Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The knotty problem of respect

I've been thinking a lot lately about the issue of respect surrounding religious beliefs.  I was slightly horrified at Christmas to learn that six members of my family - my parents, both brothers, an aunt and an uncle - all consider me to be showing gross disrespect for religious people when I call bullshit on their superstitions. One particularly jarring comment came from one of my brothers:

Brother: "You can't respect people if you don't respect their beliefs."
Dad: "He's right, Lu."

To be clear, my parents and my brothers are also non-believers.  I'm less certain about the aunt and uncle, but if they do hold religious beliefs of any kind I've never seen any indication of it.

This issue of respect is one that comes up again and again, and I find the attitudes of other non-believers on the matter absolutely baffling - far more incomprehensible than the anger I sometimes get from believers.  As I see it, there are two main problems with this idea that non-believers should just shut up and let people believe whatever they like.

1: Typically it is not the non-believers making this case who suffer for the privileged place religion holds in the world.  My brother is in no danger of being prevented from living as he chooses to live because of religion; other people - particularly women, gay people, and atheists unfortunate enough to live in religiously-dominated nations - face real dangers and suffer real abuses stemming directly from religion.

2: It is deeply condescending to religious people to adopt the view that while we know better, the superstitious masses need the comfort of religion.  I find it slightly nauseating to be told that I should avoid challenging a mentally competent adult on their beliefs, as if they lack the wit to think logically or to withstand the emotional impact of a rational argument.  And it only seems to go for religious beliefs; no one demands that I refrain from questioning political ideologies, philosophical opinions, ethical decisions (unless religiously motivated!) or anything else.  I think it would be disrespectful - not to mention potentially dangerous - not to give my honest opinion on a person's beliefs.  I would go so far as to say that in pretending to respect religious beliefs, non-believers show breathtaking disrespect to the intellect of the person holding them.

This notion that even those of us who do not hold religious beliefs should nevertheless respect them may be the single most dangerous thing about religion.  It causes well-meaning liberal people living safely in secular nations to grant greater importance to the wounded sensibilities of a Muslim man than to the oppression, routine abuse, mutilation and murder suffered by millions of women at the hands of his faith.  It places the unfounded beliefs of the religiously-motivated "pro-life" (more accurately, anti-choice) lobby over the life of Savita Halapannavar, who died in Ireland after being denied a medically-necessary abortion because a religion to which she did not subscribe forbade it.  It tells a religious parent that their wish to send their child to a "faith school" is more important than the child's right to have a decent education, and not to suffer psychological trauma in the form of horrific threats and unnecessary guilt over imaginary "sins".

If you make the argument that people like me ought to show "respect" to religious people by avoiding criticism of their beliefs, you are not only patronising and belittling religious people... you are also saying that one person's wish not to have his or her feelings hurt takes precedence over the rights of countless others to live their lives free of the threat or reality of violence, abuse, oppression and misery.  That's about as un-liberal a principle as I can imagine.

My family and others living free of the rule of religious dogma are in a tremendously privileged position, unimaginable to millions of people worldwide who cannot safely speak out against the violations of their own rights.  Not only do I have every right to challenge religious beliefs and practices - I think I have a duty to do so.

70 comments:

  1. I RESPECT your argument, which is a great one. Very well written, too.

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  2. Hello! I found my way to your blog thanks to Richard Dawkins on twitter. Thank you for elaborating so eloquently on this subject, which is something that comes up regularly whenever I willingly or unwillingly enter a religious debate with believers. I hope you don't mind if I use you as reference whenever I have to explain about "respect" to the people who rudely tell me that I'm hypocritical and/or resentful whenever I (very politely) explain to people my points of view on religion.

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    1. Absolutely not, lovely, thank you!

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  3. What I find lacking in your blog is the role that religion plays in the identity of the religious - a call for respect does not always assume the position of contempt for reason, but could also be a defence of something deeply personal. I find challenging 'silly beliefs' because one 'knows better' is a poor tactic for dialogue - if dialogue is the goal that is. Respect is not a whimsical thing, it is a tool with which we have to engage other human beings. Claiming a religion demands automatic respect hits too broadly. Religion is not a being that can have respect...people are however, and while respect should never be automatic, it is unfair to accuse religious people as being a particular 'rascal' at claiming it. Perhaps the issue is not 'respect' but 'approach'.

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    1. Thanks, Multispot. There are certainly many good discussions to be had about the best way to approach absurd beliefs with the believers themselves, but the point I was trying to address in this post related to the attitudes of other atheists.

      When dealing with believers, I tend to mirror their approach to me - I rarely seek out confrontation about beliefs unless they're leading to directly objectionable behaviour. If they're polite to me, I'll be polite to them, while if they approach aggressively I'll be aggressive back (the point of this latter approach being, of course, to demonstrate that they can't force me to back down if they shout loudly enough).

