On Monday, Real Clear Religion linked to a Camels With Hammers post on hell and so we were fortunate enough to get an unexpected influx of Christian commenters here to morally and intellectually exposit and defend a variety of Christian views on hell. And I could not be any happier to have these visitors to my atheist philosophy blog. I love it when my blog has many diverse, well-versed voices speaking up so that genuinely revealing debates can happen. So, welcome, Christians, and other theistic and religious commenters to Camels With Hammers, I am always pleased to have you here.
Let me orient you a bit to how things work here at Camels With Hammers and make a few proposals for how we can dialogue and debate fruitfully while together on this blog. In the future my readers and I are just going to give new theist and religious readers who seem hostile or overwhelmed or inclined to proselytization a link to this post so that hopefully such new readers like you can feel as welcome as possible and be able to constructively participate as much as possible. I do not want anyone to be frustrated away or to just ineffectually vent at me and my readers and leave. I want all people, and especially those who disagree with us, to stick around and profit from hanging out with us.
Respect That This is a Civil Blog Where All Ideas Are Fair Game, But Personal Attacks Are Discouraged
First things first, this is a blog for civil and vigorous debate about the most divisive philosophical, ethical, theological, political, and personal matters. No topics are taboo here, only attempts to silence and hate on other people present. I am convinced that the higher the stakes of an intellectual disagreement, and the more searching the mutual criticism of one another’s ideas is to be, the higher we must hold ourselves and each other to standards of interpersonal civility, intellectual charity, and, even, personal warmth. I think thought is freest and most truth conducive when people feel the most listened to, the least threatened, and the most liked.
Because a lot of us here are antitheists and anti-religion, we sometimes have to do our conscientious best in order not to be personally rude, but instead genial, to you who are theists and/or religious. We will criticize your ideas and your values with unsparing honesty. But I do my best to make sure that we atheists do not bully you theists and other religious people as individuals in the process. Further, I try to model graciousness and amicability as much as possible too. This is not a place where name-calling, interpersonal goading, or other forms of personal hostility are welcome at all.
Your end of the bargain, my theist and religious commenters, is that you will accept this blog’s standards of civility too. You can read all about them in a civility pledge I have committed myself to and which I ask readers to abide by while visiting my blog. I forgive you if you came here riled up and raring for a fight when you made your first comment and were nasty as a result. I know how it is to feel all pugilistic coming into intellectually hostile territory. I know you may come here defensive against the ways atheists in general (or I in one of my blog posts) attack your core identity, values, and beliefs. You may have even encountered atheists you thought of as smug or ignorant or persecutory in some way. While I think often atheists are maligned unfairly, we are certainly not perfect and so I am sorry for any genuinely bad treatment you have received. I hope that you will give this blog a chance to be a place where you can focus on the substance of atheist views and our reasons for disagreeing with your beliefs, values, and identity, rather than on distracting personal attacks from us or upon us.
Follow These Strategies for the Most Constructive Dialogue
Secondly, if you want to make the most progress debating us atheists, here is my most practical suggestion. Ask us questions that aim to figure out where our starting common ground is and where we diverge from each other exactly. Affirm what you think is good about what we think and what our values are. Let us know you appreciate we are not monsters. Once we can figure out together what we actually hold in common in terms of our perspectives and our values, then we can ask each other “if you share these understandings with us, don’t you see how they entail this next thing as the most logical conclusion or coherent corollary belief?” Or “Here is how my perspective answers this important problem for me. How do you try to answer it and why do you think your answer is actually superior to mine? How does it overcome all these potential problems that I think my solution does?” You may also stress up front how you differ from others with similar positions from your own to establish that you’re not a robot, that you’re reasonable, that you think for yourself, that you’re willing to listen, that you might have something original to contribute, and that you have more common ground with us to start off with than we might expect.
Such focus on finding the exact root points of our divergence from each other have the potential to be most productive. They connect us as people engaged in a common inquiry from some common starting points, despite our differing endpoints. They also reduce what are at first clash seem like massive, numerous, complex, intricate, and hopelessly irreconcilable pictures of the world down to more fundamental, manageable, and sharable questions. Finally, by working on more fundamental levels of disagreement we have the most hope of progress because when we can affect each other on that level, there are ramifications for all the rest of our beliefs on more surface levels.
