After a slight dust-up with a commenter who shall remain nameless, I can see it's time to establish a comments policy.
I don't mind criticism, as long as it makes sense (with the qualifier that since this is my blog, it has to make sense to me). What I object to is anyone who comes in here with a preconceived notion of How The World Is, and on the basis of that notion discounts whatever I have to say.
In other words: If you're an atheist, or an evolutionist, or a Muslim, or worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, fine. I might not agree with you, and may think you're a kook, but I won't say so (and if I do, you're quite welcome to slap me). Where I draw the line is the idea that because I am a person of faith--and specifically a Christian--I am automatically stupid and irrational, and my thoughts and opinions are to be dismissed.
So: If you want to comment on my blog, you must accept the following premise.
I am just as rational in my acceptance of and belief in a Supreme Being/God/Yahweh and/or Intelligent Design as you are in your denial of same.
JUST TO BE CLEAR, I am not discouraging comments from atheists, agnostics or evolutionists. What I am saying is that to comment, you must agree that my belief in God is reasonable and rational. You may argue facets of the belief if you like (as an example, the three-in-one nonsense of the Trinity), but you will respect the belief itself.
Any comments disregarding the above will be deleted (and I reserve the right to snark on comments that I think are particularly idiotic if I so choose). Most often they will simply be gone. I also reserve the right to ban anyone who I perceive to be a troll.
I like to argue as much as anyone else, but there have to be rules. My blog, my rules. If you don't like it...see ya.
I hear you. I'm an atheist, and this current dynamic has me very frazzled. We atheists have managed to sound as if we think everyone who believes in God has also been lobotomised. In mitigation, we hear you saying that we are evil and immoral. This cannot be good for either party.
There must be a better way to have this dialogue but emotions are running high and what's worse, so are anxieties. Stereotypes and we/them caricatures are rampant.
Will you tell me what annoys you the most about us atheists? Is there a way we can discuss important matters without undue friction? It would be completely disheartening to find out that people cannot even talk--almost everybody important in my life is religious.
Good for you, setting and sticking to boundaries on your own blog. :)
Thanks for your comment.
I talk to all kinds of religious and non-religious people, and the only atheists I don't like are those of the Richard Dawkins/Sam Harris mold--in other words, arrogant, insufferable twerps. There has to be mutual respect in any kind of dialogue, or there's no use talking. That is, even if you don't agree with the belief itself, you need to respect the other person's right to hold it, and acknowledge that the other person is reasonable to do so.
(By the way, this same kind of arrogant twerp, hiding behind the mask of "intellectual honesty," inspired the Comments Policy. I also told him to leave and not come back.)
I personally don't think atheists are evil or immoral. I think it's quite possible to live a fulfilled ethical life as an atheist. I obviously don't agree with your beliefs, and I think (and I'm trying to choose my words very carefully here) you're misguided, but I don't think you're a bad person.
If I may ask, were you born and raised into atheism, or did you come to it later? I'm curious because many atheists I've met chose that path because of a bad experience with religion.
In any case, thanks for dropping by.
I went to a Catholic Convent school when I was growing up, and my family are mostly Christian Protestants although some of my relatives are Muslims and there's a few Jewish people here and there too. I actually grew up just assuming that Catholics did education as a matter of course--I studied with Jesuits and did a lot of theology, but this was old-fashioned stuff, like Augustine and so forth.
I suspect that because I was around people of so many different faiths I just could never see the point of choosing between them all. It seemed to me that their various ideas cancelled each other out. So being atheist was a way of being neutral. But almost everything I ever studied seriously (art, literature, politics etc.) didn't make any sense unless one also understood the history of religion--and, in this context, of Christianity: how does one read English literature, for example, if you don't get the various quotes and stories and parables being discussed in the Bible? On the other hand, Christianity is dependent on Judaism in interesting ways, so I read some of that too, and then I was looking into some North African and Middle Eastern history and architecture, and you need to understand the role of Islam in all of that. Studying religion is a way of understanding the world, really, almost everywhere. Liberation theology and what that meant to Latin America. The new Pentecostalism and what that means to Africa....there's just so much to think about.
So, to answer your question, no, I didn't have a bad experience. If anything, I had too many good experiences with too many different religious representatives, and I could see the value of all of them. The commonalities between the things that attracted me to religious people didn't seem to have anything to do with the particular things they believed in, but rather more with the contemplative life, with an awareness of the world, with a desire to help, etc. I thought I could do all that, and think of these things without attaching a particular creed to them. I have a friend who does all kinds of great work with ending poverty and she says it is the Christian thing to do. However, she works alongside people of all other faiths too, and they say they are motivated by their various faiths also. I can understand people meditating (and think it a wonderful thing) and I can understand all the other ways that people believe and worship too, and see the value in that.
