Recently I was foolish enough to get embroiled in a Facebook discussion about some aspects of religion (this has happened to me before, you’d think I’d know better by now). I dared to suggest that someone’s beloved faith has a less than perfect history, and got duly dumped on as a result. I’m still reeling somewhat from that, and still annoyed at the idiocy of some of their arguments (eg that it’s atheists who exclusively start wars). However, it’s not that they disagreed with me that still bugs me, but the way they did so.
So call me an aspie perfectionist, but in my book, the mature response if something or someone you love is criticized, is to stop, reflect, and investigate if there is any truth to it. And if there is, to do what you can to correct this, if possible. This applies whether you’re talking about a beloved partner who has done something wrong, or a religious body that proves to have a less than perfect history. It is I believe the responsibility and the right of the members of that body to do their utmost to correct these past (and present) sins, and/or see to it that their leadership atones appropriately for them. (Those outside it can of course point out its faults, and resist any social/political changes those bodies are trying to achieve, but the actual job of correction falls to those inside.) Doing so does not mean having to leave their religion – they might still see much of worth in it, and prefer to correct rather than reject.
That’s what I consider a ‘mature’ response. Here’s how not to respond to criticism (most of these were used on me) –
1) “You must be ‘anti-us’” - therefore anything the critic says can be dismissed, because nothing they say could possibly have any validity whatsoever.
2) “You’re a [fill in any type of personal invective]” – insult their intelligence, their intellectual rigour (“You must get your factoids off the Net”), their moral integrity, their personal worth (“Where did you find such ‘friends’, X?”), etc, etc. This, along with 1), is the modern version of “if you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger”.
3) “It didn’t happen.” A point-blank denial of the events or phenomena the critic points out, regardless of the evidence.
4) “It happened, but it wasn’t us who did it.” Again, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. A variation on this is “It was a rogue element within our body that did it.” No responsibility taken, in other words.
5) “It didn’t happen to many.” The ‘minimisation of numbers’ game is an excellent distraction, which effectively bogs down the critic in trying to ‘prove’ their statistics, and totally misses the main point – ie that it happened at all.
6) “It wasn’t that bad.” A similar minimization and distracting tactic, this time re the effects. “It was a long time ago” is a variation on this.
These tactics and attitudes do neither the religious body or the individuals concerned any favours whatsoever. It means a kind of corrosion of the soul sets in for both. Harmful attitudes can continue to be perpetuated, and new and perhaps different wrongs committed. Something begins to stink in the state of Denmark, to paraphrase the Bard. Such denials and suppression of truths are among the many factors that drive people away from the churches in droves, and diminish any respect they might still have in the eyes of the population in general.
Facing truths, on the other hand, however hard, and dealing with past (and present) wrongs within a body or institution (whether religious or not) has the same effect on the issues as fresh air and cleanliness do on physical wounds – ie to promote healing, and strengthen the body involved.
I can understand the initial knee-jerk reaction of denial or anger – no-one is perfect, and it’s natural to want to think the institutions we love “would never do such awful things!” - but I feel it’s up to those who have been challenged, after that initial reaction, to look at these issues honestly, and most especially not to respond with furious insults, rigid dogma, and manipulative tactics. Obviously in this instance, they failed to do so.