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So here’s the deal.

One of my best friends and I got into a little tussle on another friend’s Facebook page. (Like, how rude is THAT. OHMAHGAAAAWD!!!) It is a tussle regarding Theism versus Atheism. Or rather, and to be (I think) more precise: Superstition versus Science.

I’ve had this discussion many, many times with many, many people.

My friend (it was R:tAG) said that he takes offense when people tell him he ‘should’ or ‘must’ or ‘ought to’ believe in something. Whatever that something is. And I agree with him. He *should* be offended when people do that. I hate that too, and it offends me as well.

One of my points was that I also find it offensive when someone tells me what I must *not* believe in, or when it is assumed that I am less intelligent, less able to think critically, or less able to think logically simply because I choose to believe in something utterly superstitious. Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s ghosts. Maybe it’s something mysterious that happens when the moon is full.

I am not a lazy thinker. I hesitate to say I am not irrational, because I know myself *fairly* well, and I do tend to act on emotion rather than logic most of the time. I am not stupid for thinking the things I do.

And my friend R:tAG is not stupid for thinking the things *he* does.

I deeply honour and respect his opinion, and I deeply honour and respect his, in his own words, ‘militant atheism’. I think it’s *wonderful*, to be honest, that he chooses to believe in things that are directly observable, provable, real, and tangible. I deeply honour and respect the fact that he finds most organised religion distasteful, if not utterly damaging, belittling, and, most likely, wrong. (Most? R:tAG, help me out, is there some organised religion you don’t find distasteful?)

I have many friends who are atheists. Militant and otherwise. I do not try to change their minds or proselytise (sp?) because not only is it futile, it’s terribly inconsiderate and offensive. I respect their opinions and the logic and sensible…um…ness of the way they have come to know the truth of things.** And I certainly don’t expect them to understand or want to try to understand why I believe in ghosts and God and the weirdness that comes with the full moon.

I believe in mysteries. I don’t need to know the answers. I always look for clues, and I know I will never know the answers. And I’m okay with that.

And on the other hand, I have a deep respect for (and slight romantic interest in) scientific process and theorems and proofs and observable phenomena and hypothesis and provable (or disprovable, for that matter) theses. In fact, in my previous life, I did relatively well in the sciences (with the exception of Chemistry. STupid math.) in University. I think I had one of the highest marks in my class in physics and genetics.

I’m not the kind of person who wants to believe in fantastic explanations for mundane things. I prefer to observe the known facts (Sherlock Holmes-style), apply the knowledge I have, acquire greater knowledge if possible, put my theories to the test, and find out how things work.

So I think what upset me in that conversation on the Facebook wasn’t that R:tAG is a militant atheist. I’m pleased that he is. And I support his decision and I even agree with much of what he says. What upset me was the suggestion, and he certainly didn’t make it a direct accusation, that simply because I choose to believe in ghosts, God, or how the phases of the moon might affect things, that I am less capable of rational thought. That I have to be one way or the other. That I make judgements about my friends, and indeed about people I’ve never met, based on whether or not they believe in the same things I do.

It wasn’t what R:tAG *said* that upset me. It was the implications in what was left unsaid, I think. I accept that some of the things I believe in make me sound like a fruitcake. I’m okay with that. But does that mean I’m not as capable, intellectually or in my reasoning, as someone who does not have fruitcake tendencies?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this lately.

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**Just as a point of reference, in my superstitious beliefs, I tend to think that some things are Very Old stories and parables. And that is important. And just because some guy in a pointy hat says that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to hell, doesn’t mean I concur. I don’t even know if I believe in hell. Regardless. This is part of the mystery I believe in – I haven’t got a *clue* what happens when we die, and I don’t even know that it matters. Maybe we just stop. That makes me feel hollow and empty, and so I choose to believe something else, with certain kinds of evidence. GAH. I’m getting side-tracked. The point *is*; IF something happens to us after we die, I certainly don’t believe that atheists or agnostics or different-kinds-of-superstitious people go to “Hell”. In fact, I don’t think it really matters *what* I believe on that front. Really, if anything happens after we die, I sincerely hope it is one of those things where you get a lot of answers, and get to hang out with all your dearest friends and family concurrently with them hanging out with/existing with all of *their* dearest friends and family, without having to worry about things like temporal travel.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

13 Comments

  1. In his defense…it does work both ways. In my experience I have had implications that I am incapable of rational thought because I DO NOT believe in God, Allah, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. during conversations with those of faith. Sometimes, however, we are really defensive about what we believe and those implications may be nothing more than our own insecurities coming out to bite us on the ass (no matter which side of the argument you lie on). In my own defense, I have been accused of such implications when I really really really just want to know why.