      I know some atheists who are very direct and aggressive, and others who take a far more softly-softly approach when challenging beliefs. I don't know if either one is categorically better than the other, I suspect it depends on circumstance and also that probably both are necessary. But what I agree with both of them on is that religious beliefs *do need to be challenged* - and I get irritated, for the reasons given above, when fellow atheists try to prevent people like me from having the argument that benefits them too.

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  4. i encountered a silly girl that tried to make this argument the other day. unbeknown to me her dad was the town preacher or something. i tore her a new asshole along similar lines you outline. her asinine point was that 'you have the right to believe what you want', i said 'and i have the right to challenge whatever belief, what's your point?'. she couldn't divorce herself from the emotional tie with her dad although she had no argument. i do not regret making her look silly. i'm a titan of logic by the way

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  5. Well then I suppose we can all rest easy knowing there are people out there who delight in embarrassing 'silly girls' to prove a point. Lucky us!

    Sorry Bill, but I cannot 'respect' that a lot of the atheist community is not sensitive to the emotional factors involved with belief - you're not discussing favourite colours after all, but a fundamental building block of a persons identity. Do we take similar pride in shattering a Mothers hope that her Son is dead even if it is the truth? I should hope not.

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    1. If someone wants to build their life around a two thousand year old fairy tale, whatever version you happen to have been born into, how can you not expect to be questioned on it. After all religious policies/beliefs seem to affect everyone in society to a certain degree. This 'fundamental building' block, if your a women, in most cases teaches you to be a second class citizen. Personally I will continue to challenge this ancient and completely backward thinking mentality. Running around, eyes shut saying everything is fine GOD will prevail!!
      Ps. I am no titan of logic, just logical.

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    2. Then you've not picked up on the point. If a practice (such as demoting women to second class citizens) is harmful there is no doubt it must be questioned and scrutinised. But that does not equal carelessly debasing an individuals belief system because we are sure 'we know better'. Do not confuse belief with practice - they are interrelated but not necessarily products of one another. Practices can continue on long after the belief that spawned it has died. You are more then welcome to continue to challenge what you call 'ancient and completely backward thinking mentality' and in the same token, I will continue to challenge your 'aggressive, non-compassionate and impatient mentality' as well.

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    3. Scientific belief changes with discovery. Religion, on the other hand, is a dead horse and no matter how vigorously you flog it, it remains to be distasteful, stringy horse meat. If you want a heathy disposition, change your food for thought.

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    4. right, I guess religious beliefs havent changed at all:

      apart from the Councils of Nicea, and Ephesus, and Constantinople and Chalcedon in which Christian theology was developed, over the course of four hundred years.

      and apart from the birth of the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Augustinians (to name but a few) all of whom offered differing theologies to respond to different problems.

      and apart from the reformation. and calvinism, and methodism and the church of england and presbyterianism and episcopalianism, all of which are reponses to change, or need for change.

      and apart from the Metropolitan Community Church which was set up as an LGBT-affirming church.

      and apart from the ordaining of women.

      and apart from feminist theologians like Fiorenza and Johnson.

      and apart from Martin Luther King Jr...

      And that's just a few point, and just Christianity...

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    5. "Scientific belief changes with discovery."

      "right, I guess religious beliefs havent changed at all:"

      You missed your interlocutor's point. Scientific beliefs change with "discovery"--and because of the discovery. All the examples of change in religious doctrines that you cite were not in response to discovery, but in response to political pressures--and they were all a long-time coming and piecemeal to say the least. The difference here is not trivial.

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    6. "Do we take similar pride in shattering a Mothers hope that her Son is dead even if it is the truth? I should hope not."

      "Pride" is a mischaracterization I think. Say the mother's holding out of hope over a surely dead son is causing trouble within the family. That is more analogous to the situation we see with religion in general. You seem to be asserting that beliefs have no bearing on actions, but I think you'd have a hard time supporting that as an actual position.

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  6. multispot214 is right when they say that respect is a tool for dialogue, something which I don't believe you're looking to achieve here. I don't agree with everything that is spoken in the name of religion, but to reduce religion to a small number of controversial views is not helping any discussion.

    Further, to claim that you "know better" but could pretend to show respect regardless is incredibly patronising. You say you want to "challenge a mentally competent adult on their beliefs," but you don't want to engage with those beliefs - the problem, and I'm not sure it is solvable, with the dialogue between religious believers and non-believers is a refusal, on both parts, to acknowledge the very different truth claims being offered by both sides. If you continue to reduce religious beliefs to science and empirical evidence, then you're going to continue to fail to understand them.

    If you want a successful debate on the ethics promoted by believers, you will have to open yourself to discuss their underlying beliefs on their terms. Some beliefs can be destructive to freedom, this is true, but if I'm arguing with Christians about gay marriage and LGBT equality, then I will argue from the example of Jesus - there's nothing to be gained from rejecting the experiential relationship believers have with their God, you're simply alienating them.

