Happy 4th of July! I love the name of this holiday because it’s so inclusive. Yes, it’s a celebration of America’s Declaration of Independence, but it also works for every non-American as well because it’s July fourth for everyone. Even if you’re following a different calendar, it’s whatever July fourth translates into for that tradition. I love inclusion.

I love independence, too. At first glance, it seems like independence and inclusion would be mutually exclusive, but they’re not. Our forebears won independence from England, but two centuries later they had become our greatest allies. You shouldn’t have to give up your independence to be part of a group. Most groups have rules and certain beliefs tying them together, otherwise they’d fall apart. But when those rules become mandates that are not up for discussion or dissent, that group is no longer inclusive and the members are no longer free or independent within it.

When discussing black and white thinking (BWT) with my therapist, she felt that I see too much nuance to be considered a black and white thinker. I do see nuance, that’s true. But not in everything. I see a sharp distinction between things that are black and white and things that have no definitive answer. Both can be incredibly complicated, but my mathematical mind sees no point in arguing about something with no final answer. My mind wants to reduce things to a problem already solved, a problem that looks familiar and more manageable to me, and you can’t do that with a problem that has no answer. To put it in an even more mathematical way, there’s not enough information to solve the equation, so I don’t see the point in arguing it until we can fill in the blanks.

I’m going to offer an example that took me 45 years to work out. It’s something that will likely be familiar to most, but may be offensive to some. I don’t think it’s offensive, but we’ve established that I’m not necessarily the best judge of that. The example is agnosticism as it relates to religion. Feel free to bail now if you think you might be offended by the remainder of this post because that is truly not my intent. I’m just trying to show how my mind works in relation to BWT.

I had a conversation a while back where I was told that being agnostic was worse than being an atheist. I was upset by many things in that conversation, but this one confused me the most. Something my dear friend litdiva said helped me realize that my confusion was rooted in my own BWT. (Thanks, babe!)

Although its most common usage is probably with respect to religion, the word agnostic has nothing to do with religion. Technically, it means without knowledge. A polytheist is someone who believes in multiple gods; a monotheist is someone who believes in one god; and an atheist is someone who believes there is no god. Applied to religion, an agnostic is someone who believes the existence of god cannot be proven. I’m using the small g here because none of these refer to any specific god.

To me, agnosticism is a black and white question. Can the existence of god be proven? No, it can’t. Look at the rules of logic, especially , to see that it’s not possible to offer tangible proof of the existence of a deity. I actually think everyone in the world should be agnostic because it’s logical. It’s a logical question that says nothing about belief. You can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist.

For most theists, I would think that the inability to prove that god(s) exist would be essential because that’s where faith steps in. You can’t prove it, so you have to take a leap of faith to believe. If it could be proven, there’s no free will, no choice to believe or not when the undeniable proof is before you. You could pretend not to believe or not to understand or say that you don’t care, but none of those is the same as not knowing.

Just as I see agnosticism as black and white, I see theism as a question with no definitive answer. I think proof of god’s existence is a black and white question, but the only thing black and white about god’s actual existence is that it’s not a black and white question. I don’t think anybody has exactly the right answer. And I am rigid enough that I can’t fully believe something without absolute proof. I can’t accept one true answer to a question I don’t believe is black and white. I wish I could, but I can’t wrap my brain around it. My therapist says I live my whole life from the neck up and she’s right.
None of that means that I have a problem with religion. I actually admire people of deep faith. And I like to hear people talk about what they’re passionate about, including religion. My problem isn’t with religion itself; it’s with intolerance of any form. With people who insist on excluding others based on artificial differences like race or gender or ability or religion. Sparky will tell you that, even in the movies, I’m all about justice and the underdog. 🙂

Which brings us full circle to freedom and inclusion. They are black and white issues to me.

4thBeagleWhen people see their (or their group’s) interpretation of religion as the one, the only, true way to think about it and then try to push that on other people…that’s when I have a problem. You are ardent in  your beliefs and that’s great, but it doesn’t mean you get to discount someone else’s just because they’re different. It’s called tolerance, but it’s actually much more than that. If you want to share your faith, then share it, don’t push it. Sharing is an exchange and it means you listen to the other person as well. It means you embrace diversity and try to find the common ground rather than exclude based on the differences. Between any two people there will be plenty of both, but sometimes you have to look closely to find the similarities.

Freedom can be tricky because it doesn’t just mean your own personal freedom. It means your neighbor’s freedom, too. Even Bob and that thing he believes that you think is just crazy. Stand up and advocate for Bob’s freedom.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who’s standing center-stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land is the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.” Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms…then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

~Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepherd in The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin