Hey Christians, Let’s Make a Deal

baalsA few weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans wrote a plea to atheists, asking us not to judge Christians by their more offensive representatives, offering in exchange not to judge atheists by our most extreme spokespersons, either. I’ve already agreed with Hemant Mehta’s reply pointing out the false equivalency of statements made by Pat Robertson and Richard Dawkins. But I’d like to counter with an offer of my own:

I promise to treat your beliefs with the same measure of respect with which you treat my disbelief. That seems fair, wouldn’t you agree? Does that prospect feel threatening? If so, why? As you think about this matter, be on the lookout for something called “privilege blindness,” which means that people of a favored class often are oblivious to the ways in which social and cultural inequities affect those on the losing end of things.

Have you ever read the biblical story of Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal? Christians love this story because Yahweh proves himself in an obvious way in front of a gaggle of disbelievers (of Yahweh, not of Baal). Today we are told not to test God in this way, setting ourselves (and by extension him) up for an embarrassing no-show. But they never criticize Elijah for taunting the beliefs of the prophets of this competing religion. He mocked them with flourish, shouting: “Maybe if you prayed LOUDER! Or perhaps your god’s ASLEEP! Or maybe he’s relieving himself!” Is this any way to talk to people of faith? Was this a respectful interchange? Does it ever bother Christians that he was mocking the other people’s faith? No, it does not. But then when someone else mocks their religion, suddenly they become champions of religious tolerance and respect for other people’s beliefs.

I should add here that I don’t really subscribe to the notion that beliefs deserve respect, because beliefs are merely ideas, not people. People deserve respect; ideas do not. Ideas should be evaluated on their own merit because human progress depends upon challenging the ideas and beliefs to which we hold. That can be done in a respectful manner, for just as surely as you can “hate the sin but love the sinner,” you can also “hate the belief but love the believer.” Having said that, I have observed that people take their religious beliefs very personally, and many seem incapable of discerning the difference between disagreement and disrespect. As much as I wish this were not the case, it’s just the way things are. So again, I’m offering Christians a deal: I will treat your beliefs with the same level of respect with which you treat my disbelief. Now let me give a few examples to illustrate what that means.

If you speak of my disbelief like it represents a moral flaw, or a “phase” you hope I will grow out of, then I get to speak of your beliefs as a failure of reason, and a phase I hope you grow out of.

If you insist that I must refrain from speaking openly about my atheism, I will insist that you refrain from speaking openly of your faith. That seems only fair.

If you express or imply that passing my understanding of the world on to my children (or to anyone else’s) is somehow detrimental to their well-being, I will be sure to remind you that you should abstain from doing the same.

If you assert that I am incapable of making moral choices without the threat of divine retribution, then it seems only fair I assert that you, too, cannot or will not do the right thing without the threat of divine retribution.

If you resort to ad hominem attacks and personal insults when discussing our differences of belief, well…to be honest, I will not do the same to you because a guy’s gotta have his standards, right? I don’t care if others do it…I’m not going there because the use of personal insults implies that you don’t have anything better to offer. If your reasoning could stand on its own, you wouldn’t need to prop it up with something else.

I would love to see the general public learn to discuss ideas and beliefs without feeling personally mistreated every time someone expresses an opposite evaluation of those ideas/beliefs. But I also know what people are like, and I know better than to hold my breath on this one. So let’s compromise: With the caveat above, I promise I’ll show you the same respect you show me. Does that sound like a fair deal? Have you considered what that would entail?

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About Neil Carter

I wear many hats (and none of them pay well!): I am a school teacher, a tutor, a personal trainer, a supplement pusher, a driving instructor, a swim coach, and a father. I also help moderate a growing discussion group of more than 400 atheists in Mississippi and I’ve recently started a more public forum for anyone interested in discussing issues related to skepticism and/or life in the Deep South.

  • http://emerginggently.wordpress.com emerginggently

    Reblogged this on Emerging Gently and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly how I feel. Thanks for saying it!

  • http://emerginggently.wordpress.com emerginggently

    Reblogged this on Emerging Gently and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly how I feel. Thanks for saying it!

