Sunday, 16 September 2012

Faith, Hope, And Clarity

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of remembering our moral obligations to balance our rights to freedom of speech and expression with our responsibilities to get along with other people by not going out of our way to insult them. Today I'm going to write about what moves people to be critical to the point of wanting to cause offence in others.

On the left I've posted a picture of figures who represent religion. On the far left is the Christian, then a Muslim, then a Jew, then a man with a question mark because he's not sure what he believes in, he's just certain that he doesn't believe in any religion. Each of them is standing on a platform, holding a crank that raises them and the platform they're standing on. They can raise or lower themselves as they wish. The point is, some people fondly imagine that the practice of their particular faith (or lack thereof) raises them above other people.

What makes them so superior, anyway?

Richard Dawkins, Penn Gillette, and certain other atheists believe that their refusal to accept the existence of a deity somehow lifts them up above the rest of us. They laugh at people of faith and say, "Aww, look at those dupes with the invisible friends. Aren't they stupid?!" Crank, crank, crank.

I come across this a lot on Google Plus and it can be awkward when the people who post the funny or cute pictures of cats then post a meme or placard that insults my faith or political position. I don't usually uncircle them but when it's egregious I do. Which means I still come across it a lot. Tolerating the condescension takes a lot of patience and when I am particularly exasperated I have to remind them of the three fingers pointing back at them. When it's a particularly pointed jab at my own faith I find it hard not to fall into an argument position that sounds suspiciously like the pro-gun argument, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Okay, what about religious people? They do the EXACT same thing to those people who think that when you croak it, that's it; game over, you're feeding the worms. The knife of contempt, if you will, cuts both ways. Crank, crank, crank.

What makes them get all violent and whatnot?

The thread that inspired this post links to a Muslim's complaint that there are certain groups that Western society feels should be protected, including the LGBT community, Black people, Jews, and women. Why, he laments, should Muslims be exempt from this to such a degree that it's considered acceptable to make horrible, insulting comments about their prophet?

I thought he had a valid point, but was told in the comments that it's irrational to take one's faith so seriously and personally as to exclude all criticism. Basically, the idea is that we should not be remotely offended if someone has a go at a figure or symbol that represents our faith. Okay, let's take a closer look at that.

What is faith?

The dictionary defintion goes,
1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence
2. a specific system of religious beliefs: the Jewish faith
3. Christianity  trust in God and in his actions and promises
4. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp. when this is not based on reason
5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy, etc.
6. any set of firmly held principles or beliefs
7. allegiance or loyalty, as to a person or cause (esp. in the phrases keep faith , break faith)
8. bad faith  insincerity or dishonesty
9. good faith  honesty or sincerity, as of intention in business (esp. in the phrase in good faith)

Have you noticed that there's nothing in there at all about not taking it too seriously? People of faith take their beliefs seriously. That's the point of faith. If you can't take it seriously, it's a nice idea and it's something cute for the kids like a dollies' tea party, but people of faith believe in their prophets, saints, leaders, and scriptures like our feet believe in the floor.

Faith is deeply personal. It's how a lot of us define ourselves, and we often do this to the point of wearing clothes and symbols that identify us to our fellow believers so they know they're among friends.

When someone has a go at a defining figure, such as a prophet, it strikes at the heart of what we believe and when we're then instructed to suck it up our hurt is trivialised, and so are we. I'll say it again, [rhetorical] you can't trivialise a faith or a figure of that faith without trivialising each person who believes in it. Why? Because you think we're poor, deluded dupes who play like kids with our invisible friends and trying to explain this or even just ask for a bit of legroom is often greeted with derision. Crank, crank, crank.

Freedom, responsibility, and that video

Anyone who thinks freedom is free forgets the price that was paid in blood by our forefathers and mothers to provide us with the right to practice our religion (or lack thereof) in peace. That's what it's for. It's for

  • "Don't set me on fire because I want to read the Bible in my own native language."
  • "Yes, I'm a witch, now leave me alone."
  • "Whaddaya mean, I have to be a member of your particular congregation in your particular church to hold public office or practice a profession?"
  • "Yes, I'm a woman, and I want to run for President."

Some people have appropriated that right and abused it in order to crank themselves up a bit higher than the rest of us, the better to crap on us like birds on your newly-washed car. Other people have used that abuse as a fig leaf to cover their nefarious plans to undermine new regimes in their countries, particularly those who favour America, or simply stir up trouble for the sake of it.

What about our violence?

Sometimes, what makes people get all violent isn't the fact that their religious beliefs are offended, it's because of a sense of innate value that surpasses that of other people. It seems to be justified if it's in the name of Western "leadership" to grant democracy to the teeming masses of the Middle East. You're not going to convince me that dropping tons of bombs on people is not violence. And don't get me started on Abu Ghraib or any of the other things the Muslims are ACTUALLY annoyed about. What I'm saying here is, we need to look at other people's violence compared with our own, and ask if we are really any better. It's only by taking our own actions out of the equation and viewing the incidents connected with "The Innocence of Muslims" in isolation that we can shrug our shoulders and say, "The natives are restless," then blame their behaviour on their religion. In fact, it's the only way we can justify such an attitude. If we ever faced up to our own role (yes, that includes the U.K.'s) in the problems of the Middle East, we'd have to admit there is more to it than that stupid video. Personally, I think we should.