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    1. Great point Rhiannon. Hope people understand the point.

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    2. I think the relevant issue is love. I do not believe in the fairytale in question, and I feel and resent the harm it did to my own upbringing. But I love my sister - a practising Catholic.

      My attitude to her views and practises is one of bemused tolerance rather than respect. She and I both know where not to go intellectually, because we love each other.

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    3. There is no debate. Would you sit down with your child and debate the existence of Santa. That would be tantamount to insulting your own intelligence, and that of your child. Truthful instruction is required at some point in the non-debate.

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    4. First, yes I would debate with my child about Santa if the situation arose, I would want my child to present their arguments, to listen to mine, to grapple with the issue and come to their own conclusions rather than simply take my (the adult's) opinion as fact.

      But I understand the point you're making and would say that you miss the point of a debate. People, millions and millions of people, disagree with you, therefore it is in your interest to dialogue with them. You arrogantly call it a non-debate, but many intelligent, rational, educated people are presenting a different argument. How are you responding? By reducing their arguments to easily dismissable catch phrases? By drawing attention to the fundamentalists rather than engaging with the blurred and complicated middle ground? By refusing to learn anything more than surface-level doctrine as failing to genuinly explore the claims believers are making? It's a very non-scientific approach to offer almost no critical engagement with the topic you are dismissing.

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    5. "A small number of controversial issues" is somewhat downplaying my point when I'm talking about matters adversely affecting millions and millions of people.

      And I'm not sure how one CAN challenge absurd beliefs without engaging with them. Can you explain that point any more clearly?

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    6. The number is small when contrasted with the positive role of religion in the lives of many. Yes, the Catholic Church, and its inherent male-dominated hierarchy, is culpable in a sex scandal, in the spread of HIV, in the subordination of women, but that is not all that the Catholic Church does and a balanced argument does have to be made. Talk to Catholics, read books by Catholics, not simply about them, investigate the history. I've no wish to reduce to the atrocities committed in the name of religion and flawed religious thinking (and I apologise that my comment have suggested that I do), but there is learning to be undertaken on both sides.

      There are incredibly rich and nuanced theologies within Christianity (I've not studied other religions in as much depth so I won't presume to be an expert), which can't be reduced to soundbites. As a fourth-year student of theology in a non-denominational university (non-religious, even - Edinburgh) it seems ridiculous that "antitheists" can claim that position without ever reading theology itself.

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    7. Theology is rich and nuanced in the same way horseshit is. It boasts the factual rigor and intellectual abandon of a fairy story and yet is presented as something Very Serious. If it were not so pretentious perhaps theology could save itself some embarrassment and ridicule. But as it is, the abuse is well-deserved. Besides, it has some Very Serious people to champion it, people who make a lot of money and have garnered great prestige on the world stage. You'd think those people would not also feel the need to demand unwarranted respect for the conceits they are peddling. And I think it's instructive that they do.

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    8. "As a fourth-year student of theology in a non-denominational university (non-religious, even - Edinburgh) it seems ridiculous that "antitheists" can claim that position without ever reading theology itself."

      On account of the unearned privilege your preferred school of theology (i.e., Christian) enjoys, the special pleading here isn't abundantly obvious, but it's there nonetheless. To the extent you dismiss other (mutually exclusive and/or heretical) theologies (i.e., hierologies), your call for suspended judgment is hypocritical unless and until you demonstrate a working knowledge of any and all alternative approaches to the so-called divine. Next, we can discuss the philosophical burden of proof and discover that your argument here is nothing more than an appeal to authority: theology has merit because I'm a fourth-year student of it.

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    9. "there's nothing to be gained from rejecting the experiential relationship believers have with their God, you're simply alienating them."

      Seems to me they've alienated themselves by believing such rubbish. Why are believers always playing the role of the eggshells others have to tiptoe around? Don't they have spines of their own? What am I saying? If they had spines, they'd refrain from believing irresponsibly in the first place.

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    10. "multispot214 is right when they say that respect is a tool for dialogue... Further, to claim that you "know better" but could pretend to show respect regardless is incredibly patronising."

      And yet that is what you are asking for when you demand non-believers utilize "respect" as a "tool for dialogue". True respect is not worked up to be used as a tool--it arises spontaneously in response to the attributes and/or efforts of the one gaining it.

      "You say you want to "challenge a mentally competent adult on their beliefs," but you don't want to engage with those beliefs"

      Are you kidding? Atheist bloggers aren't engaging with the beliefs of theists? Since when? Or are you talking about those secret beliefs you keep telling us are unassailable but no one has ever seen?

      "the problem, and I'm not sure it is solvable, with the dialogue between religious believers and non-believers is a refusal, on both parts, to acknowledge the very different truth claims being offered by both sides. If you continue to reduce religious beliefs to science and empirical evidence, then you're going to continue to fail to understand them."