  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

    The more I read of issues that arise between religion and atheism it seems to come down to rational thought. I wonder if the promotion of rational ideas is what the focus should be when debating theists. In essence you may “lose” a debate,but you have made someone question and that to me would be a win.

  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

    The more I read of issues that arise between religion and atheism it seems to come down to rational thought. I wonder if the promotion of rational ideas is what the focus should be when debating theists. In essence you may “lose” a debate,but you have made someone question and that to me would be a win.

  • David W

    Christian, I doubt that simply promoting rational ideas would be that helpful in the end. Rather, I think that the goal should be to get theists to admit that their belief has absolutely no evidence behind it, and then, get them to admit that they shouldn’t try get others to conform to their faith-based beliefs, through legislation or otherwise. (But this might not be possible.)

    A fundamental believer who can think rationally may be more of a threat than a fundamental believer who cannot think rationally, in some cases.

    • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

      Yes,I agree a rational fundamentalist would be more of a threat, but that comes down to bad people doing bad things and not religion. Remember if we educate everyone these fundamentalists will not have followers.

      • David W

        Hmm, interesting point Christian.

        I think that I probably agree with you as I do completely agree that education is the answer. I think that my disagreement was on the promotion of rationalism; I am not convinced that simple thinking rationally will solve the religion problem; after all, there are a LOT of rational people who are also fundamental believers, they just reached a different conclusion than we did. [Obviously the wrong conclusion ;) ]

        I *think* it was Dennett who suggested that the answer to religious fundamentalism may be a set of required ‘comparative religion’ courses in the early years of education. If children are shown that there are hundreds of faith-based belief systems, they may be less likely to become fundamental believers as adults.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    Rational thought has little chance against a religious belief system.

    • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

      I disagree, as teaching rational thought would show theists why there religion is not rational.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    Rational thought has little chance against a religious belief system.

    • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

      I disagree, as teaching rational thought would show theists why there religion is not rational.

  • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

    I feel the problem with this idea is that, for whatever the specific strength and tribal loyalties in specific localities, in terms of the Western world as a whole Christianity is already completely defeated. Practically no-one in America really believes in God in the way that a medieval monk or a member of the Taliban believes in God. Not even in the Bible belt.

    So even though it seems like they’re treating you with disrespect, the reality is, you are representing the force that already destroyed the religion they claim to believe in. That has to be excruciatingly threatening. You already won the world, why concern yourself with the people who’ve not quite accepted “this deed” yet?

    • David W

      ” You already won the world, why concern yourself with the people who’ve not quite accepted “this deed” yet?”

      Because those believers act in harmful ways. Perhaps it is as you say, and they are not as sincere as medieval monks or Taliban members, however, they still block stem-cell research, deny evolution, block abortion, refuse medical help in favor of faith-healing etc. etc; and these actions are explicitly motivated by their religious beliefs.

      Their religious beliefs cause them to act in ways which prevent progress and are often harmful.

      This is why we must be concerned.

      • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

        There’s no rush.

        Indians and Chinese will keep doing stem cell research even if Americans don’t, and then America can get revenge for all the tech China stole by stealing back some for itself.

        If someone wants to kill themselves with faith healing over medicine, isn’t that their choice to make?

        What is “progress”? Did you just give up one God to worship another?

        • David W

          “Did you just give up one God to worship another?”

          I hope you aren’t making the common suggestion that science is a a god, (an invisible all powerful spirit in the sky.) This would be committing the fallacy of equivocation…

        • David W

          “Not science. The notion that there is meaning or direction to how society develops i.e. “progress”.”

          Okay, I mistook your point.

          The only meaning or direction to our societies progress is that which we decide and make.

          When I say ‘progress’ I mean “advance or development toward a better, more complete, or more modern condition: OED” Essentially maximizing happiness without violating rights.

          This idea is not a ‘god’, it is just a simple and easily understood idea.

          I am aware of the many critiques that you may respond with: ‘progress is subjective’ or ‘happiness is subjective’ or ‘what are you basing this on,’ just to name a few; I am not interested in rehashing these arguments, rather I would just point to the “Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.”

