I sometimes find myself a visitor to College Station, TX and have, over the course of those visits, made a few acquaintances. Today, I checked out an item from the Bryan/College Station local news that involved one such acquaintance: Keri Bean, who has organized the Brazos Valley Atheist Vuvuzela Marching Band and done something…rather adventurous, shall we say? Video below.
What really struck me about this story was the first quote that was critical of Keri and her compatriots. From the web article:
“Wasn’t exactly happy about the Christmas Parade this year, I spent many years teaching my children to love and respect other people and to love the fact that they were children of God and I don’t feel that they should be influenced in any other way especially not at a Christmas parade,” said Tina Corgey, who is a lifelong Bryan resident.
I’m not surprised that there were people in Texas who were disturbed by an atheist group marching through town. However, I couldn’t help but get hung up on the statement, “I spent many years teaching my children to love and respect other people…I don’t feel they should be influenced in any other way,” because this unhappy Bryan resident then went on to criticize the beliefs of other people and criticize that they had expressed those beliefs. The Atheist Vuvuzela Band wasn’t antagonistic or offensive in exercising their First Amendment rights; they went about this with a healthy dose of humor and respect. So is Corgey saying one thing and doing another?
The thing is, I agree with Corgey’s sentiment – at least, her spoken one. I am happy that she’s taught her children to love and respect other people. I also think it would be wonderful if nobody ever influences her children to dislike or disrespect others. If she believes that these ideals derive from all people being children of God, that’s okay, too.
A marching band advertising themselves as atheists (or one playing vuvuzelas, for that matter) does not encourage her children to be disrespectful, or even encourage them to turn away from God. It merely announces that atheists exist. Corgey went on to say:
“If you have younger children they weren’t going to understand but I have older children, a teenager, 8-year-old and they were curious and they asked questions and it was hard for them to believe and understand that there are actually people out there that don’t believe in God,” Corgey said.
It is hard to acknowledge and understand ideas, theories, and beliefs that aren’t compatible with those that we accept. And it is also hard to explain to young or inexperienced minds that it’s okay for other people to believe something other than what you believe, as long as they treat others with respect and their beliefs don’t lead them to harm others. (That’s an ideal I celebrate about America!)
It’s hard, but not impossible. It’s hard, but not unnecessary. In our modern, free, and open society, it is essential that we accept differences of opinion without reducing them to tit-for-tat soundbytes. We must grapple with difficult issues in a considerate, respectful, and open-minded way.
That’s the reason why I’m glad that Keri and the Brazos Valley Atheist Vuvuzela Marching Band did what they did: because it caused Corgey’s children to be curious. They asked some questions to find out about other viewpoints than their own. Corgey may have struggled to answer their questions, and that’s okay – they are hard questions to answer. But the most important thing is that we keep asking them! Sometimes, questioning our ideas is the best way to strengthen or understand them. Sometimes, questioning our ideas leads us to something better. And sometimes, questioning our ideas leads us to something that is simply…different. But if we do not question, then we go nowhere. Curiosity should be celebrated! If the Athiest Vuvuzela Marching Band caused Corgey’s children to be curious enough to wrestle with questions that adults find difficult to engage, then they did a very good thing.