  2. He’s not totally wrong about religion and belief but he’s not, IMHO, wholly correct either.I felt the same you did, but I really don’t think that he intended to call either of us mentally incompetent. Then again, maybe he does feel that we are somewhat deficient. I know a different smart man who thinks that belief in God is a form of insanity. That’s why I think it’s a conversation to have in person so that things can get hammered out one at a time. With gesticulation. And coffee or wine. :)At any rate, I think it was the lack of exclusion from the generalization that irritated *me*. Well, that and the sweeping generalization to begin with, although, mostly not being excluded.

  3. Oh, please don’t take this as an attack. It isn’t. I certainly don’t think R:tAG’s or your, or anyone else’s …’conviction’… (for lack of a better term) needs defending. The thing is. The thing is this: What bothered me was the idea that, and it certainly wasn’t what R:tAG was saying or even insinuating…what bothered me was the idea that my ideas, my opinions, the integrity of my intelligence, essentially is somehow lowered because I am superstitious.It bothered me because i don’t think less of anyone who is *not* superstitious. The idea bothered me because it *does* offend me when other superstitious people say these things about atheists (or agnostics, or other superstitious people). It bothered me because I value his friendship and his opinion so much, I would so hate the thought that something like my belief in ghosts or God or the things the moon does would jeopardize the fabric of our relationship with each other. And I don’t think it ever *would*. But that was the thing that was Bothering me. In fact, I think the very fact that I *do* have so many good friends who have so many varied and diverse backgrounds, opinions, beliefs, and convictions speaks to the fact that my friends are open-minded, awesome people.

  4. I never took it as an attack, but there is certainly a tone of defensiveness in your post. Or at least that is how it came across to me. I’m just saying that religion (or lack thereof) is very personal and discussions about it tend to bring out assumptions about what the other person is implying about you (on either side). When I have these discussions, the deeper I dig to get an answer, the more defensive people get about their positition. It has happened on my own blog. Usually the reason I get into these discussions with my friends is because I do believe they are pretty damn smart in all other arenas and therefore MUST have a really good rational explanation for why they hold that position. It always ends badly though, with them telling me “You know what? I don’t feel comfortable talking about this. I’m NOT STUPID!!!!” and walking away from the conversation. Never once have I ever felt nor said that they were any less sane or intelligent. What I am saying is that usually, on both sides, for me, that insinuation is merely a figment of our imagination. A defense mechanism. At least I would hope so or it actually means that my friends think I’m a pretty big dumbass.

  5. AJ – yes, that was certainly part of it. And I don’t mind the idea that some folks consider the superstitions I believe in to be a form of insanity. I’m okay with that. But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean that I am less capable of logical reasoning in other arenas.

  6. Melistress: hee hee. Dumbass is a funny-looking word.Also, I don’t know if I was feeling particularly *defensive* or not when I wrote this…I *was* working things through in my head. That being said, I’ve also never claimed my belief in anything superstitious to be *rational*. In the end, it is *not* rational to believe in something you can neither prove nor disprove, something that is not rationally/logically explainable. I know that to non-superstitious people, it seems ridiculous to hold suspicious beliefs. I think my point was that I really hope that doesn’t make me stupid in others’ eyes, simply because I choose to believe in this one irrational thing.Parmeisan: I think that many of “the religious” give *themselves* a bad reputation, and my big concern, as AJ pointed out, was that I would be painted with the same brush as Jim or Tammy-Faye Bakker, or any other fanatical kook because I also belive in something contentious and unprovable. I mean, i don’t mind being a kook, really. But I don’t like the idea that because I’m a theist, among other things, I am less intelligent and less able to think critically and scientifically. Why this bothers me is that, for instance, I don’t think my atheist friends are somehow less capable of knowing right from wrong or are less capable of being able to love.

  7. I don’t personally know anybody who I think is less intelligent because of their beliefs, and I know a relatively wide variety of belief sets as well, and rarely shy back from religious debate. However, sometimes you see or hear about people who make some pretty poor arguments for their belief (like the guy in Religulous who talks about Jesus having “female blood”) – people who clearly haven’t thought it through and come to the conclusions they have despite thought, but rather believed without ever thinking it through. I respect people who are willing to question and still then believe (actually, I continually surprise myself to realize I am one of them) but it seems that there are people in this world who refuse to question at all, and I have trouble accepting that.I guess my point is, it’s possible that these other people have given “the religious” in general a bad reputation, which affects us even when the non-religious person in the conversation doesn’t see you as like that, because the religious person is worried that they might?