      This is nonsense. First, we have the equivocation on the word "truth", relegating it to a status of meaninglessness, which has necessitated its abandonment by any reasonable person (as Soggy has described). Next, this wholly arrogant and presumptuous assertion that non-believers just don't understand the claims being made. Again, what are these claims? They seem to be as present and accounted for as your god.

      "If you want a successful debate on the ethics promoted by believers, you will have to open yourself to discuss their underlying beliefs on their terms."

      And this does not go the other way, I suppose? The problem is that believers want to have it both ways. They want to be able to claim scientific truth and then, when that doesn't prevail, to have nonbelievers acknowledge that their foolproof bulwark of faith is respectable (or even, as Rhiannon seems to believe, superior to actually supportable beliefs).

      Here's the trouble with trying so hard to "respect" those poor, persecuted believers. They don't return the favor, because they have been coddled (disrespectfully) for so long, and their unearned social privilege (including the incessant demand for unwarranted "respect" for their beliefs) is taken for granted--by believers and non-believers alike.

      Not only is this "respect" not respect, but it is also not likely to accomplish the goal for which it was pressed into service. It's like trying to use a wrench to turn a screw. No matter how much you label it "screwdriver", it's just going to spin in circles around the problem.

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  7. I agree. The cloak of security that is cast over religion and speaking logically about it is just a way to perpetuate the vicious cycle of manipulation. But, I am most definitely guilty of avoiding religious banter with my "faith"ful friends because to spite their abilities to carry on extremely intelligent conversation about pretty much any other topic, something as simple as "dinosaurs" just turns them into bumbling idiots and it's hard to see them the same way after that, so for the sake of maintaining my friendships I have decided just not to engage. Well written post, Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I have exactly the same problem with some of my friends. But I find over and over again that while the religious people are happy to have a friendly discussion about the whole deal, it is other non-believers who want me to shut up about it out of "respect". So often it is THEY who get angry with me, because they feel that in expecting a rational adult to defend his/her beliefs I am somehow being insulting. Obviously I disagree with that as a principle, and find their attitude rather patronising.

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  8. First of all, I should say that I am not a native English speaker so sorry for the mistakes. I want to thank you. I have been looking for an explanation like this and I am quite happy to be presented some reasons for challenging religious beliefs and practices. And I would like to ask questions, if I may.
    The thing I am wondering is that, isn't it a better idea to instill tolerance in people rather than to challenge their religious beliefs? Because if the end goal of the challenge is to end the religious prosecution, prior approach seems to be more feasible.
    I, for one, consider myself Muslim. I know that there are a number of commandments in my religion that are very inhumane against people of different faiths and I choose to ignore them. I am not attacking the nearest American embassy when I see a Youtube movie about our prophet, I just close the tab if I am really offended. I have friends from different faiths and some of them are really close to me. What I mean is, I don't consider myself as a threat to the tolerant society I imagine.
    So should someone really challenge my beliefs ? Is it really necessary? I would benefit from it, intellectually, so whenever I can, I am trying to read about religion. But to end the religious prosecution? That's what I fail to understand. It's very hard to improve intellectually, when you have to explain to someone that you are not an idiot just because you believe in a supernatural entity. I think tolerance should be the end goal, if we are trying to build a society with human rights in mind. Because like this, it just seems to me the end goal is something else that I don't understand.

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    1. Hi Talhasoysal, just a quick point, if you are going to ignore certain commandments then does that not inspire you to challenge the rest of them? If Gods are supposedly infallible, why would they create laws that one could pick and choose to believe? Or maybe they were written by man after all. You say you don't attack others for their ideas etc, unfortunately there are far too many people who do not have your restraint. Just a thought, have a nice day.

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    2. Hi Kevin. Actually yes, it does inspire me to question. I am trying to figure out my beliefs for a long time now and I think I will continue for a long time. But during this process I noticed that I don't really have to figure out everything to be tolerant, I can just be tolerant to everyone. So now, I continue questioning and I'm trying to be more tolerant at the same time. Hopefully I will have some answers some day.

      Thanks for the thought, have a nice day:)

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    3. Hi Talhasoysal.

      First of all, I need to make it clear that I DO understand that the majority of religious people are decent people with good values, by no means is it my intention to imply that liberal ideals cannot coexist with belief in a deity.

      I agree with you in principle that if we could find a way to make religious belief less virulent that would be great, and I for one would be happy to let people believe whatever they liked so long as those beliefs - having no factual backing - were not allowed to affect other people through either policy or social mores. However, I simply don't think it can work, for reasons I'll try to explain (I use the Catholic church as my example, but this applies to all major religions):

      The Catholic church claims 1.2 billion members worldwide, based largely on baptismal figures (ie, not all who have been baptised in the Catholic faith practice or even believe, but they are still counted). The Catholic church is responsible for some true atrocities in the world; it actively contributes to the spread of HIV/Aids in Africa, the Philippines and other places, to take one particularly awful example. The reason the Catholic church is allowed to get AWAY WITH these crimes against humanity IS that it boasts 1.2 billion supporters for its criminal policies. How many people who've been baptised Catholic - even of those who still practice and still believe - actually think condoms spread HIV? How many refuse to use birth control themselves? Certainly it is a far lower number than 1.2 billion or we'd be swimming in Catholics, but the point is that regardless of their own ethical opinions or values, those people are used to justify what amounts to little less than genocide. If every Catholic who thinks spreading HIV is wrong stood up and SAID so, or if they left the church, such atrocities could not continue.

