A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

My Respect to Harry and Chris and Other Wise Atheists

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on March 12, 2008

I probably won’t say anything which wasn’t said better already in the posts at Mixing Memory and Crooked Timber on the topic of respect for religious and non-religious people. But hopefully will translate what they said into more personal perspective, because so it happens that I’m theist, and that I agree a lot with what they said.

It is really tiresome to read disrespectful comments about theists all over the web. I was an atheist when I was a teenager, but changed to theist in my early twenties. Who knows, maybe I will change in my believes again if my understanding of the world changes. But, as it is the situation now, it seems to me more plausible that there is such thing as God rather than not. Is it the God of the Christianity? I don’t know, it might be, I believe it is, but I’m less sure about that.

Anyway, why does it bothers me when those my beliefs are disrespected?

First, *I know* how I came to those beliefs. I know I wasn’t indoctrinated with them, but got to those by myself. This country was “socialistic country” so dialectical materialism, and ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’ is what we were indoctrinated with, and not religion. So, I was an atheist from the early childhood and through my high school. I wasn’t also bothered with absurdity of life, it didn’t bothered me that the life could be absurd. So, what? If it is absurd, it is absurd, who cares?

Also, I know that I came to those believes through sincere thinking trying to make sense, to understand the world. See, even when I started believing that there was God, my prayers were for him to help me understand the world. Because that is the thing I most wanted.  When I was getting to sleep, that is what I was thinking about. Since then, I feel that I really understand a lot more things about the world. But it seems that my belief that there could be God only went stronger. Of course, maybe I’m not understanding it, maybe I’m misunderstanding it, I can’t be sure, but I try to be sincere the best I can. I try to seek the inconsistencies within my view, to keep them on mind in order to address them further and so on…

So, now, if a person is disrespectful to this belief, what does that mean? Are they saying that I’m insincere, that I lack critical thought, and that that is why I came to this belief? How is this supposed to make me feel, given that I highly respect being sincere and critical thought, given that my thought is guided by those things?  Are they saying that I’m stupid, so that even with best intentions, I was destined to get to this wrong belief? But *I know* I’m not stupid. (How? I don’t want to brag here :).) Also, I’m sure I’m not the most knowledgeable guy, but I’m sure I’m not ignorant either.

So, given that I was not indoctrinated, given that I was sincere in my thinking, given that I’m not stupid nor ignorant, could I still be wrong?  Of course. But if I’m none of those things, and if I spend a big time of my life thinking about those things, it can’t be that my belief is so bad, that it should be disrespected by others. What can I then think about disrespectful comments about my beliefs, and people that make them? I will just say, that probably I end up thinking of them, some of those things that would be implied about me.

Now, lot of people have beliefs which are not inline with mine. Like, some of them are atheists. But I would be really silly to to judge most of those people as a)stupid, b)insincere, c)ignorant, or d)indoctrinated just because they disagree with me. On contrary I think that most of the atheists that are neither of those. So, I *have no right* to disrespect atheism.

As I see it, those who are disrespectful to others are either overestimating themselves, or underestimating the complexity of the world.


13 Responses to “My Respect to Harry and Chris and Other Wise Atheists”

  1. […] of bloggers have been commenting on this paper by Simon Blackburn, called “Religion and […]

  2. MM said

    ‘Who knows, maybe I will change in my believes again if my understanding of the world changes.’

    Could you specify more precisely what might make you abandon theism?

    ‘But, as it is the situation now, it seems to me more plausible that there is such thing as God rather than not. Is it the God of the Christianity? I don’t know, it might be, I believe it is, but I’m less sure about that.’

    How can you ‘believe’ what you’re not sure about?

    ‘So, now, if a person is disrespectful to this belief, what does that mean? Are they saying that I’m insincere, that I lack critical thought, and that that is why I came to this belief?’

    Either some people ‘lack critical thought’ or religions have nothing to do with knowledge. Do you think you have objective grounds for your religious beliefs (compelling arguments or sufficient evidence)? If you do think so, how do you explain that not all humans share your religious beliefs, that there have been and still are so many people of different religions or no religion around? On what grounds do you favour one religion over any other religion? On what grounds do you favour any religion over atheism? If there’s no way to settle a question why not remain agnostic? (One is still entitled to hope or pray that one’s preferred solution is the case!)

  3. Hey MM, thanks for the comment.

    1. As it is the situation now, in my web of beliefs I see such being as God plausible. The belief isn’t “central” so to say, but it depends on lot of other beliefs I have. So, it is completely possible that my web of beliefs changes, mostly my stance towards some metaphysical questions, in such way that different understanding of the world to make God implausible.