  8. Yeah this is one of my current annoyances, because it seems so … childish.For the longest time theists held a kind of spiritual high ground over the atheists by using the condescending and discussion stopping statements which boil down to ‘I’ll pray for you to not go to hell.’ Right, it was this total ‘pat pat’ to the head that is entirely dismissive and agrivating. Unfortunately now the atheists are using this same technique. Most notably at the forefront of this little war of condescension is Richard Dawkins. I’ve read ‘The God Delusion.’ Essentially Dawkins does what the theists did but his statement is ‘If you believe in God you must be stupid.’And Ceno you hit the poitns exactly. Atheists don’t lack the ability to see right and wrong, just as theisist don’t lack solid critical thinking. And that’s essentially what is happening. After years of being see as some how lacking in moral aptitude, the athesists are getting their ‘revenge’ so to speak by claiming that those who believe in a higher power are lacking in mental aptitude.As an aside, while Douglas Adams death was an incredible loss to humour, he wrote a great deal of non-fiction, including many essays on his atheism. After his death the beginning of the new Dirk Gently novel he was working on, and a collection of his other writing (Douglas wrote for computer magazines, wildlife journals, science publications, the man was briliant) was released called ‘The Salmon of Doubt.’ In it is a very beautiful essay on why Adams was an atheist. Adams used to be an excellent ambassador for the athesists, and now you’re all stuck with the bombastic Dawkins. Oh and in case you’re wondering, yeah I’m a theist. And I’d say my critical thinking is far superior to the average.

  9. 1. There has to be a god, or who would we have to talk to during sex?2. Mark Twain said something like “I have no time for the religion of any man who’s dog and cat aren’t better off because of it.” A lot of religions, and “religious” people would be found wanting by this test.2A. Pick your metaphor — god, rational universe, etc — whatever works for you to make you a better person vis a vis all life around you (now there’s a tasty value judgement to metaphorically sink your mind’s teeth into)3. There’s “god” or “some entity or force or intelligence greater than humans” and then there are religions, which are, like, the political parties of god. We confuse the two at our peril, and it seems to me that peril abounds.4. Define belief. If something can be proven, or is known, then you don’t have to believe in it. It is, whether you believe in it or not. If something is incapable of being apprehended by the senses, or is in some other way unknowable, and you hold it to be true or to exist, then you “believe” in it. Some people, maybe including Graham Greene, would hold that a crucial ability of being human is the capability to “believe” in something, anything at all. And one of the important qualities of god is that he/she/it causes or inspires in humans this necessary skill of being able to believe. So believing’s a completely different activity from thinking, and bears no connection to how capable you are at critical thinking. Some very clever people also display the capability of constructing or adopting beliefs or a belief system; some very intellectually limited people show no signs of any beliefs whatsoever. Do people with higher IQs or more advanced education/training typically formulate or adopt more sophisticated beliefs/belief systems? Or does the presence in their minds of more “information” about the universe and how it works cause an inverse effect on their belief systems because there is actually less that they are required to “believe” in putting together their personal explanation of reality?5. Is it universal human nature to want an explanation of reality, do explanations – of whatever quality – give us more peace? Or are there really people who appreciate, and seek to deepen, the mystery? Is the existence of god: The Mystery, a part of The Mystery or an antidote to The Mystery? Or have his/her/its apologists just co-opted The Mystery to appeal to the lovers of uncertainty/ambiguity?6. Is there any evidence that I have spent some time helping Starchild with her philosophy papers in the recent past?

  10. The other way that Dawkins contributes to this (indirectly) is the Richard Dawkins forums. Atheists, who understandably feel a little outnumbered, like to congregate on there. Paul goes on there a lot. It seems that they get a lot of theists popping on saying “I’ve found it; the indisputable proof of God!” and proceeding to lay out either a succession of poorly developed “facts” or some all-encompassing statement that, in the end, really proves nothing. They get a *ton* of these. The atheists have been putting together a list of “common theist arguments” and the reason it really isn’t proof at all. (Because clearly, if there were *proof* one way or the other, we really wouldn’t need to debate it). But it’s really hard for anyone to argue with someone who’s familiar with this list, because as soon as you say something, they counter with “That’s Neptune’s Fallacy” or “You’re really just quoting Vivendi’s fourth axiom and that was proven wrong twenty years ago by Rhiggetti.”That’s probably got nothing to do with Jill’s problem, though.(Also: w00t, the comments are cool again!)

  11. Kay, I haven’t read Dawkins’ books yet. Not because he’s an atheist, but because …well…I haven’t really had the time. On my list.

    anyway, if someone suggests to me that I haven’t really thought things through fully because i choose to believe in something that cannot be proved or disproved, I kind of get a bit offended.

    I’ve thought this through quite a bit, in fact. And, I’d argue, fully. I just arrived at a different answer. I’m okay with folks like you and Dawkins and R:tAG and TUO thinking I’m a bit of a fruitcake because I believe in ghosts…or god…or the weird things the moon does to me. I’m *totally* okay with that. But this is my point – don’t think I haven’t *thought it out fully*. I have.

  12. Fer the love of Jeebus, Coyote. I’ll say it again: Dawkins has never said ‘You must be stupid.’. He says ‘You haven’t thought this through fully – please take the time to do so.’

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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