      The other difficulty with being a liberal believer wishing to oppose illiberal believers - and this applies more directly to Islam - is that holy texts are so open to interpretation and amendment. If you share with a fundamentalist a belief in a particular deity AND a belief in the accuracy of a given book, you put yourself in a position where you CAN argue with them about your nice interpretation, but you can't beat them because you're both arguing from an identical position of illogical faith. And that works between different religions, too, not just within them; a Christian who wants to tell a Muslim that the Qur'an is just a book is in no position to do so because they believe the same thing, for no better reason, about another book.

      I'm very glad that you're questioning things; whatever the outcome, the journey in itself is worthwhile, inspiring and hugely enjoyable.

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  9. Hi, Just found your blog via The Humanist Voice on FB and would like to say I agree totally with your view. Now is not the time for anti-theists or atheists like me to remain quiet. We should ridicule blind faith for the harm it brings society. Here's an excerpt from my blog you may find interesting http://joesgossip.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/theres-profits-in-prophets.html
    Onward secular soldier... :)

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  10. Respect is mutual and reciprocal. What religion respects the tenets of another religion?! You can respect the rights of the insane without respecting their insanity. Would you accept the diagnosis that "god made you ill" from your physician? If so, you have no respect for yourself or your sanity.

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  11. It boils down to one thing really. People like to delude themselves because the truth is too hard (be it intellectually or emotionally) to stomach. Sensitivity to the feelings of others is certainly something to be taken into account depending on the person and their situation, but ultimately you are doing them a disservice if you hold back. It's not a simple, black and white situation unfortunately - if it were we would not even be discussing this.

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  12. If someone says "Mike, you don't respect religious people," I reply. "Yep. I think all of you are insane."

    Respect is something that's earned. Going on and on about cultish superstitions with no rationale backing or scientific proof should not be encouraged by our society. Religion should not get a free "pass." It should withstand the same scrutiny as all other things and be blatantly made fun of and ridiculed so that others learn that it's just a scam.

    Of course this doesn't make me any friends, but I live alone and don't care to be popular. There is great freedom in embracing "truth."

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  13. Going back to something Rhiannon wrote above, and I quote "...religious believers and non-believers is a refusal, on both parts, to acknowledge the very different truth claims being offered by both sides"
    But there is no such thing as "truth" in religion. Faith is not a "truth", it is a belief. Science provides truths, through experimental results and us atheists have learnt from those truths. Religion never has and never will produce truths - for a start it's not even looking for truths - it does not carry out research for truths- it does not experiment in search of truths - because it probably fears the outcome.

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    1. I would say that your rejection of religious truth claims is simply demonstrative of your misunderstanding of the kind of truth claims they are. They are not scientific truth claims and they should, therefore, not be treated as such. (Sometimes they are understood as such, and I would disagree with those people who think that way.)

      We can take the Genesis account of creation as a good example. Yes, for a while it was considered 'scientific' because people knew no better, but science, in the modern sense, didn't really exist so it's hardly surprising it doesn't adhere to its qualifications. With the development of scientific discovery, most Christians embraced science as the explanation for creation. The "truth" which is asserted by Christians, therefore, is no longer a scientific one, but one of narrative. Genesis is a human response to the revelation that God created. That he has purpose, that he has providence. This "truth" is experienced every day by believers in their lives. These claims are not scientific, they cannot be tested, but that is not to say they are not true, just that they lie beyond the limits of the scientific method.

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    2. Discussions like this are the reason I more or less abandoned the word "truth" a long time ago. Fortunately such relativist twaddle has not yet seeped into discussions surrounding the term "fact", so that's the one I tend to go with these days. Only by utterly mutilating the meaning of the word "truth" can religion make any claim to represent it.

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  14. I don't disagree with the regurgitated arguments that are presented above, nor the science, and the premises (good) science is based on - I do however, abhor and detest the 'us-them' discourse that Atheists are adopting. You are either with us or against us. Does no-one else see this problem, or am I correct in assuming that atheism is fast becoming the new religion of conversion? Because thats what the discourse sounds like. If you are truly using REASON you should be able to deduce that religion plays an important role for many people - and not all of these people are the destructive, warped and dangerous individuals you all want them to be. Is it not then prudent to understand rather then attack those of other dispositions? Is this not what we should be doing? Would that not be the reasonable thing to do? Instead of painting religious people with the wide brush of 'backwards thinking, superstitious fools'?

