Monday, April 11, 2011

Take A Moment, If You Will

Religion is a difficult thing to discuss. It's really, really easy to hurt people's feelings or make sweeping generalizations without ever even realizing. I've done it myself and I've had it done to me. It's not fun and it certainly doesn't put you in a listening frame of mind.

Don't get me wrong --- there are a lot of category judgments involved in this sort of debate. Part of my big argument against religious belief in general is that it prides itself on being antithetical (or at least completely independent of) observable reality. But these are statements about reasons, arguments, etc., and maybe even about groups of people, but not about individual people. I always try to ask myself before I write or say something, "can I imagine some theoretical individual person to whom this generalization does not apply?" And if the answer is "yes," I'm always sure to qualify it as such. In my counter-apologetic endeavors, I am attacking ideas and actions, not people.

So I guess the point of this little posting is to ask everybody who's involved with this debate --- no matter which "side" you're on --- to take a moment to let the other party know that you don't hate them or look down on them as people, even if you think their ideas are stupid and ridiculous and unfounded. It's very, very easy to get caught up in heated arguments to the point that you feel like the other person must be just plain stupid to not see things the way that you do. You may think they're being dishonest, or disingenuous. And maybe they are. But unless that becomes clear through the course of their actions such that it is demonstrable, there's really no need to make unprovable assumptions and unverifiable accusations. If the person's arguments are flawed, then no amount of name-calling or well-poisoning is going to make that any more or less true.

In most fighting sports, there is a tradition of honor wherein the participants show their mutual respect before and after the match. In every sport there is a tradition of sportsmanship wherein all teams show their intent to compete honestly and respectfully. I don't see why debate has to be any different, just because it's about something important like religion --- the way I view it, each of my opponents may be "fighting" for a different "team" than I am, but that does not change the fact that we are people who still have to share the world at the end of the day. I feel like, isn't it enough that we have these fundamental disagreements? Do we really have to make it worse by dragging personal attacks and general disrespect into the equation?

I mean, seriously. Some of this subject matter is difficult and depressing enough as is; we don't have to walk away from it feeling like we've wasted our time just by acknowledging that it needs to be discussed.

So here's my little thing I want to say: Although I think the world would be much, much better off without religion, I feel this way for a reason --- which is to say that I feel there is a goal of basic human unity which is obscured by religion, among other things, and whose achievement is paramount. As in entropy, where a system can be universally unstable but locally stable, there are ways that this goal can be locally striven towards by cooperating with religious parties --- even if it seems that merely coexisting with divisive religious parties will interfere with the achievement of unity.

The point being: if we allow our individual differences to interfere with the achievement of the greater goal of human unity, then we have defeated the purpose of having this debate at all, even if we think we're doing something "good" by being so divisive. Does it make sense to sow chaos in order to create order?

There will be times where our differences are irreconcilable. But I just don't believe that it *always* has to be that way. We certainly don't have to make it that way. If we let people suffer when we could help them, or if we let people feel isolated and alone when they don't have to, just to achieve some short-term political or religious end, then we have wasted our time.

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