Have Some Manners

  (12 February 08)
  by Greg Spearritt

John Allen Paulos, a mathematician at Temple University in Philadelphia is author of a new book, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up (Hill & Wang).

In a review of the book, Paulos is quoted as saying:

"It's repellent for atheists or agnostics to personally and aggressively question others' faith or pejoratively label it as benighted flapdoodle or something worse. Those who do are rightfully seen as arrogant and overbearing."

I'd have to agree. Dawkins and Hitchens, for all that they have some wonderful things to say, do come across as "arrogant and overbearing" at times. 

Mind you, I see it as equally arrogant for theists/believers to assume that those around them share their beliefs. In conversation some will, for instance, casually talk about something or other in their life being 'God's will'. If they don't know me, they're making an assumption they have no right to make. If they do know me, they're being provocative. In either case it seems like bad manners.

Is this just me being an over-sensitive curmudgeon?

5 comments

I spent a recent weekend in Brisbane with the family for my nephew's engagement before he heads overseas with the army. I loved the Andy Warhol exhibition and the claim that 'I am a deeply superficial person' but was then repeatedly accosted on the streets by religious fanatics whose message that it was in my best interests to get saved - for me a deeply immoral religious sales pitch.

In the heat of passionate engagement we are all prone to overstating, exaggeration and rudeness.

Hitchins, Dawkins and others are doing their own wrestling with the big questions and I guess they are both trying to provoke us and also respond to the vast amount of religious cant and hypocracy thats out there.

As a priest myself I rejoice in their over turning of golden calves and idols and stirring up people to think and engage.

The virtue of respect has to flow in every direction and I think Sofia provides such a respectful forum for exploration.

I may be deeply superficial but its better than being superficially deep which is where I place much of religion these days.

Nicholas

Posted by Nicholas Rundle


Greg,

You ask : Is this just me being an over-sensitive curmudgeon?'
Yes, Greg, yes to your first part and no to the second.
I see nothing wrong with this ; it's not repellant at all :
"It's repellent for atheists or agnostics to personally and aggressively question others' faith or pejoratively label it as benighted flapdoodle or something worse. Those who do are rightfully seen as arrogant and overbearing."

We may be arrogant and overbearing - but that's because we know we're right and simply cannot understand how any intelligent, educated person can cling on to a superstitious supernatural belief in a creative god or any god at all and without not even a tiny scrap of evidence.

It's like that example of a child being told not to walk under a ladder as it was unlucky. This nonsense affects most people all their lives - they won't walk under a ladder - so you can imagine what a thorough brainwashing by a trained priest can achieve !

I'll leave the last word to Douglas Adams :

"A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts - the non religious included - is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other. Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death :

" Religion .......has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is "Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not ? - because you're not !"

If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it.

But on the other hand, if somebody says "I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday", you say, "I respect that".

Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labor party or the Conservative party, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows - but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe....no, that's holy ?....We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore people create when they do it.

Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things.

Yet when you look at it rationally, there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be."

Douglas Adams



Posted by Brian Wilder

I have to agree with Douglas Adams here, Brian. I see no reason that beliefs of all kinds can't be open to discussion and debate.

The issue is one of manners: it's possible to disagree without 'putting down' one's opponents. Disagreeing by presenting cogent arguments on the issue is more powerful - and more rational, I would have thought. Epithets (such as Dawkins is sometimes wont to use) don't advance the debate; I can't see the 'rationality' inherent in name-calling.

Posted by Greg Spearritt

Why cant anyone put out reasons for a belief in God as merely a position,or an opinion of one individual without anyone reviling him or his position?After all one is entitled to an opinion,"right" or"wrong" and laughed at.
One is,similarly, entitled to an opinion that there is no God and gives reasons for the position taken and then gets bagged for it.After all it is only one such opinion.

It has been rightly said that all that is required is to advance an argument and not desecrate it by unfortunate overstatement.I have been guilty of this as much as others have and I admit to robust arguments I dont necessarily enjoy reading later on. The thing to do is to endure provocation and stay cool and play the ball and not the man as they say in the sacred writ of the AFL manuals.

Robert

Posted by robert halsey

Greg,

You say :

“The issue is one of manners: it's possible to disagree without 'putting down' one's opponents. Disagreeing by presenting cogent arguments on the issue is more powerful - and more rational, I would have thought.”

Yes, so one would think. Maybe we are too influenced by our national role model, the debating tactics we see almost every day from the National Parliament !

You go on to say :

“Mind you, I see it as equally arrogant for theists/believers to assume that those around them share their beliefs. In conversation some will, for instance, casually talk about something or other in their life being 'God's will'.”

Indeed yes – this gets right up my nose and brings the worst out in me – especially “God Bless”. I never let this go unremarked, and them I’m the one who gets accused of rudeness !


Posted by Brian Wilder

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