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    1. The problem for many of us, Mr/Ms multispot, is that in general, religion and behaviours carried out in the name of religion have historically been so backward, divisive, destructive, bigoted and murderous, that it is difficult for many us to separate the behaviours and their outcomes from the beliefs and the worship.

      You are implying that it is unfair for us to tar all God-believers with the same brush as the historically murderous and destructive believers. And you are right - this is unfair.

      However, this is not reason for any of us to stop making arguments as strongly as we can against religion, nor to tippy-toe around the subject of individual religious beliefs because we might hurt someone's feelings. Religion did far worse than that to people for centuries. And sadly, it continues today.

      We live at the most enlightened time in human history. If you're going to stick to your "backwards thinking, supertitious foolishness", then either keep it to yourself, or expect it to be challenged.

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    2. But why do you feel a need to challenge? I would suggest the problem lies within the perceived danger of religion that has been riled up by my one-time heroes: The Four Horsemen. I believe that this misconstrued picture of religious people that has been presented creates a dangerous platform for bigotry and hate in itself. I have nothing against dialogue, but everything against intellectual intimidation.

      Using the historical argument is rather inept - I'm sure there are plenty of atheists that have done terrible things that we haven't even heard about. No, we can't paint these people or atheists with the same brush but that is exactly what is going on.

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    3. So if a vocal group of Pastafarians wanted all of humanity to be indoctrinated in the belief that the universe was created by a flying spaghetti monster, that would be ok by you then.
      You'd have no objection, nor would you challenge this group on their beliefs or their right to mislead their children and others into their doctrine.
      What then if that doctrine became embedded in your culture, your government, institutions such as courts of law and schools?

      Your counter-argument to the historical argument is actually the inept one. Sure - you could point out plenty of examples of horrible people that also happened to be atheists. I challenge you to point a single one that has done so **in the name of atheism**.

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    4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians_in_the_Soviet_Union

      Probably a good example of when Atheism goes wrong.

      By the way, I'm an Atheist.

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  15. Lucy, I've been following your Twitter account for a while now since Richard Dawkins retweeted it.

    This is a thoroughly excellent blog post.

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  16. I think multispot214 might have hit upon a workaround that might prevent Atheists (I'm one myself, by the way) from turning into rather smug, nasty people. We have enough of that with the religious people we choose to tear apart on a regular basis.

    It's important to distinguish between good, honest, nice people and manipulative, power-crazy, divisive, abusive people. Both types can be religious or non-religious.

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    1. Certainly that should affect HOW we challenge beliefs, but not the question of WHETHER to challenge them. Like it or not, the nice, ordinary majority of religious believers are the power base for the nasty pieces of work.

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    2. My point is mainly concerning how extreme Atheist rhetoric has become (and I actually think Richard Dawkins is to blame for a lot of it, despite the fact that I agree with most of what he espouses). To put it in simple terms, it's like, yes, we know we're right, but let's be careful not to be dicks about it...Because no one likes a dick (sorry to be crude, but it's just a direct way of expressing my point).

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  17. It gets easier to dicuss respect if we focus not on the abstraction, "beliefs", but on the long list of "specific harms" caused by those beliefs. Here's a particularly disgusting example of hatred and intolerance against the LGBT community - WHEN WILL WE HELP END THIS UGLY INTOLERANCE??? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/19/puerto-rico-gay-rights_n_2718810.html . This work in progress should also be helpful: https://sites.google.com/site/christianityisnotgreat/

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  18. I can't say I particularly care about the beliefs individuals may hold - they genuinely don't bother me. What I do care about are their behaviours.

    I have a very pleasant colleague at work who is a 7th Day Adventist. While I think her religious beliefs are somewhat 'eccentric' her behaviour is admirable (as a vegetarian I'm particularly fond of her dietary behaviours which I understand arise from her religious beliefs) and her charitable acts which involve spending holidays helping build homes for homeless people and providing sanitation facilities in poor third world villages are incredibly praiseworthy. I wouldn't dream of 'calling bullshit' on her beliefs.

    However, if her behaviour begins to cause harm - perhaps she might be inclined to militate against same sex marriage, or express some suggestion that race should be a determining factor in an employment issue etc, then I wouldn't hesitate to call bullshit on such behaviour. If she found criticism of such behaviour to be tantamount to disrespecting her beliefs then so be it but my motivation and target would be the behaviour.

    I live in a predominantly Lutheran township and I am happy to lend my support to a number of local church initiatives that work to the good of both the immediate and wider community. My daughter goes to a Lutheran school and has developed her love of singing through singing hymns in the school chapel - something that makes me very proud. So far, I've only needed to 'have words' with her school on one occasion when my daughter reported that a lesson raised the subject of evolution in a relatively dismissive manner.

