Atheist attitudes to religion

  (10 January 10)
  by Greg Spearritt

Albert Camus, via David Burchell, gives some thoughtful advice about the approach atheists might usefully take to religious folk: 


Speaking to a group of Dominican friars in 1948, Camus suggested three cardinal principles for unbelieving philosophers such as himself. First, it wasn't his business to reproach Christians for failing to keep higher moral standards than his own. Second, "I should never start from the supposition that Christian truth is illusory, but merely from the fact I cannot accept it."


And third, "I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think: the only possible dialogue is between people who remain what they are and speak their minds."


It all sounds good to me, except for that last point: if we think we’re not trying to convert others to our own point of view, at least on issues that mean something significant to us, we’re kidding ourselves.




Initially, I found myself in agreement with Greg Spearritt’s assessment of Albert Camus’ remarks (above). Especially Greg’s view of the third of Camus’ ‘cardinal principles’ for unbelievers:

“And third: ‘I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think: the only possible dialogue is between people who remain what they are and speak their minds’.”

My immediate reaction was to wonder what planet Camus thought he was on. Occasionally, I find, philosophers make these statements-from-on-high. So ‘high’ that they seem to have no connection with this world.

And yet….

Nietzsche put forward the concept of ‘perspectivism’. That is, everyone has their own perspective. In other words, their own opinion. In poetic terms, their own Truth. Is this what Camus meant? Did he mean – Do not present your given or received viewpoint; express your own perspective! Rather than, ‘remain what they are’, should Camus have said, ‘become what they are’?

This does not resolve the issue, as far as I am concerned. I have multiple perspectives on each issue. These perspectives are the rationalizations presented by my conflicting sides. I find this a problem in my attempt to communicate with others. I tend to come across as a mass of contradictions, expressing paradox after paradox.

Perhaps Camus was trying to point out that in order to dialogue, people need to present the one coherent consistent viewpoint. In fact, this is what I tell myself each time I attempt to communicate: “Cut the paradoxes!” I am not always successful.

Posted by David Miller

I agree with Greg - the vast majority of us are unable to discuss a contentious matter with other people without trying to influence the other person, and especially without discounting what the other person is saying.

This is in line with research reported in the next blog "Confirmation bias -a BIG problem". We have a dorsolateral prefrontal cortex designed to suppress what we hear that we don't agree with!

If you don't agree with me you've already set aside what I've written!!

Posted by Scott McKenzie

Re the first paragraph, if that is your belief then that is what you will experience.
Attachment to beliefs and dogma limits our ability to experience the wonderful diversity that is all around us. A quiet mind developed through meditation slows down or stops right and wrong thinking that is associated with opinions and judgements.

"You experience what you believe, unless you believe you won't, in which case you don't, which means you did." Harry Palmer

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