Has This Debate Run Its Course?

By Mike Dishnow, November 24, 2013

Published in the La Crosse Tribune.

A learned and respected community member opined to me that the continuing debate between the atheists and theists in the tribune is perplexing. The members of his mainstream Christian congregation were so very different from those portrayed in this column. There are many who accept modern science and medicine, are comfortable with the theory of evolution, and are tolerant and accepting of individuals who differ. This individual felt that many find solace and value in the rituals and community of their respective churches. The parishioners seek a higher calling or standard to guide and add meaning to their lives.

Perhaps, it is time to look at the similarities between mainstream Christians and mainstream Atheists. Are we more alike than different, as I proposed in an earlier column? I think the answer is a resounding YES.

How do we believe we should treat other human beings? Is there a difference in the teachings of Jesus Christ of the Christian Bible and the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama? I chose this simple comparison because the followers of Jesus consider him a deity while the followers of the Buddha consider him a teacher. Whether I love my neighbor as myself or I practice compassion and offer a helping hand to all sentient beings, it is the “Golden Rule” I am following.

In expanding this thought to Secular Humanism, I will find another version of the Golden Rule. Indeed, all the major theisms (religions) of the world and the major philosophical schools, both east and west, place the Golden Rule at the base of an ethical pyramid.

In Confucianism, order and harmony are the key values. In the United States, we long for a lawful and ordered society in which to raise our families and live out our lives. If you talk to a traditional follower of Islam, you will hear the same desire for a fulfilling life based on the same key values.

It is likely that the attitudes and worldviews within the local Christian community, and within the local Freethinker community, vary more than those between the two communities do. A holistic approach would reveal the same desire for a meaningful life in each community: family, good health, education for the children, good job opportunities for the adults, safety on the streets, and a clean environment. Humans have the same basic needs. Spirituality, when defined as a worldview or philosophy, is common to all as well.

I would advance the thesis, offered by the community member mentioned at the beginning of this essay, that the real difference between people is attitudinal: How they treat other people. It is not the worldview, theistic or non-theistic, that precipitates the behavior of a person towards others. Their basic temperament is a factor, but their free will allows them to choose their attitudes.

A legitimate question to ask an atheist or agnostic is this: what does your worldview have to offer others? Do not allow answers that compare them to those holding different worldviews. Simply, what do you have to offer? Ask the same question to the professing Christian, Buddhist or Muslim.

When the discussion is on a positive path, ask how the person’s answers fit into the larger community. How do we work together for the greater good? Discussion is good, issues are real, conflict is sometimes inevitable – cooperation and understanding are essential to moving forward.

We should be talking to one another. The goal should be mutual understanding and respect with an eye to improving the community in which we co-exist. But I may be a dreamer. As John Lennon sang:

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one”

There are numerous ways we can work together to help our community. The food pantries are always in need of volunteers and donations. In August, I saw TV ads calling for donations for school supplies. The list is open-ended.

I would love to see a joint column, co-authored by a local atheist and local theist, of a collaborative benefit to aid the needy in our midst. Maybe it would be a call to end bullying in our schools. Our children badly need role models, especially those of differing views working together.

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