I suppose that the last 7 years have been extremely interesting and enlightening for me and I have the internet to thank for that. In 1999 I sat down in front of a computer, learned how to connect to the internet and dove right in. Within a couple of days I was downloading, uploading, emailing, and getting drunk over all the information that was available to me by the simple click of an icon, or the typing in of an web address. It was like my brain became global; well I guess it did. For me the internet is information shared, stored, and if not then available upon request. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have it.
Since I am interested in the beliefs or non-beliefs of others, I overdosed in going to sites to study and interact with people, which would have been impossible for me to meet just a few years before. In fact I must of downloaded hundreds of pages of information to read and study. I guess I sort of gorged myself doing this, I was like a kid in a candy shop discovering taste that I never knew existed.
When I got on the web I did not know that it would lead me to try my skill at writing. I needed to do this because I simply wanted to communicate with the many diverse people I discovered, and also wanted to express my own thoughts on things, my beliefs, etc. It was hard going at first. Like many folks, I can get the overall picture pretty fast, perhaps understand complex thoughts, but did not have the skill to break them down and express them in ways that could be understood. Since for most of my life writing did not play an important role, it was difficult for me at first. I would sit over the keyboard, thinking, trying to find a way to express myself and feel blocked. Not because there were no ideas, there were simply too many. So the process was slow, it took a couple of years before I could even begin to feel comfortable with writing, and I am still struggling at times.
I dialogued with Atheist, Wiccans, Satanist, Setians, Randites, Fundamentalist, and other Christians of different faith traditions. One thing I have learned, each group has the same sort of people in them. Some are easy to communicate with, others not. Rigidity is not the something that only some types of Fundamentalist have. I have met atheist who would put Bob Jones to shame, and others who were simply interested in what others thought or believed. It also brought up to my attention my own prejudices. Prejudices are forever, but once known their power to manipulate from the shadows, is curtailed a great deal, if not totally.
I have also learned that people’s beliefs cannot be changed by arguing, or belittling. I have learned this from experience. Since the above does not work for me, I assumed that it will not work for others. We are all outsiders when it comes to the beliefs of those different than out own, so misconceptions are rampant when it comes to expressing ones thoughts on said beliefs. I often think that those who attack me for my beliefs miss the point, “they just don’t get it”. I suppose atheist, Satanist, Wiccians, perhaps everyone think the same thing. It is sort a circle of people yelling at each other, thinking they sound rational and logical when dealing with the beliefs of others. Even if I belonged say to one of the groups and left the system, I would then be an outsider and the experiences that led me to leave would make me a less than an objective critic.
Criticisms from outsiders can be helpful, but limited. It was difficult to understand some of the people I dialogued with, but when I listened my preconceived ideas were more often than not proved false. None have ever convinced me to leave my faith, but I think my appreciation of others has deepened with my journey.
To end on a dark note: I often feel that ignorance is the norm. Cultural faith, or for that matter cultural non-belief needs to be overcome. We can no longer be carried by simply living with people who think the way we do, there are now too many others who think otherwise. Even on the net ghettos are forming were only like minded people meet, when this happens a false sense of infallibility can be fostered which really leads to a form of insanity, and it is just not Christians who do this. I think what can connect us is the understanding that most of us are seeking the truth, we may just come up with different answers to that quest. Beliefs are often hard won, best to let each struggle with these questions, and if a group is found where a feel of home is accomplished good for them. For those who don’t, we need to listen to them also. I think we each have of a part of a very large puzzle.
A great weakness of our species is that we think we can figure things out, I am not sure that is true, but we are wired to try anyway. It is not an easy task. Dialogue can often lead to doubt, but for the most part that is only the mind processing new information, that in the end could be a source of deepening, also broadening, what one already believes. Fear leads to walls that can only get higher and thicker, the more doubt is denied. Opinions are cheap, knowledge has a price, and surety is one of them.
Paradox, the more one knows leads to an understanding of how little that really is. People are deep, complex creative and capable of great insight.....and yes often irrational. A potent mix, deserving of respect, not scorned or hated, but something truly appreciated.