    While I acknowledge that I tend to give religious beliefs more of a free pass than I would do political beliefs, I think this is more to do with the source of those beliefs, with the former dependent more on 'feelings' than the purported 'logic' of the latter.

    At the end of the day though, behaviours are far more important - I could be surrounded by a bunch of misanthropic, fascist bigots for all I care provided this is not reflected in their behaviour.



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  19. Concerning the random and confused comments I've posted above, can I recommend that you read Alvin Plantinga's new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies. I'm reading it for a course at the moment and 1) It is hilarious and really readable and beautifully sarcastic and 2) it offers the other side of your argument from a philosophical stand point (as opposed to an approximate social critique). It would certainly offer you (even if you disagree with it, which I suspect you will) with a more nuanced and intelligent engagement with the issue of religious belief itself apart from your critique of the actions of religious believers.

    I cannot recommend it enough, I am laughing in the library, a very enjoyable read.

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    1. Rhiannon,You are undoubtedly an intelligent and articulate person, so why on earth have you chosen to study Theology? The least meaningful and useful subject of them all. What possible benefit to you or mankind can arise from your endeavours? Theology can't ameliorate the human condition - it can't alleviate suffering and poverty - so why study it? I'm sorry for being blunt but I hate to see waste.

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    2. Ha. Um, well I don't know why I chose it, most of my decisions with regards to what I study from GCSE options to Dissertation topics have been based solely on what I found the most interesting. It was the right decision for me, though. I enjoy the language of it, I enjoy its self-containment and I'm excited to get to grips with the tools needed to navigate it.

      It's pretty employable degree, as they go, in that it offers the opportunity to argue, to identify premises and assumptions and ideals, to work through to conclusions, to gain experience of subjectivity in argument, to debate with people sensitively, to explore how different people experience humanity.

      I just think it's a fascinating field. Issues of how we are human, how we engage with others, on a philosophical level (ie issues of the Cartesian ego or of the Levinasian 'Other' or intersubjectivity) just grip me and fascinate me and I love to learn them. Learning, I think, can be purely for learning's sake. It's basically a rule of most art or humanity subjects. That isn't to say simply that it has no external purpose, but more that the more artsy subjects can teach you to learn how we learn. And different ways of thinking, different worldviews and philosophies have taught me so much about myself, about society, about how to live in the world.

      I would never expect everyone to enjoy it, and it would be a bloody waste of time if everyone studied it in place of politics/economics/science, but we're not all the same and I've absolutely loved the course.

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    3. Thank you for your reply, Rhiannon, and for explaining your reasons in a sensitive and subjective way :)

      And so sorry SoggyMog, for using your comment section as a side-show forum :)

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  20. silly little girls and silly little boys anchored by emotional attachment to mother or father will one day, when environment allows them to, grow amongst collective consciousness that whispers to each others hearts and kisses each others souls.

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  21. Hello, I liked your argument so much that I translated and published it in portuguese (with reference).

    http://alxnd.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/o-intricado-problema-do-respeito/

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    1. Oh hey, that's really cool - thank you! Are you on Twitter, so I can follow you?

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  22. There is a world of difference between discussing someone's beliefs with them if they choose to start the conversation and telling someone that they're wrong for believing what they do just because you don't agree with them.

    You wanna have a conversation about what I believe and why then cool, you wanna tell me I'm stupid and superstitious then not cool.

    The problem is that there are Atheists who are aggressive in their attempts to convince others that they are right in exactly the same way as there are people of faith who do the same. It does not promote intelligent debate, it just upsets people. In that respect at least Atheism has become as much of a belief system as the major world religions and if Atheists don't want to have people shoving their religious views down their throats then they can't complain about other people wanting to be treated the same.

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    1. I agree with your points about the Muslim man, the "pro-life" and faith schools, but I think that using such emotive ideas in what is meant to be a serious and logical post detracts from what you are attempting to say. EVERYONE should be challenging those ways of thinking, whether they be Theist, or Atheist. However, I believe that those are cultural attitudes hiding behind religion. To which I say evil hiding behind a mask of righteousness is still evil.

      Your point about the persecution of "women, gay people, and atheists unfortunate enough to live in religiously-dominated nations" misses out the fact that in a religiously-dominated nation people who do not ascribe to the "main" religion are often also persecuted.

      Your second point implies that Atheists know more about the world than people who hold religious beliefs, which isn't true and also suggests that you believes that you have the right (you even go so far as to say duty) to "challenge" people over the things they believe, which I find insulting, because I'm pretty certain that if I decided to "challenge" your thinking that you wouldn't be happy about it even if I used a "rational argument". It makes it sound like the moment you find out that someone has some form of religious belief that you feel compelled to tell them that you think they are superstitious and wrong. That's not challenging someone, that's attacking them.

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    2. In Soggy's defense, I have to say that we are all frequently obliged to use extreme(?) language to put a point across in a brief format. Long postings are often skimmed through with less enthusiasm than the shorter ones.

