Friday, April 9, 2010

Do atheists hate the sin, not the sinner?

Atheists who choose to argue the existence of gods with the religious will often be accused of being rude, intolerant, bigoted, close-minded and arrogant for having the nerve to say, "I don't think your god exists and here is why."

What will usually happen eventually, is that the atheist will say, "Your argument is stupid!" in a fit of frustration, or, "Your beliefs are stupid!"  Here is where dialog breaks down and both sides stomp off.  Where is the disconnect?  Contentious dialog is difficult, even for those experienced in it, but why does dialog stop once ones ideas or beliefs are attacked?

Atheists, even the most outspoken, are usually very careful to separate the individual from ideas and beliefs.  "You're a Christian and Christianity will cause you to have stupid beliefs," is technically different from, "You're a Christian and you're stupid."  However, I don't think it's understood differently from the Christian perspective.

There certainly are atheists who think anyone with a belief in a deity or deities is stupid.  There are others who hold this same viewpoint who will hide behind the language provided earlier in an attempt to appear fair-minded and open to dialog.  My hope is that those who hold bigoted viewpoints would simply state them without trying to play games with language.

Ideas and beliefs don't need protection, people do.  I think as long as people define who they are by what they believe, questioning an individual's beliefs will always be inferred as a personal attack which degrades dialog.  To me, saying, "I don't think YOU'RE stupid, I think the beliefs you hold are." is similar to saying, "I don't hate you because you're gay.  I hate the gay sex you have."

I don't think that religious belief should be free from criticism.  I think that much progress can be made in dialog if both parties can agree that beliefs are different then who we are as individuals.  From the religious side, when an atheist says, "I think Jesus rising from the dead is a stupid belief," they mean the same thing you'd say to a Scientologist, "I think that the idea of thetans is stupid."

It is difficult to resist an emotional reaction when the ideas and beliefs you hold are challenged, but that is the only way to have a reasonable dialog with someone who disagrees with you.


Mark said...

I think the real answer here is in how we approach the dialogue. If our relationship is predicated on agreement, it will be nearly impossible to have such a discussion safely. If we can be in a relationship no matter whether we agree or not and continue to do life together, then the discussion is just part of how we interact. We have earned the right to challenge each other by the commitment we've made to each other.

This same principle can hold in less intimate relationships as well. In this instance, it is in the attitude with which one criticizes. If it is a discussion of my experience and your experience full of questions that attempt to understand the other rather than an interrogation or the presentation of a case, it generally feels better, as well. If you are trying to understand me, that feels better than if you are telling me my paradigm is flawed. Both conversations have the same effect, though. They cause me to examine my belief system with guidance from you.

Parabola said...

I think this conversational immunity is an extension of the "hands off religion, your opinion is irrelevant" thing.

I'm glad to be the one that breaks the taboo on religious talk in everyday discourse; and articles like this, as well as good comments like Mark's bring some good points to light on how to do handle the matter.