If there is a criticism I have about religion, it is that I don't understand why the religious don't let other people get on with whatever it is they want to do.
I mean, if I can see the value of the different religions, and I am an atheist, then why can't the religious see the value of each other, no matter how different? That's the offputting part, when people start promising other people that people A are going to hell (no matter how good they are as human beings) whilst people B are going to heaven (no matter how vile they are) as long as they turn up to temple/church/mosque etc., regularly and say the right things for a few hours. I think you'll find that this just puts people off: it is so sweeping! And it really makes such a nonsense out of a life well lived, if everything depends on religious nuances that people outside the religion almost can't see.
I was reading some pastors debating theological points online the other day, and they were arguing over a line in a verse somewhere. It was very interesting, to see how many different ways you could interpret it, and that was great. It isn't so great when this point becomes the dividing line between congregation X and congregation Y, and if, looking at it from the outside, you can't see why this line should make such a big difference, the whole thing becomes rather bewildering. If on top of that, they then become hostile, not just to the different interpretation, but to everybody else as well, then it is somewhat frightening.
Think about it: according to almost every religion, its believers are special in at least one way that will make a difference to them in their afterlife. According to just about ALL religions, atheists are doomed and damned. So while every religious person is comforted by their own community, atheists are attacked by everybody and defended by none except themselves. It can get a bit hard-going...
The other thing is that I've had no problems, ever, talking to various religious leaders, who are often quite outgoing (imams and priests and so on.) We get along quite merrily discussing this point or that--indeed, I went to college with some people who are now priests. But when I try to talk to members of their various congregations, my questions aren't interesting any more, they are blasphemous, and I'm sometimes not ready for that reaction because I've assumed that if it is okay with pastor whoever, then it is going to be okay to their co-religionists as well, and it often isn't.
The final result becomes that quite frankly, we're scared of talking to you (unless we agree with you) because we just don't know where the sensitive points are, and asking itself is likely to be problematical. Since we're scared to talk to religious people, we end up being ignorant about their various religions and just lump everything under lable "irrational." It never fails. The more ignorant anyone is about anything, the more frightening the totality of whatever it is becomes. So when we think religious, we don't think "person," we think "loony at twelve o'clock! Coming right at me! Wants to teach my kids creationism! Help!" and then, of course, everything goes haywire. Once you've put people into a box, it takes a conscious effort to think differently about it. On the other hand, it is clear that atheists need to calm down. If (especially in the U.S.) atheists are so outnumbered, then it is obvious that most of the people they interact with on a day to day basis must be religious, mathematically. If the grocer, the doctor, the mailperson, the teacher, the guy on t.v. etc. don't usually go about pouncing on our small children, there is little reason to suppose that the religious will suddenly start doing so now. This will occur to us soon, I hope.
I think what has happened recently is that there's been a long sort of pent-up frustration at always having to give religous people the benefit of the doubt (i.e. don't insult their faith, smile when we're told how badly in need of saving we are, don't ask questions about the various assumptions no matter how puzzling they are, etc.) and being expected ourselves to have no opinions or points.
It's a difficult situation. On the one hand, nobody wants to go about attacking other people's beliefs. On the other hand, we don't want to be attacked either. If it is okay for religious people to proselytise if they want to, and we're supposed to listen, then shouldn't it be okay for us to say what we like in public also? I mean, we aren't lying or anything: we really think these things are important.
So I can see your point about the Harris, Dawkins etc. deal. On the other hand, they speak in meetings, at bookstores, in college halls etc. How come they can't do that, whereas religious leaders have their pulpits and their audiences, they also go on television and write books, and nobody thinks anything of it, not to mention having a ready-made outlet for their views every Friday (for some) or every Sunday for others) or every whenever the faithful congregate?
It seems perfectly ordinary for religious people to give their views on almost anything, even when it doesn't seem to outsiders to have very much to do with religion particularly. If we think it is only fair that they should speak on these things, then obviously it is only fair that other people should also be allowed to have their say, (atheist viewpoint coming up-) that if we believe in freedom of speech, the imperative to protect minority voices and views means that it is especially important to make sure that atheists are free to speak.
I think it isn't so much that people agree with all the things that these more publicly prominent atheists speakers say, as that we think that they too, get a turn at last in return for the public platform that we have all granted those of other views, and the automatic listening-to that religious views get. I don't think that is unreasonable.
So, thanks for being welcoming. I'll be waiting for your thoughts quite eagerly and I hope I can comment again. I've enjoyed this. Looking forward to your next post.
I love your last comment. Could I have your permission to make it a separate post and discuss it?
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