Beta testing a book: In Defense of Arguing About Religion

This chapter is a work in progress, but I promised to post it today and I think the first few sections are solid. Again, this chapter is very weird to write, because I’m going on at length about things that feel very basic to me, please at least one person read it and tell me whether it’s boring. If you don’t want to read it all at once, I’ll be spinning a few sections off into blog posts.

  • mnb0

    I think you should read Greta Christina’s articles on this stuff. You might pick up some ideas. I think she gets to the core much more quickly than you do; your counterattack on Plantinga – which is the best part, especially about Googling Bible quotes – should be more focused and not take such a long detour.
    Just my 2 SRD.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I’ve read Greta’s stuff, and am actually consciously trying to make sure I make some of the same points she makes. But apparently not doing the best job of it.

      Can you explain more what you mean by the third sentence, about the attack on Plantinga? Did you not like the part about Hitler comparisons? Did you not like the part about Berlinerblau?

  • mnb0

    The part on when debating politics/religion is appropriate and when not is too long. And that’s my main complaint. I think you need some serious trimming – ask yourself: is this really necessary for what I want to say? If not, scrap it. So it’s not so much that I dislike parts. Scrapping is hard work and I am going to be cowardice and not telling you which parts to scrap.
    But don’t scrap the counterattack on Plantinga.

  • Disagreeable Me

    Another good idea for a chapter.

    People argue about all sorts of things: Who should be the next president? What should the government do to fix the economy? Should gay marriage be legal? What’s the best way to get in shape? Was that recent Hollywood blockbuster genuinely good, or was it just lowest-common-denominator crap designed to make money? Was that announcement a major corporation just made a smart or dumb business decision? And so on.

    Probably when you’re giving a series of examples to illustrate a point, confine yourself to fewer, perhaps your best three.

    I love arguments. Couldn’t be more with you in your defence of them, and in particular of the right to criticise and argue about religion.

    Agree with mnbo that you probably shouldn’t dwell so long on when and where it may or may not be appropriate to discuss politics or religion.

    I disagree with your view of why people are uncomfortable with arguments criticisng religion. It’s not because of analogies to racism. You might want to address the following points:

    1) On a deep level, many people subconsciously recognise that beliefs about religion are based on faith and not reason. Arguing with people using reason is likely to introduce unwelcome cognitive dissonance, making people feel uncomfortable rather than winning them over. People don’t want to hear it.
    2) Faith is seen as precious. The faithful fear losing their faith. Any criticism of religion is seen as an attack on this dearly held faith. If your arguments succeeded, you could consign them to hell for all eternity. Thus your arguments present a threat in a way that political arguments do not.
    3) When you criticise religion you are not just attacking the beliefs of an individual but a wealth of traditional practices going back generations which that person will identify with. You are not asking the person to merely change their opinion, you are asking them to turn their back on their people.

    If you must make analogies to politics, it may be worth acknowledging that questioning some political ideas can provoke similar reactions. For example, anything that smells of communism is still pretty taboo in America.

    Good explanation of why being an atheist necessarily means believing theists to be mistaken, and how this should not be misconstrued as rudeness.

    Not sure that I agree that “What you believe” is necessarily assuming you have a religion substitute. I think it is the responsibility of everyone who values thought to attempt to arrive at a consistent world view. “What do you believe” is just asking for that world view, and it can be described in a positive way without (directly) focusing on contradicting religious views.

    On the point about people with religious views necessarily disagreeing with others: I once had a maddening conversation with a religious work colleague (an older lady) who was very friendly and polite and nice. I tried to explain that I was an atheist, and so necessarily thought her religious views were incorrect, but that she, as a religious person, must necessarily think that my atheist views are incorrect. She maintained that she didn’t think that I was wrong at all. She appeared to have no cognitive dissonance whatsoever in believing in God while also apparently not believing that I was wrong. There is a very ingrained attitude in some people that you DO NOT QUESTION other people’s religious views. For them, maintaining religious views contrary to your fellows is somehow not interpreted as being in a state of disagreement. Maddening.

    Agree with you that “hate-filled” is an appropriate description for the Quran. Disagree with you that theists objecting to this is unreasonable given that it has hateful statements in it. Lots of factual descriptions are technically accurate but misleading or focusing on minor details. Look up the truth about dihydrogen monoxide if you haven’t already seen that for an example. I suspect some of those who object to the “hate-filled” description would do so by claiming that it misses the point or focuses on small aspects – that God is always willing to welcome those who accept him etc.

    You might want to remind readers what BBQ stands for when you first use the term in chapter 3.

    Good point about Platinga’s hypocrisy.

    Yes! Criticising religion is fun!

    Probably unnecessary to mention that you’ve mentioned Greta Christina many times. You could do it in other words, something like “Once again, Greta Christina puts it eloquently”.

    Overall, nice chapter. Probably needs to give more respect or thought to possibly legitimate reasons why religion might be viewed as in a different category to political beliefs. Note that I do not believe for a second that religion should be immune from criticism, but to pretend it’s just like criticising politics is in my view disingenuous.

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