Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Heretic's Dilemma

Twenty-five years ago, about this time of year, I went what is probably the only true vacation of my adult life, a six-week trip around Europe. We started and ended in Ireland, where I have cousins who live in a house that has been in the family since the early 17th century.

From there we went on through Wales and England, and to the Continent, through France, Switzerland, Austria, what was then still a unified Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Belgium (in that order), before heading back through the British Isles.

We spent a few days in Paris, which was not nearly enough, but we did see the main sights. At one point we went to Sacre Coeur, which is every bit as amazing as it looks.

Looking back, I suppose I made the shift from believer to agnostic to atheist from ages 10-14, give or take. And at the time we were in the Sacre Coeur, I was twenty-four years old, long hair, proud (and sometimes arrogant) unbeliever, caring only about working a job to feed my habits -- guitars, women, motorcycles, beer, and weightlifting. It was a warm June day, but it didn't seem right to wear shorts, so I wore jeans, a blank t-shirt, shoes. These details matter somewhat, as we'll see.

So we're looking around the interior of this magnificent building, this monument to pure devotion and belief, trying to be circumspect about taking photos. When I first stepped in, I almost felt like I should step right back out, not out of fear or disdain, but that it might be disrespectful. I'm glad I stayed in, because it clarified to me that there was (and is) a difference between belief and respect.

After a few minutes, another small group of Americans came in. I could tell they were Americans before they even opened their mouths, especially the adult male -- fat, slovenly, dressed in wrinkled cargo shorts and a t-shirt that said "Pat's BBQ" or something like that, flip-flops, sunglasses parked on the back of his head. I found myself waiting for him to lift one leg and break out a massive fart, or maybe wad up a Mickey D's bag and try to hide it under a pew. And yet some of the comments I overheard the man and his (I assume) wife make seemed to indicate that they were to some extent religious. (It might also have been the ketchup stigmata on his palms. I keed, I keed.)

Without descending too deeply into the judgment circle on this guy -- it was, after all, a warm early-summer day in Paris -- here is the real point of this anecdote, one I extrapolated from its origin to apply to daily observation of religious people in general, and the behavior of some of the worst examples:
Which is worse, in the eyes of our capricious, vengeful non-deity:  someone who does not believe, but tries to show respect anyway; or someone who professes to believe, but shows no true respect?

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