This week’s comment came from just last night. On my post comparing prayer to magical thinking Jeremy Forbing said…
Wow. For a new blogger on a site encouraging respectful dialogue between faiths and belief systems, you’re really pissing the bed.
Do this for me, Jeremy. With the exception of my post condemning some other atheists who were being outright horrible people (that was the whole point of the post), go back through my posts as far as you’d like and try to find an instance where I used a personal attack on someone. Go on. You’ll see plenty of me talking about how particular ideas suck and how they are beneath the people holding them, but it’s actually pretty rare I go with an attack on an individual as if that will carry an argument. I’m not saying it’s never ever happened, but I will say it’s exceedingly rare. On the occasions when I do say someone is stupid or a monster, or anything similar, I always first make the case for why those things are so, and generally only do it to make a greater point.
But ideas are a different story. They’re fair game.
Saying prayer doesn’t work, that it’s a waste of time, and that good arguments would be more effective than praying for me isn’t a personal insult, you just don’t like to hear it. Now, is it disrespectful to prayer and Christianity? Yes. Absolutely and without reservation. I have no respect for belief in god and all the accoutrements of the various faiths. There’s an easy solution to this: convince me I’m wrong. Provide some evidence or reason why I should adopt the view that prayer works or that god exists. In short, engage in the dialogue you tell me you crave.
Demanding I be respectful towards ideas you’ve yet to defend is much easier than making an argument for them, but it’s not how dialogue works. Without reasons or evidence for why I should adopt the view that prayer works, you’ve given me no real motivation to change and haven’t even nudged me toward the conclusion that prayer actually deserves respect. It seems obvious to me, as obvious as gravity, that prayer is an entirely masturbatory gesture, and I’ll at least pay you the respect of telling you precisely how I feel. If you want me to placate other believers by treating them like they’re too fragile to stand in the presence of their beliefs being criticized, like they can’t distinguish between disdain for an idea and degrading a person, that’s fine, but let’s not pretend like that’s the same thing as respect. Hell, let’s not pretend it isn’t the exact opposite of respect.
So many believers want to portray everything they don’t like to hear as a personal put down, often so they can play the victim card. This is sad because it hobbles the conversation about ideas by making some of them off limits. Take your comment, Jeremy. You offered up no argument for why prayer is somehow better than magical thinking. You didn’t advance any evidence for your position. You just demanded I not say such things while using a hint to the supposed displeasure of my bosses here at Patheos to get me to stop, as if implied threats are a greater weapon to your position than argument (which tells me loads about the defensibility of your position). At least, at this point, you know part of my position on prayer and why I don’t believe it works. I know nothing of yours. One of us is effectively communicating in the dialogue on faith and beliefs systems. One of us hasn’t even stepped into the ring.
And lastly, let’s not imagine that saying prayer is equivalent to magical thinking is anywhere near as close to a put down as Christians have made of the phrase, “I’ll pray for you.”
Here’s a great assessment of prayer by Dan Barker, with an up-tempo beat to give you smiles!