Focus on Discussing Rather than Proselytizing
Thirdly, I need to warn you that neither my vocal atheist readers nor I are very amenable to drive-by preaching. If you just blast us with the Gospel and do not engage us in specific, careful terms that take our questions and objections seriously philosophically and theologically then you are wasting your time. I appreciate that you want to advance your viewpoint and that some of you really want to save our souls. I am not offended by your desire to convert us. I want to deconvert you. But this is going to take work on both our parts if either of us is going to change. And for your part, just going on and on about the Gospel (which atheists have already heard a thousand times) and not interacting with your atheist interlocutors’ thoughts is not the way to get through to us. You are going to have to engage me and my commenters in specifics that relate to our concerns or we are just not going to see any reason to change our minds.
Don’t Just Personally Attack Me or Atheists In General
Fourthly, it’s a bad idea to come here blasting anti-atheist hostility on high. You just risk making us either defensive, combative, and/or uninterested in what you have to say. Speaking for myself, when you rage at me or try to get under my skin, all I am going to be focused on is figuring out how to calm you down so that hopefully we can have a constructive discussion. You are really not going to be able to press my buttons. I don’t have a lot of them to begin with and you don’t know where the ones I do have are. For the purposes of philosophical and psychological illumination and cathartic personal expression and clarified self-understanding I sometimes write about my vulnerabilities, mistakes, anxieties, failures, weaknesses, and other struggles. But if you try to twist any such personal information that I share against me, then I am really not going to fall for it.
I am going to just form the suspicion that you are an ill-willed, manipulative, domineering, indecent, petty bully who jumps at the chance to find and exploit others’ psychological limitations in order to try and dominate them. Essentially, you are going to make me mistrust you and tune you out as a bad person, and you are going to represent your religion’s ability to make people good extremely poorly. If you think you can use information I gave you in order to try to make me feel insecure and change my mind about what I think about anything of substance, then you are amusingly naïve. Want to change my mind? Bring compelling arguments, conceptual clarifications, logic, coherency, consistency, intellectual creativity, honesty, good will, and evidence. Leave the bully tactics for the schoolyard.
Similarly, just popping off about how you think Nietzsche was crazy or said something wicked is not impressive to me. I neither worship Nietzsche nor endorse every word he said. If you come off as unable or unwilling to understand what is of value in Nietzsche and to respect him as a serious thinker, then you just impress with me with your own shallow closedmindedness. Your ad hominem attacks on him or your attempts to paint him as merely a monster do not make me feel ashamed for studying him or dissuaded from being convinced by him where he is compelling. They are a waste of time.
Understand Atheist Positions Before Criticizing
Fifthly, it’s a waste of time to come here and tell me that I am a nihilist. I am not. Don’t tell me I think life is meaningless. I don’t. Don’t tell me that I don’t believe in any objectivity in morality. Because I do. Don’t accuse me of disbelieving in God with 100% certainty. Because I don’t. You are wasting your time if you attack these strawmen. When you attack positions I do not hold, I just shrug my shoulders and either ignore you (since there is no time to reply to everyone) or focus on correcting the record about what I really think. I certainly don’t spend any time learning anything or reconsidering my views.
If you want to do more than just vent with futile rage at an atheist—if you genuinely want me to actually learn something from you and reconsider my views, then what you really need to do is look at all the arguments I laid out in the blog post you are replying to and show me where my premises or my inferences to conclusions have flaws. I will be eager to listen and will start thinking in that case. Same rules apply to the many atheist commenters you interact with. Address their actual arguments and conclusions carefully if you want to affect them.
If you want to counter my views on some other issue that was not raised in the post you read, then by all means ask for my views on that topic. I may not have time to reply but sometimes I may get a blog post idea from you and will be grateful. You can be more guaranteed of an answer if you just Google in quote the words “Camels With Hammers” and the keywords of your issue. Or, for a short cut, use the handy tabs at the top of every page of this blog to find links to posts that overview my major positions on a wide variety of topics.
Again, going back to the second point, if you attempt to find common ground, ask questions about our positions instead of put words in our mouths, distinguish yourself as a unique thinker different from others like you, and have a genial spirit of good will, my readers and I will be much more inclined to engage with you constructively. And we will all learn much more that way.
For more advice on how to reach out to atheists, see my top ten tips for engaging us.
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