Sunday, July 13, 2008

In memorium

I first started this strange journey into internet-based religion rabble-rousing about two and a half years ago. It started for me with the madhouse that is Yahoo! Answers' Religion & Spirituality section. Well, it wasn't so much of a madhouse back then, just a repository for people with very confused beliefs about religion. Having reached a certain clarity regarding religion after a lengthy, pre-internet, struggle with it myself, I was pleased to offer advice to people who, for example, were doubting the faith of their families but terrified to accept that reality about themselves.

Slowly I came to know people who contributed to that site. After some 13 years on the internet, I made my first on-line friends. A number of people scattered around the world who I truly came to know and love.

I've never been a Luddite about technology. I've never given in to the paranoia some people have about making friends online. In point of fact, my sister met her husband of 10 years on the internet, and a more loving couple I've yet to meet.

I had no problem with the concept of making friends on the internet; I had just never done it.

Then I did. As an outspoken non-believer with certain deep and profound concerns about the Christian faith in particular that do, I admit, carry over into animosity sometimes, I certainly didn't expect the Christians of the internet to line up to befriend me.

I can actually remember the first time I saw her contributing to this website. There was a reposting of typically answersingenesis-style rhetoric, a list of Creationist scientists, a few questions about how people support evolution like a religion. So far so cliché, but for some reason this woman's tone made me approach her question with respect as opposed to with a sneer (as is my usual response for people who use a religion-based 'forum' to express opinions about science).

Then a question asking whether you'd rather have an atheist for a neighbour or a Muslim. I read it and regretted my decision to answer her earlier questions genuinely. I wrote a rather bitter response lashing out at her for what I saw as her bigotry, and presumed I'd never waste any more time on her again.

I then got a private correspondence response from her surprised that I'd been offended. That surprise surprised me, and triggered a friendship that lasted more than two years. Superficially, two more different people there could not have been: a cantankerous Canadian atheist socialist living in Europe and a small-town Texan Catholic homeschooling mother and night nurse. Her faith really guided and directed her life. Nothing made me feel happier than aiding people in abandoning theirs.

After that rockiest of starts, we became very tight friends, disagreeing on practically everything but always having respect for each other. Through the example of myself, and some other mutual friends, I believe she was able to see that people without faith can still be good people. Through the example of her, and some other mutual friends, I was able to see that loving God does not mean not loving humanity. A truly beautiful person who not only defined respect and tolerance but positively exuded those characteristics in every word she wrote, she reminded me - when the flood of Christian bullies and bigots you sometimes find online tempted me to forget - that religious conviction perhaps does not alter personality but amplify it - bringing the small-minded and petty to a state of true contempt but also bringing the open-minded and open-hearted to a true state of beatitude.

If there are saints in this world, we lost one yesterday. A long struggle with a painful medical condition finally took from us one of the most genuinely loving people I've ever known and one of the best friends I've ever made through this medium we call the internet. And yes, I am speaking about a woman who was not only Christian but who defined herself by her Christianity. Perhaps the last person in the world you'd expect me to eulogise.

I will, of course, carry on fighting the excesses and abuses of organised religion here online. I will bang my head, stick out my tongue, stamp my feet, do whatever it takes. Sometimes I will be confronted by bigots and I will get angry. I will lash out.

And through it all I will carry on my computer a picture of Debra McCullar, to remind me that what really motivates me is not the struggle against belief in God or Jesus for its own sake but the struggle against those whose hearts are closed to humankind, those who wield their religious belief as weapons, those who hate in their religion's name.

In so doing, I hope to preserve the memory of my dear friend and to honour her and what she stood for.


David Morris said...

I met Debra the same place you did, and feel the same way towards her.

I would like to tell you what a moving tribute to her your post is.

Hope said...

Thank you for sharing this lovely sentiment for Debra. I held so much admiration for her beautiful spirit.

Contemplative Chanteuse said...

This is really beautiful and I'm so glad you shared it.

Laurie said...

That was very moving. I'm very sorry for your loss.