    2. There are two issues which I think should be kept separate. The plausibility of God in general, and plausibility IF God exist, that a concrete historical stories are actually about that God. That is, it is completely possible, that there is a God, and still e.g. the God of the western religions to be merely speculations with fictional stories set around metaphysical speculations. So, it seems more plausible to me that there is God rather than not, but I’m less sure about this second issue, if the historical God corresponds with that God. Though still, I tend to believe it does, mostly for pragmatical reasons.

    3. Yes, I think I’m sincere, careful in critical in my thought, which was always based on my wish to understand the world. It is definitely a set of metaphysical and in general philosophical reasons and not scientific reason which are the core of these my beliefs (though of course, those beliefs need to be inline with what we know from empirical research). How do I explain that not all humans share my religious beliefs (let’s ignore the issue of other religions, as I said, I don’t have other than pragmatic reasons for that)? Well, obviously believing what I believe, I explain that by them being wrong :). But the issue is not if I think that they are wrong, but if I respect them while thinking they are wrong. And I do respect atheists, because in general I think they are smart people, non-ignorant, sincere in their beliefs, etc… How come we differ in views? Well, dualists differ from physicalists, Bohr differed from Einstein, nominalists differ from Platonists, and so on.

    4. I could be agnostic. I for sure don’t have any definite reason to believe there is a God. As I said, I just have web of beliefs in which it is plausible that there is such thing as God, and add to that some pragmatic reasons, and that’s why I have belief that I have. So, I could be agnostic, but given that I think that God is plausible, and that I have pragmatic reasons (I like ideas of rationality, justice, love, etc…), I tend to believe. I make a choice. I could’ve make another choice of being agnostic, and I even don’t see implausible the idea that there is no God. But so it seems that this is most plausible choice, and as I said, I have other pragmatic reasons.

  4. MM said

    Thanks for responding. If I understand you right, your position sounds pretty sensible. If one’s commitment to some particular revelation is pragmatic rather than epistemic (e.g. I’m a Christian because it makes me feel good inside) I think questions of being smart or stupid, critical or uncritical simply don’t arise. Similarly, when people speak of religious faith, as opposed to belief or knowledge, again I think that questions of rationality don’t arise. The problem is with people who claim to believe what they can’t possibly understand, such as the dogma of the trinity, or who settle empirical questions, such as the age of the universe or the origin of life, by reference to what The Book says: To claim ‘knowledge’ in the circumstances seems absurd.

  5. Yeah, I would agree that there is a problem if people treat religious texts as some kind of revelations of empirical truths, and use that as argument against current scientific facts and other empirical knowledge. Now, of course it would be wonderful, if there some paragraph in some religious book could tell us about relativity of space and time e.g. in 17th century, so to save us few centuries of looking in the wrong direction. But I highly doubt that something like that will happen :). I guess this problem might come from some religious people not understanding science for what it is – a sincere empirically based wish to understand the world, in which people check their hypothesis against the world. Like thinking that there is probably more beer in the fridge and checking the fridge. And people don’t see science as lot of those kind of theories, each tested, trying to explain different phenomenon, some theories accepted, some more problematic, but instead I think some see it as something monolithic, something which is put against God. Maybe it is in big amount just a reaction to some changes to the values which come from modernization, and then science is equated with it, I don’t know.

    On the second thing that you mentioned, I’m not sure if I understand you, but I don’t think that the issue of rationality doesn’t appear. If I can see inconsistency or even implausibility of such being as God given my other metaphysical beliefs, it would be irrational for me to believe in God *just because* of pragmatic reasons. I think it would be lying to myself. I think pragmatic reasons are OK, but I don’t think they should be a ground for any belief, just additional support. In my case the additional pragmatic support comes from the fact that I love the ideas of justice, rationality, understanding, and the idea of God supports all those. But, e.g., if I believed that universe is made up from atoms only, and that they fully determine how the world is developing, that our reasoning can be reduced to e.g. calculations, etc…, it would be pretty irrational for me to believe in God vs. those beliefs just because I like the idea. Because the plausibility of God, given those beliefs, I think is pretty small (though of course we could never know).

  6. MM said

    You put things well in your first paragraph. Perhaps revelation now happens in the minds of scientists! Of course science could never prove that God does not exist, but science does not need a God hypothesis to account for phenomena either. As science evolves God is ‘pushed back’ and the success of science may get religious people worried that while God may still be there God is left with less and less to do.

