How many of us can remember those brightly lit personalities that had an effect on our lives? Were they gifted communicators or empathetic to your feelings a particular time in your life? To my fellow free thinkers and atheists, I want to address how we can fit in better to our societies and expand our ‘verbal tool boxes’ when discussing our concerns with people of faith.
“It is the frequent vice of radical polemic to assert, and even to believe, that once you have found the lowest motive for an antagonist, you have identified the correct one.” – Christopher Hitchens (he might have words for me for using the above in this context.)
My past contains a time when I was religious due to my upbringing. I came out of an intellectual black out when I stood military watches with an atheist. He ridiculed my beliefs and prodded me into a curiosity of the histories of various religions that I still have yet to come out of. Some have said that ridicule is the best way to challenge absurd beliefs but it is hardly the best and most proven option. I would ask that you analyze and relate to the person you are trying to debate. Is there a guide? Compassion and talking with experienced friends for their techniques holds the most promise for new avenues in knowledgeable discourse.
Condescending conversations can establish cadence for the unimaginative. Whether admitted or not, our favorite human past time is to look down on those outside “our” group. We must look at others as sheep or delirious derelicts. We, the gifted. We, the daring. Leave your ego out and empathize, we are shaking their sheltered or shielded mental foundations. Even if I agree fundamentally with what you say, in the name of building a better community, couple your knowledge and humor with respect as long as respect is given to you. Remember not all of us adjust well to having the mask we present to the world snapped in our face.
“There’s nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
Sometimes what we think is not as important as HOW we think. By that, if you can judge someone as logical but entrapped by traditions and beliefs engrained through childhood, give examples and contradictions you know about in their faith. Due to confirmation bias, don’t expect them to thank you for destroying their world view in one meeting. Think of these conversations as planting seeds of doubt that will ignite a curiosity and self discovery later on.
If we are to be known for our morals and trust, it starts by setting the example in our communities. In the Middle East, the secular governments of the past consistently embarrassed themselves through selfishness and corruption. The religious grassroots movements that came in their wake seized the imagination of our populations that corruption can only be fought by the god fearing. I know from personal experience that this is not the case amongst my brothers and sisters in Beirut but perceptions count as much, if not more, than reality. Don’t be afraid to address this.
We should have a running list of top misconceptions that we encounter as free thinkers and clever explanations to address them. Imagine these future discussions as verbal sparring; we are not trying to maim our opponents but break their ego free of a sticky scaffolding built over a lifetime to protect their world view. Favorite topics of mine to discuss range from the difference between deism and theism, the history of heaven or virgin births, and the global lacking of one standard message. I believe our priority should be to remove religion from our education and politics as much as possible. Be open and share your fears with that person. That allows for honesty to bloom and, following your lead, possible sharing of their fears. Are they scared of death? What is the meaning of life then? Where do our morals come from? Take a snapshot of the fundamental hooks that ensnare their mind.
If we are all islands unto ourselves, we should offer our bridges to others alight with good will, intellectual curiosity, and the love of life. That’s how we build up our group and build up our society.
From an undisclosed location inside Arabia, this is Phoenix Jones.