Monday, 15 March 2010

Questions of Faith revisited

Got my response - from Gary Bryson, no less. I think it's bordering on deliciously wonderful, but I want to check with you bloggers first. Here is the exchange. I do not expect to get any further replies. Did Gary win this one, or did I? I really can't tell.

Mitch “In particular, I’m hoping to find an atheism which can transcend militancy and ridicule in its dealings with those who choose to take a path of faith.”
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this lately, Margaret, and I have a serious question on the subject of ridicule that I hope you might be able to help me with. As one of these atheists that, I am sure, you would consider to be militant, I am at times baffled by the sensitivity of the faithful to ‘ridicule’ of their faith.
I have included the quotation marks because sometimes the definition of ‘ridicule’ in matters like atheism versus religion is stretched beyond all recognition. Take, for example, the panel on Q&A with Richard Dawkins on monday night. Prof. Dawkins highlighted the story of Jesus’ crucifiction and loudly declared ‘if you think that is moral, you can keep it’. That is all – he summarised the story and expressed his opinion that it was not one of moral substance. A very common point of view amoung atheists. He was then taken to task for ‘ridiculing’ the new testament.
Now, now. If we have come to define the term ‘ridicule’ as the mere suggestion that the bible is not a sound base for morality, then you will find precious little in the way of candidates for your program, I’m afraid. Respect should be observed on a person-to-person basis, of course – you will not find an atheist who disagrees with this. But I fear that it might be impossible to be an atheist without ridiculing the religious if the criteria for ridicule is ‘disagreement with scripture’.
I have more to say (obviously, I am an atheist on the internet, after all), but I’ll yield to what you said about keeping comments shortish. In the spirit of not wanting to appear militant or hostile in any way, I’ll add that I am not trying to rile anyone with this comment. I am genuinely interested to know what constitutes ridicule in the eyes of the faithful. I am sure a common ground can be found. We are all reasonable people.

Margaret Coffey
David (I am sure Margaret meant 'Mitch'), I’m afraid that I didn’t see that Q&A. I’m familiar though with Richard Dawkins’ views on Jesus’ crucifixion. They are not unusual: Muslims, millions of them, ever since Mohammad, find the notion of the crucifixion and the role that event plays in Christianity incomprehensible and alienating. Most of them don’t express this view in those rather puerile terms that you quote. (I was going to write ‘juvenile’, but then I thought that would be to slur all juveniles). Instead, many fruitful interfaith exchanges are based on being able to discuss what Christians would reasonably find a challenging idea, but nevertheless should surely want to discuss. I think what people are often objecting to is a matter of tone.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to take something of a hard line. My original question to you was one about the boundaries of ridicule. Your response was addressed to ‘David’, but I believe I’m right to assume it was meant for me.
You finished your post with this: “I think what people are often objecting to is a matter of tone.”
And the gist of yours and Gar’s comments tends to be that there is a general insensitivity, regardless of validity of position, when it comes to the way that atheists – particularly strong and vocal atheists – put their position forward. Please pull me up if I am misrepresenting the situation in the comments here.
I can scroll to the top of this page and find a more threatening and insensitive example of language use than anything said by Dawkins today or on that Q&A panel. These are strong words, final words, and they leave no room for interpretation. I’m talking about the title of this post.
“Without God We Are Nothing.”
I am sorry, but if the faithful reserve the right to become offended by ‘tone’, then they must be prepared for the counter. If tone of voice is the only criterion we need for offense, then I level the accusation directly back at you, vis-à-vis a phrase used by you to argue that atheists employ an insensitive tone in the first place. The Cardinal’s phrase is offensive in tone and belittling to all atheists, agnostics, skeptics and, while we are at it, polytheists, who do not believe in a god and are therefore slurrishly reduced to ‘nothing’. You then go on to
Now, I will point out here – it is lucky, then, that I do NOT accept the notion that we should be getting stroppy and offended by ‘matters of tone’. I do not like being petty and arguing on the manner that the words were spoken rather than the words themselves. To me, it is rather like picking through a thoughtful reply for spelling and grammar mistakes and therefore discounting the entire reply for it – universally recognised to be poor form. My suggestion is that we move past the issue of tone lest this degenerate into a ‘which side is more at fault’ argument.
Nobody wants that. We all have much more important things to talk about. And we will not be able to get to them unless we are able to let go of our personal feelings regarding matters of tone.

Gary Bryson
On the matter of “Without God We Are Nothing”, Mitch, you’ve obviously left your sense of irony at home. “Threatening and insensitive”? Read the post.


Comment Pending Approval.

Hi Gary,

Not really – the point of my comment was that I don’t consider the phrase threatening and insensitive and do not think anyone else should either.


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