    I agree that pragmatic reasons are not grounds for belief. I understood you to be saying that you’re more committed to the existence of God than to the existence of the Christian God in particular and that if you’re a Christian rather than, say, a Muslim it’s because of pragmatic reasons (you’re deeply moved by the story of Jesus or the church is nearer to your house than the mosque is) and not because you think there’s compelling evidence or argument for the truth of the Christian bible that’s not available in support of the Quran. But I may be wrong, and I’m not sure how you understand ‘God’ in the first place: A kind of Platonic idea or form?

  7. Oh, right. It is mostly pragmatic reasons for believing in God of western religions. Related to the different messages which I consider wise, and God of course would be wise, compatible with some values I have, etc…

    As for the idea of God, I will try to explain as short as I can:

    I think that what we perceive and become aware of are aspects of the reality. Aspects are not causally nor explanationally closed, but as aspects are only “shades” of the concrete reality. Aspects are defined by the way we approach the reality (and our abilities to approach it). The more abstractly we approach it, the more we are approaching aspects of aspects and getting further away from the concrete thing.

    If one follows this belief, the concrete can’t ever have something less than any aspect of it. (Like the color of the apple, will not ever be something which apple itself as a concrete object doesn’t have. Any property of the apple as it’s aspects ‘borrows it’s being’ from the apple itself). So, I guess you get the general idea, of how if one beliefs that the reality is properly understood in this way, it make it plausible for something *very rich in content and complexity* to be the ground of everything else.

    Probably it sounds weird just put out like this, but most of the posts of this blog could be read I think, if not as direct arguments for that position, then examining issues from this kind of perspective, and trying to show how it makes sense.

  8. MM said

    I agree that if a religion has contributed to shaping cultural values, then a person brought up in such a culture may find aspects of that religion appealing: It may seem as if God might provide grounds for what one feels is good. Of course there’s Euthyphro to consider but the God you talk about does not seem to be a person. Perhaps if I read more of your posts things will become clearer. Thanks for the chat.

  9. Actually it would be more than a person, I guess. Thank you.

  10. Matt M said

    How does the saying go: Hate the sin, love the sinner?

    I think it’s extremely important to respect the person. After all, if you don’t then why bother to argue in the first place? Where we criticise a belief held by that person it should be on logical / empirical grounds (as opposed to, say, crass pop-psychology about the person). This inevitably means arguing that said person has made a mistake, but I think we all have to accept that we’re fallible beings, so such a suggestion shouldn’t be too difficult for us to deal with.

    Where I have problems with certain atheists (such as Hitchens or Dawkins) is where they cross the line between criticising a specific belief (which I believe is not only perfectly acceptable but often necessary) and ridiculing the believer (as Dawkins does when he refers to people as “faith-heads”, for example).

  11. Hey Matt, thanks for the nice comment.

    It makes me wonder if those people actually have theist friends. It seems to me that having at least one good friend from the “opposing camp” would make one rethink the stance of ridiculing the other.
    While it might be easy to talk about some imaginary “general” theist, I would think knowing actual theist, will prevent one falling for the caricature of stupid, irrational, ignorant theist.

    Of course what I say, could go other way around too. One wonders if people are maybe pretty much socially divided on this line, so that they mostly get to hang with people that have same stance towards religion. Probably not, but just a thought :)

  12. I think, that intolerance is a sign of stupidity and unwise. Maybe fanaticisms too, mostly made by priest in the churches, where they say, that everything different from standard made in churches is wrong and should be rejected. I am an atheist with sings of Taoism and Buddhism :-) and I know how people in my, mostly Christian, country see me. They want to change me and they tell me how wrong I am and that I will change my opinion when I be older and so.
    I think, that believe should make the person happy and satisfied. Most of people in my country do not know anything about other believes, so they do not know if something else would make them more happy. This is why I feel sorry for people who do not tolerate my believe. They just believe to what the society told them and they did not choose alone.

  13. Hey Susan,

    Yeah, I agree with most of what you say, I want just to add a comment on the idea that belief “should make” the person happy or satisfied.

    For sure, maybe we tend to believe in things that make us happy or satisfied even if the belief is irrational, but I don’t agree that is how it should be. I disagree because I think the right ethical or right “what we should do” approach is related to the right understanding the world, so, incompatible with having beliefs which are wrong though they make the person happy and satisfied. Of course, “feeling happy and satisfied” in one sense is compatible with finding some kind of meaning in ones life, and in that sense it includes *making some kind of sense* of the things. I think that would be much better approach.

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