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            The notion that progress occurs seems like a very religious kind of belief to me. But equally I see religion as just a sort of magical/fantasy genre subset of ideology so meh. On a very banal note though I am not sure “modern” society maximises happiness by any stretch of the imagination. I might be willing to concede material comfort, but happiness seems quite elusive in our age.

            I think it’s because happiness is dependent on a lot of factors which are inherently antagonistic to material comfort, basically I think we’ve made life so easy we bore ourselves to death. A sense of existential threat is necessary to human wellbeing I think. Add to that the whole excessive individualism thing that seems to make people excessively lonely these days (and again, we can be excessively individualistic because we have set up society to provide for us without us having to rely on personal relationships – we are still totally dependent on our society, but we only require impersonal interaction for survival, at least in adulthood).

        • http://midoriskies.wordpress.com Midori Skies

          “If someone wants to kill themselves with faith healing over medicine, isn’t that their choice to make?”

          If it is a child whose parents’ are making the medical choices, then that is emphatically not their choice.

          Even when it is an adult making the decision for themself, they are making a decision based on faulty information.

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            Why is it not the parents choice what happens to their own children? It’s their own genetic material after all, if they are prone to make deadly irrational choices isn’t that something better selected against?

            How far does our responsibility to interfere with other peoples choices stretch? Is there anyone on earth who we don’t have the right to interfere with or is everyone alive fair game?

          • http://midoriskies.wordpress.com Midori Skies

            “Why is it not the parents choice what happens to their own children? It’s their own genetic material after all…”

            You do realize that this argument could as easily be used to support child abuse? That, in fact, parents denying life-saving medical help to their child in favor of faith healing, and letting their child die, is, at best, child neglect?

            A child is not a simple extension of the parents, nor some belonging that the parents own. A child is a person, and one who can easily be taken advantage of, at that. This is why we have laws to protect children.

            “How far does our responsibility to interfere with other peoples choices stretch?”

            It extends to the point where those choices harm other people.

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            It’s not a defence of child abuse per say, it certainly can be construed as a defence of not intervening in child abuse cases.

            Obviously the when is it acceptable to intervene and when it isn’t is a minefield of ethics – different people would draw the line in different places.

            Of course a child is not simply an extension of it’s parents, life is much more complicated than that. But in a society structured such that the basic reproductive-authorititive unit is the family parents do have certain rights over their children.

            Not that I actually care much at this point I am just arguing the toss now really.

  • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

    I feel the problem with this idea is that, for whatever the specific strength and tribal loyalties in specific localities, in terms of the Western world as a whole Christianity is already completely defeated. Practically no-one in America really believes in God in the way that a medieval monk or a member of the Taliban believes in God. Not even in the Bible belt.

    So even though it seems like they’re treating you with disrespect, the reality is, you are representing the force that already destroyed the religion they claim to believe in. That has to be excruciatingly threatening. You already won the world, why concern yourself with the people who’ve not quite accepted “this deed” yet?

    • David W

      ” You already won the world, why concern yourself with the people who’ve not quite accepted “this deed” yet?”

      Because those believers act in harmful ways. Perhaps it is as you say, and they are not as sincere as medieval monks or Taliban members, however, they still block stem-cell research, deny evolution, block abortion, refuse medical help in favor of faith-healing etc. etc; and these actions are explicitly motivated by their religious beliefs.

      Their religious beliefs cause them to act in ways which prevent progress and are often harmful.

      This is why we must be concerned.

      • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

        There’s no rush.

        Indians and Chinese will keep doing stem cell research even if Americans don’t, and then America can get revenge for all the tech China stole by stealing back some for itself.

        If someone wants to kill themselves with faith healing over medicine, isn’t that their choice to make?

        What is “progress”? Did you just give up one God to worship another?

        • David W

          “Did you just give up one God to worship another?”

          I hope you aren’t making the common suggestion that science is a a god, (an invisible all powerful spirit in the sky.) This would be committing the fallacy of equivocation…

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            Not science. The notion that there is meaning or direction to how society develops i.e. “progress”.

        • David W

          “Not science. The notion that there is meaning or direction to how society develops i.e. “progress”.”

          Okay, I mistook your point.

          The only meaning or direction to our societies progress is that which we decide and make.