The right to offend

Those people who support the right to offend often demonstrate an attitude of superiority over those of us who feel hurt when our beliefs are insulted, and you'd think that they themselves would be all fine and dandy if someone took a pop at what they themselves believe in. Actually, no, but they rationalise it as protecting people, not beliefs. But where is the protection for people who believe?

Case in point is the irrational thought process involved in equating criticism of a religion as hate speech based on the hate speech that exists toward Jewish people, gay people, black people, and women. - E. L. Weems

The idea is that in the same way that you should expect to suffer the consequences of your actions, you should expect to suffer the consequences of not being in the no-faith club. This means that your beliefs and the figures and symbols of your faith will be ridiculed 24/7 and you have to accept it with grace, even though you feel as if you're in the stocks having rotten vegetables and dead rats thrown at you. Of course, if you complain, you'll be ridiculed more. What I'm saying is, the no-faith people are often anti-faith and they think we believers deserve the opprobrium we get. And that hurts even more. "Want it to stop? Let go of that rock and you'll whoosh back up to the surface," they promise. "Don't you understand that you're drowning?"

Is there any point in saying, "But I'm not, and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop patronizing me."? Enquiring minds want to know.

The danger in that attitude is illustrated by the fact that you can still be committed to a mental hospital for being a Christian in some countries. Okay, so they're either Communist or you're in the "wrong" religion, but if you let that attitude fester, persecution of people of faith will become acceptable "for their own good." That's why I challenge such attitudes when I see them.

Truthiness and total strangers

This is where the selfishness of truthy comes in. If you privilege your own feelings above all other things, facts, logic and the feelings of others, then your mental state is unreachable. You are incapable of having a discussion because you are unable to even consider ideas different than your own.

Under this hypothesis, xenophobia comes from an inability to recognize someone as human (a type 2 error, a false negative), and derives from an inability to emulate their thinking processes and so understand their actions, motivations, and mental states. The xenophobe then substitutes (i.e. projects) what ever is convenient or what ever they are thinking (a type 1 error, a false positive) onto the person that is not understood. - David Whitlock

The man who made that comment as part of a blog post can't extend the hypothesis above to a conversation with me in which he accepts that I'm not a drooling idiot because I'm a Christian. He says, in the teaser thread I made for this blog post:

+Wendy Cockcroft I am all for considering ideas different than my own, but I can't compromise or "agree to disagree" on things like 2+2=5.

If you base a philosophy or argument on things like 2+2=5, then you can arrive at any conclusion.

I asked him to at least agree to treat me with enough courtesy to hold a conversation without patronizing or insulting me. I didn't ask him to study the Bible or turn up at Church next Sunday with a towel and a change of clothes so we could baptize him! It may be the case (I accept I could be wrong) that asking people to give up their sense of innate superiority and converse as equals with people they disagree with is one step further than they're willing to go. And it's the same my-way-or-the-highway thing I usually get from right-wingers. I'm just not used to getting it from liberals and to be honest, it's a bit of a shock. Look, people, there's a world of difference between accepting relativism as a worldview and being willing to accept that, while you may not agree with the other guy, there are enough other things on which you agree to make conversations with him worthwhile.

I'm convinced that what's going on here is that some people are considered to be too strange, whether their beliefs are common or not, to be acceptable to certain other people. Well if you limit the people you're willing to accept to those who agree with you on religion and politics, you'll only have them for reference, and all you will ever know is how to see the world from your stewed, concentrated point of view. Opening your mind to the possibility that the other guy might have an opinion that has some value, whether you can fully agree with it or not, makes it easier to learn new things. You can't if you padlock it and put up a keep out sign for all ideas that conflict with your ideology. But that's what allows you to crank yourself higher on your platform so you can look down on other people.

The reason for faith — or lack thereof

For the record, I believe that 2+2=4. That's what happens when you add two things and two more things together. My faith is not in spite of reason, it's because of it. I'd quite like to live in a world where everything was as simple as that, but it's not. I can't explain faith, it's just a thing that's always been a part of me. It doesn't make me better than everyone else, it puts me under an obligation to set an example to everyone else of what it is to be a Christian. At the moment, that seems to consist of trying to reason in favour of tolerance with people who like to denigrate faith itself and use that as a license to insult other people or justify the actions of others who behave that way. Crank, crank, crank.

This seems to apply both in the cases of people of no faith and people of different religions. Sorry, I was going off on impolite anti-faith atheists here. I get the same flavour of paternalism from far right religious conservatives. I should point out that I don't take issue with atheists in general, just the ones who are rude to me.

Me and my faith

There are ample proofs to supply to people who want to find out more about my faith. Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands A Verdict and Who Moved The Stone? by Frank Morison are good places to start. It's funny, every time I list all the books that people can use if they want to seek proof, those people who pride themselves on their rational, enquiring minds suddenly find other things to do. That's because it was never about the proof, it was about being on a higher platform than little, insignificant me. I've seen one exception to this so far, and I'd like to see more. It's the dishonesty that annoys me. As I said, if it's proof you want, there's plenty. If you want to puff yourself up and believe in your own superiority over people of faith based on the fact that you have no faith in a deity, don't expect me to accept it any more than I'd expect 2+2=5 to be valid mathematics. You can, however, expect that I won't be cranking myself up on my platform. I like to keep my feet on the ground.

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