Sunday, April 22, 2007

Respect the Believer, Question the Belief

I think some readers have gotten the false impression, primarily from my participation in The Blasphemy Challenge, that I am somehow hostile to persons of faith. I should make it clear that many of my best friends, and people I look up to in many ways, are believers. Three years ago I too was a believer, and I don't think I was much less moral or intelligent then. There is little correlation, and certainly no causation, to be drawn between an individual's belief set and her capacity for kindness or intelligence.

Christians have long faced a PR problem when taking a stance against what they see as sin in the lives of others: how to show proper disdain for actions they consider sinful while still showing care and love to the individuals they wish to help find happiness. Stated otherwise, how to be in the world and not of it. From this perceived conflict came the phrase, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

As non-believers of conscience, we face a similar problem: how to take a stand against unnecessary superstition while not demeaning the people who feel they need it. To accomplish this, I wish to promote a parallel attitude and aphorism: "Respect the believer, question the belief."

If we are to engage in open discussion and really work toward truth, we have to get past the barriers that make us afraid to question assumptions and ideologies. In accepting The Blasphemy Challenge, I took a stand not against people of faith, but the tactic of fear and the corrosive notion of blasphemy. No belief worth having should be so fragile and indefensible that it need be defended by proclaiming as blasphemer, heretic or fundamentalist anyone who offers dissent.

On the other hand, I have sympathy toward many criticisms of The Blasphemy Challenge. Its result is often to anger and to offend, and certainly this is not helpful. When broaching these subjects in person, my attitude and set of arguments vary from person to person and time to time, depending on a variety of factors. Sometimes it is good just to hear someone out, and at other times a little bit of good-natured parody is appropriate. At other times, the truth just needs be said outright, with no sugar coating. The difficulty in posting a statement online is the loss of ability to perform that customization, and those for whom the message is not tailored are left only to be offended.

To those individuals, I wish to state my intent to engage in real discussion. I don't dismiss you, and if you have arguments in favor of belief, or supporting evidence, I'd like to hear it. I can be swayed by reasoning and evidence. I proved that three years ago.

1 comment:

bitswapper said...

Respecting the person and questioning the belief can go a long way towards maintaining a decent rapport with people for whom their religious beliefs are literally everything to them, while respectfully declining to be recruited into their fold. Its also helpful to call a horse a horse and a donkey a donkey. What evangelicals call 'saving souls' is religious recruitment - nothing else. I wouldn't even deign to call it proselytizing. Its disrespectful to me, for example, for them to insist that is it something other than what it is. So-called 'bible studies' and 'sunday worship' are religious retention exercises and nothing more. By assuming a special nomenclature, a false air of legitimacy and sincerity is encouraged. I see nothing disrespectful in calling out such activities for what they are. Fundamentalists/evangelicals assume offense when someone doesn't go along with their presumptions of authority and righteousness, and its disrespectful for them to expect everyone to go along with their games.

Its also disrespectful for them to insist that non-'believers' cannot partake in a true connection to a divine higher power (however one may wish to characterize it), since only they are 'right' about god. This is so openly disrespectful as to warrant apologies on the spot. Neither I nor anyone else has seen any indication that fundamentalists/evangelicals have some kind of connection to god which others lack.

As for the blasphemy challenge, I can't take it because I don't believe the bible was written or arranged word-for-word by the alleged creator of all existence. People who take the challenge may not realize they unwittingly encourage fundamentalists/evangelicals in their adherence to the belief that the bible is the literally given 'word of god'.