I am still getting used the diversity of religious views that I hear expressed in my UU church. For most of my life a religious community meant adherence to a creed and uniformity of beliefs. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian church I was taught that a religious community was alright (that is, genuinely Christian and worthy of fellowship) so long as they believed that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins and rose from the dead and is now in heaven as part of the trinity. Anyone else was not saved, and living a lie, and therefore not to be trusted to know even their own heart and desires. Any known unbeliever was ‘lost’ and therefore a target for ‘witnessing’ and ‘intercessory prayer’ so that they might see the light and come to Jesus. The idea of ever belonging to a religious community where people disagreed on these key theological points was as far from my mind as the idea as the possibility that we might find paradise under the clouds on the planet Venus after all.

Naturally, I carried this unquestioned assumption into my atheism and it has only faded gradually as I’ve diversified my circle of friends. Only now it wasn’t the need to try and witness for Jesus but the urge to try to argue people out of their beliefs. To try to make other people think critically and see reality as I do. (Not that I don’t think there is still a place for challenging other’s beliefs, particularly if those beliefs are causing them distress or leading them to cause others distress.)

As it turns out, I’ve found a great deal of value in a community with diverse religious views. In the UU church at least there is a basic humanistic underpinning — the idea that each individual is important and has the right to make their own observations and conclusions about the nature of reality and express them without fear of condemnation. I think it comes down to the conclusion that I can still disagree — maybe even argue — with a person over belief in God or an afterlife or ghosts or whatever, but still want them to be part of my community. The value comes in the exposure to new ideas and different ways of seeing the world, and it helps to keep me honest and prevent me from seeing others as a caricature of their beliefs.

It’s a new idea to me, and it’s incredibly liberating.