I learned a long time ago that part of what makes people of different faiths about to get along together is to not mock one anothers’ beliefs. If I wish tolerance for my own world view, I must offer it to others. This ethic is what makes a culture of multiple belief systems work.
Which is why the London Daily Mail, and the New York Post, as linked today on Memeorandum, ought to be ashamed of themselves and apologize as soon as possible, even though the apology is owed to a man accused of a crime.
They are ostensibly reporting on embattled New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, who stands accused of corruption in an attempt to short-circuit the astonishingly arcane nuts and bolts of New York election law so as to get a political ally on the ballot for the upcoming race to elect a new Mayor of New York City.
Whether Halloran is or is not guilty of corruption is one thing. That’s not what these articles are about.
What is shameful is the point-and-laugh articles pretty much openly mocking Halloran for embracing a restated version of ancient Germanic polytheism. He worships the old gods. And that’s his right as an American citizen.
It’s our obligation as a people to disregard the apparent silliness of his religious beliefs and judge the man on the content of his character. Let us focus on the moral and legal merits of the man’s case. He’s only interesting to anyone outside of New York because of the corruption accusation. Is he guilty or not? If he is guilty, ought what he did be deemed a crime at all? His religion is irrelevant to such inquiries.
It doesn’t look any more or less bizarre to me, an atheist, for a modern-day politician to worship Thor and Odin than it looks to me for a modern-day politician to worship the 2,000-year-old zombie of an itinerant rabbi. Or to venerate a four-armed man with an elephant’s head. Or to follow the lyrical ravings of a pederast warlord as holy writ. None of it stands up to critical, mean-spirited attempts to portray it as ridiculous by a non-believer.
And to the believer, my atheism looks just as bizarre and nonsensical to them as their belief looks to me.
Which is why, on those rare occasions I still interact with organized atheists, I continually grow weary of them mocking the faithful for their beliefs — regardless of your belief or mine, we can all agree that we should be good citizens to one another.
Of course Halloran’s religion is not rational and looks silly to a nonbeliever. That’s the result of religion being handed down, generation by generation, from pre-literate ancestors of the Bronze Age. What matters about a person is not the particular flavor of ancient mumbo-jumbo they prefer. What matters is whether they behave in a morally upright fashion, whether they make good contributions to society. Atheists who mock the faithful aren’t doing much to contribute, in my opinion.
Choosing instead to look at someone whose faith is different than your own and saying, “Okay, we believe differently, but so what?” is what makes it possible for all of us to live together in a culture where people actually have freedom of belief.
I don’t know if the authors of the Post and Daily Mail articles are atheists or Christians or whatever. It doesn’t matter. I know that holding Halloran up to ridicule for his pagan faith wouldn’t be tolerated for one damned second if he were Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist. And if we’re going to say we’re a tolerant society that lets people believe as their conscience dictates, then pointing and laughing at someone else’s religion ought to be called out as inconsistent with that ethic.
If Halloran broke the law with respect to the elections in New York, let him stand trial and if convicted, pay the price for that. It has nothing whatsoever to do with his religion.
After publishing the post, I came across, via No More Mister Nice Blog, an article from the Village Voice from November of 2011. Halloran apparently was not so keen on Cordoba House’s efforts to create a cultural center including a mosque near the World Trade Center:
In a video made by “Stop Islamization for America,” you can see Halloran seated on a dais near Pamela Geller before speaking at an event called “The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks.” … demonizing all Muslims for 9/11. Halloran then proceeds to align himself with his Irish, Roman Catholic, and cop roots, pandering in the crudest possible way to the audience’s fears.
“Would World War II veterans stand for a Shinto Temple to be built on the Arizona Memorial? Absolutely not,” Halloran says. “The greatest generation would not stand for something like that, and it has nothing to do with tolerance.”
Hypocrisy would be entirely fair game for mocking Halloran: “Tolerance for me, but not for thee” sits very poorly. But simply pointing out that to an outsider, his religious beliefs look weird is still not socially acceptable.