’t welcome. When I witness debates over religion or politics, I am most frustrated with the terrible arguments made in agreement with my point of view. There is almost no understanding of who we are arguing against or why, and the sides have become so extreme, I see little difference between them anymore.
I regularly find myself defending conservative Christians and Trump supporters. I can completely disagree with them while sharing their frustration of being misunderstood by atheists and Liberals. This is something I value, but others are completely blind to my meaning. I cannot explain myself to satisfaction, and I am left with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness to make anything better. Who cares about your “brilliant” point if it doesn’t speak to the feelings of those it is meant to enlighten?
Meanwhile, the vast majority of people remain uninterested. For all the anger Christians and atheists feel toward each other, or Liberals and Conservatives…they represent a minority with more in common than they know. Both sides continue to make sweeping generalizations about an entire group of people based on their limited contact with “the enemy” online. Most Christians do not care about my atheism. Most atheists have never engaged a Christian, and know nothing about the bible. They just don’t care about this kind of stuff. The same is true of politics. But among those who care deeply, it is a comedy of errors; each arguing imagined points of view rather than actual points of view, with their only desire being to have their “wisdom” applauded by their peers (who always agree 100%).
There are conversations I can have in person that I cannot have on social media. In person, I can still ask a friend if their argument is the best argument for our shared belief without causing drama. I can better explain an opposing point of view without being shunned by the herd. I keep telling myself it is good to challenge the tactics of my like-minded friends, but in the world of social media, I can find no one who appears to agree with me.
No matter how careful I am, all questioning is seen as an attack on our unity. Am I really the one hammering cracks into that wall, or have I fallen through a crack that already existed? I am a liberal atheist who suddenly finds herself needing distance from other Liberals and atheists. But I haven’t changed.
It feels problematic. The more mainstream extreme positions become, the more uncertain a sea of followers become. And I know more than a few Christians and Conservatives who are experiencing the same thing.
If someone I respect shares an idea, I am too quick to accept it. But what if another like-minded person I respect challenges the first person’s idea? I am forced to form a more educated opinion. I am forced to think harder about whose side I am on and why. I want more of that. I need more of that. Can I create more of that, or is it a waste of time?