Thursday, July 18, 2013

Faith = (a) Relative

I spend a fair amount of time oscillating between being skeptic-friendly among believers, and religion-friendly among skeptics.  As a non-believer, there are times when faith-based ideas are harming people, and I think it’s right to point those things out.  As someone sympathetic to certain religious ideas and people, there are times when believers and religion are criticized too harshly, and I think it’s right to point that out as well.  I’m working on an analogy in my head that I think will be helpful for me in future criticisms.  It’s something like this:

When being critical of someone’s faith, I want to shape my words as if I were criticizing that person’s parents.

If I think back to when my faith was the most zealous, if someone were to mock what I believed, I would have taken it personally.  My faith = me. It wouldn’t really matter what the issue was, what would matter is that something I hold more dearly than anything else in life was being attacked.  I don’t have time to dissect your criticism of the validity of the historical Jesus if all I want to do is punch your face.  Similarly, if someone called me up and said “your mom is a whore,” my first response is not going to be a critical analysis of the quantity of my mom’s bedfellows. 

People hold their faith in the same way they love their relatives.  It’s personal far more than it’s an opinion.  So if my goal is to produce change (and usually it isn’t), my approach can’t be so harsh that I’m self-defeating.  Maybe there really is a problem that needs correcting.  If so, I need to be civil about it, pick my battles, and choose my words as if I still intend to be your friend after we’re done talking about it.  I've gotten better at this, but sometimes it's so much fun to poke you in the eye that I forget how much that probably hurts.

The same approach should apply to anonymous interactions online.  It’s not acceptable to be a jerk just because I can’t see your face after I troll your Facebook post.  Most of our societal problems will require the cooperation of people with opposing ideas if we’re going to fix them.  And if one of those problems is what you’re doing because of your faith, you’re not likely to stop if you can’t be convinced that you’re wrong.  And I don’t know about you, but nobody ever changed my mind with a knife in their hand.

Here are a few examples of people doing it right (on both sides of the aisle):

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