          When I say ‘progress’ I mean “advance or development toward a better, more complete, or more modern condition: OED” Essentially maximizing happiness without violating rights.

          This idea is not a ‘god’, it is just a simple and easily understood idea.

          I am aware of the many critiques that you may respond with: ‘progress is subjective’ or ‘happiness is subjective’ or ‘what are you basing this on,’ just to name a few; I am not interested in rehashing these arguments, rather I would just point to the “Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.”

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            The notion that progress occurs seems like a very religious kind of belief to me. But equally I see religion as just a sort of magical/fantasy genre subset of ideology so meh. On a very banal note though I am not sure “modern” society maximises happiness by any stretch of the imagination. I might be willing to concede material comfort, but happiness seems quite elusive in our age.

            I think it’s because happiness is dependent on a lot of factors which are inherently antagonistic to material comfort, basically I think we’ve made life so easy we bore ourselves to death. A sense of existential threat is necessary to human wellbeing I think. Add to that the whole excessive individualism thing that seems to make people excessively lonely these days (and again, we can be excessively individualistic because we have set up society to provide for us without us having to rely on personal relationships – we are still totally dependent on our society, but we only require impersonal interaction for survival, at least in adulthood).

        • http://midoriskies.wordpress.com Midori Skies

          “If someone wants to kill themselves with faith healing over medicine, isn’t that their choice to make?”

          If it is a child whose parents’ are making the medical choices, then that is emphatically not their choice.

          Even when it is an adult making the decision for themself, they are making a decision based on faulty information.

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            Why is it not the parents choice what happens to their own children? It’s their own genetic material after all, if they are prone to make deadly irrational choices isn’t that something better selected against?

            How far does our responsibility to interfere with other peoples choices stretch? Is there anyone on earth who we don’t have the right to interfere with or is everyone alive fair game?

          • http://midoriskies.wordpress.com Midori Skies

            “Why is it not the parents choice what happens to their own children? It’s their own genetic material after all…”

            You do realize that this argument could as easily be used to support child abuse? That, in fact, parents denying life-saving medical help to their child in favor of faith healing, and letting their child die, is, at best, child neglect?

            A child is not a simple extension of the parents, nor some belonging that the parents own. A child is a person, and one who can easily be taken advantage of, at that. This is why we have laws to protect children.

            “How far does our responsibility to interfere with other peoples choices stretch?”

            It extends to the point where those choices harm other people.

          • http://yourpitifullife.wordpress.com msharmila2013

            It’s not a defence of child abuse per say, it certainly can be construed as a defence of not intervening in child abuse cases.

            Obviously the when is it acceptable to intervene and when it isn’t is a minefield of ethics – different people would draw the line in different places.

            Of course a child is not simply an extension of it’s parents, life is much more complicated than that. But in a society structured such that the basic reproductive-authorititive unit is the family parents do have certain rights over their children.

            Not that I actually care much at this point I am just arguing the toss now really.

  • David W

    “Did you just give up one God to worship another?”

    I hope you aren’t making the common suggestion that science is a a god, (an invisible all powerful spirit in the sky.) This would be committing the fallacy of equivocation…

  • David W

    “Did you just give up one God to worship another?”

    I hope you aren’t making the common suggestion that science is a a god, (an invisible all powerful spirit in the sky.) This would be committing the fallacy of equivocation…

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  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

    Yes,I agree a rational fundamentalist would be more of a threat, but that comes down to bad people doing bad things and not religion. Remember if we educate everyone these fundamentalists will not have followers.

  • David W

    Hmm, interesting point Christian.

    I think that I probably agree with you as I do completely agree that education is the answer. I think that my disagreement was on the promotion of rationalism; I am not convinced that simple thinking rationally will solve the religion problem; after all, there are a LOT of rational people who are also fundamental believers, they just reached a different conclusion than we did. [Obviously the wrong conclusion ;) ]

    I *think* it was Dennett who suggested that the answer to religious fundamentalism may be a set of required ‘comparative religion’ courses in the early years of education. If children are shown that there are hundreds of faith-based belief systems, they may be less likely to become fundamental believers as adults.


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