      I understand her intent and welcome the opportunity to repeat the (Christian) believer's perspective of life, the universe and everything.

      Ultimately, your beliefs should be critical to you. Soggy just happens to believe that her evolved thinking is *better* than mine (or yours), purely by chance of course, as she should feel compelled to concede. One of her Elders has already declared that as a fact, haven't you Richard? I'm uncertain which of her Elders also opined that it is more important for an atheist to be effective than honest.

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  23. It all depends on what you mean by respect, does it not? You are perfectly free to criticize religious practices and beliefs, and by "respecting" the religious, we do not imply that you should stop doing that. When we ask for respect we usually ask not be ridiculed and called all sorts of names and described in highly offensive terms. You can strongly disagree with another person and still treat him/her with dignity. The irony is, when a religious individual starts using the same language that an anti-theist uses, he/she is immediately called out for it and branded a bigot and foul-mouth. Double standards much?

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  24. It is difficult for many intellectuals to respect someone who chooses to rely on a God who does not pander to intellect. I have yet to become acquainted with an anti-theist moron. So, many intellectuals are offended by a God who does not respect a high IQ as a prerequisite to eternal life.

    Anti-theists are also frequently mistaken in attributing offence to believers when the believers tenets are challenged. I speak as a Christian when I say that it is usually a pleasure to respond to anti-theist claims of deep insight and widely-encompassing knowledge that there is no God. Anti-theists quickly forget that Christians believe that they have been privileged with a special dispensation are are motivated by their understanding of this, to spread the good news.

    Christians do not judge other faiths, as anti-theists are inclined to repeat ad nauseum. They simply proclaim that they have been shown a way to be released from the final judgement. Many other faiths insist that this "free pass" is a ludicrous concept and insist that their reward must be earned by their own efforts.

    It is usually a good thing for a Christian to speak to someone who is raging hot or ice cold about faith. It's indifference that is a fatal condition, in their understanding. So challenge away! Respect is nice - but not a prerequisite.

    Incidentally, I challenge the assertion that respect must be earned. Parents, as one example, usually demand respect from their children long before it is earned.

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    1. The reason people are, or become, Atheists, is simply that a God, in the traditional Theistic sense, is the LEAST LIKELY explanation, based on the EVIDENCE we have, for how we evolved, why we exist and how we got here, not to mention the apparently twisted sense of humour he has (why would he allow all the uneccessary suffering in the world?)

      Yes, Atheists could be wrong, just as someone who convicts you of murder, based on overwhelming evidence, could be wrong, but LOGICAL EVIDENCE is all we have to go on.

      (Apologies for the CAPS. I don't know how to format italics). I'm not shouting ;)

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    2. Also, to say Christians don't judge other faiths or Athesism (which isn't technically a faith, as it relies on evidence), is ludicrous. They do it all the time. They constantly remind people that their God is doing so, at the very least.

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    3. Additionally, Atheists, who almost universally posit scientific reasoning as the method they arrived at Atheism, are willing to have their beliefs challenged constantly, as is science itself. It is DEFINED by this constant self-argument and willingness to admit it might be wrong if new evidence comes to light.

      This is the frustration we have with religion. It totally accepts it's tenets without question, based on a complete lack of evidence (faith). That's otherwise known as extreme arrogance.

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  25. British journalist Johann Hari - "I have so much respect for you, that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas." (often quoten by Richard Dawkins)

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  26. I'm neither an atheist nor do a recognize the supremacy of any particular organized religion. Who I am is a black woman from the U.S, whose young nephews and niece are systematically being disrespected and dis-enfranchised via subjective and objective violence from a wide range of groups: religious, atheist, liberal, conservative, rationalist, and existentialist and everybody in between and outside. What I do know is that if you cannot respect someone then that is not just your problem or their problem it becomes any and every communities problem.

    I will be frank: if anyone speaks to me in a disrespectful manner I will call them out on it. But there are many ways in which people are marginalized and their views, expressions, cultures trivialized. Far be it for me to deride any flaws that an empirical, rationalist mind may have, yet I will do so anyway. Far be it for me to deride any spiritual and/or religious beliefs another may have, yet I will do so anyway.

    I will do so by saying this: To the best of my knowledge there have been QUITE a few atrocities (colonialism, minority oppression and genocide) committed by people who consider themselves atheist and religious. There is no group of people on this planet that get ANY kind of automatic "respect pass". Particularly as it concerns the subject under discussion.

    You all most be out your m*fing minds. Most children of color in the U.S are not dying or being imprisoned or becoming the few that survive and thrive because of solely an atheist or religious view point. You guys sound like a bunch of missionary atheist/religious zealots. That is not what the f** is up!

    I recall 'science' "proving" that black people where inferior, and then correcting itself and getting it together. I also recall christians promoting slavery, and then they got it together.

    GET IT TOGETHER. RESPECT THAT.

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