I included this innocuous warning on my personal Facebook page when I informed my close friends and family last week of my recent podcast against faith: “If you are offended easily about criticism toward religion, I would be cautious. I’m not kind to faith-based beliefs.”
I don’t badger my inner circle, and I try to be respectful and cautious of my family’s beliefs. I consider myself honest, but not antagonistic. This was the only religious-based post I had written in weeks at this location. I just wanted to let my loved ones know how I had been spending my time.
This benign announcement prompted a flurry of responses and admonitions, and illustrates why discussing religion is so difficult. Hatred, confusion, logical fallacy and oversensitivity were all well represented. I think it would be instructive to present the dialogue while withholding participant’s identities, and then give some concluding comments. It’s a lengthy conversation, so it will take more than one post.
First, some quick background, I became an atheist approximately six years ago, and to my knowledge I’m the only non-believer in the family. Denominations among my relatives and peer group range from devout Catholic to evangelical fundamentalist to mainstream liberal, weak-tea Christian.
After I posted my initial polite announcement, a Catholic relative of mine had this polite question, which I did not mind so much:
Just live the way you want to live. Why try to prove everyone else wrong and put down others beliefs. I don’t get the battle….
That’s a perfectly relevant question, and I would have answered it, had it not been for an anti-Catholic evangelical Christian who decided to write this:
You idol worshiping, Pagan Catholics paddle the same godless canoe as Atheists. And you agree and applaud them on. God forgive you . . . ! I have the guts to stand up against evil. You don’t. God have mercy on you!
Wow. This led to a very close relative writing this:
Hi all: I need to defriend as I will cannot have this Christian hate based information on my FB page.
Disappointed, I tried to smooth things over with this note:
My philosophy is that every belief, every single one – even mine – is not off limits to scrutiny. I’m am not dictating to anyone or promoting legislation, I’m only pointing out issues I see in a belief system. It’s interesting, I’d estimate that after more than (45,000) people listened to this podcast at least, not a single person who has disagreed with me has been able to tell me two things: 1) a definition of faith 2) how it works to provide knowledge. This is very telling. Getting upset and trying to end the conversation is just strange response. This, perhaps, is the most important issue we could talk about, and no one wants to talk about it critically about it or respond with a cogent answer to why I’m wrong.
Not bad, I thought. That ought to do it. Nope. The anti-Catholic evangelical Christian chimed in:
You claim you are not dictating to anyone or promoting legislation Alan. That’s an outright lie! The Devil is the author of lies. You are now doing the works of your father the Devil. John 8:44
I did get a few intelligent responses and honest efforts, unlike the nonsense above. One Catholic relative wrote this:
People don’t want to prove you wrong because faith is an inner knowing that can’t be proven scientifically. 1, Faith for me is an inner knowing that there is a larger entity of holiness, and goodness beyond this life, that is with us here also. 2. The God head leads us into knowledge by inner and outer inspirations. If you haven’t experienced these things they cannot be intellectually defined. Why is this the most important issue to you? I hope you get a satisfactory answer.
I didn’t get a satisfactory answer, and I still haven’t. This is how I responded:
If it can’t be proven scientifically, then how do you know that what you are subjectively feeling is true? Every person from every religion has had experiences of transcendence and awe. These types of feelings are even felt by atheists. How can you claim that these admittedly wonderful feelings are true of objective reality? The mere fact is that everyone who reports these experiences from the millions of religions around the world report different and contradictory truths about our universe. This indicates that there is something else going on, and the prevailing evidence suggests it’s psychological or cognitive phenomenon. You’re making the subjective-objective error discussed in the podcast. My desire for chocolate ice cream cannot be scientifically proven, and my claim that chocolate ice cream “is the best” is only true as far as my tastes goes, it is not a truth claim about reality for everyone. I’m afraid that’s the problem with your claim. I’m glad you “feel” like there is holiness out there, I don’t dispute that you feel that way, but that in no way, shape or form can be considered a rational truth claim, any more than a Hindu “feels” he was a flower in in a previous life or a pantheist “feels” the universe has a consciousness.
To which, to my surprise, she responded:
I don’t care if it’s a rational truth claim or not, that’s your irk. When you know that you know, irregardless of other’s religious experiences, that is enuf. When you have the “peace that passeth all understanding”, objective reality becomes moot. Hope you find your answers, guess you’ll have to go to the intellectuals who have no faith, and together, you may hope to glean your truth. Right now, I don’t think you have the ability to hear anything other than what science dishes out, maybe it is your god. As for me, I don’t need to go here anymore.
The above message is a typical response, but at least we’re still communicating. She and I were still civil, and I call this progress. But, as you shall see in my next post, when you’re talking about religion with your family, things can downhill pretty fast.
Rationality & Irrationality
of a Public Lecture by Peter Boghossian
Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University
Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 10:00am
Friendly House Community Center on the southwest corner of
NW 26th and Thurman in Northwest, Portland, OR
Hosted by the Humanists of Greater Portland • More Details to Follow
www.malcontentsgambit.com • @MalcontentsGamb