The benefits of religious diversity: a case study

My move to Fort Collins brought me into the heart of a social group that is quite unfamiliar to me. My roommate is an atheist and a skeptic, as are his boyfriend and his brother (my other roommate). All of this means that atheism and skepticism (not the same thing, but two related movements) have been a lot more on my radar than they used to be.

It’s a curious position for me to be in, because while I disagree with very few of the principles these people hold–I don’t practice any religion, I think science is a good thing, and I don’t really believe in God, per se–my worldview continually comes into conflict with theirs.

It’s mostly a result of my education, I think. My family would like to believe that college turned me into a godless liberal–in most cases, that’s simply untrue, but it is true that my liberal arts education is at least somewhat responsible for the fact that I am, when all other labels fail (and they usually do), a relativist. Basically, it really matters very little to me whether I believe the same things that you do–in fact, I feel like the world is a better place because you believe different things than I do. I care a lot less about Truth than I do about the richness that results from a world in which different people believe different, crazy, beautiful things.

That last bit is the part that drives my skeptic friends crazy. What kind of crazy person will outright announce that they don’t care what’s true?

I’m never quite sure how to respond. It’s been hard to work up a defense, because I’m . . . simply not troubled by the fact that Truth doesn’t matter that much to me. I’m still working on fine tuning my defense. But, while I’m working that out, I’d like to offer up a case study.

Howard and Sandra Tayler are the creative machine behind the very successful webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The comic has updated continuously (every single day without fail) for ten years. A few years ago, Howard quit his corporate job, and now Schlock Mercenary is what supports their family. They have four children, and they are Mormon.

Now, Schlock Mercenary is not a very Mormon comic, in my opinion. By that, I don’t mean that it’s full of things Mormons would object to–not at all. But, you know how you can pick up practically any book that Orson Scott Card has ever written, and just smell the LDS wafting off it? Schlock Mercenary doesn’t have that.

But this comic is a full time job, and not an easy one. You only have to spend a little time on Sandra Tayler’s blog to get a sense of what a massive undertaking it is. It isn’t easy being self-employed in a creative field. It’s even more challenging to do so while attempting to raise four children and keep a healthy marriage. But all indications are that the Taylers have been successful on all fronts.

Now, could a secular couple in the same situation succeed? Absolutely. I’m not trying to say that religion is sine qua non here. But, this kind of creative partnership, especially one that demands so much from both members, cannot help but benefit from the peace and strength that Howard and Sandra draw from their religion.

That’s not something I’m making up, either. Have a look at this recent interview with the couple. It’s intended for Mormon audiences, but I think that helps provide a better sense of how their faith matters to them. (They tend to be very tactful when discussing their faith before mixed audiences. They don’t preach–in fact, they just plain don’t talk about it all that much, at least online. In my opinion, their lives give a far better testimony than any preaching, anyway.)

Sometimes, atheists like to imply–or, hell, outright state–that the world would be better without religion. (I feel like I should make it clear that that’s a general “atheists”, not, say, my roommate, with whom I have had numerous very interesting and challenging discussions about the merits of religion.) That anything that’s good with religion would be better without it. That the drawbacks of religion far outweigh the benefits.

I say, maybe more of us would be better off like the Taylers.

2 thoughts on “The benefits of religious diversity: a case study

  1. Love this post!

    It’s making me think a bit about Latter Days, a LGBTQ flick I watched the other day. It’s about a closeted Mormon who falls in love with an openly gay man in Los Angeles. More importantly, I’d say, it’s about an openly gay man who falls in love with the Mormon.

    More importantly because otherwise it would just be a film for all us non-LDS folks to chuckle or scoff at the intolerance of that particular religion (and they are pretty intolerant of gays, no question there).

    But no, this agnostic/atheist character is moved by a religious character. Obviously, he doesn’t convert, but part of the reason that this Mormon guy interests him is BECAUSE he’s Mormon, because his faith has an impact on how he lives his life and makes his choices.

    Mind you, it’s not a perfect movie, but it surprised me enough that I liked it more than I thought it would. Because I thought it would simply be a unidirectional move from Mormonism to agnosticism, persecution to liberation, intolerance to acceptance. But instead it tapped a bit into what you’re saying about what religion can do for the world in a non-spiritual sense, which is make it a richer and more complex place.

  2. Oh Emma, I love when u start talking about religion.

    I have seen enough beautiful things inspired by religion that would never have existed without religion to know that whether I believe in it or not, it is not a bad thing.

    More than beauty, religion gives many people a sense of community. Church isn’t about finding God, it’s about feeling connected to other people, about finding people who have something in common with you and will support you when you’re in trouble. I’d argue that there are small towns in this country that *depend* on the organization provided by a church to a local area. The motivation for this, and for many, many charities, is inspired by the faith some people have in whatever religion they’re following.

    Some people find their moral guidelines through intellectual ideas of social justice and stuff like that, but other people find them through religion. What’s so bad about that?

    Maybe the good and bad things that come out of religion would have come out anyway, just in different forms. It’s hard to say. But religion helps a lot of people, and many people find comfort in it.

    I mean… I *wish* I had faith in something, and find it pretty unfortunate that I don’t. Maybe I think that what I believe is more True, but… it’s also more empty, and lonely, and purposeless. Without some faith in something, some conviction that you know the answer, the only thing you’ve got left is hope.

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