Thursday, May 17, 2012

Defending belief. Defending believers.

The summary is:  I don't defend my beliefs, because that slips over the line into proselytizing and I don't go there. But I do defend believers, as people of thought, reason and justice.  There.  Those of my readers who are sick of my rants on this subject can click on to something more fun.

There's an old anti-war poster that says "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"  That's been my general philosophy about some issues.  Stop the escalation by not participating.

But the escalation of the belief war keeps on because there are more than two sides.  In the atheist/Believer war, you've got some Believers who think all atheists (and other faiths) must be converted, and you've got some atheists who think all Believers must be "educated" into non-belief.  They'd be into it anyway, but those who'd prefer to opt out keep getting dragged in.

There's a third group with members of all belief stripes, which holds to the "live and let live" position. I'm with them, but we still have a battle to fight because so many in both camps would impinge on and outright deny freedom of belief to others.

And one of their weapons is a mockery that bleeds outside the boundaries of attacks on belief itself, and gets into a show of -- probably sincere -- contempt for the believing person and for all the person does or thinks.
McCalls, 12/67

If it were only a form of trolling, to get us to fly off the handle, it wouldn't be worth responding to, but I meant that part about them being sincere. Too many really believe that our faith in a Higher Power IS the SAME as opposing science, dumping our critical thinking for dogma, wanting Biblical law encoded into civil law, assigning values and roles to women and minorities based on ancient teachings, blah blah blah.

I've just had a verbal sparring match with an atheist who spouted a ubiquitous atheist cute-ism: that believers think some being lives up "in a cloud" and turns traffic lights green for us, when He feels like it.  Etc., etc., etc.
I have honestly never, ever, run into anybody who thinks this.  I even know a guy who believes the whole thing about how earth was created in 4004 BCE, but have never met anybody who thinks God lives in a freaking cloud.  If any of you are out there, let me know, and I'll recant.
Wall Chart of World History, facsimile edition, Barnes & Noble 1995

The vitriol levied at us believers is nothing new but sometimes it gets to me, especially when there's been a lot of it in a short time frame.  This guy who hauled out the Cloud Entity thing got my response, pretty much because he was just the Hundredth Lucky Caller. I suggested he mock something we actually believe if he must mock at all.

What?  Can't find anything?  And if you have to make up a belief to mock, then how weak is your argument?

Here are some examples that show what I keep encountering. This, if I need to reiterate it, is about why I defend the working brains of believers, so my examples are of infringement on us.  There are plenty of examples of believers pressuring non-believers and none of this denies that.  This whole post, in fact, is based on the phenomenon of both sides doing it.

Some of these are old but are still getting cited and recommended.

Take this one.  It's extremely long; here's a passage :

By all means we should try to make up for the harm that other people's words do, but not by censoring the words as such. 
And, since I am so sure of this in general, and since I'd expect most of you to be so too, I shall probably shock you when I say it is the purpose of my lecture today to argue in one particular area just the opposite. To argue, in short, in favour of censorship, against freedom of expression, and to do so moreover in an area of life that has traditionally been regarded as sacrosanct.
I am talking about moral and religious education. And especially the education a child receives at home, where parents are allowed—even expected—to determine for their children what counts as truth and falsehood, right and wrong.
In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.
Yes.  Legal enforcement of a ban on teaching tenets of faith, even to your own children in your own home. That's what he said.

Here's another one .  This extremely good, fiercely intelligent, but extremely arrogant writer critiques beliefs that don't even
-- she admits this -- participate in or approve of religious abuses:

The “I’m spiritual but not religious” trope is trying to have the best of both worlds… but it’s actually getting the worst. It’s keeping the part of religion that’s the indefensible, unsupported-by-a-scrap-of- evidence belief in invisible beings; indeed, the part of religion that sees those invisible beings as more real, and more important, than the real physical world we live in. It’s keeping the part of religion that devalues reason and evidence and careful thinking, in favor of hanging onto any cockamamie idea that appeals to your wishful thinking.  It’s keeping the part of religion that equates morality and value with believing in invisible friends. 

The operative word in that is "indefensible." She sees the two sides as endlessly trying to defend their views to the other despite the fact that many of us don't come to that war.

In another entry she explains that religious belief that's strictly personal and has no pubic policy agenda still must be opposed :
I think it does harm even in the absence of overt religious intolerance. I think it encourages gullibility, vulnerability to bad ideas and charlatans; I think it discourages critical thinking and the valuing of evidence...
So while, on a practical, day-to-day political level I'm going to fight for tolerance and ecumenicalism — creationism out of the public schools, evangelizing out of the military, public health policy not being written by fundamentalists, that sort of thing — I'm also going to keep fighting against religion in general.

There's a kind of circular reasoning going on, in which religious belief gets indicted for causing repression and causing opposition to science and evidence, so you point out believers who also support science and evidence and social justice, and get back :
"Who really cares; you believe in 'invisible friends.' "

I'm pretty well convinced that free thought isn't what it was 200 years ago, and is not about freedom and respect for everyone.

I keep wondering why all that thinking doesn't lead to the logical conclusion that subordinating one's own decision-making to the authority of the group is the problem, not the group per se.  You'd think they'd be interested in what scientific research tells us about the human mind, and about how we're social beings who crave the safety and status of membership in groups.

Heck yes, we want to Belong, we want to demonstrate our loyalty and our support and we gain acceptance and status by doing so.  We'll ignore evidence that indicates our group might be wrong on an issue, because defending the group's position both strengthens the group and raises us in its ranks.  If the joy of discovery and questioning authority isn't taught us early in life, before the stage in which peer pressure gains its maximum power over us, we'll turn our critical thinking off and defer to that peer group a whole lot more.

Religion is merely one of those groups.  A powerful one, but totally, absolutely secondary to the fundamental need to belong.  Eliminate religion and you eliminate all that violence and inhumanity done in its name?  The naivet√© of this is amazing.

The minute we eliminate religion, other forms of group identity will still be there, making us just as inhumane to other groups as we always were.  We will still need to say "We're better than them, we deserve their land, resources and forced labor."

What we need to reduce is our craving to be the Us instead of the Them.  Both of us, all of us, need to do it.

All unsolicited proselytizing is unethical. Debate on anything is fine as long as both parties are doing it voluntarily.  Proselytizing should be done only at the request of the seeker, and should never, ever be initiated by the believer or the atheist.  If a person has not asked me what my idea of The Big Truth is, then I should be quiet.  What that person believes is none of my business.

So I come to another author and blogger, from whom I am probably theologically about a light-year apart.  I know about her because she followed me on Twitter, though briefly (which happens a lot, since I don't tweet much. I find it kind of a chore).  Anyway, my beliefs are vastly more Nicene than hers are:
Those that have changed the names of God to ones that are less dominated by the traditional pictures the word “God” evokes are now faced with scientific and archaeological findings that challenge the idea of God as creator; philosophical ideas that undermine the ultimate reality of God as a being separate and distinct from human experience; anthropological examination that exposes the human need to create deities and supernatural forces.
but she takes a post-acrimony position that I can completely share:
  I think it is high time we stopped feeding the acrimony between atheists and people of any faith tradition and start looking at the values that lie at the heart of whatever it is we believe.  If those values are grounded in a respect for the dignity of all life and in creating and sustaining right relationship with self, others, and the planet, then who cares what religious or philosophical perspective one holds?

This, folks, is how we allow freedom of conscience and still move humanity forward.

I don't debate the existence or nature of God.  I do debate the accusations made about believers, because they are claims to know who I am and what I think and they don't get to do that.  They claim authority and I question them.

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