I realize that the words to follow are going to seem hypocritical in the context of this post, but I think there is still some underlying importance for the larger “issue” at hand, which is the reason I felt inclined to write about this topic. The topic I am referring to is religion. Mainly focusing on Christianity in the United States and the concept of Christian privilege. The reason I think this post will be viewed as hypocritical is because I do not think it should matter what your views on theism are, just as your sexual orientation or even your favorite cereal should matter. But, in saying it should not matter I am still typing up a blog and discussing it, which is bringing attention to it and doing the exact opposite of what I feel should happen.
I thought of this topic the other day when I read a story on ESPN involving a football player, Arian Foster, who plays on the NFL team the Houston Texans. Recently he has “come out” as someone who does not believe in God, which is not a normal occurrence in the NFL, especially in Texas. Foster was interviewed about his decision to make his beliefs public, which were not entirely well received, but have gained support from many people, including myself. Not to overstate his act, but I do think it took a lot of courage to tell the truth when he was almost certain he would be ridiculed for it.
I respect his choice to make a public statement regarding his nonbelief in God and I respect some of the points he brings up in the article about belief. Foster says, “I’m not a picket-sign atheist. I just want to be a happy human being and continue to learn,” which is something I really appreciate considering I feel someone’s views on the subject of theism are his or her own and do not need to be forced on others. Also, I feel his point on continuing to learn is of paramount importance because he says he is open to having his views changed, which would come from learning something new, and I completely agree with that sentiment. I am more than welcome to having my views changed because I realize that I do not know everything and actually look forward to learning new information; especially new information that could change my current view on theism. Foster also says, “There’s a lot of ignorance about nonbelief. I don’t mean a negative connotation of ignorance. I just mean a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge, lack of exposure to people like me.” I thought this was an important point to bring up because there are judgments that come along with someone’s beliefs and Foster is trying to not ostracize people. He is trying to make a point by saying someone is not stupid if they do not understand and/or agree with his viewpoint, but rather he would like to have an intelligent conversation on the subject that would leave both parties feeling as if their viewpoint was respected. A great example of that is his relationship with teammate Justin Forsett, who is a Christian whom Foster has engaging, meaningful conversations on the topic of religion all the time and they still coexist as not just human beings, but friends. And I feel as a society it should be our goal not to just tolerate others who have different views as us, but engage in meaningful conversation and learn from each other.
In response to Foster’s interview, there was a blog post written by Brandon Vogt of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Obviously, Vogt is writing from a position of someone who does believe in God and while I do not agree with everything Vogt writes in his article, I do think he brings up some good points. Vogt writes, “Foster may think it ‘weird’ that football players ask for God’s help, but that’s no justification for atheism,” which I can agree with. Foster thinking it is odd that players pray before (and after) games does not disprove any presence of God. I also agree with Vogt in thinking Foster may have been a little too simplistic in his rationale for discrediting religion in saying, “We’ve been to the moon, and there’s no heaven up there. We’ve dug in the dirt, there’s no devil down there.” I will say, regarding that quote, Foster may have been using the moon and digging in dirt as symbols for our lack of witnessing physical proof of a God vs. actually not seeing heaven in the clouds as well as an underground hell, but I really do not know what Foster meant by his statement. Other points brought up by Vogt I tend not to completely agree with, but on the whole I think his reactions to Foster’s interview are fair and probably echo what he thinks, which I think is great. Considering I read about other places in the world where differing views can get someone killed I am extremely happy that I live in a place where people have the ability to voice their opinions and still live happy, normal lives.
This point about people being able to voice their opinions, though, is why I wrote this post in the first place. Everyone should have the ability to say what he or she thinks (hopefully this would exclude hate speech), but I also believe that someone’s views on some topics, here being religion, should be a non-issue and should not require justification. I mentioned the term Christian privilege earlier, which is something I feel is different from other forms of privilege we talk about, but I think it is apparent in certain situations in the US that not being Christian (i.e. being Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc…) will result in some sort of judgment that is different from someone who is Christian. Some obvious examples of Christian privilege that come to mind are: not having to work on Christmas, even though there are other religious holidays that are not recognized in the US, most likely having a government representative that is some denomination of Christianity, and being able to easily find a Christian community to join in most places in our country. Personally, I can say that I have benefitted from these privileges through most of my life, but as I have gotten older I have realized I have a different set of beliefs, which has brought forth some of these obvious, and not so obvious Christian privileges to my attention. Some examples of Christian privilege that are not as obvious are that now I feel uncomfortable bringing up my beliefs around strangers out of fear of being judged, as well as even some family and friends whom I know will assign stereotypes to me if I were to tell them. So, what I end up doing is essentially not mention anything until there becomes a time where I feel comfortable enough to talk about it, which does not always occur.
I hope in the future that people of all beliefs have equal opportunities for happy, productive, distraction-free lives, but I feel that will only happen when it becomes unimportant about what religion you follow. The Arian Foster interview and the post by Brandon Vogt are examples of stories that bring attention to religion (namely to Christianity here in the US), but I hope in the future that articles like these do not need to be written. It is important to be able to have intelligent discussion about our differing points of views, but to glorify or ridicule anyone for their views on religion (and theism) seems to be the wrong direction to take for a society that is accepting of and embraces everyone’s beliefs, which is the country I want to live in.